31 July 2014


If you've been reading this blog for more than an entry or two you've probably realized that I'm an eclectic practitioner.  I don't follow any one particular path or tradition; I just do what works for me.  Jason Miller just re-posted a great essay he wrote on eclecticism and if you have any interest in it at all you should all go read it.  Right now.  He's an amazing author who actually walks his talk and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.

Eight Rules For Sane Eclecticism

25 July 2014

Book Review: Fighting Malevolent Spirits

So on a lark I picked up the ebook of Fighting Malevolent Spirits: A Demonologist's Darkest Encounters by Samantha Harris. It's a book of one woman's accounts of performing cleansings/banishings of negative entities for others.  I'm always up for seeing how other people do what I do and their feelings on it, and hey for $10 why not? Oy vey.  I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed pulling it apart (which I really did enjoy enough to make it worth the price).

First, my personal bias.  This book is written from a fairly mainstream spiritialist viewpoint with strong Christian tendencies and ideas.  I don't do well with Christian/monotheist terminology and viewpoints.  I'm a Pagan and a dark one at that.  I have dealt with too many close-minded monotheists (and light and love spiritualists) not to have a negative knee jerk reaction.  I had to constantly remind myself that there was nothing wrong with the author's point of view and to translate her terms into ones my brain didn't want to throw things at.  But that's my problem, not the author's.  Also, her tone is also a little overwrought at times, but no everyone can face horror with stoicism and it does make the stories more compelling to read if a little over the top.  So yeah, my review may be a little overly harsh because the author presses some of my buttons.

What this book gets wrong from my point of view

Frequency.  The author's definition of demon is way too liberal.  Just because something is happening that is paranormal and negative doesn't mean it's demonic.  There are plenty of things out there that are strong enough to make people unhappy that aren't demons.  If you've done 80+ cleansings in five-ish years you are just cleansing anything - not that you can perform too many cleansings.  My definition of demon is pretty narrow - malevolent entities that are just pure evil, not just amoral, but evil.  We're talking infernals only in my books and in the last 15+ years of messing about with dark magick I've encountered three, three!  I literally spend my free time mucking about in the darkest psychic landscapes I can find and I've had to deal with three infernals on this plain.  Quit scaring yourself, demons just aren't that common.  (And seriously, doing cleansings does not a demonologist make.)

Who's susceptible.  Ok, this is more of a word choice/tone issue than anything else.  The author repeats multiple times that demons prey on weak or ill.  Yes, people who are weakened emotionally/spiritually/psychically are easier prey for negative entities but that doesn't mean you need to be broken for a demon to mess with you.  This might be an issue of the author's broad definition of demon again - actual infernals are drawn to a lot of different types of people, not just the weak ones.  Lower level negative entities are much more drawn to those who are weakened because they need the easier prey.  Weakness/illness can cause cracks in your aura (your natural psychic barrier), making you more susceptible to psychic attack from anything.  But actual attack, from anything, is extremely rare. 

Causality.  I found a strong implication in this book that people/families who are afflicted by negative circumstances such as ill health, substance abuse, mental illness, and rashes of terrible luck are being plagued by demons and that those demons are the cause of the unfortunate circumstances.  I call bullshit.  People are plenty screwed up without the aid of demons thank-you very much.  Ill health and bad luck create negative energy that can attract negative entities, but most of the time it's just negative energy breeding more negative energy - the basic principle of like attracts like.  Bad luck and your life going to hell in a hand basket doesn't mean a demon is fucking with you.  Seriously, some times life just sucks.  However, whether the circumstances are caused by a negative entity or just pure concentrated energetic crap a seriously cleansing will help so I guess there's no harm done.  It's questionable whether letting people externalize the source of their problems causes more harm than good in the long run, but I'm no psychologist to say one way or the other.

Technique.  Ok, what the author says she does in her cleansings is fine for low level entities and general psychic smut.  Having faith and surrounding yourself with "white light" is all well and good when you're dealing with ghosts and most common fay, but it's not enough to face the truly demonic.  What the author does seems to be the general centering, shielding, and basic energetic cleansings that any magickal practitioner would know - she just doesn't call them that or bother thinking about why/how they work.  Her cleansings consist of the typical going through the house with sage and salt while reciting prayers: essentially using her psychic will to cleans and sanctify the house.  Which, as I said before, is fine for low level negativity but not nearly enough to chase out an infernal permanently. 

Lack of protection.  For the love of all you hold dear, if you're going to piss off negative entities on a regular basis you need a strong personal protection regimen.  The author doesn't say anything about what she does to protect herself from the entities she encounters and then bemoans the fact that entities constantly mess with her at home.  If you're going to much about with demons you need to shield the ever loving fuck out of your own house and cleanse like there's no tomorrow after leaving a client - no matter how well things went.  Maybe she does have a personal regimen that she doesn't describe, but since it's not in the book I assume it doesn't happen.

What the book gets right 

Symptoms. When the author describes what symptoms people experience that make them think a negative entity is around, that is when I believe her.  Sulfurous smells, nightmares, scratches of unknown origins, knocking in the walls (not caused by loose pipes or broken ducts), abrupt mood swings, odd shifts in a person's eye color, etc. are all signs that something very negative is around.  Her descriptions of the events she experiences do have all the hallmarks of negative entities, though not necessarily demons.  I you or someone you know ever experience they kinds of things she describes, it's time for a cleansing or three.

Prayer. Yes, prayer in the faith of the persons being affected can help a lot when dealing with malevolent entities.  Prayer strengthens spiritual will and makes it more difficult for negative entities to get a toe hold in a person.  Enough prayer and faith can act as a fairly effective shield against common negative entities, depending on the strength of belief of the person.  It's not an end all be all, but it helps.  Just don't expect reciting the Lord's Prayer to help an atheist - it's all about belief.

Final thoughts

All that being said, this is a book of personal accounts of what happened as the author perceived it.  There's no right or wrong to your own memories.  And, the stories are interesting and it's good to be reminded of how different people from different backgrounds approach these kinds of problems.  For me it was an interesting set of case studies where I could analyze the situations and think about what I would have done differently (which is pretty much everything, but hey I'm a shadow witch and I do most things a bit differently).  The important thing in scenarios like the ones presented in this book is that the people involved get the help they need to move forward without oppression and, at least as it's presented here, it seems the author has done that. 

Would I recommend this book to someone looking to learn how to do cleansings - absolutely not.  Would I recommend this to an experienced practitioner looking to understand the way other people do things - maybe.  I enjoyed this book in the same way I enjoy watching ghost hunting tv shows and shlocky horror movies - I enjoy entertaining stories and dissecting what people do wrong.  It's the joy of throwing popcorn at the screen and feeling smug.  This isn't a bad book, it's just one that really doesn't mesh with my experiences or my style of dealing with the paranormal.  Take that as you will.

22 July 2014

2015 Llewellyn Annuals

 Guess what arrived in the mail today?  My contributor's copies of the 2015 Witches' Companion!

You should check it out and read my article on building magickal community :)

And if you like that, you should check out my article on Conflict Resolution for Magickal Communities in the 2015 Magical Almanac too.

17 July 2014

Shadow Work: Expectations

In shadow work psychology and magick mix in fascinating ways.  One of the most interesting phenomena I've observed in shadow work, and in a lot of other types of magick really, is the power of expectations.  This can be our own expectations of people or events or the expectations of others that are projected on to us.

Expectations really are magickal when you think about it.  Magick is a deliberate attempt to use our energies to shape reality.  We focus on a particular goal, visualize the changes to reality we want to make in order to achieve it, and then project that energy out into the world to manifest itself.  In essence, we're creating an expectation of what the results of our magick will be and letting ourselves embrace and believe in that expectation. The more sure we are that reality will me our expectations, the more energy those expectations contain, the more magickal those expectations become giving them an ability to actually make it more likely for reality to conform to them.

This is all well and good when our expectations are positive; less good when they're negative.  Oh yes, negative expectations can be a self-fulfilling prophecy on soooo many levels.  Our own negative expectations, when believed in strongly enough, are essentially self-hexing.  When you've trained yourself to focus your thoughts and will enough to perform magick it does tend to trickle down into unconscious thought.  As we all know, like attracts like, and our negative expectation of reality will shape that reality - self-hexing.  Of course, from a purely psychological point of view, negative expectations make us interpret our situations in a way that conforms to how we expect it to be.  Thus even if you haven't managed to hex yourself, you'll still see things as being worse than they probably are.  This is our shadow at work.

Shadow work is all about embracing our darker thoughts and feelings, but that does not mean we need to roll around in them all day; an hour or so a day sure, but not all day every day.  When you find yourself having negative expectations about yourself or a situation it's important to take a step back and really assess things.  Realistic expectations when a situation truly is overwhelmingly negative is healthy; overwhelmingly negative expectations when things really aren't so bad is harmful.  Take some time out to meditate and clear your head.  Take some time to do some divination if you need to (this is the kind of situation where getting someone else to do divination for you can be extremely helpful, that way your negative feelings won't affect the divination as badly).  If you need to, consider doing some spellwork to help clear your head of prejudices and let you see things as they really are.  I would never, ever, ask someone to put on a happy face and think positive - because it makes me want to vomit - but I do ask for realism rather than moping. 

This brings us to the expectations most difficult to deal with: the expectations others have of us.  As much as some of us might like to, we do not live in a vacuum.  We live in a world populated by other people and, unless you're a hermit, we have to deal with other people and their expectations of us on a daily basis.  People that truly know and understand us tend to expect us to be who and what we really are, unfortunately people that truly know and understand who we really are tend to be pretty thin on the ground.  Instead, we are surrounded by people that know only bits and pieces of us. 

This limited knowledge means that people generally expect us to be something different than our authentic selves.  As you might imagine this can create all manner of problems for us.  On a mundane level, having to wear masks and live up (or down) to other people's expectations can be emotionally exhausting.  It can be equally exhausting on a magickal level.  Our shields do a lot of work keeping outside energies from unduly influencing us - that's their job - this includes the energy of other people's expectations.  If you spend the majority of your day surrounded by people who expect you to be something you're not it's going to take a toll on your shields. 

For most people it isn't too bad - who they portray themselves to be to the outside world isn't usually too far off from who they really are.  Of course we shadow workers tend to be...well...what other people consider to be "weirdos."  This can cause trouble even if you're letting your freak flag fly.  If you're spending most of your time pretending to be someone you're not, the combination of cognitive dissonance and energetic drain is eventually going to bite you in the ass.  If you're open about your weirdness a lot of shortsighted people probably have really negative expectations of you based on their own fears and hangups - causing pretty much the same toll on your shields as hiding would have, but hey less cognitive dissonance is good.  In the long term the best situation is to be yourself and educate others so that they understand what that means.  However, that takes time, energy, and won't fix everybody.  In the mean time creating an anchored shield specifically for dealing with other people's projected expectations can help a lot.  This is pretty much the only shield that I would actually recommend anchoring in rose quartz as it is naturally good at soothing emotions and aiding healing. 

Expectations are powerful things and as magickal practitioners we need to be aware of how they affect us whether they be from within or without.  The next time you approach a negative situation or feel the need to follow someone else's expectations of you take a step back and examine the reality of things and what you really want to see happen.  Just being aware of the influence of expectations can help you take control of the situation make it better.