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.

On Shrine-hoarding

I’m starting to slowly get back into my temple again for small tasks, hopefully leading up to bigger ones in the future (time and energy permitting, of course, and with the usual caveat that I need to spend my time and energy wisely between work, religion, home, friends, and the like).  As I mentioned in the last post, I’m slowly going through some of the stuff I have, either things I’ve procured or things I’ve made, and am putting some of them up on my Etsy store for others to buy and, hopefully, use in their own works.  Old woodburned placards, prayer beads, necklaces, altar supplies, even some stones and the like are things I’m putting up because…well, let’s be honest, I don’t need them.  I like them plenty, but most of these things aren’t things I’ll miss if I get rid of them.  The really important, vital, or precious stuff is going to stay mine and stay used, but then again, that’s the distinction, isn’t it?  If I use it, or if I know that I actually will use it, then it stays; if not, then it goes.

There’s a difference between stockpiling supplies for future use and simply hoarding stuff.  Raw supplies, stones, dirts, herbs, bones, beads, resins, and the like are all ingredients towards the Work that can be used in any number of ways; those are things that I can always use more of, even if I’m not running low or using at the moment, because they can come in use at the drop of a hat.  Those are things that we should all endeavor to hoard, absolutely, and use as needed.  The other stuff, on the other hand…spare crystal balls, unconsecrated statuary, beaded or otherwise handmade crafts meant for tools but never used for anything more than decoration, or other things that were made for a purpose but never really fulfilled it according to my desires, all those are things that I really have no desire to hold onto except for the sake of sentimentality or beautification.

One of the major hurdles in getting back to my temple work is that, in the…seven or so years I had to set it up, I amassed quite a bit of stuff.  Not a household’s worth, by any means, but I have shrines for the seven archangels, the Virgin Mary, my own guardian angel, the Three Kings, Hermes, Apollo with Asklepios with Dionysos, Aphrodite with Hephaistos, Saint Expedite, and Saints Cyprian, Justina, and Theocistus.  I have a small shrine to Hestia in the living room, and Demeter lives outside.  I have altars for my work for my conjuration/planetary stuff as well as my Mathesis work, and a more recent shrine to the planetary divinity of Saturn.  And all those are things I’ve kept; there are a handful of shrines or altars or other special working areas I’ve set up before and took them down either due to them having completed their purpose or things just not working out how I had planned or wanted.  And then there’s my initiation into La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (aka Santería), where I have a bevy of orisha shrines to maintain and work with (and which I’m marked to receive even more).  If I didn’t have a full-time job with a nontrivial commute, I could swing the determination and discipline to maintain all of these shrines and altars and work, but…I do have a full-time job with a nontrivial commute, and I don’t have the time.   Quite honestly (and it hurts to admit this), all the shrines I have is more than I can actually handle to maintain or keep up with.

To clarify some of my thoughts, let’s start with a bit of a distinction.  For me, an altar is essentially a working space, not meant for worship or veneration as much as actual spiritual or magical works to be done.  Conjuration of spirits, consecration of items, sacrifice of something, establishing crystal/energetic grids, those are all things apt and appropriate for an altar.  I only really have two of those, and while I like to keep them set up and ready to go, I can collapse them and set them up again or change them as needed and as desired.  Then there are shrines, which are meant for the veneration of spirits, gods, saints, or other divinities; shrines serve as a sacred seat or home for a spirit, in my mind, and are a physical representation of the relationship one has with them.  In that sense, for me to evaluate the meaning and need of a shrine is to evaluate the meaning and need of the relationship itself with the spirit of the shrine.  And that itself requires dialog with those spirits, recalling what pacts and vows one has with them, respect for and from those spirits, and honesty with oneself.

This is where my distinction between auturgic and lineage-based work comes into play.  Lineage is easy: you sign up for a specific relationship with a spirit, you’re given a set of terms and conditions to follow, you’re handed the powers and tools you need from your initiator, and boom, you’re set.  Just follow the vows you’ve signed up for, over which you have no say in except to say “yea” or “nay”, and you’re good.  Auturgy, on the other hand, is both easier and much more difficult: you establish your own parameters, vows, pacts, and agreements, and you determine how things work; you need to build your own tools and power and relationships, which can’t be handed to you because there’s nobody to hand them to you.  Most of my work is auturgic in that sense; I’ve built my shrines, I’ve consecrated my statues and talismans, I’ve set up my own protocols and rhythms of prayer and sacrifice for these spirits, and so I have say in how and when and whether these shrines should be established.  On the other hand, my Santería work is lineage-based, so I can’t just up and give Oshún a metal case to live in because I think it’d be more convenient for me; Oshún has what Oshún is supposed to have, what she wants, and what I’m obliged to give her.  More than that, I can’t ignore or just not work with my orisha, as that’d go against the agreements I signed up for with them; I don’t have say in those pacts, and to ignore them is to violate them.  That’s one of the costs—and strengths—of lineage.

But for the shrines (and relationships) that are of my own desire and design…well, there’s the hard choice of whether I want to keep them around, and if so, what really needs to stay on them.  I’ve taken down shrines before; for instance, once upon a time I wanted to set up a shrine to Hades and Persephone as part of a Hellenic approach to working with the spirits of the dead.  It never really got off the ground, even though I had all the supplies and niche set up and everything, so down it went into a box (and, if you’re interested, I still have the unconsecrated Hades statue and offering bowl, in case anyone ever wants to buy it off me).  Then there’s an erstwhile tronco I set up to begin initial work with Quimbanda spirits; I was able to make contact, such as it was, once I had my consulta, but…I never really got anywhere with that, and I didn’t have much of a purpose to work with them given the other works I had going on, and so I worked with them to disassemble the baby-tronco I had and to dispose of their implements in a way they directed and agreed to.  Point is, I’m not ashamed to acknowledge the decline or absence of a sufficiently necessary or stable spiritual relationship to where a shrine is no longer needed, and carry that through.  But, just because I’m not ashamed, doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about it; sometimes I feel like I failed in maintaining my agreements and plans, and other times I feel bad because I realize that the designs and purposes I had in developing something didn’t turn out the way I hoped for and have to accept that keeping a shrine set up without maintaining it isn’t doing me or the spirit any favors.  I have a few such shrines at home that I really need to talk with to see about just that.

But even then, even for the shrines that I do want to keep set up, there’s the notion of clutter and hoarding things.  I’ve seen some beautiful shrines by other occultists and priests online, and some even in person, where there are these beautiful, intricate, elaborate setups girded by chains and beads and all sorts of everything.  You know, the highly Instagrammable/Facebook viral share-worthy pictures, the ones that are actually done up in real life and not just a temporary setup for a shadow-cloaked shot in the light of a single candle’s flame.  I love the aesthetic, but…I’ve come to realize that I have neither the space nor the means to actually do that for myself, but more than that, I’ve come to realize it’s not my style, either.  I’ve decked out some of my shrines in the past, but I don’t need to live in a city of multiple Parthenons, where each shrine’s district is filled like a forest with votive offerings or whatnot.  Especially with the influence of Santería now, I see the simple elegance of just giving what’s enough and what’s needed for a shrine.  If a particular implement is needed for the functioning of the shrine or the use of the spirit within, by all means, give it!  But decorating it like a Mardi Gras parade and accumulating everything under heaven that even has a shadow of a tangential relationship to that spirit for the sake of having it be pretty is…well, it ends up collecting more dust than it’s worth.

A shrine doesn’t need much to be effective: an image or physical representation of the spirit, maybe a place to set lights or incense, maybe some implements or tools directly associated with them that one has a strong feeling (if not an explicit or confirmed directive) to provide, perhaps some supplies to be left in the care of the spirit until it can be used in workings with or without them.  Space is at a premium, after all, in my temple room and house, and a shrine doesn’t often need that much space.  Barring specific protocols or vows, anything else is probably just decoration for the sake of the devotee and not the divine.  To accumulate more and more of those latter accouterments is just…hoarding.  Having more shrines than you need is likewise hoarding.  Both of which eventually become a burden, both to maintain the cleanliness of even a single shrine as well as to maintain your relationships with those spirits, and unless you’re actually getting something out of that arrangement, perhaps it might be better to cut back, both on the shrines as well as the stuff within them.  After all, you don’t need to be a dragon to be a devotee, and we’re not often worshiping dragons that demand devotional donations.  (Of course, if you are, then different rules apply.)

That’s one of the reasons why I’m going through my temple and cutting back both on the shrines and the stuff within them.  If I’m not maintaining a relationship with a spirit, or if that spirit isn’t maintaining a relationship with me, then there’s no real need for a shrine; it’d be best to disassemble it respectfully and confer with the spirit on how and where their sacred things should be disposed of, or if they can be given to another to care for them.  (Yes, Justice, I’m aware, and I haven’t forgotten, forgive me my lateness!)  If the spirit still wants to stay and I don’t want to maintain the shrine, then an agreement can likely be brokered to pare down the shrine to a minimum, shrink it, or hold onto something to make a temporary shrine with later as needed; temporary shrines, set up on unused or other working tables, are a great way to carry out devotional work every once in a while that aren’t otherwise a full-time thing.  Otherwise, if the shrine really is to stay as a permanent installation, then I’d go through all the things on it, see what’s not necessary or essential to the shrine, and consult with the spirit on how and where to dispose of the other things that they’re okay with parting with, whether it should just be thrown out respectfully, sold, given as a gift, or used for another purpose.  It depends, and it’s a careful, sometimes heart-scouring process, but a necessary one that I need to go through.  There are some things I want to get rid of, honestly, but the spirits are adamant I keep, whether for their own use or for my own in working with them, and it requires honesty and openness to be aware of these things.

I suppose that clearing out my temple room (and the other sacred spaces in my house more generally), taking a thorough account of my spiritual relationships with my courts and pantheons, and seeing what I really need for my Work is the first step to really getting back to working with them all.  After all, I can’t go into my temple for single-minded work if I dread walking in due to all the reminders of the missed offerings, forgotten festivals, and dust gathered on them distracting me for the purpose I walked in for.  If I don’t want to be distracted, then I need to fix the distractions, and in order to do that, I need to fix my shrine situation accordingly in a way that is best for both me and them.  Only then can I be really sure about my Work, my physical and spiritual spaces, and my spirits and the relationships I have with them.  And, hey, in the process, if I uncover any goodies that I don’t need or want anymore, someone else might be lucky enough to get them for something they need or want.  Besides, I have future projects I want to plan, and should any of those require shrines or a permanent installation of some sort…well, I’ll have to evaluate if I need to give anything else up to make the time, energy, and space for it, and whether I really need to go down that route, if nothing else will do.

If you’re facing a similar situation, then it might be well for you to do a similar disassembly and decluttering of shrines and shrine stuff.  We can’t all be full-time priests tending to and taking care of all these temples of our own design; with our limited time and energy, we can only take care of what we must and what we really need to.  Be honest with yourself, and be honest with your spirits.  If you need to limit your practice to just one or two things, then let your temple or sacred spaces look and function accordingly.  Hoarding shrines may make us look cool and hardcore, but as many occultists learn at some point, we’re in this for more than just looking cool.  If you can manage that while also getting the Work done, awesome!  If not, then simplify and focus on the Work.  They say, after all, that simplicity is the highest form of elegance; some people, like myself, could do with taking that to heart.

Geomancy and Quintessence

I didn’t think I’d ever have to write a post on this particular topic, as I thought it was so obvious as to go without explanation.  However, as usual, the good people of the Internet have proved me wrong, and I’ve noticed a trend in my search hits that have prompted this post.  Uncharacteristically, it’ll be a short post, since there’s really not much to explain, but here goes:

The system of geomancy is incompatible with the notion of a fifth element, also called the quintessence or the force of Spirit.

That’s all.

It’s evident from the get-go that geomancy uses and relies on the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  The structure of the geomantic figures themselves lend themselves well to this: a geomantic figure has four rows of either one or two dots, each row associated with a particular element, with one dot signifying that element as active or present and two dots signifying that it’s passive or absent.  The binary structure of geomancy, in addition, relies upon the exponentials of two, so 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.  This allows for four elements, not five, as five has no place in this system.  Going further, if you want to bring astrology into this, astrology likewise relies on four, not five, elements, just as it relies on twelve, not thirteen, signs of the Zodiac.  (No, Ophiuchus is not a zodiac sign.  Get over it.)

I’ve seen a trend of Tarot decks that have five suits instead of the traditional four, with the fifth suit dedicated to the force of Spirit.  I’ve also seen people try to incorporate a fifth element into systems that have no room or need for one, and geomancy is one such system.  It does not belong, especially as Spirit is not an element by nearly all forms of Hermetic reckoning, Golden Dawn material and derivatives notwithstanding.

I will certainly agree that Spirit is a force, absolutely, in the same sense that the elements and planets are forces, but I will not go further than that.  Spirit is something that is either or underlying all the other forces, a kind of ideal form of a force, or it is something that is lower than a planetary force and higher than an elemental force, something that separates the Spheres of the Elements from the Spheres of the Planets and Stars.  Yes, one can work with the force of the quintessence directly, although it is a different type of working than an elemental or planetary one, and its effects are realized through other forces that are already present; I’ve found that workings involving pure quintessential force magnify the other forces pertinent to a talisman, conjuration, or the like, but is nothing on its own in isolation from others.  This is a mystery that leads to very divine workings, yes, but in terms of manifestation magic or most Hermetic workings, Spirit isn’t a thing.  It’s not mentioned in Solomonic writings or the PGM or any number of other texts, including astrological and geomantic ones, because it’s not a thing like the other forces.

Okay, ending my curmudgeonly rant for the day.  Carry on.

You probably stink. Take a bath.

(Update 1/10/2018: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

Towards the end of last year, I visited some friends up in New England, one of whom is a Tata Quimbanda, or a Quimbandero priest.  It was fascinating to see how he worked, and the tradition of Quimbanda (about which I knew next to nothing beforehand) suddenly struck me as something potentially useful and interesting; I’ve since been reading about it and getting started in my own little layman way to build a relationship with the spirits I’ve been recommended to work with, my personal Exu and Pomba Gira and a few other spirits that go along with them.  This was all found out by means of a consulta, basically a Quimbanda check-up that determines what’s going on.  From what I noticed, they use the same divination system as in Palo or in Santeria with four shells, chamalongos, so I was able to keep up with what was going on despite the frequent use of Kikongo and Portuguese in prayers.  Thing was, pretty much every answer came up the same, the one that means “ask again”.  Usually when this happens, it means that there’s a lot of resistance or blockages in the situation, and the consulta was finished with the tata going “baths baths baths baths baths baths baths”.

So, clearly, I needed a bath.  Lots of them, actually.

According to the consulta, I have a bit of an infestation of kiumbas, which can be thought of as spiritual leeches or obsessive manes from the Roman tradition.  This happens, largely, when one isn’t cleaning off properly over a period of time and you get so spiritually icky that the ick starts to coalesce and latch onto you, or when you get into a dirty situation and don’t clean off immediately to get rid of the dirt.  And, truth be told, I haven’t been banishing a lot lately; I’ve been taking a daily ablution before the gods as all I usually need with the very occasional angelic banishing ritual I picked up from Fr. Rufus Opus years ago.  I do make a habit of washing off with a few things, like Florida water, after visiting graveyards or hospitals (which I’ve recently found out is a rule I should be following regardless), but beyond that, I generally don’t do a lot of deep and thorough cleansing.  I thought I didn’t need to, and I was wrong.

The tata had said that this is actually a common thing with a lot of ceremonial magicians as a part of the work we do.  Our main line of working involves working with spirits in different planes, notably conjuring spirits below (demons and shades) and spirits above (angels and planetaries), as well as spirits of this plane (elementals).  Kiumbas don’t necessarily belong to souls of the dead, but of any plane and of any type; they’re like aggregations of ick, and every plane has its own kind of ick.  Crossing the planes, calling down various forces, and the like brings down a lot more than just the spirit we’ve called, I’ve come to find, and over time they stick without proper banishing and cleansing, and calling down those same forces to get rid of the stuff they’re familiar with sometimes doesn’t do as thorough a job as they’re held to do.  They get rid of most of it, but not all of it.

And, honestly, I’ve noticed that since my jaunt to nine different graveyards in one night without properly cleaning off afterwards, several spiritual parties, a few workings here and there, and the like done clustered together last year, my practice and life has generally gotten “stuck”.  Problems were slow and subtle, but getting bigger without my conscious knowledge of it.  I found myself having less and less time for practice and more and more time for vain, petty shit.  At one point, a small detail blew up into almost a nervous breakdown for me, opening up a Pandora’s box of emotional baggage I thought I had chained and buried years ago.  So…yeah, I probably needed a bath to fix all that shit up.

To that end, I was recommended to start taking lots of spiritual baths and to keep taking them periodically.  Honestly, this is something I should have been doing all along, but before this consulta I had only taken one or two spiritual baths since I started practicing the occult back in 2011.  So, starting at the beginning of January, I dusted off my notes and combined mine with the herbs and recommendations from the tata, and begun a series of baths that will last me through the rest of January and which I’ll do at least once a month from here on out.

The manner of a spiritual bath I use involves repeated immersions in consecrated water designed to cleanse your body and spirit in combination with praying the Seven Penitential Psalms.  The whole process takes an hour to do at most, so be sure you can have that amount of time alone to yourself without being disturbed.

  • A tub full of hot water
  • A glass of holy water
  • A consecrated candle
  • A Bible (preferably a cheap one)
  • Holy oil or Abramelin oil
  • A clean white or lightly-colored towel
  • Clean white clothes
  • Optionally, some Florida water or Kölnisch Wasser and/or Van Van oil
  • Optionally, holy incense like frankincense
  • Optionally, an herbal wash prepared in a large bowl

The procedure:

  1. Before drawing the bath, take a shower first.  Be thorough and wash every part of your body, including the anus and feet.  Use shampoo, soap, body wash, or whatever you prefer, but be thorough.  Dry off as normal, preferably with an older towel or another cloth that isn’t the white towel.
  2. Draw the tub full of hot water.  While it’s filling, brush and floss your teeth, clean out your ears, and whatever personal hygiene activities you normally do.  If you choose, add in a few drops of Van Van oil and a small amount of Florida water or Kölnisch Wasser into the tub as it fills.  Also, if you want to finish the bath with an herbal wash, prepare it now in a bowl set aside with hot water.
  3. Set the candle somewhere above the tub in the bathroom.  Light it and consecrate the flame.  If you choose, light some incense and do the same.
  4. Take the glass of holy water (a shotglass will suffice) and pray over the water, pouring the holy water into the tub in a cross formation.  Pray the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary over the tub of water.
  5. Step into the tub and begin soaking in it.  Let your skin get used to the heat first before continuing.
  6. Immerse yourself completely in the water.  If you’re big and have a small tub, this may take several repositionings of the body and at least one dunk of the head.
  7. Pray the Asperges Me.  Before crossing yourself, take a handful of water so that you wash yourself with the tubwater as you cross yourself.
  8. Say slowly and firmly the first Penitential Psalm (Ps. 6) from the heart.  Use the copy of the Bible, but be sure not to drop it or get it wet in the water.
  9. Pray the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary.  Like before, before crossing yourself, take a handful of water so that you wash yourself with the tubwater as you cross yourself.
  10. Silently recount why you’re taking this bath: whatever transgressions you have done, whatever bad situations you have found yourself in, the problems in your life that have arisen, all the spiritual ick on your body, soul, spirit and mind.  Let them go into the water, dissolving into nothing while leaving you and your sphere clean.
  11. Repeat steps 7 through 10 for each of the other Pentitential Psalms (Pss. 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).
  12. Stand up and begin draining the tub.  Pray from the heart that you be clean and cleansed in body, soul, spirit, and mind and freed from all pain, plague, poison, illness, injury, infirmity, death, disease, and defilement, and that you be made pure and perfect despite of and because of your imperfections.
  13. If you chose to make an herbal wash, get the bowl and pray over it that it accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish with it (cleansing, empowerment, defense, etc.).  Pour it over your head slowly so that some liquid runs down the front of your body and some runs down the back, repeating the prayer the whole time.  With your hands, wash yourself from top to bottom with the wash, not forgetting the more sensitive and hard-to-reach parts of your body.
  14. Air dry from the bath.  Take the white towel and put it on the ground, in front of a fan or heater is ideal, and sit on it until you’re sufficiently air-dried.  If you can’t afford the time for this, dry off with the towel from the neck down, leaving the head to air-dry.
  15. Put on the clean, white clothes.  Take the holy oil and cross yourself on the forehead and back of the neck, praying Psalm 23.  This “seals in” the effect of the bath and insulates yourself a bit from external things until the effects of the bath are completely settled into your sphere.

That’s basically my procedure for taking a spiritual bath.  Yes, it’s a little long, and I do get a little faint from spending that much time in a hottub constantly praying and reimmersing myself, but it works.  The mental clarity and stability I have afterwards is hard to obtain in other ways, and it’s such a dramatic shift that for the first few baths I felt physically like shit but mentally awesome and brilliant.  Be careful if you have any medical condition that prevents you from spending so much time in a hot bath; adjust the heat if you need to.