Arising in November

Happy November! 2017 has been a strange year that seems barely to have started for me and collectively we’ve been stumbling from outrage to outrage until the year has almost gone.

Personally, I came into this Halloween wanting to step into more social engagement and external work for the greater good. I wanted to manifest balance of my rather scattered energy that would allow me to be more focused on others than myself. But over the last week I’ve been inundated with messages that for right now I need to do internal work of recentring, letting go and shining light into dark corners in order to engage more effectively.

The tarot spread I did for the new year on Samhain was unequivocal. I even laughed out loud when I turned over The Hanged Man; it couldn’t be much clearer that I need to get comfortable doing deep work that won’t feel like forward progress to me. The Hanged Man means really sinking into things we tend to squirm away from and learning to be content there. The Two of Wands says to me that I frequently feel like I need to make a decision about what I want to devote my energy to, but both of my options will always be there. There will always be work to do in the world and there will always be work to do on myself; the journey outward and the journey inward each have their season.

Practically speaking, all of this makes perfect sense as I’m anticipating a few months of big changes ending a year of big changes and I think the work of November is to see what I can let go of in order to make room, pausing the forward progress to reflect, centre myself and set things down that are no longer serving me. However, I do think the choice between social justice work and inner work is a false dichotomy; why can’t I do both at the same time? What if the things I let go of come from the less compassionate, more consumerist aspects of my personality as shaped by culture? In No is Not Enough, author Naomi Klein put it as killing her ‘inner Trump’. So in this period of reflection, what can I let go of within myself that’s Trumpish?

  • Where am I egotistical and competitive in my life instead of empathetic and collaborative?
  • In what areas am I waiting for someone external to come along and ‘fix’ things?
  • Where do I judge people based on external features?
  • What am I bad at letting go?
  • Where am I not listening to the experiences of others?
  • Can I let go of needing external validation for my decisions and actions? (Oh my god can this please happen?!)

 

So, this is what’s arising in November for me. I hope you are taking good care of yourself and listening to what’s coming up for you. Have a wonderful week!

Season of the Witch

“Magic at its core is just operating instructions for an interconnected world.”

– Milla Prince

I can’t remember when I first self-identified as a witch. It began when I found a book about witchcraft abandoned in the choir room when I was 12 years old and sometime between that and casting my first spell I had slipped into the identity, like trying on a garment made of an inky-coloured silk. I found it fit me well and so I wore it off and on for over ten years. Somehow it always settled in comfortably next to my interest in science. They were my twin stars of intellectual and emotional rigour; neither seemed quite complete without the other. Science gave me a deep and satisfying curiosity about how the material world works, while magic gave me a sense of awe about why it mattered, illuminating the thick web of interconnections between living systems. I practised alone through high school, then with others at University, then alone again when I moved to the UK, though less and less as time went on.

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Similarly, I can’t remember when I stopped identifying as a witch. I dismantled my small library of dictionaries of crystals, encyclopaedias of herbcraft and guides for solitary practitioners when downsizing books over a year ago, but by then I had long-since stopped thinking that magic mattered to me. While I knew other witches and magical practitioners, it felt like I had shed that identity when it was no longer appropriate for my life, like ‘High School student’, or ‘room mate’.

What has brought it back again? I keep asking myself this question and I’m not sure I can point to a single answer. A dozen little things pulled me back toward witchcraft over the last year, and what’s more, I think I’m not alone in this. We live in a pivotal time for human rights and environmentalism and I get the sense that others are feeling called to witchcraft or other forms of healing practice at this moment too.

I can honestly say that I don’t know what magic is, how – or even whether – it ‘works’ (for whatever given value of ‘work’). All I know is that it’s important to me and it helps me engage with the work I want to do in the world. Of course you can’t simply wish the world’s problems away through magic. But I believe that reflecting on a situation, performing a ritual and setting an intention, whatever that looks like, has a profound psychological effect on the practitioner. Even if there’s nothing ‘supernatural’ going on, it’s important to feel like the pragmatic effort you’re putting forth to change the world is working toward something bigger and subtler than the conspicuous gears of predictable cause and measurable effect. Witchcraft needn’t be anything beyond what is present in front of us, but is perhaps a map for inward- and outward-, backward- and forward-looking compassion.

“A witch is a someone who understands the language of the seasons and the skies, who cares deeply for the hearts and the hands of those who surround her.  She is one who recognizes the sacredness and the essential nature of the cycles of both Life and Death, honors the fertility of the soil and the self, and sows seeds, not just for this season, but for the generations who will come forever after in the future, if only we can remember how to live well and walk lightly on this Earth today.”

Sophia Rose

Witchcraft is self-care. Witchcraft is revolutionary.

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A witch is a fearsome creature, inspiring terror and awe, channelling a primal, visceral energy in the name of peace, progress, justice and harmony. A witch is a conduit for transformation. A witch taps into the power within and harnesses the power without in service of a better world.” W.I.T.C.H. PDX

This is from the manifesto of an intersectional feminist, anti-fascist group of activists who don the archetypal black robes and pointed hats to leverage the ‘otherness’ of witches in opposition to a status quo that can be cruel and neglectful to those who are different. This is the same status quo that treats animals, plants, ecosystems as subjects, divorced of feeling, waiting to be exploited. It treats indigenous people, immigrants, working class people and future generations as irrelevant to calculations of value. Being present with nature and people around us, seeing what we are consistently asked not to see, means practising a radical awareness. We have to look into the shadows of our society and of our own souls and do deep, difficult work to heal what needs healing. Witchcraft reminds me that I have the power to face that darkness, that change is possible, and that nature needs me to pay attention.

The world is scary and frustrating and anything that gives us the strength to keep fighting for justice is worthwhile.

“The world may be on fire, but so are we. We’re fire-makers, tenders, keepers, control burners, and fire-breathers. We’re motherfucking dragons, y’all.” – Milla Prince

So, light your candles in their grinning gourds tonight and, whether or not you call yourself a witch, may your power shine on places that need uplifting.

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So, these are my random thoughts about the word ‘witch’ as an identity and my history with that word. I hope you enjoyed this bonus Halloween post and that you have a safely spooky or satisfyingly spiritual evening, depending on which you prefer!

October favourites

For the first of my monthly features I want to do a monthly favourites post. This is part blogger/vlogger standard fare – what products, books, music etc. did I most enjoy this month – and part gratitude practice, so hopefully there’s a nice mixture of tangible and intangible things to enjoy.

October was not what I would call a spendthrift month, in that there was considerably more spending than thrift. I had spent the previous two months culling a large number of our possessions, hoping to have a more intentional relationship with my belongings, then promptly fell for the allure of the Halloween season and came out the other side looking like I’d rolled around in Wendy Beauchamp’s closet.

Guilt aside, I really love the things I chose to bring into my life this month. They jive with who I feel I am at my best. I could (and likely will at some point) go on about the real and positive influence that the prevalence of ‘girl power’ and strong female characters in the media in the 90s and early 2000s had on people my age, but something about the circa-millennial TV witch aesthetic makes me feel really, uncomplicatedly good about myself. So, without further ado, here are some of my October favourites:

Tiny witch hat pendant from Girl Burke Studios on Etsy.

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This tiny silver witch hat necklace is so sweet! It has lovely details: the inside is hollow so it looks like a real hat, there are stars engraved on the crown and the brim has a slightly rumpled look to it, which is amazing for such a tiny pendant. I’ve actually switched the chain out for a 30″ one so it hangs lower than any of my other necklaces for layering and it hits me around the solar plexus. I got it for Halloween in lieu of a full size witch hat, but I’ll definitely wear it year round!

Soy wax melt in pumpkin spice from White Witch Box (and wax burner from Etsy).

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I subscribed to the White Witch Box in September, just in time for my first box to be the Samhain/October box. It arrived full of lovely treats, including a protection spell, an obsidian chip bracelet (which I’ve been wearing most days since it arrived) and some incense. But one of my favourites is this soy wax melt. It smells of autumn and has lasted for a few hours so far, even when I broke the original disk in half. I didn’t have a wax burner so I bought this cute one from Etsy that casts little stars and a sun onto nearby surfaces.

Bonfire scented candle by Sand + Fog.

I am really enjoying this candle! It comes in a velvety black glass holder with a copper lid and on the side it reads ‘Traditionally crafted – Tastefully fragrant’. That’s a pretty apt description. I sniffed a LOT of candles on this particular shopping trip and the majority smacked you on the nose with scent. I tend to live in fear of scented candles that when lit seem to replace all the oxygen in the room with lily of the valley, but this is not one of them. The scent is unmistakably smoky; all of the delightful smells of a bonfire without any of the eye-stinging, throat-searing, stay-in-your-hair-for-days traits. I smell it less when it’s burning than when it’s not, strangely, but that’s no bad thing. Near the candle you just get the subtle smell of wood smoke without it taking over the room, with another hit of scent when you blow the candle out. I’ve been burning it every evening and I’ll definitely seek out other scents by this brand.

Sidgwick Avenue filled with autumn leaves.

In the first week of October I found myself cycling down Sidgwick Avenue in the sunshine, feeling positive. The golden and orange leaves were drifting down and collecting on the sidewalks and new arrivals to Cambridge were exploring the colleges and faculties. It was a glorious day and it made me feel so lucky to live in Cambridge.

 

Fragments of 1,000 blogs

I’m a serial beginner of things, and worse than usual at committing to them over the long term. Digital time travellers could find fragments of my multiplicity all over, from a new Live Journal for every passion, to abandoned Tumblr accounts for different aesthetics covering topics and fashions from goth to dapper, Buddhism to Roller Derby. I have found my True Calling – “Honestly, this time I really think this is what I’m meant to do!” – in belly dance, surfing, weightlifting, hiking, ukulele, drawing and photography. I have considered leaving my degree/career behind to teach outdoor skills to kids, open a tea shop, become a fire fighter, forestry expert, hair dresser or digital nomad.

Before you get the impression that I’m an accomplished and well-rounded person, I should point out that none of these passions or inclinations lasted remotely long enough for me to develop any skill whatsoever. I bought books, clothes, classes, equipment to facilitate the hobby and put together mood boards, playlists and extensive blog reading lists, only to set them aside as soon as the way became difficult and the next passion came along like an endless rolling of waves; a blog for every season, jettisoned at the moment inspiration waned.

As I get older, I’m becoming more interested in what’s left behind as the tides change. What are the shards of beach glass or strands of seaweed left clinging to the shore when the surge has sucked backward? What do I still care about, what do I retain for the long term? Each wave deposits material and polishes what is already there. Now I’m getting to the age where passions I had in my early 20s are coming round again, like repeating seasons, but this time I have the perspective to hold them a bit more lightly and see what they have to teach me about being a better person.

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What has been a constant through all my seasons is writing. Which, you know, just goes to show that sometimes the obvious things are right under your nose. I don’t think I’m a good writer, but nevertheless I love it and I always feel better when I take the time to do it.

So what is this blog about then?

The common motifs that recur in the way I think about the world are maps, webs, interconnections, woven threads, intentionality, reflection and examination. Basically, I’m with Socrates re: life and the examination thereof. Navel gazing, perhaps, but I’m trying to develop self-reflective practices that help me be a better friend, sister, daughter and partner. This blog is an exploration of these big ideas through the small seasonal changes in passion and the lasting high water marks that they leave.

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I’m intending this blog to be able to flex and change with my changing passions. On it you’ll probably find fashion and music, bullet journal spreads, plenty of philosophy, bits about my job as a librarian and the emphasis on information literacy that this brings to my life, stuff about strength training and other physical practices, meditation and witchcraft, and lots of thoughts on social and environmental justice. This may sound all over the map, but crucially it’s all on the same map and that’s the madcap cartography of my life. But in addition to moving with the ebbs and flows I also want to commit to the discipline of writing it and carry this out for the long term. I will aim for one post per week, with two regular posts every month: at the beginning a discussion of what’s arising for me that month, and at the end a review of what some of my favourites have been.

So, I don’t know who the audience for this blog will be, or who will ride through the vicissitudes with me and find comfort in my self expression. Maybe I am only writing this blog for me after all…

But I am enough.