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The CANDLE and the CROSSROADS
A Book of Appalachian Conjure and Southern Root Work
By ORION FOXWOOD
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC Copyright © 2012 Orion Foxwood
All rights reserved.
Magic and Spirit Sight in My Folk Culture and Personal Work: A View from Within
There is a field where matter, mind, and magic meet. Meet me there and let's make the magic that made the world.
—Orion Foxwood and Brigh
This invocation came through me during a session of turning my awareness inward toward the eternal stream of ancestral presence, essence, and universal rhythm that knows no end and is always beginning. Many cultures call this technique meditation. My mother called it "the knowing." It is into this state of being that all conjurers go for inspiration, incarnation, evocation, and invocation. It dwells where the web of fate and the river of stars join in a dance of creation and revelation. To engage in these states of being, magic workers must part the perceived veil between the worlds and take the spirit of their seeking to that place where humanity and divinity meet—the crossroads. At the crossroads, the gate to the web of fate opens and the spirit roads are available. The mouth of creation opens to the mill of stars and magic is made manifest. Place your feet firmly on the existence of your life in this world, for that is the magical dance floor. Reclaim your presence in this world as the head of the great serpentine path of magic. Its vertebrae are the steps you have walked before that lead you into this world at this time. Its winding ways draw the worlds into one egg. Join me on a walk from my first home to building the home within that knows no bounds—the journey to my spirit and into the spirit world. If the path of the conjurer calls to you, this will be a good crystal ball for viewing the path to walking in the spirit land. This book is about spirit work, spiritual wisdom, love and power, and direct partnership with healthy spirit forces. It is about bearing the candle flame of our inner spirit to the crossroads of transition and realignment with the very forces that are our source.
The Journey to My Spirit
When I moved from my family home and southern culture in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to Maryland in the 1980s, I was on a quest for more people like me. I sought freedom to be out of the closet as a gay man and a magic worker, and more access to teachers and information on magical practices. I was beginning my voyage into the discovery of myself on many lev-els—a common theme for a young man, especially one (as my mom would say) who was "so damn different." I had no idea what it would take for me to become what my spirit had chosen for this life walk. In retrospect, it is good that spirits born as humans (such as you and I) who are marked to be magic workers do not know the fine print and the implications of a life devoted to magic. I think that if we did, we would surely run for the metaphorical hills and hide beneath a cloth of mediocrity.
The spirits that work with us are generous to shelter our direct perception from the details of the work we are called to do until life has carved out of us the ability to receive it, the inner clarity to see it, and the skills to implement it. One thing I know is that if you came into your body at birth marked for magic, there is no way around it. You must not betray your spirit's voice and turn away from what I have found to be a life of meaning and miracles. Dear reader, walk with me through a century or so of pages into old magic, deep spirit, wise ways, and paths of recovery, discovery, and sorcery that work with and from the source and center. If what you read speaks to what your spirit knows, then may those good spirits who sit above you guide you on this journey into the root of all things—the living spirit. May the wise ancestors place your feet in right relationship with the directive of your spirit. And may you know when to make magic and when to let magic make you.
The Baby Steps
The kind of beginning described herein is the most important first step for anyone who plans to walk the shadow roads that lead in and out of the world of forms, forces, shapes, and shapers. It is a journey to recover one's own spirit. The spirit within is the interface point between all forms of life—seen and unseen—and spirit pathways. My journey began as all true roads to the soul do: away from the familiar track of the voices outside to a recovery of the knowing voice within—the one that inspired my birth. But first comes the tuning in to what we, without external contaminations, feel and sense about our core. Then comes the unbinding of illusions, fears, and consensus reality to make room for the re-weaving of self from the core of spirit. Indeed, it all started like the Fool card in the tarot—by stepping off the cliff of the familiar past onto a vague cloud of inner guidance and into a new and foreign land of opportunity and challenge.
In order to know the spirit world, you must first know and manage your spirit—a task more challenging than it may sound. Magic is about doctoring the root of our self, making spirit relationships and thereby getting into creation's magical mix as a worker in the field of spirit that feeds and sustains all life. Did I mention that root workers and conjurers are nosy by nature? We want to know how life operates. We are not satisfied to sit on the sidelines. We get in the kitchen when life is being cooked up. These forms of magic are about power. Healthy power in this context is about our ability to create our lives in partnership with the web of life. Magic is about the freedom of the spirit to grow healthily without the tyranny of outside forces attempting to silence its inner voice.
Stepping Out onto the Cloud
Like Moses in search of the Promised Land, I just knew that the big city offered me promise. It gave me options to reveal the pulse driving outward from within and a sort of invisibility cloak under which I could be me in all my unfolding facets. Indeed, it exposed me to teachers in the magical arts and opportunities for uniqueness to blossom. In the course of that great adventure, I have studied and/or been initiated into Wiccan and Traditional Witchcraft lineages and New Orleans Voodoo practices, worked with Western Mystery practices, refined and deepened my Faery work, and expanded my conjure repertoire. I was on a search for truth that led me to new paths, such as witchcraft, and deeper into the magic of my cultural roots, conjure. Little did I know that ultimately magic starts from knowing the deep, abiding voice from within.
In many ways I felt like Dorothy in the classic film The Wizard of Oz—the thing I truly longed for most was home. And, like Dorothy, the power to get there was with (or in) me all along. What I did not understand was that home is an inside job. I was blessed to encounter and be taught by teachers who understood magic, spirituality, and mystical work. They knew the necessary elements of developing a "natural conjurer" (a person with blood-born spirit talents) and the skills needed for encountering and working in the spirit world in ways that leverage very potent effects. This is not to say that they were always loving, kind, or ethical. They were gifted ... and they were human! I also did not realize what I already had within me from my cultural and familial magical practices. Sometimes we have to go away from ourselves to find ourselves. Without reservation, that is exactly how I came into the potency of my witchery and conjure.
My road to discovering my spiritual, mystical, and magical path has been one of revelation, retrieval, and integration. It has been a path of deep in-looking, sometimes earth-shattering change, and exchange with spirit beings in ways that left me permanently woven into the in-scape of our world and poised at the crossroads where human and other encounter, exchange, and reveal wisdoms only known by those brave enough to walk between paths of light and shadow. This book will present some of my discoveries on the path of conjure (or spirit work, as it was called in my culture) as well as some practical insights, techniques, and practices.
The Foundations of My Magic
My work in the spirit world originated through my mother and sister as well as the culture in the foothills of Appalachia in West Virginia and outside of Winchester, Virginia. I was born with the veil, a subject I will discuss in later chapters. Over the course of my life in Appalachia, I was exposed to the practices of my mother, neighbors, and other people in the family and community who had many of the following gifts or skills:
* Spirit sight: The ability to perceive invisible beings and the spirit-paths
* Working by the signs: The ability to synchronize work such as farming, fertility of humans and animals, orcharding, and more with the influence of the zodiacal influences; or to interpret tokens or communication from the unseen spirit world also known as signs
* Conjuring with spirits: The ability to pray or otherwise call to otherworld beings such as God, angels, ancestral spirits, local nature spirits, crossroads beings, etc., for doing magical work
* Faith healing: The ability to induce physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual healing through direct contact and mediation of divine healing power
* Setting magical lights (candle magic): The ability to use fire in candles (especially), hearth fires, and other flames to set spiritual light to petitions or prayers
* Doctoring the root: The ability to use herbs, roots, stones, or animal parts (bones, claws, fur, etc.) for magic or the clearing, cleansing, and blessing of the spirit of a person (also known as his or her root)
* Praying and/or dreaming true: The ability to bring the successful blessings of spirit/God to a person, place, or thing, as well as predictive or informative dreaming
* Blessing or cursing: The ability to bring spirit influences (helpful or harmful) to a situation or desire through any of the aforementioned abilities
In this book, I will discuss and share some techniques for honing these abilities and others.
All of the magical practices in my family and community were practical and tied to everyday life. The worker was both feared and revered. He or she was often consulted when all other interventions failed; the services were purchased under the cloak of night. These practices were not and are not a counter-culture, hobby, or spiritual path. They are a vocation, practice, and a paradigm, and have a definite role in society. Understanding this is important to comprehending the philosophical underpinnings of this book. The roots of my conjure are African slave and other ethnic practices mixed in with Christian belief, Native American practices, European Witchcraft, and Faery beliefs—and I am sure there are other elements that I have not identified.
Why This Book?
The fuel for writing this book was my concern that people who are, as my partner Aubrey calls it, "magically inclined," read a lot but too often do very little in the way of applying the practice of magic, spirituality, and mysticism to improving the quality of their lives. In my experience, magic has too often become an intellectual pursuit to the exclusion of actual skills development and betterment of everyday life. This approach leaves the worker feeling filled with facts but void of fulfillment. My mother always said, "In the end, when we take our last breath in this life, it is likely that we will want to know if we were loved, if we loved, and if we were happy." These practices should enhance the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness—that includes inner peace, joy, prosperity, health, and a host of other blessings. These streams of spirit development, spirituality, mysticism, and magic are enlivened by living. You cannot think your way into magical potency, spiritual knowing, and mystical union. You have to consistently work the magic in order to have an established relationship with its workings.
Like so many who walk the magic roads, I have accumulated stacks of books, tons of crystals, temples full of statues, and enough herbs and oils to choke a dinosaur. Too often we look everywhere but in our country and family for solid magical practices. Yet this country is rich in magical lore, techniques, and practices. These practices are overlooked because they are too familiar or close, or they are seen as superstitious and not evolved. This last statement is inaccurate; folk magic is the mother of temple magic and formalized religion. Ask yourself: is it wise to cast away the root of a plant for the use of its fruits? The fruits live for a season, but the roots live through the seasons. This book looks at the deep-rooted magic of the common folk. With that said, all of us are (to some degree) on a path to self-discovery, life fulfillment, and wholeness. As I have continued to grow in conjure, I have discovered that the cord that weaves wholeness of spirit is best woven with three threads: spirituality, mysticism, and magic. I will go deeper into these threads in the next chapter. Seeking magical work without spiritual development and mystical practices is dangerous because it lacks moral fiber, visionary guidance, wisdom, and a sound understanding of the shadowy and light forces at work within you. This book will discuss lore, beliefs, practices, and techniques for witchcraft and conjure rooted in these three threads and poised on a foundation of practicality and applicability.
This book is about the conjure way of life, its soul, and to the depth of what my friend Starr Cassis calls "Old Style Conjure." My old-style conjure works with the Bible, the crossroads, spirits, stones, roots, baths, rivers, trees (living and dead), laying on of hands, sin-eating, prayer clothes, altars, setting lights (candles or lamps), and a host of other materials. It works with cloth from a workman's shirt, coal from deep mines, thread from feed and seed bags, honey and liquor, and other materials found in everyday life. My conjure works with real power placed in everything by spirit. It does not visualize. It knows! God (or the Maker) is not distant—it is close and has spirits sent to us to help us. My conjure was taught to me by old people, poor people, spirited people, and families who trusted me and let me in on their cherished knowledge.
Magic as a Path to Freedom
For years, I have pondered the role of magic in the development of spirit in the human quest for knowing. Ultimately, spirituality, mysticism, and magic are approaches to relating one's own spirit to the spirit of all life. As I have looked deeper into the practical and occult roles of magic, I have found that magic appears to be a partner with the nature of spiritual freedom, which I define as the right to hear the voice of our own spirit and to create a life that is satisfying and meaningful in a cultural and planetary context. Magic liberates the seeker from being force-fed a diet of adherence and allows him or her to directly engage, encounter, and exchange with the forces of creation and life from the inside in an aware and co-creative manner.
Magic makes its face known where emotional, physical, or spiritual oppression attempts to chain the spirit of humanity. Consider the legendary roles of magic in the exodus of the Jewish tribes from Egypt (i.e., the parting of the sea, turning a staff into a serpent, and so on), the use of Voodoo in the Haitian slave revolt of 1791, or the mythic slave revolt of the Italian people led by Aradia through her Dianic Witchcraft. Whether magic played a role in these events—or whether they even occurred at all—is not the point. The fact remains that magic appears in urban myths, mythic battles, fights against oppression, or rebuttal against enforced norms.
Magic is a fire that destroys the fetters that bind the spirit. It is a gift to life and humanity that allows us to consciously shape our lives through direct engagement with the spirit inside life and inside ourselves. I believe that magic, specifically the magical practices of the common folk, has always been and always will be associated with human freedom and the quest for a good life.
It All Began with the Veil
I was born in Winchester, Virginia, in 1963. Southern and Appalachian folk culture and beliefs were still very much a part of the ways of the poor folk—my folk. I have often semi-jokingly said that we were "po-people" because we could not afford the other "o-r" in the word poor. My mother lived by her inner-knowing, as did her mother and many of the male elders in the family and community. She consulted God on everything, or as she would say, "I take my spirit to the throne for heavenly direction." She was born with what we call the veil—a placental sheath over the face of the baby indicating that they have the blessing. The blessing is the ability to see into the world of the spirit, and it shows up in different ways for each person. Today, one might think of the blessing, and its resulting gift called the knowing, as extrasensory perception (ESP), though we would have never used such a big term. It is no surprise that I was born with the veil, too, as was my beautiful sister, Donna.
Excerpted from The CANDLE and the CROSSROADS by ORION FOXWOOD. Copyright © 2012 Orion Foxwood. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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