Wednesday, March 31, 2010


On his deathbed a despairing John Keats said "here lies one whose name was writ in water." But two centuries after his untimely demise we still remember Keats and his poems like "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Eve of St. Agnes." It's a message we should consider when we meditate on Laguz, the water-rune.

Water seems impermanent, transient, ever flowing from one place to another.  But water can carve canyons out of granite and wear boulders into pebbles. It can seep through the tiniest cracks and fill great chambers. Many cities are just one good rainfall away from devastation, as the people of New Orleans learned in 2005 and the people of Cranston, Rhode Island are discovering today. Wherever water flows it leaves its mark - and the only thing which washes that away is more water.

Like the Cups of Tarot, Laguz is associated with the subconscious mind and with the emotions.  It is an excellent rune for dream work and meditation. Galdring (chanting) the rune's name in a manner evocative of the waves of the ocean or the flow of a stream can bring you into a state conducive to lucid dreaming: soft slow repetitions while concentrating on the glassy surface of a still and limpid pool can put you in an appropriately reflective state for contemplation.

Those who do shamanic journeying can call on Laguz both to enter the proper mental state and to move between realms. Water can be found in most of the Other Worlds: even fiery realms like Muspelheim have free-flowing lava which embodies Laguz. With practice a shaman can learn to dive into water in one world and come out in the water of another. Remember that the Nordic merchants and warriors connected water with travel, be it long voyages across the sea or trips up and down the river to various towns and markets.

When anger makes you unable to concentrate, Laguz can "put out those fires" and help you achieve a state of calm. You can pour your sorrow and your anguish into Laguz and let it be carried away into the Primal Ocean: this rune can be very useful for those who seek emotional healing or those recovering from abuse or trauma. And Laguz can also be a powerful defensive rune. Whatever an enemy throws at you can be dissolved, absorbed or just washed away.

Water which does not move becomes stagnant: if Laguz comes up blocked or inverted in a reading, it could mean that you have allowed your gifts to become trapped or dammed up. It will behoove you to deal with this situation as quickly as possible lest the purifying flow of running water be replaced by the putrefying force of the swamp.  Removing this blockage in a controlled fashion will be far less painful than letting things build up until Laguz knocks down the barrier which holds it back.

Because it takes the shape of its container, Laguz can be a powerful and versatile tool in bind-runes. It can be used to absorb unwanted energies, or to add the inexorable power of the tides and waterfalls to a spell. It can be used to bring a spell past barriers (very few walls are so well-constructed as to be completely waterproof) or to send it into the deepest part of a target's consciousness. It can be used to heal or to poison: it can wear away obstacles or become an impassible stream that separates you from dangers. But because of this malleability, it is up to the runeworker to mold it carefully. When calling on the forces of Laguz it is best to know exactly what you want and where you are going. The currents which can lead you to new lands can also send you careening toward the rocks.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Still Another Question on Spiritual Oppression

On Tristatevodou one poster asked.
What does this religion say about the situation where someone kind is cursed and hounded by the spirit of someone cruel and destructive? Say, in a situation, for vengence. Or to keep secrets.
There are many spirits who will work for anyone who pays their price. Those spirits will as happily harass a good person as a bad one (some of them might even be especially happy to do so!) Being good is not necessarily protection, in and of itself, against evil.  While especially good and kind persons may have the blessing of God and the Angels, that doesn't necessarily mean that they will be protected against evil. Consider how many Christian martyrs died horrible deaths in the name of Jesus: they may have received a reward in heaven, but the angels rarely interceded on their behalf against those who tormented them in this world.

The lwa are far more likely to take action against those who harm their servitors. But this typically has less to do with that servitor's morality than with the attention they pay to their lwa. That's not to say that the lwa won't call someone on the carpet for distasteful behavior. Ogou might tell one of his servants to quit being a coward:  Danto might warn one of her husbands that he best pay his child support lest she rip off the implements by which he fathers children. But the lwa generally help those who help them, regardless of their goodness or badness.
And what are the suggested remedies?
Those who are being tormented by evil spirits can always call on St. Michael the Archangel, who has no problem with giving the boot to demonic entities.  There are also a few books which may prove helpful to those suffering from spiritual infestation. Three of my favorites are Basic Psychic Hygiene by Sophie Reicher, Protection & Reversal Magick: A Witch's Defense Manual (Beyond 101) by Jason Miller and Psychic Self-Defense by Lady Dion Fortune.  Learning the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram is a good start toward mastering the fine art of driving out unwanted spiritual entities. And a Lavé Tet or Kanzo can be an excellent protection against spiritual beings that are troubling you.


American mythology praises the "self-made man" and loathes any hint that we might not be able to rise above our station and create our own destiny. But as they often say in African Diaspora circles, "the knife cannot carve its own handle." For better or worse, we carry our heritage in blood and sinew. We may add to our birthright or we may despoil it but we must engage with it. 

Othila is commonly associated with inherited wealth and ancestral land. And while it certainly represents those things, it also stands for something deeper. Othila's mysteries touch upon not only what we have but who we are and why we are here.

There is a great weight and solidity to Othila: it is as immovable and unchangeable as the past. It may be seen as a massive block keeping us from where we wish to be: think Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, kept in Bedford Falls by family obligations despite his desire to see the world. Birthrights carry birth responsibilities and birth limitations: our genes carry our strengths and our weaknesses.  My nearsightedness precludes me from a career as an Air Force pilot: my height shuts me out of a career as a basketball player or a jockey and my manual dexterity means being a ballet dancer or pickpocket is right out.  If Othila is the boundary that marks what you have, it is also the wall that separates you from that which you do not possess.

But there is another lesson here as well.  In her Mystical Qabalah Dion Fortune said of Binah, the Sephirah of Form
Chokmah is pure force, even as the expansion of petrol as it explodes in the combustion-chamber of an engine is pure force. But just as this expansive force would expand and be lost if there were no engine to transmit its power) so the undirected energy of Chokmah would radiate into space and be lost if there were nothing to receive its impulse and utilise it. Chokmah explodes like petrol; Binah is the combustion-chamber
Othila is that form which directs your power. Its constraints allow you to reach your goal: what you see as weaknesses may be as important as your strengths. That does not mean that you should wallow in your flaws, or assume that because there are three generations of alcoholics in your family you might as well go for four.  Othila is not only about ancestors but also descendants. It reminds you that you are part of an ongoing process. Your birthright is your position and your inheritance: it is your task to build upon it and pass it down to the next generation.

I should note here that Othila is not only about blood ancestry, but also community. Like Mannaz, it reminds us that we are defined not only by our accomplishments but also by our peers. It teaches us to choose carefully the people with whom we share our hearth and friendship.  It reminds us that we will be judged by our associations and should choose them wisely and carefully. Othila knows, as Robert Frost knew, that good fences make good neighbors.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Poppies and Neolithic Shamanism

This is from my forthcoming manuscript, Papaver sominiferum: the Most Dangerous Ally. It's an exploration of the earliest usages of opium poppies - which, if the evidence is to be believed, was very early indeed. Hope you enjoy!

- k


Approximately 7,500 years ago agricultural communities began to develop along the basin of the Danube River. Within less than 200 years they had spread to Belgium and northern France in the west and Ukraine in the east. Where their ancestors had foraged and hunted for a living, these people (called linearbandkeramik or LBK culture for their distinctive pottery) worked the land for their food. They took cues – and seeds – from the Near East, where farming had been taking place for millennia. Among the charred remains of their fires archaeologists have found traces of emmer and einkorn wheat, linseed (flax), lentils and peas, crops which originated in modern-day Turkey, Syria, Israel and Iran.[1]  But amidst all those eastern seeds there was one other non-native plant that came not from the east but from the southwest – Papaver somniferum, otherwise known as the opium poppy.

Today most modern-day botanists believe P. somniferum descends from Papaver setigerum, a wild poppy growing in the western Mediterranean. P. setigerum is found in Italy, northern Africa, eastern Spain, the Mediterranean coast of France, and the Canary Islands. P. setigerum is slightly smaller than P. somniferum: its leaves are thinner, with long jagged teeth tipped with a bristle that is not found on P. somniferum leaves: they also lack P. somniferum's waxy coating. Like its domesticated cousin, P. setigerum contains morphine alkaloids: indeed, the two poppies are so similar that the wild poppy is commonly called Papaver somniferum ssp. Setigerum or even Papaver somniferum var. setigerum.[2]
It has been suggested that poppies were introduced to LBK agriculture via trade with the La Hoguette culture, a group known primarily by its distinctive bone-tempered pottery. The La Hoguette culture is believed to have originated in southern and southwestern France: they descended from an earlier "Impressed Ware" culture which resided on the shores of the Mediterranean. La Hoguette and LBK pottery has been found together at many sites east and west of the Rhine, suggesting there was contact and trade between the two cultures.

From there, poppies continued on their journey northward. A dig at Raunds, a site in rural Northamptonshire, England, discovered eight opium poppy seeds dated from the early Neolithic period (5,800 – 5,600 years BP). While opium poppies can grow as weeds, the lack of other weeds in the ditch, as well as the absence of cereal remains, suggest this plant may have been a crop in its own right.[3] While Neolithic civilization has traditionally been envisioned as scattered collections of hunter-gatherers who supplemented their foraging with primitive agriculture, the Raunds poppy seeds reveal trade routes between Britain and the Continent. They also suggest that the people of Raunds held poppies in high regard – high enough, at least, to carry seeds across the English Channel, then haul them into the East Midlands and plant them.

At Cuevo de los Murciélagos ("Cave of the Bats," a Neolithic burial site located in Albuñol, Granada in southern Spain), we find still more evidence of poppy usage. Thanks to the cave's arid conditions, the round woven grass bags which were buried with the dead have been preserved, along with their contents – large numbers of poppy capsules which have been shown by carbon dating to be over 6,000 years old. Given the somnolence caused by ingestion of poppies, it seems clear that even at this early date they were associated with death and, presumably, with shamanic journeying.

Excavations at Egolzwil, an archaeological site located in Switzerland's Lucerne canton, have revealed signs of poppy cultivation dating back over 6,000 years, including poppy seed cakes and poppy heads. These may have been used to feed their cattle in emergencies (cattle generally dislike foraging on bitter-tasting poppies and will only eat them if no better food is available) but these farmers would certainly have known that poppies can produce intoxication and even death in cattle if too many are given. Yet evidence suggests that poppies were the most common crop at Egolzwil, more common than club wheat, barley or flax.[4]

Even earlier evidence of opium poppy use comes from recent underwater archaeological work at La Marmotta, a site in Lake Bracciano, Italy (northwest of Rome). La Marmotta was occupied by a Neolithic farming community for about 500 years before it was abandoned, then submerged by water some 7,700 years ago. Based on the sophisticated artifacts found at the La Marmotta site – and the paucity of evidence for any other contemporaneous cities or villages in the area – archaeologists believe this was a colony from another civilization in Greece or the Near East. And given the model boats (along with a well-preserved longboat found buried in the mud), it seems likely that there was considerable water traffic between the La Marmotta colony and traders from other civilizations.
 "This was not an ordinary village," says Maria Antonietta Fugazzola Delpino, director of the La Marmotta expedition. "The people were in touch with other communities in the Mediterranean. We picture it as a kind of highway—there were many ships coming and going."[5] Organic remains preserved beneath three meters of limestone included poppy seeds, presumably cultivated for food, oil, medicine, and possibly for religious use.

[1]             Leendert P. Louwe Kooijmans.  "The Mesolithic/Neolithic Transformation in the Lower Rhine Basin" in Case Studies in European Prehistory, (Peter I. Bogucki, Editor). Boca Raton, CRC Press, 1993. 130.

[2]             C.C. Bakels. "Abstract: Papaver somniferum culture in prehistory and early history" (2004) at Program Symposium: Plants in Health and Culture. Accessed January 13, 2009.

[3]             Gill Campbell and Mark Robinson (with Polydora Baker, Simon Davis and Sebastian Payne). "Environment and Land Use in the Valley Bottom" at English Heritage. Accessed January 14, 2009.

[4]             Graeme Baker. Prehistoric Farming in Europe.  Cambridge University Press, 1985. 123.

[5]             Robert Kunzig. "La Marmotta." Discover, November 1, 2002. Accessed January 13, 2009.

Finding Your Lwa

Many newcomers to Vodou start by scanning a few websites or books, discovering a few lwa that they find interesting, and making offerings to them willy-nilly. Often they get no response -- and sometimes they get a response for which they didn't bargain! This leads to claims that Vodou is "fake," or, alternately, that it is "dangerous."

One misconception stems from the idea that any lwa will respond to a call. That's not entirely untrue: a lwa will generally come in response to a call from an asogwe initiate who knows the appropriate ceremonial langaj. But yr. average person in the street can't just draw a vévé, sprinkle some libations on the ground, then say "Hello, " and expect the lwa to show up. If the spirit doesn't marche avec vous (walk with you), it is not likely to respond to your call. If I call downstairs for my roommate, I am likely to get a response: if I stand on a street corner shouting out the name of some random stranger who lives in a different country, not so much.

There is also the risk of a trickster or lying spirit stepping up to the plate and saying "Hello, I'm a lwa and I want you to feed me." This risk may be compounded if you're taking the silly but not uncommon approach of "whoa, this one comes when you set live animals on fire and it eats broken glass, then destroys your enemies body and soul! COOL!!!" If you are asking for a fierce murderous spirit to do fierce murderous work, you may get what you asked for. But if you're not up to controlling that spirit, there's no reason to expect that it will be honest with you or take orders from you.

Sometimes the spirits you want to work with are not the spirits you need to be working with. If you are a rough and tough guy who likes to get in barfights, you may think Ogou would be an ideal ally and drinking buddy - but you may actually do better with the cooling influence of a Damballah or Agwe. You may think that because you love pretty, frilly things you want to work with Freda, when you might do better getting practical hard-headed advice from Danto. It's easy to make a mistake that leaves you even more imbalanced and out of control than you were before.

There are several ways to determine the spirits who "walk with you." One of them is by attending a fet and seeing what spirits wish to communicate with you or even try to possess you. You can also have a spirit follow you home if you attend a fet, visit a hounfour, or otherwise come in contact with that spirit. You may have your spirits reveal themselves in dreams or through omens. You may approach Legba, the old man at the crossroads: since he is the gatekeeper between this world and the world of spirit, everybody can approach him. You can also work with the Ghede: since we all have ancestors and all must die, we all have a connection to the spirits of the dead. (That being said, I would take precautions before doing this -- more below). The most reliable way of doing this is to get a reading from a professional who can tell you which spirits walk with you and who will work with you if you serve them.

Another thing which is important for anyone looking for their lwa is to make sure you have the proper protections in place. If you don't know how to banish and shield, you should learn how to do so now. I recommend the Vodou approach of working with the appropriate holy symbols. A blessed rosary around your neck and a blessed crucifix over your bed can turn aside most spiritual attackers and ne'er-do-wells. Those who aren't Christian can still call on St. Michael the Archangel, who is happy to slap spiritual nasties silly. (It's one of his core competencies). This is particularly important if you are working with the dead. There are few things more dangerous than a malevolent ghost: since it's so close to this plane, it can do great damage and do it quickly. It's also important if you are called on by or call upon some of the "hotter" and more wrathful spirits. Anything that doesn't want to be in the vicinity of a cross, Holy Qur'an, mezzuzah, etc. is something you should dine with only with a long spoon - or avoid altogether.

Taking a balanced, slow path toward meeting your spirits and working with them will give you better results in the short and long term. There's no rush to get to Gineh: rather than calling on every spirit you can find, you will do better to figure out which spirits are interested in working with you and concentrate on them.


Chalc is one of the Northumbrian runes, a 9th century extension of the Anglo-Saxon runes. It represents a guttural "ch" sound (the Scots loch or the Hebrew chai). There is little lore associated with Chalc and it is often neglected by modern runesters who favor the Elder Futhark. But those who seek its mysteries find it to hold considerable beauty and power: indeed, some call it the rune of the Holy Grail.

Raven Kaldera, who works extensively with the Anglo-Saxon runes, has said of Chalc:
Chalc is another of the Rune-Spirits who can show themselves as male or female depending on the circumstance and the summoner. Chalc is a dreamy adolescent with a high-flown imagination who speaks in poetry and vivid images. Sometimes Chalc is a young girl with faeries in her eyes, sometimes a young boy set on future adventure. Beauty and glory are very important to Chalc, as is the idea of love, but it is not wise to depend on Chalc to carry things through difficult and grubby times. However, Chalc's greatest gift is a deep well of faith in the future, and in one's ability to pursue joy, that many folks would do well to learn to tap into. Chalc's greatest love is the world of Ljossalfheim, for that world contains thousands of dreams and images, and is the most beautiful of all the worlds.
There is an aspect of Chalc which dissipates upon contact with reality. It can be a cup of illusions, filled with laudanum that numbs your pain and steals your soul. Like all the runes, Chalc gives you what you deserve. If you are seeking the chalice which will heal the king, Chalc will send you on a quest. If you are seeking a pretty dream that will help you avoid unpleasant realities, Chalc will give you the oblivion you crave. When working with the Runes, you are dealing with Odin's gift, and anything you get from the Old Man can turn on you if you're not careful.  (This is doubly true because of Chalc's connection to the Elves: there are many stories about people who came to rue Faery-gifts).

If you are worthy to seek the Grail, Chalc can be a bright, shining beacon that lights your way through the darkness. It can be the dream that keeps you going when common sense and reason tell you that it's time to quit, that this is hopeless, that you're just wasting your time. Galina Krasskova has identified Chalc with the bowl which Sigyn holds over Loki to keep the venom from dripping in his face: it is her hope in the face of despair which allows her to stand by her bound husband and ease his suffering.

The higher aspects of Chalc are not grasped lightly. It is the pearl of great price: to gain it you may need to sacrifice everything you hold dear. If you have chosen the wrong dream, if you have taken the wrong path, you may gain nothing to replace what you have lost. There are many perils and pitfalls on the path to the Castle: many knights lose their lives and fortunes searching for it.  And that is yet another lesson which Chalc offers us: perhaps it is better to die in our quest for a dream than to live without dreams. Chalc reminds us that those who seek the Grail are blessed: even if they never achieve their goal, they did not battle in vain.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Gods of the Long Descent

I recently had a conversation on a mailing list about the religions that would arise after the oil ran out (or, more precisely, after the financial and energy cost of accessing the remaining oil became prohibitive). Among the participants was John Michael Greer, whose Archdruid Report is one of the finest online resources on peak oil and the post-technological world. John has written a number of books on the subject, including The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age and The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-Peak World. If you're looking for an expert's opinion, drop by his blog or pick up some of his books: what you are going to get here are the musings of an interested amateur.

In our discussion, JMG rightly pointed out that the new religions which arose in the wake of Rome's collapse were dark horses: within a century or so Christianity went from a nutty slave-cult to the Empire's official religion, and a couple centuries after that the chaos in the former Diocese of Oriens and Persia's Sassanid Empire helped an obscure desert religious leader become the Seal of the Prophets. But while we can't predict exactly what religious movement will become the Next Big Thing, we can assume the future will in many ways be a reflection of the past.

Christianity became a powerful force because it represented the past. It's no coincidence that the Orthodox Church looked to Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire while Western Christiandom looked to Rome. In both cases the Church presented itself as the survival not just of the Kingdom of Christ but of the Roman Empire. It didn't just stand for salvation in heaven but for the glories of the past.  The surviving literature of the Classical Era was in significant part preserved by the monasteries and church universities.

The feudal system of the Dark Ages was a low-budget form of the Pax Romana. In exchange for becoming landless serfs instead of freeman farmers, the peasants received protection from bandits, robbers and rampaging hordes. The scarce resources were largely concentrated in the hands of feudal lords and clerical leaders (who were generally connected through blood ties or political alliances). The system was not nearly so efficient as Roman rule: crime rates soared during this era and invasions by one barbarian tribe or another were fairly commonplace. But its existence was justified as a survival of "Christiandom" -- which was essentially synonymous with "the Roman Empire." Charlemagne and the rulers of Byzantium explicitly made this connection, even as their "empires" crumbled around them.

By contrast, Islam represented something New and Different. Muhammad (SAW) drew from a number of religions which were found in the Arabian peninsula, but his Qur'an was a New Dispensation. Instead of hearkening back to the halcyon days of the Roman Empire, it promised a glorious new future when the whole world would say "there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet." This vision of earthly and heavenly paradise captured the hearts and minds of people on the empire's eastern frontier and became a major threat to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Paradoxically, these "barbarian hordes" did a better job of preserving Greek and Roman knowledge than the old-timers. Because they were part of a new movement, they had less pressure to conform their scholarship to the "accepted way" of doing things (read: a badly-remembered mixture of tradition and superstition. Imagine the Texas Association of School Boards on steroids and you'll have some idea). And because Islam was a growing faith while Christiandom was beleagured on all sides, there was far more tolerance for unorthodox ideas. Diversity of ideas is a luxury which you can afford when you're firmly in charge: it becomes far less palatable when your position at the top of the heap is threatened.

(I admit that the above is an oversimplification of a very complex social order, but it is not an entirely unfair one).

I suspect the religions of the Long Descent will follow a similar pattern. On one hand you will see one or more religions which look back to the Old Days. They will use the remaining resources to protect their Have-Very-Littles from the Have-Nots, promising them order amidst the chaos. Not coincidentally, they will also use these resources to protect themselves from the Have-Very-Littles. I would expect them to keep some form of the Internet (which will be used primarily for communications and military purposes rather than as a repository for streaming video porn) and many forms of mechanized military weaponry. (Such gas and oil as is available will largely be used for those purposes, in the name of "preserving our Ancient Culture").

This religion will be the dominant faith of the cities and the former First World. It may call itself "Christianity" or "Islam" or it may claim those faiths as its primary influence. It will provide what education is available to those can afford it. Such education will be along rigid dogmatic lines with little tolerance for those who deviate from the One True Way. It will regularly engage in purges against "heretics" and "infidels" who question its preachings or its hold on power. You can expect regular replays of the Cathar-b-ques and Waldensian massacres of the Middle Ages.

Their primary competitors will be new religions led by prophets. These wild-eyed visionaries will promise a brave new world arising out of the ashes of the decadent Old Empire. They are likely to arise in the "Developing World," (a problematic term, I admit, but I don't have a better one handy) and may well be influenced by that old atheist prophet Karl Marx. These areas have seen the benefits of "progress" from afar and may have more use for that notion than a religion which is primarily concerned with maintaining order and stability. These new faiths will become a major threat to an establishment which is already faced with banditry and anarchy in its far-flung reaches (which, as gas becomes more scarce, could mean its exurbs). And, in time, they could serve to unify those bandits and barbarians into a powerful new force.

I'd be interested in hearing what others have to say about my thoughts. As I said, I'm a history buff rather than a trained historian. But this seems to me a plausible vision of the future and its major religious movements.

Friday, March 26, 2010


I was hoping to do money magic with the runes, and awoke from a dream wherein a giant told me that I should work with the Man-rune. This wasn't what I had expected: Mannaz is generally not connected with prosperity workings.  But I've learned that when you get advice from the spirit world (especially from Jotuns, who are quite skilled with the Runes despite their undeserved reputation as slope-browed savages), it is generally best to take it.
I worked with the rune by reddening it and then using it as a doorway for a vision. The results were quick, and once again they were unexpected. This most social of runes led me to a verdant, green valley. There was abundant grass, fresh water, clear skies, pleasant weather, game traipsing about past my nose - but there were no people.  I spent some time exploring this valley, but saw no signs of civilization anywhere. The man-rune had led me to a place where there were no men. I had plenty of abundance here, but there was nobody to help me take advantage of the resources which lay before me.

And then it hit me: that was the message Mannaz was sending. I was trying to achieve prosperity on my own, without relying on anyone else or reaching out to those who could help me to conquer the territory. If I was going to succeed, I wasn't going to do it alone.  Writing may be a solitary job, but I was going to have to reach out to the community if I hoped to reach financial success.

Toward that end, I've started work toward establishing an online radio show with a friend who has over 20 years of experience in broadcast journalism. Once that is established, I'm hoping to interview some of my other friends and acquaintances: I know a number of highly accomplished and intelligent writers, magicians and occult thinkers, and can also leverage my acquaintance with a number of publicity folk at publishing companies small and large.  I am also making some efforts toward filming a fet with some paranormal researchers and trying to parlay that into a video and, with any luck, some future television appearances.

I'm also posting more to blogs and online forums. I've often found that off-the-cuff remarks can be developed into articles and even chapters. I've also discovered that online conversations help me to ascertain what people are looking for and what sorts of questions they want answered. The give-and-take of online debate, where punches are rarely pulled and logical flaws and errors are ruthlessly dissected by sometimes hostile audiences, forces a writer to hone their arguments and check their sources. 

And I'm also focusing my efforts on two collaborative writing projects. Raven Kaldera and I are going to be following up on Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession, with a book on communicating with spirits and personal gnosis, tentatively titled Talking With the Spirits. And Sophie Reicher, the author of the excellent Basic Psychic Hygiene, will be working with me on a guide to the Elves. (You may have read a few guides to Faerie, but chances are they steered clear of the places we'll be talking about!) I have a few other solo projects I'd like to work on in the future, but for now I'm taking the advice of Mannaz and working on partnerships and socializing. This doesn't come easy to a natural introvert like me, but I realize that it's something I need to do. (As I always say about any sort of divination, don't ask for advice unless you're willing to take it).

Interview with Jeremiah Greer on April 17, 2010 2-3pm Eastern Time

 I will be interviewed by Jeremiah Greer of Shadows in the Dark Radio during the Third Annual 24 Hour Marathon Broadcast at Ripley's Believe it or Not in St. Augustine, Florida. (Sadly, I won't be there in the flesh - the interview will be held by phone - but I'd recommend anyone in the area drop by, while those who are not can listen live on their computer).

The interview is currently scheduled to take place from 2:00pm - 3:00pm Eastern on April 17.  I've been interviewed by Jeremiah in the past and look forward to speaking with him again!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


After reading my friend Galina Krasskova's excellent new book, Runes: Theory and Practice, I became interested in the magical use of the ancient Sacred Alphabet. 

These are some notes of my working with Naudhiz, the rune of Necessity and Need-Fire. 

I was immediately impressed with how powerful this rune is. I can see where adding it to a bindrune would definitely increase the speed, force and efficacy of the working. But I can also see how it needs to be used with caution. If you really need the magic to work it is a powerful aide but if not it's likely to turn on you.

Naudhiz is the adrenalin burst that lets you lift a car off your child or the force of will that lets you keep going long after your body should have collapsed miles ago.  I got the sense it only likes to be called when there is a real need: it feeds off the fear and stress of desperation. If that isn't there, it feels cheated and will put you in a place where you can feed it. It will teach you very quickly the difference between "want" and "need."  

I think Naudhiz could also be a very useful rune for those who desperately need to grow the hell up and accept responsibility for their actions. Meditating on Naudhiz and taking its advice would likely be considerably less painful than having it manifest uncontrolled in your life.

This could be a powerful rune in love magic for making someone fall hopelessly, desperately in love with you or for inflicting a painful obsession on a target . I would probably give it an animal were I using it for that purpose. While it would be feeding off the target, I think it would also expect payment from the caster. Naudhiz is very much about getting reimbursed for anything it does.

Galina identifies Naudhiz with Sigyn, the wife of Loki in her role as Loki's protector in the cave. I totally agree: Sigyn embodies the kind of terror, suffering and perseverance at the heart of Naudhiz. Naudhiz can give you the stamina to prevail over obstacles and the wisdom to know what to keep and how to get by without that which you have lost. It's definitely an unforgiving rune but a powerful one to those who are ready to pay its price.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vodou Responses to Spiritual Oppression

On Tristatevodou, one poster asked about Vodou countermeasures to Spiritual Oppression. Here is my response:


That's a great question. While Vodou has become (in)famous for "Vodou curses" and the like, in practice Vodou is far more interested in defensive than offensive magic. Houngans and Mambos spend a great deal more time protecting themselves and their congregation from negative magic than casting it on people. There's more demand for removing curses than for sending them. Keep in mind that Haitian Vodou has a strong animist streak: the universe is seen as a sentient and not always friendly place. Many times deaths are believed to be caused by poison or malevolent wanga -- and it is believed that the best way to avoid these is to have a strong team of spirits working on your behalf.

One of the great protections against malevolent wanga and oppression is the kanzo ceremony. When you kanzo it is believed that you have died and been reborn: because of that you gain a great deal of resistance to magical attacks. It becomes much more difficult to steal your soul because it's been protected (in ways which I can't discuss in greater detail, unfortunately). Spiritual oppression and obsession can be seen as a sign the sufferer needs to kanzo. This may not be seen as "demonic possession" but rather as a family spirit acting out to get your attention. Another ceremony which can help with your problems is the lavé tet, a ceremony which feeds your head and can remove spiritual parasites.

The gad or garde is also used for protection. There are gardes made by rubbing certain powders into shallow cuts, and a gad migan (stomach garde) which is believed to provide protection against poison. One famous gad migan involves the blood of a pig sacrificed to Ezili Danto. This is mixed in a basin with Florida Water and a few other ingredients and then each person in the house drinks three teaspoons of it. It is believed that after this you will vomit up any poison you consume: for a few days afterward you may well feel like vomiting up your lunch. ;)

And certain lwa and spirits are seen as especially powerful protectors. If you feel like you are suffering from spiritual oppression, you should definitely petition St. Michael the Archangel. If he can kick Lucifer's butt out of heaven, he can probably run off anything that is troubling you. And you need not be a Vodouisant, or even Catholic, to ask for St. Michael's aid: as an archangel, he will answer the call of anyone who needs his help.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Note on Demonic Obsession

After reading my blog post, another friend of mine (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent me this
Regarding demonic obsession:  I've experienced this and so has B. [another friend]. There are interesting parallels
1) You feel like you're going crazy
2) During the initial experience, everything looks red-- as if a veil of blood was over one's eyes.
3) There is a very strong sense that the urges and preoccupations are out of control and foreign
4) The psychological state does not feel entirely human, at the mildest at the furthest extremities of psychopathology
When I got hit, I also felt inexplicably hot. I had to strip naked in order to stay within the most basic comfort zone and then locked myself in my room to protect mom and the cats from my hard-to-resist  compulsion to cut them open and rape the wounds as they died.
B. just became violent and her husband at the time said her eyes looked crazed and wrong, presumably the pupils going big. That's actually what caused the divorce. Instead of going to a spiritual person, he had her thrown in a mental ward.
With me, I contacted a few other people who did a remote exorcism. I kept myself busy by fantasizing doing what I described above while stabbing a bookcase with an icepick hundreds of times and masturbating about ten to twenty times. My libido was utterly inhuman too. So, during that period was when I got my insights on how demons thought about stuff. Pretty terrifying.
Demonic obsession begins suddenly. It goes on and off like a lightswitch. B. reports similar. My rational mind was strong enough to realize that something was dreadfully wrong, and was able to restrain myself. But my emotions and preoccupations were totally displaced and usurped by the invading entity. I also knew I was me, but my personality was largely suppressed.
In short, demonic obsession per se is not subtle at all.
But demons tinkering with minds in subtle ways is real, it's just not the same phenomenon. Or perhaps a very very downgrade version. I sort of look at demonic obsession as a wholesale displacement of the emotional structure of the victim which can be expelled with minimal scarring. Demonic tinkering is basically permanent, inner scarring. It takes more work to purge.

Spiritual Obsession

During the recent discussions on Goetia, the word "obsession" came up a few times.  Balthazaar said
Demonic obsession gets mentioned a lot in this discussion. Well, I know a lot of people who are obsessed by the Holy Spirit - to the extent that the other day I had to deal with a DNS poisoning issue with this blog, which kept redirecting the URL to some evangelical ministries website, assumedly devised by some righteous holy hacker. I also had to deal with a spiritual attack from the self same bunch waged most likely with imprecatory prayer. Talk about obsession. Lord only knows why my little blog would provoke such an effort - I wasn't going to give them any air time, for fear of encouraging their bigoted shenanigans but it seems appropriate to mention. I am not going to even go into the religious nut-jobs who kill, beat and maim for Jesus. Is the Holy Spirit a corrosive, inhuman demon?
This is a very interesting point. The atrocities committed in the name of Satan pale next to the death toll from people who killed, tortured and enslaved in the name of Christ. Is this the fault of the Holy Spirit and are these people suffering from spiritual obsession?  Spiritual oppression leads to personality changes: so do many mystical experiences.  And trying to sort out positive from negative personality changes is a tricky endeavor.  Lots of martyrs were inspired by mystical experiences to go to the stake for their faith, and very few people would say that being burned alive is a positive life-change.  What some may call devotion to a cause others may call brainwashing by a cult.

I suspect that many of these cases are not spiritual obsession, but rather psychological imbalance propping itself up with religion.  If they weren't Hackers for Christ or Fag-Bashers for Jesus, they'd be using Karl Marx, Allah or some similar excuse for their misbehavior. But this of course begs the question: how many of the people who report "Goetic obsession" are merely suffering from a psychological imbalance triggered by the events which led them to resort to the Goetia?

Perhaps it would be helpful to draw a distinction between individuals who have sustained changes after an encounter with the spirit world and those who appear to be suffering continued oppression from a spirit entity. Divine encounters frequently result in changes in the mystic's life and outlook, but the entity in question doesn't stay around and micromanaging the mystic's consciousness.  With spirit oppression, there's Something Else which steps in and starts reprogramming the person. In my experience, this Something Else is typically either a wandering ghost or a lesser spirit: gods and archangels don't generally do this. Neither do lwa or orisha: they may ride a horse but they depart when the ride is finished.

Those who can see spirits will frequently see something hovering around or just within the auras of those suffering from spirit infestation. Those who can't will sometimes note that the person "doesn't feel right" -- their eyes are "weird" and their aura feels "tainted," like you're standing next to a sculpture made out of rotting meat. Unfortunately, this is difficult to replicate in a laboratory and so it is hard to use these guidelines as hard and fast rules for determining when infestation is taking place.

It also appears that in cases of infestation "like attracts like." Someone with anger management issues is likely to get infected by a wrathful spirit, greedy people may host spirits of avarice, sexual obsessives become prey to lust-spirits, etc. Since the Goetia focuses primarily on working changes in the material world, it's not surprising that those who use it are generally greatly desiring a new sex partner, more money, an ass-whipping for a hated enemy, etc. And since the Goetic spirits appear to be closer to and more interested in this material plane, it's not surprising that they both work more quickly and are more likely to stick around and have some fun with their new host.

Again, this is all rather preliminary. I think the nature of spiritual oppression needs more careful analysis and discussion. The term gets bandied about a lot, and most working magicians I know would agree that such a thing exists. But there's no clear-cut definition and little in the way of theories as to why it occurs, what the spirits gain from oppressing individuals, and how spiritual oppression relates to other forms of spiritual or etheric alteration or damage.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy St. Joseph's Day

In honor of St. Joseph's feast day, here is an excerpt from The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook. While in Haiti St. Joseph is most famous as the image used to represent Papa Loko, in New Orleans he is a major saint in his own right. I listed him as one of the "bringers of good fortune" because he is such a powerful intercessor in financial matters. If you need some financial success, here are some ways you can call on his assistance.

Oh, St. Joseph, you worked as a humble carpenter, earning your wages by the sweat of your brow. Assist me in obtaining my wages that I may be able to support myself and my loved ones as you supported Jesus and Mary. Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, so that I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
After the Civil War New Orleans became a favorite destination for Italians traveling to the New World. Between 1850 and 1870 the city had more Italian immigrants than any other city in America: the French Quarter became known as “Little Palermo” and “Little Sicily” thanks to its large Italian population. These new residents brought with them their cuisine (which is still enjoyed today in po’ boys and muffaletta sandwiches) and their work ethic. They also brought with them an undying devotion to a saint who has become a New Orleans favorite – St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

In Italy, as in New Orleans, one celebrates a holiday by feasting. St. Joseph is typically honored on his day (March 19) with groaning tables of food put out in his honor. This tradition has been carried over to the Crescent City. A table put out in the 1920s by Mrs. Messina, a New Orleans Italian, gives you some idea of how big these repasts can be:
I have five hundred different kinds of food. Besides the three sorts of Saint Joseph’s bread, I have stuffed artichokes, stuffed crabs, stuffed peppers, stuffed celery, stuffed eggs and stuffed tomatoes. I have lobsters, red snapper fish, shrimps, crayfish, spaghettis, macaronis, spinach, peanuts, layer cakes, pies, pineapples… My God! I have everything!
In addition to food, these tables are also decorated with flowers, candles, electic lights, and statues of saints, with a large statue of Saint Joseph occupying the place of honor. Whatever else they may contain, they always have St. Joseph’s Bread (a braided egg bread which is almost identical to the challah bread served on the Sabbath in Jewish homes). They also have a large bowl of fava beans. At the end of the feast the leftover food is given to the poor. Participants take with them a bean and a small piece of bread. The bread is kept in the house until next year: it is said that in return St. Joseph will keep the household from going hungry. The beans are said to bring good luck. While it is traditional to leave a coin on the altar in exchange for this gift, gamblers will sometimes leave large sums of money in exchange for a lucky bean.

If you want to win St. Joseph’s favor, you can make a special St. Joseph’s potpourri for him. Place in a white bowl the following: Balm Of Gilead buds, juniper berries, tonka beans (also known as wishing beans), fava beans and star anise. If you can find them you can add fishberries, also known as Levant berries. Fishberries were part of the original mixture catalogued by Zora Neale Hurston but can be difficult to find as they are quite toxic and no longer widely used in conventional or alternative medicine. Basil (also known as St. Joseph’s Wort) will be an acceptable substitute. Put this bowl before your St. Joseph statue or image and add fresh potpourri regularly: not only will it be a great offering, but it will fill your space with a subtle fresh scent that will draw positive energy and good fortune.

To make a powerful St. Joseph’s oil, place this mixture at the bottom of an oil lamp: fill the lamp with high quality olive oil and place it before your St. Joseph image, then light it and leave it burning while you say a Rosary in St. Joseph’s name. When you are finished, snuff out the lamp: repeat this for nine days (a Novena). After you have said these prayers, strain out the potpourri and save the oil. You can then use the oil to anoint the doorway of your business or your workplace: you can also put a few drops on your wallet or bankbook if you are looking for a raise. As the patron saint of workers, St. Joseph will be happy to offer his assistance if you’re willing to do your share and earn your money.

And while St. Joseph is typically called upon to help out in money matters, he is also a sympathetic defender of lovelorn men. New Orleanians who suspect their wives of infidelity will often come to St. Joseph for his help. They reason that since his wife had someone else’s baby, he will understand their plight and come to their aid. This may seem disrespectful, but it has a long history. In medieval mystery plays, St. Joseph was often played for comic relief as a cuckolded husband: among Eastern Christians, he was frequently presented in Nativity scenes as despondent and downhearted, unable to comprehend the great mystery of the Incarnation and filled with doubt at his wife’s purity. Yet he was able to overcome those doubts, become a loving husband to Mary, and support the young Jesus as his own child. It is not surprising that he would take pity on others who find themselves in a similar situation and offer them his help.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New Review on Runes: Theory and Practice by Galina Krasskova

I have just posted a review of Galina Krasskova's Runes: Theory & Practice on Amazon. Galina has written a number of excellent books on Heathenry and the Northern tradition, including Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner and Exploring The Northern Tradition. But in this case she has really outdone herself. Galina is one of the first writers to treat the runes not as tools for divination but as sentient beings which not only tell us about the world and the future but actively create and shape it.  Her work is profound yet clearly written and accessible to anyone who wants to put in the work to truly master the Runes for divination and magic.  I can't recommend this one highly enough and congratulate New Page Books on putting out yet another great tome.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And the Goetia Discussion Continues

In his latest post, Frater Rufus Opus says:
Have you noticed how quick people are to blame the spirits in Goetia when things go badly? I've never seen any system so quick to get booted to the curb in spite of previous successes. Magicians can have years of good results with a spirit, but if they have one bad experience, all the spirits of the system are bad bad bad.

There are so many assumptions and prejudices surrounding these spirits that the skills required to use them effectively, consistently may never be gained, documented, and disseminated to the occult community. It's annoying as hell. If people shelved Angelic Magic, Planetary Magic, or even your average Pagan conjurations of Hekate every time they had a ritual provide results they didn't like, no one would do any magic at all.

I think one of the reasons for this is that when Goetic workings go bad they tend to do so in a spectacular fashion. Planetary or Pagan workings don't generally explode with quite that degree of messiness.  (I have, however, seen this kind of blowback from lwa and orisha workings that went awry. I've talked to at least one person who sought Oya's assistance in solving the problems with the money pit house he had just purchased. Oya solved them by burning said house down. Unfortunately, he had been so busy paying for repairs that he neglected to purchase homeowner's insurance. He later on became an initiate in Lukumi: I don't recall whether or not Oya was his crowning orisha, but I trust that in any event he was more careful about asking her for favors).

If lots of people who have worked with the Goetia tell horror stories about the Goetic spirits turned on them, they may all be falling prey to their Judeochristian conditioning. Or they may have decided the risk outweighs the reward. It seems that lots of people who have worked with the Goetia talk about getting their fingers burned. Not all of them are cowards, Christian fundamentalists or incompetent magicians.

That being said, I would be interested in seeing a useful system which allowed magicians to work with the Goetic entities safely, consistently and effectively. Such systems exist for the lwa and orisha: those who get badly burned generally do so because they don't know those systems or think they are unnecessary.  I suspect that consistently safe Goetic workings will involve many of the trappings which some modern magicians believe are unnecessary.
The really funny part though? When things go well with Goetia, it's because the magicians are following the grimoire's instructions properly, or are psychically shielded, or somehow appropriately initiated, or otherwise prepared the way a good magician should be, but if things go badly, the spirits themselves are somehow corrupt, kick you when you're down, or are "corrosive."
If a spell works, I presume it is because the magician did things correctly. If a spell blows up in the magician's face, I presume it is because said magician made a mistake. I'm not sure why Frater R.O. would object to that classification. If one keeps a magical diary, presumably one of the reasons is to ascertain what works, what does not work, and what really, really, really does not work.

I hear many more tales of Goetic workings gone awry than Angelic, Enochian, Wiccan, Planetary, etc. workings.  My own experience suggests that the spirits I worked with had detrimental effects on my mental and spiritual well-being. (I believe that I could have avoided much if not all of that pain by being more careful with shielding and coming at the ritual from a place of calm rather than a highly emotional state: I found that Goetic work, like boxing, requires concentration and focus and once you start fighting rather than boxing you've lost the match... ). So I think it is reasonable to at least entertain the idea that these creatures are hard to handle at best and actively hostile to humanity at worst.

Again, I am not using the words "corrupt," "evil," "demonic," etc. to describe the Goetic entities. I am simply suggesting that there may be some good reasons for their bad reputation.  I believe they are more difficult to handle than many other spirits and less forgiving of mistakes on the part of the summoner. This is not the same as saying they are "evil." Venomous snakes are no more "evil" than nonvenomous snakes -- but I don't recommend handling a king cobra the same way you handle a boa constrictor.
Objectively speaking, I've had at least as many, if not more positive results that I was happy with after Working the so-called demons as I've had with alleged Angels. I've been disappointed more with the Angels, but mostly because when I want something badly enough to do magic about it, I want the results like fucking yesterday, man! Not in a couple of weeks.
This is another thing which makes me think the Goetic entities are very like the "djabs chaud" (hot djabs) of Haitian magic. They get you quick results, and tend to specialize in making changes to the material world. But they are hard to handle and can do injury to the summoner and those in the immediate vicinity if they get too riled up.  It doesn't mean they are to be avoided altogether: there are many magical workings one can do with a djab as an ally or a travay (work) spirit. But it is vital that the practitioner recognizes the danger and takes the appropriate precautions.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kenaz Filan Interview tonight on KAPS Paranormal Radio

I will be appearing on KAPS Paranormal Radio tonight at 8pm Eastern time.  I'm looking forward to chatting with Dave and Tom and fielding questions from interested listeners.  They are taking calls at 248-545-SOUL and have a chat room for those who wish to send their messages online. Talk to you soon!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Still More Demonic Stuff II: Good, Evil, and Goetia

The Goetia discussion continues throughout the Blogsphere, and since comments I made have come up in a few posts, I thought I'd respond here.

On his blog Balthazar commented:
The idea that all Goetic spirits are inherently corrosive and non-human seems a bit heavy handed coming from a Vodou practitioner. The same allegations have been made about the Lwa, many of whom are quite dangerous and unpredictable in their own right - and have been demonized for that very reason - either by protestant or evangelical observers citing that as evidence of their inhuman, corrosive nature. Calling them demons. Are the Lwa in fact demons, or would it be more correct to say that some people are more skilled at handling them than others?

What's more is that the spirits of the Goetia are quite frequently forms of older pagan spirits who remained useful but because they didn't fit into the oppressive theological hegemony of the time were made into demons - because presumedly all pagan spirits must necessarily be demons. Sound familiar?
I find this comment interesting because I specifically avoided using the words "demon" and "evil" to describe the Goetic entities.  I agree with Balthazar that these terms obfuscate rather than clarify: they are generally used as shorthand for "other people's gods" and "things I don't agree with," respectively. If that wasn't clear enough in my first post, hopefully this will remove any confusion.

However, I will note that for centuries the Goetia has been considered the "Book of Evil Spirits." The person who first compiled this book considered them to be evil: the people who worked with this book considered them to be evil. I think it is worthwhile to question why they considered these spirits to be demonic while referring to other spirits as angelic. There are certainly many grimoires which teach you how to summon archangels, angels, planetary spirits and other entities which are not classified as "demons." Why did these magicians, who presumably had experience working with angelic magic, decide that the Goetic entities were "evil spirits" and "demonic?"  Writing that off as mere superstition and bigotry on their parts is an easy gloss over a difficult question.

There is a long tradition of the lwa being served as benevolent protectors. There is an equally long tradition that some lwa are not so benevolent and should be approached with caution.  I don't "demonize" Marinette Bwa Cheche or Linglessou Bassin-Sang (Linglessou Bucket-of-Blood) when I advise that they should only be petitioned by or with the aid of experienced practitioners, and only for a damned good reason.  They serve a vital role within the Vodou tradition, but they are still dangerous. Spiders and bacteria are an important part of the ecosystem, but I'm not going to snort anthrax spores or drop Black Widows down my shorts to prove my oneness with nature. 

Balthazar makes another, very interesting observation:
Demonic obsession gets mentioned a lot in this discussion. Well, I know a lot of people who are obsessed by the Holy Spirit - to the extent that the other day I had to deal with a DNS poisoning issue with this blog, which kept redirecting the URL to some evangelical ministries website, assumedly devised by some righteous holy hacker. I also had to deal with a spiritual attack from the self same bunch waged most likely with imprecatory prayer. Talk about obsession. Lord only knows why my little blog would provoke such an effort - I wasn't going to give them any air time, for fear of encouraging their bigoted shenanigans but it seems appropriate to mention. I am not going to even go into the religious nut-jobs who kill, beat and maim for Jesus. Is the Holy Spirit a corrosive, inhuman demon?
This is a very important point. If we are going to talk about Goetia (or possession work), we need to discuss the nature of obsession and oppression.  I will be discussing this in further detail in my next post: in the meantime I thank Balthazar for his input.  I am impressed by how this discussion has produced a lot of intelligent and informative material. While there are obviously disagreements among various practitioners, they have been presented politely and rationally: we may not all come to complete agreement but I think we can all learn something from each other.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Time for Magic to Change: a Conversation with Shawn Melcic

I recently received an e-mail from Shawn Melcic concerning my recent interview in Mystic Wicks magazine.  With his permission, I wanted to share that exchange here:
I recently read your article in MysticWicks Magazine and I wanted to applaud you.  Most people anymore are content to say that they're pagan, barely examine it, and all of a sudden they are a high priest or priestess.  We do need another group like the Golden Dawn to actively engage people and teach them something valuable about what it is they believe.
Personally, I think some of these new groups may arise from the Internet. They may be mailing lists or invite-only forums, but they will be closed and selective. Instead of gaining degrees through ceremonies, one will gain credibility within these groups by contributing intelligent and worthwhile material.  (Of course this will lead inevitably to schisms and new forums developing: ultimately this will be a Good Thing, as it will result in cross-pollination like we saw with the various G.D. and O.T.O. spinoffs).

There are also a few of the old-model groups doing some good, solid work. Ivo Dominguez, Jr.'s Assembly of the Sacred Wheel comes to mind, as does the Universal Temple of Spirits and Raven Kaldera's Kingdom of Asphodel. There are definitely serious teachers out there. Unfortunately, they generally don't proselytize and they expect their members to make serious efforts and put the theory into practice. This means they don't get quite so much attention as the "Become Enlightened in Ten Easy Lessons" people. But this is fine, given the nature of our path. Mystery religions have never been mass movements: they are aimed at a limited number of people who are willing to do what it takes to encounter the Divine.
The question, however, is who is going to do it and when?  Better yet, what would be required to do so without getting beaten down by the mighty hand of government?  What would we need to do in order to visit a real life temple to a goddess on pagan soil?  You have my attention... now where do we go from here?
I think the dangers of government intervention are greatly exaggerated. A few dozen folks discussing magical and spiritual topics aren't likely to catch the attention of Homeland Security.  And we have a number of Pagan festivals which create Pagan sacred space for attendees: I think the secret will be to keep them going.  (And, of course, the best way to do that is to go to as many festivals as you can manage and afford! It's not just fun -- it's a spiritual mitzvah!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

That Old Black Magic: the Lesser Key of Solomon

There has been some Goetia discussion on two of my favorite blogs, with Jason Miller and Frater Rupus Opus offering commentary on their work with the Lesser Key of Solomon. Since it was sparked by a comment I made in my Amazon review of Jason's excellent Sorcerer's Secrets, I thought I should chime in with my tuppence.

I agree that using terms like "good" and "evil" only serves to muddy the water. I prefer the Vodou lingo of "hot" and "cool" spirits. By that definition, Goetic entities are definitely hot. They are fast-acting, strong and close to the material plane: they can also be difficult to handle and have a tendency to turn on the summoner if they sense weakness. There are plenty of djabs which behave in this fashion, and plenty of practitioners who are able to work successfully with those djabs.

In my experience I have found that Goetic entities are, for lack of a better word, corrosive. If the proper shields and protections are not in place, the magician can experience negative effects.  From an alt.magick post I made in March 1995:
In January of 1991 I had a Goetic working backfire on me. I had worked with this particular entity (Furcas, aka Forcas) before and had always had positive results. This time I summoned him with a somewhat more negative intention: to cause grievous bodily injury to a person who had ripped me off for a substantial sum of money.

No, I wasn't found with one toe outside my "Ritual Circle" and my head twisted 180 degrees. And yes, I did get some results. The person who ripped me off had several ribs broken in a gang attack, lost his girlfriend, and went from being a promising musician to having all his guitar equipment stolen.

What happened was the Furcas energy or entity "bled over" from magickal space (i.e. the ritual) and started obsessing my personality. (I see the Goetic demons as constructs within the collective unconscious; others may disagree with me). Several very close friends refused to have anything to do with me, as they said I had become "hard" and "mean." (I found stuff like Faces of Death unutterably funny, for example). I became fascinated with Richard Ramirez to the point where I stuck up a picture of him in my apartment (the one where he's holding up the pentagram drawn on his hand). I also remember a profound feeling of disassociation. There were times when I would look into a mirror and not recognize the person looking back.

In a couple months this went away. To this day I still haven't regained some of the friends I lost, though (not that it matters at this point) and still feel like there's emotional "scar tissue" in certain points of my psyche. Not as spectacular as a dragon summoning killing a dozen people, true... but that's the best I have to offer.
(I should note that I now see the Goetic entities as indepenent and sentient entities, not constructs. Other than that, this post remains a pretty accurate description of my experience with Furcas).

My personal feeling is that Goetic entities (I'm deliberately avoiding calling them "demons" because I realize that is a loaded term that contains a lot of Christian baggage) are not just non-human but non-mammalian. David Cronenberg's line about "insect politics" comes to mind.  They are not capable of mammalian emotions like bonding and nurturing: they aren't going to become our friends and they see attempts to negotiate as signs of weakness. The only language they understand is power: the only way to deal with them is to force them to do your bidding.  And once you've done this you had best watch your back, since they have long memories.

Others may have had a different experience than mine and may have established a different relationship with the Goetic entities. All I am going by is what I have seen and felt. As I said in the original review of Jason's book, we can agree to disagree. When it comes to magic, there are no experts: there are only those who have come to the Temple by their own path.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Evangelical Christianity: the Blood of Jesus Washes Over Haiti

Continuing our discussion of the Evangelical movement in Haiti, this is an excerpt from my latest book, Vodou Money Magic, concerning the history of Haitian Protestantism and Evangelical Christianity.

Poverty is not the reason for rapid church growth in Haiti. One of the more important factors is voodoo. This mixture of Christian and pagan beliefs produces a fear of the spirit world. Christ's message is one of freedom from the powers of darkness.
The Haitian church is also a very alive and aggressive church. There is a big emphasis on effective prayer. Lively congregational singing and special music are important parts of the services. A large percentage of church members are very active witnesses for the Lord. Local churches feel a heavy responsibility for planting sister churches in nearby villages
        Howard Culbertson, missionary to Haiti, 1987
      In 1817 Alexander Petion asked the Methodists to establish a primary school in Port-au-Prince. By the mid-nineteenth century, there were a number of Protestant missions in Haiti.  Staffed largely by African-American missionaries, they could be found throughout the Haitian countryside. During the 1915-1934 occupation, Haiti came under the direct control of the United States.  America had long been a majority Protestant culture, with a long history of anti-Catholic sentiment.  It was also a country in the grip of the revival movement, with preachers like Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson pulling in bumper crowds throughout the nation.  Still, their efforts bore little fruit.  In 1930, during the occupation’s final years and after a decade of missionary efforts, only 1.5% of Haiti’s population identified as Protestant.

      1950 marked a turning point for the Haitian Evangelical movement.  That year Paul and Mary Orjala, young Nazarene missionaries, first arrived in Haiti.  The Orjalas would remain there until 1964, establishing and conducting a Bible Training School (Séminaire Theologique Nazaréen d' Haiti in Port-au-Prince) which would prepare a generation of native-born Haitian evangelists. Today 70% of the Nazarene church membership of the Caribbean Region is in the country of Haiti.  There are over 100,000 Nazarenes living in Haiti – more than that of any other country in the world with the exception of the United States.

      That same year Radio 4VEH, "La Voix Evangelique d' Haiti" (the Evangelistic Voice of Haiti), began broadcasting in Vaudreuil in northern Haiti. Under the Rev. G.T. Bustin, the East and West Indies Bible Mission (now the Evangelical Bible Ministries) offered broadcasts in French, Spanish and Kreyol. Where the Catholic clergy spoke French, these ministers offered messages in the language of the local population.  They began to attract a growing following among the poorest of Haiti’s poor.  Other radio ministries would follow: today Evangelical groups control 7 of Haiti’s radio stations.

      After he came to power in 1957 Papa Doc Duvalier sought a counterbalance against the power of the ever-troublesome Catholic Church.  Toward that end, he welcomed Protestant missionaries.  Because their visas could be revoked at a moment’s notice, foreign pastors generally sought to avoid political entanglements. Under the Duvalier regime, missionaries had a great deal of freedom to build schools and engage in aid projects: so numerous were these groups that by the 1970s any White man traveling in the countryside was likely to be called “pastor” by the local populace. Alarmed by the growth of Protestantism among the poor, many of Haiti’s Catholic leaders began distancing themselves from the ruling party while others became part of a growing Catholic populist movement.

      Unlike earlier crusades, this one appears to have taken root in country:  today we see an ever-increasing number of Evangelical Protestants within the Haitian and Haitian-American community.  Because the mythology of Evangelical Christianity is more dualistic than Haitian folk culture, they can only explain uncanny healings or possessions in terms of "devil worship" and "Satanism." As a result, they are often openly hostile to Vodou.  Many see it as bondage to the forces of darkness and a major cause of Haitian violence, injustice and poverty.  By bringing the Good News to their fellows, they hope not only to save souls but to save their country.

      There has been self-righteous clucking in the usual quarters about Evangelicals perpetuating acts of “cultural genocide” against Vodou and its practitioners. The relationship between Evangelicals and Vodouisants is certainly more tense than the relationship between Vodouisants and the Catholic Church.  A member of our société comes from an Evangelical family: were they to discover that she serves the lwa, she would be disowned.  But we should not neglect the benefits which missionary money has brought to Haiti.  Their aid organizations are often more well-funded, transparently managed and efficient than their secular counterparts – when there are any secular counterparts.

      A growing number of  Haitian Vodouisants have decided the protection of Jesus is less onerous and costly than the protection of the lwa and family spirits.  While houngan et mambo pas travay pou un granmesi (Houngans and Mambos don’t work for a big thank you i.e. they charge for their services), many missions offer free health care, education and other opportunities to those willing to profess the faith.  For those converts, Evangelical Christianity offers more powerful and effective magic than Vodou.  Vodou has survived many other challenges to its existence: it will be interesting to see how it responds to market pressure from a hostile competitor which seeks to convert, not just pacify, its target clientele.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Evangelicals and Vodouisants in Haiti

Recently mailing lists and blogs have been abuzz with commentary concerning the Evangelical attack on a Vodou ceremony in Cité Soleil.  Many Pagans see this as yet another attack on alternative religions by the Evil Christian Empire: many Afrocentric thinkers consider it yet another incident of cultural genocide. The truth, as is frequently the case, is considerably more complicated.

In the best of times Cité Soleil is a lawless place. These are far from the best of times. People are seeking desperately to make sense of the tragedy that has taken place. Some Evangelicals have decided that God has punished Haiti for its tolerance of Vodou and so decided to take matters into their own hands. Other Haitian Evangelicals have offered a more nuanced response. From the article referenced above:
One Evangelical priest in the middle-class Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville claimed Wednesday that more than 200 people came to his church to convert after the January 12 quake. "They say that God struck the country," said Sainvoyus Raymond of the First Baptist Church of Petionville, adding that some of those who converted were previously voodooists.
Raymond, however, condemned the attack in Cite Soleil, saying violence should not be condoned and anyone was free to worship in whatever way they chose.
Rejecting claims that voodoo practices in the country were to blame for the killer quake, Raymond said instead that the disaster was God's response to all evil in Haiti, including violence and kidnapping.
Many Pagans would like to turn the Cité Soleil Vodouisants into fellow victims of the New Burning Times and the Evil American Fundamentalist Establishment. But Pat Robertson's ignorant and offensive comments about Haiti were hardly the impetus for this attack.  This was a bunch of poor and frightened people acting out in response to a horrible tragedy. (And it's not just Evangelicals who are scared: Haitian friends of mine have described "Lougawou killings" which sound uncomfortably like African witch-hunts and which owe more to Vodou and Haitian folk religion than to any form of Protestant or Catholic Christianity).

This is not to minimize or justify attacks on Vodouisants or any other kind of mob violence which takes place in the wake of the Haiti quake. But I think it is important to view this in the proper context, and to refrain from using it as a chance to engage in knee-jerk Christian-bashing.