Friday, November 15, 2019

Winter Solstice / Yule: December 21st, 2019


The Winter Solstice is a scientific event marking the shortest day and longest night of the year and has long been celebrated.  The most well-known in paganism is the historic Germanic holiday Yule, a festival that ran anywhere from 2 months to 12 days depending on the time period and locale.  Along with feasting, drinking, and blots (sacrifices), it was said that a ghostly procession came down from the sky, often with Odin at its charge.  This procession is known as the Wild Hunt and has a long history connected to numerous cultures.  Eventually, this holiday would be merged with Christmas during the Christianization of Germanic peoples.

Today, the Winter Solstice is a time of rest and contemplation as we observe it from sunset to sunrise with electronics turned off - only the light of the candles and decorations to guide us.  This solstice is a wonderful time for shadow work as we come to terms with that which we dislike about ourselves and accept ourselves for exactly who we are.  As we witness the sunrise, we welcome the warmth of the months to come.

Here in Kansas City, we're often just starting to see ice, snow, and the mere rumblings of the coldest part of winter. The solstice is a holiday where, after preparation for the winter, we turn inward to face ourselves.  It's a time of introspection, contemplation, soul searching, and, with the rising sun, hope.

This year's Winter Solstice occurs scientifically on Saturday, December 21st, 2019 at 10:19 PM CST.  Every year it shifts slightly, so I would suggest checking Archaeoastronomy.com if you're coming to this article after 2019.

Activities and Spells

Rituals

Friday, November 8, 2019

13 Essential Herbs Series: Salt


In this series, I will be exploring 13 common herbs you may have in your kitchen or garden, dissecting their meaning from science, history, and culture.  

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SALT


Appearance: Transparent/White Granule Crystals 
Edible? Salt you buy at your grocery store is edible, yes, but there are forms that are not.
Origins: Seawater evaporates into halite formations and is eventually mined.
Other Notable Qualities: One of the oldest seasonings and essential for human health.


Scientific Correspondence:
Cleansing - Balance

Chemically, sodium chloride is used to make a range of products, but particularly chlorine, an effective disinfectant used in household bleach, soaps, and detergents.  Salt itself has also been historically used in household cleansers and as a means of cleansing wounds.  As such, salt can be seen as having cleansing properties.

In addition, salt is essential to maintain electrolyte balance, and thus is important in consumption.  Too much or too little both produce health problems.  Just the right amount is key.  Thus salt is the great balancer of the human body.


Historical Correspondence:
Purity - The Dead - Protection

In multiple cultures, salt has represented purity and blessings.  The Bible, in particular, has over 30 references to salt and it is essential to the creation of purified Holy Water in churches.  Greeks used consecrated salt in rituals and both Shinto and Buddhist practitioners see salt as purifying.

Throughout history, salt has been prized for its ability to preserve, from meats to vegetables, and even the human body.  Ancient Egyptians' discovery of salt's preservation process gave rise to mummification, and salt from a dry riverbed called Natrun was used in the mummification process.  Thus salt can be said to be representative of the dead.

In China, scientists discovered saltpeter, an ionic salt that was extremely susceptible to oxidation.  Combined with sulfur and charcoal, it became a powerful tool known as gunpowder which has been used for centuries in various weapons.  Because of this, salt is also seen as protective.


Cultural Correspondence (USA/Midwest):
Creation

Today, salt is an important component in soda ash, which is used for a variety of creative purposes, from glassmaking to paper, leather tanning and dyeing.  For this reason, salt is useful in spells that aid in creation and creativity.



Sigil to Invoke Salt


Utilize this sigil as a way of invoking the properties of salt if you have none available to you.  You are welcome to print this sigil, place it in a grimoire, use it on a spell or put it in your blog with proper credit.  Do not claim this sigil as your own.

References

Chemistry Explained: Salt
Beyond the Shaker: Salt Guide: History
Time: A Brief History of Salt
EU Salt: Salt Uses
Live Science: How Gunpowder Changed the World

**Images were found via a search labeled for reuse.
If you would like an image removed or credited, please let me know.**

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Coming Soon
Basil
Bay
Black Pepper
Cinnamon
Cloves
Mint
Nutmeg
Patchouli
Rose
Rosemary
Sage
Thyme

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Surviving a Witch's Crisis of Faith


Over two years ago, I took a giant step back from my local community and, a year and a half ago, I left it.  A year and four months ago, I left my coven.  Nine months ago, I stopped blogging and, six months ago, I stepped away from Witchy Words altogether.  While each step occurred independently of the next, they were all born of a crisis of faith.

Perhaps "crisis of faith" isn't the right term for what I experienced.  After all, what I do is witchcraft, which is a practice for me, not a religion.  But the phrase certainly conveys the weight with which I experienced my disillusionment.

You might be surprised to hear that having a crisis of faith, even as a witch or pagan, is common - normal, even.  We're all humans having a human experience, living without all of the answers.  Inevitably, if we're curious and cautious enough, we find ourselves questioning our own beliefs.  Whether you were thrown into your crisis of faith thanks to trauma, such as the death of a loved one or abuse, or if you've come to it on your own, nearly everyone experiences at least one crisis of faith in their lifetime - whether they'd like to admit it or not. But what do you do when the foundation of your beliefs becomes unstable beneath your feet?  In this article - my first back from my hiatus thanks to this very reason - we'll explore three common crises of faith as they relate to witchcraft and ways to cope if you're in the middle of one right now.


Witchcraft and Skepticism

For some witches, their crisis of faith may involve skepticism in the practice.  It's surprisingly common to wonder if your work is actually paying off, especially if you don't see the benefits immediately.  When it comes to skepticism, I've always believed that an ounce of it throughout your practice is healthy.  Skepticism keeps us on our toes, encouraging us to think outside of the box by exploring new options, all while keeping a level head.  Blind faith in your Craft is rarely productive.  Being moderately critical of your work will create growth.  Bottom line?  It's okay to wonder if your spells are real or if it's just in your head.  It's absolutely normal.  As long as it doesn't eliminate your enjoyment of the practice, you're on the right track.  And if it does?  That's okay, too.  That just means that it could be time to explore other options!  Consider the myriad of practices under the pagan and witchcraft umbrellas, or perhaps read up on another non-Abrahamic faith.  You'll never know what you learn!


Witchcraft versus Christianity

Other witches may struggle to come to terms with their previous Christian faith and their practice.  This is especially common if you're just making the transition or if you're beginning to incorporate elements of witchcraft into your standing religion.  After all, doesn't the Bible say "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live?"  The Exodus 22:18 passage is frequently quoted as a reason why the two religions cannot mix, though there are questions as to what exactly "witch" references.  The King James Version uses the word pharmakeia, a Greek word for someone who uses drugs or medicines.  It's possible the correct translation would be poisoner rather than witch.  And the Hebrew manuscript?  It uses the word m’khashepah, meaning “murderer” or “a woman who uses spoken spells to harm others.”  The technical translation for the word witch as we understand it would be chasapah, and clearly, that’s not what was used.  Obviously, this passage is up for interpretation.

Another such passage that some struggle with is Deuteronomy 18:10-11: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.”  Okay, so this one might be a little harder to reconcile.  To be fair though, the Old Testament also includes the Levitical Law, which forbids mixed fabrics and the eating of shellfish - things we all do many of us do, even Christians (Of course many Jewish people still follow Levitical Law and absolutely do not mix fabrics or eat shellfish.  My apologies for overly focusing on Christianity in this section and thank you to reader Samantha for point this out.).  And you know why Levitical Law exists?  Let’s clarify that the Levites were decedents of Levi, son of Jacob, and included Moses.  When Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai, the Levites became religious leaders in the eyes of God.  This may be why they’re so restrictive.

In a non-religious view, these laws could have circumstantially been created to separate the Levites from other tribes. Religiously, these laws might only apply to the Levites, or those Levitical Laws might have been lessened with the New Testament for Christians.  Hebrews 7:18-19 says that those laws were “weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect).”  And thus they were set aside.

This, among many other more personal reasons, is why Christo-pagans, Christo-witches, and Christo-Wiccans exist - and thrive!  And still yet, you may find that witchcraft and Christianity still simply cannot mix for you.  If that's the case, it's up to you to pick your path, depending on what you ultimately come to believe.

Still others, like myself, face an entirely different kind of crisis of faith.


Witchcraft and Abuse

Witchcraft attracts the downtrodden, the abused, the disenfranchised.  It's a means of obtaining control over your life.  Unfortunately, it's also a smorgasbord of ripe pickings for the abuser.  If the occultist is looking to gain control of their own life, it seems it becomes a thin line to wanting to gain control of another's.  And it doesn't take magic for that.  The new practitioner, looking for guidance, comes to the leaders in hopes of finding that control and, like a moth to the flame, they're enveloped - if the flame were, you know, actively hunting.  Problematic practitioners today are merely the tip of the iceberg.  The truth is that the abusive behavior we see in some leaders today was a pathway paved by those who came before us.  Many have long known issues with a variety of historical leaders, writers, and practitioners within occultism, from Crowley to Gardner, Dion Fortune to the Frosts.

Spurred by my own experiences in my community and Sarah Anne Lawless's article on a history of abuse within the development of what we see as modern paganism and witchcraft, I did my own research.  Countless articles, essays, books, and notes later and I felt absolutely drained.  As much as we want to believe that the witchcraft we practice today is owed to the "old ways," most modern occultists are aware that the Craft has been heavily shaped within the early 20th century.  The time period alone, along with the variety of abusive practitioners that molded it, create a myriad of problems.  The very practice I loved, that I had wholly accepted into my life, which had its fingers in my heart and home, had, at best, misguided and, and worst, abusive, origins.  In a world where we stop listening to abusive musicians and boycott stores that throw money at the wrong causes, how, I wondered, could I possibly reconcile this?  How could I continue to practice knowing full well the history in all its gritty realness?

I was caught between "cancel culture" and accountability.

Again, it's not like I didn't know before.  It's just that we seemed to give it a pass.  Yeah, Crowley was a shit human being, but he had good ideas.  Sure, the Frosts promoted the sexual abuse of children, but if you ignore that, right? Suddenly, I just couldn't give it a pass anymore.  I couldn't simply critically read a text.  I was ready to throw the book out.

And so I did.

I left Witchy Words at the height of my crisis of faith.  I had become completely disillusioned with witchcraft in its entirety and I no longer wanted a part of something that had created so much toxicity, not just within my own life, but within the greater picture.


Thirteen Ways to Manage a Witch's Crisis of Faith

If you've actively searched out this article, it's likely you're experiencing some crisis of faith as we speak.  I sympathize.  I, too, experienced a massive crisis of faith as outlined above.  During my six month hiatus, here are ways I coped:

1. Recognize that this will be difficult. 
It's not called a crisis for no reason.  Crises of faith are grueling, tough experiences with no easy way out.  There's no around or over - only through.  And no one has the answer but you.  Not me, not some Big Name Pagan writer, not your previous religion's priest, and not your current high priestess.  While they might all be able to help you, it's ultimately going to come down to you and your own decisions.  If you're going to come through the other side of a crisis of faith, you'll need to get comfortable with the discomfort of having one.  It's part of the process.

2. Know that you're not alone.
Paganism and witchcraft are poorly equipped for crises of faith.  In many religions, we have trusted leaders we can talk to during our times of doubt.  Many of the leaders we might come to respect or the Big Name Pagans we grow to love may dismiss your crisis of faith - a disgusting and inappropriate reaction to a very real issue.  Your experience as a witch is not invalidated by your crisis of faith.  In addition, witchcraft places an emphasis on the self as a leader.  You're your own personal priestx.  We're expected, as witches, to be confident in our personal power 24/7.  The fact is that this isn't realistic, and it forces members of the community, leaders included, to put on a facade.  It may be hard for others to admit that they've had a crisis of faith before, or that they're even currently having one too.  The reality is that everyone goes through a crisis of faith at some point. Hell, it's likely most of the witches you know had one involving their previous religion - as, most likely, did you.  If nothing else, hold on to the fact that you survived that one as you move forward.

Here are some other pagans and witches who have written about their crisis of faith:
You. Are. Not. Alone

3. You have not made and are not currently making a mistake.  You're on the right path.
"Oh no, what have I done?"  The desire to take back however many years you invested in your craft might be particularly strong right now.  It's common to feel like maybe you made a mistake - but you didn't.  As I've said before, we're humans having a human experience.  Every path we take teaches us a lesson we need to learn, including your path as a witch and, yes, even your current crisis of faith.  Whatever is happening right now is a stepping stone to the next path.  It's not a mistake, and it never was.

4. Ignore the label
It's easy to feel like we're stuck when a label we've chosen becomes a part of our identity, especially if you've identified as a witch for a number of years.  Don't worry about whether or not you're "still a witch."  During a crisis of faith, it's imperative that you ignore the label. You're still you, witch or not, so shake it off and set it aside.  You don't have to disown it; in other words, you don't have to not be a witch.  It's just not something you need to worry about right now. Give yourself the freedom of simply being you.

5. It's okay to take a break.
Do not force yourself to keep practicing.  When it comes to a crisis of faith, "fake it till you make it" is a terrible philosophy.  You'll only burn out in the process and become more distanced from your practice.  Besides, maintaining a constant practice isn't essential to being a witch.  There are many witches out there not experiencing a crisis of faith who don't celebrate the Wheel of the Year, don't have the energy to do spells, or forget the full moons - and they're valid witches. You are no less valid for not practicing.  Recognizing you need a break is not a weakness - it's a strength.  So give yourself time, whether that's a week, a month, a year, or more.  Things like this cannot be rushed.

Personal Example: I left the blog for six months and, even prior, had not been doing much in terms of witchcraft since leaving my coven.


6. Allow yourself to dabble.
If you've decided to take a break or step away from witchcraft, don't force yourself to totally abandon it if you don't want to.  Read cards, do a spell, listen to witchy music, read a witchcraft book.  Just because you're on a break doesn't mean you can't practice at all.  It just means that you practice when you feel the inspiration, that there's absolutely no pressure to do anything at a specific time or with any kind of consistency.

Personal Example: I love witchcraft books. I continued to purchase new ones and read them during my downtime.

7. Hold on to your experiences. These are your truths.
Sit down and make a list of every experience you've had that is undoubtedly owed to witchcraft.  Every spark of inspiration, every ritual, every spell that worked.  It doesn't even have to be single instances.  It could be an overall practice.  Whatever it is, write it down.  During the most overwhelming moments of your crisis of faith, refer back to this list.  Even if you decide not to stick with witchcraft, knowing that what you experienced was very real can help you find some footing.

Personal Example: I have five pets: Three cats, a dog, and a parrot.  Four of those are familiars.  While I love my parrot to pieces, she is by no means a familiar.  There's a clear difference between them that even my Christian husband clearly sees, and my experiences with them, from pacting to rituals, cannot be denied. 

8. Refocus on yourself.
It's easy to get caught up in the Pinteresty witchcraft aesthetic or the complicated ceremonial rituals.  Stop. Breathe. Think about what you like.  It doesn't have to be what you think others like or what others have said witchcraft is.  Do what you enjoy.  Stop worrying about whether it's "right" or if it "looks good" and just go for it.  Get creative!  Sing, dance, journal, and paint witchy things, even if you're not very good at it.  Do whatever your soul craves, without any thought to whether it's "good enough."

Personal Example:
Doing readings for myself in my PJs in the corner of a room on the floor rather than on some nice cloth with the right lighting.

9. Go back to the basics - of what you already do or something new!
Even if you've only been practicing for a few months, go back to where you very first began.  Look back over your initial notes or read the very first book you touched on witchcraft - even if it's terrible.  Sometimes it helps to reexperience that spark that led us to the Craft in the first place - to remember the rush, the emotions, the otherworldliness of it.  Alternatively, try the basics of something you've never done before.  Witchcraft is such a wide umbrella encompassing many, many, many different practices.  Whether you reexperience your entrance into witchcraft or try something you've never done before, you experience that newness that can help maintain interest and spark a new flame within!

Personal Example: I was called to a tarot deck for the first time ever.  After 15 years, I'd still never really had much interest in tarot.  During my crisis of faith, I dove in head-first and enjoyed it! 

10. Speak with a trusted confidant.
While the emphasis in a crisis of faith might be someone of higher status or more experience, even just a friend or relative can help.  Talking it out gets it off your chest, releasing the inevitable stress that a crisis of faith brings.  Your friend or relative may not be able to change anything but, by offering an ear, they're helping you sort your own feelings out in the process.  And that's huge!  Because what is a crisis of faith if not a moment of extreme processing?

Personal Example: My husband was a huge part of my support and recovery during my crisis of faith.


11. Seek out therapy.
Paganism and witchcraft attract the downtrodden, offering them a way to gain control over their life - this is true.  Unfortunately, this often gets confused with psychiatry and psychology.  Witchcraft tends to incorporate elements of pop-psychology, especially when looking at Carl Jung's Shadow Work (which I'll be going over in a series).  But pop-psychology and the kind of shadow work you might employ in witchcraft is very different from talking with a licensed therapist.  Witchcraft, while it can offer a sort of spiritual healing, is not a substitute for therapy.  If you find your crisis of faith is particularly overwhelming, especially if it's developed from a recent trauma, I strongly suggest reaching out to a professional.

Personal Example: Yep, I went to therapy.  I actually started therapy shortly before leaving my coven last year, but I continued therapy throughout my crisis of faith, discussing it at length.

12. Be accepting of the unknown.
Know that, whether you switch belief systems or not, you may not ever have "all the answers."  This doesn't mean that you have to blindly dive back into witchcraft or cut off the practice entirely and just accept your crisis of faith.  It does, however, mean that, even when you come out on the other side of this period, you may still not be able to answer the question that led you here.  Much like accepting an apology you never received or coming to terms with never knowing someone else's motives for their actions, you'll simply have to accept the unknown to move forward - whatever that forward movement may be.

13. Allow this crisis of faith to change you.
When we experience a crisis of faith, we cannot return to what was before.  In the same way you can't unknow something once you know it, your perception of your practice will shift. Even if you come back to witchcraft, it will be different than before - and that's okay.  This is an evolution of your path, of your human experience.  You're growing.  Allow yourself to grow.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Two years ago, I unknowingly entered a tunnel.  By the time I realized where I was, it was pitch black inside, I lost all sense of direction, and I felt like I was suffocating.  There were days I curled up in a ball on the cold, damp floor and cried - days I simply sat in my crisis.  Society urges us to constantly make progress, to always be moving forward.  It's that capitalist success we're taught to crave.  But it's also okay to just feel whatever it is you're feeling.  Ignoring it will only make it worse. And, after six months of clamoring for the cold walls and feeling my way forward - after six months of intensely feeling my crisis of faith - I finally started to see a dim glow.  As I write this, I feel like I'm emerging from the other side, shielding my eyes from the bright light.  I'm dirty, bruised, covered in scrapes, blood, mud, and tears, but I'm here, in the light of day, standing tall.  I made it through.

In the end, what truly matters to your practice or religion is whether it enriches your personal life.  Is it real? Does the church agree with it?  Does it come from an abusive creator?  I don't think any of those things are as important to a spiritual practice as enjoying it.  Witchcraft, much like other religions and practices, is up to your own personal interpretations.  It may require us to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and do the hard work, but it should also be exciting and fun - something you look forward to rather than dread.

When it comes to my specific crisis of faith, even after I returned to witchcraft, I struggled immensely with its creation, with the pathways that lead to abusive practices today.  Why, if I wouldn't support Chick-Fil-A or Walmart, would I continue to practice witchcraft knowing full-well its formation and flaws?

But here's the thing: I don't support any of that.  From dropping k from "magick" to symbolize a departure from Crowley's teachings to my outright fight against racism and transphobia in my local community, it's clear that the pieces of witchcraft that are problematic are not a part of my personal practice.  I don't support Crowley, Gardner, Fortune or the Frosts, or the myriad of other unnamed occultists and practitioners that included abusive, toxic elements in their work, and I avoid taking pieces from their practices when possible.  Witchcraft and Neopaganism, as a whole, have a variety of problems - but I refuse to participate in any of them.  What I'm left with is a practice that resonates with me.  I can't change its origins nor the toxic elements of today, but I am at least aware.  And as long as my personal practice isn't abusive or phobic, that has to be enough.

Long-time readers of Witchy Words will know that I'm not a huge believer in "fate" or "destiny."  I don't feel like the direction we travel is inevitable. That being said, I do think forks in the road are put there for a reason.  It's less about the direction we choose and more about how we examine ourselves in the process - how we evolve from our experiences.  We're given choices so that we can grow.  A crisis of faith, if nothing else, requires us to do just that.