Jailbreaking the Saints

Dedication

Para Nossa Senhora de Lourdes, que protege pelo menos 3 gerações da minha família, incluindo esse queer bruxe, a mae do ceu que me ama como eu sou.

For St Lucy and Freya, who charged me to “Write a story where I live,” and guarded me in that journey. May your golden shining continue until the end of humanity.

Prologue

There are at least two kinds of saints that polytheists and pagans can form healthy relationships with: the Mighty Dead and Deities. To be clear, while any saint can be seen as a member of the Mighty Dead, not all can be seen as deities. Here, I will go over theoretical basis for each of these relationships, and give examples. My goal is not to say what the “true nature” of the saints is; I don’t believe there is such a thing. Rather, I want to leave you with the impression that saints are complex and sacred mysteries that have room for a polytheist and pagan interpretation. I want us to live in harmony alongside other faiths that interpret and make relationships with saints.

What happens when someone who was raised within a Christian culture but is not Christian takes a concept from Christianity and changes it? To put it in more general terms, what happens when someone takes a concept from the cultural hegemony they live in and reinterprets it? That’s what a living tradition looks like. That’s where folk magic comes from. The “misuse” of Saints as spirits of the dead to be prayed to or deities in themselves is exactly what they have always been, regardless of official church doctrine. In the wake of Christian regimes forcing their religion on others, it seems especially appropriate that their imagery and practices should be adapted by whoever.

Pagans who take the concept of sainthood are just stepping into a magical current that has been around us the entire time. Elevated dead, in particular, require no Jesus or Saviour or Monotheism. To say the saints are deities to be worshipped rather than spirits to be venerated strikes right where the institutional churches are most vehement in their denial. Further, the adaptation of a practice our ancestors would recognize can be very healing for some people. For myself, it is a feeling of being connected but different, a feeling of being properly uncomfortable instead of harmed.

My experience taking this idea from workshop to essay is that pagans raised in a Catholic context have no problem whatsoever with this idea. They often come to the discussion with a sense of relief and joy. Pagans and polytheists raised in a Protestant context vary. Some are curious, some are eager, and some find the entire idea ludicrous. Whatever your context, know that this material is open to you. Explore it at your own pace.

A Final Note: for the duration of this essay, please think of Mother Mary as the Queen of Saints and as a saint herself.

The Mighty Dead

Let’s begin with a very narrow interpretation of what a Saint is, then expand it. To start, let’s look at a definition so narrow that we can all agree it is bad.

“A saint is a saint because the pope said so.”

That’s obviously not true. By looking at why it isn’t true, we can come to a robust and nuanced understanding. To start, we’re pagans; we don’t take direction from the pope. Christians don’t even agree on whether or not to listen to the pope. Coptic, Orthodox, Protestant, and other churches all take direction from other leaders, and some of them have active relationships with the Saints.

When you look at how a saint becomes a saint according to the pope, the definition becomes a little wider. The first step to becoming a saint after dying in the Catholic church is to be a “folk saint”. That is, people venerate someone who has passed as a Saint. That veneration of the deceased is what cues the local church officials to investigate that person. So, one way to look at the sainthood process is that the people make someone a saint by venerating them, and the official church procedure just changes what kind of saint the person is.

Along with being able to widen the definition within Christian churches and cultures, there are many similar (but not identical) practices in other spiritual paths for which the only good translation into english is “saint”. Obviously, it isn’t a 1-to-1 matchup. Every culture and path conceives of its honored dead differently, but the permeability of the sainthood concept is important.

So who should we think of making a saint?  Here are my general guidelines. Your mileage may vary.

1) The Saint has to be dead. They do not have to be a human (Balto) or a historical person (St. Cyprian of Antioch). They do have to be dead.

2) They should have accomplished something that was a benefit to their community or humanity as a whole. Doreen Valiente, for example, wrote the Charge of the Goddess, a poem that is referenced by many present day Neo-Pagans. My great-grandmother Nicacia, while an amazing woman, only really worked for the benefit of her family. (Obrigade, Vovo) They do not have to have been a perfect human being. Doreen Valiente certainly had her faults. But please refrain from trying to Saint someone who committed genocide or some other Obviously Terrible Bad Thing.

3) You must have their consent. Aside from issues of cultural sensitivity (Be careful about sainting Jewish people, for example. That’s a sticky topic.), some people just don’t want to be sainted. Some people. even if they do want to be sainted, don’t want to work with you. If you don’t know how to talk to dead people, that is a little beyond the scope of this essay.

Local folk heroes make great saints. Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame seems to be very happy as a saint in Pittsburgh. Joe Magarac, a sort of steel worker counterpart to John Henry, also takes well to being treated as Saint Joe.

Some Christian saints don’t seem to care if their devotees are Christian or not. St. Anthony has been known to find lost things for all manner of heathens. St Lawrence, patron saint of cooks and giver of the middle finger to the Roman Empire, also doesn’t seem to care if the person praying to him is a follower of his Christ.

Another good category is ancestors of spirit. Queer History is filed with people who worked hard for Gay and Trans power: Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and William Arondeus are all examples of people who did good for humanity and were queer. There are also ancestors of the craft such as Doreen Valiente and Isobel Gowdie.

Deities

From what I have researched so far, most syncretism between saints and deities happens under forced conversion. Forced conversion to Christianity has been happening since the reign of Theodosius in the 300’s. It continues right up to today. I can’t speak to many countries, but in Brazil there is a strong movement by Evangelicals and Catholics to repress the Afro-Brazilian religions. There, the government seems to look the other way all too often in favor of the Christians, making it difficult for the practitioners of Candomblé and other such faiths to protect their altars and sacred sites.

In the US the landscape is different, but we all know pagans who are or have in the past lived with Christian family members who punished any sign of atheism or paganism. The Wild Hunt has been covering the repression of non-Christian faiths in South Africa, though I have no idea if there is any syncretism with the saints in that country. Forced conversion to Christianity may not use the same kind of violence that it has in the past, but it continues to today on a massive scale.

In order to look at the relationship between saints and deities, let us begin by looking at La Virgen de Guadalupe. In the poem that is her sacred text, it is made clear that La Virgen is both a saint and an indigenous goddess. It is not a 50-50 split either. La Virgen is clear that she encompasses both things, and that is part of her miracle.

We can see a similar nature in Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes. Venerated in Portugal as a patron of fishermen, she was brought to Brazil and syncretized with the Orisha Iemanja. While her feast day in Portugal is the 15th of August, in Brazil she is worshipped/venerated on February 2nd. I have joined followers of Candomblé, Catholicism, Spiritualism, Atheism, and others as they go to the beach to give roses to the sea. Fishermen and sailors decorate their boats with flowers and take their boats out to the bay. Whether the person is celebrating a saint, a goddess, or just their culture, the entity of the feast holds all these interpretations and doesn’t seem to mind. Just be sure to give her roses.

Nothing pisses off tyrants like trying to rule over people who don’t have the same religion. It’s why the Romans killed Christians when they were polytheists, then turned around and killed pagans when they were Christian. As Christianity started to split off from Judaism, Christians were respectful of their Jewish neighbors. It was the propaganda of the priests, by then deeply ingrained in the politics of the day, that caused the shift from peaceful neighbors to the rabid mob violence that continues to this day. The violent sectarian conflicts within Christendom are almost always tied to some form of power struggle between elites.

When we look at the present day phenomenon of syncretism, it can give us clues to how previous eras of syncretism functioned. Some would argue, for example, that Saint Brigid of Kildare and the goddess Brigid are not the same entity. I disagree. I think the entity is both a saint and a deity, an unbroken line of worship from the Celts of antiquity to the present day. This interpretation leaves room for Catholics, Pagans, Atheists, and Agnostics to come to the same symbol and live as neighbors.

Since not every saint is a deity, there are at least a few different ways to figure out which saints are and which aren’t.

Obviously, when it comes to syncretism and deities of West African peoples and African diaspora, you can go ask your local practitioner as the practices are more out in the open then they have been in previous centuries. When we get to the Celts, Slavs, and Norse peoples, there is another goldmine of information called Interpretatio Christiana. The IC was a church policy for many centuries that is built out of the Roman Empire’s assimilation policies. Basically, priests will co-opt local temples and festivals of polytheist deities by dedicating them to their Jesus and their saints.

Brigid is an obvious example of the co-opting of a feast day and practices. The keeping of a sacred fire passed from druids to nuns. The feast of the saint is on the same day as Imbolc, a day many pagans know is sacred to Brigid. The cathedral dedicated to St Brigid in Ireland is on the same land that once held the goddess’s fire temple.

In addition to being a saint and a goddess, Brigid is also syncretized to a loa called Maman Brigitte in Haiti. Both the Haitian loa and the Celtic goddess have connections with fire and snakes. So Brigid is a good example of just how wide and nuanced the room for interpretation is. For those of us who don’t feel the need to find the “true” interpretation, only our own interpretation, interfaith respect and shared space is possible. In this case, interfaith respect includes respecting that Voodoo is a closed faith and has certain boundaries around who builds relationships with the loa and how.

Now I want to turn to another Saint, John the Baptist. His feast day is June 24, and in the northeast of Brazil, this is a very well-celebrated holiday. Fireworks are set off, bonfires are lit, and we celebrate our farmers, who work hard in a drought-ridden land to produce crops. All over Europe, similar traditions abound. Folks in Puerto Rico and Voodoo practitioners in Louisiana also have their own celebrations. Witches are rumored to meet. Ritual baths are taken. Bonfires are jumped. A lot of plant magic is done as well. From fern seeds to yarrow, plants collected on this day are said to have special properties of healing and luck.

Saint Eligius, a great example of a Saint who is not a deity, used the Interpretatio Christiana to lure people away from the pagan rites of midsummer toward the Feast Day of Saint John. We may not know all the deities St John is syncretized to, but we know some of them, such as Kupala from Slavaic Paganism. My belief is that you do not have to know what deity the saint was syncretized to. If the signs are there, all that is left is to ask the Saint.

That last point is truly what drove this essay.

Practices

So what are some practical, concrete things someone can do to start interacting with the saints as a polytheist?

Novena jar candles. Go nuts. Draw the folk saints that matter to you and modge podge the image onto a blank novena candle. I made one for Mr. Rogers, and he seems very happy with it. You can also look for novena candles of the saint-deities you want to reach out to, but most of what is available will be the saints syncretized to native Central American Deities and those who are popular in the Carribean. I have yet to see a St. John, for instance. So for those, you may want to draw your own as well.

Another thing I deeply recommend is bastardizing the rosary as a set of prayer beads. You can buy one and alter it or make your own from scratch. Either way, you will need replacements for the following prayers:

  • The Apostles creed is a declaration of faith. Write your own declaration of faith or use this bead as a time to ground yourself before working. I chant a hymn to Death because that’s what feels right to me.
  • The Our Father prayer is a declaration of gratitude to Creator. You could replace this with a prayer to Star Goddess or Gaia or to your own Sacred Self.
  • Glory Be isn’t so much a prayer as an endcap. I’m still fiddling with this one, but there’s no reason you can’t use “Blessed Be” or “So Mote it Be” or a declaration of intent.
  • The Hail Mary is the bread and butter of the Catholic rosary. Confession: Mary is my patron, so I use a version of the Hail Mary with the words “Jesus” and “sinner” taken out. You could replace this with a mantra or a prayer to any divinity you want, but if you have read this far in the zine then praying to Mary, Queen of Saints is something you should consider.

When praying a Rosary, there is typically an intent. Contemplating mystery, praying for the dead to find peace, trying to draw in a lover: you can choose the intent you feel is right. That intent is a good thing to replace the “Glory Be” with, as I mentioned above.

The last thing I want to recommend, especially if you cannot be open about your polytheism, is prayer cards. They’re very cheap and can be bought online or at Catholic shops. Yo can use them for hidden, informal altars, or add them to more formal workspaces.

 

Credentials

I was recently asked to provide credentials on why I, and other Reclaiming Witches, have the right to call ourselves witches. Specifically, the concerns raised were that we call ourselves witches in the face of many ongoing deaths under the title, and that we are being culturally appropriative when we use the name.

I understand the concern. To be called a witch has been and continues to be serious accusation. Whether the accusation is of casting baneful magic on our human neighbors or of practicing illegitimate spirituality or magic, a witch is in many contexts not to be taken lightly. It stands in contrast to the joyful and sometimes flippant parade of altar pics on social media.

However, I cannot appropriate from my own culture, and the reclamation of the term witch is indeed that: a reclamation. We present day witches recognize that if we lived in a different time and place our actions would very well lead to our arrest and/or murder.

To provide a longer explanation, I want to begin with how we have inheritance of the term. The word witch comes to us through many avenues. The Puritans and other Christian sects who colonized the land very obviously brought the witch hunt with them, as evidenced by the famous Salem Witch Hunt. Many of us still deal with the spiritual repercussions: shame around the body, black and white moral thinking, and family from whom the practice must be kept secret. We also inherit other cultural baggage from those Christians: taboos around dance, drink, music, and just general fun.

Present day Evangelical Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Fundamentalist Christians have a very real belief in witches and will punish children who express interest in those forms of magic or spirituality. In the last 6 months I have seen at least 4 minors asking for help who live in this situation in the US and Brazil. Many of us come from families who hold these beliefs. I have seen my fellows deal with a deep set shame from this upbringing.  Some of us, including me, are also immigrants from countries where the word witch, bruja, or bruxa is still used as a serious accusation.

Finally, Reclaiming has amongst its members people who are culturally if not religiously Jewish. Jewish people, heretics, and witches faced much of the same punishment and were often conflated for each other in the European middle ages until the early modern period. One of our most prominent writers and founders, Starhawk, is culturally Jewish. I also know multiple people from Jewish backgrounds who call themselves witches to this day. We can say very firmly in wake of the shootings at synagogues and temples in the last year in the US that violent antisemitism is still alive here.

It is easy to understand why someone might think we are divorced from this inheritance. Whiteness is a powerful cultural force in America, and one of the ways in which it establishes itself is to force us to be cut off from our ancestry in favor of being American. Germans, Jewish people, and even my Latina mother all have made decisions that prioritized their children fitting in over learning their history. Whiteness in this country does not just mean giving up folkways of our ancestors. It means fitting into a middle class, agnostic, Protestant spirituality. Poor Whites and those who do engage in Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christianity are often shamed and labeled “hicks”, “white trash”, and “crazy”.

The effect of this is that America (especially in our television and movies) presents itself as a monolithic culture that does not believe in witches. Even though the word witch means something a little different in the dystopia of this country, we still have a modern context affected by a direct cultural tie to places that did and still do believe in witchcraft. This doesn’t even get into the way the word witch was embroiled in the Satanic Panic of the 90’s.

We can’t appropriate from our own culture.

What does it mean to be a witch? Often, the accusation is false. People can be killed under the accusation of witchcraft to this very day because they hold land or some political power that makes them inconvenient to the plans of the rich and powerful. Silvia Federici has several books on a present day, global notion of what the word witch might mean. Undesirables were also labeled witch because they were easy targets to displace anger onto when the rich and powerful could not prevent famine or disease.

Who were/are the Undesirables? Old widows, herbalists, midwives, queers, those who refuse to follow Christianity, political organizers, people of color who refused to be treated as less than human, women who have had abortions: the list is long but rest assured we are on it. Reclaiming Witches, in particular, do not simply claim the word witch. No, we do our best to organize direct action against those forces which threaten the earth and humanity. We are street medics. We are jail support. We are prison pen pals. We call representatives, go to rallies, vote, continuously, educate ourselves, take part in noise demos, support strikes, and all other manner of political engagement.

We call ourselves witches to remind ourselves that we are lucky to be alive. For me personally, it is similar to why I call myself Queer. People died and are dying for me to have the freedoms I have today. I honor their struggle by wearing the labels as a badge of honor and by challenging myself every day to work hard to make more freedoms available for my descendants.

Finally, to the person who asked for my credentials, I offer this: what can I do as someone who calls themselves a witch living in present day America to stand in solidarity with those being accused as witches across the globe? If you have any ideas, I am open to hearing them.

A Loose List of Sources

Caliban and the Witch, Federici

The Devil and the Jew, Trachtenberg

Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ex-Fundies I know irl

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/samuel-hume-3/the-history-of-witchcraft

Truth or Dare, Starhawk

 

August 25th Ritual

Pigeon and I will be leading a ritual and discussion based on the Garden of Eden story. It is part of a four ritual arc we will be presenting this year with with the aid of the facilities of OTO Golden Thread Camp. 

Where: 300 Camp Horne Rd. Pittsburgh, PA. 15202 Parking is available. The building has stairs and is dusty.

When: Sunday August 25th. Doors open at 1:30. Ritual starts at 2. Discussion after. Doors close at 4:30.

How Much: Recommended donation is $5 to attend one portion, $10 for both. All proceeds go to Golden Thread to cover cost of space.

Ritual Intention: When wisdom is found we are cast out of sanctuary. Let us be sanctuary for each other.

Discussion Topic: Mary in Mystical Traditions, the Black Madonnas, and Marian Apparitions.

 

 

 

Where to Start

A lot of people want to know how to get started with magic, polytheism, and paganism. My suggestion is very simple: start with divination, scrying, or augury. From tarot to water bowls to patterns in the clouds, there are countless methods to connect with your own inner guidance. You can, of course, ignore me. You may already know what calls to you, but here are a few reasons why I think divination makes a great starting point.

You are about to begin a conversation with yourself and with the spiritual universe. No one can really answer most of the questions you have right now except for you. What calls to you and why is a question about your feelings. No one can tell you how you feel except you. A lot of factors about what paths to consider also come into the very personal territory of race, ethnicity, family history, and current context. Those are nuanced topics, and most people don’t want to talk to a bunch of internet randos regarding this. Divination, on the other hand, helps you figure out how you feel, and lets whatever forces that may be interested in you start to make themselves known. Nothing except practice will help you build confidence in your intuition. Only practice will help you separate wishful things and anxiety from real messages. So, practice!

Practice is messy. You will have fits and starts, because life does not stop just because you started looking for magic and spirituality. Also, habits are hard to build. Time and space are hard to come by. Where I have had success is in adding magic or worship to things I already do rather than trying to make new space. My altar is the place in my room that is most personal: my writing desk. I listen to podcasts while working because I do not always have time to read books. I replaced my social media feeds with an rss app (Feedly) that gives me updates from blogs that I like. I use a spiritual cleansing soap in the shower. It is very likely that you already have something you do on a regular basis that is magic, you just have to learn to see it for what it is.

Finding and trying divination methods encourages research. This will help you find out what sources are available and which ones you trust. It will help you start thinking about history and theory. You can also reach out to local practitioners and shops while looking for supplies. It will also help you decide if this is even work you want to do, because skillbuilding is work, and all branches of magic and paganism require skillbuilding.

Finding local practitioners depends a lot on where you are and how much access you have to transportation. Some places have good shops; some don’t. Some places have groups doing open ritual; Some don’t. Witchvox and Facebook are easy go-to’s. You may also want to check your local paper for event. Unitarian Universalist Churches and Friends’ Meeting Houses tend to draw pagans due to their accessibility for ritual. Non-chain bookstores that sell metaphysical books or tarot decks may also have information on local groups and events. Don’t be afraid to keep asking.

Divining helps build a workspace. Whether you carry your tools with you or leave them in one spot, you will begin to work, and that means learning when and how you work best. The time and place you work best will also help clue you in to what forces you should look toward. I write best in the early morning because I am a solar energy kind of witch. I work best at my writing desk because I am an art witch. Funny enough, Horus slid right into my practice like a falcon landing on a tree branch. Rosemary, one of my top three plant allies, is a solar plant. Before you reach out to the universe, reach in to yourself. Learn yourself.

You will learn all the basics, or at the very least you will have a magical operation that allows you to test all the basic skills as you learn them: setting a container, grounding, focus, non-chemical methods of altered states, etc. Two other skills divination helps you pick up are journaling and giving yourself permission to mess up. You are learning a whole bundle of skills. You will not get them right all the time.

So, there you have it. I think the best place for a new person to start is divination. If you really don’t know what form of divination to start with, tarot is everywhere and works just as good as anything else. You’ll have no shortage of people to talk to, and tarot isn’t picky about what faith or lack thereof you have. Christians, atheists, pagans, and all manner of folks make use of the cards. Good luck.

Speaking In Ritual

I am not an expert in creating ritual. If anything, I am just barely a journeyman, starting to create outlines that work without mentorship. I have noticed something, and I wanted to talk about it. There are multiple ways to use speech in ritual. “Speech” in here in a broad sense, to encompass sign language and singing.

The first technique I have seen is carefully written and memorized speeches, such as the parts of the Gnostic Mass. The advantage of these scripts are many. First, making someone memorize something (or at least think very deeply about notecards) tests their dedication to the ritual and ensures that those who undertake the ritual are firm in their desires to do so. Scripts allow for a lot of nuance and care in weaving the relationships between the various forces at play. That is to say, scripts are more precise. This technique also seems to lend itself well to rituals that are meant to be repeated, making every single iteration of the ritual very alike.

There are downsides. Some people cannot memorize despite being very dedicated. For those, there is no shame in notecards, and if the notecards are made into a ritual object it does not interrupt the flow. Also, though other people seem to experience this differently, I do not find that heavily scripted rituals move very much energy. From my perspective, it feels like someone fiddling with the Universal Powers with a watchmaker’s tools: precise, subtle, but effective in the right situations.

One way to counterbalance this lack of energy is ritual hollering. One year I was blessed to be invited to a Passover Seder. (Is that capitalized?) The Seder had a script which the leader of the ritual read from. However, along with his very jovial tone and unhindered side commentary, he instructed us that we were allowed to holler, “FREEDOM!” or “LIBERTY!” whenever those words were said in his script. We were also encouraged to sip our drinks whenever the hollers occurred. Wine, juice, and water were provided so we could make individual decisions about how much alcohol and sugar to consume. The simple cue to holler helped hold my attention as a participant, and raised quite a bit of energy during the pre-feast ritual.

Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight shadowcast showings have a similar dynamic of speech. The movie is identical every time, and forms the script. The shadowcast, copying all the movements below the screen, have painstakingly memorized the movements. The audience, meanwhile, has several ways to interact with their voices. One, there are certain cues which can be learned in a matter of minutes, like shouting “ASSHOLE!” every time Brad’s name is said. There are jokes which are learned over the course of multiple viewings, such as tauntings of “We see you, Riff, but the virgins don’t!” in the opening scene. There are also cues to dance and throw various items about the theater, all cued by the script of the film. Participants are encouraged to try and make new jokes. A lot of energy is raised.

A particular kind of memorized speech is singing. Especially with short, repeated chants, this method of speaking is agile and can be used in heavily scripted rituals or in looser preparations. To date, I have only seen it used in more extemporaneous rituals, but I have heard rumors that it is used as a scripted ritual technique.

The second technique I have seen is improvised words. Every Reclaiming ritual I have been to has used this technique. Essentially, the outline of the ritual notes what the words need to do and when they are to be used, but the exact words are created on the fly. This provides a powerful challenge for participants to tap their creativity as well as the creative powers of the people around them. On the one hand, this technique creates a lot of energy and helps adapt rituals to the particular time and place they are being held. On the other hand, being called to add one’s voice causes some people to shut down.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I enjoy that. As much as I have tried to outgrow the elitism of my childhood, some part of me revels every time someone fails to step up and into their own power. “Yeah,” I think to myself like a snotty playground bully, “You can’t keep up. We gave you the perfect place to be held and to take the power you wanted, but you missed the lesson. Your power cannot be given to you wrapped in a little bow. You have to take it, have to face the same fear we all did.”

It’s a growing edge.

Open Mic poetry readings are delightfully weird mix of script and extemporaneous speech. MC’s often read the same words every time, though they do seem to tadd their own ad libs. People on stage can freestyle. I have seen poems written during the ritual itself be taken to the stage as well as poems that represent long hours of work. Much like RHPS, the Open Mic ritual has cues for audience members to speak, typically words of encouragement for the artist on stage. This ritual, more than the others, seems to be a strong container for the feelings of the artists, a sort of ritual cleansing of negativity and secrets. However, I have no idea how that effect relates to the way speech is used.

The final technique is one I only use in private rituals. I would love to see it used in group ritual: silence. In my private rituals, I usually say very little or nothing at all. The movements speak for themselves. A nod or bow toward an icon welcomes the power/spirit/deity. Another nod or bow dismisses. A pause and breath concentrates and summons my intent. Circles are made by the locking of doors and a careful movement of the ritual knife. I find silence helps me concentrate, and it is something I only feel comfortable doing when I am very safe and very certain I won’t be disturbed. Sound, for my mind, anchors things in memory, but it takes me out of the present moment a bit.

How have you seen speaking used in ritual? Have you seen singing used in a way that is the same every time the ritual is held? Have you seen a public ritual that was completely silent? How do you use speech? What ways do you want to experiment with? Comment below!

April 14th Ritual

Pigeon and I will be leading a ritual and discussion based on the Garden of Eden story. It is part of a four ritual arc we will be presenting this year with with the aid of the facilities of OTO Golden Thread Camp. 

Please note that the ritual is clothing optional, and that no minors are allowed to attend.

Where: 300 Camp Horne Rd. Pittsburgh, PA. 15202 Parking is available. The building has stairs and is dusty.

When: Sunday April 14th. Doors open at 1. Ritual starts at 1:30. Discussion starts at 3:30. Doors close at 5.

How Much: Recommended donation is $5 to attend one portion, $10 for both. All proceeds go to Golden Thread to cover cost of space.

Ritual Intention: We reject a paradise built on obedience, and bite into the wisdom of our own becoming.

Discussion Topic: We will be using this article to talk about Antisemitism. Reading the article beforehand is not required.

 

 

 

City Magic

City Magic is a form of the craft that makes use of the specific nature of cities.  It is a location based toolset, focusing on places where humans live in concentrated numbers in a permanent fashion, typically building structures in order to make such densely packed living possible.

If you are looking for the shortest way to tell the difference between cities and towns, look to public transportation. The more densely packed an area is, the less sense it makes to have everyone use private transport. In a way, it makes sense to think of population density and public transportation as measures of “cityness” that coagulate slowly, so a place can be “kind of a city” or “citylike” as opposed to there being a hard division.

What kind of magic do cities have?

To get an understanding, let’s start with a quote from The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Part of the American canon of city planning and beloved by many, this book makes a pretty interesting claim in the last chapter.

“And so a growing number of people have begun, gradually, to think of cities as problems in organized complexity- organisms that are replete with unexamined, but obviously intricately interconnected, and surely understandable, relationships.”

What makes Jacobs so notable is her complete rejection of the idea that cities can be predicted. To her, a city is so complex and interconnected that it is impractical to attempt to account for every variable. Put simply, when you put humans in large numbers in a space, they will move in unpredictable ways. (Exhibit A: The Internet)

As a result, Jacobs places an emphasis on trusting what people who live in a particular place have to say about it, and to her a city planner really only addresses a single issue at a time rather than trying to control everything at once. She suggests observing how people really move through their spaces and building according to their needs, which is also an idea talked about in A Pattern Language, for those wanting an in-depth treatment.

The idea here is that cities behave like ecosystems, that they are unable to be separated from their environments.

Continuing this, let’s consider is the human vs nature divide. After the Industrial Revolution, many people began to feel separated from nature. To this day, many report a feeling of being cluttered, a need to routinely leave the cities and suburbs for a less densely populated areas in order to ground themselves. Even people who love cities report the importance of “lungs” or large, central green spaces.

Additionally, when humans threaten our own survival with issues like manmade climate shift, it can be very easy to paint homo sapiens as supernatural beings destroying the planet, with cities being the ultimate concentration of this anti-nature, anti-magic energy.

For a city witch, this thinking is counterproductive. Magic tends to involve the connections between things, so thinking of cities as separated from the land and people lessens their power. In 1969, James Lovelock brought forth an idea called The Gaia Hypothesis suggesting that humans are not separate from the earth’s self-regulatory systems. He additionally suggests that Gaia may be sentient to some degree, and that humans may simply be an expression of that sentience.

In this context, we can form more complex narratives of the relationship between humans and nature. Are humans are an invasive species, one that been overly successful and that now threatens its own survival due to limited resources?

Many “unnatural” aspects of humanity are found to have parallels elsewhere in nature. Ants and termites are known for their large structures and dense living. Apes are routinely shown to have complex social patterns that mirror our own. The language and tool-making of other animals may not meet our own for complexity, but it is there. Seeing these parallels allows us to start asking how we can stop choking ourselves out of a home.

Most importantly, it means that a city witch sees a city as a kind of place with its own magic, not separate from nature.

So what are cities? Cities are a great concentration of the magic of humans. Personifications of magical currents or energies allow for parallels to be drawn between city living and witchcraft. This means that spirit work is central, as are the relatively new concepts of ley lines and Psychogeography (cw antisemitism).

Circles: Mercury and Venus

When it comes to the Sun and Moon, our experiences of these bodies is visceral enough that the wax and wane of their power needs no explanation. Mercury and Venus, however, are simply two dots in the sky to the untrained eye. The moment when these two planets are closest to the Earth is known as the inferior conjunction. At this time, those planets “pass” the Earth and appear to move backwards in the sky.

Here we come to an important side note in our derivations. Retrogrades have been known for ages as times when the planets powers are turned around, and here we come to a personal choice. One the one hand, the inferior conjunction as the peak of power maintains the idea that proximity to earth is directly correlated to power of influence. It updates notions of planetary power past the rudimentary understanding Europe had in the 1500’s.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for the power of tradition, and astronomy has its own internal logic: that the appearance of things moving across the sky is what dictates their power.

For the foreseeable future, I will be using the idea that physical proximity directly correlates to power of influence. Following this, the inferior conjunction of Mercury and Venus, the retrogrades, are the peak of their powers.

Mercury is known to multiple cultures as “traveler” due to how fast it moves in the sky. Being the fastest, it also governs communication and commerce along with travel. For this reason, I have chose this to use for an incantation.

There are two sets of numbers significant to Mercury. First, there are 3 Mercury days for every 2 Mercury years. Here we find the ratio of 2:3 to be important. Then Mercury’s synodic period, the amount of time it takes Mercury to return to the same place in Earth’s sky, is 116 Earth days. The 2:3 ration gives us the fundamental rhythm of Mercury; the synodic period gives us the timing that connects Mercury to Earth. 116 factors into 2*2*29. Using this information, we derive the circle.

mercury

Venus’s magical associations are often tied to its brightness in the sky, particularly, to how it shines at sunrise and sunset. For that reason, I am using this as my incantation.

Following the pattern we set at Mercury, we are interested in Venus’ synodic period and the ratio between its days and years. Venus takes 243 earth days to rotate once on its own axis, and 225 earth days to go around the sun. This gives us a ratio that’s sufficiently close to 1 that I don’t see a need to include it in the derivation of the circle. The synodic period, which ties Venus to the magician on Earth, is 584 earth days. This factors to 2*2*2*73 and gives us a five pointed inner polygon.

venus
You could also use the naturally occurring Pentagram of Venus.

I would like to make it clear that the circles can still be used on a traditional astronomical calendar. It is my personal choice not to do so. Also, as a small safety reminder, these have not been tested as much as they need to be. I am still in the early phases of making these, even though it has taken me years to even get this far.

A Circle for the Moon

Moon Circle

I recently wrote an article explaining an alternate method of constructing circles for magic work. I mentioned the importance of interfaith, accessible magic. A key aspect to writing for a multiple faith group is using an experimental approach. Magic is part of the natural world, and as such we are constantly collecting information about how it works.

Additionally, different people within the same group will want to do different things with the same magic. This is how I wound up with the next circle in my series.

Continuing the same method as last time, I constructed a circle for the moon. The number which ties us most closely to the moon is 27, the approximate number of days it takes the moon to circle the earth. 27 is 3 cubed, a very harmonious number. Using this, I was easily able to construct sacred geometry to get the following circle.

mooncircle

Now, the good thing about the moon is that it doesn’t change its distance from the Earth, and as such can be used pretty much constantly. However, the different phases will have different effects. The moon affects the earth in two big ways: it provides soft light at night, and it pulls the tides. On the full moon, we receive both the soft light and the tides. On the new moon, we receive only the tides. I won’t go into further detail as people have their own ways of interpreting these facts.

As with the sun circle, I have my personal favorite incantation to cast and decast, but I encourage you to find your own. Keep in mind that while I use the same incantation to decast every time, you do not have to. Heck, you could get funny with it.

Zodiac Spirits and The New Moon

Inspired by a question one of my circle-testers asked, I did some research. Turns out, when it is new, the moon aligns with the sun and the zodiac sign the sun is passing through, and on that day we have an opportunity. It is a good time to ask the spirits of the zodiac to come and speak with us. You could see if your sun sign is okay protecting you, for instance, or asking them how to unlock your solar potential. You could ask your moon sign what’s up with all the weird feelings.

Today, Feburary 26, 2017, we will be in line to talk to Pisces, so I have provided an example ritual for this occasion. This also is a great time to talk about an interesting attribute that this circle design has that previous ones did not; they can overlap as needed.  Since the moon is closer to the Earth, I have made that the inner ring.

newmooncircle

Paying attention to an updated scientific understanding of how planets move and layering a simple set of tools gives us subtle and complex structure, pictured below.

Please note that since there is an identical triangle in the moon circle, I did not draw it in the outer circle. I then made the bottom two points of that triangle 3*13 = 39 and 3*14 = 42. It’s these sorts of changes that truly harmonize and join the circles together.

An Intermediate Summoning

Before I go any further, I want to stress that this is not a beginner summoning. Please make sure you have a firm grasp of the following skills before you attempt this: grounding, cleansing, summoning, banishing, visualization, and spirit communication.

Additionally, I am going to assume you already have: a preferred method of drawing circles, a sky map to find Pisces, and incantations that fit your style to cast + decast each circle

Steps

  1. Cleanse yourself and the space
  2. Draw the circle facing Pisces
  3. Draw the symbol of Pisces in the center of the circle
  4. Use your incantation to cast the circle of the sun
  5. Use your incantation to cast the circle of the moon
  6. Summon Pisces
  7. Do your work
  8. Dismiss Pisces
  9. Use your incantation to decast the circle of the moon
  10. Use your incantation to decast the circle of the sun
  11. Ground yourself

Conclusion

The person who inspired this circle had a fun time using it, and so did I. I hope that other people will be able to do the same. However, without input from other people with perspectives different from my own, it is a brittle construct. Writing for an interfaith community means writing with an interfaith community, with the spirit of experimentation, with an open mind that things can and will change as you go.

Cursing or Binding 45

Prolonged obsessive religious activity will, for the ordinary man, create a minor aetheric thought form that he may call his god. This effect is partly transferable and explains the difficulty in attacking popular public figures.” – Peter J. Carrol, Psychonaut, Magical Combat

Here in the small cities of Witchville, Pagantowne, and Mageburg, we like to put our magic where our mouths are. So it’s completely understandable that those of us who are furious about the republican president would want to curse, hex, jinx, bind, and otherwise take responsibility for him. I’m proud to be in the same metaphorical neighborhood as all of you.

This article is aimed at people who are able to take magical action. I recognize that many people cannot, that for them survival is the best resistance. Take care of yourselves, neighbors. “From each according to their ability,” the saying goes.

That said, I firmly believe many of you are taking the hardest road possible for the least effect. While I acknowledge your right to do that, I feel it would be rude of me not to at least mention this. 45 is a symptom of a greater problem. There are magicians and Christians protecting him, and people of great power and repute have already been trying to oust him via spellwork. If it was possible to solve the problem of our republican president with that kind of work, it would have been done already.

I am also a firm believer that if you criticize a tactic, it is up to you to propose a different solution. Directly after the election, there was a storm of magic practitioners asking why all the baneful magic against 45 had done nothing to stop him. Many explanations rose up, one being that the Pepe the Frog meme had been turned into a sort of chaos magick sigil by members of the alt-right. Lost? Here are links to Pepe’s history and the terribleness that ensued.

Out of that theory rose my personal favorite plan of action: a counter meme. In short time, appeared: BODE. Following that line of thinking, I have already been designing rituals to empower BODE with our intent to disempower the alt-right: remove their veneer of credibility with conservatives and moderates, de-radicalize those we can, and protect those fighting to put America to rights.

To continue focusing on magical attempts to control American politics, remember that the Evangelical Christian right is salivating in the wings to have Pence become the next republican president. I am willing to bet actual money they pray fervently every day, and that is a powerful magic all its own. Christian witches, please send help.

Additionally, let us not forget that before 45 many of us were about ready to dance on the grave of the GOP. It is clear that a vacuum of power and a deep understanding of the hatred many Americans felt for Obama led to the rise of our current republican president. Let us not forget the role that fake news and channels such as FOX play in the current divisions of the country. Let us not forget the rich lobbies that continue to deny what is right for the working class. If you feel called to cast curses, there are a dozen targets that are far closer to your claws.

Next, for those of us who shy from baneful magic, there are a myriad things to empower. From the growing rumors of a women’s party to an already prepared antifa network, many people doing the work of fixing this mess could benefit from our spiritual support and protection.

The draw of casting baneful magic on 45 is easy: he is a clear target, and we have seen the power of a large group of people  doing the same action together. However, I would like to posit that there is equal power in an ecosystem of resistance, that each of us working in our own ways to do what we feel strongest about is perhaps the way that the left fights. After all, if our central tenet is diversity, it makes sense that would include a diversity of tactics.

So fly, my neighbors! Go into the world with your beautiful magic and your strong hearts. Please take this tiny piece of advice with your for the road: it is difficult if not impossible to cast baneful magic on someone with a strong media presence. And if you need any help redesigning your spells, feel free to contact me.