Remember your first Witchcraft book and how magickal and glamorous it all seemed? Twenty years ago I thought my life would be nothing but black cats, herbs in my mortar and pestle, and rituals under the full moon with the coven. But sadly, it’s not all that way.
These are the dirty little Witchcraft secrets that most of us know, and yet net never make the books, or even most blogs.
THE WORK OF RUNNING A COVEN SOMETIMES SUCKS
Don’t read the header incorrectly, being in a coven doesn’t suck, and I really love it, however . . . . The day to day of running a coven (I’m our chief instigator) does not always make my inner-Witch do cartwheels of joy. Do you think that serving platter we use for cakes and ale washes its self? If most of the coven is going to run around my house in their socks I should probably sweep and mop the floors . . . . .
Even the best covens have clashes between people too. Mostly these are minor things, but sometimes wires get crossed and people get confused by a word choice or even just the wrong look on one’s face. Trying to navigate those various intricacies can be tricky, even when you know no harm was intended.
When I was reading my first Witchcraft books I always imagined hosting a coven of real Witches. I envisioned living in a perfect little Witch’s cottage where everything got picked up simply by wiggling one’s nose. Alas, we know that’s not the case and anytime one is hosting individuals there’s always mundane stuff to do. Move stuff, put stuff away in the bathroom, stock toilet paper, get the dirty dishes out of the sink . . . . Why bother with all of it? Because the two or three hours of mundane crap is always worth the hour in the magick circle.
I’M NOT ALWAYS MAGICKAL
I write Witchcraft books, oversee Patheos Pagan, and take care of my wife for a living. All of those should be pretty magickal things, but sometimes they just aren’t. Reading Margaret Murray is something Witches have been doing for almost 100 years now, but it’s rarely fun, and even less so when you have to take notes on it. I think we often mistake reading about Witchcraft for actual Witchcraft and that’s just not the case.
In addition be being bored when reading Robert Graves’ for the tenth time, I’m also a very “salt of the earth” person. I watch football on Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes for eight or nine hours at a pop. I also read lots of political things that keep me informed, and also put me in a terrible mood. (Few things make me feel more unmagickal than reading about Trump.) Gardening might get me in touch with my inner Pagan, but stooping over to weed the garden sucks.
I think everyone knows what it’s like to not feel magickal when you truly want to feel magickal. There have even been times I’ve stepped into ritual space when I just wasn’t feeling “it” (whatever “it” is). At public rites that could be do due to the pressure I put on myself to get things right, or it could come about as the result of doing ritual with a bunch of people I don’t know. Other times it might be from worrying too much about something, and that mundane worry keeps my soul from taking flight.
Sometimes I want to beat myself up when I’m missing that spark, and you might feel the same way. But we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for this, it just happens. Eventually the spark comes back and the joy that comes with a magickal outlook returns. It would be great to constantly walk around in a state of magickal bliss (and I swear some people do it), but that’s probably not too practical in my case.
IT OFTEN LOOKS MORE MUNDANE THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD
Rituals under the full moon in nothing but a robe or my birthday suit? Nope, not going to happen in packed to the gills Northern California. Not only is there no privacy in my backyard, someone lives in it (or at least the garage apartment that runs along side of it). And how do people put those rituals together that seem to feature forty or fifty large pillar candles? Those are all at least eight bucks a piece, not to mention a major fire hazard. I love my ritual room (and I’m quite blessed to have it) but I sometimes wish my Midsummer rites weren’t indoors.
Want to reenact the beach scene in 1996’s The Craft? There’s no shoreline within two hours of me that empty, and besides, it’s against the law to be in most of the more isolated public parks after sunset. I’ve done a few rites at a crowded public beach, but it never quite matched the picture in my mind.
The age of Instagram Witchery has made my work look even more mundane than it did before. My quick spells never look like professional productions. Is that a birthday candle burning over an index card? You better believe it.
Does the magick suffer from not being picture perfect? Of course not, and it’s probably more effective because I’m not trying to stage a photo op, but there’s still something very satisfying when your magickal work looks like magick.
THE GODS DON’T ALWAYS SHOW UP
You’ve cast the circle and called the quarters. Your incense burns happily in its censer and your ritual room is bathed in candle light . . . it all feels so absolutely perfect! Tonight we will walk between the worlds and commune with the gods. And then you call the gods up and all you get is silence on the other end. Sometimes they just don’t show up.
Most of us who believe in deity have probably been here before too, and when it happens, you know it. There’s a huge difference in the circle when Aphrodite shows up and when she doesn’t. Sometimes the deities you call to are like old friends too, making their absence even harder to take. But the gods are not ours to command or boss around. We can summon, stir, and call up all sorts of things, doesn’t mean they are going to bother to be in attendance.
WORDS CAN HURT, OR AT LEAST SLOW YOU DOWN
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” according to the children’s rhyme, but that’s just not the case. Negative criticisms and mean words don’t usually make me cry, but they do have a way of staying with me long past what should be their expiration dates. “I loved your book!” “I like your blog” “Hey, that was a great workshop” people have told me those things over the years, but what I tend to remember are the “there was nothing transformational in your book about Transformative Witchcraft, two stars.”
Several years ago my wife and I led what we thought was a very successful ritual. On our drive home from that rite we were absolutely giddy thinking we had helped facilitate a great ritual. When we got ritual feedback a week later about the rite (our ritual was for a group that asks for ritual feedback) most all of the comments were positive, but several years later we really don’t remember any of those, only the criticisms. “Too serious,” “not serious enough” “what’s up with all the watchtower nonsense?” Our sense of accomplishment vanished pretty quickly.
Years later a lot of our friends talk about “THAT SAMHAIN” but I’m still too busy trying to think what I could have done to make that rite both less and more serious.
At this point I’m a veteran of public ritual and realize that there’s no way to please everybody, though I keep trying! Public ritual is hard, and anyone who leads public ritual, no matter how bad, deserves to be thanked for their service. And it’s also possible to criticize without being negative, which should always be our goal. We should also endeavor to be clear with our concerns so changes can be made.
I wish Witchcraft was nothing but glamour, shared community, and 24/7 magick, but that’s just not the case. Luckily, the great things about it have always outweighed the bad.
The Witch’s Wheel of the Year: Rituals for Circles, Solitaries, & Covens will be out in early December!