- Beliefs – Magic: In which I rant about my past and talk about word spelling and genealogy and hoodoo
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Day Five: Dance Magic Dance
The time has come, friends. I’m going to talk about MAGIC. Brace yourselves.
When I originally stumbled into the world of modern paganism, I was a little bewildered by all the magic. It’s not that I outright thought magic wasn’t real, per se, but I was, shall we say, dubious. Imagine that in a Tim Gunn voice. All the emphasis on magic, or “magick” as the sources I was reading spelled it, seemed, well, a little hokey. And big disclaimer here, I was reading some really bad books. I was reading Silver Ravenwolf, for goodness’ sake. It was ridiculous. Just recently while Girlfriend was helping me clean my room out of all my old useless shit, I came across a copy of Teen Witch and I had to work really hard to convince her that it was much, much better to recycle the book, or shred it or burn it, than donate it to charity or the library. Because it’s just...harmful to a person’s outlook on life and their religion. It just is. And I maintain that if I want to burn a book I paid money for once upon a time and, horror, read and enjoyed at the time, I can totally do that. Girlfriend objected. Whatever it’s getting recycled so hopefully people can make good books out of it. Or maybe it’s going to be reincarnated into a James Patterson book. That would just be my luck.
Oh my god can I write a blog entry without becoming a ridiculous rambling crazy person, please. So Magic.
I don’t spell magic with a ‘K’ because in the first place I grew to think it was kind of stupid to spell it that way, and then when I learned why the K was added in the first place, I realized I don’t agree with/care about that system of thought. Aleister Crowley’s application of Hebrew numerological significance to his ceremonial magic does not hold any spiritual meaning for me. Now for Ceremonial Magicians (CMs), I can see how that spelling would render the word “magic” much more significant and powerful. This doesn’t explain why every piece of Wicca 101 pulp has to use that spelling, but whatever.
Magic as I first learned about it seemed stilted, with all the incantations and elements and casting of a circle to create sacred space and tools required. My early attempts made me feel self-conscious and stupid. My focus turned to my domestic environment, and the cleansing and protection of it. I used a lot of salt. I was never one for big grand spellwork, and the one time I attempted something really serious it had serious and seriously unexpected results. There were ramifications. It sparked a really strange short-lived relationship between two people who were both young and confused and full of emotions and, okay, there’s a little bit of regret there, but from this experience I learned some important things. I don’t use magic unless I think it will genuinely augment, NOT replace, physical mundane efforts I make to fix problems and improve myself.
I have also learned that I really don’t think witchcraft as a magical system works for me. It’s very European in feel, to my mind. Generic neopagan magic tends to rely a lot of new age ideas like the powers of various crystals without really going into why these things work. And, as earlier stated, ceremonial magic just does not appeal to me at all.
There is, however, a magical system I’m learning to use (sparingly, and so far only directed at myself). One of the factors sparking my spiritual renaissance (let’s call it a renaissance, I like that) is the idea that my local environment should inform my practice. The difficulties I encountered when learning about cultural reconstructionism involved the fact that I can’t in good conscience pick one culture or pantheon to honor. My ancestors came from all over the place. I look in the mirror every day and see a mix of features that I enjoy, surely, but are also problematic in my everyday interactions with people. (pro tip: If you see a person who looks like they might be multiracial, it’s rude to blurt “what are you?” Particularly if this is at someone’s place of business and therefore undermining their ability to do their goddamn job.)
My father’s family all identify as African-American, but (like many African-Americans) they have a significant portion of European ancestry. Specifically, there is a lot of French ancestry, as well as a bit of Native American ancestry (also on my mom’s side as well, though her family is chiefly British Isles-oriented). I feel like it would be disingenuous of me to focus on a pantheon or a magical system that is purely European in origin. At the same time, though, I feel a bit nervous about investigating African traditional and diasporic religions because it feels like cultural appropriation. Also, there’s not one single African culture, and thanks to slavery, it’s impossible for me to research exactly where in Africa my father’s ancestors came from. Okay not without a really expensive genome test, which I REALLY WANT SOMEDAY because I love genealogy and the study of human origins but that’s another story for another time.
Long story short, I feel like if I’m going to continue to incorporate a magical system into my life in some way, it needs to be one that reflects the varied cultures that are part of my ancestry, and it also needs to be thoroughly American. Because that’s what my culture really is, let’s be honest. I am an American, and the city and the state and the country in which I live colors my view of the world, natural and political and spiritual.
Last year, I learned about hoodoo. It is basically the jazz music of magical systems. Derived from the African diaspora with influence from Latin American, Native American, and various European cultures, it is firmly associated with the Blues and the South and it has rules and structures that make sense to me. There’s no “harm none” advice in hoodoo, but more of a “be aware that if you do something harmful to someone they have every right to retaliate so take some precautions.” It is a magical system developed by and for marginalized people, who do not get their needs met by hegemonic societal structures.
Basically this draws the biracial queer girl like hipsters to a sale at the thrift store.
One thing I really enjoy about hoodoo is that it’s not squeamish. It’s all about bodies and the things they do and produce. It accepts death as a part of life and a great importance is placed on bones, claws, roots, the things left behind by plants and animals and people. Another thing in its favor is that hoodoo or conjure workings have an animist element to them. Making up a mojo hand essentially involves creating a container for power through the addition of various items, and giving life to that power and feeding it and maintaining it over time. It is the direction of the spirit in things, and a reciprocal honoring of those spirits that continues. There’s a relationship involved, like responsible pet ownership. You have to take care of it. Other systems of magic I’ve looked at seemed oriented towards the raising and focusing of energy and then just sending it out into the universe to do its work and...then sort of moving on. The structure of hoodoo fits much more easily with both my ethics and my daily life.
So far I’m only operating on the fringes of this system. I like to research things before I jump in and start going crazy with conjure. There are some good sources available online, the first of which is Lucky Mojo. There are also, surprisingly, a lot of shops on etsy that make the materials available, and (HUGE bonus points here) hoodoo supplies are a LOT CHEAPER than other magical supplies. It has a lot in common with green or kitchen witchcraft in that it’s a very do it yourself system, but given my cultural identity and my location, hoodoo seems to work much better for me.
Has this blog entry been ridiculously long? Has it been too off-topic? Was there more I could have said? Please do let me know. Blogging your innermost thoughts is hard, man.