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Riding the Wod

My husband introduced me to this piece of music today. I have it currently on my Dionysos play list because, for whatever reason, it puts me in headspace to honor Him. Today I think I played the Nirvana version something like fifty times as I painted, and it was like riding wod. A friend said to me today that she was always afraid that if she became an artist (and she is, oh her work is beautiful), she would not be able to call the talent forth at will, and one day inspiration might leave leaving her a “one hit wonder.” I assured her that there were so many ways, so many techniques, for opening oneself up to that inspiration, that creative frenzy, to wod. It was just a matter of learning them. One of the ways that I often use is music. 

When I played this today, a day where I could barely walk — literally I had to be lifted out of a chair I was in so much agony because of my back and hips–the pain no longer mattered and there was only frenzy and color and the sound of spirits calling. I painted two things, powerful things all because I rode the music into the place from which wod flows and that music opened me up (1) 

I can ride the wod when I’m doing spirit work for hours. My husband once cut me off  after about seven hours of engaging the spirits (he did right — I hadn’t realized I’d gone into a deeply altered state. He helped me come back and get grounded again with minimal after effects). I can only ride it for an hour or two when it’s painting though. It’s a slightly different hue, a different taste, a different variety and I don’t yet have the stamina. Plus, paint has to dry and practically, it’s like having a tattoo. There’s that moment that one has to pee, or the tattoo artist goes out to smoke, and there’s a break. and the adrenaline and endorphins go away. Then starting up again really sucks. So I’m more mindful now, of the flow and rhythm of things. Everything is rhythm. 

Enjoy this clip of Cobain playing a song that dates back to the early 1800s. 

Notes: 

1. And I never, EVER liked Nirvana before. It was 99.999999% because one of my teachers fell apart and abandoned all responsibility to her students and working group when Cobain died. She just couldn’t handle it and I didn’t understand it then. She didn’t  know him. Why was she so upset? Now I realize she was a guitarist, a musician, and he was a guiding force in her lineage. 

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 Brief Note on Grounding Practice

As part of the ongoing quest for discernment in our work, (1) one of the first exercises that I give my students is a duo: centering and grounding. These exercises do a number of things and not only are they one of the first things I teach students, but they’re the focus of their practice (along, of course with prayer and shrine work) for at least the first two years of training. 

Usually, I start with two breathing exercises. They’re easy. They don’t require any particular sensitivity to one’s internal energies, nor do they require the ability to visualize. You breathe in the right patterns and you will automatically center and ground. Eventually I teach a more complicated, mindful way of doing things, and then over those first two years gradually expand on the practice until the student is fully confident in his or her abilities and has a solid level of skills. 

One of the things that came up recently with one of my current students (2) is that centering and grounding aren’t just exercises one does. The scaffolding that is brought to life through these practices is part of the soul-skin, the hame. Like a physical muscle, it has to be used to be strengthened but just like a physical muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. It’s not just breathing or sending internal energy or thought or whatever to a particular place, it’s feeding and nourishing part of the soul-skin, part of the energetic body that is already there. Just as we bring air into the lungs and they inflate, so we send energy down into the root-matrix of our ground to keep it strong and resilient.

It’s easy to neglect these essential exercises if one thinks of them AS exercises only. They’re so much more though and they infuse part of the soul-skin with life and vitality and that adds strength, discernment, and resiliency to our practice. I tell my students to center and ground (3) multiple times throughout the day. One literally cannot do it too much. I’ve even noticed that if my ground is occluded in any significant way, it may hurt to ground – then I know I really need to practice more! Also, sometimes if the ground becomes clogged, I will get headaches or back aches. When I ground, miraculously they disappear (4). Our bodies are conduits for the energies with which we work and even if one is laity, one has a soul skin and can benefit from these very basic practices. Just realize that it’s not just a thing one does, but part of one’s etheric body, part of one’s soul skin and what we are doing when we ground is energize that part, strengthen it, and bring it to life. 

Notes:

  1. These exercises do a number of things, discernment is only the most important. For a spirit-worker, they lay the groundwork (no pun intended) for every single bit of magic or energy work or journey work one will do in one’s working life. They aid in gift-development, and in learning to control one’s sensitivities. You want to function well: fucking ground. 
  2. These students are spiritual not academic – I’m only talking about students that come to me for religious or spiritwork training here.
  3. Or ground and center – the order doesn’t really matter. Cognitively, I find centering first to make more sense but I’ve had students for whom the opposite order works better. Either is fine. 
  4. I am NOT saying every headache or back ache is due to a clogged grounding channel. I get migraines fairly frequently from injuries sustained when I danced. Grounding doesn’t solve these. There is, however, a specific type of headache/back ache that can happen as a result of a blocked ground. This is a particular type of pain and it is cleared up by grounding properly. 

OMFG

So, a friend just posted something that talks about his early magical training. He was taught that “magic can’t affect anyone who doesn’t give it permission, but that setting wards and putting up shields were a form of permission.” I don’t fault him for this; it’s what he was taught, but this teaching itself is not only flat out wrong, but it’s the type of bullshit that gets people hurt. 

Properly worked, one doesn’t need to believe in magic any more than one needs to believe in a bullet for the aforementioned weapon to cause harm. Shields and wards are not “permission,” but a hard line in the sand, protections against the harm that others might work, a manifestation of the magician’s consent and will. They also help if one is gifted in keeping out excessive external stimuli. To say that shielding/warding gives permission for magic to work on you is like saying that if a woman takes self-defense classes and learns to use a firearm, she is opening herself up to rape and assault. It’s like expecting that you must understand how medicine works in order for antibiotics to be effective. Really? REALLY? Just take the fucking pill. 

The only people who think that one needs to believe in magic or give permission for it to work are those who don’t understand how magic works, have no respect for the art, are utterly incompetent at it, are head blind, or those who don’t believe in evil – we shield and ward after all not just from magic but also from evil spirits of all sorts…OR it’s coming from those who don’t want you to have the proper protections to keep their own malefica out, those who want to keep you weak, to manipulate you, and to take advantage of you for their own power. Of course, it could be coming from weaklings afraid of power too—you know, the new age, prosperity gospel type who think the universe is a kind and loving hothouse created solely for their personal development– but either way, it’s a really dangerous level of delusion to walk into occult circles carrying, or, you know, the world in general. 

Q&A About Spirit-Worker Aftercare

Yesterday, one of my students asked me how to handle the spirit-work “hangover.” For those who do spirit-work, this is when you have had nothing alcoholic, but have done a ton of spirit work (especially where one’s wod is running hot and strong) and then wake up the next morning feeling like you’ve been hit by a freight train. This may include but is not limited to sore muscles, headache, dehydration, brain fog, general feeling of exhaustion even when one has slept well, inability to regulate body temperature, irritability, extreme sensitivity to taste/smell/sound/brightness, nausea and, if one has been dealing with a great deal of spiritual pollution, diarrhea (I think it’s the body’s way of getting rid of residue of spiritual pollution). They don’t all happen at once usually, though they can, and it varies by degree depending on the person, the Deities involved, and the type of work done. 

To some degree, this is just a part of the Work; BUT, one can mitigate this by good self-care before and after whatever spirit-work one is doing. Experience is also a strong mitigating factor. We learn how we work best, what we need for optimal performance and care, and also, like building a muscle, our capacity to handle wod also increases as we gain more practice and experience. All of these things contribute to longevity in the Work. 

One of the reasons I’ve started writing these “practicum” posts is that when I started out, there was almost nothing available. Those of my spirit-work generation had to cobble together information as we went, often by trial and error. I try to spare my students that and when I can, likewise my readers. I will also preface everything that follows by saying that I am not a doctor or a medical professional. You should always check with your doctor before adding a new vitamin or regimen to your regular self-care. What I write here is no substitute for competent medical care. I’m writing what I have learned based on my lived experience, shared exchanges with other spirit workers, and research. Your own mileage, as the saying goes, may vary. 

Firstly, spirit workers are dealing with raw power – like plugging into an electrical socket. That can leave one’s psychic channels raw until one develops a bit of endurance. Half the modifications a spirit-worker receives from his or her Deities are designed to help that person better carry and use that force, what we term wod. For me, when my wod rises, I become hot, really hot to the point that I can work outside in subzero temperatures in a t-shirt. That is, unless the dead are around me and then, no matter how warm the room, I become really, really cold. Remember what I said above: it depends in part on what Gods and spirits are around or participating in the Work? This is an example of just that. Learning to carry wod is just like building a physical muscle in that the more one experiences, practices, and works, the great that person’s capacity for handling wod with few side effects becomes. Few doesn’t mean that one will be 100% fine though afterwards. There can still be discomfort the next day (though I suspect spirit workers’ general disregard for their own self-care post Work contributes greatly to this). It’s a matter of degree. 

A few things to note: All the altered state work that spirit-workers do can cause neurological issues. (Again, not always, but it’s not rare either in our line of work). Journey work tends to weaken the immune system (no idea why but poll real spirit workers and you’d be surprised at how often this is an issue). Spirit work, especially when the wod is running high, can seriously screw with your serotonin levels. So, here is what I do afterwards to make sure that I can get up the next day and do it all again (or just function more prosaically for school). 

Firstly, it helps to have assistants or colleagues. If someone else is warding the space with prayer and power for instance, then the spirit worker can focus fully on whatever it is that needs to be done. (Just be sure that if you have the luxury of a partner, assistant, or colleague to ward for you in this way most of the time, that you also establish strict protocols for warding and protection when you must work alone). The one warding can also keep an eye on the spirit worker to make sure he or she doesn’t get dehydrated or overheated in summer, or hypothermic or frostbitten in winter (it’s entirely possible for the wod to be so strong, or the spirit worker so focused, that he or she might not know this is happening, this is all the more so if we’re working in the spirit realms while our bodies are here. One’s assistant can also make sure one eats and drinks after the Work. Often a spirit worker won’t want to do these things, even though we all know better than to skip it. A good assistant will force the issue. Most of my winter garb is heavy wool, which is a godsend in harsher temperatures. The only thing I tend to forgo (or more likely forget) is gloves and let me tell you, carrying an iron staff in twenty degree (Farenheit) or lower temperatures over ice and snow without gloves because you’ve been stupid and forgotten them, really, really sucks. 

Here’s what I do after a serious session of Work. Firstly, if I’ve been working out in the cold, I get hot tea. If I’ve been working out in the heat, I’ll drink rehydration salts (I like the brand Liquid IV and keep them in my kit). If I’ve been working inside, I go for something with caffeine. This latter is personal preference. I make sure to eat something high in protein (the night before a working I’ll have a meal slightly heavier in carbs but will also protein load the day of if I can). Often, because of the issues with serotonin, I’ll often crave chocolate after a Working, so I keep some in my kit. By the way, I will often drink rehydration salts before a particularly intense working just as a preventative.

I make sure that I’m warm (and if I have an assistant, I’ll make sure that he or she is taken care of properly in all of these ways as well. It’s a privilege to have an assistant – be it a colleague or a student that one has trained. I treat it as such, and my obligation is to make sure that this person is well taken care of after any working that we do. This is especially the case if one’s assistant is less experienced and therefore will naturally have less endurance but also less awareness of when he or she is reaching his/her limits. It’s not always apparent. If you have an assistant, you are responsible for them in all ways before, during, and after the Work). Often, I’ll put on a fleece vest to keep my core warm because when the woddissipates, I get really cold. In fact, I’ll make sure that I change out of my gear and garb immediately after the work is done and I get into comfortable, WARM, and totally mundane clothing, though I’ll tend to keep my head covered (cuts down on spirit-related stimuli). Changing out of ritual garb and gear helps with the psychological transition from work-headspace to mundane-headspace. I also take some time to center myself and make sure I’m still properly grounded. 

Once I’m in comfortable clothing and have drinkage, I’ll eat. Then, both the night of the work AND the next day I take the following (again, don’t just do this. Check with your doctor if you plan on something like this. I am not a medical professional): a good multi-vitamin, magnesium, extra vitamin D, B12 (most of this I take daily anyway), Emergen-C, Airborne gummies, and an iron supplement (I like Floradix iron and herbs liquid). I also take a serotonin booster called Genius Joy and a brain enhancer (I need all the help I can get lol) called Genius Mushrooms. Before I got to bed and again, when I first get up if my head hurts at all, I’ll usually take a dose of Excedrin or Advil (depends on if my head hurts or if I feel the type of joint pain that indicates I need an anti-inflammatory – def. check with your doctor about these two OTC medications. If I am really, really headachy, I’ll take my migraine medication rather than Excedrin).  I was dubious about the serotonin supplement, which I take daily, but I actually sleep well now, which is the first time in years that has been the case. I haven’t noticed any other effect except when I lay down to sleep, I actually almost immediately go to sleep, and I sleep deeply. That’s one of the supplements I tend to take daily now.

Because I have chronic pain issues, which can be exacerbated by spirit work, I also take my prescription medication, particularly muscle relaxant and pain killer. Do not skip your prescription meds when doing spirit work, people. If you think you might forget, set a reminder, or have your assistant or spouse or friend remind you. 

It is important to get a good night’s sleep after doing intense spirit-work and if you have to, I suggest taking a sleep aid like melatonin (just be warned: you can get some seriously funky dreams on this supplement. I don’t take it for that reason). The reason, even when exhausted, that it may be difficult to get to sleep after a major Working is that the mind is often flying all over the place. It takes time to decompress and bring one’s mental energies down to a dull roar. That’s normal, but unless you can afford to sleep in really late the next morning, force the issue. Take warm milk with honey, take melatonin if your doctor permits, do whatever you have to do to get your butt to sleep. 

I try to allow myself to sleep in the next day, though this is not always possible. Even if I don’t want to, I eat some protein. I make sure to run through all the basic centering and grounding exercises and I take it easy if I can. If I have to leave the house, I will wear protective charms and keep my head covered (very spiritually protective). Ideally though, I am able to rest most of the next day. The work really does teach one how to do it though, and the more experience one gets, the less downtime one needs. Still, there will always be those really intense workings that knock you on your butt. Getting into good self-care habits early on and never really allowing yourself to deviate from them too much, makes the whole process much easier down the line and by easier, I mean easier on you, the spirit worker and your body. 

Siberian Shaman doing his thing.

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A Brief Discussion of Spiritworker Taboos

In the comments section of my previous post, one of my readers asked a really good question about the taboos that spirit-workers often have, how they work, and why. It was such a good question that I decided to post it here separately, along with my response. 

Firstly, a word on terminology. When I use the term “taboo” in this context, I am referring to proscriptions (either positive or negative) upon some aspect of behavior that spirit-workers often experience from their Gods, spirits, or sometimes as a result of particular rules within a lineage. This may include things that cannot be done, worn, eaten, etc. or conversely, things that must be done, and even protocols that must be followed over and above what would fall on regular laity. (I’ve been known to refer to this latter category with the Irish term geasa, singular: geas, but that’s my personal usage having been exposed to the Irish terminology early on. Most of us just refer to them as “taboos”). That is not to say that specific Deities won’t have particular protocols that one must follow when approaching that Deity’s shrine (for instance, washing hands and anointing with khernips before approaching Apollo’s shrine, or women covering their heads when going to traditional Catholic mass – as random examples), but those protocols are universal to anyone approaching that Deity or that sacred space. They’re not a matter of X restriction or obligation being laid on Y person because that person is a spirit worker in service to Z Deity. Lay people do not usually have to worry about this type of thing, not in the compulsory way that spirit-workers will often experience, ALTHOUGH in many traditions a goodly portion of what a spiritworker does is sort out taboos for laity, so your mileage may vary—initiatory traditions, for instance, often have taboos for individual initiates as a matter of course. From here on out, I’m going to write from the perspective of a spiritworker who has mostly divined on the question of taboo for other spiritworkers. I hope that makes sense because this is actually the first time I’ve ever written about this in any depth, so I’ve never really had to parse it out like this before.  

I’ll also add, don’t be a stupid jackass and go looking for taboos. The Gods are ever more willing to give than we are to receive, and spirit workers who are just so certain that to be real, live spirit workers, they MUST have taboos are likely to find that the Gods listen and give rather unpleasant, or at least inconvenient ones. You’ve done it to yourselves, people. Just let the work teach you and lead you where you need to go and listen to the advice of your elders. 

So, in my previous post, David asked: “I guess I’m asking- if one has them, what type of taboos are they? What governs the practice- by what gnosis? Lineage? I guess I’d just like an overview of how that works. Thank you.”

All good questions but difficult to answer because there’s no set way this happens. It’s not formulaic. Every real spirit worker that I know has a passel of taboos, some large, some small but there’s no rhyme or reason to it that we ourselves know even amongst those owned by the same Deity (though, of course, I am fully convinced that the Gods have a plan there and it makes perfect sense to Them–we just can’t see it). In fact, two people owned by the same Deity can have precisely opposite taboos. There’s no telling when or if one will get them either. Someone may end up getting hit within their first few months of service, others only after years, and some lucky devils not at all. 

I want to emphasize again that with certain practices, or certain Deities, or certain shrines, traditions may teach that there is a protocol to be followed by everyone. That is not a taboo. That is just part of pious respect. 

Now, with taboos, often a spirit worker can sort of feel them coming on. One will start to have an adverse reaction to certain fabrics or foods, for instance, when no medical allergy exists. Sometimes something will just start to feel really, really wrong. That’s usually the point at which the spirit worker will consult one of her tradition’s diviners to find out what’s going on (or more likely avoid it as long as possible in the hopes you are wrong. This does not work by the way. Lol). Often taboos will be given to a spirit worker to help sort out a problem that the spirit worker is having. Maybe a spirit worker is having problems with his Gods, and this is a means of rectifying that. In the negative, perhaps a spiritworker has abused a privilege and the taboo is the corrective. More usually, it’s a neutral thing that happens as a result of the various changes and modifications that spiritwork brings about in a person. Sannion noted in a conversation we had, that it’s not always a negative response to something that is the first sign a taboo is coming on; sometimes one can have a deep attraction to things that end up then becoming taboos. He’s right, and I’ve certainly experienced that myself. 

I do think that taboos are meant to strengthen the spirit worker in some way, or his/her connection to his/her cadre of Holy Powers. We always end up having to discourage “baby” (new) spirit workers from seeking out taboos or pretending, in their enthusiasm, that they have them, or copying another spirit worker. Just stop. Having them doesn’t make you a better spiritworker. It doesn’t make you more legitimate. It’s just a byproduct sometimes of the Work. It’s certainly not something to seek. They’ll come if they come and if you pretend, you might get hit with one hard and fast that you don’t like. It’s not like we get to choose them after all and often they’re damned inconvenient. 

Food and clothing taboos seem, as far as I can tell, to be the most common. I also think there’s some aspect of “othering” to certain taboos – that the spirit worker is meant to stand out as a carrier of the holy and we see this in anthropological accounts of “shamans” quite a bit. It’s interesting but I haven’t made a study of it. I just cuss when I realize I’ve had a new taboo dropped on my head. Often, quite often, taboos can be about protection too and ritual purity — an awful lot of mine have to do with avoiding miasma. 

 Some taboos come with lineage. So, if one is initiated to a particular Deity, and certain patterns occur during the divination thereafter, then xyz taboos are laid as a matter of course. Sometimes, a spirit worker will receive a taboo via theophany or more often personal gnosis. (A spirit worker will be told directly by one’s Gods and/or spirits). I even actually inherited one from my late mom. It’s funny, when I’m divining for someone, and that person is a spirit worker who asks about whether or not he or she has a taboo, unless that person is starting to experience the aforementioned dis/comfort, I’ll caution them NOT to ask. (Better to ask forgiveness than permission…once it comes up on the mat, one is obligated). Taboos can change over the course of one’s life and Work. For many years, I had a specific taboo, but then about fifteen years ago, after a major initiatory cycle, that completely changed. I freaked, but a ton of divination and also prayer and discernment confirmed that the original was no longer needed. 

 I want to emphasize that there’s no virtue in having a religious taboo. There’s no virtue in being free of taboo. It’s just a thing that sometimes happens in our formation as spirit workers that, in some way, helps us. My colleague Tove just said that “sometimes, it illuminates a path that we’re on as spirit worker with more clarity than we otherwise would have had.” I have found that to absolutely be true. She also added, “they [taboos] can also be an expression of the voice of our Deities too, especially our primary Deity.”  

I can’t think of anything else to say on the matter. If y’all have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments. 

Beautiful Things for Our Gods and Dead

My housemate Tatyana is working on a beautiful project for both her ancestors and her Gods, particularly the Goddess Freya. She’s Ukrainian and if you look at traditional Ukrainian garb, you may notice beautiful, multi-tiered necklaces, often with pendants attached (1). Traditionally, these beaded strands were given to girls at key moments in their lives, a strand being added for each significant point of transition.  They are then passed down the generations. She told me that while most of the necklaces were made of red beads, white necklaces could be given at marriage and then passed down from mother to daughter (2). Tatyana is a spirit worker and a gyðja (priest) in training and almost two years ago, via divination, Freya directed her to make two necklaces, one white and one red. She‘s almost finished with the white one, and it is stunning. When I saw it today, I asked her permission to write about it here, which she graciously gave. 

Tatyana’s necklace, not quite, but nearly done.

The beads are Siberian reindeer bone. Each pendant represents a particular Deity, ancestor, or group thereof, to whom she pays homage. A great deal of divination went into determining which Deities should be included, and what type of pendant Each of Them wanted, and whether each particular God or spirit should be on the white necklace or the red (this latter is not pictured here). There was divination throughout every single step and then some—I know, becuase I was the diviner for some of it! Each pendant has been carefully chosen and most of them have been handmade just for Tatyana, often from amber, sometimes from gold. It‘s been an expensive project and she has made a lot of personal sacrifices in order to be able to afford it, stretching it out over months and months for the same reason, and it has taken a very long time to get it just right. All of this is in love and devotion to Freyja. All of this is a pouring out of her love for her Gods into this piece that will be a useful tool in her work for the rest of her life. 

In our particular tradition, one of the first serious tools that spiritworkers receive are necklaces marking their committment to their sacred Work, and delineating that work. For me, that happened when I was midway through my ordeal cycle years and years ago. I received three, one marking my job as a diviner, one marking my ordeal cycle and my work as a vitki, and one for my work – which I didn‘t know i‘d be doing at the time—as an ancestor worker. Like Tatyana, I made them myself. 

In my father‘s Lithuanian culture, instead of necklaces, it‘s woven sashes (3). I don‘t know how to weave them, but I‘ve contacted several artists in Lithuania who make them and I have several that I use in my own spiritual work. They were traditionally made by young women and given as gifts at moments of transition. For instance, when Tatyana joined our religious House, I gave her one to welcome her and to mark the occasion. 

Lithuanian woven sash — this one is actually the one I gifted to Tatyana upon her moving into the House.

It doesn’t matter where you come from. Anyone may honor the Gods. Anyone, provided they are willing to be respectful and pious, may venerate our Gods. Likewise, we all have ancestors and it doesn’t matter from where those ancestors come. The important thing is to honor them because they are our foundation and strength. One thing I’ve learned through my own work, through seeing Tatyana’s work is that the practices that come from our ancestral cultures might just weave their way into our spiritual work, bridging the space between living and dead, past and present, ancestors, Gods, and us too.  I see it as a microcosm of Brisingamen, enfolding us in Their protection, and of Bifrost connecting us now and always throughout the Worlds. 

Notes: 

  1. Called дукачь – dukach’, which I think is etymologically related to the 14th century French word for particular type of coin: ducat.
  2. She told me that often you’ll see a young woman wearing one white strand and then the rest of the necklace is red. I wonder if it was a case of a mother having more than one daughter and parceling out the gift of her own wedding necklace, one strand to each daughter. 
  3. I’m a mutt. My dad is 99% Lithuanian with a bit of Russian in there. My maternal side is Swiss, German, Scots-Irish (Hannay Clan! ^_^), Huguenot, and English – mostly Swiss and German. My adopted mom was Swiss and Venezuelan, with a bit of Spanish. My sister is half-Korean. My husband is Italian with a smidge of Welsh and fully half Blackfoot Native. I include all of these lines on my ancestor shrine because they too are my family. It’s a beautiful mix and I love it all. Because I grew up around my maternal family, that has had the largest influence on me, but the past couple of years I’ve been drawn more closely to my Lithuanian line. I write more about my genealogy at my other blog, though be warned, I don’t update it often. 

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. 

Maybe wildhunt.org needs an exorcism >_<

I’m used to reading utter crap from wildhunt.org. They don’t represent polytheism, and they certainly don’t present anything approximating useful viewpoints for our community. At this rate, for the last couple of years they’ve been, more and more, a leftist propaganda machine. C’est la vie. Shit does flow downhill after all. I rarely read something there, however, that is as fucked up as their recently article on Catholic exorcisms. 

Firstly, the article mocks the practice of exorcism equating it with child abuse, FGM, and superstition. Secondly, they allowed the claim – and it has thus far gone unchallenged – that Jesus invented exorcism. No, he did not. Polytheistic traditions were performing exorcisms, purifications, and banishings for millennia before the Christ movement ever happened. But then, we’re not neo-Pagan. We actually respect our theologies and traditions (looking at you, Patheos). 

The issue we should have with Catholics doing this is that they retranslated the rite of exorcism. Why re-work a ritual that functions just fine? Moreover, why have it translated and amended by people who are not themselves exorcists and who cannot, therefore, gauge the efficacy of their needless emendations? I want more information on the translation process and who was involved.

Our world is filled with supernatural evil and pollution. We, human beings, who are no longer raised to cultivate virtue within themselves, let it in. Yes, there’s human malignancy but there’s also shit that goes well beyond that. Our polytheistic ancestors understood that. They understood that there are malefic forces aligned against the sacred and holy architecture that the Gods have created, and that if we venerate and love those Gods, then the corollary is that we stand against that evil, against that which would destroy and corrupt the order and beauty of Their divine creation. We don’t fucking help it along. 

These rituals and techniques were given to us by the Gods to combat those malevolent spirits and exorcists, a very rare and sacred calling (and dangerous as hell) are the first line of defense, the shock troops, that go in and clean up when we do not hold the line and when we fuck up. 

Paganism may be ‘do as you please’ these days. Polytheism isn’t. If the Catholic church is seeing a rise in exorcisms, I’m not surprised.  Our world is burning. Forces of evil are running rampant, hiding behind movements and counter movements and attempts to abolish and transgress all social norms. Even what is good in and of itself can be twisted and corrupted under its influence. This crosses all religious boundaries. 

Instead of bitching and whining and mocking those who hold to their traditions of exorcism, we should be praying for their success. 

Here is a prayer I say weekly (I stole it and reworked it from the Catholics because I liked it and found it effective. Gods know, they stole enough from us. Turnabout is fair play). I encourage any and all of you reading this to write your own prayers in the same vein. Feel free to share them here. But pray, pray fervently as if your life and spiritual welfare depends upon it because maybe, just maybe it does. 

Prayer for Priests and specialists

Oh, great good and immortal Gods, look upon our world and have pity upon Thy priests, spirit-workers, exorcists, specialists, and shamans (insert whatever groups of specialists you wish here). Oh, Compassionate Gods, remember that they are but weak and frail human beings. Stir up in them the grace of their vocation. Set them on fire with love and devotion to You. Keep them close, lest the enemy prevail against them. Grant that they may never betray, subvert , or shame their vocation. Keep them clean, oh great and merciful Gods. 

I pray to all Good Gods for Thy faithful and fervent priests, spiritworkers, exorcists, and specialists –for those unfaithful and tepid, for those laboring hard, for those tempted, for those lonely and desolate, for the young ones, the aged ones, the sick ones, the dying ones, and all the souls of priests, spiritworkers, exorcists, and speicalists who have died. I pray for those facing initiation. I pray for those facing spiritual combat. I pray for all who serve. May they prevail and come out transformed by the Gods. Keep them clean. 

Inspire them, oh Eternal Gods. Look with love upon them. Fill them with burning zeal for their vocations. Shelter them under Thy protection. Keep unstained their anointed hands. Keep unsullied their lips. Keep pure their hearts. Let Thy love and care protect them from contagion. Bless their labors with abundant fruit, and may they endure. May those to whom they minister be likewise fruitful in their devotions. May the laity who seek the Gods understand and undertake clean service. May they support their clergy and specialists.  May they be sustained in their love of the Holy Ones. May they be protected and likewise nourished. 

Please hear my prayer, oh good and glorious Gods. Please hear my prayer. 

10 Movie Recommendations for Polytheists and Spiritworkers

The two (Polytheists and Spiritworkers) are not the same thing, I know, but I’ve had a couple of requests lately on both fronts for good movie recommendations and after my initial response of “Good friggin’ luck,” I realized I do have a shelf of movies that I often recommend to students so I’ll give that to y’all here with the caveat that it’s hardly a full list, and my taste runs toward the macabre. It goes without saying, parents, watch these first on your own before letting your kids watch them. Many of them probably aren’t appropriate for small children.

 

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crowCROW (2016)

This is NOT the movie with Brandon Lee nor in any way affiliated with that franchise. It’s an independent film that takes place in the Welsh countryside. The Morrigan, though unnamed as such, casts a strong shadow throughout the movie as does the God Bran and it shows what it means to have a contract with the land and what constitutes appropriate justice when one breaks such a contract. It also really, really shows what it’s like for some spiritworkers. It’s a brilliant movie and we couldn’t believe it as we were watching it. It wasquite an unexpected find.  Plus it has Terence Stamp in one of the most awesome outfits ever.

 

 

 

door_in_the_woodsThe Door in the Woods

Heh. This is such a creepy movie. Firstly, the spirit-worker figure is deaf, which is fascinating as it plays into the way he hears spirits and communicates with them and I really liked that a lot. He’s also pragmatic in a very uncomfortable way and the whole movie shows that sometimes you have to bargain with spirits in ways that forever color the soul. There is no good ending in this one, but the best possible ending capable of being negotiated by the spiritworker. Definitely worth a watch. Again, it shows a reality of the Work with spirits sometimes people want to ignore.

 

 

 

wicker_manThe Wicker Man (original only)

I find this is a beautifully compelling movie. It’s about sacrifice and devotion and doing right by the land and a community. It’s probably my favorite movie, hands down, on this list. I won’t say more than that (though I’d be surprised if most of you haven’t already watched it. This one is well known). It’s a polytheist rather than spiritworker recommendation. To avoid confusion, you want the version with Christopher Lee, not Nicholas Cage.

 

 

 

 

sorceressThe Sorceress (1987)

In French with English subtitles, this movie is based on an extant account of the medieval cultus of St. Guinefort, a cultus that survived, I believe until WWI when tanks leveled the saint’s holy spots. The cultus was extremely Pagan and animist, and quite probably a hold-over from pre-Christian practice. Attempts to curb it, however, were largely unsuccessful. There’s also a fascinating book, The Holy Greyhound by J. Schmidtt about this cultus too. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

boys_in_treesBoys in the Trees

This is a strange and haunting movie. I started watching it one night after my husband went to bed and then 20 minutes in dragged him down to watch it because the Dionysian echoes were just far, far too strong. This is about the dead and debt, and pain and revelation, and most of all liberation and art.

 

 

 

 

 

odd_thomasOdd Thomas

A strange but very kind young man sees monsters and sometimes fights them. Again, this one is a good spirit-worker movie, though not necessarily of any relevance to polytheists. It’s a heart-wrenching performance by the late Anton Yelchin.

 

 

 

 

 

cocoCoco

This one is awesome for adults AND children. It’s all about honoring the dead and doing right by them. I have seen this at least half a dozen times and cry every damned time. It’s a beautiful movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

kill_giantsI Kill Giants

What do you do if you’re a child, a spirit worker, and very gifted? What do you do if you’re obviously being called to service by Thor? While I thought the very ending puttered out a bit, backing away from the reality of spiritwork in favor of “normal” (why, why, WHY?), up until that point, it is an absolutely brilliant movie with a fierce young female protagonist.

 

 

 

 

 

the_cellThe Cell

I hated this movie the first time I watched it. It wasn’t until over a decade later, after having been a spiritworker for many, many years, that I sat down and watched it again and realized that it was all about knowing your inner landscape and claiming power – both things spiritworkers are required to do no matter the cost. It’s also a visually stunning film.

 

 

 

 

 

inkINK

I’ve saved one of the best for last. This is a movie about a magician and wyrd-worker. It presents spiritual reality with an overlay of sci-fi/fantasy but the inherent principles and message it tells about the consequences of choice are terribly important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, there you are, that’s my list. Of course, While this was meant to be a list of the top 10  films, I have to also mention two entries more familiar to Northern Tradition polytheists. I adore the 13th Warrior  with Antonio Banderas, the film creates an original story loosely inspired by sources such as Beowulf, and selections from Ibn Fadlan‘s journey among the Viking Rus. And of course the more recently buzzed about Midsommar (which I reviewed last summer here). Enjoy!

What are some of your favorites?