Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Work with the Spirits

It's not my habit to brag about my magical work, or really to expose much of my personal practice here on el bloggo. However, I felt an urge to do a 'journal entry' and maybe a bit of self-introduction and history. If there's a lesson, it's that 35 years of intermittent effort can produce a result every bit as good as ten years of focused training...

I’ve been a working magician, in various ways, for some 35 years, not counting stupid teen experiments. In that time I’ve worked as a priest and invocator, as a designer and leader of group theurgic rituals, as a diviner (more so early, less so more recently), and as a spellbinder. Most of my spellwork over the years has concerned financial need and general protection and blessing, occasional uncrossings, and of course the general year-blessings of the round of Pagan holidays. Most of my theurgic, or spiritual development, work has focused on relating to the presence of the divine in the persons of the many gods, and on visionary and symbolic work intended to organize and empower my own souls. Again, much of that work has been organized by the eightfold Neopagan calendar.

I have always understood magic to involve the alliance with spirits, whatever other sort of work I might have been doing. I have worked with ‘impersonal energies’ regularly throughout my life, and still consider the ability to stand wrapped in the Fire and Water important to magic. However my work has slowly but surely led me to the understanding that traditional magic in the west has always been about alliance with other beings - about pacts with the spirits. In recent months I’ve begun to teach simple summary workshops on the topic at festivals, based on my own Pagan Druidic perspective informed by other recent research and development, such as Jake Stratton-Kent’s approach.

So I thought that I would write about my work over the years. This is for my own sake as much as yours, because memory gets long, and I may as well get used to keeping it as I get older.

Working With Gods
Early Pagan Witchcraft was very focused on the Gods, however they might understand them. I began doing ritual out of Mastering Witchcraft, with its focus on the gods as powerful spirits whose power can be called on with the right calls. In the fashion of the time (for those who had no feel for Christianity) I became more religiously Witchy over the years. I was never really a Lady-and-Lord dualist, though. The traditional system in which I eventually worked had a specific constellation of deities, and I always viewed that as our particular ‘witch-cult’, not the sum total of the Gods.

Working with the gods meant learning invocation, and I learned from classical magic and theurgy. My mentors led me through both elemental and planetary self-empowerment rites, but at the same time we were working with the mythic forms of Gaelic lore. While I learned method from the former it was the latter that really captured my attention.

I have been applying theurgic and ceremonial methods to the invocation of the Gaelic gods and spirits for many years. To those who see a confusion is that, I assert that Grimoire magic holds a lineage of magical *practice forms* that are traceable Pagan in origin. While we may need to replace nearly all the mythic content of the grimoires, we can be confident that the ritual and invocatory skills taught in them are not very different from those practiced by a temple priest in Pagan Greece.

Using those skills I became the worshipper of several powerful deities of the Gaelic cultural complex. Lady Brighid remains the patron of our house, who once saved us from fire, and has inspired my work and weal these many years. Dagda Mor, especially as the Ruadh Rofessa (red lord of secret knowledge) and Manannan Mac Lir aid me as well. Being a fairly literal polytheist, I treat these as some among many. Our local year-cult honors a regular round of the deities, so that folks aren’t left honoring only the powers closest to them, but work in balance with the cycles.

While I don’t really petition the gods for specific works or favors much anymore, I do continue their worship. I feel that the blessing gained from this sort of regular attunement to the divine is a primary source of my authority (or whatever) among the spirits. With a goddess at my back I am armed in my armor and armed, as they say.

I experienced a major switch in my path at one point, completely discarding a previous ritual system for a new one. The good news for me is that I didn’t have to change my deities at all. The scholastic level of the old coven meshed nicely with the new form. So, I’ve been working with my central contacts for a long while.

1980s Shamanism
I had experimented with ‘rising in spirit vision’ and ‘pathworking’ in the Golden Dawn style early in my experiments. When Michael Harner published “Way of the Shaman” (the beginning of practical shamanism among western mages) in 1980 it looked like familiar stuff (pun unintended, but kept for the sake of not skippin’ ‘em). At the time I was working in a rigorous Witchcraft system looking for ways to move from ceremonial magic tropes to equally-powerful folkloric tropes. Shamanism was a great angle, and I used it in connection with deliberate summoning rites to make alliances with allies that I still work with today.

My alliances are with a Familiar/guide among what seem to be the Landwights, and a Teaching spirit from among the Dead. They have remained consistent, though unfolding, through all my work. Of course my own level of devotion, piety and/or diligence has varied widely in that time. Fortunately my commitment to the regular work of Pagan season mysteries means that I’m never too long between ritual occasions.

It was those early experiments that led to public alliance-rites done at a dozen or so festivals over several years. Those efforts have developed into a set of formal summoning-and-alliance rites. The results have convinced me that shamanic-style, vision-based evocation can have powerful and lasting results. While special-effects are always welcome in magic I find the ability to rise in vision and speak with the spirits to be entirely effective.

Gods, Dead & Sidhe
My big change of system was to move from a Western Magic/Witchcraft cosmos and ritual form into a new system of ‘Druidry’ based on research into ancient Euro-Pagan ritual forms (ADF, specifically). This meant abandoning the ‘four elements’ for a “Land/Sea/Sky & central Fire” cosmos. The designers of that system, of which I was eventually one, may have gone too far, early on, in tracking the baby and bathwater in what was kept and what discarded. There turn out to be fine Hellenic reasons for drawing a circle around a sacrifice ground, for instance. However the results have been very effective, with rites that resemble Indic yajna and puja rather than Masonry or the Mass. Those forms have been in use for the past 25 years in local congregations around N America.

The change made a huge difference, in time, to my work with the spirits in a Pagan Magic context. Our Druidic ritual is based on welcoming the Gods and Spirits in three classes – the Gods, the Dead and the Landwights, or Sidhe. We know these are permeable categories, but we use them as a simple way to be thorough in our offerings and honorings. What it meant for me is that I began to regularly make offerings, and lead offering rites, to the spirits. I’m here to tell you that if you do that sincerely, the spirits will answer.

For me that answering was mediated by my allies; first by the Goddess Brighid, whose inspiration is a fire unquenched. I also have been instructed, I think, by my Teacher among the Dead. What I’ve asked is how to work magical ritual for moderns using Druidic models and notions, and while the material I’ve produced has been somewhat idiosyncratic I think it could have a wider application for Pagans. The results are available in my newest book “The Book of Summoning”.

In the last couple of years, as I have felt this sense of inward tuition reach a fairly high mark, I have been working a formal set of empowerment and attunement rites that have bumped up my practice. In the course of formal rites to and with the Dead and the Landwights I have made two specific new alliances that are working well for me, while maintaining my long original pacts.

My Work Now
As I have become more intimate with my Familiars, I find myself less likely to ‘pray’ to the gods for an outcome, and more likely to ask an ally to aid me with it. I have developed a formula for asking the Familiar to find a spirit who can aid in a specific works. Thus far my results with this have been pretty good, including weather effects, household management and protection. My relationship with the Ancestral Teacher has progressed – where before the figure was shadowy and concealed, I now know name and form, and am in more direct conversation. Through the Teacher I am also developing contacts with what I see as spirits of those who served as priests and magicians in old times – druids, if you will. All of that continues to feed my stream of inspiration, one of my core goals.

Assuming that I get what I ask for, look to see more song-writing from me in coming times.

My work with the Gods continues. Led by my inspiration I am looking at what it would mean to work with daemones of the Gaelic gods. In an ongoing effort to work in the spirit model, it seems to me that ‘rays’ of ‘force’ from the god/desses can profitably be replaced by ‘legions’ of spirits.

This summer is busy. Do I say that every summer? Yes. Nevertheless, we mean to begin work on deepening our connection with local wights here on the land we keep. This should involve several formal evocations using the system I’ve worked. Expect news here as that occurs.

From a personal standpoint I have greatly enjoyed moving my magic practice from energy work toward spirit arte. Paganism teaches relationship, between people, between humans and the land, between humans and the spirits. Impersonal energies cannot respond to relationship. In the common world we have changed from depending on one another for our daily support to depending on machines. Rather than keep relationship with a servant or employer, rather than knowing the teller at the bank-window, we rely on impersonal devices to do our will at will. It seems to me that we might want to avoid making that happen in our spiritual and magical work as well.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. It was really interesting and helpful in terms of showing me how someone has grown. I also learned that we have the same patrons! No wonder I'm so drawn to your work. ;)

Grey Catsidhe

Anonymous said...

The designers of that system, of which I was eventually one, may have gone too far, early on, in tracking the baby and bathwater in what was kept and what discarded. There turn out to be fine Hellenic reasons for drawing a circle around a sacrifice ground, for instance.

I suspect that a need for us to be 'different' from other Paganisms may have had something to do with this. I know that in my studies of sacred space it appears that such places were usually marked out physically with ditches and other boundary markers. Of course, the casting of circles is done normally in non-permanent spaces, and the ditch-works created in permanent ones, but I honestly don't see much difference, really. I still value our need to be different, but my ideas on this subject keep evolving.