24 March 2017

So You Want to be a Death Witch

Over the last few months the number one question people have been asking me is: how do I get started working with Death and the dead?  How do I become a death witch?  In the preceding decade not one person ever asked me that question.  Given the general state of the world it’s not exactly surprising that more and more people are being drawn to the darker side of witchcraft.  However, death work is not something to be entered into casually.  Here are a few things you need to know before starting down the path of a death witch.

What does it mean to be a death witch?

As with any occult identity, if you ask a dozen different death witches what it means to be one, you will get a dozen different answers.  In short, it is a witch who works primarily with the forces of death and/or the dead.  What that looks like can take many forms and depends greatly on the traditions and culture of the individual.  Most magickal traditions have some branch dealing with death and the dead, but someone who occasionally contacts an ancestor or officiates a funeral is not a death witch. 

To be a death witch there must be a resonance in your soul with the forces of death and the dead that compels you to work with them.  For me that manifests as an intense sense of belonging and kinship with the forces of death and comfort with being around the dead.  When I am in the presence of the forces of death it feels like being surrounded by family in the best of ways.  I find cemeteries and haunted places to be incredibly welcoming and try to spend time in them as often as possible - paying all due respects to those reside there.  Very early in my explorations of Paganism and Polytheism it became clear that my focus was to be with Death.  That may not be the case for you.  There are many ways the pull towards death work can manifest; if you feel it, then you should pursue it.

How do I get started?

The most important thing about working with Death and the dead is respect.  Every chthonic deity is different; every spirit is different.  Some death deities are very casual, some are very strict - know the stories and basic personality of the deity before you approach them.  An offering for Hades is very different than an offering to Santa Muerte, as are the behaviors they expect from those approaching them.  The same holds true for the dead.  The dead are just people who have passed on to the other side of the veil and they all have particular wants, needs, and personalities.  Treat them with the respect you would have treated them with in life.  A little time and effort goes a very long way towards forging positive relationships with the forces of death and the dead.

The easiest place to start in death work is your own ancestors, be they of blood or spirit.  Ancestors of blood are your actual deceased relatives.  Ancestors of spirit are those that paved the way for your spiritual being, including teachers, artists, writers, etc., whose words and works helped shape the person you are today.  Begin by creating an ancestor altar.  If you have the space this can be a shelf or the top of a dresser where you place pictures or representations of your ancestors.  Keep this space clean and add things like fresh flowers, a glass of water, or incense offerings as a sign of respect.  If you don’t have the space for a physical altar you can create a photo album or digital representation of what you’d like on an altar.  The purpose of an ancestor altar is to be a focal point for your work and to be a place for the energies of your ancestors to reside.  What that looks like is far less important than the simple fact that you’ve taken the time and trouble to build it.  Your investment of energy and attention to your ancestors will begin building a relationship with them.  Creating a relationship with the dead means that when you need advice or a helping hand on the spiritual plane you will have willing aides when you need them.

***Note - not all of everyone’s ancestors of blood are necessarily folks you want to invite into your life.  You get to choose who goes on your altar and you are allowed to say no if someone uninvited shows up.***

Once you’ve begun cultivating a relationship with your dead you can look into working with death deities or anthropomorphic forces of death.  Of course you can do this work before or instead of working with your ancestors, I just find it easier in this order.  Begin by reading myths regarding death and see what stories resonate with you and why.  If you’re lucky you might find other practitioners that work with that deity to compare notes with, but your own feelings and impressions are your best guide for your relationship with any deity.  Sometimes these deities will reach out to you rather than the other way around, it will be fairly obvious if it’s happening.  Once you’ve found a deity that resonates with you then you approach them just as you would any other deity.  That may mean building an altar to that deity, making offerings, doing magickal works, simple devotions, or something else entirely.  I’ve not found working with death deities any more onerous or risky than working with any other deity.  In fact, many death deities are a lot more relaxed than their above ground cousins, but it all depends on the particular deity. 

Once you’ve begin building relationships with the dead and the forces of death you can begin the deeper spiritual and magickal works of a death witch.  That’s a whole series of posts in and of themselves so I won’t go further just yet. 

If you think you want to be a death witch start by talking to the dead: get to know them, build relationships with them.  Then get to know the different death deities and see if any of them call to you.  Explore with respect and you shouldn’t have any problems. 

If people are interested, I will be on a necromancy panel on 4/2/2017 in Seattle:
Life Among The Dead:A Panel On Necromancy
Sunday, April 2 at 5 PM - 6 PM
Spooked In Seattle Ghost Tours
102 Cherry St, Seattle, Washington 98104

31 January 2017

How to Hex

Lately I’ve had several people come to me expressing a desire to curse...particular people.  Traditionally, curses come into favor when people feel that more direct/public/legal means of seeking justice fail them and they feel disempowered.  It is no surprise that they are coming back into fashion in times like these.  I’ll teach you a few methods for slinging a hex, but what you do with them is up to you.


Hexing/cursing is the final recourse for the marginalized, disenfranchised, and dispossessed.  It is what you do when the last straw has finally broken the camel’s back, or at least it should be.  Before casting a curse you should, if you are safe to do so, follow every legitimate path for finding a solution to your problem.  Attempting to curse someone/something before trying more traditional problem solving methods, when they’re available to you, rarely ends well for anyone.  Cursing is not what most people would call a “good” thing to do.  Cursing/hexing causes harm and there are consequences for sending harm out into the world.  You need to be prepared to deal with those consequences when they come - and they will come.  As Dorothy Morrison says, you need to be “wicked pissed” before casting a curse.  You have to mean it with every fiber of your being, consequences be damned.


Once you’ve determined that you are “wicked pissed” and willing to accept the consequences, you need to determine just what you want to accomplish.  There are generally two reasons to cast a curse: 1) to stop bad things from happening/continuing, and 2) to punish someone for causing harm. 

I generally discourage people from cursing for the second reason because it rarely helps.  Most people do bad things when they’re in pain.  Hurting someone who is in pain does not tend to encourage them to behave better; it mostly makes things worse.  Further, miserable people rarely need help from me to destroy their lives; they do a fine job of it on their own.  Someone needs to have done something really bad (e.g. hurt a child, incited terrorism, massively subverted justice, etc.) for me to encourage hexing them for punitive reasons.  There are, of course, many ethical/moral reasons not to do this.  I leave you to make your own decisions there.

Cursing in order to stop “bad things” from happening is a much less morally ambiguous thing to do.  When things get bad enough and you really care about the situation then you need to get proactive.  In its best incarnation, a curse should be the magickal equivalent of punching a nazi in the face.  Of course, you must keep in mind what I said earlier - making miserable people more miserable rarely stops them from behaving badly.  Be very mindful of the potential consequences of your magick and only do things that will actually help the overall situation - not just feel cathartic.  For example, you might want to stop a serial rapist by making him impotent.  This might just make him angry and more prone to violence, thus making the situation worse rather than better.  A more effective curse might be one aiming to get the perpetrator caught and convicted.  If your goal is to stop a bad situation then you MUST calm your anger and really think things through in order to get the best results.  Take the long view of things.  Take the time to do some divination to determine the best course of action; consult your elders and ancestors; get advice from people you trust.  Make sure you feel that you truly need to do what you plan. 


There are nearly infinite ways to cast a curse.  Here are just a few ranging from “morally dubious” to “you’re going to do what?!”  You can google any of these types of spells and find dozens of examples of various execution methods, so I won’t belabor the details here.  Further, you can add extra power to these spells by calling on various deities, ancestors, allies, etc. according to your own personal practice. 

Passive-Aggressive Hex
Rather than doing something directly to the target or your ire, you bless their opposition.  For example, instead of cursing the person who robbed you, you bless the police and prosecutors to get the person caught and convicted.  This is positive magick to send blessings to the people doing good work rather than sending negative energy to the people causing harm.  This type of working is great when you have one specific bad situation you want to remedy, though it won’t stop the perpetrators from doing something different later.

The classic way to stop someone from doing bad things is to bind them.  (See my previous post on binding)  You make a representation of the person or organization/corporation causing the problem, then you literally bind it with cord to energetically immobilize it.  I like to make a poppet representing the person/thing to be bound and then bind it with marine cord (it has no stretch/give whatsoever).  You can also use toys, action figures, etc., to represent your target.  Once you’ve tied your representation I recommend wrapping the whole thing in aluminum foil (shiny side in) and then putting it in the back of the freezer until the situation is resolved.

Mirror Spell
Your traditional mirror spell is one in which you use a mirror to literally reflect someone’s negative actions back on themselves.  This is a straightforward retribution spell - your target gets harmed precisely as much as they harm others, no more no less.  This spell tends to escalate the situation.  Remember, when people who tend to take out their anger on others are harmed they will probably take it out on others.  If the house is already on fire then throwing gas on it won’t really make much of a difference, but if it’s not on fire yet it certainly will be afterwards.  Choose your actions accordingly. 

Destruction Spell
This is the “as seen on tv” curse.  This is where you do you damndest to rain hellfire down on your enemies.  There is no moral ambiguity here.  If you’re going to do it, own it.  Your intent is everything in this spell and you’d better be freaking livid.  If you are even the tiniest bit unsure of what you want to happen then this is not the spell for you.  Make a poppet/doll out of black fabric (the little craft squares of felt you get at the craft store for a dollar are great for this).   Fill the poppet with straw/grass/something itchy put a picture of the target inside the doll and sew it up.  Write on the doll with a sharpie all the terrible things the person has done (the silver ones are great for writing on black).  Alternatively, you can write everything out on paper and sew it inside the doll or even embroider it on the fabric.  Then destroy the doll as violently as possible, allowing all your rage and pain to flow into it and then burn the pieces.  Yes, there is often energetic backlash for doing this sort of thing depending on the exact nature of your intent and what energies you normally work with.  The further this type of energy is from your normal practice the more difficult it will likely be for you.  Moreover, this type of working can create an energetic link between you and your target - be sure you really, really want to do this.

These are just a few examples of common curses.  If you’re really, really angry and committed to doing this type of work I encourage you to get creative and execute them in a way that feels right to you.  Magick is an art, so do something beautiful - even when it’s hideous. 

If you have any questions about specific things you want to do feel free to email me emily @ e-carlin.com or send me a message via Tumblr (where you can be anonymous).  Keep in mind that I will not advise people to do things that are illegal and all discussions are purely theoretical.

Here are a few resources:
Poppet resource
How to tie a monkey’s fist/rope ball

02 January 2017

The Mundane in Magick

So, it was pointed out to me that I haven't actually posted to this blog in...quite some time.  Sorry about that.  In all honesty 2016 was not a great year for writing inspiration.  I kept up my monthly post obligation over on my pop culture magick blog and that's about it.  Apart from the overall trash fire that was 2016 in the wider world, it was a year where most of my magick somehow fell into the mundane.  I've decided (code for my gods yelled at me via my friends' divination methods) that I need to reclaim my magickal self this year.

On paper 2016 looks like a fairly good year for me magickally, at least insofar as my position in the local Pagan community.  I spent a lot of the last year working in community events: Pantheacon, Many Gods West, Pagan Pride, etc.  I gave a lot of presentations and, I feel, acquitted myself rather well.  I met a lot of amazing people from across the region and made some important connections and a few really good friends.  2016 saw the one year mark of doing public sabbats as Illustris - our collaborative ritual group.  We're quickly approaching the two year mark (Ostara I believe) and are going strong.  We're even expanding the project to include monthly salons to provide safe and supportive space for asking questions, discussing Pagan/magickal issues, and practicing magickal techniques.  My hopes are pretty high for them.  Last year we even saw the first of what I hope will be many inter-group Pagan/magickal leadership meetings.  Helping to create a cohesive and supportive local Pagan community is incredibly important to me and I'm really happy to be a part of it.  Sounds great right?

The downside to vast amounts of community work and activity is less time and energy for my personal practice - the heart and soul of who and what I am.  You see the thing about community work is that it's at least 90% about communication and managing logistics.  Giving a lecture is all about effectively communicating your audience, whether you're talking about database structure or how to giving offerings to Santa Muerte.  Putting on a ritual is about getting your supplies from point A to point B, marketing in a way that the people who would enjoy it find out about it and actually show up, then facilitating other people's experiences, and finally cleaning up after yourself and everybody else.  No matter how magickal what you're ultimately trying to do is, you need to do a lot of extremely mundane work to get there.  So while I spent a goodly chunk of 2016 engaged in highly magickal activities, most of my work in them was either quite mundane or focused on supporting the magickal experiences of others.

My goals for 2017 are to 1) spend more of my limited energies on my personal practice and writing, and 2) to figure out how to balance my community and personal work.  For the former I think actually putting down at least an hour or two a week explicitly dedicated to my personal work and writing should help tremendously.  I'm a virgo, if I've written something on a to do list or schedule then I have to do it.  I expect the latter to be much more difficult for me.  I've never been good at balance; ask anyone who knows me.  If I bother to do something at all I tend to do it too much.  As a good friend said to me on new year's eve, I don't take breaks I just break.  I think I may need to put that on a bracelet or something and just wear it all the time, perhaps with another that says "hubris."  I think the first step on balancing out my community work is going to be expanding the Illustris leadership.  Right now it's just me and Raye and that's a lot of weight for just two people to bear.  If I could find people to facilitate maybe one out of every three rituals, that would be a huge help and is fairly realistic (some awesome friends have actually volunteered and I love them for it).  So hey, if you're in the Seattle area and want to learn how to lead collaborative ritual shoot me an email.  Beyond that I think I'm just going to have to pace myself and check in with friends to keep a better perspective on my activity and energy levels.  If any of y'all have suggestions on better maintaining this balance I am all ears.  Rising to a community leadership position is hard.  Thank the gods I have the support of trusted friends.

We all need to do mundane things in order to live magickal lives.  The trick is figuring out how to balance everything so that planning, logistics, and interpersonal issues don't drain you of so much energy that it pops your magick balloon.  I am very, very bad at this and thus need to woman up and ask for help from the people I trust on a regular basis.  One-time grand gestures do not create change, only consistent progress - no matter how small - can actually break the habits of a lifetime.  Gods keep me mindful. 

21 March 2016

Safe Space

Over the last few weeks I’ve had several issues of safe space and hospitality come up in my participation in the Pagan and Polytheist communities.  As both a community organizer and participant, this is an issue near and dear to my heart.  I’ve got some things to say about it and in the end it’s all about respect.

True safe space does not just tolerate the “other” but actually makes space for them where they can be comfortable.  True safe space actively protects those that might otherwise be ostracized or victimized.  In some Pagan communities this has been confused with “space where everyone thinks like me and we happen to all be part of the same minority that gets oppressed elsewhere.”  This most often manifests in as anti-christian or anti-conservative talk in otherwise non-political groups (if you say you’re a liberal/progressive/social justice/activist group right out front then politic away).  Just because you know the majority of a group of people feels a particular way about an issue doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way, and boy howdy there is no better way to make that lone dissenter feel isolated and unwelcome than to loudly condemn anyone who could possible be so foul as to think that way.  This is not what we’re here for people.  There are whole organized groups that live to ostracize us, let’s not do their jobs for them. 

We need to actively work on creating real safe space.  We have all screwed up at some point and said or done something that has made someone else unwelcome and we need to put on our big kid pants and do something about it.  Enough of this “boys will be boys,” “but I said I was sorry” bullshit.  Take responsibility for your actions people.  Just because you didn’t mean to hurt/trigger/threaten/offend someone doesn’t take away from the fact that you did so.  Harm is not something a perpetrator gets to decide on.  Harm is a subjective experience determined by the person experiencing it.  Sometimes that harm is obvious and understandable, sometimes you have to squint and twist yourself like the Gordian Knot to figure out what the hell happened.  Regardless, if someone says you violated their safe space then you did so and need to accept the consequences.  That means genuinely admitting wrongdoing (or genuinely working to understand why your victim felt harmed and then sincerely apologizing for that harm) and working on making sure it doesn’t happen again.  Safe space has to be maintained with sincerity by everyone in it or it falls apart. 

In any community a balance needs to be struck between the needs of the many and the needs of the few.  Creating true safe space doesn’t mean letting everyone in and treating them equally.  Safe space means we agree on who gets to be in that space, how people need to behave in that space towards each other, and then taking the necessary steps to ensure that people hold to that.  Making space for a victim and then making equal space for their abuser is not safe space.  Certain folks need to be actively protected in order for the space to be safe for them.  Certain behaviours are not compatible with the existence of safe space. Sometimes that means gently reminding folks one how they agreed to behave when they entered safe space.  Sometimes that means kicking people out who don’t respect the space and what it stands for.  Safe space doesn’t come to be just because you declare it so; safe space is an active working that requires effort and attention in order to truly manifest. 

That also means not bending and twisting everything you do for over sensitive individuals.  In the legal world we identify certain folks as having an “eggshell skull.”  These are folks that come to a situation with certain preexisting conditions that make them especially vulnerable to harm.  We want our communities to be safe space for people that come to us with their own personal demons, but we can only go so far to accommodate them while still accommodating everyone else.  We cannot create the perfect environment for everyone - it’s just not possible.  To go too far to satisfy any one individual is disrespectful to the others present whose needs end up pushed to the wayside or worse.  We need to do our best to create safe and hospitable environments, but we also need to accept that we’re not perfect and we just can’t account for every possible need that might come up.

Respect.  This is what it comes down to in the end.  You can believe in whatever you want to believe in, but when it comes to your actions in community you need to respect yourself and those around you.  Community requires mindful action that fulfills your own needs while not infringing upon the needs and experiences of others while they do the same for you.  This is not a quick and easy issue to resolve.  It will take each and every one of us working hard and being mindful of our actions in order to create real safe space in our communities, but it is work worth doing.  Respect yourself, respect others, respect the community. 

21 October 2015

On Offerings and Sacrifice

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationships with the deities and spirits that I work with on a regular basis.  I’m always looking for ways to strengthen and be more authentic in my relationships with my allies.  During this time of the year the walls between the mundane and metaphysical parts of reality are thin and I feel a lot closer to my non-corporeal allies, making it easier than usual to do workings with them.  That makes this time of year a great one for doing a working specifically designed to strengthen those relationships.  One of the easiest traditional way to improve a relationship with a metaphysical being of any kind (deity, spirit, ancestor, fae, etc.) is to give them some kind of offering or sacrifice.

An intricate handmade candle makes for a decent offering.

Let’s take a moment to think about what exactly offerings and sacrifices really are.  Some sources might use the terms offering and sacrifice interchangeably – as they are both something that you give to a being as a gesture of appreciation, supplication, or appeasement.  However, I find a crucial distinction between them – what they mean to you as the person giving them.  The way I look at it, an offering is something you give a being that you know they want.  One traditionally offers things like incense, favorite foods, flowers, energy, attention, etc.; things that tradition or gnosis tells us that the being we’re making offerings to wants from us.  An offering doesn’t really have to mean anything to you personally, it just has to be pleasing to the one you’re offering it to.  A sacrifice is something that is meaningful to the one doing the sacrifice that is being given up in a way that it takes away from the sacrificer in favor of the one being sacrificed to.  You do this as a sign or devotion or respect; essentially putting the needs ot the recipient above your own.  For example, if I, as a non-smoker, make an offering of tobacco to Baron Samedi (something that he is known to enjoy) I am offering him the tobacco and sacrificing the money used to purchase it.  However, if I were a smoker and was giving the Baron some of my favorite tobacco I would be both offering and sacrificing the tobacco itself – as the Baron wants it and I am giving up my own use of it.  Basically, an offering is something you give because the receiver wants it and a sacrifice is something that you’re giving up in order to show how important the one being sacrificed is to you.

Different beings and different types of beings often have preferences for the offerings and sacrifices they receive.  Some entities want offerings and don’t seem to have much of an opinion on whether they involve a sacrifice.  In my experience, ancestors and many fae appreciate offerings but don’t really care whether a sacrifice is involved in procuring them.  Other entities place great importance on sacrifice, sometimes to the point where the amount of sacrifice is more important than the suitability of what’s being sacrificed.  For example, some deities or spirits enjoy when a supplicant makes a vow of austerity (e.g. I will forgo consuming alcohol for a month) because of the devotion this shows, even though it doesn’t really give anything concrete to them.  This is most common with deities that demand explicit showings of devotion and spirits that want you to abstain from something for your own good.

In the past I’ve given a lot of offerings but haven’t really made many sacrifices.  Sure, I buy high quality incense to offer and go out of my way to get the good rum for the Baron, but I honestly don’t see that as much of a sacrifice.  The only time I really feel like I’m giving something up is when I offer really good food.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for the many allies that have helped and continue to help me and I feel like they deserve more from me than a bit of incense and burned beeswax.  Most traditional offerings are things that everyday people had around the house, that they used on a regular basis, and that those without excess income would miss: food, alcohol, herbs and spices, etc.  In my comfortable suburban existence giving up a bite of food or a pinch of dried herbs doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice.  I don’t really drink, so I could pour out a whole bottle of liquor without much pause (unless it was super expensive).  I have a fair number of little luxuries in my life: fine food, high quality tea and treats, electronics, toys, etc., that might make a more authentic sacrifice than more traditional offerings.  I particularly enjoy having a cup of fine tea and a sweet in the afternoon, so sharing that would be much more of a sacrifice to me than a shot of tequila.  Another good sacrifice would be putting my phone and iPad on my altar for an hour or two and not touching them or my computer (I have a media addiction.  This should shock no one.).  Of course, if I were to ask for a big favor the sacrifice would have to be larger and more meaningful.  For everyday offerings, something small should suffice.

Some of the finest chocolate you can get 'round these parts

I feel like one should find a balance with offerings and sacrifice.  It’s important to offer spirits/deities/etc. things that they want.  It’s also important to make a show of effort/sacrifice in the making of those offerings.  If the offerings your allies want are things that you want as well then they can easily be both offerings and sacrifices, but if they aren’t then you should go the extra mile to also offer something that is a sacrifice to you.  For me that means I’ll give the Baron his weekly shot of rum and pinch of tobacco while also sacrificing some dragonwell tea and a bit of organic fair trade dark chocolate or a macaron.  It also means that when I make offerings to the ancestors I’ll be sure to give them things I like or things that required my own effort to make, not just purchase (think baking cookies vs. buying them).  It doesn’t have to be a lot, and it doesn’t have to be every day, but adding a bit of real sacrifice to regular offerings makes them more meaningful and a lot less routine. 

07 October 2015

Santa Muerte and Cultural Appropriation

Possibly the most popular folk saint in Mexico, Santa Muerte is rapidly gaining popularity in the US.  As you might imagine, the spread of her popularity amongst non-Mexicans has brought up the issue of cultural appropriation. 

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of giving a lecture on Santa Muerte down at the Spooked in Seattle Metaphysical market.  I opened my lecture by clearly stating that while I am Latina, I am not Mexican and am in no way an authority on Santa Muerte.  The only leg up I've got on anybody else coming from the US is that I understand Spanish well enough to read primary sources on her.  I've been working with her on and off for about five years now and have been working with her heavily for the at least the last two.  I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how to work with her respectfully and without being culturally appropriative.  

Santa Muerte is a uniquely Mexican figure.  While her origin myths vary pretty substantially depending on who's doing the telling, they all agree that she is 100% indigenous to Mexico.  She is very much "of the people."  She is also the ultimate in egalitarianism - death comes to us all.  It is for this reason she has essentially become the patron of the marginalized, forgotten, and reviled.  She's a saint for working days.  For many of Mexico's underclasses she is the only sacred figure they feel they can come to in their times of need, the only one that will listen to them.  As you might imagine, Santa Muerte's followers sometimes feel rather possessive of her.

In many respects Santa Muerte belongs to the Mexican people, but that doesn't mean you have to be Mexican to work with her.  It does mean that you have to be extremely respectful of her cultural context.  Santa Muerte is a folk saint.  As such, much of her established liturgy is made of variants to traditional Catholic worship: rosaries, novenas, masses, etc.  If you're comfortable with Christian iconography you can go ahead and use the published prayers that you can easily find for her online (try SantaMuerte.org).  If Hail Marys and Our Fathers aren't really your thing (and boy howdy are they NOT my thing), you can probably find variants on the traditional prayers that will work for you.  If you understand Spanish I highly recommend performing any prayers/petitions/etc in Spanish. 

What I do not recommend is taking Santa Muerte out of her traditional context and plugging her into an existing Pagan framework.  If you do your homework before trying to work with Santa Muerte you will learn that she doesn't really work with others.  She likes to have her own altar, her own workings, and she likes things a certain way.  Just because other Death figures you may work with are partial to offerings of rotting meat does not mean such offerings are suitable for Santa Muerte. 

Further, do not - under ANY circumstances - syncretize Santa Muerte with other death spirits or deities.  While there are certainly mythological similarities between Santa Muerte, Hecate, Hel, and other underworld figures does not mean you can exchange them for one another.  Gods, spirits, saints, and other metaphysical personalities are unique beings and cannot simply be substituted for one another.  All such figures deserve the respect of you doing your homework on them and figuring out what they like and how they want you to work with them.  Don't be the horrible uncle that always gives you presents that your big sister would like because, "Hey you're both girls, so you must like the same things right?"  Don't be that guy.

If you want to work with Santa Muerte take the time to do your research beforehand.  Be respectful of the culture she comes from and the established liturgies and workings that are already in use.  Be sincere in your workings with her.  Don't make assumptions about her based on how similar figures from other pantheons would behave.  Treat her right and Santa Muerte will be an amazing ally.  Fuck around with her at your peril.

30 August 2015

Scary Gods

In recent days I've come to the conclusion that a lot of people don't really know what to do with scary deities.  When I say scary deities I mean Gods that are generally known for being harsh, deceptive, dangerous, petty, violent, or even cruel.  As someone who works, almost exclusively, with scary deities I have rather strong feelings about how these deities should be treated by those that want to work with them. 

This whole thought process was kicked off last month at Many Gods West.  I went to an amazing workshop called "Winning the War," presented by Sobekneferu.  The presentation was about looking at deities whose stories are told by their antagonists and how that has skewed our perceptions of them.  The main ideas boiled down to the necessity of being aware of the cultural filters through which the stories of the old Gods have been passed down to us.  A lot of the villains in our mythologies were actually the Gods of cultures that were antagonistic to the ones that told the stories, and thus were demonized - often for political reasons.  For example, I work with Cailleach who is the rather nasty Goddess of winter and death in Celtic mythology.  However, looking deeper into her history one finds that she was actually the predominant Goddess of an earlier Celtic culture that was conquered by the one whose stories have come down to us.  By being aware of this one can better approach her as she really is (blunt, decisive, unforgiving, but also protective and loving in her own way), rather than as she is often perceived (cruel, nasty, and petty).  As you might imagine, this particular presentation really resonated with me and it's been percolating in my brain ever since.

Since then I've observed some interesting and slightly troubling things about the way some of the folks I've encountered work with such deities.  I've noticed that we Pagans just love to reclaim things that have been shunned by others.  Maybe it's because Pagans and polytheists of various shades tend to be outsiders and misfits to varying degrees, but if something is rejected by "the majority" we tend to pick it up, buff it to a high shine, and make it our own.  In and of itself there's nothing wrong with that, but when it's done without any discernment as to why that thing was rejected or feared in the first place we tend to get ourselves into trouble. 

Some scary deities are scary because their antagonists made them look way scarier than they really are; other scary deities were demonized by their antagonists but are also genuinely dangerous to work with if you're not careful.  A few years ago I went to a ritual that called upon Kali as the great, kind mother who gives succor to us all.  Now, I don't know what version of Kali these folks were working with - but the Kali I know would smack me right in the mouth if I ever neutered her ferocity.  Some deities have earned their reputations.  If you want to work with scary Gods go for it, but you need to set up strong boundaries.  Do not call Loki and Eris into a public circle filled with neophytes without laying out some pretty strict ground rules about how you want things to go (and a reasonable belief that you can actually enforce those rules if need be).  Just because they aren't the abject evil that they're often made out to be doesn't mean they're not gonna wreak havoc upon the unwise and then laugh their godly asses off.  By all means work with scary deities, but don't think that just because somebody badmouthed them that they're really just fluffy kittens with spiked collars.

It really all boils down to this: do your homework before working with scary deities.  Some of them are really quite lovely when you get to know them, others will be utterly terrifying no matter how much they like you (and some are much, much scarier if they like you...trust me on this one).  Take the time to get to know the mythology; learn where the myths came from; think; use your common sense.  Be cautious and take reasonable precautions before trying to work with deities with bad reputations. 

I've had some of the most rewarding spiritual experiences of my life working with very frightening deities.  No, they were not as mean or spiteful as most of their myths would make you think, but they were still scary and would have no problem putting me down like a dog if I pissed them off.  Many, if not most, scary deities did something to earn at least part of their reputation.  Don't demonize a deity just because one faction thinks they're evil, but don't neuter them into benevolent balls of love and light either.  Deities are complex beings with long histories that can be seen from many different viewpoints.  Be respectful of their complexities.  Take the time to really get to know a deity before calling on it.  You'll rarely be sorry that you took the time to know what you were getting yourself into before hand, but you might really regret the lack of that preparation.   

TL;DR - Don't be an idiot.  Do your homework before working with scary Gods.