We inherit a lot of perspectives from our parent culture. Some of these are obvious, and we begin the work of deconstructing them pretty quickly. I began hacking at the “girls can’t be strong” trope almost as soon as I could walk. As a result, I’ve made good progress on pulling that particular weed out of my garden. Some perspectives are more subtle, though. We don’t see them strongly contradicted in day to day life, so we leave them, and they work their roots down into our soil.
In the United States, almost everything comes through a Christian bias. Although our country enshrines religious freedom in its governing documents, the truth is that this is a nation with a religion problem. The Christian bias is so deeply baked in that we simply don’t notice it in a stunning number of situations.
I’m teaching a new cohort of witches who are just starting off with Magpie Training in Blackfeather Mystery School. A few of them mentioned feeling bad about their doubts – their doubts about magic, spiritual connection, their own abilities, etc. The theme of doubt came up again from another direction: a close friend was reading a book on witchcraft and it said that in order for a spell to work, you must believe in it entirely, with no doubt.
No doubt? None at all?
Y’all, I am not entirely sure that this entire reality isn’t some sort of projection/hallucination/Matrix-esque hologram. I have a lot of doubts about everything. And that’s a good thing. Doubt isn’t harmful or detrimental: it’s the rational part of your brain trying to protect you. The idea that doubt is bad does not originate from witchcraft – it’s a piece of Christian philosophy. In their religion, to doubt the mythology is to invite destruction. If you’re not Christian, that perspective does not apply to you. You’re allowed to have doubts. In fact, I’d say they’re preferred.
Yes, I’m serious. Think about it: witches and magic-workers of various sorts live in a world that includes ancestors, omens, variably helpful deities, land spirits, synchronicities, and more. We live in that world while also living in a world that includes meaningless coincidence, science we don’t entirely understand, and brains that periodically get a little…well…fizzy. Those of us without a healthy dose of skepticism, of doubt, can get into serious trouble. I’ll give you my favorite example: when you have a mind-bending, heart-rending crush on someone, the rush of adrenaline and pheromones when the object of your affection is close causes a state close to intoxication in your brain. While in that altered state, it’s really easy to take small coincidences as grand signs from the universe that this person is your One Twoo Wuv. If you fall off that cliff of “THIS IS MY PREDESTINED SOUL PARTNER/TWIN FLAME,” things can get very, very messy. Crushes are hard enough. Adding a layer of mysticism/predestination only turns up the heat in the cauldron.
Doubt is part of the guardrails of a healthy mystical mindset. Doubt helps us parse out our transcendental experiences, filtering our biases and desires from the messages we receive. Doubt helps us become better practitioners by asking questions and not simply following blindly. Your doubt is a good, precious gift. The trick is learning to balance healthy doubt without allowing it to become self-sabotage, or a justification for apathy and entropy.
So how do we use our healthy, protective doubt in a helpful way when it comes to magical practices? I like to use the energy of my doubt on creating the backup plan for a magical working. Any spell or ritual with a target in mind – a change you are creating in reality – should have a mundane action included in it. Some of this has to do with density: magic impacts the energetic and spiritual layers of reality first. Those layers, in turn, influence the physical, mundane world. Think of a spell like a precipitate that passes through lighter, less dense layers in order to impact the heavier, more dense layer of physical reality. If the mundane situation you are trying to influence is completely boxed in or covered over, even the strongest spell won’t budge it – the rain won’t hit the soil if it’s covered in blacktop. Making changes on a mundane level creates more space for transformation, for the energetic shift to have room to filter down. For example, a spell for a new job should include a resume revamp and browsing job listings. A spell for prosperity should include creating a personal budget. A spell for a romantic partner should include therapy to work on the craptacular communication techniques we learned from our dysfunctional parents.
Doubt is a great engine for these mundane actions: “If the spell doesn’t work, what can I do to support the outcome I desire anyway?”
Another way to use your doubt is as part of processing your transcendental and mystical experiences. There’s a particular way to approach this without allowing doubt to go too far. Start by writing down, or painting, or voice recording, your experience. If you got a really good or profound message during a meditation, write that shit down first. Then, let it sit for a day or two if possible. You can add to it if little bits come back to you, or if you realize some points of connection that the message or experience applies to. Then, a couple days later, go through your message or experience for bias and ego. This is where doubt is such an incredible tool and ally.
I’ll give you an example from my own practice: I have what I refer to as Superhero Syndrome. On a deep level, some part of me believes that I can “save the world.” This means that I’m biased toward thinking that I can fix all problems, mend all relationships, end all injustices, etc. So, when I’m going through a mystical experience, I know to let my doubt pull out all the “you must do this because you are the only one who can” nonsense. That’s my ego getting its wee little claws into my mysticism. Remember: all your mystical experiences occur through your brain. That’s where your Shadows live too, and they looooove to play dress up.
So use your doubt and your skepticism here. If the message you received plays up to some of your darker desires, or your toxic behaviors and traits (yes, Veronica, sometimes we’re the toxic one – welcome to being human), filter that bit out.
There are a ton of areas where doubt is useful within magical practice, but in the interest of not keeping you here all day, I’ll give you just one more: use your doubt when it comes to teachers, leaders, courses, trainings, and anything else that promises to “fix” your life. There are some absolutely wonderful teachers and leaders within the modern magical world. And, every single one of them is a complex human being with all the flaws and shadows that go with being incarnated in our beautiful, wounded world. The good teachers will show you their humanity. They will not promise to “fix” you, to cure you, to transform your life. If you’re looking at a course or a teacher that seems too good to be true, you have found a wonderful place for doubt to chip a little paint off the facade.
Doubt is not your enemy. Doubt is part of your magical toolkit. I left a working group where a dynamic leader was sexually exploiting impressionable younger/more junior members of that group. The reason I left? My doubt, my skepticism, evaluated those behaviors and threw up some fantastic red flags. I left a Tradition that was teaching a corrupted history and material that had been actively disproved, or was just flat-out based on fantasy writings. Doubt in my Path got me free from that one. I’ve changed my liturgy over and over and over again as doubt and skepticism smoothed away harmful messages and patterns rooted in bias, habit, culture, and preconceived notions. Doubt made me a better witch, leader, and minister.
Doubt is a blessing when balanced in a healthy way. Doubt can make our magic stronger rather than weaker. As with all things magic, use the wholeness of your Self in your workings: your mystical Self, your human Self, your skeptical Self. It is through accessing all our pieces that our magic becomes powerful.
So, how have you used doubt to support your practice? Where do you like to let it thrive, and where do you rein it in? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your perspective will be exactly what another practitioner needs to read.
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