Forging the body of the Witch is the talk delivered by Peter Grey at the Occult Conference in London, England, 18th June 2016.
Eroticism, ordeal, actions and contact. Stages on the path to the acquisition and conquest of magical power in the practice of corporeal witchcraft. This essay will be included in the forthcoming collection The Brazen Vessel with the works of Alkistis Dimech whose presentation at the same conference, Demonic Voices, and her earlier presentation Dynamics of the Occulted Body, can be considered sister pieces to it.
¶ Witchcraft is the work of the body, of its processes and dreams, a narcoleptic entanglement of the unseen and the palpably, palpitating here. I speak a charm for hair and blood and skin and vein, to muscle, nerve and fascia, to flesh, organ and bone. My aim: to clothe the work of the witch in the body from which it has fled in fear, rejected, or been driven from in pain.
We enter witchcraft in childhood, soft as wax. In encounters with the inexplicable that are moulded through repetition and recall. The focus is often on the gateway of pictures, of bookish pursuits segueing into dreams. But I want to explore another aspect; the blood rhythm of rhyme, driven spinning giddy, falling down, of hiding-hunting-fighting, of worlds that adults deny but that we act out in the flesh. We are in a word, spontaneous, and this has a physical component in the pliability of our fascia and plasticity of our brains. When we privilege reading and dreams, we can forget that these come out of the process of movement and play. The gates of horn that open into the silent house of sleep do so as a result of our bodies’ lived experiences. We daydream precisely because we are denied expressive movement, whether anchored into a chair, trapped by the rain, existing in an urban hell, or silenced by a combination of authority and our peers. In childhood we experience life as a permeable membrane, of a magical reality that we can influence with ritual actions. Witchcraft is our natural state and it is a function of the body in action. Witchcraft is what we perform with the objects gifted to us by the environment we finds ourselves in, with the intercession of whatever spirits are present, or those that can be called.
Adolescence floods us with the erotic power that childhood played at. Simultaneously our wet neural nets are trained into pathways. Our bodies are boxed into forms that we instinctively break with sprawled intoxication. Shame becomes emphasised. Our potentials are curtailed by chaste expression. There is a need to be experienced when we are anything but. New games now; razor and poisoned cup and war paint and closed jargons, and music, and speed seeking thrills, and friendships you would die for. All these arise from the experience of the body; the adolescent body that is in conflict with the fixed forms that limit natural expression and are imposed upon it. These are not just the result of physical maturation and individuation, but of entrainment into slavery resisted with lipstick and booze and music and clothes, and fuck you! Or in a quieter voice, introversion and self-harm and rejection of a body that seems out of control. Increasingly it is a time when we seek refuge in a digital identity or identities. Adolescence is a difficult transition, and one that does not provide formal initiation into a society, as the social world has become the mazed broken glass of isolated individual consumers.
Therefore we should acknowledge, and celebrate, the power that is found in youth, and acts of youthful witchcraft – whether chanced alone, or with others – that attempt to provide meaning in a profoundly alienating world. I see a lot of chiding every time there is a new pulse of energy in witchcraft, this is simply the old trying to protect their positions. Witchcraft is also about getting things wrong, whether that is mistaking traditional craft for an instagram photoshoot or making fundamental mistakes about historical facts or ritual procedures. I support actions; which is exactly how the supposed elders themselves began based on an absolute mess of misunderstandings. We need to make mistakes, and this can be difficult to do in a surveillance culture that remembers and records our every misdemeanour. We need to stop being down on youth and in doing so, neuter its potential for growth.
Adolescence is shut down into pair bonding and ladder climbing, facilitated by the chaste body of work. A body that school, church, state and crucially technology enforce. Those who cannot (or will not) conform are shunned and pushed into other kinds of sickness; often a prescribed and medicated limbo. Often the lack of power we feel in our lives becomes an extended immaturity, a kidulthood and witchcraft becomes escapist ‘playganism.’ The weekend is sabbat of a sort, but played out with increasingly less vigour as middle age spreads, old age fades. All stories are of past glories, the moment passed; but it does not have to be this way.
My proposition is that witches are un-made by the social process, by the constrictions that distort the body of desire and are played out in a landscape of lost dreams. Witches are not only born and made, they are undone. They retreat, out of fear and out of necessity.
Modern witchcraft tends to fall into the Cartesian error of dividing body and mind, of retreating into the intellectual and despising the flesh (hoping it vanishes like a snapchat message). But the body is ever present. When Witchcraft asks for the return of the Devil, as it must, then it is asking for a return of the body as filled with abundant pleasure and life. That is the great secret. We do not need a cartoon Satanism that is simply Ayn Rand in stripper heels. We need a witchcraft that renegotiates the pact between witch, devil and the flesh. A witchcraft that acknowledges the intertwining of spirit and form.
So much for the theory; there is a path to power. There are ways we can utilise the powers that the body bestows and match them to the rhythms of life. To avoid the mistakes that sap our strength. To celebrate the erotic furor that has always been condemned as witchcraft and that characterises female sexuality and female sexual response in particular. That is not fetishising the female but stating corporeal and historical matters of fact. Jouissance in the sense of Cixous, rather than Lacan, is the essence of witchcraft. Men can also learn these skills, though that is less common because for the most part, they do not need to.
Furthermore, we can acknowledge the gifts of youth and preserve them, remembering that the word for magic is from the Indo-European root meaning ‘to be able,’ and ‘youth.’ We should shine with it, whatever our biological age. Alas, I often see that witches are sicker than even the culture around them, both made sick, and choosing the consolations of poison. If our heritage is the secret of herbs and health, why are we indistinguishable from the morbidly obese majority? Why are we feeding cancer and diabetes with refined sugar and industrial food? My intent is not to blame or shame, but to observe. People are deliberately cruel enough to themselves.
The working body is the sitting body. The sitting body is the slave body. So why is the first recommendation in so many books to do yet more static sitting? What if we were to propose a moving witchcraft? A series of exercises that yielded dynamic results? What is we asked instead if you can perform the basic range of human movements? What if we taught that evocation is a full body art and that the voice that invokes is an embodied voice?What if we see a witchcraft that circles with the diversity that the mono-culture despises?
If we create a culture that dances and sings and copulates and carouses, which eats healthily and moves with intent, then we can step free from the body of pain into a corporeal witchcraft that thrills with the magic of youth; whatever our age. One where the standards of beauty and ugliness and morality are those which we each choose to set.
The spirit of delight should suffuse all our work, a rediscovery of play. And play is of course deadly serious, as it explores the forbidden and the repressed aspects of our lives. By this I do not suggest that witchcraft is psychology, rather, that the most repressed knowledge of all is the nature of the living magical world which can only be experienced through the body of desire. We must exercise power projected through the body and thence into the skeins of the subtle energetic levels. It is this cycle that we must follow, as surely as that of the moon. Witchcraft is an orgia that drips with both honey and poison as it is endlessly destroyed and renewed.
In this essay I wish to focus on four aspects of this work: Eroticism, ordeal, actions and contact. To place the body again at the centre of the pentacle, as living altar; the site of power, not of spectacle nor clammy Mass.
Magical power is sexual power. Crowley understood this. Parsons understood this. Bataille understood this. Or to be more accurate, Laylah knew this, Candy knew this, Laure knew this. Witchcraft sometimes seems to have forgotten it, along with the body, a trend that technology continues to exacerbate. For the return to the erotic we need a physical culture that our dancing bodies weave and chorus into life.
Witchcraft is inherently erotic, by which I mean it is a construct of shadow and light. Of historical elements and of our current experience, of truth and lie; as it always has been. Witchcraft is an art of glamours which demands that we explore and harness our full erotic potential and that of others. Witchcraft is neither a glossy magazine, nor a gender studies module, nor a particular aesthetic; though they may be paths towards it they are not to be mistaken for the thing in itself. Modern expressions of witchcraft that appear to value style over substance are better seen as part of a continuum of erotic expression, of the necessary poses demanded in a culture of surfaces. Witchcraft is a practice with attitude, not a practiced attitude. The erotic is witchcraft if it not only attracts power, or the gaze, but if it is able to harness that power for its own ends. We are not here to please, or to be measured in likes.
Though it is often, and somewhat smugly, pointed out that the brain is the most important sexual organ to stimulate, that misses the fact that the brain is a direct evolutionary result of our need to process movement. We are not a series of selfies but bodies in motion. We are not a brain in a control tower whose interaction with the world is only done with our thumbs. The body awaits our rediscovery of it, for ours is a naked art, garbed only in the shadows we artfully cast and the masks that demand to be danced.
Touch marks and transforms us. It is the most eroded of the senses and the most necessary to our psychological health. Touch is a condition of all sentient life, the loss of tactility is death, and as Aristotle observed, thought itself depends upon tactility.
Though we deal with the intangible, touch is something we should be developing in the creation of a series of exercises to extend the range of our senses. It is not surprising that the blindfold is one of the key technologies of both initiation and sexual play. Leading and being led, hunter and hunted are the ways in which we extend our sensitivity across the country of skin.
Alongside the blindfold, the mask must be mentioned in this context, for the way in which it frees the body. In masking we discover hitherto unknown movements and voices, selves that we pull on like long gloves and that articulate potentials which animals have not forgotten. Masks can wear us, as gods often do. The blindfold is of course the dark moon and initiation, the mask, the sabbat at the full.
The erotic is the art of the extension and the anticipation of desire. It triggers a cascade of chemical releases that renew the body. We glow with it. What all the methods of eroticism and ordeal have in common is the body, and the function of the endocrine system. We can exploit this rather than taking it as a given, by training with the exactitude and presence of dancers and martial artists. The edge play of fight or flight, of tonic immobility, of extended arousal are the penumbra through which we are transvected. Our aim is to extend our mastery over the so-called autonomic nervous system, and in doing so, live more deliciously.
The work of witchcraft is best approached if you have a working energy body. The endocrine system in particular needs attention: hypothalamus, pineal, pituitary, thyroid, thymus, adrenals, pancreas and ova/testes. Unless you have an active method to address it, your system is either aggravated or in decline.Unless you are moving every day you are becoming stiffer. The challenge is that most people in our culture, which includes witches, are heavily self-medicating, particularly with alcohol, painkillers, prescribed pharmaceuticals and in a state of chronic inflammation. If this is not rectified then eroticism is impaired, ordeal work becomes blunt trauma wrought on muffled senses.
In tandem with this are the requirements of herb craft to provide the building blocks and support for the experience so that it is not catastrophic. I am not going to give a full herbal, but let me mention damiana, red clover and ginseng as general tonics as well as two of my preferred and less known ones, amachazuru and tongkat ali. If you are not taking Vitamin D and magnesium supplements I urge you to do so. For men I should add zinc, and testosterone support for those over 40, along with lifting heavy weights: these are far more effective than shunning ejaculation in order to stay vital. For women, dong quai, cat’s claw, ashwaganda, catuaba, and of course the master substance: chocolate, theobroma cacoa, food of the gods. And I recommend you consume your chocolate like your witchcraft, as dark, raw and unadulterated as possible!
The quick hit and subsequent body load of sugar and cooked fats, the over reliance on alcohol as a disinhibitor rather than a solvent for medicines, processed denatured food and death by sofa are the hallmarks of a slave society and a slave body. In addition we trash our adrenals with caffeine and crash our immune systems with cigarettes. This toxic approach does have some short term benefits, but it ultimately burns us out. The excess of energy in youth can lead us to self-destructive displays. I am not promoting abstinence, but an extended drunkenness of the senses.
Would it not be better if we were to stretch into ourselves like felines? If witchcraft drank from the cauldron of medicine and health? If we recognised that what we do requires sustained and sustainable energy work? If when we engage in the work of poisons we pay as much attention to recovery? Ask yourself: How powerful is your erotic response? Then ask, how powerful can it become?
Find a physical practice that you love. Make the body your magical weapon of choice for the performance of witchcraft. Keep extending and retracting your power like cat claws. It is a lunar mystery that we work, and it gives us supernatural seeming powers. The erotic is not linear, this genders witchcraft female whatever our biological sex. It teaches us to sustain from the smudged kohl of evening to the rose blush of day. It makes our witchcraft a full body art from the field of flesh through to our secret interiors that the blindfold and mask reveal.
The erotic is subtle, but powerful, what cannot be ignored is that it is also frightening, and transgressive. It requires the Devil, whom feminist readings of witchcraft can seek to elide. By this I do not mean that witchcraft necessarily needs a man, or that it cannot be performed alone. Nor does it need a phallus, though that is ‘traditional’ and it does not necessarily have to be attached to a biological male. What it does require is that it elicits a total body response. In turn such a response requires physical resolution in orgasm, tears, shaking, or overwhelming sensation; by which I envisage a reset of trauma, not the layering on of more dysfunction. We are driven by the thorns of ordeal into the inescapable presence of the moment. It asks that we go deeper into desire, to find the uncivilised body that State and Church and society condemn. Such work is bound up in the realm of ordeal that naturally follows on from the subtle state training of erotic exploration.
Returning to the witchcraft panic, we can ask why was it so compelling? The answer is somewhat disturbing: because we liked it. Because the public spectacle, like that of the Cathedral exorcisms, was an erotic spectacle. We are still aroused by the theatre of torture, of interrogation and of execution. Such an admission disrupts the story of our civil selves as surely as it disarticulates the body. However, if we go in search of power then we need to confront such terrors within the construct of ritual. Sex is no place for the politically correct; the social mask is replaced by the nocturnal and dangerous animal of desire.
We can take the methodology of torture, the theatre of torture, the use of self-regulating stress positions and the like which challenge our responses, but do not cause injury. By understanding the use of stimuli that the erotic arts teach us, we can guide and be guided further into the mysteries of the body. The formula of ordeal is that of penetration, an inescapable intimacy that forces us to confront rather than flee ourselves.
Eroticism spans the cycle, but ordeal is menstrual and dark moon work. For those who do not menstruate, the minimum price to pay is blood, if only a pin prick. Ritual is not simply candlelit speechifying, it has a physical component. The Devil is a hard taskmaster, as is the Queen of the Sabbat.
And here is the qualifier: If such ritual play does not result in power then it is merely kink; as for example Maya Deren discovered in the lair of William Seabrook, or it can degenerate into senseless brutality. Neither woman, nor man is a hole, we have agency even in acts of loving submission. I have no issue with the pursuit of pleasure, BDSM for example shares many of the external forms and tools, but what distinguishes witchcraft is our inner orientation; the landscape it dreams and is dreamt by.
Ordeal is fundamental in a corporeal Witchcraft, as it is in shamanism. We must regale ourselves of the methods, carefully observe and learn the nuances of the ritual instruments. But we should not be solely focussed on the horse hair, the smell of leather, the tooth of the rope. Rather we should remember that the tools are the exteriorised forms of the body’s reality.They are sacred tools in the sense that they delineate and caress the contours of the body that goes between worlds, they make it tangible.
Ordeal implies duration, of being enabled to endure beyond the bounds you have set yourself, and which have been set for you. Without this, there is no initiation, no revelation of mystery. An ordeal can be self orchestrated, but is better undergone with an external agent. Though the Devil traditionally stands over this work with whip and rod, you must ultimately master your torments; no one else will do it for you. In this sense, the witch has never been the possession of the devil; though he will seek to convince you otherwise. Caveat Malefica! Witch Beware!
An alternate term for works of witchcraft is ‘actions’, this is rather than the ‘experimentum’ of the grimoires, or the ‘workings’ of ceremonial magic. This comprises both motion and the stilling of motion; by which is implied the rites of full and dark moons. Action is as kinetic as a whip, as fluid as a dance, as simple as crossing oneself and uttering a charm.
Witchcraft is the exploration of end range states, and those come from the use of dynamic tension. We therefore need to become high tensile individuals who are able to extend our twilights at the crossroads of the worlds. The dark moon is the time of constriction, of winding the spiral tight, a coiling of the lunar serpent, that she may again wax gloriously gibbous.
The dark moon is a time of introspection, of heightened sensitivity, of danger and blood, of seclusion. The state can be likened to tonic immobility of the predator prey response and of the negotiation between hunter and hunted.
One ideal form of dark moon action is rope, as symbolised by the girdle, garter, cingulum or measure. It is a method of returning the body to itself through a gradual wrapping that requires an erotic sensibility, a sensitivity to process, which renders it greater magical utility than other methods of restraint. We can explore the transition from freedom to being bound in a witches cradle. The paradox of rope is, that in holding us, it enables us to let go into a greater freedom. It is a method of flight par excellence, the reflex of the dance that lifts us at full moon. The lesson of submission is an essential part of self-knowledge on the road to personal power. I repeat, it is not a loss of agency, rather it is learning to let go, a process that can be better accomplished with loving assistance. The body is ridden in order that it may learn to ride.
Lest you think that this is simply kink, the immobile body and its relationship to dream has been subject to research. It was Rorschach, more famous for his bleeding ink, who proved the direct correlation between rigidity and vivid dreaming. We are doing exactly this in our actions but gifting them a deliberate nativity. So here is a simple tip, if you wish to remember your dreams on waking, lie still and recount them. Moving will dissipate your powers of recollection.
To give an historical example, one that I have quoted before, but I will quote again: in the witch trials a woman who had undergone strappado told the inquisitors that it was they who had taught her how to fly. Thus we have our maxim that witchcraft was born in the dungeon, and thus we turn the weapons of the enemy against them. We are not afraid of such inversion.
To give some personal examples. I have prepared my body with knife and needles and hooks, hung from both trees and in the caverns of the underworld. I have submitted to penetration, been cut and bled. I have spelt out my intent across my skin in indelible ink. I have been marked, the tattoo being both a form of magical armour and a mode of recognition in the otherworld. I have ventured into the wild and dark, called spirits who answer back; and this is why I am entitled to talk about witchcraft. My male gendered body has undergone such procedures, and whilst that does not make me a woman, and nor would I wish it to, it does mean that I have been described and recognised as a witch.
What ritual action is able to do is to combine a battery of techniques in order to facilitate a guided total body response. So the initiate into witchcraft traditionally makes an appeal, ‘Devil be my God!’ signs their consent in the book, is blinded, bound and whipped, pricked or penetrated by a masked other who takes the role of the Devil and presented with the unguent. The witch is amplified by the darkness of ordeal so that she can break blinding from behind the clouds in total possession of her power. Then she can assay with confidence back once more into the cloak of the dark. Thus we have in operative witchcraft the twin aspects of dark Satan and bright Lucifer, of descent and ascent, of Ereshkigal and Inanna, and of all the tinctures inbetween. The polarities are necessities sought at our utmost extension, but these are the result of a ceaseless and nuanced ebb and flow.
So we come to the final aspect, that of contact.
Contact is the personal proof of witchcraft. Contact first with one’s self at a deeper level of knowledge than the mundane state and its psychic filter routinely permits. Here is the conquest of power in the body through erotic self-knowledge. Contact is secondly established with the other, in the grace of ritual action, its mutual interdependence and the fluid communication of eros and thanatos. In ordeal the darkness reveals its concealed presence. The transformation is not simply of the bound body, but can entail that of the initiator as well. These are properly to be considered as dark moon actions. Initiation here is an encounter with power.
Next, comes contact with spirit or spirits, group work, typically a full moon event, using bodies as properly prepared vessels that can bear the burden of contact. One sense of this can be read into Genesis 6:2: ‘The sons of god saw the daughters of men, that they were fair,’ by which we can imply that spirit can be drawn, seduced, into congress on the Sabbat ground. The methodology here is that of the demoniac rather than the grimoire magician whose intercourse is conducted at a less intimate distance; the witch is the brazen vessel, the mistress of the mansions of the blood.
Here I have freely given the methods of initiation that lead to prophecy, possession, flight, transformation and all the powers that are promised in the witches’ craft. I have spoken of the body as the site of power. When we examine the record, then we consistently find, the blindfold, the scourge, the rope and ritual. These cannot be excluded as masonic additions, but are physiological gates to ecstasy when they are applied with rigour rather than as empty symbol. I have addressed these as a method of staged process through eroticism, ordeal, action and contact.
And here is the warning: The kind of witchcraft I discuss can be used as an excuse for abuse. For power over the aspirant rather than liberation. For sexual exploitation rather than liberation. That does not make the techniques anathema. We find the same dangers in our everyday life with youth as inevitable prey to those seeking sex, money and power. We also find our initiators and initiations in many guises, they may not hold a charter or have written a fancy book to lure you in, they may be lovers, abusers, strangers or spirits, or even your own hands grown strange to yourself. Witchcraft will find a way, but it must go through your body first.
For those seeking further work by Peter Grey on the subject, we recommend Apocalyptic Witchcraft