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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Is Covid 19 interrupting your spiritual experience?

I saw a little discussion about how there is a lack of flow due to quarantining. There are no gatherings, people have to do cyber offerings which don't seem to have the same impact, drinking, partying, and the social component of our religious experience as Pagans or as magicians is something from which we are cut off. As a result people feel cut off from the gods and spirits with whom they normally enjoy communion. 

I don't really get this. 

To me, Paganism is definitively social. Pagan means the local religion, so it is the community's relationship with itself and through that relationship between its members its shared relationship with the gods. My primary practice tends to focus on magic and animism and Christianity because I can engage those are part of personal spirituality. Being Pagan means I need a community which I don't have. Not having a community doesn't mean I can't have a relationship with the gods. 

I think there are some things which work a lot better when we have people. I can't host a bacchanal right now. I can still have a relationship with Dionysos that is meaningful and connected and impacts me. I have to adjust it, because part of my Dionysian Charism is sharing drunkeness and revelry with others. I'm looking at some other projects for doing that. The universe is throwing copious drink making recipes and articles at me at record pace. The influence doesn't disappear. 

I think there is also a tendency for people to need the awe inspiring flashiness of some physically obvious touch point. Only seeing the beauty of nature in a strikingly ancient looking tree and not seeing it in the intrepid weed breaking through the concrete of a city sidewalk is too easy of a trap to fall into. Christians and Catholics thinking they have been cut off from their religion because they can't go to church services instead of reaping the joy of a rich and personal devotional prayer practice at home is a similarly easy trap. Pagans lost without the light of a community bonfire forgetting that they can be warmed by living well and making sacrifices to household gods and spirits as much as they can from the conflagration at the great gathering is the same trap. 

It's a trap which is natural for humans. It's a trap we're designed to fall into. We have a great capacity to enjoy and be moved by the epic. It's a wonderful part of who and what we are. 

We also have a great capacity to be moved by the small beauty we find in personal and silent moments. These moments are harder to find, but when we find them their beauty and power can be staggering. 

Losing the physical community of our religious activity is truly a loss we should recognize and experience. It can be unsettling and lead us into feeling cut off. But it's a reminder of the wonder that we can seek, and find, and immerse ourselves within all around us. 

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Getting Started with Sorcery


I’ve seen a couple threads in which people asked what you’d recommend people study, what skills you’d recommend people develop, and what books you’d recommend people read if they want to become sorcerers. Psychology often dominates, with some philosophy, mythology, anthropology and general fringe thought thrown in. Someone recently suggested UFOs and cryptids. Magic is oddly rarely the focus. In some of the cases where it is…it’s really random or bad books being recommended, or modern books of magic that approach magic as mysticism and psychology.

A lot – not all; of the above-mentioned subjects are good for magicians and sorcerers to study. Most of them are not what people need in the beginning. You can become a fairly successful sorcerer without those subjects. Psychology can help you understand yourself and other people, philosophy can help you learn to frame ideas, mythology, folklore, history and anthropology can give you access to deeper resources to understand more magical techniques and approaches. The main thing you need those is magic. These other disciplines won’t teach you magic, they won’t make you a sorcerer, but they are useful in support of sorcery.

So, if you want to get started with sorcery, and become good at magic, what should be in your library?

Books On Sorcery and Magic

These books are going to be our baseline. These will help instruct you in magic. You can use these and that can get you where you want to go. Go through all of these.

The Sorcerer’s Secret’s – Jason Miller
Charms Spells and Formulas – Ray Malborough
Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic – Catherine Yronwode
The Sporting Life – Charles Porterfield
Old Style Conjure – Starr Casas  
Quimbanda – Danilo Coppini
Secret of the Psalms – Godfrey Selig
Living Spirits – BJ Swain

Notes regarding some of the books in this section will be provided in the end.

Establishing a Conjuration Practice

Conjuration doesn’t necessarily need to be a part of a sorcerer’s arsenal, but it can be a useful addition, and one which is popular these days.

The two books I’m going to recommend for beginning that process both present easy streamlined approaches but each with a slightly different focus. Both allow you to dive right in. You could try one or the other or both. Both work on simplified approaches to conjuring planetary angels and can be adapted to other spirits.

Seven Spheres – Rufus Opus

Seven Spheres should be your choice if you want to use conjuration work as a way of magically initiating yourself and introducing yourself to occult powers to expand your magic.

Luminarium – BJ Swain

Luminarium focuses on using conjuration for practical purposes and presents magical and sorcery techniques to prepare for conjuration and examples for using conjuration to augment a practice of practical sorcery.

Grimoires and Magical Working Books

You don’t necessarily need these but if you want to expand into the arena of conjuration or using a grimoire system here are some options. Some of these will also have spell options and inspirations in addition to what we typically think of as grimoire work. You could pick one of these or a handful or none. There are others out there two, but if I was going to pick from a limited selection it would be one of these.

The Fourth Book of OccultPhilosophy (for the Heptameron and the Arbatel)

Folk Magic, Cunning Work, and Inspiration for Spells and Magical Workings

Traditional collections containing magical spells and folklore are a must. Again, you don’t need all of these, pick the ones that speak to you.

Svartkonstbocker - Thomas K. Johnson
The Black Books of Elverum - Mary S. Rustad
The Long-Lost Friend - Daniel Harms
Angels Demons & Spirits - Daniel Harms
The Book of Saint Cyprian - Jose Leitao 
The Greek Magical Papyri - Hans Deiter Betz
Ancient Christian Magic - Marvin Meyer

Divination

Some method of divination is a must, and unfortunately divination is mostly something I’ve picked up as hodge podge catch as catch can kind of info since I was a small child, so it’s not something I focus on book-wise. So, I don’t have a ton of recommendations

The Book of Saint Cyprian – includes info on cartomancy
Cypriana: Old World – Jake Stratton-Kent has an essay included on Cyprianic cartomancy
Marseille Tarot – Camelia Elias

Notes:

Malborough – I’ve seen people question some of the recipes in this book, but I’ve also seen people praise it. At a minimum it is a good introduction to the ideas and techniques and provides correspondences to use.

Yronwoode – Cat Yronwoode has been the basis of spreading the popularity of Hoodoo amongst magical practitioners today, there are some similar mixed views about her work and products but she collects a vast amount of sources and most visible Hoodoo practitioners are influenced by it.

Porterfield – Dr. Porterfield is a popular practitioner and teacher. There is some jarring appropriative use of “slang” and “lingo” in The Sporting Life. The recipes and techniques are worth it if you just skim past the attempt to establish a cultural setting for the book.

Casas -  Starr Casas is popular with a lot of very good magicians, but like most of the Hoodoo writers there is debate about her work. In my opinion the debate seems to be largely surrounding her being white more than it is about the quality of her content. There is a strange disconnect when reading because the way she talks about black ancestors and heritage it seems like she’s talking about her own ancestors and heritage, but I don’t know anything about her history or her family’s history in order to have any real judgment or comment on that.

Coppini – There are a lot of approaches to Quimbanda and debate on which sources present authentic forms. This book is not recommended with the intent of suggesting people pick up Quimbanda as a practice but the approaches, explanations, and techniques described can greatly aid in deepening and expanding a practice of spiritous sorcery.

Swain – my book will provide history, context, and a worldview which will add to the work you’re doing with these other books, in addition to explaining techniques and approaches. It will also give the grounding needed for some of the spirit work involved in the other books recommended in other sections.

Long Lost Friend - There is a lot of folklore that is not expressly magic in this.

Arthur Gauntlet - The transcriber elected not to include a table of contents and so the book is difficult to use for practical purposes

There are other books that might have made the cut that I just haven't had a chance to explore. Notably, Mallorie Vadouise's Honoring Your Ancestors, and Gordon White's Chaos Protocols and Pieces of Eight, or Aidan Wachter's Six Ways. They all have great reputations I just haven't read them. Patrick Dunn's Orphic Hymns would probably be useful too just didn't fit one of the above categories. Jake Stratton-Kent's Encyclopedia Goetica series would also be a sort of magical approach to history which would be informative depending upon the direction in which you choose to go. 

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



Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Great Outdoors


          One of the things I have commented on several times about Luminarium, and which my test group noted as well is that it is, to a degree, modular. The texts presents at once a system which can be used, more or less, as a stand-alone approach to magic or an example of adaptation which allows for additional adaptation.
          The entire system of preparation is presented ala carte with an invitation to bring your own. The tools are somewhat minimalist, but they can be adapted. The system presents conjurations for angels and aerial spirits, but with a little adjustment it can be used for other purpose as well.
          If you sort out what each piece of the conjuration ritual is doing, you could easily substitute equivalent functions from a preferred spiritual system or a preferred magical text.
          It’s setting up a model for a system of conjuring – a framework; as much as it is presenting a grimoire you can roll out of bed and chat up some cosmic powers with.
          My intention over the next few posts is to present some of these adaptations. The first one is inspired by a friend, who was one of the testers, who is spending a few weeks out in the wilderness. While thinking about him out there I considered suggesting he try out Luminarium in a more natural context, but realized he might not have some of the stuff he would need for the standard context. This got me thinking of how to change things.
         

The Ancestors

          The big thing that would be missing if someone were on the road or in the great outdoors and wanted to use Luminarium is the ancestor altar. The shrine to the ancestors essentially consecrates a temple space and becomes our in between space for working in the spirit world without needing a circle set up. It also sets the grounds for a particular sort of spirit leverage and connection.
          In my case I have a handmade rosary consecrated to my ancestors, Mary, Hekate and St. Benedict. If I wanted to work in a context similar to working at my ancestor shrine I could wear the rosary or I could place the rosary on the ground and put the bowl and other implements within the loop of the rosary. The space it outlines would be a hallowed space dedicated to those powers so long as the rosary was laid open in that spot.
          Another approach I might take is a spirit candle. While I light candles on my ancestor shrine to help make contact with them, I also have a pillar candle which I used for working with a particular ancestor before setting up my ancestor shrine. Once I began working with the shrine regularly I used that candle to ask that ancestor if I could work with him and his candle as a link to my ancestors over all if working in an instance where placing the candle in my working space made more sense than working at the altar.
          So if you have some tool along those lines which is portable and which you take with you then you could simulate the space of your ancestor work while working away from home.

The Nature Spirits

          The possibility of not having some sort of ancestral link – other than yourself – could easily come up during unplanned workings while exploring the wilderness for an extended period. So, with that being the case, maybe recontextualizing amid the spirits in your locality makes sense.
          I think if you approached from the perspective of engaging the nature spirits it would kind of shift a few things. In my experience, nature spirits are good at connecting you with other nature spirits and spirits who interact with them closely, but perhaps less so with a broad range of spirits. So, their ability to create leverage to help call upon spirits and bring spirits to work on your behalf might not be the same as when working with ancestors. Nature spirits also are not human, so they don’t have the same inside track as to what human needs and experience are like. They’re not your family so there is not the same natural investment.
          On the flip side there are benefits to nature spirits as a context to engage for this work. If your goal is to work with some natural or elemental spirit, or to conjure a faery or a dead person then nature spirits might be very useful in helping facilitate that connection. Nature spirits have influence over the spaces they protect and the areas of nature they connect with. So, while they might not guide things from a human perspective, they may be able to help influence what will and will not easily manifest within their spaces. Nature spirits are sometimes depicted as frightening and dangerous, but other-times as loving caregivers, guardians, and providers for the human communities within their environment. I believe a lot of this has to do with what kind of relationships humans are maintaining with them. With this in mind they may have an investment in your – albeit of a different sort than your ancestors – if you’re maintaining a good relationship with them.

Building a Relationship

          If you’re going to work with nature spirits as your context, which makes a lot of sense if you’re working out in nature, you need to build a relationship.
          The first step in this process is going into natural spaces and introducing yourself. Once you’ve introduced yourself, sit and listen. Appreciate the space. Be a part of the space and accept and adapt to it rather than trying to make it adapt to and accept you. Once you’ve done this, make offerings. Water, incense, appropriate food. Be mindful that your offerings don’t damage the space. Be a good steward, clean things up, take care of things in the space, don’t be part of the problems damaging the space. Make more individual introductions, meet the rivers, the trees, the rocks, the wind, whatever else makes up the space. It’s not just the spirit of the overall place, or an over all guardian spirit of the place, but the lives of the myriad pieces that make up the environment with whom you will need to engage.

Place

          If you’re working in nature, find a spot that seems conducive to your work, get to know the spot and anything in it. Build a connection. You don’t need to consecrate it so much as you need to awaken your awareness of its life and bring that awareness into engagement. You could build up ritual structures, but if you can find a place that is naturally suited that’s better. If you’re building, ask permission to do so, and ask permission to use the natural materials you need. Ask those materials to be your working partners and part of what you’re doing.

Tools

          You might streamline the tools some. Maybe just the lantern instead of the candles. Maybe a natural pool of water instead of the bowl. Maybe a spot on the ground or a rock instead of a table. You’ll have to look at what you have available, what the space provides, and what feels right and make those three influences work together.

The Ritual Itself

          Most of the ritual would remain the same. The ancestor service might be replaced by offerings and work with the spirits of nature, but there should still be a point where you at least call on and acknowledge your ancestors. When you get to the conjuration that might shift if you’re shifting what you’re conjuring. Maybe you want to talk to the guardian of that space? Maybe you want to call on a faery, or a dead person connected to that space? The conjuration prayer you write would focus on the powers of nature and show respect to those as well as to whatever you’re calling. If calling angels, aerial spirits, or demons, you might not have to adjust anything except using the rite for the nature spirits instead of the ancestor service rite.

Try it out and let me know how it goes!

If you’re curious about the method being discussed pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of CunningConjuration

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

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


Friday, June 5, 2020

Considering an Act of Magic


Yesterday we presented a selection from Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography, La Vita, in which he describes two experiments of conjuration. Published magical journals and accounts from the Middle Ages and he Renaissance our, to our detriment, not incredibly common. So, while this account is not an account by a magician it is one with which we should be familiar. Such accounts can help us get a broader picture of how magic was actually practiced.
          There is of course in modern magic some debate regarding how to interpret the grimoires. The idea that they are woefully incomplete such as to be unworkable is more or less, fortunately, dismissed. The idea that they are full of blinds and mis-directions is also, again fortunately, more or less dismissed. Now the question is more one of discreet and perfect textual adherence, or consideration of magic within a context that allows some blending and idiosyncrasy.
          Jason Miller has often pointed out that if magicians did precisely what the grimoires said all the time we would have many more examples of physical magical artifacts surviving, and for the most part we don’t. I have pointed out many times that the idea that texts were viewed as distinct and even holy instructions written by individual groups of spirits is shown faulty, not simply by the spirits often being the same book to book, but by the fact that we can trace literary lineages. Books clearly copy and draw from one another. Working books clearly copy pieces from other books and blend them together and make adjustments. Further what we generally see are translations which may combine multiple differing manuscript sources each source having differences, and so our readings are often not the readings of a singular book by a singular hand. Work books, and the books of cunningfolk show blending and adaptation, and accounts of the work of cunningfolk do as well.
          One might counter that the cunningfolk are not quite the same as the educated magicians who used the grimoires. This distinction is a faulty one when we consider the actual history. Even forgetting that that is the case, we have Cellini’s account of a priest, who has studied necromancy, performing magic. So, what does that account tell us?
          Firstly, Cellini’s priest performs the conjuration in two different ways. He works with a virgin boy scryer in one instance after having worked without the boy in the first. The conjurations he uses the second time are different than the first. His circle construction is more complicated the second time. Aside from that the description of the magician’s work is not particularly varied. It does not seem so much that he is using a different system each time but rather that he is ratchetting up his effort the second time by using what he believes to be more powerful conjurations and circle constructions. Cellini says that the first conjuration did not obtain his desire and upon that the magician offered a second attempt and assured that second attempt would secure success. This, to me, indicates that he was leveling up his game in the second attempt.
          There is no description of special clothing or of special tools, save that the necromancer has a robe or robes. One man holds a pentacle in the first attempt, and the other two deal with fires and perfumes. Curiously, he describes each being introduced to the circle as if there is some ritual of bringing someone in. While the grimoires, when describing a master and acolytes, instruct that the acolytes hold a sword and a candle, and stand in a particular spot, none of that is done here. The necromancer likely had a sword or rod because he drew circles on the ground, but no other such indication is given of him using any tools during the conjuration. They also do not describe any altar or table.
          It seems that Cellini and the necromancer were both able to perceive the devils they conjured, it also seems that they did not necessarily perceive the same things, the necromancer having to relay the answer to Cellini regarding his request. The boy clearly sees different things from what they see. Cellini’s account does not seem concerned about this. The lack of concern either suggests that it was a given, or that it simply did not concern Cellini and regardless of the difference he was satisfied with the experience.
          The primary materials seem to be the perfumes of which there seem to be a significant amount. The perfumes seem to be the main tool by which the spirits are called, along with the conjurations. The foul-smelling drugs, and flatulence, seem to be the most effective items in banishing them, more so than the magician’s dismissals. This seems to fit some of the ideas Dr. Stephen Skinner has put forth regarding spirits and smells.  
          In both instances Cellini’s necromancer either did not call forth a particular single spirit. In the first it is unclear, but in the second he called on several spirits by name. In both cases many spirits arrive. The magician seems unable to determine the number of spirits conjured or to command the legion of spirits. It seems as if the conjuration generally calls forth spirits. There is no effort to bind the spirits to a particular space, behavior, or appearance. This would suggest that the method is not strictly Solomonic in nature. In fact, most elements of a Solomonic conjuration seem to be missing from the description, whether or not they were missing from what was done.
          Regarding the conjurations they were a combination of Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Cellini does not mention the use of Italian. It may be that conjurations were not performed in the vernacular or that it was not worth being mentioned that the vernacular was used. It is likely that at this point, in a Catholic country, a priest would work magic in Latin given that magic was a parallel to liturgy.
          One of the things which has always been of interest to me is that the magician has several books with him. These books are in use in the ceremony because he must collect and bundle them at the end, therefore they have been taken out from their bundling. The books are not his consecrated ritual book upon which spirits have sworn. We know this because he asks for Cellini to help him in creating such a book. To me this has always suggested that the magician reads from a book when making his conjuration…although this would be more reasonable with a single consecrated book having all the conjurations he might use rather than several. It also counters the oft asserted idea that magicians were lucky to have a single magical text and would study and probe that singular text because they were unlikely to ever see another. All textual evidence shows thoroughly that this was untrue, yet it is still repeated as a justification for some modern approaches and interpretations. This account makes it very clear that even this random necromancer priest had multiple books at his disposal simultaneously. This also indicates that it was unlikely that a single book of magic was viewed as a discreet and unalterable thing, or he would not have needed multiple books with him at the time of his efforts.
          By the Renaissance the Colosseum was a ruin and an unkept space. It had been used as a quarry and thus the structure was in decay with parts of the building having been removed. Some locals used it for keeping stalls of their animals. So, it was a relatively abandoned space in the city. We sometimes note that the grimoires are not particularly express about the spaces in which to conjure, but what information we have often suggests far off and remote spaces. Abandoned spaces. The Colosseum would be such despite being within a city.
          Cellini’s account is an account of a priest who was learned in nigromancy, along with a partner with experience in nigromancy, during the Renaissance rather than a later account of a cunning person. It is an account of someone who is an example of a magician operating within the grimoire tradition during its own period of time. We don’t know how complete or how incomplete the account is, but Cellini does recount two instances similarly. Based on Cellini’s account one operating in this manner would retreat to a remote or abandoned space.  The principle exorcist needs a robe but additional participants do not need special clothes or preparations. A circle is to be drawn, and ritual preparations are made while drawing it – one would assume the psalms. Once everyone enters the circle fires are lit – I would assume braziers; and rich and fine perfumes are placed thereon. A pentacle is held up, if there is a scryer the pentacle is held above the scryer. The conjurer recites conjurations and prayers calling upon God, and upon the spirits by name. When the spirits arrive, they may be asked for a request. Once finished the spirits may be dismissed using foul odors and instructions to depart, or the Church bells striking morning prayers might dismiss them.
Cellini’s account presents a very stripped-down version of conjuration.  Before we dismiss this though, consider John Dee’s approach. It was largely a prayer of praise and confession and then prayers for the appearance of angels. There was not much more to it than that. Trithemius’s Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals (DSIC) looks very similar to the means by which Dee worked. DSIC might be a spurious text, but still seems to indicate well enough a basic approach to crystallomancy. This approach follows the essential idea of the grimoires but eschews the complexity of the tools and rituals. With that in mind, Cellini’s account, while not detailed, probably covers the main beats of what happened and still illustrates for us that conjuration in that context need not be as complicated as sometimes described.

So, in our previous post I noted that in today’s post I would provide some information on my new book, Luminarium: A Guide to Cunning Conjuration. In short, the book is a quick read, my test readers were all done it within a couple of days. The goal of the book is to give magicians a system they can use and begin doing conjurations with very little prep time. Reading the book, gathering and preparing the materials, and preparing yourself could all be done within a few days to a week – even if you’ve never done magic. Its goal is to help get new magicians off the sidelines, but also to provide a new and empowered way, drawing on old and traditional techniques, to give those already experimenting with conjuration a simplified and powerful method. The method essentially uses magic to augment the preparations and the conjuration itself to make things simpler and more accessible for the magician.  
Here is some initial feedback the book has gotten:

“I think it absolutely is fantastic this is so much needed and I think this is going to be really ground breaking and game changing.” – Anneliese Anthoinette

“I had recently petitioned Hekate to assist me with opening the ways to contact my HGA. My first go-around attempt a few years ago did not go well and I did not make it to the rite. The prayers and directions in your text were exactly what I was looking for to start a different approach!” – Jonathan Masters
“All I gotta say is.... WOAH. That was powerful. And I am buzzing. Also, some real interesting physical manifestation stuff happened” – Alexander Deckman

“I’m really excited for people to read this.” – Aequus Nox

The Kindle Edition of Luminarium is available for pre-order on Amazon now, it will go live June 7th. The paperback edition should be available on Amazon either June 6th or 7th. A paperback and a hardback edition will be available through Barnes and Noble in a few weeks, as will paperback and hardback editions of Living Spirits.

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Thursday, June 4, 2020

An Account of Magic


Many readers will be familiar with Benvenuto Cellini’s account of conjurations in the Roman Colosseum. They’re familiar to most well-read magicians or even simply those magicians who have been exploring conjuration for some time. Like all things though there must be spaces for new people to discover them. So, this post is for readers who have not yet encountered this account.  Our follow up will discuss it and may be of interest even for those with familiarity. 
Cellini himself was not the author of a grimoire nor a famous magician, but rather an artistic hero of the Italian Renaissance. I do not mean he was a hero in the sense of DaVinci or Michelangelo who held renown for their famous works, but rather he was one who explored experience and left behind a great story of an artist making his life itself into a work of art.
Cellini was not a magician but the magic in his life was not confined only to the one account with which many magicians are familiar. As a boy, Cellini recounts that, his father showed him a salamander present within the fire. As Cellini is only seven years the junior of Paracelsus, this demonstrates that the fire elementals were commonly known prior to their formalization in occult literature. When 23 he took ill with a plague that ravished Rome, but recovered. By his account his recovery and that of the luminary artists of his time was due to their higher minds and awareness of the Neo-Platonic concepts which elevated their worldviews and therefore the understanding of their health. Then there is the clear and wonderful description of two adventures of nigromancy. Finally, he achieved a vision of the Blessed Virgin and of Christ while incarcerated. He was treated badly, victim of an assassination attempt, and through a spiritual regimen of scriptural reflection, singing sacred music and writing poetry he recovered his health and well being and received these visions before ultimately being freed.
Yuri Rudnev has advocated deeper explorations of Cellini’s Vita than have been done in the past. He believes that Cellini’s whole life and his accounting of it is essentially an alchemical ritual drawing on NeoPlatonic and Hermetic principle and modes of thinking and comprehending knowledge and experience. He has often been a somewhat forgotten figure as far as Renaissance biography is concerned but there may be cause for interest there.
For magicians, at the least, he presents one of the few available practical accounts of magic. We often have grimoires to go on but first hand accounts are rare. When we have them – and we compare grimoires, working books, and those few accounts; we have we can begin to get a better picture of how magic actually looked, how it was actually practiced.
With this in mind, today we give this introductory commentary and then we quote the segment of the Vita which relates Cellini’s extraordinary experience in the Colosseum. Next, we will discuss some bits and pieces to consider regarding that account.

“IT happened through a variety of singular accidents that I became intimate with a Sicilian priest, who was a man of very elevated genius and well instructed in both Latin and Greek letters. In the course of conversation one day we were led to talk about the art of necromancy; apropos of which I said: “Throughout my whole life I have had the most intense desire to see or learn something of this art.” Thereto the priest replied: “A stout soul and a steadfast must the man have who sets himself to such an enterprise.” I answered that of strength and steadfastness of soul I should have enough and to spare, provided I found the opportunity. Then the priest said: “If you have the heart to dare it, I will amply satisfy your curiosity.” Accordingly we agreed upon attempting the adventure.

The priest one evening made his preparations, and bade me find a comrade, or not more than two. I invited Vincenzio Romoli, a very dear friend of mine, and the priest took with him a native of Pistoja, who also cultivated the black art. We went together to the Coliseum; and there the priest, having arrayed himself in necromancer’s robes, began to describe circles on the earth with the finest ceremonies that can be imagined. I must say that he had made us bring precious perfumes and fire, and also drugs of fetid odour. When the preliminaries were completed, he made the entrance into the circle; and taking us by the hand, introduced us one by one inside it. Then he assigned our several functions; to the necromancer, his comrade, he gave the pentacle to hold; the other two of us had to look after the fire and the perfumes; and then he began his incantations. This lasted more than an hour and a half; when several legions appeared, and the Coliseum was all full of devils. I was occupied with the precious perfumes, and when the priest perceived in what numbers they were present, he turned to me and said: “Benvenuto, ask them something.” I called on them to reunite me with my Sicilian Angelica. That night we obtained no answer; but I enjoyed the greatest satisfaction of my curiosity in such matters. The necromancer said that we should have to go a second time, and that I should obtain the full accomplishment of my request; but he wished me to bring with me a little boy of pure virginity.

I chose one of my shop-lads, who was about twelve years old, and invited Vincenzio Romoli again; and we also took a certain Agnolino Gaddi, who was a very intimate friend of both. When we came once more to the place appointed, the necromancer made just the same preparations, attended by the same and even more impressive details. Then he introduced us into the circle, which he had reconstructed with art more admirable and yet more wondrous ceremonies. Afterwards he appointed my friend Vincenzio to the ordering of the perfumes and the fire, and with him Agnolino Gaddi. He next placed in my hand the pentacle, which he bid me turn toward the points he indicated, and under the pentacle I held the little boy, my workman. Now the necromancer began to utter those awful invocations, calling by name on multitudes of demons who are captains of their legions, and these he summoned by the virtue and potency of God, the Uncreated, Living, and Eternal, in phrases of the Hebrew, and also of the Greek and Latin tongues; insomuch that in a short space of time the whole Coliseum was full of a hundredfold as many as had appeared upon the first occasion. Vincenzio Romoli, together with Agnolino, tended the fire and heaped on quantities of precious perfumes. At the advice of the necromancer, I again demanded to be reunited with Angelica. The sorcerer turned to me and said: “Hear you what they have replied; that in the space of one month you will be where she is?” Then once more he prayed me to stand firm by him, because the legions were a thousandfold more than he had summoned, and were the most dangerous of all the denizens of hell; and now that they had settled what I asked, it behoved us to be civil to them and dismiss them gently. On the other side, the boy, who was beneath the pentacle, shrieked out in terror that a million of the fiercest men were swarming round and threatening us. He said, moreover, that four huge giants had appeared, who were striving to force their way inside the circle. Meanwhile the necromancer, trembling with fear, kept doing his best with mild and soft persuasions to dismiss them. Vincenzio Romoli, who quaked like an aspen leaf, looked after the perfumes. Though I was quite as frightened as the rest of them, I tried to show it less, and inspired them all with marvellous courage; but the truth is that I had given myself up for dead when I saw the terror of the necromancer. The boy had stuck his head between his knees, exclaiming: “This is how I will meet death, for we are certainly dead men.” Again I said to him: “These creatures are all inferior to us, and what you see is only smoke and shadow; so then raise your eyes.” When he had raised them he cried out: “The whole Coliseum is in flames, and the fire is advancing on us;” then covering his face with his hands, he groaned again that he was dead, and that he could not endure the sight longer. The necromancer appealed for my support, entreating me to stand firm by him, and to have assafetida flung upon the coals; so I turned to Vincenzio Romoli, and told him to make the fumigation at once. While uttering these words I looked at Agnolino Gaddi, whose eyes were starting from their sockets in his terror, and who was more than half dead, and said to him: “Agnolo, in time and place like this we must not yield to fright, but do the utmost to bestir ourselves; therefore, up at once, and fling a handful of that assafetida upon the fire.” Agnolo, at the moment when he moved to do this, let fly such a volley from his breech, that it was far more effectual than the assafetida. 1 The boy, roused by that great stench and noise, lifted his face little, and hearing me laugh, he plucked up courage, and said the devils were taking to flight tempestuously. So we abode thus until the matinbells began to sound. Then the boy told us again that but few remained, and those were at a distance. When the necromancer had concluded his ceremonies, he put off his wizard’s robe, and packed up a great bundle of books which he had brought with him; then, all together, we issued with him from the circle, huddling as close as we could to one another, especially the boy, who had got into the middle, and taken the necromancer by his gown and me by the cloak. All the while that we were going toward our houses in the Banchi, he kept saying that two of the devils he had seen in the Coliseum were gamboling in front of us, skipping now along the roofs and now upon the ground. The necromancer assured me that, often as he had entered magic circles, he had never met with such a serious affair as this. He also tried to persuade me to assist him in consecrating a book, by means of which we should extract immeasurable wealth, since we could call up fiends to show us where treasures were, whereof the earth is full; and after this wise we should become the richest of mankind: love affairs like mine were nothing but vanities and follies without consequence. I replied that if I were a Latin scholar I should be very willing to do what he suggested. He continued to persuade me by arguing that Latin scholarship was of no importance, and that, if he wanted, he could have found plenty of good Latinists; but that he had never met with a man of soul so firm as mine, and that I ought to follow his counsel. Engaged in this conversation, we reached our homes, and each one of us dreamed all that night of devils.”

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Simple Sacrifice


Sometimes magic and our relationships with spirits need to be touched through simple things. These simple things should not only be those that we are weaving into the regular occurrences of our lives but rather things in which we find the magical in our lives. I’m not going to write about all such spaces in which we can do this but just give an example or two.
          Sometimes we can do things as simple as walking around outside and talking with the elements of nature and the spirits thereof. This not only reminds us that the living magical nature of the world around us does not only exist when we do magic – it is something which surrounds us at all time; but it also reminds those spirits we know them and they know us and we have bonds with them.
          Similarly, if you have some touch point for your ancestors or household spirits or gods near the entry to your home, speak to them when you come or when you go or both. Again, they’re not only there when you do magic, they watch over you always and are part of your family and your household. In my own practice, I have a picture of my father, which my grandfather had made for me after his death, that hangs on the wall immediately upon entry to my home. I great the picture every time I return home from going anywhere. My ancestor altar is also in the walkway as I enter my home, and so I greet my ancestors whenever I return home. With this greeting I thank my father, my ancestors, and my gods, angels and other allies for all help they have given me in recent times.
          Sacrifice crowns the title of this piece and so I should perhaps reference sacrifice. We often think of sacrifices as big things, or things where we give up something close to us. This is not always the case. It’s just to separate something out, to make it sacred, and give it over to the gods or spirits which aid us. It’s a moment where we can give a gift, and we can show respect, and when it is woven into our lives it becomes a moment where they participate with us in life. It’s a moment where we turn our thoughts to them outside of more formal ceremony.
          So, I have two examples to give, which are really essentially the same thing. In many cultures fat and bone were the objects of sacrifice. Meat was for mankind, but the glistening fat and the rich smoke that rose therefrom was desired by the gods. When cooking we often have meats with much extra fat. Whenever I cook chicken, sometimes when I cook beef, there is fat to be cut off. I imagine this would be the case with pork and mutton, but I don’t cook those. When I’ve cut the extra fat away, I take out outside and burn it as an offering. I usually make a prayer like this, “May the smoke of the fat rise and please the gods, may the ash fall upon the earth and please the gods of the underworld and the dead. May they be pleased with this and be pleased with me and pour their blessings upon me.” When cooking ground beef, the fat which cooks off into grease I’ll generally drain off and let cool. Then I go to a spot that receives offerings pour out this fat, with the prayer “May the fat of the animal become the fat of the land, may the spirits of nature, the gods of the underworld and the dead receive its richness, and may they likewise pour their richness upon me.”
          Simple, right? Not everything needs to be complicated. We can find simple options. I like this because it’s part of something as normal as preparing a meal. It’s part of an essential daily activity, so it brings our spiritual life into those daily activities. It also allows us to make meaningful something that we might otherwise cast off. There are a lot of other things you can do with fat, if you prepare other foods, or compost or whatever other useful thing, this specific act may not be for you, but the idea is there. Find small things that tie your spiritual life to your daily life.

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Monday, May 25, 2020

Some Thoughts on Witch Power


“outside the bounds of modern Neo-Paganism, witchcraft is NOT about Goddess or God, seasonal celebrations, procuring a good harvest, reliving the past, dancing in a cloak while drinking wine or wearing flowers in your hair or even necessarily about being Pagan. Witchcraft is about sovereignty.”

In a Facebook group someone posted a picture of Besom Stang & Sword by Christopher Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire, with the above quote. I can’t speak on the book as I have not read it. I believe in historical witchcraft more so than modern Neo-Pagan and social aesthetic forms of witchcraft, but I’m not really tied into the trad-craft movement. That said, I do like some trad-craft writers and approaches. I’ve heard enough good things about Besom Stang & Sword that I am curious to read it.  
This particular quote – which again I cannot attest from the book but rather from the forum; leaves room for discussion. It certainly drew some interesting responses in the forum.
The first individual suggested that the word sovereignty was a biased and Christian view. I think maybe she did not understand what sovereignty means on an individual basis…or that they were speaking of witchcraft outside of the context of NeoPaganism, and thus historically that might also include Christians.
One person dismissed any book that would use the term NeoPaganism, because the term seems “dictatorish” (sic).
Others seemed to view witchcraft along the lines of modern ceremonial magic – a path to enlightenment and the spiritual pursuit of the higher self. In fact, that seemed to be predominant. Most did not like the idea of witchcraft as a means of power. Some felt that you would grow past the desire for power. Others felt that witchcraft is humbling and would teach you not to seek power. Some said it is not a path of power at all but only one of wisdom and harmony.
Some people today say that the revival authors and the NeoPagans of the 60s and 70s reclaimed the word witch, but you can’t reclaim that which was never yours. They’ve stolen and abused the word and left us with these sad, weak, and uneducated points of view.
The only comment I responded to was one which suggested that witchcraft was the birthright of all mankind. I responded that this position was directly in opposition to all historical meanings of the word witchcraft. But I should further point out that this powerlessness is also antithetical to the idea of witchcraft. In modern parlance we view witchcraft to be witchery, the things done by witches. People who can’t quite figure out what a witch is say that a witch is someone who does witchcraft…a rather meaningless definition due to its circular quality. Historically Kraft was not science, or a skilled knowledge, Kraft was power or force. Witchcraft is the power that a witch has to work magic. Witchcraft is inherently about power.   
I am not in the habit of saying a witch must be this or that. Witchcraft is not a system but rather a state of being and something possessed of one in that state of being. Historically there is a quality of antagonism associated with the witch. Modern writers have said that witchcraft is a recourse to power for the powerless. Historically this is well supported. So, the idea that witchcraft is not a path for power cuts away its teeth and turns its back on its history. It takes away from the important place witchcraft has had in mankind’s experience.
We truly need to turn from this silliness.
I was not intending to focus on that, but rather write a short post on the quoted passage, so I will turn to that.
In saying that witchcraft outside of NeoPaganism is not about a God and Goddess, or nature worship or creative anachronism, but rather about sovereignty, I must agree that this statement is 100% correct.
Even with it being 100% correct I’d say it’s not 100% complete. But then why should a quote out of context be 100% complete? I thought perhaps people’s hesitance to agree with it would be because they needed more than sovereignty to define witchcraft, but as we’ve seen it’s because the people reading the quote didn’t know what witchcraft is. Still, let’s look at some of what else there can be. I think sovereignty is important and can be expanded but it isn’t what I’d center a definition of witchcraft around.
Sovereignty is important. Being able to be effective as a witch involves being self-determined, I’d like to say also being self-possessed but that’s not exactly right. A witch should have a certain hold on their own being and an acceptance of their own character and selfhood, but the calmness and emotional stability implied by being self-possessed aren’t necessary. In fact, a turbulent spirit might be a more natural quality.
A witch needs to feel and know that they are ruled by their own power and have the awareness that they might stand against a sea of disagreeing powers, but that only their power and determination for themselves matter; they will either change the sea, or navigate the sea until they reach their own end.
More than this sovereignty, which arises in part from power, I would say otherness and liminality are the central qualities of witchcraft. These natures provide access to the power to be sovereign. Existing in a liminal state of being is central to the power we call witchcraft. A witch is tied to spirits in such a way that the witch stands between the world of man and the world of spirits. Historically witches were often described in an otherworldly way somewhere between mankind and spirit-kind. Inhabiting this state more fully empowers a witch’s relationship with the spirits with whom they will work. This liminality also allows the witch to be the crux of change in the magic they work. Existing liminally the witch’s heart is like the crossroads and so possibility flows through. Along with possibility the thing to be changed, the force of change, the state of what is, and the possible ways that it may come to be, may all simultaneously be held by the witch until they allow one road to arise.
With this liminality comes otherness. The witch is separate, but at the same time able to intimately connect because of this separateness. The witch is other from the average man, but also other from the spirits. The witch is outside the norms which create boundaries because the liminality creates a different relationship to boundary. Consider anyone who is by their nature a witch and you will see the influence of these qualities upon them and their life. These qualities give rise to witch-power because they are the basis and nature thereof.  
Ultimately, a witch is sovereign to be who they choose to be. Their quantum relationship to boundaries and borders, to normalcy and otherness give them a fluidity to be who they choose and at once to be many different things. With that in mind, rejecting modern pigeonholing – both that of the NeoPagan priests of nature and humble servants of wisdom crowd, and that of the re-wilding witchcraft politically charged seekers of antedeluvian freedom; is welcome, because witches don’t fall into pigeon holes; witches rise powerfully in what manner they choose, from what place they choose into whatever venue they choose.  

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