20 June 2017

Changing Values

While there’s always some in-fighting in any community, it seems like the last few years have been particularly rough on the greater Pagan, Polytheist, and magickal communities.  It feels like our past conflicts have been more about how and what to practice - the whole “my tradition is better/more authentic/more powerful/etc. than yours.”  These days our conflicts seem to run quite a bit deeper, to our core values - issues of right conduct, inclusion, personal sovereignty, and leadership. How do we, as a community, move forward when our core is fracturing?

Over the last few years I have seen a palpable shift from an embrace of larger communities to smaller, more insular units.  I believe this is due in large part to a shifts and schisms in core values.  At age 35 I am firmly in the middle of a generational shift in thought and values.  I can see and appreciate the values of our community founders, many of which are now aging into eldership or retirement.  They tend to value connection to the earth, freedom of expression (within a certain definition), and community togetherness.  I can also see the values of up and coming practitioners whose values tend towards individual expression, acceptance, and transparency.  While on their face these values don’t seem to conflict, but in practice they tend to express themselves with radical differences.   Whereas coming together in homogeneous celebration or join purposes has been standard for large scale ritual for years, these days a lot of practitioners are looking more to have an individual experience while in community rather than having the same experience as the person next to them.  Similarly, students these days are often looking for guidance on making a practice their own rather than simply wanting to be told the “correct” way of doing something.  While alternative communities are always more individualistic than the mainstream, we’ve taken things to a whole new level of late.

Another way this value shift has expressed itself is in the denouncement of poor conduct by community members, especially leadership.  Certain behaviors that were once quietly ignored or accepted are no longer tolerated.  Things like sexual misconduct, casual racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and various microaggressions are far more likely to be called out by the larger community than they have been in the past (we’ve still got a loooooooong way to go, but we are slowly improving).  Get any group of folks who have been in the community for more than five years (and a goodly number of newer folks) and they will be able to tell stories of “that once leader who creeps on all the girls” or “that one person who’s super nice as long as you’re straight” or, my personal favorite, “that one leader who loves everyone unless they disagree even slightly.”  In this era of ever present information it’s a lot harder to hide questionable behavior and people are getting better at calling it out.

While this is an absolutely necessary part of healthy growth, it does create friction and some people are pretty unreasonable about it.  It should be a no-brainer to kick out community members that prey on the community and yet, for some unfathomable reason, it isn’t.  Some communities have spent so long teaching tolerance and “positive thinking” that they become immobilized in the face of conflict, no wanting “confrontation” to “lower their vibrations.”  A little harsh?  Maybe, but people like that drive me up the wall - honestly what good is a community that refuses to protect its most vulnerable members?  It gets trickier when it’s a leader that’s made positive contributions to the community, while simultaneously preying on it or undermining the values they preached.  There have been far too many people in positions of power that have overtly made positive contributions while at the same time covertly engaging in sexual misconduct, abusive behaviors, racism, etc.  Does this mean they should be removed from those positions of power - of course it does!  Does this mean we should throw out all the structures they created and teachings they gave?  That’s much more difficult to say.  Chances are good that any power structure created by someone who abused their power will have some fundamental problems that will need correcting, and that their teachings will likely need close examination and amendment, but it doesn’t mean that they are without value.  Of course, determining how much should be kept and what should be tossed is likely to cause as much of an uproar as the initial exposure of wrongdoing.  There will always be those who value familiar structures over change, even when it’s necessary.  There will also be those so outraged by misconduct that they’ll want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Finding a balance between the two may be difficult unto impossible.

Change is good; growth is good.  However, people grow and change at different rates and in different ways and sometimes that means they can’t work with one another any more.  We are living in an uncomfortable time in which so many things are changing at once that it can be hard to keep up, let alone adapt and thrive.  As the values of the Pagan, Polytheist, and magickal communities evolve our existing community structures will also need to evolve.  We are incredibly diverse communities that are growing more so by the minute and our needs are changing.  I don’t have any answers for what we need to evolve into, but we’d better start figuring it out.  

03 June 2017

Cemetery Work 101

There is much magick to be had in cemeteries.  The guardians and spirits of burial grounds have tremendous abilities to aid the living in magick and divination.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of fear and many misconceptions around such workings. In this post I’ll introduce you to the guardians and gatekeepers of cemeteries, show you how to legally and ethically do your workings, and teach you the basic etiquette of working with the dead.

Know Your Cemetery

The first step in cemetery work is, of course, to choose a cemetery.  If you live in an area with a reasonably dense population then you’ve probably got a multitude of cemeteries from which to choose.  When choosing a cemetery for magickal work there are several factors to consider: how active it is, its overall energy, who’s buried there, and how it’s run. 

Not all cemeteries are created equal.  Some are awake and brimming with spirits, some are sleepy and quiet.  Some have fierce, active guardians, while some barely have a guardian at all.  For most cemetery work you’re going to want a more active cemetery, rather than a quiet one.  It’s just easier to talk to spirits that are already hanging around rather than having to summon them from elsewhere.  A strong guardian is indicative of a metaphysically healthy graveyard, and is thus is also desirable for those doing ethical workings.  (Yes, there are a whole host of things you can do where a strong guardian would be a problem, but they generally involve disrespecting the dead and I don’t work that way and won’t be discussing it here.) 

The overall energy of a cemetery is a huge factor is deciding to work in it.  Some cemeteries are full of beautiful monuments, some are heavily wooded, some have neat rows of white military headstones, while others are grassy parkland.  Each cemetery has its own unique energies depending on who’s buried there, how often it’s visited, where the site is located, how it’s maintained, and a host of other factors.  Some graveyards will feel compatible and others will likely not.  I generally prefer active secular cemeteries with lots of trees and plants, that get a moderate amount of visitation simply because that’s what feels best to me.  There are some cemeteries I enter where I immediately know that I’m not welcome to anything beyond paying respects and I abide by those feelings.  Know what works energetically and what doesn’t is extremely personal and will likely take some trial and error.  I tend to not work in specifically religious cemeteries simply because it feels disrespectful to do so - you may feel differently.

Beyond the general feel of a cemetery one should also look at who’s buried there.  A lot of cemetery work involves working directly with the spirits of those that are buried there.  Take some time to research the people buried in a particular cemetery.  Are they city founders, religious leaders, criminals, victims of epidemics or crime, war heroes?  Different types of people are more or less willing and able to help with different magickal workings.  The spirit of a nurse or doctor can help with a healing; the spirit of a judge or lawyer can help with justice spells, the spirit of a police officer or soldier can help with protection magicks; etc.  If you know you want to do a specific type of working, look for a cemetery containing the spirits of those most able and apt to help you.  Remember, the dead are not so very different from the living and they don’t suddenly sprout vast new skill sets simply because they’re on the other side.

Another important consideration is how a cemetery is run.  Different corporations, towns, and churches have very different ways of running graveyards.  How a cemetery is maintained can have a huge impact on its metaphysics.  A well maintained cemetery is likely to house contented spirits, whereas a neglected one may have unsettled residents and is much more likely to have wild entities roaming (fae, elementals, etc.).  Which you prefer will depend on the type of working you wish to perform.  If you’re new to cemetery work I recommend sticking to well maintained ones until you’re more comfortable.  Further, different cemeteries have different rules: public hours, what can be left at graves, what can be taken, etc.  In general, I find that cemeteries with permissive rules but strong security (guaranteeing respect towards graves) are the easiest to work within. 

Before You Go

Once you’ve chosen a cemetery there are a few practical preparations to be made.  As part of choosing a cemetery you should have taken a look at it’s rules and regulations - know them before you go.  Know the public hours and what you’re allowed to leave at a grave.  Abide by the cemetery rules and posted signs.  Not only can breaking the rules get you banned from a cemetery, but it disrespects the spirits (which never ends well for anyone). 

Further, check the weather before you go.  Here in soggy Seattle chances are good you’re going to be dealing with either active precipitation or mud when doing cemetery work.  Sturdy shoes and appropriate outerwear are a must.  Conversely, if it’s going to be hot and dry be sure to bring a hat and a water bottle.  Intense magickal workings tend to consume your attention and make you forget about your body, so you need to think about these things beforehand.

The last thing to do before you go is gather any supplies you may need.  Be sure you have an offering for the cemetery guardian and offerings for any spirits you might want to work with.  I tend to give an offering of coins for cemetery guardians and offerings of water, tea, or tobacco at graves (though this can vary quite a bit depending on the spirit - more on that later).  Bring small containers for gathering grave dust, dirt, feathers, or plant materials.  These can be small jars, film canisters, plastic bags, anything really.  A pen and paper can be useful if you need to leave a petition.  I also always bring a spoon for discretely gathering grave dirt or making small holes for burying petitions.  Make sure your equipment is discreet.  If you come in looking like you’re going to an archeological dig chances are good that someone is going to notice and do something unfortunate about it. 

Cemetery Guardians and Entering the Cemetery

In addition to those interred within, every cemetery has its own guardians and spirits.  Different traditions believe in various entities and deities that have dominion over the dead and their resting places, such as Baron Cimitière or Anubis.  (Please note that not all death deities are associated with burial grounds.)  If you belong to one of those traditions you should greet the appropriate entity in the way specified by your tradition.  When I enter a cemetery I always greet Baron Samedi first, as that is part of my tradition.  After greeting any deities or patrons, you should greet the guardian of the cemetery. 

Every cemetery I have ever visited has had a “head” spirit in residence.  This can be the spirit of one of those interred within or a cthuonic entity who resides within the graveyard.  This guardian spirit acts as a metaphysical gatekeeper for the entire cemetery.  You can think of it like a combination of a bouncer and an elder.  The guardian will prevent the disrespectful from pestering innocent spirits and can offer insight when asked correctly.  When you see teenagers on “true haunting” shows talk about being chased out of cemeteries they weren’t supposed to be in by dark entities, chances are good they’re talking about the guardians.  When approached respectfully guardians are generally quite friendly.

Before doing magick in a cemetery it is important to greet its guardian and ask permission.  This is done either at the cemetery gates or a prominent grave (usually near the entrance).  Begin by introducing yourself and making a small offering.  I usually give an offering of 10 coins (either pennies or dimes), although offerings of tobacco, corn meal, water, fruit, or flowers are also appropriate.  Some guardians will tell you what specific offerings they expect on return visits, and as long as the requests are reasonable I try to abide by them (as with the living, just because a spirit wants you to do something doesn’t mean you have to although there may be consequences for not doing so).  After giving your offering you should feel whether it’s been accepted or rejected.  How that manifests is different for everyone.  You may feel as if the volume has been turned up on the energies around you, a pleasant breeze on your face, a sensation of warmth, or any number of signs.  It will take practice to know what acceptance feels like for you.  Once your offering has been accepted take a moment to explain your intentions: any graves you specifically intend to visit, spirits to work with, spells to perform, ingredients to gather.  Once again, wait for a response from the guardian before proceeding.  I have had guardians tell me not to work in specific cemeteries or not to do particular workings.  I always abide by that because, not only is it disrespectful, having a guardian actively working against you while you try to do magick is almost never worth it.  It takes way too much energy to work effectively while under assault - better to find another place to work.
 If the guardian likes you then you can ask it for advice, such as which spirits are likely to work with you or the best times to perform workings.  If you forge a particularly good relationship with the guardian and it's strong enough you may be able to ask it to aid your magicks directly.  Once you have the permission you seek you can move forward.

If it’s your first time in a particular cemetery I recommend walking the cemetery before doing magick.  Take some time to walk through each part of the cemetery.  Allow yourself to get a read on the various energies, which graves seem more active, what attracts you, what repels you.  You’ll probably find that there are some areas of the cemetery that feel particularly comfortable and welcoming, while other parts may feel downright hostile.  You’ll likely find the same thing with certain spirits.  If you find particular areas or spirits calling to you, note them and do some research to determine if you want to work with them.  Depending on the cemetery you may find unexpected metaphysical entities, such as fae, elementals, imps, etc., or even portals.  This can be good or bad depending on what you find what what magicks you wish to perform.  If nothing else, non-human entities and portals can be unpredictable and potentially disruptive, so exercise caution when doing magick around them.  Take note of hotspots and potential trouble zones and act accordingly.

Working a Grave

When most people talk about cemetery work they mean working with a grave and its inhabitant.  Working with the dead is a lot like working with fae or other spirits; they each have their own specific personalities, wants, needs, and skill sets.  The most important thing in working with the dead is an amiable relationship.  Always ask permission.  Find a spirit that wants to work with you; never force a relationship.  It’s better to have the willing help of an average person than the coerced help of someone with the exact skills you’re looking for.  This is true across pretty much all spirit work, not just working with the dead.  If you plan on doing a lot of cemetery work, take the time to find a spirit that really wants to work with you and cultivate a long-term relationship: ie, give regular offerings, visit just for visiting’s sake, ask if there’s anything you can do for the spirit.  If you have a strong relationship you’re more likely to get the help you need when you need it - just like asking a good friend to help you move verses asking an acquaintance.  That being said, there’s nothing wrong with one-time workings, just be prepared to spend a little more time negotiating and/or give a larger or more meaningful offering. 

Approaching a grave for a working is a lot like approaching a cemetery guardian for the first time.  Take a moment to ground and center yourself, then approach the grave and greet its inhabitant.  If you haven’t worked with the spirit before take a moment to introduce yourself.  The give the spirit a small offering.  This is rather like giving a host gift when visiting someone at their home for the first time.  It’s a “Hey, I’m on your home turf and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.”  Offerings can be almost anything, but the more personalized to the recipient the better.  Traditional offerings include: flowers, incense, tobacco, corn meal, or cleaning/maintaining the grave.  At this point you should receive some indication whether the spirit is awake and has accepted your offering.  How this will be communicated to you can vary wildly.  If you don’t sense energies well then I highly recommend a divination tool such as a pendulum or tarot to help you communicate.

Some graves are more active than others.  An active grave is one where the spirit is either immediately present or nearby.  These spirits are the easiest to contact and work with because you don’t need to call them up from other places.  Graves that are well tended and receive regular visitors are more likely to be active.  The exception to this is the graves of famous people - then it depends on the individual as some get overwhelmed by the constant visitors and choose to stay away.  In many cases simply giving a small offering will “wake” an inactive grave, rather like paging someone.  However, if a grave is long neglected or the spirit is actively elsewhere (most ghosts don’t actually haunt their grave sites) you may need to either visit multiple times to get a response or do a little more work - such as give larger or more personalized offerings or go so far as doing an actual summoning ritual (that’s a bit beyond the scope of this post so I won’t go into details here).  If a spirit doesn’t respond or seems unwilling to work with you, then you should use your best judgment to determine whether you want to try again or simply move on to a more friendly spirit - but please be respectful in your choices. 

Once you’ve established positive communication with the grave’s inhabitant you can do workings.  Workings at the grave site may include collecting grave dirt or dust for use in future spells or onsite spellwork.  It’s at this point that discretion becomes paramount.  Very few people will disturb you if it looks like you’re meditating.  Disturbance becomes far more likely if you’re doing full ritual magick in broad daylight.  There is a reason I collect gravedirt discreetly with a kitchen spoon rather than a more obvious spade or trowel and it’s because I don't’ want to be yelled at, or worse, for disrespecting the dead.  You know what is and isn’t considered appropriate behavior in your local area; blend in and you can do your work and no one else needs to be the wiser.  As a side note, I always do my cemetery workings during regular open hours (ie. broad daylight).  You may choose to do your workings at other times but please don’t trespass.  When practitioners get caught breaking the law we all look bad.  Don’t be that guy.

When you’ve finished your work always thank the spirit and tidy up after yourself if necessary.

Other Workings

There are lot of magicks you can do in cemeteries because of their liminality.  Cemeteries are between places: they are neither fully places of the living nor fully places of the dead.  They have an inherent crossroads quality, therefore almost any magick that can be worked at a crossroads can also be worked in a cemetery.  Magicks involving changes or transitions can be worked very effectively in a cemetery, although the chthonic energies do tend to darken them so use caution.  Cemeteries can be excellent places to do trance or astral journeying, particularly to the underworld.  Just remember that you are out in public, so I recommend having a spotter if you’re going to any work that will take your awareness away from your body.  Safety first!

Of course, cemeteries are spectacular places to do bane magick.  There is a time and place for all workings and sometimes love and light doesn’t cut it.  Be a grown up and make your own ethical decisions and be prepared to live with the consequences.  I won’t go into the details of bane magick here, but I will be talking about it very soon.  Just know that cemeteries are great places to do it.

 Leaving the Cemetery

If you’ve paid proper respects to the cemetery guardian you shouldn’t have to do more than wave goodbye as you leave.  However, sometimes a little extra energy or a wild spirit will decide they want to follow you home.  Take the time to ground and center once you’ve left the cemetery and then go and do something joyous and lively.  If you have any trouble shaking off the graveyard energies then go home and do a cleansing.  I’m partial to sacred baths and fumigation for formal cleansings.  Choose whatever cleansing method works best for you.

Working in cemeteries is potent, rewarding, and not nearly as fraught as some make it out to be.  A little bit of forethought, caution, and a healthy dose of respect and you’re pretty much good to go.  When in doubt be nice.  The dead are just people and desire to be treated with the same mindfulness and respect you’d pay to anyone else you were asking for help.  Finally, trust your instincts.  If a particular grave or location feels great, sit down and do your working.  If you don’t feel welcome or something feels “off,” just move on. 

I welcome any questions you may have so feel free to comment or email me at: emily @ e-carlin.com.