The first time I read a really witchy book, I was stuck in a murky adolescent swamp of please-take-me-seriously materialism. It was The Spiral Dance, by Starhawk, which is lucky because it works on people in that particular morass.
Starhawk has a kind of psychological approach to magic and religion. I’m paraphrasing from memory here, but the basic idea is that you can use ritual to speak to your own subconscious. So, if you just decide that you’re about to fall in love, you subconscious might not get all the way on board with that project – but if you do a love ritual, with wine and roses and music and all that, you’re speaking a deeper language and the rest of you will get the message that your brain means business. (Also, yay, it’s fun.)
If you’re that sort of witch, you might worship gods and contact spirits, but your relationship with all that is probably a bit arm’s length. It’s possible that you would think of it as metaphorical. In the love ritual you might call on Aphrodite, knowing in the back of your mind that you’re really talking to a part of your own subconscious. You act as if you believe in something, and it helps you get out of your head a bit. Also, you get out of your own way, and maybe you fall in love – which isn’t wrong, exactly.
Acting as if is an important part of magical work. The problem is, if you’re having this sort of thought process you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot. You’re not acting as if Aphrodite exists, because if you thought she did you wouldn’t be going around behind her back saying that you might actually be talking to your own subconscious. Even if you never say it out loud, you’re not acting as if if she only exists when it’s convenient.
As if is an entry point, and it’s where we all start if we don’t come from magical cultures. Usually it’s enough, at least at first, which is maybe the biggest magical mercy in the universe. After I read Starhawk, I started to play around with her exercises, as if pretending to practice witchcraft wasn’t totally crazy – and I found over time that the more seriously I took it, the more seriously it took me.
The thing is, if you live as if you’re a magical being in a magical universe – as if the world is alive and interconnected, as if dreams and visions are important, as if you need to act on the messages you receive – everything changes. Life is still life, but over the years you will probably see some pretty weird things.
Personally, I find the irrational a lot less troubling than I used to. But also, the context of everything else has changed. Gods, spirits, and spells have become practical and daily, artful, social, and full of personal history. It’s the questions themselves that start to make less and less sense. Can we really be sure that the gods are real? Can we really be sure that trees are real? Can we really (especially at this most hedgey time of year when the veils between the ordinary and extraordinary are so thin) be sure of anything at all outside our own experience?