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Monday, February 12, 2018

A Spirit Among Spirits: King, Concierge, Roommate?


I was reading Facebook today and I saw a post about a spirit working someone intended to do. I don't really know this person, and as I understand it they are an experienced and competent magician, so the questions that sprang to my mind were not necessarily really about this person and their intentions so much as just those inspired by the idea of this particular working in a vacuum. At the end of the day, some of my questions were interesting for me to think about, but I'm not part of the tradition of that spirit so they're not really relevant for me to talk about. There was one though that stuck with me, one which works as a general question beyond any particular spirit or tradition.

The question that came in almost as if whispered to me was this, “what spirit is going to mediate her (the spirit) for you?”

Not only did the question stick out to me, but during the course of the day someone reached out to ask about a previous post that connects to this question.

We've talked before about intermediaries and spirits who give introduction. This is somewhat related to that idea, in fact very related to that idea, but it also goes further. An intermediary spirit might be a spirit that opens a particular pathway or kingdom and allows access to the spirits within that domain, and may also allow them access to work in the world. An introducing spirit is a spirit with whom you have a working relationship who facilitates work with spirits with whom you do not yet have a working relationship, they're your inside man, or your guy who knows the guy. The intermediary could also be your introducing spirit, or you might work with separate spirits in this role.

When we talked before about your “first spirit” or the initial spirit with whom you have contact, who may even be the spirit that brings you into magic, a large part of that spirit's role was as the introducing spirit. Depending on the work you're doing it might still be that first spirit, or it might be a spirit attached to you by initiation, or through some spiritual or magical process, or it might be a different spirit or group of spirits depending upon the work you're doing.

Depending upon the spirits you're working with, or the type of work you're doing, there may be two other jobs that these spirits may take on, or perhaps they won't take these jobs on, perhaps you'll need another spirit to do these jobs. The jobs in question aren't ones with fancy classic names, but we can think of one as a mediator or translator, and the other as a kind of organizer or project manager.

The mediator or translator functions to facilitate a comprehensible interaction with the spirits with whom you're working. Often this is your possessing spirit if you have one, the spirit who can sit with you and whisper directly to you guiding you and interpreting for you. In this context the idea is that you may not fully comprehend directly what a spirit is saying or communicate directly in a way comprehensible to the spirit, and so this mediating spirit allows for that communication.

This idea isn't really explored much in Western magic.

But it's a pretty good idea, and I think it's often there in Western Magic without us necessarily understanding it.

Generally in grimoire magic this would be described as Divine Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, The Holy Guardian Angel, or the Spiritual Assistant. In the Greek Magical Papyri there is a good example of this in which one essentially conjures “the light” as the means through which to make the conjuration of the spirit in question, and the light is clearly needed to interact comprehensibly with said spirit. The Sacred Magic hints at the idea in that it doesn't really tell you how to call on or command the demons, just that your angel will tell you how to do it and what to do and what to say and basically facilitate the process.

So when working with a spirit, whatever spirit mediates for you would sit with you and assist in communication between you and the spirit. Depending upon the relationship you could perceive this directly, or perhaps it would just work like a lens and you wouldn't see a process to it. Engaging this relationship though would be part of entering into the magical space for your work, just as would your ritual purification or putting on your robes, in fact, in early grimoires a series of angels are called upon as one dons the robe, or the garments of salvation, highlighting that an immersion within spirits is part of the process of entering into the work.

If you communicate through divination your spirit would be the spirit who sanctifies your divination space and tools and allows them to speak truly for you, creating the space in which the spirit being called can enter and speak and have their answers translated into your tool.

When the spirit is functioning to organize or be a project manager of sorts it is coordinating your efforts with the spirits, and perhaps other magical efforts as well. Fr. Rufus Opus wrote a piece on this for Zero = Two called “The HGA: Chef to the Gods”. In this he talks about how the Holy Guardian Angel, and other spiritual assistants, understand what is pleasing and what is not pleasing to other spirits you might choose to conjure. Like the role of an intermediary in facilitating communication the intermediary can facilitate the etiquette of the interaction. Beyond this, the intermediary can help in bringing spirits.

The spirit in this coordinating role can also help in identifying what spirits you should work with on a particular task. When working with my ancestors this happens somewhat regularly. I'll ask for help with a problem and they'll tell me to conjure a particular spirit with them so they can help with the interaction. In all such instances the idea of conjuring a spirit wasn't one that was on my mind, but it ended up being a good choice. Recently I was considering a conjuration and my ancestors advised me to work with them in going through the Book of the Offices of Spirits to select what demon to call. Allies in the spirit world who know the spirits and know your needs can guide you in what spirits to bring into your life.

In my story about car trouble, my ancestors, and the archangel Raphael were involved to help mediate the forces and guide the efforts of the other angels and aerial spirits I had called upon. So in addition to guiding you on what spirits to work with, those spirits with whom you have a close relationship can also help guide the interaction and coordinate the work of the other spirits you're working with.

Consider a situation in which you need a job. You go to your Holy Guardian Angel, or your ancestors, or Hekate or whatever intermediary or ally you have and ask what you should do. They direct you to a spirit under the rulership of Jupiter, another under the rulership of Mercury, one under the rulership of the Sun, and the gnomes. You conjure each spirit and describe your desire, each being conjured with your intermediary also having been invoked. Your intermediary guides the Jupiterian spirit to help establish fecundity and prosperity in your life, the Mercurial spirit works to improve the reception of your resume and your ability at interviews, and inspires call backs, the Solar spirit provides a sense of honor and dignity when interviewers look at you, and the gnomes build the actual manifestation of the job from the conditions the other spirits move in your favor.

You could do one conjuration of one spirit and it could work towards what you want, and it could be successful. Or you can coordinate an effort on multiple fronts and increase the options for the best result. Different forces each working on their own for a goal uncoordinated may have elements that you don't want because they're not focused, or it may have spirits working in ways that compete against each other, or which work in parallel but don't work together. Having a spirit who helps coordinate that interaction allows them to actually work together, focused on their particular domain, in a way which directs their efforts specifically in the way needed rather than on generally adding their influence to a particular area of your life.

When working in this manner your spirit can also help coordinate offerings you make in thanks. Again, in Rufus's example he makes the case that your Holy Guardian Angel can set a banquet for the spirits, but another way to look at this is when you set offerings for the spirits you've worked with, the spirit who you approach to guide that work can also help facilitate all the spirits receiving the offering together, so that you can make one rather than many. If you need to make separate offerings, your spirit working as your point of contact, can also instruct you in that.

So what spirits serve this role and how do you develop that relationship? Ultimately this is a spirit relationship which is on going and personal. It's not a spirit relationship that is always about getting something specific. Sometimes interaction with these spirits will be about the interaction and developing the relationship. There can be a benefit to this being a “head spirit” or “possessing spirit” one that sits with you and works with you even outside of ritual work, especially if the spirit is helping you speak with other spirits. Depending upon the type of spirit though it might be one with a more ritual based relationship and interaction. In any case it should be a spirit where your relationship with the spirit is such that it will have an awareness of your needs and will understand you.

An easy relationship to develop in that regard is with your ancestors. They already have an interest in you and are often open to making a connection. If you're working in a system drawn from the grimoires or systems of Western magic then the Holy Guardian angel can function in this capacity. The spiritual assistant of the Greek Magical Papyri, or some types of familiar spirits can also serve these purposes. We can look at crossroads spirits like Hekate for this, particularly ones like her since she has power in all areas of creation, in my experience the directional kings would not serve in these roles in the same way, unless you're coordinating work only in a singular kingdom. In traditions like Quimbanda the Exu and Pomba Gira to whom you are connected primarily would serve in these purposes, and as I understand it, these functions are built into that tradition with these spirits. I would imagine other African Diaspora traditions have similar systems in place in which your main spirits assist in interfacing with other spirits. Looking at those traditions, looking at the role of the familiar in traditional European witchcraft and in Greek sorcery can guide us in how to approach spirits as part of a living world rather than as a static system of tools, which has unfortunately been a fairly present perception in established modern ceremonial magic...but, it's one which is fortunately changing as more magicians engage with the spirit world. 

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ritual Drama and Missing the Boat

When I was a teenager I was preparing to run my first group ritual. I was probably 15 or 16, I'd been doing rituals on my own, formally from books for about 4 or 5 years at that point, but being more or less a kid I hadn't had a team to work with. There was no Scooby Gang ala Buffy and unlike Scott McCall I wasn't alpha of a supernatural pack (yet), despite how much TV makes it look like high school is one supernatural group play date after another. 

Around my sophomore year of high school I began expanding my group of Pagan and magic curious friends and we lived in a magical world of hormone soaked epicness complete with our own little magical adventures. We eventually decided to unofficially become "Pagan Youth Group" and have special outings for magic kids only...mostly hanging at the mall and witch shops. And our first official unofficial outing was going to include a Celtic Reconstructionist Bealtain ritual which I was writing. 

Proud of my first attempt at a group ritual I sent the script to Ceisiwr Serith (author of Pagan Family, A Book of Pagan Prayer, and a few other titles) to get his feedback. In that feedback he gave me some really important advice "Remember this isn't a Protestant service, you don't need to give a sermon to try and teach a congregation." Ritual isn't preaching, it isn't Sunday school it doesn't have to be, and shouldn't be just a verbal recounting of a religion's ideals or history or mythos. 

Cei's advice on this (as with many things he taught me) has stuck with me such that here I am 20 years later recalling that first attempt and his guidance. 

On the other end of the spectrum, as an adult I recall one of my early experiences of group ritual magic in which a magician in the local community exclaimed during practice - with an attempt at dramatic gravitas: "remember, this. Is. THEATER!"
I recall being wholly unimpressed. 

Now, as I write this, I've been working in a group for 17 years, I've been an ordained priest for 7 years, I ran the Pagan student Union at my college for 5 years, so I have a lot of experience writing group rituals, doing well established group rituals, and being in or watching people's original group rituals. 

I have seen and been in several clumsy rituals, even a couple of my attempts have been clumsy. Group rituals are tough sometimes because you have to balance having an effective ritual with satisfying the group's desire to enjoy the ritual, to feel like they got to participate, to feel entertained. 

These goals often don't serve each other. 

You get a lot of people who toss in a Eucharist or burning an intention or putting a personal item on the altar as easy ways to include people. Sometimes these elements make sense sometimes they're a little forced but typically they're an attempt to keep the magic there while managing group needs. 

You also get people who essentially produce very overdetermined plays which don't do anything operatively in terms of magic or spirituality...they just present ritualized drama, they engage in theater, they maybe beat you over the head with a message.
Things like that aren't magic, they aren't ritual, and they're in the bargain basement bins in terms of religion. 

If your ritual acts don't do anything, if they are just a show, if they are just communicating an idea, they aren't magic and I'd argue might only barely be ritual if at all. 

Now you can easily cite academic books which equate ritual and drama and look at ritual as psychology. But these books are generally written by secular researchers looking to explain human behavior in a secular context. There is a lot of useful stuff magicians and Pagans can take from the academic press but an ethnographic bias or contextualizing religious practice to fit secular concepts are not elements which help us. 

We can cite the relationship between theater and religion in Greece...clearly with that in mind, ritual plays can be magical religious rituals. Right?

Maybe. 

I've definitely done rituals which involve elements of drama and theater, but the point is always to create a real magical impact. Spiritual forces are engaged and applied to accomplish something. There is a goal beyond a message. Theatrical elements can be tools used by a magician, but they must be used towards a magical purpose. Your actions and words, your costume, your space, these can contribute to theater and to magic even simultaneously. But the theater shouldn't replace the magic. 

If we're doing mystery plays we're not doing a play with a clever twist to reflect upon, we're confronting spiritual powers that change us through directly experiencing them.
I was thinking about all this as I was showering this morning. I was thinking about rituals and communities. It made me think of a ritual I read recently by a pretty secular Thelemic author. Putting aside culturally insensitivity problems in it the ritual is basically a series of quasi-history speeches. Nothing really happens. It is literally a pageant. 

To me that's sad. Killing the experience of the mysteries, deadening the fires at the core of magical practice in favor of a sort of psychological Protestantism is the work of "The Great Sorcery" the aim of the Black Brotherhood. It moves us to a complacent and distracted place where we get mired like a fool with our "one one one". 

So remember, ritual isn't Sunday school, magic isn't Protestantism.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Opium, Euphoria, and the Magic of Faeries

A few years ago I saw an info graphic displaying brain scans which were intended to demonstrate the similarity between the brain's response to opium and the brain's response to orgasm. It was pretty cool and made a lot of sense on multiple levels. It was an easy way to describe several experiences and behaviors that crop up with people. But it wasn't something that seemed to have particular relevance in regards to magic. Until a few days ago.

I'm not a chemist or a biologist so I'm going to quote from a few websites to establish more about the connection between the two. Then I'll explain the magical relevance and give some quotes for that, followed by an explanation of the recent experience which caused this relationship between opium experiences and faery experiences to pop up in my head.

Significant more for character than for science:

Another user, the English gentleman quoted in Jim Hogshire's Opium for the Masses (1994), enthused that opium felt akin to a gentle and constant orgasm.” - opiates.net

I think this quote generally implies the driving elements of what I want to get at with this. Euphoria occurs as part of sexual experience, as part of orgasm, because of the brain's release of various neurochemicals including endorphins and dopamine. Both opiates and orgasm can create an experience of detachment, like floating along a rolling sea of clouds, experience is elevated and extended but in a way in which the pain and attachment of stress and discomfort are temporarily mitigated. Curiously opiates impact how our lungs work, they can make our breathing more relaxed, or they can make it more shallow...less control over our breath in regular circumstances would usually create stress of fear, but again opiate experiences are characterized by an awareness which reduces that stress and fear.

So they feel kind of the same, but that might not make for a meaningful link...so...the science of their sameness..

the human brain's neurons had specific receptor sites for opiate drugs: opium, heroin, codeine and morphine. But then there was the obvious question. Why would nature put in our brains a receptor for a plant? After all, humans beings didn't evolve over millions of years eating opium or shooting heroin.

...the active ingredient in all these opiates - morphine - had a chemical structure similar to endorphins, a class of chemicals present in the brain. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals naturally-manufactured in the brain when the body experiences pain or stress. They are called the natural opiates of the body.

...The rush is often described as a heightened sexual orgasm, and a great relief of tension, which pervades the abdomen. After the rush, the high lasts for four or five hours and is caused by the morphine diffusing from the bloodstream into the brain. It is described as a warm, drowsy, cozy state. Addicts report a profound sense of satisfaction, as though all needs were fulfilled. ” - Frontline, PBS

One well-known opiate commonly used today for the treatment of severe pain, is morphine (after Morpheus the Greek god of dreams).

Distributed throughout the nervous system, the opioid receptors, OP1-OP4, are involved in all of the calming effects we might expect, such as pain relief and reduction in anxiety - but are taken to extremes by illegal drugs, such as heroin. The natural partners to the opioid receptors are the endorphins, released during certain activities, such as running (thought responsible for the 'runner's high'), pain and orgasm.” - Drugs and The Brain

The second quote even hints at the magical associations of opium. The use of opium can be traced back to 4000 BCE in Sumeria and in what is now Switzerland, some suggest it might go further back to the Neanderthals. It was prevalent throughout the classical world in Greece, the Near East, India, and Asia. It was almost always considered not simply medicinal but holy or magical, a gift from or a symbol of the Gods. The gods of sleep in Greece were shown with poppies in depictions, and Pharaohs were entombed with artifacts of opium use. It was significant in the ancient world as medicine and as a magical substance, as is evidenced by its names:

Physicians commonly believed that the poppy plant was of divine origin; opium was variously called the Sacred Anchor Of Life, Milk Of Paradise, the Hand Of God, and Destroyer Of Grief.” - opiates.net

There are lots of drugs which help with pain, or which create altered experiences, and many of them have been associated with magic and with religious experience, but opium has a pervasiveness beyond many. Further it has had a strange position in history. While some intoxicants were made illegal in Islam, opium notably was not and remained popular in Arab countries. China made opium illegal and so the British Empire went to war, twice, to make sure they could still get it. Globally international legal provisions against opium have been made, but it is still prevalent in medicine internationally. According to Christian Rastch, who makes reference to opium several times in the book Witchcraft Medicine, it was the only reliable narcotic in the ancient world.

Ratsch also notes that the opium poppy is amongst the candidates for plants which may have been moly, the mythological plant referenced by the gods as the greatest. He links the plant to Demeter, the goddess at the center of the Mysteries of Eleusis. He includes it as a traditional common element in witches' flying ointments. This last association is probably the most interesting for our purposes.

Flying ointments don't actually make witches fly, they create a state in which the witch is altered both in terms of awareness and in terms of physical condition. The exposure to poisons, things which adjust how the witch breathes, and which create stimulation and a shift in awareness, put the witch in a state where the body no longer impedes awareness of the magical forces and spirits with which the witch comes into contact, or allows the body to relinquish the spirit temporarily for a spirit flight. Much of the lore of opium describes these same sort of elements, The strange parallel of something which detaches and relaxes but which also leaves the ability for mental clarity despite sensations being adjusted.

Some people historically have even linked opiates to mild visionary experiences.

While I was sitting at tea, I felt a strange sensation, totally unlike any thing I had ever felt before; a gradual creeping thrill, which in a few minutes occupied every part of my body, lulling to sleep the before-mentioned racking pain, producing a pleasing glow from head to foot, and inducing a sensation of dreamy exhilaration (if the phrase be intelligible to others as it is to me) similar in nature but not in degree to the drowsiness caused by wine, though not inclining me to sleep; in fact far from it, that I longed to engage in some active exercise; to sing, dance, or leap...so vividly did I feel my vitality - for in this state of delicious exhilaration even mere excitement seemed absolute elysium - that I could not resist the tendency to break out in the strangest vagaries, until my companions thought me deranged...After I had been seated [at the play I was attending] a few minutes, the nature of the excitement changed, and a 'waking sleep' succeeded. The actors on the stage vanished; the stage itself lost its reality; and before my entranced sight magnificent halls stretched out in endless succession with galley above gallery, while the roof was blazing with gems, like stars whose rays alone illumined the whole building, which was tinged with strange, gigantic figures, like the wild possessors of lost globe...I will not attempt farther to describe the magnificent vision which a little pill of 'brown gum' had conjured up from the realm of ideal being. No words that I can command would do justice to its Titanian splendour and immensity...” - William Blair 1842 (opiates.net)

This kind of visionary experience, the use of opium in flying ointments, these things connect us back to magic and to the faery folk. The witches' sabbat is based largely in the experience of ecstasy. The body writhes in pleasure at the touch of the Black Man of the Forest and the spirits he brings. Freedom from the stresses of common life is experienced. The witch is elevated while brought into a visionary state amid spirits.

In the explanations given by witch hunters the witch slept with the devil and his demons but even in those accounts the witches were also said to enter the faery world to dine with the Queen of the Faeries. At times she featured as the contact from whom witches derive their powers. Faeries familiars were also tied to the learning and experience of witchcraft. Even the demons given by the Devil sound more like faeries than like demons. Whether they were faeries or demons though there was a clear sexual component involved in this interaction.

According to Walter Stephens in his book Demon Lovers the Devil would first encounter potential witches when they were alone and discouraged and therefore susceptible to being seduced. Sexual congress with the devil and with demons was often believed to be the source of a witch's power. Curses and malefica were performed by way of the demon who was the witch's lover. When the witch flew to the Sabbat or from the Sabbat through the night across long distances the witch was being carried by a demon. The Church theories on the witch couldn't give them such an amazing power and so the power had to be facilitated by demons who were paid in sex.

Some have suggested that this fixation on sex with demons was a form of misogyny, but it occurs in all the accounts of male witches as well. Some have suggested it was another way to simply accuse witches of perversion and debase the idea of sex. But what if the sex was actually a part of the magic?

We have many accounts in faery tales of faeries who seek human spouses or lovers. Sometimes it's an ongoing arrangement, others it is a more sinister and deadly encounter, but in either case, we frequently see faeries desiring sex with humans. We also know faeries have a history of desiring to kidnap human women and to have children with humans, or to kidnap human children and raise them as faeries.

When we look at medieval magic we see accounts of magic specifically designed to have sex with faeries. Regarding this as a trend Fredericka Bain in her presentation of the “Four Spells to Bind the Faery Sisters” which appeared in Preternature says: “It is well understood that the traditions
out of which early modern fairy lore arises are complex: sexual binding or forced sexual congress in particular, of or by fairies or demons, is referenced in romances, ballads, and witchcraft trials, as well as throughout medieval demonology.”

Even the power of transvection, by which witches fly by the aid of demons, is something we see in demonologies, either spells in which demons convey someone across distances or grant instant travel, or even obtaining faery horses that allow the magician to fly on them from place to place or travel long distances. Some accounts of witches include them attributing their power to curse to elf shot, or arrows given to them by the faeries when they feast with them.

So the powers given by demons, the sex with spirits, both are things we see associated with faeries in sources on magic. Along with these when we look at tales of the faeries we see feasting, dancing, and music. We see fantastical creatures and magical places. The faeries exist in a magical other space which is like our own but somehow different.

Even in modern depictions of the faery world we see this same sort of imagery. Surreal magical landscapes like our own but slightly stranger, heightened colors, things just beyond the ordinary enough to draw us in to their glamor. A mild hallucination that could be real or maybe not. A place which creates euphoria to draw people in and allow them to forget whatever else was there before they were brought there. Most recently the faery world has been depicted in this manner in popular media in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in which the kingdom of Lost Hope is an on going ball, similar to one in a human castle but with various slightly bizarre elements and in which the object of the faery's affection is caused to forget the human world. We also see faeries in The Mortal Instruments depicted in the television adaptation Shadow Hunters in which faeries can't lie but they can manipulate the truth to entrap people, and they have a separate world whose glamor can trap people by keeping them lost, and in which one could believe they are in the natural world, but only made more magical, surreal, and brilliant.

This is in part where the connection to opium comes in. To me, the ability to create a feeling that is related to orgasm, and to take away worldly cares, to numb pain, to give us an otherworldly euphoria, these are traits which seem to be shared both by opiates and by faeries. It's a similarity I probably wouldn't have connected if it hadn't been for an experience that happened a few nights ago.

I had received a couple signs that suggested I needed to connect with some spirits on their turf rather than ritually doing so here. When I was younger magic that involved spirit flight was a big part of what I did, but I'm not generally as keen on it anymore. In this instance I also didn't have the time to fully invest into that kind of work. So I figured it was best to approach it as dream work. To that end I called upon a faery and asked that he take me in my dreams where I needed to go. I was fairly clear that I did not want to do trance-work, I just wanted to hitch a ride in my dreams.

The faery arrived, and as sometimes happens when you work with spirits, the magic did not go as planned.

I told him what I wanted, and he responded "your body still needs to be ready if your spirit is going to leave" and he reached out towards me and I felt euphoria, then my breathing dropped very low, I felt like I was floating as if rocking on a soft wave. As I was drifting away from normal awareness I thought "this feels like the euphoria opiates cause." As my breathing became more and more shallow, and my body heavier and heavier until I no longer felt most of it I realized he had put me into a super heavy meditation in like a matter of seconds. It was impressive. I had not really done trance-work for awhile so it was no longer a feeling I felt often so it was pretty curious. I continued my protest that this wasn't what I'd wanted but he insisted that it was necessary and that I should just go with him. He explained that if I wanted an experience that wasn't just within my mental space my body needed to be pushed to a point where it could let go of me. It felt really wonderful, and I had a flash of shimmering visionary experiences showing the way from myself to a wholly other place. Unfortunately I didn't get where I was going...partially because he took me by surprise.

So in the end, I had a cool experience for like a half hour. More than that I had an interesting conceptual connection. Was there a reason that a faery's touch should feel like taking opiates? In stories of faery and human interactions one of the most common elements is humans being “faery led.” This capability to force a trance state filled with euphoria and visionary awareness would explain some of the experience of being faery led. It would also explain some of the sexual elements of faery encounters. The author of the Four Spells to Bind the Faery Sisters describes the faery with whom he sleeps as having beauty to rival a queen or empress and implies that she has immense sexual prowess. Faeries often are described as being ugly and stealing human babies and seeking human lovers because humans are more beautiful. These could simply be conflicting elements of stories or they could be different types of faeries. Alternatively it could be part of their magic, the glamor of faeries could be the same potency which lets them manipulate the minds, bodies, and sensory experiences of humans. Perhaps the beauty and sexual prowess of the faery lover is driven by the euphoric otherworldly awareness created by her touch.

Magic occurs outside of our minds, but we still experience it through the lens of our mental faculties, just as is true of all other phenomena. I am not one for explaining magic through science or trying to make magic scientific. I don't believe faeries secrete some kind of other worldly spirit opium. I don't think we need this sort of mechanism for trying to create a way of viewing faery interactions scientifically. Magic is magic it isn't science, it doesn't need to be science. But recognizing that faeries may have the ability to impact our sensory experience, regardless of the mechanism, gives us insight to their powers and how we can interact with them. It lets us consider folklore and how we engage it. To me its a jumping off point as to how and why some things may relate and how some things may have been real that we thought weren't.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Local Dead? Local Friends.

A few weeks back my fellow Brodepti and I took a field trip. Apart from our regularly planned dinner at a bar to discuss magical things, community stuff, our current work and things about which to be aware we decided we would take a trip to a local cemetery. There are three in the area I want to visit, one because it's near me, one because it has a folk legend associated with a statue that has since been removed, and one to find a relative. Hanging with other magicians seemed the perfect opportunity to check one of the cemetery visits off the list.

My town does not have a lot of cemeteries. In fact, I believe we just have one historical one, with the other more active ones all being in the neighboring city, or in other towns adjacent to us. The one we have though is essentially walking distance from me, maybe about a 10 minute walk, and I pass it multiple times a week just going to and fro. So it seemed like the most reasonable option for creating a relationship with the local dead.

I work with my ancestors quite a bit, but with the exception of my father, none of them lived in my town. Obviously most spirits with whom we interact won't be ones tied to our locality, but our location can be a big factor in our magic. So we should make connections with the local nature spirits, with the land itself on which we reside, and with natural features that are nearby, particularly if they impact us our our communities.

Working with local magic helps in a few ways. It connects the work you're doing to forces already tied to the place where you are likely looking to have your impact manifest. Other people in your area may interact with or be impacted by local spiritual forces even if they aren't aware of it. These spirits might also have concerns related to things around you, or connections giving them greater influence over things around you. If you're dealing with a spirit that means something to the people of your community, like one which is associated with a natural formation, or a folk legend, or the spirit of a local hero or historical figure there is also a significant local awareness that feeds and empowers that spirit within the environment in which you're working.

So, don't overlook your surroundings.

Creating ties to the local cemetery is something I've wanted to do for awhile, and it's something I still have further work to do to deepen. But this was essentially what was involved in my first step.

We went to the cemetery with offerings, and supplies for our work. We went a little before dusk on a weekend, so that while hopefully there wouldn't be a lot of people around, it wouldn't be completely unusual or suspicious if someone happened upon us since it wasn't at night. This particular cemetery is an historical cemetery and so there are no gates or walls, it just sits right along one of the town's most major roads, next to a building run by one of the biggest land developers in the state. So it's not particularly discreet, but it's also somewhere no one really goes these days. We were unlikely to be bothered, still, we chose our time cautiously, and I carried four bay leaves in my pocket, one to hide us in each of the four directions.

When we got there we set to work looking for the oldest grave. The first body buried in a cemetery is that cemetery's equivalent to the first man to die, the ancestor of all ancestors who oversees the passage between life and death and the people who live in the space of the dead, the cemetery. They're basically the head honcho spirit for that location. Now, admittedly, my planning was poor here. I did not look up who it was before hand. One of the other Brodepti decided to contact her town's historical society and they were able to tell her which graves were the oldest in her local cemetery. So I would advise anyone engaging in such an endeavor to start by doing that.

Since we didn't know the grave we were looking for, we searched through row by row, eventually we found a plaque that explained the history of the cemetery, including when the church was built and when they decided to begin using it as a cemetery. Most of the oldest graves were 160 years old, and so many were pretty worn, we settled on a head stone which seemed to be the oldest marked grave. The individual there was laid to rest within the year following the opening of the church, and so she seemed a good candidate for the oldest, and if not the oldest, at least a reasonably respectable contender to a position of importance within the cemetery.

We began by taking snow (in less wintery weather dirt or salt or one of the libations could be used) and making a three-way crossroads on the grave and making prayers to Hekate, and prayers to the gods and goddesses of the land of the dead to grant us access to the spirit of the person laid there, and to join her in receiving the offerings which we would now make.

We then poured out libations of wine, honey, milk, and olive oil on the grave with prayers to strengthen the spirit, stir it to life,to give it sustenance, and to remind it of the pleasant things in the world of the living. We left cakes of grain and fruit to further feed the spirit and asked that we might form an alliance with it and take a small amount of dirt from her grave as a connection to her.

Once we had completed our work with that spirit we took whiskey and more cakes and laid them out in a place towards the center of the patch of graves but in a space where no one was buried and we made an offering to the dead of the cemetery in general and asked for the same friendship with them, and to be allowed to take dirt from the cemetery generally as well.

So in addition to linking to the specific ancestor of the cemetery we linked to the cemetery itself, and had both grave dirt and graveyard dirt to bring home for magical work and for installing in our ancestor altars in order to further feed and develop that connection, and to empower our own dead further by linking them to a local place of power and soil rich with the presence of the dead. 


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Friday, December 29, 2017

Blessings of the Magi



Dr. Al Cummins recently posted a very interesting post about ways to work with the Magi as a magician touching on various folk Catholic elements, and he and Jesse Hathaway Diaz spoke about such things in an amazing episode of Radio Free Golgotha last year. I highly recommend checking those out.

With Epiphany coming up, I wanted to note some elements of institutional Catholicism which may be useful for the magician, particularly magicians working with grimoires, especially pre-Reformation grimoires which reflect a particularly Catholic approach, and largely an assumption of some level of clerical capacity.

The Feast of The Epiphany gives us the opportunity to reflect on The Magi and the role of astrology in the biblical story, the connections to Zoroastrianism, the symbolism of Gold Frankincense and Myrrh, and the ability to receive direct divine and spiritual revelation at times of importance and at times in which we are questioning what to do. It its a time in which we ca reflect on the guidance of the one star whose light directs us surely through the darkness. It is a time where we can reflect on the roles of the Magi individually or on the universal brotherhood implied by priest kings representing different parts of the world coming together on a spiritual quest. There is a lot there.

What interests us from a practical grimoire perspective though is less about reflection and more about an auspicious day for consecrating implements. I think plenty of people will address folk Catholic elements, and modern magical parallels and readings of symbols, and they will engage these topics more than I would at the moment. I think the obvious easy bit to touch is the part we'll see fewer people looking at.

Holy water, incense, chalk, and your space.

A little more pedestrian sounding...but oh so exciting.

You see, The Roman Ritual has long been a go to for magicians wanting to say “Oh yeah, I've studied the Catholic rituals of exorcism.” But the Roman Ritual is filled with magic. The rite of Baptism is a rite of exorcism...so is the formula for making holy water, and also for blessing gold frankincense and myrrh...and...well...a lot of other bits of it are too. Out side of the preponderance of exorcisms there are rituals to bring rain, rituals to protect cars and ships and animals, rituals to cure sore throats.

Priests were once magicians, and while that has gone away in practice, it is something more slow to die in the written rituals themselves. A grimoire magician working with Liber Juratus, The Cambridge Book, TheHeptameron, The Book of Oberon, any pre-reformation influenced book of magic, is a magician who is expected to have some training in these clerical rituals that we sometimes forget are also magic.

And so on the Feast given to the Magi we have rituals which would be useful to the magician. We bless water, we bless gold frankincense and myrrh, we bless chalk, and we bless the home. All of these items are those which we might use in working magic and so this is a most appropriate time to bless our supply of such items.

The Epiphany water is a formula much more involved than the simple formula for exorcising salt and water and then blessing their combination as holy water (a formula which appears in the grimoires). The Roman Ritual says it was adopted in 1890 but is based on an old tradition in the Eastern Church.

This blessing comes from the Orient, where the Church has long emphasized in her celebration of Epiphany the mystery of our Lord's baptism, and by analogy our baptism. This aspect is not neglected in western Christendom, although in practice we have concentrated on the visit of the Magi. Many years before the Latin Rite officially adopted the blessing of Epiphany water, diocesan rituals, notably in lower Italy, had contained such a blessing.”

The Roman Ritual 1964

The magician could easily opt for the simply Holy Water form but this more complex blessing draws on auspicious timing and in particular if you are engaging in other work related to the Magi would tie into that work. At the least, since Holy Water is used in a somewhat baptismal manner at times in magic, this water is specifically connected to that element of the story as well.

The ritual for the Epiphany water is done the night before the Feast, and is a bit long so I won't be including it here. It occurs as the fifth item of the first volume of the 1964 edition of the Roman Ritual.

The sixth item given is a blessing of Gold, Incense, and Myrrh. I would assume in this case Frankincense would be the incense in question however I suppose other church appropriate incenses may be substituted. The blessing itself confers protection to those who possess these items. You could run it as is and have a powerful traditional blessing attached to your incenses and gold or make some tweaks to focus more specifically on conferring magical efficacy. The ritual includes an exorcism of demons which might be present in the material, the infusion of divine grace, and the direction of that grace towards the protection and intercession on behalf of the one who possesses these items.

This one is short enough to present here.

6. BLESSING OF GOLD, INCENSE, MYRRH

on Epiphany

P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.

Let us pray.

Accept, holy Father, from me, your unworthy servant, these gifts which I humbly offer to the honor of your holy name and in recognition of your peerless majesty, as you once accepted the sacrifice of the just Abel and the same kind of gifts from the three Magi.

God's creatures, gold, incense, and myrrh, I cast out the demon from you by the Father + almighty, by Jesus + Christ, His only-begotten Son, and by the Holy + Spirit, the Advocate, so that you may be freed from all deceit, evil, and cunning of the devil, and become a saving remedy to mankind against the snares of the enemy. May those who use you, with confidence in the divine power, in their lodgings, homes, or on their persons, be delivered from all perils to body and soul, and enjoy all good things. We ask this through the power and merits of our Lord and Savior, the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of all the saints, in particular the godly men who on this day venerated Christ the Lord with the very same gifts.

All: Amen.

God, the invisible and endless One, in the holy and awesome name of your Son, be pleased to endow with your blessing + and power these creatures of gold, incense, and myrrh. Protect those who will have them in their possession from every kind of illness, injury, and danger, anything that would interfere with the well-being of body and soul, and so be enabled to serve you joyously and confidently in your Church; you who live and reign in perfect Trinity, God, forever and ever.

All: Amen.

And may the blessing of almighty God, Father, + Son, and Holy + Spirit, come upon these creatures of gold, incense, and myrrh, and remain always.

All: Amen.

They are sprinkled with holy water.”

The next item presented is the blessing of the chalk. This one people reference a little more often, probably because chalk is sometimes given as an option for making circles and appears in various magical traditions, but chalk isn't given instructions for blessing in as many texts. Chalk may not be given in most grimoires but it has a long standing association with magic and religion. Chalk deposits are found in many British religious sites. Chalk develops from sediment caused from fossilized organic material, therefore chalk was once alive and is now material made from the dead. Chalk, while a stone, has a relationship with water, providing reservoirs to hold ground water to release in dry seasons, and growing to form cliffs and islands against the sea. These elements linking it to earth and water, and to the dead give it a liminal quality. In Ebeneezer Sibly's work, which we find later quoted by Waite, quick lime, which is derived from chalk, is used in the “burial” or burning of the body used in necromantic rites once the magician is finished questioning the ghost.

With these liminal qualities around death and the underworld qualities implied by stone and sea, the quality of celebrating life, and of divine revelation related to the Epiphany make for the perfect juxtaposition for completing and balancing the power of the chalk and reflecting the overlapping qualities of things chthonic and things celestial.

The Blessing of the Chalk is pretty short and simple. There is no exorcism, just a blessing, but the blessing is one which essentially empower the chalk for use in folk magic. The faithful are instructed to use the blessed chalk to scribe the sainted names of the Magi upon their doors in order to bring about their intercession and blessings.

The ritual, performed on the day of the Feast is as follows:

BLESSING OF CHALK

on Epiphany

P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.

Bless, + O Lord God, this creature, chalk, and let it be a help to mankind. Grant that those who will use it with faith in your most holy name, and with it inscribe on the doors of their homes the names of your saints, Casper, Melchior, and Baltassar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health in body and protection of soul; through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

It is sprinkled with holy water.”

The eighth item of volume one, and the final Epiphany item is a blessing of the home.

Now a blessing of the Home might seem less obviously in line with the grimoires. You don't bless your home in the grimoires, in fact in some instructions it would sound like you might even do magic away from your home. In some spirit traditions we find advice to keep certain workings out doors, or in places designated for spirit work rather than in the living areas of the home, or in altars which can be closed away. For most magicians though, magic is done in the home. So blessing the home would be part of routine maintenance. Even if you're not doing magical work in your home or your living space, you are aware of spiritual forces which might impact your life. Routine apotropaic work is something many magicians overlook, but which could help prevent situations which they might later need to turn to magic to help resolve. The Roman Ritual provides a few options for blessing the home, in fact, the chalk blessing implies a home blessing. The blessing of the water can be used to make water to sprinkle the home and bless it, or the blessing of the gold incense and myrrh and provide a protective possession to keep in the home.

The home blessing interestingly doesn't contain an exorcism. In fact it does not seem to be about purifying or wiping away any negativity on the home, but, like the season of Christmastide it is a ritual of joy and light. The magnificence of God and of his revelation through Christ is recalled in the ritual and that shining light sanctifies the whom and all who enter therein.

The ritual is as follows:

BLESSING OF HOMES

on Epiphany

As the priest comes into the home he says:

P: God's peace be in this home.

All: And in all who live here.

P. Ant.: Magi from the East came to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasure chests they presented Him with precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial. Alleluia.

Canticle of the Magnificat

Luke 1.46-55

P: "My soul * extols the Lord;

All: And my spirit leaps for joy in God my Savior.

P: How graciously He looked upon His lowly maid! * Oh, see, from this hour onward age after age will call me blessed!

All: How sublime is what He has done for me, * the Mighty One, whose name is 'Holy'!

P: From age to age He visits those * who worship Him in reverence.

All: His arm achieves the mastery: * He routs the haughty and proud of heart.

P: He puts down princes from their thrones, * and exalts the lowly;

All: He fills the hungry with blessings, * and sends away the rich with empty hands.

P: He has taken by the hand His servant Israel, * and mercifully kept His faith,

All: As He had promised our fathers * with Abraham and his posterity forever and evermore."

P: Glory be to the Father.

All: As it was in the beginning.

Meanwhile the home is sprinkled with holy water and incensed. At the end of the Magnificat the antiphon is repeated. Then the priest says Our Father (the rest inaudibly until:)

P: And lead us not into temptation.

All: But deliver us from evil.

P: Many shall come from Saba.

All: Bearing gold and incense.

P: Lord, heed my prayer.

All: And let my cry be heard by you.

P: The Lord be with you.

All: May he also be with you.

Let us pray.
God, who on this day revealed your only-begotten Son to all nations by the guidance of a star, grant that we who now know you by faith may finally behold you in your heavenly majesty; through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Responsory: Be enlightened and shine forth, O Jerusalem, for your light is come; and upon you is risen the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary.

P: Nations shall walk in your light, and kings in the splendor of- your birth.

All: And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.

Let us pray.

Lord God almighty, bless + this home, and under its shelter let there be health, chastity, self-conquest, humility, goodness, mildness, obedience to your commandments, and thanksgiving to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May your blessing remain always in this home and on those who live here; through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.”

Now this last ritual as it is written would need at least two people, the Priest, and the People. It could reasonably be modified for personal use with the individual simply doing both the call and the response. Some of the things desired for the home might not be the goals of all contemporary magicians. I could easily say “well go through the ritual as is, the words are just symbolic” but they're not. You're praying for those things. It's not an idea of bringing sanctity by reflecting back the words a God wants to hear, you're asking spiritual powers to bring conditions into your home and the people in your home. So consider what it is you truly wish to ask for. Maybe the actual blessing of the house in which chastity and humility are asked for is a prayer which you might have to explore tweaking a bit to suit your own needs, or maybe it does describe what you want in your home. If in essence you want magnificence and light to bring a presence of uplifting joy, that's the end game here, the shape it takes will need to fit the spiritual powers you're calling upon, but they can also fit the way you wish to engage those powers. Explore your relationship with the Lord of Hosts and determine what virtues he might bring into your home, and ask for those.

Speaking of relationships, and the vast army of hosts, there is a vast host of people on Facebook, so pop over there, and share our page, and if you haven't yet, like our page, for more interesting stuff from us. Thanks! And enjoy the rest of the Christmas season and have a Happy New Year. Hopefully I'll have some stuff to say about making friends with dead folks next week!


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Touched By an Angel

There seem to be more people working towards achieving Knowledge and Conversation of their Holy Guardian Angels these days, and that's great. There also seem to be more people who want to look like they've checked that box on the spiritual authority check list, and that's not so great.

A friend recently noted that we see a lot of people who describe their experience as if it was one super cool moment, and then it was done. Nothing changes after, there is no relationship after, they did it, they have it in their back pocket that they did it, and they don't have much of anything useful to add to the discourse that reflects their experience. They generalize the angel, or reduce its nature to something relatively meaningless, or treat attaining the angel like a badge they get for leveling up and then moving on. The experience is doing the thing, and saying they did the thing, and that's all it is; it's another experiment with another grimoire or another technique and they met the spirit and it was cool and that's it, right?

Nope.

It's a pretty immense fantastic experience when it happens. And to some degree that initial experience is momentary. That momentary experience exists to create a powerful on going relationship. Think of it sort of like a friend. You can call up a friend, hang out, have a good time, and then go your own way, getting together as needed. But say you and that friend have some sort of life changing experience which shapes the both of you, that creates a bond which ties you together and lets you share an intimacy you don't have with others, so there is a connection which is always there. The moment in the oratory where you complete the retreat is like that. It is a moment so full of force and fire that it forges a bond between you and the angel which is unlike that of other spirits with whom you interact.

Now, based on many approaches to understanding the angel, there is already a bond between you and your angel before the retreat. I would question whether or not all of these other descriptions of Guardian Angels and Holy Guardian Angels are necessarily talking about the same thing as what is described in The Sacred Magic, in fact, I would assert that in many cases they aren't. That said, in my experience, yes, your angel is there from the beginning, and you can and should make contact before doing the retreat. The retreat changes the nature of the bond and the contact, probably mostly on our end, but still, there is a perceptible change, which changes us and how the angel interacts with us.

I very rarely reference things Aaron Leitch says, and initially when I saw him compare Knowledge and Conversation to being Crowned by a spirit I mistook his meaning, and I avoided the comparison. But really, it is pretty apt. Knowledge and Conversation is a form of possession.

People tend to think of possession as it appears in The Exorcist, or The Exorcism of Emily Rose, or other cinematic depictions. Both of those examples are based on true stories, to some degree, but they both take cinematic license and make things visually shocking for horror movie audiences. Still, there is a reality to that kind of possession. Possession can refer to a point where a spirit takes over a person, and torments them. Possession can look like madness.

But that's not the only kind of possession, and even in the case of a spiritual assault there are stages to possession. In magic, where we find possession occurring as choice in which the magician has a relationship with the spirit these stages are more clearly understood. Unfortunately most European Magic (as Western is an inaccurate description) no longer contains spirit possession work, so for most people exploring Holy Guardian Angels, spirit possession means spinning heads and pea soup.

So first you should understand that possession occurs in different stages. In Catholicism there is Courting, Obsession, and Possession. When a spirit is courting someone it is exploring weaknesses which would open that person to possession and tempting them into situations to exploit and exacerbate those weaknesses. The spirit might directly influence and inspire the person and attempt to draw them in. When a spirit is obsessing someone the spirit has made contact and presents the person with things they desire and draws them towards desiring a relationship with the spirit or opening up to that spirit's influence. The obsessed person is oppressed by the spirit as the spirit begins to exert some control., often by impacting their well being and weakening the person's resistance to their influence. Possession occurs when the person succumbs to the obsessing spirit and control is relinquished. Finally an integration would occur if the person willingly gives themselves over to the possessing entity.

These stages all take a pretty negative view on the subject because in Catholicism possession is almost always an involuntary and negative act. Catholicism does however provide a lot of the framework for European spirit magic and so an awareness of it can be useful as a way for setting up our thinking.

Another way of looking at it based in Afro-Caribbean traditions would be that in stage one the spirit sits on you or next to you, you can feel the presence of the spirit, it touches you, you can communicate with it, but aside from a more intimate awareness of it, you're still in the driver's seat, and you can break off from the contact. A second stage involves the spirit more intimately connecting with you such that it can influence and take partial control. You're aware of what's happening, mostly, and you can exert some control, but you and the spirit are kind of sharing control of the steering wheel. The third phase is when the spirit is in full control, and you act as the spirit, you may or may not have awareness and it may or may not communicate with you so much as through you in this process.

Knowledge and Conversation is somewhere between stage one and stage two, which would fit somewhere close to the obsession stage in a Catholic context. But in the case of Knowledge and Conversation it is voluntary on our parts, and so that gives it an integrated element, which makes it like he reception of a Head Spirit, or being Crowned, in which the spirit with whom you work, by whom you are possessed “resides” with you and so there is an on going relationship in which the “stage” or the clarity of contact, moves on a scale as per the context of the particular moment.

That said, unless you've experienced these types of spiritual interaction, this probably doesn't explain the experience too much.

To go back to Hollywood as a means of illustrating...Death Note is a good example. The relationship between Light and his God of Death is a good example. Ryuk is always there, even if he's just sort of in the back of Light's awareness. They communicate, Light gets answers and suggestions from Ryuk. Ryuk isn't in control but his presence impacts how Light is able to approach things and Ryuk is at times able to facilitate things for him. On some level it looks kind of like a relationship with a familiar spirit, except that Ryuk exerts influence just by virtue of his connection to Light as well as directly by what he communicates, rather than a familiar, who generally performs tasks and provides information but without that same influence. The recent Fox TV series version of The Exorcist has also depicted this phase of possession, albeit in a negative context, in season two of the series. Andy, the possessed individual, initially experiences the possessing spirit as a girl who he believes to be one of his foster children. She suggests things to him, influences what he does and how he makes decisions, she isn't always with him but she's always watching and can make suggestions to or influence Andy pretty much whenever she chooses, but still she's not ultimately in control of him.

Recently when talking with the same friend who pointed out that some people treat the Holy Guardian Angel like a One and Done kind of thing I described it like this:

By possession I mean like first/second stage The spirit is touching you so it knows and understands you and is able to freely talk to you, but it's there like generally. Like not every waking moment but at any given moment it can interact. It's intimately in the space of your being; still identifiably separate though, but it doesn't feel dissociative. It is like a partner who sits in your sphere and kind of comes into your ear when he needs to speak.”

I could go into what talking to it is like, or how this relationship impacts magic and divination and other spirit work...but if I did all that in one blog post it's seriously limit what I'd have to talk about later.

In any case, finishing the Abramelin, or Liber 8, or Samekh, or whatever ritual you intend to use to achieve Knowledge and Conversation is great, and it's important, but it isn't really the goal or the prize. That all comes later, and is the unfolding relationship which completing the ritual catalyzes. It's not just that single moment, but rather the way in which it affects all the later moments.

Speaking of relationships...once again, if you liked this, please share, and please like us, and encourage your friends to like us on that vast and ranging Book of Faces.