Monthly Archives: April 2012

Let’s Get to Work

I think many of you know that Beltane is also International Workers Day.

Here are a few links for your perusal with that in mind:

Gordon: Occupy as a Phased Enchantment … Too bad I wasn’t ready for this shit then.

Cut-out 3-D Occupy Mask

Cut-out 2-D Occupy Mask

Planetary forces aren’t the only streams out there: More Occupy Wall Street Art for May Day Talisman Action

Two months ago I planned to have a whole fancy post with sigils and glyphs so we could work together on this a little more closely.  That didn’t happen.

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Beltane Altar 2012

It’s officially Beltane.  My altar isn’t very fancy this season—I don’t really have any appropriate gewgaws or money with which to acquire them, and I sort of have this pervasive fear that if I go too far out with Beltane I’ll wind up with an unexpectedly pregnant partner—but it’s actually been up for a couple weeks.

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Having given up on the Golden Dawn flavored ceremonialism of Penczak’s High Temple altogether, I’ve also rearranged my altar surface just a little.  One more it reflects my utter disinterest in maintaining the traditional elemental quarters over working with the space I actually have.  The offering bowl is a new addition, reflecting how integral a part of my practice that’s becoming; to the left you can see my box-of-active-sigils, and catch a peak of the Jupiter talisman on the shelf above it.

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For the first time in my academic career, Beltane falls after my finals rather than before or in the midst of, so I will actually be celebrating on Tuesday night.  For those who will be doing the “weekend before” celebration, however, I wanted to share a tradition Aradia and I started last year and which I will be continuing with this year: “Fuck You Beltane”.

I have traditionally used Samhain/my birthday to mark my personal “New Year”, but as a full-time student … well, post-finals celebrations of Beltane is really much more of a stopping point.  And while I’m not hip-deep in shit like I was this time last year, but there’s still a lot of lingering angst and madness that I’d like to be rid of before I start the next cycle of my magical year.

So here’s a ritual suggestion for those of you who, like me, are in need of a bit of a purge.  Get yourself some whole cloves and a mortar and pestle.  Build a bonfire.  Pound the clove to powder, chanting the names of those people/things you wished to be purged of, and throw the dust into the fire yelling “Fuck you (whoever/whatever)!”  Simple, but cathartic and effective.

Then drink.  And dance.  And celebrate the other kind of fucking, if that’s your speed.  (Y’all know it’s mine.)

[Edited for idiot typos.]

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Dionysus Miscellanea

Statue of Dionysus of the "Madrid-Varese ...

Statue of Dionysus of the "Madrid-Varese type". Roman artwork based on a late Hellenistic original (ca. 125–100 BC). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hey, folks, it’s the end of the semester.  While I’m buy writing papers for the next few days, I may not get another chance to post.  In the meantime, check out some of the fun facts I that my research turned up but which I couldn’t work into my paper on the cult of Dionysus in Hellenistic Greece and the Roman Republic:

* Although most often described as the son of the mortal princess Semele, Dionysos is also said to be the son of Persephone, a relationship which explains his cthonic attributes (Burkert 1985.294)  Those familiar with Orphic mythology already know this.

* The thyrsos wand, associated with Bacchic worship, may—according to Burkert—draw its name from association “with a god attested in Ugarit, tirsu, intoxicating drink, or alternatively with the Late Hittite tuwarsa, vine…”, and that the very name Bacchus may be drawn from a Semitic word for wailing, drawing a parallel with the wailing over the death of the Mesopotamian god Tammuz. (Burkert 1985 p.163)

* Dionysus shares the thyrsos wand with Artemis—the only other deity to use the wand in their rites. (Burkert 1985 p.223)

* Dionysus may have been depicted on herms, either as himself or synchretised with Hermes (Burkert 1985 p.222)

* Prefiguring later synchretisms, the worship of Dionysus was influenced by the cult of Osiris as early as 660 BCE (Burkert 1985 p.163), an association later affirmed by both Herodotus and Plutarch, the latter of whom also equated Dionysus with Serapis. (Martin 1987.91)

——-

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Martin, Luther H. Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

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Working the Jupiter Election

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Jupiter, fro...

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Jupiter, from The Seven Planets with the Signs of the Zodiac, 1539 (Bartsch 115; Pauli, Holl. 117), second state of five, trimmed just outside the platemark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think most of you know that there was a badass astrological opportunity last Thursday.  It was my privilege to be able to take advantage of both the morning and afternoon openings.

As is my custom on Thursdays, I got up before dawn.  Rather than go to the cafeteria, however, I made myself breakfast at home while readying my space.  I cast my circle at the crack of dawn and the beginning of the Hour of Jupiter, and by the time I was done consecrating my space* and preparing a Jupiter incense of dandelion, clove, sage, and nutmeg, the election was upon me.  Due to a shortage of resources, I printed a paper talisman across two sheets of paper.  One side bore the Jupiter image provided by the generosity of Christopher Warnock, the other bore my Glyph of the Moon and a pair of glyphs representing my intention: bestowing myself with the Favor of Kings; in between, I scribed my birth and magical names on the reverse sides of the sheets, sprinkled the same herbs I used for incense and a drop of Abramelin oil, then glued the sheets together.   I blessed the talisman with the Picatrix Jupiter invocation Mr. Warnock provided with the image, anointed the image deliberately with more Abramelin oil and inadvertently with wax from the candle I had dedicated to the purpose.

That done, I left the image and the burning candle on my altar as I dashed off to Yoga, a second breakfast, Ancient Greek class, and lunch.  Those “mundane” tasks out of the way, I returned home for the second election.

Here in the Midwest, the afternoon election was infringed by some minor Lunar affliction that no one really got into and which I couldn’t identify on my astrological software.  Good enough, Mr. Warnock said, but not as good as the morning timing.  So I chose something much more targeted and immediate than the talisman construction: a direct appeal for aid in my meeting with the Registrar, which would come almost immediately after the election ended.  I sigilized my desire using the Kamea of Jupter, performed another invocation and lit another candle, and went off to meet with the registrar.

To make an otherwise uninteresting story short: the registrar agreed to take all my transfer credits without further complaint, won the lottery for the weaving class (which “never happens” on your first try), begged for and received an extension on  the ancient history paper (formerly) due tomorrow, and this afternoon’s meeting with the Financial Aid office took less than thirty seconds to sort out a paperwork issue.  When I descended to my Inner Temple over the Dark Moon, the Favor of Kings glyphs were glowing on the walls.

So far it looks like the Jupiter rituals (including the previous sigils) have worked, and worked beautifully.


*Tuning it, more accurately.  “Consecrating” implies that there was something unsacred about it before I got there, and I don’t truck with that fallen world theological bullshit.  But that’s a series of posts for another day.  In the meantime, see Phil Hine.

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Shaman: My Uncomfortable Relationship With a Problematic Word

[This one gets a little rambly.]

These last weeks have seen a bit of traffic on a subject near and dear to my heart:the relationship between modern neo-Pagan animism and magic, cultural appropriation, and the word and figure of the “shaman”.  It “began”—so to speak; I don’t know that any of the authors read one another—with Alison Leigh Lilly and an interesting vision of where a combination of steampunk aesthetic and neo-Pagan praxis might lead (and the follow-up).  Next were Lupa Greenwolf’s posts (one and two) on her own discomfort with, first the word, and then the militant and un-self-critical reaction to her use of it.  Finally, VVF weighs in heavily but thoughtfully on the other side of the issue.

This is an issue that I, too, struggle with.  I since first being introduced to shamanic visionary techniques by a friend in St. Louis—fortunately, after I became at least tangentially aware of issues of cultural appropriation—I have always avoided the title “shaman”.  I don’t come from a culture that awards that title.  Actually, strictly speaking, no culture does: “shaman” is a bastardized Anglicization of the Siberian word “saman”.  It was adopted in the late 19th Century as a catch-all term for indigenous religious healers and, over the course of the 20th Century, came to be associated with particular types of trance-induction and spiritual mediation.  It was in that latter sense that I was first introduced to and familiarized with the word, and—because that was what my sources told me the word for the kinds of magic that came most naturally to me was—came to describe my visionary practice as “shamanic”, or “shamanic witchcraft”.

But there are anthropologists who don’t even think it’s a real thing (damn, why don’t I have my full library with me so I can fucking cite that?  please forgive me and use your favorite search engine): that “shamanism” is a social construction created by Western scientists as a way of understanding and conflating certain kinds of indigenous religious and magical practice which have no Western analogue (well, unless VVF is right about fairies, or unless you count theurgy).  This argument carries more weight the more research I do.  Yes, it’s helpful to create categories of like things so that we can better understand similarities, but … At the very least, one must simultaneously acknowledge that the categorization is alien to the system being observed.  Better practice would require a more proactive attempt to first understand the “shamanic” practices as the people to whom they are native understand them.

A number of my religious/spiritual/magical practices are rooted in what is known in some circles as “core shamanism”—that is, the use of drums, dance, rhythm, and/or drugs as techniques of achieving certain states of altered consciousness, stripped of their original cultural context and any elements or trappings that are most obviously cultural appropriation.  This is the work advocated by, for example, Michael Harner and Roger Walsh.

I’m not called to work with remains and spirits of animals, as Lupa is; nor am I as well known either she or Allison.  These two facts shelter me from an awful lot of the bullshit, allowing me to work my way through these issues in relative peace.  But my magical talents seem much better suited to exploring the Otherworld than anything else, and when spirits appear to me as animals and refuse to give me names, calling them “totems” and referring to them as Wolf or Leopard are pretty much the best I’ve got in terms of precise language.  And, though there are problems with it, as someone who identifies as a writer first and foremost, precise language is kind of a big deal to me.  Hell, the pursuit of precise, accurate, and affirming language is a huge part of my feminism/anti-racism/social justice effort.  When my need for precise language pushes me into dangerous territory, all I can say is “I’m sorry.  I’m working on it.”

I’ve spoken before on how uncomfortable I am with the the parts of neo-Pagan practice that dance around and over the borders of cultural appropriation, and of my personal relationship with those elements of practice. Increasingly, I find myself referring to my magical practice as “visionary” rather than “shamanic”. “Visionary” has it’s own problems—there’s these pesky associations with leadership and hierarchy, for example—but at least it doesn’t reek of colonialism. At the same time, though, I—like Lupa—struggle with the idea of bowing down to people within my own community who seem more interested in being the morality police than in actually serving social justice.

The more research I do, the more I come to understand that, while many of the techniques have been lost, “shamanic” practices are not absent from the Western tradition.  Witches with flying potions, fairy familiars like those VVF talked about, Hellenistic theurgy, astral projection and pathworking.   I’m not a theurge.  I may worship the gods of ancient Hellas, but I don’t buy the ideas of a fallen/impure world from which one MUST ascend to reach the gods.  Some gods are Up There, sure; and some are Down.  But there are plenty of them Right Here With Us, too.  I don’t to much pathworking because it’s too structured: I don’t like having my conclusions fed to me the way much of the pathwork I’ve seen seems to do.  And I’m just not very good at astral projection (yet).  But the fact is, I have the raw materials from which to build a cultural context for my visionary work.  Until some spirit teaches me better ones, though, I’m pretty much stuck with the “shamanic” techniques I learned from Harner.

And, as long as I’m stuck with Harner—and Wood, and Walsh, and all the others—I’m pretty much stuck with the word “shaman”, no matter how much I dance around it.  No matter how uncomfortable it makes me.  And I don’t really know how I feel about that … let alone how I should feel about it.

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Synthesizing Planetary Magic Into My Personal Practice

Some readers may wonder, looking at my bio, how it is that I can be so ignorant of Chaos and ceremonial magics if I’ve been practicing for as long as I say I have.  The short, easy answer is: freestyle circles and energy work, augmented by ecclectic/New Age Wiccan ritual and (in the last few years) visionary work.

When I was 18 or so, I came to the conclusion (in absence of any evidence, but … I was 18) that Cetlic knotwork was a two-dimensional representation of ways to shape energy.  That, in combination with the stripped-out version of the LBRP that I had found on the internet and a keen interest in elemental energy, became the basis of my magical practice.

Like (I imagine) most magicians, I can conjure elemental energies essentially at will: drawing energy from the world around me, filtering it through my body and aura, and transmuting it by will into Fire, Air, Earth, or Water to suit my needs … just as one conjures and focuses intent for, say, some forms of candle magic or sigils.  Unlike some witches and magicians, however, I also do this with Solar and Lunar energy.

One of the things I’m looking to do with my experiments in planetary magic is to come to understand those energies well enough that, in absence of convenient astrological timing—say we’re rolling retrograde when I need to do some mad Mercury, or right now with Saturn in the long retro, or it’s the Hour of Jupiter and I need some Venusian mojo right the fuck nowthat I can conjure them in similar fashion.  This sort of understanding of planetary forces would also facilitate my desire to, for example, make a talisman invoking the “baleful” aspects of Venus and Mars for a “No Babies Conceived Here Ever” talisman to hang above my bed.

Some will ask, “If it’s possible, why didn’t the ancients do it that way?” The easy answer is, of course, that’s not the way they thought about magic. Except, of course, in the East where we get a lot of these ideas from in the first place. Chi, anyone?*  Again: I can already do this with Solar and Lunar energy.

Now, I realize that this will not shelter me from astrological “weather” altogether.  It may never work the way I imagine it will (what does?).  But think: if I can generate my own planetary energies as needed, how much more awesome could my sigils and talismans be when used in conjunction with astrological timing?  And if I know how to move that energy, I could, for example, take advantage of the next Jupiter election to endow the shit of of some Jupiter water or store that energy in a crystal battery for another occasion.


*A gross oversimpification, I know.

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Seeking the Natal Genius II

Almost two weeks ago, the Saturday after Mercury went direct, I made a second attempt to contact my natal genius, whom I will hereafter refer to as ZG.  In order to do so I drew a second, less inspired, Triangle of Conjuration and performed the operation at the appropriate Hour of Night.  The sigil and name are blacked out for obvious reasons.

triangles of conjuration

The Triangle on the right is the first; the left is the second.

In one sense, the evocation went well: I was able to produce a much clearer and more iconic drawing of ZG, and even to establish a certain degree of mental/psychic rapport.  She’s a strange creature, whose imagery and iconography come from no particular time and place (though, given my own nature, what surprise in that?): bearing the wings ubiquitous of spirits in the Mediterranean and Near East, with a horned crown and clawed feet that remind one of the powers of Bronze Age Mesopotamia, a multiplicity of limbs evoking Indian gods, and a face which resembles something out of Hebrew tradition.  The outline of the picture below was produced through a sort of automatic drawing, where I asked the spirit to appear to me and then waited to see what turned up on the page; the colors were added for aesthetic sake, but were not received during the communication.scan0002

ZG

On the other hand, the conclusion of the experiment was less than ideal: ZG used that psychic contact to inform me clearly that the approach I was taking was not working and would not work.  Essentially, she dismissed me, and I am left with the relatively little information I acquired through the initial contact.

Is this a normal rate of progression?  Am I doing something seriously wrong, or am I just so used to unusual degrees of success that I don’t know what to do with a more “natural” learning curve?

Most importantly, I’m still left with the primary question which led me to phrase my evocations the way I did: what the fuck do I do with my natal genius now that I’ve found her?  Given her Saturnian nature, should I ask her for help exercising discipline, especially in terms of time management?  Since she is Scorpio, shall I enlist her aid in my plots and schemes?  As much help as those will be, what little I have seen others write on the matter seems to imply that the nature of a natal genius is far broader than these things.  Can anyone share some personal anecdotes or published sources for me?

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Early Lessons of My First Forays Into Sigil Magic

I’ve been experimenting with sigils.

This is partly because Gordon recently wrote the clearest treatise on the subject I’ve ever seen.  There’s also the whole thing where, until I started digging into the Western Ceremonial Tradition, I didn’t really understand how Chaos Magick was distinct from it.  It’s also just an inevitable manifestation of my escalating magical practice, and forays into practical magic.

I haven’t been doing as good a job of keeping notes as I should have, but it’s also only been about ten days since I launched my first shoal.  I’ve been firing them off in accordance with the appropriate planetary days and hours using either appropriately-colored chime candles to help fuel them, or votive candles marked with the planetary glyphs.  I’ve also been experimenting with quick-and-easy circle constructions to help power and focus the sigils.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my first impressions.  Fellow n00bs may find them interesting; more experienced sigil-users may be amused.

1) Holy shit, drawing sigils is FUN.

2) While I’ve generally thought of sigils as quick-and-dirty magic, I think I need to refine my technique.  Quick-and-dirty just isn’t as psychologically satisfying, particularly when I need something more complex (conceptually) than some candle-based healing magic.  Firing them off should be just as much fun as drawing them in the first place.

3) Timing is key: Do not fire off “The Registrar Gives Me What I Need” while simultaneously expecting that registrar to sit on a piece of paperwork for a week.  Even if you don’t need it processed with any alacrity, you may find yourself inconvenienced when your change-of-advisor form gets processed overnight and your old advisor can no longer provide you with the password for class registration.

Besides that temporary inconvenience, however, that sigil seems to have worked out well: my appointment to discuss my transfer with the registrar has been rescheduled (at her behest) for after the Jupiter election.

4) Specifying duration is key: The “I Have Fantastic Sex” sigil was AWESOME … the night I fired it.  It’s been back to business as usual (which, lest my lovers who read this blog take this statement amiss, is still pretty awesome) ever since.

5) Coming up with “Sigils to Fire for Saturday” is not the way to go.  I need to work on my “100 Bad Ideas” list first, sort out the good ideas, and then sort them into planetary correspondences.

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Sex, Gender, and Magic 1/n+1

Preface

I was already drafting this in my head as a response to a reddit thread—particularly this comment—when one of the bloggers I follow decided to wade into the subject.  It’s something I’ve talked about before from time to time, but usually only in reference to Wicca.  There is a great deal of gender essentialism and heterosexism in the occult community, and the privileged apologia that tends to accumulate when someone calls bullshit makes me fucking furious.

Now, let’s look at the two OPs, first: a woman asking for people to share their experiences of gender difference in different forms of occultism, and gay man exploring the possibility of a huge oversight in the (human understanding of) Hermetic Law.  The first got a few genuinely thoughtful answers, but the response to both (overwhelming in the one case, so far singular in the other) amounts to “how dare you ask that fucking question?”

That response infuriates me.  It drives home the fact that, just as the neo-Pagan community is rife with mainline American anti-intellectualism (a rant for another time, but just look at popular responses to Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon), the occult community as a whole is permeated by outdated and debunked ideologies of sex, gender, and sexuality.

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IRC and an Astral Interwebs

When I was 16 or so, I spent my nights on IRC chat.  I didn’t really have access to other Pagans back then—if there was a witch/New Age store in Lawrence at that time, I don’t remember it; I couldn’t have afforded workshops even if there had been; and I wasn’t in the habit of driving to Kansas City at the time—so the internet was my primary access point to the Pagan Community At Large.

Damn I wish I had those log files, but they must have gotten lost three computers ago.  I can’t even remember the names of most of the people I talked to, though I may still have a few pictures of them somewhere in the archives.  SnowLeopard.  Latinius.  Tig.  My handles were ScholarMage and ShadowWolf. Don’t judge me: it was the mid-90s.  Handles making references to totem animals were ubiquitous, and there was inevitably enough overlap that most of us had two or three variations on our favorite handles on case our favorites were taken.  No one had registered or proprietary identities: that’s not how IRC worked.

These things come to mind now in part because of a recent post by the good Jack Faust.  When I think of the combination of magic and the internet, two experiences from my faunish days come immediately to mind.  Although I know I wrote about them at some point, I haven’t found these events in my very fragmentary journals from the time, so I have to rely on the hazy images of memories a decade and a half old. Both push the borders of my “adult” credulity, but this is how I remember them.

Much of the time I spent not-on-the-internet was spent at a coffee shop called the Java Break.  One night, walking home, I felt like I was being followed.  I kept looking behind me, but the streets and alleys all seemed as deserted as usual.  I was wound pretty tight by the time I made it home.  That night I woke from a dead sleep to see a large, cat-shape sitting beside my bed; this was doubly strange because I slept on the top bunk, which mean the cat-shape was just floating in the air.  I was (in retrospect, unaccountably) terrified, and I asked it to leave.  It got up, shrugged, and departed: fading out of sight as it walked in place.  When I shared this experience with my IRC friends, SnowLeopard claimed it was her spirit guide, checking me out because he was bored.  This may have been the first time I ever saw and interacted directly with a  spiritual entity.

On another occasion, someone on the chat circuit wanted to show me how to call lightning using a stone circle.  Somehow, though I had no experience or training in (or even vocabulary for) visionary/astral work (in fact, this was the heyday of my failed attempts at astral projection), this gentleman was able to transmit to me, and I was able to receive and experience, a process of calling lightning to oneself from the center of a stone circle.  The ability to so something like that is, of course, an extraordinary claim: one that I have never tested, though I can still (as with many of my visionary experiences) recall the scene with incredible, visceral clarity.  For whatever it’s worth, I imagine that a person with adequate focus and training could possibly manipulate the magnetism of a storm to that degree.  (Why not?  I’ve seen people make fire dance to their will, fuck with lights and computers in improbable ways.  I, myself, have changed the wind to keep campfire smoke out of my eyes on numerous occasions.)  I don’t, however, believe for a moment that a magician has any better chances of surviving a lightning strike than anyone else, even if he called it down.

That’s it: A spiritual visitation on one occasion, and a shared visionary experience on another.  Two anecdotal accounts from a not-particularly-tech-savvy, pubescent, magician-in-training who wasn’t even keeping coherent journals at the time.  But it makes one think.  What might be possible for someone who was fully-trained?  Particularly someone actively interested in techno-magic?

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