6 August 2016

Taking a NAP

A little while ago while stumbling across Studio Arcanis and lurking on the boards I came across an entire subforum dedicated to a book called The Miracle of New Avatar Power by Geof Gray-Cobb. A few threads, Google searches, and scattered blog entries later left me a very perplexed witch. This 1974 book is even cheesier than a lot of the chakras-auras-and-energy-fields-oh-my paperbacks that I've seen around in used bookstores from the same decade. As if the cover page isn't corny enough, the actual insides contain more "if they could do it, so can you!!" anecdotes and infomercial-like blurbs than actual practical text! You really can't escape them; they're after every little chant and technique the book provides, breaking up the flow of the text to the point where while reading it I seriously considered just copying down the legitimate text into a Word doc to make for easier reading. In the end, generous usage of sticky notes was what helped me.

So, why is this out-of-print, ham-tastic little book one of the most popular members of the "modern grimoires" category? I asked around and the answers I received were pretty uniform: its system is simple and it works. In between those hilariously awful testimonials are super-short chants containing the names of spirits who apparently will really come through for you if you call on them. Make no mistake, the techniques really are super simple—in fact, they require no materials at all. Everything starts off with the New Avatar Power (NAP) ritual, which is a short relaxation/meditation exercise, and then you can go on to do what is basically the Golden Dawn Middle Pillar ritual, followed by circulating the power through your body from your head to your toes, and finally bringing it all up like a fountain. The book even gives the Kabbalistic Cross as an example of warding. Ultimately, however, all that is really necessary is the NAP ritual and the short chant of your choice afterwards, each corresponding to a different purpose and its governing spirit.

At no point does the book ever provide any substantial information about the spirit names; who they are, what they look like, etc. But apparently they really do listen. People have been getting fairly innovative on NAP discussion groups from what I've seen. Sigils have been produced, people have cross-referenced glimpses of forms and appearances with each other, incorporated elements of ritual offerings and hoodoo into their workings with the spirits, and so on. Reading through the book for the first time, the spirit names were the only things that really stood out to me initially. If you analyze the text, the whole system really derives its juice from calling on the names to perform the tasks for you, and having a good command over how you flex your personal power.

Some people had mixed success, as with all systems, but others spoke so glowingly in praise of the thaumaturgic powers of the spirits it was as if they were pitching an infomercial blurb themselves! I was still puzzled, but it's not like it was implausible for me to conceive of the author being in touch with a group of spirits who all agreed to assist people who would use the chants (and/or delivered the chants themselves to him) and happened to be pretty good at it too. The Strategic Sorcery community itself has an entire lesson revolving around a set of spirits that revealed themselves and agreed to assist those who learned how to call on them via the course. Isn't that the case of almost any system, lodge, group, and so on? The little sorcerous coven I belong to has its own dedicated spirit guardians and mentors too. So while the book's presentation may be pretty silly, the integrity and power of the spirit names can obviously be extremely potent—it's not as if the strength of incorporeal beings is contingent on how nice the presentation of a text a medium-author puts together for them is. The secondhand occult book market sure likes to think this is the case, though.

In all honesty, if I ever came across NAP somewhere I probably would have never even thought to pick it up, even at a bargain deal. Now that I had done my research, though, I decided I genuinely wanted to get to know the spirits behind it, say hello, and test out the magic for myself.

Initially, I read a scanned .pdf copy someone e-mailed me while I was still asking around about the work. My rule about pirated books is really simple: I don't work with material I haven't legitimately bought/someone legitimately bought for me. It's important to be fair not only to the authors but to the spirits, showing them that you value what you're doing and that you're willing to sacrifice for it. Even with books that are out-of-print and are selling for ridiculous prices on the aftermarket, I do my best to enchant for a better-priced copy; otherwise, I just won't work with it—after all, it's not like I need it when I have so much of my own regular practice on my plate. The only time I've made an exception is when an author, deeply unhappy with book scalpers, gave his readers his blessing to use the pirated copies available online on the condition that they would purchase gifts and tools for the spirits of the book's system totaling to the publisher's original asking price. That will do until the inevitable reprint.

So, since the .pdf had given me an understanding of what the material was like, I hit the aftermarket. Wow. I've paid a lot more for standard releases of books (ahem, Xoanon) than what the average asking price was, but... really? There was no way I was going to spend that much for a scratched-up copy that I only really wanted to experiment with anyway. It would have been seriously entertaining if I asked one of the NAP spirits in the pirated copy to assist me in enchanting for an affordable physical copy, but that would obviously go against my rule (though I met plenty of people who actually got theirs this way, so it seems like they won't turn you down for such a thing). Instead, I did my go-to ritual and the next day on Amazon I found my copy at a genuinely shockingly low price. The condition was excellent too, which was a great bonus.

Once I had it in my hands I went through its rituals. I wasn't expecting anything major, but at the same time I wanted to evaluate the system on its own. So I called on Nitika, "Genius of Wealth", and ensured not to do any additional wealth magic for the duration of however long it would take for them to fulfill my request. When the spirit arrived it passed all the tests I normally do to check if they are who they say they are and not some miscellaneous trickster, and then we just spoke. They were extremely considerate and open, answering all my questions to my heart's content and happily agreeing to assist me. I quizzed it on how it normally fulfills its tasks and made sure I wasn't accidentally restricting its ability to influence my life by being too cautious about having a sterile environment for the experiment, so to speak. Within 36 hours Nitika delivered quadruple what I initially requested. It's not that I wasn't going to take the spirit at its word, more that I just try not to expect much when working with modern grimoires I'm on the fence about, but I was completely floored. Subsequent workings with Nitika and other spirits in NAP have lead to similarly impressive results, in terms of speed, potency, or even both.

"Success be thy proof" indeed. I'm impressed with this odd little book. The spirits are highly cooperative and helpful. I've integrated my standard offering procedure with them after asking for their consent and input, and I've also decided not to alter the existing text in the book for working with them. Even though the NAP relaxation ritual had me raise an eyebrow the first time I read through it, I've found that it just doesn't feel the same if you omit it. I have and still do surround the ritual and the chant with other practices I bring into my own personal workings for an added boost, but I'm not going to take out what the book asks you to do. It's not as if it takes long to go through it anyway. There are other bits in the book that include astral projection, conjuring a servitor called the "magic mentor" and actually testing the efficacy of the psi abilities the work stirs up in you, but there was nothing there that was anything really new for me and/or that I hadn't tried or learned better techniques for.

In my experience, the heart and soul of NAP lies in the spirits who help you carry out the magic and the exercises that try to awaken and deepen your extrasensory organs, which in turn allow you to better communicate with those spirits—which is, of course, a standard formula for spirit work. And just like what you'd expect, it's the spirits that truly shine. In NAP's case, they are extremely responsive, considerate, helpful, and just all-around fun to be with. I am really pleasantly surprised and can definitely see myself calling on them again for future spell work, both on their own and, more likely, in conjunction with other efforts and spirits, as they seem to have a really easy time assisting other familiars and petitioned beings.

1 August 2016

Lammas 2016 + House Spirits

Have you been taking care of your house spirit? They've certainly been taking care of you. These finicky wights, extremely loyal and generous if treated well—but terribly shy and easily heartbroken and offended according to folklore—take care of their households, promoting luck, fertility, and activity among their patrons, cleaning little messes here and there, and often serving as an intermediary between other local spirits. Sometimes they'll accompany the same bloodline for generations, becoming elevated thereby as a kind of ancestral protector of its own, representative of a family's luck over centuries. In other instances, a series of heated arguments and tantrums between family members gone wrong can be all that it takes to make their house spirit up and leave in search of a new home.

These characteristics are not universal, of course. I'm mostly speaking about my experience with Slavic house spirits, which are most often known as domovoi. Growing up in Serbia, my friends and relatives usually called singular house spirits domaćin, meaning a host or a housekeeper. Like the majority of Balkan folkloric traditions the term varies across towns and countries, but the core concepts endure. Since I spent the majority of my childhood and early adolescence constantly moving from one house to the next, barely staying in place for over a year, I've seen my fair share of variety between these spirits. Those that follow families will accompany them as they move, but most seem to be fully rooted in the actual buildings themselves, tending to numerous individuals and groups over the generations. My prababa told me when I was little that if you wanted to guarantee that your domaćin will accompany you when you move, you should place their token object (vessel) into a boot after asking them to come along with you and then carry that boot to the new home and reestablish them.

Today the domaćin that resides within my home is one that I summoned in my teens. My family and I had moved to a completely new house that had just finished construction and with the aid of my spirit teachers we evoked and established a hearth guardian that has been with us since. (The procedure was actually remarkably similar to the ritual found on page 168 of Nigel G. Pearson's Treading the Mill). He has a shrine above the fireplace with a candle, glass of water, and room for bread and milk on holidays, family birthdays, special occasions, and so on. In early May I finally found the perfect "token object" for him which is now installed there as well: a carved domovoi from Wuflund Jewelry. The small stang-wand I painted red in the picture is one that the domaćin himself led me to. We found the curious thing—perfectly smooth and sanded—lying neatly near our property.


He has been an absolute treasure of a companion over the past few years, even if our interactions aren't anything like those of my spiritual court—house spirits are notorious for their behavioural taboos, some fleeing forever if you give them clothes or verbal thanks. I show my gratitude wordlessly and let him know when I'm leaving and when I'll return. I update him when to expect guests and which dates are important and will be celebrated by the household. I'm hosting some relatives from Serbia for the next month and as this is is a big change our routine. Working together has made the accommodations effortless, the jet-lag nonexistent, and the time zone friction melt away into deep sleep.

Today at Lammas as we enjoyed the bread and the cake I made sure to set out a healthy portion to our diligent, kind, and temperamental housekeeper. If you work with one, definitely save them a slice of your bounty today.

17 July 2016

Cicero Conference + Liber Spirituum

Yesterday I attended a HOGD conference here in Toronto where the local lodge hosted Chic and Tabatha Cicero for a series of lectures and presentations. My best friend and I had a great time; Chic's talk on magical squares and Agrippa was a nice review and came in really timely for us thanks to the work with the planetary squares that we have been doing lately. Similarly, his final talk, which explored his experiences from the early days of constructing a Golden Dawn vault in a house he was renting, to meeting Grady McMurty, and then eventually Israel Regardie—the focus of his discussion—was sincerely fascinating (and thanks to his humour, hilarious). Sandra Tabatha Cicero's overview of tarot talismans and the creation of images representative of angels associated with the cards was really neat as well. At the end I got my copies of The Essential Golden Dawn and Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition signed.

Additionally, a real treasure has arrived in the mail. Liber Spirituum, the first release from the new Azoth Press of Miskatonic Books fame, really does read like a successor to previous Nephilim Press anthologies like Holy Guardian Angel and Ritual Offerings. The essays deal with relationships with, evocations of, and magic worked with spirits from the perspective of multiple traditions. Frater Ashen Chassan contributed a wonderful piece on talisman consecration—anyone who has ever added him on Facebook or seen pictures of his talismans and ritual regalia knows his incredible attention to detail extends to his craftsmanship just as much as it does to his occult writings. I can honestly barely wait for the sequel to Gateways Through Stone and Circle: his lucid writing style and obvious respect for the grimoires and the spirits themselves make everything I've read by him truly inspiring for my personal practice. Aaron Leitch's essay on developing deep, nurturing, and honest relationships with patrons was equally wonderful. Reading it in my chair, surrounded by shrines to my gods, familiars, house spirit, plant-famulus, and HGA, and seeing how their presence, friendship, and wisdom has changed my life, permeated through my creative work, and been the unwavering foundation of support during my darkest moments was certainly emotional. They feed my mind and soul with their calls to transcend and ever move beyond, always seeking further revelation, ecstasy, and truth. I feed them with all the fruits of my creativity and love.

Packed with these and seven more great essays (including a Z-2 ritual for the evocation of Metatron by the Ciceros!) this will doubtless be a new favourite for spirit workers and magicians of any tradition. The editing is seamless (you'd think a lack of typos and formatting errors would be the norm among most publishers but sadly a lot of smaller occult presses are just riddled with them) and the presentation is gorgeous. Obviously books should be valued for their content, not their binding, and these days just about anything is getting bound in goatskin or leather, printed in small limited runs, and then put up on the aftermarket for ludicrous prices, making them seem alluring and mysterious in their unavailability even if they're actually about as impressive as a Wicca 101 coffee table book. However, presentation absolutely still matters—it shows that the book was created with its audience in mind, and with a respect to quality. Everything about Liber Spirituum from the font choices to the subheadings to the diagrams (oh gods, the diagrams!) are beautifully rendered in red and black; pleasant to the eye while assertive next to the text. Definitely consider picking up a copy over at Miskatonic Books if you can.

9 July 2016

Scapular of St. Cyprian

This Thursday I finished making a homemade St. Cyprian of Antioch devotional scapular, and today during my morning offering and rosary routine with him I consecrated and enchanted it. The creation of a Catholic scapular for the saint, to be worn as both a religious habit and a vessel of his protection and power, is an assignment in the Red Work course I enrolled in last month. In addition to conferring his blessing, it reaffirms the wearer's aspirations to be like the saint in their daily lives.


The materials were really simple: two 3mm thick purple wool felt squares, some white cotton, iron-on fabric transfer paper, red ribbon, and red sewing thread. I printed off pictures of St. Cyprian on the transfer paper, ironed them onto the cotton, cut them out and sewed them and the ribbon together while praying. The ribbon of course is measured so that the front square will fall over my heart center and the other the same approximate location on my back. Like regular scapulars these are small and easy to wear under clothing discreetly like a necklace. 

30 June 2016

Jupiter Cash Box

With this being the last day of June, my month long devotional practice with Juno has also come to its close. This was a really productive time; my relationship with the goddess has absolutely strengthened through the rituals and meditations, and thanks to her blessings I've come into a fair bit of good fortune both in terms of finding everything I needed to buy at incredible deals and in earning more money through a new stream of income. 

I've been on a crafting kick as of late, largely inspired by the new Hermetic apprenticeship and all its lessons and assignments. This has also carried over into a number of new side projects. Over the past few weeks I've created new tools for witchcraft, a set of instruments for divination, amulets for St. Cyprian and St. Expedite, a honey jar, and a talisman for Aset among others. Two spirits in my court are also receiving their houses soon, so I'll be out collecting dirt from different locations next week as well.

Today during the finale of the Juno practice I consecrated a "Jupiter cash box" with her blessing, using the guidelines provided in Jason Miller's Financial Sorcery. This is a really neat spell; cash that goes in becomes a kind of amulet for attracting more money as it flows out into the world and is exchanged. As you spend the bills inside and earn more money, you end up putting more in as well, and the box begins to embody a kind of center of investment itself. I started with a cheap wooden box from a craft store, painted it blue, and then drew the symbols on it in gold. The top contains four astrological signs of Jupiter and the Fourth Pentacle of Jupiter from the Key of Solomon. Inside the lid is the planet's magical square or kamea. On the outside below the clasp are the seal and the sigils of the Intelligence and Spirit. The whole thing was rubbed with the appropriate condition oils and prayed over in the names of Jupiter and Juno.


Inside the box is filled with dirt from my bank, various herbs including sassafras, Irish moss, spearmint, vervain, five finger grass, allspice, and juniper berries sprinkled in numbers sacred to Jupiter, four sticks of cinnamon, a gator's hand for grabbing money, a lucky hand root, and a lodestone. Above are some pictures of the box without the actual cash in it. The shadows make the bottom three seals look a little dull, but the gold is the same vibrant tone throughout.

29 June 2016

Kemetic

It's occurred to me that I've actually never posted about this on here, and with today being Aset Luminous, a festival for the Mistress of Magic, it's definitely as good a time.

Like many I've had an intense fascination with ancient Egyptian art, architecture, culture, and religion since a young age. Being a spirit worker and shamanic witch, it was probably inevitable that the fascination would bleed through into my religious life as well. As it is in most cases when it comes to deities, while I negotiate with and am tasked to assist different divine powers as a part of my work (and on some occasions am sent to them directly by my spirits to be trained for a number of weeks or months at a time), those with whom I develop the powerful, lasting, and intense partnerships/apprenticeships that can be referred to as "patronage" are few. Regarding Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) gods or Netjer, I have worked with Ra and Yinepu on and off for about four years, but Set, the implacable Netjer of storms, the desert, fearsome protection, and disorder, was a patron from the first encounter. I could go on and on about what he means to me and how utterly captivated I am by his history, his cold and focused fury, his power in keeping the world safe from evil, his ability to do the uncomfortable and blunt deeds even other Netjer cannot or will not do, and his eventual demonization, but that could be an essay of its own. Set is an incredible, harsh, disciplined, and indeed deeply caring being. He is a dangerous shadow, but he tests us and trains us to be ready to face the demons within and without. He is not "nice", but he is loving. Patient, clever, proud. Confusing when you're in his storm as we all are, clear when you find the storm's eye.

As I've been studying Hermetic philosophy, history, and magic for about a year and a half independently (and as of last month, formally as a student!), my love and passion for Kemetic deities and spirituality has only deepened. I treat them as two separate streams emerging from very different historical and cultural circumstances of course, but studying Hermetic writings lead to reading more ancient Egyptian sources as well and vice versa, so it just happened that I began to immerse myself more in both at roughly the same time. Hermes, the Hellenized Thoth, and Djehuty share various traits in common certainly, but they also have numerous qualities and histories that set them apart. That said, Kemetic deities are well known for their fluidity. There are so many aspected deity relationships, as well as syncretizations between the gods of different places in Egypt, assimilations of minor cult gods into larger ones who take over their characteristics, and so on. The ancients certainly never considered their gods to be static and unchanging, and the word "Netjer" reflects that in its meaning of "divine power". In terms of direct personal spiritual experience, gods don't always like to keep things neat and tidy. I've worked with Hermes and Djehuty separately many times, but sometimes they've both come at the same time individually, or aspected, or yes, even syncretized. I don't know what that means (if there's one thing Hekate has taught me over the past seven months of being in her course with Jason Miller, it's that it's very okay to just not know or indeed ever know certain mysteries about the gods). I'm not really sure what it implies exactly either. But all those experiences have only enriched my practice and I am content.

Kemetic religion and spirituality is not something I've ever really written about on here even though it is a big part of my practice for the simple reason that my direct experience with it has been dominated by Set for some time, and he has preferred to work in silence and shadow. Around November of last year Djehuty encouraged me to look into established Kemetic polytheistic communities, with my dreams and divination readings all pointing to that I would find a place among them. Considering that I normally prefer to keep a lot of distance between myself and the majority of modern pagan communities, that came as a bit of surprise. I ended up taking the beginner's class at Kemetic Orthodoxy, a modern revivalist religion led by Tamara Siuda (Mambo Chita Tann in Haitan Vodou), a professional Egyptologist, and found the community to be incredibly cordial, warm, accepting, and knowledgeable. I've learned a lot from members of the House of Netjer there and have made some good friends, online and off through it. I've spoken in detail with both current and former members, parsed through novel-length discussions in order to separate the misconceptions and mudslinging from the truth, and finally settled in as an affiliate of the group. The reverends and priests were truly kind and patient with me and my many doubts and hesitations, to say in the least. Ms. Siuda herself is a truly compassionate and generous person as well.

Last month I underwent a rite of passage referred to as the Rite of Parent Divination, a modern ritual created to discover an individual's "parent" deities in addition to their "beloveds". An individual can have one to two parents (any gender distribution works) and zero to six beloveds. What these terms mean for different people will naturally vary, and different explanations have come through during saq (ritual possession by a deity by a trained priest). Overarching themes include seeing the parents as the vowed guardians of an individual's ba or eternal soul, with the beloveds being deities who take a special interest in teaching and guiding the individual's spirit in this particular incarnation. The divination isn't meant to discourage people from worshiping and/or working with deities that do not show up in the results, or indeed gods from any pantheon or culture. It simply identifies those who have chosen to come forward and embrace the individual through this initiation and beyond, whether they remain with the community or not. The process takes a full day to complete and involves altars being built for the deities and ancestors of the person by Rev. Siuda, complete with fresh offerings and supplies. The divination itself is done through a geomantic oracle using cowrie shells; those interested in learning a little about the process can read this post [here].

All the results have to be confirmed multiple times using the oracle, and if there is even one negative response the whole divination begins anew. I was very nervous and excited; I spent the week leading up to it trying to steel myself and open myself up to the possibility of whomever might come through out of the hundreds of gods possible. Imagine my absolute shock when I ended up with two "fathers", Set and Djehuty, in that order. My beloveds are Heru-wer (Horus the Elder) and Aset-Serqet. The next day I received my initiated name in the Kemetic language, Sitjenenitui; Sitjen for short. Using a few dictionaries I've actually managed to write it out in hieroglyphs. :)


Whether I eventually leave the community or not is irrelevant when it comes to my relationship with these divine names; I will always treasure and honour them. As for now I am content with what I have found there and am looking forward to the future. Expect a few posts about Kemetic festivals and ritual practices here and there as the months go by and I get back into the swing of things here. To make things easier on myself, I'll use the more Kemetic spellings of names when I want to refer to my practice with ancient Egyptian spirituality and religion, and Greek ones when referring to later Hermetic writings where certain powers are present. Thelema is entirely its own thing with its own spellings, haha; there won't be any doubts about that.

20 June 2016

Midsummer 2016

I called on the Hare and the Hare came. We leaped, softly and silently as the shadow, over into the vast meadows of the Mother: for even as all territories belong to her it is there in that plane that her roses smell the sweetest. We watched as an exorcist wearing a mess of white furs and oak leaves was wedded to the one vampire that was crafty enough to evade all his demon-traps. We fled from chimeras and bartered with goblins. I drank faery liquor until it came out of my eyes as tears. There was dancing and also a duel. In hindsight, they might have been the same thing.

Back when I first asked my Guardian to teach me shapeshifting he began his instruction by drawing a distinction between what he referred to as "changing [animal] to become you" and "changing yourself to become [animal]". The former is a kind of costume change. You take on the shape of what you think a spider is like and traverse the web of fate-lines with your delicate legs. You wear the skin of a wolf and induce a light shift in perception that comes from within, bound in your internal preconceptions about wolf behaviour, physiology, and power. It's easy to do if you're flying in spirit; astral forms are malleable by nature and once you get used to the sensation it can become a valuable tool in your pocket. But it wasn't what I meant when I used the term "shapeshifting" with him.

The latter takes time. It can actually be a rather grueling process. Instead of taking on a wolf body through a lens of what a human thinks lupine experience is like, you go to Wolf and ask them permission to know the hearts of their children. Guardian archetypes of a particular genus or species are often quite picky in regards to such "initiations", if you'd like to call them that. Usually the response is refusal, but depending on your constitution, relationship with the guardian's children, persuasiveness, humility, boldness—and above all, spirit allies—you might be granted the privilege. There's always a price involved; in my experience I usually have to provide some sort of magical service or do some shamanic legwork for the spirit in return. A fundamental change within you follows; you acquire and integrate a sliver of a soul—a piece of Other, freely given—and become bound under that patronage; a separated cousin. Two years ago I met a magician in Serbia who claimed he knew a witch that had acquired over five "skins" this way. He wasn't planning on ever cultivating more "skins" than just the one his familiar passed down to him.

This isn't a strict binary, of course. Sometimes you can be given a temporary taste of that kind of congress without formally bonding. The Horned Master has shapeshifted me before without asking my permission during lessons and it didn't feel like the first example at all. At the same time, you can negotiate to gain the privilege of knowing an animal's heart in this way for a limited time—for a particularly critical journey or ritual, for example. Then there are those wild and weird in-between states in all their different varieties and shades.

I don't yet know Hare in this way and am not sure if I will in the future. But they let me dart with them through the meadows and for that night I was frightened and curious and bashful and cautious and brave and very, very lustful and quick and I think I might understand the moon a little better now; though it might have been just been the pond and the jump and the rush.