“You will find the witch at the end of a pointed finger”- Peter Grey Apocalyptic Witchcraft
A sad business really when witches turn on each other, sad, but unsurprising given the collective shadow of our community. Witchcraft holds no dogma, there are as many different kinds of witches as there are people who claim to be them. But there are those who claim it, and try to define it, only by their own moral codes, and anything outside of that, is “Other”.
That is the irony.
We are the Other.
The Pagan community around the whole world is a fractured thing. Self-professed leaders more often than not harm the community sometimes through ignorance and sometimes through ego, and when people speak out, they are burned at the proverbial stake. In South Africa, it is no different. Sometimes those things tear entire communities apart, friendships are lost, and the damage cannot be undone.
We are all capable of both horrid and beautiful things, and people who don’t hold themselves accountable, people who deny their shadows, often have two faces.
I am not a psychologist, counselor or health practitioner of any sort, I am simply a witch who daily deals with my own demons. And this year I have had to deal with many. Death, after death followed, and I took a break from the spirits, and dealt with a dark night of the soul that I thought would never end.
But then the Poppy bloomed, and endless night was broken with the beautiful white petals of the Queen of Dreams, The underworld and death, and I felt like I could come back to the spirits and my life again.
I have never felt like I fit in anywhere in the Pagan community, I find the politics and toxicity overwhelming and painful. I have always been a solitary practitioner, and for most of my practice, a hermit. But I do still call myself Pagan and I do still find kinship with others.
With so many people trying to claim a piece of the pie as leaders and saviours, we stand to lose a lot more than what we gain. We as a community don’t need or want a central authority to look up or bow down to. And I certainly don’t need or want preachers. I left that kind of religion behind a long time ago and I am never going back, not even if it has “witchy” bells and whistles attached to it. Not even in the darkest times when I am feeling endless night and grief. The spirits and gods I said yes to are a part of my bones and flesh now. They don’t rip you apart for nothing.
No one owns the word “Witch”. It has meant many things, to many people, and in the same way that I named myself Nightshade, I named myself witch, and understand the ambivalence, the ambiguity and the crookedness of what it means.
Baba Yaga does not apologise for eating some and giving the fire to others and I will not apologise for knowing the light, and the dark, and being both. None of the gods who I have loved and adored are only one thing, none of them are always virtuous, and none of them are all perfect love and perfect trust.
My understanding of gods, and witches, and indeed the poisonous plants has been informed by harsh experiences. Experiences which almost killed me in the most literal sense.
In my post about the Yagas garden and occult herbalism, and a handful of other posts, I wrote about the poison path. I write about it often enough on here, and on my private facebook, but writing about it is only half the story. It is in walking through the consumptive fires of Henbane hellfire, and Datura demons that I have gotten up-close- and- personal with the Shadow and the demons that exist in me.
The Shadow is not merely some psychological concept, but something which I understand as the other self, the fetch beast, the part of me which is entirely animal in instinct, and in reaction. It is the gut response, it is the one that comes out when I rage, and one that tells me its ok to dally with the devil, because it is a devil too.
“Every act of sorcery is a revolution; it is an anomaly, a breaking of the general rule. The devil, the Lucifer, has become for many the ultimate embodiment of revolution. He is the Other, so you can never create orthodoxy around him or around witches, without losing sight of Him. For he is by nature always in motion, like Eliphas Levi’s comet was to the fixed star.” -Lee Morgan- Standing and Not falling: A Sorcerous Primer in Thirteen Moons
When I called upon the devil for the first time, there was nothing that could describe the freedom and rebellion I felt. The Christian god and all of his priests had no power, and neither did the Pagans who deny the devil at every turn. It was freeing, and I no longer felt allegiance to ideologies set by those who wished to force their morality onto others.
I don’t worship the devil as a god, he doesn’t need worship, he doesn’t need praise. He is Master of himself, and he gave us the ability to be the same. That is the gift of the apple that the snake gave to Eve, that is the gift of fire from Prometheus to mankind, and that is the power of every fire stealing Trickster that I have loved and adored since I started on this path.
Those who ignore the tricksters, but still dally with poison are very likely to get hurt, and hurt others. The Nightshades, they are tricksters, and their folk names give them away- Devil’s berry, Devils weed, Devils eye, Devils apples, these names weren’t given out of ignorance. Pendell classifies them as Daimonica. Even Brugmansia, the veritable Angel of the lot, is known to be a Devil. After all is Lucifer not both?
If you walk this path with any integrity, you will be coming face to face with monsters of your own making. This is as true for the poison witch, or Venefica as it is for the Psychonaut, because you are travelling into the underworld or Psyche depending on your perspective. Especially with the Nightshades. And if you aren’t willing to make friends with demons and devils, you are going to have a hard time.
Those who seek power over others, are also going to have a hard time when it comes to relinquishing control. This path is not one for those who like tight and tidy boxes to pack things in and who like to force others to fit in those boxes.No, these are spirits that are ambivalent, ambiguous, and who are as dark as they are light.
With any of these spirits, taking off the veils, and walking deeper, and deeper into the underworld is necessary. Because it is from these pits of hell that Queens are borne- ask Persephone.
There are genuinely good reasons not to walk this path. And there is a reason I caution against it. It is dangerous, and if you are not strong enough mentally you are going to hurt yourself and others. This isn’t some glamorous new way to teach witchcraft. And sometimes, there is a reason to step back and step away and say no to these allies and to those who wish to learn it.
If you focus on the darkness, or the light for too long a time, in any given context, you will lose yourself to one or the other and the consequences are damaging.
“Witchcraft, and by that i mean malefica, is the strong face we show to this world. This is the merciless path.
A good witchcraft example of this is the solanaceae, the family which includes mandrake and datura. Solanaceae comes from the root Solari, to soothe, indeed, these daughters of comfort both cure and kill. They enable us to fight poison with poison. There is no way to separate the powers and no way we should be cleaved from our rights to exercise either”- Peter Grey – Apocalyptic Witchcraft
We are witches not white knights. I do as much kind and compassionate work in this world as I can, but I will not be forced to live by others idealisms. I will not be defined by people who ignore our history and our practices. And I will not pretend that Witchcraft and the devil have nothing to do with each other.
Our community is a fragile and damaged one, and so much of that is only harmed more by turning on others whose practices make no sense to us at any given moment. I might not agree with your methods, your ideals or practices, and you might not agree with mine, but that doesn’t make you or I any less a Witch and it doesn’t make one of us better than the other. We all have our burdens to bear and those burdens sometimes bear gifts that can bring something beautiful into this world.