California was literally on fire this month, causing a ripple effect of destruction, devastation, and death. While there were multiple fires in Northern and Southern California, the fires in the Wine Country of Sonoma County are set to be the largest in the state’s history.
Recent reports indicate that over 8,400 homes and buildings were destroyed, and an estimate of 42 lives were lost in the Northern California fires. News reports are currently stating that over 100,000 people have been displaced by the horror of the raging flames.The unimaginable fires started Oct. 8, and they still are not fully contained. According to a SF Gate article, the fires are expected to be fully contained by Friday.
While most places in Northern California have seen the toxic air quality subside over the last week, many people are still living the nightmare of this traumatizing and terrorizing event. The combination of winds, dry lands, warm weather, and lots of greenery led to a fire frenzy that continued to spread at a rapid speed.
Northern California is home to many Witches, Pagans and modern Polytheists, including Sonoma County. As the country watched or heard about whole cities being demolished, many people resorted to prayers, spiritual work, and ritual to bring hope to those who needed it the most.
In California, we are not unaccustomed to magic related to weather and especially for water in our drought impacted state. During the fires, social media outlets lit up with prayers for water and practitioners implying that they are engaging in water related magic to bring some relief to the land.
It is quite conceivable that after years of weather magic, the 2017 rain season finally brought us out of the record breaking California drought.
Rain magic and other forms of weather related workings have a long history in many different cultures. Indigenous groups around the world engaged in different forms of prayer, workings, dances, and rituals to ensure the land was taken care of and the people had their needs met. Rain being one of the most essential elements needed for agriculture, farming, livestock and individual subsistence, cultures from those of Native American Indigenous tribes, Africa, China, and many other lands practiced ritualized dances to bring about the rain.While modern customs are very different than many of the old ritualistic practices, I found similar sentiments in the act of connection that exists with contemporary practices of calling to the elements during times of need. Survival and sustainability continue to be an ongoing antecedent to magical acts of rain making.
Although there are plenty of different methods and theories among the modern Pagan and Polytheistic communities the needs of modern day practitioners continue to revolve around these same concepts.
First hand accounts coming out of the most impacted communities are heart wrenching and terrifying. Thousands evacuated and eventually displaced means the air of fear will float around for weeks within the Bay Area and surrounding region.
I had the opportunity to communicate with local practitioner Irisanya about her experience with the fires and the role magic played and the impact it had.
When I grew up in the Midwest, I never thought of fires. I worried about tornadoes and blizzards and things that came with warnings across my TV set. Since I moved to Santa Rosa in 2005, I started to hear about fires, the kind that ravaged lands and destroyed lives. But they were always ‘over there’ or ‘in the mountains.’
I never thought the fires would be so close to my house. I never thought of it.
I woke up around 1am on October 9th. I had been sleeping and smelled smoke. I looked around the house, I woke up my husband to look around the neighborhood, and then we got in the car and only had to drive a quarter of a mile to find red skies. We drove down 12, less than two miles from our house, and saw the Tubbs fire and the Atlas fire begin (or so we thought. Only later would we find out that the fires had started the night before).
Red. Orange flames that were visible from the roadway. Smoke everywhere. But still, it was ‘over there.’
I turned on the news and didn’t turn it off again for a week. Our house eventually was less than two miles in either direction of evacuation zones. And I felt my survival instinct kick in. With the smoke around our house and the lines of cars trying to leave the city, we also left. We packed up our cars with all of the magickal tools, all of the photos, all of the things we deemed important enough to come with us, and the cat, and we slept at friend’s houses for three nights.
But before we left the house the first time (or possibly the last time – that is a feeling I won’t soon forget), I cast a circle around the house, I sprinkled blessing powders and protection sigils around the perimeter, around the trees, around the doors. I asked for the house to be protected. I placed half-filled jars of water around the doorways outside to entice the rain. (Only half-full so there would be plenty of room for more, but in containers so it wouldn’t be too much.)
And when the winds picked up again later in the week, I chanted:
Wind be still
Wind be still
Wind be still
Calm, calm, calm
I chanted it all night, into my dreams, and into the strange sleep that comes when your adrenaline is trying to take over.
I tried to move my body slowly during that day and night to invite the calm. I ate grounding foods, I cuddled, and I tried not to watch every update or jump when the text message updates beeped.
Wind be still,
Wind be still,
Wind be still,
Calm, calm, calm
I don’t know if it helped. I don’t know how many others did similar magick to help soothe the weather. But the winds stayed calmer. And I started to breathe easier.
The air might be cleaner, the fires might be more contained, but there is a part of this land that will never be the same. The people of Santa Rosa and all the affected areas will not be the same.
May the winds in our hearts be still, may we find calm.
Exactly how many Witches, Pagans and Polytheists live in the affected areas is unknown, but we can conclude that there are many who were impacted, and many who did their own personal magic to help contain and stop the fires.
There are a host of different ways that local people engaged in rain magic from the most simple to those the very complex. I believe that the diversity of practice provided an amazing resilience toward the effort to decrease harm.
I spoke to Diana Rajchel, author and priestess, about her recent community based weather ritual to support the fires in Sonoma County. She decided to host the event on Ocean Beach in San Francisco Oct. 11, and put a call out to the public for support.
In the invitation on Meetup.com, Rajchel wrote, “The wildfires in Sonoma are affecting the Bay Area as the dry season comes to an end. If you’re open to working some weather magic, come and join our ritual (please RSVP as there are procedures that must be understood beforehand.) This is one of the oldest forms of community working around – the work for the good of the land and the people. If you happen to have any saved rain water, please bring a little bit to use in this as part of the sympathetic working.”In her discussion with me about about weather magic and the fires, Rajchel spoke about her personal experience as well as the nuances of doing magic for the fires.
Weather magic is a type of working that MUST be performed communally.
It is, arguably, one of the first types of magic ever worked by human beings and much of what rural and Sabbat cycles reflect. It is also very nuanced, and tends to require at least one person with genetic weather working ability…but that person cannot work alone. They MUST have community members with them or the price on their own bodies is very taxing. (First time I did it…very near coma.)
It is also something that can only be done with permission of the land. If the land does not want the rain, nothing we do will make it happen.
Performing the work last week was, as a city priestess, part of demonstrating real care for land, city, farm, and water.
It was also sluggish – I had not obtained permission from the land that had been established in the range of the working. I am reluctant to speak to the nature of the fires themselves because I in no way want to minimize the loss of life, property, and safety – whether the cause was natural or not, I can only hope that a new rainy season will bring about the recovery that everyone will need.”
While some choose forms of sympathetic magic, others engage in devotional style prayers and offerings on behalf of the petitions for rain.
I spoke with Bay Area priestess Ravensong Phoenixfire about doing rain magic. “I lit my candle to Isis, poured her a cup of water, and prayed to her to quench our parched land, wash our air clean, and douse the flames.”
Another Bay Area priestess, Valerie Voigt, spoke about holding “a sumbel to Thor.”
She stated: “I find that when I am too exhausted to raise much power for a Wiccan-style Working, a prayer-rite often helps. A sumbel is basically a sacred drinking-party in honor of a Norse deity, and Thor likes his mead!”
There are a myriad of different theories and beliefs around the ability and ethics of weather magic. Like many different discussions that happen within our interconnected communities, weather magic doesn’t come without controversy and warnings.
In a piece called Weather Magic, posted on WitchVox in 2009, Chirotus Infinitum wrote about the complexities of control and influence when it comes to magic and the weather:
As the story goes, several years back someone attempted to use a little magic to clear up some intermittent rain and provide an upcoming festival with some sun. In true Discordian fashion, a flash flood ensued. Similar stories of failed weather manipulation float around many of the pagans and magicians I have encountered in the area, apparently fostering a general distrust of weather magic. Indeed, the very nature of weather (and of magic) makes such complications possible when performing weather magic – a straightforward attempt at a simple result in such a large system can have unintended consequences. However, the consideration of a few basic principles can reduce these potential problems and make weather manipulation more practicable.
Do practitioners have the ability to influence or control the weather with magic? If you ask 5 different practitioners you might get 27 different answers, and questions about the ethics of weather magic might get you 35 different responses. While topics such as this are complex and nuanced, the reality of magic, prayer, and ritual for the land or for reasons of survival is nothing new.
In the aftermath of this tragedy the need for community support and workings are not done. While people work to pick up their lives and battle with smoke-related illnesses, the impacted communities in California will be working toward the long process of recovery. The emotional and physical trauma of these fires will have a lasting impact on the residents; these communities, which are fighting for survival, will continue to need the support of the Pagan, Polytheist and magical communities.
Thank you to all of those who did their part to help the land and people of California during this time. And to those surviving the impact of the 2017 California fires, may the Gods continue to provide and support.
And a little more rain.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.