Shaking Off the Dirt
In this book we’re going to be talking big and thinking big. I’ll be using words and phrases like “world” and “the whole world” and “seriously we have to change the whole world.” Why? Because we live in a big world with other people and creatures that all our problems are connected to—seriously. So let’s shake off our lethargy and look at those relationships.
A DISENCHANTED WORLD
In order to change the world (or at least this version of it—but more on that later), we first have to check out the space we live in now. You’ve probably heard of the legion of isms out there making things terrible for, well, practically everyone! There’s racism, capitalism, sexism, ableism, gender essentialism, imperialism, and on and on. It can just be too much to list sometimes! Depending on who you are and where you are, one or more of these isms may be making your life worse than others. I’m not going to tell you what problems you should worry about the most because, to paraphrase David Bowie, I’m sure you’re quite aware of what you’re going through. What I am going to do is give you a framework to see your problems and hopefully get a handle on how they connect to the struggles others are facing. Us vs. them thinking can be perceived as divisive, but when we really start to see the commonality in our struggles, it’s possible to realize there are way more of “us” than there are of “them.” Examining the different circumstances we’re all fighting is not about breaking up or dividing marginalized people. Instead, it’s about bringing all the various “us” together against a common foe. Unity like that is not only crucial, but infinitely possible.
Before we dive into how we can come together, though, let’s look into the kind of thinking that drags us apart. Do you ever feel like nothing matters? Like no matter what you do things will stay the same or maybe even get worse? Or maybe you just feel alone, like you want to find a meaningful connection to someone, something, anything, but it’s just so dang hard sometimes? It’s okay: Lots and lots of people feel this way, and it comes from living in a place we’re going to call “The Disenchanted World.” The Disenchanted World is a place of separation—from each other, the land, nature, our bodies, even our stuff (of which there is a lot), and the people and machines that make all of them. It’s a place where all the magic is gone, and it’s our job as witches to bring it back.
Cynicism, in the Disenchanted World, is often viewed as wisdom. In magic, in an enchanted world, it’s the opposite. In a magical worldview, your actions go to where your mind focuses. And it’s not just the magically inclined who subscribe to this set of beliefs—ask any race car driver and they’ll tell you the same. So why, then, are we all made to feel like nihilism is the best target our minds can lock on to?
This might sound a little tinfoil-hat-y, but I need you to listen to me here. Nothing in this world happens “just ’cause.” There is a reason behind everything, from the metaphysical to the bureaucratic. If you feel disconnected and nihilistic, it’s because someone wants you to feel that way, most likely because it lets them keep power and a whole lot of money. I didn’t say there’s a good reason behind everything, but a reason there is. Do you think the owner of a company that makes all its clothes in a factory in Bangladesh wants you to feel connected to the women getting slave wages who work there? Of course not! Or what about the company that wants to sell you a gazillion beauty products you don’t need? Do you think it wants you to have a healthy connection to your body? And how about all the water we poison, the forests we cut down, and the animals that go extinct every day in the service of making our stuff? Someone with a name and address makes a lot of money for producing those negative consequences, and that someone definitely wants you to keep looking at those things they’re creating as just “things.”
The gift that witchcraft gives us is the gift of connection—the very thing the Disenchanted World wants to take away. When we do a spell, we are connecting to ourselves and our own power. We can connect to the land, stones, animals, and plants that surround us, along with the spirits we cannot always see, but that are here just like we are. In most group witchcraft rituals, people sit or stand in a circle, often holding hands to collect and raise power. Witchcraft is about connection, and feeling connected is punk as hell.
As you go through your journey, this is something I want you to keep in mind. We aren’t just fighting isms left and right, but a worldview that makes the isms possible. We’ll talk about this more in chapter 5, but one positive ism I actually like a lot is “animism,” or the belief that the world and everything in it is filled with spirits. It’s less Beauty and the Beast, where cutlery comes to life and sings to you, and more like looking at the world as a conversation, often between you and your friends. It’s the cornerstone of my activism, as well as my witchcraft, because to me it means liking people and thinking that “humanness” isn’t just for humans. It’s a way to see our world as interconnected on a fundamental level, which is the best kind of antidote against nihilism.
Look, I get it: In a world that’s disenchanted, where everything seems pointless and like we’re heading for dystopia no matter what, it might be really hard to hear me say you should go out and try to make a world filled with enchantment. Your pain is real, and your hopelessness and alienation are real. Just as real, though, is the person getting paid to make you feel that way, and so are the currents of power that we can change. I can’t tell you exactly how to re-enchant the world where you are, but I have some ideas to help you get started.
What is initiation? Well, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced it and just didn’t know you did! Initiation is any ritual or event that sort of breaks open your brain and makes you realize the world is a lot weirder and bigger than you previously thought. It’s a feature in pretty much every magical tradition, since to do this stuff you can’t just “know” that magic is real like you know the Arctic is real (for now), even if you’ve never seen it. You have to know magic is real by experiencing it.
Sometimes, initiation is something that happens to you out of the blue. Maybe you’ve had a near-death experience, or maybe you’ve had dead loved ones return to you in your sleep. You could have been abducted by fairies, seen a ghost, encountered an alien, realized you’re gay, realized you’re trans, found out who your birth parents are, left home for the first time, or had some other profound thing happen that sparked your belief in the magic around you. Whatever it is that constituted your initiation, you probably knew it when it happened. It’s that “Oh shit!” moment when you realize you just can’t view the world the same way you did before.
Maybe none of these things have happened to you, or maybe they did and they weren’t that big of a deal (even the fairy thing). If that’s you, just know plenty of people don’t get initiated by a spontaneous event—that’s why there are millions of rituals designed to create this effect in you and open you up to a bigger reality. Having your confirmation or bar/bat mitzvah would be common religious initiations, and even the first year of college can be an initiation for some! Initiation is not about the motions or about who does it and when. To get really sappy for a minute, being initiated is like falling in love. You just know it when it happens—and it’s big, scary, amazing, and life-changing.
With that in mind, think again on whether you’ve experienced an initiation of sorts. Try to think of the first time you realized the world is really, really messed up. Not just messed up, but full of big, complicated reasons for the awfulness that groups suffer every day. Now think about what helped you realize this. Was it a documentary, a book, or a trip to a different city or country? Maybe you grew up knowing in the back of your mind that something wasn’t right, but it wasn’t until someone explained it to you that you could put words to it? People like to call this understanding “wokeness” or “becoming woke,” and I really like that we collectively seemed to land on this word, because initiation is waking up to the world and becoming woke is becoming initiated.
I remember the first time I saw an armored vehicle. It was late 2016 and I had just arrived at the Oceti Sakowin camp on the Standing Rock Reservation with two indigenous activists who had been kind enough to invite me along to help. I had been following news of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the resistance to it for months. I read everything I could on the camp and the history of the people fighting the pipeline project. I read books and blogs and watched video after video on indigenous politics and resistance, and while that gave me a good baseline, I still wasn’t prepared for what I experienced.
At the end of the day, even though I had a lot of knowledge, it didn’t mean I knew what any of the blogs and videos had been talking about, because I hadn’t seen and experienced it with my own eyes and body. On top of that, I don’t know if you’ve looked at my author photo for this book, but I’m pretty white. I grew up in a well-off family in a town where people didn’t lock their doors and everyone in every position of power looked sort of like me. I knew, intellectually, that people all over the world had to fight and die for their right just to exist. I knew, intellectually, that racism was real—and being a woman I had some inherent empathy for that—but I didn’t really get it until that day.
The camp was a picture of love. Despite the well-below-freezing temperatures of the North Dakota winter, people were smiling, sometimes dancing, and there was an overwhelming sense that everyone truly cared for one another. Then, you looked up, and there were drones, snipers, armored cars, and tanks and all of them were looking right at you, and you knew in that moment that history books had lied to you and the West was never really “won.” It’s ridiculous! It was absolute absurdity that all this was allowed when all people were peacefully asking for is clean drinking water and the right to not have their land infringed upon. But, there it was. I knew in my head that things were bad, but until that day I didn’t feel in my body or heart the layers of oppression, state control, and, to be frank, evil, that so many of us live under.
I’ll talk more about Standing Rock later, but for now, I just want you to consider that as an example of what an initiation or awakening can look and feel like.
Now, here’s the thing about initiation: It can really, really suck. No one wants to admit that they were wrong, and waking up to find the world entirely different from the way you imagined it to be is beyond scary. A lot of people face moments of initiation in their lives and just run.
While this is a totally understandable approach, I don’t really recommend it. Initiation can feel like the Tower card in tarot—big and cataclysmic, like your world is falling apart. But after the Tower comes the Star, the sign of newfound hope and optimism.
Put another, less dramatic way, while you were growing up you undoubtedly outgrew lots of things, from shoes and clothes to ideas about how the world works. It may have been hard to let go of some of those things, but imagine how much harder it would be to be a grown-ass adult who stuffs their feet into Pokémon shoes that are too small and genuinely sends letters to Santa every December?
It’s important to lean into initiation and let yourself be changed by it. Remember, the world isn’t actually different—all the same stuff is still there—you are just seeing it differently, and in magic, perception is half the battle.
It’s also important to remember that being initiated isn’t the end of your journey, it’s the beginning. You don’t know everything; you just know more than you did before. So don’t beat yourself up when there are things you still don’t. (Spoiler: there always will be.) And coming from that spirit of connectedness and generosity we discussed earlier, try not to beat up others who may not be where you are but are honestly trying to get there. We are all at different stages in our spiritual growth.
THE POWER OF WORDS
In the Bible, what’s one of the first things Adam did? He went around like the very first man-baby that he was and named everything! And this simple action gave him power over the new world. Similarly, there’s a story from Egyptian mythology that goes like this: The goddess Isis wanted to gain power over the sun god Ra, so she poisoned him and said she could only cure him if he told her his true name. Eventually, he told her, and once she knew this, she had total control over him to the point where she could make the poison leave Ra’s body.
There’s a magical lesson here that goes way beyond just the pages of the Bible or the halls of ancient Egypt. It’s the idea that words have power, and when you know the true name of something or give something a name, you gain power over that thing.
This understanding of the importance and power of names and words is the job of books written by much smarter people than I am, with all sorts of fancy letters like PhD and MD and BAMF after their names. It’s the job of anyone who writes seriously about politics, and it’s a deeply magical thing that you can and should be a part of. You have to find and give name to the thing that is oppressing you if you ever want to beat it.
For me, a perfect example of this is the magic of feminist lingo. I remember before I had read anything about feminism, I would have these weird interactions with people, men and women, and would walk away with a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t know why, so I just let myself feel small and uncomfortable without knowing the reason. It wasn’t until I was able to name why I felt upset and identify what was wrong with those interactions that I started to gain power and get over some internalized BS. It was an initiation and an act of empowerment all in one. I felt the same way when I discovered socialism. Suddenly I had a framework to describe power and money in the world in a way I didn’t before. I could name the things I thought were wrong, instead of vaguely pointing at things like poverty and saying “I don’t like it!”
Naming oppression doesn’t make it go away, but it gives you the power to fight an actual problem instead of just flailing around boxing with shadows. Like Adam waking up into a new world and naming the things in it, once you “get woke” you’ll probably find a bunch of new words too, and just like Isis and Ra, if you want to pull poison from the sun, you have to know what to call it.
Cleansing is the first thing a lot of people try out when they are new to magic. You stumble into your local occult shop and immediately become overwhelmed by all the books, herbs, charms, and symbols you don’t recognize. Not wanting to seem dumb, you buy a bundle of sage because you read somewhere that it’s a “cleansing” herb and you’re pretty sure that’s a good thing. Then you scurry out.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
Cleansing is important in spiritual practice, but in the context of this book I want to look at it in a slightly different way. A lot of people treat cleansing like spiritual hand sanitizer, as in when you touch something icky and quickly run home to get rid of the bad vibes. Maybe you had a bad interaction that lingers in your mind, or maybe you came across a bad omen, have been having horrible luck, or had a spell go horribly wrong. Any one of these is a good reason to clean yourself off at the end of the day. Personally, I like to cleanse myself before I do a ritual or spell, and I cleanse most objects I buy and bring home with me.
For this book, though, I want us to briefly step away from thinking of cleansing like taking a shower, where you polish off the dirt but are still the same, beautiful you underneath. Instead, for now, let’s think of cleansing like a transformational, dare I say, alchemical process.
Even after you’ve been initiated or “get woke,” you’re still going to make mistakes; think, do, and say bad things; and have moments of doubt in your magic. Guess what? That’s okay! Your day doesn’t end the moment you wake up; in fact, it is just the opposite.
We grow up and live in a world that’s constantly telling us terrible things about ourselves and others. Even if our parents were cool as hell and we’re surrounded by positive people who want only the best for us, it’s inevitable that negativity slips in. The great army of isms is everywhere, and no matter how enlightened we are (or think we are) some of that stuff is going to get stuck in our heads. The point isn’t that we’re perfect or even that we become perfect. Perfection is a pretty hard thing to define, let alone achieve, and the goal is not arriving at that mythic state anyway but rather that we continue to learn and grow.
Instead of cleansing yourself just to get rid of negativity, I’d like you to think of cleansing as something to do to transform negativity. Just as death nourishes new life and power is never wasted in nature, let’s not try to simply get rid of the bad, but transform it for good. I’m going to put the actual ritual for this in the appendix of this book (along with a whole bunch of other spells and rites to amplify your practice, see here), but for now treat this as a mental exercise. Next time you cleanse yourself, stop and think about how to transform negative things into positive routes of change. If you screw up and do something sexist or racist, stop and think about why you did that and where those thoughts or actions come from, both within you and in the world. Try to heal the place that ism-based action comes from, and promise to do better. We aren’t going to make the world better unless we commit to making ourselves better, so dedicating ourselves to transforming our own negative patterns, instead of just acting like they aren’t there, is a powerful first step.
ON CRYSTALS AND CAPITALISM
This section might come across as odd to seasoned readers of witchcraft 101 books. A witch who doesn’t love crystals? Preposterous!
Crystals are a part of a lot of people’s magical practice, and I know some people who really love them and get a lot of good magic out of them. Heck, I own crystals! Looking around my room right now I see at least six. This little aside isn’t me saying to throw your crystals away—in fact, it’s actually not about crystals at all! It’s more about what crystals represent in the current magical landscape and how we can hopefully move past it for a more authentic and holistic future.
Deep, transformative change is hard, so hard that most people avoid it at all costs. Think about your friend who just can’t stop dating the wrong people. The individuals they date change, supposedly, but each relationship seems to follow the same patterns and your friend keeps getting hurt in the same way. Or think about election cycles, in which the politician changes, but things seem to stay the same or even get worse. If you aren’t willing to hunker down and address some underlying problems, cosmetic, surface-level changes do very little good.
I see this happening a lot with magic now that it’s going mainstream. People come to witchcraft wanting it to change their lives, but don’t go through the work of looking at how they think about the world. With a tool like crystals—or herbs or candles—I see a lot of people buying and selling them like they are buying and selling feelings. I want to feel love, so I’ll buy a pink rock; I want to feel safe, so I’ll buy a black rock; I want to feel calm, so I’ll buy a clear rock. When it doesn’t work, the only logical conclusion—or so you’re led to believe—is that there must be something really wrong with you or maybe magic isn’t real after all!
It’s not the crystal, and it’s for sure not you. It’s all based on manufactured insecurities—buying and selling feelings, especially to women, is just marketing 101—which are based on fears, and when you are afraid, you are easy to control. But witchcraft cannot be controlled.
Part of this commodity-based cycle comes from the way shopping itself is a ritual in our culture. All our biggest holidays revolve around shopping and the acquisition of objects. And it’s true that sometimes a financial investment can make you more incentivized to actually do the thing you’re trying to buy. But if the number of unused sports bras in my dresser is any indication, you can’t always buy your way into moods, motivation, or magic.
Another uncomfortable truth is that much of the “magical” stuff being sold by big companies has been made in factories or dug up from mines that don’t treat their workers or the earth very nicely. I know, I know, there’s no truly ethical way to consume under capitalism (I’ve seen the meme), but it does sometimes feel ironic that people buy something to make them feel empowered, when the person who made it is so disempowered themselves.
I’m anti-capitalist (I don’t know if you could tell), but I’m not anti-stuff. Far from it! As a witch, I see the world and all the stuff in it as being filled with spirits. I love things. I like having lots of things. More than that, I like to have a relationship with things. The raw quartz I have on my altar may not be as pretty as the one in the store, but I know where it came from, down to the name of the mountain I picked it up from. That rock is my friend, and the magic we do is powerful because of our relationship.
Alienation is the most oppressive tool of the Disenchanted World. If we are all atomized and alone, without relationships to other people, food, objects, and even our bodies, then how can we fight to change the world? Capitalism gets its power from alienation, while witchcraft gets its power from relationships.
This is a hard conversation to have and one that this book can’t tackle all on its own. Crystals are the bedrock (get it?) of so many occult stores, which in the magical world are basically our community centers. I get having to keep the lights on, and hey, we all have to eat. I’m not saying don’t buy anything, but I think we can’t avoid having a conversation about shifting the paradigm of magic from a consumer-based one to a relationship-based one.
The 2016 Election—Now That’s What I Call Initiation!
A night that will live in infamy—or maybe a year, or maybe a couple of years. The 2016 election feels like a force, one that continues to exert its power on our reality. The world felt different on November 8, but of course, nothing had really changed.
I think author and activist Naomi Klein channeled this feeling best in her book No Is Not Enough, so I’m just going to go ahead and let her do the talking for a sec:
Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination—the logical end point—of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time. That greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life. That white men are better than the rest. That the natural world is there for us to pillage. That the vulnerable deserve their fate and the one percent deserve their golden towers. That anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting. That we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own.
Carl Jung had a name for a figure like President Trump, the Shadow. The Shadow self is the “unlived life” or the unconfronted truth in every person. Your shadow will haunt you until you confront it and incorporate its lessons into your life.
As I see it, Donald Trump is America’s shadow. Like Klein said so well, Trump is the manifestation of every ugly, stupid, awful, evil thing about our empire, comically exaggerated. The 2016 election was the United States being confronted with its shadow, and for many people it was also an initiation.
Like all initiatory experiences, you can run from it and try to pretend it never happened, but that will only slow your spiritual growth down. Normal is nice, safe, and the time when there are problems but you don’t know about them yet. Initiation is a break in normalcy, when you have to confront truth face-to-face, which is not always pretty. Many people wanted Hillary Clinton to win in 2016, but she didn’t. You can point to a whole host of reasons why that happened from Russian troll farms to Comey or third-party candidates, and sure, these things had an impact. But even if none of those factors were in play—hell, even if Hillary had won—the shadow of American politics would have still been there, ugly, monstrous, and needing to be confronted. Remember the power of names we discussed earlier in this chapter. What are the names of things that allowed this to happen?
The thing is, some people weren’t shocked by the 2016 election. Maybe they were a bit surprised, but to millions of people it wasn’t news to find out we live in a very sexist, racist, desperate, violent country. There are people whose lives were terrible under Obama, and they remain terrible under Trump; the main difference is just that more of us are looking at them now. We are confronting our dark side. If you didn’t know before just how bad it is out there, now you do, and deep down, you know that just making things “normal” again is not only impossible, but deadly.
There are hundreds of lessons to take from the 2016 election cycle, and I’m not going to list what they all are, because I can’t tell you what your initiation means to you. If you felt rocked to your core by the election of Trump and you’ve spent every moment since running from the pain, or if you haven’t sat down to think about that moment and what you learned from it, take some time to do that now. If you weren’t as deeply shaken by the whole process and to you it didn’t feel like a personal initiation, think about it as an initiation for the collective spirit of America. Are we learning the right lessons? Are we allowing ourselves to be positively transformed?
There will be a day when Trump is no longer president (perhaps, as you’re reading this, that day has already come to pass). There will be a day when he no longer exists! You can do absolutely nothing and those things will still happen, but the shadow may remain. It’s not enough to just want to go back to the world before the 2016 election and repeat a pattern of cosmetic rather than deep political change. And it’s never healthy to lose yourself in fantasy or anxiety and forget the real world. We need to think about what we want the world to look like as we move forward. We need to dream bigger.
MAGIC IN ACTION
A RITE OF INITIATION
So maybe after reading this chapter you’re feeling left out because you’ve never really been initiated. Well then, there’s no time like the present.
Like I said earlier, there are literally endless ways to become initiated. So long as you set into place a shift in consciousness that has ripple effects throughout your life, you’ve done it! Easy, right?
An at-home initiation should involve doing something a little naughty or frowned upon in society. You may want to read the Lord’s Prayer backward or break a crucifix, if you want to go the heavy metal route. I personally think a great component to an initiation ritual could be burning a dollar bill, but my editor told me that’s illegal so I can’t technically suggest you do it.
I’m going to give you an initiation ritual here, but know that if it does not feel right to you there are hundreds of other options available online and in other books. If this one isn’t for you, feel free to find another or make one of your own!
While they vary culture to culture, most initiation rituals include the following:
The breaking of a taboo
An oath or promise
Meditation on the personal meaning of the ritual in the days leading up to it
Here is a ritual containing all these components that I developed just for you!
For this you will need:
An object or symbol that represents something that oppresses you or makes you “smaller.” Feel free to print out or draw an image of it. (You will choose this over the course of the ritual.)
An object or symbol that will represent your liberation. (You will choose this over the course of the ritual.)
Pick a day you want to do your initiation ritual. Ideally, this is a day with a bit of significance. Maybe you want to follow a moon cycle or choose your birthday or a meaningful holiday. Any of these are good options—the idea is simply that this date has meaning to you.
For our example, let’s go with the moon cycle. You’ll want to start on the new moon, and do your initiation on the full moon. This gives you a nice time frame of about fifteen days around a natural cycle moving from darkness to light.
Once you’ve got a date picked and the days set between now and then, I want you to:
Take the paper and cut it into long, rectangular strips, around one inch by four inches. The amount of strips you will ultimately need will depend on the number of things you write down in the next few steps.
Pick a place and time each day when you can be alone for a few minutes to meditate, for instance every night in front of your altar.
Every day, spend some time thinking about the many forces, ideas, and things that keep you confined, oppressed, and dominated against your will. Really go to town here, and pour out the things that you know stand between you and your liberation.
Write these things down on the strips of paper you’ve cut up. You can keep it to one idea per strip or write multiple things down.
As you perform these exercises every night, see if you can come up with a symbol that represents all of these negative forces in your life. Is there just one thing or many? What are you going to leave behind?
At the same time consider if there is a symbol of your liberation you want to give yourself. This could be a physical object you wear, like a ring or a necklace, that acts as a constant reminder, or something you want to hang in your room or home.
On the day of your initiation, have these two symbols set up in front of you. I recommend representing the symbol of your oppression with an image or word you’ve printed out onto a piece of paper so that you can easily destroy it.
Tape the strips of paper you’ve written on into interlocking loops, making one long chain. Make two bigger loops at the end and tape these around your wrists.
Once you have this set up, sit for a moment and consider the living metaphor you’ve created. Feel the weight holding you down. Look at the length of the chains that bind you.
Begin to chant. I find these words by Assata Shakur to be a great thing to chant: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” But you may choose something different.
Chant until you feel it reach a fever pitch inside you. When this happens, break your chains and tear them up. Once they are destroyed, take the image of your oppression, and tear that up as well.
Take the scraps of paper and gather them together. If you can, burn them in a safe, well-ventilated area and collect their ashes. If you can’t, just assemble the remaining scraps of paper for the next step.
Take whatever remnants you have and bury them at a crossroad without looking back. If you live in a city where you can’t bury things at a crossroad, you have a few options: Go to a park where you won’t be disturbed, throw them away in a trash can on a crosswalk, or throw them into a storm drain by a crosswalk.
Walk away without looking back.
When you get back home, put on or hang up the symbol you have chosen as a liberatory one. Claim your liberation.
Write down how this ritual made you feel afterward, and keep track of any dreams, omens, or “coincidences” you might experience over the next few days. These are all important signs leading you on your magical journey.