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Trends and fashions in magical practice

· practices,magical milieu

Trends and fashions in magical practice

I've noticed, over my 30+ years of witchcraft practice, that magical and spiritual practitioners, as a collective, go through trends and fashions about every 5-10 years.

In the early to mid 1990s, the main focus seemed to be appropriation by mainly white people of Indigenous and Native American spiritualities, often undifferentiated by nation or tribe, alongside Goddess spirituality. In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, there was an emphasis on finding one's patron or matron deity, alongside a rise in Chaos Magick. In the 2000s into the 2010s, there was a move towards 'Traditional Craft', European folk magic traditions (even with all of their Christian clothing), and connecting with the Faery realms. In the 2010s to now, the trend seems to be animism and ancestor reverence, and an associated interest by white people in African Traditional Religions and related traditions such as Hoodoo, as well as magic as a tool for social justice.

I can't be sure of the time periods or their overlaps, but you get the idea. (If you lived through any of these time periods as a witch or magical practitioner, I would love to compare notes about trends!)

A current example: Omen Days

One trend in particular that I've noticed this year, specifically in the run up to Christmas, is the practice of 'Omen Days', an apparently 'Celtic' practice of divining possibilities for the coming year through observation of nature and dreams, each day of Christmas relating to a different month of the coming year.

As someone who has had a Twelve Days of Christmas practice doing just that for 20 years, and has guided others through it for 10 of those, I'd never came across anything calling it 'Omen Days', or categorising it as 'Celtic' before this year.

So I did some digging.

It all seems to go back to a blogpost that Caitlin Matthews wrote in December 2013, in which she notes that the practice of marking the Christmas intercalary days as days 'out of time' was called, in Brittany and Wales, Omen Days. It's a good post - I recommend it - but Matthews does give the impression that this tradition is specific to Brittany and Wales, and therefore (although the link is implicit rather than explicit) 'Celtic'. She also links it to stories of Irish and Scottish legendary figures that, as far as I know, have no particular connection with the twelve days in any but the most loose sense of also happening during an intercalary period 'out of time'.

But my own research indicates that both weather prognostications and dream predictions, linking the weather of each day and the dreams of each night of Christmas with the weather and the personal life occurrences of the corresponding month of the coming year, were widespread across northern Europe, and were connected not to Celtic tradition, but to the Roman calendar, whether under imperial Pagan or Christian rule.

So how did 'Omen Days' suddenly become so popular as a way of naming this practice, linking it to a a 'Celtic' provenance, rather than its broader, Europe-wide history?

The answer seems to be Caitlin Matthews writing again on the topic (or possibly repurposing the same piece of writing) for The Witches Almanac 2018-2019: The Magic of Plants. This appears to have been picked up by several Pagan, Witchcraft and Magical bloggers, who followed Caitlin Matthews in naming the period and the practice 'Omen Days'... without doing any further research themselves.

To be clear, I have no beef with Caitlin Matthews, or with anyone following her version of the Twelve Days divinatory practice. My interest is in the pattern of how trends happen, and the effect it can have on our magic.

How trends happen

This is also the pattern I observed with the other trends I listed: a Big Name Pagan publishes a book, or a series of blogposts; it becomes popular; other writers repeat what they have said without doing their own research; and BAM! Now the One Thing Every Witch Must Do is to find a patron or matron deity, or to work with the Faery realm, or to venerate their ancestors, and This Is The Language that we must all use to talk about it.

There is nothing wrong with any of these practices: all of them are valuable in their own right, and can be deeply meaningful and transformative for individuals and communities. But out of context, reified as a Thing To Do, or a History To Believe, or a Language To Use, any one of them can become suspect, or even dangerous.

The most extreme example of this is the bold claim, made over and over in the 1970s and 1980s, that '9 million women' were killed in the 16th-18th century witch craze in Europe and North America. Many circles of witches, made up mostly of cis white women, grieved and wailed and identified their own oppression under patriarchy with torture experienced by those murdered 'witches'.

The number had absolutely no historical basis, but was dutifully copied from author to author and spread around feminist, witchcraft, and magical/spiritual circles as Absolute Fact. There are still many people today who cling to that number, despite all of the scholarship which has shown it to be completely incorrect.

I think that is because once something becomes part of our identities, we tend to defend it against anything and everything. As my girlfriend's headteacher once said, "Don't confuse me with the facts: I've already made up my mind."

Does this really matter?

Even so, you might still be thinking, so what? History is a story; whoever has power gets to say what happened and present it as Truth.

That is indeed the case, but to build our magical practice on a lie held as fact does real harm. Because magic is energy and resonance, power and direction; magic is alignment, and presence, and roots.

When we take a piece of history, a partial understanding, a single practice out of context, and make it the core of our practice or the foundation of our worldview, or even when we are careless with our naming or attribution, we cannot be well rooted, present and aligned, we cannot build power and direct it clearly, we cannot resonate energy cleanly. We cannot do these things because our foundation is, at best, wonky, and at worst crumbles away to nothing under close (or even cursory) examination.

Magic is also about our relationships, between the parts of ourselves, and with the other beings in the living universe: human, non-human, and more-than-human. Part of mutual and reciprocal relationship is respect, including respect for the complex nature of what has been, what is, and what will be.

History does not change, but our understanding of it does. We will never arrive at a complete understanding, so we must always be willing to change our view, not only of history, or what a thing should be called, or The One Practice Every Witch Must Do, but also of ourselves, our place in the web of relationships, and our responsibilities to ourselves and to others.

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