It would be irresponsible of me to disregard the health and safety of the reader!
By attaching meaning to symbols, and relating physiologically and mentally to those symbols, we create powerful tools to explore and manipulate our lives. This process of investing symbols with power is a form of enchantment, as for instance when a medal becomes an embodiment of the struggle and achievement it represents, or when offering somebody a thoughtful gift. As to how far this process can go in empowering us – I don’t honestly know!
Basic principles are important to avoid making noob errors. For instance,
1. remember to breathe. Sounds ridiculously obvious, but the implications are as follows:
When calling up some powerful symbols a lot of energy can be released, such as when a repressed memory surfaces, or extreme states of arousal are reached. Breathing in is a simple analogy of taking energy within oneself, but if you forget to breathe out you are likely to find yourself in trouble! Similarly, any technique which releases energy needs to be symbolically controlled, and after the event excess energy needs to be dispersed. I use the popular term ‘energy’ here because there are many kinds of symbol which unlock many doors in the mind, and ‘energy’ works as a generic term for this. Where ‘energy’ may fall short as a description is that it may fail to describe the flavours of different kinds of ‘energy’ that may be encountered, and instill due respect.
A very simple example was during a martial arts class where the sensei decided to take us on a brief period of guided meditation to ‘relax’ us. This was very effective, but having called up all these restful and soporific symbols, which I drank down to the verge of sleep, he did not close off the process by bringing us back ‘home’ again. For the next 20 mins I was staggering about in a lethargic stupor, trying to wake up! Conversely a sense of high energy agitation – being as high as a kite – could be just as unwelcome. Hence the importance of ‘grounding’ yourself. Post meditation, this might involve stretching, moving about, even singing – ever recall how hard it can be to break silence after a meditation? A similar experience might be when walking out of a particularly intense cinematic experience, where you get so caught up in the narrative and the emotions woven into it, that you almost stagger back into the real world.
When you are ‘playing’ with symbols, never forget that these symbols are the building blocks of perception and experience, with consequences ranging from a sense of calm to accepting genocide as a necessary process. A sense of play is important when exploring your mind and body, but so is respect for the risks involved. Once you have finished with a technique, shut it down, ground yourself, turn off the tap.
A corollary caveat is do not call up what you cannot put down. If things get out of control, bad stuff can happen, so start off slow and be liberal with the safety precautions. Perhaps try out the meditative aspect of group yoga classes as an accompanied introduction? Also, if taking somebody on a guided meditation, make sure that they have an emergency cord. To illustrate this, during one of my earlier forays I took my partner with me, and we went deep into water symbolism. What I had not appreciated was how significant water was for her as she had witnessed a drowning in the past, and found it suffocating and overwhelming rather than nurturing and comforting as I felt. In hindsight, what I should have done is given her something physical to hold onto, perhaps something representing the element of water like a tiny egg-cup of water. In the event of discomfort, she could have been instructed to splash the water away or similar. A magical safe-word. Similarly, digging deep into your own subconscious, you might do well to have a similar safety procedure. If you take friends with you, trust is so important, because the techniques are analogous to stripping away the clothing of the mind, and that’s a kind of intimacy and responsibility that not everyone is ready for. The process of introspection can render us very vulnerable and dangerously defenceless if we are not careful – take hypnotic suggestion as an example!
Another corollary is only take what you need. Biting off more than you can chew is not simply trying to avoid getting fat or choking, but about recognising that we exist within a complex web of relationships, and taking more than you need can distort this web badly. Our social existence rests on shared efforts, and those who presume to live off the fat of the land would do well to remember Madame Guillotine.
Another basic principle might be
2. keep your eyes open. Not literally, but keep your awareness open – the 3rd eye . Observe and learn. Know thyself. Keep an eye on the effects of your thoughts and actions, and those of others. Learn from them. I stress this because when we are manipulating symbols we are manipulating the language of the mind, and as the meanings attached to symbols start to change, our perceptions can be altered as well. This can lead to us, as the infamous Granny Weatherwax of Pratchett fame calls it, ‘going Black Aliss’. The fictional witch was very adept at weaving stories, and unfortunately, after a while she was unable to distinguish reality from her stories and started going mad. These gradual shifts can be insidious, and this is one of the pragmatic reasons why I suspect that witchcraft may involve covens rather than being a solitary practice – to watch out for each other in case someone should start to lose their way.
Additionally, as we become adept at manipulating symbols and our self-control increases, we can become victims of our own success. For instance, if you dislike suffering, you might choose to avoid it. Not unreasonable you might think. But consider the suffering of empathy – when another person should be in pain. If you respond to this by trying to help them reduce the pain, that is one approach. An easier alternative for the witch might be simply to stop caring – switch off the empathy. Certainly these techniques are widely used and exploited when training military, as they are deemed a necessary part of training to kill, but as witches it must be considered very carefully as it is so risky.
3. cherish what is important. I don’t mean this is some patronising moral legislation, but rather as encouragement to keep focussed on what you are trying to achieve. That you have even read this far suggest you are not like most people, and your motivations become more important as you become empowered. This focus can help to guide you through some tricky quandaries and conundrums of purpose. Maybe your goals may change, but try and remember what you want and why you want it. Sometimes we can forget that the goal was actually simply a means to something else, and working yourself to the bone to spend money on your family is not the same thing as spending time with them. Very little lasts forever, so remember to enjoy it! The future can wait, and the past is definitely in no rush!
My final suggestion is this:
4. Remember to laugh. Aside from the power of laughter, which makes it an integral part of some magical schools, I think it is a wonderful reminder of our limitations. No amount of preparation can prevent all mistakes. Nothing is sufficiently fool-proof for the determined fool. And for all our symbolic machinations, a great part of what is important in life remains a mystery – things to be lived and not just discussed. Sometimes ridiculous, sometimes divine, probably a bit of both!