Rise the Wind and Rise the Waves: An Ego-Sacrifice Ritual for Jörmungandr

Note: the following is a person story about my efforts to de-center myself during a time when we all need to prioritizing community. It’s an account I share in the hopes that it might be meaningful and helpful for others who are similarly realizing that they need to engage in a sort of “ego death” to better de-center themselves and prioritize community and movements that aren’t about them, but which they can support. I don’t discuss it explicitly but this is also a story about me beginning a path toward healing from recent traumas and mental health problems. It’s not going to be perfect, and I understand that. I only hope that it might be valuable to other imperfect practitioners seeking to improve in deeply personal ways.

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This holiday post is a little bit different. For many of us time has ceased to have meaning during quarantine, and I’m no exception. If you’re interested in my take on how to celebrate Litha in a way catered to Rökkatru, check out last year’s post. Today, I want to tell you about my inadvertent solstice ritual for myself, for Jörmungandr, and for the world at large.

If you haven’t noticed, the world is in a bit of a state these days. I’ve seen and heard many Rökkatru and Lokeans discussing what they’ve been experiencing on a spiritual level, and it’s interesting to say the least. While there are communities in Africa practicing traditional religious rituals to curse American police and witches and pagans from all over America joined to do spells in support of #BlackLivesMatter (that were additionally supported by Christian prayers, nonetheless) many who work with the Norse gods are reporting a certain rumbling.

I’ve recently seen an uptick in people seeing a lot of activity from Loki and his kind in recent meditations and divinations. I recall seeing at least one person getting the distinct impression that Loki was well at work—and that the entire pantheon was behind him. It only makes sense that the Breaker of Worlds would have a hand not only in a pandemic that had shaken the entire world to its core and in the process us unveiled many ugly truths about our societies, but also in a simultaneous uprising that has laid bare a deep vein of corruption and oppression in a particularly potent system of power. This has been laid so bare that #BlackLivesMatter protests have been staged across the globe.

Now is a time for endings. Now is a time for beginnings.

It occurred to me recently that my own ego was getting in my way, preventing me from more effectively supporting the cause from the sidelines, where I’m stuck due to COVID-19 and close friends and chosen family who are immunocompromised or have loved ones who are. I had to prioritize my community and my ego was throwing a hissy fit about it.

I’m not sure why it struck me then that Jörmungandr could help me with this, but that notion struck me hard and felt right.

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I’ve not worked with Jörmungandr much, though not for lack of trying. Jörmungandr is a deity of the liminal. The concept of the ego is itself a bit of a wishy-washy thing, certainly much more in the realm of the mind and psyche than anything solid and tangible. This made sense to me—and if I wanted to shed my ego like a snake sheds its skin, then it made additional sense that it was the Midgard Serpent that I should petition.

The ritual itself was, fittingly, rather nebulous in my mind. I would go to a body of water, for greater connection with Jörmungandr, and I would enter the cold waves as a minor ordeal. I would cut off my hair—which I’ve been growing out for years and which I had a certain amount of pride in—as a physical symbol of the ego I would be sacrificing to the Great Serpent. I might try to sing, might chant, but I did not know what words.

From the day that I decided to do the ritual, I counted out nine days of preparation for the ritual, which largely took the form of working on undoing energetic blockages associated with recent trauma and mental health problems. That put me at the 21st of June—the summer solstice, though again I didn’t realize that until the day of. Additionally it ended up being the first day of my menstruation, which I wasn’t particularly stoked about but which lent an additional, um….flavor? to the ritual.

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I went to an inlet connected to the ocean. I stripped down to my underwear and walked into the water. It was late morning and the sky was overcast. The water was biting cold, and I immediately began to shake and shiver as I began casting my circle, calling on Jord of Earth, Hati and Skoll of Air, Surtr of Fire, and Ran, Aegir, and their Nine Daughters of the Sea. At last I faced west and knelt in the water and called on Jörmungandr.

“Let my blood call out to you

Great Serpent, the Circumscriber of the Seas

Let my blood call out to you as it calls to all hungry

Watery beasts.

Come find me Jörmungandr of magick and liminal spaces

Where the sea meets the soil.”

For all my attempts to sing these words, my voice was shaking and my teeth chattering as the cold settled into my flesh. My voice was weak but I gave it a try, having been told that Jörmungandr is quite fond of singing.

“Come to me you who encompass Midgard

You whose hide is emblazoned with

The constellations of the Milky Way.

Come find my sacrifice, Jörmungandr

And may it please you well.”

Putting the scissors to my hair, pulled into pigtails for the occasion, and I began to cut.

“Let me shed my ego

Like the serpent sheds its skin.

Come take this ego as offering ad sacrifice

Consume this ego and all its pride and self indulgence

Feast on this sacrifice, Jörmungandr, and feast well.”

I pinned the locks between my knee and took the scissors to the remain pigtail.

“As the snake sheds its skin

So I shed my ego.

As I shed my ego

So let this world shed all its old fetters

Of cruelty, of fear, and hatred;

Of tyranny and terror and oppression.

Let the world shed that heinous skin

And be born anew of all its cold viscera.”

While I spoke, my eyes closed and my face turned out across the water, I felt the waves rise around me. They rocked me, my whole body moving back and forth under the gentle force of their push and their pull. Along with the waves, the wind rose as well. A tree leaned out over the water beside me, and I could hear the wind whispering through the leaves just as I could feel it stirring my now cut-loose hair. For most of the ritual I was too enraptured by the cold of the water to get a good spiritual sense for what was happening around me, but in this moment I felt a great swell within me as I felt the swell of the water around me. I felt and heard my voice becoming strong, commanding, and forceful as the scissors snipped through my hair.

With my hair cut, I dug into the silt and rocks beneath the waves. “Take this sacrifice Jörmungandr,” I half prayed and half pleaded as I pressed the locks into the bottom of the hole and began to cover them with rocks and silt. “Take this sacrifice and take this ordeal—may it please you well Jörmungandr, and I plead you hear our words.”

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It struck me then that I wasn’t quite done. My hair was cut, my sacrifice was made, but something felt incomplete about the ordeal (however minor). Another swell rose up in my chest—an impulse or impression. It felt right to do, and so I dunked myself and my freshly cut hair beneath the cold waves, feeling the shock roll through my body from the top of my head and down my spine. I dunked myself nine times over my buried sacrifice in the waves that were beginning to calm.

After the ninth dunk I stood shakily up. Shivering, I put my hands together and began to thank Jörmungandr and bless their name before bidding them farewell. I thanked Ran, Aegir, and their Nine Daughters, Surtr, Hati and Skoll, and Jord for baring witness to my sacrifice, and bid them all farewell.

When I scrambled out of the water, shaking and covered in goosebumps to where my fiancee was waiting with a towel, I did feel lighter. It had been a sort of catharsis, leaving me less burdened with my own nonsense. More clear of vision, and ready to keep showing up for the fight—however I can, in whatever capacity best serves the community, regardless of my own ego or preferences.

Magical McCormick (a.k.a., Taking the Thyme to Talk About Herbs)

In a time when most U.S. metaphysical shops, not being “essential businesses”, are closed, the spices and herbs sections of still-operating grocery stores are invaluable. As such, I thought it would be a great time to take a look at the spiritual uses of a few of the most commonly-available kitchen ingredients, available from everyday companies like McCormick, Spice Islands, and Badia.

Allspice: A great herb of success, allspice works well in conjunction with many other herbs (especially for business, though I’ve used it for other achievement-oriented tasks). On its own, it draws in money and business. Some people find its energy to be mentally soothing; try mixing it with herbs like Solomon Seal Root to promote mental clarity, or mix it with herbs like kitchen Sage and Smartweed for making good financial decisions.

Anise & Star Anise: Anise, or Anise Seed, of the Genus Pimpinella, is used in recipes to increase spiritual/psychic ability and can also be added to energy-cleansing herbal mixtures. The unrelated Star Anise (or Illicium verum), whose recognizable star-shaped seeds are sold, is used to affect a wider variety of mystical properties, such as dreaming true, warding off bad spiritual energies (such as the Evil Eye), and bringing in good energy or luck. These two seeds will work well together for psychic purposes, such as keeping away nightmares.

Basil: Sometimes called Holy Basil, this plant is known as Tulsi in India and is sacred to Vishnu (malas used by his devotees are often made of wooden beads of this tree). Also known as Sweet Basil, this herb’s culinary use has made it an accessible and powerful cleansing agent. It can be used to banish negative energies or malevolent entities, and is indispensable when protecting yourself or your home, as it can be used in most any method of practice.

Bay: A powerful protector, these fragrant leaves are most often employed to ward off negative energies–or to remove negative energies already present, which can be easily accomplished by washing with a tea made of bay. Carry one of the dried leaves in your pocket for some on-the-go protection against picking up unwanted energies or unwanted people. As it also encourages success, add it to Allspice and Cinnamon for a great mixture to overcome business or financial difficulties, and because it will smell amazing.

Black Pepper: Best used in conjunction with other ingredients, you can mix Black Pepper and Salt, and throw it out the door behind an unpleasant guest you don’t want returning; if you can sweep out the door after the mixture (and the guest) with a broom after, then all the better. (Particularly useful for unwanted visits if you’re in an area currently suffering from community spread of Covid-19/Coronavirus.)

Caraway: These protective and healing seeds are great when putting together an amulet/talisman. They mix well with other healing or protective ingredients, and some people believe its gentle energies are particularly effective when working for infants or children (such as mixing a protective oil to anoint a baby’s crib).

Cardamom: These seeds offer luck in love and sex, and work well when mixing a love or lust oil (which can be done by steeping the desired herbs and spices in sunflower seed oil) to wear on your person.

Cinnamon: One of the world’s favorite spices, cinnamon is usually just one ingredient mixed into recipes for love or business. Like (and often alongside) Ginger, it can “heat up” a passionate love affair. It is also commonly used in recipes to draw in business and money, alongside other ingredients like Nutmeg, and can mix well into recipes that have several total ingredients.

Cloves: These fragrant flower buds look kinda weird, but their readily-available whole form is one I enjoy using in all manner of money work. (Ground cloves are also readily-available and work fine, but I personally like whole cloves.) Most often combined with other ingredients, the right workings can bring luck in gambling, draw in money and business, and even promote friendlier feelings among colleagues and clients. Keep a jar full of honey and cloves in your office to sweeten the people you interact with; all the better if you can find an excuse to serve the scented honey at a business party.

Coriander: These seeds work well in recipes that draw and maintain love. They can also ward off illness; carry a few seeds with protective ingredients like Bay for some on-the-go help protecting against illness.

Cumin: Ask these protective seeds for their assistance and sprinkle them around your property or carry them on you. (That’s about all I got. Their energy feels a bit finicky if trying to mix it with other ingredients.)

Dill: This friendly herb’s peculiar range of specialties (along with its mild scent and pleasant physical softness) make it one of my favorites. Dill is great for breaking jinxes or crossings put on a person, especially in regards to love or professional and legal affairs. It makes one lucky in love, and helps one succeed in court. As an added bonus, it also wards off disease (for which I’ve certainly used and recommended it lately due to the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic). It works great when steeped in a base oil such as olive oil or sunflower seed oil, alone or with other herbs to strengthen a specific intention.

Ginger: This hot-tempered root, often in ground form, is usually mixed with other ingredients in recipes for protection, love, and money. The whole root can also be used for protection; carry it on your person or keep it under your pillow at night. It “heats” love and money spells, encouraging them to work faster. (However, easy come, easy go–that is, sometimes it’s worth giving the work time to build itself up, but that’s a decision that must be made depending on purpose and situation.)

Mint: A personal favorite, this culinary delight is available dry and also grows well in small indoor pots, and just wants to be your friend. I currently keep pots of Peppermint, Spearmint, Sweet Mint, and Chocolate Mint, and have found that my live mint brigade does a pleasant job of maintaining the energetic cleanliness of the space around them. These fragrant plant friends work well with other herbs when you need to lift negative energy that has been put on you. A mint leaf in your wallet will also help protect your money.

Nutmeg: This delicious-smelling spice can be used as a money-drawing ingredient in a more complex herbal working in its ground form, or the equally-accessible whole nutmeg may be carried on your person for luck in gambling. It blends well with other spices commonly utilized in money-drawing recipes (including those of “hotter” energies), such as AllspiceCinnamon, and Ginger.

Rosemary: No stranger to magical use, rosemary is a powerful guardian, warding off evil and removing negative energies from home or person. Use a sprig of rosemary to asperge the home–that is, dip it in water that has been worked by the practitioner, and use the rosemary sprig to sprinkle it around the house for cleansing. While quite useful in protective recipes with other herbs such as Bay, it is also effective on its own.

Salt: A practitioner staple, with which I’m sure we’re all familiar for protection and cleansing. It can also help protect your money, however; I’ve been told “talk to your salt”, ’cause it’ll do what you tell it. Some people prefer Himalayan Pink for protection, due to its higher iron content (which causes the pink color, and repels certain types of spirits). Others prefer Kosher for any working purposes, due to its relation and conformity to certain Jewish dietary laws (in America, religious Kosher salt is often labeled as Kosher-Certified to distinguish from normal salts simply used for dry-brining meat). (I personally prefer Sea Salt. Just a note. I also generally like the sea.)

Sage: While most modern practitioners think of White Sage (used for cleansing), the unrelated common seasoning sage can also be a useful ally. True to its name, it promotes wisdom, while also offering protection. As an added bonus, it works well with certain prosperity herbs, such as Smartweed, to assist in making good financial decisions.

Saffron: These bright crimson stigmas and styles (often called threads) are harvested from flowers, and are one of the most expensive herbs. However, they make a lovely and powerful addition to most any of various methods of romantic or love work.

Tarragon: This peaceful home herb works well in mixes with few other herbs; it has an interesting energy itself, and does best when the other herbs are of more mild energy (such as Lavender), as it tends to have slightly more kick than most other ingredients used for peaceful home work. Let tarragon and a few other harmony-promoting herbs steep together in olive oil, then anoint around the house with it to promote a positive home atmosphere.

Thyme: This humble herb promotes peace of mind, and its gentle energy is good for work to bring mental peace during the day or while you sleep. It also mixes well with other green/leafy prosperity herbs for drawing and keeping money; sprinkle a bit in your wallet, or keep it with dollar bills.

Vanilla: This positivity-promoting bean offers good energies for a happy home or love work. Keep a bean in your sugar jar, to bottle up the love and keep it from leaving the house; or, feed the sugar to those having disputes to sweeten them. Steep a few threads of Saffron in a bit of pure vanilla extract, and use it to bake a love-inducing treat.

Responding to the Crisis in the Amazon

As we hopefully all know right now, the Amazon Rainforest is burning. The vast majority of the fires have been set intentionally. Some of them were set legally, others illegally. All of the fires were made easier, if not possible, by the regressive environmental policies of Brazil’s president Bolsonaro. The fires are not only a serious threat to our already deeply imperiled environment, they are a direct threat to the indigenous populations who call the Amazon home and who have been fighting for so long to protect that home. These fires are being set with the full knowledge of the threat they pose to the people who live there, and is nothing short of a genocidal tactic being used against populations who have been struggling to defend their rights against colonization and capitalistic greed for so long.

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Within pagan and witchcraft communities, people who are distraught and feel powerless to help have been creating and sharing spells designed to send healing to the Amazon. I am not a huge believer in the power of magic on its own, though I believe that magic can be a powerful tool for reinforcing or strengthening some other action you are taking in the world.

For myself, I have started a monthly donation to both the Rainforest Action Network and  the Rainforest Trust. Another wonderful organization to support is Amazon Watch, which works with indigenous people to protect the rainforest. I made my donations in Jord’s name, a earth jötunn mother of Thor. I also evoked her in the small ritual spell I did tonight, and will do for the following two nights, and invite you to join me in doing.

My spell is a modification of one I saw drifting around Facebook. The original called for a bowl of water, a candle, and a piece of agate, quartz, or palo santo. Though I happened to have a piece of palo santo given to me by a friend, I strongly recommend against buying palo santo due to its endangered status, which is directly linked to over-harvesting. I also brought along with me a sterile lancet and biodegradable tissue, a bottle of wine, some fancy salt, and a beer — to make offerings to those I called on.

My spell goes as follows, but feel free to make any modifications that will help you perform the spell successfully:

Sit on the earth. Light the candle before you, and dig a hole between you and the candle. As you begin to speak, hold the [agate/quartz/palo santo] in the flame.

“I call on Angrboda, whose spirit is wild, to oversee and lend power to these workings.”

Pour offering of wine into the hole.

“I call on Jord, who is the fertile earth herself, to accept and manifest this healing.”

Sprinkle offering of salt into the hole.

“I call on Freyr of the Vanir, the god who wields the rains, to bring his gift of rain, to the Amazon that burns.”

Use sterile lancet to draw blood from a finger, dab it up with the tissue and drop this into the hole followed by a healthy pour of beer.

As you speak the next bit, douse the burnt end of the [agate/quartz/palo santo] in the bowl of water.

“I implore these powers, hear our cries.”

Pick up the bowl, and as you speak the next bit, dip your finger in the water and sprinkle it on the candle.

“Bring down the rains to drown the flames burning through our lungs.”

If the candle was not spattered out, blow it out now.

Offer gratitude and bid farewell to those you have evoked, in whatever way works best for your practice.

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.)
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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.
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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)

The Difficulty with Pagan Taxonomies

Dividing the Pagan umbrella into different categories is a rather difficult thing to do, and many people have tried before me to do so. I have no intention of reinventing the wheel, and the combined version of Halsted and Beckett’s four pillars of Paganism work incredibly well.

In his Patheos article, “The Three (or more?) ‘Centers of Paganism,’” John Halstead attempted to divide Paganism into three broad categories. In his view, Paganism itself holds at least three – if not more – particular centers that a Pagan may focus on in their practice. The three approaches to Paganism he describes are “Earth-centric,” “Self-centric,” and “Deity-centric.”[1]

When Halstead speaks of Earth-centric Paganism, he denotes the difficulty with referring to religions as Earth-centric as “earth is a cultural construct and means different things to different people.” Instead of trying to define Earth, Halstead instead suggests that Earth-centric Pagans are those who focus primarily on ecological concerns and define their practice by their relationship to the natural environment.[2]

Though he refers to the second approach as “self-centric,” Halstead is careful to point out that he does not mean that Pagans that define themselves this way are inherently selfish but that they focus on the innermost Self that transcends the ego and the individual entirely. He states that “Self-centered Paganism includes Jungian Neopaganism, many forms of Wicca and feminist witchcraft, and more ceremonial or esoteric forms of Paganism.” Halstead suggests that a Pagan who falls into the “Self-centric” approach to Paganism use the practices of Paganism to facilitate their own individual growth.[3]

Halstead’s third category, “Deity-centric,” is one that he adopted from Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, as he freely admits. He states that “Deity-centered Paganism includes many forms of polytheistic worship, many Reconstructionist or Revivalist forms of Paganism, including those which are closer to Heathenry, an those which borrow techniques from African-diasporic religions.” Halstead explains that those who take a Deity-centered approach to Paganism define their religion by their relationships to the gods.[4]

John Beckett, a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, adopted Halstead’s centered approach in his first book, The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice, although he added a fourth center – community.

However, he approached these centers differently from Halstead, who seemed to draw the three approaches as if they were completely separate from each other. In contrast, Beckett states, “These aren’t rings you’re either inside or outside of – these are poles you’re closer to or farther away from. Some Pagans are so close to one pole (center), they’re hugging them – they don’t care about the other three centers. Others are close to two to three or even all four centers.”[5]

Beckett explains that those who fall more into the community-centric approach are the Pagans who “find the divine within the family and the tribe – however they choose to define those groups.”[6] These are the Pagans whose practice is centered around the communities they live in, rather than being centered on the Earth, self-growth, or deity-relationships. It is important to remember, however, that any Pagan can take all of these approaches or only a few of them.[7]

Each one of those Pillars – Earth-centric, Self-centric, Deity-Centric, and Community-Centric – have their own subcategories. One of the most frequently made errors is when a person attempts to define Paganism as a set of Earth-based religions. While many religions that fall under the Pagan umbrella are Earth-centric, not all of them are, and this is a grievous error to make.

The other grievous error made by many, scholars included, is that Wicca and Neopagan religions are synonymous. In, A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States, H.A. Berger quotes Andras Corban Athern as saying, “Neo-Pagans are just witches who haven’t come out of the broom closet yet.”[8]

Wicca, however, can be seen as an Earth-centric religion, as that is one of the central tenets of many – if not all – of the Wiccan traditions. For Wiccans, “The ‘Pagan’ element is emphasized in the form of worshipping nature and the Earth, with the consequent duty of the individual not to defile it by pollution and excessive usage of natural resources leading to their depletion.”[9] Many forms of Wicca can be seen as Earth-centric religions, so the connection between Wicca and Earth spirituality is an easy one to see.

The second pillar mentioned – Self-centric – applies mostly to Jungian archetypalism, although Halstead insists that some forms of ceremonial magic also belong in this category. The issue with that, however, is that magic is not religion. Religion can contain magical practices – in fact, many do. Magical traditions, however, rarely require the practitioner to follow any particular religious path and are entirely secular in nature. For more information about Jungian archetypalism, consult John Halstead’s blog, The Allergic Pagan, on Patheos.

The third pillar mentioned – Deity centric – is the one that I am most interested in focusing on here. Over the twenty years I’ve been practicing, I have seen a handful of different ways that Deity-centered Pagans related to the gods. These are my own personal demarcations based on years of observing people within the wider Pagan community.

In terms of how people relate to the gods, there are those who view the gods as either individual beings that possess their own agency (hard polytheists) or those who view the gods as all part of one singular overarching entity (soft polytheists). This demarcation can also be referred to as the one between Reconstructionists and Universalists.[10]

Nearly all of the Neopagan Reconstructionist religions hold Hard Polytheistic views. This includes Hellenismos and Heathenry – Greek and Norse – Reconstructionists. It also includes Solntsa Roshcha/Rodnovery, Slavic Reconstructionism.[11]

While Kemeticism – Egyptian Reconstructionism – holds hard polytheist views, it is NOT a Pagan religion, as it does not classify itself that way. The Kemetic Orthodoxy states: “While Kemetic Orthodoxy might be understood as a ‘Pagan’ religion in the context of the Roman Catholic Church, we do not currently classify ourselves as Pagan, as we neither follow the spiritual teachings of the Holy See, nor do our spiritual practices derive from the same sources, or even the general structure, of groups that currently refer to themselves as Pagan or Neo-Pagan. We do recognize ourselves as polytheists…”[12]

Because there are so many Reconstructionist religions in the world today, it is incredibly important to determine whether a religion you assume is Pagan classifies itself as Pagan. I see many people refer to practices such as Voodoo, Lucumi (Santeria), and the African Diasporic religions as Pagan – they are not. Voodoo is not a polytheistic religion either – it is monotheistic – and Lucumi and the other diasporic religions come from unbroken traditions. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of African diasporic religions, and I highly encourage people to do more research into them. I took a class in my undergrad years on Afro-Atlantic Material Culture where we focused almost exclusively on discussing Yoruba, Santeria, and the Orishas, which is where my understanding of those religions originates.[13]

Within Heathenry, which is the main Reconstructionist religion I practice, I have noticed two very different approaches within the community. There are those I consider strict Reconstructionists who require everything to be done exactly as the lore says with no room for interpretation outside of it, and there are those who I consider recon-derived practitioners who use the lore as their foundation but allow room for personal gnosis and innovation.

Those who stick too closely to the lore, who cannot see past it, are those who I fear are stuck too much in the baggage of the monotheistic society of the United States. Abrahamic religions, Christianity included, are all “religions of the book.” Growing up in a society where the main religion is a book-based religion may make it more difficult for some within the Heathen community to allow themselves to move away from the books into a more substantial and rewarding relationship with the living gods.

When it comes to soft polytheism, there are really two versions – the Universalist approach as previously mentioned, and the Duotheistic approach that religions like Wicca use. Wicca holds that there are two main gods – the God and the Goddess – and that all gods exist within the God and all goddesses within the Goddess. Wiccans introduce a gender polarity that is not found in more traditional soft polytheistic (more properly called polymorphism) religions like Hinduism and Kemeticism (ah, but weren’t they hard polytheists? And thus, the confusion continues – some are, some aren’t).

Though I have never seen anyone else speculate on this, it is something that I have reflected on quite often. The United States is a monotheistic society, and Wicca is generally the first Pagan religion that religious seekers stumble upon if they end up pursuing the Pagan paths. Learning how to think like a polytheist is an incredibly challenging task when you are faced with the reality that your society is monotheistic and that has greatly impacted the way you think.

Wicca, to me, seems almost like a bridge across that gap. There are two gods rather than one, which allows a person to adjust to the idea of the divine being many rather than one. Then, once a person can think of there being two gods, they learn to think of a multiplicity of gods. That often – from what I have seen – leads people away from Wicca and to a more structured Reconstructionist religion. That isn’t always true – some people stay Wiccan forever, and some Wiccans adopt a hard polytheistic mindset.

That said, the community Pillar is the last one to discuss, and Beckett clearly stated that what he meant by community was whatever the person who focused on community defined it to be. For some Pagans, that may mean their immediate family. For others, it may mean their particular Pagan group or their friend group. For others, it may mean their online communities.

The reality of Paganism is that it is varied and diverse, and there is no way to cover all the potential subdivisions of each of the four pillars established by Halstead and Beckett. People define themselves using their own labels, which is what makes an attempt to classify people pretty much impossible from the outset. It is, therefore, of vital importance that we learn how people classify themselves and how the practitioners of a religion define that religion. Despite all our best intentions, the attempt to create a Pagan Taxonomy can never be complete – people are too complex to be classified.

Perhaps the real lesson we need to take away from all of this is the understanding that we group people in our own ways through our own experiences, rather than how they would classify themselves. There are people who view themselves as polytheists who I would argue do not fit that definition, but at the end of the day, who is right? Me, as the person attempting to force them away from a label they wish to use, or them, the person who may use the labels they choose as the stepping stones of the path in front of them?

That’s the danger of classification – we risk to lose too much by trying to force definitions on people who know themselves and what they mean by the labels they choose to wear than we can ever hope to gain. It is only in realizing that exercises like this – attempting to classify others – is something we do only for our own benefit, and the labels we choose for others are rarely the labels they would choose to wear.

[1] John Halstead, “The Three (or more?) ‘Centers of Paganism,” The Allergic Pagan, Patheos, May 23, 2012. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/05/23/the-three-or-more-centers-of-paganism/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] John Beckett, The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice, (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2017), 36.

[6] Ibid, 48.

[7] Ibid, 48.

[8] Berger as quoted in Gary F. Jensen and Ashley Thompson,  “Out of the Broom Closet”: The Social Ecology of American Wicca,” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 47, No 4 (Dec 2008): 755.

[9] Sam Cameron, “Wiccanomics?” Review of Social Economy, Vol. 63, No. 1 (March 2005): 92.

[10] Neokoroi, “Hard vs. Soft Polytheism,” Neokoroi: The Temple Keepers, 2003. http://www.neokoroi.org/religion/articles/hard-vs-soft-polytheism/

[11] Neokoroi, “Hard vs. Soft Polytheism,” Neokoroi: The Temple Keepers, 2003; BBC, “Heathenry,” BBC, 2003. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/subdivisions/heathenry_1.shtml; Solntsa Roschcha, “What is Slavic Reconstructionism?” Solntsa Roschcha, https://solntsaroshcha.wordpress.com/

[12] Kemetic Orthodoxy, “Frequently Asked Questions,” Kemetic Orthodoxy, http://www.kemet.org/faq

[13] I spent many weeks in a classroom learning from Dr. Antonio Bly about these religions, so the only source I have for this information is the voluminous lecture notes I took in his classes.

© Kyaza 2019

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.”

Magic and Me

In my first post I talked about how divination, magic, and energy work fit into Christianity. For this post I’m going to talk about what this means for me in my practice.

Divination wise I primarily use two techniques. First is with bibliomancy: divination with the Bible. There are different ways to do this, I generally use a random number generator to indicate what book to look at. Then depending on the book, I may use the random number generator again to narrow it down further. Sometimes I have a specific question in mind with this technique but often it is done with more of a mindset of seeking what God wants me to think about. I used it for a specific question when I was contemplating the old practice of libations and offerings that were done in the Old Testament. I wondered if God wanted libations from me. I prayed about it and thought about it. And for the next three days, my randomly generated readings included an emphasis on libations and offerings. At that point, I went with yes. Now a few times every month, or whenever I get the urge, I offer a libation to God of red wine. I also frequently burn incense for the Trinity as an offering.

The other technique I use for divination is tarot. Unlike many tarot readers though my deck is specifically dedicated to the Christian Trinity. I pray to Him about a question or situation and ask that if it is His will I will be granted some clarity with the reading. Sometimes I do a weekly draw asking about what I should be aware of for that week. Sometimes I do multiple cards, asking other questions like what I need to be focusing on or what God wants me to do that week.

Magic is one thing I do not practice much. I have done one spell in regards to health. I do not endorse, under any circumstances, doing magic instead of going to a doctor. But I knew enough about the situation to know that the doctors would tell me I had been foolish (I had) and that all they could do was wait and see. I did a spell to support my body healing. I asked a friend more versed in Christian based magic than I for advice. The spell involved an index card with my name on one side, my specific request on the other. I grounded and centered myself next. I placed the index card under a red candle holder with a small green candle in it, the colors for healing and associated with specific Christian angels for healing. I read out loud the verses from psalms she recommended and prayed. Then the candle was lit and I let it burn all the way down. It worked. My body healed for which I am very grateful as if it had gotten worse it would have meant surgery.

I do a lot of energy work. I pray regularly. Both quick prayers-like for patience or strength-and longer communing prayers. I described this second style of prayer to a friend once and she said it sounded rather shamanistic. I always thought of it as a form of visual meditation. I am more likely to have a bit more of a back and forth in this form of prayer. I’m not talking about hearing God speak in terms of a voice in my head. Ideas, inclinations, maybe a fleeting emotion. Sometimes my goal in this is not a conversation as much as to feel a connection to the Trinity.

Other forms of energy work include warding my apartment. I created a few of them with slightly different intentions, tied them to a decorative cross on my wall, and handed the reins over to Jesus. This was after an overnight guest that was more sensitive than I had an encounter with a less than friendly spirit. It flat out ignored me in my room and focused on her in my living room. I am not so sensitive but thought it would be a wise idea to ward my apartment anyway.

I also utilize an amulet, a crucifix necklace that I made. It would work as an amulet whether or not I did anything intentional with it energetically because of the centuries of belief that have been poured into the shape. I also try to remember to cleanse it regularly and charge it with the intention of helping to shield me in my day to day life.

The Eucharist is another instance of energy work. I ground and center and use prayer and energy to bless the wine (and wafers, when I have wafers). In this case, I channel the Trinity’s energy into the wine and wafers before consuming them. This would be an instance of me being different from most Catholics. According to the Church, I cannot do this myself.

©Brightest Twilight

Overall, I feel like these practices have brought me closer with God and strengthened my relationship with the Trinity.

Christian…Magic?

Defining terms is important. Magic to me means the intentional raising and focusing of energy for a specific goal. Magic can include spells, charms, incantations, or longer rituals. Energy work is the maneuvering of energy for a specific goal. Some examples of energy work are shielding and warding. Divination is the utilization of one of many tools to communicate with spirits in an attempt to bring clarity to a question or situation. The purpose of defining these terms is for me to explain why I see all of them included in Christianity in their various forms.

There is a common conception that Christianity contains none of these practices and that they are in fact considered taboo. The Bible says as much, right? Go ahead and google it, there are numerous lists that refer to the various passages of the Bible that condemn such practices. Of course, that would be ignoring the various places that don’t condemn the practices. I recommend that you google that as well. There are ample cases of casting of lots in the Bible, this is a form of divination- using a tool to divine the will of God. There are other cases in the Old Testament that cover different types of divination that were approved by God. Why the contradictions? Largely it seems to be context. Overall it seems that specific forms of magic and divination were not supported. Human sacrifices, working against the benefit of others, and the utilization of spirits other than God stand out as common themes. Although in some cases it seems that cursing was allowed if it was using God against a non-believer.

This common idea of taboo also ignores the traditions of Conjure, Ozark Mountain Magic, Braucherei, Appalachian Granny Magic, or Espiritismo. These are all Christian magical practices that are in use today.

And for those who are going to brush those off by saying that many do not practice those paths consider a few other things. First, the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church. The Church in this case believes in transubstantiation. The wine and wafer become the body and blood of Christ in essence if not in taste and appearance. Other Christian belief systems, like Lutheranism, believe in consubstantiation. This is the belief that the substance of the wine and bread exist at the same time as the blood and body of Christ. And how does Christ get into the Eucharist? I consider this to be energy work done by the clerics working with God. Exorcisms, though not as commonly done in these modern times, I would consider a form of magic. Faith healing-popular in some Protestant practices- I would consider magic. Prayer, depending on who is involved and how it is done, can be seen this way as either magic or energy work. Blessings on a home done by a lay person or by clergy are a form of warding-energy work. Crosses and crucifixes can help shield an individual or a space as they are amulets. They can be even more effective when utilized intentionally.

Why isn’t magic, energy work, and divination in these forms acknowledged in Christianity? That answer is fairly straight forward. Power dynamics. And I am not dumping on Christianity. Religious persons holding close to the vest practices that give them an edge has been in play likely since cultures began. In some ways it makes sense. Do you really want just anyone trying to perform an exorcism? Not likely. There is training and practice needed to channel the energy of a deity into wine and wafer to change them to hold a divine essence.

©Brightest Twilight 2019