15.8.12

The Garden of Souls: spirit pots, the dead and spiritualism


It's been a while since a posted and there is a rather timeous discussion going on over at R.O.'s blog about.. you guessed it - the construction of spirit pots! This topic comes up every so often and then we all thrash it out for a while trying to come some sort of inter-tradition consensus, which is basically impossible. What complicates matters is that the inspiration for the creation of these pots - this last while anyway - seems to come mainly from ATR's - and Palo Mayombe's Nganga specifically.

R.O. suggested creating, I guess you could say, a simulacrum of a prenda by putting a freshly dead human soul in a pot using a grimoiric approach. I of course protested saying it was a bad idea and so the discussion began, Jason piped up and Jack Faust also makes some very thoughtful and interesting points based on the PGM which I didn't know but are especially tantalizing threads of cross-cultural connection. Valid moral issues regarding the enslavement and desecration of the dead are also discussed. It's a rather good thread.

What's especially timeous about the thread is that I wrote an essay all about the topic for the At Crossroads published by Scarlet Imprint. Specifically, I discussed a certain contentious simulacrum of the Nganga found in Cuba and now globally (and indeed here in Amsterdam) called the caldero espiritual. 

What is the caldero espiritual?

Well, it is a pot that looks and works similarly to a Nganga but is in fact not a true Nganga at all. So, as you can see it isn't only R.O. who is inspired to create nganga-like pots but in fact people in Cuba  and abroad have been doing it too.

Jason writes:

As to the permanent emeshing of shades in matter, it is indeed more or less the standard to use criminals, or insane people because they are easier to manipulate. Sadly, it the philosophy also extends to children, aborted foetus's, and so on. In the case of a Nganga there is a lot more than just emeshing in matter that goes on. It is almost like surgical enhancement...

All that said, when I hear about graves being robbed or hospitals being raded, than traced to spirit pots, it kind of pisses me off. Religious freedom is one thing, but shouldnt the sanctity of remains also be protected? 

Indeed. And this is one of problems that the wielders of caldero espiritual claim to address. This 'spiritual' cauldron has no enslaved Nfumbe - although it is still is a kind of necromantic nexus. There is more than one way to skin a cat, you see. Some also think that it is a lot more dangerous than a Nganga and many paleros believe it to be a perversion of the sanctity of their tradition. Yet, various forms of the caldero espiritual have been created and passed on for a couple of generations already and people do work with them successfully... There is a lot more to it than even this though, and I try to tackle some of the main topics in that essay but it's so culturally complex it could well be the topic of an entire book.

I mention this in part to plug At the Crossroads but also to point out that there are different approaches to spirit pots even with the Cuban religious continuum. The main thing that I would like to emphasize above all, however, is that there many other viable ways to work with the dead (ancestral or otherwise) not only in Afro-Cuban religion but in all of the diaspora. And most of them certainly do not involve plucking a soul out of the otherworld and sticking it in a pot. This seem to be the main go-to thing that western magicians want to do these days and I think it is due to frustration of wanting access to traditions like Palo but being unable (or unwilling) to get initiated to them.

To work with the dead you really don't need to stick a spirit in a pot. There are different approaches available in the diaspora and a very excellent one in western tradition too! Namely that great western living tradition of working with the dead: spiritualism

Spiritualism works SO well in fact that african-derived religions all over the Diaspora have quite happily blended western spiritualism into african traditions creating beautiful traditions such as: espiritismo cruzado, sanse, umbanda and many, many more!

It really surprises me that western magicians have not looked more closely at spiritualism as a way to start working with the dead. Why not start syncretising or synthesizing something along those lines? You don't hear about that. You hear an awful lot about Nganga-like pots being put together or running round the graveyard whenever the topic of the dead comes up. Yet, in the Caribbean it's spiritism that is the main vehicle for working with the dead. The reason is simple: it works so bloody well!

Perhaps, it is because we have a low estimation of our own magical history. In my opinion spiritualism was probably one of the primary thrusts behind the magical revival in the victorian era. You know, the revival that caused the Golden Dawn, Thelema and all the succedent ceremonial magical orders up to and including Wicca. The faux Egyptian headdress wearing bourgeoisie were knee deep in spiritualism, people! In the case of the Golden Dawn they are plainly documented as having used spiritualist techniques to talk to them pesky Secret Chiefs.

I mean just listen to that term: "Secret Chiefs" If that isn't spiritualist lingo then I'll eat my own ectoplasm. And lets not forget A.O. Spare's main spirit guide, White Eagle. Yes, the grandaddy of chaos magic, mister Zos Kia Cultus - had a friggin spirit guide called White Eagle. Ehem.

My point is that there is a ripe avenue for working with the dead that could be followed in much the same way that it was in Caribbean, but in this case by western magicians. And considering that spiritualism is in fact 100% western, cultural appropriation is much less of an issue. There are also very many good spiritualist centers around the world where you could just walk right in and meet experienced mediums to talk to and learn from.

10 comments:

  1. Hi, thanks for this post :) Good stuff.

    Regards spiritualism and western traditions: Dion Fortune was saying exactly the same thing in the early 40s, Alan Richardson in the 80s repeated it, among others. There are certainly some folk and groups who do exactly this, as I know from personal experience.

    Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. GREAT POST. I was holding off on ordering the book until the rouge version cimes out, but you just sold me on one of the hard covers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great to hear it Jason! And a good thing you went for the hardcover because as I understand it there will be no Rouge edition due to the amount of colour plates in the book.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "I will eat my own ectoplasm" hahaha! I love you.

    Well, one of the things I notice with some contemporary occultism to the tendency to bash spiritualism. I know that Franz Bardon does it even as he teaches you how to sense things with astral senses which seems a very spiritualistic technique to me. I am fairly certain I have come across other writings saying similar things as well. I think that this maybe traced to in the US the early popularity of spiritualism was so great that alot of frauds and con artists got involved. But I am still looking into spiritualism and working on developing as a medium.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You make a good point Br. Christopher, I think occultists, like Bardon, Crowley and Mathers were doing their best to distance themselves from spiritualism perhaps to create the illusion of something older and more exclusive. Yet, so many of the terms and concepts that are commonplace in the western magical tradition find their origin in spiritualism and it's predecessor mesmerism. I also imagine this was classist thing; with spiritualism popularity it probably became perceived as plebeian.

    ReplyDelete
  6. In modern, 20th century occultism - as you mentioned - many occultists did the best they could to distance themselves from spiritualism even to the point that in certain initiations one makes vows not to engage in practices such as "spiritism, mesmerism, or hypnotism".

    Naturally, things have come a long way since then and many modern occultists have no problem employing elements of mesmerism and hypnotism but spiritism/spiritualism still has a nasty bias against it. I think this might also have something to do with the problems of manipulation and chicanery employed by less scrupulous mediums and seers.

    In the case of modern occultists, especially those who revere the likes of Paschal Beverly Randolf who was himself a spiritist of sorts or modern grimoiric magicians, it strikes me funny that this anti-spiritism neurosis still remains. I've personally performed some of the "necromantic experiments" from the Munich Handbook to no ill effect and, as part of my interest in Haitian Vodou I deeply look forward to the Fete Guedhe every year as a time where I might commune with the dead.

    You've really hit it on the head here as always, Balthazar. I look forward to reading your accounts in At the Crossroads.

    ReplyDelete
  7. GREAT ARTICLE AS ALWAYS MY FRIEND, MUCHA LUZ Y FORTALEZA TO YOU AND YOURS. I HAVE GOTTEN MANY EMAILS ON THIS VERY SUBJECT, BY INDIVIDUALS WHO ASK ME IF I CAN PREPARE A CALDERO ESPIRITUAL FOR THEM, OR IF I DO THESE INITIATIONS, OR WHAT ARE THE ENCARGAMIENTOS FOR THESE CALDEROS. THESE ITEMS ARE NOT GENERALLY OF PUERTO RICAN SANSE. I SAY GENERALLY, BECAUSE AS IN ANY TRADITION THERE ARE THOSE CHARLATANS WHO SAY THERE ARE OR DO THEM TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK. IN SANSE WE GIVE PUNTOS TO THE BAPTIZED AND THOSE WHO ARE TO BE SANCISTAS, AND THEY ARE RECIEVED WITHIN TINAJAS. MANY PEOPLE AUTOMATICALLY THINK THAT THAT THE TINAJAS ARE OF AFRICAN ORIGIN, AND ALTHOUGH IN PART THEY ARE, IT ALSO HAS TO DO WITH OUR TAINO, AND ARAWAK INDIAN HERRITAGE. THE TAINO SHAMANS, KNOWN AS BOHIQUES OFTEN KEPT THE REMAINS OF A WISE ELDER, ANOTHER SHAMAN OR WARRIOR WITHIN A GOURD, WHICH WERE KEPT IN THE BATEY WITHIN THE SHAMANS BOHIO. OFTEN THESE SACRED GOURDS HAS SYMBOLS CARVED INTO THEM TO REPRESENT THE CEMI, ZEMI OR HUPIA SPIRITS. THE WORD HUPIA IS PRONOUNCED, OH PEE AH, AND IS WHERE THE WORD OBEA COMES FROM. THESE GOURDS WERE NOT MENTTO MANIPULATE THE SPIRIT INTO WORKING FOR THE BOHIQUES, BUT WERE USED AS A FOCAL POINT FOR VENERATION REVERENSE AND RESPECT. SANCISTAS ALSO RECIEVE FROM ONE TO SEVEN PUNTOS, SOME MORE, WHICH ARE KEPT WITHIN TINAJAS AND ARE USED AS A DIRECT LINK TO THE MISTERIOS AND THE ANCESTORS KNOWN AS SANCE OR EMISARIOS. WE ALSO PREPARE STATUES WITH ENCARGAMIENTOS AS WAS DONE BOTH IN AFRICAN AND TAINO CULTURES. THE TAINO HAD THE ZEMI WHICH WERE REPRESENTED WITH STONES AND SACRED MARKINGS OF THE ZEMI OR CEMI IT REPRESENTED. NEVER ARE THE SPIRITS FEED BLOOD WITHIN SANCE, OR MANIPULATED INTO DOING EVIL OR HARM. THE EMISARIOS ARE GIVEN LIGHT, WATER AND INCENSE FOR CLARITY AND ELEVATION. THIS IS DONE SO THAT BOTH THE SANCISTA AND HIS CUADRO RECIEVE THE ULTIMATE BLESSINGS WHICH IS THE ELEVATION OF THE SPIRIT. THE TINAJAS ARE NEVER KEPT IN SIGHT BUT IN A PLACE WITHIN THE ALTAR AWAY FROM THE VIEWS OF OTHERS. THE TINAJAS ARE LIKE THE URNS IN WESTERN CULTURE WITH ASHES OF ONES DEAD, WHICH IS KEPT AS A SIGN OF REVERENCE AND RESPECT. SANCE IS BOTH A TAINO AND AFRICAN TRADITION A BRANCH OF HAITIAN VOODOO, FRENCH SPIRITISM, AND TAINO CULTURE,. MANY SANCISTAS ALSO PRACTICE MESA BLANCA OR ESPIRITISMO CRIOLLA. WITHIN SANCE THE SPIRITS ARE NEVER MANIPULATED INTO WORKING EVIL, THEY ARE PRAYED TO, GIVEN RESPECT, AND WE ASK FOR THEIR BLESSINGS SO THAT THEY IN TERN HELP US IN ELEVATION.

    FOR MORE INFO ON PUERTO RICAN SANCE, READERS ARE WELCOMED TO VISIT MY BLOG.. MUCH BLESSINGS TO YOU..

    SANCISTA BRUJO LUIS

    ReplyDelete
  8. Those interested in the severing of the link between Spiritualism and Magic in the West may be interested to read 'The Place of Enchantment' by Alex Owen.

    Certainly this is something which we have mused on, and it seems to be one of the critical failings in the Western Magical Tradition. Our hope is that with intelligent discussion of the matter by writers like Balthazar, and the growing awareness of the practices of the Diaspora religions, that this can be set right by our generation.

    Naturally spiritualism is full of frauds, but then, magic hardly has clean hands in that department either!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Umm, there is a strong visionary and ritual thread of working with and within death magically in the Western Mystery Tradition and has been for a quite some time. Its just not written about too much or has not yet hit the Llewellyn titles. But it is there and has nothing to do with spiritualism, table tapping, pots, dismembered fingers or bad tasting liquors.....:D

    ReplyDelete
  10. You bring up a very interesting point Balthzar about looking at the western tradition of spiritualism for connection to the spirt realm. I think many people are turned off by the pure western spiritualism because it comes off as very light hearted. I know from experience that certain mediums don't deliver messages of doom because it goes against principal. On the other hand it can difficult finding someone who practices Sanse etc so looking towards the western way to develop should be an option. Blessings

    ReplyDelete