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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Simple Sacrifice

Sometimes magic and our relationships with spirits need to be touched through simple things. These simple things should not only be those that we are weaving into the regular occurrences of our lives but rather things in which we find the magical in our lives. I’m not going to write about all such spaces in which we can do this but just give an example or two.
          Sometimes we can do things as simple as walking around outside and talking with the elements of nature and the spirits thereof. This not only reminds us that the living magical nature of the world around us does not only exist when we do magic – it is something which surrounds us at all time; but it also reminds those spirits we know them and they know us and we have bonds with them.
          Similarly, if you have some touch point for your ancestors or household spirits or gods near the entry to your home, speak to them when you come or when you go or both. Again, they’re not only there when you do magic, they watch over you always and are part of your family and your household. In my own practice, I have a picture of my father, which my grandfather had made for me after his death, that hangs on the wall immediately upon entry to my home. I great the picture every time I return home from going anywhere. My ancestor altar is also in the walkway as I enter my home, and so I greet my ancestors whenever I return home. With this greeting I thank my father, my ancestors, and my gods, angels and other allies for all help they have given me in recent times.
          Sacrifice crowns the title of this piece and so I should perhaps reference sacrifice. We often think of sacrifices as big things, or things where we give up something close to us. This is not always the case. It’s just to separate something out, to make it sacred, and give it over to the gods or spirits which aid us. It’s a moment where we can give a gift, and we can show respect, and when it is woven into our lives it becomes a moment where they participate with us in life. It’s a moment where we turn our thoughts to them outside of more formal ceremony.
          So, I have two examples to give, which are really essentially the same thing. In many cultures fat and bone were the objects of sacrifice. Meat was for mankind, but the glistening fat and the rich smoke that rose therefrom was desired by the gods. When cooking we often have meats with much extra fat. Whenever I cook chicken, sometimes when I cook beef, there is fat to be cut off. I imagine this would be the case with pork and mutton, but I don’t cook those. When I’ve cut the extra fat away, I take out outside and burn it as an offering. I usually make a prayer like this, “May the smoke of the fat rise and please the gods, may the ash fall upon the earth and please the gods of the underworld and the dead. May they be pleased with this and be pleased with me and pour their blessings upon me.” When cooking ground beef, the fat which cooks off into grease I’ll generally drain off and let cool. Then I go to a spot that receives offerings pour out this fat, with the prayer “May the fat of the animal become the fat of the land, may the spirits of nature, the gods of the underworld and the dead receive its richness, and may they likewise pour their richness upon me.”
          Simple, right? Not everything needs to be complicated. We can find simple options. I like this because it’s part of something as normal as preparing a meal. It’s part of an essential daily activity, so it brings our spiritual life into those daily activities. It also allows us to make meaningful something that we might otherwise cast off. There are a lot of other things you can do with fat, if you prepare other foods, or compost or whatever other useful thing, this specific act may not be for you, but the idea is there. Find small things that tie your spiritual life to your daily life.

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If you would like to explore more of my ideas on magic please check out my book Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits, and keep an eye on this space for information on my new book, Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration, which will be coming out soon.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Some Thoughts on Witch Power

“outside the bounds of modern Neo-Paganism, witchcraft is NOT about Goddess or God, seasonal celebrations, procuring a good harvest, reliving the past, dancing in a cloak while drinking wine or wearing flowers in your hair or even necessarily about being Pagan. Witchcraft is about sovereignty.”

In a Facebook group someone posted a picture of Besom Stang & Sword by Christopher Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire, with the above quote. I can’t speak on the book as I have not read it. I believe in historical witchcraft more so than modern Neo-Pagan and social aesthetic forms of witchcraft, but I’m not really tied into the trad-craft movement. That said, I do like some trad-craft writers and approaches. I’ve heard enough good things about Besom Stang & Sword that I am curious to read it.  
This particular quote – which again I cannot attest from the book but rather from the forum; leaves room for discussion. It certainly drew some interesting responses in the forum.
The first individual suggested that the word sovereignty was a biased and Christian view. I think maybe she did not understand what sovereignty means on an individual basis…or that they were speaking of witchcraft outside of the context of NeoPaganism, and thus historically that might also include Christians.
One person dismissed any book that would use the term NeoPaganism, because the term seems “dictatorish” (sic).
Others seemed to view witchcraft along the lines of modern ceremonial magic – a path to enlightenment and the spiritual pursuit of the higher self. In fact, that seemed to be predominant. Most did not like the idea of witchcraft as a means of power. Some felt that you would grow past the desire for power. Others felt that witchcraft is humbling and would teach you not to seek power. Some said it is not a path of power at all but only one of wisdom and harmony.
Some people today say that the revival authors and the NeoPagans of the 60s and 70s reclaimed the word witch, but you can’t reclaim that which was never yours. They’ve stolen and abused the word and left us with these sad, weak, and uneducated points of view.
The only comment I responded to was one which suggested that witchcraft was the birthright of all mankind. I responded that this position was directly in opposition to all historical meanings of the word witchcraft. But I should further point out that this powerlessness is also antithetical to the idea of witchcraft. In modern parlance we view witchcraft to be witchery, the things done by witches. People who can’t quite figure out what a witch is say that a witch is someone who does witchcraft…a rather meaningless definition due to its circular quality. Historically Kraft was not science, or a skilled knowledge, Kraft was power or force. Witchcraft is the power that a witch has to work magic. Witchcraft is inherently about power.   
I am not in the habit of saying a witch must be this or that. Witchcraft is not a system but rather a state of being and something possessed of one in that state of being. Historically there is a quality of antagonism associated with the witch. Modern writers have said that witchcraft is a recourse to power for the powerless. Historically this is well supported. So, the idea that witchcraft is not a path for power cuts away its teeth and turns its back on its history. It takes away from the important place witchcraft has had in mankind’s experience.
We truly need to turn from this silliness.
I was not intending to focus on that, but rather write a short post on the quoted passage, so I will turn to that.
In saying that witchcraft outside of NeoPaganism is not about a God and Goddess, or nature worship or creative anachronism, but rather about sovereignty, I must agree that this statement is 100% correct.
Even with it being 100% correct I’d say it’s not 100% complete. But then why should a quote out of context be 100% complete? I thought perhaps people’s hesitance to agree with it would be because they needed more than sovereignty to define witchcraft, but as we’ve seen it’s because the people reading the quote didn’t know what witchcraft is. Still, let’s look at some of what else there can be. I think sovereignty is important and can be expanded but it isn’t what I’d center a definition of witchcraft around.
Sovereignty is important. Being able to be effective as a witch involves being self-determined, I’d like to say also being self-possessed but that’s not exactly right. A witch should have a certain hold on their own being and an acceptance of their own character and selfhood, but the calmness and emotional stability implied by being self-possessed aren’t necessary. In fact, a turbulent spirit might be a more natural quality.
A witch needs to feel and know that they are ruled by their own power and have the awareness that they might stand against a sea of disagreeing powers, but that only their power and determination for themselves matter; they will either change the sea, or navigate the sea until they reach their own end.
More than this sovereignty, which arises in part from power, I would say otherness and liminality are the central qualities of witchcraft. These natures provide access to the power to be sovereign. Existing in a liminal state of being is central to the power we call witchcraft. A witch is tied to spirits in such a way that the witch stands between the world of man and the world of spirits. Historically witches were often described in an otherworldly way somewhere between mankind and spirit-kind. Inhabiting this state more fully empowers a witch’s relationship with the spirits with whom they will work. This liminality also allows the witch to be the crux of change in the magic they work. Existing liminally the witch’s heart is like the crossroads and so possibility flows through. Along with possibility the thing to be changed, the force of change, the state of what is, and the possible ways that it may come to be, may all simultaneously be held by the witch until they allow one road to arise.
With this liminality comes otherness. The witch is separate, but at the same time able to intimately connect because of this separateness. The witch is other from the average man, but also other from the spirits. The witch is outside the norms which create boundaries because the liminality creates a different relationship to boundary. Consider anyone who is by their nature a witch and you will see the influence of these qualities upon them and their life. These qualities give rise to witch-power because they are the basis and nature thereof.  
Ultimately, a witch is sovereign to be who they choose to be. Their quantum relationship to boundaries and borders, to normalcy and otherness give them a fluidity to be who they choose and at once to be many different things. With that in mind, rejecting modern pigeonholing – both that of the NeoPagan priests of nature and humble servants of wisdom crowd, and that of the re-wilding witchcraft politically charged seekers of antedeluvian freedom; is welcome, because witches don’t fall into pigeon holes; witches rise powerfully in what manner they choose, from what place they choose into whatever venue they choose.  

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Rapheal Versus Michael: Battle for the Crown of the Sun

          My new forthcoming book includes conjurations and spells based around work with the planetary angels. The test team who tried out the conjurations had a few questions along the way. Two of them asked why Raphael was listed as the archangel of Sol instead of the archangel of Mercury. It’s a question that comes up routinely. Some magicians do it one way some the other way, and many of them don’t even realize it’s something that’s up for debate. Some magicians think there’s a hard-fast right or wrong on this one. Honestly, as much as I like thinking of stuff as having a right answer this is one where I recognize there’s a basis and reasons for each, and both correspondences work, because the angels are simply bigger than that.
          For magicians who don’t understand that the angels are not themselves the planets, nor are they the same as the gods with whom the planets are associated, this idea that both can be true might be harder. If someone thinks Michael is Sol is Apollo is Tifaret, or Michael is Mercury is Hermes is Hod then they need there to be a single answer because they need these persons to be discreetly one thing so they can support their view that the correspondence is identity. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, those that think that way just don’t get it. So, the angels are left to be bigger than that thinking.
          With that said, here is some of my thinking on the matter.
          Personally, I’m not super invested in the argument, I’m comfortable with Raphael associated with the Sun and Michael associated with Mercury because initially I learned it that way. The Golden Dawn correspondences do it that way. They also recognize that the two play a little switcheroo and so on a different level the Golden Dawn also swaps them.
          First and foremost, Raphael makes sense in the Sun for me because the Sun is to me the main source for healing. Think about the feeling of a warm spring day. It’s therapeutic. The Sun is the chief amongst the planets, it is the perfection – the completion; of the concept of a planet. Healing is not fixing a problem, healing is completing or perfecting a state. Healing is removing deficiencies by restoring balance and order to a system. This concept is related to the Sun and to Tifaret. The Sun does this in our cosmos, the solar nature of Gold is the expression of this in alchemy. In the Kabbalah this is the nature of Tifaret. Tifaret orders the spheres around it, it is the heart, and it transmits the rightness of divine light from the higher into the lower, ordering it into a balanced state. So if we’re talking the divine concept of healing we’re talking the Sun.
          Now some people think that Raphael as a healer belongs in Mercury because Mercury relates to medicine. There is a difference between medicine and healing. Doctors are often associated with Mercury but the patron of doctors was Asclepius, a son of Apollo. The work of healing is solar. Medicine is Mercurial. Apollonian concepts are echoed in the rulership of Mercury. Apollo rules oracles, Mercury rules tools of divination. Mercury introduces himself to the world by stealing his big brother Apollo’s cattle, he is rewarded by taking rulership of those things with which Apollo is finished. This is not to belittle Mercury. Mercury is wonderous. Medicine as a tool of Mercury is his because it is a form of knowledge. It is the knowledge of technology used to facilitate healing. It is not the same as healing itself.
          So why would Michael belong in the sphere of the Sun? Michael is the likeness of God, and the Sun is the cosmic likeness of God. Michael is the general that commands the angels, just as the Sun commands the planets.
          One of the people who asked me suggested that Michael seems Martial rather than Solar or Mercurial. That actually makes a lot of sense. Sometimes I think Gabriel would make sense associated with Mars based on his name, but we associate Gabriel with the Moon. Gabriel is God’s herald or messenger so that would make sense in Mercury. For Michael, Michael is again God’s general. He is the archistrategos, or the high strategist of the divine host. Being a strategist may make sense in Mercury because it has to do with knowledge, analysis, planning, and communicating commands and plans. If we take it simply as an expression of military power then Michael begins to make sense in Mars. If we view Michael as the warrior who casts down the enemy then Michael makes sense for Mercury. If we view Michael in connection with the Maioral and as the scourge and the sun bathed sword who casts back the darkness at the dawn, then he simultaneously is Martial, the force of war and strength that commands away the devils, and Solar, the rising Sun that pushes out the darkness.
          So how is Michael Mercurial? Again, Mercury takes on attributes related to Apollo. Michael is God’s likeness, so he takes on attributes like unto God. Michael is one of the many angels who is a Prince of the Presence. These angels appear to mankind and represent God or speak on God’s behalf because mankind can’t receive God directly. They are messengers of the highest order. Again, as the high strategist, he plans, he communicates plans, he analyzes threats, all of these being intellectual elements. The Princes of the Presence are, in some cases, associated with writing the decrees of Heaven, and thus again this is a Mercurial function. Michael defeats Satan, this is Martial right? Well…are we talking Christianity or Judaism? In Christianity sure, it’s Martial. In Judaism it’s different. Satan is not a person, Satan is a title which refers to a group of angels, the Satanim, who at time, but not always are led by Sataniel. These are not the evil angels, those are led by Shemyaza and Mastema, although Mastema is also one of the Satanim. Of the Satanim, Samael, who at times is linked to Mars and other times to Saturn, is often considered to be the equivalent of the Christian Satan, the chief opposer. Samael is the Prince of Rome and with Rome as a special enemy of Israel Samael’s job is to present the evils of Israel in the divine court and call for their persecution. Michael is the Prince of Israel and his job is to speak of Israel’s righteousness and glory and counter the message of Samael, so much so that all the evil deeds Samael calls to be written of Israel are burned while Michael’s proclamations are written. This is a very Mercurial way of defeating Satan. In fact, it’s not just speaking and writing, it’s legalistic. Michael is the defense attorney for Israel acting in the divine court on their behalf. While law and legalism and court victories are associated with Venus, lawyers are associated with Mercury.
          Michael is abundantly Mercurial. So, what about Raphael? What’s Mercurial about Raphael? Well honestly, not much. Again, Raphael relates to healing, which is Solar, not to medicine, which is Mercurial. If we equate healing and medicine then sure we can associate Raphael with Mercury, but there isn’t much other reason. Mercury has a vast array of rulerships and elements, but Raphael only really shows up in a story about healing someone.
          Again, different books present it differently. Different magicians approach it differently. You can probably learn different things about the Sun and different things about Mercury calling each angel for each. The big thing though is people aren’t correspondences. You and I each relate to many, many different things and have a whole depth to the complex of elements which form our characters. Non-human persons are often like this too, particularly the lofty complex and powerful ones. Gods, angels, and demons aren’t simply a row within a column in 777. They are bigger and deeper. We have to approach them as such and learn from them their vastness.

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

What Does a Christian Bealtain Look Like?

          Short answer, it doesn’t. It doesn’t look like anything. It’s not a thing.

          I was in a Christian Witches’ Forum on Facebook and a newbie witch was talking about prepping for Bealtain, and I asked what a Christian Witch Bealtain looks like. The answers were basically, whatever you want, it’s all about intent. The forum is mostly people doing Eclectic Wicca from a Christian perspective.
          Christian, particularly Catholic, witchcraft is a solid thing. Historically we have centuries of Catholics practicing witchcraft, we only have about seventy years of NeoPagans practicing witchcraft. So when NeoPagans try to say Christians and Catholics can’t be witches there really isn’t a leg to stand on.
          What is more reasonable is pointing out that Christianity isn’t Paganism and Christian Wicca and things like that don’t smoothly exist as a single thing. Catholics have frequently engaged in double-faith, in which you might go into the woods, or to a clearing, or to your house on a Saturday and engage in Pagan customs and then on Sunday go to Mass. But each tradition is approached separately as their own thing. Another way to do it is to accept that Catholicism is universal, so it universally encompasses all things which exist in the world. So if spirits exist, if gods exist, then they exist in a Catholic world and so there is a way to understand them and experience them from a Catholic perspective. With that being the case Catholic magic must exist. In fact, it does, all over the world and all throughout history.
          So why no Catholic or Christian Bealtain? Well from a Protestant perspective, a core element of most Protestantism is stripping out those elements of religion. Nothing Pagan, nothing superstitious, no magic no idolatry. Catholicism has room for a lot more of that, but it does it in a Catholic context. It isn’t just a matter of doing a Wiccan ceremony with Mary and Jesus as the Goddess and God. There are rich spiritual traditions as part of Catholicism for engaging holy days, and these can include witchcraft or occur next to it. Bealtain isn’t a witchcraft ritual, it’s a Pagan holiday.
          So what does a Catholic Bealtain look like? Well, Walpurgisnacht. A night celebrating a Saint and exploring the otherworldly and supernatural powers. A night where we recognize the same access to the spirit world that Bealtain recognizes, but with customs and practices that engage that experience from a Catholic worldview. Or Mayday, the day after Walpurgisnacht, where we celebrate the advent of spring and the crowning of the Blessed Virgin as Queen, ready to be celebrated over the course of a month dedicated to her. Maybe even May’s Eve, the traditional Wiccan celebration, which is – on some level; more a mystery tradition ceremony than a religious Pagan custom.
          What if Bealtain really speaks to you though? Then do a Pagan Bealtain. Commit to it. Do it right. Even if you’re a Christian or a Catholic, take the double faith approach. Go live it up, explore the access to the dead, talk to the faeries and then ward your land from them, sew fertility into your life. Don’t water down your Bealtain and your Christianity trying to do a fluffy dime store book ritual that is half way between the two things without really being either.  

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Image: By Nyri0 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,