Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Devotional Work is the Engine

This summer has seen a number of improvements to the shrine I built last spring behind the garage belonging to my friend K. I added a statue of Mary, to help deepen my relationship with her more mysterious sides, and some lovely flowering plants. I also added a concrete bird bath, which is used by the visiting humans as a scrying pool and by the birds for its intended purpose. As you know if you’ve been following along, I take flowers and incense every Sunday morning and now have added the duty of scrubbing out the birdbath.

In reflection of the tradition of physical sacrifice, I fertilize all the plants within the canopy of the shrine with blood meal.

But why is this practice important to me? The ongoing conversation of “asking” the denizens of the invisible universe for things makes me want to talk about this. Back to that in a moment.

I engage in devotional activities to beautify and enliven my world. To create a link between myself and divinity. To fill in the abyssal hole left by my previous partnership. To help make sense out of a world where I feel not just a little bit lost. There is a strong sense that this place is my cloister.

So, let me say something may upset some people. As members of a profoundly materialistic and secular culture, we may not actually know what it is to have a relationship with the divine. In particular, I have a hunch that we don’t know how to have a relationship that would be recognizable to the ancients or a writer of a grimoire. Our world is not the same, our thinking absolutely different, and our expectations unrecognizable to our magical ancestors. Our familial ones, too, of course, but that is a larger question.

Before rational thinking became the only “approved” way of interacting with the world, before the Enlightenment, before the Scientific Revolution, before WSIWYG… people were surrounded by religious activities. It wasn’t just magical practitioners and the otherwise unhinged that maintained household shrines. Instead of seeing lightning as a plasma formed by clouds at different electrical potentials, we saw forces with names. Entities we could interact with, placate, and plead to. It’s impossible for us to imagine what that was like but let me urge you briefly to try.

And then, recognize that we’ve only been trying to think like this for a couple of hundred or so years, out of all of human history. We’re globally not good at it yet. This fact can be gleaned even from a newspaper. So-called “critical thinking” is almost impossible for most people, and for those of us who do it in our day jobs, it’s largely a game. A game with a purpose, to be sure, but it’s not our native language.

And we miss the fullness of a divinely inspired world, we long for the presence of the gods, their company. We feel alone. We feel powerless. We ache. We’re left in the Matrix’s “desert of the real.”

And so, we, as confused polytheistic seekers, try to put this god-driven reality back together, except we have no pre-existing community to help us with it. Imagine having an entire culture that recognized the gods at its core (not that there aren’t issues with this, as history teaches), imagine a more completely enlivened world and realize that human beings basically evolved within this earlier paradigm. In some senses, and not exclusively, we’re programmed for this religio-magical thinking.

This gets to my thoughts about “asking” the spirits and gods for things, for comfort, for help, and the words we use to do that. The way we “ask” for things is no longer informed by an existing cultus and community, so we fall back on other paradigms: our relationship with our parents and whatever our relationship to the gods of our fathers. Or worse, it’s a kind of mechanical “push button, get banana” thinking. It’s not bad framing so much as using a secular gloss to address religious ideas. It’s trying to use material skills for a mystical purpose.

This is bound to make us look like kids at a vending machine, trying to buy a Snickers bar. We didn’t previously have to install the vending machine or maintain it. We get mad when the candy gets hung up on the way to the delivery chute and have a complete meltdown when we don’t get what we “paid” for. If we get the wrong thing? An outrage.

In some ways, this whole system is mechanically based in cause and effect. We must have the right currency to operate the machine, we must know how to ask it for the Snickers and not the Twix. We must know when it no longer contains the things we want. In short, we have to know how to “ask” the machine for the product.

Returning to the previous description of magical thinking, though, besides needing to understand how to work the vending machine, there are some metaphysical realities. We need to know it’s there. We need to recognize that someone other than us is taking care of it, refilling it, collecting the money, keeping the area around it clean and safe. The vending machine – the gods and spirits – is an environment. As religious/magical people, we need to recognize our role in making the system work.

The mechanical analogy, though, dies wheezing because the gods and spirits are not machines, they are entities. They’re not your parents either. They are only anthropomorphic because they are easier to imagine and have a relationship with that way. This winds itself back into my description of shrine work because devotional work is the establishment of that relationship. A recognition that I don’t really know who or what they are, but that I need them for my life to feel complete.

One last musing: I do ask the gods and spirits to do things for me. I can track through my journals the fact that my requests are more often granted since I started keeping the shrine. Is this transactional? I don’t think so. We can probably map this onto simple human emotion. When a person cares deeply for another person, they express their love by giving. This is what makes them a lover, not what they get in return. When we serve the gods, we hope they take care of us, but it’s the care we bring to the table that starts the engine. It’s the thing that makes the rest of our practices possible.

Blessed be thou.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Becoming Like Fire

 It’s spring in Rochester, and I’m celebrating by planning updates to the shrine. First came the cleaning of the space. The little animals that I share the shrine with were busy last week and had distributed all of the dog bones that sit on Hekate’s plinth hither and yon. I collected them all and replaced them after cleaning the top of the pillar.

I’m planning to add more pavers to the path on the way from the breach in the bushes that serves as the door to the shrine to the concrete pad. Also, I’ll clear out the brush a bit and plant some shade-friendly ground cover on the inside of the grove.

More seriously, there is a massive forsythia bush inside that is about half dead and desperately needs trimmed.

As things green up, I’m considering a birdbath away from the statues as a relief for the animals as well as a scrying surface.

A dear friend and I were talking recently about devotional work as the engine to magical work, and he gave me a tidbit from the Desert Fathers:

Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not become fire?

In my mostly monastic existence, I find a lot of comfort in this particular quotation. My shrine work would be called by Christians “faith in action,” in that it’s something I can DO to become fire. After all, this is what we want the gods to help us do, isn’t it?

Blessed be thou.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Evolution of a God-shrine in Western NY State


On a windy day in May last year, I started to build an outdoor shrine to Hekate and Typhon behind the garage of the house where I was living in Rochester NY. Starting with a cracked concrete pad hidden within a patch of brambles and small trees, I cut a “room” out of the hanging branches and laid a sidewalk of leftover construction material, slate rectangles. I added a plinth in the center of the pad with a statue of Hekate on it and a stump with another slate piece on top with a statue of Set. Around the perimeter of the pad are hung candles. 

Every Sunday morning, I serve the gods flowers and prayers. Sometimes they receive incense, sometimes blood, sometimes tears. 

For an entire year, my devotional work has revolved around the maintenance and evolution of this shrine. I feel more connected to big forces than ever. It supports my magical work, the view I hold of myself and my place here on the Earth. It fills a hole that has been present for a very long time.

This spring, I will plant low-light ground cover inside the shrine and add a statue and a birdbath for scrying. Watch this space...

Blessed be Thou.

This photo was taken after Hekate was installed early last summer.

Last Sunday, the first sunny shrine day in months. Some little creature eats all the carnations that I leave, and only the carnations.

Hekate with the bones of dog hit by a car in MN. Doggo was an old lad or lady, canine teeth dull with use. He has a hero's welcome here.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Magick in Isolation, I

A friend posted on FB this morning that she’s finding the current liminal times to be supportive to her practices and hearing her talking about it has made me finally sit down to talk about something similar.

This past year has been a time of abrupt and mostly painful change: friction with dear friends, a professional lay-off and then a new job that is supposed to be half time in Rochester NY. I stepped down as Master of the local OTO body, had still more medical procedures, had to put down my cat Max (shown riding shotgun in my Mazda). I lost access to my martial arts group because of the time in NY. The net result was the near-complete loss of my personal practice.

Getting back on the pony has been hard work, but Josh and I are doing weekly conjurations, mostly Goetic ones, and I’m studying the PGM in a class from the Blackthorne School (more on that soon). I have magical partners in Rochester (complete with plans postponed), but I still haven’t recovered my asana and pranayama practices.

The very last thing I did before I confined myself was to perform an initiation at Leaping Laughter. We had fewer than ten people, we observed proper social distancing, those of us contacting the candidates wore nitrile gloves. Our post-initiation meal consisted of box lunches from Jimmy John’s. It actually was amazingly powerful, because, rather than in spite of, the times.

The reason I’m creating all this context is because since the advent of COVID and near elimination of social contact, scrying for me has been easier than ever. It’s not only physical sensations and auditory impressions. Now I have consistent visual encounters with spirits and can do deep and complicated visualizations when I want to, without a lot of preparation. The magics I’ve worked these past four weeks have been effective, powerful, proven.

And with it, my entire world has taken a turn to the more sensual. Light is brighter, the wind caresses me. I smell the damp earth from inside the house, Ripley’s fur is softer than velvet. For that matter, my velvet pants are orgiastic. On the other side, tap water smells loudly of chloramines and when people walking by smoke, I know.

There is an intensity to the….porosity….of my reality. I feel cracked open by things and people in a way that I would never have predicted. I am in a certain sense empty and unguarded. It’s powerful and delicious, and I love it.

There's so much more to report about this, but here's a beginning.

Blessed be Thou.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Extreme Listening

It's time to get back to magick. A series of life events have me re-evaluating my priorities, and I'm thankful to be back to doing some of the things that I have unfortunately been ignoring for a bit.

So, most people recognize that my partner and fiance, Rufus Opus, is very interested in the place of love in the Great Work. It's impossible to hang out with him for very long and not be pondering these questions yourself, and my recent pondering has to do with the role of listening.

It's sort of a foregone conclusion in Hermetics that our lives represent in some way the actions of the larger forces of the Universe. The simple way to talk about it, I suppose, is that we humans are a microcosm to the macrocosm of the larger world or the Invisible world, or both. This implies that our ordinary human relationships are representative of our relationship with gods and spirits and Nature and the conceptual universe. They, naturally, deserve our attention anyway, but when seen as a training ground for how we represent ourselves before the Big Things, they take on a different feel.

Aristophanes, in Plato's Symposium, states that humans were originally fashioned by the gods with 4 legs, 4 arms and a single head with two faces. These original, although to our eyes unwieldy, humans, were incredibly powerful and the gods became concerned that they would make trouble. They were, in fact, worried that the humans would conquer the gods. Initially, they considered destroying the humans with lightning, but then the tribute given by humans would be lost.

The gods, therefore, split the humans in half. Apollo sewed the up and reconstituted their bodies. Each human had only one set of personal parts and would forever long for his or her lost half. 

The tendency of humans to pair up seems to support this poetically, although there is a lot of biology involved in that bond as well.

But, keeping with the story, here we are, cut in half and the only ways to connect with the other half involve touch and speech. We pretend we can read each others' minds, but this is a dicey thing to depend upon. If we want to be effective at communicating with other people, we need to practice the arts of physical contact and verbal communication.

And in connection with the intended content of this blog, we need to train these skills to be an effective seer. If we humans are a subset of the original human format, how much more are we a subset of the Universe at large? Some of the skills required to be a good human partner are exactly the same as those required to perform successful scrying.

Listening is particularly important. One can only listen well from a position of confidence, this is clear. Knowing well your own value makes it possible to actually hear without feeling threatened. Additionally, it helps one to hear what's being said rather than waiting to speak. Controlling the conversation is the opposite of listening. It's also necessary to not predict what's about to be said; thinking you know ahead of time what is going to happen is counterproductive to communication with both humans and invisible friends.

Ask questions.

Repeat what you have heard.

Try to picture what's being felt and said.

Obviously, don't interrupt.

And remember in particular to come at this from a position of power. You are here for a reason, communicating for a reason. Recognize your own value; allow yourself to bring it all to the table in compassion and understanding.

And blessed be thou!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Devotion to Venus

In recognition of her place in our lives, and to reclaim some space for our combined practice, RO and I yesterday did a conjuration of the angel of Venus, Haniel. The intention was only devotional, we had no questions and no real purpose, other than to present offerings of incense, fire and wine.

We both bathed beforehand in a prosaic manner, no real spiritual juice to mine at least. And no salt, no mantra, no white towel on my head. We have both been ill with a stomach virus, so it was a low-key jeans and tee shirt event.

Together, we performed the Seven Spheres opening, the blessing of the fire and incense. Together we read Patrick Dunn's new translation of the Orphic Hymn to Venus.

Then we basked in the environment that we had constructed. 

As the incense burned to about the middle point, two streams of smoke began to issue from the stick. It curled thickly in the air of the living room, and began to reach out to caress our faces. It was never so thick to be obnoxious, only inviting. It seemed very dance-like and felt as though our offerings were gladly accepted.

Blessed be thou.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Brandy William's Time Machine (a book review)

Those dirty guys at Amazon won't let me post this review right now, so you'll get it here first.  :o)

I know I haven't posted for a long time.  I'll remedy that situation soon, as we are planning some interesting ritual work here at Castle ROHF soon.  Meanwhile, my review for Brandy William's book, to be released later this week:

In preparation for an interview that I recently performed for the Ordo Templi Orientis U.S. Grand Lodge podcast, “Thelema Now,” Ms. William’s publishers, Llewellyn Publications, sent me a pre-release copy of her book “For the Love of the Gods: The History and Modern Practice of Theurgy.”

I have enjoyed this book in several ways.  I expected a high level of scholarship, and was delighted at the engaging way in which stories were told relating the practices of theurgy throughout the ages.

In a history that begins in Egypt before the Common Era, and moves into our temporal backyard with Theosophists and modern occultists, we are taken into the lives of those who have studied and practiced these techniques. In the stories that compose the first portion of the book, we are projected into stories generated around historical fact that transport the reader into the lives of those who sought personal relationship with deity.  The tales illustrate the techniques of theurgy, the teaching mechanisms employed, and the relationship between the theoretical and experiential aspects of the tradition, the importance of ritual.

The final portion of the book introduces the reader to studies, practices and rituals adapted from historical sources and tailored for today’s reader. This part is the praxis to bring the theory and history uncovered beforehand to life.

In short, this book is a time machine.  In it, we receive an almost familial sense of continuity between ancient practitioners and those people who are stalking direct encounters with divinity today.  A quote from the text (p 257): “Theurgic ritual is performed today.  To a Witch, Ceremonial magician or Pagan student of history, the rituals performed by Hellenistic era magicians two thousand years ago seem very familiar.  The spells in the papyri are strikingly comprehensible.  Our world is contiguous with the world in which these rituals were created, and there is a traceable connection through the literature of Neo-Platonic philosophy, so it should not be surprising that the rituals themselves expressing this philosophy are understandable to us.”

Thanks to Brandy Williams for a readable, enjoyable and rigorous history of theurgy and its practices, and thanks also to Kat Sanborn at Llewyllen for providing me with a REAL BOOK to read, and not teasing me about my allergy to reading electronically!