Altars: keeping the connection clear

I have been cleaning my altars today and was contemplating the difference, spiritually, between a freshly dusted, cleansed altar and a stagnant, or otherwise dusty  or messy altar.

An analogy occurred to me - an altar could be compared to a telephone line. Whether it's an altar space to honour and petition your ancestor spirits, the saints or any other spirit, the altar functions like a communications device. The dustier, messier or more stagnant the altar the more interference one experiences on the line. It could get so bad that you can't connect with that spirit at all, or lines get crossed and you get snippets of distorted noise from other spirits you might not want to hear from. 

More than that, cleansing your altar, dusting the icons replenishing the water, rearranging things just the way you know your spirits like them become an expression of your devotion and your connection to the spirits. You not only purify and rejuvenate the space, you subtly reaffirm your connection and intention to strengthen bonds with your spiritual world. You keep the line pure, open and free from interference.

After I'm done straightening things out, dusting, and wiping things down with bit of florida water I put some fresh stuff on the altar (water, flowers, offerings) and happily discover that there is a new buzz, a friendly hum - almost like that altar is idling, ready for more spiritual work.


The power to transcend all human limitations?

I am not one for any of these definitions of magic. None seem to fit the bill, and often they seem to promote a certain brand of kool-aid. However,  I came across a quote by Richard Cavendish where he describes magic as "the power to transcend all human limitations". 

And wow, this really struck me. What an expansive idea, and when I examined why I felt roused by this statement it was because it rings so true on a fundamental magical level for me as a sorcerer. When magic works well it feels unmistakably like that. As humans we encounter a limitation that would be hard resolve on a mundane level and then as magicians we decide to to transcend that limit. Good magic does that almost every time.

I rarely like to talk about the psychological components of working magic, partly because I feel this vainly situates magic in the mind as some supposedly psychological product, which I think is wrong. Magic is real. It is an integral part of the functioning whole of the universe and by practicing magic we are participating in that very functioning. We are experiencing the wonder of interacting with our world in an extraordinary way that would be otherwise impossible to describe or imitate. Magic is not mysticism. Magic is not religion. Although these do intersect with it from time to time. No, magic is a direct participation in the ongoing creation and destruction of our universe - even if done in your kitchen!

However, if we genuinely want to progress at the art of working practical magic we need, on a very personal level, to be able to entertain the possibility that we can transcend any limit with our magic. Far fetched? It sounds lofty, I know, but as sorcerers that is what we are in the business of doing. We come up against a barrier, a limit, something that needs to change - often that has resisted change by all conventional means - and then we transcend that with magic. This begins by conceiving it to be possible.

It seems to be a chicken and egg scenario because in order to believe that magic works we need to see it work, but in order to see it work we need to trust that it will. A good practitioner begins to realise anything is in fact possible - because he/she sees that happen often enough to know it on a gut level. So if you are new to practical magic, I would like to encourage you - as an experiment - when next you work an ambitious spell to try and conceive for one moment what it would be like if you could transcend any limit right now? What would it feel like if that gap between the possible and the impossible was flexible and disappeared for even one moment?

That feeling, is the magic. Now, wait and see what happens next.


Understanding St. Expedite

I want to start this post by spreading the name of the enigmatic St. Expedite. He works fast, he pulls out the stops and his power and speed is manifested in direct proportion to the urgency of the matter.

This is an important point when considering petitioning this, arguably, the most celebrated saint in contemporary hoodoo. Every so often one hears reports of people giving away their St. Expedite icon, packing up the altar after they decide not to work with him because he seems to be 'ignoring' their petitions. And while it is true that some saints refuse to work with some people for reasons that only they will know I also think that when it comes to St. Expedite it is important to realise "he knows what is urgent and what is needed".

In other words if you badly want that new pair of prada shoes he probably won't be as concerned as if you badly needed a new pair of shoes because your child has no shoes to wear to school. He knows what is urgent and what is needed. If your petition is pressing - if you are backed into a corner, or have an impossible time constraint in a matter, a looming deadline of grave importance - such as: time is running out before they evict you, you need an emergency medical procedure, an emergency loan etc. Then this gracious saint will be on the matter like a bolt of greased lightning.

As a soldier he has strong sense of justice and in my experience is willing and capable of doing harsher works if they are justified. He can bring down a serious pressure on someone if they are obstructing a pressing matter. If they are stalling or otherwise blocking you he can break through that barrier pretty fast and they will wish they had been less obstructive.

Remember, to pay him what you promised for answering your prayers, or he can take back what he gave with interest. Soldiers don't work for free.

And for goodness sake don't procrastinate when doing so! ;-)


St. Joseph Feast Day - Today

Today is the feast day of the most blessed St. Joseph. This is a remarkable saint, and I want to take the opportunity to honour him on this day. St. Joseph has been incredibly kind to my family this year and has answered all our petitions without fail and with miraculous results.

If you think about the story of the birth of Christ and the unusual circumstances with which he accepted the Baby Jesus into his family - to protect and raise as his own son - one soon realises what a kind and gentle heart St. Joseph has. In many ways one could describe the Holy Family as the archetypal unorthodox family - what with the virgin conception, angelic visits, persecution by kings, visitation by foreign magi and all the other challenges! Yet, St. Joseph kept his family together despite it all and even managed to hold down his job as carpenter.

So if you think your family is odd, St. Joseph probably understands what you are going through - no matter how strange it seems to you - and in my experience he is most willing to help spiritually with any challenges. And he really does come through.

We are creating a special altar for him on this, his feast day and I wanted to remind you about Tante Sindy's work too.


Demonic Politics

The occult blogs are ablaze with talk of Goetia, if you will forgive the metaphor. I finally thought it time for my 2c, seeing as I have some time to kill. It started with a response by Jason Miller to criticism for his fast and loose evocation of Bune as included in Sorcerers Secrets. Jason mentioned Rufus Opus' recent goetic house-fire incident by way of an example, and then Rufus Opus responded with an excellent post, notably remarking:

The demonization of the practice of Goetia is wrong at a philosophical and fundamental level. It's not historically accurate, either. Traditional Goety includes the conjuration of the celestial and the chthonic, gods and daimons, as well as ancestors, saints, and the shades of the dead. Santeros, Paleros, and Brujos today practice a similar magic to what was historically considered "Goetic" and they suffer the same kind of intellectual harassment Goetic magicians in the time of Iamblichus suffered. The Temple Priests didn't like that the commoners were conjuring gods and spirits to help people. They didn't like the competition. It's the same thing that the Church did to Witchcraft. The priests weren't tending the daily needs of their parishoners, so they turned to people who would. The Establishment doesn't like competition, and they created doxology to demonize the practices that focused on meeting the mundane needs of the people, food, sex, shelter, and prosperity.

Finally, Kenaz Filan responded in turn with his own perspective (because, as he points out, it was his critique that originally started this discussion). And it's a perspective I was rather surprised by considering his magical and religious background - and also considering that so many of the varied goetic grimoires in the genre have taken root in the New World traditions (such as Vodou) along with Goetic spirits, in some form or another.

The idea that all Goetic spirits are inherently corrosive and non-human seems a bit heavy handed coming from a Vodou practitioner. The same allegations have been made about the Lwa, many of whom are quite dangerous and unpredictable in their own right - and have been demonized for that very reason - either by protestant or evangelical observers citing that as evidence of their inhuman, corrosive nature. Calling them demons. Are the Lwa in fact demons, or would it be more correct to say that some people are more skilled at handling them than others?

What's more is that the spirits of the Goetia are quite frequently forms of older pagan spirits who remained useful but because they didn't fit into the oppressive theological hegemony of the time were made into demons - because presumedly all pagan spirits must necessarily be demons. Sound familiar?

The fact is that goetic spirits usually are unpredictable, feral and cunningly powerful. A characteristic shared with many of the ATR spirits. I have an ancestor spirit that is so feral and unpredictable that I have chosen not to propitiate him directly for fear of havoc - does that make my ancestor spirit corrosive and non-human? I think much of the popular discourse around goety is flavoured by superstition, irrational fear and hearsay. Had Rufus Opus had his house burned down after petitioning Legba (not an unlikely possibility considering his tricky nature) would everyone been quite so disturbed? Perhaps the discussion might have centered more around whether folks should be working unsupervised with the Lwa, rather than whether or not they are inherently inhuman or sinister.

Demonic obsession gets mentioned a lot in this discussion. Well, I know a lot of people who are obsessed by the Holy Spirit - to the extent that the other day I had to deal with a DNS poisoning issue with this blog, which kept redirecting the URL to some evangelical ministries website, assumedly devised by some righteous holy hacker. I also had to deal with a spiritual attack from the self same bunch waged most likely with imprecatory prayer. Talk about obsession. Lord only knows why my little blog would provoke such an effort - I wasn't going to give them any air time, for fear of encouraging their bigoted shenanigans but it seems appropriate to mention. I am not going to even go into the religious nut-jobs who kill, beat and maim for Jesus. Is the Holy Spirit a corrosive, inhuman demon?

I am not having a go at Kenaz (whose work I respect and admire), but obsession seems to a be a human thing, not a spirit thing, as far as I can tell. It is worth pointing out that Kenaz is right: this class of spirit certainly tends to give certain weak-minded people a lot more trouble than others. Why is it that for some conjurers they are wise teachers, herbal instructors and magical helpers and for others they become tormentors and destroyers?

I think the author of the Grimorium Verum explains this rather succinctly:

In this book are contained various dispositions of characters, by which the spirits are invoked, to make them come when you will, each according to his power and to bring you whatever is asked and that without any discomfort, providing also that they are on their part  content, for this sort of creature giveth not anything for nothing!

Later adding the most direct and philosophically astute warning I have yet to read in the genre:

They will come according to the character and temperament of the one who invokes them.

Enough said.

Tarot Timing: Finding Temporal Cues

Timing with any divination technique is tricky business, and it's something that I have had to think about a lot these last few weeks. Even in horary astrology - one of the more exacting divinatory disciplines - seems to be a hit and miss affair when it comes to timing. With timing I of course mean to say - using a divination tool to tell us how long something will take, or inform us when something is likely to start or come to a conclusion. This can be a very handy information when a querent needs specifics in order to develop a sound strategy to deal with a problem. This is even more useful when considering magical work and the required time a working needs to be sustained for or concluded by. With accurately divined timeline we can see whether something is a worthwhile to pursue magically, or even whether it will manifest at all before a critical window closes. 

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, it seems to be something that even the most gifted reader has trouble being exact about. I think the reason for this is that divination operates on a mythic and symbolic level - a place that is more fluid and especially resistant to our rigid western perception of time. Another reason is the fact that we have free will and our actions inevitably change the future. We may be altering the course of events based on the knowledge we gain from a reading, and paradoxically changing the timings suggested by a reading. We might be right about the content of events but when those events happen precisely, that's a bit harder!

I like to use the tarot to get specifics about timing and have a simple technique that I like to use, which consists of deciding on increments of time (days, weeks, moths or years) and then laying our cards starting from the present moment. Each card then signifies the key event likely to happen in that period. When asking a specific question such as - "when will X get a new job?" I lay out cards for each week/month or year (as decided before hand) starting from the current date and when a card comes up that fits the outcome of having found a job, I count the cards laid out and am able to conclude the amount of time it will take. What's useful about this is you also get a picture of what will might happen up until the queried event unfolds, which is extremely helpful. On the downside however I have found that even though I specify "days" as increments the cards might decide to show weeks - and this becomes plainly evident as things unfold. This isn't always the case but happens every so often and certainly often enough to a be a concern.

It's that pesky elastic symbolic timing thing I was talking about. The numinous and the consensus world sometimes just seem to be slightly out of calibration. With this blog my intention is to always offer something useful, novel or experiential as it arrises out of my own day to day practice. I have been working on a way of getting tarot timing a bit more exact. Hopefully bringing the symbolic reality of the cards and that of the consensus world more closely into alignment.

Looking for for timing cues, my theory:

To get more precise about timing one can look for a timing signature in the flow of events that follow a reading. Once that timing signature has been found you can get a clearer picture of the actual time increments the cards are talking in. This is a fancy way of saying that you should check how much time passes between the events described in the first cards to see how long things will take overall, or up until the queried event.

Say for instance the first card is the three of swords and nothing of the nature of the card has manifested in the present yet - wait and see how long before a three-of-swords type of event takes place. If you experience a three of swords event the very same day, you know the cards are talking in one day increments. If the first card describes the current situation exactly (as is often the case) then you wait and see how long before the events described in the second card take place. 

One is then able to take that time frame and multiply it by the number of cards between the first card and the final card which indicates the queried outcome. For example: you want to know when your lover will return to you. Your current situation is described by the three of swords exactly, the next card is the page of cups which often describes the arrival of a message or news regarding matters of the heart, then thereafter we see the two of cups which would indicate the desired outcome of reconciliation. Sure enough, five days later you get a reconciliatory email from your lover - that five day gap is a timing cue, you can expect that the within five days you will have an opportunity to meet your lover again, and then finally we see the six of swords which suggests that within fifteen days total the querent will have a victorious outcome in the queried matter entirely.


Underworld Apothecary

How cool is this! From Jake Stratton-Kent comes an online goetic botanica called the Underworld Apothecary, bringing together New World methods with the Western Magical Tradition. You can find oils, inks, herbs, washes and more - much of which focusses on working with the Grimorium Verum. Brilliant! 


Lightning-Struck Wood!

You may have noticed things have been quiet at gnostic-conjure these last two weeks or so and that is because I have had to travel back to africa to sort out some immigration paperwork and take some time to visit my family and friends back home.

I had the opportunity to stay with a friend whose home is built atop one of the hills on the high veld. He casually mentioned that the tree next to his home had been struck twice by lightning. That's right, twice! I thought lightning didn't ever strike the same spot twice, but he swears that this tree got hit hard twice. Well, I could barely contain my excitement as we made our way round the back of the house, where I found that the tree had almost split in half down the middle from these strikes - bark peeling back in a rather visceral manner. It looked like the tree had burst out of it skin in parts. He says that the tree nearly died after the second strike but after some time came back to life again.

I asked my friend if I could take some of the wood that had peeled away from the split areas and to my delight he said I could take as much as liked. I greedily ventured up the tree and broke as many pieces off as I could without injuring the tree, trying to get the wood from the areas that were around what seemed to be the place the lightning had hit the hardest.

Lightning-struck wood can be used in conjure to bring extra power to magical work. Just a bit is all that is needed and the energy from this wood is absolutely crackling! I incorporated some into some candle work that I started a few days ago, by sprinkling some of the powdered wood on the candles and boy oh boy... wow, the result was nothing short of spectacular. My expectations were high so I was nervous I would be a little disappointed  - but yikes was I pleasantly surprised! The result came out of left field, like, well, a bolt of lightning.

In addition when I worked with it there seemed to be a tangible electrical sensation on a spiritual level. I am pleased, to say the least. If anything, based on this one working's outcome I would say that the results can be a tad unpredictable. But in this case that's not a bad thing - I got what I wanted just in a totally wild and unexpected manner at a blistering speed. And I mean fast.

I am looking forward to working with it more and getting to learn about it's spiritual properties. I also think the fact that this wood was struck twice makes it rather special. I feel privileged to have been gifted it by spirit!