Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Journey of the Moon (Title Still Sucks): Part 2 (Post-Katrina)

After a very long cross country car ride with chows in the back seat and everything we had access to in the trunk, we finally arrived in the Northeast…New Jersey, actually, to the home of who would become my Gardnerian High Priestess and later Witch Queen. We spent the night with her and the next morning made it up to Massachusetts. I have to admit, the first couple of months are still some of my most exciting memories of the entire experience. The rocky landscape, the wild European herbs growing alongside the roads, the small fishing towns that look like they were made for Stephen King novels, and the difference in the air and sky were just all new, fantastic experiences. The cute cemeteries, the rocky coastlines, the quaint coffee shops and local pubs, and that the temperature at night went below 80 degrees in September was so exciting. The people, not so much. It was a bit of a culture shock, really. Most folks were very understanding when they heard we were just up from New Orleans and the Katrina thing, but otherwise they were kind of prickly and rude. But I guess that’s the Southerner in me. And don’t get me started on the accent!

My partner’s sister and brother-in-law owned a three family in Beverly, and at first we stayed with his mother on the second floor. Later, the third floor tenants were evicted and we moved in up there. When they opened up New Orleans, we rented a truck, drove all the way down there, packed up whatever we could salvage, and drove all the way back. That week sucked. However, right before that and just in time for my birthday, I was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca by the New Jersey HPS in the temple of a well-known HPS in New York. Woohoo, I was finally in! With all these new exciting things happening for me, and with this Southern boy experiencing his first New England Autumn (holy crap it was magical!)…what’s the phrase from Practical Magic…oh, yes, “with the sweet, comes the sour.” Salem. And Salem Witches. Looking back on it, I’m not really sure what I expected, but considering the whole scene is a tourist industry based on a tragic piece of American history, started and kept going by business owners who tattoo their faces based on works of fiction and practice daily occult cosplay? Well, I don’t know what to say about all that. However, I can say that it didn’t matter that my partner and I had just had our lives turned upside by the worst natural disaster in the history of the country, a few Salem Witches decided to pick up old axes and began to grind in very petty ways. This was in part due to my partner’s history with several of them, and I was convicted as guilty by association without ever having met any of them. Hanged without a fair trial. How fitting for Salem.

Enough about all that, just suffice it to say that it never got any better and continues to this day. Ignoring it is the best medicine for that ailment. So, aside from petty pagan politics, the next three years were like existing inside this bubble of witchcraft and coven meetings. My partner and I moved into another house, and started up a grove of the Minoan Brotherhood as well as set the stage for a Gardnerian and Alexandrian coven. Every other weekend it seems was full of gatherings to meet new people, training classes, circles, initiations, elevations, sabbats, adopting other initiates into our groups and lineages, making magical tools...vacuuming the floors, loading and unloading the dishwasher, picking up after people left, getting little rest before the workweek started up again. It was exciting and exhausting at the same time. Oh, and I can’t forget SO MUCH HANDCOPYING of Books of Shadows! But having the High Priest as a partner meant lots of conversations about Craft matters pretty much on a nightly basis, and that made the copying go easier. I absorbed so much Craft information, experienced so many circles, witnessed and participated in so many initiations during that time it seems like it should have been nine years instead of three! I think time moves differently in the North.

Well, as goes the way of all things, this chapter in my life came to an end as my partner and I split, and I moved closer to my job in Boston. I continued my Minoan Brotherhood grove, but put Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and the NY Welsh (which I received right before the split) on hold, save for a few circles here and there with other covens. After a year of this I was approved, and rather quickly, for a transfer to…New Orleans! I was so excited to be going back to my spiritual home, especially considering how the city had recovered in the four-ish years since I’d left. And to be bringing these Craft traditions with me! I flew down that January for the birth of my sister’s first child, and while passing through New Orleans, stopped and picked up some key things around the city. I used those in my working to have my transfer go through as fast as possible and promised that if it did I’d work to establish these traditions down there. Well, something worked cause not only did my transfer go through in record time for a government position, but my job paid for it and hired movers to move all my stuff! It was the easiest move of my life, and considering how many times I moved during my pre-Katrina NOLA days, that’s saying a lot! Two months later I was back in time for the 2010 St. Patrick’s Day parade and starting over again, but this time I was home.

I wasted no time in establishing my Minoan grove and starting things up with the one third degree Gardnerian High Priestess in the whole region, who was pretty much the only one left from the pre-Katrina coven. The one in Baton Rouge we stayed with during the storm, I heard, had left for California. My grove flourished, the coven though didn’t get very far, and after about a year things changed. The Gard HPS moved to Florida, and my spiritual life took a rather strange turn. I’d already gone back to Haiti in 2007 and become an Houngan (priest) in Vodou, but then other spiritual forces started creeping in. Much darker ones than I’d dealt with before. I blame it on New Orleans in general having a very active dead scene and living two blocks from the beginning of the Cemetery District. (Not really, but sounds good, doesn't it?) Enter La Santisima Muerte, Palo Mayombe, and in some ways Quimbanda…all stories for another time because this is about witchcraft! But, yes, I placed my Craft practices on hold for a couple of years in order to deal with these systems and forces and integrate them into my life. Those were…interesting years. I learned a lot about love, death, despair, drugs, depression, suicide, anxiety, more petty politics, betrayal, paranoia…many of these things I experienced indirectly, but all of these things are ones usually hidden by night and shadow, which I’d stepped willingly into without knowing.

During all this, though, and as the gods would have it, one of the people who attended the Santa Muerte chaplet services approached me for Craft training. At first, I really didn’t want to start all that back up again considering everything I had on my plate, but she asked a few more times over the course of some months, so I agreed. I geared myself up for BTW work, blew the dust off my Book of Shadows, and to my surprise it was refreshing to be circling again. Things flowed nicely and we started up a coven. Now I’m not gonna lie and say it’s been Woohoo! Wicca! over the last three years. There’s been some ups and downs, but as it currently stands the coven is active, I’ve decided to reboot my Minoan grove, and there are new people popping up for both. So, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me still with one hell of a juggling act to manage.

Post-Katrina has been just as much of a ride as pre-Katrina was, and of course I’ve struggled quite a bit. Having European-descended modern witchcraft and BTW on one side and the ADRs on the other has most certainly been a challenge. (And of course Santa Muerte comes in and fucks up everything I thought I knew.) For instance, with the ADRs you have a direct, unbroken history and sets of practices, necessarily altered to work in the New World, and the spiritual beings that have distinct personalities and backstories. Then you have the New World syncretic folk practices and “saints” that have popped up from the merging of different cultures and spiritual traditions, but still the timelines are relatively easy to follow. But looking at BTW and modern witchcraft from this point of view, it’s like who the fuck are these gods and spirits? Yes, I know we have secret names for them, but where the hell are their stories, outside Doreen Valiente, that is? Who the hell is THE GODDESS? Which one are you talking about? And wtf with all the waving around of wands and knives? Did that particular patch of air just piss you off or something? It’s taken me a while to reconcile these very different approaches to the spiritual, and in all honesty it’s a continual thing. I don’t claim to have any solid answers about any of this crazy shit, but I’ve managed to arrive at certain points on how it all works…FOR ME. I can’t speak for anyone else, and the struggle has been real, but at least I sleep better at night the more I just let it happen and keep following where my gods, spirits, and ancestors lead.


I wonder what these next 10 years are going to be like.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Journey of the Moon (Or, Insert Title Here Because That One's Bad), Part 1 (Or, Before the Storm)

On the night of December 24, 1996 there was a full moon, and I was standing outside a tiny Catholic church in my hometown of Magee, MS waiting for my first boyfriend to finish up his duties as choir director for the Midnight Mass that just happened. It was a bit chilly, and the sky was clear. My boyfriend’s father was standing nearby talking with a fellow parishioner, and I overheard him say something about the winter solstice and the full moon, so I looked up. When my eyes made contact with that lunar orb this electric, tingling sensation ran all over my body. Shocked, my eyes focused on the moon, and it was as if everything else quickly melted away. All I could see was a tapestry of white, blue, silver, and black. From nowhere, inside my head, and all around me, I heard a woman’s voice say, “You will find your path soon,” and as quickly as it came on, the whole thing ended. I remembered where I was when my boyfriend walked up and started talking. I probably looked all deer in headlights, but shook it off and went about the night.

That next week on New Year’s Eve I found myself in a bookstore in one of the malls in Jackson, MS, and I wondered into the tiny New Age section and started browsing through all the titles. I squatted down to look at the bottom shelf and one cover caught my attention. A guy in a yellowish robe was standing near a stone altar holding something with smoke coming off it. As I reached for it and stood up, another electric rush went through me, and I felt the spirit of my mother standing behind me. She died when I was 8, and I’d felt her from time to time growing up, but never this strongly before. It felt as if she placed her hand on my left shoulder, then faded away. Well, I’m not that thick-headed, so I bought the book! It was Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” I devoured it and went back to buy as many books as my Wal-Mart paycheck allowed. So many new and exciting concepts and things to try, and so many questions! Like, was the voice I heard the night of the full moon my mother’s or someone else’s? If it was her, was she actually guiding me towards this path? I grew up Pentecostal but left the church after I realized I was always staring at the butts of the football players and not the cheerleaders, but witchcraft? Wicca? Isn’t that the devil? I mean, I'd had a long fascination with it growing up, reading all the books in the library about it, and all, having dead relatives visit me in dreams, but... I’m going to Hell now, right? I’m fucked.

It would be years later before my mom’s sister (now my stepmother…welcome to the South!) told me that Momma had started practicing witchcraft before she died. Of course she did! Red headed, one of ten kids who couldn’t get away from home fast enough, so she stole my dad out from under her sister and ran for it. The adventurous black sheep that she was, Sagittarius sun sign, housewife in the 80s, of course she practiced witchcraft! Looking back I think it’s probably safe to assume her spirit was really there, giving me that nudge I needed to begin what’s now been a two decade journey into the fascinating, frustrating, exciting, disappointing, and ever renewing world of modern witchcraft and Wicca. Try as I have over the years to quit this addiction, it seems to be my drug, and the sight of a full moon always brings on a craving. In fact, I had a conversation with Her last night, which is why I’m writing this today. I want to share my story in hopes that it helps or inspires others in some way. Maybe others are struggling with a similar type of thing.

Ok, enough with the after school special, back to the story.

So there I was, back at my community college dorm reading all these books. (Yes, Llewellyn books…every single one…whatever, it’s all I could find/afford back then.) Dashing off to the crafts and fabric section of the local Wal-Mart, I started fashioning my tools and making my robe. By hand; no sewing machine. My Aunt Yvonna (no, no…where I’m from we pronounce that WHY-VONE-AH) taught me to hand stich before she died. (Yes, there were a lot of deaths in my family growing up, and that plays into another area of my spiritual life that comes in years later, but that’s a different thing.) Before I could blink, I had all the things! I was the witchiest Wicca witchlet in Wesson, MS, which is where my college was. Gay and a witch in rural south MS in the 90s. I have no idea how I survived, but by the grace of the gods I did, and by 1998 I wound up attending Mississippi State after having taken a year off school to live it up in the state capital. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the wild, legendary gay nightlife of that one gay club in Jackson that kept closing down, moving locations, and changing its name. What were its names again? The Birdcage? Jack and Jill’s? Polyester? The Village? Yeah, that one.

My time at Mississippi State opened me up to other eclectic, pagany people, as well as ceremonial magicians, vampires, and other goth kids of many flavors. I got some folks together, and we created the Mississippi State University Wiccan/Pagan Student Alliance. Which is a fancy title for the handful of us that would meet once a month and talk about things we had absolutely no real experience in, because that’s what college kids do. But it was the first one of its kind in the state, and we were all proud of that. This opened us up to some expected situations, like all the Christian groups trying to tell us we were all going to hell at our fall festival booth. And some unexpected ones like me becoming friends with one of the Campus Crusade for Christ counselors to the point that I stayed in her minimalist apartment one summer while I took summer classes and she was off on a mission trip. Curiously, it was that summer where I was listening to a radio show on NPR (seriously, she did not have a TV!) when I first discovered anything Afro-Caribbean. They were doing a special on Santeria, so after the program I went to the university library and started doing some research. Like the good eclectic Wiccan I was, I immediately started to pray to the Orishas, and they must have answered cause I lit some incense, called to Shango, and there was a thunderstorm half an hour later! Yeah? No? Ok, well, whatever.

After graduation I hung around for another semester to apply for grad schools, which translates into: I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and the new Bachelor’s in philosophy and world religious studies. (Really? What the hell was I thinking? I was thinking a LOT because of all those philosophy papers I had to write!) But there was one thing I knew I had to do, as it had been a burning desire for the last few years. I had to move to New Orleans. My mom’s family had lived in New Orleans long ago, and I grew up with stories about it, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I first visited. Friends brought me down here to party at the gay clubs (back when 18 year olds could still get in, you just got this huge black X on your hand), and I absolutely fell in love with it. Obsessively. I drove down every chance I got. Shopped at the witch shops, as there were a lot more back then, walked around the French Quarter, marveling at the history and architecture, and danced in the clubs. For a poor little gay Mississippi boy, living in New Orleans would be a dream come true.

And I made it happen. January 2001 I started the Master’s program in religious studies at Loyola University, and almost immediately started meeting Pagans, Wiccans, and many others in the city. This was a lot different from my mild Mississippi State meetings with the WPSA, lemmetellya! The local Wiccan church, which held all the public circles, had just had this huge blow up between the two head priestesses, and everyone was all up in arms over this or that, and I had no idea what was going on! So, I just focused on completing my correspondence training with this coven in Connecticut I’d made contact with towards the end of my time at MSU. The Sacred Garden Tradition of Wicca, it was called, and I did all my training via email and degree initiations in my little solitary circles. I did eventually start up my own coven in this, but it didn’t quite last that long. I had no leadership experience, and the rituals were a bit like a bad high school theater version of the movie The Craft. Bad acting and really crappy special effects. I did manage to meet the Gardnerian coven around that time and started their Outer Court training, but after my friend got busted having an affair with the High Priest’s boyfriend I got blackballed. No matter, as I’d found Haitian Vodou at that point, and from there a whole other adventure started…which I’ll write about later.

Ok, fast forward a few years to 2005. Witchcraft and Wicca had been on the backburner for a couple of years because of Vodou, and I was starting to feel that percolating feeling inside, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Oh, but wait! Remember the Gardnerian High Priest I mentioned? Yeah, we totally started dating, and I moved in with him. I know, it was fast, but the house I was living in sold, and I couldn’t find another place in time. Well, this High Priest held a few different Craft traditions, and he brought me into the Minoan Brotherhood, the BTW offshoot tradition for gay/bi men started in NYC by Eddie Buczynski in the 70s. Finally! I was initiated into a legit tradition of witchcraft! And connected to an oathbound community…er, Brotherhood…um, secret online group where no one seemed to be able to get along. But you kind of have to expect that when you have a bunch of queens with titles arguing over, I mean discussing, things behind the safety of a computer screen. Anyway, plans were being made for me to be brought into the Gardnerian coven (the same one that I got kicked out of their Outer Court), but the High Priestess wasn’t all that keen on the idea. She had a distaste for my involvement in Vodou, and it took a lot of convincing, but she finally agreed. And it almost happened! But….late August 2005…y’all remember what happened in New Orleans around that time? Yep. HURRICANE KATRINA.

After realizing how bad it was about to get in the city, my partner and I packed up two Chows, some clothes and all our ritual tools and Books of Shadows (like ya do) and got the hell out of town. We evacuated to the High Priestess’ restored antebellum plantation house in Port Allen, just over the river from Baton Rouge. Two hellish weeks we spent there with 12 people, 12 dogs, and 20 cats. Hellish not because of the conditions, which were pretty comfortable all things considered, but hellish because of what happened next. A couple days after the storm hit, because I was a probation and parole officer at the time, I was sent back into the ruins of my beloved city to help evacuate all the prisoners who were still sweltering in the prisons and jails. It was a nightmare. Worst thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life. When I got back I pushed all those images to the back of my mind and focused on doing what I could with the house and those staying there. Not knowing what any of us where going to do with our homes flooded and jobs closing down, and everything in complete chaos, my partner got word from his family in Massachusetts, and we decided to go up and re-start our lives in a place I’d never even visited. In fact, I’d never been north of the Mason-Dixon Line. A whole new way of life. I’d be trading in my sultry Southern summers and everything and everyone I knew, for four seasons in that fantasy land called The North. Given the circumstances, it was the most logical choice, but truly I was excited. Of course, I’d be leaving my dear New Orleans, but the city was a wreck, and I was not about to be reassigned to some parish out in the middle of Louisiana to live in a place much like the conservative Mississippi I’d worked so hard to get away from. Also, his family lived in Beverly, which is just across the bay from….SALEM! The place where the witches are! Little did I know what was in store for me there.

This is long, so I’m going to pick back up in another post. Up next: Witchcraft in New England and the Salem Witches! Also, snow!


This is the book that started it all!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Wica! Wicca! (And Wicca in New Orleans)

I posted this sometime last year (2015), so adding it back:

(no, I didn’t misspell the first word, and, yes, feel free to envision the dude from Little Ceaser’s)

So, my first post-intro blog entry should really be about Wic(c)a, since I have 20 years under my belt of reading about it, studying it, practicing it in one form or another, as well as criticizing it and giving it the stank eye from across the room. Keep in mind that this entry is about Wicca, not witchcraft, which I’ll be writing about later.

Let’s start with a bit of history. Thankfully, many people have already done the hard work for me, so I’ll just write a brief summary and provide a few links to some websites that go into detail.

Long ago and far away…that is, 1951 in England…a book was published by a man named Gerald B. Gardner, claiming that witches, or rather members of a pre-Christian pagan religion from Europe, who has been hiding in secret for an awful long time, had decided to tell the world they were still around. Yay! In Witchcraft Today Gardner explained how these seriously misunderstood folks had survived Christian domination, the Inquisition, and the witch hunts (good for them!) and what they believed and did. And he knew this for reals ‘cause he was one of them, having been initiated into a coven in the New Forest area in 1939. What he described greatly resembled what the Egyptologist and folklorist, Margaret Murray talked about in her 1921 book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Murray’s “Witch-Cult Hypothesis” was all the rage until it began being shot down by other academics, which happened almost immediately. No matter, said Gardner and the witches…

This got the ball rolling and Wicca was now public. Although originally spelled ‘Wica’ with one ‘c’ the second ‘c’ wasn’t far behind. Some folks who descend directly from Gardner (called Gardnerians, but only a few of them do this) prefer to use the original spelling so other people don’t confuse them with tweens shopping at Hot Topic. Two great websites that talk about Gardner and all the early members of the witchcult can be found here (http://www.thewica.co.uk/index.html) and here (http://www.geraldgardner.com/).

Of course the media in England went crazy with articles, tabloids, tv shows and the like. This, of course, attracted the attention of folks who became extremely jealous and wanted to be famous for being spooky witches….I mean, other witches who wanted to share with the world their own brand of ancient magic (magic? magic…k? Do we put the ‘k’ in now or not? Oh, Crowley’s already been here? So it’s with the ‘k’ now. Splendid.)…magick. Folks like Robert Cochrane, Sybil Leek, and Alex Sanders came out of the woodwork (I wonder if those trees that wood was made from came from the New Forest…hmm) and got themselves some attention with grandmother stories and other Gardnerian-independent claims of ancient witchiness.

But hang on a minute, Britian! The United States will NOT be left out of this! Ok, said the U.K., so in the 1960s they sent over a man and wife, Raymond and Rosemary Buckland, so America could also capitalize on…I mean…share in this new-found old faith, guaranteed to boost antique store sales. Gardnerian Wicca settled in Long Island, New York, and much like Lillith, began to beget hidden children of the night, destined to bicker and argue amongst themselves and with outsiders for decades to come.

In the 1970s there was an occult explosion, with New York City as the epicenter. This article, The Doom That Came to Chelsea (http://www.nypress.com/the-doom-that-came-to-chelsea/) serves as one small window into this dramatic wave of witchcraft. The Warlock Shop, later known as the Magickal Childe, served as one of the home bases, while Long Island saw the Gardnerian coven pass from the Bucklands to Lady Theos and Phoenix, who produced a ton of new initiates that later migrated to other large cities and places across the country. Although Buckland was basically booted from the Gardnerian family due to the nasty divorce from Rosemary, he began to publish books and promote the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft (this makes a cameo appearance later in this entry.)

Much like a virus, Wicca began to spread and mutate thanks, in part, to several outsiders getting hold of non-initiate material (and maybe a tiny bit of actual initiate material) and assuming it was the Holy Wiccan Chalice, then writing books (printed on paper made from trees that were decidedly NOT from the New Forest) based on stuff they couldn’t possibly understand correctly without the oral lore that was meant to go with it. But before this, in1979, two books came out that plowed the fertile (and bored) middle class, sowing the seeds that would produce these anemic offspring. Spiral Dance by Starhawk and Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler were published. Housewives from shore to shore shouted “Blessed Be!”

If the 1970s and 80s saw the spread of the American mutation of Wicca, then what happened next can be seen as the rise of the intelligence-resistant strain. Enter: Llewellyn Publications, now known as Llewellyn Worldwide. Yes, that publishing house with the little crescent moon as its symbol began to shit out diarrhetic reams of the literary equivalent to branchless family trees, each of the dozens of authors cannibalizing one another’s scurvy-ridden pages to create a tapestry destined to become the next Hollywood backdrop.

And with the 1996 release of The Craft, every Books-a-Million and Barnes and Noble then had a Neo-Pagan group chillin with all their very powerful magickal selves near the coffee shop section. It was around this same time that Yours Truly was browsing his local mall bookstore and found two books: The Truth About Witchcraft Today and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, both by Scott Cunningham (and published by Llewellyn.) Yes, folks, that’s right. I gobbled up every book my Wal-Mart paycheck allowed me to afford, and I was infected with that same virus as the pentacle-wearing 17 year old chick with purple hair who attended the newly-established Wiccan Church, that held public ceremonies, calling in every goddess known to mankind to come and Merry Meet them.

And after three solid years of holding my own solitary esbats in the woods behind my parents’ house and community college dorm, wearing my (not-at-all-natural) white robe with hooded cloak (that flowed so well since it was made from that material which was 50% off at the Wal-Mart I worked at, which explains the not-natural part), I was ready to provide the university I transferred into with some well-seasoned Wicca by establishing the Mississippi State University Wiccan/Pagan Student Alliance. Those couple of years with the WPSA was my first exposure to other (eclectic) Wiccans and Neo-Pagans and made my heart soar, and much like Icarus my time riding that broomstick of na├»ve eclecticism took a tumble after I graduated and moved to New Orleans to discover the putrid pit of pagan politics (which is most likely going to be a story for another day.)

By this time, academics had begun taking note of the popularity of Wicca (both traditional and eclectic) and the various modern witchcraft and neo-pagan groups forming and fighting for equal rights. In 1999 historian Ronald Hutton’s book Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft was published, which essentially nailed shut the coffin that contained the moldering cadaver of Margaret Murray’s “witch-cult hypothesis” and the main party line of the older, traditional Wiccans. (Much wailing and gnashing of teeth was barely heard over the clacking of renaissance faire armor.) However, if there were still some cracks in the coffin, they would pretty much be sealed up with Philip Heselton’s 2001 Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival and his 2003 Cauldron of Inspiration: An Investigation into the Sources of Gardnerian Witchcraft.

Despite all of this, I was still a bit intrigued and a lot curious, so when the opportunity presented itself in 2005 in the form of my High Priest (now ex-) partner to initiate into Gardnerian (and other traditions of) Wicca I jumped on it. I became a 3rd Degree High Priest in Long Island Line Gardnerian and Farrar Line Alexandrian, as well as a 3rd Degree High Priest two traditions descending from New York City’s 1970s-era Eddie Buczynski: New York Welsh and the Minoan Brotherhood. It was a very busy four years, and my hand still hasn’t recovered from copying all those Books of Shadows…by candlelight…in the dead of night…to the baying of wolves.

Well, enough about me, let’s talk about what I think of Wicca.

First and foremost, everyone associated with Wicca, if they’re still doing this, has really got to drop the Witch Party Line, a phrase I recently stole…I mean borrowed…from Jim Baker in his 2014 book The Cunning Man’s Handbook: The Practice of English Folk Magic 1550-1900. “The Witch Party Line” is pathetically holding on for dear life and priesthood to that Murray witch-cult hypothesis origin of the Wica (WICA…Wicca…wic(c)a. It’s an echo, you’re supposed to be hearing this in your mind like an echo.) Rather than basing your religion on a pseudo history, which has been 99% disproven so many times now, why not acknowledge its actual origins in Freemasonry, the OTO, the Golden Dawn, Dion Fortune’s work, and a ton of other cool sources. And Freemasonry? (Yes, Gardner was a Freemason and like a hundred other things, seriously, you need to read the Heselton books) Freemasons are said to descend from the Knights Templar. The *Knights Templar*! If that’s not metal enough for you, I don’t know what is. (I don’t know how true that is, I’m just trying to get some folks excited. Probably didn’t work.)

Ok, wait, look! Put down your athames and swords and hear me out. I know. I really know. I’ve been there. Wanting with all my heart and soul that I was somehow a recipient of some romantic Mists of Avalon, Druid, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, pre-Christian Goddess religion that somehow survived the Inquisitional fires despite all the evidence to the contrary. But come on. Let’s face it. Yes, we feel things in circle. There’s energy and spirits and stuff, but that doesn’t really mean that it’s an ancient practice. Espiritismo in the Caribbean is relatively new (compared to the older religions) and their shit works just fine. Their spirits come through with no problem. So, just get over it. Our stuff, well Gardnerians anyway, has been in existence since the 1950s and it’s managed to attract plenty of spiritual guides (now if most Wiccans could just get better training in spirit work, never mind, future post!) and we have our own list of ancestors at this point. It doesn’t need to be old to work. Elsa, what was that? Yeah! Let it go!

This one is for the eclectic Wiccans out there. Please know that currently published ideas like the “Wiccan Rede,” the “Three-fold Law,” and concepts like Karma and Reincarnation are horribly distorted. Remember earlier when I mentioned the publication of non-initiate material mistaken for initiate material? Yeah, that right there. I’m not going to go into them, but here’s a blog that does a fantastic job at it. And the Gardnerian who wrote this is my Brother and friend. It’s awesome. Go here. (https://gardnerians.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/our-three-fold-response/)

This is getting really long, so I’m gonna wrap it up by relating it all to New Orleans and the Wicca scene here.

I’m not an expert on the history of Wicca in New Orleans, but I have been an observer and participant starting in 2001. As far as I can tell the first organization to jump on the witchcraft bandwagon was The Religious Order of Witchcraft, established in 1972 by a woman named Mary Onieda Toups. Yes, the same one mentioned VERY BRIEFLY on an episode of American Horror Story: Coven. Although, from what I can tell, this was not originally a Wiccan thing. It was more of a home-grown, self-taught occult/witchcraft group, however, I understand it may have later adopted more Wiccan concepts. 

Not sure what all went on between the 70s/80s, but in the 90s a group emerged led by a woman named Velvet Reith. At first a coven called something like Swamp Witches, it eventually morphed into Covenant of the Pentacle Wiccan Church and became an affiliate of Aquarian Tabernacle Church. I encountered this group in 2001 and at the time they had classes, open rituals, and clergy training. All their internet listings are gone now, so I’m going to assume it’s closed. However, a group of people from the CPWC has recently formed their own group called Bee Hive Coven. Here’s their website. (http://beehivecoven.org/)

Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca has had a presence in New Orleans since around the late 90s. My ex and his (now) ex moved from Salem, MA to New Orleans in 1999 and established a Gardnerian coven that lasted until 2005 with Hurricane Katrina (that bitch) blowing most of the members up to New England (myself included, although I wasn’t initiated by the New Orleans HPS, but later by the New Jersey HPS my ex works with.) It wasn’t until last year in 2014 that New Orleans saw the founding of another Gardnerian coven. There was allegedly an Alexandrian coven in New Orleans pre-Katrina. I met the HPS once right before the storm and I know of at least one of her initiates who is still here, although I have no idea if the HPS and rest of the coven stuck around. Not to worry, though, because my working partner and the HPS of our Gardnerian coven, the Crescent City Coven, (go here to inquire http://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_gr.html?a=usla&id=40425) are both Gardnerian and Alexandrian. 

As for the boys who'd like to work within an all-male setting, there's also the Minoan Brotherhood here. My grove, Temenos ta Theia, is open and accepting new students. Go here to inquire: http://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_gr.html?a=usla&id=42155

As a curious little side note, there was a very brief period of time when the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft was housed and on display in the French Quarter. But it was mis-managed by folks who eventually lost the museum in a court battle and aren’t really worth me mentioning here. The Museum, I believe, has been set up as a trust with the most likely now defunct CPWC, mentioned above. 2016 Update: Looks like the museum is going to open again in OHIO! Yay. I'll be sure to book my trip early so to beat the crowds. http://wildhunt.org/2016/07/buckland-museum-poised-to-reopen-in-midwest.html#disqus_thread

There used to be a group of Blue Star Wicca folks around, but since their HP, Kenny Klein, got arrested on child porn charges last year, they’ve all understandably gone quiet. 2016 update: looks like the HPS still has a witchvox listing for the coven: http://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_gr.html?a=usla&id=41430

However, if your tastes lie in more eclectic flavors, contact the New Orleans Lamplight Circle here (http://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_gr.html?a=usla&id=31356)

You’d think that all the mystery and magic New Orleans is known for that there’d be more options, but no. It’s mainly tourists looking for voodoo dolls and ghost tours. And women who try to sell off their Catholic family histories as “secret New Orleans witch families.” But most of them are just first-generation eclectic witches. 




The Minoan Brotherhood: Resources

There's not that much out there about the Minoan Brotherhood, the tradition founded in the 1970s to give gay/bi men a place to experience traditional Wicca/Witchcraft. Here's a few links:




Photo by Allan Spiers

Quimbanda: Resources in English

The Brazilian sorcery cult of Quimbanda (or Kimbanda) is a complex spiritual path of the infernal night. Few resources are available in English. Here are some I recommend:

FAQ from The Starry Cave

Exu and the Quimbanda of Night and Fire by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold

Pomba Gira: Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold

Serpent Shod

Photo by Steven Bragg

Palo Mayombe: Resources in English

There isn't that much information about the secretive practices of Palo Mayombe and the other Ramas (branches) of Palo. But here are a few I find informative:

Mukanda Palo Nzila

Palo Mayombe: The Garden of Blood and Bones by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

The Starry Cave


Society of the Dead: Quita Manaquita and Palo Praise in Cuba

Haitian Vodou: Resources in English

I recommend the following as reliable resources for the fascinating world of Haitian Vodou:

Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown

Divine Horsemen by Maya Deren

Haitian Vodou: An Introduction to Haiti's Indigenous Spiritual Tradition by Mambo Chita Tann

Gade Nou Leve Society

Three Kings Vodou


Photo by Steven Bragg

La Santisima Muerte: Resources in English

Reliable information in English about the Mexican folk saint, La Santisima Muerte can be difficult to find. So, here are some links to help someone get started.

http://www.santisimamuerteneworleans.org/

https://skeletonsaint.com/

https://www.facebook.com/NewOrleansChapelSantisimaMuerte/

La Santisima Muerte: A Mexican Folk Saint by E. Bryant Holman

Devoted to Death by Andrew Chesnut

My booklets available through The Vodou Store



A Ceremony of Sevis Ginen: Haitian Vodou

What is Sevis Ginen?

Sevis Ginen, also known as Haitian Vodou, comes from Haiti and has many roots that extend back to several parts of Western and Central Africa, including Benin, Nigeria, and the Congo. It is an ancestral-based spiritual system of great beauty and power and seeks to work with, or serve, the spirits called Lwa in exchange for healing, blessing, protection, and prosperity. Those who serve the Lwa, the Vodouisants, look first to God, then to the Ancestors, Saints, and the Lwa for assistance in the daily hardships of life.

A ceremony of Sevis Ginen seeks to bring together these forces so the Lwa can speak directly to us through the vehicle of spirit possession. Far from an evil act, as Vodou has nothing to do with the Christian Devil, being possessed, or mounted, by a Lwa is the anticipated outcome of the ceremonial songs and gestures of the faithful. One or more Lwa can then directly address the people and sometimes assist them with their problems. The beginning part of a possession can seem very distressing as the person and Lwa fight for control of the body. Should the Lwa come through fully he or she is then given appropriate offerings and/or items by the Vodouisants. After saluting members of the house, the Lwa may then choose to address visitors before leaving. Or the Lwa may stay an undetermined amount of time before departing, administering advice and assisting the those present in various spiritual and physical matters.

The order of a ceremony follows the Regleman each house (Vodou congregation) has inherited over the many years of spiritual re-formation following the forceful relocation of the Africans to the New World, mixing of the  various African nations and tribes and inter-mixing with the quickly disappearing Native population. The Regleman determines how and when each Lwa is served in ceremony, along with many other rules pertaining to Sevis Ginen. Houses within the same region of Haiti usually have a very similar Regleman, although details can vary from house to house. There is no central authority or organization that determines an ultimate Regleman, and each house is considered autonomous, receiving its guidance from its Elders and the Lwa themselves. A major ceremony can take many hours and even days to complete, however, tonight’s ceremony will be much simplified due to various factors. Regardless, many hours of preparation go into even the shortest of ceremonies. In the following description of the Order, there are many “can”s, “may”s, and “usually”s, and that is because no two Vodou ceremonies are ever exactly the same, as far as the behavior of the Lwa is concerned, and one never knows what’s going to happen until it’s actually happening.

The Order of the Ceremony

The Priye Ginen and the Opening
Once everything is in place, everyone will take a seat, and Mambo Marie will lead the Priye Ginen, the opening prayer, which is a lengthy set of spoken and chanted Catholic prayers, followed by many African and Haitian prayers for the Lwa. When the Priye is finished, Mambo Marie will stand, followed by the people, and the opening songs are sung. Everyone is encouraged to clap along with the rhythm of the Asson, the sacred rattle used by the Hougans (priests) and Mambos (priestesses), and to follow the dance steps. The Vodouisants will salute each other, the Hougans and Mambos, the Hounsis (those who have gone through some form of initiation into Sevis Ginen), and those who are non-initiated members of the house. Throughout the ceremony, it is not necessary for everyone to do the turns when ritual salutations are being done, only those who are actively saluting need to do these.

The First Five Lwa: Legba, Marassa, Loko, Ayizan, Danballah/Ayida
The first Lwa to be saluted is always Legba, the gatekeeper, as he opens the gate between our world and the Lwa. Those saluting him will go out to the main entrance and ritually process back into the main ceremonial area. It is not necessary for the people to follow. Following Legba, the Marassa, or cosmic twins, are saluted, opening the doors for all children spirits. Candy may be thrown in your general direction (watch out!) and handed out to the people. Then we salute Papa Loko, who is the Lwa of the Priesthood; all Hougans and Mambos pay special attention to Papa Loko, as he gives the Asson, the symbol of the Priesthood. After Papa Loko, we salute Mambo Ayizan, the mother of Initiation. All who have undergone the Kanzo or Sevis Tet rites serve her. The final, but most important, of the first five Lwa served is Danballah/Ayida Wedo. Danballah is the serpentine King of the Lwa, and Ayida is his rainbow serpent wife/companion (and some say sister.) All must stand in respect, and no one can smoke or drink alcohol during this time. When Danballah comes, he is covered by a white sheet to preserve his purity and keep him cool. Sometimes there is a short break after Danballah leaves or passes through.

The Rada
The Rada nation of the Lwa are the cool spirits, most of whom come from the old Kingdom of Dahomey, present day Benin. They include Sobo and Bade (thunder and the wind that announces the storm), and Agasou and Silibo (the leopard king and his wife). Agwe and LaSiren are the Master and Mistress of the ocean, Agwe the sea admiral who sails in his ship, Immamou, and LaSiren the mermaid who swims below the surface. Should they come, Agwe will mount his “ship” (a chair turned backwards), and LaSiren will “swim” on a white sheet on the floor. The Ezilis are the famous river spirits of femininity, luxury, wealth, the most well-known being Ezili Freda. If Ezili Freda comes, all must be sprinkled with perfume, and she usually only addresses men. Again, the white sheet will be brought out so she doesn’t soil her feet. Following the water spirits are Bosou, the bull, and Agaou Wedo, the winged serpent.

The Djouba
The Lwa of the Djouba nation include Azaka, Kouzen, and Kouzin. These are the hard-working peasants who toil the fields (Kouzen) and sale their wares in the marketplace (Kouzin). They can be distrustful of city dwellers. Kouzen may ask for money, then turn around and give it to someone who needs it more. Kouzin may give everyone a piece of fruit, then go back around and collect her payment. Have some money in your pockets, just in case.

The Nago: Papa Ogou!
The Nago nation is comprised of the protective, paternal, masculine Lwa of war and fire. Many of them originate from Yoruba land, present day Nigeria, and have “Ogou” in their names, such as Ogou Badagris and Ogou Ferray. These spirits are very forceful and stern, yet caring as a father, grandfather, or uncle. They are usually all addressed as “Papa.” Cigars, rum, and machetes are their signature offerings. Sometimes food is passed out to the people by Papa Ogou himself before he leaves. Regardless, after Papa Ogou leaves there is a break, and this usually signals the transition into a different type of Rite within Sevis Ginen.

Ibo/Kongo/Petwo
Should time allow, we may salute the Ibo, Kongo, and Petwo spirits. Many of these Lwa are very hot and aggressive compared to the Rada, and the salutes, songs, and dances reflect this intensified energy. The Ibo and Kongo spirits originate from their respective origins in Africa, while the Pewto spirits were born from the fires and anguish of slave times. The famous Ezili Dantor is part of the Petwo nation. If there is not enough time, then one large salute, called a Milokan, may be given to these Lwa.

The Cemetery: Baron/Brijit/Ghede
The last salutes are given to the Lwa of the cemetery and the dead. Death itself is embodied in the trinity of Baron Samedi/LaKwa/Simitye, as the gatekeeper of the cemetery. Mama Brijit is his wife and lives in the cemetery with all the Ghede, who are the elevated spirits of the forgotten dead. Ghede very much embodies the cycle of life, death, sex, and rebirth. He can be very sexual and vulgar, as he stands beyond the norms of polite society, and because of that he’s usually the life of the party! Ghede can sometimes follow other Lwa, but will be politely asked to leave and come back when it is his time—you never know with this Lwa!

Considerations during the Ceremony

A Vodou ceremony is a complex weaving of life situations: family, community, spirit, ritual, and much more. In some respects it may resemble a serious religious ritual, and in other respects it may seem more like a family reunion, complete with arguments and tears of joy. Just remember to be open, courteous, and patient. The Lwa have a very special bond to those who already serve them, and so are considered more important than people they’ve never met. Thus, not every Lwa will address everyone present, so please don’t be offended if you don’t get to talk to a certain Lwa. Also, many of the Lwa speak (if they speak at all) in Haitian Kreyol. There are very few Kreyol speakers at tonight’s ceremony, so expect some awkward translations and interpretations of the Lwa’s messages. Above all, approach tonight’s ceremony with love, honor, and respect. Ayibobo!


Home Protections and Wards

One of the more important aspects of my personal practice is keeping my living and ritual space free of anything that prevents me from reaching my goals and succeeding in my spiritual work.

Protecting one’s self and one’s home against so-called evil spirits and influences is some of the most ancient practices known to humans. Those of us of a darker flavor tend to view these “evil spirits” through a different lens, and most of us are quite intimate with those “evil influences” as we always get the blame for sending them (which may or may not be true—I’m not telling). However, when you strip away the hypocritical layers of moral ambiguity, most techniques of protection and warding have nothing to do with “good” or “the light,” and everything to do with good ole’ magical techniques and calling upon the spirits with which one has aligned oneself to fend off the spirits and influences of an attacker.

During a Witch War or magical attack of any kind, the already-existing home protections and wards are the first line of defense. Once such an attack has begun, it’s too late to simply put up wards, as you must go through the laborious process of cleansing your home of the spirit or work before warding or re-warding. So, it’s very important to have several layers of strong wards in place at all times.

As much as I like spirits and forces of a darker nature, unfortunately, I simply can’t have most of them hanging around all the time. It’s like having a bunch of rough gang members living with you. They’d eventually eat you out of house and home, run up your phone bill, break all your furniture, invite unwanted guests, and drive you crazy. They’d never clean up after themselves, and they’d never help with the laundry! You’d spend all your time and energy trying to keep your life and home together that you wouldn’t have time for yourself or your goals. Don’t get me wrong, they’re VERY good at what they do, and I certainly employ them when needed; but as far as I’m concerned, they have to either be working on a task I’ve negotiated with them, or they have to go back to their own space and stay there until called—or at least stay out of my space. That being said, there are a few of them that I like to keep around me at all times, and I’ll talk about them later on.

The following techniques are by no means an exhaustive list but those that I’ve personally found effective that I’ve gathered throughout my own journey. They originate from Traditional Craft, Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Hoodoo, Espiritismo, Palo, and a few other sources. I usually don’t make distinctions about where each of them comes from; I simply do them because they’ve melded together in my personal practice, and because they work for me.

Many writers have spoken about psychic shields, protective energy, and astral work when it comes to protection and defense. The majority of the methods I employ require a physical anchor for these energies in order to keep them in place for a longer period of time. Re-charging wards on a regular basis, such as once a month or once a season, is always a good idea. So, please feel free to incorporate any psychic or astral techniques in which you are skilled into these methods below as most witches and sorcerers realize charms, mojos, and other physical objects are much less effective (if not completely ineffective) without the power of the witch or sorcerer to activate and direct them.

Thresholds, Doors, and Windows

First and foremost in home protection is securing the main threshold, whether that be to your house, apartment, or bedroom/dorm room. Next in line are additional doorways, including cellar or basement doors that lead outside, and finally there are windows and other small openings that open directly to the outside. Any of these openings are susceptible to spiritual and magical attack and should be warded in some way.

Doors and windows can be warded in several ways: on the door/window itself (outside and inside), over the door/window and incorporating any lintels, around it and incorporating the molding, across the threshold/sill, and sometimes under it, burying something outside in the ground below. Depending on the style and accessibility of locations around them, other creative methods can be employed, but these are the most common I’ve encountered and employed. What’s my rule of thumb for the amount of wards to use? More is more! Each layer of warding draws the overall net tighter and fills in gaps left by other layers (no one type of warding is ever 100%).

Before I list different techniques for warding doors and windows, I want to say something about inviting people into your space and, therefore, across or through any wards you have placed. (The old folk beliefs of needing to invite “evil” into one’s home spring to mind.) When you invite someone into your home or space, you are essentially opening up your home and de-activating your wards for the person and all they carry with them. That is, unless you make a split-second mental connection with your wards to allow in only the person and not any ill-meaning spirits or workings with them, temporarily changing them into filters rather than turning them off completely. Anyone who has come to your home with ill intent, who is also in any way sensitive, will realize after crossing your threshold and through those filters that not only do you know of their intent, but also that you’ve just disarmed them and placed them in great danger. They won’t stay long after that.

The following is a list of techniques in no particular order for warding doors and windows:

--Crosses are some of the oldest and most common wards. They have nothing to do with the Christian religion and everything to do with what the symbol of a cross represents. Two long, slender pieces of material crossed over one another is pretty much a universal symbol of “Stop! Halt! Do not pass! etc.” Sometimes consideration is given to the physical strength of the material, such as metal being stronger than wood, and sometimes the magical strength is given consideration, such as the magical warding properties of the herb St. John’s Wort. In any case, crosses can be made of anything that has some type of power, such as iron railroad spikes, wood of the Rowan tree, Mullein stalks, two knives, or even a spoon and fork. Most of the traditionally created crosses are tied together using red string or yarn; one of the oldest European warding crosses is two pieces of Rowan tree tied with red thread. It doesn’t matter magically if the cross is hung as a horizontal/vertical cross or as an “X”, but it may matter to some on a psychological level, which in turn affects their magical working. Folks of the African Diaspora use the Catholic crucifix for several reasons; however, for magical/spiritual purposes they rarely see the crucifix as “Jesus on the Cross” but as the man of the crossroads who stands at the gates between the worlds and either allows or denies entry to spiritual and magical forces. Crosses can be placed on the front or back of doors, hung over doors and windows, drawn in oil or cascarilla or even with paint (sometimes adding powders to the paint). Like many wards they can be cleverly hidden or disguised.

--Mirrors are wonderful wards in that they send back at the same time that they deny entry. Small mirrors of any shape found at craft or fabric stores can be placed (facing outward!) in windows and on the front or back of doors. Mirrors on the back of doors can be easily hidden by a picture. They can be mounted outside on the lintels over doors and windows, as well. Anoint the mirrors with protection oil or an active liquid or protection potion before placing them. This oil or liquid can be re-applied on a regular basis.

--Nails are used for their martial qualities of metallic strength and ability to puncture, and they can be employed in a variety of ways. One source suggests to take three nails to every door and window of your home and nail them straight into the lower two corners and into the top center of the moldings or borders. This creates a triangle, which is said to keep out unwanted influences. Another source says to place either one or three nails, pointing outward, on the sill of each window. Nails can also be made into small crosses and hung over small entrances, such as windows and fireplaces. They are also a main ingredient of the Witch’s Bottle (see below). The best metal is of course iron, but in a pinch any strong nail will do.

--Red cords, imbued with the witch’s or sorcerer’s power, can be hung along the lintels or top moldings over doors and windows in the most decorative and creative ways. Knot magic can be incorporated into this.

--Charms, amulets, saint/holy metals, and talismans of all varieties can be placed over doors and windows and on the back and front of doors.

--Protective herbs in dried, upside-down bunches or crushed and placed into sachets or gris-gris bags can be hung over or around doors and windows. One of the most decorative and innocuous-looking ward is a nicely dried bunch of protective herbs tied with an attractive ribbon hung over or on both sides of a door. Additional (and nastier) charms can be hidden inside the herbs. There are dozens of protective herbs, so consult your references; however, one of the strongest in European lore is St. John’s Wort that was gathered on Midsummer. Many people of a Latin and Mediterranean origin hang small bunches of Rue in doors and windows.

--Living plants and herbs can be placed on either side of doors and on window sills. A living plant produces its own energy without needing to be re-charged, and simply requesting the plant work for you in exchange for regular watering and proper care is usually all that is needed. Sometimes you can pay it with coins. Charged stones, small witch bottles, and other charms can be hidden within the soil at the base of the plant. Aloe Vera plants are a favorite amongst Latin and Caribbean people; some of them plant it in nothing but white sugar and it lives that way for years. Other plants I’ve used and seen used include Snake Plant (aka Mother-in-Law’s Tongue), Rosemary, Spider Plant (aka Airplane Plant), and anything with spikes, thorns, or strong smells. Outdoors, protective herbs and plants can be grown not only around entrances but around a home or along property lines.

--Salt that has been charged with protective magic can be sprinkled across the sill or threshold or a heavier line of line can be poured into a crevasse between the sill and the floor. I tend to use Kosher salt for this.

--Red Brick Dust is a common and powerful ward in New Orleans and throughout other places where Hoodoo is practiced. Red brick dust must be made from a red brick of an existing or formerly standing structure, because it gains its power from three major characteristics. 1) It was once a brick used to protect a structure from the elements, and so it “remembers” how to be a boundary or wall. 2) In its creation as a brick it underwent a process involving fire, giving it those qualities. 3) The color red is used widely in defensive magic, and the “redder” the brick, the better the dust. Red sand or ground up terra cotta pots are not substitutes as there is an element of time and function involved in the power of red brick dust. Making red brick dust is time consuming and requires some effort, but that is a good opportunity to imbue the substance with your energy, anger, and intent. It’s also a messy process, so do it outside on pavement or in a cellar or basement. Once you have your red brick dust, make a solid line of it across your main threshold and other door sills, and optionally it can be placed across window sills if you don’t mind the mess. Place it across the front and back steps and the beginnings of the walkway and driveway to your home. When all entry places have been warded with red brick dust, it sometimes feels as if your home has been surrounded by a solid brick wall. It needs to be replaced and reinforced over time as it wears or washes away, so make a large batch at one time to have on hand for emergencies.

There are many other ways to ward thresholds, doors, and windows, and the techniques and variations are almost limitless. Use the above as a guide and let your intuition and additional research be your guide.

Pentacles, Sigils, and other Images and Objects

A home or personal space can also be protected in other areas and ways. Creating objects with sigils, symbols, various planetary pentacles, and so on, and then placing them in strategic locations greatly enhances the overall protective energies and mood of your home.

Sigils and symbols are best placed on parchment or paper of corresponding color easily found at craft and hobby stores. If you have nothing else, disassemble a brown paper bag or use construction paper (and if you’re that poor, get your ass in gear and do some prosperity magic!).

The planetary pentacles from the Key of Solomon or other sources are good to use, especially if you are being attacked by someone using the Goetia or have an enemy that you know uses those spirits. The following technique is one I’ve used with very good results. Obtain seven discs of wood about six inches in diameter (usually pretty cheap at craft stores) and paint them with the corresponding colors, one for each of the seven planets. Next, on parchment, draw one pentacle for each of the planets from the Key of Solomon, usually the first pentacle for each planet, using a colored pen of corresponding color (or black for all if you don’t have colored pens). Make them about six inches in diameter. Cut them out, glue them to the front side of their discs, and once they’ve dried, if you want, you can coat them in a protective varnish or glaze. After they’re done, it’s time to charge them, and timing is important. Ideally this should be done during a waxing moon, but beginning on a Sunday night charge your Sun pentacle within the hour of the Sun. Cast your circle, or do whatever you usually do, and then sprinkle the pentacle with consecrated salt water, pass it through Sun incense, anoint it with Sun oil, and charge the pentacle using a Solar invocation and then telling it what its purpose is. Repeat this process for each night of the week within the planetary hour for the remaining six pentacles, ending with Saturn. Placement of your pentacles is also important. The Sun pentacle can be placed in the highest location in the eastern most point in your home or space, while the Moon pentacle can be placed in the opposite high and western location. The Mars pentacle can be placed over your main door for strong protection, and the Mercury pentacle can be placed near your phone and/or computer. The Jupiter pentacle can be placed in the room that represents your financial center or office, while the Venus pentacle can be placed over your bed or somewhere else in your bedroom. The Saturn Pentacle can be placed over the rear door or the lowest entrance, such as a cellar or basement door that opens to the outside.

Charged and blessed images and statues of the Deities and Spirits you work with can be placed near entrances and throughout the home.

The traditional Witch’s Bottle is an effective protection. Details for this can be found in numerous resources, but the gist is to fill a glass or earthen container with sharp objects, broken glass, your own urine, and so on. Seal it, and bury it. I usually add protective herbs and red brick dust, among other things, to mine. In the past I’ve made a set of five large bottles, burying four in the four corners of my property and hiding one inside my home. I’ve also made small witch bottles and placed them in strategic locations in my home.

Sharing Space with Darker Spirits

I use the terms “dark” and “light” in relative terms, not to be confused with “evil/bad” and “good,” and I realize the shortcomings of these terms. However, for lack of better ones, these are the terms I’m currently using.



The subject of sharing space with darker spirits and muertos (the dead, not including one’s Ancestors) can be a separate discussion unto itself. I only want to discuss this in regards to home protection. As I mentioned above, in my experience I have found dark spirits to be a bit more aggressive in nature than other spirits, and I prefer not to share space with most of them. That’s not to say that I like filling my house with a bunch of “light” spirits, either. As much as many dark spirits are aggressive, I’ve found that many light spirits can be whiny, needy, and lazy. Everyone works in my house. No exceptions. If you don’t work, you don’t get anything. If you expect me to lavish you with attention and candles and refreshment on a regular basis, and then a time comes to do something for me and you’re no where to be found—then you can just keep moving on past my house. I don’t have time for that. Therefore, I only like to share space with spirits who are loyal and hard-working and I couldn’t care less if they’re considered by others to be “good” or “evil” or whatever.

The only issue that arises for me is when I do a home cleansing I don’t want to risk banishing or insulting my hard-working, loyal dark spirits and muertos. Since most recipes and techniques I know for cleansing one’s home is usually unfairly tipped in the light spirits’ favor, I need to take extra steps for my dark spirits. So, I announce to my spirits that I’m about to cleanse my home and use substances that might drive them away or at least annoy them greatly. I then provide a “hiding place” for them to dwell in during the cleansing. This hiding place can be any type of object, but is most often a stone (many cultures profess how spirits can take up residence in stones and stone statues), which is then placed inside a protected container. The object and container can be of anything you wish, but it’s best to let your spirit decide what it likes. And for multiple spirits, you can have separate objects and the same container or both separate objects and containers. I usually wait until the next day after the cleansing to open everything back up, just to let it all settle.

Everything I’ve written above is my own opinion and the result of my own experiences, and none of it should be viewed as the one and only way home protection can be accomplished. I’ve purposely left some subjects untouched, such as home cleansings, as I could go on and on and never finish. 



Photo by Steven Bragg

A Few Cemetery Guidelines

Since I’ve opened this can of worms, and since it’s getting closer to that time of year when some people like to visit cemeteries more frequently...and since several things for Santisima Muerte are done in the cemetery any time of the year...I suppose I should throw out some tips for spiritual safety and protection. The following is general information that I’ve received over the years throughout my training in the various traditions I hold. None of it will be specific to any tradition, therefore none of it will be “secrets” I’m giving out. These concepts and tips are commonly found within many of the  Afro-Caribbean and New World living folk traditions, although the spirits and details vary from tradition to tradition. If you’ve been initiated and/or trained in tradition that employs the cemetery, then stick with what you were taught. This is more for those who are starting out or those who haven’t yet received the spiritual license and protection many of the initiations of these traditions provide. Also, just because these are general tips from different traditions, please don’t try to use them to create your own hodge-podge practice. For example, don’t use this information to petition Oya at the gate of the cemetery, so you can walk up to the central cross to honor Baron Samdi, then proceed to a grave calling on Exus and Pomba Giras to team up with Santisima Muerte to help you kill someone. Please don’t try that. Instead, you can use what you find here for simple honoring of the dead, collecting cemetery dirt, when you need to take something to the cemetery for Santisima Muerte, and to generally protect yourself when you feel like taking an afternoon stroll through the domain of the dead.

Denizens of the Cemetery

To give you an idea as to what you need protection from, let’s look at who and what can be found in and around the cemetery. First and foremost, there is the cemetery gatekeeper. This is the spiritual being who controls the flow in and out of the cemetery for many spirits and who should always be recognized and paid by a living person before entering. Failure to do so can result in the gatekeeper allowing nasty spirits to leave the cemetery with you and follow you home to cause trouble. Don’t snub the gatekeeper, as he/she performs a vital role in keeping young and confused spirits from wandering out of the cemetery and moving in with you! If you’re part of a tradition already, you’re going to work with your tradition’s gatekeeper. If not, don’t worry, just keep it simple and respectful, and devotees of Santisima Muerte can call on her to intercede on their behalf.

By far the majority of the spirits encountered within the cemetery walls are the ones you would expect, the dead. Not all the dead buried here will be present, but a lot of them will be. Who are these folks? Well, they’re people, like you and me, just without bodies or a sense of linear time/space. Some may be confused, sad, angry, desperate, whatever. The spirits of those who haven’t moved on to where ever it is they go or haven’t accepted they’re dead will be the ones encountered easily and randomly. Their spirits many times linger near their body, whether they know it or not. If you happen to get the attention of these spirits the results can vary. They may try to take their anger out on you, or try to get your attention to help them, or follow you home to be near someone.

Just above the general dead in risk level are the spirits who realize they’re dead and have over time began to learn how to use this to their advantage. They’ve started to figure out how things work and how to get what they need from the living. Again, these can be the spirits of many types of people, including drug addicts, alcoholics, and murderers. They can from time to time leave the cemetery after the sun sets, with the permission of the gatekeeper, but usually they have to return by morning, unless they can find a person or place that they can latch onto. A person walking home drunk in the middle of the night tends to be a favorite.

Beyond those just mentioned, the more advanced and elevated spirits of the dead have a higher potential for being dangerous. Typically, they’re much older and have been around the block quite a few times, and by a few times I mean centuries. They can also leave their own cemetery and go into others with little trouble. Some of them may have been spiritual workers in life and decided to stay around the physical realm to continue working for people in exchange for payment(s). Lacking a strict set of ethics they must abide by, they can be very tricky and typically have their own interests at heart. Tricksters are among these spirits, the ones who can pretend to be higher spirits, deities, and even sometimes try to imitate Santisima Muerte in order to receive service from people.

Further up the hierarchy we encounter those who rule over the cemetery, and generally the threat level goes down for most living people, especially those who have not been initiated into any specific priesthood or magical order. These spiritual beings heed little attention to the majority of the living. It’s the priests and sorcerers who have to deal with them to grant permission for any major workings to be done in their domain. However, an untrained, uninitiated person dabbling around the cemetery without showing proper respect is likely to attract some attention from these beings, with the possibility of them sending some of the more dangerous spirits home with that person to teach some harsh lessons.

The last spirits I feel I need to mention are the ones that really should be a concern to most people, experienced or novice. These are dark, twisted spirits of that are full of and induce anger, hate, malice, obsession, addiction, and more. Spirits, some of which were once people and some that never were, who for whatever reason have been transformed into something far from human and closely resemble what most people in the Western world would consider a demon. They can be found dwelling in an abandoned crypt in the cemetery or lurking in shadows outside the walls. These spirits rarely seek out living victims on their own, but they can be sent by some of the more advanced ones to do whatever work needs to be done. Regardless, it’s best to always be protected when going anywhere these spirits might be.

Cemetery Precautions and Guidelines

Before you even leave your house to go to the cemetery, you should exercise caution by covering your head. The head is the seat of the soul, in many spiritual systems, and covering it while in the cemetery is one of the easiest, yet most important, things you can do to protect yourself. (As a side note, this can also be applied anytime you go somewhere that more than likely can be a source of negative spirits and influences, such as a hospital, bar, or jailhouse, or when you journey out at night.) You can wear a hat, baseball cap, head wrap, bandana, whatever. If you want to make it a little stronger, sprinkle a few drops of holy water inside the hat or cap or on the cloth before putting it on. Wear whatever protective jewelry, including scapulars, holy medals, or whatever else you may have. Place in your pockets whatever protective objects you have made or had made for you. It wouldn’t hurt to have a small bag of salt on you, as well. If you have any open wounds, bandage and cover them. Finally, make sure you have pennies or some other coins to use as simple payment for entry into the cemetery and to leave as offerings or payment for whatever you’re doing.

When you approach the cemetery gate (or where the gate should be), pause and knock three times. Announce who you are (you don’t have to do it out loud) to the gatekeeper and ask permission to enter. Drop three coins and walk in (the number of coins in addition to offerings vary from tradition to tradition, but for something simple, three is a good number.) Some people walk in backwards to prevent being identified, but for simple visits this isn’t really a concern. If you’re just there to walk around or visit a loved one’s grave, you’ve pretty much done all you need to do. Just be respectful while you’re there. Don’t speak ill of the dead, and act as if you’re in someone else’s home—because you are.

If you’ve come to leave offerings or deposit a working (be careful with this until you have more experience and training from an experienced teacher/godparent under your belt!), find the location you’re looking for, leave the offerings or work, leave the payment, take three steps backwards, turn, and walk away without looking back. And as you leave the cemetery it might be a good idea to take out that little bag of salt and throw some behind you over your shoulder after you’ve gone a few steps through the gate. You may also want to take a cleansing bath when you get home—it helps if you’ve already made it beforehand and it’s ready the moment you arrive. Also, in these cases it would help to have a line of salt placed across the threshold of your door before you leave. (If you haven’t noticed by now, salt is very effective in protecting against many spirits of the dead, the less elevated ones, that is.) These last few steps of should also be done if you’ve decided to go and clean up some gravesites, as some people like to do around All Souls’ Day. It’s not always a great idea to go home and relax covered in cemetery dirt.

Going to the cemetery at night is when extra precautions should be taken, and this really shouldn’t be done by a novice or untrained person. Nighttime is when many spirits of the dead are more active, along with the others discussed earlier. Those tips I just mentioned should be done anytime you decide to visit the boneyard after the sun sets. Be careful and listen to your instincts. If you get an uneasy feeling while there, just leave. Again, I stress finding a competent teacher or godparent to guide you before doing anything in the cemetery after dark.

The signs that you’ve picked up something from the cemetery or something’s followed you home can vary greatly. However, they usually include restlessness, paranoia, difficulty sleeping, unpleasant dreams, lack of energy, sudden illness, unusual mood swings, among other unpleasantries. If you experience a combination of these symptoms after doing anything in a cemetery, seek out a competent person who can determine what the problem is and provide a solution. A cleansing of your body, along with your home, will take care of most problems, but if you’re not experienced I highly suggest finding someone who can do this for you. Most likely they will charge you, because it is time and work, along with exposing themselves to the problem, but most of the time it’s well worth it.


Please have an exciting, but safe, season of the dead!

Photo by Allan Spiers