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Mantras, Malas and the Witch's Ladder
If you keep any kind of regular spiritual practice over a long period of time, you'll find that you can hit a wall. The tried and true technique just doesn't do it for you like it once did. In my experience its not so much that the technique is at fault, or that you are at fault, as you've been sincerely using it as a part of your practice with regular frequency, but that you've hit a plateau or even made a permanent shift.
If you are going strong enough, our spiritual practice can open us to new levels of consciousness. Our first experience with these levels is a “peak” experience. When you enter into this peak often enough, it starts to level out and become a more regular normal level for us, creating a plateau of consciousness. When you maintain this plateau for a period of time and use it as a base to establish new peaks, you are making a permanent shift of consciousness.
Initiations are designed to trigger such permanent shifts, often by linking you to a lineage of energy that contains those who have made such shifts. Initiations of life can create the circumstances to grow spiritually and make the changes as well. But regular practice, often a slower path, can also make similar shifts. Initiatory maps, such as the Tree of Life as depicted in modern Qabalistic magick, can help us see where we are, where we were and where we might be going.
My own practice is deeply based in Western occultism, and the ceremonial and visionary parthworking techniques found in Western magick. And with that, I can reach a point where I hit this perceived “wall” in my progression. One of the solutions I've found is to swing from the West to the East, in technique, if not theology and paradigm.
When I'm stuck, I'm often processing something and the place where my process is most intense, but also most difficult, is in the mental body. Thoughts go round and round and much of my energy is spent in stilling the mind to focus on my practice. Eastern techniques of mantra meditation, a repetition of a sacred sound internally, or externally, helps not only focus, but there is a belief that the words themselves have a corresponding power to planets, deities and magickal forces, and can bend and shape your inner consciousness, as well as shift the outer reality manifested from your inner consciousness.
The use of such repeated prayers, often counted on a strand of beads, is not exclusive to the eastern traditions. In researching and writing my latest book, Buddha, Christ, Merlin: Three Wise Men for Our Age, I was constantly reminded of the similarities between mystical traditions. We most often think of mantras as Hindu, with the use of prayer beads known as Mala Beads, usually a strand of 108 or 109 beads. The number of main nadis, or energy pathways from the chakras of Vedic spiritual anatomy, is said to be 108, so when you chant something that number of times, you are placing the energy within all the pathways.
The practice was imported all over the east, and most notably in Tibet, where Tibetan Buddhism uses a different main script and language (not Sanskrit), and a different spiritual anatomy, but still uses mala beads and many similar mantras and variations thereof. Christian traditions have their own version, particularly through the use of the Rosary. Many modern traditions of Christianity find praying the Rosary, with its important to Mother Mary, far too Pagan, though I find it one of the most refreshing and uplifting things in Christianity, and still have fond memories of making little plastic Rosary Beads in grammar school and praying the Rosary.
A little known and used practice is found in the Pagan and Witchcraft traditions. It is known as a Witch's Ladder. The lore varies around it, with an entry in Rosemary Ellen Guiley's Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft stating they were braided cords of forty knots, while Raven Grimassi, in The Witches' Craft, shares a traditional technique of a thirteen knot Witch's Ladder made on each full Moon, with black hen feathers. In my own Temple of Witchcraft teachings, we made a nineteen knot charm ladder in the High Priest/ess training of the fifth degree, one for each of the lessons.
I know many a modern Witch with a love and devotion to eastern gods, such as Kali, Lakshmi or Quan Yin, and have incorporated work with mantra on either traditional mala beads or upon the Witch's ladder. A favorite among devotees of the dark goddesses and gods are the use of bone skull malas. I have two sets I use in my own work, one from India and the other from Nepal.
The use of dedicated mantra for a period of time not only switches up your practice and gives you something new to focus on, it can help the western practitioner get out of the internal dialogue of the mind when traditional techniques are not working well. Like exercise, sometimes we need to switch it up to force our psychic “muscles” to adapt and grow in new ways. The same old routine will often stop giving results. If you've been doing weight lifting for a while, do yoga for a bit, or bike. Similar spiritual shifts in practice can yield equivalent spiritual results, as long as we are not just hoping from one thing to the next. Each of the exercises, physical or spiritual, can yield certain abilities if you stick with them for a prescribed amount of time. For mantra work, the suggested time is forty days.
In my own practice, I've worked with Tibetan, Hindu and Kundalini Yoga mantras. Some mantras I have found useful include:
Om Mani Padme Hung – the traditional “Jewel in the Lotus” mantra of Tibetan Buddhism.
Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha - a mantra to the elephant god Ganesha, to remove obstacles. Excellent if you are feeling stuck in your life or practice.
Om Shrim Klim Maha Lakshmiyei Namaha – a mantra to the goddess Lakshmi to bring prosperity and blessings.
Ong Namo Gura Dev Namo – A Kundalini Yoga mantra to connect you to the golden chain of wisdom.
Gobinde, Mukunde, Udare, Apare, Haring, Karing, Nirname, Akame – A Kundalini Yoga mantra to commune with the divine as “Sustainer, liberator, enlightener, infinite, destroyer, creator, nameless, desireless". It opens the heart to the infinite.
I have also found a traditional “rune” found in the Gardnerian Wicca tradition, the Bahgai Rune, a chant for power attributed to the Basque Witches, a powerful technique and use it in place of the “Barbarous Words” in my own ceremonial style rituals.
Bagahi laca bachahe Bah-GAH-hee LAH-ka BAH-khah-hey
Lamac cahi achabahe Lah-Mahk kah-HEE ah-KHAH-bah-hey
Lamac lamec bachalyos La-Mahk lah-Mekh bah-KHAH-lee-ohs
Cabahagi sabalyos Kah-BAH-hah-Gee sah-BAH-lee-ohs
Lagozatha cabyolas Lah-Goh-zah-THAH kah-BEE-oh-lahs
Samahac et famyolas Sah-MAH-HAHK EHT fah-MEE-oh-lahs
The phonetic spelling is from The Goodly Spellbook: Old Spells for Modern Problems by Lady Passion and *Diuvei. More information on using the Baghai Rune in other contexts can be found in both The Temple of High Witchcraft and The Gates of Witchcraft.
So if you are in that place of being stuck, pick a mantra that suits your own intentions at this time. Utube can be an amazing source to hear the mantras in action by practitioners and find a pronunciation, pace and pattern that works for you. I also recommend the books of Thomas Ashley-Farrand, such as Healing Mantras. His work is primarily based upon the Vedic mantras of India, but he also compares them to other cultures and traditions. Then set a time to work it into your practice, or make it the primary practice for forty days. Even if you don't notice any significant change, when you go back to your root practices, you might find a freshness, development and evolution that was not possible without the break and mantra work.
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