I have a little story to tell.

Last week, my son had to go under general anesthesia. After his first dental work, he developed a total fear of the dentist. So despite the fact that he had only minor work to be done, anesthesia ended being the final option. We looked to every possible option and it really came down to that. As an occupational therapist, I had seen plenty of surgeries gone very wrong, so naturally I was worried.

After he had gone under, I went back to the waiting room, surrounded by all the other parents who had children in there. I had read somewhere (though I looked, I couldn’t find where I had read it) that soul loss can happen during general anesthesia. Shamans use soul retrieval techniques to find missing pieces of people’s souls that can happen during trauma or soul theft. I have taken a number of workshops in shamanism, but I had no idea how to do a soul retrieval. But this was my son and I was going to do whatever it took.

I sat cross-legged on my chair in the waiting room and closed my eyes. The other parents probably wondered what the heck I was doing, but I so didn’t care. It was my job to protect my little guy. I journeyed out into the middle world. I ‘got up’ and walked right through the wall to my son’s bedside. I called my guides, I talked to him, I surrounded him with a bubble so that his soul would stay close by. I guarded without pause to make sure that no pieces of his soul wandered off.

Then, in an instant, my focus broke and I was back in the waiting room. The connection was completely severed and though I tried and tried to get back in there, I just kept bouncing right out. What was going on?

Then I understood. They had just taken him out of the anesthesia! And as I realized that, the dentist came out and told us they had moved him to recovery.

Everything went well and he woke up without problems. Relief all around.

The reason I am writing this is that we are taught to fear, to not trust our deepest instincts, to surrender control to those who know best, to follow the Establishment. I didn’t know how to do a soul retrieval. And yet, I KNEW! I knew how to protect my son. And I did! I just went deep inside and did what I thought was the right thing despite what might have looked completely crazy to all those other parents. It wasn’t crazy or irrational. The fact that I knew when it was over confirmed to me how real this power was.

You must understand that I am probably the most normal person around (well, at least, I think so….) I’ve been involved in magic and paganism for over 15 years. But I I imagine dress like a hippie, own an occult store of some kind, do Tarot consultations and workshops for a living, etc…. It is not what my life is like at all. I am the person you sit next to on the bus. I work my day job, manage my business, get my kids to school… My day to day is no different from yours.

I need to repeat this: I am no different from you.

That night, I felt greatness fill my whole being. I felt like I had honored my sacred duty to do what was right and not to follow blindly what was being told to me. I took my own power back. I had power to help my son, a power which was irrational to most and I used it. I left the doubt behind and reached within to find that power. There are many in this world who would have us believe that we are powerless, that someone else knows better. But our power is infinite, beyond belief. Your power is infinite beyond belief. You KNOW what needs to be done and how to do it. I am not just talking about magic. Magic is just a technique. What matters most is believing, reading the signs of the times, seeing what the universe is telling YOU.

May this full moon bring you a taste of this greatness that is within yourself. Blessed be!

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My children’s birthdays have become a rite of passage as much for them as for myself. After all, the years roll for all of us whether we wish it or not. But the day where I became a mother is without question the biggest rite of passage of my life. It will probably have no equal other than the Great Passage that will occur when my earthly days end.

My dearest boy, my first born, turned 6 years old today. It is always emotional for me, not only because he is getting older, but because of how this symbolizes my own birthing into motherhood. For someone like me who was always deeply involved in thought and meditation, motherhood opened me up to the new realm of deep and overwhelming emotion. By becoming a mother, I learned to feel. It taught me compassion and fear and love and amazement.

Yesterday, we did the socially required ritual of the ‘children’s birthday party’: a first for us, I am still just barely recovering. I don’t think I was that stressed on my wedding day!

Tonight, we spent a quiet evening together. After the kids were in bed, I retreated to my room and made an offering to the Almighty for the blessing that is my son. I offered the only present I felt appropriate for the birth a firstborn son: frankincense and myrrh. I thanked my Lord for granting me such a precious ward and the Great Mother for keeping us in her care.

I digressed a bit. Let’s get back to our study group and ritual design.

 

Now that you did all your preliminary introduction (quarter calls, circle casting and deity invocation), you are ready to get to what you really set up for: your main rite. There are two main types of events: 1) ritual celebration and 2) magical working.

For a ritual celebration, you are commemorating an event usually associated with the passing of the seasons or a rite of passage. This doesn’t mean that you cannot do magic, but the main goal is not to materialize an intent. It is to bear witness, to sit in sacred space, to celebrate, to worship, give thanks and to receive wisdom. This is usually done on a Sabbat, where we celebrate the passing of the seasons and remember different tales of wisdom from our Traditions. Esbat rituals can also be seen as such, although magical workings are more common because the energy of the moon, either in its full or dark, lends itself to this kind of work. Many public rituals would fall into the category of ritual celebrations. A ritual celebration usually figuratively relates the event that is commemorated. There is a symbolic participation in the re-enactment of this event, either through drama and chanting or through a semi-magical working. One example is to write the things we have harvested over the last year and place it in a cauldron. While we are not necessarily raising energy, we are making a personal offering to the gods as a sign of gratitude. On Samhain, we often draw Tarot cards as a sign of things to come over the year. These are symbolic acts that draw power to ourselves without actively raising and sending out energy.

 

Magical workings are essentially done in solitary or within a familiar group. This implies some form of energy raising and sending to achieve a desired effect. Doing this is difficult in a large group with people of different backgrounds because it requires a common understanding of the energy raising method. That is why it tends to be kept in closed working groups or alone. The important thing is to have a clear intent of what you want to achieve and to symbolically represent it through your personal correspondences. If you are doing a ritual for mental peace, you want to set your altar with items that bring that in. Don’t put all your faith in books of spells. If the color for mental peace is purple for you, don’t go and put a white candle on your altar. This is what makes magic specific. You represent yourself and your intent with your own images. If red roses have a bad connotation for you, don’t include them in a spell for love. Use another herb or flower that triggers that feeling. There are many ways to do this. I recommend starting with a simple ritual and add elements as you go along. And keep records of everything so you can see what works for you and what does not.

 

A simple ritual

Here are a few suggestions of where to start.

1)      After having done your introduction, simply sit and open yourself up to receiving whatever wisdom comes. It may be words, images, feelings.

2)      Pick an intent. Choose a color that matches this intent. Place a candle of this color on your altar. You may choose to anoint it with oil that matches this intent or inscribe symbols or words on the candle. Let it burn down either in one shot or in sections over the next few days.

3)      For a ritual celebration, with Samhain just behind us, divination is a traditional activity. If you have a Tarot deck, pick a card that represents what awaits over the coming year. If you don’t have a Tarot deck, you may let a few drops of ink in a bowl of water or some tea leaves and see what images you pick up.

Enjoy!

Another topic I wanted to come back to was the topic of the altar. I realized part way through my teaching of ritual that I had forgotten to talk about how to set it up.

First off, I would like to make a distinction between an altar and a shrine. Many people use the term altar to relate to both, but I like to make that distinction. An altar is a place, usually a table top, where you perform a rite (magical or otherwise). A shrine is a place that is usually set up on a permanent basis to honor a deity or a tradition. I have a shrine in my living room that honors my tradition, where I put representations of my Lord and Lady, some devotional objects and objects that remind me of my path. When I do a ritual, I will set up a different space, usually the living table or the floor in my office and will use that as an altar. If I use the floor, I usually set up an altar cloth. For the living table, I don’t. Suffice to say that an altar or shrine is very personal and is meant to represent you in the higher spheres. So, it is really your own to build and create.

Now for standard practice: An altar (for ritual), usually has a representation of each element, two candles for your deities and all the tools you will use during your main rite. Everything else is up to you. You may choose a certain color for your altar cloth (or none at all). You may choose certain tools, like an athame (which is a ritual blade) or a wand or a chalice. In Wiccan rituals, the athame and the chalice are standard tools. The blade represents the male element (as a phallic symbol) and the chalice represents the female womb. When both are combined, you get a symbolic Great Rite, a mating of the God and Goddess to produce all there is. It is not a custom that I have gotten used to, but if it feels right, then it is for you. My altars have the simple elements and the candles and whatever I need for my main event. I usually bring the elemental representation with me when I call the Quarters and I leave it in each corner. So essentially all that is left are the candles and the tools for my main event.

Another common practice is the cakes and ale. You may have a chalice of wine (or juice or tea) and a plate of cakes (or bread) to share after your rite is done. This is standard Wiccan practice and it fits quite well in a Christian Pagan practice as well, for obvious reasons.

The important thing is that you feel comfortable and that you have all you need to do your ritual. Witchcraft is a very practical spirituality. So a little hint before you go into it: Don’t forget the matches!

Magic Circle

Image by Rebecca-Lee via Flickr

Casting a circle is a pretty standard way to structure a ritual or a spell. There are many ways to do it and I vary it as inspiration strikes me. There are many reasons for casting a circle: 1) for protection, 2) for delineating sacred space, 3) for moving us from this world into a state of ‘in-between-ness’ with the other world, 4) to contain the energy that we raise so that it is able to build up and be sent to our intended target.

Is a circle always necessary? Not really. A very simple candle spell may not need to have a circle cast if you do not feel that it needs protection or special representation ‘in between’. If the energy is meant to simple spill out from that burning candle, maybe there is no need to contain it. One thing that can be done, on the other hand, is put a circle just around the candle, so that you are free to walk around without disturbing your magic. But I would always cast a circle for a ritual and certainly for any kind of journeying or spell that requires extra security measures.

Casting a circle is a bit of a misnomer. What you are really trying to cast is a sphere or a big energy bubble that surrounds your magical working. It is like the protection spell that the aurors put around Hogwarts in the last installment of Harry Potter.  Again, there are many ways to do this, but in essence it requires two things: 1) ability to visualize (we’ve done this already, right?) and 2) ability to project energy.

 

Exercise in energy projection

Usually, people have one hand that is better at projecting energy (i.e. pushing energy out) and one hand better at receiving energy (i.e. energy coming in). The latter is also known as sensing.  We’ve worked a little bit with energy when we watched our energy field move from one hand to the other.  You should have felt energy vibrate in your hands then, either as warmth, tingling, numbness, etc…

Center and ground, drawing up energy through your roots. Now reach out your hands with palms facing forward. Which hand feels like it wants to shoot out the energy? Which hand feels like it wants to take in energy? You may see your hands move automatically with one pushing forward and the other cupping as if holding something. Test it out and see which one is your receptive hand and which one is your projective hand.

 

Back to casting circles.

Draw up energy and direct it around your space. The most basic circle is to walk around the space with hand outstretched (projective hand) and to leave a trail of energy as you walk. I am giving the example with the hand because it is often the most natural, but you may do it any way you want as long as you direct energy and you are able to feel its presence there. Some people use a specific ritual tool (like a wand or staff). I usually have my hand outstretched towards the floor and also leave a trail through my feet as I walk. At the end of my walk, I lift my hand up and then down, to ensure that the sphere is complete on top and on bottom. Some traditions will have an incantation. You can use sound, Tarot cards, elements, specific visualizations… As long as you direct energy and that that energy stays there. For rituals that need extra protection, I will walk the circle three times around. I have been taught to start my circle casting in the North. I know that some traditions start in the East. As I’ve written before, it is a matter of internal coherence.

Another issue is where to cast the circle. Walking through the circle weakens the energy so you want to avoid unwanted circulation. As I’ve said before, you can cast it only around your candle, which leaves you free to walk around the house as you wish. For a solitary rite, you can walk around your altar leaving enough room to sit in front. For a group ritual, you have options. You can simply surround the group. I feel the smaller the circle is, the more condensed the energy becomes and it is easier to raise energy. So I would not cast an unnecessary large circle. For a public ritual with people of various levels of understanding of ritual etiquette and with lots of ins and outs, I would probably cast to the walls of the room, which leaves enough room for people to circulate while still offering protection and a space between the worlds. For group rituals, there is often a warden who stands outside the circle to monitor the proceedings and to offer assistance in case of emergency. It is also his/her responsibility to test the circle and ensure that it is airtight. He/she would also be in charge of letting people in or out of the circle if needed.

Quarters are called, circle is cast. We are now between the worlds.

Calling quarters refers to the act of inviting entities to supply the ritual with specific life forces. They act as pillars in the four corners and help protect and structure the rite at hand. I use elemental representations to call quarters, as I have been taught:  Earth for north, Air for east, Fire for south and Water for east. I also call the archangels to aid me in my rites: Raphael in the north, Gabriel in the east, Michael in the south and Uriel in the west. I have already discussed at length my choice for assigning these archangels to these positions on a past post called Angels.

Element symbols used by the ancient philosophe...

Image via Wikipedia

Each tradition and working coven will have a standard way of calling quarters. Some witches even start their quarter calls in the East, following the sun axis. My calls may change for specific occasions. What is important in calling quarters is to really invite the element to stand in that specific spot. We have already done the elemental exploration so they should feel familiar. So when you stand in the north, you should feel the musty smell of earth, and the breeze of air and the scorching fire a

nd the spray of the ocean. At times, I did my elemental dances in each corner to summon the essence of

each element. But a standard call for me would be something like this:

 

Hail and welcome, element of Earth, guardian of the gates of the North and hail Raphael, archangel of healing. Pray bring strength and growth to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Air, guardian of the gates of the East and hail Archangel Gabriel, holy messenger. Pray bring inspiration and wisdom to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Fire, guardian of the gates of the South and hail Archangel Michael, holy warrior. Pray bring passion and courage to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Water, guardian of the gates of the West and hail Archangel Uriel, angel of peace. Pray bring love and compassion to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

 

By popular demand, I am now switching from energy work to magic. A lot of my magical work is still very much ingrained into basic witchcraft. But I do incorporate my Christian symbols here and there.
Just a note on the distinction between spell casting and ritual. A spell is a series of steps that symbolically represents your request and sends out your intent. It can also be called folk magic. A ritual incorporates a religious dimension. You usually call spirit protectors/quarters and invoke your deities to assist you in the magic that you are about to do. Both are OK. Depends on your need of the moment.
I’ve listed this before, but here is a little reminder of the steps of a basic ritual.
1)      Cleanse the space and yourself;
2)      Call quarters;
3)      Cast a circle;
4)      Invoke deity;
5)      Perform your rite (spell, celebration, main event…) This usually involves the raising of energy.
6)      Thank your deities;
7)      Thank your quarters;
8)      Take down your circle;
9)      Feast.
Step one: Cleansing
There is a multitude of ways to cleanse space. This was usually left to the level 2 students before public rituals. First and foremost, you have to physically clean the space. For a major ritual, I usually add birch leaves to the water to purify and protect the space, blow on the water in the sign of a cross and then a circle and proceed to washing the floors. For a simpler ritual, I just sweep the floor with a broom. I usually draw up energy from the earth let it flow into the broom, so that a nice wave of energy also removes discordant vibrations at the same time as the dust. Once that is done, I stand in the middle of the room, draw up energy from the earth and let it explode through the room to remove all debris of floating energy. I also like to call up a wave of each of the elements, as each one has a cleansing property.
I then proceed to cleanse myself. I find this to be an important step and often it is not emphasized in books on magic. If energy is to flow through me to achieve something, I have to make sure that I am not carrying anything that will tag on to that energy and distort it somehow. I think it is also one of the meanings of doing ritual skyclad. I have never done this myself, but I see how performing a rite in the nude might have that feeling of leaving everything behind. My way of doing that is through ritual washing. There can be many ways to do this. Depending on the ritual, it might be more or less extensive. Most of the time, like when I am about to read Tarot, I just wash my hands and wrists whispering: “Bless these hands and the work they do.” You can wash with an infusion of herbs that you have chosen, strain the herbs and wash with the water. Remember to let the water cool down before doing this (personal experience…) You can also add these herbs to your bath water and let your body and your mind release all negativity. I have used chamomile, birch, lavender, thyme, and mint. It is truly a glorious experience!
When I am about to do a serious ritual, I perform a more formal preparation. I do my ritual cleansing in the shower. I wash my body, consecrating it to my rite:

Bless these feet that walk your path;
Bless this womb, which springs forth life;
Bless this heart from which love flows;
Bless this voice that sings your praise;
Bless this mind that seeks your truth;
Bless these hands that do your work;
Bless this soul that yearns for you.

After I am dried and dressed, I anoint my feet, my heart, my third eye and my wrists with scented oil, usually myrrh in commemoration of my Lord and Lady. I am then ready to enter sacred space.