Tool Time

7527856418_97cb6526bd_zI’m definitely one of those Druids who believes that tools gather power from being used on a regular basis. One of the big things I try to cultivate in my spiritual practice is eliminating the separation between sacred and mundane. This goes hand in hand with my very firm belief that humans are a part of, not separate from, Nature. Inevitably, I find myself questioning the necessity of spiritual purification. Many Polytheists and Reconstructionists become superstitiously fixated upon the dangers of miasma.  It’s too easy to become caught up in the Purity Olympics, and to blame any sort of misfortune upon inappropriate cleansing of self and home.

The same thing happens with some folks in regard to their tools. In the most extreme cases, a practitioner will have a complete meltdown if a person touches something on the altar. Now, of course it’s good etiquette to ask before handling someone else’s tools, weapons, kitchen implements, what have you. But sometimes, shit happens, and when it does, you need to be able to take care of your own psychic hygiene with a minimal degree of fuss.

I tend to view spiritual/psychic hygiene in the same light on view physical hygiene: wash your hands with regular soap and warm water for 30 seconds, and nine times out of ten you will have taken care of any gunk or nasties that you’ve accumulated since you last perform this little ritual. You don’t need the nuclear option of antibacterial soap, wipes, disinfectant sprays, or the magical equivalent thereof for your day-to-day needs. Soap and water works just fine.

In fact, I’d like to carry the hygiene analogy a bit further. The immune system, psychic or otherwise, needs a degree of exercise. Several studies have now been published about children who grow up in more sterile environment having many more allergies and an inability to deal with illness. The theory goes that without some agitation, our body’s defenses turn on themselves because there’s no enemy to attack, leading to increased allergies and immune disorders.  To extend this into the use and sharing of ritual tools, I view other people respectfully handling my sacred implements as strengthening my defensive capabilities. I don’t consider myself worth my own magical salt if I can’t do an instantaneous cleansing on a tool I just lent to a friend or neighbor.

To be clear, I don’t go loaning out my ritual sword to the average Joe (pointy objects are pointy, after all). However, the two tools that I use most often for both mundane and sacred work are a utility knife/multi tool and a pair of pruning shears. If I’m out in the garden and somebody needs to cut a piece of twine to stake their tomatoes I have no issue handing them my working knife to do the job. A couple of quick gestures, a breath, and a prayer, and it’s all set to cast circle in the woods if need be.

Now, I don’t recommend this approach if you get twitchy about other people handling your magical equipment. Some folks are just that way, and that’s ok. There’s something to be said for keeping a piece secreted away, but it really depends on the type of work you’re doing. If I were in the cursing and hexing business, I probably wouldn’t be so cavalier about letting folks use my stuff! It is true that the tools I keep for spirit work or other occult (in the sense of hidden) practices I don’t leave lying about for anyone to put their paws on. However, the tools that I use in tending the land, or for casting a circle for group ritual, tools which serve to build and strengthen my community, only increase in power from being used by others.

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Kitchen Witchery: Better Living Through Chemistry

Thrift stores have got to be one of my favorite places to find ritual items. Take, for example, this large silver Revere bowl that I picked up from Savers for $4.99. I’ve been after a new scrying vessel, and this certainly fit the bill. It just needed a little TLC.

Which (or witch!) brings us to today’s inaugural episode of Kitchen Witchery: Better Living Through Chemistry.  For this little bit of magic, you’re going to need:

  • Aluminum foil
  • 1 c boiling water
  • 1/2 c white vinegar (the cheap stuff)
  • 1T salt
  • 1T baking powder

Fair warning: this technique can pit or otherwise damage the silver, so you may want to try another cleaning method if you’re worried about your piece. But for a $5 thrift store find, I was willing to risk it.

Line the bowl with the foil, place the dry ingredients on top.

Ingredients, assemble!

Ingredients, assemble!

Add the vinegar. Fizzing will ensue.

Scrubbing bubbles?

Scrubbing bubbles?

Then add the boiling water. Finally, place your silver piece in the bowl so that it comes in contact with the foil. Leave it there for about 30 seconds and…

Bwahahaha!

Bwahahaha!

Presto! Tarnish-b-gone!

A bowl so shiny, you can see an elder god in it!

A bowl so shiny, you can see an elder god in it!

I had to dunk this bowl in several times since it was rather large, but it seems to have worked. I’ve also used this technique with silverware and jewelry. Just be sure to rinse your pieces well and buff them with a soft cloth when you’re done.

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.

 

Pay Attention!

Time to get to work!

Wayland has been hammering at my door again, not surprising since this is the time of year when he’s gaining in strength. Cleaning out the attic on Thursday, I rediscovered the rosary I had made for him when I first moved to Massachusetts in 2007. Then, I ran across a wonderful post over on Patheos by another of Wayland’s crafters. And today, the rosary broke in the dryer (I had previously mended it in the same spot, so this isn’t entirely a surprise). Hint, hint?

From Boston with love.

Therefore, I think it’s time to get back into some beading. I haven’t done anything since the mediation beads I made for a friend of mine who was going through a tough period in his life back in 2013. And I’ve wanted to rework the Wayland piece for a while now—plus my mum’s been nagging me to restring a couple of her necklaces. This is the perfect opportunity.

In addition to the rosary, I found all my beading supplies while cleaning out the attic—eight boxes of spacers, clasps, pendants, silk string, tweezers, pliers, and a bead board. I’ve accumulated enough of a “palette” over the years that I shouldn’t have to buy anything for quite a while.  As a goal for myself, I’m not going to purchase any new items until I’ve reduced my supply volume by half. Nothing like some arbitrary restraints to inspire creativity!

Beadwork is one of the crafts of which I’m most proud. Ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to be trained by a jeweler friend in how to do pearl knotting so that even if my pieces wore though with age (which is likely since I use silk rather than beading wire or fishing line), only a bead or two would slip off. Yes, is can be a pain to cut everything apart when it comes time to repair, but it’s much better than the alternative of searching on hands and knees for seed beads escaping into the grass or under the couch. She also taught me how to use French wire for a more finished look. My pieces would still look a lot rougher if it weren’t for her guidance.

Bzzzzzz.

There are a couple of series for which I would like to do rosaries: the Planetary powers; the Welsh gods who inhabit my wheel of the year; Hekate and Helios, the patrons of my sorcery system; the spirits of my sorcery system, of which there are 13; and last but certainly not least, my ancestral tribes (of which I’ve done one for Bee). I’m definitely not lacking for options at this point in time.

So. Time for some more adventures in beading, beginning with the Master Smith himself.

 

Strategic Sorcery Homework #4

Consecration Through Use

Creation (March 24–30, April 13 & 14, 2013):

I repeated the steps for Day 1 for each sigil, which meant that I ended up getting a lot of practice with this part of the ritual!  I combined the creation of the sigil with the cleansing, meditation, and first-use components.  I unwrapped the canvases, purified them with water and fire, and left the stack of ten sitting on my altar until I needed them.

Each day, beginning on Sunday with the Sun, in the Hour of the Sun, I would draft the design during the morning planetary hour, then paint it during the afternoon hour, and finish/use the sigil for the first time during the evening hour (the exception to this was the outer planets, which I had drafted all at once in a fit of inspiration and then just painted during the planetary zeniths). I felt like this gave me a really solid grounding in how these energies felt at different times of day.

As I painted, I entered a light trance state, which allowed me to fully experience the sigil as it flowed onto the canvas. This combined steps 3 & 4, letting me meditate upon the tool and experience it with all my senses—the texture of the canvas under the brush and pens, the smell of the paint, the scratch of the Sharpies and gasp of the paint tubes as I squeezed them. There came a point with each sigil where the pattern seemed to almost float off the canvas, arching up to receive the final strokes of gold or silver paint that finished each piece.

When the sigil was done, I placed it on the altar and breathed in the energies from it, letting them gather and swirl around me. After attuning myself to the planet, I set the sigil on the altar to await its brothers and sisters.

There was a two-week gap between the creation of Uranus and Neptune. It was strange, but I just couldn’t attune myself to either Neptune or Pluto during that time. Then I looked at the calendar and realized that for some reason I needed to wait for the Dark Moon to feel those particular energies. It makes sense in retrospect, but was frustrating at the time. So I just continued aligning my energies with the completed sigils on a daily basis until the creative block passed.

Familiarization (March 30–April 24, 2013):

I kept the stack of sigils in my handbag, on my kitchen altar, or next to my desk with the daily “dominant” planet on top. (My 3 year-old son was particularly enamored with Venus—which I find hilarious since he’s a Taurus—and I had to keep stealing it back from him.) Each morning, I lit a candle in front of the stack and aligned myself with the topmost sigil. Then I would trace the pattern over the piece to reinforce the work.

 

Sigil Ceremony Chart

 

Ceremony (April 25, 2013):

On the Full Moon, Day of Jupiter, Hour of the Sun, I performed the following Ceremony.  I’ve been studying astrology for a while now, and I wanted to be able to incorporate that into my magical practice, but on a physical, visceral level. So the purpose of the rite was to anchor the sigils to each other in time and space, making them no longer just a stack of symbols, but living representations of the planetary energies.

After I established a working zone using the OBOD Ovate Grove Ceremony, I used the Cardinal astrological signs to stand in the Quarters: Aries in the East (Spring), Cancer in the South (Summer), Libra in the West (Autumn), Capricorn in the North (Winter) (I made the decision to align them with seasons rather than elements for various reasons). Then I asked first the Fixed signs, and finally the Mutable signs to stand in the circle, until all twelve were present.

Next, I lay out the planetary sigils around the circumference of the zone in accordance with the chart above, starting with the Sun and proceeding through the MV(E)MJSUNP sequence, to give grounding in the physical universe.

Then came the heavy magical lifting part of the rite, which was to take the tendrils of energy from each sigil and connect them to all the others. When that was done (and boy was the place humming when I finished!), I pulled each sigil to the center of the circle. When they were all stacked, Sun on top, Pluto on bottom, I pushed/collapsed the energy of the web down into the stack, binding them together.

I sat and meditated with my multi-part tool, just letting us get acquainted with each other. At last I thanked the spirits of the Zodiac and unwound the circle. The sigils are now arranged above my working altar, surrounding a painting I did to represent my work from the Bardic Grade of OBOD. Each day I pull one down and attune myself either with the daily energies (Moon on Monday, etc.), or with energies I might particularly need for that day (Mercury for good communication on a Monday morning debrief with my boss). These have become some of my most-used and best-loved tools.

[NYNY] Wheel of Morality…

The completed Vanabag.

I’d like to begin this summation with my all-time favorite fortune cookie message:

Now is the time to make circles with mints, do not haste any longer.

Aside from the fact that something was clearly lost in translation, the message is strangely applicable to this whole grand experiment. Don’t rush, keep things cool, but still move forward.

I had two goals originally for this project. First, to develop a magical and energetic toolkit for mundane manifestations, and b) sell/rent the old house. The second clearly didn’t happen, but the first. Yeah, that one came through with flying colors.

Between my neighborhood working group (I am so damned blessed to be living in a place where I can even say that!), the Strategic Sorcery course, the Ovate work, and my guides’ sometimes circuitous teachings, this aspect of my practice is absolutely flying along. Proof of this is the completion of the Vanabag (aka Druid Bugout Bag), which my guides told me to make to hold the various gifts/tools I had received from the 19 Tribes last year as I journeyed through their lands. I had started it in June of 2011, but had gotten stuck when it came to quilting the fabric. Suddenly, as I started putting attention to getting my magical life back in order, the contacts and physical space I needed to complete the project became available: it turns out one of my neighbors is a quilter, and FlyLady helped me get the house organized enough to leave space for creative projects.

The bag has literally become the physical manifestation of my work to take back and consolidate my power. Even my husband has said on multiple occasions the past few weeks how awesome it is to finally see me getting my “grrrr” back in so many areas of my life at once: my work, the house, my spirituality. Even though I only sought to affect one part of my life, the ripples of those changes have undeniably changed other parts as well.

So, what else was accomplished? My daily practice is flourishing again. This in itself is such a relief and a joy, if I had gotten nothing else out of this experiment I would be satisfied with this as an outcome. I also learned that sometimes I just really need to let a project just sit for a while, until I can work out the answers—and that this is ok. But it’s also ok to jettison something that hasn’t been working for years, and that likewise, I don’t need to feel guilt that I failed the project for not having completed it (potential pitfall of being an animist, I guess).

As to where I’m headed, I have some very clear answers, and some not-so-much-so. Working both the Ovate and Strategic Sorcery courses continues to be important, and playing one off the other seems to help me continue to make progress in both. The house…that unfinished goal…well, spring is coming, and we’ll see what a fresh realtor, shiny sink and new trim will accomplish.

It all comes down to the three P’s that Sifu has written on the walls of the kung-fu school: patience, practice, perseverance. Get the proportions right for you, and just about anything can happen.

—A.V.

[NYNY] Should to the Mother-lovin’ Wheel

Quern by Tim Green

I’ve been pushin’ this bloody wheel so hard I have Sisyphus standing over in the corner saying, “Damn, girl, and I thought I had problems.”

Upshot: I’ve had three or four individuals come up to me and say, “Wow, you look great! How come you’re so calm and centered?”

Because when you’re in the center of a maelstrom, you a) don’t need a blowdryer to have great hair, and b) really don’t have any other choice.

The progress on the concrete manifestation of making the old house turn a profit has been nil. However, the work I’ve been doing on consolidating my magickal oopmh has been paying off in spades. The past couple of weeks I’ve been focusing on that, and been pleased with the progress:

*The community working group is up and running. We’ve had one meeting so far, and it was great to be able to stretch my energetic muscles in a beyond-101 setting. Even just that little bit of practice focusing on perceiving energy and tone have been immensely beneficial.

*The sink magick is spreading. We been able to have guests over several times now, and there’s been no mad cleaning dash, and no embarrassment. Both hubby and spawn are getting into things, keeping the sink cleaned out and putting away toys (yes, both of them are doing both things!).

*The Strategic Sorcery course is awesome. There are so many inspiring ideas and exercises, I’m like a kid in a freakin’ candy store.

*Daily practice has become daily again! Meditation happens while making tea. Offerings to the house wights happen while cooking. Banishing and cleansing happens before I sit down to work in the mornings. Our hearth is blessed and so are our lives.

*Finally finishing up my Druid Bug-Out Bag (aka Vanabag). I’m on schedule to complete it this weekend. The bag is the physical manifestation of taking back my power: it will hold my tools and touchstones, both from this world and beyond the veil.

So, yes, lots of progress on the magickal/empowerment front. Unfortunately, the rest of my life has been sounding a bit like a bad country music song. But more on that in the upcoming “Asking for Help” post.

—A.V.