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.
Mystery of mystery
White light within the Flame
The Hidden Fire
Is the Heart of Nature.
The brilliant Light
Erupts from Yoni
In the scream-cry-chant of Birthing
Cosmic, Whole, All Embracing
Light beyond all lights
Body of Flaming Sun
Of crystalline brilliance of full glowing moon
All rays of Star-Light
The Flame of the World
The Flame of the Altar
The Flame that is the blazing aura
Of a Stalk of Wheat
A Branch of Offering
The Tree of Life;
The shimmering Light that is HER
Is scattered as an ever out-rippling cascade of Stars
Shining forth from Her Heart,
Creating the Stars- the Sun and Moon
And the glimmering life in Every Living Thing .
Mystery of Mystery
Reflected in a million smiles, a million lives,
A million Minds- One Mind
Into awe and love that is endless and deep.
Hekas, Hekas, Este Bebeloi!!!
A New Life is Born!
I hear music in the chilling winds from the sea.
It is wailing my lonely cry, “Come back to me.”
In loneliness, my heart aches so I want to die.
Winds, blowing over the sea, sing my mournful cry.
Yesterday my darling and I strolled hand in hand
On the shore, barefoot, digging our toes in the sand.
Mist from the sea breeze bathed our tear-stained faces,
As we built air castles of faraway places.
With hearts breaking, we knew our dreams could never be.
No tomorrows together, we would ever see.
Then from me, the Death Angel carried her away.
In memories, I live the dreams of yesterday.
Through the veil of the wind, I see her lovely face.
From the wings of the wind, I feel her warm embrace.
In whispering winds, I hear her calling to me.
The wind echoes my lonely cry, “Come back to me.”
©2009 Tina L. Salley. Originally published in The Poetry of Life:A Treasury of Moments by the American Poetry Association, ©1987 by Juanita McIntyre. Tina L. Salley represents the poetic estate of Mrs. McIntyre. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
As human beings, we necessarily craft metaphysical paradigms which explain our perceptions and direct our actions. Whether we believe in Providence or in Lady Fortune determines whether we acknowledge some propitious turn of events as divine blessing or else merely good luck. Whether we believe in the inherent dignity of human life crucially affects how we approach questions of personal and societal ethics, as does the manner in which we interpret ambiguous terms like “dignity” and “human life.” Inextricably embedded within every bare perception lies the question of interpretation, and our interpretations have for their bedrock our philosophical and magical paradigms.
Oftentimes, human beings simultaneously harbor two or more paradigms which — considered reflectively — prove mutually repugnant. This confused state of affairs can preserve human life and society, as the extreme conclusions of any one paradigm are tempered by rival belief systems, yet such ideological inconsistency can also inflict significant levels of cognitive dissonance and psychological stress upon those who straddle opposing viewpoints over prolonged durations. The Chaos Magicians within our midst might well regard the ability to dance across multiple paradigms as virtue rather than liability, at least when the pragmatic incorporation of any and all viewpoints occurs consciously and reflectively.
Speaking for myself, I am not so sanguine about the postmodern approach which Chaos Magic takes towards reality — I believe against all odds there is an intelligible cosmos which admits human apprehension! — although I think there are lessons to be learned from an introspective consideration of the paradigm or paradigms to which one holds. In this essay, I wish to examine some common interpretations of that most ubiquitous of paranormal phenomena, the ghostly haunting, and specifically what these explanations suggest about the underlying magical paradigms. My aim here does not encompass the proving or disproving of any particular phenomena. I will not explain what ghosts are, or how such ephemeral beings might interact with the realms of the quick, at least in any definitive or authoritative sense. Rather, I wish to think about how we think about ghosts, and then examine what these thought processes say about us. (To any Zen Buddhists out there, you may fairly assume I am traveling in the opposite direction; in fairness, I am doing so reflectively, and since space-time is essentially curved we might safely assume given enough time we shall meet upon the other side.)
The original impetus for this essay began with idle musings around Samhain, when the Mists which apparently divide the material and the astral grow especially thin. While reflecting upon the nature of ghosts, I found myself face to face with a logical conundrum. There are basically two schools of thought concerning the origin of an active, apparently self-aware haunting. The simplest interpretation, by and by, says the haunting wherein the ghost interacts both with environmental changes and with living people represents the human soul of the deceased, still present in some meaningful sense within our pre-afterlife world. When people die, goes this theory, some people get “stuck” — most frequently due to exceptional life circumstances — and cannot move beyond their earthly existence. (Strictly speaking, this explanation does not require belief in some specific afterlife, or even belief in any afterlife, although one seldom holds the belief in ghosts without some concurrent belief in the afterlife.)
There exists a competing explanation for the existence and nature of ghosts, one fairly well documented in the contemporary occult community. By this reasoning, a ghost isn’t the same being as the deceased individual; rather, the deceased leaves behind a mental and emotional imprint which a sympathetic nonhuman spirit then animates. I presume we’re all familiar with this phenomenon on smaller scales; if you’ve ever walked into a room and felt some inexplicable “vibe” — whether good or bad — then you’re at least familiar with the sort of psychic residue I’m describing. Spirits tend to manifest where this psychic imprint aligns with their own natures and aims. When the deceased leaves behind some especially potent psychic imprint, or when such an imprint is fueled by the emotional charge of those who mourn the loss, then the Mists grow very thin indeed for those spirits in tune with the mental and emotional state of the deceased. The result? A “ghost” which manifests through the psychic imprint surrounding certain deaths.
This latter theory accords better with my personal sense of things, and especially my belief in reincarnation. (I should also add my definition of sympathetic spirits does not generally include what certain strands of Judeo-Christian thought would regard as demons. While I remain skeptical the ghostly presence watching over little Sally really is Grandpa, I’m reasonably certain the manifestation in question isn’t some machination of Satan. That’s not to say there aren’t dangerous ghosts out there. There are dangerous people across the world, and dangerous people leave behind dangerous imprints, which dangerous spirits then inhabit. Nevertheless, I stand by my conviction most spirits are like most people — basically good at heart, sometimes selfish, essentially looking for love.)
This belief in the “ghost” as spirit-animated imprint points towards the thorny problem of personal identity. If the nonhuman spirit animating the psychic imprint does so self-consciously, then there is little issue here; at this point, the “ghost” becomes the Trickster — epitomized by The Magician within the Tarot — although mayhap one who operates with benevolent ends in mind. Some variations of this theory take one additional step, suggesting the animating spirit may inhabit the psychic imprint so completely the spirit forgets its own identity as an independent being.
Now the issue of personal identity begins to take shape. I inquire of myself, as student of the occult: Who am I? Everyday I wear masks, glamers which I adopt and discard as my circumstances require. Here I am child, and there I am lover. Here I am teacher, and there I am student. These masks develop and evolve as I develop and evolve, although we might push too far, were we to identify me as the mere sum of such mutable projections. I am process, perhaps — a ripple of interconnected events and perceptions fanning out across space-time. And yet what are these events? My intellectual processes? My emotional responses? These are certainly the ephemeral things which leave my mark upon the psychic fabric of the universe, and were some spirit to inhabit my energy signature, the workings of my mind and my heart would be the medium through which such manifestations might happen. The warmth I bring to this room, wherein I gathered many times with family and friends — this emotional energy proves the gateway for spirits of warmth and benevolence. The wrath I displayed in another place — such anguish and terror becomes the gateway for much more malevolent spirits. The kindnesses and cruelties we bring into the physical world inevitably set the stage for the spirits who might follow afterward.
If the nonhuman spirits animating such energetic signatures merely echoed the ambient emotions, then we might have little cause to worry about personal identity; we constantly return the smiles and the scowls of those around us, all without losing any meaningful sense of who we ourselves are. Meaningful empathy towards, and interaction with, those around us normally doesn’t compromise our sense of personal identity, and we have no reason to believe spirits should materially differ from us in this regard. And yet ghosts do more than merely resonate with the ambient psychic energy; they actively mimic certain mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of the living. The question then arises: How deep does the psychic imprint run, and how much could the animating spirit really lose itself within the impression?
If some living human being lost all memory of her own identity, and moreover fully believed herself to be some other individual, we would consider her at the very least deeply delusional. If I develop amnesia, and then believe myself to be Bill Clinton, I would be regarded as lunatic, and mayhap rightfully so. The mere belief — even when passionately held — that I am someone else does not make this belief true in any meaningful sense. And yet what if the psychic imprint which the spirit accesses runs deeper? If I had all the memories, together with the intellectual and emotional responses of Bill Clinton down into the most minute of details, then might I in some meaningful sense be the former United States president? Returning to my own (non-presidential) identity, if my own memories and psychic processes could be uploaded into some simulacrum, would this simulacrum then be me? These are the questions of science fiction, of course, although actual hauntings challenge us philosophically precisely because they represent the possibility of such transference. If the imprint runs deep enough, and if we are equal to our mental and emotional activity, then how can we genuinely separate the nonhuman spirit from the deceased individual? The very hypothesis may fall to its own definitional vagaries.
There is one possible solution, although this approach suffers from its own difficulties. We might choose to define ourselves as something apart from the things which leave our mark upon the psychic backdrop. Mayhap we are something other than our mental and emotional activity. Together with the mind and the heart, we are flesh and we are soul. These latter two constitute our own animating force, the means and the will by which we translate the desires of mind and heart into action. For ghosts, the normal definition of flesh in inapplicable, although such beings generally possess the ability to impose at least limited alterations upon their environments, whether through fluctuations in temperature and electromagnetic fields, or through full-blown telekinetic or ectoplasmic phenomena.
Very few people who believe in ghosts would suggest personal identity remains strictly tied with the physical corpus, since ghosts by their very existence challenge this notion, and yet methinks we hold very solid philosophical grounds to challenge an enduring connection between personal identity and the physical manifestation, since this physical manifestation is liable to constant flux, constantly absorbing and expelling elements without any actual destruction of the underlying identity. We might say the same thing of the mind and the heart, and yet there exists this at least intuitive difference: While the complete transference of the mind and heart into another vessel might stretch our sense of personal identity, we would intuitively recognize the simulacrum receiving the psychic imprint as the original individual, whereas changes to the mind and heart strike into the very core of who we are.
There remains under consideration the personal spark of will, sometimes termed the soul. I remain uncertain whether we can meaningfully separate the will from the remaining aspects of human identity, yet making the endeavor in the abstract, we discover something very much like the physical corpus — an animating force which translates mental and emotional desires into meaningful action across our shared world. We constantly “breathe” the ambient psychic energy; much like the flesh, we observe elements enter into the will, and we observe other elements depart. I am reluctant to give some primacy to our mental and emotional aspects, and yet these seem to define us in ways more enduring than the constant flux of energies which mark the flesh and soul. And again, if the psychic imprint runs deep enough — if this imprint contains something enduring about ourselves, then does our identity change with the animating force? And if we answer this question in the negative, then does our hypothesis merely confirm the ghost is — in some meaningful sense — one and the same with the deceased?
Within this especial moment, I cannot answer these questions. I most certainly cannot unlock such conundrums for you, my dearest readers who have patiently endured unto the end. You may harbor a magical paradigm in which such questions are meaningless. Or the nature of ghosts may raise different questions within your own unique paradigm. I hope my personal reflections here encourage you to reflect upon your beliefs and your paradigms, in order to tease out what naturally follows from the assumptions you might make about your world. As always, I welcome your thoughts upon this most mysterious of subjects.
©2009 by Grey Glamer.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
A while back, I went to see a movie after my piano lesson, mostly on a whim. Feeling virtuous for forgoing the nachos (how can something so nasty be so tempting?), I settled into my seat and after silently judging the previews (“yup,” “cool,” “no way,” “Western civilization has officially collapsed.”), I watched my film.
In it, the two heroes fought, first with each other. Eventually, one of the characters, tamed partially by the love of a woman, joined up with the other hero and together they managed to thwart a mighty foe. One hero offers peace to the foe, and the other objects. The foe rejects the peace offer, and is destroyed.
I’ve seen this movie before. In fact, it’s a pretty old movie — it first played in a Sumerian scribe’s head about a thousand years before the common era, and the earliest written version we have is from the 7th century BCE. In that version, the first hero was Gilgamesh, the second was Enkidu, and the monster they defeat is named Humbaba. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times since, or parts of it. This film is the first time, however, that Enkidu was a Vulcan.
Every movie borrows some plot from some ancient story (although, to be fair, some use more modern myths as well). And you don’t need a degree in literature to recognize it. With or without a literature degree, audiences are rarely surprised by plots. After all, who really thinks that the hero will die before achieving his or her goal? Even the surprises of movies famous for them — The Sixth Sense, The Crying Game — has little to do with the plot. The goals and outcome would remain the same whether the surprise were there or not, although the surprise does complicate them. The simplest plot outline — a hero tries to regain faith in himself after failure; an enemy soldier finds himself struggling with his duty — would remain intact with or without the twist. And everyone watching expects the action to play out in these predictable ways.
We expect our stories to have these mythological structures because we know that all stories are built of the same stuff. The building blocks of stories — I’ll call them “mythemes” — are the fundamental particles of character, personality, motivation, setting, and action. They’re not forces of nature; we learn them as we learn to speak. They’re the parts of our first stories, and more importantly, the parts of our culture’s stories. Each mytheme comes prepackaged with expectations, so that if the author invokes the mytheme of “sea,” we know that we will deal with isolation, travel, and exile. If the author invokes the mytheme of “mountain,” we expect revelation and hardship and struggle for attainment. When the author places a trickster in the story, we know that seemingly random actions will lead to life-changing results. When the author paints a character as a knight, we know that the he or she will fight with his or her superior, feel guilty for neglecting family. In other words, we know what’s coming because we know all these stories in their fragmentary parts already.
The magical bit comes in when we realize that what we call our lives is a movie that we play in our own minds. When we do magic, we are not flinging about energy to push stuff around. We’re redefining the universe in which we find ourselves. Magic is a much more radical practice than most magicians realize: every time we do magic, we destroy the entire universe and remake it in our own image. Of course, no one notices — except that our lives change, and we seem perhaps more fortunate than others.
Whether magician or not, we define events in our lives as mythemes in our personal stories. An argument at work is a rebellion against the king. A missed bus is a disaster on par with Ulysses’ lost ships. Sometimes, this tendency to tell stories about the events in our lives can get us in trouble. Your secretary not collating the report properly can become Brutus stabbing you in the back, if you let yourself imagine that it is. On the other hand, even those who do not know magic benefit from arranging their lives into stories. We can make sense of events by seeing how their mythemes fit together. This story-making can save us cognitive effort. Similarly, although sometimes it is useful to resist story-making, it can also be useful to engage in it more consciously — and this is one definition of magic.
Our magical goals are the mythemes of ancient stories. Love, money, happiness, even self-actualization, are all the goals of particular heroes whose archetypes we can wear like a coat. If we wish to go home but cannot, we are Odysseus. If we wish to shift and react to events with cleverness and skill, we are Taliesin. Imagine, for a moment, that you are heading to work in the morning. How different is the experience of stop and go traffic on the Dan Ryan (or whatever other route you take) if it’s a desert you must cross out of duty, a slow stream carrying you into a mysterious forest, or a mountain you must climb to achieve wisdom? You can manage your mood — and, magically, the result of your work day — merely by telling yourself a different story.
One way of seeing magical ritual is as a deliberate rearrangement of mythemes in order to revise the stories of our lives. In this view of ritual, when we pick up the athame to make a circle, we are Gilgamesh and Romulus and every other warrior who ever defended a wall in battle. Similarly, to pick up a wand is to become, for a moment, the mytheme of Ruler — it’s the scepter of the king, the thunderbolt of Zeus, and the magical rod of Enki all at once. We don’t necessarily think consciously that we become these archetypes, but they’re so ingrained in the way we arrange our experiences in story, that we cannot help invoking these archetypes. And, in fact, we live our lives as archetypes. It’s worthwhile (do I really need to put this in an “exercise” box?) to take a few moments to think and maybe write about which archetypes — what characters — you play in your life. You needn’t worry about giving them the “correct” names, of course; you could even rely on names from contemporary fiction. Are you always Spock at work, logical and rational in a society that reacts precipitously, or are you Scotty, fixing the impossible to fix? If you hate Star Trek, you might prefer to ask yourself if you’re Harry or Hermione, Ulysses or Telemachus, Mr. Darcy or Edward Casaubon, Jane or Mr. Rochester?
I’m not arguing that all magic is just psychology, and the only real effect we have on the world is in our own mind. I think we do affect, first and foremost, the mind — but I think matter is a side-effect of mind. By changing the stories we tell ourselves, we change the world we live in not just in our perceptions (although that’s easiest to notice first), but in the world of matter as well.
The Obligatory How To Bit
First, it’s important to have a conscious, rather than the usual unconscious, vocabulary of mythemes. The best way to achieve this vocabulary is by reading the myths, but of course this raises the questions of what myths. It is important to choose myths whose mythemes resonate in our psyches. For most Americans, no matter their background, these are the myths of Greece, Rome, and Iceland. These are the myths that inform most of our culture. Of course, if you feel like an alien in Western culture and frequently find yourself confused at movies everyone else seems to enjoy, perhaps you have a different vocabulary of mythemes. I find anime confusing, for example, because I don’t know the mythemes. (Why is his nose bleeding? What does that have to do with having a crush on someone?) And I didn’t get Xiu Xiu until one of my Chinese friends explained it to me. You can best start with making your unconscious perceptions of patterns more conscious, but it is also possible to become bilingual in myth. The more fluent we are in myth, the more we can understand not just the stories we tell ourselves, but how those stories fit together.
Mythemes aren’t building blocks that fit together any old way; like words, they have a grammar. They fit together in some ways and not in others. You’re more likely to find a sage on a mountain or in a desert than on the ocean, because the grammar of myth fits some mythemes together than others. The grammar of mythemes already encode the likely conflicts in our desires. For example, if we wish to become wealthy, we need to look at some of the mythemes of wealth. Croesus had great wealth, but his overwhelming pride and failure to attend to wisdom led to the fall of his nation. Midas had great wealth, but nearly died because of it, by turning everything he touched to gold. Clearly, if we wish to be rich, we must be aware that our ambivalence will spring from fear of our own pride and greed. We might be led to think of wealth differently then: rather than an acquisition of items of value — real estate in Croesus’ case and gold in Midas’ — we can begin to see wealth as the wisdom to use resources. Hunting around for a story that we can use, we fall finally on Philemon and Baucis — two poor but pious people who, when visited by Zeus disguised as a stranger, offered him the last of their food and were rewarded for it. Now we have a ritual structure: an offer of generosity as an act of faith.
It helps to study not just the myth, but also theories of myth. Joseph Campbell and Robert Graves aren’t exactly regarded highly by contemporary anthropology, but they go a long way to defining an abstract grammar of myth that is invaluable in the study of magic. Campbell, for example, reduces all myths to one ur-story, which simplifies the process of learning the grammar of myth. Instead of memorizing a lot of Greek names, we can start with a framework and use it to hang the names on later. Similarly, Graves’ work is often an unsung and uncited influence on much contemporary Wiccan theology. A reader needn’t accept their theories in the academic sense to find them useful for magic.
Second, it helps to have a system. A system will take the story and translate it into action. For example, if our myth calls for a journey most of us can’t take off a week and travel on a pilgrimage to Greece. But walking about in a circle — circumambulation — is an accepted symbol in Western magical systems for a journey. Fortunately, several convenient pre-made systems of mythemes already exist. If we must represent a figure of authority, and we use either Wicca or Ceremonial Magic, we can grab our wand, no matter what particular device was used in the original myth. Similarly, perhaps Perseus uses a sword to kill the Gorgon, but we can use our athame as a mythemic equivalent in a ritual to confront our own paralyzing fears.
Incidentally, I’ve had good luck using a system as simple as a tarot deck (and in a pinch, a deck of playing cards). Similarly, some magicians do all their magic using systems like the runes, so that drawing the rune tiwaz invokes the whole of the myth of Tyr, with all the attendant strength, victory, and sacrifice, depending on intent. A magical system needn’t be complex, and in fact, one could take one’s favorite myths and reduce them to symbols to create a own magical alphabet of mythemes.
Third, a ritual requires a structure — one that is not, incidentally, noticeably different from Aristotle’s structure of a story. A ritual has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning, the magician separates himself or herself from the world. Most western magicians do this by drawing a circle around oneself, but even actions such as fasting, changing into robes or special clothing (or going nude), and ritual baths serve to separate the magician from the world. Once separate, the magician is free to refine the story. The ritual’s middle consists of ritual actions, symbolic reproductions of the story the magician wishes to tell. Inspiration, especially verbal, can be taken from the myths themselves, and symbolic action can be quite abstract. No one needs to slay a serpent to reenact the myth of Apollo’s winning of Delphi. Finally, a ritual ends by reintegrating the magician back into the story of the world, usually by reversing the actions that led to the opening, and often by a quotidian act like the eating of food or drink.
Even outside of rituals, having labels for the habitual patterns in which we find ourselves can help us break out of those patterns, which is of course one of the aims of magic. If you find yourself a lonely, antisocial writer, realize that the “lonely” part of writer is part of the writer mytheme, and not necessarily part of the reality you can live. Similarly, if you are a “struggling artist,” an awareness of the stories of our culture helps you to see that “struggling” need not go with “artist,” but usually does because that’s the story we tell.
The stories we tell as a culture, or myths, may therefore master us or be mastered by us. The magician masters myth, chooses the mythemes of his or her life consciously, and lives deliberately. Many other people simply follow the script written for them, for good or ill. Magic can teach us to revise that script, and have a more meaningful life — and perhaps become contemporary Taliesins and Apolloniuses ourselves, founders and characters in a unique life story.
©2009 by Patrick Dunn.
Minor edits by Sheta Kaey.
Patrick Dunn, author of Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic, Power, Language, Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics is a poet, linguist, and writer living near Chicago. He maintains a blog at http://pomomagic.wordpress.com/.
Amongst all the various names for magical practices, the word necromancy is probably the most foreboding and sinister. No doubt that such a practice was diabolical and associated with the blackest forms of magic. Popular folklore and belief defines necromancy as divination performed through the conjuration and manipulation of the spirits of the dead. The most outrageous form was the exhumation and reanimation of a corpse, which many often think of today when defining this term.
Necromancy has a long history, but during the Christian era it became confused with the conjuration of demons, which was called nigromancy or black magic. Christian leaders believed that since only the Lord had power over the dead, sorcerers who performed necromancy were actually conjuring demons. After a time, the two were used almost interchangeably, which caused the practice of necromancy to lose its meaning. However, spiritualists and mediums who sought to contact the dead and gain from them information about the future were actually unwittingly practicing a form of necromancy. Yet no one ever called them necromancers, which would have meant that one was evil personified. This confusion has not helped to clarify or define this system of magic; instead it has become something of topic of horror stories and low budget films.
The origins of necromancy occurred in the far distant past, long before the time of antiquity. It was a system of divination that was ultimately derived from the pious observances paid to the dead at their tombs. It isn’t hard to imagine a person going to the grave site of some great kinsman and in addition to giving offerings and oblations, to ask for assistance with some family crisis. So the practice of necromancy probably stemmed from a natural desire to seek help from one’s departed ancestors. Thoughts about the value of advice or prophecy given by the dead varied considerably in antiquity. Some believed that the dead had resources beyond the ken of the living; others (like Homer) believed that the dead knew no more about things than when alive. Necromancy may have been derived innocently enough from funeral observations, but it’s also likely that it had a separate shamanic origin.
Necromancy in antiquity, although not considered a legitimate public procedure for gaining intimate knowledge, shadowed the greater centers of divination, such as the Oracle of Delphi and the Temple of Asclepias. It was based upon a procedure that was well represented in folk tradition and literature, going back to Homer’s Odyssey. We will briefly look to the Odyssey for a classic example of a rite called the nekuia.
The Greeks had terms for this kind of magic; they called it nekumanteia (rites of divination from the dead) and psuchomanteia (divination from souls). From the Greek word came the Latin version, necromantea, from which we get necromancy. Typical places where these rites were conducted were tombs, cemeteries or even old battlefields. Such locations were called psuchagogion, which were drawing places of ghosts. Individuals who summoned ghosts or shades were called psuchagogoi, or evocators of ghosts1.
Greeks and Romans believed that the spirit or shade departed the body at death. It wandered around the burial site, visited places habituated in life or ended up in the underworld of Hades or, more rarely, the Eleusinian fields. These visitations of the dead to places of the living occurred only at certain times of the night, when most of the populace had gone to sleep. People of antiquity loved life, so the perception of death was dismal, lonely, a heartbreaking end to everything good. Shades of the dead often were harbingers of gloom and doom, sometimes directed to curse other living people with their unhappy blessings. The most accessible of the dead shades were those who were prone to restlessness, such as the ghosts of untimely or violent deaths.
Archaeological traces have been found at certain locations where necromancy was practiced as a kind of permanent oracle. These special places were called by the Greeks, nekuomanteion. They were usually located in places such as natural mephitic caves or lakes where water and brimstone appeared to mix; offering clues to an intrusion of the stygian underworld. Four famous locations were Acheron in Thesprotia, Avernus in Campania (Italy), Tainaron, which was located on the Mani peninsula of the southern Peloponnese, and Heracleia Pontica, located on the south coast of the Black Sea. Two of these locations had caves, but Avernus was a deep lake formed by a volcanic cone and Acheron was a lakeside precinct with indications of vulcanism. Both lakes were reputed to be without birds, since the mephitic fumes would have killed or driven them away.
Petitioners who visited an oracle of the dead would undergo certain kinds of rites performed in dimly lit caves or at night next to turgid lakes, guided by a leader who would conduct the rituals and speak the incantations. Offerings were given and the petitioner would spend the night in that place to obtain what he sought through incubation, by dreams, visions, or a ghostly visitation. The guide also had the responsibility to explain the dreams and visions later on, helping the petitioner to understand their meaning. However, incubation was one of many different ways of contacting the dead.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, book 11, a classic rite of necromancy is performed by Odysseus under the direction of his lover, Circe. Odysseus and his men dig a pit with their swords, around it pour libations consisting of milk, honey, sweet wine, water and then sprinkling barley over the mixture. He prays to the dead and sacrifices a pair of black sheep so the blood collects in the pit. The carcasses of the sheep are flayed and burned, then he prays to Hades and Persephone. He and his men ward the pit with their swords keeping out any unwanted spirits who are drawn to the offerings. They allow only those to whom Odysseus wishes to speak receive a draft from the fresh blood. After drinking it, a shade can assume a temporary visible appearance and converse with the living. Odysseus talks to several ghosts, but the real purpose of the rite is to consult with the dead prophet Tiresias, seeking to learn the future and the way home. Circe is Odysseus’s divine guide and instructor in the necromantic rite; she assists him in analyzing and deciphering the experience, acting as the archetypal witch. Also, the location of the rite is important, too, for it resides next to a cave leading into the underworld.
This tale was followed by other examples, but it would seem that the necromantic rite, as described by Homer, was already fully formed and traditionally established. By the 5th century, there were professional necromancers who were called goetes — sorcerers, derived from the Greek word goos, which was the mourning wail of the dead. Such individuals were reputed to have the ability to conjure and manipulate ghosts. Pythagoreans also had a reputation of being a kind of shaman who not only used necromantic spells as their stock and trade, but could travel to the underworld themselves. Another kind of magic that was practiced and related to necromancy was a divination called lecanomancy, which was a ghostly scrying into a bowl of liquid.
The Greek Magical Papyri also had some representations of necromancy, particularly papyrus PGM IV (Paris Papyrus), which contains a group of spells associated with an individual called “Pitys.” These spells extracted prophecies from corpses or the heads of corpses, bringing to mind the kind of magic performed by the classic witch. Such an individual might have had skulls or heads that talked, animated by trickery, one’s familiar spirit or a ghost.
Finally, the actual description of necromancy as a method of reanimating and interrogating corpses was first introduced by the poet Lucan, who made it part of the repertoire of the evil Thessalian witch Erictho. She uses it to gain information from a hapless dead Pompeian soldier. Erictho first pours hot blood and a concoction of herbs into the dead body, and then conjures the shade of the soldier, forcing it to enter the corpse to question it. This was a fictitious literary work, and it was followed by others, most notably Apuleius and Heliodorus. However, there seems to be little evidence that this type of working ever really occurred, that oracles of the dead and necromancy usually had much greater respect and veneration for the deceased than what is depicted in these satirical stories. Later on they may have become the primary impetus for judging the necromantic art as nothing more than the conjurations of demons. It passed into the Christian era completely debased and more the stuff of horror stories or propaganda against the practice of witchcraft.
- These and other quotes and information were distilled from the book Greek and Roman Necromancy, most notably from the introduction. Ogden, Daniel (2001). Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
©2009 by Frater Barrabbas
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Several years ago I happened across a program on cable about non-violent horse “breaking.” I don’t recall the trainer’s name, but I still recall the method: The horse was in an arena with a high wall, no visuals to the outside; the trainer stood in the center with a long rope. The trainer kept tossing one end of the rope over the horse’s back, which caused the animal to gallop and move around the edge of the space. According to the trainer, it would take anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour for the horse to start giving in and communicate information using its body language. When the horse paused and turned toward the trainer, the man turned away — signaling he was not a threat — at a forty-five degree angle from the horse. The animal walked up to him and touched his shoulder with its muzzle, a sign it had accepted him as the higher-status creature and was willing to be partners with him and start working.
How does this relate to the Horse as totem? It is clearly indicative that the horse as animal is at service to humans and it can be made to understand this of its own accord. It is a natural partner in the things that humans need from it, such as travel, portage, and working the land. This quality is part of the essential spirit of the horse because it is a universally shared trait in all domestic horses (I am excluding the ones who have been so badly treated they cannot be helpful to their owners/ handlers). It is part of the Horse totem and is passed from it as a common, shared essence to all horses on the physical plane. It is part of what makes a horse a horse.
I have worked with a Horse as my totem. Its primary function, what made it happy to do, was carrying me to the spirit world when I was seeking a vision. The Horse provided passage for me as a partner in my sojourn. Apart from that transition, it did not participate in my experiences. It was distinguishable from an imaginary horse by the fact that I saw it after I intentionally began my search for a totem animal; it appeared with a feather attached to its mane, and its coloring was not like a physical animal: oxblood red and white piebald. Several people have said to me, “Oh, it’s an archetype you’re contacting.” This is a blithe, presumptive view that is based in what seems to be a misunderstanding of an archetype.
Webster’s online dictionary defines “archetype” as “1: the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies . . . 3: an inherited idea or mode of thought in the psychology of C. G. Jung that is derived from the experience of the race and is present in the unconscious of the individual.1” The most common understanding of an archetype is as an “original pattern” per the first definition, and that all others are copies; this does not fit the Horse totem in that the spirit Horse does not look like Eohippus2, any more than do the horses in our everyday world. Eohippus was the original, but evolution has altered and changed it to the point that horses are no longer copies.
So, strictly speaking, the Horse totem is not an archetype. The third Webster definition references Jung’s theory of inherited racial experience; in that sense, the Horse totem is a better fit. Its suggestion, however, is that of karma (learning from past lives) and so leads to the notion of animals having souls which can learn over long periods of death and rebirth. It would be the only way that race experience could affect the horse’s mode of thought and perception of itself. Since we are not exploring that theory (and its implications), then we are left with the definition of “race” as it applies only to human beings and the soul’s karmic lessons. In that context, the Jungian reference does not apply to animals at all and animal totems, such as the Horse, are not an archetype.
The Horse is not a deity, since a “deity” is a god or goddess, a Supreme Being, or of divine character3. Horses are beasts of burden and work. A god or goddess is no servant. Animals can be symbolic of deities: The Horse is Epona’s symbol (and the Grey Mare is symbolic of Mala Laith, the Scottish Moon Goddess), the Raven is symbolic of Morganna, the Bull for Zeus, the Goat for Pan, and so forth.
We have established that the totem is not an archetype, nor is it a deity. Then where in the pagan cosmology would it fit? I postulate that it is in the middle ground of spirits along with faeries, elves, gnomes, undines, angels, demons, etc. As a totem it is a class unto itself, just as the other spirits I mentioned are in their own classes. To refer again to our dictionary definitions, a totem is: “1 a: an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder of its ancestry . . . a usually carved or painted representation of such an object. b: a family or clan identified by a common totemic object. 2: one that serves as an emblem or revered symbol.” The etymology is Ojibwa, oto·te·man, “his totem,” ca. 17764.
In the sense of the first definition, a good example is the Lakota Sioux, who know themselves as the “People of the Horse.” Yet the usual definitions fall short of delineating the totem as a living being on another plane of existence that can, and does, connect directly with those who seek out the totem that relates closely with him or her. For example, a person who meditates with the intent of finding his totem might encounter the Dragonfly. Such a totem indicates imagination and creativity, but also flightiness. A person who receives such a totem, and who is not particularly creative, may need to find those qualities within himself; the Dragonfly totem is there to show him what he must do at that time. Flightiness may also be part of the person’s psychological makeup, or it could be a problem later, so the seeker may have to work on being more stable, committed or focused.
I mentioned ‘intent” in regard to finding a totem animal, and that is the vital difference between imagination and hallucination. The seeker deliberately, with purpose and conscious effort utilizing learned meditation techniques, sets about the task of attracting a totem animal to her. Through meditation she enters the spirit world; by keeping an open mind and an attitude of expectancy a creature of the natural world will approach, showing itself to the seeker in three different viewpoints (front and each side), which is how one recognizes the true totem animal. Anything else will indeed be imagination or a flight of fancy. A seeker must allow the totem to approach — no chasing after it! — and to gratefully accept whichever animal has decided to assist her in the work. A seeker skilled at carving may create a representation of her totem, known as a “fetish,” to keep in the meditation area as a home for the totem’s spirit and energy.
Many people like to “dance” their totems after they have arrived, to create unity with them and to give them energy so they will be happy and will stay. Dancing a totem means moving the way it moves and making the same noises: growls, snuffing, lumbering about as a Bear if that is the totem; buzzing and flying motions for Bee or Fly; hopping and croaking for Frog, and so forth. Some people will go out into the woods and dance their totems to the extent that they will run and leap and give each spirit animal the freedom to be itself, using the seeker’s body as its vehicle. Totems have been known to leave if they are neglected.
These spirit animals are there to help the seeker learn more about herself, so if you are looking for one or you have one already, make sure you meditate with it so you can gain intuitive knowledge from it. Why is it with you? What do you need to learn from it? What is it willing to show you? It is necessary to keep an open mind, for it might have surprises in store. It is not always a comfortable experience but it is fruitful if you can accept the unpleasant sides of yourself as well as the positives.
Even if you are dancing your totem, have carved a fetish for it, and have meditated with it to glean what information it may offer, your totem animal still might leave you. There is nothing that can be done about this, for it simply means that the animal has nothing more it can teach you or help you with and it must move on. You may then seek another totem, one that is ready and willing to help you with your next stage of learning.
To return to my Horse: I was, at the time it came to me, seeking passage to the world of visions, to learn more about myself. After the piebald spirit showed me it was my totem, it indicated it wanted me to get on its back, so I did. It then carried me to the Underworld where visions happen. The entire venture was a success, and I have traveled there several times since.
As a helper for journeying, the Horse is swift and certain as long as you, its rider, keep in mind where you want to go. Intent and goal are its guides, much as a bridle and reins. The Horse comes when the seeker has gone into meditation as preparation for journeying. It will invite the seeker to mount up by presenting itself sideways and moving closer; if the seeker is slow to understand it will turn its head and “point” with its muzzle to its side — a directive to climb on board. The rider keeps her goal of the Underworld firmly in mind. The Horse will start galloping and will go into the Earth tunnel to take its rider safely to the perceived destination. After emerging into the spirit world, the rider dismounts to continue her intended work. The Horse remains where it is, usually grazing, waiting until it is time to bring its rider back to the everyday world. I like to reward it with a nice, big apple and a couple of carrots as a way of saying thanks before I come out of my meditation.
If you wish to try attracting a Horse totem to yourself so you may work with it as a journeying aid, I suggest going into your meditation with that purpose in mind. Make sure you visualize that you are carrying treats for it. Focus on Horse in general, not a specific breed, color, build, etc. In a sense you are “calling” the spirit animal to you. If a Horse totem chooses to respond, it will do so and show itself to you in three different views as I have mentioned above. Allow it to approach you; offer the treats and if it
accepts them you have your Horse totem to ride as a journeying partner.
- Archetype. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved September 5, 2009.
- Anonymous. (2008). Evolution of the Horse. Retrieved September 5, 2009.
- Deity. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved September 5, 2009.
- Totem. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved September 5, 2009.
©2009 Lady Eva Michenet
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Paganism is rife with those who deem themselves helpers of departed souls “trapped” in some earthly desire or other and reluctant to move on. I cringe every time I hear or read the words “into the light,” unless I am watching Poltergeist. These eager ghost hunters frequent cemeteries and old buildings, seeking spirits to usher into the great beyond, as if any human being alive can possibly know more of the spirit world and spirit daily affairs than the spirits do. This time of year, the month of October in particular, is the worst of all.
We’ve all heard at least one person remark on the thinning of the veil around Halloween, how spirits otherwise (reputedly) unreachable become much more chatty and expect to be served dinner on All Hallow’s Eve. While some have ancestral relationships that incorporate this tradition, the bulk of those yammering on about the veil thinning have no idea what they’re on about. And yet there is evidence that spirit communication is at an all time high, at least in the modern era. Certainly my work has in the last decade steadily uncovered more and more people who are either very convincing to my skeptical viewpoint or else are having genuine experiences with those who’ve “passed on.”
The 1990s saw the peak of the phenomenon of trance channeling, during which the medium or psychic (such words leave a bad taste in my mouth) gives up control of the body to his or her spirit guide so that the spirit can speak directly to the audience (perhaps of one, or perhaps of a thousand, depending upon the intensity of — spirit or human — desire for attention and revenue). While this sort of relationship is still easy enough to find, it’s being overshadowed by the much more commonplace and much more blasé method of conscious channeling, wherein the medium or human partner simply allows the spirit to speak without giving up control of his or her faculties. I’ve done both, and while it can be cool to gather the evidence that a trance channeling session can provide, there’s a lot to be said for being a conscious partner. You remember a lot more, for one thing.
A little .pdf book called Thinning of the Veil: A Record of Experience by Mary Bruce Wallace has a few points to make on this regard. While I haven’t had a chance to read the entire book, I can appreciate what she has to say on channeling:
“I felt from the very first perfectly normal, not losing consciousness in any way, but I could not guess what the next word would be until I had heard it. ‘We just give you one word at a time, and then wait to see if you have grasped it,’ said my friend.
“The voice seemed to speak not to my outer ear but to my soul-ear, and I heard every intonation of it, suiting the nature of the thought, tender, grave, encouraging, hopeful, joyous; every human emotion that is true and beautiful seemed expressed in tones more musical than any outward voice can reach.”
This book was published in 1919. Ms. Wallace writes at length on the relationship between herself and her spirit teacher. A single, unexpected encounter with a departed friend led to meeting this teacher, and then a floodgate opened and she began to see angels as well as other departed souls. Exhibiting a much more grounded approach to these experiences and recording them without coloring her encounters with more modern garbage such as, “We’ve lived 10,000 lifetimes together and he loves me more than anyone has ever been loved before [a sentiment I've actually heard before],” her prose is a breath of fresh air from a time we can no longer relate to. As children of the Information Age, our attention spans are minuscule, and our capacity for reason not much bigger. Mediums, shamans and psychics, or just sensitive people as I prefer to be called, would do well to emulate our cultural ancestors, such as Ms. Wallace and Ida Craddock.
It’s the opinion of Ms. Wallace, and I fully agree, that the veil is thinning — oh yes, but it’s not restricted to the seasons of Samhain and Beltane. The thinning of the veil is a progression, a gradual change year after year that allows normal, ordinary people to encounter spirits of various ilk on a daily basis. I’m constantly receiving emails and requests for help from people who’ve had their first encounters with spirits and don’t know what to do. But the one thing the bulk of them have in common is that they’re enraptured and want to learn to strengthen and continue this contact. Only paranoid religious fanatics tend to see these spirits as dangerous or demonic.
The veil is thinning. It’ll still be thinning in November, in February, in August, in 2012 (and 2012 — that’s a bitch-fest for another day). If you haven’t had an unexpected encounter with a spirit yet, odds are you will. Just do us all a favor, and don’t lose your rational mind in the experience.
©2009 by Sheta Kaey
Encyclopedia of Spirits
by Judika Illes
HarperOne (January 27, 2009) $29.99
Reviewer: Sheta Kaey
I encountered this tome in my local library, which is nothing short of miraculous given the religious climate hereabouts. It was not only in my local small-town-outside-a-big-city library, but it was also in the new nonfiction books section, right up front. I don’t really believe in coincidence – “coincidence” went from being a term created to describe an event to being a term used to dismiss synchronicitous events that people find difficult to consider. In fact, I think Ms. Illes may even venture this opinion within these pages.
I was breezing past the new book shelf without a glance when I spotted “Spirits” on the cover and did a double take, and when I looked back I figured it’d be a bartending book or a book from a Christian point of view. Nope, pure occultism, and at its finest. As an encyclopedia, which have been churning out of Llewellyn regularly on various topics for the last several years, I expected something fluffy and/or droll. But this book is actually published by HarperOne (an imprint of HarperCollins), so right away that was a point in its favor. Then I started to read. And was, quite frankly, blown away.
I know there isn’t exactly a plethora of books available on spirits, and of the few available, I’ve read even fewer. (I do seek to change that.) While most books have their strengths and weaknesses, I can’t find anything to fault with this book. I even ordered a copy rather than wait to see if I could obtain a review copy, and I buy precious few books anymore. Ms. Illes knows her stuff. She covers much needed information that I’ve never seen anywhere else except my own manuscript work in progress, but I feel no sense of competition. I’m pleased to recommend this volume to anyone who takes spirit encounters or spirit work seriously, and that includes any work with pantheons, fae, or any other type of spirit being.
The first 108 pages are devoted to general, easy to understand, and to the point information about dealing with spirits. Not a word is wasted. In my line of “work,” it made for very exciting reading. I consider myself a mystic, a spirit worker (I won’t quite allow myself use of the word “shaman”), and I found nothing I disagreed with that couldn’t be explained by the fact that it was general information and not necessarily geared toward my specific practice. It’s very good material.
Her encyclopedic entries are equally impressive, based on the ones I’ve read. Her entry on Kali, my matron goddess, sent chills down my spine and, in fact, inspired me to take that relationship to the next level – something I’ve hemmed and hawed about for years. The entries cover everything from spirit types (e.g., “Djinn”) to specific gods and goddesses (e.g., “Diana”) to spirits with a purely regional flavor, such as the “Dragon Goddess of Borneo.” Listed alphabetically, the individual descriptions include (but are not limited to) country of origin, mythology, standard correspondences (such as animal, flower, color, etc., each of which may or may not be included for a particular spirit or type), iconography, attributes, favored people, sacred sites, offerings to make, and manifestations:
“Sometimes her appearance is consistent to her iconography: she has jet black or midnight blue skin and a fierce or loving expression. Her hair may form one-hundred locks. She may dance or twirl. Kali is described as appearing in the form of brilliant light or a deep black void. She may manifest in the form of cholera or a jackal-headed woman (Kali entry, pgs. 542-543).”
An alphabetical appendix listing spirits by their specialties is included, and an extensive bibliography, ten pages of small print in itself, wraps things up.
I will be consulting this book often, and I recommend this volume to anyone who takes spirit work, or pantheons, seriously. An enthusiastic five stars out of five.
Review ©2009 Sheta Kaey
By the dragon’s claws, I crush the hex.
By the dragon’s wings, I dodge the hex.
By the dragon’s breath, I burn the hex.
— Dragon-Shield Chant by Grey Glamer
As a student of witchcraft, I endeavor to understand not only the practice itself, but also the reasons why witches do what we do. For myself, I find my magical practice much more meaningful when I reflect upon my actions. By meditating upon the nature of my spells, I gain deeper insights about my Craft, and even more crucially, a greater understanding of my unique place within our shared cosmos. Know thyself! This maxim — carved by the ancient Greeks upon the stones of Delphi — rings just as true today. Consequently, whenever I design or develop spells for my own use, I endeavor to shape those spells around my penchant for introspection.
For many witches and magicians, one of the first magical experiments to be undertaken is the crafting of magical shields. Magical shields are essentially defensive thought forms which turn aside or otherwise disable all the harmful energies that might come the caster’s way. While I persist in the somewhat controversial conviction that the number of genuine magical assaults is generally overstated — and those curses which do occur are rarely effective — in fact there are psychic and spiritual dangers out there, including curses and bindings cast by others, malicious and dangerous spiritual entities, and all manner of life-negating energy patterns. (I don’t deny there are real threats, mind you. I do believe that by searching for the obvious demon, we miss the soul-draining pessimism of our workplace, or the broad malaise of clinical depression. Most of the bad things out there don’t speak backwards or writhe when splashed with holy water!)
Once deployed, these magical shields interact with the surrounding energy patterns, and with a little introspection, the reflective witch acquires a deeper understanding of the cosmos as streams of energy. Do your magical defenses flare up brightly in the presence of certain people or situations? An instinctive activation of shields could signify unhealthy or harmful configurations of magical energy flowing from the circumstances, information which subsequently allows you to consciously protect yourself from harm.
Is your significant other yelling at you? Shields keep your emotional center from taking the verbal lashing personally, which enables you to approach the underlying issue constructively. Is your workplace draining your reserves, so that when you get home you crash in front of the television? Shields protect your personal sparkle of enthusiasm, even when you’re surrounded by drudgery or stress. Properly understood, magical shields guard against much more than formal curses and full-bore demonic sieges.
The process of developing magical shields itself teaches several valuable lessons. For one, the aspiring witch learns to raise and direct power towards magical ends. Moreover, the manifestation of effective shields demands good visualization skills; even the relatively simple egg of white light suggested for beginners encourages the caster to hone his imaginative focus. And as we’ve already seen, deployed shields teach us much about how energy flows through our immediate environs.
Beyond these immediate benefits, I believe the study of magical shields can teach us something more, something important about how we approach magic. The crafting of psychic shields can be a deeply creative endeavor, insofar as we employ different visualizations to effect specific ends. The basic shield deflects harmful configurations of energy, which is already a monumental leap over the alternative of getting struck. In my experience, however, very few witches and magicians cease experimenting once they achieve the basic egg-shaped shield formed from white light. Rather, they experiment with different forms, which deal with harmful patterns in unique ways. I suspect most practicing spellcasters who read this have implemented porous shields which selectively allow in positive or beneficial energy patterns. More exotic shields are possible, though. One may design and deploy thought forms which catch and hold the harmful patterns like flypaper. Adopting the opposite extreme, one may cover one’s shields with psychic grease and watch harm slide away harmlessly. Visualizing mirrors can even turn harm back upon the sender!
For some months, my usual pattern of shields followed my training in Aikido — accept the force of the strike as gift, then redirect this force towards the ground, where the energy can be recycled into healing forms. I still find this visualization extremely helpful when confronted by threatening circumstances. Still, my inner witch has been eager to experiment of late, and especially with the intersection of shielding and invocation.
Invocation is something which many people — many witches included — find intimidating. To invite another presence into one’s very being takes courage, and perhaps some small degree of insanity. On the other hand, I don’t believe we should fear the process of invocation, when we consider everything — everything which ever was and ever will be — already exists within every individual’s soul. The Goddess — by whatever name you call Her — exists inside you now, whole and healthy, patiently waiting for the mystical moment when you acknowledge Her presence. Likewise, every possible Form exists — in potential — inside your imagination. Invoked beings don’t arrive from without; they awaken from within! Once you grasp the whole complexity of the cosmos lies before your fingertips, genuine magic becomes possible.
With this paradigm in mind, I set out to develop protective invocations which could function as magical shields throughout the day. This experiment requires some rethinking of the traditional paradigms. Most purposeful invocations occur within some defined space and time, usually marked by a magical circle or some like means, even if the experience itself takes on the mystical transcendence of space and time. Shielding, upon the other hand, engages the proverbial back of the mind throughout the day. To hybridize the two practices, I needed to invoke my chosen Form, and then “set” the Form into a defensive posture for my daily activities, much like programming a burglary alarm and then arming the system. I’ll touch upon this process again momentarily.
For my first such experiment, I elected to invoke a dragon-like pattern of shields, emphasizing three particular aspects of the dragon — the claws, the wings, and the breath. The choice of a complex pattern was deliberate. I think one potential pitfall confronting those who consciously shield is the tendency to create one extremely powerful response for every problem. The issue here is plain: There is no single ideal response for every harmful pattern which may come our way. The deflection provided by an egg of white light is very effective against a wide range of threats, which together with its simplicity makes the bubble an ideal place to begin shielding. To borrow from the cliche, hammers are good at solving several construction-related problems, and they’re fairly easy to wield, yet when you possess nothing but the hammer, everything else begins to look like so many lengths of galvanized metal! Applying the metaphor back into my endeavors, I’m looking to broaden my magical toolbox.
The first aspect I invoked was the claws of the dragon. I envisioned my hands and feet sprouting razor sharp talons backed by inhuman strength and speed, which would then shred harmful energy patterns before they could reach my emotional core. Some threats require the witch to challenge magical force with magical force, though unlike the generally passive bubble-shield, this layer of defense actively seeks out and crushes those things which would bring harm. Moreover, I would add as caveat, the destructive element here severs harmful connections and influences, rather than wreaking havoc more directly upon the sources of such malign patterns. Often the author of some hex or other invests some significant portion of their focus or power into the negative patterns which they send out: When they lose their investment, such enervation is upon them.
Not everything is amenable to sheer force, however, even when such force is applied with the utmost skill. Sometimes the best solution means stepping out of the way and letting the negative pattern sail past harmlessly. This is fundamental to the soft martial arts — when the strike arrives, be somewhere else! Adopting a psychological mindset for a moment, this can mean rising above the fray and not taking a verbal assault personally. The dragon is a deadly predator precisely because he’s out of reach until he wants to close. Thus I envisioned the dragon’s leathery wings emerging from my back and bearing me aloft, above the realms where negative patterns dwell. Magical assaults generally don’t possess power over us unless we give them such power. So teaches the dragon!
The third aspect I invoked was the dragon’s fiery breath. The breath is perhaps the most emblematic element of the thought form we call dragon. We should take note the breath is something closely connected with spirit. Within the language of ancient Greece, the two words are one and the same! To conceive the dragon’s breath — or pneuma — to be laced with flames also acknowledges something important about his spirit. The flames are transformative, the powerful element of alchemical fire which converts one substance into another. By invoking the breath of the dragon, our own spirit takes on this transformative character. Sometimes the proper response to magical assaults isn’t outright destruction, or even evasion. Rather, with our thoughts and our words we can transmute harmful patterns of energy into something positive, spiritual ashes from which the flowers may blossom or the phoenix may rise. Energy itself is morally neutral, only the configuration of energy renders some particular pattern either life-affirming or life-negating. By taking the energy of the magical attack as a gift, we can transmute deleterious patterns into something more beneficial. This process isn’t always easy — Flames do burn, after all! — yet transmuting woe into weal can make for some of the most fascinating and satisfying magic.
The process that I’ve outlined here is an ongoing magical experiment, but one which has met with some success so far. Establishing shields by invoking a thought form does require practice. The visualization itself requires imaginative focus, and I find such shielding requires somewhat deeper reserves of magical power than relatively simple eggs or bubbles. Having shielding which not only dispatches the harmful pattern, but also recognizes and implements the best approach for each threat, requires somewhat more subconscious activity. Still, I think this price is well worth paying. Engaging the broader world with informed and creative magical tools requires intense personal effort, and I’m willing to give some to approach the cosmos more constructively. After all, this same cosmos provides all the magical power we could ever want! Thus we give some and we take some, always learning more creative ways to channel the goodness of the world.
I hope my notes here offer you, my readers, something to consider whenever you design your own shielding spells. Be creative, and don’t be afraid to broaden your magical toolbox!
©2009 Grey Glamer
Edited by Sheta Kaey