Ok, it’s confession time: some of my spirit relationships began from a place of ego.
It’s true. At one point, I thought “If I want people to take me seriously as a spiritworker, I’ve GOT be working with this guy” and “If I want to be a badass, an altar to this spirit is necessary.”
Perhaps it’s not so much a shock. In the internet-age where photos of altars work as social currency amongst spiritual practitioners and there’s greater access to knowledge about various world spiritual practices and the lauded entities associated with them than ever before, it’s quite easy to let our consumerist habits rule the way we see, well, everything. As the main point of entry in my recent webinar on spiritual allies and magical power, the idea of “relationship” (and being in “good relationship” I might add) is the primary focus of my practice – not only with anthropomorphized spirits, but that of botanicals and minerals – though it took some time to get there.
First, there was paring back the “stuff” – from the many botanicals and curios I thought for sure I needed in order to do effective work to the statues of saints I was excited about working with due to their being known especially for helping in certain situations but whom I really didn’t need to work with to be an effective practitioner.
Then there was specificity – making more room for the spirits in my life that building relationships with would be most helpful due to their resonance with my own medicine and their ability to help me bring that medicine into the world more fully.
And then, there was a lull – a pregnant silence that eventually gave birth to a sense of connection that, had I made room for it earlier on in my practice, may have helped me avoid some pitfalls.
The most obvious turning point came during a nine-day vegetarian fast I took under the tutelage of Saint Cyprian during which, each evening, I’d spend some devotional time with him, reading aloud scriptures he’d pointed me to – scriptures I was shocked to find speaking so clearly to my life. I’d made room for his presence to be stronger than ever and I found myself asking “Whoa — when did we become friends? When did things get so deep between us?” The rote practices that were stepping stones toward this moment fell away and I found myself moved in ways I didn’t know were possible with this particular spirit.
And, honestly, I found myself crying. A lot. Not only at his altar, but at the altars of the few other spirits I’ve invited into my court as a spiritworker. Sure, it was an especially vulnerable time in my life for various other reasons, but having made room for my strongest allies, I was able to receive their love and support that much more fully.
And I didn’t know that I could feel them so concretely.
And I found myself moved to sing.
My partner sings to his helping spirits in his shamanic practice all the time. I know beautiful chants from my Neo-Pagan path, a few songs from other traditions I work in, and am even aware of some of the role that icaros, or plant-spirit songs, play in the Amazonian shamanic traditions. But I’d never thought to apply the same technology toward the saints and spirits associated with modern American folk magick, with whom I’d been interacting solely through prayer, candles, offerings, and conjurations.
In so many traditions around the world, song calls the spirits down. Rattles are shaken, drums are beaten, and voices are sent like winged messengers to their ears, letting them know their allies and devotees seek to speak and work with them. It’s so simple. It’s so obvious. It’s all around us. But I guess the Western bubble gets in the way.
When I took a cue from my clear-hearted significant other and began to sing to my spirits every time I opened a session with them, or even during the day as a simple act of connecting – words really can’t express the shift that occurred. Stepping into that space of vulnerable full expression with them opened up so much that it was a wonder that I’d ever held back; that I hadn’t even realized I was doing so.
The truth is that I began to have some questions about my plugging everything into a safe, altar-object-focused context when, during a Spiritual Court Mediumship Reading for a client, a southwestern American Indian spirit that walks with her left me feeling a bit confused when he said he didn’t want a statue, candles, or any other altar-ware for her to connect with him.
I listened closer, pulled a few more cards, and the obvious dawned on me – he wanted her to dance.
To make a special garb, sit by a fire, and dance with him. That the places he wanted to take her would not be a journey through the mind, but through the uncomfortable spaces she was avoiding in her body. That this would lead to the medicine she needed to cultivate for herself and her family. One of the helping spirits who’d chosen to accompany her in this lifetime was waiting for her to show up more fully than she had imagined and altar tools she could purchase weren’t going to cut it.
Maybe the term “armchair occultist” doesn’t only apply to non-practitioners who simply know a lot of stuff. Maybe it’s applicable to those of us spending most of our practices sitting and kneeling, saying only the cool old traditional things and not the clear open-hearted things – some of which can’t be spoken, but only sung, danced, laughed, and howled.
Maybe we need to do more getting off of our asses and out of our heads, even with the spirits we’ve imagined to be as stagnant, still, and pious as their statuary may lead us to believe they are.
I don’t know any devotional songs to the popular spirits worked with in American folk magick today (aside from one for San Simon), but singing this simple song has been perfect for getting me to a deeper place with my spirits, both those chosen and those innately walking with me:
I’ve also found it to be very powerful to write your own tunes, even parodying popular songs on behalf of the spirits you work with. I actually really encourage it. Treating our spirits like lovers in nearly every sense I now feel is what sweetens the pot and makes our relationships with them that much more potent.
In short, if your spiritual practice is looking pretty object-focused or altar-bound – Sing. Dance. Drum. Choose spontaneity. Choose intimacy. You might be surprised by the spirits who love this form of devotion, even if all the high and might manuals about them say they only accept physical offerings on certain dates, at certain times, etc.
Let’s be in our bodies. Let’s give fully. The returns are tremendous.