Friday, November 4, 2011

Pagan Spirit Arte in Outline

I have been working to develop ritual methods of spirit-contact in a Gaelic or northern mythic system, using both lore from northern folkways and the outlines passed from classical Greece and Rome in the grimoires. The result, so far, is The Book of Summoning. I’m sure that it isn’t Gaelic enough for hard reconstructionists, but it is probably too Gaelic to be workable by folks focused on other mythic systems without changes. I’ve had a couple of requests for notes on how the system might be reworked for other cultural models, so here we go with some. I dunno how focused this will be, though it is getting more than one draft.

1: The Pagan magical approach centers on the interaction between humans and spirits. While ‘energy work’ models appear in some Pagan systems, it is much more common for magicians to accomplish our work by making alliances and arrangements with specific spirit beings.
A: Animism: The magician often works with very down-to-earth spirits, those indwelling plants and stones, streams and hills and trees.
B: The Dead: The spirits of the Ancestors and, more broadly, of the human Dead are central to classical (and probably Indo-European) magical methods.
C: The Gods: Classical magic is often (even usually) performed under the patronage or presidency of one or more spirits of the class called ‘deities’. These are conceived to be cosmic spirits of high power and wisdom, and specifically those who have been the friends and allies of mortals over the centuries. Some systems tend to put all magical work under a ‘God of Magic’, but special works under specific other gods are also common.

One of the primary tasks in approaching the spirit magic of a culture is to determine their categories of spirits, and understand the local and culturally unique ideas surrounding them. While those working an IE system can probably deal with the Druidic Three Kindreds of Gods, Dead and Wights I don’t know how well that transposes to a Semitic or Central Asian model. Also, the category of ‘Wights’ opens out into a vast mythological scape, from little plant dudes to mighty daemons of the stars.

In practice it can be quite difficult to discern the Landwights from the Dead. For much practical magic these categories become conflated as ‘the Spirits’. Again, specific cultures will parse this in different ways, and knowing those specifics will allow the mage to customize the poetry and words of calling.

2: Several basic principles underlie all spirit-arte:
A: Reciprocity:
The relationship between mortals and the spirits is one of give-and-take. The magician makes offerings and gains the aid of spirits, spirits aid mortals and gain the benefit of offerings. This applies from the smallest herb-imp to the gods themselves.
Here folkloric methods are very valuable. Approaching the Spirits in the ways of their ancestors will only make them more likely to answer.
B: Hierarchy: The spirits are arranged by type, and are each and all part of a moving, flowing pattern in which the greater drives the lesser and the lesser executes the will of the greater. Therefore the magician makes alliances with mighty powers, such as the gods, and by the gods meets the kings and queens of spirits, and by the sovereigns meets the knights and laborers of the Courts of Spirits.
C: Authority: The magician is able to deal safely with the Spirits by developing a degree of personal strength, and thus of personal authority. This is of two kinds – personal power, derived from the talents deeds and skills of the magician, and borrowed power, gained by alliance with mighty beings.

It is also true to say that some types of spirit-magic work with humility. The householder who needs to work a trick may be more likely to pray humbly, or cajole with gifts, than to command by authority. The system I've written, however is written for the Druid, a high-status priest with authority among the spirits. Your juju may vary.

3: There are several basic practices that seem nearly universal in Pagan spirit-arte:
A: Sacrifice:
The mystery of sacrifice is the giving of honor and offering to the spirits, and the receiving of aid and blessing in return. Every culture will have traditional methods of accomplishing this work. The magician must carefully create a model of personal sacrifice that she is fully competent at. It is proper to say that the spirit-arte mage must be able to function as a priest of his chosen system.
B: Entrancement: Whether deliberate or unstated, when the spirits speak, consciousness is, and has been, altered. It is good for the magician to be able to alter awareness at will, the better to allow the voice and form of the spirits to appear.
C: Alliance: The magician makes primary alliances with a short list of specific spirits, often beginning with a god, but including a variety of spirits. Cultural models will indicate what kinds of spirits commonly ally with magicians.

4: Several basic preparations precede formal work:
A: The Magician’s Shrine:
A temple, glade, room, corner, dresser-top etc. is set aside, according to the magician’s resources, to be used as the site of magical work. This is equipped with all the symbols and vessels needed to work a full sacrifice in its tradition.

Incidentally, please note that I’m describing a ‘high magic’ paradigm here. I’m aware that some folkloric spirit-arte manages without the trappings of temple and tools – mostly. However, folkloric systems usually rely on being able to snag bits from existing religious systems – holy water, candles, talismans, sneaking objects into saint’s-day masses, etc. As Pagans we have no such luck, and so, where the old instructions say ‘attend mass’ or ‘have a Mass of the Holy Ghost said’, we must be prepared to work our own sacrifice, and get our own blessing. Thus, we need a temple and the skills of a ritual priest.
B: Personal Tools of Power. In many European cultures these are especially a wand or scepter or, more recently, a sword or dagger. The notion here is a tool that represents the personal power – or indwelling divinity, if you like – of the mage. The form of these will be determined by the culture at hand.

C: Consecration and Activation Rites: All these things are properly blessed. Of course devising proper blessing and purification rites per culture-of-choice is an important preliminary work.

5: The magician develops personal power through preliminary rites.
A: Purifications and Empowerments:
A round of preliminary rites, including work to cleanse the magician of ill, and improve peace and luck.
B: Regular worship of the Gods & Spirits: a steady round of offerings, seeking basic blessing and empowerment. A round of seasonal or calendrical rites, attuning the magician to the land, (or stars, or saints, or whatever external cosmic power) is also worthwhile.
C: Creation of a Talisman of Protection: The most immediate of the direct protections.
D: Initial Convocation and Attunement Rites: In the system I'm writing for the spirits are called in general as the Dead and the Landwights. Various ethnicities will have various categories. In any case specific ‘Audience’ rites should be devised, to introduce the mage to the spirits en masse. These will take the form of a formal sacrifice to the category (i.e. the Dead or the Sidhe, or whatever cultural terms make sense), with the intention of inducing the vision and voice of the convoked collective of those spirits. The mage seeks an Audience, in which the spirits see him and he sees the spirits.

6: The Magician makes alliances with specific ally spirits. Here the choices should be closely matched to the system in which the mage works. For Northerners alliances with the Dead and the Landwights seem completely proper. However, those broad categories have so many subsets and specific types that I found myself spending a chapter parsing them in my book. Research into cultural specifics is mandatory here. The goal is to find spirits that are partial to human alliance, while being powerful enough to be of help.
A: Outline of a Conjuring Rite
• Establishment of Space; including preliminary purifications and protections
• Engagement with the Otherworld – or with personal power and authority as the system conceives it.
• Sacrifice to the God Proper to the Work. In initial alliance rites it is advisable to place the work under the presidency of a deity. In most cultures a God of Magicians will be the proper choice, or a psychopomp or perhaps the traditional ‘King’ of a class of spirits, such as Freyr for the Alfar.
• Calling to the Host of Spirits. The Spirits are convoked as in the Audience rites, and the mage proclaims willingness to make alliance. The Book of Summoning gives a method for ‘thinning the crowd’, asking those unwilling to depart. Offerings given, but also promised.
• Calling the Ally. The mage converses with the spirits (by rising in vision, in the book’s system) and an ally becomes available. If all goes well, the magician learns a name, a proper offering and a bit about the Ally’s nature.

• Binding and Charging the Ally. The binding is by oath, binding upon both the mage and the spirit. The charge details the conditions under which the mage will call the spirit and how the spirit will respond.

7: Working With the Spirits. With the alliance(s) made the mage takes up maintenance work, devising a regular offering that keeps him in conversation with the allies, and allows the development of further alliances, and one-shot spirit workings as well.

To summarize:
1: Know your system – the Gods and categories of Spirits, the nature of magical power and the ways of acquiring it, the forms of ritual worship and magic.
2: Gather your power – Purify the body and mind, focus your intention and gain the general blessing and goodwill of the Gods and Spirits.
3: Call the Spirits – make a place for them, offer them gifts and benefit, and deal with them in honor and trust.

I hope that is of some use to those who want to rework my Pagan Spirit Arte models for non-Celtic systems. May you be blessed in the work.


Dave said...

Hi Ian,

I've been a member of ADF for a couple of years now but have yet to really get going with any of the training material or doing any meaningful rituals.

None of the IE cultures really have been clicking for me and I've been wondering, do you need a culture? I mean, I get the advantages of one and the disadvantages of not having one, but I was wondering if not having one would even be workable?

See, I've been doing a lot of reading. Read a lot of the articles online, a couple of books here and there, and visited some members' pages for a while. I can't really get a feel for any of the cultures though.

I tried looking into the American group but got turned off when a lot of it turned out to be about politics and kind of installing a state cult after the fact. Just didn't jive well. My apologies to them if I'm misreading them.

I also researched the book, "The Nine Nations of North America" as a possibility for a less politically oriented American hearth culture but came up empty.

I was just wondering if you could offer any advice about working in a hearth culture that you don't really connect to (assuming I just pick one for the sake of having one as a model to follow) or if you think it'd be viable to use ADF culture as a hearth culture?

Like just follow the COoR w/ any additional cultural specifics, and how I could work around and/or with that if I wanted to do the DP?

Thanks in advance for your help,


IanC said...

Hi Dave.

To start with a direct answer, I'd advise you to choose a specific culture and use it as a thought experiment. Perhaps choose a deity or legendary figure that excites you, and let that guide you to its culture.

The risk in using our outline without a cultural context is in reducing the Gods and Spirits to mere categories of idea. The Gatekeeper is not just 'a divinity that keeps the Gate', he is the MacLir, or Hermes, or Agni, with all the story and cultural depth they bring. Our Order of Ritual is a pretty bare-bones thing without the meat of an actual human culture on it.

Personally, I expect that in time there will be plainly North American polytheistic, animistic paths, some of them grown from Neopagan roots. As a first-gen NA Pagan, I encourage us to cling to memory of the Old Ways as they were practiced for as long as we can. It's also worthwhile to practice what we can of them, letting them get a place in us by habit, and our children growing up watching us light the fire and make the offerings.

By using the methods and symbols of known ancient polytheism we make the connection with the Gods and Spirits. From there, we will be taught by them. In your case, if you start out with a culture or pantheon and it isn't a proper way for you, the Gods and Spirits are likely to help you along to a better one. I've seen it happen often enough.

Dave said...

"To start with a direct answer, I'd advise you to choose a specific culture and use it as a thought experiment."

Can do.

"The risk in using our outline without a cultural context is in reducing the Gods and Spirits to mere categories of idea."

That makes sense.

"By using the methods and symbols of known ancient polytheism we make the connection with the Gods and Spirits. From there, we will be taught by them."

Again, that makes sense.

"In your case, if you start out with a culture or pantheon and it isn't a proper way for you, the Gods and Spirits are likely to help you along to a better one. I've seen it happen often enough."

Thanks for the advice, I'll give it a shot and see how it goes.

V.V.F. said...

Looking forward to reading your book soon, Ian.

And, if I may: where do people get those little cross-armed idols in your first photo? I've seen photos of the real statue before, but I can't remember what it's called...

IanC said...

That image is based on the "Boa Island Janus", in Connaught, I think. It's debated as to whether it's a saint or an Iron-age deity, but it has a very archaic, La Tene feel.

I found that image at the Ohio Scottish Games at a vendor I've never seen again. Nor have I found the image reproduced elsewhere. I only wish I'd bought the big Turoe stone...

Hope you enjoy the Book.