21 November 2014

Book Review: Advanced Magick for Begginers

As I wandered Tumblr the other day (a truly dangerous pastime), I came across an interesting quote that a friend of mine had posted.  It was from a book called Advanced Magick for Beginners by Alan Chapman.  I'd never heard of it before, but it looked interesting and I decided to check it out and I'm glad I did.  I don't think I've had as much fun reading an occult book since Lon Milo DuQuette's Chicken Kabbalah.

This is a book less about how to do magick, and more about how to think about magick in order to actually be successful in its practice.  There are dozens upon dozens of books out there that give you recipes, formulas, charts, tables, etc. on what methods you can use to achieve your desired magickal result.  There are very, very few books out there that actually explain how to think about magick and, more importantly, how not to think about magick in order to get those myriad methods to be more than magickal theater.  Chapman does so beautifully.  This book is easy to read and easy to understand.  It's no-nonsense, no-frills, get the job done kind of writing.  Complex ideas are well broken down into bite-sized pieces with tangible explanations and none of the elitist obfuscation so often found in occult texts (not that there isn't a time and place for elitist obfuscation).

The book begins with the idea that you need to ask for exactly what you want in order to get it.  "The gospel is: 'you get what you ask for.'"  This is just a restatement of the idea that you need to clearly understand your intent before performing an act of magick.  As simple as it sounds, this is something that a lot of practitioners fail to do.  It's easy to think that you know what you want, but unless you take the time to really think about it chances are good that you'll miss your mark.

Another deceptively simple idea Chapman presents is: "Ensure there is a means of manifestation for the [magick].  For a [magick] to manifest in the material world, it must be within the game rules of the material world.  Humans do not fly." Magick is all about making whatever outcome you're trying for manifest in reality.  If there's no way for that to happen without breaking all laws of physics and probability, it's just not going to happen - or at least not in the way you want it to.  Once again, it sounds like simple common sense, but it's easy to overlook in the heat of the moment.

I've long been a proponent of the "do whatever works for you" method of magickal practices.  In Chapman's approach there are no "rights" or "wrongs" in magickal practice, just what works for you (in your head and out of it) at the time.  
 
"Magick is an art because it has no laws, only arbitrary aesthetics that dictate method (as long as you decide what an experience means, you can do anything, and it works). Magick is a science because it has methodology (however arbitrary), with results that can be corroborated by peers through independent enquiry... Magick is a culture because it has implicit social and ethical considerations... Magicians (in their various guises) have always strived to understand 'how' magick works so that they might be able to do it 'correctly.'  But whenever a magician wonders 'what is the correct method of getting a result?' they are falling victim to the fog of simplicity--because what you do, and the result you get, is your decision... So if magick is limited only by your imagination, just how beautiful will you make your magick? How ecstatic?  Will magick be the most fun you've ever had in [your] life, or just the reason your wrist aches?"


This book is pretty much perfect for folks who have been studying magick for a little while (maybe 3-6 months) and want to start really practicing well.  It's also great for folks who have been doing magick longer and want to start getting better results.  (I've been doing this for over a decade and I got something out of this book.) 

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book for an absolute beginner because it references a lot of different practices and methods that an absolute beginner just wouldn't be familiar with.  Although, this might be a good companion book to read along with some of the more common "101" texts out there, particularly if the beginner's got someone more experienced they can ask questions of.


05 November 2014

Book Review: Have You Been Hexed? Recognizing and Breaking Curses

I've just begun writing my Magickal Defense II class over at Shadowkrafting.com.  One of the books I read as part of my research was Have You Been Hexed? Recognizing and Breaking Curses by Alexandra Chauran.  Like most books on metaphysics, it has its strengths and weaknesses but overall is worth reading if you're new to the subject.  If you already have pretty decent knowledge of common psychic attacks and how to deal with them you won't get a lot of new information.

Strengths

One of the things I like most about this book is that it distinguishes between deliberate, purposeful psychic attack (think if evil practitioners slinging hexes over black candles) and the "common curse."  The common curse, as Chauran refers to it, is the unconscious or unskillful sending of negative energy from one person to another.  Real, deliberate, skillful hexing is incredibly rare.  To cast a truly harmful hex requires skill, practice, determination, energy, and a willingness to accept the consequences.  Very few practitioners with the knowledge and skill to cast such a spell will do so unless you've seriously wronged them or someone the love, making real hexes quite rare.  Common curses are much, much more plentiful.  Anytime someone cuts you off in traffic and you swear and shake your fist at them you are sending a common curse - a batch of negative energy sent their way.  A skillful hex can ruin someone's life; a common curse might make someone miss a traffic light - maybe - if the person is unlucky and has terrible natural shielding.  This distinction is important and rarely made so explicitly; kudos to Chauran for this.

I also like that Chauran takes the time to warn readers about the potential of fraud from psychics and other practitioners that a person might go to for help.  Sadly, in every group there will always be those looking to make a quick buck from the frightened and naive. We've all heard stories of someone going to a psychic to ask if they're under psychic attack and the psychic saying "Yes, you're under attack and for just $500 I can remove it."  While this type of fraud is quite rare (and highly illegal), it does happen occasionally and it's important for folks to be aware.  Chauran gives good information on how to avoid this type of fraud and instead find genuine help.  

Chauran also does a pretty good job explaining what type of symptoms are potential evidence of a real psychic attack and how to go about determining their validity.  I'd say about 1 in 25 people who think they're under psychic attack are actually suffering from the negative energy of others.  It's very easy to think you're under attack when, in fact, you're just having shitty luck or are getting ill.  Chauran looks at all the different warning signs of a potential psychic attack, shows how to look for mundane causes, how to eliminate erroneous "proof," and how to look at things objectively to figure out what's really going on.  I really like this pragmatic approach.  Too many "resources" on psychic attack are alarmist or are just trying to sell you something.  

I also like her thorough explanation on how thinking you're under attack can actually place a self-hex.  I've been trying to get clients to understand this for years.  If you believe you're under attack you will be - from yourself if not from the outside, or in the worst cases from both within and without.  Chauran gives good solid info on how self-hexes work and gives some reasonable info on fixing the situation.

Weaknesses

There are, of course, things in the book that I don't agree with - quite a few really.  

The first thing that bothered me was Chauran's insistence that any practitioner skilled enough to sling a harmful hex must have their lives put together.  I call Bullshit.  You can be smart and skilled and still suck at life.  All it takes to sling a really powerful hex is skill, energy, and an acceptance of the consequences.  There are plenty of hateful, miserable people who generally fail at life that have developed the skill of hating on others to a potent and powerful degree.  In fact, the more miserable a person is the more likely they blame others for their misfortunes and the more likely they are to take retribution for their perceived slights into their own hands.  Further, the more miserable someone is the more negative energy they'll have on hand to throw at others.        

Another thing Chauran lists are being necessary evidence for a hex is a distinct start date for the symptoms.  In theory this sounds reasonable - if someone places a hex on Wednesday night, symptoms should start turning up by Thursday morning right?  Well, not necessarily.  If you're looking at a common curse then yes, symptoms are going to start right after the negative energy is sent your way.  If you're dealing with a deliberate hex then maybe not.  It's perfectly possible to place a delayed or gradual hex.  For example, a skilled practitioner would probably make their hex more gradual and insidious to avoid immediate detection and make it more difficult to pinpoint and thus undo the hex.  While a distinct start date is strong evidence for the presence of a hex, its absence is not dispositive proof of a lack of hex.  Nitpicky? Perhaps.  But hey, I'm a lawyer and nitpicky is what I do.

My biggest issue with this book is its hex removal and prevention strategies.  I'm a down and dirty results driven practitioner.  I will beg borrow and steal from any tradition whose techniques actually work and will gleefully chuck the dross to the wind.  This book places a huge emphasis on prayer as a hex removal and prevention technique.  Yes, if you have a good relationship with a higher power then prayer can absolutely help with common curses.  If you don't have an established relationship with a higher power then it's a little less helpful.  Further, in my experience prayer alone will do basically nothing against a skillfully placed hex unless your relationship with deity is essentially being their personal saint. 

Chauran does give some good magickal advice on dealing with hexes.  I particularly like her suggestion of creating a sigil to represent the curse (particularly if it's on a place or group of people) and then ritually destroying it to dismantle the curse.  With the right magickal precautions, and a few extra bits thrown in, it's a great technique.  I don't know how well it would work from someone without a magickal background, but it's a solid technique.

Conclusion

Overall, I would recommend this book for a layman looking to find out "Am I cursed?"  It gives very decent information on how to determine whether you're the victim of a psychic attack.  It also gives decent information on the first steps someone should take in dealing with a common curse.  However, if you determine that you're probably the victim of a deliberate hex, then the info in this book is unlikely to be sufficient and you should seek the aid of a skilled defensive practitioner.  

If you're a defensive practitioner looking for more information to add to your arsenal then you can probably skip this one.  If you don't already have a checklist for determining if you're looking at psychic attack, then the identification sections of this book could be quite useful.  If you already have some decent cleansing and banishing techniques in your skill set then you can skip the hex breaking and prevention sections.

30 October 2014

Shadow Magick I - What is Shadow Magick?

I am pleased to announce my latest class, Shadow Magick I, which is available for enrollment today!  Head on over to Shadowkrafting.com to enroll :)

Shadow Magick I - What is Shadow Magick?

Class Description:  The purpose of this course is to answer common questions about what shadow magick is and what it isn’t, as well as giving students enough information to decide whether they want to pursue shadow magick as a discipline.  We will look at the fundamentals of shadow work and shadow magick as well as common misconceptions of both.  We will take a more in-depth look at what the shadow is and how to deal with it.  The course ends with a look forward into the next course, Shadow Magick II - The Work, and what to expect if you decide to move forward.  

Cost: $10 payable via paypal to signup@shadowkrafting.com

What you need to know beforehand:  This course is designed to be accessible by anyone who is willing to do a bit of introspection.  However, students with some magickal experience, preferably more than six (6) months, will get the most benefit.  Shadow magick as a whole is best when added to an existing set of magickal skills and practices.    

You will have no trouble with the course if you know the following (though it is not 100% necessary):
  • Visualization - You should be able to visualize the movement of energy in your mind.  If you have an imagination and can daydream then chances are you can do this without difficulty.
  • Basic energy manipulation - You should have a basic understanding of what energy is and be comfortable moving it, e.g. pulling energy and moving it into a candle to charge it.  If you are not comfortable charging an object you will have difficulty with some of the material in this class.
  • Basic spellcrafting - You do not have to be proficient in spellcasting, but you should understand the basic principles (such as like attracts like, contagion, etc.) and be able to perform simple spells.

Recommended resources if you’re not already there (note these are all from very different traditions):
Bird, Stephanie Rose. Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring with Herbs. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
Bonewits, Isaac. Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic. York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1989.
Cunningham, Scott. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1989.
Kraig, Donald Michael. Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts. Rev. and Expanded. ed. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2010.
Miller, Jason. The Sorcerer's Secrets: Strategies to Practical Magick. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page, 2009.

Required
  • This course is for students 18+ years of age.  There will be no exceptions under any circumstances.  
  • This course must be paid via paypal.  
  • This course is taught exclusively in English.  You must be able to read/write comfortably in English to participate.
  • All lessons are delivered as pdf files via email.  
    • You must have a functioning email address that you check regularly in order to receive your class materials.
    • You will need a pdf reader such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.  You can download it for free at http://get.adobe.com/reader/

Strongly Recommended (you will need in order to get the full value of your course)
  • Some lessons may include links to videos, so access to high speed internet will improve your experience.
  • This course includes one (1) one-on-one Skype or Google Hangout session with me.  You will need either a Skype or Google+ account (both free), along with a functioning webcam and microphone in order to have a one-on-one.

Lessons and Homework

All lessons will be delivered weekly via email as pdf files.  

This class does not include formal homework.  Instead it includes a series of suggested exercises and practices that are clearly labelled within the lessons.  You are encouraged to do all of the exercises and recommended practices, and to discuss your results with me, in order to get the maximum value out of this course.  

This course includes one (1) thirty minute one-on-one session with me via Skype or Google Hangout.  One-on-one sessions must be completed within three (3) months of enrollment.

Course Completion

Completion of this course is required before applying for Shadow Magick II - The Work.

23 October 2014

9 Day Santa Muerte Hex Breaking

I'm normally a very calm, collected person.  Years of shadow work and mediation have given me an incredibly even keel.  Thus, as you might imagine, it takes rather a lot to get me worked up about something.  There's a bit of an unseen consequence to just how difficult it is to make me angry - once I am angry, really and truly angry, I am implacable.  I become the unstoppable force and woe to anyone who gets in my way.  So when someone had the gall to hex someone I care about (it was bad enough that I actually felt the effects) and decided to take drastic measures.

The following hex breaking ritual isn't exactly white magick, so if you're uncomfortable with doing harm it is just not for you. 

9 Day Santa Muerte Hex Breaking


 
Each day for nine days (ending on the new moon) light a black candle and copal incense.  Draw a drop of your own blood onto a piece of paper.  Burn the paper and say:

Bendita Santa Muerte,
Fortaleza contra mis enemigos conocida o desconocida.
Hoy te pido que alejes de mi toda maldad.
Que todos los deseos negativos de los que me rodean ser neutralizado y terminado.

Más alta santa muerte,
Rompe todas las maldiciones que se han puesto sobre mí o mis intereses.
Por el poder de tu guadaña santo, me libre de los lazos de mis enemigos y destruir a todos sea grande o pequeño.
Que sus huesos se convirtieron en polvo y dejar sus restos esparcidos sobre los cuatro vientos que ni ellos, ni sus aliados ni descendientes serán nunca más levantarse contra mí o mio.

Bendita Santa Muerte,
Fortaleza contra mis enemigos,
En tus manos me encomiendo.  
Mi agradecimiento dama oscura.
Por tu voluntad así debe ser.

Let the candle burn for at least an hour (no more than three).

* I should note that during the course of this hex breaking I suffered a higher than normal amount of bad luck.  Between hellish commutes, some utter nonsense at work, an unusual bout of depression, and some really weird behavior from my house I'm pretty sure that the power of the curse I was lifting was fighting back.  Only use this if you really need to because drawing out a hex breaking just isn't a great idea.

Also, when I finished reciting the incantation on the last day I was...instructed (commanded?) by Santa Muerte to not speak for the rest of the day as a further price for her intervention.  It's a bit odd, but not an unheard of price.

19 October 2014

Shadow Magick and the Ooky Spooky

I love October.  I love Halloween.  I love Samhain.  I love Dia de los Muertos.  I love autumn and all its glorious accoutrement.  But you know what I don’t love?  I don’t love when people come up to me and say, “Oh, you do shadow magick?  I’m not really into all the spooky stuff.”  That’s when I facepalm so hard that my hand goes through my forehead and comes out the back of my brain stem.  *sigh*  So let me tell you a little bit about shadow magick and the “spooky stuff.”

Yes, I personally like the spooky stuff.  No, that has nothing whatsoever to do with my shadow magick.  In fact, my shadow working are probably the least “ooky spooky” of any workings I do.  Shadow magick, in its many forms, is about the process of magickally integrating the shadow or using that integrated shadow as a mechanism in other magickal workings.  It is serious work either way.  If a particular practitioner happens to like using spooky regalia in their shadow magick that’s their business, but it’s just not the way I do things.  

So let me be very clear about this: shadow magick does not equal gothcraft.  Gothcraft is just regular witchcraft with skull covered drapes done while listening to dark music. (There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact I rather enjoy it.)  Shadow magick is magick specifically involving the psychological shadow - the aspects of our personality that aren’t considered viable for public presentation.  They are totally different things.

Also, shadow magick is not evil or unethical.  A lot of people hear the word “shadow” and immediately associated it with “the darkness,” “evil,” or other things they consider unsavory.  The shadow is not evil.  Yes, our shadow contains bits of ourselves that we don’t like very much and yes those bits can be dangerous, but that doesn’t make them evil.  A huge part of shadow work is learning how to look at those oh so unsavory parts of ourselves and not see them as “evil” or “bad.”  The shadow is not evil, it’s just different and a little intimidating.  

Shadow magick is a discipline like any other, it can be wielded ethically or unethically by its practitioners as they see fit.  However, by its very nature it is more difficult to use shadow magick balefully than other forms of magick for two reasons.  One, you have to be extremely proficient in order to use shadow magick for anything other than the integration of the shadow (never really a bad thing).  Two, once you’ve reached the level of proficiency where you could use shadow magick to do harm you’ll be so integrated and balanced that you will rarely want to.  Shadow work makes people healthier psychologically and generally more stable and self-aware, this does not generally incline people to violence or harm towards others.  I’d be much more concerned about the holier than thou types than shadow workers any day.

Further, shadow magick does not equal the left hand path.  I don’t happen to practice the left hand path so I can’t really say much about it.  As I understand it, the left hand path is the practice of magick with a more personal approach to morality and ethics, often less strict than other forms of magick, and with greater emphasis on serving the self rather than the community at large.  While this is a rather interesting path, it really has nothing to do with shadow magick.  As I said earlier, shadow magick is a tool that can be wielded by practitioners of any path, it is not a path in and of itself.  

So yeah, shadow magick is not “ooky spooky.”  Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep and unabated love for the ooky spooky going back to my embarrassing teenage goth years.  It’s just that the ooky spooky has absolutely nothing to do with shadow magick.  So please, for the sake of my poor head, when someone makes a flippant comment about shadow magick being evil, set that person straight.  




27 September 2014

What is Shadowkrafting?

In exactly one week I will be launching Shadowkrafting.com, the website for my online correspondence courses in magickal defense and shadow magick.  This sort of begs the question: what is Shadowkrafting?

First off, Shadowkrafting is not a tradition.  I believe that magickal practice is deeply personal and thus should be different for each practitioner.  What works for one person may or may not work for someone else, so there really is no one "right way" to practice magick.  I believe that it's my job as a teacher to help my students find what works for them rather than asking them to slavishly do everything exactly as I do it regardless of how effective or comfortable it is for them. 

Though not a tradition per se, Shadowkrafting is essentially my magickal philosophy.  There's no disputing that there is darkness in the world that comes from both within and without.  There are three ways of dealing with this darkness: pretend it doesn't exist and hope for the best, run away from it and hide, or put on your big kid pants and face it.  Shadowkrafting is the art of facing the darkness magickally. I teach defensive magick, which is about facing the darkness that comes from the outside world, and shadow magick, which is about facing the darkness that comes from within.  It's about facing your fears, whatever they may be, and turning them into strengths.  It's about being truly empowered.  The ultimate goal of Shadowkrafting is living an empowered and authentic life while maximizing magickal potential.  It sounds a bit lofty for a simple series of courses, but I tend to have a "reach for the stars and you'll climb mountains" view of this sort of thing.

In the pursuit of these lofty goals you'll find certain values to be inherent in my lessons.  My number one value is personal responsibility - the idea that you are responsible for making your own choices wisely and then dealing with their consequences.  This is the main reason that I don't like giving explicit homework.  I prefer students to choose just how much effort they're going to put into a course.  I like to give a series of optional exercises and it's up to the student to choose to do them or not.  I only require certain work in a class if I believe it is absolutely critical to understand the subject or to do something safely.


Shadowkrafting is also about being flexible and responsive to whatever situation you find yourself in.  The real world is unpredictable and ever-changing, so to be truly useful your magick needs to be adaptable and responsive.  I try to make sure the techniques I teach can be adapted on the fly to changing scenarios.  Need to do a house cleansing in a pinch but you don't have your florida water on hand?  No problem, try smudging.  No smudge, how about about asperging with salt water.  No salt water...well...what have you got?  Olive oil, a q-tip, and a stalk of rosemary from the neighbor's bush.  Ok, I can work with that.

The bottom line for any magickal practice is that it has to work.  Magick is about manifesting our will in the world - be it in the world around us or within ourselves.  If a technique doesn't actually do that for you it's not worth the bother no matter how how impressive its lineage or who taught it to you. Magick is only useful if it is effective, so I only teach techniques that I know actually work.

Shadowkrafting is also about holistic magick.  It is my goal to teach my students information and techniques that will change their lives.  Effective magickal practice is a way of life.  Once you know how to effectively use magick it becomes a part of who and what you are as a person.  That makes it important to really understand how and why magick works, the full spectrum of its effects, and to choose the practices that fit with both who you are and who you want to be.  I want my students to think deeply about the practices I teach and really understand them, only embracing the things that fit holistically in their existing practices and their lives.


Ultimately, Shadowkrafting is my term for the type of magick I do.  It's what I know and what I teach.  Shadowkrafting consists of eclectic magickal techniques that effectively empower students to both affect change in the world and further their own spiritual growth.

12 September 2014

Why I Teach

As I prepare to launch my correspondence courses (shadowkrafting.com coming soon!), I've been reflecting a lot on my own personal philosophies and the reasons why I teach magick.  So I'm going to tell you the story of my very first ever Pagan ritual and why I teach magick the way I do.

Emily at Wellesley
Me my first year at Wellesley
It all began back in the fall of 1999 during my first semester at Wellesley. I'd been interested in magick for a little while at that point, but had only read a few books and tried a few things on my own.  Then one day I saw a friend of mine draped out in a flowing black cape and I asked where she was going.  She explained that she was on her way to the Pagan Students Group (PSG) Samhain ritual.  I asked if I could tag along, she allowed it, and we made our way to the ritual.

I wasn't exactly prepared for what I experienced.  I'd read about the Sabbats and rituals, but I had zero experience.  I hadn't really started my formal practice and only knew the bare minimum of how things were "supposed" to go.  So I just followed along what everyone else was doing and followed the HP's instructions...for the most part. 

Oh yes, my very first ritual and I was already doing my own thing (not exactly a genius move in hindsight).  We did a meditation to go to your astral temple and do something I can't recall.  Well, I didn't really have an astral temple per se, but I did have a spot that I would go to that would later become my astral temple.  While the HP led the group in whatever astral activity we were supposed to be doing, I went off on my own down a path into a dark forest.  As I said, I knew almost nothing and had no idea how dangerous that could be.  Luckily enough, when I got to the end of the path I found myself in a clearing surrounded by what I can only describe as my true family.  There were perhaps a dozen people there, all magickal folk, all welcoming me home.  It felt like being bear hugged by a star.  I felt my entire being shake and shift in that moment and I knew without a doubt that I had finally found my path.  To this day it is one of the most profoundly sublime moments of my life.

As the ritual ended I was excited and vaguely terrified (but in a good way) by what I had experienced.  I pulled my friend aside and explained what I experienced.  She was rather baffled by it and we went to the HP to ask her opinion of what had happened and to see if she could advise me.  I'm not sure what I expected from her, but what I got was: "Well that wasn't what you were supposed to do."  No understanding.  No advice.  No help whatsoever.  I had just had the most profound magickal experience of my life and she was totally uninterested.  Needless to say I was less than impressed by her leadership.

From that day forth I made it my mission to make myself available to anyone who found themselves in my former position to give them the help I wish I had gotten.  So I did what I do best and I obsessed with every fiber of my being until I was an expert.  I've now been teaching for almost a decade and have seen many students grow into powerful practitioners.  It's been a long and difficult journey, but a rewarding one. 

Me by my Junior year - President of PSG

That is why I teach - because when I needed a teacher the most there wasn't one to be found.  That is why I will answer just about any question people will put to me. I teach defensive magick because the things I experienced at Wellesley freaked me out and there was no one to advise me.  I try to make sure my courses are easy to understand and as practical as possible.  The most boundless knowledge is nothing if it can't be understood.  All the theory in the world is useless if it can't be put into practice.  I put exercises in my lessons so my students can get real practice so they can be prepared when they need to be.  I'm happy to talk to students about the issues they face in their lives because I would have given up favored body parts to have had that back when I was new.  I teach in the hopes of helping people to not be the frightened newbie that I was.