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Reaction Sickness – Practical Info for Spirit-Workers

When I was learning how to be a spirit-worker and also (for years before that) learning how to function as a fairly competent magus, I was warned early on about reaction headaches and/or reaction sickness. This, I was told, is what happens when you seriously overwork your psi-gifts, work for too long handling energy or using those gifts – which are like muscles that can be strengthened or not—or get hit by too much energy to ground effectively, etc. etc. I kind of filed the information and thought, “yeah, that won’t happen to me.” Now mind you, I was in my early twenties and like most people in their early twenties, an idiot. Lol. How we all live past twenty-five, I’ll never understand. Over time, of course, I did experience the occasional reaction headache and even sickness a time or two and learned techniques for effectively dealing with it. It’s been a very long time since I got hit with full out reaction sickness. Then there was this past Saturday.

On Saturday, I went with my friend Tove to a wine and painting event. All the proceeds were going to support the Ukraine so I was happy to attend. There were a number of Ukrainians present who had just come to the US within the last two months and who didn’t have much English. I have only a smattering of Russian and Ukrainian. Usually in cases like this, I un-shield a bit and slip into the outer edges of one’s mind, so I can catch the images and intent behind their words. Then I can understand without having to rely on a translator though my ability to respond is limited (the woman I spent the most time chatting with was lovely and understood English but didn’t speak it – much like me with Russian). It’s a fairly intensive use of one of my psi-gifts, but I’ve done it before and it really, really helps with on-the-spot translation.  Great. I did this for five hours. (Every so often, Tove would translate for me, but she saw that I was getting via my technique and basic knowledge of the languages in question, about 80% of the conversation around me. She was so tired by the end of it, she tried to translate English for me once, which had us both laughing when I looked at her and said, “I think I got the English down.” It was fun). 

I haven’t used this technique in ten years maybe longer. I don’t think I’ve ever used it for five straight hours. I’m just coming off being quite ill (I got the thing that I won’t name and while I recovered quickly, I find that it’s left me rather tired, more so than usual, for longer than expected) and I had had a rather bad headache midafternoon. All of this is something that I should have evaluated and either not gone to the event, or simply let Tove constantly translate for me—which I didn’t do, because it she needed to network and do her own thing. By the time we left, I was already getting a bad reaction headache. I woke up the next morning with such bad reaction sickness I thought I was going to die (sorry haters. It takes more than that). I knew immediately what it was and turned the whole thing into a lesson for my assistant who has yet to experience the joy of full reaction sickness. 

I took my migraine medication (which is awesome—I didn’t have that when I first started studying), a special tea that I use for such times (feverfew, oatstraw, skullcap), drank rehydration salts and also caffeine, because it helps with headaches. Given some of the symptoms of massive nausea I also drank half a bottle of Pepto-Bismol (for non-Americans, this is a nasty, pink over-the-counter medicine that helps with nausea and stomach issues). Normally, I’d have gone back to bed and slept it off, which is really the only true cure for this sort of thing. I couldn’t do that though because I had family visiting later that day – and I am thankfully experienced enough that I had myself together by the time they arrived. There’s something to be said for being old and well-trained. LOL. 

While ideally one doesn’t put oneself in this situation, it is inevitable with active practice that at some point, a spirit worker or a magus is going to experience at the very least reaction headaches. Knowing what to do is as important as knowing how to prevent them. The latter one does by knowing one’s skill level and being aware of one’s physical state before, during, and after the Work. This, of course means taking care to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise which none of us do! We should though, especially before major workings. Care of the self is essential to competent work and especially to longevity. 

If you’re in a situation and it’s too late for all this and you have gotten a reaction headache, take aspirin (I like Excedrin extra strength or Excedrin migraine), make sure you’re hydrated and go back to bed. The only thing you can do is sleep it off. Treat it like you would a regular migraine. Eat lightly when you wake, if you can keep food down – you may feel rather fragile for a day after—and don’t do any Work. It’s going to feel like the hangover from hell.

If you’ve really screwed yourself and it’s full reaction sickness, the same suggestions apply. Your best bet is to stay hydrated and sleep. The rest will help and, in a day, or so you should be back on your feet. I actually use rehydration salts, sometimes gatorade to rebalance electrolytes, and the three-herb tea I mention above. It helps before major workings to protein load, and often I’ll make it a point to eat sushi after serious workings—one of my colleagues was taught that the closer protein is to raw, the more energy one can take from it. My assistant says (as I read this to her) that after working she craves rare red meat. My husband is muttering about “the blood is the life.” LOL. 

The important point here is that spirit-work and magic is WORK. It’s going to have physical consequences because you are using the body’s energy just like if you were doing manual labor. Take your vitamins and treat it all accordingly. We want to aim for longevity of practice and that means knowing how hard to push ourselves, for how long, when it’s necessary to go beyond those limits, and what to do after. 

Crowley cat asking how, how did I let the reaction headache get so bad?

Reader Question about Ritual and Self-Care

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): 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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). 
  3. 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). 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 

Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.   
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 

A Reader Question on Prayer

Question: I have a copy of your little booklet of polytheistic prayers, several of which, you say, come from your personal prayerbook. I was hoping that one of these days you might write about the process of creating that prayerbook. Is it a handwritten book, a Word file, printouts and clippings, organized, disorganized? How did you start and how did it evolve over time? Anything you’d be willing and allowed to share.”

I do have a handwritten prayer book that I illustrated myself. It’s pocket sized and I made it when I was traveling quite a bit. I’ve since typed up most of those prayers, added quite a bit more to make it useful for all the rites and rituals that we customarily do as a House, and printed that up in larger format for myself and other members of the House. It contains all the prayers in the two small prayer books I sell on etsy, other prayers that we use for protection, exorcism, and cleansing, prayers and rituals for the holy days, funeral prayers, birth/blessing prayers, daily prayers like a couple that I’ve posted here (like the four-fold Adorations to the House of Mundilfari) and so forth. For awhile, I was printing up each set and stapling it as it became something we began to use more and more, but I got tired of having multiple print outs all over the place. So, once I collected everything in a single file, I had it printed in a little book with 25 blank pages at the back so we can all add personal prayers we like or make notes. Every six mos or so I reprint it with new material added as well. It’s a work in progress. I’ve shared some of the prayers on my blog but that book is not something I’m willing to share publicly. 

We use this book and then Hymns and Prayers of a Polytheistic Household for our regular day to day, as well as any prayers we might say extempore. Then I have a separate book with all my divination systems and prayers for those. 

I DO recommend creating your own handmade prayer book if you can. It’s a lovely devotional offering. It doesn’t have to have every single thing in it. You can make small, very focused prayer books.  I made one with just a few prayers as an offering to Mani. You don’t have to learn bookbinding either! You can stitch the pages together and stitch fabric covered squares of cardboard onto that as a cover. Decorate it as you will. There are many, many tutorials on youtube or just online in general that will give you plenty of suggestions. If you do know bookbinding, go to town. It’s on my list of things I want to learn but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. 

My prayer practice has certainly evolved over time. I was really lucky to have grown up in a religious family. I think for those who didn’t have good devotional models when they were small, this whole thing of prayer, devotion, and praxis can be really difficult. One’s default isn’t piety if one wasn’t raised in a household – be that religious upbringing good or bad – where piety was practiced (again, however well or poorly; though if it was a religiously abusive household, that causes problems all its own beyond the scope of discussion in this particular blog post). It’s like working a muscle: if the muscle wasn’t worked as a child, it atrophies. This isn’t insurmountable. It just means that one has to be aware of one’s default state-of-being a little more than someone raised religious. Don’t worry, those raised religious have other issues that they have to guard against. No none gets any type of free ride with this stuff. 

So, I was lucky to have grown up in a religious household and also to have had really good devotional models available to me from the time I was small. I was surrounded by people who prayed in some form or another. I didn’t give that up when I became a polytheist. In fact, if anything, my prayer practice became stronger. I’ve seen the results of that in my own devotional life. I think prayer is crucial. It’s the single best starting point one can have and I often suggest shrine and prayer work simultaneously when one is starting out as a good place from which to begin. I would go so far as to say there isn’t a more important tool in our arsenal than prayer. By that I mean set prayers, formal prayers, extempore prayers, informal prayers and everything in between. One of my former students once brought me a quote (I don’t recall at this late juncture where she found it): “Pray as though your hair were on fire.” I like that image. Of course my more literalist readers had to point out how illogical the saying was, but it’s the intensity, the need, the frenzy of the thing that appeals to my Odinic heart. Pray as though it’s the most important thing you will ever do, because it is. 

It never occurred to me until quite recently that not everyone grows up learning to pray. I’ve taught within my religious community for over two decades and usually, during that time, I would be meeting quite regularly with students and holding regular rituals and they’d be seeing prayer in action all the time they were around me or others in the House. It’s only recently, when I acquired an apprentice who was raised atheist (in a communist country to boot), one who wasn’t shy about saying, “how do you do that?” (because she wanted to know and learn!) that I realized I can’t take this as a given. Should it be? Yes. I think ideally we should all be raised in communities where we pray to the Holy Powers as easily as we breathe, but we’re not there yet. In fact, in our society these days, prayer is actually quite often viewed as something negative. At least if it’s treated with indifference, you can start with a clean heart, a clean/blank slate. Many coming into our religions don’t even have that these days. 

I realized that if one didn’t grow up doing this, prayer of any sort can be anxiety-inducing (one wants to do it correctly!), embarrassing (one never sees others praying in the mundane world), confusing (am I doing it right?) and a plethora of other things. I tell people that prayer is talking to the Gods and giving Them space to answer (maybe not in words, but in ways that fill and transform a life). It’s communication and just like communication is key to building strong human relationships, so too it is key to building strong devotional ones. I usually recommend time spent extempore in front of one’s shrine, but balanced with a few simple set prayers (like, for instance, “Sigdrifa’s Prayer”). I also give a handful of meditational exercises to help still the mind and begin teaching discernment in one’s practice. 

Over the years, there have been certain books that have reinforced or helped to shape my prayer practice today. Most of them are Christian since I study early Christian theology academically. That’s ok. Prayer is the thing that crosses all religious boundaries. The earliest known recorded prayers were, I believe, by a Sumerian priestess Enhenduanna. This is a practice that belongs to neither polytheism nor monotheism but fills every religious tradition with life. Recently, I read “Courage to Pray” by Metropolitan A. Bloom and George Lefebvre and I recommend it without reservation. Yes, eventually you have to filter out the specifically Christian scriptural material but so what? Do it. The information on prayer in this book is extraordinarily helpful. Likewise Evagrius “On Prayer” and Cassian’s “Conferences.” The latter is much more monastic in its focus so read it and take what you can use. I have cannibalized libraries like this in order to learn to love my Gods better. 

Prayer is also the thing that provides the best and most essential protection from the gaping entropic evil that pits itself against all that is holy. If you don’t pray, if you can’t pray, if you refuse to pray, you are a weak link, and a danger to pious people around you. You’re also a danger to yourself and you can fix it so easily by actively reaching out to the Gods. It doesn’t matter how falteringly you pray. Just do it, fumble through it. We all fumble. We all feel awkward sometimes with it. But prayer shapes and forms the mind, the heart, the soul in ways that make us receptive to the Gods, the Good, and the Holy. It’s essential. It is a spiritual vaccination. Take the shot. 

Formal prayers often trip people up. By formal, I’m thinking set prayers like the Catholic “Hail Mary.” There’s a set text that doesn’t vary and one says that text whenever one says the prayer. It’s very, very easy for these set prayers to become stale or even worse: mindless repetition rattled off at the speed of light. This isn’t their purpose. Rather, they serve three purposes (and maybe more, but three come to mind at the moment I’m writing this). Firstly, they’re a good baseline. When you can do nothing else, when your exhausted, your brain is fried,  you’re pissed off at the Gods, you’re having a bad pain day or any other reason that might make it hard to pray freely, you can reach for one of these prayers (hopefully committed to memory through regular use) and it’s *something*. There is that. Secondly, in a ritual setting, a set prayer allows everyone there to participate, hitting the same devotional groove. Songs are like this too, which is why we should all probably envy the Catholics for their hymnals! We really should be upping our game there. Thirdly, set prayers allow the mind to constantly be filled with prayer, which keeps the whispers of evil out. It allows one to contemplate the Gods’ mysteries, Their sacred stories, to wander off in the heart of a word, a byname that opens up an entire devotional universe. Each word is a window, each whispered syllable the turning of a key in a lock opening wide the gates of this world, our world, our interior world to our Gods. Informal, extempore prayers can do this too but there’s something really helpful in having a verbal scaffolding, rooted in our cosmology, already prepared within which the contemplations of our minds might unfold. 

I find there can be a great deal of push back against the idea of prayer in Heathenry. This is partly because too many Heathens allow atheists to take up space in their kindreds, and worse, to take up leadership positions. Get your Houses in order.

This is partly because some have been raised in abusively fundamentalist households. This is sad. This type of religious abuse doesn’t just damage heart and soul, but it also makes it very, very difficult to develop a loving devotional relationship with any holy Power. I wish for those in this situation compassion and that they find teachers, mentors, elders, and therapists who know how to help them through the pain and into the joy of clean, healthy devotion. 

Sometimes, though, this is partly because people claim to be Heathen but just don’t want to deal with the Gods or ancestors. These things make nice abstractions, nice stories in a book but the reality scares the hell out of them (or for many does what’s worse: inconveniences them) and they just don’t want to be bothered. Shun these people like the plague. We choose devotion every day. It’s a conscious choice. It is a willing, often difficult choice that has to be made again and again and again and if someone isn’t willing to make that choice, or is consistently hostile toward the even the idea of making that choice, they’re not Heathen, they’re not devout, and they’re sure as hell not spiritually healthy. In fact, they are spiritually ill in a way that is polluting and contagious to everyone around them. We make spiritual choices about everything we do, everything with which we fill our minds, and everyone with whom we associate. They count. Part of developing devotionally is learning to make healthy choices. We need to have the courage to do that even with the small things. 

Someone asked me once if we’re really meant to be praying 24/7. Um…yeah. I think so. That is the goal. What does that mean? Well, for me, part of my mind and heart is always reaching out to the Gods in devotion. I may not be murmuring prayers, but part of me is always thinking about Them, engaging in some way devotionally. When I’m not doing that, I try to center everything I do, even the small tasks through the lens of my devotional world. I fail at this a lot but it is the goal and when I fail, I pick myself up, center myself, and start again. When I can pray more obviously (say I’m sitting a home or on the train) I’ll use prayer beads or sometimes just do so extempore. I’m nowhere near 24/7 but I hold it up as a goal. It reminds me to strive. I may not reach that goal, but by aiming for it, I’ll go far more deeply into devotion than I otherwise might have done. That’s the thing with devotion: aim high and just plug away consistently at it. It’s the consistency that matters, not whether we reach the goal (and as an Odin’s woman who is very results oriented, that just about kills me to say, though it’s true). Some days will be better than others but the one thing that costs nothing, that is fully within our power no matter where we are or what we’re doing is prayer. We need only the will or maybe the courage to do it, the desire to reach out. Beyond that, there’s a lovely Baltic proverb with which I’ll end this piece: “The work will teach you how to do it.” One could say, as the Havamal does, “one word leads to another word, one deed to another deed.” The best starting point is prayer. 

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What Makes a Good “Ground Crew”?

I was telling my husband how helpful his honest question about drinking horns had been and he looked at me and after a moment said, “you should write something about what makes good ground crew.”  I’ve only very rarely seen this discussed, even amongst spiritworkers, so I think maybe he’s right and so here we go.

Firstly, what do I mean when I say ‘ground crew?’

This is a term a bunch of us came up with (or at least began using) in 2004 after the first ‘Keepers’ Crossing’ gathering held at Cauldron Farm. This was an international gathering of spiritworkers, shamans, vitkar, mystics, et al that we held yearly for five or six years. It was the equivalent of a professional conference and gave us a professional forum where we could meet with other specialists and delve into the nitty gritty aspects of our work. We networked, exchanged tech. and sometimes talked terminology. It turned out that quite a few of us were using similar terminology to refer to the team of people – be they spiritworkers or not—who assisted us before, during, and after possessory work (1), intense trance and journey work, or other aspects of spirit work that require altered states of some sort.

Why do we need ground crew?

Well, we may not needground crew, but a competent and committed ground crew certainly makes the sacred work go more smoothly.

The spirit worker needs to be focused on doing the work he or she has set to do, in order to do that as cleanly as possible. That often means neglecting their bodies. If that person is splitting attention, distracted by practicalities it can make him less efficient. If she has no ground crew to monitor her, she can push into injury, pain, or even seizure. If a Deity is coming via possession, then it is only polite to have attendants. After such work, a spirit worker can be disoriented, sick, in pain, or just spacy. The ground crew makes sure that the spirit worker does everything required to transition back into mundane headspace safely. What that entails will differ from spirit worker to spirit worker and it’s something that must be discussed in detail well before any work occurs (2).

It’s easy to forget essential things if one is doing any type of altered state work so the team acts as spotters. Spirit work of any kind is grueling on the body. It can trigger chronic pain flares, immune issues, neurological problems, migraines, muscle spasms, and dehydration to name but a few. I don’t know how much of it comes from the average spirit-worker’s intense focus and stubbornness about pushing through, and how much is just a side effect of the work itself. Shifting states of consciousness, dropping quickly from regular headspace to a deeply altered state, carrying divine energy, working with the energies with which many of us work takes its toll and we learn to dissociate from pain very early. It’s really, really helpful to have a team that doesn’t do that, whose sacred job is taking care of the physical needs of the spirit worker. Usually that means, attending them as they prep for whatever work they’re doing, watching over them during that work, and making sure they’re fed, watered, and relatively functional after. It also means doing all the physical driving. Do not drive after doing altered state work of any kind, people. It may also mean acting as a spotter if the spirit worker has to do on site unexpected spirit work. This happened to me, for instance, the first time I went to Gettysburg. I had an intense experience with some of the military dead, one that laid me completely out for three days. If I hadn’t had a very calm, centered keeper with me, I could have walked into traffic, fallen and broken an ankle, forgotten to eat, etc. Ground crew are angels, absolute guardian angels.

On a purely practical level, it’s also really nice to have a pair of hands or several pairs to help manage tools and sacred items. This is important work – not everyone can safely handle exposure to sacred tools. They’re also capable of bundling up the spiritworker and calling 911 if need be – I’ve done a lot of my work in the woods, and accidents happen even when one is just hiking. Add altered state work on to that, or any other type of spirit work, and it’s best to be prepared. One of my ground crew always has a full medical kit with them, and enough first aid to make use of it.

So, what makes good ground crew?

Well, this is my opinion and what I look for in my own ground crew. I’d love to hear from other spirit workers about what you look for in your team. I also want to emphasize that having a ground crew is a real privilege. I worked for over 15 years without one and I have to say, it’s so much easier to do good, effective work with ground crew. It was mind-blowing to me just how much easier it was the first time I experienced it. To those who are willing and able to serve in this capacity: THANK YOU a thousand times.

Firstly, while I prefer ground-crew that has at least a bit of sensitivity to Gods, spirits, and energy, it is perfectly ok to have someone head-blind on your team. The important thing is that they know how to monitor both the spirit worker and everyone around them, especially if it’s a public ritual (3).  If they are gifted, they need to be in control of that: grounded, centered, and with a capacity for shielding, preferably up to and including the ability to shield someone else. Spirit workers can make excellent ground crew themselves and it’s always good to do this for others, because you learn what it takes.

I like at least one person to have medical training – at least CPR and first aid. The best ground crew I ever worked with had two people in the medical field on it, one of them a nurse. They also have to be discrete. They’re going to see the spiritworker at his or her most vulnerable, possibly up to helping him/her dress or undress, vomiting, passing out, etc. They need to know how to keep their teeth together. They are also responsible for making sure the spiritworker’s property, tools, garments, etc. are in good order, collected, and with the spiritworker when they depart. It’s important that they have food, hydration, and other necessities for helping the spiritworker ground and come back to mundane headspace afterwards. They provide aftercare, making sure the spiritworker isn’t in shock, is hydrated, fed, grounded. They provided grounding and shielding if needed. They force the spiritworker to eat and drink (discuss this with them very early on and work out what is acceptable. Each spiritworker will have preferences. I tell my crew to make me eat, to be hardasses about it because I know I won’t want to and I’ll be resistant). It goes without saying that the crew must be pious (4).

Most important of all, every single person on the ground crew needs to be organized, capable of following instructions, and willing to take orders, but also think on the spot as situations arise and/or change. It is the spiritworker’s obligation to teach the ground crew what they need to know: preferences, protocols, emergency procedures, situations that may occur, etc. They need to function as a well-oiled team. Most of all, the crew has to be security aware. Their job is to protect and assist the spiritworker who may be operating on a completely different state of awareness or not conscious at all if possession is happening. They are there to provide care and safety. The team cannot be afraid to get their hands dirty and they cannot be hesitant when it comes to protecting their charge. I like one of my team to be armed for just this reason.

The ground crew has an incredibly important function: they ensure that sacred protocols are followed by everyone concerned so that rites and rituals can happen properly, in ways that allow for clean communication between the Gods and the community, and that enable the spiritworker or specialist to come through the work with as little damage as possible. They make the transitions as smooth as possible. So, take the time to train a good crew and treat them like gold. They’re worth it.

I would love to know what questions you have so please don’t be shy. Post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

 

Notes:

  1. This term refers to the practice of Deity possession, allowing a Deity to pour His or Her consciousness into ours, taking over for a time to engage with devotees. It’s a sacred act and a traditional one, appearing in polytheisms the world over. There is ample evidence for it having been practiced amongst the Norse. Today, folks are probably most familiar with it from various Afro-Caribbean religions like Lukumi, Voudoun, and Candomble.
  2. As an example, before the third day of our solstice ritual I was right at the cusp of a pain flare (I have fibro). I was in growing physical pain on a number of levels. I knew that if we waited a couple of hours I would probably stabilize and could do the ritual without a problem. I said to my team, “I can push this, but I’ll pay for it.” And we discussed whether or not that was necessary. It wasn’t, so we were able to wait a couple of hours and everything went off quite well. Had I needed to force the appropriate headspace and mobility, I could have done, but the wisdom of my ground crew took over and they were better able to evaluate the situation (whereas I was really concerned about the work to the extent I would push all else aside for no need). Because of that, I was functional later that evening and not in terrible pain the next day.
  3. In a public rite, the spiritworker should ALWAYS have a keeper who doesn’t leave their side but isn’t at all intrusive. I remember several years ago being asked to carry our moon God Mani via possession, what we call “horsing,” an Afro-Caribbean term that implies that the Deity rides the devotee like a rider might a horse. We don’t control when the Deity seats Him or Herself. Our job is to prepare properly and show up with a willingness to be of service. That’s it. If the Deity decides not to descend, that’s ok. There could be a million reasons why that have nothing at all to do with the spiritworker. Our job is to show up prepared.

    Well, Mani is unusual when He possesses in that He likes the sense of corporeality of the horse experiencing the God experiencing the horse. He’s slow and careful, leaving all the devotee’s mental architecture in the same state when He leaves as it was when He possessed. He doesn’t rush. So, He was skirting around the edges of my consciousness, partially there but not fully, taking His time as is His privilege to do.As I was pacing before His offering table, another spirit worker, knowing better – so much so that I cannot help but think this person did this in order to break me out of the necessary headspace and ruin the ritual—came up and grabbed my/His shoulders and basically told Him to get the show on the road. Had I been fully me, I’d have clocked the polluted creature in the mouth for violating ritual space and possibly for assault because this person wasn’t gentle. Mani is much calmer and was in me enough that I wasn’t fully me. This prevented my own normal response (let’s not even get into the fact that this creature knew I have neck damage and the way I was grabbed could have compounded that).

 My ground crew had gotten separated from me – people often want to be close to the horse because of the Deity energy pouring through them and one of the things a crew does is monitor that and keep it orderly. The horse should never be overwhelmed and touching a horse in anyway, particularly before the Deity fully seats Him or Herself in them is a huge no no. It can completely break the horse out of the necessary receptive headspace for the possession. Well, I’m told later that the head of my crew saw it, saw this other spirit worker coming and couldn’t get across the field in time to head it off. Fortunately, I am very experienced and thanks to my training was able to remain focus. Mani slid in when it suited Him and held court and people were able to engage with this God.

I recount this to emphasize the necessity of training your crew for every possible situation. I had worked with those wanting me to carry Mani before, and knew most of those gathered. I had no reason to suspect that an experienced spirit worker who, while we disliked each other personally, was a professional would behave in such a violent and inappropriate fashion. I had not prepared my ground crew for this, because I assumed that such a thing – unthinkable to anyone with basic piety—would not happen. I was wrong and because I did not prepare them, it wasn’t on their radar as something to pay particular attention to so even when the head of my crew saw it happening, he couldn’t stop it. It is incumbent on the spiritworker not the ground crew to prepare the crew with all necessary protocol and for any possible situation that may occur. ].

  1. On the positive side, because they are navigating everything behind the scenes, the ground crew will usually be the first to witness the theophany of possession, and it is with possessory work that they are the most crucial for the spiritworker’s welfare.

Caring for One’s Ritual Drinking Horn

(I posted this today on my facebook and I was surprised at the response–this is apparently information that people do not have. So, if this helps folks, especially those new to our community, I am very glad). 

My husband was manning the horn during our Solstice ritual and was a little confused about how to clean it afterwards. It occurred to me that he’s not the only person in our religious communities who might have this question so I figured, as a change from bitching about politics (I do this a lot on fb lol), I’d talk about that for a moment.

Those who practice Heathenry often utilize drinking horns in their rituals. The horn symbolizes the well of Wyrd, fate, and memory so any prayers or oaths taken over it have particular sacral power. In some denominations (particularly Theodism), only women may bear the horn around the gathered community but our household’s tradition does not hold with that, and having a priest and orpheoteleste of Dionysos carrying the horn (which is almost always filled with alcohol for rituals) seemed fitting — far more than having me do it while trying to juggle two shaman’s drums, or our Freya’s woman who was leading the rite.

Most horns are made of some type of bovine horn that has been cleaned and either lacquered or covered with wax inside. I own several, with museum quality carvings and semi-precious stone inlay. I also have at least one that has just been engraved with a bit of color added, and one with brass design around the mouth and tip. styles vary and some horns are just plain with only the inside having been fiddled with. Regardless, they do need a bit of care (1).

So here you go: rinse out the inside with tepid to lightly warm water. If it’s lacquered, you can use serious dish soap and a cleaning brush. If not, be careful. Do not let the horn sit after rituals. Do this immediately. Take care of your tools. With a slightly wet towel or sponge, wipe down any mess on the outside of the horn (drinking from a horn is tricky. ha ha. it’s almost a rite of social initiation for a newcomer to Heathenry to do it incorrectly and end up with a face full of mead. We’ve all been there. lol). Let it dry. Take a bit of food grade mineral oil on a soft cloth and wipe down the outside, every nook and cranny. Let that dry. (This is the same way, by the way, that I care for ritual offering bowls if they’re made of wood). Store your horn in a safe, dry place (mine live on two different shrines).

That’s it – easy, peasy. Do NOT run them through the dishwasher. Do NOT let crud accrue in them. Do NOT use abrasive chemicals to clean them. Treat your tools with the respect they deserve and they will serve you well all your working life — this is especially so with horns that are nearly objet d’arts.

Idunna horn

(a close up of my Idunna horn, crafted by Shrewood)

 

Note:

  1. The only difference between sealing the inside of a horn with a lacquer of some sort versus wax is that with the latter hot liquids cannot be used in the horn (they’ll melt the wax). Honestly though, in the thirty years I’ve been Heathen, I cannot think of a single time that I have used a hot drink in a horn. I guess i must have with either wassail or spiced wine –I probably didn’t think about it because most of my horns are lacquered. If your horn is sealed with wax, and you want to use something like Gluhwein in it, just use a glass or cup instead. I think our ancestors were practical and there’s no harm in substituting a glass. I even have a couple of glass horns that I inherited. If you haven’t found the right horn yet, or you can’t afford one at the moment, it’s perfectly ok to use a glass or cup as a stand in and then during the ritual it serves the same sacral function.