17.12.09

Custom Spread Magick

Creating custom spreads for a particular question is, in my opinion, one of the most potent tools one can bring to working with the tarot. Even before beginning a reading, if done well, just creating a custom spread can become as transformative and helpful as the reading itself. A well designed spread becomes like a mystical cosmogram, or even a talisman, onto which the symbols of the tarot project and interconnect with the matrix of meaning that has already been established within the nodes of the spread.


For me, a custom spread becomes more than a mental map of a situation, concern or problem - it becomes the anatomy of the solution. By taking time to devise it, I begin to seed the question into the mind of universe as well as my own mind; allowing it to create the kind of framework in which the language of the tarot can converse fluently and directly. It creates a space in which  highly accurate responses can be evoked from the seventy eight mysteries depicted on the cards. Forgive my florid language! I just love the darned technique so much.


Taking time to create the spread around a concern also allows me to clearly think about the issue at hand; to crystalize it in my mind and solidify often vague or undefined fears, worries or related issues. Sometimes in the process you realize what the question is really about. Creating one with client, similarly, allows me to talk to the querent, attune to the problem that they are having and establish a meaningful dialogue before the reading even begins. They feel more relaxed, having been given the chance to explain and show me on paper where they are coming from.


It behaves a bit like diagnostic tool too in some ways; one which allows me to map out the client's headspace, motives and attitudes. As such its not a technique that is suitable for all my clients sitting for a reading - some don't know why they came, some are just curious tourists who come for a reading for fun or entertainment. Sometimes, time permitting, I like to create a spread with these sorts of people anyway: to help impress upon them that the reading is a bit more serious than that. Often they walk away very pleased and a bit more enriched than had I played the psychic mystery game with them, using a canned spread.

15.12.09

The Tarot and Scale

One of the most interesting things about the tarot is how it responds to the scale of a question, by which I mean: the scope, the area of influence, the time frame or any other scale-based framework. A three card spread about your Tuesday will influence the scale of the tarot's symbolic language-response. The Hermit card in a daily spread might indicate some time of introspection - a contemplative quiet day. Perhaps you prefer your own company, or spend more time considering the change of the seasons - possibly you are a bit more reserved or decide to go off and sit in a coffee shop on your own with a book instead of lunching with your friends. In a year spread it will mean something much bigger. 


It would have the same quality of the Hermit, yet its mystery will be blown up to a much larger personal and mythic level. Perhaps the sense of solitude now begins to extend to your living arrangement (you decide to move out of your shared apartment to get some space); or you begin to realize that the carousel of work, socializing and bright lights of the city hold no true satisfaction for you any longer. Perhaps you even are forced by circumstances to go on an unplanned sabbatical. At the scale of a ten year period the mystery of the Hermit will even more radical in its weaving.



The tarot symbols; these greater and lesser mysteries, or arcana, weave themselves at different levels of magnitude, like fractals that are continuously repeating from the greatest cosmic level down to the tiniest psychological minutiae of our consciousness. The mysteries that cards reflect are forever scaling.


Keeping scale in mind can be a very handy interpretive device when looking at any spread. Considering the scope of the question in terms of time frame, area of questioning, and seriousness of the question, who is effected; we can begin to understand the language of the cards with greater accuracy. Usually, the more earnest the question the greater the scale of the tarots language and we can, quite truthfully,  begin describing the cards at that greater mythic order of effect to our querent. The cards always respond to serious questions with serious answers.


A question about about child-custody in a divorce case will bring forth a different order of interpretation to one of about repairing your beloved yet broken old van. This might seem obvious at first glance but it can be a major stumbling block for readers when they get the scale of their response wrong. 


An interesting exercise to include in your tarot journal (if you keep one), is to consider: what does a card mean when looked at as speaking about a querent's day, week, year, a lifetime? What does it say to querent who is asking about something; trivial; personally significant, personally critical; life or death; spiritually or existentially pivotal? What does it say to an individual, a family, a city or a nation?


11.12.09

Plant Spirits and Root Familiars

When setting out to work with herbal magic and with conjure's magical pharmacy in particular, it can be tempting to find all the roots that are suited to the goal at hand, or that are available on your shelf, and jam them into a single working; mojo hand, powder or oil. One would think that this would increase the power of spell, but practical experience shows that this is not the case at all. In fact, lumping too many plant forces together into a working can often lead to failure in magic just as lumping to many spices into one pot can lead to failure in cooking. I have found its better to work with a few roots and herbs at a time; getting to know them individually; attuning to the spirit of each plant. In this way they seem to awaken more fully to the work. Its as if my own attentiveness to their unique qualities and nuances becomes a gateway for their power to flow into the work. There is a dialogue going on here much as with any other spirit, but its more tactile and intimate and somewhat slower. We try, we feel how it works, we adjust quantities or other variables all the while smelling, touching and listening with our inner ear.

In this way we begin to establish alliances with certain plants. They just seem to work better for us - they awaken to us as familiars. I begin to discover  that whilst powdered ginger will hasten the outcome of a spell, heating it up - too much burns it out before its gotten to full fruition. Just a pinch is all that is needed, and in just the right amount its like a rocket was put under the work. Ginger becomes more to me than botanical item in a jar; its a conscious force, a living thing that has a certain place in my magical consciousness. A letter in my magical script, if you will. In this way, sumac berries begin behaving in a rather unique and remarkable way; I find that sumac is becoming more flexible and versatile; a plant that is activated by sexual climax for a variety of different ends not just peace in the home. A tiny pinch of tobacco snuff added to a lamp will compel someone to act almost immediately if I hold it up to my forehead and think about it in just the right way.

We are sometimes encouraged to "talk to the roots", to tell them what we want, by our conjure elders -and to me this is what this dialogue is all about. Its the subtle exchange that comes from working with them carefully and sensitively so their power comes to fruition in our hands. The power is there but its not self evident at first - just having the herb does not guarantee it will work for you. We kind of need to work with them, show them we will listen and that we are available to hear what they have to teach us. And then just maybe they will begin opening up to us and giving us access to the store house of their secrets.

8.12.09

The spell that bit me in the @%$#!

I have been writing a lot about the validity of dark work in afro-diasporic traditions such as conjure, lately. It has a socially and spiritually valid part to play and a largely misunderstood place in the repertoire of conjures and other spiritual workers. As such it is an important part of magical craft and it should be understood in the light of its cultural context. However, a word to the wise:
  1. Never throw powders and burn candles when angry.
  2. Get an independent, objective person to verify and read for you when it is too personal.
  3. Wait at least two weeks or longer to see how the situation develops before lifting a finger. If you dont your judgement will be clouded.
  4. Remember; some spells cannot be undone once the ball is in motion.
  5. If your work is not justified you are committing a sin and you will pay the price.
Oh yes you will. See exhibit A:



Magicians always seem to blog about their successes, but rarely about their screw-ups. I thought I would show one of my worst lapses in judgment from last year; not as a warning about doing dark work, because I still do this work if needed and think it is an important part of the tradition. Instead, I offer it as a cautionary note about doing dark work that is not truly justified but rather is wrought from anger and pain or from some murky, bitter state of mind.

This is a particularly difficult distinction to make if you are too close to the matter. 

It is easy to assume that because hoodoo contains these practices in its bag of tricks that it endorses magical attack when ever you are provoked enough to consider it. It does not. And whilst conjures dont subscribe to karma or the law of three, or the wiccan rede for matter - and they can and will take the matter to the graveyard if necessary - it does not mean there are no repercussions for unjustified work. 

A few more practical tips should you choose to do such work:

  • Always, always, always cleanse yourself thoroughly after such work. A hyssop bath accompanied by psalm 51 is traditional.
  • Cleanse the space where it was done (if indoors) and dispose of the remnants far from your house.
  • Pray to God that the work only be carried out if it is justified in His eyes. Mean it.


7.12.09

HGA, Relics and Saint Joseph in Bruges

I am currently traveling in Europe and had the opportunity to visit the beautiful medieval city of Bruges, in Belgium. It really is like walking into a fairy tale.




Inside the cathedral Sint Salvador; some breathtaking Neo Gothic architecture and art - and serendipitously discovered a gorgeous St. Joseph shrine at which I was very happy to offer a taper.

 


Interestingly, I found a shrine dedicated to the holy Guardian Angel.

 


Also, an interesting if unsettling shrine for a holy relic of Sint Salvador. Skulls emblazon much of the architecture and art. Relics fascinate me. The atmosphere is this cathedral is quite indescribable.



Elsewhere in Bruges there is an ancient church which houses a relic containing the blood of Christ; said to return to its liquid form in times of war and tragedy. Sadly, I was unable to see it - a closed service was being held.

Anyway, thought I would share some of the sights from my trip.

St.B

3.12.09

The True Grimoire: a response to Frater Barrabbas

Frater Barrabbas has blogged recently about his concerns regarding Jake Stratton-Kent's True Grimoire. The Frater has a litany of woes with Jake's approach; greatest of which is its seemingly diabolical pact-making procedure. Jake did not invent this; its always been part of the grimoire, but somehow Frater Barrabbas is worried that Jake is promoting, what to his mind, is a dangerous and insanity producing form of goetic practice.

Jake draws from afro-diasporic religion and magic to inform his spirit-friendly approach, which is more or less outlined by his True Grimoire. Its  a valid approach because the grimoire itself has seen widespread use throughout the diaspora. Yet Frater Barrabbas feels that this is faulty model to adapt, stating:

"Unsanctioned practices would be to seek domination, retribution, vengeance, to cause sickness and death in targeted victims, to gain assistance from the unhallowed dead and their demi-god controllers or assistance from evil spirits. These unsanctioned practices would require the help of a specialist who would perform such rites in private. One could easily categorize the evocation of goetic demons in this class of unsanctioned practices, whether of Umbanda, Palo Mayombe or Voudoun Bokor. Unsanctioned practices such as these are often tolerated due to the abject fear of such specialists or their occasional discrete use by clients. Despite the obvious associated cultural ambiguities, these practices would be considered evil and outlawed by the greater public. Some practitioners of these unsanctioned arts, whether real or imagined, have been persecuted and murdered by angry outraged members of their community. Like the folkloric theme of the classic witch known worldwide, such practitioners have always been considered outside the law and prime suspects when things in a community go awry. Is this a useful model for a modern goetic magician to follow? I greatly doubt it."

It is with this statement that I must take exception. The notion that all forms of harsh magic (domination, revenge and crossing) are naturally evil and therefor relegate its user to the fringe of the socially 'sanctioned' or 'legitimate' practices of afro-diasporic religion is patently false. Its also a view typical of the biases and assumptions that western occultists with their attendant dualisms of good and evil, black and white; bring with their, regrettably, colonial gaze. Its also very simply misinformed about the basic context of afro-diasporic magic.

Most respected community serving priests of Umbanda, Quimbanda, Palo and Vodou are just as likely if not more likely to use harsh magic, and hot or so-called 'evil' spirits for legitimate, punitive and destructive magical ends. It's all about providing justice and power to people who, historically, have had none - due to enslavement, poverty and oppression. Moreover destructive works can and are performed just as frequently with 'cooler' spirits and saints than with their hotter counterparts in these cultures. Similarly, if we investigate the Quimbanda spirit hierarchy we find spirits that are master healers, spirits that are concerned with the welfare of children, spirits that help cure alcoholism and host of other benign functions. All these spirits have an almost one for one syncretism with demons of Grimoirium Verum. Its not the use of black magic or hot spirits that makes one a witch (and I use that term in its true sense) it is ones motivation for using said 'black' magical technology. If your intentions are evil, pernicious and harmful to your community then you are understood to be an evil influence and you will most likely be removed by use of similar magic. One word; justice.

In my opinion the Frater is setting up a false dichotomy with his argument; one which reduces complex social and magical systems with its bourgeois assumptions.

Having said that, Frater Barrabbas has got a few valid points regarding safety and I think these are rooted in a genuine concern. When entering into a relationship with ANY spirit we need to be careful; we need to have experience and we need some sort of spiritual support system for when things go wrong. Because things do go wrong. Also the Frater's concern for using angels to balance demons is more or less valid from an ATR perspective  - because in these traditions cooler spirits and saints are often used to soothe and balance hotter, more feral, types of spirits. This sort of backup is something that I am personally taking into account with my work with the Verum by working with the saints and ancestors as balancing agents to the Verum spirits (as is sometimes done in Quimbanda).

We obviously should not be cavalier about entering into relationships with spirits of any sort, and certainly not those of the True Grimoire. I dont believe that Jake is promoting a cavalier way of working though; simply one that has worked for him and one that he believes has positive potential. The pact system has always been part of the Grimoirium Verum and the grimoire has been available on the internet in various forms for the longest time - so its not like he is opening a pandoras box as the Frater seems to suggest. What's more; the pact mechanism is not of the same stripe as the faustian sort that populates modern imagination. No soul selling, no terms and conditions or any such thing - its merely a evocatory device and one which is traceable back to ancient pre-christian goetic forms at that. There are a few people around, both on the Verum yahoo group and elsewhere, whom have worked the Verum system and have not been eaten alive or gone barmy yet. I have heard equally irrational claims that all operators of Enochian magic go nuts or end up dead and yet lately everyone seems to be practicing that system with no ill effect. I am sure there are other examples.

Noone is saying that Grimoirium Verum based goetic magic is safe or cuddly; but then again no spirit based magic is. Jake did put a blood red skull on the cover, after all...

Use at your own risk. 

2.12.09

Honor to St. Joseph!

I recently had a wonderful success working a case with the aid of the kind and powerful St. Joseph. I would like to start the post by honoring him, spreading his name and I want to encourage folks to work magically with this saint when in need. He really does come through in the most miraculous way. He is frequently called upon to aid in the selling of property, but he is also known to help find jobs - since he provided for the saviour and the mother of God by working hard as a carpenter; this association makes perfect sense, being the patron of workers.





I performed a job-getting working for someone close to me and it was to find a job in a foreign country under very specific set of circumstances. It seemed like it would be a tough one due to the stringent requirements of the situation but I kept an open mind. Sure enough, within five days of beginning of the spellwork, potential positions started streaming in and it seemed that he would be spoiled for choice. Within a fortnight interviews were scheduled after which the best of the prospects immediately made a firm offer and the rest is history. In this economic climate this was rather miraculous especially since he had been actively trying for over six months to no avail. I attribute this result to power and kindness of St. Joseph. I will share the lamp powered formula I devised for interested readers.


I used lamp magic as the central part of the spell, but instead of using a kerosene lamp as is traditional in conjure, I created a bowl-lamp as is seen in afro-caribean magic. The reason is mainly practical; 'open' lamps are simple and cheap to create and are not smelly and obnoxious (as kerosene lamps tend to be). I also like to extract roots from the oil, later in the working - this would be impossible had they soaked in kerosene. Bowl-lamps burn with almost any vegetable oil so they smell quite pleasant and you can extract roots, loadstones and medals from them - all powered up from the lamp magic to include in a follow-on mojo hand, bath etc. as I like to do. 


The St. Joseph Job Lamp:


A bowl, tinfoil, cotton bandage (for wicking)
St. Joseph medal
Gravel Root
Salt
1 large lodestone
Five-finger Grass
1 large High John The Conquer root
Cinnamon
1 Mojo bean
Job-getting condition oil
Lodestone oil
Petition written by client detailing location, salary and other requirements.
Personal concern of client (in this case hair from his head)
Vegetable oil for fuel (I used sunflower oil for its solar associations)


An altar space for St. Joseph should be set up with a picture or statue along with water with few drops of florida water added to it. Some flowers are nice too.


The petition is placed on the bottom of the bowl, the lodestone is blessed and baptized, naming it "Joseph", then placed on top of the petition. The lodestone is circled with salt and Gravel Root, covering the petition. Tell the salt what it needs to do to, because salt does what it is told. Salt is used in combination with gravel root for job getting traditionally. Next add a nice wad of five finger grass and cinnamon and place the HJQ root, mojo bean and medal on the petition paper too. The HJQ root will float on top of the oil - surprisingly, the mojo bean will sink! Pray over each ingredient as it is added awakening it's force to the work. Add a few drops of condition oil.


Tape the tinfoil over half of the bowl's rim, creating a platform to thread the wicking through. Roll the bandage, pass it through incense smoke and pray over the wicking fervently - firing it up with prayer. Poke a hole in the tinfoil and thread through the wicking letting about half an inch peek through the top. Fill the bowl with vegetable oil and place on the St. Joseph altar. Petition st. Joseph fervently and sincerely as you light the lamp. I take this part very seriously and like to get into a space with the work that I can feel St. Joseph standing in front of me. You will know when his spirit responds. Offer the lamp to to him. Feed the lodestone a pinch of magnetic sand by sprinkling the sand into in the oil over the stone. Say something like; "Dear Joseph as this magnetic sand draws to you, so you draw a job to X, as this sand clings to you, so job offers cling to X, as I feed you so you feed X, in the name of the Father Son and Holy spirit Amen."


Keep the lamp burning continually, pray and petition St. Joseph daily when you refill the lamp; each day feed the lodestone a pinch magnetic sand and add condition oil. Work it like this until the client has an interview for a position he wants then you can let the lamp burn out. Extract the HJQ root, lodestone, medal and mojo bean. Take a purple flannel mojo bag and put fresh Gravel Root and Salt along with the lamp's HJQ, lodestone, mojo bean and a fresh petition in it with along with prayers. Work it, tie it and smoke it - then neatly sew the St. Joseph medal onto the hand. Give it to the client to carry. Also give the remainder of the lamp wick - they should take the wick and add it to a spiritual bath before attending the interview. When they get the job; offering saint Joseph flowers as thanks is appropriate.


I work with a few saints regularly but St. Joseph is the only saint I have had approach me in a dream before I decided to work with him so I feel special connection to him. Ever since then he has been a blessing in my home and I hope others will be inspired to petition this kind saint.