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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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If you would like to explore more of my ideas on magic please check out my book Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits, and keep an eye on this space for information on my new book, Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration, which will be coming out soon.

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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If you would like to explore more of my ideas on magic please check out my book Living Spirits, and keep an eye on this space for information on my new book which will be coming out soon.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Rapheal Versus Michael: Battle for the Crown of the Sun

          My new forthcoming book includes conjurations and spells based around work with the planetary angels. The test team who tried out the conjurations had a few questions along the way. Two of them asked why Raphael was listed as the archangel of Sol instead of the archangel of Mercury. It’s a question that comes up routinely. Some magicians do it one way some the other way, and many of them don’t even realize it’s something that’s up for debate. Some magicians think there’s a hard-fast right or wrong on this one. Honestly, as much as I like thinking of stuff as having a right answer this is one where I recognize there’s a basis and reasons for each, and both correspondences work, because the angels are simply bigger than that.
          For magicians who don’t understand that the angels are not themselves the planets, nor are they the same as the gods with whom the planets are associated, this idea that both can be true might be harder. If someone thinks Michael is Sol is Apollo is Tifaret, or Michael is Mercury is Hermes is Hod then they need there to be a single answer because they need these persons to be discreetly one thing so they can support their view that the correspondence is identity. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, those that think that way just don’t get it. So, the angels are left to be bigger than that thinking.
          With that said, here is some of my thinking on the matter.
          Personally, I’m not super invested in the argument, I’m comfortable with Raphael associated with the Sun and Michael associated with Mercury because initially I learned it that way. The Golden Dawn correspondences do it that way. They also recognize that the two play a little switcheroo and so on a different level the Golden Dawn also swaps them.
          First and foremost, Raphael makes sense in the Sun for me because the Sun is to me the main source for healing. Think about the feeling of a warm spring day. It’s therapeutic. The Sun is the chief amongst the planets, it is the perfection – the completion; of the concept of a planet. Healing is not fixing a problem, healing is completing or perfecting a state. Healing is removing deficiencies by restoring balance and order to a system. This concept is related to the Sun and to Tifaret. The Sun does this in our cosmos, the solar nature of Gold is the expression of this in alchemy. In the Kabbalah this is the nature of Tifaret. Tifaret orders the spheres around it, it is the heart, and it transmits the rightness of divine light from the higher into the lower, ordering it into a balanced state. So if we’re talking the divine concept of healing we’re talking the Sun.
          Now some people think that Raphael as a healer belongs in Mercury because Mercury relates to medicine. There is a difference between medicine and healing. Doctors are often associated with Mercury but the patron of doctors was Asclepius, a son of Apollo. The work of healing is solar. Medicine is Mercurial. Apollonian concepts are echoed in the rulership of Mercury. Apollo rules oracles, Mercury rules tools of divination. Mercury introduces himself to the world by stealing his big brother Apollo’s cattle, he is rewarded by taking rulership of those things with which Apollo is finished. This is not to belittle Mercury. Mercury is wonderous. Medicine as a tool of Mercury is his because it is a form of knowledge. It is the knowledge of technology used to facilitate healing. It is not the same as healing itself.
          So why would Michael belong in the sphere of the Sun? Michael is the likeness of God, and the Sun is the cosmic likeness of God. Michael is the general that commands the angels, just as the Sun commands the planets.
          One of the people who asked me suggested that Michael seems Martial rather than Solar or Mercurial. That actually makes a lot of sense. Sometimes I think Gabriel would make sense associated with Mars based on his name, but we associate Gabriel with the Moon. Gabriel is God’s herald or messenger so that would make sense in Mercury. For Michael, Michael is again God’s general. He is the archistrategos, or the high strategist of the divine host. Being a strategist may make sense in Mercury because it has to do with knowledge, analysis, planning, and communicating commands and plans. If we take it simply as an expression of military power then Michael begins to make sense in Mars. If we view Michael as the warrior who casts down the enemy then Michael makes sense for Mercury. If we view Michael in connection with the Maioral and as the scourge and the sun bathed sword who casts back the darkness at the dawn, then he simultaneously is Martial, the force of war and strength that commands away the devils, and Solar, the rising Sun that pushes out the darkness.
          So how is Michael Mercurial? Again, Mercury takes on attributes related to Apollo. Michael is God’s likeness, so he takes on attributes like unto God. Michael is one of the many angels who is a Prince of the Presence. These angels appear to mankind and represent God or speak on God’s behalf because mankind can’t receive God directly. They are messengers of the highest order. Again, as the high strategist, he plans, he communicates plans, he analyzes threats, all of these being intellectual elements. The Princes of the Presence are, in some cases, associated with writing the decrees of Heaven, and thus again this is a Mercurial function. Michael defeats Satan, this is Martial right? Well…are we talking Christianity or Judaism? In Christianity sure, it’s Martial. In Judaism it’s different. Satan is not a person, Satan is a title which refers to a group of angels, the Satanim, who at time, but not always are led by Sataniel. These are not the evil angels, those are led by Shemyaza and Mastema, although Mastema is also one of the Satanim. Of the Satanim, Samael, who at times is linked to Mars and other times to Saturn, is often considered to be the equivalent of the Christian Satan, the chief opposer. Samael is the Prince of Rome and with Rome as a special enemy of Israel Samael’s job is to present the evils of Israel in the divine court and call for their persecution. Michael is the Prince of Israel and his job is to speak of Israel’s righteousness and glory and counter the message of Samael, so much so that all the evil deeds Samael calls to be written of Israel are burned while Michael’s proclamations are written. This is a very Mercurial way of defeating Satan. In fact, it’s not just speaking and writing, it’s legalistic. Michael is the defense attorney for Israel acting in the divine court on their behalf. While law and legalism and court victories are associated with Venus, lawyers are associated with Mercury.
          Michael is abundantly Mercurial. So, what about Raphael? What’s Mercurial about Raphael? Well honestly, not much. Again, Raphael relates to healing, which is Solar, not to medicine, which is Mercurial. If we equate healing and medicine then sure we can associate Raphael with Mercury, but there isn’t much other reason. Mercury has a vast array of rulerships and elements, but Raphael only really shows up in a story about healing someone.
          Again, different books present it differently. Different magicians approach it differently. You can probably learn different things about the Sun and different things about Mercury calling each angel for each. The big thing though is people aren’t correspondences. You and I each relate to many, many different things and have a whole depth to the complex of elements which form our characters. Non-human persons are often like this too, particularly the lofty complex and powerful ones. Gods, angels, and demons aren’t simply a row within a column in 777. They are bigger and deeper. We have to approach them as such and learn from them their vastness.

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

What Does a Christian Bealtain Look Like?

          Short answer, it doesn’t. It doesn’t look like anything. It’s not a thing.

          I was in a Christian Witches’ Forum on Facebook and a newbie witch was talking about prepping for Bealtain, and I asked what a Christian Witch Bealtain looks like. The answers were basically, whatever you want, it’s all about intent. The forum is mostly people doing Eclectic Wicca from a Christian perspective.
          Christian, particularly Catholic, witchcraft is a solid thing. Historically we have centuries of Catholics practicing witchcraft, we only have about seventy years of NeoPagans practicing witchcraft. So when NeoPagans try to say Christians and Catholics can’t be witches there really isn’t a leg to stand on.
          What is more reasonable is pointing out that Christianity isn’t Paganism and Christian Wicca and things like that don’t smoothly exist as a single thing. Catholics have frequently engaged in double-faith, in which you might go into the woods, or to a clearing, or to your house on a Saturday and engage in Pagan customs and then on Sunday go to Mass. But each tradition is approached separately as their own thing. Another way to do it is to accept that Catholicism is universal, so it universally encompasses all things which exist in the world. So if spirits exist, if gods exist, then they exist in a Catholic world and so there is a way to understand them and experience them from a Catholic perspective. With that being the case Catholic magic must exist. In fact, it does, all over the world and all throughout history.
          So why no Catholic or Christian Bealtain? Well from a Protestant perspective, a core element of most Protestantism is stripping out those elements of religion. Nothing Pagan, nothing superstitious, no magic no idolatry. Catholicism has room for a lot more of that, but it does it in a Catholic context. It isn’t just a matter of doing a Wiccan ceremony with Mary and Jesus as the Goddess and God. There are rich spiritual traditions as part of Catholicism for engaging holy days, and these can include witchcraft or occur next to it. Bealtain isn’t a witchcraft ritual, it’s a Pagan holiday.
          So what does a Catholic Bealtain look like? Well, Walpurgisnacht. A night celebrating a Saint and exploring the otherworldly and supernatural powers. A night where we recognize the same access to the spirit world that Bealtain recognizes, but with customs and practices that engage that experience from a Catholic worldview. Or Mayday, the day after Walpurgisnacht, where we celebrate the advent of spring and the crowning of the Blessed Virgin as Queen, ready to be celebrated over the course of a month dedicated to her. Maybe even May’s Eve, the traditional Wiccan celebration, which is – on some level; more a mystery tradition ceremony than a religious Pagan custom.
          What if Bealtain really speaks to you though? Then do a Pagan Bealtain. Commit to it. Do it right. Even if you’re a Christian or a Catholic, take the double faith approach. Go live it up, explore the access to the dead, talk to the faeries and then ward your land from them, sew fertility into your life. Don’t water down your Bealtain and your Christianity trying to do a fluffy dime store book ritual that is half way between the two things without really being either.  

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Image: By Nyri0 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Friday, August 9, 2019

Starting with the Dead

People frequently ask how to get started with spirits. Often they will ask “which goetic should I conjure first?” I think there are three parts to answering that question.

First, the pedantic answer…”goetic” isn’t a type of spirit you don’t conjure a goetic, goetic describes a host of practices. The spirits are demons, or devils, or infernal spirits.

The second part of the answer would be…summon the spirit you need. There is no reason to call one just to call one. They each have things they do. Make a choice based on what you need to call one for. Of the handful that seem appropriate to your need or goal, do divination to pick the right one…or work with your spirits. Wait, you don’t have spirits? Well then that leads us to the third part of the answer.

The third part being…that might not be the place to start if you’re just trying to experience spirit contact. Develop the skill set. Develop facility with the spirit world. Develop a support structure in the spirit world. If you were born with spirit connections you should have spirits – usually of the dead sometimes not; who have come to you and developed with you through life. If that’s not the case, spirits of the natural world, of the places you frequent, they are easy to approach. From there, the Olympic Spirits and The Dead are the easiest to start with. Beginning work in a more formal structure is probably best started there…although both involve much less formal structures than what you’ll do when working with infernal spirits.

So how do you get started with the dead especially if you don’t have a group of spirits you work already?

If you have work that connects you with the world of the dead, journeying there in spirit, approaching its guardians and asking for access to the spirit with whom you want to make contact can be a good way to start. But it’s a method that can be kind of involved.

If you have deceased relatives who you knew in life, they can be easier to connect with initially. They may also be harder to choose to connect to depending upon your relationship with them. One thing to remember is that your pool of ancestors is much bigger than the people you knew in life. Those people might just seem more immediately reachable. But your blood ancestry spreads back multiplying over and over. Beyond them you have friends, friends of family, professional ancestors, and many others who may have a connection or interest in you.  

So how to reach them without a katabsis?

Start with prayers to those who keep the dead and those would can help you reach those keepers and the dead themselves. Move to prayers for the way to be made open and for the dead to be brought. Offer that those who aid may receive a portion of whatever is offered. Once everything is set, light a candle for the dead, or for each of the dead, say their names as you do so. Then pour water for them. Either a glass or a small cup for each.

Offer the candle light as a guiding light for the dead, but also as warmth and energy with which they can burn through into this world, and as a shining place which they can inhabit as we sit with them. Offer the water to cool and soothe them and as a way to receive their presence.

From there, incense, food, honey, flowers, liquor, and other special tokens can be given as offerings.

The big thing at this point is just talking with them. Let them know you’re happy they’re with you, thank them for help they’ve given you, ask them to keep looking after you. Tell them what gifts you’re giving them. Talk with them about your life. About your concerns, about your family. Talk with them about things you’d talk about with someone who cares about you.

In the end thank them for the time they’re giving you and for sitting with you.

That’s pretty much it.

While its going on just be open, listen, feel, but don’t chase it. Don’t hope for it, don’t worry about what comes or doesn’t. Rest in the space of the work and you’ll get to the point of connection more easily than you might expect.

For the purposes of this post, I want to draw some attention to something cool…the Luxumbrian Church of Light and Shadow. Witchcraft Christianity.

So the example I’m going to give for ritual will be one modeled for that context. When you build a model for working with the ancestors, model it to your religious context, or at least your beliefs regarding the dead. This example will work for you if you’re working from a Luciferian Catholic perspective.

You will need a candle, an incense burner and coal, incense – preferably Church or Temple incense, or Frankincense; a candle for each of the deceased and a small cup for water. Any other offerings you wish to make.

Light an initial candle.
Say: Lord hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto thee.

With the words “pray for us” make the Sign of the Cross

Saint Peter, pray for us
Saint Cyprian, pray for us
Saint Benedict, pray for us
Saint Lucy, pray for us
Saint Barbara, pray for us
Saint Joan of Arc, pray for us
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us
Saint Azrael the Angel of Death, pray for us

Lord, those who die still live in Your presence. Their lives change, but do not end. I pray in hope for my family, relatives, and friends and for all the dead known only to You. Unite us together again in one family, so that we may reside together in peace forever and ever.

Morning Star, who marks the dawn of the day, Evening Star who marks the dusk. Light Bringer who is at our beginning and at our end, be with us now. Christ, whose spirit is joined to the spirits of all mankind, Lucifer who serves the Father as the Light of the World, be a light for the souls of the dead, be the light by which our sacred flame shall serve to guide, bring forth, and cradle the souls of the beloved dead.

Hail Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, Queen of Heaven, Lady of the World, Empress of Hell, have mercy on us and on all people, both, living and dead in need of your mercy and your strength.

Saint Peter, foundation of the Church, be as to us the foundation of this rite. Christ gave to you the Keys of Heaven and Earth, call forth from the Book of Life and make open the way for our beloved dead.

Put a bit of incense on the coal and say

May the world be made sweet to receive the dead and the blessings of the Lord and his retinue.

At this point light a candle for each ancestor you wish to invite saying their name and pouring them a cup of water. Make any offerings you wish to make for them and for the Heavenly powers that aided in bringing them. Then talk with them openly and candidly. The more you treat them like you would other guests the closer they will come.

Again, if this isn’t your jam, then you can use this same structure but change the prayers out for the powers and spirits appropriate to your approach.

If you enjoyed this, my book Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits has copious amounts of material on ancestor work and other work with the dead.

To explore the intermingling of traditional Witchcraft and traditional apostolic Christianity check out The Church of Light and Shadow.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Spirit Possession in the Modern Western Tradition

Note: I had been working on this for some time as a means to help people educate themselves on spirit possession and as a call to look forward to what the future of “Western magic” is. Sunday night the need for education on this topic became more obviously pressing about the time I was writing the final two paragraphs. This article is not written as a response or swipe but simply to further education. I hope it does that and I hope it helps bring people to greater magical work.

 Spirit Possession in the Modern Western Tradition

Before we even get to the topic, it makes sense to address the idea of Western Tradition and concepts of magic…briefly. In stating this I’m not attempting to be political but rather to suggest better terminology so that we can reach further. When we say Western Tradition we’re generally speaking from a position of Anglophone bias, or at least a position of Eurocentricism.  There are many traditions in the West which are not part of what we generally conceive of as the Western Tradition. These however can be important for comparison and exploration, and their place within the array of Western spiritual traditions can help elucidate their place in relation to our experience. The words Western Tradition also often refers to a limited view of Europe’s spiritual heritage. We look at a late period of alchemy and the masonic renditions of esoteric philosophy and practice rather than the full scope and the many iterations thereof. Most typically we look at it filtered through a late 19th century British lens called the Golden Dawn.

I, and many other magicians, have found it useful to limit the use of the term “ceremonial magic” to this post Golden Dawn style of magic, or the slightly broader late Rosicrucian systems of the magical revival. There is significant difference between these approaches and earlier European approaches. Even during the time of the magical revival we can see variant streams arising each with their own unique elements and character despite the prominence of the one generally described as Ceremonial Magic.

The various modes of magic operating in Europe: witchcraft, cunning folk work, learned magic and the manifold other approaches which often blended and influenced each other; I have begun referring to collectively as European Traditional Magic. It’s a general term which still clarifies working or discussing practices along a particular historical axis without narrowing to a single movement. Within that we can break down many things. It gives us an umbrella comparable to the sweeping ideas of African Diaspora Religions and African Traditional Religions.

When we begin to address things this way we can begin to step outside the bounds of ceremonial magic and look at a more detailed view of the vast and diverse overlapping forms that create the stream of practices and ideas that are European Traditional Magic. We can begin to see deeper more complete explanations of practices throughout our magical heritage. We can begin to find points of comparison with other living traditions and they can shed light on further reasons why and ways in which to do the things we’re doing. We can begin to elucidate our practices and our understanding in ways which allow us to take them further through deeper exploration of the thing itself as well as comparison and sharing with other approaches.

When we begin to do this we by necessity move away from the sterility and isolation which sometimes characterizes modern occult practice. In its efforts to be a science ceremonial magic often abandons the visceral, the bodily, the spiritual reality of things. It often clings to formalized educational structures and treats them as the meat of ritual and in doing so strips actuality from things in favor of understanding all as symbol. It keeps things clean and formal where sometimes they should be a little messy and free.

This isn’t always the case, and it definitely comes down to people’s individual preferences and modes of action. But an honest review of the norm will reveal that often this is the nature of things. We keep at arms length a lot of things which would be the core of spiritual and magical practice in living traditions around the world. We’re often magicians in lab coats instead of shirtless in overalls sweating in the sun.

We can talk about a lot of material elements of magic and how magic through European history and in living traditions around the world engages the powers of materials, but that, while exemplary of the difference between ceremonial magic and other systems, is really a separate topic than what we’re discussing.

In a recent discussion a close friend and I were talking about the space opening up for people engaging in European Traditional Magic to begin to build living sorcerous traditions which provide models for engaging in European magical traditions with the same kinds of context, support and features we see in the living traditions of Central and South America. There are methods there for developing and cultivating spirit engagement, clarifying information received from the spirit world, and utilizing that information to effectively work magic for real and potent change both personally and in our communities. Looking more deeply at the history of European magic we see hints, pieces, and clues towards European magical culture that once provided similar modes for building effective magicians.

Magicians looking to grab onto that meaningful deep connection to human spiritual heritage often end up drawn to ADR and ATR systems because those traditions for engaging and effectively working with the spirit world are more or less intact there. They are evolved to work within the context of human social needs and therefore answer things that people are looking for on more than just a spiritual basis.

In looking at how a living tradition drawing on European spirits and traditions would take shape three things that we obviously need to look at are:

1. How do we pass power and pact, how do we create and transfer the agreement with spirits to work with a line of magicians? How do we pass charisma or spiritual power from one magician to the next?
2. How do we connect with and embody the powers of these spirits to work with them as a community and as individuals; how do we engage them to speak with us, to whisper to us as needed; how do we bring them into on going proximity with us?
3. How do we clarify their messages to us, how do we reduce the impact of our biases and create consistent ways of receiving information for ourselves and others with some confidence that it is a message from the spirit without the overwhelming power of our own fantasies taking hold?

Even if we aren’t looking to build living traditions of European Traditional Magic these questions are useful to ask. The Greek Magical Papyri answer, or shape movement towards the direction of answers to these on some level. European Witchcraft provides a lot of answers or help towards answers. The grimoires give details of how these answers can be expressed and worked. For our part though, today we’re going to talk about question two and some of the broader context surrounding it.

When we look at how we embody spirits for our experience and that of those around us one of the common modes throughout the world is through spirit possession. When we consider a relationship in which a spirit sits with us an speaks with us and influences us through our day to day lives, we are again looking at a form of spirit possession, although one which is for the most part foreign to European and American awareness.

As I write this I am rewatching, for the third time, Fox’s adaptation of The Exorcist into a TV series. It’s a lot of fun, but actually deals with some religious and theological ideas in interesting ways. It’s also a horror TV show and so it depicts exorcism and possession and otherworldly spirits in the most horrific ways. It’s not inventing these depictions, it’s drawing on centuries of European and Anglophone apprehension of the idea of demons and possession and the terror of involuntary spiritual contact. It’s a good example of what people tend to assume when they think of possession.

Those assumptions don’t only exist in the minds of the non-magical folks. Work with demons is something which is part of the intellectual heritage of ceremonial magic. The actual manifestation of the idea is often treated as a psychological exercise, or as something which people are aware has been done but don’t necessarily do themselves. For more Neo-Pagan and New Age magical traditions, despite the influence they take from ceremonial magic, the possibility of work with demons is part of why they often look at ceremonial magic as some dangerous and frightening system to warn new seekers away from. There certainly isn’t the sense of fire is dangerous, but if we understand and work with fire correctly it’s useful, when it comes to demons in many modern magical contexts.

For many, not for everyone, the idea of working with an actual demon, not a psychological construct, is an idea which is somewhat confrontational. It forces questions about what they believe about spirits and about magic. Or it forces us to enter into a space which may be uncomfortable, or dangerous or frightening.

So when we enter into that space we do so with very specific guidelines, calling on very specific spirits, in ways which keep them far from us locked in place by curses and other spiritual powers. Personally, I’m not one to argue against that approach. For a lot of things it’s a reasonable approach. For many people it should probably be the approach. Historically its not the only approach. Historically we also have many spirits to work with who aren’t devils, and so more engaging approaches may be more reasonable for working with them.

For people used to only addressing spirits in a very formal and separate mode the idea of experiencing them in a context like possession is perhaps beyond the pale.

While the most common view of possession the average person in the first world has is one related to involuntary spiritual assault, it is by far not the only or even most common experience of spirit possession.

When we look at traditions in Central and South America and in the Caribbean positive voluntary spirit possession is a common religious and magical practice. These traditions are the ones which have most readily made their way into the awareness of people in the USA, and I would assume in Britain and Europe. But they are not the only voluntary spirit possession traditions.

In 1994 Nicholas Spanos published “Multiple identity enactments and multiple personality disorder: A sociocognitive perspective” in _Psychological Bulletin. vol. 116. no. 1_. Spanos takes a meta-analysis approach to explore multiplicity in an attempt to prove that rather than simply a disease it is a social construct. I don’t believe that cases of possession are simply a psycho-social experience but the article is interesting in comparing it to other forms of multiplicity and exploring a cross cultural view of possession and its role in societies in which it has a positive element.

He opens his discussion of possession by saying:

“Multiple self enactments occur in most but not all cultures (Bourguinon, 1976). In many traditional societies and in some subcultural contexts in North American society, multiple self enactments take the form of spirit possession. In these cases, it is believed that the human occupant of the body is temporarily displaced by another self or selves that are defined as spirits who temporarily take over control of the body.”

Spanos then goes on to reference several studies which provide information on the frequency of possession in various cultures and regions. Sri Lanka, South India, Malagasy, the Sudan, North America, the and the Songhay people are all cited as providing examples. Examples in Europe, and England get brought up. Spiritualist movement rituals and European witchcraft are referenced as connecting to examples of possession.

Possession exists throughout the world in various spiritual traditions and it manifests in various modes.

Again, within European traditions we see voluntary possession in traditions of witchcraft, we likely see it in sybilline and oracular traditions of antiquity. We see it in the Dionysian cultus, and we see it echoed in central elements of Christianity that continued those mysteries. We see it in Spiritualism, and Spiritism and in the New World Traditions that adopted the work of Kardec to blend with memories of African and Native traditions. Go back into antiquity we see it hinted at in cave paintings we associate with Shamanism, and we see it in the survivals of the steppe traditions of Eurasia.

It’s not a foreign or an unusual thing. It’s a missing piece of our puzzle. Full stop.

But maybe it’s not part of OUR magic? Maybe it’s not part of the heritage of ceremonial magic? Is “our magic” confined simply to ceremonial magic though? Is there a reason we can’t absorb the full breadth of our spiritual heritage?

Whatever the answer is, the idea that spirit possession is not part of the heritage of ceremonial magic is simply false. The easiest example is the Sacred Magic of Abramelin and the relationship with the Holy Guardian Angel. While the book does not market itself as “Hey get possessed by an angel!” that is essentially what’s happening. To understand this though we need to recognize that possession is not always full possession.

In Catholicism and also in other magical and religious traditions of voluntary possession, possession occurs with differing stages. Essentially we can understand it as first being an intimate connection between the possessed and the spirit. The spirit is within the sphere of the possessed and they interact very closely, sharing a deep and connected awareness of each other. The next phase is one in which the space between them blurs, the spirit and the person share the same space and awareness and actions may be a combination of the will and influence of each. The primary awareness/control may shift back and forth between the person and the spirit. The final phase is a more complete experience of possession, the spirit takes hold and is in the driver’s seat, the person may or may not be aware or may or may not remember what happens.

When a magician completes the Abramelin retreat they enter into a relationship with the angel which can be understood in the context of that first phase of possession. Much of the work done with The Sacred Magic is based on the magician operating in this state. The magician and the Angel work together, the Angel sits with the magician and communicates directly with him. The Angel clarifies and aids in communication with other spirits and speaks to the magician to guide his magical work. Much of the relationship here is similar to the partial possession relationships we see with priests, magicians, and elders in other traditions than incorporate some sort of seating of a spirit as part of the process of attaining such a status. This does not make the spirits or the process involved the same as what is involved when working with the Holy Guardian Angel, but it does provide a point of contact in which comparison can help deepen our understanding of what the relationship can be.

NeoPagan witchcraft comes primarily out of the Gerald Gardner’s Wica, and he built his system largely from his awareness of Thelema. Forms which descend from Gardner adopt a significant amount of their methods from Golden Dawn inspired writers like Regardie and Dion Fortune. So practices there still tell us something about how people engage the methods associated with ceremonial magic.

People might say that spirit possession does not exist in such systems, but a performative possession is a central act in Wicca, both eclectic and traditional. Whether actual partial possession occurs or not is up to those who engage in these practices, but the idea of Drawing Down the Moon is one which is based on the concept of possession. The priestess invokes, or has invoked into her, the Goddess so that she can embody that presence and speak and act as the Goddess for her community of witches. The idea here is no different than possession in other more traditional religious and magical cultures.

This practice stems from the magic of Thelema and the Golden Dawn.

In the Golden Dawn the Assumption of Godforms is an important technique for embodying and applying spiritual powers. The process however isn’t typically the same as spirit possession. Some approaches treat these divine forms as formulas or static functions rather than as actual beings. In instances where it is treated as a more holistic connection with a spiritual being it can be much more dynamic. Crowley’s approach to this kind of spiritual interaction opens the door for a more mystical experience. In Crowley’s Liber Astarte the magician engages in a series of practices and utilizes a stirring invocation to call upon a divine power to reside in him and join him through his acts of devotion. Liber Astarte is less performative, it’s less about creating an experience of that divine power for those around the magician.

In Thelemic practices we do see a more community version of this in the Gnostic Mass. Again not precisely calling on a spirit to possess you. Through adornments, ritual actions, and prayers the priest and priestess embody certain spiritual forces, which some view as actual divinities and some don’t. Many in those roles do experience a state akin to multiplicity or a certain dissociation or adjustment in their awareness. So there is, at the least, an overlap.

The Mass influences Gardner’s Wica specifically. The process of a priest and priestess working to aid in invoking the respective divine influences shows up in the rituals of Wica. This is what leads to Drawing Down the Moon. Drawing Down the Moon, and the forms of invocation that it developed from, lead to the common practices of invoking and embodying gods in various forms of NeoPaganism.

So Abramelin is a fairly clear example of a form of spirit possession as an important developmental form of magic in European Traditional Magic systems. We can see examples of spirit possession in historical forms of witchcraft in Europe. We see examples in various forms of magic in antiquity. Their legacy in modern magic gave rise to Assuming Godforms, Liber Astarte, the Mass, Drawing Down the Moon, and NeoPagan invocations. They’re not precisely the same, but they show an echo of the concept and a space in which it could fit…if we felt the need to fit it in rather than address it in its own space.

In short, spirit possession is a part of the heritage of ceremonial magic. Even if it weren’t it would still be part of our magical heritage. With that being so, why would we need to fit that piece back into the puzzle, how do we do it, and how does it look when we do it?

In Spanos’s article he says:

“In many societies, spirit possession occurs as part of helping rituals. The medium becomes possessed by a spirit or by successive spirits, and it is the spirits who diagnose the client, prescribe treatments, or offer advice for problems in living.”

When we look at the idea of a magician as someone people go to for their problems, for serious life issues, for help, we imagine a consultant. We imagine someone who reads the cards, throws the bones, or casts a chart and measures out problems and solutions and then executes magical rituals.

In most societies the central element of this work is a relationship with spirits. Divination is the reception of knowledge from divine or otherworldly sources. It isn’t an empty review of some cards, it’s communication through a tool with an unseen power so that the tool allows that power to speak to us more clearly.

Partial possession assists in this mode of spirit work in a few ways. The magician who has a possessing spirit knows the voice, the tone, the tenor of that spirit. He can recognize and understand it more readily and more clearly. While the tool may speak for another spirit his possessing spirit can help guide him in interpreting it, and in receiving more of the communication.

If the spirit from whom the magician is receiving information is the possessing spirit then the work with the tool will be a work familiar to both the magician and the spirit and will draw them into a closer state of communication. The tool will help guide and further clarify the communication but the spirit will already have a direct line to communicating with the magician. The spirit may even communicate with the client directly through the magician.

Depending upon the tool used the possessing spirit may help guide the magician’s actions in using the tool, bringing about a clearer more directed outcome or ensuring the tool is used in a manner which will provide the answer which is needed.

These sorts of benefits can be achieved through various forms of direct spirit work as part of divination. The closer the relationship with the spirit the clearer the communication will be, the more easily the magician will receive the communication and the more readily the spirit will desire to be of assistance.  So while we might not look at this and say “Yeah, people doing this kind of work, particularly for others should have a possessing spirit” it should be fairly clear that a relationship with and engagement of a spirit in this work at least borders on necessary.

January 28th 2018 The Independent published an article by Julia Buckley which was primarily an excerpt from her book on her efforts to find relief from Chronic Pain. She had traveled around to a bunch of gurus and healers and hadn’t really gotten anywhere. While she went into her attempt to receive help from a Haitian Voodoo priest expecting it to be psychological she ended up experiencing much more. Her description of the event, which she recognizes as unreliable and which has strong hints of the racism she denies at the beginning, clearly conveys that she experienced something real and much more than she expected. Not only did she experience more relief than she had elsewhere but she was moved to continue honoring, in her own way, the spirits who had helped her.

The experience was one of being healed by a spirit possessing the man in front of her. She recognized the priest as possessed, she recognized feeling a presence in the room. She recognized the behaviors and natures of the spirits involved. She understood that when she spoke with the man after he had finished the procedure she was speaking with the spirit possessing him. Earlier in the article she noted miraculous instances of healing he had done but also noted that he did not want to take credit or be viewed as a healer. To me this seems to indicate an understanding that he is a medium through which the spirit is acting.

What’s significant here is that the spirit was able to engage the situation directly in ways that spiritual people weren’t as able to. Paracelsus wrote about the invisible causes of disease, and of man’s predicaments. He explained that there are spiritual factors which impact our state of harmony, which disrupt it, and create problems we experience and how realigning those can improve us. He carries this forward to interacting with certain spiritual beings to create that harmony.

This concept is the basic concept of hermetic medicine. The components of a person, the elements, the planetary rays which build up the nature of who we are, when in balance they create health, they create a positive flow of influences which allow good things in our lives. When they are out of balance they distort us and our experience of and interaction with the world. This is the idea behind humorism, behind astrological diagnosis and treatment, behind most traditional forms of western occult medicine.

Over time we have of coursed learned about other invisible causes. Bacteria, viruses, anxiety, stress, genetic factors, things which we have learned to make visible but which once seemed like inexplicable and unpredictable magical factors. That does not take away the reality of Paracelsus’s invisible causes, or of ancient beliefs in afflicting spirits, it simply adds to that reality.

Paracelsus’s work describing invisible causes explains them as existing in a Gabalistic (Kabbalistic) or Olympian hypostasis, or a level of creation existing in a spiritual or ideal state. That hypostasis reflects the existence and nature of a more pure and divine hypostasis above it, moving backwards to the original discursive moments of creation. Likewise moving forward towards nature there exist more and more material hypostases, eventually resulting in the macrolevel of our perceptions.

With that in mind those physical invisible causes which we have discovered through science are perhaps hypostatic echoes of some other spiritual state of disquiet. Thus that which seems immovable by the means available to us becomes moveable when the spiritual state is rectified. In the case of Julia Buckley she achieved relief when the Baron reached in and removed the afflicting spiritual attachment in her arm. The spirit was able to perceive some unknown affliction which had attached itself to her, and operating on the same hypostatic level thereof was able to reach in and remove it. But it still situated itself upon her in such a fashion as to move the more physical levels of her experience to develop the physical components of her affliction. She likely needed more physical follow up to keep the pain from returning.

This story illustrates the role of the possessing spirit in diagnosing and treating the problems an individual presents. In many cases the spirit could be worked with through conjuration or other means to perceive and address the cause. Working with the spirit through a medium allows for the spirit to also communicate something about the nature of the cause and what further steps should be taken to help correct the problems involved, whether those steps are ritual or spiritual steps or corresponding mundane work. In my experience it will often be both. If we simply conjure a spirit and ask it to heal someone that debrief, or consult element is less easily tenable, though not fully untenable. It will likely still involve some mediumistic work though.

Communication in general is a big component of this mode of spirit working.

We’ve talked about how it can help with consultation and diagnosis, with treatment and with the application of magical solutions in client driven or community scenarios. But as magicians often we have a curiosity regarding the unseen world.

It is well attested that medieval and later priests understood that the modes of exorcism used by the Church could be minorly adjusted to conjure a spirit. In fact the words exorcism and conjuration are essentially of the same meaning. With this we also understand that priests came to know that the demon once bound in an exorcism – whether an exorcism to save a demoniac or a more ceremonial ritual to call upon a demon; could be questioned and could reveal a great deal of information which the priest or magician could not obtain otherwise. The Church even had rules against engaging the demon in such interrogation and instructions for exorcism retain advice against doing so.

For magicians this is a big component of magic.

We know that many great luminaries of the European world were also magicians and often the pursuit of magic was one through which they hoped to gain knowledge and understanding beyond what science could otherwise afford them. Theology was one of the highest intellectual pursuits and so the spiritual worlds were clearly the source for knowledge beyond that of philosophy and the lower disciplines found in the quadrivium and trivium.

For most of us working in an anglophone context, whether working European Traditional Magic or ceremonial magic, working for clients and the community is less the norm. We’re generally working for our own pursuits. For many people they are working largely for a spiritual or mystical purpose. So exploring spirits as a way to obtain information makes sense when it is information about which we are curious. Many spirits listed in grimoires are great for learning things and the constraints used are very much based on keeping the spirit honest. Many magicians still look to the grimoires curious about gaining new knowledge and power based on calling a spirit to provide it.

But how do they provide that knowledge or confer that power?

Working with scrying they may show you images or visual or auditory bits that suggest things. But if the spirit is truly possessing a competent medium the details of expression can be much more significant. The follow up questions are easier to ask.

Instead of worrying about conjuring to visible appearance, or scrying and banishing phantasms possession allows us to have a face to face with the spirit in a human body. For some spirits this is a much more appropriate method than constraining a manifestation. Regardless of the type of spirit it is an interesting experience, to say the least, standing across from a possessed person, asking them questions, recognizing the behaviors and words that don’t fit the person in front of you and grasping the ways in which the answers inform you of things beyond their knowledge. It is a particularly satisfying mode of spirit interaction, and one which carries with it a very powerful presence and provides an experience of significant impact.

To continue with addressing the last two questions I posed, how does it look and how do we do it, I’m going to say a lot less than I have otherwise on the topic. Most of what I’ve presented has been the argument that factually speaking the Western Tradition is bigger than the terms imply, and that even within the small scope we use them for this sort of work is historically important. We’ve also looked at why this work is important both for our systems and for other systems. These are things for which we can pull lots of examples and speak a little less subjectively.

For what its like to work with this kind of possession in a European context and how we should do it, I feel the answers are much more open to discussion and experimentation. I’d like more to invite you to experiment and explore and present than to try and tell you “this is it, do it like this and it should seem like this.”

I think we have a lot less in terms of modern examples working from a ceremonial or European approach and so there is room for you to help build those examples.

I recently led a pretty amazing ritual William Blake Lodge utilizing methods for working with spirits from European Traditional Magic sources in this kind of spirit possession celebration context. It was very different. We worked with a demon, which made it more aggressive and confrontational, but it was a demon who was a familiar spirit and so it worked. People were impressed. We had impressive results. You can read about it on my blog in parts One and Two of a post on the subject, which includes the ritual we used. About a month later a witch who is a member of our Lodge also led a ritual which involved spirit possession. Sadly I missed it due to other obligations but I’ve heard amazing things about how the night went.

Fingers on the pulse of the magical community know that rebuilding our magical heritage beyond the incomplete knowledge of the Victorian era is essential, especially when we consider traditions and organizations which want to stay relevant.

Sadly, possession can be a little scary, as we’ve noted. It needs to be handled in responsible ways and ways which are informed by significant magical knowledge from a cross-traditional perspective. Not everyone is ready for that. But, we’re getting there. It’s a powerful and useful tool, and one which is coming back into our purview.

If you enjoyed this and want to get more from me on how to work with spirits please pick up a copy of my book Living Spirits: A Guide to Magicin a World of Spirits. You can also join our Facebook forum, Living Spirits.

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