“The Gods and spirits are always looking for ways to speak to us. They are master choreographers and curators, but improvisors also. They use what is needed in the moment to produce the needed result, and sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. Anyone you meet could be a God in disguise; any moment could reveal Their wisdom. Be ready.” (by Lo, at footwork, which you can read here).
Lineage is a fragile thing. I think about that every time I think about ballet, and I probably learned more about what it takes to maintain and nourish a lineage through having been a dancer than in all the studies and religious work I’ve done since. Lineage is connection, power, tradition, rootedness, identity, culture, and that culture is directed at maintaining and expressing something precious (be it devotion in our case as polytheists, or beauty and art, a different type of devotion, in the case of the dancers I’m discussing here). It is passed through bodies, through the stories, material culture, and lived experience of one generation to the next. One generation takes the next in hand, carefully forming them, teaching them, helping them, and entrusting to them whatever lineage and tradition it is that one carries. That is a sacred trust, something to be cherished, reverenced, protected.
In ballet, it’s not just greatness that is shaped this way, but the endurance of specific choreographies, pedagogies, and ballets themselves. One learns directly from those who danced before one. One dancer teaches a particular role to another, or a dancer begins to teach and passes on all he or she has learned to those students seeking to step into the art, and that is how the lineage and tradition survives. It is terrifyingly ephemeral. Break that chain and you can shatter the lineage.
It is the same with religious traditions, which is why intergenerational passage of knowledge i.e. polytheists raising children as polytheists, cultivating devotion from the womb is so terribly important. We don’t have the societal structure (yet) to support any type of devotion let alone ours, but we can make our households, our homes, our minds, and our hearts living temples to the Gods one by one. We can restore. There’s a line in the Talmud that says that to save a single soul is to save the entire world. I’d like to think that raising up one good polytheist or being one oneself, or leaving behind a body of work to help the next generation, is similarly restorative to our traditions in the world. Anyway, I’m digressing when instead I specifically want to talk about a break in ballet lineage.
In the mid 19th century, there were two main centers of ballet: France and Italy. Denmark also had a significant school. The Imperial Russian school existed but hadn’t yet come into the fullness of its tradition. That would take thirty plus years of Italian and French dancers and ballet masters working in St. Petersburg and sharing their knowledge, establishing clear lines of pedagogy, and training up several generations of dancers, each better than the last. After 1863 the locus of ballet moved to Italy and then Russia and French ballet fell into … not oblivion but let us say disregard. I’ll explain in a moment. It wasn’t until the Ballet Russe – shaped by French and Italian pedagogy – returned to Paris in the early 20thcentury that French ballet experienced a renaissance. I believe strongly that part of the reason for French ballet losing its place for close to a hundred years was the death of ballerina Emma Livry (and I will caution you before you read further, I’m going to talk about her death, and it was horrific).
In each generation there are dancers who stand out from the rest, the truly great artists and/or pedagogues. The heaviest weight of a tradition rests on their shoulders and they pass it on to their apprentices and students. They infuse the ballet tradition of a particular place with power, life, and vitality and make it shine like the sun in its glory. In the generation before Livry, the key dancers were Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) and Fanny Essler (1810-1884 – Essler actually visited the east coast of the US on one of her many tours! She performed in Baltimore). There was also Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899), Lucille Grahn (1819-1907), and Fanny Cerrito (1817-1909). It’s important to note that many of these women were also noted choreographers, a fact that until recently received very little attention (1). The same can be said for their predecessor Marie Salle (1709-1756). While all of these dancers at some point danced at the Paris Opera Ballet, it was Taglioni who truly reigned in Paris (and I think can probably be counted the greatest of the dancers mentioned here, though she and Essler were rivals on pretty equal terms technique-wise. Their artistic styles were almost diametrically opposed).
Emma Livry was Taglioni’s student and protegee. Before she met Taglioni, she debuted at age sixteen at the Paris Opera ballet in Taglioni’s signature role La Sylphide. When Taglioni saw her dance, she took Livry as a student and eventually choregraphed a ballet named Le Papillon (the butterfly) for the girl. Livry was incredibly talented and a noted sculptor at the time, Jean-Auguste Barre created sculptures of her. She was praised by ballet critics and it was clear, even in her own day, that she was the one destined to inherit the mantle of the French ballet tradition, and in doing so, carry it into the next generation. Sadly, tragically – and I don’t use that word often—that did not happen.
On November 15, 1862, during a ballet rehearsal, her skirts caught fire. At that time, stages were lit by gaslights, not electricity. There had been fire related deaths before due to this, so dancers had the option of fire-proofing their skirts. Livry, as many dancers, declined because the substance used in fireproofing made the skirts stiff, unpleasant, and more importantly heavy. When she went up in flames, two male dancers rushed to help her, but by the time they were able to put the fire out, she was so burned that the stays of her corset (dancers wore corsets when they danced in the 19th century) had burned/fused into her ribs. Her face and breasts were unburned. Taglioni was present and tried to help her as the girl as well, and it is recorded Livry prayed fervently immediately after the ordeal. She didn’t die immediately but lingered bed-bound for months in an agony it is recorded she bore with piety and stoicism, dying on July 26, 1863. She died of septicemia when her wounds reopened (they never really healed) at the age of twenty. She is buried in Montmartre Cemetery. I knew most of this from my own time in ballet, but here’s the wiki article on her.
As a dancer, Livry was particularly noted for her extraordinary ballon: the quality of her jumps, the ability to jump lightly and to seemingly hover in the air. Le Papillon was the only ballet Marie Taglioni ever choreographed.
Here’s the thing: the power of French ballet died with her for decades. It’s a noticeably glaring gap in the history of ballet. Many of the leading pedagogues had moved to St. Petersburg (which led to the glory days of the Imperial ballet there, and the Ballet Russe, which returned and repaid the debt to France generations later). Livry’s death, however, left a lacuna in the mid 19th century that no other French dancer could fill. I’m not the only historian to note this. I can’t recall where I read it, possibly here, but other historians have also pointed out that with Livry’s death, ballet in France went into a serious decline (2).
I will close by pointing out that the work you do matters. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is. It matters even if all you’re doing is choosing to pray or make an offering. In the eyes of our Gods, I do not believe this is insignificant. It is restoration, the whisper of lineage, devotion and in a tiny way, the restoration of our world. Never ever doubt that your lives matter, that the choices you make matter. You may not realize how much at the time. You don’t have to be a spiritual specialist like a spirit worker or priest for that to be true. It matters and what you create matters. So, find your devotional voice. Find the medium by which you will bring beauty into the world and throw yourself into it without hesitation. It doesn’t matter if others think it ‘good.’ Pray. Do your devotions. Bring beauty into the world and know that in doing so you are reweaving delicate threads of traditions through which the Gods, I think, are aching to express Themselves. You’re restoring windows to the world through which They can act. May be so always and may you be blessed in the striving.
- Until the past two, maybe three years, there was in ballet circles the mistaken idea that until the 20th century choreographers were male. Even now, it’s still seen as men choreograph, women dance. This is not the case at all though historically. Women, from the earliest significant periods of ballet, like Marie Salle in the 18th century, were choreographers, and noted as such in their heyday.
- The prestige of French ballet began to rise again in the 1920s (after the Ballet Russe re-infused ballet there with vitality). Several noted Imperial ballerinas, most especially Matilda Kchessinska , Olga Preobrajenska, and I believe, Lyubov Egorova began teaching in Paris. Then there was ballerina Yvette Chauvire and Claude Bessy, the latter the youngest child to ever be admitted to the Paris Opera Ballet School, and who later became director of the school. Both of whom helped train the incomparable Sylvie Guillem, and thus the tradition in France was revived, restored, and holds its place today as one of the great schools of modern ballet.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting several posts about lineage, particularly my artistic lineage. Part of this is simply due to the fact that these spirits have been strong and very present in my devotions of late, and partly to something one of my friends told me.
Apparently, (this is what my friend told me – she watches Ukrainian, Russian, and English news about the war) pro-Russian propagandists are using the reputation of the imperial ballet and the ballet russe as justification for Russia invading and torturing Ukrainians (and anyone else – give it time). The argument is something like, look at the glory that only Russia has produced. Let me just say that the modern Russian ballet is a caricature of its glory days. Even Soviet era ballet was better formed, with better technique and far, far more artistry (though not choreography) than what we see now (1). Imperial Russian ballet had phenomenal dancers from all over what was then the Russian empire (not all of whom were ethnically Russian), and its core came from a French pedagogue and choreographer Marius Petipa (March 11, 1818- July 14, 1010) and an Italian dancer and pedagogue Enrico Cecchetti (June 21, 1850 -November 13, 1928–he was the first to dance the bluebird in Sleeping Beauty). The latter’s skill and style were essential parts of the artistic formation of every iteration of both the Imperial Ballet AND the Ballet Russe pretty much through Alicia Markova – who was actually English (2). It continues to form the core of British ballet training. Ballet is and always has been an international conversation. Without the Italian and French influence, there wouldn’t be modern Russian ballet. The artistic torch inevitably makes the rounds from generation to generation, prima to prima, pedagogue to pedagogue, country to country and no one country can lay claim to that artistic prize without bowing its head to the weight of the multi-national lineage that comes with it.
Now, yesterday a piece of ephemera arrived for my ancestor shrine. This is meant for the section of my ancestor shrine given to my artistic lineage (and lately I sort of just roll castrati, ballet dancers, artists, and writers all into the mix – gaudeamus igitur and all that – but this particular person is part of my ballet lineage).
This is an image of Giuseppina Bozzacchi (November 23, 1853-November 23, 1870 – yes, she died on her 17th birthday). Bozzacchi was an Italian ballerina who created one of the most beloved comedic roles in classical ballet: Swanhilda in the ballet Coppelia (3). Bozzacchi actually has the shortest ballet career on record. She lived during the Franco-Prussian war and died technically of smallpox or possibly an unspecified “fever” (4) but more likely of war-time starvation.
At the time she was dancing with the Paris Opera ballet, she was “discovered” by choreographer Arthur Saint-Leon (September 17, 1821 – September 2, 1870). Saint-Leon was ballet master of the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg for a decade. He had studied music with Nicolo Paganini (October 27, 1782 – May 27, 1840) and ballet, most likely with his father who had danced with the Paris Opera. Saint-Leon danced with one of the last great romantic ballerinas Fanny Cerrito (May 11, 1817 – May 6, 1909) He even married her, though they later divorced. While Saint-Leon was a gifted dancer, he has become even better known as a teacher and choreographer. He is responsible, along with Marius Petipa for creating the scaffolding of what became a pedagogical system that turned out some of the greatest dancers in the history of the Russian Imperial Ballet who in turn traveled west with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe and helped create English and American ballet.
Bozzacchi danced Coppelia eighteen times before she died. Here is a lengthier article about her, Saint-Leon, and this ballet.
- The ability to raise one’s legs beyond a split does not artistry make. It’s a grotesque twisting out of true, in classical ballets – the core of the art – at least. There is also a simple fact that having a great artistic history doesn’t give you the right to go into a neighboring country and start killing people there—and I’ll forgive a lot in service to art, but there are limits even for me!
- Her birth name was Lillian Alicia Marks but in those days, because of the influence of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, and also dancers like Anna Pavlova, it was common for English girls to take Russian names if they were ballet dancers. I’ll be writing about Markova later this month.
- I danced this ballet – in the corps. I played one of Swanhilda’s friends who help her break and enter a dollmaker’s shop. It’s a fun ballet to dance. It tells the story of a dollmaker, who makes a doll so lifelike that a stupid young peasant boy, Franz, falls in love with it, thinking it a living girl. The toymaker, you see, would set the doll in the window, with a book in her hands, where she could be seen from the street. His sweetheart, Swanhilda, isn’t having it and after a small act of breaking and entering (lol), hides the doll and takes its place. The toymaker is initially none the wiser, and eventually, of course, it all works out. Her lover Franz gets his come-uppance and realizes he’s been an idiot, the toymaker is amused and forgives all, and Swanhilda and Franz go off into the sunset. It’s quite a charming ballet and the only one I can think of that’s anywhere close to it (though for whatever reason, it’s not performed very often these days) is La fille mal gardee (I believe it was first performed in the mid 18th century). The Royal Ballet has an updated ballet version choreographed by Frederick Ashton.
- The accounts note smallpox and fever. Today we have a vaccine for smallpox but up until the middle of the twentieth century, smallpox was considered one of the “deadliest diseases known to humans.” See here and here for more info. As of today, it has largely been eradicated via vaccination. The vaccine was created by Edward Jenner in England in 1796 and there was a vaccination drive in France throughout the mid-nineteenth century. Bozzachi had grown up in Italy however and it wasn’t until the latter half of the nineteenth century that there was a significant push for vaccination in that country. The methods of vaccine creation were hotly debated as the technology was fairly new.
This is one of the paintings that I have in Riverwind’s Art4Life Gallery show in Pawling, NY. It’s an image wherein I blur the line between a young, wild, beautiful/terrifying Dionysos and a rather androgynous maenad. I was reading the Bacchae (again) when I painted it and wanted the intensity of the connection between Dionysos and those who love Him to come out in the painting. The image represents the interstice between devotee and divinity and where that space between them blurs…or sharpens to a dangerous degree, because the ecstasy of a God is always dangerous – delicious, revealing, restorative, but also a glorious madness.
My preference would be for this particular piece to go to someone who venerates this God. It was made to be a devotional piece. If anyone is interested in purchasing this, please contact me at Krasskova at gmail.com. Here are the specs:
Acrylic on board
It is currently framed in a black wooden frame.
Framed it is 17×21
Price: $100 plus $20 shipping and handling (if you’re overseas, then shipping will be more – we can discuss). I also have to charge state tax: so total would be $128.13.
I give thanks to Dionysos for the inspiration for this piece and the means to bring it into being and life.
For those curious about what I’m working on at the moment (as this painting was done about a year before covid, so it is not new), I just finished this 12×16 acrylic on linen canvas, so far titled “Still life with Apples.” It still needs a couple coats of varnish but the first one went on this morning, and I’ll finish the others before bed tonight, hopefully. This is intended for a show in October where I’ll have three still life (is it still life as a plural or still lives when we’re talking paintings? @_@) paintings.
Hope everyone is having a fruitful Saturday. I’m gallery sitting, drinking chai, and listening to vengeance country. It’s a good day.
Since passing my qualifying exams in May, co-organizing/facilitating an academic conference on Syriac studies, and then teaching a whirlwind five-week theology course over the summer term, I’ve been taking some time off. Of course, my idea of taking time off involves… well, work, just different kinds of work from what I normally do.
Right now, I am participating in an art show in a lovely town in the Hudson Valley. I’ve shown my work both professionally and internationally before, but I took a break when I started my PhD studies, so this is the first serious show I’ve done since 2019. I had invitations but painting is very, very different headspace from academic work and I needed to focus on the latter fully. The curator of the show took a serious injury about two weeks before we were due to open, so I and several other artists are filling in for her for the month of August. This means hanging the show, gallery sitting, managing sales and records, and so forth. It’s not my first time at the rodeo but it is like having an unexpected second job dropped in one’s lap. I am, as they say in German, fix und fertig!
It’s nice to be painting again. Check out my Instagram (heathenliving) to see some of my recent work and a current still life in progress. I like taking progress shots and posted two tonight of a still life I’m working on. It fascinates me even now how a painting comes together.
I’ve also started to study classical guitar (I promised if I passed my exams, I’d do something new that I’d been thinking about for the better part of a year). I’m loving it, though my arms and hands hurt in new and amazing ways lol. I expected this though. The good thing about this isn’t just that I love the instrument, but that it allows me to connect with so many of my ancestors: the castrati and also the dancers that I honor (I honor my ballet lineage) – because it’s music and of course that dove tails with the world those spirits and I myself moved in at one time, my adopted mom who was a musician, and my great grandmother (maternal, biological) who was an opera singer and pianist. It’s nourishing part of me as well that greatly missed that world (in my case of ballet). I found a marvelous teacher who is very patient and very focused on proper technique and I’m having a blast.
Of course, I’m reading German every day (I decided that this summer was going to be given over to studying German – I’ve gotten rusty). I need to add Greek and Latin to it as well (lest I lose them) so I’ve started just recently alternating days: German and Latin one day, German and Greek the next. So, I haven’t been totally ignoring my academic work. The term starts Sept. 1 and I’m teaching a Byzantine Theology class so there’s also syllabus prep and such. No rest for the weary or wicked or…something. Lol.
On the spirit-work and devotional work side of things, I’ve been focusing extensively on the ephesia grammata. I was originally introduced to this family of spirits through a colleague years ago, but they never really clicked, especially since they were presented almost exclusively as useful for divination. I put the knowledge aside and never really did anything with them. Recently however, I and several members of my House received a cleaner re-introduction to these spirits and they’re fast becoming significant allies. This was unexpected and has been taking up a good deal of my time. It’s humbling to realize how much was taken from us in the period of conversion, how much was lost. The haunting process of bringing it forward once more, of opening doorways long forgotten, of restoring cultus and speaking again the sacred names, of taking up again the sacred contracts is awe-inspiring, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to take part in this process in whatever way that I have and shall continue to do in service and use to my Gods.
Recently, I’ve also received an email from a reader asking if I was going to finish my Freya devotional. I’ve had this on a serious backburner since I started grad-school. The request was so fervent that I am moving it to the front of my devotional “to-do” pile. This autumn, I will work on and hopefully finish my novena book – part of my pocket-sized devotional series – to Freya. After that, I hope to do one for Sigyn. So, I ask patience.
Finally, I’d like to recommend a TV series that my husband just introduced me to: “Reservation Dogs.” It’s a fascinating series set on a reservation in Oklahoma and focusing on a group of young people who are trying to find their way through the challenges of their lives. It’s so good!!! Best of all, it incorporates elements of spirituality and treats the indigenous spirits and customs with utmost respect. It’s refreshing and I highly recommend it.
Musically, my teacher has me listening to the guitar work of H. Villa-Lobos, so I’ve been focusing mostly on that. I go between that and vengeance country LOL. I love this particular genre of country music.
Lest I neglect books, I recently finished a fantastic history of ballet in Australia called Dancing Under the Southern Skies by Valerie Lawson. It was one of the best books on ballet that I’ve read in years. It has extensive chapters both on Anna Pavlova and Olga Spessivtseva – both of whom I honor as part of my professional lineage and it’s remarkably well researched. The book is a bit tough to find – it’s not available on amazon—but I got an inexpensive copy on abebooks just by chance.
That’s it for me for the night. What books, music, movies, or tv do y’all recommend? I’m always looking for good recommendations and love learning what folks are enjoying (just please, no marvel movies. They’re banned in our home by common consensus both for misusing and misrepresenting our Gods and for the anti-theistic attitude at their core).
There are points in my practice wherein various ancestral groups sort of blend together. It’s ok and I go with it, but sometimes it does surprise me. I’ll give you the example that I’ve been thinking of this weekend. Because I was a ballet dancer, I honor those dancers who inspired me in my work. Because I love them deeply, I honor the castrati. Awhile back, I sort of combined those two groups into one ancestral group. There was historical cross over – Marie Salle, one of the most famous ballet dancers of her generation worked with Handel and several castrati in London (she was also a choreographer in an art and at a time where female choreographers often didn’t receive recognition). All this really means is that when I honor them, I honor them together. Well, the same thing is happening, sort of, with the artists that I honor.
Because I paint now, semi-professionally, I honor my artistic lineage (my writing lineage also got smooshed into this group unintentionally). I started early with those who painted the magnificent murals in neolithic caves. As part of that, in my kit, I have the four ochres: white, yellow, red, blue. That is what I carry in my töfr to represent this particular lineage. I also keep a small box-shrine (a box that sits right by my easel and that contains various things I associate with my artists) near where I paint.
Now, at first, I thought that honoring these artists was just because I am also an artist. It’s only the last week that I realize it also dove tails with my spirit-work. Spirit workers edge into art in so much of what we do (I have had to paint spirit-portraits and icons, create elaborate necklaces, embroider prayer flags, create medicine blankets, and even setting up a proper shrine is an act of art. Many of the artists I honor, including some of those neolithic ones considered their art a sacred act). I didn’t realize this until I got pushed *hard* to add certain things that are used in natural dying (dye not die) in numerous cultures to my shrine box. I found myself purchasing Madder (how one gets a brilliant and beautiful crimson dye out of this I just don’t comprehend), raw lapis (ground it creates ultramarine paint – it was so expensive in the renaissance that wealthy patrons who commissioned paintings would sometimes purchase the ultramarine and dole it out as needed to the artists. See this marvelous book, and this book for more information – also, they’re fantastic reads. Today we mostly use synthetics for this color.), dragons-blood (used in magic but also in dying), oak gall (makes a nice sepia tone, also the duergar like it), cochineal (one of the traditional sources for a deep reddish-purple), etc. These can make dye, watercolor, and ink, as well as being used in conjure – and probably in more things too that I don’t know about. There are other plants and resins that I keep in my kit as well to help facilitate all this. It came as a shock to realize that the artistic use of these things was connected not just to art but specifically and powerfully to spirit work and not just my spirit-work. I was pushed to share these with my assistant, and it became clear it was a lineage thing (1).
All of this makes me remember something that happened years and years ago. One of my language teachers, after our tutoring session, told me that she really wished she could experience the Gods as I did. I knew that she painted as a hobby, and I asked her how she felt when she created a piece of art. What she described was the touch of the Gods, that holy power flowing through her, and I told her that. She was having direct experience with the Gods, it just wasn’t coming for her in the same way that it happened with me. That conversation, she told me later, completely changed the way she looked at her art.
Art is a conduit for the holy. Let’s do more of it because bringing beauty into the world is a good thing.
What inspires you? What crafts, art, artists (in any art form) open you up to your Gods, your ancestors. What makes you feel closer to the holy?
- The cochineal were discovered, btw, by Arachne’s dog. Arachne is one of the holy powers honored in the Starry Bull tradition.
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Today I received the following question from one of my readers. It’s a good question and while I answered privately, I also asked permission to write about it here, which my interlocutor gladly gave. This is something that I think needs to be discussed more, and it’s something my generation of spirit-worker learned the hard way.
Reader Question: How do you handle multiple rituals in a row? I’m exhausted and so glad tonight is the last for a bit or else I’d have to be carried around just for the joint pain management.
This is a hugely important question, especially for those of us with chronic pain. I should point out though that even if someone is in perfect physical health, multiple rituals in a row can also be quite physically grueling. Learning good self-care and management early on in one’s practice can be tremendously helpful and can also ensure that one doesn’t get burnt out or hurt. It’s a longevity practice and that’s important (1).
It goes without saying that as much as possible, getting proper rest, eating healthily (I don’t know any spirit worker who does, but we should lol), and getting moderate exercise forms the foundation for a healthy mind and healthy body in any practice. I won’t belabor this (2). The better physical health we’re in, the easier the work can be (3).
Develop a solid prayer practice – not just a devotional practice (though this is equally important) but specifically a practice of prayer. Ideally it is the first thing we do on awakening, the last thing we do at night, and something to which our hearts and minds turn throughout the day. If we are praying all the time, that’s a start. Now, obviously that’s not just prayer before one’s shrines, but also personal prayer, sometimes set prayers, sometimes recitation of our Gods’ names, etc. There are many, many different ways to pray but learn to do it consistently and well. It is the first and last line of defense, the best of foundations, and a lifeline in times of crises (4). If this is too much trouble, then don’t do the work, don’t expect results, don’t even worry about longevity because you simply won’t have it. This is beyond essential.
Learn the basics: grounding, centering, shielding, cleansing and do them daily. Keep yourself spiritually clean. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to develop and maintain purification protocols but you will be grateful that you did as you progress. Moreover, be aware of what you allow to take up space in your mind, memory, and thoughts. Yes, this includes popular media. What you do, watch, read, expose yourself to, etc. shapes you. It’s fine (and healthy) to have hobbies and avocations but choose them wisely. They should enhance your practice, reinforce good habits, character, and virtue, and make you a better person, not the opposite. What values are you instilling in yourself accidentally? It’s important to understand that, and I’m sure there’s a gentler way of phrasing this, but that isn’t my strong suite: discipline and courage are key and need to be cultivated, just like you would carefully nurture a seedling into a strong and mighty tree.
Cleanse before and after your workings in whatever way you typically do in your tradition. I tend to use khernips and also to recan (smoke/smudge) with juniper. Do whatever is congruent with your Gods and tradition. This isn’t new. It’s not restricted to my practice. This has been pretty much the standard in ancient polytheisms the world over, especially for ritual practitioners. We’re not inventing the wheel here. Christianity did not invent the wheel either. Prayer and purification do not belong solely to them. Every religion and culture had and has their purification and prayer practices.
Ok, now onto the practical aspects of doing multiple days of ritual. Firstly, in addition to everything I’ve already said, I recommend the following (with the caveat that I am not a doctor. Always check with your doctor before making any changes to your health regimen and/or before incorporating any of the suggestions I give below):
- Stay hydrated. I actually keep rehydration salts in my kit (there are several brands on the market. I personally prefer Liquid IV) for just this reason. Water won’t rebalance your electrolytes as well and sports drinks have a ton of sugar. Rehydration salts are my go-to even if I haven’t been outside. Spirit-work and/or ritual work is WORK. It has an effect on the body. It’s very easy to get dehydrated. I usually drink this twice a day if I’m doing intense periods of ritual.
- Stretch gently before and after rituals – whatever your body can manage. Don’t just jump into it. Prepare yourself physically, which means warming up the muscles and joints. (If there are joint problems, don’t skip your meds. Take your pain killer, take your anti-inflammatory before and especially afterwards. If your joints really get inflamed, take an ice bath – I soak my ankles and wrists in ice water even now when they get bad, or just in buckets of ice). Then wrap up warmly, as warmly as you can stand (5).
- Begin your day with a healthy multi-vitamin. I also recommend Vitamin D, B Complex, Magnesium (and if you get a lot of migraines, Chromium), and quite possibly a natural serotonin supplement. Again, I am not a doctor. Discuss all this with your health care professional. I’m telling you what my experience has been, what I’ve found helpful, and what I suggest to my own students. Yes, I also send their butts to the doctor more often than they would like. Maintenance is essential (6).
- When you’re doing a lot of Work, I also recommend taking Airborne (thank the Gods they make gummies now. The powder or tablets are god-awful) and Emergen-C. Don’t overdue either. Too much vitamin C can give you diarrhea. But when you’ve done an excessive amount of work and you feel like a dried-up shit-stain on the pavement, this can be helpful. It’s my default on heavy ritual days, or if I’m generally feeling run down from the Work.
- If you exhaust your energy channels, psi gifts, etc., if you take in too much energy and overload your ground, if you just overdue it way too much, you can get what I was taught is called a ‘reaction headache.’ This is a headache, often of migraine intensity that nothing will help. Nothing. It’s a horrible, nauseating experience. I was given the following recipe by my very first herbal teacher, a lovely, gnome-like woman named Arcus who used to run an herbal shop in the village in the early nineties and teach on the side, to help both with regular migraines but also with reaction headaches. It’s not the best tasting thing, but it’s not terrible either. Make a tea nightly of equal parts feverfew (for headache), skullcap (for muscle tightness), and oatstraw (for general anxiety) and drink a cup a day. I find it works best when it’s had time to build up in the system. I just gave this recipe to my assistant a couple of days ago, and it occurred to me that it’s not restricted or initiatory material, so I share it here. Again, run this by your doctor.
- Finally, if you can, have an assistant, or some sort of ground crew. You want someone to make sure you eat – and don’t skip this unless fasting is part of your ritual cycle. Make sure you get protein too. You may not want to eat when you’re exhausted from intense ritual cycles but you need to. Have someone make sure you eat, have them monitor your medication – this is especially the case if you take pain medication as it can be terrifyingly easy to take it, forget you’ve taken it – because the pain may not subside for awhile, and double dose. This is how overdose happens. I keep careful note of what I take and when for just this reason. It is also very, very important if you take a medication like insulin where you have to take it regularly AND eat. Also, having someone there as an assistant helps take a tremendous amount of stress off the spirit-worker, magus, ritual worker, priest, etc. They can monitor you, protect the space, make sure you have what you need, etc. You may find your motor-coordination is not the best after seriously intense work. Obviously, your assistant/ground crew person has to be someone sensible, trustworthy, and it should be someone you’ve worked with extensively, so they know how you’re likely to respond. They do not have to be a spirit-worker or even particularly psi-sensitive (and in some cases, beyond the scope of this piece, it’s actually helpful if they’re NOT) but they do have to know how to follow instructions, be mindful of what’s happening, and be willing to forcibly take care of you if necessary, which means he or she has to have a good, focused mind in a crisis (and of course consent for such care is discussed and given before the work begins so everyone knows one’s role, boundaries, and limitations).
To be honest, sometimes just knowing that a particular ritual cycle is going to be exhausting, that you’ll have x, y, z response and then preparing for that as best you can helps. Be gentle with yourself afterwards as intense ritual work, intense spirit, or Deity contact, etc. can leave one feeling raw, frail, and friable. It’s always good to keep a record of your work and how you felt afterwards. Like building a muscle, it does get somewhat easier.
- I think this is why monastic manuals, like John Cassian’s “Conferences” counsel a certain degree of moderation in ascetic practices (of course their idea of moderation is, to modern readers at least, more intense than we might label “moderate.” I think that’s as it should be though. We shouldn’t be lukewarm in our devotion). The idea is that these are tools in a lifelong spiritual, intellectual, and emotional formation. The goal is ongoing and ultimately eternal life with one’s God. This is why I think it’s so important to really know why one is doing an ordeal or a particular ascetic practice: it should be to bring one closer to one’s God, not for any other reason.
- And I myself am hardly an exemplar of it. I would rather push myself until I drop than stop and work in a measured capacity – it’s how I was trained, how my generation of ballet dancer trained, and I’ve carried that over into my spiritual and spirit work.
- If you are a spirit-worker/shaman/orpheoteleste or other specialist, good fucking luck. The work itself, particularly with the levels of pollution and evil that we deal with and fight on a regular basis can cause damage.
- I should note that we ought to pray because it is the right thing to do, but in doing this there will be benefit to us on every level too.
- All of this presupposes that you know your body and the difference between good pain (i.e. a hard work out) and bad pain (i.e. injury). I used to take this for granted having been a ballet dancer, but not everyone has a background where they would have learned this. It is actually part of being a good spirit worker: know your inner landscape mentally, emotionally and learn your body’s limits good and bad.
- Not everyone will find a serotonin supplement helpful and this one definitely has to be discussed with your health care provider. I have found, however, that certain aspects of spirit-work damage the immune system and mess with serotonin levels. I have no idea why. If you have a lot of trouble sleeping, staying asleep, falling asleep, if you have cravings for foods high in serotonin after Working then maybe discuss this with your doc.
July 8 When I paint, I think of You, oh my God. I think of Your skill as craftsman and creator. As Loður with Your Brothers, You brought worlds into being, You changed the balance of creation, and when You and Your Brothers found trees ash and elm, on the border of the holy marsh, You enlivened their existence – gifted to Them by You and Your brothers – with color, heat, with hunger, hungers of all the senses, and an appreciate of beauty. It can lift our souls up to You and the other Powers, if we allow it, if we throw ourselves into its embrace as hungrily as You did the making of our souls. Hail to You, oh Loki, Architect of our hearts, Architect of our being. July 9 Dumezil called you the unquiet thought and I think You are that, and You inspire that, in those who venerate You. Satisfaction leads ever to the next holy task, the next project, the next prayer, the next whisper of devotion. You did more in those moments, after the words were first made than simply gift us with the pumping of our blood, all the beautiful shades of our skin, and the blessing of our sensorium. You did so very much more. You made space in our hearts and filled it with longing for the Gods, for You, love, and longing, a hunger for the Gods as deep and abiding as Your hunger for experience, for knowledge, for movement that ever drives back destruction. Only with Sigyn do You find peace. Only with Her are You truly home. Hail to You, oh wondrous Power. Hail to You, Loki. July 10 Your cleverness got me through very difficult times, oh God. Wit and wonder, wry humor, and a talent for inventing the means for survival, when none at all previously existed saw me through and raised me up. For that, and for so much more, I am grateful. There is not a single thing in my world, not a single thing I treasure, not a single thing of true and abiding goodness and joy (including my relationship with Odin) that did not pass in some way through Your hands. Thank you. They are small words but every atom of my being exhales them every moment of every day in gratitude to You, my gracious and loving God, and my Protector. Hail to You, Loki. July 11 There are days that are exhausting and stressful, irritating, angering, and sometimes just plain bad. Today was one of those days, but even at its worst, and today was just annoying, not the worst by any means, when I sit down to pray, and turn my attention to You, and to the other Gods, then the day is radiant and good for nothing is better than speaking Your holy names a sacred litany, and rooting myself in the grace of Your presence. Hail to You, oh Loki, always.
For Loki – July 6, 2022 Three things I ask of You, my God. That I may always love You, That I may love You well, And that Your name never be absent from my heart. Hail Loki, Who fuels the fire of devotion. For Loki – July 7, 2022 You have never flinched from the cost of Your words and deeds. You paid the cost and in doing so, won glorious gifts for all the Gods. Because of You, Thor has Mjolnir. Because of You, Odin has Gungnir. Because of You, Freyr has Skiðblaðnir. Because of You, Odin has Draupnir. Because of You, Freyr has Gullinbursti. Because of You, Sif of course, has everlasting golden and glorious hair. Because of You, the Treasures of the Gods were brought into being, by Brokk, Eitri, and the Sons of Ivaldi. You suffered for this and more, yet these treasures exist, ever in the hands of the Gods; and these treasures protect the worlds. Hail to You, Loki, now and always.
Yesterday, a friend called you “Kinsman of the Unquiet Thought” and I recall something similar was my mother’s favorite heiti for You. It encapsulates Your sneakiness, and it is not deceit as so many claim, to keep us aware and on our toes. It is a grace, gift, and kindness. Let us ever and always be “unquiet” too, lest complacency smother our devotion. Hail to You, Loki, enemy of Acedia. Hail Hugreynandi Hoenis, Tester of Hoenir, You test us as well, to make us stronger, to make us better, to root us in courage, confidence, and piety. We grow under Your caring hands, whether we would or not; and our worlds expand as the worlds expanded in the beginning of time, under the will of You and Your brothers, and Your capable hands. Hail Holy One.