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Friday, February 5, 2021

Smoke and Fire: Tweaking Magical Rituals

This post will talk about ritual tweaks and substitutions in general, but then will present some options for Luminarium.

 

A discussion came up on a Facebook Forum, Ceremonial Magic School, in which someone asked about options to use in magic different from incense. Sometimes people are in places where candles, or incense might not be options. For some people, incense may be an irritant.

 

The original poster suggested that incense was a representation for fire, and wondered if you can use a candle for fire, and then oil passed through a humidifier to represent water.

 

This starts at a good place. The question addresses the purpose of the item being changed and what else would change along with it. Anytime we’re changing things in a ritual, that’s the first step. One of the better things grimoire purists say is that we can’t change what’s in the grimoire because we don’t know why it’s there. They’re partially right. If we don’t know why a ritual says to do a thing, or at least what that thing is accomplishing in the ritual, then we can’t change the thing. If we change things without understanding we might remove components that are needed without creating something else that does what the component was needed for.

 

We’ve all seen this with the countless bad re-workings of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram that used to flood the internet, and now still sometimes infect some newer books of Ceremonial Magic. People look at the base thing they think the ritual is for and change things based on that, rather than looking at the specific components and their purpose in context to understand how to tweak those.

 

So, can we tweak the grimoires? If we know how the thing we want to change works and why it’s there, then yes, sort of.

 

Can we know why something is there and how it works since the texts don’t explain that?

 

Well, sometimes the texts kind of do if you really read them. The prayers, the consecrations, the description of how things are used, they can begin to inform us. If we spend years studying a text, studying related texts, studying the texts that led to it and the texts that came from it we should over time develop some understanding. If we study the theology and metaphysical ideas that form the context of the grimoires, the liturgical corollaries, the earlier forms of magic that led to them and later forms of magic that grew from them, we should over time develop some understanding. If we learn other parallel traditions of magic and work earnestly and ardently at the traditions described in the grimoires, over time, we should develop some understanding. If we don’t, what are we even doing?

 

Now, if we understand how and why something works, we can address whether or not it’s needed or helpful or superfluous.

 

If it’s needed, we might not be able to change it. If we can change it, we’ll need to change it to something very similar and we definitely can’t omit it.

 

If it’s helpful, we can probably make a change to something that does something similar. We might be able to make a change to something that helps differently and might be better suited to our goal. We might be able to omit it, but it will probably reduce some element of effectiveness or make the work harder for us if we admit it.

 

If it’s superfluous we can omit it, we can keep it if we like it, we can change it if the change doesn’t impede what we’re doing. I would be least inclined to interpret something as superfluous, unless it really clearly is demonstrated as such there is a possibility you’re missing an element if you’re finding things you want to get rid of to be superfluous.

 

While we can analyze things and figure out stuff that can be tweaked and substituted…we need to understand that those tweaks and substitutions will make a change. If you have a chicken tender, you might sweeten and moisten it with barbecue sauce. If the pepper in barbecue sauce irritates you, then you can sweeten and moisten it with honey mustard, or even just honey. All three will do the job, but they’ll all do it differently. They each bring different things to the table. The result will be different, but they’ll each be effective. You might even prefer the changed result.

 

So, in the example posed in the original question, the incense was being used to represent fire. So, if we’re setting up an altar with representations of the elements, we’re probably not looking at grimoire magic. Something influenced by Golden Dawn magic, or some kind of standard NeoPagan ritual magic would generally have a candle to represent fire, a bowl of water for water, incense for air, and a stone or some physical thing to represent earth. The question is probably being asked in that vein. So, if we’re swapping out incense, we’d need something else to represent air. If we’re looking to just represent air, a fan, or a feather might suffice. It we’re looking for something to bring substance, life, and character to the air, then we need something that more closely mimics incense and provides a scent. If we’re looking to provide a substance for the powers we encounter to use, then incense might need to remain our choice.

 

Some of the options that came up involved using oil, and one poster mentioned plans to try Luminarium with oil, and so I thought it might make sense to talk about some options for tweaks in Luminarium, since one of the points of the text is to be adaptable.

 

Incense. In Luminarium, the incense is used partially to tinct the space and bring it into harmony with the nature of the forces being conjured, and in part it is used so that the fire is transmitting substance into the spiritual to give some benefit to the spirit. It harmonizes the nature, pleases the spirit and helps to empower it, and it creates some link between the earthly and the ephemeral.

 

Three options can help with this. Oil in a diffuser would help tinct the space, although perhaps more slowly and not as potently. It would not have the thick and powerful diffuse presence of smoke, nor would it have the heat to agitate the space. The scent might still be pleasing to the spirit, but the way the incense helps empower the spirit might not be as present here. The link between the earthly and the ephemeral would also be there but maybe not as clearly, you’re not moving something from solid earthy material to smoke by the power of fire.

 

We can offset some of these missing elements. Maybe add a candle for the elements fire would add to the incense. Maybe a shot of alcohol, or an offering of flour to help feed and empower the spirit.

 

Maybe instead of an oil diffuser we use an oil warmer with a candle. The scent might be more powerful, and you’d still have tincting the space. You’d have the warmth of the fire to help agitate the space and bring heat to building the space. The scent would still please the spirit. You might have some of the same empowerment, but you’d still use the substantive nature of the incense smoke, so maybe not as much. The movement between the material and the ephemeral would be more present than with the diffuser, in my opinion, but not as clearly indicated as with the incense.

 

Oil dissolved in alcohol like a cologne might be an option. You could spray some around, but also leave some to evaporate. The alcohol is going to evaporate more readily so the movement between phases of being and the connection to the spirit world that gives might be clearer, alcohol is often used for this purpose in many traditions. The alcohol itself can also be an offering, but something substantive might be good in addition. Adding a candle might still be useful, but obviously, don’t spray alcohol into spaces with flame.

 

Alternative to adding a candle, instead of spraying the alcohol with the oil dissolved in it, some books on witchcraft used to talk about making a blue fire on the altar with cologne. The blue fire being a representation of sacred presence. The fire carries the scent of the cologne. The various benefits of the oil or incense and the benefits of the fire used with the incense would largely be there, but it would lack the smoke and the substance the smoke brings to the ritual.

 

An added element of using a sacred flame would be the option to combine this with the lamp. The light from the fire could be used similarly to the light from the lamp with the Guardian Angel invoked through this flame. If choosing this option, you might want to use your temple incense, or an oil matching your temple incense, to scent this alcohol rather than your planetary scent. You’d still need something for the planetary scent if doing this.

 

We’ve talked previously about using a candle instead of the lamp. This wouldn’t be dissimilar. The only real loss by switching either to the candle or the sacred flame would be the inability to adjust the level of light case by the fire like you can with a hurricane lantern or other adjustable wick lantern.

 

If using this method, using the sacred flame, you might be able to lean into tweaks to make the ritual more pagan. If you’re looking for ways to reduce the Christian components and increase the Greek ones, or even go with some other pagan tradition, or blend Luminarium with Wicca, the fire would more easily fit that structure than the lamp.

 

In some forms of pagan rituals, the sacred flame is the presence of the divine. It is often divine in and of itself, for example, Hestia is embodied in the temple flame and the hearth fire. Some view Bride to similarly reside in the flame in Celtic ritual. The flame in those cases can be viewed as a beacon for the gods as well as the portal through which they interact with us. This is pretty similar to how we use the lamp to interact with the Guardian Angel. The light of the lamp becomes a vessel through which the angel can illuminate us and it is then able to help communicate with us and with the spirit so that we may more clearly see and understand the spirit.  

 

I would still advocate working with your Guardian Angel in a pagan context. The sacred flame can be a vessel for your angel, or you can work with the god of the flame along with your angel for additional sanctification and protection. The god of the flame can also help open the space between the spirit world and our world. This is not dissimilar from the use of flame to provide heat so the spirits can break through the sea between worlds and speak with us. But in this instance the divine power within the flame intentionally opens the space rather than the power of the flame being offered to the spirit to use.

 

Depending upon what spirits you’re attempting to call, this kind of tweak may make a lot of sense. If you’re calling on spirits that remain tied to pagan cultures and beliefs instead of those from Christian, Judaic, and Islamic cultures creating tweaks that lean into the pagan elements present in the ritual may be well suited to your goal. If you’re calling angels it might be less the case.

 

Again, whatever tweaks you make will change elements of how it works. So the flavor will shift a bit. That can be good, or it can be bad, it depends on what you’re doing and what effects you’re looking for.

 

Now if you read through this and thought “this is getting really eclectic and is starting to move further outside of the grimoire tradition,” that’s good. These examples are drawing on sources from a few magical strands. It’s good to be aware of that. Depending on what you’re doing you may want to keep things tighter. You might be better off going a bit wider in your influence though. Again, it’s going to depend on the system with which you’re starting and what your end goal is. It’s going to depend on the character of the communication you want, the types of spirits you’re calling, and the type of effect you’re looking to get from working with them. It will also depend upon your needs.

 

Doing things by rote isn’t understanding or mastering them. Changing things needlessly or willy nilly is also problematic and may not be effective. The balance is developing understanding and negotiating reasonable changes when they make sense. Negotiating can be a matter of exploring your needs and desires and making informed choices suited to those. Negotiating can also be approaching the spirits, working with divination, or working through a diviner with a relationship with the spirits, and grasping what changes and substitutions they are willing to accept…as has been done in traditional cultures with traditional magic throughout the world.


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Friday, January 29, 2021

Can you Do Grimoire Magic For Free?

A lot of people – magicians and non-magicians alike – have noted that you need money to do grimoire magic. I’ve strolled through a magic shop with my non-magician buddy and he’s been impressed by how costly magic is.

 

It can definitely seem like a barrier to those approaching it. Not only does it feel like there are a ton of books to read, things to learn, and tools to make and buy…

 

…but the books and the tools are expensive.

 

Especially when folks insist that you need proper gold implements, custom parchment from a sacrificed virgin goat, and sticks cut in a single stroke on a certain hour on a certain day with the moon in the right phase and the stick not having grown more than a year.

 

Seems daunting, and if you want to buy the parts, it’s expensive.

 

There is also always someone willing to sell it to you. Those folks willing to sell it to you will also tell you that you can only get the success they have if you exactly follow all the steps and exactly have perfectly created tools. They might even say that folks doing it other ways are, ironically, just trying to sell you something…the idea that anyone can do this.

 

The reality is the textual history, and what survives of material evidence shows pretty clearly that people did things with a lot of variance and alternatives historically. People innovated. People used simple methods to call on spirits and had the spirits teach them more personalized magical work. With the amount of treasure finding magic out there, magicians who had nice stuff may have even did simpler cheaper magic to get money to get that nice stuff.

 

You can go the purist route, or not. Either way, if you’re looking to get started and you’re pressed for cash you can still begin working within the grimoire tradition without spending money. You can begin contacting spirits, building relationships, obtaining means to contact them outside of ritual to accomplish magical goals. You can even taking the Jupiterian prosperity gospel of magic approach – use magic to get your financial and material life in order so you can focus on your magical life.  

 

So how do we go about this?

 

Well, the first thing to remember is that the grimoire tradition mostly exists in a medieval and Renaissance Catholic context…later on in a sometimes Catholic sometimes Protestant context. In that worldview, natural permissible magic existed alongside the more legally restricted magics often recorded in the grimoires.

 

Angels, and some other spirits, could be contacted without circles, without seals, and without complex rituals. Some of these you could encounter just through prayer and appeal to God, some you could call upon by going to places they resided, or gathering natural items during the right times. In terms of prayer to God, some of the simpler methods presented in books of magic pretty much boil down to that approach.

 

There are a ton of resources you can read for free online. Many of the ones that you should be checking out are available at Joseph H. Peterson’s excellent site, www.esotericarchives.com. Once you’ve conjured some money by working with less expensive methods and free online copies of grimoires…spend some of it on his excellent print editions.

 

So, where do we get started in the free approach to the grimoire tradition?

 

Trithemius's Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals can be used with minimal equipment and is free to read online. You can get it at JHP’s site, or my site. There will be some additional resources for using it on my site also. In my blog, I’ve talked about that approach to working with angels and presented an alternative version of that kind of crystallomantic conjuration from Scot’s Discouerie of Witchcraft.

 

The main thing you’ll need is the crystal sphere. Other elements can be helpful, but God can send an angel to speak to you in a crystal ball, or even a bowl of water if he so choses. Prepare yourself, purify yourself, truly devote yourself, and you can get started…quite literally on a wing and a prayer.

 

You might look at that and say, “is this really grimoire magic?” If you look at handbooks that collected magic people actually did, or look at surviving accounts of magical practice, this definitely fits in. We can look at a grimoire example that confirms that though…

 

The Arbatel is perhaps the simplest approach and can provide insight into other angel magic than just work with the Olympic spirits. It’s also free to read online.

 

In the Arbatel, the magician is given a series of Aphorisms to study, mostly about how to lead a good life. A section of those Aphorisms provide seals, names and descriptions for a group of angels called the Olympic spirits. There is a prayer provided to call upon the spirit you desire. There is an additional prayer that is useful to go with it. That’s about all you need. Several people have even encountered the Olympic spirits and asked about using more tools or materials and they generally don’t seem super interested in that. With them you can keep it simple…and keeping it simple keeps it in line with the text’s instructions.

 

The Arbatel provides us with a grimoire example of working with angels with just a name, a sign, and a prayer. You can easily use that approach with other angels. The Olympic spirits also provide familiars, so you can use this approach and still work one of the important components of grimoire magic. A grimoire magician does not always use complicated grimoire rituals to conjure spirits. Spirits with whom the magician has a relationship should provide means to easily call upon them to help the magician with magical tasks. If that spirit provides a familiar, the familiar should – more or less – remain with the magician and aid the magician and teach him additional magic.  

 

This kind of work with angels will be easier if you’ve been cultivating a relationship with the angels, working on purity, and engaging in devotional prayer.

 

The seven penitential psalms could work as a daily prayer and meditation practice to help build the devotional element of your work and bring you more into a place for the angels to be provided for you.

 

The Seven Orisons from the Enchiridion of Pope Leo provide magical prayers which the magician could pray daily at sunrise, or nightly before bed in order to build on that devotional practice. You can read those prayers for free here.

 

While looking at sets of seven daily prayers, we shouldn’t slouch on the ones from the Heptameron. The Heptameron of Pietro D’Abano has a prayer for each day of the week which conjures the angels. Several magical sources encourage the magician to use these prayers or prayers like them as a daily practice. On any day where he intends to do magic, the magician should recite the appropriate prayer in the first hour (at sunrise) of the day. It’s advisable for the magician to make this a regular practice even on days where he isn’t doing other magical work. Doing this can help keep the magician’s focus on angelic work and bring the angels into the magician’s orbit.

 

For one last example of a daily devotional prayer, Reginald Scot provides a conjuration through which God binds spirits to obey the magician. I’ve presented the prayer in one of my books, but you can also read it for free in my blog here.

 

We talked about purity. Obviously, living a solid good life is a big part of that. Ritually speaking, fasting, bathing, anointing, things like that help prepare the magician. Attending religious services is an option too. If you want something simple, ritually bathing and praying the psalms is a good start. Several grimoire provide psalms for this purpose. Joseph Peterson has provided a list of purposes assigned to psalms in the grimoires. You can find psalms for your cleansing bath, psalms to consecrate your candles, psalms for putting on special ritual clothes, and for a host of other purposes. You can peruse thathere and select psalms for your various needs.

 

As you save a bit of money, or get some from calling on angels to aid you, you can start acquiring tools and exploring more deeply through the grimoires. You can approach them in a purist approach or an idiosyncratic approach.

 

The Heptameron is one of the simplest ones. You can use it for angels, for aerial spirits, and also for demons. If you want an approach with few tools that builds a lifetime of practice, there is the Abramelin. It will involve a lot of time and devotion but it doesn’t need a lot of tools and will give you access to spirits and magic that don’t need a lot of tools. The French version adds a lot of things…things the system seems intended to avoid…and so it will involve more tools, but the German version keeps it simple. You’ll need a few things but not a ton. It’s also the one book we’re mentioning that you’d need to buy. You don’t really need classes or instruction or other books to learn how to do it, just trust your guardian angel to guide you.

 

So, there you have it. I’m not telling you to buy my books or anyone else’s books or take my classes or anyone else’s. You can learn and do grimoire magic with no cost if you really put your mind to it. There are some great books and some great classes out there too which can help you…but don’t think that’s the only way to get started. Once you get started, you can always jump deeper and explore those options…but don’t let the cost of books, classes, and tools keep you away if you feel this is what you should really be doing. Don’t let apparent complexities keep you on the bench either. Jump in. Doing is learning.

 

Like most of my posts, stuff I offer will be linked at the end. Those are standard links, they aren’t an answer to “how can I do this if I can’t afford much.” The actual content of the blog post answers that question.


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If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration

 

If you want some help exploring the vast world of spirits check out my first book – Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Is it a Bird? Is it a Ghost? Is it a Bird and a Ghost?

Any given day, scrolling a Facebook feed full of posts from magical and NeoPagan forums of varying levels of experience you have a fair chance of seeing a post in which someone describes having seen some sort of bird and wanting to know the spiritual significance of seeing a bird.

 

The correct answer is obviously: You live in a place with birds.

 

It doesn’t always make sense to try and find a spiritual significance to everything, but people sometimes do because they’re new and excited and they’re now paying attention in ways they didn’t before and so the ordinary seems extraordinary.

 

There are times when little things like this might have meaning. I was once hanging out with a friend who worshipped Hermes and had a living statue hosting a daimon given by Hermes. We had lunch by a pond and then walked the trail surrounding it. We noticed a turtle, then another, then another. Turtles everywhere. The significance? We were at a pond. Turtles are normal. But we were surprised by how abundant they were, so we counted how many we had seen to see if there was some Hermetic number. If they had been some peculiar number, or if we’d been in a place normally devoid of turtles, or if we’d just asked for a sign from Hermes and a turtle appeared, or if say a turtle carrying a harp rode up on a cow wearing sandals…it might be a sign. In the end, it was just a bunch of turtles. One of my favorite animals, in abundance, on a pleasant day, with good food, and the company of a friend. So, something nice, whether it had greater spiritual meaning or not.

 

If you hang around forums enough, you’re also bound to see people asserting to always look for a mundane cause before considering a magical one. Most things end up being completely mundane if we really examine them.

 

This is bad advice though.

 

Something having a mundane cause doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have a spiritual cause or a spiritual reality to it. In fact, the fact that a thing exists or an event is occurring means it does in fact have some spiritual reality to it and there are spiritual causes at play. Those spiritual causes and realities may be ordinary and not especially significant though. In some cases, the mundane cause may be less important than the spiritual one.

 

We have to look at our situation, look at what we’re encountering, and determine which is important or if both are important, and how to respond to each element appropriately.

 

What got me thinking of this was telling a non-magical friend about a bunch of weird occurrences associated with the dead which happened a few years back. Yesterday, Jan 27th, was the 10th anniversary of the death of my fencing coach. He was a pretty awesome man who left a major impact on the lives of people he encountered.

 

He died just shy of three months after my father died. I was 28, my dad had died suddenly and unexpectedly, and less than 3 months in I was still barely beginning to process it and the adjustments it was causing for my family. Coach was killed in an accident, so it was also unexpected. I was coming up on my Saturn return (the funeral and my birthday were the same week I believe), and the year that followed was pretty intense.

 

By the time the second anniversary of Coach dying came around, I had made my way through most of the Saturnine effects and had begun to settle back in. But that day came with something that seemed super unsettling initially, but ended up being pretty nice.

 

Early the morning of the 27th I had come home from helping with an OTO 3rd degree initiation. I can’t go into details of the initiation, but it’s publicly known that the mysteries of the 3rd degree relate to the mysteries of death. My drive home was occupied with thoughts about how the dawning day was my coach’s memorial day and I was entering into that day with my head buzzing in a headspace concerned with death, the afterlife, and the continuation of our influence beyond death. It was weird timing for working that kind of initiation but in a way maybe healthy and helpful.

 

As I got to the door, my thinking stopped.

 

I was unnerved and confused.

 

Before I got to my door, I could see someone had placed something within the screen door, leaving it slightly ajar. Coming home in the middle of the night and finding your screen door propped open is a little unnerving on its own.

 

As I got closer, I found that it was two antique-style fencing foils. Decorative ones. I had no idea where they had come from. We had similar ones at the fencing club.

 

I considered driving to the club to see if someone had taken them from the club and brought them to me. I couldn’t imagine who would have had access and would have also known where I lived. I wracked my brain trying to figure it out. I wondered if I was experiencing the most miraculous haunting with materialization of antique foils. No answer that crossed my mind made sense.

 

Then I looked down and saw there was also a bag. The bag had a book I had loaned to a friend years ago, but he had lost. That same friend had taken my nephew to a Baltimore Blast (indoor soccer) game that day because I couldn’t attend due to the initiation. I calmed down and determined my friend must have left the book and the foils since I had not been around to see him when he picked up or dropped off my nephew. I called my friend later in the day and he confirmed he had left them for me. He didn’t know it was Coach’s memorial day, he had picked up the foils as a late Christmas/early birthday present for me and had figured it would be a convenient time to give them to me.

 

So, death initiation, memorial day for my fencing coach, and mysterious antique foils appearing in my door. Quite the string, but not the end of it.

 

Later that day, in the proper morning, one of my Uncles texted me to let me know he would be in town and had to drop something off for me. He and my cousin stopped by that afternoon and presented me with a framed double portrait. The portrait was a 16x12 image featuring two pictures of my father. One was the last serious photo taken of him before he died (about a month earlier) and the other was a photo of my father when he was 8 years old. My other Uncle had put it together for my Grandfather and my Grandfather had a copy made for me.

 

So, two points in that day which included gifts that were like touch points for the dead.

 

The foils and the portrait have mundane explanations. My friend thought the foils would be something I’d like; my Grandfather thought the portrait would be something I’d like. The mundane cause doesn’t invalidate the possibility of a spiritual cause. If the dead wanted to reach out and let me know they were there with me, these gifts showing up together juxtaposed to elements of timing that highlights them is a more elegant way than rattling chains at the foot of my bed.

 

The spiritual world doesn’t encroach onto our world, it is a living part of it that underlies it and helps to shape and build it. It interacts with us constantly and we with it. Not every interaction has meaning. Just like there isn’t a social implication that arises concerning each person we pass while walking down the street. But when those people intersect with us in meaningful ways there is some social consideration, similarly, when the spirit world expresses itself we shouldn’t write it off because we can see the mundane path it used. We can’t take this as an excuse to find signs and omens everywhere or paint ourselves with a gilded air of magical majesty and importance. We should be settled and reasonable but also attentive and engaged – we should be ready to be enriched by more fully noticing the small things which communicate the greater depth of the world to us.

 

Not every bird is a sign. But two ravens sitting next to a one-eyed vagrant under a tree on a Wednesday might be. In the right circumstance, despite the apparent means to explain them away, less spectacular seeming things might be too. Vast worlds can exist in small moments. 

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If you enjoyed this please like, follow, and share on your favorite social media! We can be followed for updates on Facebook.

 

If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration

 

If you want some help exploring the vast world of spirits check out my first book – Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits

 Sign up for our free online publication: Minor Mendings Magical Magazine

More Opportunities for Support and Classes will show up at Ko-Fi