Ritual “Special Effects”

Sometimes in a ritual, a little special-effects magic can help to create that sense that “magic is happening”. Here are some effects I’ve collected from a conversation in the Atheopagan Facebook group.

Burning Isopropyl alcohol. Use the full 90%+ stuff, not the 40% methanol “rubbing alcohol”. This is highly flammable and can make for a marvelous ritual effect. I have a shallow basin on a dragon-shaped pedestal that works perfectly for this. When you light it, it flares up beautifully and burns for a few minutes; if you want for it to last longer, put epsom salts in the bottom of your burning basin, which will absorb the alcohol and release it more slowly, for a lower, longer flame.

Fire tornado. I’ve only done this once, but it was amazing. All you do is pour a bottle or two of wine in a cauldron, and set it on a fire to boil. When it does, the alcohol evaporates off first, and convection around the cauldron causes the resulting burn-off of the alcohol to form a tornado! The wine is ruined, of course, so use the cheapest stuff you can get.

Waters for asperging.  Asperging, or sprinkling participants with water, is a nice way (similar to smoke blessing with burning herbs) to help participants to feel that they are entering a “different state” and to promote the onset of the Ritual State of focus, presence and flow. I have had success with water with a bay leaf suspended in it, or basil, or rosewater, or lilac water. Other essential oils can be used but only in VERY SMALL AMOUNTS. Make sure no one is allergic or sensitive to scents before sprinkling people.

Fireball. Perhaps the most dramatic effect of all. A handful of non-dairy creamer powder tossed in a fire creates a huge fireball, just for an instant. CoffeeMate contains the anti-caking agent aluminosilicate, which is flammable (and the rest of it is largely made up of flammable fats). Being dust, the powder has enormous surface area relative to its mass, so it ignites very quickly.

The flash is so fast and low-temperature that it is quite safe, but be sure to take all the usual precautions when dealing with fire (such as not having dangling fabrics—especially cotton and artificial fabrics—anywhere near the flames, and having a fire extinguisher handy). You can mix in some copper sulfate powder and turn the flames blue-green!

Dry ice fog. Available at many grocery stores, frozen carbon dioxide is FAR colder than water ice and creates thick white fog from surrounding moisture as it sublimates back into a gas. Be very careful never to touch the ice to your skin; instant frostbite!

Fill a metal or plastic container half full of hot water and add a few pieces of dry ice every 5-10 minutes. As the water cools, you will need to add more hot water to maintain the fog effect.

Here’s a spectacular magical potion kind of thing:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIpoLiesBgg using fluorescein from highlighter markers.

 

 

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Loving the World: An Atheopagan Sex Magic Primer for May Day (NSFW)

CONTENT WARNING: This post contains frank discussion of sexuality, and is meant for adults. If you’re not one, please stop reading and go elsewhere.


Loving the World: An Atheopagan Sex Magic Primer for May Day (NSFW)

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Spring is often thought of as the season of sex. Trees and plants are flowering, birds are nesting, and the weather finally warms up enough that people wear less clothing and thoughts turn to desire.

It’s now April, coming up on May Day, which is the Sabbath celebration the metaphorical meanings of which include sexuality, attainment of adulthood and celebration of sensual pleasures. This is a time-honored set of associations; for young people to go into the woods to “gather flowers” and spend the night away from prying eyes was known as “going a-Maying” more than a thousand years ago. And couples have been stealing away into wild areas at this time of year ever since for a bit of lovemaking al fresco.


It may seem to go without saying, but sex is a big deal*. It looms large in the human schema.

At root, it is the process through which multicellular life does what is built to do: make more generations of itself. And so nearly all of us are heavily wired towards wanting to mate—with whom is kind of a side question at this level—which is the engagement and stimulation of the elements of a person associated with reproduction.

That said, sex isn’t strictly procreative. For most of us, it is largely if not completely decoupled from procreation in the mind, and is instead a pleasurable and emotionally bonding end in and of itself.

The complex of acts that we categorize as “sex” can be thought of as rituals. They have all the elements: participants get into a state of hyperfocused arousal, and go through a series of physical actions and sensory experiences that lead to a transformation of consciousness. Typically, the intention of the ritual is simply to enjoy pleasure, and/or to share feelings of emotional intimacy.

All of which—presuming consent on the part of participants, of course—are good things. Ours is not a religion that chastises sexual desire and behavior as “sinful” or “dirty” or assigns a list of arbitrary rules stipulating what may be done, with whom, and when.

Only consent. That’s the one and only non-negotiable requirement. Which, inherently, means that minors and those who are in any way pressured or coerced are off limits.

So let’s say you wanted to take the ritual nature of sexual play into a more formalized direction, and actually make it into an Atheopagan ritual? That’s generally called “sex magic” by its practitioners, and it’s something that is as available to Atheopagans as to any other kinds of Pagans.

If you are so disposed, here are some steps that can add focused intention and ritual steps to sexual play:

Create sacred space by making a setting for lovemaking that is beautiful, comfortable, sexy, safely private and includes a Focus (altar) with symbols of the intent of your ritual. Music to set the mood is always good, as can be scents such as incense. If burning anything, be sure the Focus is safe from being knocked over during your ritual. You may want to include small tokens on your Focus which you and your partner(s) can carry with you after completion of the ritual. Be sure to practice sexual safety unless you are certain that all participants are disease-free and there is no danger of conception (unless that’s the point of the ritual).

To achieve Arrival, start with eye-gazing with your partner, and breathing deeply together in rhythm. Hold your intention in your mind as you exchange eye contact. If you have more than one partner, spend some time in eye contact with each of them. If you are performing the ritual alone, breathe deeply and regularly and use a mirror to make eye contact with yourself.

Invoke Qualities that you hope to be incorporated into the desired outcome of the ritual, preferably through foreplay activities. Qualities like freedom, and bliss, and mutual respect, and love are all fitting. Qualities may be invoked by reciting words, or anointing the body with scented oils, or exchanging sexual stimulation with eye contact and mutual reverence. Name the Qualities aloud as you invoke them.

When all participants are thoroughly aroused, continue to sexual play of whatever kind you and your partner(s) prefer as the Deep Play part of your ritual. Take your time. Try to keep the intention in your mind, but don’t obsess about it: it’s okay to get carried into the eroticism of the moment. Do not try to achieve mutual orgasm with partner(s) unless that is something you have been successful with in the past; it’s okay for each participant to orgasm at their own time.

Actually, it’s also okay for there to be no orgasms at all. Expectations aren’t helpful.

But if the participants are able to reach orgasm with one another, participants should hold the intention of the ritual in the mind as it is occurring. Otherwise, concentrate on the intention at the peak of physical activity.

As the intensity of sexual play subsides (whether or not orgasms have taken place), run hands over the body/ies of participant(s). Speak your Gratitudes for your partner(s) (if any), for the pleasure you have just received, and for the successful outcome of the ritual intent.

On parting, as a Benedictionexpress your love for your partner(s). Or for yourself, if working alone, gazing again in the mirror. And for Life itself: the abundant and generous World.

It is done. Believe me, you will now have the intention of the ritual vividly burned into your mind! Now act in accordance with that intent: do all the things that must be done in order for it to come into being. If you use them, carry the token from the Focus with you and take it out now and then to remind yourself of the ritual and its intention.

This may all sound really weird and alien. If you think so, maybe it’s not for you. But sex is a powerful human experience that—like music, or dancing, or art—can be structured in a way to align our minds with our dreams, desires and ritual intentions. If nothing else, the process above can be a fun experiment!

Whether or not the above is your thing, I hope you have a deliciously pleasurable May Day however—and with whomever—you choose to spend it. Happy May!


 

*For most, but not all, people, I should acknowledge. But if you are among those for whom sex is not a Thing, this is probably not a post you will have much interest in reading.

Journeying in the Inner Landscape

Here at Atheopaganism, we have discussed ritual skills quite a bit. Developing the skill sets that help people to attain the Ritual State (or “trance”) is key to our ability to be  effective ritualists who can transform consciousness in empowering ways. Click here to see previous posts tagged as “Ritual Technologies and Core Skills”.

Thus far, these posts have been about using skills and technologies to induce the Ritual State. But today we turn to another question:  what to do once you get there?

Trance is powerful, and can be experienced simply as a glowing, liminal state within which to conduct ceremonial activities or contemplation…or it can be the context for ritual leaders to introduce suggestion and narrative to take participants on an internal “journey”.

This is old, old magic. It is the stuff of “spirit journeying” as practiced by many cultures throughout the world. The anthropological term for this type of activity is shamanism, from the Tunguskan word of indigenous Siberian people, for those who “journey inward” to interact with “spirit beings”: images and characters in their minds.

Anthropologically speaking, these “journeys” may involve “tunneling down through the Earth” into an Underworld, or “flying high” to reach an Overworld. The character of the experience will vary depending on the psychological nature of the journeyer. But just as in dreams, the experience can be anything that the trancing person can imagine.

The practice of this kind of “voyaging” is so ubiquitous among humans that it can be argued to be an inherent human characteristic. For after all: what is storytelling, or reading, or radio drama but verbal guidance through an inner landscape of visualization?

On your own, while in trance you can create and travel through a landscape of your choosing, and you will be surprised at the characters that will arise unbidden to meet and communicate with you. Often these are family members, ancestors, animals or fantastic beasts such as dragons. Their messages to you come from your deep mind, and are worthy of contemplating carefully.

But it is also possible to define the experience for trancing listeners: to take them on a spoken-word narrative journey to a particular place and to have a particular experience. In Western societies, we call this technique “guided meditation”.

There is an art to creating an effective guided trance journey. Participants must be relaxed and comfortable, feel safe, and then go on a “journey” to a place that feels special and unique. Often there are “guides” there, characters who impart wisdom and encouragement.

Vocal tone. When narrating or reading a guided trance journey, keep your tone low and even, melodious. Make sure that your vocal tone is consistent with being relaxed and comfortable.

Structure. Here are steps to include in a successful trance journey:

1)  Get comfortable. Participants can sit or lie down, but being physically comfortable is very important because discomfort will keep drawing attention away from the journey and back into the body.*

2)  Relaxation. Spend a few minutes relaxing the body and the mind with some simple visualizations of a calming and relaxing setting. Use descriptions of all five senses to paint a vivid picture of this place, which could be a calm meadow, a tranquil beach, or anywhere else that communicates ease and comfort.

3)  The Descent. The Descent is a trance-deepening technique used in hypnotherapy, wherein the guided instructions describe a journey, typically through a natural landscape—up a mountain, down into caves, through a forest, etc., although it can of course go anywhere.  The instructions send the journeyer deeper and deeper into relaxation and a sense of calm, present well-being. This often manifests as a “countdown”, as, “As you descend the stairs, you feel your relaxation and trance deepening: one step, then two…three…four…five. You are now completely deep in trance, relaxed and safe. You have arrived. [insert description of the setting where they have arrived].”

The Descent is sometimes an “ascent”, in that the imagery is of climbing instead of descending: up a ladder, or a tree, or stairs up, or climbing a vine or a beanstalk or simply flying up into the sky.

4) Revelation. After “arrival” at the end of the Descent, the journeyer finds what they have been seeking: animals or characters with instructive advice, magical tools or powers, wise ancestor figures, or visual images that have metaphorical meaning. Crafting this part of the guided journey is particularly sensitive, because you need to be descriptive while allowing enough flexibility for each listener’s mind to create a unique experience for that person.

(Steps 3 and 4 can be repeated if you want to guide participants to multiple “locations” before “returning” to the waking world.)

5)  Return. In the Return. the journeyer “retraces their steps” back to the relaxed setting where they began. This doesn’t have to take as much time as did the Descent.

6) Awakening. The final step in a guided meditation is gently to bring the journeyer back up out of trance and into the waking world.

Accompaniment.  Trance or guided meditation journeying is often accompanied by relaxing music or steady drumming or rattling (either a slow heartbeat rhythm, or a rapid repetitive beat), but it can also be done in silence.

Integration with larger rituals. Trance journeying can be incorporated into a larger ritual. Be aware, though, that because participants are still during the journey, it is important to have activities in the ritual to get bodies moving and “bring up the energy” after a guided meditation.

Use of psychoactive drugs. In many cultures throughout the world, shamanic journeying is associated with the usage of psychoactive drugs (also known as entheogens) such as psilocybin (mushrooms) and mescaline (cacti such as peyote and San Pedro cactus). These substances would obviously increase the vividness and emotional impact of the visualized experience. In some areas usage of these drugs is illegal.

An example.  Here is an example of a guided journey that was incorporated into this year’s Atheopagan ritual at Pantheacon, which was titled “Arming the Earth Warriors: An Activists’ Ritual”:

First, make yourself comfortable: sit or lie down, whichever you prefer. Feel the weight of your body pressing down into the Earth, and as you do, you can smell grass. You hear a soft breeze waving the grass back and forth. Back and forth.

Now, comfortable there, you can feel the kiss of a light mist on your face. It’s cool; the sunlight on your eyelids is diffuse and comfortable. It feels good here. Feel yourself relax as your breath slowly goes in and out. One breath; another; another.

Another. You are in the meadow, and you are at peace.

As you lay there, you sense a faint whiff of wood smoke. Just a bit, then it is gone. But it comes back.

You stand, and open your eyes. All around you is the mist of a low bank of clouds, settled over the meadow but steaming away under the growing sunlight. It is beautiful. Birds have begun to sing, and the trees of the forest surrounding the meadow become visible as the fog lifts.

Then you see it: the mountain. With a trail leading up.

You take a step forward, and then another. The Earth is soft and comfortable beneath your feet as you approach the trail. Your body feels strong and the pull in your legs is satisfying as you climb the mountain.

You are climbing quickly. Rounding a turn in the trail, you come to an Overlook with a wide view in two directions.

Looking out to your right, you see a magnificent vista of mountains and forests, with a twinkling lake far in the distance. This land is lush and green, healthy and beautiful. Take in the beauty of this spectacular view.

Now turn to the left.

There, the landscape is similar, but much of it is on fire. Smoke billows up into the sky, and you can see the stab of bright plumes of flame as they consume the green woodlands. Faintly, on the smoke-flavored wind, you hear the roar of the flames.

The fire is out of control, and though still far away, it is coming closer.

You turn back to the trail. You are almost at the top of the mountain. As you climb, your strong legs moving you up to the peak, you see that at the very summit there is an opening to a cave in the ground.

You step down into the cave, and go inside. There, a wide open cavern awaits you, glistening with stone draperies and stalactites. You can smell wet stone and hear the faint trickle of water. A dim glow suffuses the chamber.

On a low table of stone in the midst of the cavern chamber are some objects of metal. In the dim light, you can see that the Inspiring Activist you called out to at the beginning of our ritual is standing next to the table.

As you approach the table, your Inspiration speaks, saying, “These are for you. They will serve you well as you carry on my work and that of countless others who have come before you.” They pick up the first object, a shimmering shirt of fine chainmail links, and slide it over your head. It is light and flexible, but you can tell it is strong.

“This is the power of Humor. It will protect you from being harmed as you go forward to do what is right.” The chainmail shirt sinks into your body, becoming one with you. You feel a sudden urge to smile.

Next, they take a brilliant emerald amulet and press it against your heart. “This is the Amulet of Health. It will remind you to care for yourself, to pace yourself with patience so you can keep up the good fight for many years.” The Amulet, too, sinks into your body and you feel a surge of wellbeing.

Your Inspiration picks up a large, clear, faceted gem. “This is the Lens of Clarity. It will keep you focused on the goal, and give you a clear understanding of complicated situations.” Pressing the Lens into your forehead, they seal it with a thumb and you feel a still, wise awareness rise within you.

Finally, they raise a glittering sword with a glowing ruby pommel and press the grip into your hand.

“This is the Sword of Courage. It is an extension of your Will, and it is what will carry you through the adversity and challenges that your opponents will attempt to put in your way. It will always be available to you. It will always be at hand.”

The sword does not disappear. It rests in your hand, as power and courage course through you. You can do it. You can make a difference.

You can change the world.

You humbly thank your Inspiration for the gifts, and turn to climb out of the cave. As you descend the trail from the cave, once again you arrive at the Overlook. The fire is noticeably larger. There is much work to do, but you know you have what it takes to do it.

You descend the trail to the Meadow, where you were before. It seems different now: smaller. And you are larger, stronger, more capable.

You walk onward into the world, filled with the power of the gifts you have received, with purpose, and with grace.

Now, when you are ready, open your eyes, rise and join us in a circle, holding hands.

 

*This step isn’t always necessary. If working with a group of entranced participants who are walking about a fire. for example, you can leave them in their walking meditation while leading them through the spoken-word journey.