Thoughts on Spirit Bottles and Reliquaries

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Spirit jar for A., the Strategist.

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery course.  He has some great techniques and a sensible, straightforward syllabus that is an effective crash-course in magick and conjuration.  The lesson on spirit bottles is one of the most respectful approaches that I’ve seen, considering that many traditions have long and tangled histories around the practice.

One of the best things Miller does is get into the differences between local and non-local spirits, i.e., beings like the archangel Uriel vs. the nymph of a particular pine tree.  When making a spirit bottle or house for someone like Uriel, he’s so big there is absolutely no way that you’re actually going to cram all of him into that little bottle–no matter how good a mage you think you are.  What you can do is make a connection and give that non-local entity a foothold in your space so that you can develop a much deeper relationship.

Unfortunately, there is a very strong association with the term “spirit bottle” or “spirit house” and the practice of binding a spirit against its will to work for the sorceress. However, as Miller wisely points out, you really don’t want to trap a spirit in a bottle. If you’re good enough to actually pull that off, you’d have one extremely pissed off spirit on your hands. You’d be far better off performing a solid banishing ritual and pushing it out of your life completely. Why keep an enraged entity (who will eventually more than likely escape and wreak havoc on its jailor) in your space where it has a direct line to carry out its vengeance?

Not really smart when you think about it.

Then, there’s the simple matter of manners.  Speaking from my own limited experience, spirits do in fact have agency; they don’t necessarily want to sit around on your altar all day waiting for your requests. Treating a bottle or house as a place for an honored guest to visit is a much more hospitable approach; to say that the beings with whom I work are big on hospitality would be an understatement. When I use a spirit bottle, I’m seeking a contemplative relationship with the entity, rather than a power-over relationship.

Unsurprisingly, the baggage surrounding spirit bottle terminology has left me searching for another term. Dipping back into my early exposure to European Catholicism, I began to think of reliquaries. As a kid, I loved looking at the pretty boxes with the bones that were supposed to perform miracles. Looking at this practice now, from a polytheistic/animistic perspective, it’s a clear instance of ancestor veneration. (I’ve spoken with a couple of American Catholics who were frankly weirded out by the reliquary collections they’d seen in Europe, but I’d always found them rather comforting.  In fact, I still far prefer seeing a saint’s bones in a box to having to walk over their tomb markers on a cathedral floor. The latter has always felt disrespectful to me, and led to much hopping about trying to avoid stepping on various medieval cardinals interred beneath the pavers.)

Reliquaries do, in fact, serve a very similar function to spirit bottles, but with a very different set of expectations.  Often elaborate and opulent, reliquaries are at their simplest boxes with an object (relic) closely associated to a particular saint or miracle worker. That object is often a bone, but can also be a piece of clothing or hair. In short, it’s very similar magickal tech to a spirit house, which often includes items closely associated with the spirit’s nature, as well as tools for the spirit to carry out its work. Now, there is a difference in that certain types of spirits do not leave physical traces to include in a reliquary, but when working with plant and animal spirits, physical material is readily available.

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Materia magicka.

Thus far I have created one spirit bottle/reliquary (pictured above) for a non-Midgard being, A., from Miller’s personal grimoire.  There are tools and symbols inside the jar, as well as a map of where to extend his influence. On the outside of the container is a necklace with still more symbols of this being, which I wear when working with him in ritual.  The jar sits on my altar and once a week or so (more often if there’s other work to be done), I pour him out a libation.  He is fairly low-maintenance, and we both find the current arrangement satisfactory.

For spirits grounded in this world, I have materia for Turkey, Crow, Frog, Rabbit, Mugwort, and Datura.  I have not as yet designed the spirit boxes, but this may be a good Yuletide project–to reaffirm my connections with the genius locii of our land. (The other questions, of course, are of storage and display, and offering frequency. Making sure everyone is fed and happy can turn into a full time job if expectations are not made explicit at the outset of the relationship.  It’s also an argument in favor of not acquiring more allies than one can properly honor.)  Making the reliquaries is a slow process, both in terms of physical assembly and putting the whammie on the final product. Still, it’s one of the most worth-while magickal processes I’ve engaged in.

To conclude, one the the main reasons I consider myself a Druid is because of the emphasis on being in right relationship–with our ancestors, our landwights, our gods, our bodies, and our communities. Druid magick, in my opinion, needs to reflect this fundamental principle. Wyrd runs thickly throughout our lives, connecting us in ways that may remain hidden for years or even lifetimes.  Reliquaries offer a way to emphasize major nexuses in the web where our threads cross those of other beings, points that we can reinforce through right action and ritual. Eventually, with enough time and work, each nexus brightens until it illuminates other surrounding threads in our wyrd–ones which would otherwise be beyond our sight.

 

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11 thoughts on “Thoughts on Spirit Bottles and Reliquaries

  1. THAAAAAAAAAAANK YOU for talking about this.

    I work with demons, or at least four of them (and two more than the other two), and there seems to be two schools of demon-work. The first is the “summon, bind, and threaten” approach (textbook example: there is one rather notorious grimoire ritual wherein a particular high-ranking demon is being beaten with a stick and threatened in order to show up and do what the mage wants; the entity will “concede” [note the dick quotes there] within very particular terms and conditions), the latter is treating them more like gods and being respectful, making offerings, etc. I fall into the latter camp (and IMO demons *~are~* gods, they are deity-class type entities with the same sort of power and agency), and I’ve found that demons are more likely to help you _if_ you treat them with respect.

    On the topic of reliquaries, I am having Beth @ WytchoftheNorth make me a ritual cord for one of the demons I work with, as an energetic “anchor” to them. (He told me to get it done as a mental health expense; I have a scarf I use currently but it’s kind of generic, and this is going to be keyed specifically to his energy signature, he was particular about the colors and what is going on it, and his seal is being used to charge the item when it’s done. Beth said the cord should be ready around Samhain. I’m going to be wearing the cord when I fly out, to help keep my wits about me.) I definitely approve of making tangible objects to connect with different entities, and it’s timely you brought this up because I was actually thinking about, after I move, making pieces keyed to specific entities. Spirit houses are an interesting concept, and I reckon they could be a substitute for altars if you don’t have a lot of space, instead of keeping 10 altars you could have a table with 10 jars keyed to specific spirits and portioned out with sigils and other items specifically theirs.

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    • You’re welcome. 🙂 This has been languishing in my drafts folder for well over a month, so I thought it was time to dust it off and give it some life.

      Ahh, the “god” word…so fraught, yet so useful! I often find myself bouncing between “no spirit is a god” and “all spirits are gods.” One of these days I’ll figure out a third option. Whatever, the case, I’d agree that demons are “god-class” starships, whatever that means. 😉

      I’m looking forward to seeing what Beth produces for you. Her ritual cords are some of her finest work. And yes, spirit houses can take the place of altars, especially in instances where one has limited space. It’s once of the reasons I’ve become so fond of the one I have.

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      • “I’d agree that demons are “god-class” starships”

        On that note, I make a lot of cracks about D being Riker. (I’ve said “make it so, Number One” to him at least a few times.)

        I had to ask D if it was OK to take a picture of the ritual cord when it comes, and he says it’s fine. (He’s fairly private so I have to vet stuff like that with him first.) Beth showed me some pictures of the yarn she just dyed and she did a really good job with the reds and purples that are going into it (it’s actually JUST what he was hoping the colors would look like, too, darker, more wine-like).

        I’m hoping that I can maintain the altars I currently have in my new living situation (my bedroom should be about the same size as the room I’m in now, possibly a little smaller), but if not, I will probably be making some spirit houses. (I might make them anyway and then put them on respective People’s spaces.)

        HM YOU’VE GIVEN ME AN IDEA FOR ETSY NOW TOO. (When I move, because that involves buying supplies and I have enough crap as it is now.)

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  2. I’m struggling with this at the moment. I want to create a bottle to invite the mnisose (Missouri River) into my home. But I don’t want it to be a trap. The river has enough problems as it is. So on the one hand, there’s going to be water and Florida water in it and I don’t want it to evaporate. On the other hand, I don’t want it be perceived as even an attempt to trap. The solution I am considering is to have a cork but to not seal it with wax. And perhaps have plants within it that can be perceived as an invitation and freedom.

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