Occult: secret; disclosed or communicated only to the initiated. Hidden from view.
Woman: the female human being (distinguished from man).
I just finished reading an academic essay titled, "Managing an Experimental Household: The Dees of Mortlake and the Practice of Natural Philosophy." By Deborah E. Harkness. For those interested in Renaissance magic and ceremonial forms including angelic magic, yes the Dees in the article are "The Dees", that is John and Jane of the 16th century. For those unfamiliar with John Dee please feel free to learn more on his Wikipedia page, but in a nut shell John Dee was the court astrologer and magician for Elizabeth I and brought the Enochian system of magic to fruition with his oracle Edward Kelly. My goodness that was a terribly short bio. Dee I consider to be one of those "mighty dead" figures in our magical ancestry and because of his amazing note taking skills we can reproduce his rituals to the most minute detail. In fact my friend Lon Milo Duquette has an excellent Enochian magic workshop based on Dee's work that I would recommend to anyone but particularly those unfamiliar with this system. His "cut out of card stock paper" rings and magical seals are hilariously awesome and inventive. However, while I could go on about the phenomenal menfolk involved in the occult, Crowley, Agrippa, Dee, Chumbley, Gardner, V. Anderson, and Sanders to name a few and their contributions; I want to focus on women and particularly the experience of women in the occult and the difficulty many women have coming into occult practice. You see the focus of "Managing an Experimental Household" was not about John Dee, it was about his wife Jane and her experience living with an occultist and her female perspective and difficulties therein, and while she herself was not a magician she was touched by this unseen and powerful world. Many more women today than those in Jane's day have come in contact with alternative religions and the occult and many more have made the choice not to fully engage with the "hard" sciences of the occult. It is my hope that by looking at some of the major road marks on the magical map of women's experiences a clearer picture will emerge and we can separate the "feel good" idea of "magic" in a community context and that of actual magic(k) and serious occult practice.
|Sigillum dei aemeth from John Dee's Enochian Spirit workings.|
It seems to me that the feminist movement in the 60's and 70's brought along with it a desire for women to look to a female deity and engage in spiritual practice that was conducive and compassionate to them and their needs, because traditional Christianity certainly was not. Women wanted to make love to whom they wished both in or out of marriage. They wanted birth control and abortions and control of their own bodies. They wanted equal pay for equal work and they wanted to work outside the home. Many did not want to have children. While all of this seems mundane and normal now, at the time it was culture shattering, almost unthinkable. My husband and I were talking about the 1960's and how the boss could get away with smoking cigars and drinking whiskey in his office and slapping his secretaries on the ass as he walked by and that was that. While a woman could not directly challenge the boss at this time trouble was a-brewing for the status quo. The activism of these decades combined with a desire for a Goddess centric spirituality, Margaret Murry's use of bad anthropology, the infusion of the New Age movement with it's feel good message and Eastern influences, Ray Buckland's bringing of Wicca to the US and later Starhawk's pivotal book "The Spiral Dance" all created a huge Wiccan religious movement that was community based, activist based, feminist in nature and focused mainly on the Goddess and healing rituals. And certainly healing was needed. It was here women could get together and let it all out. They could sing, dance, fuck, love, laugh and challenge the restrictions that bound them. Magic became a "feel good" act and one of healing and helping. "To harm none" was the motto of the day and books like Scott Cunningham's "Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner", and "Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs" graced every shelf. Many women were not interested in magical experimentation for the most part, they were swept up in the tides of change and experience. To them the magic was in what they were doing and the community they were building and it was important work.
|An early pentagram with planetary associations.|
The "Satanic Panic" of the 1980's furthered to create a fear of "black or dark" magic and while available and not illegal to use, those old grimoires were still off limits to many women or seen as evil things to be avoided or even simply not known about. What was once a Western Magical tradition was turning into a religion for the masses which needed to have bylaws and standards and codes of ethics. The magic was being bogged down in the minutia of the bureaucracy of religion and eventually ceased to be magic at all. There arose a new class of Priests or Priestesses who ministered to the masses. This Goddess movement ceased to be occult because it was available to all and in full view of all the masses. This distinction is what separates the priestess from the witch. That is the one who ministers to the masses and the one who walks alone beyond the hedge. They are two very different creatures with very different goals.
|Baphomet..the "Devil" has many layers and gifts and things to teach you.|
While I am fine with community rituals and women's spirituality and power movements I want to be very clear that I do not consider them to be magic or occult. That is not to say they are not powerful for people in need of healing or community, hell even Jesus performed miracles but occult magic and power is a different Beast. I am lucky as a woman of this day and age because now I can engage in both worlds if I choose to. I can have the feel good rituals and healing or I can sit down and do some hard core occult study and ritual operations. The roads are opened further to me than they have been to my ancestresses and I make it a point to learn and do what I can. Yes I balance being a mother and a wife but I also have those old "evil" books to ponder over and the realm of the Spirits to engage with. That is my ultimate passion. I am a student of the occult in many forms from Traditional Witchcraft to African traditions to Ceremonial forms and much more. I want to be more than I am and I know that the ultimate Work is the work of self and the relationship I have to the Spirits.
|Yes lets do coffee and evil books!|
It is my hope that more women will pick up those forbidden books and get to work. That they will push themselves beyond the Medieval bodices and maypoles and belly dance skirts and full moon rituals (psss I like all that stuff too) and actually study about magic and its workings. That they will push past their comfort zones and ask questions. Yes even ask hard questions to other women. That they will begin to open up and talk. That they will leave behind the lure of the "cult of the guru priestess" and become more. No really, there are enough guru priestesses and not as many bad ass witches. The occult world is hidden of course, that is its nature and our roads therein twist and turn but that is part of the journey of this Work. I believe we women have much to contribute to the occult in terms of our art, writing, and experiences; all we have to do is begin and not be afraid. I still see so many women who are afraid of things "Satanic" or "evil" or who refuse to read or grind through some of these more complicated books or systems. I would say to them that it is possible if you are interested and that you can balance the mundane and the magical. Unlike the guru priestess there is no box for you to fit into or live up to. I would love to sit down with women and discuss how astrological magic relates and differs between Agrippa, Lily and Dee. I would love to talk about sex magic in terms of a woman's experience, or really get into the guts of Lilith and her cult and even make or copy her spirit plates as were done in Babylonian times. Can you imagine a grimoire book club with coffee and confections? Discussions on the relationship of spirits in grimoires to African magical traditions in Brazil? The sexual spirit husband of the 19th century mystic and feminist Ida Craddock and how women can use sex to work with spirits? How right now there is a huge resurgence in African American folk magic called hoodoo and how that is affecting other magical movements. Perhaps I have ventured into the more strange than strange but a serious occultist woman is definitely hard to find and I am more than up for some awesome conversations with my magical sisters out there. If you are interested you know where to find me......