How do you learn witchcraft? How do you create spells that make sense for you? This is a beautiful essay to end our Summer Reading Coven, because the whole idea behind this series was that books inspire our practices. In this essay, Ashley from Story By Tarot explores two necessary learning styles: books and intuition. You will probably see yourself reflected in one of these styles.
This is a part of 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.
When I first decided to claim my identity as a witch, I sent an email to my witchy best friend and asked her, What books should I read to get started? I, not so patiently, began searching all of Amazon, GoodReads Lists, and Tumblr for witch manuals, how to follow a path, spells for beginners, etc. while I waited for her reply. I had a good list with one or twenty books that I thought would be perfect.
I opened her email, ready to blow her away at how smart a witch I already was, when my stomach dropped at her reply. Um, I have no idea… You have to search yourself. Your magic might not be like mine.
It turns out, she was right. She, the kitchen witch with a knack for cranking out spells in a jar and me, the Moon, astrology, and tarot witch. Her books would have done me no good and I would have assumed that I was a horrible witch. And just as every witch is different, every path to finding your magic is different.
Enter Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
Uprooted is a modern fairy tale centered around Dragon, a centuries old wizard, and Agnieszka, an untrained young woman with magical inclinations. These two could not be more different from each other, their paths to magic completely opposite. Dragon has literally spent centuries studying his books, experimenting, training himself to master everything. Agnieszka can’t seem to do straightforward spells or drills with complicated words. Instead, she follows her own path, in the earth, gleans from it what she finds and what she instinctively knows will work for her. Neither are wrong and both produce great magic, with very different approaches.
The Dragon Approach – Books, Books, and Practice
“He was a thing of books and alembics to me, library and laboratory.”
You want to study astrology so you buy The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need…and then go buy about ten more, ones that focus on relationship charts, or one that is all about the planet Pluto (yes, yes Pluto is still a planet and respected in astrology, thank you very much). Next, you have a stack of tarot books, kitchen magic, growing your own herb garden, the pages filled with notes and sticky tabs for quick reference.
Soon, you have books on every available surface, stuffed in all your bags, and spilling out from under your bed. If this is you, you probably enjoy and agree with Dragon’s approach. Learning, absorbing, and experimenting from a book, or taking a course, or better yet, working one on one with someone who has been doing it for years.
There is a real tangible progression that you can see with books if you go chapter by chapter, level by level. It’s a way to track your progress and see what areas you need to work on more. This approach is very valid.
The Agnieszka Approach – Let’s Try All The Things I Intuitively Know Will Work
“He looked at me, baffled and for the first time uncertain, as though he had stumbled into something, unprepared.”
You have a hankering for something sweet to put in your lover’s cup to soothe them after a long day. Dark chocolate melted to liquid perfection, a stick of cinnamon, a splash of vanilla, and a hint of something spicy. (All without looking up a single recipe, you just know it’s going to be magical.) They thank you, telling you this is exactly what they needed. (See! You were right!)
Maybe you’re tired of all the chaos in your life, so you dash to your herbs and find lavender, tie a few stems together with a white silk ribbon, and place it next to your Moon tarot card, which you then decide to place under your pillow. That night, you find yourself drifting off to sleep without a worry.
If this is you, dashing to and fro for the first things your hands meet, and somehow creating the perfect blend, Agnieszka’s approach makes perfect sense. Knowing your surroundings, trusting your environment, and learning your natural rhythms as they correspond to the earth’s are something that can’t be taught from a book.
There is something beautiful about grabbing all the things without worrying whether it’s right or wrong, and seeing it work out in the end. Your intuition is buzzing constantly and it is easy for you to try something unusual without fear of looking stupid. This approach is very valid.
Embracing Both The Dragon and Agnieszka
There is a brilliant scene in Uprooted that I don’t want to give too many spoilers about, except to say that it requires them to use their magic together. And, oh my word, their magic is completely and utterly powerful, nothing can touch it.
It is possible to bring both of these approaches to magic to your practice. The discipline and respect for boundaries that are learned from a book, a course, or a teacher can help strengthen and intensify your hands on approach. Trusting your intuition and having faith in your abilities can help enhance and magnify your magical practice.
Don’t be afraid to try both. You may want to buy that book about tarot spells for creativity, but think that your no-book approach has been working well enough so far. But you’d be surprised the sparks of inspiration you can still find. You may have an urge to light a candle and throw all your favorite tools in the center of your altar for an ultimate shielding spell, but think that without a step by step ritual it won’t work. Give it a try, and see how it feels to let your own hands guide you.
I’m still a Dragon at heart, but once in a while, Agnieszka is the one who comes out and grabs cards, candles, and oils for a spell that just needs to be done.
The moral of the story, my dear witchy folk: there is space in your practice for The Dragon and Agnieszka.
Ashley McElyea is a queer person, moon witch, tarot reader, coffee-fueled writer and wild introvert. She uses tarot, astrology, moon magic, and storytelling in her all her crafts. When she’s not giving tarot readings, she is studying her craft, working on a tarot inspired story, unoriginally titled “Untitled Story By Tarot”, and reading all the books on her TBR list. At just about any given time, she can be found on her Instagram and Twitter. For HP inclined folks, she is a proud Ravenclaw. For astrologically inclined folks, she is a very complicated Scorpio Sun/Libra Moon/Aries Rising. Connect with her here: Story By Tarot.