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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Conjuring Power in Plants and Natural Materials

          In my book, Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits, I talk about the idea of calling upon the spirits of particular sorts of plants, and stones and objects which we might use in magic. If we are incorporating honeysuckle in a spell, the divine signature which defines the honeysuckle into existence describes a particular power or nature. The radiance of the heavens which is captured as honeysuckle is defined into creation radiates with the presence of the plant. If we have a fox tooth it has a contagion link back to the fox and so it partakes of the life and power of that fox. An amethyst will reflect the radiance which drew its mineral structure into being and convey the power and nature of its signature, much like the honeysuckle.
          But in any of these cases are we drawing on living power? Are we activating something which has motion and agency?
          Each of these materials are tied to spiritual life we can call upon to be part of our work, to bless and empower the material we are using, and to work with us through that material. In old Jewish angelology every class of objects is ruled by an angel. Other cultures, traditions and folklores have similar views. The individual honeysuckle flower we pick may or may not have a spirit of its own, but there is a spirit which moves through the world and stirs the growth of honeysuckle, breathes life into it, and empowers its nature. Likewise for stones, or for animals. So with each of these items we might call upon that spirit.
          These items might also have spirits based on their provenance, which we can recognize if we ourselves collected them. Say the honeysuckle grew in a cemetery, then we might connect to the spirits of the cemetery through the honeysuckle. If we pulled the amethyst from a stream then it might connect us to the spirits of the stream. The fox tooth might connect us to the fox, and also to the spirits of the forest where the fox lived.
          In the book, in the third appendix “Southern Conjure: A Practical Guide to Spiritous Sorcery” I suggest that when making oils and powders, or when working with herbs and materials in other types of spells that we should call upon these spirits so it’s not just the presence of the item but the engagement of the spiritual powers behind the item which contribute to the spell. Here is an excerpt:

“As we’ve said, there are spirits associated with plants, rocks, and various other things occurring in nature. So when we are making a powder or oil we can call upon the spirits of our components to enliven and empower those components and to work together through the combination of our ingredients. Some ingredients might have additional spirits to call upon based on where the ingredient comes from or if it is tied to some particular spirit or profession or other association. Once we have mixed our ingredients, or if we are working with a premixed oil or powder, we can call upon a spirit or god related to the purpose or goal for which the oil or powder will be used. We can also set the container of the oil or powder on our ancestor altar, or the altar of whatever other guides or guardians we have and ask for them to bless and empower it and to work through it hand in hand with us.
          So say we want to make Algiers Powder, which according to Herman Slater, is made with Vanilla, Patchouli, and Cinnamon. It’s also associated with the color purple. It’s useful for love and for gambling. To begin we might lay out a cloth of purple and on it place three dishes, one for each component. Behind each dish set a candle. You might anoint the candles in holy oil, you might sprinkle the space with holy water. Giving each herb its own respect, for each in turn, touch the herb, light the candle, and make a prayer to the spirit of the herb. Once you feel that you’ve engaged the spirits and the physical material carries their power and blessing then mix your powder.”  

The text then goes on to discuss the idea of calling upon gods and spirits associated with the purpose of the mixture because the mixture becomes a thing itself once mixed. So that way we have the power of the spirits called going into the mix, and we have the direction and power of the spirits related to the goal of the mix.
Our prayer for the component could be really simple. Something like “Spirit which gives life to the vanilla bean, which spreads its growth through the world and guides its vitality and flavor, accept the offering of this candle and for its life place your life and motion in this vanilla plant, be with me and through it aid in my work.”
If we have a plant which has some heavy mythology or folklore or symbolism to it we can reference that in calling upon the spirit of that plant. For instance, “Spirit of the holy tree, whose berries are bright red, showing the brilliance of the blood of Christ, which Christened you at his crucifixion. Mighty holy tree whose bright green and red shine in the dark of winter, life defying death. Spirit of the sharp leafed tree whose leaves were hidden in spells as wings of bats, fly forth to join me. Bring life to the sprig upon my altar and through it work your magic with mine.”
If we harvested the plant or other item ourselves then we can begin this link to the spirits associated therewith at that time, while there is still a living present and vital connection in the place where that spirit has amassed into the growth of that plant or the crystallization of that stone. When harvesting we can call upon the spirit, introduce ourselves, ask to work together and to take this piece of material from them, and give them some offering at that time. Then later when working we are recalling that connection and asking for aid in a situation where we already have a relationship. If we’ve purchased the material it’s still possible to build that connection and call upon it. But if we have the opportunity to go out and harvest it definitely adds a component.  
There is another method we could take though. Recently I was reading an article which quoted a spell from The Magical Papyri – PGM IV 2967 – 3006. This is a spell for harvesting a plant which goes through a series of statements associating the development, being, and treatment of the plants with several gods. The idea suggested by the article is that this is flattering the spirits associated with the plant to cajole them into aiding the magician.

“You were sown by Kronos, you were conceived by Hera, / you were maintained by Ammon, you were given birth by Isis, you were nourished by Zeus the god of rain, you were given growth by Helios and dew. You [are] the dew of all the gods, you [are] the heart of Hermes, you are the seed of the primordial gods, you are the eye / of Helios, You are the light of Selene, you are the zeal of Osiris, you are the beauty and the glory of Ouranos, you are the soul of Osiris’ daimon which revels in every place, you are the spirit of Ammon. As you have exalted Osiris, so / exalt yourself and rise just as Helios rises each day. Your size is equal to the zenith of Helios, your roots come from the depths, but your powers are in the heart of Hermes, your fibers are the bones of Mnevis, and your / flowers are the eye of Horus, your seed is Pan’s seed. I am washing you in resin as I also wash the gods even [as I do this] for my own health. You also be cleaned by prayer and give us power as Ares and Athena do. I am Hermes. I am acquiring you with Good / Fortune and Good Daimon both at a propitious hour and on a propitious day that is effective for all things.”

Another way to consider this though might be that it is building up a divine body around the spirit of the plant. In Christianity there is the concept of the armor of God, in which the prayerful associates their spiritual body with the divine armaments of God. Earlier in Egyptian magic we find the Ritual of Coming Forth by Day:

"The hair of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the hair of Nu [or Nun]
The face of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the face of Ra
The eyes of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the eyes of Hathor
The ears of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the ears of Ap-uat [or Wepwawet]
The lips of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the lips of Anpu [or Anubis]
The teeth [or molars] of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the teeth of Serqet [or Selket]
The neck of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the neck of Isis
The hands of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the hands of Ba-neb-Tattu
The shoulder of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the shoulder of Uatchet
The throat of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the throat of Mert
The forearms of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the forearms of the Lady of Sais
The backbone of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the backbone of Set
The chest of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the chest of the lords of Kheraha
The flesh [or chest] of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the flesh of the Mighty One of Terror [or He who is Greatly Majestic]
The reins and back [or belly and spine] of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the reins and back of Skehet [or Sekhmet]
The buttocks of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the buttocks of the Eye of Horus
The phallus of Osiris Ani, triumphant, is the phallus of Osiris
The legs [or thighs and calves] of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the legs of Nut
The feet of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the feet of Ptah
The fingers of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the fingers of Orion
The leg-bones [or toes] of Osiris Ani, triumphant, are the leg-bones of the living uraei [the rearing cobras of the goddess Wadjet]
There is no member of my body which is not the member of some god ["There is no member of mine devoid of a god"]
The god Thoth shieldeth my body altogether ["And Thoth is the protection of all my flesh"]"

So rather than assuming that we’re cajoling the spirit of the plant by telling it how awesome and divine it is, perhaps we’re invoking the powers of these gods and the ways in which the gods connect to nature and therefore to the plant, to express their power and life through the plant. Thus the numen of the plant is imbued with the numina of the various gods, expanding its light and power beyond an earthly spirit to a vessel of divine power.

Honestly, which makes more sense for a magician, telling a spirit “Yo dude, I’m picking you because you’re so cool, all these gods raised you and shit, like you didn’t know that but it’s true, so be excited so we can do magic,” or saying “Hey, bro…I’m going to invoke about a half a dozen gods so your natural power will be super amped, you’ll feel good, and our magic together will be more awesome”?

The latter seems more practical. Magic isn’t just tricking spirits.

So, what if we’re not harvesting the plant, what if we have store bought herbs?

I haven’t used this prayer yet, but to me it seems like it would work just as well in that case. You’d still be building presence of divine life anchored to the plant.  I’m curious to try it and curious to hear what others get from working with it.

Pop over to our FB group Living Spirits and talk about your experiences with conjuring living power into the materials you’re working with in your magic.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Dies Parentales: A Novena for the Dead

A novena is a common Catholic prayer practice which can be used as a devotional or an offering or a means of gaining focus and connection. The essential structure of a novena is a prayer, repeated over nine days. Typically one strives to make the same prayer at the same time in the same place during each of the nine days.

There are many times throughout the year which might make sense as a novena for the dead. Halloween or Samhain is an option. The memorial day for a deceased loved one, or of an important ancestor, could also be an option. There are surely other days of personal significance and other holidays which have reasonable links that may suggest on going prayer for the dead.

Making some daily prayer for the dead at a significant, or even a not significant time, can do a few things for us. Most simply it keeps them in our focus and helps link our attention to them. It shows respect and devotion. It provides a gift of our time. More esoterically, if the dead are in a place where they suffer or if they are in need of elevation prayer can be means of reducing suffering and aiding in elevation. Acts which draw the dead into our awareness are also acts which give the dead further hold in our world. Part of their connection to the world is the memory and attention given them by the living, and the active interaction the living seek with them. So praying for or praying with them can help them be more effective allies for us in the world of the living. With the opportunity to create connection, to link them to the world, and to aid them in a comfortable afterlife, prayer is often an offering enjoyed and desired by the dead, at least in my experience.

With it being February we have another opportunity that suggests a novena for the dead. The Dies Parentales, or Parentalia. This was a nine day Roman festival for the dead, which incorporated several other holidays. The dead during the Parentalia are both our positive and protective ancestors and the troublesome and unsettled dead, there are also opportunities to address those elements of our positive dead which are more negative and frightful.

For our purposes, a magician could explore the cycle of holidays which are part of the Dies Parentales or they could simply approach it as nine days in which the dead are available and so we can approach them with prayer, reflection, offerings, and other rites and customs for interacting with them. For many people this second approach is going to make more sense, which is why I began with the concept of a novena. Some have suggested that the idea of a novena stems from the nine days of Parentalia, but I’m sure there are many religious practices which could have inspired this mode of prayer. Regardless a novena would be a simple way to observe these days for someone not seeking to engage in Roman customs, or someone who is just beginning their journey in befriending the dead.

If we want to be more Roman about it, during the Parentalia the temples were closed, people did not show signs of their office and other civic religious practices were on hold. The focus was on the dead.

The first day of the Parentalia was for the ancestors, the positive spirits who are honored by the family and look after the family. This was celebrated with offerings of grain and salt, wine, bread, and flowers made at the cemeteries outside the city. This occurs Feb 13th and begins the nine day cycle.

Lupercalia, the holiday which likely influenced the advent of Valentines day, occurs Feb 15th and celebrates the wolf and the shepherd who aided Romulus and Remus as babies. These figures are in a sense ancestors of Rome in general. The holiday was celebrated with naked youths touching people with bits of leather to make them fertile. This may make less sense for us to adapt in our work with the dead directly, but we could acknowledge the day as a way of noting the mythic ancestors of our community or our non-familial ancestors whose work or efforts still helped shape us. In particular it may be a time to seek help from those ancestors in achieving fertility, or perhaps fecundity and prosperity.

Quirinalia occurs Feb 17th and is the day dedicated to Quirinus or Romulus, the first King of Rome, and one of Rome’s two founders. Again, to adapt this holiday we might acknowledge the civic ancestors of our community.

Feralia wraps up the primary holiday cycle on Feb 21st. Feralia is the night to appease the darker aspects of our ancestors and to remove the more harmful and unsettled dead. Offerings would be made, as well as signs of mourning, but for the more dangerous dead there may have also been rites to exorcise and banish.

February 22nd the holiday was concluded on Caristia, with a day of joyful celebration and feasting to bring the family together and celebrate the positive relationship with the ancestors. Food and incense were offered to the dead, and the family joined together and settled disputes in honor of the positive relationships and echoing the positive ties which they had just strengthened with their ancestors.

So if you wanted to follow something like this cycle

Day One/Two – Honor your ancestors, deceased parents and grandparents in particular, with wine, grain, bread and flowers. Celebrate them, mourn them, give them attention.

Day Three – Honor those whose work laid a foundation for you, honor mythical figures whose stories reflect the values and culture of your community

Day Five – Honor your community’s civic ancestors

Day Nine – propitiate any spirits you have wronged, address any grievances your ancestors may have, make offerings like on day one and call for your ancestors to restrain anger or harmful acts. Work to remove those other spirits who might plague you or your family who can not otherwise be propitiated and brought to a good relationship

Day Ten – celebrate your living family, and with them honor the dead and your relationship with the dead.

On the remaining days I would continue focusing on the work from day one.

Otherwise, you might take a simpler approach and just pick a prayer and make that prayer each day, or give nine days of offerings. Or even make offerings the first day and propitiations the last day and leave it at that. There are a lot of approaches you can take should you decide to take advantage of this traditional time for building relationships with the dead.

But just remember, the focus here is the dead themselves, not the gods who rule them or the guardians who keep them.

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