Charon Ritual Response – Guest Blog

After posting my last blog, I sent it to my own students. We have been talking about ritual and the creation of magical works. We have been talking about the appropriate way to create magical workings while utilizing our ritual and the resources that can help you do so. I asked them to read my friend E’s ritual and discuss a few things:

Did you agree with what E did? Why or why not.

Would you change anything? If so, why?

What would you have done differently?

If you needed to create a ritual to end a cycle and get yourself out of a bad spot, how would you do it?

One of my brilliant initiates wrote me this response. I think it highlights the differences between eclecticism and formal Wicca, while giving a well thought out response to my questions. It also demonstrates the differences between someone who is new to this practice and one who is in dedicated service to this particular pantheon. E has never approached a working like this before, while C is a trained initiate.

I thought you would enjoy it as well. So without further ado, my lovely initiate C responds to my friend E! Posted with C’s permission…

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Perspehone by seaspell

Charon Ritual Response

First, I want to say thank you to you and E for sharing this. I think E’s thoughtfully crafted offering to Charon was a beautiful response to her current situation, and I suspect that many can relate to this predicament/ feeling of being trapped in hell. Props to her for taking real and significant steps (mentally, spiritually and legally) to achieve life again instead of trying to make a defeated existence in hell as comfortable as possible (the lazy choice made by most people).

My perspective on this ritual is based on my own experience, knowledge, and relationship with these gods. However, I recognize E’s intuition and intent, as a magical practitioner, as the correct guide for her own rituals and spell-work and believe that her sincere practice is right for her and will hopefully open the gates to a new life.

That being said, here are my thoughts on this ritual and the changes that I would make for myself:

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Pay the Ferryman by WalterODim

The most significant change I would make to this ritual would be including Persephone and Hades. I find it interesting that she focused on Charon. In this same situation of finding myself in the underworld, I would focus on Persephone and Hades, for it is their favor that is needed when trying to leave the underworld.

Phase 1: apology and belated payment for initial journey into the underworld

From my perspective, her lack of initial payment to Charon on her journey into hell makes her return possible. Coins were put in the mouth of the deceased as payment in order to secure their passage into the underworld and prevent their soul from returning. It was believed that without a proper burial and payment, the deceased would be denied entry by Charon. However, this did occasionally happen, like in the case of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, who had been ordered to report to the underworld as punishment for tricking and imprisoning Hades, cleverly instructed his wife not to bury his body or provide a coin for payment before he died. When he arrived in the underworld he was able to plead with Persephone to let him return on these grounds, arguing that he should not have been granted entry into the underworld in the first place without proper payment. Persephone agreed and allowed him to return so that he could secure a proper passage into the underworld.

With this in mind, having mistakenly ended up in hell without proper passage and payment, I would address my appeal to Persephone with the promise that proper payment be made upon my death and ultimate descent. In this phase of E’s ritual she provided the coin as payment for her initial journey. I would not have done this in fear that I would be trapping myself in the underworld by doing so.

I agree that the new moon would be an appropriate time for this ritual for two reasons: 1) As the conclusion of a previous lunar cycle, this phase is symbolic of death and is a good time to communicate with underworld gods and to discard any negative/undesirable behaviors/thoughts/attitudes and to communicate with underworld gods. 2) It is also the beginning of a new cycle, and the imminent illumination of the waxing moon will serve as a symbolic representation and reminder of the ascent to renewed life.

In a ritual focused on death and new life, I would find it crucial to acknowledge Persephone and Hades. Persephone in particular, as a goddess of renewal and changing seasons (and the more likely to be sympathetic to heartache… and being trapped in the underworld via marriage…) should be honored.

Other than the coin, I think that E’s offering of olives, wine and cakes was appropriate and generous, and mine would be very similar if I were to do this ritual. In addition, I might include some fresh (springtime) flowers and honey for Persephone.

Phase 2: payment to get out of hell

I found E’s approach to this fascinating. I like the idea of looking for modern analogies in a ritual context. I would never think of doing something like this, but after reading this I will definitely experiment this concept in my own magical workings (so thank you E for inspiring me to think outside of my box).

While E used a money offering to motivate Charon to deliver her from hell (very insightfully I might add), I would probably use a different approach based on my own resources.

E acknowledged the sacrifice aspect of her payment when deciding how much to give. I think this is particularly relevant in this case. I believe that the ascension out of hell is a daunting task that will require active participation, discipline and sacrifice on the part of the traveler.

Drawing from other myths about this journey, I would do two things to motivate and fuel my journey.

First, with music being a big part of my own practice, I would either learn a hymn or write

lyre_of_orpheus_by_talonabraxas-d3ecxqg

Lyre of Orpheus by TALONABRAXAS

something to perform for Persephone and Charon. While my music obviously could never compare to the heavenly melodies played by Orpheus that enchanted Charon and tamed Cerberus, it is a thoughtful and active offering that is personal to me. The amount of emotion, power and breath that I give in my playing would serve as an expression of my sincerity and determination. This would also serve as a reminder to me that if I indulge myself by looking back (let past thoughts, attitudes, resentments etc. creep back in), I will be trapped in hell. A new life can not be possible as long as you remain stuck in the past.

I would also add a physical element in this phase of the ritual to offer Charon assistance with paddling. There are several instances of Charon asking/ordering travelers to do this. Ideally, I would do some type of aquatic exercise like rowing or swimming. However, because my environment does not lend itself to this type of activity, I would probably run instead.

At sunrise, the morning after my offerings on the new moon, I would commit myself to running 3 miles. I think 3 is an appropriate number to seal the work done the night before. Also, it should be noted that I am a horrible runner with horrible stamina and 3 miles would be a very difficult feat for me. This number she be adjusted depending on the physical ability of the individual to be adequately difficult. This struggle and sacrifice through physical exertion is 1) to make Charon’s job easier and 2) to demonstrate my active role in making it out of hell and acknowledging that though it will difficult and exhausting, it can be accomplished if I stay focused and keep looking forward.

My last thought on this ritual, as an initiate, would be to call upon (name of patroness) and (name of patron) who witnessed my initiation as they have already seen me through a journey of death and rebirth.

 

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Becoming

It’s almost Yule time once again. While I love Yule, this time of year is rough for many reasons and this year seems to be more depressing than most. I’ll also be turning 30 in less than two weeks and life has certainly not gone the way I expected it to the last few years.

Yule magic, Christmas magic, Hanukkah magic, Hogmanay magic, Nickanan magic, Jul magic, Saturnalia magic, or whatever you want to call it, this time of year has the power to bring people together and to allow us to acknowledge the possibility of magic in ways that usually we easily ignore or forget to believe in. Everything is possible this time of year. We ask for magic constantly and expect miracles to happen. This is the time of year that even the most prosaic can secretly believe.

This is the time of year that I love to turn to an old childhood favorite, The Velveteen Rabbit. I give this book to all my friends having children, because if you have read The Velveteen Rabbit and have loved it as a child, you are already prepared a little bit more for the world .

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There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.

Like all of us, the Velveteen Rabbit starts out perfect, shiny and new, ready to be loved and to enjoy the life he is given. But soon, he is forgotten and becomes depressed and disillusioned. The Velveteen rabbit has to go through a painful transformation before he can truly become a part of the world around him. He has to suffer pain and sorrow before he can become real.

The Skin Horse, an old nursery toy, gives him advice, as all, old wise elders do. The Skin Horse has been worn down by the life he was given, but he is more powerful because of it. The horse is representative of sovereignty over yourself and having control of the world around you, and the Skin Horse is no different. He has mastered himself and is willing to share that knowledge with the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

the skin horse

There are a lot of people who don’t understand, who forget, who allow hatred and fear blind them to everything else. We are all constantly worn down and broken. It is those of us who can flex and bend and accept that make it through. Becoming real is hard. It hurts. But once it happens, like an initiation, it can’t be taken away from you.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

As a witch, I see one of the things I am actively doing is seeking that realness. I look for the magic around me and work to make it happen. I don’t ignore the process, I assist it. It might be painful, but it is necessary. It is not an easy path, but it is a path that leads to truth and light and even more importantly love. Love truly is the greatest power in the world and while it might seem old and cliched, the power of love can do things nothing else can. I wonder, if we loved more, what would the world around us be?

I’m not a White Lighter. I believe in the power and the need for the dark, for death, for all those things the end and close cycles. I believe in balance and the need for pain and struggle. I embrace the shadows, because they give us insight that we can’t find in the light. But this time of year is the one time of year that I actively seek that light, because I know that the darkness is about to give way to new things.

These past two years have worn away at me. I have become shabby, just like that old rabbit. But I still have love and in the end, that is more important than anything else that has happened. It is also my best defiance to all of those that have enjoyed my pain and sorrow, who have denied aid or rational thought and who have actively worked to harm me and mine without greater understanding.

I still have love. I still have happiness. The dark has not swallowed me yet. I stand here despite all of it.

I will accept the sacrifices and the suffering, because in the end I can take it in ways that most others cannot. And from it, something better will come.

I may have gotten older, shabbier and lost much of the light I started out with, but that darkness that has creeped in is what allows the light to shine even brighter.

You may laugh at me and tell me that its just a children’s book and ask what truth there can possibly be in a story about a stuffed rabbit that becomes real through the power of love?

But if I have learned nothing else as a witch, it is that those old stories have truths and wisdoms and teachings about power that nothing else can provide. We learn magic from these stories and begin to understand how to hope. I love that this is a fairly new story, but that it captures the heart of all the old ones.

Neil Gaiman wrote: “A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams and a world in which there is hope.”

My family may have become some of those monsters, but The Velveteen Rabbit reminds me that everything has a reason and that this too shall pass. Even the monster plays a role and helps transform the hero into something better. I can accept being cast in the role of the monster, because I know where it will bring me. And in the end, the Goddess is always waiting to carry me elsewhere.

I may not be real yet, but someday I will be.

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If you have not read The Velveteen Rabbit, you can find it here for free.

When I wrote this, this morning, I didn’t realize that it had published today in 1922. Happy Birthday to The Velveteen Rabbit!

A Ritual for Baba Yaga

A friend of mine posted an article that made me laugh last night: Russian Witch Baba Yaga’s Guide To Feminism:

“Free women from the shackles of domesticity by abducting their children. You can then indoctrinate these children in the ways of feminism and/or use them as free labour. Or just eat them. Whatever. It’s hard to find good sources of protein deep in the Siberian forest.”

The article pokes fun at this mythological figure, but it really isn’t all that far off with nailing this scary witch’s essence.

While we were discussing psychological tests the other week (see blog here), my student didn’t get my reference to the witch’s house on chicken legs. She had never heard of Baba Yaga!

Zouravliov-Baba_YagaBaba Yaga – Vania Zouravliov

Baba Yaga has always been one of my favorite witches. She’s a terrifying figure that lurks just outside the boundaries of civilization. But I think the thing I like about her the most is that she’s willing to help you if you’re willing to help yourself. She recognizes that death is sometimes the only option and her cruel nature might just be saving you from something much worse. (Would you rather have a clean death over a horrible, tortured, messy one?)

Baba Yaga might eat you, but she also might save you. You just have to prove yourself first: “As ambiguous as she is hideous, Baba Yaga has been described by scholars as an anomaly, both a maternal, mother-nature figure and an evil villain who enjoys eating those who fail to complete her tasks” (Stone 2015). In the story of Vasilissa the Beautiful, she helps Vasilissa not once, but twice! The first time she aids Vasilissa by giving her the burning skull, which kills Vasilissa’s cruel stepmother and stepsisters. The second time, Baba Yaga appears as the kindly old grandmother who has the knowledge every young woman needs to get the boy!

Baba Yaga embodies the wild woman archetype. The feral, crone figure who does not finesse her lessons to make them easier for you to bear: “She is thought by some to be a dark goddess who symbolizes the death of the ego which is needed to achieve wisdom and, through this death, rebirth to a new life” (Chambers 2007). Her demesne is the forest far beyond mortal boundaries, an Underworld figure who lurks in the darkest part of ourselves. Of course, as the witch in the woods, her true role is as initiator and priestess. She is able to judge character instantly and has no patience for those who don’t deserve aid. She shows us how our darkest nature can be helpful in our fight against our greatest obstacles. Her aid won’t be pretty, it will change you forever, but it will also empower you and allow you to triumph and ensure your rightful place. Her power is our gut instinct and first impressions. She is that thing in us that lashes out at those that would hurt us. She is our most basic, primal response to dire threat.

And unlike other dark figures, Baba Yaga is trustworthy: “Though it appears she never goes after anyone unprovoked—that is to say, without the person at least coming to the door of her hut—she appears to follow little or few morals.  Nevertheless, whatever promise she makes to the hero after his completion of her tasks, she keeps” (Stone 2015). She doesn’t try to trick you. She tells you what she needs you to do and if you accomplish the task she sets, she will aid you. She is not a trickster at all.

Baba Yaga proves to us that just because terrible things happen to us, we are not without agency. Baba Yaga gives us aid in our darkest moments. She may not have nice, pretty, happy solutions, but she will clear the path for you and at least bring you bloody satisfaction. She proves that we are only victims if we let ourselves be and that there is always a way out: “The truths She tells are often bitter; Her healing can be as painful as the illness it cures. But we disregard what She has to teach us at our peril: if we are not strong enough to look without flinching at the truth She shows us, we face passing up Her many gifts of wisdom and healing as well” (Vassy 2000). Baba Yaga is the old grandmother that gets things done and doesn’t flinch at the terrible things that life hands us. She has seen it all, done it all, and she’s not afraid of the blood and yuck that we wade through constantly in our battle with life.

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A ritual to call upon Baba Yaga for Self Healing:

(Do not do this ritual if you don’t want sudden and possibly drastic results).

To prepare –

This can be done inside or outside as one prefers, though preferably during the new moon.

Be prepared to spend time on this ritual. Don’t rush through this.

Set an altar in the center of your space with:

A single unlit candle in the middle of your altar – make sure to have a taper candle sitting there as well.

A lit candle in the east.

A jar of 3 kinds of mixed, dried beans set in the south and 3 sorting bowls

A mortar and pestle set in the west with some dirt in it.

A bottle of vodka, an empty glass, and a steak that has been cooked rare on a dinner plate with a fork and knife. (Its better to take the time to cook the steak yourself before hand). Set these items like you’re setting a table on the northern side of the altar.

A freshly baked loaf of bread (also better if you’ve baked it yourself. Here is a Russian black bread recipe if you need one!).

Its better to do this on the new moon. Start by working in a room with no lights except for one lit candle in the east.

The Ritual –

To begin, carry in the fresh loaf of bread and lay it in the east, by the lit candle, chant: “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I come to thee of my own free will! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I ask for your hospitality and bear no charms or blessings! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I am willing to work for you and share my energy with you for your aid!

Cast your circle by sweeping with a traditional besom.

To call the Quarters:

Start in the East, say: “White Rider, I beseech thee to bring me the light of the dawn!”

Move to the South, say: “Red Rider, I beseech thee to bring me the light of the noon-tide sun!”

Move to the West, say: “Black Rider, I beseech thee to bless me with the light of the night-time Moon!”

Move to the North, say: “Baba Yaga, Mother of Death, allow me access to the Underworld!”

Return to the East and say: “Turn your front! Turn your back! Round to me! I enter the hut of Baba Yaga willingly!”

Turn toward the center of your altar and state your purpose for asking Baba Yaga’s aid – “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I ask that you help to bring the light back into my life! To make me strong so that I can overcome the obstacles and people that stand in my way. Baba Yaga! I ask that you remove the obstacles that hinder me from having control over my own life!”

Move to the southern part of the altar with the jar of mixed beans. Hold the jar and think of all the things that are causing you mental pain. Think of all the bad things you want to get rid of from your life. Meditate on the visceral emotions these things cause. Focus it all on the jar and into the beans. When you’ve carefully poured out all your hurt and anguish, slowly pour the jar of mixed beans across the southern portion of the altar. Say: “Baba Yaga! As you asked the maiden Vasilisa, I will sort these kernals to aid you in righting the wrongs of your own enemies.” Carefully sort each of the beans into the separate bowls, by their type, meditating the whole time on driving the problems you previously focused on from your life. When the 3 different kinds of beans have been separated and sorted. Line the three bowls up in the South and say: “Baba Yaga, thank you for this honest, hard work that helps me repay your hospitality.”

Move to the Western side of the altar. Pick up the mortar and pestle and start grinding the dirt. Say: “Baba Yaga, just as I grind this dirt in the mortar with the pestle, do you grind the bones of the dead. The dead have no need for their bones and for those of us still living, our bones are constantly pounded and ground into the earth by the world around us. My body has taken a beating from the living world! Please put me through your mortar and pestle to heal me of my sorrows!” Continue to grind the dirt until your hands and arms are weak. Set the mortar and pestle down and say: “Baba Yaga! An honest days toiling in the dirt cleanses me of my sorrow and helps you keep your house in order!”

Move to the North. Pour a glass of vodka from your bottle. Take the bread from the east and slice it, laying a piece by the plate. Present the steak and say: “Baba Yaga, I made this meal for you! Through my hard work and pure intentions, I ask that you eat this food that I have made you and partake of my energy to aid and restore your work!” Stand and give her time to “eat.” Understand that you have built up energy throughout the ritual and that this is part of what you’re offering her. When you feel drained again, move back to the east.

In the East, say: “Baba Yaga! I have sorted your grains, I have toiled in the earth for thee, I have baked you a fine dinner. Please give me your fire to carry back into the world of the living!” Pick up the taper candle and light it from your Eastern candle. Light the center candle. Gently blow out your taper. Say: “Baba Yaga, I know when to stop asking. I do not have to understand all of your ways. Please send me back to he land of the living!” Pick up the center candle and walk out of your circle.

When you’re well away from your circle (if I was doing this indoors, I would walk outside), hold your candle up and say “Baba Yaga! Thank you for the fire and your blessings! I am prepared for what they will bring to my life!” Blow out your candle.

Leave your circle and altar set until dawn breaks. Let the East candle burn through the night. In the morning, go back and say thank you to the three riders for their light and wish them well on their constant journey. Take the meal you prepared and leave it outside somewhere for Baba Yaga to do with it what she will. Scatter the dried beans in the forest. Take the earth in the mortar and pestle and gently work it into your garden or house plant. Remember that you carry Baba Yaga’s fire in you now and that anything can happen.

Baba_Yaga's_Hut

References:

“Baba Yaga”. 2007. In Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, edited by Una McGovern. London: Chambers Harrap. https://libproxy.tulane.edu/login?url=http://literati.credoreference.com/content/entry/chambun/baba_yaga/0
Ryan Stone. “Baba Yaga, The Confounding Crone of Slavic Folklore,” Ancient Origins, March 29, 2015, accessed November 19, 2015, http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/baba-yaga-confounding-crone-slavic-folklore-002836.
Rebecca Vassy. (2000). “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues Or My Adventures with Baba Yaga.” Sagewoman, Oct 31, 11. http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.tulane.edu:2048/docview/221846152?accountid=14437.

Magical Etiquette 101

This was a column I wrote for the Pagan Household back on April 22nd, 2013:

I recently had an experience with a guest at my coven’s ritual, which is held in my home. This guest came in and, without asking, touched our altar and picked up tools. He also made negative comments about the way we do ritual. Needless to say, the evening only went down hill from there and the guest was not invited back.

This brings up magical etiquette, both in your own home and in the homes of others. There are a few basics that most people should be aware of. When you go to another practitioner’s house, never touch anything without permission. Everyone approaches their tools differently, and while it might be fine with permission, you should never just pick things up. This is extremely disrespectful. The same goes for altars and shrines. This isn’t just out of respect for the person who owns the altar or shrine, but for your own protection as well. Do you know what sort of work this person is doing? Do you want to inadvertantly become a part of anything they do in the privacy of their own home? Say they’re doing a love spell for a friend; what might be the results if you end up putting your energy into whatever work is being done?

This also goes for things that you might not take to be magical or religious in nature. You never know what that statue might mean to the person who lives there.

Not all of us, but most, intertwine our magical rituals with our religious ones. These are extremely personal workings that you just don’t get to butt into without permission. And this brings us to our next point; don’t make negative comments about the things you see. Our guest kept telling us that what we were doing was not what another group in the area did, and that therefore we were obviously doing things incorrectly. Why wouldn’t we use lines in our ritual that the other group used? You can see where this was quite offensive. When you go to someone else’s ritual, understand that they may not be working the way that you are used to. What they do is not wrong, it is simply different, and expecting them to change what they do to make you more comfortable is not appropriate. If you have that much of a problem with different rituals, you shouldn’t be the guest of another group in the first place. It is perfectly OK to turn down an invitation to a group’s ritual.

You might see something and disagree with how it was done, or think it should have been done differently. However, you are a guest. Ask about what you’ve seen in a positive manner. “That was a very interesting casting. May I ask why you do it that way?” is much more friendly than “I don’t do MY casting that way!” It’s offensive to force yourself into someone else’s workings and imply that you could have done it better.

When our coven has a first time guest in ritual, we explain what we will be doing, and we make sure to ask if the guest has questions at various intervals (it is actually part of the way we operate to assign certain coven members the task of making sure guests are informed and made to feel welcome). Most groups will do this if you are invited as a guest to ritual. You as the guest should expect a certain level of explanation about the ritual itself. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to learn all the secrets a group has, or be “trained,” but you deserve a basic explanation of the etiquette for the things that will be coming up in ritual. One of the worst rituals I’ve ever attended was so because there was no explanation of what was planned, and I didn’t know how to react to the things that were happening or what words to say at certain points.

If you are holding a public ritual, you also need to remember to do this. Do not assume your guests’ level of knowledge, experience, or tolerance level. A friend of mine told me about a ritual she went to that was for women’s spirituality. Sounds pretty standard right? It wasn’t until the priestess smeared something on her forehead in the middle of ritual that my friend found out that it was someone’s menstrual blood. Needless to say, smearing a stranger’s menstrual blood on someone else without explaining this sort of thing or asking permission is invasive in more ways than one. Think about what you are doing and ask people if they are OK with what is being planned, especially in cases where bodily fluids are being used.

It should also be pretty obvious that you shouldn’t insert any of your own energy into something without discussing it first with your host. Maybe your help will be welcomed and appreciated, but you can’t know without asking. Again, you don’t know exactly what a person is working toward and it’s arrogant and disruptive to assume.

Walking into another practitioner’s home should be like walking into anyone else’s home, the same basic etiquette applies. But unlike everyone else, where poking through someone’s medicine cabinet is probably not going to get you into trouble, poking your nose without permission into a practitioner’s workings might get you into a whole lot of trouble in ways that you won’t even see until six months down the road.

Don’t assume; always ask, and be aware that most things you see are probably not mundane. Look, don’t touch, and remember, you break it, you’re probably going to buy it, in a very metaphysical and unpleasant way.

Choosing and Consecrating Magical Tools

This was a column I wrote for The Pagan Household on May 20th, 2013:

 

The tools that we work with in ritual are important elements of our workings. They are objects that focus us in directing our will and our energy to complete whatever work it is that we are doing. These sorts of tools become more effective the longer we have been using them, and the longer we have been working to invest our energy in that particular tool.

These tools know us and vibrate in harmony with our use of them when they have a relationship with us. While our tools are not sentient, I wouldn’t call them passive either. These are tools that channel magic, and the longer we use them, the more magic we imbue in them.

Some of us are lucky and these sorts of tools are handed down to us with a great deal of magical energy already present. My best friend’s Athame is the straight razor her grandmother used in her sewing projects. This is an Athame with a great deal of family history and ties. These sorts of tools recquire little more than a sort of getting to know you period where you and the tool aclimate to each other and establish a working relationship based on the ties already present.

Most us, unfortunately, aren’t that lucky. While there are many more second and even third generation Craft practitioners these days than there were even ten years ago, most of us are starting out on our own and have to pick up our tools the old fashioned way. And some of us don’t want that combined history and simply want to start fresh with something that is completely and only ours.

I’ve recently acquired two new tools that have a large significance in my rituals: an Athame and a wand. The athame was a tool I helped to choose, and was presented to me at my initiation; the wand was a gift from my partner.

So how do you start creating this sort of working relationship?

Never buy a tool that doesn’t call to you. All of my Craft tools, in whatever form, have pulled me to them specifically. There has been an immediate zing of energy exchanged that was impossible to ignore. In the case of the wand, it called my partner to it. It will be a tool that our coven uses together.

I look for tools that are traditional; not everyone does, but I prefer bone and wood that have been handcrafted over cheap, machine made items. Tools like this handle energy much more naturally.

It’s not always possible to know the maker of your Craft tools, not all of us are lucky enough to live near someone who makes these sorts of items, but I would also recommend not buying these types of tools online. You need to be able to handle a tool and speak to the person who was responsible for its creation. If you can make them yourself, even better. This is true of most magical items. There are very few online vendors that I trust, the ones that I do have been recommended to me by other reliable practitioners of my acquaintance and when I have bought items from them, they have been exactly as advertised.

Most Craft store owners should be able to tell you the provenance of an item and the exact materials used to make that item. They also usually know whether the maker has a good reputation or not.

You don’t have to find a tool immediately. Take your time, go to festivals, go to fairs, talk to people and see where they have found their tools. It may take a few months, don’t be discouraged. Remember, these are items that we will use for years to come. Rushing something like this ensures that you will not find the correct tool.

Once you’ve found the perfect item, don’t haggle for it. Pay exactly what the seller is asking if it’s a fair price. When you haggle a price down, it diminishes the power of the tool and takes away from the effort the creator took in making it. If you can barter for the tool and give something in trade, this is perfectly acceptable. You’re still paying a fair price, you’re offering something of equal value, even if that is simply the gift of your own energy.

Once you’ve acquired your tool, take the time to consecrate it and then invest your energy into it everyday. When I’m at home, I carry my Athame around with me, even when I’m not in ritual. I push my energy through it constantly. If I’m not carrying it or I’ve had a busy day, I take a second to pick it up and just think at it for a minute or two. I also won’t let other people touch my tools until I’ve firmly established my own bond with that tool. I’ve only had my Athame for four months now. It will not be touched by anyone other than my partner for a long time yet and the only reason that he is allowed to touch it is because he and I are magical partners as well as significant others and when I do most magical workings, he plays a significant role. He is not a casual lover and I would not recommend sharing your tools with anyone who is.

To consecrate a tool:

Set an altar with representations of the four elements. It is traditional to set Air in the East (usually incense), Fire in the South (candle), Water in the West (bowl of water) and Earth in the North (bowl of salt), but this is up to you and how you usually work.

Choose your representations with what feels right to you. I start in the East; many like to start in the North, again, this is up to you and if an element calls you specifically, start with it.

Take your tool and kiss it, focus your energy on it and take a few minutes to think about what you’ll be using this tool to do.

Wave the tool through the first element and say: I ask ____ to bless and consecrate this tool in doing (state whatever you will be doing with the tool). I ask that ____ bless this tool with (whatever nature the element represents). Bless and consecrate this tool in my service to the Craft. (You can also name any patron deities you’re using). So mote it be!

For example, I started my consecration of my wand with the East and Air. I waved my wand through my burning incense and said: I ask Air to bless and consecrate this tool in it’s use for casting enchantment for me and for my coven. I ask air to bless this wand with its intellect and its quickness. Please bless and consecrate this tool in my service to the (name of my patrons). So mote it be!

Move to the next element and repeat. Do this for all four of the elements. After you have done this, either offer the tool your own blood (which I did in the case of my Athame so that it never works against me) or offer it your energy (which I did with my wand) by placing it against your heart and feeling the energy move between you and the tool.

At the end of the ceremony, place the tool on your altar, continue with whatever work you normally do, and let it acclimate itself to your altar and energy. Leave it for a night and then start carrying it around with you and using it as you would with any tool you already work with.

Magical Mundanity

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans January 6th, 2014.

 

Willow: But, there’s also other stuff that we might show an interest in, as a Wicca group.

Wanna Blessed Be #1: Like what?

Willow: Well, there’s the wacky notion of spells. You know, conjuring, transmutation.

Wanna Blessed Be #2: Oh yeah. Then we could all get on our broomsticks and fly around on our broomsticks.

Willow from “Hush,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer


We have a joke in my household. My partner can make the mundane magical and I always manage to make the magical mundane. But that’s just the way I am and honestly, I think I have the better end of the deal.

I am not what most people have in mind when they think of a stereotypical Pagan woman. I don’t wander around discussing the position of the stars in the sky or what astrological sign we’re under. I don’t do crystal healing at the drop of a hat. My house doesn’t have shrines in every corner (just one very well tended one, thank you very much). I don’t wear too many flowing skirts and bangles. And magic is not generally what I would call my focus.

sorry, I don't generally contemplate skulls as witchily romantic as it might seem. Sleepy Hollow - Wise Woman by Raskolnikova-Sonya)

sorry, I don’t generally contemplate skulls as witchily romantic as it might seem. Sleepy Hollow – Wise Woman by Raskolnikova-Sonya)

But, it is still a very important aspect of everything I do.

I don’t have to run around casting spells everyday to be a serious magical practitioner. While my practice is generally on worship, that doesn’t mean that I can’t whip something up when I need to.

And besides, everything I do in ritual as a Priestess is magical.

Sweep? Magic. Cast a Circle? Magic. Calling the Elements? Magic. Calling the Gods? Magic. Wine and Cakes? Magic. Drawing down? Magic.

Any spells I do decide to work take a lot of my energy, focus and intent. While I enjoy little household magics, I’m just generally not that sort of Pagan.

But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of my fellow Pagan friends, other initiates in my tradition and other various loved ones, complain about the usual sort of  life difficulties: finances, relationships, bosses and jobs; you know, the same things everyone has problems with at one time or another.

And I end up sitting there thinking “well, are you a witch or aren’t you?”

Maybe the holidays have brought out my snark, but what’s the point of calling yourself a witch if you can’t change your life and the world around you. Isn’t that sort of the idea?

While I don’t generally run around casting magical spells all the time, if I’m having a tough spot with finances, I sit down and rework my budget and rethink my spending habits and then I go and get myself a green candle and I work a little money magic.

If my boss starts giving me a hard time, I may come up with different ways to approach the situation, but I am also going to go and work a little magic to cause things to go in my favor.

Love life suck? Again, magic comes in handy. Attracting the right person your way can be just the ticket.

Need an update on the coming months? Out come my tarot cards.

Magic is not the focus of my life because as a witch, my life is magical. To me, the magical is mundane.

I think it’s really easy, when we get caught up in the everyday world around us, to forget that we do have the power to change things.

You don’t have to be a 32nd degree OTO member, you don’t have to be a Master Warlock,  you don’t have to be a third degree Elder Priest/ess to create change in your life. Are you magical or not? Your attitude towards your magic counts.

I sat in on one of Orion Foxwood’s workshops at a small North Carolina festival and listened to him talk about being a young practitioner and staring at himself in the mirror everyday and saying “I am a witch” over and over and over until he believed it with every fiber of his being.

Believing in your own Craft is probably the most significant tool any practitioner has.

So.

Are you a witch? Or not.

 

The Liminality of Festivals

For the past two years or so I’ve been blogging for Witches and Pagans. As some of you may or may not know, my life is currently in a state of upheaval.  While I’m not yet comfortable talking about that and while I sort out everything else that is going on, I thought I would start publishing some of those posts here. I don’t know whether or not I will stay at Witches and Pagans when all is said and done, but…I think a lot of those posts were really great and I would like to both share them with you and to be able to keep them.

So I will start with this one, “The Liminality of Festivals,” which I originally published July 25th, 2012.

~

I just returned from Sirius Rising, a festival held at Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY.

For me, festival is a liminal experience. That probably sounds rather cliche in this context (who doesn’t like to bring up liminality?), but every time I go to a festival, something life altering ends up happening.

After the last festival that I went to, I hit a young buck with my car coming home. The police officer who arrived to help me, told my father as I was sitting on the side of the road next to my completely shattered car, that I was lucky to be alive. At the time, with a full Mabon moon riding red and heavy in the night sky, I assumed that I hadn’t given enough of myself that Mabon and that some more blood needed to be offered.

Now, looking back on the events of that festival and what happened in my life around that period (all of which started right before that particular festival), I’m pretty sure a particular God was giving me a very clear message about a decision that I had just made, letting me know that I was going to have to change course to set myself back on the proper spiritual path.

The events of that autumn changed me forever, and as with any initiatory experience, I think that I had to have that experience to get where I am now. I had to come face to face with the Underworld, both that night and once again later in that Fall at Samhain, to enter back into life. Yule, as it’s supposed to, brought the beginnings of the possibility of life back to me. While the Wheel of the Year is pretty clear in its metaphorical meanings, that year demonstrated many more of its actual practical realities on my life. And where I am now is a very happy, healthy place, largely because of the wonderful man that those events led me to.

This was, as I see it, my first real initiatory experience, though it was neither planned nor officiated by anyone human, and was messy and rather drawn out, with Death serving as a grim sort of Summoner. The Pirates of the C.U.C. Constantine had helped me put a name on everything that I had always felt up to that point in my life as Pagan, and this experience, assisted patiently by my pirate sisters, was my transition to my current Wiccan path.

This year, at the first festival I’ve been to since the last one, I took my next Wiccan elevation. While I’m still a ways away from actual initiation in my current tradition, I think that first walk between the worlds was the only reason that I was allowed to move onto this one.

b2ap3_thumbnail_tree_20120725-182000_1On another forum that I participate in, someone was questioning the role that initiation plays in Paganism. I feel I understand that role now. Without that initiation, nothing that has come since could have been allowed to happen. Initiation is a sort of death: it is the gateway through which you have to pass to move forward. You have to be tested, whether it is by someone else or by yourself; and you must face Death to move on. Festival plays a big role in this for me. It is a place that you go that is between the worlds (without you ever having to cast a circle). Going to festival takes you out of the mundane world. While I live my Pagan life 24/7, unlike many Pagans who are not able to be out of the broom closet, festival is still an important place for me to go to be fully myself. While I sit at my desk all day at my nine-to-five job, I have to curtail much of my true self. At festival, dancing naked around a fire, the wild, primitive me has a rightful place of existence. The Goddess flows through me and happily leaps with the excited beating of my heart in ways that She can’t manifest herself in the “real” world. Festival is a path between the worlds where you get to exist for a full week. Many things can happen in seven days when you walk between the worlds.

It also helps to remind me of the sheer joy of being a Pagan. While I study Wicca seriously and constantly, and love what I am doing, festival reminds me in a much more visceral manner about what being Pagan is and what has always drawn me to this life.

All last week, I kept stumbling across snakes. At the beginning of this festival, I had formally asked for my next elevation, but didn’t think that it was going to happen that week. I didn’t find out until near the very end of festival that it was actually occurring. Right before the actual ritual, I was sitting just outside of Brushwood’s amazing Labyrinth, starring at the Bottle Tree that they had erected for their Spirit ritual, contemplating what this elevation would mean to me. I looked up at the gorgeous and expansive night sky to witness two shooting stars. Stumbling out of the woods later, I happened to look up to see another one. The Gods were clearly walking with me once again.

This initiation was not as life altering as that very first one, but it will still have as many profound effects on my life. And I draw some satisfaction that correct decisions brought me to a much more peaceful and quick initiation this time. Would this have happened without the atmosphere of the festival? No. There was more than the usual amount of magic in that place that assisted me to further my journey into Paganism. Festivals can be many different things to many different people, but they allow for things to occur in life that perhaps can’t occur elsewhere. The level of magical energy simply amplifies all that one experiences. Whether I am hanging out with Pirates or with my Wiccan coven, festival is a place of spirit and family. While events around festival aren’t always pleasant (just ask that deer), they are vital to our existence as Pagans.

If you haven’t tried a festival yet, take a week and do it. It is not an experience that you will ever find anywhere else. You never know what might be waiting in the shadows of the forest for you, but festival is a place where you certainly might find out.