Monday, July 24, 2017

Writing Your own Magickal Chants

Magical chants work very much like mantras. They provide for us a device that helps to focus our mind on the single task at hand – raising power. Just as a burning feeling builds in a muscle when it is repeatedly used, so the energy of the witch builds when one uses a chant.  When writing magical chants, there are a few principles to keep in mind to write the kind of chant to which generations after you will gravitate.


Rhythm

The process of thinking is a taxing one. The mind puts incredible energy into organizing all of the many thoughts that it processes. It is designed to seek out order, even to the point of creating patterns when none exist. This is a by-product of our mind clinging to the principle of cause and effect. “This happened because that happened first, right? Doesn’t everything happen for a reason?”

Because the mind loves patterns, rhythm, which is simply a pattern of sounds and silences, activates the storage ability of the mind very easily. Adding rhythm to chants makes them memorable, but it also makes them fun to speak, much like singing a song or humming a tune.

Rhyme, which is a manifestation of pattern, isn’t necessary to put in chants, but it does help the mind to more smoothly experience the patterns that it craves.
There are many rhythms already present in the world today. In both poetry and music, rhythm is typically called “beat.” Both poems and songs can provide you with some interesting rhythms to borrow when building a new chant. Remember how attractive – almost addictive to the ear –is the rhythm and rhyme in Poe’s The Raven? There is no reason to reinvent the beat in your chant from scratch.


Metaphor

Adding metaphor to chants is a great way of expanding your options when trying to compose a chant. To create metaphors, you look for associations between concepts that may be somewhat similar. For example, if someone is a coat-tail rider, you may also metaphorically refer to them as a flea on a dog. Fire is symbolic of passion, because the feeling acts as quickly and completely as does a burning flame. You can make connections between any of the properties or characteristics of two things to establish some kind of symbolism.

The Germanic peoples were particularly accomplished at a kind of metaphor called “kenning.” A kenning is a metaphor in which the description for one well-known thing is used to create the metaphorical name of something else. For example, if I had a particular dog that became somewhat famous for chasing the rabbits in the yard, I might metaphorically refer to all dogs in general as “bunny bullies,” which is simply a kenning for the word “dog.”


Atmosphere

Many witches discount a chant’s atmosphere in an effort to score on rhythm and rhyme. Though you may have a very rhythmic and memorable chant, filled with all kinds of symbolism, you may still have a chant that doesn’t feel right when the circle is cast. Atmosphere is the overall feeling that a chant conveys. It creates a flavor, through the connotations built into the words of our cultures and languages, helping to paint a thorough picture of the scene in which a chant is most appropriate to use.

Many nursery rhymes feel childlike, because they were written to convey an atmosphere that was appropriate for children. Here is the earliest printed example (1881) of what we know today as “Ring around the Rosie.”
Ring-a-ring-a roses
A pocket full of posies;
Ashes, Ashes,
We all fall down!

Though this the rhyme’s connection to the Black Plague is highly contested, it could still make an excellent representation, through each line, of the symptoms, a possible ward, more symptoms and then the deadly result of the Plague. Yet its atmosphere is decidedly childlike.

To change the atmosphere of this rhyme, one could consult a thesaurus to find words with similar meaning, but darker connotations. I decided to consider each line and rewrite the same message using darker verbiage. Here’s how a darker rhyme about the Plague might look.
Big ole’ blackened bubo,
Posy hurled high and low;
Cinders, cinders
No one sees the dawn.

Though the atmosphere might still feel a bit childlike, perhaps because most of us cannot help but hear the original words in our minds when we hear that particular rhythm, the new rhythm is decidedly darker.

Creating a darker atmosphere is particularly important for chants that ward or curse, as these actions require a seriousness in our moods that help to keep us focused on the particular intent. Here’s a chant I wrote to disturb the thoughts of anyone who may be opposing you. It isn’t necessarily for cursing, but it can create a kerfuffle in the mind of someone competing for the same job as you.
Stones and sticks and broken bits,
Wreck and ruin rival wits.


Theme

By leveraging metaphor and atmosphere together, you ensure that the chant represents the appropriate theme for your spell. Your spell’s intent should have a picture – a kind of mental snapshot representing in one mental image everything for which the spell is cast. That picture should be well represented by your chant. Certainly, there are chants that are good for general use, because they represent general pagan concepts or have very little connotations attached to the words that comprise them. But most chants need to be thematically related to the spell being cast. For example, the previous chant would not be appropriate to use as a healing chant.

A witch’s spell written by children’s book writer, Mary Norton in 1943 and represented in the Disney film, Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, shows lots of rhythm and the atmosphere is just right. It is a spell for turning any creature into a white rabbit.
Filigree, Apogee, Pedigree, Perigee

What makes it thematically correct is that it uses some higher level vocabulary including two from science (apogee and perigee) and a word relating to animals (pedigree), yet the words are relatively obscure for common speech, almost to the point of being esoteric. So the mind could perfectly agree that this chant could be a valid spell for turning a human into an animal. The key here is that the mind can agree with the appropriateness of the chant. Since most people’s minds are a bit flexible, one doesn’t have to be literal, but one shouldn’t wander too far off target either.


Simplicity

The last quality that is important in a chant is maintaining some degree of simplicity. Despite that the mind remembers things rather well when it has the help of rhythm, chants need to do more than simply stick in the mind. They also need to be spoken with ease. Unfortunately, our minds move more quickly than do our mouths.

The sounds we speak are made by the muscular flexibility and quickness of a variety of structures, including lips, tongue, jaw, vocal cords and diaphragm. We use all of these harmoniously, or else we wouldn’t speak with very much precision. We tend to worry about speaking with precision because no one wants their communication to be constantly misunderstood. But when we put together sounds at which we aren’t very practiced at making repeatedly, our bodies can’t move quickly or precisely enough to form them precisely.

As a witch gets further into the ecstatic moment – closer to the moment of release - this precision may become so unimportant that one may be simply muttering nonsense (rhythmically). But at the start of a chant, we need to minimize the difficulty. Too much oral difficulty steals focus. We begin to worry, even unconsciously, that we aren’t speaking correctly. Our brain starts putting more and more of its focus into the acrobatics of the mouth, which means we are not giving that focus to the intent of our spell.

Some poetic devices can be useful for creating the sought-after chant simply, but those same devices can also work against you. Alliteration puts the same sound at the beginning of concurrent beats. As in our previous example, “stones and sticks and broken bits,” there are two alliterative phrases (a repeating “s,” followed by a repeating “b”) that flow easily off the tongue. But be wary that too many repeating sounds may be too difficult to speak. A chant should not be a tongue twister. Unfortunately, there are no rules that apply. You will simply have to try the chant aloud to discover if it trips up your mouth.

A great chant will check all the boxes. It will be memorable, easy to speak without tying up the tongue, metaphorically describe the theme of the spell and convey the atmosphere of the theme. Often you will unconsciously know that it is a good chant because you will find that you, as well as others who may use it, will gravitate back to that chant over again. Well-made chants will seem to take on a life of their own, making themselves a part of your magickal tradition.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Family Ancestry and Veneration

The following topic could possibly illicit some horrible reactions. Given that everyone wants to be focused on issues of racism and cultural misappropriation these days, there may be an assumption that this entry is about race. To address that, I have to first note that this is my blog and I can write whatever I want, because until further notice, I do still have the freedom to express myself. You, the reader, also have the freedom to navigate away from my words and not read them. Secondly, let me note that this blog entry is not about race at all, it is about families and their cultures. If you can't separate the two in your head, you need to stop reading now and go away.

The honoring of our past relatives is extremely important. Without diving into an extremely long blog entry on why it's important, just follow me down this thought path. Wouldn't you rather your descendants remember and honor you, instead of completely forgetting you? If you aren't going to leave a significant mark on this world through an invention or some major discovery, don't you at least want the mark you leave (your progeny) to recognize your contribution to their existence? And if the previous is true for you, why wouldn't you want to provide the same recognition to those who were responsible for your existence so that they are not forgotten? You exist because of them. To me, that alone makes them worthy of honor.

I'm not going to get into what you should do in ritual practice to honor your ancestors. Some great insights can be found in a book that I love because it is completely on target and appropriately written. It is also briefer than most books, as ancestor veneration is more about action and feeling than about research and "doing things right." If you can get it, read through Weaving Memory: A Guide to Honoring the Ancestors by Laura Patsouris.

Update, Oct. 19, 2017: I've recently learned that Laura Patsouris suffered some medical issues and so her book is out of print with no hope of new editions. If you can get it at a library, I encourage you to do so, but please respect that libraries are for everyone by not stealing this book from circulation. It darkens all of us to have knowledge stolen away.
Additionally, Raven Kaldera, the Managing Editor of the imprint for Laura's book has revealed that many of the articles written for Laura's book have been reprinted in a new book, along with new material by others. The book is called Calling to Our Ancestors by Sarenth Odinsson. Raven writes that "over half this book is the same (as Laura's)."

You may think it a gripe of semantics, but I should note that what I am exploring here is not called "ancestor worship." The word worship is tossed around a great deal, particularly in relation to this topic and by those who understand it very little. One can show honor to a deity that one worships - indeed, honor is one expression of worship. But worship is what one does for deities, not for the spirits of the dead. As a result, calling this "ancestor worship" is incorrect and shows misunderstanding. Doing so also incorrectly communicates to those who don't understand (and may be seeking to) exactly what we are doing, allowing them to have a misguided view of what we believe. I am not addressing here whether or not the dead can become deified; that is certainly possible. Rather, I am addressing what it is correctly called when one honors one's ancestors, albeit in a ritualized manner. A commonly used and acceptable word is veneration, since veneration is synonymous with reverence.

I should note that making appeals to ancestors for aid is also not worship, though it is an extremely common and valid magical practice. It is a practice seen in Catholic appeals to the Saints, as well as in Hoohoo appeals to the (named or unnamed) dead. One is not worshiping the dead when one makes an appeal to a dead spirit any more than one is worshiping the living when one asks for help from a living person. You can better hold onto the understanding of this concept by remembering that the dead are simply "the formerly living." One can venerate the living, but does not worship the living.

Because of the importance and power of names (you can read a bit more about that in this entry), knowing the names of your ancestors is extremely helpful and powerful. Upon first learning the name of a previously unknown ancestor, my mind swirls with speculation of the culture, the time, the whole world in which that person must have lived! Learning names breathes life into your ancestors - like peering through a window in which the past is on the other side. Of course, one can only learn names by doing research. Though you may not be good at research, it is the most effective and powerful non-ritual method of honoring your ancestors. Once you know their names, they are no longer forgotten. What could be a greater gesture of honor than making someone no longer forgotten? To advance my own practices of veneration, I have been researching my own ancestors for many years and I've worked very hard to discover their names.

Does this mean one can't do ancestor veneration unless one knows the names of one's ancestors? Certainly not! It is completely valid to conduct an act of veneration for those who are unnamed. I have personally made appeals to certain unnamed ancestors asking them to reveal themselves in my research, only to have new avenues of records become available that reveals their name!

There are a few practices that are traditionally frowned upon, mostly by the Hoodoo culture, when conducting ancestor veneration. I'm going to review a few and provide my two cents about each.

  1. Veneration should never be conducted in a room where people sleep. I have no problem with enforcing this, unless one lives in a single studio room that includes one's bed, or there are sleeping people everywhere. If the rule would exclude the practice altogether, one needs to evaluate the spirit of the rule. Some have claimed that the dead can disturb the dreams of the living and make sleeping not very restful. But then my logic asks, "if they are your family, and disturbing your dreams would make you not venerate them, why would they do that to you and halt your veneration?"
  2. Offerings of food are okay, as long as there is no salt or animal flesh provided. Does this mean no ice-cream? My dad loved butter pecan ice-cream. If I was going to make an offering of food, that would be what I'd pick. But is milk an animal flesh? I have to ask why food is even necessary at all. Aren't they no longer living? I would advise not to use any kind of food in your veneration practices. I think the desire to give food to the dead comes from anthropomorphizing what is no longer human. Yes, they are "formerly living" people, but a transformation happens to them when they give up their material body. Once the dead give up their bodies, the desires that are motivated by material life fall away. All of the energy that is needed by spirits can come from the veneration practice. The salt simply comes from the tradition that salt blocks the movement of energy.
  3. Images of the dead should not include anyone who is living. I completely agree with this one and here's why. An altar is a ritual focal point. It is where you pump your magical energy. If that energy incorporates an unconscious understanding that the target is dead, yet there are images of the living present, those living people could become the recipient of that energy for the dead. That could be disturbing to the psyche of the living. It could potentially cause problems as your energy for the dead constantly bombards their personal field. Given that computer-based scanners and photo editors are easy use these days, there is no reason why the living can't be excluded from altar photographs. When in doubt, leave it out.
  4. Ancestors who were abusive or substance-abusers in life should not be venerated in death. The intent behind this rule is to prevent you from granting access to your energy to spirits with potentially hostile intent. Again, I have trouble with this one for the same reason I gave in #2 above; this is an attempt to anthropomorphize the dead. According to the writings of spirtist, Allan Kardec, once spirits give up their material bodies, all of the trials that motivated their actions in life fall away. They become free from those material influences and their motivations change, as do their actions. However, he also sites the distinction between the 9 levels or types of spirit energy. Some of these are immortal and some of these are not. Those that are not have a time limit before they completely dissipate, though they will attempt to avert decay with influxes of energy from the living. According to some, these soul-remnants can retain the base inclinations of life and can make some spirits quite nasty. So I must admit, I'm willing to concede this rule and omit certain dead from my place of veneration.

Recently, I decided to have my DNA tested for the proportions of genetics contributed by each of my ancestral origins. But if I look at the research I've already done, as well as the extensive research completed by my uncle in this area, I think I can chart a solid expectation of my test results. Let's assume that my family history breaks down into 8 main lines (my 8 great-grandparents). This is what I expect.

Mother's grandparents:
1. Line traced to 1741; German (the earliest was a "Hessian" captured by General Washington when he crossed the Delaware)
2. Line traced to 1670; German
3. Line traced to 1915; records for this line are undiscovered; possibly German
4. Line traced to 1590; British and Netherlander

Father's grandparents:
1. Line traced to 1811; German and British
2. Line traced to 1622; Scots Irish and British
3. Line traced to 1291; Swedish, then French, then British
4. Line traced to 1794; German (Franconia/Bavaria) and from where my surname comes.

Nearly all of the mentioned family lines settled in the western Maryland and south-central Pennsylvania areas as early American colonists. They were farmers and a very solid part of the colonial Pennsylvania Germans (the "Dutch"), though not of the Anabaptist groups.

I expect that my test will show a large amount of northern and central European (Germanic) heritage. I may find that most of my family is centered in one small area of Europe; I may find that there are hidden or unknown cultures about which I never knew. I don't expect to see very much from any other cultures on other continents, but it would be a fun surprise to know I had more in the mix, such as, Hispanic, African, American Indian or even a far eastern culture.

Being made up of mixed cultures means I have more complexity to tap when I honor my ancestors. Ancestral veneration practices are only partially built and executed for you. Mostly, they are done for the dead. You give them what you think they want. This means that a past ancestor may respond favorably if one uses practices that are based on one's familiar culture. Like the living, the dead prefer to have familiar things around. when one has many cultures contributing, the arrangement can become wonderfully "patchworked." Consider it like this: if you were a spirit being honored by one of your descendants, wouldn't you like to see some familiar elements from your own culture woven into the effort, instead of veneration that doesn't tip its hat to your culture in the least? As a result, your practices may seem like a cultural hodge-podge. That's entirely alright. What's most important is that you do something - anything - to show them honor and pay them some memory. Your practice can be as simple as lighting a candle, saying a prayer of honor and thanks, then blowing out the candle.Yep, it's that easy!

Ancestor veneration also achieves something wonderful. It gives you a moment of daily meditation. You can use the memory of your ancestors on which to focus, much like a mantra. These moments of meditation slowly transform your mind to be more receptive to intuitive skills. Not only will you grow closer to your familial dead, you will become more receptive to their messages and more adept at spell work in general.

Now for the racial part that is going to make people upset. Just as there were many different cultures produced by racially white people, there were also many cultures produced by racially black people and brown people and yellow people and red people. Every tribe, clan, country and region produced its own practices that it held dear. Honoring those, rather than thinking that some are more valid or desirable than others, is what's most important during ancestor veneration. Whether you are the most racially pure person on the planet or a thoroughly blended human being, your ancestor veneration should be free of your racial issues, focusing instead on those cultural practices to which you are drawn..

This practice also teaches us - the living - that being different from each other is okay and worth celebrating. We can't celebrate diversity until we recognize diversity. We have to be willing to point out how we are different and then be open to sharing it. We have to be willing to say to each other, "I am white; you are black. Let's learn about each other so we can better value each other." Because of a fear of being labeled a racist, I believe that there is a lot of effort in the world today trying to wipe away our differences and our ancestral cultures by making our world intolerant to the act of cultural celebration. Cultural celebration is not racism, but it can be bigotry if we approach cultures that are not our own as if they are inferior to us.

Update, November 17, 2017: I learned from my test that I am largely Germanic. The bulk of my DNA comes from western Europe with a smaller amount from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. I had no DNA from the British Isles, Africa, Asia or the Americas. To my surprise, I had very distant DNA that was Sephardic Jew. This shouldn't surprise me, though, since most of the Jews who were expelled from Spain by King Ferdinand settled in Germanic areas of Europe.