Luna Luna readers, contributors, and editors were kind enough to send us their gorgeous and spooky Halloween outfits! Let these beauties be your Halloween muses for 2019 — it’s never too early to start planning next year’s look!Read More
BY COOPER WILHELM
The times we’re in are bad. Climate change is looming; fascism is on the rise; income inequality is getting worse; rents are going up; drought, famine, antibiotic-resistant diseases, artificial intelligence...the roster of apocalypses has gotten crowded. More and more, people are wrestling with the conclusion that the road we’re on right now leads only to ruin. If we’re going to save ourselves, and save each other, things need to change in big ways, and fast.
Enter True to the Earth: Pagan Political Theology, a new book which offers a bold solution to the troubles we’re in: a return to high-pagan ways of seeing the world and our place within it. The book’s author—a neopagan and practicing ceremonial magician (think summoning demons with a magic circle and the Order of the Golden Dawn, not Penn and Teller)—is quick to point out that the high paganism he advocates for is not Wiccanism or the paganism of a particular place at a particular time. Rather, he points to a number of what he calls “high pagan societies” and how their shared insights might give us the tools we need to remake the world and avert (more) catastrophe.
On a rainy day in Brooklyn, I sat down with the author, Kadmus, to talk about him, high paganism, magic, and his new book.
You wrote this book under a pseudonym. What prompted that?
I’ve had some people assume “oh are you worried you’ll get into trouble cause you’re criticizing capitalism” or something like that, and that’s not the motivation at all. The motivation is actually that I’m a professional academic in philosophy and the world of philosophy can be surprisingly dogmatic and surprisingly closed. I don’t have these statistics exactly right, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 80% of contemporary philosophers are naturalists. In other words, they’re committed to the idea that science has a monopoly on truth, and most questions worth asking can be answered by science. So if I was known in the world of philosophy as being a ceremonial magician, as being a committed pagan, there would have been consequences to my professional career that I wasn’t ready at the time to deal with.
Did your practice as a ceremonial magician or as a pagan affect or influence this book?
I think so. There’s a few aspects to this. One is I am very much a practicing ceremonial magician, and by and large the tradition of ceremonial magic tends to have, especially these days, an experimental aspect to it. What this means is that throughout my own life and my own career, I’ve worked with spirits and gods from many different cultures, from many different traditions. And I think that this made me already very open to seeing that there are shared insights throughout pagan cultures globally.
Not that they’re all the same—radically different; important differences—but when you really look at the orality of those societies, you see that there are shared metaphysical commitments.
And I think I was more open to that because, within my own life, I had already worked with spirits from several different cultures, from several different historical time periods. So I think that this informs the pluralistic approach of the book.
Another part of it is that I’m not writing this purely as an academic or intellectual endeavor. I am to the best of my ability living this worldview, to the best of my ability living within it, and a lot of the spirits I talk about and the gods and goddess are ones who I have very close relationships with.
Do you feel as though any of these spirits and gods had a say in this book?
Yes. I found, just as a matter of fact (not that this was planned), that a lot of the Interludes were inspired by, suggested by, directed by different spirits and divinities that I was working with.
What I would want to avoid saying is that anything in here would count as something like revelation. This isn’t dictated by them. But there’s support. There was support and encouragement and suggested insights.
I say early on in the book that I’m very skeptical—and I think we should be—of claims to authority via revelation. And that’s not because revelation doesn’t exist, I’m not saying that those things aren’t there, but I don’t care who’s revealing stuff to you. I have to come at it from where I am, and engage with it critically.
And I think that this comes from a more pagan view VS a monotheistic view—I’m not one for the acceptance of authority, especially on questions that we can think about, based on claiming divine dictate or something like this. Even if a god or goddess speaks to me, I’m going to critically engage with what they say. There’s not a spirit out there that I would accept what they say unquestioningly.
The gods are personalities, they have agency. And they’re up to stuff. They’re up to different stuff and they disagree. They’ve got agendas. Just like dealing with a group of people you have to think about what folks are up to and what parts of it seem to fit with what seems meaningful and of value to you.
I was watching Rosemary’s Baby for the first time last night, and it made me think about your book because there’s that scene where Rosemary is doing all this research on witchcraft, and she gets to a point where she demands that her husband take off his shirt to see if he has a witch’s spot. And there’s this sense that if you’re a witch, you absolutely have to have one, that to be a witch you have to believe some particular thing. Which is something I think your book is against.
Yeah, so, there is a difference between offering alternative ultimate truths like this is some new ultimate truth that someone should adopt VS entering the view from which you can see that there is no ultimate truth, there’s a plurality of truths that are fundamental to the universe, and it’s an ever-growing, ever-differing and changing collection of truths. This second position is the one offered by the book.
This pagan way of looking at the world is one you ascribe in the book to “high paganism.” And when you say, “high paganism,” you’re talking about something specific. What is that as opposed to paganism in general? Like, Plato is not a part of this.
There’s a period everywhere on the planet, in every culture, that was oral, before there was writing. Writing causes some really fundamental changes in the way we think, in the way that we view reality, in the way that we experience reality, right down to the bedrock of our experience. What I began to realize was that what seemed to be truly pagan cultures, what seemed to be most committed to these ideas of pluralism and plurality of truth in reality itself, were all oral societies, were all pre-writing.
So, high paganism is a period in any culture when the culture is oral, and that orality contributes to certain ways of seeing the world that I understood to be high pagan.
What are some of the biggest differences in how a high pagan society sees the world compared to a literate society?
The most basic difference is that oral societies are concrete and action-based, whereas in literate societies what writing allows us to do is have abstract nouns. You can talk about “goodness” all of a sudden as if it were a thing, rather than talking about how it’s good to act or what’s an example of good events in life.
We can give abstract definitions of a triangle and say that two sides of a right triangle have a relation to the other side and blah blah blah….If you were to do that in an oral society it would have to be a story. It would have to be some sort of story about the behavior of the sides or the triangle, so the one side stands firm and courageous and faces the other side in a certain way. It would have to be concrete. It would have to be about action.
This gets at something I really liked about this book—that one of the ways that high paganism can respond to and alleviate a certain amount of the alienation people feel in the current circumstances is with the way that high paganism understands how a body or a thing is defined.
The high pagan understanding as I’m defining it tends to be relational. So a thing is what it is based on what it does, and the relationships it has with other things, and its context in the world around it. So rather than defining something in terms of, say, the base matter it’s made out of, or the purpose for which it is designed—designed either by an ultimate creator or designed by us or designed by nature—you instead understand it in terms of the way it behaves and the relationships it has with other things.
A late-pagan thinker already is usually committed to what I call a monotheist metaphysics. Aristotle, who’s what I call a late-pagan thinker, thinks the entire universe is unified, that everything has a purpose that is internal to that thing, and if you want to understand what a thing is you understand its purpose. We look at a fruit tree, and Aristotle is going to say What is the function of a fruit tree? What does a fruit tree do that is unique to a fruit tree? And it’s make fruit. So, a good fruit tree is going to make good fruit, a bad fruit tree is going to fail at making fruit, and that’s the ultimate essence of a fruit tree.
A high pagan view of a fruit tree is going to look instead at all the other connections and relationships. Obviously we care about fruit trees partially because they make fruit. They’re important to the animals they feed with the fruit as well. But there's all kinds of other relationships that tie in there, and some of those are going to be cultural relationships—the role of the fruit tree in a society that isn’t just about providing fruit but is instead about its mythic history, for example. Or something like the other relationships: the squirrel that lives in it, the shade that it gives, and so on and so forth.
All of these relationships are going to be branching, and growing, and altering over time. So the nature of that fruit tree is going to be increasingly complex, increasingly pluralistic. The same can be said about us. We are the relationships we find ourselves within and tend. We are what we do in the world and how the world responds to us.
Do you feel that this sort of reductive purpose-driven or substance-driven view of the nature of things is widely applied to human beings right now?
Yeah absolutely! One way that we see this is that thinking that everything has an essence that pins down its purpose and is therefore the basis from which we can judge its goodness or badness shows up in society and shows up in our political approaches to society. That there is the right way to formulate a society, to structure it, the right political form; there is the right answer to how our society should be organized—we just have to figure that out and force anyone who disagrees into that structure in one way or another. This is the history of 20th-century politics and a lot else. This attempt for the “pure society” where you have some pre-set idea of what the purity is, what the purpose is, what the appropriate structure is, and you have to in some way destroy or heal or re-educate or fit in anything that doesn’t fit that perfect pure society.
Because the bottom line is that once you know (or once you think you know) what a thing’s nature is, then you come up with a very simple view. And the view is that anything that is closest to that nature is good, and anything outside of it is bad. You have to oppose this badness. So diversity itself, pluralism itself, becomes a mark of impurity or disorder or chaos
Whereas high paganism embraces this diversity.
Embraces it both as fundamental to reality—it’s always going to be there, you’re never going to be able to do away with it—but also embraces it as the source of the most important things in life.
For example, I talk a lot about the idea of council, and the Akan civilization talks about wisdom as something that can’t reside in any one person’s head. So if you want to be wise, you can’t do it, only a collective can. And the more diverse that collective is, the more pluralistic that grasp of reality, the wiser that council, that collection of viewpoints, is.
So, it’s both an unavoidable aspect of reality—it’s pluralistic, it’s irreducibly pluralistic—and it’s also the source of strength, of fertility, of growth, and of wisdom.
And this even goes to the level of the gods. You do an Interlude about the Greek Magical Papyri, and one of the points you make is that multiple gods from multiple cultures are brought up in a non-hierarchical framework.
Yeah, there are some exceptions, but by and large what’s striking about the Papyri is this wild multiplicity of gods from totally different cultures and traditions all thrown in together without some overarching system that would organize them in terms of importance and power and who rules who.
And this is actually an aspect of high pagan culture. We’re used to monotheistic religions that are hostile to alternative views. But it is a huge part of archaic or high pagan cultures, this curiosity, and even greed, for new gods and new traditions and new practices. So it’s both an openness to them, but it's also a hunger for them. Someone comes through Athens and says hey there's this weird tradition I picked up somewhere in Persia and they’re willing to give it a try. They’re willing to see what things look like from within that tradition.
Kwasi Wiredu, who’s an amazing philosopher who deals a lot with African philosophy and African culture, talks about the fact that the Akan society had what he calls an empirical or experimental attitude towards gods and spirits and religious practice, where if something is working, if you go to it for help—or if you go to it for healing, or for wisdom, or whatever you’re going to it for—and it’s useful for you, then it ends up increasing in value, and importance, and increasing in attention.
On the other hand when those things fail, you begin to withdraw from them. So it’s not in line with the way that faith is thought about in a monotheistic context, where whether God “fails you” or not, you owe absolute obedience and devotion, and if it seems like you’re being failed, if it seems like your prayer hasn’t been answered, it’s a test, it’s a test of your obedience and devotion.
In a pagan culture it’s not seen that way. The idea is that look, if these gods aren’t alive in my life, if these spirits aren’t alive in my life, if these practices aren’t meaningful in my life, if they're not doing something for me, if they're not intimately involved in the meaning of my world—I don’t owe them anything. There’s a sense that that idea of devotion to something that is precisely refusing to be present is a fool’s game.
So, in this high pagan culture, the gods are very present. You describe how there can be a god of rivers generally, and there can be a god who is a particular river, the river itself rather than, say, a magic god-person floating above the river.
And this isn’t an absolute distinction, gods aren't going to fall into the one category or the other constantly. But very often our modern perspective on pagan gods that are identified as gods of mountains, or the goddess of a river, or Gaia who is goddess of Earth, is that they are somehow the spirit of that thing: there’s the Earth and then there’s a conscious, intelligent spirit that is separate but maybe inhabits that thing.
Gaia is clearly identified by the high pagan Greeks as the Earth. When you dig in the Earth, you’re digging in the body of Gaia. She is described as “broad-bosomed” meaning the mountains and the hills. And this isn’t symbolic. Oral societies are not symbolic, they do not use symbolism, they are concrete and literal. So when Gaia is the Earth, she is the Earth, a living entity with a body that is the Earth.
We see a great example of this in the Iliad. There’s a scene where Achilles fights the river Scamander. And it’s not that some spirit steps out of the river, some, like, divine representative of the river. No, it’s the river! The waves are crashing on him as if a horde were attacking him and he is struggling in the river. The river itself is the god and the god is the river.
The gods were embodied, and many of them were directly understood to be the thing that was identified as divine. So, the Earth is divine, it is a goddess, it’s a living body—that is what Gaia is.
Then you get distinctions. Poseidon is a god of the ocean. It’s probably wrong to say he is the ocean. If you think about an engagement with Poseidon, it’s usually going to be something like a fairly anthropomorphic manifestation of the ocean, which is how a lot of neopagans think about all the gods, missing the fact that that works for some, but it doesn’t work for all.
Speaking of neo-paganism, because this ties in a bit to the political moment, there has been in recent years a connection between neopaganism and far-right politics, especially fascism. The Nazis used Norse sigils in their iconography, there’s the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right group that also uses Norse mythology…
You see this in Greece, too, a lot of far-right movements that identify with a return to Greek pagan religion.
...But your depiction and conception of high paganism, and the sort of high paganism you advocate, would seem to be an antidote to this, or at the very least certainly not part of this.
I would hope so! Part of what motivated the book was trying to get clear in my own mind about the full extent of the mistake you make when you think that to be engaged with the old Norse gods you have to fit into some sort of racial profile or nationalistic commitments.
Part of what I really try to stress is precisely the way in which purity, and the politics of purity, play such a key role in these fascist reinterpretations of paganism, and how foreign that would have been, how utterly opposed to the main insights of a pagan culture. The Norse gods were not pure, that were a mixing of various sorts, children of giants and so on and so forth. We also see the background of the Norse gods in the Æsir and the Vanir, who are two different families of gods. And there’s debates about which one is foreign, but it’s clear that at some point in time one of them was foreign and the other wasn’t. And the relationship between them wasn’t one of conquest and dominance, even though some people try to interpret it that way. It ends up being a compromise with exchanges of family, and this gives rise to some of the most distinct powers of the Norse gods.
So, my point is that the cultures that gave rise to these religions were not themselves committed to racial purity, they weren't committed to nationalistic purity. But also that the theology within these religions is opposed to these concepts of purity, to these concepts of firm boundaries between peoples to begin with….or between anything. The type of purities that obsess fascism wouldn’t have made any sense to high pagan cultures.
How else do you see the lessons of high paganism being applied in a contemporary context? How could someone apply these in their own life, maybe in a way that is anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, or anti-prejudice?
There’s a few things to say here. We can see that there are certain things that are very difficult for us to think and to experience and to see in the world that other cultures and other time periods could think and see much more easily. In and of itself that doesn’t convince us that we should adopt it, but it does allow us to begin to see the failures and the limitations of our own ways of seeing the world and the cost of them. So often nowadays what you find is that people want to use the very principles and very ways of seeing the world that got us into problems in the first place, that have led to disaster—they want to use those same ways of seeing the world to solve the problem. And it’s not going to work.
For example, with global warming, very often the dream is that it’s just some new technological order we need, some new collection of inventions. And it’s not to say that those things might not be helpful. But what got us into this problem in the first place was seeing the world as an object for use, as a source of raw material, and if the answer is well we just have to manage our raw material better, you’re gonna fail. Seeing that we’re already making that assumption requires seeing that there’s another way to see the world.
This is just an argument for why the history matters, because it gives us access to different ways of understanding reality. Which might be better, might be worse. I argue that there are some specific ways that it’s better, and there are some limits and failures as well, so it has to be a critical endeavor.
What’s the most direct way to apply this? There are a few things I can say.
One is that if you’re seeing the world in a pluralistic way, then you have to give up on the idea that what you think or what you understand is sufficient for solving any problem. And the same thing applies to this book. This book is insufficient for addressing the problem and for developing a full grasp of what a truly pagan worldview would be. It’s part of the process; it’s insufficient by itself.
And I see this in my students all the time. I’ll have someone who’s very deeply religious, and who’s also committed to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and it’s a good thing, but when you dig into what their thinking is, their thinking is Look, I know I’m right, I’m committed entirely to the fact that I am right, and I’m giving other people the chance to realize that they’re wrong. Freedom of opinion and freedom of religion is a chance for everyone else to come to see that I’m right.
Now, there’s a fundamental failure there. If you’re going to gather folks together to try to solve a problem, and each of them thinks they’re right, and is open to debate and discussion with the sole aim of getting everyone else to realize that they’re right, you’re not going to come up with a solution. And you’re not going to be able to progress in that conversation.
On the other hand, what I think pagan cultures teach us is that there’s a radically different view when you admit from the start, and everyone does just as part of the framework, that every single one of the views present, every single one of the grasps of reality present, is incomplete. And that we need each other and we need an increased complex grasp on the situation to address it.
So an immediate, concrete, in-our-daily-life way to approach this is by accepting the limitations of our own position and accepting the vital necessity of the truths of others, the insight they have into reality.
You make this really interesting point in the book that there is this connection between divinity and what happens when you lie, whether or not your lies can become reality. Which is interesting, especially in the current climate where you have basically competing realities at play in the mainstream media.
That’s actually my favorite Interlude. There’s a whole Interlude about truth and lie and the role of lying and deception within a pagan worldview. And you see many examples of this, but when you lie to a god, if you do it well, it’s not always that you’re tricking the god—you’re able to, in some cases, trick divinities—but if you can lie to a god or a goddess and get them to accept the lie, that becomes a reality. At that point it's no longer you lying, it’s making a change.
A great example of this is Hermes and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Hermes just lies nonstop, and Zeus knows immediately he’s lying, and is really pleased and smiles to see how well Hermes is lying. And what that story ends up being about is that Hermes creates a space for himself on Olympus through telling these lies, and engaging in theft, and it makes space for him. And he ends up being a god.
We see this with Loki too, right, where you have someone who is not a god but essentially lies his way in.
Yeah. Another example that I love is the transformation that occurs of the Furies into the Eumenides. The Furies were these ancient goddesses that were very dangerous and their job was to enforce the oldest laws of the gods. And part of these laws were things like you don’t kill family members. So if you kill your mother or father, it’s the Furies that get to punish you.
And all this leads to this climax where the Furies are trying to punish someone, and Athena and Apollo do not agree that the person should be punished (this is all in the Oresteia). And the way that peace is brought about is that the people of Athens start calling the Furies the “Eumenides,” which means the ones who bless, it’s the good-minded ones, and the good-spirited ones, and the ones who bring blessings and all of this. And these aren’t blessing spirits.
It’s like when someone is being barked at by a big dog and they say, “Nice doggie!”
Yeah, exactly. And it works!
The official mythology is that the Eumenides are the Eumenides in Athens, that they are friendly to Athens. And they bless marriages and they bless new births, and there's all of this new meaning that comes with their new title. And it comes from lying to them, saying oh, you’re beautiful, you’re a force of blessing. And they accept the lie and become a force of blessing.
And one of the good things about this book is that there is a kind of despairing fatalism afoot these days—climate change seems inevitable, our politics don’t seem representative and aren’t terribly effective anymore—and one of the things that the book brings up is that you have access to all these tools: the lie that becomes reality, the fact that you can stand up to a god, you can fight that river and win.
Right, and we see these examples throughout cultures: times where the gods are defeated. Times where you can side with one god VS another. Rebellion is absolutely always a choice. And this is an important thing that we get from paganism—rebellion is always an option. There’s no value in absolute obedience.
In monotheism, rebellion is always foolish because the only source of existence is the one god. So there’s this sense in which there can be no victory against that force, so you simply have to obey, there’s no choice. This trickles down into politics, even in our contemporary world.
That’s not the pagan worldview. There, there are many sources of power. The sources of power rise and fall, and shift and change. So, if you’re in a tight spot, rebellion against the gods, some of the gods VS others, is always an option.
And that tied in with the idea of change becomes really important, because there’s this sense of fatalism. This comes from all different areas. Part of it you can see in certain types of Marxism, too, the idea that there’s a deterministic nature to history, things are going in a certain direction, and even if they change that change was determined by the structure of the universe, or something like this.
And what paganism as I understand it is committed to is the idea that the structure of the universe constantly changes. It’s been changing since whatever the start might be and it will go on changing, which means that no matter how determined something seems, the rule of reality is unexpected, unpredictable alteration. Which means that no matter how grim things be, tomorrow might be a world of difference.
Cooper Wilhelm is an occultist, researcher, and poet in NYC. He is the author of three books of poetry, including DUMBHEART/STUPIDFACE (Siren Songs/2017). More at CooperWilhelm.com and on twitter @CooperWilhelm
Kadmus is a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. He is also a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities.
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Halloween has always been my favorite day of the year. It makes sense, too—I was born November 3, just a few days afterward. It’s as if I could feel the electricity and magic going on around me, and I just couldn’t wait to enter into this realm to indulge in it. The Scorpio energy pulsating, the connection to the otherworld, the quiet contemplation, the magnetic pull toward transformation. This time of year speaks my language. If you’re a reader of Luna Luna, you probably feel the same way. After all, for the past five years, we’ve been creating a space for that liminality, all-year round.
Halloween is extra special for us, though. And this issue is SPLENDID. We explored the magic and mayhem in a big way this year. We’re offering lots of ghastly poems and magical practices and spooky stories—not just because it’s fun (it totally is), but because these stories and rituals can help us move through the coming dark. They remind of us of power. They empower us to explore and seek and ask questions. As we head into winter—at least here in the Northern hemisphere—we head into a long and arduous time of silence and introspection. Halloween marks a sort of beginning, when we light the candle and peer into the distance and say, “who’s there?”
In curating this issue, I offer up the Luna Luna staples—magic & ritual, poems and stories, but all of them ghastly and transformative, all designed to make you think and feel. About the beyond, and about yourself. About truth and shadow, about your healing and your fear, about the noises in the night. Think Scorpio—but times a million. You’re welcome.
In this issue you’ll find magic, spells & rituals:
& all things tarot:
We’ve also got magical and powerful photo series:
…and of course, we have plenty of spooky poetry:
And lots of ghastly stories—some true, some fictional:
Plus, a few interviews:
& a few round-ups for films and movies:
Of course, please do read our entire “dark” diary—for more magic, ghosts, spells, rituals, and shadows below.
Happy Halloween. We love you.
Lisa Marie Basile
- Nov 27, 2018 Luna Luna Halloween Costumes & Outfits 2018 Edition
- Nov 26, 2018 True to The Earth: Cooper Wilhelm Interviews Kadmus
- Oct 31, 2018 Between The Veil: Letter from the Editor
- Oct 31, 2018 Shadow Work with Light Magic for Dark Times
- Oct 31, 2018 2 Poems by Stephanie Valente
- Oct 31, 2018 A Poem in Photographs by Kailey Tedesco
- Oct 31, 2018 Photography by Alice Teeple
- Oct 31, 2018 A Simple Spell to Summon and Protect Your Personal Power
- Oct 31, 2018 November and Her Lovelier Sister
- Oct 31, 2018 A Spooky Story by Lydia A. Cyrus
- Oct 31, 2018 3 Poems by Kimberly Grabowski Strayer
- Oct 31, 2018 The Ghost in the Green House
- Oct 31, 2018 Growing up with Ghosts: Memoirs from my Haunted House
- Oct 31, 2018 Rituals to Fully Embrace the Samhain Season
- Oct 31, 2018 5 Ghostly Films to Settle Into This Halloween Season
- Oct 31, 2018 5 Ghost Poems by Catherine Kyle
- Oct 31, 2018 Stop Screaming: A Short Story
- Oct 31, 2018 Blood Moon Limpia by Monique Quintana
- Oct 31, 2018 A Spell for the Final Girl
- Oct 31, 2018 Inner Witch: An Interview With Gabriela Herstik
- Oct 31, 2018 Communing with Ghosts: Staying Overnight in the Lizzie Borden House
- Oct 31, 2018 A Hex, and Other Poems by Sophie Allen
- Oct 31, 2018 How to Cast a Spell & Other Poems by Sabrina Rose Nelson
- Oct 31, 2018 Old Grandma: A Ghost Story
- Oct 31, 2018 The Spolia Tarot Deck: A Review
- Oct 31, 2018 An Interview with Spolia Tarot Creators Jessa Crispin & Jen May
- Oct 31, 2018 To Sow: A Short Story by Victoria Mier
- Oct 31, 2018 On Leaning Into The Mystery of Tarot
- Oct 31, 2018 An Indie Rock Playlist for Halloween Chills and Thrills
- Oct 31, 2018 Red: A Modern Re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood
- Oct 31, 2018 When The Veil Thins: A Call to Heal
- Oct 31, 2018 An Interview With John Pivovarnick
- Oct 31, 2018 Survivor: A Witchy Photo Series by Joanna C. Valente
- Oct 31, 2018 What It Means to be Dead: A Ghost Story
- Oct 30, 2018 A Guide to Interpreting a Magic Eight Ball
- Sep 19, 2018 Interview with Arin Murphy-Hiscock, Author of 'Protection Spells'
- Sep 18, 2018 Sarah Chavez on Death Positivity, Grief, & Intersectional Feminism
- Aug 30, 2018 Interview with Claire Baxter, Founder & Perfumer of Sixteen92
- Aug 15, 2018 Review of 'The Mixology of Astrology': Cosmic Cocktail Recipes for Every Sign
- Aug 9, 2018 Glamour Magic, Identity, & Self Love with Author Deborah Castellano
- Jul 11, 2018 4 Witchy Podcasts You Need In Your Life
- Jul 5, 2018 In Conversation with Writer & Witch Andi Talarico: Stregheria, Tarot & Astrology
- May 23, 2018 Reviving the Magical Life and Times of the Three Kings
- May 10, 2018 Acting as Sigils: Magick Collage Erasures by David Joez Villaverde
- Apr 30, 2018 Four Ways to Use This Scorpio Full Moon for Good
- Apr 17, 2018 Which Classic Winona Ryder Film Are You, Based On Your Zodiac?
- Apr 11, 2018 6 Ways To Use A Tarot Deck To Get What You Want
- Apr 9, 2018 This Is How A Witch Is Born
- Apr 3, 2018 How to Create a Witchy Gallery Wall in Your Home
- Mar 22, 2018 4 Dreamy Stones To Keep By Your Bedside
- Mar 21, 2018 How the Words of the Dead Carried Me Home
- Feb 20, 2018 6 Witchy Spots You Must Visit in Philadelphia
- Feb 16, 2018 A Prayer to Ganesh for My Children
- Feb 16, 2018 Body Ritual: Gratitude Magic
- Jan 30, 2018 How to Make Moon And Water Magic
- Jan 29, 2018 Apports and My Love of Shrines
- Jan 19, 2018 3 Witchy Books to Jumpstart Your Magical Year
- Jan 4, 2018 How to Celebrate/Center the Holidays around Death
- Jan 3, 2018 Dracula Is Really Just Every Rapist & Abuser You Know
- Dec 27, 2017 Prophetic Growth: Tarot Reading for Introspection
- Dec 26, 2017 Winter Comes, It Always Does
- Dec 26, 2017 Sacred Simplicity: A Few More Easy Witchcraft Ideas
- Dec 12, 2017 10 Krampus Artists & Makers to Support This Holiday Season
- Nov 24, 2017 2 Books To Delight the Tombstone Tourist in You
- Nov 19, 2017 How to Create an Altar for Self-Care & Intention Setting
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BY LISA MARIE BASILE
As we move through #ScorpioSeason—and with it, celebrations like Halloween, All Saints Day, and Dia de los Muertos, we enter into the time of year between the autumn equinox & the winter solstice (here in the Northern part of the globe).
It’s a point of death and decay, change and discovery, when the gauzy veil parts and the obscure takes over. It’s when we visit our dead & our dead visit us (literally or not), & when we connect with whatever is beyond, establishing a link to both the darkness and the sacred unknown.
I have always felt a connection with darkness, the space between here and now. Between the perceived safety and the “dangerous” shadow. For so long I have felt not only a home in the dark—but too comfortable, almost naturally made of it. A safe space. I do not think this is a bad thing. I understand its liminality & language—and maybe you do too, either naturally or when you encounter a hardship or loss or trauma.
These darknesses carve out a space in our hearts, our wirings, and even our physiological responses. These things open up a gate, in us and elsewhere. It’s hard to ignore it—whatever your dark is—once it’s been opened. But that darkness isn’t simply an enemy; it can be a catalyst for healing.
Shadow work is about healing and encountering and reframing what hurt. For me, it’s largely about reframing my relationship with the dark, and making the liminality work for me. I believe it is an opportunity to transform, or cycle through transformations as needed, as I learned early from a mentor. It might take a while, or feel bumpy, but it can happen. Transformation isn’t linear, isn’t perfect, and it’s not always pleasant.
During Halloween, and during the entirety of scorpio season, that change comes more naturally. The gates are open; the winds of change whirl around us. Scorpio is the sign of transformation and regeneration, and so we may naturally feel inclined to shrug off what we don’t need and welcome what we desire. It is also the time to work through negative self-talk or journal about feelings of pain, shame, or fear.
You don’t have to believe any of this literally, either—it’s symbolic, if anything. The seasons shift, and there’s a wide, dark, open space ready for harvest.
During this time, I think back on when I was much younger in my teens, when I was in foster care. I always held the blaring sense that I was different, invisible, not enough. I heard the others gossiping about me and I longed to vanish, to be validated in my heartache. I pined for the traditional family unit with all the trappings that come with it. For many years I lived with shame and silence and anger, not realizing in those very differences was my entire world.
I eventually turned to shadow work to look those demons in the eye and find a way to live with them or eradicate them. To honor my light, despite the dark—and to honor my dark. To face and strike down the shame. Shadow work is the work we do to look into those feelings and internalized ideas to disassemble or rearrange them to bloom better things for ourselves.
My shadow work was always through writing and self-listening and even though I’m not perfect, I have been able to make peace with my past and turn that shame into pride.
Some of the things I did included:
Writing letters to my younger self, to heal her.
Writing out what hurts, or painful memories on a few slips of paper and then burying them in a box underground.
Using candle magic to illuminate feelings I was keeping buried; I’d sit on the ground and light a single candle for each feeling, letting myself sit with it and feel it.
Decide what I wanted my life to look like and take active steps to make it happen. I’d design a mood-board, light candles for manifestation at night, and journal about my goals.
I picked an archetype that inspired me and learned from her. Hecate is mine; goddess of necromancy and witchcraft, she leads the way through the dark and encourages me to face my shadows and find my inner power.
In my book, Light Magic for Dark Times, I share all of this, and more. I hope that those of you reading the book or those of you that are looking to pick up the book find some healing and opportunity in it. When reading it, you are the guide and you are in charge of the results.
Here are are a few of the things you’ll find in the book:
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🦂 🌑 As we come upon #ScorpioSeason—and with it, Halloween, All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos—we enter into the time of year between the autumn equinox & the winter solstice (here in the Northern part of the globe). It’s a point of death and decay, change and discovery, when the gauzy veil parts and the obscure takes over. It’s when we visit our dead + our dead visit us (literally or no), & when we connect with whatever is beyond, establish a connection to both the darkness and the sacred unknown. For me, that connection is something I worked on for years—unlearning fear and resistance and working toward change. It’s listening to the earth, taking long walks among barren trees, lighting a candle at night for my dead, writing letters to those I’ve lost, and deciding how, when spring comes around again, I will bloom. What I will let go of and what I will grieve. What I will birth. . . Just as we are reminded of how the earth and our bodies die, a sort of other realm opens—one in which we feel connected, heard, held, alive. Peer into it. Most importantly, have FUN with it. Dance in the dark. Say “fuck off” to what doesn’t serve you. Go deep in that alter ego. Don’t take yourself too seriously if you don’t feel good about that. . . On page 120 in #LightMagicforDarkTimes, you’ll find a Santa Muerte Death & Rebirth Spell—one inspired by the magic of @lezacantoral, who offered this spell to the book🦇 please check out her work, her writing, and, of course — try the spell.
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🐛Chapter 4 is regeneration & recharge, which follows the chapter on negativity. I think this particular chapter and Shadow Work will be two of the most productive sections to use this autumn (I encourage you to skip around the book!). Because with all that going inward this autumn, you’ll need a way to lighten the load and find a balance. . . These chapters allow you to ruminate and release. To glance back and then create forward. Because sometimes we need to wade into the muck before we can clean house, proverbially. . . We must treat our space, our bodies, and the energy we keep around us sacred, as a garden; would you ignore it? Let it die? If yes, that’s okay. Everyone gets to a place where things fall apart; that’s one part of the cycle. But if you want to move through the weird, fun, intense, necessary process of shedding skin...this chapter is for you. 🐍 You do shed, you do change, you are natural, you are flora; you must be watered, you must see the sun. So while you are working through this chapter, be mindful of your body. Do you need to breathe, stretch, drink water? Be mindful of your energy levels. Do you need to send some color into your blood? Say yes to the little things that make you vibrate. Whatever that means to you. 🦋 . . The ouroboros (as is depicted in the chapter opener) has long been used as a symbol by many, many cultures—by alchemists and spiritual practitioners, symbolizing the natural processes of life and death, the eternal and immortal energies of the cosmos and the universe, the destruction and rebirth of the self, of nature’s cycles, Kundalini energy, the beautiful and constant journey and continuum. I love looking at the symbol knowing/trusting that whatever may come, time goes on and things continue and my body will be recycled and it will blossom again. But on an everyday, pragmatic level it also symbolizes that change and renewal is bound to happen—no matter what. We are constantly changing, moving through and emerging from ourselves. We are always regenerating and renewing🐍
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🌿 Last night I attended a panel called “What Is A Witch Without Her Coven?” and one of the many wonderful comments centered around how magic can be simple — mundane, really — taking a walk, taking a shower. This is one of the cornerstones of Light Magic for Dark Times, and it was wonderful to hear witches talk about this openly, the notion that witchcraft or a magical or intentional practice doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive or fancy or Instagramable. The reason isn’t that you’re lazy or unwilling to study or apply yourself — but that life can’t always accommodate ceremony or the elaborate. In chapter 8, Last Minute Light, I share lots of little ways to summon your inner magic. To step away and sit in a bathroom stall and ground yourself—especially useful in 9-5s or toxic jobs or spaces where getting a minute away or taking a breath is hard. If you’re struggling, just know that a minute + an intention + your breath is your power. 🌿
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine—a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern grimoire of inspired rituals and daily practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including the forthcoming "Nympholepsy." Her work encounters the intersection of ritual and wellness, chronic illness, magic, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Grimoire Magazine, Sabat Magazine, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
BY STEPHANIE VALENTE
it will only happen during a supermoon:
i promise, there are fields + wine + men
that you wish you could possess or become
you haven’t figured that part out yet,
maybe one day you will
after your palms crack, asphalt bangs
up your legs & there’s a point to lost
summer evenings where you wept,
but sweetheart, what if i told you
there was enough death in the air
except for this one, last bite?
IF YOU EVER NEED TO SUMMON ME, START WITH THESE 10 INCANTATIONS OR PHRASES
does this dress come in black?
this calls for coffee.
i don’t smoke, but who has a cigarette?
my dream is to be surrounded by puppies.
everyone is so dumb.
let’s get pizza.
thanks! i bought it for $10.
i mean, don’t you agree?
i need to exit this planet immediately.
Stephanie Valente lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is a Young Adult novelist, short fiction writer, poet, editor, content & social media strategist. In short, she wears many hats. Especially if they have feathers. She is the Founder & Chief Editor of Alt Bride, Fashion Editor at Greenpointers, Associate Editor at Yes, Poetry, Social Media Manager & Columnist at Luna Luna Magazine, and Style Blogger at Kitschy. Some of her writing has appeared in Bust Magazine, Electric Cereal, Prick of the Spindle, The 22 Magazine, Danse Macabre, Uphook Press, Literary Orphans, Nano Fiction, and more. She has provided content strategy, copy, blogging, editing, & social media for per’fekt cosmetics, Anna Sui, Agent Provocateur, Patricia Field, Hue, Montagne Jeunesse, Bust Magazine, Kensie, Web100, Oasap, Quiz, Popsugar, among others.
Kailey Tedesco is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length collection, She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications). She is the co-founding editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a member of the Poetry Brothel. She received her MFA in creative writing from Arcadia University, and she now teaches literature at several local colleges. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her work in Prelude, Bellevue Literary Review, Sugar House Review, Poetry Quarterly, Hello Giggles, UltraCulture, and more. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com.
BY MINERVA SIEGEL
October is a sacred time for me. The very air feels alive with old magic as the leaves turn brilliant, warm colors and fall to the ground. On these special, crisp autumnal days, I feel magic stirring up inside of me, ready to spark at my fingertips. Spells feel especially potent now, and one of my very favorite ways to mark the enchantment of this spooky season is to perform a rite I concocted to manifest and protect my power. As fallen leaves nurture the ecosystem, we should take their lead and use this time to nurture ourselves and our magic.
***Minerva Siegel is wearing Hips and Curves Lingerie, Photographed by Amanda Lillian Mills
A Simple Spell to Summon Up & Protect Your Personal Power
A crystal you feel a connection with (I use Candle Quartz)
Protective Crystals (Obsidian, Black Tourmaline, Jet, etc.)
A white candle
Sage or Palo Santo to burn in a fire-safe container
Music that empowers you (I made a playlist for this comprised mostly of Courtney Love, Sleater-Kinney and other punk rock girl bands that make me want to riot against the patriarchy, as self-care)
I begin this spell by playing empowering grrrl jams. They make me feel angsty, passionate and powerful, which is the perfect emotional recipe for manifesting my intrinsic magic. After gathering the items required for the spell, I set protective crystals at the four corners of my little ritual space. Alternately, you can place them in the four corners of the room you’re working in, or use a compass to align the crystals with the cardinal directions, if you’re into elemental magic.
After my space is protected, I light the white candle to begin the spell. The flame is then used to set sage alight, which is placed in my cast-iron cauldron (fire safety first!). Next, I meditate with my personal power crystal, which is a particularly dark Candle Quartz specimen that carries its energy confidently and without restraint or hesitation. I close my eyes, open my third eye, and visualize energy flowing up from the earth and into my body. I imagine my aura glowing brighter with each wave of energy that washes over me. Then, I say my personal affirmations aloud:
“I am magical. I am powerful. I am compassionate. I am loved.”
They’re inspired by affirmations my good friend, professional witch Kit Bone, came up with. I say them thrice, or seven times, if that intuitively feels more correct in the moment, while still visualizing power manifesting inside me. By now, I’m feeling magic surging through me. I feel beautiful. I feel whole. I feel as though I could move mountains with the flick of a wrist, and that would just be as natural as anything. Aloud, I speak the incantation:
“Magic running through me,
help me See with clarity.
Power that I’ve summoned here,
protect me, and I’ll have no fear.”
Again, I repeat this three or seven times, whichever feels more correct at the time, and continue meditating with the crystal until I feel ready to move on. Sometimes, I’ll do a tarot spread at this point.
To end the spell, I thank the universe for its power, protection and love, and blow out the candle.
There’s no correct or incorrect way to make magic, and that’s the beauty of it. Feel free to follow this spell exactly, or to use it as inspiration to create your own power-summoning rite. Your options are as endless as the universal magic that runs through us all. Explore them! Harness your power. It’s October, after all- there’s no better time than now to dig deeply and embrace your truest self.
Minerva Siegel is an internationally-published writer, plus size, disabled model, and secular witch living in Milwaukee, WI with her Taurus, double-Virgo husband and their beloved rescue pups. A Sagittarius with a Capricorn moon and entirely too many planets in the 6th house, she uses witchcraft as empowering, daily self-care
BY PEG ALOI
There were two sisters, November, the older, and her younger and lovelier sister, October. November was born when the trees were nearly bare of leaves and the fields were sere and still. October was born while the colors of the countryside were glowing and the air was perfumed with ripening grapes. It was not necessarily a known truth that October was lovelier, simply a widely-shared opinion among the people who thought of things in such terms. Some days, this seemed to include everyone.
October was the sort of girl one wished to bring to the harvest dance: she would wear a bright dress of some rich fabric like velvet or brocade, and lace the bodice tightly so that her full breasts spilled out like luscious fruits. She would wear her rippling auburn hair gathered into a thick bun with loose tendrils falling onto her shoulders. She’d wear her best dancing shoes, with heels of stacked leather that hit the wood floors with a satisfyingly firm but delicate thump. Her pale face, like a white autumn rose blushed with pink, would glow luminous beside her full, carmine lips, innocent of any cosmetics. All the better, since her kisses, sweet and soft, would leave no trace on a young man’s collar or cheek. She danced with many, and even kissed more than was perhaps her share. The scent of woodsmoke and pear cider would linger on her breast, and the heat of her body caused that heady perfume to swirl around her dancing partner’s head, and he’d be lost. But the man she arrived with was always the man she left with, and he was the toast of the town, to have such a beauty on his arm.
November was fine-looking (even beautiful, if you asked some folks who were not prone to flights of fancy). She was simply not as likely to garner the stares and whistles her younger and lovelier sister got. She was slightly taller, her hips narrower: where her sister had curves, like fruit, November was straight and solid, like a young tree. Her hair was the color of charred wood, but shiny, like a raven who has just preened its feathers. She was kind and thoughtful, more serious than her younger sister. She turned the heads of plenty of young suitors, but these young men still helplessly fell in thrall with October.
This grew tiresome for the town, and certainly for the sisters, who knew they should not let such a thing erode their love or loyalty for one another. And yet it did, it did. Their parents were old, and doting, and did not pay much mind to what had been happening since their daughters came of age. But the strange obsession of the townsfolk over which of these beautiful girls was the most desirable seemed to be causing unpleasantness, and cast a shadow over the usually lighthearted ways of courting.
One day, tired of the rivalry, it was decided, by townsfolk who thought they should be making such decisions, that it should be made clear once and for all who was the prettiest girl in the town. The festival day of Harvest Home was chosen: the day where October turns into November on the calendar, and a day when it was believed the worlds of earth and spirit merged more closely for a day. Surely such a time would yield truth and wisdom. One could take a vote, with slips of paper or an impartial judge counting raised hands (with neither girl looking on, naturally, so as not to make hurt feelings any worse). As talk of this contest spread, people chattered and whispered, knowing who they would vote for.
As Harvest Home drew near, and crops were gathered, and cider was pressed, and pies were baked, and suits were brushed, and dresses were trimmed with ribbons of gold and orange and red, an idea occurred to the townsfolk overseeing the contest: to have a person of integrity choose the winner, instead of having a wider vote. And this person could be none other than Sam Hain, the Lord of the Hallows, something of a god but really only a man, who nevertheless could only be seen in the flesh for a very limited time each year. Or was it a local man chosen for this role? He wore a mask made of corn husks, and a robe the color of mosses. No one ever seemed to know his true identity. In any case, his authority on this day was absolute, as ordained by custom.
The night before Harvest Home, just before dusk, October went to the edge of the forest, seeking to call the fey folk to ask their help so that she might prevail in the contest the next day. She felt a bit guilty for thinking it was important, but part of her believed that once the matter was settled, she and her sister could simply go back to being sisters, and not constant rivals. She found an old weathered stump and sat upon it, pouring out some sweet cider as an offering. She sat, listening to the crows squawking as they gathered to roost in trees, hearing owls in the near distance, watching the sky fade from blue to rose to pale yellow and then darken back to blue. Dim stars began to glisten and she felt cold. Wrapping her shawl more tightly around her shoulders, she stared into the gloaming, wondering if she saw fairies on the move, or if it was a trick of the light. Was that faint, high-pitched laughter, or the breeze through a hollow tree? Were those fey folk dancing in the gorse hedgerow, or field mice rustling in search of a warm nesting spot?
October heard a faint crackling sound and felt a small blow to the top of her head. A hickory nut had fallen. She bent to pick it up from the ground, looking at its rough but smooth surface, its symmetrical shape, its soft grey brown color. And just like that, October didn’t know what to ask for, or even what she wanted. This made her feel anxious and confused, and then she felt a tickle of laughter behind her lips, and then, as quick as rain dousing a flame, she felt calmer than she’d felt in weeks. So she simply sat, listening to the sounds of nature around her, and after a time, made her way home carefully in the dark, the hickory nut tucked into the pocket of her skirt.
Arriving at the cottage, October could smell nutmeg and apples, and knew her sister must be making pies for the celebration tomorrow. Candles and lamps were glowing, and she yearned to be inside the warmth. She opened the door to find November reading a book by lamplight. There were two large pies cooling on the counter, and one small pie beside them. She looked up as her sister entered, and smiled.
“Mother and father have gone to bed. I left some stew to warm for you. It’s so cold tonight.”
October hung her shawl on the hook and smoothed her hair. “Yes it is,” she said, relishing the cozy warmth. “It’s cold but the stars are out. No moon tonight.” She spooned some stew into a bowl and poured a mug of cider and sat at the table, still not really looking at November. She ate, and the two sat in silence for a little while.
November got up from her chair by the fireside and walked to the counter. “I remember Mrs. Leeds saying that on the night of the dark moon, all things begin again.” She turned towards where October was seated, and was holding the small pie. “I made this with pears and molasses.”
October finished her stew, daintily wiping her lips with her finger, and sipping the cold cider. After the savory stew, the taste of apples was tangy and refreshing. “Thank you for warming the stew, I was hungry.” November set the small pie down on the table. October could smell the spice and fruit, and saw the careful pattern of leaves her sister had molded from the pastry. It was a beautiful pie. “It’s small, but look how finely made it is. I am sure it will please some fine suitor tomorrow--? October ventured, wondering what to say as the anticipation of the next day’s events swirled in the space between them.
November sat down across the table. “I made it for you. With the last of the pears.” October stared at November. Her sister knew she loved pears, even more than apples. November shrugged and a small smile crinkled her face. “It was a small crop this year.”
October felt a slow flush of heat move across her face, and turned to look at the fire, where embers were glowing. “You should have made brandy for Papa, not a pie for me.”
November tilted her head. “But it’s your birthday.” This was true.
October blinked. “That’s right. But it’s also your birthday.” This was also true.
For these daughters had been born on the same day, one year apart. It was the day that October ended, so that November might begin, when the color and fragrance and fecundity of summer gives way to the darkness and silence and depth of winter, the middle point of autumn that feels like a peak and a valley at the same time, on the cusp of a crystal-sharp moment of joy and sadness, beauty and decay, whimsy and wisdom.
October pulled the hickory nut from her pocket and held it out to her sister. “This is for you. It is not a pie. But I know where the tree is, and the nuts are beginning to fall.”
November took the hickory nut from October’s cold, trembling hand and looked at her sister’s sad and serious face. “Hickory nut pie will be a wonderful treat for midwinter. Shall we go and gather them, when the moon turns full?”
October’s eyes were brimming with tears as she nodded and smiled. “Yes,” she said. “Yes.”
Night fell around the cottage, and the sisters sat by the fire, listening to the wood cracking and popping, watching the dancing flames, as the moments passed and starlight sparkled on the orchard and the few remaining apples slowly froze on the bough, the cold turning them sweeter than they had been only hours before.
Peg Aloi is a witch and a warrior and a poet and a singer and a gardener and baker and a film critic and a scholar and a lover and a fighter and a badass bundle of sweet, sweet heirloom apple-scented righteousness.
BY LYDIA A. CYRUS
I was falling asleep while she was driving. This isn’t a surprise. To me or her. Something about being in a car, in the passenger seat, for longer than an hour puts me to sleep. The lines and signs are reflecting the headlights and occasionally I see them. Though most often I don’t. The sound coming through the radio is a story. One about a missing woman who is presumed to be dead.
She disappeared from some place that is cold. Some place that isn’t here. Her children go into foster care and are adopted and their adoptive parents might be Satanists. It is said that they had a well deep within their kitchen that they slaughter pigs over. The bones of other animals end up at the bottom of the well. The police said so. All of this is what I hear as I close my eyes and drift. Occasionally she asks me a question or makes a remark about the story. I agree and I continued to nod off. My chin resting in my hand, elbow propped next to the window.
It sounds like a plot from horror movie, but it isn’t. It happened. To a woman in her twenties who lived somewhere where it was cold. She disappeared. She’s likely dead now. There is no comfort for any of us. Me, sleeping for intervals of minutes, and her driving us home after a day of being tourists. Then she asks what would you do?
She means, what would you do if you saw a ghost? I think for a moment and I answer honestly. Sleep deprived and exhausted I have nothing but the truth to offer. I tell her that I would want a one-way ticket to the Mayo Clinic. For shock therapy. Because I know that I cannot live with that. That I could not function living with the image of a ghost. Any ghost. We laugh.
Not because shock therapy is something we want—that anyone wants—but because it’s true. Because neither of us could do it. The heat rises up from our feet to our faces and we’re quiet again. I’m sleeping. When awake, I watch the signs appear like a man made moon on the roadside. Then I watch the white lines run underneath us. To the side of the road everything is dark. Pitch black. But somewhere in the darkness there is a woman whose body is cold because she disappeared. Because she disappeared from a place that is cold. She can hear us as we listen to her story. Two young women, close friends, driving across the Illinois border, going home. We haven’t disappeared but we have seen something that will never vanish.
Lydia A. Cyrus is a creative nonfiction writer and poet from Huntington, West Virginia. Her work as been featured in Thoreau's Rooster, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Albion Review, and Luna Luna. Her essay "We Love You Anyway," was featured in the 2017 anthology Family Don't End with Blood which chronicles the lives of fans and actors from the television show Supernatural. She lives and works in Huntington where she spends her time being politically active and volunteering. She is a proud Mountain Woman who strives to make positive change in Southern Appalachia. She enjoys the color red and all things Wonder Woman related! You can usually find her walking around the woods and surrounding areas as she strives to find solitude in the natural world. Twitter: @lydiaacyrus
BY KIMBERLY GRABOWSKI STRAYER
No ghosts without walls. In every horror
story, a haunted edifice. A house can be a home
or a trap. Gulp of water or skipping record.
In this scene, two teenage girls use witchcraft
to build a boyfriend out of body parts.
I say out loud why didn’t I think of this. They do
everything Frankenstein doesn’t do—teach
their creation to speak, how to touch. He knows
his body is not original, but the girls take the gun
from his hands. Kiss him on the mouth. They all go
to bed together, both dead and alive,
undifferentiated. The resurrection means pushing
oblivion up through the throat by leaning all her
weight on the stomach. I think—this is what love is.
I think—I could watch resurrection all day. I’m tired
of dismemberment. Reassemble the life force,
help it cough up the dirt. Dying here only means
an aesthetic shift—the teen wakes up and says I need
a cigarette. Light me up. Show me the movie
that puts the body back together. I’ve suspended
my disbelief so much, now I believe in anything.
Spell for Clarity
After Marosa di Giorgio
The solution must be to eat
a Petoskey stone. Round from this ice continent.
A slow-carve. The daytime Petoskey stone is dry,
looks brittle, like an ordinary limestone shucked
from the cliff. The daytime Petoskey stone
is my childhood collarbone, broken in a bike
race and grown back bowed. Ordinary breaking.
For this, I need the nocturnal stone—
its many eyes. Colonies of fossilized coral
glittering through the grey. We coat the stones
with lake water to render them vulnerable.
Something found only in Michigan,
can you believe that? When we were little,
the adults told us staying in Superior
for too long, the cold would kill us fast.
Pretty little things. It's too cold there for anything
to survive. And the water is so safe to drink.
We washed our long hair in it, counting down
the minutes to nerve damage. The eye
of the Petoskey stone gazing all
the way down into our inkwells.
In high school, a boy drowned in the lake—
undercurrent wiped him clean. All the news reports
repeated how strong he was, how all his life
he trained for this. Eat the Petoskey stone, quick.
Diamond of bone. Gravity of gray. A boat tour
of the great shipwrecks. For this, the daytime stone
will not do. You need something colder than ice. So
cold it feels like so many final breaths in your hand.
I think—no, don't pay your hard-earned money
for these tours. What kind of wreckage will you see?
What is left there, in the deepest lake? Swallow.
Make of yourself a glass-bottomed boat.
children still want/ some facsimile baby/ tuck it in at night/ tote around by plastic foot or hand/ most of us have soft middles/ puffed cotton where a beating/ could be/ the human part of me/ catches/ at that mechanism/ causes you to look/ for a face/ in the margins/ how the haunting begins/ that hunt for features/ a taking care/ making sense/ humanness and all the trappings/ little replica/ little glass eye/ I just want someone to take/ care of me/ instead get tossed around/ undressed/ set a place for me/ at the table/ stitch a story in my mouth/ in the movie/ play placeholder girl/ who keeps coming back/ every time you throw her away/ I don’t move/ but kill/ I come back/ make you sit upright/ stop blinking/ at the screen/ to see the whole dark/ make the audience/ say why would anyone want that/ creepy dirty doll/ where did she come from/ where is her lock/ why does she keep coming back/ it’s best if you turn out all the lights/ and name me something sweet/ so everything you killed/ for your little girl/ will come back
Kimberly Grabowski Strayer is a poet and horsewoman from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she received her B.A. in English Writing from Kalamazoo College. She holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from The University of Pittsburgh. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Superstition Review, Midwestern Gothic, Cleaver Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, and others. Her chapbook, Afterward, is available from Dancing Girl Press.
BY JC DRAKE
It always begins the same way: my eyes pop open, my mind is awake, but I cannot move my limbs or open my mouth. A wave of fear passes over me, my heart begins to race, and I think the same thing – I’ve died and this is the last few moments of consciousness, before my life slips away. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Usually after a few terrifying seconds, my limbs unstiffen and I am able to move.
This is sleep paralysis. It’s a condition that afflicts about three million people in the United States and which has only begun to be understood within the last few years. Essentially, many of us will wake up out of a deep, dreaming sleep immediately without going through the various stages of wakefulness. The human body naturally has a self-defense mechanism that keeps us from moving excessively during sleep and an episode of sleep paralysis is triggered when we come out of sleep but that mechanism is still active. In short, we become conscious again before our bodies are capable of movement.
I’ve been experiencing it my entire life, now more than forty years. The first episode I recall is actually one of my earliest memories. I awoke in my bed, lying on my side, but was totally frozen. I tried to scream out – in my brain I was yelling – but no sound came out of my mouth. When my body was once again able to move, I screamed my head off. My parents didn’t understand what had happened, and told me I had just had a bad dream. But I wasn’t dreaming, I was fully awake.
This condition on its own is terrifying enough. After hundreds of episodes I’ve become used to it, or as used to it as a person can be when they suddenly find themselves paralyzed. But not every episode is the same; sometimes, well, I see things.
That, too, began when I was a child, lying in bed frozen from another episode of sleep paralysis. In the corner I would often see a dark figure, not much taller than a child, huddled in the corner of the room. As the episode continued I would see it stand up and walk quickly towards me, before I finally fully awoke and was able to move. Nothing was there after all – but I’d seen it. This usually meant sleeping with the light on for the next few nights.
Again, neuroscience has an explanation for these terrible visages. Due to the rapid wakening process, not only is the body not fully away but the conscious mind is still partially in a dream state. As such, we will see our “dreams” as something present and terrible in our physical space. I am a skeptical person and inclined to believe the rational explanation when one is on offer, but I’ve never been fully satisfied with this aspect of the sleep paralysis diagnosis.
Why is it that throughout history we so often see the same things, across cultures? Dark shadowy figures, little imps and demons, images of terror. Why doesn’t my half asleep mind project an image of a cooked breakfast or my wife smiling from the corner of the room? Why did I see dark, shadowy things crawling out of the walls at age 4 and why do I still see them at age 44? It never changes, no matter how old I get, where I live, or what my mental state is.
It was actually this question, as a young person, that got me interested in studying what we might call the “paranormal,” though I’m really not fond of that term. I grew up in a family that came from a long tradition of rural Southern folktales and folk magic. To say they were superstitious is an understatement. I grew up believing I was seeing ghosts and with access to no other information, that’s what I came to believe. In time I developed a more nuanced approach, largely through investigating cases of hauntings, from talking to other people, and, indeed, from obtaining an education in the sciences. When the lights are on and I am fully awake I can embrace the scientific reality of it all, but when I am again frozen in terror and a black hand is reaching out for me from the shadows, the rational explanation offers no comfort.
There is one incident that stands out from the others in terms of its effect on me, because it turned out to be prophetic. More than just an episode of sleep paralysis, this incident became a ghost story. As a result, my skepticism has never fully recovered.
We bought our house in York, Pennsylvania as a retreat from Washington, DC and the cramped Beltway lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I love working in DC, I just don’t much care for living here. As lovers of history, antiques, and everything old and weird, York proved to be absolutely the best spot for us to set down roots. A crumbling steel town slowly going through a hipster-fueled revival, it’s not for everyone. But my wife and I fell in love with the place from the moment we first drove into town and had purchased a house in an historic neighborhood within two months of first deciding to settle there.
Our realtor never showed us the house on her own – we had to find it ourselves. When we told her we were looking for something “historic,” she never quite got the message and continued to show us places that, while nominally old from the outside, had all the modern feel of a whitewashed home in the suburbs. But that’s not what we wanted. My wife found the Green House and had to force the realtor to take us there.
It’s a three story row house, twice as tall as it is wide, in a working class neighborhood near one of the country’s first industrial cat litter factories. Charming. Built around 1877 when Reconstruction-era industry arrived in York, the house is in various phases of remodel. The parlor is just as it would have been in 1877 and so is the master bedroom and the office. The servant’s quarters upstairs are remodeled and make a fine TV room and one of the smaller bedrooms has been turned into an unpleasantly cheerful modern bathroom. The radiators are all original, the pipes are exposed on the walls. On a good day, the electricity will stay on until bedtime without tripping a breaker.
We fell in love with place immediately, even though the realtor refused to even go upstairs. Our offer was accepted and within a couple of weeks we were moving in. It was within that first month that I saw the ghost.
The Green House is disconcerting. Haphazard attempts to remodel it have left it full of dark corners and blind turns. The stairs are particularly bothersome. When standing on the stairs it is impossible to see what is around the corner in the hallway at the top. When lying in bed in the master bedroom, one can see all the way down that same hallway, but cannot see what is coming up the stairs. This creates a funhouse effect in which one sitting in the parlor or lying in the bedroom is confronted with the staircase, but cannot see what’s coming up or down it.
The house is noisy – it’s a row house in the city and it shakes and rattles like all old houses do. But the stairs have a sound all their own; something walks those stairs, usually late at night but often in broad daylight. Due to their odd construction it’s possible to hear the sound of walking, but to never see what is there. Except for that night, shortly after we moved in, that I believe I saw it. Or rather, her.
I was asleep on my left side in bed, my wife snoring away behind me, the cats snuggled at our feet. Something had woken me up rapidly from a very deep sleep, as is often the case with an episode of sleep paralysis. I couldn’t move, I was frozen stiff, my arms folded in front of me, forced to stare down that long, dark hallway, lit only by the street lights outside. I could hear the sound, the footsteps on the stairs, slowly and gently climbing. And then, there emerged a figure.
She was a little girl, thin with black hair and narrow features, her mouth drawn together tightly, no older than 14. She was dressed in a kind of night gown made of red and white material like gingham. I could see her face and hands but not her feet. She wasn’t fully visible – she was like a photograph projected on mist. She seemed surprised to see us laying there in bed, the door open.
I saw her and she saw me and in my mind I began to scream. Then my limbs started to move, my mouth fell open, and I was awake. The girl was gone.
I got up, explored the hallway, used the bathroom, and went back to bed. I spent the rest of the night playing with my phone, one eye on that hallway. Shortly thereafter I switched to the other side of the bed; my wife is a heavy sleeper and has never been disturbed.
I chalked the experience up to just another bout of sleep paralysis. We adopted the “ghost” as our own in a joking way to make ourselves feel better any time something went bump in the night. Somehow the weirdness of the house was easier to explain with a personality – even an imaginary one – attached to it. I even came up with a little nursery rhyme about her that begins:
I am the ghost that walks the stairs,
Tread carefully or you’ll join me there.
Thus we lived happily in the Green House, enjoying what precious weekends we could afford to spend there, all the while making it our own. I haven’t seen the ghost again, though the sound of footsteps remains. In the summer of the third year we decided to rip out our backyard and turn it into an English-style garden, with fire pit, rocky path, and flower beds instead of the grass we had to cut. It was while putting in one of those flower beds that we found the grave.
An oblong circle of concrete, decorated with inlaid seashells and chunks of white crystal, it’s about four feet wide and four feet deep. It is a solid concrete vault clearly dug out and built in a hurry by an amateur. We began excavating it after lunch on a Saturday, not fully understanding what it was until we got it cleared out. It was full of bricks and lumps of coal all the way down to the bottom. There was no body, but there was fragments of bone and that’s when I realized what we’d found. Someone else had done the same thing as us, stumbled across the grave and excavated it. But they had found the body and had it moved, we hoped, to a proper burial place.
We left the bone in place and removed the bricks for use as a fence liner. Then we turned the grave into a pond, lining it and sealing it up so that it would not be forgotten, but would also be a more pleasant part of the landscape.
I found only one thing that gave any clue as to the identity of the former occupant: a small square of red and white gingham.
JC Drake has a day job with the federal government, but has a passion for researching unsolved mysteries. He and his wife Vickie travel frequently, are the parents of two adorable cats, and divide their time between Silver Spring, Maryland and York, Pennsylvania, where they continue to reside, along with the ghost, in the Green House. If you have a paranormal encounter or a mystery that needs solving, you can contact Dr. Drake at firstname.lastname@example.org
BY MELISSA MADARA
It was a chilly, late-fall evening when I broke into my childhood home. The process felt mechanical, even trancelike. I used a screwdriver to pop a window frame on the porch, while my friends hung back at the edge of the property until I gave the all-clear. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I tumbled through the porch window into the house- now silent, cold, and dark, yet still heartbreakingly familiar- but it definitely wasn’t ghosts.
We sold the house in 2013, as a stipulation of my parent’s divorce agreement. It sat empty and decaying for two years afterward, the gutters falling off and the lawn overgrown, before it was leveled for new construction in 2016. It was always strange seeing the house like that in the frequent visits I made back to the lot, but it always remained a talismanic object for me- symbolic of the entire lives lived within its walls, and often seeming to breathe with a life of its own.
In a way, this was true. For as long as I can remember, the house had been haunted. I don’t mean this in some metaphorical, poetic way. I can count on one hand the amount of times my best friend agreed to sleep over, and she still recounts stories of sleep paralysis, disembodied knocking, and the unsettling sound of movement within the walls. My mother’s boyfriend once ran screaming from the house in the middle of the night after seeing an apparition seated at the foot of my bed. If I invited boys over for teenage shenanigans, they would find a way to leave by dusk. Our house had a storied reputation, and there were always more stories being written.
The earliest memory I have of experiencing our haunting (or hauntings, perhaps, because it took so many forms) was of the footsteps on our staircase. This was always the most obvious and consistent aspect of the haunting, and occurred nearly every night until we finally left. They were the heavy footsteps of the last patriarch of the house- a toweringly tall man we knew as Walter. Every night, Walter methodically plodded up and down our stairs, as if on patrol. The door of my childhood bedroom opened right to the top of the staircase, which gave me a unique vantage of the footstep phenomenon, and the absolute nothingness attached to the sound.
There was also disembodied knocking from within the walls. Lights would flicker on cue, especially when discussing the haunting. Sleep paralysis and night terrors were common. Certain rooms would give off icy chills, or the unsettling feeling of being watched. Objects would move, vibrate, throw themselves across rooms, or even disappear completely, only to reappear in plain sight months later. Apparitions were frequent occurrences- from previous tenants, to strange and horrifying patches of living darkness, to unfamiliar characters- human and animal alike. We had a particularly odd three month stretch where every guest to the house would repeatedly ask “when did you guys get a cat?” We never did.
It’s amazing what you can normalize over time. As a family, we engaged with the haunting on a near daily basis, but except for a few rare and animated occurrences, I don’t recall us being scared or unsettled at home. We even frequently engaged with the haunting, though this mostly amounted to yelling “SHUT THE FUCK UP” at Walter’s ceaseless all-night stair climbing. The supernatural nature of our house was integrated into the mundanity of our lives.
That was, until the Black Thing arrived.
I’ve always been prone to exceptionally high fevers, usually breaking 104 but once rising to a life threatening 107. These temperatures have brought vivid and terrifying hallucinations since I was a teenager, but the first time I saw the Black Thing, it was no hallucination. I was a senior in high school and up very late with a fever, perhaps past midnight. My mother woke up to give me medicine to reduce the heat, and she had just slipped back to bed. In my delirium, I was absently staring out my door and into the hallway, when the darkness seemed to gather and coalesce, densely and thickly, like ink in water. The seething blackness gathered into a vaguely humanoid shape with arms and legs- well over six feel tall. The Black Thing took what could be called a step forward, and placed what might have been a hand on the frame of my doorway, using it to let itself in. It then appeared to crouch next to my bed, staring eyelessly into my face. I summoned my strength, flicked on my bedside lamp, and called for my mother as loud as I could. She immediately ran into my room, eyes wide, and asked “You saw that, too?”
Whatever it was, the Black Thing became an unwelcome fixture outside my bedroom door. Its presence spread an uneasy air through the house, and seemed to affect the mechanics of our interpersonal interactions, as well as the original haunting in the home. We fought more as a family, and felt driven apart. I fell into an acute depression. We began to hear Walter’s footsteps not just at night, but following immediately behind when we ascended the stairs, as if chasing us. Living, dead, or otherwise- the Black Thing’s presence affected us all.
It became so severe that my mother tried to exorcise it herself once when my sister and I were at school. She began by issuing statements of intent, stating that the house was her domain and she wasn’t about to let some shifty shadow prick scare her children. She used burning herbs and sea salt to begin cleansing the house, but only got so far. In the middle of the process, she recalls the TV flicking on to static and then shutting off, after which she fell violently ill, vomiting in the kitchen sink until she was exhausted and could not continue. She was still visibly shaken when we returned home that afternoon.
That week, I took a free period to cross the street from my high school to a Passionist monastery, where I consulted a priest on the issue. He blessed a crucifix for us that I still have in my home, sent me on my way with some holy water and a pat on the head. I took these objects home, and while they seemed to help us set up stronger boundaries with the Black Thing, it never fully disappeared, though never troubled us so severely again, either. I wish there was a more cinematic ending to this story, but there isn’t. It’s existence faded into something we experienced and coped with, but were never again terrorized by. As I said earlier, it’s amazing the kind of things you can normalize and learn to live with.
As an adult, I’ve done my share of research about what the Black Thing could have been. I have my theories, but ultimately I don’t think I’ll never know. Could it have been a “shadow person”- a common yet unexplainable figure of spooky folklore? Could it have been an egregore- an autonomous manifestation- of the shared trauma of my parent’s divorce? Could it have been a demon, or something more sinister? Was it the spirit of a person who had died? Had it ever been alive? While I don’t have answers, I do have the experience that we all shared in that house, and it’s something that I hope will embolden and prepare me should I ever encounter a similar fiend again.
When I revisited the house that fall and broke in, I wasn’t driven to reconnect with these old haunts. I was nostalgic for my youth, and wanted to curl up in my old bedroom and spend a night feeling at home for the first time since I moved out. When I clumsily tumbled in through that window and dusted myself off, I wasn’t thinking about ghosts. But as I looked up and through the windows that peered from the porch into our old living room, sure as shit, there they were- as if I had just interrupted a tea party. There were several faint and humanoid shadows, facing me, all leaning at odd and unsettling angles like crooked teeth. And smack in the middle, of course, was the towering Black Thing. They were all just as I remembered experiencing them, and now seemed a bit harmless- maybe even welcoming. There was something very familiar in that moment that erased anything that might have been spooky for someone else. We always shared that house with other worlds, and it felt almost nice to come home to a spectral welcoming committee.
I called for my friends and helped them through the window, and when I looked back, the ghosts were gone. Maybe they were just for me to see, who knows? We turned on our flash lights and I opened the unlocked porch door, which swung open into familiar darkness. I was blessed to be able to spend one final night exploring the haunted house I grew up in before it was demolished. Most importantly, I’m grateful that I had the change to finally say my goodbyes- to my youth in that house, the years we spent living there, and the numberless strange creatures we shared it with.
BY MELISSA MADARA
For many witches the world over, Samhain is a particularly precious time in the wheel of the year. It takes place after sundown on October 31st, as a midway between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice and the start of the dark half of the year. The name Samhain (pronounces SOW-in) comes from the Celtic pagan tradition, but the holiday goes by other names throughout the UK- Kalan Gwav in Cornwall, Ysbrydnos or Nos Galan Haf in Wales, Hop-tu-Naa on the Isle of Man, and of course Halloween through much of the English speaking world.
For many, this day is regarded as a liminal time when the veil or barrier between the seen and the unseen world is at its thinnest, and communication or travel between the two realms is most possible. Samhain hinges between two celestial polarities- light and dark, warmth and cold, life and death- and in this way, acts as a portal to spiritual worlds, bringing communication, initiation, travel, and contact.
The spirits who manifest themselves in this place could be family members, ancient ghosts, or even a host of fairies and supernatural creatres referred to in Irish mythology as the Aos Si. To keep these spirits at bay, great bonfires are lit as a cleansing and protective measure, and offerings of food and drink are left out to appease the spirits in hopes that they will act as protectors during the cold winter ahead. Pumpkins, or more traditionally turnips, are carved into toothy grins, filled with candles, and carried or placed at the door as talismanic objects to protect its owner from these spirits. Celebrants wear costumes and masks to blend in with the wandering spirits, so they may safely travel the night among them.
For witches, this time is particularly useful for engaging in spirit work, ancestor veneration, exalting the earth, or connecting with the Otherworld. Even if you don’t come from the Celtic or Pagan traditions, the magic of this time is open to you, because its mysteries are primal. Liminal spaces have been regarded as portals to other realms across history and the globe, and are a common theme through many traditions that seek to walk between these realms.
Below are a few brief and inter-traditional rituals for accessing different aspects of the Samhain season. They should be accessible to new witches but also engaging for experienced practitioners, and provide access to just a few of the spiritual treasures that this festival has to offer. I encourage you to enter them with a pure heart and a willingness to explore, as both are required to breech these other worlds, and the spiritual, uncanny landscapes beyond.
GET TO KNOW THE SPIRITS AROUND YOU
Many magical traditions honor the concept of genius loci, or “spirits of place.” Depending upon your tradition, these can be the spirits of your home, the land it sits on, the trees and plants around it, or the litany of spirits that have inhabited and walked this space before you. The benefits of fostering relationships with these types of spirits can range from home protection to gaining knowledge of the spiritual landscape in which you reside, but it’s also always a good idea to be a good neighbor.
To initiate contact with these spirits, prepare a suitable offering. This could be a feast of natural, earth-based foods (apples, spirits, fresh bread), a beautiful altar decked with objects from your home or neighborhood, beeswax candles, or something simple like sweet smelling incense. Set this in a prepared space and turn out all of the lights in your home.
Prepare an strong herbal bath. I tend to use cedar boughs and birch bark when I work with spirits of place, but you may find it more useful to prepare a brew of local plants, stones, and sacred herbs. Strain this brew and either add it to your bath, or add it to temperate water in a large pot and pour it over your head, baptism-style. This water should be patted off gently and not dried thoroughly, and bathing should always occur by candlelight. If you would like to dress afterward, have clean, comfortable clothes prepared.
On leaving your bath, approach your altar space and light any candles or incense. Sit back and allow the darkness of the room to cloak and envelop you. Speak your name into this place, and your intentions for fostering these relationships. Let these spirits know they are welcome, and how they can best make themselves manifest to you. Ask them if there are offerings they like, or methods of contact that are most effective. Ask them how you can be of service to them, and how they can be of service to you. Talk all night if you like, or simple share communal space with one another.
When it is time to leave, I like to break bread. I take a piece of bread or fruit and break it in half, eating half and leaving the other on the altar. I leave the candles and incense burning all night, and in the morning, I carry leftover offerings and wax to a crossroads, riverbank, or the edge of the forest (being careful not to leave inorganic materials in nature).
HONOR YOUR BELOVED DEAD
Ancestor magic has powerful benefits for the practitioner, being that blood is shared between the spirits and oneself. When we talk about ancestor spirits, we don’t just mean the ones you can name. The term refers to millennia of births and deaths that lead to your existence. This can also refer to non-blood ancestors, such as the lineage of witches in your tradition. Initiating contact with these spirits should be easy because of lineage, but also may be difficult in the event of ancestral trauma. These spirits usually have a lot to say, and it is best to listen closely and with reverence.
My ancestor altar is a permanent installation in my home, and is made up of several parts. I have many old film photographs of my family, dating back three generations. My preferred offering to familial spirits is a glass of water, a piece of chocolate, and small dish containing honey and olive oil, but these will vary family to family. If you’re unsure of what to offer, a glass of water and a white candle never really go wrong.
I also encourage you to build a physical place for these spirits to reside. This could be a clay jar, a ceramic skull, a wooden box, or a wax poppet, but the role is to create a vessel for spirit to be housed and live in your space. These vessel can be filled with your personal concerns (hair or blood are nice choices), red thread, necromantic herbs (marshmallow root is my fave), white eggshell, soil from graveyards (particular where family is inferred), frankincense, and other non-perishables that seem appropriate. You may interact with this object as a physical extension of your ancestral spirits, and feed it when appropriate.
You may also find it useful, especially if there is strong ancestral trauma in your lineage, to employ the assistance of a psychopomp, or a spirit that can cross between worlds. Common choices are Hermès or Hecate from the Greco Roman pantheons, but family spirits that you have strong connections to are also good choices. I often use my childhood dog for this purpose.
You may choose to veil this altar when it is not in use, as it can be intensely personal. Black or white are good color choices, and any natural fabric will do. I use white vintage lace.
In my experience, these relationships (like most family) gain their richness over time and repeated interaction. Offer them a portion of your dinner each night. Share the joys and the sorrows of your life with them. Ask for advice and favors, but be sure to return the favors when given. Work to investigate and heal ancestral trauma where it is present. Seek out the other witches in your family line. Map your family tree. Stay engaged in the work of maintaining both your living and dead family, and the rewards of support will amaze you.
PREPARE FOR THE WINTER AHEAD
As witches, we can understand the turning of seasons on both a physical and archetypal level. As the earth wanes into darkness, we can similarly engage in a spiritual introspection- turning our focus inward, and weighing what works and what doesn’t in our lives. It is a time when the choices that do not serve us truly show their faces, and where we can more easily access the wild & intuitive nature of our spiritual selves to seek out better pathways.
The Samhain season is an excellent time to begin this sort of work in preparation for both the literal and symbolic winters ahead. Deepening our relationship with our intuitive nature and confronting our devilish, harmful “shadow” selves are parts of the great work of witchcraft, so anytime is a good time to start, but the liminal space provided by Samhain gives us a unique perspective. Just as darkness and light can simultaneously inhabit the container of Samhain without judgement, so too can we hold space for both of these aspects of our selves, and examine them without fear or shame. It is the nature of liminal spaces like these to hold space for opposites, not to force moral values on them, and harnessing this potential is incredibly useful.
A skill that I’ve found helpful in discerning between the needs of the intuitive, soulful self and the wants of the shadow self is turning the spiritual ear to the voice of both parts. There is a quote by a medieval Christian monk who said that at night, angels and devils would appear to him, but sometimes the devils would appear as angels and the angels would appear as devils. When asked how he tells them apart, he said you can only tell by how you feel when they’ve left you. The same is true for these two parts of the self. The voice of the intuitive nature is soulful and deep. It is how we feel when we are moved by artwork, or when we feel our sense of place in the world, or when we appreciate nature, or when we engage in work aligned with our soul’s purpose. The voice of the shadow self is driven by fear and anxiety, and seeks revenge, dominance, isolation, and judgement of others. When the soulful voice speaks, we are called into action, we are moved to passion, and we fall in love. When the shadow self speaks, we worry, we tremble, and we lose sleep.
A ritual I’ve found for engaging these two selves is one I learned while I was living in India. In a modified version of this ritual, the practitioner should sit in as much darkness as can be gathered, particularly in a place that inspires a little bit of fear. Basements or closets work well for this. The practitioner should enter a meditative state, and call into this place all the things they fear most- people who have wronged them, deepest fears about themselves, traumas, demons, wrathful gods, serpents, spiders, lions, tigers, and bears. They should focus on calling these creatures into their space, and inviting them to feast on the practitioners spirit and body. The practitioner should focus on visualizing this feast in detail, and hold space for the feelings that arise. Cry, scream, and agonize through the experience.
In my experience, there comes a breakthrough point at the crescendo of fear when a new voice emerges. A soulful and light voice, that cuts through the chaos of the others. It understands the soulful self as independent from these ego-driven terrors, and banishes them. It is self assured and possesses the capacity to offer the deepest healing. Crying may turn to laughter. The participant should stay in this place as long as they would like, until they feel ready to leave.
It is nice to have prepared a drink and small snack after ritual to help the participant return to their bodies. Journaling, drawing, or automatic writing can help process the experience, but the important takeaway should be the discernment between the two voices that both inhabit the self. You will always know them by how you feel when they leave you.
BY TIFFANY SCIACCA
I've always had a soft spot for a good ghost story. From a slow-burner like The Others, to the fun and quirky The Frighteners, there is just something about the genre as a whole that has always appealed to me. Though there are newer films I have enjoyed—Rigor Mortis, Haunter, and Ghost Stories, I’ve decided to share some of my favorites from the 70s and 80s—with one cheat, because I love it so much I always recommend it!
The first offering is Ghost Story, a 1981 film directed by John Irvin and adapted from a story written by Peter Straub. It stars silver screen legends, Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that it is about a group of college roommates brought together as old men after the death of a friend who then forced to come to terms with the horrible secret that has tormented them all.
Lady In White
In Lady In White (1988) written and directed by Frank Laloggia, Lukas Hass stars as a young Frankie Scarlatti, who witnesses a crime that has already happened and is attacked shortly after. While recovering, he discovers the dark connection between the two events. There is a bond formed between Frankie and the victim that is endearing as he seeks to bring her killer to justice. This is spun like a dark, coming of age, fairytale—but I can’t tell you if there is a happy ending or not. With Len Cariou, Alex Rocco and Katherine Helmond also starring, Lady in White received positive reviews when it debuted and was considered a good suspense film that “did not rely on gore.”
I wasn’t going to include The Fog, because everyone includes The Fog. But clearly, it’s on everyone’s list for good reason, so I decided why not? Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, and John Houseman (again!,) Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook, this John Carpenter and Debra Hill film also centers on a dark secret. Like they say, “What is done in the darkness comes out in the light.” (Actually, I just googled it and apparently, I misquoted that, but I am keeping it in!)
I love this movie because it’s a perfect ghost story that never grows old. I mean really, who doesn’t think about The Fog whenever a bank rolls in? Even when I was in Sicily, and witnessed a phenomenon called “Lupo di Mare”—a quick moving fog that envelops everything—I thought of this movie. I watched it swallow as much of my town as I could see and it scared the life out of me!
Don’t Look Now
Don’t Look Now is a last-minute switchout because I had not seen The Haunting of Julia in such a long time, I didn’t feel comfortable recommending it and did not have the time to watch it again. Starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, Don’t Look Now was directed by Nicholas Roeg and is an adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same name. Don’t Look Now is a story bookended with tragedies and deals with a couple’s grieving process after the loss of their only daughter. There are of course more layers to this film then an Opera cake, but I don’t want to give anything away, except for these shots.
The Devil’s Backbone
My last recommendation is from 2001 and was directed by Guillermo del Toro. The Devil’s Backbone stars Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, and Federico Luppi. It is a gothic horror set in 1930s Spain at the tail end of the Spanish Civil War and follows the relationships between an older couple who run an orphanage sheltering the children of the military and government, their younger employees as well as a newly arrived resident who begins having visions of a ghostly orphan. The Devil’s Backbone has been compared to The Others but is infused with a thicker melancholy and is really a moody and beautiful film that needs to be seen at least once! All of these suggestions can be viewed on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play and many other sites, so if you can, squeeze one, two or all of these onto your Halloween Movie watchlist and enjoy!
Tiffany Sciacca is a writer who has recently moved to Sicily from the Midwest. Her work has appeared in the Silver Birch Press, SOFTBLOW and DNA Magazine UK. When she is not learning a new language or trying to blend in, she is reading horror anthologies, binging on Nordic Noir or plugging away at her first Giallo screenplay. @EustaceChisholm