In bed at night at 12, I still prayed as I had as a child, but instead of my lists of blessings and natural disasters, I began asking for the strength to control myself, and, when that failed, I would bargain for forgiveness. I offered up whatever I could think of in order to relieve my sense of guilt. People were sure to tell me masturbation was wrong, but no one ever told me you weren’t suppose to bargain with the Lord. My version of him was more like the witches of fairy tales, or the dealer of a high-stakes poker game. I reasoned that misbehaving would weaken my hand, making God less likely to protect me against death.Read More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
I'm not at all religious (I'd call myself an atheist) but as the founding editor of Luna Luna, you might assume I’ve always been a witch, that I’m a believer in the afterlife. That I wouldn’t be secular.
In many ways, I am a secular witch–-I believe in the intangible, quiet universe; to me this mystery is sacred. It doesn’t mean “ghosts” in the way others might think of ghosts, as entities that linger; it means I’m sure there are things we don’t understand. Energies we don’t understand but maybe can tap into. I am very much a witch of nature, of intuition, of the magic in not-knowing, of guided energy. But I can’t say I believe in ghosts.
For one, I believe human beings have a need for things that make us feel good; maybe some even seem irrational (religious figures, spirit guides, crystal, for example). They give us a modicum of perceived control and prevent us from a grief that is too heavy. I don’t know what I believe in terms of their real power (can we ever know for sure?) but I know they hold symbolic power for me.
There is no proof of God (faith is not proof, but it may be magic), no hard evidence of meaningful crystal vibrations, and no way for me to feel as though 'spirit guides' aren't just our desire not to be a fleeting blip on eternity's radar. I'm OK with that. I'm alright with it. I’m also aware I could be wrong. I don’t think it even matters. I think magic is found in the mystery, in the unraveling, in asking questions, in discovering what these things symbolize for us.
I know that the way I interact with these things is through me, and not through an external being--be that God or Goddess or the divine or a some earthly conduit.
To me, this isn't irrational; there is something very pragmatic about the assumption that we are our thoughts.
When I work with crystals or talk to people about magic, I know that we're talking about ourselves putting our own energy (which may be everlasting and thus the closest thing to God) into ritual. That process. That symbol.
At the end of the day, what we largely put into the world is what we get in return. If you're never kind, people probably won't be kind to you. If you don't apply for the job, you won't hear from the employer. (I’m not taking about manifesting abundance here; there’s a difference between being receptive and believing you’re at fault for a lack of prosperity. There are real systemic issues no mindset can change). At its very base, magic, magick or whatever you want to call it, is all intention and self. The belief of internal power. The belief that we can connect.
So while spell-casting may be intriguing because of that perceived control, it's the intention setting process that I'm really buying into. Example: It's not a spell’s candle color, per se, which is an entirely human construction (and wave length), but once again, a symbol of how detailed our intentions really are. The color can help us connect, but it’s not everything.
Back to the matter at hand:
Last night I went to a seance held at the Spiritualist Church of NYC. I'd known that they did seances at one point and completely forgot. Last night I stumbled upon the webpage for the service as I researched for an article. I had to go. Something real compelled me; it literally moved my body. I just moved to Manhattan and changed my job, life and focus in real ways--so many changes in the past 2 months. I'd been feeling off-center, as if I were running on a wheel, lacking foundation, filled with energy and too distracted. I've been emotionally exhausted and traumatized by my new work/life identity to really focus on the inner self. Art suffered. My body paid the price. I gained weight, my joints hurt. I was tired.
So I went, maybe because we all need an answer every now and again.
No matter how strangely-packaged the deliverance. I've been known to spend hours in botanicas; sure enough, there is always an answer. I come home with cascarilla. I come home with rose water. I come home and focus on why I wanted those things, which, in itself, is ritual.
So, I showed up to the seance, which was in a room at the second floor of the church. A beautiful, empty, hollow room with old Victorian wide Windows and hardwood, creaky floors. A church assistant set up a small space heater, we all got into a circle (there were eight of us) and pulled ourselves up to a circular, tiny table with a seance trumpet and three candles. It was anti-climactic and perfect.
Our two mediums, M & S, were lovely. They seemed like average, everyday women; not a kook.
Whether or not that's a fair judgement (I know it's not), I'm going to stick to it. Reason 1: Let's be honest about the kool-aid; people drink it and behave weirdly, and 2: having a relatable medium at such a vulnerable event seems tantamount to one's receptivity. There are a LOT of hoaxes out there preying on people’s grief and losses. Fact. That to me is kooky. (And terrible).
The church was cold, and my hands (which were palm up for guided meditation) were frozen. I kept my coat on, had my hair up, nothing about me said anything about me. I didn't give any personal information. I didn't shake my head yes or no when spoken to.
The truth is, I refused to enter the spirit world in the meditation. Why? If I didn't believe, why? I refused to really connect with my spirit guide. I tried, but my heart was pounding. I got frightened, worried that an entity would come into my body, and cause me to actually, really go crazy. I'd seen enough horror films, and I'm aware of the fine line between schizophrenia and the perceived paranormal. I watched a friend literally lose herself in her efforts to talk to ghosts. She was unhealthily grieving, not connecting. She did not find peace.
It is like going into shadow work. I wasn’t grounded. I was scared. It wouldn’t have been responsible of me.
If you're already weak, or lonely, or emotionally dialed in, what can save you from the slippery slope? I didn't want it to be me. How to tell if you go nuts? How to tell!?
The truth is, I felt capable of pulling in bad energy, and that scared me (but not as much as my tendency toward curiosity). It was much like how I led whole life when I was younger; all go go go, not stopping to check my heartbeat, or how I feel.
It felt like I would have absolutely no anchor in the other-world. And I kept questioning my atheism, which has always been at grandiose odds with my explorative personality and sense of intuitive, or metaphysical, power.
But when M said, "May I pass you a message?" I said yes, of course. She hadn't known a thing about me, couldn't have.
There was talk of feminine energy watching, talk of my needing to get back to my creativity and talk of using my body--my hands, cooking, ceramics, something--to get me grounded. That my body needed it, my art needed it. She said, "You must be some sort of artist? You're just neglecting it."
This isn't subjective. I haven't written poetry, my main medium, in over a year. And I have been plagued with body issues.
She said that the feminine energy was telling me to keep going, to use my body, and to get myself disciplined in my art. She said in five months I'd see results. I just needed to focus my energy into something real so that I could ground myself enough to create. Makes sense.
My atheism or secular self wanted to say this was all subjective, that really any message could be applied to anyone. So, I have no sensible reasoning here, aside from some semblance of secular faith. In energy? Messages that carry weight whether or not they come from the spirit world? I'm not sure.
It would be a lie to say I wasn't deeply moved by the information I received and the way in which it was expressed.
At the end of the night, the medium S came up to me. She didn't want anything. There was no reason to talk further or woo me.
She seemed put off by my energy; she said she felt very anxious standing next to me. She said she couldn't determine exactly why, but she knew I was powerful.
"In fact, I think you're some sort of little witch." (Now I am of course aware that she's aware of the type of people who show up to a seance; a possible predisposition to the occult).
I show her my tattoo, which was buried under three layers of clothing. It said, 'witch,'--more for the representative meaning (women who lived in the face of sexism and patriarchy, women who were in touch with their own power) but also, as time went on, for my uses of spell craft. I use my tattoo to say, “I am not ashamed.” To be strong and unique.
The medium stepped back, regained herself, and then came closer. She was clearly affected. She said to me, while gripping my arm, "You're very powerful. Think about where you'll be in 30 years if you let yourself follow that path. Don't ever think you're not on the journey. You on it right now."
There was more, but that's for me to know. For me to interpret. For me to argue against. For me to consider.
We're all searching for the truth; how could we not? In the darkness of everyday, there needs to be a reason--something innate, something that propels us. No matter what you believe, the answer is already in you. And for me, as a secular witch, magic is only one method: a set of guidelines that help us say, 'I'm serious about my desires.' A designed time and place that allows us to think--really think. It's intention with direction. It's the quiet mind focusing.
If the representation of our desires and fears and hopes is found in a spirit guide, it's a symbol. It's the internal. I don't mind if the spirit isn't real; it's me. I'm real. You're real.
Or maybe I’m all wrong.
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
I flew out of New York and into New Orleans on Friday the 13th once a few years ago. It was for a quick trip - a weekend glossed in debauchery and purposefully-chosen haunted hotel rooms with elaborate millwork, and walking vampire tours -- the kind of trip where you get drunk in an "absinthe" bar and flee down the street without paying your tab. You run past a junk shop with pornographic picture books, you stand bleary-eyed in front of an old building said to house gaggles of French vampires, you take orb-doused pictures in slanted wooden bars with sticky tabletops and you sleep with a light on just in case. Or a candle, for good measure. So, you'd think that the trip would have been a disaster. Turbulence, storms, strangers who follow you from the airport to your house.
But nothing happened. I landed safely, despite the out-of-habit rosary in my pocket. In fact, it was just another night: no turbulence, no strangers, nothing. It was almost a let-down.
Anyone who was raised religious but has since abandoned the concept of faith will know that belief is more often than not a crutch. We all covet control, especially when we are suffering emotionally or physically; when life is in disarray or the fog of confusion settles in, we tend to create a sort of divine harness for ourselves, whether it be in the form of God, ritual or superstition.
Friday the 13th has always been an odd one in that regards. It transcends belief - people of all backgrounds wiggle around Friday the 13th, as if the air itself feels spookier, more dangerous. And no one really knows why. It has its roots in magic and numerology, of course (I worked in building without a 13th floor), but it's got its claws in all of time and place. It's even got itself wrapped up in money:
The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina says "It's been estimated that [U.S] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day [Friday the 13th] because people will not fly or do business they would normally do."
Having Friday the 13th in November is especially odd as well; it's supercharged by the brooding, deathly Scorpio, and follows Dia de los Muertos and Halloween, and so the collective mind has a playground of ghoulish supernatural darkness to run amok in, even if it belies reason and even atheistic beliefs.
The fact is, people do still believe. One poll showed that more than half of people believe religion is the answer to every question, which means it is perfectly reasonable to avoid leaving your house on Friday the 13th (you will die, according to this study) or you'll narrowly avoid it (if you're living in Buckingham Palace, get the hell out).
I don't believe in God but even I take part in the 13th lure. I like the ritual of it; it makes me feel like there's something behind all of my intentions, some sort of extra push. Like Halloween, everything feels a bit more swollen, like the veils are open and you can test them or not.
I wish I believed in god, though; I wish this superstition and belief system carried over to my everyday life. I wish I didn't think of it as a game we play with ourselves.
I sometimes cry for my own atheism, but the fact is I believe that everything is random and that it is likely we will be gone for good once we go. I wish I could see everyone again one day, but I won't. It's not even an absence of faith that saddens me, it's the logic. I don't mourn as if I'm broken, as if my poor little heart hasn't been awakened by god yet. I mourn because there's a disconnect between my feeling so alive and the fact it's so transient; it's quick and fleeting and painful and riddled with sickness and employment and all of the things that tick away at our short time here. What a sadness.
But then, it takes courage to live, and if superstition and ritual help with that -- after all, Luna Luna is devoted to exploring the occult, then by all means. Avoid the black cat, massage the worry stone and avoid planes on Friday the 13th.