And now we get to the very interesting Chapter 6 – Vengeance and Attack. This chapter is another favorite of mine, for its sheer chocked-full-of-witchy usefulness.
Robin Artisson – Witch, Folklorist, Renegade Mystic and the author of a number of well-regarded Craft books, including The Witching Way of the Hollow Hill, The Horn of Evenwood: A Grimoire of Sorcerous Operations, Charms, and Devices of Witchery and most recently, The Resurrection of the Meadow – shares his thoughts on the chapter below.
Currently, Mr. Artisson is writing a series of guest posts at American Folkloric Witchcraft.
For your reading ease, bits from Mastering Witchcraft are quoted below, with discussion points. The bolded bits are Robin’s responses.
——————————————hapter Six, in which Our Hero ‘Turns to the Dark Side’
“…the means used for effecting destructive ends is exactly the same as those used for constructive purposes. The only difference lies in the magical intent and the symbolism involved.”
It has been said if, as a witch, you can’t blast, then you can’t bless. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
I very much agree with the statement “if you can’t blast, you can’t bless.” Of course, words are magical in and of themselves; a “spell” is, after all “a word, phrase, or form of words supposed to have magic power; a charm; incantation.” We have to be careful with words, and understand that a simple restatement of the issue can change everything about how we’re engaging this topic. What about reversing the negatives in the statement, and making them positive:
“If you can bless, you can blast.”
“To bless” means many different things to many different people. It can be as simple as a fond, benevolent wish for the well-being of another, stated out loud, sometimes “bolstered” by the simple names of divine powers that you’d like to witness and add power to your statement; or, it can be as complicated as a true “reaching in” to the level of the Fetch, the Unseen world, and actively adding a specific witching force to the Unseen body of another, to bring about a positive change. Anyone who can do any of those things already necessarily has the power to make a spiteful, hateful wish for the harm of another, stated aloud or written, and bolstered by the names of spirits or divine powers that they’d like to witness and add power to the curse.
Or, if that person already had the ability to reach into the Fetch and implant beneficent witching force, they certainly have the power to reach in and implant a malevolent force. Now, just because someone CAN do these things, doesn’t mean that the person will always have the sort of personality that can stand it- it takes a hard heart to really force malevolent powers into the Unseen aspect of the body or mind of another. Thus, a gentle person who can bless will necessarily have the skill to curse, but possibly not the personality or the inclination. And those things are very important.
What are your personal ethnics for when/if to bind or curse? What do you believe the dangers to be when you engage in such magic?
When my family, my children, my close friends, the powers to which I am bound, or myself are directly threatened by the deeds of another, I will undertake to bind or curse them, to remove the threat. “Threatened” here means many things- it can mean that our physical harm is a possibility; it can mean that our livelihood may be harmed or taken from us (this includes our homes or our lands); or it can mean that the enemy intends to spiritually harm us somehow. This last threat is certainly rare in this world today, but the possibility must be left open.
A person engaging in such activities as binding or cursing must always bear in mind the astounding range of possibilities implied in the term “cunning”- if you have a cunning enough mind to really bind or curse (and yes, it takes a special person to really pull it off) then you have enough cunning to think of ways to solve the problem that might not have to boil down to “plain old spite”- in lieu of cursing a person, or binding their person, one can work to change circumstances in that person’s life such that they no longer have the time or inclination to continue on hindering you or threatening you. That’s just as effective, and sometimes more so, than the direct attack.
You have to know yourself when it comes to these things. Admittedly, it is easier to just blast an individual most of the time than to really start manipulating causality that surrounds them, and thus, most of us will want to take the easy, fast way. The real danger there is that you are under using the cunning gift of a mind that you have, and it needs to be exercised, used to its full potential, if you want it to grow in power. The fastest, quickest way may get you the most satisfaction, but “fast and easy” doesn’t mean “best”, not always.
Another danger of binding and cursing is the quality and types of powers Unseen that you must invite into your mind and body to perform them. Sadly, those sorts of powers are by nature destructive and dangerous, and while many are easy enough to conjure, not all are so easy to be rid of. The single biggest danger that I face, and which I do my utmost to avoid, stems from the fact that I have a family. When you do those sorts of works, you are changing yourself, at the deep level- and thus, you change subtle aspects of your environment, and you have a real, subtle impact on those who surround you, in your daily system of living.
A person fresh from cursing, from really engaging malevolent powers, is not someone I want around my family or my home. When a person penetrates into the Unseen and finds power there- witching power, or a hex- and then takes it back “here”, to use it, they warp and bend many things: themselves, the target of the hex, and the environment around them. Bad things can begin to mysteriously occur around them, which can be costly to those nearby. Real cursing or binding has to be done away from your home, away from friends and family- in some lonely, distant place, and for good reasons!
And before you re-integrate yourself into your friends and family and home, you need to be certain that you have “un-witched” or un-hexed yourself and your subtle body as much as you can. That can be easier said than done, particularly if you perform a powerful witching. What most people in this field don’t understand- poor amateurs- is that “your” witching activities are never just “yours”- you are part of this world, and of countless systems of interaction, seen and unseen. What you do in witching has an impact, surely and without fail, on many things you might not want it to. Cursing and binding, particularly, are unavoidably dangerous for this reason, even for the very skilled. This is why they are best left as final resorts, and why finding ways around them are desirable.
“The person who knows he has been laid under a curse, whether he believes in the practitioner’s powers or not, is actually in a far more receptive state of mind than he who remains in ignorance of the fact.”
This statement seems to contradict the fourth corner of the witch’s pyramid – to keep silent. Are there instances in which you would let your target know he’s in your magical crosshairs? Why or why not?
If my “target” is a fearful person, a weak-minded person, easy to emotionally manipulate, I might consider letting them know what I was doing. The highly superstitious can be very vulnerable to suggestion- they will, if fearing some supernatural attack, begin seeing the supernatural everywhere they look, and then blaming it on me- which is fine by me, because it increases their paranoia, takes away their peace of mind, and makes them worry much- a state of broken mindedness that I wouldn’t mind a person being in, if they really raised my ire. The humorous side of this lies in the fact that one may not even need to go through with an actual binding or curse; the mere threat, implanted in the mind of a particularly weak person, can ruin them by itself. But of course, there really is no “mere” threat- words, as I said before, have an innate magical power to change reality.
It all comes down to knowing your target. A target who doesn’t believe in sorcery or the supernatural- which can sometimes be a function of a strongly skeptical mind (itself a real sort of strength, even if it lacks wisdom) can be harder to reach, despite the long-held belief that they are easier to reach, owing to their lack of preparation to defend themselves.
Belief has a bit of power in it too- and so does lack of belief. I like to think of it like a rusted door. If the door is not locked, as it should be if a threat was about to try to enter, it can still be difficult to open, because of the rust. Skepticism and the denial of the Unseen is like a rust on the mind. Skeptical minds are not locked and barred, as a wise mind is at times; but they can still be hard to force a crack in. Once cracked, they have less ability to deal with what they experience, and so they “fall harder” than people who had open minds before.
“Keeping silent”, like any of those “rules” on the witches pyramid, are really more suggestions than rules. There is a time to keep silent, but it isn’t always. Part of the sorcerous Art lies in the impact you do have on others, and this can’t be denied. The witch alone, with no one to know what he or she is doing, will never have a chance to really get into the interaction system with other human minds and souls. You won’t get business! It’s important that at least one or two people know some tantalizing hints about what you’re up to- and after that, being silent only makes your mysterious reputation grow in their minds, and that does, through some mysterious mechanism, give you an edge.
Like curses, the Art of Witchcraft generally is a serious matter. It is a true and ancient spiritual vocation, and it comes with up’s and downs, pleasures and dangers. We have to take it seriously before other people will.
“The Black Fast method … every mealtime you should, if possible, confront what you would consider a delicious meal … and sternly reject it, in favour of a morsel of food, a glass of water … beginning and ending the fast within a properly cast circle, with the circumambulations performed ‘widdershins’ … and naming your intention in the form of a curse.”
What would be the implications of working the Black Fast in combination with a housle/red meal, to set a feast before the gods and cause Them to fast along with you, perhaps finishing with a consummated housle at the end of a specified time or when the work is accomplished?
Well, the theory here is quite sound, but dangerous. I wouldn’t do this with any spirit who was once worshiped as a “God”. I might, however, do this with familiar spirits and Magistelli who are bound to me through old bonds of affection or business dealing. The only way it might work with them would be if you swore the most fearsome oath you could to really, really satisfy them after the whole nasty business was over with offerings far beyond the ordinary magnitude that you give them. You really would have to make up for this kind of work!
The Black Fast itself is a very potent piece of work because it affects the body as much, or more, than the mind and fetch. The body is a pool of sorcerous powers, and this is something that most don’t really understand. The body is not “mere flesh”- it is power, full of power. To force pain into it, pleasure, hunger, terror, exhaustion- these sorts of things literally conjure powers out of the body and make them available to your will, for use in workings. These sorts of practices- mortifications, ordeals- they are as old as the hills, when it comes to doing sorcery.
That’s the only issue with making spiritual beings “Black Fast” with you- they have different sorts of bodies, so they experience these things differently. But the theory, as I said, is still sound, and it teeters in a region of real potential for power and real danger. Spirits are never 100% predictable. One can’t know when they might go a little bizarre or even turn on you. If I had committed myself to doing this “Conjunctory Black Fast”, I would do divinations for weeks to be sure that I wasn’t going to set off a chain of ill-will that might consume me (or those close to me) fully.
“ … within the altar triangle itself should be your candle of bewitchment … You must now tune your deep mind to the correct wavelength… Allow yourself to be possessed by wrath and fury as you again perform your circumambulations widdershins … Then take your scarlet candle in your right hand and with your left begin to anoint it with Sabbat oil. Start at the centre of the candle and work first up then down, up again and then down again. Keep this up for a full five minutes … with each stroke, you should chant a jingle of your own devising …When you have completed the anointing … place it within the altar triangle, and trace a glowing blue circle cross in the air above it with your Athame. Light it with the words: ‘So mote it be!’ Then settle down to a vigil of concentrated hate or rage. Keep this up until the candle burns itself out. (Because of the strain involved in doing this, it is best to employ fairly slender short tapers.)”
Does this method differ from how you usually set candles? If so, how?
This is a very ubiquitous method of dressing and burning candles for sorcerous practices. Something just like it is found in Louisiana and Mississippi Hoodoo, so I think it’s quite old. I have dressed candles and used them in this way before, always with satisfactory degrees of success.
But these methods- all of them- are very “extrinsic”- very oriented around materials, objects, outward gestures. And while that is fine, and powerful in its own right, my own Craft relies on a far more intrinsic orientation- more often than not, my work isn’t done with what some call my “physical body”, but with my soul or my fetch. I’d rather fly after what I’m seeking, or find spiritual beings to bargain with for a certain outcome, than to try to endow objects with power and manipulate them. Those things are fine and traditional, but I’m just a different sort of fiend.
Would you incorporate some of these elements into your current candle burning practices?
My current “candle burning practice” really only uses candle flames for light at night, or to create doorways of fire into the Unseen world that my spoken incantations can pass through. I don’t keep up a regular “candle burning practice” in the sense you mean. But I would if something came up that inspired me to do it, or convinced me of its necessity.
“The Spell of the Black Cross or Reversed Pentagram … obtain a reasonably recent photograph of your victim… name the photograph by asperging and fumigating it … ‘breathe life’ into the photo symbolically … bear the photograph around the circle, clockwise … chant the victim’s name at each of [the quarters] …draw the circle cross of death or the reversed pentagram on the photograph, very slowly and deliberately … chanting as you do … some statement of intent….Complete the ritual by exhibiting the charged photograph held in your left hand to the north, west, south and east, in that order three times consecutively…Each time you raise the symbol, announce at each quarter: ‘As the symbol dwindles so shall my words prove effective!’ … All that remains to be done now is to destroy the photograph slowly.”
A damned fine curse. How would you use it, and, if not for cursing, then to what other end? Are there ways you might change it to make it your own?
A damned fine curse, indeed. I would use it as written, though the substances I would use (the worts and herbs that I might fumigate the photograph in) will be unique to me, as I create unique blends for these purposes. I wouldn’t be just showing the photograph to the quarters generally; I would be calling upon the names of specific familiar powers and magistelli that are bound to me, to recognize the photograph. I might not use a reversed pentagram or a cross of death on the photo; those symbols do have a lot of fiendish power to the minds of our modern folk, but other signs are older and, in a sense, more potent or more deadly, like the hex-sign.
If you had a picture of a tumor in a person’s body, taken by X-ray, you could use this ritual to diminish the tumor, in theory. Even a tumor (theoretically) can be “named”, just as a building can be- this rite could be used to work to the destruction of a place, as well. Of course, when dealing with buildings, or with tumors (to use my two examples) you have to remember that you are also dealing with persons. This may sound odd to some (though not to all of you, I hope!) but no tumor grows without dangerous non-human persons attacking the fetch-body of the cancer patient- the fetch body, or what some anthropologists call “the free soul.” The fetch, in the sense of the subtle body, is the real location where illness originates; what occurs in what we call the “physical body” is a secondary affect. So, the tumor is a sign of the presence of a malevolent power.
This grows even more complicated when you realize that the power causing the tumor can be of many natures, but one sort of power is unstoppable: if the spirit-women, the Pale Women, or the Fetch-ancestresses whose task it is to allocate the outcomes of Fate to each of us (to each individual and each family) are causing the disease, they can’t be stopped. Some say you can bargain with them for terrible cost, but I wouldn’t even bother with that. Sometimes, illnesses, like any other destructive part of nature, have to happen. We can’t know why, really, and we’re wise to be okay with that.
Some, of an even darker- and much older- temperament have said that these sometimes deadly maidens can be convinced to kill another in the place of their original intended, and while there’s some evidence that this was a widespread belief at one point, I always wonder if this was only possible when a spirit of another type was causing the illness. At any rate, “scapegoating” death off onto another is a well-known operation in some parts. I know some of the theory behind it and could likely make a good attempt of it, but it introduces perils that are of a high magnitude.
Just so, places are persons, too. Buildings, particularly older ones, gain a spiritual presence, and sometimes more than one. These come from the land upon which it was built, plus from the presence of human families that have bonded with the place, and live and died there. To destroy a place with this kind of curse is a direct attack on them, not just on wood or stone or mortar. So, one would have to discover, via sorcerous insight, who, precisely, they were, before the naming could be effective.
“…take a small amount of purified salt, coriander seed, and a small carnelian, or sardstone… grind the substances together…Divide the resultant mixture into three heaps…As midnight strikes, scoop one of the heaps into your left hand, and chant the first part of the spell, passing [the heap] from hand to hand, to and fro, as you do …cast the mixture into the thurible fire with your left hand. As it blazes up, continue …”
Do you reckon midnight as 12:00 am, or calculate the time which is the exact center of the night you are working in? Do you observe the sun dipping below the horizon and raising above the horizon the night before for yourself, or do you look up sunset and sunrise online?
Traditionally, and most powerfully, you want to avoid clocks. Try to find the “true midnight” from observation of the rising and setting of the sun. This is a crucial, ancient, and powerful activity. It will benefit your workings greatly, and your own soul greatly, as a connection arises between yourself and the world seen and unseen through such close observations of the natural world.
You can go by “clock midnight”, and that’s fine. Just not as strong. Finding sunrise and sunset times in almanacs and doing some math is even better. But for some reason, it’s just not as good as pure observation and deduction. But there’s something even better than midnight, however you find it- there’s the Working Time. I call it that, because no other name suits it; when the familiar powers that help you in the Craft send the chilling call into your soul, there, somewhere in that lonely night, telling you that now is the time to work, that’s when you should work. It’s always inevitably a time when things seem very strange or disturbing, a time at night when you feel on edge.
Again, how could you use this method for work other than vengeance?
By changing the mixture of the herbs, timing the work to some other celestial or natural occurrence, and changing your intention and your words.
“…when you feel sure your enemy is sleeping, cast a circle … visualizing the face of your victim in the altar triangle, and beginning at the east, begin circling the altar and rotating on your own axis counterclockwise. As you do, chant … whenever you find yourself facing the altar, strike it hard with the switch held in your left hand.”
How would you adapt these methods, say, to bless a baby or a newly-married couple?
By visualizing these people- or this baby- in the manifesting triangle, and rotating clockwise, and sprinkling them with benevolently-blessed water and herbs, from an evergreen bough.
“…powerful practitioners of the occult have generally been credited with powers of weather working…During the Middle Ages, however, in Christian lands, at any rate, this skill, where demonstrated, was seen simply as another manifestation of ever-present Satan’s power.”
Some witches take the concept of ‘harm none’ to extremes, being unwilling to engage in spellwork or to specify an outcome, in favor of raising energy and leaving it up to the gods to direct.
Are such practices prayer rather than magic? How do you personally discriminate between prayer and magic? Is there a place for prayer in the witch’s toolkit?
Such practices are under the assumption that “Gods” are sitting around waiting for raised power to kick somewhere or manipulate on behalf of humans. Even if a group of religiously-oriented witches (the sorts that focus on spirits that were once worshiped as “Gods”) think that they are gaining the attentions and favors of their Gods, you run into problems. Powerful enough spirits aren’t sitting around waiting for astral phone calls from groups of humans. They are busy doing whatever mind-bending things powerful spirits do. They have “lives”, too, though my words here are inadequate to express what I’m really trying to say.
The Universe, this cosmos, is a system, a vast system of interactions seen and unseen. Powerful beings whose very presences go back to the roots of the system- we can call them “Gods” if you like- aren’t passive and waiting for “the next thing to happen”. They are engaged in systemic interactions of a high or deep and profound nature.
Thus, I always believe that the chances of some humans- even powerful humans- gaining the real attentions of spirits that were once called “Gods” is a pretty dim affair. Now, spirits who perhaps serve those other, more powerful spirits, they can be contacted and “contracted” and entered into bonds of relationship with. They can be more “localized”- and are. I recently wrote a substantial work on this very subject. These spirits, these familiars, these “Little Masters” (Magistellus) can be more attentive to the needs of human covenants of witches. If someone told me that a team of witches was just “raising power” and sending it up to “Gods” to do with as they will, and then those same witches reported that they “got what they wanted” from the work, I would never assume that the “Gods” did it. I would assume that fetch-powers local to them, spirits who surround them and work closely with them, were the ones who did it, who manipulated that power (assuming any power was really “raised”) and caused some mysterious changes that brought about good outcomes for them.
I wouldn’t rule out that super-powerful spirits CAN do whatever they want, but I don’t assume it automatically, either- I keep a respectful, realistic perspective on this.
Such a practice as you describe would be a sort of prayer, but more of a devotional action, a raising of a gift of power to a being in the Unseen world, tied up with the hopes that this being will do something they want or need with it. It’s certainly more “religious” in nature than out-and-out sorcery, but in what you describe, we are seeing one of the many places where “religion” and “sorcery” cross boundaries and overlap with one another. It’s a very indistinct place, a place where things mix and combine and it’s hard to separate things out.
Prayer, for me, is simply communication– but communication is hardly ever simple! When I’m praying, I’m saying something, a message, that I hope will reach the spiritual beings to whom I wish to communicate. A prayer may contain a wish; it may contain many things, but it is ultimately just a message, a statement of how the person praying is feeling and thinking at the moment. The value in prayer is that it builds up the reality of communication between the seen and the unseen, in the mind of the person doing it. Such a reality is a powerful ingredient in sorcery- it helps to shape a sorcerous mind- but it is not in and of itself, in my opinion, sorcery.
So yes, to the extent that prayer builds up the consciousness of the reality of “spectral communication”, it has a place in witchcraft.
How likely are such practices to be unknowingly rooted in the Christian paradigms of “God’s will be done” and “God knows best”?
There is some wisdom in statements like “God’s will be done” and “God knows best”. Or, should I say, there is a seed of wisdom in them, something very small and slight, which can grow into real wisdom, if a person’s mind is cunning enough to grasp the subtlety here. Fate is a reality. For centuries, the notion of Fate has been conflated with the idea of the providential will of the Hebrew God. The Hebrew God is the Hebrew God; Fate is Fate, and they are not the same thing. But in the minds of Christians or Jews or Muslims, they are the same thing.
So, you can look through their religious language and gain some value here, if you want- Fate will be what Fate will be, and all of our sorcerous workings fit into that easily- Fate’s system is massive and includes many parts, including magical parts, and the persons who engage the Art. We can’t ultimately know what role we play as sorcerers in the unfolding of things; that doesn’t change the fact that we do what we do because a fire in us burns to do it- if you look around you, you’ll see that not everyone is attracted to these kinds of Arts! We are a real minority!
So, we are strange aspects of Fate, and maybe, through us, Fate makes extraordinary things come to pass, or at least provides herself with a venue of possibilities for things to happen, which adds some life and variety and mystery to the whole system.
In the end, it matters not at all; there is a real, earthy, and ancient wisdom found in realizing that we all live in the hands of greater powers, and that many things just have to happen, and we don’t have to worry over-much about them- like death. None of us chose for death to exist in Nature, in the system of Fate; yet, all of us are subject to it. Not being in our power, it’s not something we should worry over. Being an aspect of Fate or Nature, death is neither good nor evil- it’s just death, just a part of how the basic rules of reality work. It doesn’t have a “moral” value of its own.
We can take it as a good thing, or an evil thing, based on our attachments and hopes and opinions, but that’s just unwise human activity. The wise withdraw those sorts of opinions from the great, fateful powers, and just let those powers be. Because those powers will be, regardless.
There’s something very liberating about just letting the world be the world, and letting things play out. It’s very peaceful, and it gives you rest. There’s no need to do as Christians do and fight death, fight the world, hate the world, call it sinful or flawed, or try to “overcome” death with dreams of bodily immortality. The sort of natural immortality we all have- that of the soul and fetch- is not only enough, but the only immortality you’ll ever have or need. And this sort of existence demands that you negotiate with it, come to terms with it. To accept that is to be mature on every level, and wise!
I would never say that “Fate knows best” because it isn’t clear if Fate is an actual being, with some will, or just a name given to the collection of interacting powers that deeply bind everything together and bring things to their needful end. I will say this, though- “Fate is what must be” and “Fate is how things end.” The end is all that’s ever true, they say; but the witch knows one more chapter in the book of Fate- always one more chapter- because “endings” are never really just endings, after all.