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Witchcraft is a path that embraces the power of the dark, the unseen, the mysterious. In the shadow of our inner nature lurks the secret of our own mastery, but if left unchecked can easily strike us down with all the destructive power of our own demons. While some would prefer to cower in fear and to never challenge the beast that hides unseen, the Witch strives to know that beast, to learn the patterns and its very nature, so that its power can be harnessed and channeled to a greater end.
For the Witch, "know thyself" and "know thy world" are two sides of the same coin. We seek to learn the hidden secrets of nature, that has from time immemorial been known as "magic." But the knowledge of magic is sometimes at variance with the accepted knowledge of the world; knowledge of progress and industry rather than of feelings, and inspiration. Those who are versed in the language of magic know that the rational mind can only take us so far…and then we must be prepared to make a leap into the unknown…into the irrational.
But even here there are rules to be followed, or else we may just lose ourselves in the abyss. Fortunately, we have been given some very useful maps along the way. These maps have been preserved in various teachings and traditions, in lodges and covens alike. They have been preserved in fairytales, in folklore, and the stories shared around the hearth fire.
Because our focus is on magical transformation, and since their connection to Witchcraft has been long established in occult and folk tradition, we must focus our attention on those stories and pieces of lore that describe an active relationship between humanity and those eerie, mystical beings often called faeries. These beings are none other than those described in the infamous witch trials often referred to as "the familiar spirit:" an otherworldly being that was in possession of great magical power and would share that power and magical knowledge with a human Witch or Warlock.
Within these stories we begin to perceive a pattern that speaks to the hidden side of our soul. But if we have succumbed to the inane ramblings that constitute the "Disney-fication" of popular culture we will be ill-prepared for the journey that lies ahead, for we will be expecting to be greeted by tiny women in gossamer gowns, complete with wings and star-tipped wands, sprinkling glowing pixie-dust and reminding us to believe in ourselves. The faeries of old were terrifying, if often noble creatures, and would just as easily strike one dead as look at them twice, as evidenced by the sheer number of recorded charms for protecting oneself against them. Chances are if one were to meet an actual faery today, they would be mistaken for something far more sinister, or even demonic.
Whether we have decided to classify faeries as either spiritual potency or simply childhood fancy, it is easy to dismiss such ideas entirely as they have no real place in a modern mentality. With our exclusive focus on the linear as a source of legitimate knowledge, we are completely unequipped to engage the numinous. So lulled into false confidence by a rational mind that would tell us that to believe in such beings is a shameful delusion, we find ourselves making excuses as we try to rationalize what cannot be so. How many of us have had experiences that are beyond what can be rationally explained? And having experienced these things first-hand, how many of us have later chosen to believe that these things didn't actually happen, or simply must have a "mundane" explanation, though try as we might we can never seem to find it. The beings and realm that we often refer to as "Faery" is just as real, and beautiful, and dangerous as any other phenomena that we understand as part of the natural world. Once we are able to open our minds to the possibility of a truth beyond the rational, we can learn to see the twofold nature of reality and experience truth in dual forms: literal and poetic.
To describe truth in this way is not to say that one version is true while the other is false. While the rational mind will only truly accept the literal as having merit, we must remind ourselves that the deepest powers of the Craft are not contained within the knowledge that goes with it. True, our traditions hold much in the way of what can be classified as "ordinary knowledge," such as the medicinal uses of plants and tinctures, brews and ointments. Our lore passes on the knowledge of land and seasons, the movement of the stars, and of the practices of healing the mind and body. But our deeper magic moves beyond this knowledge and seeks a hidden truth, one that cannot be wholly-defined by the processes of logic. Through the primal mind-body-spirit we engage the heavenly as well as the infernal. And in Witchcraft we honor and work with both.
Among the aforementioned maps that are handed down to us are certain stories that contain symbolic keys that help unlock the hidden potentials of the human mind and spirit. More so, these stories map out a spiritual and magical process by which we may facilitate a relationship with the otherworldly realm of Faery and its mysterious denizens. In particular, the Scottish ballads of "Thomas the Rhymer" and "Tam Lin" provide us with what amounts to an initiatic pattern that allows us to attune to Faery and deal with that realm in a (relatively) safe way.
The pre-Christian magical traditions of the British Isles (specifically Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) have long held that poetry and spiritual power are synonymous, or at least derive from the same divine source. In each of the named ballads we encounter the Faery Queen in very different circumstances. In "Thomas the Rhymer" she is at least somewhat beneficent, even if she effectively dominates the title character, contracting him into her service for seven years. During this time, he can speak to no one in her realm save her and must only eat specific foods that are given to him, and not that native to Faery. At the end of his service he is rewarded with fine garments as well as the magical gift of prophecy.
In the ballad of "Tam Lin" things take on a darker pallor. Here the title character has been kidnapped by the Faery Queen and fears that he may soon be sacrificed as part of a tithe to Hell that Faery must pay every seven years. He appears to the young maiden, Janet, who falls in love with him and helps to arrange his forced release from the dark queen. As part of vigorous ritual that must be upheld in order to secure his release, Tam Lin undergoes a series of transformations into various frightening forms that Janet must endure, lest the ritual fail and he remain in the queen's clutches forever. Here we are being shown a process of engaging our own primal fears and causing them to transform into our own power, directed toward our eventual freedom. While working toward liberation it is imperative that the Witch or Warlock become intimately familiar with whatever dwells in their own shadow because–to twist a common phrase—what you don't know can harm you. We navigate this inner terrain with only our wits and sacred tools: the symbolic language of myth and ritual that guides us on the path toward that empowered state of magical Enchantment.
When in this state of being (a state of personal alignment, as well as attunement to transpersonal forces) we are in a magical nexus; words, thoughts, and actions while in this state take on a deeper significance, sending ripples of power throughout the web of interconnections that comprise what we understand as reality. This is the foundation of the powers of Witchcraft. In a sense, we become living, breathing poetry.
It is the poet's heart that can dream new ways into being. It is the eye of the artist that can bring vision into the world. It is the power of the Witch that can help shape that vision into reality.
Storm Faerywolf is a published author, experienced teacher, visionary poet, and professional warlock. He is a regular contributor to Modern Witch and is a founding teacher of Black Rose, an online school of modern folkloric ...