Monday, December 14, 2009

Working With the Spirits

A Preface to Druidic Spirit Arte
It is my intention to outline a method of magical practice that allows the operator to make personal alliances and agreements with specific members of the Host of Spirits. It is Our Druidic custom to regularly honor and offer to the beings of the spiritual worlds in three categories, which we call the Kindreds – the Gods, the Dead and the ‘Spirits’. This latter is an indistinct category that includes what heathens call wights and trolls, what Hellenes might call daemons, what the Gaels called the Daoine Sidhe – the People of the Mound, and, functionally, what later mythology and magic came to call angels and demons. Traditional magical arte as it comes down to us through the European Middle Ages, and as we see it in polytheistic cultures, involves communication and alliance with beings of these latter two categories – the Dead and the Spirits, done under the protection and presidency of one or more of the Gods.
Many Pagans have been rather ‘put off’ by the systems of spirit magic presented in the grimoire tradition. Written within the Christian mythology, the Landspirits, Ancestors and Daemons of the Pagan magician became pawns in the imagined war between good and evil. Magic based on contact with the ‘evil’ side of the spirits came to seem tainted and treacherous. Later grimoires often use an adversarial approach to the spirits that has made those systems seem unPagan and unpalatable.
When restored to a less dualistic Pagan perspective, the methods prescribed in the grimoires are plainly an inheritance from the pre-Christian magic of the late classical world. We find plain parallels between the methods of the Graeco-Egyptian books of spells from 100ce and French grimoires of the 1700s. This is enough to interest me in abstracting the methods of classic European spirit arte into a northern cultural setting and giving it a try.
The Grimoiric Formulae
There are several basic patterns I see within this style of magic.
• Personal authority: Conjuration works because the conjuror has developed sufficient ‘authority’ among the spirits to be taken seriously by them. Developing this authority is a process of purification and mental training, the regular performance of rites of personal empowerment and protection, a sacrificial relationship with the Gods and Spirits and, many say, the making of a personal alliance with a herald or gatekeeper spirit who may or may not be the personal genius.
• Hierarchical authority: By making alliance with the mightiest spirits in a region one gains greater authority to deal with minor spirits who can actually work in the world. The Great Queens and Nobles of the Others are deep in their courts, not very concerned with mortal matters. They can, however, direct the spirits of local lands to aid the magician. Magical tradition tells us that it is the local spirits who actually have power over local events, luck, fertility, etc. The Magician works to gain the blessing of the Gods in herself, and by that blessing deals with the rulers of the Nobles, who aid us in dealing with the local clans.
• Formal practice: The spirits are to be taken seriously, and dealt with as though with the envoys of a different tribe, with respect and caution. The magician’s personal authority is only as good as his protections, and care is taken against the proverbial deceits and misunderstandings of the spirits. A conjuring is a pretty formal working (at least for initial contacts) that honors the spirit(s) while attempting to constrain them to harmlessness. Grimoire magic is the inheritor of ‘ritual magic’ from the ancient world, and it’s all pretty high church, as ancient magic goes.
• Specific conjuration: The spirits are a motley host of beings of various kinds. The grimoiric systems make several kinds of effort to specify the spirits that are actually conjured. At the most specific we find the address-book approach of the later Solomonic books, with call-signs and names for various related hosts of spirits. We find the free-form version of this in the traditions of the Liber Spirituum, though even there the conjuror may be working from a pre-existing list. At perhaps the other end of the spectrum we find some of the GEM formulas, which simply ask/tell the God to send his daimons to accomplish the magical goal. Even there the kind of spirit is focused by being (I assume) daimons of a God proper to your intention, and thus of a similar nature. At least the Mathers edition of the Greater Key (I haven’t yet seen the more scholastic modern editions) contains instructions for the invitation of a Host of Spirits, from which the magician finds his allies. It is this last formula that I decided to use in an effort to make the acquaintance of the wights of the land and the local Otherworld.
The Nature of the Spirits
In Our Druidry we have had a pretty clear understanding of the kinds of spirits we call the Gods and the Dead. It has been rather more difficult to clearly place ‘landspirits’ in an ancient context. It is easy for moderns to address ‘nature spirits’ as the spirit reality of natural species and objects – stone and stream, bird and beast. What we have been less willing to address is the huge category of… Others… of non-human, non-animal powerful spirits that is obviously present in ancient understanding.
For the Hellenes it was the daimons that carried human offerings to the gods to whom they were offered, and the daimons who brought the blessings back to humans. If a figure appeared to a mortal as though a god, the common understanding would be that it was a daimon ‘of’ that deity. We Druids should be reminded here that our Three Kindreds remain just conventional categories. To the Hellenes, for instance gods, non-human messenger spirits and the dead could all fit in the category of ‘daimon’.
The Gaelic category of the Daoine Sidhe actually fits very neatly with this southern model. The scribes of the Irish tales resolutely refused to depict Pagan religion, and so we don’t know whether the Sidhe had the place of daimons in ritual theory. However in other wasys the resemblance is striking. In the Book of Invasions (as close as we have to Gaelic mythology) the Tuatha De Danann, the divine race, includes both the great family, eldest and mightiest, that we call the gods, but also the hosts of lesser beings, some still very mighty, some less so. It is these less-than-deific beings who become the servants and messengers, the armies and hunters and reapers, who serve the gods. These are the beings that the tales refer to when they say that the Tuatha De took residence within the land. These beings are perhaps not, themselves, the genii loci of the hill, they are the ‘daimons’ who dwell there, helping to manage the local spiritual ecology. In addition to all this, the spirits of the mortal dead are also within the Gaelic Sidhe conception. The Gods, the Noble Ones and the Mighty Dead are, all together, the Sidhe in the way that all those categories can be daimons.
As to whether the Tuatha De hosts are identical with the animistic spirits of stone and stream, bird and beast, I think the answers vary. I think there are old spirits that precede even the Nobles in the land, and certainly there are those beings who stood against the gods in the first days, but now serve the World Order. If we were to look for a hierarchical model we might find these down-to-specifics spirits to be the third-function ‘yeomen’ of the Noble Court.
A medieval hierarchic depiction of the Other Court is common in Gaelic folklore. Kings and Queens, knights and nobles, and the host of ‘little people’ that join in the rades and processions, and make their dwellings under hedges and at hearths, all appear in the tales. We might, if we wished, employ a simple three- or four-tiered system. We might imagine a local pair as Chiefs, or King and Queen of a region or category, and serving them the Other Druids and poets, then Warriors and knights, and then a much larger company of Landkeepers, the spirits we commonly address as Landwights or ‘nature spirits’. Speculative indeed for anyone of a reconstructionist bent, but nicely in line with the tradition of spirit-arte.
I find myself in moderately surprised agreement about the descent of some of the ‘demons’ of the later grimoires from spirits of the GE sources, and find the modern grimoire tradition’s willingness to insert-divine-authority-figure-here very freeing for my intention. I’ve also been finding what there is to find about ‘fairy evocation’ in the new wave of grimoire publishing (bless ‘em all). I am intrigued that Oberion is the name of a king of the Nobles well before Shakespeare re-spells it.
Druidic Sidhe Evocation
So, that is the model I take in devising a basic rite of spirit alliance in a Druidic context. I will gather my Allies around me, especially my animal ally and my teacher among the Dead, but all beneath my divine patrons. I will establish authority and respect by making the proper offerings to the Gods and gaining their aid, then invoke the presence of the local wights, the Host of the Sidhe. Offering and praise for the King and Queen of the locals… perhaps they appear. Specific spirits are then invited to name themselves and make a deal about availability for aid. The conjuror might use a divination tool to speak with the spirits, or use direct Sight. In this way the conjuror begins a list of minor allies and makes deals with the spirits, creating a Liber Spirituum of new names and signs, perhaps.
The grimoires customarily describe the preparatory rites required for the work. I will adopt a three-day prep period (again, this is for the work of making initial contacts – later practical applications are much simpler). During these days the operator will complete and hallow any special signs or tools, make a preliminary offering to the genius locus of the immediate site of the working and fully preparing the site and tools.
Assuming that the operator is regularly working a Gaelic year-cult the Gods of the rite will be familiar. I have chosen Brigid and Lugh because of the powerful protective charm available as the Cloak and Spear. Offerings are also made to Aine and Aengus Og, both described as rulers of the Daoine Sidhe (the folk of the mound). In our usual Druidic ritual form the offerings are made and then a blessing cup is drunk, preparing the operator with the power of those gods.
This work assumes that the Druid has developed the skill of opening an Inner Eye or Second Sight, to get at least glimpses and reflections of the presences of the Spirits. From a northern perspective this work is not unlike a work of seid, in which trance and vision are used to enable commerce with the spirits. When we conjure to visible appearance, in this way, we bring the spirits into forms visible to our Vision Eye.
Enflamed with the Gods’ blessing the operator makes the call to the Host of Spirits, opens the Inner Eye and observes the gathering that comes to her Fire. From this crew she will seek to find her first small group of allies. This requires that she keep her authority firmly around her, speaking to and with the wights in a firm, respectful but masterful tone. While we may know that on many levels the spirits are greater than us, in this case the Druid is seated at her own Fire, which has claimed the space. In this place the Druid is the chief, and those spirits who are willing to come into that space are probably those willing to acknowledge that. Of course the Druid will be prepared with his talismans of protection, signs of authority and plenty of rowan wood for the fire if needed.
Oh yes – the method does not, at this time, call for the drawing of a circle. The protections described above, and the presences of the allies, especially the overlooking power of the patrons, are considered sufficient for a magician who already has a sacrificial relationship with the spirits. Of course the Wand can be used at any time to drawn a circle if needed, but the light of the properly blessed Fire, extending equally in all directions defines the Druid’s sphere of authority, and the sacrifices ensure a hospitality-bond with the spirits who approach.
The Druid calls for and treats with a few of the spirits, determining what sort of pact can be struck between them. In this the Druid does not act so much as master but as one of two partners in a fair deal. Both the Spirit and the Druid must gain from the bargain, with the spirit getting an innate benefit from contact with a human and our mind, and we getting innate benefit from the power and perspective of the spirit. Beyond that it is proper for the Druid to agree to a certain sort of offering to the Spirit, either when the spirit’s services are needed, or more regularly if there is to be a familiar relationship. In this the Druid must show discretion – swear carefully, when the pact is made, and never promise any offering that seems improper. It may be that some spirits will not be fit for any specific magician, though the next may get a different offer.
The result is that the Druid ends with a short list of (potential) allies. She should know their names, or name that can be used, and perhaps have received a call-sign from them, though a ‘sigil’ can be produced by the Fionn’s Window method, or however seems proper. She will have questioned them as to their station and nature, and what sorts of works they are willing to do. All this should be recorded in some way, whether an (undruidic, perhaps) book or written on stones or bark or whatever…
Working with the Spirits
With this first conjuring done the Druid has a few allies among the spirits. According to what powers his allies offer, he can begin to work with them for practical and spiritual goals. I’ve been interested in the various kinds of goetic rites for working with spirits that have been conjured. My version as given will owe a good deal to the work of Rufus Opus and Inominandum. By arranging the sigil and giving the proper offering, the spirit is available.
It’s a very Pagan-feeling thing to make eidola for these smaller spirits. By giving them a dwelling on or by your Shrine, they can be honored regularly, and addressed as needed. For me this is a fine opportunity for handicrafts, making little idols of clay and wood. Of course a variety of other ‘containers’ might be made, from the ‘brass vessel’ of Solomon’s tale to a spirit house for hearth-wights, to simple river stones given by the spirit itself and perhaps charged with the sigil. All of these are ways to bring these spirits more directly into your own sphere. Making contact with a spirit housed in this way can be by as simple a gesture as burning the right offering before them and calling their name.
I am also interested in a simpler sort of spirit-art charm, in which the daimons are convoked, and then ‘instructed’ in the intent of a spell using the usual combinations of words and symbols. This method should be doable with rather less peril and formality than dealing with individual spirits and making deals. The offerings given in the rite itself are what are offered, to those spirits who will work the operator’s will, with no longer-term pact required. Methods of this sort should be accessible even to only basically-trained Pagans.
The Project
So, it is my intention to finish expanding and refining the evocation material from Sacred Fire, Holy Well into a working grimoire for the convocation of and alliance with wights of the Sidhe in your region. I’m well into the project, and the method could be used now by someone familiar with our Druidic ritual. I’ll be fleshing it out in that style as well, while including cues for replacing our idiosyncratic rites with those of the operator’s choice.
Am I doing this while continuing my progress on the Nine Moons? Yes, yes I am… In fact by the time this work is done we will be well along in the Nine Moons program ourselves, and all brushed-up on skills and alliances, ready to undertake the work in the spring or summer. I really want to do it outside on this land, probably in our nemeton. So, if I begin reviewing and prepping it all here in the dark half, I should be ready to go by Beltaine or so.
Presently I have assembled the basics into a short grimoire-style document of about 12,000 words. Soon I’ll make that document available through a link here. I invite comments and, of course, experiment with the system. If you work with it this winter you’d be getting ahead of me, as I clean and press my alliances with the Kindreds through the Nine Moons work. In the meantime I’m interested in comment on the spirit-model above, as well as the ritual methods themselves.


druidkirk said...

This is all very interesting, and thought provoking. I have always had trouble relating to the Land Spirits (though I do already have one firm Spirit Ally) and nothing for the ones here in my new location. I'd be very interested in trying out your methods in a systematic way (rather than the haphazard ways I've been discovering things) to see where it takes me. I'd really like to create strong alliances with the local spirits here in Trout Lake.

IanC said...

kirk, I'd recommend using the daily sidhe offering from the first moon of the Nine Moons, at first, and I think I posted my notion of building a cairn for the landwights on this blog already.