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Greeting New Spirits- There is a Protocol

And oh how I wish I’d remembered that tonight!

It has been a very, very fruitful Yule season. As part of that, there is an ongoing cycle of gift exchange and my family gifted me with several ongon, spirit infused ritual pieces. They are beautiful and the first two were welcomed into the house with all the decorum new spirit allies should receive. The second two …um…not so much. There is a lesson here and one I am both grateful for but should really know by now. 

Two of them sat in a box for a week, maybe a little more. They’d arrived right before our solstice ritual proper, and we were only expecting one. They were big spirits and I knew that it would be very important to place them properly but we don’t really do divination during the ember days, at least not from Modranacht till the New Year, and we all knew that div would be required to determine the proper place for them to live. All of that would have been fine, but we didn’t properly explain it when we packed them away, and then new problems arose tonight when we did our first divination of the year. 

We got it sorted out, but at first it was really aggravating. They wouldn’t respond to any of the divination systems we use. I kept getting “go to divination” but they weren’t familiar with our systems and we didn’t know theirs. It took much, much longer than it should have done and it wasn’t until the whole thing was over and done with, and I was placing one of the spirits that he explained to me what we should have done. I’m sharing that here for any of you who might find yourself in the same boat. Let me just say, I’m grateful for the patience of these two new spirits, tremendously so. 

Firstly, we should have greeted them and made small offerings right away. It was fine not to divine for a week or so, but rather than keep them in a box, we should have welcomed them and incorporated them into the household rituals. That way, they would learn about us, we about them, the household spirits would get to know them and vice versa, and it would be easier to figure out how to forge a functional relationship. They’re not things. These are living spirits. It was like I kept a super genius cat locked in a box for a week because I wasn’t sure where to put his food! Or like grandma came to visit and you kept her locked in the bathroom for a week! Both working with spirits and divination involving spirits is a matter of learning each other’s languages, symbol systems, mental metaphor and image maps, of figuring out how to most efficiently communicate with each other. We lost out on an opportunity to do that early on and we were unintentionally rude too.  What’s more, had we let our house spirits get to know the new spirits and vice versa, our own spirits could have better facilitated this whole process. 

Secondly, when we sat down to divine tonight, we should have started by inviting the new spirits in, welcoming them again, making offerings and most importantly of all, explaining the systems we use, how they work, etc. THAT is what made the whole thing so aggravating. They had to figure that out on their own because it never in a million years occurred to us to make that explanation before we started. 

Everything worked out well in the end, there were apologies and offerings made and the situation was properly sorted but we made it a lot harder on ourselves by not having a set protocol instituted as a matter of course when welcoming new spirits into the cadre. I have a set protocol for divination from which I never deviate and I instituted that after a horrible experience where I was tricked by an unhappy and sick spirit, a recently deceased ancestor of the client who was jealous and angry that my client had a life while the spirit, who had died of a drug overdose, no longer did. It was nasty, messy, and never would have been so had we stuck to our protocols. That time, I was convinced to skip them. Never again. Now, I have learned another valuable lesson about first contact protocol (lol) and it’s not one that anyone in my house will neglect from here on out. 

One caveat: because we are so familiar with the Gods and spirits that form such a strong and beloved part of our Household cadre, we tend to forget to be properly formal (and hospitable, because that is what these protocols are, in part) with new spirits. 

I hope this is helpful to those of you reading this who likewise have spiritwork concerns. I receive a lot of questions about how to engage properly with Gods and spirits, about my own protocols, and I find that sometimes pointing out where one falls short, and the lessons learned from that can be tremendously valuable. We learn, by Gods we learn. It sure as hell isn’t always pretty though. 

Don’t Piss off Apollon

Once a month I do readings at a local shop. The owner is a friend of mine, it helps her out, and I usually enjoy doing it. Yesterday was one of those days. Now when I do this, I don’t take my entire kit. I choose two or three systems and yesterday, I decided to make offerings to Hermes, Apollon, and Dionysos with the intention of reading with a sortilege system owned by Apollon, and the Dionysian leaves. I had one client. It was a clusterfuck.

The client Mikey (yes, his actual name. after what happened, fuck it. I’m not using a pseudonym) came in asking with what decks I read. I carefully explained that I would not be reading with tarot, and explained the systems I use. He asked me and the young man behind the counter several times, a little confused that I didn’t use cards. I’ve found that tarot is so well known that people often have trouble understanding that there are other systems of divination out there, so I didn’t mind the questions but I had a feeling that he was going to be an unpleasant client. Still, people don’t generally come to us when things are going well (though they should! It’s best to get divination quarterly – I do for myself as a matter of course and was always counseled to do so by my elders because it is preventative) and it’s our job as diviners to sometimes deal with people in crisis. He was supposed to have a half hour reading. It lasted about an hour and a half and from the beginning it was ugly.

I began the reading with a system dedicated to Apollon and, of course, as always before seeing any clients, I did my opening prayers, which included a prayer to Apollon. Mikey was unhappy and irritated that I was using a sortilege system and not cards. He kept getting frustrated when he received answers he didn’t like. He kept asking the same question or series of questions in different ways because he didn’t like the answers. He outright refused to do any prescription given to him to better his situation and then he started getting rude and rather aggressive. At this point, I told him that if he was unwilling to do the prescription then he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. He started to argue, becoming both whiny and belligerent and …that’s the point when Apollon gave him a seizure.

I felt Apollon reach through the crown of my head and push out and at that point Mikey had a seizure ( just when his level of disrespect for the ordered space of the mat, the divination process, the diviner and by extension the Gods involved reached a certain level. It didn’t help that he sort of insulted Apollon’s mother). I sat through it, gave him some further advice when it was done (more counseling than divination) and finally got him to leave. He staggered out and it is my sincere wish that he never, ever returns to plague any future diviner who might happen to be on the premises.

I found out from the young man handling the counter that Mikey has a long history of becoming verbally abusive to diviners and has even made one particular diviner cry. When he’s not told what he wants, he verbally attacks them. It never got that far with me (probably good for Mikey’s sake, because I’d have bodily thrown him out. I don’t take shit like that from clients or anyone else). Apparently, several diviners who frequent the shop have refused to read for him. My question to the shop: why do you allow him to keep coming in? I don’t find that particularly ethical.

At any rate, the level of pollution was so intense that I felt the need to do divination to see if I could keep seeing clients or if I needed to go home and cleanse. Pollution is one thing, and Mikey was riddled with it, but being hit with pollution (as when a client moves from passive pollution to active offense against the Gods) when in an altered state is worse. Ironically the diviner is extremely vulnerable when in that open headspace. I initially asked “Do I need to leave?” And the answer was ‘no.’ Then I asked “Does Apollon want me to leave.” And I got a definite ‘yes.’ So I followed up by using Apollon’s oracle to ask for confirmation and received the following verse:

“Take the tripod and carry it from the temple…”

I immediately packed up and went home, texting my husband on the way to prepare a cleansing bath. As soon as I got home I went through intense cleansing and then did divination to see if I could continue to read in such a venue. (I can, but I now have new protocols for all in person clients).

Sannion also told me something that I didn’t know or had forgotten: there are accounts of Apollon doing exactly this in antiquity when his oracles were shown disrespect. Some Gods are more forgiving of such violations than others, but in the end, it’s not a game, it’s not a parlor trick, and it’s not for entertainment. Divination is sacred and when the diviner is at the mat he or she is serving in some cases as a direct mouthpiece for the Gods and ancestors. It is sacred work. It’s unfortunate that most clients no longer realize that and I think those of us who do this work in our communities have the added burden and obligation of teaching people anew how to position this as a sacral practice and how to approach the mat with reverence…because there are consequences when one doesn’t.

It’s not our job, as I was told yesterday, to make the client comfortable. It is our job to do the work. It is our job to be clean interpreters and transmitters of what the Gods and spirits provide. It is however, a reality that we will deal with clients – many quite well meaning—who do not know how to behave. I’m still a little stunned by yesterday and I have no answers for that. My protocols have been tightened to give them better warning and I do prepare most clients as well as I can but still…as the saying goes, shit happen. Sometimes, that’s going to backfire on those clients. Apollon especially is not a God with which to trifle. He protects those in His service.


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On watching “The Forest”

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I needed to decompress a bit when I got home from school today so my husband suggested we watch a movie. Since “The Forest,” a horror movie set in the Aokigahara Forest (or Suicide Forest) in Japan is now on pay-per-view, we decided to watch that and it was an awesome film. It did, however, raise a few questions for me (not the least of which being what the majority of Japanese think of the film) and since many of them are connected with how we treat our dead, I wanted to explore them here. For those who worry about such things, please note there will be spoilers for the film.

To briefly recap, (SPOILERS STARTING NOW) a woman goes to Japan to find her twin sister who has gone missing in the Aokigahara forest. She is determined to go search for her sister because she can sense that her twin isn’t dead. Everyone she meets (teachers, school children, a forest guide, a random teen ager, and a woman who tended recovered bodies until they were claimed) warns her not to go off the trail, that the ghosts there are angry and because she is in a heightened and ungrounded emotional state will mess with her, possibly driving her to suicide and then she’ll be trapped in the forest which…is exactly what happens. (Her sister survives). Part of me thought this is the story of a well meaning white girl who disregards and in some ways shows inadvertent disrespect for indigenous sacred space, customs, and religions and then pays the necessary price for her obliviousness. I think there are more things to be considered though and while that was certainly part of the characterization there are other complexities to parse out.

Whenever I watch something like this, as a polytheist and moreover as a spiritworker I can’t help but consider how I would approach the situation myself were I in the character’s shoes, or what I would suggest for a client (this is why I’m extremely picky about what horror movies I watch – they tend to annoy me). I have a tendency to use things like this as teachable moments. So, tonight, when the movie ended, I turned to my husband and said, “I would have done that so differently. This poor woman went into that forest—a sacred, liminal, and terrifying place—completely unprepared and with no allies in the spirit world. There are so many things she could have done differently and I’m going to elaborate on them here.

Firstly, my understanding is that the forest is located on Mt. Fuji, a powerful Kami, or holy power in his own right. It’s a very sacred place and has been for generations, many generations. The moment I reached the base of the mountain, before doing anything else, I would have made offerings to that Kami, petitioning Him for safe passage, protection, and help. (Before doing even that, I would have made a lot of offerings and asked my own ancestors for protection and aid. I would have wanted them at my back, guarding my back when I reached the forest.).

I would have taken seriously the warnings of locals, particularly those who worked in the forest. I wouldn’t have scoffed at their traditions. I would have asked the proper way to show respect in such a sacred place and to any spirits who might be present. Then, before setting out on my search, I would have petitioned my Gods and I’d have made copious offerings to the dead of the place. There is a protocol when dealing with the dead, particularly dead not one’s own, and when dealing with sacred places. None of this would have been a guarantee of safe passage and success, but I think it would have positioned one in a place of greater potential for those things.

Also, in the movie, the more upset and emotionally unstable the main character became, the more the spirits in the forest messed with her. This is actually a thing. The rune spirits are like that a bit so that at least was something I was used to dealing with. I learned early on that to work effectively with the runes, it was necessary to be incredibly centered and almost detached (certainly detached from the results of any divination one might do). If there was uncontrolled or especially unacknowledged emotion present, the runes will take that as carte blanche to mess with the rune worker. It’s just part of the contract in dealing with them. I’d treat the situation encountered in the movie the same way on general principle.

I was very much moved by the idea of the suicide forest in general. I knew about it before, of course, but hadn’t ever given it much thought. Watching the movie, even though it was a horror movie, I couldn’t help but think how very respectful to have a beautiful place, at the foot of the home of a God (Mt. Fuji) where people can go when they decide to die. In so many ways, I wish that we had more reverence for death and dying and thus for living too. Anyway, that’s where this movie took me. There’s a documentary about the real Aokigahara Forest that folks can watch here.