Category Archives: Divine Figures

Archangel Michael-Who is Like God-Angel of Healing, Protection, and Victory

 

Next up in our roster of holy figures is one of my personal favorites-Archangel Michael. His Feast Day, also known as Michaelmas, is celebrated on September 29th in various Catholic and Christian traditions. 

 

 

History

Archangel Michael is a holy figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. His name means “Like Unto God” or “Who is Like God” In Catholic and Christian Orthodox traditions, he is sometimes known as Saint Michael or Saint Archangel Michael.  Catholic and Orthodox traditions venerate him as the patron saint for policeman and soldiers. In the Muslim tradition, some believe him to be one of three angels that visited Abraham. Archangel Michael is mentioned once in the Qu’ran. In the Coptic Orthodox Church, he is the one who presents God with the prayers of the people. Other traditions hold that Archangel Michael is actually Adam from the Book of Genesis or that he is the pre-incarnate figure for Christ. He is the angel who foretold Mary, Mother of God, of her approaching death.

 

In the Jewish tradition, Archangel Michael is the closest angel to God. He is Captain of God’s army as well as ruler of all natural elements such as rain, wind, and storms. His nemesis is the Angel Samael. When Samael was cast down from heaven, he grabbed Michael’s wings, hoping to bring him down as well. Some traditions also say that Michael and Samael are in constant battle over the state of Moses’ soul. In Rabbinic liturgy, Archangel Michael is seen as the staunch defender of Israel. His depiction in the Book of Daniel as “a great prince who stands up for the children of your people” led to a place for him in Jewish liturgy despite Rabbinical prohibitions against seeking the intercession of angels between men and God.   Due to Michael’s role as a defender of Jews and Israel, two Jewish prayers are said in his honor.

In the early Christian tradition, shrines and sanctuaries were dedicated to Michael. Though he is mentioned as leading God’s army against Satan in the Book of Revelation, these early Christian shrines and sanctuaries dedicated to Archangel Michael were actually for the purpose of healing. Saints like George were considered martial whereas Michael was believed to be a healing force. When a devastating plague hit Rome in the 4th century, Michael was invoked for healing and aid and during this time he came to be known as “Archangel” and/or the “Prince Among Angels.”  By the 6th century, feasts were being held in his honor. Various feasts and feast days have been associated with him ever since.

In Roman Catholic tradition, Michael is assigned four specific roles:

1.) He is the Captain of God’s army fighting against Satan and Hell

2.) He is the Angel of Death who carries the soul away from the body when death occurs

3.) He weighs the Soul-According to this tradition, Archangel Michael weighs the soul with perfectly balanced scales. For this reason, he is often depicted holding these scales

4.) He is Patron of the Chosen People (Jews) of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and Guardian of the Church.

 These Catholic teachings are not strictly required beliefs (church orthodoxy) but “strongly encouraged” by the Church.

 

He gives his protection especially to mothers and children. A Romanian story from 1900, involving an infant-eating demoness named Avezuha and her attempt to harm both the Blessed Virgin and the infant Jesus, as retold by Diane Purkis in her marvelous book At the Bottom of the Garden relates :

“…when she [Avezuha] meets Archangel Michael she declares ‘I am going to Bethlehem in Judea, for I have heard that Jesus Christ is going to be born of His Virgin Mother Maria, and I am going to hurt her.‘  Whereupon the Archangel Michael took hold of her head, fastened an iron chain round her, stuck his sword into her side, and began to beat her terribly in order to make her tell her secret arts. She began and said ‘I change myself into a dog, a cat, a fly, a spider, a raven, an evil looking girl, and thus enter into the houses of the people and hurt the women and bring trouble to the children, and I bring changelings, and I have nineteen names.‘ And the Archangel Michael said to her, ‘I tell thee, I conjure thee, that thou shalt have neither the power to approach the house of X the servant of the Lord, nor hurt his property, his flocks, nor anything else that belongs to him. Thou shalt go to the desolate mountains where no one lives, and there shalt thou abide.‘”

Working with Archangel Michael

In the American folks magic tradition of Conjure, Archangel Michael is seen as a powerful defender of those who are unable to defend themselves, including women, children, slaves, and other minorities or marginalized groups. His association with healing can be seen in his connection to Angelica Root–a root used in many peace and tranquility formulas and rituals. His association with martial endeavors and victory can be seen in the writings that invoke him along with the use of Bay Laurel leaf-an ancient symbol of conquest and victory. For those grounded in a specific religious tradition, Archangel Michael’s role as healer and psychopomp are at least as emphasized as his role in military and police pursuits–if not more so.

 

I petition and invoke Archangel Michael’s aid for a number of situations-for protectionhealing, mercy in the face of sin or error, and, of course, victory. I find him to be a strong protector not only of women and children but of entire families. Despite his widespread veneration across many traditions, Archangel Michael does not have many specific offerings associated with him. When I invoke his aid and intercession, I repay his gifts with flowers, Jordan almonds, honey, and donations to battered women’s shelters and/or Jewish charities.

I remember very clearly when Archangel Michael made his presence known to me—I was 7 months pregnant and it was December. I had a vivid dream of the Angel and he was holding an old-fashioned Archangel Michael packet. He told me I needed to start making them and in my dream I thought—”Ok, but I can hardly sew!”

He told me to learn so I did.

In celebration of Archangel Michael’s Feast Day I will be building an altar in his honor, feasting him (and my family), and placing petitions, prayers, and intentions before him. This is a FREE service. Go here, fill out the simple petition form and your petition will be added to the altar!

 

Happy Birthday Ganesh!

People all over the world, but especially in India, Nepal and Southeast Asia are celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi today, also known as the birthday of Lord Ganesha! For those who do not know of him, Lord Ganesh is the round-bellied, candy-loving, Elephant-headed God in the Hindu Pantheon. Besides the appellations of Ganesh and Ganesha, he is also referred to as Ganapati and the honorifics “Sri” (Lord), “Maha” (Great), or “Jai” (Victorious) are often placed before his name.

So who is this Ganesha anyway?

Welcome to the fabulous world of Indian myth and lore! The most comprehensive source for information on the Hindu Gods and Goddesses are the Puranas. These ancient texts are considered both sacred and revelatory in the Hindu tradition along with better known works like the Rg Veda and the Bhagavad-Gita. Depending on which Purana you consult, Ganesh, like most of the well-known Hindu Deities, has several different origin stories and the familial relationships of Ganesh vary. Many of the stories concur that he was created by Lord Siva, Goddess Paravati, or some combination thereof. Again, depending on what Purana you read, Ganesha is described variously as being wedded to the great Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess Sarasvati, patroness of art and culture, or living life as a celibate Brahmin. As happens with many Gods within the Hindu pantheon, Ganesh has become known in some areas as the primary or principle Deity and is worshiped as such.

 

What does he do again?

When venerated as the Supreme Creator, Ganesh contains the entirety of the universe within–all possibility and all realities. In America he is most popularly known as the remover of obstacles. He is petitioned for this in India as well but this is but a small facet of all that He is sought out for.

It is less well-known that Ganesh is strongly associated with writing, education, learning, and the recitation of sacred texts and mantras. The reasons for these strong associations between Ganesh and writing/education are because it is believed that he wrote the entirety of the Indian epic the Mahabharata (the better known sacred text the Bhagavad-Gita is one small chapter in this epic story cycle). If you study the many depictions of Ganesh you will find that he is often depicted with a broken tusk. One story claims that the Mahabharata was such a sacred work that he broke off a piece of himself–his tusk–to write it. Talk about dedication! Because of his work with writing and learning, Ganesh is associated with the Hindu concept of Buddhi (knowledge). As a result, he is petitioned by students and parents for aid in learning and classroom success. In fact, if I had to make a comparison to a Catholic Saint, I would say that Ganesh has a great deal in common with St. Thomas Aquinas–patron of students.

Ganesh is also strongly associated with the honoring and protection of women and children. One of my favorite Puranic stories about Ganesh is that he and the little lord Krishna decided to have a competition to see who could circle around the universe the fastest. Krishna speedily took off and went around the cosmos on his famous chariot but Ganesh walked in a sunwise circle around his mother…and won.

An excellent book on Ganesh mentions that the Elephant-headed lord has extremely large ears so that he can hear and respond to ALL requests that come his way. He is probably the most well-known and venerated Hindu Deity by non-Hindus which also makes him a Holy figure that crosses boundaries and dwells in the interspiritual realms.

 

But really, why the Elephant head?

I think that the Hindu Gods are often misunderstood by Westerners because they are brightly colored, heavily decorated, and have wonderful feats and journeys associated with them. Due to these qualities, sometimes they strike us as almost cartoonish. I’m not Indian (obviously) but I have studied classical Indian texts at some length. After studying these texts, I can only say that the playful veneer coexists with a very rigorous and thoughtful theology and philosophy.

Ganesh is a wonderful. A case in point: he has the head of an elephant and that makes him more approachable and lovable somehow. But why the elephant head? One of the more popular stories: Recall that Ganesh is known as a protector of women and children. One day his mother Paravati was bathing and she assigned her favorite son to stand guard at the door of her bath. Siva, Lord of Death and Destruction came in and wanted to see his wife. Ganesh, however, refused to let his father, the Death God, into his mother’s chamber ( some of the stories imply that he wanted to have sex with her and it was not the appropriate time for that to happen). Siva became angry at his son’s insolence and opened his third eye, blasting Ganesha’s head off. When Paravati came out of her chamber, she was understandably distraught. Seeing his wife’s grief and distress, Siva became ashamed and promised to make it right. For help, he went to the oldest, wisest, elephant in all the land. The elephant, out of love for the Goddess and her son, sacrificed his life and offered his head up to Ganesha. This story powerfully illustrates the paradoxes we find again and again in Indian sacred texts–Ganesh is so approachable and lovable because of his awesome feat of bravery and noble sacrifice.

 

So how do I work with him?

There are many ways to work with Ganesh. First, because I don’t think one should just go picking and choosing different deities to work with, it is a good idea to follow some of the links above and learn about his story and those of other deities within the Hindu Pantheon.

Ganesh, like most of the Hindu Gods, loves altars and altar building and the colors orange, pink, and blue are special favorites. As with many of other Hindu Gods, one who petitions him is expected to make offerings. Typically these offerings are set before a statue or image of Ganesh for a short period of time. Then they are considered prasad–blessed–and are consumed by the person making the petition and, in some cases, other friends and family members too. Coconut, sweets, coconut milk, and flowers are all appropriate gifts.

Another popular way to invoke the presence of beloved Ganesh is to sing to him! Kirtan is devotional call and response singing and there are many songs to Ganesh. Learn a few of them yourself and sing to honor and bless this benevolent holy figure!

 

 

Blessed Imbolg and Happy Candlemas

For those who don’t know-February 1st/2nd rings in the cross quarter holiday of Imbolg, also celebrated as Candlemas. We are now at the half way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Unlike other cross quarter days there is a Goddess who is specifically associated with Imbolg and She is Brighid, or Saint Brighid if you are Catholic or Orthodox Christian. We had to wait until February 3rd to properly honor the season and beloved Brighid-but we finally had a small ritual this morning, full of omen spying and observing our local surroundings. For followers of my tumblr account these are repeats-but they are still just as pretty!

Mutabalis Rosebush

This is the Mutabalis Rosebush in my garden-I pruned it way back in early Autumn and the growth on it has been enormous since then. We did some nourishing energy work around this rosebush this morning in honor of Brigid in her role as a healer.

Rosemary

 

The rosemary has been in bloom for several weeks now-through most of January-and is almost always buzzing with a few dozen bees!

carrots

 

Multicolored carrots planted at the beginning of January are starting to reach up higher towards the warm light. In a few more weeks they should be ready for harvesting.

 

strawberry

 

Two weeks ago when we had our first really nice and mild weekend since Christmas, we put in a strawberry patch that is already bearing some beautiful fruits!

offerings for Brighid

Part of our Imbolg ritual every year is to smudge each other and make offerings to Brighid-which after receiving blessing from Her we are free to enjoy! In South Central Texas Imbolg really feels like the beginning of Spring. We may have another cold snap or two and it might even dip below freezing one more time, but the tender green shoots I associate with springtime are already starting their journey up from beneath the warm earth. The Mourning and White Wing doves are cooing in the trees, the occasional hawk flies over head, and the Mockingbirds have been positively zesty in their desire for a mate. It the time when desire stirs everything upon the land here–and of course it is all sacred to Her.

Power & Grace-The Difference is in the heart

Anytime you start investigating magic the issue of power comes up. Its a thorny issue because the tendency is to talk about power dynamics or stepping into your power or what have you. For me, power is contrasted by grace and this contrast can be clearly viewed by juxtaposing two popular figures-The Intranquil Spirit and Anima Sola.

The Intranquil Spirit is a figure petitioned in several different systems of folk magic-including African-American based Conjure as well as Mexican folk magic and Catholic Folk traditions. The presence of the Intranquil Spirit is requested, usually by a woman, after a love relationship has ended. She is a coercive spirit and the intention in calling her forth is to torture one’s ex partner to the point that they become so miserable that they are forced to return to you. Although the Intranquil Spirit is usually conceived of as female, some folk magicians have observed that there are actually several different kinds of Intranquil Spirits that will show up for a job some female, some male. Not every spirit worker will work with Intranquil Spirit because the energy invoked is so harsh. Though its understandable to anyone who has been through an especially painful break up how one might be in the position of wanting the return of their lover NO MATTER WHAT-magical workers often find that working with the Intranquil Spirit creates more complications than it solves and that the reconciliations this spirit brings about are often still emotionally fraught. Though the spirit is conceived of as feminine, the main traditional image associated with the spirit shows a white bearded man sitting in judgement over the world.

Intranquil Spirit

One of the traditional images associated with the Intranquil Spirit. Although the spirit is usually conceived of as female in this image the spirit resembles a male God in a position of judgement.

 

The Intranquil Spirit is a spirit that I do not work with-so I do not want this post to be taken as authoritative on her/it, but I do want to share my own impressions of her energy and contrast them with that of another spirit who in some ways is very similar but in other ways is very different-Anima Sola. The Intranquil Spirit’s name gives away its story-it is a spirit who has departed from the physical world-perhaps in a violent or unjust manner-and as a result it continues to cling to the earthly plane looking for peace, closure, and a final resting place but never finding them-thus the Intranquility. The motivation of calling forth such an energy in magic is to make the target of the Intranquil Spirit equally unhappy, restless, and confused until they commit a certain set of specific actions (usually having to do with returning to their lovers). Putting aside the moral issues of compelling someone to do anything by wishing misery and unhappiness upon them, it is obvious that the Intranquil Spirit works through compulsion and power-specifically overpowering someone so that they act in such a manner that goes against their stated will. The spirit (and magician) who calls upon her expects to win the situation by overpowering the opponent. But there is another way…in magic, in life, and certainly in matters of the heart-and that is the way of Grace.

The image of Anima Sola is a well known image, especially where I live in the Southwest. We see a lovely dark haired and dark eyed beauty whose wrists are chained and who is being licked at by some vicious looking flames. For a non Catholic the assumption would be that the poor girl has landed herself in hell, but she is actually in Purgatory-the intermediary realm between heaven and hell that a soul achieves when it dies with sins left uncleansed but in a state of grace nonetheless. This state of grace that Anima Sola possessed upon her death is the first clue that she works through grace as opposed to power. In both Catholic and folk magic practices framed by Catholicism, Anima Sola is petitioned by people on behalf of their beloved and departed ones whose souls are believed to be in Purgatory-she is petitioned for deliverance, aid and succor to those who have passed beyond the veil. Her veneration is especially strong in Mexico, South and Central American and Italy, especially Naples and Florence. Because her veneration in Italy is well documented and seems to have started around the same time that Dante Aligheri published the Divine Comedy and the concept of Purgatory became widely accepted by the Catholic church I have a personal pet theory that Anima Sola may be based on one of the characters that Dante placed either in Purgatory or in the lowest (least painful) level of the Inferno.

animasola

One of the traditional images depicting Anima Sola, a young woman who is shackled in Purgatory but focused on the grace of heaven.

 

Anima Sola is not simply a spirit prayed to on behalf of those caught in the in-between realm of Purgatory-she is believed to have landed in Purgatory herself due to misplaced romantic affections-she fell in love with the wrong man. We are not sure if he was the wrong man because he did not reciprocate, was already married, or did reciprocate and the relationship was inappropriate-but illicit romance is often given as the reason why she is in Purgatory. For this reason she is petitioned in some magical traditions such as Voudo and Santeria and Lukumi as a lonely spirit (the name anima sola is latin for Lonely Soul) and often worked with in the same way that the Intranquil Spirit is.

However, what I have found in working with Anima Sola is that she does not work at like the Intranquil Spirit at all-Anima Sola’s magic lies in her state of grace-even as she carries sin upon her, even as she suffers, she is open to grace and her eyes are fixed on transcendence. For those of us who are not Catholic or have a hard time identifying with concepts like sin, heave, and hell, Anima Sola can still be a wonderful spiritual helper.

Her presence reminds us to be open to grace at all times-and it also reminds us that opening to grace is really all we can do-we cannot make someone love us, bend to our will, or go our way-we can only open ourselves to the grace that lies in all things all around us at all times. In cases unrequited love and/or painful break ups Anima Sola can be a great helper because she understands loneliness-the way it is all consuming much like the flames she is immersed in. Because she understands loneliness, pain, suffering and redemption she also knows (and reminds us) that there is always tomorrow-that even though we may feel in the lowest pit of hell today, tomorrow offers new light, new life, and new hope. In cases where a loving relationship has ended due to a lack of understanding, courage, or care Anima Sola can be petitioned to bring loneliness to the forefront of someone’s mind-not to punish but to remind that the whole is greater than the parts and that turning our back on true love is perhaps the greatest error of all.

How to work with Anima Sola

If the themes around Anima Sola resonate with you on any level you will of course want to know how you can best go about working with her. My experience with Anima Sola is that she likes her image to be placed on your working space-and if you can create a shrine around her all the better. She loves red sequins, flowers, a glass of water, and cinnamon. I burn cinnamon chips on charcoal disks when I am working with her and I also offer her hard cinnamon candies. She is a spirit who works on our hearts and heart-based knowing (as well as heart-based fears) so incorporating herbs and roots that altar the heart’s rhythms and physiology can be appropriate-mandrake and belladonna are two plants that I use for this-externally only of course, do not ingest either plant and in fact be careful when handling them as they really can alter your heart’s physiology! Petitioning her on a Saturday is a good way to begin and as I recommend for most spirit work-simply speak or pray from your heart and pay attention to the ways in which she might answer you.

There is the way of power and there is the way of grace. One relies on our own strength of will while the other relies on our trust that being open and honest is enough…because we are enough-blessed, whole, and holy already just as we are.

 

 

Of Bones and Blessings, Cursings and Curings and Walking in Between

On this day when the veils are especially thin I am thinking of the old saying that in order to know how to heal you must also know how to hex or in order to cure you must be able to curse. Or how about this one from a 14th century Scottish man referring to a local cunning woman “she was either a witch or a woman of God.”

Any way you slice it the line between benevolent and baneful magics is ever present and thin-but on days like today it is especially so.

I remember reading in Brian Froud’s Book Faeries about the Scottish tradition of the Seelie and Unseelie Court-the belief that the Unseelie court of faerie ruled the dark part of the year from Samhain until Midwinter. The Unseelie court was believed to be composed of the more mischevious or in some cases downright harmful and deadly faerie creatures. In honor (and fear) of their reign farmers would leave untouched any crop that had not been harvested by the evening of October 31st-it was considered forfeit-an offering for the faeries and not fit for human consumption. This is just one of a plethora of traditions found around the world that recognizes the change in power and energy as the life/death/life cycle circles around and around spiraling into the heavens and down into the dark earth. It is those apparently opposing forces that are also at play with the curing and cursing dynamic.

As a student of Ancient Greek, among other things, the issue of cursing and curing comes out of language-as is well known in entheogenic circles, the greek word for poison is the same word for medicine (pharmakon)-where, etymologists may be able to see, we get current words like “pharmacy.”

Many of our natural poisons have incredibly potent healing properties-the digitalis derived from Purple Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea) can stop a heart or assist in curing congestive heart failure, Black Henbane (Hyosyamus Niger)-a very toxic plant in some respects can be used to induce visionary trance and the sensation of flying but also as a topical analgesic as can the even more potent Monkshood (Aconitum)-which has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) from which the drug Atropine is derived and of course perhaps most famously most snake antivenins are composed from the original venom itself.

Knowledge of the Poison Path (as Dale Pendell terms it) is sought out for many reasons-people want to understand these plants and poisons that have held such allure through time and history, people want to experience hallucinations or get high for recreational reasons, devotees wish to engage in ritual usages-some of which are millenia old, but as Aldous Huxley famously wrote when high on Mescaline-derived from yet another plant-Peyote (Lophophora Williamsii)-the doors of perception are opened.

The Poison Path is a rich place to begin any consideration of the relationship between curing and cursing because our first and truest teacher-Nature-often combines these elements in the same being. A little too much of that and you are sick or dying, but just the right amount and you can be saved, pain-free, wholesome.

What I have learned in my own practice is that these poisons/medicines have the ability not only to cure or kill-they can pierce through our current perceptions and reveal new possibilities that were hidden behind a veil of illusion. This idea of being pierced is as old as cupid and even older-I feel it finds one of its most beautiful expressions in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

In Catholic and folk-Catholic-magic traditions the pierced heart is a requisite for curing or cursing-I believe that in magic period a pierced heart is a requisite because the pierced and sacred heart represents a heart that has been cut, punctured, wounded in some way and yet is still vital, still beating, still blessing, sacral, and sacred.

This sacred heart-often depicted as wrapped in the crown of thorns worn by Christ during the Passion is pierced by the suffering of humanity as well as the sufferings-large and small that we all experience in our daily lives. It is our sense of safety and security that is punctured and separated, our sense of isolation that is questioned, our moments of selfishness illuminated and called out for what they really are. The pierced heart is experienced by the one who sees beyond the veil-through life experience, through innate wisdom, through poisonous allies, or through ineffable mystery.

It is a theme we see in baneful magic again and again-the piercing and puncturing of a heart-to wound, curse, or in some cases sting into regret and recognition-and yet having a pierced heart is absolutely emphasized in healing and love work as well. For me, the iconography of the pierced heart has always spoken not only to the relationship between cursing and curing-but also to the relationship between life and death.

Living in the Southwest where the harvest cycles definitely do not follow that of the Celtic year, I know our own land wights and spirits are on a slightly different calendar, but we have our own versions of the life/death energies-and one of the most popular dualities right now if that of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe-Our Lady of Guadalupe & her skull sister Santisima (or in some areas Santa) Muerte-Most Holy Death or Our Lady Most Holy Death.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

These two are actually sister figures-both based on ancient Nahuatl Goddesses. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Catholicized incarnation of Tonantzin while Santisima Muerte is a Catholic-folk and increasingly so-called “narco” saint based on the Lady of Death Mictecacihuatl. In Nahuatl-Aztec culture Tonantzin was an earth & fertility Goddess-bringing life giving rains to the hills, valley, and canyons-bestowing life giving properties on the land and the people-and some believe that she is specifically affiliated with the Agave plant and its various ritual and ecstatic uses. Like the Summerian Inanna and her skull sister Ereshkigal-Tonantzin had a relationship with her own shadow sister, Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of Death. In Mesomamerican culture death was highly esteemed because the ancestors were seen to be guiding forces of both wisdom and prophecy. Therefore the Lord and Lady of Death had to be propitiated whenever someone passed beyond the veil so that they would accept their soul and as it were, make a home for them. Mictecacihuatl possesses the guise of Santisima Muerte-who has interestingly become increasingly allied with those involved in the illegal drug and arms trades in Mexico and the US-Mexican border-but she is also known throughout the Southwest simply as La Huesera-the bone woman-and is venerated as such-the Mother of death-who sings life into the bones so that the cycle may spiral out yet again.

Santisima Muerte-Holy Death

I am always interested in ideas that are apparent opposites but underneath share a solid unity with one another. In the case of hexing and healing or cursing and curing I believe that this foundation is strongly present-and the folk magician should at the very least understand the relationship-perhaps as the winds blow from the otherworld into our own they will carry a bit of wisdom with them to aid us in our efforts.

 

May you all have a beautiful Halloween, Blessed Samhain, and delightful Dia de los Muertos!

Resources:

Dale Pendell, Pharmako/Gnosis

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Untie the Strong Woman

Daniel Schulke, Veneficium

St. Expedite: How to work with & Honor an ancient-modern folk saint

Saint Expedite is one of my most beloved spiritual aids and allies so who better to kick off the spirits and saints category of the blog? Now Saint Expedite (pronounced Ex-peh-deetee or in some cases by my older clients who really know their stuff, Es-pee-dee) is an “unofficial” Catholic Folk Saint best known in magical communities for his ability and willingness to provide luck in a hurry.

 

A New-Old Saint?

Most Saints have been venerated over time-whether they are officially recognized by the church or not, but St. Expedite has a reputation for being a more “modern” Saint-this is dead wrong.

Veneration of St. Expedite most likely dates back to the Middle Ages where he was honored in Turin among other places. Records indicate that he was petitioned by devout Catholics is the 1700’s for aid with court case work-with records specifically coming from both Germany and Sicily. Because of the age of these records it was once widely assumed that St. Expedite’s veneration first originated in these two countries-though later records were found placing veneration in Turin. Though he is not recognized by the Catholic church as an official Church Saint-he was mentioned in Martyrologies dating from the Middle Ages and his iconography has been consistently stylized as a young man dressed as a Roman solider, stepping on a black raven with a banner inscribed with the word “cras”-Latin for “tomorrow”, coming out of its beak while he holds a cross with the word “hodie”-Latin for “today”, inscribed upon it.

This raven-cross symbolism springs from a story in which the Devil appeared to St. Expedite as the Devil, tempting him to put off conversion to Christianity until tomorrow (cras)-in part, one assumes, to avoid martyrdom. Expedite replies by crushing the raven under his foot and holding forth a cross with the word for Today emblazoned upon it-indicating that he will not put off till tomorrow what needs to happen today. While veneration of St. Expedite is quite old, the Catholic Church issued an attach on the Saint and was successful in removing him from the official list of Church Saints in the 1960’s.

 

Origin Myths

Two popular stories contribute to Saint Expedite’s status as a “modern” saint. One dates from 1781 when remains of a Saint from a french catacomb were shipped to a Parisian convent in a crate with the words “Expedite” on the side of the crate. Tellers of the story insist that the nuns misunderstood the shipping imperative and took it for the name of the Saint. A similar tale comes from New Orleans’ Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe-with the same device-a crate with a statue of a Saint and the word “Expedite” on the side was taken for the Saint’s name. However-whether these stories are true or not they are not valid as reference points for when worship and devotion to St. Expedite began-as he is recorded in various Martyrologies from the Middle Ages under the name Expeditus-which may be a misspelling for the more common Epeditus.

 

Veneration Today

Today St. Expedite is honored in various places around the world. Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean, has a widespread cult worship of St. Expedite. Roadside altars devoted to him can be found throughout the island, even though worship of him is illegal. It is unclear why St. Expedite has such a profound effect on Reunion islanders but one story attributes it to Expedite’s aid in delivering harsh and vengeful curses at some point in the island’s history. Devotions to him are largely syncretic and combine devotions to deities known in Indian and Madagascar as well.

He is honored widely in the country of Chile where a church was built in his honor after a woman brought an image of him into the country. In the summer months especially pilgrims petition him for aid and his followers come from all socio-economic levels.

In Voodoo the image of St. Expedite may be used to represent Baron Lakwa and in New Orleans he is often associated with Baron Samedi.

 

Working with St. Expedite

In the Hoodoo-Conjure tradition of the American South, St, Expedite is seen as a strong, supportive, and caring ally who can aid in brining about luck and change in a hurry. However, his iconography and at least two of the religio-magical traditions associated with him also speak of his role in relation to death and cursing, and then there is the court case veneration from both Sicily and Germany in the 1700’s. So who is Expedite really and what role(s) might he fill?

A champion for the persecuted: In my own work with St. Expedite I see him first and foremost as a strong champion for the persecuted. Its important to remember that claiming to be a Christian during the Roman Empire was a very dangerous thing to do and often led to persecution, torture, and death for the new converts. When we consider this along the record of Expedite being petitioned for aid in court cases and his veneration on Reunion Island for aid in placing down a vengeful curse (obviously to correct some injustice) we start to see him reveal himself as one who stands strong for persecuted people from around the world. On a personal note I find it interesting that one of the origin myths surrounding St. Expedite also indirectly involved Our Lady of Guadalupe-another syncretic Spiritual ally who also stands in defense of persecuted people around the world. These two Saints truly make a powerful pair!

 

Yet another Dying God: The story of the Dying God circles back again and again, like a snake circling back on itself. From death springs life, from life springs death. St. Expedite’s association with cursing, Baron Lakwa and Baron Samedi, as well as his iconography of being caught in the act of a killing a crow all point to his association with death & dying. Yet Expedite’s vibe is so positive and cheery most of the time-so what’s up with that? What I have found in working with St. Expedite myself is that he is a Death God but the death he brings about is very specific-he will kill hesitation, root out irrelevance, and destroy blocks and obstacles that stand in your way-the death he brings about makes room for the here, the now, and the needed.

Fast Luck: Today St. Expedite is most commonly petitioned to aid in luck, money, and love situations. I work with St. Expedite on behalf of clients and also on behalf of my own business and family-he is dear to me. I have successfully petitioned him many times concerning money and business for myself and for others. I have witnessed wonders in love situations that need to turn around fast but possess a relatively stable foundation on which to stand. I also have worked with him to great success in court case work. He is know to be very picky about offerings. I have found that he loves the colors red, green, and yellow. According to some of Hyatt’s work, a popular day to invoke him is Wednesday-and that is the day that I choose to leave offerings out to him. Flowers, water, and chocolate are all acceptable. In Hoodoo-Conjure there is a strong tradition of leaving out poundcake after you have successfully petitioned Expedite and it is believed that failure to properly thank the Saint can result in bad luck and even death.

In closing, I hope that this sheds a bit of light on the fascinating story behind St. Expedite. Due to his somewhat modern sounding name and a conflation of myths he will no doubt continue to be seen as a modern day Saint-but his roots reach far back into time and his power has been sought out for thousands of years. Approach him with care and humility and you will find his blessings everywhere.