Friday, January 20, 2017

Conjure & Creation 2

So I've taken a little heat for my firm stand behind the 'spirit model' of magic in my previous post. As I said, my approach is a thought-experiment, a deliberate effort to think my way back into an animist mindset. As such I tend to speak affirmatively, even categorically. That's a rhetorical pose, and doesn't really reflect an opinion on my part that my ideas are 'more true' or 'better' than some other model.

Honestly I think myself mildly clever for devising a rationale that merges the modern notion of constructed entities with the notion of pre-existent spirits 'conjured' by a sorcerer. Like so many techniques the form of the work doesn't need to vary much per model. What we 'believe' about what is happening may be one of the least important parts of the business. Nevertheless I like to decorate the inside of my head with the ideas and mental postures of ancient magicians, and I'll take my best guess and apply it.

My intent in bringing up this topic was practical. I consider the 'servitor' technique one of the more valuable modern inventions, and it should/need not be abandoned by those attempting to work in the models of the ancient world. Jake Stratton-Kent is heard to say "Magic is practical eschatology". The merging of the spirits of the un-individuated Dead into that great continuum of shades, called "the Dead", roiling with the mixed passions of human memory becomes a kind of 'magical energy', able to respond to the will and word of magicians in much the same way as Levi's Astral Light might do, though perhaps with more volition.  It might even be, as some spirit-sects maintain, that the magical work of granting individual form and name to elements of this daemonic continuum is a service that living magicians do for the spirits - a fair exchange for their aid in our works.

Nevertheless, my intent here is practical, to provide this little set of suggestions as to what forms and symbols might be proper for what sort of spirits. I have ventured some ideas about classifying spirits according to an older set of 'elements'  and this list fits directly with those ideas. All questions of models aside there are so many creative and exciting ways to apply this sort of practical conjuring.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Construct or Conjure?

So, I wanna go over the whole modern doctrine that human ‘belief’ and focused ideation can shape the ‘spiritual’ or ‘astral’ or ‘magical’ world. Especially, by extension mortals can create at least the simulacra of living spiritual beings, and possibly create spiritual individuals in fact. This doctrine has become almost an assumption in modern magic. While it is convenient, and solves a variety of theological problems, it also verges on what seems, to me, to be an unfortunate mechanicalism. We’ll get to this point, but let me say that I would prefer my spiritual universe not to be arranged as a machine. 

As I have moved away from the ‘energy model’ of magic and toward deliberate work with the spirits I have tried to reframe some of these classic magical techniques, perhaps restore them to a meaning prior to modern mechanization. This particular trope – the creation of an image and the ‘animation’ of it by magic – turns out to be easy to trace and recover.

To look for the origins of the idea, I think we must look to the facts of human spirit-vision experience. In spontaneous dreams, shamanic trance or initiatory vision-journey the mind generates an ‘imaginal-body’ with which to navigate the unconsciously-generated-or-perceived lands of vision. In dreams we note that powerful forces may be ‘dressed’ in the appearance of things and people drawn from our memory of life, and in spirit-vision such things happen as well.

The human power to shape matter – wood, stone, or clay – into representative shapes has surely been a core of magic since unremembered times. Humans made images of the spirits, and those material images must have arisen from imaginal forms, preserved verbally by transmission until they were expressed in more solid art. Those imaginal forms are not lost, but become a part of the work of formal and magical invocation. The Theurgists emphasize the importance of visualized ‘eidola’ (idols) of the gods, and the Tibetan ritual magicians have made a science of symbolic visualization of spirits. These practices fed into the line of occult revival and reconstruction that generated the Golden Dawn and the theurgic work of Mathers.

Following the Middle Ages, during which the spirit-model of magic was the standard, I think that we must look to Eliphas Levi’s concept of the ‘Astral Light’ for the root of our meme. Levi taught that the spiritual world closest to our own was made of indeterminate stuff that was and could be shaped by human passion and imagination. He called this the Astral Light, and taught that it was a level of causation immediately prior to our world, so that things shaped in the Light were likely to come into material existence. He proposed that control of the Light was the core of practical magic, and that has influenced magic ever since, all the way to the “power raising” of Neopagan group ritual spellcraft.

However that seems to me a significant departure from tradition, moving from working with spirits as living beings to working with an impersonal magical ‘stuff’. Historical magic most commonly works through the making of pacts with spirits, and the gaining of the personal authority that allows one to deal with them. How does this fit with the notion of the construction and animation of images?

In classical magic the use of “telesmatic images” involved the construction of forms based on the ‘sewing together’ of specific symbols based on the intent of the work. Thus if one wished to marry the forces of Venus and the Moon on might compose an image of a beautiful Green woman with the wings of a white butterfly, or the like. Such an image was described as able to ‘transmit the virtue’ of the planets involved. This notion of the ‘virtue’ of a planet or deity – it’s impersonal influence or ‘vibration’ is as close as I can see us coming to the idea of ‘magical energy’ in traditional magic. In other cases the harmonious nature of the symbols would be assumed to summon a spirit – a daemon – that conforms to the mixed nature of that formula, and is willing to appear in that shape.

Centuries later, the magicians of the Hermetic Order of the Golden dawn composed synthetic figures for their Kabalistic spirits, based on the Hebrew letters of their names. In this way a characteristic figure was created prior to the actual summoning of a spirit. That figure was understood to attract an already-extant spirit of the correct nature to answer the magician’s need.

A moment of theory: This notion of inventing composite inner or visualized idols for specific intentions is a direct parallel to doing the same thing in matter. To carve a spirit-idol in clay or wood makes an image into matter, the visualized image creates a middle-ground for the power. This is the basis of ‘hierarchical’ evocation – that a spirit is brought from its abstract origin-place through the middle-ground of vision and ritual, to abide like a flame in the material world. Thus the attention and power of the spirit itself is brought into material action for practical magic.

Back to the history of the idea, I believe that my own understanding of the idea of ‘construct elementals’ or ‘servitors’ began with 70s ‘ESP’ research. The 1972 ‘Phillip Experiment’ was big news to geeks like me tracking the still-credible science of ‘parapsychology’. Our puff-text asks “did the group accidentally summon a demonic or spiritual entity or did they create a real ghost?” I’d like to ask that too.

Occults texts of the early 70s including Paul Huson, Al Manning and Sybil Leek provided simple, ritualized methods for creating (or conjuring) a ‘construct familiar’, based on some physical token. The merging of the ‘construct entity’ idea with that of the witch’s familiar was instantaneous, and the ‘magical servitor’ became usual. Franz Bardon, and his classic “Initiation Into Hermetics” worked his detailed instruction in the use of magical energies into the idea of magical clockwork gnomes who could carry messages or spells. I feel it is important to mention the 1971 publication of Bonewits’ “Real Magic” in which a synthesis of parapsychology and traditional magic was presented that quite closely reflects modern opinion. He describes deities and spirits as living on the ‘energy’ given them by worshippers, and giving ‘energy’ back. It is, itself, all rather mechanistic and Isaac became more devotional as years went by, but I suspect his book of being an important influence at the opening of the 1970s. (Young folks should look up what a “switchboard” was ;).)

The idea passes directly into the minds of the founders of the Chaos Magick schools and related authors. It becomes central to their model of non-theistic occultism. It is now very popular among the self-constructed belief systems of internet magicians (bless us). The energy model is so unquestioned in the matter of ‘construct entities’; the magician creates a form in imagination, perhaps linking it to a material object, and then ‘ensouling it’… whatever that might mean. Many people seem to treat this approach as ‘proven science’ (i.e. obvious beliefs), though I think it falls well short of that standard.

This proposes, for me, a principle that might feel heretical to devotionalists and literalists, as well as to those who would make all magic about ‘energies’. It seems to me that, to a degree, pre-existing spirits will choose to inhabit an image and act in the theme of that image when it is in harmony with their own nature. In my metaphysical moments I think that, perhaps, spirits – despite having history and agency of their own - only assume names and forms when they come into relationship with mortals. Such names and forms may persist through human effort or through the preference of the spirit, and the world is full of spirits who do ‘go by’ a set of symbols, verbal or visual. We can conjure those, but the ancient magic shows us ways to conjure new spirits as well, learn new names, and even create new forms.

There is no such thing as ‘God’, in my opinion. No being ‘made’ us and thus no being has ownership of or sovereignty over us. Thus I am not inspired to imitate that notion by imagining that I can create a quasi-living spirit through imagination and will - a being which I can ‘command’ like a computer program or a machine, exploit at will, and destroy at the end of its utility.

This rejection of a modernist idea does not strip the magician of any useful power. Tradition provides several methods by which we can devise and specify what sort of small spirit, servant or emissary we desire. We can decide our intent, design a symbolic complex, and attract spirits that already exist to indwell our image and present us with a name and form. I think that when we call for a willing servant we often get one, though all the stories remind us that any spirit can turn contrary – even allegedly constructed ones.

As always for me the change from an energy paradigm of magic to a spirit-based paradigm is a change from the impersonal to the relational. I prefer a spiritual practice in which the love and honor between living beings is the core of the emotional work. This is not really possible when one approaches gods and spirits as ‘energies’ (especially if one thinks they are ‘just energies’). When we approach even a ‘hired’ ally such as an image-spirit as a living being, due it’s proper offering and thus proper respect, we choose a very different position of the heart. For those who care about such things, I might suggest that it helps put the ‘love’ into “Wisdom, Love & Power”.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Big Deal

A cosmological hymn, this one almost utterly naturalistic.
(Does anyone care about, uh, 'book of shadows pages' these days? I'm just an old typesetter, and like doing them. Someday I'll offer a full-color grimoire...)

A Blessing for the Big Deal

In all the world, from pole to pole, Life is puzzle-tight with Life,
Pieces making a pattern, threads in the weave.
Pull this thread and the other end will change, remove a piece and the picture becomes unclear.
Each and all and every one is needed for the whole.
The Great Pact between all things
That I will breathe out what you breath in, that I will consume death to maintain life,
That I in my turn will return to the Mixer – is the Big Deal we have made,
The Old Bargain that keeps mortals, gods and all in good order.
It is that to which I call.

To the Great Lights, and the Powers that hold the Heavens I give praise.
Where mass and velocity swirl in the Great Dance of Stars,
Where a web invisible holds the hands of the planets in their reel,
I gaze up from the Well of green life,
And stand in awe.
So, Oh Great Lights of the measuring, time-keepers, ever-present, I give you my blessing.
Be steady as you are bright
Be constant as you are lovely
And I will keep my watch

To the Shadows in the Deep, and the Power that remembers and restores I give praise.
In deep pools, where the corpses of lives go, The Rivers of Memory and Forgetting run.
Where form becomes essence, where bones pile high,
the roots of lives find growth,
And I am nourished.
So, Oh Powers of Death and Powers of Birth, Cauldron of Wonder, I give you my blessing.
Be dark as you are deep,
Be giving as you are full
And I will give what is due.

In the Midst of the Living World, among the Green and the Lively, to the Great Ground I give praise.
Where Fire and Water meet, stone rises, cooling. The realm of ever-changing makes soil of stone,
And there the seed catches. Life springs forth in the middle Realm,
Rooted Deep and Crowned High
And that is such as me.
So, Oh Nine Clans of Beings, Court of the Midrealm, Makers and Shapers I give you my blessing.
Be fruitful as you are plentiful
Be true as you are beautiful
And I will play my part.

So as mortal folk among the worlds, we are blessed.
Let light and time be our blessing.
Let fertile dark be our blessing.
Let ever-changing dancing life be our true blessing.
And let us keep sharp watch, make due gifts, and play our roles with skill
in Wisdom, Love and Power.
And as we are blessed, so we give blessing in turn
To the Great Bargain, the whole Big Deal of the Holy Cosmos.
Let our voice go forth, and let blessing be increased for all beings.
So be it!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Spell of the Spirits

I have an ongoing project to develop simple modern practical magic methods that employ the spirits, rather than working with "magical energies". It's been a while...
This charm is intended to be an easy spell for practical magic rites, usable especially by those who have developed alliance relationships with specific operative spirts among the Gods, Dead and Landwights. For newcomers it might serve as a general calling to willing spirits, but it is surely better used by those with a developed group of allies.
Arrange the materials for your spell within the form of the conjuring circle as given here. Many enjoy drawing or inscribing the form of the circle on the floor or ground, but it can simply be used as a schematic for altar-top arrangements. Also arrange a small fire, and a small black bowl of water in the center of the figure. In the three circles arrange three small offerings of incense (a single cone for each works well), ready to light. With everything ready, bless the Water and Fire, saying:
The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree, flow and flame and grow in me
In Land, Sea and Sky, below and on high,
Let the Water be blessed and the Fire be hallowed!

Purify all, and perform any other preliminaries, then perform this preliminary convocation, lighting the three offerings for the Kindreds for the three verses . When concluded, proceed to work your spell, or even to simply describe your desires to the attendant spirits, closing with thanks.
So gather now, my spirits bright
Or shadowy, by day or night
By Fire’s light and Water’s dark
Come to me now – hear me, hark!

Come to my work, be by me seen
Up from earth and stone and green
Out from the cloud and wind and sea
Sun, moon and stars, all come down to me.

Come you forth from the House of Clay
From the Court of Death to the world of day
Mighty Dead, forebearers all
Heart and blood, come to my call

The Shining Ones, their power divine
I drink their blessing, make it mine
Strengthen my mind, my heart, my hand
In Sea or Sky, and on the Land

You who are my allies true
Come to me now, I call to you
Gods and Dead, and spirits all
Hear me, hark; come to my call

Magic I make now, three times three
Spirits I call you, come to me.
Beneath the Sky, on Land or Sea
Hear my spell, and make it be!

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Simple Funeral.

It fell to me to manage the funeral 'service' for my younger brother on the occasion of his passing. A lifelong diabetic, he passed suddenly but not too surprisingly. As a completely 'unchurched' guy it did not seem proper to bring in a Christian minister, and the weirdo brother (that's me) got called on to manage the very simple service. I had three days to write an utterly secular yet ass-kicking piece, including the eulogy for my brother.
I must say, this was a tough writing project, even though short. After staring at the page a while, I gave myself permission to adapt an opening from another set of rites. I devised a centering/settling thing that even this audience would probably do. Unable to be completely without ritual elements (or fire) I chose the lighting of a single candle as the centerpiece. I attach the text.
The setting was a funeral home with its own chapel - very nice in that way. Guests moved easily from the viewing parlor to chapel seating, the coffin was closed and rolled in, and the little table and candle placed before it.
The performance went well, with a minimum of chokeyness on our parts. L. and I did it together in our alternating-voice fashion ( was giving the eulogy, so I wanted a second voice anyway).

The service was well-received by the mixed Christian and don't-care audience. We went to the dinner following and I did have The Conversation (eh... are you ordained? in...?) with some elderly ladies. They seemed tolerant behind their mild astonishment.
All in all, a win. We try not to be the 'groovy ministers', and to require some level of actual Paganism in our work, but for my brother, of course, I made exception.  I give the text, in case it might be useful.

A Very Simple Funeral
The front is set with a single candle on a table, in front (or on top) of the coffin if present.
1: Greeting (ending with):
•Death is a part of the cycle of existence. No form, no flesh, no name can be eternal – all arise from the nature of the world, and vanish again in their time – but some things remain. 
• Many wise people have believed that a soul, a spirit, remains alive after death, that death is just the leaving of one form for another, while our eternal essence carries on. We hope that this is so; yet, as long as human memory does not fail, we can be sure of another sort of endurance – we endure in our deeds, in the memories of those whose lives we have touched. The dead live in us, of that we can be certain, even as we look outward into the unknown adventure that may await us all.
• So, we are joined here by our memory, by our lives with **,  by our affection and by our sorrow. Let us spend a few moments preparing ….

2: Attunement:
• So let us pause for a moment to calm our hearts, after a difficult time.
Take a deep breath, and for just an hour let’s sigh away what we can of our tension and trouble.
And another deep breath.
• And, my friends, let us join hands for a moment, or touch a shoulder, or a knee.
And as we take a third deep breath together…
Let us abide for just a moment in silence, and rest in the comfort of friends and family.

3: Invocation
• And from silence, let us light a single candle.
• So that there is warmth, like the family’s fire.
• So that there is beauty, in the shining Light
• So that there is love unending, like a steady flame.
And if we may, let this light show the way for **’s  memory, to light up old corners of our lives with him, and let it be as if he might draw near us here, we who loved him.

(This is a good spot for music, or a recitation or performance, if there’s a need.)

S: So, let us share our memories of **.

3: Eulogies
(Following the Eulogies there might be a ‘prayer for the Dead’ in whatever fashion the family desires)

4: Closing
• So as we close, let us seek to go forth in peace, knowing that **’s life was well-lived and well-loved, and that he leaves behind a real legacy.
• Though we travel with our sorrow, I think we can be sure that if we could ask ** he would tell us to live our lives, love our loves, and, when we can, to have one for him.
• So, my friends let it be peace in our hearts, we are finished here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Veil Is Thin...

It has become a cliché of modern Pagan discourse to say that at certain seasons “the Veil” between the world of mortals and the reality of the spirits “grows thin”. As we approach the November Cross-Quarter Day (whether it is Hallowe’en, Samhain, Beltaine in the southern hemisphere, or whatever) It is recited commonly. Occasionally one hears the question “What do you mean by that? What is the Veil” etc.

It’s a metaphor, that’s what. It is a poet’s description of what it is like to see dimly, and with less detail than one would hope, as if through thin cloth or mist. I suspect that modern people are less used to seeing veiled faces, and to gazing out from behind veils, than people were in earlier fashion ages. A single veil can reveal this, conceal that. Layers of veils can be entirely opaque. For those who never saw a digital image ‘res up’ out of nothing, the thinning of layers of veils expressed the idea of increasing clarity and revelation of what had been concealed.
We live in an era of jaded

There is no Celtic original for the metaphor of the Veil. I suspect it arose with spiritualism, in Victorian times. The metaphor used in Celtic lore is the Mist. Heroes and magicians must pass through mist – through a space in which the air itself precludes sight – before the mist thins and reveals the hidden world. One of the Druidic wonder of the tales is the creation of a ‘hedge of mist’ around that which they would conceal. The notion of the ‘Veil’ certainly doesn’t insult this Celtic original; it simply expresses it in the technology of a later age. There is a solid Celtic explanation for why days such as Samhain are times when the boundary-of-perception between mortal and spiritual realities grows more passable and transparent. 

Among ancient European peoples, and strongly among the Celts, magical power or potential could be found in things, times and places that were ‘neither-nor’, that were between one state, category or locale and another, that were ambiguously located in time or space. Modern anthropology has referred to this as the ‘liminal’ quality, or as ‘limnality’. In this way we see that Celtic sacred spaces were often built in the borders between tribal territories, indicated the sacred (and politically neutral) Between nature of spiritual work. We find, in one of the few examples of Celtic magical ritual that is preserved, the placing of offerings to spirits in a doorway to partake of that access to the Otherworld. The strand of the Sea, the tops of high hills, these are places of boundary between Land, Sea and Sky, and so places where magic is easier to make effective – places where the ‘veil’ between mortals and spirits is thin.

In keeping with Celtic patterns of sacred number, the primary division of the calendrical year is into two – the light half and the dark half, summer and winter. These two great halves are ‘hinged’ upon the two great feast days of Bealtainne and Samhain. Both of those days are thus spaces Between major categories. Samhain is neither summer nor winter. These great moments of between-ness recur in Celtic story as times when spirits and mortals cross between worlds, when visions are seen, and great deeds are done. They naturally become times when modern Celtic Pagans and magicians seek to gather and express magical power. In such seasons the magician (and, from the Other side, the spirits) can more readily part the Mist, can see the turnings in the Forest, can pass through the thinned Veil.

The spiritual world is no more uniform than the material world, I think. It is true to say that a skilled magician can always find a thin place in the Border if they know how to look. Yet in such seasons as this the effect is more general, - all-encompassing, perhaps, by the time one gets to sunset or sunrise on Samhain night. Let the Spirits walk, or dance, into a welcome as they come to us through the Veil.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Meal Offering To The Dead

I'll be posting a quick round of short things here in the run-up to Samhain. This is a short and simple offering that could be made with and by the whole family.