Kami of Snow & Rain

Having woken up to a beautiful snow day this morning, I thought today might be a nice opportunity to discuss one of my favorite weather divinities: a dragon who brings snow and rain, Kuraokami.

Within the Japanese Shinto religion, you will find many spirits or kami. While the veneration of major kami like Amaterasu-Omikami has become fairly well-known, with proper Shinto lineages even becoming available in other countries (such as the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America), still many more kami remain largely unknown outside of Japan.

According to the Kojiki, when the kami of fire Kagutsuchi-no-Kami was born, he burned his mother Izanami-no-Mikoto and caused her death. Grief-stricken and infuriated, his father Izanagi-no-Mikoto brings his sword down upon the young fire kami, with several more kami then being born from Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s blood. It is from the blood that collected on the sword that Kuraokami was born. The Nihongi (or Nihon Shoki) records a generally similar account of Kuraokami’s birth, with the main difference being that Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s body is cut into pieces, with each piece becoming a new kami. And thus, the dragon god of the valleys’ birth provides his only major myth. In modern practice, there are several official shrines in Japan where Kuraokami is venerated, some of which he shares with other weather kami.

At this point, I’m going to focus on the experience of working with this kami as an American who was completely new to Shinto practices, far removed from the Japanese culture of origin. First, I have set up my altar to Kuraokami utilizing the traditional shrine articles, which is essentially a fixed set of small dishes that each have an assigned purpose; these articles are used for the kami’s offerings. My altar also utilizes other traditional symbols, such as the shrine mirror and a red torii (sacred gate). I have white candles flanking the altar, and a holder for Japanese stick incense (I favor the Morning Star brand’s sandalwood sticks). Now, in a “true” Shinto home altar, these items would all be sitting in front of a kamidana–a small wooden altar box housing the kami’s ofuda. The ofuda is a talisman (usually paper) that one would acquire at a Shinto shrine, and would be inscribed with the venerated kami’s name; it is customarily replaced annually. However, as an American without ready annual access to one of Kuraokami’s shrines, I must admit that my home altar to him lacks an ofuda; instead, I have placed a statue of a traditional Japanese dragon in its place to signify the kami’s presence, which Kuraokami has been understanding and accepting of in my experience with him.

As far as my personal experience in serving Kuraokami, I’ve found him to be a particularly interactive and responsive spirit; in addition to having answered petitions for snow (or to delay it) with considerable reliability, he’s also granted me protection. Aside from making the traditional offerings (which includes rice and salt) using the altar articles mentioned earlier, I will also occasionally use separate dishes to offer other foods, especially when putting forth or repaying requests; as an added note, after the offering is made, the food may be eaten. When approaching this kami, I would certainly recommend making your respect for him clear, as he is strong and can be rather proud. Also, when approaching any kami, an understanding of Shinto purity standards and practices is absolutely necessary.

Here’s an example of a general prayer I’ll use for a common day’s practice, composed with inspiration from translations of prayers used at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine previously mentioned:
Humbly, I approach the Kami in prayer. In the Expanse of High Heaven dwell the exalted Kami. Heavenly Kami, Earthly Kami, all the many myriad of Kami, I offer my respect and gratitude, and ask that You unite and hear my prayer.
Kuraokami, who dwells in the valleys, divine bestower of snow and rain, born of the bloody union of Izanagi-no-Okami’s sword and Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s body, I offer my reverence and gratitude, and humbly beseech You to cleanse my being of all impurities.
Kuraokami, all Heavenly and Earthly Kami, all the many myriad of Kami, I pray that You bless me with clarity and protection. Guide and teach me.
Sincerely, I speak these words.

Let’s Talk About Help

Sooner or later, you will likely need it. But as the saying goes, it’s hard to find good help these days. With so many people trying to simply cash in on the current magical trends, I thought it might do us well to take a moment to reflect on the red flags and qualifications you could keep an eye out for when looking for professional spiritual assistance.

The reasons that you may need a spiritual professional are as diverse as the specialties of the professionals out there. The most common are probably readers—those whose profession relies on some method of divination. Another common generality of specialty you may find in professional practitioners is practical magic; these practitioners may be hired to perform spells or create magical items for everyday needs, such as getting a job or protecting a home. One more general specialization I would like to mention, and perhaps the most harmful when performed poorly, is those whose professional spiritual practices involve spirit work. Most obviously, these are the people who are often sought out when harmful spiritual conditions are at work, such as a malevolent spirit invading someone’s home or attaching directly to the person. Sometimes, burning a bit of white sage just isn’t going to cut it; you need a professional.

Let’s take this one step at a time: first, let’s say you think you may have a serious spiritual problem. There are a variety of professional readers you can seek out to divine the nature and severity of your problem; gathering information is a good first step to finding the most effective solution. But finding a reliable reader can be daunting when everyone and their pet dog is now an expert after buying their first tarot deck; unfortunately, as with other types of practitioners, we don’t have any quantitative, empirical method that would allow us to rate the credibility of a reader. There are a few organizations out there that offer training and their own certification, but these still aren’t common to find when shopping around the psychic market, and plenty of gifted readers don’t belong to any such organization. Your best tool here is your own judgment; ask questions. An honest, trustworthy reader will likely be willing to tell you anything you may need to know regarding their public practice; evasiveness regarding the subject the reader is expecting you to pay money for is not usually a good sign. How long have they been practicing, and how long have they been doing so professionally? Where did they learn, or who did they study under? How does the particular method of divination they use work, or how is it interpreted? (Remember, allow for divination methods that are more intuitive rather than strictly structured, such as scrying for a popular example.) Another valuable source of information can be other clients. Did the reader behave professionally when dealing with them or speaking about them? Was the reader able to offer advice or remedies if problems appeared in the reading? In the age of the internet, you can buy everything online, even psychic readings; look to see if this reader has any client reviews available. If you can’t glean any useful information from either asking the practitioner or asking the clientele, then I would consider the practice suspect. (Keep in mind, you may not always be able to question the clientele; they may be unwilling to discuss the matter, or they may be unavailable. In the case of the folk practices I perform, although I personally do not do so professionally, I know that many practitioners can be hard to find and often require asking your friend’s acquaintance’s hairdresser for directions, as many practitioners in my tradition are more secretive.) At the same time, I have of course learned to be skeptical of any practitioners who seem to spend more time building themselves up and advertising than they do actually practicing.

Now you’ve found your professional reader, and your reading is underway. Often times, professional magical practitioners will offer divination as only a facet of their services, also performing spells or other works as other available services. This is where you may encounter the age-old scam of the vague, impending doom, a doom from which only the reading practitioner can preserve you, provided you pay further fees for the other work that averting this otherwise-sure doom requires. In short, this is a good time to seek out another reader. A fellow conjure practitioner once advised me, if I have a candle reading performed, to look at the bottom of the candle beforehand and ensure the wick is centered so that the reading is not being mundanely influenced to appear more severe. Put plainly, use sense and healthy skepticism to ensure that you’re not being taken for a ride. On the opposite end of the spectrum, also pay attention to the reader’s mannerisms and keep in mind that they are likely reading you as well. Do they come across as genuine and sincere? Or are they just telling you what they think you want to hear, so that you will come back again and pay for another happy reading?

Now you’ve probably seen one or two readers, and gotten reliable readings that felt right and gave you some useful information about your particular spiritual problem. It’s time to find someone who can offer the remedies you need based on this information; you may return to your reader for further work if they offer it and you feel comfortable with them, or you may seek out another spiritual practitioner altogether. (Again, ask the same types of questions when considering this practitioner as you did when considering your reader.) When seeking spiritual aid, ideally, we would all like to find a professional practitioner whose practice is in the same or similar tradition as our own, but we won’t always have that luxury. If you truly do have an emergency, I advise finding a practitioner who seems qualified and experienced in the type of problem you’re having, rather than putting off treatment until you find the practitioner you’d most enjoy having to dinner after. On another note entirely, it is a sad truth that when searching through available magical practitioners–as practice is part of the work, and thus may necessitate your involvement–you may come across one of the creeps who unfortunately lurk in this business out of a desire to create an illusion of power and authority about themselves. Do not let a practitioner coerce you into doing something that you are very uncomfortable with or put pressure on you. Ask about an alternative method to remedy your problem; if they offer none, find another practitioner and get a second opinion.

Last, a note about payment. Many people today may be able to offer you spiritual assistance of various means for no charge whatsoever. For this discussion, however, I am focusing on those professionals for whom their practice is a major source of income. That being said, although many people nowadays don’t seem to want to pay magical practitioners any more than they want to pay artists and graphic designers, being charged for a spiritual consultation with a professional spiritual practitioner is not a red flag by any means. Like the rest of us, these people are doing a job and need the income from that job to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Personally, the rent on my apartment is a few hundred dollars, not a few hundred acts of kindness–and we all have to be able to pay the bills, even spiritual practitioners. (Were this not the case, perhaps I would become a professional practitioner myself!) Another thing practitioners must pay for, especially if you’re receiving a spiritual remedy that requires spellwork, is the tools and ingredients used for that spell. If someone asked me to perform love work for them, using my new red figure candles that just cost me $10 each at the only local magical shop that stocks these items and the small amount of saffron I have in my herbal stash (still probably about $10-15 worth as it’s such an expensive herb), then I certainly would not be willing to do so for free. But another important, though often overlooked, effect of paying for spiritual consultation is that it assigns value to the assistance being received–something is being given for that which is being received. It discourages those who would simply waste the practitioner’s time, and leave without truly taking to heart anything that has been offered.

At last, I would like to leave you with a final note underpinning all of this: trust your intuition when dealing with people.

Asian Celestial Animals

In a semi-continuation of my last post on amulets, I also wanted to touch on a few of the celestial animals of Asian amulets and sculptures. There are many more celestial animals ingrained in Asian cultures than I will talk about here, such as the Tibetan Snow Lion, the Chinese Dragon Turtle, and the Qilin–and of course, the Eastern dragons would constitute their own article entirely. But I wanted to discuss these figures separately because, in my experience, these protective figures have a notable tendency to house actual spirits appropriate to their respective representation; indeed, there are myths that discuss stone Shisas taking action or coming to life, or declare the Píxiū to be a companion of the gods, suggesting the presence/existence of these spirits. Care for these figures, keeping them clean and maybe occasionally offering them some incense or oils, and they will return the favor.

Píxiū / Piyao
During the leonine-esque Píxiū’s centuries-long history, their uses and appearance have seen some change. Traditionally, they came in male-female pairs; the female had two horns and was the more protective presence, and the male had a single horn and was more financially influential. Nowadays, the single-horned Píxiū has become ubiquitous, usually understood as managing all tasks (but especially wealth-collecting); as well as the continued use of statue pairs outdoors and in the home, jade amulets featuring both pairs and single Píxiū are readily available. Also, while older Píxiū depictions clearly had wings, the wings are sometimes omitted from smaller modern depictions. One of the Píxiū’s other most helpful aspects in modern use is its ability to improve the Fēngshuǐ of those who are on the wrong side of that Chinese lunar year’s Tài Suì, a yearly-changing aspect of Chinese astrology. (For example, the Tài Suì of 2019 is in conflict, direct or indirect, with the Snake, Monkey, and Tiger, so these signs would especially benefit from having Píxiū amulet around, which is sometimes believed to be the Tài Suì’s pet.)
Pixiu
A modern pair of more traditionally-designed Píxiū (from Amazon)

Shī / Guardian Lion
Sometimes called “Fu Dogs” in English, the Shī is actually a stylized lion. In a balance of Yin-Yang energies, the Shī is utilized in female-male pairs, usually with the male depicted with an embroidered ball and the female with a cub. The Shī guards entrances, with the male on the right and the female on the left as you walk towards the entrance. Some say the female protects the inhabitants, while the male protects the structure.
Lions
A traditionally-designed male-female pair of Shī (from Amazon)

Shisa
A variation of the Chinese Shī, or a specific type of Japanese Komainu, the Okinawan Shisa pairs look quite similar and are also utilized in male-female pairs to guard entrances. One Shisa is depicted with an open mouth, the other with a closed mouth; there are varying accounts for which is the male and the female, but the open-mouthed Shisa is on the right and the close-mouthed Shisa is on the left. Some say the close-mouthed male protects the home, and the open-mouthed female shares its goodness; others say the close-mouthed female keeps in the good, and the open-mouthed male scares away the bad.
Shisa
A male-female pair of Shisa (from Amazon)

Amulets

Let’s talk about a universal aspect of personal magic: amulets. These are the magical items we wear or carry to protect us (usually by warding against bad influences). Don’t particularly want things like disease or danger around you? Not a problem, ’cause there’s numerous amulets to choose from. I’m going to take a moment to discuss some of today’s most common amulets; however, I will try to focus on amulets that aren’t overtly tied to one particular form of practice/religion, so that I can discuss options that would be available for use by a variety of people. Amulets are especially helpful tools in that they can do their job with little prompting, having already acquired years of cultural intent behind them; this means that they’re a great help in particular to those who don’t practice magic, or those who are just learning magic and could use a little extra protection as a sure precaution. (Of course, experienced practitioners can also benefit from, and even enhance the boons given by an amulet.)

Nazar
These blue glass beads resembling eyes are often referred to themselves as “evil eyes” in the English-speaking countries of the West. Their design stems from ancient amulets, and their production/use has spread across various cultures around the Middle East and Mediterranean. They are usually believed to protect against the Evil Eye, a malevolent gaze received by a person who is envious or malevolent themselves, which then causes misfortune for the recipient. Today, the readily-available nazar can still commonly be found hanging in houses, offices, or cars, as well as being incorporated into jewelry.

Cornicello
This regional Italian charm has become more accessible over the years, especially as numerous Italian immigrants brought it to places like America with them. (In fact, the first time I saw one, it was a silver necklace charm being worn by an American woman of Italian descent.) Often referred to in English as the “Italian horn”, the origin of this horn- or chili-like shape has been speculated on, but the sure truth seems to have been forgotten. Many cornicellos made of various metals are now on the market as necklace charms and such, as traditionally favored materials (i.e., red coral, horn) would be more expensive. The cornicello is comparable to the nazar in that it is also used to ward off bad luck or the Evil Eye, but it comes with the added bonus of promoting fertility as well and was traditionally favored for use by men.

Black, Red, & Blue Maneki Neko
The Japanese maneki neko, or “beckoning cat”, has very quickly attained widespread usage and developed a complex variety of colors/appearances relating to specific associations. For this discussion on amulets–that is, items which ward off the undesirable–we will consider a few colors of maneki neko in particular. It is the black maneki neko who is employed to ward off evil or evil spirits, even to the point of its recent popular usage by women to ward off stalkers. The use of a red maneki neko will ward off illness. The less-common blue maneki neko is sometimes believed to ward off accidents, offering safety both at home and in traffic, although some have also given completely different associations for the blue. There is also significance to which paw the maneki neko has raised; most say that both paws raised is best for protection (ideally with the paws at different heights, however, so as not to look like a sign of surrender).

Yansheng Coin
Also referred to as “numismatic charms” in English, these coins are common throughout the history of China, as well as in Japan and Vietnam. In other countries, these coin charms can now often be found woven on red cords in metaphysical shops, where they’re sold as feng shui decorations or such. In truth, the history and purposes of these coins is extremely complex and varied, so I will simply make a quick note that common modern variations of these coins–often brass-colored with a hole in the center to be strung onto jewelry or decorations–are inscribed with Chinese writing or Yì Jīng (I Ching) hexagrams that include the purpose of protection.

Horseshoe
A common good luck token, the old horseshoe also offers protection. It is often hung above doorways to ward against anything malicious entering. Many say that a horseshoe that has actually been worn by a horse is ideal. I was always told, as an American of British Isles ancestry, that the horseshoe should have both ends pointing up. However, in some cultures the horseshoe points face downward; I’ve had the idea behind this difference described to me as being a belief in the upward-pointing horseshoe being able to hold luck so that it isn’t lost, versus a belief that the downward-pointing horseshoe will pour luck out onto those who pass underneath. Today, the horseshoe is commonly available as a jewelry charm, making it wearable protection as well.

Herbal Amulets
There are innumerable herbs whose presence is said to offer various protections; some are planted to protect the home, others are dried and can be carried. Among many other magical uses, carrying dried heather on your person is believed to ward against sexual assault or unwanted advances. Along with well-known garlic, angelica root, bay leaves, blessed thistle, and countless other herbs are also reported to repel malicious energies, and can be dried or used in a variety of magical practices. Some say planting live ivy around your house will protect from negative energies or thieves.

Amuletic Colors
For some amulets, or even just warding purposes, color is a crucial component. This is often a matter of the color associations held by that particular culture, as with most other magics. In multiple cultures, red is a color very commonly used in amulet-making; it’s so auspicious in China, that even just red clothing may bring good fortune. In the American South, a light blue color referred to as “haint blue” is used to paint parts of houses to ward off harmful spirits.

Images of Protective Deities
In many ancient cultures, a tiny statuette of a deity with a loop affixed to it would be worn as a pendant to invoke the protection of that deity. For example, this was quite prevalent in Ancient Egypt, and the tombs we discover today are still full of necklaces bearing figurines of various deities. I personally have a modern ceramic pendant from Etsy featuring the full figure of the Egyptian goddess Taweret, allowing me to wear it today to protect myself from malevolent spirits much as the ancient women and children of Egypt did. With affordable materials like pewter being commonly used today, and the advent of niche internet shops, this is a wonderfully personal way for modern devotees to show their devotion to a spirit while asking that spirit’s protection in their everyday lives; even many of the less-common spirits celebrated in paganism can sometimes be found.

Taweret - National Museums Liverpool, World Museum
Ancient Egyptian Faience Amulets of the Goddess Taweret (Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool, World Museum)

Cultural Context, and Why It’s Helpful

For many followers of minority religions in America, we are converts who likely didn’t grow up in a similar culture to that from which these religions originated. For this reason, when desiring to have an effective and smooth relationship with a spirit from another part of the world (and often another time), it is going to be very helpful to study the culture they’re originating from and the practices they are accustomed to for communicating with their devotees.

This topic came to my attention again recently when I was looking for a better statue to use for Dà Yé, only to find that many people were confusing him with Tù’er Yé. You see, “Dà Yé” is an endearing title modernly given to the spirit often known as Tù’er Shén, a name that translates as “Rabbit God”. As you can guess, the name Tù’er Yé translates similarly. Now, this is where cultural and historical knowledge would have made the difference between these two spirits glaringly obvious. Tù’er Yé is named such because he is actually a rabbit; he lives on the moon with the goddess Cháng’é and is often depicted as a somewhat anthropomorphic rabbit riding a tiger or other mount. Tù’er Shén is not literally a rabbit god, god of rabbits, or anything like that; “rabbit” was once a slang term in China for a gay man, and this is what Tù’er Shén truly refers to. Because this slang term means that “Tù’er Shén” would be comparable to saying “Fag God” in America, he is often more respectfully addressed as Dà Yé instead. Accordingly, he is also represented as a man.

And this is what cultural context is, and how it’s applied.

Iconography usually cannot be taken at face value; imagery found in Hinduism or Buddhism are great examples, as the representations and items/symbols present often tell a spirit’s entire story or relate their area of focus, if you know how to read it. More importantly, if a potential devotee can be thrown off this easily with just a glance, then reading myths or trying to understand practices is of course going to seem nonsensical without any cultural understanding for all the things written between the lines. For instance, if you come across common hoodoo practices involving using gator paws for luck or holding onto your money, but you personally come from a place where gators are just a foreign danger, you may be wondering what gators have to do with money; part of this is because, in the cultures where these practices (and the gators in question) can commonly be found, a gator is good eating and leather.

In short, do your homework. It’ll come in handy.

On Taking Things One Step at a Time

Want to have all of the fun, with none of the work? Then magic likely isn’t for you. If you do interact with other magical practitioners, you’ve probably seen someone try to do something that left you with many questions–foremost among them often being, probably on multiple levels, “Why?”

Across magical traditions, I’ve watched people attempt feats for which they were ill-prepared. It seems to elude some practitioners, especially newer ones, that magic is a skill like any other and requires practice to progress. I’ve played Operation a few times, but I highly doubt you’d want me rummaging around in your giblets with that as my only practicing qualification. Perhaps the tendency of many modern authors to water down practices or draw rocky cross-culture parallels is partially to blame. After all, you don’t go to a pediatrician for neurosurgery just because it’s “technically all medicine, so it’s close enough”.

My preferred illustration of all-enthusiasm, no-preparation endeavors is many peoples’ use of the spirit board, if only for its sheer frequency and modern infamy. Now ubiquitously recognized as the ouija board (“ouija” originally having been a particularly successful brand of the board), this tool is understood by many modern spiritualists to work by channeling the energy of spirits. (Skeptics insist the spirit board and similar divinatory methods work via the ideomotor phenomenon, but that is irrelevant to our discussion.) Due to their modern notoriety, I doubt I need to list any examples of possible problems that can arise when the uninformed use them, and I’ve met plenty of practitioners who refuse to touch a spirit board out of fear, despite the fact that they can be used just as safely as any other divinatory device, should you take the time to learn how. Yet, while many tools have consequences associated with misuse, it seems that these consequences are overlooked entirely in most cases; for example, almost any method of divination opens spiritual contact, which means that even tarot cards likewise have a small chance of welcoming an undesirable spirit.

There also seems to be a notion that everything should just be available to everyone, all the time. This makes for a dangerous mindset, for what should be obvious reasons; similar reasons for which we wouldn’t want dangerous weapons to be constantly and freely available to all. In some traditions, the serving of certain spirits or participation in certain practices is withheld until necessary or a certain level of training/initiation has been reached, not for the purpose of being exclusionary (as often seems to be the assumption), but for the purpose of protecting people from attempting to handle spirits or practices that they are unprepared for and that could backfire badly on themselves or others. I know a metaphysical shop owner who, when asked by a customer what Goofer Dust even was, simply advised against the woman buying it; this is because, if not used carefully, Goofer Dust can have more severe effects than intended on the target or cross the practitioner using it. (Also, I’ve seen a few people online talk about using Goofer Dust for protection; this is decidedly inadvisable, and not the purpose of it.)

If you find yourself taken with the idea that you should do something for which you’ve lacking or nonexistent training, think carefully about why you’re doing it and the potential ramifications if there’s a problem that you lack the knowledge to remedy. Why do you want to perform this practice? If it’s just to feel cool, then it may not be worth the potential consequences of the practice backfiring. Do you really need to perform this practice, and do you need to perform it now? There are situations for which you might have an urgent need of magical assistance, perhaps in the case of a health crisis, wherein you would simply be left to make a sincere try using your best judgment. Do you need to be the one to perform this practice, rather than seeking a trained professional? I understand that, for many within pagan and other minority faiths, finding a local clergy member or such is simply impossible. However, thanks to the internet, you may be able to find an online contact who could at least advise you on the matter; even finding a good literary source to review will help.

Keep in mind, none of this is in any way an attempt to discourage any particular person or practice, but simply an appeal to practicality. There are many useful magical skills that can be acquired and shared, but they take time to master. Everything in life is a process. There’s no race in magic, or need to compare to others. Take your time. Understand the tools and practices, and understand how they work and how to spot a problem, before diving into the deep end.

In the ever-wise words of Professor Oak, “There’s a time and place for everything.”

Sleep & Its Spirits

Sleep. We all need it, sooner or later. And, like any other shared human experience, it’s subject to its share of myth and magic. There are a few deities across cultures who rule sleep and/or dreams, but there are also spirits who disrupt it; we’ll look at a few examples of both here, starting with the good…

Baku
Though not deities, these helpful Japanese spirits go around devouring peoples’ nightmares. Appearing as a composite creature with an elephant’s head and tiger’s feet, the Baku can be called upon to protect from nightmares before going to sleep or to devour a nightmare after waking up from one so that it won’t return upon falling back asleep. The petition for Baku to eat a nightmare must be repeated three times.

Caer Ibormeith
This Irish goddess ruled dreams and prophecy. Her main myth involves her appearing in the dreams of another god of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who sought her out upon waking to marry her. Also according to this myth, she spends most of her time in the guise of a swan. If you’re having trouble with disruptive dreams, try leaving her some food or drink offerings before bed; based on the ancient tradition of Celtic offerings being buried or thrown in bogs, I’d recommend tossing these offerings outdoors the next day.

Hypnos (Roman Equivalent: Somnus)
Probably the best-known god of sleep and powerful enough to put even Zeus to bed, Hypnos is the son of the night goddess Nyx and twin brother to the death god Thanatos (who is his frequent companion). And luckily for us, the ancient Greeks always considered the youthful, winged Hypnos to be gentle and wrote several surviving prayers to him (including one written by an insomniac who lamented apparently having offended the god). So if you’re having trouble falling asleep, try pouring Hypnos some wine, or keeping a bouquet of red poppies for him.

Oneiroi
In some myths, Hypnos and his wife Pasithea are the parents of the Oneiroi; in other versions, they are siblings to Hypnos (as children of Nyx). The Oneiroi collectively refers to the innumerable gods of dreams. In the poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the three named Oneiroi are Morpheus (god of dreams), Phantasos (god of surreal dreams), and Phobetor (god of nightmares).

A Nighttime Prayer to Hypnos:
“Beautiful winged Hypnos, I call to You. Gentle Hypnos, son of Nyx, twin brother of Thanatos, I honor you. Youthful theoi who dwells by the river Lethe, surrounded by crimson poppies, I ask for Your assistance. Hypnos Epidotes, grant me a restful night’s sleep, that I may awake renewed; when your dominion falls over the beasts of this land, may I find respite from the day as well. On my behalf, ask that your kin of dreams Morpheus be kind to me, and that your kin of nightmares Phobetor pass me by. Gracious theoi, beloved of the gorgeous Pasithea, I thank you.”

Unfortunately, not every spirit of the night has our best interests at heart. Some spirits will attack in dreams, or strike at a vulnerable sleeping body. These attacks often manifest as recurrent nightmares or sleep paralysis.

Succubus & Incubus
Likely the most recognizable spiritual threat of the night in modern times, the succubus (female) or incubus (male) are known for attacks that tend to be sexual and/or violent in nature, often using the guise of an attractive human in dreams to deceive victims. They feed off the life energy of their victims, causing fatigue. Given their rise in Christian times, such as their description in Demoniality by Sinistrari, religious protection would usually be recommended to dissuade them from targeting a person.

Penanggalan & Manananggal
Its name, meaning to “detach” or “remove”, describes the Malaysian Penanggalan pretty succinctly; this vampiric creature, though appearing as a normal woman during the day, is believed to fly through the air at night as only a head, though with still-attached organs and glowing entrails trailing after, as well as an accompanying odor of vinegar. (In other areas, the Penanggalan is also known as Krasue.) And with both names coming from languages of the Austronesian family, Manananggal can also be translated to refer to removing; this time, it’s the entire upper torso which can detach itself and, sprouting bat-like wings, fly off at night through the Philippines. Both spirits allegedly favor pregnant women as their targets, feeding on their blood, and the Penanggalan especially favors newborns or women who just gave birth. Their attacks are sometimes blamed for things like disease, miscarriage, or deformities at birth. The Penanggalan is deterred from entering a home by the scattering of thorny leaves and wrapping of thorny vines from local plants, which injure the creature’s exposed organs; sleeping with scissors under the pillow also deters attack. The Manananggal, like a typical European-style vampire, can be discouraged with garlic and salt.

Hag/Boo Hag/Witch
Here in North Carolina, the term “witch” didn’t always necessarily refer to a human magical practitioner. There are many older sources, such as the Life of William Grimes (a runaway slave who details his experience with a “witch” around page 29), where a witch is described as a creature that rides and exhausts human victims at night, in some versions leaving their skin behind at home when going out to do so; some old ghost stories even describe a witch transforming victims into horses to literally ride. Also known throughout the American South as a Hag, this ugly and terrifying spirit attacks at night by sneaking into a victim’s bedroom and sitting on their chest. Victims would awake to feel the pressure on their body, or even see the creature atop them; given their tendency for repeated attacks, it’s believed that a hag could eventually cause its victim’s death. Given that a Hag was believed to enter through a door’s keyhole, something like a sieve/colander would be hung on the doorknob so that the Hag would become confused going through all the holes (or that the spirit would compulsively try to go through every single hole); alternatively, the sieve/colander was kept near the bed. Playing off the same belief in the Hag’s compulsions, a broom could also be kept laying by the bed, where the Hag would be driven to count every single straw on the broom. These methods essentially occupy the Hag, wasting time until the would-be victim wakes up in the morning. Sulfur around the bed or an open pair of scissors under the pillow will keep the Hag away.

Specific examples can be a good starting point for focused thinking about the subject, but when it comes down to the practical application, your quality of sleep will likely be improved by the presence of any form of spiritual protection. However you ward your home–be it amulets or tools, or purely energetic barriers–it is likely that it will keep out much of the spiritual nuisances out there. Also, any friendly spirit can provide protection and comfort during the night, if you only ask.

And of course, magical efforts must always be helped along with practical, physical efforts. So if you’re having trouble sleeping, read up on “sleep hygiene” and what you can do to help yourself along. As a lover of teas, let me recommend a blend of chamomile, lavender, catnip, passionflower, linden flower, lemon balm, and/or peppermint. You can mix these with each other as you please (they are among the more palatable herbs), or mix them with other naturally non-caffeinated herbal teas of your choice. All these herbs are sedatives and/or relaxants. These herbs are also among the safer herbs to take regularly and don’t tend to interact with any medications you may be taking. As always, be aware of any herbal allergies you have; I would also note that there is some controversy on taking non-commercial herbal teas while pregnant due mostly to the lack of data on certain herbs in unmeasured/copious amounts, although these specific herbs listed are commonly used commercially and considered safe in reasonable doses. (You can always look through the ingredients list on commercial tea bags to find what you need; most of these companies adhere to FDA-approved herbs in safe quantities.)