If you just go by the Nosce te Ipsum posts from earlier this year you might think my entire religious life has been one bummer after another. Not true. As a person with a negative bias (like most people, truth be told) I tend to let the fun, rewarding, and moving moments slide while clinging to the “Witch Done Me Wrong.” That’s not to be critical of myself; years of quiet positive experiences don’t exactly shout louder than “possessed on couch during birthday party.”
Since it’s Halloween week, and I’m finding myself drawn back toward my Pagan roots (does it count as roots if it’s not what you were born into, but what you were born into was icky?) at least in a nostalgic capacity, I thought I’d share a story or two about the good or at least entertaining parts of Witch life. I stayed with it for nearly two decades, after all – at least some of it had to be awesome! (Frequently what was awesome was me.)
This story kills at parties.
#1 – Yes, I Write About Vampires.
Once upon a time, I wrote a wee book called The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition, and my publisher asked me to attend a New Age trade show and do some readings in their booth. I was good at divination, but not a pro, and even though I said yes I was feeling some trepidation about my ability to not make an ass of myself.
So, I decided, I needed to do what I’d been putting off since buying them, and consecrate my Runes.
This is generally done symbolically, using each of the four Elements to cleanse and bless a tool and then connect one’s own energy to the tool’s. Magically speaking, objects can’t really do anything on their own – a candle is a candle. It’s when the candle is consecrated and then charged that it becomes an extension of one’s will. Consecrating tells it “You’re in the service of [god/dess, spirit, cause, what have you] now,” and charging imbues the object with your own energy, awakening and harnessing its latent properties.
Non-magical folk can think of it this way: Peppermint can soothe a dodgy stomach, but just sitting there on the plant, it’s not doing you any good. You have to pick it, steep it, and drink it (all acts that involve using your energy for a specific purpose) for the properties of that herb to do anything for you.
I’d been doing Serious Study of the Elder Futhark and felt a link to my new set already; the woman who carved them, an author whose work on the subject I adored, described a traditional step in consecration as “reddening,” in other words, staining them with your own blood.
I’m definitely not a blood rites sort of person – I leave that to my characters. It’s not a moral thing – as long as it’s your own blood, and there’s no biological contamination issue, do what you want. Writing the sort of thing I do I’m well versed in the power of blood both symbolically and as the life force, but mostly…ew. <–Please imagine Jimmy Fallon saying this word
Smith gave an alternative, however – a blend of red ochre powder and linseed oil rubbed into the carvings. I’m your girl!
When it came time to do it, however, I had this feeling like they “wanted” me to go farther. If you know people who do divination, you’ve probably heard them talk about their Tarot decks and other oracles like they have a will of their own. Is it objectively real, or just an outgrowth of your own imagination? What difference does it make? If it’s not asking you to do things outside your ethical boundaries, you can gain a lot by listening – and if you’re not okay with it, put the damn thing down and walk away. It’s a deck of cards, not the boss of you.
I had a light bulb moment. What if I added just a drop or two of blood to the ochre mix? That would provide the necessary link, but wouldn’t be all gross.
There was only one problem with that, I discovered sitting at my altar with the Runes all laid out in order and the linseed oil and ochre mixed up.
I’m thoroughly wigged out by the sight of blood.
I ran through the ways I might get some. There’s menstrual blood, which a lot of people consider hella powerful in magic, but aside from the fact that I wasn’t on my period at the time, I couldn’t imagine how I was supposed to go about it. Take a maxi pad and buff the Runes with it? Soak it in water and use the water? Pop a tampon and use it like a giant felt-tipped marker?
(I don’t actually use tampons, but the mental image still cracks me up.)
Okay, that was out. I decided to try the finger prick method – no mess, not gross, no specialist equipment. I had a sewing needle sterilized with isopropyl alcohol; people did it all the time.
Except I couldn’t. I couldn’t make myself push a needle into my skin. I tried to just jab it, and that hurt, but accomplished nothing. Maybe the needle wasn’t sharp enough, but it was what I had. I tried several times and couldn’t generate more than a tiny hole that was sore as shit the next day but didn’t bring out drop one.
Now I had this sense that the Runes were laughing at me.
I realized that in this case it was a question of will and ingenuity over fear. Life is going to knock you around. It’s hard to live deeply if you’re afraid to bleed a little. Was I willing to figure this out so I could reap the benefits, or was I going to back down?
I had one last idea. It was arguably the dumbest, but almost a guarantee: a razor.
I don’t mean cutting myself in the self-harm sense or using a straight blade at all: I went to the bathroom and got my Goddess triple-blade razor (fitting, no?) which had already cut me on my ankle a number of times (I use those blades until it’s like dragging a rake over gravel).
Pleased with myself, I sat down, propped one foot on my altar (trust me, not the weirdest thing I’d done on that altar, and my feet were very clean), and did what I usually did to cut myself: go to shave my ankle, but accidentally jerk the razor sideways instead of up. Basically painless, but at least in the shower it bled like a sonofabitch.
“Oh, come ON,” I muttered, doing it again. Then I tried the other ankle. Nothing.
You can probably see where this is going.
I went back to mixing the ochre paste, thinking I’d do that part for now and figure out a less embarrassing way to bleed myself later when I had time to think it over…and felt a tickly sort of sensation on one leg.
Yep. My leg was bleeding. Both cuts were bleeding. In fact both legs were bleeding. I was trickling blood all over my bedroom floor.
“FOR FUCK’S SAKE!” I yelped and grabbed the tiny bowl I’d had ready. It’s such an awkward angle, however, that I just barely got a drop or two, and ended up catching more with a cotton swab which I then used to stir the paste.
In a clear example of “The Goddess takes care of fools and drunks,” there was a towel laying on the floor within the boundary of the Circle, and I wrapped it around both my legs and finished the damn consecration.
Now, aside from this being a hilarious story to bring out when everyone at a party tells their best ritual mishap anecdotes (things lit on fire, Priestesses intoning while their robes are nibbled by ducks, doing an impromptu ritual in a covener’s yard and stepping square on a fresh dog turd while invoking Earth, et cetera), it’s also an example of how listening to your oracles, and your intuition (which may be the same thing, but again, *shrug*) can bring some spectacular results.
Not only did I do just fine at the trade show, I scared people. Made people cry. It felt like something was speaking through me – that was the first time I’d had that experience, aside from the writing of The Circle Within itself. And it didn’t stop with the show; those Runes and I have predicted deaths, given people the impetus to leave nasty relationships, and on and on. When I use them, they’re not a separate little bag of wooden tiles; they’re part of my hands and voice.
I found myself thinking of this story recently because I was playing with my Runes for the first time in well over two years – not reading with them, just running my fingers through the bag like I used to. Where there was once an unmistakable enthusiasm for our work together, now there was indifference. It was a bag of wood…or, it was acting like a bag of wood. I was the one who had run away; they were mad, or I was mad at myself for abandoning so many important parts of myself, even the ones that could have helped me all this while; not to mention the help they gave others.
(I could never use the Runes to read for myself, only for other people; they were a meditation and prayer tool for me. If I wanted to read for myself I had to use my Brian Froud’s Oracle of the Faeries.)
I was in a particularly bad place when I realized my Runes had gone to sleep, but as I sat there crying over everything that’s drained away in my life over the last few years, I felt something in the tumble of tiles that felt remarkably like this:
Anybody got a lancet?
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