Spirits, Spirits, Everywhere

And not a drop to drink? No, sorry, wrong poem.

Sometimes it can be a bit hard for folks to wrap their heads around how a person can have a devotional practice without having a patron, per se, or at least being henotheistic or monist for that matter.

I’m one of those rare, blessed writers in the blog-o-sphere who gets passed around from unseen critter to unseen critter–usually within the same couple of cultures mind you, but I definitely am poly when it comes to my spirits. It’s sad when accusations of “spirit collecting” or “Poké-god” get tossed around. I don’t doubt that there are some people who are always moving onto the next best Being, but that’s not what I see from the majority of my cohort.

The reality (or my operating reality at any rate) is that we are surround by multitudes of spirits.  Here are a few semi-arbitrary categories that I’ve noted over the years, developed for ease of interfacing and where possible, mutual understanding with the non-corporeal. It should be said that these categories are based more on the type of interaction that occurs between spirit and practitioner, rather than specific classes of spirit (such as elemental, angelic, etc.). The boundaries between these categories can be fairly mutable, and relationships may shift over time given the needs of the parties involved.

Gods: These guys have been covered ad nauseam by everyone on the Internet. Moving right along…

Ancestors: Also covered more in-depth and better by others. That being said, it’s wonderful to see Druids and pagans developing rich ancestral practices as for a long time it seemed like the dead only got their due when Samhain rolled around. Now people talk about their beloved dead all year long, and that is a wonderful thing to see.

Four subclasses of dead appear on my ancestor altar, i.e., Blood Dead (father, grandparents), Heart-Tribe Dead (friends, teachers), Mighty Dead (saints, Kung-fu ancestors), and Non-Human Dead (pets, extinct species). These dead I acknowledge daily and share with them a cup of tea. I honor the Restless Dead elsewhere. Like over there. Far over there.

Land wight trio.

Land Spirits: These spirits are known by many names across many cultures, and broadly include the genius loci, landvaettir, land wight, nymph, and kami just to name a few. They are the immediate spirits of the land on which we live, as well as spirits of some larger geographical features in the region. They get daily offerings of tea, smoke and light, and it’s these critters with whom I interact the most. There are a couple of large trees, including some girthy white pines and a 200-year-old white oak. There is the spirit of the Assabet, which has never been far from me since I moved to Massachusetts in 2007. There is Mount Wachusett, sacred to the native peoples of this area, and both a comfort to me and a challenger at different points in my life.

Befriend the genius loci and they will tell you their own tales about your land. Offer to them water at the very least, or the retelling of songs and stories that they have passed on to you. Be very aware that your truth regarding these spirits may vary significantly from what they tell another. And that’s ok. Just as not all people get along, some places and the spirits of those places need to be left alone. Just whisper thank you, pour out some water, and keep on moving.

Grandparent Spirits: Most beings people encounter seem to fall into this category. Whether they be animal, plant, or fungus, a grandparent spirit embodies the archetypical qualities of its species and genus. Much has been written about contacting this class of spirit, so there’s no need to repeat it all here. Needless to say, grandparent spirits are very large, and may not have the kind of consideration for you that a more invested ally might. The lessons they teach are invaluable, however, so pay attention.

Ally Spirits: Somewhat similar to grandparent spirits, but smaller in scope, ability, and knowledge. These individuals, these persons, will have a vested interest in your life and wellbeing, but are not tied either to your ancestral practice or a specific geographic feature. They can act as intermediaries with grandparent spirits or the land, but are more approachable. Generally they stick around for quite a while, developing a profound relationship with a practitioner. All sorts of beings can manifest as allies, be they elementals, angels/demons, animals, or other non-corporeal being. Just remember to negotiate your contracts carefully, so that all parties benefit from the relationship.

15430391507_6b43899b9a_o-3

Turkey ally.

Bone Spirits: These are a very specific subclass of ally spirit. The roadkill gods are often more kind to me than I would like. Death brushes up against us all the time if we’re paying attention. Sometime all that’s needed is to move the body to the side of the road, say a few words, pour out an offering. Sometimes that body wants more.

Bone spirits have they own stories to tell, their own demands. These spirits are individuals, not the “grandparent” manifestation that deal with more frequently. Spirits residing in bones, feathers, or horns may rest quietly for a while, waiting until you’re in a place to hear them. They may come screaming through your dreams, so loud you wake finding yourself already halfway to the workshop to sketch out what they showed you. They may eventually concede to act as a gateway to the grandparent spirit of their kind, but that is not necessarily a given. They must be dealt with on their own terms, and in their own time.

Branding Spirits: These are cases of animals (more rarely plants/fungi) behaving oddly, sometimes even physically marking a person through injury or other intense interaction. It’s the skunk that decides to walk beside your for a block at 1am when you’re an angst-riddled teenager; the badger who punches you in the head repeatedly through a tent wall; the sheep that runs you over when a border collie loses control of the herd; the cat or dog who bites you unprovoked.

The question here is what do you learn from these encounters? It’s not necessarily a message for you personally (as the universe doesn’t tend to care much one way or the other what a single person’s minutiae may be), but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get something out of it, can’t learn from the animal who has affected your physical form. There’s no sense wasting a potentially transformative experience due to a tendency to over-attribute such things to coincidence. A branding spirit will often only appear once or twice in a person’s lifetime; it would be nice to say these are moments before major initiatory experiences, but often they are important solely to the inner world without much influence on specific material events.

46125116334_f08753a0d0_o

Elderberry mask.

Dream Guides: As the name indicates, these are spirits who appear in dreams with a lesson or a message. Usually animals or plants, they are not usually something that one transforms into in Dreamspace, but a clearly external being who acts as a guide or advisor in that world. You may be able to ride upon their back, or in the case of some plants, they may decide to appear in a humanoid form to better deliver their message. Dream guides may or may not be recurring characters, but their appearance and subsequent impact is usually significant.

Skin-Changing Spirits: I hesitated to include these “spirits” in this rundown, as they are not identifiable external beings–which would seem to be a necessary attribute to qualify as a “spirit”. These are personifications of the shapes that someone adopts in the Otherworlds. Shape shifting Over There is a fairly common technique in many traditions, and the practice has, for me at any rate, led me to develop a sense of kinship or affinity with the creatures whose shape I borrow. In traditions that utilize the fetch in addition to shapeshifting, the experience can become partially externalized, but still remains a part of the practitioner. Offerings to the grandparent spirit of these forms can lead to a deeper connection and smoother transitions, but there’s still an important distinction to be made between the two. One is generated by the self, the other is part of the greater spiritual ecosystem in which we all dwell.

Tradition-Centered Spirits: Probably the best known example of this class are grimoire spirits, but tradition-centered spirits are certainly not limited to that category. These are spirits (sometimes including gods) who watch over a particular Order, tradition, or path of study. For instance, the Grade patrons or Guardians of the Quarters in OBOD, or the revealed spirits in the strain of modern Hekate arcana that I’ve studied with Jason Miller. These beings are keyed in, so to speak, to a certain set of rituals and initiations, without which a practitioner would have a very different relationship. Not necessarily a bad relationship, but certainly one that would be alien to people practicing within that particular stream.


And here we are, concluding this little safari through the various types of spirits, at least as one Druid interacts with them. I hope this gets you thinking about the nuances of interaction that you experience when dealing with gods, ancestors, and the like. Whom do you interact with the most? Where physically do you encounter certain beings? Where did you first learn about some spirits–is that tradition open to all or a closed mystery school? How does that affect your interactions?

At the risk of atomizing or overanalyzing such categorizations, I think it can still be useful to gain a degree of greater subtly when describing our interactions in the Otherworlds. In the meantime, may you find allies and wisdom wherever you go.

Lovers’ Night/Longest Night

img_4588

“Next…Eros, fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men.”
–Hesiod, “Theogony”

“As they whirled together, faster and faster, fire kindled a spark of life within the ice.  An enormous, ugly shape rose roaring from Ginnungagap.  It was the frost giant, Ymir, first of the race of the jotuns.  At his side, a hornless ice cow came mooing from the pit.  Together jotun and cow lived on the rim of Ginnungagap.”
–D’aulaires, Norse Gods and Giants

“And as She looked into the curved mirror of black space, She saw by her own light her radiant reflection and fell in love with it.  She drew it forth by the power that was in her and made love to Herself…All began in love, all seeks to return to love.  Love is the law, the teacher of wisdom, and the great revealer of mysteries.”
–Starhawk, The Spiral Dance

“Two dot, a pair of eyes, a voice, a touch, complete surprise, two dot.”
–Peter Gabriel, “Growing Up”

Void, as One, has recognized herself, and in that recognition there are Two. The second, by its nature, is now separated from the One; thus Two is the source of all further differentiation of the One.

As each studies the other they are drawn together. Gazing at one another, One cannot help but see something of herself in Two, and likewise, Two also sees something of himself in One. Two and One find they complement each other perfectly.

And from this union Three is born.

This year, Lover’s Night coincides with the Longest Night.  A time for union, to be sure. A time for the meeting of minds, of hearts, and of holding each other through the darkness.  Our acts of friendship and kindness shine out through the warmth and wet of this year’s Winter Solstice.  These are the hearthfires of the heart that sustain us year-long.  Whatever darkness has drawn over us in the past year, this night is the reaffirmation of the light of the human spirit, that our lights joined become the greater light, an inferno of stars living and loving on this tiny blue ball of ours.

Blessed Solstice, Joyous Alban Arthan!

First Night

“Verily at the first Chaos came to be…”
–Hesiod, “Theogony”

“Early in the morning of time there was no sand, no grass, no lapping wave.  There was no earth, no sun, no moon, no stars.  There was Niflheim, a waste of frozen fog, and Muspelheim, a place of raging flames.  And in between the fog and fire there was a gaping pit–Ginnungagap.  For untold ages crackling embers from Muspelheim and crystals of ice from Niflheim whirled around in the dark and dismal pit.”
–D’aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants

“Alone, awesome, complete within Herself, the Goddess, She whose name cannot be spoken, floated in the abyss of the outer darkness, before the beginning of all things.”
–Starhawk, The Spiral Dance

“One dot, that’s on or off, defines what is and what is not, one dot.”
–Peter Gabriel, “Growing Up”

With the First Night we recall the beginnings of creation. What was there before there was the universe? The Void contained all, limitless potential unbounded by the spark of creation. No will, no destiny, no law…simply infinite possibility. And yet, in all of its potential, there was no ability to manifest, to create, to make a choice. Void would first have to recognize Self before our dream could be ignited.

Upwellings: Finding Center

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
–W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Autumn came creeping quietly this year.  Her scent wafted in on the Westerlies in late August, now her colors begin to show in the sumacs and maples.  She spreads her fruit-laden mantle across the land. The oaks and white pines breath sighs of relief at a chance to rest and recover from the relentless onslaught of gypsy moth caterpillars.  The mugwort, high as an elephant’s eye, bows low, her crown heavy with seeds. Tomatoes droop heavily on their withering vines, and valerian and horseradish draw their strong medicines down into their roots.  Soon the time of the ancestors will be upon us, the first frosts already heralding the ride of the Wild Hunt.

Summer was a time of voyages, extended trips to visit far-flung tribes. It was the heat of growth and expansion, the fires of the sun coaxing abundance from the damp earth.  If winter personifies the height of stability in its frozen state, summer is where things fly apart, swirling outwards into new connections and experiences.  Indeed, the falcon cannot hear the falconer.  The man fears the loss of his bird; does the bird fear the loss of her captivity?

Autumn begins to return us to center. This is the time for the gathering-in, for the harvest.  It is the time of the deep and abundant earth. Before the Golden Dawn, the elemental correspondence for the West and Autumn was Earth, and that is the association I still prefer (for many reasons).  The ancestors dwell within mounds of earth.  Where I live, the largest landmass is to the West.  The time of harvest is the time to tend to the body, to feed it well, to experience the sensuality of good food and whole-ing, healing medicine. Celebrations move closer to home as chill breezes curl around the bases of apple and squash.

There is a touch of melancholy to be sure (quite literally if one applies humoral doctrine).  Returning to center means leaving behind the frivolity of summer.  The opportunity for travel has not ended, but tending to home and hearth takes precedence. Autumn is the responsibility of butchering meat, of reaping grain, of canning and pickling and salting.  It is settling into the yoke of winter, and some chafe under that burden.

Fall into finding your center, wherever that may be.  Begin courting stillness. Know that your spirit is invincible, suspended in perfect harmony between earth and stars.  You are the center of the circle that is everywhere. Connect with community, help each other where help can be given and allow space where it can’t.  Celebrate firm foundations and sink into silence and appreciation.

The harvest has begun.

29802949817_ca36173d03_z