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Friday, August 9, 2019

Starting with the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how to reach them without a katabsis?

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

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

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

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

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

That’s pretty much it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put a bit of incense on the coal and say

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

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

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

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

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

For more spirit talk, join us on FB at Living Spirits, and remember to share with your friends and follow us on Facebook!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Spirit Possession in the Modern Western Tradition

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

 Spirit Possession in the Modern Western Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He opens his discussion of possession by saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Spanos’s article he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For magicians this is a big component of magic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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