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.

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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.

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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.

Upwellings: Peace in a Time of Fascism

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Today, there’s a stiff breeze from the west.  The sun is out and it’s not yet too hot. A perfect New England summer’s day.  The kitties are exploring the back porch as I sit here and write with a cup of Lady Grey and a newly washed fountain pen, joyfully smooth as it dances over the pages.

Looking at the fields and the wood line, you’d never know that that I live in a country slowly creeping towards fascism.  The crows and jays call just the same as they harass a shrieking hawk.  The daisy fleabane sways gently in the wind.  The red winged blackbirds flit in and out of the cattails.  This is my center.  If not for the internet, this would be my reality.  Small struggles, small victories.  I could  block my ears to the horrors my government is perpetrating, as as my privilege affords me.

And yet, I cannot.

Storms never arise overnight.  They are the manifestations of a confluence of factors–of pressure, temperature, humidity.  Earthquakes build even more slowly.  Dreams and scrying reveal hidden currents, bubbling fears: a monolithic white “45” against a red sky, newspapers printed red-on-white paving the red dirt road at its feet. No blue (or green) to be seen.

Blind Goddess of the Scales, I have always trusted you to see us through.  But the very blindfold that lends you impartiality also has kept you from seeing that your scales are no longer balanced.  And they are becoming less so with every child torn from their mother’s arms in the name of enforcing “the rules”. Justice cannot afford to be blind when her tools have been tampered with.

I cannot sit and look out over my field to forget these horrors, our slow slouch towards genocide.  But most people can’t make the time to care, or can’t afford (literally) to take action because they will lose one of the three jobs that kept their children from starvation and homelessness.

I am blessed with my comfortable home, my privately educated child, my affluent neighbors, my white skin, and my college education.  I can afford to give peace to the quarters, for I am in a place of relative peace.  Peace is what we most need, but we cannot sacrifice the lives of the brown, the black, the poor, the foreign, to preserve our own peace.  And that is what we have done.

I call for peace. And prepare to fight.

Old Glory 45

In Search of the Holey

honeycomb_2People who do magic, who really roll up their sleeves and have altar dust under their nails, know that is not a certain thing. I’ve been searching for a holey stone since I first heard of them over seven years ago. The are primal talismans, formed by wind and water cutting a perfect window into living stone. Lucky is the Druid who can find one.  Like any magical geegaw, they can be bought online, but that seemed like cheating. Power comes from rarity and from the effort in acquiring an object.

Push finally came to shove, and I needed some sort of holey stone for a particular piece of magical tech that I have been hankering to craft for nearly a year. That stone was the only thing holding me back from having quite a useful little ally in the ol’ esoteric toolbox. I’d been feeling called to visit Salem, and have found many strange and wonderful items along the beach and quay where the period ship is docked. And indeed I had seared for a holey stone there before, but never had any luck. This time I decided to prime the metaphysical gears thoroughly before I even set out on the journey.

I did a full Hekate supper in preparation that morning, calling upon the Fates, making offerings of eggs, honey, and incense. I asked the Weavers to help me find a holey stone in Salem, whether it be on the beach, in a shop, from a friend, or from a stranger–any (legal!) way they could deliver it into my hands.

What followed was a serendipitous series of events. Salem is always crazy this time of year, with the Halloween season bringing in witches and occultists of all shades of black white and gray. Despite arriving shortly after lunch on a Friday, there was no place to park. I crawled the car all the way to the top of a four-story garage and found nothing. Puffing out a sigh I began to creep my way back down and no sooner had I turned the first corner than I found not one, but two cars pulling out!

c18b63a5-155d-451f-674602e0ff3db01c-largeI headed for the Friendship of Salem, a replica ship that docks in the old harbor, but it sadly was out of its harbor for repairs. The New England sun cast four o’clock shadows though it was only 1 PM. I began making my way to the gravel and storm debris that lined the sides of the quay. I began on the eastern side, chanting “holey stone, holey stone, holey stone” in my head as my eyes scanned the deposits of rocks from the last summer storm. I had the image in my head of a thumb-sized rock, the hole perfectly centered, just laying there in the afternoon sun, begging for me to snatch it up. The angle of the light made it easy to see possible candidates, as any divots cast shadows across the surface of the pebbles.

Time and again I was disappointed. I did find a chunk of chert, an anomaly in the extreme. The only chert deposits in Massachusetts are far out to the west. Could it have washed up from down in Alabama? Could it have been carried across the Atlantic from the rich deposits in England? An eerie feeling stole over me as flint/chert nodules are one of the symbols I associate with closely with Gwynn ap Nudd. The piece in my hand had a deep groove and I wondered if perhaps I would have to make my own holey stone after all? But I kept going, finding pockmarked pebbles galore, but none with holes that went all the way through.

Reaching the lighthouse at the end of the quay, I paused to feel the water and wind. A busload of teenagers raced by, trying to push each other over the edge, arms wheeling and shirts grabbed. The water was cold, and, I fancied, hungry. I enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my back, the wind rough on my cheeks. Though I still had the beach proper to comb, I was getting anxious. Hekate’s rosary thumped on my hip as I walked; I still stopped occasionally but was no longer under the trance that had propelled me to the lighthouse.

Almost to the beach, a low patch of mugwort, young and green, called.  Picking some, I asked her to help me in my search.

Sister Mugwort, open my eyes,
help me find the hidden prize.

I inhaled her chrysanthemummy scent and felt myself slipping back into that walking, seeking trance. There were some long bones, maybe from a pig, and some smaller ones, likely from the chicken. Scattered all over the beach were these little round thin cardboard washers. I feared that perhaps the spirits had mistaken these for true holey stones. Or, perhaps they were just screwing with me.

I made three passes up and down the moon curve of the beach, and it was on the fourth that I spied an acorn resting atop a mat of seaweed.

That, right there, is what you call a sign.

It was the only terrestrial seed I had seen on the entire beach. I felt like I was being hit with the proverbial clue-by-four. Her voice said, “Dig deep, little druid, dig deep for what you seek. An acorn marks the spot.”

I scooped up the acorn and began sifting though the flotsam until I reached a layer of pebbles. I worked methodically, like I had been trained–though without the benefit of a GPS-sighted 10 m x 10 m grid system. Minutes passed. Breathe in the mugwort. Breath in, breathe out, dig deeper, dig wider.

I picked up yet another cratered pebble like the scores I had uncovered before it. This time, light shone all the way through near the very edge. But when I held it up to my eye, I couldn’t see anything. The angle was such that the light could pass through but I still couldn’t see through the hole.

“Not good enough,” I muttered, reburied it.

I shuffled further into the setting sun, shoved aside another patch of seaweed, dug down to the stone layer. More time passed, ankles sore, back hunched. Another dozen pockmarked rejects fly away from my frustrated fingers. Then.

A tiny, black pebble in my palm, a small hole board through and through its side, perfect in its asymmetry. I held it up to my eye, just to make sure. The tiny aperture warped the sun-striped beach, wavering my vision with the wind. A window to the Otherworld. He was not at all what I had imagined, but he was perfectly suited to the task.

Body stiff and cracking, I walked pack towards the low stone seawall.  I poured out an offering of water, scattered some nuts for the birds.  Ate some chocolate and fruit leather to bring myself back from that place where I dug into the Otherworld and with the spirits’ blessings, pulled a little piece of it back into my own.

Magic isn’t an easy thing. It’s rarely certain. At best it can tip Fortune’s wheel a bit more in our favor. At worst it leads to delusions and insanity. But when it works, when you have that bone-deep certainty that the Others have your back, nothing is more beautiful.

New Year’s 2017 Ogham Divinations

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Following the deer trail deep into the woods.

New Year’s ended up being a fabulous women’s retreat at a dear friend’s home in Maine.  There was as much laughter, tears, and divine ridiculousness as five women could possibly summon!

We kept with our Grove’s New Year’s tradition of a divination extravaganza after the stroke of midnight, January 1st.  W. did wonderful tarot spreads for all us ladies, but I also kept with my yearly drawing of the ogham for a month-by-month forecast of 2017.  Being a Druid, I use a tree ogham, but of course there are color, bird, and even word oghams that could be substituted.

Since there weren’t any ogham sets handy, I instead cut 25 slips of paper and used those for the fews. (This is one of the nice things about both runes and ogham as divinatory systems: they can be constructed on the fly with whatever materials are at hand.)

January-ioho/yew
February-beith/birch
March-oir/spindle
April-saille/willow
May-ruis/elder
June-uilleand/gooseberry or honeysuckle
July-ur/heather
August-luis/rowan
September-fearn/alder
October-tinne/holly
November-quert/apple
December-ohn/furze or gorse

The lessons of Ioho are already apparent only a few days into the month of January.  One political regime is giving away to another in the U.S. and people are looking to their ancestors for wisdom and guidance in surviving whatever lies ahead.  This is the shaman’s tree, the axis mundi, evergreen and sometimes bleeding.  Sharing in its strength can only bolster us for what lies ahead.

Review: A Deed Without a Name

jhp502a54bb94476This is truly a little gem of a book.

The first thing that strikes me about this book is how well written it is. Morgan creates rich images with his sparse prose. He manages to sharing meaningful personal experiences (both his own and those of other witches) without sacrificing the mystery of this path.  Morgan promises a synthesis of practical experience and scholarship, and judging by his footnotes I would say he delivers. It’s rare to find such a satisfying combination of learning and skill in the esoteric genre, so pardon me if I come off as a touch enthusiastic.

There is undeniably a lot of literature to wade through on this topic, and Morgan does an impressive job of summarizing it for a 201 or even 301 student. He seizes on a number of European cultures to illustrate his points, not just the standard witchcraft documents from the British Isles, but accounts from Italy and eastern Europe as well. Most importantly, he makes it relevant for the modern practitioner, detailing how various manifestations manifestations were dealt with historically and how we today as spirit workers can adapt these methods and attain similar experiences.

Oineric woodcut illustrations by Brett Morgan accompany each chapter, inviting the reader to dive more deeply into the many layers of the text. I’m admittedly a sucker for woodcuts, but these alternately fascinate and repulse–just like witchcraft itself.

Now, the following quibbles are really nitpicky things that my own copy-editor brain picked up on and just wouldn’t let go, and would probably not disturb the average reader. There are a few odd editing choices which detract from the overall flow of the book, especially the lack of chapter numbers within the text itself despite these being listed in the table of contents.  The book has a gentle flow from historical evidence to modern accounts, but also might have benefited from some broader subject headings. Chapter 21 on, for instance, is really more of a practical grimoire than the previous historical and folkloric comparisons; this is somewhat indicated by the ToC, but is lacking in the text body itself. Still, these points do not really detract from the message and value of the book overall.

A neighbor of mine who is just beginning to explore the Pagan/Occult paths has been asking me for books to read. I started him out with Phillip Carr-Gomm’s What Do Druids Believe? When he returns it next week, A Deed Without a Name will surely be my next recommendation.

Morgan, Lee. 2013. A Deed Without a Name: Unearthing the Legacy of Traditional WitchcraftAlresford, UK: John Hunt Publishing.