The last several months I’ve been pondering discomfort and challenges in my spiritual path. In an act of synchronicity, Jason Miller recently posted a fantastic article on Cultivating Discomfort, which I highly recommend. My thoughts are very similar. About ten years ago I had a teacher who would constantly say that the most powerful magick occurs outside of your comfort zone. I thought I understood this at the time, but have grown a greater awareness of what this means as I shift, change, and grow.
Another teacher that I’ve had over the years had a different point of view, to gently lean into one’s discomfort just a little instead of facing it head on, and to back off if it was still uncomfortable. While I understand she was trying to make another student feel more comfortable, it felt like it was “coddling weakness”, as Victor Anderson would say, instead of challenging a student to become stronger. I sincerely feel that this attitude hinders any potential growth this student could have had to challenge their beliefs and stumble upon a radical epiphany.
Spiritually speaking, all of my greatest personal initiations have occurred after taking on discomfort head on. As a child it wasn’t until I faced my fear of the dark that I could sleep better at night. As a teenager, I would suffer from horrible sleep paralysis, full of those weird apparitions and everything. It wasn’t until I faced the fear head on and didn’t let it consume me that the sleep paralysis transformed into having lucid dreams and later leading to out-of-body experiences into the etheric and/or what Robert Bruce calls the “real-time zone”.
In my early twenties, it wasn’t until I overcame my fear that I might be dying when popping out of my body that I was able to explore the astral realm. It wasn’t until I took the risk of leaving my job and jump into the discomfort of doing professional psychic readings and dedicating my path to the Craft, that I felt satisfied with one of the most draining areas of my life. It wasn’t until I came to terms with the concept of my indoctrination and accepted that my Horned God may be the devil tricking me that I got to experience the Astral Witches’ Sabbath for the first time.
Taking that leap of faith when it seems terrifying, like The Fool of the Tarot, takes immense trust and bravery. In my own personal Craft, I literally cannot grow and change or become powerful without challenge. Like lifting weights at a gym, working through our resistance makes us stronger. It’s through facing things we don’t like about ourselves and our lives that we transform. My experience with The Sacred Fires Tradition of Witchcraft has been one of the most challenging and rewarding craft practices I’ve ever had. I look back at every year that I’ve been training in Sacred Fires and sometimes I don’t recognize myself, even from six months a go.
This isn’t to pat myself on the back, but to show that coal only becomes a diamond through pressure. One of the symbols of Sacred Fires is that of the Butterfly and Moth. The reason being that through each flame attunement and initiation, the work and the spirits have us confront ourselves, in our cocoon of darkness – and like the caterpillar in the cocoon there’s a process of liquefaction, where the caterpillar literally melts until it re-emerges as a butterfly or moth – reborn as a new creature.
During each initiation and attunement there’s a feeling of death, of confronting huge discomforts within ourselves and our lives, that I would liken to the anthropological term of “shamanic death”. Then we have to reorient ourselves with our new understanding of who we are as we emerge from our proverbial cocoons. It is only when my practice, learning, and self-introspection becomes stagnant that I feel blocked and sort of just plateau. Trying new things, thinking in new ways, and honestly evaluating ourselves is uncomfortable. If it wasn’t there’d be nothing worthwhile to gain from it. There’d be no personal evolution. This is why witchcraft takes work.But I’m realizing that this is also true with my magick. In an interview earlier this year with Disinfo, I said that “I’ve watched my magick evolve from attempts and experiments of being unsure if the manifestation is coincidence or not to now being more surprised if for some reason the magick didn’t occur. Magick is often referred to as a “science” by its practitioners and I’ve found just like the science of anything, if you follow the rules properly you’ll achieve your result. If I follow all the ingredients and directions when it comes to baking a cake, the surprise comes if the cake somehow comes out wrong and it’s often because you didn’t follow something correctly.”
While this is still true, I’ve realized the problem with this. I’m too comfortable, I’m making a lot of basic cakes that I know how to make and that seemingly do the job. This revelation came to me while reading Jason Miller’s newest book The Elements of Spellcraft. I realize that I spell-cast things that are in my comfort zone, thus it always works. I’m not challenging my Craft to take on things that will really shake up my life in a drastic way, instead of using magick to maintain my comfortability and make slow progress ahead. I’ve become comfortable in my manifestations, thus I’m finding stagnations in certain areas of my life- which is a fantastic realization to have as well as an uncomfortable one. This is partially the work of the White Flame in Sacred Fires – the first flame of work, attunement, and a reminder that even as you gain the White Flame attunement, the work of the White Flame never stops. There’s always a return to the basics.
Once again I meditate on the Fool of the tarot, who is sometimes unnumbered, sometimes zero at the beginning of the Major Arcana, and sometimes numbered twenty-two – at the end of the Major Arcana instead of the beginning. To me, that’s because the Fool is that leap of faith into a new path or journey and that beginner’s mind of humility – the energy that we start our paths on and the one we return to once we attain the end with the World card at the end of the Major Arcana. We could be satisfied with reaching the World, but we stop growing if we don’t challenge and push ourselves in all areas of our lives to jump back to square one with the Fool.
So the major question I pose is whether or not your Craft is working – but are you growing from it? Does it honestly challenge you to grow and evolve? Can you see a correlation with personal changes within yourself, your life, and your Craft? Are you evolving or plateauing? Can you come from a place of feeling you’ve succeeded back to realizing that you don’t have everything figured out yet and always have more to learn – even if it challenges everything you believe to be true? These honest assessments of your Craft will change your life. Remember that as witches, we are forged in the flames that destroy others.