Spirit Pots

OK, so R.O. and I have been tussling. It happens every so often and usually these tussles are productive. I think it's good for people to see these perspectives negotiated in the discourse.

Which is fancy way of saying - sometimes it's good to argue so people get the opportunity to see that debate happen and think about that issue themselves too.

If you haven't been following, you might want to check out some of our previous posts. I posted a warning about putting together pots for muertos. Rufus responded to that with some instruction on how to put together spirit pots in a way he has seen work for well for him. I was a little shocked because even though I know he works these pots in a different way it seemed to me that the placement of his response could be taken as directions for creating a muerto pot of the nature I was explicitly warning against fooling around with. I didn't have enough time to respond with full a post, so I did a circular link-back thing using words from my original post to suggest he dumbing down this ATR technology.

It turns out he didn't intend for his post to be taken as instructions to replicate that ATR practice. He responded with an excellent, articulate clarification which I greatly appreciate. He hits the nail on the head about a great many things. Jason also stepped in and brought a much needed perspective in the discussion which greatly helps to reconcile the differences of these two approaches and brings up some excellent points I have not considered.

It's my turn to clarify also:

I didn't mean to hurt any feelings, of course. I admire the way R.O. makes the Western Tradition accessible and above all relevant to modern people. He is living it.

I don't believe R.O. is "ripping-off" the ATRs with his pots either. Spirit pots of various kinds are found in many cultures. Also, I think the exchange that's happening between the traditions is good. I've written and spoken about it myself. I think it has potential for enlivening the Western Tradition, just as the New World traditions have been enhanced by the grimoires and Christian influences.  Some ATR practitioners don't see it that way. They see those elements as vestiges of oppression. Or as masks. It's more subtle than that, I believe, which is why these elements persist to this day. In a way it's what motivated me to get even more deeply involved in some New World paths as an initiate - so that my part in that dialogue can be more informed.

However, I think if we start saying a western magical technique/spirit/ritual is the same as an ATR technique/spirit/ritual and begin thinking they are interchangeable we are headed for a whole lot of trouble. Both spiritual and cultural. Specifically, in this case my greatest concern was that someone inadvertently gets into hot water by going 'commando' with a muerto pot of the sort I was talking about. Jason does a very good job of emphasising the dangers.

These kinds of pots truly are not toys.

In my opinion anyone attempting to work with a new western magical adaptation of this idea needs to truly do their homework and prepare themselves. And someone interested in the ATR application of this spiritual technology should look for someone qualified who can guide them through it, because as Jason says, if you decide to free-style it, it's very likely that it can blow up in your face.


Panic at the Boveda

A reader whom I'll call M wrote to me yesterday, somewhat alarmed after she read a warning in my last post about the possibility of things going wrong when working with the dead. She writes:

I live in Kansas and am Internet taught. I was really interested in the ATR's, but I think to truly join the religion I would have to relocate. It isn't my native culture. I'm not working off advice from my mother. It's just I was told that working with your ancestors is something you can never go wrong with. I may never wear collares or have a proper Eshu, but this, I thought, I could do. And I love my ancestors. I enjoy serving them and spending time with them.

Don't panic too much, my warning was mainly directed to those wishing to create spirit pots, spirit dolls, bundles and so forth for the dead. This is a somewhat more nuanced form of muerto work, during which things can in fact go wrong. Trickster spirits love containers. I mean they LOVE, containers. This does not make ancestor work absolutely dangerous, nor does it make it risk free. No spirit work is ever completely risk free. Ancestor work remains a beautiful and wonderful thing. You just need to work it simply at first if you are flying solo, and not get too wild and whacky with what you offer them or use to work with them.

You also need to take your own fledgling mediumistic impulses with a pinch of salt. You may think you 'know' that the spirits told you this or that but unless their presence has truly been established and settled you could just as easily be tuning into your own unconscious babble as you could be listening to some wandering trickster that wants you to feed it - and will then gladly take everything you give it, demand more and use the foothold to turn your life upside down. Unless you have access to another spiritist more senior in experience to yourself to verify these sorts of messages and guide you, its wise err on the side of caution.

This isn't fashionable to say in the DIY post-modern spiritual marketplace. It doesn't sell books and it doesn't stroke the ego of an audience convinced of its own proficiency at all things spiritual when in fact most modern westerners are basically handicapped in this area when compared to the least educated people in the third world, who live with this stuff as the fabric of their culture. 

One of my ideals, always, with this blog - small as it influence may be - is to avoid talking about these traditions in a way that dumbs them down so westerners can more easily consume them. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't. One of the recent trends it seems is the notion that "you can't go wrong with the ancestors". Well you can go wrong with them. These are the spirits of the dead not potplants.

It doesn't mean we should be terrified by them. A healthy respect, informed practice and some education about how to do it right goes a long way, however. It may also save you some tears in the long run. In the mean time keep it very simple and go slowly. If you work sincerely with them in this way, I can guarantee you they will put your feet on the path and guide you to the right people who can support you in your spiritual development.

It's their job.


The Craft of the Dead

Everyone is entitled to work with their dead. If you have ancestors, you have a network of potentially powerful spirits who care about you and are willing to get involved with you spiritually, in one capacity or another. However, don't be too easily fooled. Even though these are our relatives, ancestral spirits can get pernicious, moody and mischievous. In our daily lives our relatives often cause us the most stress and anxiety, and this can also be mirrored in the spirit world - just as the support and unconditional love we receive from them is. They can test us with trials. Occultists have a tendency to believe you can dial up spirits the way you dial up pizza delivery, expecting that they will arrive in a friendly, efficient and service oriented fashion. Not so with the ancestral forces.

The reason that the muerto (dead) can be so powerful is because people who work them well - with wisdom and skill - take the time to establish them and strengthen their influence gradually. Most of an espiritista's work is in the cultivation of this foundation by; feeding them; listening to them and then following their instructions carefully; elevating them in services; assembling spirit containers; creating spirit dolls; crafting bundles and other items through which they express their power in structured ways. In this manner the dead begin to take on a tangible and respectful presence in our world. We help give them form once more just as they help give us luck, prosperity and protection. We continually fine tune that process with increasing subtlety and precision. This is the true craft of a muertero - one who passes the spirits.

It's a highly individualised and creative process too, and this is because each muerto is has their own peculiarities. As such we need to be ready to get your hands dirty - to make things; to sew, bead, paint and carve. Yet, this is more than an eccentric craft project because it holds some true spiritual peril too. A wrong move, one cavalier blunder in the early stages of this kind of work and unwanted or outright malign forces could find a foothold in our lives, bringing a destabilising knock - derailing the entire process. And this will cause major havoc in our lives, to say the least.

Above all it is a timely, organic process. A true craft in every sense of the word.

Many assume once you have made contact, that's it, an ancestral spirit is 'here' and ready to work. But really, getting in touch is only the first step. They need time and disciplined cultivation to really start coming through manageably. Their range of influence needs be brought into the world gently at first and then rooted artfully.

As Don Azito likes to say, "we need to clean them up".

Whenever he says this to someone I can't help but picture a ragtag bunch of folks out in the astral. People dressed in old clothes, dusty, rendered in sepia tones like an old photo - all a little confused as if they have wandered forgetful in a strange dream for too long. Then once we start working them, they gradually begin to brighten up, colour returns to their forms, cheer to their faces and a sparkle to their eyes as they begin to remember...

Otherwise it can get a little crazy. A spiritual cacophony as some try to push and shove to the front, and begin 'helping' in ways that really isn't all that helpful at all. Or demand to be heard when they don't have much to say just yet. It's seems odd to say but we need to 'train' the dead.

The good news is, it can be done.

This is why we work consciously at first by elevating them and calming them, before we make demands. The water we offer on the boveda is a medium through which they express, a kind of conductor fluid, sure. But also, and very importantly, it is there too cool them and refresh them. We pray for them, we enlighten them, we soothe them, and by illuminating them in this way their relationship to us and each other becomes harmonised and increasingly structured and workable. The more reliable spirits in our quadro espiritual (spiritual framework) start taking charge of the others and acting as a conduit for the totality of the ancestral forces. The more 'civilised' spirits then start 'bringing in' the wilder, and more tangibly powerful ones, once things are stable enough to do so. These 'leader' spirits - whom we systematically identify and propitiate - begin acting as intermediaries who are able to integrate the 'hotter' ancestral forces in a good, and useful way.

In a very real sense we are weaving a living spiritual architecture, a constellation of discarnate intelligence  whom are all interacting with each other in precise ways to, ideally, bring forth a unified and balanced necromantic ecosystem. On another more subjective metaphysical level it can be argued that we are aligning our own personal energetic framework, that interior dimension; finely calibrating and optimising the very core of our own psycho-cosmic identity using its most primal building blocks - our spiritual genetics.

Once a sane vehicle is built for that journey, the wilder forces in the ancestral matrix can begin finding constructive expression in our work, and can be fed those 'hot' substances that get the dead moving...

In this way we pave a road for them to pass into our world. A road that is both secure and reliable. And so the true miracles can happen...

we are the stars which sing
we sing with our light;
we are the birds of fire,
we fly over the sky.
our light is a voice;
we make a road for the spirit to pass over

{algonquian indian song}

A new dawn, a new day

In alignment with recent developments - both spiritual and mundane - you may have noticed I have revamped both the blog's design as well as the look on my commercial website. It's been long overdue, so I was very happy to get it done.

Along with pretty new graphics I have streamlined the site as a whole and simplified a few things that used to confuse clients. I now have a flat reading rate of $60 per hour for rootwork consultations and readings. My commercial site will temporarily direct to a weebly subdomain whilst my regular conjure.nl domain gets moved to point to the new hosting. This should happen in a few days.

Check it out, and look forward to your comments and suggestions!


The Vine and its Fruit.

It's great, I have been meeting a lot of new people lately. In workshop environments, talks, ceremonies and so forth; people from all walks of life, and various forms of occult practice - and the conversations we have had has been intriguing. What strikes me is a kind of mass confusion, as well as wonder. In a certain sense it is the wonder and confusion of variety. The near inexhaustible variety that sprung out of the process of globalisation, the internet and the resultant commodification of spirituality.

An explosion in the spiritual marketplace. The explosion of the spiritual dimension as a market place.

On the one hand this pretty cool, because suddenly we have access to so much so fast. On the other it is a disaster. A great poverty of superficiality where everything is glimpsed but nothing is ever actually seen. The glamour of fairy gold.

Put bluntly, if your spiritual journey is on track then the kind of practices, rituals and systems you work with should gradually but steadily be bringing you greater stability, well-being, prosperity and gratitude. You should be feeling happier and drawing people to you who are good for you and care for you; and eventually find that you are moving into a space where you have enough resources (spiritual and material) that you are able to start giving back to your community and world, in some small way.

These are fruits growing on the living spiritual vine.

If the work you are doing is plunging you in to ever deepening cycles of chaos. If you find yourself surrounded by toxic people, defending your territory. If you are overly occupied with costume, and status  - not because these are necessarily your values but because you find yourself enmeshed in a network of people that draw you into this kind of interpersonal theatre... then it's time to take a step back and take a careful look at the vine that you are eating from.

Whilst there are productive periods where we might find ourselves plunged into darkness; a gestating spiritual chaos that ultimately produces insight and rebirth - what St. John of the Cross refers to the Dark Night of the Soul. There is also the possibility of aimlessly wandering in its false, barren twin. This thirsty place is filled with strangers all flailing blindly, clawing at each other, each trying to establish himself as king of a wasteland.

Your magical work should be contributing to your life healthily. You need to look at its results in your life, not just its style - however exciting it may seem. It seems odd that this even needs to be said, but it really is the bottom line. If your work is exacerbating your addictions, neurosis and delusions - problems we all have - then it is well and truly black magic. It doesn't matter if you are working with demons, the highest angelic beings, or ancient deities... it's blacker than the minister's coat.

I leave you with Bobby McFerrin's exquisite rendering of the 23rd Psalm, addressed to a feminine deity.


Praise ye Dragons

I haven't been posting much this last while because I have been going through a major spiritual growth cycle - inner changes as well as outer shifts mediated by various rites. I have been learning some new things that have changed the way I work and think magically. I have been trying hard to find another way to talk about my spiritual work on the blog.

One of the things that has struck me about this shift is that my interest is flowing increasingly towards a new contemplation of Christianity and the bible. Naturally, this takes shape quite differently to the way most contemplative christians work with that tradition because I am religiously rooted in espiritismo and santeria - and practising hoodoo of course. As you probably know by now the bible and its symbols are imbedded to varying degrees in all these traditions and as they become changed by the globalisation process, many westerners will eviscerate them in a futile attempt to delete its presence.
St Joan
Their objection seems often based on an outdated, crude and cartoonish understanding of Christianity and its symbols.  My method has been to find ways of potentizing the christian elements meaningfully for myself - without necessarily buying into Christianity's exoteric salvific doctrines, or the orthodox theology based on eternal damnation and reward.

I have been listening to Father Thomas Keating, for instance, and considering the role of contemplative prayer within the context of my own ATR practice. I have been looking at the bible from new angles, taking the advice of the famous Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, and seeing if there is a way of reading this text called the bible radically free of the doctrinal interpretations prescribed to us. Though not christian per se, I have always resonated with Spinoza's rational pantheism, and as odd as it may seem to some I think it integrates perfectly with spiritism and androcentric traditions - perhaps because of his emphasis on God as Nature. Though, admittedly, his rejection of the miraculous is tough to shoehorn in there!  Of course that classic The Cloud of Unknowing has been a huge influence too. I have been reading Joan of Arc's story, and other visionary saints and just feeling the cool breeze of grace in all these beautiful stories.

I found this fascinating interview with Protestant theologian Walter Brueggemann:

What I love about this interview is his discussion of the bible as a poetic text. What a smart man. He ends with this incredible Psalm which sounds even better in the King James version:

Psalm 148:7

Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling his word:
Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:
Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:
Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:
Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children:
Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.
He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the LORD.

Praise ye Dragons indeed...