Mirth and Reverence: Finding the balance

Wow! Almost a full year since my last blog entry, how embarrassing!

I would feel more lazy if it weren’t for the fact that I know I have been busy in the last twelve months and have achieved some accomplishments in life that were long overdue. I am now a non-smoker, a qualified hairdresser, have a new job and have undergone some important developments in my spiritual life. I’ve been getting my shit together, in other words!

As I am settling into my life’s next chapter, I hope to be able to spare the time to write a little more frequently than I have been. I’m just going to jump straight into this one. The title for this blog entry is inspired by that famous piece of Craft liturgy, the Charge of the Goddess. Whilst I am coming at this from a Wiccan angle, being Wiccan myself, the topic of this post is one that concerns most magical practitioners.

In the Charge, the Goddess encourages that there be mirth and reverence within us. Basically, there is a time to let your hair down and have a laugh, make merry and party, and there is also a time for serious, solemn reverence and awe for the divine, for the powers that be, for life and death and love and sex, the universe, etc. That is how I have always interpreted it, anyhow, and analysing these words and this passage from the Charge is not my concern for this post.

My focus is this: A balance between mirth and reverence in ritual is very important. I’ve worked with various covens over the years and in my own very personal experience have found that upsetting this sometimes fragile balance can make or break a ritual. Maybe I’m too old school and serious a ritualist, but for me personally, it has more often been a case of too much mirth ruining a ritual, than reverence. I feel that jokes and laughter are fine and dandy at the conclusion of a rite, following cakes and wine when everyone is chilling out, but as a general rule, cracking jokes when participants are midst magic is asking for failure. I find nothing more distracting from my intent and magical focus in ritual than a sudden reference to pop culture, or other aspect of the outside, mundane world (that isn’t connected to the purpose of the magic).

I’ve been contemplating this recently, and I don’t actually think there is such a thing as too much reverence in a ritual, but there can definitely be too much mirth in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a miserable person, I love to laugh and enjoy making other people laugh. Just not in ritual.

Finding this balance is just one of the many lessons and challenges we face in working ritual with others. Group dynamics and personalities are complex, funny things.

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“Energy” in Magic.

Journey #3 greeting card“Holy Fire, Panel 1” by the psychadelic Alex Grey

 

I was recently reminded of an interesting discussion that I found myself in a few weeks ago with a couple of friends of mine about the whole concept of “energy” in magic, and I would like to share some of my thoughts and views on the subject here.

It is necessary to point out that these friends of mine mainly practice folk magic. Largely Hoodoo – that 19th century African American organically grown system of effective and practical magic that works extensively with herbs and roots and operates from a Christian worldview. Hoodoo makes use of magical herbal folklore from African, European and Native American traditions. It also has influences from mystical Judaism and European medieval grimoires. Christian prayer and The Holy Bible are used extensively, particularly with the recitation of the psalms (with different psalms being deemed appropriate for different situations) although other Bible passages are also used (a classic example being “The Song of Solomon” in love workings). Hoodoo has a reputation for working well and bringing successful results (one of the main reasons I feel it has become so popular outside of the USA, such as here in the UK).

I have been practising Hoodoo myself for a few years now when I feel it is called for, but I am by no means an expert and I tend to just stick with the few techniques I know to work. These friends of mine practice their rootwork (one of the many alternative names you hear being used to refer to Hoodoo, other common terms being “Conjure” and often, simply “Spiritual Work”) on a professional basis for clients and I highly recommend you pay a visit to their website The Occult Consultancy. Their oil blends are powerful and gorgeous smelling and their emailed Tarot and other divination readings have knocked the socks off more than a few of their clients. Whilst Hoodoo could be argued to originally be most closely associated with African American folks attending Baptist Churches, there were also many Catholics who started using Hoodoo, often incorporating it with petitioning saints, and it is this Catholic flavoured Hoodoo that tends to be the practice of my friends (and myself, when I engage in it). I feel I should point out also, that petitioning saints in folk magic is not just a Hoodoo practice, it is much older than that and has been common in Catholic countries for centuries. If you are interested in Hoodoo, don’t know much about it and would like to know more, the single best online resource for information, hands down, would have to be Lucky Mojo.

To get back to the purpose of this post – the main magical practices of these friends of mine would fall into the categories of Hoodoo and European (and often Catholic) folk magic, with the occassional smattering of grimoiric influence. In other words, my friends don’t do “energy”. It isn’t a thing for them. Their approach to working magic, which has a long historical precedent (see Agrippa’s “Three Books of Occult Philosophy” and probably any grimoire or medieval magical text) is that this stuff works because it works. All the herbs and roots are made by God (because God made everything because he’s God!) and they each have different abilities. It is a case of gathering the suitable ingredients which are in harmony with your intent (the materials themselves are important, again a very classic and old world, traditional approach to magic found in all cultures, none of this “Oh, it’s just a prop or a tool” attitude you find amongst so many today). The ingredients are then worked with in some way: magical oil blends are made with the correct ingredients and prayed over, herbs and roots are stuffed into pouches (mojo bags or gris-gris bags) along with other magical ingredients – animal parts (like a chicken’s foot or raccoon penis bone, for instance) seals or talismans from grimoires (which are regarded as inherently powerful for the symbols and Hebrew names of God that are inscribed on them) and perhaps, a passage from the Bible written on a piece of paper along with a personal petition. All of these activities are done with prayer and intent. There is no “energy” concept, no symbols are traced in the air and visualised, no white (or blue, or green or any colour) of “energy” needs to be raised, felt or visualised emanating from your hands into your working. It’s all about combining the correct or suitable ingredients with strong faith and heartfelt prayer. Much European folk magic in general seems to work in this way.

Whilst familiar to a point, with the concept of “energy” that so many magical practitioners of modern Western systems and New Age practices speak of, my friends’ personal dealings with it were little to none. I then discussed some of my personal experiences over the years of the kinds of sensations and feelings of “energy” I experience when I engage in energetic work such as Chakra opening exercises and The Middle Pillar ritual. I mentioned the subtle feelings and tingles I get from crystals and the variations depending on different minerals, the sensations of power flowing through my body when working Craft based magic and how, when being attuned to Reiki Level One a few years ago, I became aware of strong heat and flowing forces circulating about me that were so palpable I could see moving circles in my mind’s eye mimicing the cyclic movement. The feeling of tightness I experienced in my head after the Reiki symbols had been traced in the air over me and that left me for an entire week afterwards with a strong spaced out feeling and that “ear popping” sensation you get when you are in a plane that is about to land.

Whilst I totally appreciate that the concept of a subtle force may well have been completely alien to the magic of many of our medieval European forbears (be they angel summoning magician or folksy down in the dirt cunning men and wise women) there is definitely an historical precedent for working with this “energy” in other parts of the world. Teachings on auras, subtle bodies and currents of invisible force that flow through our bodies in channels and can be controlled and projected from us humans have been in existence for centuries. Many cultures recognise this same “energy” as being found in all natural objects – trees, plants, rocks, rivers and the very earth itself, in flows and currents. In India we have terms such as prana and kundalini. In Hawai, mana (for some reason this particular label became very popular in a lot of sword and sorcery style fantasty role playing video games, as any geeks reading this may well be aware). To the Chinese, it is known as Chi and martial arts sudents the world over are introduced to this concept. The famous Czech Hermetic magician Franz Bardon was referring to this force when he spoke of “vital power” (“lebenskraft”) and electric and magnetic fluids (not to be confused with the usage of those terms in actual Physics!). In 1939, Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich discovered what he described as life-force or cosmic energy and labelled it Orgone and even went as far as to construct orgone accumulators. If you have a penchant for kooky looking gadgets, I’d definitely recommend googling those!

08-03-EternalFlow“Eternal Flow” by the awesome Rassouli

My knowledge of this subject is limited, but Asia appears to have the most detailed and sophisticated understanding of this topic. Tantric, Hindu, Buddhist, Daoist, Shinto, and undoubtedly many more traditions go into teachings on how to regulate, cultivate and channel this power for all manner of goals from healing to harming.

In the West, I don’t know if Celtic or Norse tribes had an awareness of this energy, but I would not be at all surprised.

So why is there such a huge emphasis on it by so many Magicians, Pagans, Witches and New Agers in the West today? I think that most of it boils down to the early trailblazers of the occult revival in late 19th century England, whose work continues to inspire and inform so many in the Western magical traditions (although I am well aware of a movement away from this material by some modern occultists now that we live in the information age and have better access to better translations of magical and mystical texts from around the world) I am of course, referring to the likes of Golden Dawn magicians, Theosophists and the infamous Aleister Crowley. The Theosophical Society had a strong Eastern influence which continues today in their philosophy and practice and Crowley had a keen interest in Yoga, Buddhism and Tantric practices. In Victorian England, amongst occultists and I’m sure at least a few spiritualists, opening your Chakras became a thing (it must have been tough in all those corsets and waistcoats they used to wear!).

A little later in history, the aforementioned terms of Reich and Bardon would have gained popularity amongst practitioners familiar with either of these men’s works. Baron Carl Von Reichenbach’s term Odic force, which is again, described as life force or vital energy (and in this case, named after the Norse god Odin) was also used in some circles.

In terms of modern Witchcraft/Wicca, early Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witches seemed to simply refer to the use of “power” and the importance of raising a cone of power in coven based magical workings. In his first factual book on the practices and beliefs of modern Witches, “Witchcraft Today“, Gerald Gardner discusses the notion of power emanating from the human body and how ritual nudity in the Craft is necessary so as not to inhibit the flow of this power.

The dreaded “E” word seems to have gained more prominence in Witchcraft, Pagan and Ritual Magic terminologies as a result of the New Age movement. Many today still use the word “energy”, whilst continuing to profess to hate it for it’s pseudoscientific connotations and vagueness as a term, probably for its convenience and universality. The equally popular pseudoscientific New Age usage of the terms vibration, frequency and wavelength can also be found to make their way into the speech of some occultists.

Terminology aside, I find the concept of  life force/Chi/vital power to be a very interesting and necessary aspect of some of my key magical practices and I think  it’s a shame that it is met with such derision from some quarters. Not all traditions acknowledge it or seek to work with it, as I have mentioned. Jason Miller (whose work I greatly admire: Love his books and highly recommend his year long email correspondence Strategic Sorcery course) gives a simplified but pretty nifty way of looking at magical traditions in his book “Sorcerer’s Secrets: Strategies in Practical Magick“. You have three levels. One deals with the ingredients and tools, another with all things energetic and another with the divine, spirits etc. Some traditions work with all three in their magical process (such as Wicca) others may work with just two for example, completely bypassing one of the levels, such as with Hoodoo, which deals only with God, spirits and ingredients.

I feel ultimately that those interested in magic and mysticism on a global and universal level, keen to explore more than just one or two traditions, will find the study of “energy” and the practice of energetic work to be a fascinating and worthwhile piece of the “Mysteries and Magic of the Universe” puzzle, especially if drawn to some of the Eastern paths of mysticism and sorcery where, quite frankly, it is fundamental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We’re all mad here!…

DisneyCheshireCat

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “otherwise you wouldn’t have come here.”

(“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll)

I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve been in the company of magical practitioners mocking the practices and beliefs of others. I freely admit to having engaged in this myself, bitchiness can be very contagious after all.

I understand the passion so many of us often have for our practices, and the frustrations that we may experience when we encounter people who we feel are doing something incorrectly, based on misinterpretation or sheer ignorance (at least, as far as we are concerned).  Sometimes though, we can do with taking a long hard look at ourselves in the mirror and asking ourselves what it is that makes us so sure about our own practices.

Hanging out with magical practitioners of various flavours and persuasions and engaging in magical discussions with them soon taught me that we all put up these barriers around ourselves. We have the stuff we believe in and practice and that we perceive to be within the realms of magical possibility, and then there are the beliefs and practices that we deem to be nonsense and are relegated to the “woo woo” pile. We each have different “woo woo” meters, though, so unless we are solely in the company of those with very similar views to ourselves, discussions can get interesting and sometimes just outright uncomfortable.

You may feel that the new age girl with the turquoise feather earrings and crystal round her neck talking about messages she received from an Ascended Master to be full of the brown stuff, but in the same breath will speak in a very matter of fact tone about something one of your dead relatives told you just last week. Is it any more ridiculous for one person to claim to have been communing with an ancient Greek Goddess of Witchcraft, than it is for someone else to feel that their prayer to an Orisha has been answered?

I’m not trying to make a case for swallowing everything anyone says without question. I just feel that too many people are too quick to make snap judgements about what is genuine or not. If you do feel another person is simply delusional, whereas you’re personal interactions with the spirits are genuine, ask yourself why that is and remind yourself from time to time of just how crazy all of us magic working, spirit believing folks are to the outside “muggle” world.

Some of the most judgemental and black and white views I hear tend to come from people who are very settled in one particular tradition or way of working. I have no issue with those who only stick to what they know or prefer and don’t challenge themselves by spreading their horizons, it can be a very practical thing to do and advantageous for the individual in some ways. Reading about, or acquainting yourself with some different concepts and traditions, however, can only be a good thing in terms of your personal education and understanding. It is good to remind ourselves of how little we know. Many people in the Craft, for instance (and many other traditions, I’m sure), often comment that the more years they spend practising and learning, the less they feel that they truly know.

Are Qabbalistic pathworkings just adventures in imagination land? Is spirit possession just your brain playing a trick on you? Is that mojo bag just a pouch of herbs giving you a psychological confidence kick? As the old saying goes, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

 

 

 

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Core Beliefs

When you tread the esoteric path, it is inevitable that your core spiritual beliefs about the world (if you have any) will evolve and grow and possibly change into something new altogether. This is to be expected. You may find that your beliefs on certain topics come full circle as the years progress. I think it’s natural for occultists to want to have some kind of a framework that can be used to make sense of the world around us and in a way, justify our magical and spiritual beliefs and practices to ourselves.

I feel that whatever our core belief structure or framework is, we should strive to understand why we have it and where we are drawing our influences from. I also feel that our motivations for our practices need to be kept in check, right down to each concrete and specific ritual or piece of magic we work. Why are we performing this ritual? What do we hope to get out of it?

The traditionless occultist may find an overriding love for the divine feminine to be his main personal key to “the divine”, and his worship and interaction with ancient goddesses may be informed by a combination of neo-pagan practices and attitudes, coupled with ancient world classically sourced invocations. His beliefs about the survival of consciousness after death may come straight out of Spiritualism. He may ultimately subscribe to the notion of enlightenment or union with the Godhead as being his ultimate goal (but, like so many, he feels that the journey itself is important and kind of the point!). Meditation may be one of his most treasured daily practices and the techniques he employs may be taken largely from Buddhist teachings.

Of course, subscribing to a tradition doesn’t always mean that we escape this dilemma either (if we consider this eclecticism to be a dilemma, and many don’t, but it can sometimes feel like one!), as many spiritual and esoteric paradigms are open and loose enough to be able to incorporate other beliefs and practices without contradiction. This is why there are Wiccans out there who may also be involved in certain mystical sects of Christianity, for example, or Buddhist practitioners who also practice in Qabbalistic lodges, or OTO initiates practising Haitian Vodou. The list goes on. I think that most if not all spiritual seekers and/or students of magic will always experience that hunger for more knowledge and fresh experiences.

I am writing this post because I feel that assessing your core beliefs and motivations behind your studies and practices can be a very grounding and healthy exercise for the occultist who may be suffering from what an ex-teacher of mine referred to as “Spiritual Indigestion” (thanks Jon Cole). We live in a fast paced world these days and consumerism is just as prevalent in the occult world as it is in the mainstream. Every week new Tarot and Oracle decks are published, or so it seems, and many occultists and spiritual seekers change their practices like they change their clothes. Books and articles on topics as diverse as English cunning craft, working with folk saints, planetary magic, Jewish mysticism, Hoodoo, Tantric Buddhism, Chaos magic and Quimbanda often find their places on our bookshelves before we have had time to digest the last five books we read.

I have known such overwhelmed magical practitioners before (and have frequently been one myself). They don’t know how to go about tackling a situation or going about some work because they are spoilt for choice. They may have worked with so many different magical paradigms over the years that they feel burnt out and that everything is meaningless for them now because they realise they can be equally critical of them all and feel like they have no special allegiance to any one of them.

Last year I took stock of the beliefs and practices I have accumulated or dipped my toes into over the years. I find I tend to assess my core beliefs all the time, but on this occasion I was being especially thorough. I took a long hard look at some of my beliefs (I’ve never been one of those people who says that they don’t believe, they just know, based on the work they have done and experiences they have had, because I find this to be pretty arrogant to be honest, there is always so much more out there than we will ever know in this lifetime). This mental spring cleaning brought me clarity on the practices and beliefs I have and what my main motivations and aspirations are. Very little has changed and it was good to remind myself of this fact, my core beliefs remain fairly universal and open, but I now feel that I have a more specific and streamlined practice as a result of getting rid of some distractions. I have chosen (at least for a good long while) to close some doors on subjects I was flirting with, in order to better focus my priorities. This cleaning process can also often manifest physically as we pack up altars and put away tools that we know we won’t be using for a long time, if ever again.

Sometimes, slowing down the pace and clearing some space in our heads (and temples, if we have them) is all we need.

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Introduction and Welcome

The Sorceress by Seth David Rodriguez

THE SORCERESS by Seth David Rodriguez
 

Hi! I’m Seth, welcome to my thoughts! I decided to create this place as a means of getting myself into the habit of writing more and following and interacting with bloggers I already enjoy. I’m dedicating this blog to topics related solely to the magical, esoteric and spiritual.

I’ve been involved in the study and practice of various magical and spiritual disciplines since I was 15 (I’ll be turning 31 in a few weeks time). This is a decent enough chunk of time to have accumulated a fair few bits and pieces of experience, knowledge and theory which now float around my head. The practice of keeping journals of one’s thoughts, dreams, meditations, rituals, spells and experiences is a well known habit amongst occultists. Whilst I will not be treating this blog as a diary by any means, I will be using it to share my thoughts or feelings about topics I feel like sharing, as well as appropriate book and Tarot reviews, and images of my art work.

To explain the title of this blog:

  • I’m “painted” because I’m tattooed, and also a make-up artist who enjoys drag (drag make-up is often referred to as “paint” in the drag world).

  • I have a beard.

  • I went with the word “Witch” because my main foundational practice and magico-religious system in the years I have been involved with the spiritual and magical, has been that of initiatory Wicca and modern Witchcraft.

  • I’d possibly say I’m a “mystic” because of the thoughts and feelings I have had for most of my life that led to my involvement with the occult in the first place, my overriding obsession with the divine/GOD/Goddess/G-d/d-ss/The Ultimate etc (although I’ve never known many people to self-identify with the M word and there always seems to be an unspoken rule amongst spiritual types that it is somehow big headed to adopt that title, akin to claiming that you are an enlightened being – you just don’t go there. Hmm.. I think I smell a future blog post right there!)

I’m passionate about many magical topics, fascinated by religion and belief, and have an active interest in personal development and spiritual growth. Whether you are a seasoned practitioner who wishes to agree, disagree and/or discuss with me, a newbie, or simply the casually interested, you are all welcome to witness and participate in this esoteric blogging experiment of mine!

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