“Magic is the art of changing consciousness according to Will.”
- Dion Fortune
As Witches, we tend to learn a lot of valuable skills about changing consciousness in the study of the Craft. But we often have a very nebulous idea of “consciousness” and “Will.” We find it easy enough to embrace the concept of using smudging to focus on a ritual, using the flames of a candle to concentrate on scrying and inducing a vision, or using a guided meditation to direct the group Will. Many of us even understand the differing levels of consciousness (gamma, beta, alpha, theta and delta) and what sorts of magickal works can be done at those levels. But most of us don’t consider the broader implications. Can we apply these valuable tools to everyday life?
I am sure that you have come to ritual with the weight of the world still on your shoulders. Maybe traffic was backed up on the freeway. Maybe your boss grilled you at work. Maybe your teenager was just doing something strangle-worthy right before you left the house. Whatever the case may be, you were rattled when you showed up for the Esbat. So your coven did a smudge and a grounding meditation before you entered into ritual space, and you were able to shed that stress and leave it behind you so that you were able to get on with the magickal work.
It’s amazing how we never seem to correlate this kind of activity with dealing with the everyday world. I know a lot of Pagans of various stripes who practice this kind of meditative exercise in a ritual space; but then never think to apply it to real life! Perhaps a grounding meditation is a good idea in the car once you’ve left work before you start driving on the freeway.
It’s also incredibly helpful in emergencies. You never know when you might suddenly be in a crisis situation. When my husband was suddenly in a life-threatening car accident, we were both at work, and he drove taxi while I was dispatching. When I realized that he wasn’t answering me because he was smashed up on the side of the road, I felt panic threatening to overtake me. I grounded, centered, and I took the tiny pentacle and beeswax tea light that I always carried out of my purse; scattered a packet of salt around me; and said a prayer. Then I sat down, phoned my boss to tell her that I needed someone to cover so I could go to the hospital, and went right on answering the phone and dispatching the taxis until my relief arrived. Inside I was screaming in terror; but I was able to go right on and do what had to be done. Some of that weird stuff we do like meditating in snowstorms and firewalking and things like that – these taught me how to keep my head in the biggest crisis of my life.
Even saying that people do this (and I have, and I’m sure I’m not alone) has anyone considered doing this when engaged in an argument with their spouse? Have you ever said, “I need a minute, honey,” and gone into another room to smudge before resuming the discussion?
The time-honored trick of inducing a meditative state is just as effective at changing mood as it is focus. In my household, we’ve been applying these hard-won skills of meditation and grounding to our household discussions. The first step is becoming aware of our feelings, and the second step is making an effort to change our mind-set if it is unhelpful. This is having numerous positive effects on our communication and on household harmony.
If you can change mood in one way, why not another? Witchcraft does more than just grounding exercises to change our mood. We dance, chant and make love to “raise energy” (read: improve enthusiasm and induce feelings of empowerment and positivity). Okay, so this might sound a little far-fetched, but suppose we chant to empower our day at work? (People used to do this all the time; work songs were once commonplace, the most commonly-known forms today probably being calypso music and sea shanties.) How about dancing to build up enthusiasm for an athletic event? Or maybe we could dance at a major rite of passage to empower the ritual?
Or perhaps we need to think about things more clearly. Did your mother ever suggest you have a cup of tea before engaging in a potentially stressful situation? Caffeine has a measurable effect on our consciousness, producing more focus and alertness, as well as greater feelings of positivity (beta consciousness.) Many of us start the day with coffee or a cigarette before heading into stressful situations such as driving on the freeway or dealing with our bosses, who have the power to give or take away our financial freedom according to their mood. This is often held up as a symptom of our degenerate and addicted society doing things that are bad for us, but I think it’s a symptom of our stressed society. It’s amazing how many financially stressed people smoke even though they can’t really afford it; as do people in high-stress jobs that require mental alertness, including dispatchers and air traffic controllers, professional drivers, and even health care professionals who, nominally, should know better. If you’re trying to quit smoking and you have a lot of stress in your life, perhaps you could try motivating high-energy music, singing a favorite chant, or running around the block as alternative ways to blow off steam. (I would suggest doing little dances with simple, repetitive movements, but you’re likely to get stared at if you do those in public, so that is perhaps not practical.)
Perfect Love and Perfect Trust
I am sure that sooner or later you will run into a situation in the community in which you will find yourself in conflict with another member of the community. Sometimes people just don’t get along. Now sometimes, the conflict does direct damage to the community; but sometimes, it’s just you and this other person that you don’t like. You swallow your pride, you ground and center, and you go into the opening ritual at the festival anyway. Perhaps this could be applied to your job, or the next meeting of the local Pagan Pride committee, where you have to deal with that irritating co-worker who likes to tell stories about her asthmatic cat?
As an energy healer, I find that when I am conducting a healing, I must be in synch with my client. In other words, for just a few moments, I must genuinely love the person I am healing. I don’t know if my experiences are the same as everyone else’s but I assume they can’t be too unusual; and if I am capable of doing that for just a moment on a Reiki table, can I not do it in order to appreciate the point of view of someone I’m in conflict with? I’m not saying that you should not use your discernment, nor that you should tolerate abuse, but when two people mutually respect one another but are at a genuine impasse, it can be invaluable. Empathy can be a practiced skill as opposed to a natural talent.
Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes
Speaking of which, that empathic ability can be incredibly helpful in many other situations. In business, it may help to have an appreciation of someone else’s position to make an investment or a sale. In war, it can help to anticipate the actions of your foe and find countermeasures, or know when your opponent may be more interested in surrender than fighting.
Visualization skills can be of incredible value in helping to solve problems. If torn between two decisions, you can visualize one scenario and then another to judge your feelings. My partner visualizes subconscious emotional upset as messengers carrying dispatches from the battlefront to his office. He takes the message, reads it to learn what the source of the upset is, triages the information (perhaps it’s outdated and the issue has been dealt with; perhaps it can be put aside for a while; perhaps it must be dealt with immediately), thanks the messenger, and gives him a medal. The messenger then leaves and the subconscious disturbance stops, because his mind is content that the problem is dealt with, or soon will be.
This is a spectacularly useful skill that is rarely taught anywhere else in our electronic age! If you can memorize correspondence tables, you can memorize addresses and phone numbers. If you can memorize epic poetry or ritual verse, you can memorize the lines to that play that you’re learning in your Acting class. If you can remember the day that the Sun enters Taurus, you can remember your spouse’s birthday! The list goes on.
Self-Hypnosis, Affirmations, and the Power of Positive Thinking
This has been mentioned many times, but it bears repeating. Olympic athletes and business executives use these techniques to improve their lives, and if they can do it, surely so can we!
The skills needed for the successful practice of Witchcraft are just as applicable in the mundane world. Indeed, if they weren’t, what purpose would they serve? If we cannot take the skills gleaned from the Otherworld back into the regular one, we have failed in the quest; just as Joseph Campbell told us.
Next column: Teaching Wiccan Values (Pagan Values Blogject Special)