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Friday, March 30, 2018

The Church is Dead and God is in Hell...so your Freedom is Sacred

I'm sure many of my friends and blog readers know I love Lent and get super excited about it. Last year I had a pretty popular post about Ash Wednesday and my Gnostic interpretation of the meaning of Ash Wednesday vis a vis Palm Sunday. But did you know I think Holy Saturday is the most amazing day of the year? I made sure my ordination as a Gnostic Catholic Priest fell on the Saturday of the Easter Triduum for this reason, once I organized a Mass, Class, Spaghetti Dinner, and Dionysian Mystery Tradition ritual for a Holy Saturday chocked full of wonder. I think it's a day which is in itself mystically inclined...here is a discussion I had this early afternoon of why. I hope you enjoy it, and that you share it with your friends, so that you and they can go find the infinite in all that you do.

BJ: After 3pm we enter the best time of the year. Because the church is dead and god is in hell.

College Fencer: I’m sorry I must have been to the boring catholic education cause that sounds way more fun than my average Good Friday

My explanation as to why Holy Saturday is the Greatest Day of the Year for Mystics, Gnostics, and Antinomianists:

The Harrowing of Hell occurs on Good Friday after Christ's death when Christ descends into Hell and tears down its gates and in doing so conquers sin and death. In this process God essentially descends into Hell. Christ's incarnation is described as God achieving sympathy for Man by taking on Man's suffering and weakness. With the Passion on the Cross and the Harrowing of Hell God takes on all sin, all suffering and pain and descends into a moment of isolation from himself, achieving the ultimate weakness and powerlessness before then conquering it. In this moment God is closer to mankind than ever. In an almost gravitational way God sinks below man and draws man closer into a shared proximity than would seem otherwise possible.

When Christ dies the Church as his Bride dies as well. From 3pm on Good Friday until Dawn on Easter Sunday there is no Church. This is the most sacred antinomian moment. There is no institution, there is no mediation so there is only man and God. God's grace exists simultaneously with the depths of human experience and error with no Magisterium to dictate its nature or how to access it. This is shown when the veil of the Holy of Holies is rent in the temple at the moment of Christ's death. The veil separated the common man from the sanctum in which God resided, an inner sanctum in which only the High Priest could enter. With the veil torn asunder God permeates the world. With no Church and no Veil man and God stand face to face unmediated such that man directly experiences the infinite fully and unfiltered on his own terms in his own space of being. With this it can be interpreted that in this time all acts that express man's nature and his experience of the world are redeemed and are in contact with divine grace.

Death, or the withering of man from a state of perfection in which he resides within divine grace, is the price of experience and knowledge in the story of Man's exile from Eden. It is by descending into the fullness of human experience that Christ defeats death and returns the dead to paradise. Thus again, the full experience of our humanity during Holy Saturday is the experience of divine grace which allows death to be conquered and Sin to be transcendent.

So in my view, as a Gnostic Catholic, from the afternoon of Good Friday through to Dawn on Easter represents full access to the goal of mysticism, union with God and transcendence over the suffering and error of humanity such that our humanity, our drives and desires are elevated as the vehicles by which we Triumph and are resurrected with the Dawn. 

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Make Your Magic Easier

Yesterday I wrote about making magic part of the structure of your life by doing magic regularly. Not doing spiritual exercises, or yoga, or meditation, but actual magic, the work of making change in the world through the application of occult forces. In the case of yesterday's post I specifically was referencing work with spirits. You can do other magic routinely too, and I think whether we're talking about work with spirits, or ritual kabbalistic magic, or folk magic or whatever systems we might approach, those same problems I mentioned yesterday, the same excuses, the same walls we put up to hinder ourselves will apply regardless of what system we're working.

So today I want to suggest a few ways to make it easier to actually do the work.

Yesterday's theme was consistency.

If you're committed to doing the work regularly the work gets easier.

Today we're going to talk about planning and preparation.

One of the best places to start is with a calendar, and with phone apps. A desk calendar is probably the way to go because it will have plenty of space to make notes. On my phone I have an app called “Reaganium” which calculates planetary hours. You can use a calendar view to project out days. So you can write out the planetary hours on your desk calendar so you have them in advance. I have another one called “Astro Charts” which runs astrological charts, breaks down tables of aspects and positions, and lets you advance or move back the date or time for the chart at various increments. So you can look for astrological positions and elections and mark them on your calendar so you know when interesting magical moments might come up. I have an app called “Catholic Saints” which isn't as great, but it gives a list of Catholic saints and feast days for each day. Hellenion has a calendar on their website which lists all of their interpretations of when the Greek Pagan holidays are, which can be useful for noting festivals of the dead, and observances for Hekate and the Agathodaimon.

Whatever things you might need to take into account for observances there is a way to look them up somewhere. So rather than wait until you see something on Facebook and think “oh shit I missed it” or “I don't have time to prepare for that!” you can have the whole month planned out.

Maybe there is nothing that month you'll want to observe, but there might be interesting things you wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

Another thing that will be helpful is a book.

I know I frequently pull out a handful of books when I want to put together some ritual. I think of prayers, incantations, conjurations, invocations, and other elements which are in various sources and sometimes I have to keep books upon to various pages, which is awkward. Other times I type up the script for the ritual I want and print it. Even if I'm working from a single text often the ritual components aren't lined up conveniently as a ritual script and so I have to type up and arrange them.

So if I haven't preplanned my ritual I might not feel like I have time to put it together in a last minute circumstance. Or if my printer has a hiccup then that can make printing a script difficult or can slow things down to the point of being inconvenient.

So there are two solutions to these problems.

The first one is to memorize various prayers and orations which you will use frequently and know your ritual components enough that you don't need a script. This may or may not be ideal. Some magicians think this is the way to go, but most evidence suggests that magicians worked from books historically. There are both magical and practical reasons for working from a written source.

So if you want a written source, keep a ritual book. Have a book where you've written down your various component parts, your orations and your prayers. Then you have a single source to go through instead of various books, and you don't have to write a ritual, you just have to use the pieces you keep assembled. You can even include in it set complete ritual scripts instead of just components. Having some stuff memorized is good too, and there are instances where working from memory of spontaneously will make sense, but having your set rituals, working methods, and components already on paper will make your magic a lot more plug and play.

Boxes and tchotchkes. I keep “sorcery boxes” or boxes that have herbs, iron nails, sachet bags, loadstones, and various other things I might need to use. So I can just pull out a box and grab the things I want. I have a plastic stacker of drawers for candles and I order colored candles in bulk sets so I can just reach in and get whatever candles I need. Another drawer has labeled glass candles, another has pillars and tea lights. Keeping your stuff organized and keeping a well stocked supply means you don't have to worry about digging out components or running to the store to get supplies.

A way to step that part of the game up would be boxes based on categories. So a jupiter box...not like a charmed box that is itself a Jupiter working, but a storage box filled with Jupiter correspondences, or one for things related to the element of water, or ones for things related to a particular spirit, or a box for love magic. However you group things in your mind magically, organize your stuff based on that. That way when you decide to make a sweetening jar at 6:45am before you head to work you don't have the excuse “well I don't know what correspondences I have, and I won't have time to look through everything and select stuff” because your stuff is already selected and grouped and handy.

You can go further by having blanks for talismans ready to go, or even having pre-etched or pre-drawn talismans and sigils on hand so that you just have to charge or consecrate them or activate them and then use them in your ritual or your work.

The last thing is space. One big problem people run into is not having a set ritual space. I've had lots of beginning magicians talk to me about needing to work around family or roommate schedules, or not having a room dedicated to magic so they aren't sure where to practice. Or their current options for where to practice don't allow them to make a huge set up. Or even if they have space the idea of setting stuff up might seem time consuming or daunting for people with not a lot of time and who are trying to squeeze out their last waking bits of energy to do something.

You usually don't need a huge set up.

So there are a couple ways to work this. The two I'm going to suggest, I use both of them.

One, having permanently set altars. You don't necessarily need a permanently set ritual room, but having an altar makes it a lot easier. I have an ancestor altar permanently set up in my dining room. It's right there in the open so it's easy to work with it often. I feel it nagging me...I mean calling to me when I don't work with it often enough.

I also have an altar from when I tried to return to druid work a few years ago, and one from some work I did with a particular God about two years ago, and I have one for spirit work. I keep a small shelf on a little bookshelf for devotional stuff for a God that has helped me several times. Finding places where you can set stuff up permanently so you can just walk up and use it makes things so much easier and so much faster. It does mean you need to set time to tend to the altar though.

Say you don't have a set approach you want to work with all the time, or you can't always leave an altar set up. Use altar tops. You can get a piece of wood, or canvas board and paint or etch your table of practice, or altar design into it. You can keep a handful of these for various systems. Wrap them in cloth when not using them, and when you need them pull them out and set them on top of a table. Folding TV tables work well for this because they're small enough that you can easily make an altar top that will fully cover the table.

So imagine you're looking to do some prosperity work. Thursday comes, you get home from work, you think to yourself “I really need to call upon Sachiel and consecrate a Jupiter talisman, maybe make a mojo bag too. Ugh, but I have to get dinner made and I need to finish prepping for tomorrow's meeting.” So you start cooking dinner, and then you look up the sunrise and sunset time, draw your planetary hour chart and you see that the planetary hour for Jupiter started just after you got home, and the next one isn't til the middle of the night, so now you'll have to get up or miss it. You aren't sure if you have the right incense so you pull out 777 and look and decide you could run to the witch shop after dinner, but it's 30 minutes away so that isn't convenient. You open the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy and see a prayer for Thursday you could use, but there is no ritual for Thursday that you can just read from. So you decide you'll just light a candle and hope some hopes before you prepare for your meeting and then go to bed.

Now...successful you, a well prepared magician who conjures spirits at least a few times a month and has a good relationship with his ancestors and gate keepers and local land spirits comes home from work and looks at the calendar. You see the needed planetary hour will begin in a half hour and you note that Jupiter is in a good aspect based on other notes you made. You go to your bookshelf and pull out your Jupiter box, you grab an appropriate oil blend from the box and go take a quick shower and anoint yourself with Jupiter oil while reciting the orphic hymn to Jupiter. You go to your sorcery box and pull out a sachet bag, and then pull some items to fill the bag from your Jupiter box, along with some incense and Sachiel's seal. You put on your robe and call upon Amacor and his crew, and you open up your ritual book to your Thursday conjuration ritual. You take a quick detour outside to leave some corn and butter for the nature spirits and tell them what you're about to do, and upon coming inside you pour a little whiskey as you knock on your ancestor altar and let them know what's up. Then you go to your spirit altar and begin about 10 minutes after the planetary hour has started. Thirty minutes later you're done, and now it's time to order pizza and watch Jessica Jones on Netflix. After you pay the pizza delivery guy you feel the new Jupiter mojo bag in your pocket next to your wallet and you smile.

It can be hard to keep up with your magic amid the rest of life. So make it easy for yourself. Be the magician in the second scenario. 

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Funny Cause It's True

Three days ago I had a Facebook memory pop up of sharing a post from Jason Miller's blog two years ago, titled “ABC Always Be Conjuring.” The post was a joke, he was parodying a speech from the Movie Glengarry Glen Ross, you should read it (and Jason's blog in general) if you haven't.

I almost re-posted the memory, not because the post is funny (which it is), but because the basic sentiment is true and useful...and is one I think people, myself included, don't always get or follow through on.

The speech was originally a hard push for super aggressive sales people, the parody sets it up as an inspirational redress of nascent sorcerers calling them to a life of constant committed conjuring and spirit work. On the surface it's goofy, it's a fun joke, but, the basic message “always be conjuring” can actually inspire a useful view point.

Magic isn't a band-aid, it's not a quick fix or a cure all. Magic, at it's core, is based on understanding fundamental elements of the structures behind existence and how we use those to accomplish the changes we desire. With that in mind shouldn't magic be part of the structure of our lives? Doing a little magic here or there, or even having a developed magical practice but only using it when we need to solve magic issues is not making it part of the structure of our lives. Using it as a fail safe or last effort is making it an accessory that we hang on the scaffolding of our personal structures. Even if we're not saving it for dire situations, if we're putting it on a pedestal and not fluidly weaving it into what we do, and who we are, then it's still just something that decorates us rather than something which supports us.

Doing magic takes time and effort. Sometimes we don't want to put in that time and effort. Sometimes we've spent the day at work, we've dealt with whatever our evening tasks are – whether it's a second job, school, a family, an activity, and we're just tired. Or maybe we don't have the stuff we need and won't be ready in the right hour. Or we don't have a temple space and our room is a mess and we don't feel magical. Maybe, tonight you have a headache or need to wash your hair. Maybe we can come up with a dozen or so reasons not to do magic.

Then maybe we need something, and it's important and...we still don't do magic. We're not in the habit. There are probably other solutions. It's not something we need to use magic for anyway. We're not sure which method would be best.

Then maybe we need more stuff, maybe the situation gets more difficult, and now magic makes a lot more sense. Maybe we need a solution and magic seems like the only way to make a solution tenable.

Why be in that situation? It doesn't just make magic more difficult because the goal is more difficult, it leaves you in the wrong mental state to even approach problem solving, let alone magical problem solving. You're definitely not in a mental state where it's going to be easy to approach magic. And all those things you've taught yourself to use to avoid magic are still going to be there on top of whatever other stress you have.

If you're a magician, do magic. Not just meditation, not just spiritual maintenance, or lesser banishing rituals or whatever daily or weekly exercises you might have. Most of that isn't magic. Do magic.

I myself have this problem. When I was really young and mostly doing witchcraft and NeoPagan magic I used magic all the time for stuff. As an older teenager into young adult years this continued. But eventually I kind of got this idea that you need to measure yourself against things you don't affect by magic, and that sometimes you should knuckle down and suffer through things without magic to build character. Neither idea really makes sense. What you create with magic is as real as what you create with anything else. Magic is, in a way, the same as any other effort. Don't make it so special that specialness becomes a reason not to do it.

Now that I'm a full grown adult the problem is less that magic is too special to use, or that the reality touched by magic is different from reality untouched by magic. It's that I go to work for 8 hours, get about an hour to have dinner, and then coach a sport for five hours during which much of my time is spent running around and drilling sword techniques into middle and high school boys and then when they're done I get to do it again with college kids until I'm sweaty gross and tired when I get home at midnight.

I'm sure a lot of you have some sort of similar experience...just...with fewer swords, maybe less sweat. More likely fixing dinner for your kids and putting them to bed, after trying to figure out how to do homework in subjects you haven't looked at since you were their age, or working a second job, or whatever.

But if you're reading my blog I'm assuming magic is something that's important to you, or that calls to you. I assume you either consider yourself a magician or you want to be a magician. So you need to do magic, and like I said before, magic, not magical aerobics.

Call spirits regularly, work with them.

I work with my ancestors at least weekly, often more than once a week. I don't have a regular schedule for conjurations though. Recently when I was out to dinner with the Brodepti we all talked about how we don't do magic much – but all of us had conjured a spirit for something within the preceding week. In our minds if we weren't back in our Abramelin retreat schedules with hours of prayer and ritual a day we weren't doing enough magic. Maybe we aren't, but maybe you don't need to always be on that kind of schedule. You won't always be conjuring...but, conjure often, and conjure even when you don't need things.

You should use your routine prayers as meditations. This helps you learn them but also helps draw the forces they call into your life. Each day finding a time to say the planetary prayer for the day, or the orphic hymn, or a prayer associated with a god or spirit you work with is a useful technique. This shouldn't be where it stops though.

Call the spirits.

If you know them and they know you it's easier to call them and easier to work with them. If you work with one a lot ask it to give you a familiar spirit, or a special sign and name by which to easily call it.

Everyone these days talks about building a relationship with the spirits. You can't do this if you only call spirits when you need something.

That said, only give them something when you're asking for something. Don't give them offerings with pronouncements of your loyalty and dedication and how you're ready to honor them. Most spirits we're calling in magic aren't gods, and acting like they are can skew the relationship especially when you eventually really need something.

Asking to get to know them is still asking for something in return for your offering.

Run through the spirits of the planets, or the elementals, call your ancestors, introduce yourself to your backyard's nature spirits, see if your house has a household spirit, or ask the local spirits to help you attract one. Call on these spirits and ask them to teach you about them, the things they do, the things that interest them and the ways in which they work with the things that interest them.

Build a rapport. Get to know them, get them to know you.

Ask them to help in general ways with your life.

When you find small specific things that maybe don't seem like they need magic, ask for help with those things. When you want something that maybe doesn't need magic, ask for it.

Work a structure in your life that is built with magic woven into it. Build a structure where you have a working relationship with the spirits you need and keep that relationship actively involved in building your life.

Be good at adulting.

Never exercising and always eating junk food won't make you healthy. Never paying bills won't help you have the things you need. Not finishing tasks at work won't help you keep your job. Not doing magic won't make magic part of your life.

If you use magic to better things when things aren't bad, and to solve problems while they're small it will help you avoid bigger problems becoming potentially catastrophic ones. Same as mundane attention will. If you want to do magic make it part of this process of attention to the things you need in your life. If it's worked in already then you need less ritual, you need less preparation, you need less time, and the pathways the spirits need to manifest things are already well trodden and established from your routine work with them.

Always be conjuring.

It's something I'm not as good about as I should be. But it's something I'm going to be more mindful of. Hopefully it's something you'll be more mindful of too if you aren't already.

If you enjoyed this please like us on Facebook and please share this post and our Facebook page. If you want to connect and you like spirits and talking with other magicians who work with spirits please join in with our Facebook group, Living Spirits. And since we were referencing Jason's blog today...go pick up a copy of his newest book The Elements of Spellcrafting. 

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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