29 March 2011

Shadow Magick I

As I’ve mentioned before, I do a lot of shadow work.  In order to do shadow work effectively you have to see and understand yourself very clearly.  Sound simple enough right?  Not so much.

These days people are not encouraged to examine themselves deeply, if at all.  We breeze through our days playing a part: the student, the grunt, the boss, the teacher, the wife, etc.  How often during your day do you batten yourself down so that the real you isn’t exposed?  Do you do it because it keeps you safe, because you think who you are in unacceptable, because it would crack your mask?  Living masked day in and day out can make it very difficult to see oneself clearly.  Wear those masks long enough and sooner or later you’ll start to forget the person you really are and then you’ll be nothing but the hollow mask of the character you play.  Shadow work breaks through the lies, most especially the ones you tell yourself.

Here is a bit of shadow magick to help you to see yourself truthfully.

You’ll need: a black candle, insight oil,* a small mirror (hand mirror or compacts work beautifully), incense if desired (I prefer Dragon’s Blood or a Frankincense and Myrrh blend), and writing paper and pen (use your magickal journal if you have one).

Perform this ritual at night in a quiet, private place.  This is most effective during the waning and dark moon. 

Gather your materials, shut the door, close the drapes, turn off your cell phone, and turn down the lights.  Sit comfortably on the floor (or on a chair at a table) with your materials in front of you.

Take a few minutes to simply breathe and let go of the stresses of the day.  If you find that your mind has difficulty pushing away the thoughts of the day, then perhaps you need to deal with them before performing this ritual.

Light the incense if you’re using any.  Anoint your third eye with a drop of the insight oil.  Think for a few minutes about why you want to see yourself more clearly.  Think about what you hope to gain.  Think about what challenges you expect it to present.  Are you really willing to see yourself without bias, warts and all?  Take some time to write down these thoughts until you feel that you really understand why you’re doing this.

Anoint the black candle with the insight oil and light the candle.  Take the mirror and pass it just above the candle flame (just far enough out that the heat doesn’t hurt your fingers).  Envision the heat and light of the flame passing into the mirror, cleansing its energy and empowering it.  If you’re using incense, pass the mirror through the smoke or the incense while envisioning the smoke imparting its energy to the mirror.

Hold the mirror to your third eye and either think or say out loud: “I will see myself clearly.  I will see who and what I really am.  Show me my strength.  Show me my weakness.  Show me all that I am.  Show me joy and sorrow, pride and folly, success and failure.  I see clearly.  I see who and what I really am.”

Look in the mirror.  Look at yourself, really look at yourself.  Look beyond the face you present to others, look beyond your flesh.  Look deeply into your own eyes.  See the kernel of “you” that lives deep within your soul.  What do you see?

Take a few minutes to write down what you see.  Write down your strengths, your weaknesses, everything.  Who is the person that lives deep inside your true heart?  What in your life needs to change in order for that person to thrive?

You may find this easy or difficult.  If it’s difficult don’t worry, you’re on the right track.  If it’s easy either you’re a near bodhisattva or you just aren’t ready to see what lies below - that’s ok too.  Shadow magick only works when you’re ready for it to work, so it’s ok to put it aside and come back later.

When you feel you’ve seen all of yourself that you’re able to process turn over the mirror and say: “Thank-you for showing me my deeper self.”

If it’s short enough, let the candle continue to burn – snuff it out if it isn’t (the candle can be reused the next time you do this).  Stand up and turn on the lights.  Allow yourself a few minutes to process the experience.

* To make insight oil grind 1 tsp each of dried mugwort, sage, and yarrow into a fine powder.  Mix with 3 tbs of jojoba oil in a jar with a tight fitting lid.  Let steep for 3-4 weeks.  Strain and it’s ready to use.  For the most potent oil make this on the dark moon and let it steep until the next dark moon.

24 March 2011


I just wanted to take a moment and say thanks to all of you who have purchased my book.  The book has been tremendously well received and I've had nothing but positive feedback.  When I looked on amazon.com today there was only 1 copy left in stock with a re-order on the way.  It left me a bit gobsmacked.  I cannot actually articulate how excited I am to know that people are out there reading my book.  It really does mean the world to me.  So to all of you, Thanks!

The fact that this book seems to really be taking off means that it's quite likely that New Page will pick up my next book as well.  I've just started work on my second book and it's going to be a guide to advanced defensive magick.  The idea will be for the advanced guide to sort of pick up where Defense Against the Dark left off, giving more advanced techniques, tools, and rituals.  My question to you is: what do you want to see from such a guide?  What are the scenarios you want to be able to face? What things have you heard of that you want to know more about?  I'd love to see some comments about this, but you can also email me at emily @ e-carlin.com

20 March 2011


Today is the spring equinox, Ostara; today the hours of light and darkness are equal.  This is a brief moment of balance before the days begin to grow longer and warmer.  In most years the vernal equinox is more symbolic than literal for me.  Here is Seattle it normally starts warming up in late February or very early March and it feels like spring weeks before the equinox.  Not so much this year.  It’s been a cold, wet, dark winter.  It’s only been in the last few days that I’ve been able to scent spring in the air and even contemplating switching out of my heavy wool coat.  A few days ago the first snow drop peaked out of the ground in my yard and the first promises of tulips.  This year it’s easy to celebrate the equinox with real joy – I’m tired of damp feet.  I may even have to get some daffodils for my kitchen table.

I like to celebrate the equinox by actually getting out and doing something outside.  This can be going for a picnic or hike in the forest, or something as simple as a walk around the block.  I spent a good chunk of this equinox in my garden.  Yesterday was the Seattle Tilth early edible plant sale, so I had a flat of new veggies ready to go into the ground.  It’s time to plant spring peas and broccoli and to dig my strawberries out from under the straw I used to bed them down over the winter.  There’s something about putting my hands in the dirt and helping things grow that really helps me switch my head from winter to spring mode.

Another important part of any sabbat celebration, at least for me, is food.  Some foods strongly associated with Ostara are: salads of young greens, milk, yogurt, cheese, and eggs.  Eggs are particularly symbolic of this sabbat because they represent the seed of life and all its potential.  Though non-traditional and quite irreverent, I also like to include Cadbury caramel eggs in my Ostara celebration because they’re delicious and are only available at this time of year.  Due to the proliferation of outings and family birthdays this weekend I don’t have a free dinner to do my feast, so today I made a special lunch.  I’m making omelettes with mushrooms and onions and a nice baby spinach salad with homemade vinaigrette and parmesan cheese.  I’ll finish it off with a Cadbury egg and then head out to the garden for planting.

This equinox also marks the transition from the dark to the light half of the year.  For me this means a transition away from my time of power.  As a dark witch I have a far greater affinity for autumn and winter than I do with spring and summer.  I don’t melt in the rain, but I do wilt mightily under a hot sun.  For many years I struggled to identify with the power of growth and manifestation that runs through the light half of the year.  Over time I’ve learned to focus less on the heat and growth of summer, but to look more to the impermanence of such vibrant life.  All that lives must die, and all that grows will eventually decay and return to the earth.  Such fleeting beauty needs to be appreciated while it’s still around, so in the spring and summer I try to really live in the moment and enjoy it (in contrast to the contemplation and introspection of the dark half of the year).  Spring and summer are for getting
out and doing things, why fight it?

16 March 2011

Psychic Protection for Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Investigators

Lately I’ve had a lot of inquiries about how to best protect oneself from malevolent energies and entities when going on a ghost hunt or other paranormal investigation.  It’s a tricky scenario because it requires a much more balanced and subtle approach to defense than my usual “err on the side of overkill” approach.  Investigators want to keep themselves safe but still want to have paranormal experiences; how can we ward off dangers but still invite experiences?  Many, if not most, common methods of protection actually repel paranormal entities, taking them out of the investigator’s arsenal.

One good method of psychic protection that does not repel paranormal entities is shielding.  Shielding is basically a way of strengthening your aura (your personal energy field) in a way that prevents negative energy from affecting you.  The most common way of shielding is to envision yourself surrounded by an egg shaped bubble of energy, usually blue or white, that creates a barrier between you and negative energy.  The problem with this for an investigator is that it can actually dampen your senses and make it more difficult for you to detect the paranormal.

A better alternative is to use a series of filters; think of them as the layers of an onion.  Instead of envisioning a solid wall of energy between you and the world, envision a fuzzy grey barrier that blocks negative energy, but allows all other energy through.  Inside of that barrier envision a yellow layer of circulating air that will heighten your perceptions and increase your awareness of your surroundings.  Inside of that, envision a layer of red, fiery energy that you can use to protect yourself if you should need it.  You can tweak your intent to change density of your filters, to allow more or less energy through.  If at any point you feel really threatened, you can always pump a little extra energy into your outer filter and turn it into a barrier.  It gives you the best of both worlds – protection and awareness.  After the investigation you just envision the layers of your filters melting into the ground and being absorbed away.

Another good technique to protect yourself during an investigation is to carry a bag of salt.  It sounds too easy to be true, but just carrying salt can do wonders for absorbing negative energy and keeping it from affecting you.  Salt has been used as a grounding and purifying agent by just about every culture in the world for pretty much all of recorded history.  I recommend putting about a ¼ cup of salt (sea salt is best, but any will do) into a cotton tea bag and either tying it to your belt of just putting it in your pocket.  To give it some extra strength, before the investigation hold the bag in your hands and say “Salt absorb negativity, nothing shall do harm to me, with this I ever safe shall be, as I do will so mote it be.”  After the investigation you can bury the bag, or just pour the salt down the drain.

Some investigators choose not to do anything to protect themselves before an investigation.  It’s their choice to assume that risk, but I don’t recommend it.  But even if you don’t want to risk dampening your chances of having an experience by protecting yourself before an investigation, all investigators should do some form of cleansing afterward to make sure they don’t end up accidentally taking something home.

My favourite way to do a self-cleansing is to smudge.  Smudging is a Native American purification method in which you essentially fumigate yourself (or an object) with the smoke of smouldering herbs.  The most common herbs used for this are sage, cedar, and sweetgrass, although you can use any herb with which you feel a personal affinity or that you find cleansing and soothing (lavender and mugwort are also used fairly often).  I like to use the bundles of sage that you can find in any metaphysical shop and even some natural food stores (I can get them at my local grocery – hooray Central Market).  Light the herbs, let it burn for just a little while, and then blow out the flame and allow the herbs to smoulder and smoke.  Waft the smoke over your entire body, being sure to get the bottoms of your feet and under your arms.  If you feel the need, spend a little extra time wafting smoke over the entirety of your spine and your third eye area.

The other super easy way to cleanse after an investigation is to take a shower.  Running water is excellent at removing negative energies.  To enhance the cleansing effects just envision any lingering energies being washed off of your body and going down the drain.  Bath salts and high quality herbal soaps (particularly those with sage or cedar as primary ingredients) can also enhance the energetic cleansing.

These simple methods will keep an investigator safe and sound against the kinds of entities and energies that they’re likely to encounter.  Of course, there are the rare strong entities that can cause harm despite these basic precautions.  If you know that a place you are about to investigate has a history of violent activity or is suspected of housing a really scary entity, like a hungry ghost or an infernal, think about employing some stronger protections.  For more info on that you’ll have to get my book ;)

09 March 2011

Oh No, That Can't Be Good II

It’s time for another edition of “Oh no, that can’t be good,” my posts telling some of the frightening but true stories of why I specialize in defensive magick.  I’ve been doing a fair number of radio interviews lately and interviewer just love to ask, “What’s the scariest thing that ever happened to you?”  They probably expect nothing more than a ghost story to give their listeners a chill – they get a bit more than that.  These days I’m so well protected that metaphysical baddies just don’t come anywhere near me.  That was not always the case.  This story begins all the way back in 1999, when I arrived at Wellesley for First-Year orientation.

Wellesley is a venerable, old institution that has old brick buildings and clanky radiators and a tradition called “tunnelling.”  Tunnelling is breaking into the old stream tunnels and exploring the school underground.  I don’t do bugs, so I opted out of an exciting expedition in the roach filled tunnels but heard all about it when my friends got back.  One of the most interesting things they found was an entire dorm hallway that was bricked off from the rest of the building.  They had found a heat vent into the hallway and taken a look around.  It was a typical hall with a bunch of dorm rooms, except bricked off from the rest of the building and filled with dusty broken furniture.  All the rooms were unlocked except one: one room had a shiny new padlock keeping it closed.  The only way into that hall was crawling through a vent from a steam tunnel.  How the hell did it get a new padlock?

Time passed and this bit of history slipped out of my mind, but I always felt uneasy in the building with the bricked off hall.  In fact, I avoided that entire dorm complex like it was infectious.  It always felt uncomfortable to me and it was filled with stories of strange happenings and hauntings.  I didn’t start thinking about the links between that hallway and the odd stories until a friend of mine from the pagan student's group (PSG) moved into that dorm.  In fact, her room shared a wall with that strange hallway.

After my friend had lived there for a few months some of the other members of PSG and I noticed that she was changing.  It was subtle at first, but slowly the girl I knew and really liked started getting mean.  Her personality began to shift; she became cruel, petty, and arrogant.  She began alienating her friends and became a loner.  We wondered what could be wrong, but chalked it up to people changing until she started to change physically.  It sounds crazy, but her face began to change – it was sharper somehow – and if you caught her just right her eyes would change color and then shift back.  It was at this point that we realized that something seriously unnatural was happening.

The more advanced of us got together to investigate what the hell was going on.  Through divination, channeling, and a seriously messed up ghost encounter (which I might tell you all about later), we determined that our friend was being oppressed by an infernal.  An infernal is a demon...a big one.  We found out that sometime around the turn of the century a girl had come to school and brought an infernal with her.  (Don’t ever play with a Ouija board without casting a protective circle first, just don’t.)  This infernal set up shop in the girl’s dorm room and sent her mad.  After that the infernal decided to hang around for the easy pickings of stressed out young women far from home for the first time – tasty treats indeed.

We begged, threatened, and cajoled our friend about switching to a different dorm.  We knew that sleeping with her head next to that hallway was opening her up to the infernal and that she needed to get out and fast.  She refused to leave, saying nothing was wrong.  One day I was talking to her and could actually see the infernal lurking behind her eyes.  Something had to be done.  This thing had to be dealt with or we would lose our friend forever.

More easily said than done.  We were all baby witches at that point: what did we know about dealing with infernals?  We researched every spell and ritual of protection, banishment, and binding that we could get our hands on, and nothing seemed strong enough to deal with that hallway and the thing that lurked there.  We knew we had to do something and through much more research, divination, channelling, and a little divine intervention we came up with a plan.  We would do a protection ritual for ourselves, create a banishing bomb (a container of banishing herbs and stones that had been charged and blessed by every protective power that would listen to us), and then go into that hallway, place the bomb and let it do its work.  As the old saying goes, the best plan in the world only lasts until the battle begins.  Things didn’t go exactly as planned.

The first part of the plan worked beautifully.  We did a strong protection ritual for ourselves to keep us safe and free from the influences of the infernal.  We created the bomb and charged it until we could see waves of energy coming off it.  Then we went outside to make our way to the other building.  One of the odd side-effects of moving about the world while in ritual space is that sometimes it allows you to see things that would normally be invisible.  What we saw scared the pants off of us.  There were monstrous creatures everywhere, minions of the infernal, and they were looking for us.  Thanks to our protections they were unable to see us, but it was the scariest walk I’ve ever had in my life. 

We made our way to the right building and got down into the basement, to the entrance to the stream tunnels.  With our psychic awareness at full blast we could actually see waves of negative energy streaming out of the tunnel.  I was about as scared as I could possibly be, or so I thought.  I looked around at my friends and they were all standing there with blank expressions.  Zombielike, they started walking towards the tunnel.  I could see tendrils of evil beginning to wrap themselves around my friends.  At that moment I understood what real terror was.  I grabbed at my friends, physically pulling them back, but they kept moving forward.  I snatched up the bomb and tossed it as far into the tunnels as I could.  The energy vanished and my friends snapped out of it.  I got us out of there as fast as humanly possible.

Within a week our friend had moved out of that building, and within a month she was completely back to normal – she had no idea how close she came to gods know what.  The infernal was injured, but not gone.  A few years later, when we were stronger and knew a hell of a lot more, a friend and I went back to campus and finished it off.  As far as I know nothing untoward has happened there since, but the bricked off hallway is still there.

07 March 2011

Shadow Work

I was doing a radio interview last week and the interviewer asked me to describe my personal practice.  I found myself rather stumped as to how to describe what I do in a 15 second sound bite.  I said that I focused on defensive magick and shadow work.  It was obvious that he had no idea what shadow work was, but there just wasn’t time to go into it properly so we moved on.  I feel the need to more adequately explain what shadow work really is.

Everyone has positive traits and negative traits.  A lot of popular spiritual practices really emphasize creating a positive mindset, generative positive energy, etc.  This is great for most people most of the time, but it isn’t so easy for some of us.  Some of us look at all that love and light and just feel a little nauseated.  Sometimes the only way forward is not to look at the bright side, but instead to examine the shadows – to stare in the abyss.  This doesn’t mean that you’re a negative or bad person; it just means that you need to travel a different path to spiritual growth.

The essence of shadow work is looking at what isn’t working, the things that are broken, and changing them.  For many, the hardest part of shadow work is recognizing what those shadows are: our fears, insecurities, incorrect assumptions, weaknesses, pettiness, and irrationalities.  Some people can deal with these by bringing so much positive energy into their lives that there’s no room for these negatives – not me.  I’ve found that I really have trouble finding the light by reaching for it.  Instead, I have to dive deep into the darkness and keep going down until I punch out the other side.  That’s one of the main reasons I’ve called this blog Black Sun Magick – because my light is black as pitch and it shines.

One of the fundamentals of my shadow practice is what I call “Looking in Dorian Gray’s Mirror.”  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is about a young man who wishes that a portrait of him would age instead of his body ageing.  Magically, this wish comes true and the portrait ages and bears all the scars of Dorian Gray’s soul.  Over the course of time Gray becomes more and more depraved and the portrait becomes so terribly and twisted Gray locks it away.  In the end Gray is confronted with the portrait, looking at everything he has become – being able to see with his eyes every twist of his soul – that he stabs the painting and ends up inadvertently taking his own life.  Shadow work is about looking into that portrait every day.  It takes time, discipline, and courage to look at oneself so honestly.  If you cannot see what you really are, how can you ever really change and grow?

Once you’ve identified the things you don’t like about yourself you’re not allowed to just sit there and moan about them, you have to do something about it.  This is where it gets really tricky, because some of those things you don’t like are genuine problems that need to be fixed and some of them are things that you’ve been taught to dislike that aren’t actually bad at all.  No one can tell you whether something you detest about yourself is something you need to change or if it’s just your way of looking at it that needs to change.  It’s something you have to figure out for yourself in whatever way works for you.  For me figuring this stuff outs is all about meditation, divination, talking to spirit guides and trusted friends, for you it could be any, all, or none of these things.

Once you’ve leapt that hurdle it’s time to forgive yourself for your weaknesses.  Don’t laugh, it’s important.  Most people that are actually motivated enough to do something about changing their lives and dark enough to do it via shadow work are really hard on themselves.  Whenever I find a new chink in my image of myself I tend to spend a goodly chunk of time wallowing in depression, bemoaning how horrible/useless/bad/etc. I am.  I allow myself a little bit of time to roll around in self-pity, and then I pick myself back and forgive myself.  Often I do this in a ritual where I call my goddess to witness my self-forgiveness and pledge to move forward – it’s hard to go back on something you’ve sworn to your god in his or her presence.

Then I will usually do some working where I work on “fixing” the problem.  More often than not it’s some kind of ceremony in which I embrace whatever the negative is.  What I mean by embracing a shadow is to allow yourself to have whatever feeling or though it is, but to then think about it rationally and not act on it unless it’s truly rational and correct to do so.  It’s really just a stylize way of reminding yourself to think before you act and to not get mad at yourself for not being perfect.  Sometimes the shadow is bad enough to really need to be excised rather than embraced, in which case I’ll do a personal banishing ritual just after the full moon and a confirmation on the new moon.

Shadow work is about being really, really honest with yourself and never being afraid to look in the dark.  Do it long enough and you end up knowing yourself really well and having a very good grasp of exactly what you’re capable of.  Sure, there are kinder, gentler ways of doing it, but sometimes you need a good drop-kick to move.  I sure do.

Proficiency in shadow work also opens up the world of shadow magick, but that’s a topic for another day.

01 March 2011

Everyday Energy Takers

Ever have those mornings when you wake up more tired than when you went to bed?  Those odd mornings where you remember dreaming and dreaming and your body feels every ache from what you did in your dreams?  I am having one of those mornings.  I slept a good seven hours and I feel like it was minutes.  I had crazy vivid dreams all night and don’t seem to have gotten any actual rest.  It’s times like these that I wish I still drank caffeine (I’m an insomniac, caffeine = bad).  While I’m sure my exhaustion is just a random quirk of metabolism or possibly the beginning of a cold (it’s been going ‘round the office), but I can’t help but think about energy vampires.

There are lots of things out in the world that can deplete a person’s energy, most of which are perfectly mundane.  However, some of those things are not so mundane, and they’re more common than you think.  The most common energy vampire is what I call a Taker.

Takers are people who, for various reasons, feed on energy from other people.  Most people have run into a Taker at one time or another, though they may or may not have realized it at the time.  If you’ve ever known someone who made you feel exhausted just be being around them—and we all have—chances are you’ve met a Taker.

Takers are not inherently evil.  In fact, most of them don’t even know what they’re doing.  These are people whose subconscious minds have learned how to tap into the energy of people around them.  Because most of them are unaware of what they are doing, they have no control over whom they tap into or how much energy they take. They simply take from anyone who has the misfortune of being near them.

No one really knows why people become Takers.  One theory is that the taking of energy begins when the new Taker goes through some type of trauma, either emotional, such as losing a loved one, or physical, such as becoming seriously ill.  Extreme situations can drain new Takers of so much of their own energy that they need to take it from those around them, and they either consciously or unconsciously learn to do so.  Usually, a person will stop taking energy from those around him or her once the trauma has passed.  However, some people will continue taking energy, thus becoming Takers permanently.

Takers can usually be recognized by their outward behavior. They tend to be “drama queens” who engage in constant histrionics for whatever energy and attention they can get.  They crave attention and sympathy and will generally get quite upset if you refuse to commiserate with them.  These are the folks who constantly complain about being mistreated, but whenever you ask them what they’re actually doing to change things they accuse you of being insensitive and then tell all of your friends how mean you were to them.  After being near them for too long you will feel tired and irritable – not even a saint could deal with these people for long without wanting to throttle them.  Although some Takers are far more subtle, these people tend to be weak or sickly and desperately “need” your help.  These people prey on our most charitable instincts and will take all of your time and energy that they can get you to give.  Though they may seem childlike and vulnerable, they are not.  They’ve found a convincing act that gets them the attention they need and they will milk it for all its worth (basically the magickal equivalent of Munchausen Syndrome).  The hard part is separating these Takers from those in genuine need – the difference being that a Taker will keep taking long after any real need has passed.  Takers aren’t usually all that dangerous as long as you can get away from them.  They may drain some of your energy, but you will quickly recover once they go away.

Basic shielding will protect you from the short-term effects of just being in the vicinity of a Taker.  However, shielding alone can be insufficient if the Taker turns his or her attentions toward you.  If the Taker tries to get you involved with his or her never-ending crises, simply refuse to do so and walk away.  By steadily refusing to give them the attention they want they will usually move on to a more willing audience.

The best way to deal with Takers is to simply not be around them.  If you cannot physically get away from a Taker (if the Taker is a classmate or a coworker), the best thing to do is spend as little time talking to them as possible.  This minimizes the Taker’s opportunities to monopolize your attentions and therefore energies.