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Hedgewitch: How I Describe My Magical Craft

I mentioned in a previous post that I tend to refer to my magical practice as hedgewitchery, and myself as a hedgewitch, but I thought it would be useful to go into that in more depth in this new blog post.

So, what do I mean when I call myself a hedgewitch? What is it I do ?

This: I practice folk magic to balm and bane, I divine for omens, I truck with spirits, I cross the hedge to walk the worlds, and I dabble in herbs.

FOLK MAGIC

A lot of my magical practice draws on folklore and folk magic traditions, and incorporates the materials I have around me in a way that some might call traditional witchcraft. I use pieces I’ve learned from family and friends, or invented myself, with what bits and bobs I had on hand or could easily acquire: paper or yarn, candle or salt, herb or stone. I read about other witches’ practices, I talk to my peers, and we inspire each other to use materials or magical technologies in ways that solve the problems in front of us. Most of it is highly personal and highly intuitive, often with guidance from spirits. I have a couple of pretty tools (a brass bell, a copper mug, a pillar of quartz, an engraved wooden spoon) but most everything also has a very practical purpose. I love the look of a fancy wand as much as the next magpie, but I’ve never really used ceremonial tools with any regularity, and I rarely do magic in a manner that requires an altar set just-so. In fact, many of my most “complicated” workings are done almost entirely in trance.

BALM AND BANE

Healing and hexing are two sides of the same coin, in my view. I can heal with darkness, I can curse with light, and in fact I have an upcoming workshop for the NoVA Pagan Moot on exactly that. I am trained in several modalities of energetic or spiritual healing, and I combine them intuitively for those who seek my services. But just as poison in the right dosage can be medicine, a medicine in the wrong dosage is often a poison. Non-consensual or inexpertly targeted healing can cause harm, and sometimes a binding or a banishing can twist someone’s fate so that they’re heading in a more positive direction. Magic is complicated, consent matters, and every effective spell has consequences, intended or not. I try to do more good than harm, but if I’m between a rock and a hard place I will use every tool in my arsenal. I see a lot of people who have a very all-or-nothing mindset around banework, and I don’t think that’s nearly as helpful as having actual discussions about ethics and harm reduction, and us each figuring out our own personal boundaries.

DIVINATION

I am an eternal student of divination: I keep learning new forms, and I keep going deeper with the forms I am already proficient with. I practice several types of cartomancy, I read ogham staves and rune stones, I take omens taken in the wild from the flight of birds, and I sometimes even turn to modern technological omens like shufflemancy and the rolling of d20s. Not everything works well for me: I’ve never quite gotten the hang of pendulums or spirit boards, for instance. But I am proficient enough in many forms that I have enough confidence in my skill to offer these services for money, and the reviews I get back are extremely positive. I use my tools to divine the future, the past, the present—to illuminate anything that is shrouded, to look around corners, to answer what-ifs as best I can, knowing as I do that things are always in flux. I use these tools to speak with and to get messages from spirits of many kinds, both for myself, and on the behalf of others.

SPIRITWORK

I have deep relationships with two pantheons of Deities: the Tuatha Dé and the Vanir. I am also deeply entwined with the Álfar and with the Daoine Uaisle, through the Fairy Queen I serve. I maintain relationships with my local Good Neighbors, Nature Spirits, and Land Wights where I live, where I visit and practice, and where I travel. I honor my Beloved Dead, and those Ancestors (of blood or of path) who appear to guide and to help me. There are spirits in my household; they are my allies and my companions, my guides and my guardians. I also maintain cordial relationships and open lines of communication with many of the Deities and other tutelary spirits of my human-incarnate friends and associates. Most of my magical work involves these many types of spirits; I do workings with them, for them, because of them, on their behalf, or at their request.

HEDGECROSSING

Hedge-crossing, hedge-riding, journeying, pathworking, world-walking: whatever you may call it, I use these to refer to the act of travelling in spirit to the Otherworlds. This is a type of trancework, and the one I use most often. I slip between this world and an Other to see spirits more clearly, to converse with them, or to take a look at the landscape and flows of energy. I travel to visit spirits I know; I travel to seek those I have not yet encountered. I go seeking answers for myself and for others, and I bring answers back in words or images, scents or feelings. Sometimes I wander the worlds for the sheer joy of it, the ecstasy of spirit-flight. From time to time I go walking in my dreams, but most of my wanderings are waking visions.

HERBALISM

This is the one area that I most wish to have additional education in. I am familiar with some herbal remedies for common things like colds, scrapes, and bruises; I know remedies for menstrual cramps. I have deeper education in a couple of chronic conditions I am personally dealing with, including migraines, but I would like to take an actual certification programme at some point. For magical uses, I work with herbs and resins a bit more intuitively, mixing flavors and intentions into food, blending oils for scent and resonance. I speak with the plants themselves, and learn what they would teach me. When I need to ground deeply and my usual way is not enough, I go walk the land or else I spend time in my own garden. The cycles of plant growth, of harvest, of weather, of the moon, bring me back into the present, back into balance with the cycles of my own life.

ancestor work, Event, fae, Paganism, Retreat/Festival/Convention, Spiritwork, Workshop

Hallowed Homecoming 2018

I meant to blog about this right away, but first I was still processing and then Samhain season really hit. It’s still hitting, and I’ll blog about that, soon, but first, here are my impressions of Hallowed Homecoming.

Generally, I liked the event! The workshops were enlightening and inspiring, the rituals small but effective. The staff was amazingly helpful, the food was delicious and filling (and they are SO GOOD with allergies!), and there was enough tea to keep my cup always filled. The parkland was beautiful, and the cabins were spacious. The only bad thing, really, was the weather.

It was cold. Cold and wet, and the cabins didn’t keep out the chill – they barely kept out the drafts. I had a brand new coleman sleeping bag rated to 0°F, and that combined with wearing three layers and a hat to bed made me barely warm enough. The rest of the time, I was fighting numbness in my hands and feet, even with thermal layers beneath my clothes, my good new boots, and gloves. Part of that, of course, is due to my chronic illness: I have poor circulation and difficulty with temperature regulation. The tea helped, and the fire in the main hall helped even more, but with wet firewood making fires in workshop cabins a struggle, I often found myself too cold to be fully immersed.

Our first day opened with registration and unpacking, and then I opted to skip the first workshop (on crafting ancestor altarpieces) in favor of walking the land, as I did at Witches’ Sabbat this past May. I started with my traditional self-introduction with tobacco in the Anishinaabe language, and after that I went wandering in search of the local Courtly Fae.

I was guided down a trail, under a fallen tree, down a fork to the left, across a field, down a hill, counter-clockwise around a holly bush, over another fallen tree, and to a decaying stump covered in bright green moss. Like the small hill in Ontario, this natural landmark was an anchor to a Faery Court, and when I gave an offering (of a delightful elderflower and lemon soda), I perceived a beautiful hall, and in a throne on a dais, a young and exquisitely beautiful Queen. She hadn’t been expecting my visit, but was pleased enough to meet me and accept the offering. I called her Wood Violet, because the flowers were a repeating feature in the decoration of the room and her wardrobe, and her eyes were the same purple. Scott accompanied me on the physical journey, but did not join me in the Hollow Hill.

Byron Ballard was the keynote speaker for the weekend, and that evening we attended her first workshop: Practical Ancestor Work. She began with a line from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”, which is also a favorite of mine. (If you don’t know it, I highly recommend reading it.) My notes are sporadic, because Byron was teaching to a mixed-level group, and I was already familiar with much of her material. I did not know, however, that there is a version of the Wild Hunt in Yorkshire called the Gabble Ratchet that is associated with migrating geese, and is said to collect the souls of the recently departed. Byron also emphasized that there are several different types of ancestors: 1) blood family ancestors, both recent and ancient, 2) adoptive family ancestors, including friends who have passed, 3) the Beloved Dead, who are people from history that you feel a special kinship with, and 4) the Mighty Dead, who are the cultural heros of groups one belongs to, be they ethnic cultures, religious cultures, trades or crafts, or subcultures. A lot of time, people seem to shy away from Ancestor Work because their most recent ancestors were abusive or intolerant of other faiths, but there’s a wide world of the Dead out there, and no rule that says you have to start with the grandmother who hated you. (Although Bryon did also say that sometimes, those toxic relatives get a better perspective once they cross over, and they realize what they’ve done and feel obligated to make things better. Not always, but you might try contacting them and seeing if they’ll help you out occasionally, if speaking to them isn’t likely to trigger too strong of a negative reaction.)

The Opening Ritual was mostly to introduce the Guardians for the weekend, and to establish sacred space. My friend Kate joined them this year, and I felt that we were in safe hands for the work we would do the rest of the weekend.

Kate also led the first workshop I attended on the second day, on Hedgewitchery. Despite some technical difficulties with the fire in the craft cabin (damp wood), she led a pretty lively discussion of traditional witchcraft, her family’s German-American folk magic, and her approaches to hedgecrossing. The last part of the workshop was a guided meditation to speak to an element, and I had a very insightful conversation with the goddess Dinand while standing in a river. I was very glad to finally attend this workshop, since I missed it the last time Kate taught it!

Byron’s workshop on Saturday was one I believe I’d seen before, called the Spirit-Haunted Landscape, but the stories and the way she teaches change every time, so I was happy to listen again.  She talked a bit about human spirits and different kinds of ghosts, and then of land spirits – both the large spirits of place, and the smaller more fae beings associated with plant growth.  The last group she talked about are what I would consider the Gentry, the more powerful among the fae, like Wood Violet, the White Lady, and my own Queen, Starflower.  Her words were as much warning as instruction: do not do the work if you are not called to it, she said, because you will be happier and have a simpler life without Them.  But she believes that, for those of us who are called, we need to heed it, we need to brave the danger, because They can help us heal the world, and we need all the help They can give, even if it means that some of us lose parts of ourselves.  I found myself nodding along with much of what she said, and I wasn’t the only one – at the end, she asked a few of us whom she either already knew or could tell worked with the Gentry and she asked us to share a nugget of wisdom.  Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely, considering the subject matter), I can no longer remember what I said.

After that was my own workshop, an intermediate-level introduction to the three Morrigna, specifically the Daughters of Ernmas. There were about a dozen attendees, and I think it was pretty well received, even though I came dangerously close to info-dumping during my section on the Morrigna’s appearances in lore.  I’ll be sharing the journey prompt in my next Dark Moon Crow Calls blog.

Following my workshop it was dinner time, and then after dinner we were all turned out of the main hall long enough for the staff to set up for the main ritual.  We gathered outside for the main ritual and processed in, finding seats in near-darkness and near-silence.  After what I recognized as a fairly standard Wiccan ritual opening led by Rev. Tristan and Byron Ballard, we were led in a call-response honoring ancestors who had many different types of deaths.  Then a yarn rope that had been woven during an earlier workshop was stretched into a circle around the room, with each participant holding onto it in their non-dominant hand.  We were instructed to give a single word answer to describe wisdom we’d received from our ancestors, and then take the scissors from the ritual leaders and cut a piece of the rope.  My word was “peacemaking”.

On Sunday, Byron opened her workshop by explaining that she’d gone off site last night and had been in contact with the wider world, and expected that most of us had not, as that area of the parkland is a cell signal dead zone.  She painted the Pittsburg tragedy in broad brush strokes, and said some strong words about banding together and fighting bigotry and the importance of interfaith work, before giving us all a moment to process.  I had already begun to feel that we shouldn’t stay all the way to the end of the day, because the cold and damp was beginning to get to me, but after the news I just wanted to get home to my baby.  My baby, who at eight days old, was given a taste of sacramental wine while a rabbi spoke prayers in Hebrew over him.  My little family may be pagan, but we’re Jewish, too.  We still observe some of the traditions of our ancestors, even if our religious views differ.

Once most of us had regained our composure, she began her workshop proper, on the topic of Peasant Magic.  She shared a paraphrasing from Jason Miller, who split magic into two broad categories: temple magic, and field magic.  Peasant magic and folk magic, she explained, was field magic, where you do the work that needs to be done with whatever tools and materials you can scrounge up, be that a bit of lint from your pocket and your own saliva, or an herb you grow in your yard and your good wooden spoon.  She talked a bit more about community, too, about being our own first responders and not relying on bureaucracy when its ways will take too long.  Boom the creek yourselves to stop an oil spill from making it to the river.  Set up networks, where you know who to turn to for each crisis, be it one of waterways, immigrants in crisis, or a house fire.  No one can devote time to every worthy cause, she reminded us, to it’s best to pick 3, and devote as much time and effort as you can to those three, and trust that your neighbors will cover the rest.  You can support them in solidarity when they need your help, and they will support you back, even if it’s something as simple as buying a box of candles for a vigil.  Mundane actions and magical workings work best in unison, she said – one without the other isn’t as effective.  But if you try a spell and it doesn’t work, and then you try it more carefully and harder and it doesn’t work, and then one more time while pulling out all the stops and invoking all your gods and it still doesn’t work, you need to stop.  She calls it “1,2,3, Brick Wall”.  After the third time, you’re being told that the work is not for you to do, and your need to accept that.  She told a poignant story about the fires near her home a few years ago, to illustrate the point, and ended with the wisdom that what seems like a disaster may contain within it new growth; some seeds are only opened by fire.  That resonated with me, especially considering the messages I’ve been getting from the Morrigna and the Eyes of Ra lately.

After the workshop we packed up to leave, and did not stay for the closing ritual.  We said our goodbyes, and exchanged contact information with a few new friends.  Some people asked if we’d come again, and I wanted to say yes, but I could already feel how much strength the weather had sapped from me, and the insight of the chronically ill told me I’d be spending days recovering.  So I don’t know.  I enjoyed the event.  I’d love to see the space again; I’d like to return in the spring to see Wood Violet in her time of power.  But I’m not sure if three days of damp and cold was wise.  I may need to look into staying somewhere off site, somewhere warm and dry, but then the expense may be more than our budget can stretch to cover.  We shall see.