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.

28 August 2015

Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride 2015

Yes folks, this weekend is Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride 2015!  It's going to be an amazing weekend and I am presenting both days.

  • Saturday 8/29 at 3pm "Conflict Resolution for Magickal Communities"
  • Sunday 8/30 at 2pm "Pop-Up Ritual"
For folks who are unable to attend or just want a little more information on these workshops I am posting the basic information below.

Conflict Resolution for Magickal Communities

Identifying positions vs. underlying interests.
  • Positions are a person's assertion of opinion about what they want.
  • Positions are often "my" statements. E.g. "My way is 'x'" or "I need you to do 'y'."
  • Underlying interests are the needs and desires that motivate people. E.g. Safety or validation.
  • Ask "why"? If there is more than one possible answer to "why do you want that?," then that is not the underlying interest - it's a position.

Check your understanding.
  • If you want to be listened to, you must be willing to listen.
  • Make sure you really understand what is being said - don't assume.
  • Reflect back, paraphrase, and ask if you got it right.
  • Restate what appear to be the most important points to the speaker, not what is important to you.

Validate and respect emotions without buying into them.
  • The experience of emotion is always valid and genuine, even if the reasons they are being experienced doesn't seem to be.
  • Empathize with the speaker's experience, but remain objective.
  • Excessive buy-in (over identification) clouds judgment.
Pop-Up Ritual

The purpose of Pop-Up Ritual is to be a flexible and responsive alternative to formal planned ritual. The point is not to replace formal ritual, but to supplement it and to hone your ritual skills so that you can adapt when things don't go as planned.

  • Know 3-5 different ritual formats from different traditions
  • Keep a Ritual Toolkit
    • Items that represent elements, dieties, spirits, etc.
    • LED candles
    • Smokeless incense, cleansing spritzes, salt water, etc.
    • Duct tape
    • Other fun items that you find inspiring
  • Have a collection of ritual appropriate poetry, evocations, incantations, etc.
  • Have a variety of ritual music on an MP3 player and a set of wireless speakers
  • Be proficient in several quick and dirty magickal techniques that can be deployed in a ritual setting and performed by a group including novices
    • It can help to have a mechanism on standby for the most common magickal needs: healing, prosperity, protection, devotions, etc.
 Before the Ritual
  • Know your attendees
    • What traditions are represented in your participants?  
    • What belief systems? 
    • How able are they?
      • If you've got several attendees with movement impairment, perhaps a spiraldance is not the best idea.  
      • Have you accounted for any sight or hearing impaired attendees?  Etc.
    • Ask them if you're not sure
  • Ask if anyone has any pressing magickal needs
    • If several people have sick relatives it might be time for a healing ritual, if many people are concerned about wildfire then perhaps a weather working would be best, etc.
  • Once you've decided on a goal for your ritual ask if anyone has a particular technique they'd like to use to achieve it
    • Your attendees are your best resource.  Let them be as active participants as they'd like to be (within reason).
During the Ritual
  •  Be flexible
    • Weather, bystanders, and sometimes participants can throw a monkey wrench in your plans.  If one plan seems to go off the rails, just go with another idea.  
  • Pay attention to your participants
    • Your ritual isn't just for you - keep an eye on participant energy levels, attention, and of course safety.  Adapt accordingly.
  • Have fun
    • Ritual is supposed to be enjoyable and satisfying.  Don't take yourself too seriously and allow things to unfold (within the bounds of safety, sanity, and reasonable timing).
After the Ritual
  • Be sure to ground!
  • Set up social time to allow participants to decompress
  • Get feedback from participants.  How else are you supposed to get better?

A previous post on Pop-Up Ritual


18 July 2015

Book Review: Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life

I am firm in the belief that effective communication skills are vital to the successful practice of magick.  The way I see it, if you cannot articulate what you truly want to another person how can you articulate it with your magick?  Due to this belief I've spent a fair amount of time honing my ability to listen and communicate well.  I'd heard a lot about nonviolent communication in recent months so I decided to check it out.  I picked up the Kindle version of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg.  Never in my life have I had a harder time deciding if I liked a book or not. 

TL; DR - Recommended with reservations. See below for why.

The raison d'etre of Nonviolent Communication is teaching people to speak effectively and to listen well - a worthy goal.  Rosenberg does a good job at giving readers the tools necessary to do so.  The book is very well written and easy to understand.  It's formatted beautifully for both skimming and referring back to it later without needed to highlight and mark it up.  As someone who likes to reread books for their salient points I thoroughly appreciate this.

Some of the most important ideas from the book revolve around learning to how to separate the observation of facts from the drawing of moralistic conclusions.  A huge number of the conflicts in our lives stem from the difference between the judgments we make and what is actually happening around us - particularly when it comes to inferring the thoughts and motivations of others from what we see them do and hear them say.  The book does a great job helping the reader to learn to see their own though process more clearly and be more objective.

The book then goes on to try to teach the reader how to better understand their own needs and desires and how to articulate themselves so that they can actually have their needs filled - also a worthy goal.  This is where the book begins to stumble a bit.  Rosenberg makes it seem like being able to clearly articulate what you want to others is some kind of magic bullet for getting what you want.  While there are undercurrents that can be inferred as saying, "if what you want is selfish and irrational you really need to reevaluate whether you should really get it," it's glossed over.  In fairness, if the book were to delve deeply into all the concerns about understanding our own desires it would be a multi-volume tome rather than a slim, readable book. Rosenberg does about as much as he can within the framework he's designed for himself, but I found this section a bit lacking in reality checks.

Then the book goes on to chapters on listening and empathy.  This is where I really had a hard time, not so much with the tools and techniques described, but in the examples given.  Rosenberg talks about the importance of sincere and attentive listening and having empathy for others and making sure that you've understood what they're trying to communicate rather than whatever your brain turned it into when you heard it.  This is probably the single most important skill anyone can develop in terms of improving your interactions with other people.  It is absolutely critical.  However, in the example scenarios Rosenberg seems to make a lot of assumptions about what other people are feeling rather than letting them tell him.  I think it stems from the fact that Rosenberg is a psychologist and thus has been trained to help teach people about their feelings.  It comes across as arrogant and really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  In mediation folks are taught to never, ever presume they understand what someone wants or feels unless that understanding is specifically validated by the person who's actually doing the thinking/feeling. 

Overall I think that Rosenberg communicates some really important ideas about communication and human understanding.  I don't always like the way he demonstrates his techniques, but I do like the techniques themselves.  Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life has some really good ideas that I think just about everyone who has to interact with other people (aka everyone) can benefit from learning.  Just keep an eye on how much you buy in to how the author demonstrates his techniques and you'll get a lot out of it.

03 July 2015

Exoteric Magick

Those of you that are interested in Pop Culture Magick should check out my new blog over at Pagan Square - Exoteric Magick.  It's focused on approachable pop culture magick for people from any path and at any skill level.
My first post, Finding Pop Culture Magick, talks about the circumstances that brought me to pop culture magick and gives some insight into the strange cauldron that is my brain.  I hope you like it!

Magickal Defense Without Permission

One of the most debated issues in magickal defense is whether or not you should do magickal defense for someone else without their permission.  In this post I'll take a look at a few of the situations where you might be tempted to do defensive work for another without their permission and the various issues they entail.
A general protection sigil.
A little disclaimer: I'm coming at this from a mainstream Pagan perspective in which one always wants to get consent before doing magick of any kind on another person.  I know there are other traditions out there that don't really take issue with doing defensive work without permission and I respect that.  This post is my personal perspective based on my own ethics – take it as you will.

Due to my education (code for "law school warped my brain"), I tend to see any issue of consent and defense in a legal light.  This means that, for me, there are two circumstances in which I can pretty much always do defensive magick without getting express permission from the person I'm defending: 1) there is an imminent threat of non-trivial harm to the target, and 2) the target of the magick lacks the capacity to give consent.

The first situation in which I’m comfortable doing defensive work without permission when there’s a non-trivial imminent threat to the target.  An imminent threat is something immediate, something that will happen in a matter of moments if it isn’t stopped – think of an out of control car careening towards someone.  It’s the kind of situation where there really isn’t time to ask permission, so I really don’t feel bad acting on instinct.  In terms of defensive magick I always have to add a “non-trivial” qualification to the situation before I act.  Most situations that necessitate the use of defensive magick are actually fairly mild in the short term – sure an attachment will do a lot of harm over time, but it’s not going to be any more dangerous or difficult to remove if I wait the few minutes to get permission to act.  For me a situation needs to be a serious threat to life, limb, or sanity before I act without permission.  While I have no problem warding someone when an infernal comes into the room whether they ask me to or not, I wouldn’t do that for a pixie’s arrival.  If something is actually dangerous and needs to be acted upon quickly, then do what you’ve got to do and ask for forgiveness later.

The second situation is where the person needing the defensive work lacks the capacity to give me permission.  When I say "the target lacks capacity" I mean that the person you want to defend is unable to give consent either because they're too young to understand the situation, they're drunk, extremely ill, unconscious, mentally unsound, etc.  Under those circumstances I try to get a hold of someone with the authority to give consent for the target (e.g. a parent, spouse, sibling, etc.).  If I can't, then I'll use my own knowledge of the person I want to defend to decide what I think they'd want.  For example, if you have a relative that is in a coma and you want to ward that person you can feel good about doing so, as long as that person wouldn't have religious objections (I'll talk more about that in a minute).  However, as soon as that person came out of the coma you should take down the wards and ask permission before putting them up again.
Deciding to do magick without permission when you can’t really ask them is fairly easy.  But what about when you ask and you get turned down?  That’s a different and much trickier situation.  If you think someone is in danger there is often an intrinsic need to help that person – whether they want your help or not – particularly if it’s someone you care about.  Here are a few situations to think about that you might find yourself in.

What do you do when you feel that someone needs a defensive working but that person does not believe in magick or any type of metaphysical threat?  If you’re anything like me, you probably have friends and relatives that do not believe in what you do.  If you’re lucky these folks will give you permission to do magick on them just to make you feel better.  If you’re not so lucky then you’ve got a difficult choice to make.  For me the deciding factor would be just how bad things could get without a working.  If we’re talking about a violent poltergeist in someone’s attic do you wait until someone gets hurt and your friend comes crawling back for help, or do you so some subtle preemptive work?  What if the target itself needs a serious cleansing due to possession or oppression?  I’m more likely to do magick surrounding a person (e.g. warding their attic) than anything directly to a person (e.g. a cleansing or banishing) who doesn’t want it.  Further, there would have to be some pretty dire consequences to staying my hand before I’d do magick on someone when they’ve told me not to, just as a matter of personal respect.  In fact, this is the kind of situation where I would call in a second or third opinion before moving forward with any magickal working.  When in doubt, don’t act alone.

An even trickier, if sadly common, situation is when the target has a religious opposition to magick of any kind.  I have some friends whose religion is strictly opposed to magick (to the point where I occasionally marvel at them for being friends with me in the first place) and I would never perform magick on them without their express permission unless I thought it was a life or death situation – and that’s seriously unlikely to occur.  I know I wouldn’t want them trying to “pray” evil away from me so I will respect them by not doing the same magickally.  The strictly religious almost always have “proper” channels they can go through for paranormal issues.  If you sense something happening, encourage these folks to seek the help of their priest/pastor/exorcist/etc.  Give their religious beliefs the same respect you want them to give yours – even if you secretly think they’re nuts, I’m sure they feel the same way about you.

The issue of permission becomes that much more difficult when the person in question is a roommate/housemate.  Someone who shares your personal space has a significantly greater effect on your safety and wellbeing than anyone else.  If you share a dorm room with someone who is being haunted or oppressed by a spirit it is going to have a huge negative impact on your life.  If you’re in a situation where you share living space with someone (and moving out isn’t feasible) then doing some pretty heavy workings, even if you’re denied permission to do so, might be warranted.  At that point you’re really working in self-defense due to the target’s proximity to what should be your safe space.  If you don’t feel energetically safe in your own bed because of your roommate’s paranormal problems, then you’re probably justified in doing something about it.  The closer the proximity of the target to your personal space the easier it is to justify doing defensive work.  If it’s someone you share a bed or a room with you can pretty much do what you need to in order to be safe.  (Note – if you’re sharing a bed with someone who’s being haunted or oppressed and they refuse to allow you to help them you might want to rethink your relationship.  I’m just saying.)  If it’s a housemate that you don’t share a room with, then it should depend on the impact the other person’s problem has on you and the amount of harm being done to the person.  If it’s someone who’s just down the hall or in the building, then you should probably stay out of things.  Basically, use proximity and the likelihood of serious harm to make your choice.

Now, there is a bit of a loophole with this whole permission thing.  It’s not exactly the most upright thing to do, but just because someone doesn’t want you to do magick on them doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do magick to address the source of the problem.  If someone is being haunted you can, more or less, do whatever magick you want on the entity doing the haunting.  You can theoretically dissolve the magick of a curse without magickally touching the target of that curse.  You can make healing energy available to someone without forcing them to take it.  You can ward the exterior boundaries of a property without doing anything to someone’s home.  These little loopholes can allow you to address the source of many metaphysical issues without technically doing magick on someone who doesn’t want it.  Does this sort of thing go against the spirit of honoring someone’s refusal? Yes, absolutely.  Exploiting loopholes may be a bit underhanded, but if it’s a matter of being trixy or watching a friend suffer unnecessarily I will chose trixy every time.

Ultimately, only you can decide whether or not a situation warrants doing defensive magick on someone without their permission.  I look at the immediacy and severity of the situation along with how personal the magick involved needs to be and then weight those factors with the strength of the target’s opposition to the work in order to decide what to do.  If I feel strongly that magick is necessary in the situation I’ll use my loopholes before I go disregarding someone else’s will.  Respecting the autonomy of others is very important to me, so things need to be pretty bad before I’ll go disregarding it.  In the end your ethics are up to you.

24 June 2015

Summer Solstice Prosperity Ritual

This year I had a very low key Summer Solstice, doing an impromptu prosperity ritual rather than a more elaborate full Sabbat.  I’d had grand plans for going out to a big public ritual, but in the end plans fell through.  Things have been rather busy lately and my brain really wanted to just listen to some Debussy and read a nice frivolous novel rather than stress out about driving the hour out to the ritual site and celebrating with a group I’m not all that familiar with.  I went with my instincts and stayed home.

So there I was home alone on the Summer Solstice with no responsibilities other than doing whatever working my heart felt compelled to do.  Not so bad eh?  The day before I’d picked up some chocolate coins at the store with the thought that they’d be great to use in a prosperity ritual.  The coins were sitting on my kitchen counter in front of a half-empty jar of homemade almond granola and an almost dead jar of honey.  As I stood there I realized that I had all the makings of a prosperity spell sitting right in front of me.  I looked outside at the gloriously blue and warm morning and decided to go with it. 

Still in my PJs, I scooped up the honey, granola, and chocolate coins and headed into the yard – followed by my fuzzy familiar, Cleo.  I sat down in the grass by our enormous rhododendrons and took a few minutes to listen to the birds (and my neighbor’s weed whacker) and enjoy the sunshine.  Cleo took the opportunity to hop into my lap and get fur on absolutely everything – gotta love kitties. 

After a few minutes of meditation I kicked Cleo out of my lap and cast my circle.  I felt that all of the elements and deities of the day were already present, so I didn’t bother doing any formal calling or invoking.  I said a few words on the nature of the solstice and asked that the energies of the day allow my prosperity working.  I poured the granola in a half circle in front of me and offered it to nature, particularly to the birds and insects that call my backyard home.  I poured the honey on the ground just beyond the granola and offered it to the earth, in gratitude for the sweetness of the summer season.  Then I held the bag of chocolate coins in my hands and raised them towards the sun.  I asked that the power of the Summer Solstice enter and infuse the chocolate, so that as I consumed them in the days to come I would be consuming the potent positive summer energy.  I asked that they be infused with the energies of prosperity, healthy, wealth, happiness, and comfort.  When I felt that the coins were sufficiently energized (and before they could start melting) and placed them in the shade behind me and gave thanks to the energies that attended and aided me.  I dispelled my circle and then headed back inside.

Now I’ve got a bag of magickally charged organic chocolate coins sitting on my earth altar.  I’ve been eating one a day and am absolutely enjoying it.  There’s something luxurious and rich about good dark chocolate that make it particularly apropos for prosperity work.  That it’s delicious doesn’t hurt either ;)

I do love simple, heartfelt ritual.  There’s something about doing what you feel just when you feel it’s right that it’s hard for more rigidly planned rituals to replicate.  As much as I love a good formal ritual, for my personal work I think I’ll stick to going with the flow.
Cleo says Hi

25 May 2015

Questions on Pop Culture Paganism

A few days ago a call went out for folks who work with either technopaganism or pop culture paganism to talk about what they do for a piece in Vice Motherboard.  Naturally, my hand shot up immediately like Hermione Granger's.  I got in touch with the gal doing the research and here are the questions she sent me and my answers.

**Update 6-15-15** You can read the article here.

Note - She asks some fairly specific questions regarding my past writings on pop culture magick, so you may want to review my previous posts on the topic.  

On 2015-05-22 09:41, Creatrix Tiara wrote:
1. You talk about how geeks' tendency for passionate near-obsessive energy works really well with magickal practices. This brings to mind notions of "celebrity worship" and "fan shrines" and how a lot of language between spirituality and fandom can often be very similar. Could you talk more about the connections you draw between fandom and spirituality?

I think fandom and spirituality can, but don't have to, overlap.  In both fandom and spirituality, people feel a deep personal connection between themselves and the object of their attention that makes their lives better.  It's that sense of connection and personal understanding that really makes both worthwhile - to me at least.  In fandom we get connection both to the people creating the object of our attention and other fans.  Less obviously but perhaps more potently, we get a sense of resonance with the material that lets us feel deeply understood, if in a round about way.

For example, I'm a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That show came out when I was a sophomore in High School and Buffy Summers was exactly my age.  In a sense we grew up together; faced the same challenges of growing up at the same time, if in different ways.  I saw that character struggle with the same kinds of problems that I did and make the same kinds of mistakes I was making, and then got to watch her overcome them and move forwards with her life. At a time in my life where my family and friends had trouble understanding me I got to see a girl on television that I knew would understand me completely and then talk to other people who loved the show and totally got it.

When spirituality and its resultant community is healthy the sense of support and understanding it gives is virtually identical to that of a healthy fandom.

The main difference I see between fandom and spirituality is intent.  The point where a person goes from "this is an awesome thing that I love" to "I'm going to use this thing to improve myself and my life" is where someone passes from fandom into spirituality.  You can absolutely have both (e.g. I love Doctor Who and I use the image of the 10th Doctor as my spirit guide), but you don't have to.

One thing that a lot of people factor into spirituality that they don't factor into fandom is what they get back from the object of their attention.  In many spiritualities there is the belief that the thing you love loves you back. Some might disagree, but I would argue that this is totally possible in a fandom. First, it's not uncommon for the people responsible for creating major fandoms to go to conventions and other public venues and express their appreciation for their fans, and that can mean a lot.  Further, a lot of major fandoms (e.g. Star Wars, Marvel, Doctor Who, Sandman, etc.) have so much energy poured into them that they exist as thoughtforms on the astral plane - functioning in very, very similar ways to other spiritual forces.  They might not be as old, as big, or last as long as some other spiritual forces but they are quite real and potentially potent.

2. Similar to talking about passionate obsession in fandom - is there such as thing as a casual pop culture pagan, the same way there might be casual fans of a pop culture product? Does someone need to be a True Fan to incorporate that fandom into their spiritual practice - or, in the reverse, does someone need to be very spiritual to incorporate pop culture into their spirituality?

Overall, yes I'm sure you can be a casual pop culture pagan (PCP). In practice, I think it really depends on the fandom.  As of right now, 5/25/15, I think just about anyone on the planet could call on Imperator Furiosa and get a solid response because that character is so intensely in the public eye at this moment in time. I think just about anyone could call on the character of Sherlock Holmes because the character is so well known and so ubiquitously part of mainstream culture.

Beyond major characters that are actively in the larger public eye I think it would be more difficult to be a casual PCP.  Working with pop culture icons isn't that different from working with any other metaphysical entity.  If you want to work with established metaphysical entities (like the fay) you're expected to develop a relationship with them over time: giving them offerings, talking to them, working with them regularly, etc. Working with pop culture figures is no different; you'll get better results of you've got an established relationship than you would if you didn't.  That's not to say you can't work with something casually, just that you might not get the same quality of result as you would if you were less casual about it.

3. What got you interested in pop culture paganism? How does it connect with your overall spiritual practice? Do you feel connection, disconnection, something else with other forms of paganism and
spirituality? (Part of my draw towards pop culture and techno paganism is that I never really connected with how people revered nature - but the things people were feeling about nature were the same things I felt about tech and art.)

I've always worked with a mixture of pop culture and more traditional pagan iconography.  When I was first starting out I had trouble feeling a personal connection with the idea of the traditional four elements, so I visualized them as the four members of Metallica and that solved my problem.  I often visualize the deities I work with as modern day characters or people, just because it's easier for my brain to do so than to try to pull an image out of the astral whole cloth.  I don't see anything remarkable about it, it's just the way I've always done things.  When I call powers to aid me in ritual I've got old gods, figures from myth and legend, literature, and modern pop culture characters side by side and they've never had any problem with it, so why would I? I'm a big believer in doing what works for you when you need it to work, whatever that happens to look like, as long as everyone involved is OK with it.

4. Neil Gaiman's American Gods plays with pop culture paganism to some degree, with his notion of modern-day gods. Do you see pop culture and technopaganism being explored in the mainstream elsewhere? On the one hand, when the mainstream _does_ acknowledge witchcraft, it's often in
a Hippy Nature Woo sense, but on the other hand I'm thinking that sci-fi and cyberpunk would eventually lead towards technopaganism as a given.

I hadn't really thought about that before.  I could certainly see how the current flow of pop culture, particularly online pop culture, could make technopaganism and pop culture paganism more appealing and more natural for a lot of people.  In the comic books The Wicked and The Divine (
http://www.wicdiv.com/ - I highly recommend these), you see modern day deities using our current cult of celebrity to gain the powers and worship they want. In reality, our contemporary cult of celebrity is quite similar to how folk saints have been created in the past (seriously, just visit Elvis' grave and tell me folks aren't using his name in magick).  Similarly, you could easily look at things like memes as modern versions of spells or bardic magick. Look at the power of the trending topic to shift world wide perceptions in a matter of hours and tell me that isn't a form of contagion magick gone, quite literally, viral.  Do I think our current culture is on a crash course to technopaganism - no, but I think all it would take would be the tiniest push from a person in the right position.

5. I've noticed pop culture paganism really jumping in popularity with young people on Tumblr who are active in fandom (and possibly social justice). How in your view has Internet culture and social media boosted or interacted with pop culture paganism?

I think internet culture has been huge in spreading pop culture paganism, particularly amongst the under 30 crowd.  One of the gifts of the information age is that people are exposed to a lot of different viewpoints on every possible issue.  For those of us that have grown up steeped in internet culture, it is very easy for us to understand that, for most issues, there is more than one "right way" of doing things.  This means we don't cling to tradition the way that older generations tend to, making us more open to new ideas - like pop culture paganism.

For those of us who grew up stewing in pop culture, using those ideas in magick seems only natural.  With the proliferation of smartphones and other internet connected devices, many people spend all day connected to the stream of pop culture - why wouldn't we want to harness that and use it to our advantage?  Working with pop culture today is no different to us than connecting to the stories and legends of the past was to people in their day; what we now identify as myth was their pop culture at the time.

6. You talk about how you're not entirely comfortable with the idea of worshipping pop cultural figures as deities since they haven't been around a long time. However, it can be argued that some of these figures are reworkings of age-old archetypes; some even are often deliberately designed on known mythological figures. One could also argue that since pop culture is man-made, it's not as spiritually pure - but a lot of myths could also be said to be man-made even if divinely inspired. Could you talk more about your thoughts on this?

The way I see it, pop culture figures are essentially thoughtforms on the astral plane.  The more energy we in the mundane world pour into them, the bigger and stronger they get in the astral.  I see many of the metaphysical entities worked with in modern magick (spirits, fay, loa, saints, deity, etc.) as also being astral entities that are, at least partially, shaped by the energy fed into them by people on the mundane plane.  The entities that I call deities are generally very, very old and very, very strong - to the point that they can function entirely independently of the energies fed to them from people.  I see pop culture figures as being lesser than deity in that they are still almost entirely dependent on the incoming energies from people for their existence.  As such, while I might respect and even venerate a pop culture figure, I wouldn't worship it.  To me worship requires a sense of subordination to the thing being worshiped that I just don't feel for pop culture figures.

I don't really subscribe to idea of spiritual "purity." Sounds like snobbery to me. As I've said before, I belong to the "use what works" school of thought.

7. You have a page discussing "which Doctor" - as in, which iteration of a character would you incorporate into your practice. I know that even in general fandom there can be a lot of debate and discussion about certain characters and settings, and when the original author does something that contradicts fanon, hell can break loose! How much does authorial intent play into pop culture paganism? Could there be any connections between differing fandom interpretations and differing
interpretations of holy text?

Now you have me thinking of differing "ships" in fandoms being akin to different sects of a religion with "god" (aka the author) standing on top of a mountain shouting, "What the f**k are you doing? I didn't write any of this!" The image is almost frighteningly apt.

When it comes down to it, pop culture is essentially a majority rule.  Whatever it is that the most people agree upon and embrace is what becomes pop culture.  For that reason, authorial intent isn't as important as it would be for something like literary interpretation.  The meaning of art is in the eye of the beholder and the creation of pop culture is in the hands of the masses.  It's the ultimate in egalitarianism.

My Pop Culture Magick Index

17 May 2015

Book Review: Penumbrae

One of the books I was most looking forward to this spring was Penumbrae, an anthology of occult fiction edited by Richard Gavin, Patricia Cram, and Daniel Schulke.  I was not disappointed. When I say this book was good, I mean it was practically perfect in every way.  Seriously, stop what you're doing, go order it, and then come finish reading this.

Penumbrae is unlike any other book of fiction I have ever read.  Instead of being a book of stories about the occult, it's a book of stories where the occult is just part of the landscape.  In most "magical" fiction you get heavy handed stories where the magick is the point of the story - the young boy learns to use magick to defeat the antagonist, the girl saves herself through the use of an ancient charm, etc.  In Penumbrae you get a more authentic occultism.  In these stories the magick simmers underneath the action, flowing through the story the way real magick lies beneath the surface of our everyday lives. 

The magick you find in "Turquoise on a Bed of Skulls" by Patricia Cram is the desperate folk magick of the hopeless.  Of all the stories in this anthology I found this one the most striking.  It's not a story about magick, but a story about terrible circumstances in which a woman takes power in the only way she can.  That happens to be through the use of what amounts to a series of Hoodoo jar spells.  However, the magick is not the point of this story.  This story has a much deeper message that sinks in to your skin and makes you itch for days afterwards. 

Most of the stories in this anthology are...not outright horror stories, but they are unsettling.  There is often something "not quite right" with the characters and their actions.  The magick and occultism they encounter tends to be extremely otherworldly - it doesn't quite fit in our reality.  So many works of fiction portray magick as a wondrous cure-all that just makes everything better, and yes real magick is a glorious thing, but it's not all white light and rainbows.  Real magick runs the gamut from gorgeous and uplifting to filthy and wrong.  When you really see magick changing reality is can be deeply, deeply unsettling - like when you see a movie displayed at the wrong frame rate and every movement just looks "off."

"The Spider" by Hanns Heinz Ewers was probably my favorite story to read: it's half mystery, half horror with just a pinch of the unreal.   This story has such a subtle thread of the unworldly.  It begins as a mystery that slowly deepens from the purely mundane to "that which should not be."  As someone who has practiced magick for a long time and who is widely read, I caught on to the occult elements fairly quickly.  I can't help but wonder how different this story would be for someone who didn't know the occult at all.  Still scary I would imagine, but much more shallowly so.

There were several stories in this anthology that had strong ties to Lovecraftian lore, though none so clearly as "Andromeda Among the Stones," by Caitlin R. Kiernan.  This story perfectly straddled that line between being uncomfortably close to reality and bearing the weight of unspeakable horror.   It highlighted the madness that deep occult studies often skirts and the consequences of allowing too much rigidity into our practices in the face of evidence that we should be doing things differently.  Unsettling, frightening, and yet magnificent.

So if you haven't done so yet go order this.  Then read it slowly while sipping a nice glass of red wine while listening to Debussy during a rain storm.

15 May 2015

Sweetening Spells

I’ve done a lot of spellwork over my magickal career, but until very recently I had never done a sweetening spell.  I think I’d skipped over them in the past because they’re often grouped with love spells, which I just don’t ever do.  However, I recently got a really fantastic bone casting and the reader told me that I should consider doing a sweetening spell to make the people at my new firm act more favorably towards me.  So, I decided to take a closer look at sweetening spells and really liked what I found.

In essence, a sweetening spell is done to make a person or situation more favorable – to make them be sweet to you.  Sweetening spells are close kin to love spells, but are a lot gentler and less coercive.  Instead of trying to force people into specific actions or emotions (e.g. make Jim love me or make my boss give me a raise), sweetening spells are aimed at making people be nicer, be more open and receptive.  Sweetening spells are the magickal equivalent of bringing someone cookies in the hopes that they’ll be more likely to do you a favor.  In fact, sweetening spells can be happily used in conjunction with bringing someone cookies ;)

While there are many different types of sweetening spells out there, the one that resonates the most with me is the honey jar.  In its simplest form all a honey jar spell needs is a small container, honey, a small piece of paper, and a pen.  You write the full name of the person or situation you want to sweeten three times on the piece of paper, then rotate the page 90 degrees and write your own full name across the other person’s name three times.  Put the piece of paper in the jar, letting some of the honey get on your fingers.  Then suck the honey off your finger saying, “As this honey is sweet so ___________ will be sweet to me.”  You can enhance the spell by adding something linked to the spell target to the jar (a photo or signature are your most hygienic options).  A bit of candle magick is often added by burning a small chime candle (of the color most appropriate to your desired outcome) on top of the jar, letting the wax drip onto the lid and jar.  In most of the sources I looked at, both tasting the honey and the candle burning should be repeated weekly as long as the situation lasts or until you’ve reached your desired outcome.

Gotta love locally sourced magick :)

For the honey jar I made, I got a small jar of local honey (purchased from a local vendor very close to where I work) and used both paper and a pen from work.  My targets for the spell were pretty much all the supervisors in my department, so rather than writing a bunch of names three times I created a sigil that represented them and wrote it three times on the paper and then crossed it with my own.  I also drew the sigil on the lid of the honey jar with a sharpie (an invaluable magickal tool).  I folded the paper nice and small and stuck it in the jar.  I then burned a small yellow candle on top of the jar, right on top of the sigil.  I’ll be doing this every Sunday in an hour of the sun for the foreseeable future.

Sigils make writing out long lines of text so very much simpler

Hoodoo Honey and Sugar Spells: Sweet Love Magic in the Conjure Tradition http://www.luckymojo.com/honeyjar.html

07 May 2015

Psychic Self-Defense for Ghost Hunters (2015 edition)

Last weekend I gave a lecture on Psychic Self-Defense for Ghost Hunters down at the Spooked in Seattle's Metaphysical Market.  I wanted to share the important points of that lecture for those that were unable to attend.  

These days it seems like everyone and their grandmother wants to have an exciting paranormal experience like the ones they see on TV - hearing whispered voices, having their hair be moved by unseen hands, seeing shadowy figures, etc.  Just a few days ago I was telling a friend about the haunting of the restaurant we were eating in (Kells in Post Alley, highly recommended)  and the table next to us got terribly excited and asked how they could experience the haunting for themselves.  For most people most of the time ghost tours and ghost hunts are a fun and completely benign way to spend an evening.  However, every once in a while something goes amiss.  There are a few quick and east things you can do to make sure your experience is as safe and fun as it can be, avoid the dangers of attack, attachment, or bringing something home with you.

Visit the dead but don't join them prematurely

Brief Disclaimer: The following tips and techniques are things that will make you safer, not safe.  You will certainly be better off doing them than doing nothing at all, but the unseen world is unpredictable and nothing short of sealing yourself in a psychic bubble and never leaving your house again will guarantee that nothing metaphysically untoward will happen to you - and perhaps not even then.  Use common sense - if you ever feel like you are in danger in a haunted location you should leave.  Ghost hunting is about interacting with the dead, not becoming one yourself.  


There are certain things you should do before visiting a potentially haunted location:

  • Know your environment - For maximum safety you should learn as much as you can about the types of experiences people have had in a location and what types of entities are generally believed to be present.  The more you know going in the more appropriate your protections can be.  However, knowing too much about what other people have experienced in a location can bias your own experiences.  The human mind is amazing at seeing what it expects to see.  As a result, you may choose not to find out too much about a location in order to guarantee a more authentic experience.  Most of the time that's an acceptable risk as long as you have something at hand that can increase your protections if necessary (I'll talk about that in a moment).  At the very least, find out if the paranormal activity in a location is generally benign or if it's considered malevolent; if it's benign then going in blind is probably an acceptable risk, if not then your safety should trump the desire to be "surprised" by paranormal activity.

  • Choose how much protection you want going in - Psychic protection, at its core, is something that strengthens the barrier between you and the world around you.  It makes it more difficult for unseen entities to do things to you that you don't want - like pushing, scratching, or attaching themselves to you.  However, it can also make it more difficult for entities to do things you do want - like touching or talking to you.  Think of it like the difference between wearing rubber gloves as opposed to wearing a full hazmat suit.  They each put a protective barrier between you and something potentially dangerous, but one dulls your senses a lot more than the other.  Ideally, you want just enough protection to keep you safe, but not so much that it deters activity.  After all, the whole point of going on a ghost hunt or tour is to experience something.
  • Basic Pre-Hunt Protections - These techniques are good for most situations (e.g. mild/med hauntings).  Do these before entering a potentially haunted location.    
    • Prayer - If you are a person who prays it will probably be beneficial to pray for protection and good fortune before entering a haunted place.  The powers (gods, spirits, angels, etc.) that are a part of your personal belief system generally have a vested interest in helping you out and are probably willing to do so.  It never hurts to have a little outside muscle on your side.  However, keep in mind that prayer alone is almost never enough to be considered complete protection.  Also, depending on how your faith views the unseen world, the protective entities you call on might scare away all the ghosts.  Think about it and do what makes you comfortable.
    • Ground and Center    
      • When I use the term “grounding” I mean the act of flushing out negative or excess energy you have in your body into a place where it is naturally neutralized.  This is generally done by visualizing all the energy you don't want as static electricity and then moving it down your body and into the ground where it is neutralized.  Grounding helps to make sure that your energy doesn't interfere with the energy of the place you're visiting and it makes you more energetically stable.
      • The act of centering is essentially finding the place in your body where you feel your energies the strongest and aligning your energies to concentrate and flow from that place.  For many people that place is the lower abdomen or the base of the spine - it make be different for you.  I generally center by visualizing my center (just below and behind the navel for me) and breathing into it until I feel my energies focus and stabilize there.  Having a calm and focused center makes it easier to pay attention to what's going on around you and adapt accordingly.  
    • Shield - Shielding is the practice of forming a layer of protective energy around yourself in order to strengthen the barrier between you and the outside world.  The easiest way for most people to shield is to visualize an egg of white or pale blue electricity surrounding them like a bubble - just like the shields around the Enterprise on Star Trek.  Depending on how safe you feel in a given location you will want to make your shields thicker or thinner.  The nice thing about shields it that you can modify them at any time in response to what's happening around you.  This is also a great technique to use when dealing with angry co-workers or relatives.  It helps keep their negative energy off of you!
During a Tour or Hunt

  • Statement of Intent - I consider it a common courtesy to introduce myself when first entering a haunted location.  You can do it out loud or in your head, paranormal entities are generally able to hear thoughts expressly directed at them, though I like to say it aloud unless it would make me look like a crazy person in the given situation.  I recommend introducing yourself, expressing your respect and compassion for the unseen entities present, and inviting the experience you would like to have, e.g. let the entities know that you'd like to hear them speak or be gently touched and that you do not want to be pushed, scratched, or otherwise harmed.  By expressly saying (aloud or silently) what you do and do not want to happen you actually make it easier for the entity to do what you want and make it more difficult to do what you do not want.  Clearly expressed desires create their own energy that can help or hinder paranormal entities to act.  It's also just the courteous thing to do.  Wouldn't you be more likely to be friendly to a stranger that introduced themselves and asked you to do thing rather than just barging in an making demands?    
  • Protective Items - These are things to have on hand in order to escalate your protections as necessary.  Depending on the item and your own risk assessment you make choose to carry some of these things on your person (in a pocket or bad) or choose to leave them in a secure and easily accessible place just outside the haunted location.  I recommend choosing just 2-3 items to have on hand for most investigations.    
    • Talismans/charms     
      • Objects of faith (cross, star of david, pentagram, hand of fatima, etc.)  
      • Personal objects of special significance (family heirloom, love token, etc.)     
      • Bundles or small bags of protective herbs (Angelica, Bay, Cinnamon, Cloves, Fennel, Garlic, Mullein, Rosemary, Rue, Sage)    
      • Mojos (bundle of protective objects in a red cotton bag worn next to the skin - to begin I recommend choosing an herb, a stone, and a metal charm, eg. a bay leaf, a hematite, and a small pewter dragon)     
    • Protective stones (hematite, jet, obsidian, malachite, black tourmaline, etc.). 
    • Salt water, salt, black salt - Salt has a unique ability to disrupt and neutralize negative energy.  Black salt is salt that also contains charcoal or crushed lava rock and it cannot be beat for absorbing and grounding negative energy.  Something as simple as putting a few grains of salt on your tongue or rubbing salt on your hands or feet can make a huge difference in mitigating negative energies.  You can also wash your hands or feet in salt water for the same effect.    
  • Shielding - As I mentioned earlier, you can and should adapt your shields in response to what you feel in a haunted location.  If you feel threatened you can thicken shields or change their opacity, e.g. if your shields are a translucent electric blue you can change them to be made of solid steel or concrete.

What you do after a paranormal experience may actually be more important than anything you do before or during it.  If you do nothing else, I urge you to always do all three of the following:

  • Closing statement - Before you leave a location, inform the spirits that you’re finishing up and give them one last chance to communicate with you. Thank them for allowing you to share their space and wish them well. (Being kind and courteous costs you nothing and can go a long way towards ending things on a positive note - especially if you think you might come back!) Then tell them that you’re done and that they are to remain where they are, that they are not allowed to follow you home.  As with your statement of intent, just saying that the spirits are not to follow you will make it more difficult for any troublemakers to do so.    
  • Ground - After any paranormal experience you're likely to be either keyed up or extremely tired. Take a few moments to consiously let the energy of the experience calm down.  The easiest way to do this is to have some food and drink (fruits, nuts, cheese, bread, water or fruit juices all good - stay away from over processed or sugary foods for the best results).  Eating has a wonderful way of closing any open psychic connections and bringing down energy levels.  Rubbing your hands with salt or putting a little in your shoes is also an easy way to help you ground. 
  • Cleanse - Cleansing after a paranormal experience is absolutely critical.  You never really know what energies have gotten on you during an investigation and you do not want any potential negatives lingering. Here are a few things that you can do to cleanse yourself energetically:    
    • Smudge - A Native American technique of essentially fumigating yourself with the smoke of smoldering herbs, most often sage, cedar, and/or sweetgrass. 
    • Spritz - Have a spray bottle with a few drops of cleansing essential oil in water or hydrosol (rosemary, cedar, sage, lavender all good) and give yourself a good spritz or three.  This technique is particularly useful while traveling. 
    • Wash hands in salt water 
    • Bathe/Shower -  If you can, I highly recommend taking a shower - standing in running water does wonders for washing away negative energy.  Try using cedar or sage soap, florida water soap (available at your local Hoodoo supplier), or a van van wash (also available at your local Hoodoo supplier).
Try out these techniques the next time you visit a local paranormal hot spot and see how different your experience is. 

tl;dr - be courteous (ghosts are people too), be firm (say exactly what you do and do not want to experience and mean it), be prepared (have some quick and easy methods of increasing your protection if necessary)

My previous post on this topic - I've refined things quite a bit over the last few years.

01 May 2015

Beltane Blessing 2015

I've been celebrating Beltane for...a good long while now and this year has, by far, the most tumultuous energy I've ever felt on May Day.  With everything that's going on in the world it seems appropriate to turn the traditional blessings of fertility and personal prosperity into blessings for understanding and fruitful communication between all people.

A brief aside for Seattle area folks - I've got two events going this weekend. I'm facilitating a Beltane Ritual tomorrow at 3pm in Carkeek Park.  It's going to be fun and low key, so come on by :) On Sunday I'll be teaching a workshop on Psychic Self-Defense for Ghost Hunters at Spooked in Seattle's Metaphysical Market at 4pm.

Beltane Blessing for 2015

As I reach down to feel the earth beneath my feet I feel it pulsing with the energy of new growth.  The seeds we have sown are awakening and burgeoning with new life; changing the landscape with bursts of energy.  I shall ride these currents of growth and change and harness them to my will.  With them I birth a shift of consciousness in my self. The vast and unfathomable energies of the Sabbat flow through me and change me from within 

The bright fires of Beltane burn within and purify me.  Beltane fire burns away prejudice and privilege so that I may grow true, unburdened by the mistakes and misconceptions of my past. 

The seeds of expression bear the fruit of clear and effective communication.  The seeds of listening grow into true hearing. The seeds of knowledge within me blossom into real comprehension.  The seeds of compassion I've sown flower into true empathy. 

I manifest this growth through right action in my life.  I know that all change begins within but must be brought without in order to take hold.  I walk through the world enacting comprehension and empathy with all those around me.  I model the behavior I would see.  I inspire others to manifest positive change through right action.

Beltane blessings take hold within me and through me move into the world.

17 April 2015

Pop-Up Ritual

I love doing ritual magick but I don't always love the rigidity of the way it's often practiced.  I want my ritual practice to be adaptable enough to be done anywhere and anytime it's needed, with whomever wants to join me.  Don't get me wrong, a complicated and exactingly crafted ritual can be a beautiful thing - but I tend to save that for rare major workings.  Most of the time I do magick on the fly, including rituals.

Like so many things, I first started doing ritual back as an undergrad at Wellesley.  We had an amazing group that focused on learning new things and trying out new practices.   We were students just getting into magick, what else would we be doing?  We met every week and would often begin meetings by asking if anyone needed any magickal help.  Most of the time someone needed something (help studying for an exam, healing of an injury, dealing with a conflict, etc.); so, we would circle up, call the quarters, and do some magick.  We were a diverse group with Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Red Road, and a few other practitioners, so we didn't exactly have a set liturgy.  We'd improvise on a theme and just figure out what we were doing as we went along.  Every ritual was totally different, but they pretty much always met our needs.  It was an extremely open and flexible way of doing ritual and I loved it.

Ah my Alma Mater

I still love it.  I pretty much never do something the exact same way in multiple rituals.  Yes, over the years I've developed a pretty standard way of casting a circle and calling the quarters, but they always vary at least a little from ritual to ritual and they're the closest thing to standard liturgy that I've got. I like being able to feel the energies around me when I'm doing ritual and then adapt the ritual accordingly.  Shouldn't the way you call air into a circle be different if you're standing on a wind swept bluff as opposed to when you're indoors?  Should you summon, stir, and call forth a spirit that you can feel is already standing right beside you or just acknowledge it's presence and thank it for showing up early?  I've always felt that such adaptability is key for an effective practice.

Ritual is, in essence, a formal framework for worship, magickal practice, or a bit of both.  In my practice a ritual needs to have: a statement of intent/focus, an opening, calling of supportive powers (elements, spirits, deities, etc.), a working (devotional, magickal, or both), thanking of supporting powers, and a closing.  As long as those elements are present, preferably in that order, you've got yourself a ritual.  To me, it doesn't really matter whether your celebration of Artemis takes the form of a 15 minute recitation of an original poem in perfect iambic pentameter or is just a few moments of heartfelt meditation and lighting some incense.

Oh My Gods Archive
The exact execution of any step in a ritual is far less important than the focus and intent used in performing it.  I've been to large, carefully executed, highly formalized ritual that had less power and meaning than a five minute improvised ceremony to honor a pretty tree found in a park.  It's a lot like feeling the power and beauty of a heartfelt jazz improv as opposed to a coldly, if perfectly, played Mozart concerto; like music, magick has to have soul!

Of course, nothing is ever quite as simple as that.  Unless you're really comfortable with public speaking (something my inner attention whore loves with an unholy passion), improvising in front of strangers can be intimidating.  If you're inexperienced you might not know what to say; you may fear being judged or laughed at.  It's important that ritual space be safe space.  I like to begin my public rituals by stating that there is no right or wrong way to do something (within reason) and that judgements are strictly prohibited.  When I ask for participants I try to be fairly specific about what roles are needed and any constraints on how something can be done (usually time or adapting to the needs of the particular atendees).  If someone wants to participate that doesn't know what to do or feels comfortable doing something alone I ask for a more experienced practitioner to help the newbie plan what to do and how to do it (think magickal spotter). 

This brings us to the idea of pop-up ritual.  I have a dream of building a network of magickal folk who can come together, without prior preparation, and perform ritual whenever it's wanted.  Just like you see pop-up retail stores appearing temporarily where they find a need, I want to see pop-up ritual that can be set up in a flash anywhere, anytime, with whomever happens to show up.  I want to see open, inclusive ritual being practiced in my community. If you're in the Seattle area check out Illustris on Facebook and see where you can participate in my pop-up rituals.

Beltane Ritual 5/2 at Carkeek Park

If you are in the Seattle area come join me on May 2nd to celebrate Beltane!  We'll be doing a fun, informal ritual in the always lovely Carkeek Park.  We'll be meeting in the parking area next to the playground at 3pm.

This relaxed and informal ritual is open to all ages, traditions/practices, and levels of experience. Come as you are.  Just bring an open mind, a willingness to participate, and a small offering of flowers or birdseed if you can. 

I hope to see you there!

For full details check out our event listing on Witchvox:

07 April 2015

Pop Culture Magick: Con Edition - Part II

In my last post, Pop Culture Magick: Con Edition - Part I, I talked a bit about that magick you can perform at a comic or pop-culture convention to take advantage of the unique energies and opportunities that cons present.  In this post I'll talk a bit about the magick you can perform in order to help yourself stay safe, sane, and healthy while at a con.

Conventions are amazing things and I adore them, however they can be rather overwhelming.  When you squeeze a convention center or hotel full of people the possibilities for discordant energy, exhaustion, and illness go up dramatically.

First, the mundane

Why am I talking about the mundane in a magickal blog? Because you can't do effective magick if you're physically exhausted or ill.  If your mundane foundations aren't strong your magick will suffer, so you need to take care of yourself.

As with any con, I always recommend that you keep the 6-2-1 rule in mind: get a minimum of six hours of sleep a night, eat at least two balanced meals a day, and take one shower a day (this is for you and everyone around you). Most cons have official activities going all day and both official and unofficial activities going most of the night.  It's shockingly easy to loose track of time when you're having fun, but all-nighters aren't good for you.  I don't know about you folks, but I am not a teenager anymore and turn into an unbearable harpy when I don't get my rest.  My getting sufficient sleep is in everyone's best interest.  It's also incredibly easy to miss meals at a con.  Often events are scheduled so that there's always something happening and it you're interested in it all there might not be much time for meals.  Do yourself a favor and find the nearest grocery store or deluxe mini-mart and stash some healthy food in your room and some nutritious and non-squishable food and a water bottle in your con bag.  Here in Seattle we have one of the best public market's in the world, Pike Place Market, so I took advantage and filled the room with tasty and mostly healthy snacks.  I trust I don't need to explain the need to bathe.  Seriously folks.

If you can, get a hotel room near the con.  If you're going to be at a con that is either multi-day or that goes far into the night do yourself a favor and get a room.  Having a room means that you've got safe, private space at an extremely public event.   As a magickal person the ability to, whenever you need to, retreat from the public energies into a quiet energetically controllable space is absolutely critical.  You never know when you're going to need to just crash and chill out for a while.  Cons can be overwhelming in both good and bad ways: you can be shaking from an inspiring panel from your favorite writer or shaking with rage from the dudebro bad mouthing your favorite character.  Either way, having safe space to relax is a godsend.  Some conventions (thank you ECCC) have quiet rooms in the con itself for just such occasions and they are truly helpful - mark them on your map!  But if you need to do a full LBRP to come down, having private space to do so would make your life a lot easier.

Take care of your feet.  I walked over 20,000 steps the first day of ECCC.  On an average work day I get in about 4,000.  By Sunday night my legs and feet were both very unhappy with me.  Bring multiple pairs of shoes to change your gait, change your socks 2-3 times a day (trust me), and bring epsom salts and soothing lotion for your legs and feet (tiger balm is your friend).  You will have a better time at the con if you're not in pain.

A word on con-crud.  80,000 of your closest friends does not a hygienic environment make.  Getting sick at a con blows donkey nuts.  Take vitamin c, take immune boosting herbs, do acupuncture before hand, use hand sanitizer, eat well, keep yourself hydrated, and get enough rest.  Take care of yourself or pay the consequences.

On to the magick!


Possibly the most important magickal skill you can use to have a better con experience is grounding.  The near-tidal levels of chaotic energy that are experienced at a convention can wreak havoc on even the most shielded of practitioners.  Ground well and ground often to keep your equilibrium.

This is where you should plan on bringing out you big guns for grounding: use stones like jet or obsidian to help earth your energies, drink soothing herbal tea like chamomile or lemon balm (put some iced tea in a water bottle for on the go grounding needs), wear grounding jewelry, have particularly earthy friends on hand if possible, and be prepared to take a grounding shower at the end of the day (seriously, a nice herbal soap and a soothing shower do wonders for grounding at the end of the day).  At ECCC this year my con buddy, Rae du Soleil, brought a spritz of rosemary/cedar water that was wonderful for helping us ground.  I highly recommend something similar. If you forget to ground you will wake up with a spectacular magickal hangover - I speak from experience.

It's also nice to give yourself a magickal foot massage at the end of the day.  Even if you forgot to pack your homemade lotion packed with grounding herbs and per-charged with your intent, almost all hotels have little bottles of hand lotion.  Use the lotion to rub your feet with the intent of working out both the physical kinks and the energetic residue of the day.  As you work the knots in your muscles allows your energetic knots to come loose as well to allow the energy of the day to ground away.  Your feet and your aura will thank you.


Shielding at a con is tricky.  On the one hand you don't want to miss out on the fun and excitement of the ambient energy, and on the other hand you don't want to get blown out by that same energy.  I recommend coming into the event with minimal shielding and then reading the ambient energy to see how much you need to add.  I'd rather get a little bit frazzled than miss out, but it's totally up to you.

I highly recommend using anchored shields (shields housed in a physical object) while at a con.
If the con is any good you will be fully engaged in the con itself, with very little brain power left over to deal with shielding.  Making sure that your shields take care of themselves will save you a lot of energy.


Travel altars are your friend.  Having a small altar of your own power objects can completely transform an energetically nondescript hotel room into your hotel room. If you're energetically sensitive you're probably noticed that generic hotel rooms can be a little bit soul crushing.  They're specifically designed to not have much character or energy beyond restful sleep.  Setting up a small altar infuses your energy into the room and makes it far more supportive to you.  Don't underestimate the importance of feeling like you belong in the space you wake up in. 

Rae du Soleil's ECCC 2015 altar
Daily Divination

It may seem like a small thing, but doing a bit of divination before you head out for the day and really affect how you experience things.  Anything from a simple one card pull to a full spread on what you need to focus on for the day can provide guidance and direct your focus.  It's also a great way to help yourself figure out if you really need to skip lunch to make that 12:20pm panel.


First off, I am not a cosplayer.  I have tremendous respect for the art of cosplay and I love the incredible people watching it provides, but it's just not really my thing.  That being said, there is tremendous magickal potential in cosplay.  It's quite different to walk the floor as a nondescript attendee and another thing entirely to walk the floor as Lady Sif (and there were a few amazing Lady Sifs at ECCC).  If you're a cosplayer you can take advantage of the energies involved in playing a character in a place where that character is recognized and respected.  Just a thought ;)

For more info:
Conventions - Part I
Pop Culture Magick Index