As we navigate through our occult and especially our witchcraft studies, we often hear the phrase “to be hidden in plain sight.” For some of us, this philosophy passes as a side note about times past, when witches needed to be careful not to attract violence from the ignorant banal masses. But for others, it is a practice of perseverance in today’s so-called “modern age.”
Conflict around the idea of hiding in plain sight seems to arise from initiates and students who, having had to be “closeted” all of their lives, want to be free and to express who they are. And why should they not? After all, many have worked hard to leave toxic families and religions who view them as undesirable outliers that need to conform (or worse). They, as gay or trans or poly or merely called to The Work, have left much behind to create new family and community. So why should they not be loud and proud? Perhaps they should while living in the vast and crumbling empire that is America, where they can do so in relative safety in certain areas. I would not suggest such actions in places like Afghanistan, India or Ethiopia.
While Feri/Faery does accept and honor all of our “strange flowers,” as Victor put it, identity politics does not a witch make. A witch is fluid and transforming, walking the hidden roads, the roads “out of sight”: the moonlit roads of shadow, not the bright glaring sunlit roads of religious conversion. A witch may be many things, but many things are not a witch.
Now don’t hear me saying that you should repress yourself. I am not. What I am saying is that a witch needs to have the skill of being visible in either terror or beauty, or completely invisible depending on the situation at hand. Dear witches, most of this country does not like you, indeed fears you, and we all know where that can lead.
What does it mean to practice being hidden in plain sight? Unlike the color of our skin, we can hide our philosophies and religion much more easily. I believe that in order to practice this, we must go into “hostile territory”: places where we can practice not being seen, and then pushing that to being accepted and thought of as “one of the in crowd.” This can be different for everyone, but it is best practiced outside of toxic families of origin where one can be triggered and where the family knows of your past and your triggers. It may be that you join a group or club which interests you, say of gardeners who are mostly Christian, or a bowling league that is frequented by people who voted for the opposite candidate that you did. Whatever you choose, the possibilities are endless in this society.
Being hidden in plain sight also gives us a chance to push our comfort level in various social situations. For me, it was my job at a very conservative institution, where all the people who held power over me (from my immediate boss to the executives) were conservative Christians. Every board meeting was started with a Christian prayer. If I paraded into work demanding my “Pagan rights,” insisting on my high holy days of Beltane and Samhain, and waving around all my pentacle jewelry, how long do you think I would have lasted? The benefits of being in that job meant that not only did I not lose my job during the COVID pandemic (still raging as I write this), but I actually paid off all my debt AND got a raise AND was able to work from home. This benefited my family greatly, as I have a small child whom I must feed, and others who depend on my income.
I have been thought of as “one of them” for years. Is this my end goal? To be here in this environment? No. I have other plans that required these steps and which I will be keeping close and secret. My plans are my own.
Hiding in plain sight also is the practice of the fourth power of the Sphinx, “To Be Silent.” I have written other articles about this much-ignored power, and I find that it is often the hardest one for my brethren to follow, as one of the gifts of our tradition is glamour. Sometimes, the glamourer is themselves glamoured as they hold the dark mirror too close to their face! I will never understand those who post images of altars on Instagram or who “seek” students. But I digress.
In terms of application, the power “To Be Silent” and being “Hidden in Plain Sight” work well together. Think of the example I gave of my own situation, where I am thought of as belonging to a group that in all reality would fear and loathe me if they knew the true me. Most witches who follow “To Be Silent” think this means not sharing their workings or spells publicly or even talking about them at all until the Work is finished. Indeed, it does mean that, but it also means not attracting large amounts of negative energy while just merely living your life. Large amounts of negative thought from people will make it harder for you to navigate your life and workings. If all of the people around you, especially those responsible for your income or other necessary areas of life, hate you, then you can consider yourself all but cursed, even if they have no actual ability in that department. Constant hate or prayer has an effect. Being hidden helps to negate the unwanted influences of others, and if you need to strike an enemy or sweeten a boss, no one will see it coming or suspect you. People in the African Traditional Religions (ATRs) know this well.
This brings me to the main reason you should hide in plain sight — Climate Change.
No, really, hear me out.
The humorist Mark Twain is quoted as saying that “History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.” I have found this strangely comforting during the times we live in as I have tried to make sense of the Trump presidency, the pandemic, and worsening climate change. Our times won’t be identical to historical times, but they will rhyme.
So how will history rhyme for us? How will our rhyme effect people like us and what can we do about it? Scientists are saying that by 2030, we will experience an increase in global temperatures by 1.5 degree Celsius or possibly 2 degrees, and it will be catastrophic — hell, it already is. So what happened to humans when we had a similar occurrence? Our last major shift of this kind is called the “Mini Ice Age” and the global temperatures dropped 1 degree Celsius, causing catastrophic climate change in vast areas of the globe, but especially in the Northern Hemisphere and Europe. This period lasted from around 1303 to 1860, and scientists have various theories as to why it happened. Decreased summer solar radiation? Volcanic pollutants? Both? Regardless of the reason, it happened, and society was never the same thereafter. Advancing glaciers destroyed farms in the Swiss Alps, ice seas surrounded Iceland for much of the year, severe famines occurred as traditional ways of medieval farming were challenged and had to be adapted, bread riots occurred, and people experienced mass hypothermia in winter due to the lack of fire fuel, as forests had long since been felled. Winter sucked during these centuries, and people dreaded it much as people are now dreading our summers as we warm the planet. We now have fire and smoke season in the West and flood season in the East.
Due to lack of understanding about climate combined with magical thinking in the majority of the populace, violent scapegoating occurred during the Mini Ice Age. This period was the height of the Inquisition. This was when the Malleus Maleficarum or Witches Hammer was written. (They really REALLY hated and feared our kind back then!) This was the period of the witch trials where witchcraft was seen as a major crime, unlike in the early Middle Ages where it was a minor crime largely ignored by the powers that be. According to the thinking of the time, who controlled the weather and made it bad? Witches. Who made the cows’ milk dry up? Witches. Who made women die in childbirth or not bear children at all? Witches. Who stunted crops or called in locusts? Witches. Many women died as a result of these issues, which were likely to have occurred due to climate change — not by the hand of the old midwife widow at the edge of town that no one liked because she cussed a lot and no man told her what to do.
But you know the story. Of course you do.
This was also a time of religious fervor and change in the West. The period started with the Protestant Reformation and a seemingly endless eruption of cults followed. Many people were persecuted, most notably in wars between Catholics and Protestants, but there were also other victims. Some were horribly killed, from old widows to Jews to foreigners, by the torch and pitchfork mobs that tried to relieve their collective fear, grief, and frustration with the spectacle of violence. How many of these victims were actual witches? Probably not many… or, not the smart ones anyway. The smart witches knew how to hide in plain sight. As the mobs progressed, the smart witches were packing up their wagons and going in the opposite direction!
In addition to the religious crazies (will they ever go away?), this was also a time of forward thinking, science, and enlightenment. In fact, one period is literally called “The Enlightenment,” and there are many influential occultists who emerged during these times. We often look to them as historical Mighty Dead: people such as Bruno, John Dee, Dr. Rudd and H.C. Agrippa, to name a few. Indeed, this was the Golden Age of the Grimoire!
Today, we are facing climate change so extreme that we may not make it through, as well as more dumb-ass magical thinking religionists. We see them from a distance now through the news media or social media; the torches and pitch forks are not quite in the rear-view mirror yet. These low-information religionists disavow actual science for the false prophets of YouTube. They scream that the COVID vaccine will microchip us and 5G cell service will fry our brains. They worship Donald Trump as a God emperor savior of America and Christianity. They have many new/old cults: new in name, old in flavor. There is the cult of Yoga Karen whose adherents eat organic food and try to get Black people killed by invoking the Old South trope of the “violated White woman.” There are the angry cults of the hypermasculine man which worship guns and rape and believe themselves to be heroes fighting against all evil. (I call them the Beer Belly Brigade.) And of course, let us not forget the cult of “Republican Jesus” who came to make us (well, White men) rich.
The mind boggles, but it also rhymes. We are back here to a place we have known before: climate catastrophe. Who are the scapegoats now? Jews, of course. Immigrants. Women, especially feminists. Gays, clearly. People of color. Liberals and Democrats. Could witches also be lumped in with these other scapegoats? Perhaps not in the same way we were hundreds of years ago, but if you look at the rhetoric of QAnon, you will see the “cannibal, devil worshiping” labels being applied to Democrats, Jews, feminists, gays and immigrants the same as they once were to witches. My guess is that we will be lumped in, especially those of us who happen to be gay, immigrant, witch women of color! I think that checks all the boxes, don’t you?
Many, many people believe in these conspiracy theories, and many of them have guns. They are extremely afraid because they are ignorant and they feel that they are losing control. But who can actually control Mother Nature?
The torches and pitchforks are sharper and hotter now, the weapons more devastating. Think tanks have concluded that the main driver behind the January 6 capital rioters was the fear of “being replaced” by people of color. Most of the rioters were upper middle class or elite White men.
In America, we have become fat on ignorance and empire as it crumbles around us. We are a people completely dependent on corporate food and shelter and work. Once those systems are disrupted more acutely (we saw this in 2020, and I guarantee you they will be again in the future), we will see these low-information, magical thinking, angry, fearful people come at us in unimaginable ways. We must not be targets. We must learn how to hide in plain sight. Don a red hat, camo shorts and wear a cross? Gross. But okay, I will do it if it means I can live and get the fuck out of Dodge. Know thy enemy and be clever. Be strategic. There are too few of us as it is.
In addition to hiding in plain sight, there is another concept that has been used to keep witches in the modern era safe, that of the “dual faith observance.” This practice was widely utilized by various witches and covens in England prior to the removal of the witchcraft laws in 1951. (The mediumship/fortune telling laws were not repealed in the UK until 2008. As of this writing, there are still anti-fortune telling laws in some US states.) Dual faith observance is the perfect way to hide in plain sight. Many witches and occultists attended church in the early 20th century. Some were even model citizens that were never suspected. Dual faith observance was also practiced in Europe after the Christian conversions. During the Mini Ice Age, occultists were priests, minor lords and extremely talented craftsmen. They attended church on Sunday, and then on the full moon they did other things.
I am not saying you need to adopt a dual observance and go to church, but it is a tactic, something to think about. The fact that anti-fortune telling laws are still on the books tells you that our kind are still feared. We could be perfect scapegoats for mobs, don’t you think?
Don’t be a scapegoat. Be able to hide. Be able to thrive. Be able to be a safe place/space for others of our kind in need. Don’t “die on your pentacle” as it were. We are not martyrs. We have done many things to survive and we will have much to do to help the Mother and our kindred before we leave the coil of this incarnation.
I write this to tell you that I want you to survive. Initiate, student, seeker, other: I WANT you to survive. More than that, I want you to thrive.
In order to do this, you will have to wear many masks. You will have to be quick and clever, and you will have to learn skills you never thought you would. You are going to have to be agile and not static in the coming days. You are going to have to gauge your enemy and the landscape around you. The plan for your life may not be the one you had in mind. Mine isn’t, but I plan on surviving. I plan on thriving, and I plan on helping this beautiful hurting Earth we all reside and depend on.
I also want to say that even though I may have had difficulties with brethren in the past or we did not see eye to eye, we are still of Her. I offer my hand and a knowing eye to show that I Will Be Silent, and I will help you should you ever find your way to my door in need.
To Will. To Know. To Dare. To Be Silent. Walk in Power. Walk in Her Bright Darkness.