The Lion, Great of Strength

The Netjeru. Deities of Ancient Egypt–or as it was known by the people of the time, Kemet (from whence the modern religious term Kemeticism is derived). This pantheon was numerous and rather fluid, with multiple myths depicting the same event and different religious cults coming to power or being brought into Egypt from foreign cultures.

Today, I’d like to share one of the many deities whose cult arose from the long-lived Ancient Egyptian culture: a protective spirit whose worship enjoyed its rise in the Late Period (usually designated as being from the 600s or 500s BC to the early 330s BC). He would continue to be a popular god into the Ptolemaic period (Greek rule over Egypt) and even the Roman period (Roman rule over Egypt). Throughout these times and cultural shifts, he was understood as a particularly accessible god, venerated by the common people and featured on amulets.

Meet Tutu. (Known to the Greeks as Tithoes.)


                   God Tutu as a Sphinx, 1st century C.E. or later. Limestone, pigment, 14 1/4 x 5 1/16 x 16 11/16 in. (36.2 x 12.8 x 42.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1509E. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.37.1509E_view1_divinefelines_2013.jpg)
Limestone, 1st c. CE or later (Brooklyn Museum)

Tutu is most often depicted as an Egyptian sphinx–he has a human head wearing a nemes, a leonine body, and a snake as a tail. He is often depicting trodding down dangerous animals, such as the snakes depicted in the above statue or the scorpions in the stela below, or walking over arrows, depicting dangers such as the Seven Arrows of Sekhmet that cause illness. As “He Who Keeps Enemies at a Distance”, Tutu is believed to hold sway over malevolent spirits and has the ability to protect his devotees from danger. A mighty son of the goddess Nit (spelled Neith by the Greeks), he is also especially petitioned to protect a person while they sleep, fending off nightmares.

Certain of Tutu’s epithets, such as “Who Comes to the One Calling Him”, showcase his perceived accessibility by the Ancient Egyptian people; this availability has often been interpreted as the reason for the unusual choice in many ancient reliefs to show him with his face frontwards, fully looking towards the viewer.

Limestone, circa 332-330 BCE

So what does all this mean for the modern Kemetic devotee? In my religious practice, Tutu currently dwells on my Kemetic altar alongside my other Netjeru in the form of a sphinx statue, which I’ve adorned with a necklace I made of glass, carnelian, and lapis lazuli beads. Personally, I have found him to not only be as approachable as his reputation suggests, but also to be particularly calm and collected in his demeanor, to a reassuring effect. He always seems to know when there’s a problem, before you tell him anything, and is ready to listen and offer advice or assistance.

Tutu can still be invoked as a powerful personal protector. Petition him if you suffer from nightmares; keep a small altar to him in your bedroom, and offer him cool water before going to sleep. Buy a sphinx charm and cense it with frankincense, then wear it as part of your daily jewelry for protection during the day. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, Tutu can be a wonderful addition to a personal spiritual practice, as he has the power to keep spirits of illness at bay.

My Protection Prayer to Tutu:
“Fierce Tutu, Great of Strength, He Who Keeps Enemies at a Distance, I offer You henu as I ask Your protection. Son of Nit, guard me from any malevolent manifestations, be they netjeru or netjeri. Master of the Demons of Sekhmet and the Wandering Demons of Bast, protector of the people, in You I trust, and to You I give thanks. As it was in Your temple in ancient Kellis, so may it be now as I honor You here, as You are victorious in all places You go and all evil flees before You. Where I walk, You walk with me, and I am protected. Dua Tutu! Nekhtet!”

*henu: ritual gestures used in Kemeticism to honor the Netjeru; the simple henu to offer praise is done with arms extended forwards, then bent upwards at a 90 degree angle at the elbow, with hands open and palms facing forwards.
*netjeru (malevolent manifestations): illness-causing spirits, such as the Arrows of Sekhmet, can be interpreted as a manifestation of the goddess herself or her messengers; they are included in the dangerous energies that Tutu protects from.
*netjeri (malevolent): non-divine spirits, against whom Tutu guards.
*Kellis: the ancient town with the only known temple to which its main dedication and function was Tutu’s worship.
*“Dua Tutu! Nekhtet!”: a modern rendering of Ancient Egyptian words that may be generally understood as meaning “Praise Tutu! Victory!”

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.

Gods and Spirits of the Land and Waters

December is the time when Roman polytheists honor the rivers and the hills.

My first experience with a God was with the River God of the Kennebec River in Maine. When I met the Kennebec, She was wild and untamed in spite of being dammed for over a hundred years. (Note 1) (Note 2). My family lived at the meeting of this river with the Dead River at The Forks. Although the Dead River is considered a branch of the Kennebec, it has a different nature. According to my late grandfather (former Maine Guide), this river was called “Dead” since it took so many lives of people trying to travel the river. While the Dead was quiet and menacing. I could sense that the Kennebec did not tolerate humans very much either.

Since then, I have met the acquaintances of other River Gods. The ancient God of the Potomac of Washington D.C. is so primordial that He is beyond language. The New River of West Virginia, although more primeval, is amused by humans and their activities.

One place that I have had direct experiences of land spirits is Western Maryland. This mountainous region has vast forests, meandering creeks, and wild rivers. It was first traversed by various Native American nations who warred with each other. Later the combatants of the French and Indian War and U.S. Civil War left their imprint with battles. Besides this bloody history, phantom beasts, unquiet ghosts, and odd people inhabited the area. (The most famous beasts are the Dwayyo, a werewolf-like creature and the Snallygster, a reptilian-avian creature.) The nexus of all this weirdness is South Mountain, which is an extension of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The strangeness of Western Maryland includes experiencing displacement of time and space. Returning home from Chambersburg (PA), I went through an unknown portal. I found myself navigating my car through a herd of mastodons, which were browsing on spruce trees. Dodging the hairy beasts, I kept going until I went through another portal back to my own time. I later found out that my experience was not that unusual for this area.

Echoing my experiences, Regis Boyer wrote in his forward of “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” by Claude Lecouteux. (Note 3), “We evolve within an inhabited ‘natural’ world, one in which the gods themselves, or the deified dead, are the cornerstone of reality. As a result it is a world that cannot conform to appearances.” (Note 4) Boyer further observed that the “Spirits of the Land” (Genii Loci) have been devalued, starting with Christianity. Even in modern times, the devaluing continues, but the Sacred still manifests Itself.

In examining ancient and medieval customs, Claude Lecouteux concluded that people once understood that they cohabited with the Spirits (Gods). Because of this, ancient peoples performed rituals, listened to oracles and made sacrifices. The folk customs of the medieval peoples such as the “rite of crossing a river” continued to fulfill this contract with the Spirits (and various Gods). Lecouteux continued, “they left us one essential law: mankind should live in harmony with the surrounding nature…. In order to prosper then, we must continue to honor the genii loci.” (Note 5).

Lecouteux interprets the ancients as asserting that the world is neither human nor spirit centered, but is full of spirits. Some are Gods, some are land or water spirits, but none are human. A wise person understands that they would have to co-exist with all of these Spirits, since they will encounter Them at times.

Recognizing the power of the Gods, Christianity sought to tame Them. The Church renamed various Gods as Saints, and built churches by sacred fountains and in groves. Those Spirits (and Gods) they could not tame, the Church called demons, who had been expelled from heaven. Meanwhile, lay people often saw these Spirits as dragons, fairies, or simply “The Little People.” No matter how much the Church (and later Science) sought to de-sanctify Them, the Gods still remained powerful.

The Gods of Water have many sacred places throughout Europe, which are still recognized. The Severn of the U.K. is named for an old British Goddess. The Rivers Boyne and Shannon in Ireland are named for the Gods Boann and Sinann respectively. The healing springs at Bath, England is the sacred place of Sulis, the Celtic Goddess of Healing. The Romans revered the Tiber River as Tiberinus. Each of these Gods received offerings from local peoples.

I, as a Roman Polytheist, do not see rivers, springs, mountains, and forests as aspects of “nature.” For me, They are not part of one divine entity such as “Mother Earth.” Each has their own power. Some heal, some kill, but all need to be respected. Bodies of water have yielded offerings of silver made by people, who understood the power of these Spirits. One does not enter a forest without permission nor drink from a spring. The Land and Water Spirits remain vigilant, ready to assert Themselves even in modern times.

Tourists like to white-water raft on the Kennebec and Dead Rivers. However, these rivers will claim lives as their due. The loggers who once drove logs down the rivers to the mills understood this. They knew these rivers took what was rightfully theirs.

Notes:
Note 1. Gods and Spirits of the Land and Waters include Those of cities, forests, mountains, and streams.
Note 2. The dam was removed in 1997. Since then, She has reasserted Herself as a powerful, wild river.
Note 3. Lecouteux, Claude, “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” translated by Jon Graham. Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015. Lecouteux, who is French, specializes in the study of medieval folklore and magic. He taught at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
Note 4. Page x, Claude Lecouteux
Note 5. Page 182, Claude Lecouteux

Works Used:
Fair, Susan, “Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland.” History Press: London. 2013.
Lecouteux, Claude, “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” translated by Jon Graham. Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Rada, James, Jr., “Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland.” Legacy Publishing: Gettysburg (PA). 2017.

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)

Returning from Reality

Sometimes life throws you curveballs. It happens a lot, really. It’s easy to get swept up in the mundane and begin to neglect things beyond it. I know I’m guilty of this. No number of explanations or excuses I can muster could really make up for that.

Although I offer to my ancestors every day, and Loki when he asks, and the Morrigan on one week out of the month which I have set aside…for some reason, it’s the gods I love the most that I have the most difficulty approaching when my life falls out of balance. I start finding any excuse to neglect my rites and rituals and offerings to the Egyptian gods.

Of course the Morrigan noticed before I did. As much as working with her and serving her pains me, I am not so foolish as to deny her wisdom and foresight. More directly, she pointed out that though I serve her in fear, I do still serve her, so perhaps I would do well to fear the Egyptians a little more. I don’t personally want to serve anyone out of fear, but I understood what she meant last month, and I failed to heed that thinly veiled warning.

I fell into the procrastination and apathy trap. I told myself I wanted to offer to the Egyptian gods I work with every Tuesday since it’s an assured day off from work, but I would make excuses to myself that I was too tired, needed more time to rest after work from Monday, and so on. Or I would say that I have nothing good enough to offer. Or I would simply get distracted in talking to my friends and partners. And then it was how much time I was spending clinging to my partner that made me realize how unbalanced I was getting. Putting all my eggs in one basket with my energy, metaphorically speaking. I apologized to my partner for being overbearing, but not before a good textual slap in the face from a good friend of mine who called me out on all my excuses and apathetic garbage. Something in that latter conversation stands out to me still:

As someone who sometimes has precognitive concepts, I feel that much of my life is set and fated. I often get bitter over this, despite the fact that the very notion has kept me from doing stupid things many times over. I described it as feeling like I live along a moving sidewalk path. If I try to run backwards on it, the movement of the sidewalk simply speeds up and I continue where it wants anyway. If I try to walk or run with it concurrent with its direction, then I get thrown into situations before I’m ready. If I try to stop and appreciate something nice along the way, those things slip from my grip so quickly I can barely process it. I feel at the mercy of it, as if I can only let fate drag me on its moving sidewalk like a dog on a chain. It’s infuriating. Just as I was ranting about that fury, my friend gave a text shrug and told me I just needed an attitude adjustment. I wound up crying for nearly an hour because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why it was so wrong to just want to stop and appreciate how well my life was going for once before the other shoe dropped and I’d be thrust back into work.

Then I realized: it’s not wrong at all to want to appreciate the good things in life. My problem wasn’t that, so much as that I was clinging so desperately to any shred of happiness that I was choking it. It’s a pattern I’ve seen myself fall into many times before. The same situation almost led me to failing Honors Chemistry II in high school. I was too busy texting my girlfriend in class and spending time with her instead of doing my optional homework that I really should have done to grasp the concepts better.

To take it a step further and apply that back to my practice, I realized with full shame that I was in pretty much the same place. I’ve only been offering during my bad times, and then when times are good, I cling to the good in the mundane and have neglected not only my other mundane duties, but also my duty to the gods. This seems to be a common problem across people. The feeling of needing to find excuses even for the things we want to do is something I’ve seen many people struggle with.

So this post is both something of a confession and a notice. I know I need to set a schedule and actually keep it. Keeping the train going has always been difficult for me, but at this stage in my life, I don’t really have the time for that kind of dilly-dallying. But it’s okay. It happens. All we can do is return back to the offerings we owe and remember that sometimes that balancing the mundane requires a little help from the divine.

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.

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.)

Popular Veneration in the West

Popular veneration is the term usually used to denote home-grown cults of spirits that aren’t officially recognized by the organized religions of the area. For the largely-Christian West (here referring to Europe, North America, and South America), this usually comes in the form of either Catholic folk saints and/or elevated human spirits. While spirits such as these are incredibly varied, they have one very important thing in common that has allowed their cults to grow/persist without much need for assistance from major religions: they do good work. In fact, many of these spirits are, or have been, actively persecuted and slandered, but when it comes down to it people are going to continue venerating and asking favors of a spirit who works. Here I’ll explore just a few of these interesting spirits, with a quick discussion of the most well-known, but keep in mind that they each have their own practices and are usually strongly rooted to the culture their veneration originates from (meaning that an understanding of the culture will be needed if you should wish for a better understanding of the spirit). With respect and honor to the innumerable folk spirits who have served their locales over the years, many of whom are forgotten or may never spread beyond their home, let’s look now at some more famous folk spirits of modern times:

Black Hawk
Coming to us from the Spiritualist Churches of the United States–a denomination that began in the mid-1800s and utilizes mediumship (focusing on communication with deceased human spirits)–is the cult of Black Hawk, a Native American war chief of the Sauk tribe. Already boasting his own hymns and services within the Church, his popularity as a spirit guide has spread beyond the Spiritualists and into many American folk practices, such as hoodoo. Some people venerate him as an accessible way to honor any Native heritage they have, though he seems open to respectful veneration from any who need his protection regardless of descent. There is a common household practice of “putting Black Hawk in a bucket”, a method of making a spirit bucket to house his power, and offering him fruits.

La Madama
This spirit, and family of spirits, developed among North American folk practices. Believed to be the spirits of enslaved African conjurewomen, La Madama has become a patron of diviners and conjureworkers. In hoodoo, she has come to grace many a home and professional altar with old-fashioned memorabilia of a black worker dressed in red and white, with her tools nearby for her use (usually including items such as a broom, scissors, chalk, a cross, and a knife). In return for offerings of food and drink, she aids in and teaches conjure of all kinds, as well as assisting card readers and bone throwers in particular. For her devotees, she is a protector and trusted advisor; many devotees develop very personal relationships with their particular Madama.

Marie Laveau
The famous “Voodoo Queen” of New Orleans, Louisiana, Marie Laveau needs little introduction. This magical practitioner of mixed-race descent has, in death, become a spiritual ally for modern American voodoo and hoodoo practitioners, including those who visit her tomb to leave offerings and marks of “XXX” as a sign of petition. Other practitioners work with her on personal home altars, where she assists with practical magic and petitions.

St. Expedite/St. Expeditus/San Expedito
Possibly the most widely venerated saint of the Western world, St. Expedite actually is recognized in the Roman Catholic Church, but at the same time has developed his own unique folk practices and cult. He is the subject of multiple legends, both new and old, with a cult spanning many centuries and countries; Denise Alvarado has written both book and blog posts detailing his practices in the American South. For instance, St. Expedite is offered slices of Sara Lee pound cake with three pennies pushed into the cake–a practice that is unusual in that most official (and some folk) saints require no food offerings in exchange for petitions. However, his favored offering for completed work is the public sharing of his cult and invocations; plenty of testimony can be found from those who’ve received all manner of help from the “saint of speedy solutions”.

Santa Muerte
One can hardly discuss the veneration of non-sanctioned folk spirits without discussing the skeletal Catholic folk saints of Mexico and other Latin American countries below it–spirits such as Doña Sebastiana of Mexico, San La Muerte of South America, and San Pascualito of Guatemala and Chiapas. Though almost unheard of just two decades ago, the now-famous Santa Muerte (or Holy Death) has become likely the most recognizable folk saint in North America, and certainly the most well-known skeletal saint, with a cult that has grown astonishingly quickly. This is doubtless due to her responsiveness in assisting with any type of petition put forth, with no judgment being placed on the devotee; statues are now dressed in a variety of colors denoting the focus of the petition, such as green for legal matters. An all-purpose “rainbow”-robed Santa Muerte has even emerged, featuring seven colors, likely influenced by the Seven African Powers of Santeria as Caribbean practitioners mingle into Mexico. Some believe Santa Muerte to be a modern manifestation of Mictlancihuatl (the Aztec goddess of death), while others another side to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Regardless of her origins, and of official condemnation from the Roman Catholic Church, Santa Muerte’s adherents consider her a Catholic saint (made evident in much of her iconography) and find no contradiction in venerating her as part of their Catholic practice.

Juan Soldado
“Soldier John” in English, Juan Soldado lived in the early 1900s by the name of Juan Castillo Morales. While little is known about his short life and accounts of his death vary, the general story is that, while an army private, he was convicted of the rape and murder of a young girl and executed via shooting. Many believe he was wrongly accused, framed by a superior officer who was the true perpetrator of the crime; this idea was likely only furthered when residents of the town in which he was buried reportedly began witnessing paranormal phenomenon at his gravesite. Buried at his place of death in Tijuana, his story of anonymous figure to framed martyr made him a relatable and approachable folk saint for the people of the large and often-turbulent border city. He has been credited with assisting devotees in petitions ranging from legal and emigration issues to family matters.

Maximón/San Simón
The syncretic cult of Maximón, found primarily in Guatemala, blends both Biblical and Mayan influence with considerable variation from one location to the next, with traditions that seem to go back farther than most Latin American folk “saints”. His devotees, primarily of Mayan descent, present his effigies with cigars and alcohol in exchange for his powerful protection and assistance in any area of life. He has a complex and dualistic personality, and is portrayed with many different appearances and legends.

Santes Dwynwen
Although her once-church on Ynys Llanddwyn, a tidal island named for her that lies off the coast of Anglesey in Wales, is now ruins and her cult had begun to fade into obscurity in recent history (with suppression of it having begun around the 16th century), this Welsh folk saint has made something of a comeback in the last century. Due largely to geological spread and isolation from official Catholic oversight, and developing in a time when the canonization process for official Catholic saints was essentially non-existent, St. Dwynwen’s cult was one of many Welsh folk saint cults that were never officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. The subject of a legend with many variations (involving herself, her lover Maelon whom she couldn’t marry, and an angel with a magic potion)–as well as smaller myths, including walking on water–which seem to have been originally passed down orally, are reminiscent of older Celtic myths in theme. Once a known saint as attested in poetry and literature, St. Dwynwen has returned as Wales’ primary patron of lovers with her feast day of January 25th now celebrated in a similar fashion as most other countries celebrate St. Valentine’s Day; today, Welsh lovers give each other cards wishing “Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus” or “Happy Saint Dwynwen Day”. This celebration has grown considerably in Wales in recent years, and was one of many aspects of concerted efforts to preserve Welsh culture. Modernization aside, St. Dwynwen’s church was an important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, her holy well contained fish whose movements divined lovers’ futures, and she is mentioned in both a surviving Latin 16th century mass and some early genealogies.

St. Guinefort
During the 13th century, the local people of Lyons, France had developed a healing cult around the figure of St. Guinefort that focused on the protection and healing of infants in particular. Upon arrival to the area, a Dominican Order preacher was happy to begin the canonization process for this saint, until he found that St. Guinefort was not a deceased man but a deceased greyhound; despite threats and prohibition from the Roman Catholic Church ever since, this cult persisted into the early 1900s. While the story of St. Guinefort’s unjust death is a variation on the well-traveled tale of The Brahmin and the Mongoose, it is interesting to note that his cult was more than that; the area of his burial was made into a shrine with stones placed and trees planted, and the Dominican official who condemned the rites that had developed there (publicizing it in De Septem Donis Spiritus Sancti, of which an English translation of the portion pertaining to St. Guinefort can be found here) reported digging up the gravesite and indeed finding the bones of a dog. Also, while the report of an official who actively seeks to condemn the practice–as well as it being a man viewing what was apparently a woman’s rite–must be taken with a heavy grain of salt, it seems that the healing rites of this cult were in part influenced by the European belief that faeries could replace human babies with changelings.

These hard-working spirits developed and persisted in their own cults, even amid the power of major religions, and attest to the fact that we aren’t limited to working with the “big names”. Work with the spirits who work with you, even if you’re the only one working with them; any seemingly-small spirit could be a mutually beneficial spiritual relationship waiting for the right person to happen, or maybe even the beginning of another folk cult if a spirit’s hard work creates results worth sharing (even spirits have to start somewhere).

The Death and Beatification of St. Guinefort - Chris MusinaThe Death and Beatification of St. Guinefort by Chris Musina