by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
“As above, so below” we say to guide our magick. “As within, so without” is the maxim to help us in knowing ourselves. We can understand ourselves better by looking at the world, and understand the world better but looking at how our body consciousness responds to the world. A big part of my job as a Witch is working with individuals, seeing clients for readings and healing work, examining the forces and dynamics of pressure affecting them in their day-to-day life, and figuring out the root issues and remedies for them, be they in this life or another. I’ve noticed a deep link between the conditions of our society and the conditions of our overall health. People’s individual health can act as a barometer for the greater conditions of the world, if we choose to look within/without and above/below.
As a practitioner of magick and Witchcraft, one of the things you can become quite sensitive to is the power of group consciousness. Magickal groups such as covens and circles gather together and share a collective power, but they also process a collective burden, creating one of the factors that reveal strains in magickal groups today, as many people don’t realize you often share the good and the difficult. We choose to participate in covens, but there are a lot of group energy dynamics that are inherent and unconscious. Most noticeable is the group energy of regions, often publicly exhibited by their sports teams, accents, linguistic idioms, and folk customs; it is the same with nations. Overall these groups inhabit a collective consciousness in the world that history would divide into two major zones—the Eastern and Western worlds—a division that ignores the cultural and consciousness distinctions of indigenous people who don’t quite fit into the historic narrative of East-West dichotomies (though there are interesting parallels to make between the earth and the structure of the brain, with its two major hemispheres and their archetypal associations, and how many parts of the brain, like many other cultures in the world, do not fit neatly within either). We can look in general to the “modern” world—both east and west, and the shared group consciousness developing through global economics, technology, and media—and in it, see some of the pathologies, and hopefully remedies, that through the powers of Witchcraft can create change on all levels.
The first of the conditions I see affecting so many people is the addiction to stimulation overall, particularly through our social media. People are on a constant stream of text, images, sound, all forms of information, at all hours of the day. Our eyes in particular are overstimulated, disrupting our rhythms and sleep patterns. It is overwhelming, but there is also a fear of “missing out” if one doesn’t stay on top of the flow. We will be “disconnected” from not only what is going on, but from our friends. Speaking deeper to that, there is a deep need for validation coming from these practices, as people share and seek “likes” indicating approval or acceptance. Posting and checking posts become almost Pavlovian, except that instead of a bell, it’s more like a button that stimulates the response. Scientists are doing studies on how brain chemistry is affected by social media, how we become stimulated by our online presence, often mistaking posting about something as actually doing something. It is these shifts in brain chemistry that possibly cause the physical addiction issues, but it’s really the psychological habits, and the deep soul’s needs, that are found under it. This speaks to our need to belong, to feel accepted and supported, and we are willing to accept an overt sign measured in clicks rather than foster the deeper responses that in one-on-one or small-group relationships can truly provide support.
The remedy for this overstimulation is knowing the ebb and flow of rest, of when to use the tool and when to put down the tool rather than be controlled by it. Rest is the tide of day and night, of wake and sleep, of activity and of dream. Somewhere between the two is the world of imagination, letting the images and ideas rise up from within you, rather than be provided by social media content. Another remedy is stimulating your imagination and discovering what inspires you through artistic expression instead of only passively engaging in media. Media fasts can stimulate the imagination and give us time and space to explore our own creativity. The deeper medicine is in establishing and evolving core relationships where you feel both supported and accepted and can offer that acceptance to others.
Practice: Start by honoring the four times of the day—sunrise/waking, noon, sunset, and midnight/slumber. Take a few moments at these four points to attune to the tide of the day. Don’t make checking your phone or computer the first thing you do. Take a moment to tune in before anything else. Take breaks throughout the day, but particularly at noon, perhaps before lunch, and at sunset, and observe and feel the shift going on in the land and planet where you are. Reflect before bedtime, or take some time to collect thoughts in your journal or have a more formal meditation or ritual. As you learn to honor the tides of rest and wake, let images, ideas, and thoughts stir from your inner worlds and imagination. See daydreaming and fantasy as something sacred. Sure, it can be a part of “creative visualization,” but not all such acts need to be empowered by specific goals. Enjoy the act of imagination for the sake of the imagination.
An even more serious concern that overstimulation is the rampant rise of more and more mysterious autoimmune diseases, particularly around chronic inflammation. While there are a wide variety of theories to root causes, depending on the particulars of the symptoms, we have an ever-growing inflamed society on all levels. I feel it growing more and more in current political crisis. If we look at our own anger around the injustices of the world as we perceive them, we are constantly outraged. To not be outraged can often feel like being complicit. As an old college friend’s t-shirt read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”: such sentiment can feel very true when faced with the horrible situations manifest in the world. Yet to be constantly outraged is a recipe for a terrible life. Joy must be found somewhere. As if each of us is a cell in the immune system of the world, humanity itself is suffering overall from a chronic psychic inflammation and giving that same condition to the planet. As we experience it in the mental-emotional-astral level, we manifest it in our bodies. Usually inflammation comes from an over-reaction to the immune response. We are trying to heal the world, but our response is not effective, and the disproportional response without a useful plan of action for change is only making the situation worse. As in the very nature of autoimmune disease, we are attacking ourselves, as expressions of humanity and of nature. We fight amongst ourselves as people, and we wreck our environment, thinking it is something separate from us. So our own bodies are attacking ourselves.
While I never wish to be complicit, we must balance our emotional reactions—and especially our overreactions—by seeking what good can be done here and now, and what good can be planned for in the long term. Then we must do it. But trying to do all the things to bring justice at once, without coordination or cooperation, is detrimental to ourselves personally and doesn’t help the greater good. If I can’t do something about a particular injustice, I have every right to feel angry, upset, hurt, and frustrated, but I cannot set up shop there and live from that place of feeling angry, because then I won’t then be able to do the things I am actually capable of doing for the greater good. As any mystic or meditator will tell you, it’s understanding the difference between reaction (characterized by our wild outrage) and our response, which will harness our outrage to better use, or sometimes even bypass the outrage into the action itself.
Since so much of this is happening on the emotional spectrum, I, as a Witch, find watching the patterns of the Moon, with its four phases and twelve signs each month, and its yearly cycle of twelve to thirteen full Moons, deeply helpful in becoming aware of both my reactions and responses. That awareness helps me choose which reactions I want to work with and which ones I am okay letting flow. I can’t necessarily be perfect in all things, so awareness of all the facets of my emotions can help me better understand my patterns, what pushes my buttons, and what lunar times I’m most vulnerable to overreaction. My family marks their calendars when the Moon is in Cancer, as evidently I can be quite difficult during that time. Cancer is my rising sign, and I am more likely to direct this difficulty outwardly. When the Moon is in my natal Moon sign of Virgo, I’m more withdrawn and not likely to cause problems for others. That wonderful feedback was hard to hear from my loved ones, but now that I know, I can make myself more aware of my behavior and choose better before I escalate. My responses are my responsibility. With this awareness, I can better navigate the world of politics, community, and culture too.
Practice: Keep a Moon journal. If you are already keeping a journal—as in the Morning Pages exercise from The Artist’s Way, a classic book by author Julia Cameron, or the popular “bullet journaling” of today—make note of the Moon’s sign and your experiences throughout the day. Were you reactive? Proactive? Optimistic? Depressed? Angry? Flighty? Notice a pattern of peak power times to accomplish things, times to rest or relax, and times to pause and reflect. Keep note of them, which should help you avoid overreaction and choose some simple time to be more effective. As you develop this knowledge, you might want to go deeper into understanding astrology and magickal timing in general, including learning about your own chart and sharing that information with the people around you, if they are open to such.
Lastly, and most detrimental in the long term, is this economic myth of unlimited growth. With it comes the model of unlimited consumption in modern capitalist theory. Where does that happen in nature? Nowhere, you might be tempted to say, but you’d be wrong. It does happen in nature. It happens in cancer. Cancer is unlimited cell growth going wild, beyond any healthy “pattern,” to form benign and malignant tumors, with malignant tumors interfering with other body processes and taking resources needed from vital systems. The cancer itself will continue to consume all that is being taken in, to feed itself instead of allowing the healthy parts of the body to feed, eventually becoming more aggressive.
In a world where our economic model is based upon the natural model of cancer, it is easy to see why we are both destroying our biosphere and each other, and why humanity’s own bodies appear to be suffering an epidemic of malignant cancers. One might reason we have better science to identify the factors of illness, and what was once classified as “death by old age” is classified as a specific cause of death, and that our detection of cancers that have always been there has improved, but I have to say in just my lifetime, people seem less happy, satisfied, and generally sicker if they have not found a personal breakthrough in terms of their personal journey. That is not to say that spiritual, magickal people don’t get cancer. They do. But without that personal breakthrough, I tend to observe a general wearing away from the expectations of life—such as doing a job you don’t like or taking on responsibilities to economically survive to the detriment of personal satisfaction. And upon retirement, the stress catches up and illness manifests.
Now I know many of my metaphysical friends who also teach about prosperity and abundance are probably a little mad at me, thinking “of course there is unlimited prosperity” and are offended I compared the idea to cancer. Well, they are right too. In nature, the only healthy unlimited force would be the Sun. Even when it sets from our perspective, it is eternally shining forth. Do we know our star will eventually collapse? Yes, but for all practical personal purposes, it is unlimited for us. Yet the unlimited and eternal nature of the Sun speaks to an unlimited spiritual, intangible, energetic reality, and not necessarily a tangible financial one. The Sun will continue to shine on a tree, but a tree, no matter how old it gets, has a life cycle of seed, seedling, maturity, elderhood, and death. A tree that succumbs to decay did not have a moral or spiritual fault. Yet the actions of humanity are speeding up the loss of many species of plants and animals, which does have a moral and spiritual fault. While the energy of the Sun is unlimited abundance, it manifests in cycles and seasons in which we perceive night, winter, endings, and darkness as well. This is a part of life. Our society, like the tree, cannot be in a perpetual state of ripe fruit, and neither can we. The tree that is eternally in simultaneous flower and fruit exists outside of time, in the realm of faery, not humanity.
As the Sun shows us both the possibility of unlimited energy and the limits found in the cycles of physicality, we look to the cycles of the Sun and the Earth, our Wheel of the Year, to help regenerate. Today many Witches are not fans of the Wheel of the Year, feeling cut off from our agrarian and hunter-gatherer roots that play such a strong role in our mythos. Global weather shifts have created places that do not experience four seasons, and in truth, many places never did. Yet there is an underlying astrological reality of energy at the root of the mythos. The sabbats are determined by the sign of the Sun, as the solar holidays occur when the Sun shifts from a mutable sign to a cardinal sign, starting the astrological season, and the fire festivals occur in the midst of a fixed sign, the peak of the astrological season. English folklore considers the solstices to be the midpoints, and in the yearly cycle, they are, but astrologically each initiates winter and summer. Looking for the flow of the stars, through the Sun and Moon to the Earth, can be very helpful to us in times when even the weather and seasons are stressfully inconsistent. In some older traditions, it was both the Witches’ responsibility to turn the seasons, and to “recharge” and regenerate their power at these points. Regeneration of our own cells, realigning them with the cycles of life and death, and regeneration of our own being, as cells within the body of Earth, can help us stem the desire of unnecessary consumption and unlimited growth, and return back to the spirit of the agricultural seasons of birth, life, death, and rebirth, for these are the great mysteries of our Craft.
Practice: Celebrate either the four seasons of the year, the eight sabbats of the modern Witch, or the twelve zodiac signs with simple rituals to regenerate and renew yourself. Take the time to align with the spirit of the season. As much as you can, purposely book fewer events during the winter season. Take the time to be less social and more solitary. Plan on being busier in the spring and fall, as they are our planting and harvesting seasons. As much as possible, eat in alignment with what is naturally and locally available to you. At the actual holidays, do rituals to not only bless the world and turn the Wheel, but to take in energy for yourself and your own healing and regeneration. One of my primary spiritual practices is potions in the forms of teas, tinctures, and flower essences. For every sabbat cycle, I have drawn a tarot card, giving me advice for that eighth of the year, and using that and the natural energy of the season and zodiac signs, I compose an herbal formula to keep me steady. Even if I am unable to do anything spiritual that day, I take my remedy or make my tea and remind myself of the time and place I am in, and what I am working on to regenerate myself.
So as I contemplate our relationship to the group consciousness of our magickal groups, communities, regions, nations, and the world, and our current state of health, I like to keep these three “R’s” in mind as I engage. We live in a modern world, and there are many things I absolutely love about it. I love the ability to communicate with loved ones and travel the world. I love the access of information we have. But as I navigate it, I find my experience enhanced more when I take time to rest, respond appropriately, and regenerate through the paths of the day, month, and year.