23 September 2019

Our Community Has a Power Structure Problem

This post is going to be a soapbox speech about something that’s bothered me about the Pagan/Magickal/Occult community for a long time - how our traditional power structures are ripe for abuse.  Feel free to skip it if it’s triggering, but otherwise please give this some thought.  We’ll be back to our regular witchy shenanigans next post.

I’ve been an active member of the greater Pagan/Magickal community for about twenty years now and I’ve seen some shit.  I’ve been part of groups large and small, functional and totally whacked.  I’ve seen groups rise and fall, and the fall is almost always as the result of people behaving badly.  The very secrecy, mysticism, and exclusivity that can make a group feel “special” are the traits that make our community so very susceptible to abuse of power - and boy do a few bad apples take advantage of that.

A lot of Pagan/Magickal communities base their structures either on hierarchical lodges/covens or psuedo-equal communes.  The former tends to raise leadership into cults of personality, while the latter can lead to extreme group think.  Hierarchical groups are particularly susceptible to manipulating followers into doing the bidding of the leaders by promising power or secret knowledge if they “go just one more step.”  This can be as simple as acting against one’s better judgement or go so far as fiscal, sexual, or physical abuse.  Pseudo-communal groups look like each member is supposed to be equal, but almost always have a core council or “in group” that really controls the group mind and can exert extreme pressure on members to conform in toxic ways.  I’ve seen this result in members being pressured into sexual situations with which they were not comfortable or truly consenting.  The lack of transparency in the inner workings of communities can shield potential abusers.  Further, the mysticism that elevates leadership (particularly the priesthood) during sacred ritual can give those leaders a sense of power and - for lack of a better word - holiness during regular hours that they can abuse.  It’s shocking what the vulnerable can be manipulated into doing with the promise of “belonging” or being made to feel special or “chosen.” 

One of the greatest strengths of our communities are that they are (or should be) welcoming to people that are not readily accepted in the mainstream.  This means that a lot of the people entering our communities are particularly vulnerable to predators that can, at first, make them feel good about themselves.  (There’s a big “senpai noticed me” vibe when it comes to being singled out by leadership in a lot of our communities.)  It is a sad fact that victims of abuse and manipulation are often extremely vulnerable to those presenting themselves as saviors.  A lot of predators in our communities are very good at looking like they’re empowering people while actually grooming them for manipulation.  Our failure to protect our most vulnerable members from predation is the greatest failure of Pagan/Magickal communities. 

While the great majority of Pagan/Magickal leaders have the best of intentions, those that don’t really ruin things for everybody.  The problem is that it’s hard to tell at a glance whether a leader is genuine or problematic.  A person can have good ideas and be a predator.  A person can be a great writer and be a predator.  A person can be a great ritualist and performer and be a predator.  A person can be magickally potent and be a predator.  This means that individuals MUST practice good judgment and use their common sense at all times.  Just because the leader “says so” is not a good reason to do something, nor is “everyone in the group does ‘X’.”  It is also important to remember that misuse of power is a spectrum that runs from minor issues (like making people feel pressured but not compelled to agree with the leader) all the way to full on felonies.  Leadership that starts with minor infractions can escalate the more they get away with the little things.  Even leadership that begins well intentioned can become corrupt as more power is given to them.  Of course, it’s also possible for community members to abuse their leadership - making transparency even more important.  It is imperative that community members are aware of the behavior of their leadership and fellow community members and hold everyone to the same standards of conduct.  Clearly established and enforced boundaries are good for everybody.  

The big difference between a mostly functional and a problematic community is boundaries - does everyone know them, are they enforced, and are they enforced equally.  Well established and respected boundaries are a critical part of any relationship and are even more important when the relationship involves a group.  Get multiple people in a group and you will always have multiple opinions on just about everything.  Knowing what conduct is expected and what is discouraged or forbidden is critical.  Make sure everybody knows what’s expected of them up front and make sure everybody actually behaves themselves.  No blaming the victim, no exceptions for your favorites.  Actions have consequences.  This is kindergarten people.  Sure, some rules are badly written but you should see all of them before you’re expected to abide by them and be given a chance to air your concerns.  Healthy boundaries are what allow different people to interact with each other peacefully.  In a perfect world everyone would be sincere and guided by their best selves to behave well.  We do not like in a perfect world, thus we need boundaries.

The Pagan/Magickal community needs to do better in protecting our members from the abuse of power.  We need clear boundaries that are actually and equally enforced.  We need transparency in our processes.  We really need to stop establishing cults of personality around every person that can perform a decent ritual or write a semi-coherent blog post.  Individually, we all need to exercise discernment and common sense in our own behaviors.  It’s time for the community to step up and take responsibility for our weaknesses and actually do better.  There is way too much appalling behavior being permitted out there and it’s eroding the entire community from within.  We need to do better.

A few resources:
Characteristics of a Cult
Seven Signs You’re In a Cult
Warning Signs of Cults and Dangerous Leaders
Psychology of Cults
Signs of an Abusive Relationship

13 September 2019

Building Relationships with Metaphysical Entities

Having strong relationships with metaphysical entities is the foundation for fluid communication and developing working agreements.  Many practitioners know they should build these relationships, but a lot of them are at a loss as to how.   Be they ancestors, spirits, fae, gods, demons, or anything else: build relationships with metaphysical entities the same way you would with people.  It seems like common sense, but developing relationships with metaphysical entities requires you to push through the mysticism and confusion surrounding them and just treat them like any other thinking, feeling being. 

Be a Good Neighbor

To start building a relationship with a metaphysical entity you need to be appealing to them, to be the kind of person they want to have a relationship with.  For most positive entities this means being polite, respectful, and amiable - treat them as you would want to be treated if your positions were reversed.  (Negative entities are a whole different story, but that’s a discussion for another article.)  No one wants to be friends with the obnoxious neighbor that is too loud at the wrong times, leaves trash all over the sidewalk, and has no consideration for others.  Don’t be “that guy.”  Further, remember that relationships require consent on both sides.  Just because you want a relationship with a spirit doesn’t mean they want one with you.  If you get indications that the spirit doesn’t want to talk, respect that and don’t harass them.  Don’t start relationship building from a deficit. 

Know Your Entity

You approach relationship building differently with potential friends, coworkers, bosses, and relatives (you wouldn’t introduce yourself to a potential employer the same way you would Billy from down the pub); so too you should modify your approach according to the nature of the entity with which you’re pursuing a relationship.  Some entities, like many land wights and spirits, can be approached you would a peer and potential friend.  Other entities, such as high fae, loa, and Gods should be approached with a certain degree of deference and formality.  Take some time to research the entity you’re trying to befriend and learn what type of behavior they expect.  If you’re trying to build a relationship with a known entity, such as a god or loa, there will likely be established procedures for introducing yourself.  If it’s a spirit or ancestor, try to find out if they had particular preferences in life (this won’t always be possible depending on what memories/records are available to you).  Learning, or at least trying to learn, these preferences is a sign of respect.  When in doubt, be more formal than you think is strictly necessary and you should be fine.  

Equal Exchange

Relationships with metaphysical entities are about mutual benefit.  Both parties should get something from the relationship, be it offerings, aid, companionship, affection, entertainment, etc.  You’re not going to get something for nothing - that’s not how it works.  Throughout the relationship make sure the exchange continues to be equal - if you ask for something you must give something and vice versa.  If you’re just making offerings and not asking for anything specific, be sure to acknowledge the value of the entity’s time and the deepening of the relationship.  Keep in mind that friendship and affection are things of value and that they can be the “commodity” being exchanged.  If you find your relationship becoming unequal be sure to do something to balance it out - if the entity resists this, you need to take a deeper look at the situation. 


In most traditions, offerings are the backbone for building relationships with metaphysical entities.  An offering is something given to an entity that the entity wants - given either to build good will or in exchange for specific favors.  Offerings can be almost anything, ranging from a small gift of energy to building a temple.  If you know that an entity prefers particular offerings then that is what they should be given if it’s reasonable for your circumstances.  (An entity’s preferences can be learned through research, divination, gnosis, spirit communication, etc.)  If you’re unsure what to offer, there are many general offerings that will serve until you get to know your entity’s preferences.  General offerings commonly include: incense, flowers, food, water, alcohol, candles, energy, art, effigies, and relevant community service.

Altars and Spirit Houses

If you want a long term relationship with an entity, give them a formal place in your home.  Just as a friend has a favorite chair when they come over, metaphysical entities like something to call their own when they visit.  For ancestors that place is often a photo on a special shelf; for deities it’s often a statue on your altar; for fae and spirits it may be a sigilized patten or a spirit house. These things are essentially a physical anchor that becomes imbued with the essence of a metaphysical entity through repeated visits that make it easier and more comfortable for the entity to remain in our space.  Such anchors become the place where you make offerings and visit with the entity with the greatest ease.  While not required, a physical anchor can facilitate relationship building with any metaphysical entity.

Crisis Relationships

In a perfect world we would always have time to develop strong relationships with entities before calling on them for help, but we don’t live in a perfect world.  In times of dire need most friendly entities will help you out regardless of your relationship.  Think of a Good Samaritan that witnesses an accident: you call for help and they’ll do their best to help you simply because you’re in need and they have the ability to help.  Don’t worry too much about etiquette in this kind of situation.  Most entities will understand that you didn’t have time to build a relationship beforehand and that you’re probably not at your best.  However, once you have a reasonable lull or the crisis is over the entity will expect some acknowledgement and gratitude.  It’s just polite; they were generous so now, within reason, you owe them.  If you want to continue a relationship with the entity afterwards once the crisis has resolved you’ve got something to build from.  The only caveat to this is to use good judgment in from whom you accept help.  There are unscrupulous entities that will take advantage of your distress in order to trick you into owing them more than you want to give. 

Overall, building relationships with metaphysical entities is just like building any other type of relationship.  Treat the entity with respect and make sure the give and take in the relationship is equal.  Know your own boundaries and maintain them.  Just because an entity is something otherworldly doesn’t mean that your relationship should be manipulative, coercive, or otherwise unhealthy.  When in doubt, talk to your friends and get an outside perspective.  Building a relationship with a metaphysical entity can be exciting and, when done well, it can give you a powerful ally in your work.  Treat these relationships with the same care and discretion as you would any other relationship and you should have success.

08 September 2019

Some Doors Can’t Be Closed

Experiences with the occult tend to leave lasting impressions.  The deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the more intense the after effects.  Sometimes people end up opening doors they didn’t intend to and then have to go to herculean efforts to close them again.  Unfortunately for the unwise, some doors just can’t be closed.

A while ago I was on a road trip with a friend and we were talking about the lasting effects of working with the occult and I brought up the story of a woman I know.  This woman, who will remain anonymous, was having marital problems and was emotionally distraught.  In her desperation she decided to go against her mainstream religious beliefs and resort to a local practitioner for a love spell aimed to bring back her wayward man.  The practitioner gave her instructions and supplies so the woman could do the spell herself, which she did.  As the woman performed the spell she experienced intense magickal phenomena that freaked her right out.  She stopped mid spell in the hopes of making it go away.  It didn’t work out quite the way she hoped.  Turns out the woman had a considerable amount of natural talent and once she opened the door to the world of the occult, even just a sliver, it noticed her.  Despite the woman’s best efforts to erase her occult encounter, things never quite went back to the way they’d been before.  Many years of steadfast church attendance and liberal applications of holy water, and still the unseen world lurks near the woman - waiting for her to once more crack open that door. 

Once the unseen world sees you, it’s never going to unsee you.  Steadfast denial of the realities of the occult and calling upon “holy” power to protect you can only do so much.  Pretending the occult doesn’t exist, once you know damned sure that it does, is a lot like putting a chain link fence around your yard to keep out wolves.  Sure, if it’s high enough the wolves won’t be able to get in, but they can still see and smell you and it won’t do anything if you have to open the gate.  Calling upon other/stronger metaphysical entities for protection will work so long as you maintain their good graces, but the threat is still real.  In the case above, calling on “angels” to defend you from “demons” will keep you safe so long as the “angels” are present but it doesn’t necessarily mean the “demons” are going to forget about you any time soon - particularly if you've got a lot of natural power.  The metaphysical world is real and once something in it takes an interest in you, it might never go away. 

As wishing away the realities of the occult world doesn’t work, if you’re going to open a door you need to be damned sure you’re ready to deal with the consequences.  For most people most of the time, a little dabbling is harmless.  Things like getting a tarot reading, playing with a ouija board, going on a ghost hunt, or even doing a little minor spellwork are rarely going result in long term problems.  However, if your personal energies are just the right strength and flavor, or if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, then you can attract attention that will never go away.  It's rare, but it definitely happens.  How can you know beforehand what kind of scenario you’re walking into?  Sometimes you can’t, but most of the time it’s a matter of listening to your intuition.  If a particular place or person with occult connections makes you uncomfortable, chances are good that it’s for a reason.  If you don’t understand what’s going on in an occult/paranormal situation or feel that there’s more going on than what you’re being told, you don’t have to participate.  Do not participate in occult workings that make you feel unsafe.  Yes, there are advanced workings that can be quite risky, but if you’re performing such a rite you’ve already opened those doors and should fully understand what you’re getting yourself into.  If you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into you should really find out before you find yourself neck deep.

There are many potential consequences to getting involved with the metaphysical world.  Some of the positive effects are increased awareness of the realities of the world, a higher degree of control/influence over what was previously unseen, and the presence of helpful spirits and entities.  On the negative side, you are more likely to be targeted by negative entities simply by being more obvious to them.  Dabbling in the occult is a little like sending up a signal flare on a dark night - things are going to come and investigate: good, bad, or indifferent.  Whether or not those things stick around depends entirely on how interesting you are and the boredom of the entities.

The unseen world is unpredictable, but there are some simple precautions dabblers can take to make things less fraught with peril.  1 - Do your research.  Curious about the occult? Read a fucking book.  Talk to people that have done things.  Learn about the potential risks and rewards and understand them.  Look before you leap, it’s not that complicated.  2 - Before dabbling, learn how to shield.  Seriously, this should be the first thing anyone learns before they so much as touch a tarot deck.  3 - Have a protective item on you.  Something as complicated as a charged amulet or as simple as a token received by a loved one or even a baggie of salt will give you a better-than-nothing amount of protection from negative entities and energies.  4 - If at all possible have an experienced practitioner guide you through your first foray into the metaphysical world.  Even if you don’t have someone local to you, there are plenty of advanced practitioners online that will happily answer questions and give advice to sincere seekers.  Take the time to ask someone who knows.  We really do know things you can’t find in the books.  By taking a few simple precautions you can make your first dips into the occult far less dangerous.

Take a moment to really think about what you want before you go dabbling in the occult.  Be sure you’re really willing to let the metaphysical world into your life, because once it’s there it will never go away.  The wonders and beauty of the unseen world are impossible to fully describe, unfortunately so are its dangers.  Take the time to understand what you’re getting yourself into and then prepare yourself, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.