Moss from a gravestone," I repeated. "It says if you carry it in your pocket, it'll attract luck -- financial luck, especially." "Hey,I know where to get some!" said Alisande. We trotted off to an old graveyard. The omens felt auspicious. We left nine pennies in offering to Oya, Yoruba keeper of cemeteries. Three days after distributing the moss to our coven, we went to visit a wise Elder, adept in both Wiccan and Orisha traditions. "You did what?" The jovial expression seeped from his face. "Where did you get that information?" We named the book. He took it down from his shelf -- naturally he had it; his shelves are better stocked than the Library of Congress. He shook his head at the entry. "And where is the author now?" Our mouths gaped. We'd read the author's obituary the week before. "The problem with taking the moss," our Elder explained, "is that you're actually borrowing power from the graveyard spirits. Are you prepared to give them what they want in return?" It took an entire Moon to retrieve the moss. Nearly everyone had misplaced theirs. We finally located it all and returned it to the graveyard. Sprinkling cologne on the graves, we left more pennies. "Indulge us. Forgive us our foolishness. We meant no harm." Moral: Don't play with
You Would Call Up . . . Whom? We had failed to consider the powers we were calling upon. We'd run out and gathered our moss without looking into possible consequences. With the proliferation of Pagan books now on the stands, any novice can invoke a few Gods and cast a spell. But in practice it's not that simple. For instance, an up-and-coming Pagan author lists Lilith under "fertility," "children," and "motherhood." So if you're trying to conceive a child, you might want to invoke Lilith, right? Wrong. Research shows that Lilith was fertile--in giving birth to 100 sextuplets?) -- Or you might get Rosemary's baby. You might also have a perfectly normal baby, but why take a chance?
Invoke Demeter or Danu instead.
You may wish to call upon Ogun for protection. Reading Jambalaya, you know Luisa Teish's admonition: "...do not work charms for Him if you are menstruating. Do not touch Him if you have cut your finger. Ogun gets hungry when He smells blood." Many deities, because they were not appropriate to human civilization after the time when they actively worshiped, have gone to sleep. Sleeping, they have not accustomed themselves to the ways and mores of today's societies. Waking them could cause trouble. Let's say you awaken a deity who, when last worshipped, expected human sacrifice. Perhaps you can urge this deity to accept food or money instead. Suppose you can't? Might this deity attempt to subvert your will? Maybe you can fight the
murderous desires he sends your way, but why leave yourself open to such a battle? Many serial killers say they heard voices directing them to kill, and some have involved themselves in occult study. The once-borns might brush off as a nut someone who hears voices, but can
we? Who knows what entities they may have attracted? It is important that when we call on a God/dess, we know what we're invoking.
The above are frightening examples, yet magic is a tool--real, not a game. If we are intent on shaping our reality, we must consider what we are shaping it into. The Old Goat Trail Another consideration here is what form of that deity we're invoking. Let's take a moment first, and step back, to see how archetypes operate. Theologists debate whether Gods created humans or humans create the Gods.
In my worldview, the Universe is a living, self-aware entity. We humans are to the Universe as the organs and cells in our bodies are to us. What we call "Gods" are forces working within the Universe which control certain functions. For instance, there is a force which controls the birth process, and another which controls the process of
hunter and hunted. These forces exist we are aware of them or not. To understand them and get them to work our will (or at least ask them to please go along with our desires) we create archetypes. These are thought forms which we use to access the energy. We do not create the Gods, we create how we understand and respond to them.
So now we have our archetypes. Perhaps we'll call them, Vivienne, the Lady of the Lake, who opens the door between this world and the next, and Herne the Hunter. With but some of these spheres of influence change over time, and sometimes the stories get retold (often by the cults of rival Gods) and the stories get twisted. Lilith, is again a
lovely example. In Biblical lore, Lilith was created at the same time as Adam. However Adam thought that she should bend to his will. Lilith didn't agree, and when he asked her to do something she didn't want to, she flapped off on her owl wings, leaving Adam to his own devices. The original Lilith archetype then, is about freedom from subjugation. About having the courage to stand up and say, "No, I won't take this." Even if it means you have to leave the Garden. But later tellers of this tale didn't want liberal ideas like that spread around. They wanted everyone following "God's will". (And generally their interpretation of that will.) So they made Lilith a demoness, a succubus come to sap men's strength and life force. The archetype of Lilith became linked up with those energies. The stories were re-told and grew more horrific with the retelling, and the earlier meanings nearly forgotten. Two thousand years or more later, the path to the
archetype of Lilith the Demoness has become a huge, paved
superhighway. Anyone who seeks out the older archetype must first dodge the cars speeding down that road and cross the highway to where they'll see a nearly invisible goat trail winding up the hill and towards the wood . . . Even if you know an archetype has been vilified, you must still deal with the energies that have been placed on their archetype, and make your peace with them before you can reach the older version. Deities 'R Us Another idea I see in recent
books is that you can pick the deities (and animal totem spirits as well) that "appeal to you."
Most of the traditions I've studied under * teach that we are chosen by our deities and totems, not the other way around. The Gods are assumed to be wiser than we; they know what energies we should be working to prevent imbalance and further the goals we set ourselves before returning from the Summerlands. Perhaps you are a fiercely patriotic British male who sees in Arthur the spirit of the race, so
you sit patiently hoping for him to appear--armour and all!" writes Murry Hope in Practical Celtic Magic. "You may well find the Gods have decided that you are too 'macho' for your own good... so it could be the gentle Branwen who calls upon you during your meditations..." Other traditions do approach deity choice differently, as in Greek magic, where the student works with whatever God feels most comfortable. It's important to consider both your tradition and that of the invoked deity. Perhaps Nuada or Oshun don't
want to work with you--for your own good.
These Things Should Come with Warning Labels Sadly, there are manybooks of spells, which contain information that is erroneous or has never been tested. My former teacher once asked an author where his spells originated and was told that the writer and his partner simply "made them up." "You've tried them, though?" "No, not really." My teacher left in shock, concerned about the thousands who might read the book, utilize the spells and receive karmic backlash as a result. Karmic backlash isn't a joke. If we accept that our actions shape reality, we must also accept that we can mis-shape reality. Generally from the caster's view, a failed spell just doesn't work. But every action has a reaction. Failed spells can have negative reactions: anything from causing a headache to misaligning the chakras; from starting an argument to losing a job through
overconfidence in the spell. Even if the only effect is a waste of money on spell components, that money could have been put to better use. Unfortunately, not every author considers the karmic responsibility for the information they release to the world. If a spell harms someone, the one who gave out the spell must also deal with the results. Had the author of our moss information prefaced his book with a note that he was using unsubstantiated folklore, he would have held less karmic responsibility.
Another form of misinformation is missing information. One prominent author compiled a book of oils. Our Elder, who had been part of the author's coven, told me the author had gotten his recipes from an aged New Orleans root-man. "In his days you couldn't just walk into a magic shop and buy your ingredients. If your recipe called for lilac oil, you had to wait for the lilac to bloom, supplicate the spirit of
the bush, pick the flowers and press the oil yourself. "Part of what made these potions work is that the root-man would get the aid of the spirits. The book doesn't tell you any of this, but without knowing the spirit, these recipes may not work for you." (Four years later, reading these last two paragraphs, I might revise my own opinion
about the "spirits" of the lilac bush. But even so, missing
information occurs - more often than we'd like, whether through printer error or simply lack of knowledge on the writer's part, or the writer just not being clear.)
Even more devious is purposely wrong information. In the novel The Heart of the Fire by Cerridwen Fallingstar, Fiona and Annie are cautioned on what to do should they be interrogated by a witchfinder. "If they ask about flying ointment, be sure to give a recipe strong enough to fell an ox. Curiosity kills priests and judges as easily as cats... Several priests in France have met their demise by such means." Could that spell you're considering have been invented to fell inquisitors? Aleister Crowley used to "trap" his books with wrong information so that only those who already had a strong basis in magick would be able to circumvent his traps. As I was copying from the Book of Shadows of my present teacher, he shook his head, pointed to a note on the page. "Ignore that, it's wrong. I
wrote it when I was in my Crowley phase."
Then there's metaphor to contend with. Some older books will tell you to "wear white" when you do a spell. So you run around looking for a white robe, not realizing that it's a metaphor for "skyclad". A friend of mine was reading some of the Irish myths and came to a part where there were people with "mouths in their chest". Great picture, huh? Let's think of it metaphorically, now. Could the storyteller be saying that the people spoke with courage and from the heart? Should you throw out all your books and stick with only what you or your friends or ancestors have tried and proven? Not at all. Just consider the origins and implications of anything you do. And learn to read between the lines. The Dread "R" Word How can you protect yourself from mistakes? Research--the dreaded "R" word... study, study, STUDY! The process of understanding the magic is an integral function in making it work. Break down spells before trying them. Understand the energies you're working with. Did the author say to use a yellow cloth in that job interview spell because it's his favourite colour--- or because yellow will add its power of eloquence? Apply the "Is it habit or does it actually make sense?" test to your spells. This is the Pot Roast theory, which my present teacher uses to illustrate the Heirophant (tradition, ritual, set ways of action to achieve a goal) card in Tarot. In breaking down a spell, figure out what parts of it
might conflict with your energies.
I've found spells that utilizes passages from the Bible, but I don't bother with them, or I change it to a chant in my own words. With my ingrained discomfort with Christianity, I know the Bible verses would fail to work. Or, once we wanted to attract a partner for my former HP. For the ritual we had in mind (designed after one from Heart of the Fire), the coven members placed flowers all over the seeker's body, invoking Blodeuwedd, a Celtic Goddess of beauty. At first it seemed like a great idea, but Alisande couldn't do it. "I'm just not a flower-woman," he said. "Besides, I'm gay. Will this spell work for a same-sex lover?" Don't stop with one source. Alisande was given a
candle supposed to invoke "male forces and the Sun." He read the ingredients. "Hey, wait a minute! Cedar isn't a solar herb!" He paged through the Master Book of Herbalism by Paul Beryl. "And neither is juniper or benzoin." He picked up another herbal--notably, the one we'd gotten the graveyard moss idea from. There the herbs were listed
as solar. When in doubt, check a third source, and a fourth. And again, remember to see how it fits with you. If when you think of Cedar trees, you think of the light streaming down through golden sap, then for you, Cedar is solar.
When doing spells alone, feel free to do what works for you. But if you're working with a coven or another group, its best to work with correspondences that everyone is comfortable with. Consider the type of book you're getting your information from. A book on occult symbology might not give you what you need about frogs. A book on totem animals might be better, and an article on "The Frog in Magic," better still. But a treatise on the life, mating habits, symbolism of and tasty ways to cook a frog may overload you. Be wary of dictionary- format books which try to squeeze an enormous number of facts into a few hundred pages. These make good beginning points, but you usually
need to study your subject in greater depth.
For example, Aphrodite may be named as the Greek Goddess of love, particularly romantic and sexual love. But what about Her 31 other aspects? The Witches' Goddess by Janet and Stewart Farrar might be a deeper reference, but the best reference would be meditation and study of the myths themselves. Consult your oracles. Dowse the spell with your pendulum. Ask the runes if this spell is attuned with you.
Read the Tarot to find out if there's a blockage. Don't rush. Unless there's a desperate need to cast that spell now, you're probably better off waiting and doing the research, perhaps choosing a date in a more favourable moon phase or sign. If there is a need for immediate action, you may be safer with a spell of proven efficacy. Find out about the authors of books you're using. Does the author skip from subject to subject, churning out books with amazing rapidity? He may be adept in all these subjects or be gathering information from others who are, but this also might be a cue to you to be careful in researching the spell. If you have a concern, write the author and question him--enclose a SASE if you've requested a reply.
Network. Find other Pagans and ask what has worked for them; or write to the readers forum sections in magazines; visit a chat room; or go to your local crystal shop and strike up a conversation. In the end, remember that you have access to all the information you truly need. We each contain the answers inside us. What are your feelings about
the spell? Follow the promptings of your inner wisdom and you will rarely go wrong. Now that you've done your homework, you've ensured that you'll bring "harm to none," and that the spell has a good chance of working properly, go ahead! Be sure to document your work and its results. If it works--great! If not, more research! Practice in researching others' spells will making conjuring your own easier and more reliable. On the other hand, do not be a slave to research. Often a glance through several books and a common sense look at your own thoughts will suffice to assure you. Witchcraft is the Craft of the Wise. Considering how a spell will affect you and others is a sensible and responsible precaution.
By Lionrhod (C)1998