American Gods, Mists of Avalon, and Personalized Witchcraft

Let’s talk about how literature shapes magical practices. In particular, let’s talk about the vastly different styles in these two classics: American Gods and the Mists of Avalon.

This is the first in the Summer Reading Coven series hosted by Northern Lights Witch. Throughout the summer, we will be highlighting books that have moved us deeply and impacted our practices as witches and occult practitioners. 

I fucking love to read. I haven’t been able to do it as much lately (hello, grad school), but have a deep relationship with literature. The books we love shape us. They mean something to us, they live within us as we grow and age. Books that meant something to you in the past may not mean something anymore.

Being a witch means that I see a lot of witches represented in literature, and ultimately gain inspiration from reading. I don’t often see modern or “real” witches, but I feel a kindred to the witches I find in books.

There are two books that have greatly impacted my spiritual practices: “The Mists of Avalon” and “American Gods.”

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Mists of Avalon: Ceremonial Magic

When I first started on this spiritual journey, I was welcomed into a Gardnerian wiccan coven. I was astonished at the beauty of the ceremonies, at the high ritual and the theatrical priestess. Because this was specifically a Wiccan coven, I learned about the history of Wicca I inherited.

When I read “The Mists of Avalon” years later, I recognized what I was reading. The ceremonies and traditions that Morgaine was learning? I understood them. I understood their basis.

Zimmer Bradley was greatly influenced by Western esoteric tradition, and even co-founded the Aquarian Order of the Restoration based on the writings of Dion Fortune. When I entered my Gardnerian coven, the Priest and Priestess began to teach me the history of Western esoteric traditions. I remember walking into my Priestess’ study and it was covered with books about history, anthropology, and old school tomes of occult knowledge.

I remember going down to the river and offering sacrifices, inspired by “Mists of Avalon.” I remember carving turnips, and reading dusty mythology, trying to find the Goddess Morgaine served.

Reading “The Mists of Avalon” was like seeing my spirituality represented in literature. It was powerful. But it started to feel uncomfortable as I grew.

By the time I read the book, I was a college undergrad. I was an English and Social Justice double-major, and I was taken by surrealist and post-modern movements. “Mists of Avalon” just felt so … stiff. And my practice was beginning to feel stiff to me. Because I was calling a circle, reciting the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and only practicing on specific moon cycles, I felt like the barriers to my spiritual practice were too great.

So I stopped practicing for a while.

American Gods: Modern Practice

Slowly, I returned the the practice, but on my own terms. I practice on my own terms, as a modern solitary witch.

As you can see from the photo above, my copy of American Gods is much loved. I’ve read it at least four times. Neil Gaiman is likely not a practicing pagan, but there was something about his portrayal of the Gods in this book that resonated with me.

Because so much of Wicca focuses on the Wheel of the Year and the Goddess and God cycle, I had been forcing myself to practice honoring deities that I wasn’t connecting with. So when I took a break from more ceremonial magic, I thought about deity. Rereading “American Gods” helped me to understand my discomfort: I believe that there are gods out there, but I have a hard time believing in a creator. “American Gods” humanizes the Gods – in ways that may upset some, but in ways that felt real for me. I do believe there are guiding forces in the world. I believe in energy exchange. But Gods? Maybe not in the form of a divine creator – more in the form of a spirit on a different plane.

What “American Gods” represents to me is a breakthrough in my practice. This book is about the magic that’s all around us, the magic that we ignore. It’s about tapping into the deep mythology of our ancestors, but understanding their flaws and trying to create something new.

The lessons I learned from this book were to make it personal, to take what I know about theatrics and add more energy – more soul.

Conclusion

If “The Mists of Avalon” represents the theater of Wiccan-style witchcraft, the high ceremony, “American Gods” represents a wilder magic. After I took that break from more traditional Wicca-witchcraft, I reread this book. I began to explore a different kind of magic – I began to learn the ways of the shaman, working myself into a trance state or a more ecstatic, wild energy.

Now when I plan a ritual, I don’t think of it as much in terms of what steps I need to take to “do it right.” I think of what I can do to tap into that primordial energy, and what has meaning for me. If it’s a holiday or a serious spell, I’ll throw up a circle – it’s all about what I have to do to get in the right head space to create. I don’t have all the answers – but I can tell you one thing: Magic has become a creative expression for me.

I know that I have power.

What power have you found through reading?

Thank you very much for reading. To get to know me better, sign up for my newsletter! We’ll talk more about my flavor of witchcraft, and how pop culture influences my practice. Sign up here!


7 comments

  1. June 22, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve read the “Mists of Avalon” and although I’m quite the Gaiman fan, I haven’t read “American Gods”! I should probably get my hands on it–I’ve heard nothing but good things. I like the juxtaposition of ceremonial and “wild” witchcraft you reference here. I read “Mists” before I was a pagan. Maybe it’s time for a revisit?

    Reply
    1. Abbie
      June 22, 2016 at 5:50 pm

      I think it’s worth revisiting, if you’ve got the time. It’s just such a long book – that’s part of why my copy of “American Gods” is so much more battered than my copy of “Mists of Avalon.” I think it’s also just a lot to absorb. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on it now that you’re pagan!

      Reply
    2. June 23, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      My grandmother (who is the person I get all this witchy stuff from – the woman is devoutly Catholic but SO WITCHY) gave me a copy of MIsts of Avalon when I was a wee middle schooler. Haven’t reread it since then and am *very* excited to later this summer.

      Meanwhile, have been reading American Gods for over a year and am on like, page 50. This inspires me to get back at it. <3

      Reply
      1. Abbie
        June 24, 2016 at 1:44 am

        haha, American Gods isn’t for everyone. I personally love it, but it might not be your style. I also have a LOT of connections to the Norse myth cycle, which is one of the primary drivers of the story.

        Your grandmother?! Interesting!

        Also: Would love to hear your take on “Mists of Avalon.”

        Reply
  2. June 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    I love American Gods!
    I don’t have much to say, but I just wanted to let you know that I loved reading this. What a fabulous series!

    I have been interested in a more wild, ecstatic practice myself, but not really looked into it. All I know is that I never felt more spiritually connected as I did in dance improv classes on college, letting my body move however it wanted to in the moment. Would love to learn more about your practices!

    Reply
  3. July 1, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Yesss American Gods. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (Small Gods) have written, as fantasy, what I truly believe about the Gods: our belief shapes them. They have power of Their own, and They certainly wield it, but how we interact with Them defines how They can work in our world.

    I still need to read Mists of Avalon. Thank you for sharing the books that helped shape your practice, and how your practice came to be!

    Reply
  4. Jade
    September 23, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    American Gods was the book that got me back on the polytheistic pagan path and ignited my love for Norse mythology <3

    Reply

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