Monday, October 24, 2016

The Veil Is Thin...

It has become a clichĂ© of modern Pagan discourse to say that at certain seasons “the Veil” between the world of mortals and the reality of the spirits “grows thin”. As we approach the November Cross-Quarter Day (whether it is Hallowe’en, Samhain, Beltaine in the southern hemisphere, or whatever) It is recited commonly. Occasionally one hears the question “What do you mean by that? What is the Veil” etc.


It’s a metaphor, that’s what. It is a poet’s description of what it is like to see dimly, and with less detail than one would hope, as if through thin cloth or mist. I suspect that modern people are less used to seeing veiled faces, and to gazing out from behind veils, than people were in earlier fashion ages. A single veil can reveal this, conceal that. Layers of veils can be entirely opaque. For those who never saw a digital image ‘res up’ out of nothing, the thinning of layers of veils expressed the idea of increasing clarity and revelation of what had been concealed.
We live in an era of jaded
imagination...

There is no Celtic original for the metaphor of the Veil. I suspect it arose with spiritualism, in Victorian times. The metaphor used in Celtic lore is the Mist. Heroes and magicians must pass through mist – through a space in which the air itself precludes sight – before the mist thins and reveals the hidden world. One of the Druidic wonder of the tales is the creation of a ‘hedge of mist’ around that which they would conceal. The notion of the ‘Veil’ certainly doesn’t insult this Celtic original; it simply expresses it in the technology of a later age. There is a solid Celtic explanation for why days such as Samhain are times when the boundary-of-perception between mortal and spiritual realities grows more passable and transparent. 

Among ancient European peoples, and strongly among the Celts, magical power or potential could be found in things, times and places that were ‘neither-nor’, that were between one state, category or locale and another, that were ambiguously located in time or space. Modern anthropology has referred to this as the ‘liminal’ quality, or as ‘limnality’. In this way we see that Celtic sacred spaces were often built in the borders between tribal territories, indicated the sacred (and politically neutral) Between nature of spiritual work. We find, in one of the few examples of Celtic magical ritual that is preserved, the placing of offerings to spirits in a doorway to partake of that access to the Otherworld. The strand of the Sea, the tops of high hills, these are places of boundary between Land, Sea and Sky, and so places where magic is easier to make effective – places where the ‘veil’ between mortals and spirits is thin.

In keeping with Celtic patterns of sacred number, the primary division of the calendrical year is into two – the light half and the dark half, summer and winter. These two great halves are ‘hinged’ upon the two great feast days of Bealtainne and Samhain. Both of those days are thus spaces Between major categories. Samhain is neither summer nor winter. These great moments of between-ness recur in Celtic story as times when spirits and mortals cross between worlds, when visions are seen, and great deeds are done. They naturally become times when modern Celtic Pagans and magicians seek to gather and express magical power. In such seasons the magician (and, from the Other side, the spirits) can more readily part the Mist, can see the turnings in the Forest, can pass through the thinned Veil.

The spiritual world is no more uniform than the material world, I think. It is true to say that a skilled magician can always find a thin place in the Border if they know how to look. Yet in such seasons as this the effect is more general, - all-encompassing, perhaps, by the time one gets to sunset or sunrise on Samhain night. Let the Spirits walk, or dance, into a welcome as they come to us through the Veil.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Meal Offering To The Dead

I'll be posting a quick round of short things here in the run-up to Samhain. This is a short and simple offering that could be made with and by the whole family.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Designing Your Personal Practice

The work on my forthcoming book (working title, presently: "Pagan Magic; Esoteric Spiritual Technique for Polytheists") continues, though not at the pace I might like. As a bit of proof-of-life I offer this chapter-section on developing a personal schedule of spiritual work.


The Order of Work
• Development of the hidden powers within Pagan spiritual practice requires diligent effort over an extended time. Of course some techniques can be tried immediately, and simple worship and meditation begin their effects immediately. More advanced techniques, like those of any discipline, require committed self-training and applied effort. The magician is a spiritual artisan, the shrine is the workshop, and magic is the product. Only practice, and learned skill carefully applied, can move the student from apprenticeship to journeywork to mastery.

• Many traditional polytheistic magical systems have been taught in controlled circumstances. This was often a ‘school’ of students surrounding a master, in which daily work and focus were maintained by a master-servant relationship. In more ‘civilized’ Pagan places monasteries grew up in which occult students could be supported in detailed temple ritual, long-term retreats and group ceremony. In either case the student of magic participated in a formal regimen of study and practice that led to both skill in spiritual arts and earned recognition of skill.
• One of the hallmarks of the medieval grimoire tradition of magic is its insistence on the development of spiritual power through basic ‘religious’ rites. Daily prayers, purifications, attendance at rites and the receiving of the church’s traditional blessings were all major sources of the magician’s power. Many ritual tools are made with the aid of priestly rites.

It seems to me that it would not have been different in Pagan days. Taking advantage of the spiritual power of local temples, the blessings of the public sacrifices, etc. would have been a basic part of the magician’s work. What can be difficult for modern practitioners to understand, perhaps, is that in both the medieval grimoirist’s work and the Pagan sorcerer’s magic was directly integrated into the religious work of their cultures. Certainly we may call the former ‘heretical’, and some Hellenes would have said the same of the latter, but both depended on the workings of their mainstream cults to empower magic.

• In our modern times, many Pagans seeking occult skills are simply unwilling to resort to the rites and customs of the Roman Church. “High Church” occult styles, such as the post-Masonic orders (three sash minimum…) are often bound around with oaths of secrecy, and also sometimes modeled on monotheistic and medieval theologies that deter Pagans. Public Pagan temple rites are difficult to find (though no longer impossible). A solitary modern student of magic must, essentially, devise and conduct their own personal temple, as well as a magic school or monastery. The invocations, offerings, power-exercises and spells that are part of the traditional arsenal of the Pagan magician must be derived from books, digested in thoughtful analysis, arranged (whether written-out or re-written) for practical performance, practiced until performance is competent and, finally, set into a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly cycle of magical and spiritual rites and practices. In short, the Pagan magician begins by functioning as the priest of their own temple.

• The Daily Sequence: Common modern life will prevent many from devoting more than a maintenance level of effort to daily offerings and works. If one chooses a simple morning prayer or invocation, supported with a simple offering and short moment of meditation, then that can be enough. It should be said that there can be a difference between common daily work and more specific preparations for major magical rites. The latter may be well-served by added invocations, offerings and trances proper to the intention at hand.
            A simple Daily Work routine might include simple morning salute/offerings, Ancestor prayer and meal offering, and bedtime prayer. Additional offerings for special principles could include special daily offerings to a god or spirit one means to invoke, as well as meditations or workings meant to reinforce the magician’s integrity and spiritual power. As a magician’s work advances they will almost certainly find themselves developing a personal ‘constellation’ of gods and spirits, unique to their own altar. Making the proper offerings to these in the proper times will become a part of daily work for many.

• Weekly or Monthly Sequence: Regular performance of more detailed ritual is valuable for the building of personal magical power. This provides a chance to build ritual skills, work useful spells for personal growth and gain and build relationship with the Gods and Spirits.
            Weekly work is a matter of personal choice. Those who must keep their daily schedule short and simple (usually in service of their work and family duties) may find a weekly hour (or day…) at the shrine a useful way to develop their work. For those working with family a weekly rite is a chance to involve the whole clan in one’s magic in a way that will simply become the ‘way we do things’ to the kids, and build powerful mental consensus in the mage. If family or those who are not actively training for magic are involved such rites can be kept simple, with the mage quietly working the Inner patterns to activate them for their goals.
            Perhaps the most traditional clock for timing monthly work is the moon. Certainly Neopagan methods have tended to imitate the Wiccan pattern of meeting at the Full Moon – it is both the most obvious of the moon’s phases and often the best night to be outdoors. World polytheist systems have a variety of lore-sets about the moon’s phases and stories. For now I will talk about how I have used the moon to time magical and religious rites.

            The moon’s magical power is associated with its phase, and the amount of its light. The two primary phases of the moon are the Waxing (from the first visible crescent until the end of Full Moon) and the Waning (from the end of Full Moon through the Dark Moon days). In European lore these are universally understood to affect life, work and luck. The waxing moon stimulates growth and gain, while the waning moons retards it. On a far-too-simple level these are sometimes perceived as ‘positive and negative’ times, but this is so only in the most literal sense. Much good can be done under the waning moon, to retard the growth of disease or reduce the influence of an irritant. 
            Within the twenty-eight day turning of the moon are several moments of traditional magical power. Workings that hope to use the moons power to grow a result can choose the early phase of the waxing moon, when one has many days of waxing power to draw on. The very first visible crescent is good for this, but can be hard to spot. Druid tradition has emphasized the ‘sixth night’ of the waxing moon – roughly the end of the first quarter – as a night when the growth power of the waxing moon is both well-established and still growing, making it a good time for many kinds of magical working. Of course the full moon is the legendary height of magical power. As the crest of the moon’s growth, it is a time when one wishes to grasp and use the force of the wave’s top – to work for things that manifest immediately. I think it is for this reason that the full moon is the time of the Witch’s Sabbath – the summoning of gods and spirits is especially proper at that time. The Full Moon’s power of manifestation makes it a fine time to invoke and assemble the ‘constellation of worship’ of whatever is included in one’s home cult, maintain one’s offerings, and receive their conversation and blessing. This is essentially the ‘esbat’ of the witches.
            Finally, many cultural systems assign symbols or names to each of the  lunar months, and those can be of use in designing an annual ‘retreat’ of  rituals with specific focuses. Astrological symbols for the passages of the sun and moon can also provide symbols on which to focus a sequence of rites. This can allow a set of cultural symbols to be more completely expressed and understood, and provide a powerful set of blessings.


Seasonal or Annual Sequence: I have already written about the traditional Year-cult, and its eight-fold expression in Neopagan ways. Those working a specific ethnic reconstruction will choose how to adapt the seasonal and calendrical rites of the past to modern times. Such work is off-topic for this instruction in magic, and is yet another instance in which I must recommend detailed additional reading. Learning the lore of whatever cultural form you pursue can only deepen and clarify your magic.

            High Day rites (as we Druids have come to call the larger annual ritual occasions) present an opportunity to create and arrange ritual on a scale larger than home-shrine work. Attunement of the personal spirit to the tides of the great wheel of seasons, the Gods and Spirits who dance through them, and the Blessings conveyed by each are sources of personal magical authority and respect among the spirits. Incidentally, these notions apply whether one is working the Neopagan Eightfold Wheel, the seasonal cycle of ancient Athens (so different from the Anglo-German north), or the annual saints’-calendar of the Roman Church.
If one is able to present rites for friends or community then elements of theater, development of performance persona, etc can all be useful to practical magic. In a later chapter we will discuss using occult techniques to strengthen the effects of public seasonal rites, but the ritual skills developed for effective public ritual also strengthen one’s personal magical authority and power.


All of this structure can be allowed to develop organically inside a magician’s practice. For a certain sort of student (such as myself) the tendency to begin by getting a blank book and pre-writing the outline of such practices will be nearly irresistible. There is value in that work (and a version of my own version of the work is provided here in the Rituals section) but I advise you not to postpone beginning simple daily or weekly work until you have everything ‘just right’. Your understanding will grow with experimentation and work, and pre-writing may serve to constrain your choices. It is inevitable that you will outgrow your first efforts, and some students are hampered by a sense of loyalty to their own writing that restricts experimentation. I might humbly suggest beginning with another’s printed scripts and rites, such as those presented here. One need feel no special loyalty to those when the time comes to change or abandon them.