20 March 2015

Seattle Event - Ostara Saturday 3/21

If you're in the area come and celebrate Ostara with me in Discovery Park! We'll be meeting in the north parking lot at 3:45pm tomorrow.

The ritual will be very informal and will largely improvised (so what happens will depend on who shows up). Bring a small offering of nuts, seeds, or flowers.

The park can be wet and muddy, so wear sturdy shoes that can stand a bit of muck. It's Seattle, so rain gear is always a good idea (and it's supposed to be damp tomorrow). We may take a small hike around the park depending on the weather, so bring a water bottle.


https://www.facebook.com/events/1561648907450444/

06 March 2015

Book Review: Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums by Jamie Davis

Any regular reader of this blog knows that I've got a thing for ghosts (it's the whole worshiping death and spending quality time in the underworld thing).  I consume pretty much any and all media I can get my hands on regarding ghosts - whether I expect it to be good or not. 

When I stumbled upon Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums: Inside Abandoned Institutions for the Crazy, Criminal & Quarantined by Jamie Davis I knew I had to read it.  You see, most ghosts are totally benign and absolutely nothing like the rampaging fright-makers you see on sensationalist paranormal television.  However, the ghosts of criminals, the insane, and the criminally insane are a different story.  I've dealt with an insane ghost and it was terrifying.  I came to this book in the hopes of finding new and interesting information on atypical hauntings, but was disappointed.

Reading the introduction to this book I was immediately put on guard by the author describing her view of ghost hunting as a thrill-seeking activity.  Don't get me wrong, I totally see the appeal of spooking yourself silly in "haunted" places, but lauding it doesn't exactly give me confidence in the veracity of ones stories.  Thankfully, the author is really good about identifying her experiences as only that and doesn't make mountains out of molehills.  No shifting tree branches that are obviously signs of demonic activity!!!! Just honest experiences of being creeped out in exceedingly creepy places.

This books is basically a paranormal tourism guide and it serves that function pretty well.  Each chapter is about a visit the author made to a different paranormal hotspot and contains some basic historical information, the author's experiences while there, and info on how you can visit (many location offer regular tours or Halloween attractions).  It's written in a very matter-of-fact, guidebook style (which is fine, but it's not exactly flowing prose).  I do like that author has a webpage with all of the video, audio, and photos taken at each location so you can look and see for yourself.

This book is fine when the author is talking about the history of the location, but I had some trouble enjoying her descriptions of her personal experiences.  The problem is that the author is clearly an amateur ghost hunter, so she doesn't exactly offer deep insights into the paranormal.  If I want to hear about someone being freaked out by shadows I'll watch it on tv where I can enjoy the jump cuts and the soundtrack can get me invested.  Reading about it just falls flat.  Nothing all that extraordinary happens.  There's really not much in this book that you can't get from surfing the web, though perhaps not quite so conveniently packaged.  This book feels like the writer watched a few seasons of Ghost Hunters and then spent some time cruising paranormal hot spots to see what all the fuss is about.  While there's nothing wrong with that, it's just not the book I wanted to read.

If you're a seasoned ghost hunter or serious paranormal enthusiast, don't bother with this book.  There's just not enough added knowledge or even entertainment value to make it worth the money.  If you're an armchair ghost lover or someone looking to plan a trip to a haunted place then you might enjoy it, but there are better sources out there.

21 February 2015

Pop Culture Magick: Working with Villains

First off, a huge thank you to all who attended my workshop at Pantheacon! You people are the absolute best.  I really mean that.  There is nothing more rewarding than being able to share what I do and actually see the look of understanding on peoples faces as they find concepts that work for them.  It gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies :)

I've been asked by several people to do a more in-depth write-up of the material for folks who weren't there and for those who didn't take notes and this is it.  If you're not already familiar with the basics of Pop Culture Magick (PCM) I suggest you go over to my PCM index and read through my earlier articles.

Why Work With Villains?

When choosing what pop culture character you want to work with for any particular magickal act; the choice ultimately it comes down to figuring out what character you feel most comfortable with that can help you achieve your goal in the manner you want it achieved.  For most people most of the time, that character is going to be a hero because they're generally helpful, hardworking, and kind.  However, there are circumstances where the moral forthrightness of your average hero can hinder your goals more than help them (and not just when you're being naughty).

It is critical that you feel comfortable with whatever character you choose to work with.  The sympathy and connection we feel with a character is what makes PCM so effective.  For those of us that do the occasional bit of ethically grey or unambiguously black magick it can be difficult to achieve that kind of connection with your standard hero.  (I'm pretty sure Captain America would give me his disappointed face if I tried to work with him.)  Villains, on the other hand, tend to be very non-judgmental.  It's not like they can take the moral high ground with you, unless you've been a very naughty monkey indeed.  Not being overly burdened with morality, villains tend to embrace whomever can make their existence more entertaining.

Even if your magickal goal is a pure as the driven snow, sometimes you just don't have the time or energy to get all your moral ducks in a row before acting.  As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.  Villains are generally unburdened by guilt and as a result will do whatever is necessary to achieve their goal.  Many of them tend to be ruthless, efficient, and thorough; though a goodly number are also insane, capricious, and flighty - choose your villain carefully.

For What Types of Workings are Villains Best Suited?

Surprisingly (or not), villains are good at a lot more than simply wreaking havoc upon the unsuspecting.  The following list contains some magickal goals you might consider working on with a villain.
  • Bringing hidden things into the light (often being dragged kicking and screaming)
    • Villains are exceptionally good at ferreting out hidden secrets and exposing them.  My favorite example of this is Sweet from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - a demon who reveals the truth of a situation by making the people involved sing.  (If you haven't seen the episode Once More With Feeling, I'm not sure we can be friends anymore.)
  • Shaking up stagnant energy (also known as "running amok")
    • There are many villains in pop culture whose goals involve "saving" society from itself, usually by tearing down the established order of things.  When things in your life have ground to a halt and you're willing to take more extreme measures to get energy moving again you can consider working with villains like Ra's Al Ghul from Batman or  Ozymandias from Watchmen.
  • Standing up for things frowned upon by society at large
    • As with the above, many villains are anti-establishment and are happy to work against prevailing societal mores.  A great example of this is Dracula - a character that in many of his incarnations represents an unleashing of forbidden desires and a threat to society (I'm particularly fond of the version from Carlos Fuentes's Vlad for this purpose). 
  • Persuasion (manipulation if we're being totally honest)
    • Many of the best villains are absolutely as slick as they come.  They could sell ice to an Eskimo, charm the pants off of your mother, and convince just about anyone to do just about anything.  Just a few of the many villains who can fit this bill are Hannibal Lector, Lex Luthor, Sher Kahn, Loki, etc.
  • Focus and single-minded pursuit of a goal (regardless of collateral damage or personal cost)
    • If you find yourself constantly being distracted from achieving your goals you can call on villains for help, as many of them are absolutely obsessed with achieving their own goals.  Just be careful, as you may end up just as obsessed as they are.  Some examples of this are: Voldemort, Amora (from the Thor comics), and Fiona Goode (from AHS: Coven).
  • Justice/Revenge
    • A lot of villains raison d'etre is to take revenge on those who they believed have wronged them and many would be only too happy to help you to do the same (as ruthlessly as possible).  A good example of this is the Penguin (particularly from Batman Returns).  It's also a good cause for a "villain for hire" like Moriarty from the BBC Sherlock.  Keop in mind that there are also a lot of totally ruthless anti-heros that would do just as good of a job such as The Punisher, Eric Draven (from The Crow), and the Bride (from the Kill Bill movies).
  • Hexing
    • There comes a time in every practitioner's life when they just need to hex the ever living fuck out of someone.  There are plenty of villains that would gleefully help you to do so.  Think Bellatrix Lestrange.  There are consequences to doing something like this.  Don't be stupid about it.

The Rules

Like any other kind of magick, there are rules (more like guidelines) for successfully working with villains.

Rule 1 - Version Control

I have a whole blog post from last year on versions control: Who's Your Doctor.  If you haven't read it yet I suggest you do so (that way I don't have to rehash everything). 

While version control is important in any kind of PCM, it's doubly so when working with villains.  One of the primary characteristics of many villains is that they are trixy bastards and generally enjoy making trouble. Being extremely careful and explicit about exactly which version of a character you want to work with can save you a lot of trouble.  Such specificity ensures that you get the version of the character that has exactly the attributes you want to work with and nothing extraneous or unexpected (but always expect the unexpected - we'll talk about that more in a little bit).

Rule 2 - Know Your Goal

Before working with a villain (or any other entity) it is important to know exactly what you want to accomplish - and what you do not want to accomplish as collateral damage.  Working with a villain is a lot like working with faeries or Goetic demons - they will do exactly what you say, rather than what you intend, and they will do whatever they want within the rules you set up for them.  You can't set up your rules if you don't know exactly what you want.

Rule 3 - Know Thyself

You've chosen to work with a villain. Why? Are you really OK with the methods your chosen villain is likely to employ in the pursuit of your goals? Are you willing to accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions? Are you confident you will be able to keep your villain in line or will it go rogue the second you let your guard down? Are you comfortable with the price the villain wants for doing your work? Unless you're comfortable with the answers to those questions then you need to rethink what you're doing.

Rule 4 - Healthy Limits

As mentioned above, it's important to give a villain very strict limits as to what they are allowed to do in your name. Most villains will walk all over you if given half the chance.  Be very, very careful to explicitly set down what they are and are not allowed to do, to whom, why, when, where, etc.  Write it down on physical paper.  Do not fuck around with this.   

Rule 5 - Expect the Unexpected

You are not perfect and most villains will mess with you if they can.  Even if you've set down perfect rules, even if your goals are in perfect alignment with the villain's character, even if you've given them everything they ask for, villains can usually find a way to do something you could not predict.  Think of your worst possible case scenario of working with a villain - it just might happen.  No matter how good you are it is always possible for something to go wrong.  If you're not OK with that, rethink what you're doing. 

Payment

Like working with any other spirit/metaphysical entity, villains should receive something from you in exchange for their help.  In fact, this is far more important when working with villains than when working with heroes.  You do not want to end up owing a villain a "favor" (think of it like owing a mob boss a favor - do not want!). 

What villains want in exchange for their help varies wildly from character to character.  For some being asked to cause a bit of trouble is a reward in and of itself, but most want a bit more.  Come prepared with what you're willing to pay them, you don't want to let them come up with something on their own.  Think of something that is very specific to the character you're working with.  You might offer Fiona Goode a nice dry martini and some cigarettes while you might offer Hannibal Lector a gourmet meal.  You might offer Dracula a bit of your own blood, while you might offer Sweet a painful truth of your own.  Be sure that you don't offer too much of yourself - if you give a villain an inch it might take rather more than you anticipated.

A Caveat

Villains are not nice.  Even if they like you, even if you've got a great working relationship with them, never forget that they are villains.  Trust cautiously.  Take the greatest of care in all your dealings with them and be prepared to accept the consequences.

Further, working with villains can affect who you are.  You are deliberately entangling your personal energies with theirs and that can have great impact on who you are.  It can change you.   If you decide to work with villains (particularly if you're being ethically...ambiguous), I highly recommend you do some unquestionably positive work to help balance things out.  Go out and do some volunteer work in your community, donate to charity, give blood, do something to make the world a better place.  You certainly don't have to, but it's a really good idea.  Think about the person you want to be and make sure that you're not moving away from that person.

Shameless Plug!

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for The Pop Culture Grimoire 2.0.

This anthology explores pop culture magic and Paganism in the 21st Century. We invite you to share your pop culture magic practice, pop culture Pagan spirituality, and your experiments, spells, and other workings that have integrated pop culture into your spiritual practice.

If you have an interesting idea, we need you to submit a first draft (of the idea, not necessarily the whole article) by March 15th.

Click here for more information

12 February 2015

Pantheacon 2015

It's that time of year again folks!  Pantheacon starts tomorrow!  If you're in the bay area head over to the Doubletree in San Jose and join the glorious insanity that is Pcon.

This year I'm presenting two (that's right two!) workshops: Pop Culture Magick - Working with Villains, and Magickal Munitions - Magickal Defense in Urban Environments.  PCM will be on Friday night at 9pm in San Martin/San Simeon and MM will be on Sunday at 7pm, also in San Martin/San Simeon.

Stop by and say hello! Mention this blog post and you'll give me warm fuzzy feelings :)

Direct Download for Handouts (these will be live for at least six months after the presentations):
Pop Culture Magick: Working With Villains
Magickal Munitions

02 February 2015

Daily Practice for Defensive Practitioners

Daily practice is exactly what it says on the tin: a set of magickal practices that you do every day.  For the defensive practitioner this means performing at least one quick and easy protective and/or cleansing practice a day, often more than one.  There are many benefits to maintaining a daily defensive practice that include better metaphysical hygiene, strengthening magickal foundations, and mental comfort.


Deliberately incorporating protective measures into your daily practice is important both for the immediate magickal benefits and their effect on your overall magickal fitness.  Like any other skill set, magick must be practiced in order for a practitioner to rise to their potential.  Just as a sprinter needs to constantly train in order to be as fast as they can be, a defensive practitioner needs to practice protective and defensive magicks on a regular basis in order to have such magicks at their fingertips at all times.  Since we don’t live in a world where we need to practice such magicks all the time (constant attack only happens in fiction or if you are really, really unfortunate), incorporating them into daily practice is the best way train your defensive magick muscles. 

Daily protective practices are also a wonderful mental touchstone for soothing jangled nerves.  After a certain amount of time being a magickal practitioner out and about in the world you begin to notice, for good or ill, more of the metaphysical world.  Realizing just how surrounded we are at all times by the unseen can be frightening and can lead to a fair amount of paranoia.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  As Jim Butcher, says, “...just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face.”  A certain amount of healthy paranoia will give you incentive to actually perform your daily protection practices.  At the same time, your daily protection practices will calm your paranoia.  Do not underestimate the importance of daily practice’s ability to help calm and ground you.  A freaked out practitioner is rarely at the apex of their skill level.  A practice you do every day will come naturally and easily no matter how unsettled you are and will do wonders to bring down your blood pressure and put you back in control of your mind and body.  In a clinch this can be the difference between successful defense and much unpleasantness.

Unfortunately as important and helpful as it is, daily practice is one of the great bugbears of the magickal community.  Like getting regular exercise and eating well, we all know we should do it but many, if not most, of us struggle with actually making it happen.  Stress, fatigue, changes in our schedule, and boredom can all make doing our daily practices difficult.  The two greatest adversaries to successful daily practice are undoubtedly stress and boredom.  

When we’re stressed out and pressed for time it’s easy to let our daily practices slide in favor of dealing with our stressor or just plain freaking out.  It’s always a mistake to forego our daily practice when we’re stressed because that very practice can actually help us deal with that same stress.  Taking five or ten minutes to meditate or do a quick grounding exercise can clear our heads and make dealing with our stress easier.  Of course that’s easier said than done with stress hormones and adrenaline pumping through our veins.  Sadly, there’s no easy solution for gaining the strength of will to do what you ought in times of stress.  It’s just a matter of deciding to do your daily practices and actually doing them.  Don’t beat yourself up if it just doesn’t happen, just try again tomorrow.

Daily practice also faces the pitfall of becoming routine and losing its power, becoming boring.  Some people take great comfort in establishing a routine and performing it over and over again, exactly the same each time.  If you are one of them congratulations, you will really enjoy establishing daily protective practices.  If you’re like me, the idea of doing the exact same things over and over again every day for the rest of your life is about as appealing as eating wallpaper paste.  

Regular daily practice requires mindful performance to retain its magick, both figuratively and literally.  No matter how many times we do the same practice or ritual we must always actively infuse it with our energy and intent in order to actually make magick.  No purposeful intent, no magick.  Routine is a double edged sword when it comes to magickal practice.  It both creates a natural path for our magick to flow through, making it easier to work magick, and can dull our attention making us put in less effort to the point where we fail to push our energy into our routine practices at all.  Mindful attention is the only real solution to keeping routine practices fresh, which is easier or more difficult depending on the way your brain works.  The only other option is to change up your daily practices so that they don’t become routine in the first place.

There are many, many options to choose from when creating your own daily practices, but I particularly recommend self-cleansing and energy checks.  Daily self-cleansing, beyond the obvious benefits, will strengthen your ability to remove negative energy from people and places - possibly the most important magickal skill in the defensive practitioner’s arsenal (other than shielding).  Trust me, this is a skill you want to be able to use anytime, anywhere, at the drop of a hat.  Daily energy checks will strengthen your ability to sense the energies both within and around you - making it far easier for you to asses metaphysical situations when you find yourself in them.  You’ll be far more confident assessing if a place is haunted or if someone’s energy is off if you are accustomed to checking the energy of people and their surroundings.  Practice makes perfect.

I recommend doing at least one protective spell or ritual daily, either first thing in the morning or just before going to bed.  Of course, doing both would be best but there are only so many hours in a day.

09 January 2015

Book Review: Confessions of a Reluctant Ghost Hunter

The other day I was looking through book reviews in back issues of The Cauldron and saw one that caught my eye.  Confessions of a Reluctant Ghost Hunter: A Cautionary Tale of Encounters with Malevolent Entities and Other Disembodied Spirits by Von Braschler was the book.  The title sounded like it was right up my alley and The Cauldron rarely steers me in the wrong way.  I wasn't disappointed.

The problem I have with most books about ghosts, hauntings, and ghost hunting in general is that they either make all ghosts seem as friendly as Casper (Oh, all ghosts want is to be loved and acknowledged.  Please, feel free to go and try to hug the angry elemental.)  or they make ghost hunters look like white knights fiercely laying to rest malevolent monsters that lurk in every corner (An evil demon, fear not! My mighty flashlight and salt shaker shall save you!).  I was delighted to find that this book did neither of those things.

This is, quite possibly, the most realistic book I've ever read on what encountering spirits and other metaphysical beings is actually like.  At first I was skeptical.  Braschler explains that his "training" to "de-ghost" houses consisted of two meetings with a cheerful new-ager who said to talk to the spirits and get them to move on, and to simply "stake and salt*" the house if it didn't want to go.  As you might imagine, this did not inspire my confidence in the tales to come.  However, Braschler then details just how insufficient that information was and how problematic it made his later encounters. 

The encounters described in this book will be instantly recognizable to anyone experienced with the paranormal as residual hauntings, intelligent hauntings, spirit flight, and non-human hauntings - though Braschler never describes them as such.  The details of the hauntings Braschler experiences are incredibly authentic in their sheer banality.  Most hauntings that you read about in books are fairly spectacular (books flying off shelves, screaming in the night, scratches on the unwary etc.), but the average haunting is just not that interesting.  Real hauntings are made of fleeting images out of the corner of your eye, odd chills at unexpected times in unexpected places, and utterly unverifiable "coincidences" that make you think you're losing your mind. These are the hauntings Braschler describes, with a few exceptions.  

The thing that most struck me about Braschler's tale that make me actually believe him is the way he describes his experience of the paranormal.  He doesn't talk about glowing lights or strange writing, he talks about having to ground and center himself and deliberately open his mind to the frequency where the paranormal can be perceived.  He doesn't describe it as easy or natural, but as a skill that requires practice and effort.  He talks about freaking himself out when going into a building that he's been told is haunted, but never really perceiving anything there that can make him confidently say the place is or isn't haunted.  He doubts his perceptions and he doubts his ability to do anything about what he perceived.  That is the reality of dealing with the paranormal: thinking you probably understand what's going on but always doubting and always needing more proof.

 There are, of course, exceptions to the normally dubious veracity of the paranormal.  I've come across the undeniably paranormal (think demons trying to eat your head) two or three times.  Braschler deals with it twice.  This is totally believable, unlike those ghost hunters who claim to banish demons every damned day.  In the last encounter described in the book Braschler gets called in by a friend to de-ghost their trailer and ends up facing down a dark non-human entity that he's woefully unprepared to deal with.  It doesn't go well. This should surprise no one.  It takes a trained and experienced practitioner to deal with the nastier dark entities. 

If you're interested in dabbling in the paranormal I highly recommend you read this book first.  Read about what actual encounters are like before you go into that purportedly haunted house.  If you recognize yourself in the stories then do yourself a favor and get some solid defensive training before you hurt yourself.

Experienced practitioners that enjoy tales of the paranormal will enjoy this too.  I know I did.



*Braschler describes the process of staking and salting a property as driving four large iron spikes (think railroad size nails) into the ground at the cardinal points of the property and calling the watchtowers to guard the property, then to create a line of salt as a perimeter to keep the spirits out.  Yes, these actions can be a part of a successful banishing but alone they're not going to do much against something that really wants to stick around.

23 December 2014

Book Review: Hands of Apostasy

A few months ago I picked up Hands of Apostasy: Essays on Traditional Witchcraft at my favorite local occult shop Edge of the Circle.  I slowly made my way through this book and finally finished the last essay about ten minutes ago.  I must say there's something delightfully profane about reading essays on Traditional Witchcraft while listening to Christmas music.
I highly recommend this book for anyone with any interest in Traditional Witchcraft. 

The essays cover a wide range of subject matter from intensely academic explorations of historical practices to quick and easy essays on specific modern rituals.  There is not one bad essay in this book - and that's really saying something given the subject matter. 

I read this book with very, very little knowledge of Traditional Witchcraft (I'm more of a make stuff up as you go kind of gal).  The entirety of my knowledge of Traditional British Witchcraft comes from Hutton, Heselton, and Gardner - which is not a whole lot.  I think having a better background in Traditional Witchcraft would have made some of the reading easier, but I don't feel like I suffered for lack of background.  Take that how you will.

My favorite essay was the beautifully written "Mirror, Moon and Tides" by Levannah Morgan.  In this piece Morgan tells how she learned to scry naturally occurring tide pools and then sun and moon charged mirror bowls.  This essay has that rare quality of both being magically interesting and informative while also being a work of literary quality that actually moves the spirit.  I pretty much loved every word.

I also particularly enjoyed "Waking the Dead: The Ancient Magical Art of Necromancy" by Michael Howard and "Conjure-Charms of the Welsh Marches" by Gary St. Michael Nottingham.

My only criticism (that's barely a criticism) is that the reading level of these essays vary tremendously, to the point where it can be a little jarring as you move from essay to essay.  However, that's not a problem at all if you put the book down between essays; which you really should because these essays require thought and post-reading pondering.  A few of the essay are very dense and very academic - to the point where I actually had to break out the dictionary several times.  I have a BA in philosophy and a JD; I read Heidegger for fun. When I say an essay is difficult to read I really mean it.  It's totally worth it though.

Truly, if you have any interest at all in Traditional Witchcraft go directly to your local high quality occult shop or directly to Three Hands Press and get this book.