It seems like a weird question to be asking, but it stares us right in the face: what is magic? What is witchcraft? What do these words mean? I've been using them on the blog, sure, but I feel like I should explain what I means so that we're all on the same page. Much of Wicca and Druidry is tied to magic, and as I've been reconnecting with my spiritual self I have also been delving into magical practice. So it's high past time I talked about what magic is, what it isn't, what it can do and what it can't.
Creating Change Through Force of Will
Aleister Crowley famously defined magic as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will." Aleister Crowley was also a racist dick bag, and I kid of hate him by reputation and have avoided most of his works. But this definition keeps popping up, probably because it is clean, precise, and well...accurate. Witch, wizard, druid, magus...all these people focus their will on a desired outcome and bring it into the reality. But there's a big hole that this definition leaves out: magic cannot do anything that violates the natural laws of the universe. For this reason, I prefer the following definition of the word "witch" by one Augusten Burroughs:
"I define a witch as someone - female, male, neither, other, both - who has the innate ability to focus on a desired outcome with such perfect clarity, intensity, and singularity that the desired outcome can materialize, provided it does not violate the natural laws of the universe. This is why a witch cannot turn a man into a goat, but a witch may very well know if a man five thousand miles away is about to be trampled by a goat." - Augusten Burroughs, Toil and Trouble
This is an almost perfect definition; my one complaint is that I do believe that the ability is not always innate and can be taught. Unlike Burroughs, I've not been doing magic since I was a kid. But I have been able to teach myself how to make things happen, with some success. I am largely self-taught, but the more I learn the easier it gets.
Therefore, I would like to submit my own definition of magic: Magic is the art and science of causing a change in one's surroundings, circumstances, or knowledge through the application of willpower, so long as the change does not violate the physical laws of the universe.
Magic is an art because it requires creativity, and it is a science because it requires experimentation. People often think of "art" and "science" as separate, but the two concepts meet more often than you would think, and they definitely meet in the realm of magic and witchcraft.
So What's With the Candles and Incense and Things?
Go into any magic or witchcraft shop and you will find rows upon rows of crystals, colored candles, herbs, tarot decks, and of course, books of spells. These things are all great things to draw on for your magical practice. None of them are one hundred percent necessary, however. Each practitioner of magic, whether they call themselves a witch, wizard, druid or whatever, has their own unique style. Some use candles, others don't. Some use potions made with herbs, and others use herbs for ornamental purposes and focus their magic using incantation and magical symbols drawn on paper. The specifics of magic are up to the individual.
What all of us practitioners have in common is an ability to focus our willpower to bring our desires into reality. It doesn't always work, but it works enough that we can feel confident saying that it is more than just coincidence. It's magic.
There's an old superstition among tarot readers that a deck gifted to you is better than one you bought yourself. Some folks even refuse to buy there own decks for this reason. But given that a deck you choose for yourself is more likely to have art or a booklet that appeals to you, I've never held much faith in that superstition.
On the other hand, when my boyfriend gifted me a set of runestones, I knew I had to try them out, though I was (and still am) a novice diviner at best. However, given that I am learning both, I thought I might as well do a post about the differences between tarot and runes, and how I work divination into my life. Both runes and tarot feature prominently in my practice, but I am beginning to use each for different purposes. I will go over those purposes in detail in the following section.
A disclaimer before I begin: there is no one-size fits all method for divination. This is just my personal methodology, not a prescription. Moreover, I would caution you against seeing any prediction you might do as being set in stone. Doing further draws/runecasts to get more information is perfectly fine, and the future, even a predicted one, is not set in stone. Runestones and tarot cards are only advisors - you are the one who shapes your future. Perhaps divination can help you do that.
Runes: an Advisory Oracle
The runestones I use contain symbols from the Elder Futhark, one of the oldest written alphabets of the Germanic peoples. They were likely derived from a pictorial system of writing, and it is from those pictorial meanings that the modern diviner extracts their readings. Because they are an alphabet, I find that they work best when several are drawn and placed in a pattern, forming a message. Thus, I often use runes to advise on a particular course of action.
To do a reading, called a "runecast" I pour out all my stones, turn them so that I can't see the runes, and pick a number of them at random, placing them in the requisite positions. An example is shown below.
The center rune of this spread represents the present. This is filled by the blank rune, Wyrd, a modern addition to the Elder Futhark, representing fate and unknown forces. The rune on the left represents the past. In the example, this is Hagall, a rune representative of delays. The rune above the center rune advises you on the course of action to take, in this photo filled with Perdhro in a reversed position, a rune of mysteries and secrets, both mundane and occult. The rune below the middle is the rune of what parts of the problem you have to accept, and in this case it is filled by Sigel, a rune of victory and personal power. The final rune on the right is the rune on the future, in this case filled with Kenaz, a rune of positive health and good fortune, and of creativity.
Of course the real work of divination is in the interpretation of the runes. In this case I was asking about a job interview I had recently had, and whether I should try and nudge the result in my favor using magic. The Wyrd rune in the cast, to me, signified that I was feeling powerless, a plaything of fate. The Hagall rune indicated that I was frustrated with the delay in hearing back from the interview. The rune of Perdhro reversed indicated that I should definitely reexamine my methods for using magic, and that I might face unexpected consequences. The rune of Sigel meant that I had to accept that whether or not I would get the job, I had already done a lot to help myself both in the interview and by following up. The rest was up to my prospective employers. The final rune of Kenaz indicated that I had good fortune to look forward to if I followed the advice. Whether that means I'll get the job or have more luck with my creative work, I cannot say. Not until the future comes to pass do we really know what it holds, divination or no divination.
It may seem odd that a magical device would advise against using magic to solve a problem, but becoming over-reliant on spells can often make one into the kind of person who would manipulate others on a whim. I was definitely in danger of doing that, being as I was considering a spell that would essentially manipulate a decision that I had no say in in my favor. This is just one example, but this spread is very good for advising about a particular course of action you already have in mind.
Tarot: a Guide for Meditation and Creativity
I won't go into the anatomy of tarot spreads here as I could easily find myself writing an entire book on them in no time flat. No surprise, then, that so many books about tarot adorn the shelves of libraries and bookstores worldwide. That being said, there is one idea I've gotten from books on tarot that features prominently in my practice: the use of tarot as a guide for meditation.
Oftentimes, when I'm meditating, I draw a single Tarot card at random first. I use it's meaning and the art on the card as a guide for the meditation to follow. For example, if I draw the hanged man, I might imagine myself in the hanged man's position, and contemplate what it means that i am both hanging upside down by my foot while being totally serene. I let my mind wander over the image, and let what other images and thoughts come to me wash over me, without judgement. I've learnt a lot about myself this way.
Another use I have for Tarot is directly tied to my creative work. Sometimes, if I get stuck while writing a story, I ask my deck what should come next, and draw a single card for inspiration. it's a fun way to inject a bit of an unexpected twist in the story, and I often find that it helps the result feel more organic. I'm not the only writer who's used such a method, either. The most famous example is Philip K. Dick consulting the I Ching while writing The Man in High Castle, but numerous other examples abound. I highly encourage you to consider it if you are at all creatively inclined.
One final method of divination with Tarot that I am starting to use is the idea of the daily draw. simply put, I shuffle the cards and draw one card a day, writing down my feelings associated with that card and how it relates to my current existence. Not only is this a good way to familiarize yourself with the Tarot, I've also found that the daily draw oftentimes gives me the right piece of advice for a particular moment. For example, today I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. I did my daily draw and got the seven of wands, a card about perseverance. My deck was telling me to stand my ground, and to continue moving forward. And I'm doing just that, simply by writing this post, which was one of the things I was anxious about. Divination isn't always about the future. Sometimes, it's about what you need to here in the present moment.
These are just a few of the ways I work divination into my life on a regular basis. They are not the be-all-end-all ways to use these tools, and I'm sure I'll find more methods as my practice evolves. But divination is probably my most frequently used magical tool, and it's one that I wholeheartedly encourage others to use.
Lately, I've been struggling to write. I've let myself become lethargic. The energy I had devoted to the craft at the beginning of the year has fallen away, and I have struggled to regain it. I've not written another episode of my serial fiction for quite a while. And I've not touched this blog for just as long.
I often find that there is a sort of "creative inertia" with my writing practice. The principle of inertia states that an object at rest will tend to stay at rest until outside forces compel it to move. This reflects how I am with my writing: if I hit a period where I'm not writing a lot, I will simply continue not to write. I must force myself back into the groove if I am to continue to work on my projects and/or get new ones started. But that is often easier said than done, due to the paralyzing effect of another physics conundrum on my psyche: Zeno's paradox.
Imagine an ball rolling down a hill. Before it reaches the foot of the hill, it must first reach the halfway point. And before it reaches the halfway point, it must reach the halfway point before that point. And before it reaches that halfway point, it must reach a point halfway to that point, and so on and so on. Eventually we have infinite halfway points, and movement is impossible. There is a specific philosophical reasoning behind this absurd proof by contradiction, but I'm not going to get into it, because the paralyzing aspect of it happens when you combine the aspects of this paradox with anxiety and mental health.
When I sit down to write a story, it is easy for me to become overwhelemed. Even if I have made sgnificant progress, my brain picks up where I am, sees what I have left, and makes it seem huge and impossible. Because if I wang to finish, let's say, a chapter of a novel, I must first get halfway to finishing. But before that, I must get halfway to halfway, and then halfway to that halfway point, and so on, until there are inifinite halfway points and writing is impossible.
But the beautiful part about Zeno's paradox is that it is so self-evidentially bullshit. Motion obviously happens: we see it all the time. And that was Zeon's point: he was refuting the arguments of another school of philosophical thought. Now, I could get into that argument (and the fact that Zeon had multiple paradoxes which I have distilled into one for simplicity), but that's beyond the scope of this blog post. The point is that I can recognize that my anxiety over never finishing is BS. So that's one roadblock removed, and one step towards conquering my creative inertia taken. Now if only I could do something about my anxiety over the quality of my work...