I want to you to picture this. It’s Samhain Season. Witches, wandering downhill upon leaf-strewn paths, hidden within the darkness of their cloaks and the night sky with its new moon. In a clearing, these witches, carrying only their dearest oils, herbs, and offerings, make a plea to for connection to the Hidden Company, the Mighty Dead. They bless and consecrate one another and, in the darkness, they lie upon the ground in the cold, decaying leaves, sinking into the earth, and taking a spiritual journey to the Underworld. Throughout this experience, noises are heard in the distance, and nearby. All sounds take on an otherworldly experience, and echo through the night. The fear propels us forward. For what are the gods, if not also found and discovered in fearsome ways?
The experience I describe happened for me, over a particularly sacred Samhain while visiting the Temple of Witchcraft for their Samhain Psychic Fair (more on that another time). This experience however, was not a lighthearted “fun” experience. It was transformative, through the magickal gate of fear. At more than one point during the ritual, the noise I heard was concerning enough that I questioned myself. That voice inside of me that is afraid of big bads in the woods. We likely all have that, to some degree. It’s smart evolution for humans. In this case however, I considered logically that I was likely safe and my brain was just responding naturally.*
The ritual continued on, with the darkness and trance-like states pushing the experience. I felt the watchful eyes of animals and spirits, all staying on surrounding our magick circle. I found that I journeyed to the underworld with visions of an infinite tree of life, where up is down and down is up, and the barren tree branches up above became the roots to descend into the vision working. Messages obtained were spiritually significant for me, and this was the case for other attendants as well.
A second experience over the summer brought about an auditory spiritual experience heard by all three of us in attendance. In the woods near cliff faces and a brook, an otherworldly-like laughter was heard. Having already had some experience with the fae, this certainly was a moment where offerings were left quickly, we made sure we had our keys, and booked it out of the site. We had gone in unprepared, and lessons were learned in that as well.Intensity and fear created the space in which these experiences could occur for me. As described in The Gates of Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak, p. 174: “Many initiatory practices use some form of isolation, in actuality or perceived, and the purpose of this isolation is to induce fear. When reduced to a fearful, almost pre-verbal state where we are concerned about our safety and survival, much of our societal conditioning falls away, and in the context of the ritual, we can see things as they truly are, not how we, or those in society who have programmed us, think they should be.”
Fear is part of the initiatory experience, and particularly noticeable within ecstatic practices that involve vision quests into the woods on one’s own, initiatory practices with blindfolds, unknown journeys, etc.
Fear can be a wonderful teacher, with the appropriate container for it. This gate to open the way to magick, change, and transformation is a difficult one, and in fact often comes with warnings related to smart safety, and decisions on whether to pursue the use of fear in accessing magick. For me, it was certainly a path worth exploring. I hope that in reading this you’ll share your own experiences with fear as a gateway to magick, and how it has been useful for you.
*Small disclaimer: In deciding that it was a safe experience (someone else was with me, we weren’t that far from people), it made sense for me to continue on through my fear. I need to say this, because it might not always be safe to do this. Right now it’s hunting season where I am, and it would be incredibly stupid to go into the woods unprepared for that, as an example. Discernment between what is a fear for real safety and the brain’s overreaction is important.