Magic is a term that gets thrown around a lot more than it should, largely because very few people have taken the time to work out what it is each other means by it. Magic is very important or even central to the practice of individuals who self identify as witches of whatever stripe and is often the point of collective ritual or worship. While the practice of magic as an act of will and intent is something they understand, the magic that arises from long standing community is not something that their writings or discussions touch upon, save those who have personally encountered the phenomenon to their dismay.
Heathens frequently do not have any magic at all in their personal practice and take part in magic only as part of community practice. Our understanding of the self and soul is different from the hermetic ritual magicians or wiccans in that we really do focus more on the building and strengthening of ties as the point of ritual, hospitality being the tool used to build relationship between individuals, between the folk and the land, between the living and the dead, between the folk and their gods and goddesses. These ties form family into a thing that exists outside the flesh, blood and bone of the individuals involved and power the actions of the Disir, who can and do put their will upon the world for the blood they claim as their own.
There is a thing beyond the family that is important for Heathens and indeed other pagans to recognize, and that is the community as an entity. The term is so often used by racist ass-hats that it has fallen into disuse and deliberate ignorance by Heathens of worth, to our collective danger; the folk soul.
Lets take the baggage of the term “folk soul” and toss it into the rubbish bin the racist dogma itself deserves and use the magical term that Heathens of old would have used for it, the community fetch. A little background for those whose knowledge of the Heathen soul parts is rusty, or not yet fully fleshed out. The fetch is a part of our soul that attaches to us nine days after birth, the traditional time for a baby to be named in antiquity. The fetch is the only part of the human soul that has a degree of independent action during our life, and after our death. The fetch is often inherited from ancestors of blood or oath, bringing with it the blessings or bane of what has gone before. Frequently taking animal form and usable to take us and show us what the embodied spirit may not access, the fetch is a thing that has great power in healing work and divination.
Communities also have a collective identity, and as the community grows in age and power so does its identity or collective soul. A fetch forms for this community that is real and potent, most importantly, it is not something you can choose not to partake in. The mantle of leadership is something that the ancients understood; the role of the sacral king, the community seer, priest/priestess, the war leader, these were things that held a portion of the power of all those who had been called to carry them, and acted as a focus of the communities need as the agent of its will or defense.
Those communities that put spiritual purpose into their actions invest more energy into the collective soul than ones whose purpose lacks the spiritual intent. The fetch may never fully form or develop awareness enough to impact those who inherit the mantle of even the longest standing or largest organization whose spiritual focus is not coherent, while even a young or small organization whose spiritual focus is both coherent and intense will swiftly develop a fetch whose power and character settle firmly onto whomever holds the mantle of its agency.
Do you ever wonder why we burn out so many of our leaders? Part of it honestly is political infighting and endless almost parasitic expectations of a community for shiny things to be put on for them in a thousand glorious forms, as long as they don’t have to pay or work for it. Seriously, not giving us an out on the practical aspect, we still need to do a whole lot better at honouring those who do the grunt work and reward those who create for us. Another part that many people are not prepared for is the weight of the mantle itself, the power of the fetch.
Have you ever experienced the conflict of a second soul whose needs, instincts, and even judgement is different from your own? Have you ever been ridden by a fetch whose will and need admits no allowance for weakness or human limitations in the service of the communities needs. It’s not as fun as it sounds, and really can leave you shattered, twisted, or doubting your own sanity as you find yourself driven to pursue solutions not your own choosing.
The fetch is a real thing, arising from the mantle that settles over you when you accept a role in the community. To be the holder of a community fetch of a strong and magically coherent community is a mixed blessing, for the coherence of the community’s will is itself simply an expression of its potential to seek its own ends.
Strong does not and should not be confused with healthy. Communities that are out of balance, that have strayed from their purpose, or communities that harbour abuses inside their outward shining purpose lead to fetches that are by any standard dangerous and damaging. Some organizations fetches carry the damage of previous periods of strife or concealed abuse to the point that the best intended inheritors are damaged or even broken by the weight of the fetch they inherit.
Why am I bothering to talk about this at all, you may be asking? The answer is that as community leaders, as magical people, we have the ability to act upon the knowledge of what is happening to do a number of things that are positive and effective. Firstly, we can understand what is happening when we take on a role in the community and find ourselves suddenly pushed and pulled by desires and insights not our own. To understand what is operating, to understand that the community fetch is communicating its needs and desires to you allows you to balance your will and judgement with that of the collective, to accept its counsel and decide for yourself, rather than choose between being a puppet or being at war with this unseen thing inside you that suddenly strives to make choices for you. Secondly, we can understand that a fetch that is damaging or dark is twisted by disharmony or outright malice in the community. Address the very real issues damaging the community and see the fetch return to a harmonious and positive whole.
Lastly, sometimes the fetch shows a community has rotted from within to the point that it is a danger to itself and others and what needs to happen is the community needs to be dissolved. Whatever purpose drove the people to collect and join their will has been lost and twisted by so many that those who come later with good intent and focus are simply overcome by the collective pattern of abuse and disharmony so that all positive change is lost in a sea of whatever form of nasty has become the communities accepted practice.
Ignorance isn’t bliss, ignorance is surrendering your chance to change what exists today to make a better tomorrow. As communities, pagans and Heathens are no longer simply tiny whirlpools that come together for a few seasons and then dissipate in the same random chance that brought them together. Our communities are becoming long standing, stable and large. The increasing stability, size and effectiveness of our communities is a natural part of our reclaiming what we once had before Christianity tore down all altars they could not steal for themselves. With this growth come some growing pains and growing truths.
Our community fetches are again growing strong enough that those who inherit the mantles of leadership need to understand the mantles come with not simply the very real practical and material needs and tools to address the communities needs, but with some non-material but equally real forces like the community fetch, the self directing knowable agent of the communities collective soul.
If you have ever held one of these mantles, or hold one now, perhaps this will give you the awareness of what is acting upon you, and provide you the chance to work with that fetch to make a more harmonious use of both of your wills and skills. If not, at least you will understand that what you are feeling is real, and that you do get to put it down when you are done with the mantle, or it is done with you.