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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The First Spirit

One thing that comes up in traditional systems of witchcraft and magic is the idea of introduction. Either a spirit or another magician, perhaps even some event, that introduces the magician to the spirits with whom he will work. Spirits are often approached in some sort of “spirit court” or a group of spirits with which the magician and his family or his fellow magicians work. Even magicians who don't work in that context will often talk about “my spirits” or the spirits with whom they have a working relationship. Even looking at the grimoires, particularly the personal miscellanies which survive, we find descriptions of handfuls of spirits with whom the magician worked for various purposes. More sweeping systematic grimoires often have larger lists collected together as if to be comprehensive, and of course some miscellanies have large collected lists, and some systematic texts only have a few. But most magicians will have a core group of spirits they work with, even in the large lists we see a lot of spirits that do the same or similar things. We see spirits which have structural elements for ruling and summoning other spirits or facilitating other spirit magic. While there are an array of spirits which need to be part of our world, we don't necessarily need to be in contact with all of them all the time, and we don't need to necessarily conjure every spirit under the moon.

So how do we know who to talk to? How do we approach our group of spirits initially? How do we transition from one to several?

Jake Stratton-Kent has done a lot with advocating for the return of the intermediary spirit to modern ceremonial magic and spirit conjuration. He has pointed to this being an element of the Grimorium Verum which is lacking in other grimoires but likely points back to older magic not necessarily recorded in the grimoires themselves. He has also presented a way of working this into modern ceremonial work by preserving Scirlin's function in his Goetic Liturgy system. As to intermediaries or introducing spirits being a part of traditional magic, we can see signs of this in the Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyrii, so it is a fair assumption that this occurs in older magical systems. We also see it in living sorcery traditions in the Caribbean. To some degree the Abramelin operates in this way, the angel granting authority to call the Kings and the kings then introducing the rest of the spirits...but arguably this is working through a hierarchy rather than an intermediary.

The Testament of Solomon is probably the easiest clear example of such a thing existing in a source that directly feeds into the Solomonic literary tradition. In the Testament of Solomon we see the presence of thwarting angels, or angels who can be called upon to subdue unruly demons. This can be cited as existing in earlier magical systems and we see it echoed if not outright present in some later grimoire traditions. We also see the archangel Michael present Solomon with a ring and with the divine authority to command spirits. These two features are the ones which are arguably familiar with grimoire magic in a ritual sense, and otherwise the book is largely like a spirit catalogue presented in a mythological form.

A significant component is the introduction to the spirits. Michael doesn't bring Solomon a demon, or introduce him to a spirit. Michael gives him tools and authority. Solomon encounters the spirit Ornias because Ornias is harassing a boy whom Solomon cares for. He naturally experiences a supernatural event which creates a spirit encounter and he then uses his position to compel that spirit to introduce him to other spirits and learn how to command them.

This is the clearest example of an intermediary. The spirit introduces Solomon to the ruler of the infernal spirits and is used by Solomon to call upon the spirits. Ornias is sometimes associated with Oriens; there may or may not be a relationship. In the Clavis Inferni Oriens is given as Urieus, and in the Testament Ornias says that Uriel is his father. Ornias is given as a spirit of the East in the Hygromanteia and in the Testament he falls under the sign of Aquarius linking him to the East and the element of Air. In Livre Des Esperitz Oriens is given as the first spirit of the group of spirits following the chief spirits. Part of his office is to bring the other spirits to the magician. This is of course the function Ornias serves in the Testament.

Whether Ornias or Oriens are related or not it still illustrates for us that the spirits may be encountered by way of introduction. Clearly magicians also just conjure spirits. But developing a relationship based on the existence of a pervasive and developed spirit world which surrounds us and is part of our lives allows magic to be interwoven into everything. In a world where spirits maintain their existence and work regardless of our psyches, while they might work with us when we randomly call them up, it's an easy assumption to think things with personalities might not just jump all in for any stranger that beckons. So a spirit who can be like “Hey, here's my bro, get to know him, he might need your help sometimes” can be a useful ally.

I posted about this concept previously in my spirit conjuration guide. But there I talked mostly about picking a spirit based on that function, like for example crossroads spirits. Here I want to talk about your “first spirit.” You first spirit is a spirit you're able to encounter and naturally develop a relationship with, not necessarily one whose job is introductions by way of his ordained function. For me when I was a very small child, about three, the spirit of one of my grandfathers came to me. I didn't understand who it was at the time, just that he was a spirit who cared about me and would help me when I needed it. When there were other more problematic spirits he helped me navigate them and avoid them. When I got a little older he helped me with meeting nature spirits and starting to learn magic.

When people ask me about how to learn witchcraft my first thought is to tell them to go meet some spirits and ask the spirits to teach them magic. That's really at the core of witchcraft. We have some of our access to magic because of our connection to our ancestors and the spirit world connections they can broker for us. Certain ancestors will connect with us because they cared about us in life. Others maybe because of some circumstance. Either way, they make for the easiest spirits to build a natural relationship with. The initial one you connect to can help connect you with the other ancestral spirits, and the overall group of ancestors can back you up in your work with the spirit world and help you negotiate relationships with spirits.

But maybe you haven't encountered an ancestor. Maybe you have to reach out and work to make contact with them. You can pick a person you knew, or maybe someone you've heard stories about. Or maybe your first spirit doesn't have to be an ancestor. Emma Wilby in Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits begins the book by recounting the story of Bessie Dunlop, a 16th Century Scottish Witch. She worked her magic by way of a familiar spirit, not one of her ancestors but the spirit of a dead man she encountered one day. The story implies that the spirit needed help with issues with his family and used his relationship with Bessie to resolve those issues. The relationship was formed because of a mutual need for aid. Your first spirit can be a spirit you encounter where it needs to encounter you just as you need to encounter it. The world has an abundance of spirits, so it's a matter of being able to make contact and be aware of them, but it's also important to be cautious to ascertain the nature of the spirit and the relationship being formed.

Aside from spirits of the dead, faeries are a traditional familiar spirit for witches. Exploring encounters with the fair folk can also be a way to obtain a first spirit, and traditionally faeries have connections with the dead and with those spirits more commonly conjured in the grimoire systems, so they are positioned traditionally to broker those connections and aid in teaching magic. The familiar spirits given to witches in the trial accounts often seem to be fairies rather than the demons inquisitors wanted them to be. Even the Black Man who gave witches their familiars had a relationship with the Elf Queen. The overlap between the fairies and other spirits shows up in Reginald Scots's compendium of spells. He explains that magicians might make pacts with condemned criminals and then raise their spirits, creating a rather natural first spirit encounter since the encounter is prearranged while the person is living. The spirit of the dead can then go find one of the primary sisters amongst the seven fairy sisters, Sibilya, and retrieve her so the magician can make contact.

So maybe you don't know any condemned criminals, or dead people, or ways to find fairies. Nature spirits may be the easiest to approach in this case. The first spirits my First Spirit introduced me to were nature spirits, and nature spirits were the first spirits to teach me any magic. They mostly just concern themselves with their natural functioning and so what they want in the relationship is less of an issue. They will mostly also just teach you about magic of interacting with them and related nature spirits. Depending upon their function they may or may not be particularly helpful in navigating other spirit conjuration, but they can be helpful as companions and in dealing with basic areas of life and house holding. To clarify these nature spirits are not necessarily fairies.

With them being the easiest to connect with, they're the easiest ones to give examples of how to approach them, and familiarity with working with them could at least build the skills needed to bridge into openness to encountering other types of spirits. Sarah Ann Lawless has recommended that a witch should go into their environment and just introduce themselves to the local spirits. I think this suggestion is a great way to start. Maybe add to it making some small offerings, milk, corn or some sort of meal, honey, flowers, or a little shrine. None of those things will necessarily introduce you to a spirit but they might start building a relationship where the introduction could be a little easier.

A next step might be putting yourself in a place for the encounter. When I was entering adulthood I wanted to further explore hereditary witchcraft and began working with a woman I had met who married into a family that had their own magical practice. The beginning of witchcraft for her was “becoming a good animal,” which involved becoming in touch with your surroundings, the natural currents, and the spirits that were there. The first step to doing this was to just go sit outside and be open. Look, listen, breathe, and observe; feel. If you don't have a natural propensity to seeing or observing spirits, and no spirit has naturally approached you, and you have no dead folk to reach out to, but you want to dip your toe in rather than go the conjuration route right away, this may be your entry point. Introduce yourself to the spirits of your back yard. Make some offerings, go out and say hello periodically, and then, like a good animal, get to know your surroundings. Sit and be open to what's there.

So yeah, traditionally, a witch would be able to connect with spirits, a sorcerer would be introduced by the sorcerer initiating him...but, maybe you don't have either of those as an option. Maybe no spirit has naturally approached you and so you've got to take it upon yourself. If you've been sitting on the sidelines waiting to figure out this whole spirit magic thing, start with your dead, and if you have no dead, start with your back yard. Build a relationship that can help build your confidence in spirit communication, and can also help create a position in which you're more ready to meet more spirits.

If you've already jumped in and work with spirits, maybe revisit who the first spirit you worked with was. Was your first encounter a natural one, maybe even one not connected to your magical practice now? If so maybe it's time to look at why you had that encounter and whether or not that spirit should have a place in your work. If your first encounter was a spirit you conjured, why did you start with that one? Was there a good relationship, and do you still maintain it? If you don't still work with that spirit should you touch base and maybe see how they fit into the rest of your model?

In the end it kind of depends upon you and your situation. Maybe the encounter that introduced you to spirits just served to show you spirits are real and you should learn magic, but it did so because the encounter was awful. Maybe that's not a spirit to go pursue looking up. Kind of like people in our lives. Sometimes those foundational people stick with us, sometimes they drift out and reconnecting would be good. Sometimes they're gone and it's good they're gone, but reflecting on their impact can still tell us something about where we are now and maybe help us plan for where we're going. 

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