Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Crafting Pagan Ritual

What is ritual?

A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community.

It is driven by a mindset – to celebrate a holiday/season/special day, to create and execute a spell, or to honour a deity (or other spiritual guide or being). Normally there are certain parameters that are established (a circle, a boundary), and certain actions taken, depending on tradition and personal beliefs. It can celebrate a rite of passage (a birthday, for example), and usually has lasting traditions (birthday cake, candles, presents) that can be repeated year to year (month to month, etc).

Really, let's be frank; a ritual can be anything.

For me, a ritual (in a spiritual sense) is a space to create a psychological mindset so that I can focus on my intention, and get my purpose done.

When do I create ritual?

You create ritual to celebrate an occasion, to mark a holiday, to honour a deity, or to raise energy for an intended purpose.

A ritual can be as simple as lighting a candle and saying a prayer, or as complicated as a mystery play with multiple participants, costumes, and several songs. It is dependant on what you choose to involve, and whom (if) you choose to involve.

Purpose: The Necessary Ingredient


Without a purpose, you do not have a ritual. A ritual without purpose is like a ham sandwich without ham – sure, the bread, mayo, and mustard are edible, but they are not as good, as nourishing, or as satisfying without the ham. In fact, they suck. You can attempt to do a ritual for any old reason – but trust me, it will go nowhere fast without a clear purpose.

Purpose gives you something to focus on. An example: Beltane is May 1. I may decide to do a ritual to mark that passage in the wheel. So – I could say 'my purpose is Beltane!'. Or, I could go one better, and say 'Hm. Beltane is often associated with fertility – my purpose is fertility!' Or, I could go even deeper – my purpose could be the specific gods/goddesses (Demeter, Green Man, Hathor) associated with that holiday – so I could be petitioning for their help. My friend Sally could be trying to have a baby – I could use her as a focus for my purpose.

You want to have a clear purpose, and you can narrow the focus as much as you like. However, I have found that in larger, more public settings, it is better to have a focused purpose that is more general – more along the 'fertility' option. The other participants may not know Sally, or perhaps they want to focus on their own fertility. It still gives the ritual a structure and a place/concept to direct the energy, but it allows it to be more accessible for the general populace.

Psychologically, the purpose gives our minds a place to go to – and allows our imaginations and visualization capabilities to fill in the blanks. It helps us to figure out how we want to picture the energy, and how exactly we want to send that out to the universe. Piggybacking on the Beltane example, I often visualize fertile energy as green energy starting at my sacral chakra. It gives us the freedom to work with the energy as we want, but allows us to work towards the same goal.

In personal ritual, it is just as important to have a purpose. Being in ritual headspace all the time is exhausting – if you are working a spell or honouring a deity, you want to conserve that energy so you have no issues raising it when needed. It would be the equivalent of going to a mall with no purpose – not to shop, or browse, but just to wander aimlessly for hours and hours. You end up tired and cranky, and that bleeds into your ritual work.

An example: One year, I decided to do a ritual. No real reason, just wanted to do one. So I cast my circle with my wand, and just.... sat there. I didn't have a purpose, so I had no focus. I ended up just sitting there, stewing about something that had made me angry earlier, and that energy just got supercharged. I got angrier and angrier, and ended up channelling so much of this into my wand that it snapped!

My Magic Formula

To be fair, this is a pretty old formula. I just molded it to fit my needs.

This is a classic example of the visualization of plot. As in, a literary device. 

Almost any ritual can be slid into this formula – it represents any purpose, and gives a clear beginning, middle, and end. A ritual is simply a story being told in a poetic way to illustrate a purpose. This graph is your best friend.

Building ritual from a skeleton

Let's break it down simply.

The introduction: This is where you set your stage. You decide if you want a circle to create sacred space, and how to do that. Some people prefer the 'hand to hand I cast this circle'. Some prefer taking their pointy tool of choice (finger, athame, or wand) and going around the outside. Some people hand a ball of yarn around so that it is a physical representation of the circle.

You also decide how to call your quarters. They can be as simple or as flowery as you like. They can be creative – a few rituals we have done word association.

Decide on what gods/spirits/beings you want to call into your space. This will be relevant to your purpose. Make sure the beings get along – don't call opposing entities to work together in cohesion – I guarantee it's not happening.

Direction: This is simply your statement of purpose. It can be as simple as 'we are here today to celebrate Imbolc' or as complicated as “We gather here on Brigid's day to celebrate the turning of the wheel. We have come to honour the gradual warming of the earth, the persistence of the coming spring, the waning of the ice and cold of winter's grasp. At Yule we honour the gifts of darkness, and today we honour the gifts of the light.” This is the statement that puts the celebrants (or yourself) into ritual headspace.

I also like to explain any activity that will be done, and why we're doing it. Like, if we're going to be singing a chant, I pass out sheets with the words, or teach people the words, so we aren't stumbling when the critical point arrives.

Rising Energy: This is when you are ... well, raising energy for your purpose. You're chanting, singing, meditating, whatever. The point is that your focus is on the purpose, and you are channelling life into that.

Climax: The release of energy into the universe. Pretty self explanatory.

Denouement: The falling action – the part of the ritual that is essentially used to help people ground. Often, people will serve cakes/ale, or hold a meditation, or simply ground.

Completion: The end of the ritual. You thank your deities, dismiss your quarters, take down sacred space, and thank the participants.

These terms make up the skeleton of a ritual – they are key points that keep the ritual cohesive. This ensures a clear beginning, middle, and end. Use these key points to initially create your ritual, and fill in the rest as you go along. I find writing out (and blocking it) is extremely helpful.

Samhain, 2006

Altar is decorated with black cloth, scattered leaves, gourds, acorns, apples, and black and orange candles. In two candleholders, there are taller black tapers. A variety of breads and fruits for feasting on a pentacle. A lit black pillar and unlit white pillar sit near the tall black tapers candles.

Intro: Outline your circle with bird seed and salt. Cast the circle (using athame) and call Quarters (simple calls)...... invoke the Crone aspect of the Goddess by lighting the black Goddess candle... invoke the God by lighting the black God candle.

Direction: Explain the significance of the holiday (using script). Set the scene using props (apples, boline). Statement of purpose (the honoured dead, those who have passed, death as a cycle). Explain myth of Persephone.

Rising Energy: Bless the food. Begin chant (likely Hoof and Horn). Have drummers to keep beat. Slowly chant faster.

Climax: Send energy to focus. Have everyone raise their hands and shout.

Denouement: Snuff black pillar (old year). Light white pillar (new year). Pass around blessed food to enjoy.

Completion: Thank God/ess. Dismiss quarters. Drop circle (using athame). Hand out leaves to participants.

Meat : Now safe for vegans

Now here comes the actual work of the ritual writing – the meat. By meat, I mean all the decisions that need to be made about what is in the skeleton. So you're going to call the elements – how are you going to do this? Is it freeform, or will you have a script? This is where you write that script. You need to block out everything, down to where people are standing and what people's jobs are.

This part can take research. It can be really easy if you are writing for yourself – most of the time you can do it freeform, or read it off a paper. In a larger setting, this can be a challenge. I will get into the type of people you need in a later section.

The script gets written – depending on how eloquent you are (or how eloquent you want it to be), this can be a challenge. If you need someone to pass things around, or need someone to perform a specific task or chant, that has to be included here.

Think of it this way: you're making a sandwich. You have decided on the type of bread you want, and the condiments you want – what do you want to be the main part of the sandwich? Is it ham, beef, sprouts? Do you want to shaved, cut, or raw? What kind of cheese do you want, if you want it? Aside from the purpose, this is the most important part.

Drama: why it is necessary (and not the crummy type)

It's all well and good to write out a beautiful ritual, but actually running it is another story. Any great story or play is going to have drama, and you had better sure you have some as well.

When you are looking for other participants to play parts in your drama, you need to be sure that you are choosing the right people. Can these people read with passion and conviction, or do they have the stage persona of a wet dishrag? With encouragement, anyone can show promise – but when you are running a ritual for other people, it is very important your ritual has a good flow and is suffused with enough passion and zeal. Nothing wrecks a mood like a quarter-caller who reads with the passion of a banker's box. Practice your ritual before the big day – DO NOT leave it until the last minute. You want the ritual to feel confident and effortless, so people should know exactly what they need to do and when. Being unprepared shows in your ritual – you are directing the energy, and you want to keep the revellers on point. Having everyone read through their parts a few times so they don't stumble over words or lose their place in ritual will keep the energy flowing – but most importantly, it will keep everyone in what I call 'ritual mindset'.

Ritual mindset is the psychological state we enter when we enter a ritual. Many things can effect this – sounds, smells, visuals. I knew someone who would instantly go into a meditative state when he smelled benzoin. This is why there are people in robes, a decorated altar, drummers and bell ringers. All of these are tools to keep you focused and intent on what needs to be done. I have written about this in my past article The Importance of Ecstatic Ritual.

Every religion has it's own pageantry – paganism is no different. Catholic priests wear ritual robes and often carry censers of frankincense and myrrh up the aisle of the church – Jewish men wear the yarmulke as a pious custom. These 'costumes' are ways to differentiate the religious leaders from the flock – in paganism, we often wear these clothes to symbolize the shedding of the mundane and stepping into sacred space. This is not to say that I would not have the ability to lead a sabbat ritual in jeans and a t-shirt; I certainly could, but would people seeing me, in jeans, automatically think 'ritual'? Doubtful.

Sometimes, donning ritual jewelry, a robe, a cloak, or even all black clothing is enough to non-verbally communicate 'we are in a sacred space'.

The fear: or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the Gods

Here it is – you're standing in front of a group of 5, 10, 30 people. They are looking at you expectantly. You're pretty sure if you could, you'd pass out from fear. RenĂ©e, you ask, how do you get past this?

Honestly? I am a pretty shy person, and every ritual is a challenge for me. I find it hard to speak in front of people, and I have screwed up so many times in ritual from fear and nervousness – I can't even count. You are your own worst critic – nothing is ever expected to be perfect. The god/esses are not going to judge you because you said south when you meant north. I also find laughing it off, or a little self depreciation works just fine. “Oh, ha, I had a dream I visited Australia last night – still running in Aussie headspace!

Mistakes happen. We are all human, and any other expectation is unrealistic. Just focus on having fun. If you've done a few runs of the ritual, you should be comfortable enough to lead with little issue. Every ritual is a celebration, and if you spend the time worrying about every little thing, you're throwing the wrong energy out there.

A Final Note
I have been involved in the community in the past, running and assisting in public rituals. Community was always my focus, and it is my goal to make people understand how much work goes into a ritual, but also how easy it can be to create the ritual, either for personal or public use.

Please note that this article is based on my own experiences and methods. If something does not work for you, or if you disagree with my opinions or thoughts, that is okay! It is all about giving you a basis so you can learn to create and nurture your own methods!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

E3! Games!

The internet has been all buzzing about the announcements at this year's E3. XBox One's going backwards compatible!  Shenmue! Street Fighter V! Last Guardian! Kingdom Hearts 3! Hitman! Aisha Tyler and Angela Bassett on the Rainbow Six presentation (which is a pretty darn big deal with the amount of pro-bro stuff being announced)!

However, I'm pretty darn picky with games. For me, it has to have a compelling story, it has to have excellent and logical gameplay mechanics, and it has to have some level of re-playability. It has to look good too, because that's half of a good game. I don't do well with things like Halo. If there is not real story, it needs to serve some purpose. I love Mario Kart and Animal Crossing and Smash Bros, and they don't have a real story, per say, but the replay value is so high.

I am someone who has loved RPGs since... oh, forever. It's not surprising, but playing stuff like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6 shaped my love for games beyond Mario. I was a hardcore Mario fan until I discovered Chrono Trigger. I can't count the hours I have clocked sitting in front of the TV or on my gameboy playing something. In fact, in order to sit down and write this I had to talk myself out of playing Skyrim.

So, we could talk about all of the things I'm not really interested or excited about, but instead I'm going to talk about what I am super psyched about. Here are my picks thus far:

Fallout 4

Now, I'll be super honest here - I have never actually played a Fallout game since the first one (which I think I played twice. Maybe.). I have watched DPM play the shit out of them, but before Skyrim, I hadn't played a FPS since fucking Wolfenstein. Like, on the PC on the 90's. Skyrim was a huge turning point for me on the FPS front, and I refused to play it for months because I couldn't get a wrap on the controls. Now I can't put the fucking game down. I watched the trailer for Fallout 4, and I actually felt fucking excited. I am already familiar enough with how Fallout works, and I adore the retro futuristic setting. If DPM hadn't loaned Fallout 3 out to a coworker, I would be working through it right now. Bethesda knows how to make a good sandbox game, and I am super fucking pumped for this.

And also Dogmeat can't die. YASSS.


FF VII Remake

Okay, who didn't see this coming? The last few FF games have been lacklustre. FF XIII was a logistical nightmare (which I wanted so much to like because badass female protagonist). In my opinion, there hasn't been a good game since FFX. Since FF VII was the big major hit for them, it makes sense that they're trying to bring back that excitement and magic for the brand - to try and drum up excitement for the next instalment. All the obvious marketing stuff aside, I am so excited for this. I remember playing FF VII in all it's hideous polygon jagged glory, and thinking it was the fucking shit. The story is solid, the characters are beloved, and I look forward to what this will look like.


Horizon: Zero Dawn

This is a new one, and sort of an odd one, but it looks beautiful and interesting. It's a sort of post apocalyptic cavemen with sentient robots. I have watched the trailer twice, and I can barely contain my excitement. For one, it's a female protagonist, which is pretty awesome - and a kickass at that. Secondly, there are freakin' giant robot dinosaurs. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Thirdly, the trailer did a really good job of setting the scene, and I think that bodes well for an interesting story. The main character is automatically engaging, and it looks like it might be a little sandbox-y, which is perfect for my standards.


There are other things that look kind of neat. Unraveled looks cute, and kind of unexpected, coming from EA. Uncharted looks like you want it (and expect it) to look. Dreams looks like it could be quirky and fun.

Also, Bethesda, now that you have announced Fallout 4, can we get a new Elder Scrolls game please? Please? I want Black Marsh so badly.

Seriously, though, there's still some E3 left to discover, so it'll be interesting to see what else gets dropped.

Sunday, 14 June 2015


I haven't mentioned it before, but I am tattooed.

I love tattoos. I would have a lot more if I had a lot more money! I think it's important to find an artist you want to work with, and pay them what the work is worth. All of my tattoos also have some meaning to me - they mark a passage or a connection, or serve a purpose. I love that tattooing is such an old art, the mix of pain and pleasure to create this incredible piece of art you get to wear for the rest of your life. It's a transcendent experience, because you have to put yourself outside of the pain, knowing that you'll get to experience the beauty of it forever.

A few weeks ago, I brought up the idea that our coven should get matching tattoos. Everyone seemed pretty into the idea. We decided that we wouldn't get exactly the same tattoo - we all have pretty different aesthetics, so trying to decide on one image was going to be next to impossible.

We do have a coven symbol - keys. A key is a literal symbol of opening or closing. It represents authority, knowledge, initiation, curiosity, and mystery. The key has been a pretty constant symbol for us, and we all have our own keys that we were given upon initiation. They key has been a very constant element of my own practice (just look at the name of my friggin' site!). We each came up with our own concepts and worked with the artist to design our own keys, and had them tattooed!

DisneyQueen designed an incredible moth tattoo to work in with an already existing tattoo. Moths have a very strong and personal symbology to her. She is a multi-tattooed lady, and has been present for all of my tattoos, so I was super happy to be able to share something cool and bonding with her!

D designed this nifty thurisaz tattoo with sweet antlers to honour his connection to Thor and the wild. It was his first tattoo, and he pulled through like a champ. I love the different elements in this one!

For mine, I knew wanted something with a skull on it - dancing the line between life and death, the here and after. I wanted it to look sort of old and otherworldly - like something that would be found at the bottom of the ocean and unlocked a really sweet chest, or found buried in a cave and unlocked a secret door. I wanted it in the neo traditional style. This is what the artist came up with - and I loved it! The ash sprig and ansuz rune represent my dedication to Odin (as well as all the additional meanings of ansuz - intelligence, inspirations, wisdom, and communications - it literally means 'mouth' or 'breath'), the rope binding them together with the mystery of the key itself. It is, in essence, both taking control and surrendering to my beliefs.

The second tattoo (the one at the bottom) I got was an add-on at the end, it comes from a video game. It comes from the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and it's a shadowmark from the Thieves Guild. Shadowmarks are kind of based on hobo signs, and denote and communicate certain things throughout the game. This symbol is the symbol of protection, meaning what is marked is under the protection of the guild. I thought it a fitting tattoo to get, surrounded by my own guild who always have my back and protect me. Also, it's just nerdy and I love it.

As for pain, I have another tattoo on my other forearm, so I knew what to expect. I kinda sat like a stone through the whole thing, I was pretty proud of myself. I was super happy to experience this very intense bonding experience with my coven, it's nice to have something we can look at and remind ourselves of our commitment to one another and our gods.

I am hoping to go in next month to get another one, but it will depend on the cashflow situation and the work situation. DPM, my spouse, has booked to go in for his first tattoo next month, and I'd like to be able to book in the same time and get something else. It is true what they say - tattooing is a gateway drug to more tattoos. :D

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Standing on my own

It's hard to know where exactly to start, so I guess I will start at the beginning.

This is something that I need to talk about, because it's been bothering me for a few months now. I feel like I need to just put it all out there in order to move past it. I initially stated that I would not talk any further about this, but enough time has passed that I think there are a few things that need to be addressed, because there is still some misinformation out there. Again, I will not be outing anyone or smearing anyone. I try to avoid doing that unless necessary.

About a year ago, I started to look into the Norse pantheon. I had worked with Thor in the past, and about 6 or 7 years ago I did an experiment where I worked with the Aesir for a month. At that point in my life, I didn't connect with them. I don't know why I didn't, I partially blame the terrible book I had for guidance, and the fact that the person who initially agreed to guide me flaked out. However, this time around I endeavoured to learn as much as I could from a reputable source, because the last time I had no idea what I was doing. My headspace was different, and I was in a different place spiritually. My spirituality has grown and changed as my life has changed. Researching into my own genealogy spurred an initial interest - a chunk of my background is Swedish and Danish - and the experiences of a covenmate helped to further my interest along.

I approached my friend RedMenace, who is a practicing Heathen, and they agreed to teach me what they knew. We spent a number of sessions discussing cosmology and theology. I felt confident going forward, armed with book recommendations and a passion to learn further.

I wrote a bit about my experiences openly on my previous blog with Odin. Interactions with him were not sought after, but something that merely happened. When gods or spirits or ancestors come calling, you answer in some way out of respect. I wrote more about my experiences, and different techniques I utilized to connect with him. None of them were specifically Heathen - but I don't identify as Heathen, so I figured if that was an issue, Odin wouldn't have shown up in the first place. I don't presume to speak for or know the will of the gods.

About 5 months later, RedMenace messaged me to let me know they had gotten some hate mail about me. I was initially gobsmacked. Why the hell is someone emailing RedMenace in regards to something I did? Wouldn't have been more productive to email or message me to resolve whatever issue? I found it who it was, and I was less surprised, but still mildly shocked. This person is a member of a well recognized organization locally who puts on events and rituals - an organization whose first mandate is "We hold that each one of us has their own path to follow to truth and spirit." To be honest, I had never really interacted with this person beyond being paid to do so in my former job. We attended a few of the same events, but never really interacted. There was no real beef. I wasn't particularly fond of said person, but I had no real issues with them - so this came sort of out of left field.

I sat on it for a bit. I wanted to find a way to address this, but I wanted it to be beneficial to others. I did not reply to the sender. Instead, I decided to post the initial email, because I felt annoyed about it for a number of reasons, and I know it is not an uncommon email to receive - especially in the pagan community. Inevitably, someone is going to disagree with how you practice or what you do, even if you're not doing anything wrong. The main the point I think is important to underline is that you do not need to stand for other people trying to tear you down, assert some kind of moral superiority over you, or telling you how and when you should be practicing. Your practice is between you and your gods or spirits.

I also think transparency is very important, and when people behave badly they often do so to gain something from it. Whether it is attention, drama, or they feel they are in a safe space to do so due to anonymity. We need to examine our ideals and beliefs, and stand by them even when it is inconvenient to so.  So, by posting the email (albeit in edited format - I removed all identifying information about said person, because I wanted to focus on the behaviour, not the person), I felt I was addressing something that more people should have been addressing.

It sort of went, well, viral.

Thankfully, I had a lot of support. Many people knew who sent the email, without me having to tell them. I got a lot of private messages over facebook and emails expressing their shock or their complete lack of surprise. How the other people found out who wrote the email is beyond me - maybe the person told everyone they wrote it.

I also had a few people that threw some pretty ugly accusations at me and fucked off. I suppose I owe them a thank you, they saved me some trouble later on. I was very disappointed that people I had known for over a decade decided to remove me from their spheres without even talking to me about what had happened. Either way, surprising as it was, no loss there.

Afterwards, RedMenace received a few more emails about how I was 'pissing on their ancestors' and etc. They told them, in no uncertain terms, that the emails were unwelcome, the issue was none of their business, and to fuck off. I also got an email, a few comments, and a lovely comment from a sockpuppet account on tumblr, as well as finding out my writing was posted to be mocked because I wasn't 'heathen' enough. I did not respond to anything, just kept record of everything in case it is needed.

 I have to say this - I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea of bringing in some third party who is uninvolved to do one's dirty work. If someone has an issue with how someone else is practicing, they need to question whether it's something to address. Acceptable times do this - if the person is utilizing racism, sexism, abuse, or other heinous things in their practice, and promoting such practices. Unacceptable times to do this - any time someone does something you disagree with. Bringing in someone uninvolved is both cowardly and childish. They did not ask to be involved, and I'm not sure what involving another person serves to carry a point. Fight your own battles, or say nothing.

The other person mentioned in the email decided to email the organization that this person is a part of to let them know what was going on. She felt that this behaviour was unbecoming of a person who was supposed to be high up in an organization about multifaith movements. The response she received seemed pretty hands off, a whole 'it happened on their time, not on our time, we are washing our hands of this'. Not an effective way to handle something like that, but okay. Oh well, she let them know, it just meant we would no longer associate or recommend this group to anyone.

A few days later, we got a message from someone in the community about some troubling information about the email perpetrator. They sent us a number of images, showing this person to be involved in some sexist, racist, and bigoted Facebook groups. They said more could be found via simple google search. Here is an example of one of the many images - I have blurred the name and photo of this person.

From the Facebook Group Description: "Europe yes, EU no! For Europe of the people, not the Europe of the multinationals!" This comes a mere 3 weeks after this person's group helped host an Interfaith Harmony Event. Yep, an event meant to bring many faiths together.

I can't articulate how wrong this is. What a shining beacon of tolerance, am I right?

The person emailed the organization back again, reaffirming her previous points, and also bringing up the fact that this person had some pretty troubling and bigoted beliefs that have been expressed in a public way - and she made it very clear that we are not the only ones with this information.

She was told, and I am not bullshitting, that this person is a valued member of the community, that they are 'proud' of their heritage (uh, so am I, but I don't run my mouth off about diversity being white genocide), and that she could go pound sand. I quote "own personal outlook on (their) culture and (their) path. (They) is entitled to (their)  own practice as much as anyone of us are, and (they) cares deeply for (their)  culture.  (They) makes a significant contribution to the Pagan community with (their)  efforts through (group). (They are) a hard worker and has accomplished a great many things in (their) time on the board, a commitment that is not to be taken lightly. (They) fulfill (their) duties as a board member admirably." I wish I could say I was surprised, but I'm not. I kind of expected them to rally around this person. Perhaps the group isn't aware of the activities mentioned. Perhaps they are. It doesn't matter. It is still something that should have been looked into - to either prove the good value of this person and us full of shit, or to confirm our accusations. While I understand they don't feel they are able to take remedial action, I feel like they most certainly can. They can remove them from power. I don't understand how they can justify not even asking for proof, or standing behind someone who says inflammatory things like the image above after participating in an Interfaith Harmony week. I don't get that. How would the many organizations that this organization associate with react if they knew? This group often represents and acts as the face of the local pagan community in the wider public and local interfaith community. I don't want them representing me. I don't want anyone associating my beliefs with this group. They don't represent any community I am a part of, because my community (and my tradition, for that matter) embraces all races, faiths, orientations and identities.

Complicity via ignorance is still complicity - it's enough to tarnish an organization's good name. In the working world, business owners have been hung out to dry because of their racist, homophobic, or sexist employee's actions. The whole Kenny Klein situation happened for years because people excused his behaviour and allowed other people to be abused.  We are all finger-wagging and clucking when people try to bring up this behaviour  - don't be starting drama, oh that's just how (name) is, oh that's just rumours. Look, everyone - assholes, creeps, criminals, and predators exist in every faith, every organization. We are so quick to sweep it under the rug, so rushed to prevent judgement, that we always forget that one important fact. While I think it's important not to jump on every bad thing you hear about people, I do think it's important to have an open and frank discussion about proper behaviour while in a position of power. There is a serious lack of professionalism in this situation. I could out this person, use their name and out their info to everyone - but aside from making a mockery of them, it doesn't address the issue in a professional manner (and takes away from the issue itself).

This group, and their lack of action, stands complicit in this person's bad behaviour. If they make the choice to stand behind a racist, bigoted person who spends their time trying to harass people online (I am not the only one, I have been told), that is their choice. They have made that choice, and they have chosen to accept any repercussions going along with it. The sad thing is I used to have a lot of respect for this group - I often recommended their events to local people looking for something to attend or handed out their information for curious seekers.

The thing that kills me the most about this whole ordeal? No one asked me what happened. No one asked my side. I have borne the brunt of something that should have came to light ages ago. There are people in this community who know this person is toxic, and they have known for fucking ages. Why didn't they speak up before this person was allowed power? There are so many people that are all talk and are willing to talk big, but aren't actually willing to do anything about it because they are afraid of causing drama. When did drama become a bad word? I'm sorry, but a little drama is okay if it means that a bigot or abuser gets dealt with before they worm themselves into positions of power, or before someone gets hurt. I'm disappointed in those people as well - I expected more.

We all know right from wrong. This is just an example of what happens, unchecked in our communities, because we are afraid to speak up against stuff like this. I'm not as afraid, because I have nothing to lose. This person has already smeared me, my tradition, and my coven in a very public way. Although I spent many years volunteering my time and efforts for this community - putting on rituals, holding meetings, working in conjunction with other groups (including this one) and teaching - my contributions are long forgotten in favour of someone who took their power through manipulation. There is nothing to salvage - everyone already thinks the worst of me. I can stand here and talk about this because, honestly, I don't care what the wider community thinks anymore. I'm already the villain in their eyes, and I guess I have to make my peace with that.

I wanted to share this, because I think it is important to show everything for all sides, even the ones you disagree with. My opinion is that the act of harassing someone is deplorable - and it gets old after awhile. Part of growing into a mature person is realizing that not everyone shares your views or opinions - and navigating how you feel about that and dealing with it in a productive manner is part of that process too. Education should always be the first step.

And so, I light the match.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Spellcraft, Folk Magic, and Cursing

What is Spellcrafting?

Spellcrafting is a prescribed set of actions performed for a specific need. It uses your own will to direct energy to a desired purpose or outcome.

Many people liken spellcrafting to prayer, and it is – in a way. With prayer (at least in the Christian tradition), you are directing you requests and will to God, and asking him to take action for your desired outcome. With your own spellcrafting, you may petition a specific God or Goddess or spirit for help with your working, but it is your own will that drives the energy to the specific desired outcome. I prefer to think of spellcrafting like baking a cake. You have your flour, eggs, milk, sugar. However, it is not a cake until you put the work into making it so. The blending of ingredients into rudimentary form, and then applying heat (energy) to transform it into it's desired form.

Spellcrafting can be done in many ways, depending on your path or culture. It can be called many things (charms, workings, prayers), and the focus can be wildly differing.

Factors to Consider in Spellcrafting

The biggest mistake many practitioners make is to rely on spellcrafting for EVERYTHING. Spells are to enrich your life and to help you along in life, not to live your life and make your decisions for you. Putting all of you eggs in one basket leaves you empty and unhappy. You should have a reason (and for me, it usually has to be a good one) to work a spell.

Intention is everything in a spell. It is using your own energy, so it is reaching deep into you and focusing your will. Be absolutely honest with yourself and be true to your intentions – it is you who will reap any benefits (or drawbacks) from the working itself.

Magic (or magick – hey, I think you should spell it as you want) works like a current or a lightning strike – it works the quickest way possible. Asking for unnecessary things or being too vague about your request may result in some unexpected (and sometimes horrible) consequences. As an example, asking for money with a focus on finding new employment or calling in outstanding money owed to you is one thing. You have a level a specificity in your intention. However, just asking for straight up money with no instructions on where to get it from can result in other possibilities; you may have a relative die and leave you money; you may be in a car accident and get a settlement from insurance.

Remember: need, intention, specifics.

Types of Spellwork

“Magick -the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” - Aleister Crowley

We're going to do some breaking down here.

In terms of spellcrafting, there are really 2 types; ceremonial and folk.

Ceremonial magic is also called high magic or learned magic. It's kind of a broad term, and pretty much applies to the long, elaborate rituals often done by those associated with Hermeticism or Western Esotericism. It was popularized by The Golden Dawn folks, and draws on a lot of different sources, most going back to the 1600's.

Folk magic is also called low magic. Many different cultures use folk magic, as it pretty much encompasses most other workings that don't fall into shamanism or ceremonial magic. Folk magic often works with things found in the natural environment – nature spirits, trees, plants, weather, bones, etc.

Breaking it down further, we take a look at some of the subcategories of folk magic:

  • Hoodoo – predominantly African American, but incorporates some Native American practice as well as some European magical practices and grimoires. Conjuration and rootwork are other ways to describe it.
  • Herbal – using herbs and poisons to work magic. Incense, teas, sachets, and spell bags.
  • Petition – Writing needs on a piece of paper and burning/burying it.
  • Fire/Candle – Carving and anointing candles with a specific purpose. Many practitioners favour this method because fire is a power and fast method to enact change.
  • Sympathetic – using poppets, bags, figures, or talismans to represent persons or situations. A lot of Voodoo practitioners use sympathetic magic, but it is also common in English traditional witchcraft (i.e witch bottles).
  • Tarot – Using tarot and tarot pairings to work a spell.
  • Stone – using crystal grids, gem waters, stone bags, or spell bags to work magic.

Sourcing and Using Ingredients

There are so many ways to create spells, the list of ingredients is staggering. There are herbs, stones, and oils to start with. Many of these objects have folkloric and healing properties that can help lend energy to a specific working.

Many practitioners also use colour. You find this a lot in candle magic – colours have specific vibrations and have different effects on our minds, and they can be powerful helpers in workings because they give you something extra to focus on.

All of the ingredients act as tools – ways to build your spell. They are the flour, eggs, sugar and milk I named in my cake example. When sourcing ingredients, try to get as natural as possible. It's much more effective to get a fresh as possible. If you can't, that's okay. Also, things you get locally, or things you make with your own hands will have more power.

What happens when you can't get something? “I only have a white candle but I need blue! I'm out of mugwort!” Well, at that point you look for substitutions. White will work for most colour magic (as it is all colours) and rosemary is a good substitution herb. You can also grab a book and look up herbs or stones that have similar properties. When all else fails, use your own intuition.

Sometimes we know what we need to put into a working. Maybe you feel as though your grandmother's necklace will amp up your personal power, or that you'd feel better using juniper instead of sage. It's your energy, so listen to what your gut or inner voice says.

Sometimes you can add things like bodily fluids to spells to increase their potency. This should only be done on a case by case basis. I'm not advocating people run around pricking themselves with pins or spitting on their spell bags, but it something that often was done in traditional folk magic. Witch bottles are a fabulous example, as they often contained urine.

Ethical Considerations

When we get into discussions of using will, we have to discuss ethics.

First and foremost – you shouldn't use magic to control someone else's will.
I feel that this should go without saying, but I am saying it anyway. The easiest way to gauge this is to ask yourself one question: how would I feel if someone was doing this to me? Not only that, but what if something were to happen to them that was irreversible because of my actions? You should not toy with another's will unless is it absolutely the only option left (which I will get into later). 

Next, you should only work for only needs – not wants. Needs are essential, wants are fleeting. You are more likely to give a purer energy and a more forceful will if you are working with needs. There is a big difference between “I need a new job to feed my family” and “I want a new iPhone”.

Thirdly, phrasing is important. It goes back to my first point here about other's will, but also back to intentions.

Lastly, you must be prepared to be responsible for whatever will you unleash. Wiccans refer to it as the Rede, some call it karma, to me it's a matter of personal responsibility. I fully accept the results of my actions - I am adult who is making the decision to conform energies to my will.

How Do We Do This?

Spells can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. You generally start with a three point approach:
  • Need – why are doing this spell anyway?
  • Intention – what are you hoping to achieve?
  • Specifics – how are you going to achieve this?

Really, it comes down to how much time and effort you want to devote to each of those points. Some people like to cast a circle, call the quarters, and make it a full-on ritual. Some people work on their kitchen table. Some people write words, some people follow directions. The thing that is consistent in most folk magic is that it is personal to the practitioner.

Here are a few (very simple) examples of methods.

Candle magic - Carve your name or intention into a candle, seal it with your own spit, burn.
Petition magic - write your intention or desire on a piece of paper, seal and burn.
Tarot magic - set up a sacred space, pull a card to represent your desire, burn a candle until gone.
Spell bag - put assorted bits (herbs, stones, ashes from petitions, hair, etc) into a bag and carry it around or place in sacred space.
Sympathetic magic - make a poppet or what you are trying to affect (for example, a friend's broken leg), place a bandaid (or string or stones, etc) over the area.

Hexing, Cursing, Jinxing, Binding

Scary, scary words. Scary actions, to be honest. Let's look into the differences.

  • Hexing – a type of bewitchment – this is working on manipulating someone's emotions.
  • Cursing – this is straight-up inflicting magical harm on another
  • Jinxing – this is inflicting bad luck on another
  • Binding – using your will to bind another from doing you harm by manipulating their will.

I will not advocate the use of any of these except in extreme circumstances. I do mean extreme. Doing any of these things to another binds you to their fate, good or bad. It goes back to personal responsibility. Like inertia – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It is said a witch that cannot hex cannot heal – and to a degree, you should at least know what these terms are and what they can do. It's like having a loaded handgun – you can hang onto it to protect you, but you wouldn't shoot someone for giving you the stink-eye (this is of course assuming you are all reasonable people!).

I have written 2 binding spells in my life, and used one. One I wrote for a friend when an abusive ex-boyfriend (and I do mean abusive, he attacked her and left her with scars) was harassing her and wouldn't leave her alone. She was scared to leave her house. The police wouldn't do anything. After doing the spell, he kind of dropped off the face of the Earth. He's still alive and well, but no one we associate with has heard from him in years.

The other was for an online stalker who would not leave me alone. He threatened me, and my family, my spouse, and my friends. He knew where I lived (not the exact address, but the small town I was in) and threatened to find me. He was using an online persona, so I had no real legal ground to stand on (or at least I thought at 19). I was afraid, so I wrote a very light binding spell (kind of like a magical peace bond). I have not heard from him since I did the spell 13 years ago.

I have cursed before, but only when there were no other options to explore.

These are the extreme circumstance – your life is threatened, you have been willfully harmed by another, your family is harmed, etc. Always go through legal channels first, and do exhaust every other option before resorting to this kind of work. This should be a last resort.

That said, I do think it is important to know this type of spellcraft, even if you never intend on using it. It is very heavy handed. Some people will walk around and tell you to curse anyone who wrongs you - most of the time, these people are full of shit. They're trying to seem badass or powerful - it's a smokescreen for other insecurities. It's important to know how to defend yourself - but you wouldn't (or, I should say, most reasonable people) learn jujitsu just to run around kicking people in the face when it suits you. There are consequences for actions - be prepared to accept yours.

A Final Note

As always, magic is up to the practitioner. I am certain that there are people who would disagree with the methods and suggestions I have written about here. That is fine - this essay is based on my own experiences and methods, as well as literary research. If something does not work for you, or if you disagree with my opinions or thoughts, that is okay! It is all about giving you a basis so you can learn to create and nurture your own methods!