18 - moon (draft 2/10)
Updated: Mar 24
18 – moon
magick, mystery, mysticism, intuition, dreams
It feels silly to define the inherently indefinable Thing that is “magick,” but I’m a dramaturg: my very job title is inherently indefinable, yet it regularly requires defining. My elevator pitch response to the age-old question, “So what does a dramaturg even do?” is Responsibility, Curiosity, and Advocacy, but of course, the most accurate response is “It depends,” – on the project, the audience, the theatre, and the dramaturg herself. Similarly, magick holds infinite meaning depending on the type of craft and the witch herself. It all depends – but that makes for a very confusing thesis, so I will attempt to define magick as it pertains to the coven by breaking it down into its various components.
Every standard dictionary definition of “magic” that I found used the word “supernatural.” Regardless of whether or how much a witch believes in the occult herself, magick is inevitably about mystery. It’s the stuff that falls outside the realms of science and logic: the utter mysteries of the world, the spiritual and healing practices that patriarchy tries to erase from history. Transcendent theatre, or Jill Dolan’s utopic performance, is this kind of magick; so is a tarot reading that gives someone exactly what they need to hear; so was our midnight Samhain ritual; so is talking to spirits and communing with ancestors; sometimes it’s watching a sunset – all of the things that we try to explain with words, observation, and analysis, but they’re always just out of reach. It is embodied and ephemeral, and honestly, to non-coven readers of this thesis: you just had to be there.
I and many practicing witches define magick along the lines of the definition in Queering Your Craft: “your determination and force of will combined with your desire for something to happen” (Snow, 17). By speaking or ritualizing an intention, a witch makes it so. One of my favorite witch communities is the SASSWitches subreddit – “A place for Skeptic, Agnostic, Atheist, and generally Science-Seeking folk to share memes, support one another, and develop rituals” – which supports a desire to understand why we crave esoteric practice, despite our logical brains telling us it’s all woo-y hogwash. “Hacking my brain,” according the SASS redditor who coined the term, is defined below:
I’ve been getting deeper into my craft recently and been feeling called to the more esoteric parts of it. I’ve been doing more tarot readings, more dream journaling, and I have started even thinking I want to do some sort of deity offering to a nebulous “deity” of the earth and nature—maybe not one that exists in a pantheon currently but more a personification of the concept of nature.
All of it makes me feel a little crazy but I have been realizing that all of this is just a way to like, hack into your subconscious and the part of you that KNOWS what you need to do, even if your conscience doesn’t.
When I do a tarot reading and come up with the meaning as it pertains to my life, it’s not the tarot telling me, it’s ME telling me. When I make an offering to my nature “deity”, I’m not trying to worship or pray to something, I’m engaging in an act of gratitude that hooks my subconscious and makes me come back again and again more than a gratitude journal ever did.
Externalizing my own brain weirdly helps me to internalize it’s [sic] messages in a meaningful way. It’s like... it’s so cool to me because I’m finally getting my mind to work for me and my life, and all I had to do was reframe what I was doing to include a little magic, a little ritual, and a whole lot of nature appreciation.
Call it placebo effect, mindfulness, self-therapy, or hacking your brain – it’s magick. It reconnects the self with the subconscious, other beings, the natural world, the past and the future – above and below, within and without. Magick is all about individual power, but it also recognizes the interconnectedness of the individual with the world.
Starhawk calls this “the art of evoking power-from-within… the art of liberation, the act that releases the mysteries” (6). In Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery, immanent value, or spirit, is integral to witchcraft. She observes the ways that spirit has been coopted by institutional oppressors to promote passivity: by locating the spiritual domain outside that of the everyday, capitalist churches allow the people to believe that they are powerless by nature. Witches, on the other hand, see their own world as the world of spirit: “we ourselves become actors in the story, and his world becomes the realm in which the sacred must be honored and freedom created” (19). I find Starhawk’s capitalists vs witches binary to be problematic in its dismissiveness toward forms of resistance that occur within oppressive systems; and there are unquestionably oppressive tactics embedded in all circles of witchcraft, to varying degrees. Ultimately, however, I do believe that witchcraft holds liberatory potential. “As above, so below; as within, so without” – holding all realms as sacred imbues all beings with inherent value.
According to Starhawk, “magic teaches that living beings are beings of energy and spirit as well as matter, that energy – what the Chinese call chi – flows in certain patterns throughout the human body, and can be raised, stored, shaped, and sent” (24). In more traditional theatre spaces, I’ve always called this “reading the room” – an acknowledgment of the oft-unnamed feelings and emotional/physical baggage that people inevitably bring into a space.
Energy is what makes a coven distinct from, say, a teacher and her students, or from a traditional artistic team. Energy is present in all of these spaces, but witches in a coven recognize it. They honor this generative force, pay attention to its highs and lows, and sometimes even manipulate it through ritual and spell work. In Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power, Pam Grossman elaborates beautifully:
If a witch chants in a forest but no one is around to hear her, does she make a sound? A group of witches definitely does, and they can certainly hear one another, regardless of whether or not the spirits do. To practice in a group requires both a loosening of self- consciousness and a tightening grip on the rudder of sincerity. You have to care, and you have to let others see you caring. And you have to bear witness to their caring in turn. You will most likely grow to care about them. And heaven forfend, you may even allow them to care about you too. When we decide to be part of any community, we are making a commitment to literally be there for ourselves and for each other. (190-191)
“The living of your life (your way) is a magickal act” – Cassandra Snow in Queering Your Craft (17)
These principles of spirit and energetic community are in radical contrast to our usual remote neoliberal university lives. Just this morning, we received the predictable news that campus is already in a high risk covid category, mere days after the semester has begun. As relatively powerless students at this institution, the members of the coven have to sit with the cold truth that our lives are less valuable than room and board revenue. And so the very existence of our coven, which so passionately centers inherent self-worth, is by its nature a form of resistance. We manifested resistance in a public way through our Samhain ritual, but we did our most radical and fundamental resistant work in the liminal space of Zoom rehearsal – not when generating material or doing vocal warmups, but when sharing communal space and meeting needs. We asked for breaks when we were tired, cried when we were sad, and ate when we were hungry. Most importantly, we gave each other permission to simply exist.
A Working Definition
The invocation of power-from-within in resistance to oppressive systems; honoring inherent value above, below, without, and within.
Samhain Full Moon Ritual
Gather under the moon’s sacred geometry: dance of light awoken by terrifying angels; listen to the candle’s mouth/kindling within you. Devour the flames/feed your resistance.
You are not a machine. You are you. Not what you make, a number of hours or credits. Take ownership of your exhaustion, joy, anger, gentleness, numbness, and… humanity.We will go to the highest place when we take care of eachother, and most importantly, ourselves.
Descendant nostra corpēs in mellem vitae!
Let our bodies descend into the honey of life!
Feed your joy.
Feed your rest.
Feed your comfort, let it be radical.
Feed your resistance.
 To distinguish from magic – cite