Here at Chez Ankh, I am surrounded by books on witchcraft. More magical tomes than I can hope to read in a lifetime are literally at my fingertips.
So when I am asked (as I often am) “How do I begin studying witchcraft?” one would think that I’d have a ready answer. But I don’t. There are so many paths, so many traditions, so SO many books that this simple question cripples me with indecision. How should I advise the sincere seeker when my own education is ongoing?
So I don’t. Instead I direct them to the books that have, over the years, made their way from the groaning Weiser shelves onto my (equally burdened) desk. These are the titles that I turn to again and again, whether I am looking for some simple solution to a common magical problem or an obscure and powerful correspondence. These books are what I would classify as essential reading for the would-be witch.
So back to that original question. “How do I begin studying magic?”
Let’s begin with the most basic and accessible form of witchery – Practical Magic. The information here is based on two of those aforementioned essential titles - Pure Magic by Judika Illes and The Wicca Handbook by Eileen Holland:
Practical Magic is Earth-Based and Utilizes All “Living” Things
I. Everything that breathes, grows, occurs naturally or is crafted with intent has spirit – and spiritual power.
Witchcraft, as it is understood by most practitioners, is an earth-based belief system. Its core tenet is that the Earth, and everything on it and in it, contain spiritual power. Things that are mass-produced, without variation or individualized intent, do not have spirit. A rock has spirit, but a factory-made paver does not. A hand-sewn and embroidered pillowcase has spirit. That thing on your bed that you bought at Marshall’s does not. And obviously, everything that grows and/or breathes has spirit – although a plant raised from seed in your own garden, or found in a forest meadow will have more spirit than one that you picked up at the Lumber Depot.
II. The spirit of a thing relates to its origin and how it functions. The degree of its power relates to where and how it was formed.
This is important, because a witch uses or borrows those powers to work magic. The spirit of each thing differs in degree (see above comment on wild/home grown plants vs. factory farmed) and kind. The power of an onion is vastly different than that of a rose. The power of obsidian (volcanic glass) formed and forced out from the Earth’s own furnaces differs greatly from that of sea glass, created by man and reshaped by sand and sea. Both are magical, both have spirit – but whereas the sharp, lethal energy of obsidian makes for great arrowheads, sea-glass is much better suited to an amulet. And you wouldn’t woo a lover with a dozen onions, now, would you?
Practical Magic Utilizes the Four Elements
Each element has its own unique power and energy, lending strength to its associated magic. Each witch has a preferred element. Even if you’ve never practiced the craft, you probably already know which element you favor and (as a result) what kind of magic will work best for you. The elements also have associated planets, seasons, directions, etc. There is a whole volume’s worth of discussion here, so let us suffice with a brief description of each and a few correspondences.
Earth – Common to us all, this is the element of grounding and healing magic, as well as money and fertility spells. It is, logically enough, feminine in its energy. Plants, because they grow in earth, are saturated with earth magic. Salts, being of the earth, are excellent vehicles for earth magic.
- Time: Midnight
- Season: Winter
- Direction: North
- Zodiac: Taurus; Virgo; Capricorn
Air – The element of intellect, intuition and communication. A more mysterious element than the other three – it is felt less directly, although it is no less essential. It is, in fact, the element that we need most (and need constantly). It is a masculine energy that fuels fires and fills sails. It is forceful and forward moving. Incense and fragrances are powerful air magic.
- Time: Dawn
- Season: Spring
- Direction: East
- Zodiac: Gemini; Libra; Aquarius
Water – The origin of all life (both planetary and individual) it is the element of life, love, emotion and mystery. It is feminine in its energy, and best accessed with baths and washes. Didn’t your mama tell you that everything works better when it is clean?
- Time: Twilight
- Season: Autumn
- Direction: West
- Zodiac: Cancer; Scorpio; Pisces
Fire – The most dangerous and unpredictable element – creator and destroyer – a thing that is not a thing – representing intelligence, purification, and sex. Fire energy is powerfully masculine, and accessed though candle-magic and any number of spells that require burning and smoke.
- Time: Noon
- Season: Summer
- Direction: South
- Zodiac: Aries; Leo; Sagittarius
Practical Magic Utilizes Color
Colors have power. That why Priests (and witches) wear black and a certain famous golfer is know for winning when he wears his red shirt. Here are the most common color correspondences:
Black – the color of protection, authority, and fertility (as in rich, black soil). Its element is Earth.
“Harness the power of the color black for fertility spells and for petitions to heal those who are chronically ill. Black candles are considered the most beneficial for repelling evil intentions while black crystals create psychic shields.” (Judika Illes, Pure Magic, p. 26)
Brown – the color of comfort, nurturing, and grounding. Its element is Earth.
“Surround yourself with brown energy to preserve and reinforce your personal power in the midst of long, draining projects. Brown is the color of justice. Brown candles are traditionally burned for assistance during legal proceedings.” (Ibid p.27)
Green – the color of growth and prosperity. Its elements are Earth and Water.
“Use green candles, baths and crystals in spells for employment, to get cash, in general, for anything that you wish to increase in your life.” (Ibid, p.27)
Yellow – the color of joy, harmony, and love. Its elements are Earth and Fire.
“Yellow is associated with romance as it’s the color most frequently associated with the most powerful spirits of love. Harness the power of yellow for romantic enchantments. A yellow candle will kindle new love. A yellow color bath can help you learn to love yourself.” (Ibid., p.29)
Red – the color of passion, vitality, and good fortune. Its elements are Fire and Earth.
“Harness the power of red to enhance your personal power, your vitality and to protect as you transition over thresholds, particularly those having to do with marriage, birth and children. Pink demonstrates red’s gentler aspects. Pink is especially beneficial for spells involving children and a new romance.” (Ibid., p.28)
Purple – the color of royalty and psychic energy. Its element is Fire.
“Purple is also associated with sexual pleasure. If you can’t decide what color sheets to buy, you might consider purple. Purple candles are used in the most amorous of love spells.” (Ibid., p.27)
Blue – the color of tranquility, healing, and protection. Its elements are Air and Water.
“Blue is traditionally the most important protective color, particularly in regards to thresholds. A blue bead worn at your throat protects you from saying ‘the wrong thing.’…Paint your doors, window frames and/or ceilings blue for spiritual protection. Blue assists in breaking the chains of bad habits. Burn blue candles to reinforce your commitment to terminate a detrimental addiction.” (Ibid., p. 26)
White – the color of creativity and potential. It can be used, magically, as a substitute for any other color. Its elements are Air and Fire.
“White is especially beneficial for candles and spells to initiate new projects. Keep a healthy stock of white candles on hand for spontaneous spells…White is traditionally the color of the moon. Use white crystals, candles, and clothes when you wish to draw down some moon magic.” (Ibid., p.29)
Practical Magic Requires Only a Few Simple Tools
And probably ones that you already have on hand. Practical is the operative word here. No need to spend lots of money or search the far reaches of the internet. Just look in your cupboards or head down to the hardware store.
Candles – as we saw above, different colors have different associations, but simple white candles will serve all of your purposes.
Charcoal – for burning resins (such as Frankincense) or home-made incense (not pre-made in cone or stick form)
Incense Burner – an oven-proof dish, scooped out stone, or large seashell will do. Fill it with sand before setting in the charcoal and lighting up, to protect from heat and flame. Warning – if you use beach sand, you may ignite some briny odors you weren’t intending. Clean sand thoroughly!
Cauldron – oh yeah! Cast iron is nice, but really, any pot put aside for magical purposes will do.
Wooden spoons – for gently stirring potions and the like. Longer handles work best.
Mortar and Pestle – can be found cheaply almost anywhere these days. A coffee grinder works too, but is far less fun.
Containers – to keep your ingredients in and clearly marked - glass is best but anything airtight-ish works fine.
Knife – keep it small, keep it sharp, and (ideally) keep it exclusively for chopping magical ingredients and carving magical symbols.
Paper - for writing spells and intentions. The fewer chemicals the better, so unbleached is best, although again, whatever you have on hand will do.
Salt – for purifying, protection, making lovely scrubs and baths. Sea salt is always best.
Blank Book – because you will need to keep track of things, like what works, what doesn’t, etc.
What is more magically powerful?
- a polished cowrie shell from a beloved beach-side shell shop
- your grandmother’s needlepoint sampler
- Mardi-Gras beads
- poison ivy
- it depends
You want to cast a love spell. Which magical combination would serve you best?
- A black candle and a garlicky pasta dish.
- A blue candle and a hot soak in epsom salts.
- A purple candle, anointed with rose oil and incised with the planetary symbols for Mars and/or Venus (or any combination thereof)
- A brown candle, soothing music, and a valium
- Set aside some small space for your magical supplies and books. It needn’t be big, but it should be dedicated to witchy workings.
- Gather the supplies mentioned above. If you don’t have something listed, be creative and make do with what you have. Magic is about intent, not purchase.
- Keep your eyes, ears, etc. open for things that speak to you magically – a smooth stone that skips into your path, an iridescent crow feather, etc. – collect them if it is safe and ethical, or write about them in your witchy book.
**If you have suggestions or questions please post them in the comment field! I know that there are many, many of you out here who have wit and wisdom to share with Ankhie and the newbies, so post away!**
NEXT WEEK: Witchy History and a Few Spells to Start You Off