When I first began sputtering out heretical medieval prayers in dim candlelight over poorly drawn copies of differently poorly drawn abstract squiggles and trying myself in knots straining to relax my mind enough to make out the subtlest of angelic imagery and messages, I genuinely had no idea what the hell I was doing.
When I first set up an ancestor shrine and began an elevation with no preparations or research other than the gut feeling that it needed done and that first night when that bowl of soup, by that time lukewarm for hours, split down the middle with a soul shattering crack– I had no idea what the hell I was doing or getting myself into then, either.
And those times in the end it all worked out. I learned a lot. There have been plenty of other times though, where it didn’t quite work out so well, times when I was afraid to utter even a prayer for months and swore off any intentional spirit contact whatsoever. But I also lost a lot of time, not from my mistakes, or these quiet periods of healing in between bruises, but from the innumerable opportunities for progression which I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to notice. Likely thanks to a constant assessment of whether or not I was doing it right and the energy spent on the continuous search for someone else by which to measure these repeating assessments.
The truth turned out to be much simpler than I imagined. Once upon a time there was an anxiety leading up to every ritual which was mostly based on assumptions about how things should go while doing my magic. I used to be afraid to leave where I stood or break my attention away from what I was doing, even for a minute. Perhaps I was mistaking everything but grimoire spirits for grimoire spirits? It’s hard to say. But nowadays I don’t even hesitate to catch the planetary prayer to open the ritual with five minutes to spare then take a break to prepare should the need arise, and it often does because these days I run a lot on intuition and instinct. In fact the one thing I am now sure of that I wish like hell I had figured out way earlier is that almost every time I was worried that I hadn’t prayed enough lately, that I had been slacking on the attention I had been giving spirits, that I wasn’t a real magician if I wasn’t doing this way or that way, that a lot of these times in question the spirits involved absolutely could not give a shit one way or another what the fuck I was doing.
After long enough, I started sinking into myself more, figuring out that I still have to be me. Even when I’m at my best. And that’s, well, it’s something all right.
Worrying that I hadn’t prayed enough lately came from the false belief that there is some sort of pious expectation that exists in the world independent of my unique relationship to prayer and the spirits to whom I pray, which is understandable for someone with a Christian upbringing, but also objectively insane, at the worst, and at best simply not a functional, relational, animist way of thinking.
Worrying that I had been slacking on the attention I had been giving the spirits with whom I worked came from a couple of places- The first and most obvious being the classic fear of abandonment, as it is the plight of those terrified of being left in the dust who distort themselves in order to keep the company of another. And the second source of this projection came from the fear that doing what I now know and practice as correct, that is the intuitive freedom of relinquishing all expectations of consistency, would get me into trouble due to an unnoticed discrepancy between what is expected and what is given. I was scared my spirits would feel cheated and be mad, but it’s more than that. This is a fear of being replaceable and unimportant, even to those one works with intimately. Which sounds a lot like retail or the service industry, to be quite honest.
This is the demon of anxiety that possesses us at the crossroads where the affects of the industrial revolution and 40+ years of psyop and MK research meet up in the commercial breaks in our Saturday morning cartoons. These roads, paved before we arrived, host the car crash of our expectations and our lives of infinite dreams and limited servitude. The result of this, aside from general malaise, is the norm that we do not understand what is expected of us until it is too late.
This is the mechanism of bureaucracy. This is a picture of an authoritarian abuse cycle and, not merely poorly drawn and maintained personal boundaries and comprehension of one’s expectations, but also the overseers systemically assuring that these metaphysics could not thrive even if they were somehow brought into the light of day as realities- That is to say, we don’t ever feel we know what is expected and the consequences of admitting that could be worse than pretending. I was projecting this mess onto my spirits and worrying that they weren’t getting enough frankincense. Seriously, I must’ve looked like a metaphysical ball of yarn.
Which brings me to one of the most important messages I ever received from an angel: Child, heal thyself. Which has been pretty much what I have been doing for several years now. Just cleaning out pipes and gutters in the temple of my life, all the charged moments that hold a person back from being here, now.
A lot of those were mine, but in equal measure they have turned out to be the moments, the wounds of the dead. Not just those blood-related to me, but also those with whom I share land and place. It was a process with no guardrails and no one with a method that worked for me as most required journeying in one’s mind, but with the sheer volume of spiritual and emotional static I was subject to on the daily there was no hope of me successfully doing the necessary work through these methods. What followed was, when etched out with other techniques and areas of practice and out of sheer necessity, became my Magical Fortitude: Ancestors & Place course which I have been facilitating for over a year now in private groups.
The idea that one single source of one’s unease may exist is almost surely a wrong one, thus it becomes necessary for us to cover our bases if we want to exist in a state of mental peace, stability, and equanimity. Another immutable aspect of this full-spectrum relationship-mending process is our relationship to the often already abused and ignored spirits of the land. This troubled aspect can be daunting, however as strong and foreign as they can be there seems to be an element of them simply wishing to exist in the wider human perception, a strikingly understandable desire.
Not long ago my wife, the priest of this parish, and I went for a walk out on the path behind our house. There had been machines going all day long, clearing brush and doing their seasonal trimming. She had a lot on her mind that day and the conversation, and our minds, were focused on very human things. So much so that we didn’t even notice one of our cats mewing at the ground as if he was in mourning, with such sadness, and pissing little trickles on all the cut ivy and wildflowers, just a bit at a time, as if an offering or a medicine.
We walked past the 800+ year-old church where she performs services and down the long lane with giant old trees flanking either side and talked about how shitty it was that they cut down one of the trees back there behind the house. How it was an older one and it definitely wasn’t something that had to go. We talked about how she was the caretaker of the people here and I was learning to be the caretaker of the spirits, how we made the perfect team.
Later that evening while watching TV I had deja vu. Instead of letting it pass it was surprisingly easy to sort of grab it like I often do when a fragment of a dream memory flashes across my mind and follow it. The oddest thing happened then. I followed it, not to somewhere in the imaginal, or to some invisible abstraction from another place, but through our very living room and to the front door of our house. When my attention arrived there I was overwhelmed with the feeling of both an old friend and a callous enemy who cared nothing for our well being, simultaneously.
My eyes began to stream tears and my whole body perked up with goosebumps. My wife’s wide eyes mirrored my own and she was crying too. She described to me the exact same scene and feeling and action that I was experiencing- Someone barging into our home with zero regard for our existence.
This kept repeating as if stuck in a time loop, as if the moment was trying to fully happen and couldn’t. Just there in limbo, with our space being violated.
And then it hit us. The tree, the cat, the proclamation that I was a caretaker of this place and it’s spirits.
I shifted my attention to the felled tree and the meadow behind our house and everything else also shifted. The anger turned in an instant into utter anguish. It was the consolation-less agony of one who was deeply wronged and remained invisible, the feeling of being stepped on and forgotten.
What came through me was entirely out of my control. It was a moaning, a wailig. I wept like a mother who lost a child with emotions which were not my own. They came hard and fast, but they were not angry or violent as they had initially threatened. The immense release that came through me was a deep purple-black, like the ashes of royalty.
And then it was over- A fact that was almost just as unbelievable as it happening in the first place.
My wife was watching, breathless. I told her with puffy face and a scope of perspective which I am still processing now, two months later, that “It just needed to be seen.” And she immediately put the rest together. That we must have felt just like the spirit of the meadow did, intruded upon, disregarded, with someone busting down our door and nobody giving a shit how horrible that was for us. That it registered as a frightening alien and also an old friend simultaneously, echoing the lost relationship between the people here and it’s spirits of place and the resulting apocalyptic landscaping. That in it’s moment of need all logic would suggest the spirit of the land would, when in duress, seek out as witness (and a release valve for their trauma) the person who not only believes in them, but also regularly gives offerings and thanks to them. And that even if someone is bigger, stronger, and unfathomably older than you, sometimes even they just need to be seen, heard, held.
And going back, what would have happened if my mind had been so cluttered with self doubt and logical assessments of progress that I had missed that deja vu altogether? At the very least it would make me a sub-par caretaker.
There is no manual for this experience. No matter how many more books I made myself read I could not have been prepared for this experience, and it seems that most of the worthwhile ones show up in a similar fashion.
I’ve tried to run with this idea in the course work, providing a sort of fuzzy formula while encouraging personal alterations and insisting that the individual trusts their intuition as the final say. While there are formulaic methods provided in the course which are tried and true for elevating the dead, caring for a cairn to the land spirits, and cutting out unhelpful spirits, the experience of feeling out what works for you and what doesn’t (with community support and without anyone telling you you’re wrong) can be just as valuable as the actual work itself.
If you’re interested in cutting out some of the unhelpful static and intrusive thoughts, or if you feel called to commune with the land, or even if you just want a framework by which to improve your fundamentals of practice, myself and a slew of other course graduates and participants are here with open arms and ears to witness one another go through the process of healing thyself. Because when I think back on how uptight I was about everything, and how badly I wish someone would have just told me it was cool, that I could relax and do whatever moved me because the heart is a magnet, and not everything was trying to eat me, well it’s difficult to want to do anything else.
(Post art by Kazuki Okuda)