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Aspecting In the Service of Deity - by Robin La Sirena
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What's Going On Here? - by Elle
Anchor Shift - by Inanna Hazel
The Music Embedded in the Building Itself - by Ortha Splingaerd
A Key Magical Practice
Aspecting In the Service of Deity
by Robin LaSirena
Aspecting — also called Possession or Drawing Down the Moon — is the calling in of a deity into a person, so that person speaks the words of the god/dess, and experiences things as that divine being.
People differ in what they believe happens. Some see it as actually having deity come into them. Some people think of it as drawing out their own god-selves. Others experience it as a heightened trance state. In the Catholic religion, possession is an evil experience, in which one is taken over by a malevolent being. Some ecstatic Christian faiths speak in tongues, and invite God or the Holy Spirit to come into them as a matter of regular practice. Some Wiccan traditions include drawing down as part of the training to become a priestess.
Aspecting is not used very often in Reclaiming. Our practice is rooted in the belief that no one else can stand as a spiritual authority for another person. To claim to speak for the gods could be an awfully cocky thing to do. We’re wary because it could be used as a tool of power. Aspecting work must be done in the spirit of service to the gods, not as a way of developing personal power.
I was trained in a more structured tradition of Wicca, where part of our work involved learning how to aspect the gods. Later, when I began working with Reclaiming and became a teacher, I felt a desire to explore aspecting within this style of magic.
I have participated in some rituals where the aspecting didn’t seem real. I decided to teach a couple of workshops on aspecting in San Francisco. My intention was to explore why aspecting did or didn’t work, and to encourage people to be as truthful in their magical working as they could be.
I am also drawn to work around connecting with deity. Having my own personal struggles with crises of faith, it is good to have work that helps me reconnect.
I’m writing this article not as a how-to-explanation, but to bring up things to think about. Aspecting is a tricky skill — one shouldn’t try it based solely on reading an article. This work should be explored only after a good amount of time working in the Craft. You need a regular practice of meditation or grounding, established for at least a year. You need a firm experience of your Self to come back to, and to know how to do this on your own.
So much of our work is about self-knowledge, which is a long and many-layered path. We need to be comfortable with our deeper and shadowy sides before doing this work.
I also believe one should not aspect alone. It is important to have someone else there to help you come back after aspecting, preferably someone with prior experience with the work, and who knows you well.
Levels of Aspecting
A few years ago I co-facilitated a workshop at Pantheacon (an annual Pagan conference that happens in the Bay Area) on Aspecting. It was fascinating to hear the experiences of people from different traditions. In Brazil, those who practice Yoruban tradition study and train for a full year before they are allowed to speak while aspecting. The voice brings up our personality and ego, and that’s what we want to get out of the way.
We have to be comfortable with honesty and parts of ourselves we may not like. For instance, someone you’re working with may feel that you were not actually channeling the voice of another being, but speaking out of your own beliefs. That might be hard to hear. You might want to defend yourself. But to really get better at the skill, you have to be able to admit, “Yes, I was nervous, and I wanted you to believe it was happening,” if that’s what is going on.
There are different degrees to which one can be affected. At witchcamp a few years ago, Anne Hill, based on material created by Judy Harrow, described four levels of aspecting.
The first and lightest is Enhancement. Here experiences are close to normal. One is in control of one’s actions, but sensing things in a more intensified way. Language becomes more poetic.
The second level is Inspiration. One is still in control, but it feels like something is coming through. In this state people can often talk about things without having had knowledge of them before.
The third state is one of Integration, which some refer to as the state of actual Aspecting. This is when people speak as the God/dess. Some describe this as feeling like their personality steps aside from half of their space, to allow for someone else to come in. Afterwards the person may have some memory of what happened, but usually can’t recount all of the experience.
The fourth level is Full Trance Possession. People do things they can’t normally, such as speak in tongues, or do physical things requiring great strength. Afterwards there may be no conscious awareness of what occurred.
My friend Raudhildr, who works in the NROOGD and Norse traditions, describes it in her inimitable way:
• Wrapped up — the Goddess has gently wrapped a cloak around you
• Tied up — you’re starting to be held by the attributes of that being
• Tangled up — you’re starting to get all mixed together
• My Big Toe — you’re not very present any more
• Bye Bye Baby — you won’t remember much of anything afterward
Preparing the Container
I believe in taking the cautious approach to aspecting. This means setting up a defined container for the deity to enter. I teach folks to create a contract of how long you want to be aspecting, and how far you’d like the deity to come into you. It’s helpful to state this contract out loud to another person. This makes it more real, something you can’t fudge on later. For example, “I will let Brigid in for 45 minutes, and would like her to help me to write poetry for a ritual to her.”
It’s also essential to have an intention for inviting the deity. It’s just respectful — you don’t want to be calling in a goddess just for a treat. It may be that you have created a ritual around working with a deity, and so will want to have them there to perform some magical working. Or you might have questions you want them to answer. Then you might write down questions beforehand to bring out during the ritual.
Having set the stage, one prepares the container. This process is about emptying your mind and getting yourself ready to meet the goddess. One can do this in several ways — meditating, praying, and calling to her. It is important to not rush this stage. Take the time to silence your talking, busy mind. You don’t want your ego to get in the way of the work.
Another way to prepare yourself is to put on a specific piece of clothing (a mask, hat, veil, etc.) that you associate with that deity. This helps to define that you are entering that other state of being. In some traditions, it is also appropriate to take a specific stance. This position would be a receptive one, such as standing with arms open to take in what is coming to you.
There are different ways to “call in.” Some spiritual traditions do it through music and dance. Specific movements and songs are associated with specific deities, and used to call them in. In the class I taught, we didn’t dance, but sang an invocatory song for a long time — past the point where your mind gets bored. This also helps shut down your talking mind and gives it something else to focus (and then un-focus) on. In a group, this technique can work where everyone is calling in the god/dess into themselves. In group aspecting, it is important to have a few people who do not do the work, who can ground the circle and help people come back.
You can also work in pairs, having your partner invoke the deity into you. During the preparatory stage, the invoker would also be preparing. It takes strong intention to actually do the work of invoking. There are some traditional words one can use for the specific invocation. One calls to the God/dess, often praising them. Then one speaks an introduction of the person being invoked upon, and invites the God/dess in, saying “Here is your priestess _____. Hear with her ears, See with her eyes, speak with her lips.” One might also touch the person purposefully to make real the moment of calling in. It’s important to check with your partner as to what they are comfortable with beforehand. (On a cautionary note, it’s not a good idea to touch someone while they are aspecting. That could draw them out of it, or they may react differently than you expect.)
One of the most powerful ways to invoke is to have a group call the goddess at once into one person. The most affecting such experience I’ve ever had was aspecting Brigid in a NROOGD ritual. This was after the big fires in the Oakland hills, and the ritual was intended to try to heal the land. I had no idea if it would work, praying for hours that I would be worthy. The priestesses put the crown of candles on my head, and I stepped towards them. They chanted repeatedly, and when I stepped into the center of their singing, everything shifted. It’s because of this experience I know it can really happen.
I had a specific script to follow in that ritual, which I found really helpful — my ego didn’t get in the way, trying to find words to say. During the feasting part of the ritual, I (and the pronoun “I” doesn’t seem appropriate) told one of the priestesses that if people wanted to come up for healing, they could. I, Robin, would never dream of doing such a thing. I don’t believe I have the power to heal. But in that state, it was something She wanted to do through me. It felt right.
What happens during the experience will vary. Most people will not go very deep the first few times working. In preparing for a recent workshop, my co-teacher Medusa and I practiced invoking for each other. The first time she called into me, nothing happened. I waited, and still nothing. Finally I said I didn’t think it was working. She suggested I close my eyes, and when I did, I went on a trance journey with the goddess we’d called. It wasn’t aspecting, but it was still connecting with the deity.
Some people will do automatic writing. This is setting pen to paper, and without thinking, letting whatever come out onto the page.
Some people may not want to go very deep. A recovered alcoholic I know said the thought of losing control over her actions rings too close to having a black-out, and she has no desire to do that again.
Knowing how to come back is an integral part to the work. State with intention that you are coming back. If you were invoked into by a partner, they would speak aloud words similar to the invocation — Hailing the God/dess, thanking them for coming, and saying, “You will now depart from your Priestess _________. She will now speak with her own lips, see with her own eyes, and hear with her own ears.”
According to some longtime practitioners, the swallow response is suppressed when people are deep in trance. So it is good to get the person to eat or drink something. Some people like to be touched or massaged. Have the priestess perform some mundane physical task, or use her hands. It is good to give people familiar objects to hold, such as their own jewelry. I like to ask people to answer three questions about mundane things, such as to name three things in their medicine cabinet.
Asking the person to say their name is a way to check on them. Any hesitation is a good indicator of not being all the way back.
Some people don’t like to have a lot of personal attention afterward, so they may say they’re fine in an attempt to get their tender to back off. It’s the job of the tender to give them the space they need, and still stick with them until they’re really convinced the person capable of functioning normally again. (It’s always risky to let someone drive a car after aspecting!)
Aspecting is not work for everyone. Some people may not want to do it, and some may never be able to let go enough to do it. But it is a valuable magical tool. I like the work, and intend to continue exploring it, with my own cautious style. When approached with a commitment to our spiritual paths, it can be a rich experience.
Robin LaSirena teaches Reclaiming classes in the Bay Area, directed the chorus for the Spiral Dance for several years, sings locally, and acts with Magical Acts Ritual Theater Group.
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• Does the phrase, “Horg ellprint na hawth gebinga?” mean anything to you?
• Do you ever feel as if the words passing through your lips are communiques from another dimension
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• Do you ever “space out” or lose your train of thought?
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“What’s going on here?”
It was a clear Spring night as we gathered in a hilly park in San Anselmo for a deity class. That evening, we were to aspect faeries or Earth-spirits.
We paired up so we could aspect with a buddy in attendance. When it was my turn to begin aspecting, I felt as though my face was changing, my ears elongating, and my toes splaying. I felt an immense ebullience and wanted to run over the hillside, much to my partner’s dismay. As I looked out over the landscape, it seemed as though every little detail was sacred and immensely important. I saw where some of my “kin” lived underneath a pile of woven twigs by a little bridge. I was giggling and bubbling and running around — laughing at questions and ignoring my partner’s repeated requests that we stay on the footpaths. I laughed when she asked about sex. “No one belongs to anyone,” I said. “Everyone is a part of everyone else and sex is. It just is!”
Unfortunately, at this point, a San Anselmo police car pulled up and began to shine a bright light through the park. A cop got out of the car and walked cautiously towards us. I regarded him with the eyes of my fey spirit, and saw a human with fear pouring out of him. I felt simultaneously sorry for him and amused because he was so ridiculous in his panic, with wooden and metal sticks and guns hanging off him. I saw this as an ancient scenario — a fear-filled man coming to root out the women playing in the woods and wild places at night. He shone the bright light into my eyes for a second and it burned.
He demanded, “What’s going on here?”
The question hung in the air, gathering absurdity with every second that passed. He couldn’t see and hear and feel and sense just what was going on here? A reply burst forth from my lips.
My partner shushed me. Our teacher stepped forward to talk to him. The park was closed at night, we learned. We had to leave immediately.
As I marched out of the park with the rest, I whispered to my partner, “Even he may be blessed someday.”
Elle is an eclectic San Francisco Witch who adores poetry, felines, and magpies (who steal sparkly things for her).
“Deep witnesses, people whose sole reason for being there is to hear, see, value...”
by Inanna Hazel
“So, what is that, exactly?” is the usual response when I mention anchoring. Like anything else that happens out of the public eye, anchoring tends to be overlooked, and people are often unaware of it. As a result, most don’t know what it is or the effect it has. They aren’t aware that magic which has the support of anchors is stronger and more focused than that which does not.
Briefly, the mechanics of anchoring are this: after grounding and balancing one’s aura (front and back, left and right, top and bottom), and creating a meditative state by calming the mind and breath, one’s attention is pulled inside the head and concentrated into one point. Some people use the image of a ball; I use the image of a pinpoint of light. This ball is then dropped through the body; the attention moves down from the skull to the hara. On a physical level, the hara is between the second and third chakras, and is the center of the body. On an energetic level, it is the center of the aura. From this central point, the attention is released and radiates out as a flat disc, parallel to the floor. It’s like a CD or record, with the hara at the center.
There we stay, for as long as we can. If you lose the focus needed, or push the disc out too far to maintain it evenly, you just pull everything back in and repeat the process. We often anchor for an hour or two; a daily meditation practice is necessary to build the ability to stay in this state for that long.
The major thing to remember is not to work the ritual energy. The role of anchor does not include shaping or directing. For those of us who like to play with fire, this is a hard thing to bear in mind. But it is important. Running or shaping the energy is far too exhausting.
So what difference does anchoring really make, anyway? If you’re not shaping or moving or directing or channeling, why are you there?
There is another name for anchoring — deep witnessing. In this day and age, in this time and place, our souls cry out to be seen, heard, valued. In the predominant culture of this country, which values individual achievement and fulfillment to the exclusion of community achievement and fulfillment, every individual’s voice is in competition and we drown in cacaphony. Unheard, unseen, unvalued. And this plays into the hands of a power-over structure which wants us to compete instead of cooperate.
Into this, insert witnesses: people whose sole reason for being there is to hear, see, value. People who have placed themselves deeply into the energy, not to shift it, but to source their witnessing, to activate their senses more fully, to engage their very being in the art of paying attention. In not acting overtly, anchors hold space for others to do what they need to do.
It is not easy or simple work. Listening is hard enough; we do not listen well in this culture. We are trained to be distracted easily. We are too busy thinking about everything else we need to do today to pay much attention to anything. Witnessing is harder still, perhaps because it is perceived as being passive. Deep witnessing is listening on the deepest level possible.
There is power in the role of witness — it is power-with. It is sharing and supporting another’s journey, another’s being, not attempting to control or to shape. That support, that listening, shifts the energy of any magic of which it is a part, enhancing and clarifying the magic, and honoring each being who is present.
And that makes all the difference in the world. I learned this at Imbolc 1999, the first time I anchored a public ritual. I anchored the second half, as people made their pledges. I settled into the chair, and dropped and opened. I was nervous — it being my first time and all. I was afraid I’d do something wrong. The pledges began, and so did my lesson.
In dropped and open attention, one hears so much more than the words spoken. I sensed something deep, below any level I had reached before. I prayed to Brighde, stating my own pledge for the year, which was to anchor whenever and wherever possible. I told Her of my fear, and asked that She help me to be a witness for Her.
And from out of the floor in front of me, Brighde rose. She moved toward me, looking straight into my eyes, then turned and sat down in me. It is hard to explain what this felt like. I was twice my physical height; the floor came to my waist. My legs felt heavy, encased in the building. My head was as high above the floor as my feet were below it. I saw everyone in the room, as though I was facing all directions at once.
I did not feel that control of my body had been taken from me; I did not release any of it. In all innocence, I had invited Brighde to share my flesh with me, and She had accepted my invitation. Together, we listened to each pledge. With Brighde there, I heard the stories behind each promise - the impetus, the reason, the other choices not made as a result. Very quickly, I realized that I had too much knowledge, more than I should, far more than the speakers would have shared with me, had we been talking over a cup of tea. So I chose to forget; I chose to listen fully, then let go of the face, the voice, the story. I remember almost nothing of what I heard that night.
But I remember what I felt. It was easy to be happy for the ones who were pledging what Brighde asked of them, the choice freely made, the challenge accepted. But there were those who pledged far beyond what She asked, or for something else, and this upset me. I wanted to tell them that they were on the wrong track, that they needed to fix this or that; I wanted to help. “No,” was the unequivocal response of the Goddess. “It is not your place, it is not your right, it is none of your business, and you know it. You promised to be My witness. Listen to them; honor each journey, each struggle, each story. That is all I have asked of you; to witness.”
It is a wonder that She had the patience to say that as many times as She had to over the course of the evening. I am a slow learner.
And it was a wonder to witness not only the pledges, but the response of the Goddess. Each promise was received with love and tenderness, especially those who were pledging far beyond what they could do. It was as though the words had form and She gathered them in Her hands very gently, and released them into Her heart. The anvil became Her voice, acknowledging and welcoming every promise, every story, every journey.
I saw the power of the deep witness that night, the gift of the anchor. Each person who spoke was heard, and heard fully. In the hearing, each stood true and tall in her or his own power, seen and valued for who she or he is. I learned that shaping big energy cones is not the only form of amazing magic; so, too, is holding space, resting in stillness, and listening on every level of your being.
Inanna Hazel is a poetry-loving sensual liberal herbalist Witch chick who loves to dance.
“The music imbedded in the building itself”
by Ortha Splingaerd
Ortha particpated as an anchor in the Spiral Dance last Fall. These are her reflections on the experience.
I was given the choice of sitting near the North Altar or the East Altar. No choice for me. North it was. I’m comfortable with mountains, caves, rocks, the geographic north, and darker colors (although I hadn’t thought ahead that I’d also be surrounded by everyone’s ancestor photos!)
The dead themselves didn’t intrude, but Susan, my tender, found it difficult to keep people from walking on me as they viewed the altar.
As I anchored, the image that came to me was the anchors as three Selket guardian Goddesses with our arms outstretched around the Spiral Dance. Selket was the gold statue in King Tut’s tomb, defying anyone to disturb the contents of the canopic shrine which held King Tut’s liver, lungs, stomach & intestines. For me, she looks eerily similar to Liz Taylor in “Cleopatra”. She’s also a Scorpion Goddess and helps women in childbirth. She was depicted as binding up demons that would otherwise threaten Ra.
I got a bit geometric at one point. The Spiral Dance itself was essentially round; the building was rectangular, and the three anchors made a triangle around the whole thing which then increased our size dramatically in order to encompass everything. On several occasions this put me above the city, and I was looking down at Fort Mason. Selket kept me very grounded.
When we were big we were like the Colossus of Rhodes, with our feet in the water, standing on the floor of the Bay.
Then what came to me was music, incredible music, separate from what was going on in the ritual. I began thinking about what music was imbedded in the building itself. This music lasted several minutes, then faded...
Ortha Splingaerd owns and manages a travel agency in San Francisco. Her abstract acrylic paintings can be viewed on her website, alltravelsf.com