Smells Like American Poetry

I’m so ugly, that’s okay
‘Cause so are you.

“Lithium.” Kurt Cobain


The married couple sleep . . .
The sisters sleep . . .
The men sleep . . .
And the mother . . . .

The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
The prisoner sleeps . . . the runaway son
The murderer that is to be hung next day, how does he
And the murder’d person, how does he sleep?

The female that loves unrequited sleeps,
And the male that loves unrequited sleeps,
The head of the money-maker that plotted all day
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions, all, all

“The Sleepers.” W.W.


I rounded out the semester with Emily Dickinson, a delightful (even if overused) pairing with Whitman. I tried explaining to my students the different ways of critiquing poetry. They were all surprisingly fine with a formalist approach but couldn’t wrangle New Criticism. It’s usually the other way around.

Student: “I think with writers like Poe and Dickinson, it’s just too difficult to separate how they lived from how they wrote.”
Me: “And how they died? Does that influence your reading of Poe or–for next semester–say, Plath?”
Student: [adamantly] “Ho, yes. Especially when they commit suicide.”
Me: “So how do you listen to Nirvana?”
Student: “Well, I don’t really. But, yeah. I hear ‘self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head’ when I hear ‘Lithium.'”
Me: [damned impressed that he referenced “Lithium” instead of “Teen Spirit”] “So, how does that work for someone like me? I mean, I remember Cobain as ‘alive.’ I watched him on MTV. I remember when he died.”

They were all disconcertingly visibly stunned at this revelation. I was not about to tell them that I remembered when John Lennon died. Or (shite) Elvis.

Ah, death. Death and sleep. The two great levelers, Walt would say.

My students were able to manage New Criticism for Bradstreet and Wigglesworth and even Wheatly to some extent; but Dickinson, like Cobain, was more famous for her life (and his death) than they could get past.

Then I thought about Al.

I’m started a new course tonight. I mean–it’s a new set of students, I’ve taught the course before. Just before they finished the course prior, I asked them what they wanted to take on in the next phase. One of the students wanted to know if we could cover more about Thelema; but another “just [has] a bad feeling about Crowley.”

Yea, yea. He was a shitfucker–and I mean that literally–but can we even begin to apply something like New Critical approaches to the study of Thelema? I can if I accept that it was an inspired work, meaning it came from Aiwass and not “just” Al. I have to say “just” since I believe our HGA is also part of our own psyche. If our higher-self elevates our work to greatness (I’m not claiming that Crowley’s oeuvre is “great,” it just a statement for argument’s sake), does our baser-self not degrade our work? Can we approach Thelemic texts and rites without thinking about Crowley’s proclivities? Admittedly, some folks find his lifestyle revolutionary and subversively enthralling. Some, I acknowledge, just find Crowley gross.

How, as a teacher, do I remain objective? I mean, I have fairly strong feelings about the whole affair. And the more I learn, the stronger my feelings become.

It’s why I don’t teach Hemingway.

Papa and The Beast, hmmm.

As ever, I’ll let you know how it goes.

B, Q, and, maybe, 93

Q&A With TRLT: Part 3, Sorcery

The Road Less Traveled gave me quite a compliment in recognizing the efforts I make to be evenhanded about my opinions. I am not God, not even a Bad God, therefore I can only speak to my human beliefs and my personal preferences. I’ve learned that, unfortunately, there are those who do not respect the convictions of others – surprisingly, even among Pagans. And I do make a real effort. Perhaps it is my legal background but I learned early on that it’s better to think things through before committing them to writing. If something is worth saying, it’s worth saying well, no?

Thanks for the very real kudos.

Let me begin by saying that not all folks who consider themselves Witches adhere to ritual structures as found in Wicca – or any structures at all. As I pointed out in “Part I,” not all Witches are Wiccans. And as I pointed out in “Wannabethans,” there are plenty of Witches who unknowingly use Wiccan practices. However, there are plenty of Witches who fly by the seat of their broomsticks. No circle, no quarters, no nothin’. They are still Witches. Further, there are some Witches who do not “practice Magic” at all. They consider themselves spiritualists, philosophers, herbalists, healers, and folks who observe the cycles of the earth. Sometimes these people are sensitives, mystics, and prophets – but that’s not a “requirement.”

Like I said in my reply to your second set of questions:

My view [of nonWiccan Witches] is that there are potentially as many ways of practicing as there are practitioners. . . . I actually kinda hate it that the only amalgamated definition we have for non-Wiccan Witchcraft is a definition based in what it is not: non-Wiccan. From a Lacanian perspective, this is disempowering – “lack.” If you have another term, I’d love to hear it! I’d be a big fan of coming up with a new, holistic, empowering term. Sadly, Traditional Witchcraft and British Witchcraft connote Gardnerian Wicca.

So, given all that, I would say seiðr is not a European folk magic in that it is a sort of sorcery. . . .

But what is the difference between Sorcery and Witchcraft, you ask? So much that there is an ongoing discussion that ranges from A to Z and back again. There are volumes of books, article, and blogs dedicated to the subject(s). So, I know you will understand that I am just hitting the high-points here. The nuances are so varied that I can’t possibly include them all in one post, but will make some attempt to point them out in later posts if there’s an interest. Deal?

Before I throw my hat in the ring, here are a few outside sources for you. I wouldn’t want you to just take my word for it!

  • I disagree with about half of this WitchVox article – the connotations of half of it at least – but feel it’s worth looking at anyway.
  • Then there’s this forum repost of Silver Ravenwolf’s perception of High/Low Magic.
  • In this thread, SingingBear argues that, “The real names should be Ceremonial and Earth Magic not High and Low Magic.” I think that’s a better delineation; it avoids the misunderstanding that there is a value judgment involved. But, like I mentioned earlier – I don’t remember where, Sorcerers can be, admittedly, imperious. I tend to like that about us.
  • This post addresses the possible confusion between “Low Magic” and “Dark Magic” or “Black Magic,” a subject I may end up covering in a post sooner rather than later.

To me it seems to be a bit like this:

I’ll repeat some of what I said in “High Magic Versus Low Magic, What’s the Difference?” (Bear in mind that “High” and “Low” are not value judgments. You might say it has a little to do with “astrological” and “terrestrial,” respectively.) Low Magic is a pretty broad set of practices and philosophies which do not require specific ceremony and ritual. Low Magic does not require intensive study or understanding of ancient traditions. Low magic is what you might call “every day magic.” It’s “practical magic.” You do this kind of magic to practical, terrestrial ends. Low Magic frequently requires nothing more than the individual’s will and maybe a handful of materials. More importantly, Low Magic typically seeks to create “spells” that offer tangible/terrestrial/material benefit to the personal/earthly self. This includes protection spells, money drawing spells, spells to encourage good luck, and love spells. This is where Witchcraft typically corresponds.

High Magic, on the other hand, includes a set of very exacting practices which require specific tools, including  – often exotic – ingredients and astrological timing; language use, not always English – hell, not always terrestrial languages; and even “real estate.” Consider the requirements of the Abramelin Operation – no kidding Crowley bought a house in, no shite, Loch Ness, Scotland.[1] High Magic is far more formal and utterly saturated with ancient and esoteric traditions: the Hermetic Arts, Alchemy, Sacred Geometry, Kabbalah, and Angelic Evocation.[2] These require a great deal of ritual and ceremony. Often, operations take a very long time: days, months, up to a year, and longer. John Dee, adviser to Queen Elizabeth – and the original 007, and his sidekick, Edward Kelley took many years to complete the “Angelic Reception” of what is now referred to as Enochian. If you don’t know about these characters and are interested in Sorcery, I advise you start here. Though Dee’s is one of the most complex systems, it is worth the time and effort spent in studying his process.

Quite possibly the greatest difference is purpose. The goal of High Magic in the Western tradition is to have knowledge and communication with the Magician/Sorcerer’s personal agathodemon or Holy Guardian Angel (HGA), the embodiment of one’s truest divine nature. High Magic also differentiates itself from Low Magic in that High Magic is generally has a more intangible goal. It is geared toward nothing more than self-enrichment and enlightenment. “Being closer to ‘God’.” It is intended to have the goal of communication with “higher” entities (Divinities, Spirits, Angels, etc.) in order to bring one’s self into accord with Divine Will.[3] But, of course, it’s even more complicated than that – I assure you.

Further, Sorcery or High Magic is not a religion. It is a set off praxes and can (like Hoodoo, I suppose) be practiced alongside a religion. There are Judeo-Christian Sorceries, Islamic Sorceries, Chinese Traditional Religious Sorceries, etc. It is from these arts that concepts such as casting a circle, invoking deities, and evoking spirits is adopted liberally by “New Age” practice.

This leads me back around to another aspect of Low Magic. Low Magic, aside from “Craft-Work,” also encompasses the highly ritualized communication with “lower” entities. Yes, I am talking about demons. But I am not talking about worshiping demons, I am talking about wrangling them into a cooperative state and putting them to work. Look up the legend of King Solomon. (Here’s one source.)

I don’t want to get into Goetia or demonic evocation too much in this post since I could go on for pages and pages. But, in a nutshell, my idea of a demon is a “disorganized” entity – not necessarily evil but certainly capable of deception and unwarranted destruction that could, to a human perception, be interpreted as evil. For those of you who have no experience with demonic evocation, the best metaphor I can use is this: imagine a demon as a feral three year old on a party-party-sugar high. Left to its own devices, it will be destructive and loud and bothersome. Calm it down and give it something constructive to do and you’ll have better luck. Further, for those of you who still have Christian remnants of “demons” hiding under your metaphorical beds, imagine this: If we believe in an omnipresent deity, and I do, then there is nowhere where God is not. So, guess what? If there is a hell, however you define it, God is there too. If we believe in an omnipotent deity, and I do, then there is nothing beyond God’s use. If there are demons, however you define them, they can be put to divine use.

Yes, it’s more complicated than that.

Because I would be remiss in this discussion if I were not to include a word or two from Lon Milo DuQuette, here is a page from Low Magick: It’s All In Your Head … You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2010. 10-11)[4]:

So what is the source of this power? For me, it seems that some of the power comes from the intercessory “spirit” or “entity,” some from the Sorcerer, some from the ritual itself. But given that all of those parties derive power from “The Almighty Creator,” that’s from where all of the power ultimately comes. But, alas, I am not divine and can only relay my perception. I believe in an all-God because that’s how I’ve experienced my life and how I’ve learned to articulate those experiences. I can imagine that there are others with entirely different perceptions and ways of formulating those perceptions.

Finally, you asked if, as Maman Lee stated would happen to a hoodoo, can power be divinely revoked from a Sorcerer or Magician?

I’m going with, “Yes.”

For three reasons.

If I believe that God is all-powerful, and I do, then it stands to reckon that God has the authority to revoke any and all talents given to a human.

Also, there are ways of granting a Magus or Witch precisely what s/he asks for but doing it in such a way that it utterly destroys his/her life. Whereas the “Witch’s Duh” is a shortfall in the spellwork itself, I believe that there are other kinds of divine retribution. Be careful what you want – it might want you back, sort of thing. Getting what we want instead of getting what’s “good” for us is often the best cosmic punishment.

Further, if the architect of the ritual believes that s/he has trespassed, s/he will place her/himself in a psychological state where no Magic is possible. i.e. We can “psych ourselves out.” In this case, I still see it as God revoking power from the practitioner. In my opinion, this is a case where The Creator has “built in” a default auto-destruct mechanism. This idea deserves a post of its own. Someday.

There is so much more to it all. I can’t hope to cover everything there is to cover in this meager blog, but I hope that I have pointed you in a direction to pursue your own truth.

Well, that was a fun foray into comparative practices!

Blessings, Quarks, and 93,

The Bad Witch

[1] He also bought an “Abbey” in Sicily – from which Benito Mussolini’s government eventually chucked him in 1923. I mean when Mussolini kicks you out of Sicily, you’re not doing a low-prep “spell” for personal gain.

[2] This is just to speak to Western systems. There are Middle Eastern (aside from Jewish) and Far Eastern systems of which I know very, very little.

[3] Yes, of course, there are secondary and tertiary benefits to this aspiration.

[4] I used to set my clock by DuQuette. I don’t anymore. But this section – this I still like.