If you’re just beginning to explore the world of magic, I want to offer a map of some of the pitfalls and dangers so you’ll have a speedier and easier path of development than I have.
There’s a reason that magic has a bit of an edgy and a bad-ass reputation. Even in times before the dogmas of institutional Christianity and then scientific materialism took over as the dominant paradigms of Western society, magic was known to be life-threatening – not because it’s inherently wrong or evil, but because it involves relationships with energies that are a lot bigger than our puny human brains are accustomed to dealing with.
I realized that the solutions and strategies for dealing with these pitfalls are a bit beyond the scope of an essay – so I’ll be personally teaching them in INFLUENCE, deep-dive course on mastering practical magic which opens for registration a few times a year to the WITCH list.
Be sure to join the WITCH email list through the sign up form on the sidebar of this page if you’d like to be notified when INFLUENCE opens for registration again.
A lot is at stake in magic. When you’re altering your mind and body and your relationship with profound forces, you’re increasing your chances of enlightenment and also your very real chances of decimation, death and madness.
Without further ado, here are some important pitfalls that I want you to be aware of as you tread the magical path:
1. Archetypal inflation
The pioneering psychologist Carl Jung came up with the term “archetypal inflation” to describe someone whose normal human ego has been hi-jacked by an archetypal force (like “trickster god” or “wise old guru” or “earth mother”). It’s a phenomenon that people who do intensive magical practices (working with kundalini energy, doing tantric meditations, doing public ritual) are especially subject to experiencing. It can also easily happen to artists and actors (the fine arts, after all, originated in humanity as a dimension of magic instead of as a cool past-time or profession.)
The main problem with archetypal inflation is that it feels so awesome and it’s just so much fun that Jung found it was almost impossible to talk someone out of it.
I mean, a lot of the point of spiritual / magical practice is ego-loss, right? So if your normal, grubby little human ego is suddenly replaced by the archetypal consciousness of a god, you’re totally winning, right?
Well, yes. You feel like you’re totally winning, that’s for sure – except you lose your ability to do grubby little human things that it turns out are quite necessary for healthy normal functioning – things like reading, writing, talking to people not in iambic pentameter, paying your electric bill, going to work.
You see, gods don’t need to do those things, so when you’re taken over by one, you just don’t do them either. And that becomes a problem – because you see – you, in fact, are not a god, not an archetype. You’re a grubby little human like the rest of us (bless you) and if you want to thrive, the consciousness that’s inhabiting your body needs to be in harmony with that fact.
I got struck by archetypal inflation in the summer of 2013 after a springtime of intensive kundalini-raising. My usually mild-mannered self was possessed by a thunder storm goddess. Not gonna lie, it felt great: I was definitely at-one-with Her. I felt no distinction between my body and emotions and the rain and the thunder and the lightning and the wind. When I spoke, it was in impressive metered prophecy. Rather than following my previous rule of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” I boldly told some folks in my social circle all about themselves.
My eyes flashed with the searing spark of the cosmos. Almost all who encountered me offered me gifts and praise. I was blissfully happy and filled with power. I was also rendered nearly infantile in my ability to take care of myself.
By the end of the summer I had made a solid mess of my financial life and blew up some friendships in a suitably thunderous fashion. In retrospect, the experience of being possessed by a goddess was ultimately worth it, but it was definitely a very rocky ride and not something that I want to risk experiencing again.
2. Resisting the dark night of the soul
The dark night of the soul is a form of magical depression in which you lose your ability to enjoy the sensory pleasures of this world. Even your favorite foods don’t taste too great, music doesn’t move you, the shining sun and cheery little flowers seem completely irrelevant, and sex and love-making sounds like nothing but a drag. That’s because your soul is the part of your energy-self that is connected with the sensory, earthly world. So when it “goes dark” and loses its illumination, you don’t enjoy the sensory world.
The dark night of the soul is rough, and it’s also a predictable and necessary part of experiencing magical growth. In the alchemical process of integrating and refining your being, there are just periods where your system shuts down soul-illumination in order to transfer that energy to other evolutionary processes.
Resistance is futile. It just makes it last longer.
3. Resisting the dark night of the spirit
The dark night of the spirit is actually a lot more painful than the dark night of the soul. In the dark night of the soul, it’s just your sensory pleasures that dim. In the dark night of the spirit, it’s usually both your sensory pleasures and your spiritual pleasures that also go dark; this is much more terrifying and desolating.
This means: even the most hardcore spiritual books bring you little consolation. Your prayers don’t comfort or refresh you. Your meditation feels pointless. You feel alone in the universe, purposeless and defeated.
What’s happening in the dark night of the spirit, though, is very similar to what’s happening in the dark night of the soul. Your being is diverting the energy that usually goes into illuminating you spiritual perception and it’s instead applying it to the evolutionary project of expanding and integrating your magical self.
As with the dark night of the soul, resisting the dark night of the spirit just prolongs the struggle.
4. Groupthink and abuse
Technically, every non-mainstream religious or spiritual community is a “cult.” Cults aren’t necessarily awful things at all – they’re just little cultures. I know of some cults that are just unequivocally awesome. However, just like mainstream religious communities can seriously fuck with people (talk to some former Catholics lately?) small religious communities can also seriously fuck with people, and often in even more intimate ways just because they’re on a smaller, more intimate scale.
A tricky side-effect of the marginalization of magic in our present-day world is that many of the people who purport to teach it currently are just dangerous shucksters. Now you think you’ve seen the documentaries on Jonestown and David Koresh so you’re good, you know what to look out for, you won’t fall victim to a group led by a bearded, crazy-eyed dude who wants to convince you that he’s the reincarnation of Jesus.
Well, here’s some lousy news: abusive spiritual groups are more sophisticated these days. They have much better marketing, and they don’t push suicide so directly. For example, what if instead of a crazy-eyed bearded dude, the teacher you encountered was a hip, sexy lady in L.A. chic clothes?
Think about this: what if you meet the purported teacher, and they seem really cool and together, they have what you think you might want, and many of your friends are getting totally involved in the group? What if the group is really tight-knit and exclusive, and it has its own unique language and worldview and makes you feel privileged and important to be in-with-the-in-crowd?
Then you might soon find yourself subject to emotional and spiritual abuse that’s so wrapped up in magical and spiritual gauze that it’s very difficult to detect until you’re drained of all physical and spiritual resources and nearly dead. You find yourself repeatedly doing things that actually injure your health and happiness just because your teacher said so. I saw it happen to a dear friend of mine this winter, and it was devastating. She literally nearly died from the stress and required intensive rest and medical care to recuperate.
Please keep this in mind: even witches and magicians who have awesome intentions (loudly and eloquently declared) can have dreadful effects. Good intentions do not equal good magic. Good results equal good magic.
Once you’re caught up in a magical organization that’s way more about control than it is about empowering and freeing you to be your best self, the process of extracting yourself and your sanity can be a long one. The process of putting your community back together can weigh on you.
(Some solid enlightenment-era advice)
5. Public magic kick-back effect
The public magic kick-back effect is the fascinating and often dramatic backlash to which you become vulnerable if you go ahead and perform magic publicly. I’ve dealt with it twice myself, both times after large and public summer solstice rituals. The public magic kick-back effect comes about when your magic meets the fields of belief and the fields of disbelief of various onlookers. We all have fields of disbelief and fields of belief – the tricky thing is, our fields can be wildly different from those of the other people around us.
Because these fields of belief / disbelief are themselves magical forces, whenever we do public magic (theatrical magic performed in front of a large amount of people that we’re not intimately acquainted with, who may have much different belief structures than we do) there’s a rather unavoidable clash that can backfire and injure you.
Once, I stirred up some kick-back ire from my public magic that resulted in a full-on witch-hunt complete with amazingly inventive slander and threats to my life. I haven’t performed a public ritual since. It’s sad, because I miss all the theater and drama of it – but I also have learned my lesson about the virtues of being subtle rather than obvious with my magical working.
(My public magic probably looked like this to onlookers. I was naked and there was fire. You know, the usual.)
As you can see, there’s a good number of pitfalls to look out for in magical life. In order to help you navigate past them and reach a life thriving magical empowerment, I’ve created a course that will start this fall.
I’ll be offering INFLUENCE, a deep-dive course on the most basic (and yet challenging!) dimension of practical magical life as I know it: the ability to change our lives for the way-better by inhabiting and relating with the world and other people through our own profound inner authority and knowing.
NOTE: The course will be explicitly geared towards those just starting out, but it will also be designed to serve as an empowering and savvy refresher course for long-time veterans of magical life, or those just looking to learn more about the WITCH style of magic and get more involved in our community.
Because I want this deep-dive course, INFLUENCE, to be accessible to a wide swath of the BAD WITCHES community, the investment for it will be modest (about the price of taking yourself and a friend out to dinner and drinks in a city in the USA).
- the removal of giant layers of hesitancy, conflict, and shame around the fact of your power
- close-guarded wisdom about how to best fuse magical and practical action – (this is stuff that I usually only talk about with my private clients)
- the skills to confidently claim and wield your identity and heritage in magic – an end to self-doubt!
- belonging to a networking group of other amazing, committed witches from around the world
- a simple daily magical practice that yields huge, noticeable benefits both immediately and also in the long-run
- the ability to reliably interpret your inner guidance (i.e., intuition) and act on it so you get to live most of your life in a state of flow and ease
- a giant dose of inspiration and motivation to help you inhabit your magic
NOTE: INFLUENCE is definitely not a class on Wicca or Traditional Witchcraft or Ceremonial Magick or Hoo Doo or Chaos Magick or what-have-you, though we may engage with elements from some or all of these. Essentially, INFLUENCE is a deep-dive course in what I think of as “contemporary practical magic,” whose foundations are above all in art, imagination, strategic action, inner authority, and playfulness.
If you want to be kept posted on all developments related to INFLUENCE, I encourage you to join the BAD WITCHES email list through the triangular form on the right hand side of the page and below.
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