Soapbox Time: Animal Sacrifice and “Black Magic”

I tried to not put a post out about this again.  I really did, you guys, especially since I was fortunate enough to completely miss the recent Internet debacle-argument about this topic, and moreso since I wrote one post on the one topic and another on the other years ago and was hoping to not have to succumb to this particular urge again.  But, then again, it has been like five years since I wrote those posts, and though quite a lot has happened, my views on these two topics hasn’t particularly changed much except for being refined.

So, the other day, I put out my write-up on PGM XII.201—269, which I’ve entitled the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, a consecration of an engraved ring of power that protects the wearer and also ensures their success in magical workings, a sort of forerunner to the Ring of Solomon found in later centuries.  Part of the ceremony calls for the sacrificial offering of seven birds—a pure white goose, three roosters, and three pigeons—but since I’m fully aware that not everyone is willing, trained, or able to perform such a ceremony, I also offered an alternative approach using sacrificial, animal-less cakes made to symbolize the offering of the birds instead.  I think that it’s a wonderful ritual that I’m eager to try at some point in the future, using the cake substitutions instead of bird sacrifices, not because I’m unable or unwilling to use birds here, but because I want to keep things simple for a first honest attempt, along with other personal accommodations for my own circumstances and situations.

Well, shortly after I shared it on one of the social media platforms I use, the ritual got a particular comment that rubbed me the wrong way, which was all of: “Whoa. That’s some serious black magick“, complete with a sadface. Granted, with such a terse comment that gave no justification for saying what it did, I honestly can’t say why that particular person commented that this was “black magic”, but I’m pretty certain I can hone in on it.  And I just…I just can’t, y’all.  I did make a reply to that comment, but since this particular thing set me off sore on two volatile topics at once, I figured if I was gonna get this urge out my system, I may as well get it out in full, in depth, and at length here.

First, let’s get the easy bit out of the way: “black magic” is a ridiculous term that we should have abandoned long ago, right along with “white magic”.  For some, it’s an issue of racism; for others, an issue of not understanding other traditions; for yet others, a shaming mechanism to get people to “evolve” into “higher states of spiritual being” from “backwards” or “primitive” or “dark” places.  Whether for these or other reasons, “black magic” is a deplorable term that’s often used to (a) make someone seem way more spooky than they are (b) market themselves as an edgelord sorcerer a la E.A. Koetting (c) shame the practices, rites, and occulture of others because one is uncomfortable with what they do.  Yes, I know the world is wide and full of awe, things that are both awesome and awful.  At the same time, you generally don’t have the right to judge other practices and cultures, especially those which are foreign to you or those which are from antiquity, unless you can also claim some measure of expertise in the context, development, and reasoning behind those practices of those cultures.

“Black magic” is a phrase that’s often more in line with really spooky witchcraft, devil-working, demon-summoning, cursing, and other outright maleficia in the sense of magic that’s intended to cause harm, pain, suffering, or death to others, generally out of a sense of wrath, greed, malice, or other vice-fueled emotion.  Then again, the term “black magic” is used at best when it “accurately” refers to these things as they are actually done; just as often as not, if not more so, the phrase “black magic” is used to describe any type of magic that one might find transgressive, dangerous, unpalatable, or frightening.  This is ridiculous, to be frank about it; the use of magic in general is transgressive and dangerous, and to anyone who isn’t familiar with anything in magic, it’s all unpalatable and frightening.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve scared off by saying I conjure angels, much less work with ancient subterranean deities, and those are generally the more appealing and “kinder” spirits we work with (though angels are terrifying as shit, too, and we should never forget why the first thing they say in biblical literature is “be not afraid”, nor should we ever forget our place amongst the gods lest we fall into hubris and suffer the extreme penalties for doing so).  If you call something “black magic” because it’s unpalatable or frightening, it’s because it’s unpalatable or frightening to you.  Others, for whom it’s their bread and butter, may find it normal and natural, even holy and sanctified in its own right.  It’s much like how many Christians think of a variety of non-Christian religions as “evil”, “wicked”, “witchcraft”, or even “black magic”; to call the practices of another that you don’t understand “black magic” is just as farcical; consider Mark Twain’s The War Prayer, which would be an example of maleficia that’s otherwise grounded in normalized, culturally-acceptable religion.  Heck, even if you do understand it, call it what it is: is it a curse, or devil-working, or maleficium?  Call it that, and be clear and accurate about it!  But don’t call it “black magic” and think that by being judgmental you’re preserving your pristine ethics and morals, because you’re not, and you end up making yourself look ridiculous.

So, the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual got called “black magic”.  Why might that be?  Considering any of the “accurate” meanings of what “black magic” might mean (and I use the term “accurate” very loosely here), we simply don’t find any of that in this ritual.  In fact, we find a pretty standard, pretty pious hymn to the Agathos Daimōn, the “Good Spirit” of Hellenic influence that became a sort of personalized almighty God figure, much as how many modern Christians conceive of God as not just the God of all the cosmos but also their own personal, private God that watches out for them.  We find the preliminary invocation calling upon all the beneficent gods who rule over the world in all its forms and in all its ways, almost in an animist worldview rather than a polytheistic one, so as to establish the authority of the magician in mythic terms with the right to call upon them.  We find the consecration of the ring to be such that the magician “may wear this power in every place, in every time, without being smitten or afflicted, so as to be preserved intact from every danger while I wear this power”, so that “none of the daimones or spirits will or can oppose” them.  If it weren’t for the explicit Egyptian references and comparatively outdated terminology in the ritual, we might be forgiven for thinking this was something from one iteration or another of the Key of Solomon.  I think we can pretty solidly establish that whatever type or field of magic might be referenced by “black magic”, the Royal Ring of Abrasax doesn’t fall into it.

If you want good PGM examples of maleficia, you don’t have to search hard: PDM xiv.675—694 (the Evil Sleep of Seth; much of PDM xiv has similar recipes and poisons for causing “evil sleep” i.e. catalepsy, as well as blindness or death), PGM IV.2622—2707 (the Slander Spell of Selēnē), PGM IV.3255—3274 (Seth’s curse of punishments), PGM VII.396—404 (for silencing, subjecting, and restraining), PGM XII.365—375 (for inflicting the separation of Seth and Osiris or Seth and Isis on two friends or lovers through strife, war, odiousness, and enmity), and PGM CXXIV.1—43 (to inflict illness), to say nothing of all the other restraining and binding spells, as well as all the love spells which verge on domination, subjection, and inflicting pain so as to make someone love the magician.  Then there are also the curse tablets, also known as defixiones or katadesmoi, which we find across the entire western Old World across many, many centuries (more information available at Ancient Esotericism).  Those are all undoubtedly maleficia of various types and kinds, which may or may not have their justifiable uses; the Royal Ring of Abrasax, however, bears nothing in common with these.

The only objectionable part of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, then, must be the use of animal sacrifice, which is seen as a generally distasteful thing amongst…well, let’s be honest: urbanite or suburbanite, middle-class or upper-class, Western-centric practitioners who are separated from the cycle of life and death present in agriculture and animal husbandry as well as social, religious, and magical practices that go back literal millennia across every culture and continent.  On the other hand, I’m a proponent of animal sacrifice, for the ceremonies that call for them, when there’s a recognizable need to incorporate them in those ceremonies, and when performed by someone who is properly capable of carrying out such an act of sacrifice.

Before I continue, I want to mention a bit about the gravity of animal sacrifice.  While a staple of the religious and magical practices of most (not every) culture at some point on Earth, it’s a pretty big deal to sacrifice an animal; more than fruit or grain, raising animals is an investment.  Sure, agricultural goods are investments, too, but the nature of animal sacrifice is different because they’re expensive and, more importantly, have the blood and breath of life in them.  This is what makes them far more potent than offerings of libations, incense, foodstuffs, or other votive gifts, no matter how rare or intricate.  To sacrifice an animal is truly a sacrifice, because you have to come to terms with the cycle of life and death that enabled you to come into the presence of such a sacrifice as well as the process by which you cease its life for the dedication and offering to a divinity, or using its life force in a directed way for magical ends that cannot (whether easily or at all) be accomplished through the use of non-animal means.  It’s not like setting out a cup of barley grains for Hermēs or a plate of pears for Obatala, then tossing it out the next week; the process of animal sacrifice is not to be taken for granted, and neither is the life of the thing to be sacrificed.

Given that, I recognize that there are a variety of reasons one might choose to abstain from animal sacrifice, many of which were brought up in the comments on my original post on this topic from 2012:

  • One takes an egalitarian animist view of the cosmos: everything has a spirit, nothing is spiritually master or owner of another.  In this light, the notion of “dedication” and “sacrifice” become moot, because there is no point in dedicating a sacrifice to an entity that cannot own anything.
  • One takes a strictly pacifist, nonviolent approach in all their works: no harm done to anything as a result of ritual or as part of it.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • One has a sincere love and care for the well-being of animal life, whether they are people, pets, or livestock.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • The rules and restrictions of one’s own practices and religion forbid it (e.g. Orphism).
  • The gods and spirits one works with insist on or mandate bloodless sacrifice for their worship and works.

One common argument I see against animal sacrifice is that “you wouldn’t sacrifice your pet dog or cat, so why would you sacrifice a chicken or goat?”.  You’re right; I wouldn’t sacrifice my pet, because pets aren’t livestock.  Pets are animals we raise for support, companionship, protection, and entertainment; for all intents and purposes, pets are family, and I wouldn’t sacrifice a member of my family.  Livestock, on the other hand, do not fall into that category.  They are raised for food, for breeding, for their hair, for their eggs; livestock are animals for consumption.  To cross the semantic boundary between pet and livestock is…even I find it distasteful, but I also recall myths and stories where such things were done in times of extreme need or revelation (e.g. Baucis and Philemon about to sacrifice their pet goose when they realized that it was truly Zeus and Hermēs visiting them in their hovel).

Heck, even if one is okay with animal sacrifice, there are plenty more reasons why one might not do it:

  • Lack of skill in safely and, as much as possible, humanely slaughtering an animal
  • Lack of funds for animals
  • Lack of appropriate space or privacy to keep animals, whether on a short- or long-term basis, as well as to conduct the ceremony
  • Lack of means or skill to properly process and butcher the animal for ritual or personal consumption, if applicable to the ceremony
  • Lack of means or space to dispose of any non-sacrificial and non-processable parts
  • Lack of knowledge of the proper ritual procedure for conducting such a sacrifice

That said, farms that raise livestock for personal use are often quite skilled in quickly and safely slaughtering animals, and butchery is a time-honored profession that overlaps significantly with slaughtering animals.  So long as one is willing to get their hands and apron bloodied, it’s not hard to learn these skills at least to a rudimentary, acceptable level, and make accommodations where needed for processing, disposal, and the like.  Most humans eat meat to some extent, and for many people, it’s a necessary part of their diet and culinary culture.  (Some might argue that nobody needs to eat animals and that everyone should be vegan, but it’s not a sustainable practice for many parts of the world, and it negates the fact that the human body does not operate on a one-diet-fits-all approach.)  Many people don’t get any sort of glimpse into the process of raising, slaughtering, or processing animals for consumption nowadays, especially in the Western urban world, but we can’t lose sight of the fact of where our sliced deli meats, Thanksgiving turkeys, grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, and pork chops come from, especially considering how many people thoughtlessly and mindlessly pick up such animal products from their supermarkets and grocery stores to eat them later.  More people in the past were far more familiar with what it takes to process animals from field to plate; heck, if your grandparents are still alive, ask them what it was like to pluck chickens.  It wasn’t that long ago that many people killed animals on their own properties for their own benefit and sustenance in many Western first-world countries, either, and many still do, especially outside the Western first-world sphere.

When it comes to the religious use of animal sacrifice, we need to think about the role religion plays in our lives.  In some cultures, mainly the Greco-Roman ones I’m thinking of, there was no word for “religion” in the sense of a distinct field of human activity; there were words to describe particular modes of worship, but they struggled with a way to define the role of religion in their lives, because they couldn’t separate it out from the other things they did on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.  More than just religious festivals and rites of passage, religion was intertwined with every breath of every day.  In that sense, if we’re going to kill something that took time and effort to raise, why not honor the gods by it and give them their fair share?  Also consider the Jewish practice of shechita, the kosher-permissible ritual slaughter of animals for consumption, which ties in with the practice of qorban, the acts and regulations of sacrifice permitted within the Temple of the Jews.  Then, bring in the long-standing and vital role that animal sacrifice plays in a variety of African religions, both practiced to this day within Africa as well as in the diaspora in forms such as La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, Candomblé, Vodou, and so forth; in these moments, animal sacrifices are often special occasions, celebrating a particular divinity, festival, or other sincere need, and are often communal celebrations where the meat is shared.  Indeed, in many traditional cultures, it’s more often than not that people got a substantial amount of their meat intake from participating in religious ceremonies.  And, more recently, some reconstructionist and revivalist pagan traditions are reincorporating the practices of animal sacrifice in their modern practices as was documented to have been done before Christianity knocked them off the map.

There are lots of schools of thought on the exact, precise role animal sacrifice plays (and, moreover, ought to play) in religious works, and generally these are limited to at most a handful of practices and traditions that involve them; I wouldn’t use Neoplatonic views on the appropriateness of animal sacrifice in Santería, nor would I try to impose Jewish ritual practices in a Hellenic ceremony.  Likewise, I would find it unconscionable for someone to judge the practices of another to which they don’t belong.  The most that I would personally agree with would be, if you have an issue for one reason or another, do your best to neither participate or benefit from it.  That’s fine!  In that case, you don’t need such practices, and they don’t need you.  If it comes to pass that you do, for some reason, need such practices as requires animal sacrifice, on the other hand, follow their rules, because they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have and, simply put, still don’t need you to change, judge, or opine on the appropriateness of their ritual process.  There are a variety of legitimate needs and purposes for animal sacrifice; heck, even in a Neoplatonic setting, Porphyry and Iamblichus are in agreement that it has its place, and for some people, it’s a valuable and useful part of worship and theurgy to make use it in the right circumstances (cf. this excellent paper by Eleonora Zeper on the subject).

Then, on the other hand, we have magical practices.  Rather than following the institutions of religion and their practices that are typically carried on for many generations, magical practices may overlap with religion, take on religion as an independent and asocial activity, or have no overlap whatsoever.  Because of the variety of these practices, it’s hard to say anything about them in general besides the fact that they exist: they’re in the PGM, they’re in the Picatrix, they’re in the Key of Solomon, they’re in the Book of St. Cyprian, they’re in pretty much any and every pre-modern tradition and source text we have (and a number of modern ones, too).  Ranging from frogs to falcons, swine to swans, there are endless purposes for a variety of particular animals, some of which require no more than some hair or a feather plucked from them, some which require blood but without killing the animal, which require their whole burning once sacrificed (as in the Royal Ring of Abrasax), some require torture and deforming (such as a variety of frog-based spells in the Book of St. Cyprian), and so forth.  If you’re able and willing to do such acts for the sake of ritual, do it; if not, don’t do it and move on with your life.

There’s also the case of substituting blood sacrifices with bloodless sacrifices.  I give one example of this in the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, where instead of sacrificing seven birds, one sacrifices seven specially-made cakes that represent those birds.  Substitution of one ritual process with a similar-enough stand-in is a longstanding practice both ancient and less-ancient; we have records of Egyptian rituals where this was done, we know many folk practices across the world that once relied on animal sacrifices have come to use substitutions instead, and similar substitutions are made in particular traditions of Tibetan and some (but not all) other Vajrayana or Vedic practices, as well.  If done appropriately, done with the right intent, and done in a situation where a bloodless substitute is deemed acceptable by both the magician/priest and the forces they’re working with, then there’s no reason to worry for those who wish to perform a ritual but who are either unable or unwilling to perform the animal sacrifice for it: just use the substitute instead.  However, as Jason Miller points out in his recent post about animal sacrifice and using substitutes, this isn’t always possible: if the use of substitutes is not deemed necessary, whether because there’s a sincere need for a proper animal sacrifice or because the spirits reject bloodless substitutes, then you’re out of luck with substitutes.  I’ve heard stories of at least one modern ATR community that insisted on using bloodless sacrifices for their ceremonies until one of their gods came down in the flesh and demanded it of them, lest he take it from them by force; this type of thing can happen, though hopefully though less extreme measures such as through ceremonial divination and regular check-ins with the spirits you’re working with.

There’s also the possibility of reworking the format and structure of a ritual that calls for animal sacrifice to avoid using it entirely.  Consider that the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual given in PGM XII.201—269 has a parallel, closely-related consecration ceremony of a phylactery later on in PGM XIII.734—1077, where no animal sacrifice is required (though an offering of sweetbreads is called for along with bread, seasonal flowers, and pine-cones).  It is entirely feasible to use this alternate ritual procedure, or adopt and adapt the methodology of one with the prayers and purposes of the other, to come up with a blend of ritual praxis that can (but not necessarily promised to be) as effective as either.  Additionally, consider that one may try to avoid the use of sacrifices entirely and simply use the prayers of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual in an otherwise usual, normally-conducted consecration ritual according to one’s regular process.  Is this always acceptable?  Not necessarily; the more you change the format or requirements or implements of a ritual, the further you get from being able to claim that you “did” the ritual, and the less likely you’ll end up with the expected results.  However, it is possible to come up with a new version of an old ritual, so long as you know what you’re doing.

This is a lot of digital ink to spill on something, but in short?  Animal sacrifice does not equate to “black magic”, and “black magic” is a ridiculous term that shouldn’t be used anyway.  If you find the practice distasteful, consider your own dietary habits, your own cultural heritage, your own biases about such practices, and whether you really think you know better than both age-old religious institutions and the gods and spirits they work with before you voice such opinions.  Don’t disparage the works and methods of others from a place of privilege, naiveté, and badly-conceived ethics; if you absolutely have to be judgmental about something, judge on the purpose and merits of the ritual.

De Regnis: Approaching Spirits, Offerings and Sacrifices, Identification and Authentication

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 approaching spirits, offerings and sacrifices to the spirits, and spirit identification and authentication.

On Approaching the Spirits

Respect and permission should be the rule to approach, interact with, and work with spirits. In short, if one respects the spirits, the spirits will respect them. This will not always be the case,of course, especially given some instances of particularly offensive spirits or spirits who have been specifically sent out to cause harm. However, even in these circumstances, working with respect and permission is often better than reckless vitriol and domination.

Respect towards a spirit can be effected in many ways, but generally the Golden Rule applies to spirits just as it would humans and animals. The crucial difference is that things that happen to humans, such as death or disease, do not happen to spirits or happen in ways hard for humans to comprehend. If a spirit reaches out to someone, it suggests that the spirit has learned about the person enough to engage in communication. It is similarly proper for magicians and all spiritual workers to learn about a spirit they wish to contact before trying to make contact. Learn about the tradition the spirit comes from, the languages and prayers and songs used to contact the spirit, the traditional offerings and acceptable sacrifices to be made to them, what the spirit finds appealing or desirable, and so forth. Such learning is a mark of respect to the spirit, which generally makes the spirit more amenable to working with a magician and hearing them out. Similarly, any vows,promises, or offerings made to the spirit should be held and followed through. Contact with the spirit, once made, should be continued in an agreeable time frame such as once a week, once a month, or so; simply dropping off the radar and ignoring the spirit is a mark of disrespect.

Imagine two people approaching a third. One of the two people is someone the third has known for decades, a good friend from youth whom the person knows is honorable and trustworthy. The other person is someone the third has met only yesterday, and though the person may have heard rumors, they are effectively still strangers. If the third person were asked to lend money to each of the others, the person would be more likely to lend money and more of it to the friend rather than the stranger due to the relationship built up between the person and the friend. Likewise, it is important to build up a relationship with the spirits based on respect, honor, trustworthiness,and the like. Although magicians often seek vassals or servant spirits for their work, respectful magicians seek to befriend rather than control spirits, since it provides them with something much more important than a servant: an ally. Servants perform work because they are ordered to; allies perform work because they want to.

Similarly, seeking permission from spirits is important to understand their capabilities and whether a particular action is the best action for all those involved. The notion of license from the spirits is another matter of respect, but also connects to the matter of what one is cosmically allowed to do. Indeed, many matters of trespassing, breaking prohibitions, theft, or similar crimes against spirits and the places and things they hold sacred can easily be avoided or eliminated entirely by asking for permission. Instead of making an adventure through a known haunted forest, ask for permission first to enter; instead of simply taking a pretty stone from an ancient tree, ask for permission to take it; instead of calling on an angel or a god to smite one’s enemies, ask first to see whether they will deign to do so. By acting out of pride and self-importance, magicians often neglect to ask for permission from the spirits and gods of the world. Asking for permission first ensures that we will be held in line according to our station without overstepping the boundaries laid for us or for others.

To ascertain whether one has received permission, always be sure to ask. Either through a simple yes-or-no divination method invoking the spirits or communing with the spirits directly,there are many methods available depending on the spirit to communicate and see whether one should or should not do something. This should not be regulated to every minute and single action, however; not all things require the permission of the spirits, such as brushing one’s teeth or making silent prayers in a particular location. However, anything that might infringe upon the hospitality, respect, and honor of the spirit should be questioned. After building respect and honor with the spirits, some magicians may find that spirits generally or specifically are more inclined togive permission to more things; this is a mark of trust upon the magician, which should be kept sacrosanct and unbroken if possible.

Building respect with one spirit tends to build up respect with many spirits, especially those similar to the ones already respected. Much as humans have their own social networks and cliques,spirits communicate and interact amongst themselves in myriad ways, sometimes as family and sometimes as enemies. Spirits talk, and spirits let other spirits know when a particular human is notable or remarkable for good or for ill. By respecting one spirit, rumors and news of one’s respectability spreads, which makes it easier for spirits to trust them. This also works in the reverse: if one disrespects a spirit or makes vows that are never upheld, other spirits also know about this and may decline to ever work with the magician.

There are times when spirits themselves are unable to uphold the vows and bargains they make, or lie to magicians, or even act offensively against humans and the world. Spirits who habitually lie, deceive, and cause harm should be avoided since they cannot be trusted. Spirits who fail in a single task or are unable to bring results despite a history of having good results should be forgiven and inquired about why they might have failed or how other things might have affected them. Keep in mind that all the rules of respect and permission that apply for a magician towards a spirit also apply for a spirit towards a magician: if one is harmed or acted against without permission given,the harmful spirit should be reprimanded or punished, especially if the harm was caused without prior warning or need. In these cases, it helps to appeal to higher powers, such as patron deities or strong spirit allies, to act on one’s behalf in addition to using one’s own measures to fight against and punish the spirit.

On Offerings and Sacrifices

An important part of building relationships and working with spirits is the process of making offerings, commonly known as sacrifice. In sacrifice, a Latin word meaning “to make holy”, an object, substance, or action is given and dedicated to a spirit; the thing given to them is effectively theirs. The nature of a sacrifice can vary based on tradition, the means of the sacrificer, and the desires of the spirit in question, and can range from a bottle of alcohol to a whole animal roasted in a special fire to a simple song sung in public or private. Games thrown in the honor of a spirit,certain ordeals of the flesh or spirit, whole lands or properties, and poems or books written with a special mention of a spirit can also suffice. The honor given to a spirit can take many forms, and care should be taken that offerings are given properly.

Typically, only deities receive sacrifices, while other spirits are given offerings. Just as the distinction between a deity and a spirit is merely a functional one, so too is the distinction between sacrifices and offerings. Some spirits eschew offerings entirely or find them unusual and unwarranted,such as angels who work merely to carry out the will of the spirit employing them. Other spirits require offerings like payment in exchange for any work to be done. Deities, being worthy of worship and sacrifice, may require or demand sacrifices so as to be worshiped properly.

The first step to learning what to give to a spirit is to learn more about them. Whether one learns about a spirit from old myths or traditional resources involving them or whether one asks the spirit directly, this constitutes an act of respect to further the relationship between somebody and a spirit. After discovering what a spirit generally likes, the sacrificer should ask whether a particular offering is to their tastes. After this, the sacrificer should make or procure the offering and officially dedicate it to the spirit. How this might be done is up to the sacrificer, but is often influenced by tradition and practices made by other institutions or cultural groups. If no such tradition exists or survives, then the sacrificer is more or less free to innovate and create a new ritual to make the offering.

Not all offerings are equally good for all spirits. Some spirits prefer a particular type of alcohol or no alcohol at all; some spirits prefer blood sacrifice of animals or the entire animal itself, while others may prefer bloodless non-animal sacrifices entirely. Such preferences are often deduced from tradition and mythology, but one can always ask the spirit to see whether something is preferred or not. Offering something to a spirit that does not wish that thing offered is often seen as a sign of disrespect, even done unknowingly; an example might be to sacrifice the sacred animal that represents a spirit to the spirit itself. This is similar to giving someone bouquet of flowers grown and pulled from their own garden, though this may not always be the case. Care should always betaken to ensure that a particular sacrifice is both appropriate and desired to a spirit, since a spirit may demand different things depending on the circumstance or aspect of the spirit.

It is important to note that once something has been given to a spirit, it cannot be taken back or simply replaced with something else. The act of dedication, another Latin word meaning“having been given”, is permanent, and it is considered a high offense to steal anything from a spirit; moreover, stealing or removing something that one has already given to a spirit is a dire sign of disrespect and untrustworthiness. Spirits tend to rightfully harm or otherwise punish those who steal from them, even if it was an unknowing act. If anything is to be removed from a spirit’s possession, permission should always be obtained and any conditions the spirits impose on the removal, use, and replacement should be followed through.Despite these warnings, one should not attempt to make needless or extraneous offerings to the spirits. Once accustomed to receiving a certain amount or repetition of offerings, spirits will continue to expect them implicitly; making offerings is a sign of a relationship between magician and spirit, and to overdo it is to raise the relationship to someplace the magician may not want.Giving something extraordinarily rare to a spirit may similarly change the preferences of the spirit to similar things, narrowing the availability of offerings down significantly. Spirits should be given offerings as rewards, while gods should be given sacrifices as due honor. Even the devout warriors of ancient Sparta made comparatively meager sacrifices to their gods so that they would always have something to offer, in stark comparison to the lavish Athenians who gave bombastic offerings and rituals.

On Spirit Identification and Authentication

Unlike humans, whose appearance and identification others can immediately verify based on sight and appearance, spirits require refined technique and discernment to understand who and what they might actually be. Calling upon a spirit can be a dangerous act in its own way, since it can attract the attention of any local spirit who happens to hear the call, and not all spirits have the best intention of the caller at heart. Just as human systems for communication, commerce,and intelligence have systems of protection and authentication set up to prevent undesired or unwarranted access, working with the spirits should be similarly protected to prevent undesired spirits from interfering.

Every spirit has two primary markers of identification: a name and a seal. The seal is essentially the sigil, mark, or glyph that represents the spirit. The two form a pair, and are identical with the spirit in every way. In other words, where the name is spoken or seal is written, the spirit itself is there as well. The name and seal of a spirit may be considered the audible and graphical “bodies”of a spirit, much as their presence may be considered their ethereal one. A spirit may have multiple names and seals, but only one name and one seal will ever be the spirit’s true name and seal. With the knowledge of a spirit’s name and seal, the spirit may be called upon and worked with, even to the point of commanding and controlling the spirit. Although many texts, including this one, list the names and seals of some spirits, other spirits may have another preferred name or seal entirely different from the one publicly known.

Knowledge of the spirit’s name and seal is crucial to ensuring that a spirit being worked with is the spirit called upon. In some cases, trickster or deceiving spirits will try to fool a magician into thinking that the spirit is someone else, either for harmless fun or for malicious intent. Although work at properly consecrated or dedicated altars, especially those for deities, tends to permit only the proper spirits called due to the consecration and sacredness of the altar, other work can some-times bring in wandering spirits or tricksters. In such cases, every spirit worked with must undergo authentication to truly know whether a spirit present is the spirit desired. Calling on the spirit to swear by some holy order or name of the Divine that they are who they say they are is a crucial act that should precede any other work or communion with a spirit. Have the spirit say its name and reveal its seal, or have them swear by the seal known to the magician that their own seal is the seal known. By doing this, one can reduce the likelihood of undesired spirits and tricksters. Although some spirits may take offense at having to undergo authentication, spiritual allies tend to understand why this is done.

The first act of working with a new spirit should be to obtain its name and seal. If the name is not known, the name should be asked for and written down; often, the language or writing system used to write the name is a choice left up to the magician, but this should be carefully selected and kept consistent throughout working with a spirit. Thus, if a spirit’s name is written in Hebrew, it should be written in Hebrew for the rest of the work with the spirit. Based on the name, a sigil maybe obtained as might any other word or name, but often the spirit has a separate seal that they prefer over the use of a sigil. In addition to asking for the spirit’s name, the seal of the spirit should also be obtained, with the image mentally or otherwise received used for as long as one works with the spirit. Some spirits have their names and seals change over time, similar to their appearance or manifestations, though this usually only happens for elemental or other low spirits. Thus, then name and seal should be reevaluated for use every so often according to the work with the spirit, especially if one has not engaged in work with the spirit in some time.

A Shrine to Lord Saturn

This year, both I and my husband turn 28.  It helps that we’re only born, like, six weeks apart, so our natal charts aren’t too dramatically different from each other’s, at least for the slower-moving planets out there.  This is especially the case for Saturn, which we both have in Sagittarius and dignified by both face and term.  It’s a weird place for Saturn to be, but it’s not a terrible spot for either of us.  This is a good thing, as we’re ramping up to face our first Saturn return together at pretty much the same time, which is awesome and awful.

What is a Saturn return?  Roughly every 30 years (29 years, 5 months, 15 days to be exact), Saturn returns to the same place it was when you were born.  As Saturn gets closer and closer to this position, people start feeling these effects a little early, some as early as 27.  The effects tend to drop off soon after the return is made exact, so the range for feeling the effects of this first Saturn return transit usually goes roughly from when you’re 28 to 31, or three years.  The second time happens from ages 56 through 59, and the third from 84 through 87.  Some very few people ever get to experience a fourth Saturn return, but that’s neither here nor there.  Unlike other planetary returns, Saturn returns are most notable as being fundamental shifts from one stage to another in a person’s life: the first Saturn return marks either the midlife crisis or one’s final ascension into adulthood, the second return one’s passage into senescence, and the third return one’s preparation for death.  In general, how one adapts and responds to one’s return lays out how well or poorly one’s life will go through the next return.

So what is it like during a Saturn return?  Essentially, Saturn becomes the dominant theme of your life, and its energy and power suffuses every day of the transit.  Think: Saturn is the planet of final cosmic justice, restriction, obligation, limitation, scarcity, famine, depression, poverty, disease, and darkness.  By the same token, however, think about the idea of the thick cell wall of prisons or monasteries: sure, they keep one isolated and trapped, but by the same token, they also keep one safe and sound from anything going on outside.  Saturn shows us our limits, where those limits are to be obeyed without question, and where those limits can be pushed back or knocked down.  Saturn is a planet of atrophy, but it is also one of soundness; one might be thinner, but one becomes stronger in the process.  Saturn returns force us to confront ourselves and our own blown-up ideas of ourselves, and deflates us down to a shriveled, wrinkled mess.  In the process of everything we think we are and everything we think we need being taken away from us, however, we find out what it is we’re truly made of and what we truly need to survive on.  Once we know the bare minimum of what we can do and what we can survive on, we can build ourselves up once more in a proper way to truly come into our own.  Saturn return is a time of refinement through intense trial that we cannot escape or delay.  Jobs we think we love get taken away from us, lovers we think we can’t live without leave us, homes we think we will own for the rest of our days get burned down or sold from under our feet.  If you’ve ever asked for “take away everything that hinders me and holds me back”, Saturn return does this in fucking spades.  No need to do a cut-and-clean spell if you don’t want to; if you just wait long enough, the cosmic clockwork of the solar system will make it clear that it’ll happen one way or another.  Saturn is the cosmic judge who takes stock of everything you are and everything you do, and when Saturn comes home, he is going to clean house.

So, faced with this insurmountable trial of fate and gravity, how do I plan on surviving these next few years?  Most people become assholes and fight against it, or depressed and mope about it lamenting their inevitable fate that happens to each and every one of us.  Those are awful ways, and not what I consider to be the easy and proper way: by welcoming it, embracing it, and giving respect and honor where they’re due by setting up a shrine to regularly confront and propitiate the forces, energies, entities, and god of Saturn.  By working with the forces of Saturn, we can better integrate them into our lives, accepting the trials that come to us easier and forewarned that they will happen, acknowledging our pain and actively reaching for our own refinement, treating this as a time of tough cosmic love rather than cruel hellish fate.

With that in mind, let’s do a brief bit of some Liber 777-type research on Saturn.  For the sake of expanding our symbol set and connecting the dots together, what’re some of the attributes we can find about this planet in the Western magical literature?

  • Names in classical languages:
    • Latin: SATVRNVS
    • Greek: Κρονος (Kronos, the god/spirit of the planet), Φαινων (Phainōn, the titan/body of the planet)
    • Hebrew: שבתאי (Shabbathai)
    • Arabic: زُحَل (Zuḥal)
    • Persian: کیوان (Keyvan)
    • Sanskrit: शनि (Śani)
    • Egyptian: herukapet (Ḥeru-ka-pet, also known as Horus the Bull)
    • Sumerian: cuneiform |TUR.DIŠ| (Genna)
    • Babylonian: (Kayyamaanu, written as UDU.IDIM.SAG.UŠ or as above in Sumerian)
    • Chinese: 土星 (Mandarin Tǔxīng, Cantonese tou2 sing1, Middle Chinese /tʰuoseŋ/, Japanese dosei, Korean toseong)
  • Spirits and entities associated with it:
    • Angelic governor: צפקיאל (Tzaphqiel), often rendered into Latin as variants on the name Cassiel
    • Picatrix angel: Isbil (Arabic original), Heylil (Latin translation)
    • Olympic spirit: Aratron
    • Planetary intelligence: אגיאל (Agiel)
    • Planetary spirit: זאזל (Zazel)
    • Choirs:
      • Agrippa: אראלים (Aralim)
      • Pseudo-Dionysus: Thrones
    • Zodiacal angels:
      • הנאל (Hanael, angel of Capricorn)
      • כאמביאל (Cambiel, angel of Aquarius)
    • King of the Jinn:
      • Name: ميمون (Maymon, the Auspicious One)
      • Nickname: ابا نوخ (Abba Nuh̬, the Father of Rest)
    • Heptameron Spirits:
      • Angel: Cassiel
      • Angel of the Air: Maymon Rex
      • Ministers: Abumalith, Assaibi, Balidet
      • Wind: Africus (southwest)
    • Lemegeton Goetic Rank: Knight (only one spirit of this rank, Furcas)
    • Deities associated with Saturn:
      • Sumerian: Ninurta, Ninmah
      • Babylonian: Adar, Nintu, Tiamat
      • Persian: Zurvan
      • Phoenician: Asherah
      • Egyptian: Sobek
      • Gnostic: Yaldabaoth
      • Greek: Kronos
      • Roman: Saturnus, Lua
      • Etruscan: Vetis, Veiovis
      • Hindu: Śaniścara
  • Qabbalistic correspondences:
    • Numbers: 3, 15, 45
    • Shape: Triangle
    • Sephirah: Binah
    • Sephirothic colors: Crimson, black, dark brown, grey flecked pink
    • Path: #32 (the World, connecting Yesod-Malkuth or Moon-Earth)
    • Path colors: Indigo, black, blue-black, black rayed blue
    • Godname: יהוה אלוהים (YHVH Elohim)
    • Hebrew letter: ת (Tav, 400)
    • Greek letter: Ω (Ōmega, 800)
    • Weekday: Saturday
    • Zodiac signs:
      • Domiciles: Capricorn, Aquarius
      • Exaltation: Libra
    • Geomantic figures: Carcer, Tristitia, Cauda Draconis
  • Religious concepts:
    • Deadly Sin: avarice/greed
    • Heavenly Virtue: generosity
    • Hermetic Virtue: silence
    • Hermetic Vision: The Vision of Sorrow
    • Apostles: Simon the Zealot (Capricorn), Jude (Aquarius)
    • Prophets: Enoch, Samuel, Nahum (Capricorn), Habakkuk (Aquarius)
    • Judges: Elon (Capricorn), Abdon (Aquarius)
    • Theological Figure: The Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene
    • Weekday archangel: Selaphiel or Sealtiel, the angel of prayer to God and who presides over the priesthood
    • Psalms for Pentacles (KJV): 72:8-9, 109:18, 18:7
  • Materials and substances:
    • Metals: lead, black iron, pyrite
    • Stones: onyx, sapphire, brown jasper, chalcedony, lodestone, sulphur, antimony, jet, turquoise, magnesium, all dark and weighty and earthy minerals
    • Plants: white daffodil, asphodel, dragonwort, rue, cumin, hellebore, benzoin, mandrake, cyprus, opium, pine, cypress, black fig, hemlock, yew, myrrh, sesame, aconite, cactus, cocoa, datura, spurge, fennel, male fern, lichen, mos, lungwort, soapwort, weeping willow, tobacco, pomegranate, ivy, orchis root, thistle, coconut, ramthorn, spikenard, galbanum, asafoetida, euphorbium, colophony, stammonia, rhubarb,
    • Animals: ape, cat, hog, mule, camel, bear, mole, donkey, wolf, hare, mole, dragon, basilisk, toad, serpents, scorpions, ants, mice, vermin, cranes, ostriches, peacocks, screech-owl, horned owl, bat, lapwing, crow, quail, eel, lamprey, dog-fish, tortoise, oysters, cockles, sea sponges, cuttlefish
    • Parts of the body: skin, bones, spleen, knees, lower legs, right foot, right ear, right eye, left hand, excretory system, mouth, intestines, bladder, genitals
    • Other organic substances: soma, civet, musk

And, to top it off, a gallery of various Saturn-related seals, sigils, symbols, and signs from all the stuff collected across my blog:

With that said, I now present to you how we combined so much of all of the above into our household’s Shrine to Lord Saturn.

Shrine to Lord Saturn

The primary color of the shrine is black (the primary/Queen color of the planet) accented by crimson (the secondary/King color), accented by a pale Solar gold.  Within the shrine is a particularly pretty (to my mind) metallic print of Saturn eclipsing and illuminated by the Sun.  Surrounded by a the fabric canopy and lengths of chain is a custom talismanic art I made that concentrates the images and seals of Saturn together in a coherent way.  This artwork combines, again, all of the symbols, seals, sigils, numbers, names, spirits, intelligences, angels, and characters of Saturn together, with very subtle nods to the zodiac signs Capricorn and Aquarius (the domiciles of Saturn), Libra (its exaltation), and Sagittarius (where my and my husband’s natal Saturns are) and Aries (our housemate’s natal Saturn).  Additionally, there are three written statements on there: the Sanskrit mantra to Lord Shani, a Greek invocation to Phainōn and Kronos, and a Latin invocation to Saturnus:

  • Sanskrit: ॐ शं शनैश्चराय नमः (Om Śaṃ Śanaiścaraya Namah, “Hail to the great name of Shani”)
  • Greek: ΙΩ ΦΑΙΝΩΝ ΙΩ ΚΡΟΝΕ ΙΩ (“Hail, Phainon! Hail, Kronos! Hail!”)
  • Latin: IAVE SATVRNE MAXIME NITIDE SEVERE IA (“Hail, great, bright, grave Saturn, hail!”)

I had originally planned to do this in stark black and white, but I opted instead to use a blend of silver, gold, white, and a few basic colors to suit the characters or needs.  All told, this painting forms a sort of all-around “map” to the powers and resonances of Saturn.

Talismanic Saturn Painting

The focal point of the shrine table is the oil lamp in the middle.  In Indian astrology, devotees of Lord Shani burn sesame oil in honor of the god, so I figured I can incorporate the same.  I got a traditional ceramic oil lamp glazed in dark brown and dark blue, both colors associated with Saturn, and filled it with cooking-grade sesame oil mixed with three drops of myrrh essential oil.  Here I’m using a simple cotton thread wick, but normally I’d use a linen strip or a cotton ball, rolled out flat, pressed into a thicker cloth-like sheet, written upon with sacred symbols of Saturn in consecrated ink, and twisted back lengthwise into a wick.  I placed the lamp on a wooden placard I made that has the symbol of Saturn in the middle of a large hexagram, surrounded by the symbols of the other six planets in each of the triangular wings of the hexagram.  Around the symbol of Saturn in its central hexagon, and on the outside of each of the triangles, I inscribed the characters of the seven planets from Agrippa (book I, chapter 33) and wrote around the whole thing the name Κρονος in Greek.  Each of the planetary symbols are colored in the usual planetary color, as are their characters.  The word Κρονος, the symbol and characters of Saturn are all filled in silver, while the surrounding circle and the hexagram itself are all filled in gold.  Everywhere else on the placard is covered in black.  I also added on the name of God “Elohim” written in ancient Phoenician script around the edge, split into six characters and colored for the six non-Saturn planets.  On the underside is the name IHVH, again written in Phoenician and colored in gold, around the edge, surrounding a 3 × 3 grid.  I originally was going to have the nine numbers of Saturn etched in here, but my woodburner failed me for good; what I plan to do is draw in a word-sigil on the qamea of Saturn to tune our rituals to a specific need, such as “stability” in times of chaos or “wisdom” when preparing for a ritual.

The reason why I made this planetarily all-inclusive placard, instead of one that just focused on Saturn, is that this would be used for a household shrine for both my use and that of my husband and our housemate.  While I’ve done the Work necessary to simply launch deeply into a planetary energy and come out unscathed, my husband and our housemate haven’t, and even though respecting and honoring Saturn would be good for all of us, there is a notable risk for them to be overloaded by Saturnine energies that could easily overwhelm and devour them.  To that end, I decided to balance out the light of Saturn that we would shine in our house by making a kind of planet-specific Table of Practice that would act to balance out and harmonize all the planets, focusing and building up to Saturn.  Thus, we first light six small candles, one on each of the triangles around the placard, and briefly invoke each planet before lighting the oil lamp for Saturn in the middle, which precedes the rest of our usual offering.

In addition to the crafts above, I also have a three-footed iron censer for burning incense, usually myrrh, placed atop an old Saturn magic square I made, woodburned and painted in gold and black, to the right of the lamp.  I’ve also incorporated and enshrined, in an unseen way not visible from the pictures above, the powerful Saturn talisman I made back in 2011 (almost five years ago to the day, holy crap!).  All this combined, we have a simple yet elegant Saturn shrine that, from the get-go, already brims with dark stellar power.  Over time, we will probably add more talismans, charms, statues, or pieces of Saturnine art, but this is good for now.

We present small glasses of offerings to Saturn: one of pure water, and three small bowls of a dry offering mix made from rock salt, black rice, black gram, and black mustard seeds.  We place these to the left of the oil lamp placard, while we burn incense in the censer.  We then take some time to recite the Orphic Hymn to Saturn (hymn #12), or, if we’re feeling more adventurous, the Picatrix Invocation to Saturn (book III chapter 7, one version as used here for my Saturn talisman consecration).  Alternatively, we might use the Heptameron Conjuration for Saturday or the equivalent from the Munich Manual (see this page) for a more directed purpose rather than a general laudation of Saturn, or we might just be cool and intone the vowel ōmega and offer a more personal prayer to Saturn.  We do this all every Saturday during one of the daytime hours of Saturn, if possible, usually the midday hour, as that’s the time we’re all most likely to do this together.  Barring that, due to scheduling or whatnot, we might do our own thing with a smaller offering.  We let the candles burn out on their own, and we let the oil lamp burning for at least as long or until it starts to sputter.  We let our offerings sit for a whole week, and then clean off the shrine before we make offerings the next Saturday.  We each clean off with our bowl of dry offerings, pour it into the water, and dump the whole thing out into the road.

Besides all these offerings we plan to make weekly and regularly, there’s so much else we can do to honor Saturn in our lives.  Saturn rules over all disabled people, especially those who are crippled, diseased, or handicapped in some way, as well as vagrants, the homeless, and in low social stations and in menial jobs.  Working for their sake, paying them respect, and making donations (especially in groups of three or in amounts of multiples of three) is a good way to get on Saturn’s good side, as well as making fasts in his honor.  It goes without saying that respecting Saturn in our daily lives is also of paramount importance, including not saying disrespectful or joking things about the god.  We still plan to be realistic about his awful, detrimental effects, but we’re not going to blow them out of proportion; Saturn is, after all, the planet of perspective.  Saturn, given the day of Saturday, is also associated with Shabbat and the Jews; observing a set of shabbat-like restrictions regularly is also a way to show one’s devotion to the planet and its spirits.

I’m honestly pleased I was able to set this shrine up, and I’m very happy with how it all turned out.  At the first invocation, I felt that usual Saturnine heaviness seeping into my bones, like wearing multiple heavy Siberian winter coats without the heat, but this time it lingered on the back of my neck and around my ears.  It’s good to finally give Saturn the respect he deserves and has deserved in my life; truly, Saturn now lives in our home, though I specified that this shrine would be set up for three years, with only the possibility of it remaining up longer.  We’ve enshrined Saturn to help facilitate the integration of his energies into our lives during our Saturn return periods, so that Saturn helps us and does not hurt us, so that Saturn gives us succor and not suffering.  He’s still a heavy, grave, serious planet and a malefic no matter what, but he is just as able to give blessing as much as he can dole out curses.  Here’s to hoping we only see his good side, with his bad eye turned and kept turned far away from us.

Do you worship or have a devotional arrangement with Saturn, in any of his incarnations among the world’s religions?  How do you pay your respects to the planet or the spirits associated with it?

On the Temple as a Convenience

It’s weird sitting here in this living room, full of clutter and boxes and antiques and the occasional errant Christmas decoration that was never put away two years ago.  We keep saying we’ll get it tidied up, but between me living 200 miles away and my sister busy with being a Tarot-reading poledancing camgirl, we haven’t.  Between a variety of memories, a vague sense of comfortable unease, and several mountains of candy and chocolates that’re amassed in one of the unused rooms, I don’t know whether I prefer or disprefer being here.

I’m staying at my mother’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom, and she’s basically the only one I ever actually call and talk to on the phone (and for someone who hates phonecalls, this is notable).  And, add to it, I hardly ever visit the place where I grew up, about 150 miles away as the bird flies.  While growing up with her could oft be a pain, our relationship markedly improved once I moved out for college.  I don’t see her that often anymore, but when I do it’s usually a combination of fun and stressful; she’s still my mother, after all.

This visit I’m paying to her is to help her out after a recent surgery she had, a hip replacement.  This is her second this year; the first one was on one hip, and this is on the other.  She needs someone to chill with and run a few errands during the day while she’s staying at her rehab center, and during the night I’m out wandering playing Ingress or just internetting idly at her place.  It’s not unbearable, though it is odd that it coincides with my birthday week and the Full Moon, and right after Crucible Convention 2014, and that my boyfriend isn’t with me.  I do get to hang with my sister aplenty, too, when she’s able, and I have plans with a few friends from high school and college.  Not too shabby a birthday week, I reckon.

Still, it’s weird.  I’m not one for travel generally, despite my Hermaic nature and despite that I’ve rarely not enjoyed a trip.  What’s probably most weird is that I’m currently away from my home, and with it my temple.  I have a small bedroom at my house set up to act as my temple, shrine, and altar room; the boyfriend and our housemate are okay with this, since they get the even-larger outside shed for their work.  I’m used to spending at least a little time each day in my temple for meditation, contemplation, prayer, jamming with the spirits, making offerings to the gods and saints, and the like.  And this week, I’m cut off by a lengthy distance from all that, and it’s somewhat jarring.  It’s kinda funny how much I’ve gotten used to having a whole temple all to myself within only a few months of living in my (still relatively new) place, and now that I’m without it temporarily how much my spiritual practice has changed and can still yet change.

To be fair, nothing I do strictly requires a temple.  For that matter, nothing I do strictly requires being in any one place; I carry my gods with me in my heart and in my mind, and occasionally in the jewelry that I wear.  All of my tools are relatively compact and can fit in a duffel bag with enough space leftover for a bottle of wine, and if I don’t have my tools with me, I have my own force and prayers to wield as wands and swords.  The statues and shrines I have set up for my gods and spirits are nice to have, but not strictly necessary if I have somewhere outside to pour out wine and water and oil.  I memorize my prayers, formulae, and rituals, and what I haven’t memorized I keep written down in a small journal that can fit in a cargo pants pocket.  If I have a lighter, a box of generic incense, a pack of tealights, a bottle of wine, a bottle of oil, and a bottle of water, I have more than what I need to make my offerings and prayers, and even then most of that isn’t necessary if I have time and a quiet space to pray.

Having a statue to dedicate to a spirit is nice.  Having a shrine to interface with a spirit is nicer.  Having an altar to do Work with spirits is even nicer than that.   Having a room to store shrines, altars, tools, and supplies is pretty damn nice.  Having your head on your shoulders is all you need, though, because without your presence, mindfulness, and mental effort, nothing else matters.  If all you have is a quiet room, or even a public room with a few minutes of quiet and maybe a little bit of privacy, you have all you need to be any level of spiritual, religious, occult, magical, or whatever.

All this is rather clear right now to me.  I used to have a little “shrine” on a bookcase with a few baubles, a mini-sand garden, and plants when I was in middle school and high school, but I never considered it anything special, nor was I doing Work back then (just reading about it with all the fascination of a middle-schooler).  That room has long since been taken over with extra Christmas presents, surplus clothes bought on discount, and giant bags of yarn, and I’m basically living in the living room while my mom’s at rehab.  As far as my spiritual needs are concerned, I have everything I need: a space to sit, time to myself, and all the privacy I could want.  As a bonus, I have a countertop to make offerings on, so even if I can’t pour wine out at my shrines, I can at least do it here.  And yes, I did bring along my carcanets and chaplets as my major tools plus a bottle of Florida water; the heavy work that requires full circles can wait, after all, but even if an emergency happened, I could still manage here just fine.

Even then, say I had nowhere to stay this week.  Say my mother’s house was either metaphorically or literally wrecked to the point where I didn’t even have the couch to sleep on or enough floor space to sit, and I had to live out of my car.  I’d be able to manage just fine, then, too; there’s this little thing called the astral temple, after all.  We all have access to it, and we all have our own astral temple, if not our own astral “country”, our own little space and neighborhood that exists all to ourselves.  Whether you access it in your dreams or through projection of one sort or another, you can get to it all the same.   The rules are a little different on the astral than they are here; there’s no limit to the things you can do, really, so long as you can think and command it so.  Any tool or drink you want, craft it from thought alone; call on any spirit, and they’ll appear before you in any form you ask (if they’re willing); any ambiance or setting you need, snap and the set changes immediately.  The more you work in the astral, the more you can do and the easier it gets to work there.  If all you have is a bed in a shared room to spend time in at night with someone else asleep, if you can slip into your astral temple, you really have pretty much all of magic at your disposal (give or take a few physical actions to ground out the purely-spiritual work).

You don’t often find me talking about astral temples or astral work generally because, generally speaking, I don’t do it.  I have my own temple in the physical world that I (almost always) have access to; what more could I need?  Well, I don’t strictly need a physical temple if I have an astral one, and even then, I don’t strictly need an astral temple, either, if I can pray and work anywhere.  Magicians have gotten by without astral temples far longer than the notion of them has existed.  Even priests and the faithful used to worship anywhere they could, regardless of the regalia or temples or community they might’ve been accustomed to; the real purpose of it all was the things you did as Work.  Even the ancient and huge temples of the Hellenes weren’t the focus of worship, but the tiny, almost insignificant altar just outside to the east.  Temples, devotional art, shrines, processions, tools, and the like all exist to support and facilitate the Work, but they themselves are not the Work.  They’re convenient.  That’s all.  They’re nice to have, but the Work does not require them.

Of course, I am taking this time to get my astral skills back up and running and dust out my astral temple.  I’ve been neglecting my astral presence and environment, after all, and I could do with a good banishing and touching up of the place.  Even if I don’t strictly need a temple space to do my Work and offerings, I am used to it, and even if all I have is a place in my head I can overlay with the place my body’s at, I’m good to go.  I’m used to the convenience of having a temple; it’s nice to be reminded that I don’t need one, and if all my wordy gaudy blinged-out shit isn’t needed, then none of you need it to do the Work, either.  They’re nice, but they’re not needed.

So, if you’re not Working yet, what’s your excuse?