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.)
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)

Who are the Rökkr?

The easiest answer to the question “Who are the Rökkr?” is that they are a subgroup of jötnar that have been highlighted by devotees and practitioners as occupying a special or important role, particularly roles associated with the darker sides of the natural order (decay, death, chaos, etc.) So let’s start with the jötnar (singular: jötunn).

The jötnar are a class or delineation of entity in the Norse pantheon. They are often, though not always, described in strange and fantastical ways—sometimes monstrous and sometimes beautiful, but almost always primal. They are so frequently associated with primal energies and natural forces that many, including myself, believe they are a remnant of an older, animistic hunter-gatherer religion which arose in a pre-agricultural Scandinavia, much as the Titans of the Greek pantheon have been viewed.

There is some debate about whether or not the jötnar can be considered gods. A few are listed by Snorri Sturluson among the gods, but godhood according to Snorri’s Edda is almost exclusively reserved for the Æsir and Vanir. Notable exceptions to this are Skadi and Gerdr—both female jötnar who gained a place among the Æsir, and both scenarios involved marriage to Vanir who were already considered to be gods.

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Jötnar are most often called “giants” in English, but the word has also been translated at “trolls,” “etins,” and more. Painting by John Bauer.

The debate about what exactly constitutes a god is one that is quite a bit above my pay grade, but I do believe that there is sufficient evidence in comparing and contrasting Germanic mythological forms not only with the Greek but also with the myths of the Babylonians, Hittites, and Phoenicians (all of which preserve in their mythologies the existence of older, more primal gods being subverted by newer pantheons1) to believe that the jötnar are older, primal deities. The mythology we have inherited is fragmentary at best, having been collected into a written format only after Scandinavia had begun converting. The myths themselves often seem to refer to other stories which are entirely unknown. This doesn’t even take into account the sheer length of time people have occupied Scandinavia and the long evolution of the religious practices the first people in Scandinavia brought with them, as well as the co-mingling and evolution of religions brought by subsequent immigrants into the area. Given all of this, I tend to err on the side of believing that the jötnar were once gods, and that the passage of time and the erosion of their myths and legends doesn’t change that.

There are too many jötnar to list here, though I am in the process of compiling a list of jötnar mentioned in the Eddas and sagas as well as their associations and what is known about them. This list will be shared when it is completed in a post of its own, so hopefully it will suffice for now to say that there are many of them. They show up in the myths wearing many different shapes and forms, some more and some less human, and they show up with all variety of morality and motivation. As a group they seem largely amoral, something which fits in nicely with the interpretation of the jötnar as nature deities/spirits. Individual jötnar are known to behave in ways that are more antagonistic toward the Æsir while others, such as Gerdr and Skadi, actively make peaceful alliances with the Æsir.

Within the ranks of the jötnar are the Rökkr. Which deities do and do not fit into this list is up to interpretation, as Rökkr is not a sub-pantheon defined by the old myths in the same way that Vanir or Æsir are. Rökkr is a new delineation conceptualized by modern practitioners, and what precisely defines the boundaries of what makes an entity Rökkr or not is, as is much of Rökkatru, in flux due to its newness. Generally though, there are certain deities which are consistently named among the Rökkr:

  • Loki
  • Angrboda
  • Fenrir
  • Hel/Hela
  • Jörmungandr

Also frequently listed among the Rökkr are:

  • Sigyn
  • Surt
  • Nidhogg
  • Skadi
  • The Nine Sisters/Undines of the Sea
  • Rind

This is not an exhaustive list of which deities do and do not fit into the definition of Rökkr, but it is a starting place to begin getting to know what Rökkatru is all about. Each of these deities carries with them particular lessons and values that are important to Rökkatru and the communities that Rökkatru practitioners are developing. This is a list that we will look at more thoroughly later, and will very likely be expand on as well.

Next time, we’ll take a look at what the values of Rökkatru are.

Skål.

1 Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Revealing Antiquity). Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1995. Print. Pgs 94-95.

Why I Work With Deity-Class Spirits

Within the American Heathen community, there seems to be a consensus that the gods are the ones that you go to last. First, you are supposed to develop a relationship with your ancestors, then with the wights of the land and the wights of the home, and then, finally – if necessary – with the gods themselves.

I’ve always found this a bit problematic, as I don’t easily connect with spirits that aren’t deity-class spirits. I actually find it a bit depressing, sometimes, since I have such a difficult time connecting with ancestral spirits and with the wights around me. Then I feel bad about getting depressed. After all, I have what so many other people seem to want – the ability to communicate fairly easily with the gods.

I did not start out with that ability – it is one that I eventually developed as I grew more and more into the Pagan world and mindset and left the monotheistic worldview behind. It took a lot of work for me, as I grew up in the middle of the Bible Belt, and I had a lot of trauma associated with the Christian god – namely, that despite my avid belief and worship of him as a young child wasn’t enough for him to ever step forward into my world and answer the prayers I leveled at him for the situation I had to deal with at home. He was yet another example of someone who abandoned me for no discernible reason.

That took a few years to unravel in my mind, and then I also had to start reading up on polytheism itself to begin to comprehend how the universe could be structured if there wasn’t a single god at its helm. That was rather difficult for me, as my mind kept coming back to this realization that there had to be something at the source, something that generated everything.

Reading mythology really helped me come to understand that the “something” I was perceiving was the Primordial Ocean, that which existed before creation. It is, in different religions, also referred to as the Abyss, the Ginnungap, Chaos, or the Void. No matter which religion’s mythology I examined, I always found the First Principle to be the same – life emerged from the Primordial Ocean, the Universal Matrix that existed before creation itself occurred.

That helped resolve the fact that things always seemed to go back to one, but that one gave rise to a plurality, and the gods were a part of that plurality. That, to me, doesn’t make the gods simply one being, as they were generated by the Primordial Ocean. Like children who are born to parents are not, in fact, just their parents with a different face on, I do not view the gods as being the Primordial Ocean personified in an infinite number of guises.

I see the gods as holding the powers of creation that gave rise to them, but not as that which created them. That means I can view the gods as separate, individual entities who have agency and plans of their own, rather than stepping back into a monotheistic worldview that sees the gods as nothing more than a divided part of the Primordial Ocean.

Once I was able to perceive the gods as separate entities of their own, with their own desires and goals, then I started to hear and see them around me. It was like, just reaching the realization that the gods themselves were individual beings opened the doorway for me to be able to communicate with them. Once that happened, the Norse gods were the first to show up in my life, and they are the ones who have been with me ever since.

I think it’s important, however, to note that as a child, when I still firmly believed in the Christian god, I had no trouble communicating with him. I very much knew he was real, and I talked to him regularly. I have never, in my entire life, doubted that the divine exists, because I’ve always known that it does – it is hard to deny the existence of someone who has communicated with you.

I think that was another reason it took me as long as it did to pull away from the monotheistic worldview – I knew that I was pulling away from someone who had once been a friend, a friend that had hurt me in a way that I could not forgive. I had to figure out a way to be okay with creating that separation, and that took some time. I am not a person who easily gives up on others, even to my own detriment.

Once I managed to severe that relationship and embrace the polytheistic mindset, I found friends in the gods that I knew would never betray or hurt me the way that the Christian god had. They helped heal the hurt that had been done to me by a one-sided spiritual relationship, and they taught me how to trust them. That is why the Norse gods will always be the gods that I turn to first – it was them who showed me that the worth I had was merely in my existence, not in what I could do for them. They showed up, wanting nothing but to make their presence known to me, and I learned to love them in a way I cannot adequately express.

The work I do for them now is work I do for them out of gratitude for all they have already done for me, not out of a sense of obligation or requirement. I continue to serve the gods in the capacities I hold because I know that I could walk away from all the responsibilities I have taken upon myself, and they would let me. They would be sad, but they would understand. They give me the freedom I need to be the person I am, and that, in turn, induces the deepest sense of loyalty in me that I can gift to anyone. I never feel trapped by the gods, as the chains of responsibility I wear are the ones that I wrapped around myself.

It is the gods, however, that engendered my ability to learn to trust in the spirit world after being hurt by it. There is still a level of mistrust that I hold towards the wights of the land and home, as I grew up in a home that was full of spirits. I have started to work on healing those relationships, as I have grown to the realization that those spirits in my childhood home did what they could to help me, but they couldn’t do much due to the limited power they hold. I did not understand how limited that power was as a child, but I do now. I may never be incredibly close to the wights, but I do view them with reverence and treat them with the respect they deserve.

It is much more difficult for me to connect with my ancestral spirits, not because they ever did anything to harm me but because of something my mother did to me as a child. In the familial tradition I practice, it is possible to prevent someone – to lock them – from being able to access certain parts of the spirit world. This is generally only done when someone is being threatened by spirits and is removed when they have learned enough to defend themselves, but it is weird that my mother prevented me from accessing my ancestral spirits. I didn’t learn about this until a couple of years ago, and it took the intervention of a god before that particular lock on my spiritual abilities was broken.

There is a lot there for me to process, and it will take time for me to approach the ancestors I wish to work with. I have been hurt by many, many people close to me, and generally, the people who have hurt me have been family members. That makes it hard for me to want to open myself up to the potential of pain that some of my ancestors might cause, as I still struggle to trust other people – alive or not.

I work well with the gods because I have learned to trust them, and I understand that the foreignness they hold to humanity causes any misunderstandings I have. I do not try to hold them to human standards, and it is probably because of their non-human qualities that I find it easier to trust in them. I trust that I will not ever fully understand the actions they take, as they cannot be simply explained by human morals or concepts. I work best with the gods because they are the spirits that I find myself most capable of trusting.

I also understand, now that I’m older, that the gods have preferences for the humans they interact with. The gods choose their followers as much as we choose the gods. Sometimes, we are not compatible with the gods we choose, and those gods never step forward into our lives. I realized, a few years back, that the Christian God never betrayed me or abandoned me  – he just wasn’t interested in me.

Once I realized and accepted that the gods are choosy, I realized that it is basically impossible for the gods to betray anyone. It is, however, possible for the gods to reject someone. That is why it is so important that when you approach a god you have never honored before, to be okay if that god tells you no. We just aren’t compatible with all the gods, and even some we wish would work with us will turn us down. There are millions upon millions of gods out there, however, so the chances that you can find a god who will step forward into a relationship with you are pretty solid – I’d say almost guaranteed.

©Kyaza 2019

Taking a Responsible Approach to Spirit Work

Recently, someone in the Loki’s Wyrdlings group started to claim that he was Loki, that Loki horsed him all the time – even to the point that the cops in the area knew him as Loki. He posted pictures and did his best to entice people into believing what was obviously false information.

There are people out there who are like this, who claim to speak for the gods and other spirits as if they are able to know the minds of the gods. We cannot do that, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and our communities not to run around claiming that the gods are always horsing and/or communicating through us.

Yes, everyone has religious experiences. Many people do communicate directly with the gods in a way that is almost telepathic. That does not give those people the right to repeat the gods’ words as if they are the gospel truth for that deity. That is an abuse of the privilege of being able to communicate well with the gods. On top of that, the louder a person is about their ability to communicate with spirits, the more aware all spirits become – good and bad – about that person’s ability to communicate. That can potentially open a person up to dangerous situations with malignant spirits.

That is why discernment is such an important part of polytheistic practice. We all deal with very real entities with their own ideas and agencies. Not all spirits are benign. The gods are not safe, and we are not entitled to whatever we want from the spirit world. Bragging about deity communication or deity possession is also a good way to alert the less benign spirits that hey, there’s someone around capable of hearing them and holding their power. It’s a dangerous game to play, and a lot of people would benefit from exercising a little more caution.

I can give you plenty of examples of what not to do, but I think I’ll provide an example of what to do instead – there are plenty of people out there making spiritual mistakes, and far too few approaching spirit work with the right amount of caution.

One of my friends had an intense experience during meditation, and she was almost certain that the spirit that had communicated with her during that meditation was Yemaya. Instead of automatically going “oh yeah, totally her,” she discussed the experience with me and another experienced practitioner who already works with Yemaya to determine whether or not the spirit that had come to her in her meditation was actually Yemaya. It was only after the three of us discussed it and came to the conclusion that yes, it probably was Yemaya, that my friend gave an offering to Yemaya. The way in which the offering was accepted pretty much confirmed that it was Yemaya, so that promises to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

When my friend asked me about her experience during meditation, I had a responsibility to her not to give her information that could potentially put her in harm’s way. Even then, my strongest piece of advice was, “It sounds like it is probably Yemaya.” It wasn’t an “it is 100% without a doubt this one particular spirit” because I cannot give someone that kind of guarantee when it comes to spirit work.

Now, I am aware that not everyone has access to experienced practitioners, especially when it comes to deity and spirit-work. Even among contemporary Pagans, it is rarer to find devoted polytheists than people who solely practice some form of magic.

That lack of experienced practitioners seems to have created this idea that people can do whatever they want with spirit work and everything be fine. I have read horror stories about people going to “shamans” for “soul retrieval” who end up plagued with horrendous nightmares for years afterward. (As an aside, the whole “soul retrieval” technique was contrived by a scam artist looking to capitalize on the guru movement. Anyone trained in “core shamanism” has been duped).

I have also witnessed some terribly horrendous decisions made by those who refuse to listen to more experienced practitioners. I witnessed one woman make a blood contract with an incubus utilizing a ritual she pulled off of the first page of Google search results. I’ve also had people tell me of the spirits that attacked them in their sleep because they failed to ward their space – even after I told them they needed to ward their space.

Spirit work is inherently dangerous. Engaging with spirits means engaging with beings that you can never fully comprehend. Their motives and your motives may align on occasion, but there is never any guarantee that they want what you want. Acting as if the gods and spirits exist only to serve your purpose is a good way to put yourself in harm’s way.

When I warn people about this kind of danger, and I hear “oh, but you cannot judge another person’s religious experience,” it makes me want to scream in frustration. Because it’s not their religious experience I’m judging – it’s their inability to make wise decisions and approach spirit work with the respect it deserves.

As a note, experienced practitioners don’t give idle advice. That’s why I always highly recommend looking for someone with at least a decade of experience for advice. That’s what I mean by experienced. 

© Kyaza 2019

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.)

The Black Bird Buffet

There is a fast food place not terribly far from where I live, which I suppose can be said for most people living in the United States. Around the side of the establishment is a fenced in dumpster area, usually overflowing with leftovers from the buffet. Recently I’ve begun noticing a large number of black birds swarming the area and feasting on the morsels within. In the days after I first saw  the avian feeding frenzy I’ve had trouble getting it off my mind. My initial thought was a lamentation of just how wasteful our species can be, followed shortly thereafter with “well I’m glad someone is eating it”. Neither of those thoughts are what this article is really about though.

Those birds out there exist within the same space as us but still in their own world, separate and alien from ours. The two are of course related, completely interdependent on one another. What we do effects them and what they do effects us even though our worlds are different. As someone who practices two traditions that both put an emphasis on the spirit world and the connection between theirs and ours, it was impossible for me not to see a resemblance.

In my own faith and practice I believe that there are two main divisions or worlds in which we exist, the physical world and the spirit world. These worlds exist side by side and influence one another. In Wicca or Wiccan inspired beliefs we often refer to the existence of a “veil between worlds”. The terminology is interesting here because it heavily implies that these worlds are not as far from one another as they may appear. A veil is a very thin cloth, basically porous. This reflects the idea of spirits passing from one world to the other and back again in a constant loop.

The tldr here? Your house is haunted. Everyone’s is, some places are just way more active than others.

Now back to the birds. They have their own complex behavior, pecking order and forms of communication. Heck, who are we to say they don’t have their own form of culture as well? Throughout history, humans have been fascinated with the idea of a culture for wild animals and we see this reflected in the extensive mythologizing of them. Mythology and folktales are told throughout the world of animals speaking,  living in tribes or other societies, having laws and codes of ethics. This fascination hasn’t stopped in modern times either, just look to the wildly popular Warriors series by Erin Hunter for evidence of that.

I suppose what I’m really trying to get at in this rambling mess is that those birds served as a reminder that more exists in this world than what we see in our daily lives. It’s easy to get stuck in this rut of doing the same thing over and over and missing the bigger picture. Kemeticism and Wicca help me to see glimpses of this grand scheme (whatever it is exactly) in the small everyday things. All you have to do is look up occasionally.

 

©Terra Akhert 2019

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