EP 214 WF Benebell Wen: It Meets You Where You Are, And Then It Will Take You To Higher Ground

"There's a specific discourse on the I Ching from the Western perspective, and a lot of that came from Christian missionaries."

Risa Dickens
Nov 2, 2023
43 min read
Witches FoundWitch History
Photo of I Ching The Oracle from Benebell Wen

In this episode, Risa gets to soak in the wisdom and deep research of Benebell Wen. We explore the ancient shamanistic origins of the I Ching, and the ways our ideas, words, and discourse can shutter our windows or open up our hearts.

Benebell Wen is the author of Holistic Tarot (2015), The Tao of Craft (2016), and the newly released "I Ching, the Oracle: A Practical Guide to the Book of Changes: An updated translation annotated with cultural & historical references, restoring the I Ching to its shamanic origins" all published by North Atlantic Books. Benebell Wen is also the creator and illustrator of the independently produced Spirit Keeper's Tarot deck.


[00:00:00] Risa: The Missing Witches podcast is brought to you by The Missing Witches Coven. Our coven mate, poet, Sun, said. 

I came to this coven because nobody else was centering mutual aid and informed resistance like the Missing Witches, but this community is also hugely loving and supportive and full of artists and thinkers and healers who have such a huge diversity of experience.

Even when we're not in circle, there's magic afoot. Also, I have a chronic illness, which makes it really hard not to swear all the time, so I am in fabulous company here. Bless a fucking bee. 

And Coven Mate Jen from Wheel of My Year wrote, I discovered Missing Witches through Queen of All Queens, Jinx Monsoon's podcast.

After reading their contributor covenant, I thought I would give it a chance and attended a new moon circle. As a queer person of color living in a flyover state, I had very low standards. I was used to being burned by performative allyship and virtue signalers.

These witches were different. My first circle was a transformative experience as a solitary witch. Missing Witches Coven is what was missing from my practice. I'm so grateful to be found . 

Anyway, those are some of the people who bring you this podcast. And if that sounds like your people, then come find out more at missingwitches.com. We've been missing you. 


[00:01:33] Risa: I'm kind of nervous. I'm kind of sweaty. It's fine. We'll be fine. We'll be fine. 

[00:01:39] Benebell: We'll be fine. 

[00:01:40] Risa: Welcome listeners, welcome witches, welcome practitioners from all corners of the world welcome rainy days and kids frantically playing hide and seek downstairs, welcome whatever spirits are with you today, welcome home to the Missing Witches podcast, and welcome especially to To my guest, I'm so excited to have you with us today.

Your incredible research is just such an honor to get to dig into. I have been poring over your footnotes and  tables and just basking in the thoughtfulness of your research. So Benebell Wen, thank you so much for being with us on the Missing Witches podcast. Thank you for the research in this super important missing.

book that you are bringing into the world on the I Ching, returning it to its shamanistic origins and putting it in this context that I feel like was really missing so thank you for being here. How Are you?

[00:02:45] Benebell: Hi Risa.

I am fantastic now that I am under the glow of your presence. 

[00:02:53] Risa: Welcome under the glow. My hot, overheating, running around mom glow is all yours. Come and bask under 

[00:03:01] Benebell: it. That's the best glow though, isn't it though? 

[00:03:04] Risa: There's a magic to it for sure. There really is. Yeah, yeah. How's it been for you? Well, one, we have the same publisher.

We work with different people at North Atlantic. But you've been there for all three of your epic tomes. It's 2012. Yeah, how's that process 

[00:03:21] Benebell: been for you? It's been fantastic. And also seeing them evolve because it's been 10 years. So I started working with them in 2012 2023. It is now. So yeah, over 10 years and just watching them evolve, watching them grow, getting them to see them more recognized even in the mainstream and seeing them branch into different subject areas.

So it's been fantastic to be with North 

[00:03:42] Risa: Atlantic. Oh, I'm so glad to hear that. Yeah, we really enjoyed it too. What's that process like for you now? You're, you're this third book. I mean, I wish I could show people, I'll put pictures up, but there is so much like this.

How long were you working on? The I Ching 

[00:03:58] Benebell: book. Oh so when I say I've been at it for 10 years, it's not like, you know what I mean? It's not like I'm sitting there 24 7 365 working on it for 10 years, but of course doing over it for, I would say, well over a decade. I had most of the translations, just the translations part of the Zoe, the I Ching done before Holistic Tarot even was released in stores.

And then I just kept noodling with it and noodling with it. And then, I guess it is, I always felt like, I'm too young to have anything wise to say about the I Ching. And then also, I think that's my own stereotypes. I'm always picturing, like, old men with, like, ears. Or, like, some old white dude in an iron tower who has, like, 55 degrees.

You know, so, I'm like, who am I? to like, you know, comment on the I Ching. And then so then, but then I guess like the more I read different perspectives and different commentaries, I realized it's actually really obscure, the original text itself. And so a lot of what I think is the understanding of the I Ching is one individual's perspective.

And then there's just different voices over the centuries that get platformed and become the dominant perspective on how you interpret these really vague, obscure lines. And so when I thought of it that way. I'm like, well, actually, you know, if you don't like my perspective, that's fine, but I have the right to go out there and put forth my perspective.

So that gave me more of a boost or confidence to then actually comment on the E chain. 

[00:05:33] Risa: Oh, and I, I'm so thankful for that. I'm thankful for sharing that shift in perspective, because you did the research to know. 

[00:05:41] Benebell: The overcompensation. This, 

[00:05:43] Risa: yeah, but also that this, this is an accumulation of. These really kind of hierarchized points of view, like hundreds of years of summary, and now we start to think that this is how it is, but going back into the research to be like, well, that was also somebody saying how they thought it was, and I'm allowed to say how I think it is is a really empowering idea.

What was it like working with your editor? How did they draw the process forward for you? What did they help you figure out that you hadn't figured out when you came to them with this text?

[00:06:15] Benebell: Wow. So I think the biggest one that really leaps to mind So because there's a specific tone of discourse on the I Ching in Chinese and Asian languages, which is fine, that's great, and then there's a specific discourse on the I Ching from the Western perspective, and a lot of that came from Christian missionaries, and then that became the dominant voice in the West when you think of interpretations of the I Ching, and even how the text is translated.

And so when I was doing a lot of the research, I came across some perspectives from, like, you know, James Legge, Wilhelm, that I kind of, even Carl Jung, that I felt like were very, I wasn't, I wasn't sure quite how to talk about it, right? How can I be objective, but still You know, show that it's not everybody's perspective that it kind of distorted what you would get if you received the discourse only in Asian languages.

I'm not even saying Chinese or classical Chinese, even in Korean and Japanese and Vietnamese. When you get it in, you know, Asian languages, that perspective is very different. When it doesn't have that, you know, Western European and it's specifically Christian, you know patina over the over the I CHing.

And so they really helped me work through some of the beginning chapters, how to talk about it. And even like, When I came across things that were offensive, you know, I was like, well, I don't want to include it, but then I don't not want to include it. So what do I do with that?

And so a lot of these questions you know, open ended questions, Gillian really helped me work through that. And so if it wasn't for them, I don't know how I would have navigated it. 

[00:07:55] Risa: Oh, I feel the same way about working with Gillian. The only thing I ever want more of from Gillian is more Gillian, you know, help us push us more.

Can you talk more about those origins of The I Ching, I found that part in the book so thrilling, there's so much I don't know, my, my ignorance here is enormous, so I just appreciate anything that you can share, but talking about the, this sort of, like Twin figures, an ancient flood, they're, they're spinning together 

[00:08:26] Benebell: like that.

Yeah, I want to go to the back. We're going way back. All right. Take me to the bones. Yes. Okay, Risa. Please. Okay. So that would be the Bagua Eight Trigrams. So there's this mythology that we're not the first people. On, on this planet, there was a first people, they got wiped out by a great flood and there were two remaining people, but they weren't people.

They were like people, serpents, they have that snake or serpent dragon tail anyway. So, then there was Fuxi and Nuwa I don't want to say Adam and Eve, but like, when you're talking to Westerners, you're like, oh, I get it, right, you know what I'm saying, like this, this residual two people that were left over, a brother and sister even, and then they repopulated the earth, they recreated humans, and then they also need, because we were made out of clay, you know, us, and so we were like, oh, we're dumb, and so they need to give us intelligence and teach us the ways of humanity and civilization.

So that's what Fuxi and Nuwa did, both bringing different perspectives, different gifts, endowing humans, this new race of humans, with different gifts. And so Fushi, the male version, gave us the eight trigrams, and the eight trigrams was a form of science. So it was kind of like the most first basic periodic table that helped you explain the natural sciences and also the occult sciences, magic.

And so it became the foundation of both alchemy and natural sciences, because you'll see there's kind of elemental, like mountain, earth, water, fire, etc., but they also are the basis of esoteric studies. And then many, many centuries later, you have the Shang dynasty and then the Shang dynasty at the time has the mandate of heaven.

The main form of divination was oracle bones. And oracle bones, what they did was they would take tortoise shell or any bone from an animal like an ox and they put it over fire and when you put it over fire, it cracks and the ones that cracks a shaman priest or priestess is able to read that.

And that was the form of divination. And even that used the eight trigrams. And then at one point the last king or the last emperor of the Shang dynasty was considered to be very corrupt. You know, he, he offended Nuwa. So you know how in the beginning it was the Fuxi and Nuwa, Nuwa is the female counterpart.

She had a temple and then the king went into her temple and desecrated the temple with a very lewd poem and that pissed her off. So she's like, okay, I'm going to cause you to lose the mandate of heaven because she's not. the king of heaven, right? So she's like, I'm going to, you know, manipulate the situation and make it so you lose the mandate of heaven.

So the king of heaven says you are no longer fit to rule. And so how does she do this? She decides to task a fox spirit, a demon fox spirit to go and turn into this beautiful concubine and to like, you know, corrupt the king's soul to such an extent that the king of heaven has no choice, but to give the mandate of heaven, heaven's will to another king, which was king zone.

I mean, King Zou was imprisoned by King Sheng. There's a lot of legends. One of the legends is that the fox spirit knew that there was something up with this King Wen. So she told the last king of Sheng to imprison him. While he's in prison, he takes Fuxi's eight trigrams, stacks them together. So now you have two trigrams.

That together, they form the 64 Hexagrams. He uses the 64 Hexagrams as a divination system to then receive the mandate of heaven. So once he did that, he receives the mandate of heaven. And now his clan, his lineage now has heaven's will saying you guys will be, you know, the next rulers. So then he ultimately, you know, fast forward, there's a, there's a big war and he overthrow

He overthrows the Shang dynasty and becomes the king. That's where the Yiqing came from. And that's where the Yiqing came from. 

[00:12:17] Risa: So what does it mean to you? Like, just your feeling based on this research or based on your own practices these days, that these were Given as a tool or devised as a tool, tell me which is right, to communicate with the spirits of heaven, like, and what does it mean that they are that each line broken or unbroken is, is, is feminine or masculine yin or yang?

Like, what does that tell us about beliefs about the, the messages in, in, in the universe or the living text of the universe? How does this, how does this really help us? What does it do? 

[00:12:53] Benebell: There's a lot to unpack there. So I think for one, I would say it's received. We always talk about it as being received because, you know, you have heaven.

We are here on earth. So we receive the divination. So King Wen received the 64 hexagrams. Fuxi received the eight trigrams from, from heaven or whatnot. And then from there, the, the lines. So I think when we say one is masculine, one is feminine, there are a lot of things that we can say about that.

One, some people do have that perspective and I think it's more how we observe people, right? So when we observe people, people are socialized in a particular way. And then we say, Oh, this is feminine. People are socialized a particular way. We say that as masculine. And so it's more of how we observe. human behavior and then make these categorizations and then go, Oh, let's equate this and have a correspondence over to something that is more of an objective, fundamental science.

So whether or not that fundamental objective science is the yin line is feminine and the yang line is masculine, that's up for debate. Either way, though, we do have a pretty unanimous agreement that when we're talking about humans, humans are not yin or yang. We are a combination of yin and yang, and that you might veer more toward yin dominance, or you might veer more toward yang dominance, or you might be harmonized between the two.

Exactly like these 64 hexagrams, you have very different proportions of yin and yang lines. Now, yin and yang are the fundamental zeros and ones, the basic building blocks of all of This universe. So the best way to explain it as a metaphor is if you think about the virtual world, virtual reality, ultimately, what we see, this is all very pictorial, right?

It looks like this world, this universe, we're even talking to each other. I can see your beautiful face. But then ultimately, what is happening is all zeros and ones. It's all code. And so that is what the I Ching is about. It's about binary code that forms images, shang, pictures, and then forms building blocks and creates this chemistry that becomes the universe.

Why I love it so much is because to me, it connects me to the legacy of my ancestral lineage, my heritage. And so to me, that's a very superficial reason for loving the I Ching, but it is what it is.

And so that connects me to my roots. And so that's why I really love it. And then also I find that it's. It's so timeless, no matter which century or which civilization, which religion, which culture it finds itself in, whoever is looking at the I Ching, they see themselves, they see their own perspectives.

And not only that, it meets you where you are, and then it will take you to higher ground. It takes you to where you want to go. So that's something really incredible about just the device or tool itself. 

[00:15:32] Risa: Has your experience or the ways that you use it changed in the last 10 years? 

[00:15:38] Benebell: Yeah. I think it changes with our own philosophy on the occult, occult philosophy and just how we interact with the spirit world.

I think when you're young, you have this perspective of, if I can, I will, or I'm going to experiment I want to see if I can do it. Right. And so you're, you're very adventurous without a lot of wisdom and you want to, Try an experiment with any form of spirit contact any form of occult practice.

And so I had that same adventurous you know hasty rash philosophy with the I Ching as well. How far can I take this? How far can I go with the device? And then, I mean, at some point, I think you, you just hit this age, right, like this crone age, if you will, where you just scale back and it's more about self reflection and harmony and living in harmony with the world around you.

You just want peace. In all aspects, all, you know, all definitions of peace. And so just because you can, doesn't mean you will or do, and you really learn to lean into that philosophy. So for me now, the I Ching is more of a philosophical self reflection tool. I like to read it as scripture before it was more about seeing what it can do.

[00:16:53] Risa: There was definitely a period in my like, very anxious early working in like, bad tech startup days where like wanting to get out of that world. I think I consulted it, just like online, not really knowing what I was doing, like 12 times a day when I was trying to like, get the courage to quit my job or to change my life.

And obviously, Consulting it that many times is not useful. Like, this was like an anxious coping strategy. But I also felt really comforted by the different results I would get because I always felt like I understood things are going to keep changing and I can watch how things change in the people around me, in the around me and I'll find a way through.

That's always been something I felt was there in those messages. Can you talk about, you mentioned That's brought you closer to your ancestors and you do offer a way in the book, probably not for people who are not from somewhere in Asia, but a way of connecting with your ancestors using the I Ching.

Can you talk more about that? 

[00:17:51] Benebell: I interact a lot with Asian Americans who don't speak the language anymore, and they aren't always as attached to after 1 or 2 generations in terms of their ancestry. They don't really have that connection anymore.

And then if you talk about mainland China. I think it was the 50s, 60s, and 70s, where you were required during the Cultural Revolution to burn all of your family trees, all your family books. And so, for example, because my parents are from Taiwan and they escaped that, we have books of, it was a cultural practice to, you know, keep a family tree.

And so I know my family line back 27 generations. I know how they traveled and migrated from northern China to the south. And how they migrated over to Taiwan. My husband is mainland Chinese and he was brought up during the cultural revolution. He was in Tiananmen Square when Tiananmen Square happened, but he was a kid.

And he has a really interesting perspective of what happened during Tiananmen Square. from the perspective of being of a kid right there. But like so because he his family was required to burn their books beyond his grandfather.

He doesn't know his family at all. Yeah. And so when you have people like that, they want to connect to their ancestry. How? And I found that the I Ching as a divination tool and a communication tool is a fantastic way of being able to connect to that ancestry and, and establish that connection and that pillar again.

[00:19:16] Risa: I was thinking when I was reading your book, there's. There's something so... canadian culture, there's something about it that wants to forget in a way. I think because we're on stolen land or, you know, and we have this sort of generational trauma, but yeah, similar to your husband, I guess, although without the the violence, the cultural revolution, we just passed grandparents or great grandparents names kind of are just gone.

There's no, there's no keeping them. So finding practices for reconnecting with that. It's really, I think a way to find some. I don't know, liberation or some calm or some perspective, which I think we could all use more of these days. 

[00:19:57] Benebell: Yeah, absolutely. And then even one of the proverbs in the Daodejing, which is another one of the mystery Daodejing it says the more you want to know about the future, The more you need to know about the past.

So it's proportionate increments. If I want to know X amount into the future, then I need to be knowledgeable first before I even adventure that way to know X amount into the past. And so it's fascinating how, if you think about it that way, then as practitioners, if you. If you believe that, then it's a requirement to know your past to know your legacy, not just the history of your family, but the history of your people, the history of this planet of the land that we're occupying.

So this is really fascinating axiom, if you think about it from a practitioner perspective. 

[00:20:45] Risa: I like an empowering perspective that gives me homework. I think that's right. It's good. Speaking about sort of knowing our past. There's one figure in your book that I started to read more about, can you talk to me more about.

The Queen Mother of the West, or the Great Mother of the West, and how this, goddess from the numinous void connects to how we think about the I Ching. 

[00:21:16] Benebell: Yi Wang Mu the Queen Mother of the West. So one of the most fascinating aspects of her is she doesn't have one manifestation or like just what, like she evolved.

And that's one of the things that I really love about Eastern perspectives of the divine and deity. There's an evolution. You have a lot of who we now venerate as deities or divine figures, but they were once human. They were once mortal or there's evolution from Bodhisattva to Buddha.

There's always this idea of like, it's not like you are a goddess and you were always a goddess infinitely and timelessly. There's an evolution and a growth process in the divine as well. So there is the mythology that she's part of the primordial chaos that came before time and space. So before the king of the heavenly father, the heavenly in heaven and earth before heaven and earth were even created before yin and yang, there was this queen mother, primordial goddess.

And when we picture her in that dark goddess manifestation. They usually picture her feral, like a wild woman, hair like crazy out and all that. She's either wearing animal skins and bird feathers, or she's part animal, or she has like sharp tiger teeth.

We literally picture her as a wild animal. Like, Literally. You know what I mean? Once there was heaven and earth and there was, you know, the civilization form, she self cultivated and became a celestial goddess on Quinlan Mountain and like an immortal goddess. And then when she became an Empress figure, she's all like in beautiful dresses with a crown and like super elegant and beautiful.

And it's like, okay, whatever. But like, you know, 

[00:22:52] Risa: sure. We'll do that too. 

[00:22:53] Benebell: That part aside, you know, it's really interesting to see the evolution of how we. Picture her, you know, and so as that goddess figure in heaven, she is often invoked the patron goddess of shamanists and shamans. And so because, and then she has a specific, a specific realm in her kingdom on Mount Quindlen just for shamans and shamanists.

And so because of that there's just that close connection to her as a guiding divine figure. And then because everything's connected. people, who are the people most likely, likely to use the I Ching as a divination tool or as an occult device? Well, the shamans and shamanesses. So that's where that connection comes from.

But it's also a very controversial perspective because if you talk to those who are more in the I Ching scholarship field, oh, this is scholarship, this is philosophy, especially a more masculinized view of the I Ching, this would be considered very controversial. 

[00:23:46] Risa: Was that part of your intention, or is that part of your interest? it does seem like when I've tried to read things about the Yi Qing in the past, I don't have the context to properly know, but I had this, like, vibe that I was wading through patriarchy trying to get to something, and it was really hard to understand, where I felt like in your book there's there's always An attention paid to a female leader or to a female priestess or there's always like you're always bringing those people in, in this sort of playing field way where I don't know it feels like calmly radical.

[00:24:23] Benebell: It's 

not something I brought in. I think it exists. It pre exists in the I Ching. Even when you think about the history of King Wen, King Wen himself talked about how important the wise counsel of his mother and his wife were. Right. And he always, like, he's very quick to attribute his wise counsel to his mom and his wife.

And he keeps saying, I couldn't do it without my mom and my wife. And then the counter, the negative point, if you think about who brought down the Shang dynasty, it was a woman. So the negative aspect of female empowerment and female influence is also there in the stories as well. You have all these stories of, of well known shaman priestesses who advised the kings, and they were generals as well.

They, they were generals that led armies. And so, I think it was always part of our culture, Confucianism did sort of underscore patriarchy. And then when you have these books migrate westward through the Christian lens, it gets even more patriarchal. A lot of the feminine aspects and even the stories of female leaders, the stories of female practitioners, female priestesses that led entire Daoist lineages that became some of the most well known lineages in Chinese history, that gets erased when it goes westward.

[00:25:40] Risa: Can you talk more about these Taoist lineages with women at their center point I'm interested in changing goo and so I've been reading about her and the culture around her. Can you tell me what you know

[00:25:52] Benebell: she's part of a triple goddess I guess we use the word cult, but not cult as in the negative, but cult as in a group of people who have a religious order and perspective. There's Three who were Taoist priestesses at some point, so humans, and then they evolved and became immortal goddesses, and then the three of them together, it's a lot like this holy trinity concept where the three are venerated as one, but they also represent different facets of magic.

 And so, the one you're talking about, Ling Sui Fu Ren, she is a goddess or Taoist priestess, shamanist figure that people will often venerate or invoke it's a form of journeying to the underworld. Descending into the underworld to be able to connect to their own homeland in the underworld.

[00:26:39] Risa: I love the idea of a homeland in the underworld. Yeah, isn't that cool? Do you feel like you have visited that before in your own workings? Do you have a personal relationship to that idea? 

[00:26:49] Benebell: Yeah, I do. I use a different process. So what my mom does, what we do is dream work, you do certain recitations and meditations before you go to sleep. And then while you're sleeping well in the sleeping world, that's when you visit. And then when you wake up, you kind of remember where you were. So it's like, Cross between actual dreaming or lucid dreaming.

But that is sort of more of the methodology. If you had to put a label to it, that would be the methodology for descent into the underworld. So there's different ways of descent, but that was the one that I grew up with. 

[00:27:20] Risa: What do you think about the idea of cultural appropriation?

You share so much wisdom from across so many different cultures in your work. In a really generous way. What feels appropriate for white people, settler descendants to engage with, you know, sacred traditional practices?

[00:27:43] Benebell: think I'm still working through that. I have a lot of conflicting opinions. I think by my nature, and I think this is true for the nature of a lot of Native practitioners, we want to share. And I think when somebody, not from your tribe you know, not from your, your people, right?

When they're genuinely interested in your Native practices, that makes us happy. Like, I think it genuinely lights you up. Like, wait, you think this is cool? Like, what? You know, like, it's, it makes you super happy and you just want to, like, throw everything at them and share everything. And then at some point, you realize you fucked up because somebody who shouldn't have gotten a hold of it gets it and takes it in like the wrong direction. And as it is with human nature, it's the 1%, the 1% of rotten apples that ruins it for the 99%. So 99% of the non-natives who practice it, it's welcomed, it's loved. It actually makes us feel good. I feel like it amplifies our practice. And I also think there is a humility that Native practitioners can adopt in how we learn from non Natives practicing our Native practices because they see something that we don't necessarily see. You know, even when you think about, so when you read how, for example, like if you ever are interested in reading about how Asians observe Western culture and comment on Western culture is the most fascinating thing, like you weirdly learn things about your own society that you might not have thought of because you're so entrenched in it, right?

So same when I read what Westerners have to say about Eastern practice, I'm like, Oh, oh, really? Like, I never thought of it that way, but that's kind of a really cool way. And so if you have the humility to accept that lesson, that teaching, you learn a lot about your own practices and your own heritage.

But I think in terms of cultural appropriation, like it's always that one person that ruins it. And then even in terms of like how I Ching came West, right? Like, I'm very grateful that we had the forefathers, when I have to say it, like father, the forefathers who brought it westward and really were able to put it in the hands of Western occultists.

And we can see how it got synchronized into Western occultism and Western philosophy. And it's a beautiful thing, but how it got there, right? Like it, it required the stripping away of a lot of the cultural native legacies of what the I Ching actually is, and a bit of a misinterpretation of it. And then so once you get into the West, like it became so embedded with one single perspective, the Wilhelm and the like perspective.

This is the one and only way to interpret the I Ching. That when an Asian person who is studying it through the native lens comes West. And says, well, no, that's not the whole picture. Like, I don't even understand that picture to be completely honest. You're the one that's wrong, right? Because you don't have, you know, a degree in East Asian studies from Harvard.

And because of that, you're the one who's wrong. Whereas if I studied Wilhelm's book and I have five degrees from an Ivy League, so I know more than you do. So then like, is that cultural appropriation? I don't know the answer, but like, it does create a conflict, like a tension that I don't know quite how to reconcile.

[00:30:54] Risa: Yeah, me neither, but that's such an interesting perspective on it. there's so much I want to learn from you, which is really fun. An exciting perspective always to get to sit down with someone who I'm just like awed by the research, I guess, but also I want to pull back and be like. How do you do this? Like, physically, how do you do it? Because you also are, as far as I understand, still, like, full time, very intense lawyer job.

You're lawyering. I'm lawyering. You're lawyering, like, all the time. I am. 

[00:31:28] Benebell: I'm in healthcare law. I'm not doing healthcare law. So relaxing. I was doing healthcare law during COVID.

Shit. Yeah, that, that was a, that was something. Do those 

[00:31:39] Risa: worlds interact at all? Like, do your occult studies and your writing and research there and healthcare law, I mean, they, they interact in you, in the body of you as a person, but do you, do you think of, do you draw on one world or the other? 

[00:31:53] Benebell: Myself, yes, for sure.

But in terms of the physical, right, the communities, like your social circles, I keep it as separate as possible. And I don't talk about one in the other But I think as a person, we all do whatever your educational background is, your family background, your culture, everything, they all kind of like mix together and every single decision you make and all kinds of mixed together and influences even how you think about or process things.

[00:32:21] Risa: Do you ever turn to the I Ching when you're trying to figure out what a client needs to do next?

[00:32:27] Benebell: No, I don't think I had to like it's not that. Okay. It's not that clients aren't that they're of course important, but it's more like I think I can rely on legal analysis to solve the problem. Yeah. I think when we when we lean into the I Ching, it's. Because I don't have access to solving the problem in the mortal physical world.

And so if I have the tools in the mundane world to solve the problem, I don't necessarily see the need to lean into the other. But like a little funny, you know how when you review a contract, the process of reviewing a contract is to kind of like spot the issues.

So you have to spotlight where the problems are and then like red line or flag them in the comments. And so you're always kind of insecure. Did you catch all the issues? Did you catch everything? Is there more for you to catch? So I don't necessarily use each thing because the process is too, like, too long.

And I take I Ching a little bit more seriously than I may the tarot. So I will draw tarot cards. To see whether or not I'm done redlining a contract or if there's more issues to spot a little like like silly things like that I'll use divination for but yeah, I do try to keep them fairly separate.

[00:33:39] Risa: Yeah, that's fair and super interesting. Has your thought about like. Fortune telling or divination changed. I know you talk about it sort of in one way in the tarot book and then it seems maybe like you think about it differently now. 

[00:33:56] Benebell: I don't think my perspective within me as a central pillar has ever changed.

I think it's more I understand that people use language differently. So, When people and then also, there are a lot of reasons I talked about fortune telling the way I did in the Tarot book. Some of it came from a legal perspective because so many jurisdictions still have anti fortune telling laws. And so if you take Tarot out of that category of fortune telling and put a new patina to it, and you, you sort of reshape how it is presented, you can legalize it in places where there are anti fortune telling laws.

So you're saying I'm using a tarot in a way that's not fortune telling, therefore it is not illegal for me to practice, you know, in addition to it being for entertainment purposes only. Eye roll, right? Yeah. So, I mean, that was kind of the perspective I was coming from, and that's actually what the law does all of the time.

What lawyers do is, if you really look at, there's so many examples where something, because of the way it's presented and spoken about, it's illegal. You don't change it at all. The practice is 100 percent the same, but you bring a lawyer into the picture and they re reshape how you talk about it. They repackage and put a new paint job on it and present it as something else.

Suddenly, what was illegal, the same exact action is now legal. Because a lawyer repackaged what it is, and so that's a little bit of where I was coming from when I was talking about the tarot and holistic tarot. And my mom is very much a fortune teller. She's very much, she calls what I do fortune telling, and I can't get over this.

I keep telling her what I do is not fortune telling, and she's like, well, it looks like fortune telling. Right. It's just that we have very different vocabulary or we use vocabulary. Like what is a witch like? That's a good question.

What's a shaman? What's a shaman is what's a priest who, who can call themselves a priestess? And so I think for me it's just how I was using language differs from how a lot of other people were using language. 12 years ago I was probably a little bit more stubborn and, and, and like, this is my way and my way is.

Right. And you're wrong. And I think, you know, aging kind of like eases you up a little bit. Right. 

So like a 

decade later, I'm just like, Oh fuck it. Like, what are you? I'm fine. I'm a fortune teller. Whatever you want to call me, that's like on you. I am fine with it. So I think it's more about just like relaxing around how other people perceive you.

[00:36:23] Risa: I feel like that about the word witch too, for sure. Can you, right? Yes. Okay. Can you talk to us about the word witch, priestess, shaman, you brought this up. Like how does this, how does this work across history? Bel No, I won't do that to you, but I love how much you love and I want you to just think out loud about 

[00:36:47] Benebell: it.

There's been so many different perspectives. Yeah. You know, so I think the first perspective, I guess is I don't know how, which in English is translated into Chinese, for example, even in any, in Korean, from a lot of my Korean friends have like, I don't know what which is in, in Korean either. And so you see a lot of that, right?

Even in, in, in Tagal and in the Philippines, you know where in, in Southeast Asia there are a lot of practices that really, really look like, you know, sort of black and white. Textbook witchcraft, but then in the native languages, it's maybe they call it shamanism and there's a lot of ways that we talk about it.

That's different. And even like before you even do, you know, cross cultural translations. Do people in the English language have an agreement on what the word which means or what the word shaman means? Can shaman only be used in specific cultural context in specific traditions or is shaman a loan word where you can actually use it to describe a very generic practice like we haven't even necessarily reached a unanimous agreement and now you're transporting it out and trying to find an equivalent translation in different language.

It's just not going to happen. And so I think that's the first and foremost, but what we do have, we have wushu. Wushu is either witchcraft or shamanism. And it just kind of depends on who you talk to, but it's probably a little bit of both. And then like people who are witches, I think they're like, Oh, I get it.

Because a lot of the practices, witches due no matter what the culture is, is kind of shamanistic. And so the fact that we don't have, like, these separate words for it kind of makes sense. Where it's this one word that encompasses both the concept of shamanism and the concept of journeying and spirit contact and the concept of witchcraft.

Which is more like, you know, the down and dirty spell crafting and mixing ingredients and, you know, hocus pocus, abracadabra, that kind of thing. Now I sound like I know nothing about witchcraft. Hocus pocus forever. No, you're good. Keep going. And then so, and then even in terms of the idea of like like black magic, white magic, which I don't like, or dark or light, malicious or baneful, baneful witchcraft, or what's that?

Benevolent? I don't know what the opposite, or good, white, whatever. So like, even those concepts, it depends on who you ask. You know, I think you will talk to Asian practitioners who really believe it. If you look at Mongolian shamanism, I think one is called golden yellow, and then the other one is called black.

And that's sort of the terminology they use based on the intention that is put behind the craft. And then in Asian culture, like my mom's generation believes that if you do what we do. But you do it only for good, then you're a 仙姑, and there's a word for that. And then if you're doing what we do, but you know, you're willing to do curses and hexes and baneful magic and forms of poison magic, then you're a 巫婆, or 女巫, there's different words for it, you know.

And upo, that's another word. So upo is basically witch, or that's how it gets translated. It's also very feminine. So it takes a word, u, shaman, which is gender neutral, adds the word po, which basically means crone, like old, like old lady, mixes it together and has this word. And for multiple generations, upo, like a, like a female shaman who was a little bit older in age.

Was a very negative in derogatory term for any female who practiced witchcraft or shamanism, so you can look young, but if they want to use a derogatory term, they'll call you an upo. However, my generation and the younger generations now are trying to reclaim the word upo.

So you'll see a lot of people now self identifying as upo and not in a bad, insulting way, but they want to reclaim. The power of the word. So it depends on which generation you you're interacting with whether or not is really derogatory. And don't you dare call me that or I am self identifying proudly as really is generational at this point.

[00:40:49] Risa: And when you look at the history in China specifically, do you see times when what was illegal in terms of those practices was gendered?

[00:41:00] Benebell: Yes, but they call it different things. You know, so it's, it's not like the same thing like if I'm, if I'm, you know, a scholar, like a high class, you know, noble scholar born into aristocracy doing witchcraft or doing something, whatever this one thing is, that's legal. And then the, the peasant housewife in the village doing the same exact thing is.

illegal. It's because of their gender. It's more, they call it different things. So the very fact that I'm a woman in a village, what I'm doing, the very fact I'm doing it by its innate definition is something that is illegal. Does that make sense? And then, and then like, if I'm you know, a male scholar who has passed the imperial exams and I'm doing something, it's alchemy.

Right, which is beautiful and wonderful. And it makes me a smart person. And so, so the very, even though we would say it's the same thing they would call it two completely separate feet fast shoot to completely different practices. And then say this practice, because of the fundamental innate nature of who's practicing it, such as poison magic for the longest time poison magic was only associated with particular.

Ethnic groups, the women in particular ethnic groups, and they were, of course, marginalized ethnic groups. And so poison magic was considered that, but then the practice itself is using herbs with incantations to do things that could potentially poison or harm others. And so obviously there was a similar practice among the literati and the elite, but that was not referred to as ghoul, it was not referred to as poison magic, it was just alchemy.


[00:42:37] Risa: Exactly what I was wondering. Yes. Thank you so much. That's so interesting. Okay, folks, last, last chance for questions, 

I'm super excited to meet you. 

I shared in our in our online circle, I did a a new moon weaving that was inspired by work of Sarah Godestiner to do a new moon weaving on the new moon and utilizing a tarot deck by Elise Orsa that was specifically for spellcrafting. But then I consulted your holistic tarot For the meaning that I needed to take and infuse into the weaving and I can't thank you enough because it came together.

It was wonderful. It's so awesome to get to 

tell you that. 

[00:43:21] Benebell: Oh, that's so cool. Thank you. Thank you. I really love holistic. It's still one of those books that I'm like, you know, it's, it was a really, it was good for what its purpose was. I've been talking to North Atlanta. Like, you know, it does need a bit of an update, you know, like it was written in 2012 and it shows.

You know, and so like, I do hope for the opportunity to be able to put out a new edition that does kind of update it for the 2020s. What kinds of 

[00:43:49] Risa: things do you think you would add? 

[00:43:51] Benebell: I mean, I think I'd have to comb through it from beginning to end again, but I think - gender, for example, is a big one.

I think how we talked about gender in 2012 is very different from our understanding now. I think it's not that we've changed that much in terms of our fundamental beliefs. I think it's more just like being able to use those terminology in ways that's more inclusive. I think that part we weren't as sensitive to, you know, just 20 years ago.

And now we're being like, Oh, you know what? That's, we see it already in, in those preexisting terminology. We just didn't open ourselves up to understanding that. I want to be able to update that. Yeah. 

[00:44:31] Risa: I know what you mean. It's, I can't even look at our, I mean, I like to look at our books, but I, I would endlessly rewrite them given the opportunity, you know, 

[00:44:41] Benebell: agreed 100 percent for sure.

[00:44:43] Risa: Yeah, there's always more, there's always better we can be doing. This is maybe one of my second last question. I don't want to keep you any longer but I do want to just keep asking you 7000 questions while I have you. What do you think about tarot, the I Ching, witchcraft, some of our occulted practices, or, or, you know, spiritual learning, however that maybe calls to the listener.

When we have a lot of people in our community, in our circles, who are like most of us, like heartbroken by the world, right, just like sort of devastated by widening inequality, climate catastrophe. Can we use these tools towards liberation? And if so, how?

[00:45:29] Benebell: I think the hardest part is it begins with ourselves and I think most of us it's so difficult to see our own ignorance because it's kind of like a, it's circular. 

So for example, one of the things that I noticed from the tarot community, this is a little bit while back, but what I did was I went onto Facebook and I typed in the word Chinese. into the Facebook search bar and then only searched among my friends. So what were my own friends on Facebook saying when they use the word Chinese?

And then post after post after post that came up was, oh, like all Chinese, all Chinese people, those Chinese they counterfeit, you know, they, they counterfeit decks you know, the, the CCP, the Communist Party. I'm like, you don't really know that much about the Communist Party.

How are you talking about the CCP? It was overwhelmingly negative. And then having, for example, my father in law, who doesn't speak any English getting, you know, accosted at Costco and then having people say to him, oh, you fucking Chinese, you know, you're always in the way because he bumped into somebody.

And then, of course, sort of the evolution of anti Asian hate and, like, not realizing how all of it is connected. It's because of those little things that we say on the internet that we think, well, my little word didn't... Like, how does that cause anti Asian hate? Of course it doesn't, right? Like, I don't hate Asians.

I love Asian people. We excuse and absolve ourselves of our language. And we don't realize that we've contributed a seed that builds and builds and builds. And so if I do something like search the word Chinese and pull up just what my friends are saying, not even like what the wider community on the internet is saying.

Saying, which is even gonna be the negativity amplified, right. Just among my friends. To see that negativity, like it does dehumanize a specific group of people enough that gives us the authority or justification to then exact violence upon them. And I'm only speaking from the Chinese perspective because of who I am.

But today, right now, we're seeing that with a lot of other ethnic communities and you're seeing how. Oh, what I said is not anti Semitic. What I said is not anti Muslim. But then, it contributes in an indirect way. There is that butterfly effect that then, as a collective, once all of that is built up on the individual level, it allows the mob mentality To justify violence, and we don't realize how we as individuals contribute, and if it can happen among people who call themselves the spiritualists, it's definitely happening among people who are not as spiritual.

And so I think before we start having these conversations about like, you know, doing magic and. Spell crafting and meditation like it gets really basic to just words are magic words are powerful. And so if you truly believe that, just be more mindful of your own words. And so I think that's sort of my rant for the day because I see a lot of practitioners talking about like, well, I want to do, you know a meta mantra recitations and meditate to heal the universe and, and contribute or do yoga to heal the world.

I'm like, well, why don't you start with your, like your rhetoric. All right, off, off my soapbox. 

[00:48:44] Risa: No, I love it. It's so good. Yeah, because also, I mean, it's very magical, also, what you're talking about. 

[00:48:52] Benebell: It is, absolutely magical. It's so occult, isn't it? Like what you're seeing happening in geopolitics. I'm like, if this is an occult practice happening like that, I don't know why people don't see it.

Right? Like these 

[00:49:03] Risa: words taking on power and this gathering momentum of dehumanizing People, kids like using words to do that is is some really heavy illusory stuff that we have to unpack before I agree before we can do yoga circles for peace or whatever, though that sounds fun. Yeah, 

[00:49:21] Benebell: exactly. 

[00:49:22] Risa: Yeah. Yeah.

Yeah, man, how do we unpack these layers of abstraction that we grow up in, you know, like the, the work of, of doing that is real, real work we have to challenge ourselves to do. And maybe it goes back to your point from earlier that, If we want to see into the future, we have to spend that time understanding the past, what, whose land are we on?

Whose land did our grandmother grow up on? What is that history? Because otherwise, we're sort of lost floundering in this endless present, I think. 

[00:49:56] Benebell: Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:49:58] Risa: Oh man, it's so cool to get to meet you. I love your work so much. I appreciate you as a, both as a, as a scholar and a writer, and as a figure online that I can rely on to bring A real open minded and fair mindedness and yeah, I really, it's like if someone, if there's an issue going on and you have decided to speak on it, there will be 10, 000 fucking words.

Like, she's like, it's like, so we're not going to just sort of like fly off the handle at people. That's going to be a real thoughtful breakdown. And I, I'm, I'm really here for that. I really, really appreciate that in, in the online space and in life. 

[00:50:39] Benebell: It also does get me in trouble every once in a while.

Yeah, fuck it. Right? 

[00:50:44] Risa: I mean, I hope that you are always safe and that your father in law feels safe and loved and yeah. But good for you for fucking stirring the pot sometimes. 

[00:50:59] Benebell: You want to end on that fun Tiananmen Square story? Yes, if you have 

[00:51:02] Risa: time I want to end on it.

I have stood there. And I want to know the story from your husband as a 

[00:51:09] Benebell: little kid. He was nine or 10. Okay. When it happened and his. Grandfather worked with Deng Xiaoping and knew Chairman Mao. They have actual photos in their place. So in, in Beijing, we call their circles, right? They're the second circle, third circle, fourth circle.

And where you live, where you have housing kind of shows your family occupation. So they lived among the bureaucrats and the government officials. So it was the second, they call it the second ring. The first ring is Tiananmen. So there's Tiananmen Square. And in the second, so we could walk from his place to Tiananmen Square.

That was where he grew up. So he's nine or 10. And all he remembers is he thought Tiananmen Square was the best thing to have ever happened because for like two weeks, he didn't have to go to school. Right, so your boy, your little kid, so for two weeks, he didn't have to go to school soldiers came and boarded up their windows and their doors, so nobody could look outside their windows, they couldn't leave the house, and there was surveillance, so you couldn't go anywhere, but he didn't care, he's nine, where does he want to go, you don't have to go to school, so the only bummer The only bummer to Tanman was he couldn't play outside.

He had to play inside. However, the positive was that the soldiers would bring him toys. So he could request any toy he wanted. And the next day, the soldiers would bring him the toy that he requested for free. You know what I mean? Oh, you're right. So he was like, this is awesome. 

And then one day all of the things lifted and then he could go back to school. And so that was his perspective of. Of what happened. And then because, his mom was a, scholar, she was an academic. And at the time they were condemning academics.

So as soon as that lifted, all he knew was his mom was like on a mission to get out of China as soon as possible. Like she wanted to get out of China yesterday, and then that's how she immigrated to the United States. So that's all he remembers.

It was a really fun time. But immediately after mom freaked out and mom wanted to leave China. 

[00:53:03] Risa: And then was there a moment later in life where he, like, was there one moment where he learned? Like what was happening outside the boarded windows? 

[00:53:11] Benebell: After, when he came back to the United States and after coming to the U.

S. and learning English and then seeing American media on the reporting of what happened in Tiananmen, I mean, obviously he saw none of that. He was in his house boarded up. playing with toys and getting food delivered to his house. And so it was like a cognitive dissonance because you grew up for 10, 12 years of your life, believing one thing happened, and then all of a sudden you're seeing what happened outside your boarded house.

 There's no way to connect the two because there's such polarities to how you imagined that event. And even after he left the house, they really downplayed what happened to the citizens. If you were 10 years old, how you were taught about what happened was, there was some bad things, but the heroic soldiers took care of the bad things, and now it's good, now it's okay. We protected you, we saved you, that's why you're in the house, it's for your own protection. Yeah. To be able to then see the polar opposite of what really happened when he left.

It's a long time to integrate. Yeah. It's a lot to integrate. Yeah. And then his mom is very anti cultural revolution. And then because he grew up as a child in that propaganda, he grew up, like the communist party is the best, you know, he was part of the children's version of the red guard.

And so then he even had that dissonance with his mom, like his mom had a particular life experience and then his grandmother was dragged through their streets with one of those boards on her she had to wear a dunce cap and she had to wear those boards painted saying she was like a traitor.

 The daughter of this grandma, had to witness that and experience that. So she has one perspective of the Cultural Revolution, but her child, her son, was growing up in school, learning about how great the Communist Party was. So his perspective differed dramatically from his own mother's and grandmother's.

And then it really took 40 to 50 years for him to reconcile the two. 

[00:55:02] Risa: It's so interesting, you know, given what we were just talking about, like, trying to shake our worldviews to shake the violent language that we use, the way we characterize other people to learn what is going on outside our own boarded windows, and then how long it can take to really wrap our heads around what that has meant.

What were we a part of before? What are we going to be a part of now? 

[00:55:24] Benebell: Yeah, I think his version was a lot more physical like there were literally boarded up windows, but I think to be fair every culture like every country has its own propaganda like we are raised in our own propaganda here in the United States and then people when you have the opportunity to leave.

You know, very like strictly Western society, Western culture, and you interact with other cultures, you know, besides the Western world, you really see are beginning to you're able to unpack a lot of that propaganda as well, you know, so it's kind of interesting how we all live with it. Yeah. Can I ask you one more.

Absolutely. I'm here for it 

[00:56:04] Risa: especially in the context of this conversation, you know, is there a ritual or a way of turning to the tarot or the yi qing that you can think of that might help us in this work of 

understanding the boarded up windows of our lives, seeing the things that we haven't seen about the propagandas that we grow up in, the discourse that we're surrounded in. Do you know what I mean?

[00:56:28] Benebell: This is, it transcends the question a little bit because it doesn't stick to tarot and the I Ching. One thing we can really do that's actionable as practitioners, and it, it's, it's treading on very like sensitive area where you do have to be mindful that it isn't entering into cultural appropriation, right.

But I think it really does. Give us the empathy that we need to make the right decisions and be more balanced in our perspectives When you do something like learn about the mystical traditions of the culture that you have a lot of negative feelings around And so we all have like every society has pegged one civilization as the bad guys We all, every nation has that.

So learning more about the religious traditions and the mystical practices, shamanistic and witchcraft traditions of that bad guy nation, it is much harder to continue seeing them as the bad guy, because there's something universal about spirit. And when you engage in the spiritual practices of different traditions, you see that very fundamental at the spiritual level commonality that we have.

And when you see how similar they are, it's a lot harder to dehumanize them. So yeah, just practice the divinatory and spiritual, but not practice in a way that, you know, that's why I said it's very sensitive, but I think learning or studying, learning more and studying about those cultural practices really gives us the empathy we need.


[00:58:06] Risa: I think we can draw a line and say like, studying and researching are sure enriching good selling what 

[00:58:14] Benebell: you've learned. Fair enough. Absolutely. Like 

[00:58:17] Risa: don't do that. 

[00:58:20] Benebell: Studying and empowering yourself with the knowledge is always welcome. 

[00:58:24] Risa: Thanks again. I think especially like, I'm like a, you know, a white woman in the woods in Canada, there's, there's, there's so many worlds of interacting with spirit and thinking about spirit that I want to.

portal to and travel to and getting to talk to people like yourself who've done so much of this research and just getting to listen is a real gift. So thank you for that. Thanks on behalf of our audience too. Where do you want to send them to find you and send you love and throw money support at you.

I don't know. 

[00:58:55] Benebell: Buy your books. Well, I Ching, get the book. I Ching book, help, help it get a little more exposure and visibility. If you want a lot of free downloads, even in terms of the practicums, and if you want to learn the practical implementation of the I Ching or Tarot, I have lots of free worksheets and references at benabellwen.

com. So that's a place to go to. I illustrated and created my own tarot deck, the spirit keeper's tarot. So if you're interested in the tarot and you want to buy indie, then that's, that's something to look into as well. 

[00:59:24] Risa: Amazing. Thanks again. And 

[00:59:27] Benebell: bless the f*cking bee. 

That's right. Bless the f*cking bee.


[00:59:35] Risa: The Missing Witches Podcast is created by Rea Dickens and Amy to rock with insight and support from the Covin. Amy and Rea are the co-authors of missing witches, reclaiming true histories of feminist magic, and of New Moon Magic 13 anti-capitalist tools for resistance and re-enchantment

available now wherever you get your books or audio books. find out more at missingwitches.


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