Well, this was a surprise. Here I am again, reading my folklore, watching the seasons, leaving offerings. How the hell did I get here? I had been professing atheism for a few years. Enthused by what I thought was a groundswell of sensibility and rationality, I quietly, lovingly divested myself of my previous undefined paganism and tried this label.
And then I saw the character of much of the current non believer movement. While there are communities and thinkers that espouse the positive side of living without religion, I was incredibly disappointed at the blatant racism and sexism. Atheism is no guarantee of higher thinking, but I was hoping for something more progressive. Something else that gave me pause was the virulence towards religious belief. Yes, many religions have horrible elements. Yes, horrors have been done in the name of belief. Yes, we should leave all that behind as a species. But what about the comfort and hope religions and practice have bought to people over generations? Should I smack the rosaries out of my grandmother’s hands? Should I scoff at the power of spirituals and gospel? Should I turn my back on the people actually living the decent parts of their faith?
Religion, when it is used for good, is an attempt to process the awe of living in an awesome world. It is also a way to salve the pain of being mortal beings. These, in and of themselves, are good things. We are storytelling creatures, and we need to do this to survive. What else is a religion or belief system than a formalized story? I never hated religion. I only hate people’s conscious choices to do evil in this world. Sometimes these people are religious, or pretend to be. They need to be rooted out and exposed for what they are. I don’t hate the idea of atheism or non belief. But I do hate when it is used as a weapon. This was clearly not for me. I came to the same conclusions about non-belief as I did about formalized systems of belief. So i just ignored the idea for a long time. But now I’m coming back to something. But what?
I regard deities as symbols of different qualities, and my chosen ones as qualities I’d like to embody myself. My concept of magic is better understood as Pratchett’s “headology”. Symbols, rituals, signs, energies – these arise from ourselves. This is our subconscious telling us what’s up. There is absolutely no division between mundane and magical. The plainest things, the most human things, are the most magical to me. But yes, science along with as many props as I feel I need 😉
Now that I have defined what I am not, I’d like to spend more time defining what I am.
When I gave Wicca a go back in my early 20s, I worked on my own Book of Shadows. I recall drawing a pentacle, and naming each point with a tenet of my approach to the religion. This did not last long, as Wicca is not for me. But I did come up with some ideas that lingered. These are things that have always been important to me. These are not fripperies, accessories, or esthetics (though I do love those). These are actions or qualities I try to live to make the world ever so slightly better.
The hearth is where it starts. Home is where we begin the day and where we end it. So I place a lot of importance on tending to my home. This is the ultimate in “mundane” – I’m not talking about hanging sprigs of lavender and pretty sun catchers (except when I do). I’m talking about keeping a clean, healthy, relaxing home. Scooping the cat box, taking out the trash, clearing clutter, fixing what’s broken. This extends into “operations” as well: managing the budget, cooking for us or for holidays, entertaining people.
Home is where we rest and rejuvenate, where we share the warmth of special days with our friends and family. Of course it’s worth imbuing with importance! While scooping poop out of litter is not the most witchy thing on the planet, it’s part and parcel of maintaining the magic of *home*. This is not just a space to pass through – this is a special time/space.
The “magic” is in the transformation that occurs when my family and friends enter here. This is a sanctuary. It’s private, it’s nurturing. This household is where magic begins and ends and continues.
This hearkens back to the Corporal works of mercy, which I use as a general code of respectable living: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and so on.
This is not too far-fetched for witchin’ purposes. For instance, my principal deity is Brigid. There’s no sense in picking apart myth versus Saint anymore, so I conflate her two sides. Brigid was an abbess – a CEO when you think of it. And what did abbeys do? They often played a very large role in surrounding communities. It’s not outside the realm of possibility to presume Brigid and her nuns fed, clothed, and sheltered the less fortunate. She managed the resources they had to fulfill their mission of charity. So this is my own mundane way of doing this, and embodying her qualities.
Even though money is a complicated beast, I try to peel off something to donate. This extends to material goods: If I have excess, I try to share it. I have a feeling that generosity, practiced quietly and matter-of-factly, will attract the same to my home. What it really does is take my mind from my own insecurities and wants and realign my thoughts.
Creating is another place where magic happens. Parts becoming things that can be used, enjoyed, remembered – it really doesn’t get better than that!
To make something that wasn’t there before is a balm for the soul, and not enough people know this. Stews, gardens/planters, art, garments, etc, etc. To make something is to humble yourself and focus on a process, rather than get instant gratification.
This also happens to be a valuable lesson for life in general. To be creative, in whatever small way, is just plain good for you. If slows y our mind down, makes you pay attention, and connects you with previous generations of people.
I tend to put the label of “kitchen witchin’” on anything I do that seems “witchy”. But the reality is that this suffuses the entire household, and my concept of things. There is no differentiation between the mundane and “magical”. There is no need for it – I’m a firm believer that if you can’t do it in the dirt, you aren’t doing it.
Let me tell a story to make this make sense to you. When modern cash registers became more widespread, my Grandfather was upset that cashiers depended on them for figuring the amount of change that the customers would receive. He had a saying that you should be able to do math with basic tools, with “your finger and some dirt” and not rely on machines. While I’m clearly not anti-technology, I do believe that learning should start with literally what is at hand. And that may well be dirt.
Learn to make things. Learn to fix things. Learn to grow things. Learn to clean things. Learn the basic tenets of as much as you can. Live in a well-furnished mind. Never stop. To remain curious and open new things entering your mind means you’re properly using that wonderful organ that is the culmination of how many millennia of evolution? It means you’re making a mark – however small – on the path towards the future to let those generations know “this is where we were – see how far you’ve come!” This is the place where “actual” magic happens.
Education is a vital practice in my little code here. I’m not just talking about trendy “smart” fetishizing….I’m talking about doing some good in the world. Look what happens when people grow complacent and uncurious: it doesn’t take long for awful things to set in. Willful ignorance is the root cause of so many problems I see daily. As a teacher, most of those problems I see are things like poverty, systemic racism, sexism. There’s fuck all I can do about those with incense and herbs, but by exposing myself to different people, learning about some speck of their lives, and equipping them with valuable skills – I can do something.
Not everyone is equipped to be a teacher, this I am aware of. Teaching moves beyond a formal classroom: if learning is the left hand than teaching is the right. Share what you’ve learned, I think. Make it available to as many people as you can. This is not to say don’t get remunerated for your time (if this is a formal arrangement), but don’t keep your work behind a gate.
Porceanism – the joke that kept going
Each December, my friend-family and I gather for “Hogswatch”. This started as a simple screening of “The Hogfather”, as we have many Pratchett fans among our number. It has grown to the point where it’s a feature of our year. We plan for it, we plan around it. It’s a genuine tradition now.
When I realized Hogswatch had become part and parcel of our holidays, I started thinking about it.I and always been interested in preserving and creating new traditions, provided they made sense on some level. Also, the book and movie have quite a few moments of silliness.
As a joke, I declared I was starting a new religion based on Pratchett’s novel. I love pigs anyway, so this all meshed well. Porceanism was born.
I made a lot of pig-based puns but I tried to connect them with genuinely good qualities: generosity, family bonding, care of the vulnerable (“the runts”), jolliness, closeness to nature. These were things that didn’t make a terrible stretch when you tried to connect them to actual pig behavior.
There were also mild influences from general neopaganism, the better and more pragmatic parts of Catholicism (corporal works of mercy), and Pratchett’s world building.
As a joke it’s cute, but the more I made it the more I realized that it’s a decent summation of my moral code: Be kind to others, look out for the runts, tend to the sty, take care of your wallow-mates, share the slops….silly, but not too shabby as a system of ethics.
Craft as CBT
Right before I started reconnecting with things pagan, I was going through Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT) to deal with my natural tendency toward anxiety. CBT works by identifying maladaptive emotional responses to stress and literally reorganizing the thought process so those responses are less damaging. It’s not out to analyze or cure the cause, but to fix the symptoms.
In continuing with that therapy, I noticed that taking action addressed my reactions better than trying to talk myself out of them. I accepted that my brain is “wired” a certain way, but that I ultimately had control. Then I looked at ritual and craft in a new light. There is a reason we are drawn to ritual – we gain some measure of control in a chaotic world.
I began to add simple, private rituals to my daily life. Inspired but not derived from any particular tradition, these are small ways to re order my thinking. To practice headology (Pratchett’s take on psychology – his witches’ actual power) on myself, really. And to get things done around the house. One criticism I have had (and still have) about some neopagan practice is that in its intensely personal nature, it neglects the external world. Yes, I know sometimes you need to get out of the mundane, but the mundane must be dealt with sooner or later.
This is the same critique I have of Catholicism and Atheism especially the latter. Even with lip service to the contrary there is no real impetus and either area to do a damn thing for the people around you. It’s far easier to congratulate yourself for adhering to the letter of the law, or the easiest possible expressions of it and let it be that. I can’t deal with the traditional system that makes it easy to overlook problems.
That being said action is potent. Prayer or spells may soothe, but it’s action that heals. Since the principles of CBT as I understand them are to replace worrying thoughts with actions to ground you in the tangible world and yet somehow an actor change in the wonderful electrochemical net that is your brain… Why not extend that beyond the therapist’s office? Why not use techniques people have used for many years to make themselves feel better?
If I was going to be honest with you I’d have to say that I don’t think the herbs and the crystals will do a damn thing on their own. There is nothing unique about any of the supplies I keep in the house. There is no supernatural force in rocks, plants, and trees there’s only the wonderful vital energy of nature. I take this as a metaphor, a symbol of a symbol of a symbol – but symbols do have meaning. This is how I’m used to operating being creative person being a teacher being someone giving towards literature and art. Something always means something else but it makes you move anyway. And at the end of the day, isn’t that just enough?
The basic component of a lot of the spellcraft is setting intentions. There’s a lot of visualization a lot of meditation a lot of preparing… And some may argue with me about the fluffy bunny nature of these this sort of spell work but I’m not here for that argument. What I’m here for is to draw a direct comparison between CBT methods and basic generalized spell craft. No matter which method we choose therapy or craft, we must spend time aligning our thoughts and our desires much like iron filings with a magnet we have to stroke and mold and train our mind into whatever task were aiming to do.