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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Harmonizing New Spirits into Your Life and Spirit Community

Sometimes we bring new magic into our lives without really thinking about how we're bringing it into our lives. I'm going to talk a bit about what to think about and how to do that, but to start, lets look at discord and harmony. I'm going to illustrate these ideas with a recent non-magical experience, because these ideas are relevant to our lives as people as well as our lives as magicians.

          This week and last week I have had several "beginners" in the youth camps I've been running. Normally, the camps are entirely, or almost entirely, youth athletes with whom I work throughout the year. Maybe some young adult athletes, but also ones with whom I usually work. With COVID restrictions in full force last summer, a lot of families are taking the less restricted summer and traveling more and doing more activities. With more families on the move, fewer of my students could attend camp, and so, we expanded to include students from our four week beginner class. Many of these kids are young. Most have not done major athletic training. Most have about 6 hours of fencing practice spread over four sessions under their belts.

          Suddenly, these kids with no experience, with no history of intensive conditioning and athletic training, are jumping into 5 eight hour days of concentrated conditioning and fencing. They're jumping in with a team of kids who have been working together for at least a year, some for several years. This team of kids works year round, so unlike most youth sports where you're on a team for two to four months and may not even remember who was on your team later, these kids spend the bulk of their adolescence training together year round.

          Not only do these kids train together year round, they have a fraternity like club-member environment. They get nicknames. They participate in a secret initiation ceremony (which their parents watch). They learn club customs by watching and emulating their teammates, and are told that this is how everyone else learned them and so this helps make them all bonded. These beginner kids, these unintentional-outsiders, don't get any of this. They just have to jump in and swim without ever having seen water.

          As a result, there is some discord. Some of this is on the end of the kids and things they bring to the table. Some of this is because of the situation. Given the situation, we don't necessarily know everything they bring to the table like we do with the kids who have been around for awhile. If they have baggage, it hasn't been unpacked.

          We have to take special steps because the kids don't naturally understand each other's boundaries or how to navigate them. Since they're kids, they don't have all the tools to assess boundaries and all the control to not trample them. They feel stressed trying to keep up with work they aren't used to. They feel alone because they don't have friends yet and feel like they don't fit in with the group that already exists. So, we teach them to fit in, we teach the other kids how to accept them. We teach them how to get to know each other. We remind them about boundaries, respect, and being good teammates who work together whether or not they feel like they fit together.

          This kind of navigation is something we all go through in life. We start a new job, we go to a new school, we move to a new neighborhood or town, and in starting within our new community or social group we start out as an unintentional-outsider. We have to learn the customs, norms and expectations. They may be similar to what we were used to before, but there will be specifics based on the new collection of individuals with whom we are dealing. We have to get people to actually welcome us, even if they take steps to formally welcome us, it's not until they really let us in and we become part of their group that we really feel welcomed in. We have to make friends, build our places in teams and find what we do in the group and what others do. We have to acclimate, but more than that, we have to harmonize. We have to find out how we fit together to make everyone work better and feel like a whole, rather than how we fit against and make things more difficult and fall apart.

          If you've read my book, _Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits_, or my blog, Glory of the Stars, you've probably seen me refer to spirits as persons, and compare interactions with spirits to interactions with people. If you aren't familiar with my work, but are familiar with the work of Jason Miller, he frequently makes the same point, as do a handful of effective and experienced magicians. Often when we think about how we would treat other people, or issues we might run into with other people, we can map those reflections onto our interactions with spirits. They might not be the exact same in terms of how we are impacted, or how the spirits are impacted; details surrounding the specifics of the situation might vary from situations with embodied persons, but, the basic high level concepts will usually track.

          In our contemporary magical world, it's not uncommon for people to work with multiples systems, traditions, or types of spirits. Magicians often feel inspired by something they see or called towards some spirits or system they hear about, and will frequently find ways to make connections and work those spirits into their practices. With more skilled professional magicians working, buying products or services that involve spirits acting in your life may be more common as well. With all these possibilities, it is pretty likely that you'll have to navigate working with spirits who don't seem connected to one another as well as having an established spirit court and then adding the influence of other spirits, if not actually introducing them into your court of friends and allies in the spirit world.

          With that in mind, it's not only reasonable to consider the possibility of needing to create harmony and balance between your existing spirit-social-circle and newcomers, it's probably going to be necessary from time to time. I think for the most part, acknowledging that this may be an issue and being mindful of it and working to address it within your regular working approach will be the advice experienced magicians need to take from this. Some people reading this might be newer to spirit work, or newer to navigating differing groups of spirits, or not especially practiced in spirit work but still exposed to work with spirits through products and services they acquire from professional magicians. The difficulty in giving solid practical advice here is that it might vary a bit depending on your tradition or system - some might even have elements which handle this built in. It may also vary depending upon the type of spirits. Some might be more inclined to acclimate to each other, some less so, some might work in ways that don't cross over as much, and some might feel more territorial. Because of the possible variance, we'll discuss a few ideas and things to keep in mind more than presenting a particular rite or ritual for taking care of this.

          The first thing I would say to consider is whether or not you have a coordinating spirit, or an intermediary spirit who helps you navigate the spirit world. If you do, this spirit should be involved in most of your work on some level organizing how spirits interact, possibly how offerings are shared, and helping you with communication in general. Depending upon the tradition they may be like an agent working on the other side helping manage the parts of things where you can't be hands on, or they might be like an involved parent-like or teacher-like figure who looks after you and coordinates your spirit actions to look out for your interests, or there might be some other relationship altogether.

          If you're working in kind of a European Traditional Magic setting this concept is there but isn't always addressed so clearly or treated as a visible active thing. We might kind of expect our Guardian Angel to just handle this automatically without us having to talk to them, or actively working to introduce the spirit. Sometimes this is ok and it works out fine. It may be necessary to light a candle, pray and petition your Guardian Angel and introduce them to the spirit you're bringing into your life. Ask them to help that spirit work with the other spirits around you and for it to assist that spirit in its parts of the relationship you and the spirit are developing. Let your Guardian do its job - which is, to teach and lead and guide - by helping you navigate bringing this spirit into the neighborhood.

          If we're dealing with the dead, and you have a good relationship with your ancestors, bringing in additional dead people is often pretty simple. If I'm approaching a cemetery to develop a relationship with the spirits there, I bring tokens representing my ancestors which are used in making contact with the spirits in the cemetery in establishing that relationship. So from the get go, they are part of the process. When I bring home dirt from the cemetery I put it on my ancestor shrine and make special offerings with the request that they work together and help empower each other. If I'm beginning to incorporate a deceased relative or an ancestor I have learned more about and attempted to make contact with I ask for my ancestors to help with that process. With someone more recently dead, my initial prayers for them, whether attempting to work with them or not, is for my ancestors to receive them, comfort them, and guide them. So I'm already actively working with spirits to make sure their passing is recognized and offerings are made in the light of that spirit work to help with that transition. Moving to actively including them on the shrine when and if that is the right thing to do is not a big leap from that point. If it's an older ancestor who has recently caught my attention then I will turn to my ancestors for help in reaching out and connecting with them.

          Often, it won't be your ancestors or the local dead that are the question for most folks. Working with the Christian or Jewish God and angels from those religions, alongside pagan gods, the fair folk, and demons, might seem a less than smooth way of blending things. Certain folk spirits might seem at odds with other gods and spirits, whether they actually are or not. Some folks might say this kind of blending is modern nonsense and you can't combine these things, or that you're not really working legitimately with certain spirits while also working with others. There is a bit of a reasonable criticism of this in light of how things get blended, appropriated, and redefined to whatever people want in some forms of magic and NeoPaganism that are still following the sort of eclectic styles of the late 20th century. Double-faith, or Catholicism absorbing elements of other religion into Catholic folk religion, or new religions arising out of mixing elements of Christianity, folk traditions, and pagan or indigenous religions is something which has existed all over the world as long as Christianity has existed. Even before Christianity Greeks and Romans actively blended their religion and magic with elements of other cultures in mystery traditions and magical traditions. There are ways that these kind of modes of engaging multiple different things separately, and then perhaps engaging elements of them in conjunction with one another can work, can be respectful, and can be effective.

          If something seems like it can't blend or shouldn't blend, don't always assume that's the case. Try to understand each piece on its own terms first. Ask the spirits involved, do divinations, test the waters. Do what works and what the spirits permit, don't do what doesn't work and what the spirits say no to. Sometimes it won't be so much that you can't work with both things so much as they need to be worked with in their own spaces or their own ways. Sometimes working with them together in a personal context will work fine. Work with the spirits to see how to navigate it. Look at historical relationships and syncretism and see how they fit into what relationship is unfolding in your own work.

          Another thing to consider is offerings. Sometimes, some spirits, can be given offerings as a group. Other times spirits will need their own individual offering. Certain spirits, if you have a particularly close relationship with them, may want to be recognized and receive an offering when you are giving offerings to other spirits. It's easy to say they will be jealous if they are ignored, maybe that's what it is maybe it's some other reason. There are spirits where this need for recognition can be real regardless of the reason. Some people might suggest that that is a fairly human sort of behavior and we're trying to think of the spirits like humans. Maybe, but, it's a pretty historical practice. We see it in the ancient world and we see it in other living spirit traditions sometimes. If you have a close relationship with a god, or spirit, or saint, you might still need to venerate them and give them offerings when turning to some other god or spirit or saint for help with a particular thing.

          The last thing to address is what to do when things go south. Maybe you're trucking along and working with some new spirit and something happens to make you think there is an issue. Maybe you get a feeling or messages telling you your established spirit allies are not happy with this. Maybe you get a feeling or message that there is a problem. Maybe signs begin occurring. In extreme cases, maybe blessings and boons you have received from those spirits will be withdrawn, either all at once or piece by piece, until you rectify the issue.

          In that sort of scenario, you would need to work with the spirits to figure out what the issue is and how to resolve it. If it's because you've brought some new spirit to town there could be several reason your spirit court is not on board with it. Maybe they sense a danger or do not feel the spirit will act in your best interest. Maybe the new spirit is at odds with things that are important to your spirit court - for example, if you work with a lot of nature spirits and begin working with a spirit connected to things which harm nature or the lands protected by those spirits. Maybe it is a spirit from a tradition that needs things you don't have or aren't prepared to put in place when safely working with that spirit and your spirits recognize that this could be an issue. Maybe they are offended that you have brought in some other spirit to do something they believe they should be doing or believe they are doing. Just like when things go south with people and there are a myriad of possible reasons.

          Divination and communication with your existing core of spirits is the first step in resolving it. Why are they discontent about the new relationship? What do you need to do to work with the new spirit without causing problems? Is it possible to work with the new spirit without problems? These are questions divination and work with your spirits can answer. In general, if you have a good established working relationship with your spirits and an issue arises there is probably a good reason. If it's not so good a reason, it might be a miscommunication or misunderstanding. Spirits aren't all knowing or infallible, especially when we are considering the broad range of spirits out there. Even in the latter case, it's probably your core group of spirits you want to remediate the issue with rather than the new one. You know them, you've worked with them, you have a deep relationship with them, they're bringing good things into your life.

          It may be as simple as placing tokens of your core spirits and the new spirit together, or placing items from one on the altar of the other for a time. It may be a matter of making some offerings or doing a ritual to harmonize things. Ultimately, your spirits will need to guide you in this. If things seem too off kilter and you aren't sure you can trust your own divination on the matter, and messages aren't coming through clearly, you can turn to your Guardian Angel or the spirit who coordinates your work with various spirits for help and clarity. If that still doesn't seem to let you see through the mist to the heart of the matter, ask a competent diviner. Work to find the answer, and work to bring about a solution. Relationships are important, and a good foundation and a healthy development of a new one will likely be strengthened by welcoming acceptance within the context of the existing relationships. More than that, preserving, strengthening and valuing those existing relationships is indispensable.

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