Tag Archives: spells

Ancient Spellcraft – a review

Laura Perry’s Ancient Spellcraft is a really interesting read, regardless of whether you’re a spellcaster. Let me start by clarifying that I do not work spells in any kind of witchy style, so I’m certainly not the person for whom the book is intended – it is written for people who want to use it to do magic. I find books about magic fascinating, however, and as a consequence have read quite a few such along the way.

Ancient Spellcraft is one of the most interesting spellbooks I’ve ever read. Author Laura Perry draws on what we know of a number of ancient Pagan cultures, to create a way of working that is likely a much better reflection of ancient practice than anything else you’ll find in modern witchcraft.

For most of our ancestors, life was not compartmentalised in the way it is today. Healing, magic, religion, luck, and so forth were all interconnected. Divination comes from the same word roots as divine – because it is the business of the Gods. Equally, all forms of magic were an appeal to divine powers for assistance. The lines between magic and prayer were not distinct. Who you might call upon, and how, and to what effect is an interesting area to explore, which this book does well.

The concerns of our ancient ancestors were not so very different from our modern concerns, in essence. Protection, security, love, sufficiency in the basics of life and a sense of what might be coming are things people have always wanted to know about. I like how this book gives us that sense of connection with our ancestors and puts our concerns into historical context.

The spells in this book draw on historical insights, but have been adapted to be suitable for the modern practitioner. I would have loved more details about the sourcing, and the adaptation process, but that would have resulted in a very different book, probably less useful for anyone who wants to work spells.

Laura Perry has put together something readable, accessible and fascinating. If you want to develop a deity-orientated magical practice, this would be the ideal place to start.

 

More about the book here – http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/ancient-spellcraft

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Lark Magic

I go up the hill, where the larks nest in the long grasses, and soar to near invisibility in the sky, raining music down upon us. It does not matter how tired I am, or how melancholy. It does not matter what has hurt me, or how deeply. It does not matter if I am mired in anger or frustration. The lark song rains down benevolently from the sky, and everything is easier.

Water sounds affect me too – the rush and babble of a stream, the rhythm of waves, the patter of rain. Blackbird song enchants me. The cry of a hunting bird sends a thrill through my body.

Sound affects us all. It has the power to touch us emotionally, to inspire. Other sounds have their own effects. The roar of traffic. The sounds of sirens and alarms. The hums of technology. Music, and television bubble us in their own synthetic soundscapes. It’s worth thinking about how what we hear impacts on our bodies and souls.

Lark song is pure magic, as far as I am concerned. Endless traffic noise wears me down. What if we thought about the sounds in our lives as spells being cast upon us, designed to change how we feel and who we are? Which ones would we embrace, and which would we see as ‘bad magic’ and try to protect ourselves from?


Fiction – the terrible machines

Several people asked me for more after The Trouble with Enchantment, so, part two has occurred…

The sorcerer set to work in earnest. He studied the biggest, heaviest, most dusty and therefore most authoritative grimoires. He travelled the world seeking the rarest, most unlikely and therefore most powerful artefacts. And because he was a modern-minded chap, he pondered long and hard the methods of humanity for dealing with boundaries.

In the weeks that followed he built a self-perpetuating cone of power through which uninvited beings could not hope to pass without having their chakras re-arranged in the most hideous ways. He’d only recently discovered chakras and was really excited about them. He couldn’t understand why more people didn’t use them aggressively.

Alongside this, he built a war machine of epic proportions, designed to burn, flay, dislocate, relocate, and repair its victims so that it could go on to freeze, drown and disembowel them.

The sorcerer waited.

And waited.

The fairy did not come back to threaten his equilibrium in any way.

He waited some more.

It dawned on him that all of the fabulously evil spells and truly nasty devices weren’t a lot of fun if no one turned up to be forced away by them. There was, he realised, a whole world of difference between using the powers at his command to keep the fairy at bay, and the fairy merely not being there.

He took the machine apart, and carefully deflated his cone of power, causing a modest avalanche in the process, and setting fire to the end of his beard. It was not one of his happier moments.


Books of experience

I found Autumn Barlow’s guest post deeply resonant, yesterday. Partly because I’m crap at being told what to do, and the more strident the instruction, the more likely I am to prickle and resist. I hate being ordered about, and books are no exception.

Like Autumn, I read my share of magic books when I was younger, and I didn’t really get on with them. I had the advantage that there was Paganism rife in my family already, and I knew a few things. Most critically, I knew that magic is will, and that the methods of magic are therefore only a focus of will, so it really doesn’t matter what colour the candle is, and if needs be you can do it without one. I was not impressed by books of spells that were clearly more about prancing about looking witchy, than getting anything done. I also had philosophical issues with the whole thing – using magic as a short cut to get new shoes, exam results and boyfriends felt like cheating, and more importantly, like cheating myself.

I didn’t want a wand to make school assignments go away. I wanted to experience the numinous. I wanted to know and see and feel more, and I wanted there to be wonder, and none of the books I read held that for me.

In my twenties, I started reading Emma Restall Orr’s work. Here at last was a sense of someone really experiencing magic. She doesn’t write ‘how to’ books, but writes from her own life. A door opened, a sense of possibility crept in. However, there was nothing in those books to tell me how to live the mystical, magical life she apparently has. That was frustrating. Eventually, I went to OBOD and they were a good deal more helpful. Not least they made me realise I’d been doing a pretty good job already and had some sound foundations to build on.

The spiritual writing I like best is non-dogmatic. No instructions. No ‘thou shalt’. Authors who write from personal experience, in the first person seem far more credible to me than more distant, third person, perpetually authoritarian voices. People who own their struggles, challenges, mistakes and setbacks also seem a lot more real to me, and I can empathise with them. I am certainly not perfect and all knowing. It is comforting to find that wiser and more experienced Druids still struggle, too, still mess up, fall over, get up again. Tales of setbacks are really helpful, while writers who just bang on about how great everything is can be alienating to us more flawed humans.

Experiential writing reads like the results of an experiment: Here’s what I did. Here’s what happened. These may have been important variables. This is what it means to me. When this is done well, there’s enough information to strike out and do something similar on your own terms, but no sense of being ordered about by the author. There’s the freedom to do something different and the knowledge this will be just as valid. Perhaps more valid – we all need different things. I like it when authors write about why they do things, too. Authors who ask questions and leave us to find our own answers can be really helpful as well.

Mark Townsend. Cat Treadwell. Robin Herne. Rachel Tansy Patternson. Lorna Smithers. These are authors I am reading who keep bringing the personal and the theoretical together, who share from experience and experiment, as people on a journey not as figures of authority. I’m always on the lookout for other spiritual writers who take the same approach, so if there’s someone I’ve missed, do please give them a shout-out in the comments. I think it’s really important that we take the authority out of authoring as far as is possible, and make Pagan spiritual writing about sharing experiences and ideas, not about telling people what to do.


A magical spell

After some deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that I do indeed have a favourite magical word. It is a charm against abuse, ludicrousness, greed and exhaustion. It has the power to protect the planet from human predation if only we use it properly. As a charm it works in a number of ways, layered with meaning and possibility.

That word, is ‘enough’.

To recognise that we have enough, is a powerful thing. Many people in the world are out there grasping after bigger piles of stuff they cannot use, because they lack the magical insight an ‘enough’ charm will bring. The flip side of the same issue fails to recognise that far too many people in the world do not have enough, do not have food, clean water, shelter or peace. They too need the magic of ‘enough’ to lift them out of misery.

“Enough” is the magic word that enables a person to walk away from bullshit, time wasting, crappiness. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to say it, and not to let people who just enjoy giving me a hard time get their jollies. I have learned to say no, and not to show up. I have taken enough already. I will take no more. It is a final, potent ward when used in this way. It can be said fiercely, and with feeling. Enough! No more time wasters, no more needless dramas, no more pointless misery for no good reason. I will be where I am needed, I will look out for the people who do not have enough in some aspect of their lives, but I will not stand around to be kicked.

Using the word ‘enough’ I will undertake to find out what that means in the context of my own life. I have not had enough peace, but I may have some hard fights to win it, because peace for myself alone would not be enough. I need more rest, and more time off, and more things that make me happy, and I need to learn how to say ‘enough’ to the work and the striving and the trying to make things better. I do not believe that the ends can be assumed to justify the means. Treating myself in ways that I find wholly objectionable when they manifest elsewhere, therefore does not work. I need to learn to say ‘I have done enough for now’. There are things to work on.

Words are power and magic, they are intention given shape and directed into the world. We do not need long and elaborate spells in order to make changes. We need focus. Sometimes one word is enough.


Grammar and Grammarie

Imagine that everyone had been issued with a magic wand, but that the vast majority of people went round using them as chopsticks, cooking utensils, toys, and so forth. Every so often there’s a little, magical explosion, after which no one admits this might have been because of the magic wands being used in random ways.

From my perspective, this is what seems to happen with language, most of the time.

Spells and spelling, grammar and grammarie. Language is invocation and evocation. Sound is energy. Speech is inspiration brought forth. The written word is all about ideas made substantial enough to share. And yet we use it casually, with little regard for meaning. We speak without thinking, write without contemplating how others may understand our words. We also infer meanings, and then become deaf to other interpretations.

Then, when the mistakes have been made, we get angry with each other, building up layers of resentment and frustration. To go back to my metaphor, we wave our wands about, shooting dangerous sparks in all directions, and when we burn ourselves, we’re surprised. How did that happen? Why am I in pain? We can see the threatening outpourings from the other person, but are much less likely to spot the magic wand gripped in our own hand.

I’m not desirous of some sterile, blandly factual approach to language. I love metaphor, and it is hard to speak of emotional things without it. I love wordplay and creative approaches to language. These, by their very nature, tend to be well considered.

I’ve spent much of my life being told off for taking things too seriously. I make no apology for it. I am serious. I am quite literally sick, in the sense of being made nauseous, by people who are careless with words. I am sick of deliberate distortions of truth, the spin, the media games and the advertising hype. I am sick of the devaluing of language where hyperbole has become so common that it is difficult to speak of serious things without listeners assuming you are being melodramatic. I am sick of hate speech, sick of careless verbal cruelty, and above all, I am sick of the pathetic excuses and the oft-repeated belief that all of this is somehow ok.

It isn’t ok. Language is intrinsic to culture. How we speak to each other and how we write informs our cultural norms, gives us a basis for our behaviour and attitudes. How we utilise language is one of the primary ways in which we manifest our culture to each other.

Every word is an invocation.

Every word is an evocation.

Every word is a spell.

Every word is a prayer.

It doesn’t matter where we direct those words, these things are true, all the time. If we took our words seriously, if we valued them and deployed them with care as a culture, we would change. If we waved our magic wands thoughtfully, we would create magic, all of the time. We would stop burning each other, and stop being confused about how on earth this has happened again.

 

Words are inspiration and wonder, the flow of ideas from one mind to the next, the means by which we may each relieve the loneliness of being alone inside our own minds. Words are art form, are poetry and song. They are the enablers of civilization; culture and co-operation depend heavily upon them. These, the incantations of our daily lives.


Druidry and magic

There isn’t a great tradition of spell working in Druidry. Much of the magic is about inner transformation and the natural consequence of ritual and communion with nature. Magic is a process that happens to us as much as something we might instigate. Mostly. There’s the magic of captivating and inspiring people – a big part of the business of being a Bard. There’s the magic of experiencing the world in a profound and awe inspiring way. We request the presence and blessings of spirits, or deities sometimes, but we don’t command or demand.

Part, if not all of the reason this is so, is philosophical. If you go through life trying to disappear all the bumps and challenges, where is your scope for heroic virtue and learning? You can’t be heroic if everything is easy! The Celts had a heroic culture, they celebrated the characters who faced up to challenges. We are here to learn, and to live, and much of life is challenging, awkward and less than perfectly comfortable. In learning to love what is imperfect and being open to not getting our own way, we learn how to do a better job of being people.

I know I don’t really know what’s for the best. Sometimes what I thought would be really good doesn’t happen, and it opens the door to something I would never have dared to imagine. Being open to what comes from outside, rather than trying to control every aspect of our lives, can often take us further and give us more. Most of the time I would never even consider trying to magic an outcome that I really wanted, in case it caused me to miss something that would have turned out better.
I’m interested in the ‘magic’ of positive thinking and inner calm, as day to day issues. There’s often a fine line between magic and psychology (as Terry Pratchett fans will know, Headology rules.) While I don’t believe we entirely create our experiences, we have a lot of room for manoeuvre in how we choose to interpret and understand. Additionally, what we bring to a situation will heavily inform what we get out of it.

The other reason to leave magic alone is that it’s a messy and unruly thing (assuming you believe in it, and I admit that I do.) The more complex a situation, the more variables, people involved, possible outcomes, the harder it is to work out what would need to change in order to give you what you want. Ethically speaking, seeking the outcome without considering the consequences is totally off limits, for me. Magic is generally understood to require focus and precision, so the woollier and more confusing the situation, the less scope you have to begin with.

Now and then though, life throws up a situation where the issues are pretty simple, and there’s only one tolerable outcome. I would imagine that finding you have cancer would create one of those. Most of the time life does not hand over such clear cut win-lose scenarios, but when it does, perhaps that is the time to dust off the wand and start composing the demands you need to make of the universe.

My mother always said that magic is what you do when you can’t do anything else. It’s also what you do when you absolutely cannot afford to have anything else happen. If nothing else, there’s a bit of Headology here, holding the belief that you can win gives you a better shot at winning than falling into a pit of despair does.

Sometimes, the universe seems to conspire to make things work out after all. I don’t generally believe that the universe is an inherently benevolent place that has our best interests at heart, but I think sometimes it might be persuaded to act that way. And when you get to that sort of point, there’s little to lose in trying.


Reclaiming Magic

In my teens, I had a strong belief in magic. Not so much the spells and wands variety, but the essential, magical nature of reality, the importance of will, the strange complexities of existence. It’s one of the things I’ve lost along the way, and that wasn’t any kind of good or natural ‘growing up’ experience, or a deliberate embracing of another paradigm. Simply, I had my sense of magic stripped from me.

Over a period of years, I was exposed to a number of people with deeply disturbing and psychotic beliefs. People who claimed to be deities, who claimed to have cursed others and caused illness. People who claimed sole responsibility for keeping other people alive, the fate of others dependent on their whims. I also encountered people who claimed to be highly intuitive, but used their claimed intuition as a way to bully. It’s very easy to use the assertion that you have magical powers to control, intimidate and manipulate others. When modern writers criticise ancient cultures, it is often with the very assertion that people claiming magical powers used them to bully the credulous into serving them. It certainly does happen and is both alarming and destructive to encounter.

Exposed to this kind of behaviour and attitude, I became increasingly unwilling to think about anything in magical terms. Rational causality became ever more important to me. I felt a strong need to defend myself from what I was experiencing by becoming ever more conventionally rational. Magic became the word for experiencing the numinous or feeling a sense of wonder, but the idea of spells or deliberate will working I rejected. And oddly enough, that sense of the numinous, of the magical within life and nature, also began to diminish within me. I became, quite literally, disenchanted.

It is absolutely vital to maintain an understanding of reality that allows you, me, to functionally engage with others in viable and meaningful ways. However, humans are not wholly rational creatures. All things that we do begin in thought, will and imagination. We all have experiences we can’t explain, and the further reaches of science are so full of complexity and strangeness that getting my head round them is endlessly challenging, and much of the time, it might as well be magic. So often historically, ‘magic’ has been the word we’ve used for things we had no other explanations for. Letting that sense of wonder and possibility back in does not mean letting go of sanity or reason.

I am setting out to rediscover my sense of wonder, to rebuild my trust in the world and my ability to perceive it as a place that is not openly hostile to me, and that is rich with beauty and goodness, even amongst the pain and challenges. It is my intention to actively seek my own re-enchantment. The belief of my youth was just what naturally occurred to me. I didn’t put much work into it, so while it had an inherently innocent quality, it was also somewhat unformed, untested. To set out deliberately to rebuild in myself a sense of wonder and magic, is not going to give me back what I’ve had stripped from me. What happens, if this works, is bound to be different. I have no idea what to expect. Gone are the days when my sense of the future was keen and I trusted to my intuition.

I am choosing to step out into the darkness, with only intent to guide me. I want my magic back. I want my sense of magical possibility back, and my trust in both myself and the wider world. I want the rich, unconscious dreaming life I once had, and also I want those things I do not yet know about, that will be part of this journey. I’ll be blogging what happens alongside the other issues I tend to tackle here, and as ever, will be glad of anything anyone feels moved to share along the way.