People said things like ‘we had to make our own amusements in those days’ as if this signalled some kind of moral worth, and perhaps it did, but the last thing you wanted a witch to do was get bored and start making her own amusements, because witches sometimes had famously erratic ideas about what was amusing.
“You hold that anger,” Mistress Weatherwax said, as if reading all of her mind. "Cup it in your heart, remember where it came from, remember the shape of it, save it until you need it. But now the wolf is out there somewhere in the woods, and you need to see to the flock.“
The thin witch hesitated for a moment, and then: ‘We look to … the edges,’ said Mistress Weatherwax. ‘There’re a lot of edges, more than people know. Between life and death, this world and the next, night and day, right and wrong… an’ they need watchin’. We watch ‘em, we guard the sum of things. And we never ask for any reward. That’s important.’
“She was almost there. She could feel the weight of herself, the ponderousness of her body, the distant memories of the dawn of time when rock was molten and free. For the first time in her life she knew what it was like to have balconies.” - Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
One of the skills of the witches in Pratchett’s Discworld series is called Borrowing, which Wikipedia defines (via Granny Weatherwax) as “the art of overlaying her mind on the mind of another creature so that she can see through its eyes and steer its actions without it being aware of her presence – and can tune her mind to the point that she can sense the underlying mood of her surroundings (including the mood of plants, animals and the earth)” (source).
This is fairly high-level, as it requires an ability to slip into a light trance, or, as my family has always called it, “spacing out.” Spacing out is getting yourself into a mindset where you’re not thinking of anything and you’re in this deep, comfortable space of blankness. Once you get there, and become deft at maintaining it, you’re able to mentally shift between awareness and unawareness while holding onto that feeling of deep relaxation. But you can’t force it – think of it more so as making space for it to happen of its own accord. Kind of like making a mental nest or burrow. Once you’re there, you are open to Borrowing.
1. Start out by finding something you’d like to Borrow. This can really be anything (animal, vegetable or mineral, as they say), but it’s best for beginners to start out with something that doesn’t move around a whole lot – a tree, a boulder, a pond. Get into a comfortable sitting position and rest your eyes on your subject– the keyword being rest (don’t look at it too hard).
2. Think of something relaxing and simple (even boring), and let your mind wander in that realm of thought. Get lost in your thoughts; don’t try to direct them toward anything in particular. What often helps me is centering on the feeling of the wind sweeping against me and listening to it rush through the leaves in the trees around me, or watching the sunlight play on the leaves.
It may help to entertain thoughts of what it must be like to be in your subject’s position – what is it like to feel the wind in your leaves? How does it feel to be shapeless and fluid, to seep over rocks and settle into crevices, to be warmed slowly by the sun and cooled by the depths of the earth? Open yourself up to the experience, rather than trying to make it happen.
3. Forget yourself – your worries and concerns, your desires and goals, your awareness of your body. Forget that you have a body, a name. Forget your humanity. This can be scary for a lot of people and is the biggest barrier against Borrowing successfully. But once you forget yourself, you can transcend yourself and enter into the awareness of other beings around you.
What does this forgetting feel like? For me, my eyes lose focus and I kind of settle into myself, somewhere between my heart and my solar plexus. I am blank, almost death-like in the sense that I am not thinking or feeling anything in particular; I am pure, unfocused, unadulterated existence. (This sounds pretty lofty and grand, but it’s actually more of a plain, simple experience.)
It’s only when I access this space without interruption that the awareness of other beings creeps into me, or perhaps I creep into them. I’ve been in the mind of a koi, looking upward from beneath the surface of a pond and feeling the cool water all around and within me; I’ve been in the mind of a cardinal, grasping a branch with my clawed feet and feeling the wind ruffle my feathers. Today, I felt my skin covered with large, scaly bark when I slipped into the spirit-mind of a pine tree in my front yard. This awareness was so visceral that I can still recall it, hours later. This isn’t imaginative play – it’s a full-scale sensory experience, and I’ve found that the better I become at doing it, the longer it lasts, the more complete the experience becomes, and the more clearly I remember it later.
When this first started happening, I immediately connected it with Pratchett’s conception of Borrowing, but it didn’t start with the Discworld series. Witches and other magic workers have been doing this for centuries, calling it by different names, most notably shapeshifting.
By Borrowing, or shapeshifting, you can see the world from other perspectives.
You can find out for yourself what it’s like to fly with wings, to swim with fins and breathe underwater. You may even find out what it’s like to be a living flame or a cloud in the sky. You get to know the world outside of yourself and, in a sense, become more a part of it. It’s interesting how, by letting go of yourself and your aspirations, you gain in influence and wisdom. But it’s true, and it’s powerful.
“Granny Weatherwax was stretched rigid on her bed. Her face was gray, her skin was cold.
People had discovered her like this before, and it always caused embarrassment. So now she reassured visitors but tempted fate by always holding, in her rigid hands, a small handwritten sign which read:
She knows about the stones. No one ever gets told about the stones. And no one is ever told not to go there, because those who refrain from talking about the stones also know how powerful is the attraction of prohibition. It’s just that going to the stones is not… what we do. Especially if we’re nice girls.
But what we have here is not a nice girl, as generally understood. For one thing, she’s not beautiful. There’s a certain set to the jaw and arch to the nose that might, with a following wind and in the right light, be called handsome by a good-natured liar. Also, there’s a certain glint in her eye generally possessed by those people who have found that they are more intelligent than most people around them but who haven’t yet learned that one of the most intelligent things they can do is prevent said people ever finding this out. Along with the nose, this gives her a piercing expression which is extremely disconcerting. It’s not a face you can talk to. Open your mouth and you’re suddenly the focus of a penetrating stare which declares: what you’re about to say had better be interesting.