Broke but not Cheap: Works and Operations

So, in the last two posts, I’ve described how to get by on the cheap stuff and the free stuff in order to set yourself up as a magician.  The important thing to remember is to make do with what you have, which sounds daunting for some of us who have grown up in a magical culture or occulture that insists on having gold-plated wands or elaborate temple spaces in order to forge strong connections with the gods or saints or what-have-you.  It’s all bullshit, of course; you can ask any kitchen witch or folk healer who lives out in dismal poverty, especially considered by urban first-world standards, and they can show you worlds of power stronger and more palpable than the most elaborately-decorated churchlike temple space.  Sure, the goods and finery do help, and I’m not saying they’re worthless (far from it!), but do you need any of the fine stuff in order to get your shit done?  Hell no.  Historically speaking, magic as a whole has been done by the outcasts, the impoverished, the traitors, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, and because of those people magic has been given a bad place in the minds of people as something evil, against the order of things, and subversive.  Well, of course it is, if you push people out of the normal modes of power and empowerment, but what else would you expect?

Many people find themselves turning to magic when nothing else works.  This includes people who have run out of unemployment benefits, those who have been cast out of hearth and home, those who have racked up unimaginable amounts of debt, those whose health prevents them from working outside the home, and the like.  In these and in many other cases, we find people whose resources are constrained to pretty much what they have to survive on and little else, with anything else being considered a luxury item.  Hoodoo, most PGM stuff, and endless traditions of folk magic come out of these situations, and though they’re romanticized nowadays, they have always retained an air of the gritty, the gruesome, and the grounded because it reflects the people and the circumstances that these traditions have come out of.  Most of the fancy shit comes with institutionalization and adoption of magical methods by the well-off and powerful, and isn’t strictly necessary since the magic itself works with a lot less than is tacked on over time.

Bearing that in mind, how do we actually implement magical ritual on a tight budget?  Again, use what you have, and what you don’t have, remember that saying from your grandmother: “use it up and wear it out, make it do or do without”.  That applies as well to household activities as it does to magical ones, and considering that household activities were often inseparable from magical ones in nearly every culture but our modern materialist one, it makes sense.  Consider the house as your kosmos, your own personal microcosm where everything you are is represented by where you live and what you have in it in order to live.  Seen in that light, there is nothing in your house that doesn’t have a spiritual significance.  Plateware and eating utensils, for instance, can be used as mere tools or as symbols of nourishment, as well as staples like bread or rice or beans or meat.  Towels and soap represent cleanliness, scissors and knives separation and cutting things off, candles and lightbulbs as sources of enlightenment, clothes as “skins” or context-setters, insect repellents as demonifuges or exorcist tools, and the like.  Everything is both a tool and a symbol, and should be viewed as such.  You don’t need to have a separate set of ritual knives if all you have is your Cutco knife set you got on discount from a high school friend, though you may want to clean them off both before and after ritual use.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to talk about doing work and ritual on a budget because the types of works and rituals you might do are as varied as you can think of, and no two people will downsize and be resourceful on a budget in the same way.  Generally, do what works best for you with what you have.  Say you want to conjure an angel in the way I and Fr. Rufus Opus or Fr. Ashen Chassan do it.  For that, you need a few things for the ritual: a Table of Practice, a wand, a scrying medium, a lamen of the spirit, and candles; incense, altar cloth, decorations, drink offerings, robes, and the like are nonessential but help.  Let’s say we can’t afford the nonessential stuff, and we don’t have the money for buying a Table of Practice or woodburning one, much less getting a good crystal ball.  What can we do?  Draw out the Table of Practice in marker on a piece of cardboard or paper; that’s your summoning circle.  Get a glass of water or a small stand-up mirror; that’s your scrying medium.  Get a wooden stick from outside, a clean (un)sharpened pencil, and a matchstick for your wand, or just use your index finger of your dominant hand.  Draw out the lamen design on a piece of paper and hang it from your neck with a bit of thread or a shoestring.  Boom, you have everything you need for an angelic summoning ritual.  Hell, once you make contact, you might save the lamen and save it as a portable shrine-talisman all on its own for future contact if the angel agrees to it.

You can use the same sort of simplification to most rituals for similar contact, if you still know the ritual and the ritual setup; the materials help, and the finer the materials the smoother (not necessarily finer) the connection, but the materials are there to help you, not to do the work for you.  If you can’t afford the ritual supplies and the regalia and the finery, that does not mean you can’t do the magic.  It just means you can’t use them, and you’re not worse off for it.  What you put into the ritual will come back to help you, and the more you put into it the more you’ll get back out, but if you can’t drop thousands of dollars on supplies, that doesn’t mean you’re up Styx creek without a paddle.  It just means you’re going to need to be absolutely earnest in what you are trying to ritual up and making contact with the spirit you want to talk with.

Don’t have pure essential oils to consecrate a talisman?  Use a bit of Crisco melted and heated with kitchen spices that smell about right.  Don’t have eight orange candles with wicks spun by a virgin?  Use some tealights you’ve colored after you’ve taken a shower and haven’t had sex for a day.  Don’t have ritual cakes made with frankincense and pure eggs laid by a pure white hen?  Use simple bits of white bread rolled up into balls with an intent of offering them.  Don’t have the space or privacy to make a full offering shrine that has to remain set up for a week?  Use a corner of a room that isn’t entered except by you, or use a drawer you empty out and keep it shut when not in use.  Don’t have a full set of linen robes embroidered with red silk?  Get a set of clean white scrubs or white undergarments drawn on with red ballpoint pen.  Can’t afford to get the blood of a white gosling in winter?  Use feathers from a white goose found on the ground soaked in cheap red wine, or a bottle of red wine or beer with a goose on the label.  Can’t find the herbs to make holy water?  Get an empty plastic bottle and get some from your local church.  Can’t afford to keep fresh flowers on an altar?  Get cheap fake ones and keep them on an altar until you can afford real ones.  Can’t scrounge up the cash to get a knife made and engraved at the right time with holy names and symbols?  Take a butterknife and scratch in the symbols with another knife at the right time.

If you make the effort of doing the ritual as close as you can to what’s prescribed with what you have, you’ll be fine.  You might need to make up for certain things with more earnesty, more focus, more concentration, more meditation, more singing, or more motion, but you’ll be able to get your work done without necessarily having to spend much on it.  Remember that you have plenty of cheap and free resources to make do with what you have or getting by on just a little.

When doing your own ritual work that doesn’t come from a book, let your intuition, spiritual contact, and resourcefulness guide you.  This is where magic really shines and develops on its own; the best magic is done in a time of need with what you have, even if all you have is a few words, some tablesalt, and only enough space to move your arms around a bit.  The traditions of magic we have (Hermetic grimoire, hoodoo, Daoist, Eastern Europe folk, grannymagic, etc.) are inherently incomplete, just as our encyclopedias and how-to guides; they provide a snapshot of things that can be done, but they are not complete systems in and of themselves.  Studying a tradition of magic inculcates a methodology to making things work in an occult manner; it does not provide you with all the answers to all possible situations, but it provides a framework to approach them and work with and within them.  Once you know how things are done generally within a system, you can extrapolate based on what you’ve learned to make rituals for things that have never before been written about or conceived.  If you can read between the lines and see why the system works the way it does, you can “hack” into the system, simplify it or substitute within it to make the same effects happen with different or fewer materials, and start developing new approaches using the same underlying logic.

Magic works when we need it.  When we need it, there is nothing that can stop us.  Money, materials, regalia, and the like are ultimately, well, immaterial to the function of magic so long as we know how to use what we have.  That, however, comes with experience, but so long as you keep trying your hand at this stuff, that experience will come one way or another.  Experience, intelligence, and wisdom come before all else, and if you have those, you have the richest and rarest resources of all.

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

One Response to Broke but not Cheap: Works and Operations

  1. Andrew says:

    I like this. I like this a lot.

    The thing that I like particularly is that study of a tradition matters. We — whatever is meant by ‘we’ in a context where we all do things quite differently depending on whether we’re druids or magi or rootworkers — have a set of procedures handed down to us from the past. Those traditions, as old as they are, are adapted to various circumstances: new continents, new cultures, new upbringings, new botanicals, new fauna, new science, new history. And, these same circumstances include the wealth and poverty of individual practitioners, as well as the ‘community of practitioners’ of a specific system. It takes dozens of people contributing to a common fund to rent or build a lodge room or a temple space, potentially; and far more in poor communities than in wealthy ones. And yet, for people for whom it’s a priority, it happens.

    But regardless of what tradition we belong to, or draw from, there’s a right way… and the right way may be a very narrow cat-door in a closed, locked door; or it may be a six-lane highway with a pedestrian path. But there’s a way. And studying the tradition is the way to determine if the proper procedure involves building the black and white pillars and the altar of black granite and marble… or if you can make do with a card table draped with fabric.

    Nice.

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