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Friday, July 21, 2023

Top Ten Spell Books to Tap Into the Ancient Power of Magic

I’ve often joked with myself about titling blog posts as listicles and click-bait. This one seemed like a fun option for it.

 Witches, NeoPagans and Magicians have been saying for decades that the power comes from within you. The power isn’t in the tools, or in what you say. As a result, the best way to communicate what you truly want and need is to speak from the heart…or at least, to craft your spells yourself.

 There is some merit to some of that. But some of it is also pretty bogus. It’s easy to demonstrate that this wasn’t how people looked at magic prior to the last several decades. It’s also easy to shoot holes in the reality of some of those statements.

 Even if we accept that the power comes from within you, and that your experience, perceptions, and conscious engagement with the magic are what’s important…and in some ways, this is all true…we still have to recognize that what you’re doing, and what tools you’re using will impact all of that inner experience. If you’re not confident in what you created, or if you feel like something that has survived through time will be more potent, then you’re better off using something you didn’t fully create yourself. If we recognize that what you use and what you do has meaning beyond just your inner experience then drawing from existing knowledge becomes even more important. 

 The idea of a spellbook is cool. The idea of examining a collection of magical secrets and using them to solve problems or to increase your enjoyment of life is exciting. Even if it’s all about the inner experience, there is value to that excitement.

 I don’t think it’s all about your inner experience though. Not everything is just about any one of us, and the world works and moves in the ways it is designed to. We have to work within those structures to break and rebuild them to what we want.

 Looking at existing methods of magic is a good way to learn how to build magical rituals and spells. Examining what’s been done before is a good way to look at how things work and what tools to use.

 There is a point where saying you want a spell book feels silly because we’ve all been told several times that we don’t need such things and that’s not how this works. Eventually, you reach a point where you realize books like that can be awesome. Not only are they neat and interesting, but they are useful in multiple ways. Not just in the sense of learning, but in the sense of having ready to go solutions, or templates to start building your own solutions from. Spellbooks provide utility while being fun and exciting.

 Having seen someone ask for a good spellbook this morning I’ve decided to do a list. Following the standard, it is in descending order. Not following the standard, my top ten has twelve items.


12. The Long Lost Friend

A lot of people really like this one. I’m not a huge fan. I have not spent a ton of time with it though. It is a general collection of Pennsylvania Dutch folklore. If you’re interested in exploring folklore generally, you will enjoy this. If you’re mostly looking for spells, there are spells, and there are things that straddle a line between spells and less overtly magical folklore. I prefer Romanus Buchlein, which I believe is a related text. Romanus Buchlein is primarily spells. We'll revisit the translator for Long Lost Friend later. 

11. Nummits and Crummits

Nummits and Crummits is also a folklore collection, but from the perspective of a folklorist instead of a practitioner collecting it like Long Lost Friend. As such, it is better organized. This collects folklore from a region in England. There are chapters on magic and counter magic. Most of it is not immediately useful but can be adapted to being useful, or can be used for inspiration.

10. The True Black Magic

 The name is a bit misleading. This is not some Left Hand Path wet dream, nor it is a collection of mischievous diablery. It’s just a Key of Solomon as packaged by the salacious French press of the Biblioteque Bleu period. It is similar to the popular Mathers version of the Key of Solomon, but it retains the section of spells which Mathers omits. There are other better Key of Solomon options, like TheVeritable Key of Solomon, but this is a good accessible slim volume for people who want to look at grimoire spells in the context of a major grimoire. Joseph H. Peterson has put out an edition of this. For an alternative look at a classic grimoire with a collection of spells, Peterson also released Secrets ofSolomon, a version of the Ars Rabidmadar, which is the basis of the GrimoiriumVerum.

9. The Discouerie of Witchcraft

Reginald Scot wrote this text to point out how ridiculous belief in witchcraft was. He wasn’t saying witches are stupid for believing in witchcraft, but that everyone was stupid for believing in witches, and it was all superstition. A lot of his invective regarding superstitious beliefs focused on blaming Catholics for bizarre rituals and inventing bugbears to scare children. If you ignore most of the explanations and commentary, the book is filled with popish papery (Catholicism) which it turns out is just a detailed description of and instructions for performing conjurations, spells, and rituals. The book became so popular with people interested in learning magic, that later editions had essays on magical philosophy appended to it. The Goetia of Solomon is largely based on this book.

8. The Cambridge Book of Magic

 This is not an important book, but it is a favorite of mine. The Cambridge Book is a working magician’s notebook, likely from around the time of the English Reformation. It contains a combination of grimoire style rituals and spells. While the translator noted that it did not include examples of faery magic, it does, in fact, include a conjuration of a faery queen. This came in at the eighth spot because it is slim and accessible and hones in on the type of grimoire magic material which is included in Scot, but it doesn’t have all of the extra stuff. Subsequent books that present working magician’s notebooks are more thorough and larger than this one though.

7. The Works of Daniel Harms et al

 Daniel Harms has been involved with the publication of several grimoires and cunningman’s notebooks. These tend to be well laid out and present copious interesting material. TheBook of Oberon, which was done with Joseph Peterson and James Clark is very popular and reflects a working grimoire added to by several magicians. His recent release, The Book of Four Occult Philosophers, is similar, and passed through the hands of some of the same magicians as The Book of Oberon. Angels Demons and Spirits is another great one which presents the grimoire of a cunningman. David Rankine released The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet, which is also a cunningman’s notebook. It has similar material to the one released by Harms but is also worth exploring. Its layout is less user oriented though. Stephen Skinner also released A Cunningman’s Grimoire, and Jim Baker, along with David Rankine, released A Cunningman’s Handbook which was perhaps one of the first popular releases of such a text.


6. Saint Cyprian

St. Cyprian, the Sorcerer Saint, was a legendary magician who converted to Christianity to gain its power. Despite his reason for converting, Cyprian was devout and became a bishop and a martyr. Despite his hagiography describing him abandoning and rejecting magic, the folk-memory of him describes a Christian bishop who retained and integrated his magical knowledge into his Christian life. As a result he remained one of the consummate icons of magic. There was a mythical book containing the ultimate magical secrets attributed to him. The book was believed to be so magical that people began names magic books “cypriani.” Throughout Northern Europe, black books, or collections of magical practice, were associated with his name even though they did not necessarily contain references to him. In Iberia, he was more of an icon, and there was an array of pamphlets and booklets of folk magic which were associated with him. This continued in Spanish colonies in the Americas, and he is a significant figure in some ADR magical traditions. Humberto Maggi released a Book of Saint Cyprian collecting some Cyprianic material, Jose Leitao has released multiple books of Cyprianic material. I like the layout of Leitao’s collections better, in particular the latter collection which is huge. Leitao organizes the material based on the source so you get more of a sense of the way the material is collected and presented in pamphlets and booklets which would have been used in folk practice.  Leitao's two main texts are The Book of Saint Cyprian: The Sorcerer's Treasure and Opuscula Cypriani: Variations on the Book of Saint Cyprian

5. The Sporting Life

 This is a very short but useful text by Charles Porterfield which presents information on Hoodoo specifically related to things like money, gambling, sex, and avoiding the police. It presents correspondences and ideas so you can build your own techniques, but it also presents several spells for various general and specific purposes. Chapters are arranged based on the area of life the magic relates to. Some of the language may be off-putting for some readers but the book is very useful and straight to the point.

4. The Secret of the Psalms

This book provides magical applications of the psalms. Some instances provide particular spell or ritual components to do with the psalms, but generally, the psalm’s power is explained, sometimes with multiple effects it can have. You can recite the psalm to try and apply its power, or you can incorporate the psalm with other spellwork. The text is essentially copied from another book of psalm magic which was included in the German collection of magical texts Das Kloster. The German text also contains The 6th and 7th Books of Moses, which like The Secret of the Psalms, became a popular and influential text in Hoodoo.  

3. Greek Magical Papyri

 The Greek Magical Papyri refers to several separate and distinct collections and fragments of writing on magic spanning several hundred years (about the 1st or 2nd Century BCE through about the 5th century CE). These texts are primarily from Roman Egypt. By the point these texts were created, Egypt had been under Greek (Macedonian) control prior to becoming a client state for Rome and then eventually coming fully under Rome’s control. Roman control does not seem to have created cultural impact reflected in the texts, but the texts show a blend of Greek and Roman influences. There are also other Near Eastern elements reflected in some texts. There are two major English language presentations of several of the papyri. The standard for several years has been The Greek Magical Papyri by Betz et al. A new larger text is available from Faraone and Toralles Tovar The Greek and Egyptian Magical Formularies. Both primarily present translations of the spells and rituals presented in these texts. If you want ancient, or late antique examples of magic the papyri are one of the most popular sources.

2. Svartkonstboecker

This is the work of a folklorist who unfortunate died before its publication. The text is huge. It collects together several “black books” or magical notebooks often passed along through families, in Sweden. It is a great collection of folk magic practices. For people interested in this flavor of spellbook but want something smaller, The Black Books of Elverum are an option.

1. The Works of Judika Illes

 I will admit, I don’t have these books. Everything else on the list, I do. When I was a kid starting out, Modern Witches Spellbook was the well known spell book. It had the spooky witchy feel of 1970s/1980s witchcraft. They seemed a bit naughty and old fashion, which was exciting, but I also felt like as a middle schooler they weren’t the books I should be buying. Judika Illes’s books have a nicer more friendly aesthetic. Because of that and their titles, I just ignored them. I thought they were just coffee table books that might not even be by a magician, similar to the magical picture books Barnes and Noble has in their bargain section. By the time I became aware of Illes’s books, I was probably also in that phase where I would have thought “why do I want a random spellbook?” Since then, I have known numerous people who have met her and respect her deeply. I’ve met more people who have her books and think they’re great. They’re on my list of books to consider picking up. I’ve heard they contain spells from a wide range of sources covering many places, times, and traditions. For that reason, if someone just wants a spellbook and is not interested in a particular structure or tradition, this is probably the broadest general presentation of spells. Some of her books are, The Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells, The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic that Works, and Emergency Magic! 150 Spells for Surviving the Worst-Case Scenario

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this list and it will provide you with some options if you’re looking for books from which to draw examples for building your own magic, or from which to draw completed spells to use. If you want books for exploring magic here is my Getting Started in Sorcery list. At some point I hope to have some more getting started guides for specific approaches to magic. In the meantime, hopefully these are helpful.


Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this please like, follow, and share on your favorite social media!. You can also visit our Support page for ideas if you want to help out with keeping our various projects going. Or follow any of the links below.

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If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration

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Friday, July 14, 2023

Street Lamps as Liminal Spirit Spaces


“She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch over the snow and through the wood towards the other light. In about ten minutes she reached it and found it was a lamppost. As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamppost in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter of feet coming towards her. And soon after that a very strange person stepped out from among the trees into the light of the lamppost.”


-         C. S. Lewis, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe


The lamp post in the woods is a clear image representing Narnia in the minds of Anglophone readers. It seems like a small detail, but it's important enough that it is one of the two clear symbols or events linking the first book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, with the penultimate book, The Magician's Nephew. In the latter, we see the creation of Narnia. On Earth, the events surrounding Narnia's birth are carried forward by planting seeds from a Narnian tree, producing a magical fruit tree that eventually becomes the fated wardrobe. While in Narnia, its state as a newly created world allows a bit of metal ripped from a lamppost on Earth by a giantess to implant in the freshly formed soil and grow into a lamppost. This lamppost, a piece of Earth, is the first Narnian thing seen by Lucy as she enters Narnia. Lucy is the first human in Narnia since the events of its creation. Her return sets in motion the beginning of the restoration of Narnia from the damage and corruption caused by the White Queen, herself the giantess who entered Narnia at its creation and who planted the metal which became the lamppost.

          The gateway through which Lucy and her siblings enter Narnia is part earthly and part Narnian. The seed of the tree that became the wardrobe came from Narnia, but it grew on Earth. The lamppost, which becomes the guide marker in and out of Narnia, is likewise part earthly and Narnian. The seed of the lamppost came from Earth, but it grew in Narnia. There is a parallelism here based in their liminality.

          But why even include the lamppost? A lamppost does not seem magical or fantastical. It is quotidian in the extreme. An aesthetic is hinted at with the idea that a lamppost is out of place in a forest. Initially, we don't know anything about the forest. We might presume it's magical since it's found in a wardrobe, but nothing indicates that a lamppost is wildly out of place. The events which follow, and what is first seen in the light of the lamppost, begin the unfoldment towards the wondrous as we discover a magical creature revealed in its light. The text does not even indicate that the forest is dark, but the light of the lamppost is where Lucy first clearly sees the faun, Mr. Tumnus.

          This may be because lampposts are, in fact, magical. It may be because lampposts are the sort of magical space in which we expect the revelation of a supernatural figure or a citizen from some other space where spirits and magical beings reside. In the movie posters for The Exorcist, Father Merrin stands bathed in otherworldly light emitting from the room of a possessed child. While the source of the light is a window, some iterations of the image leave that unclear. In almost all versions of it, he very clearly stands under a lamppost, despite that not being the source of light. For most people, the priest arriving under the lamppost, bathed in light in the dark night, is the image they associate with Father Merrin.

          Similarly, flickering streetlamps, insects massing under streetlamps, or streetlamps buzzing and flicking on or off are common elements of our visual language that indicate the presence of the supernatural in films and television.

          I got to thinking about the magical liminality of the streetlamp last night while looking at one through my window. It's a streetlamp that I see routinely. This one is immediately visible from most windows on the western side of my house. As I watched the lamp, it had a strikingly magical ambiance. The magical quality of the streetlamp was often evident. Many streetlamps convey that sense that a magical space resides underneath them, and some are even ingrained in my mind as such spaces.

          Looking at the lamp, I wondered if other people had thought about or noticed this when considering the nature of street lamps. Do other people view them as liminal spaces or spaces for magic to occur? What symbolism or properties do people accord to them? As these questions passed through my mind, I wondered if I could explain how or why they were magical. I wondered if people had encounters or experiences in the small round spotlight spaces beneath them. I pondered about ways to engage them and if anyone had methods for doing so. I have only really considered them in conjunction with crossroads. There are two crossroads that feel particularly magic that are routine parts of my life, and in both cases, their streetlamp contributes dramatically to the presence of the space.

          My reflection didn't settle the answers. It asked questions and considered possibilities. I would love to see people discuss some of these ideas and their experiences. In that spirit, I'll share some of my own thinking.

          We don't think of lamps in houses as something liminal and rarely as something magical. In particular spaces, when they cast light in specific ways, something might seem otherworldly about a lamplit area. It isn't the norm, though.

          Streetlamps present this quality more consistently. In a house, we're dealing with a limited space. That space might, at the outset, be darker than the space outside. The stars and the moon provide some illumination outdoors. In addition to streetlamps, we have people's porch lights, and the light spill from their windows. Inside a house with no lights on or with the power off, particularly if the windows are drawn, there is much less small ambient light. The darkness may be more palpable than outside, and you have a sense of an enclosed space filled with things throughout that darkness.

          Considering the darkness of inside spaces, they should be primed to feel like magical or wild spaces when hidden in total darkness. They don't. They might feel scary or creepy, but a lived-in space does not create the same sense as a wild space just because it's dark. If anything, you feel frustration over the possibility of bumping into things or the urge to find a light. When you're outside, even if there is some visibility, the darkness feels more extensive. You're in an open space. You can't illuminate throughout the full confines of the space because there are no confines. You're probably less familiar with the space. A broader range of things and people could be lurking in the darkness than there would be in your unlit home. The sense of the unknown and the dangers of a wild space become a more imminent part of your awareness, even if you're not in a place that would be a wild space during the day. Wild spaces aren't necessarily liminal, but they are magical. There is room for the unknown and unexpected, and so there are possibilities for things to come into being out from the darkness without hindrance or expectation. Wild spaces also frequently have more otherworldly life than human spaces, as it is often more comfortable for such beings to be more active away from the hustle and bustle of human influence. The cover of darkness spreads that potential into otherwise tamed human spaces.

          This might seem like a reflection or meditation on the darkness of night, unattached from anything more tangible than a mental exercise. Still, there are reasons to consider the power of darkness to shape the tame into the wild. Each of us has likely had times when we encounter an outside space that seems unusually dark. We have experienced spaces that seem somehow different from the rest of what we're experiencing as we walk around at night. These spaces are often at some area that is an entry or exit to some slightly separate location, or near a crossroads, or a tree line. Sometimes they're near a structure that isn't in use or is less regularly in use, or they may be near water. They're spaces that have their own sense of liminality or the unknown. Outside of those spaces which seem specially othered, we have all also likely had moments in the night where being outside, even for something brief or routine, has left us inexplicably feeling like something could be there lurking. It might be in a place where we are entirely comfortable in the day and where we might have caution but not typically concern in the night, but without cause in a given moment, it suddenly feels like there could be something hidden or simply that we shouldn't be there. This is a relatively typical human experience. It indicates but doesn't necessarily prove what I'm saying about the darkness falling and creating wild spaces.

          History and folklore add to this idea. Twilight times, the liminal temporal spaces between day and night, are often associated with the fair folk and the perception of spirits. The winter months, where darkness is more prevalent, are associated with increased spirit activity. The Deipnon, when the moon is gone, and the sky is a deeper dark, is when the restless dead are believed to roam. Night herself was one of the first beings from which other Titanic powers stirred and took form. Night holds within itself the potential for things to be emergent from her darkness. The darkness of night is associated with bringing the supernatural closer to human awareness.

          As we have explored, the darkness in a house and the darkness in the world outside of one's house are different in quality. The relationship of lamps with that darkness also differs. In a home, individual rooms form small areas with clear boundaries. There are walls to reflect light and contain the dispersion of that light. A lamp or an overhead light may dispel the darkness in a space entirely. We can turn night into day easily in our homes with the flick of a switch. We can't do this outside. Outside, we can only carve away at the darkness with small pieces of light. That light highlights the darkness around it, as the darkness defines the light. There is a liminal quality to the space defined by the light. It is an exterior space, but it is defined away from the collective space around it by the concentration of light. It is created by light but is noticeable because of darkness. It is a space with a boundary, but it is permeable, and the light that creates it glows diffusely beyond that boundary. By its nature, it is a depiction of the quality of liminality.

          The magical quality inherent in this visual of light scratching against an immersive and broad darkness is one most humans recognize. We have had forms of outdoor lighting to deal with the dangers of walking around in the dark since at least the first millennium BCE in various places. Still, modern people think of the era where it became exceedingly prominent, the "Gaslight Era" or "Gaslamp Era," when we think of the romanticized image of lights illuminating historical cities. The idea that lighting developed with the glow of gaslight is so pervasive that people once circulated memes saying that the Catholic Church forbade gaslight in Vatican City because setting up lights to illuminate the darkness flew in the face of God. In actuality, some European cities had laws requiring outdoor lights at roads and intersections as far back as the 15th century, so setting up lights to illuminate the darkness wasn't new. Romans even had a word to describe slaves whose job was lighting outdoor oil lamps. The Vatican government temporarily forbade the lights over environmental and possibly political concerns related to using a foreign gas provider.

          Outdoor lighting was common before the gaslight era, but this is the era of the past in which pre-electric lighting is more familiar to us. As a result, whereas steampunk fiction focuses on alternative histories and developments surrounding the dawn of industrialization and modern technology, another genre focuses on more magical fiction set in that same era. Magical and supernatural fiction set in the backdrop of a fictionalized 19th century is called “Gaslamp” or “Gaslight” Fantasy. The glow of gaslight against the semi-mysterious but not-too-distant past creates an evocative setting for a magical space that seems adjacent to what is real for us but distant enough to seem unbelievable. There is, again, a kind of liminality to that.

          The liminal nature of a fictional context does not make streetlamps liminal spaces. It reflects how the crossover in boundaries between a lit space and a dark space, a wild space and a space impacted by human technology, evokes a sense of magic and the other. The evocation of such a sense also does not prove an actual magical reality to the lamplit regions of the night. Still, it indicates something that inspires us to perceive them as magic. That inspiration could come from an authentic magical nature inherent in, or at least often present in, these spaces.

          Streetlamps being a marker or a maker of a magical space is an interesting thing to consider regarding how and why they are magical. We can explore how that power reflects back into the world through human imagination. To find a useful meaning, we must consider how and why we would engage these spaces. To me, the first thought that arises is the similarity to the experience of noticing the movement of other beings just in the edges of our sight. Shadows of something other slipping into visual awareness at the edges of our attention are one of the modes through which otherworlds express themselves, sometimes in the light but often in the darkness. The feeling of the streetlight space reminds me of the feeling of observing these sorts of spirit movements. They seem like the sort of places that could be prime for that type of observation or for interacting with things that are on the edge of perceptibility already.

          I have frequently written about using lamp invocations to connect with intermediaries and the illumination they can provide in viewing and communicating with the spirit world. Typically, I address this as invoking the spirit through the light of an oil lamp or a candle. The way in which a streetlamp provides illumination and the ability for someone to immerse themselves in that illumination makes them feel like an option for applying that kind of work. The magician could stand bathed in the streetlamp's light and invoke the god of light. Through that conjuration, the magician would aim to stand within the illumination of their intermediary ally. This could be used to see those spirits mentioned above at the periphery of our awareness or to connect specifically with that intermediary. It could also be a precursor to conjuring another specific spirit.

          Regarding conjuring a spirit and immersing ourselves in the power to perceive the spirit world, the streetlight space could be viewed as a physical expression of the nexus point in which spirit communication occurs. Some forms of consecrating space to create the appropriate conditions for interacting with a spirit address the idea of mimicking a liminal space like a crossroads or drawing on the power of a token taken from such a space. Using the streetlight as the physical space of the conjuration would obviate the need for a token because you would be working directly within that liminality. Streetlights can often be found at intersections. A tucked-away intersection would allow you to leverage both the streetlamp and the crossroads, possibly also combining in the lamp invocation.

          These are not statements that are intended to convey methods you should be using or methods I have used. These are ideas I've been kicking around for the last day or two. These possibilities of using this space are examples of spit-balling magical options that seem reasonable and exciting. I would love to see people discuss or try them and post about them, and I'm excited to try some of them myself. I have worked at a crossroads with a streetlight but did not use the light. I have considered using a streetlight as a place to leave offerings adjacent to a crossroads several times. However, I have generally used other crossroads instead and have yet to actively utilize the light as a part of the ritual.

          I think an essential thing to remember when considering something like this is the real and present nature of magic. Magic doesn't stop. Magic isn't something that only developed in the past, so it isn't something that only utilizes old elements. We don't need to change and reinvent magic constantly. We don't need to deconstruct magic and strip away its parts. We don't need to make space for our every impulse, comfort, or convenience and say magic fits itself to whatever we want it to be. We do, in fact, need to be adaptable and engage and explore the world around us. Living magical traditions have frequently had to adjust and find uses for new things they encounter. Sometimes they have to let go of old materials and tools as they become unobtainable and new options which do similar things make their way into the material lexicon of magic. Similarly, as new types of spaces, new types of experiences, and sometimes even new types of technology occur, we can ask ourselves how they fit into the animistic structure of our engagement with the world. This is part of keeping magic real and present such that it is grounded in the reality of our experience instead of the fetishized fantasies of a lost world we might imagine we'd like to live in.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this please like, follow, and share on your favorite social media!. You can also visit our Support page for ideas if you want to help out with keeping our various projects going. Or follow any of the links below.

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 Check out my newest book, Familiar Unto Me: Witches Sorcerers and Their Spirit Companions

If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration

 If you want some help exploring the vast world of spirits check out my first book – Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits

NEW CLASS AVAILABLE: The Why and What of Abramelin 

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Sunday, July 9, 2023

The Witch Stands in Power

 I am very vocal in the position that what a witch is should be clearly defined. I often find it strange that many people are intensely unwilling to define what a witch is, but that those same people want to dictate what a witch can or must do. They won’t try and say certain magical practices are necessary for a witch, and some won’t even assert that witches even need to do magic. When it comes to social positions, the magical community, politics, and relationships with the world around us, people who aren’t comfortable saying what a witch is are incredibly comfortable saying what a witch must do and who they must be in the eyes of others. 

A witch…can do whatever the fuck they want. A witch should be themselves. A witch can shape that self, or mask that self in whatever way allows them to work their power in accordance with their needs, desires, or situation. 

Witchcraft is a power that belongs to the witch innately. That power others the witch. That power creates a liminality within the witch. That power makes the witch a witch. That power can be inherently possessed or it can be acquired, but it is always intrinsic to the witch’s being. Because the witch is a witch as a matter of what they are, statements about the requirements for beliefs, lifestyles, or behaviors based upon the character or the archetype of the witch will generally fall flat. 

Still, there are elements of witchpower which will connect with who the witch is. 

The witch is liminal, and the witch is other. Being liminal means that even while being other, some witches will have the capability to navigate dominant and mainstream social structures even while not fully fitting them, and even while being to some degree separate from them. There is a power to this. 

When we try to assert that the witch is the outsider or the voice of the downtrodden, we ignore that witches have also been at the highest echelons of society. When we take the position that witch and magician are interchangeable then we have to recognize that magicians have often been important parts of dominant social structures. If we take the more historical view of witches as humans who have an engagement with the supernatural which others them, makes them different from other humans, and gives them access to power, we can still find witches who have had various relationships with the social order. 

The witch is a possessor of power which can instill fear and a force which ranges between the neutral and the antagonistic. The power of witchcraft makes the witch dangerous because it is their own power, not a power accorded to them by others. Even a kind and helpful person with power like that will have an edge which can be frightening. There is a nature akin to electricity. Elements of how that power is shaped within a person can create realities which compound the fear, the danger, and the relationship with the antagonistic. 

That relationship with the antagonistic is seen in folklore. Witches are often the enemy. Witches subvert social roles. Witches cause misfortune. Other magicians stop witches. 

While having elements of form and soul which are different from the typical human, the witch is still human and humans are dynamic. They aren’t typically all one thing or another thing all the time. 

The ability to clap back, to stand up for oneself, to push back against things, or even to be dominant and assertive can feel like antagonism. When those elements are present along with unpredictable and illicit power, then it is reasonable for folklore to characterize it consistently as dangerous and something to be avoidant or wary of. 

Interestingly enough, the idea that a witch has to be the power in opposition to dominant structures is served by this image of antagonism. The desire of people who want to assert that the witch is a force of opposition often want the witch to be the noble powerful beacon for the poor and those forced to the margins. People want the witch to be a kind and inspiring version of Leland’s Aradia. They don’t want an antagonistic nature, they want kindness with the capability to punch up. The relationship with being something that can and should be a source of fear, and which may run strongly towards the antagonistic doesn’t easily fit that image, but it isn’t entirely counter to it either. 

Historical witches don’t only punch up. They might punch laterally. They might punch down. The power to punch is theirs to do with what they like. We can have preferences about how we think a person should act. Those preferences don’t define who is and who isn’t a witch. That power and relationship to magic does. 

My main point here is that witchcraft is about power. It is a power that shapes and changes you, and it is a power that is yours. You live that power as you feel you are drawn to. It isn’t an archetype that needs to be a convenient tool of social expression. 

Why am I making this point now? I haven’t posted a lot of blogs in awhile, and have mentioned a couple times that I’m building a bunch of content to start releasing consistently. So, why this today? 

On the one hand. I like making this point. This point is important to me. 

On the other hand, the subject has come up elsewhere. Three people who write good and popular material, contribute importantly to the magical community and deeply consider things they see have all blogged about the subject. 

Ian Chambers’ July 4th blog post “Remembering the Witch in Witchcraft,” is very good. I agree with a lot of it. I feel like it gives a little too much quarter to the idea of religious witchcraft and hints at economic persecution instead of real witches regarding history in a way which I feel reflects a populist sentiment more than what was consistently happening. But those things are small moments in a piece which he explains is a stream of consciousness reflection. The piece works. It gives an image and an idea to think about. 

John Beckett’s July 9th blog post “The Witch Stands in Opposition,” takes inspiration from and kind of responds in agreement with Ian’s piece. They’re both patheos bloggers, so this is kind of normal there. I don’t entirely disagree with John’s take. John doesn’t outright frame it as a political position as many people do, but it feels like he dances next to that framing, at the least. Elements of it are also weird given positions John has taken on witchcraft and magic otherwise. Some of the specific places it goes, I don’t think works. The post is popular though; it’s accessible, and for those reasons maybe some of those points within it need consideration. 

Jason Miller responded to John’s post, also July 9th…since…that is today, with the blog post, “The Witch Doesn’t HAVE to Stand in Opposition.” When he showed it to me, I told him I had just read John’s post and had been debating responding. When I opened Jason’s post I saw that what I intended to open with, “a witch can do whatever the fuck they want,” was pretty similar to how Jason thought to respond, “the witch stands wherever the fuck they want.” Jason addresses some interesting nuance. Where I look at the ability to be the inside-outsider as a form of power, which I view as a power related to the dynamic quantum liminality of the witch that can often relate to the friction that creates magical charism, Jason addresses the idea that the witch can be other in a way which is encompassing, larger than, and above the structure. It’s an interesting way of exploring the idea. It's a perspective that especially makes sense coming from Jason when you consider Hekate, who stands at the center, looking in all directions, reaching out through them to encompass everything. He also addresses how forcing a sense of otheredness on the basis of a specific set of social criteria doesn’t work - and can even be detrimental. 

I think to a degree, all four of us are talking about things which kind of underlie our own work and are addressing those concepts in juxtaposition to the concept Ian started with - where is the witch in the contemporary concept of witchcraft. 

I think all four posts are worth reading and considering, but looking at the various opinions adds depth and a range of perspectives which all bring something to the table. 

Part of me wants to break down specific thoughts on “The Witch Stands in Opposition,” but this post is long enough, and doing that maybe isn’t the point. I’ve kind of addressed why the witch doesn’t get told what they need to do and the irony of people doing that. That is more what I needed to do. As the reader, I think there is value in you taking your own power, holding it up, letting it hold you up, and from that perspective, diving into each of our interpretations and deciding what they mean when juxtaposed in the liminal space which is your own personal crossroads of existence and experience.

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*The image above of Christine De Pizan was selected because she was a wildly successful figure who stood in opposition to elements of the social order while supporting other elements of the social order which she believed were necessary and fit the divinely ordained structure of society. She was also a feminist in the 14th century who wrote a story in which she traveled to a magical place with the Sybil of Cumae and she wrote positively of Medea and Circe and reclaimed the power of magical women figures despite being a successful member of royal courts. Whether she possessed witchcraft or not isn't something we can answer, her father was a court astrologer, but that is not indicative. She is an appropriate figure for the point being made here, and if witchcraft were about archetypes she would be a great image from which to build an archetype in many ways.