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Magical and Religious Terminology

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic,alt.religion.wicca,alt.lucky.w,alt.religion.orisha,alt.pagan,alt.magick
From: (nagasiva yronwode)
Subject: Re: Magical and Religious Terminology (was Spells and Rituals of Summoning ....)
Date: Sat, 07 Oct 2000 12:44:22 GMT

50001007 Vom

nagasiva yronwode:
>> mostly I'm trying to see whether Majyck's contention that summoning
>> spirits is unrelated to spellcasting could be of value, might
>> reflect some group's perspective beyond his own, is totally bogus
>> (if so for what reason), and to compare and contrast the terms
>> 'spell' and 'ritual' since I've noticed a divide in its usage at
>> least in the Wiccan, Golden Dawn, Thelemic, Rosicrucian, New Age,
>> Christian, and other religious cultures.

sri catyananda:
>>> European and European-American witchcraft and hexencraft
>>> ...especially Germanic and British, tend[s] to use rhymed
>>> speeches or incantations or cantrips in their practice,

>> when studying with Wiccans I didn't notice that many of them
>> constructing their rituals in which they practiced their
>> magic (spells?) used rhymes in this way 

thanks for making it more clear to me that you didn't intend
to mean to prepend the 'rhymed' above to 'speeches' AND
'incantations' AND 'cantrips', but merely to 'speeches'.

as I said elsewhere, Wiccans and even other Neopagans do not
always include speech, incantations or cantrips in what they 
considered to be their spells (some were done in silence).
I'd agree that this is the convention in what is called
magic throughout the world, however.

therefore what we're talking about in reflection on Majyck's
contention (even if he has walked off in disgust now :>) is
whether summonings include rhymed speeches, incantations,
or cantrips. this would require ascertaining what would
constitute a summoning and then examining that which
qualified for spell-like qualities.

as you and I have discussed subsequently online, there 
is a real range of assertion and encounter that might be
included under the term 'summoning'. at the most thaumatur-
gical, we have the Hermetic (and possibly shamanic) style
with its parlor summons issued by the magician to the
being by name with a direction to appear before hir, quite
similar in style to a summons by a monarch. this imperial
manner sets up an absolute hierarchy whereby the magician
takes on a directing and dominating role with respect to
the being summoned. 

I suspect that it is this which Majyck and other Hermetic
(as well as Solomonic) magicians would regard as a
summoning. it falls within the ceremonialist construct
with particular verbal formulae as well as, in the most
stringent handbooks, specified tools and procedures. the
speech doesn't often seem to be rhymed, and I'm not sure
that it really qualifies as an incantation or cantrip so
much as a kind of liturgy. my guess is that these mages
would not regard it themselves as a 'spell' (Levi doesn't
characterize his conjurations of elementals, for example,
as 'spells' but as 'prayers' and as a 'conjuration'; his
is an ex-Catholic lexicon, however). it is from these
individuals that we are most likely to hear complaints
about the possibility of 'summoning spells'.

the next class would seem to be those who invoke gods,
spirits, orishas, whatever, to possessory or at least
communion experiences. I've heard the term 'summon'
less often by such individuals when speaking in English
about these events, and perhaps this is in part because
of the character of the term (etymologically it bears a
relation to a 'private warning', which might be proper
for demons but does not seem really palatable for one's
god(s), or a being one seeks to impress or from whom
one might seek aid without coersion).

crossroad rituals strike me as one remove from these
invocations, since they tend to occur at specified
places (and so do not participate in the imperial
summons) and the being isn't called into oneself as
an invocation -- the encounter is personal but
exterior in a way comparable to the Solomonic summoning.
where the goetic evocation of Hermetic and Solomonic
magicians seems much more directing and dominating,
the crossroads rite is much more like an invocation in
that one might presume that the being that is to be
encountered may choose not to appear for some reason,
even if one does everything right. the summoning proper
is an edict of appearance that the spirit must resist,
whereas the crossroads rite is a formula followed by
the MAGICIAN/RELIGIOUS in order to have the experience
and the benefit associated with it.

these are fine distinctins, I agree, but they were
implied by Majyck's contentions about what seemed to
him the logical inconsistency of 'summoning spells'.
we might have learned more if he'd had the patience to
answer my questions about what he thinks that a spell
actually IS.

sri catyananda :
> You spend so much time questioning the validity of the 
> magical import of this African-American ritual....

not particularly. you brought it up as exemplary, so I'm
analyzing its elements. I don't care where it is from or
who does it. if someone claims it is a spell or ritual,
magical or religious, then I'm curious how it qualifies.

> ...but do NOT question -- and have NEVER TO MY KNOWLEDGE 
> QUSTIONED -- the equally formulaic constraints of the 
> Abramelin work or Goetic work or John Dee's work. 

I'm not sure what this means. where these are brought
forward as specific examples of a subject we are discussing
then I have indeed examined them in detail. in fact 
recently in alt.magick/alt.magick.goetia/and others we've
been dissecting the details of goetic summoning in its
practical realities, and wrangling about issues like the
claims versus the realities of the results of evocation
(whether there is some way to verify manifestation, for
example). if you haven't noticed this, then check it out.

the Abramelin and Enochian ritual styles have rarely
interested me much, frankly, probably because I'm kinda
turned off by Judeochristian contextual trappings and
cosmological presuppositions. if anything I have an

*aversion* to what you say I'm not questioning. I tend
to question that which INTERESTS me. that's how you
can tell that it intrigues me, that I like it, that I
am looking at it closely to see how it does or does not
match up with all the various knowledge systems that I
may have intellectually assimilated.

>Must black folks PROVE to you that they practice magic? 

how repulsive, if 'twere true! no, but I wonder when a
meeting with a god (in any tradition) stops being
religion and starts being magic. in the Hermetic
community the delineation seems to fall along the lines
of worship (religion) and consultation/discussion
(magic). that is, one's position with respect to the
being in question seems to factor into all of these
terms and their usage. this also seems to follow with
respect to the treatment of demons (magic).

this is why I was asking about the comparison between 
the crossroads rite, and venturing to Oakland to meet
Jerry Brown on the one hand and pilgrimmage to Mecca 
and meeting Allah on the other. the crossroads being is 
provided with a mildly sinister character ('the Devil'), 
and yet the ritual is an obvious remnant from rites for 
encountering the Crossroads Deity (e.g. Legba). yet as 
you and I have agreed, there is a marked difference 
between Solomonic summonings on the one hand and the 
summoning of the Crossroads God through enacting the 
proper formulae (whatever these happen to be). I suspect 
that the use of the term 'spell' as compared with 
'ritual' has very SIMILAR tendencies of application 
(in parallel).

of course this is not across the board, I'm talking
about broad tendencies which I've noticed amongst
the religious and magicians I've encountered, from
a variety of cultures. even the lama didn't describe
the Yeshe Tsogyal Empowerment as itself a magical
ritual, it was "spiritual", and the mantra that
he gave out was called an 'awareness-spell':



I don't think that that spell is an invocation of
Yeshe Tsogyal (which would be a religious rite).
>> while rituals will sometimes have required timings, from what
>> I have heard spells don't usually have them. sure, there are
>> times that INCREASE the chances of a spell working, but the
>> time seems more often to be less important than the acts
>> themselves.... 

> Timing is important in both African-American and European-American
> spell-craft -- but not ALL spells include timing. I am not going to 
> give multiple examples, because this is the stuff of doctoral 
> dissertations, but, in brief: 

> European folk magic sometimes includes the CALENDAR DATE as 
> part of a spell. For example, there is a class of spells 
> used by young women to see a vision fo their husbands-to-be 
> -- and these spells (which involve performaces such as 
> paring an apple in one pass, sleeping with certain things 
> under the pillow, etc) often are said to only be effective 
> when performed on the proper calendar date (e.g. New Year's 
> Eve, Saint Agnes' Day, etc.)....

lovely examples of contrary evidence. thanks.

> European magical traditions also often emphasize MOON 
> position (waxing or waning, full or new, or, in Medival 
> magic, lunar sign) with regard to timing a spell. This 
> is so familiar that it is a convention of "witchy"
> fiction that much European magic is performed at midnight 
> on a full moon -- that is, when the solar power is the 
> weakest and the lunar power is the strongest. 

of course I was familiar with this. another good example.

> African-American folk-magic (hoodoo) incorporates some European
> moon-lore, but also places particular emphasis on SUN position --
> especially the time "'fore day" or "soon in the morning"  -- that
> is, just before dawn. Many hoodoo spells require the work to be 
> done soon in the morning and completed precisely at dawn, at which 
> point there is performed a vestige of African religious ritual -- 
> a salute to the rising sun -- which is often reduced to a 
> formulaic "closing" action such as, "...then you take the water 
> that you washed in [as part of the ritual or spell] and go to 
> a crossroads and throw it out of the basin over your left shoulder 
> toward the rising sun and walk away and don't look back."   

> So, basically, i disagree with what you said above, and i 
> think that if you undertook further research into magic you 
> would agree with me. 

I agree that it is more common than I was making it out, but
I'm still not convinced that when attempting to separate out
ritual from spells the latter aren't less likely to be
temporally restricted where the former are moreso. perhaps
this is a difference between 'ritual magic' and 'spells'?
I'll watch closely in my readings and speak with you more
about this I'm sure.

>> ...does a 'magical spell'
>> constitute something different, perhaps lesser in value or
>> effect or spirituality, than a 'religious ritual'? ....
>> terms of its religious importance and meaning?

you didn't address this, focussing on the formal differences
of African and African-American ritual as compared to that
of Muslims. I think that this observation is an important one.

> ...this arbitrary distinction between ritual and spell is 
> flexible and cultural and... you cannot hold people from 
> non-Christian cultures to the same standard of divisiveness 
> that some Christians insist upon in this regard....

oh I wouldn't dream of so doing. in fact I was speaking of
nonChristians with whom I've spent time also, including
Muslims, some Jews, Buddhists, and Neopagans. I gave a 
long list which you must have overlooked. it was at the 
top of this post and the early parts of our conversation. 
even amongst Hindus there is such a distinction made 
(which can be read about in the following set of excerpts):

which reflects yet again on the role differentiation between
magician=>tools/spirits :: god=>worshipper

>>> ...[the ritual] holds within it the most coherent portions
>>> of traditional African religions to survive in the diaspora
>>> in the USA under Protestant Christian conversion. Hence it
>>> bears within it the forms of a ritual of worship, as can be
>>> seen from the allusions to sacrifices or to what i called
>>> "remnants of sacrifice and ritual food preparation".
>> now we're getting somewhere. the term 'ritual' has a broad
>> application, and many within modern Euro-American culture do
>> not integrate worship of *any* kind in what we might describe
>> as our rituals. so here is another example where the term is
>> used differently within the same culture and, apparently,
>> across cultures. does 'ritual magic' necessarily mean that
>> this magic includes worship, or can be derived from
>> ceremonies that included worship? I must admit that the idea
>> of an absolute definition in this way did not occur to me.

> ...the word "ritual" originally applied to religious worship, 
> but its meaning has evolved over time to include any 
> repetitive or formulaic activity. 

I think there may be other identifiable elements of a ritual
that are religious or at least spiritual in character, and
these may translate to 'ritual magic'. the creation or
discovery of a sacred or nonordinary space for the event,
for example.

>>>>> (1) Spells in some cultures are indeed devised to conjure 
>>>>> spirits. This is particularly true of African and African-
>>>>> diaspora systems of magic.

I'm seeing that where it should be considered a 'spell' may
allow a differentiation of culture, at least, if not the
relationship that is described between spellcaster and spirit.

>>> ...In old-time hoodoo ...  what white folks call 
>>> spell-casting is called hoodooing, conjuring, root working, 
>>> witchcrafting (as in "she witchcrafted him"), doing a job, 
>>> tricking or laying a trick, hurting (if done with evil intent), 
>>> throwing for (as in "he throwed for her and she was hurt"), 
>>> fixing (as in "i'm gonna fix that woman just like she fixed
>>> my sister"),  doing a number, jinxing (as in "i woke up this 
>>> morning, the jinx all around my bed") poisoning (as in "he was 
>>> poisoned through his feet" or "someone put spider eggs in the 
>>> dumplings to poison her"), putting it on or taking it off, 
>>> practicing, and using that stuff (as in "i know she was 
>>> practicing 'cause she was always using that stuff").
>> yup. :> and these conjurings aren't typically confused with 
>> religious rites, which are considered to be a separate affair, 
>> true?

> ...NO! FALSE! These conjurings OFTEN contain fragments of 
> religious ritual. 

considered as such? you have said below that most hoodoo
root workers are Christian. while I can see that religious
elements are part of hoodoo magical practice, I don't get
the sense that most folks who do it consider it to be itself
a religious worship. please correct me if I err.

the Protestant Christian root worker would not wish to mix
worship of Jesus Christ and the recitation of a Psalm for
hir purification prior to another spell, would she? or are
you saying that the religion integrated with African
remnants to such an extent that it is now a fusion of
Congolese and Christian religion?

>>> The word spell is heard among urban hoodoo practitioners who have 
>>> had exposure to white folks -- and is most often heard in 
>>> reference to "spell kits."....
>>> ...[deleted conversation with a customer]
>>> If the items in our catalogues had had another name than "spell 
>>> kit," this woman probably would never have used the word "spell" 
>>> -- but the entire subject of the discussion was spell-casting, 
>>> don't you see?
>> I can understand that, sure. if you asked the same woman about her
>> religious rituals, what do you think that she would say?

> I cannot speak for any individual, but most of my African-American
> customers are Christians. 

so what part does hoodoo play in their Christian worship?

> Some are Catholics (especially those from Louisiana), but 
> the majority are Protestants and belong to a variety of
> Baptist, African Methodist Episcopalian (AME), National 
> Spirital Church, and Pentacostal denominations. Only one 
> major American Protestant denomination with a majority 
> black membership -- the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) 
> -- definitely frowns upon hoodoo, so i have few customers
> who are COGIC members. 

it is not my understanding that hoodoo practice is a firm
and recognized part of these religious sects. therefore,
while there may be elements of African religion surviving
in the magic of hoodoo, the people themselves don't seem
to mix the practice of magic with their active worship.

if I am wrong about this, please correct me. thanks.

>>> ...MOST cultures do not separate religion from magic in the same
>>> way that modern Hermetics....
>> you sure? I can think of so many that do, especially where the
>> religion becomes institutional and large. I'm wondering whether
>> the specific phase of religion makes a difference as to its
>> relation to magic (e.g. licensed vs unlicensed magic), or if
>> magic is in some way a vestige or minor (individual) incident
>> of religious activity.

> ...hierarchical, hegemonic religious organizations tend to 
> try to obliterate or even legislate against personal 
> performances of both religious and magical rites -- but 
> each religion goes about this in tis own characteristic way. 
> In some religions, the hierarchs make decrees (punishable by 
> expulsion or death) against any parishioner who performs a 
> religious rite OR a magical spell. Protestant Christian 
> sects in particular have schismed in part over issues of how 
> much autonomy the congregation and/or the individual member 
> may have in terms of leading prayer. 
> In some religions, the hierarchs split the authorization for 
> general performance of rites with their parishioners in a 
> culturally-definable way: for instance, Catholic 
> parishioners are allowed to have home altars but are not 
> allowed to officiate at Mass or perform burials. 
> Some religions simply schism off the remnants of shamanic 
> practices into a category called "magic" (to be performed 
> by magicians or "witch doctors") and reserve worship for 
> "religion" (to be performed by priests).

I'd got the impression that this is how most hoodoo folks
divided up the religion from the magic, though Protestants
might not go in for the priest-roles so much as eliminating
the intercessors and having a group-effected worship service
(with ministers, choir, etc.).

> Other religions deliberately invest prests -- and only 
> priests -- with the power to perform magic and then seek 
> to eliminate shamanic vestiges of the individual's right 
> to perform magic by labelling it "evil" or "supersitious" 
> or both. 
> There is no monolithic approach to the solution of this 
> problem -- even among the very large hierarchies of 
> Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism you will find distinct 
> differences of opinion and practice. 

nothing monolithic, no, but I think there may be wide
commonalities of terminological usage, of the consideration
of what magic is, how it is regarded as compared to religion
in a general sense (because religion is more valued). I think
that we may be able to see this reflected at least in some 
subcultures in the usage of the terms 'ritual' and 'spell',
but particularly in how magic and religion are regarded with
respect to one another.

>>>> is it [hoodoo] part of a religion?
>>> It probably was; at this time it may or may not be, according to 
>>> the lights of the pracitioner.
>> I don't see how it could be part of the Protestant Christianity 
>> that many root workers enjoy.
> Very simply -- as Newbell Puckett noted (and i quoted), upon conversion
> to Christianty, many polytheistic slaves from the Congo and West Africa 
> simply transferred the non-Christian deity they knew as the crossroads
> god (nbumba nzila, eshu, legba, et al) to the Christian cosmology, where
> -- since he could not be "Jehovah' but he certainly was powerful enough
> to appear when summoned, to take on a variety of shapes, and to perform
> favours -- he was given the name of "The Devil." 

so your explanation for how hoodoo is a part of a religion is
that crossroads rituals as a summoning of the Devil is a part
of Protestant Christianity? I don't think this is what you
mean, but this is how it comes across. it appeals to me as a
kind of Satanism, but I'm curious how the Protestant who is a
faithful Christian and doesn't regard the Black Man as an 
African god (loa? orisha? what do Congolese peoples call the
beings that they summon?) considers this to be a part of hir
*religion*. I mean, *I* can get into it, personally, but I'm
not part of a Christian church espousing ideology that seems
contrary to this.

> This is similar to the way in which Christians dictated to 
> Chinese that their "spirit money" -- burned as gifts for 
> the dead in the afterlife -- should not be called "afterlife 
> money" or "spirit money"  but "Hell Money," on the assumption 
> that the afterlife of an unbaptised Chinese person must ipso 
> facto, in Christian terms, be spent in Hell. 

> dualism ...  between good and evil, Jehovah and 
> Satan, magic and religion, etc. -- is simply not necessary 
> in polytheistic religions that include magical practices -- 

with this I'm entirely familiar from personal experience. ;>

> and ...despite the fact that they pay nominal homage to
> monotheism, many Christians *are* polytheists. 
> The Catholic Church has a long history of ejecting those 
> who vary too openly from monotheism -- but although they 
> branded as heretics all of the Manichaens (who posited 
> two opposing deities), we still hear sermons about "The 
> Great Controversy Between God and the Devil." Likewise, 
> they settled upon a specific and rigid form of belief 
> regarding the triplicity-in-unity of the godhead -- but 
> there are  still ongoing debates and schisms among 
> Trinitarian and Unitarian Christians. 

and Mariolaters.

> And then there are the Catholic saints -- my word, what 
> a range of beliefs THEY represent, with the Vatican 
> saying they are merely "good people" and millions of 
> people literally worshipping them as lesser deities. 
> Like i said, many nominally monotheistic Christians are 
> functionally polytheists -- and hoodoo practiioners who 
> summon "the Devil" may well fall into that category.  

your description is well-known to me already and a good
one. I'm not asking how someone can functionally worship
as a polytheistic Christian -- I've seen that done and
to a certain extent I have my own variation on this. my
question is about how the people themselves justify it,
explain it, and think about it. is it worship if someone
doesn't *themselves* regard it as such?

>>> Why is it so important for you to try to categorize other 
>>> cultures by the limits of your own culture's vocabulary?
>> it isn't a categorization, but a curiosity about how hoodoo folk 
>> NOW view the relation between magic and religion. there WAS a 
>> connection [...] now there is still some connection, but minor if 
>> that. the use of saints by Protestants is interesting, since the 
>> saint-framework is mostly Catholic. [...] it's like the Roman 
>> Catholic religiomagic which (as in the Latino community is an 
>> integrated whole due to their reverence of these same saints) is 
>> fragmented in twain.

> You seem to be saying that while Latino "religiomagic" is 
> "an integrated whole," due to its incorporation of saints 
> as stand-ins for non-Christian deities, African-American 
> "religiomagic" is "fragmented in twain" due to its 
> incorporation of "the Devil" as a stand-in for a 
> non-Christian deity. Upon what do you base this singular notion?

on the basis that within the Protestant churches the Devil 
AND the saints are branded as decidedly NOT part of the 
religion, whereas Catholic Latinos make no separation in
the entities whom they worship and from whom they draw
upon for magical spells. how many Protestant hoodoo root
workers know the saints as anything more than European
saints? how widespread are the vestiges of Congelese
religion? this is, to me, a *separate* question than the
observation I was making about the religion/magic
division forced by Christian cosmological dogma required 
in the churches to which they belong.

are there 'hoodoo churches' that integrate the Devil and
the saints and Jesus and Mary and Jehovah and Buddha and
the magic as part of a religiomagial whole? this is more 
of what I imagine to be my OWN framework (exceedingly
syncretic and inclusive, both of religion and magic, the
'bad guys' and the 'good guys' -- so called -- from all
those religiomagical cultures which I favour).

I didn't ever get the impression such churches existed.

> ...I have been arguing all along for the "wholeness" of 
> hoodoo as a system of religiomagical practice.

I'd like to hear more about this wholeness. how the Devil
is worshipped, for example, by Protestants, etc. how does
the Congolese Crossroads God fit in with Jesus the Christ
Our Saviour and the Holy Family?


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