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.


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?


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.


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.


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.



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
1 large lodestone
Five-finger Grass
1 large High John The Conquer root
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.


The Hard Gift

When we bring spirits into our lives; the ancestors, saints, dead and other celestial or terrestrial spirits, we imagine that this will mean getting access to their aid and blessings. And whilst this is true we also are given certain gifts and blessings we never asked for at all or even consider to be such. In fact the spirits have their own ideas about what is right, moral, just and conducive to your integrity. And when we bring their influence into our lives we get the full package, like it or not. They begin to participate on all levels as distinct and assertive people, like any other person you have chosen to associate with. They have thoughts and feelings about what is going on with your life, and like any close friend or family member will tell it like it is. Except sometimes they show you through circumstances when you do not listen. This week I stepped out of line and the spirits unequivocally walloped me right back into alignment with my deepest level of integrity. It was hard, it was violent and it tore at the sinews of my being. I see now it was essential - but damn, it hurts. This is what it means to have spirits; they have you too.


High Resolution Tarot, part 1: Filtering Out The Noise

My main problem with getting what I like to call 'high resolution' readings is 'tarot noise'. What is tarot noise? Well, my definition of noise would be cards that make no sense, obscure or otherwise distort a reading. Now sometimes those cards coming out left field are valuable because they make you think outside the box, yet when striving for this personal ideal of crisp, accurate, no-nosense readings I want to keep noise down to minimum. This means that the cards that come up should relate to a question or an aspect of the question in a relevant, direct and accurate way.

We approach the tarot with the useful assumption that all the cards that come up are relevant to the question and that what a spread is trying to say is valid no matter which cards it includes. The reader's job is to decode it and good reader is better at decoding the spread than an average person. This is a helpful mindset which I think is vital to reading. Yet, what if the tarot isn't always that clear or sensical? What if its a kind of bizarre occult message machine; part magick, part pattern, part nonsense spinning on an axle of synchronicity? Maybe its possible that we are using it as kind of translation tool for the mind of God and, sometimes, something can get lost in translation. Sometimes there is interference; those muddy readings that leave you or your querent puzzled and possibly even more confused than before. Not good.

Interference manifests as what I think of as this kind of tarot noise. You know, flipping the cards and having half of them come up as court cards. Court cards are useful but when half the spread is made up out of them, I begin to think that there is noise there - the nonsense component of the machine is out of calibration. Similarly, when I ask a question about money and most of the cards that come up are cups you could resort to lyrical explanations about the universe wanting you to look more closely at emotional issues at the heart of your money problem; or, you could try and eek financial advice out of cup cards using some 'intuitive' interpretation linking the water element with money (and this is a valid approach). But hell, if I ask a question about money I want an answer about money I don't want to know about relationships, feelings etc.

I want a filter for such noise. Because whilst I am sure the universe means well when telling us about our love life in the middle of money reading, I still want accurate relevant information about money, especially when doing magic relating to that specific area for a client.

Pondering this I recalled something relevant; I was talked into I reading at a psychic fair. I hate psychic fairs - its a circus and demeaning to our art. Nonetheless, I was chatting to the reader in the booth next to me discussing an unpleasant exchange with a punter who had been dissatisfied when her sample reading of three cards (5 of Swords, 3 of Swords and 5 of cups) which not only did NOT predict wealth, fame and fortune but delivered some bad news. I dont like to sugar coat but I did my best to a positive spin on the reading. Still she was displeased and jumped up and stormed out.

The reader next door informed me that when she reads at fairs she removes all the unhappy cards; devil, death, 10 of swords etc. Heresy! I was horrified. What a dishonest and morally bankrupt thing to do! People come for accurate readings after all. No, she said - they come for good news and encouragement. I didn't buy it and remained disdainful of the practice and looked at it as evidence of how profit makes charlatans.

However, when I began to rethink my tarot noise theory I recalled this discussion and something struck me. If people were coming for good news readings and the deck was altered in some way to omit 'bad' cards it does not necessarily mean that the readings they were getting were wrong. Maybe, the readings were just being filtered. Sure, next month a new love interest would arrive and he would have lots of money; a rigged deck just would not mention that he was a dangerous psychopath, or that he will get arrested for fraud after robbing you blind. For better or worse you got what you asked for; good news and nothing else.

Now I am not defending deck fixing, I still think its bad practice; but the reader in the booth next door had a point. If that is what people wanted and she gives them that, she felt that no harm was being done. The problem is that some people want all the news and doing readings with a fixed deck without their knowledge is dishonest. However, it demonstrates an interesting and possibly useful mechanism.

Maybe I can filter my readings by 'fixing' my deck in a structured way relevant to my question? And in this way just get the information I want or need and less noise. It would seem to me the deck is already structured in such a way that it lends itself to this quite nicely. The french for instance are known to read solely with the major arcana; in other words fixing the deck so that they only deal with the 22 major ideas of the tarot. What if I take this approach select parts of the deck relevant to my question or spread and then only read with those parts, so doing filtering out irrelevant responses to my area of inquiry?

The elemental division of the tarot lends itself to this approach. For instance - if the question relates to love why not only read using the cups and majors? Or, perhaps one could structure the deck based on the elemental make up of the question. Your husband is cheating on you and you fear he is wasting your savings on his mistress (Cups and Pentacles). Your business partner is plotting to oust you from the company (Swords and Pentacles). You want to get married but you are not sure he is financially stable (Cups and pentacles).

The deck would then be broken into its component parts; majors, cups, wands, swords, pentacles and court cards . These components then are only brought into the reading when they are implicated by the question - or even the positional meaning of the spread. In essence one could say that the tarot contains six decks within its structure and to my thinking one could skillfully choose which deck you want 'voiced' in a reading or spread position, tightening up responses.


Gnostic Conjure Jazzed Up

Its a new day and I have been having a lot of creating the new Gnostic Conjure frontispiece. When I am not busy conjuring and trafficking with powers beyond my ken, I enjoy digital drawing so I thought I would jazz up the blog with a custom banner. Now the trick is to stop tweaking the darned thing...


St. Cyprian of Antioch: the Goetic Saint

St. Cyprian of Antioch is an exquisite paradox and to my thinking a figure that mythically resolves the duality provoked philosophically when seemingly moral, thoughtful people decide to practice black magic. The question being: can one be a black magician and still be accomplishing a higher spiritual transformation?  And ultimately, what constitutes said transformation if not only ascent to the heavens?

The myth of this saint has many layers and angles, especially when one observes his veneration in the new world traditions and folk magic; one will find a complex and thoroughly occult folk saint - and as such, naturally, the patron saint of magicians; petitioned in cases relating to magic, spirits or spiritual cleansing. As the story goes, St. Cyprian was a great sorcerer skilled in the blackest of art; able to conjure legions of demons and perform terrible feats of sorcery. Yet his sorcery could not prevail against St. Justina against whom he was sent by a client to nab magically; one assumes for carnal enjoyments. She dispelled his magic by making the sign of the cross and he converted humbled by her faith and together they converted many pagans and later were martyred for their efforts.

Thats the official story. There is another side to this saint however. We find associated with this saint the dreaded black book of St. Cyprian; a grimoire famed and feared throughout the diaspora. What's interesting about it is the ambiguity that the grimoire provokes around the saint partly because of the mythos contained within certain versions of the book, purporting that St. Cyprian converted as a means to allow him to legitimately practice magic in a changing world. The grimoire describes all sorts of operations of magic; ranging from folk cures to curses and conjurations. It is related to the Grimoirium Verum, and we find parts of the Verum spirit hierarchy described within it. The book  has fearful reputation and at the same time sees widespread use in brazil's traditions of Umbanda and Quimbanda as well as in other folk catholic contexts.

Here we have saint with one foot in Goetia land and the other in Heaven. In a tantalizing way this figure is a saintly nexus of heaven and hell; a crossroads, if you will. As such we find he is petitioned by spiritual workers, umbandistas, quimbandistas and other magicians  when dealing with difficult, dangerous or unruly spirits. He helps one get control of the situation and acts as a kind of saintly intermediary to these more dangerous forces. He is turned to, for instance, by devotees of Santa Muerte when she gets out of control, in order to pacify what can be a rather dangerous spirit. We find a similar way of working with him in brazil in relationship to the legion  of Exus - who have a close relationship with deamons of Grimoirium Verum, which in turn has close relationship with the grimoire of St. Cyprian. 

As someone who works magically with the saints I can attest to their power and willingness to aid. I was baptized in the faith and possibly this is one of the reasons I find my work with them so rewarding, but another is that by dealing with these spirits directly I have discovered another side of the tradition and christianity that is unmediated by consensus. Its living and very magical mythos, woven into the bible and throughout history and by working with it magically, really reclaiming it. Looking it in a new and broader, gnostic light. 

St. Cyprian of Antioch truly embodies this magical vision for me and I thank him and spread his name as thanks for that grace.


The Root of Tarot

I have been reading the cards for well over fifteen years. Over time my style of reading has changed and developed. I have a library full of tarot books and I have embraced many of the newer trends in tarot. Choice centered reading being one; with which I mean using the cards to select possible futures rather than to predict a deterministic outcome. As a sorcerer this approach has always appealed to me, because after all - isn't magic supposed to be about choosing what we want?

Along with this style of reading I realize I have somewhat unwittingly absorbed a psychological interpretation of the tarot. One which puts value in the projective nature of the mind - that thing that allows us to see bunny rabbits in the shape of the clouds. This seems to be a rather contemporary trend in the tarot - which views the reading as 'therapeutic'. Lately I have started questioning this notion and looking to the tarot's divinatory grandmother- astrology, to see if it could enlighten my approach. Of course the major critique leveled at the tarot is that interpretation can be too subjective. If we look at traditional horary astrology for instance we find far less subjectivity and rather clear cut rules which are applied systematically to conduct a reading often resulting in a very clear cut Yes or No answer. And to my mind when conducting a card reading one also wants to be able to get this level of resolution. People come to the cards confused and hopeful; its from this simple impulse that we are asking most questions with the aim to bring clarity and insight.

Anyone who has some experience reading will realize how difficult it becomes to read for yourself regarding a highly charged emotionally issue. No objectivity is possible and the ambiguity in the cards become tangled in a maze of fear and wishful thinking. It becomes like a doctor trying to diagnose himself. Yet, herein lies the conundrum - I need to be able to do just that as magician. I need to diagnose the situation and i need to do this simply, succinctly and clearly without getting swamped with psychological material.

I am beginning to think that tarot has suffered the same fate as astrology did in the 20s/30s when it became appropriated, neutered and diluted; refashioned in the image of scientific materialism's new discipline - psychology. That catch-all vague amorphous science in which everything strange and related to human begins could be dumped; explained as being all 'in the mind'. Never mind that they haven't really been able to define what the mind or consciousness is!

Nonetheless astrology became a 'psychological tool' and as such it perversely became a tool that psychologists didn't want or use and fortune tellers couldn't wield to predict anything except the vaguest subjective blather. It was simplified and all the useful bits forgotten and had all kinds of silly new age twaddle grafted onto it; stewed into and bland brew of platitudes and psychobabble. Its only very recently that art was rescued and the old sources studied and the system more or less revived to be an accurate predictive device. Of course the Modern Traditional Astrologers feel so proud of their accomplishment that it seems this traditional revival has bred hordes or puffed up, self-righteous, imperious and most of all - tedious - 'traditional astrologers' who love nothing more than distinguishing themselves from the "moderns" by spouting ye olde medieval astrological aphorisms, lecturing everyone and anyone who will listen on the sublime science of traditional astrology as the epitome of human achievement. I hate fanatics.

But I digress! I was talking about tarot and my belief that tarot as suffered the same fate as astrology; subsumed in the flotsam of psychology and as such possibly having lost some its original crispness. I long for the days when a gypsy would turn a card revealing that skulled figure on a horse and pronounce, accurately, that within a fortnight you will be DEAD. Call me a romantic if you will, but I would rather be too scared to check the cards for fear that they were right, than have them be vague and 'psychological'.

These days the worst that you can wring from the DEATH card is 'transformation'. Ugh. Somewhere we went wrong in contemporary tarot. I mean i can give pretty good reading and have been praised for accuracy - but I want more. I want to be able to tell you your house will flood next week because of bad plumbing and that the pipe is going to burst on the west wall of the house because you got your cousin in to do it for a fraction of the price instead of getting a professional plumber. Horary astrologers can do this - why not tarotists?

So I am throwing out all my books, ideas and experience; putting away all my pretty decks and getting my old dog-eared Rider Waite pack out and starting from scratch.


Hoodoo Housekeeping

Every few months or so, stuff in my conjure workshop and on my various spirit altars just get totally out of control. There is debris from the ongoing spell work everywhere; drippings, bits of root, cloth, paper etc. The jars that I greedily hoard yet never seem to be enough for all the stuff that I want to put in them, crowd every shelf. Shelves are dusty and altars are cluttered and covered with petition papers, empty bottles of condition oil, crab shell - you name it. 
I am not the neatest person in the world and I rather enjoy the look of my shelves when crammed with weird bottles, meaningful bits of stone, stick or bone. And then there is all the dirt. Various forms of crossroads dirt - hailing from either trivium, T junction, fork and regular - or from some special crossroads that mean something; an accident happened there or I felt unusually drawn to it for some reason. Bank dirt, mental hospital dirt, prison dirt and of course graveyard dirt.
Sometimes I forget to label my dirt, and you know what? Its kinda hard to distinguish crossroads dirt from bank dirt by looking at it. :)

In my ongoing quest for sorcerous power I am continually getting new herbs and roots into the workshop to experiment with and expand my herbal arsenal/magical vocabulary. 
The problem is space. So I had to give my herb collection a long, hard look to decide what I use regularly and thus deserves easy-access shelf space and what should be packed away in the pantry or chucked out. Not easy for a hoarder such as I!
Then there are the few herbs that I grow and dry myself hanging around that need to get put in a containers or thrown out if they have lost their spark.
I am kinda particular and like too keep my magical equipment, jars, bowls, knives and spoons separated from my regular kitchen utensils - which means I have magical kitchenware floating around the workshop because I refuse to keep it in the kitchen with the regular kitchenware. 
I always seem to be ordering far more herbaceous material than I could possibly use before it looses its life and so inevitably I have these extra packets of stuff that don't fit into jars, yet which I cant bring myself get rid of because its still good to use!

This chaos builds up to a critical level and I can almost feel the saints and spirits on my various altars grimacing with forbearance with this mess. Eventually I start feeling the clutter is draining my enthusiasm and drive to work magic.

It ends today!


Curious Dream: Angelic Samurai

Last night I had a rather curious dream. I dreamt that I was conducting an evocation rite of some kind in a strange abandoned mansion. But what was so unusual was that instead of calling four watchtowers I called three, creating a triangular arrangement with water, air, and fire. I then called earth below the circle and finally called down ether/spirit from above which formed a ray that penetrated down into the earth, seemingly activating the entire configuration.

The elements were furious, swirling tornadoes of elemental substance - except for earth which was dark and dense and cold. Finally a luminous angelic figure appeared before me. Except this angel was this strange kind of cosmic samurai - although thats not exactly how i would describe him either - there certainly was an alien/asian/knight esthetic there nonetheless. He gave me his name but I cannot recall it clearly.

Most curious of all is that my style of ritual rarely involves opening the watchtowers or angels! I am considering using my pendulum to divine the spirit's name and trying the ritual as per my dream to see if i can contact him again. I remember the first letters and the general feel of the name; so who knows maybe after all of my critical indifference regarding angelic contacts one decides to talk to me. Go figure.


Holy Anointing Oil

Being lazy, I usually blend my condition oils using essential oils in a carrier oil like almond oil. Never before have tried to do it the old fashioned way of steeping the herbaceous material in oil repeatedly. It seemed like that would take forever. Anyway, I decided to try out a recipe from one of my favorite folk-magic authors Draja Mickaharic. Its a version of the biblical Holy Anointing oil. And Wow! The result is so amazingly different - the smell is more subtle, but so rich, spicy and luxurious. More importantly the magical charge seems substantially more pronounced. It contains myrhh, cinnamon, cassia and calamus in a base of olive oil. You just pulverize till powdery put in a jar and cover with olive oil - you place this on a windowsill in the sun for a couple of weeks, shaking daily. The sun both helps to extract the oils from the herbs and resins but more than this it solarizes the oil with life giving energy. The result is quite spectacular.

Holy Anointing Oil is of course good for blessing and prayer. To call down the Grace of the Almighty when inflamed with the Spirit, or anoint others for healing, blessing and protection. Similarly, it may be used to anoint altars or magical tools, candles, mojo's and similar sacred tools of the Arte. Its also traditional to put a few drops in the water when performing a foot-washing for someone for their cleansing and spiritual renewal.


The Ancestors, HGA and Goety in the New World

In the modern Solomonic tradition there is some emphasis that when approaching goetia that it will be done as  a practice adjunct to, or preferably following work with theurgia. Which is to say the conjuration and initiation into planetary and angelic forces. Understandably, the two are seen as being cognate and that in order to access and control the goetic forces safely one would have to have the experience and support of the angelic, or otherwise celestial forces. Its unclear how much if this is just pure rhetorical construction and valid historical truth. But I am willing to guess that there were quite a few magicians, traditional witches and such folk who conjured infernal forces without getting their angelic 'wings' first, as it were. Be it the attainment of the Holy Guardian Angel, initiations into planetary spheres or otherwise. Now setting aside the distinct philosophical dualism or binary that this proposition sets up and the problems inherent therein - I would like to chat a bit about how the traditions in the New World handle the infusion of grimoiric and especially goetic magic into their magic and spirituality. Specifically we find Haitian vodou, Brazilian Quimbanda and possibly the Obeah of Jamaica as well as some elements in Southern Conjure that are distinctly informed by the solomonic tradition of the grimoire.

Yet rarely, if ever, do we find theurgia incorporated into New World magics when the grimoires have been a  marked influence in other ways. In Haiti the Grande Grimoire and the Verum have seen much prestige and use - fluidly incorporated into the ritual systems in that environment to hair raising effect. Same with Brazilian Quimbanda. Deamons become readily syncretized with Lwa or Exu's just as saints have been, but very rarely do we see celestial beings syncretized and only when the angels in question have the unique double duty as Saints - such as St. Michael, or St. Gabriel. This omission surely isn't due to reticence about Christian concepts about angels - because these cultures quite ingeniously managed to include and accept Christianity otherwise. Nor can we say they have not had access to the Grimoires - because the staple texts have been a fairly long standing influence in New World traditions. In fact we find a very selective use of even Goetic material from the grimoires - and often leaning to the blacker, more diabolical texts and forgoing the, ehem, 'whiter' goetic works such lemegeton; or if these are used it is only as a source for spirits rather that procedures. Thats a whole other post worth of discussion right there! No, theurgia is not incorporated into New World magics because its not chthonic.

New World magical traditions are distinctly results driven but more than that there is the particularly african preoccupation with the Dead. Reverence, worship and propitiation of the dead can be understood to be one of most central features of all African, and African descended spirituality. It is the central core in an otherwise varied theology. In fact the celestial forces are often seen as being too distant and possibly preoccupied with greater functioning of universe to care whether uncle Dlamini in the bordering settlement will stop beating his wife. No, for that you need spirits that are closer - spirits who have their hands in, and an interest in the affairs of day to day life. As the such what western magicians might describe as chthonic spirits, are most suited to their needs. The immediate family's dead ancestors, local spirits of places and then greater ancestral spirits who are so old and great that they have entered myth as the Lwa, Orisha, Nkisi etc. Its understandable that saints were so readily accepted by New World traditions and retained long after the hold of slave culture had receded. The saints are simply mighty dead. Mighty dead with cool chromolitho prints and halos to boot.

In any event my point is this - that in these traditions where we find the incorporation of grimoiric spirits of the goetic variety - we do not find theurgic work used to 'balance' it. No Holy Guardian Angel in the Abremalin sense, or otherwise; no planetary angels and no 'high' 'white' magic as such. Why is that, when other grimoire spirits have been included? Well, my guess would be - is it was not needed or useful to them.

This is not to say that modern traditional mages concerns are not valid and that some kind of spiritual support system and backup is not required when dealing with the wilder more feral variety of spirit we encounter in the Goetia - its just that that support doesn't not necessarily have to be of the winged, celestial variety. As such, the New World traditions usually turn toward their own spiritual and genetic roots for such support when working with any dangerous or wild spirit. The Ancestors. And not just just little old grandma Anne, but the entire of aggregate of spiritual beings who stretch back towards the beginning of your biological line. They have your back as only family can have - when you honour and remember them and they are very much of the chthonic variety themselves. Similarly we find the saints propitiated when dealing with more feral powers - so that they may act as intermediary between the petitioner and the hotter spirit.

In Mexico for instance we find the great fame and frequent propitiation of the unpredictable, sometimes dangerous Santa Muerte spirit - and often this spirit is handled more successfully by the intercession of St. Cyprian of Antioch - that famed black magician turned saint. Similarly, in quimbanda in which we find an almost one for one syncretism between the deamons of Grimoirium Verum and Legion of Exus - we also find quimbandistas sometimes resorting to petitioning saints (such as St. Cyprian) as intermediaries to the more violent or dangerous Exu's as method of trafficking with them more safely. With the important influence of Kardecian spiritualism in Quimbanda we of course see the Ancestors playing and important role in helping to balance and harmonise the more violent and unpredictable forces of the Exu's. This principle hold true with Haitian religion too - the ancestors are turned to when a Lwa becomes vengeful or dangerous, as these are your spiritual roots and your first line of defence when working with and unpredictable, yet powerful and necessary spirit.

I hope this rather long post has given some indication where I am going with this in regards to Goetic practice. The New World traditions offer us some clues how we can work with chthonic forces safely without necessarily getting into dualist thinking of angels vs demons along with all the religious baggage that this potentially churns up. Not everyone looks at it that way though; and in that light I would like to add that my position in this is coming from a distinctly folk-magical and ATR influenced perspective - and it does not mean I feel that working to attain conversation and knowledge of HGA or other theurgic approaches are not  valid! I believe they are in the grimoire tradition for a reason, and its a good one. Yet, I feel the New World traditions offer us a new living synthesis to look at and consider - especially if our magical inclinations lean in that direction.



The Verum Wands

There are two wands used in Grimoirium Verum - a hazel wand of 'Klepoth' and the elder wand of 'Frimost'. Due to availability I had to substitute the hazel for laurel and the elder for a local tree called forest elder. The laurel wand looks spectacular and after cutting, debarking, sanding and painstakingly carving my Klepoth wand (at 5:30AM), I concluded the consecration and jumped back into bed to get some zzzz. As I was dozing off i received an interesting flash about the function of the Kleppoth wand. Perhaps not surprising after i spent ages carving that sigil! Butits totally subjective so a grain of salt is in order....

Nonetheless, I was so pleased with the wand's finish I thought it a pity that the Klepoth wand's function seems so minimal during the verum ritual procedure. As far as i can tell it only seems to get used when as the verum says "Then pick up the wands, one after the other, reciting the Fiftieth Psalm". In the True Grimoire Jake suggests that this becomes a rhythmic movement during the psalms recitation. Apart from this I couldn't really see the point of this additional wand.

However, as i was falling asleep it came to me that "one after the other" could also apply to the ritual pattern as a whole - which is to say that after the Frimost wand is used, held in the right hand during the evocation - the Klepoth wand is picked up held in the left hand after that during goetic divination/skrying that follows when one relates to the spirits. In other words the Frimost wand is projective and that the Klepoth wand is receptive and possibly meant to aid seership with the spirits after they have been called using the Frimost wand. This makes sense if you think about the gendered nature of the wands as well as the powers of Klepoth, as well as the divinatory nature of hazel. Could this be what "Then pick up the wands, one after the other" is alluding to?

Anyway, the Frimost wand did not go so well in the end - i went through the same procedure but the wood i used was very green and wet and after deparking, sanding, carving the sigil and consecrating it - I noticed crack appearing in its length. I hurriedly oiled it with extra linseed oil however by the next morning these had spread all over the wand some areas split wide open.

Not impressed. It was hard work and is going to be a whole month before the moon is crescent again, so I can cut another wand. Also, with these weird cracks all over it looks kinda like Ye Olde Wande of DOOM right now. I am unsure if a cracked wand is still good to conjure with? is it a sign? The energy of the wand is still quite strong though, and last night after giving the wand another coat of oil I had a dream about Scirlin. He appeared as a rather small man about a meter high and black as night. He seemed nervous and i asked him which grimoire he is from he said "the one in your bag", which is Jake's True Grimoire. He then ran away, seemingly scared of me. I tried to catch up with him to no avail. I even tried to constrain in him in a triangle that i kind of drew in the air and threw at him. Not sure why i did that! I hadnt intended to use a triangle with my conjuration work - it seems coercive. He was to quick though and vanished in a puff.

Not sure what that means.

Root Goetia

I have undertaken to practice the Goetia of the Grimoirium Verum. More than that my intention is to develop a personal hoodoo/goetia synthesis. An approach that focuses on using rootwork based spells, but which also incorporates the spirits of the Verum as spiritual agencies to expedite the traditional methods of conjure - additionally rootwork methods will be incorporated into the ritual structure of the Verum by exploring the possibilities of enhancing evocations with hoodoo oils, powders, lamps etc. One might call it Root Goetia - I like the sound of that; it of course emphasizes the use of roots and folk magic in my goety, but also suggests the remembering of the older, more primal or 'root' chthonic evocation magics. Fancy labels aside, what started me down this road is Jake Stratton-Kent's fascinating True Grimoire, and in fact the man himself. He is a rather inspiring magician and his approach both to goetia and to magic in general is visionary, IMHO. He places an emphasis or returning to the, ehem, roots of Goetia as well as looking to New World traditions for more depth and understanding in working with the spirits as living, breathing entities, rather than a 2D list of stats in a grimoire as many wood-be conjurers seem to be inclined to do. Along with this is an understanding that in order to have healthy productive relationship with the spirits we have to be nice to them. No torture, cursing and bullying the beings who we would have do us favours. Perhaps its not such a big surprise that the spirits are nicer in return!

Of course what truly attracted me into the Verum itself is its connection to Quimbanda - in which we find an almost one-for-one syncretism between the deamons of the Verum and spirits of african origin - known as the legion of Exus. Moreover Quimbanda practices exactly the kind of synthesis that i am interested in developing in my own work. Its synthesis is uniquely afro-brazilian - the theology and magic of which is razor sharp and dynamic. Its also very dangerous.

Similarly hoodoo has quite a few of solomonic elements - the use of seals, psalms and other solomonic based magical procedure, which could be extended plausibly into the direction of the Verum. Its absolute heresy of course (from the perspective of traditional hoodoo), and the result wont be hoodoo but a somewhat more perilous daemon based concoction. However, when one asks an informed teacher which spirits traditional hoodoo works with, your pretty much always hear "God, The Dead and the Devil". So in the light of that - bringing Goetic entities into the work isn't as far fetched as claiming to conjure by the triple Goddess. Ugh.

Anyway, I have dutifully begun creating all the tools as per the Verum's traditional instructions, observing the correct astrological timing and other requirements. I have had to make some wood substitutions for the two wands to accommodate local availability. I could order a wand from an online seller but in my opinion a well considered wood substitution that allows one to carve, oil and bless the wand in the traditional fashion - is more powerful than getting a wand pre-made in the right wood. There is also a lot to be said for adapting tradition to local fauna and flora. The trick is to make the intelligent  adaptations and not motivated my sheer laziness. Deamons hate lazy people.

Let me tell you, creating everything the traditional way using the right timing is arduous. The verum emphasizes dawn operations (um, yeah). But its been well worth it - these tools are singing with potency and meaning. And as each tool has been completed I can feel it becoming internalised and meshed with my personal magical sphere. There is something romantic, diabolical and truly numinous about the Verum. This quality is permeating my life in the most incredible way right now - and not in the sinister ooky-spooky sense that one might expect. Rather there is a sense of crystallisation of relationship with the Other Side. Its also been unnerving that several of the Grimoire's spirits have started paying me dream time visits - something they are known for. They're not unfriendly but certainly not cuddly - and I have the sense as I create the tools they are drawing near, becoming magnetised to my sphere progressively. Lets just say, I'm holding on to my hat for now...


The Sigil Rant

Firstly let me say I have worked with sigils since 1995 when I first bought Frater U:D:’s book on the subject. I have a fully developed alphabet of desire and I have read and digested Spare, Carrol and the subsequent stream of writings of the ‘chaos’ magick genre.

As a magical device, creating a mystical monogram from letters in fact predates Spare. We can find Cornelius Agrippa describing the procedure very nicely in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy. What A.O. Spare really contributed to the practice was his idiosyncratic magical philosophy – a philosophy driven by a rather garbled understanding of Freud. Freud’s contributions at the time were revolutionary and we can clearly see how this libido driven psychology was to influence Spares writings.

While I thoroughly enjoying creating and using sigils, I thorough despise, but DESPISE the magical doctrine that has flowed from that system. I hate how it’s tenets; assumptions and beliefs are bandied about as a “meta” system - in other words, the great system that explains ALL systems. I hate how, while the adherents of the contemporary practice delight “smashing” paradigms, “hacking” paradigms or any of the other video game derived terms for invasion, they are unable to critically asses some of the basic assumptions of the Spare-derived system of magick. And what I hate most of all is that what this entire genre of magick seems to boil down to for the majority of its adherents is the scribbling of a doodle and then masturbating over it. Why? -Because sexual arousal is the preeminent form of “gnosis”. It is possibly not surprising that ‘chaos’ magick would become so popular with teenage boys – because it employed a favourite pastime!

Forgive me, I do not mean to attack sex magick which is perfectly valid and potent form of magical practice – what I do mean to attack is a reductive and unimaginative approach to magic. Don’t have job? Draw a sigil and masturbate! Want a new lover? Well, draw a sigil and masturbate! Want revenge? Sigil and masturbate.

I know, I know, I myself am reducing the practice – there are other forms of “gnosis” too! We can hold our breath while looking a sigil. We can frighten ourselves while looking at a sigil. Perhaps most effectively, we can bore ourselves by looking at yet another sigil. My acerbic point here, is this: magically this is a one trick pony.

The trickiness of the one trick comes down to a few very flawed assumptions about the system, in my humble opinion. Assumption that these supposed chaos mages should be examining, or hacking , or whatever iconoclastic term you prefer to use for deconstructing belief systems – a cause that they champion.

Flawed Assumption no. 1

A Sigil encodes our desire turning it into a symbol so that it can sneak past the sensor into the unconscious mind.

So first off, let me mention that when you write down your sentence of desire you have already created a symbol! Writing by definition is a symbolic system in which the sentence or words are the signifiers (like a sigil) of a signified (your desire). Your sentence of desire is not your desire – it’s a symbol. By making a symbol out of a symbol, you end up with yet another symbol! This is undergrad semiotics people.

You could then argue; “no, we are encrypting the sentence, by turning it into a sigil”. Or to put it another way – disguising it. This would be a fine explanation, except for something to be encrypted the person who you are hiding the data from, should not be able to decode the encryption. This would work if you created the sigil and then gave it to a friend to cast who had no idea what it means, but this is not the case. You are creating the sigil yourself so you obviously know what it means! It hasn’t been encrypted it simply has been translated into another form of symbol, one which you understand because you created it.

You could then argue: ”the unconscious mind works better with manifesting symbols”. This too would be fine, except as we have established – a sentence is already a symbol. A word is a symbol, a picture is a symbol – hell even sounds are symbols. A sigil is no more symbolic than a picture or a word. You may as well take picture of that car you are trying to manifest magically and masturbate over it.

Flawed Assumption no.2

You have to immediately forget your sigil and your desire for the spell to work.

This assumption in particular irritates me, because it employs the impossible “don’t think of pink elephant” conundrum. The moment you try to not think of the pink elephant you do. Ok so that’s a pain, but what puzzles me more is why?

Why must I forget it? What is the reason?

I have yet to encounter sufficient explanation for this tenet that convincingly explains why its adherents are so blindly anxious about it. One hears that it must be “banished” from the conscious mind so the unconscious can do its work.

Well, thousands of years of magical practice have proven this theory to be a load of crock. Magicians of all cultures, for millennia, have created amulets to wear around their necks – a rather obvious position. People forge expensive talismans of GOLD to wear as a ring to bring the magical desire, the enchantment constantly to attention. Priests built entire temples, pyramids, walls , towers etc – all in an effort to put that spell front and centre. It has always worked to be made aware of the magical symbol once it has been enchanted – and the only compelling reason for hiding the evidence of the magic is if you want the target to be unaware of its effects.

There is a case to be made for not dwelling on a spell once it has been performed – because in essence it indicates doubt. But this does not mean the symbol needs to be destroyed. If I spend time designing a beautiful elegant sigil, I want to see it, thank you very much. No, not dwelling on it does not mean forget about it, destroy the sigil – banish the desire! It means you are confident; you have FAITH that the powers supplicated are going to respond. You aren’t thinking “are we there yet” every five minutes. A watched pot never boils.

And this is the crux of the matter – orthodox sigil magicians are relying tricking on the “unconscious”, their God, into performing the spell – by supposedly disguising it and then sneaking it in there when the unconscious is otherwise occupied with the pleasures of the palm. Then, they have to be very careful not to remind the unconscious of the slight of hand that supposedly has just taken place.

I find this silly and it vastly underestimates the unconscious mind for one. Moreover, magic has worked for millennia with its symbols front and centre.

Flawed assumption no.3

The unconscious mind takes the sigil and somehow manifests it.

Does it really? Do we have any proof to suggest the unconscious mind does the magic? This unconscious sounds a lot like God. Except this is a recalcitrant reluctant god for whom we need to disguise our spells, then distract in order to get the spell in there and then make sure to not remind it that it has just cast a spell in case it changes its mind. This unconscious god sounds like an imbecile to me.

This assumption I think goes to the heart of broken postmodern malaise of occult narcissism in which all magic is “in the mind”. When did the unconscious get so powerful and why on earth must we trick it to get its cooperation?

For millennia we have looked to spirits, to stars, to herbs and stones for power. The universe is powerful and filled with magic and mysterious wonders, yet the modern innovation, which is no innovation at all – turns the whole thing into self-centred, vain and (in my estimation) ineffectual reduction of magic as everything being inside “me”. This is cosmic narcissism.

We have magic in us, sure- we are divine spirits but we are in a dialogue with other agencies. Real forces. We gain power by engaging those forces –invoking, evoking and petitioning. This is the time honoured, historically proven technology of magic. The more we reduce everything to some kind of psychological figment the more depressing, undisciplined and ineffective magic becomes. We end up gazing at our navels, explaining everything in psychological terms.

Explaining magic using bad Freudian psychology is like trying to explain astrophysics using bad English literary theory. Sure you could do it. It might even be interesting – but are you going to get into a rocket ship which has had its flight trajectory calculated by THAT physicist? I don’t think so.

Magic and psychology are distinct disciplines. Much like physics and literary theory are. Comparisons might be interesting, but when it comes down to practicum you don’t want to be mixing them too all that much. I am sure psychologists everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief when would-be magicians stopped quoting Freud and Jung. You just don’t understand Jung and Freud well enough to do that I am afraid. You are cherry picking bits of information that you think makes your writing seems more plausible because it offers some faux academic credibility.

We are sorcerers people – lets leave those archetypes for the psychologists and give some credit to the spirits, stars and gods that help us. We are better off saying the fairies at the bottom of the garden did the spell than accusing the unconscious of it.

Let me tell you if my unconscious did in fact have all this power – I would wake up every morning with Matt Damon in my bed. I dream about him ALL the time.

What Monogram-Sigils Contribute:

Sigils LOOK magical. When you draw your first one and it looks kinda like something from the key of Solomon you feel so pleased with its mysterious charm you feel like running out and finding a pointy hat with stars on it to wear while you scribble your arcane symbol on a scroll. They have magical quality – you could argue that they set themselves apart from other kinds of symbols. They are magical symbols. They are special because they were created for magical use and a sigils power comes from how you use it and how much power you invoke, evoke or petition to invest it with meaning. That’s what gives them power – otherwise there is nothing to set them apart from any other order of symbols.

They are useful in that they are an efficient way to compound and idea into a single symbol. They have graphic and spiritual economy and charm.

They employ some creativity to create and the practice is in fact fun if you have an artistic streak. This is another reason I refuse to forget, or banish them. I like looking at my sigils – they are beautiful. My sigils become MORE powerful that way.

They are good way to express concepts for which there are no magical symbols yet (e-mail, internet, ipod).

They are personal. They are yours and yours alone and there is value in that. Moreover, the more you use them the more powerful they become. As such they are tailored to our aesthetic and spiritual sensibilities.

In short sigils are an easy efficient way to make attractive magical symbols to use in your craft of sorcery nothing more. They are not some radical innovation; they have been around since the dawn of time – as has sex magic.