A Spellbook for The Apocalypse
Ooooh what a big scary name, right?
Don’t worry, or maybe worry, but don’t despair. People use the word apocalypse to mean the end of the world, but the term actually means “an uncovering” in Ancient Greek. In other words, just like the Tower card in tarot means destruction as well as revelation, the apocalypse is the end of the old world and the initiation into a new one. With that, let me be the first to welcome you to the apocalypse! Happy you could make it!
It might be obvious for me to say after you’ve read this whole book, but I don’t think the way we’ve been doing witchy stuff over the last couple years is really sustainable anymore. That’s why this book is filled with big words like revolution and apocalypse, because our witchcraft needs more of that stuff right now!
In that spirit, I wanted to include an offering of spells and rituals at the apocalypse of this book. You’ll notice that lots of these rituals, like ones I’ve given you throughout this book, are similar to stuff that can be found elsewhere. Spoiler: I’m not the first person to put sigils or the Wheel of the Year in a book on witchcraft. The difference is in how we can start to think about these rituals and exercises, and what context we should put them in (i.e., the framework of the end of the freaking world).
So here is a little bit of magic to get you started on your revolutionary witchcraft journey! You’ll notice that the rituals don’t cost you a thing and I leave them open for you to put your own spirit and flare into. This is a spellbook, not a cookbook. Take it as inspiration, and then go wild.
Wait! Come back! Don’t skip this part!
Practically every beginner’s book on magic contains a basic meditation technique. It’s a proud tradition I intend to keep! That’s because while there’s a lot in magic you don’t have to do, or can do your own way, knowing how to meditate is really the one thing you can’t skip over. If you were to enter a painting competition, you could paint whatever you want, however you want, but you should know how to hold a brush first.
So why is meditation so fundamental to doing magic? Simply put, it’s the basic tech you’ll use for most of your magical work—your spiritual software, if you will. Meditation helps all of us focus our intentions, clear our minds, and get into a state of consciousness where we can receive and send messages to spirits, gods, and ancestors more easily. A daily meditative practice literally changes how your mind works, which as we’ve already discussed is a big part of magic. You don’t have to reach a meditative state the “boring” way—i.e. sitting down and breathing—but this is the easiest method for most people. Once you get the hang of basic meditating, you’ll start to see how other things you do like singing, dancing, drawing, or driving can also put you into a meditative state. After finding that out about yourself, you may learn your magic works better with one of these meditative states. If so, go for it and stay with it! For now though, we’re going to stick to getting a general handle on things.
Here is a simple meditative technique. You can use this just to meditate but also to get you into the magical mind-set you’ll need for the other exercises. We’ll be using a breathing technique called the Fourfold Breath for this, but it’s good to note that there are dozens of other breathing exercises to read up on too.
For ten minutes a day, every day if you can, sit down and do the following:
Close your eyes and begin to clear your mind. Let thoughts fall away and bring your attention to your breath.
If thoughts do come in, or you find your attention drifting, no worries! Just acknowledge the thought, let it go, and get back to your breathing.
Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
Hold your breath for four seconds.
Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds.
Hold your breath for four seconds.
And… that’s it! See? It’s so simple you might think it’s fine to skip, or that I’m making too big a deal of it. Seriously, I’m not. It may be proof that the universe has a sense of humor, but the most mind-altering, magical thing you can do right now is also the simplest, available to you all the time, with no cost at all. Just sit and breathe.
THE TRANS RITE OF ANCESTOR ELEVATION
This ritual isn’t mine, but I love it so much I wanted to include it here for all of you to try out! This ritual was concocted by the folks over at trans-rite.tumblr.com, and they were gracious enough to let me put it in this book. If this ritual excites you, please go check out their blog for more tips, prayers, and answered questions. Thanks y’all, you rock!
The Trans Rite of Ancestor Elevation is a nine-day ritual that takes place November 12—20. It was created by trans and gender nonconforming people to honor their ancestors of spirit who were lost to murder or suicide in the previous year, a sadly all too common occurrence these days. Hopefully you are reading this book during better times, but according to the ACLU as of my writing, one in four trans people, and most often trans women of color, report violence against them based on their gender, and much of this violence results in death or later suicide. In the face of so much horror and sadness, honoring the dead is not just a good practice; it might even be a necessary one. Rituals such as this provide healing to the dead. It helps the dead find peace instead of becoming angry, restless spirits. Consider that violence against trans people usually persists after death, through official reports often misgendering and using the “dead name” of a trans person. How can the dead ever rest if we cannot even call them by their proper name?
Remember back in chapter 1 where we talked about an ancestor practice not just being a way for you to pick up some cool undead relatives, but as a way to aid in healing the world from the trauma of the past and present? Yup, this right here is a great example of how that can look in practice. Cisgender people who wish to honor trans loved ones who have been killed, or aid in the elevation of trans ancestors, can participate as well.
For it you will need:
A place to set up an altar
A candle (preferably white)
A cup for water
A white cloth of some sort (bandanas or pride flags also work)
Prayers, quotes, songs, or poems of your choosing
Nine books with meaning to yourself or those you will be honoring
Any offerings or symbols you wish to place on your altar. Some people put out hormone pill bottles/syringes, lipstick, prosthetics, patches, crystals, magical tools, etc. Flowers also always work in a pinch.
For this ritual, the altar you make will be set up on the floor. Lay down the white cloth on the floor to make your altar space for the next nine days. If you have to move it for some reason, that’s okay, but try to do the ritual at the same time and place each day, without disturbing the altar if possible.
This ritual can be done alone or with a group of people. You can keep your altar simple or dress it up with flowers and pictures of the dead if you like. Go with what feels right to you. However, make sure you never place photos of living people on an altar to the dead, and do not eat or drink offerings left for them.
Alright, have you got your stuff ready? Here we go!
For nine nights in a row, stand or sit before your altar. Give yourself a minute to breathe, meditate, and get into that good magic headspace using our Meditation 101 technique.
Cleanse yourself in a way of your choosing. I personally like to burn mugwort, but cedar and rosemary along with many other plants also work great.
Light the candle and offer a cup of water on the cloth. Don’t start getting fancy on me here and leave out glasses of wine or other alcohol; water is what you want for this.
Read the prayers, poems, or other writing you’ve prepared. You can switch up which prayers or readings you do nightly, but each night, start by saying the following prayer:
I call upon the ancestors of my line, the progenitors of my queer spirit, those who came before and laid the path behind them, the mighty transgender dead.
I call to your restlessness and your strife, the thread of pain that twists through your lives and your deaths, the thread that binds me to you.
I call upon the helping spirits who have stepped up to tend the line of the honored transgender dead, those who led in life and lead in death, those who offer the gift of their guidance and protection to the members of their family who have yet to find peace, to the troubled dead thirsting for care and to the weary living still battling each day.
(NAME), I call to you. Hail and welcome. I offer you honor and remembrance. I offer you love and devotion. I offer you praise and proclamation among the living to bring your legacy to your descendants. I offer you cool water for your journey. (Name any ancestral helping spirit, deity, or representatives you are personally honoring or working with in your ritual. The authors of this ritual have been invoking Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Ray Rivera, and Comrade Leslie Feinberg, and encourage people to do divination to confirm with any individual members of the line that they want to invoke that they are up for it.)
I seek your guidance in elevating our troubled family. I seek the strength of your fury in my journey. I seek your hands on my shoulder as I hold our family’s pain in my body and in my heart.
To the troubled transgender dead, I call to you. Hail and welcome. I offer you honor and remembrance. I offer you love and devotion. I offer you praise and proclamation among the living to bring your legacy to your descendants.
I offer you my will to fight in this world. I offer you my fists and my tools to build a world that would have been kind to you. I offer you a light to guide you to peace and music to dance you out of this cruel place. I offer you cool water for your journey. May you never thirst.
For other prayers and ideas, visit the official website for the Transgender Rite of Ancestor Elevation.
After you’ve made your offerings and said your prayers, take one of the nine books you’ve chosen and stack it under the candle and cup. By the end of nine nights, you should have nine books stacked under this candle on your altar. See how this is literally “elevating” the ancestors? This bit of the ritual is derived from Afro-Caribbean spiritual traditions such as Santeria and Espiritismo Cruzado. It serves to physically raise up the ancestors alongside spiritually lifting them through prayer and ceremony.
Before ending the ritual, take a moment to sit with the spirits, make offerings of song or speech, and thank them before blowing out the candle.
Cleanse yourself at the end of each night of ritual.
When it comes time to fill another cup of water, throw the water from the previous night on some plants or outside; don’t dispose of it in the toilet.
This ritual ends on the Trans Day of Remembrance, when the names of trans people who have died in the past year are read aloud. Do this at the end of your nine-day ritual as well.
TALKING TO LAND SPIRITS
At the end of the day, we aren’t something outside of nature fighting for nature. We are nature fighting for itself. Did I just blow your mind?
Connecting to the land we live on seems like a nice, but difficult idea to many. Yes, you could always just go to the park and run after squirrels, begging them to talk to you, but there are other people around and they’re starting to get worried.
I kid, but talking to the land isn’t always the same as talking to people. Imagine your ship sinks and you wash up on a deserted island with just one other person, and neither of you speaks the same language. You may learn bits and pieces of each other’s words, but after awhile, you’re going to have to find other ways to communicate. In my experience, this is a bit like talking to spirits of place.
To start making your own land language, you have to get comfortable with your intuition. Feel how your feelings make you feel—you feel me? This bit isn’t so much a ritual, but more a foundation that you can build rituals off of. For this, pick a place you want to connect with. I recommend something near you, even just your neighborhood or backyard! Start with one place, and see what changes, or doesn’t, when you apply this method to others.
Get yourself a land journal and write in it as much as possible. Take quick notes on what feelings or vibes you get when you go to certain places. If you live in a city or big town, you can do this with neighborhoods, parks, and buildings.
Go to a place you want to connect with and do the Meditation 101 exercise on page 129, even for five minutes.
After your mind has been cleared out a bit, open it back up to freely associate. What things come to mind when you stand next to a certain tree? When you meditate next to a river? When you walk down a particular street? You’ll start to find that some places are quiet for you while others are practically shouting. Don’t force the quiet ones, especially when you are just getting started.
Write down all the things that consistently spring to mind when you think of this place or visit it. Colors, symbols, music, movies—anything is fair game. Spirits, especially spirits of place, are going to try to talk to you in a language you can understand, and this is often going to be pictures in our head. Remember, it doesn’t have to be “serious” or ancient things that come to you. Is there a song, even a pop song, which comes to mind every time you’re happy and suddenly starts playing in your head when you visit a forest? Listen to that. Does it change by season? Time of day? Write it all down to start creating a personal land language you can use to speak with spirits of place.
After you’ve made some personal assumptions and discoveries, research your place. Does anything from your visions or waking meditations line up with its history? Who were the original people who lived on that place? Do they still live there? Why or why not? What plants grow there? What animals live there? What folktales, legends, or myths have been told about this place?
Now you can start talking. Wear those colors, sing those songs, put on that perfume, do whatever it is you feel “fits” when you go to that place. Eat food that’s grown locally, if you can. Leave a penny, or some kind of offering, for that place when you’ve had a very good day there. Blur the lines and deepen the connection between you and the land.
Once you’ve got a language established, and know about the history of the land you’re on, ask what the land wants from you. Sometimes this can be as simple as a thank-you and some offerings every now and then, sometimes you’re going to find this place and its inhabitants face much bigger problems that you may want to help with. When you get here, go back to the power map to try to figure out what is wrong and how to help.
HACKING YOUR LOCAL SPELLBOOK
Have you ever noticed that recipes you get for spells are almost all exactly the same?
There are roses for love, sage for cleansing, and lavender for pretty much anything? I’m not saying these plants don’t have power, but the mono-cropping of spellbooks is something I’ve gotten a little sick of.
There’s something a little paint-by-numbers and, honestly, colonial feeling to it all. I’ve never even seen white sage grow in the wild, so why am I using it for cleansing if I know nothing about it or have no connection to it?
If we are going to do deep, transformative magic, we have to let our magic be transformed, and transform it ourselves.
So while you don’t have to do this for every magical formula or spell you find in books out there, use this little method to personalize and reimagine your magic.
Go online or pick up a guidebook on local plants and animals in your area. They are legion and often written by adorable men in sweaters or women in long floral dresses.
Look up the lore of plants near you, and make a reference guide for yourself. For instance: mugwort = spirit contact, rosemary = cleansing. You get the idea. Write down any myths associated with the plant. What’s its story?
When a spell calls for plants or herbs to be used, pop open that guidebook. Does that plant grow near you? If so, can you harvest it yourself instead of going to the store?
If it doesn’t grow near you, check the personal guidebook you’ve made. Is there a plant that does grow near you that does a similar thing? You can’t always just copy/paste and replace every herb, but localizing the plants you use will help you connect to the spirit of place and help the earth out a bit. Why get herbs shipped to you from halfway around the world when you can go pick them in your backyard?
This is an idea a number of indigenous activist groups have asked nonindigenous groups to incorporate into their meetings. I think it’s great not just for meetings with you and your friends, but for performing before rituals too, so I’m giving it a shout-out here! A land acknowledgment is a statement made before a meeting, ceremony, or ritual that honors the indigenous people who once called—and likely still do—that land home before the settlers came. It also honors the land itself and thanks it for just being the MVP every day. It’s a first, powerful step for healing the scars of the past and moving toward reconciliation.
Look up the history of the place you are organizing and activisting on. Did other people live there once? Were they kicked out in maybe not the nicest of ways? What was their name? Did they call the land you are on something different than what it goes by now? There are websites like https://native-land.ca that have mapped all this out—how helpful!
Once you have this all figured out, add the relevant names to the acknowledgment below. If you have a meeting with fellow activists or a date with your coven, make time for this statement at the beginning.
We honor and acknowledge the land we stand on. This is occupied territory that was once called (NAME) and is home to (TRIBE/NATION). We acknowledge that this land was stolen by settlers, and that the mistreatment of its first people continues to this day. While we live in a world that settlers created, we promise to work on building a better world with the help and leadership of this land’s original inhabitants. We honor this land and thank you for the many gifts you give us each day. Thank you for allowing us to fight on, with and for you.
A CLEANSING RITUAL
I promised you a more in-depth cleansing ritual in chapter 2 and now I’m delivering!
As I said all those many pages ago, cleansing can be about wiping off spiritual gunk, but it can also be about helping further spiritual transformation. Here, I’m going to give you ways to do both.
In the spirit of the previous exercise, here are some not-sage-y, not-palo santo-y ways to remove the spiritual stuff you don’t want sticking around anymore:
Try washing with:
For a transformative form of cleansing, do the following:
Recognize that a bad thing happened. Maybe you hurt someone, or maybe you were hurt by someone. Much as that sucks, you are acknowledging it, which is the first step in moving past it!
Knowing what bad thing happened, sit for a moment and think of how to transform it. You can’t go back and unmake it, so instead, what are you learning from it? This may take more than one sitting to uncover and might be done best with some tarot cards or a therapist—or both!
Once you’ve got the Bad Thing nailed down, as well as the Good Lesson you want to turn it into, get your cleansing supplies together.
Steep the herbs you will be using in water, if you are going to be using water, or get the burnable herbs and an object to burn them on like a shell or plate.
Wash yourself first. Take a shower or bath.
While you are still naked, do your spiritual cleansing. Stay in the shower or tub if you are using water.
Keep in mind the Bad Thing you are washing away, and wash down your body. Starting with your head, wash or swipe the smoke downward in a counterclockwise direction.
When this feels sufficiently wiped away, think about the Good Lesson you are trying to cultivate. Wipe up your body, now in a clockwise direction, until you feel this start to seep into you.
Cleansing, like all magic, is rarely a one-and-done sort of deal. Depending on what you are trying to transform and move past, this might take some time, but keep at it! We are all works in progress, and magic can help us with that progress! This particular approach doesn’t have to be your go-to in all matters of cleansing, but give it a try and see how it feels when you are dealing with hurts that go a bit beneath the skin.
MAKING AND WORKING WITH SPIRIT ALLIES
Witches throughout time have worked with spirits to help them cast spells, cure diseases, and defend themselves against enemies. Well, we’ve got plenty of enemies out there now, so I think it’s about time we start making allies!
Figure out the spirit you want to talk to and why. The good thing is you can talk to anything for any reason, but maybe try this out on smaller stuff before your fly across the country and climb a mountain to ask it for world peace.
Tell the place/object/spirit what your intentions are and what you want out of a relationship. Are you looking for a new friend or do you have a direct action coming up and you need to make sure the conditions will be right for it? What you are asking for is going to determine what you do in the next bit.
Make an appropriate offering. This can go from a glass of water and some incense smoke to a full bottle of booze and a home-cooked meal. I leave this bit up to your discretion—just remember not to litter and not to put yourself into debt because of this step.
Once you’ve made your offering, ask for a concrete sign it’s been accepted. This sign can be gleaned through your doing divination or can come in the form of birdcalls, wind gusts, or other natural phenomena. Go to the Talking to Land Spirits exercise (see page 136) for more info on what a personal language around this might look like.
If you don’t get a sign or you get a bad one, don’t worry, but you probably shouldn’t move ahead with your magical plans. This goes for plans big and small. Are you asking to pick an herb to use in a charm and your offering isn’t received? Don’t do it. Are you asking permission to build a highway and the spirits tell you no? Ditto.
If you get the go-ahead, push on! Do your magic, and remember to say thank you somehow when the spirits grant your request. How you thank them I also leave up to you.
You’ll notice that this set of instructions is nonspecific, but that’s intentional. What spirits you talk to, the reasons you talk to them, what offerings you can make, and how you communicate are going to depend on your culture, practice, financial situation, and location.
Here’s one recommendation about offerings, though. Some water and a loaf of bread might cut it for a one-and-done situation with a spirit. You know, if you need to get some rent money together and fast, so come on spirits let’s do this thing! But for spirits you want a long-term, deep relationship with, a little bit more is the way to go. Whatever spirits you end up working with, be they of place, rock, plant, animal, or idea, there is a good chance that they are now threatened by one of the many isms running rampant in our world. Think long and deeply about how your activism can help them, and let this be your offering. What you are able to give will obviously vary, and spirits know this, but just showing up and working on their behalf is the best way to make allies in this world or any other.
REINVENTING THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR
I love the Wheel of the Year. I really, really do. But some people? Boy, they really don’t gel with it, and this is totally understandable. I grew up in a place where the Wheel of the Year actually made sense. The town I grew up in was tiny—like two thousand people, two stoplights tiny. But it was also a tourist town, so that meant that in the winter about two or three stores were open and everything else was literally dead, and in the summer everything was open, alive, and there were people everywhere. The spokes on the wheel matched up perfectly with my lived experience. In fact, it was so perfectly natural it was one of the things that first pulled me to witchcraft. It just made sense.
There’s a good chance the classic wheel makes not a lick of sense to you. Maybe you live somewhere where it’s always warm and sunny, and this idea of “the return of the light” is laughable. Maybe you live “down unda,” and the wheel is flipped on its head. Maybe, like a good chunk of people, you live in a place with four seasons and solstices where they’re “supposed to be,” but you feel utterly disconnected from what they actually mean. And maybe on top of all that, the seasons where you live have been thrown off by, I don’t know, climate change?
What all this boils down to is that having a calendar based in natural cycles and both material and spiritual conditions makes sense, but that time and calendars aren’t a one-size-fits-all thing. In this exercise I’m going to take you through how “the witch’s calendar” is traditionally supposed to work, and if it doesn’t line up for you, I’m going to teach you how to remix it to better match the conditions of your life.
SAMHAIN (October 31)
Isn’t it great when Halloween is also your New Year’s Eve? The best holiday, no questions asked, kicks off the traditional Wheel of the Year with a bang. The last of the old-time harvest festivals, from here the dead lay claim over the land until six months later on Beltane. It’s a day for honoring the dead and dressing up to harass your neighbors for candy.
YULE (Winter Solstice)
This is the longest night of the year. If winter is the dead overtaking the earth, Yule is the day they consume it completely. Don’t worry though, because after this, the light only grows until six months later, on the summer solstice. It’s a good day for divination and communing with spooky, dark entities.
IMBOLC (February 2)
You can feel spring is just around the corner, can’t you? The days are getting longer again, and people are ready to be done with all the dark moodiness they’ve been carrying around. This is actually when most witch trials happened back in the day, because hey, after a long winter you may want to kill that weird neighbor of yours. Imbolc’s message is “have hope.” This is the final push, your second wind before the return of spring!
OSTARA (Spring Equinox)
Day and night are equal now until the scales tip and light triumphs! The dead have not all gone back to underworld, but the spirits of life and growing things are finally starting to get their groove back. Expect longer days and shorter nights for six months until the autumnal equinox. It’s a good day for starting new things and planting yourself into good soil.
BELTANE (May 1)
Beltane is Halloween in reverse. Instead of the dead laying claim to the earth, now the spirits of life get to have their way for six months. Flowers are waving their sex organs around for all to see (and some people are too). This is the difference between a Marilyn Manson show and a Björk show (I’m a nineties kid, in case you couldn’t tell)—both are days for partying and getting weird, but one is a celebration of death and the triumph of the underworld, while the other is a celebration of life and the triumph of the living earth. For our purposes in its incarnation as May Day, May 1 is also a holiday celebrated by socialists, anarchists, and lefty rabble-rousers the world over as one to fight for, and celebrate, liberation.
LITHA (Summer Solstice)
This is the longest day of the year. It’s Icarus before he falls out of the sky. The gods of life are fully in the driver’s seat today. It’s a reminder to live while you’re alive, because after today the days will grow shorter and the nights longer, until darkness takes hold once more. This is a big day for big magic—if there’s a holiday for dreaming big, it’s this one.
LUGHNASADH (August 1)
You feel the shadows begin to creep farther and linger longer. The trees that were fully green just weeks ago have been tinged with orange by the summer heat. Fall is on its way, and winter soon behind it. This is the first of the big harvest festivals, a time to start reaping what you have sown while the earth was in bloom.
MABON (Autumn Equinox)
The first day of fall is another day when time hangs in the balance. After this, we hop off the edge of the cliff and dive into the darkness below. This is the second harvest festival, after you have reaped your lessons from the year; how will you store them and let them sustain you through the darkness to come?
Now that you know how the Wheel of the Year breaks down, here is what I want you to do if the above doesn’t map well onto your life.
Take out a calendar. If all you have is an old one or a digital one, that’s fine.
Mark on that calendar the traditional holidays that do make sense. Personally, even if they don’t feel great for now, I really, really think you should at least keep the solstices and equinoxes in there since those are actual cosmic things that govern life on this planet.
Did you keep some of them? All of them? Why or why not? What about them makes sense or doesn’t make sense based on where and how you live?
Now go through the calendar, starting in January, and explore how each month or season feels to you. Like with the land exercise, write down what sensations, colors, songs, and food they remind you of. It’s okay if February only makes you think of hearts and October only makes you think of pumpkins. This is about attuning yourself to the rhythm of time within your community and environment.
Write down any holidays that you want to add, and cut out any that don’t make sense to you. Maybe you don’t celebrate Christmas, or you want to add the feast day of a saint. This is about marking dates that mean something to you and where you live.
Example: My new year isn’t January 1 or Halloween like it’s “supposed” to be for witches, because growing up, neither made sense. Halloween was the very end of “the season” and pretty much everything died after that, but that’s not really a “new” year. The traditional witchy new year was just sleeping to me. So the new year I decided makes sense is the winter solstice, since that’s tied to the light, and growing up our whole economy and way of life were built on the light.
After you’ve added and subtracted special days that make sense to you and move your year along, take a step back—what does it look like? Is it a neat circle, or are some times of the year fuller than others? How does this echo the rhythms of the seasons where you live?
Calendars give depth perception to time. They help us orient ourselves to our environment and ground us in rhythms that keep us from being alienated. Whatever your Wheel of the Year looks like at the end of this exercise, make sure it makes you feel grounded and connected.