Mention a ghost and the person you’re talking to will do one of three things: scoff, show polite interest while thinking you’re nuts, or begin telling their own ghost stories. Ghosts fascinate us, scare us, make us wonder about the world’s hidden possibilities and potential. At the base of it all is our curiosity and speculation. Are ghosts real? If so, how do we know?
Experience is the best teacher in such nebulous cases. Those who have stories to tell — real stories — do so from their own encounter of some sort. Or someone they know and trust had at least one experience with a ghost. In the Pagan world, ghosts are accepted as real, existing entities; like in other traditions such as Shinto, some Native American, and Voudu ancestor worship is still practiced. People who can sense or commune with ghosts are called mediums, psychics, or psychopomps. They have the ability to interact directly with the dead and often attract spirits to them. As a result they have the most experience in ghost activity.
I am a High Priestess of a Mystery tradition, initiated and trained to perform rituals and interact with the deities. During my work my elders and I discovered I have psychopomp talent. I have my own ghost stories to tell: from a brief visit by my dead uncle to being attacked by a woman dead over a hundred years to a newly-dead man killed in a car accident wanting the vehicle to be found (I made an anonymous call to the police). Because of my encounters with the dead I have no doubt that they are real.
Psychopomps sometimes decide to become paranormal investigators to put their natural talent to work rather than deny it or stay quiet about it. They are strong enough to accept their abilities, take responsibility for using it and choose to help people who are certain they are being haunted. Debbi Chestnut is one such worker. A Michigan resident, she has written books about ghosts and teaches people about paranormal activity. Christopher Brewer and James Manda are paranormal researchers as well. Chris, an Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge, SD met Jim at a metaphysical store in Colorado. When they discovered a shared interest in ghosts they teamed up in 2007, and The Spiritchasers, their paranormal investigations business, was born.
Chris grew up in a traditional Native American culture which accepts the existence of ghosts, spirits, and entities as real and part of everyday life. He learned that these energy forms were not to be feared. Chris’ first experience with unseen entities occurred at his cousin’s house when he was twelve years old. The family is a large one and so they bought a big, old oak dining table which went in the kitchen. Soon the odd occurrences began. Kitchen chairs had moved away from the table; objects on the table itself were moved as well. Children in the house began having night terrors. Chris, with his uncle’s help, conducted his first paranormal investigation. He scattered flour around the table in order to find out if there would be footprints. He put his boom box under the table to record any odd noises. The next morning the chairs had moved from the table but there were no footprints in the flour. The boom box recorded the sound of the chairs’ scrapings but it also picked up on a ticking sound, like a grandfather clock. The family did not own any such clock. Furthermore, when Chris retrieved his boom box he discovered odd, occult-like symbols and markings carved into the table’s underside. His family decided the table had been used as an altar for some type of dark practice and so they sold it. No further activity occurred and the children’s nightmares ceased.[i]
The Spiritchasers looked into the stories they heard about Fargo’s Pizzeria, a restaurant in Colorado Springs, CO. The eatery was decorated in vintage items and has a collection of vintage clothing, furniture, and the like which is behind glass. Two mannequins representing Mr. Fargo and his wife sit at a table in one of the displays; restaurant workers who open the place for business reported mannequins’ positions sometimes moved.
When the Spiritchasers investigated Chris took photos of the vintage displays, including one of a lace mutton-sleeved blouse. After he shot the room display and looked at the result he noticed another figure in the corner of the room which wasn’t there before. Excited, he showed James the picture. When Chris enlarged it the image of a dark-haired woman clearly became visible, wearing the lace blouse. She is known as Sophia, “Fargo’s Phantom.”[ii]
Among other haunted places The Spiritchasers have investigated include the Cave of the Winds, where Chris photographed the ghost Nellie the Bride and a warrior with a bow, as well as the Flight 737 crash site where orbs and ghost mists (which appeared on a night too warm to cause the mist) floated among the twenty-seven ash trees planted in honor of each person who died in the crash. One tree in particular has a lot of activity — plane wreckage was buried beneath it.
Debbi Chestnut’s book Is Your House Haunted? describes various types of ghost manifestations, what they can look like and do, and how to tell if you and/or your home is haunted as well as what to do about it.[iv] Ghosts that manifest as mist or as semi-transparent human forms are called “apparitions”[v]; a spirit attached to what was a favorite object in life creates a “haunted object”[vi] which means the ghost will go wherever the object goes. Sophia is an excellent example of this type. The term we know as “ghost”[vii] refers to hauntings where people have died suddenly or violently, or if they linger in order to finish some uncompleted business. Family members who have died may stay around for a while to watch over loved ones or to give a final message.
Spirits will act out in order to get attention for whatever reason they need it. Debbi’s common-sense advice in her book ensures that there may or may not be mundane reasons for odd noises, lights, or other seemingly ghostly activity. Once all such everyday occurrences are accounted for, yet the activity continues, it’s time to talk to the spirit and find out what it wants. If you establish contact, try to determine how best to help, and then do it if you can.[viii] But if you have a ghost and just want to be rid of it, you can open a window in each room, smudge with sage and cedar throughout your home, and tell the spirit or spirits to depart in peace, never to return. It’s nice to follow up with a frankincense smudge to bless the space.
Chris, the manager of a metaphysical store, will talk to people when they come in wanting advice on how to be rid of a ghost or spirit they believe is haunting their home. He teaches them about smudging, about cleansing their chakras and auras, and to smudge after an argument. Fear and negative emotions can draw dark entities to a person, Chris said, so it is important to learn to be calm and stay positive as much as possible in order to keep away the things that feed on fear, etc.[ix]
Many people who have lost a loved one will attempt contact by using a Ouija board or hire a medium to perform a seance. Neither of these methods are reliable and can create more problems that they solve. It isn’t always the ghost being called who shows up. As a result, problems become much worse and then witches, paranormal investigators, or priests are brought in to take care of it.[x]
In the realm of magick, however, there are ceremonial magicians who consciously choose to work with ghosts or entities other than deities. Many do so in order to gain information, power, or control over the spirit world. Others work only with ghosts; these are necromancers. Necromancy is the art of divination by consulting with the dead. The word has its roots in the Greek nekos meaning dead, and manteria, divination. It originally meant a journey to Hades to consult with the dead rather than call a shade into a Circle.[xi]
Lewis Spence quotes Eliphas Levi from “Ritual of Transcendent Magic” to detail the exhaustive process of an evocation for either love or intelligence (information), i.e., calling on the spirit of a loved one or another shade for information. The latter motive was used by the Witch of Endor for King Saul when he went to her to find out his luck in the upcoming battle with the Palestinians.[xii]
There are not parlor tricks. I don’t recommend trying it if you already do not have the necessary training and experience. If the spirit happens to be stronger than the magician who forced it to appear then unpleasant things can happen. Spence tells about the 17th century Egyptian sorcerer Chiancungi and his sister Napula. It seems they lost their lives after he had cast his Circle, done the exorcisms, and then repeatedly called upon a particular spirit to manifest itself. When there were no apparent results they gave up and left their protective Circle, upon which they were crushed to death by the entity they had called up but which had not been able to appear until that moment.[xiii]
Not all ghosts are evil, vengeful, or severely depressed. Family members who have passed might stay to continue helping their loved ones. Others who have died violently will attempt to contact someone to help solve their murder or find their body. Often when a successful resolution is found the ghost moves on when the issue is settled. The irony of these situations comes from the fact that sensitive family members or natural psychics who can get the message and attempt to talk about it are laughed at, bullied out of believing it happened, or even committed as insane.
In the Pagan and Wiccan world we believe in spirits, ghosts, and those things that bump us in the night. For us they are real. I hope we are educated enough to refrain from stirring things up for no important reason. Ancestor worship follows particular rules and methods, as does Voudoun and Necromancy. In the Craft we can utilize the time of Samhain to contact the dead in the safety of our Circles and commune with them if we wish. If we have a benign or playful ghost living in our home, we may choose to welcome it and make it part of the family for as long as it wishes to stay. My own conclusion is that they are indeed real and such experiences make us truly blessed, for our lives are enriched and we find we have shifted from the mundane to the extraordinary. Decide how you will about the spirits and ghosts. If you choose to work with them directly, be sure you get the necessary training.
[i] From an interview with Christopher Brewer, Mar. 1, 2014, Colorado Springs, CO
[iii] Photographs of the Fargo room and of Sophia © Christopher Brewer. All right reserved. Used with permission. Images retrieved from www.thespiritchasers.com March 1, 2014.
[iv] Debbi Chestnut, Is Your House Haunted?, p. 76. MJF Books, New York, NY. 2011.
[v] Ibid, p. 76.
[vi] Ibid, p. 78.
[vii] Ibid, p. 77.
[viii] Ibid, pp. 173, 176.
[ix] Brewer interview, ibid
[x] Chestnut, ibid, p. 151-2.
[xi] Retrieved from www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos195.htm April 10, 2015. “ Necromancy” posted by Alan Wright. From a 1960 reprint of An Encyclopaedia of Occultism, Lewis Spence, University Books, Hyde Park, New York, NY. 1960 reprint. Originally published 1920.
[xii] The Bible, I Samuel 28:7-25
[xiii] Spence, ibid.
Disclaimer: In case you can’t infer it all by yourself, these are the opinions of Sheta and Sheta only. If my colleagues agree (and actually see this), they can add their plus-ones or whatever.
It seems to be a thing with artists and anyone who charges for a spiritual service — people are appalled that we actually charge for our work. The reasons for this shock and awe vary, but the general assumption is that we should all work for free. In the last three days, I’ve had people ask me “Is there a charge for this?” or “Is this free?” so often that it’s been suggested I prepare a macro so I don’t have to keep repeating myself. I guess this is my response to those questions, and the reasons why yes I do charge for my services.
Isn’t this a gift? Isn’t it wrong to charge for spiritual services?
The ability to cook extraordinarily well makes one a chef. Chefs do not give away their gifts; in fact, they are paid in accordance to the level of their skills. Why is it that a spiritual gift must be given away? I need to eat and pay my bills, just like you do. Am I supposed to do this for eight hours per day, seven days per week, for free? Because that’s what I did for ten years, before saying, “Enough. I need something back.” Putting a price tag on something immediately weeds out the leeches, and they fall away in great piles of abandon(ment). It hurt a lot, realizing that the people I thought were my friends didn’t think my skills were worth their money, and in fact a lot of them had never even donated anything in return. I’d consider that to be the minimum of courtesies. Or a thank you card. Or anything beyond yet another night of listening and helping you and channeling for you, without complaint. I deserve to be paid, and my price is a fraction of the people on websites like Keen. I offer real benefit, not a crutch. If you’re gaining something from my work with you, why is the question always “Is it free?” This question comes most often from those who would happily monopolize my time with issues I can barely credit. (For those of you who think I’m talking about you — I’m not. This is a special breed of annoying that few manage to attain, but when they do, wow.)
How do I know you’re not a ripoff?
This is a question rarely asked aloud, but which is obviously on everyone’s mind who has a healthy sense of skepticism. The world, and the Web, are full of frauds, cold readers, and people who feel no guilt whatsoever at charging $8-$10 per minute. I’m not one of them. If you’ve ever chatted with me, you know that. If you haven’t, then ask someone who has. You want references? Check my testimonials page. It’s crammed full of real people’s real comments.
Why does it cost so much?
My prices are reasonable, I offer the occasional free class, and have a flat fee for an intro chat in which I tell you what I pick up about your spirit companion (or whatever term you prefer), the latter of which is refundable if I fail to pick up anything or miss the mark completely. That’s less than most skilled tradesmen make, and if you don’t believe me, try hiring someone to re-roof your house. I made a total of $1705 last year in earned wages. I can’t live on that, even with the money I get from disability, even with food stamps. If someone genuinely can’t afford it, I will do what I can to help, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to pester me every night because you’re hungry for validation. I’m fair, but don’t use me. And remember, if I do help you pro bono, please do something nice in return, even if it’s just to leave a testimonial at the above link.
Don’t you feel guilty? Doesn’t it bother you?
I struggled with this decision. Just because I don’t show my agonizing on my services page doesn’t mean it was easy to get to this point. But I was literally 8-12 hours per day online, helping people. I spent two years on one person, about ten years ago, only to have her balk when I asked for something back. Boom. No more friendship. That was it. Those who decided to abandon ship, so to speak, claimed I was abusing their friendship. I guess they didn’t have much sense of the ironic.
Others clamored aboard, seeking (of all things) power, via li’l ol’ me. Imagine my surprise when it dawned on me. And when I noticed it aloud, oh the drama. That was a lot of fun. More friends left, as sides were divided and I struggled to own my mistakes while standing my ground, a real learning experience. As I began to really understand that people valued my time and sometimes competed for it, and that other people were sometimes too intimidated to talk to me, I felt it was time to put some filters in place. I’ve never charged those I consider my true friends and would never begrudge them my time, and I hope they understand this. But there were those who were truly offended that I shouldn’t be at their beck and call whenever online, no matter how heavy or difficult their problems, no matter how much channeling I did. I was supposed to be a machine. Sorry, only human.
So no, after all that, I don’t feel guilty at all. It’s the smartest thing I ever did, and I deserve to be paid for my services. They have real value. You do understand the word “value”?
Image credit: exileden.deviantart.com
©2013 by Sheta Kaey.
Sheta Kaey is a lifelong occultist and longtime spirit worker, as well as Editor in Chief of Rending the Veil. She counsels others with regard to spirit contact and astral work. She can be reached via her blog.
Paganism has enjoyed a grassroots revival over the last forty and more years. It has found many expressions for many reasons: a way to get back at authority figures, a lifestyle for the bored and restless, an RPG for fun loving types, a philosophy to try out for a while to see how it fits, etc. But there are also those who are moved to find a way to express something they feel is right for them but which they can’t name — they are the truly pagan in nature. How do these seekers find an authentic expression of a deeper, older religious feeling? Today’s seekers automatically look to books to find what they’re looking for, but these often lead to more questions rather than to provide any real answers. This article will tell you how to find the deity that is right for you, which will clarify your path.
The best way to start finding one’s true pagan path is by meditation — and I mean serious meditation. If you, my reader, are not familiar with meditation, here is the basic method: Set aside some time each day when it’s quiet, but you are not so tired that you might fall asleep. Start with a ten minute session; you can extend the time if you need it as you gain experience. Sit comfortably in a chair if you are not practiced at yoga — trying a lotus position or something equally exotic if you are not used to it only causes distractions. Dim or turn off the lights; the goal is muted light, not darkness. Burn an unscented candle if you want to do so. Unscented because, remember, at the beginning scent is another distraction.
Focus on controlling your breathing. Start with a breath in to the count of three, then hold for one count, then breathe out for four counts. Do this for a minute or two until it becomes more natural for you. As you get your breath under control, use that time to quiet your mind and clear it of all those random, fussy thoughts. It often works to blow them out with your four-count breath. When you are able to do this basic exercise smoothly and easily, move on to the next step.
Begin your meditation and get to the point where your mind is clear and calm. Now you can ask yourself, “What is it about [insert your childhood religious doctrine here] that causes me to feel skeptical? Why don’t I believe in it anymore?” Be open to receiving the answer and your deeper self will give you the answer. You are clarifying for yourself why there are changes in your outlook. This exploration may take more than one meditation session, which is fine. (Anything worth having has to be worked at, and this is the perfect example of such work.) Your first step is understanding why you no longer believe what you were taught while you were growing up. Write down your thoughts when you are finished with your session(s). It’s a good idea to look back on your work so you can refresh your mind for your next meditation.
The next step, of course, is to figure out what you do believe, and this has to come from within yourself, as well. Never mind reading some books to figure it out. Trust yourself enough to get the answer and you will have your own truth. The process is the same. Get into a meditative state and ask yourself something like, “What do I really believe about the sacred? What is my reason for my new belief?” The answers you arrive at may surprise you but you will know it is true for you. Only after you have reached this point are you able to understand which deity is the one you will be serving.
Yes, you read that right: Serving. A deity is exactly that — a very powerful, mysterious but knowable entity who will recognize you from His or Her side of reality. They are not our servants or pets; we serve Them and we perform the rites They expect of us.
Meditate on which deity is the one for you. You may be surprised. A god or goddess who reveals itself to you probably won’t be connected to your personal preference, cultural heritage, or genetic makeup. In other words, just because you like Isis or Taranis, or you’re of Irish-French descent, or you live in Italy, Romania, or America does not necessarily mean you will be connecting to a deity that is Egyptian, Irish, Italian, or whatever. This is about making that connection to a sacred being who may be interested in you or has already chosen you to serve Him or Her. If it is the latter and you’ve been chosen, it is usually one you never expected to end up serving.
At this point your pagan spiritual path is pretty much decided. You have put time and energy into serious thought about these things and have received your answers. Ideally, initiation is the next step which properly connects you to your deity, and this is the hardest part because, as the saying goes, “It takes a witch to make a witch.” Initiatory Mystery traditions will accept sincere seekers who have worked out their beliefs, show a dedication to the work involved, and are doing their best to practice their faith. Often an initiated practitioner will approach the seeker to determine if they want to be initiated. If the answer is “yes,” the process begins so the seeker becomes a Novice Initiate and begins training in that tradition’s methods of ritual and worship, tools used, and the path for its members, including how to work with one’s deity. This is generally part of a High Priestess’s and/or High Priest’s responsibilities. These traditions are often oathbound, which means you are required to keep the information and training to yourself. Such knowledge is not for everyone; you must earn the right to be part of such a group. Therefore, you must be trustworthy enough to train without revealing the information to non-initiates. Hence the name — Mystery tradition.
Young seekers often become curious about popular paths, such as Wicca (the path largely created, and made public, by Gerald Gardner), Asatru (a Norse path cobbled together from the bits and pieces of mythology and available lore), Egyptian, and other “flavors” of pagan spirituality which might strike the fancy of those looking to shock their parents or strike back in some way at whatever authority figure with whom they happen to be angry. Others will follow an alternative path because the religion (or absence of one) in their lives doesn’t suit them anymore, yet they don’t know how to go about finding the way that is right for them. These people try on different beliefs to see what might fit. Once they have become disillusioned enough or have learned enough about it they often decide it isn’t right for them and they go on to the next thing (this is called “dabbling”). Fans of psychology tend to see the deities as parts of their subconscious (i.e., as archetypes), and pagan religion as a form of sociology.
Some people use paganism as an excuse to do what they perceive as naughty things, such as using drugs (drugs are used by pagans about as often as they’re used by non-pagans), engage in group sex (and, perhaps, call it the “Great Rite”), or to find easy sex partners — to them, it’s a lifestyle that will serve until they become bored, find the next lifestyle fad and move on. Some use paganism to take advantage of the naïve or gullible.
On more than one occasion so-called seekers have laughed in my face and said to me, “Oh my God! You actually think this stuff is real?” I am a High Priestess of an initiatory Mystery tradition and have been practicing for about thirty years, so I look them in the eyes and tell them, “Yes. Not only do I ‘think’ it, I know it’s real, beyond any doubt.” Their next question is usually, “How do you know it’s real?” I will tell them, “I experience it.” The person before me then either tries to laugh it off or gets nasty, but because of their own inner doubts and lack of faith/belief, they quickly end up flustered and/or confused. I have watched them walk away trying to be scornful in order to cover their own spiritual discomfort.
One young lady I met demanded to know how many occult books I’d read over the years. I told her I didn’t know but that I’d once given three boxes of them to the library. She insisted she knew more than I did, because she had a bookcase that covered an entire wall at home, filled with nothing but occult books, and she’d read every one of them. I asked her, “That’s fine, but what have you done?” She needed clarification so I repeated myself, asking what rituals had she performed or attended, that sort of thing. It turned out that she had not actually tried anything. She simply read all these books — this was her excuse for declaring herself better than me and anyone else who had not read as many books as she. All I could do was look at her in amazement at such hubris.
Reading some books about paganism isn’t going to make you a witch; it isn’t going to make you pagan. It’s fine to read them later but not as a means for finding your personal answers. Initiation is the process which makes a witch. It is a rite performed by one who has gone before you, a keeper of the Mysteries who has been through the experiences and training necessary and who can pass that knowledge on to you in the correct manner so you may be part of something that is truly alive and vital. It is not a fad, it is not a joke, and it is not a lifestyle to be tried on and tossed aside like a shirt you no longer feel like wearing. It is not an easy way of life. It is as enriching as any seeker could hope for, and the only way to find the real thing is to put away the books for the time being and begin with personal meditation on what it is you believe.
©2013 Lady Eva Michenet
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Lady Eva Michenet was born in Colorado where she has lived nearly all of her life. Raised a Lutheran, the pastors could not or would not answer her doubting questions so she figured out what her beliefs were on her own. Eventually she was initiated and trained in the Mystery tradition she has now practiced for nearly thirty years. She currently lives with a cat and a couple of houseplants and continues to learn by developing her working knowledge of herbal healing. She is a Tarot/Scrying Stones reader/counselor, has become a Reiki III healer, likes to bead and wire wrap, hike, read, make things, and watch action movies.
I consider myself a Thelemite. I’ve never been a member of the O.T.O. or any other magical fraternity, other than a two-week stint in the QBLH. Why? I’ve never been very talented at toeing the line, or at believing things just because someone else said they were true. Dogma is very much a part of Thelema, especially as dictated by magical orders, and I’ve seen many friends undergo dogmatic transformations upon joining a magical order. However, to me, Thelema is very much about blazing your own trail and declining to let others do your thinking for you (and spoon feed you the results). Aleister Crowley went to great lengths to weed out the chaff, the students too willing to swallow his instruction literally. Much like other great masters of philosophy and religion, he had no respect for those who couldn’t be bothered to do their own work. Somehow I don’t think he’d be all that friendly to the bulk of those claiming to be Thelemites today. They’re far too willing to denounce any practice of Thelema that doesn’t follow Crowley to the letter.
I’m going to have to disappoint you, if you are one of those “Crowleyites.” I’ve read appallingly little Crowley for a Thelemite. I tend to take him in small doses with long breaks between. But in my heart, I am a Thelemite. I have a great love for the philosophy as I understand it. It’s that understanding I’d like to share with you. I’m going to provide my view of a few Thelemic tenets, interspersed with my beliefs as a human being who has searched within, long and hard, to find her core. And while I feel I’ve found many concepts that represent core realities to me, I consciously strive to allow my views and my system of Thelema to evolve as new information and concepts arrive. Thelema is a living system, and it doesn’t deserve to be shoved into a hope chest for generations until Prince Charming (or the next leader of the next “real” O.T.O.) happens along.
Up until a few days ago, I’d never succinctly defined my beliefs. I think that’s because they’re complicated and involve a huge amount of nuance. I do prescribe to the tenets of True Will, the Abyss, and the Holy Guardian Angel, and I am a passionate proponent of Qabalah, which of course Thelema employs at length. However, unlike most ceremonial magicians, I am a mystic (and perhaps a shaman) in these ways:
- I work with spirits, and use this work to the best of my ability to aid others in my community.
- 90% of the work I do is internal or is processing the internal via external means.
- 90% of my current practice is completely self-originated. I am under-read, because I have read very little Crowley to date and don’t study the works of other magicians at any great length. What I do, I learned to do by doing it. I’m not taking someone else’s formula and mimicking it. As they like to say, “The map is not the territory,” and I left the map behind a long time ago. When I do read books on magick, I frequently recognize things I’ve done on my own that I never would have comprehended upon reading if I’d read the material in advance.
Regarding the tenets above, here’s my view:
While this and the HGA are covered in my above-linked article, I’ll provide a basic explanation of my views here, for those who’d rather not click. In a nutshell: The True Will that can be identified is not the True Will. I paraphrase the Tao Te Ching here, because it’s true. Thelemites like to speak of their True Will as if it gives them license to do whatever they damn well please. Or they’ll say, “I am turning on the light switch. Therefore, it is my True Will to turn on the light so that I may see better, bringing me closer to the manifestation of my purpose.” Blah blah blah.
While we may well have our individual callings, and discovering and working toward those callings (and fulfilling them) may put the winds of the Universe against our backs, this is the True Will that can be identified. Those callings are but stepping stones or way stations along the path to our true True Will — that of the Great Work of self-transformation. This earthly calling is something we can apply our real world effort towards, while we truly are evolving as spirits and as individuals, toward some incomprehensible whole that we will not discover until we cross the Abyss. (And I don’t care what Crowley said: Show me a human being who can convince me he’s crossed the Abyss while still alive, and I’ll kiss his ass live on CNN.)
(As an aside, I should mention that I don’t see Crowley as a human being worthy of emulation. But he was a brilliant magician, and he was an instrument in a higher message coming through. So yeah, he was the prophet. But that doesn’t make him a god.)
To further expound upon my view of True Will:
- I believe that it’s impossible to not follow your True Will, once you have made any effort to apply yourself to your personal evolution via a spiritual or magical path. We may be taking the long and circuitous route until we gain clarity, but the True Will is always keeping the end goal in sight. Even without conscious contact with the HGA, our desire to push forward toward that goal invites our HGA to take the reins. It gets easier, obviously, once that contact is made and we have a much clearer idea of what we’re meant to do. But the True Will is always there, in the background, issuing whatever nudges are necessary. To continue. . .
- I believe that wherever we are and whatever we’re experiencing, the Universe is always striving to put (and keep) us on the most direct path possible (at any given moment) to our destiny. Destiny, to me, is not as simple as having fate laid out for you. There are nuances to destiny — a higher destiny as well as a mundane one, as I described above — and we always have a choice. Meridjet likens this to a river. The river is the path to our higher destiny — evolution. But as we travel the river, we have an infinite array of choices about our experience along the way. We can take tributaries; hang out in lagoons; dock at a big, exciting distraction; take the rapids and do some whitewatering; use a canoe or a speedboat. But we’re all traveling the same course toward the same destination (which isn’t a destination at all).
Obstacles that arise in our lives occur to direct our course, to call our attention to things, and sometimes to issue one hell of a wake-up call. They also occur because there are things we need to learn that those experiences teach us — though sometimes we don’t comprehend those lessons until years later. If a lesson happens to be terminal (such as a fatal disease), then I’d surmise that we gain that understanding after death if not before, during our Abyss journey if nothing else.
- I believe that synchronicity and déjà vu are indicators that we are traveling along an optimal course. When you are making the most beneficial choices, the momentum of the Universe is behind you and things fall into place.
- I believe that, therefore, everything happens for a reason. Even trivial little mundane moments, when taken as filling the moments of your day that lead you to the Next Big Thing, have reasons for their occurrence. They provide influence not only on our timing but also on our psyches. We just don’t tend to notice those things until they accumulate enough to call our attention to them, and by then oftentimes the original moment of influence has been lost in a stew of trivial moments and will never be recognized. And by “trivial,” I don’t mean meaningless. I mean they are moments we take for granted and never give a second thought to.
I’ve had the benefit of a glimpse of this through Meridjet’s eyes, and what follows are his words (channeled):
Imagine entering a darkness, not only in your sight, but in your mind. All around you is foreign, emerging suddenly into your vision and receding with equal speed. You’re frightened, and you’re lost, and you have no idea how to correct either. You remember something from your past, and it gives you a moment of strength before it is stripped away, gone, as if it had never been.
Each issue of your lifetime — the happy, the sad, the guilt-ridden, the resentful, all of them — are faced and become your everything until you have made peace with them. Then they, too, are taken from you. The challenges of the Keeper at the Gates bear teeth, and they will rend you.
Everything you know, everything of your life or your history that gives you a sense of belonging, your place in the scheme of things — even your name, it’s all stripped away, layer by painful layer until you are naked. You have nothing — no sense of individuality, no sense of self; you are reduced to a point of consciousness in a vast dark (and occasionally screaming) nothing, unaware that you observe, unable to direct your focus. You are an infant in the vastness of the Universe, with no frame of reference to provide an awareness of your existence.
And there you float, lie, swim — pick your preference — until eventually it changes. It may be, in the measures of time on Earth, moments. It may be millennia. Typically, it is merely years. But eventually, there’s a glimmer, a tiny little glow at the center of your consciousness that is different from how it’s “always” been. There’s no explanation for this change except one: you are becoming. In spite of all that brought you here and all that would hold you, you are becoming and you will not be thwarted.
As the glimmering point of light that is love, self, God, All, everything and nothing, grows, you begin to . . . not re-form, but re-emerge, birth yourself from the emptiness that emanates from Kether and gives shape to all. You become not who you were, because that person or being is no more. You become who you are, who you were always meant to be underneath the baggage and the blinders and the endless rules of conformity that strain to contain each of us our entire lives. It’s almost like a deflated vinyl balloon, shapeless in the attic for 11 months, re-emerges as the beloved December snowman or nutcracker, brought to life once more for another holiday season.
As your consciousness expands from awareness of self to awareness of All to awareness of Self-as-All-As-Self, you regain the knowledge of your deeds and ideas, as well as their process of understanding. You have made it across the chasm of the lost and the damned, and you will walk away not only unscathed, not only healed, but whole in a way you have never imagined.
You Become. And the knowledge of that Becoming inspires a desire to find expression for your gratitude. So, if you’re like me, you go back to that special person you once had to leave, and you take up the mantle of Teacher. You begin to guide her to reach her own Becoming, with hope, love, and pure unadulterated joy.
Words are not the best tools for such rapture or for describing what happens to each of us, but know this: Becoming is not the end of the journey. It is the Beginning.
The Holy Guardian Angel
I’ve written on this topic before (see link above), but to put not too fine a shine on it: The HGA is the embodiment of our potential, a potential so great we can’t conceive of it. It takes the form of an autonomous spirit, insanely attractive, fully involved, and largely without mercy. It teaches us hard lessons and refuses to submit to any request for either coddling or consoling, until the lesson is past and there is no danger of sympathy causing us to falter. It tests your strength in ways you would swear were intolerable. And it facilitates your growth like nothing else can. Through it all, you never doubt that you are loved, in spite of the cruelty, the challenges, and whatever you may feel about yourself in your moments of weakness.
It will lead you to face things in yourself that you’ve denied your entire life. It will reveal bliss undreamed of. When a decade or more has passed, you will wonder how you became who you are now, out of who you used to be. With this in mind, I present my remaining beliefs (or those that come to mind):
- I believe that living consciously and mindfully should be a goal of every living person, so that we strive to be aware of our effect on other people and ourselves, and also strive to fill our waking moments with something more than automatic pilot. This is a difficult thing to do, rather like trying to maintain a meditative state throughout your entire active day. We must do our best to remind ourselves until it becomes a habit of living without habits or automatic responses. Have you ever walked into a dark room when the power was out, and flipped on the light switch expecting it to work? Most of our actions are of this nature. If we could feel as foolish every time we chose automatically, as we do when flipping that light switch without thinking, it would teach us to be more mindful.
- I believe to “Know thyself” is profoundly important and that most people don’t. See above. Lives lived completely based upon superficial concerns are a tragedy.
- I believe the rational mind is both a blessing and a curse. I believe that this world’s emphasis on facts (while calling them “truths”) and rationalism is unbalanced and therefore crippling, but without rational thought we would learn much, much more slowly. Abstract concepts are powerful things (and include true gnosis) and should always be included in any balanced person, but it’s not until an idea swims around in our deeper selves a while then percolates up into thought and realization via the intellect that we gain knowledge and understanding beyond instinctive response. Yet our skeptical insistence (and oh, I’m a skeptic) upon things being rational keeps us from understanding worlds that don’t fit that very firm mold. We are indeed crippled when it comes to astral projection to any world other than this one, and we insist on defining things that are beyond our experience. (For instance, any thought of parallel universes usually results in a person thinking of them as nearly identical to this one, if not in appearance or geography, at least in terms of the most basic things: Breathing, food, water, belongings, other creatures, etc. Any thought of a spirit world, conversely, usually involves the person visualizing an endless expanse of gray fog through which featureless and ethereal spirits float about. BOR-ing!)
- I believe that conventional religion is a means of control, offering the congregation (is there a better word?) salvation if they toe the line and give away their money, and offering the congregation true knowledge not at all. I believe magical orders are shaping up to do the same thing.
- I believe that politicians should be accountable for deception and any type of malicious manipulation of the people or their resources. I believe that corporations should be regulated and held accountable, particularly when acting out of greed at the expense of the environment, their workers, or the public. I believe in socialist medicine. I believe this world has a long way to go and that we might not survive as a species long enough to put away the war machine for good and start truly thinking of our fellow man.
- I believe in compassion, empathy, and honesty. I believe in cultivating gratitude and optimism. I try to practice them consciously. I’m not perfect, by any means, but I keep trying. “Compassion is the Vice of Kings.” This, to me, does not mean that compassion is a vice to be avoided. It means that compassion, feeling empathy and the desire to help, for our fellow living creatures and our planet, is something that as “kings” we must accept and utilize. It is an emotion that is addicting, because giving to or helping someone feels good, as does the power to create their happiness or gratitude. It becomes a vice due to that addiction, but as kings we must accept that vice in exchange for the power to help someone in need. And it is a lesson long overdue for those in power. Don’t shit where you eat. Be generous and compassionate toward those who can’t help themselves, and the whole universe gains.
I am a Thelemite. I am dedicated to the Great Work. I am a star, dancing in the heavens in celebration of my ability to experience this world, with its joys and tragedies. Would you care to dance?
©2010 by Sheta Kaey.
Sheta Kaey is a lifelong occultist and longtime spirit worker, as well as Editor in Chief of Rending the Veil. She counsels others with regard to spirit contact and astral work. She can be reached via her blog.
Because it’s a British Job Centre and we’re the proud world leaders in intrusive CCTV surveillance, the staff ask our hero to lower his hood. (Of course he’s in hood and robe — Jedi, remember?) He politely refuses, on the grounds that doing so is against his deeply held beliefs.
So they chuck him out. And he sends a letter of complaint.
A couple of weeks later, the Job Centre send him a formal apology for disrespecting his faith.
This delightful tale of modern manners is interesting to me for many reasons.
For one thing, it hit the news a couple of weeks before the finale of another case of alleged religious disrespect, one where the complainant didn’t get the result they wanted. In this case, it was a Christian woman, a nurse, who was asked not to have her crucifix-on-a-chain visible at work. She sued the hospital and lost.
The parallels are notable. For one thing, both complainants were making a fuss about a display of their faith which is not defined as either a right or requirement of their beliefs — the Bible has no “Thou Shalt Have Jesus On A Stick Swinging Around Thy Neck” commandment and the Star Wars films have many examples of Jedi doffing their hoods in a variety of public and private settings.
The major difference, the thing that really interests me, is that the believer in a completely fictional faith actually got more respect and better treatment than the one from the long established, allegedly historically based one. That’s a first, I think.
And it’s a game-changer.
What happens when belief systems which cheerfully admit they are based on fiction get the same recognition in society and law as the ones that claim they’re not?
So far, the established religions have a hard enough time admitting any other faith deserves the same recognition or rights they they have. The case of Patrick McCollum in the U.S. offers a sad example of the situation as it stands. McCollum is a pagan priest who wants to be a prison chaplain. So far, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is refusing him permission to do so. The reason they offer — which is supported by a Christian protest organization perfectly named “The Wallbuilders” — is that there are two tiers of religious belief under the U.S. Constitution. The First Tier consists of the so-called Big Five faiths — Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Native American — who have all the rights and privileges. The second tier — everyone else — simply don’t.
Needless to say there’s a lot of pressure from pagan groups, and people who seem to have actually read the Constitution, against this opinion. The case is, to date, unresolved.
But now we have this precedent, that Jedi-boy has all the rights and privileges of any other believer.
I use that word “privilege” carefully. Its original meaning, “private law,” seems more than a little significant under the circumstances. One rule for the First Tier. . . and there’s nothing so galling to the privileged as being made to share with the rest of the group.
There is of course one New Religious Movement that’s managed to secure itself all manner of rights and privileges — the Church of Scientology. Suffice it to say that recognition of your faith’s status is fairly easily enhanced by having access to lots of expensive lawyers. (Though it doesn’t seem to have helped them any in their home state of California, as noted above. Maybe there are some things money can’t just buy?)
(Interesting to compare this to the UK situation. As I understand it, members of any faith, including pagan, can be prison chaplains in Britain. I don’t know if anyone’s tried to be a Jedi chaplain yet, but I do know that all of the 139 prisons in England and Wales and many of the 16 prisons in Scotland have the equivalent of their own Scientology chaplains and spiritual services. . . and there are precisely three Scientologist prisoners in the whole system.)
So — how does society decide which beliefs should be respected? Who decides? On what basis? Who gets to choose what is called “real”?
Obviously, the belief systems which hold the current monopoly of privileged status aren’t going to give up their exclusive specialness without a fight — which, judging from previous displays of their intentions towards anyone disagreeing with their beliefs, will involve everything from whiny protests to inciting murder. So there’s that to look forward to.
Meanwhile, my position is this:
I honestly believe all religions and beliefs are, at best, stories. Possibly stories with some level of truth to them, but no less mythological for all that. We can debate the degree of “truth” at the core of each till the cows come home — but it seems to me a politeness for all beliefs to meet on an equal playing field. Certainly, the hard core believers will insist that their faith deserves privilege above the others because theirs is the Real True Truth. . . but after the first fifty or so different flavours of believer stating that with a straight face, it gets real old, real fast. Either raise all beliefs up to the level of the most-favoured. . . or bring them all down to the lowest. No special pleading, no tax breaks, no exemptions from civil law on grounds of belief. Everyone gets the same treatment. From the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to the Na’vi one. From Sunni and Shia to followers of Sol Invictus and Satan and Scooby-Doo.
Then, finally, perhaps we can all compare notes about what we believe, and how we see the world, like civilised people.
(Next time on Guttershaman — looking deeper at the “Hyper-Real” religions via the work of Adam Passamai, who coined the term.)
©2010 by Ian Vincent.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Ian Vincent was born in 1964 and is a lifelong student of the occult. He founded Athanor Consulting, a specialist paranormal protection consultancy, in 2002. He closed Athanor in 2009 to better focus on studying wider aspects of the Art. He blogs on magical theory.
To the COREz cru, and to Robert Anton Wilson, R.I.P.
ALL HAIL ERIS!
Back when we were whippersnapper wizards, knee high to an incubus, the feared and fabulous Churche of Random Ethicz (COREz) convened in desolate spots and dirty squats for ancient rites with a post-modern twist. Our Chaos Crèche was situated on this earthly plane in a Manchester basement. There was an elemental symbol on each wall, a gnarled fetish staff hung with charms in the corner, and a homemade Baphomet sitting on the altar, with a greedy pot belly and tiny red eyes glaring out from his black face. Lord Mungdungus was the driving force behind our devilry, a voodooist with a passion for astral fiddling, who invited Kali-ma for magical evenings in, feeling up hir knockers.
For our first rite in the new space, to christen it (so to speak), we began with the I.A.O. banishing ritual, a no-frills version of an exercise which traditionally involves the invocation of archangels, the recitation of sutras, or something else to clear the space of unclean spirits, hungry ghosts and other denizens of the astral plane. Flippant magi, too lazy even to take the Lord’s name in vain properly, we contracted the sacred names to vowels. We began with “iiiiiiiiiih,” sung high, with the hands above the head to energise the third eye, and next we intoned “aaaaaaaaah” with arms out to the side to warm up the heart and chest. Finally we dropped our arms and our attention to the guts to sing “oooooh.” It sounds like “oooooh, you’re in trouble now!“, which in fact we were. Someone traced a few pentacles in the air with an antique Nepalese blade, and Beelze-Bob’s your uncle, temple cleared!*At least that was the theory according to Mr. B, who did magick by sheer bloody mindedness, staring at sigils for bliss for hours at a stretch until he was damn well good and blissful. He was all bare bones, figure and philosophy, and he wanted our rites the same way, so we stripped the banishing rite of angels and drama, incense and nonsense, leaving only the vowels.
My ex-girlfriend sang “oooooh” for longer than the rest of us, instinctively aware perhaps that our opening was incomplete. She was the most unbalanced and most powerful of all of us, a witch from Tring (the site of the last English witch-drowning), who rode her ketamine-fueled broomstick across the astral sky, leaving a trail of sneezes. That day, however, everyone was straight.
The final joker in the pack was the Nealist, a no-holds-barred reality-wrestler, who began The Churche as an art project. This featured him standing alongside genuine street evangelists, distributing instructions on how to buy your way into heaven, and filming the inevitable row. He was the agent selected to interrupt and irritate the Archbishop of Canterbury during a ritual at his public address. The idea was to collect the anger of the earthly mouthpiece of God in a specially adapted bong Lord M was surreptitiously sucking on. I fear this bottle of unholy water is still in his possession.
We announced our intention to consecrate the crèche, and tied a button that had spent the day in my mouth onto the fetish-staff. Linking arms in the shape of a pentagram, talking in tongues, shaking and incanting, building up gradually to a high-paced cacophony of mock-Latin shouting: “dominu, infanto perterburantor rectibus rectum, nunc sordat frustus omniemnes et cetera, gets betterer.” When we were suitably wired, we exorcised the place in the manner of the priest from the exorcist, flicking holy water stolen from a church around with toothbrushes. When we felt we had the place covered we untraced the pentacles, dashed through the I.A.O., and went our separate ways to bed.
Back in the real world the following morning, I was in excellent spirits, blissing out on my bike up the Oxford Road, floating up the stairs of the Maths Tower, and giggling my way through my first lecture, but during the second lecture, a headache rapidly progressed to nausea and dizziness. By the bell my groans were disturbing the class. A friend from my Buddhist group was sitting next to me. She had attended the ritual humiliation of the Archbishop, and knew what antics I got up to whilst out of lotus, so she walked me down the stairs, helped me locate my bicycle, and because there was no way I could ride it, she took my arm and we stumbled through the streets of Fallowfield to my house, where she left me in the care of my witch. The rest of the day is a complete blur as I drifted in and out of consciousness; I only remember the pain. It was like nothing I had ever experienced, a migraine localized to a point above one eye, with nausea, loss of balance, and a feeling like millions of microscopic insects were crawling around under my skin. My witch spent the day looking after me, and told me afterward that I had been babbling in tongues and moaning. I had barely suffered even slight headaches before, but this was absolute agony. By the evening it had began to subside, but I felt occasional electric twinges in that spot for months. (Over ten years later, after a series of curious events beginning at the Stockwell Spiritualist Church and ending with a voice shouting my name as I lay in bed, I enrolled in a mediumship course and learned a lot more about that spot.)
The moral of the story is, of course, don’t be a fuckwit. Electricians take precautions to avoid shocks, and sorcerers, black, white, and all shades of gray should do the same when working with energy. Incant, invoke, do what thou wilt, but clear your space and your head, with as much intent as you put into your intention, before and after, and whenever you feel the need, even silently on the night bus. Golden Dawn novices spend their first year practising the banishing on a daily basis for good reason. Untrace the pentacles, thank the archangels, say your Hail Mary’s, bang your gong, do what needs to be done, but close your work and lock the door.
If you want magick in your life, it is yours, but start carefully with a tarot reading, a course at a psychic college, or a Daime session. If you feel an overwhelming pull to the left, there are instructions in Appendix Chaos, but master a proper banishing first, and steer clear of Ouija boards and Enochian until you know exactly what you are working with. My granny traced the goblins in her loo and the voices in her head back to a youthful Ouija board. There are all sorts in the astral, from glorious archangels to horribly boring grey shades shuffling along like commuters on station platforms, and there are also plenty of mosquitoes, flies, and worms doing their various jobs. Some entities love flesh, the way some of us love spirit, and they may exploit any opening you offer. They are not evil; neither are hungry tigers, but wise explorers take care in the jungle all the same.
Like psychedelics, magick opens you up, so dabble with respect, with experienced people. There is no need to be scared or paranoid, but no need to be silly either. Group work is much more unpredictable, because a group, especially a group of nutters, can easily raise enough energy collectively to frazzle someone’s circuitry, whereas one person usually raises only a safe amount. We precocious sorcerers had no doubts about the power of magick, but we didn’t appreciate the dangers, and we were too punk to care. I don’t think I permanently flipped my lid, and I stopped doing group Chaos works after that rite, but reality has never been the same since.
Magick works. It works wonders, but the most surprising thing to come out of the hat is the revelation that there is more to the universe than we are led to believe. Magick can also teach a young punk to take responsibility for his reality, which he makes up as he goes along, as he likes, and as he deserves. In this blurry plane, you get what you ask for. I spent hours one night catching a mosquito alive for a blood sacrifice to bring me ganja, which I was craving after a few dry weeks in Mexico. The following morning, wandering lost in the streets of Cuernavaca, I saw a man with a tattoo of a Chaos star, the symbol of my magical line. A magician stays alert for potential pathways, and I recognised an angel of Chaos disguised as a punk. When I stopped him, the first thing he said to me, even before “hello”, was “do you want a smoke?”
It was great to have a confirmation so quickly, and a welcome mash-up, but in retrospect, all it did was reinforce a habit. A magick wand can be a crowbar to bust out of your cage, but pursuing earthly desires reinforces the cage with magical metal. Living in a magical mode, you don’t need to do magick; it does you. Once the Monkey of Thoth is done peeking up the skirt of the goddess, once he is done trying to penetrate the goddess, he lets magick penetrate him, and he becomes the goddess. Coincidences abound. What you need falls in your lap at the perfect moment, without effort, and without incantation. But first you need to believe. Actually, you just need to try.
Evil eyes, Cupid’s arrows, and ghosts, holy and otherwise, were consensus reality for aeons, and everything from a broken arm to a successful hunt was a manifestation of spirit. We are in the midst of a coup. A godless clergy has ousted the sorcerers, rainmakers, and wyrd sisters, but it is a very recent, very local scrap. Reality used to be far more fluid. In Saint Médard in the early eighteenth century, for example, many thousands of previously skeptical eyewitnesses attested that they had seen miraculous healings, and convulsions during which people were impervious to torture and blows with sharp objects.546 This kind of thing is rare today. The scientistic faction stormed the field with brilliant gadgets and weapons, and new theories to dominate the mindscape. For astrologers, the ‘flu was an influence from the stars (hence “influenza”). Shamans saw malignant spirits, and for ayurvedic doctors it was imbalance between the chakras, but science shows us a bug, and who can argue with a bug? It is not the root of the problem. Like everything else, it is a shadow of something invisible, but it is a shadow anyone can see under the electron microscope.
With science, we live in a world of highly pervasive shadows. In a pre-scientific world, everyone can keep their local gods,their magicks and beliefs, and the world remains fractured, but science provides a truth that can’t be denied, and a language in which we can all communicate. Like Christianity, which highly dispersed and different peoples with a book to discuss and interpret the world with, science elevates us beyond our tribal cosmologies, and brings us together. Also like Christianity, it confuses itself for the one true truth when it is only one of many, neither the most interesting, nor the best for achieving certain ends. This truth is, however, potentially universal. It is capable of embracing even the magicks it ousted, if only the Scientistic Inquisition would stop applying the brain-screws, and bishops would obey their own commandments to look without prejudice, to experiment rather than opine, to explain as simply as possible. Science works. But magick plays as well. A mage incants, and within twelve hours he is rewarded with a bag of weed or a horrendous migraine. Sounds like a coincidence? Magick is the art of manipulating coincidence. It is also action at a distance, immediate transfer of information, hidden pathways, the memory of water; goblins pounding on the heavily stained-glass windows of the Churche of Scyense.
One big difference between magick today and in times past is that a working group can be much larger. The largest gathering in the history of humanity was a religious event, Kumbha Mela 2001, with seventy million souls havin’ it large in India. About 2.5 billion tuned into the necromancy of Princess Diana’s memorial service,547 and she was already making appearances and healing miraculously within days of her death.548 There is no technical obstacle to stop a group e-mail going to the entire wired world to organise a rite. We are limited by neither technology nor reality, only politics and lack of imagination. If we stopped squabbling and synchronised our wills and watches, nothing would be beyond us, not even refreezing our icecaps. The science of magick can dig us out of the hole we have made. Magick is on its way back, new and improved, post-scientific, post-modern, post-punk, and just in the nick of time.
So what are we waiting for?
. . . the bleedin’ Messiah?
©2010 by The Reverend Nemu.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
It’s late, I’m tired, and my body is creaking from the day’s work. I sit down on the edge of my bed, stretch and feel my back crack. I look up and there is a see-through old man, standing, with tears in his eyes. He wears a button up white shirt, black pants, and his face is crinkled with age lines. He asks “Can you help me?” I want to sleep, but I stay awake, listening to him as he describes a long, hard life with kids who all but abandoned him when he was on his deathbed.
Spirits aren’t always on our time schedule. Sometimes they come to us when we least want to see them. Other times, they make come when we need them, but we refuse to recognize it. And yet some others may simply come to people because they are bored and are looking for company. Too many people react to the latter two kinds of spirits negatively, without analyzing what is going on and what may have prompted a visit. It is like me coming to your house and asking for a cup of sugar, only to be screamed at and bounced out.
I propose that we treat spirits, human or not, more humanely. Have a weird, eerie spirit that lurks around your closet? Maybe it likes the energies you put there, like my books and mementos. Maybe it wants you to notice something about yourself, your surroundings or your life. More than likely, in my experience, it wants you to notice it.
Here we can find several questions: What kinds of spirits come to call? What should we do when they come to call? How will I know if I am dealing with a spirit or something else? If I don’t want spirits in my place, what should I do?
To answer any of these will require you to have an open mind about the existence of spirits, whether earthbound former humans, elementals, or just that eerie sense of a presence. If you simply can’t believe in spirits, it’s likely that most will leave you alone. If you’ve closed yourself off to them, your energies will tend to be inaccessible, and there’s not much in you to attract them. While there are exceptions, you generally have to be open to a visit to receive one.
For those whose spiritual, religious, or metaphysical outlook can include spirits, your experiences reflect how you view the spiritual world itself. If you think that most spirits are out to get you, then that is in no small part what you will attract, or at least see everywhere you look. If all you are looking for is an external enemy, someone to blame for your problems, or a fight to be had, that is all you’ll find, because you’ve narrowed your focus and energies to accept only these into your life.
If you are to more than simply throwing spirits off your spiritual front porch, I would recommend a more balanced approach, one which engages the spirits around you. There is a knowing that you have boundaries which are not to be crossed, but still allowing them to be crossed when you know a spirit is not intending ill will to you or loved ones. There is also temperance in the treatment of the spirits that you allow across that boundary, knowing that one experience with a certain kind of spirit may not translate to another. Just as humans are individuals so, too, I have found, are spirits.
What kinds of spirits come to call? Depending on you and your personality, as well as that of the spirits, a wide range may come. I’ll give some basic archetypal names, definitions, and examples that I have experienced to help give common ground.
- Earthbound Spirits
Definition: Spirits that once had a living body on Earth. Ghosts, specters, and many haunting human spirits are attributed as Earthbound Spirits, but they may also be animals and plants that once inhabited a space. Their “age” can range from the recently deceased to the ancient dead.
Example: An old man who had died recently came to me just as I was about to lie down, wanting to tell me about his life. He was “passing through” and stopped by to pay me a visit. He scared the hell out of me; I almost threw him out of my place because he didn’t know to “knock” on my boundaries (more on this later).
- Ancestor Spirits
Definition: Spirits that are related to a living person by blood, familial, or metaphysical ties. These spirits tend toward guiding, guardianship, or simply part and parcel of being part of a family. Experiencing ancestor spirits tends to depend upon one’s view of blood relations, family, and whether metaphysical ritual do or do not place one into a lineage or spiritual family.
Example: I have blood relatives that contact me, especially my sister who passed on before I was born. She does not guide me or guard me in any overt way, but we speak on occasion.
- Elemental Spirits
Definition: Spirits that are tied to the elements, such as gnomes (earth), sylphs (air), salamanders (fire), and undines (water). I know that some look on these aforementioned archetypal spirits as faeries, but I differentiate the fae from these, the former being a kind of spirit all unto Itself.
Example: The woods near my home have several spirits of earth that reside there, both in the ground and trees. Some prefer to be called tree spirits, noting that while they may rooted in the same element as earth spirits, dirt is not a tree and vice versa. These tend to be communicative when I am quiet or dead silent, and I “listen” with intent.
- Spirits of Place
Definition: Spirits that are the overarching spirit of a place, a being composed of the various energies of an area. Spirits of Place can be a grove of trees as much as they can be an entire city. City blocks, even if the city has an overarching Spirit, may have its own Spirit of Place. Similarly, it can be seen how neighbors contribute to the spirit of a neighborhood, whether by their attitudes, how they treat their homes, how safe people feel there. Like with an environment, even the decor of the place can influence how the spirit of the area is formed, or what parts of a spirit of place people interact with.
Example: The spirit of my nearby grove of trees is peaceful overall, concerned with keeping its area clean and growing. The spirit of my town is concerned with a growing drug problem, its streets having more homeless on it, and its degrading streets and sidewalks because of reduced work on them. The former is part of the latter, but is autonomous, existing within the energy pattern that forms the spirit of my town.
- Spirits of Purpose
Definition: A spirit that exists to perform a specific function, such as protection, guidance, etc. These spirits can be sent from a God/dess, be part of another spirit.
Example: As an example, spirit purely of growth exists to make things grow for good or ill, whether it is a tumor or a patch of grass. Another example would be a spirit of blight, who feeds on and seeks to expand it within its area.
- Constructed Spirits
Definition: Spirits who are specifically constructed by magical practitioners. These tend to have specific functions, but there have been efforts made to create whole spirits who have personalities and motives all their own.
Example: I have created a spirit to protect my car and its occupants from harm, fashioning them out of my own energy. A great example of creating a spirit was carried out by the Toronto Society for the Paranormal (TSPR), “The idea was to assemble a group of people who would make up a completely fictional character and then, through seances, see if they could contact him and receive messages and other physical phenomena — perhaps even an apparition. The results of the experiment — which were fully documented on film and audiotape — are astonishing.”1
- Totemic Spirits
Definition: Spirits that are the overarching spirit of an animal or entity that is revealed to a person. It can be representative of the qualities humans see in the being, or may inherently possess the qualities dependent on the spirit and human involved.
Example: A totemic spirit of the Dung Beetle came to me a few months ago in a meditation and has worked with me on rolling the “poop” in my life up and making use of it. In this role, it guides me and helps me out, and I honor it by giving offerings and listening to his wide range of bad poop jokes.
- Spirit Companions
Definition: A spirit that develops a deep connection to a human by intent of the human or spirit. It does not necessarily mean a romantic connection; it can also be a friendly or specific purpose-driven connection.
Example: Calling up a spirit, befriending it, and no longer calling upon it. Being able to call to it and speak with it, and vice versa, and letting it go when it wishes.
- Deity Spirits
Definition: A spirit sent by or representing a Deity.
Example: This could be something like a fae messenger from the Tuatha De Danaan. Alternatively, it could be something like the Metatron or Hunin and Munin from Norse mythologies, who are the spirits of Forethought and Afterthought that sit upon the shoulders of Odin.
So now that we have some definitions to work with, what do you do once you and a spirit meet? Well, be cautious unless you absolutely know the spirit and where it comes from. Essentially, treat it like any other stranger you would. Ideally, with respect, caution, and a give-and-take conversation until you know each other better. But how would you even talk with a spirit?
To start spirit communication, you should be able to do a few things first:
- Be able to ground your subtle energy, center it and your focus, and direct your subtle energies reliably.
- Be able to mark out spiritual space for yourself, such as casting a magick circle, or creating an astral temple.
- Having some method by which you can interpret abstract input / stimuli or input / stimuli from outside yourself; not everyone uses vision for this, though this method dominates most books. Some people “hear” the spirit world, whereas some may “feel” it. I use quotes because many rationalize or have translation from their subtle body/astral body into physical sensation so they can process what occurs in the spirit world. It differentiates from physically seeing an object in the spirit, to spiritually “seeing” it.
- Have a person or people with which to share the experience. Sometimes the best thing to have is a sounding board for your experiences. They can not only keep you grounded, but if you are stuck, can suggest ways of working with your circumstances, and help find solutions to problems you may have down the road.
- Be willing and able to set boundaries. Spirits should not feel they can wake you at all hours of the night, nor should you feel obligated to let them. You should also know when not to communicate with the spirit realm, and when too much is too much.
With that out of the way, what about some actual methods for spirit communication?
- Communication on the astral plane. If you know how to do this, you can project yourself into a protected neutral space and carry on a conversation. For tips on how to do this in depth, I would recommend picking up a guide such as Ted Andrews’ How to Meet and Work With Spirit Guides, or Christopher Penczak’s Spirit Allies: Meet Your Team from the Other Side.
- Communication by talking board. One of the most maligned ways of communicating with spirits, but in my opinion, in can be one of the most effective if you use it right. Using it wrong is calling out to any spirit with no protective magick circle or knowledge of how to clear out entities from a working space, and accepting whatever the spirit says to you, with this or any other method, as gospel. Using it right would be spiritually cleansing the area where you will use the board, casting a magick circle for protection and guarding you in the circle, and having items for a quick clearing spell for the circle on hand.
- Communication by fire, smoke, water, or similar means. Perhaps more abstract than the previous two, I have found this method works best when you elementally align it with the spirit in question. This is because, in my experience, beings like elemental spirits might be more apt to respond via a physical representation of their element. Simply lighting a candle and gazing into it may draw out imagery that you can interpret for yourself as to the intent of the spirit.
- Communicate via a medium. Someone who can help interpret the spirit world can be a great aid, or a great detriment. Open and honest communication (i.e. you respecting their boundaries, they not sugar-coating messages) can empower a great working relationship that can deepen both parties’ spirituality and depth of experience.
- Communication by manifestation. This may sound odd at first, but think of it like this: you want proof the spirit you think is reaching out for you is real. To prove to you that something is trying to communicate, you ask the spirit to give you signs and coincidences that speak to you that others may not catch. Although this takes a bit of open-mindedness and practice, the results can be very interesting. I will caution that this way is probably the hardest and has the slowest way of bringing out results from working with or communicating with a spirit. However, when deity spirits have gotten in contact with me with this method, the messages have been unmistakable and direct, placed in such a way that I know for me that it is not my subconscious.
There are far more means of contacting spirits than I have listed here. Almost every culture has had some way of speaking with the dead and other spirits; even Catholicism appeals to saints for a wide variety of reasons, from protection to selling your home.
The greatest challenge you may have once you open this door is learning to close it. So long as you have established boundaries, such as making sure spirits know what times are off limits, and keep to them, most spirits should leave you alone as you ask. Let’s say for the sake of argument that a spirit won’t stop coming around at bad times for you, or is trying to intimidate or control you; what do you do?
Take a passage from Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Don’t panic.” The worst thing you can do is feed into the spirit’s ego, or empower it by giving it your energy by freaking out. There are some tried and true methods I have used to make spirits leave if they will not do so of their own volition.
- Rebuke them. That’s right; the power of Me compels you. Or the power of your God/dess, your dishsoap . . . anything that gives you the feeling of power and control of the situation. Using an empowered object by your Will, magick, what have you, and projecting energies that assert your authority, in my experience, are highly effective. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Whatever you do, it just needs to either remind the spirit (or yourself) that you are in control of your body / place / etc., and / or that it has no power over you. The rebuking itself can be as strict as a demand followed by a spiritual boot to the ass to leave, to a simple “No, this is my space.”
- Calling on deity / spirits / etc. Don’t be afraid to call in family, friends, and / or allies to deal with a spirit that refuses to respect you and your space. From something as simple as wearing a grounding stone to bed or placing it beneath your pillow, to fashioning an egregores to take your “calls,” you have a wider range of options with help. It is not weak to ask for it, and it is not weak to say “I can do this much, and no more.” In fact, that is oftentimes harder, and better for all involved.
- Using a sigil. Sigils are shortcuts, graphics that can be word amalgamations, random scribbles, or made from a standard sigil creator. It can give you a direct line to the spirit involved, especially if a spirit “gives” it to you in telepathic communication or automatic writing. A sigil can empower your Will against or with the spirit it is of, or aligning your energies much more naturally with it because you are engaged with its symbol. This works like a sympathetic link, much like having someone’s hair, or an image of a person, one more way of energetically connecting to a person or thing. I have found the Rosy Cross of the Rosicrucians to be an effective method for making sigils, as I have combining letters into a graphic. For instance, TBL for Table, as shown here:
- Cleansing. From a shower to a full-on ritual with a censer and aspergillium, the rite is to cleanse a place or person of spiritual ties or excess spiritual energies. A shower can double as a cleansing area, whether you perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram in it or visualize the excess energies dripping off of your body as you clean yourself. The specifics of it are up to you; if you want to rectify or keep the relationship with the spirit, don’t cut off all ties with the cleansing, but target the rite to help cleanse the relationship itself. Again, using the shower method, you can visualize your connections as colored cords connecting you to the spirit, washed clean but not washed away. If you plan on having a long-term relationship with a spirit, this may simply be good spiritual hygiene on your part.
- Putting up “walls” / empowering your “shields.” Putting up shields is projecting protective energy to make a barrier, preventing contact you do not wish to have, and accepting that which you do. I tend to meditate every day on my shields, through visualization, meditation and other practices layering them up or performing upkeep so they continue to work the way I want them to. Putting up walls is intentionally arranging heavy amounts of your energies, and / or energy body, to block reception and oftentimes the giving off of certain energies. For instance, if you do not want any kind of spirit communication from the outside world, putting up walls (again, through visualization and the like) will block any and all spirits from contacting you. Think about this: you are effectively cutting yourself off from a form of communication. Before putting up walls, weigh the pros and cons. What are you cutting yourself off from? What are you allowing in? What are you keeping in with your walls?
Should you decide to communicate with spirits, your own experiences will tell you best how to do so. This text is just a beginning primer to get your ideas flowing, to ease you into spirit communication, and give you some solid ground to lift off.
- Wagner, Stephen. “How to Create a Ghost”
©2010 by Sarenth.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
on an Easter long ago
the Dark Night of the Soul
the self crucified on the cross of Ego
“Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?”
It is Finished!
the stone, Restriction,
rolled away by Will
light beamed forth
it was I who arose
bearing the Light
no grace, no guilt,
no sin, no god in sight
stepping forth into the Day
created by the spark within
shedding rays of Light, Life, Love and Liberty
©2010 by Shawn Gray.
Sexuality, while it should be a topic of freer thinking in the pagan community, is still viewed with great suspicion in many of our circles, covens, and pagan philosophies. In fact, it has become a very sensitive topic, bringing out suspicion, fear and misinformation, which we would normally discover in the world of our evangelical Christian counterparts. I for one, being a former evangelical seminarian, and well versed in their philosophy, have come to see many pagans as harboring the same misconceptions. And those who have published anything on the subject are seen by some as strange or otherwise abnormal. In my opinion, there are several reasons for this phenomenon.
Many pagans come from abusive, strict, religious upbringings, where the ideas of sexual expression were literally in the vise of fear based teachings. Being a child of the Catholic Church, my peers and I were deeply indoctrinated — anything sexual was purely for the bonds of marriage, and primarily for procreative purposes. The topics of pleasurable sex, masturbation, desire, and normal biological functions were taught as “sinful,” dirty, and repulsive. Many parents, ingrained in these ridiculous doctrines, passed on the teachings to their children as universal truths to be obeyed at any cost, whether that cost be physical or emotional. What is really amusing to me is that in the Bible itself, there’s a book named “Songs of Solomon,” that is filled with sexual references. However, I never received one iota of teaching in seminary school from this book. In fact, I never heard one speech, lesson, or sermon on this book.
If you expressed sexual desires that were biologically normal and functional, you were told this was bad in the eyes of God” and that it would lead down the road to damnation. This just furthers the damage in a child and in many adults in the religious world, who, instead of doing their own independent research, are instructed to simply, “trust and obey.” One is never to think, and then decide if one should obey. Sadly, the Christian world, even in this calendar 21st century, continues to espouse these spiritually and sexually damaging teachings.
As pagans, we are supposed to be on a higher plane, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Remember why you became a pagan? Was it not because you experienced the spiritually deadening effects of the fundamentalist realm? Would you as a pagan still carry and pass along that emotional baggage to your children? Did you not discover a newness of spirit and emotional freedom in being pagan? No matter what your tradition, why would anyone allow themselves to be bound in the past?
As a person of color, I am often asked whether it matters about my “alternative” view of spirituality, and my personal practices. This is a question that seems to bother a lot of people, especially those reared in very structured backgrounds. I ask them this question. Was there a law written somewhere, that because you were raised a certain direction, that you have no power to change your spiritual path? None have ever answered in the affirmative. Yet too many people, because of birth culture and customs, simply refuse to change, or to even explore the possibility of different paths.
Some are afraid that if they do make a conscious change, there will be ethereal after effects, such as their “soul” going to hell. This has been deeply ingrained in most people I encounter, especially those whose background was of a very strictly enforced religious nature. When I was an evangelical, there were numerous episodes of hearing ministers strenuously warning people against exploring other spiritual paths. Their way was the “only true way” to whatever God they worshiped. To do otherwise was to endanger your afterlife. For many years, I sort of believed this, although there were many lingering doubts. I could not fathom in my mind and heart any loving Deity that would throw someone into a burning, boiling, hellish atmosphere, simply because they were of another faith. What if such a person died without ever hearing about my religion? Are they going to hell? What about deeply spiritual people such as Gandhi, Hindu by faith, who lived a great life. Is he in hell now? The rules seemed impossible, narrow-minded, and bigoted.
Spirituality and birth culture do have many common roots, especially when you delve into the issues of ancient history, tribal customs, and sectarian beliefs and practices — you can understand why people adhered to their particular spiritual or religious practices. Some tribal cultures were not as educated as we are, and certainly did not have the diversity of ideas that we enjoy. And yet even in these so called “modern times,” there are still those who live under this type of emotional and spiritual bondage, along with others who are imposing the so called “rules.”
People have an inborn nature of exploration, seeking new ideas that lead to more innovative thinking. If not, the computer I write this on would probably never have existed. We would still be lighting our homes with candles, and cooking with fires and cauldrons. The old superstitions of life would still apply in everything. People such as Galileo, Copernicus, Marco Polo, Isaac Newton and others would have never made their wondrous discoveries. Think about a world where Leonardo DaVinci did not invent or create. And yet, even today we still have many people following as sheep, rather than striking out and discovering their true spiritual identity. Fear of the unknown, potential loss, and admonitions from rather turgid doctrines are the elements of blame here. True spirituality is where you have balance and harmony. It comes when you have a newness of life and spirit, not ignorance and fear or preconceived notions of the world and people around you who are “different.” It accepts all as true spiritual beings who harbor hopes and dreams and are unique in their individual natures. There are still too many people bound by the traditions of parents, birth cultures and upbringing. When they finally break free, then the truth of spirituality will enliven their hearts, and spirits. Their minds will be open to new and wondrously creative concepts.
Ancient pagans did not view sexuality for the sole purpose of having children. They understood the joys, ecstasies, and pleasures of sexuality. For many paths, sex is considered the “Divine Union” of the goddesses and gods. For example, look to the works of the Kama Sutra. Filled with sexual positions, there is the deep belief that the Indian deities engaged in sexual dalliances, doing so with joy and enthusiasm. Even in pre-Christian parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa, one will discover many examples of various deities having sexual exchange. If you are willing to do the research, these ideals will become clear as crystal.
Sacred sexuality has a rich history. In the pre-Christian era of the Roman and Greek empires, two gods and several goddesses are noted for sexually attuned festivals, and practiced open sexuality in many rituals, temple practices and in certain cycles of the seasons. Bacchus and Dionysus were among the gods who notably embraced sexuality. Celtic deities too numerous to list had rituals that were intermingled with sexual activity. Certain sabbats and esbats are sexually attuned with nature. Sexuality is not just a physical expression. It is a mixture of physical, emotional, and spiritual investment that, when mixed with an atmosphere of love, reverence, and mutual honor, reaps joyful and boundless rewards.
We are born as sexual beings. From birth. sex is very much a component of our linear existence, in both spiritual and physical terms. To deny, hide or misinform ourselves or others shows a highly abnormal attitude concerning that which is perfectly natural, as well as nurturing. The pagan community needs to examine itself as a whole and come to grips with this issue. Sexual freedom is a part of our very being.
Does this mean that we should not be sexually responsible? Should we just have “free for all sex” just because we are pagan? Of course not. As with anything, there are responsibilities. Sacred sexuality should never be treated as a libido driven hippie fest. Unfortunately, there are those who do so, making otherwise responsible and respectable pagans who explore this issue appear as “perverts” or “bent abnormally.” Sexuality should be joyful, and a free expressions of your pagan personality. It does represent the “Divine Union.” Each person should honor their sexual partner as Goddess or God, according to their gender.
Even in a circle or Coven, rituals of sacred sexuality should be carefully scripted, composed with the sacred being the highest goal, and all activity should be safe, sane and consensual. Consider those words as a Wiccan would the Rede, or the Law of Return. Even spiritual tools, such as crystals, runes, tarot, and pendulum are useful in the discovery of sexual wisdom. Unlocking the mysteries of love, romance, intimacy, sexual desires, and partnership will elevate your spirituality, I encourage us all to explore our pagan sexual natures.
©2010 by Mel Fleming II.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Bio; Rev. Mel J. Fleming II is organizer of the Circle of the Pheonyx Sacred sexuality groups. He is an eclectic pagan of 15 years, having completed courses in human relations, human sexuality, marriage and family, counseling, abnormal psychology, comparative religions. He is ordained by the Universal Life church, with a Masters in philosophy, just having obtained his Ph.d. He is the author of the newly published book The Tarot, and the Mysteries of Love and Sex, along with Ms. Cynthia Joyce Clay of Oestara Publishing.
Not long ago I had the chance to participate in my first sweat lodge. I thought it might be useful to set down my impressions of the experience, for others who have never undergone it but who are curious as to what is involved, or may be thinking about undertaking the ordeal for themselves.
The sweat lodge is an ancient part of shamanism that is widespread around the world in various forms. It was the ritualized spiritual custom for many of the native peoples of North America. A modern secular derivative of the practice is the Scandinavian sauna. In the sweat lodge the body is subjected to prolonged exposure to high-temperature steam. This causes abundant perspiration, hence the name.
The lodge in which I participated was overseen by a group of shamans in my part of Eastern Canada, among them some of the Mi’kmaq tribe, which is the Indian tribe native to the province of Nova Scotia, and to other areas of the north-eastern part of North America, such as New Brunswick and northern Maine.
Prior to undergoing the sweat lodge, I had no first-hand knowledge of what it would involve, and did not know what to bring with me. I wondered if I would have to be naked in the lodge during the ceremony. Not to worry, everyone wore clothing of some sort. I was told that an old pair of jeans would be fine, but that I should bring along a change of clothing, since whatever I wore during the ceremony would get wringing wet. I wondered if I should wear shorts instead of long pants but was told by one of the people who planned to participate that, no, jeans would be fine. Mistake — but not a fatal one. Shorts are the clothing of choice for the sweat lodge.
The men generally wear loose shorts, and undergo the experience naked from the waist up. The women wear loose dresses or light tops, and skirts or shorts. In the sweat lodge ceremony I attended, the women were not naked from the waist up, which hardly seemed fair to me. Why should the men get to strip off their tops, but not the women? None the less, that’s the way it was. There is a general custom of modesty in the sweat lodges that are held across North America. However, everyone goes barefoot inside the lodge. No exceptions to this rule.
We were asked to arrive at the sweat lodge an hour before the beginning of the ceremony, which took place in a small clearing in a wooded valley at the end of a long private road, far from any human habitation. The result was complete privacy for the ceremony. Two lodges were being run simultaneously — one for men only in the smaller of the two sweat lodges, and another larger mixed group of men and woman in the bigger lodge. The men’s group consisted of about half a dozen men and the shaman who led the ceremony. I attended the mixed group, which had around eighteen or so participants, plus the person leading the ritual activities.
When I got to the clearing, a huge bonfire was blazing over a pile of stones. It was a nice, mild pre-spring day in Nova Scotia. Most of the snow was gone from the open patches of ground but the winter-browned grass and the sod were still frozen solid. The breeze was fitful and tossed the rising smoke of the fire in all directions, so that it was impossible to avoid it no matter where I stood or sat. Benches had been arranged around the fire, but the smoke was so capricious, no one could use them. We stood around talking while the stones got hot.
One of the organizers of the sweat lodge took me aside and gave me the low-down on what was expected. She told me that I would have to take off my boots and socks to enter the lodge, that it was necessary to crawl through the door and that I should not stand up while inside the lodge. All movement in the circular lodge was sunwise around the central fire pit. She warned that I should take off any jewellery as people had sometimes found that wearing jewellery during a lodge could result in burns on the skin when the metal of the jewellery became hot. She also told me to remove my contact lenses.
The larger lodge was a round, hut-shaped structure about twelve feet across and six feet or so tall. It was made of a frame of slender poles bent together, and was covered in fabric similar to blanket material. It had no windows of any kind, and a single door in the north side facing the fire, so low that it could only be entered by getting on hands and knees. This doorway was closed by a flap of fabric. Inside, the floor was bare turf. I noticed a small vent at the very top of the hemispherical lodge, which I presumed was there for ventilation, to prevent us all from suffocating.
I have to admit, after the recent disaster in the autumn of 2009 concerning a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona, in which three participants were killed and 21 others sickened, being able to get enough fresh air was a concern in my mind. I was glad to see this vent, small though it seemed to be. It was baffled to prevent the entry of any light.
In the center of the floor there was a circular pit around three feet in diameter and about a foot deep. I knew in a vague sort of way what the pit was for, but did not have a clear idea of how it would work during the ceremony itself.
All these features of the inside of the sweat lodge I learned only when I crawled inside for the first time. Before that happened, we performed a brief ceremony while standing in a circle around the bonfire. Each of the six directions of space, and the center, was acknowledged successively in prayer. This was done in an interesting way. Volunteers were asked to speak for the directions. Those who volunteered did not recite a prepared script, but spoke spontaneously from their hearts as the impulse arose within them at that moment. This resulted in uneven prayers, some better than others, but it had a spontaneity that I liked.
When we addressed the east, we all turned to face the east; when we addressed the west, we turned to the west. When we gave thanks and acknowledgment to the earth, the downward direction, many of those present knelt and touched the ground, although this must have been voluntary since many remained standing. I chose to crouch as a mark of respect.
A little mix-up occurred in the sequence of prayers. It was supposed to be the gods of the center that were acknowledged last, but the person speaking for the center jumped in too early, and we ended up praying to the sky last. The leader of the ceremony joked that she was sure the gods would understand, and would not be angry.
Inside the Lodge
We all took off our shoes, lined up on the frozen grass, and crawled into the sweat lodge. The men took up positions on the right side, and the women on the left side, from the viewpoint of the door facing inward. There was enough space to crawl around the lodge sunwise between the seated participants, who had their backs to the wall of the lodge, and the central fire pit.
It was pretty cramped in there, and uncomfortable. The ground was cold and hard, and more than a little damp. The wall of the lodge was uneven. I found that I could not lean back against it without having a ridge of wood dig into my spine. There was very little room to put our legs. I tried sitting cross-legged for a while, but in the end extended my feet toward the fire pit. That seemed the most comfortable position. Nobody wanted to press against those beside them, so everyone was trying to avoid contact by scrunching up, but there was so little room in the lodge, contact was unavoidable. This may have been deliberate on the part of the leaders of the lodge. We were told that the sweat lodge is an ordeal, and that it is supposed to be uncomfortable.
It was time for more warnings. If anyone could not stand the heat a moment longer, they were to call out in a loud voice “open the door! open the door!” which was the signal for the door to be opened. It would have to be called out loudly because there was going to be a lot of noise during the ceremony. Anyone who could not take the heat would be allowed to leave the lodge, but we were all asked not to give in to the heat unless we absolutely thought we were about to die, because it was very disruptive to have to open the door in the middle of the ceremony. We were also cautioned not to crawl into the fire pit in the darkness of the lodge by mistake, because the stones in the pit would be very hot. Well, duh.
I sat there a little nervously, trying to adjust my legs to a comfortable position, but found that there was no comfortable position. I tried to keep the sharp edge of wood on the side of the lodge from digging into my back, but every time my shoulders slumped, there it was again. Even so, I was glad I was sitting on the outside rim of the lodge — some people were sitting in a second circular row in front of me close to the fire pit. I was glad for the coolness of the side of the lodge at my back, and for the coolness of the earth under me. I wondered if I would be the first one to crack from the heat and call out “open the door!” That would be embarrassing.
I wore a T-shirt and jeans. Most other men were naked to the waist and wore shorts. I wondered if my extra clothing would make the ordeal more difficult for me. The person beside me told me that I could strip down to my underwear – nobody would mind – but I kept my clothes on. I wondered if the wedding ring on my finger would burn my skin, or if my metal belt buckle would burn through my jeans. We had been told to drink plenty of water, but I had only swallowed a single mouthful.
Part of the spiritual energy stimulated during a sweat lodge comes from this uncertainty as to what is going to take place. It is strongest the first time, when the person undergoing the lodge ceremony has no idea of what is about to happen. I was primed for a peak spiritual experience. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to come out of the lodge alive.
How the Sweat Lodge Works
The way a sweat lodge works is this — stones from the fire that are called “stone people” are carried into the lodge and placed one by one into the fire pit in the center of the floor. About eight stones are used, and each is around ten to twenty pounds in weight. They are so hot from the bonfire, that when they enter the dimness of the lodge, they glow red in their centers, and you can feel the heat radiating from them even from a long distance.
Since I’d never undergone a sweat lodge before, I had assumed that the heat came from the rocks directly, by radiation. Not so. The heat is in the form of steam, which is generated by pouring water from a bucket over the hot rocks using a ladle. The rocks are so hot, that when the water touches them it is instantly converted to steam. I was afraid the boiling water might splash over my feet, which were close to the pit, so I covered them with a towel, but I did not need to worry. The rocks are so hot, the water does not boil or splash, it is all turned to steam instantly. The water comes from a large bucket that holds around four gallons, which is set beside the fire pit next to the person in charge of the ritual. That person controls the steam.
There are three levels of heat in a sweat lodge, as I soon learned. There is the first level, when a stone is being lifted through the open door on the tines of a pitchfork to the warning call of “rock!” and then blessed with a scattering of herbs, which burst into little sparks of fire and smoke the instant they touch its glowing surface. All the rocks together radiate a large amount of heat that can be felt on the face and skin like the heat from a blazing fireplace.
The second level of heat is when the first ladle of water is poured over the rocks in the pit, and a cloud of white steam rushes upward with a great hiss like that of a giant serpent. It is many times hotter than the heat from the rocks alone. The steam rises upward to the roof of the lodge, and then rolls around and down the sides in a moving curtain, so that it first touches the participants on the head and the back of the neck. It is easy to feel on the exposed tips of the ears.
The final and most intense level of heat is when the door flap is sealed tightly so that no trace of light or air can enter, and the inside of the lodge is plunged into absolute darkness. The ventilation from the open door prevents the full effects of the steam from being felt, but when the door flap is shut, there is nothing to cool the inside of the lodge. The level of heat is magnified several times over. It is most intense a few seconds after the water is applied to the rocks, when the curtain of steam has had time to fly up to the roof and roll its way down the walls.
Each ordeal lasts as long as the water in the bucket. The faster the water is applied to the rocks, the hotter it gets. I half-expected the rocks to explode and scatter hot fragments over all of those sitting around the pit when they were hit with splashes of icy water, but was told that the rocks were basalt and very old, excellent for holding the heat without breaking down. And indeed, none of the rocks cracked.
We did not just sit there in the dark and suffer the heat. All the while the door was shut and the water was being applied to the rocks, the air was filled with the sound of a rattle being shaken and often with the rhythmic pounding of a flat shamanic drum. The leaders of the lodge chanted and sang songs, some with words that were recognizable, and others native songs that seemed to have no words, or only a few words repeated over and over. Everyone was encouraged to join in. Many people began their own chants and songs when the initial song was dying down, so that a continuous noise of singing and chanting was achieved. In part, I think this chanting was designed to distract the mind away from the ordeal of the heat, but in part it was an invocation to the spirits of nature that were being honoured by the ceremony.
We did four sessions in the lodge that afternoon — by that I mean four times when the door was sealed shut and the bucket of water ladled over the hot rocks. New rocks were placed into the pit for each session, so that they would be hot enough to turn the water to instant steam. The first session was devoted to honouring the Mother Earth and women’s mysteries. The last was free-form, during which we were invited to pray and speak as the impulse arose within us. Each session lasted around half an hour, and we opened the flap of the lodge and exited to cool off between sessions, and to drink water.
In the middle of the second session, the leader threw ladles full of icy water over the people inside the lodge. I think it was designed to shock us into a more intense self-awareness of the time and place. We didn’t know it was coming because of the pitch darkness. The first ladle-full caught me square in the face. It was quite a surprise. I suspect the leader of the session aimed it at me, because the experience was completely new to me, and I would have no idea it was coming, but how he managed to hit my face so accurately with the first shot in total darkness, I don’t know.
During the hottest part of the sweat lodge experience, it is difficult to breath easily. The steam is so hot and dense that it burns the insides of your nose, and if you try to breathe through your mouth, it burns your lips and tongue. We were told to breath through out bared teeth at those times. I found that this did not help much. It made my teeth too hot. The best approach, for me, was to breath very, very shallowly through the nose, and very slowly so that the steam was drawn in gradually, not fast enough to burn. The steam in the air can become quite dense. When the door-flap is first opened after a session, admitting light, the steam is so thick in the air inside the lodge that you can barely see across to the other side.
Needless to say, I got soaked to the skin at each session. Standing outside in front of the smoking bonfire served to half dry me off, but I was never completely dry before we crawled in for the next session. My bare feet on the frozen ground had the hardest time. They became numb but I was able to warm them by holding them up close to the bonfire, and that prevented them from being frozen too badly.
I learned that many of my fears had been groundless. My wedding ring did not burn my skin. Maybe this was because I took care to shield my ring from the direct contact of the new steam as it rolled around the lodge. I could probably have worn my contact lenses, because I kept my eyes closed most of the time inside the lodge. Since the darkness was total, there was not much point in keeping them open.
The herbs that were mixed with the water poured over the stones left a curious taste at the back of my throat for a time, but no ill effects. Apparently, it is possible to modify the effects of the steam by putting various herbs in the water. Each shaman has his or her own recipes of herbs to use with the water.
The Peace Pipe
After the four sessions in the lodge, participants were invited to sit around the fire pit inside the lodge with the door-flap left open, and share a peace pipe. Many chose not to do so, including myself, because they did not smoke and did not wish to expose their lungs to tobacco smoke, and this was fine with the leaders of the lodge. No aspersions were cast on those who stayed outside during the pipe ceremony.
The general mood inside the sweat lodge throughout all four sessions was one of joyful exuberance. Everyone was encouraged to sing, chant, and release their emotions, and everyone seemed to do just that. There was nothing heavy or forbidding in the ceremonies — it was all child-like happiness that comes from living in the moment. Prayers were given, spirits were seen by many of those who participated, and prayers were answered. A good time truly was had by all.
©2010 by Donald Tyson.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.