Woolgathering

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I’m naturally inclined toward trance states, always have been, which is probably why I’ve been so drawn to hedge witchcraft – it’s a system that allows me to make use of my raw, inborn skills. I didn’t always call it “trance,” of course. When I was younger, I called it daydreaming, spacing out, being foggy-headed, going out.

The external world goes away, and I see nothing with my physical eyes – the outside world no longer exists for me. Images that don’t exist in my surroundings come and go, words are exchanged. Unfortunately, I often have trouble remembering what occurred when I (literally) come back to my senses.  My husband notices when I “go out” because I get a blank, almost slack, expression on my face and my movements slow down but don’t stop. Then, after a minute or so, I come back. It’s not always a spiritual or magical experience, and it can be pretty dangerous sometimes. I got into a few car accidents as a teenager because I’d go into a trance while waiting at a stop light or driving down the road. Some days are more trance-prone than others, and on those days, I have to work hard to stay present and alert.

Any rote task comprised of repetitive movements that soothe the senses and allow the mind to wander can cause me to enter a trance. Of course, none of these activities guarantee that I’ll go into a trance state every time I do them (and, many times, I don’t), but they do make it possible. I know I’m not unique in this ability. A lot more people get into trance states than realize it. The hard part – the part that requires dedication and practice – is harnessing it and making it work for one’s purpose.

Trance and Magic

The word “trance” originates from the Latin word transire, which means “to cross, to pass over” (trans-, “across, beyond, through,” and ire, “to go”). It’s related to the words transition,translate, and transform, which are active, change-oriented words. One might say that trance enables change.

There are lots of synonyms for this, including the ones I’ve mentioned above as well as “woolgathering,” which is an interesting term. It stems from the act of gathering shed wool from shrubbery, which was seen as a meandering, not-very-profitable task, which people then related to daydreaming (also seen as a meandering, unprofitable activity). But there’s a deeper connection between the literal activity of woolgathering and its metaphorical meaning – gathering wool, being a rote task, can enable trance.

The wool connection is particularly significant when taking into account the oft-cited historical and folkloric connections between traditional women’s crafts – spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing – and spirit travel, spirit communication, and magical work. These actions facilitate these experiences.

Which gives me some interesting questions: what if the magic isn’t in the act itself, but in the state it generates? What if crocheting or sewing or spinning (or whatever activity we do to make magic) are less about imitation than they are, like drumming, vehicles for trance states, in which the crafter/magician/witch enters to give form and power to their thoughts and desires and then release them, make them manifest?

What if spells and rituals are less about what we do and say, and more about what they do to us, what they change us into?

1 Comment

  1. Nuit Heidhr on March 20, 2017 at 10:54 am

    A really interesting thought especially because I look at rites of passage in this way: The ritual is not about WHAT you do but what you are before and after the ritual, what it starts/transforms inside of you…

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