In ”Ask a Witch,” Gabriela Herstik answers your questions about channeling ancient wisdom in the modern age. If you have a question about all things magickal, contact Herstik on Twitter via @gabyherstik or Instagram @gabyherstik
Hello beloved witches, we’re back. This time we’re diving deep into the murkier waters of our souls. We’re going to be exploring our shadows and our sexuality, because we’re witches and that’s what we do! Holler if you’re not scared to descend deep into the underworld, as Persephone once did, all in order to come out stronger and way less afraid of the unknown. Here we go!
Do you have any practice tips on shadow work? How does one approach it? It can be very intimidating!
So let’s clear up what shadow work is, first and foremost. Most new age seekers and witches have heard of the term “light work,” which is the practice of working with love, joy, and bliss as part of a spiritual practice. This often involves energy and subtle bodywork, meditation, crystals—many tools that we’re already familiar with. Often, light work is connected to the idea of “love and light” being the end game of human evolution and consciousness. And while this is a huge part of who we are, as well as of our karmic makeup, it’s dangerous to think that’s the only work we need to be doing.
Shadow work is the partner to light work. I’m struggling to say it’s the opposite because it’s not; it’s more complementary, and another piece of a holistic approach to a spiritual practice. Shadow work wouldn’t be shadow work without light work and vice versa. Shadow work is when we take a look at our demons, our darkness, our habits and patterns that are causing us to relive situations and experiences that aren’t working toward our highest good. It’s working on our shadows, and learning from them, so they don’t hold power over us. It’s scary and can be overwhelming, but we don’t have to explore this space alone.
My first suggestion is that if you’re able to go to therapy, or use an online resource like Talkspace, do that, especially if you’re working through some trauma. Having someone with whom you can talk is so helpful, especially as an aside to your magical practice; it will give you clarity. I think another big way we can start exploring shadow work is through meditation, introspection, and writing. In her book Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe, Yumi Sakugawa talks about inviting your demons in for tea and talking to them. I love this concept, and it’s a practice I highly recommend. Name your demons. Write them a letter. Ask what they want you to know; our shadows aren’t only our darkness, they’re also our lessons and teachers. When we invite them into the light, we often find they hold much less power than we think they do. I often talk to my demons through art; I write them poems and make them things. You can also use shamanic journeys or guided meditations to take you deep into your heart space to see what’s there. The app Insight Timer has a bunch of amazing meditations, and my friend and teacher Alexandra Roxo often shares her guided shamanic journeys from Moon Club as well.
Taking ritual baths or showers with herbs (mugwort-hyssop-and-rosemary has been my go-to combo) is a really beautiful practice to help you come back into your body and cleanse your energy. Another way to work with our shadows is in a ritual context. Set up a sacred space and light a black candle and take time gazing at the flame. You can also move, sing, dance, or meditate, whatever you feel called to do. Ask yourself where your pain is. Ask what lessons she holds. Ask how you can transmute this. Write this or anything that comes to mind down.
Working with dark goddesses like Inanna, Babylon, Lilith, Hecate, or Kali is also a beautiful practice. Creating a relationship with a dark goddess by having a candle you light every day, a mantra you repeat daily, or an altar dedicated to them is very powerful. The key term is relationship; talk to them, love them, offer them your darkness so they can kill what’s no longer serving you. Your relationship with a goddess is similar to a relationship with your darkness.
Your shadows and trauma won’t ever just disappear, but we can learn to work with them in a way that informs our evolution and serves our highest good, mainly by observing the patterns, absorbing the lessons, and moving forward with courage and confidence knowing that our demons don’t mean we’re broken.
What’s your spell or ritual to de-stress and re-focus your energy?
Okay, so I’m going to be honest and say that masturbating and sex is really good for this. I often incorporate masturbation into my rituals and spells, and that’s part of my recommendation for my other sex witches. I also want to emphasize that this part of a magick practice is very personal. My stress and energy feel different than yours do, and our magick will reflect that. The key is to find what resonates with you. With that said, here are some ways I like to refocus and de-stress.
- Taking five to 10 minutes to dance like a loon to a song I love
- Meditating with crystals on my chakras, depending on what I need
- Stretching or yoga
- Cleansing my space with palo santo, sage, or lavender
- Free writing and getting all the junk and thoughts out of my head
- Creating a sigil and burning it
- Screaming or punching a pillow
- Drinking a glass of water
- Masturbating with my rose quartz chakrub
- Drinking tea with chamomile and dandelion
I also like to create routines (aka rituals) out of this. Often I will cleanse my space with sacred smoke, spend an allotted time free writing, and then stretch, meditate, and masturbate. I use masturbation as a form of spell work, and have an altar with a candle I light every night to Venus, so often I’ll talk to her and offer up my lovemaking to her. But sometimes you just gotta get it on with yourself to help de-stress. Having some chamomile or dandelion tea and creating a ritual out of that is also a nice way of feeling back into your body, asking the herbs in the tea to help reconnect and ground you.
Ask yourself what you need, whether it’s to scream, dance, cry, move, shake. Creating your own ritual will be infinitely more powerful than subscribing to one because you were told to do so. So adapt away, find what feels good, and get witching.
Can you use sex as witchcraft, and do you think the powerful act of sex can be used to amplify what you’re trying to cast or put out in the world?
After almost a year and a half of this column, someone finally asks me about sex magick! YES! Finally! Thank you!
Short answer, hell yes we can use our sexual energy as a spell. Sexual energy is life energy; it’s a connection to the divine and to our own magick, as well as our own inner process of transformation. Sexual energy and orgasm is a release! Sex magick, or what’s called tantra in Eastern traditions, has been around for thousands of years. It’s a way to use our sexual energy and release as energetic fuel for a desired outcome, for connection, or for healing.
I really believe that sexual energy is some of the most potent out there, and by being intentional with it, we can create really strong magick. You can do this by masturbating and focusing on an intention as you raise your sexual energy more and more. Although an orgasm would be ideal, sometimes it doesn’t happen, and that’s okay. Visualizing the energy leaving the crown of your head and blasting into the universe once it’s at its peak, while holding your desire in your mind’s eye, is very strong magick. You can also do this with a partner if you feel comfortable. This takes more communication, but the combined energy can make it stronger if you’re both focusing and connecting on the outcome together.
Although you can practice sex magick without the context of a ritual, I think dedicating solo or partnered sex in this context can be incredibly powerful. Cleanse your space, ground your energy, cast a circle if it’s in your practice, do whatever spell or ritual you want, and then use masturbation or sex as a way to raise this energy. This is great for manifesting, especially with love, money, or sex. You can even have specific sex toys you use for sex magick or a special garment you wear to help get you in the mood. Cleansing your sex toys and yourself before or after your magickal lovemaking is also advised. If you work with deities of love, you can even dedicate your sex magick to them. Witches are sex-positive as hell, and we’re here for using sexual energy to create the lives we want! Good luck!