ritual



Conseil Tenu par les Rats
by Gustave Doré


Rat magic and first world problems

My third, and mostly successful, extermination company came to the house last week. They had to reinforce some of the extensive anti-rat measures they did last June to seal the house from intruders. That previous round of prevention seemed to have worked pretty well. It didn’t appear that I had lost any more appliances, anyway. Through chewing hoses and what-like, the rats had taken out my washer six times, my refrigerator water hoses twice, completely ruined the fairly new dishwasher so it can’t be fixed, and stolen insulation from my antique stove. All that seemed to cease, as I said, after the rat men did their thing last June. Then the furnace man showed up after the rat men left. During the summer when I wasn’t using heat, the rats had chewed holes through all the ducts and built nests—which is why I kept smelling something burning and can’t now use the furnace because of fire danger. I have no heat until the furnace crew comes to replace ducts on Saturday. It’s the busy season for heating folk and they’re working overtime to fit me in. Which I’m paying for, of course.

We didn’t used to live in the state of rat siege I’ve experienced in the last couple of years. I didn’t think it had anything to do with magic, but now I’m thinking maybe it did. Rat magic? Spirit of place magic? The magic of persistent and smart vermin and the spells to counter them. Or maybe the magic of my missing mother who died almost two years ago. She said the first time she stepped into this house it welcomed her with open arms. She knew she was home. I believe that. I truly think the house loved her. We had rats when she was alive, but nothing like this deluge and we never lost any appliances to them. My mama had her some powerful mojo, I tells you.

I’ve tried the magic of plugging holes with wire mess and solid metal, the magic of rat traps, the magic of cayenne pepper dumped down their holes and liquefied to spray on appliance hoses and the surfaces they frequent, the magic of poison, and now I’ve experienced the magic of my third round of mesh and metal and traps. These vermin are also partial to building rat nests in my bookshelves, consisting of my books and notebooks, taking over my art and craft cabinets–there’s a metaphor I don’t wish to examine too closely. I make sure I lock up every scrap of food at night, which cheeses off the cat. She liked snacking at night. I told her since she decided to retire from mousing, those were the breaks.

Before that second round of anti-ratting seemed to save my appliances, I felt pretty desperate. I decided I had nothing left to lose and I’d try some more conventional magic—spells and charms and the like. If nothing else, it was something to make me feel less helpless. Interestingly, rat spells are sparse, at least on the on the internet and in the books on magic I have. Our ancestors probably recognized the futility of trying to get rid of these insistent, persistent, adaptable rodents. I found one candle spell; an ancient Christian amulet which I talked about here; a few references to putting mummified cats in crawl spaces and building foundations to ward off the beasties. One of the more passive aggressive techniques I found entailed writing letters to the rats stating that the eating was much better at the neighbors’ houses and they should go there and leave (my) house alone. The letters are then stuffed down the rat holes. As any fan of Outlander can tell you, this is reminiscent of the Scottish tradition of “rat satires,” improvised songs indicating that they should leave the house alone and go to the neighbors.

I am not passive aggressive by nature, nor did I wish to mummify my cat or any other cat, and I felt I needed something quicker than making an amulet. I decided to do the candle spell.

My experience with the spell

I mentioned that I was desperate and wanted something quick, right? The spell had to begin on the night of the full moon at moonrise—and the day I found it was the full moon. I didn’t want to wait another month so decided to use what I had around the house. It called for yellow candles and the only yellow candles I had were about three inches long. You were supposed to run the spell for two hours every night until the candles burnt up. The ones I had probably wouldn’t make it through the first night, but I thought it better than nothing. (First corner cut.) The spell called for a sprig of heather so I confidently went into the front yard and only then realized the gardener had pulled up the heather bush. I quickly looked up the magic properties of heather and realized rosemary had many of the same, so I cut a sprig off my rosemary bush. (Second corner cut.) Moonrise was late that night and I had to get up at 5:45 the next morning for work, so I started the ritual early. (Third corner cut.) About 45 minutes into the ritual, the rats started making an unusual amount of noise in their favorite room, the one where I keep my birds. In general, their behavior was much louder and more aggressive that night. One of them got up on the fridge and scooted down the face of it, knocking off one of the magnets. My magnet portraying the three faces of Hecate. Most of the candles from my ritual burned out after about 90 minutes, but one brave little flame burned on. Just shy of the two hour mark the candleholder for that brave little flame spontaneously shattered.

Between the raucous behavior of the rats, the cracked glass, and the Hecate magnet I had a strong suspicion the Universe was telling me something. Maybe to do the ritual the proper way next time. Or maybe Hecate and the rat gods were saying, “I hate dabblers.” I rather thought it the latter. I’ve long maintained that dabbling is a dangerous practice, but I had set aside my principles that night in frustration. Henceforth, I’ve decided it would be better to take my own—and Hecate’s and the rat gods advice—and leave the magic to those who know what they’re doing.

The rat siege continues, though it has abated somewhat. I accept that it will continue. Nature always finds a way in where humans wish to keep it out—no magic about that. After all, the rats consider this their home as well. Maybe instead of fighting them I should try propitiating the rat gods? Or maybe the spirit of place, to see if the house will help me as it did my mother.

 

xray

Back in 1988 when Merrifield wrote this book, the study of ritual and magic in academic circles was rare–frowned upon, even. Now it’s become something of a cottage industry, but this slim and approachable volume was an early precursor of current fields of study.

The author studied inventories of archaeological digs stretching back many years, looking for the odd bits that archaeologists either didn’t know how to interpret or interpreted in a prosaic way–things like bent pins or animal bones, bottles full of “rubbish,” or swords fished out of lakes, etc. In exhaustive detail, and stretching back two thousand years, Merrifield showed the ritual meaning of these things by their survival in folk traditions and superstitious. (Bent pins to ward off evil or witches; animal bones for sacrifice; bottles full of hair, urine residue and other things to ward against witches; swords thrown into lakes and rivers as sacrifices by warriors to assure victory, etc.)

It’s a fascinating peek into the Western magical tradition and the workings of the minds of our ancestors. Minds and traditions that we all too often share today.

(Here’s the article that goes with the picture above.)

Random quote of the day:

“Your daily life is your temple and your religion. When you enter into it take with you your all.”

—Kahlil Giban, The Prophet

 daily4WP@@@

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

kabuki kids

A recent story on National Public Radio told the story of the kabuki festival of Damine, Japan. For over three centuries this small mountain village has had an unbroken yearly tradition of having their children perform to please the mountain gods.

“Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, the mountain village was jeopardized when someone accidentally chopped down one of the shogun’s trees,” says Hina Takeshita, the 12-year-old star of the closing kabuki play [of the festival].

As news spread that the shogun, a feudal commander, was coming to investigate, the villagers prayed to the gods. They promised to perform kabuki every year if the goddess of mercy could make it snow. A rare June blizzard arrived, thwarting the visit by the shogun’s samurai and saving the village from punishment.

“So we’ve been playing kabuki ever since then,” Hina says.

You can read more about Damine’s festival in this article from National Public Radio. It’s mostly about the growing hardship of staging the festival as the village population shrinks because so many people have migrated to the cities. There are only 10 children left between the ages of 6 and 12.

Here’s a video of one of their performances:

men-an-tol

In a vaguely Halloween-themed way, I thought I’d share some quotations from my current reading.

Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore, and Healing by Stephen Pollington

Another passage from Aelfric [Aelfric of Eynsham, c. 955-c.1010, a Christian homilist] includes the following aside:

Witches still travel to where roads meet and to heathen graves with their illusory skill and call out to the devil and he comes to them in the guise of the person who lies buried there, as if he would arise from the dead—but she cannot really make it happen, that the dead man should arise through her wizardry.

Because for Christians, there are no such things as ghosts, see? When a person dies, they either go to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Anything that sticks around in this realm must therefore be an evil spirit, bent on tricking the living into believing things that are not Christian doctrine and thereby condemning their souls.

More on crossroads:

The association of witchcraft with burial at crossroads is interesting for it was traditionally reserved for those whose presence might defile holy ground if buried in a churchyard, such as heathens, witches, and various classes of criminal. Aelfric deplored the practice of certain women who went to crossroads and “drew their children through the earth”, perhaps similar to the Cornish tradition of passing a child through a stone with a suitable hole in it, such as the famous Men-an-Tol alignment on the Penwith peninsular; a kind of re-absorption and rebirth seems to be implied by the practice….

[A. L.] Meaney [in Women, Witchcraft and Magic in Anglo-Saxon England] cites an East Anglian parallel, where a sick child was placed head-down in a hole cut into the ground and covered with the turf, and that of making the child crawl beneath a bramble which is rooted at both ends. Contact with the earth—and so possibly transference of the disease—seems to be the constant factor. Or is this symbolic rebirth, leaving the affliction behind in the putative womb?

To which I would add, “Eeeeyorgh!” Tough to be a sick child back in the day. Truly spooky.

Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power edited by Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith

Or perhaps you’d like a Christian spell for protection against headless powers, because—Lord knows—that’s a common experience for all of us [Egyptian papyrus, 5th or 6th century]:

O angels, archangels, who guard the floodgates of heaven, who bring forth the light upon the whole earth: Because I am having a clash with a headless dog, seize him when he comes and release me through the power of the father and the son and the holy spirit, Amen.

AO, Sabaoth.

O mother of god, incorruptible, undefiled, unstained mother of Christ, remember that you have said these things. Again, heal her who wears this, Amen.

As for myself, I’m going to employ the following amulet, one to protect the entrance to a house from vermin [papyrus, 6th (?) century], that invokes Aphrodite, Horus, the Judeo-Christian deity, Yao Sabaoth Adonai, as well as the Christian St. Phocas, covering all the bases. It has nothing to do with ghosts and goggilies, but is personally appealing:

The door, Aphrodite,
Phrodite,
Rodite,
Odite,
Dite,
Ite,
Te,
Te,
E,

Hor Hor Phor Phor, Yao Sabaoth Adonai, I bind you, arte[m]isian scorpion. Free this house of every evil reptile [and] annoyance, at once, at once. St. Phocas is here. Phamenoth 13, third indication.

old shoe

Shoes are magic. Many a woman will tell you that they have the power to ensorcell. Imelda Marcos, for instance, seemed to be the victim of a particularly strong shoe enchantment. But aside from the compulsion to buy these items, shoes have a traditional protective magic which seems just as strong.

I first learned of this aspect of shoe folklore when I read The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic by Ralph Merrifield, a wonderful survey of European (mostly British) folk magic and ritual from prehistoric to modern times. Shoes, as it turns out, were the most common protective magic for buildings, from at least the 14th century into the 20th. Generally they are found walled up in structures, sometimes pairs or new but usually an odd shoe and very worn, sometimes in groupings, but often solitary. These hiding places are usually spots where it’s unlikely they would have arrived accidentally: bricked up in chimneys, under well nailed down floorboards, behind pristine plastered or bricked walls and the like. This practice is found all over Europe, as well as Canada, Australia, and the USA—anywhere, I suppose, where the European diaspora happened. There may well be non-European examples of this belief.

It was apparently quite a secretive rite, considered bad luck to talk about. The last known examples of concealed shoes are from the early 20th century, but who knows? Given its secretive nature, the practice could still be going on. We can only speculate and piece together other superstitions to figure out what it may mean. Mr. Merrifield does an excellent job of this:

There are a few known superstitions about old shoes that may be relevant. There was a belief that a shoe thrown after someone setting out on a journey would ensure good luck and a safe return. This is a custom still observed when the bridal pair departs after a wedding…There is a strong association with fertility; we all know the fate of the old woman who lived in a shoe, and there used to be a custom in Lancashire of trying on the shoes of a woman who had just had a baby in order to conceive.

He also makes extensive use of the work of a paper written by June Swann, a pioneer in the study of shoe magic. (Thanks to the Apotropaios website for hosting a copy of this article.)

Concealed shoes might also be a magic device for containing evil spirits, a tradition at least dating back to the story of John Schorn, a 14th century priest in Buckinghamshire, who supposedly conjured the devil into a boot to trap him. This may be why shoes are often found near entryways to houses, so that they could contain evil spirits which might try to get in.

I can’t help wondering, and Mr. Merrifield also speculates about this, if it has something to do with a person’s soul being imprinted on items closely associated with them. Shoes and clothing were enormous expenses for people in centuries past and folks tended to wear things and repair them until they were in shreds, then repurpose parts thereof before actually discarding them. And if something has been worn that long and that extensively, might not a person leave some essence of themselves imprinted on the object? Might that essence bear some protective quality, some ability to guard and protect a building in the owner’s stead, a soul outside the soul?

I’m not sure I’d want to remove one of these shoes if I somehow found one in my walls. If tradition isn’t a strong enough motivator, the possibility of hauntings might give me pause.

There was an episode of Syfy Channel’s Haunted Collector featuring one of these concealed shoes—in this case, an old boot. (Episode 2.6 if this episode list from Wikipedia is correct.) Now, I think all paranormal T.V. shows should be taken with a grain of salt, sometimes an enormous boulder of salt. (And yet, I still watch them, a guilty pleasure.) But I found this episode genuinely fascinating because of my familiarity with the subject. John Zaffis, the curator of a Museum of the Paranormal, investigated a home from the 1800s in Lorain County, Ohio. The current owners reported that when they decided to renovate an old fireplace, they found various objects concealed within it, including an old boot. As soon as these objects were removed, they began experiencing paranormal activity. Zaffis determined that the shoe was the focus of the haunting (I can’t remember how), had it blessed in some way (memory fails me), and removed from the premises to his museum. According to the show, the paranormal activity ceased thereafter.

What’s interesting from a folklore perspective is that Merrified reports a similar haunting via June Swann:

Miss Swann is of the opinion that this is essentially a male superstition connected with the building trade, and understands that it is considered to be unlucky to remove the shoes from the house. There is even a story of an apparent haunting that began when a shoe was sent of the Museum of London for identification, and ceased completely when it was returned.

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe. Please pass the salt.

Last week, thanks to a link provided by asakiyume, I read an absolutely riveting article from the London Review of Books, 6 February 2014: “Ghosts of the Tsunami” by Richard Lloyd Parry. In it, Parry discusses the paranormal experiences had by people after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. He speaks a lot about the difference between “contained” ancestral spirits and the wild or “hungry ghosts” unleashed by natural disaster and also by having their ancestral shrine anchors destroyed by natural disaster. He writes about spirit-ridden people and a spirit-ridden society, survivors guilt, paranormal experiences, and exorcisms. It’s a long article but absolutely worth the read. Very, very moving.

It also reminded me of something I’d read somewhere a long time ago about the hungry ghosts created after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I couldn’t find the specific reference, but I did find a passage in Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. He speaks of how many of the survivors of the A-bomb blasts were haunted—whether psychologically or spiritually—by hungry ghosts, a literalization of survivors’ guilt. He writes:

“Japanese Buddhist tradition has stressed ‘quick separation of souls from physical bodies’ so that they ‘became ancestral souls, gradually became calm, settled in dwellings in high mountains, and came down to their children’s homes and rice fields on certain occasions.’ These calm and appropriately placed ancestral souls are the antithesis of the homeless dead—of the ‘wild souls’ and ‘hungry ghosts’ whose way of dying, or neglect by survivors, caused them to be denied proper separation from, and continuity with, these same survivors. Significantly, at the annual Bon Festival, the time when visits from ancestral souls are expected, special offerings of food are also put out for anonymous ‘hungry ghosts’ who, it is thought, might otherwise have no one to provide for them—another expression of survivors’ sense of responsibility for their ‘homelessness…’ For the survivor must reject the dead (particularly the newly dead) until he can place them safely within a mode of immortality: in Japanese tradition, permit them to become ancestor souls (or gods); in Christian tradition, immortal souls.”

Similar things were reported in the aftermath of the horrific tsunami which hit Thailand and other spots in the Indian Ocean in 2004. The fear of hungry ghosts kept many Asian tourists away from these spots. Maybe it still is.

EVPs
(On hearing tapes of spontaneously-generated “spirit
voices,” so-called EVPs: Electronic Voice Phenomenon)

The mumbling dead
speak non-sequiturs
as if they have forgotten
language, that thing
which made them most human.

“I came up with Betty;”
“I went to see the war”—
one-phrase grooves
clicking on and off
with ancient preoccupations.

Sometimes what they say
freezes in my heart
and turns my lungs cold.
“The soul stays down here,”
says the voice from the crypt,
and I cannot catch my breath.

Are the souls of the dead
crowding round us even now,
like ekimmu out of Babylon,
jealous of the air we breathe,
hungry for the touch of flesh
they cannot possess?

Then give me oblivion.

If not the golden light,
if not even the fires below,
then I want nothing, nothing.
Anything but wandering feet
which cannot feel the road.

—PJ Thompson

I used to have a ritual I performed every new year’s eve and new year’s day. I’ve written about it before, but I haven’t practiced this ritual for some years now. Basically, I used to burn my regrets before the stroke of midnight sometime on new year’s eve, and on new year’s day I would release my hope into the world. How did I do this? By writing regrets and hopes on little slips of paper.

Back when I had a functioning (and real) fireplace, I used to build a nice fire and toss the regrets into it. It was quite satisfying to watch them burn. The burning didn’t “cure” the negative voices that brought up those recriminations and regrets, but at least I left them behind in the old year, turned to ash, forcing them to rise again from their immolation. The ritual was all about facing up to the things I didn’t like about the year and about myself and my behavior. I’m not just talking about “I regret not exercising more” or ” I regret not finishing my novel.” Those things made the list, too, but it was important to face myself squarely and list things like, “I regret envying X” or “I regret judging Y” or “I regret the shoddy thing I did to Z.” Although mostly the items on the list were less specific and more general like, “I regret taking things for granted.” Didn’t matter, as long as I took the time to make the list. And seriously? Burning them and thinking about them turn to ash was really quite fun. That’s why I did it for as long as I did.

After I moved from a place with a fireplace, burning these little suckers got more problematic. There was a memorable occasion when I lit bits of paper by candle and dropped them into a glass bowl to burn. After about twenty minutes of that (it’s a lonnnng list) the glass cracked. I’ve also been known to set off smoke detectors, which does rather take the shine off the meditative state I strive for in this ritual. So, like I said, many years since I’ve done this. I could use the fire pit out back, I suppose, but little bits of burning paper have a tendency to go airborne and, seriously, I like my neighbors too much to burn their houses down. Talk about regrets.

The other part of this ritual, the hopeful part, got equally problematic with time. I used to go for a drive January 1 to one of the local piers and throw my hopes into the ocean. Some sank, some drifted out to sea, some drifted to shore—but setting them loose into the world was the idea. Of course, I had to do this surreptitiously because throwing things into the ocean is illegal and the fines are pretty stiff. I got to feeling like it wasn’t auspicious to begin the year committing a crime and polluting the ocean, so I stopped doing it. Instead, as I drove around town, I’d take little handfuls of hopes and throw them out the car window to drift in my wake. As liberating as both these rituals felt, I also got to feeling bad about littering other peoples’ neighborhoods and stopped that, too.

I was thinking yesterday that we have a nice paper shredder that might like to eat up some regrets. Having them chewed to bits is not as effective a metaphor as burning them and reducing them to ash. Not as clean. But I suppose it will do.

And the hopes? Well, I’m going to visualize tucking them into the wings of doves and letting them fly away. It could take many, many doves to cover them all. I don’t want to weigh any one dove down with too much hope. It makes it hard for them to fly free. But fly free they will, come new year’s day.

Happy New Year, everyone! May all your regrets turn to ash in 2011 and not rise again in 2012. May all your doves fly free with hope and find wonderful places to roost.

Random quote of the day:

 

“He who learns to live the interior life and to take little account of outward things does not seek special places or times to perform devout exercises.”

—Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 2, Chapter 3

 

 

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.