Blog Post 131 – Miles to Go

[NOTE: This is a very long personal entry. It doesn’t really reveal any new information about North American Witchcraft. If you regularly read the blog for its information content, please feel free to skip this entry. Thank you!]

Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,—sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs—
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

If you’ve been a long-time listener and/or reader of New World Witchery, you probably know that I have significant trouble remembering my dreams, or even gaining access to them at all. I’ve gotten plenty of great tips to help me with dreaming, particularly when it comes to the type of dreaming I crave most—dreams infused with magic and witchcraft. I’ve tried herbal pillows, a cup of mugwort tea before bed, mirrors under my pillows, prayer, and dreamcatchers. I’ve kept a journal by my bed to record the few and far between dreams I receive as best I can in the dark—a technique that does at least yield some results, though inevitably I wind up with gaps of several months from one page to the next.

I haven’t tried everything, of course. Deep breathing exercises, focused and guided relaxation to pre-recorded visualizations, Lunesta, and other options are still open.  But I have attempted a number of methods to get into the dream world and really use that space, only to find my marginal successes frustrating in their inconsistency.

Up to this point, I’ll admit, dreaming has bothered the hell out of me. I can’t seem to do it right, or to get what I really want out of the experience.

What I want, of course, is probably the big problem. I have seen for several years now a tendency among witches and magical practitioners to encounter their gods, daemons, spirits, fetches, fairies, and otherworldly entities of choice in dreams. Sometimes the dreams come unbidden—even unwelcome—and seem to be very nearly disastrous for the one having them. I recall Peter Paddon talking about an encounter with the Dark Mother figure which involved a series of terrifyingly bloodthirsty dreams that left him shaken to his core. Which was the point, yes, but it was also unnerving for him. Other very close friends have shared their dreams with the community involving scenes that could come from fairy tales or horror films or an amalgamation of the two.  And always, always, I read with envy their experiences and wonder when it will be my turn.  And ever I sense somewhere there’s a voice saying “Patience. You do not understand, yet.” Those gods, those spirits, those fairies, those beings of that Otherworld, they simply do not want to meet me in dream space. They have given me little fragments of dreams to appease me from time to time, but always I find myself holding me an empty plate, husks, shells, seed pods, or splinters.

Recently, Laine & I went out into the midnight woods to work a little witchcraft. As always, we high-stepped and staggered our way past the outermost portion of the dense tangled wall separating tightly-mown lawns and garden pavers from shin-deep undergrowth and the scratchy whisper of treetops moved by the lightest wind. We lost our way, though we’ve traveled the paths beyond the thicket several times in all seasons. We expected to lose our way because our destination in the woods is an old stone chimney in a small clearing carpeted with periwinkle vines that we both take to be enchanted. Every time we go visit—especially at night—it seems to move in time and space. This visit was no different, and we found that even though we were sure we were close, we couldn’t see the chimney until we turned off our flashlights, took a deep breath,listened to the woods around us, and turned our lights on again. Rising up before us not ten feet away we saw the chimney, waiting patiently. Had it been there all along?

Shortly after Laine and I started working together, we did a guided visualization in which I read a pathworking to her and she attempted to relax and go into a trance-space. For my part, I found the experience calming and pleasant, but not terribly magical. Laine, upon coming “back,” more or less confirmed the feeling. It had been a fine exercise, but not terribly resonant. I have had past-life regressions done by a professional hypnotist several times, and only one seemed to ever click. I’ve tried pathworkings from other magical workers—some of them brilliantly written and full of symbols and keys to spiritual insights—and found that they don’t strike the chord that simply reading a fairy tale from an Andrew Lang or Grimm’s book does.

I’m a very cerebral person, someone who enjoys being in my own headspace tremendously. On any given night when I finally get ready to go to bed, I’ll wash my dishes in the sink, put a few things aside for the next day, and then start thinking about something I’ve read, or seen, or experienced in the past day or two or twelve. I start muttering, framing a discussion with myself—ever a Devil’s advocate, and deeply in love with that role—until I’m finally at full-tilt and thirty minutes or an hour have slipped by. What was to be a midnight bedtime has suddenly slipped to 1 a.m. or later, just because I can’t stop talking to myself about some idea that won’t let go.

I dream of being a teacher, a professor particularly, and helping students make sense of folklore and stories and mythology in their own lives. I dream of making a living with words, of thinking about them and about how people use them. I dream about stacks of books piled high by my bed, poring over papers from pupils which contain threads of brilliance buried beneath mounds of “proper grammar,” and “technical skill.”  I dream of carrying my 1 a.m. conversations into a classroom, a room full of young devils waiting to catch me in a mistake, or catch some respectable author in a mistake, or catch themselves in a mistake. I dream of devilish intellects and diabolical minds which are hungry for new ideas, just as I am.

When it comes to witchcraft, however, the life of the mind falls short for me. Dreams are not the place where my witchcraft works. They help me from time to time, but mostly they only make me confident that I don’t really need dreams. I need real experiences, ones I can’t rationalize away, ones that happen and that jar me out of my perceptions of reality. Experiences that scare me a little, and remind me how much of witchcraft is just overcoming fear.

I’ve told the story before—probably several times—about my accidental meeting of the Black Man of the Crossroads. I had gone out to work a ritual for a completely unrelated entity, and after I emerged from behind my hiding spot, I was startled by the presence of a man in dark shadow, standing directly under a streetlight. I didn’t address him, and instead pretended not to notice who he was. I often look upon that experience as a failure of my own will and a giving in to fear, but at the same time it made me aware of something very profound: it’s all real. Witchcraft, magic, and sorcery are not simply psychological operations for me—they are true, actual experiences that can be fraught with physical danger and which can completely unhinge my notions of expected reality in a split second.

The night not long ago when Laine and I went to the woods, we worked our magic and prepared to go. At the last moment, we decided to do something else, a very particular bit of witchcraft which involved asking for a sign when we finished. Almost immediately the ground just around the chimney started to rustle with the sound of skittering feet. Some of the stones on the chimney started to glow—possibly with the faint moonlight, though I think something else was behind it. And a firefly, the only one we saw at all that night, came out of the dark forest straight towards us. It circled over our heads a while, then flew off again into the dark woods. The experience was immediate and real and we both recognized it as it happened, then continued to be awed by it for hours afterward.

I’ve heard from a number of folks lately who write regularly in the magical community—particularly bloggers—about how they see their experiences and practices being co-opted by casual readers who then turn around and write about the exact same incidents with nary a nod to their witchy progenitors. I understand that frustration. Many people in the magical community work incredibly hard to establish a functional practice of their own. Jumping in feet first without doing all the work of establishing such a practice, without making that journey independently, can lead to a shallow type of witchcraft. Something which may look mysterious and magical on the surface, but which ultimately crumbles when poked and prodded by more experienced and knowing fingers.

But I also understand the other side of the equation. For those who are—more or less—plagiarizing witchcraft from other witches, it may be because they finally found something that works for them. Or in many cases, it may be that they’ve found something that they think finally works for them, and in their enthusiasm they wind up stepping on a lot of toes putting this new-found practice into place. In those cases, however, I think what the new folks are really finding is their own starting point, a launching pad into deeper witchcraft. One day they may discover that they have gone in a completely different direction and now they are writing about practices which other newbies are co-opting to form their own loose foundations. It doesn’t make the plagiarism right, but it does put it into perspective.

I leave in a few days to continue the pursuit of a dream. I’ll be studying and reading and engaging in linguistic deviltry. I’ll be spending time in one of my favorite cemeteries anywhere (this article is peppered with photos from this gorgeous graveyard). I’ll be going into woods and waiting at darkened crossroads to see what turns up. I’ll be carrying mojos to help with study, personal mastery, and prosperity. I won’t be putting mirrors under my pillow, burning incense to help me astrally project, or playing pathworkings on my iPod. I will be looking for passionflowers and sassafrass roots in the woods. I won’t be invoking four elements, calling on a nameless God and Goddess, or using an athame. I will be asking my ancestors for help, and using my playing cards to find out what they say.

I will be practicing my witchcraft, which comes from my experiences.  It involves meeting a Man in Black at a crossroads, physically fighting my way through brambles and poison oak, looking a coyote or a buck dead in the eyes at twenty paces.  It relies little on dreams, which I have only recently come to understand.  It doesn’t bother me anymore that I don’t have dreams rife with witchcraft, because that doesn’t fit who I am. It works amazingly well for others, but not for me.  What works for me is going to real graveyards at midnight, real forests under the light of a full moon, real crossroads where unexpected visitors can turn up at any moment.  I’ve still got the kind of witchcraft that lives in my feet and hands, my eyes and breath, and it is my own brand and it is beautiful to me and it works for me and…

And if someone takes what I do and runs with it, if I see half a dozen blogs on North American folk magic appear in the next six months, if I read about people going into forests which seem to shift and change as in fairy tales, well that’s okay. We’re all making our way, and I’ve got miles to go before I sleep, too.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll talk to you all soon…

-Cory

[Special Thanks to those I consider my teachers. They have influenced me profoundly whether they know it or not: Sarah Lawless, Stephanie Palm, Morgaine, Janus, Mrs. Graveyard Dirt, Robin Artisson, Peter Paddon, Gar Pickering, Vance Randolph (& dozens of other folklorists), Cat Yronwode, Juniper Cox,  Zora Neale Hurston, Concha, Brujo Negro, and far too many others to mention here. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.]

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20 Comments on “Blog Post 131 – Miles to Go”

  1. Jasmine Says:

    If I wasn’t incredibly lazy when it came to the blogging thing, I have to admit, I could be one of those people you’d stumble upon, trying on your dress (to borrow Ms. Graveyard Dirt’s metaphor) for the world to see. Even though I’ve found that it’s not, of course, a perfect fit for me in every way, it has become a reference in my own work.

    When I first started listening to your podcast, it was life changing for me! I had just recently dropped the label of “Wicca”, which I knew hadn’t been working for me for a very long time, and I was….well, freaking out is too strong of a phrase for it, but it does convey the general idea.

    I looked to people like Ms. Graveyard Dirt as sort of an inspirational icon. I didn’t want to do what she was doing, but I admired that she was doing something that was personal to her, and that her practice was made up of things that actually meant something to her. After converting away from Wicca, because I forgot Lughnasadh – AGAIN – that was something that really appealed to me.

    But I wanted something personal to ME, and I had this feeling that I very much wanted to do something that connected to who I was, and where I come from. In the pagan community, there’s a lot of talk about looking at what your ancestors did and trying to find a practice that fit into your own culture. But I have two totally different backgrounds. On my mother’s side, almost every branch of the family tree goes back to England at some point, and then my father’s side of the family were slaves, and I can only trace them back to Louisiana.

    I didn’t know how to combine these two things, or even if I could. Or should. Add in my total ambivalence to my mother’s English background (but only if you go back three or four hundred years), and I was pretty frustrated about the whole thing.

    So when I found your podcast, it was like, “Oh….duh! This is who I am! This is where I come from!” And then all of a sudden, it made sense to me. My mother’s family has been here since the late 1600s, and fought in a revolution for a country that was built on the back’s of my father’s family. This is the place that I’ve always felt connected to, and there’s actually something here for me and I never even noticed (except for all those times I kind of did, but didn’t notice I was noticing….you know how that goes).

    Haha, I’m not sure how to say this last part without sounding…uh, weird (she says towards the end of a 500+ word comment) …but I really appreciate the things you post and I respect the work you do and the effort you put into it. Even the parts that don’t really fit what I’m doing for myself. In fact, maybe especially those parts. Reading about enchanted forests is probably as close as I’m ever going to get to one (considering my crippling fear of spiders, gators, and the fact that I live in bayou country….well, it’s a wonder I ever go outside at all, really).


    • Hi Jasmine,

      Thank you so much for the really thoughtful and lovely response! You definitely picked up on a lot of the threads I had in this post, and I’m glad that you find our work at NWW so useful, too! I definitely have had plenty of fanboy moments where I would find something new that really resonated with me and all I wanted to do was jump on board and try out that new experience. But the personal touch is so important, as you pointed out, so I’m also very happy that I’ve had to take time to get where I am, now. It sounds like you’re sort of in the same boat in that way 🙂

      Again, many thanks for the great reply!

      All the best,
      -Cory

  2. Katie Says:

    That was a beautiful article. I love that you make the magical seem so much more accessible than most people do, because it is. Thank you for sharing.
    :]

    P.S. I love both your podcasts and your blog (i just got caught up), and if you guys wrote a book i would definitely buy it.


    • Hi Katie!

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you liked it! And thanks for the praise on the site and show 🙂 You’ll have to keep your ears perked and your eyes peeled about that book…it may happen sooner than you think 😉

      All the best,
      -Cory

  3. Wulf Higgins Says:

    A lovely, thoughtful post. Good luck in grad school, and we’re all looking forward to the return of the podcast.

  4. Rue Says:

    Incredibly well-written post.

    I have the same (yet mirror) experience as far as dreams. No great insights, no secret messages, no meetings with deity. But I do remember my dreams. Unfortunately 98% of them are nightmares. I too have tried numerous ‘cures’ and ‘sure things’ to help me sleep better or confront the terror in my dreams, but nothing works.

    I’m a great meditator, but dreams will never be my friend. I’m okay with this, and find my magic in other places. In the garden and in the woods. In a handful of herbs or the light of the moon. These things serve me well.

    Wishing you every success as you head back to school! I’ll miss the podcasts!


    • Many, many thanks, Rue! I’ve been enjoying your site, too.

      Sorry to hear that so many dreams are so terrifying. I hope they aren’t too distressing for you! I agree that each of us has those certain “keys” that work for us, be it herbs and moonlight or the look of words on a page or a long twist of read yarn (a nod to Laine, there). So it’s good that witches are recognizing that, I think.

      Take care, and all the best!
      -Cory

  5. Hans Says:

    Good for you, Cory. Do your own thing and make it work. Too often we stumble on this path only to find ‘requirements’ necessary. It’s never said but you get the impression if you don’t do ‘so and so’ you aren’t a witch. Well, stuff it. I admire the fact you get out there and do it. Not everybody does. It takes far more guts than lying down, that’s for sure.

    I’m a natural lucid dreamer (when I was a kid I somehow managed to control my dreams, I don’t need techniques, it comes naturally) but for most of my childhood years I had constant and horrific nightmares. Even now, even with the ability to be aware and to manipulate, I still find myself having to face ugly things. I’ve recently become aware that dreams aren’t safe, at all! In fact, at least once a week I find myself having to drag my ass back to safety. No one has every clarified this for me but I believe dreams can connect to the otherworld, like a form of hedgecrossing. I don’t try to hedgecross (ironically instead of going into a trance… I just fall asleep) and yet find my guides are leading me out of potentially nasty situations. Ever since I took an interest in witchcraft these dreams have become more apparent. I’m almost convinced the ‘nasty’ things have woken up with the knowledge I am aware of their presence in the world.

    Really, it’s all glossy and hyped up to do but it’s exhausting when it happens. I’m a fly in a web and the ‘meaningful’ dreams tend to involve me having to get out of the web and outsmart the spider. It’s dangerous because if I get caught, part of me doesn’t come back…. but a challenge is fun.

    The best nights sleep is the quiet one with no dreams. Just, calm, black. Waking up refreshed without being haunted the rest of the day (or days).

    I enjoy dreaming too much to ever wish it to stop but there are other ways and means. Being awake is probably more helpful too, judgement doesn’t tend to be, well… grounded in dreamland. Who knows, maybe one day, when you least expect it, you will have a meaningful dream worth more than a whole years worth of erratic dreams. Till then, I think what you are doing is really brave, doing your own thing.


    • Thanks for the great response, Hans!

      It sounds like you’ve really got the hang of dreaming down. It’s not something I do particularly well (as you knew from my post), but I definitely admire those that can make it work for them. I love your metaphor of the spider and the web when it comes to lucid dreams, by the way!

      Here’s wishing you many good nights of rest!

      All the best,
      -Cory

  6. Argent Says:

    Even as a personal article there is a wealth of information in it, thanks you as always Cory.

    Dreams are a place where I have never had much success either. I have struggled to make them work, and am running out of ideas on how to make it work. In a particular fit of frustration I expressed my frustration. He told me, not everyone is can do all the magick work, improve where you can but accept you might not have a talent for it. I believe Laine said something similar in the most recent podcast about crafting.

    Oft times, I believe we get caught up in trying to perfect all that we see as witchcraft that we might not want to accept our limitations. I can not manipulate energy auras even near a level as my fiancee, and yet he says I can build the better protections around the house.

    I hope you enjoy getting out into the field to do what you love and learn of ways to out wit the old man of the crossroads or even the great debate in your mind. In the end, getting out and doing the work is what makes us what we are and helps us evolve into who we can be.


    • Hi Argent!

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate that, and I’m glad that the personal essay wasn’t a problem. I always worry that if I post personal stuff it’s just going to be boring for folks, and I really like putting more informative things out there. But every once in a while I break out of the shell 🙂

      Thanks for the well-wishes on school and field work, too! It’s already grueling, but rewarding, so hopefully it will continue to be worthwhile.

      All the best, and thanks again!
      -Cory

  7. Snow Says:

    I just stumbled across your lovely blog via Forest Grove and the Forest Witch and I know I don’t know you, but this post moved me very much. Over and over I think that the only thing I could say to you is “Dreaming is for people who do cannot walk their path while awake.” I almost never dream of my deities and spirits, and when I do it seems to be strange or hilariously out of context. Working in Vodou especially I get told over and over that the Lwa must “come to you in your dreams” but why? I can hear them just fine when I’m awake, I don’t need some kind of magical coddling to make things less ‘weird’ so that I can ‘get the message’ better (which unfortunately, dreaming has seem to become for some people, a ‘safe’ place to deal with their deities- if my deities aren’t safe awake, I sure as heck wouldn’t want them in my dreams!), and it sounds like you’ve very much the same, you know where you’re going and what your path is very clearly. When you work with spirits in the waking world, walk alongside them in your daily life, maybe they just don’t need to come to you in dreams. They’re already with you, you already get their messages and are sensitive to who and what they are. I would say don’t worry too much about not dreaming, though it can be frustrating with others around you experiencing it while you don’t.

    You write beautifully, I am glad I stumbled across you!

    ~Snow

  8. Chet Says:

    Hi Cory, great post. I’m knee deep in my summer semester (and am using my academic success mojo bag again!) so I can understand you’re time being limited. I’m not sure how I fit in work school and family as well as a few hours here and there to sit out and watch the lightening bugs (some call these fire flies) in the woods and fields behind my house.
    As for dreaming, I have always had very vivid dreams, although I have never been able to control them. When I was younger I had terrible dreams constantly. It was a rough time here and there so i think it was just a reflection of the current time. When I found my current path and started feeling closer to the natural world and my mind cleared and calmed, I noticed my nightmares went away (I think my hand made dream catcher helped also). I have never met deity and such, but have had a few dreams where I was in a sacred place. One I was with a small native american tribe (I am part cherokee..have mentioned that before) on a shore line at dusk with a fire and we were dancing. Very recently I was at an area that had a large mound with some kind of scriptures on rocks in a circle. Was a great dream but have no idea what or possible who was calling to me.
    Just about every morning I recall my dreams and can tell them in detail, and some I have remembered years later (like that one with Selma Hayek!). Also I had endless dreams for quite a few years where I was lost in schools, couldn’t find classes, lockers stuck, etc. Very strange. but since I have been back in college, those dreams have stopped. Maybe it was a message…

    As always, love the show and blog. And I was reading back on the blog and saw you had ask me something about my respose I made to the episode where you discussed fate. I’ll shoot you an email about that soon, I think you may enjoy that thought.
    Peace and Cheers,
    Chet

  9. Miss Bunny Sunday Says:

    Hi Cory,

    Thank-you for another insightful post. I’m hopelessly in love with both the podcast and the blog.

    I also have trouble connecting with deities, particularly with finding my patron goddess. I am a very cerebral person who constantly questions whether something is a “sign” or just my imagination… or whether I’m developing a strange kind of mental illness. While I have vivid dreams that I remember upon waking, nobody ever shows up in them. My meditation sessions have been unsuccessful as well.

    Your post is a huge comfort to me and I’m sure many others who feel like they’re failing a basic test of “witchiness.” It seems like every pagan/witchy person has an epic moment of divine intervention, in which a god or goddess descends from the heavens on a golden lightning bolt and kisses them on the forehead. For me, this has never been the case.

    Thanks to your post, I will spend less time waiting around like a Disney princess for that kiss and far more time forging an authentic connection to the magic around me.

    – Bunny Sunday (Randi)


  10. I know I’m a bit late commenting, but hear hear!! That was beautifully written with some great advice for newbs and old hats alike. Sometimes a witch just has to put their foot down when it comes to what does and doesn’t work for them – not matter what others say it’s “supposed” to be like.

    We’re all unique as snowflakes, big heavy fleshy snowflakes, and homogenizing witchcraft into one practice just isn’t going to work. It’s the same reason copying others doesn’t work – no matter how much you like it, it’s still not you and probably won’t work for you. We’ve all seen what happens when you snatch a snowflake in your hand… it melts into nothing.

    I always torture people into individuality when they come to me for help with witchcraft. They want me to tell them what to do and what to read, but instead I make them tell themselves what they want. It usually works out better in the end!

    More personal entries! Or maybe your own blog, you know, when you’re not so busy learning 😉

    Slainte!
    Sarah


  11. I just wanted to say that I loved this post. Plus that we all get tests in witchcraft/paganism. Sometimes we ace them, sometimes we fall flat on our faces.

  12. Jessica Says:

    This is just outstanding, Cory. I just recently found your podcast upon recommendation from a friend and then, found this blog. I loved everything about this post. Thank you so much for rolemodeling for others on how to let go of notions that there is the “right way” to do witchcraft and the “wrong way.” There is no such thing, except that which is true to your own craft. My practice is deeply rooted in Eurpean lore but just recently I find myself wanting to connect to my own spirit of place by finding and inviting into my life the magic of this continent where I make my home. I have been ridiculously fascinated by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writings ever since I was a kid, so when I heard your telling of “Young Goodman Brown” I was just delighted. I appreciated the analysis too. I’m in Michigan, and I know there is magic in the colonial frontier history here, and I am searching for it, feeling it sink into me wherever it peeks out at me. Not long after you make your trek to the graveyard, I will be making my journey to a colonial trading post and fort site on the Straits of Mackinac where I am quite sure that some of the good wives of soldiers and trappers and fur traders were cooking up magic in their rough row houses. I can hear them whisper to me if I listen. Many blessings on your journey. Keep it up. Your writing is delicious and woven through with all of the emotion you issue in it. Many blessings to you!
    Jessica

  13. SB Says:

    I best remember my dreams when I drink a lot of liquid before bed and then have to get up at night to pee. Psych 101 teaches us that we remember dreams when we wake up during a dream. Thus, one won’t necessarily remember a lot of dreams unless that person regularly wakes up during that state of sleep. So you might just sleep fully, rarely waking up during the night, and if you do, you might have a tendency to wake up while not in deep sleep.


  14. Thanks everyone! I’m glad this post got so well received. It looks like this has touched a particular nerve or heartstring for a lot of folks, and I’ve really been enjoying all the comments here and blog posts dealing with similar matters I’m seeing other places as well.

    Oh, and can I just say I love how insightful and intelligent y’all are? Seriously, thank you for contributing to the conversation in such a meaningful way. Y’all make me happy! 🙂

    -Cory


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