2020 EDIT NOTE: “The Witch’s Book of Secrets” was the working title for the book which was later named The Witch’s Book of Mysteries.
Devin Hunter is the rising leading voice of a new generation of witchcraft. He is a professional Psychic Medium and modern witch and is the resident House Medium at The Mystic Dream in Walnut Creek, Ca. He holds third-degree initiations in both the Northern Star Tradition of Wicca as well as the Dianic Tradition of Witchcraft (the Cult of Diana) and is the founder of his own tradition, Sacred Fires. His AV Club favorited podcast, the Modern Witch, has helped thousands of people from all over the world discover and develop their magical abilities. He is a blogger for Witches & Pagans magazine and is the creator of Modern Witch Magazine. Devin is currently teaching with the Black Rose School of Witchcraft. His first book, The Witch’s Book of Power was released from Llewellyn World Wide in July of 2016 and his second book, The Witch’s Book of Spirits will be released in July of 2017. I decided to ask Devin a few questions about his practice, projects and books.
What do you feel is the most valuable magickal practice in your day-to-day life as a witch?
There are several aspects to the witchcraft and sorcery I practice that I think are equally important for me so this is no easy task! I think the one part of my craft that I would miss the most, or would feel lost without, is my work as a medium. I’m not quite sure how other witches practice without working with spirits and the beings that reside on the other side of perception. My particular witchcraft is so rooted in the spirit world that I liken the relationship to being like that of sunlight and solar panels. Aside from our sheer talents, the spirit world is the only thing that guides and carries out the magic we do, so having a healthy practice that draws deeply from that connection I think is irreplaceable.
In your teachings and books you have a very different definition of the witch’s familiar than a lot of modern witches who view the familiar as either a pet or a “spirit animal”. Can you explain the difference between the witch’s familiar and these other animals and spirits?
Absolutely! There are a few reasons for this, none of which are meant to disrespect the values of other traditions, I can only speak to my own relationship to the spirit world. This has been a subject of discussion enough and I have had people tell me that I was flat out wrong on this, so I try not to be pushy about it. That being said, the original context in which the term Familiar Spirit (or Familiar) was coined was speaking to a specific type of spirit being which was at times tutelary but was more often a mediary on behalf of the witch and the spirit world or at the very least was being employed by the witch to perform certain tasks. We see this specific sort of thing in the story of The Witch of Endor in the Bible, the confessions of convicted witches, and the folk stories passed down in several European folk traditions.
The concept of the Familiar Spirit being an animal or “spirit animal” is, in my opinion, a white washing by popular wiccans (those who practice a loose version of Traditional Wicca or Trad Craft, mostly influenced by those much judged Llewellyn books from the 90’s) who just simply weren’t talented in the art of spirit mediumship enough, to explain away something they couldn’t do or didn’t understand. That’s what we do, we rationalize things away, and in popular wicca that has been done so many times that I think people stopped questioning it.
In the context of my tradition, the Familiar Spirit is a very real and palpable part of our craft and every single one of us has to forge a solid relationship with a Familiar in order receive initiation. This was not something that was available for me when training in other traditions, I had to find this on my own and develop material around it. While doing so I found other witches, all over the planet, who felt the same way and were having the same type of experiences as we were. So that was a big clue that what we stumbled upon was real and it needed attention. Over time, our work with Familiars has become the easily most recognizable aspect of our tradition publicly.
Yes, terms develop over time, but the idea that your pet cat is your Familiar Spirit is thankfully new enough that I hope people who are interested in this type of work take a look at the work here that myself and many other witches do. Your cat isn’t going to help you broker a deal with the crossroads spirit. For us, the term Familiar is one that comes with honor and responsibility. I think calling animal companions Familiar belittles that role and fosters a reality for the witch that removes the spirit world just another degree away from us. In The Witch’s Book of Spirits I get to really dive more into that work and am continuing to do so with following projects.
In The Witch’s Book of Power we are introduced to three deities – that of Diana, Dianus and Aradia. The Witch’s Book of Spirits is very Hecate focused. I know that you’ve also led rituals revolving around her at Pantheacon and other festivals and events. How did you begin working with Hecate? What role does she play in your tradition and teachings?
When I first stumbled onto Hecate in a real way, meaning that I actually had an experience with her beyond what I had read in books, I was at a festival called Between the Worlds in Ohio. There were several men there that worked with her and one night after a ritual devoted to her, everyone else had left and I found myself standing at a crossroads with three masks hanging from a pole and a big cauldron at the base. It was filled with water or some sort of liquid, and the moon reflected off the surface. I was instantly in a heavy trance and the water started to move and shape into these trippy little figures and I remember thinking “Holy shit! This is amazing!” A while later, I ended up telling some friends about it and kinda found out she was the Goddess of D’jour at the time and just about everyone I knew had either recently started to work with her or had begun to do so within the previous year or two. I think out of sheer spite at the idea of following the crowd I just moved on and counted it all as a cool experience.
As my relationship developed and went to the next level with my own “matron” deity, Diana Queen of Witches, I would find myself being visited by Hecate. She would show up not just in my life and in my space but also at special places within the tradition’s astral temples and then she started to visit other members of the tradition on her own. So again, we were faced with this reality where a spirit makes its self known in multiple ways to multiple people, and we were faced with this idea of adjusting the pantheon of spirits we worked with. This was unprecedented in our short history so it took some time. I devoted a year of personal devotion to her, which culminated in a giant ritual at Pantheacon with fellow members of the Black Rose community. During this time I worked with my Familiar Spirit, Malach, to receive a set of ritual technologies from Hecate for my tradition. Once it was all written out she informed me which pieces were to be kept secret for us, and which pieces I was meant to share. It was all business to her, this stuff is yours for doing the transcribing, but the rest of this is for everyone else. I look over the material and am still in shock it even exists. Hecate is a very hands-on kind of deity!
Speaking of traditions, your Black Rose Witchcraft course that you co-lead with your partners seems to be almost an outer-court basic training for either your Sacred Fires Tradition or your partner Storm’s Blue Rose Faerie Tradition. If a seeker has gone through Black Rose and is deciding on which step to take next, what do you feel are important things to keep in mind about each tradition? How do they differ?
Black Rose was born from this need for us as teachers for our students to have access to a community of well-trained occultists who all share a basic level of training. The problem is however that Sacred Fires and Blue Rose (my partner’s tradition) are two separate and unique traditions and there is no way that we were going to smoosh them together. They have different spirits, different requirements, different core principles, etc. But what makes them traditions (the secrets and the mysteries related to each) aren’t revealed right away in either tradition and we found that those coming to us needed some sort of primer before they were ready.
There was another component, my other partner Chas Bogan, pointed out that a lot of witches, especially here in the states, are not taught to be folk magicians. Popular wicca seems to follow ceremonial work well when read from a book, but there is no mention of connecting to the spirit in a root or the concept of the modern history of witchcraft, things like colors in candle magic, were introduced by the descendants of African slaves. Everything that was available painted this image that witchcraft as we know it has always been like this. This is something that as folk occultists and people who generally love to preserve this sort of knowledge, never sat well with us and had been a pretty common discussion in our two traditions.
So on one hand we had this desire to have a community of students who were fluid in a less intense but thorough type of training which prepared them for the deep work in our traditions, and on the other we had a desire to introduce and preserve the history and authenticity of certain folk practices that were slipping into the background noise of white colonialism. To do all this, so that our students had the best experience and we were able to do our jobs a teachers, we knew we had to create something new to serve as that introduction and forum. Black Rose is the outer-court of our two traditions where we strive to fulfill the tasks related to those responsibilities and interests.
I tell people when they ask about what I think they should do after Black Rose to really look deep within themselves and ask what they feel calls to them and why. When it comes to either tradition there is never a guarantee that a Black Rose initiate would be invited to be trained as a priest/ess beyond their work in Black Rose. Though it serves as an outer court, membership in either tradition is dependent on several variables and not everyone would make a great fit with the spirits served. So for those interested in either, they need to really want it, to show up and be active, to engage the teachers, and to demonstrate that they take the work seriously. If a Black Rose student is really doing that, I genuinely feel that their gut will lead them in the direction of where their service is best suited.
In The Witch’s Book of Spirits you provide “Keys of Hecate”. They don’t seem to be quite sigils or seals or veves, but something similar to each yet different than all of them. Can you explain their purpose?
The keys were transmitted to me as part of that system of magic I was talking about a bit earlier. There are multiple keys that were given but only the first nine made it into the book, the others are reserved for our priesthood. The nine that did make it into the book however are the nine needed to effectively maneuver through and work with the spirit worlds. Together, these keys create the system of talismanic protocols that can be used to do everything from summon a demon to visiting the realm of Faery and comprise the ritual techniques behind what we refer to as The Familiar Craft. It is a surprisingly versatile system of magic that has given even those who say they can’t feel spirits a few goosebumps, so it is definitely not for everyone but I think it will be useful to a certain type of witch. I can only claim ownership over them up to a point, the credit I feel is really all Hecate’s and Malach’s. So I just hope that when people use them they get a deeper sense of what Hecate and their own Familiar Spirits are all about.
In The Witch’s Book of Spirits you discuss how to come into contact with a lot of different spirits, among these are angels and demons. Modern witches, particularly of a more Pagan path seem to have biases and resistance against these entities. Why would anyone want to work with an angel or demon? Do you feel Witches are prejudice against them?
Well lets start by saying that the existence of Angels and Demons is not up for debate as far as I am concerned. They were here before us, they will be here after us, and we are bumping into them a lot more than we think. I am all about reclaiming a non-monotheistic spirituality, but these spirits come from traditions that preexisted Judaism and the fact that they show up in Christianity doesn’t take away from their realness, it just adds to it. If anything you have millions of people who believe in a literal war between the two; there has to at the least be some sort of spirit created from that. So I can’t jump on the bandwagon that because a select group of people aren’t comfortable with it that it just shouldn’t exist at all. That being said, more people practice a form of witchcraft that includes them rather than excludes them. Folk magic is full of Angels and Demons and we can’t wash that away because a bunch of people are triggered by anything related to the Christ myth. If we were to look at what goes on in Hoodoo/Conjure in the states, the magical traditions from South America and Mexico, those developed even in the rural countryside of Wales and Ireland, all have components where Angels, Demons, and several other spirits like the dead and Fae all play a part.
The exclusion of these spirits is another modern invention, so I would invite anyone who poo-poos the idea to do a little research. That all being said, in my work, I don’t see Angels and Demons through a Judeo-Christian lens, I look at them through the lens of an occultist and medium. To put it super simply, Angels are beings that progress through order, Demons are beings that progress through chaos. Both order and chaos are needed in an healthy ecosystem and one form of energy might be better at getting you to the next step than the other. These terms are also limiting as to their nature so I do try to encourage people to investigate for themselves. And don’t worry, there are tools in the book that make interacting with both safe. Bottom line, I have met Angels that we absolute dicks, demons that were as sweet as honey, and I have spent a lot of time with both. What is going on on the other side is a lot more complex than we want to make it and we do ourselves and the spirits a disservice by pretending its simple. Go look for yourself, make your own judgement after a conversation or two. If anything, with the dominant stance of the church being not to communicate with either Angels or Demons, that rebellious reasoning should have driven more witches into their arms.
The Witch’s Book of Spirits discusses the role of the Nephilim being the ancestors of the witch’s power. Can you elaborate on this? How did you get into contact with these beings?
Nephilim are a hot topic word I have found, even in my own family. I have people in my life that are extreme conspiracy theorists and have brought up all kinds of crazy stuff related to the Nephilim. Unfortunately, the way the term is used in those circles, is to classify a race of cryptid humans that supposedly had alien like features and “powers”, notably long skulls and super strength. The belief is that they are alien-human hybrids. It gets pretty trippy. So as you might imagine, I don’t make it home for family picnics often. The shocking thing is though, that that reasoning isn’t too far off from the truth. I don’t know about weird skulls, but what I do know is that there are species of spirits that are halflings, or part human and part something else. In the case of the Nephilim, they are believed to be half human and half Angel.
We certainly aren’t the only tradition to see the Nephilim as the progenitors of the witch blood, but we are perhaps one of a small group of traditions that doesn’t hide that fact. I want people to know a little bit of what they are in for, and since the topic is controversial, I tend to lead right away so if they have some extreme aversion they know before they get too deep. I came into contact with them while training for one of my first craft initiations and have worked with them ever since. Generally, I find that if the Witch Power isn’t depicted as stemming from the Nephilim, it is described as coming from Faery and/or Demon halflings. So no matter which way we traditionally see it, it is a force introduced to humanity externally. For us, there is a body of lore surrounding the Nephilim and we tend to stick close to that.
In The Witch’s Book of Spirits you introduce a priesthood of spirits called the VEXNA-KARI. How did you get in contact with these beings? What role do they play in your book and your traditions?
The VEXNA-KARI were an interesting find. They were introduced to me after receiving the keys as a parting token by my Familiar as they were acquaintances of his. They are a priesthood of Nephilim that head thirty three familiar spirits. It is a long story that I do go into detail in the book, but essentially they consider themselves to be spiritual brethren to those with the Witch Power and can be worked with to gain things like power, insight, influence, etc. After much deliberation, we brokered a contract for them to introduce me to the Familiar Spirits they control and much in the same way that I received the keys, I received the rites and rituals related to them.
In the book they serve as tutelary spirits that can be called upon without too much fuss and in the tradition we see them as spirit allies and spiritual family. The work presented in the book with them represents the initial work we do to collaborate with them and gain insight into the origins of our unique power.
Near the end of The Witch’s Book of Spirits you have a section that is dedicated to what appears to be almost modern witch folk saints in a way. How did you discover these spirits?
The last section of the book is entitled The Grimoire of 33 Spirits or The Book of the VEXNA-KARI where I outline the work related to each of the thirty-three spirits including their sigils, invocations, preferred offerings, etc. Each working makes use of the keys and each spirit has a corresponding ritual. I met these spirits after working with the VEXNA-KARI for sometime and as part of the agreement I struck up with them, I included the others in the book. As I understand it, each of these spirits was a Familiar to a witch at some point in history. After the death of their magician, these spirits continued on and eventually found their way to the collective and are even after all this time are still looking to serve witches!
There’s so many spirits in The Witch’s Book of Spirits. Do you feel it’s better to work closely and intimately with a few select spirits or have acquaintances with many spirits?
I think we should think of spirits like you think of people. Sometimes all you need to be successful is to know a a few of the right people but sometimes it’s best to know a lot of the right kind of people. The answer to this I think ultimately becomes personal in nature. I believe that as long as a relationship is respectful and respected, we should have as many of them as possible. If you work best with a few select people, then keep your circle small but if you like people and you enjoy a crowd then working with several spirits might just be the best. I find that for myself, having a healthy mix of spirits I work deeply with and those who I am acquainted to works best.
Are there any new projects on the horizon we can look forward to?
Right now I am working on what I believe to be the last “The Witch’s book of…” which is currently titled The Witch’s Book of Secrets and should be out in the early summer of 2019. I am wrapping up the work and spilling the beans about what it takes to develop a transcendental practice and get to share a few more spirit allies that I couldn’t fit into The Witch’s Book of Spirits. I am also working on a pictorial book right now based on my podcast and magazine called Modern Witch, a Pictorial Guide to the Thirteen Powers which should be coming out in the fall of 2019. I really like working with Llewellyn and being able to present my type of work to their audience and they have been very supportive with my writing so I think the sky is the limit there. I was a little nervous at first that my type of witchcraft wouldn’t be well received there but it has turned out that I fit in nicely with their creative team. I also recently became part owner of the store I have been managing for seven years called The Mystic Dream. So right now things are a bit crazy as you might imagine. I am looking forward to the books but I am also looking forward to seeing the shop evolve as we revamp and I get to add some signature product to the mix. I am really blessed right now and am just going where the spirits take me.