When Spirits Come to Call

When Spirits Come to Call

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.

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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:
sigil
  • 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.

Sources

©2010 by Sarenth.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Guttershaman 5: Authenticity, Part 2

Guttershaman 5: Authenticity, Part 2

“Where there is money, you have cheats. The two go together.” — Eric Cantona
“Send lawyers, guns and money — the shit has hit the fan.” — Warren Zevon

Previously on Guttershaman. . .

I was looking at how modern Western “Shamanism” is a mix of ideas borrowed from various native traditions (often without either respect or understanding). I also noted that sometimes the matter of “authenticity” to an existing tradition was not the most significant point — that there are people who seem to have a genuine call to serve their tribe/ culture/ whatever and attempt to honour this vocation as best they can with the tools and ideas they have at hand. Authenticity to this impulse, if done sincerely and thoughtfully, can matter more than devotion to tradition. The question of how all this becomes even more complex when adding commerce to the mix, I left to examine at a later date.

In between then and now we have had a tragic example of how badly that mix can go wrong.

The story of how three people died and dozens were hospitalised as a result of taking part in a “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge held by James Arthur Ray has been heavily discussed, both within the occult community and outside. (A good primer on this can be found at the Wild Hunt blog, and the Wikipedia biography of Ray is also of use.) There’s been an awful lot said about Ray’s particular variation on the New Age Guru — much of it perhaps better left for the legal apparatus.

What is extremely clear, both from reports of those who were involved in the fateful sweat lodge itself and Ray’s own words (on his website — to which I will not directly link — and in his many media appearances) is that his primary focus is money. What’s also clear to me is that his “theology” emphasises something I consider to be one of the nastier habits of many mystical systems — that the soul is far more important than the body.

I think those two points are deeply related.

The idea that spiritual purity and earthly success reflect each other — whether one calls it the Law of Attraction, Prosperity Theology or what have you — may seem to contradict the idea that the soul is more important than the material world. I think that it’s an inevitable result of how soul/ body dualism is usually expressed in the West.

The idea goes:

“Money is power. If I have money, I am powerful. If there is a God or spiritual force, then surely my power and position show that God favours my endeavours. If not, surely I would be poor and powerless.”

Add to this the concept that the soul is immortal and thus above/ better than the body. . . and you get the justification for an awful lot of cruelty and privileged behaviour.

“You’re poor? That means your soul is weak, that God does not love you.”

Then, up steps the Guru.

“I can make your soul better. I can bring you wealth in this world and the next. But in order to show you are ready, that your are committed enough to begin this process, you have to make an offering. A sacrifice to the coming purity of your soul and the inevitable favour of God.”

“That’ll be ten thousand dollars, please. Here’s your receipt.”

If you’re the Guru and your prime interest is making money, it’s quite an effective sales technique — and provides a lovely example of just how powerful the Guru’s mojo is. After all, look how much money he has! He must be good at this!

. . . and if you should fail at the various little tests at the weekend spirit warrior workshop. . .

. . . if you can’t break a board with your hand after an hour of preaching (rather than ten years of martial arts training and physical conditioning). . .

. . . if you can’t stay conscious in a sweltering hut covered in plastic tarps with no water or ventilation. . .

. . . if you die while under the Guru’s tender care. . .

. . . well, that’s a shame. At least your soul learned something. Better luck next incarnation.

This is not to say that it isn’t possible for mystical pursuits to have an effect on the material world — I wouldn’t be much of a magician if I believed that. I also know that spiritual development can demand a heavy toll on the body of the practitioner, that the shamanic path often relies on stress, shock and fear as methods of altering consciousness. But it infuriates me when Gurus and teachers blithely assume that a purified soul is worth any cost to the body.

(It’s exactly the same attitude that leads to exorcisms resulting in the injuring or death of the subject — as long as the “demon” is driven out and the immortal soul saved, it’s considered a price worth paying. As someone who strove to protect in every way those under his care as a professional exorcist and curse-breaker, it disgusts me when the supposed pursuit of spiritual purity is used as an excuse to torture, maim and kill.)

Ray is an especially clear example of how modern conceptions of the shaman are far too often expressed. His publicity makes a great deal about his experiences with several “authentic” native traditions, but also borrows heavily from the layman’s version of quantum theory. . . while showing a painfully superficial understanding of both. There’s a lot of lip service to concepts such as (one of my all-time favourites) becoming a “spiritual warrior” without actually having any martial training or combat experience whatsoever. There’s also the classic come-along of his Deep Inner Knowledge of Mighty Secrets of Power which he will share with you. . . for a hefty fee.

And what he’s selling is such a superficial version of wisdom, a weak dilution of knowledge. Shamanism For Dummies.

He, like so many New Age gurus, sells the illusion that someone can become a powerful magician or shaman without actually putting in the work — the months and years of practice, study and trial it takes to develop yourself. This isn’t just cheating his clients, it’s insulting to those who actually have done the work. It also gives a dangerous impression that Ray and his ilk are far more competent in these matters than they actually are. Ray claimed he was an expert, an authority in this field and as a result people trusted him with their lives and souls — and he wasn’t even able to work out that people in hot rooms need to breathe.

I think the thing about Ray that stood out for me most is how utterly plastic and shallow, how inauthentic in every sense, he seems. He comes across as nothing so much as Tom Cruise in Magnolia. . . I can picture Ray running around a stage, his little wire microphone stuck to his head, declaiming, “Respect the cock! And tame the cunt!” No master of the occult arts — just a salesman.

(An effective salesman, though. Bear in mind he’s still open for business and people are still going on his retreats.)

It’s not that I don’t think there’s a place for teachers of mystical knowledge — or that they shouldn’t be compensated for their time and services. As I said about the appropriation of native techniques, it’s about not taking the piss — not getting greedy, not assuming that everyone has the same strengths and abilities, not caring how hard you push the bodies of those under your tutelage as long as your idea of the soul is satisfied. When you think like that, it’s easy to forget that a person is mind and body and soul together — and that their existence does not come with a price tag.

Further reading

Although their focus is mostly on the mysticism of the Indian subcontinent, the Guruphiliac blog has an excellent perspective on the money-grabbing (and ass-grabbing) side of so many alleged spiritual masters.

I also strongly recommend the two-part post at “Thoughts from a Threshold” which gives excellent advice on safety in ritual spaces, which is one of the few positive benefits to come out of the Ray affair. Part 1. Part 2.

Next time on Guttershaman — more on money and New Age, tricksters and con men. Possibly even Rainbow Unicorns.

©2009 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.

Lupa’s Den – In Defense of BINABM

Lupa's Den - In Defense of BINABM

If you’ve read much of my writing, either online or in books (especially DIY Totemism), you’ll know that I have a tendency to advocate working with totems other than the Big, Impressive, North American Birds and Mammals (BINABM) that so often show up in totem animal dictionaries. I’ve worked with extinct totems, microscopic ones, and even the totems of “food” animals that we commonly think of only in terms of eating their flesh. And I’ve done more work, since starting on a specifically shamanic path, with the totems of local species.

However, I do believe there is a certain cultural value to the BINABM. As I’ve developed therioshamanism, my own non-indigenous, non-core shamanic path, I’ve paid close attention to how my cultural context — white, middle-class, college-educated American — has affected my approach to shamanic practice. And I’ve also paid attention to how other shamans in my culture, core shamans and otherwise, are informed by that culture.

The animals that are the most common totems in a given culture are animals that are important to the people of that culture. In indigenous cultures, these are often the animals who are most commonly hunted for food and other resources, though this is not universal. In our culture, we actually often vilify the domesticated animals we rely on for food and resources, and even the wildlife we hunt is seen less as a living being, and more as a rack of antlers to be turned into a trophy of one’s supposed prowess. (What sort of prowess may be left to the imagination.)

The animals that are valued as totems in this culture are generally the BINABM. They’re big and impressive, noticeable and showy, and generally are strong (and usually predatory). These limitations have often been criticized, and I’ve been a frequent critic. It’s not that these animals don’t deserve attention, but there are others besides the few dozen BINABM that keep showing up in the dictionaries. However, when trying to construct a cultural shamanism in a culture that doesn’t really have a cohesive shamanic path, you have to meet the culture where it is.

By this I mean we’re going to introduce shamanism into a culture that, while it may be influenced by cultures that have had some form of shamanism, has never had a shamanism of its own, at least not recognized as such. Animism really isn’t a central, recognized part of what is thought to be mainstream American culture. This is why I sometimes question the wisdom of trying to be “a shaman” in this culture, at least if the goal is to try to work for people besides white middle-class New Agers with a lot of money to throw around. There are a lot of American demographics where that just won’t fly.

But besides that, we can be pretty confident that a lot of the wild animals that are valued by this culture are also the most common totems in this culture — Wolf, Brown Bear, Eagle, etc. So if we’re going to weave any sort of animistic practices, whether shamanism or otherwise, into the culture at large — or at least connect with more individual people — then the BINABM can be an excellent gateway, as it were. The charismatic megafauna already do their part to introduce concepts of ecological preservation to people who might not otherwise even think of themselves as environmentalists, so why can’t the BINABM function in a similar way with animism and spirituality in general?

I honestly think this is a big reason why, even with my work with lesser-known totems, as I’ve become more involved in shamanism I’ve had more of the BINABM wanting to work with me more deeply. A lot of my work is going to be with people who may not consider themselves animistic in any sense, but who could still benefit from, say, the imagery of animals, and who may find the BINABM to be familiar and comfortable due to cultural connections. I have, for example, a deck of Susie Green’s Animal Messages deck that I’ll have available as an icebreaker once I start my counseling practice — if a client is having a hard time getting started talking, I can have them pick a card out of the deck and then tell me why they feel like that animal that day. The deck is mainly BINABM, which should help more than a deck of obscure animals a client may not know how to connect to.

So please don’t think I dislike the BINABM. They definitely have a place, and I’ve become more aware of that in a cultural sense. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

©2009 by Lupa.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Guttershaman Halloween Special – The Gutter Press and the Tribe of the Strange

Guttershaman Halloween Special – The Gutter Press and the Tribe of the Strange

“The majority is always sane.” — Larry Niven, Ringworld
“Happy Halloween, ladies . . . Nuns — no sense of humour.” — The Kurgan, in Highlander

All my life, the stories that have spoken to me have invariable been from what are usually considered the “lesser” kinds of storytelling — science fiction, comics, B-movies, horror, fantasy.

Why?

Mostly, because I can more readily identify with the characters. The mainstream and “literary” works I’ve read are about people utterly unlike me and those I know and care about. Their concerns (blood relations, conventional seductions, party politics, capitalist greed — in other words, the consensus reality called “normality”) are not my concerns. My heroes and inspiration in fiction are larger than life — because my life, though not on the same scale as such figures, is still far closer to those “unreal” tales than to the “real life” ones. Being a magician in a world which mostly doesn’t believe in magic will do that, I guess.

I also think that genres that allow room to step outside contemporary society and look at it from an angle have far more to offer than those which reside utterly within it — it’s something at which science fiction (SF) and horror, at their best, excel. Reading SF and other fantastical genres stretches your brain in beneficial ways that mainstream works simply cannot do (one benefit seems to be a kind of memetic inoculation against Future Shock — once you’re used to considering complex multiple universes and ideas in your reading matter, rapid change of information and wider ranges of ideas in the physical world become so much easier to assimilate).

It’s not easy being at such a remove from consensus reality. Even ignoring the scorn (and occasional bullying) it can attract, just finding people you can talk to who get it, who share some of your perspective and have read those same weird writers, seen the same odd films, is an uphill struggle. It’s easier now of course — the Internet has made fandom much more accessible than back in the day when the only way to contact other fans was through mimeographed zines and occasional conventions. And while those folk are not always people I can get along with, I still feel a stronger affinity for them than for those who stick to the mainstream of thought and art.

(It’s worth noting that there’s a huge overlap between fandom groups and other Outsiders1 — roleplay gamers, sexual and gender explorers . . . and, of course, magicians.)

Sometimes, I think of it as being a member of the Tribe of the Strange. Those (to adapt a quote from SF writer Bruce Sterling) “whose desires do not accord with the status quo,” base their existence, their idea of what that entails — and the values they espouse — are often qualitatively different from those of the mainstream.

It’s not simply a matter of the knee-jerk opposition to or rejection of the mainstream (though there’s always an element of that going on, I suspect). It’s more that there’s a greater breadth of possibility outside it. And it’s certainly not saying that those who live within the mainstream are inferior or wrong — just that other possibilities exist and can be just as valid (or more so to those who the mainstream consider outsiders). And some of us prefer to live in that tribe far more than any of the ones offered by the Normal world.

Interestingly, ever since the outpouring of the counterculture in the 1960s if not before, those stories and underground ideas have become more and more part of the mainstream. We’re now at a point where the most popular books ever written are fantasies about magicians and vampires; the best selling movies are about robots, superheroes, spaceships and aliens. Yet somehow there’s still that disdain for the “Fantastika2,” both from ordinary people (who find it “weird”) and the academic intelligentsia (who find it “common”).

Co-opting of the counterculture is something that’s gone on for a long time, but the pace of it has increased rapidly as the mainstream has begun to run out of ideas. But what gets pulled into contemporary mainstream culture is of necessity diluted and superficial, not to mention lacking in imagination — the fuel that drives both genre writing and magic . . . and which seems to be peculiarly limited in mainstream and literary writing. (After all, how much imagination does it really take for a middle-aged college professor to write a novel about the sexual desires of a middle-aged college professor?)

While out for a walk during the writing of this, I overheard a conversation which ties into this nicely.

A young-ish upper middle class couple, chatting after visiting a friend, who they were talking about: “He’s just so . . . so unconventional,” they said. “I sometimes wonder if he’s got a screw loose.”

Unconventional equals insane? For a lot of folk, that’s about right. Showing even a tiny deviation from the Normal is an invitation to scorn, rejection — even violence.

But what the hell is “normal,” anyway?

To anyone who’s paid attention to history (and is not part of a religious or political tribe which rejects examining the past through any filter but their own) the definition of normality is a mercurial thing — changing constantly, no more solid and immutable than fashion. But all those definitions of normal have to be about stability, conservative (small “c”) attitudes, preservation of the status quo — and I do see the necessity of that. But at the same time, there needs to be room for outliers from that majority view, or the culture/ tribe/ country stagnates. There are even indications that the lack of innovation caused by the rejection of the un-normal can destroy civilisations3.

Perhaps this is why so many societies have times where the rules of the normal are temporarily suspended, where the usually despised and shunned aspects — sexual expression, weirdness, dressing strangely — are allowed to roam the streets. Carnival. Mardi Gras.

Halloween.

That lovely time of the year, when dressing like a monster (and increasingly, a sexy monster) in public is acceptable. When, for a short while, Goths, gender queers, and other outsiders can blend in, won’t be ostracised. When the rules of Normal don’t quite apply. Where the superheroes and wizards and beasts are, briefly, as welcome as anyone else.

And of course a time when the normal folk get to be tourists in the Tribe of the Strange . . . only to wake up the next day (possibly with hangovers or sugar crashes) and go back to the “real” world where dressing up like David bloody Beckham is the only acceptable form of cosplay — and the demons and witches get put back in the box marked “Unreal.”

I love Halloween. I love that everyone gets to join in. I don’t think the Tribe of the Strange needs a solid border between it and the “mundanes” — but I know the difference between being a tourist and being a citizen, that me and mine can’t really do the same. That dressing up as a magician one night a year, and being one all the time, are quite different things. Part of me wishes my tribe and theirs could get along better . . . but that the distance and difference between us might actually be the whole point.

Another part of me looks at all this and sees something that looks a whole lot like cultural theft.

Think about it — the majority culture cherry-picks what it finds attractive from an existing tribal tradition, shows little or no respect to that tribe, commodifies what it’s nicked and still insists it’s somehow superior to the tribe that’s been pillaged . . . (Much like those “literary” writers who co-opt SF and horror tropes without having actually read enough of the genre to avoid the worst clichés, then loudly claim what they have created isn’t that horrible sci-fi but somehow better . . . the Plastic Shamans of the Fantastic.)

I don’t actually take that idea seriously. If anything, I see that the weird is actually colonising the mundane in many ways. As our world grows more complex (both technologically and in terms of how many competing ideas surround us), ordinary life more and more resembles the science fiction of only a few years back. Those discrete fandoms that used to be obscure are becoming more acceptable and fannish conceits (from the value of behind-the-scenes documentaries to slash fiction) are becoming part of the general culture.

But no matter how much is absorbed into the common culture, there will always be those ideas and people who are too weird, won’t fit, stay beyond the pale — no matter how much money and publicity gets thrown at Harry Potter and Edward Cullen (and as the latter so perfectly shows, even those parts of the weird which do creep into the mainstream are softened, bowdlerised, rendered safe). And as mainstream culture shifts from permissive to restrictive and back again, this will oscillate. Or the weird will simply, once again, fall out of fashion. For a while.

And outside the normal world, the Tribe of the Strange will persist. We don’t shift with the tides of fashion. We’re not tourists in the weird parts of life — we live here.

We’re not as scary or inhospitable as the mundane world thinks. We don’t want to take them over or make them go away — we just hope to find a place where we can all talk, hang out, celebrate life in all its oddity and loveliness. Maybe we’ll find that Temporary Autonomous Zone, where the fantastic and the ordinary are all one tribe.

On Halloween, perhaps?

Buffy: “You’re missing the whole point of Halloween.”
Willow: “Free candy?!”

— From Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Footnotes

  1. Read more about Outsiders here.
  2. Fantastika, a word favored by John Clute and one worthy of emulating.
  3. BioEd Online: Conformists May Kill Civilizations.
  4. Cosplay, defined at Wikipedia, retrieved October 2009.

©2009 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.

Lupa’s Den – Thinking About Dead Animals

Lupa's Den - Thinking About Dead Animals

Over on my LiveJournal, I have a significant number of furries on my friend list; I’m not a furry myself, but I enjoy the artwork folks post, and we tend to have other things in common as well. (Lots of pagan furs, for one thing!) Something that got posted a few weeks back was some controversy over “soft taxidermy.” Basically, there are a handful of artists in the furry community who take whole pelts and stuff them like plush toys. (There are also apparently people who stick bows and other cutesy things on them, but I haven’t yet seen these pics.)

This has caused somewhat of an uproar, even among folks I know who have various hides, bones and other animal parts in their possession. Even folks who are okay with traditional taxidermy have found the real-fur plushies to be creepy, especially as they sometimes seem to be treated like toys (as though being a trophy is any better . . ?). And it’s brought about one of my periodic assessments of my own use of animal parts in my spirituality and artwork.

For those who don’t know, for over a decade I have been creating ritual tools and other artwork from hides, bones, feathers and other animal remains. It’s been an integral part of my spiritual practice because an animist, as I work with the spirits of the animals who once wore those remains. And it’s something I’ve always struggled with, ethically speaking, because I know and understand that by buying some of the things that I do, I’m directly supporting the fur industry and the deaths of numerous animals. Granted, I also support the deaths of animals by eating meat, though that’s due in part to a metabolic condition in which I need to have meat protein to maintain my health.

I always have a few options to choose from when I do this periodic questioning:

  • Keep doing what I’m doing: Obviously, this has been my choice up to this point. When I talk to the spirits of the animals themselves, they express appreciation that someone has actually taken the time to work with their remains in a respectful manner. This is especially true of things I’ve “rescued,” such as old fur coats and taxidermy mounts. What I create is intended to be respected in a spiritual manner, to include the gravity of the fact that yes, these were once living beings, and they didn’t have to die this way. I really ought to emphasize that latter part more.
  • Only use secondhand and found animal parts: In some ways, this would be a more ethical choice, because there’d be less of a direct impact overall, and I’d still be recycling. Honestly, the majority of what I work with is either old coats and other reclaimed remains, or things that other people have gotten rid of. I actually buy very little of anything new. But still, there are animal parts that I do buy new, and I do own up to that.
  • Use up what I have, and then quit: I have a lot of things I saved up over the years. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I went to one of two huge flea markets on a daily basis, and almost never came home empty-handed. Plus I do a lot of barter, and occasionally people will just give me furs and other things that they don’t know what to do with because they figure I can make something neat out of them. So I’d still have enough to keep me busy for quite some time.
  • Quit entirely: Or I could just sell off everything I have that can’t be safely buried (hides, for example, are generally tanned with nasty chemicals that we don’t need concentrated in the soil).

But the thing is — and this is the selfish part, and perhaps the biggest motivator — I enjoy my artwork. I can’t paint worth a crap, nor can I draw, or sculpt. This is really the only visual medium that I’m any good at. It’s one of my biggest stress-relievers, and it’s also a small stream of income for me. But mostly it’s the enjoyment I get out of it.

Also, it is a significant part of my spirituality, and has been since just about the beginning of my paganism over a decade ago. I have some personal skins and bones that are in my own set of ritual tools, and I work with those spirits as well as their corresponding totems on a regular basis — from the skins I dance in, to my horse hide drum, to the bear skull rattle, and then some. Maybe it’s all in my head (and maybe all spirituality is wholly subjective and used to justify personal preferences), but the spirits enjoy working with me as much as I enjoy working with them. When I dance a skin, it gives its spirit the chance to ride my body. When I create something out of remains that would have ended up incinerated or left to hang on a wall as a trophy, the spirit gets a chance to be a part of someone else’s practice — or maybe a participant thereof.

Yet I do realize the physical, real-world implications of what I do. Which is why I still mostly stick to second-hand remains, and why I donate a portion of the money I make from artwork sales to the Defenders of Wildlife and other nonprofits. I know that none of these choices will have as much of an impact as if I were to quit entirely. But I have my reasons for continuing, and I follow those reasons with the understanding of the consequences.

I’m not going to go and criticize the soft taxidermists, or the people who wear fox and coyote tails as a fashion statement, or those who wear fur coats, because in the end I know that I don’t have room to talk. My spiritual and personal reasons for what I do don’t make me a better person for it. But they do add value to my life, and I balance that out with the knowledge of the impact of my choices.

©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Lupa’s Den – Creepy-Crawlies and Heebie-Jeebies

Lupa's Den - Creepy-Crawlies and Heebie-Jeebies

I had a nightmare last night — about bugs. Scorpions, spiders, biting flies, centipedes, and other creepy-crawlies that could potentially do damage to the soft flesh wrapping my endoskeleton. (Why couldn’t it have been butterflies? Or snails?)

Back when I was a kid, I spent countless days when the weather was warm overturning rocks to catch various insects and other bugs. I walked through the grass scaring up grasshoppers, and while I never touched spiders, I did marvel at them, particularly the big, fat yellow and black garden spiders in their webs with the little zigzag. I had no fear in handling what I found, as long as it wasn’t poisonous. However, as I got older and more detached from the natural world through circumstance, I found myself picking up the common revulsion associated with bugs. Instead of being wowed by the structure of an arthropod’s body, I found the prickly, sharp sensation of the exoskeleton to be unnerving at the very least. Eventually I found myself yelping in fear at the sight of a bug on the floor, no matter what it was. (To be fair, I got startled as a child whenever I found bugs in the closet, or under the bed, or wherever else they hid themselves in the house — but it wasn’t as bad a reaction!)

I find myself regretting this change in my behavior. While I’m still quite comfortable with the warm-and-cuddly animals (and even the cool and scaly ones), the creepy-crawlies still bother me to a degree they didn’t used to. As I’ve become a grown-up and, unfortunately, lost some of the seemingly easy connection to Nature that I had as a child, my discomfort with the “icky” things in Nature has grown. Like most Americans, I’ve become antagonistic towards those parts of Nature that don’t fit my comfort level.

There’s a lesson in all of this, of course. A large part of why I became a neopagan in the first place was to reconnect with Nature, to try to rebuild what I lost somewhere in my teens. For years I focused mainly on the abstractions, the symbols, the nice, safe, distant representations. Once I began practicing (neo)shamanism a couple of years ago, though, I could no longer distance myself, and was in fact encouraged to dig in to the earthy, raw bits of Nature as much as I could. It’s been good for me — I’ve come to appreciate the joys of compost as I’ve gardened, and I’m more liable to let myself go out and get muddy in the wetlands near my home. But I still have issues with the bugs, and that’s who I need to be learning from.

Some people would try to categorize the totems of these species as “shadow totems,” totems which scare us and, through that fear, teach us about things we may not want to face. If that’s the case, then I have a lot of shadow totems to work with! However, this is a complex situation. It’s not just a matter of “I don’t want to get my clothes dirty” or “EEEEK! SOMETHING JUST LANDED ON ME!” It’s an overarching detachment from the natural world, through my perception of it, as well as the decrease in the amount of time I’ve spent in it.

I can shut myself away from lions, tigers and bears, and so forth. However, the Little Ones won’t let me forget that, even in my nice, warm home, I’m part of Nature. From the tiny brown ants that persist in poking into the kitchen and garage (and occasionally the bathroom), to the moths that attempt to gain access to the pantry, to the wandering spiders who find shelter and food in the corners of my home when it rains, they all let me know that there’s no place to go where Nature doesn’t touch me. If it weren’t those critters that were reminding me, it would be the tiny beings in my digestive system, or the food that I eat. It just so happens that the creepy-crawlies are the ones who make the biggest impact, for all their size, right now.

And I write this as I have a healing spider bite on the inside of my left elbow, probably sustained while I slept. (There was no dead spider in the bed, so I’m guessing it got away!) I’ve been thinking about the creepy-crawlies in the couple of weeks since that happened, because if nothing else the bite made it clear that I do have to live with their existence, even in the comfort of my own home. This is my decision on how to deal with it, rather than the typical “GET OUT THE BUG BOMB!” reaction that most Americans would have.

I am a natural being; I am a mammal. I eat, I breathe, I drink, and I live in an environment populated by numerous other beings, large and small. They don’t exist according to my convenience, and the creepy-crawlies especially remind me of that. Time for me to remember that lesson.

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

©2009 Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Guttershaman 4: Authenticity, part one

Guttershaman 4: Authenticity, part one

“Of course the Chinese mix everything up — look at what they have to work with! Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoist alchemy and sorcery. We take what we want and leave the rest, just like your salad bar.” — Egg Shen in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China

(Disclaimer: I am, to quote Jim Jarmush’s great film Dead Man, a “Stupid Fucking White Man.” I have no formal training in the deep mysteries of any native shamanic or tribal tradition — or of any single tradition at all, for that matter. I am just a product of my time and place, trying to find my way. That perspective is the basis for all that follows.)

The title this time around is a misnomer. There are no authentic shamans. Not any more.

The term shaman is a specific one. It refers to Tungus-speaking tribal practitioners of folk magic and spirituality. They were wiped out so completely by Soviet and Chinese Communism that Western “neo-shamans” from Michael Harner’s school came over and instituted their own versions of “shamanic” practice to replace the native tradition. So that makes anyone claiming to be a shaman — neo, Gutter, or otherwise — inauthentic.

The idea of shamanism we have today, which draws ideas from many different tribal and native traditions (via anthropology, which co-opted the term), is likely a very different thing than the original Siberian form. The word “shaman” has become a placeholder, a symbol for something else — usually describing various interpretations of traditional and tribal spiritual praxes involving a rather borderline position to the rest of the tribe, consciousness alteration and “travelling” to spirit realms for healing and wisdom. Of course, in considering the use of tribal spiritual motifs from other cultures, we soon hit a problem… which is usually called cultural theft or appropriation.

There’s no doubt that an awful lot of problems have arisen due to the heavy-handed appropriation of older cultural concepts. The Native American Nations have often complained about (mostly) white New Age practitioners taking elements of their practices and touting them, out of context, as a spiritual path. Interestingly, common terms used by Native Americans to describe these New Agers include “plastic shamans” and “shake-and-bake shamans.”

I think the key factors here surround concepts of respect and authenticity. (A third factor is, of course, commerce. That’s a big enough can of worms that I’ll have to open it in a later chapter.) The respect part I get, absolutely. Barging into a native tradition and announcing you’re not only a fully-fledged practitioner of that tradition’s mysticism but that you’re improving it, and that the natives are Doing It Wrong, is insulting and crass. “Taking the piss,” as we Brits call it.

If you’re going to work fully in a magical or spiritual tradition, I would say showing due respect to the culture it came from is just good bloody manners, as well as good sense. But at the same time, worrying about how the symbols and memes of such cultures are used (or even misused) outside of their native context often seems more a matter of colonial guilt and shame than disrespect. It’s a complex set of issues.

(Plus, some of those tribal traditions have attitudes and practices — homophobia, misogyny, isolationism, child abuse, human sacrifice — which are frankly best left to the past. Of course, the actions of colonial invaders in the past were often just as vile. . . and I can’t offhand think of a culture that has not been invaded and colonised at some time in its past, or been the invader, or both. Like I said, complex.)

Is it cultural appropriation for a white man to enjoy (or perform) Afro-Caribbean music? Or for an Indian movie maker to be inspired by Hollywood (or vice versa)? Or an Amazonian native to wear a Manchester United t-shirt? For a magician to use layman’s versions of quantum or meme theory as magical tools?

To me, that’s kind like asking whether “Crossroads Blues” was performed better by Robert Johnson or Cream. Or more directly, which is best — traditional Yoruba magic, Haitian Voudon, New Orleans Voodoo, or Cuban Santeria?

Cultures are always a mix of the native and the foreign, the traditional and the new, and have been ever since humans started to trade. The quote at the start of this article states the mix of currents in Chinese spirituality quite nicely, for example. The degree of mixing changes over time and place — sometimes just a touch, sometimes a dollop. Sometimes the mixings can provide something genuinely good — like the massive upgrade to British cuisine provided by Asian immigrants in the 1970’s. Sometimes it doesn’t work so well — such as Japanese whiskey. But cultures and traditions evolve through mixing and exchange of ideas.

This is especially true of Britain, a Mongrel Nation if ever there was one (as explained in scrupulous and often hilarious detail by Eddie Izzard in his TV show of that name). The original native British (and Western European) “shamanic” traditions are all but gone too, banished by the Christians. . . but enough hints and pieces remain in myth and legend — in our culture — to inspire a new “tradition” of mystical praxis to arise. It’s not terribly authentic, in all likelihood — there’s no way to really know (though many talented pagans and historians are doing their best to find out all they can about it). Large chunks of it have been drawn from other native traditions. But it is powerful and quite beautiful at times. At other times, it can be a farrago of confused, misquoted and misapplied traditional currents, mixed in ignorance, stirred in arrogance. The result isn’t authentic at all — no matter how hard some New Age types try to claim it as such.

No question that the Plastic Shamans and their techniques are all too often a hodgepodge of different traditions and practices thrown together more or less at random. And, I have to admit, the same could be said of what I do, too.

That’s part of the reason I coined the term “Guttershaman” to describe my path/ spirituality/ whatever. Most people know what shaman — and gutter — implies.

Yes, I picked up my information from libraries, other practitioners, movies and TV shows — and I made a whole bunch of stuff up, based on my experiences and discoveries. At the same time, there was always something about the shamanic concept as I understood it that called to me: The element of being an outsider to the tribe as a whole, but still in some sense having a responsibility to it. The use of ecstatic and terrifying occurrences as a tool for spiritual development. The process of bringing something back from “the other side.” And, ultimately, the sense of being called to the path by something beyond the normal world. If there’s any authenticity in what I do, it’s that.

My wife is also a shaman. Her path, to put it mildly, differs from mine. She found that her way in Curanderismo — the Hispanic American folk practice. She has spent a long time in Peru, learning it firsthand from a master whose family has worked in this path for generations. She’s also a neuroscientist by training, and has picked up more than a little of the multi-model approach to magic, both from myself and from her own studies. Thus, when she thinks about that path, there are degrees of both distance and immersion, depending on circumstance and context.

Also. . . her master has taken the sacred songs (icaros) from many different tribes in Peru and elsewhere to bring into his praxis. That tradition is itself mixed with Catholic elements brought over by the Conquistadors. In fact, the majority of the lyrics to the icaros are in Spanish and use Christian imagery. The pure native tradition just isn’t there anymore.

Is the system she follows authentic? Is it more, or less, appropriate for her (an American woman of East European Jewish ancestry and a trained scientist) to practice it than for her Columbian-born, mixed-race, Catholic-indoctrinated Maestro? And is she more, or less, of a shaman than I?

Put it this way — she and I both get results. And we work together great.

It’s the concept of authenticity that gets in the way, I think. It’s like purity in some ways — an impossible, and sometimes dangerous, ideal. Except, perhaps, when talking about being authentic to an ideal. . .

To feel that your true identity is not based in your immediate family, your tribe, your country and its religious and social habits — but is something you sense and strive towards — is not easy. Sometimes an idea from another culture is exactly the thing you need to, forgive the term, become yourself. Sometimes, who you’re born as and raised as isn’t who you are. It isn’t theft to find a different culture to your own enriching — as long as you are authentic in your respect, that you strive not just to take but also to give.

As long as you don’t take the piss.

Further Thoughts From a Wise Man

“Authenticity is bullshit. Never more so than today. We can be anyone we can imagine being. We can be someone new every day. See if any of these comments are familiar:

“You should be happy with who you are.”

“Be yourself.”

“That stuff’s just fake.”

“Don’t get ideas above your station.”

“Take that shit off.”

“Why can’t you be like everyone else?”

Yeah?

We’re not real enough. We’re not authentic to our society. …But you know what? Back in the days before the internet, a kid called Robert Zimmerman said, “Fuck that, I’m going to be the man I dream of being. I’m going to become someone completely new and write about the end of the world because it’s the only thing worth talking about.” And that was one guy in Minnesota, in the decade the telecommunications satellite was invented.

Imagine what all of us, living here in the future, can achieve.

Be authentic to your dreams. Be authentic to your own ideas about yourself. Grind away at your own minds and bodies until you become your own invention.

Be mad scientists.

Here at the end of the world, it’s the only thing worth doing.”

— Warren Ellis, in Doktor Sleepless Issue 5, “Your Imaginary Friend.”

PostScript

In researching this piece, I came across a lot of very interesting writing on the subjects discussed. Two I found — one long, the other very short — are especially worth a look.

(Next on Guttershaman — Culture, money and morality. Tricksters and thieves. Probably.)

©2009 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.

The Great Work of the Holy Guardian Angel

The Great Work of the Holy Guardian Angel by Sheta Kaey

“Angel” is a word that carries even more baggage than “soulmate” — baggage that goes back thousands of years to the beginnings of Judeo-Christian theology. While the most common definition of the word tends to be “messenger of God,” that raises the further question of “what is God?” and that’s a question I’m not going to touch with your ten-foot pole. It’s clear, however, that the Judeo-Christian majority in the Western world assumes that God and angels are known quantities, and that no one else should have any claim to them.

A long time acquaintance of mine has a relationship with a being many believe to be an archangel. His name is Azrael. My friend once told me, “Azrael says that angels are simply those who came before.” Meridjet appreciates the broad scope of that definition, and goes on to say that there is no explicit spiritual hierarchy as is often believed. There are no “higher” or “lower” beings, only less evolved and more evolved — further, if you like, but not higher. While the classification of higher and lower worlds and beings is useful, particularly in study of the Tree of Life, it’s important to remember that the map is not the territory. We should not fall into the trap of taking any symbol as literal truth, including the illusions of separation or hierarchy.

Most humans in the West, regardless of religion, tend to label worlds, planes, and beings of a subtler nature as “higher,” and worlds, planes, and beings of a less subtle, denser nature as “lower.” This labeling, while indeed useful for comprehension and aspiration, unfortunately grew into a judgment call. In time, any denser being was assumed to be evil, while any subtler being was assumed to be fundamentally good. While the hierarchical label itself isn’t a problem, the assumptions it invites are problematic because the nature of any being is not reliant upon its vibrational level any more than a television station on the “higher” digital band is essentially more divine than a television station on the “lower” analog band.

Angels, when reduced to the bare bones of the concept, are mediators between the divine and humankind, providing guidance, instruction, and service for the betterment of individuals and the whole of the species. This does not mean, however, that they are the light to a demon’s darkness in some cosmic polarity dividing the universe into “good” and “evil.” All beings have light and darkness within them, and all beings are capable of comforting as well as brutalizing us, if given sufficient cause. In the name of growth, most actions are acceptable. This is a very frightening thought.

In Thelema, my favored philosophy, there is the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel. This is not the usual “guardian angel” that hopeful individuals invoke in difficult or stressful situations, but something more akin to Socrates’ higher genius, what he called his daemon. Yet it is more than that. The function of the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) is part higher self and part autonomous spirit guide, with a healthy dollop of animus (or anima, as the case may be), all wrapped up in mysterious, powerful attraction. It’s never firmly defined in any text, including this one, as it’s a concept that cannot be grasped without the experience to provide the Eureka!, the epiphany of understanding that accompanies all great truths.

The purpose of the HGA is generally described as “revealing your True Will,” “revealing your Great Work,” or “leading you to your life’s purpose.” These concepts, then, are often assumed to be synonymous. But as with the concept of hierarchy, these should not be taken merely at face value. I’ll attempt to explain them, and then circle back to illustrate my point. The “life’s purpose” is, of course, the reason you are here. It’s what you are meant to do. But how do you know what that purpose is? How do you discover it? Everyone judges the raison d´êtres of those who’ve passed on: When I was younger, people said that John Lennon had lived to promote peace and was killed when he’d learned all he needed to. Mother Teresa lived a life of sacrifice and love, caring for the poor; she was meant to set an example for the rest of us. Princess Diana’s life was meant to renew the inspiration of British royalty, while eschewing the status quo and traveling the world, revealing horrible conditions that even today we still seek to assuage. And so on. We speculate endlessly about the life purposes of now dead public figures because we find them easier to pigeonhole, to define according to our limited views of what’s important. Our own purposes elude us, and even as we seek them out, we may suffer doubt or fear that we’ve missed the signposts and are careening out of control, toward a death that will bring no easy epitaph.

Thelemites and magicians like to believe that they’ve got the inside scoop on what they’re meant to do with their lives. They talk about their HGAs and their True Wills, how “Love is the Law” and “compassion is the vice of Kings” as if they were members of a secret club giving out magic decoder rings to the worthy. Magical fraternities and orders perpetuate this belief by keeping certain teachings for the inner orders, available only by petition and initiation. “Would you like to learn why you’re here? Step right up and we’ll show you your life’s purpose!” This “life’s purpose” is the blind, or false information that sets the ignorant upon a pointless path, often found in magical texts and especially in the writings of Aleister Crowley. Or, if you’d rather, not really false information, in this case, so much as divergent information.

The Great Work is the term used by Thelemites to refer to the life’s purpose, which is revealed to the individual who receives Knowledge and Conversation with his or her Holy Guardian Angel (KCHGA). The blind exists in the novice’s assumption that one’s Great Work is mundane: to become something within the span of this lifetime that gains recognition, contributes something to the world, or in some way leads to the usual definition of “success.” When a magician claims to have KCHGA and in the next sentence refers to his Great Work as a mundane, finite goal, he reveals himself to be a fraud.

In actuality, the Great Work refers to the true (and infinite) goal of everyone, everywhere, regardless of race, creed, intelligence, or any other factor. This goal is simple: to evolve. To become something better today than we were yesterday. To grow as individuals. To put it in New Age terms, it’s the raising of the consciousness of humanity, ushering us into that New Age, or New Aeon, when restriction falls away and freedom equals harmony. It’s a pipe dream, when applied to the world as a whole; there is never going to be a recognizable dawning of a New Aeon, and certainly not in some great cosmic shift as so many like to believe. Dawn is incremental; by its very nature it is impossible to gauge except in retrospect: By the time the light of humanity (or day) shines brightly enough to be recognized, the dawn will have passed.

Furthermore, a single day’s worth of encounters with random humanity is enough to illustrate the vast number of people who have no interest in evolving unless it serves their most immediate needs. If they can’t see the payoff, they’re not going to bother. Case in point: Who believes that the wife-beater down the street who spends his entire welfare check on beer and weed has any desire to become more? But when you consider the individuals who do have an interest in that becoming, it’s at the very least food for thought. The world is made up of individuals, and someday maybe the majority will make that choice — to become more — one at a time, and will tip the scales in favor of that New Aeon. (In my opinion, this mundane universe is a compressed, self-contained learning system — a classroom — and eventually, everyone will move on to those “higher” vibrations and pass to a more enlightened universe. Whether this one ever really dawns into something more hopeful is very nearly immaterial.) And this brings us to the True Will.

The True Will is completely the property of the HGA. People, magicians, Thelemites can harp all day about making conscious choices and about how acting like a buffoon during an important meeting is their “true will,” but that won’t make it so. The True Will transcends conscious awareness, and it manipulates us in spite of ourselves. Make that choice, decide just one time that you’re going to seriously, truly dedicate yourself to your personal growth, and your True Will steps up to the plate and takes over. You may have never heard of the concept, but (unlike missionaries converting the savages to the love of Christ) it’s not necessary to know of it, because your conscious involvement is of little concern. The True Will is set into gear by your dedication, your choice, taking over like a spiritual autopilot, bringing you into line time and again. You may not get there — to “more” — via the most direct route, and you may not get there painlessly (in fact, the odds are against it), but you will get there, because once you’ve made the commitment, the Universe responds to every move you make with either momentum (supporting your conscious choices) or a slap upside the head. Have you ever felt battered by circumstances, asking yourself what you did to deserve this? Try looking around — what are you being shown? What is the Universe, and your HGA (KCHGA or not), trying to show you? Stop playing the victim, and take responsibility for the lesson. If you don’t, those slaps will just keep getting harder.

As the governor of True Will, your HGA will lead you in whatever way is necessary to accomplish your evolution. You’re now on the fast track, and look out, because (as a friend once said to me), your HGA will rip your arm off and smack you with it if he thinks that’s what will get the point across. I strongly advise listening before things get to the arm-ripping point.

Not your mother’s guardian angel, is it?

This article is excerpted from the upcoming book, Infinite Possibility.

Sheta Kaey is Editor in Chief of Rending the Veil and is working on her first book, Infinite Possibility. You can read her blog here.

©2009 by Sheta Kaey
Edited by Sarenth

Lupa’s Den – Animal Totems in Context

Lupa's Den - Animal Totems in Context

In my decade-plus of being a pagan and magician, animal magic and animal totemism have always been my main focus regardless of what paradigm I was working in. Since I began practicing shamanism in earnest back in 2007, I’ve become much more aware of how interconnected everything really is. While I was already an active environmentalist, my experiences with shamanism gave me even greater reasons to be tuned into the ecosystems around me and the inhabitants thereof, including on the physical level. And while the animals initially ushered me into the shamanic path I’m walking now, they made it clear early on that they were not to be the do-all and end-all of my guides in my experiences.

The more I practice, the more I realize that working exclusively with animal totems is limiting, and it’s really an artificial separation. I think people who work with animal totems are attracted to them partly for their charisma, and partly for the familiarity. We can relate well to animals because we are animals. We especially find ourselves allied with mammals because we are mammals. The further away from Homo Sapiens a totem is, the harder on average it is for a person to connect with it because of a lack of familiarity. (Though the opposite is true with primate totems, who may be too close to us for many of us to feel that there’s anything to learn — which couldn’t be further from the truth!)

Yet just as we can’t really understand physical animals when they’re taken out of their natural habitats, we can’t really understand totems fully when we work with them exclusive of the rest of their environment, spiritual and otherwise. Animals are just one part of a collective, complex ecosystem made of plants of varying sorts, fungi (including mycorrhizal fungi in the root systems of plants), the soil and other geological phenomena, the weather and other climate elements, and any bodies of water — and that’s just the basic view. All of these factors have an effect on animal behavior and biology, and vice versa. An ecosystem is just that — a system. Taking any single part out of the whole changes both. This is why wild animals in a zoo behave differently from their counterparts in the wild, often drastically so.

So why do we so often try to work with animal totems outside of their ecosystems? Ecosystems exist spiritually as well as physically — totems in general are just one manifestation thereof. I know very few people who work with plant or mineral totems (and I completely admit to slacking in that regard). I do work with the archetypal manifestations of more overarching phenomena, such as the Earth, Sky, Sun, Moon, Wind, Water, etc., as well as genii loci and other land spirits. But while I’ve worked quite a bit with animal totems as archetypal representations of their given species, I haven’t done so in the same way with plants and minerals, and that’s a pretty significant hole in my work with ecosystems in general.

As graduate school has eaten a lot of my time (though as a counseling psych student it is a part of my shamanic training/practice), I haven’t done as much direct spiritual work as I might like (though the spirits I work with are patient). But as Scrub Jay’s entrance into my life has indicated, paying more attention to where I live locally is of the utmost important. My view may not be as broad as it was, but it’s a lot more detailed. And in those details I’m beginning to see the places and beings that I’ve missed. As I continue to strengthen my connection to the Land here, I’m going to be increasing my focus on the plants, the minerals, and the other beings that I may have overlooked while focusing so heavily on the animals. Not that the animals will go away, but instead they’ll be brought into a richer, fuller context with all of the spirits of their ecosystem, spiritually and physically.

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

©2009 Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Guttershaman 3: Working Magic

Guttershaman 3: Working Magic

. . . hoodoo’s no different than regular praying. The prayers are always answered, just that sometimes the answer’s no.” — Bill Fitzhugh, Highway 61 Resurfaced

(Disclaimer: This is not a how-to guide for spell-casting. It’s a quick look at some of the background and theory. I take no responsibility for the results of anyone mistaking the below text for an instruction manual!)

Previously, I made the point that any theory or description of how magic works will be necessarily subjective, partial and on some level utterly insufficient in fully describing what happens.

But I’m going to have a go anyway.

So, a magician takes patterns in their mind, forges meaningful connections between symbols, events, people and places and things. This set of patterns, their map of the universe if you like, orients them and shows possibilities of action.

What happens next?
That depends on the map.

There are a few ways of describing the overall patterns — the meta-models — used in most magical styles. A good summation of four rough types is here. Using that scheme, I’d describe what I do as a mix of the Energy and Information models, with a side-order of the Psychological. I don’t work the Spiritual model much, except when needed (i.e. if I encounter something that acts like a spirit!).

The Energy model — especially the Far-Eastern-styled variants — is pretty good for describing what I actually do and feel when I “do magic.” A “spell” to me is basically a series of instructions imprinted onto personal energy and send out on a push of focused emotion and intent. Like a martial arts punch — it’s not just the movement of hand and arm that matters, it’s the will behind it.

And, again like martial arts. . . it’s all about the breath.

If you look at most traditions, the words for magical energy all translate as “breath.” Mana, Prana, Baraka, Ch’i/Ki, Pneuma. . . they all seem to describe the same thing. Even a word like ‘conspiracy’ (which pops up now and again when talking about the occult…) means at root “those who breathe together.” The primacy of breath is one of the reasons so many systems instruct the beginner in some form of meditation — to teach breath control both as a quick and easy method for altering consciousness and as the basic tool of controlling and focusing one’s ch’i to be deployed magically. Meditation also teaches the student to cut down the signal-to-noise ratio in his mind, the better to sense the change in energies around him. To “detect magic.”

Again I should point out, it’s only a model. The use of the word “energy” in mysticism, especially these days, has been haphazard to say the least. Probably the only word misused more these days is “vibrations.” Or possibly “quantum.”

The Chinese term Ch’i has a lot of utility for me, mainly because Ch’i is considered a universal energy, pretty much like The Force. It scales up nicely — the same system used in acupuncture theory or martial arts is applied on a larger scale in feng shui. It also ties in to my own Taoist tendencies belief-wise. So, I’ll be using it a lot here.

(I’ve always had what could be called a sensitivity to magical energy, to both my own Ch’i and that in my environment. I usually feel it as a kind of temperature shift, sometimes as a tingle in my peripheral nervous system, sometimes even as a kind of ghost-of-a-smell. I’m pretty sure that this sensory input is only a symbol for whatever it is I’m actually getting information about/from, in the same way that the senses we call “smell” and “taste” don’t actually feel like molecules rubbing against our mucous membranes. It’s a shorthand, a symbol, like everything about magic — and it’s a good idea to remind yourself of that fact on a regular basis.)

Back to that spell. The next point to consider is, what is the spell for?

It can be for anything the magician can imagine. Though the intent alters the kind of emotional set and setting for the spell, it doesn’t usually change the mechanics of casting — though of course some techniques work better than others, depending on the intent. (You probably wouldn’t want to focus on feelings of anger and violence when attempting healing, for instance.) The key thing here is the magician must seriously want the instructions to be carried out, he must suit his mood to the intent, and he must formulate his instructions reasonably clearly.

I could go on at great length here about the morality of magic use — and I may do so at a later date. (Short version: I’ve seen no sign of any kind of automatic “Law of Three-fold Return” or similar retribution governing spell use. The morality of magical action falls to the caster. Though karmic payback isn’t guaranteed, often like energies will attract like. But it’s not inevitable that “bad magic” will lead to a bad end. Unfortunately. My own morality leans heavily toward the issue of consent. I never initiate magical combat — only defend or counter-attack when hostilities are begun. I don’t push healing unless I’m asked. And I never, ever, work love spells. To my mind, they’re the psychic version of date-rape drugs.)

The traditional, old school, Spirit-model-based magical styles of spellcasting are usually lengthy processes. The mage would have to thoroughly research the timing (both logistically and astrologically) of the casting, determine which spirits and entities have to be invoked or kept away, lay out surroundings which are conducive to those spirits, select tools in keeping with the occasion, make a magically clear and safe space, probably observe some kind of ritual cleansing beforehand, cast a circle, make ritual obeisance to the pantheon involved… and then finally cast the spell.

All very well and good. . . and those High Magic rites can have great beauty and efficacy. But from my perspective, most of that prep falls under the heading of “getting into the mindset,” reinforcing the associations in the pattern. For most people, generating the emotional charge needed for working magic requires a dramatic shift from “ordinary” reality — and the borders of the magical reality they are creating have to be fiercely guarded, lest they fall. They’re making a kind of Temporary Autonomous Zone, a brief suspension of the ordinary rules. Though this separation of the magical and the mundane has its uses, I find it mostly a false distinction. With practice — and a good understanding of one’s internal patterns of symbol and Ch’i — one can generate the right mood with a few muttered words, humming a snatch of a tune, or simply taking a slow deep breath.

The emotional push, the Ch’i generation and harnessing needed for magic, can be found in anything that matters to the mage and fits their internal map. Some find it in rituals as described above. Some get to it through sexual activity. Some from dancing, from the emotional climax of a piece of a music or a movie or beating the Boss Level in a computer game. Anything can work. The closer it fits both the intent of the spell and the internal pattern-map of the mage, is usually the better.

The mood is found, the intent created in the magician’s mind. . . then with a push (or a shout, or a waving of wands, or an orgasm, or…) the spell is cast. Instructions/requests given to the Universe to change according to the magician’s will.

Some kind of banishing should then follow. Even if there’s no clear delineation between the magical and non-magical space, the energies recently harnessed should be allowed to settle and disperse, any entities which may have manifested given leave to depart, and generally the whole place cleaned and tidied up thoroughly. The residue of a space where this is not done can deform, grow toxic. . . and sometimes attract unpleasantness. (Think of the neglected remains of a picnic, attracting ants. Replace “ants” with “demons” or “bad vibes.” You get the idea.)

Then comes the hard part. . . seeing if the spell worked.

Like everything else in magic, deciding whether or not a casting has actually had any effect is just about as subjective as you can get. (And that’s before you even start to worry about how it worked!) Quite often, the exact results aren’t quite as the caster imagined them; usually the changes in the world are small.

Maybe that’s all magic is — a way of nudging chance in a tiny way, allowing the repercussions to spiral outward like the butterfly wing altering the quantum flow of —

Bugger it. I said, “quantum.”

(Next on Guttershaman — much, much more on tradition, “authenticity” and such. And I use “the S word” again.)

©2009 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.

Next Page »

51 queries. 1.845 seconds