(This one is for Dee – because it’s one of those things I never thought about until I did one and now my current assistant knows how to work one better than I ever did. Dee reminded me in the comments of my last post that we all too often forget to pass these tidbits of working knowledge along. Thank you, Dee! You’re all too right so here is me trying to remedy that!).
I do regular uncrossing candles in my home. These are meant to disperse any malefica that’s been thrown at us, dispel any pollution, and generally give us a nice, calm reset. For this type of working, I like to use grey 7-day pull out candles but white will work as well. They don’t have to be the type you can pull out of the glass, but that’s what I learned on and that’s what I like. One could also use blue. I used to think candle-color didn’t matter, but I’ve changed my mind on that. It adds a bit of oomph specifically by putting the spiritworker in the right headspace to do a particular working (I know I’m very sensitive to color so it does subtly shift my mood). If all you have is white, use white. They’re all purpose for candle work.
Recently, I decided to up the ante a bit and did what we call a “revocatus” candle. This is a big red candle, with a picture of saint Michael the Archangel on the glass that is specifically for breaking up the detritus of pollution and driving away spiritual attack. Revocatus has a number of meanings in Latin which you can read here. It is a serious call for help to the Gods, ancestors, and spirits, it is a calling forth of Powers to fight on one’s behalf, it is a punch in the face to any ill-wishers, and a sending away of bad things. It’s also incredibly difficult to be around one of these the first time one lights it and several days after – a little tidbit no one ever told me.
a typical Revocatus candle waiting to be carved, oiled, prayed over, and worked.
Here’s the thing: a regular uncrossing as I describe in my opening is a fairly neutral thing. It’s neither hot nor cold energetically (it doesn’t stir up the energy in a place making it peppery and prone to anger and intense emotion) but it doesn’t cool it off (soothing and calming the same) either. It just does what it does, and we go on with life. Revocati are different. They are red for a reason and that should have been my first warning. Red is used for situations involving war or passion (I’m simplifying a bit but really, these are the two major areas: wrath and lust). This isn’t a quiet, neutralizing of negative energy or pollution in one’s space, it’s all-out war. The power of a revocatus candle if it’s properly prepared, charged, and prayed over, is that it drives into every corner of one’s house, one’s life, one’s current situation and mercilessly dredges up any bit of detritus that is there to find. This is intensely uncomfortable. All that crap first gets blown up into the air as if by a spiritual tornado so it’s there swirling around the people in the home. Then, it gets swept away. This is a normal part of the way this type of working functions: tear it up, shoo it out. It’s an intensely hot working.
What this means, and I learned this the hard way, is that when one is doing a revocatus candle, it is helpful to do other work to “cool” the energy of the house. I have a few techniques I use that I won’t mention here, but I will say this: when I do a revocatus, I also do a peace and harmony in the home candle. And I put four small candles around the revocatus one. These are usually pink or blue aimed either at making sure the love and affection members of the household share are dominant in interactions (otherwise, it’s easy if one is sensitive to energy to end up at each other’s throats and not know why) or again, for peace and harmony in the home. So, to clarify: I do two large candles: first the revocatus and then a second one. That second one is either a 7 day peace/harmony or 7 day love/affection one. I also bracket the revocatus with four smaller candles that are either love and affection candles or peace/harmony candles — If the second large candle is for love/affection, then the smaller candles that I set in a square around the revocatus are all for peace/harmony and vice versa.
All magic is an equation that is set in motion, and it will function in a particular and often predictable way based on intent, focused will, and skill of the practitioner, energy applied, etc. (there are a number of variables to balance and consider). If done correctly, it has an effect on one’s world. It’s important to balance all parts of that equation properly (I guess algebra is useful at times lol). I could do a big ceremonial working for all of this but I’m a kinetic person and I like candle magic. My corrective was in the same idiom as my initial working. I started with candle magic. I identified an unexpected problem (in this case a side effect of a good working that I just hadn’t expected), and I applied a corrective *in the same type of working as the initial one*. I didn’t suddenly switch dialects, so to speak. I find it less jarring that way (though there are times when an argument could be made for switching gears and doing a completely different type of counter-magic).
Anyway, for those of you learning candle magic, I wanted to put this out there with respect to the Revocati candles. They’re hot workings, ones that initially inflame an environment, and need to be treated accordingly. All necessary steps should be taken to cool the environment while they’re in process.
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.
So the other day was the anniversary of a very small book that I wrote about the Evil Eye. The book was a result of a four-week course I taught (not academically but within my religious community) about how to deal with the evil eye. I never used to give the evil eye or “malocchio” any thought at all. I even poo-pooed the use of eye charms, but they do actually work, at least as a preventative. It wasn’t until I was hit with the eye myself that I gave it serious attention. I should have known better from the start: traditions about how to ward off the evil eye date back to Sumer. You find them not only in Greece but across world. Even in the southwest, I saw many lintels and doors painted blue to ward off evil.
Now, why blue one might ask? Well, I don’t know, but I can tell you that it’s the rarest color in nature, once one of the most expensive, and throughout the history of painting has consistently been associated with holy things. In the American Southwest, as I noted above, one often sees doors and window frames painted a bright turquoise blue; in the Southeast, porch ceilings might be painted a color called “haint” blue, in both cases to ward off evil. The best evil eye charms are likewise blue, often in the shape of an eye – a case of fighting like with like. The hamza (a representation of the protective hand of the God El) may also be used (sometimes the two are combined in the same pendant).
The earliest references to malocchio talk about it as an evil spirit. I have often wondered if those who can cast it (and many don’t do it on purpose. I find that there is a particular personality type that is able to cast the eye: they tend to be passive aggressive and deeply envious of the good fortunes, or perceived good fortunes, of those around them) aren’t really just tagging the victim in a way that calls the evil spirit forth. Fortunately, there are a list of signs and symptoms to watch out for and it’s not that difficult to banish. I cover all of this in my book and give quite a few academic sources for those who want to do a deeper dive than my brief course and text allow.
As part of the ongoing quest for discernment in our work, (1) one of the first exercises that I give my students is a duo: centering and grounding. These exercises do a number of things and not only are they one of the first things I teach students, but they’re the focus of their practice (along, of course with prayer and shrine work) for at least the first two years of training.
Usually, I start with two breathing exercises. They’re easy. They don’t require any particular sensitivity to one’s internal energies, nor do they require the ability to visualize. You breathe in the right patterns and you will automatically center and ground. Eventually I teach a more complicated, mindful way of doing things, and then over those first two years gradually expand on the practice until the student is fully confident in his or her abilities and has a solid level of skills.
One of the things that came up recently with one of my current students (2) is that centering and grounding aren’t just exercises one does. The scaffolding that is brought to life through these practices is part of the soul-skin, the hame. Like a physical muscle, it has to be used to be strengthened but just like a physical muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. It’s not just breathing or sending internal energy or thought or whatever to a particular place, it’s feeding and nourishing part of the soul-skin, part of the energetic body that is already there. Just as we bring air into the lungs and they inflate, so we send energy down into the root-matrix of our ground to keep it strong and resilient.
It’s easy to neglect these essential exercises if one thinks of them AS exercises only. They’re so much more though and they infuse part of the soul-skin with life and vitality and that adds strength, discernment, and resiliency to our practice. I tell my students to center and ground (3) multiple times throughout the day. One literally cannot do it too much. I’ve even noticed that if my ground is occluded in any significant way, it may hurt to ground – then I know I really need to practice more! Also, sometimes if the ground becomes clogged, I will get headaches or back aches. When I ground, miraculously they disappear (4). Our bodies are conduits for the energies with which we work and even if one is laity, one has a soul skin and can benefit from these very basic practices. Just realize that it’s not just a thing one does, but part of one’s etheric body, part of one’s soul skin and what we are doing when we ground is energize that part, strengthen it, and bring it to life.
- These exercises do a number of things, discernment is only the most important. For a spirit-worker, they lay the groundwork (no pun intended) for every single bit of magic or energy work or journey work one will do in one’s working life. They aid in gift-development, and in learning to control one’s sensitivities. You want to function well: fucking ground.
- These students are spiritual not academic – I’m only talking about students that come to me for religious or spiritwork training here.
- Or ground and center – the order doesn’t really matter. Cognitively, I find centering first to make more sense but I’ve had students for whom the opposite order works better. Either is fine.
- I am NOT saying every headache or back ache is due to a clogged grounding channel. I get migraines fairly frequently from injuries sustained when I danced. Grounding doesn’t solve these. There is, however, a specific type of headache/back ache that can happen as a result of a blocked ground. This is a particular type of pain and it is cleared up by grounding properly.
Yesterday, one of my students asked me how to handle the spirit-work “hangover.” For those who do spirit-work, this is when you have had nothing alcoholic, but have done a ton of spirit work (especially where one’s wod is running hot and strong) and then wake up the next morning feeling like you’ve been hit by a freight train. This may include but is not limited to sore muscles, headache, dehydration, brain fog, general feeling of exhaustion even when one has slept well, inability to regulate body temperature, irritability, extreme sensitivity to taste/smell/sound/brightness, nausea and, if one has been dealing with a great deal of spiritual pollution, diarrhea (I think it’s the body’s way of getting rid of residue of spiritual pollution). They don’t all happen at once usually, though they can, and it varies by degree depending on the person, the Deities involved, and the type of work done.
To some degree, this is just a part of the Work; BUT, one can mitigate this by good self-care before and after whatever spirit-work one is doing. Experience is also a strong mitigating factor. We learn how we work best, what we need for optimal performance and care, and also, like building a muscle, our capacity to handle wod also increases as we gain more practice and experience. All of these things contribute to longevity in the Work.
One of the reasons I’ve started writing these “practicum” posts is that when I started out, there was almost nothing available. Those of my spirit-work generation had to cobble together information as we went, often by trial and error. I try to spare my students that and when I can, likewise my readers. I will also preface everything that follows by saying that I am not a doctor or a medical professional. You should always check with your doctor before adding a new vitamin or regimen to your regular self-care. What I write here is no substitute for competent medical care. I’m writing what I have learned based on my lived experience, shared exchanges with other spirit workers, and research. Your own mileage, as the saying goes, may vary.
Firstly, spirit workers are dealing with raw power – like plugging into an electrical socket. That can leave one’s psychic channels raw until one develops a bit of endurance. Half the modifications a spirit-worker receives from his or her Deities are designed to help that person better carry and use that force, what we term wod. For me, when my wod rises, I become hot, really hot to the point that I can work outside in subzero temperatures in a t-shirt. That is, unless the dead are around me and then, no matter how warm the room, I become really, really cold. Remember what I said above: it depends in part on what Gods and spirits are around or participating in the Work? This is an example of just that. Learning to carry wod is just like building a physical muscle in that the more one experiences, practices, and works, the great that person’s capacity for handling wod with few side effects becomes. Few doesn’t mean that one will be 100% fine though afterwards. There can still be discomfort the next day (though I suspect spirit workers’ general disregard for their own self-care post Work contributes greatly to this). It’s a matter of degree.
A few things to note: All the altered state work that spirit-workers do can cause neurological issues. (Again, not always, but it’s not rare either in our line of work). Journey work tends to weaken the immune system (no idea why but poll real spirit workers and you’d be surprised at how often this is an issue). Spirit work, especially when the wod is running high, can seriously screw with your serotonin levels. So, here is what I do afterwards to make sure that I can get up the next day and do it all again (or just function more prosaically for school).
Firstly, it helps to have assistants or colleagues. If someone else is warding the space with prayer and power for instance, then the spirit worker can focus fully on whatever it is that needs to be done. (Just be sure that if you have the luxury of a partner, assistant, or colleague to ward for you in this way most of the time, that you also establish strict protocols for warding and protection when you must work alone). The one warding can also keep an eye on the spirit worker to make sure he or she doesn’t get dehydrated or overheated in summer, or hypothermic or frostbitten in winter (it’s entirely possible for the wod to be so strong, or the spirit worker so focused, that he or she might not know this is happening, this is all the more so if we’re working in the spirit realms while our bodies are here. One’s assistant can also make sure one eats and drinks after the Work. Often a spirit worker won’t want to do these things, even though we all know better than to skip it. A good assistant will force the issue. Most of my winter garb is heavy wool, which is a godsend in harsher temperatures. The only thing I tend to forgo (or more likely forget) is gloves and let me tell you, carrying an iron staff in twenty degree (Farenheit) or lower temperatures over ice and snow without gloves because you’ve been stupid and forgotten them, really, really sucks.
Here’s what I do after a serious session of Work. Firstly, if I’ve been working out in the cold, I get hot tea. If I’ve been working out in the heat, I’ll drink rehydration salts (I like the brand Liquid IV and keep them in my kit). If I’ve been working inside, I go for something with caffeine. This latter is personal preference. I make sure to eat something high in protein (the night before a working I’ll have a meal slightly heavier in carbs but will also protein load the day of if I can). Often, because of the issues with serotonin, I’ll often crave chocolate after a Working, so I keep some in my kit. By the way, I will often drink rehydration salts before a particularly intense working just as a preventative.
I make sure that I’m warm (and if I have an assistant, I’ll make sure that he or she is taken care of properly in all of these ways as well. It’s a privilege to have an assistant – be it a colleague or a student that one has trained. I treat it as such, and my obligation is to make sure that this person is well taken care of after any working that we do. This is especially the case if one’s assistant is less experienced and therefore will naturally have less endurance but also less awareness of when he or she is reaching his/her limits. It’s not always apparent. If you have an assistant, you are responsible for them in all ways before, during, and after the Work). Often, I’ll put on a fleece vest to keep my core warm because when the woddissipates, I get really cold. In fact, I’ll make sure that I change out of my gear and garb immediately after the work is done and I get into comfortable, WARM, and totally mundane clothing, though I’ll tend to keep my head covered (cuts down on spirit-related stimuli). Changing out of ritual garb and gear helps with the psychological transition from work-headspace to mundane-headspace. I also take some time to center myself and make sure I’m still properly grounded.
Once I’m in comfortable clothing and have drinkage, I’ll eat. Then, both the night of the work AND the next day I take the following (again, don’t just do this. Check with your doctor if you plan on something like this. I am not a medical professional): a good multi-vitamin, magnesium, extra vitamin D, B12 (most of this I take daily anyway), Emergen-C, Airborne gummies, and an iron supplement (I like Floradix iron and herbs liquid). I also take a serotonin booster called Genius Joy and a brain enhancer (I need all the help I can get lol) called Genius Mushrooms. Before I got to bed and again, when I first get up if my head hurts at all, I’ll usually take a dose of Excedrin or Advil (depends on if my head hurts or if I feel the type of joint pain that indicates I need an anti-inflammatory – def. check with your doctor about these two OTC medications. If I am really, really headachy, I’ll take my migraine medication rather than Excedrin). I was dubious about the serotonin supplement, which I take daily, but I actually sleep well now, which is the first time in years that has been the case. I haven’t noticed any other effect except when I lay down to sleep, I actually almost immediately go to sleep, and I sleep deeply. That’s one of the supplements I tend to take daily now.
Because I have chronic pain issues, which can be exacerbated by spirit work, I also take my prescription medication, particularly muscle relaxant and pain killer. Do not skip your prescription meds when doing spirit work, people. If you think you might forget, set a reminder, or have your assistant or spouse or friend remind you.
It is important to get a good night’s sleep after doing intense spirit-work and if you have to, I suggest taking a sleep aid like melatonin (just be warned: you can get some seriously funky dreams on this supplement. I don’t take it for that reason). The reason, even when exhausted, that it may be difficult to get to sleep after a major Working is that the mind is often flying all over the place. It takes time to decompress and bring one’s mental energies down to a dull roar. That’s normal, but unless you can afford to sleep in really late the next morning, force the issue. Take warm milk with honey, take melatonin if your doctor permits, do whatever you have to do to get your butt to sleep.
I try to allow myself to sleep in the next day, though this is not always possible. Even if I don’t want to, I eat some protein. I make sure to run through all the basic centering and grounding exercises and I take it easy if I can. If I have to leave the house, I will wear protective charms and keep my head covered (very spiritually protective). Ideally though, I am able to rest most of the next day. The work really does teach one how to do it though, and the more experience one gets, the less downtime one needs. Still, there will always be those really intense workings that knock you on your butt. Getting into good self-care habits early on and never really allowing yourself to deviate from them too much, makes the whole process much easier down the line and by easier, I mean easier on you, the spirit worker and your body.
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In the comments section of my previous post, one of my readers asked a really good question about the taboos that spirit-workers often have, how they work, and why. It was such a good question that I decided to post it here separately, along with my response.
Firstly, a word on terminology. When I use the term “taboo” in this context, I am referring to proscriptions (either positive or negative) upon some aspect of behavior that spirit-workers often experience from their Gods, spirits, or sometimes as a result of particular rules within a lineage. This may include things that cannot be done, worn, eaten, etc. or conversely, things that must be done, and even protocols that must be followed over and above what would fall on regular laity. (I’ve been known to refer to this latter category with the Irish term geasa, singular: geas, but that’s my personal usage having been exposed to the Irish terminology early on. Most of us just refer to them as “taboos”). That is not to say that specific Deities won’t have particular protocols that one must follow when approaching that Deity’s shrine (for instance, washing hands and anointing with khernips before approaching Apollo’s shrine, or women covering their heads when going to traditional Catholic mass – as random examples), but those protocols are universal to anyone approaching that Deity or that sacred space. They’re not a matter of X restriction or obligation being laid on Y person because that person is a spirit worker in service to Z Deity. Lay people do not usually have to worry about this type of thing, not in the compulsory way that spirit-workers will often experience, ALTHOUGH in many traditions a goodly portion of what a spiritworker does is sort out taboos for laity, so your mileage may vary—initiatory traditions, for instance, often have taboos for individual initiates as a matter of course. From here on out, I’m going to write from the perspective of a spiritworker who has mostly divined on the question of taboo for other spiritworkers. I hope that makes sense because this is actually the first time I’ve ever written about this in any depth, so I’ve never really had to parse it out like this before.
I’ll also add, don’t be a stupid jackass and go looking for taboos. The Gods are ever more willing to give than we are to receive, and spirit workers who are just so certain that to be real, live spirit workers, they MUST have taboos are likely to find that the Gods listen and give rather unpleasant, or at least inconvenient ones. You’ve done it to yourselves, people. Just let the work teach you and lead you where you need to go and listen to the advice of your elders.
So, in my previous post, David asked: “I guess I’m asking- if one has them, what type of taboos are they? What governs the practice- by what gnosis? Lineage? I guess I’d just like an overview of how that works. Thank you.”
All good questions but difficult to answer because there’s no set way this happens. It’s not formulaic. Every real spirit worker that I know has a passel of taboos, some large, some small but there’s no rhyme or reason to it that we ourselves know even amongst those owned by the same Deity (though, of course, I am fully convinced that the Gods have a plan there and it makes perfect sense to Them–we just can’t see it). In fact, two people owned by the same Deity can have precisely opposite taboos. There’s no telling when or if one will get them either. Someone may end up getting hit within their first few months of service, others only after years, and some lucky devils not at all.
I want to emphasize again that with certain practices, or certain Deities, or certain shrines, traditions may teach that there is a protocol to be followed by everyone. That is not a taboo. That is just part of pious respect.
Now, with taboos, often a spirit worker can sort of feel them coming on. One will start to have an adverse reaction to certain fabrics or foods, for instance, when no medical allergy exists. Sometimes something will just start to feel really, really wrong. That’s usually the point at which the spirit worker will consult one of her tradition’s diviners to find out what’s going on (or more likely avoid it as long as possible in the hopes you are wrong. This does not work by the way. Lol). Often taboos will be given to a spirit worker to help sort out a problem that the spirit worker is having. Maybe a spirit worker is having problems with his Gods, and this is a means of rectifying that. In the negative, perhaps a spiritworker has abused a privilege and the taboo is the corrective. More usually, it’s a neutral thing that happens as a result of the various changes and modifications that spiritwork brings about in a person. Sannion noted in a conversation we had, that it’s not always a negative response to something that is the first sign a taboo is coming on; sometimes one can have a deep attraction to things that end up then becoming taboos. He’s right, and I’ve certainly experienced that myself.
I do think that taboos are meant to strengthen the spirit worker in some way, or his/her connection to his/her cadre of Holy Powers. We always end up having to discourage “baby” (new) spirit workers from seeking out taboos or pretending, in their enthusiasm, that they have them, or copying another spirit worker. Just stop. Having them doesn’t make you a better spiritworker. It doesn’t make you more legitimate. It’s just a byproduct sometimes of the Work. It’s certainly not something to seek. They’ll come if they come and if you pretend, you might get hit with one hard and fast that you don’t like. It’s not like we get to choose them after all and often they’re damned inconvenient.
Food and clothing taboos seem, as far as I can tell, to be the most common. I also think there’s some aspect of “othering” to certain taboos – that the spirit worker is meant to stand out as a carrier of the holy and we see this in anthropological accounts of “shamans” quite a bit. It’s interesting but I haven’t made a study of it. I just cuss when I realize I’ve had a new taboo dropped on my head. Often, quite often, taboos can be about protection too and ritual purity — an awful lot of mine have to do with avoiding miasma.
Some taboos come with lineage. So, if one is initiated to a particular Deity, and certain patterns occur during the divination thereafter, then xyz taboos are laid as a matter of course. Sometimes, a spirit worker will receive a taboo via theophany or more often personal gnosis. (A spirit worker will be told directly by one’s Gods and/or spirits). I even actually inherited one from my late mom. It’s funny, when I’m divining for someone, and that person is a spirit worker who asks about whether or not he or she has a taboo, unless that person is starting to experience the aforementioned dis/comfort, I’ll caution them NOT to ask. (Better to ask forgiveness than permission…once it comes up on the mat, one is obligated). Taboos can change over the course of one’s life and Work. For many years, I had a specific taboo, but then about fifteen years ago, after a major initiatory cycle, that completely changed. I freaked, but a ton of divination and also prayer and discernment confirmed that the original was no longer needed.
I want to emphasize that there’s no virtue in having a religious taboo. There’s no virtue in being free of taboo. It’s just a thing that sometimes happens in our formation as spirit workers that, in some way, helps us. My colleague Tove just said that “sometimes, it illuminates a path that we’re on as spirit worker with more clarity than we otherwise would have had.” I have found that to absolutely be true. She also added, “they [taboos] can also be an expression of the voice of our Deities too, especially our primary Deity.”
I can’t think of anything else to say on the matter. If y’all have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments.
Yes, I do. I think it’s important on a number of levels to bless our food and to give thanks. In my home, there are a few preparatory blessings of cooking ingredients that I do: all salt is immediately poured into a large salt jar and blessed and that is the only salt we use in the home. So, anything made from scratch, uses blessed salt. Then, as I cook, I’m usually praying over the food. For anything we order, I bless it as I’m unpacking it and usually again when I plate it. Pretty much any meal I eat, I first say grace over it, and I do this for two primary reasons.
Firstly, I think it’s important to give thanks to the Gods and spirits that nourish us, and building that habit with respect to the food we take into our bodies is a good place to start. It keeps us mindful. It connects food and nourishment with the Gods and puts us in a receptive headspace of gratitude and respect. Those are good things. This also connects the mundane task of nourishing our bodies with something holy and properly elevates it. Food is sacred after all. It is key to the connection between Midgard, Vanaheim, and Helheim. Our physical bodies too are part of our soul matrix and giving them proper nourishment then becomes a sacred task. Cooking is also a powerful connection to our ancestors. So, there’s a lot bound up in food. Plus, we are blessed to be able to nourish ourselves and our families and the Gods pour Their grace into the very food we eat always.
Secondly, as a culture we pollute our food: GMOs, pesticides, and all sorts of unnatural things. Sometimes these things damage the spirit of the food itself, and I think praying over our food restores a natural balance, inasmuch as it can be restored.
Whenever and whatever I eat, I will put my hands over and it ask for blessings. I’ll say something like, “I thank you Frey, Freya, and all Good and Gracious Gods for the food I’m about to eat. Please bless it and fill it with Your odhr that it may restore and nourish both my body and soul. Blessings on this food and the hands that prepared it.” If I’m feeling the Roman Gods more strongly, I might include Pomona and Ceres in the prayer as well. Then I’ll make the hammer sign over my food and eat up. It’s that simple and I do it whether I’m alone or eating out.
If anyone else here says grace, do you have particular prayers that you like to use? Please feel free to share in the comments.
This is actually a multi-part question, so I’ll take each one in turn. Here we go:
Question 1A: “I was reading your article on prayer but and a question came to mind…”How do you determine who to pray to?” Say for example a person wishes to do so in reference to a research paper they have been working on. What determines whether they should pray to Thoth, or Athena, or Hermes or Saga, or any God or Goddess of Knowledge/Wisdom?”
You know, it seems like such a simple question, but it really isn’t. This is definitely a “polytheist problem!” I have my set of household Deities, Gods to Whom I’ve been dedicated to for years and I pray to Them regularly – I aim for nightly but I’ll admit I do miss days. Sometimes I or my household are just too tired to do it properly. Then the morning prayers, which are brief, have to suffice. Sometimes though, I’ll just get a feeling that I’m entering into another Deity’s house, sphere of influence, so to speak. Then, as a matter of what used to be called “guestliness” (the hospitality and grace owed by guest to host) in some of the Heathen groups in which I worked, I will reach out to that Deity. Sometimes, it will come up in our regular household divination that one of us should approach a particular Deity. Sometimes one prayer just leads to another. There’s no formula or rule for it. If one has a fulltrui, a patron, a particular Deity or family of Deities to Whom one pays regular devotion, I would always start there. You can always ask the Gods to Whom you usually pray, ask for insight and be patient.
Question 1B: “Another question I have is…does a particular place affect one’s connection to the Gods? I have read a few articles where people have moved to different places due to work or personal relationships (significant others), and in their original place they had a good communication with the Gods, but in the new place, it’s like the communication seems to be cut off. Does the “God Phone” tend to get bad reception in different places? I wonder if there is something to it because I felt more receptive to the Gods when I was in [state redacted] but since moving to [state redacted] I’ve had difficulties…”
Yes, (though it’s not that the the ability to sense or hear the Gods is cut off, but something else). This is why regional cultus is such a powerful thing. We see the same Gods being venerated in different ways, manifesting in different ways, carrying different bynames in different areas. For instance, my primary God is Woden in Old English territories, Odin in Scandinavia. Sometimes He is Gangleri, sometimes Oski, sometimes Wotan, sometimes Allfather, and so on and so forth. Not all of these heiti depend on the land, but there are reginal manifestations of His power. To give a second example, there is Dionysos of Mount Beacon – how we honor Him here– and Dionysos of Nysos and a thousand more iterations of this God. The Gods have Their own business, I think, with all the spirits of these places completely unrelated to us and our relationships and They wear different…”clothing” so to speak, accordingly). I’ve often said that the polytheistic triad is Gods-Ancestors-Land and it may be, and this is my speculation here, that some sort of conversation between the Gods and the spirits of the land is occurring. After all, They have relationships not just with us, but with multiple families of spirits (like land spirits) too. This applies to Gods and ancestors too – those are unique relationships. To get back to your question, there are definitely regional expressions or currents through which our Gods work.
I would suggest making offerings to the land spirits in your new home and also to your Gods (and ancestors too –never hurts). When you move to a new place, or even if you’re visiting for an extended time, greet the land and make offerings. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn to see your Gods through new eyes. It’s not that They can’t hear your prayers, or aren’t present, rather I think that it’s a matter of us sometimes struggling to catch the… “frequency” for lack of a better term, of one’s Gods in a new place, and of one’s Gods in conversation with new land spirits. Also, we do like our preconceptions and those can be a powerful block to new experiences of our Gods, all without us ever really being fully aware of how much this is the case.
It really takes time (and sometimes, it becomes easier after moving to a new place – this is not always a problematic thing). Just be patient and continue your practices. I asked my friend who is a land worker and she said she thinks there’s some kind of negotiation between the Gods and the land that happens and how they come to you is different because of that. Also, you need to get to know the spirits in your new place. Sometimes the Gods will even step back a bit in Their presence because it can overwhelm the sense of the land spirits or one’s ancestors in a new territory. There’s important work rooting oneself there that should be done first, grounding yourself in this land and developing those relationships, that all needs to happen before the Gods express the fullness of Their presence again.
You have to acclimate. You can’t really do clean work of any sort, including devotional until you acclimate. The space needs to be met, greeted, honored. Then it needs to be cleaned, ordered, blessed, and protected. Otherwise, there will be interference, distractions…and some of this can simply be the interference of chattering spirits who are curious about the new person. Even if we can’t hear or sense this (no one is in the state of perfect receptivity all the time no matter how good their general abilities are!), on some level it gets registered as interference or blockage. It’s not though. The process of moving, involves acclimating on both sides: you, your Gods, the land…sometimes rituals of formal introductions for all parties can help. But in the end, just give it time. It’s always easier when you make friends with the land.
Finally, here is Question 1C: “Also I can point out with these articles I glanced at, no mention was made of cleansing practices so perhaps that’s an important way to “boost the signal”. Are there other ways?”
Well, the first and most important thing you can do is establish a regimen for cleansing and purification. That is rule one when it comes to discernment. Rule two is to be consistent in your prayers and devotions. If you’re not cleansing regularly, of course your discernment and ability to accurately engage with your Gods will be severely impinged.
Hope this helped. There’s nothing worse than moving to a new place. My land worker friend said moving is one of THE most traumatic things for her personally! Psychological studies that I’ve read, put it right up there with the death of a loved one and divorce. So, be kind to yourself and soldier on.
Today, I posted this picture on Instagram and twitter of part of my preparation for our equinox ritual today (which we will be doing in about an hour). I noted that I have pulled out the mineral oil and have happily been oiling the wooden statues, the wooden blót bowl, and my ritual horn. Someone pinged me back on Instagram and asked about using oil on one’s horn, and also wanted to know whether olive oil could be used. Care for one’s ritual tools is part of good practice and this is an important question if one wants to keep one’s tools in good working order.
Firstly, do not use olive oil. It can go rancid – at least that’s what I was taught. Use mineral oil and preferably food-grade mineral oil. The bottle will list whether it’s food grade or not. On statues it doesn’t really matter, but for bowls and horns, food-grade is definitely the way to go.
Wooden statues and bowls need a little loving care every now and again. Wood can dry out and become brittle. The natural oils of one’s hands will help condition the wood, but usually, something of any significant size like a statue needs more. If wood dries out it can crack and even break. I recommend food-grade mineral oil applied every couple of months to statues. Just take a clean cloth, put a bit of the oil on the cloth, and apply it to the statue. Usually, the wood will soak it right up.
With ritual bowls, it’s even more important to keep them conditioned. Never, ever let a wooden bowl (or any wooden implement) soak in water. Wash them properly of course, but don’t leave them soaking in water. It can completely ruin them. I once had a friend take two of my ritual knives and, completely well meaning, leave them soaking overnight in soapy water. The handles were hand carved wood. They were ruined. There was no coming back from that damage. It was a hard lesson to learn but one I never forgot. (I couldn’t even be angry with my friend – she was just being helpful and doing the dishes). Wash and dry your wooden bowls right away. With wood, I don’t even suggest leaving it air dry. I manually dry even wooden cooking implements. Then, spread a thin layer of mineral oil on, again, working it in with a clean cloth.
The same goes for one’s drinking horn. Horn can become dry and brittle too. I usually wash my drinking horns right after ritual (never let them sit overnight without first cleaning them), dry them thoroughly and then, before putting them away, I will give them a rub down with mineral oil (always food-grade oil). This time, I washed and oiled the horn first because I had taken it to show a group of students a couple of weeks ago. I figured a little extra loving care wouldn’t hurt.
Mineral oil can be used to oil knives too. So, that’s my practicum post for the day. Have a lovely equinox everyone and a good rest of the weekend.
For those who don’t know what I mean, here is a little bit about the spoon metaphor.
Disclaimer: this topic did not come to me out of the ether. I saw a post on twitter about someone who was doing a podcast on the subject which made me think about it myself. I’ve been hunting twitter for that post and my response but I can’t find it. My apologies to the lovely person who first gave me the idea for this topic. If you know who you are and see this, please let me know and I’ll update my post to give you credit. (edit: I think it was this video. Thank you, E. for sending it my way. There are good suggestions in the video. This does not mean I support the channel or the creator – I don’t know this person at all. This video, however, offers good pointers).
I have severe chronic pain issues. Having worked as a ballet dancer for the first part of my working life, I was sidelined by injury and retired in my early twenties. While I loved my work, it left me with spinal damage, torn ligaments that never properly healed, tendonitis, arthritis, and chronic pain. Later, I developed fibromyalgia and severe migraines. Ballet taught me many things that I have carried over into my spiritual work and devotional world. I can work through a great deal of pain (whether that is healthy or not is a totally different question! Often I’ll be so focused on a task that I won’t realize my pain levels are creeping into seriously dangerous territory until I stop working. Once my concentration is broken, suddenly I’m hit with massive pain and it can lay me out for a long while. I do not advocate this for anyone, but, it’s a habit that I picked up as a dancer). I can use pain productively, as in ordeal where pain is one of the catalysts for going deeply into an altered state. I can force myself through pain if something needs to be done. I can function until I can’t, or rather I can function but then I pay a high price for it.
Learning to admit when I have to stop, and to take better care of myself before I get to that point has been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to learn. I have an aversion to laziness that only someone raised with dictums like “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” could have. It took me a long time to really accept that self-care was not laziness. I’m still somewhat dubious about where self-care ends and self-indulgence begins but I find it helps to think about self-care as a marathon. What is going to help us stay the course long-term? I bring myself back to this in my academic work, where I am all too often struggling with pain, and I bring myself back to it with my devotional practices too, especially as I get older. So, this is not an easy topic for me to approach in a way that I think will be valuable to you, my readers – even though I’m going to try to do just that here. All of this is complicated for me in that I think it is terribly easy to use one’s pain or circumstances as an excuse to do less, as an excuse to forego devotion all together and I have a knee jerk reaction to that, or to fostering that in myself or anyone else. It’s not always easy for me to balance these two things. Couple that with being an Odin’s person and very work-oriented.
I want to love my Gods better so much it hurts. That being said, devotion should not be torture. It should be something that is as natural and easy to us as breathing. There are going to be those times where we’ll struggle, or where we might have to slog through resistance but devotion should be the thing that sustains us and lifts us up. It’s important to build good devotional habits from the beginning and I think it’s so incredibly perverse that it can be so easy to build bad habits and so damned hard to build sustainable good ones. What is with that? Then chronic pain or some other physical or neurological condition comes along and complicates things. Like it’s not hard enough already? Argh. So, I have found that it’s perfectly ok to bitch, whine, and moan about this. Frustration with our limitations is natural. If you need to vent, allow yourself to do so. It doesn’t make you a bad polytheist to want to pound a wall sometimes in sheer frustration!
More importantly, I like to say that we are as we have been made and the Gods are not going to fault us for the peculiarities of our corporeal forms. If you’re having a bad day physically or a bad brain day and just can’t do the type of devotion you usually do, that’s ok. There is zero reason to be ashamed. Don’t beat yourself up. There are enough people in this world who are ready to do that for no reason at all. Just pick yourself up and do what you can do. If it’s just a whispered prayer that’s enough. The Gods know your heart. The best you can do is the best you can do at any given time. It’s ok if that varies considerably from day to day. Do what you can do and know that the Gods see you and it is enough.
I think it’s natural for us to plan for our good days. I would suggest having a series of plans for your bad days, and then those days that are worse. When XYZ happens (when I wake up with a migraine so bad I’m screaming for instance, or with my joints so inflamed I can’t get out of bed) what is the devotional game plan? It may not be much. It may be a single prayer, like Sigdrifa’s prayer that I have committed to memory. Usually we can always pray – maybe not too coherently – but at least there is some kind of reaching out. If that’s the best one can do, then it is enough.
I think it’s really important to establish a base line for the very worst days. Prep for that. Know that they will happen and that’s ok. That’s not going to be the new normal. It’s temporary and there’s no shame in it. Do what you can do – and you yourself are the best judge of that. When you are feeling better and are able to do more, then do more. It’s that simple for me. I have the goal of giving 110% but when I fall short, provided I’m doing the best I can, I don’t beat myself up. I just regroup on the days I feel better.
Self-care is part of the work. We can’t do devotion without at least a modicum of self care. For those like me with chronic pain, that may mean getting enough sleep, eating regularly, staying hydrated, doing what exercise one can…I know if I disrupt my sleeping patterns for more than a night or two, I’m going to get hit with a migraine. It’s almost certain. Learning how my chronic pain works and what triggers it and doing my best to avoid those triggers (not always a possibility, I might add) has been an important part of my own self-care.
A friend of mine, when we were discussing this said, “Proper self-care is the first service you can offer your Gods because you are Their instrument and if you aren’t keeping that instrument in proper care, you’re neglecting your first duty to Them. You’re breaking something beautiful that They have created.” She’s right. “Always ask yourself how your behavior is benefiting Them.” If you’ve crossed from self-care into non-productive self-indulgence (1) (because feeding the soul with beauty is not a bad thing) then step back and see how you can get back on track within your limits. My friend continued, “always ask: is this behavior on course with what my Gods intend for me? Am I still on the same road with Them? If you feel you’ve deviated then perhaps it’s time for a reset, perhaps you’ve crossed from necessary self-care into behavior that is damaging to your development.”
You know best when you’ve crossed those lines, just like you know what your body best needs to function. Don’t be afraid to prioritize self-care when those bad days come. It’s not just making sure you aren’t in physical pain, but making sure that internally – mentally, emotionally – you’re in a good place. Do what you need to do to feed yourself on all levels. Feed your eyes with art. Feed your mind with poetry, with books, with things that inspire us to live better, to live fully, to live joyously. Listen to music that echoes the voices of the Gods in every note. That’s self-care too.
- This is such a terrible term. Luxury isn’t bad. Beauty isn’t bad. We need to feed our eyes and ears and tastebuds, and our entire sensorium with beauty to be healthy. Beauty lifts us up to the holy. Beauty is sacred. We should enjoy life and enjoy our work at least some of the time. I don’t have a word other than “self-indulgence” though for when one falls out of right alignment with the Powers and with oneself. I will say this: that line is going to be different for everyone anyway.