Thank goodness for solid friendships. I entered the Mage's room with sofa cushion in hand and situated myself meticulously on the floor as ze* sat at the computer, clicking intermittently at an unseen game. My eyes weighed leaden like the gaping pit that had opened up in my chest tonight. I was reeling because I felt exasperated by some dysfunctional social dynamics that had reemerged this evening.
[ * Ze/hir/hirs is a gender-neutral pronoun. Examples of use include “Ze is an occultist. I know hir through a friend I met over the winter. It’s something ze just finds funny about hirself when ze’s gaming.”]
The scheme was to stay distinctly sober-ish the whole night, prepared to play a tabletop game and be consciously present, but instead character creation again devoured the night and I drank to cool the frustration and overwhelm that was bubbling in me. I am patient to a fault, but it's ultimately finite.
My recent spellwork had rendered my emotions either a still pool of serenity or an abrupt surge of tsunami, and my unintentional intoxication evoked abandoned beaches and hollering people. I suspected my ability to communicate effectively and gently was running dangerously low. I simply don’t know how I would have dealt with this inner turmoil if it weren’t for the reliable dynamic I share with the Mage.
Sleep slowly seduced me on that white sofa cushion on the floor while ze solicited my attention to some hilarious memes several feet above floor level. I love the laughter we share, but I felt humorless and bitter and too painfully tired right then to cohere my attention in the laser-like way I require. So I explained how I wanted space to sleep the beer off. Soon after, we explored my desire to be woken soon (or not), and then I sank into still, unconscious waters as ze galloped along internet pathways as Centaurs like hir are wont to do.
In hindsight the morning after, I realized that the social frustrations of the night evoked the meaningful way the Mage and I have established a series of protocols for embodying our friendship in mutually desired ways.
There is a beautiful mystery that emerges when friends share a crystal clear understanding. While the Mage and I are both occultists, ze adores chaos and cunning while I adore synthesis and poison. We are distinctly similar and dissimilar in vivid ways. It is like the sea and a volcano finding common ground in the pursuit of company.
In this pursuit, it became necessary to strike the Accord. I wonder if I should call them the Accords, since this Accord is really an ever-evolving body of tiny precedents that gradually color the flavor and manifestation of our interactions.
You see, the sharing of consumable substances is a mutual given. It excludes abstract consumables like building materials, but involves food and drink and the like that are edible and physically concrete. But where gift-giving is simple for food, it is complex for everything else. I offered a magical artifact to the Mage at a gathering of witches and was surprised to see hir accept it. While I'm receptive to birthday and Yule gifts, it is forbidden to return the kindness, for valid reasons we’ve explored together.
I can provide emotional and physical assistance in addressing questions and moving or otherwise refining problem objects, but only when the Mage's own attempts have proven insufficient or my desire for clean dishes is immediate. When requested, Ze will refrain from pranking or otherwise pestering my friends as tricksters do at only the cost of a formal introduction on each initial meeting, which I find delightful in its strangeness: “Hey, this is my friend Jane, and she is under my protection. Jane, this is the Mage.” I know ze savors the mystique this generates.
The beauty of this arrangement lies in its clarity. While I am often electrocuted by the anxiety that crackles while I build intimacy with friends, interpersonal precedents and clear etiquette empower me to act confidently when I know what to do and what to avoid. And a clarifying conversation, a series of questions and responses that cuts to the heart of uncertainty or discomfort has been like aspirin for my worry.
Thus the Accord. It was the very antidote to the tentative, concerned way that I typically approach situations until I have resolved things with a frank conversation. I abandoned my usual preoccupied worry of "Is this rude, or should I ask about it?" along with my uprightness as I plopped audibly onto the cushioned wood floor that night. With the Mage, I feel no concern about inappropriate assumptions or consent accidents about hugs or other sensitive concerns - we’ve likely already struck a precedent. We’ve agreed we don’t need to ask to hug anymore, it’s fine to just do it.
My daddy raised me on tales of the fairy rings and the like phenomena of Ireland that speak of the world as wild, richly emotional, and rife with mystery. As I grew up and studied witchcraft, I learned the laws to follow while trafficking with the Sidhe**, in trance or while awake: to never accept free food or drink, build nothing on Fae land, never step in the faery rings formed by mushrooms, and be ever cautious in taking the words of creatures at face value just because they can only speak the truth.
[ ** The Sidhe (shee), also known as the Good Neighbors, the people of the mound, or the Fae, are a constellation of folk spirits associated with (but not limited to) the Celtic Isles who are fond of striking agreements and possess very particular etiquette about hosting, gift-giving, and other social behavior.]
I also got my first lesson in magickal agreements from the ways of the Sidhe: that two sovereign people can strike an agreement as if they are sovereign nations. I think this is a thrilling metaphor for the autonomy two people bring to a relationship of any personal nature in the process of deeply connecting!
I have learned too much about the variety of personalities and needs in the world to suggest that striking accords will be helpful for everyone, but as a witch I find magick at work in the relational clarity I’ve seen manifested by an Accord. In my eyes, to know where you stand with someone, to approach friendship like a generous lawyer who embraces the spirit, rather than the letter, of law, is a kind of solvent of the firm salt that thresholds two peoples' natures and comfort zones.
I mean law here in a contractual kind of way; that is to say it is mutual, ever negotiable, unique, dissolvable at-will, and completely voluntary. The glue that coheres such an accord is the ongoing consensus of continued interaction and the ongoing negotiation of understandings based on an ever-changing series of situations. Where precedents like this exist, you can optimize your energy with budding friends and save it for engaging conversation and shared activities without worrying as much about being inconsiderate.
I crave this method of intimacy with additional people. One place I have already found it is with a partner who has co-created ‘relationship thresholds’ with me, that is, guidelines to our relationship-related interactions that aren’t firm rules as much as they are points of hesitation and intentionality. When the trajectory of a real-life situation conflicts with a threshold we’ve set, we make sure to talk it over first before acting.
We hoped to avoid veto culture and things being forbidden (common in relationship hierarchy) while remaining intentional about our mutual needs and respecting places of unfamiliarity and fright. Just like a witch’s circle, these thresholds can be undone as quickly as they are cast. And the great thing about relationship thresholds is that I’ve found that they’ve typically dissolved pretty soon after scary situations come up and are processed with fearful partners!
I have also struck considerably more casual accords with friends: such as when friends and I have agreed that we’re fine with no longer asking for or expressing consent for hugs, when we casually feel out whether one of us is covering a meal for both of us or we’re splitting the bill based on variable and unequal financials, or when we spontaneously and informally set a precedent of generally eating together when we meet to plan a community event.
But I’m most fond of the more formal Accord I’ve struck with the Mage, and it’s the kind of accord process I long for most keenly. I yearn for other people, particularly budding lovers, close friends, and friends with benefits, to challenge me to recognize the strangeness and thrill of bridging our universes.
I want them to join me in the direct negotiation of our shared protocols, playfully, compassionately, and intensely interrogating me on what I crave and require from our ongoing interactions, while sharing a conscientiousness of their own cravings and requirements that we choose to explore together through field participation and discussion.
Since not all of my friends are nerdy occultists as me and the Mage are, should accords be struck with others, it will look any different number of ways. But since my attachment style is so very anxious, to gradually contract mutually-agreeable terms dissolves the firm, fierce, cement-like boundaries that encase my heart and presence. It is the only way, alongside mutual chemistry of one kind or another, for me to establish a sense of trust and sufficient safety with someone who was initially a stranger and perhaps a potential threat. In other words, it’s the transformation of stranger, to acquaintance, to friend, to kindred.
I suspect that a mystery underpins this phenomenon of mutual agreement, that the presence or absence of shared intent colors each relationship in its innumerable possibilities. Without intent, toxins erode the potential of the convergence, but with it, our hearts can expand like seeds spread with fertilizer and water.
I see this paralleled in the fairy-faith of Europe, its accompanying body of agreement etiquette and the forkloric awareness humans possess of their essential animality. The lessons of the Sidhe suggest, in my eyes, that by striking accords with desired friends, that we awaken an animal understanding: that, yes, this person is safe, because we have established ways to comfortably share space that efficiently and confidently address our needs.
So this is what I suggest today: if you are feeling stuck with people, if you are feeling that your needs are under-addressed, if you know cool people willing to know you back, but feel uncertain how to bridge your unique and dissimilar worlds, consider loving more like the Sidhe and striking your very own Accords!