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.