Monday, October 26, 2009

The Sedona Sweat Lodge Deaths

This was originally inspired by a discussion on R.J. Stewart's mailing list. If you aren't familiar with R.J., you definitely need to pick up his books. His work on the Faery tradition is invaluable for anyone who wants to work with the Good Folk, or anyone who wants to sink their teeth into some serious and scholarly Pagan material. We were discussing the Sedona sweat lodge deaths. A lot of people seemed quite upset with the high cost of James Arthur Ray's retreat. Since I come from a tradition where it's considered acceptable to charge money for services, I thought I'd chime in with a slightly different viewpoint.

Spiritual services, like anything else, are worth what the market will bear. If James Arthur Ray was able to sell his "Spiritual Warrior" conferences for $9,000, then that is what they were worth. Presumably some people felt they were getting a good value for their money, since they signed up for this conference after attending other Ray events. You may disagree with their financial decisions, much as you might think it silly to pay $9,000 for a designer handbag (or $16.95 for a book by Kenaz Filan ;) ). But, in the end, it's their money to do with as they see fit. Ultimately we all get the initiations we deserve ... and who's to say that a spiritual breakthrough or a life-changing experience isn't worth $9,000? I paid several thousand dollars for my initiation into Vodou and don't regret a dime of it. Presumably at least some of Ray's students felt their money was well spent.

Many Pagans don't like the idea of charging money for spiritual services. Gardner wanted to avoid running afoul of the then-current Witchcraft Laws when he forbade charging for services. The cunning-folk and hedge-witches who made their living by their trade never followed his lead. I've had people chide me for taking money for readings -- and I'm betting that R.J. has heard some snide comments about the (very reasonable) fees he charges for his workshops. Apparently we're supposed to be full-time unpaid servants of the Goddess and whoever demands our time and attention. And I've seen firsthand what this attitude does to the Pagan community: we wind up with a revolving door of starry-eyed newcomers who quickly burn out in the face of incessant demands from their congregation. When idealism meets entitlement, wanna guess which one typically winds up splattered on the pavement?

There is no sin in charging money for your work. But when you accept money for your services, you also accept responsibility for giving your customer their money's worth. When someone pays me for a reading, they are trusting me to give an honest account of what I see in the cards. In taking their money, I agree to do so. And I've found the readings I charge money for -- even when I've only charged a few dollars -- are taken FAR more seriously than the ones I have done for free. When I do it for free it's a parlor game and a lark: when I get paid I'm suddenly a counselor whose word means something. There is more to the old Rom tradition of "crossing the palm with silver" than one may think. That which you have purchased is cherished more than that which you receive for free.

My complaint with James Arthur Ray has nothing to do with the cost of his retreat. It has to do with how he structured the retreat. If you're going to take money for spiritual work, you need to ensure that they are done correctly. I can assure you that most Houngans and Mambos are lucky to break even once they have finished paying for drummers, workers and the various accoutrements required for the kanzo (initiation ceremony). The reports suggest there were over 50 people in Ray's "sweat lodge:" at $9k each, that's at least $450,000. Ray could certainly have hired medical professionals to make sure that people were challenging themselves without putting themselves at undue risk. At the very least, he could have hired someone who knew how to put the damned thing on properly. Ray's $9,000 sweat was a shoddier affair than sweats I've seen held at Free Spirit Gathering. (Total cost of attending around $300 plus meals and whatever you spend on Merchant's Row -- and that price includes drum circles, classes and a swimming pool). I don't fault him for getting paid for his services. I don't even fault him for getting paid a lot for his services. I fault him for not living up to his end of the bargain.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Notes from an Angelic Working: 3

The sixth hour of Sunday is devoted to Jupiter: In consideration of the difficulties in bringing up Asmiel, Lykathea did the Invoking Hexagram of Jupiter after the LBRP. (She also did the banishing pentagrams for each element, hoping to bring up a more purely Jupiterian field).

This worked very well: as soon as Arnebiel's name was first mentioned, we felt his presence. I got a sense of pale blue-violet light, the feeling of an oncoming storm, and the sound of laughter. I repeated the invocation three times, although I really didn't need to: I wanted to make sure the spirit was fully in the circle.

Our petitions on this ritual were for general prosperity: I specifically asked for help in selling my Poppy manuscript and for the continued sales of my other books. Arnebial seemed well-disposed toward granting our petitions and so we gave him license to depart: afterwards Lykathea banished the Jupiter hexagrams which were glowing around us.

The big take-away from this ritual is that it definitely helps to do the invoking hexagrams before calling on the angels. (I suspect the reason the first ritual was so successful was because we were doing it at sunrise on a Sunday -- there was so much solar energy going on that it would have been difficult for the ritual to fail). These spirits are powerful and far less dangerous than Goetic demons: I would definitely recommend that anyone who wishes to work with the Goetia first spend some time doing angelic and theurgic magic. (I certainly wish that I had done so first: I would have a few less psychic scars and horror stories to share at cons if I had...).

Overall, I think these workings were quite successful and look forward to doing more Pauline magic.

Notes From an Angelic Working: 2

The third hour of Sunday is devoted to Mercury: our conjuration began with a calling of Venaquiel, the angel who rules the third hour, followed by the invocation of Asmiel, Mercurial duke. Getting Asmiel to appearance was more challenging: we needed eight recitations of the invocation (eight being a Mercurial number). When he arrived he flickered in and out, in varying pale translucent colors which danced like the colors on an oil slick, or like light playing on a mercury glass ball.

(Lykathea points out that we ate not long before doing this conjuration, so we might be "heavier" and more grounded, hence the difficulty in getting him to appear. I suspect it also has something to do with Asmiel's mercurial nature: being brought to solid and tangible appearance is antithetical to his element).

I asked him for assistance in writing my book in progress (The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook) and in getting my poppy manuscript (Papaver somniferum: the Most Dangerous Ally). Lykathea asked him for assistance in her educational goals. After we made our requests we gave the License to Depart: he vanished quickly. A few minutes later Lykathea noticed that the sunlight filtering into the room was flickering and shimmering rather like Asmiel, so he appears to have stayed around for a bit.

Notes from an Angelic Working: 1

Record of an Evocation using the Lemegeton: Ars Paulina
October 11, 2009: 7:05 a.m.

We open with Lykathea doing the LBRP. Afterwards we begin the Invocation to Samael, ruler of the first hour of the day under the Legemeton. This is followed with the Conjuration of Ameniel, the Solar duke who rules over this day: the conjuration is repeated three times until his presence is clearly felt.

Both of us get an impression of a large golden winged figure. Ameniel appears to me as a golden man with intensely bright eyes, as if the sun is glowing from them. He is moving very quickly around the circle: Lykathea, who is skrying in the mirror and gets a very similar impression. We make our requests, which are within the solar sphere: greater self-confidence, prosperity, that our paths be lit and our enemies dispersed as day disperses night, & c. Both of us get an overwhelming impression at the same time that our petitions have been heard and answered. Lykathea recites the License to Depart.