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Monday, May 31, 2021

Old Gods Made New

I wrote this several weeks ago, shared it with a friend who runs a local chapter of a Hellenic group to get her, much appreciated feedback, and have updated it a bit based on that. I'm adding this paragraph though because I just finished season 2 of Ragnarok on Netflix. I think it illustrates how one can take the concerns, goals, and nature of a god and contextualize them for our modern reality. If you can't read this blog post, then watch Ragnarok...or do both.


Throughout the original version of this, I think my friend had some confusion about my view on the changeability of the gods. For a short clarification to give context to things I'm saying, the gods are vast and enduring and unlike humans in many ways. As a result, over time we can see elements of them, and perspectives on them which are relevant to us now that people may not have seen before. The gods can address and deal with things which did not exist for mankind before, but which still existed in the greater purview of those gods because of the vastness of their natures. They can act in ways which address our current needs and seem different from previous concerns because they encompass a totality of modes of realizing their natures, and our interaction is one of many small pieces of that.


People get turned off by the "Polytheism" movement and the "Reconstructionist" movement because they feel like they lack relevance. Growing up, the explanation I always heard was that our goal was to worship the gods in a way which followed what we know from history and tradition but contextualized for today. Carried with this was the idea that Paganism (not NeoPaganism) is about engaging and being situated in the reality of where you are, not the fantasy in which you'd like to imagine yourself. Pagan means local and so it is very much situational - it has to deal with life as you live it.


Some people describe these approaches as attempting to imagine Pagan religions as they would be today if they had evolved uninterrupted by Christianity. This is a bad notion. The reality in which we are situated includes 500 to 1600 years of heavy Christian influence. Not addressing or considering that would be anachronistic and would fall into trying to live the fantasy in which one might wish to imagine themself.


While I would say accusations about relevance are arguably unfair, accusations about anachronism can be fair. Paganism involves piecing together bits which come from different regions at different times as if these were all part of the same religious expression and understanding. In most cases, they weren't. Frequently, it also involves attempts to adopt lifestyle elements from the bronze age, or iron age, or medieval periods or all of these thrown together. Often, people forget that modern Paganism is historical religion in a modern context and try to dress up for an imagined historical context. The anachronism accusations sometimes come with accusations of LARPing...but you can find LARPing in all religions.


Relevance though. We're talking about worshiping gods who had their heyday anywhere from a thousand to three thousand years ago - in some cases of Near Eastern and North African religions, even earlier than that. People back then were part of cultures far removed from our own with different concerns from our own and their religions were expressions of - integral parts of - those cultures. The gods answered the needs and interests of those peoples. So, how can they be relevant today?


Some people suggest that we can find the answer by looking at modern peoples living in those places once populated by those gods and their worshipers and reimagining the gods as expressions of the contemporary culture. If the gods are still part of that contemporary culture, maybe...but if they're not then we're just saying the gods are linked to that genetic heritage, or they're tied to that place intrinsically in such a way that the people and culture are still defined by them. Most people don't like the first suggestion and I think most people would realize that the second one frequently doesn't hold up.


Others might suggest that we consider the way the gods have survived in our popular awareness or even how they have appeared in pop culture. If the gods themselves guide these images then that could be reasonable. I think there are a lot of pop culture examples we can explore which run in opposition to how we might imagine the gods, either historically or in some present echo of their historical I'm not sure I'm ready to take that approach. Some people might suggest that enough people believing in the pop-culture depiction of the god reshapes the god, or feeds that popular image until it becomes the god - whether the popular image is based on some authentic or traditional element of the god may or may not matter. Again, I wouldn't subscribe to such a view, and I don't think most modern Pagans would. That kind of thinking is much more useful for addressing thought-forms and egregores.


Finally, some people might suggest that the gods can be what we want them to be. We can look for what our lives need and what we need gods for and decide the gods fulfill these new roles. Again, I don't think anyone who believes in the gods as real autonomous beings would take this view...because we wouldn't take it with other living autonomous beings. In fact, if we tried to do this with the gods, rituals, or spiritual items belonging to other living traditions people would very rightly call foul.


Since I clearly don't agree with these common ways people suggest we can personalize and make relevant the gods, am I saying that they can't be made relevant for modern culture and modern people?


No. Not at all.


I think we can look to living traditions, historical trends, and the gods themselves and easily see how they adapt without us requiring that they suit our whims.


Gods and spirits within living traditions adapt to the contexts and lives of their people. We talk about this a lot in magic when we talk about adaptability. When we look at African traditions in the Americas we see people forcibly displaced from their homes. But not just from their house or village, or even the town or region which shares their culture, but displaced from their continent to the other side of the world. The environment is entirely different. The character of the land, the plants, the animals - all different. Their context is different too. Instead of free people in their community, surrounded by people who share their language, culture, and gods, they are in a place ruled by foreigners, and live mixed with other oppressed people who are foreign to them. Their religion and language are illegal, their customs have to be hidden, and the same is true of the locals with whom they are forced to intermingle.   


So, modes of worship and ritual adapted to maintain elements that could be maintained. Other elements were hidden in other similar behaviors and practices. Gods were hidden in images which were acceptable to their captors. Gods and spirits intermingled with local gods and spirits and new relationships and stories formed. Plants, animals, offerings which couldn't be obtained because they didn't exist in the New World were replaced with similar things. In the view of the people, the Gods took on elements which related to their own natures but which reflected their ability to help with and share in the experiences of this new context along with the new troubles and difficulties it presented. We might otherwise say, the people uncovered elements of the gods which were always present, but which weren't understood or weren't revealed previously because they weren't relevant to the people yet.


I think this last part is important. In many of these traditions, gods and spirits are still recognizable between people still living in Africa and people in Diaspora. Sometimes stories vary...just as stories of gods vary regionally. Sometimes gods might have attributes and elements which relate more to their new context while retaining elements of their original context. The fact that they can accumulate new areas to be concerned with while still being understood or recognized by people who did not undergo that displacement shows that our experience and understanding of the gods can adapt to new contexts while the gods retain their natures. Their natures can allow expression and action which is relevant for the new context.


I would imagine in many of these cases, when new stories arise and new patronages are attached to a god or spirit it's because that god or spirit did something which involved this area of interest. If a god is a warrior who defends his people and that god becomes a god who helps free slaves - he is still a warrior defending his people. He's defending them from a new danger, he isn't becoming something new and different from who he was.


Adaptations can take the reality of the gods and spirits, and their ability to communicate with us into account.


A Lukumi priest told me a story which explained why Oshun receives honey. I unfortunately don't remember the details enough to recount it fully. Essentially, it was time to make an offering to the Orishas and whatever sweet substance was usually offered was in short supply. They asked if they could offer a substitute and the Orishas agreed with the substitution. While the details are too muddled in my head to confidently tell the story...and it isn't my tradition or story to tell...the point remains that the people turned to the spirits involved to confirm that they could make this adaptation.


I've heard several times of South East Asian traditions in which sacrifices and blood offerings were common for certain spirits. The people eventually negotiated with the spirits and came up with other offerings.


Living traditions show us that people who have a deep relationship and open communication with the gods and spirits of their traditions are able to communicate with them and adapt to fit with developments in human culture.


In all these instances, the change is negotiated with the gods, or some communication or experience happens. The gods or spirits see the changes we need to make and agree with them or guide us in how to make them. The gods see what new needs we have and they intercede regarding those needs or provide vision or tell stories which relate themselves to those things - usually in ways which reflect who that god or spirit already was.


Most people don't expect people from outside of a god or spirit's tradition to be the people receiving these messages or being gifted with these insights about how things have changed. Generally, if someone says they have discovered the true and hidden nature of a god or spirit, or they've decided they can dispense with the rituals or initiations that go with that tradition most people dismiss them as imagining things at best, or appropriating things at worst.


When we want to consider how the gods remain relevant to changing times, we can also look at how it's happened through history.


Cultures change and develop over time. Cultures intermingle, fade, get absorbed, and absorb others over time. When this happens the religious landscape can change. Sometimes those developments involve gods absorbing the characteristics of other gods or blending. I think the spiritual realities behind syncresis are beyond what I want to address here, but I think there are spiritual realities to it. I think there are maybe also times where it's more political than anything else and might not reflect something real.


I think more relevant to our conversation is when gods within a culture shift as a result of the shifts in that culture. This is, after all, the main thing we're really considering when we discuss the idea of historical gods in a modern cultural setting.


Religion is, almost always, through most parts of the world, relatively conservative. When I say this I don't mean politically speaking but in terms of thought and practice religious traditions frequently will maintain elements of culture which are otherwise long out of date. If we consider how religion evolves with people - particularly before the age of instant communication - it would be pretty unrealistic to think that a new generation would get a notion into their heads and decide the whole religion is going to shift to match it. It happens sometimes, but usually with kind of fringe outlier groups, or if the people with the notion are in power it might be something that takes hold but only while people in power buy into it (example: Akhenaton).

Culture might start to shift, but religious practices and stories about and understandings of the gods will probably lag behind. When the culture shifts enough, I think three things commonly happen.


First, elements of the god which weren't the focus before might become the focus. This isn't the same as deciding the god has changed what they are about. Gods are multifaceted, and major gods frequently have many aspects which relate to many areas of society and life. Some particular aspect might be the focus because it suits the needs or views of the people at the time but generations later, maybe some other aspect will become the most important. This doesn't mean the previously important aspect goes away, or that the newly important aspect is a change or growth of the god. It just means the way people engage and relate to the god has changed. If I'm traveling with a friend, and the friend speaks French and German, then in France I'll want the aspect of that friend which speaks French, and in Germany I'll want the aspect that speaks German. It's the same friend and nothing has changed, but we're dealing with different situations.


The second option is one we do see commonly in history. The god who is the focus of society might change. In some instances this is a question of who the people give attentio to primarily and is a human/social thing, in some it is reflected in the mythology and is seen to be cosmic. In the latter cases, this can include changes in rulership amongst the gods, but not always.


In Canaan, some of these shifts as far as what god was the focus of the people seems to accompany shifts in what god ruled the pantheon, as far as I understand. Those shifts in rulership of the pantheon seem to also potentially accompany political shifts as well. In Greece, we see particular gods being important for a place because of the particular heritage or customs or needs of those regions. This doesn't necessarily change who ruled the pantheon, but it could change elements of how the gods were worshiped in that place. In Rome there were shifts in importance between Mars and Jupiter depending upon the needs of the city, but those shifts in attention don't necessarily include changes in the positions of the gods in the cosmos.


So, if we look at historical religions it may be that those gods who are of primary importance to us and our lives are not the same ones who were of primary importance in history. For example, while Mars may have been of primary importance in Rome, maybe Ceres would be more the focus for Americans living in a culture concerned with commerce.


A third thing tends to happen when cultures encounter entirely new scenarios or technology. The understanding of the god expands.


I've had a couple disagreements about whether or not the gods evolve. I think the idea that the gods are the same as humans fails to grasp their divinity. I don't believe the gods are incomplete in the same way humans are and so the gods don't need the same kind of growth and development as humans. The gods have elements of their behavior which reflects human behaviors. I think sometimes this is because those elements in a story convey some greater truth which humans need to understand, and sometimes they convey some element of the gods which seems like a flaw to us when expressed through myth but which may be part of a more complex reality.


So when I say that the understanding of the god expands, I believe this is a reflection of humans changing, developing, and growing, and not necessarily the gods.


With traditional religions that survive through to today, I don't believe many of them think their gods suddenly learned about electricity or sat down and took a computer course. Our discoveries and understandings are not novel to the gods, at least not in the way they are to us. Members of traditional religions still recognize that religious laws, or divine patronages might apply to these new things. In some religions it may be that they understand a new god to be born, or some previously unknown god to now be known. In others, they understand these new phenomena in the light of older known phenomena and so they fall under existing laws and existing gods. For example, in the past we didn't know about electricity, but we knew about fire. Now that we know about electricity religion can treat it as a form of fire.  We didn't have cars in antiquity, now we do, but we still had vehicles and chariots and so cars are under the dominion of the gods who ruled vehicles and chariots.


In all these cases, we can look at history and see that just because a focus changes, or a position of importance changes, or an understanding expands it is not automatic that these mean that the old thing is gone. The gods don't stop dealing with their now less needed aspect, they don't cease to be, and their attributes don't necessarily abandon their previous meanings when they begin to include new ones. Even as Christianity grew into prominence, the gods of pagan religions didn't disappear, they became viewed as daimones and faeries, and Saints. Ancient peoples would sometimes celebrate holidays which even they admitted they didn't know why they were celebrating it - but they retained elements of some god or spirit or their heritage which was not as immediately obvious to the common person anymore. Those unneeded elements remained in place even if they weren't the thing the average person understood anymore.


So, we looked at living traditions, and we looked at history, the final place to look for finding relevance was at the gods themselves. I think, honestly, looking at what we can see in living traditions and what we can see in history tells us how we can look to the gods themselves for this.


If we want to understand how the gods fit our lives today we can ask the gods. We can listen earnestly for answers. We can do divination. We can develop deep and meaningful relationships and let them guide us through those relationships. 


We can examine our own lives and our needs and we can scour mythology and history and find gods who speak to those needs and who speak to us.


We can deeply explore the myths, history, archeology, and rituals and holidays related to individual gods and get to know them more fully than some surface summary of their personality. Once we do this we can begin to unfold how their existing nature is already relevant to our lives.


For example - Mars. Most people would say "Well, Mars was the Roman version of Ares, he was a god of war and violence and carnage whereas his sister Athena was the wise elements of war like strategy."


Those people would be wrong. Mars is not the Roman version of Ares. They are two very different gods. Mars was one of the chief gods of Rome whereas Ares did not have a broadly established temple cultus.


Rome was founded by farmers, and according to those legends, more specifically by shepherds. Those shepherds were led by princes who had been raised amongst them, after having been suckled by a wolf as babes when they escaped the murderous intentions of one of their relatives. More importantly, these shepherd princes were the twin sons of Mars. Discovering their mother's captivity and the past ill intentions of their uncle the boys rose up and gathered their shepherds and turned them into a band of warriors to overthrow the king - their uncle. They avenged their family, restored the rightful king (their grandfather), and killed their uncle, then they established a new city for the shepherds amongst whom they were raised.


Mars was the god of the early Roman people, along with Quirinus who might have been linked to deified Romulus or might have been linked to Mars, while perhaps having elements of an earlier Italic god.


Mars is initially a god of farmers and shepherds - admittedly his bucolic worshipers get into a lot of fights and wars. But he has elements related to parentage, to shepherds, to city building, to justice along with the more commonly understood connection to warfare. Even Mars's connection to warfare is more than that. Mars is a god of the military, training and military games were part of his domain and so therefore also he is a god of sports. Mars is a god of expansion and broadening boundaries to establish order as this is his role in establishing empire (whereas Jupiter is a god of imperium itself, or the power and command which maintains empire). Mars is a god of chariots and vehicles.


When we look at a god and say "Well, do we really need this war god anymore? Maybe he can relax, his wars are done, and he can stop being a war god and focus on these other areas of life..." we are probably selling those gods short. They likely already dealt with a huge array of things and had a multifaceted touch that rarely gets explored. We don't need to reimagine them and give them new areas of concern - any major god probably already had several.


When we start unpacking how much more there is to a god we can begin to unpack how much of our lives can relate to that god. For people in the military Mars could still be important. For people who play sports or work in relation to sports or enjoy watching sports Mars could be important. For people who drive cars, Mars could be important. Even in terms of warfare though, while Victory is embodied by Nike or Victoria those angels of victory still connect with other gods...including Mars. Mars is a god of triumph and can be a god to turn to when victory is needed, or when conflicts need to be explored or dealt with.


Approaching Mars for ways he can realistically fit into our lives doesn't require that Mars change, it just requires that we earnestly look at Mars and attempt to understand him.


Clearly, my point is not to advocate that anyone establish a relationship with Mars or become a Roman Pagan. Mars as an example of how the gods are enough as they are, more than enough, and we just need to take time to deeply understand them and build relationships with them. We don't need to dismiss them as needing to be reworked to suit our desires or our sense of what it means to be modern. When we seek to make the gods fit our desires, we're seeking our desires rather than seeking the gods. When we believe the gods are whoever we want them to be, we stop challenging ourselves to find their truth and explore how that teaches us about our lives.


The gods have deep meaning for many people without us needing to change them. If we don't see that meaning, then we can move on, or we can explore how the gods can change what we see.


This is obviously pretty different than a lot of what I usually post, but all the same, the info to follow and support will be below, and also...go check out Ragnarok on Netflix (they obviously aren't paying me to advertise them...the show is just awesome.)


Thanks for reading.

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(lightning strike image from Netflix's Ragnarok taken from

Monday, April 5, 2021

Hekate and the Holy Guardian Angel...How do the relate?


          Recently, my friends Rufus Opus and Jason Miller got together with me on Zoom and we talked about our experiences with the Holy Guardian Angel. Podcaster Aequus Nox had started a thread about the Holy Guardian Angel last year on her wall, the thread had a MASSIVE response, and I honestly dislike weighing in when threads are too big, so I commented off thread. My post led to another thread in which it was suggested that Jason and I do a sort of panel discussion on the HGA. Since Rufus went the non-Abramelin route I figured his perspective would be a good one to include...Facebook memories reminded me of the thread and that resulted in the discussion finally happening a few weeks ago. You can now see it here on YouTube.

          We collected together a ton of amazing questions from the Ceremonial Magick School and Living Spirits forums on Facebook. A lot of the questions could be clustered together so we distilled out six questions that covered the range and tried to answer them while considering the questions that inspired them.

          One question stood out as pretty different from the others. It was a question I had been asked before. It is one of those questions where it could have a pretty simple answer, "There's no real relationship, so there isn't much to say." Or it could have a significantly more complex answer when taken as a question about one's over all practice. We didn't address it in the panel, so I'm going to talk about it a little bit here.

          The question in question...What is the relationship between the Holy Guardian Angel and Hekate? That was how it was originally put to me, Jove was included when it was asked in this context.

          So yeah, most basic answer, they are from different spiritual models so there isn't much relationship. If we consider the Holy Guardian Angel in a NeoPlatonic context, the angel is a daimon, but not one which is an echo of or representative of some particular god. So, the angel doesn't specifically relate to any particular god, but may partake of influences from several gods in so far as they relate to the birth of the particular individual. The daimon could also be viewed as an aid in understanding the gods and interacting with them very much in the same vein as the Guardian Angel teaches and guides the individual on their path with God in Catholicism.

          The Guardian Angel is an angel, but it's a special angel, one connected uniquely to you. As an angel it functions in a different way and resides in a somewhat different space with different natures and capacities from a god. A simple way to consider it is it's smaller and specialized to you.

          None of that is especially useful. As magicians asking a question like this we want to know how these relationships work practically. The relationship between the spirits innately based on their nature can inform how we interact and work with them. Understanding how they relate in our individual practice will be more useful and more interesting. This can also vary from person to person.

          For me, Hekate kind of touches most everything. She is expansive and far reaching and rules in all areas of creation. You could approach Hekate as a teacher of magic. You could approach Hekate as a gatekeeper. You could approach her as a patron of witchcraft. There are so many different specific options. For me, I consider that she controls the paths by which things manifest and by which spirits come to us. She controls the locks which open and close doors for options to manifest and for spirits to enter and depart. She controls the crossroads at which possibilities intersect and which occur in the spaces where our experience and the experiences of the spirit world and magical awareness intersect.

          The Guardian Angel is kind of like a magical wingman with a bit of Jiminy Cricket thrown in. The angel can help retrieve spirits for you. The angel can help with commanding and controlling spirits when needed. The angel can introduce you to other spirits. It can give you guidance. It can make communication clearer and easier.

          When I wrote Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits, I talked about Hekate and the Holy Guardian Angel both in terms of intermediary spirits. Both of them can help you with engaging other spirits and working with other spirits. Each does it in different ways. For me, it isn't so much would you work with Hekate or would you work with the Holy Guardian Angel, so much as how does each fit into your practice.

          The Angel is someone who is generally with me when I'm doing work even if I'm not directly engaging my angel. My angel can chime in with advice or inspiration. The relationship is often interactive outside of a ritual context. In a ritual context it might be that my angel is referenced or called upon specifically, or asked to perform a particular function. I might ask my angel to help bring a spirit, or to help me see or communicate. Outside of ritual I might ask my angel for guidance or simply to help accomplish something I need.

          Hekate is someone who is more visibly present on a consistent basis in my ritual work. She is relatively consistently present in my awareness of magical and spiritual realities and in my feelings of respect and devotion. But, at least so far, my relationship with Hekate is not as directly interactive. I can feel her presence and influence when I work, and sometimes at other times. I don't tend to call upon her or ritually work with her as the direct object of the ritual or to directly communicate. Though some things might be changing in that regard for me. She is someone I call upon in most work I do to help me with access to spirits and the places in which spirits reside. She is present as the power that binds together magic and therefore to some degree binds together and underwrites the universe itself.

          Both are present in my work and impact my work. Both are present in my life and impact my life. They are present in different ways doing different things. Their presence is one which I don't perceive as directly interactive with one another but behind the scenes, maybe it is and I just don't see it.

          If I were answering this question about the Angel and some other god, my answer would be pretty different. Hekate for me is simultaneously the Bright-Shining Goddess who befriended the grieving Demeter, she is the goddess who taught Medea and Circe and all other witches whose blood carries in it the power of Helios, she is the Cosmic Force which organizes the universe in the Chaldean Oracles - and which seems to echo the Egyptian Heka even if there is no historical connection between them; she is the multifaceted splendedly dark and brilliantly shining goddess who has encompasses and syncretized to herself all other goddesses as she appears in the Greek Magical Papyri, and she is the divine feminine which we see in she herself, in the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Persephone, in Sophia and many other forms. So far reaching a being as to encompass all of these natures and functions in a single person is beyond the limited way in which we often look at individual spiritual beings.

          She is not the only god who is so ever present and far ranging for me. But she's the one most visibly active in magic. Other gods who feel and seem more specific and defined are no less in my view despite the cosmic magnificence that my description of her should imply. Each is vast in their own way. But Hekate's nature is itself vastness.


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 If you enjoyed this please like, follow, and share on your favorite social media! We can be followed for updates on Facebook.


If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration


If you want some help exploring the vast world of spirits check out my first book – Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits

 Sign up for our free online publication: Minor Mendings Magical Magazine

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Friday, February 5, 2021

Smoke and Fire: Tweaking Magical Rituals

This post will talk about ritual tweaks and substitutions in general, but then will present some options for Luminarium.


A discussion came up on a Facebook Forum, Ceremonial Magic School, in which someone asked about options to use in magic different from incense. Sometimes people are in places where candles, or incense might not be options. For some people, incense may be an irritant.


The original poster suggested that incense was a representation for fire, and wondered if you can use a candle for fire, and then oil passed through a humidifier to represent water.


This starts at a good place. The question addresses the purpose of the item being changed and what else would change along with it. Anytime we’re changing things in a ritual, that’s the first step. One of the better things grimoire purists say is that we can’t change what’s in the grimoire because we don’t know why it’s there. They’re partially right. If we don’t know why a ritual says to do a thing, or at least what that thing is accomplishing in the ritual, then we can’t change the thing. If we change things without understanding we might remove components that are needed without creating something else that does what the component was needed for.


We’ve all seen this with the countless bad re-workings of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram that used to flood the internet, and now still sometimes infect some newer books of Ceremonial Magic. People look at the base thing they think the ritual is for and change things based on that, rather than looking at the specific components and their purpose in context to understand how to tweak those.


So, can we tweak the grimoires? If we know how the thing we want to change works and why it’s there, then yes, sort of.


Can we know why something is there and how it works since the texts don’t explain that?


Well, sometimes the texts kind of do if you really read them. The prayers, the consecrations, the description of how things are used, they can begin to inform us. If we spend years studying a text, studying related texts, studying the texts that led to it and the texts that came from it we should over time develop some understanding. If we study the theology and metaphysical ideas that form the context of the grimoires, the liturgical corollaries, the earlier forms of magic that led to them and later forms of magic that grew from them, we should over time develop some understanding. If we learn other parallel traditions of magic and work earnestly and ardently at the traditions described in the grimoires, over time, we should develop some understanding. If we don’t, what are we even doing?


Now, if we understand how and why something works, we can address whether or not it’s needed or helpful or superfluous.


If it’s needed, we might not be able to change it. If we can change it, we’ll need to change it to something very similar and we definitely can’t omit it.


If it’s helpful, we can probably make a change to something that does something similar. We might be able to make a change to something that helps differently and might be better suited to our goal. We might be able to omit it, but it will probably reduce some element of effectiveness or make the work harder for us if we admit it.


If it’s superfluous we can omit it, we can keep it if we like it, we can change it if the change doesn’t impede what we’re doing. I would be least inclined to interpret something as superfluous, unless it really clearly is demonstrated as such there is a possibility you’re missing an element if you’re finding things you want to get rid of to be superfluous.


While we can analyze things and figure out stuff that can be tweaked and substituted…we need to understand that those tweaks and substitutions will make a change. If you have a chicken tender, you might sweeten and moisten it with barbecue sauce. If the pepper in barbecue sauce irritates you, then you can sweeten and moisten it with honey mustard, or even just honey. All three will do the job, but they’ll all do it differently. They each bring different things to the table. The result will be different, but they’ll each be effective. You might even prefer the changed result.


So, in the example posed in the original question, the incense was being used to represent fire. So, if we’re setting up an altar with representations of the elements, we’re probably not looking at grimoire magic. Something influenced by Golden Dawn magic, or some kind of standard NeoPagan ritual magic would generally have a candle to represent fire, a bowl of water for water, incense for air, and a stone or some physical thing to represent earth. The question is probably being asked in that vein. So, if we’re swapping out incense, we’d need something else to represent air. If we’re looking to just represent air, a fan, or a feather might suffice. It we’re looking for something to bring substance, life, and character to the air, then we need something that more closely mimics incense and provides a scent. If we’re looking to provide a substance for the powers we encounter to use, then incense might need to remain our choice.


Some of the options that came up involved using oil, and one poster mentioned plans to try Luminarium with oil, and so I thought it might make sense to talk about some options for tweaks in Luminarium, since one of the points of the text is to be adaptable.


Incense. In Luminarium, the incense is used partially to tinct the space and bring it into harmony with the nature of the forces being conjured, and in part it is used so that the fire is transmitting substance into the spiritual to give some benefit to the spirit. It harmonizes the nature, pleases the spirit and helps to empower it, and it creates some link between the earthly and the ephemeral.


Three options can help with this. Oil in a diffuser would help tinct the space, although perhaps more slowly and not as potently. It would not have the thick and powerful diffuse presence of smoke, nor would it have the heat to agitate the space. The scent might still be pleasing to the spirit, but the way the incense helps empower the spirit might not be as present here. The link between the earthly and the ephemeral would also be there but maybe not as clearly, you’re not moving something from solid earthy material to smoke by the power of fire.


We can offset some of these missing elements. Maybe add a candle for the elements fire would add to the incense. Maybe a shot of alcohol, or an offering of flour to help feed and empower the spirit.


Maybe instead of an oil diffuser we use an oil warmer with a candle. The scent might be more powerful, and you’d still have tincting the space. You’d have the warmth of the fire to help agitate the space and bring heat to building the space. The scent would still please the spirit. You might have some of the same empowerment, but you’d still use the substantive nature of the incense smoke, so maybe not as much. The movement between the material and the ephemeral would be more present than with the diffuser, in my opinion, but not as clearly indicated as with the incense.


Oil dissolved in alcohol like a cologne might be an option. You could spray some around, but also leave some to evaporate. The alcohol is going to evaporate more readily so the movement between phases of being and the connection to the spirit world that gives might be clearer, alcohol is often used for this purpose in many traditions. The alcohol itself can also be an offering, but something substantive might be good in addition. Adding a candle might still be useful, but obviously, don’t spray alcohol into spaces with flame.


Alternative to adding a candle, instead of spraying the alcohol with the oil dissolved in it, some books on witchcraft used to talk about making a blue fire on the altar with cologne. The blue fire being a representation of sacred presence. The fire carries the scent of the cologne. The various benefits of the oil or incense and the benefits of the fire used with the incense would largely be there, but it would lack the smoke and the substance the smoke brings to the ritual.


An added element of using a sacred flame would be the option to combine this with the lamp. The light from the fire could be used similarly to the light from the lamp with the Guardian Angel invoked through this flame. If choosing this option, you might want to use your temple incense, or an oil matching your temple incense, to scent this alcohol rather than your planetary scent. You’d still need something for the planetary scent if doing this.


We’ve talked previously about using a candle instead of the lamp. This wouldn’t be dissimilar. The only real loss by switching either to the candle or the sacred flame would be the inability to adjust the level of light case by the fire like you can with a hurricane lantern or other adjustable wick lantern.


If using this method, using the sacred flame, you might be able to lean into tweaks to make the ritual more pagan. If you’re looking for ways to reduce the Christian components and increase the Greek ones, or even go with some other pagan tradition, or blend Luminarium with Wicca, the fire would more easily fit that structure than the lamp.


In some forms of pagan rituals, the sacred flame is the presence of the divine. It is often divine in and of itself, for example, Hestia is embodied in the temple flame and the hearth fire. Some view Bride to similarly reside in the flame in Celtic ritual. The flame in those cases can be viewed as a beacon for the gods as well as the portal through which they interact with us. This is pretty similar to how we use the lamp to interact with the Guardian Angel. The light of the lamp becomes a vessel through which the angel can illuminate us and it is then able to help communicate with us and with the spirit so that we may more clearly see and understand the spirit.  


I would still advocate working with your Guardian Angel in a pagan context. The sacred flame can be a vessel for your angel, or you can work with the god of the flame along with your angel for additional sanctification and protection. The god of the flame can also help open the space between the spirit world and our world. This is not dissimilar from the use of flame to provide heat so the spirits can break through the sea between worlds and speak with us. But in this instance the divine power within the flame intentionally opens the space rather than the power of the flame being offered to the spirit to use.


Depending upon what spirits you’re attempting to call, this kind of tweak may make a lot of sense. If you’re calling on spirits that remain tied to pagan cultures and beliefs instead of those from Christian, Judaic, and Islamic cultures creating tweaks that lean into the pagan elements present in the ritual may be well suited to your goal. If you’re calling angels it might be less the case.


Again, whatever tweaks you make will change elements of how it works. So the flavor will shift a bit. That can be good, or it can be bad, it depends on what you’re doing and what effects you’re looking for.


Now if you read through this and thought “this is getting really eclectic and is starting to move further outside of the grimoire tradition,” that’s good. These examples are drawing on sources from a few magical strands. It’s good to be aware of that. Depending on what you’re doing you may want to keep things tighter. You might be better off going a bit wider in your influence though. Again, it’s going to depend on the system with which you’re starting and what your end goal is. It’s going to depend on the character of the communication you want, the types of spirits you’re calling, and the type of effect you’re looking to get from working with them. It will also depend upon your needs.


Doing things by rote isn’t understanding or mastering them. Changing things needlessly or willy nilly is also problematic and may not be effective. The balance is developing understanding and negotiating reasonable changes when they make sense. Negotiating can be a matter of exploring your needs and desires and making informed choices suited to those. Negotiating can also be approaching the spirits, working with divination, or working through a diviner with a relationship with the spirits, and grasping what changes and substitutions they are willing to accept…as has been done in traditional cultures with traditional magic throughout the world.

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If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration


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Friday, January 29, 2021

Can you Do Grimoire Magic For Free?

A lot of people – magicians and non-magicians alike – have noted that you need money to do grimoire magic. I’ve strolled through a magic shop with my non-magician buddy and he’s been impressed by how costly magic is.


It can definitely seem like a barrier to those approaching it. Not only does it feel like there are a ton of books to read, things to learn, and tools to make and buy…


…but the books and the tools are expensive.


Especially when folks insist that you need proper gold implements, custom parchment from a sacrificed virgin goat, and sticks cut in a single stroke on a certain hour on a certain day with the moon in the right phase and the stick not having grown more than a year.


Seems daunting, and if you want to buy the parts, it’s expensive.


There is also always someone willing to sell it to you. Those folks willing to sell it to you will also tell you that you can only get the success they have if you exactly follow all the steps and exactly have perfectly created tools. They might even say that folks doing it other ways are, ironically, just trying to sell you something…the idea that anyone can do this.


The reality is the textual history, and what survives of material evidence shows pretty clearly that people did things with a lot of variance and alternatives historically. People innovated. People used simple methods to call on spirits and had the spirits teach them more personalized magical work. With the amount of treasure finding magic out there, magicians who had nice stuff may have even did simpler cheaper magic to get money to get that nice stuff.


You can go the purist route, or not. Either way, if you’re looking to get started and you’re pressed for cash you can still begin working within the grimoire tradition without spending money. You can begin contacting spirits, building relationships, obtaining means to contact them outside of ritual to accomplish magical goals. You can even taking the Jupiterian prosperity gospel of magic approach – use magic to get your financial and material life in order so you can focus on your magical life.  


So how do we go about this?


Well, the first thing to remember is that the grimoire tradition mostly exists in a medieval and Renaissance Catholic context…later on in a sometimes Catholic sometimes Protestant context. In that worldview, natural permissible magic existed alongside the more legally restricted magics often recorded in the grimoires.


Angels, and some other spirits, could be contacted without circles, without seals, and without complex rituals. Some of these you could encounter just through prayer and appeal to God, some you could call upon by going to places they resided, or gathering natural items during the right times. In terms of prayer to God, some of the simpler methods presented in books of magic pretty much boil down to that approach.


There are a ton of resources you can read for free online. Many of the ones that you should be checking out are available at Joseph H. Peterson’s excellent site, Once you’ve conjured some money by working with less expensive methods and free online copies of grimoires…spend some of it on his excellent print editions.


So, where do we get started in the free approach to the grimoire tradition?


Trithemius's Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals can be used with minimal equipment and is free to read online. You can get it at JHP’s site, or my site. There will be some additional resources for using it on my site also. In my blog, I’ve talked about that approach to working with angels and presented an alternative version of that kind of crystallomantic conjuration from Scot’s Discouerie of Witchcraft.


The main thing you’ll need is the crystal sphere. Other elements can be helpful, but God can send an angel to speak to you in a crystal ball, or even a bowl of water if he so choses. Prepare yourself, purify yourself, truly devote yourself, and you can get started…quite literally on a wing and a prayer.


You might look at that and say, “is this really grimoire magic?” If you look at handbooks that collected magic people actually did, or look at surviving accounts of magical practice, this definitely fits in. We can look at a grimoire example that confirms that though…


The Arbatel is perhaps the simplest approach and can provide insight into other angel magic than just work with the Olympic spirits. It’s also free to read online.


In the Arbatel, the magician is given a series of Aphorisms to study, mostly about how to lead a good life. A section of those Aphorisms provide seals, names and descriptions for a group of angels called the Olympic spirits. There is a prayer provided to call upon the spirit you desire. There is an additional prayer that is useful to go with it. That’s about all you need. Several people have even encountered the Olympic spirits and asked about using more tools or materials and they generally don’t seem super interested in that. With them you can keep it simple…and keeping it simple keeps it in line with the text’s instructions.


The Arbatel provides us with a grimoire example of working with angels with just a name, a sign, and a prayer. You can easily use that approach with other angels. The Olympic spirits also provide familiars, so you can use this approach and still work one of the important components of grimoire magic. A grimoire magician does not always use complicated grimoire rituals to conjure spirits. Spirits with whom the magician has a relationship should provide means to easily call upon them to help the magician with magical tasks. If that spirit provides a familiar, the familiar should – more or less – remain with the magician and aid the magician and teach him additional magic.  


This kind of work with angels will be easier if you’ve been cultivating a relationship with the angels, working on purity, and engaging in devotional prayer.


The seven penitential psalms could work as a daily prayer and meditation practice to help build the devotional element of your work and bring you more into a place for the angels to be provided for you.


The Seven Orisons from the Enchiridion of Pope Leo provide magical prayers which the magician could pray daily at sunrise, or nightly before bed in order to build on that devotional practice. You can read those prayers for free here.


While looking at sets of seven daily prayers, we shouldn’t slouch on the ones from the Heptameron. The Heptameron of Pietro D’Abano has a prayer for each day of the week which conjures the angels. Several magical sources encourage the magician to use these prayers or prayers like them as a daily practice. On any day where he intends to do magic, the magician should recite the appropriate prayer in the first hour (at sunrise) of the day. It’s advisable for the magician to make this a regular practice even on days where he isn’t doing other magical work. Doing this can help keep the magician’s focus on angelic work and bring the angels into the magician’s orbit.


For one last example of a daily devotional prayer, Reginald Scot provides a conjuration through which God binds spirits to obey the magician. I’ve presented the prayer in one of my books, but you can also read it for free in my blog here.


We talked about purity. Obviously, living a solid good life is a big part of that. Ritually speaking, fasting, bathing, anointing, things like that help prepare the magician. Attending religious services is an option too. If you want something simple, ritually bathing and praying the psalms is a good start. Several grimoire provide psalms for this purpose. Joseph Peterson has provided a list of purposes assigned to psalms in the grimoires. You can find psalms for your cleansing bath, psalms to consecrate your candles, psalms for putting on special ritual clothes, and for a host of other purposes. You can peruse thathere and select psalms for your various needs.


As you save a bit of money, or get some from calling on angels to aid you, you can start acquiring tools and exploring more deeply through the grimoires. You can approach them in a purist approach or an idiosyncratic approach.


The Heptameron is one of the simplest ones. You can use it for angels, for aerial spirits, and also for demons. If you want an approach with few tools that builds a lifetime of practice, there is the Abramelin. It will involve a lot of time and devotion but it doesn’t need a lot of tools and will give you access to spirits and magic that don’t need a lot of tools. The French version adds a lot of things…things the system seems intended to avoid…and so it will involve more tools, but the German version keeps it simple. You’ll need a few things but not a ton. It’s also the one book we’re mentioning that you’d need to buy. You don’t really need classes or instruction or other books to learn how to do it, just trust your guardian angel to guide you.


So, there you have it. I’m not telling you to buy my books or anyone else’s books or take my classes or anyone else’s. You can learn and do grimoire magic with no cost if you really put your mind to it. There are some great books and some great classes out there too which can help you…but don’t think that’s the only way to get started. Once you get started, you can always jump deeper and explore those options…but don’t let the cost of books, classes, and tools keep you away if you feel this is what you should really be doing. Don’t let apparent complexities keep you on the bench either. Jump in. Doing is learning.


Like most of my posts, stuff I offer will be linked at the end. Those are standard links, they aren’t an answer to “how can I do this if I can’t afford much.” The actual content of the blog post answers that question.

Would you like to Follow us for Updates or Support our Work?

If you enjoyed this please like, follow, and share on your favorite social media! We can be followed for updates on Facebook.


If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration


If you want some help exploring the vast world of spirits check out my first book – Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits

 Sign up for our free online publication: Minor Mendings Magical Magazine

More Opportunities for Support and Classes will show up at Ko-Fi