In the ‘Spirit of Place’ series I am going to be talking about some of the places that are important to me magically and giving some insight into how I work with them. This week I am looking at Churches:
One of the fundamental abilities of the witch is to create a sacred space wherever they happen to need one. Circle casting, space clearing, consecration, compass laying, temple erecting, these are all basic skills of magic. However, these spaces only exist temporarily on the physical plane, even if they are more permanent on the astral. Yet a church, cathedral, or temple that has stood in that same spot for centuries, maybe even millennia, continuously housing worship, has a power to it that few things can match. It is the foolish witch indeed who discounts such things.
When I first set foot on Lindisfarne, one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in Britain, I was immediately struck by the silence and beauty of the island. There was a holiness in the air which I absorbed with every breath. I yearned to reach out and connect to the power that was so obviously present in this place. After a day of wandering and enjoying the sites, my friends and I at last came to the priory. I expected to find the power here in this ancient site, founded in 634 AD, nearly 1400 years ago. However, whilst it was peaceful, beautiful, and of great historic interest, something was missing.
Lindisfarne Priory and St Mary’s Church
On our way out we decided to have a quick look in St Mary’s Church which is still in use by the local community today. Here, I could immediately tell something was different. I went up to the Altar and knelt as if I were receiving Holy Communion and began to pray. I asked this holy place to open itself up to me and share its mysteries. Immediately I felt a weight pressing down on me from above, at first it felt like a comforting weighted blanket, but it became so intense it was almost unpleasant. I can only explain it as becoming aware of the weight of over a thousand years of prayer. On my way out I asked the reverend about the history of the Church, and they explained that it had been a site of continuous worship since the very inception of Christianity on Lindisfarne, thus confirming my experience. This was not a ruin, but a still active church, and its power was very much alive.
Since then I have made a point of praying in every cathedral or old church that I am able to visit. I always enjoyed them for their historic interest and architectural beauty anyway, but now there is a spiritual element too. When I pray I don’t take any interest in sin or forgiveness, I’m not really a Christian after all. What I pray for is the church building itself, that it may continue forever as a place of worship, where people can come and be touched by the Divine. I pray for the souls of those who have worshipped there throughout the centuries up to this day, and the souls of those who are buried there. I pray to know the Divine, the spirit of the place, and the spirits residing in it. The results of this vary from a sense of healing peace, to some communication with the unseen, to the sense of overwhelming power I felt that afternoon on Lindisfarne.
You might rightly be wondering what this all has to do with witchcraft. The answer is both nothing and everything. Anyone of any spiritual path can connect to the power of a place this way, it is open to everyone. A witch has their own reasons for doing so. I do it for the healing, but also because I enjoy talking to spirits, and what better way to talk to the spirits of a church than through prayer? I have yet to work consistently with an old church in this way, having only ever done this in places I’m visiting, but I would have thought that if one visit can be so powerful, then developing a relationship with a church over time would be truly extraordinary. This is interesting work for an animist or pantheistic witch who doesn’t mind a bit of Christian dressing on their spiritual salad. There are many powerful allies to be found in a church, whether they be the ancestral dead, God, or the place itself.
Glastonbury Goddess Temple
Lest you think that the only places I find holy are churches, I would also mention my recent trip to the Goddess Temple in Glastonbury. On entering that space I immediately felt the same intense power as I have found in churches. The Goddess is present in that temple in a truly profound way that filled me with peace and healing. Sadly, pagan temples such as this are few and far between, but I think it is very important to support those that are around. It is testimony to the Temple’s priesthood that it has such power in it after only being open for a comparatively short period of time. I love circles and self-made sacred spaces (I am Wiccan after all) but as witches we must not forget the power of collective worship in the same place for a long time. So go on pilgrimages, support your local churches and temples, go to Glastonbury, Lindisfarne, and the great cathedrals (Durham is my personal favourite). Pop into that old church nearby and take a moment to be still and listen. I promise that it will enrich your magical life many times over.
Published by: Tom McArthur
Tom McArthur is a Classicist, witch and theatre kid. He belongs to a Gardnerian coven, as well as having a highly syncretic (read: eclectic) personal practice. The ancient world has a huge influence on his magical work as he works extensively with the Greek Magical Papyri and has a magical relationship with a number of Greco-Egyptian deities. Otherwise his interests include Wicca and other forms of witchcraft, folk magic, Goetia, entheogens, and mysticism.