When I was about 11 I had a dream visitation by a very potent, scary as shit ‘guy’. But he wasn’t actually threatening me, just so fucking intense that just experiencing him was a kind of terror. My life changed after that, though I could not put my finger on it exactly how. I just had different interests, different thoughts. The years rolled on, and in my late teens I saw some very strange things. Yes, I was often on drugs, but no, that doesn’t actually explain some of what occurred. I cleaned up, and ever stranger things happened.
Some of these were spirit possession. I could sit in the back, way behind my eyes and see that someone else was driving. I could feel their thoughts, experience their sensations and emotions. I was present and aware, a back seat driver in my own body.
In time I met a Witch and a Ceremonial Magician. They seemed to have some clue as to what actually might be going on in the world. I didn’t become a student of either, but they were big influences. Over time I started to practice magic, read a lot, and got to know other magical types.
Eventually I was writing and teaching magic, and finally sort of hit the wall with the definition. I didn’t like the term ‘magician’ as most of the magicians I knew were Crowleyian or Golden Dawn types and what I did didn’t look or feel like that. I wasn’t a Witch, though I knew a lot of them and did a lot of moon ritual and natural magic. I knew folks into Hoodoo, Santeria, Voudou- none of these things were ‘me’.
So I started calling what I did Sorcery, which was a pretty much unused term at the time. In Chaos Magic it was viewed as a particular kind of magic (involving physical bases), and some writers of Traditional Witchcraft used the term. But it wasn’t codified, it wasn’t locked down. It worked for me because it was wide open, and clearly about actual practice.
A while after I started using the term, I moved to New Orleans and met my friends Mark and Pam. Mark developed a perverse habit of introducing me to pretty much everyone with “This is my friend Aidan, he’s a Sorcerer”. This is a kind of strange place to start a relationship! But it stuck, and I liked it as a job description.
In time, as people tried to pin down exactly what I did, I would try to explain that I wan’t doing anything fancy. My favorite way to do this, usually in answer to a question like “so do you conjure demons and stuff?”, was to say, “No, I’m more of a rocks and string kind of guy.”
This was true. My ‘methods’ if they could be called that, basically involved asking spirits that I felt around me for help, and making things out of rocks, string, bones, sticks and other natural materials. Very childlike magical objects. But that shit worked very, very well.
Over time, “I’m more of a rocks and string kind of guy” gave way to a different description: Dirt Sorcerer. It has a ring to it, doesn’t it? Let it roll around in your head and then say it out loud: Dirt Sorcerer.
I can’t claim that it initially meant anything more that “I’m a rocks and string kind of guy” but sounded better. But over time, it gathered a whole lot of associations to me.
“Just lay me out / in my birthday shirt / and I’ll be cool / I was made from dirt”
Said Chris Whitley when singing about his death.
Dirt is all about Here On Earth. And really being here. In it, of it. Not denying it.
There is a lot I like contained within various strands of Gnostic thought. But the piece I don’t really get, personally, is the idea that our material lives are in some way ‘nasty’. That our Spiritual selves are all clean and shiny, and our embodied self is actually kind of disgusting. I see this too in a number of other religions and philosophies. There’s a disgust (and fear) ofbodily functions, with sex, with blood, with death, with birth. With dirt. I wasn't buying any of that then, and I'm not buying it now.
Dirt to me is about bodily need. It’s about soil and life and animals (like humans) and rocks and plants…all the things that live, die, decompose that make embodied life possible. And in the playing of the various roles in the play that will be played out, that must be played out. We live, we die. We eat, we are in time eaten, even if only by bacteria. Procreation, recreation, regeneration and degeneration. We are, as Chris Whitley said “made from dirt”.
So dirt sorcery is the kind of magic one does ‘down here’, down in the dirt, down in the street, in bed with your lover, with a shovel in your garden. It may have it’s transcendent aspects, but the goal is not to transcend this existence. That will happen in it’s due time, there no need to leave before the party is over!
Dirt sorcery suggests instead that you enjoy the hell out of it, this time in this body, made from dirt. Strong or weak, young or old, growing or failing. Living or dying. It’s a beautiful thing. All of it.
There's a dirt floor underneath here / To receive us when changes fail / May this shovel loose your trouble / Let them fall away
Well the mist shall be your blanket / While the moss shall ease your head / As the future is soon forgotten / As the dirt shall be your bed
There's a dirt floor underneath here /To receive us when changes fail / May this shovel loose your trouble / Let them fall away.
------Chris Whitley, Dirt Floor.