The Metaphysical in the Physical: You are the Altar

When we start out on the magical path, we often feel like magic is something we do, not something we are.  We talk about the supernatural, unique magical experiences, and rituals done in specially designed chambers or areas.  Sometimes, we even fast or dress a certain way to shift our perceptions into that space of otherness because we consider daily life to be extremely unmagical by default.

If you’re like me, this is the way you were taught to think as a beginner.  It’s a good way to approach magic because materialism tells us that only things which can be physically measured (and, absurdly, money) are real.  The rest is delusion and self-deceit.  So the young sorcerer finds herself in the position of having to create a context, a magical micro-world, that can alter her perceptions, getting her away from reductive materialism and into a place where thoughts and emotions are just as real as things.  She needs to step into a microcosm where she can believe in magic, if only for a brief time.

In The Satanic Bible—which you may scoff at until you realize it contains a complete workable precis of ceremonial magic condensed to about 10 pages—LaVey defines ritual magic as “the performance of a formal ceremony, taking place, at least in part, within the confines of an area set aside for such purposes and at a specific time.  It’s main function is to isolate the otherwise dissipated adrenal and other emotionally induced energy, and to convert it into a dynamically transmittable force.” 

In other words, it’s about generating a certain kind of feeling that will be powerful enough to travel out of the magician, out of the chamber, and into the outside world.  The reason this is brilliant is that it reveals the true origin of the power: you.  Incidentally, this is why one of the optional ingredients in LaVeyan magic is a woman (or, really, any naked provocative person) as an altar.  Wouldn’t you feel more strongly about standing in front of a naked person than a slab of wood or stone?  Most people would be able to draw emotional power from this alone. 

An even deeper realization came to me years after first reading LaVey: it didn’t matter whether I used a coffee table, a big altar (for many years, I used a wooden door on two sawhorses), or a naked person.  Those were just proxies for the real altar being used in the ritual, my body.  I figured this out while studying hoodoo.  My hoodoo altar was (and still is) part worktable and part ritual surface.  What I make or put on the altar comes from my spirit or goes into my spirit or otherwise interacts with my spiritual self.  The oils, washes, colognes, waters, and mojo hands I wear on my person are also ritual items on a magical altar.  The “chamber” is my sphere of awareness, my personal space.

Once I came to understand that I am the true altar and that the physical surface in front of me is just a virtual workspace for what is going on inside me (remember: the true origin of he magic is the individual),* I started to notice that when I lived in a high-pollution area, I had to banish more often because the spirits around me were dirtier.  I started to pay attention to the metaphysical properties of my food and the energy that collected in various locations where positive or negative things had happened.  I began to see that there really is no separation between the metaphysical and physical.  Rather, it is an organic continuum.

Maybe we can blame Plato for the mind-body dualism which runs through Neo-Platonism and, by extension, through many forms of magical Kabalah and Renaissance magical cosmologies.  Christianity has this built into it at almost every juncture, which is probably the reason grimoire traditionalists work the way they do, seeing space and tools as essential ingredients for interacting with a demon-haunted world.

Well, the world is full of demons.  At least, in my UPG it is.  But I believe it’s also full of many different spiritual energies, intelligences, and discarnate beings.  This view resonates with me perceptually.  It gets me to that emotional place LaVey thought was necessary for the performance of effective ritual.  And it keeps me mindful that the magical chamber is wherever I happen to be.

 

* For those grimoirists and spirit workers shaking their heads because they work in paradigms that treat spirits as having an independent existence, I have three occult sayings: (1) as above, so below / as within, so without; (2) it may be all in your head, but you have no idea how big your head is; and, my personal favorite, (3) credendi visus est, believing is seeing.

 

A thought from GD Neo-Enochiana . . .

“Astral projections can draw on and clear emotional blockages and give tremendous energy to those who use it correctly. It helps us to develop control, and to gain access to the deeper parts of our nature by making us more aware of them. Astral projection with Enochian work, however, seems to draw from an external force that can flow through and aid us in exploration. It does this not only within us but also within the external universe by ultimately controlling it. It teaches us to merge with these currents of energy and ride with them rather than swim against them. In addition, it opens up a whole new door to our conception of ourselves and of the universe we live in.”

— Pat Zalewski, Golden Dawn Enochian Magic

 

On Being a Beginning Witch, Doing Protection Rituals, and Guarding Against Magical Attack

Live the magical life for any length of time and you will eventually run afoul of someone who would prefer to see you six feet underground.  It’s inevitable; though, the frequency and type of magical throw-downs will vary according to the sort of work you do (and, by extension, the magical groups you frequent). 

For example, spend a lot of time with ceremonial magicians and mystics in the “linear” post-Masonic traditions (Golden Dawn, OTO, Martinists, SRIA, Theosophy, Argenteum Astrum, Aurum Solis, AMORC, etc.) and you’re probably not going to meet many people who have developed magical attack skills.  Those groups are far more interested in mystical states, pathworking, controlling the elements, and developing the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.” 

Sometimes, the grimoire traditions are studied in those groups (at high levels and only with a great amount of preparation and care).  But mostly such magical systems emphasize self-development and attaining “harmonium.”  Ceremonial magicians typically know a lot of magical history and theory and are often more comfortable in a study or a library than in the ritual chamber.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It is just one way to lead the magical life.

Contrast this with practitioners of the African Traditional Religions (“ATRs” like Kimbanda, Santeria, Vodun, Louisania Voodoo, Curandismo, Umbanda, 21 Divisiones, Palo, and many other traditions and styles), who come from cultures where being a working sorcerer is often a serious full-time profession.  In those communities, your reputation as someone who can do effective work and who is not to be messed with is also your professional standing. 

You have clients who trust you and who often put their lives in your hands.  You can’t afford to lose face and there is a lot of pride involved in these lineages and the magical transmissions they provide to their magicians.  In those groups, magical warfare is an inescapable part of one’s practice.  The stakes are always high.  And rivals can seriously harm you with their malefica.  But such groups aren’t necessarily any more powerful or better than the European ceremonialists (power depending, as always, on the individual in question and not on the system).  They’re just different, coming out of a different cultural background, and serving different cultural needs.

Eclectic witches, magic-doing Wiccans, folk magicians, neo-pagan shamans, hedge witches, and traditionalist-craft witches fall somewhere between these extremes.  The state of the craft is always changing, has trends and popular practices that come and go, and reacts positively or negatively to whichever b-list magical celebrity authors are currently being promoted by a small group of niche publishers. 

Certain deities emerge along with these things (consider that magical energy and magical energy beings primarily follow human attention).  And the amount of depth and scholarship also changes with the times.  Goofy new age pop-magic witch books from the 1970s may seem laughable on the surface but may also really work.  The most gravely serious Scarlet Imprint trad-craft grimoire put out yesterday in black leather, full of spooky neo-Latin invocations, might look cool and be utterly useless (cf. “dark fluff”).

Facing this extremely confusing array of styles, traditions, and practices, the beginning witch can feel really turned around.  Where should one begin?  If you’re on your own, I usually recommend beginning with a simple eclectic Wicca book because that will at least give you a foundation and a way to start leading the magical life.  A great one is Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.  DJ Conway’s Wicca: the Complete Craft isn’t bad (but could be much better) and has a lot of information.  Skye Alexander’s Modern Guide to Witchcraft is solid.  And Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft is probably better than all of the above, but is harder than them, too.  If you want a graduated course in the craft, you could do worse than Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: a Year and a Day in the Path of the Wise.  I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones that come to mind as I write this.

I say read everything and develop a practice that feels right to you.  But no matter which craft book you read, you will encounter a few things which are repeated almost dogmatically.  One of them is: you must banish, ground, and center.  Banishing means dispersing negative and obsession-inducing energies (and energy beings) from your body and immediate surroundings.  Grounding means taking the excess energy in your body and sending it into the earth where it can disperse.  And centering means gaining an inner balance such that you feel in harmony inside and with what is around you.

These are all very good fundamental practices for a witch to know, because someday someone or something will want to harm you magically.  But here I want to talk about an obsession with protections themselves.  It’s like constantly washing your hands.  You do it once.  Then you feel like you got some bacteria on your hand an hour later.  So you wash your hands again, just to be sure they’re clean.  Then you start noticing that your hands are getting dirty a lot (compared to how they feel when you just wash them).  So you start washing your hands every hour, then every 30 minutes.  Then you begin to feel nervous about situations where you could get contaminated, and so on.  If this sounds crazy to you, it isn’t.  It’s just a habit of mind that people get into when they become hyper-aware of the shifting line between “clean” and “dirty.”

As with hand-washing, so with magical protections.  If you are engaging in constant banishings, you will resonate (your inner self will “vibrate”) at a very high level.  Your presence will feel very “clean” to people who can sense such things.  And certain classes of spirits, especially those who are aggressive or bound closely to the earth, will not enjoy hanging around.  That is all very good.  Unfortunately, it has a down side: miss a day and you will definitely notice.  You won’t be as lucky.  You will feel energetically unhealthy and grumpy.  You may even feel a strong need to isolate yourself and perform some cleansings because you have become so hyper-aware of the difference between walking in fully banished space and not.  Moreover, there will be some magic you just can’t do because your shields and personal wards will be so powerful that they will block everything.

If all you’re ever going to do is spiritually cleanse yourself (which is a completely legitimate way of leading the magical life), that’s fine.  Stick to your rigid cleansing routine and go about your business.  But if you want to work operative magic, if you want to be a well-rounded practitioner of the craft, you need to get a little dirty from time to time.  You need to let spirits in and take risks.  Witches are, almost by definition, risk takers.

So back to that person who wants to do you in.  Someday, you will encounter him or her and you may not realize s/he “threw on you” until things start going very wrong in your life.  You don’t want to put off learning how to protect yourself until this day comes, but you also don’t want to live in fear of it.  So here is a simple set of texts and practices to enable you to recognize and respond without having to do a hundred Lesser Banishing Rituals of the Pentagram every day.

First, get a magical wash.  I like concentrated “Chinese Wash” but you can get creoline or ammonia (I like Lucky Mojo’s “Buffalo Ammonia” for this).  You can also just use lemon-scented Pinesol and add lemongrass, chamomile, and bay leaves to it.  In any case, get that wash, mix some into water, and wipe down the walls, the floors, and the windows.

Second, make a simple “protection hand.”  Get a black flannel bag or a black bandana.  In it put 3 bay leaves, some lemongrass, and some dragon’s blood resin.  Light a paper match and throw it, lit, into the bag.  Shake it up.  Then say, “Creature of air, earth, fire, and water, I give you life that you will protect me and these premises from all threats.  Be ruled by me in this.”  Feed it with a sprinkle of whiskey once a week on Saturday. 

Third, actually learn a banishing ritual.  If the LBRP is too churchy for you, you can cast a simple shield (Google it) or use the simple banishing rituals given in the aforesaid texts.  Do this about every other or every three days unless you notice something nasty coming at you.  Then do it every day until safe.

Lastly, put a dream catcher up in your bedroom and, when you go to sleep at night (somewhere that kids and animals can’t reach), set out a glass of water close to your bed.  For extra zip, you can add a capful of Hoyt’s or Jockey cologne to the water or a splash of Florida water to it.  That will protect you all night long from being ridden when your defenses are down.

Hammer nails into the corners of your property to stake your spiritual claim.  And if you are attracted to the idea of setting wards and tasking guardian spirits, you can research those things on the internet for some basic practices.

Get and study the following four basic protection manuals: Have You Been Hexed: Recognizing and Breaking Curses by Alexandra Chauran; Protection and Reversal Magick: A Witch’s Defense Manual by Jason Miller; Magickal Protection by Damon Brand; and Angelic Protection Magick by Ben Woodcroft.  Optional: Psychic Self-Defense by Dion Fortune and The Witch’s Shield by Christopher Penczak.  By the time you finish these books, you will know a lot about how to detect magical attack and how to respond to it.  You will also know the difference between being an obsessive banisher and someone who uses protection in harmony with other forms of magical work.

 

 

 

Women in the Occult, Part 2: Josephine McCarthy

I’ve interacted with Josephine McCarthy off and on over the years and I always come away with something interesting.  She’s taught me a number of things about what she refers to as “visionary magic,” and I think that’s accurate because she is definitely a visionary.  She’s also a prolific author, a no-bs practitioner of magic, has a powerful oracle deck made expressly for people leading the magical life, and has the confidence of an advanced practitioner who has pushed the limits of consciousness and magic.  We can learn a lot from her and so I include her in this series.

Read this excellent interview of Josephine by the very talented Frater Acher on his blog, Theomagica:

https://theomagica.com/blog/josephine-mccarthy-on-the-magic-of-the-arbatel

Check out her website: https://josephinemccarthy.com/about/

And take a look at her and Frater Acher’s magical curriculum, Quareiahttps://www.quareia.com/#main


I’m featuring a series of posts dedicated to women who are witches, grimoire magicians, healers, savants, and all-around badasses.  I’m doing this for one specific reason (aside from the fact that it’s good to give credit where credit is long overdue): young women, especially young witches, need positive role models in the world of the occult.  Like anything else, it’s historically been a male-dominated field (on the surface).  But to say that only men have been great occultists and have changed the world thereby would be false.  Here, I’m going to point out contemporary and historical women who qualify as “badass women occultists.”

The goal of initiation is to bring about the illumination of the human soul by the Inner and Divine Light. A true “initiate” is an individual whose Higher Self (or Higher Genius) has merged with the Lower Personality and actually incarnated into the physical body. The Personality is left in charge of the day-to-day routines of living and working, but the Higher Genius is free to look out at the world through the eyes of the initiate. Through this experience, the individual is given a permanent extension of consciousness which is impossible to mistake.

Many times a student of the mysteries is drawn to a particular mystical current without knowing it. A series of “coincidences” and synchronicities will often direct (or sometimes shove) a person toward that current through books or through meeting other people who also have a connection with the current. During this time, the student’s psychic faculties are still relatively undeveloped, yet the inner spark has been ignited.

Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition, Chic Cicero

A Dark Song (2017)

 

The ending is corny and I don’t get the use of the Reiki symbols (I can make up a reason for their use in a particular scene of the movie, but that would just be me reading into it).  Otherwise, I have never seen a more realistic film about a complex magical ritual.  Amazing, actually.