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Rewilding Realities in Small Towns

By | Ecological Consciousness, Featured | 21 Comments

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Here there is a constant chorus of tree frogs, crickets, and birdsong that never stops, even in the darkness when the bats fly over the creek  to hunt mosquitoes. I see the black and white flash of a skunk ducking into a hollow, a fat black and yellow garter snake hunting frogs and field mice, scores of tiny brown and black toads leaping away from my feet as I walk, and blue jays, woodpeckers, robins, and grackles zip over my head without fear.  A red fox runs through the brush, a mother deer and her two fawns munch on tender greens in a meadow, porcupines scrabble up trees, startled wild rabbits dart out in front of you, and gaggles of wild turkeys roam freely.

I am not in the wild, I am not in a nature conserve or a provincial park. I am in a small town of 600 people in rural Ontario with a house and garage on a 1/3 of an acre. I can walk to every  shop in 2 minutes that people have to drive to in the city. Other times I am at my parents’ 83 acre farm which is only ten minutes away and surrounded by other farms. This place is called Killaloe, after the small town of Killaloe in Ireland. Founded by Irish settlers in the 1800s, it now hosts a mixture of people with Irish, German, and Polish backgrounds. Hippies moved in the 1960s and started farming. Thanks to them, people are pretty open minded and liberal here. There is a local accent and a required local attitude of friendliness and hospitality (my neighbour admitted he gives the finger to people who don’t wave hello back to him because it’s such a great offense). The town and surrounding farms are filled with pockets of wildness. The people here didn’t see fit to “civilize” every inch of town or even their farms, especially since most are hunters who understand they need the wilderness to be healthy homes for turkeys and deer to hunt to take home for food over the winter. Just look at the view below. I am standing on the footbridge in the middle of town, I can see my house across the creek, but it is so very green and full of trees it doesn’t look like I’m in a town at all.

I can see my house from here

It amuses me to no end that I now live in “cottage country”. This is where the people of Ottawa and Toronto come every summer to escape the city and enjoy nature. When they do come, the town’s population triples (okay, it’s more the number of cars in town that triple). You can tell a cottager apart from a local because the city-dwelling cottager won’t return your wave hello, but instead ducks their head and runs. It took a bit for it to sink in, that I will live year round where people go to vacation. Sometimes I wonder if they ever think of moving here permanently?  A handful of retirees do, but most only come in the summer after black fly season.

Why am I here? To be close to family for one. What a difference to be 10 minutes away from my parents, instead of thousands of miles when you have a child –especially a little boy who loves his grampa and gramma so dearly. I am two hours away from my father’s parents and his brothers and their wives and their children and their children who all live in the huge capital city of Ottawa. I am four hours from Maxville, an early Scottish settlement where my mother’s father is from, I am six hours from Montreal where both my parents are from and where I lived for a time in my early 20s (I’ve lived in Ottawa, Toronto, Barrie, and on Lake Simcoe too), and I am six hours from Toronto where my sister and my mom’s siblings live.

Scenes from Killaloe

Tearful Lament of the City Dweller

If you love the city, the art, the culture, the food, the events –I am happy for you and for my good friends who feel the same. This piece is not for you. This piece is for those who, like me, long to live near nature and experience a healthy ecosystem on a daily basis instead of seeing a once contained city eat up every nearby town, and crawl up every mountain until everything is a suburb and there is no space left between. It scares me a bit that it can take hours just to drive out of a city to reach nature.

I am here because I could not live in the wilderness in my beloved British Columbia. I couldn’t take the city anymore or the rudeness of the people and the extreme overcrowding. Any cool event I tried to go to was ruined by the thousands of people trying to fit into a space meant for 200. It’s my own theory that when you get millions of people living elbow to elbow in a city, they stop thinking of and treating other people as humans. We can only remember a few hundred faces, and we were only ever meant to live in social groups that large. Take public transit for a week in a large city and find out how considerate people are. I didn’t think it was quite that bad (okay, Toronto was) until I was pregnant and had a baby in a stroller while taking public transit. I was never given a seat and people actually tried to kick and push over the stroller on multiple occasions with me screaming “what’s wrong with you?!” and no one intervening, but instead looking away or pretending they were asleep. The last time I took public transit in Vancouver before I moved it was so bad I broke down crying before I even reached my destination and just went home.

Mayne Island - Gulf Islands

Wood cob house on Mayne Island

Mayne Island is so lovely, I really wanted to move there…

After months of researching and scouring listings, I realized I could never afford to buy property where I wanted to live. After I wiped away the tears shared by many of my generation who realize they can never afford a home and land of their own, I looked into renting where I wanted to live instead. I was immediately stopped by the ‘vacation rental’ roadblock. It seemed like everyone renting out houses in the rural small towns and islands outside of the Lowermainland was trying to make big money from tourists instead of looking for long term renters. I did not like the idea of having to move once or twice a year because a landlord kicked me out to rent the property to tourists for three times the price instead.

Maybe there were some more tears. Then I moved on to Plan C (a girl’s got to have multiple back up plans). Move back to my beloved Burnaby Mountain and live in co-operative housing near friends and lots of local pagan and shamanic events. I would technically still be in the city, but my son would grow up surrounded by woodland and a huge nature conservation area that I love dearly. It was not to be. Along came Kinder-Morgan and a federal government who removed the protections on the nature conserve so they could build an oil pipeline through the mountain to fill tankers in the inlet on the other side to send to China. Because nothing says “build an underground oil pipeline here” like a wild mountain that is a massive natural aquifer and wild salmon habitat. Yes there was a great uprising of locals and environmentalists protesting, but the overall attitude of the city dwellers was “put those hippies in jail and build the pipeline already.” It was heartbreaking, there were more tears.

The Farm

The Farm

This spring I was in Killaloe visiting my parents at the farm for a month, trying to catch up on writing while getting a much needed break. My father took my son and I on a walk around the farm. He took me to see his chair. Of course it wasn’t a chair –this is the man who regularly beats his bounds as if his old Irish soul is performing ancient magics he doesn’t realize. In the centre of his property on a hedge of  stone and trees between two fields, on top of a massive granite stone, he had build a wood platform. I laughed, it was Odin’s high seat and it was the high seat of the kings of ancient Ireland. He climbed up, I handed him the baby, and I climbed up. You could see the entirety of his property. The fields, the forests, the pond, the marshes, and the rolling hills in the distance. It was beautiful. “I like to drink my coffee here in the morning and look at my land. One day this will all be yours, your sister’s, and your son’s.”

As I climbed back down into the field it hit me like a ton of bricks: why was I looking for land out West when my family already owned land in Ontario? Why had I been stubbornly insisting on staying in British Columbia for so many years? My father had been trying to convince me to move to town since he bought the farm a decade ago when he retired. I looked at my son and I wanted him to have the croaking frogs, the fireflies, the hooting owls, the deer, the incredible swathes of green space, and the creek to go fishing in. I wanted him to have all those things now dead and forgotten in the cities. Sometimes there are bits of nature, but we tell our children to look and not touch. I realized I could transport my animism and bioregionalism to this place. I could pull up my roots and transplant them to a new home. As we walked back to the house I half-jokingly said to my father and mother “if you find me a house with air conditioning, I will move here.”

The New House

The New House

Well, they obviously took me quite seriously because here I am. A friend of my mother’s from church had died in March. She was elderly and it was sudden. Her children put the house up for sale themselves. My mother remembered one time when we were driving through town and we stopped to see the house. I took one look at the land and fell in love. The price helped too. My monthly mortgage payment is half what I paid for rent in the city for a tiny low-ceiling basement suite. The same German family had lived in the house for the past 50-60 years. The two sons and the daughter were so happy to sell it to a family. There was only one beautiful hydrangea in the yard planted for beauty alone, everything else was edible or medicinal. My yard is full of pear, apple, crabapple, and wild plum fruit trees. There are rose and currant bushes and wild violets everywhere. There is a huge raspberry patch, two giant garden plots, and a big compost. Birch, linden, maple, cedar and fir trees were strategically planted around the house for shade. The trees do their job so well we’ve only had to use the air conditioner twice since moving in this summer. It all happened so fast and unexpectedly this summer. Suddenly I had a house and land and was out of the city.

The view from my kitchen windows

The view from my kitchen table

The house needed fixing up, but mostly just cosmetic since it was built in the late 1950s. Some putty, some paint, some new flooring in a couple rooms, and it looks just lovely now. There’s a great big oak kitchen with a wood cookstove and a beautiful view of the yard from the table. There’s a big livingroom, a big bathroom, and smaller bedrooms upstairs. Downstairs is your typical dark and scary basement – it even has a dirt floor root cellar. It will just be used for food storage and for overwintering cold sensitive plants. It’s pretty typical for the houses in town, though they range from being built in the 1800s to the 2000s. I think it’s amazing that it’s completely normal here to have a wood cook stove and/or a wood stove in your house.

My house has its own well, which is also pretty typical in town. My water smells and tastes like cold, clean, deep dark earth –no chlorine in sight. I can’t wait to brew mead and beer with it. The house is also set up to collect rain water, and I can pump water from the creek to water the gardens. I have a back up generator as the power goes out in both summer and winter due to storms. The garage has space for one car, but the rest is a huge functional wood shop. The bandsaw, scrollsaw, edge planer, and flat planer all came with the house. The garage attic has a solid wood floor and a metal roof. It is so warm in the summer that it is perfect for hanging herbs and foods to dry.

Renovating the new house

Renovating the new house

I have the vintage wood cook stove as well as the electric and its been set up to partially heat the house while you cook. I can wild harvest in my own yard. Let me say that again: in my own yard. Or, I can step across the creek using the quaint covered footbridge and I’m right in a section of wild forest. I can see that footbridge from my front porch and have watched the laughing children swim under it where its dammed up and deep. The children are all nut brown here from playing outside all day. I saw a fourteen year old girl beg her father to go fishing. Packs of children roam the town and play until after sunset. They are part wild here and it is so beautiful to see. Yes, it is so ideal and green and lush in Killaloe and yet I live behind the town’s grocery store and the post office is a two minute walk away.

The lovely creek

Realistic Rewilding

Rewilding isn’t just about living off grid, camping off grid, living in a yurt or  a tree house. Rewilding can be realistic and attainable. Yes cities are unsustainable and their constant growth and construction is incredibly damaging to wild ecosystems, but rewilding would not be sustainable either if every city dweller suddenly decided to leave their life behind and move to the wilderness. Yes, I just said that rewilding would be unethical if everyone did it. Suddenly the forests would start to resemble suburbs. The same would happen if every city dweller decided to hunt or forage for food. Rewilding yourself is not as easy as picking berries and feeling connected to Mother Earth, there are just too many of us to make the mainstreaming of foraging for food viable or ethical. There are simply too many of us. We are locusts; fine in small numbers, devastating en masse. You know what there are also too many of? Small rural towns who are forgotten, abandoned, or in danger of being so due to dwindling populations. I hear the same story over and over from the old folks in town: “Everyone moved to the city, no one comes back. My children don’t want to farm, my children don’t want to take over the business, my children couldn’t wait to move away…”

I would make this a pub

If you are serious about rewilding yourself and your family, but do not have the skills, knowledge, or desire to live hard core off grid (or it’s stupidly illegal in your state), why not move to a small town instead? They are already established with homes and infrastructure. They have already claimed the land from nature. There is no need to buy “empty” plots of land in the wilderness and intrude on the wildlife by building there. If you want to build your own house, there are many affordable opportunities in Canada’s small towns: 9 Canadian towns giving away free land. The United States sure has its fair share of dwindling and empty hamlets due to outsourcing and the mortgage crisis that caused a massive recession from 2007-2009. There is also the much bigger example of Detroit. Who’s to say your city isn’t next?

When young people, families, and retirees move to small towns, they add tax revenue to those towns, they add services, they add beauty and life. When you move to a small town it isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the town –whether it has a population of 20 or 2,000. So many are in need of rejuvenation, even just a few families moving in can make all the difference. There are empty homes and empty commercial buildings waiting for you and a town council who doesn’t know how to get you to move there, but who may be willing to give you a break if you do. The kind of growth that happens is the healthy kind, a town becomes a functioning community with a sustainable population. Sometimes they even become great stewards of the land creating eco-villages and farming collectives. For a good example listen to this CBC radio piece about the rejuvenation of Palmer, Saskatchewan by young people from Ontario.

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Let’s be honest though, the main reason stopping people from leaving the cities for small towns is work. People are terrified they won’t be able to make money because they are so used to it costing so much money just to live in a city. My friends seldom had time for each other in the city because they were all too busy breaking their backs trying to earn enough money to live in the city. Everything costs less where I live: houses, rent, taxes, groceries, liquor, gas, and even commercial properties. Research first, find the town you can afford to live in. If your cost of living drops significantly, your need for income does too. You could support a family with a part-time job where I am. If you have a lot of savings and credit to work with you could buy a business or multiple business, or buy up real estate and make your income that way. It can seem impossible to get a job in a small town, but moving to one is still a more realistic form of rewilding, it just requires thinking outside the box and maybe being willing to work outside of your chosen field. If you are self-employed, a tradesperson, work online, or have the ability to open your own viable business in a town, you are set. Small towns are always in need of a business or service that disappeared. I work online as a herbal retailer, but I can also take my products to the local farmer’s markets and craft fairs. I know I am lucky. If I need other ways to make an income they are available. Thanks to the size and fertility of my land I am going to grow herbs and produce to sell next year.

I also have a background as a professional cook and this town is in dire need of a restaurant, cafe, or pub as they’ve all closed down for various reasons (though mainly due to retirement and having no one to take over). Some of the seniors in town found out I was a cook and have been trying to talk me into at least opening a breakfast cafe. I didn’t think I’d be able to afford to, but one day while I was admiring an old empty storefront in town for its stamped tin ceilings, an old hippie drove by and said the whole building could be mine for the low price of $35,000 and that I could rent out the top floor as it’s a big apartment. Well… it’s a dream to keep in mind once I’m more settled here and can rebuild my savings.

Empty shopfront I covet in town

The lesson to take from my experience so far: your money will go so much farther and your dreams are so much more attainable in a small town as long as you are willing to do the work. Here is my last reality check: in Canada you can buy a crappy run down house in Toronto or Vancouver for a million dollars, or you can buy an entire abandoned small town. You don’t need a million though; did you know there are small towns in rural Canada selling plots of land for $10 just to get people to move there? There is even land being given away for free in the Yukon. For those of us who don’t already live there, leave the wilderness alone, let it stay wild, visit its beauty, but live right next door to it in a space already set up for the needs of humans. Small towns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you find one that is the right fit, happiness will abound.

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Mysteries of Beast, Blood and Bone

By | Bones & Blood, Featured, Folk Magic, Necromancy, Witchcraft & Magic | 8 Comments

Crow skulls, bones, and foot

© 2013  Sarah Anne Lawless – Originally printed in Serpent Songs: An Anthology of Traditional Craft curated by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold and published by Scarlet Imprint. Do not copy or use any portion of this text or its images without the express permission of the author, but sharing the link is very welcome.


skulls line the windowsills. Skulls float in jars on top of cupboards. Bones boil in pots on the stove, the flesh melting away. Hidden among the drying herbs and roots there are hearts and tongues and eyes. It is not Baba Yaga’s hut I describe, but my kitchen. Bone collector, bone washer, animal necromancer, deathwalker, shapeshifter, poisoner, witch… these are the words people whisper of me and my practices. Some whisper with fear and others with desire. I am an animist, a folk magician, and a rootworker. It is not just herbs I work with in my folk magic, but also skulls and bones, hearts and tongues. I practice the lost art of working with beast, blood, and bone in order to rebirth the ancient nature of Witch as a wild and primal creature; surrounded by spirits, anointed with blood, dressed in hides, and adorned with talismans of bone, tooth, and claw.

The magic of beasts is sympathetic magic, fetiche magic, and death magic, but it is also sensual magic. It is the feel of the Saturn finger dipped in warm blood, of softest fur on barest skin, of sharpest tooth and talon biting in, of a raw heart on the tongue, and the scent of decay deep in the lungs. It is the rendered fat of a flying ointment like smooth silk across the brow, and it is the tactile, dirty, grounding sorcery of the here and now. It is an amoral, carnal, fleshly, and sensory feast of visceral magic combining the sacred and the profane. The magic of beasts belongs to the wild sorcerers who are part human, part spirit, and part animal; the ones who dance the knife’s edge between the worlds of life and death, the incarnate and disincarnate.

It is only practical to work with the animals and spirits who share the land where I live, for they have a closer relationship with me than any romanticized exotic animals across the sea. On my altar you will find the spirits of the Pacific Northwest: Orca, Salmon, Black Bear, Black Wolf, Mountain Lion, Mountain Goat, White-Tailed Deer, and wings of the birds who haunt our skies and the tree tops of Hemlock and Red Cedar. Old Woman and Old Man of the Woods whispered to me their names in dreams and one by one the beasts came to me. On my altar are their antlers, horns, bones, skulls, teeth, hides and feathers. The ones I did not find myself ended up in my care through bone collectors, shamans, and hunters.

It is important to state that I do not kill the creatures who come to me; instead, they are brought to me after death by conservation officers, hunters, taxidermists, and from friends as road kill. This is my choice and yet in the future I hope to go with my animist friends who hunt in a sacred manner and help them skin and butcher and then take of the bones and flesh they will not eat or use. When I receive dead beasts, plastic is rolled across the table, knives laid out, and gloves and a mask are worn. The still bodies are smudged with fragrant herbs, anointed with holy water, and blessings of cleansing and release are whispered over them. The bodies may be still but their spirits are not. Sometimes it isn’t enough and the animal’s spirit must be bargained with; some demanding to be buried whole with nothing taken, some who will only give up a few parts for sacred work and no more, and some who demand an offering or a working before you may proceed. It is best to respect their remains and their demands for they can curse you better than any witch if you anger them. Folly alone will lead you to curse yourself: butchery and preservation require training as dead animals carry disease, bacteria, parasites, and legal issues –it is not something to walk into blindly.

Crow Claw TalismansThis path is not for everyone; it is not for the weak of stomach or for those who think it is immoral. I grew up with hunters and fishers. I’ve lived by the sea, I’ve lived on a farm raising livestock, and I’ve lived deep in the wildest forests. I was once a professional butcher and cook. It is how I can do what I do. Why follow this path? It should compel you and feed your soul in some way. What is the reward of such bloody work? It is simple, if you want to be a shape-shifter and a walker between worlds, if you want to learn the tongues of beasts, if you want to align yourself more closely than you could ever believe with your animal familiars and the genius loci, then you will also need to work closely with death, blood, and bone. Our ancestors were not soft or squeamish and we must not white-wash their memory by imagining they didn’t kill the deer used to make their ceremonial costume, the raven for their feathered headdress and cloak, or the bear for its hide to craft their drums and rattles. We must approach our Mighty Dead in full knowledge they killed the swans buried in their sacrificial pits, they killed the mare buried beneath the feasting hall, and they killed the hornless bull for its hide to wrap around their seer so he may dream of invaders’ ships. Long have we as the human race worked with animals, their deaths, and their spirits in our rites and ceremonies. Long will our descendants do so after we are dead.

Death will show you a side of your character as yet unknown and your reaction will either gladden you or horrify you. We are so far removed from death in our modern, sterile, clinical world that it is more important than ever as spirit workers to reconnect ourselves and others with death, blood, and bone. I work with death so I can be close to it. Being close to death reminds me I too am a spirit, walking around in a suit of flesh which I may come and go from as I please. When you are close to death you are close to spirits and more easily able to see and commune with them. When you are close to spirits, you are closer to the other worlds where they reside and therefore more easily able to transverse them.

FORMULARY OF THE BEAST

I share my ancestors’ belief in sympathetic magic and, when I wish to work more closely with an animal spirit, I need to also work with its remains whether it is a claw, its hide, or its whole skeleton. To practice this magic one must be able to seek out death; for bone collectors and necromancers can sense bones and remains when they pass nearby, be it in the forest or the flea market.

You are what you eat. Sympathetic magic takes this common phrase to a deeper level. To acquire the keen hearing, quick reflexes, and agility of a deer, one would eat venison. To acquire keen eyesight or the ability to fly like a bird, crossing between the other worlds, one would eat poultry. Our ancestor believed to eat a thing is to absorb its powers, spirit, and knowledge into yourself to making you more powerful or wise. To kill a thing is to take its spirit. Hunters of old would usually let the spirit go and return the bones of a fish to the river it was caught and the bones of a deer to the forest of its death as a sign of respect so the creature could be reborn again and eaten again.

Not every animal was let go. Some animals were hunted solely for their spirits: for their hides, their bones, for their claws and teeth, for their power, and for their help as an ally, totem, or familiar. Such spirits are asked to willingly offer themselves and stay with you until it is your turn to die. Our ancestors asked permission, not merely of the animal spirits themselves, but of the ruling genius loci, before they hunted or harvested as is evidenced in the hunter’s invocations in the Kalevala, ancient Latin spells petitioning Artemis, and oral Scottish tales of disrespectful hunters being found dead, killed by a wild shape-shifting crone.

When you bring home any part of an animal with the intention of enlivening it as a fetiche, keep in mind that like any living creature you would have be your pet, you must also be responsible for any spirit you take home – you must accept its wildness and instincts, sate its hunger and thirst, clean it when it becomes soiled, and give it of your love, your energy and your time. The respect, reverence, and care you give a familiar spirit and the fetiche it inhabits is what you will gain in return.

Each part of an animal can be used as a fetiche, a spirit house, a ritual tool, and as a spell ingredient. As a bone collector I save the bones, but as a witch I save the blood, eyes, fats, feet, hearts, skins, teeth, and tongues as well.

He layeth corpses at my feet;
not dead slain by warrior’s hand
or creatures fit to eat,
but brings me tongue and heart,
skull and bone, tooth and eye
– all to work my grisly witch’s art.

Owl Skull

BONES

Fresh bones wet and greasy with fat and blood, smooth white bones stained with earth, dry rough bones eroded by wind and water… no matter their condition the bones and skulls of a dead animal connect us directly with the creature’s spirit and the spirits of all their kind, living and dead. Collect the bones and skulls of animal familiars to ease communion and interaction with them. Gather the bones of animals each from the realms of land, sea, and sky if you wish to better transverse between the worlds and shift between shapes. Become an osteomancer by throwing the bones to divine secrets, foreknowledge, and the keys to your questions. Carve and paint the bones with runes and sigils. Become a charmer and wear a baculum for fertility, virility, sexual prowess, and protection.

The empty eye sockets of skulls watch and guard, apotropaic and undead they never tire of their duty. Hang the skulls of sharp-toothed predators over garden gates and chicken coops to keep out unwanted beasts. Hang them over your own door to keep out unwanted spirits and energies and let them be your fanged bouncers, your hunting hounds. Hang the skulls of horned beasts above a stable, outbuilding, or gate for protection and also to ensure the health and fertility of any livestock or wild game on your land.

The skull is where awareness and the senses dwell. Skulls are the most suited part of a skeleton for a spirit house. Magically cleanse your skull in a ceremony and ask if its spirit wants to continue to dwell in it or if another beast of its kind wishes to volunteer. I prefer the spirit the skull once housed as the connection between the two is much stronger. Consecrate the skull to its purpose as spirit vessel and a tie for that spirit to our middle world. To summon and work with the spirit you can chant:

Black is the colour of womb and tomb;
we meet at night on the dark of the moon.
White is the colour of bone and ash;
to speak to the dead we bathe and fast.
Red is the colour of blood and death;
we rub the bones and give them breath.

Clean the fetiche and leave its spirit offerings on a regular basis for the rest of your life until you pass it on to another or you die. If you must, you can desecrate a spirit vessel in ceremony and release the spirit from the bone.

BLOOD

Blood is a sacrifice that feeds the hungry spirits and the insatiable earth. Blood ties us to life and death for we are born in blood and we die when our blood flows through the earth instead of our veins. Blood is holy water, life force, heat, and metal. The spirit dwells in the blood and when you drink of it you are possessed by it, bound to it, and it to you. The earth hungers for blood; the ancient battlefields long to be soaked in red, the mountains cry out for human sacrifice, and the herb garden hungers for dead crows. How they flourish when painted red, how green and juicy the plants grow when fed off of the blood of mortals and beasts alike. The whole of nature feeds off of death and decay. Leave out offerings of blood or raw meat to the genius loci, to the plants, to the black earth, and see how greedily the spirits claw and bite and devour it. The hungry earth is the easiest way to clean bones. Bone collectors learn to feed their gardens the unwanted flesh of their work so only pure osseous matter is left.

Blood will tie you to living beasts, it will cleanse you like holy water, protect you like an amulet, and lend you increased power and life force for your ceremonies. Blood can heal – trading a life for a life, sickliness for health. Blood can bring you closer to death and your ancestors. Blood can curse too; spilled and spat upon, a life taken in an enemy’s name.

“Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of a Christian man,” says the giant. “I smell Russian blood,” says Baba Yaga. The spirits can smell our blood and by it know that we are human. They will want to drink your blood like the hungry earth for not all spirits are amicable towards us mortals. Animal blood will distract them from your scent and feed their hunger… for the moment. Blood spilled on feather down seems to be a favourite. Is it not why we bathe in cold spring waters, rub and smudge ourselves with fragrant herbs, and adorn ourselves in animal hides? We disguise ourselves as forest creatures to safely travel in and out of the territories of dangerous spirits..

CLAWS AND FEET

Claws click, dig, and bite deep, shedding blood. Sharp claws and talons have long been worn as protective amulets – wear them about your neck to prevent attacks from the familiar spirits of other magicians and to chase away the evil eye like an owl hunts down a mouse with its eyes upon a corn field. In a trance straddling the worlds shamans use a sharp-clawed bird foot to tear illnesses or elf darts out of a patient’s body, to chase away the evil eye, to shield and protect, or to send forth biting curses to rend apart a rival or enemy. Keep the feet, toes, and nails to walk in a beast’s footsteps and wear them about your neck for rites of shape-shifting.

Arthritic Crow Foot

EYES

Save the eyes to see the unseen, to have visions, and dream dreams. Preserve them and keep them to see like the animal and better shift your shape into feather, fur, or silver skin. Eyes to spy: wear them around your neck or place them under you head to see through the eyes of their living kind far away.

Eyes to send the evil eye. Eyes to bind and blind. Eyes to stab and curse. An eye to repel the evil eye. Add to a protection talisman to carry or hide in your car or home. Eyes to watch and warn of dangers. Hang over your door for the worries of this world and place on your altar for dangers from the otherworld. Eyes as offerings to seer spirits and deities of the divinatory arts. Burn them and bury them, the eyes to see the future.

FAT

Creamy, luscious, succulent fat – it makes such a good and pleasing offering to the gods and spirits. The rendered fats of beasts can be transformed via alchemy into flying ointments, tallow candles, protective ritual grease paints, and potent medicines. Hallucinogenic plant poisons insidiously infuse more thoroughly into animal fats and into your bloodstream than through a vegetable medium. My ointment of bear fat and henbane seed serves me well in my rites of shape-shifting and seership. When I use it I anoint my bear skull as well as myself. I do the same for my crow and owl skulls with my ointment of bird fats infused with feather ashes, the dust of bird bones, solanceae and artemisias – it aids me in spirit flight and travelling through the worlds in the form of a bird.

Burn down a tallow candle of bear to invoke its spirit or to give offering to a deity or nature spirit whom bear is sacred to. Fat is the food of the gods; burn the fat of pig, goat, deer, bear, cow, and bird as a grand offering. Bury it raw in the woods for the spirits of the wild. Rub fat on a statue to feed its inhabiting spirit.

Mix rendered fats with potent magical herbs, charcoals, and natural pigments to create grease paints to protect your body and soul for your rites of spirit work – especially those of possession and shape-shifting. Rub sacred fats into your untreated wooden ritual tools to feed them, darken them, and strengthen them.

FEATHERS

Feathers lend us wings to fly out of body and between the worlds, tucked in the hair or stitched onto the collars and sleeves of cloaks. Feathers connect us to the world of the spirits and can deliver messages between them. Feathers tied to staffs, stangs, wands, ritual pipes, drums, and rattles used in spirit work. Feathers to slice and cut or feathers to caress and heal. Feathers hung for protection when travelling and feathers tucked under the mattress to receive true dreams. Wings to sweep away what doesn’t suit us and wings cleanse our bodies and souls. Wings wash away emotions and parasitic spirits like a fierce wind. Smudge with a tail fan to help redirect energies so things flow smoothly once more.

Rook and Crow Fetish

HEARTS

The heart is one of the seats of the soul. A poet would say a soul is not free from the body until the heart rots, eaten by the earth. To keep a heart is to collect a soul and its power. To hide one’s heart like a sorcerer in an ancient tale is to cheat death. To wrap a poultice around a heart is to heal a heart that still beats. To stab a heart is to tear into a soul and let darkness in.

Bake a heart into a salt dough poppet. It is your choice whether the dough contains healing or baneful herbs and whether you cover it in healing poultices or stab it with ill intent. Give a heart the name of your enemy and feed it to your pet or eat it yourself to gain power over them. Prick a fresh heart with pins, needles, or thorns to curse another or to reverse a curse laid upon you. Burn a heart on a fire or bury it in a pit as an offering to your gods or spirits whose currency is souls. Hearts can be dried and saved for later use like any herb in an apothecary. Reanimate a dried heart with red wine and red ochre until it is swollen and bloody once more.

HIDES

Our ancestors wrapped themselves in fur hides to bring on prophetic dreams, to shape-shift into an animal, to journey into the other world, and to call upon their familiar spirits for their power and aid. Bear hides for dreaming, deer hides for transvection, wolf hides for hunting and battle, and seal hides for navigating the mysterious ocean. Furs are tools of magic and can be used as altar cloths, ritual costumes, and sacred blankets.
The rawhide of beasts is the body of our ritual drums and our rattles. We transform skin into musical instruments so the spirits will hear the song of their own flesh and come to us in our time of need. Any creature with skin can become a drum. The hide of each beast sings a different song in a different tune: deer and elk are high and resonant, bear is a deep and thundering roar, and cow and buffalo are soft and deep like their dark liquid eyes.

Save the leather for ritual costumes, for binding your book of arte, and for the crafting of amulets, fetiches, and sacred medicine bundles. Save the skin of a bird to craft from it a crane bag where you will store all your tools, fetiches, and talismans you wish to take with you into other worlds and other forms.

TEETH

Teeth to bite and gnaw and scare. Teeth to devour curses, attacking spirits, and meddlesome folk. Teeth to chew and spit back out. Teeth to warn an unruly cub and teeth to put a trickster back in line. Teeth to rip and rend and bloody an enemy. Teeth to give bite to those who lack it and need it. My what big teeth you have, bigger than mine, predator to my prey. A fool stands against one armed to the teeth, but a wiser beast runs away. A tooth carved with a sigil and sung with a rune, carried to protect one from harm. A tooth dipped in venomous herbs to energetically stab and dig in like a serpent’s fang – the tooth of a bear, lion, whale, shark, or wolf.

Fox and Bat skulls

TONGUES

Tongues to speak benevolence or malevolence, tongues to bind or cut out, tongues to sweeten others to your cause or to ruin another’s. Are there tongues in the crane bag on your altar that you may speak and understand the languages of beasts of land and sea and sky? Do you possess tongues to exchange for your own in the otherworld so the animal spirits will understand you when you speak? I collect the tongues of birds, messengers between the worlds and ferriers of souls, that my own tongue may speak prophecy and knowledge from the other side and that the spirits may hear me when I call out.

CONCLUSION

I offer this knowledge to those students of the mysteries who truly wish to deepen their relationship with the animal world. Animals have a lot to teach us about magic and wisdom. Long have they been viewed by the human race as guardians, protectors, and teachers proficient in magic, shape-shifting, and communication with the supernatural world. Animals are our familiars, our messengers and intermediaries, our dream companions, our omens, the skulls and feathers on our altars, the skin of our drums and rattles, the antler and bone of our tool handles, the tooth and claw of our fetishes, the tallow in our candles, and the leather of our crane bags. They are furred and feathered gods in the trees, on our dinner plates, and in our homes deserving of our respect, reverence, and a change in our attitudes towards them.

Further Reading:


RESOURCES

Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. 1992. Princeton University Press.

Ellis Davidson, Hilda. Roles of the Northern Goddess. 1998. Routledge.

Harris-Logan, Stuart A. Singing With Blackbirds: The Survival of Primal Celtic Shamanism in Later Folk Traditions. 2006. Grey House in the Woods.

Johnson, Buffie. Lady of the Beasts: Ancient Images of the Goddess and Her Sacred Animals. 1990. HarperCollins.

McIntyre Jorgensen, Grace Miri. A Comparative Examination of Northwest Coast Shamanism. 1970. University of British Columbia Department of Anthropology and Sociology.

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For Fear of Flying

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“Up on their brooms the Witches stream,
Crooked and black in the crescent’s gleam;
One foot high, and one foot low,
Bearded, cloaked, and cowled, they go.”

Walter de la Mare

The metaphorical witch’s broomstick is forgotten in the back of an old closet, covered in cobwebs and shrouded in darkness. No one has touched it in so long that it has forgotten its purpose. Those who have not touched it have forgotten how to use it, have even forgotten why they would ever want to. You could break your neck after all, falling from a broomstick oh so high in the sabbat-black sky. Thus the broom is often grounded and most of today’s witches no longer fly. Let us open that forgotten closet door a crack and let a beam of light shine in. Let us illuminate a past much more interesting than our present.

If today’s witches no longer leave their bodies in the ecstasy of soul-flight then it is fair to say they also do not believe in the soul, in hosts of spirits, in old gods, in other worlds, or in magic. Without such beliefs and first-hand experience of them, witchcraft becomes a farce of empty rituals with empty words performed in crushed velvet robes. It all becomes a role-playing game no more real or impressive than a group of acne-faced teens rolling dice in their mother’s basement.

Witchcraft is not neoPagan goddess worship, it is not secular weather worship, it is not tree-hugging, and it is not New Age fuckery. Witchcraft is not safe. Witchcraft is not good and kind. Witchcraft is the domain of the trickster, the outcast, the wanderer, and the crooked.  It belongs to those who know every light casts a shadow; who have looked into the depths of darkness in their soul and accepted what they’ve seen along with all that is good.  Witchcraft requires cunning, manipulation, self-awareness, adaptable morals, and a dash of madness. Witchcraft is sharp pins pierced into a waxen image of an enemy, a lover’s hair plaited with one’s own, a Saturnine root harvested at midnight, blood spilled for hungry spirits, magical pacts made with daemons, a handful of dried henbane leaves burned and inhaled to talk to shades, an ancient incantation sung to become a wild hare, and witchcraft is sabbat wine imbibed while dancing wildly, intoxicated in the woods on Walpurgisnacht.

What is a witch without a host of familiar spirits? What is a witch without knowledge and experience of the otherworld? What is a witch who has never changed form? What is a witch who cannot reach ecstasy? What is a witch who cannot fly? Some would say no witch at all.

Luis Ricardo Falero, 1880If you want to be a witch, you first must die. Just like the child you were dies when you become an adult, your human self must die to become Witch. The initiated are half alive, half dead. We are souls stuck in between – not quite spirits and not quite human. We shapeshift between forms – now human, now animal, now spirit, now elemental force, now otherwordly being. We drift between past, present, and future knowing that time is a non-linear illusion and all is accessible.  We travel between worlds knowing they are all one and we are present in all of them at all times. We are possessed by spirits and the ones who possess others with our spirits. We are the dream-walkers, shape-shifters, psychopomps, seers, mediums, mystics, visionaries, and miraculous healers. We see the unseen, hear the unheard, travel to unreachable places, and experience the impossible. We dwell in paradoxes within the suspension of disbelief. We dance on the dagger’s edge between life and death, waking and dreaming, magic and insanity. We are unnatural. Supernatural.

So few today achieve such a state with fear being the number two reason, coming after ignorance. We are afraid to fly because magic might be real. We are afraid to fly because it might not be.  We are afraid to fly because we think the methods to achieve it are all dangerous. We are afraid to fly because we are afraid to die. Sleep is like death, a slight mimicry of death. Soul-flight is the little death. Your body lies as if dead, dead to this world, while your soul travels to frightening or wondrous places. Have you ever woken from vivid dreams exhausted, unrested? Perhaps you weren’t dreaming at all. I have heard the practice aptly named death walking and have been called death walker myself.  I simply call it travelling. I leave my body, each time knowing that there is a chance I may not make it back – that my soul might get lost, stolen, trapped, eaten or collected by something or someone more powerful and dangerous than myself. I do it anyway. Sometimes of my own free will and other times I am taken places by spirits. It is always worth it and the more it is done, the easier it becomes, and the easier it is to remember your adventures and visions.

CROSS YOUR HEART AND HOPE TO DIE

“I shall say sooth, I shall fly
By horse and hattock
Through the Sabbat-black sky.”

Giles Watson

Where does the soul go and what does it do when it leaves the body in ecstatic rites? Sometimes it visits other witches — seeking individuals for knowledge or groups to celebrate in sabbatic revels of intoxicants and passions.  Other times it takes up residence inside another person for a hag ride, or an animal, or a tree – for the experience or to spy or to travel by land, air, or water. Who doesn’t long for flight feathers or an eagle’s far-seeing eyes? Luis Ricardo Falero, 1883Perhaps your soul takes pleasure in riding the wind and the lightning instead or maybe it prefers to journey to the underworld to keep company with the dead and their secrets. Other witch’s souls keep company with stars, some of whom will whisper mysteries while others only respond with cold alien silence.

A seer’s soul will travel into the future and sometimes the past. A healer’s soul will travel inside the body of a patient to find the cause of an illness so it may be removed. A shape-shifter‘s soul will possess the physical forms of animals, insects, and plants or their soul will take their form in the otherworld. A dream-walker will travel into the dreams of others to deliver messages, send blessings or nightmares, or to lay a curse. A psychopomp will traverse the path between our world and the underworld, leading souls to the great below and bringing messages back to the living. There are even dark sorcerers who leave their bodies to steal souls, bring them back and bottle them up, bound into a fetiche to strengthen their own power with black magic. Presently such practices largely exist only in folk and fairy tales, unread by today’s witches.

How does one achieve soul-flight? Some have to work at it for weeks, months, or years. Some do it as naturally as breathing, without aid, and simply can’t help themselves. One witch beats a drum to mimic a fast heartbeat and falls into a waking trance. Another sings an incantation faster and faster to quicken the breath and flood the blood with oxygen.  A group of witches rub themselves with a flying ointment and dance and sing all night around a fire more and more intensely until reaching ecstasy.  Yet another calls her spirits, whispers her intent, and falls asleep under a bear hide holding a rowan wand, leaving her body through the world of dreams.

Transvection chants:

“Horse and hattock, horse and go, horse and pellatis, ho ho!”

“Thout, tout a tout tout, throughout and about.”

There are words and herbs and postures. There is music and dancing and singing.  There is fasting and swaying and praying. Stand on one foot, close one eye, and raise one arm. Eat this mushroom, soak this herb in wine overnight, and infuse this fat with belladonna leaves and mandrake root.  Sing these words, scream them, mean them.  Beat this drum and shake this rattle until your wrists hurt, until you cannot feel your hands.  Dance around the fire until you sweat and sweat, until you forget you are human. Shroud yourself in complete darkness until there is nothing but the world of visions.  All these things and more can lead to the little death and transport you to the otherworld’s door.

It all sounds rather romantic until someone loses an eye, or a soul, or their life. Some don’t make it back, some don’t make it back in one piece, but most will never go at all because they fear death above all else. And we should fear it – we should respect death and fear. We should not be fools stumbling in the dark. We should know the danger that lies ahead, the pain that will come, and walk into it knowingly always pure of intent and heart. We should know why we choose to die. Is dying worth gaining power? No, it shouldn’t be about striving for power. We die to serve. Once we die we do not belong to ourselves. Spirit workers are servants to greater spirits than themselves and will always be haunted and hunted. Every spirit serves another and we too are spirits. Erase any romantic notions from your head – this is not about you or being special – you are one of many. Your body is on loan, a temporary vessel. As long as you serve, the vessel is protected from harm and from physical death. If you make it about you or about power there is no guarantee you’ll be safe or come back.

Do you really want this? Is it worth being able to see and hear spirits, to travel between the realms? Why do you want it so badly? Be honest with yourself and the spirits and maybe one day you will die and come back — joining this host of revenants called spirit workers.

Luis Ricardo Falero, 1878

STICK A NEEDLE IN YOUR EYE

“Anything worthwhile is dangerous.”

Victor Anderson

An important question is not how one can fly, but how does one land? How does the witch protect themself during soul-flight and how do they ensure a safe return? Shamans of old would protect their abandoned body with blessed talismans and with a human or spirit guardian who would watch over their flesh until their soul returned from its journey.  If there were signs of danger or they were gone for too long, a human guardian would try to rouse the shaman by burning special herbs such as yarrow flowers, by repeating an incantation, or by stimulating the body in the hope that it would cause the soul to return and the shaman to awake. Shamans and witches of old would also have familiar spirits who would travel with them in the otherworld and serve as various lookouts, protectors, and advisors. Disguise is another protection and one still documented in folk tales and myths: ashes rubbed on the face to mimic the dead’s appearance in the underworld, an animal’s hide worn to blend in among its kin, herbs rubbed on the body to mask the smell of humanity among soul-eaters.

Luis Ricardo Falero, 1881Danger doesn’t just come from outside influences during soul-flight – a major challenge one may face is not wanting to return or forgetting to. If the witch decides they do not like the restriction of corporeal form they may knowingly or unknowingly cut ties with their flesh and lose the chance to return. The witch may get lost or trapped, finally returning to our realm to realize they are too late, a century has gone by and their body and all their loved ones have perished.  The witch may lose themselves when shape-shifting and forget altogether that they are human and end up a wild hare in a fox’s mouth. When the soul does not return, the body can be left a vegetable, or worse, something else may take up residence inside it if it was not protected well enough.

Souls may be currency in the otherworld, to be stolen, collected, or eaten by more powerful spirits, but bodies are also much desired by noncorporeal spirits. Imagine a long-dead shade who yearns to taste the sweetness of wine and richness of food once more, who yearns to feel the softness of a woman’s breasts beneath his hands and all her other pleasures. Such a spirit may steal or kill to attain his desires. One must not be too trusting in the otherworld and not take spirits at face value or their word for nothing is as it seems. Trust your familiar spirits who have proven themselves time and time again and no others and they will do their best to keep you out of the lion’s maw.

Protect the room or space you will fly from, no, over-protect it.  Weave a barrier with spirit traps, witch balls, witch bottles, mirrors, sigils, bindrunes, runestaves, conjure bags, strung herbs, and animals skulls, teeth, and claws. Paint protective sigils on your body or have them tattooed on if you are one who flies involuntarily, naturally. Always wear one protective talisman even if it is as simple as the innocuous ring, pendant, or earrings you wear every day that you have consecrated. When you wish to fly, call your spirits to you and have their fetiches close if they are not wearable so you can take them with you. Hold a wand or staff in your hand to protect your body and to take with you to the other realms. The Gaels and Norse believed Rowan gave one power over spirits – to enter their homes, to stop them from causing harm, and to blast, banish and bind them if need be.

To return from your adventures of witches’ sabbats, shape-shifting, and travelling sing or speak  aloud an incantation that acts as a trigger to pull you back to your body.  Tap your wand or staff three times. Stop beating your drum, stop swaying, stop chanting – stop whatever action you perform when straddling the worlds. Have someone watch over you and instruct them to touch you gently or shake you if need be to signal you to return from your spirit’s flight. If you are alone set an alarm to go off or play an album and train yourself to return when the music stops. When you return, eat and drink, touch a plant, touch a tree, touch the earth. Talk, laugh, sing. Do something ordinary and of this world to help ground you in the present and bring you fully back to yourself. If you are worried a spirit may have followed you back or your experience was not pleasant, take a bath with herbs and candles and spiritually cleanse yourself from your toes to your head to the depths of your soul and watch all the worry wash down the bathtub drain afterward. Lavender, rosemary, cloves, mullein, sage or yarrow will aid you. If they are not on hand, the needles from the nearest evergreen tree will do in a pinch whether it be cedar, fir, or pine – especially when combined with salt.

One either flies or one does not. It cannot be forced and can rarely be taught. The secret is in one’s ability to let go; to let go of expectations, of the body, of life, of the world you know and the people you love. Can you jump off the cliff into the unknown abyss with faith in yourself and your spirits? If not you will fail or you will fall. Do not leap until you are sure.


Originally published in “Pillars III” by Anathema Publishing, January 2015.

© 2015 Sarah Anne Lawless. Do not copy or use without the express permission of the author, but sharing the link is very welcome. 

Featured artworks are by Luis Ricardo Falero, 1878-1883.

necromancy-altar

The Curse Collection

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i dedicate this collection to the cause against the white-washing of witchcraft. It is only in the past few decades that some have tried to reclaim the title of witch to mean a loving, goddess worshipping, tree hugging, non-Christian. I do not view this as a service to witches. Despite the efforts of many this definition is only accepted by a portion of the Neopagan community. The rest of the world still sees witches as dark, mysterious, frightening, alluring, and yes, associated with black magic. The dark definition of Witch stretches so far back into the depths of time that it cannot be unmade. We need to accept this part of what we are or our witchcraft cannot move forward.

Despite the popularity of darker forms of sorcery today, cursing is still taboo to talk about and can result in heated arguments even among friends. There are many who would never curse even when put in unbearable situations, there are those who would only curse defensively to protect themselves or loved ones, there are the ones who are all talk about how dark and scary they are but who have never cursed, and then there are some who would curse you just for looking at them sideways (and you hesitate to wonder what they do to those who have actually wronged them).

Each curse has been collected from a different person and is unique. The purpose of this collection is not to glorify cursing, but to show the many varied reasons why witches curse and the many different ways we put our curses into action. Some curses are almost funny, some are directed towards coworkers, some towards fellow Pagans, some are to gain lawful justice, and others are at a level that may disturb you. My intention and the intention of those who have participated is not to upset the reader, but to educate them. Whether you judge the authors of the curse stories or not is your own business; perhaps instead you will find yourself losing your prejudice against those who curse. This is simply a curated non-fiction exhibit showing a reality of the witchcraft people are actually practicing today. It is my sincere hope that it will help to foster intelligent discussion about curses and get you, the reader, really thinking about the black, the white, and the grey of magical ethics.


The Corporate Curse

She had lied about me, demoted me without cause, passed off my work as her own, called me into her office to berate me with no rhyme or reason, and would stop at my cubicle for the sole desire to insult me. For four hellish months belittling abuse was heaped upon me from my new boss. Her last act of cruelty was to fire me. My first was to curse her.

I remember mulling through the curse options. She and her daughter had a strained relationship. Romance had died in her marriage. She was a cancer survivor. She was prone to infection as a result. I could have killed her. But death is too easy. There are worse things in the world than death. Besides, she would miss the opportunity to feel the same scourge of indignity and insults she had gifted to me. Better to curse her with living through all that I had endured for the four months I was under her thumb, and the indignity of seeing her career reverse to the same point I had been when I was hired by the company. I was going to turn a Vice President of Marketing into a Marketing Manager. And I did.

I talked with the egregore of the company I’d worked for five years and it agreed to help me. The company was known for high turnover and I had been there the longest. Then I invoked my Gods. I had already conversed with them about the curse and what I wanted to do. My matron, the Morrigan, assisted too. By the end of the first month her team had quit. By the end of the second, news of her heinous treatment of other employees and who really was doing the work made the rounds at the company and she was barred from hiring replacement employees. Because of Silicon Valley politics, because the CEO had fought the Board of Directors to hire her, he couldn’t fire or demote her in title, but he could in responsibilities. And he did demote her responsibilities: down to marketing manager. The curse is still in effect. I received a call last month from a friend who works there that she has now been barred from travelling for work.

The curse can be a force for justice. I meted justice as I thought fit. I do not regret cursing her. I never will.

— The Fox


A Twisting of Tongues

Sometimes circumstances need to change, and the change needs to be sped along. In this case, there were two people in positions of power at work who had carried out a great deal of emotional abuse and manipulation against the teams they managed. They clung to their power while acting against the best interest of the organization and those it was meant to serve. For the betterment of everyone and everything they touched, they had to go.

Easier said than done. A great deal of effort and time was invested in knowing the organization’s structure and policies like the back of one’s hand, being professional and impeccable with words, and addressing the problem in a less… esoteric capacity. This is most of the work. I would liken it to this: You tee up the ball, you wind up the swing, you work the bat, you connect with the ball, you aim it just right. The curse is just what you use to make sure the wind is just right so that you knock it out of the park (or open a portal in the sky to send the ball straight to Hades).

Changing the winds, in this case, meant using some otherworldly will to help these two individuals incriminate themselves regarding their indefensible deeds. To inspire in them extreme guilt, bad luck, and nightmares. To make their perception of the situation so twisted in their heads that they betray themselves and suffer a just consequence.

In practical terms, it meant gathering two cow tongues, naming them for each of the two people, and storing a photo of the person inside. Fill the tongues with herbs meant to confuse and twist and sour words. Add a number of other curse trappings and then twist the tongue itself (holding it in place with barbs, nails, and wire on a board). With a magnifying glass, the tongues were burned with sunlight so that they would likewise find themselves burned by the truth. The burn ended up looking like a Hagalaz rune, which was likely no coincidence. The tongues were buried just outside their office.

The home run looked like this: the worst of the two was summarily fired, and the other was given a huge demotion and pay cut, and was not allowed to manage anyone. A few months after, the area where the tongues were buried was turned into a children’s playground. Who knows if they were dug up or if they remain.

If there is any advice to glean from this story, it is this: If you are going to dig a hole, make sure it is sufficiently deep. Also cow tongues are huge and unwieldy, try something smaller.

— The Shape-shifter


The Outhouse

Two people in my Pagan community were making my life a living hell and I wasn’t the only one. I was getting pretty tired of it and decided to do something about it magically. I took a photo of them and went for a walk in my favourite park. It is wild and beautiful and I used to go there all the time. I went to an outhouse in the park, crumpled up the photo and threw it down into the toilet. Then I sat down and had a good long shit, concentrating on my intent to turn their lives to shit. Every time I went for a walk in the park I’d stop by the same outhouse and drop a present to keep the curse renewed. I never saw or heard from them again shortly after that.

— The Musician


The Litter Box

Someone was stealing my hard work and trying to pass it off as their own. I tried to deal with the situation though adult communication, but the person refused to play along. I took the legal action I could, but it only went so far. Their actions didn’t justify anything particularly nasty, so I called my mentor for advice and as a fellow cat owner they gave me a perfect suggestion. I wrote down the person’s full name (I had no photo or personal concerns to work with) and put it in my cat’s litter box for a whole week without cleaning it. The person lost all their credibility and I didn’t have an issue with them again.

— The Slightly Pissed Off Witch


The Rapist

“He raped her. He raped her, and so I cursed him.

I would go to his place of employment, stand across from his place of working, and hurl all my intent of hatred into him through my gaze. ‘Rapist.’ I would whisper, ‘All shall know you for what you are.’

I took dirt from his place of employment, from the place where he had stepped. I fashioned a doll from wax drippings and squeezed from him his life. I wrenched away his job. I banished him from my sight. From her sight. “Rapist.” I hissed into his ear, ‘All shall know you for what you are.’

He lost his job. He grew fat, and pale. His hair became filthy. His skin caked with grease. Then he was gone. And I have not seen him since.”

— The Voice


The Child Molester

I feel as though the demons that modern witches fight can be all too real compared to the old wood cuts. Some of the best people are too trusting. A friend of my partner and my coven-mate became romantically involved. There was a lot of unrest in their relationship–he was an alcoholic, he seemed cold at times and hit on other women online–single moms like my friend. But my friend wanted to help him heal.

None of us saw how cold he really was to the core. We felt something off, but perhaps in our naivety having never met real evil we didn’t see it. This man molested her children for a year. Eventually her children found the words to tell her what he did to them and she immediately called the police. Officers came and took evidence, but the man heard her call the police and escaped.

The following hours, days, weeks, months and year my coven and I cast a number of curses and called upon a goddess of war and sovereignty. Firstly I called on my familiar spirit to locate him. It assisted us well and we soon learnt that a family member of his put him in a local motel. Then we cursed for him to be arrested. His family member who we thought was helping him was actually plotting on our behalf and brought him into the police.

More curses were cast and the lab found solid DNA evidence on the child’s bedclothes. Yet another curse allowed me to be there as my friend’s child testified and I was able to tell the prosecutor when the defense had confused the little kid by not using a last name for a witness. The whole case could have been destroyed had I not done the magic to get out of work because there were two people with that first name who played different roles in the events.

And finally, the sentencing, another of many rituals calling upon a dark goddess of justice and protection of children. The child molester is in prison and will be for a long time well after our coven children as well as the man’s own children are grown. Cursing in our coven gave us and the children we protect power to witness in court, paved the clearest route for justice, and avenues to repair and build after evil’s aftermath.

— The Mandrake Witch


The Murders

I was a land-tied witch. I took care of it and it took care of me. It was my business to mediate between the spirits and the humans who shared the land. When I learned two young men had gone missing and then turned up murdered in my territory, I wasn’t about to sit on my hands and do nothing. The police investigations went nowhere, there wasn’t enough evidence for them to go on. One body had not been found, but I performed a divination and talked to my spirits and they confirmed he was dead. The other body had been burned before it was buried, unearthed by a stream flooding in the spring. I talked to the spirit of the young burned man. He was angry and he wanted revenge. I collected the dirt from his grave site in the forest and told him to imbue it with his rage and desire for vengeance. I told him I would use it to do a working to get him and the other boy justice. I soothed him with a cigarette and some whiskey. After he calmed I sent him on his way to the other side and undid his ties to the land that were keeping him there. I burned a purification incense and Old Man showed up. I knew what I was doing was right.

I returned home and kept my promise. I printed out photos of the young men. I folded them, tied them with red string, and placed each one under its own seven-day candle. I tied two justice cards from tarot decks to the candles. Around the candles I sprinkled a homemade cursing dust of the grave site dirt, wasp nest, hot peppers, black pepper, and snail shells. Inside the ring of dust I placed a chicken heart stabbed with eight blackthorns. I invoked Old Man and I invoked justice. I asked that the killers of these young men would be brought to justice by the legal system, and if that wasn’t possible, that vengeance would be satisfied instead (no matter how). I anointed the candles and consecrated them to their purpose. I lit them. “In the Devil’s name I light this flame.” I burned those candles every day for the full seven days until they burned out. They burned hot, steady, and true all the way down. I buried the remains of the spell.

The land felt much lighter after that and the restless spirits had gone. I do not know the results of my working other than it made the family of one of the boys feel better. There was nothing in the news from the police. I only know that I felt compelled to do what was in my power to do for the young men as they could no longer speak for themselves.

— The Steward


Under the Influence

In the early 90s my friend’s brother had broken into his place and stolen $10,000 worth of his property. We were in a Thelemic order together and were having a party that night for a friend’s birthday. They told him I was the one to help him out with a curse. I came over with hash, pot, cocaine, heroine, and a cocoa leaf liqueur and got right down to business and asked him what the situation was. I told him as long as he was one hundred percent certain it was a justified action, I would curse his brother. He promised that he knew it was his brother and I discussed what we could do. I asked him what his brother’s favourite drug was and his answer was heroine. I wanted to use his drug of choice to make a direct connection to him by being under the same influence. The group of us from the order set up circle, smoked the heroine I brought, invoked vengeful spirits, read from the third chapter of Crowley’s Book of the Law, and I incited the conjuration of destruction from The Satanic Bible.

We closed the circle and went back to the party, drank and chatted, forgetting the curse. Within an hour the phone rang. It was his brother. He had been driving in a car with friends high on heroine at the same time we were performing the curse. They had bought the drugs with the stolen money. The car crashed and was completely totalled, beyond saving, and the brother was the only one who had suffered any injuries –multiple broken bones and fractures. My friend told his brother he knew it was him who had stolen from him and to return the property or else things would get even worse. The brother freaked out, cried, and apologized over and over. My friends all stared at me with a “holy fuck” look.

— The Frater


Ouroboros

Someone was creating issues like crazy in my local Pagan community and it kept escalating. They were hurting people and themselves and it got to the point I just wanted to get rid of the person but couldn’t do it physically and didn’t want it to be tied back to me. I thought for a while on how I could deal with it and was reading a book and happened upon a page on poppets. The instructions for baptising a poppet with a person’s name and then doing with it what you will jumped out at me.

I didn’t want to make a poppet and at the same time realized I had to feed my black snake… suddenly it came to me and I knew what I was going to do. During a dark moon on a Tuesday night I took a live pinkie (a newborn mouse), tiny and wriggling in my hand, cast a proper circle, exorcised it with salt, and baptized the pinkie with the offending person’s name. I spoke to it of its crimes and told it why I was doing what I was doing.

I put it down on the floor with the snake inside the circle. As the snake was seeking out the tiny mouse I said: “May your eyes go blind, may you loose your ability to breathe, may you feel fear and panic like you never have before, may all your lies and tricks turn against you as long as you live. You are dead to me now.” And that was when the snake took the pinkie, suffocated it, crushed it, and swallowed it whole.

The person’s life fell apart to the point they left the coven we were in together and disappeared from the community completely, falling deep into drug use.

— The Serpent


Trading Souls

This curse really starts with one of the shamanism students that I used to teach. He was in his early twenties and very interested in spirituality. While at a sweat lodge one day, he prayed to be powerful. Asking for power is a terrible thing to ask for, the power given is rarely yours to keep and can often destroy your life. He found this out the hard way.

He called me up, and told me a terrifying story. He had been out in the woods behind the little cabin that he lived in, and suddenly his vision shifted, it felt like he could see hundreds of miles in each direction and could see the energy of the land, the energy of the spirits. His sight focused on a tall, ancient man with moss in his beard and wearing bark clothes. They locked eyes and the shamanism student was filled with terror. Then the vision was over. He went into his cabin, shaken to his core. Within a day or two, he noticed that it felt like someone else was also in the cabin with him. The presence and energy felt just like the old man he saw in the woods. He avoided his own cabin, and his cat which also lived in the cabin was very uneasy and irritable.

“I don’t know what to do, I must have invited the spirit in by asking for power.” He said.
“Well I’ll come over and see if I can ask the spirit to leave.” I offered.
“That sounds great, when can you come over?”

So I went to his cabin, out in the woods. Even walking down the path I felt the intense gaze of this old forest man, glowering, demanding. Many spirits I can take on in a fight, I can trick them or limit them some way. Some spirits are too large, too powerful to do that. This ancient spirit was too much for me to take on. The only chance to was to use diplomacy. The young man told his story again, going over it in greater detail, and sat down in the cabin.

I went into a trance, and the presence of the ancient man was overwhelming.

“Grandfather (I used this as a term of respect), what do you want from this young man? This is his home, and he is impacted by your presence.” I said to the spirit.

“He asked for power, and I’m here to show him power, and to take it away.” The old man’s voice was old, yet strong, rasping but clear. I trembled a bit to hear it.

“Please forgive him, I know he asked for a foolish thing, I know it is your role to take away the lives of those who seek power. Please, I beg on his behalf.” I pleaded, there was really nothing more I could do in the presence of this powerful spirit.

“Who’s soul will you give me in trade?” The old man’s dark eyes sparked in folds of brown, wrinkled skin.
It fell into place, I had the perfect solution to this.

“I will give you the soul of someone else, but not right now. Tonight. But, you have to swear to not follow this man, not impact his life negatively, and to not tell other spirits that he wished for power.”
The old man nodded, and the deal was made.

I came out of the trance. I told the young man that he shouldn’t have any problems with the old forest man again, but that he should try to move out as soon as possible. He told me he was already looking for a new place to live. A week after he moved out.

That night, in the comfort of my own home I went into a trance again. From the trance state I entered the spirit world and walked into the woods. The old man was waiting. We walked over hills, over streams, and to the door of a house.

“I can not go through the door unless I am invited.” The old man said, annoyed.
“I know. I have permission to be here, and I invite you.” I opened the door, and said “Please come in.” and the old man followed.

We walked through the mud room, past the dining area, through the living room, and into the master bedroom. Two people slept in the bed. I brought the old man up beside the bed, where a man was sleeping.

“This man you can claim, his house you can claim, his soul you can claim, his life you can claim. I give you permission.” I announced to the old man of the forest.

The old man grew in presence, leaning over the resting form of the man. Then he drew back.
“This one, his blood smells like you.” The old man stated, somewhat shocked.
“Yeah, that’s my dad. He’s yours now.” I replied, matter of factly.
The old man of the woods just stared at me for a moment.

“I am serious, he is yours. He is a pedophile, he preys upon children, he pins them down and rapes them. Just because he is related to me does not make him sacred to me.” My words were sharp now, and with anger behind them. The old man of the woods softened a bit, and nodded.

“Thank you so much for accepting this trade.” I bowed to him, and left the house before returning to my body, and coming out of the trance.

I do not know what has happened to my dad since then, I have not talked to him in years for obvious reasons. I have heard that he doesn’t look well from a distance. However, the power of the spirit, the old man of the woods, I have trust in that. It was a good trade, and I have no regrets in my dealings.

— The Green Shaman


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Love Spells

By | Featured, Folk Magic, Witchcraft & Magic | 5 Comments

“A woman could want a man so much she might vomit in the kitchen sink or cry so fiercely blood would form in the corners of her eyes. She put her hand to her throat as though someone were strangling her, but really she was choking on all that love she thought she’d needed so badly. What had she thought, that love was a toy, something easy and sweet, just to play with? Real love was dangerous, it got you from inside and held on tight, and if you didn’t let go fast enough you might be willing to do anything for it’s sake.”

~ Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic

Love Spells

WHAT THE HEART WANTS

The first spell many of us perform is a love spell when we are young and magic is shiny, new, exciting and limitless. Some of our spells worked and we now have horror stories or cautionary tales to tell. Some of ours didn’t and years later we are relieved about it. The yearning for love magic doesn’t disappear with youth, however. It isn’t the teenage heart that desires another to fall madly in love with it, it is every heart.

The old blind seer who can no longer see the tarot cards or read the tea leaves, her face sagging with a thousand wrinkles, knows it was love keeping her pockets and larder filled through the years.

The aging conjure man held up by his gnarled wood cane has no illusions that love kept his hands busy making mojos and his wallet full of bills.

“Does she love me too?”

“How can I make her love me?”

“Why doesn’t anyone love me?”

“Does he cheat on me?”

“How can I make him faithful?”

“How can I get him to leave his wife for me?”

“She broke my heart. How can I make her hurt as much as me?”

“I can’t stop thinking and dreaming of him. Can you make it stop?”

“Make my lover come back to me. Please. Please”

Have no illusions, these are not questions or work for a white witch. Love spells are black magic. Love spells to manipulate the body, heart, and soul. Love spells to dominate, to bind, to cause destruction and madness and pain.

Love spells are not about love, they are about the lustful eye and the selfish heart. Be honest with yourself about it and then move on to the work at hand.

Love Curses

LOVE ME / WANT ME

The most honest loves spells are ones of intoxication. Think of me, dream of me, want of me, lust for me.

Braid their hair into yours, wrap them in red cloth, and keep it close to your skin or under your pillow. Invite them into your dreams at night or let your soul take flight to visit within their dreams. Touch your intended lover as often as you can, sweetly, sensually, gently, unintrusively. Think of them when you touch yourself and cry out their name when you reach the ecstasy of climax. Get them to drink from the same cup or share food with you as much as possible. Secretly swipe your sexual fluids onto their skin or slip it into their food or drink. Taste their sweat, taste their blood.

No, it is not clean or safe or pretty or moral. Love makes you blind, makes you do anything to win it. Love spells aren’t supposed to be beautiful or ethical. Love spells are dirty and dark. You may feel ashamed or you may feel a thrilling hot rush at its illicitness making your eyes dance and sparkle.

If you want it to work you must be willing to go all the way and accept the consequences. How badly do you want their heart? How badly do you want their body? Do you care that it may only be temporary? Will you do it anyway if it only lasts for a month, a year? Love spells can’t last forever if the desire is not mutual, but especially not spells of lust. Once it wears off it will be replaced with disgust. But if the spark is already there, such magic can only intensify it.

Just be careful you don’t overdo it as love and lust spells notoriously lead to dangerous obsession when they spin out of control and, on rare occasions, murderous jealousy.

DON’T LEAVE ME / DON’T CHEAT ON ME

Find an object symbolic of your partner’s genitals and an object for your own: an immature magnolia seed pod, a baculum, or a root for a penis and a flower, pelvic bone, or fruit pit for a vagina. Another option is to sew two small poppets together facing each other. Bind them together with red, pink, or white string or your hair if it is long enough. Wrap it tight then wrap it up in cloth or paper. Dress it with both of your sexual fluids. Dress it once a month if things are rocky. Dress it once a year if things are good. Burn it to break the binding. Put it in the freezer temporarily if you are just pissed off.

String Poppets for Love Magic

LEAVE HIM/HER

Have competition in a wife, husband, girlfriend of boyfriend? Write your target’s name on one end of a branch. Write their partner’s names on the other. Hawthorn with its Mars ruler and heart association works well, but any stick will do. Break it in two, forcefully and with anger. State your intent aloud and really mean it – no regrets. Bury the end with your target’s name in your own yard (or a flower pot in your apartment and water it) and bury their partner’s name on the outskirts of town or in another town if possible. As the sticks rot, so will their relationship.

Take two small poppets, sewn together. Name one after your target and one after their partner. Snip them apart while stating your intent. Burn the partner. Release the ashes into the flowing water of a river or stream. Sew your target’s poppet to a new one named for yourself. Bind them with your hair and string. State your intent. Keep it under your mattress.

Heard a car crash near your house? Go out to the spot after the cars have been towed away but before they clean it up well. Gather up any broken glass. Put it in a small jar of iron water (put iron nails in a jar of water in the fridge until they rust) and then hide the jar on the couple’s property (especially under the front doors or stairs) to cause them to break up.

The caveat? You must not care what this spell leads to – what has to happen for their partner to leave – whether it is simply a break up, an illness, or their death. You don’t get to choose even if you try to.

Honey Jar

HEARTBREAK

They left you. They hurt you. You can concentrate on nothing but the pain. Your world is taken over by your breaking, selfish, angry heart. You want them to hurt as much as you. Maybe they are, but you don’t know and you don’t trust maybes. Every night before you go to bed you take a photo of them or a poppet you made for them, stuffed with their personal concerns, and you hold it over a lighter or a candle flame. Not burning it up, just singeing it each time. “Think of me, feel my pain. Feel guilt, feel heartbreak. Hurt.”

Maybe you want them to hurt so they will come back to you. This is one of the hardest love spells; to get a lover to return who doesn’t want to. You can try, but keep in mind you’ll likely fail or if you succeed the results won’t be as you desired and the relationship may end up dark and twisted as a result of your magic.

Take something broken, name the pieces after you and your ex lover, glue or sew them back together. Bind it with string, seal it with dripping wax, and put it under your bed. Send them dreams of you at night. Make a wax poppet for them and hold it near a candle flame or lighter, not to destroy it but just to melt it a little. Stick it with a pin in the brain or the groin. Do it each night for one or two weeks. State your intent for them to feel restless, to burn with guilt or desire without relief until they come back to you.

Make a honey jar for them, placing their photo and personal concerns into its sticky sweetness. Seal it. Bind it with red thread. Light a red, pink, or white candle on top of it, dress it with oil or rosewater and state your intent. “Think sweetly and fondly of me. Speak sweetly of me. Soften at my name, at my memory.” Leave it on your altar.

BREAK IT UP

Have an urgent need to undo what you have done? Burn all the poppets or other bindings you made and release the ashes into a flowing river or stream. Break what you have built together, burn it all. Burn what they have made you or gave you. All of it, no exceptions. Leave it all behind. Leave no trace of them in your belongings.

Write your names on the branch this time and break it to destroy your own romance, burying the pieces as far apart as you can.

Invisible threads from everyone we interact with, whether friend or romantic partner, link us together. When you perform love magic and binding magic you strengthen this thread and stain it red. Name a thread after your lover, cut it and burn it. Tell your spirits to carry the thread back to them as you no longer desire for that connection to exist between you. Burn a purification incense afterwards, particularly one good for banishing evil.

The Lovers

THE EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE

Not all love spells are black magic. You must feel relieved at hearing me say that… but love spells that aren’t dark aren’t truly love spells — they are prayers, petitions, and healing spells. Your pray for good love to find you, a good partner you deserve. You light a pink or white candle carved with your wishes to do so. You petition deities of love with sweet offerings so that they favour you and send you healthy love and good sex or maybe you present them with a list of attributes for your perfect/preferred lover (I’ve done this and highly recommend it if you’re getting frustrated with a string of bad romances).

You and your partner broke up and you take cleansing ritual baths with rose petals and rosewater for six days in a row, submerging yourself in the fragrant water six times for each bath. Maybe you take a tincture, elixir, or tea of rose petals, heartsease, bleeding heart root, or hawthorn berry too to help ease the pain in your heart.

You place gentle herbs under your mattress or pillow so you don’t think of them or dream of them at night. So you feel peace.

You promise yourself you will make sure the next one puts just as much effort into loving you as you do into loving them.