How to Make a Witch

Shannon Barber
Oct 20, 2018 · 5 min read

Part I- Baby Potato Witchery

[image description: the author shown from the chin down. They are wearing a silver lip ring and silver steel earrings. Their tshirt reads “Black girls are Magic”]

On the life and practice of a solo syncretic witch in the city. Or, how a Black witch does shit.

For my purposes here let’s define some terms. When I say solo syncretic, I mean I don’t do covens and my practice and beliefs are pretty all over the place. Once upon a time when I was a tween I mostly believed in Wiccan traditions as laid out in any of the many ubiquitous Llewellyn books I had access to at the time. I tried to adhere to very European traditions that I didn’t really feel deeply on a spiritual level.

I began that way because that was the information, I had access to. I did not have the Internet as we know it now and relied on inter library loans, occultist books when I could get them, I was pretty much in the weeds. That said, once I got a bit older and did things outside by myself, I found a now gone but much beloved witchy store in downtown Seattle. I bought candles and pored over books. By my late teens I’d experimented with lots of religions. I tried out some Christian churches, I went to Young Life youth group and camp. I celebrated Passover Seder with some Jewish friends. I spent some time studying Hinduism, then realized that my teachers were abusive and appropriative.

I’ve been kinda around the world in terms of my spirituality but, I’ve always come back to several central things.

The Woo Begins.

When I was about eight years old, I started dreaming about Odin. I didn’t know they were Odin dreams at the time but, there they were. I did figure out it was Viking related and decided at one point to create a will so my parents would know to give me a Viking funeral should I die. Yes, I was a creepy little weirdo even back then.

So, the foundation of part of how my witch works started way back then. Dreams and Odin. Which Odin though? After many years of readings, I feel like it is Odin as referenced in the Poetic Edda Völuspá. How did it happen? I dunno. What I can say with certainty is that motifs, dreams and serendipitous things I was taught along the way. What I mean by that is during my childhood, I had many moments when without telling folks, I was taught about the Gods I would come to know.

For instance. My living will aside, when I was around ten or so my favorite librarian told me a story about Huginn and Muninn after I’d read Poe’s The Raven for the first time. She led me to learning about the role of ravens and other corvids in various mythologies. I believe in the idea that the universe and my little magical slice of it, likes to show me where I’m going and how to get there. Things like being handed gifts of precious knowledge became a large part of my magical framework.

I want to pause here to say something one time and then we don’t have to talk about it again. A lot of the things that helped shaped my path, put me into contact with terrible people. Given my interests, it has happened. There were times it was pretty awful but I don’t really want to talk about it. Ahem.

I have always cherished the sacred. Knowledge be sacred. Poetry be sacred. The stories of our people be sacred. I crave knowledge and a connection to what I consider sacred and through that craving, I’ve found that the universe has provided me with what I need in that way. As my great grandmother told me once, some people get what they need from another place. I be in those places.

I dreamed of Odin off and on through high school, usually either in his ecstatic poet form or waiting for me outside of Valhalla. A story I didn’t know really for years but, what I imagined was close enough even though I didn’t know the proper name for a while. Not long after Odin, I met Anubis. Someone gave me a book about Egypt and like lots of kids, I went all in.

The Gods who got my attention were Set and Anubis. Anubis mainly in the idea of having my heart weighed upon my death. Which afterlife I’d be shuttled into never really played into my attraction to this concept. As a kidlet I was pretty sure that regardless of what Gods/esses I was talking to, they would figure out where I needed to be amongst themselves.

Now if we pause here for a second there are some patterns that have played out in my life since then. I’m talking what magics and traditions I’m attracted to, my aesthetics and even how I think about death and dying.

I have always been attracted to the “dark” things. I spent a lot of time as a baby potato researching and learning about death rituals from various cultures, I have always had a love for dead things, to the point that (before bird flu etc) I would hold little burial ceremonies for dead birds or other critters. I like graven symbols, my personal pantheon doesn’t tend towards comfort as in “lightness”. I like the creepy shit.

I feel protected and comforted by these God/esses who can represent violence or death or war. Pushy ones, and as I got into my early 20s, I realized that the most known to me at the time deities just didn’t speak to me. Around that time, I decided I didn’t want to adhere to a single tradition. It is uncomfortable for me. I went to things like Beltane celebrations and I did candle magic with some witches and I tried really hard to fit into and find a single tradition and failed.

My magical things took on a strange role in my life. Through serendipity, I was given a few little magical talismans. A set of two runes hand carved into cheap metal disks, I wore the plainest ankh you’ve ever seen, and a pentagram. The pentagram and ankh were a gift from the first LaVeyan Satanist and occultist I ever met. I was introduced to the idea of going my own way.

My own way. My own path. My own relationship to the wonders of the world and the sacredness I crave.

Next time, we’ll talk about me meeting Baron Samedi, my desire for Oshun and Afrodiasporic religion and dreams.

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