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Saturday, July 9, 2022

A Map Without A Territory - Spirits, Time, and Space


          I was talking with a non-magic friend the other day and he asked me about spirits connected to places. The idea of a place having a certain character or spiritual presence is a pretty common one even outside of the magical world. The idea that ghosts attach to particular places is also a common one even for people who have no real experience of the spirit world. Sometimes, we might wonder about spirits which might have broader ranges of activity, or types of spirits associated with a place or a culture. Do those show up elsewhere?

          When we talk about Gods or Angels or Devils there is generally an assumption that they can go wherever. They can hear a call from someone wherever that person is. That doesn't mean there aren't spatial associations with those beings. Angels and Devils have associations with particular directions, particular times, and particular astrological moments. We might expect them to arrive from a given direction. We might expect communicating with them, or getting them to do things in the world, to be easier at certain times. We tend to think of gods as less limited, but in many cultures gods still have homes that are physical places we can go to. Many goddesses are identified with rivers or natural formations. Some gods live in particular monuments or particular land formations associated with their myths. In certain periods of Greek culture, and in early Christianity, this was explained as spirits in service to those gods residing in temples or in physical places and being approached and interacted with as the god, rather than the god itself living there.

          When we look at "small gods" or various other-spirits that we might consider fair-folk or something similar to the fair-folk, the spatial quality becomes more pronounced. Some types of spirits are known to live in houses, some live in the woods, some live in rivers, some live in deserted or unclean places. It depends on the type of spirit but based on the type of spirit they have places they live. While we might recognize similarities between spirits in one culture or another we can also see that the particular "species" or type of spirit differs. Different cultures have different spirits which have their own appearances, ways of interacting with people and their own tastes and preferences. Since those spirits we known by people residing in different places, and those spirits often have particular types of residences in those places we might consider that they have a tie to a particular physical location.

          People who work with the fair folk in diaspora tend to have the opinion that "the other crowd" tends to follow along with their people as their people migrate. If a significant portion of a people travel and explore new places, some of their household spirits might go with them. Other folk spirits who reside near and interact with the people might go along for the adventure, or flee whatever the people are fleeing, and end up in the new place as well. The fair folk are often seen as being closer to people than some other spirits, so the idea that they might travel the world as people do is reasonable.

          Some cultures have spirits who are well established as being tied to particular places. Sometimes it might be a land formation and sometimes it might be a ritual space like a temple. Whether people of the culture believe that the spirit resides more strongly there or exclusively there will vary based on the culture, and possibly the spirit. In some such cases, people will carry direct, or stones, or bricks from the place belonging to the spirit to new places where new temples or shrines will be built. This way the new space has a link to the original place of power and that connection becomes a conduit to make it easier to connect with that spirit. My own work uses this method at times as well, and when we do things in magic with stuff like grave dirt, or water from specific rivers to various churches we're tying to this same idea.

          With these two interpretations we see ideas where spirits might be tied to a place, but have the ability to move, or the ability to extend what constitutes that place. We might also view it as the spirits being tied in part to place, but also in part to the people and the elements of the place and the culture. We'll go a little more into some implications around this in a moment.

          For a lot of magical practice, ideas around the dead seem to be those which could more easily be attached to concepts of time or space. You see some magicians who insist that you can't connect with dead people of even a few decades ago because they have long since moved on. Others claim to read archaic ancestors and paleolithic humans when they do ancestor readings for people. Some say the dead can remain as long as they are remembered, others day the dead are only available briefly, and some say they're available indefinitely. It's possible that one view is right and others or wrong, but it's possible that all of them are right simultaneously despite appearing mutually exclusive. We have to consider the relationship between time and spirit-realities in order to consider how any of these could possibly be true.

          Another area that connects the dead with time is the idea that the dead behave in a manner related to human time, in the sense that they are more or less active at particular times of the day. One system to considering timing of the dead considers death as part of a life cycle. We're born, we reach adulthood, we die, we become an ancestor, we are born. The cycle of life and death moves in a circle like the sun rising, peaking, setting, vanishing and rising again. As our cycle of death and life moves like the sun moves through the day, the world of the dead moves through a daily cycle like the world of the living. We rise, we're active, we rest, we sleep, we rise again. The dead do the same, but when the sun is at its height in our world, it is at midnight in theirs, when it is at midnight in our world then it is at its peak in ours. Thus, the time between noon, and the heat of the day, and dusk, when one rests, becomes the peak of celebration and activity in both worlds. By noon we're well roused, and between about 3pm and 7pm we are free to be active and do things finished with the bulk of our work and not quite ready to settle in for the day. Contacting the dead is easiest in the corresponding timeframe. By midnight they are up and moving, and by 3am they are lively and partying and ready to talk and celebrate with us.

          That view is not the only one that ties increased activity with the dead to particular times of the night. Midnight to 1am and 3am to 4am are commonly thought of as "witching hours" or times when spooky things, particularly activity involving the dead is heightened. Folklore around particularly haunted graves often has the dead of the cemetery gathering at the chief grave site at midnight.

          These times are relatively artificial though. We don't look at them as the dead being more active when so much time has passed between sunset and sunrise, but at particular times of the clock. Around the world, these times of the clock will vary. Do we assume the dead live in parts of the world that have a physical correspondence to our own and so they experience that time of their day when we experience it for our region, and the dead of other regions experience time matched to the people of those regions? I think that would be a little silly and would also require that the dead are spatially tied to the living with whom they interact, that doesn't seem to be the case.

          Even if the dead are not spatially attached to communities or families - since ancestors are able to be called upon remote from where they lived and by their descendants around the world - we can still recognize concepts related to space and location tied to the dead. In many ancient, medieval and early modern forms of necromancy, the grave of the dead person is significant. In contemporary magic, dirt from a grave can connect us with the power of the inhabitant of that grave. The spot where a person died, or the space where they lived the bulk of their life, or a place with an important emotional connection to them, can all be powerful places for calling or connecting with the dead. Remains of the dead, or possessions associated with them also have a usefulness in contacting the dead.

          Spirits don't seem completely bound by time or space or physical concerns, they can be contact throughout the world and more than one person can be in contact with them at once. Time and space still matter though. If time made no difference we could contact ancestors who haven't been born yet. We've addressed several examples where space and time seem to come into play. But for those who exist in a manner which seems to not be limited by our physical experience of space and time, how do we map out the impacts of physical points of reference?

          If we consider all the elements we have discussed, they seem to be about relationship and experience rather than the spirit world having a shape that relates it to space and time in the way our physical reality does. If we consider the spirit world to be shaped by the experiences of spirits and their relationship to other spirits, including embodied spirits, and their relationship to their own histories, then all of this starts falling together. Their relationship to time connects to the spirits who rule particular hours and days, it connects to the experience of time that the spirits they are connecting with - both embodied and disembodied - are engaging. Connections to particular physical sites, or items, or remains, then connect to history, experience, relationship and sentiment rather than to purely where a physical location sits on the map. Spirits move with people not just by getting on the boat as people journey to a new land, but by traveling along pathways of cultural connection and the portability of community bonds.

          It's more abstract than thinking of time and place as being about the physical picture we draw on a map or the physical ticking of the clock. Rather time relates to how experiences play together and feed into each other. Time relates to our awareness of the juxtaposition of activities. Place relates to things we've touched, people we're bonded to, spots where we've walked, objects which share the nature of those people and places. What have we left our marks on, what's left its mark on us, who have we entangled with? We can think of these not just as building a mental picture of connections but as shaping a fluid sort of fabric of being. Like vast objects moving through space warping and re-warping the gravitational field, the shape of non-physical existence can be a multi-phased ever shifting series of interactions and connections allowing multiple moments, spaces, and relationships to overlap because they're parsed based upon experience rather than based on a linear synchronous limit.

          In such a world, spirits can move on quickly, be accessed indefinitely, and strengthened by memory and interaction. Spirits can powerfully reside in a given space and appear in other places which share connections to that space or the people of that space. Spirits can operate when they choose but may have more powerful times for operation, and those times might be accessed based on the experience of the person approaching the spirit rather than the spirit and the person experiencing those times in synchronous correspondence. Direction can be important, because direction is relational, and since we see spirits tied to directions without some ultimate residence that becomes the cardinal defining limit of that direction, the concept of direction only ever exists as a relational origin rather than a localized origin. In other words, you will never be so far west that the king of the west stops being west of you.

          Off the cuff, these concepts can kind of seem like "well, yeah, I guess that's obvious," and to a degree they might be. They're still very different from how we tend to approach the ideas of space, time, contact, and interconnectivity. They imply that connection causes shared space, shared time, and conditions of being in contact that remain in a fashion such that they can be engaged or not engaged without having to redefine physical space but adjust the nature and shape of spiritual space.

          This shouldn't be confused with the kind of modern "time outside of time, space outside of space" approach to magic. Time and space are sacred realities which have gods and spirits which that impact and oversee them. These spirit elements are part of this relational quality and the interconnective element being described. There is a relevance to things like where you are, when you're doing things, what you're holding or touching or doing or saying. The apparent physical relevance might not be the same for you as the nature of how that relevance shapes the spirit experience of space, time and connection. Space and time need specific limiting natures on a macro-physical level. Maybe they get more squiggly on extreme micro-physical levels, but it's not really my place to speak on that. On a broader level incorporating the spirit world time and space clearly don't have the same kind of fixed linearity that defines our experience. Meaning becomes part of the defining character we consider in understanding this broader reality. What is the meaning of the space, what does its reality and nature convey, what are the spirits attached to it. This plays into time, it plays into object, their associations, their form, their powers and their spirits characterize their ability to be active in forming moments and interactions, and this is the shape of the existence that unfolds as things come together to form the meaning that is some particular moment.  

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