There are forces in this world that seek to dominate us against our will. These forces wish to control how we dress, how we look, if we live or die, who we love, how we love them, and if we are allowed to feel love at all. Living in the Disenchanted World can make magic seem impossible and our sphere of influence small.
You may be physically and financially restricted in a thousand different ways, but one thing I hope you never let get shrunk down or confined is your imagination. Our ability to dream a different world is the foundation of magic, and quite frankly, it’s the only hope we have.
In the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series, a bunch of occultists capture Morpheus, the god of dreams, and keep him from the world for years. Without dreams, progress halts, people stop asking for more out of life, and many fall into sad years of dreamless sleep. Looking at the news, it can sometimes feel like someone has captured dreams in our world too. We’ve got big problems, but our imaginations seem just a bit too small to solve them. A carbon tax to fight the death of the world? A clever sign at a protest to keep people from dying? Small steps can be necessary to reach our goals, but sometimes we are sold small steps to keep us from imagining bigger ones. Besides, even if our steps must sometimes be incremental, why can’t our dreams be big?
Dreams are very important in witchcraft. In dreams we enter other worlds, other states of consciousness, and can talk to the living, the dead, and maybe even things that never lived or died. As an activist, you are going to encounter so many people telling you to be more “reasonable” or that your ideas aren’t “realistic.” Sometimes this comes from a place of bad faith, and the person telling you all this wouldn’t want to see your demands met, even if they “reasonably” could be! But, sometimes, you’ll hear the same kind of limited thinking from people who genuinely would like to see your dreams become a reality, but have had their own imaginations so damaged by the Disenchanted World that they honestly can’t imagine a better way of being. They’ve forgotten, or maybe never realized, that dreams and reality have a lot more overlap than we like to think. As witches, it’s important to remember that.
Look around you, and recognize that everything you see was once immaterial, a dream in someone’s head. The chair you’re sitting on, the lamp you’re reading with, the book you have in your hands right now—all this once existed as nothing more than a thought. Then, someone, or a bunch of people, decided to use their power to make the immaterial, material. They did magic through this altering of reality, and even if all they did was make a new chair, they changed the world. The art of dreaming—of dreaming big—and pulling things out of the realm of imagination and into this world is what all good magic is about. If we are going to use magic to take on big problems, we can’t let our dreams be anything other than massive. So let’s relearn how to dream and dream big.
JOURNEYING, DREAMING, AND SOUL FLIGHT
Close your eyes and think of a witch. What do you see? Maybe it’s a woman with green skin and warts on her nose; maybe there’s a black cat; and maybe she’s wearing a pointed hat. Whatever your witch looked like, it’s very possible she was also flying on a broomstick by the light of the moon.
Flying and witches go together like pineapple on pizza (I’ve chosen my side in this war). There’s a reason witches were long believed to fly, and there’s even more reason why witches need to fly now.
Let’s get back in the time machine and look at history for a bit. Like a lot of things involved with witchcraft, the reasons behind the iconography of witches flying on broomsticks is #complicated. We know witches flew for many reasons—to get to the sabbath, cure people, make people sick, help or hurt crops, and meet up with other witches in secret. We also know one way a lot of witches were said to fly was by rubbing something called a “flying ointment” all over them. That ointment usually contained herbs that have psychedelic properties, like belladonna, henbane, and mugwort. As for the broom, well, some people think it’s a sex thing, while others think it’s a tripping out thing. I personally like a modern reading of the broom as a symbol. What better “fuck you” to the patriarchy than to take one of its tools meant to confine you and instead use it to free yourself?
Don’t get too excited now, because I’m not about to teach you how to trip balls or literally fly. There’s an internet out there for you to figure out the first one (though, of course, I’m once again not suggesting you try anything illegal), and there are planes for the second. As for the few herbs I listed above, please, please don’t do anything with any of them until you’ve done your research and know the dangers.
The flying we’re talking about, historically and today, isn’t about making the human body drift through the air, but instead making the soul or spirit fly away from the body. You may have read other books that give this process names like shamanic journeying, guided meditation, or out-of-body experiences. Maybe you’ve even done some of these yourself! After you put this book down, feel free to use the term you like best. In this book we’re talking witchcraft, so we’re going to call it soul flight.
Like initiation, soul flight can occur spontaneously in the form of dreams or on command through meditation and whatever (carefully used) substances you prefer to take or not. Like the witches of old, there’s really no limit to what you can use soul flight for! Fly to discover spiritual guides, connect with the land, talk to your ancestors, or figure out how to get out of a tricky situation you may be facing in life.
For this chapter though, we’re focusing on flying for two reasons:
1. To teach you to trust your dreams and imagination.
2. To go to places where the answers to our problems can be found and bring that wisdom back here.
There are obviously some important caveats I need to make in this bit. Please, for the love of all the gods, use your best judgment and don’t just believe what someone is telling you because they saw it while doing soul flight. I’m writing a book, not starting a cult. Also, be aware that not every being in the realms you can fly to is honest, trustworthy, or quite honestly gives a fuck about you.
Imagine you move somewhere new that you’ve never even visited before. You’d probably want to explore the neighborhood. Maybe, if you had friends or family in the area (remember those ancestors we talked about here?), you’d ask them what places you should visit or what people they know so you can make new friends. You probably would avoid that creepy alley at night until you knew the neighborhood a bit better, right? And I’m hoping you know it’s a bad idea to just walk up to random strangers and ask to be their best friend.
This is what soul flight is like. We have this idea that all spirits and gods have our best interest at heart, but that’s like saying all strangers on the subway have your best interest at heart. If something bad happened to you on the subway, certainly some people would help you, while others would remain indifferent, and some might even take advantage of you. As you practice soul flight more and more, you’ll find spirits and maybe even gods that want to be your friends and help you out, but don’t assume out of the gate that you’re going to be Snow White walking through the forest making friends with every creature you pass.
OTHER WORLDS ARE POSSIBLE
So, why am I talking to you about spirits and flying in a book about activism? Well, there are a few reasons. First off, before you set about transforming the world, it’s probably best if you go out and see the other worlds you want to transform it into.
Witchcraft lives at the crossroads, magically speaking. It’s not fully here, but it’s not really there either. This can make life difficult sometimes. (Remember when I spent an entire chapter defining what witchcraft is and you were still kind of confused?) But it also gives us witches and mischief-makers a real advantage when it comes to activism. The goal of activism is to change the world into one you think it should be. This is also not coincidently the goal of magic, but in magic we don’t have to sit around hoping better worlds are out there—we can go visit them right now!
Look, I understand if you are coming from the world of material, brass tacks politics. If that’s the case and this is your first book on magic, this chapter is probably going to be weird to you. Heck, even if you’ve read some books on witchcraft, this chapter might be weird! We’re not used to using our dreams like this or even dreaming this way at all! Plus, even if we don’t like the world we find ourselves in, it’s still the one we know best, and there’s comfort in that. Sidestepping it and taking a look around the neighborhood can be a little jarring. There is also always going to be that nagging voice in your head that tells you none of this “stuff” is “real.” Do your best to ignore that. Eventually the results you get from opening yourself up to magic will calm down that worry.
One other big reason to incorporate soul flight into your magical activist practice is to get a better perspective on what it is exactly that you’re fighting for and against. It’s really easy to get caught up in small battles that make us lose sight of the larger war. I remember there was a particularly bad week where battle after battle seemed to be lost and the world felt like it was just going to keep getting darker. I remember really doubting my activism in that moment, wondering why it was that I was doing the work I was doing if it didn’t matter. It wasn’t until I sat myself down and let my soul fly away from this world for a bit that I remembered why I was fighting and saw those losses in the context of a bigger struggle, one that I was just one piece of. Over time, soul flight will give you insight and perspective into the nature of reality, transformation, and morality that I personally have found invaluable.
Our reality is formed by “truths” we take for granted, and these truths are created by power. Whatever your unshakable truths are, they form the basis of what you believe is possible. It was once unthinkable that there could be a society without kings and queens running the show. It was once unthinkable that women could do, well, almost anything, but people dared to dream. More than that, they dared to make their dreams real. They shifted power, and those truths changed and reality along with them.
This is why dreaming impossible dreams is so important. You have to be willing to send your mind to someplace else, someplace better, and bring that knowledge back to this place in order to change it. You then have to live like that reality is already here, breathing it into being with your power and magic. As witches, we have the ability to shape the framework of what is possible and re-enchant the world.
One of the best examples of this comes from the Standing Rock Sioux protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe were given notice that a pipeline was going to be built through their land. The company building it had a terrible history of constructing leaky pipelines, and the tribe knew that if it was built it would almost definitely leak, contaminating their water supply. On top of that, the plans for the pipeline were set to pass near their sacred burial grounds. When a white community north of the tribe asked for the pipeline to be moved away from them, they were listened to, but when the Sioux asked, they were not.
This was the backdrop for an occupation of the land the proposed pipeline was set to be built through. Thousands came from around the world to the Oceti Sakowin and Sacred Stone camps, and the occupation lasted months before its tragic demise.
I’ve already talked a bit about the bad stuff in this book (see here). Dogs were sicced on people, water was sprayed on protesters, sometimes in subzero temperatures, and helicopters from private security forces circled the camp at all times; to say the area surrounding the camp resembled a war zone would be no exaggeration. The brutal opposition to a completely justified and peaceful protest was disgusting and well documented. I urge you to research it when you put this book down.
What I want to talk about now is the positive side of Standing Rock. To say it was a protest downplays the scale and power of that collective action. Standing Rock was an experiment in dreaming, a proof-positive case that another world is possible. In a lot of ways, Standing Rock was the “normal” world flipped on its head. Indigenous people led in all things, and food, medicine, and clothing were all free to those who needed it. Signs around the camp reminded people that as long as they were there, they were engaging in an act of prayer, not protest. Every morning songs were sung around one of the sacred fires, and a procession was led to the Cannonball River, the river we were trying to protect, and prayers offered to it. One woman I met told me a story of how she and other women approached the police line to pray one day. They knelt down in the street, and officers pointed guns in their faces. This woman said she looked up into the officers’ faces, and they became so filled with shame they had to look away. She said in that moment she became aware that a power and strength lived within her and that for as long as she lived that power could never be taken away.
The power of Standing Rock came from the indigenous people leading it, because they had no choice but to fight and because they had the cultural knowledge that things don’t have to be this way. They knew this, and for almost a year they dreamed that world into a reality.
There are two ways to do a spell. One, you know. In the first method, you pick a goal, get some supplies together, and do something magical like lighting a candle or chanting. The other way is by embodying your spell so that all your actions over an hour, day, year, or lifetime reflect the reality you are creating. Standing Rock is an excellent example of the second kind of spell.
Just to remind you: I’m white—like, really white, like, grew up on Cape Cod white. Because of this, I’m not trying to pretend that I know something the indigenous people who led Standing Rock didn’t know. I’m also not telling my fellow whites to copy exactly what people at the camp were doing.
There is a difference between being inspired by something and appropriating it. Yes, I am deeply inspired by the work of indigenous activists, and yes, some of our struggles overlap. The strength of their spirituality, which managed to last through genocides, inspires me to look back at what animistic threads I can pull from my own heritage and add to my magic. Their courage to fight against incredible odds inspires me in my activism, but it’s not my job to come in and act like this was my idea the whole time.
You can join a fight that’s not “for” you. In fact, we should all be fighting for the liberation of people besides ourselves. However, joining a fight doesn’t mean you have to, or should, lead it. You can practice magic without pretending you’re part of a tradition you aren’t a part of, and you can fight for someone else’s liberation without making it about you. It’s easier than you think! Just like so much of magic, it’s about quieting the ego and asking yourself honestly what it is you want to do.
Cultivate humility. There was a time you weren’t initiated at all, and there are still truths you haven’t been initiated into. Standing Rock, like I already said, was an initiation for me. My magic, my activism, and my self haven’t been the same since. I want to pass on its lessons to you, but in order to do that, I have to acknowledge it comes from people with much stronger and older magic than mine.
Never let your dreams be small, or your magic will be small too. It is our job as witches to shift what people think is possible and, in doing so, change reality. We should be less interested in trying to describe how things are and more interested in showing how different things could be.
MAGIC IN ACTION
SHAPE-SHIFTING AND SOUL FLIGHT
Okay, so how do we actually do any of the things I’ve been talking about in this chapter?
Like pretty much everything in this book, there are lots of different ways, but here’s one method I’ve found that works best for me. It’s not something that looks particularly exciting or magical on the outside, but I promise it’s one of the most rewarding and transformative practices you can engage in. It takes time and repetition—for me it took years to get really good at it—but even if it doesn’t come naturally, keep it up! You may find other forms of magic come easier to you, but learning to achieve soul flight is like riding a broom for the first time: you won’t ever forget it.
For this, you will need:
All you need is you! You’ll notice that the exercises I’m teaching you in this book don’t require you to buy anything or use much more than stuff you probably already have in your house. That’s because for most magic, you don’t really have to purchase anything—seriously. If someone ever tells you that you can’t do magic without buying something from them, walk away.
For this exercise in particular, what you’re basically doing is meditating, so all you’ll need is yourself, an hour or so of guaranteed alone time, and a quiet place to sit or lay down.
Beyond that, I personally like to light a stick of incense while engaging in soul flight, both as an offering to my spirits and as a personal timer. I also like to have a steady, slow drumbeat playing in my ears. I recommend putting on head-phones and finding one of the many “shamanic drumming” videos on YouTube to play while you do this. In my experience, having a steady rhythm of some sort going makes it easier to tune out your own thoughts as well as your upstairs neighbors, who will inevitably be moving furniture around. Drumbeats designed for meditation will also usually mark when it’s time to pull yourself out of meditation and start to return to earth, which is much less jarring than a timer set on your phone or watch.
Regardless of what extra tools you decide to use or not use, here’s my super-bare-bones formula for soul flight. Don’t feel bad if you don’t get it “right” the first time or even the first few times—it usually takes some practice to get the hang of it. Also, hard as it might be, try not to worry that you’re “making all this is up” or that it’s just “in your head.”
To achieve soul flight, we’re going to use a meditative technique called shape-shifting. No, I’m not going to teach you how to turn your body into another body just like that, but I am going to teach you how to do that with your spirit in another world.
Why shape-shifting? Well, one very posh reason is that it’s tradition! Witches have been turning into animals to work their magic for years. The famous Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie used to transform herself into a hare in order to get to the sabbath undetected. Her testimony is important to us for two reasons: One: it’s metal as hell. And two: she offered up her confession without torture to her witch hunters, making her descriptions of folk magic more believable. During Isobel’s testimony, given at her trial in Scotland in 1662, she gives us this chant to transform:
I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again.
And to transform back, she used this one:
Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare’s likeness now,
But I shall be in a woman’s likeness even now.
By the way, feel free to use this as inspiration if you need a little chanting to get you into this headspace.
Hares, bats, toads, wolves, goats, snakes, crows, ravens, cats, and owls were among the most popular animals witches took the form of in order to achieve soul flight and do magic. These were often called a witch’s “familiar.” You might find one, or more likely a couple, to be very useful and helpful allies to you in your magic. This could be a whole chapter in itself, but I recommend doing some research on familiars and feeling out if any of the creatures either on the list here or elsewhere suit you.
Transforming into an animal gives you other advantages too. Spirits who might want to pick on you may leave you alone if you are disguised as something else.
Once you have a familiar chosen, or at least one you would like to work with, and at minimum an hour of free time, you can begin.
Find a place to sit or lay down. I like to lay down flat, but sitting on a pillow, maybe in front of your altar, works great too. It’s all about what makes you feel most comfortable and able forget you have a body.
Light any candles or incense you want, and start the drumming record if you are using one. If not, set a timer to go off between a half hour and an hour from when you begin.
Close your eyes, and start to focus on your breath or the sound of drumming. Your thoughts are going to wander, especially at first. Don’t worry, and don’t be hard on yourself. Just acknowledge your thoughts, let them pass, and bring your attention back to the present.
Once you are more or less “in the zone,” bring your attention to your body. Visualize it as if you are looking at it from the outside. Slowly, start to feel your bones, how strong and rigid they are to hold your whole body together. Then feel your muscles: Where are they loose? Where are they sore? Feel how they bind together to hold you up and keep you connected, then feel them relax. Next feel your blood: Is it pumping to the same beat as the drum or going at its own rhythm? Follow its beat, as you feel your skin. Notice how the air, your clothes, your own hair feel against it. Now, push just beyond that into the space just outside your body. Do you feel that power surrounding you? Doesn’t it feel incredible? This power is always surrounding you, and you are just learning how to feel it now.
Stay in that place just outside your body and visualize yourself as you are laying or sitting. Start to see a little light come up from just below your feet and begin to move up your body.
As this light travels up, see your body transforming into the animal you are going to use for soul flight. Your toes turn into talons, your skin into fur. Whatever it is, let yourself transform and let this transformation take as long as it needs to.
Once you are fully transformed, let out a deep breath, and feel your soul and body disconnect. To me, the sensation is like the slight drop you get when an elevator starts descending.
You may be seeing through your own eyes now, or you may be watching yourself from slightly above and behind like in a video game. Whatever happens is what is supposed to happen.
From here, you can let yourself journey and travel wherever you decide to go. Sometimes soul flight can be directed toward a purpose, but I actually recommend flying just to fly the first few times to get used to it.
When the bell rings or the timer goes off and it’s time to return to your body, try not to rush. Visualize yourself again, and just like before let a light scan over you and transform you back into your human form, only this time start with your head and end with your feet.
Write down everything you saw, even if it sounds silly now that you are back in “the real world.” You may see symbols, patterns, or ideas pop up in your waking life that you first saw while flying. Pay attention to and follow these symbols.
Afterward, I recommend you ground yourself back in this reality by drinking some water and having a snack.
You’ll notice all I’m giving you here is a technique for flying, but not a guide of where to fly or what to do while you are there. That’s because your reasons for journeying are going to be determined by what you or your community needs, and I don’t want to limit you by just giving you one example. You can use this technique to supplement any of the other exercises in this book, and I recommend you do that once you get them down! Think of it this way—I just taught you how to operate a car, now it’s up to you to drive it.