09 January 2015

Book Review: Confessions of a Reluctant Ghost Hunter

The other day I was looking through book reviews in back issues of The Cauldron and saw one that caught my eye.  Confessions of a Reluctant Ghost Hunter: A Cautionary Tale of Encounters with Malevolent Entities and Other Disembodied Spirits by Von Braschler was the book.  The title sounded like it was right up my alley and The Cauldron rarely steers me in the wrong way.  I wasn't disappointed.

The problem I have with most books about ghosts, hauntings, and ghost hunting in general is that they either make all ghosts seem as friendly as Casper (Oh, all ghosts want is to be loved and acknowledged.  Please, feel free to go and try to hug the angry elemental.)  or they make ghost hunters look like white knights fiercely laying to rest malevolent monsters that lurk in every corner (An evil demon, fear not! My mighty flashlight and salt shaker shall save you!).  I was delighted to find that this book did neither of those things.

This is, quite possibly, the most realistic book I've ever read on what encountering spirits and other metaphysical beings is actually like.  At first I was skeptical.  Braschler explains that his "training" to "de-ghost" houses consisted of two meetings with a cheerful new-ager who said to talk to the spirits and get them to move on, and to simply "stake and salt*" the house if it didn't want to go.  As you might imagine, this did not inspire my confidence in the tales to come.  However, Braschler then details just how insufficient that information was and how problematic it made his later encounters. 

The encounters described in this book will be instantly recognizable to anyone experienced with the paranormal as residual hauntings, intelligent hauntings, spirit flight, and non-human hauntings - though Braschler never describes them as such.  The details of the hauntings Braschler experiences are incredibly authentic in their sheer banality.  Most hauntings that you read about in books are fairly spectacular (books flying off shelves, screaming in the night, scratches on the unwary etc.), but the average haunting is just not that interesting.  Real hauntings are made of fleeting images out of the corner of your eye, odd chills at unexpected times in unexpected places, and utterly unverifiable "coincidences" that make you think you're losing your mind. These are the hauntings Braschler describes, with a few exceptions.  

The thing that most struck me about Braschler's tale that make me actually believe him is the way he describes his experience of the paranormal.  He doesn't talk about glowing lights or strange writing, he talks about having to ground and center himself and deliberately open his mind to the frequency where the paranormal can be perceived.  He doesn't describe it as easy or natural, but as a skill that requires practice and effort.  He talks about freaking himself out when going into a building that he's been told is haunted, but never really perceiving anything there that can make him confidently say the place is or isn't haunted.  He doubts his perceptions and he doubts his ability to do anything about what he perceived.  That is the reality of dealing with the paranormal: thinking you probably understand what's going on but always doubting and always needing more proof.

 There are, of course, exceptions to the normally dubious veracity of the paranormal.  I've come across the undeniably paranormal (think demons trying to eat your head) two or three times.  Braschler deals with it twice.  This is totally believable, unlike those ghost hunters who claim to banish demons every damned day.  In the last encounter described in the book Braschler gets called in by a friend to de-ghost their trailer and ends up facing down a dark non-human entity that he's woefully unprepared to deal with.  It doesn't go well. This should surprise no one.  It takes a trained and experienced practitioner to deal with the nastier dark entities. 

If you're interested in dabbling in the paranormal I highly recommend you read this book first.  Read about what actual encounters are like before you go into that purportedly haunted house.  If you recognize yourself in the stories then do yourself a favor and get some solid defensive training before you hurt yourself.

Experienced practitioners that enjoy tales of the paranormal will enjoy this too.  I know I did.

*Braschler describes the process of staking and salting a property as driving four large iron spikes (think railroad size nails) into the ground at the cardinal points of the property and calling the watchtowers to guard the property, then to create a line of salt as a perimeter to keep the spirits out.  Yes, these actions can be a part of a successful banishing but alone they're not going to do much against something that really wants to stick around.

23 December 2014

Book Review: Hands of Apostasy

A few months ago I picked up Hands of Apostasy: Essays on Traditional Witchcraft at my favorite local occult shop Edge of the Circle.  I slowly made my way through this book and finally finished the last essay about ten minutes ago.  I must say there's something delightfully profane about reading essays on Traditional Witchcraft while listening to Christmas music.
I highly recommend this book for anyone with any interest in Traditional Witchcraft. 

The essays cover a wide range of subject matter from intensely academic explorations of historical practices to quick and easy essays on specific modern rituals.  There is not one bad essay in this book - and that's really saying something given the subject matter. 

I read this book with very, very little knowledge of Traditional Witchcraft (I'm more of a make stuff up as you go kind of gal).  The entirety of my knowledge of Traditional British Witchcraft comes from Hutton, Heselton, and Gardner - which is not a whole lot.  I think having a better background in Traditional Witchcraft would have made some of the reading easier, but I don't feel like I suffered for lack of background.  Take that how you will.

My favorite essay was the beautifully written "Mirror, Moon and Tides" by Levannah Morgan.  In this piece Morgan tells how she learned to scry naturally occurring tide pools and then sun and moon charged mirror bowls.  This essay has that rare quality of both being magically interesting and informative while also being a work of literary quality that actually moves the spirit.  I pretty much loved every word.

I also particularly enjoyed "Waking the Dead: The Ancient Magical Art of Necromancy" by Michael Howard and "Conjure-Charms of the Welsh Marches" by Gary St. Michael Nottingham.

My only criticism (that's barely a criticism) is that the reading level of these essays vary tremendously, to the point where it can be a little jarring as you move from essay to essay.  However, that's not a problem at all if you put the book down between essays; which you really should because these essays require thought and post-reading pondering.  A few of the essay are very dense and very academic - to the point where I actually had to break out the dictionary several times.  I have a BA in philosophy and a JD; I read Heidegger for fun. When I say an essay is difficult to read I really mean it.  It's totally worth it though.

Truly, if you have any interest at all in Traditional Witchcraft go directly to your local high quality occult shop or directly to Three Hands Press and get this book.

18 December 2014


It's almost Yule and here in the US it means that there's mistletoe hanging in every department store and many homes.  In most places this means plastic mistletoe, but some folks go the extra mile and manage to find fresh mistletoe.  It's lovely and very festive.  It also means that there are some stores I just can't go in.  Yes folks, I do not like mistletoe or - more accurately - mistletoe does not like me.

A few years ago I was hanging out in a lovely cemetery in Medford, Or and as I walked into a particular area I felt an intense aversion to it - like something really didn't want me there.  I looked up and realized I was standing under a huge clump of mistletoe in an oak tree.  Then I noticed that all of the trees in that part of the cemetery were completely infested with mistletoe, while the area I had been in before was mistletoe free.

Mistletoe Berries Uk. Licensed under PD via Wikipedia.

I didn't think much about it until I was in another Southern Oregon and had a similar experience.  Apparently mistletoe and I do not get along.  Being near too much of it absolutely makes my skin crawl.  Something about its energy and mine are just antithetical. 

This rather bizarre phenomenon made me look up some of the history and lore surrounding mistletoe.  Mistletoe is sacred to Druids and is believed to protect against evil and death (as well as lightning and a few other things).  The most famous story associated with mistletoe is its involvement in the death of Baldur, the Norse god of beauty and light (in brief: Loki did it); but despite this it is still considered a largely beneficial plant in Norse mythology.  So why does it make me feel like it hates me? 

Well, I did find one bit of lore saying the mistletoe works as protection against baleful witchcraft.  Now, I don't make a practice of casting baleful magick but a lot of what I do is a bit...well..gunmetal grey if not black exactly.  So it's possible that mistletoe just doesn't get along well with shadow magick or maybe just my flavor of it.   Very weird.





07 December 2014

Being a Mixed-Race Pagan Today

When everything started with Ferguson I wasn't going to talk about it.  When people started protesting I wasn't going to talk about it.  But you know what, with all that's happening at the moment I think I really need to talk about it.

Little ol' me
When most people look at me they don't think, "Oh, she's a latina" or "she's mixed-race" because I look pretty ethnically ambiguous.  I grew up comfortably middle-class in a liberal white bread suburb, and because I didn't look different enough for most kids to see me as "other" I wasn't really aware of race until I got older.  Of course, I also thought it was completely normal to have tostones and pasteles along with roast beef for Christmas dinner. 

However, as I got into my teens my mom started telling me stories about growing up in segregated military bases and having to sit on the upper balconies in movie theaters and having to use different drinking fountains.  It was a hell of a shock to me to think that my mom had been subjected to such insanity and the idea of anyone being treated differently because of their race was just unthinkable to my Edmonds bred mind.  The reality of her experiences were so foreign to me that I really had trouble processing them at all, let alone with any kind of relationship to my own ethnicity.  The only times I've ever had someone call my ethnicity to attention were when I was in all Hispanic neighborhoods and people spoke Spanish to me too quickly for me to understand - hardly a problem.  I've been lucky enough never to have faced prejudice because of the color of my skin (for religion, lifestyle, and fashion choices sure, but never race).

Me with my Panamanian/Puerto Rican mom and my Russian Jewish dad in 2003

My incredible good fortune along with my six of one half a dozen of the other genetics makes talking about race really hard.  Which side of the fence am I on?  My mom always called me heinz 57 sauce because I'm a mix of so many different things.  I always just called my ethnicity "slush."  I can certainly talk about white privilege because I grew up having it.  Although I am a Latina (my genetic need to feed people to show my love can attest to it), I feel like claiming my heritage is disingenuous because I never really suffered for it (unless you count some oddly skewed cultural views).  So if I stand up to speak against racism and inequality, where I am standing?  No, you don't have to be oppressed to speak out against oppression but it still feels really weird, like I'm claiming something that isn't really mine. Being mixed race makes thinking about race really complicated, let alone talking about it.  

So what does all that mean for me as a Pagan?  It means I feel an incredible amount of sympathy for the issues faced by Pagans of Color, but that I feel like a bit of an imposter going to things like the Pagans of Color Caucus.  While I'm certainly not an activist by any definition, I feel like it's my responsibility, as someone who just needs to spend some time in the sun to be obviously ethnic, to speak out against injustice.  As Pagan and an animist I see these renewed (or I suppose not renewed, just spotlighted) prejudices to be incredibly harmful not only to those who suffer them directly, but for everyone whose energy is poisoned by them.  As a Pagan I believe that nature is a living thing to be venerated and respected and that such incredible injustice and suffering can only be blasphemous to the sanctity of the earth.  That means I have to stand up and do something about it, but what? 

What can I do to help with this enormous, culturally systemic problem?  How much of my own upbringing is part of the problem?  If I can hardly think about my own race how am I supposed to stand up for someone else's?  Beginning to see the big problem here?  If I were a healer I'd probably start doing daily workings to change the energies that fuel the problem - but I'm not.  If I were an activist I'd go to protests, hand out leaflets, and get in people's faces - but I'm not.  I'm a shadow worker.  That means I tell bald truths and bring people out of their comfort zones.  That means that I can't lie to myself about my own privilege and prejudices. 

So this is me being really, really honest.  Talking about race makes me uncomfortable because I'm uncomfortable with my own race - because I have a really hard time determining what it actually is.  But in times like these I need to get over my own issues in order to help others.  Seeing people lose their lives because an authority figure was scared of their race is utterly reprehensible.  To see those authority figure let off without penalty makes me sick.  As an attorney the utter miscarriage of justice is incomprehensible to me (I mean seriously, just read the laws).  As a human being the entire situation makes me despair.  Something about how we are educating people in power and how we are training our law enforcement officers is wrong. 

Being irrationally afraid of someone because of a lack of understanding or empathy is the beginning of a slippery slope of fear and violence.  We are all human beings and need to be treated as such.  Being treated as a human being with thoughts and feelings should not be based on your race, gender, orientation, religion, or any other factor.  Are you a human being? Yes, then you have the right to live your life.  Where is the difficulty in that?  So yeah, I pretty much hate this.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

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.


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.


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.


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.

  • 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.