When folks come over and inquire about the macaroni in the offering dishes upon my house shrine I act like it’s no big deal. I just made too much and so I gave it to my spirits. It gets a little more complicated to explain that I am expected by my spirits to make too much and give them their fair share. That I keep their offering bowls small because they expect them to be filled.
It’s all rather a lot of bother.
Spirit work and devotional practice that is. A bother. That’s why it’s called work and practice I suppose.
Years ago, I was researching medicine bags and crane bags and the like. I came across something talking about Native American shamans and their relationship with their medicine bags, and with the spirits within their medicine bags. For some, they had to sing a specific song for each item/spirit in the bag before opening it. Over the years the bag would acquire more and more items. When they died, they might pass their bag onto someone else, who would have to learn the songs for all the spirits in the bag. Then start collecting their own power objects and familiar spirits and sing songs for them as well. Sometimes it gets to the point that it takes well over and hour to sing all the songs required before the shaman can even open the fucking bag and get to work.
Then there’s the need to take care of a big-ass heavy bag full of precious objects and spirits who want you to sing yourself hoarse before they will work with you.
Imagine being a slave to your medicine bag.
Welcome to one of the less glamorous aspects of being a Hedgewitch. The bother. The expectations. The schedule that must be kept. The building and maintaining of relationships with entities that some people don’t even think are real. Booyeah.
Have I ever mentioned that I’m a little afraid of my casting collection? No? Heh. Well, maybe wary is the better term for it. I am wary of becoming a slave to it … because, well, all 30-odd pieces want me to sing to them. Fortunately, the pieces of my casting collection are/is kind of a hive-mind (that’s the best that I can explain it, like a bee colony or ants or something) so I think one song for all might make them happy.
But if I start singing for them, who else will want a song? The casting collection’s main job is translation and communication with my spirits. If I singing to the collection, will the ancestors get jealous and want a song? What about everybody else? Oh, and HE already wants me to play the bloody tambourine for Him, no matter how poorly I play (and I do play poorly). Have I mentioned that I’m a terrible singer? Maybe I can negotiate for more poorly played tambourine instead of having to write/divine and sing chants?
Just the care and feeding of the casting collection alone is a lot of work. Pieces leave as they wish, choosing when to fall out of my hands or bag and disappear into the weeds and grass, or to roll away and drop off a pier or go under a bookcase. I do sometimes choose when to retire a piece and sometime they ask. But rather a lot of the time I simply open the bag one day to discover one of the pieces is gone and I never got to say goodbye.
Then I have to go through the process of finding a replacement, then prepping it, introducing it to “the group”, blessings, charging, blooding. Then I have to learn how it speaks and what it says and how it works with the other pieces, while they are all still figuring that out themselves. The hive mind has changed slightly. I’m kept always on my toes. It’s always changing, I am always learning, there is no chance to simply memorize meanings and then rest on my laurels.
The collection (it’s such a great example and a large part of my practice lately) likes to be warmed up a bit before casting. I usually do this by giving the bag a gentle shake (think like how you bounce a baby) and holding the pieces in my hands, gathering them up together. I’ve gotten good enough to chatter inanely to others while doing so. Somehow making it obvious that I must greet the pieces and cajole them to work earns me funny looks.
That’s a whole other bother … fellow witches and pagans who don’t get it. Who think that it all must be done elegantly, flowing and … and not weird. Do something odd or awkward like blowing on your divination set or baby talking to a crow skull and all your validity goes right out the window in their mind. Nevermind that fact that the elegant shit is just for show and the spitting, swearing, shaking, whispering, sweating, bloodletting, pissing and such is the real deal! It’s supposed to look like the white witch on TV with her perfectly rhyming poetry and not the crazy voodoo chick with her eyes rolling back into her head on that documentary we watched once … right? Bullshit.
The collection like all my spirits (great and small) likes scared smoke. A favourite offering. Incense is probably the most commonly given. As other than possibly annoying the girl up stairs with the constant smell of sandalwood or juniper berries burning on a hot coal it is pretty easy. But the other kinds of smoke makes them happier, is somehow more nourishing. Because it is shared I think. Put it in your pipe and inhale, fill you lungs, then breathe it out onto/into them. Sharing not just the smoke but your breath as well. From deep within yourself. A gift of self, smoke and energy. There are many different types of smoke that can be used, some more legal or safer than others. Some of my spirits have preferences. The casting collection likes all kinds of sage but especially salvia divinorum, what a surprise. But that’s for special occasions. Usually.
Others have a thing for tobacco, especially buy cigarettes. Because they know that I am addicted. The fuckers. I quit smoking about 6 years ago. But I do it for them now and then. I light a cig or buy some good tobacco for my pipe. I inhale (of course whether I inhale or not depends, you don’t inhale when smoking a cigar for example) and I share it. I fight the cravings the day after. I never do it in the home because the smell will drive me crazy. I never touch tobacco, of any sort, except in ritual situations. It’s becoming more and more like a geas (or geis, but I like the Scottish spelling myself). As if I need another one. At least this one only makes me look odd once in a while, such as when the girls are digging through a box of herbs and hands me a bag of “incense” tobacco and I drop it, or quickly hand it off. Lame excuse: I quite smoking and I stay away from it now. But Juni, it’s not like smoking tobacco or cigarettes. Yes, but still … here take this.
At least the food related geas handed to me by the Big Guy can be passed of as a food allergy!
I’m starting to ramble a bit I think so I’ll get to the point. It’s fucking WORK people. Really real work. It amazes me how often a god or spirit taps on someone’s shoulder, gives them some tiny sign and they … do nothing. They sit around and wait for another tap, another sign. Then wonder why nothing is happening.
A large portion of the castings that I do with my collection are for people who want to know what they should do on their Path, which spirit(s) they should work with. The answer is almost always the same: Do the work, you haven’t done enough. Why yes, there is a god/spirit/ancestor who has an interest in you, but you haven’t earned anything more than that yet. Do the work, make the offerings, do you research. For a long while.
Most people I talk to give up a month or three after that first tap on the shoulder. But Juniper! I gave him/her/it offerings once a week for three whole months! That’s it? That’s all? My spirits demand at on offering every single fucking day kiddo. Or they won’t talk to me. That’s just for maintenance. If I want real help or real knowledge they want blood, sweat and tears on a regular basis.
I’m going to be an annoying egotistical bastard and quote myself:
“…There is no such thing as “good enough” in a spiritual practice, especially when that “good enough” means you did next to nothing at all. A spiritual Path is not supposed to be easy and the gods don’t like lazy people.
The gods, spirits and ancestors do not reward people who do not do the work to earn their respect. If you want to develop a relationship with the Otherworld and the Spirits of the Land you have to earn it. You cannot simply show up with your hand out expecting a prize, for no work, like a spoiled child.
… You cannot expect your ancestors, people who fought battles with swords, who pushed horse drawn plows, who would walk many miles to the yearly feast grounds, to give you long lost lore for nothing. What we must look like to them, we who are so spoiled and pampered that we whine and complain when the processional to the ritual is longer than 3 city blocks. How can you ask for their aid, protection or knowledge when you are willing to do little more than pour half a bottle of cheap whisky out to them once in a while?
The processional for the Eleusian Mysteries in ancient times took a whole day.”
I’ve spent the whole month of August and the first 10 days of September plying my spirits with food and drink and prayer and poetry and smoke. I gave them a whole room in the apartment to themselves. I lead a ritual for Lughnasadh for my ritual group and assisted a friend in a devotional and prosperity ritual before my own altar. I spent a good part of last night on my knees, my face pressed against the hardwood flooring.
In return, last night I was given a dream. I dreamed that I was in a lodge in the woods. There was a gathering of witches there. They formed a circle, sitting, standing, kneeling around it. My casting collection was scattered around the edge of the circle. They were trying to divine something. One witch made a valiant effort but in vain, the information did not come. They turned to me. They wanted me to try. I dug in my heels. I could do it but I didn’t want to do it in front of them. They’d all look at me like I’m crazy. It wouldn’t work if I did it in flowing elegance and perfect poetry. This isn’t Wicca, this isn’t Druidry. This isn’t even religion. It’s witchcraft.
I step towards the circle. I stomp and shuffle. I rock back and forth. I wave my arms around. I make guttural sounds. My eyes roll in my head. The witches look on as if I am crazy. I hear them whisper, is she faking? Is she putting on a show? Why is she being so weird? I rock even more, I stomp around. I am wild and unpredictable. I fall on the floor within the circle, on my back. One arm raised behind my head.
Suddenly my spirits are there. They show me a new technique for slipping out of my skin. I am not permitted to share it with you here. But it works. They show me twice to make sure I know it. Then they wake me up so that I will remember. My hard earned reward for the last 6 weeks of work, a gift. Precious. I look forward to many months, maybe years, of practice to get it right.
There are bruises on my knees. Blisters on my feet. Burns on my fingers. My house reeks of a dozen different kinds of incense, the lady upstairs makes a point of coughing in an annoyed manner every time she is in the stairwell. There is beer in the fridge that I will not drink, except a sip for sharing. I’m tired and my head feels like it is stuffed with cotton. I have to go to work today.
Welcome to walking the hedge, bitches.