Making Magic: Ritual and Self-Discovery in the Night Forest

Have you ever had an experience that felt inexplicably sacred, where space was being beautifully held, but you didn’t fully understand why? Recent articles like “Season of The Witch: Why Young Women are Flocking to the Ancient Craft, [1]” have been circulated, liked, and shared in high frequency, along with other internet and “IRL” spaces engaging in similar dialogues, and it’s all connected to a larger conversation surrounding access to ritual and self-care.

As huge shifts in the cultural dialogue of power and oppression are happening, the importance of solace and grounding deepens. People can look for this not only in connecting to their deeper selves and values, but also to personal and collective stories and experiences. The question is; how can the space be created that is necessary for these stories to be told?

The sensation is familiar, it’s the struggle to integrate an intuition or a ‘feeling’ with a practice. For many people, and particularly millennials, accessing these parts of ourselves can be confusing. It’s difficult to separate from that highly simulated, televised experience; a character casts a spell and you see something change before your eyes, to make room for a more nuanced perspective and understanding of what that looks like. Creating ritual and the actual practice of magic, while felt, can be unclear.

“I think many people have the experience of being in facilitated space, but may not know how to hold that space or how to facilitate ritual for themselves and others [3],” says Mo Golden, co-creator of the ritual game Night Forest. Night Forest was designed and produced by Mo Golden and Ross Cowman with a team of collaborators in Olympia, Washington, and it focuses on the practice of listening to and sharing memories.

“I think many people have the experience of being in facilitated space, but may not know how to hold that space or how to facilitate ritual for themselves and others.”

In Night Forest, described by the designers as “a ritual game of memory, embodiment and self-discovery [3],” people play a group of “memories.” At the start of the game, each player gets a candle, a book of matches and a card. At a chosen location; like the forest, a field, or an abandoned building, the group disperses. When you’re alone, you light your candle and look at your card. Each card is accompanied by an illustration and a word, which you use to recall or inspire a memory. “You let it appear, change and shape-shift a bit [3]” as you’re moving through space, until you come into contact with another player. At this point, each person stops and takes turns exchanging memories. After each player is finished, they trade cards and continue the journey. It’s a practice of deep listening, witness and communion.

In “Season of The Witch: Why Young Women are Flocking to the Ancient Craft,”  author Sady Doyle states; “There’s something deeply appealing in the notion of being put in touch with an inner source of power that can’t be taken away. Not that this power needs to be something nebulous and mystical.” She then quotes Tarot reader Suzy X from Rookie Magazine who argues, “it can be pretty damn pragmatic [1].”

Maenna Welti, a self-described “witch, astrologer, tarot reader, musician, writer and feminist [2],” speaks to this idea of pragmatism further. In her Healing Wheel Workbook, she suggests “magic is energy plus intention [4].” When we deconstruct it as such, magic and ritual become much more tangible and accessible. It’s a shift in the understanding of magic as something that exists outside of us to viewing it as a power that we already contain. The practice is how we harness it.

“While we have many tools such as Astrology or Tarot to connect us to ritual or divination, these practices are often solitary or focused on one individual. I think the challenge and necessity is how to create and hold that space with other people. Night Forest is very balanced, fluid, opening up the channels so we all have space to be seen… it’s a tool to cut through the social veil and cultivate intimacy [3].” Mo states. This type of engagement with one another becomes particularly important as we face a resurgence of cultural, political and personal tensions. Much of the work we are being called to do requires connection and community, and the dissolution of physical and metaphorical ‘walls’ is a necessary component of getting there.

” When we deconstruct it as such, magic and ritual become much more tangible and accessible. It’s a shift in the understanding of magic as something that exists outside of us to viewing it as a power that we already contain. The practice is how we harness it.”

“A question I keep asking myself is what has to happen in order for conversations surrounding justice to be productive? “ Mo states. Ross chimes in, reflecting; “I think culturally we have an empathy problem…  One thing I love about Night Forest is how it gives us permission to just be silent, witness each other, and be witnessed by one another. To know that you can say what’s on your mind, and nobody is going to be waiting to interrupt you… just knowing that I’m here for you, you’re here for me, and we’re going to share these stories with each other [3].”

The reality is, ritual and intention aren’t necessarily things that are natural facets of how our society operates. Creating human contact and bridging gaps isn’t a ‘given’ when it comes to moving through the world with others, and neither is taking care of ourselves. People have to create and facilitate these practices for them to flourish. Ultimately, each person is already powerful just as they are. The ability to access ritual and act with intention already exists within, from the materiality of who we are and what we intrinsically know and have to offer. Night Forest simply acts as a tool to facilitate that exchange and create the container for the collective experience.  

  1. Doyle, Sady. “Season of the witch: why young women are flocking to the ancient craft.” The Guardian . N.p., 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.
  2. Maeanna Welti: Tarot, Astrology, Magical Life Coaching. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
  3. “Night Forest with Ross and Mo.” Personal interview. 6 Apr. 2017.

Welti, Maeanna . Healing Wheel: A Samhain to Samhain Workbook. Olympia: n.p., WA. Print.