If you are interested in studying the occult and magic, you will quickly run across the “Law of Three”.
Summed up, this rule says that what ever you put out into the World using magic, will be returned to you three times over. Put out good vibes and spells of helpfulness, and you will receive back three times the joy and happiness. Put out curses and ill will, and you will receive back three times the hurt and misfortune. Its repeated some much so in the occult community, especially from supposed wise elders to the beginners you’d almost think it came down from the mountain with Moses.
Its wrong though.
That rule grew out of the 60’s resurgence of paganism and Wicca, as a rather good little bit of public relationship. Remember Christianity burned witches not too long ago, and even in the 60s, if you were living in a small town and got the reputation as one of “those” people you could count on being shunned, if not ruined before being run out of town.
The Counter Culture embraced many things the Establishment disapproved of, including occult practices, astrology and Eastern mysticism as a way to rebel but then not rebel too much that it got them burnt at the stake. True, the push back from the “good” people against those long hair, freaky hippy types was still pretty intense but it wasn’t long before such interests were tolerated. Housewives lighting candles and saying love spells seeped into suburbia.
The “Law of Three” then became a way to differ the good witches from the few that were “bad”. If the Stevie Nicks looking flower child at the corner book store said that if SHE did a curse, it would come back three fold onto her, then obviously she was a good witch. And wouldn’t be corrupting the young people who were patronizing her shop.
The problem is there isn’t any indication in history that is is the case In fact just the opposite. Many of the wizards and sorcerers advising kings were using their magic to bring ruin on that king’s enemies with no sort of consequences. Not only no consequences but actually they were being rewarded. Movies and television only re-enforced this fact.
And yet, there are examples, more than a few, where magical practitioners of recent history have experienced blow back for obviously harmful spells against others.
Where does that leave the occult beginner?
A bit of background for a moment,
Recently I read a discussion on the morality of intent and the raising of power with magic that I think better explains the dangers for a beginner in using magic to affect their reality.
I am in the process of paring down the collection of science fiction and fantasy art which I have acquired over many years of going to conventions. I plan on moving into a much smaller residence by next Spring, and just won’t have the wall space to display my collection.
Many of the pieces I’m selling but a few are ones which have an occult significance. One of these is this piece by the artist Mitch Foust.
The title of the piece is “Morgan LeFey”. She is known from book and film as a powerful sorceress and sister to the legendary king Arthur. She is also a spirit you might as a shaman work with, though in Celtic lore there is some argument whether she is a separate spirit or merely a facet of the larger spirit “The Morrigan”.
For some time, I had been thinking perhaps that the Morrigan was connected with the goddess I worship, Hekate, as a reimage of Hekate in a far off land from her birthplace, Asia Minor. Both goddesses are triplicate goddesses, having three faces and aspects. Both goddesses are considered to be Queens and powerful.
I wondered if this print could then be used in my devotionals with Hekate?
In researching this relationship I picked up Courtney Weber’s book “The Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of Magik and Might”. It didn’t take me much reading to see that the two are separate, unique and the print would be better passed on to another person. If the Celtic deities are of interest to you, and if the Morrigan calls, Weber’s book is a good place to start.
That said, Weber has a chapter which discusses working with spells and magic (she uses a K, to differ the spiritual side from the sleight of hand variety) and its from that chapter that I want to reference about why the “Law of Three” is wrong.
Celtic history is one of great passion, especially on the battle field. It was a place that not only did the warriors fight but also the magic users. Druids and shamans are often seen there, adding their spells and magic in an attempt to sway the tide in their tribe’s favor. The gods too took an active part.
And yet there is very little mention that when a shaman cursed a foe, or made magic to affect the battle against their foes, that their magic rebounded back on them. Especially not in a three times way. If they were not affected, then why would a shaman of today be faced with such a restriction?
There are clear times when people try to do you wrong, and just as skill at arms or intellectual prowess is useful to protect yourself, so too is any magical knowledge you might have. I doubt a war goddess like the Morrigan would look kindly on you for neglecting a sword in your belt just to appear virtuous.
Not that there are not spirits out there who wouldn’t want you to only do pacifistic good.
Weber makes the distinction that it is not the intent of the magic working which causes problems but the underlying issues that the magical practitioner has and has not worked to address.
She likens your mental state to a large concrete room.
In that room are the issues and problems you still have. Are you taking care of your body and mind? Plenty of rest and healthy food? Are you being a good friend to your companions and family? Do you address wrongs you have committed in the past and try to not do harm in the present? Any and all of these can leave clutter in the room of your mind.
And as a magic user, even more importantly, how is your spiritual center?
Are you right by the patrons and allies you work with, or do you neglect or even abuse those relationships? How heavy is your walk on the natural world and your conduct towards the animal, plant and earth realms?
All of this kind of mental and physic clutter will affect the way the forces of magic and the actions of the Spirits have in your life. A life that is balanced and in harmony, is like a concrete room that is bare, well sweep and clean. An unbalanced life though, fills that concrete room with distractions and misdirections.
Magic and the power that Spirits have is like Fire.
Fire is a tool.
It can be a warm fireplace on a Winter night or it can be a hot raging bonfire. Fire can be the gentle flame of a candle, or the spark which burns down your home.
Fire has no morals. When properly handled it can do useful work. When treated without respect, it can do great damage and harm.
Magic is like fire in that concrete room of your mind.
In an uncluttered room, it can be managed well. Magic like a fire tends to throw off sparks at times. In a clean room, those sparks tend to quickly go out and do no harm. The fire in a clean room is there to be put to useful work and purpose.
In a cluttered room, those scattered sparks have a chance to catch and find fuel. Quickly they can grow and spread, and soon they can overwhelm the useful work you are trying to do. The magic goes off track, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Even well intentioned spells can misfire when you have an unbalanced life. Intent, a magic user’s most important tool, can go off course and cause results you don’t expect or don’t want.
Add to that is the fact that Spirits, especially the more powerful ones like those we would call deities, sometimes have real difficulty understanding humans. Even the ones that love humans. They hear what we say we want, but under that intent are distractions. If you have issues yet unresolved, I can see how perhaps a spirit would wonder if what we say isn’t exactly what we want.
What many have seen then as a response the “Law of Three”, is then not a wrong response to a selfish or evil purpose but a proper response to a desire we didn’t realize we had.
Those of you who decide to walk the dark path of the occult realms, need first to know yourself well and work to make yourself better.
The pandemic threw my plans for a loop back in January. Everything including my further study of shamanism took a back seat to making sure my extended family and I got ready for the disruption and then survived it.
The virus did surprise me. I expected based on early information that the pandemic would be much worse than it was, though the recent reemergence looks pretty bad.
One good thing, long hours of introspection has refocused me and I’m ready to begin my journey again. I hope to begin posting here each Monday, so check back then.
It is important things for everyone, not just shamans, is having some order to your life. There is just too much chaos out there, even worse than a few years ago. Very few people can live in a whirlwind.
We are heading into a “Grand Mutation” later in the year. This is according to John Michael Greer, who wrote the book “Green Wizardry” which my other side is based on. Along with being a druid, he is also an astrologer.
“It’s not just you. The energies are definitely in flux. I’ve made certain changes in my practices over the last year, mostly intended to make use of the changing energies for the sake of my own self-transformative work, and I know other people who’ve had to do the same. Astrologically speaking, we’re about to have a Grand Mutation — a shift of the cycle of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions into a new element, from Earth to Air — and in traditional mundane astrology that was seen as a major turning point, the end of one era and the beginning of another (The last one was in 1842, and brought in what we might as well call the modern world; the upcoming one will be on this year’s winter solstice; the one following won’t be until 2219.)”
Time to get a little order in your personal life then.
One of the things I’ve begun doing to promote order in my Life is while having my first couple of cups of coffee in the morning, to take time and read from my small library of occult and Craft books. I’ve been neglecting my studies.
I live in a rented duplex, whose driveway leads up to my front door. I have a chair where I can sit and look out that door. I usually toss bird seed, mixed with cat food out first thing. The smaller birds like the seed and my neighborhood murder of covids (crows and starlings) have developed a taste for cat food. They also know when I do it, and are on the electrical wires awaiting me.
I work with a local animal shelter and currently have several foster cats in my home. They like to sit at the door and watch the birds eat.
This morning I choose to read from Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova’s book “Neolithic Shamanism”. Its one of my recommended craft books and one that I go back to a lot. I had planned on reading about the herb Mugwort, since I’ve been using it lately as a purifying smudge. Mugwort is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, plant spirits and can be a powerful ally. Grandmother is a little difficult to work with, since she is happy to let you make your mistakes. She has the attitude that failing at something, is often the best teacher.
Instead, I ended up reading about the World Tree Yggdrasil and the squirrel Ratatoskr. There is a huge tree directly across the street from my home, which always reminds me of Yggdrasil. Ratatoskr is one of the three animals who reside in Yggdrasil. The other two are Vedrfolnir, an eagle who lives in the branches above, and Nidhogg, a dragon which lives in the roots below. Ratatoskr lives on the trunk and among the branches and carries messages (and sometimes insults) back and forth between the two.
(The World Tree’s name is pronounced “Ig-Dra-Sil”, the Ygg is like the “ig” in pig.)
As I was meditation on that, the cats sitting in front of the screen door became agitated as they do when a bird or squirrel are close to the house but out of my view. I’d had small birds and some starlings eating, as well as a male cardinal.
To my surprise, a rat ran out from in front of the concrete step at my door. It grabbed a piece of cat food and ran back. As I sat there the rat did this several times.
Now having a rat in the neighborhood is not unusual. I have a small garden at the side of the house and where there is a garden you can have small animals. Rabbits and squirrels are common but rats are showing up more and more. Enough that internet articles on how to deal with them have appeared.
Rats, like squirrels, are prey animals for a host of predators and because of that they have evolved over the millennium to be smart, swift and crafty, watching their environment constantly. Nothing ruins your day like getting eaten. They are very intelligent, a trait which makes them great lab animals. Rats in a maze is a recognition that they know how to get out of a difficult situation.
If Rat comes into your Life, it may be time to look at the dangers in your Life you haven’t been watching out for. Is there something in the background that you have been ignoring. A situation that has you stymied. Someone who might have eyes on you in a harmful way. Time to look around and use your wit and intelligence to find a way out.
Rats are also great adventurers, knowing all the little places to hide and the good places for food and shelter. European rats colonized the New World right along side the first Europeans. Asian rats did the same from their side of the World. Consider what kind of skill it would take to crawl up the anchor rope of an early sailing ship, hide among the bales and bundles of the hold, coming out only when it was dark and the crew was asleep to eat a little food here and there. For weeks you hide and avoid being seen and when the ship arrives in a far off land, you scurry out along the anchor rope to begin your adventure again.
If Rat has appeared in your Life, he may be saying its time to expand your horizons. Time to leave the nest and seek your fortune beyond. Perhaps you have been a bit complacent lately. Get off your butt and explore.
Rats are also considered signs of abundance and fertility. They have been with humans from the first farmer’s huts. When the harvest is plentiful, then rats will breed and multiply. A female rat can have many litters over the course of a year. Some of her young won’t survive birth, some will be eaten by predators or even her own kind, but a few will live and go on to spread their species.
If Rat has appeared in your Life it may be time to review the abundance in your Life and how you can contribute to your Family or your Community. Rat does not hoard, and you should not either.
If times have been tough and the bounty scarce then perhaps you should see where you can join forces with those around you to seek what you need. Rats are not choosy, they use what ever the World offers them. And if nothing is offered, then rats go out and find it.
The Spirit of Rat marks new beginnings. Time to let loose of the clutter in your Life and embrace change.
Final Note: I’ve not seen the rat since that first day. Not surprising because I’ve been leaving food for her at the entrance to the spaces below my front step, so she doesn’t need to venture out during the day. I suspect its a female, with a litter of young. That’s why she ventured out that first day. I have to be careful, since if the neighbor sees her, they will call the landlord and he will put out poison. Rat though will survive.
Recently I’ve noticed that my Patron Grandmother Spirit has been upset with me. Looking back at it I can understand.
See Grandmother Spider came back into my life last Fall when I began rediscovering shamanism and the occult practices I’d let slide years ago. She appeared as a small white spider in my shower, who made a web and a home in one corner of my bathroom window. White spiders being the sign of rebirth.
I began tossing bugs into her web at first as a bit of a “hey, that’s cool” and then later as I progressed in my reacquaintance with shaman studies, I realized she was coming back into my Life.
It was also about this time I realized that Christianity was not longer filling the role it should for me. After some study and reflection I decided to see if I could establish a relationship with the ancient goddess Hecate.
I also decided that with the amount of cat related energy in my life, volunteering as I do at a local animal shelter and having now 4 fosters in my home, that veneration of the Egyptian goddess Bast was due.
I set up a small place of worship in my bedroom for both of these goddesses as well as a place for Grandmother Mugwort, since I was using her extensively as a protective incense during my studies.
The thing is you shouldn’t neglect your old partners for your new one, and that’s what I did.
The spider in my shower I had moved to a small habitat, and into my office on a shelf. And yet I was not giving her the respect I should have been doing, just going through the motions of finding bugs to offer her.
A week or more back, my spider avatar stopped eating my offerings. I would drop them into her webs and she would ignore them til they wiggled loose and dropped to the floor of her habitat.
This week I made her a true altar.
I’d never created a place of worship and veneration for any of the spirits I have been working with before. I should. That’s part of the agreement you make with them. Its a way to show respect.
I managed to find a good file of the picture I put up in my earlier post on avatars and patrons, and had it printed and framed.
I have a good sized bookcase that the habitat had been sitting on, but next to it I had an old printer I wasn’t using. Not the best veneration to your oldest patron, was it. I cleaned the bookcase up, and repositioned it, then put my occult books on it as a library.
I wanted a nice table cloth to go under the various items and on Friday stopped by a large local antique mall. Those places are good because if you walk them with respect and intent, opening your senses you never know what you might find.
I went in looking for a nice linen table cloth and found a knit crochet piece instead. It was among a whole bunch of other ones. Notice it was knitted in a pattern almost in the image of a spider on a web. Eight being the number of Spider.
The little blue candle holder was a really nice piece too. It holds the small tea candles well. I need to find something appropriate for incense, for now I’ve been burning a candle in the evening when I’m in my office.
Monday I’m going to a rock shop I know of and seeing if I can find a piece of polished amber which contains a spider. There are many of them millions of years old. I want something special. My way of apologizing to my first Patron.
Remember, don’t neglect the spirits that have your back.
In my last week’s post on Spirit Ecology, I discussed how I personally categorize the way I deal with the spirits in my Life. Its a good foundation for dealing with the various spirits you will be running into as a shaman.
I was going to post the next in the series on “Energy Work” but decided I wanted to do a follow up on Spirit Ecology instead. There were several points, which I was originally planning to add and discuss but didn’t, preferring to focus just on the basics first.
Also Greer has had a particularly interesting thread come up on the subject of “Porn and Demons”, first on his “Magic Mondays” on his Dreamwidth account and followed up on this week’s Ecosophia post which discusses spirits.
First some additional points on my post.
Do I have to have Allies or Patrons?
No you don’t.
A shaman can simply work with spirits as Servants and maintain a very transactional relationship with them to accomplish most of the things you want done.
If you do that though I believe you are missing out on the universe of experiences which comes from having a more personal relationship with spirits. Not having spirit Allies, is kind of like hiring a brilliant concert pianist for your wedding and asking them to do cover tunes. Or driving a race car around a track in just second gear.
You will find that there are spirits you return to on a regular basis for help and knowledge. Limiting your interaction with them to just “payment for services” would seem like a safe option and yet, humans are social animals.
So are spirits.
And having a spirit as an Ally and as a friend offers immeasurable benefits. And responsibilities but then that’s the nature of friendship, isn’t it.
Having a Patron, or seeking out one is not something everyone should do though. I would argue that most newer shamans should not do it. A Patron comes with rules and obligations. Until you are certain that you are ready for such a relationship AND are willing to commit to it for a long time, don’t do it.
Unless you are truly called, powerful spirits will readily work with you as long as you approach them with respect and honor their preferences.
Avatars versus Individuals:
You might have caught a subtle difference in my original post when it came to spirits. Some spirits seem to be the personification of a collective group of entities and some seem to be individuals.
Bear, Owl and Grandmother Mugwort are all spirits which represent the collective of their species. When I work with an individual Mugwort plant in my garden, and offer prayers to its health, I don’t think that individual plant as the spirit of Mugwort. Instead I think of my plant as just one part of a huge whole that is the spirit of Mugwort.
The small spider living in my office with me, is not Grandmother Spider. It is just a small part of the collective spirit which IS her and that allows me to show my appreciation for her protection.
Honestly I’m not sure just how spirits come into being, how they organize or how they come to have places of influence and become individuals. I just know they do.
Now the nations of spirits like the Djinn are spirits who have a family, they have a collective and yet they are individuals. There are times you will deal with just one member and at times, have to deal with them as a whole.
Some individual spirits take residence in places like forests, lakes or even waterfalls. When you need help at a specific location, it helps to see if that place has such a guardian.
And sometimes spirits survive so long they become great powers.
ADDED: Greer had an interesting idea on this week’s Ecosophia comments, that avatar’s of species is an office not an individual.
Much like Tim Allen assumes the role of Santa upon the death of the previous office holder in the movie series “The Santa Clause”, Greer proposes that from time to time the spirit who is the avatar of Bear, Owl or Mugwort moves on and another spirit, perhaps from that time and culture, is picked to fill the office.
That would make much sense. Hecate who began as a Asia Minor hearth goddess, moved on into Greece and the Roman pantheons. Perhaps each time she moved into a larger role, her current spirit left and a new one took her office.
The Truth Behind The Legends:
Once you feel you are getting the attention of a major deity or species avatar as an Ally or a Patron, you will want to spend some time reading the popular legends and myth of that spirit.
Remember something, all the bits of a myth or a legend began as just what one person found when they interacted with that spirit. They told someone else about the experience, who told someone else. At some point another person had an experience with the same spirit and added their information to the growing body of legend.
Your interaction may be different. No, your interaction WILL be different to some degree. Spirits interact with each of us as individuals and as such may take on different aspects and characteristics, some of them unique to just you.
Have respect for how others see a spirit or practice their veneration to that spirit. Just because a spirit asks one person to make offerings of A and ask you to make offerings of B, doesn’t make either of you wrong.
Can I be a Christian (or Scientist) and still a Shaman?
Short answer is yes.
The longer answer is that religion and science both tend to feel they get to controls all the facets of Life when they really just deal with one of them. Greer discussed this:
The difficulty here is that the universe doesn’t just consist of material and spiritual worlds; there are realms between those two. Science is the appropriate way to understand things of the material world, and religion is the appropriate way to understand things of the spiritual world…but the world between these, the world that occultists divide into etheric, astral, and mental planes, is not well addressed by either science or religion.
That’s where occultism comes into its own. Occultism isn’t a religion, and it’s also not a science (in the modern sense of that latter word); it’s the collected body of knowledge and practice for understanding and dealing with the middle world I’ve just sketched out. It’s just as possible to be an occultist and a Christian at the same time as it is to be a scientist and a Christian at the same time, and it’s really unfortunate that so many Christians aren’t willing to consider that even as a possibility — even though there are plenty of examples of Christian occultists in the past and present alike.”
You can be a very knowledgeable scientist who looks at the Universe as a machine and yet go to Church and accept the wonder and the unknowingness that religion preaches. Try and separate the dogma of both science and religion, but remember that they both are jealousy mistresses.
The occult practices, like shamanism, exists in the third realm between these two, and tries to answer questions from that point of view. They don’t have to conflict unless you want them to.
How Can I Find My Spiritual Allies?
The method I originally used to guide me to spirits who might be open to helping me was a type of divination.
In the mid 1980s when I was first studying shamanism of the Native American variety, I ran across Jamie Sam’s book “Scared Path Cards : The Discovery of Self Through Native Teachings”. It was a set of divination cards but ones that used a Native American motif.
Later Jamie Sams with David Carson would create a second deck of cards, “Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals”. Unlike traditional divination decks, the cards were each of an individual animal who had some significance in Native teachings.
The book included several layouts for different divinations, including one which was meant to help you identify the spirit animal who was sitting in a particular area of your Life. I think that was the first deck to use animals like that, in a divinational role.
Now, as an quick observation, I’ve gone with friends to several Physic Fairs in my Life. Most include at least 2 or 3 people doing past life regressions. I always wondered why, when someone has a regression, their past life ends up being someone famous?
Why no scullery maids or pig farmers?
Sometimes, when I read the Internet blogs or watch the Youtube videos which discuss their Spirit Animals, it seems the same. People have the well known ones, of Eagle or Wolf, and not the minor ones like Ground Hog or Bass.
Yes, my two current spirit Allies are both well known Native spirits but my original divination with the Medicine Cards included others less well known. I also had Turkey, Grouse, Moose, Rabbit and Deer as well as a few more well known like Hawk and Buffalo.
Its ok to be ordinary sometimes, there is power in the under brush too.
A quick look at Amazon shows many more books and divination decks which use animal spirits now, so take your time, review them. See if you can’t get to a occult shop and look at them. Find one deck which speaks to you and try it.
Though don’t over look what the Signs are telling you too. Look at what animals you keep seeing in your own life.
I would also highly recommend the book “Neolithic Shamanism” by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova. They expand the field of spirits that you might want to work with tremendously, discussing both the major Spirits of Sun and Moon (which differ from gods with a solar or lunar aspect), the Elemental Spirits like Fire, Earth, Water and Air, as well as our Ancestral Spirits, who are important in their own way.
Their writing introduced me to the green wrights of the plant world, which Mugwort is among. They are powerful and ancient.
Why Do Spirits Help Us?
Short answer, I don’t know.
Longer answer, I suspect that the act of venerating them by us, feeds them in some way, (see the next section) but I’m sure its more than that.
I volunteer at an animal shelter here in St Louis. We take in cats and dogs who are found on the street, abandoned or whose owners can no longer care for them. Why do I do this when it costs me time and money to do it, and you could argue doesn’t benefit me?
That I like these animals and want to see them cared for and eventually to find new homes is a big part of it. I suspect that for the spirits who help humans and shamans, its something of the same. They like us and want to see us succeed and do better with our Lives.
Are Some Spirits Evil?
Depends on what you mean by evil. Again from Greer:
“A great deal of Christianity remains stuck in a quasi-dualist worldview in which every spiritual entity is either an angel or a demon — that is, either a servant or an opponent of the Christian god. That impressively narrow view isn’t the worldview of classic occultism (and it’s not well supported by the data from human spiritual experience worldwide, either). To occultists, the cosmos is full of a vast profusion of spiritual beings, most of which are serenely uninterested in human beings and their concerns.
In the cosmos, there are certain beings who, under some circumstances, prey on human beings. Are they all servants of One Big Bad Guy? No. As Eliphas Levi pointed out a long time ago, unity is a divine characteristic, and the most notable common factor of the patterns of behavior we call “evil” is that they conflict with one another. So instead of a Satanic “Lowerarchy,” in C.S. Lewis’ phrase, that end of the realm of spirits is a vast penumbra of vague, quarreling, dissentient beings pursuing their conflicting goals at each others’ expense — and occasionally at ours.”
He goes on to explain:
“Malign spiritual entities tend to be attracted to one of two broad patterns of consciousness and behavior, which Rudolf Steiner called “Ahrimanic” and “Luciferic” respectively. Ahrimanic evil is the kind that focuses on mindless wallowing in sensory cravings. Luciferic evil is the kind that focuses on glorifying the ego at everyone else’s expense. It’s very common for people to fall into one in the course of rejecting the other — thus, for example, a lot of the people who are quick to condemn sexual excess (an Ahrimamic habit) are basking in the imagined glory of their own superior virtue (a Luciferic habit).”
So yes there are spirits out there who can harm you. No, they aren’t doing it to be “evil”, no more than when I eat a steak I’m being evil to that cow. Though the cow clearly gets the raw end of the deal.
That there are spirits out there whose interactions with us can be harmful, is one of the big reasons I believe a shaman needs an Ally or two. That more intimate relationship can be a source of protection for you. There’s someone out there watching your back.
When we get to the “Working With Energy” section on shielding, we will discuss some ways to protect yourself from such spirits. In the mean time, read this thread by Greer:
It is tempting when discussing the subject of Spirits to begin with the most basics of questions: Do they exist and how did they come to be?
Those two questions have filled hours upon hours of discussion, and made for literally libraries of books and papers. Its led to arguments, fights and even wars between people with different opinions on these questions.
Are these the important questions though?
I have very little idea of just what “gravity” IS. I’ve read scientific papers and research by many people with much more learning than I. All seem to claim some truth and yet they all differ.
Though I don’t need to understand what gravity is, nor where it comes from to work with its effects and use it to make something happen, do I?
Humans have a long history of practical knowledge of how to use something, while not knowing just what that something is. We sailed the oceans without understanding the atmospheric forces which created those winds. Shamans are like those old seafarers. We watch and learn the ways of our occult oceans, study them when they are calm and when they are angry. Sometimes we pray for their help and sometimes we get it. Sometimes we don’t.
The beings that make up the many spirit realms are like gravity for a shaman. The “why and how” they exist, are less important as the fact that they indeed “do exist”.
Remember my earlier definition of what a shaman is: “Someone who specifically communicates with the Spirits. Who learns what the Spirits want from us, learns how the Spirits wish to interact with us and learns how to placate these Spirits and seek their help.”
There is no “why or how” in that definition. They exist. They have rules and they have preferences. They have ways they want us to behave when asking for their help. They have ways they interact with us and ways they would rather we not do.
A shaman needs to learn to accept that and save the academic questions of how and why, for those barbecues with friends on a warm Summer evening. Get drunk and argue how many Spirits can dance on the head of a pin until the Moon comes up. Then in the morning, wake up and get back to practical matters.
When dealing with Spirits, you will find they will interact in your Life in several different yet familiar roles.
Humans are “social animals” and we form relationships. It is perhaps our defining characteristic. Above our courage and our curiosity. We form relationships with each other and we form them with species beyond our own. Ask a person who shares their life with a pet or raises animals for food.
We also form relationships with the Spirits.
Now, I want to step back for a moment and use a real world example to help illustrate the types of relationships I have with Spirits. The example I will use is my past work experience during my Life.
Like many of my age (I’m in my early 60s) I have spent much of my Life working in manufacturing and industry. I have primarily been a skilled machine operator. Means I made things with my hands.
Such work is less common today. We’ve off shored out ability to make things as a Nations, to our loss I believe. We’ve gone from dreaming that “We” could do anything, to a country who says “Welcome to Walmart”.
Still even in the service industry and casual retail, the relationships I have had with my fellow employees is pretty much the same.
My last employment was with a company which sold metal. We handled everything from coat hanger wire to beams of steel used in bridges. We were one of 60 branches, in a much larger company and had about 50 people working there. My job was as a saw operator. Our company would sell full bars of metal but would also custom cut those bars to a required length if you wanted.
The primary relationship was between me as an employee and someone else who held a supervisory role, who was in a dominate role and whose decisions affected me. I was lucky, especially in my last job, in that I had a friendly relationship with the two people who were my immediate supervisor and his boss, our Plant Manager. We even went out for food and beer as a group sometimes.
That familiarity though didn’t mean I thought we were on the same level of power and interaction. I knew that if either of them told me to do something, then I was supposed to do it. True, I would often disagree and tell them why I thought their command wasn’t going to accomplish what they wanted. Still they had the final word on it.
Then there were other people, fellow employees who I had a inter-connective relationship with. How they worked directly affected my own work. A good example was the other saw operator James. He and I worked third shift together. We would interact and work together in a way that would assist us each and get our commonly required jobs done. We also developed a good solid personal relationship as well.
Beyond James, there were two other people who worked directly with me. One person who ran a forklift to retrieve the material we both would cut, and return it to storage when I was done. A second person was responsible for packaging up our finished product and getting it to the truck area for that night’s loading.
Those two I most directly worked with but we had a more top/down relationship. They serviced my needs. We had another 6-8 people on that shift who would handled the truck loading. My interaction with them was mostly incidental and more along the line of me providing them with things to load.
That was what I would call my “Work Ecology”.
There was a fourth category of people in that ecology, the people who also worked at our branch, but did so on first and second shift, as well as the sales staff and secretaries. They are the ones you barely interact with.
Much like most spirits.
Just as I had people I worked with in various capacities, as a shaman I have a “Spirit Ecology” too.
For our purposes of discussion on this blog going forward, I will categorize the spirits I work with regularly as falling into three main categories; Servants. Allies and Patrons.
There is a fourth, which are the many spirits in the World who I will never interact with and who don’t really want to interact with humans either.
(There is a fifth category, of spirits who interact with me but in a unhealthy way. We’ll talk about that category another time.)
This isn’t meant to imply that the spirits themselves recognize these categories, just that much like my earlier post on “What is Shamanism”, establishing a common framework of concepts between you the reader and I the writer on the categories of occult workers, will make discussing more complicated ideas easier and more clear.
For the rest of this post I will talk about the roles each category has and how a shaman interacts with each.
At the most casual level, there are spirits who a shaman will interact with who do things for you, like my forklift operator or packager. I call these spirits “Servants”.
When talking about magical servants, probably the most well known spirit that comes to mind are the Djinn.
From Barbara Eden’s character in “I Dream of Genie” to the recent movie “Aladdin”, the Djinn have become synonymous with spiritual servants capable of giving people their fondest desires and wishes. The real story about this spirit and its kind is much more complicated than that.
Notice I use the word servant and not slave.
Slaves don’t get paid, but Servants do. And have an attitude to boot. Anyone who has watched the BBC drama “Downton Abbey” knows you piss off the servants at your peril. Unhappy servants may just up and leave at the worse moment. Angry servants can do much worse. They know your secrets.
Spirits, while they can be compelled and even forced to do things by someone skilled and powerful enough, have a long memory. Don’t ever get on the bad side of a spirit if you can possibly avoid it. Its much better to establish a cordial relationship with the spirits you work with.
(We will though discuss what to do if you do end up pissing off a spirit in another blog post. Its ugly and dangerous but can be handled if you keep your head.)
A better example for this type of relationship would be the Spirit of Squirrel as Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova talk about in their book “Neolithic Shamanism”, which I highly recommend for your library and the way that a shaman may interact with spirits.
In Norse mythology, the Great World Tree Yggdrasil is managed by three animal spirits, Eagle at the top, a Dragon at the bottom and in the middle a Squirrel named Ratatosk, whose job it was to take messages back and forth between the two and among the other residents of the Nine Worlds. Ratatosk in his journeys has learned the nooks and crannies, the paths both obvious and hidden among the branches. He knows and he notices.
So a shaman who needs to find something hidden might then petition Ratakosk with offerings of nuts and fruit, to see if he would lend his skill.
(The methods of petitioning spirits is a subject for a whole series of post.)
Other spirits are known for different skills and abilities. Knowing which ones to approach is important. Also, remember even a minor spirit, if their dominion fits your needs can become very important. And a powerful spirit once worshiped as a god, might be needed rarely and treated as a servant but with huge respect.
I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Judika Illes’ “Encyclopedia of Spirits” and adding it to your library. Its a huge volume of over 1000 pages and covers many of the spirits that are open to interacting with humans, their history and lineage, as well as things they like and ways to approach them.
An active shaman may have many spirits which they interact with on the occasional basis. That relationship will probably be very transactional. You have a job and need their help just for that job. That’s fine with spirits. They are old and wise and have seen us humans come and go. As long as we treat them with respect, they are fine with that.
Though if you find yourself returning to a certain spirit, developing a relationship beyond the one night stand, then you may want to take it further.
Just as I had a interdependent relationship with James, the other saw operator at my previous employer, which was both work related as well as personal, I have several spirits who I have similar relationships with.
I call these spirits my “Allies”.
The interaction I have with these spirits goes beyond the mere transactional nature that I have with spirits like Squirrel, into a more deeper and meaningful relationship. At times, I ask for favors unable to pay. At others, I make offerings while having not asked for anything in the recent past.
It reminds me of a good friend and our monthly lunches. We may pretend to keep track of whose turn it is to pay but not with any seriousness.
I have two spirits who have been with me from my first journey into shamanism in the late 80s. I have a third Ally I have recently approached and who I’m just beginning to work with. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t. That is the way of such things.
The first of my Allies is Bear. He is the protector of my Male side, carrying my courage and warrior spirit.
Now for a long while Bear was in the background of my life as I neglected my shamanism studies but a few years back as I began to re-look at them, he returned in the form of a small stuffed animal found laying in a store parking lot. He seemed to know I was again in need of guidance. Now he sits on the dash board of my car and protects me when I’m out and in the World.
(Yes, Spirits can come into your Life in very strange ways.)
Bear is there to teach the power of Introspection. How to take all the knowledge and experiences you have gotten this past year and then seek the quiet of the Sacred Cave to learn from it. To accomplish the goals and dreams we have, you have to learn to be quiet.
The Sacred Cave is the entrance to the Dream Lodge and the Vision Quest. It is there that the shaman journeys to Realms of the Spirits, the Lower World and the Upper World as well as to the many others states of consciousness.
Remember though, Viking Berserkers looked to Bear as an ally. Bear can be fierce and fight without worrying about the consequences to themselves or their enemies. A good ally, a dangerous enemy.
My second old Ally is Owl.
Now don’t think the order I post them implies one is more important than the other. Both spirits are of equal respect and utility.
Unlike Bear’s recent humorous return, Owl came into my life in a more traditional way, with the gift of her body and her feathers. During a trip to Texas in the mid 80s, I came across an dead owl on the side of the road. Birds, especially night birds like owls, can confuse the glare of on coming headlights for prey, swoop down and then be hit and killed.
By “dropping her robe” as she did, Owl said quite loudly “I am going to be in your Life now.”
Owl teaches how to see the unseen and the truths people wish to keep hidden. With her as an Ally, its hard for you to be deceived. You can seem to have a special ability to know a person better than they do themselves.
Those who walk in the night and along the out of the way places, like witches and shamans are often protected by Owl. Remember she is a mighty predator and travels the places others won’t. She can see clearly even in the darkest night as her feathers silently carry her to her prey.
One of those feathers is on the bush hat I wear sometimes, in a place of honor and respect. I am reminded of her power every time I see it.
She is the “Night Eagle”.
Quick Note: Yes, many spirits are usually either male or female. While all spirits are shape shifters, they do tend to have preferences in the way they present themselves to humans. And the more well known ones, have a long history and lineage. If you have a spirit come to you out of the blue, still be prepared to spend a lot of time learning about them.
If you are trying to establish a relationship with a spirit on your own uninvited, be doubly prepared to spend the time and effort to learn their ways.
When first starting out, people often focus just on the animal spirits or the higher ones, which were worshiped in the past as gods. They shouldn’t. Spirits are in everything. The mountains and the rivers, the forests and the lakes. And especially plants and trees.
One of the oldest of plants is Grandmother Mugwort.
(You will often find that shamans add honorifics, like grandfather or grandmother to especially old spirits. Very important ones, like the Sun and the Moon, will be addressed as Father or Mother. Spirits are our family and you should treat them as such.)
Mugwort is of the family Artemisia, which includes a wide variety of perennial (they grow back next year) plants, who are aromatic (smells highly) and who have a wide variety of uses for humans, from culinary to medicinal. Her relationship with humans is ancient.
Shamans on every continent have learned that plants of this family, when burned will clear away negative energy. They bless a space and make it sacred. They are often used as incense and smudges.
The honorific Grandmother is not out of place for this spirit. She is lunar, of feminine nature but one of immense age. Imagine an old fashion housefrau, armed with her formidable broom, sweeping out the bad energy from the space you want to work in. And like that grandmother, not one you would want to cross but having seen it all, she will often let you make your own mistakes.
Useful for shamans, teas made from this herb can bring about vivid and prophetic dreams.
Mugwort seems to be a spirit which is open to relationships, though rare of really personal ones. As a protective spirits, she’s one that I thought would be better as a Ally and so I’m working at that.
Those are the three I have at the moment.
Entering into a relationship with a spirit who becomes your Patron is perhaps one of the most intimate and personal things you will do as a shaman. Beyond the kind you will have with a life partner or spouse. You can always keep secrets from a wife or husband. With the Spirits there are no secrets. They will know you like no other.
Most of the time, you do not seek out a spirit to be a patron. They find you and claim you for their own.
For those of us not chosen this way, its on us. I liken it to a seduction but that wouldn’t describe the true courtship that happens. Those of us not chosen, can develop deep relationships with spirits but it takes time and hard work.
My only current Patron and one I love dearly is Grandmother Spider.
Native Americans say that she taught humans writing and letters with her web. She was there at the beginning. As a writer of many decades, when I reach a point I can’t write, I pray to her for inspiration. She is behind me when I type and whispers in my ear as I fall asleep.
She is my constant Companion.
Grandmother Spider gave humans weaving as well. Before that our ancestors wore furs and skins. Clothing perhaps in a way made our civilization happen. We do like getting dressed up, lol.
When I sew, infrequently now, her hands guide mine.
On a bigger picture, her body represents the concept of Infinity, the hourglass of Time and Space.
As my Patron, Grandmother Spider reappeared to me this Summer. I noticed while taking my morning shower, a small spider had taken up residence in a nook of my bathroom window. I offered her insects.
She grew bigger.
As best as I can tell, she is a variety of the North American yellow sack spider. A common household spider which feeds on small insects and doesn’t harm humans unless we accidentally intrude on her space and even then her bite doesn’t do much more than a tiny bit of pain. They have evolved to live among us.
In the Fall, when it began to get colder, I bought a small habitat at a pet store, a plastic aquarium tree and black pebbles for the floor. With respect I asked her to move to a new home.
Several times a night I offer her small insects I find in my home. Often they fall right through her web. Sometimes they stick but then get loose. Sometimes she ignores them entirely. About once every 5-6 days she accepts my offerings and eats.
She is my Patron and gives me her protection and her wisdom.
I have two other spirits, old and wise which I’ve begun approaching recently.
One is Bast, the Egyptian goddess of cats. I’ve had a cat companion before and recently after her death, began volunteering at a local pet shelter. At the moment I have three foster cats, and am praying to Bast for all the help I can get to help them find their forever home.
The second is Hecate and she deserves a blog post just on her alone.
Whether these two will end up being a Patron or just Allies will be seen.