I have this persistent remembrance of a conversation I once had with another witch about Rosaleen Norton, the famous Witch of Kings Cross, having a clear idea of her magical territory. Not the amorphous space of ideas, but a clear geographical sense of her influence and responsibility in the city of Sydney. For the life of me I can not find evidence of this particular piece of information on the internet, and I’m sadly without the appropriate books on hand, books present in the discussion.
It is persistent I think because it is the only time I have ever spoken to another witch who themselves had a sense of territory in their own practice beyond their own property. That is a sense of street, suburb, city, state and country. A geographical sense of their magical influence and responsibility. It affected me profoundly I think, more than I realised at the time. I was at that stage very new still, and it seemed to me to be something revolutionary, a progressive social approach to magic, that we might say characterised much of Norton’s craft. It’s fair to say she pushed the envelope in terms of social issues, art, and sexuality. It makes sense to me, having lived a time on Crown Street Darlinghurst, but a two minute midnight stroll from where she lived, that the heart of that territory would have been her home in Kings Cross, still very much inhabited by those pushing the social envelope.
The discussion, and the witch it was with were both aligned with my own social, sexual, feminist, artistic, political style of progressiveness. Yet, it also fit nicely with much of the early modern sources we have regarding witchcraft. It’s not often the aspect of the history we talk about, the fact that it was a very location-centric vocation. Cunning men and women serviced an area, a village, a county. When one considers the faery faith and animistic quality of much of the practices of these men and women particularly in Britain in the historical record, this makes more sense. The sense of obligation in the early modern era is perhaps pertinent when informers were neighbours. But similarly, one might avoid accusation when their local parish considered them of the good sort.
We have mostly, thankfully, outlived the days of our neighbours dobbing us into the local minister or priest. And even if they did we now have the right to laugh at him and give him the finger. And we no longer have to worry about being considered obscene vagrants by the local coppers, in the way Norton did. But we have also moved into a sort of über-territory thanks to our hyperconnectivity. We are now an American Witch, British Witch, Australian Witch, serving with art, writing, teaching, magical action very often across even those national categorisations and boarders. Added to that, we now have many statewide pagan organisations, which encompass more than just witchcraft, and within which the focus is on community-based festival and inclusive celebration and not collaborative magical work servicing that community. That is not a slight against those communities, but something I have considered often particularly in the last few months as I’ve found myself in something of a self-imposed cloister situation.
And when one is in such a situation, they are, and certainly in my case, more intimately aware of the conditions of their immediate surroundings. Which, of course, brings me back to the idea of the witch’s territory.
In the first place, that constitutes our homes. Our properties, the place we legally have a right as an authority in. That is both most obvious, and the least disconcerting perhaps. But can, does that extend outwards? What constitutes a spiritual territory, how would one establish a territory, maintain one, and why, in the first place, would you want one?
In the first place, it is best to establish why. In a recent post I spoke about The Element of Water and creating sacred spaces, Elouera, by actively working to reclaim spaces that might have been made profane by pollution, rubbish and dumping. This kind of thinking underpins my entire practice. If I am sick, I go to a doctor, and petition for a foremother’s care to strengthen that medical intervention. I’m not going to sit too long at home praying for a miracle without the standard “fluids, lemon and honey drinks, warmth, and bed rest”, or an antibiotic prescription. We work the corporeal in conjunction with the spiritual, because, they are the same thing.
Similarly, if we want to say, change a government, we have to vote! And we have to make the appropriate workings and call on the appropriate forces. You have to talk to other people, friends and family about their vote, as well as spike the herbal tea and cakes you offer during that conversation. Obviously. We can work magic into physical objects and handwritten letters to friends, but the act of reaching out in the mundane sense is often the vehicle through which the working finds traction and manifestation in Wyrd. It is the act of synchronising the existing power structures, and threads of connection in a real word sense, with the subtle threads of spirit to create new situations or desired outcomes and augment those connections and power structures on both scores.
In terms of our street, our extended patch of dirt around our homes, local parks and etc., it seems to make sense that the same thinking can apply, but how does it differ to singular acts for and with people we are connected with, via distance, and the everyday maintenance of something like our home?
It is a very good question. One I am thinking hard on as I approach the Autumn Equinox. In the sense of people, I think it is fair to say we work instinctively; there is a topography to words and verbal expressions between friends, couples, and families. Distinct references, obscure to anyone outside, of shared events, holidays, references that form the shape of expressions and relationships. In-jokes, those turns of phrase that might mean one thing normally, and another capable of leaving those in the know crying from laughter. They are street signs and landmarks of our shared interior landscape of experience and memory. Evident too in larger shared cultural experiences, providing us with “Australianisms” and internet memes devoted to translating U.S. slang. In Australia, that shared language includes understanding what is “mad as a cut snake” or what entails “magic pudding thinking”. I think I am not the only one then who understands how much of spirit work, witchcraft, when done for others in our families and social spheres, is actually translation. When we work with those whose language is not drawn from the study, the grimoires, the history, we translate terms and ideas into something that makes sense.
Translation is perhaps the key skill in anchoring one’s ancestral practice in a land that features not a jolt in the Old World myths. When I speak to other pagans who participate in any sort of trance or vision work, lucid dreaming or guided meditation, there is a topography, reoccurring themes and images, and places: Mountains, wells, rivers, streams, groves, forests, beaches. Part of those locations as described are often a host of things that do not occur here in Australia in a way that resonates with their occurrence in the oneiric space. Like wild oak forests, black, stone beaches, and wildlife. In a sense, these things are our blood knowing, an ancestral language that comes not just from the myths, but in more subtle ways, permeating the fabric of our being through our inheritance as Europeans. There are countless times I have heard others describe dreams of stags, rabbits, oak trees… But how do we anchor our practices and spiritual houses in the land? How do we garner a geographical witchcraft?
We are at something of a loss in Australia. Because all the ways in which pagans of all paths learn tend to be in the language of Europe and North America. And the actual topography and accompanying ecosystems of those places are entirely and completely woven into that language. There is on top of that, a sense of inauthenticity about shifting from that language to a more Australian one, a sense that it’s not the real deal in terms of witchcraft. That maybe the individual is just “making it up as they go along”. Let’s be clear, if you want to experience the Australian landscapes from the perspective of a European tradition, you will be making shit up as you go along. But until we start experimenting, can we really claim any authenticity in our practice of augury, prophecy, for example?
It was a question I had answered recently, after a strange experience with a kookaburra. Every fibre of my being understood there was something to note, something I was missing. But I was at a loss to interpret it. I have lists here on the blog of many native birds and animals, the kooka is not one. As familiar as I am with them, I suddenly felt a massive void in my understanding. And a wee bit like the local lunatic as I realise I verbalised a set of random thoughts directly to the kookaburra in the middle of a conversation with my neighbour. (Thanks for the reputation, witchcraft!) Later that day the incident was perfectly interpreted and explained by someone very close to me, (who I call the Oracle), who understands my craft, but is also almost entirely void of the learned style “European Baggage”. Besides being a perfect and effortless explanation of one isolated incident, it also brought together several threads in regards to work we had done together, and with my sister witch. Work entirely about the health of a particular and this worldly location.
I have said many, many times before here on the blog, that words have power. To enter into Land, there are older words that are born directly of it, that I have woven into my craft. In the same way I have studied and learned of animals and plants that have also begun to manifest themselves more wholly in terms of their wisdom. These things have to be consciously woven into our craft, rarely do they just pop up, there must, like all things of the Art, be Will. It has been my recent experience that at a point in this sort of work, there is a critical mass, a point of no return after which the Land comes crashing into your craft and practice leaving you to play catch up. That is very much where I feel I am now.
Many of my readers will be familiar with the term egregore. Many covens, groups and individuals have an egregore, an otherworldly source place, group place, über-mind. Sometimes they are begun entirely by the individual or group for a specific purpose, at others, and in my case, they spring from recurrent trance-vision and dream experiences, which are then built upon by meditation. Properly engaged with, an egregore is an organic, vital thing, more than the sum of its parts, becoming its own thing. It is very often a place, with its own topography, which, in the case of my practice, and those I practice with we call our Spirit House. And as more than myself participates with it, it changes, we each bring things to it, and it grows and shifts as we do. The question that I have been meditating on recently is how far we can take this entity, this oneiric, or otherworldly location in terms of our immediate topography?
I have come to think it entirely possible, to weave together the form of one and the immediate form of the landscape. Anchoring the paths to one to the this-worldly paths and topography of the other. In doing so, the areas and paths, trees and animals around us, the mountains, rivers and creeks and shores are made sacred by virtue of their being the physical language in which the egregore is written, and the other made vital by virtue of all the non-human beings who would participate with it. It strikes to the very heart of much of what I write and teach, that you can not write your practice on the Land, but the Land must inform and write itself into your practice. To this point, as I have ventured into the Language and Wisdom of the Land, each thing has been brought individually, into the trance space, the Spirit House, invited in, and understood there in deep meditation with those beings I call my guides and patrons. The magical act of augmenting that space to reflect an environment more completely seems a step up from that. Though the process seems to be happening already, because I am engaged in Land, and do work specifically in regards to it, there is an organic nature to the shift in and growing nature of my Spirit House, there is also something of a surrender at this stage, a sort of final act of Magic and Will that recognises what is happening already.
It is work that comes with a deeper understanding, and fuller realisations of the role that Land played in the magic and myth of our ancestors. It brings with it a kind of fresh reality to the idea of Ice Giants and Fire Wyrms. It entails an acknowledgement of our responsibility. Makes real a sense of custodianship often spoken of by the elders of the First Nations of Australia. An egregore of a coven or group is very often maintained by someone specifically, an elder, head, magister, teacher, a way through which the health, progress and learning of students and younger coven members can be gauged. Having its foundations in the rock beneath your feet seems to bring with it a new sense of that responsibility to others who draw from that Spirit House.
It certainly made me think of Roie Norton, and the conversation regarding magical territories, and what that entails. Certainly, there is an opportunity for those insane enough to allow a new topography into their craft, and allow our landscapes to shape the nature of our spiritual practices. For myself, it’s not really a case of territorial pissings, but much more about an acknowledgement of the interconnectivity of powers around me, to which I am already connected, and the obligation I have in exchange for their wisdom. That connectivity is also about a myriad of people who live and share those environments, a responsibility to their health for our shared expereince of those environments.