I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast where we're adventuring into the world of mindful modern magic and authentic spiritual practice. It's November 18, 2021, and today's topic is defiant magic and spiritual self-destruction. Are you ready to grow your soul?
One of the maybe biggest and most significant patterns I’ve observed on my spiritual journey is that the more self-work one does, the less spellwork one tends to do. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and it’s not because of anything wrong with spellwork in and of itself.
I’m going to use myself as an example, here, and kind of guide you through the journey to show you what I mean. My very first forays into this whole world of magic and magic-like things started out with a book on Feng Shui. I picked it up at Urban Outfitters near my apartment when I lived in Chicago, I think it was on a discount table or something, and there was something that grabbed my attention about the idea that I could use design and such, change some things about how my apartment was arranged, and see changes in my life.
And there was, I mean, TONS of things I wanted to change about my life at that point. I had dreams about my career, about what I wanted my fabulous future life to look like, which was very different from the life I was living. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I wanted more of that. I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I wanted more of those. I wanted success at the things I was trying to create and achieve. You know, the sort of usual suspects. I wanted prosperity and relationships and success and freedom.
So I latched onto this Feng Shui thing, rearranged my space, and yeah, there were things that shifted. I think if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here now. I would have given up on it. But I sold some art, I met some people, little things changed, nothing huge.
Along the way, though, I started getting into things like meditation. That started from my becoming a Catholic. Learning to pray the rosary is… I mean, that’s meditation, right? I began listening to… that was around the time that “Chant” came out, the CD of the Benedictine monks chanting, and that was popular? So I started meditating to that, incorporating some yoga poses. Inner reflection was never much of an element of my religious upbringing, but I started engaging more with that side of things. Wanting my spiritual life to, you know, make me a better person, give me insight, not just about reality but about myself.
And I do think that part of that is also a factor of maturity. As we go through life and we try doing the fixing, we do this thing of trying to figure out the world, try to figure out how to navigate our life path, at some point there are things about ourselves we start to question and navigate, too. So when I actually started engaging with, you know, magic – actually calling it that, actually dancing with this idea of pagan spirituality and spellwork and stuff – I did both things. I got into divination and journaling and deeper into meditation and such to explore myself, and on the other hand I started exploring crystals and potions and spellwork as a way to fix the things about my life that I didn’t like or to attract the things I wanted.
And at that point I kind of expected the results to be different, right? More? Than when I was doing Feng Shui, I mean. That, you know, I was more engaged, more informed, I was more – I thought I was more connected to my desires and intentions, so I thought, you know, now I can just, like, magic my way to success and happiness. But it was… It was the same, right? I did stuff, I did spells, I did sigils, I worked with crystals and candles and cast circles and all of that, way more than just, like, putting certain colors and certain objects in certain places in my house. But the results were just about the same.
Along the way, though, what did happen was that I started to see some huge impacts from doing shadow work. Actually getting down into the root of my identity, my soul. And as I went along, time after time after time I had these breakthroughs about… like, I could do spells to try and attract customers to my business and sell art, which was what I was doing at the time, but along the way in my shadow work I realized that I was sabotaging myself in a lot of ways so my spellwork didn’t do anything. I realized that the way I defined success and prosperity wasn’t what I really wanted, it was what I thought would make me feel worthy and accepted, so all that spellwork had been asking for something that deep down I didn’t want and wasn’t prepared for.
And in the end, the breakthrough happened when I took a good hard look at myself and my reality and closed my business down and stopped doing magic to try and manifest something I couldn’t even handle.
There’s a point at which, if you’re doing your shadow work, there will just be less and less stuff that you look at in your life externally that you feel the need to fix or push or whatever and generally at that point magic will become something more for supporting your energy, setting and maintaining your boundaries, clearing your vision, strengthening connections, that kind of thing. Not so much doing money spells and love spells and trying to impact specific situations, asking for specific things to show up. Using magic to help increase your ability to deal with and transform through whatever situations come along instead of trying to make specific situations happen in specific ways with specific outcomes.
But why is that? Can’t we just manifest our way to happiness without questioning everything about our motivations? And what does this have to do with defiance and self-destruction? I’ll get to that in a moment.
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Now back to the episode!
At the beginning of our spiritual paths, we’re all inauthentic. Everyone is inauthentic to some degree, but I think in magical practice especially we have to kind of recognize that, you know, the draw of magic comes down to inauthenticity.
Our lives, our experiences from childhood onward teaches us that we need to be different from who we are. That we’re not okay as we are, that we need to conform in certain ways. And religion is especially good at that. Especially forceful about it. These are the rules to follow, these are the punishments for not doing that, here are the rewards for getting it right. I think the ideal for a lot of us before doing some deep personal work, deep shadow work, is that our religious life, spiritual life, career, family, relationships, culture, all of that, the ideal is that the limits we submit to, the pressure to be inauthentic is something we can convince ourselves we want, too. That the controls align with the changes we want for ourselves. Like, yeah, I do want to conform to this philosophy, I do want to adopt these habits that don’t come naturally to me, this ideal image that I’m being pushed into is exactly the same as the ideal that I want for myself so it all works out.
That’s… I think that’s how we tend to want to approach things. Because the truth of the matter is that there isn’t a single ideal out there, a single demand for conformity, that anyone really fits into naturally. Like, there is not a single person on the face of the earth who doesn’t feel pressured to change and be different. So the best attainable path which doesn’t require the deep work of authenticity is that we embrace the conformity. Embrace the restrictions and pressure and all of that.
That’s what we try for right up until the point where we realize the need for shadow work and realize that our power rests in our authenticity, not in our power to be inauthentic. And all of us, no matter how far we’ve come on our journey to authenticity, we all have gone through or are going through a time where we searched for that comfortable, acceptable inauthenticity which seemed like something we could maintain.
When I picked up that Feng Shui book, I was in a career that I liked on some levels but which was a fit for a version of me that I thought I wanted to be at one point, a version of me that I thought would have a better life, that becoming that would be a pathway to being happier. I was pursuing things as hobbies that I really wanted to be successful at, but I didn’t have the confidence to really put myself out there fully, so I was trying to be who I thought I needed to be to get people to notice my work, that kind of thing. I was too unsure of myself to really reach out and make friends so I chased the other stuff to try and draw people to me, and all of it was something that, it was a level of inauthenticity that I thought felt comfortable enough that I could fit myself into it and learn to like it.
Like learning to walk in high heels. Not that there’s anything wrong with liking to wear high heels, but for those who aren’t aware, you have to learn to wear them. It’s a different way of holding yourself, different balance, the way that heel contacts the ground is something you have to learn to trust.
And that’s what inauthenticity is like. It’s like training ourselves to wear an identity that isn’t quite ours. It may not be like wearing a halloween costume, it may be more like wearing a work uniform or dressing up for a special occasion or even putting on workout clothes when that’s not what your day to day self is most comfortable in.
Anyway, that may be the ideal, that we find a comfortable relationship with our inauthenticity, but that isn’t usually a long term viable solution. If it is, we don’t turn to magic to fix what’s hard about it. And the need to poke at and fix our lives like a lot of us start out doing with magic has everything to do with the discomfort we feel in that inauthenticity. The more authentic we are, the less we feel the need to poke and fix everything around us and the more we feel the need to heal and nurture and grow and everything within us. On the other hand, the more inauthentic we are, the deeper we get into that space where we feel the pressure to conform, the more we feel the discomfort and start to resent and want to escape from the ideal, especially if we once thought we could comfortably endure it and learn to embrace it, that’s when we get into defiant magic and spiritual self destruction.
And in a moment I’ll get into what that looks like and why it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
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The first important thing to remember is that defiance and self destruction both are the natural byproducts of pressure over time. Pressure from outside to be inauthentic, to change in certain ways so we conform and live up to standards that aren’t ours. They may be standards we’ve internalized, it may be pressure that we have accepted willingly and then started to put on ourselves – we’re really good at that, us humans. But it’s not pressure that we put on ourselves to be more ourselves, you know?
If we go back to the costume or clothing metaphor, this is, like, the discomfort of wearing something we feel we have to wear because we’re expected to and not, like, something we’ve chosen to wear as a means of self expression. Like, even our self-expression stuff might be uncomfortable, but it’s different discomfort, right? I mean, I also do a bit of cosplay, and I’ve created some awfully uncomfortable costumes that I absolutely loved wearing, and it was all of my own choice.
But what happens is that this pressure to fit a mold, it has to go somewhere. And we can do the magic stuff, the self work stuff in a way that sort of smooths that discrepancy between who we are and who we’re being pushed to be. That’s usually where we start out when we come to a magical practice. Magic is especially attractive as a way to help us attain and achieve things we’re otherwise struggling to do, and 99 percent of the time for humans that means looking at those pressure points of inauthenticity. I’m not as healthy as I should be, I’m not wealthy, I’m not successful, I’m not happy, I don’t feel confident, I don’t have certain talents, whatever it may be that we feel could be fixed in life, and that’s where we apply magic when we start out.
Same with inner work. We start out with inner work when we want to fix things about ourselves. I feel bad about myself, I need to be more outspoken, I need to learn to be more like the successful people around me, I’m tired of being angry and sad and apathetic and I’m told I need to be more forgiving and more open and more loving, etc. And we turn to the internal work hoping it will show us how to fix ourselves.
Over time, though, we find the limits to those attempts to fit comfortably into the mold we’re being pushed into. And one way or another, that pressure has to go somewhere. So either it gets released outward, which looks like defiant action, defiant magic, or it gets released inward, which is self-destruction, like turning that mold into a pressure cooker that crushes us. Instead of trying to manifest the things we think we need to be who we’re expected to be, we use it to build our own resources up in ways that go against those expectations. Or maybe we turn our energies outward, going for a more destructive methodology, trying to break the mold itself or push back against the pressure.
And this can be great! It can be empowering and radical and transformative and authentic. We can find ourselves motivated to break down systems of oppression and draw boundaries and release ourselves and even help others free themselves from harmful social forces.
It can also be not so great. We can damage and destroy things in ways that hurt our journey or others rather than help. We can, like, miss the mark of empowerment and self-expression and instead create a whole new pile of inauthenticity for ourselves that just feels defiant and comfortable for the moment and isn’t any better for us.
And the same goes for self-destruction. Instead of trying to transform ourselves to fit into the mold, we can give into and just keep internalizing the pressures, keep trying to fix what we decide must be wrong with us, turning that pressure into trauma and breaking ourselves down until we’ve completely lost our sense of self. Or we can let that pressure break our inauthentic self rather than our authentic self. Self destruction can go either way. We all know people who came out of oppression or trauma transformed and more authentic, more powerful, after they realized that there was no positive outcome in trying to be who they weren’t, and embracing what might look like failure from the outside.
And that’s… I think that’s the natural end game of spiritual practice in general and magical practice specifically. Unless we just bounce from one temporarily tolerable form of control and limitation and inauthenticity to another again and again and put up with this, you know, low level frustration with reality that turns into cynicism and complete detachment and all of that… Unless we stay on that path forever, something eventually has to give. Something breaks.
The question becomes, then, what we want to break. And if we want our authentic self to survive the process, we have to get to know what that is. Who are we, really? Not who do we want to be or who do we want others to think we are, but who are we right now in all the ways we like and all the ways we don’t. Because the truth of the matter is that no matter how much pressure we put ourselves under, the only way to transform and evolve ourselves away from those parts we don’t like so much is to do the deep work, do the shadow work, integrate and claim and accept those parts, and then heal those things.
The more we realize that we can manifest all day long and it’ll never bring healing, the more we naturally turn our focus on the deep self work instead. So take a look at your practice. How much are you really getting from your spellwork? How much is your life transforming? And how much inner healing work are you doing? What pressures are you accepting for yourself, putting on yourself, and what path out of that pressure are you going to choose?
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.