To My Witchlings and Newbie Pagans
I want to talk about that time period when you first discover magic (or magick, if you prefer, but I don’t use the ‘k’ spelling) is real.
There are a million ways it could happen. There are a million directions it could come from. Perhaps you tried a spell from a book and… something… happened. Something you couldn’t explain, something terrible or wonderful or just plain weird. Perhaps you saw something in the deep woods one day that had no business being there. Perhaps you know a Witch or other practitioner, and they brought something into your life that kept defying your vision of reality until finally you had to adjust it. Perhaps you always knew magic worked, but for reasons philosophical or religious or practical, you denied it to yourself until the lure of it made you cave. Maybe you picked up ‘To Ride A Silver Broomstick’ or a ‘House of Night’ book and suddenly felt like you’d come home. Maybe you’ve been glimpsing ghosts for as long as you can remember, or sensing the spirits that live in the creatures and land around you, and you’ve finally decided to quit turning your face away.
However it happened, wherever you came from, you see it now – the threads that bind us to each other and to the world, the synchronicities and symbolism that run through our lives. The music of the spheres. You realize that the complex interrelations between all the elements of our universe go much deeper than you previously assumed, that there is such a thing as sympathetic reaction, that a rose may not be merely a rose, nor a tree a tree, nor a missing set of keys a missing set of keys; there are layers of meaning, circles upon circles.
And now that you realize it, you’re seeing magic EVERYWHERE.
You may not realize it, but you’re probably annoying the crap out of practitioners or Pagans in your life. They’re saying things like, “The gods are not your imaginary friends, they don’t care what you eat for breakfast, ” or “It doesn’t necessarily mean anything that you tripped and dumped coffee all over yourself today”. They insist that Loki has better things to do than to hide your keys, and that every time it storms, Zeus is not specifically yelling at YOU. When you find an exciting congruence and ask them what it means, you can’t see why they say, “probably nothing” or why they hesitate to give you the benefit of their wisdom regarding correspondences, and why they won’t litanize a run-down of the uses for every weed in your yard.
It’s okay; don’t feel self-conscious. We’ve all been there. Or, at least, I have been there, so I totally understand what you are going through. Everything seems shiny and new, like you’re looking at it through new eyes.
You may suddenly feel connected to your environment in a way you didn’t before, or you may think you sense things from other humans that you never sensed before (clinging astral nasties are particularly popular) . You may start talking about ‘negativity’ with great esteem, as in, “I’ve decided not to hang out with zir anymore, zie was bringing too much negativity into my life”, or “No negativity allowed – we only nurture positive thoughts here!” You’ve come under the conviction that absolutely everything affects absolutely everything else… which it does. But those effects aren’t always significant, and that’s what your fellow practitioners, those who’ve been around a little longer and become a little more jaded (and perhaps a little less jaded…. time can open your eyes to new wonders) have been trying to tell you.
Let me give you a simple example: Some people make a big deal about astrology and about the position of the stars when we are born. The view of the stars at different times of the year is supposed to affect everything from your temperament to your ultimate destiny. Note that I’m not calling astrology a crock of bull because I don’t believe it is, but when you drop a hot pan on your foot, that doesn’t mean the stars are misaligned and out to get you. From a purely physics-centered standpoint the effect of distant stars on human physiology is so small as to not be worth charting – if we calculate the force of Mars’ gravity specifically on you at the time of your birth, if you are an Aries, we find that the force of gravity from the midwife who delivered you would be 150 times greater (source below, read it, it’s fascinating) .
Likewise, the light that may have been shed upon you by the planet Mars IF you were born outside under a clear sky and perfect visibility conditions would still be much less than the fluorescent lights that probably shone down on you when you were delivered indoors, in a hospital. So the question is less, “Can the constellations of the moment of my birth effect me in any way?” and more “Can the constellations at the moment of my birth effect me in any way that would reasonably be noticeable when compared to all the other forces (light, gravity, electricity, heat, friction, ) which were also having effects on me at the time?” You have to find your own answer to that (and if your answer is ‘yes’ the next question is ‘how?’) , but the point is, you have to have some perspective.
Now, perspective is a tough thing to get hold of. Time is the most reliable way – the longer you live, the more things you see, the greater your perspective can grow. But time isn’t the only way of gaining perspective – some people live 110 years and never get their heads out of their own asses, and some people have lived 17 years and passionately try to ease the systemic injustices of the greater, wider world. Exposure helps, having someone who’ll talk to you about how things affect other things and why that matters, or being able to listen to people who are affected talk about their experiences. You can increase your own exposure, and I highly encourage every new witch and Pagan to do this, because you can’t go wrong by listening – just make sure your critical thinking skills are being applied to what you hear.
You should be open-minded, but you don’t have to be credulous.
When someone makes a claim, you should be asking questions: who, what, where, when, why, can this effect be reproduced, can it be controlled, how does it work under other circumstances, can it be reproduced using different techniques. We are talking personal gnosis here, which doesn’t always get along well with rigorous scientific inquiry, but the point is to experiment. Test conclusions. Test techniques. Examine what’s presented to you.
Question your teachers. Question peoples’ claims. Develop your own belief about sympathetic magic and correspondence theories, and whether the innate nature of a thing, whether it’s an herb, a stone, or a person, can override or be subsumed by the forces that thing is subjected to in the course of its life. If a piece of rose quartz is improperly mined using slave labor, does it still resonate with love? If the wedding ring worn by your ancestress and passed down through her finger was worn by her when she died violently, is it ‘clean’ enough to make a reliable pendulum? Will a scrying mirror you buy for a high price in a new age store work as well as one you make with a piece of convex glass and black nail polish? Does it matter as long as you cleanse and dedicate the tool yourself?
You can find out these things by testing them. Until you’ve tested them, don’t make claims. Trust me, if you apply that simple rule to all of your magical practice, your fellow practitioners will be MUCH happier with you. That is, the ones who bother testing claims and examining critically.
This is probably a bright and wonderful time in your life (or, conversely, it may be a terrifying and paranoid time in your life) , and I understand how exciting it is to feel like you can see all kinds of connections that weren’t there before. But another part of having perspective is fitting yourself into the grand scheme of things in a way that isn’t self-aggrandizing, and makes sense.
If you’ve dedicated yourself to Loki and now you think he follows you around hiding your keys and making snarky comments about people in the mall, ask yourself why. Ask yourself, ‘does this really make sense considering who Loki is – not just a mischief-maker and king of sass, but also a DEITY, a JOTUN, someone of immense power who, incidentally, is chained up under the foundations of the earth, whose agony and insanity make it tremble when he’s in pain, who is destined to bring about the greatest catastrophic event in his mythos? Likewise Apollo governs the blazing sun, the source of light and life on our planet, which must rise and set each day for us all to survive. Do you really think he spends his evenings preening in front of your mirror?
I am not saying that gods and spirits never reach out and touch people. I am not saying they never speak to people, maybe sometimes even about inconsequential things. I am not saying they never take an intense personal interest in one individual’s life – the existence of godspouses would prove me wrong. What I am saying is that even today, these deities have thousands of devotees not to mention their traditional responsibilities and/or portfolio, and you are only one worshipper. So, especially when you are starting out, it’s important to keep that in perspective – I am only one worshipper, I am only one witch. There is more going on here than just me. And perhaps most importantly, the greatest actor upon my future and my development as a magical person is myself.
Also, as you explore, you will encounter all kinds of entities from all kinds of cultures… demons, daemons, spirits, kami, faeries, free-range repeaters, and so on. People around you who follow specific cultural paths will use words you don’t understand to describe how they interact with the supernatural or the unseen. It’s wonderful and fascinating to learn about all these new things, but it’s important to keep in mind that aspects of a culture may not be lifted from that culture and appropriated for your use. This is what people mean when they refer to ‘cultural appropriation’ – they mean that it’s inappropriate and disrespectful to take pieces of a culture or mythos you know nothing about and claim to ‘use’ them for your own benefit without understanding the real people who lived in that culture or having their permission to use those elements.
Some traditions are culturally ‘closed’, others are open, so it is important to treat every culture you learn about with respect and examine your practice with discernment. I know everything is new and wonderfully shiny, and you don’t mean any disrespect by dipping your toes in, but some things are not yours to take or to use, and it’s important to be respectful of that. Listen to the people who belong to that culture; seek them out and be respectful when they speak. If they tell you their practices are not for you, back off. If they advise you may practice only after you have participated in cultural immersion and extended study under a reliable teacher, then that is what you must do in order to be respectful. Deities, spirits, and ancestral ghosts that belong to a particular culture do not usually look kindly on someone who does not treat that culture with honor. They will remember someone who is both ignorant and arrogant, and so will the people.
A new Pagan or a new Witchling may attract some attention from forces around them. Spirits may want to get to you before you’ve learned to be cautious. Other entities may want to deceive you into thinking they’re someone else just because they can, and you haven’t learned yet how to tell whether they’re lying. Some entities may just want to whirl around you in a celebratory dance, blow up your skirts, tip over your flowerpots, and maybe hide your keys. The world is a many-splendored place. That’s why reaching out and learning about it is so important – and critically examining what you learn is even more important.
So, rather than attributing every occasion in your life to forces beyond your control, or searching for the meaning in the arrangement of spaghetti-O’s in your bowl, remember that you are just one person moving through a vast and magnificent multi-verse, it’s not all about you, and you have just set out on an adventure, so you had best find some good guides and an even better towel.
Footnotes: Neil Degrasse Tyson – http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/read/1994/05/01/horrorscope