As some of you may know, my parents met in a religious cult.
I won’t get into which one, but they were out of it by the time I was in kindergarten. Did it influence me and my brothers? Of course. But it was less of an influence from the cult itself, and more of an influence from what my parents took away from it that still seemed worthwhile, even after the organization itself proved to be corrupt. And what my parents took away from that religion was essentially affirmations of what they had brought with them to that faith. They were and are both spiritual people, seeking spiritual answers. They agree with things that feel right to them, and disagree with things that do not. There’s not a lot of facts and reasoning behind that, but that’s really what spirituality is all about: listening to your gut about things that can’t be proven or disproven.
Part of their spiritual philosophy is that they don’t tell other people what to believe, including their own kids (i.e., me). The one exception to that is that they did encourage us to believe in our Self as something separate from our physical body–so, they encouraged us to believe that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. They were always willing to talk with us about possibilities–reincarnation, spiritualism, God/Goddess/divinity or the lack thereof–but it was always a conversation, never a lesson. And though I’ve gone through times where I wish I had a stronger spiritual practice and community, I am hugely and profoundly grateful for the independence I was given.
Whether by nature or nurture, I have also always been a spiritual seeker. My book shelves are equally as full of books on spirituality, religion, mythology, and magic as they are full of stories, and I’ve always been drawn to any kind of spiritual philosophy that implies humans have more power, more senses, more capabilities than we are currently aware of. So it’s no surprise that when I was in middle school I started reading about witchcraft and paganism, and by the time I was 12 I self-identified as a witch (though I did not tell anyone else that for quite some time).
My self-identification as a witch has had its ups and downs over the years, mainly because of what other people have told me a witch is or is not. Also, there’s a bit of…I don’t know…sensationalism attached to the word. It felt ostentatious to call myself a witch–almost like I was asking for a confrontation or a misunderstanding. So I called myself a witch in my head, where it felt right, but not out loud.
Now it’s 2018, and I’ve been a self-identified witch for 21 years. I feel comfortable saying this because, at the moment, being “witchy” is trendy as hell. This is not surprising after the 2016 US “election” (can we still even call it that?)–witchcraft is notoriously associated with people seizing power when they are feeling especially powerless (especially women, especially the oppressed). The most common witchcraft lore is concerned with death, healing, and harvest/prosperity, three things that can feel wildly out of our control.
But the power of witchcraft is not the same as the powers that oppress us, nor is it the same as the natural chaos that touches each and every one of us at some point in our lives. Witchcraft is subversive. It doesn’t operate by the laws of the patriarchal world. It’s not about using the same old tricks to claim the throne. Hell, it’s not about wanting the throne at all.
Witchcraft is about subtlety. It’s about intuition and intention. It’s about inner strength and guidance, communion with the natural world, loving and respecting your body, the bodies of others, the body of the Earth. It is about magic, but what magic is to each of us is subjective.
For me, magic has never been about casting spells* or performing rituals. I’ve never believed it was essential to have the right physical objects present to make magic happen (this is part of why I do not like my practice, or witchcraft in general, to be automatically conflated with Wicca). Magic has always been about paying attention to how my inner life resonates or dampens in relation to my outer life. It’s about tuning the radio dial of my mind to match up with my heart and soul. When I do that, life is good. Not easy, but good. Magical things happen. Yes, butterflies land outside my kitchen window, and I find $20 bills fluttering across parking lots, and people offer me free stuff, and most importantly I just start to feel connected to the world around me. But also, I have more clarity. And with clarity of mind comes inspiration, action, and opportunity.
Can I prove it’s magic? No. But I know that when I don’t make the effort to tune into myself, when I let the outside world overly influence my inside world, the “magic” disappears.
Maybe it’s all just brain chemistry and mind games. Maybe it’s something we cannot currently explain in scientific terms (or we can and I’m just not aware of those terms). All I know is that life is good when I’m witchy, and life is bad when I give my power away to circumstance.
I believe in magic. My kind of magic. A fluid, ever-evolving, deeply personal kind of witchery.
At her lecture on poetry at the VCFA residency this past July, Louise Hawes introduced many of us to the work of Edward Lear, specifically his poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” which contains the passage:
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
which they ate with a runcible spoon
I could paraphrase the definition of “runcible” but why make extra work for myself? Here’s Wikipedia:
“Runcible” is a nonsense word invented by Edward Lear. The word appears (as an adjective) several times in his works, most famously as the “runcible spoon” used by the Owl and the Pussycat. The word “runcible” was apparently one of Lear’s favourite inventions, appearing in several of his works in reference to a number of different objects. In his verse self-portrait, The Self-Portrait of the Laureate of Nonsense, it is noted that “he weareth a runcible hat“. Other poems include mention of a “runcible cat“, a “runcible goose” (in the sense of “silly person”), and a “runcible wall“.
The point is, “runcible” doesn’t mean anything.
Or, it means whatever you want it to mean.
That’s how I feel about magic. That’s how I feel about witchcraft.
The thing is, I have been in a crisis of faith for the last several years. For a while, I stopped believing in anything. I thought too much about proof, about evidence, about science and facts (which are important, don’t get me wrong, but they are not everything), and it ruined me for magic and synchronicity and finding meaning in anything at all. I was deeply, profoundly depressed, partly because I had lost something that had always been an essential part of who I am.
It’s chicken or the egg, which came first. But I can tell you that once I began to emerge from my depression (thanks to affordable mental health care! Thanks New York State!), magic slowly started coming back to me.
Then I was at residency, thinking about runcible spoons, and the power of language, and the power of community and authenticity and following your heart…and someone I love and respect looked at me and, out of nowhere, with nothing but equal love and respect, told me: “You’re totally a witch. I know it.”
And I was like, fuck.
Yeah, I am.
I can’t believe I let myself forget that.
Since I’ve returned home from graduation, I’ve been on a mission of rest, but also of listening. I’m listening for that inner voice, or spirit, or anything that helps me reorient myself to my Self. I jokingly told myself that August was a good month to rest since not just Mercury (planet of communication) was retrograde, but Mars as well (planet of action). Then I discovered the night Mercury went direct that Mercury retrogrades are excellent times for self-reflection, and Mars retrogrades are best utilized by resting and recuperating.
Did I know that on some unconscious level? Did astrology predict my month of rest and reflection? Or did I find the connection after the fact because that’s what humans do?
Honestly, it doesn’t matter. It was a little nudge of affirmation, a little “you’re on the right track, keep going!” And, like most people, I’m pleased with any affirmation I can get, especially when it comes to making a choice to do something that goes against my practical, semi-perfectionist brain. But especially as a witch, these little synchronicities feel like signs from some higher order.
So ANYWAY, after 21 years of cautiously self identifying as a witch, I’ve finally found the name of my kind of witchcraft: Runcible Witchery. It’s whatever I want it to be, and I don’t have to explain it to anyone.
Just as a good spiritual practice should be.
Anyway, I have a lot more to say about all of this…but I think that’s enough for one post.
*for the record, I do believe in the power of spells. I have done some good ones. I have even been hexed and it was shitty and I still don’t forgive that person.