When the grass is withered from the summer heat and stretches out in the lonely spaces between homes and business, sometimes the sky turns. Streaky, barely-there clouds roll in and create a peculiar quality of light - harsh, it hurts the eyes while not being precisely bright. Everything looks leaden and somehow ominous.
I remember walking under this ominous sky a lot when I was a teenager in the valley. No matter where you went everything always felt deserted, and the few cars or people you would see seemed inexplicably hostile.
I'd been out for a short visit with my best friend, who still lives in the city we spent our youth in, and this morning I found the world awash once more in that heavy, desolate light.
Now I'm back in the city - MY city - where the trees are green and the clouds above are simply grey and opening up to release fresh rain. The cat is curled up on the couch, burning candles are giving off the soft scent of absinthe and mint, and I can rest comfortably in a sweater. It's safer here.
Still, I think about that quality of light. It is unsettling, and yet anytime I experienced it I find that a part of me is quite pleased.
The Witches Guide to Getting What You Want. - "Understanding the why behind the want is another key element for witch-kind. How will achieving your desires ultimately make you feel? And exactly why do you want the things you do?"
Louder for my not-very-introspective sisters at the back!
Saturday was another witch meetup. Half the girls couldn't make it, meaning that there was in total only four of us. ("Four would make a circle....") Ultimately this worked out well, as it meant that we had an opportunity to do more than just talk.
After the talking and sangria, it quickly became apparent that the issues facing people were not exterior problems but rather internal. I decided that we should do a reading to help clarify, and so I pulled out the Vertigo deck and shuffled it up. Each of us picked a card, and then I drew an additional three to see how our individual needs connected and what to do about it. I had everyone interpret their own cards. The reading confirmed that the issues facing each of us were emotional and mental, and not something quite as cut and dry as "I need more money."
The intersect cards were The Devil, the Four of Swords, and the Three of Swords. Once again I asked the girls to give me their thoughts on the cards, which they did. They were all very insightful, and I admit it was fascinating to hear what other people felt and saw in cards that I myself am so familiar with.
The key to crafting magic in this case was The Devil. The Vertigo's Devil is Lucifer from the Sandman comics - the fallen angel who handed over the key to hell and escaped his prison. In the card, Lucifer's wrist is shackled. That to me was the crux of the matter - we had these sword cards, and then here's a shackled figure. We were in bondage, perhaps willingly.
We did a five minute sitting meditation, and then an exercise I learned in dance class. This exercise is a variation on one my sister had assigned as 'homework' last month to everyone in the group - the ideal way to do it is to be able to roll across a length of floor with your eyes closed while music plays. The idea is that gravity can't fuck with you when you're already laying down, so your body can move in ways it cannot when you're standing. It can express movement more freely, even if you can't do a full roll - you just need enough room to starfish in.
My apartment isn't big enough to allow four grown women to starfish at the same time, so instead we used the up-and-down variation: you begin in essentially child's pose, and move in between that and standing. My house, my music, so we used Chelsea Wolfe.
So why make anybody do this before sitting down to cast some spells?
It is entirely possible to do magic without emotion - there are plenty of instruction manuals out there that you can use to follow formula, and you will see results. In my personal experience, however, the most successful magicians are those who can navigate their own interior landscapes. How are you supposed to traverse other wolds when you cannot look within? If you don't know who you are, you can get lost more easily, and if you don't deal with your emotions you are at their mercy when they eventually overwhelm your defenses.
We carry emotions in our bodies. This isn't news - plenty of people have stress induced muscle pain, particularly in the neck and shoulders. Lots of people clench their jaws or grind their teeth. Exercise can lift our mood. If you are lucky enough to have a range of movement, allowing your body to express itself can help you bypass the thinking mind. You don't analyse your emotions, you simply feel them. They move through you.
The key to escaping our shackles was the Devil. Traditionally, this is a card associated with indulgence in 'base' desires and impulses. The old goat will not tell you deny your body. He won't tell you to restrain your emotions, either.
The spellwork itself was focused on ridding ourselves of things we were chained to, and I feel that doing the exercise directly beforehand made the spellcasting portion much, much easier. There was a sense of surrender to whatever needed to happen - the entire evening revolved around freedom from painful coping mechanism and blockages, and attempting to control that freedom would simply smother it instead. Open, we could accept the change that is coming.
What remains to be seen, of course, is how we deal with it when it happens.
So, sometimes I wind up being a sort of low-rent shrink for people. This week it's been for more than one person, most of whom are coming over on the weekend for our monthly witchy meet-up. So I decided to ask Ye Olde Spotify Oracle, "how should I handle these girls on Saturday?"
Slim, minimalist gold font on glass. One word stands out: metaphysical. "Whoa, whoa, hold up," I tell my sister. We share a glance and say as one, "we gotta go in."
It's a hipster occult store.
My sister and I were in Gastown because I had a hair emergency. I had recently had my cousin take my hair from teal to a perfect cool pastel purple, but a little over two weeks had passed, and it was fading out to a sort of pale blue. Because I was to be on stage as a thespian that night, I figured I'd freshen it up with what looked like the same colour. Oh how wrong I was. 'Lilac' turned my hair a steely blue. I texted my sister in distress, and so off we went to buy bleach and pink dye from the goth shops on Cambie.
The goth shops in the Gastown area have been around longer than I've been living in the city - I remember coming in from the 'burbs to check out Cabbages and Kinks (which burnt down in 2004) and I bought my first corset from Venus and Mars. The area around them, however, has been undergoing a shift for a few years now as old second hand stores and smoke shops have been replaced with high-end (yet not mainstream) clothing stores, and places where you can buy bundles of twine for twenty bucks.
My impulse is to call the area 'hipster' but I'm not sure if that word really has much meaning anymore. I think we all know the vibe I'm thinking of, however - it's vintage furniture, home brewing kits, locally sourced honey, fish tacos and well manicured beards.
The store that caught our eye used to be a skeevy convenience store, if my memory serves. Shawna and I walked in to a small space that had been completely gutted and painted white. There were shelves with a few products for sale - tarot and oracle decks, bath salts, spell kits in little cardboard boxes shaped like houses. The front of the store by the window was taken up with small tables - it was, as it turns out, a tarot bar.
The store, called 'The Good Spirit' bills itself as a "tastefully curated, modern, metaphysical boutique." My sister and I looked around, and I whispered to her that it was an Instagram filter made physical.
In fact, the shop's Instagram account says more in a few photographs than I could with this entire entry. And if you're on Instagram, Pinterest, or even tumblr, this is one hundred percent an aesthetic you've seen before. It's rose quartz and yoga mats and sage and talks about sending your energy out into the universe.
It's basic bitch magic.
The irony of the situation is not lost on me - I saw this store as I was on my way to turn my hair into THE 'basic' hair colour of the moment. Also not unnoticed was my knee jerk reaction of "I should hate this."
But I don't. I don't hate it. It's like when fucking Urban Outfitters was selling spell candles.* Whether you fall on the crusty old occultist side of the spectrum, or the dirt-witch hand-making everything yourself side, the impulse when presented with this sanitized pop shit is to distance yourself from it as fast as possible. If you're a serious occultist/witch/pagan/whatever, you should be making fun of this so hard.
I honestly thinks that this reaction is the newest incarnation of the fluffy bunny backlash. Initially, the term fluffy-bunny was used mainly to describe people who stubbornly refused to consider the darker aspects of magic and paganism and preferred to focus on ideas like universal love and the idea that everything is going to be okay if you think enough positive thoughts. Gradually, however, the term started to be applied to newcomers to the craft in general. "Oh, you read Scott Cunningham? I GUESS that's an okay starting point." Cue eyeroll and snickering.
You know who a lot of those newbs were? Young women. You ever notice how we make fun of anything young women like?
The internet is full of people bitching about what
is and isn't real witchcraft. Jesus, just look at Patheos's pagan
section and be bored to tears after the tenth article on the subject.
That hasn't changed since the dawn of the internet, and it never will. The only thing that changes is the target
everyone is trying to tear down. Pastel Instagram-worthy witchcraft
is a fucking easy target because it looks shallow as hell.
"Oh, you think you can cast spells because you reblogged some sigils and like crystals? I GUESS." Cue eyeroll and snickering.
The subtext is that if you're a young woman who, god forbid, likes something popular? You're vapid. And so is your magic.
I got into witchcraft because of a movie. I was a teenage girl, and witchcraft - even a popular version of it
sold in bookstores - was a way to have SOME kind of power. It doesn't
matter how stupid it was, because it worked. And so will your indie-darling sorcery. You can use your ink-and-watercolour tarot. You can use your scented soy candles and rose quartz crystals. You can read an overpriced pamphlet on moon phases and magic herbs. Just because it isn't handed down through family traditions or written by some dead white guy in a funny hat doesn't make it invalid. You want that magic, girl? Take it. Take it and make it yours.
As for us old farts... Look. People can and will make magic look cool. They will make it marketable. We've seen this several times before. It's not going to kill occultism. It will bring magic to a wider audience, to another generation hungry for power and for meaning. Magic will fall out of fashion as it always does, but the people who it touches will remain. Why is that a bad thing?
If we're really concerned that popularity waters down the practice of sorcery, then let's be honest: we're not talking about real magic. We're talking about being scared that our ivory towers are falling.