The role of homemaker is a vital human occupation, and one worthy of respect in it’s own right. The sacred space of the home, the keeping of the hearthfire, and the practice of domestic magick decentres us from a collective narrative and recentres us on the individual as creator, as well as the act of living for its own sake. Feminism has fought for (and won, in many significant ways) a place for women outside of the home and the right to pursue our passions in ways that befit our unique desires. However, with advances in the rights of women to choose their destinies, other choices become less accessible. The once sacred role of the hearth keeper or “homemaker” becomes a distant memory.
Many of us return home to spaces that have lain fallow during the day, to a silence that then needs to be filled with vital energy. We are often exhausted from an eight hour, or longer, workday. The need to attend to the tasks related to the maintenance of our homes and our bodies becomes little more than an added burden. We take upon ourselves the domestic tasks that enable our working lifestyles, tasks that were once performed by those who cared for the domestic space.
For many, myself included, working life means that the little things become neglected. My laundry piles up for weeks on end. I don’t have time to maintain or decorate my space. I take a lot of shortcuts with cooking, which can mean that the amount of energy and care I spend on my meals becomes limited.
The tending of the hearth need not be restricted by gender norms, or even contained within notions of the nuclear family. The role of caretaker can be linked to affinity and ability. Those who are attracted to the work of caring for a physical place and the people who dwell within it should be free to engage in that work, just as women should be free to pursue work outside the home that most suits our personalities and aims, no matter our gender.
In fact, women are not totally free from their fettered roles as homemakers, and will not be until there is a coordinated solution to the work that is situated within the home. According to a 2015 report by Statistics Canada, “While men reported spending, on average, 8.3 hours [a week] on unpaid domestic work, women spent more than one and a half times this amount — 13.8 hours.” While women may be increasingly engaged outside of the home, the home itself, unless neglected, is still a site of work and responsibility that needs to be tended to and cared for.
The hearthkeeper is one who both builds and maintains sacred space. Their role is to keep the home as a place of rest, healing, and creativity, a place where community may grow in a safe and nurturing atmosphere. The homemaker is the warden of an ecosystem that exists for the maintenance and benefit of the “family.” They are the gatekeepers of temporary autonomous zones of portals to worlds within worlds, of sites for community to take root.
((Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism.))
The history of domestic magick
During times where quick and easy methods of fire starting were rare, keeping the home fires burning was a central and important role for any family. Keeping your home pleasant and warm while others were away was a way to maintain familial bonds as well as the means of life: food, warmth and comfort. The hearth fire has roots back to both ancient Greece and Rome. The Greek goddess Hestia, and the Roman Vesta, were granted dominion over the hearth, and thus the central meeting space of the family. In Roman society, the hearth fire was continuously burning. Those who traveled away from their home would often bring with them a piece of that fire in order to light a new fire, keeping a connection with their homes and families. Furthermore, the Vestal Virgins would tend to the eternal flame, which was a centre of Roman culture and worship. This fire would unite not only an immediate family, but also the whole of Roman civilization.
The central gathering fire has not been limited to any particular civilization, but is a uniting concept among many pre-technological cultures. People may have been gathering around the fire as long as 40,000 years ago, and these central gathering places have fostered human bonds, community engagement, and the resolution of interpersonal conflict. It is locus of communal energy and intention. The ritual surrounding the cultivation of fire has allowed us to thread together our stories, day by day.
By grounding within the home, in the community, with the people we care about, we connect to our history as it is written. In addition to the communal aspects of fire keeping, the central focus of a community is a nexus of intention. It is the thing that allows communal will to be focused into manifestation. If we lack a central nexus within our communities, our collective wills will be scattered and without focus. Place is an essential ingredient in work of this kind, because a well cared for space creates the environment for will to flourish.
The necessity, rather than the freedom, of households to maintain a dual income signals an increasing entrenchment of exploitation of working people, as well as the prioritization of work over the cultivation of the true will. It is a convenient narrative that benefits those who would profit off of the work of others. This necessity for all members of the family to leave the site of the home each day, makes impossible for there to be a continuous generation of energy and productivity within an individual home.
Historically, it has been true within the North American context that in order to make the poor industrious, we first have to make them poor. The industry of the working class is conveniently limited to industry that we maintain for the benefit of others and not ourselves. Work within the home is relegated to a kind of hobby. The problems of the current day are no longer primarily to do with the enslavement of women in the home, but rather the larger issue that we work in order to make others wealthy while our own comforts and basic needs are denied.
Think back to the English commons, a place commonly owned and worked by all people, where the British people’s rights were subsequently whittled away over the course of a number of centuries. “The English commons are a pretty good example of how land went from public to private… New technologies made industrial agriculture viable, wealthy landowners overtook small farms, and displaced farmers found work elsewhere, a lot of the time in factories.” The proletariat weren’t born, they were created. The current system of working for wages, and wages mandating the value of specific forms of labour, is an invention, and one that inherently dismisses the work we do for ourselves as worthless.
This calls into question the purpose of work in our current culture. What purpose is work if what we work to acquire (land, food, purpose) was initially granted to us without mitigation by an Earth that freely propagates? The freedom of affinity, to invest in one’s own well being and growth is something that requires balance. We constantly balance the life of the community with the life of the individual. In our current society, “community” is expressed through a kind of mono-cultural production. However much I contribute to my “culture,” I may still feel alienated and unfulfilled. Our cultural foundations are set up to feed something that is in its very essence other than us.
Not to mention that, “Today ninety-seven per cent of all money is created as debt.” Nearly every time that we participate in the labour market, the money that we are paid further entrenches national systems in debt. By working for wages, we are actually buying into a system of debt slavery. We need to be asking ourselves why work that is done for wages is inherently more legitimate than the work we do for ourselves or for our chosen families. Why is filling out meaningless forms for a bureaucracy more valid than cooking a meal for your loved ones?
The home itself need not be a site of gendered enslavement. Rather, the home is the nexus of an individual economy, one that suits us and our chosen families, that cares for and nurtures our growth and the expansion and actualization of our selves. Because of the importance of autonomous free space — space abundant with community engagement, human interaction and spiritual growth — who tends to and maintains this space doesn’t matter so much as that it is tended to and maintained.
Furthermore, homemaking need not be relegated to those who choose to be a part of a traditional nuclear family model. Those who are called to such a configuration will surely garner some benefit, but a home can just as easily be created by those who are drawn together through affinity and common bonds of care. The home becomes the site wherein this love is enacted, and by caring for the physical space of the home, we also tend to those tender connections, creating a healthy and conducive space for positive energetic relations to take place.
Movements such as homesteading, permaculture and DIY take up the challenge of cultivating a self-sustaining space that both nourishes and sustains the lives, hearts, and souls of the people residing there. It is a reclamation of our sacred right to home. By investing in our own creative potential to manifest sustenance (not just physical, but also emotional and spiritual sustenance), we serve to put the marketplace in its context. The outside world can supplement what we are lacking, but if the void in our spirits is deep and wide enough, we will never be sated. We must invest in the cultivation of physical and spiritual space in order to move out into the world with a sense of wholeness. As such, if we are able to be caretakers of our homes, we may contribute more fully to the healing of our larger society. By becoming more full, we can teach and we can learn to build structures to maintain and nourish ourselves and our neighbours.
Magick within the home can become a deep practice that not only establishes space for family, love, health and strength to be cultivated, but also provides a site for individuals to further their own development. In occult practice, it is helpful to have a space conducive to work, a place that gathers the residual charges of all past works and which can act as a conduit for further work. The physical space of the home can be similar to any other tool. It is able to soak up the psychic essence of those who interact with it. If we are given adequate time for rest, reflection and spiritual growth, our homes will be strengthened. As spiritual objects, the physical space of the home needs more than just the mundane daily chores. It needs cleansing of negative and stagnant energy. It also needs to evolve as the needs of those within the home evolve. It needs a level of commitment and energy to be dedicated towards it so that stagnancy does not move into decay.
Witchcraft in and of the home
Various forms of witchcraft engage with concepts around domestic magick, such as hedgewitchery and kitchen witchery, which actively engage in notions of domestic labour as an elevated class of both creativity and magical praxis. As witches, we have the ability to make and unmake ourselves at will. Our spells and workings allow for us to engage with our lives in ways that nourish our spirits. We can wash the dishes and bring into our work the energy of cleansing as well as the physical dimension of washing.
So many of the witches I know have beautiful and nourishing homes. It is in the keeping of the home that we can further seat our power. When I have balance in my life, I can return to my home as a healing space for my spirit and be recharged after I have gone to task within the world. When my spirit feels dampened and torn, I have the privilege of a home that nourishes and heals me.
The ability of witchcraft to unmake and remake culture outside of prescribed notions of cultural production is one of its greatest strengths and what, as time moves forward, may plant the seeds of revolution. The ability to create new forms of relating, and to engage with energetic work as a felt reality, needs no further substantiation to be taken into account. As it is a path of exploration and manifestation, the needs, feelings and desires of practitioners are elevated in their own right.
As such, all mundane tasks can become sacred and worthy. If I define my own path, I can define my own worth and as such, the things that I do are worthy of me. I don’t need to take on the negative social associations related to housework, or gender, or social class, or anything else. I am able to work to transform those distortions that have taken root in my psyche and replace them with better, more holistically grounded realities. I can take to heart that my work to beautify and cleanse my home has inherent value and significance, no matter what anyone says.
In my own practice as a witch, I try to engage with each aspect of housekeeping by adding an additional element of magickal intention to the act. When I wipe down the surfaces in my kitchen, I try to focus energetically on upsetting any stagnant energies and revitalizing the space. After cleaning a room, I try to stand in the room and send my energy into the crevices to see if there is anything that I have missed. Sometimes, I can be affected subtly by areas of my home that I am not attending to without conscious knowledge of it.
The practice of feng shui addresses the flow of energy in the home as related to furniture placement and design. It can produce a profound difference in the way you feel on a day to day basis, to simplify and work with flow patterns in the home. Simply rearranging your furniture can allow you to disrupt patterns in your own energy flow and revitalize your energy.
Destabilizing “masculine” and “feminine” polarities
When women were imprisoned within their homes, the notion of homemaking could understandably be considered a prison sentence. With greater freedom to venture out into the world, it bears reflection on the state of our homes and who is left to fill them with life. It is not the sole purview of women to nurture and care for men, but rather it is the calling of the caregivers, of the makers and creators to fill a space with love and life.
The nature of feminism is to free women from oppression, but also to elevate the “feminine” to equal status regardless of given or chosen gender expression. Magick can and has served the political purpose of investigating these darkened corners, but also in preserving that which is worthy of preservation. The act of custodianship, of the caretaking of space, is a sacred duty and one that strengthens and affirms a culture.
While feminism has striven to take the feminine outside of the home, perhaps we need to incorporate traditional forms of masculine valuation into the home. We need to inject the notion of legitimized labour into the structure of homemaking. The notions of craftsmanship and pride that have been traditionally (an often unfairly) attributed to the masculine polarity could potentially infuse the home with an entitlement that is granted to masculinized endeavours. Balancing the polarities is what allows us to find the centre pathway, the way of equilibrium.
It is also important to note that the acts of nurturing, of caretaking, and of homemaking can be immensely beneficial for men to cultivate within themselves. No person is a totemic personification of any one gender role, nor should they be. Women need “masculine” energies within themselves, the active force, to exert force and strength within the world, and men need “feminine” energies, the passive force, to yield, to make peace and to nurture. Just because we have organized these notions into the words “feminine” and “masculine” does not mean that our bodies need to take on the totality of these notions. We are all a mixture of masculinized and feminized traits, and it is this mixture that allows us to have balance and health in our lives.
Western culture has often been accused of existing with a hole in its centre. In the current political climate, it seems like the choice is to reject traditional gender roles surrounding the division of labour, or to take up a traditionalist stance that would privilege “the family” as well as prescriptive gender roles and expressions. However, it seems that we should attempt to disentangle our needs from political agendas. We need safe spaces. We need the time and freedom to explore our individual purposes, to take care of our health and well-being and to feel a sense of self-determination.
Not all people are able or interested in duking it out in a competitive workplace or in cultivating a career, and that choice does not place these people above or below anyone else. It may be that those people who do not find a place for themselves within the domain of traditional “work” may be able to flourish in the act of cultivating space and caring for others within the space of domestic magick. Perhaps we should attempt to find a way to let them, not just for their sakes but for all our sakes.
As magicians and energy workers, it is important for us to stake our right to our spaces as the physical representation of our “worlds.” We must free our bodies and our spirits to the cultivation of our will, and the site of the home is an ideal bower for such work to rest.
Image credits: Jim Lukach, Riccardo Cuppini, Susan Smith, HumMelissa _Glee
The following two tabs change content below. Chrysanthemum White Alder
was born in Orillia, Ontario, Canada. She works predominantly in the medium of dance but her practice is informed by her vocal work, illustration and writing. Alder’s work is heavily influenced by occult philosophy as well as her spiritual praxis. She attempts to weave narratives both intensely personal, yet universal and considers art to be a medium of self and societal transformation. Alder completed a BFA at Concordia University in Intermedia & Cyberarts in 2009. She recently completing a residency during the Earth Spirituality Residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point and is currently editing a short work on Occult philosophy for self-publication. Alder lives and works in Toronto, Canada.