“Scrying Box” is an outdoor installation that uses rocks, coins, other found objects as well as the natural landscape. Scrying is the practice of putting oneself into a psychic state that allows inner-journeying or reflection. Commonly this takes the form of staring into a crystal ball or tea leaves in a cup.
Using glas pendants that hang from the box, the scryer should allow the play of light and shadow in the box to reveal to them deep truths. For a few years I have been occupied with the idea of witch art and how this feeds into notions of spell-casting and magic making.
This piece has been developed over a long period. It began with a box that I sprayed green some years ago and left in a shady, hidden part of my garden. Over time ivy and moss grew in and around the box. I watched as an old cabinet I salvaged transformed or reverted back to a part of the natural setting.
I enjoyed the notion of the piece being dynamic as it changes and moves with the elements, but also slow in it some its changes. In spell work it can take some time before the practitioner fully understands the process they have initiated.
Since childhood I have enjoyed creating places that sit in the world but are liminal spaces or thresholds. Cellars, attics, spare rooms, large bushes all became “spook rooms” or “secret lairs”. “Scrying Box” continues this tradition. It evokes childhood stories of portals to magical lands. The green paint, moss and rocks give a façade of antiquity and the lights make it glow alluringly in the night.
Part of the piece is a tall vase of pennies. They were chosen for texture to encourage a play of light and shadow and they also hark back to paying fortune tellers or providing offerings to spirit guides. Those who come to the box to scry, would do well to add their offering.
“When there is no future, all one can do is the next right thing.” Pabbie in Frozen 2
On the day we made a magical chamber, you were screaming in the garden about how you hated the virus. It had been a tough day, of trying to balance child-rearing with work and school. I was weeding and tidying the garden as a respite and marveling at how calm it made me feel. I suddenly thought, what would a witch do? What should I do to help you feel less helpless and frustrated? I make altars and spaces for contemplation, places that are portals.
So, I suggested we make a magic chamber with an altar. You loved the idea and we spent the remainder of the afternoon decorating the plastic playhouse that sits upstairs in our house with silks and cushions, electric tea lights, and fake flowers. Your piece de le resistance was an altar to Elsa from Frozen.
It was appropriate the altar was to Elsa, because for you right now she is the embodiment of Spirit. She is your deity. Her struggles and desire to find answers, to know herself seem to resonate with so many of us. Watching Frozen 2 now I am amazed at the parallels between the sudden plight of Arendelle and the sudden upheaval in which we have all found ourselves. Towards the beginning of the film Elsa grapples with being called away by a siren or staying home with the people she loves. She is afraid but is also facing the reality that she doesn’t feel she belongs. It is the start of another journey for Elsa and also Anna, her sister.
The first Frozen film definitely played with Pagan themes, as many Disney films have, but in Frozen 2 they really let that Pagan flag fly. The standing stones with their ancient sigils, trolls that wear glowing chrystals, the concept of five spirits – earth, air, fire, water and the one that Elsa embodies a sort of conduit between the magical realm and the physical one. Most importantly, the film addresses the importance of knowing our past and preserving the earth. Elsa finds a magical chamber that is a portal to ancestral secrets and like a shaman she must explore not only the past of her family but how a spiritual imbalance has created danger for Arendelle. Like a shaman she must bring what she knows back to the physical realm to heal her community. A hero’s journey.
Anna follows Elsa on her adventure but loses her deep in a cavern. Elsa has gone even deeper and in so doing, the magic that keeps their beloved snowman Olaf alive fades and he blows away into nothing. Anna is alone and lost. Her journey means she loses all that she loves but she also overcomes her grief and fear to save beloved Arendelle and eventually becomes the new queen.
Joseph Campbell talked of the cycle of adventure that exists in many cultures and stories, known as the Hero’s Journey. To be taken from what we love and be forced to face a foe. Facing that foe takes the hero lower than they ever thought possible and they lose everything but struggle through to be victorious. Victory is slaying the foe or the dragon, a Jungian concept of our shadow self. The self that keeps us back. However, part of our victory also is to return to the community we left and share what we have learned or gained in our struggle.
Dearest Daughter, we are all in the midst of our own hero’s journey right now. Our old way of life is gone. People are dying and struggling, and we are so afraid. But my love we also have a choice. To slay our dragon which is to say the fears that hold us down. We are low, we may get lower. Countless more will die. But countless more will not. The question I ask is, how will we let this change us for the better?
Dear Cece, you are five. It is not likely you will remember much but about the world before this pandemic.
The speed in which everything changed is remarkable. And it’s no exaggeration to say that one day you were going to school, playing with friends and then next, you weren’t. The virus meant social distancing which meant stay at home, close businesses, schools etc.
When COVID-19 started to spread, I was working on a research project for my masters on witches and enchantment. My premise was that, rather than witches being the ones to enchant, they are the ones that often stand outside of the enchantment, the enchantment is the capitalist, supremacist system. For this reluctance to be enchanted by materialism and subjugation witches were punished or indeed humans were branded witches, and then punished. I had blissfully dived into books and conversations with my mentors, exploring the nature of enchantment, society and witches. In one of my notebooks I wrote of being awake while the world was asleep, caught in the soporific cycle of work and money.
But when this virus came, after a conversation with my mentor it became clear that I had to change course in my work. As everyone keeps saying, these are unprecedented times. What does it mean to be a witch now? While the research was fun, I now see that in intellectualizing the identity of the witch – an identity I hold for myself – I was losing what that meant. The more I dissected it the more distant from it I became, no longer living the life of witch and holding it up as a specimen instead.
Because you see, being a witch is a feeling, a disposition and a lens through which to see the world. Yes, it is an esthetic too and for some an occupation. Witches do certain things and magic – however it is defined – is integral to the life of the witch. For me, it’s not about what would define me as a witch to someone else. It’s what I turn to for solace and guidance. You my daughter, are my compass, but being a witch is the map.
When you are older you may roll your eyes at this post, wanting to rebel because that’s what children do, or scoff at the lack of knowledge of what is to come that you will have retrospectively. We don’t know what’s coming next. People are dying or losing their livelihoods or both because life cannot go on as it did.
This transitional time is where witches are often most at home. Much of our philosophy is built on balance, give and take. We talk often of letting certain things die so that new things can grow; the sacred circle, and here, as the pandemic grows, is spring. Ostara, or the vernal equinox came along as we experienced massive upheaval. Ostara is the time of equal night and day, marking the turn from waning time to waxing time. Growth. In the past, before industrialization this was when we focused on planting crops and Ostara is as much about fertility as it is about leaving the old year behind.
There is also a great deal of good coming out of this. People are slowing down, reassessing our society and what it has done to us all. We may be physically isolated but through social media and creativity, we are finding ways to unify and build community. It is entirely possible that we are on the verge of a collapse, the question is, what will we build in its place?
Research reveals that belief in magic and the occult grows when society is going through upheaval, let’s use that magic to create balance between spiritual and material realms. To be a witch now as far I can see is to do all the things we have proven to excel in: bear witness, create, nurture magic, heal and feed. Tend to the hearth and to be part of our community. Stay home if we must and build spaces that help us do our work. Witches always loved people, the people just didn’t always love us. That’s changing. This truly is the season of the witch.
I checked the stats for this site today and was stunned to see that people are still coming here. Stunned, heartened, and humbled because I have not given the project the attention it probably deserves.
Last year was full of stuff. New studies, my daughter's operation, a rise in crime in my beloved community, and it all took its toll. My commitment to my spiritual path is stronger than ever but is not without its ambiguities which leave me frustrated. And so Open Coven languished and still languishes.
I do not think this will be permanent but I don't want to share where it's going at the moment. The truth is I do not know entirely and choose it to be undefined. This blog post is terrible. Sorry! All I ask is you be patient and don't forsake me dear readers.
“Are you sure/That we are awake? It seems to me/That yet we sleep, we dream”
The Summer solstice is upon us. The longest day of the year if you are in the northern hemisphere. This year on Ostara, I happened to be at home rather than at work. It was a lovely spring day and I opened all the windows in my house as I cleaned and pottered about. I burned incense inside and out. Taking the day to spend at home and contemplate was a treat and I secretly resolved to do this on the Sabbats more often.
It can be daunting to attempt ritual or ceremony, I sometimes feel pressure to ‘do witchy things’ and then when I fail I feel like a fraud. One’s practice needn’t be elaborate and active spell work is not always what is required. This Midsummer I choose to gather herbs in my garden to make pestos to store in the freezer to bring a burst of green power when the winter sets in. I might even gather some yarrow and wormwood to make charms. Mostly I want to just be in my garden, my personal liminal space, and see what messages I may or may not receive.
I include here a beautiful piece from my friend Becky Beyer over on Blood and Spicebush since she describes the time of Midsummer more eloquently than I could. Blesse be and happy solstice.
It is thrilling to see the work of one of my favorite witches be lauded and applauded. Pam Grossman’s book “Waking the Witch” came out this month and has been generally praised. As longtime listener of her podcast The Witch Wave, and a big fan of her collaborative project “What is a Witch’ with Tin Can Forest, I was eager to read her new book, as were countless others.
There are some who are dismayed at this rise of the Witch, one notable being Steven Pinker. Pinker last week Tweeted that he was disappointed the New York Times had published an excerpt from Grossman’s book because the excerpt was a “credulous account of witchcraft (consistent with its sympathetic stories on astrology)” he ended the Tweet with, “What’s going on at the paper of record?” Grossman retweeted Pinker’s post stating that he had misinterpreted her work, which he had. It’s sort of funny as well, that in denouncing Grossman’s work he had posted a link to the excerpt, thus promoting it.
Still, the desire to debunk the spiritual and ‘woo woo’ is interesting to me, because so many do it with such passion that they clearly take it somewhat personally. The irony here is that they often like to paint themselves as being rational, whereas we ‘dummy new agers’ are not accepting scientific evidence or letting our emotions run away with us. When we try to explain why we believe in the unseen, and the experiences we have had that make us think there are more things in heaven and earth etc., we are told that this can’t be proven, we are gullible, it was JUST A COINCIDENCE. So let’s deal with each of these.
If something is proven to be real then fine. If something can’t be proven either way, why do we have to dismiss it out of hand? It is a given that science is about evidence, things than can be proven and explained. Except that is not the case. Theoretical Physics often works in, well, theories, ideas, what ifs, as do theoretical arms of Mathematics. The clue is in the definer 'theory'.
I have been receiving more and more possible premonitions recently, and let me state they are not always welcome (meaning they are NOT wishful thinking on my part). I can’t prove they are premonitions and I also have no solid evidence that they are not. So what? Maybe it’s a coincidence. How can we determine one over the other? Believing in coincidences is, well, a belief, but in my opinion it is a rather dismal belief and I am at loss as to why we choose the boring choice over the one that leads to other ideas about the self and the world in which we live. I think we choose to believe in coincidences because we are afraid of what it means if there are things we can’t control (which of course there are) and/or we don’t want to seem gullible. Gullible means someone is quick to believe something, it’s more than that though. It’s a judgement, a belief if you will, that if you believe in say, astrology then, you’ll believe anything. And, if you are willing to believe anyone, then you are easily manipulated. No one wants to be gullible, so then, don’t believe in that stuff, OK?
Except the spiritual community does not have the sole franchise of gullibility. I see it all the time in white people, especially males. Belief in a fair, impartial justice system or belief in an equal society based on nothing other than the fact that it works for them. Sound familiar? It may work for you as a person of privilege, but to assume that it therefore is true is gullible because there is no proof that your experience would be the same if you were from a group that is systemically marginalized. When Trump was elected, many white people, (and yes, mostly males) either came out screaming in horror at being lied to by a bad guy and the bad guy winning OR smugly stating “calm down, it’s going to be ok.” Even I as a white woman was amazed at the gullibility of these positions. I also saw how dangerous they were. The first revealed just how impressionable these people were and the second was plain complacency in the face of real danger. I may believe in magic but I’m not a political dupe!
With Pinker it’s not too surprising as much of his career is about debunking theories. Yet why did he feel that denouncing this one was worth his time? What was the point? Is it a coincidence that a well known writer, presenting as a white cis male sees fit to attack a woman who's just released her first book and identifies as witch? Actually, I think the point was to attack the New York Times rather than Grossman in this case. If such a hallowed paper as the New York Times sees fit to publish something by a witch, then whatever is next? In turn that is insulting to Grossman too.
However the attack only stands up if you agree with Pinker’s stance, and you’re willing to overlook the fact that he didn’t get the point of the article. He would want you to do just that, because that’s the only way his Tweet makes any sense; by turning a blind eye to the reality of what Grossman had written, the reality of her words in favor of the personal resentment of Steven Pinker. How’s that for belief in a belief?
It’s a not an uncommon paradox found in Pagan communities that, though it’s an earth based religion, many of us are not outdoorsy or into nature all that much. I have counted myself as such a paradox, especially since moving to the US where the natural world has more hazards than in my native UK. For instance just yesterday I casually moved a pot in my garden only to find a baby snake under it. And in western North Carolina we also have bears, and poisonous spiders, let alone the fact that the landscape is so vast and underdeveloped that you could go for a pleasant wander in the woods one day only to get hopelessly lost, with no cell network. You could die out here. In Britain my biggest fear when going into the countryside was other people with their annoying dogs, I never encountered so much as a crabby badger.
While it is unlikely I will ever want to live out in the wilds of Appalachia, I have a renewed love of nature as I see it in my own garden.
In May my daughter underwent heart surgery to correct a defect. It went smoothly initially, but was still a major event that brought us face to face with our vulnerabilities as human beings. On returning to our lives, my husband and I both turned to the garden, a welcome contrast to the artificial environment we had been existing in for a week while our daughter healed. It was also a place where we felt in control, this I think was especially true for my husband who set about weeding and mulching with ferocious intensity. Suddenly our weedy yard seemed full of possibility and was as far removed from doctors, IVs and wounds as we could imagine.
I ended up developing a little rockery but the more I did so, the more it became an altar as well, partly of its own will. When I got the message that this was what it wanted to be I continued with developing it, adding candles, a cauldron, etc. Now I am slightly embarrassed it took me so long to figure out what that scrappy little patch should be.
Not soon after this project, we discovered that our daughter had a post-surgery condition that would need immediate treatment and we raced back to the hospital. That was a couple of weeks ago and now we are supposed to be getting back to normal. This has been harder for me than I had assumed. The altar has been my support in this time as I come to terms with what we have been through as a family. It has also helped me re calibrate as a witch. This sweet patch is a portal and a refuge. I continue to develop it with found broken ceramics and rocks and my daughter has added all her painted pink rocks. Friends have given us items for it too.
Spending time here has helped me develop a connection with nature I can handle and in so doing has helped me reconnect with spirit. I watch insects on the rocks and the smoke from my incense dance in the wind. When it rains I go and observe the changes it brings to the plants and crystals. It reminds me daily there is more and there is change and that peace can be found.
Tara can be found throughout Hindu and Buddhist traditions as a deity and Buddha or bodhisattva. Scriptures tell us that when Tara attained enlightenment, she was encouraged by monks to become a man so that she may fulfill her full potential as a bodhisattva. Tara refused and admonished the monks for being bound to the illusion of gender. Tara then vowed to be reborn always as a women to encourage the enlightenment of women who were overlooked and oppressed.
These prayers and devotionals were written by LizW for a project in her masters program where she explored the idea of prayer and Goddess spirituality. She is making available for free here on Open Coven for you all to use. The zine is laid out to be folded in half as a booklet, make sure your printer is set to flip on long edge to ensure every page is the right way round. Brightest Blessings.
2018 was a big year for Open Coven. We grew and blossomed from a blog run by me to a collective of writers and witches.
2019 will see me scaling things back a little as I embark on a graduate program in Liberal Arts. My reasons for doing this are multiple but it feels like I have been heading in this direction for quite some time. Open Coven will continue but I do think this year will be a little more chill. Expect more art and events but our merch is moving to Etsy and will still have the Society6 store as well.
Thank you for being with us on this journey!