Irish-American Witchcraft: Evolution of My Spirituality

Irish-American Witchcraft: Evolution of My Spirituality August 18, 2019

I’ve been pagan now for nearly 30 years and in that time my approach to everything has changed drastically more than once so it’s interesting to look back  now, knowing what I say will be different than what I would have said 10 or 20 years ago and what I might say 10 or 20 years from now.

What I write here today is like a snapshot of where I am at, something I can look back at later; I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to do the same. And if you are curious about my own journey and how things have changed for me, maybe you’ll find this interesting.

At first I mostly modeled my practice from books. Photo by Christine Englehardt via Pixabay.

Where It Began

When I first started out in this spirituality I was very young and mostly modeling my practice from what I could glean out of available books: Cunningham, Buckland, Gardner, the Farrars. The result was a very stylized, formal, and rigid structure. At first I would follow a book exactly to make sure I was doing it correctly, dog-earing pages so I could flip between sections as I performed each part of a ritual or spell.

A few years later as I shifted into a more reconstructionist approach I became more comfortable innovating but I carried forward a sense that a good ritual or even spell needed formality and rigidity. This was exacerbated as I joined Druidic groups which also focused on very formal, complex ritual structures.

When I later began exploring Heathenry I was introduced to the idea that ritual could be simple and effective and this led me into a deep dive on older ritual structures including Celtic cultural feasting practices which was very eye opening for me*. In turn this would later influence my personal approach to witchcraft and the Fairy Faith.

Autumn equinox, Iceland 2018. Photo by the author.

Simplifying

Ironically as I began to see the value and power in simplified ritual and to understand why we did each part of the structure – and so what was actually essential and what wasn’t – I ended up returning to a closer approximation of what I had done when I was much younger before I had stumbled across the idea of formalized spirituality at all.

Nonetheless when I wrote down the outline of my own witchcraft practices in my book in 2013 I kept a slightly more formalized approach in there knowing that such structure had been comforting and necessary to me at one point and that, especially when I’d been starting out on my path connecting my witchcraft to Fairy, that more formal structure had its value. I mention that here because while I don’t personally follow the same approach anymore I do still think that’s a good place for people to begin, especially if they are coming from neopaganism more generally, and that aspects of that structure offer a level of safety my current approach does not.

Now my own magical work and spiritual practice is more spontaneous and fluid. Photo by the author.

At this point in my life my own magical work and spiritual practice is more spontaneous and fluid. I do love having set holidays to celebrate and I think holidays and holiday traditions are very important both in passing on beliefs and in creating connection between us and the Other (or Gods, spirits, ancestors, seasons, or what have you). Previously my holiday schedule was fairly reconstructionist in nature but, as those who follow my blog and Patreon know, that has recently been changing as I feel my way to a new cycle based on the Pleiades. Exciting times.

My Own Approach Today

My approach to the rituals themselves is fairly simple and organic for the most part and usually just involves casting a compass with fresh water opening the rite and creating a space between worlds, calling in the spirits, making offerings, speaking to the spirits as needed, doing divination as needed, finishing with more offerings (think of it like welcome gifts and parting gifts), asking for peace between myself and whatever showed up as I say goodbye, then returning the space to its former state. I use this structure for holidays and for dark moon rituals although for dark moons I may also include meditation or journeywork. For spells or magic I would only go to those lengths if I was doing something major. Usually magic is a matter of simple actions and words, often involving yarn or fire.

Usually magic is a matter of simple actions and words, often involving yarn or fire. Photo by the author.

I do have set things I say or repeat in these rituals and spells because words have power and repeated words gain power over time in my opinion. I’m a collector of old folk spells and charms and I also write my own and use them over time, and as well I’ve had things come to me in dreams or visions that I use. I also will use spontaneous speech when needed so not everything is old, traditional, or something I’ve been using for years. Sometimes the most powerful magic can come from words uttered in the moment when magic is being cast.

Daily Practice

Daily practices are also generally simple and include small offerings and focused awareness. Focused awareness is a state of mind I try to have where I pay attention to potential omens, messages, just basically try to listen more than I talk, if that makes sense. Talking to the spirits is easy but listening isn’t always something people think to do, not really, so I have found it helpful to make an effort to throughout the day no matter how chaotic or hectic it is. And yes, because I have a family and three children I often end up doing this in places like the bathroom, or while I’m cooking, or out walking, or while everyone else is watching TV.

I pay attention to the Otherworldly things I might See. Uaimh na gCat 2016, photo by the author.

I make note of my dreams and if I remember them I write them down, as I believe that some dreams are actually the spirit wandering out and should be treated as real. I try to engage on some level with the beings who I feel are my allies or friends (if you will) as often as possible. I pay attention to the Otherworldly things I might See or experience and try to note patterns or trends as well as work, daily, to keep things in my general area and home smooth with Them.

Growth and Change

So this is where I am currently at with my personal practice. I feel like every change has helped me grow closer and deeper into my work and I am glad for that. In many ways I wish that I didn’t have to stumble along creating this as I go but I have tried many other traditions along the way – and learned a lot from each experience – and I have never found anything yet that is quite right for what I’m looking for except what I do myself.

My witchcraft isn’t something that fits well in the ceremonial magic structure or the neopagan one that comes from it; it’s far closer to early modern witchcraft. My wider spirituality shares aspects of some mainstream pagan traditions but doesn’t fully fit with any of them. My experiences with the Good People is something I’ve only found, minus the overt religious overtones, in the traditional fairy beliefs of Ireland and those people who were once known to be away with the fairies. Which leaves me with no choice but to forge ahead as best I can.

I am left with no choice but to forge ahead as best I can. Brí Leith 2018, photo by the author.

And so I do. And I change and grow and try to learn and do the best I can to honour the Other and to serve Them, and to preserve and continue the traditional beliefs respectfully.

I am not the same person I was 10 years ago, or even perhaps 5 years ago, and that is alright. As the saying goes that which isn’t growing is dying. I’m sure I contradict things I’ve said and opinions I’ve had before, do things now I probably once told other people never to do, and that’s also alright. To quote Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.“. Opinions change, people change, and we should never be afraid to acknowledge that.

I’m not the same person I was even 2 years ago – I went into the sidhe at Cruachan and I came out a different person, I stood on Tlachtga surrounded by fires and walked away a different person.
And I’ve learned to love the person I am now.

*I highly recommend Lady With A Mead Cup by Enright for more on this.

**revised and updated from an earlier version of this article written on my personal blog last year

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