A few times in my life I’ve been gifted with untreatable pain and now is one of them. These days I’m lying awake at night, unable to find a tolerable position, obsessing about what is wrong with me and how it might be getting worse. Promising to fix myself tomorrow with better diet, more meditation, increased self-awareness—bemoaning whatever failure of self-care led to the problem in the first place. Unable to concentrate during the day, experimenting with various combinations of food, drink and drugs to escape sensations that continue to demand my attention. Forced to acknowledge that I am getting older, decaying in my own skin. Fretting about how this makes me less of a companion, less of a teacher, less of a person.
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Specific paths such as Heathenism, blended traditions, polytheist reconstructionism, etc.
When I first started on my pagan journey I was presented with the Wheel of the Year and it seemed most pagans worked with it. I spent ages trying to remember the dates and learn the names and correspondences, even to this day I have to stop and think about it when trying to recall what is what!
I also started dressing my altar for each sabbat and looking up all the correct colours, herbs and associations to know what to put on it. But I have to admit I started to lapse and I realised that I wasn’t connecting with the celebrations and what I was doing was just a mechanical action because I thought I had to....
A yellow rose bloomed on my red rose bush. One year ago today, April 1st, 2015, Loki and Sigyn sent me this message. Roses are usually associated with Freya, but it was Loki's Day in my particular branch of heathenry. In the traditional Language of Flowers, yellow roses mean friendship. I took this as a message of friendship from Sigyn.
Over the previous year, I had struggled with reconnecting with her, and she had worked hard to keep giving me signs of approval (mostly in the form of butterflies) and help me reconnect with her after I partly lost the connection (I'll post more about that when I return to telling the story of my journey chronologically.) I've reconnected since then, but I will always treasure this memory. I dried the petals of this yellow rose and put it in my Spiritual Souvenir wall shrine....
Last Sunday I was invited to lead a prayer at a benefit for Syrian refugees. It was sort of a Pagan-ish prayer, since the audience wasn't Pagan and I wanted it to be relatable. Feel free to use it for your priestessing in non-Pagan situations, or simply as a template for your own prayers for Syria.
Take a breath, close your eyes, and turn your attention to the East, place of air and sunrise, of new beginnings. Send a prayer for wisdom: the wisdom to find a lasting road to peace, the wisdom to do what needs to be done. Take a breath and send that prayer....
Modern Minoan Paganism harks back to the Minoan civilization of ancient Crete: its beautiful towns, its sprawling temple complexes, its sacred caves and mountaintops. We know about the ancient Minoans - the way they lived, worked, and worshiped - because of a century's worth of efforts by archaeologists to uncover the remains of this fascinating ancient culture.
But sometimes these irreplaceable traces of ancient civilization are endangered by the modern desire for profit. A luxury holiday resort development that was turned down by the Greek government in 2011 has now received approval and will soon begin construction in Cavo Sidero, the beautiful wild peninsula on the northeastern coast of Crete. I understand the reasoning: The Greek economy is still in dire straits and anything that will bring in tourist income looks like a saving grace....
Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path: On Loki’s Day 2014, for the first time, I held a blot specifically for Loki. April 1st had become my traditional Loki's Day a couple of decades ago when I participated in Ostara festivals that overlapped April 1st. That was back when I was a member of the old Ring of Troth. Ostara was a campout with an indoor sleeping area which was a World War I era bunker, and the grounds also included an outdoor campfire and a trail down to the beach. The women who gathered around the campfire in the morning chill with our coffee started throwing our hair combings into the campfire spontaneously, and because it happened to be April 1st, and people at the festival were already observing April 1st as Loki's Day, a day to tell jokes and play pranks, we came up with the idea that throwing things into the fire on April 1st was a sacrifice to Loki. It was not a really serious ritual, just a spontaneous moment of fun, but I think Loki likes spontaneous fun. Throwing hair combings into the fire for Loki became a tradition at that festival among the early risers.
So, when I decided that I should hold a ritual to thank Loki for inspiring me to write Some Say Fire, and for all the help he gave me through that medium, I went with the tradition of throwing hair combings into the fire on April 1st. It was what I had done year after year when I lived in California in my 20s, so to me it was tradition.
I lit both a bonfire and a barbecue fire, just like I did at Yule when I engaged in that duel. At the time, I still had the burn scar on the side of my right foot. It disappeared about a month later, when I accepted another sort of symbol, but that's another story which I'll tell later. I had been saving my hair-combings, each time I combed out freshly washed, clean, dry hair. I had spun my hair combings into one continuous ball of yarn, and placed that in the bbq fire along with expired spices and various types of woods and charcoal. But I lit the bonfire first, which contained only wood and twigs and brush from my yard which I had saved after the fall chopping and had dried in the side yard. I first made a short, formal statement of thanks to Loki, “I burn this for Loki,” and listed my gratitude for his inspiration for my novel and his literal inspiration of air in my lungs. It did not light. “OK, not good enough,” I said out loud.
The only other heathen there was T. N., who is a Heimdall’s man. I had told him exactly what I planned to do at this blot and given him an opportunity to decide not to participate, but he was there. I met his eyes and we both smiled uncomfortable little smiles.
I next made a slightly longer formal statement of thanks and tried to light the fire. It did not light. “OK, still not good enough.” I realized I was going about it wrong. I had to relate to the fire first and foremost as fire. “OK, I’m going to be smart and stand blocking the wind.” I moved to a new position and realized I was now pointed due north as I should have been from the beginning. “OK, you like this better? Light, you.” I was irritated and I said nothing of gratitude or supplication.
The fire did not just light. It whooshed out in a ten foot horizontal gout of bright orange flame. It continued to burn like a flamethrower even after I put the iron lid on it.
Like when I’m writing, he spoke through me. Unlike when I’m writing, it came out my mouth instead of my fingers. “Don’t talk to me like I’m [expletive] Odin.”
I added, “he says.” I realized my own voice is actually deeper than Loki’s.
If T. N. had any particular reaction to hearing me abruptly turn medium and let a god talk through me, he did not make it obvious. Of course, I had been talking to him about my book a lot because I was in the middle of writing it. I had told him the gods spoke through me into my book, so perhaps he was not really surprised. I certainly was, though.
I went on to light the barbecue fire too, and then hold a normal blot, and then cook the post-ritual feast. There were no more surprises that day. The big surprise came later that month. I plan to blog about that soon.
Image: Loki by Miguel Regodon
Lately I’ve seen a lot of questions online about using fictional spells and magical techniques in real magick. Things like trying to use “expecto patronum” from Harry Potter or “forzare” from the Dresden Files in actual protection spells. While this type of pop culture magick seems like a no brainer, there’s actually a lot you need to think about before trying to twist fictional magick into your real magick.
The best argument (in my opinion at least) for using fictional spells and magical techniques in your actual magick is that it allows you to build off of ideas that already exist both in your own mind and in the minds of others. Why reinvent the metaphysical wheel if there’s already something suitable at hand? Magick is all about delivering energy charged with intention to an intended target in order to manifest a desired result. Our spells and rituals are the mechanisms we use to raise energy, charge it, and deliver it to its intended target. We can do that most efficiently, and thus get the best results, when our minds have clear, easy paths to do so. Forging those smooth paths takes practice, lots of practice. However, we can shortcut things a bit by using spells that lots of other people use (getting the advantage of some of their energetic work) or by using words and techniques our brain already associates with the results we’re working towards - this is where fictional spells come in.
To get the most energetic benefit from using a fictional spell or technique it has to be something you know really well. The fiction we know and love, that we see or read over and over again, has a special place in our hearts and minds. The fiction we truly love becomes a part of our very being; there is no mental path smoother than those which flow to the things we love. I’m confident that I can recite the entirety of The Princess Bride at any given moment, plus a good chunk of Harry Potter, and probably several seasons worth of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These mental paths aren’t just smooth, they’re greased to almost frictionless. Using the magic from the fiction that you love allows you take advantage of these frictionless paths and send all your energy directly where you intend it, none wasted forging the path. Sure, you can use that amazing spell you saw once in that one episode of whatever, but unless it made an indelible mark on your very being it won’t be anymore effective than that really well written spell you found on the internet. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, you won’t be getting the best bang for your energetic buck.
There are some downsides to using fictional magic as part of real magick. No matter how much you love it something that your mind identifies as fiction will take some time and effort to switch to non-fiction, though the benefit is usually worth the small energetic cost. Let’s look at the “alohamora” spell from Harry Potter. This is a spell used numerous times in the books and movies to unlock doors. In the Harry Potter ‘verse you just wave your wand, say “alohamora” with conviction, and the previously locked door pops right open. Sadly, our reality doesn’t work that way so we have to look at intent of the fictional spell to figure out how to translate it into something that works here. A real spell based on this fictional one might be to inscribe the word “alohamora” onto a candle, charge it with the intent of unlocking a particular path or removing an obstacle to a goal, and then burning the candle to release the energy into the world. Alternatively, a locksmith who happens to be a practitioner might use the word “alohamora” as a mantra to recite while picking an actual lock to help focus their will and guide their hands. Both of these real spells use the fictional spell to enhance the real energetic work being done. I personally prefer to add a few objects or techniques with magickal correspondence to my goal to help add a little “oomph” to my spellwork whenever possible. However, one could simply focus on their intent and say the word “alohamora” while projecting their intent towards their target, just as the characters in Harry Potter do and it would be a valid spell as long as you truly believe it to be.
Another hurdle in making fictional magic effective real magick it that the real results will never match up with the fictional results. One of the most commonly used spells in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series (which I cannot recommend highly enough) is “fuego.” As you might imagine if you speak spanish or any other latin based language, the fuego spell conjures a large fireball that hurls itself at the caster’s target. This spell is used multiple times in many books; it’s probably used over 100 times in the series so far. Both I and everyone else who’s read these books has a very clear picture cemented in their minds of what this spell looks like when it’s cast. Unless your spellwork includes some pretty impressive professional pyrotechnics, your execution of a “fuego” spell is not going match the picture your head wants that spell to create. That’s a problem. Let’s say you wanted to use “fuego” to conjure a protective circle of energetic fire by visualizing the circle of fire while reciting “fuego” as an incantation. In order to accomplish your goal your spell needs to energetically overcome the your cognitive dissonance of the results not looking the way your mind expects plus the energetic dissonance that every other reader’s idea of what the spell should be in order to manifest itself. That really limits the ways that fictional spells with firm visual results can be used effectively in real magick. To use “fuego” in real magick you’d really want to have some actual flame present to help mitigate the dissonance. For this reason I really wouldn’t recommend using fictional magick with a really strong visual component unless it’s part of a big ritual that can recreate at least part of the expected visuals.
On a similar note, a good chunk of fictional magic tends to be overly theatrical, especially magic from television and movies. Fictional magic is supposed to be entertaining and it can’t be entertaining in a visual medium unless the person casting it is doing something that we the audience can see. In the movies witches and wizards are always doing big arm movements, gesturing with oversized tools, and shouting into the wind. As fun as that is, it’s pretty wasteful energetically speaking unless you’re facilitating ritual for a large group that needs those visual cues. Yes, I can hear you saying “but repeated physical movements help focus energy and smooth pathways.” Of course they do. Things like banishing and invoking pentagrams are particular physical movements that serve a particular energetic purpose and can enhance a magickal working in many ways. However, there’s a line between movement used to focus energy and giant theatrical absurdities that look great and serve no purpose. It’s a lot like the difference between martial arts in the movies and martial arts in real life. I’d advise you to choose fictional spells that don’t expend as much energy in casting them as you’re trying to project out to your goal.
Fictional magics can be used in real magick to enhance spellwork and rituals by tapping into the pathways they’ve already forged in our minds. To get the best results it’s important to be mindful of what shape those fictional spells and techniques already have in our minds and the minds of others. By working with those ingrained images we can ensure that the energy we raise gets to its goal rather than being wasted forging the path to that goal. Be mindful of what expectations a fictional spell raises both in how it’s supposed to look as its cast and its end result; be sure that really works with what you want to accomplish. Choose the fictional magic you want to work with carefully and make sure it’s something that deeply resonates with you in order to get the best possible results.