I remember the thrill I got when I first saw Laura Tempest Zakroff’s blogpost where she released the Power Sigil into the wild. I get a similar buzz when she posts a sigil from a workshop on her Instagram page. So I was very excited when I saw that she had written a book about sigil crafting.
A video in which I read an excerpt from my book Dark Mirror: the Inner Work of Witchcraft, all about the inner work and why I think it’s important.
I thought regular readers of Dowsing for Divinity might like to know that I now have a public Instagram account, @birdberrybooks, where I will be posting videos, talks, photos, book reviews, and news of upcoming events and workshops.
The ebook of The Night Journey: witchcraft as transformation is now available from Lulu.
Many, many thanks to the friend who helped by fixing the formatting of the Word document so it could be converted to an ePub. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent trying to fix the darn thing. You are an absolute star!
Dark Mirror: the inner work of witchcraft
Inner work is a name commonly given to the inner processes that happen in ritual. It can also mean the transformation of the psyche that comes about through engaging in religious ritual. However, the best kind of inner work also has an effect outside the individual and outside the circle. When rituals are focused only on self-development, they tend to be a bit too introspective. Ritual is about creating and maintaining relationships and connections – between body, mind, and spirit; with the Earth, Nature, the land, the spirit world, the community, and friends. It is about making meaning, weaving a web of symbolism, story, mythology, meaning, community, and love. Creating a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity. Creating strong and authentic identity to resist the pressures of consumerism and commercialism and capitalism. Weaving relationship with other beings: humans, animals, birds, spirits, deities.
Dark Mirror – the inner work of witchcraft
And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know that thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou knowest this mystery: that if that which thou seekest, thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.
― Doreen Valiente, The Charge of the Goddess
Inner work is a name commonly given to the inner processes that happen in ritual. However, the best kind of inner work also has an effect outside the individual and outside the circle. When rituals are focused only on self-development, they tend to be a bit too introspective. Ritual is about creating and maintaining relationships and connections – between body, mind, and spirit; with the Earth, Nature, the land, the spirit world, the community, and friends. It is also about creating, maintaining, and restoring balance. It is about making meaning. Telling our stories and reclaiming our history from the oppressors. Weaving a web of symbolism, story, mythology, meaning, community, and love to stand against the ennui and emptiness of relentless consumerism. Creating loosely held but welcoming community, a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity (of body shape, skin colour, physical ability, neurodivergence, sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, biology, cultural background, age, talkativeness or lack of it, and so on). Creating strong and authentic identity to resist the pressures of consumerism and commercialism and capitalism. Weaving relationship with other beings: humans, animals, birds, spirits, deities.
So the inner work of ritual may be intrapersonal, interpersonal, restorative, or community-building. The kinds of relationships that ritual helps to maintain may be of various different kinds – friendships, erotic relationships (including kinky ones), patron/client relationships. Inner work might be meditation, visualisation, prayer, magic, balancing archetypes within the psyche, lucid dreaming, healing, connecting with the body, or attunement to Nature.
Table of contents
- Introduction: the inner work
Coming to the circle
- The Pagan worldview
- Creating sacred space
- Raising energy – synergy, resonance and polarity
- Magical names
- Archetypes and the inner work
- The Mysteries
- Evocation and Invocation
- Use of symbols in ritual
- Spell work
- Magical tools
- Relationships and Consent in Wicca
- “Ye shall be naked in your rites”
- The erotic and spirituality
- Inner aspects of the festivals
- Grounding and centering
- Making an altar
- The Hearth
- Food in ritual
- Labyrinths; Meditative walking; Pilgrimage
- Spirits of the land
- Meditation, Visualisation, Contemplation
- Poetry, Storytelling, and Reading
- Cultivating the virtues
Between the worlds
- Modes and types of ritual
- Sound and silence
- The Moon
- The witch’s journey
- Queer Witchcraft
- Witchcraft and the land
- Witchcraft as resistance
- Working with ancestors
- The Pact – relational polytheism
- Madness, shamanism, witchcraft
- The night journey
Bringing it all back home
- Inclusive Wicca
- Group dynamics
- Being a coven leader
- Teaching and learning in a coven
- Egregore, lineage, upline, downline
- Power and authority
- Rites of passage
- Challenging oppression
- Evaluating your Craft
- Brimful of Asha
- Model guidelines for group discussion
- Coming-out ritual
- Recommended reading
The inner work and the outward sign
Viewed outside the context of their meaning and purpose, rituals can often look silly. When I first saw a CUUPs ritual online, I thought, why are they lighting a candle in a chalice? This was because I was viewing the ritual through a Wiccan lens, and in Wicca, a chalice represents water, and is used for drinking consecrated wine. Whereas if you view the lighting of a chalice through the lens of Unitarian and UU symbolism, it makes perfect sense. The chalice represents community, and sharing the wine with the laity, among other things; the flame represents inspiration, and connection with the Divine, among other things. It is a rich and complex symbol whose meanings are evolving all the time. So it is vital to view a symbol in its cultural context and find out what it means.
Similarly, a criticism often levelled at Judaism is that it has lots of nit-picky rules. One of these is that you can’t light fire on the Sabbath, so some Jews tape over the light in the fridge so that opening the door doesn’t turn on the light. To someone unaware of the context and the corresponding inner work, this looks a bit silly. Once you understand that the whole edifice of Jewish observant practice is all about remaining constantly aware of the presence of the Divine, and one’s relationship with it, the action of remaining observant even in such a tiny detail makes more sense. There is a prayer to accompany every action, so that the observant Jew remains in communion with the Divine at all times. Also, for this practice to make sense, you have to understand the deep affection in which the Sabbath is held in Judaism. It’s not like the dour Protestant Sabbath. First, on the Friday evening, when Sabbath begins, the lady of the house lights the Sabbath candles, which invites the presence of the Shekhinah. Then, on Friday night, the husband and wife make love, also inviting the presence of the Shekhinah. The whole family comes together for a meal and to spend time together. At the end of the Sabbath, the whole family sniffs a spice box, so that the loveliness of the Sabbath can be remembered for the rest of the week. In times of persecution, the Sabbath, taking place behind closed doors, would be an affirmation of Jewish identity and community, and the only time when you could be truly at peace.
Another example is the custom of covering the head, which is found in a number of different religions (and some Pagans have started wearing veils). This might look like oppression of women – and if it is enforced rather than voluntary, I think it is – but its original meaning was as a reminder that the Divine is always present (that’s why Jewish men wear a kippah).
I expect that some Pagan practices look a bit daft when viewed outside their context. The casting of the Wiccan circle, with its elaborate preparation, might look a bit over-the-top to outsiders; but in context, it makes perfect sense. The series of different actions prepare us for the inner work, stilling the mind and readying the body for an encounter with the mysteries. They also align us psychologically with the sacred directions; this alignment symbolises our connection with the universe. The thoroughness of the preparation also means that the circle feels like a safe space, which is important as rituals can sometimes be profoundly transformative. Another example which might look daft to outsiders is the Heathen practice of offering libations of mead. But of course, mead is a precious thing, and when making offerings to the deities, it is customary to offer something of value; and Heathens want to connect with their deities.
All of these practices are aimed at cultivating our connection with the Divine; they are a reminder to live life in a sacred manner. Of course, some people practice the outer observances without managing to do the inner work, and this can lead to an over-emphasis on the rules at the expense of the inner work. Sometimes, when the practices have lost their inner meaning, and adherence to the tradition has become more important than the inner work, they need to be changed, and either a new religion results, or the existing religion is reformed. The prophet Amos criticised the practice of sacrifice, saying that God would prefer people to practice justice and righteousness instead – so clearly the practice of sacrifice had lost its function of connecting with God, and become merely routine. Jesus criticised the rigid observance of Sabbath rules, and placed emphasis on being kind to people instead – so clearly, in his day, the Sabbath rules had lost their inner meaning. At the Reformation, Protestants criticised Catholic practices of praying to saints, and the concept of transubstantiation. They were viewing these practices through a rational lens and forgetting to look at their inner meaning, and the inner work that they represented.
There is also a tendency to take sayings and quotations out of context. When Jesus formulated his version of the Golden Rule, he meant it to be a summation of the Law and the Prophets, not a replacement for them; he would have wanted it viewed in the context of Jewish practice and culture. When Gerald Gardner formulated the Wiccan Rede (“An it harm none, do what thou wilt”), he probably assumed that it would be taken in the context of the ritual which introduces it, and the whole body of Wiccan lore and practice. When Dávid Ferenc said, “We need not think alike to love alike”, he said it in a specific historical and cultural context, which needs to be understood in order to apply his saying effectively. Of course, these utterances are quotable out of context, but if we want to live by them, we need the whole body of lore and practice that goes with them, in order to implement them effectively. It’s all very well exhorting people to love one another, but then you need specific techniques to overcome things like projecting your shadow-side onto other people; the damage that can be caused by group dynamics (e.g. in-group versus out-group); and other aspects of human psychology.
The practice of taking quotes and practices out of context and applying them without regard to circumstances is one of the most damaging aspects of religion; and it is also one of the major causes of misunderstanding between religions. We need to look at the context of any practice, quote, or rule, and ask, what is the real reason behind this? If it is harmful, can it be reformulated in such a way as to restore the original intention (to remind us of our connection with the Divine), and remove the harmful aspect of the practice?