Dver has a brilliant post about the nature of devotional relationships here. I have found the same rubric holds with the elemental powers too. Fire, for instance, will always act according to its nature, regardless of the relationship you have cultivated. Anyway, go, read, learn, ponder. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Head on over to Numen Arts and read this powerful post on glamourbombing by Dver. This has been part of my practice for a couple of years now on and off and I’ve see how powerful it can be. It’s a way of opening doors, just a little, slipping through and bringing something of the Other back, then leaving a key, a tag, a marker that draws others into similar experience. Reset and course correct as I like to say. Anyway, the piece is really good and I recommend giving it a read.
Once every quarter, I and my assistant (and any students or apprentices that I may have at the time) do a head cleansing. I learned this from my time working in ATR houses, and also in spiritualism. It’s a way of cleansing and then nourishing or “feeding” the Ori, the spirit of one’s head, that part of us which in my tradition is called the gythia or godhi(grammatically feminine and masculine respectively, after the ON word for priest) and which represents our soul’s connection to the Gods (1). Give how much pollution we deal with on a regular basis, and the press of our secular work, and just work-life balance, plus the struggles inherent in any active spiritual life, it’s a nice time to clear away the dreck and reset ourselves. It’s also messy as hell.
Without going into too much detail, I combine white substances (2) like coconut milk, regular milk, honey or honey powder, white fruits, white flowers. I sometimes add certain herbs. I mash it all up and ask for Heimdallr’s blessings on it. Then I smear a healthy cup of the goo on a slice of bread, slap it on my crown, i.e. the top of my head, tie on a headwrap securely (3), and usually put a towel around my shoulders in case of leakage. Then I sit in prayer for a couple of hours, after which, I wash it off and go about my business (traditionally, I was taught it’s best to leave it on for twenty-four hours, which means sleeping with it on my head, but I have never done that). Usually we do this on the equinoxes and the solstices, but with everything going on, we forgot to do it this past March.
So, I’ll share with you a moment of hilarity that ensued today as we did this. Because of how drippy this mixture can be, it’s easiest to have someone else put it on your head and assist with tying the headwrap to keep it all secure. So, I was helping my assistant Tatyana. Unlike my head, which I shave to honor the dead, she has thick, waist-length hair. As a result, she needed a bit more preparation than I for this cleansing. I helped her pin her hair back and poured a cup of the cleansing mixture on a slice of bread. She was trying to position herself so that I could most easily put it on her crown. She leaned back and I, being a woman of action ha ha, slapped it right down on the top of her head. There was only one problem. She moved just as I was putting it down, and I, in my exuberance, used way too much momentum. She came within a quarter of an inch of getting a face full of cleansing mash. It didn’t help that we were laughing our asses off through the whole thing. She had it not just on her head, but all down one side of her face and in her ear too. (I just read this out loud to her and she said, “I am very clean.” with a grin and a double thumbs up). The saving grace of this practice (other than that it really does effect a spiritual restoration of the head) is that the mixture smells really nice.
You know, it’s been a hell of a year all around and I think we could all use a good laugh now and again. Laughter itself can be apotropaic. So, I hope y’all had at least a chuckle reading this. I know that spirit work can seem strange, weird, sometimes a little frightening, sometimes wonderful and filled with ecstatic devotion. It can be all of that and more. But you know, sometimes it’s nothing more than the absurdity of coconut milk and other assorted ingredients dripping out of one’s ear.
Enjoy your weekend, folks.
- This is the part of our souls always in connection with the Gods, as opposed to Vè, which means holiness or holy place and is also the name of a soul-part that represents our reservoir of holiness, something that may be cultivated and strengthened by prayer, devotion, and aligning ourselves properly with the Gods. My assistant today said, “so the gythia/godhi part is like PVC tubing that leads to the Gods and through which They can pour holiness?” and…yes, as a description that’s good enough for government work, as the saying goes.
- White dress is sort of like a spiritual biohazard suit and using white substances carries the same associations of purification. Plus (and this is my personal theory), using different types of milk represents nourishment, milk being one of the first substances a child takes. It’s nourishment on the most primal level. The honey, fruit, and flowers represent sweetness. Nature abhors a vacuum so after cleansing, it’s important to fill that space with something good.
- I usually cut a length of white linen and use that, discarding it after. I’m not generally one for wasting cloth, but this is my one exception to that rubric.
Dver has written an excellent post on working with plant spirits, which I highly recommend here. I find this particularly intriguing since I rarely consume any plant ally and yet work with them in various ways as a matter of course. I never thought that consumption was required, though I know that far too many books on the matter will suggest this (or warn categorically against it. Take your pick. I don’t think absolutes in work like this are ever helpful). Anyway, if your spiritual work involves plant path, give this a read.
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One of the key mysteries of our tradition is that of the runes. The word itself, rún, rúnar (1) means just that: ‘secret’ or ‘mystery.’ Our high God Odin (Oðinn) hung on Yggdrasil for nine nights and nine days in agony, pierced by His own spear, a sacrifice to Himself. The result of this ordeal was acquisition of the runes and the knowledge and ability to wield them. There is much the story doesn’t tell us, starting with where the runes originate, what they are, and what their connection to the fabric of creation might be.
I talk about all of these things in my book Living Runes, so I won’t focus on that too much in this post. In short, I think they originate in the Ginnungagap, are a family of living, sentient spirits, and are worked into the architecture of existence in numerous ways, creating loopholes through which the holy can seep (or work) again and again. When I think about this, they’re so often in motion, coursing through creation the way platelets, plasma, and blood cells course through our veins. They may rivet the more liminal parts of creation in place, or they may whirl and dance through the world working His will and their own. I think it varies and it’s something I’m still exploring in my own practice.
What I wanted to discuss today is one of the techniques that I employed when I was first learning how to really engage with the runes. This is also something that I give to my apprentices when they are learning the runes for themselves. Usually, this is done after one has initially met the runes through offerings and galdr – a round 1 of ‘getting to know you,’ shall we say. Once a student has passing familiarity with the runes, knows what they are, has maybe galdred a bit, or meditated with them, once he or she has his or her own devotional relationships to Gods and ancestors securely established (2), when that student is ready for the second round of in-depth engagement, this is what I have each of my apprentices do (and no, this isn’t in my book). I do this myself every now and again myself. One never stop learning after all!
Before I describe this, I want to offer one caveat. If you are going to do this, begin with Odin. He is Master of the Runes (Rúnatýr – God of the runes) and they are first and foremost His mysteries. Afterwards, next approach the Deity or Deities in turn to whom you are dedicated, Whom you would consider your fulltrui, Who hold the most significant place in your personal devotions. This is simply a matter of both protocol, and courtesy and respect.
Now, onto the exercise.
A). Make a list of the various Deities that you venerate or Whose insight you might be interested in gaining with respect to the runes. For instance, Odin, Frigga, Freya, Loki, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Heimdall, Mani, Sunna, Sinthgunt, Eir. (Make your own list, starting with Odin. This is just an example, though it’s close to the list one of my apprentices recently employed).
B). Each night, meditate upon and galdr the same rune, first making offerings to one of these Deities, and then to the rune itself. So, start with Fehu. Set up a working altar or shrine, some place where you can make offerings to the rune of the night and to whatever Deity you’re approaching. If you have a personal household shrine (and if you’re doing this, you should (3)), you can go ahead and use that. The first night, make an offering to Odin. Offer prayers to Him and ask Him if He would be willing to teach you something about fehu. Make an offering to fehu itself, asking it if it would work with Odin and teach you something about itself. Then galdr the rune, meditate on it, write down your insights. Thank the two powers, Deity and rune invoked, and you are done for the night. Work through your list of Deities meditating on the *same* rune. When you’re done, move on to the next rune and go through the list again in the same order.
What you’re essentially doing is building your own book of correspondences as you engage in this process. I would also repeat this, either approaching the same Deities or perhaps with a new list (though always begin with Odin. He is the doorway to the runes in many respects), every few months. Be polite when you approach both Powers. You are not after all, entitled to Their wisdom. As with anything, the more polite you are, the more productive this is likely to be. Even having worked with the runes for close to thirty years, I still keep this in mind every time I approach them. At the end of your list, or even somewhere in the middle of it, do one night where you do NOT approach a Deity, but work only through the rune itself.
I stumbled on this process of approaching various Deities like this accidentally. I was having a bit of trouble with something and struggling to figure out how to work the rune I had decided to call upon. Completely unexpectedly, Sigyn sorted it out giving me an unexpected bit of insight. I thought, ‘wait. You know runes?’ Now, I shouldn’t have been surprised – She is a Deity after all –but when we have deeply personal devotional relationships with our individual Gods, it can be easy to forget that They are well, Gods. It can be easy to think that we know Them as we might know a friend down the way. We may indeed know a little given that relationships are mutual processes, but no matter how much experience we have in devotion to a Deity, THEY are always so much more.
One of the things that I really like about this particular exercise also, is that it allows the one doing it the opportunity to approach Deities he or she may not have previously considered approaching. It allows for a potential devotional relationship to bloom. It gets one out of one’s comfort zone, away from the regular way of doing things and allows room for unexpected insights to occur.
There are things to consider when you are engaging in this process: how does the rune feel? When you galdr, do you get any images running through your mind, any words popping up wanting to be worked into the galdr, any other sensory expressions of its presence (and that may include taste and smell too)? How do you feel before, during, and after? Has your impression of the rune changed at all? Do your best to keep a good record of this. It is helpful when you’re going back to check your progress. Be sure to stay hydrated and maybe eat a little protein after your nightly sessions. I would also be sure to center and ground well afterwards.
Finally, the futhark tells a story. Each Aett (4) contains its own mysteries. It is normal that some runes will prove harder and more difficult to access than others. That’s ok, and the reverse is also true. Most will have one or two runes stepping forward as a guide through the futhark and through one’s work therein. When you encounter a rune that just won’t open, that’s ok. Be respectful, do your best, make your offerings and come back to it later. There are runes (for me, mostly in the third aett) that have taken years before they allowed me to so much as dip a toe into their mysteries. Again, as with so much spirit-work, you’re building a relationship. Part of the process of learning to work with runes is that they are learning your mental patterns, internal language, internal symbol set and you are learning something of theirs and the two of you are building this pidgin (is that the correct linguistic term?) by which you can communicate. You’re learning each other’s language and building a shared syllabary through which you can productively communicate. That’s going to take time. Some things cannot be rushed.
Before I close, I want to take a moment’s focus on the first aett. As with our sacred texts, there are numerous ways that one can approach and interpret the narratives that we’re given. Since there are numerous patterns in the way the runes relate to each other, one can tell many stories. While these stories are not direct engagement with the runic powers, they are a means of conceptualizing and learning from them. They are doorways into each rune’s power. Here is a very brief way of reading through the first aett connectively. Fehu is the luck that flows through our blood (ancestral luck, hamingja), vitality, wealth, abundance, power. Like a sap through a tree or chlorophyll through a leaf, it flows through our veins and the veins of our soul body giving it life – just like Loður gave us sense-awareness and color, and the roaring pulse of our heart’s blood when the Gods created humanity. Uruz is raw power, maegen, the ability to tap into, access, and use one’s luck. It is initiation that awakens us to the Powers, challenge by which we earn the right to use what we have been given. Thurisaz is a challenge to focus, to discipline, to hone and temper our power. It’s the hard work we do to strengthen our spiritual and ethical muscles. It is the force that shatters our illusions, clears us out, devours what no longer serves, frees one – sometimes violently – from constraints, burns like napalm in the soul until we order ourselves rightly and leave our bullshit behind. (Edited 3/7 to include ansuz, as I was writing with a migraine and accidentally left one of my favorite runes out). Ansuz is divine inspiration, ecstasy (in the classical religious sense), surety and confidence in the Work. It is the touch of the Gods, grace that allows us to persevere in our spiritual becoming even when it is hard. It is the opener of the way, that, if we are working to become rightly ordered, will show us the way forward. Raido is movement, momentum, overcoming of obstacles, the progress made when we accomplish the first three runic lessons and are rightly ordered with the Powers, and the power by which we may find our way through any obstacles in the way of that. Kenaz is the torch, the hearth fire, the offering fire, a candle on a shrine, the light of knowledge, piety, and devotion. It is that which we have been given to tend, to keep fed and bright and warm (our devotion, our traditions). Gebo is the process of exchange between us and the Holy powers, the law by which we are called to live our lives, the pious sensibility underlying every positively ordered engagement with the Powers, and with each other. Wunjo is the fulfillment of fehu, pleasure and ecstatic awareness of the powers, perfection and glory, joy and transformative power. It is the sum total of the other seven runes in this aett. One cannot access the fullness of wunjo, without first accessing and understanding these preceding runes. Wunjo is also the mead of inspiration, of frenzy, of magic, of inspiration on every possible level. How will you drink of it, how will it shape itself to your mind and talents? It will enliven you for the work to come with the next aett, which takes us down immediately into the place of the dead. This is the foundational work one must do in order to access the Mysteries, in order to be of use to our Gods, in order to become functionally realized human beings. It is ongoing work, and the runes can reflect that, though they are also so much more (5). I would also stress that this is only one way of lightly tapping into their insights.
I’ll wrap this up for now. As all rune work begins with Odin, so too should it end with praises to this God Who had the will to win them.
Hail to the God of the gallows,
Terrible and unrelenting.
Hail to the Wyrd-riven Wonder-worker,
Who leaves ecstasy in His wake.
Hail to the Bale-eyed Beguiler,
with His whispered charms
and savage conjurings.
Hail to the Lord of Asgard,
Architect of the Worlds
Who breathed us into Being,
Eternally let us praise Him.
- These are the nominative and genitive singular forms respectively.
- It goes without saying that the runes are a specialty, as well as being a Mystery all their own, and not only does one not have to work with the runes to be a good Heathen, but those who don’t already have their spiritual houses, i.e. their devotional world, in some semblance of order, should not work with them. They are tools of magic and divination and it becomes very complicated, very quickly.
- Really, if you don’t have the most basic devotional space set up and active in your home, you’re not ready to work with the runes no matter how far along you think you are.
- This word just refers to a set of eight. There are three sets of eight that make up the elder futhark.
- They are sentient, amoral, non-human spirits. They have their own agendas and are allied to the All-Father Who also has His agenda. It’s healthy to never forget that.
As a result of this conversation here, several people have made suggestions or emailed me asking what I keep for aftercare in my spiritwork “kit.” Everything, people. Everything Lol. I’m a friggin’ spiritworking boy scout. Seriously, I’m only half joking.
I keep a full first aid kit, with bandaids, bandages, antiseptic cream, etc. I keep burn cream (I do fire work so it makes sense to have prescription Silvadene cream. There’s nothing better and while I am very competent at my work, accidents can always happen).
I keep protein bars and chocolate, Excedrin, and rehydration salts. I also tend to carry a caffeine drink of some sort, and also charged water (you’ll need water of some sort for the rehydration salts). I carry bug spray because sometimes I’m working outside. Sometimes I throw in (chewable) pepto bismal, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Airborne chewables, a good multi-vitamin, and chewable Magnesium. I tend to take these as a matter of course, so I don’t always carry the vitamins with me, but rather keep them on my kitchen counter (except for the Airborne. That I carry in my kit always and take regularly). I also make sure that there is a dosage of all my prescription meds in my kit, just in case I need them. I’ve known some spirit-workers who like to carry Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic medicine, but, I myself do not use it.
Finally, I will carry a spray bottle of holy water or khernips. I buy the biggest spray bottle I can and fill it up before any job.
I carry more than this in my kit, but this is specifically what I carry for aftercare. As far as rehydration salts go, there is a very good brand called Liquid IV, that was recommended to me last year and I’ve had very good results with it.
Finally, I want to note that spirit-work and spiritual work are two different things. Spiritual work is what we do in our lives to cultivate devotion, to deal with our own BS, to heal ourselves, to make ourselves useful in our lives and to our gods. Spirit-work is what we do professionally. It’s a specialty, and it’s usually done on behalf of our Gods and spirits, our traditions, our community, and/or individual clients.
There is a system of divination extant in the Northern Tradition called the soul map. It’s a system of reading, usually done once a year (generally no more than twice a year) that opens up the various soul parts and allows the diviner to examine the state of each individually. Given that within our tradition the soul is divided into seventeen parts, this can be extremely useful. It provides one really good information on where one needs to work spiritually to better their lives and their devotional world. It helps one become spiritually healthy. It’s also one of the mysteries of the tradition. Because of that, there are some caveats, namely that it isn’t something one should practice unless A) one has been taught (and I really think this is something that needs to be taught face to face) and B) one is Heathen or Northern Tradition, and C) one is an experienced, very experienced diviner. I’m going to elaborate on C in just a moment. Before I do, I want to emphasize that this, even more than the runes (which will protect themselves if they’re not getting what they want) is a Mystery. This is not something to which outsiders are entitled, and it’s not something with which one should dabble. The danger in this system is one of the things you won’t know unless someone sits you down and shows you but oh boy, is it something one really needs to know.
This is a dangerous system, and it’s dangerous precisely because it takes one down hard and really, really fast into the wyrd. So the diviner will swim there for a while not realizing how deeply he or she has gone – because while one is reading, one feels fine. It’s only after one closes the reading and returns to mundane headspace that one will then realize how deeply one was plumbing the threads. If one is doing a single reading, this isn’t so bad. But, it’s easy to forget how rough this can be – because again, it doesn’t *feel* rough while one is reading – and then the diviner decides, “oh hey, sure. I can do three or four readings in one go” and then that diviner wakes up the next morning wishing he or she were dead. To be clear, nausea, massive headache, and feeling like one has been hit upside the back of the head (where there is a particular energy port) with a crowbar. Immediately after, because ancestors can come strongly during the reading, one can have chills, or fever, in addition to the blooming headache. It can lay a person out faster than any system I know.
I say this having gotten into a mood last night and done seven in one sitting. We do them every January and I’d been putting them off but I already had a minor headache and I was sort of nauseous from it so I thought, ‘what the hell? I feel like shit now, why not just go with it?’ Ironically, because I was aware of this and I’ve been a diviner for thirty years so I know how to pace myself, and most importantly, because my husband was horrified and gave me really good after care, I feel ok this morning. I should also say, I got more than 12 hours of solid sleep before sitting down to divine and I suspect it’s that which made up the difference.
My assistant, however, had not been so lucky. While I had warned her how dangerous soul map could be, she was taking notes for the readings and just peeking after I finished each reading (she’s learning how to do soul map, so this was a good opportunity to give her a chance to try her wings without the stress of being the primary diviner). She’s not doing so well right now. She thought because she wasn’t sitting directly at the mat she was safe from reaction sickness. She was wrong. To be fair, I thought the same thing. I was wrong too. The only reason she’s not praying for death right now, is that Sannion made us drink rehydration salts and eat protein immediately after the readings. We also took drugs and by drugs I mean aspirin, a lot of aspirin. I woke up very early this morning with the beginning of a migraine but managed to escape by taking the proper migraine medication (which my doctor prescribed because I get bad migraines) and hydrating again. I feel better than I have any right to after the amount of work we did last night. My assistant just described it as “someone put a pile of lead inside my head and I couldn’t get up this morning even when I really needed to and oh I hurt so bad.”
I would suggest being very well rested before starting this type of reading. As with any potential reaction headache (and I suspect part of this is that it screws up the electrolyte balance too. I always treat it as such and that helps so I’m going with it), drink hydration salts or Gatorade (hydration salts don’t have the sugar) immediately. Even if you don’t want to, do it. Same with food. I had eaten a huge plate of sushi before I did my seven readings and the protein probably helped me almost as much as the sleep. Eat afterwards, even if you don’t want to (one will generally crave sugar or protein, the latter is better). If you can stand it, have a little caffeine. Then do no other spiritual or energetic work. REST. I do this as a matter of course whenever I’m doing a lot of divination or spirit work, even if soul map isn’t involved.
Reaction headaches suck. They’re what happens when you go too deep, too quickly, when you take in more energy than your energetic channels can process, when you do too much at a given time, when you overwork your psychic channels. They can be worse than the worst migraine you can imagine.
It’s important that we have these practicum conversations. This is the real nuts and bolts of a practice, beyond the 101 stuff. So hit me with your questions. What do you, readers, want to know?
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.
A reader asked me recently asking whether or not it was really possible to experience the Gods through our senses, to have some type of direct engagement, where we sense, hear, or see the Holy Powers, what is called theophany (from two Greek words: φαίνω “to see” and θεοί “Gods” and meaning essentially to see or perceive the Gods). It was a very good question and forms, I think, one of the most difficult chasms to cross from 20th century post-modernism into actual devotion, and certainly to the type of devotion that informed the world of our ancestors. For our ancestors, including our medieval Christian ones, it was acknowledged that one might experience the Gods via the senses (how else would one experience Them? Our sensorium is the way that we experience every aspect of our world, after all) (1). They set up temples where one could go to pray for dreams, developed mystery cultus to allow for cathartic experience of the Powers, and worked this awareness into their philosophies and literature (2).
I will preface this by saying that I think everyone who experiences the Gods directly does so a little differently and that’s because our brains are not wired to take in something that inhuman and immense. The experience, the Being, the Presence gets filtered through our consciousness, so if person x sees but person y feels or hears that’s a matter of their own inborn facilities/predilections (some people learn better visually, some by hearing, etc.) and how their brain is processing the stimuli. One modality isn’t better than the other. Now onto the actual question!
One thing that I realized with this question is that I didn’t come to Heathenry or even to polytheism unprepared. I had a very good devotional upbringing. I was encouraged to pray, to do novenas, the idea of “God” being able and willing to engage with devotees was not a foreign one so I never self-censored there. I didn’t close that off, the idea that engagement was possible, but I think like a muscle one might work at the gym, the facility to sense the Gods was actively developed through years of prayer and meditation and later shrine work, devotional work, study, etc. Also putting myself in space where it was more likely such contact might occur didn’t hurt, and a couple of years of ritual work further developed that awareness.
I think many times the Gods show Themselves not through the raw impact of visions or direct theophany but through small graces, gifts given through the natural world or one’s daily life and that is potent and powerful too. Learning to see all things as sharing in that connection, that capacity for engagement is important because if we are always looking for the big explosion of Presence that overwhelms, we may miss the small whisper of grace that opens. Both are important and maybe, just maybe it’s the latter that prepares one for the former.
I’ve argued with other spirit workers about whether or not the capacity to experience theophany is part of one’s inborn psychic or spiritual wiring or whether it is something that can be developed through consistent prayer, meditation, and devotional work. I default to the latter and perhaps that is because I was a priest long before I became a spirit worker. It’s also though that I have seen ecstatic ritual move people away from the tightly locked down headspace of their daily lives and into receptivity toward the Gods. I also think that saying one can only experience the Gods directly if one has the inborn talent for it negates the agency of the Gods in this equation, and without that agency no one is going to be experiencing anything!
As a spiritworker I have to say, don’t be upset or discouraged if you don’t immediately receive the feedback of direct experience. You are having experience just by engaging in devotional work and there is far, far more merit in doing that work without the bold and obvious interaction/theophany/etc. than in doing it solely to receive that. Pray without expectation without preconception and you will be opening all the doors of your heart and senses to the glory of our Gods. Besides, theophanies usually come with work. The Gods are there and will usually meet us more than half way if we but start in whatever fumbling capacity we can down the road of devotion. In the end, that’s all that matters.
- Even in omens, prodigies and κληδόνες, the person receiving such a gift is experiencing that through their sensorium: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.
- One of my favorite passages in the latter is found in the Virgil works in a powerful description of a priestess of Apollo being possessed by Her God:
“But the prophetess, not yet able to endure Apollo, raves in the cavern,
swollen in stature, striving to throw off the God from her breast;
he all the more exercises her frenzied mouth, quelling her wild heart,
and fashions her by pressure.”
At, Phoebi nondum patiens, immanis in antro
bacchatur vates, magnum si pectore possit
excussisse deum; tanto magis ille fatigat
rabidum, fera corda domans, fingitque premendo.
Virgil’s Aeneid, 6 77-83.
I love this description of possession because it so aptly depicts the partnership required and, while it’s been awhile since I’ve read the Aeneid in Latin, I believe in at least one other place, it’s actually described with vocabulary that conjures up the horse and rider paradigm that is used in modern Afro-Caribbean religions to describe the process of Deity possession, a metaphor that many polytheistic traditions use as well.
Note that the word that is here translated as ‘raves’ is ‘bacchatur’ and means to ‘behave in a bacchic manner,’ i.e. to be taken over completely in divinely inspired ecstasy, possibly violent ecstasy. It may also be translated accurately as ‘rave’ or ‘rant’.
I could have translated ‘fingit’ more as ‘tames’ rather than ‘fashions’ though either is an accurate translation. (this isn’t my translation — I’m not sure whose translation this is, but I liked it. I would probably translate it this way: “But, not yet fully opening to Apollo (or enduring Apollo, or allowing Him in, but the sense is that Apollo has not yet seated Himself fully on the prophetess because she is instinctively resisting), immense (vast) in the cave she raves, trying to drive out the great God from her breast; He exhausts her mad fury, taming her wild heart, instructing her by seating Himself fully (this is one of the possible poetic meanings of premendo).
So, just looking at this quickly before I hit ‘post’, I could make several choices in the translation and I’d probably have a half page of footnotes lol.
Wynn recently asked, “Generically, what are the general requirements to handle sacral tools? Piety, cleanliness, and the ability to shield oneself from the tool/the tool from oneself?”
I love the way this question is phrased: “generically.” Why? Because the “requirements” will change depending on the Deity or Deities involved, the tool, the tradition, and even the person doing the handling (and their headspace, talents, etc.). The question also acknowledges that if there is an issue, that issue might just as easily be with the person handling the tool as with the tool itself. This too, is significant.
Now, I try to avoid handling my sacred tools indiscriminately. They are reserved for sacred work and as with all things that come into contact with the Holy, may carry that type of spiritual contamination. That’s an odd word to use with something holy, right? It is such a negative term in English but I don’t mean it to be so here. It simply is. When a person, place, or thing comes into contact with the Holy Powers in some way, I was taught that this effects an ontological change in that person, place, or thing. It changes them in a way that can affect others. As with any contact with the sacred, one should be prepared before that engagement.
This contamination carries over into spiritual technicians – spirit workers and shamans, orpheotelestai, etc. They carry the contagion of the holy. That’s a good thing, a renewing thing, but something that may have significant consequences as well. This is the first reason that a specialist’s sacred tools need to be carefully maintained and cared for (the second being simple respect for the Holy Powers). If someone is mentally or emotionally unbalanced, if they’re avoiding dealing with themselves, if they are going through a tumultuous patch, if they have hurts that they aren’t yet ready to examine…well, such contact as I was taught, can force the issue all by itself. It can destabilize, open everything up, force the addressing of things, and hopefully bring one through to the other side. This isn’t something a spiritworker, et al does consciously but rather a direct result of that sacred contamination. The goal of such a process is healing and coming into better, cleaner relationship with oneself and with the Holy Powers but I’ve seen it in action and it is … quite remarkable to see unfold. So, being picky about who might handle one’s tools is just a good best practice (1).
It’s important to recognize the sacred and its boundaries. That presupposes piety and respect, of course, but also an understanding of protocol and procedure and a willingness to follow it to the letter. Also, these are sacred tools (or regalia). They belong to the Gods and spirits in question and are used by the specialist. That warrants a bit of respect. They are extensions of the Holy Powers and Their sphere of influence, Their territory. That’s not something to mess about with lightly.
One thing to note as well is that you must be properly centered, grounded, and preferably shielded before you handle any of these tools. I have known people to become dizzy, nauseous, headachy, and even to slip deeply into an altered state just from being in physical proximity to a spiritworker’s tools and/or regalia. I make sure that my ground crew runs through these basic exercises thoroughly before we get to work for just this reason. I’d also have khernipsor Florida water, or some type of cleansing and purifying substance (2). It can help you, the spiritworker, and may be needed for the tool itself. I’d also recommend having silk gloves. I have found that silk insulates to a certain degree from these energies. I also keep organic linen on hand to wrap tools and regalia up in for the same purpose.
Energy is such a nebulous term in this context. When I use this word, what I mean is that through use, consecration, blessing, etc., the tools or regalia in question have become imbued with a tiny, infinitesimal rhythm/pulse/force/flow of the Deity’s Presence/power. As I noted above, it becomes an extension of Them, Their territory, Their sphere of influence (3). It is precisely for this reason that one cannot and should not treat sacred tools and regalia as one might regular clothing. Those things no longer belong solely to the practitioner.
So, when you are going to handle sacred tools, I would suggest praying, centering and grounding, and fully cleansing yourself first. This is good protocol for any ground crew. Remain mindful that you are dealing with sacred things and stay focused and you should be fine. This is part and parcel of what a ground crew does. After tending to the spiritworker, one of their main responsibilities is care for gear, tools, and regalia.
Aside from that, just being respectful and organized will go a long way.
- One thing that I have rarely seen or heard discussed as a spiritworker is what to do with sacred regalia and tools after one’s death. I strongly advise every spiritual technician to put in his or her will clear instructions detailing who should receive those things, or what should be done with them. This may take a significant amount of negotiation and divination on the spiritworker’s part before this can be clearly worked out but not doing so can be disastrous. The numen contained within working tools and regalia can make non-spiritworkers ill if they are unprepared for it. The last thing you want is your sacred regalia turning up at a yard sale after your death. You’re responsible for any harm incurred from that, because it is within your power to make appropriate plans while alive.
- Khernips is a type of holy water used for purification and cleansing in Greek polytheisms. It is easy to make: take good, clean water and a bay leaf. Light the bay leaf on fire and douse it in the water. I usually offer a prayer to Apollo asking that through this union of opposing forces, fire and water, mediated by earth (the leaf), this substance be granted the power to purify.
- The same might be said of the specialist. They too become extensions of the territory and sphere of influence of the Gods they serve while in active service.