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Naming myself witch

Author:
moons

By Anna Hill

As a kid I desperately wanted to be a witch. Now I’m grown up (kinda…) and I am one! I was always fascinated by the idea of witchcraft, but it was only in January 2017 that I really decided to dedicate time to witchcraft and develop my own practice. I think my first witch was The Worst Witch, and then the next were from Harry Potter. I vaguely remember that when I was five I wore a beautiful black and gold velvet dress to be Hermione Granger to go and see the first film in the cinema. I was so proud to be dressed as such a powerful magical girl. I’ve come a long way since then, in terms of perspective, age, understanding, dress sense and more. Despite this, that core spark that draws me to witchcraft stays the same: femme power.

Before I talk more about my witch identity I just want to be clear – being a witch is not the same thing as being a wiccan. Of course, you can be a wiccan witch, but you could also be a Jewish Witch, or a witch of any other faith (or no faith). Secondly, there are many ways to be a witch, many different paths to choose (or not choose) from. Examples of these might be an Eclectic Witch, or a Kitchen Witch, or a Solitary Witch (here’s a video about 13 types (although there are many more!)). Lastly, you don’t need anything to be/come a witch – if you want to be or decide you are a witch, then that is what you are! You don’t need to spend money on anything (unless you really want to, of course)!!

Dodie Bellamy once wrote that “the monstrous and the formless have as much right as anybody else,” and this quote – I think – speaks to the core of how I make magic and how I make sure to centre my rage, ugliness, and wildness in my craft. I feel very lucky to be able to share my energies within a coven, although not all witches do practice in groups. My coven is a space of care and sharing, where we practice collective self-care and validate the shit out of each other – both in terms of our traumas and our victories. The solidarity and inspiration I feel from practicing with such a lovely group of strong, interesting and open people helps me survive under the oppressive hellscape we live in.

Being a witch to me is also about seeing and stoking my own inner power and using it to make the world better and to heal/endure my sometimes sad, always queer life (and yes, I do believe cursing people is a valid way to engage with magic). Naming myself as witch is a way to mark out that I should be feared because I am vengeful and emotional, I am fluid and free.

Witchcraft, and specifically the eclectic type of witchcraft I practice, is also very accessible to me as a disabled person. I am in control of what I do and can adapt or create spells and rituals that need only small amounts of energy or that don’t require me to stand up for long periods of time. Being a witch whilst you’re sick is also a way to contribute to the revolution(s) even if you can’t leave your house, or even your bed.

To me, being a witch is about making sense of myself; using magical tools to understand myself and find wisdom. Through tarot, for example, I can figure out potential ways to change my behaviour or perspective on topics or my future/past/present. Naming myself as Witch is also an invitation to look closer at the world, and noticing is a kind of worship. “Looking closer” includes re-examining my identities, holding myself accountable, working towards self acceptance – and maybe even self love.

Being a witch allows me to trust in something or somethings, whether that’s my own inner power, the moon’s protection, the earth, my coven, or even the stars. I’m a Capricorn, so I feel connected (and often disconnected) to the Earth. I’m also invested in a kind of activism that centres our roots; the lineages of survival of mad and queer people. Naming myself as witch is a way to resist dominant toxic ideologies and instead focus on the “smaller” things, on the histories and people who are erased and hurt, and to lift them and myself up.

Being a witch is fun! The joy I take in my practice is radical too; it keeps me alive, it keeps me connected, it gives me a vocabulary and even a culture that helps me enjoy life and my friends. The art of my witch identity is inspiring – I make zines and watch art that is about, or is, actual witchcraft and it’s fun and exciting and close to me. Naming myself as witch is a way to see the beauty in the world and the beauty in being alive and present.

With all that being said, it can be overwhelming to know where to start with your own craft so I have compiled some resources that I hope will be helpful to you!

Cool resources/people to follow and check out

For those interested in activism and witchcraft

the yerbamala collective

This is an incredible anonymous collective who create and share words and poetry and artwork that is about countering fascism (focused in the US). They release these incredible and powerful spell books and encourage other witches to make their own as forms of antifascism!!

YOUWILLNOTWIN is my favourite spell book, but they are all incredible! You can see links to all the documents here.

W.I.T.C.H

I’ve written about W.I.T.C.H before, but it is basically an international witch group, with anonymous branches in various places, fighting against oppression of all kinds. On the starter groups website (W.I.T.C.H. PDX)  it says this: “A single witch is a dangerous outlier. A coven is a force to be reckoned with. An international circle of witches is unstoppable.” For more inspiration and witchy activist art check our their winter 2017 zine here!

For those interested in tarot

Little Red Tarot

This is the best tarot resource I’ve found online so far!! Not only does the blog try to centre marginalised, and especially queer, voices, Little Red Tarot is a cute shop based in the UK (really helpful if you are looking to buy some independent tarot decks but you can’t afford shipping from the US). There are some regular columnists on Little Red Tarot and my two favourites are called See the Cripple Dance by Maranda Elizabeth (about disability and tarot, generally) and Heathen’s Journey by Abbie Plouff (about Runes).

Other specific folks to check out:

Asali Earthwork

Maranda Elizabeth – especially their zines Telegram #36 and Telegram #38.

I really like this tumblr although it hasn’t been updated in a little while!

For those interested in astrology/horoscopes

Chani Nicholas writes amazing horoscopes and I personally love Mask Magazine’s monthly poetic and radical horoscopes written by Corina Dross!

General people to follow/information

To ensure your witch practice isn’t culturally insensitive or appropriative I would recommend firstly doing your own research and also checking out this zine as a starting point!

Haylin’s beautiful and gentle witchy newsletter is a must read – it often focuses on the moon cycles and rituals of self care.

The Hoodwitch, or Bri, has a great website

Two Witchblrs (witch tumblrs) to check out: Wishful Witchy and The Witchy Stuff.

Wait… do I love myself?

Author:
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By Gemma Garner

Content note: Mental health, references to anxiety and body shaming

If you were to ask me if I loved myself, I would immediately say yes. My yes would be firm, honest and from deep in my heart. I love each and every part of myself, I’d say. Every lump and bump, every scar and freckle. I’ve learned to love my squeaky voice and the chips on my front teeth where I’ve been hit by a beer bottle or a karaoke microphone (I go pretty hard). On most nights, I take a moment to pat my belly and say thank you. Thank you for keeping me alive. When I see my naked face, my spotty chin and my dark circles in the mirror, I feel immense gratitude, and my heart fills up. What a beautiful face, I say.

This immense love, however, seems to retreat into darkness on my bad days. On the days where I wake up with intense nausea resulting in panic attacks, I hate myself. I hate the fact that I can’t deal with nausea like a ‘sane’ person. I hate my stomach. I hate my inability to eat well. I look in the mirror with a scowl and curse my existence. On the days I can’t stop crying and seeking validation, I cannot find the beauty I usually see. I don’t even try to. I look in the mirror and curse every lump and bump, every scar and freckle. I detest my squeaky voice and the chips on my front teeth, a constant reminder of my reliance on alcohol after a breakup years ago. I hate my mental instability. How can anyone love me? How can anybody find me beautiful?

With this in mind, can I really say I love myself? Sure, we all have bad days, but when you can only love yourself on a good day, is that love real, and honest?

It’s important to note that many years ago, my bad days were not bad days. They were every day. Like many people still, my existence was painful. I didn’t believe there was such a thing as true self love. ‘How can I possibly be OK with this?’ I’d ask, looking in the mirror. ‘Who in their right mind could love this?’

Perhaps the reason I love myself with such intensity, is because I want the love to bleed into the cracks that become craters on my bad days. When I love my flawed, naked face with such a burning passion, perhaps I think that I’m looking at a different self. A self that is still debilitated by self-hatred and misery. I’m protecting her, cradling her.

I’d like to believe that these cracks, a reminder of my teenage self-hatred, are still waiting to be filled. They aren’t a permanent fixture in my journey, nor are they a recent instalment. However, I don’t believe this is the case.

Despite having come so far on my journey to self-love and acceptance, my techniques haven’t aged along with my growing body and mind. My idea of self-love that I’ve carried with me for many years; could it have become self-destructive?

Years ago, the idea of eating whatever I wanted was revolutionary. Although my relationship with food has never been too toxic to the point of an eating disorder, at one point in my life, when I was responsible for my own food preparation, I would starve myself at school, only taking 4 crackers with me for lunch. Then, I’d come home, and eat 6 Kit Kat’s before anyone could see. When starting my self-love journey, I adopted the idea that I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, meaning I didn’t have to binge, and I certainly didn’t have to feel bad about my often strange cravings. This was wonderful, and changed my life. Gone were the diets that made me miserable.

Today, this self-love technique has become toxic. As I’ve developed an incredibly sensitive stomach, meaning I feel sick constantly, the act of eating whatever I fancy has become deadly. Not for vanity, but for my physical health. My diet has taken a toll on my stomach, bringing on incredible mental struggles that I would not wish upon any other person.

Years ago, the idea of doing whatever I wanted, despite the social implications, was revolutionary. I learned to make decisions regardless of how I would be perceived. I was debilitated by a fear of being disliked or unloved, meaning the decisions I made did not reflect how I truly felt, only how I wanted to be seen. I vowed to pretend I didn’t care, and do what I wanted. This became one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. My lack of care became real. Now I can honestly say that I do not care about the implications of what I do on how I am perceived. I will stand in the middle of the street and sing at the top of my lungs (badly), without any fear. I speak to anyone and everyone that I feel like speaking to. It feels incredible. I became free.

Today, however, this no longer benefits me. Considering my lack of self-discipline, the idea of doing whatever I want is actually incredibly destructive to my motivation. On my days off, if I fancy getting an ice cream on my own instead of doing incredibly important work, I’ll choose the ice cream. For self-love. In the moment, the ice cream is great. Then I come home, and slowly start to resent myself for being incapable of making appropriate decisions. Or, say, if I want to seek validation in the middle of an important conversation, I will. Yeah, sure I care about your dead dog, but do you think I’d suit a bob haircut?

All of the self-love techniques that I have adopted through the years have once been crucial and essential to my growth. Now that I’ve grown, however, they restrict me from going any further. They widen the cracks in my perception of myself, causing me to regress back into an aggressive state of self-hatred.

I’m learning that self-love isn’t something simple, nor is the same thing for each and every person. To another person, getting an ice cream alone instead of doing work could be a step in the right direction. Self-love also isn’t the same thing every day. That’s why I think it’s time for me to change my self-love routine. It’s time to look in the mirror and say, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done so far, Gemma. It’s changed my life. Now, it’s time to do some new things.’ Also, ‘Why are you talking to yourself as if your reflection in the mirror was another person?’

* * *

MY NEW SELF LOVE TECHNIQUES:

-Do the work you need to do every week, even if you don’t feel like it. Find a day that suits you. Sure, you want to catch Pokémon, but surely it can wait until after you’ve sorted your Student Finance out?

-Give yourself the space to have bad days. Just because you think you’re fat today, doesn’t mean you’re incapable of being loved forever. See things as they are, rather than catastrophizing it, even if you just pretend to at first.

-Remember that almost everybody suffers with some kind of mental health problem, and that doesn’t make them bad, merely human. That panic attack was just a panic attack, not a reflection of your instability. Give yourself a pat on the back for getting through it, instead of panic about the next one.

-Try and give your stomach a break, and eat a little better. Eating better does not constitute as dieting for vanity, so don’t beat yourself up for going against your beliefs. You can still eat what you want, as long as you look after yourself.

-Remember that self love is different every time. Sometimes, it’s right to cancel those plans and spend the evening with a hot water bottle and shitty Hillary Duff movies. At other times, for example, if you’re invited to the pub, but you’re scared to drink; just go. You’ll be OK, and your brain will learn new, wonderful things about drinking.

The Skin I’m In

Author:

By Anna Hill

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Trigger Warning – Self Harm

Since I was born I’ve had eczema – a skin condition I still can’t spell, that leaves me with itchy, red, dry patches of skin in various different areas. When I was younger it was much worse, more of my skin was covered in the bumpy patches – behind my knees, my ears, the inside of my elbows and so on. The constant scratching and obvious red areas made me very shy of showing my body in any capacity, and I would hate specifically showing my arms. The skin between my forearm and my upper arm was the worst, particularly in summer. I would often scratch until I bled and the whole cycle made me feel ashamed. The eczema sometimes got so bad that I would have matching bumpy red, bleeding skin behind my knees and my elbows, all at the same time.

It was so obvious my skin was angry, it was writhing with anger, just under the surface. It was so evident inside me, around me, irritating me. I had so much restless energy, which ultimately led to more itching. My itching was never commented on explicitly but it was always present, implicit in the glances and the stares of my teachers, classmates and adults who I came into contact with. The feeling I got after I had itched – namely pain, after some satisfaction at first, forced me to be anchored to my body, and so did the glances at the patches on my skin. Not only is it dull, but it is very tough to be present, only so far as the confines of your body, to the landscape of our physical selves rather than the present where the world exists both internally and externally.

One of the reasons why eczema made me feel so insecure, was that it was not discrete. Whilst I felt my friends were growing up daintily (which in hindsight is not true), and had pretty skin (to me they always looked nice even when it was dotted with spots), I imagined myself as a tomato. The redness of my skin wasn’t helped either by the fact that I too am a blusher. My whole body was red, it was a walking wound sometimes and I felt like my weeping skin took up too much space.

After a while I started to see that my skin became alive with that itching feeling – you know the one, that little tickle starts and once you give in you’re gone – especially when I was stressed. During my G.C.S.Es not only was I very stressed but I also itched a lot, and then I realised that my skin was more raw (because I made it that way – even when I was sleeping) during that time I made the connection.

It went further than just stress being a trigger for it though later on, and although it took a while, I excavated my pain and my pressure in a way that made sense on my skin. It’s difficult when you have a skin condition that actually shows those around you your feelings. My anger and my stress all come through on my skin, and undoubtedly they still will, because I have a diagnosed skin condition. But it is what the stress and the anger are directed at is what I want to change. The further I went into my ruins the more I understood that a lot of the reason I continued to itch was to punish myself. It was to show myself that I was angry, angry at the world that hurt me and told me being queer was wrong, and also at myself for failing to live up to my impossible standards in life and school. I felt guilty for all these things. I felt my anger was not allowed – I was a girl, I was supposed to be pretty, sweet, kind and mostly importantly have soft skin. I wasn’t supposed to be covered in red scars and full of a yearning to burst out of my skin. To peel away all the bad skin and be shiny and new born.

When I itch now I recall all that itching that I did when I was angry and frustrated at life and myself. I recall all those times I did it to inflict pain, or to inflict any type of feeling on myself. The repetitive action of itching is very difficult to get away from and when I look at my body now I often feel like I look like a wound, my body is a visible reminder that I hurt, that I felt pain, that I damaged myself. That my trauma bleeds out of me, visible to everyone that looks at me.

But is this thinking helpful to me now? My skin will always be bumpy and itchy, so is it helpful to talk about it in the context of self-harm? Does the way I talk about it reinforce the pain, and the cycle of tearing at my skin? Leslie Jamison, in The Empathy Exams, wrote that “[her] feelings were also made of the way [she] spoke them”. It is a constant balance between the “state of submission” to feelings and thoughts and the “process of constructing” them.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to approach not only my eczema but my whole body with more compassion, with more understanding. I could completely accept my interpretation of my actions – that they stem from a place of hatred, but then it would be too easy for me to continue to hate, to continue to despair at myself, and thus punish myself when I fail all the more. Instead I want to make a home for myself in my self. Regardless of how aesthetically pleasing my body is, it is mine. It is the only constant home I will ever have and it will be with me my whole life. It’s presence facilitates a lot of what I do – my fingers typing these words for example – and so my goal is not to be perfect in treating my body, it is to be kinder to it. My body is not just made of scars and it is easier to remember that when I attempt to be kind, in little ways and big ways. I aim to be less angry at myself and at my red bumps, to be less frustrated when I fail to reach an academic goal, to be kinder when I do mess up. I aim to accept the skin I’m in rather than revolt against it.

 

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If you are interested in hearing more about self harm from a young person, go here.

If you want to know more about self-harm, go here.

Self-Care: A PBG Masterpost

Author:

By Sophia Siman-Bashall

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Self-care is a really important thing. It is a necessary part of living a happy and healthy life, and yet it is all too easy to neglect it. It is easier to beat yourself up than big yourself up. It is easier to focus on others than focus on yourself. But this is not sustainable. You have to be your top priority, you have to be kind to yourself. If you really struggle with it, consider this post as permission to love yourself.

Keeping your mental and physical wellness in check doesn’t have to be especially radical. Here are a few suggestions for making day-to-day life better for you:

  • Take social media breaks. This is something that a lot of us find really difficult – it’s a link to our friends, our family, to musicians/comedians/actors/writers etc. For many of us, social media is what makes everyday activism possible. But the constant information can be overwhelming, particularly when a lot of it is negative (as unfortunately, it usually is, due to the sorry state of politics, and the world…). It can be really beneficial to distance yourself from it all sometimes. Whether it’s one day a week, or a week every month, or even just that you only use it when commuting, but not at home or anywhere else! Not only does your brain get a rest, but you’ll probably find yourself with more free time to do things you REALLY want to do…
  • Don’t be working all the time. Again, this can be tough. When there’s so much to get done, for school/college/uni/work, it’s difficult to ignore it. But taking a day off – and I mean entirely – is really beneficial. It clears your mind, and when you go back to what needs doing, you will feel so refreshed, and more prepared to tackle your workload. Think about it: a day with no guilt that you *only* made some notes, or *only* wrote one essay, or *only* sorted out one problem. A day when you don’t even think about work, because it’s simply not on your agenda. Make a day that’s yours, do what you want with it. It’s so freeing.
  • Radiate gratitude. A positive outlook on life is not an easy thing to adopt, but the more you train your brain to it, the more natural it will become. Write at the end of the day, listing what made you smile, and what you’re feeling thankful for – a smile from a stranger, walking in the sunshine, eating a really delicious apple. It is far better to go to sleep thinking of these things than what may not have been so good about your day. You should also try to write what YOU did well, what you are proud of achieving that day. Be grateful to yourself for existing.
  • Eat well. I am not going to prescribe a way to do this, because frankly, that’s irritating, rude, and not helpful. Different things work for different people. Find what works for you. On a general level, fruits and vegetables should feature regularly. As should chocolate.
  • Be active. You don’t have to go for a 10 mile run or a high-intensity workout at the gym. If that’s what floats your boat, by all means, go for it. But for many, it might be something else. Here at PBG, we have runners, horse-riders, swimmers, gym-goers, and people who just like to dance around their room to Beyoncé/Taylor Swift. For me, it’s a combination – although I would always choose to ride, if I could. Again, it’s a question of finding what works for you –you should enjoy it, it should make you feel good, empowered, strong. Don’t force yourself into something that you dread.

For me, these are the basics of self-care. Doing these things help keep me mentally and physically well, for the most part. But looking after yourself is more than this, it’s also about having fun, about knowing how to soothe yourself when you are sad, or scared, or overwhelmed. So as a team, PBG have pooled together our favourite acts of self-care, and we hope you find some of them help you too!

  • Draw. Paint. Do colouring in. It’s calming, it can be an outlet for emotions, and it boosts your self-esteem, because you are producing something.
  • Talk to people. Whether in person or over the phone/video chat, having a conversation with someone who you love and who loves you is always a nice thing. It stops you from being stuck in your own head.
  • Get outside! SUNSHINE! OR AT THE VERY LEAST FRESH AIR! OR EVEN JUST A CHANGE OF SCENE!
  • Write lists! Lists are great, for some unexplicable reason. Write lists of people who inspire you/things that make you smile/things you like about yourself/places you’d like to visit in your lifetime/your favourite positive songs… the possibilities are endless! Look up ‘Listography’ for some pretty unique (often silly and hilarious!) ideas!
  • Run yourself a bubble bath, put in bath bombs/salts or essential oils (lavender is particularly calming). Lie in it and relaaaaaaaaax.
  • Paint your nails. Paint them different colours, make them glittery, try making designs on your fingernails – although be prepared that when attempting intricate designs, it will go wrong, and your fingers will NOT look like those in the pictures on Pinterest…
  • Go for a walk in the park or through city streets, depending on what you feel like. In the dark, city lights can be a really beautiful sight. Equally, walking past the ducks in the pond is a pleasant feeling.
  • Cover your face in make-up (this can be really exciting, as Anna and Alice discussed!)
  • Bake bake bake bake! Baking is fun, and you get a wonderful product out of it! That is, if you can refrain from eating most of the mix before it goes in the oven…
  • Play fast/upbeat/positive/your favourite music and DANCE – it’s not about looking cool, it’s about having fun and feeling free! Bonus points for singing along too, the more off-key the better!
  • Read a great book! Whether it be crime fiction, YA romance, dystopian, a classic, poetry, a biography, or a great feminist book like Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things – whatever takes your fancy, whatever will keep you engaged, read it! Reading is a great way to occupy your mind without feeling trapped – quite the opposite, you get to escape into another world!
  • Look back on fond memories – photos, tickets, postcards, messages, they’re all great reminders that when you are feeling low, that feeling will not last forever, and more good things will come your way.
  • Eat something that comforts you – peanut butter, ice-cream, chocolate…
  • Watch a film – a comedy is usually best, tear-jerkers are great, but not when you want to boost your mood!
  • Yoga. Yoga is always a good thing.
  • Write down everything you are feeling – LET IT OUT!

Putting together a ‘toolkit’ for self-care is potentially a big help – have handy a few felt-tips, a colouring book, some delicious recipes, favourite photos, a little bottle of essential oil, brightly-coloured nail polish, a pen and a notebook to write in… know when you need to utilise these things, and pick something at random out of the box, if you can’t make the decision. Look after yourself, it’s the most important thing you will ever do.

 

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