A young woman contacted me a while back asking for knowledge. Not some Craft secret or anything. What she wanted to know was why. WHY?
You see, she had spent the year or two (or more) being harassed by what we shall call a (demon) nasty asshole spirit. She hadn’t done anything in particular to attract such a beastie. She’s not sure when it found her, but she thinks it started with nightmares that kept her up at night and by the end of it, she was a mess. Depression, lack of sleep, couldn’t really eat. The joy of life being sucked out of her, strange obsessions and compulsions. The constant feeling of being watched.
It wasn’t a mental illness, it wasn’t a physical illness and she wasn’t playing games or looking for attention.
She searched high and low for help and found none. She lives in a large-ish city in the USA, a city with a thriving Pagan community. Yet, there was no help for her there. She went to bookshops and asked for help. She went to Meet & Greet Coffee Cauldron type events and found no help. She went to the local teaching coven and found no help. She went to the ADF grove and found no help (they told her to pray away the pain). She asked around for help, advice, a book recommendation, anything.
She went to her parents, who took her to a doctor, who said it was just the stress of her first year at college.
Finally after begging around for help for more than a year, someone suggested she contact a shamanic practitioner in a neighbouring town. He took one look at her and KNEW something was not right. He helped her chase away the asshole spirit who was hurting her, who was driving her into insanity.
What she wanted to know from me was why. Why did no one help her? She feels as if she must have spoken to every single out Pagan, Heathen and Witch in her community before someone pointed her in the right direction. WHY? Why did they leave her twisting in the wind?
I wanted to answer her and it took a while. There are many answers to this question, because different people would not (or could not) help for different reasons.
This is something that I have struggled with myself to a certain extent. Not because I have dealt with being harassed or abused by a nasty asshole spirit in the manner that this young woman was. I have never had a demon try to groom me for possession. I have however, been hounded by my own spirits. Also, I was once a young woman dealing with an unhealthy and abusive family situation, various untreated learning disabilities and anxiety … and found no help.
So in no particular order here’s why it might be hard to find help if you are being called to shamanize, being hounded by spirits, dealing with a curse or being harassed or abused by some nasty asshole spirit (etc). For the record I tend to use the term spirit to mean ANY and/or ALL of the unseen.
If you ask around, there are a lot of people who don’t really believe in the “woo stuff”. That’s why we call it the woo stuff. There are a lot of agnostic, atheist and archetypal folks in our … (oh, whatever we are calling it, or not calling it, now) our religious body/community/whatever. So a kid dealing with unseen awfulness, who does the right thing by asking around for help, might run into a bunch of people who don’t believe that what is happening to her is even really, real. Not really. Really?
This doesn’t make them bad people, they just don’t believe. This makes them a poor source of help however. Though they might be able to suggest a book … or website, or something. It’s no skin of their nose, right? Right?
There are also plenty of people who don’t really believe in mental illness (or neurological disorders or learning disabilities etc) either. People who think depression, addiction, or anxiety are not real illnesses. You just have to suck it up. I tell someone that I have social anxiety and ADHD (that I have been working on for the better part of a decade, thanks) and the majority of the time the response I get is an eye roll and a condensing look. Excuses, excuses.
I recall an article on Witchvox years ago wherein the author berates lazy, young Pagans for not meditating as often as they should. At one point she made sarcastic remarks about ADHD. It seems she was some kind of teacher of the Craft. Who resented having young people with neurobiological disorders ask her for extra help because their disorder made things like meditation more difficult.
This is exactly the kind of attitude you will run into when you tell people in the Pagan community that you think you are being hounded by spirits or being cursed (etc).
The reaction I used to get when I was dealing with my first visionary and shamanic experiences were the eye roll, the condescending look. Hell, try talking about being god-owned in a mixed group of Pagans. The eye rolls, the condescending looks.
Try talking about hardcore, old school, folkloric Witchcraft. Folks will say “Oh no one actually works with piss and blood and sticks pins in things. No one does that old stuff, anymore.” (I can personally attest to the fact that this notion is wrong. Would you like to meet my blasting rod? Or see what I put into spell bottles?)
They don’t believe. Even if they think these things are possible, they certainly don’t believe it’s happening to you.
Not everyone does it, but there are some who believe that kids and newbies don’t know what they are talking about. In a way they don’t; they probably lack the vocabulary to know how to express what’s happening to them. If we assume that someone if a layman, we can assume that they might not know what they are dealing with or how to express what is happening.
A kid who is being abused in her sleep by a nasty asshole demon-type might call it a ghost or poltergeist or a boogeyman. It’s like how they used to misdiagnose women who were having heart attacks because women describe their symptoms differently from the (male written) medical text books. Hell, terminology games pisses me off. I’ve resorted to defiantly calling everything spirits most of the time now.
They might assume that you are looking for attention or putting on teenager theatrics. Everybody is guilty of making this assumption at some point. We all look back at ourselves at that age and think about how “stupid” we were, right? Then we project that onto to other people.
It wouldn’t be surprising for someone to think that you have a bad case of “newbie thinks she’s been cursed”. Once again a newbie or kid not knowing what is going on might think she is cursed. Yes, most of the time if you think you’ve been cursed you haven’t been cursed. Sometimes (rarely) it means that you have been. It could also mean that some spirit is hurting you. You don’t know what it is; you just know something is terribly wrong. You may think that you have been cursed or are being haunted.
Basically, you might know something is wrong but not know the exact nature of what is wrong. Therefore, you can’t properly describe what’s wrong when seeking help. Gosh, can you imagine how hard that must be?
A lot of Pagans, well meaning as they may be, are deaf, blind and dumb. They don’t see or feel or sense the spirit world. They have no real concept of the otherside. How can they help if they are blind to it? They can’t. There’s a fabulous story that Lon Milo DuQuette tells about how once he lead a workshop on Circle casting and parting the Veil. It scared the hell out of some poor woman. Because despite having practiced for years, she had never actually felt anything before! This is startlingly common.
If you find someone who is willing to listen, someone who believes that something might be going on with you, they might not be able to help. Most of us stick to the lighter side of things if you catch my drift. Most folks just don’t go down that road. They don’t have the tools to help you. The trouble with the Harm None ethos is that it means no one knows how to chase off a bully. They might have a dozen ways to create a shield or ward a room, but to actually go toe to toe with some nasty little brownie? Most Pagans, Heathens and (sadly) Witches, have no idea how to even begin such an operation.
Many people don’t want to get involved, because they have a reputation to protect. What if people found out that Lady Name Dropper actually has no clue how to handle a nasty asshole spirit? What if Lord Training Coven tried to help but had to admit defeat? What if he made things worse? What if Lady I’m So Dignified was caught in such an embarrassing situation as actually trying to help the weird goth girl with her spirit problem? GASP!
We don’t like weirdos, freak, geeks or crazy people and you look like one. Whether you are being hounded by your own spirits, being harassed by a nasty spirit or being horribly cursed by someone, it can look a lot like what you need is a doctor. These things can cause (or trigger) depression and anxiety and insomnia. Or maybe you just look like a weirdo with your greasy unkempt hair and your odd clothing and glassy eyes.
Most of the books out there that talk about things like (for example) receiving the call to shamanize, will mention that many become ill but don’t typically mention how. What kind of illness. It’s kind of vague.
When someone is wasting away, losing their shit or can’t get out of bed (etc) we usually assume that it’s something a doctor ought to deal with. Because you should see a doctor and all (that should be one of the first things you do), but sometimes there’s something else going on. The trouble is that to the observer, it can look like just a bad case the blues or the flu (or depression or anorexia or…)
I wasn’t even close to ready when I got the call. I was stupid and I forced it too damned early. I was clever enough, and had been practicing long enough (about 6 years), to know that it was probably inevitable. But young and brash enough to loose patience and go chasing after it. I’ve written about the experience a bit before. I over indulged in some potent flying ointment and meet up with the spirits that I was familiar with at the time. I demanded things that I had no right to ask for, things I hadn’t earned, and got my fuckin’ ass kicked for it.
It was rather like barging into someone’s home because you have a crush on them and then seeing that they are into some really kinky shit. Getting freaked, running out of the house thinking it was all a big mistake. And then they decide to stalk you.
I was in my early twenties. I had punk hair and pale skin. I wore raggedy clothes than didn’t match and didn’t fit right. I had bags under my eyes. I was naught but skin and bones. I have a big tattoo on my arm. I had body piercings at the time. I wore the dreaded and offensive oversized pentacle around my neck. No one was going to help the likes of me.
Certainly not in 2001 when everyone was hating on us kids who had discovered Paganism in the 1990s. Do you remember? We were just addicted to Charmed and Buffy and had watched The Craft too many times. How dare we call ourselves Witches or Wiccans or Pagans? We were all just a bunch of fluffy bunnies! We were ruining Paganism with our solitary eclectic ways and our Doc Martins and purple hair! It was cool to hunt fluffy bunnies, cool to pick on newbies, people were proud of themselves for being assholes to us.
There was no way that I was being called, struggling to deal with Mysteries greater than I could wrap my young mind around, or under going initiation by spirits and gods. Nope. I was just some punk ass kid. Just another annoying solitary, eclectic, wannabe making up stories. The “wise” grey hairs turned their backs on me.
How dare you ask about spirit work and otherworld travel and repairing missing soul parts and being a horse for a god and all that stuff? How dare I ask about parting the Veil and hedgecrossing and how to do battle with a spirit? That’s second degree stuff at least. You aren’t allowed to know that. You are not worthy of my knowledge! It must be so nice to belong to a tradition that expects you to just stand there and let a kid drown because throwing them a life preserver would be revealing initiatory mysteries. I’d really like someone to explain how they justify that?
I was on my own.
I was in my early twenties. I had pale skin. I had bags under my eyes. I was naught but skin and bones. I wasn’t sleeping, I was always cold. My body ached. I went from always being early for work, performing well and making great money to failing miserably at my job. Things that had seemed pretty minor once I escaped the horror of high school, like my ADHD or Dyscalculia, sudden reared their heads and got much, much worse. Stuff form my childhood kept coming up. I started self isolating. I didn’t want to do anything but sleep. Allergies I never had before suddenly flared up. My relationship started a slow decline. Then I started having anxiety attacks.
To some I looked like another newbie trying to get attention. To some I looked like I was a head case or maybe a junkie (I was accused of such). To some it looked I needed a doctor or a therapist (I got both). To some it looked like I was trying to cheat or find a short cut to the knowledge that they hoard like jealous dragons. What I really needed was help or a mentor or someone to throw me a scrap of insight or encouragement (I got none of that).
I didn’t look like someone with fire in the head, causing her pain. People have this stupid fucking idea that someone who is on deeply spiritual path, someone who is a good Crafter, someone who is surrounded by spirits (etc) is going to look the good witch Glenda. All smiles and perfect hair and floating around in stylish clothes. This is not always the case.
This is certainly not the case of someone who is being hounded by spirits or abused by a demon.
I have no heroic climax to offer you as an end of my story. I just slogged through one day at a time. I spent a lot of time in libraries, I worked the land, and I struggled to understand what my spirits demanding I learn. I poured every little scrap of strength and energy into my practice. Eventually got my shit together, more or less. It was rather like getting lost in the woods with a broken leg while also being smeared with honey. There’s no rescue crew out there looking for you, so you’ll have to find your own way out of the woods. But kid, if you actually make it out alive you’ll be Chuck Norris. Me? Some ten years later, I’ve set up camp in the edge of woods; I can see the clearing from here but I think I’ll stay put for a while.
We are protecting ourselves. Even if someone can help you, they may not want to take the risk. Getting down and dirty with a nasty spirit might mean it turns its attention onto you. Getting involve din helping someone being cursed might cause the hexer to start throwing at you. If you have kids at home you might be reluctant to help. If you are dealing with some stress and trouble in your own life you might not be in the position to take on helping someone. Once again though, someone in such a situation could still offer some advice, or recommend a book, or suggest someone who can help. It wouldn’t be that hard, now would it? Would it?
Of course, maybe they just don’t give a shit about you. There are plenty of people in the world who wouldn’t help you because they are just rotten people. The Pagan community is full of really awesome people, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a few sadistic creeps or apathetic narcissists (and so on) in our midst.
In our society it’s common to blame the victim. If a young person fell into the wrong crowd and got mixed up with drug, then came looking for a way out, are we supposed to turn away? Because they got themselves in that situation to begin with, right? Surely when I went chasing after that Big Impressive Mystery I was asking for trouble. I’ll agree with you on that. Does that mean it was okay to leave me twisting in the wind? It is somehow a Pagan value to leave someone who made a mistake to drown in shit? You brought this on yourself; therefore you deserve to suffer, kid. What if you didn’t do anything to bring the bad situation on yourself? Who’s going to believe that? Who is going to care? It’s so much easier to blame the victim. It’s her own damned fault; let her figure out how to deal on her own. How do you justify leaving a hurting kid to suffer alone? By blaming her for making a mistake? For being vulnerable to attack and abuse by some nasty spirit or asshole ex boyfriend who is now throwing curses at her? You made your bed, go lie in it and NO I am not going to so much as suggest a way to make that bed. No help for you! You don’t deserve help or kindness or empathy or compassion. How is this attitude such a big part of Paganism?
In the Pagan community especially (I can give most Heathens and Witches a pass on this) there is this silly notion that if you never do harm, no entity will ever do harm unto you. This is like a pacifist thinking that no one will ever break into her home and rape her, because she is a pacifist. If you’re a pacifist, you’re a pacifist. I can respect that (even if it makes no sense to me) some of the people I respect most are pacifists. But don’t think for a second that this “I do no harm” thing is going to somehow protect you. Pacifism is not a shield. Me? I’ll fight.
Therefore, if you are being hurt by something, you brought it on yourself. You didn’t Harm None. Because being bathed in White light keeps you safe. You must have been dabbling in something dark and awful! You deserve no help.
We don’t want to recommend someone from the OTHER PATH. We can’t acknowledge the validity of someone else’s tradition by recommending that you go see them for help. Heaven forbid! I think about some of the people on other Paths here in Ottawa (and other places I have lived) and I bet that if someone came to them for help, they would not suggest they go see me. Not because they don’t think I could help. Because then they’d have to acknowledge my Path actually has some value. That I can do something they can’t. Elitism causes cannibalism, the kind that eats our children. But hey, so long as I’m top dog, who gives a shit?
We don’t know who can help you, or where to find them. Ask around at Pagan Pride Day or something, who is the go-to guy for dealing with nasty stuff? It might be hard to find an answer. This is another symptom of “My Trad is Better than Your Trad”. It’s also a symptom of non belief. Those crazy Hedgewitch-y types actually believe in this stuff? They actually work with spirits? The freaks! They must be playing make believe! Those Ceremonial Magicians summon demons and get them to bend to their will? Madness! Dark Arts! Keep away from me!
Okay, enough calling out the community for not being helpful. I really am trying to be constructive with my criticism, but I know most won’t see it that way. That’s fine. I’m bitter and jaded enough to not care anymore.
What is a person who is in dire straights to actually do?
People who might be able to help you (if you are being hounded/called by your spirits and they are making you sick/crazy, if you are being abused by a nasty asshole spirit, if you genuinely think you pissed someone off enough to throw curse at you and so forth)
Someone who has experience and a good reputation as:
A spirit working or shamanic Witch. We go by many names. Hedgewitch, toad witch, cunning folk, whatevs … Just ask for the Witch who does the crazy stuff, like trance work or spirit work.
A Siedr practitioner
A Voodoo priest/ess
A ceremonial magician
A Hoodoo practitioner
I think you get the idea. Look for the people who actually work with the unseen and walk the grey areas. Those who follow a crooked path, not one that is all love and light. Obviously these people might still turn you away. They might not be able to help you, or might not want to. (A pregnant lady can’t be dealing with other people’s demons) But if they are even halfway competent in their Craft and half way decent human beings, they’d at the very least suggest a course of action for you to take, or point you to someone who can help you, or something. Something! It’s not that hard to suggest a book or website or something. Something! (Please suggest books in the comments. I will make a list and put them in the Hedge’s articles.)
Some things that you can do if you are having troubles with the unseen:
Find a reputable diviner or reader (someone good at tarot or runes for example) and have them do reading or casting to divine what is bothering you, what is the root cause. They may also be able to point you in the right direction for what action to take.
Place protective wards and magicks. Such as witch bottles, witch balls, bundles of protective herbs, inscribing runes and so forth. It’s 101 stuff and yet very few people actually do this seriously.
Cleanse and bless your home and self on a regular basis. I’ll admit I tend to “cleanse only on an as needed” myself but I do hallow my home on a semi regular basis. If something bad were happening, I’d be battening down the hatches.
Don’t bring people home who you are not comfortable with. The same goes for any one else. That means wights and fairies too. What’s the old saying? Never conjure something you can’t throw down with and win like a boss.
Keep one knife sharp and clean and another other dull and icky. Don’t be afraid to brandish one and tell some intruder spirit that “I will cut you and fuck you up. Back off!” Don’t make threats you won’t follow up on though. Would you hesitate to shoot a strange man barging into your kid’s bedroom? Defend yourself if you have to. Coat your blade in power and anger and fear and cut that fucker up.
Ceremonial magick has all sorts of experience with working with all sorts of … entities. It doesn’t hurt to read a little of that stuff even if it’s not your style.
Those old grimories? They are full of that shit. Find them (often free on the internet, people) and read them. There are also people who have written books explaining, or theorizing about, this stuff. You don’t have to master it. Unless you HAVE to master it. But at least take a look at it.
Learn how to curse. Learn how to do harm magickally and energetically so that you can actively defend yourself. Sorry, I am not even going to give the Wiccans a free pass on this stuff. I am sure Grandpa Gerald would agree that you should be able to defend yourself from the dark arts and nasty spirits if it came to it. Sometimes good thoughts and white light is not enough. Actually, it’s usually not even close to enough.
Build a good relationship with deity, the ancestors, your own spirits, the wight in the tree in your yard and so forth. If you really have a strong bond with such, they might protect you or at least give warning.
Have scapegoat-y things. You know the witch bottle, the poppet with you hair in it. Something that will attract bad shit to it and away from you.
Books to read:
Psychic Self-Defence by Dion Fortune
A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits by Carol Mack and Dinah Mack
Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft & Demonology by Russell H. Robbins
Spirit Possession and Exorcism: History, Psychology, and Neurobiology by Patrick McNamara
The Witches’ Book of Ghosts and Exorcism by Robin Skelton and Jean Kozocari
Psychic Shield: The Personal Handbook of Psychic Protection by Caitlin Matthews
Magickal Self Defence: A Quantum Approach to Warding by Kerr Cuhulain
Monsters: An Investigator’s Guide to Magical Beings by John Michael Greer
Protection & Reversal Magick: A Witch’s Defense Manual (Beyond 101) by Jason Miller
The Secret Commonwealth: An Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and for the Most Part) Invisible People, Heretofore Going Under the Name of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies by Robert Kirk
An Introduction to the Psychology of Paranormal Belief and Experience by Tony Jinks
Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael
Defences Against the Witches’ Craft: Anti-cursing charms from English folk magick, traditional witchcraft and the grimoire traditions by English root magician by John Canard