1.7
April 22, 2016

A Practical Guide to Magic & Ritual.

Flickr/Joel Kiel

Today is the full moon in Scorpio.

I know this, because I am both a self-described walking lunar calendar, and a Scorpio, so it’s my time to shine.

I’m also a witch.

That’s not a phrase that gets said very often these days, and historically it’s not a phrase that’s been said very often in the bright light of day at all. I don’t want any misunderstanding here — witches like it in the shadows. But, like all things kept secret, swept under society’s proverbial rug, there are a few misconceptions that we should probably clear up.

Don’t worry, we’re not here for a history lesson. However, it’s important to understand that witches aren’t quite what the world would have you believe. The rumour mill has been churning about us for a long while now and, whilst there are some who believe this is a powerful veil to hide our true practises behind, I am more of the inclination that it serves simply to cut people off from a world to which they have rightful access.

Witches were, and always have been, people who have been deprived of power. Those who, at one time or another and for one reason or another, have felt weakened, frightened, lost, confused and helpless. Historically, witchcraft has been a refuge for the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, and the downright desperate. As such, it has been primarily a feminine community. This is not to say that all genders are not invited or welcomed with open arms, but it is a community whose roots are placed firmly in a feminist struggle.

Witches can be found in every society, in every culture, in every time. At many points in time they were not only wanted, but revered. In Europe, these were healers and almost always women. As Christianity and a growing sense of male domination scurried across the world, women and their skills were dismissed as untrustworthy — the most undesirable of our perceived traits emphasised; sneaky, manipulative, weak, lying, cheats.

Society was told that sickness and pain, both physical and spiritual, was a sign that you had failed god and that these diabolical women, with the greed and helplessness that was their inevitability, were depriving you of your chance to repent, and luring the vulnerable simply for their own selfish gain.

Today, we manage to go to the chemist and pick up some Panadol for our splitting headache without accusing the pharmacist of supreme evil, but that wasn’t always the case, and as we take the packet of pain relief from the gentle white coats happy to help, we ignore a tradition of dirty, scrambling, scraping survival which gifted us this power.

And that’s what being a witch is really all about: power — specifically, empowerment. Somehow, that’s become a dirty word. To say that your desire is power has been vilified — we’ve all seen Disney movies, we all know power is greed and greed is evil.

Right?

Well, that depends. Like almost anything else, power itself is neither good nor evil. Which is where we come to our first major misconception:

There are ‘black’ witches and ‘white’ witches; one is evil and the other is good. Sorry, but this isn’t actually The Wizard of Oz. There are certainly people who prescribe to those labels, but the definition of good and evil is far too fluid for this.

A perfect example of this misunderstanding is the much sought after Love Spell. You know, the old ‘take a red ribbon at midnight on a Tuesday and wrap it around the name of your beloved and bury it in a jar filled with rose petals and tears for 9.78 days and when you smash the jar in a crowded shopping center which sells pink underwear your lover will be yours’ stuff. We’ve all been knee-deep in the wet soil of our backyard at 1am burying inanimate objects wrapped in silk and surrounded by tigers eye, right?!

….Right, guys?

Love spells can be basically enslavement. Forcing someone to love you, to feel things that they wouldn’t otherwise feel, isn’t “good” magic, it’s not nice, it’s not cute. And as any witch will tell you. it’s damn hard!

Which brings me to my second point.

If witches were real then they’d all have perfect lives because they’d have magic.

Really…?

I am still surprised (but not at all shocked) when I hear “Well, if you’re a witch, what are the lotto numbers this weekend?” or “Why don’t you just use your ‘magical powers’ to heal yourself if you’re sick?”.

Look, I’m a witch — I’m not a God.

If you went to the gym every single day for a year, would you be able to lift your house off the ground? Would you ever be able to do that? No. So, why would you expect me to be able to do the magical equivalent? Amazing things can happen when magic is used with skill, and the magic isn’t limited but in a number of ways the skill certainly can be.

Magic is no less real because it doesn’t fix all of your problems instantly with little to no effort. Charmed was wrong — I don’t have a big old leather-bound book in an attic with magic words in it (though I’m working on that), that when said will manifest whatever I want.

Magic. Takes. Work.

Which sees us rolling in nicely to our final station on the ‘Things That Aren’t Actually a Thing’ rail line.

If I want to do magic, I need to purchase this exceedingly expensive felt covered book that says “Spells” and every candle I can see right now.

Nope.

No, no, no, no, no.

You don’t need someone to write you an instruction manual. You already have one of those — you were born with it, actually. Spoiler: It’s you.

There are certainly skills to learn and knowledge to find, and many of those things can be found in books. But you don’t need a recipe for rituals. There’s no hard and fast rule here. If I told you to go and stand with your back to the moon and spin around 39 times while yelling out the names of American presidents with Cheetoh-coloured tan and horrible foreign policies (it’s Trump, guys. The first and only one is Trump.), and I printed that on glossy paper and sold it for $49.95, that wouldn’t make it a good ritual.

What makes effective magic is deep understanding and connection. You have to know what you’re really doing and why you’re doing it.

Every month, as I’m preparing for my own full moon rituals I see the internet flooded with articles about how to honour the moon and it’s usually very beautiful. The moon is a strong source of power within witchcraft, and it symbolises many things about intuition, cycles, beginnings and endings, devotion and inward journeying. But all of those beautiful words about “her luminescent splendour” will do you no good at all if you have no idea why you’re standing naked in a park with your arms raised to the sky, or why you’re floating in a particularly beautiful bath with 15 white sage incense sticks slowly smoking you out of your apartment.

I did promise that this wouldn’t be a history lesson and so all I will do at this point is encourage you to research the history behind the worship of the moon within the various witchcraft traditions (Hint: Aradia). This is the information that will shape your intent in your monthly ritual sessions, and with a clearer understanding of what your predecessors believed you will gain access to a long heritage of knowing. Your rituals will no longer be a series of predetermined actions, they will be a flow of intuitive and powerful proclamations.

It is at this point that a new understanding of power will emerge. It will no longer be a word to you, with all of its connotations, pre-programmed by centuries of mindless groupthink. It will be a living thing that introduces itself to you, and says “I’m ready if you are.”

Each ritual is unique, and none is more correct than any other, and below I would like to share with you the basic components that I include in my monthly full moon rituals that have helped to guide my working, and growing understanding of what it is to proudly be a witch.

My hope is that through this process you begin to feel the well of ancestral knowing that you have, telling you that this life is yours and no one else’s, and that you will gain the confidence to create your own rituals each month. If you’ve missed celebrating the full moon this month, don’t worry, it’s a bit like a clingy ex — it’ll be back next month, whether you ignore it or not.

 

clinger moon

 

 

 

~

1. Intention:

This is by far the most important part. This can be influenced by the astrological phases, the day of the week, the time of year, or what’s going on in your life at the moment — but the best kind of intention is a combination of all of these things, fueled by an honest, raw desire. One of the more common questions asked of witches, besides “How can I make him love me?”, is “Should I/can I/will you help me curse them?”, and my answer always begins with “How mad are you, really?”

Magic is practical. We don’t put in all of this effort for nothing.

Magic also only works if you really believe — genuinely — that it will. If you don’t really want to hurt someone, or you don’t really want to help someone, including yourself, you’re not going to. This is why your intention for each and every ritual is crucial. If it helps, write this intent down on a piece of paper. You can also weave this statement in to a simple chant if you like, to be offered during your ritual.

Search inside yourself and find some truth. I told you magic takes work.

2. Preparation:

Remember when I said that magic works if you believe it does? Well, once you reach that nice state of intense focus and control, you’re going to be pretty p*ssed off when your phone rings or you discover you forgot your athame and that focus disappears.

And poof! The spell was broken.

Focus for magic, and states that enhance magical undertakings like trance, can be hard to attain but undeniably easy to lose. Your ritual relies on the emotion behind your stated intent, and that can slip away like sand. Make sure you have all of your tools and your space is prepared properly before you begin. This is particularly important if ritual or magical practise is new for you.

3. Tools:

Despite what a lot of books will tell you, you don’t need a darn thing if you don’t want to use tools in your ritual. Magic tools, like wands and knives and drums, have magical properties and definitely have a place in ritual. But they’re conduits for magic, they’re not the magic themselves. And they don’t become magical just because you bought them in a shop that smells like patchouli — they get that way because you imbue them with magic, and you set them for that purpose.

What that really means is that magic is a thing you direct, it’s not a thing you own. You don’t need tools, you need yourself. Using tools to help you enter a state in which you can focus on your ritual is helpful and can be utilised as a sort of on/off switch for ritual head-space. But don’t rely on them entirely — your ritual is going to be just as effective whether you use the black candle or the slightly purple candle, as long as your focus and intention remains.

4. Honour:

Much like I would not walk into my workplace and whip out the slippers, steal everyone’s stationary, and generally treat the office as if I owned it, I also do not walk in to the magical realms — however you may conceptualise and understand them — or ritual spaces as if they belong to me and I can do whatever I want.

Casting circles or opening crossroads proclaims to the world “I am here!”. It does not proclaim “I am here and I’m the king of everything.” Treat your ritual spaces and the entities which inhabit it with respect and honour, as is deserved. If you perform rituals outdoors, as I prefer very much to do, don’t think that just because it’s your backyard that you’re the one who owns it. That land has been there for a lot longer than your fence has, and there are things that live there.

Take time to honour, welcome and thank the spirits of place — these could be traditional land owners, and/or spirits of nature if you are an animist like myself — as well as the beings that inhabit the magical world at large, such as deities that are appropriate to your work if that is your inclination, your ancestors or Sacred Dead, or any beings you feel are with you. Some people call these guardian angels.

Treat them like you would any other party host. Say hello, ask if you can come in and thank them for having you, compliment their interior decorating, say goodbye before you leave and thank them for a nice time. Don’t drink all of the punch.

5. Sacrifice:

Begin by locating one small white goat.

I’m kidding, goats are adorable and I’m a vegetarian. Sacrifice could also have been categorised as “Honour, part B”. It’s something that is done as a show of respect and thanks to any spirits, deities or beings you have called to be present during your ritual. If you haven’t called any, sacrifice is a trade.

The power that we were talking about earlier, the one that’s inside of you? Well, it’s just one bit of a big ebb and flow, a much larger essence, and something that you have because you’re a living thing, but also something that isn’t entirely yours. Think of it as your bedroom in a big college share house — it’s your space, but the walls are pretty thin and if you want to have music on after 10pm on a weeknight you’re going to need to buy your housemates a really nice cake. You’ve just taken power from that communal bank, so it’s important to honour that with a symbolic sacrifice.

A sacrifice can be anything as long as it’s designated as such by you, and you magically “acknowledge” this as you offer it. This can be done using visualisation techniques if you wish, but is mostly emotional. Direct your power the way you know how — personally, I use mental imagery to create this effect, simply envisaging light or “essence” filling the sacrifice. This can be bread and wine, incense, a candle, foraged wild plants, or any trinket that’s meaningful to you. If you have invoked particular deities or spirits, you should research their traditional offerings before hand if possible and have these on hand.

~

Using these guidelines may not mean that you’ll get the million dollars you request manifests in your bank account, but it will hopefully give you a much better understanding of how ritual works and where the real value of magic lies.

Blessed be, witches!

~

Author: Erin Lawson

Editor: Erin Lawson

Images: Unsplash/Jennifer Aldrich   //   Flickr/Joel Kiel

You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

Read Elephant’s Best Articles of the Week here.
Readers voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares:
Click here to see which Writers & Issues Won.

Erin Lawson

Erin Lawson is a writing, tree hugging, cat owning, intellectual feminist loudmouth who delights in heated debate and flowers. In her spare time she dances her heart out, stops entire groups of friends at markets to look at plants, and practises witchcraft. When people come to her house they are greeted with the sweet smells of brewing herbs and the soft brush of white fluff ball/life coach Josie the cat against their legs. Things that make her soul happy include shooting arrows in the forest, discussing magic with beloved coven siblings, and the smell of mossy earth after a summer storm.