Thursday, January 26, 2017

Magic for the Resistance

Practical Strategies for the Time and Season.

Many of my friends are concerned and dismayed by the political turn in the US this year. After some years of slow progress toward a more progressive country we seem to have taken a sharp turn. The current conservative movement would like to advance their agenda through the coming administration, an agenda which I perceive as involving a reduction in personal liberty, an increased dependency of people on their “employers” and decreased regulation and management of dangerous industrial systems. I expect all that to lead to reduced prosperity, declining health, increased oppression, and the empowerment of the police.

Of course my personal concern is the development and establishment of polytheistic religion and magic in modern culture. This makes me particularly concerned about the political connection between conservative monotheisms and the US government. I hope my readers will be with me when I skip a long historical bullet-list of reasons for the assertion that granting political authority to conservative monotheism has not, historically, led to liberty and prosperity. If right-wing Christianity gains in authority I would expect to see examples of the direct persecution and disempowerment of non-Christian institutions. Whether this would extend to the usual neopagan back-yard circles and public-park gatherings is a matter of anxiety, but not yet of record. Certainly it can’t be good news for those of us working to build lasting Pagan institutions.

Pagan and occult practitioners have a specialized body of occult skills that can be drawn upon to support us in these times. I hope that Pagan organizers and leaders will choose to boldly and publicly continue our religious work, regardless of the social climate, or the nattering of Dominionists or Christian reconstructionists. Our communities have made a good start at producing engines of blessing and growth for our society, and that work must continue. I hope, too, that we can hold to the founding principles of the USA – that no religion (or religious or spiritual principle-set) has a special place guiding our government. Our government is guided by the votes and voices of the public, and members of the public may be guided by religion or spirituality, whether Christian, Hindu, Neopagan, Humanist or whatever. Together they make the currents on which our ship of state must sail.

In context of that multiple web of influences I believe in pursuing one’s political goals actively. ‘Tis the season, my kin, to begin organizing locally. Join the Democrats if you can stand it, or get working on that new party. We need some real practical progressives running for congress in 2018.

But witches and magicians have that little extra angle. In our study of the occult forces and influences of nature and spirit, we have learned how to apply just that little bit of extra pressure, that perfect poke in that unseen pressure point, that could turn a head at the right moment or change the emotional condition of a community, or even Cripple the Whole Fucking Deathstar… er… ya know… That is, we can use magic consciously and directly. 

So let me ruminate a bit on how to apply the basics of sorcery on a social and political level. I am indebted to Jason Miller for helping to remind all practitioners of how to use traditional practical magic systematically, how to make the magical link effectively, and how to plan and execute a campaign of spellcraft.

I: Protection.

If we’re to engage an opponent it is best to be armored. I might suggest a three-layer approach.

1: Personal Talismanic Protection: If you’re an urban activist, or plan to be demonstrating and standing at the barricade, it is wise to have portable and personal magical protection, traditionally anchored in one or more amulets and talismans. There are many variation of how to prepare and consecrate such a talisman, including my own

My own experience has relied on a single personal protective talisman, an object that is never apart from my person for more than minutes at a time. It would certainly be possible to create multiple items with more specific intentions – a Saturn protection for physical harm, a Solar charm to increase one’s charisma and boldness, etc.

2: House and Boundary Wards: For those using their home or property for Pagan worship, or who have other reason to be concerned about visits from armed agents of the government, boundary customs are useful. This can be arranged in several layers as well.

One can begin with the edges of one’s property. The obvious entrances can serve as symbolic of any approach, and so drawing a line across the driveway or walkways with Stay-away Powder or red brick dust, or other materia. Here’s something:


Draw water from the primary water-source of your home or land (for most people that will be the faucet). Take 1/3 of it and put it to heat, (usually on your cooking stove) saying:

Let the Fire be kindled,
Let there be light in the darkness
Let the Fire come into the Water,
I set this spell to boil
Take a good pinch each of vervain, hawthorn and rue, and add them to the water as it comes to a boil, saying, for each:
Into this pot I place my will
That it may be boiled in the Water & the Fire
Let this be a warding; let this be a turning; let this be as a wall against all ill.
 Take a second third of the water and set it in a place where the light of the sun and waxing moon can shine on it, and leave it there for one full turning of day and night.
In the last third of the water, add a good pinch of crystalline salt, saying:

Let Earth and Water be joined

The powers of making, of gounding, of cleansing.

That which needs burning, let it be burned

That which needs turning, let it be turned
That which needs keeping, let it be well-kept. 

Bring all three parts brought together but not yet mixed, under a waxing moon, perhaps in the first quarter. Make all ready, and hallow the space and the work as you know how. Mingle the three parts together, as you conjure with something like this charm: 
Green leaf, salt, and moon and sun

Join these portions into one
Turn aside invaders all
Like a mighty castle wall

Stand you firm in spirit-curtain
Keep this (place) from evil, certain
Turn aside approaching ill
In the place where you are spilled.

Moonlight, sunlight, sky and land
Joined here by my will and hand

Turn aside opponents all
Water of my magic wall.

Jug the water tightly, and finish the work as is proper. Such a potion can be poured at entrances and walkways, as a first line of defense.

3: Sweetening the Police: If social authority is really going to show up at your door it will probably take one of two forms – either the uniformed police, or a band of self-authorized neighbors. The latter is difficult to enchant against in advance, unless you feel pretty sure about which of your neighbors is a jerk. If you have the latter problem, then all this can be applied to individual neighbors as well. Trying to sweeten the ‘mood’ of a community is a more difficult endeavor. (Here’s one very good account of such an experiment)

Police departments are composed of a limited number of specific individuals, and led by an even smaller number. Most of the leadership will have pictures posted on an internet ‘facebook’ (in the original sense), which allows for an easy basic object-link, perhaps along with the distinctive badge or logo of the local cadre. Consider stopping in to your local police headquarters to pick up a brochure. Pages of such stuff can be printed, folded up and either inserted in a Honey Jar (here’s a Druid-y version of the traditional hoodoo spell) vessel or placed beneath it as candles are burned on the lid. 

The text of my Honey Jar spell is arranged as a love spell of the usual sort, and assumes that you want a ‘result’ in the near future. That approach could be used before a demonstration or direct action, in hopes of improving the mood and behavior of the police that become involved, and their bosses. When using the same tech for a long-term effort such as being and staying welcome in a community, for instance, the whole spell can be continued at need.

II: Alliances
Organizing and resistance requires numbers. Especially if one doesn’t have money. We work to gather like-minded people together, to work our political will by the democratic traditions of petition, protest and direct action. There’s no reason to leave out the ghosts and daemons.

As in much spirit-work, I suggest beginning with the Ancestors and the Dead. The front end of this work can be built into public political rhetoric. Let the newly-activated hear the names and stories of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and Sojourner Truth, of John Brown. Let them know who Saul Alinsky was, and bring to mind the countless unknown leaders of the Labor movement. Protest and resistance stand as proud memories for our nation, and, as we say, that which is remembered lives. Even the tales of our colonial founders have a place in the narrative of people’s resistance.

Rhetoric can be empowered by direct spiritual work with those beings. My friends at the Niagra Voodoo Shrine have been working to good effect to establish Harriet “Mama Moses” Tubman as an ally, and plenty of experimental conjure could be done to find a cadre of spirits willing to act with one’s local organizing. If we must stand, let us stand with heroes at our back. If we must march, let spirits march with us.

And not just the Dead. If one is working on and with a specific piece of land then work with the Genius Locus of that place seems mandatory. This applies whether the land is one’s home, or a specific target patch in environmental or housing/development work. The web of symbols, laws and prayers that every government uses produce a de facto level of magical “claiming” in many such cases. It is valuable to stake one’s own claim and introduce oneself to ‘the Locals’ through simple rites such as those at this link. With such an introduction accomplished the magician can conjure specific ally spirits for defense and for support in direct action.

In my opinion the details of religion are best kept separate from the work of organizing. I don’t appreciate it when a Christian ally tries to open a prayer-session, and I don’t think we should try to get our fellow organizers to join us in offerings to the gods. That said, there are several deities in the well-known pantheons that seem proper for the work of resistance and restoration.

Shiva comes to mind first. He is the Lord of Yoga (yoga is best translated as ‘magic’). He is commonly called the god of ‘destruction’, because he will, when time is right, open his big Third Eye and burn away the manifest cosmos to make room for the next one. On the personal level he is thus understood as the lord of enlightenment, who burns away the veil of illusion to reveal spiritual truth. In turn that seems to make him the very patron of the work that needs doing now – the burning away of the rickety structure of late fossil-fuel civilization and post-Christian society, to make room for the New World.

Shiva’s counterpart in Euro myth is Dionysos, the mysterious son of Zeus who becomes the god of wine, sexual pleasure, social inversion and mystery-religion enlightenment. Dionysian practice was stifled in the West by the rise of Christianity, while Shiva’s cult and philosophy continued into modern times. We don’t have as much Lore about Dionysos, but he’s much more directly connected than Shiva to our usual cultural heritage.

As a bit of practical fun, both Shiva and Dionysos are depicted as the leaders of huge marches of ghosts, witches, daemons, etc. I love the idea of inviting them to attend a march, bringing their retinue. Look out folks, here comes not only a few thousand angry citizens, but a countless parade of spirits!

III: Persuasion
In working for specific goals it is often a specific public official that stands between the organizer and the outcome. The work of enchantment and persuasion-at a distance is central to a lot of practical magic, and it can be applied here as well. As always, this does not amount to cursing or hexing. Attempts to persuade one another are standard parts of human interaction – adding the occult component is as ethical as dressing well for an interview.

The single most important factor in such work is the establishment of the magical link between the magician and the target. While public servants are likely to have pictures easily available, such links are rather third-tier. Consider corresponding with the elected or law-enforcement official in an effort to get a specimen of their signature. (even a digital version is probably better than a public photo) Once you have such a link you can use sweetening spells if your mood is still good, or consider something a little more hot and rough if the urgency is greater.

Devising the message of such influence work is important. This provides an opportunity to narrow and clarify your targeting. Magical work intended to “save the Earth” amounts, usually, to nothing. Choose a legislator or officer, decide what you need them to do in order to gain a specific benefit, and express that in a simple, concise statement (preferably a single sentence or declaration). Incidentally that can be a valuable public prop as well – consider using it in press releases, protest-signs, etc – especially if you were to sigilize it.

Correspondence is also an opportunity to get your own spellwork into the hands, or at least the offices, of your target. Make a nice letterhead with your sigils embedded in the art. Send your spell-intentions along by treating the edges of the letter or envelope in some nice bend-over oil or the like. Consider stopping in to their offices to deliver a little of the same to the doorknobs and walkways. (I suggest avoiding white powders, these days ;) )

Allies can also be brought into play. Consider building a “whispering campaign” of spirits around the target to keep pressure on toward your goal. Have you made alliance with former Mayors of your town, Governors, etc? Is there a related category of the Dead (veterans, grandmothers, etc) that can be set to it? What spirits can be set to ‘haunt’ the situation?

Most of this advice is rather long-term, based on the drip-and-wear principle. Moments of urgency may require a more direct spell, or a specific conjuring of a spirit to do the work of persuasion. When that happens any preliminary work to establish the magical link can only be helpful.

Behind all of this detail, I think that we must face the coming years with our hearts turned toward those ancient spirits called Liberty, Wisdom, and Justice. I totally support the use of the Lady Liberty figure as a focus, and keep her torch and shining crown in my heart even as I seek a foxier cleverness to support more specific goals.

May the Gods and Spirits bless us, with Liberty and Justice for all.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Conjure & Creation 2

So I've taken a little heat for my firm stand behind the 'spirit model' of magic in my previous post. As I said, my approach is a thought-experiment, a deliberate effort to think my way back into an animist mindset. As such I tend to speak affirmatively, even categorically. That's a rhetorical pose, and doesn't really reflect an opinion on my part that my ideas are 'more true' or 'better' than some other model.

Honestly I think myself mildly clever for devising a rationale that merges the modern notion of constructed entities with the notion of pre-existent spirits 'conjured' by a sorcerer. Like so many techniques the form of the work doesn't need to vary much per model. What we 'believe' about what is happening may be one of the least important parts of the business. Nevertheless I like to decorate the inside of my head with the ideas and mental postures of ancient magicians, and I'll take my best guess and apply it.

My intent in bringing up this topic was practical. I consider the 'servitor' technique one of the more valuable modern inventions, and it should/need not be abandoned by those attempting to work in the models of the ancient world. Jake Stratton-Kent is heard to say "Magic is practical eschatology". The merging of the spirits of the un-individuated Dead into that great continuum of shades, called "the Dead", roiling with the mixed passions of human memory becomes a kind of 'magical energy', able to respond to the will and word of magicians in much the same way as Levi's Astral Light might do, though perhaps with more volition.  It might even be, as some spirit-sects maintain, that the magical work of granting individual form and name to elements of this daemonic continuum is a service that living magicians do for the spirits - a fair exchange for their aid in our works.

Nevertheless, my intent here is practical, to provide this little set of suggestions as to what forms and symbols might be proper for what sort of spirits. I have ventured some ideas about classifying spirits according to an older set of 'elements'  and this list fits directly with those ideas. All questions of models aside there are so many creative and exciting ways to apply this sort of practical conjuring.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Construct or Conjure?

So, I wanna go over the whole modern doctrine that human ‘belief’ and focused ideation can shape the ‘spiritual’ or ‘astral’ or ‘magical’ world. Especially, by extension mortals can create at least the simulacra of living spiritual beings, and possibly create spiritual individuals in fact. This doctrine has become almost an assumption in modern magic. While it is convenient, and solves a variety of theological problems, it also verges on what seems, to me, to be an unfortunate mechanicalism. We’ll get to this point, but let me say that I would prefer my spiritual universe not to be arranged as a machine. 

As I have moved away from the ‘energy model’ of magic and toward deliberate work with the spirits I have tried to reframe some of these classic magical techniques, perhaps restore them to a meaning prior to modern mechanization. This particular trope – the creation of an image and the ‘animation’ of it by magic – turns out to be easy to trace and recover.

To look for the origins of the idea, I think we must look to the facts of human spirit-vision experience. In spontaneous dreams, shamanic trance or initiatory vision-journey the mind generates an ‘imaginal-body’ with which to navigate the unconsciously-generated-or-perceived lands of vision. In dreams we note that powerful forces may be ‘dressed’ in the appearance of things and people drawn from our memory of life, and in spirit-vision such things happen as well.

The human power to shape matter – wood, stone, or clay – into representative shapes has surely been a core of magic since unremembered times. Humans made images of the spirits, and those material images must have arisen from imaginal forms, preserved verbally by transmission until they were expressed in more solid art. Those imaginal forms are not lost, but become a part of the work of formal and magical invocation. The Theurgists emphasize the importance of visualized ‘eidola’ (idols) of the gods, and the Tibetan ritual magicians have made a science of symbolic visualization of spirits. These practices fed into the line of occult revival and reconstruction that generated the Golden Dawn and the theurgic work of Mathers.

Following the Middle Ages, during which the spirit-model of magic was the standard, I think that we must look to Eliphas Levi’s concept of the ‘Astral Light’ for the root of our meme. Levi taught that the spiritual world closest to our own was made of indeterminate stuff that was and could be shaped by human passion and imagination. He called this the Astral Light, and taught that it was a level of causation immediately prior to our world, so that things shaped in the Light were likely to come into material existence. He proposed that control of the Light was the core of practical magic, and that has influenced magic ever since, all the way to the “power raising” of Neopagan group ritual spellcraft.

However that seems to me a significant departure from tradition, moving from working with spirits as living beings to working with an impersonal magical ‘stuff’. Historical magic most commonly works through the making of pacts with spirits, and the gaining of the personal authority that allows one to deal with them. How does this fit with the notion of the construction and animation of images?

In classical magic the use of “telesmatic images” involved the construction of forms based on the ‘sewing together’ of specific symbols based on the intent of the work. Thus if one wished to marry the forces of Venus and the Moon on might compose an image of a beautiful Green woman with the wings of a white butterfly, or the like. Such an image was described as able to ‘transmit the virtue’ of the planets involved. This notion of the ‘virtue’ of a planet or deity – it’s impersonal influence or ‘vibration’ is as close as I can see us coming to the idea of ‘magical energy’ in traditional magic. In other cases the harmonious nature of the symbols would be assumed to summon a spirit – a daemon – that conforms to the mixed nature of that formula, and is willing to appear in that shape.

Centuries later, the magicians of the Hermetic Order of the Golden dawn composed synthetic figures for their Kabalistic spirits, based on the Hebrew letters of their names. In this way a characteristic figure was created prior to the actual summoning of a spirit. That figure was understood to attract an already-extant spirit of the correct nature to answer the magician’s need.

A moment of theory: This notion of inventing composite inner or visualized idols for specific intentions is a direct parallel to doing the same thing in matter. To carve a spirit-idol in clay or wood makes an image into matter, the visualized image creates a middle-ground for the power. This is the basis of ‘hierarchical’ evocation – that a spirit is brought from its abstract origin-place through the middle-ground of vision and ritual, to abide like a flame in the material world. Thus the attention and power of the spirit itself is brought into material action for practical magic.

Back to the history of the idea, I believe that my own understanding of the idea of ‘construct elementals’ or ‘servitors’ began with 70s ‘ESP’ research. The 1972 ‘Phillip Experiment’ was big news to geeks like me tracking the still-credible science of ‘parapsychology’. Our puff-text asks “did the group accidentally summon a demonic or spiritual entity or did they create a real ghost?” I’d like to ask that too.

Occults texts of the early 70s including Paul Huson, Al Manning and Sybil Leek provided simple, ritualized methods for creating (or conjuring) a ‘construct familiar’, based on some physical token. The merging of the ‘construct entity’ idea with that of the witch’s familiar was instantaneous, and the ‘magical servitor’ became usual. Franz Bardon, and his classic “Initiation Into Hermetics” worked his detailed instruction in the use of magical energies into the idea of magical clockwork gnomes who could carry messages or spells. I feel it is important to mention the 1971 publication of Bonewits’ “Real Magic” in which a synthesis of parapsychology and traditional magic was presented that quite closely reflects modern opinion. He describes deities and spirits as living on the ‘energy’ given them by worshippers, and giving ‘energy’ back. It is, itself, all rather mechanistic and Isaac became more devotional as years went by, but I suspect his book of being an important influence at the opening of the 1970s. (Young folks should look up what a “switchboard” was ;).)

The idea passes directly into the minds of the founders of the Chaos Magick schools and related authors. It becomes central to their model of non-theistic occultism. It is now very popular among the self-constructed belief systems of internet magicians (bless us). The energy model is so unquestioned in the matter of ‘construct entities’; the magician creates a form in imagination, perhaps linking it to a material object, and then ‘ensouling it’… whatever that might mean. Many people seem to treat this approach as ‘proven science’ (i.e. obvious beliefs), though I think it falls well short of that standard.

This proposes, for me, a principle that might feel heretical to devotionalists and literalists, as well as to those who would make all magic about ‘energies’. It seems to me that, to a degree, pre-existing spirits will choose to inhabit an image and act in the theme of that image when it is in harmony with their own nature. In my metaphysical moments I think that, perhaps, spirits – despite having history and agency of their own - only assume names and forms when they come into relationship with mortals. Such names and forms may persist through human effort or through the preference of the spirit, and the world is full of spirits who do ‘go by’ a set of symbols, verbal or visual. We can conjure those, but the ancient magic shows us ways to conjure new spirits as well, learn new names, and even create new forms.

There is no such thing as ‘God’, in my opinion. No being ‘made’ us and thus no being has ownership of or sovereignty over us. Thus I am not inspired to imitate that notion by imagining that I can create a quasi-living spirit through imagination and will - a being which I can ‘command’ like a computer program or a machine, exploit at will, and destroy at the end of its utility.

This rejection of a modernist idea does not strip the magician of any useful power. Tradition provides several methods by which we can devise and specify what sort of small spirit, servant or emissary we desire. We can decide our intent, design a symbolic complex, and attract spirits that already exist to indwell our image and present us with a name and form. I think that when we call for a willing servant we often get one, though all the stories remind us that any spirit can turn contrary – even allegedly constructed ones.

As always for me the change from an energy paradigm of magic to a spirit-based paradigm is a change from the impersonal to the relational. I prefer a spiritual practice in which the love and honor between living beings is the core of the emotional work. This is not really possible when one approaches gods and spirits as ‘energies’ (especially if one thinks they are ‘just energies’). When we approach even a ‘hired’ ally such as an image-spirit as a living being, due it’s proper offering and thus proper respect, we choose a very different position of the heart. For those who care about such things, I might suggest that it helps put the ‘love’ into “Wisdom, Love & Power”.