De Regnis: Supplies and Objects

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 supplies, tools, and objects.

On Supplies and Objects

Although the primary heart of spiritual work with the kingdoms of the cosmos is inherently intangible and immaterial, material goods and substances form an important part of many spiritual paths,whether acting as focuses and stimulants for the body or for symbols for the mind to dwell on to obtain higher meaning. The use of ritual tools, magical items, consumable food and drink, and other supplies has a long history across the world, whether offering alcohol to spirits, use of drums and sacred instruments to induce trances, or creating charms and amulets for loved ones to keep them safe. Although there are effectively as many spiritual types of items as there are mundane items, a few large categories are described below that are important to the magus.

Tools. In the course of magical and spiritual ritual, specialized objects that undergo specific consecration for select purposes are used; these are the magician’s tools. Tools may take the form of simple day-to-day objects, such as pens or kitchen knives, but often are elaborated, decorated, and made special through their form, such as by detailed engraving or anointing with oil. Magical tool soften undergo specific rituals of consecration or blessing, where the tools are not only cleansed and dedicated to ritual, but also often for a specific practice or limited use within ritual. For instance,some ritual practitioners have four types of bladed instruments: a ritual sword to represent the element of Air and the powers of the mental faculties, a utility knife dedicated for cutting material things or sacrifices, a spiritual knife to draw circles or engrave special characters, and a war sword used to represent the planet of Mars for offensive and defensive works against spirits and animals alike. Different traditions use different sets of tools, both for their material purposes as well as symbolic meaning, such as the attributions of the elements of Fire and Air to the wand and the sword. However, common sets of ritual tools often include a wand or a staff, a knife, a chalice, a pentacle, a scrying medium such as a crystal ball or mirror, a brazier or censer, an engraving tool,and so forth. Divination tools and supplies, such as a deck of divination cards or dice, also fall into this category.

Clothing. Ritual clothing is similarly important in spiritual work, acting as another type of magical object. Special clothing, kept and used strictly for magical work, helps the magician in both stepping into the proper mindset for ritual work as well as preserving and enhancing the spiritual power of the ritual and the magician. Clothing should be used at the least for enhancing the atmosphere and decoration of the ritual, but may also be generically used for all rituals. Full sets of clothing, such as robes that completely cover the body, may be used across rituals equally well, or minor trinkets such as rings, belts, or boots that may be worn with different outfits can be equally suitable. Ritual clothing may change between traditions or even between rituals in the same tradition, and may be used for multiple purposes at once. These purposes often include protection,preserving purity, aligning oneself to the spirits or to a particular force, and similar purposes.

Talismans. Not all magical objects are those used in ritual. Indeed, many objects may undergo consecration or blessing to bestow benefits or cause changes without any active use. These items are talismans, items that have been magically empowered to cause change. All tools and ritual clothing may be considered talismans, but not all talismans are tools. Talismans are often used to benefit those who possess them in some way, such as protection from spirits or illnesses, enhancing one’s business, or to attract friendship and love from others. Some talismans are dedicated and consecrated by a particular spirit, such as saint medallions, to bestow the attention and blessing of a specific entity upon its bearer. Some talismans are simply set up in the home and left there, such as talismans for protection or safety in the home. However, not all talismans need to be beneficial;talismans to work harm may also be created, left behind as weapons on an enemy’s property or similarly snuck into their belongings to cause malefic influences. Many methods exist to create a talisman, from devout and concentrated prayer over an object to elaborate ritual and sacrifice.

Edible Goods. Particular foods, drinks, and other edible substances may be used in ritual to great effect, either for oneself or for the benefit of a spirit. Many traditions make food and drink offerings, especially those of fresh fruit, harvested grains, clean water, fresh or sacrificed meat, wine or alcohol, and the like; some traditions have the priest or ritual officiant give the food offering entirely without consuming any of it, while others instruct the officiants to partake of the food after the ritual or during it. Blessing food to contribute benefits, or cursing it to harm those who eat it, is a common practice and easily done, either for oneself or for others, even to preserve the integrity of it over long distances or time frames without other preservation. Foods and drinks with a mind-altering effect, known as entheogenic drugs, have been used to enhance or open the mind up to the revelation of gods and the spirit worlds, but should be used with caution. It is important to never use toxic substances without close supervision or control, especially those known to be fatal if ingested. Poisoning others, likewise, is condemnable and generally punishable by governments.

Other Supplies. Beyond food, drink, tools, talismans, and clothing, many other goods often come into play for a magician. Particular incenses, oils, candles, and altar cloths which may be used for anointing or consecration, or for use in different conjurations or communions with spirits, often forms a crucial part of ritual setup, especially given the elemental association of burning incense with pure spirit. Candles, offering light to the world, are burned frequently and used in great quantities to illuminate the world and the worker with the Light from the Divine as well as to honor, exalt, and offer worship to other spirits. Herbs, resins, powders, and dirts from any number of plants, mines, rivers, or other natural features may also be called for, as may some animal parts such as feathers, fur, or blood. Statues, sacred artwork, or other decoration may be desired for work or altar setup, especially when called for by a particular tradition or to call upon a specific spirit.Collecting ancient or authentic artifacts from a particular tradition, era, or culture can connect one with the practices and people who lived in the roots of one’s own tradition. Other implements,such as railroad spikes, horse bits, broken glass, or wooden boxes may also be required for specific rituals. In essence, any object may be used for spiritual or magical purposes, often in creative or novel ways merely by some ideal or purpose-based link that connects an object to a magical ritual.

Tool and Talisman Care. Consecrated objects, being made holy and powerful, deserve careful attention and care to maintain their power and blessed natures. They should not be handled by other people unless it is permissible to do so or if a ritual calls for it, and should not be handled or toyed with by the magician unless actively in use, and unless the magician is in a state of purity to properly handle them. Tools, though they should be regularly used, should also be regularly cleaned, polished, anointed, and similarly maintained. Incense, ashes, dusts, powders,and other debris should be cleaned up and disposed of respectfully, or be reused with care. Any consecrated object, if it requires it, should be duly and carefully consecrated or undergo a type of periodic reconsecration or recharging. Talismans, statues, and images of spirits or gods should be honored and kept clean or anointed, and should be kept in places of respect or holiness such as altars or temples. Metal objects should be gently polished regularly to prevent rust, tarnish, breaking, or similar degradation. Edible and drinkable substances should be kept separate from other supplies, and should be stored and ingested with respect and contemplation. Consecrated objects and supplies of all kinds are a kind of treasure that deserves respect and honor, being made something more than mere matter; disrespecting these objects is to disrespect the spirits and power that made them holy, which can cause problems or punishment by those same spirits.

Upcoming Classes at Sticks and Stones!

After a long while of not having classes at Sticks and Stones, the local new age/earth-based spirituality store I do readings at, the lovely owners and I finally came up with a few classes and workshops for me to teach through the rest of 2013.   After all, being one of the few ceremonial magicians in the area, I’ve got a lot of experience and knowledge under my belt (though by no means enough) to share around with folks willing enough to hear me out and pay a small-but-reasonable fee.  With that in mind, here’s my teaching schedule for the first half of 2013.  All the classes will be on Sunday afternoons.

Greek Alphabet Divination ($30), Sunday 9/29, 2pm ~ 4:30pm
Alphabets and letters have always been held as magical tools and powers in their own right, and have been used as a form of divination in countless cultures.  Much like the Nordic runes, the ancient Greeks had their own method of letter-based divination or “grammatomancy”, where each letter has a particular oracular meaning.  When combined with the other astrological and magical meanings that the Greek alphabet has gained over the centuries, this can become a powerful divination and magical tool indeed!  Join yours truly in discussing the origins, development, and use of the Greek alphabet for easy-to-use divination and magic.  A copy of his first 60pp. publication, “De Grammatomanteia”, is included with the course for reference and study.  No prior knowledge is necessary, though a familiarity with the basics of divination and magical ideas would be helpful.

Introduction to the Headless Rite ($30), Sunday 10/13, 2pm ~ 4:30pm
Written 2000 years ago in Egypt, the powerful ritual known as the Headless Rite has been used for exorcism by mages in the Mediterranean, knowledge and conversation of the higher Self by Samuel MacGregor Mathers and Aleister Crowley, and empowerment over harmful forces by countless other magicians.  Join yours truly in discussing the origins, development, and use of this ritual as he shows participants how and where to use the ritual to get the most out of it, both in the physical and the astral.  No prior knowledge is necessary, but a desire for ultimate cosmic power would be appreciated.

Basic Magical Tools and Supplies ($15), Sunday 11/3, 2pm ~ 4pm
Magic can be seen as the use of higher forces to attain lower ends or vice versa, and has been practiced differently by countless traditions, groups, lodges, and people across the ages.  That said, you don’t need to be a Wiccan to use an athame or a Christian to use holy oil!  Some magical supplies can be made, created, or adapted for any practitioner of magic for fantastic results.  Join Sam Block to discuss what forms magical tools can take, how to create basic tools and supplies, and methods to augment and empower yourself with everyday blessings and items you wouldn’t otherwise consider magical.  No prior knowledge is necessary.

Thinking With Planets ($15), Sunday 11/10, 2pm ~ 3:30pm
A lot of modern magical traditions focus on using the four elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, occasionally with the fifth element of Spirit, as the primary or only forces of their work.  However, even a few hundred years ago, magicians of all kinds used another set of forces: the planets!  With the powers of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon, magicians were able to accomplish a lot more a lot faster, including directly affecting the elements themselves.  Join yours truly to learn how to introduce the use of the planets into your own work, basic magical timing, and how to connect the planets to the elements and vice versa.  No prior knowledge is necessary.

Introduction to Angelic Conjuration ($30), Sunday 12/8, 2pm ~ 4:30pm
When you hear about “conjuration”, do you think of pompous magicians in ruined castles wielding swords and hurling imperious threats at misunderstood spirits bound in arcane circles?  Then stop by with yours truly and learn the truth about ceremonial magic’s most famous type of ritual!  He will go over how conjuration really works, its history and roots in shamanic practices, proper conjuration etiquette, and a complete and easy introduction to conjuring and chatting with angels.  With little more than a circle and a glass of water, you too can start a magical practice with some of the most powerful and easily accessible forces in the cosmos!  Some knowledge of planets and spirits in the Western Mystery Tradition would be appreciated.

Dear readers, you have a good idea of what I know, do, and write about.  If you were (or are) able to stop by for a class or two, what other classes would you like to see taught?  I’m planning my two-day geomancy class for sometime early in 2014, but I also have a few other ideas.  What might you think would go well for a broadly introductory or basic topic for workshops?

Skill points in potionmaking

So I’m making natron tonight for the first time for use in cleaning and cleansing. Natron is a dried powder, a mixture of sodium carbonate (washing soda), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and sodium chloride (salt), and has been used since Ancient Egypt in mouthwash, bleaching, baths, and mummification, that last one because this stuff is powerfully dehydrating. Unfortunately, I’m having to omit the washing soda since I can’t find it nearby, but Kemetic practitioners seem to do well with just a baking soda and salt mixture.

To make natron, mix the dried ingredients together (one part baking soda and one part salt, or four parts washing soda to one part baking soda to one eighth part salt), and mix in water until completely dissolved. Bring to a rapid boil uncovered and stir frequently until it evaporates to about a third the original volume; around this point, the solution will thicken very quickly to a consistency of very thick oatmeal. Turn off heat, spread out in a baking pan, and bake at 250 deg F for several hours until completely dry, taking care not to burn the top. Alternatively, you could set out the mixture until dry, but take care to cover the top with cheesecloth to keep out dust; because of its dehydrating properties, you may not be able to dry it out in the air depending on the humidity.

Protip: use a stew pot or a pot with very tall sides, since the bubbles from stirring and the fizzing will get salt water everywhere, leaving residue all over the pan, the stove, and the spoon. It comes off easily enough, since it can dissolve in water readily, but it may take some scratching off with a nail or knife in the crevices of a pot. I’m told that even small measurements of the ingredients used will go a very long way; some first batches made in 2005 only just now ran out even with constant use.

Why might you use natron, you ask? One book on Hermetic ritual, using sources from the Greek Magical Papyri, says that natron can be used to form a ritual circle for protection by sprinkling the powder around in a circle around the ritual space, or can be used in a dilute solution to purify an area by sprinkling it around the place. (I read an article earlier about melting natron with sand and other ingredients to make glass for ritual mirrors, finding it fascinating but then finding myself embarrassed when I realized that, after it discussing that it took 3d4 hours to make the mirror, it was talking about Dungeons and Dragons. Fah.)

This is easier to prepare in some ways, at least compared to holy water (which involves literal questing across Northern Virginia to find in some out-of-the-way botanica), but takes longer, involves more cleanup (scrubbing off encrusted natron from the pots and stove compared to straining out some herbs from a pot), and I don’t get as much experience in chanting a prayer.

The parallels to an RPG are striking.

Update 4/1/2011: Epic fail. Turns out that, as a cleansing agent, natron kicks ass. When I put it in the baking pan in the oven to dry out, I noticed it started turning brown, which was confusing since it was too wet to be burned. Later, I noticed that the baking pan, which was a hand-me-down from my mother and was ancient beyond recognition, was cleaner than it had been when it was first bought, and the natron simply lifted off the years’ worth of grease. Whoops. Another batch, then, will be attempted soon.