De Regnis: Altars and Sacred Spaces

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of altars and sacred spaces.

On Altars

Altars are important in the work of any spiritual person, as they provide a focus for one’s work.Altars may be any sacred place where one addresses the gods or spirits, or where one performs rituals or sacrifices at. At its most general, an altar is a dedicated spot that is not one’s own but so that one may work with the larger cosmos. Altars can take many forms, but are most often raised platforms, from the size of large hills to small corner tables or portable boxes. Depending onthe purpose of the altar or its target of sacredness, however, the altar may also take the form of a pit, a cast iron cauldron, or some other focus of reverence and spiritual power. Although all altars express the same idea of a place where one interacts and works with the sacred and the spiritual,altars commonly fall into two main categories based on their primary use: devotional altars for divine sacrifice and operational altars for magical ritual.

Devotional Shrine. The devotional shrine is a place or surface, such as a table or a cairn, where one makes prayers, performs sacrifices, and exalts the Divine. Holy symbols or images, such as statuary or icons, are common at devotional altars, and such altars are commonly decorated or embellished in manners pleasing to the devotee and devotor. Devotional altars may be prepared for accepting sacrifices of liquid, blood, meat, fire, incense, or other offerings as deemed acceptable by both spirit and man alike, or may be simple surfaces where one presents plates or bowls of the offerings to them. Devotional altars may be a single surface with many spirits or gods represented on them, or one may have multiple such altars each dedicated to a particular divinity. Any spirit, force, or god to be communed with or revered should have at least some representation and offering at an altar.It is always recommended to have at least one candle burning at all times on a devotional altar, or at least while one is making devotions there.

Operational Altar. As opposed to the devotional altar which is intended for prayers and sacrifices, the operational altar is a construction specific for the magus to work magical ritual. While supplicating the Divine may be done at the devotional altar, the operational altar is intended for a magician to directly contact and work with the forces of the cosmos directly or through the conjuration and invocation of other spirits. Instead of offering sacrifices, the operational altar typically holds the tools of the Work, such as wands, chalices, candles, talismans, and other such magical goods in order to perform ritual. Operational altars may be used for consecrating, blessing, en-chanting, or otherwise empowering objects to be made into talismans or amulets; for conjuration of spirits and angels; or for other particular magical endeavors such as energy work and healing. The primary distinction between an operational altar and a devotional altar is that operational altars are for one to interact with the cosmos on one’s own, while a devotional altar is for one to interact with the divinities and spirits of it on their own

Altar Care. Whether an altar is intended for one’s devotions or one’s operations, it is necessary to keep altars in good condition. Unless one has the direct suggestion from a spirit, altars should be kept clean and free from debris, dust, and all filth. Old offerings and sacrifices should be removed from the altar when the offerings have been consumed, usually immediately after the ritual or a day or so afterwards, depending on the spirit. Ash, extra herbs and powders, and loose supplies should be disposed of appropriately. The altars should ideally be kept hidden from outsiders or anyone who does not work with them, preferably in a separate room free from pollution and miasma; however,when in public or in a space where guests may be present, covering the altar with a clean cloth used only for that purpose may suffice. Before approaching an altar, one should be clean and purified physically and spiritually. Just as with one’s tools, altars should be taken care of for as long as they are in use. When an altar is no longer required, all its tools and equipment should be respectfully removed, a prayer or working done to officially deconsecrate the space or furniture used for the altar, and the furniture respectfully removed or given away.

On Sacred Spaces

Just as an altar provides a concentrated focus for one’s spiritual activities, larger spaces may also be used for devotion and ritual. While altars may be placed anywhere, they are commonly found in nested levels of sacred spaces, while some sacred spaces have no altars or only temporary ones erected for a specific purpose for a short time. Sacred spaces may be dedicated entirely to one particular spirit or type of working, or may be more generally consecrated for any number of rituals.

Circles. A circle is the simplest form of sacred space, consisting of a closed off area for protection or purity drawn about in a circle. The use of a circle is important, though features outside the circle such as braziers or stands may be in a square, pentagonal, or some other shape. The circle itself is sacred, due to its shape and property of consisting of a single unbroken line. A circle should be drawn clockwise and erased counterclockwise, as a symbolic means to create and remove the circle. Circles may be drawn by tracing a wand or blade on the ground, or may be drawn out in paint, powder, salt, or some other material. The defining feature of a circle is that it is inherently a temporary space, though a fixed circle drawn in something permanent may be reused in multiple rituals. Circles may also be drawn to be pushed out to the boundaries of whole rooms, such as by pointing the wand or blade up at the corner edges of a room in a circle instead of down on the ground.

Temples. Unlike the temporary circle, a temple is a dedicated space for spiritual work. A temple consists of some sort of structure, from a single small room to a sprawling construction complex,which is completely given over to spiritual work. Non-spiritual work should be limited or prohibited in the temple, which may house multiple altars for separate divinities or operations. Though the word “temple” is used, it may be applied to any similar structure, such as a church, synagogue, mandir, jinja, or masjid. Personal or small-scale temples may be set up in a house by dedicating a whole room or a corner of one to spiritual work, often with an altar and keeping it separate from the rest of the house and household activities. Other structures that may be related to spiritual work but not used for spiritual work itself, such as storerooms or galleries for religious art, maybe considered part of the temple if the actual temple space used for spiritual work encloses or is connected to the other structures or rooms. While a circle may be used to interact with the spirits,the temple is often seen to be the home or residence of a spirit. Small temples, such as those which occupy only a part of a room, may often be referred to as shrines, especially when they house some sort of cult image or relic. Oratoria, or prayer rooms, may be considered a type of single-room or part of a room dedicated to prayer and devotional work.

Precincts. Enclosing whole temples, large spaces known as precincts or temenoi are large areas of land and real estate given over to a temple, often including groves, parks, lakes, or other natural features of the land. These are most often reserved for large temples, but the precinct is sometimes the temple itself, especially if a spiritual tradition has an emphasis on open-air rituals such as in ancient Greek rituals. Sacred precincts serve to provide a retreat both in body and spirit to provide an immersive environment separate from worldly matters. These sacred lands may also be seen to provide an earthly paradise for man and god alike, as well as a place where man may be closer to divinity through nature or through meditation in a large area dedicated to a particular divinity.

Space Care. Similar to altars and tools, sacred spaces must be cared for and maintained, though the area covered by a particular sacred space may be difficult to maintain. Any sacred space must be kept clean and free from miasma; regular cleaning and cleansing of the area is good, as is ensuring that all who enter are pure and cleansed. Any who try to enter a sacred space with contrary or ill desires, or with an intent to harm, steal, or defile the sacred space, should be kept from entering at all costs. If the sacred space is not meant to be opened to the public, the space should be locked or somehow protected from trespassers. If a sacred space is created for a temporary purpose, the area should be thoroughly cleaned first in every way before consecrating the area. If the sacred space is dedicated to a particular god or divinity, the blessing and guidance of that spirit should be invoked both for the consecration of the space as well as for its maintenance. When a temporary sacred space is deconsecrated, all the spirits and work there should be honored and all tools, supplies,sacrifices, and work should be respectfully removed according to the wishes of the spirits and gods there; this done, the space itself should be thoroughly cleaned once more and all altars and furniture decommissioned and disassembled in a respectful manner, followed by the invocation of the spirits there to release the area back to the world to no longer be used for a holy purpose. If a sacred space was dedicated to a particular spirit or a particular type of working, workings or worship of spirits antithetical or opposed to that consecration should not be done in that area.

Search Term Shoot Back, April 2015

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of April 2015.

“which demon spirit can grant the conjurer every kind of need” — Be careful with these guys.  Many demons are proud and prideful enough to claim that they can do anything anywhere anytime, and granted, they often have enough power to do so.  However, just because a single spirit can do something doesn’t mean it will do it well, or whether it should do it at all.  Consult books like the Lemegeton or the Munich Manual to get little snippets of information that can tell you what a given spirit excels at; alternatively, check in with your supernatural assistant or Holy Guardian Angel, or simply do a bit of divination, to check whether a particular spirit can help you and whether they should help you.  It’s unlikely you’ll find a demonic spirit to fulfill every single one of your desires on their own.  The supernatural assistant or HGA on the other hand…

“are summoned spirits following you?” — They might be, if you don’t send them away.  After all, once summoned, they tend to not leave unless given leave to do so (or are powerful enough to simply blow off the magician anyway).  In any summoning or conjuration ritual, it’s good practice to close it out with an offering of thanks and goodwill to the spirit along with a formal giving of leave to depart; if you prefer, and this isn’t always suggested, you can banish the area and cleanse yourself afterwards to get rid of any residual resonance with the spirit.

“what is the means of talisman use in the ritual your name will be written 9x around the diagram own blood in talisman” — I think you’d be better off than me to say how to use such a talisman.  I haven’t encountered anything that describes this sort of talisman outside fantasy works and tawdry modern occult manuals that I pay little attention and less credence to, but given the number 9 there, I’d say you might use it in visceral works involving the Moon or Saturn.

“ebony huge cocks” — Man, I had to search high and low for a suitable bit of ebony to make my Wand of Art before it was given to me by a good friend.  Trying to find a phallus made of ebony would be near impossible, as I doubt many woodworkers are willing to use such rare and expensive wood on so unusual a bit of art.  That said, I’m sure a few of my gods would appreciate such a statue.

“what magical element begins with the letter k” — I…I can’t say there is one.  Of the four elements, there’s Fire, Air, Water, Earth, and then there’s the fifth quasi-element sometimes called spirit, ether, or quintessence (the closest thing to a K I can come up with).  The seven planets don’t start with any such letter, either, so unless you’re referring to some other system of magic that recognizes other elements, or using the cop-out of using another language, then I think you’d be better off telling me the answer when you find one than me trying to make one up on my own.

“ακραμμαχαμαρει meaning” — One of my favorite barbarous words of power, commonly seen in Mediterranean classical magic like from the PGM.  The prevailing theory behind this word is that it’s a corruption of an Aramaic phrase meaning “cast off the nets”, or “remove all obstacles or blockages”.  I use this word when piercing through shields or protections, but also to free myself from things that entangle or trap me.  However, it canonically has no meaning on its own that humans can understand, being a divine word and name on its own.  I also use it to refer to the luminary of the heights, the protector of the space above us, whose image is that of an old man in grey robes holding a staff in his right hand and a ring of keys in his left, but that’s a personal innovation in my own practice that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

“is sun bad for labradorite” — No.  Labradorite is, beyond anything else, a rock.  Sunlight doesn’t degrade that, and leaving such a stone out in the Sun will not cause it to shatter or lose its labradorescence.  Energetically, there might be a bit of a conflict; labradorite is more resonant with the aurora borealis of the nighttime skies, and is more stellar than solar.  Still, it’s a silly thing to worry about unless you’re tuning the stone to a very specific need over time.

“communing with the spirit of your unborn child” — First of all, uh, ew.  I have no disrespect towards parents or parents-to-be, but I’m not one of them nor will I ever be.  I have no fathering instinct and I do not like being around children until they can start forming logical, coherent thoughts that are worthy of discussion.  Yes, I was a child once, too, but it was a phase and I grew out of it.  Anyway, as for the spirit of an unborn child, what do you hope to glean from that?  Speaking Hermetically, while the moment of conception is an important time, the moment of birth itself is more important, because at that point the child finally becomes separate from the mother and becomes an independent (strictly speaking) living being, as opposed to something that is still part of and inside the mother.  Before it becomes its own being, it’s still a part of the mother, and has no life of its own to speak of; heck, it doesn’t even have much of an existence because it hasn’t had experience of developing, growing, or interaction, and as such is like a spirit of a newly dead person; it’s unreliable, confused, and still nebulous enough to the point that it’s better to leave them alone for the time being.  While singing, treating yourself holistically well, and the like is a good idea, and while pregnant women are holy in and of their own selves, I don’t think there’s much of a spirit of the unborn fetus to communicate with.  Then again, I’m probably not the right person to ask about this; I have a bias against children anyway, and seeing how I’m a gay man who will never seed, bear, or give birth to a child, my opinions and pontification aren’t worth much, anyway.

“lemegeton cloth circle” — Large cloth and tarp sheets are excellent ideas for Solomonic work because they allow you to draw on the magic Circles of Art once and transport it anywhere, so long as the space is large enough to unfold the sheet.  Before, you might have had a stone or wooden floor with the same pattern inscribed or painted onto it permanently, but traditionally, you’d do it in the dirt.  If you read the instructions given in the Keys of Solomon to create the magic circle, it references using rope and knives to mark out the boundary of the circle, which can only really work if you’re doing it on an earthen floor that can have a knife stuck into it or scratching the surface of it.  The whole point of the Black-handled Knife or athame, after all, wasn’t just to act as the Weapon of Saturn and to threaten and intimidate spirits, but also mark out the Triangle of Art and other magical patterns into the ground.  Cloth is more convenient, but if you want to go cheap and old-school, use the knife for all it’s worth and draw the patterns out in the dirt.

“conjuration of spirit to see visions past present” — Many spirits can show you this, and there’s no one conjuration to do.  In fact, if you’re blessed with a spirit of prophecy, then you may not need to do anything besides calm your mind and get into the right headspace.  There are problems here, however: you have little assurance that you’re seeing the right thing (the past, present, or future itself as it actually occurs) nor that you’re seeing the thing right (actual physical happenings versus metaphors).  If you’re seeing through the eyes of a spirit, bear in mind that the spirit may see the world and cosmos from a radically different perspective than you’ll ever be able to attain, and trying to translate from spirit-sight to human-sight can be more difficult than it is worth it.  Spirits may focus on different things than humans do, and trying to make sense of spiritual descriptions of events may not make any sense to us.  Add to it, you have to trust the spirit that they saw exactly what you’re asking about, and not all spirits are able to traverse time nor ubiquitous; sometimes they’ll have to call on other spirits who were at the event both in time and space, or they’ll have to branch out themselves.  In other words, trying to use a spirit to gain clairvoyance through time and space is a risky business.

“orgonite octahedron with charged talismans inside” — You’re precious.  Go away.

“sick person determine the illness by geomancy divination” — Ah, medical queries!  This is a type of query where geomancy really shines, but there are some caveats.  First, unless you’re a licensed doctor giving a medical examination, you are not certified to give medical advice, so don’t do it.  Bear in mind that geomancy is not a certified method of practicing modern Western medicine, and as such you can get yourself into huge trouble if you misrepresent yourself as capable of doing so.  Once you’ve gotten that understood and out of the way between yourself and your querent, you want to inspect the figure in house VI, the house of illness, and see whether that figure passes anywhere else in the chart.  If it does, then the part of the body indicated by that house the figure passes to is the source or primary affliction of the illness (I’ll let you look those up on your own); if it doesn’t, then the illness is relegated to the stomach, GI tract, and overall humours.  Take into account the elemental and planetary association of the figure itself, and you start to get a good idea of what’s going on with the illness exactly.  For more information, house VII represents the doctor who can help the querent, house X represents the regimen or prescription or treatment of the illness, and house IV represents the overall outcome of the illness.  Noting perfection between these multiple houses indicates how well things can be affected by each.

“gods dick” — They pack a whallop, that’s for sure, and can be quite nice, besides.  Check out your own if you get the fancy; the phallus is a mystery in and of itself, though one more explicit and, thus, more easily misunderstood.

“occult epiphany chalk blessing is occult” — This refers to the practice where, on Epiphany, the Christian holy day that remembers the visitation of the Three Wise Men to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  At Mass, the priest blesses chalk that the faithful take home and mark YY + C + M + B + XX, where YYXX is the year of the Ephiphany AD, and CMB stand for the names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar (the Three Wise Men) or for the phrase Christus Mansionem Benedictat, “may Christ bless [this] house”.  I try to do this myself on Epiphany day, even though it’s not well-practiced in American Christianity (and even then, relegated to mostly traditional Catholics).  As for whether it’s occult, absolutely, in the sense that anything spiritual or actively religious is occult.  If you want to see it as merely a religious custom, you’re free to do so, but if you believe in the apotropaic and blessing power of the act, then it becomes closer to a miracle or magical act, and thus occult in the strictest sense of the word.

Broke but not Cheap: Altars and Shrines

The last post I wrote on doing magic “broke but not cheap”, which is to say doing magic for as little a cost as possible, focused on magical goods and supplies, like oils and tools and the like.  This is what many people consider to be the most expensive part of doing magic, and in general it can be, but there are other topics on doing magic on a budget that I want to touch on as well.  For instance, say you have all your supplies and you’re an active magician.  Where do you put your things together?  If you take a devotional practice, how do you house your gods or spirits you work with?  Is it possible to build a temple on the cheap?

This next bit on doing magic for cheap is how to organize and put your stuff together, and this is where I find a good distinction that the Anomalous Thracian made a bit ago between an altar and a shrine.  Simply put, a shrine is where a deity or spirit lives, and an altar is a place where one does workings.  Consider how we say that some god is “enshrined” here, but never “enaltared”.  Some of us blur the lines between altars and shrines, and some of us keep them completely separate.  As an example, I have shrines to a few of the Greek gods, and I make offerings and the like of wine, incense, candles, and prayer at their shrines.  Then again, I’ll also occasionally do a working there and leave someone’s picture or a statue or something with one of the gods at their shrine.  However, I also have my ceremonial magic altar, or my Table of Manifestation as Fr. Rufus Opus calls it, which has no gods enshrined on it but has my magical tools and a space to do stuff like conjure spirits or focus a particular force into an object.  That said, this distinction is largely meant for the priests and vocational magicians among us; for most people, myself included, this distinction can be a little artificial and not always helpful.

And yes, it’s spelled “altar” (with an a).  Never “alter” (with an e).  Please, for the love of Hermes Logios, get your spelling right.

Now, this next part may get me into some hot water, but I claim that it is never necessary to build a permanent shrine or altar.  The gods and spirits we work with, being incorporeal, do not require a material home, since they usually already have one of their own in the heavens, hells, or in their own neck of the woods.  The powers we work with do not require a single fixed location in order to be summoned and manipulated.  Material places may be fixed, but spirits do not have to be.  Thus, if you cannot afford the time or space to build and maintain a shrine to a deity, or do enough magic to require the need for a permanently-built (and therefore continuously-active) altar, then you are under no obligation to do either.  That being said, it is extraordinarily helpful to do just those things.  No, they’re not necessary; yes, they are awesome to have.

Building a shrine or altar is not just a matter of money, but it’s also a matter of space, which is in many ways tied up with money.  Consider the magicians who employ the Lemegeton Goetia or the Clavicula Solomonis and do everything by the book.  The Circle of Art is required to be 9′ in radius, or 18′ in diameter, along with a bit more space on one side to house a 3′ equilateral Triangle of Art with a bit of space between the Circle and the Triangle.  This means that we’d need to have a minimum working space of 18′ × 22′, or a room that’s about 400 square feet.  This is a nontrivial size, and some of us are lucky to live in studios with that much space including the kitchen and bathroom.  When you add in the notion of having a smaller Tables of Manifestation and other shrines to deities and spirits, the total space required to maintain all this can be overwhelming.  Some of us are lucky to live in a large enough house on our own with a spacious basement or living room that we can use for magic without disturbances, but most of us aren’t.  We have to deal with smaller spaces or other people living with us, and that latter bit causes a whole slew of other problems.

As a whole, especially in the United States where I live, people have never before lived in bigger houses than what we live in nowadays.  What we consider to be studio apartments and small houses were, by and large, the standard for most people for decades and centuries leading up to our own, leading me to believe yet again that the style of magic described in many Renaissance and medieval grimoires really was intended for the wealthy and magistral among us.  Being able to afford such a mansion (and yes, McMansions qualify) is simply not in the financial reach of most people, whether in the US or abroad, and so we have to make do with substantially smaller places.  Happily, it’s not hard to do powerful work with powerful spirits in a small space, and one needs a large space much less than one needs a full set of ebony and 24k gold tools for their altar.

Let’s first consider someone who has neither space nor money to make a permanent shrine to a spirit or deity or saint, but still wants to work with them.  There are several ways they might go about doing this, as I reckon it:

  • Find a clear and quiet space to sit or stand.  Pray.  Reach out to them, let them come, and simply talk with them.  You don’t need a shrine at all to just make contact.
  • Build a temporary shrine on a table or shelf or against the wall on the floor.  Clean the area first, then place an image of the spirit (a statue if you can build one or afford to buy one, or a drawn-out or printed-out picture of them) along with votive gifts (if available).  Things like a cloth to cover a shrine with, tiny baubles or statuettes of animals associated with the spirit, and the like can all be placed to help give the spirit a “throne” to sit on, if you will, and these can all be stored safely and respectfully when not in use.  A small glass can be used to pour offerings into, and a candle and incense can be burned as a sacrifice.  Pray in the presence of the shrine and invite them to take their seat there, talk with them, and so forth.  When you’re done, invite them to stay if they will or go if they will, being the spirit that they are.  When the candle and incense have burnt out, respectfully dispose of anything perishable and pack the shrine away respectfully in a shoebox or something to hold everything in.
  • Build a portable shrine.  You can find guides to this for a dime a dozen on building miniature shrines out of Altoids tins or other small boxes or containers, which can often be better than building a temporary shrine that you repeatedly put up and take down again.

When making a shrine, you don’t need to go all out.  Household shrines have, historically, been minimalist and tiny, with often little more than a statue and a candle burning in front of it, but even these have palpable power radiating off them when worked and venerated appropriately.  Elaborately decorated and embellished shrines full of baubles and artifacts and rarities are pretty much for those who can afford them, and are sometimes more for the person who maintains them rather than the spirit who’s enshrined there.  Intricate statues and works of art to represent the spirits are nice, but you often don’t need to go that far.  A simple printout of a historical statue or mural of the spirit or deity, perhaps suspended from thread or put into a picture frame, is more than sufficient; unusual pieces of wood or stone that have a particular feel on them can also work well as focal points of veneration for the spirit.  Likewise, any of the votive offerings, gifts, and decorations you want to give them would be better made or harvested yourself rather than bought, much as with any tool or talisman you’d make from before.  The difference here is, instead of creating something for the sake of kinetic meditation or contemplative exercise, you’re giving and dedicating something to the spirit that you yourself are making or supplying, which some find to be a more personal, intimate, and powerful type of offering.  Just be aware that what you offer is no longer yours but belongs to the spirit; if you want it back, you should ask and make sure that you have their blessing to do so.  If you dedicate to a spirit something like a tool, use it only with their permission and blessing.

Add to it, you only need to build a shrine to those spirits whom you really want to live with you and with whom you really want to work with pretty much constantly.  If you’re just calling a spirit a few times a year, you don’t need to build a shrine to them.  If you’re working with a spirit on a weekly or daily basis, you should probably consider building a shrine to them.  When you build a shrine, you’re making a commitment to that spirit to maintain it and maintain them.  It’s generally better to not build a shrine than to build one if you don’t have the time to give them the upkeep and veneration they deserve.  When in doubt, don’t build a shrine.  If you want to build a shrine, or if a spirit demands it, see what space you have available.  You don’t need some elaborate shadowbox when a corner of a bookshelf can suffice; I’ve seen some of my colleagues have shrines lining the floors of their hallways or have a dozen spirits on a single desk shelf, and their shit works all the same.

Also, when you’re building and maintaining a shrine, you need to keep in mind that you need to work with the spirit to maintain it.  It’s silly if the spirit you’re building the shrine for ignores it or doesn’t even respond when you go to it, and it’s as silly if you keep giving them things they don’t want or, conversely, ignore their requests for certain things and designs that they keep making.  If the spirit demands flowers, and flowers are in your ability and budget to obtain, don’t deny them that!  If they demand something that you can’t afford or procure, tell them that they’re requesting something you can’t get and they either need to help with getting it, provide for it themselves, or retract their request.  Building a shrine is building a relationship, and a relationship is a two-way street of compromise and cooperation.  Work with the spirit you have enshrined, but make sure they work with you, as well.  If you find that things simply aren’t working, respectfully tell them that you want to break this relationship and disassemble their shrine; they can determine what becomes of the stuff that has accumulated in their shrine, but beyond that, disassemble their shrine and go back to a more basic way of working with them.  This doesn’t mean you failed, it just means it wasn’t working, and that’s okay.

Anyway, I digress; so much for shrines and houses for spirits.  What about altars, though?  Well, an altar is one type of “working area” that isn’t necessarily connected to a particular spirit, and I’ll use the more generalized concept here because it can apply to more than one tradition.  In that sense, then, use whatever available surface you can so long as it won’t be disturbed by another person.  If you’re doing a one-off working for a particular end, use the kitchen floor or a coffee table.  If you’re doing repeated workings for a particular end, or have gotten used to doing a set of related workings on a frequent basis, consider setting aside a corner of a room or a particular surface to keep the required tools and patterns and supplies present; the top of an armoire or a desk or a side table will work well for this.  If you can’t afford the space or money for the furniture, keep all the tools and required things stored together when not in use, and when you’re ready to use them, ritually clean off a particular surface available to you and set everything out in a planned, regular manner.

Likewise, just as one doesn’t need elaborate and embellished altars, it’s quite possible to downsize some of the larger works described in grimoires and spellbooks of old while still getting good results.  I have never once found a need for a full 18′ diameter circle when my 6′ diameter circle is more than sufficient, and even then I use it only rarely; my own temple room is hardly sufficient for even that, and I do well enough by confining my conjuration work to a 4′ × 4′ space, big enough for me to sit in with a Table of Practice and a few candles.

Just like before when I mentioned that you can get the vast majority of your supplies and tools from going outside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the topic of going outside for shrines and working areas.  Thus, if there’s anything you can do by going outside, do it outside.  Gods of the wild, of the forest, of the untouched and untamed places are always better encountered in their own turf rather than setting up some neat and clean shrine inside, and you’d be better of contacting spirits of forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains by going up to their homes rather than taking some of them back with you and contacting them from the convenience of your own chair.  Going out to a crossroads and talking with the spirits of the crossroads is basically going to a naturally-made shrine for them, and one that’s more powerful and much cheaper than simply building one in your own home.  Of course, there’s the bit about privacy and convenience that you’d be gaining from having them in your own home, but giving these things up as a sacrifice is a sacrifice all the same.

Likewise, if you can find a clearing or field outside that is generally desolate and unsupervised, you’d do well to do some larger workings out there (with the approval of spirits who reside there, of course) rather than trying to cram things you can’t downsize into your own home.  If any friends own a backyard, especially with a privacy fence, see if you can do something there that they won’t turn you down for.  The only issue here is privacy, which you might not always get, and which can sometimes get you in trouble for trespassing (and worse, if you live in a rather conservative place fearful of witches and non-Christian religions).  Then again, what’s a little magic without a bit of risk?  If your need is great enough, this kind of thing will seem trivial.

Again, I speak from a position of privilege here; I’ve never been so poor as to live in such a tiny place where I couldn’t do my magic, and I’ve been good to my spirits and building them shrines (oftentimes on the more elaborate end than not) because I’ve had the time, space, and resources to do so.  Some of my friends have lived in much tinier places, sometimes in a mobile home or sometimes homeless while still maintaining contact with their gods and spirits.  Like last time, I would greatly appreciate it if others who have lived through some of these things and who have built or maintained shrines on a budget or done workings in a particular space when money and space are sparse could comment below and offer their thoughts and fill in any holes I’ve left.

Magic Circles and Orgone

In the course of working with this orgone stuff, I’m planning on constructing a permanent Babalon Matrix in my room: a table specifically dedicated to charging or maintaining a field of force or magical energy for various purposes (charging, manifestation, and the like).  However, this is a really modern form of occultism, using various modern theories of force, energy, and methods of harnessing them.  As you may have noticed, dear reader, this is not my normal time period; I’m much more Renaissance or classical when it comes to magic and the occult.  Plus, ceremonial magicians are renowned (in)famously for making things more complicated and embellished than they have to be, because why else would someone do something if it didn’t look completely badass at the end?  Thus, after some experiments with orgone, I decided to try out something new.

To that end, I experimented with making a kind of magic circle for my orgone setup.  The setup creates a field of magical force or dweomer or somesuch (terms abound for this, but you know what I’m talking about) that radiates from a central core and is reflected or manipulated by perimeter objects, generally crystal bars that are ridged on one side and flat on the other.  Philosophers and occultists have long resorted to using symbolic diagrams to represent the cosmos, magical activity, and other immaterial things, so why not create a circle or pattern that can describe such a field?  At worst, the pattern would only be decorative, serving to make my orgone system look really really cool and arcane.  At best, the pattern would help amplify, guide, and empower the orgone system even more; using patterns or symbols on their own as potent magical tools has a long history in most magical traditions, so this could be fantastic tool.  Alternatively, the symbol could create a field that would interact and potentially interfere with the field generated by the orgone system, so I decided to experiment.

After lots of interesting, elaborate, and obtuse designs, I eventually came up with the following pattern:

The benefits to this pattern, as I see it, would include:

  • The circular form reflects the spherical field projected onto a two-dimensional plane.  The circle helps keep unwanted influences out of the field without first going through the orgone generator to accumulate and distill the energy.
  • The radial symmetry allows the field to be oriented towards any cardinal direction, pulling energy in equally from the different quarters of the world and cosmos.
  • The center “starburst” radiates energy from the crystal ball, while the circles around the edges collect it.  The central starburst circle represents the field radiator, with the perimeter circles represent the field collectors.
  • The field collectors define the radius of the field, which is represented by the circle passing through the field collector circles.  As the collectors define one set of points for the field to collect at, the midpoints between the crystals illustrate that the entire field is bounded by this same process.
  • The lines between the central starburst and the field perimeter show the radiation of the field from the center outward, and the reflection from the perimeter inward.
  • Lines intersect the field collector circles, showing their purpose to gather and reflect energy passing through them, but not the central starburst circle, showing it to be purely radiating.

So, I painted this pattern out onto a piece of posterboard.  I used a mixture of consecrated black acrylic paint (leftover from my Circle of Art project), dragon’s blood ink, and a Bardonian simple fluid condenser (chamomile extract, gold tincture/solution, grain alcohol).  Painting it alone made me dizzy, and the pattern definitely had a buzz of its own, so I must’ve been doing something right.  I took it over to Jarandhel‘s house later that night, and we started running some experiments with it.

What was interesting about this pattern is that, when we started putting it to use, it did not describe a spherical field at all.  Setting a Babalon Matrix system atop the posterboard and activating it, it felt more like a torch flame or cone in the center with energy being concentrated at the focus instead of being cycled about the entire field.  In fact, we noticed that this was still the case even after we removed the Babalon Matrix entirely, and just used the pattern itself as a field.  It felt like the posterboard was generating a field of its own; whether this was a result of the paint used to make it, the pattern itself, or some combination of the two was unknown to us at the time.  We concluded that the design didn’t describe a sphere, and on some reflection we figured out that it was due to the center circle in the pattern, which isn’t crossed through with field lines (meridians? ley lines?).  Because that circle isn’t connected to the rest of the pattern, we reasoned, it doesn’t and can’t actually radiate energy outward; instead, it gathers energy, and acts as a termination point for the rest of the pattern.  Thus, energy would flow along the lines and terminate into a single point at the center, resulting in a kind of energetic “spire” or cone.

To test out whether or not the center circle actually had something to do with it, I made another piece of posterboard with the same ink and dimensions, but with the meridians crossing through the innermost circle, resulting in the following pattern:

If the first version of the design created a spire of energy due to the central circle being empty, we reasoned that crossing it through would result in a different field shape.  We were correct, too: by having the lines cross through this central circle, we attained a stable spherical field.  It’s as if the central circle, now being crossed through, was now acting as a “top” rather than a “point”, which allowed energy to both radiate from and collect into the center.  This design more accurately described a spherical field, which is what the Babalon Matrix does.

What was interesting was comparing the first and second patterns, or the spire and sphere models, with a Babalon Matrix.  It felt like the field circle and Babalon matrix were each creating their own field that worked with each other, but in different ways:

  • Sphere model with Babalon Matrix: A reinforced, stronger sphere of force than either the sphere model or Babalon Matrix alone provides.  It’s like using two clear, flat panes of glass against each other instead of just one: it’s stronger, firmer, more insulated, and still able to provide light and illumination.  Smoother with a simple, air-like flow.
  • Spire model with Babalon Matrix: The spire model circle acts as an energy collection or concentration field, while the Babalon Matrix acts as a sphere.  The resulting effect was akin to using a telescope: one lens magnifies, the other focuses.  Very potent for concentrating force into a single point, for manifesting force or sensations, or for “bringing things through”.  Sharp and active, like a fire.

Using both models, we also experimented with different orientations and positions of the perimeter crystals.  Remember that the Babalon Matrix makes use of a set of perimeter crystals that define and reflect the field to from the center, when the flat side of the crystals faces inward, and outward into a omnidirectional field when the flat side of the crystals face outward.  Some experiments we ran on this:

  • Flat side in, no circle: spherical field contained by the perimeter crystals.
  • Flat side out, no circle: radiating field in all directions from the perimeter crystals.
  • Flat side in, spire model, on perimeter circles: a spire of energy gathered at the center in a culminating point.
  • Flat side in, spire model, on perimeter angles: (did not test)
  • Flat side out, spire model, on perimeter circles: four distinct spheres of energy at each perimeter crystal, about the same size as the circle design itself.  Nothing between the crystals or inside the circle.
  • Flat side out, spire model, on perimeter angles: (did not test)
  • Flat side in, sphere model, on perimeter circles: spherical field contained by the perimeter crystals, stronger than the Babalon Matrix alone.
  • Flat side in, sphere mode, on perimeter angles: a spherical field contained by the perimeter crystals, but it felt “off”, like it was a square peg in a round hole.  Jarring.
  • Flat side out, sphere model, on perimeter circles:  Four beams of energy radiating from the crystals, one beam per crystal.  Not omnidirectional, but unidirectional for each crystal.  Nothing really between the crystals except very faint radiation.
  • Flat side out, sphere model, on perimeter angles: Somewhat more even than before, but still felt “off” or blocky.  Like trying to make a smooth level out of chunky gravel.

Based on this and the experiments above, it would seem that the crystals and focus take their effect from what’s directly beneath them on the pattern.  The small circles are specific loci of power, as if they’re waiting for input, but objects placed elsewhere appear to throw the fields off or make them feel jarring or misshapen.  Making alternative forms of this using other numbers of loci might be an interesting experiment, especially considering Jarandhel’s and my experiments with changing the number of crystals used with the Babalon Matrix.  For instance, comparative spire and sphere circles making use of six crystals would look like the following:

Also, a small benefit to these designs is that they’re based on a unit circle (the innermost focus and the perimeter loci circles), and can be constructed with only a compass and straightedge.  If the small circle is one unit in diameter, the outermost perimeter circle is eight units in diameter, the circle passing through the perimeter loci is seven units in diameter, and the inside boundary circle is four units in diameter.  Since the square can be devised using only a compass and straightedge, the whole pattern can, as well.  Hexagons, too, though any pattern or polygon that can’t be made with a compass and straightedge also cannot here.  Then again, why would you want to use a design like that?  You silly thing.

It would seem that the circle itself is an interesting add-on to the Babalon Matrix orgone system, and even though not essential, it does have some useful applications.  Moreover, the circle designs themselves work as field generators, either for a concentrating spire or radiating sphere, and given their generic geometric form, can be applied in various other ways I can think of.  They’re original patterns, as far as I can tell, and rely only on their geometric proportions and layout, so they’re tradition-independent and can be used by anyone interested in this.  If you make use of these designs or make new variants of them, feel free to let me know and share what your own experiences with it are like.  For convenience, I’m uploading the designs to the Designs page.  What I’m really interested in figuring out is what to call these things; so far I’ve been calling them “charging circles”, but that’s both inaccurate and tacky.  Magic circuits, force circles, and the like are possibilities, but we’ll see.