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Opus Operandum: distinguishing between superstition and magic

To: alt.magick,alt.lucky.w,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: Opus Operandum: distinguishing between superstition and magic
Date: Mon, 01 Dec 2003 08:18:12 GMT

Joe Cosby wrote:

> I've coopted the idea [of Opus Operandum -- a rite or spell
> performed by rote or in a "superstitious" manner] somewhat to refer 
> to any act which is mechanically effective in and of itself. I
> think this is relevant to a lot of practice of folk magic, where
> a particular charm is used for very vague reasons, believed to be
> effective "because it's magic", and believed to be magic "because
> it's effective".

Joe, i deal with folk magic every day of my life and i have not ever
heard folk magicians say with "very vague reasons" that a charm is
"effective because it is magic." 

I think you are making up a fanstasy of how folk magicians think andthat
your fantasy includes an unfounded disbelief in the specificity and
depth of their knowledge about their own traditions. 

I challenge you to interview and get to know some folk magicians and to
ask them about their beliefs and practices. 

Lacking any evidence that you have ever met or talked to a folk magic
practitioner, i am going to cite one example of a charm of the typical
folk magic sort and report actual, real conversations i had about it. I
hope to demonstrate through this anecdote -- and believe me, i can
supply hundreds of such anecdotes -- that folk magic is not as
simplistic and childish as you believe it to be. 

Evil Eye Charm -- Aspand

Description: A type of herb seed called Aspand is burned on charcoal to
rid the children of the Evil Eye. A short verse is recited as the smoke
is circled around the child's head. 

Number of people i have interviewed about this: I spoke directly to 4 
and a 5th supplied Aspand to her husband to carry to me. A 6th sighting
took place on the web. 

Disribution: Practitioners (so far) are all Farsi or Dari speaking and
are apparently practicing Muslims. Those i have met personally are
college educated or siblings of college educated men or the children of
college educated adults. 2 are from Afghanistan (man and wife, both with
MA degrees; man is a chemist, woman is a nurse), 3 from Iran (1 man with
a college degree, his older sister, and  his young adult daughter). The
1 whom i encountered on the web is from Tajikistan and is fluent in

Description of the rite from an outsider's perspective (my perspective,
before i asked questions): Aspand seeds are dropped on red-hot charcoal,
where they make a popping noise and give off a great deal of fragrant
smoke. A five-line rhyming spell is chanted and the smoke is waved
around the heads of children in a circular pattern to protect them from

Variants in rite: The Afghanis use Aspand seed straight. The Tajik site
does not mention adding other ingredients. The Iranians add Frankinsense
and an unknown wild Iranian herb to the Aspand seed (the herb is
imported from Iran). The Iranian woman is proud of her excellent recipe
for Aspand. She also shows me how to chew Frankincense as a breath
freshener. Except for the additional elements burned by the Iranians,
the  rite is esentially identical in all cases. 

Description of the rite by participants: The rite consists of an
invocatory prayer to a deceased but historical king of Persia known as
Naqshband, while burning Aspand seeds. The word Aspand refers to a class
of Zoroastrian Archangels. Both sets of my informants, from two nations,
explained to me that Naqshband was not a Muslim but a Zoroastrian and
that despite the Muslim conquest of Persia and outlying areas, the
spirit of Naqshband is still called upon to destroy the Evil Eye (Bla
Band). Here is the spell, as written out for me in phonetic Dari by the
man from Afghanistan:

        Aspand bla band
        Barakati Shah Naqshband
        Jashmi heach jashmi khaish
        Jashmi dost wa dooshmani bad andish
        Be sosa der hamin atashi taze.

Here is his English translation: 

        This is Aspand, it banishes the Evil Eye
        The blessing of King Naqshband
        Eye of nothing, Eye of relatives
        Eye of friends, Eye of enemies
        Whoever is bad should burn in this glowing fire.

See also the Tajikistan page
whwre a transliteration of the same invocation from the Tajik language 
is spelled this way:

        Aspand balla band 
        Ba haq shah-e-naqshband 
        Chashm-e-aaish chashm-e-khaysh 
        Chashm-e-adam-e bad andaysh 
        Besuzad dar atash-e-taiz

How do participants believe that this rite works?

Afghani man: "We ask for a blessing.  The blessing we ask is that of
King Naqshband, because he was the one who brought Aspand to the people.
He obtained this knowledge from the Angels of Heaven. He was a holy man.
The use of fire is Zoroasterian, not Muslim. It is a very old rite. It
is used to remove the Evil Eye from the children, and it is good for
anyone. You can Aspand for yourself or have someone Aspand for you. My
wife does it for me and for the children. I do it for her." 

Inanian woman: "This prayer is the blessing of Shah Naqshband, an
ancient King who was a follower of Zarathustra, before Muhammad. Shah
Naqshband got this blessing from the Archangels and taught it to our
people. It is very effective when you must deal with bad people or
sorrowful things. It removes the Evil Eye and it is a blessing to the
spirit. It lightens your burdens." 

Tajik man: At
the author, "Khorasan," relates the word Aspand to the Tajik / Dari /
Farsi / Persian word for Archangel, Amesha Spenta or Amahraspand. The
Archangels or Amahraspandan themselves are listed as

     Vohu Mano (Vohuman, Good Mind) 
               Presides over cattle. 

     Asha Vahishta (Ardwahisht, Highest Asha)
               the Amahraspand presiding over Asha and fire. 

     Khshathra Vairya (Shahrewar, 'Desirable Dominion') 
               the Amahraspand presiding over metals. 

     Spenta Armaiti (Spandarmad, 'Holy Devotion')
               the Amahraspand presiding over the earth.

     Haurvatat (Hordad, 'Perfection or Health')
               Presides over water. 

There are further notes at the above site describing the Guardian Angels
(Fravashis or Frohars) who "manifest the energy of God," and a lengthy
list of Angels (Yazads, called Yezidii by some, and including the well
known Mithra and Ahriman) with their attributes. 

Conclusion: What at frst looked to an American outsider (me) like a mere
supersitious rite performed by rote -- burning some seeds on charcoal to
protect children from Evil Eye -- turns out to be understood and
utilized as a Zoroastrian prayer to the Five Archangels, as taught by
the ancient King Naqshband. All the Afghani, Iranian, and Tajik people
who use this charm at the present time whom i have interviewed or found
via the web seem to be aware of its sacred character and ancient nature.
None relate to it as an Opus Operandum "superstition." 

Now, Joe, as i said, i could multiply this example a hundredfold. I hope
this opens your eyes a little to the difference between an outsider's
view of a "charm" or "spell" or "superstition" and an insider's view of
the same rite. I leave it to you to go forth and interview some people
in your area who are of a race or culture not your own. Ask them about
their beliefs. I think you will find that few, if any, consider
themselves "superstitious." I think you will find that most of what
looks "superstitious" to you is actually magical or religious (or both)
-- and the only reason you don't recognize this is that you haven't
stopped to make friends, share a few tales, and ask questions. 


cat yronwode 

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