This is probably going to be a series; I’ve been feeling the need to lay down what my practice entails and how I do it. I should probably be putting a book together, maybe – if I had the energy I’d consider it! – and I know it might end up getting torn off the internet and all the credit lost, but hey, if someone really thinks it’s a good idea to rip off the work of a witch who has zero issue cursing the crap outta fools, collect that danger money, son…
I haven’t really had a name for my Woo till now. It’s part ‘Grey-Witch’ as per Amythyst Raine, part Gallery of Magick, part stuff I learned over the years and glued together from a thousand different sources. Mostly, however, it’s what feels right at the time. I don’t have an ordained title or training from anywhere; I’ve never been in a coven for longer than a few weeks. There won’t be explanations about cardinal directions, rhymes or prayers that sound like something from a Hallmark card in any of my series on Dirt-Witching. It’s a practice cobbled together with a piece from every part of my diverse ancestry, from a popular book series or two (Headology: it works), and a fair bit of bashing my head against the wall. I don’t have a fancy title or double-barreled spiritual name; I’m just Sindr, the spark.
But for all that, the practice works.
Now, with that caveat out the way, I have to try and figure out what my practice IS – and that’s harder for me to define. It is mostly (almost entirely, to be honest) instinctive. It comes from the bones and the blood – I never plan out rites or write prayers in advance. Everything is spur of the moment, by what feels right. A sprig of this, a touch of that, these words, this tone, just so. It means I’ve had to learn to trust my instincts; not second-guess, not allow myself to think “Maybe I should cross-reference from five different books and confuse myself for a bit when they all contradict each other”. My instincts have the right of it, I just need to be able to tune into them.
Tuning into instinct means finding something one can do as a form of meditation, a way to get out of your own head and listen to your bones and spirit. I know people who trance out jogging. Or maybe listening to their favourite music and meditating. For me, that’s gardening; the kitchen-witch/green-witch work that grows out of the soil, gives me somewhere to put whatever is messing with my brain into another spot so I can focus. It also gives the added benefit of something right under my hands I can put energy into as I raise it up and make the seeds grow, tend my crops, harvest my herbs. If something feels right to use, I use it. If the problem I’m mulling over while gardening triggers a sudden prayer to direct into the ground for the landwight to solve, I do that. A certain herb says ‘Pick me’, I pick it and use it for something that day. It’s hands-on practice; spur of the moment and often done while sweating, with dirt under the nails and sore muscles. It’s practical and low-key without badly made robes in crushed velvet, as the focus is on the Work, not in the visuals.
But isn’t this a problem? Without candles in the cardinal directions, in the appropriate colours, under the right moon, how do you know it will work? That is where you have to learn to be able to trust your instincts and not shoot yourself in the foot by second-guessing what your bones are telling you. Yes, you certainly could decide to use candles in the appropriate colours, and work under a full moon, but whatever spell you’re trying to cast would work even if you moved the candles around, or worked under a dark moon, as long as your head is in the space where you aim the energy. That’s where the ‘headology’ comes in. I’ve done spells that were perfectly effective even though I didn’t know which way was north, I used herbs for one purpose even though one of my reference books said something else entirely. The results were the same, because I listened to my gut, and I believed what it was telling me.
That’s probably the hardest, most important lesson of Dirt-Witching; you have to trust your instincts know what they’re doing. You cannot doubt, you cannot second guess. As soon as doubt creeps into your Work, the woo fizzles out. I firmly believe this is why so much emphasis is placed upon cardinal directions, the importance of certain constellations and colours, and many books make such a big deal about them; solidifying these truths into everyone’s mind makes the Woo work. However, I think we’ve forgotten these things are effective because people truly believe they are effective, and have worked with the energies collectively to make them so. Therefore, if you can apply your belief in your instincts, it’s just as effective as a big ceremonial magick invocation.
This is one of the points made regularly through the Gallery of Magick’s books; proving to yourself that the magick works means your spells become more effective over time. If you start small and get results, you can eventually get bigger and better results because you know your spells and rituals will work. But they also bring up another point; go around telling people about your practice and you will dilute your work. Why? Because people invariably will feel the need to question your practice, your technique, and raise doubts. Sometimes those doubts may be founded, but for the most part it’s nitpicking and niggling – something the pagan community tends to do in spades. Remember, instinct cannot be questioned, or it all falls apart. Get enough people asking ‘are you sure?’ and you invariably won’t be. This kind of Witching really needs to be kept quiet, to allow your instinct to develop and create your practice to fit within your own personal experience and gnosis.
However, there should be a fair bit of caution involved here – headology won’t help you fly off a cliff, and it won’t save you if you’re doing some monumentally stupid. Research is still important to my practice; I have 20+ years of herblore under my belt, and I’m still amazed at the stuff I don’t know about working with herbs. If I have a doubt, I cross reference, and then sit with my choice. This is partly so I don’t do a stupid error which could be harmful (especially if ingesting), but also because if I feel a doubt in my knowledge, that will affect my woo, and that cannot be allowed to interfere with my instinct.
Dirt-Witching definitely doesn’t mean ‘stop learning’: I learn new things about how I do my Woo on a regular basis – even retired, I find myself streamlining my practice down to the most effective workings in ways I hadn’t foreseen. I’m always learning. There is no enforced blissful ignorance in the practice – develop your trust in your instincts and you can explore different paradigms and expand your knowledge base. If you find a paradigm or practice that resonates with you (even if it falls in the modern common issue of being ‘problematic’), that’s because it gets right down into your bones and triggers your instincts. In my opinion, that is precisely what you want, even if your practice doesn’t have a lineage, or is completely anecdotal and ‘made up’.
At the end of the day, all paradigms were created out of the aether, none more legitimate than the next. If you let yourself get caught up in the More Legit Than Thou wars, you’ll spend so much energy debating about your practice, you won’t have the energy to do any work. Do not let a lack of lineage/impressive titles/’authenticity’ kill your instinct. I have incorporated a lot of practice and work from sources from the 80’s and 90’s that no younger modern witch would want anything to do with. I still use it, because I know it works. The morality argument of whether it’s inclusive/safespace/intersectional enough is an argument for debate – it is not an argument about effectiveness. I’ll let greater minds than mine blog about how crap witches were in the 90s and how pathetic ‘fluffy wiccans’ are – in the meantime, I’ll keep drawing down the moon, thankyouverymuch, because that shit works.
Finally, and most importantly for me, the reason I feel Dirt-Witching is a bit different from Chaos Magick and other forms of magick is due to the ‘rooted’ emphasis for me. Dirt-Witching for me is about community; it’s about doing the work that other people may not want to do. It’s stewardship and conflict management, and sometimes means you’ve got to do the hard graft, unthanked and unspoken. When I garden, I move a lot of manure around; there’s an astounding amount of rot and poo involved in garden work. There’s weeds and slugs and rainy days and floods. There’s wilt and blight and chickens that scratch up all your seedlings. In other words, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes for that image of a beautifully grown strawberry that most people didn’t see…and for me, that’s what being a Dirt-Witch is about.
In my experience with Chaos Magick, Goddess paradigm or other forms, I usually did results for myself. With Dirt-Witching, I’m doing service for the community at large, and often (more often than I’d like to admit), it’s the gritty, dirty, shovelling-the-poo type of work. It’s greeting the dead, it’s hexing and cursing. It’s bending a binding curse on a poorly behaved neighbour, it’s clearing the way when bureaucrats try to snarl people up in red tape. It’s doodling a sigil on a letter sent to the council to get the road fixed leading to your village. It’s calling the winds of change into a situation and knowing no one would thank you for it if they knew you had done it, even though it has to be done. It’s forcing change when need be, even if the initial stages will be downright catastrophic.
Dirt-Witching doesn’t have lofty goals of praying for world peace or raising the level of consciousness; it’s on the ground work, blood and bones everyday kind of work. It’s muck and elbow-grease; more often than not it coincides with doing actual, physical stuff. I’ve donated money anonymously to various local causes, I’ve written letters or visited a MPs surgery when needed – I think my council dreads my coming, now, but they respond quickly to my complaints these days. It’s all well and good to work that bind spell against someone’s abusive partner, but you also should get on the phone and offer to help devise an escape plan.
No one is going to thank you for Dirt-Witching, because if you’re doing it right and leaving your ego at the door, it’s doubtful anyone will know you were doing it. If you have a driving need for people to know how awesome you are at witching, Dirt-Witching will leave you disappointed. Dirt-Witching is quiet service; take your comfort in seeing the results bloom, seek your payment from your Powers That Be for doing the work then move on to the next thing that needs doing. And there’s always something that needs doing.
Yes, seek your payment. I have a unique take in my practice because I don’t think of my work as charity – it’s just as the word implies; work. The days of the village tending the local wise woman (if those days ever existed) are long gone, and if you want to have a roof over your head and your bills paid, you need money. Money is not the root of all evil, and I will definitely be making a post eventually about why you need to be paid in one way or another for the work you do, and why in my practice, Dirt-Witchery expects to be paid. But it’s all a part of Dirt-Witchery for me. Services rendered may not be spoken of directly, but it still gets sorted. If you think this doesn’t happen in the mundane world, contemplate your toilet for a few moments. Those pipes weren’t laid for free, and no one deals with what you flush merely out of the goodness of their hearts. Sewer and water is covered in your bills, though you’ll never see the faces of the people who work on the infrastructure. “Unsung” doesn’t mean “unpaid”!
So this is the basic groundwork of my woo – based on instinct, experience, need, and recompense. It’s a job – it’s business, but it’s deep, it’s fulfilling, and it comes from a part of me beyond words. Once you find that place, it will enrich your soul in ways you never thought possible.