Getting Creative with the Craft

Getting Creative with the Craft

Humans are creative by nature. To disagree is to deny everything that humanity has created: art, literature, science, religion, culture, sports, politics. Need I go on? Of course, not everyone is an artist or a writer, but you don’t have to be in order to possess creativity. Something as little as picking out what to wear, or choosing a color to paint your bedroom with, nevertheless emerges from a creative place known as self-expression. That’s right. You’re still special.

Humans left the wilderness because we were essentially bored and can’t help but tinker with stuff. Overall, we have an innate desire to know that can rarely be satisfied with the same answers. That’s why we have all the things that make up civilization and more. Think about how ideas can become reality, how everything around you is the result of the human ability to conceptualize and create. It’s almost as if those who practice magic aren’t the only magical people.

This is why I believe magic and creativity go hand in hand, and it’s no wonder “witch” is joined with “craft.” Witches tend to make altars, wands, elixirs, poppets, spell jars, and more. We’re pretty crafty in general, but we don’t always have to do things the old-fashioned way.

Unfortunately, elitism is strong among a number of magical practitioners. Traditionalists often shun experimental and imaginative thought that I believe is essential to magic. What else did crafters in primitive times have to work with besides the land? Yes, it’s home to many spirits and undoubtedly spans a magical history, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of witchcraft. Plenty of witches find success in modern ideas, such as working with technology and spirits of fiction. Just like nature, magic adapts and evolves.

One thing I’ve especially learned about magic is that it’s anything but predictable. Even if you do everything right and you know it, a surprise could be right around the corner that flips your results. There are so many factors to speculate that the only way to keep up is to be studious as well as creative.

Know what draws you and what doesn’t.

Becoming in tune with what speaks to you is the first step to successful magic, regardless of whether it’s found in lore or fiction. A connection is a connection. Not everyone connects with the old ways and ancient spirits. Not everyone connects with modern ideas and fictional spirits. Some practitioners don’t connect with, let alone believe in, the spiritual aspect of witchcraft at all.

How do you know what exactly draws you? Simple. Make a list of your interests and inspirations and narrow them down, starting with your favorite. Research all you need to know and brainstorm ways to use that information in spells. Your practice is yours, and the more personalized it is, the more potent.

What about the things that don’t draw you? Rarely is the subject addressed, but it’s equally important to know to avoid negative results. For example, almost all witchcraft sources advocate herbs and crystals and other natural ingredients, but if you don’t connect with nature, there’s no point in trying to work with it. You don’t have to fix that. You’re simply different, and that’s something to be embraced. If anyone tells you otherwise, tell them to go suck a free-range egg.

Commune with your tools and ingredients.

Animism is the ancient belief that everything, animate and inanimate, has a spiritual essence and thus is alive in its own unique way. If you’re into the idea, establishing a connection with the things of your craft can surely expand your magical understanding. You’ll learn about them in ways that will fill in the blanks of your spell work. Just make sure none of what you plan to use is toxic, unless you have the experience to handle such.

Communing with tools and ingredients is an intuitive art that takes time and practice to grasp like any other. Be open and pay attention to the impressions you get from things. Talk to them, verbally or mentally. Are they friendly, curious, or cautious? Do they feel male, female, both, or neither? What else do they tell you? Don’t force it. Don’t expect anything. Just listen. The languages of objects can range from coherent words and sentences to colors and symbols.

As someone who basically utilizes the imagination as an otherworldly gateway, I have a hard time not interpreting most of my craft items. My tarot decks, for example, each have a distinct personality. Even between cards that aren’t quite compatible, I can manage to draw a link as a sort of mediator, working out their differences and including complementary ingredients. I listen as well as interact. The chain of events leading to the results are bound to be different, but that’s what makes this kind of work interesting. With animism, a spell becomes more than just an arrangement of materials imbued with a wish.

If you’re an artist of any sort, consider incorporating the respective tools.

Art is pretty dang close to magic. To convey one’s thoughts and feelings through an artistic medium takes not just study and practice, but also visualization and figurative thinking. Magic is the same story. The latter two aren’t always necessary, as there are non-imaginative methods such as worship and casting with bodily movements, but there’s no doubt about the imagination having a magical impact.

If you draw, you can illustrate spells, giving life to a scene that represents your intention. If you write, you can cast them in the form of storytelling, crafting your goal through settings, characters, and symbolism. The artistic-magical possibilities are endless. When you’ve finished a piece, focus on it. Get immersed. Play music to really set the mood, unless you’re the musician, in which case, play the song. Whatever your pursuit, get into your work as if you’re casting a spell—because you are!

Even if art isn’t your forte, you can put that habit of daydreaming to good use by utilizing visualization in your practice. Have you ever played pretend as a kid? Well, you can totally do it again as a means of interacting with the magical world—if you live alone, that is, otherwise you’ll have some explaining to do.

Try something new.

Nobody has to stay in one lane. Someone working pop culture magic could also work with nature spirits or the gods, if they’re interested. Curiosity won’t kill you as long as you do your research and be respectful. Some entities might have a problem sharing your magical space with anime figurines. Others, not so much. Sometimes they won’t respond. Other times they’ll let you know through signs and senses.

Implementing new ideas allows your craft to grow and magical discoveries to be made. Breakthroughs don’t happen by repeating the same methods and practices. You don’t have to try everything, nor do anything that makes you too uncomfortable, but it might help to venture from the familiar once in a blue moon.

Witches, magicians, and other practitioners experience about as many differences as they do similarities altogether. At the end of the day, magic, like art, is personal and unique to every practicing individual. So, how creative do you get with your craft? What makes it different and yours? Feel free to comment and add some crafty insight of your own!

The Keys to Cast Successful Spells

The Keys to Cast Successful Spells

Magical practitioners have drawn conclusions, similar and different, as to how magic works and what spells require. At most, we can all agree that no spell can grant you the power to defy physics. We can also agree that the foundation of a spell is a goal, also known as “intention.” Tools and ingredients are basically meant to empower it and give it direction in order to fulfill a purpose.

Let’s begin with some common theories about magic—that I’m going to dispute, of course.

1. Magic is energy. Everything is said to be made up of it and so can be manipulated. This is the most popular theory, but one that’s a little too general for my liking. Technically, energy is a measurement of a thing’s capacity for work, such as light or physical activity. It covers a wide range of observable functions as to make using it to describe magical forces pretty meaningless.

2. Magic is belief. Although a spell can possibly have a better chance of working if you’re in a clear, confident state of mind (but it really depends on the spell), the way to gain real confidence is by knowing what you’re doing. If magic was as simple as believing, all spells would work without question.

3. Magic is granted by the spirits and/or gods. This can be true, especially for traditional practitioners who have spirits carry out their spells. In my experience, however, it’s not the ultimate answer.

4. Magic is nature. It’s plausible that raw materials have a little more oomph due to their history, but this theory suggests they can be corrupted by being modified (especially through profane, industrial means). Everything on this planet originates from the earth, and the planet originates from, well, the universe. There’s no real reason a plastic LED candle can’t be as magical as a wax one with a wick.

5. Magic is psychology. This theory has some credibility. It can be considered magical, for example, when one casts a spell to become more financially stable and develops the power to refrain from spendthrift impulses. When they happen to find cash on the ground or receive a promotion out of the blue, they’ll probably suspect magic extends beyond the mind. Or maybe they’ll call it a coincidence, even though some coincidences are just a little too coincidental.

If I had to pick one of the theories to best explain magic, I’d have to go with energy. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it’s closer than the others. Based on what I’ve observed and experienced, I see magic as a sort of interconnected network between all things that responds to emotion, imagination, and symbolism. Intricate in its design, yet simple in its operation. Much like a computer.

We can go on theorizing the mechanics behind magic, but at the end of the day, nobody really knows the “how.” And you know what? The “how” isn’t all that important. The “why,” however, is a different story.

You don’t always have to cast by the book.

Let’s say two witches are casting a similar spell for love, both of which include candles and rose petals. Witch A’s are in red, a color associated with desire and passion, and Witch B’s are in yellow, a color known to symbolize fun and friendship. Taking not only magical correspondences but also intention into account, whose spell is most likely to work?

Both.

How can this be? Red is the tried-and-true color of love spells besides pink. Wouldn’t yellow just attract a new friend instead?

Colors, herbs, crystals, and whatnot have associations for a reason, but they aren’t set in stone. By reprogramming the mind and setting a specific intention, the rules can be easily bent. Plenty of practitioners are evidence of this, including me.

Not everyone wants a red relationship that steams with lust. Some people would rather have the yellow sort and marry a best friend. Tradition has its significance and shouldn’t be underestimated, but neither should creativity. When we’re creative, coming from a place of personal meaning, we tap into something deeper than magical how-to books and even age-old wisdom.

Still, tradition has its significance. It helps to learn about other paths and associations to understand the reasons behind their workings.

Spells don’t have to be elaborate.

Now, let’s say Witch A’s spell is more than candles and rose petals. It’s cast during a full moon in Taurus on a Friday, and it involves an offering to Aphrodite and a note of ideal qualities in a lover that is then burned. Witch B, on the other hand, simply focuses on a candle flame and states their wish to it, casting soon before their summer vacation.

Why are these spells likely to be successful? Three things: meaning, structure, and timing.

Spell A: The moon is connected to emotions and the subconscious, and during a full phase its effects peak, emphasizing the astrological sign it occupies. Taurus likes stability and all that pleases the five senses. Taurus and the fifth day of the week, Friday, are ruled by Venus, regarded as the planet of sentiment in astrology. Witch A wants a passionate and stable relationship. Friday seals it. Aphrodite is similar to Venus, but she can help Witch A appear more attractive and feel more comfortable in their own skin. Burning the note completes the spell as the smoke carries it out into the aether, or universe, or whatever Witch A desires to call the magical network, to be manifested.

Spell B: Witch B makes it clear that they’re looking for a romantic relationship with someone akin to a best friend. They use the candle flame as a focus point to direct the spell’s manifestation into reality. Summer is a season that draws more people out and together.

Witch A connects with traditional ideas and Witch B connects with personal ideas, symbols they arrange in a way that directs magic during a favorable time. Timing isn’t always a necessary factor in good spell-casting, but it certainly helps.

If you can make it work, all the more power to you.

What if you prefer artificial candles and rose petals? What if you have an affinity for technology instead of nature? What if you don’t feel anything but your mind is necessary to cast spells?

If it works, it works.

For some, tools and ingredients serve to create a setting in order to influence a certain state of mind, which makes interacting with magic easier. For others, they’re more than just props, having a sort of “life” of their own that should be regarded. Neither side is wrong.

Those who consider ritual work to be nothing more than “psychodrama,” however, are disregarding the creative and spiritual aspects that others seek. Yes, if we had to, we could learn to use our minds alone for casting spells. We could also learn to live without technology and medicine. But that wouldn’t be a very nice life for the majority, would it? If anything, we’d be devolving as a race.

An artist doesn’t need a drawing tablet to draw. A writer doesn’t need a keyboard to write. But these things make creative endeavors more convenient and stimulate creative progress in general.

That’s what tools and ingredients can do: offer convenience and improve our magical connection, whether through creating a setting or communing with them.

Furthermore, common spell ingredients, such as herbs and crystals, have a history of magical uses that would be unwise to completely disregard. Jason Miller makes a darn good point in his book, The Elements of Spellcrafting:

A Theban Magician did not painstakingly preserve and hide the Greek Magical Papyri with its many formulas because intention was all that mattered. The Grimoires were not passed among a network of underground clergy and literate laity because the precise instruction did not matter. Families of African slaves did not preserve traditions of Congolese Magic in the New World at risk to their life just because your intention is all that matters! Yes, it’s true that substitutions can be made and that Magic does not work through slavishly adhering to dogmatic instructions, but it’s a bit disrespectful to suggest that the instructions do not matter.

Research, experiment, and repeat.

Read, read, read. There are tons of books about witchcraft, but I suggest reading three-star reviews and below to save yourself from any misinformation. I have a list of carefully selected titles here.

Some say that bad books should be read, for there are even the tiniest bits of gold in piles of crap. You can sharpen your critical thinking skills by doing so, but I, personally, don’t have the time nor patience to scan pages of nonsense just to find a few gems. If you happen to be the opposite, I commend you.

Regardless, you should read using your best judgment. Always double-check your sources, otherwise you might consume a poisonous herb or find your beloved selenite dissolved from being submerged in water. Make sure what you plan to ingest won’t interfere with your prescriptions, if you have any.

No matter how carefully put-together a spell is, just like diets and medication, it isn’t going to work for all. Some practitioners are certainly skilled and knowledgeable, but everyone speaks from their own experience that may or may not mesh with yours. Although many of us interact with more than the corporeal, we’re still as human, flawed and limited, as the rest of the race. Nobody has all the answers, so don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten track and find what works for you.

Witchcraft: Modern vs. Traditional

Witchcraft: Modern vs. Traditional

Today, virtually everyone who discovers magic and takes an interest wants to be a witch. Not a magician or cunning person. A witch. I’ll admit it’s the cooler of the two and certainly brings more spellcrafty things to mind. As somebody who doesn’t follow a particular tradition or tenet, I don’t have a problem with anybody identifying as one.

Traditional witches, on the other hand, can get annoyed with their modern counterparts like how baby boomers gripe about millennials. They can’t help but roll their eyes at glitter jars and emoji spells. What happened to the days of devil worship and blood sacrifices, they wonder? Meanwhile, the moderns just want to witch in peace.

Okay, modern witches aren’t that harmless.

In fact, I can understand the frustration among the traditionalists.

See, witchcraft was never exactly the lush green modern witches—Wiccans and Neopagans most of all—painted it. They typically dismiss the history behind the word as a result of religious ignorance. They claim witches were respectable and always on the side of good.

Truth is, witches were never quite revered.

Instead, they were feared by most of Europe (and still are in places like Africa), where the word was essentially born with negative connotations. Witches weren’t necessarily evil in reality, but they were heretics. Anyone who fell outside of the Christian norm was suspected. The “wise women” and “healers” that others confided in were known as cunning folk, and they fought to protect their communities by driving away forces believed to be wicked.

Contrary to modern belief, the Devil, also known as the Horned One and the Man in Black, is associated with witchcraft. He isn’t the Christian Devil, but at the same time he can be. Basically, he’s a sort of trickster spirit that’s connected to the wilderness, instinct, and primal emotion, and he can make witches through a pact.

Clearly, not everyone accused was a witch or involved with the Devil. Most of the accused were sentenced for reasons that were economical, political, or personal rather than truly superstitious. However, Isobel Gowdie is a notable example of someone who’s claimed otherwise, and without having been forced to confess.

So, how did something dark and devilish end up appealing to tree huggers and crystal hoarders?

By the early twentieth century, there was a woman who revived witchcraft with a theory. Her name was Margaret Murray, and she asserted there were persecuted witches that belonged to a nature-focused religion. Murray influenced Gerald Gardner, founder of Wicca, and thus continued the redefinition of the word.

Traditional witchcraft is about the old ways of witchery: folklore, animism, and spirit work.

Threefold Law not included. These witches can heal as well as curse just like in pre-Wiccan days, and they embrace the gritty reality of nature, not just the surface beauty. Nature is not only life-giving green, but also blood red and decaying brown. It allows what can overall survive predators and the elements to live and leaves what can’t to extinction. (Nature is also a libertarian. Just kidding.)

Whereas modern witches tend to believe magic is within everyone, traditional witches believe magic, specifically witchcraft, is worked through communing with the spirits. Although they believe everything has a spirit and should be treated as such, the natural world holds a special place for them. The old craft varies by region and so is different for every practicing witch, but it’s always based on lore.

Modern witchcraft has come to be defined as simply the practice of magic. Anyone of any belief or lack thereof can be a witch. Some claim that anyone who curses, casts specific love spells, or doesn’t share left-leaning political views isn’t a “real” witch, even though they can be successful and suffer no repercussions.

Modern witches are often more secular or polytheistic than animistic. Generally-speaking, they believe magic works because everything is made up of “energy.” An accompanying belief is “intention,” another word for goal or desire, which is also claimed to be all that matters in spell work. Some believe magic is nothing more than the placebo effect. I can’t say I completely agree with these ideas. I do agree, however, that anyone can be a witch.

In traditional witchcraft, the way to become a witch is through working with (folkloric) spirits, also known as “initiation.” The process is gradual and can be intense as it strips you of your previous self to create the new, the result of interacting with the otherworldly.

The description oddly resonates with me despite being the almost polar opposite of a traditional witch. Throughout my many imaginary adventures, I’ve been shaped and reshaped by fictional characters and worlds, learning my magical way thanks to their influences. I will go so far as to say I feel “claimed.” Perhaps there are pop culture witches who can relate.

Some traditionalists are more extreme, believing witchcraft is reserved only for those willing to conquer primal fear and embrace darkness, such as visiting the woods alone at night and working with blood, bone, and curses. They believe the craft is the magic of the dark and wild, and I don’t totally disagree. But it’s also an enigma.

Interestingly, etymologists can’t agree on the origin of “witch.”

However, like one of its speculated roots and what I prefer, “weik,” witchcraft bends. Similar to the natural world, it adapts and, like the trickster, takes on many faces. It can be earth and bones, plastic and metal, glitter and emojis. It can be anything it pleases. Why not?

I find it ironic how often witches, traditional and modern alike, attempt to define the craft according to what they’ve read or been told or taught before personally experienced. Now, of course, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with books or advice. Everyone needs some guidance. There’s just so much debate about what makes a “real” witch that I can imagine witchcraft laughing darkly to itself. Can words truly grasp an ever elusive branch of magic that continues drawing interest from all over?

I get why eyes roll at things like glitter, emojis, and fictional spirits. These ideas are fairly new and indirectly attempt to invalidate the long, hard work that other practitioners put into their craft. How could something as simple as an emoji spell, with just a click of “like” and “reblog” on Tumblr, a microblogging website, bring results like an established or well-thought-out spell? It’s quite arrogant and even undermines the magical efforts of other cultures.

On the flip side, there are those who have success with these spells and make more than just “likes” and “reblogs” out of them. Maybe it’s not significant, but results are results. Some are questionable, though, notably the feel-good kind that can pass for the placebo effect.

As for glitter and fictional spirits, well, I like and prefer both over dirt and ancient spirits. I’ve simply never connected with the old ways. Mother Nature and I, for instance, have always been acquaintances. I respect her, but she isn’t my “real” mom, so to speak. I’m different, and that’s okay.

I suppose the extremists would rather I call myself anything but a witch. Thing is, I’m very much like one in the most classical sense that I do my own thing, disregarding naysayers as if they’re the first slice of bread. And I probably dare to break more rules than they do.

To me, that’s a witch.

As Judika Illes says in Encyclopedia of Witchcraft:

The witch refuses to be pinned down and defined by mere words, of which she is the magical master. No one owns her. She is independent, defiant, and resists narrow definition.

A witch’s witchiness is not determined by their practices or values, nor their spirit connections or lack thereof. It is simply determined by the fact that they get results, big or small, good or bad.

Some self-proclaimed witches might find “magician” or “cunning person” suits them better, but if a witch stays a witch, it’s only evidence to me that witchcraft is the magic of bucking all the systems.

Modern and traditional witches would do well to learn from each other. History should never be ignored, let alone fabricated, and established practices and beliefs ought to be considered. Yet, I don’t believe witchcraft cares to live entirely by the old spell book. Back in the day, practitioners of magic worked with what they could get from their land, and in the digital age, the modern generation is doing just that.