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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 Sneak Peak – exclusive for my readers. :)

Sannion is working on a new book but he’s not been posting any previews. This morning, however, I talked him into letting me share this one, based on what happened in our hof last weekend. I cannot wait for the whole book to be out!

 Something to Sing About

by H. Jeremiah Lewis

I’m perched on the edge of my seat,
my whole body rocking to the rhythm
of the drum as the apprentice of the Vitki
cleanses pollution and bad vibrations
from the room, while another sings
an Anglo-Saxon fire song,
circumambulating with a beeswax
pillar candle on a red and black plate.
I can see the face of world-breaking Loki
dancing in the flame,
and behind the apprentice,
as he winds serpentwise round the shrines
burning away the dross in the air,
a legion of those who fell in defense
of their blood and soil and ancestral traditions
against the encroachments of the giant
tyrant Charlemagne, stand at his back
lending their potency to his words and deeds.
Another passes by, sprinkling everything with
ivy-leaf chernips – everything including
the husband of the Vitki, who growls
wolfishly and shakes his head
when the holy drops splash him.
The girl smiles and rushes to finish the room,
as he goes back to chanting, “Nothing can be
so firmly bound – by illness, by wrath or by fortune –
that cannot be released by the Lord Dionysos,”
and shakes a femur rattle.
The Vitki is not home.
Oh, her body is standing right there
before all of them, savagely beautiful
with shaved head, white
ash upon her face and Runes inscribed
in red ochre, blue and silver
Evil Eye charms dangling from her ears,
white shirt, black pants and a red belt
strung with bells and charms,
amulets and chaplets,
and a hand-forged blót knife
sheathed at her side.
She is pacing about like a brooding,
impatient bear who has a hell of a lot to say
and there’s a set of knucklebones,
a pad of paper, and a pen
just sitting right there on the table
waiting for him, so let’s get to it.
Oh fuck. Odin’s not just making a direct call
– he’s here, in the flesh so to speak.
The Vitki’s husband is already shooing
the apprentices out of the room, drilling
them on what will need to be done
by way of aftercare. This is a spontaneous
possession, with no time for prep.
And Odin enters rough.
I sit on the floor facing him,
give a respectful nod,
and prepare to act as sacred scribe,
as I have so many times,
and for so many mediums before.
His voice, when it comes, is crabby
and cold like the gnarled branch
of a cemetery tree after an overlong winter,
like an old man who deals in philtres,
herblore, abortions, bindings and unbindings,
does strange things with animal bits
and has suffered much to come
by his dark knowledge.
Most of all he is like something
that has gone mad on the battlefield,
and stopped being entirely human.
It was an effort to maintain eye-contact
with him as he didn’t quite sing
and didn’t quite speak
and didn’t quite caw
or furiously roar
or rant or rage
with the voice that remade
the raw viscera of his father’s corpse
into the ordered world we inhabit
– but it wasn’t not like all of that either.
No matter how experienced you are
it is always fucking nuts sitting
face to face with your Gods.
Especially when they have as much to say
as Odin did that night.
And also, he was pissed
– like p-i-s-s-e-d pissed –
especially when a little black ant
scuttled into view.
He leaned down and galdered at it.
Odin’s voice was terrible,
violent, mad, like
the shriek of a sword
or a beast’s claws
scratching at the door
– and the creature withered up on the spot.
I knew more was going on behind the curtain,
so I closed my eyes and there in the dark
stood Odin the Slaughterer, Gallows Meat,
the King upon his Mound, Storm-Bringer,
and Warlord.
He held his spear up in greeting
and dangling from it was the corpse
of a thing that looked like an ant
but was the size of a large dog.
It did not always look that way
– we had seen its various forms
over the last couple weeks,
in our restless sleep,
as shadowy movement
out of the corner our eyes,
as the smell of shit and random spikes
in anxiety, depression and surliness
for no discernible reason,
and once as a nag with no head
standing in the mist beyond our yard.
Before I could express my gratitude
I was snapped back to myself by the Vitki
who was seething and singing
how the Runes were revealed
on the wind-swept Tree,
and I oathed to the Old Man
right there on the spot
that I would make poetry of the story
to thank him for protecting
the members of our household,
who are dearer to me than my birth family.
And so I have. I pray, Lord, may I, my Vitki
and our apprentices be always
safe, secure, prepared and immune
to the snares and attacks of our foes
in this and the other worlds,
so that our household may be
a welcoming place for you
and the Gods and Spirits
who stand with you always,
with plentiful offerings,
everflowing libations,
and acts of worship beyond counting
to please your hearts.