Tradition, Technique, Appropriation, and Exploration Part 1/2

I am nothing if not eclectic.  My sacred calendar follows the Eight Sabbats of Wicca, even though those dates have nothing to do with the actual seasons in which I live.  My ritual construction is firmly rooted in the pseudo-Gardnerian Outer Court Witchcraft of the sixties and seventies – Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue Book, Ed Fitch’s Book of Shadows – and certain modern plays on those themes.  I have studied the “core” shamanism of Michael Harner and Gail Wood (to name two), and learned tech at festival workshops and from friends whose linages are dubious at best.  I am now studying the Western Hermetic tradition, and though I will not adopt it in whole, I will certainly take what’s useful to me.  I’m increasingly fascinated by Chaos Magic (only ten years late to that trend, right?), but can’t quite swallow the entire open-source, paradigm-hat-trading irreverence to tradition it seems to require.  Dionysos and Rhea were present at my initiation, and I have spoken to Hephaistos and Apollon and to gods who still haven’t given me their names.

For fifteen years, now, I have searched for a tradition – one that will have me, or even one that I want to have me.  Initiatory covens are few and far between here in the Midwest, and I haven’t ever gotten invited to their Outer Court parties (though, looking back, I might have totally missed the subtext of an invitation once or twice).  I’m  a white USian, descended from the English on one side and the Germans (and Swedes) on the other.

But the gods who are mine by right of blood have never expressed any interest in me (being ogled by Freya’s handmaidens after invoking them at a wedding so totally doesn’t count) … nor I them, to be fair.  When I must defend my devotion to Hellenic gods – a rare event, but it happens – I cite the fact that my civilization is descended from theirs, even if my family is not.

In general, I give little credence to those to whom I might need to defend my eclectic neo-Wiccan practice.  I’ve never had access to sealed rites, so I can’t possibly have stolen them, and I think the effectiveness of my rituals says all that needs to be said about their validity.  Are some eclectics idiots?  Yes.  Do I struggle with the dissonance between Wiccan praxis and my queer feminist spirituality?  Frequently: the whole Goddess-God thing fucks with me a lot.  Do I have trouble fitting sacrifice to and propitiation of my patron and matron dieties into the Wiccan frame?  Absolutely.

The biggest problems start when we get into my shamanic work, which is where Gordon’s post on ethical syncretism comes in.  Simply put, there’s a lot of problems with my pasty white ass practicing anything that I could call “shamanism”.  There are the problems with the word itself: cribbed and Anglicized from a group of Siberian nomads.  There’s the whole scholarly debate on whether or not it’s even a thing, on whether or not the category works in the real world or if it’s just a way for anthropologists to lump together things that aren’t actually the same (which is a debate to lengthy and complicated for me to point you to any one or two sources).  And then there’s the part where most of the people who practice things we call shamanism don’t like us (that is, ignorant white people) stealing their rituals.

I strive to keep to what’s called “core shamanism” – the magical and psychosomatic techniques that transcend culture – but even that is iffy.  Even if shamanism is/was the universal root of all religious experience and expression, my culture left it behind so long ago that you can’t see anything but the roughest outline of its memory on the oldest rites we have.  I strive to re-contextualize it all, to provide the cultural and spiritual meaning in which all effective magic is rooted.  I disdain ayahuasca, datura, and peyote as entheogens in favor of flying “potions” such as absinthe and marijuana – drugs that, to the best of my knowledge, no subaltern group has staked out as their own, exclusive, spiritual tool.  I claim no titles, use no names.  The fact is that a certain rhythm of drum-beet can drive the human brain into places it is much, much harder to reach otherwise.

There are those who would argue that it is wrong of me to call upon the gods of Hellas using any rites but their own.  That my refusal to participate in reconstructionism – study it though I may, as a Classicist and an historian – ought bar me from calling upon the Olympians.  In my particular case, there are fewer who would argue that lack of blood-ties forbids me – Hellenistikos are less prone to that than, say, Asatruar – but it is still an issue.  Many of the most legitimate heirs are tied to the Greek Orthodox Church and disdain attempts to resurrect their old gods – you know I’m not going to listen to them.

Still, however carefully distanced I keep myself from the worst forms of cultural appropriation, I don’t know that I can actually divorce myself from the that legacy.  And yet … I cannot help but persist.  It is through this madly syncretic set of rituals and techniques that I have had my most profound spiritual experiences.  It was in a circle cast by Wiccan rite, using Harner’s shamanic techniques, that I entered the spirit realms in preparation for my initiation, and descended until I was greeted by Briareos*, Dionysos and Rhea.

The gods are the final arbiters of whether or not our rites are acceptable.  So why can’t I stop worrying so much about this?

*I don’t actually know that it was Briareos.  Possibly one of his brothers.  Regardless: he did me a favor once, and I needed to pay him before I could descend further.

Preface to a Few Forthcoming Explorations

After several weeks of silence, some of my favorite magical bloggers are spewing forth brilliance again.  Combined with my own experiments, this is getting me thinking about a lot.  In the coming weeks, then, you can expect lots of posts with links which will be increasingly out-of-date, as I don’t generally like to post more than once a day and I often like to spend several days thinking about big things.  (Today’s blog-spoo of meta-posts not withstanding.)

A few links you should read and which I will come back to:

RO and Jason and Deb and Jow all wax poetic about a magicial convention that I would love to attend sooner rather than later.

Gordon at Rune Soup talks about his magical strategies and experiences in ways that I think every newbie – and quite a few more experienced magicians – need to hear.  He also has some really good things to say on the pursuit of enlightenment.  He also directed me to a very shiny new blog AND a link to an older post of his that will be the source of many thinky-thoughts: in short, he attempts to establish a line between ethical syncretism and cultural appropriation.  It seems solid to me, but I wonder what Adrienne K. – or another professional border guard of that distinction – would think of it?

Also in the next several days, I’m going to switch from the traditional LBRP to a Neo-Pagan variant, and be reporting how that goes along with my first experiments with holy water.

State of the Dream October 2011

Over 240 hits two months in a row.  Almost 1700 pageviews altogether.  Holy shit.  Folks from all over the world. 
Some of you may be robots.  Do real people come from or  I suspect not.
Few comments, so I don’t know how much good I’m doing.  I hope I’m doing good.  I hope this journal is useful.  Egotistical maniac though I am, I’m not doing this just for my personal gratification.  These stories, these techniques and speculations … I would have loved to have access to other people’s madness when I was a wee fuzzy faun: it would have helped me understand that I wasn’t crazy.  Or not that kind of crazy, anyway.
My mead recipes and Samhain altar remain the most popular posts.  Little surprise there.  That’s some of the good stuff.
Don’t be shy.  Feel free to ask questions.  Feel free to tell me I’m talking out my ass.
How else can anyone learn?

What It Means to Be a Satyr

This morning I was playing with my lexicon and discovered that σάτυρος (~saturos: nom. masc. sing “satyr”) is a substantive (the noun-form of a verb), sharing a root with the verbs(1) σατυριαω (~saturiao: 1st per. present active “I suffer from priapism””) and σατυριζω (~saturidzo: 1st per. present active “I satirize”).  A satyr, then, is a creature with a massive erection who makes fun of you.

Last month I read an article in the Journal of Hellenic Studies(2), discussion the possible implications of an archaic image depicting the murder of Medusa by Perseus, in which the Gorgon Medusa is depicted with the hindquarters of a horse.  The author links the image to a tradition of sacrificial images, and posits that at one time the death of Medusa was seen as a tragic sacrifice – the death of something that ought to have been domesticated.  The argument is more detailed than I care to relate here, but it revolves around the imagistic equivalence of the sacrifice of horses and the sacrifice of maidens, and amounts to horse=mare=maiden.  I strongly suggest that anyone with access to the Journal look up the article.

Now, traditional Greek art depicts satyrs as having – not a goat’s horns and hindquarters, as in Roman, Neo-Classical, and modern imagery – but a horse’s ears and tail.  Which gets me to thinking: if equine characteristics on the monstrous Medusa are image-code for the quality of maidenhood, might they also impart analogous characteristics on the satyr?  They serve Dionysos, a youthful, sometimes cross-dressing, and generally understood to be queer god.  Could those equine attributes provide an effeminate/queer quality to a creature that moderns generally understand as hyperphallic?

(1) Where the base-form of verbs in English is the infinitive (“to be”), the base-form of verbs in Greek is the 1st person present active (“I am”).

(2)Topper, Kathryn. “Maidens, Fillies, and the Death of Medusa on a Seventh-Century Pithos.” Journal of Hellenic Studies. 130. (2010): 109-119.

Early Thoughts on the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram

It has been harder for me to maintain a daily practice of the LBRP than it was with the Q-Cross.  Nor had the rituals been as consistently powerful.  I don’t know if this is because I’ve been sick, or because of the insomnia I’ve been suffering, or because of the alien (to me) imagery, or simply a matter of insufficient practice.  It is certainly not just the ten minutes it takes to do it properly, except for the once or twice when that brief time has been the difference between breakfast before class and none.  Perhaps it is just that I know I am committing myself to perform this rite every day for at least the next year, and I am struggling with that level of sacrifice.

Since the Dark Moon, I have been less successful at visualizing the archangels – a failure I intend to remedy by drawing them – but the rest of the rites have been far more potent.  I am successfully conjuring the pentagrams well outside my Temple, almost to the limits of my House-wards.  The difference in power and effect is phenomenal.  What is responsible for this change?  Simply a matter of having practiced more?  The change from the waning to the waxing moon?  (I am, after all, more witch than magician.)  Could it be a benefit of the rites I performed at the Dark Moon – specifically the bolstering of my house-wards?  A clearing of psychic congestion allowing me to perform more effective rites?  A benefit of the deepening intimate connections I’m making here in Sunrise?

Regardless of the reason, in the last half-week my performance of the ritual has become more powerful, more clear, and more easy.  And this while performing the rite on  an average of only three or four days out of five.  I look forward to seeing how it continues to progress.

Malkuth Altar

I have constructed a separate altar as part of my ceremonial studies.  This is actually part of the program, and a part that – having not seen it in Kraig or any of the other (admittedly few) systems I’ve looked at – strikes me as a particularly witchy approach to the subject.  Penczak’s High Temple is based on studying each of the Sephira in turn, and performing a number of rituals and practices associated (in his mind, at least) with that Sephira.

The first month I dedicated wholly to the Qabalistic Cross and to preparing for the next stage.  This second month is Malkuth.  I have learned (and performed far more days than not, and those I missed owing mostly to being very ill) the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.  I will be blessing holy water.  I will be performing a number of spirit-journeys aimed at acknowledging and mastering my Kingdom.  And, though not actually in the Program – Pencazk seems to think that Knowledge and Coversation of the Holy Guardian Angel will just sort of happen on its own, and he may well be right – in keeping with Jason Miller’s suggestion, once he finally weighed in on that big HGA discussion last month, I think I will attempt more serious rites than Penczak ever provides toward the end of that K&C, starting some time this month; maybe Crowley’s Samaekh, maybe something else … it’s research time.

In the meantime, here is my Malkuth altar, which I have been arranging to my satisfaction since I began my Malkuth study just after the full moon.


House Wards of the Sunrise Temple

I think that the value of art as a form of magic, and as a way of performing magic, is often underestimated if not outright overlooked.  The creative, free-form sigils posited by chaos magicians such as Peter Carol (Psychonaut, pp.20-22) – and so many others that I could not begin to name them here – are a step in the right direction, but they still rely on an assumed distinction between the process of designing the sigil and the process of charging and firing the sigil.  This distinction, I think, cuts off the final product from a huge amount of energy and intention that the witch or magician is already putting into the project as a whole.

Part of this is a matter of intention: if one formulates the design of a sigil as a separate process from the charging of that sigil, the energy flow is truncated.  The energy of intention that goes into the formulation is simply discarded: the sacrificed time and creative energy of the formulation of the most perfect phrase, the energy that went into distilling that phrase into a set of characters, the various drafts and permutations – be it by means of planetary squares or Chaotist symbol-making – that lead to the final product. If one simply views the process as a whole, however, one can transfer all of that energy to the  final sigil, and have the Work half done before the circle is even cast.

I wonder if I’m making myself clear.  I’m not trying to piss in anyone’s cereal.  Let’s make this more specific.  Let’s leave this theoretical bullshit behind and talk about what I’ve actually done.

Now, dear readers, you may recall that I’m in the process of setting up a new temple.  On the first full moon, I laid the foundation and scaffolding.  At the following dark moon, I built the frame and put up the walls.  This week, at the Dark of the Moon, I installed the insulation, the first pieces of “furnature”, and – let’s not forget – some turrets.

I began by designing six sigils in the traditional manner: writing a statement, reducing it to its barest components, and – in all but one case – converting it to numbers and mapping it onto a planetary square.  In this fashion, I produced two Martian, two Venusian, and one Jupiterian sigil.

ward sigil0001Any attempt to injure the master or guests of this house shall be thwarted.

ward sigil0002Any who intend or contemplate harm to the master or guests of this house shall be dissuaded.

ward sigil0003The master of this house shall be blessed with security.

…. and you get the idea.  You can see the other three sigils below, but as they’re bound to my Name, they will be of little use to anyone else.  (Although, if you really want to help bless me and my guests with harmony and companionship by putting them on your altar, you are a special kind of awesome.)

Having done this, I drew a picture first of my existing ward structure – remember the Pentagram Ward? – and added these sigils to it.  Note that the Venusian sigils (green) and the Jupiterian (purple), are all anchored inside the wards, while the Martian are anchored outside.  This is for two reasons: I don’t want either set confused about who they’re supposed to be working on, and to provide a certain degree of balance.  The balance issue is also why I chose to make an equal number of Maritan and Venusian sigils: I don’t want a house where people get lost or into fights on the way over, or one where every party turns into an orgy.

The sixth sigil – the funny space-dude-looking-one – was made using Chaos Magic methodology, transforming the letters into a shape.  This one helps keep my wards from draining me and my guests for power by syphoning off a small portion of the energy from every rite I perform here, in order to sustain the matrix.  The elemental glyphs, and the sun, moon, mars, and venus symbols are also there as power sources. 


The image you see above was drawn and colored in-Circle, after I spent the day designing the sigils themselves.  The image as a whole was then further charged with the help of another witch during the Dark Moon Esbat, essentially by pouring energy into it.  I will continue to charge this ward-matrix directly over the course of the waxing moon – performing rites to specifically establish each of the sigils in turn at the correct astrological time. In the meantime, my daily pratice will also fuel them, as will all my rites over the course of my time here.

Also note that there’s a lot of blank space around the edges.  Blank space where I can add more sigils, more “lines of code” to the house wards as things become relevant.

This is the sort of the things I’m talking about when I talk about the “art” of magic.

A Sacrifice Is Something You Value

I was home in-between classes earlier this week.  I was still thinking on the issue of what sort of daily devotions to offer my gods while conjuring the Archangels every morning in the LBRP.

I made myself a pot of coffee.  (Mmmmmm … French press.)  My Kouros and Cycladic figures demanded a taste.

“Coffee?”  I asked them.  “Really?”

Oh, yeah.  They wanted coffee.  (As Aradia pointed out to me somewhat after the fact, “Well, it’s precious too you, isn’t it?”  Mmm, my precious.  Yes, yes it is.)

Two hours after pouring that caffeinated libation, I got an email announcing that the paper I was stressing out about would not be due for another four days.  I was free to devote the whole of my attention my spiritual obligations.

But I now know to pour a libation* of coffee to my Kouros and Cycladic figures every time I spend the morning at home and actually make a pot.  Perhaps for people who have been working with gods longer (or more intimately) than I have, this sort of thing  might come as less of a surprise.  Or maybe not.

* σπενδω – transliterated as ”spendo” – “I pour a libation” my new favorite verb.