Urban Witchcraft: The Power of Words

There was a time, not so long ago, when information was shared by word of mouth.  Most of us were illiterate.  That word has such a nasty taste in the mouth now, doesn’t it?  It conjures all sorts of images, from gross ignorance to the cruel acts committed by those same ignorant individuals.  I don’t like those conjurings, so I’m going to make-up my own reference phrase (which may have been thought of already by scholars who also ponder such things).   Let’s begin again…

There was a time, not so long ago, when information was shared orally, when we were all Other minded, and animatedly literate.  We saw the world in pictures: a tapestry of sound, vision, taste, texture, all woven into a unified, and sacred, whole.  During this time, my vocal sounds blended and joined the vocal sounds of the Other animals that lived around me, along with the verbal sounds of the environmental Other: the wind, the trees, the water.

All auditory stimulation combined to communicate something to those who listened.

My ancient ancestress would have been acutely aware of the water listening to her.  The rain that fell outside the house heard her mumblings and hummings and murmurs and sighs.  The water paid attention, and knew.  The trees also.  They looked in at her, through the door opening, and heard her speak words out-loud to herself, or to her children.  They listened, and knew.  Oh, how careful was she in what she said.  How deliberate was her choice of word and phrase.  All of the animate, living World heard her.  What would they think?  What might they do?

During this time of animate literacy, information was shared from human to human by way of Story.  These beautiful mnemonic techniques, used to pass important knowledge, allowed for abundant creativity and ingenuity.  Shared around a toasty fire, over a hearty meal, they were comforting entertainment and essential reminders.  Most of the world’s indigenous population told these sacred stories—which very often involved warnings and wisdom about the natural world—during the winter.  It may seem they were told during winter for purely pragmatic purpose.  What else was there to do?  It was dark and cold and we were all indoors, under a skin flap or in a wood hut.

Ah…but why else might winter have been the time to share stories about the living world?

That world was asleep!  The tree who peeks her knowing eyes into my hut during summer, sleeps deep within her trunk in winter.  She does not hear the warnings shared about her nuts and leaves, thus the humans do not offend her.  She rests, and we respect her by not gossiping within ear shot!  Yes… I like that notion.

So, we communicate in order to share valuable information, to pass on customs, express affection, request help, process emotional pain, and pass the time.   All those are important reasons to communicate but it seems what I want to say has nothing to do with that; rather, I seem concerned with the power of our communication.  Namely, why it is vitally important to use words respectfully.  As a witch, I work with the natural world as both part and parcel.  I am the natural world.  I am one with it, and I am a component of it.  Just as I hear the Grackle whistle, perched high in our native Pecan, she likewise, hears me.  Just as I hear the south wind sing through the corridors of living buildings in downtown Austin, he likewise, hears me.

Mutual respect and strong relationship are important to my work and life as a witch, and as a human. 

I need a harmonious relationship with the elements, and all other-than-human-persons.  What in the world would the north wind think if she heard me bad-mouthing her?  My word!  She wouldn’t be any more desirous of working with me than I would if I heard a friend gossiping behind my back!  And let’s not forget the rain!  He eventually winds his way back to the ocean, and I certainly would not wish to offend Her!  A wise witch minds her words and communicates to ALL beings with respect and courtesy, never speaking more than is needed, and remembering the wisdom of the ancestors: some secrets are best woven into Story and those Stories are best shared when the world sleeps.   ssssshhhhh

About Traci

Traci Laird is an animist living in Ireland and hails from the great state of Texas (a mythic heritage she is quite proud of!).  Her current academic pursuits are in Sociology and Psychology, and she engages a “sensuous scholarship” when seeking to understand Place.  She can also be found at Confessions of a Hedge Witch

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    That last line made me shudder in delight. : )

    Would you maybe say that we still tell stories and have forgotten how we ourselves also weave them, that we are almost now unconscious of that power, having for so long allowed others to tell them to, for, and about us?

    I also wonder, too, if we’ve forgotten the responsibility that comes with telling stories (including history, which seems to be one over-arching attempted narrative), both what we world with our stories and what we leave out. Telling stories about our lives without mentioning, say, the wind or the winter as active characters may be why we so often forget their influence.

    • Traci

      I would say, with the rise of modernity and the scientific world view, we were rent from the fabric. Human-persons relegated to the lonely role of observer, isolated from the living world. That is when it began: the Great Forgetfulness. Once we feel, in our gooey insides, that we are separate, we can objectify. And we need objectification for capitalist, market economies to work. Oh, and what good pagans we are…to aide in that Great Forgetfulness by buying and selling: spells, wands, flying ointments, talismans dedicated to Power x or y. But pardon me, I digress…..must be the energy of Black Death..er, Friday, getting to me.

      Yes, we do still tell stories. Our stories are now carefully controlled by the dread fiend of shadows: Marketing. Ruled by the fell beast of Consumerism, Marketing scours the lands of all collectivism. When the re-membering flickers, and we begin to recall that we are All and Other is us, and together the dust of the cosmos shines in the fabric from which All was birthed, Marketing swoops in on fiery wings to isolate and degrade us.

      Before the Great Work of re-membering, of worlding the cosmos with Life, can begin again, we must slay the beast,and the dread fiend of shadows.

      • Thisica

        I see myself as a historical being…and that’s where I begin. I search for what happened in our collective history which has brought us to the present. I search for how human and non-human history intertwine. I search for the boundary conditions of life on Earth and of the great cosmic history that we’re fortunate to see recently. I search for the anchors of Being, which involves gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong and weak interactions. I search for how these forces of Nature, embodied in us, allow for all kinds of possibility to exist…and we speak out of respect and care for forces beyond our control. This is why I do science, both out of a love for knowledge and for a source of reconnection with the deepest parts of our existential condition.

        I see this, yet struggle to remember, day after day. I love struggle of this sort, but it pains me. It feels like poison, but it strengthens me. This kind of remembering requires ritual, but I don’t want it wrapped up in commercialism. Yet I live in a commercialised world, out of in part because I belong to a poor family, so we can’t afford to escape the city. Such frictions of life make it so much more worth it, then if I was a privileged, rich person isolated from the realities of the poor.

        In my most macabre moments, I silently accept this: we’re all going to die, but how it happens counts far more. Do we want a life that is (relatively) painless? That depends. I consider consumerism to be a species of pain-avoidance, even when the pain is necessary.

        Yet in this mess we have created, the capitalistic ethos cannot be enforced by individuals alone–it requires social infrastructure for it to function. This is something we must remember!

        And yet, we are binded together, ever so closely, by our history in Deep Time. Everywhere, there are traces of this truth. Something much deeper than is currently offered by capitalism.

  • Henry Buchy
    • Traci


  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    Nice. Your essay above reminds me of David Abram (author of The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World) and his talk on the magic of words, as follows:


    • Traci

      Hi again, Brian. Yes!! I love that book, and indeed Abram’s work, along with Morris Berman’s, are the inspiration for this little essay.