Episode 6: The Death Current

In this episode I explore the practice of Ancestor worship and share some personal anecdotes as well. Music in this episode features songs by Faun, from the albums Totem and Licht.  

[audio mp3="http://www.psychopompgroupie.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Ep6_The-Death-Current.mp3"][/audio]

Resources mentioned in the podcast:

Martin Coleman's "Communing With the Spirits"

Sarah Iles Johnston's "Restless Dead: Encounters Between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece"

"Liber Falxifer: The Book of the Left Handed Reaper" Vol. 1 by N.A-A.218 

PBP: “Z” is for Zilch

After a two-week hiatus of violent vomiting episodes from various flus, Solstice gatherings and Christmas dreading, the Yuletide is now beginning to ebb and we get down to brass tact. The year of Pagan Blog Project is ending for 2013; I am both proud and bored with it. However, since I did get a late start, and only to be fair, I have to overlap a wee bit with the few letters I missed this time around. For those who are interested, I highly do recommend taking part in some kind of writing project or devotional time set aside to do this kind of work. Purging thoughts and sharing stories with readers is cathartic, along with being highly narcissistic. On that note, I come to where the space is held now, in my body, in my sacred space, in my life. 2014 is starting off right with a Hekatean Deipna and Noumenia at the New Year, super moons, strange winds blowing cold and hot, magnetic poles flipping... it's enough to make a New Agers head explode. But I look forward to it all, embracing the Chaos and finding my center through it all. Over the past few weeks a great working has been underway; starting with an intensive Hermes ritual to remove obstacles, then the burnings, and finally the purgings. Cleaning the house from top to bottom, recycling and giving away of un-wanted and un-needed are top priorities. Simplifying and detoxifying includes not only materially and physically... but also the removal of people who are holding you back or maintain stagnant environments not fertile for spiritual and personal growth.

zero

 

The un-changing part of myself, and of us all really, is mitochondrial: through our Mothers, Mothers' Mothers, the constant variable through the lineage. This is how I got 'zeroed-out', a term used in Algebra and/or Accounting... I don't recall as pushing the agony of mathematics is slightly on the PTSD side. My mother, her mother, and her mother before that all shared this and the middle name of Marie. They were all the eldest of each generation... and it goes on through the names. My maternal grandmother's maiden name is Zilch... a German name with spelling that changed upon arrival in the New World. Catholic and also bearing another matriarchal name carried through a Marie, Beer, this lineage has included midwives, nuns, mothers, educators and intelligence too crafty for others to know about. On and on it goes...to the first women, to the first ones to grow legs from the water and so on.

Reaching Zilch, I re-booted. I am likened to a nesting doll as DNA of the future/past within and of my flesh. Keeping this temple of arcane knowledge in a pure form spiritually is well and good, but the body is in need of repair. If anything, with sickness from the holidays came a clarity of mind and stomach... a clean sate in which to re-decorate the colors of my organs in rosy hues of health and wellness. Clean food, alive food, my food, nourishing food... I will not poison my body any longer. Embracing Apotheosis...

PBP: “V” is for Vassago, the Völva and Vulnerability

Vassago

I missed out on an important part my occult education: summoning and conjuration. How is this possible? Well for starters, I never worked with lesser entities (i.e. demons)... always stuck with good ol' evocation and invocation which naively seemed safer. Hell, it has only been in the past 5 years I began including the Beloved Dead in mine Arte. Years of reading fantastic tales and anecdotes about demons and angels controlled by or coerced into a magician's bidding always seemed like more work than it was worth. In my experience, it seemed a waste of energy to have someone or something do what I could otherwise do for my Self. In revisiting classic Western traditions over the past year, I am starting to reconsider these old attitudes or opinions, and realizing they might not serve me any longer.

Servitude and sovereignty are things I have avoided as they seem nothing more than attachments and feeders of ego. However, influenced by a recent blogpost (God-owned or God-slave?), I am wondering if maybe this is just part of the relationship I have with Deity. Instead of Be-ing a 'slave' to my Gods, my role is really more of Regent: secretary of spirits, policing other practitioners who might abuse their abilities, calling out those who exploit our traditions and culture for monetary means...all of these are spiritual roles I reluctantly agreed to do many, many years ago. But what IF I could just as easily summon something/one else to help do other things like warding, prophecies, so I can put my psychic and spiritual attentions on something else? It would be like having a witchy personal assistant, right? But unlike an apprentice or student, this Be-ing would come with a whole skill set surpassing my own, able to do things I have yet to master or try. Doubtfully, I am not the first occultist to consider this thus we have the Goetia and other grimoires of spirit conjuring.

Realizing all these things, I turned to my tried and true favourite “Mastering Witchcraft” by Paul Huson. Yes, here we go again... BUT, in it there are specific instructions and suggestions on working with one of the more approachable of the Goetic demons/angels/spirits: Vassago. I remember seeing this in a movie once, and only later in reading Huson's book did I realize they used his materials in the cult classic Season of the Witch (a.k.a. “Hungry Wives” from 1972), directed by George A. Romero. In it, a bored housewife starts fiddling around with witchcraft and performs Huson's “Conjuration of Vassago”. It's not very clear why she summons this particular Prince of Hell except He is described in most sources as somewhat benevolent and can be persuaded to reveal things of the past and future.

So again, why bother? Well, there are specific questions I have asked my own spiritual guides, oracles, psychic strangers, mambos, pretty much anyone else who provides service for divination, all for which I have not been entirely satisfied with. So, I seek out this spirit and prepare for an adventure of Goetic proportions.

The first step will be preparing for the working, which according to my text is going to include many tools being properly cleansed and consecrated. With herbal washes my blade, glass chalice and thurible are cleaned. One of the best tried and true herbs for this level of serious cleansing is Vervain, also known as Verbena. A pretty little blue flower, it has been called “witch bane” or “holy herb” due to it's protective qualities, specifically in the areas of magical attack. Infusions of vervain were used by the Romans to keep evil at bay, and so I bathe my body as a tool for this craft. Empowering with lodestones, magickal paints and smoking incenses of forgotten scents, the witches' art is finely tuned for the conjuration. Salted water, by Satandar and Asentacer, gathering paper and drawing triangles.

Odin og Völven by Lorenz Frølich. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Odin holds bracelets and leans on his spear while looking towards the völva in Völuspá. Gesturing, the völva holds a spoon and sits beside a steaming kettle. The text "V:14" in the bottom left corner refers to Völuspá stanza 14.

The Völva

Placing the girdle around my waist, inhaling the scent of vetivert, my mind travels to the sacred tree. Into the trunk, through the staircase and into the middle world which surrounds Yggdrasil, the living World Tree, axis mundi. I follow the path to where the a Well waits, with water silver and still. Shown to me by spiritual guides, I know how to ask the questions and see into distorted reflections for the answers.

I am a natural Seer, specializing in oneiric prophecies. Some of the first dreams I ever had I can still recall... in one I remember being a man and my wife was making us late for a dinner party; I was somewhere around 3 or 4 years old. In 4th grade our pet hamster died, that night I dreamed of my parents divorcing, my mother re-marrying a cowboy, and my parents fighting over money (which later happened in 7th grade). That same year, I dreamed of falling into a large snake-infested lake and was bitten on the ankle; I awoke to a bloody wound that morning. Some dreams were epically long, creating an actual series that picked up where the last one ended. The ones my family recall hearing about most were the repetitive 'theme' dreams; in my junior year of High School, I dreamed of Buffalo over and over, only to have an albino Buffalo born, an omen to Native people indicating a period of peace among their tribes. As I developed in my witchcraft during the teen years, I learned to better control these visions, often called 'lucid dreams' but at a price: sleeping walking, talking and general unconscious activity increased.

Waking trance is something I took for granted in my youth. It came so easily in those days, but was suppressed by the usual retinue of parents, teachers, priests. The 'daydreaming' visions, the Wonderland type visits I am no longer banishing from my thoughts. I allow them to come, and occasionally write down. Try to remember this as I raise my own daughter: to keep her imagination alive and the innocence captured only in wisdom as a witch can know safely. This bloodline runs through me and is something not really celebrated in Neopaganism... some have called it the 'witch blood' believed to be passed down, going all the way back to the time of God's Watcher angels on earth, taking human wives. I am not going to deny there might be some kind of ancient connection with people who are naturally adept in the Arte; whether it is an environmental factor, societal or genetic is really all speculation. There has been evidence of certain occupations or talents being handed down through generations of breeding; a good example would be families with many Rabbis or Priests/Nuns... a natural tendency toward spiritual endeavors, perhaps?

Which is where I come around to talking about the Völva. The title is one from Pagan Germanic/Norse culture... a woman who traveled around giving oracles from a high-risen seat. It was similar to the work of the Pythia of Delphi... who's hissing answers, channeled messages of Apollo for aspirants were interpreted by the male Priesthood. Although I am not Hellenic in my genes and only barely in my practice, I don't identify much with that title. I identify more with these ancient Germanic women, who belonged nowhere nor to anyone, except to the Shining Ones. A spokesperson, librarian who knew stories, the messenger who updated news from village to village before written words; Völva knew the songs to call the Gods and remembered for everyone. She would often eat of the livestock and sleep under the roof of a patron, to better learn about the hosts and give better readings. Her power, like my own, was in her visions and voice. I hope to honor my ancestors with this skill by giving service someday. I continue to offer my body and mind to their Will. The blood and bones never forget.

For further information I highly recommend the work of Diana Paxson and the folks at Hrafnar. This is a great craft blogpost about the craft of Seidr and the role of the Volva from a modern practice: "The Return of the Völva".

Vulnerability

The autumn is now into full swing and the Hallows have passed. Themes of 'unity', 'tolerance' and 'understanding' come up at all the Pagan Pride events, intentions at public rituals and shoved in the faces of newcomers, and veterans alike. And that is fine... except it is a two-way street. As I have often written about, I have a bit of a pet peeve with the “we're tolerant to everyone except (fill in the blank)” people. Whether racists, conservatives, Republicans, monotheists, atheists, monogamous... Pagans really do come in flavors other than 'fluffy' and 'recon'. And diversity is what we all love about this community... but there is still this underlying thing everyone is missing the point on. You can preach about community and compassion until you are blue in the face... you can lead a horse to water, but cannot make it drink. Teaching by example is usually the best way, but when the intolerance brigade comes through with their unity flags demanding nothing to be exclusive, everything allowable, just not (fill in the blank) culture or (fill in the blank) religions they are just as bad, if not worse, than those they are 'against'.

I propose a genuiness that is not the authenticity we all pretend to have. I don't need to know the horrors of your life, or who your sexual partners include, or what problems you continue to have when magic is obviously not enriching your lifestyle or mind. We don't need MORE nude rituals, MORE inhibitions peeling away, MORE acceptance and crap piled on top of our otherwise already full spiritual plates. We say it is a safe space, when really many are just waiting to pounce on any original idea, thought or way of precessing something which may not agree with their ideology. The key is not MORE but LESS... simplicity brings about vulnerability.

GET OVER IT. This is spirituality, folks... if we have to put up shields of protection at events, bite our tongues for fear of belittlement in sharing UPG: defensiveness and general righteousness are poisoning our 'religion'. Strip it all down to the bare bones and forget the attachments which keep us from pursuing what is true and pure. It is only when our shells are stripped and we come before the Gods as authentic Self, without expensive velvet/leather clothing, without labels of race/sexual orientation/gender or any other thing of THIS world...  in spirit it doesn't matter. Until we can work in pure form and allow our Selves to really be children of the Multiverse in our naïve nudity, with our wounds exposed  to truly heal, we are just throwing a pretty bandage on it.

PBP: “S” is for Sacrificial Schedules

As a polytheist, keeping a schedule is probably the most important tool in my arsenal of things which keep my spirituality running smoothly. It's not that I am obsessive/compulsive, it's just that when one has obligations to so many spirits and deities, it is important to keep everyone satiated... otherwise there can be problems. For example, I give sacrificial offerings to Hekate at certain times of the month of different reason, such as at the true Dark of Moon (the 'deipnon') is when I feed Her and the restless dead outside, but at the Full Moon I give thanks and offerings of gratitude for my blessings at Her shrine indoors. Thursdays are all about Santisimo Muerte, Fridays are dedicated to Hathor and now Aphrodite (since I have recently incorporated Her into these devotionals), Wednesdays are for Hermes and the other tricksters, whilst Monday and Saturdays are always dedicated to my matron Hekate. My ancestors and Beloved Dead get favourite drinks and coffee on most Sundays whilst the genius locci are happy with the fruit, honey and milk given sporadically through the year. There is also the agathos daemon, our household guardian and spirit, who gets offerings of bay leaves almost daily. Lafferty_grave

As stated before, things can go VERY wrong if we don't pay attention to what our Kindred are asking for, or more than likely an obligation is not being met, a complete imbalance can take place. A very good example of this was when I began to include Ancestor worship into my devotionals a few years ago, which was heavily influenced by the integration of ADF into my personal spiritual praxis. At my Ancestor altar I include spirits of nature and those I knew in this lifetime who I wish to honor. Everything was going fine until my father's younger brother died in a rather tragic car accident. The thing is my uncle was a bit of a conman, a minister who'd been in jail, addicted to pain meds after burning nearly 70% of his body; the kind of guy you hide jewelry from when he comes to visit. So when he passed, it wasn't too much of a surprise but it was hard for my family, especially his children. He was my 'godfather', the person who stood and pledge my spiritual life in the Catholic Church I was baptized in. This man who, even though was always trying to get me to convert or be 'saved', would smoke a joint with me on the back porch at Gramma's house. I lit a candle and sang “Amazing Grace”, asking our Beloved Dead to come and help my Uncle find his way, to give him the peace he never knew in life. It was about this time, a few days after, that the candles began to explode.

The first one was a tall, fat, hand-poured jar-candle dedicated to Cernunnos. Halfway through the burn it cracked, spilling grey-green hot wax all over my plants and altar, leaving a permanent scent of bayberry on everything. I figured it was a bad pour, so didn't think much of it. A few months later, another jar candle cracked, this one being purchased at the local dollar store... I chalked it up to cheap wax or glass and decided to be extra careful where I acquired my next candles.

On and on it went, spread so far apart in the events that it took me almost two years of increased frequency that I finally realized “I've got a problem here”. After discussing the issue with some experts, they suggested I buy several different ones, dedicate to different deities, and without dressing or anything, see what happens. They all assumed I was purchasing cheap candles... when in fact several came from different proprietors who were advising me on the matter! After me showing pictures and explaining what I was experiencing I was advised to seek out counsel from my spirit allies or some other divination to discover the root of the problem. Well I tried Hekate but She is so cryptic, then I asked my tarot cards... still nothing. Even my close psychic friend wasn't getting any 'hits' on the issue at hand. We decided it might be best to bust out the Ouija board... see if anyone floating around might have something to say since the regular routes were not helping.

Immediately, my deceased Uncle came forward to be the Godparent he was not in life. He informed me that the damaged candles were HIS doing because he wished for me to return to a Christian path. This surprised me because he knew I was a witch, and had been for 20 years... most of my family gave up on 'talking sense' to me some years ago. I stood my ground and firmly stated “I'm sorry, but that isn't going to happen. Is there something else you want?” He gave clues to indicate, after verification with one of my cousins, he wanted offerings too with the rest of the Ancestors … specifically Pepsi and a Mr. Goodbar. I consulted with my father on this as well, and he surprised me with the following advice, “Don't put him to work... Your Uncle never did like having a job so you better 'wheel and deal' with him to get what you want”. So I did... and the candles have since stopped exploding and the man who I would never have invited into my home as a living person, is now a welcome addition to the Ancestor Shrine. I don't worry about him getting out of line again, now that he understands the rules of MY house.

Making adjustments, evolving praxis and coming up with new solutions to surprising problems are all ways in which our path riches and deepens. We discover who we are being looking to our Ancestors; especially the ones who knew us in life. They watch, learn and see how to manipulate energy, enjoy themselves again and feel part of a family when they come to visit. The Deities are not always there as my Ancestors, although sometimes they get called away for some reason or another. The Deities are only present when I call them... or sometimes not even then, but when they feel like it. I find having a schedule not only benefits me, but the Kindred as well... it gives them a true devotional, a dependable and reliable resource they can enjoy or not. This is true service.