Hi there. My name is Pam and I’m a witch who gives advice. Don’t worry, I have all the requisite bonafides: I became a woman of the pointed hat about 30 years ago. In between potion-mixing and spell-casting, I also spend a lot of time trying to figure out my own difficult, delightful life.
I recently asked the universe to send me questions about life, spirituality, and magick (okay, fine, I actually asked regular people on social media), and, lo and behold, some inquiries manifested. So bring me your fears, your hopes, your emotions. Let’s conjure up some comfort, together.
How To Get Rid Of Ghosts
I recently moved into a new apartment, and it has pretty much everything I could have hoped for: good light, charming Pre-War features like an old tin ceiling and crown moldings, and even a claw-foot tub. However, I think I got more than I bargained for, because I can’t help feeling that it’s haunted. It doesn’t seem dangerous, more just low-level creepy, like a presence that’s always lingering. Is there anything I can do on my own to make things feel a little less, well, ghost-y?
– Ghostbuster in Bushwick
Dear Ghostbuster in Bushwick:
Unwanted spirits, presences, energies — whatever you want to call them — can show up anywhere, though it’s true that they definitely seem to like hanging out in older environments. Some folks choose to make friends with their ghosts, but it sounds like yours are making you feel rather unwelcome, and that’s just plain rude.
So, first, let me give you the standard “basic witch” answer. And that’s for you to perform some sort of clearing. The easiest and most common way to do this is to buy a bundle of sage. You’d preferably want ceremonial, whole-leaf sage, such as white sage, and not the kind that you find in the herbs or spices section of a grocery store. Lots of places sell these sage bundles: New-age shops, health food stores, Amazon, and even Whole Foods all generally carry them.
When you get it home, you’re going to light the sage, and once you see embers glow red at the tips, blow it out. It should be smoking nicely at this point (if it goes out, just keep re-lighting and blowing). Then you’re going to hold the bundle in one hand and wave the smoke around your apartment, as if you’re giving it a nice air bath. Start facing east (don’t feel bad if you don’t know where that is — that’s what the compass app on your smartphone is for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a witch whip out her iPhone before casting circle). Then move counter-clockwise (also known as widdershins, i.e., the best word ever) around your apartment, making sure you reach every edge and corner of the space. Once you feel done, open the window or door and let those spirits out. And don’t forget to thank them for coming (in your best airline attendant voice). It’s never too late to teach them some manners!
All of this said, the best piece of spirit banishment advice I’ve ever gotten was to flash them while laughing madly at the top of your lungs. That way they’ll know that you’re not taking them seriously, and so will you — plus you’ll get a nice fresh airing of your pink parts in the process. You ain’t afraid of no ghosts!
The Unbearable Anxiety Of Right Now
OMG THE NEWS RIGHT NOW. I fluctuate from being completely depressed to screaming with rage to occupying a state of utter, total paralysis. Any advice for keeping me from tumbling further into the gaping, infinite void?
OMG I know. I know. I know. I So. F***kng. KNOW.
Sometimes the gnarliest problems actually respond best to the simplest of magics. Allow me to introduce you to the three GRs (you can call upon them whenever your whole self is going grrrrrrrrrrrr like a Day-28 werewolf).
They are: GRIEF, GRATITUDE, and GRACE.
You’ve got to start with GRIEF, which I promise you is the hardest part.
This means sitting with the pain and not numbing it, running from it, or otherwise hiding from it. Let yourself mourn a better version of the world — the world you wish existed right now but is currently, well, dead. (Or at least in need of one Buffy-sized resurrection.) However you choose to grieve is fine. But here’s the deal: You are only to do this for a set amount of time, which you’ll decide beforehand. One day. A weekend. A lunar cycle. Whatever. When your grief period begins, write a list of the aspects of the world as you wish it was and set it on fire. Howl at the moon like the broken wildebeest you are. Shed tears. Shriek. Gnash your sharp teeth. Feel your werewound, and feel it deeply.
When your allotted time is up, it’s time for the second GR, even if you’re still feeling broken. No exceptions. You’ve got to move on. Because now it’s time for GRATITUDE.
Gratitude is some of the most incredible magic I know of, and you’re going to practice this wholeheartedly. Write down all of the things you are grateful for. Even the most trivial things. Your favorite sweater. The whistling sound of the pipes when the heat turns on. Your cat Jean-Clawed, whom you named for his distinct je ne sais quoi.
Spend time on this list, and be extensive and specific. Even if it feels challenging. Especially if it feels challenging. There are tiny sparks of goodness to be found, no matter how vast the Hellmouth might seem.
When you are done with this, you are going to leave your home. (I know. I KNOW. But you must! Wear your favorite sweater. It will help.) Go out and procure a beautiful bunch of flowers. You get to keep the list, but the flowers will be an offering to Spirit. (Or God/dess or Flying Spaghetti Monster or Sparkleface Frank or whatever you choose to call the great mystery of the universe. Makes no difference to me.) Then go for a walk and leave the flowers somewhere outside, in a place that feels special. A tree, a riverbank, in the arms of a stranger. It’s your way of saying thank you for all the things you have been lucky enough to be gifted with, despite the tough stuff that you are carrying, too. This giveaway is simple act of beauty and generosity that will lift you up and make your load feel lighter. I guarantee it.
And, lastly, it’s time for GRACE. Now that your well has been emptied out and refilled again, it’s time to water someone else. There will be someone out there right in that moment who could really use a shower of your love. (There are a lot of someones! I know, I KNOW.) Pick one, and help them in any way you can, even if just through a tiny act of kindness. Then, and only if you feel up to it, do it for someone else.
This is literally the only way you can contribute to the Great Alchemical Work that we’re all being tasked with now and always. By using your own transformative powers to turn the heavy lead of this planet into spiritual gold.
Pep Talk For A Secret Witch
Despite being surrounded by wonderfully open-minded and non-judgemental individuals, I find myself hiding as a witch. I don’t call myself a witch in public or post every tarot spread or candle working I do. How do I stop hiding? Or stop being ashamed of something that is not in any way shameful?
– Secret Sorceress
Dear Secret Sorceress:
I have some good news for you: You’re actually right in line with a long legacy of folks who have chosen to practice their Craft in private. After all, the word occult means “hidden,” so there are plenty of aspects of witchcraft that thrive in secrecy. I totally understand feeling pressured to share every altar-gram and #rituallewk in this era of Insta-witchery. But even though I myself am a witch by both identification and vocation, there is still plenty about my own practice that I choose to keep offline or out of conversation. I find it more potent that way: to keep something between myself and Spirit that’s for no one else. In other words, I don’t always witch and tell.
On the other hand, there is a shadow side to secrecy, and it’s one that’s tied up in feelings of shame and/or fear. And that’s for very real reasons: As I’m sure you’re already aware, to be considered a “witch,” whether self-identified or by someone else, has historically been highly dangerous and, at times, deadly. And there are still many parts of the world, and some regions of the US, where to practice witchcraft is to put oneself at great risk.
Personally, I’m heartened by the new wave of witches that do choose to de-cloak themselves if they feel able to. I see it as a F**k You to fear, and that’s a pretty powerful thing.
Pam Grossman is a writer, curator, and teacher of magical practice and history. She is the host of The Witch Wave podcast and the author of the illuminated manifesto, What Is A Witch (Tin Can Forest Press). Her WitchEmoji is a best-selling sticker pack for iMessage, and she has maintained the esoteric art blog, Phantasmaphile, since 2005. She lives in Brooklyn with her two feline familiars, five plants, and one Muggle husband.