The other day I was hanging out in the lovely Labyrinth Books in Glastonbury eaves dropping on a conversation between two dedicated Kenneth Grant fans. They were waxing lyrical about how they really loved his later books because they were “so weird” that they seemed to alter the consciousness of the reader. As these two Typhonian chums chatted, one of them confessed that he was pretty much done with group work and Orders but still found great value in the mood that Grant’s work evoked for him.
While my own approach to magic is decidedly experiential and interested in ritual drama, I found myself empathising with the lovers’ of spooky books. When we encounter a work that allows us access to alien insight, the sense of taboo and dis-ease that they engender can be a decidedly magical experience. I’ve found myself growing increasingly interested in the importance of magical mood: how we cultivate it within ritual space, and also how this mysterious sense of “feel” can often pervade our attempts to capture concepts and identities as enigmatic as contemporary Witchcraft.
Magical systems such as Wicca and the Golden Dawn make considerable use of both the sensual and the poetic in order to charge ritual atmosphere. Whether it be the evocative folk lore of the English country-side or the elaborate Qabalistic correspondences of 777, both of these systems invest real effort in ensuring that the ritual arc builds in a way that is congruent with the ultimate goal in mind. At best, such efforts seem less about following a script and more about cultivating an atmosphere that directs intent and allows connection to potent, often unconscious drivers.
In its mission to strip back the “what works” components of magical practice, Chaos Magick has got top marks for identifying and describing the techniques of modern shamanic practice. Arguably, what it has not been so strong on is understanding the importance that Romantic sensibility plays in allowing soul to permeate these practices. At times, the Chaos Magickal preoccupation with the scientific method has left it vulnerable to a type of reductionism that is somewhat ironic given its connection to postmodernism. Following Heidegger, Postmodernism’s radical subjectivity is posited on sensitivity to mood. Rather than over-relying on the meta-narratives of Modernity, sensitivity to mood is critical due to its importance in helping us determine how we find ourselves in our world.
In thinking specifically how this idea of mood might relate to deepening my own connection to the Witchcraft current I’ve got to wondering whether there is a shared sense of atmospheric sensibility that connects those that use the “W” word. While many people expend huge amounts of energy in border disputes between various forms of magical practice that share the moniker “Witchcraft”, I wonder if evocative descriptors such as earthy, receptive, lunar and erotic might provide more valuable connective tissue than the claims and counter-claims regarding lineage.
When I think about my own sense of what means for me to connect to the Witch current I’m amazed by the complex collage of images and ideas that contribute toward this need-grainy 1970’s News of the World nudity, Alexandrian Wicca, Michelet’s Satanic Witch, Starhawk’s Spiral Dance, The Cauldron magazine, Chumbley Lithographs- the list goes on…. For me the path of the Witch speaks of the sabbatic dreamscape, the dark feminine and the fecund earth. Of course I want to access the best that primary source material and scholarship have to offer, but neither do I want to lose the inexact “sense” of potency that keeps drawing me back to the Witches’ craft.
Heidegger recognised that our process of understanding is a circular, repetitive but progressive act of interpretation. Our “being” in the world is not a sterile state in our heads; rather it is a process of interaction with other people and things. Our connection to the world is not as a result of thought alone; rather it also involves an attunement to mood at both an individual and collective level. This circular process fits well with understanding Witchcraft- new information and insights are folded back in on themselves and the wheel of the year provides a macrocosmic opportunity for deepening our understanding through repetition.
The journey through the maze of pre-Christian pagan practices, the fevered imaginings of inquisitors and Neo-pagan revivalism feels entirely in keeping with my on-going process of understanding. This desire to remain sensitive to the mood of Witchcraft is a spiral journey into deep time, it twists and turns and my eyes need time to adjust to differing levels of light. This feels far less about pinning Witchcraft to a board in a sterile “eureka” moment, more a mad pursuit across the landscape as it comes in and out of view.