Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Candle burns sigil*

As part of me stumbling across some of these occult blog cabal, I've heard a lot about sigils. I prefer to use candles in my practice. It doesn't seem to be particularly in vogue among many practitioners, at least I don't hear about people talking about in anyway way.

I think that is too bad for the most part. Frankly, I think they're a lot like a sigil, only better. Everything you do to a sigil (charge and burn) you do to a candle. Candles also tap into the power of fire and light to radiate your spell, in addition to any power you can raise yourself to charge them with. Further, you can coat a candle in herbs and oils that also help to empower your working. In fact, since inscribing names and symbols is part of the process of using candles, you can create a sigil and carve that into the candle and take advantage of that sigil process along rest of preparing the candle.

Now, I'm probably biased here. I've always been drawn to more folk types of magic. My experience with sigils is also much more limited. I've tried a handful of sigils - so my sample is pretty limited - and they've never seemed particularly effective. I'm sure they work for some people (knowledgable people get results with them). I may simply not have the knack for them or perhaps I had already imprinted on other forms of magic (I've tried them only in the last few years). Or I could simply need to practice them more to get the hang of them.

Part of the reason I have not experimented with them is that they just too difficult to use on the fly and lack the "oomph" to use as part ritual work. For example, you need a pen and paper to get started, so they are relatively convenient, but they're not even the most convenient form of magic out there. If I'm looking to bend the world in a small way (find my keys, manifest something simple), I'll do a simple fetch. Creating a fetch a technique I was taught that involves shaping a bit of your life force into a small spirit and sending it off on an errand on your behalf. Raise some energy, shape it, imbue it with your intent and send it off. I can be done with the whole fetch process in less time than it takes me to scratch out vowels in sentence. Both the fetch and sigil depend on my own ability or "energy" and nothing else.

Now, if I'm looking to bend the world a bit in my favor in any big way I'll take all the support I can get by burning prepared candles (by themselves or as part of a ritual or series of magic). Since sigils seem like they rest solely on the power of the magician casting them (and it is a big world out there), I'd rather make changes in conjunction with my spiritual allies and raise power via the use of herbs and candles as well as the other ways I raise power.

So sigils just don't seem that useful to me. Again, I hate to put a technique down that so many seems to get a lot of. It's just that I honestly don't see what the fuss is about.

*magical version of rock, paper, scissors

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Conjuring the Genius Loci

As part of my practice, I developed relationships with the land I live on by contacting the spirit of place. Contacting a spirit of place is perhaps better than conjuring to describe my practice, but conjuring has more of a magical feel to it.

Anyway, developing a relationship with the over-arching spirits of where I live, work and play is a way of developing spiritual allies who can help with a variety of problems. Not only do I think they are protective, but they also help with finding resources and help that you need - from parking spots to friends to jobs.

So how do you go about developing these relationships? Well, there are as many ways as there are witches and magicians mostly likely. But for you, dear reader, I will share my personal recipe. First, get to know the city you live in. Walk around and open to your intuition. Get a taste of the energy and feel of the spiritual atmosphere. Once you know the spiritual feel of the place, look for a place of power. Again, some folks use their intuitions for this, which is a good plan. Personally, I use my knowledge of history and mix in a little witchy lore.

I live and most often play in the City of Ferndale. For Ferndale, the place of power that I used to develop my relationship with the spirit of Ferndale is the crossroads at the heart of the city. There has been a monument built to the history of the place.

9 mile and Woodward in the 1920s:


9 Mile and Woodward today:

Artwork and a crossroads celebrating the history of my hometown? Jackpot! And the statement of "drive safely, walk right" with the police uniform - definitely a protective spirit.

It's a very busy intersection, so I never felt very comfortable doing any major ceremonial work there. So I left offerings that I could drop easily like coins or small bits of food I introduced myself and asked to be in relationship with powers and spirits of Ferndale. Over time, I began to get a feel for it. I don't have conversations with spirits so much as receive impressions or insight (when I'm lucky). The physical offerings helped to start that process as did the walking and feeling out the city itself.

Like many relationships with spirits, if you take care of them then they'll take care of you. For me, taking care of the spirit of Ferndale means taking care of Ferndale. I take care of it in a few ways. I try to be a good neighbor and keep my home in good order. I support the local businesses that keep the downtown vibrant by shopping and eating there. I walk the land: I walk, ride my bike and run for exercise through the neighborhoods. I clean up litter when I see it. I support my local library. I vote in my city elections.

It's a host of (on the surface) non-magical actions. But honestly, it cements my relationship with the genus loci as much as leaving offerings ever did. I said earlier, that if I take care of my city then it takes care of me. So what does being taken care of by the city look like? Like a lot of the magic I do, it's subtle. I believe the spirit takes care of me by generally protecting my family and my home. I also think it works by synchronicity and helps be find opportunities and good circumstances my way. I also think it helps me get a read on my community in more intuitive way.

I have similarly started a relationship with spirit of Detroit. I similarly chose a statue in a historical place - the aptly named Spirit of Detroit. Helped, I believe, by success with the work I did with the spirit of Ferndale. I started here by leaving offerings as well. I don't do as much for Detroit as I do for Ferndale and I don't feel like the relationship is as strong. Still, it exists and I do believe that Detroit looks after me a bit too.

After a relationship is started, I don't think tending the place of power itself is critical. My connection with the spirit of Ferndale has led me to believe that the spirit is ominpresent in the city (which makes sense). The place of power is a good place to start and if I had a major petition, I make do some work there as well. But the important thing is to tend your community. Making offerings of your time, money and energy in any part of the city is just as valuable on doing it at place of power you found. Finally, I firmly believe that if you're dialed into the spirit of place, one of the things it will ask you to do is to be a good neighbor and active community member. If it is asking for crazy or antisocial stuff, you may want to banish and start over. (That's true of any spirit that you might be working with.)

So there is my simple and straight forward way to work with the spirits of where you live. Get a feel of it. Determine a place of power. Invoke the spirit of place. Leave some offerings. Be open to hear what it is saying. Tend that relationship (by tending the community itself most likely). Ask for help when you need it. Repeat as needed.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Of Hearth and Home III

Magic of purification and cleansing is a foundational skill for may magical workers. Ceremonials may use the LBRP to purify their selves and physical area. Others may use a simple incense or sprinkle blessed salt water into an area to clear it out.

Hoodoo has very simple and straight forward way to cleanse. A rootworker may use a bath with herbs as a form of cleansing work, as well as an herbal infusion in the mop water to cleanse the home. In fact, I've heard at least one rootwork said that clear blockages or to start fresh, just cleaning and freshening your house is a good start. As I've said, I'm a generalist and enjoy learning different techniques. I've used singing bowls, the LBRP, smudge with sage and the sprinkled salt water. They all work, even if each technique behaves a little differently.

Having said all that, the rootworker was right, hands down. Based on my own senses and experiences, I can get a physically clean space more energetically or spiritually clean than a place that is messy. A physically clean home with a hint of herbal scents is more pleasant physically and energetically than a trashed home with a bad smell coming from the unwashed dishes or the cat boxes, no matter how much I banish. Frankly, I willing to say this is true no matter how powerfully the archangels manifest for you.

Dirt and clutter in the home affects its spirit and energy. Certainly magical practitioners can shift those energies and affect the spiritual aspects of their home. But it doesn't last in the way it does for a clean home. And for gods' sake, open a window and let some fresh air and sunlight in!

Cleaning can be ritualized in the same way the Jen spoke about in her soup making I posted about previously. While this is likely more like cubicle magic than hearth magic, I took some time and got though a back log of shredding at work. As I shredded old forms, notes and paper work that accrued during a difficult period in my working life, I felt lighter to have physically cleared out the items that were physically and symbolically connected to that period. It was a potent way of banishing and clearing past obstacles and let me move forward in my life. The act of cleaning, with intention, was an act of magic.

In addition, I've talked a bit about the sympathy that exists between the hearth witch and his or her home. If you are attuned to the place, then straightening out your living room can help your straighten out, well, if not your life, that it might help you straighten out you thoughts on a particular issue. At the very least can use the cleaning as spell work to banish disorder and confusion and invite order and comfort into you life.

Devil Hand: A mojo bag for protection

I'm going to switch gears here and post a traditional hoodoo spell for protection, generally from a specific person who is doing you harm. Not everything I post here is (or will be) related to hoodoo or even traditionally hoodoo. This charm happens to be. It's adapted from post I made in another venue. Enjoy!

There are a series of roots and herbs in hoodoo that are named after the devil. Not because they cause harm, but because they are said to protect from the devil or evil. This is a traditional hand and the recipe can be found in Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic by Cat Yronwode. For those who may not be familiar, a hand (mojo bag, toby, etc) is a name for specific kind of charm that is a cross between a prayer in a bag and created spirit.

For the basic hand, you need the following roots/herbs:
1) Devil’s Dung – a leafy herb said to stink so bad, it makes the devil run away. Fortunately for us, all you need is a pinch. It's also called asafetida and used in European style magic for banishment.

2) Devil’s Pod- also know as bat nut, it is used like a gargoyle – it's an ugly little thing that scares away evil spirits.

3) Devil's Shoe String – string-like roots. It is said that these can bind up evil as if you were tying the devil's shoe strings together.

4) Devil's bit – With a variety of uses (not just protection), it is an all around helpful plant, it was said that the devil hated it so much he bit the root off. And the plant continued to thrive, just to spite Ol' Scratch.

Now those who study hoodoo know that this kind of a wrong number of items to have. A mojo hand always has an odd number of items in it. So you can take an item out or add one of your own. Keep in mind that you just don't want to go around adding (or substituting) willy-nilly. For example protective roots like Angel Root (aka Holy Ghost Root or angelica) and Blessed Thistle would be out of place in this hand. Now a pinch of sulfur (also used for banishing evil) would fit in just fine, on its own or as a substitute for the devil's dung. One last comment on substituting, the herbs and roots, the name paper are all designed to bind and ward off evil. Angelica root helps and protects a person, like an angel. The reason you don't want to substitute it is more than just style, it's how the magic of the root works.

You will also need some Run Devil Run Oil. You can make your own, but that's a much longer post. And making your own condition oil is a pain the ass (I've done it a couple of times and it is messy and hard to do in small batches). This oil will be used to dress (or anoint) each item as well as used to feed the hand.

Next, we put the hand together. The first thing you want to do is to make a name paper. Take some paper (some lore says it shouldn't be cut, so I just rip off a circular piece of plain white paper) and write down the name of the person you want to be protected from. You can also write something like all those that do me harm. Then rotate the paper and over this write your name three times. The lines of you name should be crossing the name you wrote now (so you name looks horizontal and their name looks vertical).

In a circle around the crossed names, write a short petition in cursive, like "evil be gone" or "run devil run." Don't lift your pen off the paper and connect each world and kept writing so until you have a full, unbroken circle around the names.* Take some of the Run Devil Run oil and dot the four corners of the name paper and the center (so it looks like a five on a die). Take a pinch of the devil's dung and put in the name paper (with a hair or other personal concern of the person you want to be protect from, if you have it). Fold the paper a few times (always folding away from you, to represent banishing) to make a little packet. State you intention as you do it – evil is gone from my life.

This is called a name paper is this whole thing is your ingredient #1. Put in your bag. Next add your next ingredients. I would add the devil's pod, dressing in the oil and state my attention "all evil must run from me" and place it in the bag. Do the same with nine pieces of the devil's shoe string "to tie the feet of those who would harm me" and place it in the bag. I would stop here probably, but you could add the other items. Keep in mind, that herbs are alive have spirit of their own. This isn't just throwing crap in a bag; it is using the sacred power that flows through nature. Just say'n.

Now, you may be asking yourself- "what bag?" That's a good question, since I haven't mentioned anything about it. Commonly, these ingredients are placed in a bag, sometimes sewn or in small flannel bag with a draw string (often red). The traditional version of this is this Devil hand is sewn black leather. I would use a draw string black bag myself, as I can't sew at all.

If you use a flannel bag, tie the two ends of the draw string together. This is the power of knots to hold and fix your spell into place. So this is also a magical moment (same thing if you're sewing, you are fixing the spell or intention into place). Then once you have all the ingredients in the bag, the next step is to wake it up. You can do that in couple of ways. You can spit into it (waters of life) or breathe into it (breath of life). There are a lot of ways to do it, but I always breathe into mine.

Then tie the string around the mouth of the bag and seal is shut. There is lore that opening the bag "kills the hand," which I follow. Others even say that if someone else sees the bag, it gets killed (which I don't follow). Some believe that no one else should even touch the bag. I'll leave it to you to decide what makes sense for you.

Check out the picture on cat's site for a way to do it. It's the red bag at the top.

Next, you pray over it and feed it. Most rootworkers are Christian and psalms are popular and traditional. Psalm 37 is often prayed for protection. Or you can pray as you feel called. A mojo hand is "alive" and needs care. You feed it by giving it offerings of incense (called smoking a hand) or dressing/anointing it with oil (which is what I do). You can also feed it whiskey. You can also name your toby, if you feel called to.

Wear your hand close to your skin when feel you need protection, other wise leave it on your altar. Feed it regularly, as you are called to do, but at least once a week if you want to keep the bag strong.

*My understanding is that this is not necessarily traditional, but it is how Cat Y teaches it and so that's how I do it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Of Hearth and Home II

This is brief, but I wanted to follow yesterday's post on spirituality, spell work and food. A spiritual gathering I regularly attend, Winter Witch Camp, has a strong component of hearth magic. A few years ago, hearth magic was offered as a specific Path (a morning class on magic and spirituality). Out of that work, a blog on magical eating was born. While that blog is mostly fallow at this time, I want to point you, dear reader, at two posts that make my points better than I probably can myself.

First, is a post by my friend Jen who uses intention and magic to unlock the power of making soup and tap into the magic of integration. It's a little different than placing a specific spell in a food item. Instead, it was an act of aligning oneself with the season and the land and treating preparation of the soup as a ritual. I have no doubt that her soup had the power to console and heal. At the same time, this post suggests to me that any magic that resided in the soup was almost incidental to transformative power of the preparation.

Second, is a post by my partner Matt who writes about the magic of pie. A couple of things strike me about this post. He speaks about hearth magic as ancestor work. Our family traditions can help us remain connected with those who have passed on in our lives. In addition, I like his use of runes to bless the pie. It's a great way to use the canvass of the pie crust and a way of adding a little magic to your cooking. Stir runes or other magical symbols into your soups or simply draw them over your food as a blessing to infuse it with the magic you're looking to make. I think the blessing he used is wonderful to use for a pie shared with friends. And indeed, his pie is delicious.

Simple, effective hearth magic to feed the body and as well as the spirit.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Of Hearth and Home I

I recently read a post on hearth witchcraft, over at Charmed, I'm Sure. While I'm more of a generalist than specializing in any one area of magic, one way to describe my magical style is hearth, kitchen or cottage witch.

I would tend to separate hearth magic into two general types of practices. One is the idea of working specific magic via the herbs in your garden or spice cabinet into mojo bags or cooking with specific herbs in order to cast a spell. The other type is the magicospiritual effects of living well. While both of these are often intertwined, it's the latter aspect of hearth craft that I'd like to spend some time with.

Every budding magic practitioner is (hopefully) taught the basics of protection and psychic hygiene. Those skills are critical and can be seen as the basic survival tool kit. I, however, do not want to merely survive. I want to thrive. I want a life full of beauty and comfort.

More than any other kind of magic out there, hearth craft makes this the specific focus of the work: crafting the good life. Hearth witches work hard to build and maintain a space that is clean, restful and full of joy. Hearth witches live well and connect their whole lives to their magic and spirituality.

I'll give you an example. Eating locally is a surprising potent act of hearth magic and one that works on several levels. On a purely physical level, local food tends to be fresher and taste better. My partner was at a private wine tasting in France for students who were studying there from the same university. The vintner suggest that you go home and sample your local wines. He said that things taste better where they are made. The humidity, the pollen and the acidity of the soil - all subtle factors, but ones that add up and enhance the flavors of local food. While I still enjoy a good bottle of wine imported from afar, exploring the local wines and foods of my area has been pure pleasure. I also enjoy purchasing closer to home to reduce my carbon foot print.

Beyond the simply physical effects of eating higher quality food (freshness and taste), from a magical perspective - eating locally better connects me with the land that I live on. By eating of the land itself, I believe that I'm more energetically attuned to it. Just like I can put a lock of hair into a poppet to create sympathy with the owner of the hair, so too can I take in the fruits of the earth, placing myself in sympathy with the land itself. This connection helps me work with the spirits of the land, the local fey and various spirits of place and even the ancestors. Along with spending time outside generally and gardening, I firmly believe that eating local is a foundational step for witches and shamans who work with the powers and spirits of the living Earth.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So what's with the "without a cause" bit?*

Right now, I'm in my early 30s. I'm a pretty lucky guy. I found love and a career early in life. I spent my 20s mostly deepening that, with a bit of a detour through law school. I also have spent some studying with and being mentored by witches, root doctors and other assorted practitioners of the magical arts.

As I look at my life, I feel grateful for what I have. Based on the blogs, forums and books that I read, it often seems that people are working magic for love or a better job. But I'm content with those areas of my life. I'm not claiming to be perfect in either arena, but those are pretty solid.

And yet, I also feel restless. What is next in my life professionally and personally? Creatively? Where am I taking my magic? I have an unscratched itch and worse yet, I don't know even know where to scratch.

So I'm going to try to answer those questions and try to find a cause. Expect some posts here about magical theory (if I may be so bold to call my ideas and observations), Paganism, relationships, personal finance, health and my creative pursuits (such as they are).

My friend Donald once asked "are you willing to be willing?" Right now, I'm not sure where I'm going, but I'm willing to be open to new directions.

(*besided the pun on Rebel Without a Cause)