One of the traditional forms of communicating with the ancient pagan gods was through a communion with the landscape. As many deities were described with intimate links to the natural land, if not the full embodiment of it, the land served as a sacred interface for communion.
Both mystics and everyday pagans took advantage of this. One need not be initiated into the ancient mysteries to take an offering to the river. Working with the land was simple, intuitive and accessible to everyone. We know of, and now modern pagans imitate, traditions involving the pouring a libation of wine out to the earth during ritual. Some do it out of tradition because that’s the way they learned it. Some do it as a sign of reverence and respect. Others do it because they know everything has energy. That wine, or any offering, has not only inherent energy, but energy invested in it by you, the magickal practitioner, through your intention, prayer or ritual. The offering itself acts as medium to carry your energy.
The combined energy is used to build a bridge between our human consciousness and the consciousness of those power beings we call the gods. Though divinity is manifest everywhere around us, it takes our conscious perception of it, bringing our awareness to it, and the intention to communicate, to build a relationship with these beings. Once the link is established, and developed over time, it’s like having a more direct connection to divinity. Certain practitioners of magick relate well to a particular god or goddess naturally, due to temperament, symbolism and past life associations. If they put the time into building that relationship, other psychically sensitive people can’t help but on the connection. It becomes a part of your every day life. You live in a greater partnership.
Places of particular importance are where the “words” meet. Offerings are traditionally brought to those places that are liminal, points between that is neither one nor the other, where gateways are created between the worlds, letting us commune more easily with the realm of the gods. Where water and land meets is such an in-between place. Oceans and rivers are places where offerings are made, though they can sometimes be very different offerings. The ocean can be used to cleanse and remove, to purify. Many witches use ocean water as their salt water, to bless the altar and add to potions. Fresh moving water brings blessings back to you.
Stagnant water is used to bind, curse or make contact with the underworld beings. Anything that runs deep in the land has an underworld connection. Our custom of throwing a penny down a wishing well is a remnant of making an offering to the gods of the depths. Likewise, a spring relates the healing and regenerative waters rising from the depths to use in the world of mortals. Caves hold the initiatory power of the underworld. Burial grounds allow us to commune with the ancestors. Mountain tops, where land reaches to sky, are important sacred spaces. Here we talk to the loftiest of divinities, the sky and stellar beings. Magnificently large trees bridge the underworld, middle world and sky realm, forming the basic image of the shaman’s world tree.
So what happens when you don’t have a local well, bog or mountain top? Many of these natural practice have fallen out of popularity, and not reclaimed by many pagans because of their urban environments. Many urban magicians’ focus on the work where one can close the door and be undisturbed in a bedroom or living room, rather than go outside where people will see them. And even if they did go outside, where would they go?
Others, I’m happy to say, ignore all those worries. They take the spirit of the traditions and adapt them to their current environment, taking great inspiration from the African Diasporic traditions living in the same urban environments and doing quite well.
Building a Bridge to the Underworld
Since a recent trip to England and speaking with European pagans and magicians, and some more traditional craft friends, I’ve been fascinated with curse tablets favored by the Greco-Roman culture. Much like a petition spell, but often carved on lead or wax. They ask the gods for retribution against one who steals or has wronged the author. Though there were many forms of cursing tablets and variations thereof, my favorites were the ones through down wells, bogs and caverns. The tablets were like a letter to the gods. The lead corresponds with the concept of curses and the underworld sphere.
Today, I don’t have a lot of lead tablets just sitting around, nor places to throw them. I’m not terribly fond of doing curses, but I just love the concept of these little tablets. I work with the underworld gods a lot, and though that the urban environment, despite its solid asphalt streets, has a big connection to the underworld – the foundations, piping, subways – they are all very chthonic.
Though we lack wells, we do have storm drains, leading down into the underworld. I’ve had really great results writing my intention for a spell petitioning the dark underworld goddess, and wrapping it around a stone, small enough to fit through the grate, yet large enough to have a little weight to it. I tied the paper with a black thread, doing a bit of cord magick binding my intention to manifest as a tie it together. I’ve sprinkled some herbs into the paper first, making the whole thing a charm. Patchouli and mugwort are good underworld herbs, and easy to find. I make my journey to the storm drain a sacred pilgrimage, not following a linear route, but a round about circular one. Once the storm drain is at my feet, I hold my intention in my mind, repeat my petition under my breath and toss the package into the drain, letting go of it, physically and energetically, so it may reach the gods of the depths and manifest as a reality in my life.
Another underworld technique I like is used for healing. When one is injured or ill, a replica of the injured or diseased body part is made as a votive offering. Though most of us think of a votive as a candle, a votive is anything offered in devotion. Carved limbs or organs were offered to the gods, with the idea that they would consume the illness and return health to the organs. I love using clay in magick. You can use the same technique, molding an offering appropriate for your situation and casting it into the underworld storm drain as an offering for healing magick.
The underworld pokes out into the urban environment in other ways. Graveyards are my favorite, since the Northeast is ripe with old ones. Many cities have graveyards, be they modern or historic. Offerings to connect with the ancestors can be made there. You might ask what the purpose is to visit such graveyards if your ancestors aren’t buried there, but in the otherworldly view, all graveyards are one graveyard. All are beyond the bounds of normal space. All connect to the same underworld of the ancestors. All are portals and accessible if you use them with respect.
Walking the Middle World
The middle world, the waking world of mortals is also the world of the cross roads, where the worlds above meets the world below. The crossroads deities and guides open the gateways to otherworlds from this middle world. They stand besides us and show us the way. In the space in between space, all things are possible. You are able to align with the worlds and draw the things you want, or banish the things that no longer serve you, with the resources of all these worlds at your disposal.
One of the most important sacred sites in the ancient urban world was where roads intersected, but it’s a crossroad of three paths, forming the “y” shape or a crossing of two roads, forming four potential directions in the “x” shape. Our urban environment is filled with such crossroads.
One of the first acts of magick I learned before diving two deeply into the Craft was from a wonderful lesbian couple who lived in the urban confines of Cambridge Massachusetts. The two were having some financial difficulties, and wanted a blessing of prosperity, yet wanted to maintain their artistic vocations. They baked a cake, filled with all the wonderful things that they enjoyed. They used spices that they loved, particularly cinnamon, in it. The important thing is that it was something pleasing to them, and what they enjoyed in life. In correspondence magick, sugars are associated with Venus, and attracting what you desire, while spices such as cinnamon, are in harmony with Jupiter, and increased abundance.
The couple cut the cake into three pieces. On the third piece, they placed four coins. They went to the crossroad at the town square closest to their apartment, and dropped the cake in the middle of the square, as an offering to the crossroads gods. Then went home and each ate their 3rd of the cake, linking themselves to the offering they gave. Within a month, each had new business opportunities that substantially increased their income, yet was in alignment with their chosen artistic careers.
Prosperity magick is not the only workings of the middle world. I do more crossroads work asking for guidance, to the knowledge and wisdom to decide before embarking on a new path.
Upper World Offerings
The Upper World is classically associated with guidance, enlightenment, benign blessings from on high, rather than the more material concerns of the middle and under world. Upper world magick has the resonance of theurgy, petitioning the gods and aligning with the divine source, though many will use their petitions and alignments for less than noble causes. When thinking about how the upper world was contacted nature sans a mountain top or cliff, I thought of the old temples of the ancient civilizations, from shrines to towers and ziggurats, reaching for the heavens. In temple worship, incense and other offerings would be burnt, with the idea that the smoke would take the worshiper’s prayers to the heavens to be received by the gods of the sky.
Like offerings to the depths of the underworld to build an energetic bridge between you and the unseen forces, incense offerings can be a great way of establishing contact with the upper world forces.
Though we might not have the mountain top or towering temples, we do have quite a number of buildings reaching to the heavens. We don’t need to be on the largest building to do our ritual. In essence, any building will do. Any lift in perspective brings us a bit closer to the Upper World. You can make your offering on the rooftop of your apartment building, or on the windowsill or fire escape. Though I enjoy the view from the towering skyscrapers with observation decks, it’s hard to do full ritual there. You can do some internal mental magick, without ritual tools, but if you want to burn offerings or light candles, its better to find a place where you can comfortably do those things in relative safety and privacy. I participated in a full Moon ritual on a rooftop, with a cauldron of incense burning, and there was something striking about the thick incense rising up between the buildings, while no body below us really knew what we were up to. There was an energy and intensity, despite us not being technically, earthed, or touching, the ground. The purpose of our ritual was to reach the stars, and it worked quite well.
When you want to commune with the forces of the Upper World, find a place that reaches to the sky, be it your bedroom window, or some rooftop. Even a hill in your city could work well. Decide what substances will be appropriate by consulting with a good herb or incense book. My default offerings are sage and frankincense, though I experiment with a lot of different herbs and resins. Light a self igniting charcoal and place it in a flameproof vessel. Hold your offering and think of your intention. What do you seek the upper world for? What do you need help with? What do you want divine aid to help you manifest? Clearly form your intention and bless the substance with your will and prayer. Sprinkle your offering over the charcoal. Feel the energy rise up to the heavens, where it will return to you, like water vapor returning as rainfall.
Use the suggestions as guide for establishing your own calls and signals to the deities all around you, using your own environment. Magick must grow and expand, so feel free to experiment and share what works for you with others.