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:

pay_the_ferryman_by_walterodim

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

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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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An Offering to Charon – Guest Blog

My dear friend E is a rather eclectically minded kitchen-witch. She’s been struggling with huge life changes recently and has been going back and forth with me about offerings and ritual ideas to help her move forward. I love how she thinks and I thought you might be interested as well. Her thought processes, rational and creativity in how she approaches her work always puts things in a new perspective for my own work and inspires me further. I asked her to write a guest blog about this particular experience for multiple reasons, but I love Charon and think that he doesn’t get a lot of love these days. I also think that the mid/post divorce period is often ignored. I love her approach and hope for what she wants to accomplish here. Enjoy! ~Lauren

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Charon by Vikkki

An Offering to Charon

Charon the Ferryman is a figure from Classical (i.e., Greco-Roman) mythology. He brings the souls of the dead across the rivers Archeron and Styx and into the underworld, provided, of course, that the soul was buried with a coin to pay for the ferry ride. Charon is hardly the first or only such mythical figure, since cultures prior to the ancient Greeks also buried the dead with coins to ensure passage to the other side, but he is the one that was passed down to us via the Hellenic writings.

He transitioned more or less intact into modern Christian culture thanks to Dante. In Dante’s construct of Hell, Charon presides over passage across the River Archeron (the River Styx is an internal river that separates inner and outer Hell rather than the division between Earth and Hell) with essentially the same function and fee structure as in the Hellenic myths.

Several Greek and Roman heroes use Charon’s services to cross in and out of the underworld while living. The instance I am most familiar with comes from “Cupid and Psyche.” Psyche is given specific instructions on how to deal with Charon when she is sent to the underworld to retrieve a package from Persephone on behalf of Aphrodite: carry a barley honey cake in each hand to distract Cerberus (the three-headed dog) on the way in and on the way out, and carry two coins in her mouth to pay Charon for passage each way. According to Wikipedia, Charon gives all the male heroes grief about crossing while alive, as he does in Dante’s narrative; Psyche having no trouble could be read as the old seaman having a soft spot for beautiful young women, or as him not wanting to stand in the way of another god’s quest.

The instructions for crossing on Charon’s ferry are always essentially the same, namely, pay him his coin and don’t dawdle. Those rules make for a simple translation into modern ritual: pay Charon his fee when it’s time to make your crossing.

The only questions are how much to pay and how to offer it up to the ferryman?

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Passage by eilidh

I will come back to both questions in a minute. First, some context for what I need to do and why.

I am on the brink of divorce, after 5 years of marriage and seven months of separation. I have been saying since we separated and I learned this fundamentalist state requires a long waiting period between filing and granting of divorce, that I was in Limbo. When I started really working through the failings in my relationship, I realized I had been in a Hell peculiar to my own needs and wants and nightmares. The idea, then, of paying Charon to ferry me back across the River Archeron (I am using Dante’s construction of Hell, where Limbo is the first circle) was fairly obvious. I would do it the night before my court date, so there would be no impediment or delay in getting me back to the land of the living.

But then I realized: if I had been in Hell, I got there somehow in the first place – and I never specifically payed Charon for that journey. So I owed him a separate fare and an apology, which would need to be presented before making my simple payment for the ferry ride out of Hell.

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Psyche by ryanjpedersen

The (chronological) second fare, the one that I am paying right before court, was an easier one to work out. I tend to look for modern analogies to ancient figures when seeking a ritual structure. Lacking true ferrymen (yes, I know we have ferries here, but they are run by golems of the state, and I know from experience that there is no paying them anything but your exact fare and only your fare), I decided taxi drivers are the closest modern equivalent. After all, they take people from one place to another for a fee, and the verb “ferry” has been expanded to include being driven in any type of vehicle. Taxi drivers are also individual businessmen and often self-employed; they can exercise discretion in their payments in a way a government officer cannot. My analogical thinking went like this: if I need to pay Charon his fare, then I would need to pay a taxi driver for a ride I won’t take. I can’t just give a driver a big tip – that’s not a fare. To me the obvious solution is to give a driver a second payment and ask that he put it toward his next passenger. Obviously I can’t control whether he pockets the money or puts it on his meter, and even if he does put it on his meter in the real world someone is taking that trip. But not ME. Symbolically, metaphysically, I am paying fare for the journey I will metaphysically be making in the courtroom rather than a taxi ride.

As to how much – I decided $20 was a good number. Low enough that most people would be able to afford to bury a loved one with it to ensure passage, but high enough that it is substantive and represents a sacrifice. The only discussion I have seen about Charon’s fee structure in a modern pagan sense can be found here, and one of the interpretations supports the number. I am a mostly intuitive ritual-caster, and my instinct here is that $20 is the right number, so while I was happy to see an argument for that, ultimately what decided me was my own sense of rightness. For me I think the rightness is deriving from the sacrificial aspect. Yes, $20 is an affordable sacrifice, but it still represents something substantive that I will have to forgo off of that paycheck in order to offer it to the god.

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Styx by dalisacg

The apology ritual required a little more thought. I didn’t want to just do the taxi thing twice; it seems lazy, first of all, and second of all, it’s not much of an apology, is it, to simply perform the ritual I should have in the first place. No. Lauren mentioned that she intended to make a new moon offering at the river, with a quick-and-dirty explanation that new moon offerings represent changes and things that are building, and that making offerings at the river is basically mainlining them to a god’s ear. The new moon occurs a couple weeks before my court date and therefore well before the night I would be making my fare-pay offering, and it coincides with the date on which I got married – which seemed a fortuitous alignment for my work!

I decided that an offering closer to the original style would make for a better apology/back-payment. A coin, I thought, would be a good choice as a physical representation of his fee rather than the modern monetary value. And since I like to go for symbolism where it’s available, I decided one of the coins left from our honeymoon trip would serve very nicely as metaphysical reference to the actions previously taken. So that took care of payment. For an apology, I personally tend to offer food, so I procured some oil-cured olives and Italian red wine. Then, for ritual representation of Psyche’s successful (and unchallenged) crossing, I decided to bring cakes for Cerberus. Barley-cakes are what she brought, barley being the ubiquitous flour of the time and place. Here in Louisiana, cornbread is the go-to quick-bread, and I would rather acknowledge the time and place where I am than waste time hunting down barley flour and testing recipes. Thus, one tray of fresh-baked cornbread mini-muffins later, I had everything ready to go (my mini-muffin tray makes 6 cakes…Cerberus has 3 heads, one cake per head per ride…).

When it comes to words in my offerings/rituals, I generally prefer to speak extemporaneously in order to be sure it’s from the heart – that intuitiveness again – with at most an outline of what I need to say in mind going in.

My words to Charon needed to essentially be that five years ago I had snuck into Hell behind his back, and I was sorry for not paying him honestly up front, and would he please accept my payment now, along with my apology. Basically I just wanted to square up my account with him, monetarily and morally, so that I could offer payment at the appropriate time for my trip across the river to get out and have a reasonable assurance it would be accepted.

Fini

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Sunset on the River Styx by Dustin Panzino

We’ve all had moments where we wandered into Hell without realizing it. This struck me as an amazing way to end this cycle, make sure due has been paid and that one can bring themselves back to life. Charon is not unsympathetic to those who make the journey with him across the river and he knows that the living can’t stay in the land of the dead forever. But your must have your coin and you must acknowledge his role in this journey and when you’ve found yourself on the wrong side of the river, who else can bring you back?

The Gods Walk in New Orleans

I recently submitted a piece for an anthology about personal experiences with deity. The anthology didn’t end up happening (for lack of submissions), so I thought that I would post my piece here.

The Gods Walk in New Orleans

I don’t know about elsewhere, but the Gods walk around New Orleans like it’s nothing new. Let me tell you a story…

I woke up from a lazy Sunday afternoon nap, listening to my significant other work on a new song that he’s writing. This is the end of the time that he spends at home with me. For four months of the summer he’s gone, singing for people that I’ll never meet. He likes to use this time to prepare new songs and stories to tell. It’s always a pleasure for me to listen to him from other rooms, while he’s creating magic with his music. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but I know that these are things that I could never do. I’m fascinated by how easily he puts notes and chords together to create something entirely new. Poetry pours from him in waves that he either uses or discards without any thought that these words might never come back to him.

I woke up knowing that he had someone else in the studio working with him. The woman was singing with him and every now and again, she paused to murmur something too low for me to catch. I had fallen asleep earlier in the afternoon and had slept hard. He hadn’t told me that anyone was coming over, but since it was Sunday and he was working on the new album, I assumed that he must have been able to get a hold of someone to do some vocals for him.

I was buried under my great aunt’s afghan in the air conditioning and I was frozen in indecision. I was stark naked. We live in a shotgun apartment in New Orleans. If you’ve never been in a shotgun apartment, they’re a series of four or five rooms that run all in a line. If you want to get to the back of the house from the front, you have to walk through all the rooms in-between to get there. I was worried that this unknown person might need something to drink or to use the restroom and would have to walk through our bedroom to do so. Usually, being naked around people doesn’t bother me, but when it’s a stranger and I’ve had no warning of their presence, I prefer to be clothed.

I finally decided that instead of risking getting up and flashing whoever this poor, unsuspecting person was, I would remain under the blanket and sleep a little longer. It was Sunday afternoon after all and I had already indulged in an indecently long nap, why not snooze a little more? Maybe by the time I woke up again, they would be done working on the song and whoever it was would have left. The woman’s voice was soothing and my lover’s guitar strumming was softer than it might be, so I drifted back to sleep listening to the woman and my lover sing together.

I woke up a couple of hours later to realize that he was still working on the song, but the woman, whoever she was, had gone. I felt a sense of irrational disappointment. I had enjoyed sleeping to the music they made together. I got up, put on some comfortable clothes, and pulled out a book to while away the rest of the beautiful New Orleans Spring Night. The house was quiet and peaceful. There was nothing at all rushed and hurried about that long Sunday afternoon.

My partner made us dinner and we re-watched a movie that has always been one of my favorites. Somehow the topic of the afternoon came up. I asked him who he had found to work with him on the new song. He gave me a baffled look. “No one was here, baby, I was working on a song about the Goddess Diana…”

This is not the first time I’ve experienced the Gods and other spirits walking in our house. A whole slew of fairies live in the same studio that my lover sang with a Goddess in. My shiny hair pins and bits of jewelry disappear constantly, only to reappear months later. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night paralyzed with fear, realizing that something is in bed with me. At first I usually think that the cat has decided to come sleep with us, and then I realize that no cat moves or breathes like that. It’s a feeling akin to that which I felt as a little girl waking up from the nightmare and KNOWING that there was something sitting in the closet staring at me. And who knows? Maybe there was… The cat regularly plays tag with and talks to things that I can’t see. Invisible beings perch on my knees and sit with me as I read. Every now and again something bites me in a teasing manner. I think they know that I don’t like them. It’s difficult living in a house with fairies when you don’t necessarily appreciate them.

I meet Baron Samedi on the streets of the Quarter regularly. He peers out at me from the people who carry him with them. Occasionally a tall, skinny man in a top hat, with a skull face winks at me as he strolls by. When our house was robbed by the teenagers across the street, my lover and I offered blood to the Baron to watch over us and to give back threefold what had been done to us. He knows me now, in ways that others do not. I often worry about what other price we might end up paying.

My father used to tell me a story when I was a little girl, about when his appendix ruptured and all that he knew was that he was very sick. He likes to reminisce about waking up to see a faceless figure robed in grey sitting in the chair next to his bed. He said that that’s when he knew that it was time to go to the hospital. When I ask him how he felt about Death sitting with him, he piffles at me and says, “That? That was my guardian angel watching over me”. Maybe my father is right, maybe Death is his guardian angel. He still tells me that he talks to Death regularly and that Death always listens. Maybe the Death that my father knows and my Baron Samedi are familiar with each other and pass back and forth their knowledge of my father and I like two old men playing dice.

New Orleans is a magical place: it is an old place. Ghosts walk the streets of the Quarter amongst the strolling tourists. The LaLaurie mansion sits on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls. The house, supposedly one of the most haunted houses in America, seems to decide how it would like people to perceive it. There are days that I walk past it and it looms ominously over the rest of the street with a chill, forbidding air. Other days I pass by it and don’t realize that I didn’t notice it at all. Tourists regularly run into the Verti Marte, the little sandwich and grocery shop across the way, pleading with the people behind the desk to call 911 and tell them about a little girl that has fallen off the roof across the street. The grocers shrug their shoulders and tell the people to either buy something or to get out. She died nearly three hundred years ago, after all.

I like to walk up to the shore of the Mississippi. I spoke to Santa Muerte one night and she made her refusal plain by burning the candle, the wood beads, the chocolate and everything else that I had brought as offerings to her. My partner works with and regularly calls down the God Herne. His eyes change colors and his breath smells like new grass and my lover is no longer at home in his own body. The weather witches talk about leaving offerings to the Lady of Lake Pontchartrain. It is only when she is appeased that we don’t have hurricanes. Pontchartrain is easily forgotten by me, someone who didn’t grow up on her shores, but I know that she is always there. It was only six years ago that she rose up and took 11,000 lives. Those dead sleep restlessly in our cemeteries. They are awaiting the day where they can get up and walk about once more. Whenever I pass through one of their resting places, I leave an offering in hopes that when that day comes, they remember me and pass me by.

I thought that I was prepared for New Orleans when I moved here. But how can you be prepared for standing in the middle of the swamp and listening to a Voodoo Mamba wail into the night? The swamps of New Orleans are not like the forests that I grew up in. In some ways they are much more sinister, in others they are much more inviting. I have always heard stories of Will-O-the-Wisps, but never lived somewhere where I expected to see them. Here I do. New Orleans has opened up the world of that other place for me. Do the Gods walk elsewhere? I’m sure they do, but not in the ways they do here. Here they are almost like everybody else, busy doing their work and sometimes saying hello when they pass by…