TW: suicidal ideation, discussions of trauma
There are always people who want to take the sharpest teeth out of our mouths. We ought to be kind where we can, but we also have to survive. I’m not interested in petty witch internet ethics (you know the kind), which generally fail to recognise the breadth of human experience, and how sometimes magic is our only recourse in situations where all other possibilities have been extinguished. You can’t perform magic you don’t believe in, and there are times when, faced with a real tangible threat to your mental or physical health you can’t imagine a sweet solution. If you’ve never looked at a person and truly, fully believed it was either you or them, knowing that there’s no happy endings, then you don’t get to say shit to me.
I was in significantly less trouble than I thought I was, but I didn’t know that at the time. I used to crawl under the desk to cry. I thought about hanging myself on the coat rail. It was winter, several years ago and this will not be a nice essay.
The stress and anger felt worse just under my sternum. Coiled there for months. Trauma lives in the body. It reminded me of something between a wolf and the corpse of a small rodent.
People forget that you can talk to anything. Everything has its own kind of life. Even this. I was talking to the city too, as I walked through the snow, spending late nights with friends on the other side of the city so I didn’t have to go home. I bought a smoothie at nine PM and walked two miles just to feel something. Hello, beautiful. How are you today? / Why didn’t you warn me? / Are you there at all? / Imagine all the people on this street before me, and here I am. / I must look crazy sitting here and smiling on this bench for no reason. / It’s so cold today / I can’t go home.
I don’t know when the curse first arrived, but I could feel the words of it rattling around in me. It existed somewhere just behind my teeth. If I thought about my situation for too long, it’d be there. It took me about a week to snap. I was in front of a friend at the time. I won’t repeat it, but the city was to be a stranger, everything was to turn inhospitable, no peace until they were as far away from me as possible.
When I spoke, something loosed itself from my chest.
It worked, of course. Not that I want to recount the messy specifics. They were gone before the year was out. The fall out for me was the emptiness in the days after the curse, a kind of emotional and spiritual burn-out. Even in my worst moments there’s something I can reach for, a deep sense of spirituality and peace. It doesn’t always arrive but I know it’s there. It vanished. It took me a while to recover.
Even if what happened was chance, lucky/unlucky coincidences, I know that I needed to feel in control of a situation that was beyond me. I couldn’t have acted with any more grace.
I showed that curse to a friend of mine (I’d written it down afterwards) and in shock, he said “this is a poem”. There’s power in words, of course, better a form that you’re comfortable with. It’s one of the oldest forms of magic, too.
I often end up doing magic only when it “feels necessary” – something I need to work on. Magic can be a joy too, helping us work towards what we want. It can be prayer, or poetry, or communication. Doing magic when it’s the only thing left is not particularly transcendent, it’s downing mint tea to soothe your lactose intolerance after eating half a pint of ice cream. (Not something I’ve ever done, of course). It doesn’t particularly contribute to any spiritual or emotional growth, but does help in the course of everyday life. Sometimes it can be that simple.
Some people wouldn’t consider my curse of necessity a curse at all, but a binding, or a banishment.
When thinking about a curse it’s all about the resources we have to hand: who we can call on, all the spite we can muster, gathering the fear into something animal. When spitting a curse it’s releasing something wild and frightened and dangerous. A curse feels like a living thing, and it takes far more than it gives.
But before we get to that:
- Has everything else been pursued?
- Have you spoken to a doctor or mental health professional? Have you checked in with your friends and shared whatever’s going on in your life?
- Have you called Samaritans(116 123), or Mind (0300 123 3393)?
Count what you have to hand, what resources are at your disposal: your Gods, familliars, ancestral spirits, spirits of place, your mind, your art. Find the coiled, angry part of yourself. It might be easier to see it as a wolf, a skinny old coyote, a snake. See it pacing. Waiting. You’re making something alive, something that won’t rest until it’s job is done.
Work out what it is that you want. There’s not much point in causing harm if that harm isn’t going to do anything. Really, the best curses have elements of bindings or banishments: stop them causing trouble, or getting them as far away from you as possible. The difference for me lies in whether or not your goals are achieved subtly, or without care of the cost: either you get the permit to properly demolish a building, or you leave the gas oven running.
Anyway, it’ll take several days, maybe a week, speaking and paying attention to that creature. Let it sit with you at breakfast, lunch, before going to bed at night. It’ll take up more and more of you. If you want to meditate on it, so be it. If you want to write and draw and focus, by all means. I can imagine if you’re anything as desperate as I was, there won’t be space for that. It’ll do all the same.
At some point, I started feeling it just behind my teeth. My mouth, or it’s fangs? If trauma lives in the body, then a curse can too. Know what you want. Hold on for as long as you can. Then when you can bear it no longer (and only then), set the dogs loose. If you can spit it at your chosen subject, all the better. If you’re close by, that’ll work too. Otherwise, grab something of theirs, and find somewhere secluded. Rain breaks. Thunder rolls. A curse runs out of a person and leaves them empty and feverish. Say what it is that you want, and all the hell you’ll raise until it happens, call upon anything you can to make it happen. This isn’t kind witchcraft, so you can’t expect it to be kind to you either.
Finally: hold onto something. Try to look after yourself. Ask for help if you need it. Pay attention to what you said in the moment, and watch for it beginning to unfold. It might bring all manner of trouble with it – mine did, but it passed. I’m still here. I hope that if you find yourself in a similar situation, you come out of it too.