“Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.” – Emily Post
Someone last week called me the Emily Post of the Occult because I am always talking about manners , and proper etiquette in magic. Know what? That is a title I am happy to take.
Because ultimately a lot of interactions can be boiled down to thinking in terms of etiquette. I know that the idea that proper etiquette and manners grew to be unfashionable during the counter culture 60’s, and remain so in many corners of the occult and pagan world, but they are important to me.
Contrary to what some believe, proper manners and etiquette is not rooted in Victorian era obsession with trivial rules. It is rooted in simple respect. To quote Emily herself:
“Good manners reflect something from inside-an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.”
When I live my life I try as best as possible to express this consideration for others and my own self-respect. I do the same in magic. Proper etiquette is important when learning a new tradition, when dealing with spirits, and certainly when dealing with other magicians.
ETIQUETTE AND TRADITION
We live in a wildly eclectic world, and now have access to secret traditions that we would never have even heard about in the past, much less gained access to. This accessibility is, I believe, the gift of the age. It is also an opportunity for disrespect, silliness, and even danger if not approached with a sense of etiquette.
A few months ago I was getting “pinged” in the head by Maria Padilha in a way that I could simply not ignore any further. I actually tried to ignore it because I have a full spiritual court already. So, I contacted Conjureman Ali, knowing that he is a Tata Quimbanda and asked what is up. I warned him though that I was not planning on any major initiations or drastic commitments. He confirmed the contact and gave steps to proceed in a way that was acceptable both to tradition and my own time constraints.
A student asked me why I did not do as I had done with Hekate, and just do a bit of research and attempt contact on my own. The answer is simple: etiquette.
Hekate does not currently have a large cultus with set protocols and deep cultural roots. She did, but it has long since disappeared. Pomba Gira Maria Padhila however does have a large cultus, established protocols, and cultural presence. To ignore that in favor of just doing whatever the heck I felt like would be disrespectful.
It is the same in my life. Before I was a professional Sorcerer/Writer people sought me out through all kinds of different ways and contacted me however they could. This was acceptable because there was no set system in place. Once I became a professional however, I established protocols for different types of contact. If you ignore those rules, you will find yourself re-buffed. If you try to join the course through contacting me on FB I will direct you to send me an e-mail. If you dig up my private number and call me out of the blue I will not talk to your call at all. In the past I have had people show up at my day-job, and I actually denied being the person they were seeking. In once case I had security remove someone.
In other words, apart from gaining access to an authentic tradition, one reason to take initiation or go through normal channels is that it is simply polite to do so. Polite to the spirits, to the tradition, and to the culture.
ETIQUETTE AND SPIRITS
Often we are called upon, especially in the type of Sorcery I teach, to interact with spirits that either traditions lost to time, or have never had a firm tradition to interact through. Here too simple etiquette serves us well.
Just as you would not invite new neighbors over for the first time and serve some exotic thing that they may not like you should not expect that the local spirits will automatically jump on the wagon with whatever you normally do. African spirits tend to love tobacco, Dharmapalas hate it. Lots of spirits love meat, Nagas hate it. For me, thinking about proper etiquette means that I:
- Tend to do research and divination before making any offerings outside of simple incense, water, and light which tend to be enjoyed by almost all spirits.
- Tend to make simple offerings of energy and gentle announcements to local beings before doing major ceremonies in places other than my temple. This includes everything from banishing rites in the park to large Sabbats in the forest.
- Tend to make a blanket apology during many ceremonies expressing that if I have offended any beings by my actions it was not intentional.
- I do not toss spirits together haphazardly. This does not mean that I keep all pantheons separate as many traditionalists recommend.* It just means that I pay attention to conflicts, anticipate them when I can, and deal with the fall out when I cannot. Just like seating people together at a party, you can seat two people who have never met before together to create a great conversation or a conflict.
Going your best to practice good etiquette also means that you should expect the same of others, be they people or spirits. I do my best to respect tradition and not falsely represent anything. Sometimes though people get their pants in an uproar because I am not doing something the exact way they they do, or bristle at any experimentation and progress whatsoever. I rest in the fact that I do my best to be respectful, and politely request them to mind their own damn business.
Similarly with spirits. Sometimes you will do offerings and run into a spirit that simply will not play nice. Now, your exorcism or banishing is a bit more warranted, because you have at least tried to extend an olive branch through pacification and offering.
Or perhaps a spirit likes your offerings, but starts making larger and larger demands. This is a broach of etiquette from the spirits part, and you do not need to bend to demands just because they are not in a body!Yet, I see all the time people doing just that. “So-and-so spirits wants me to do this, and another wants me to do that, and WHEW! I am running out of time and money keeping these spirits happy”.
NO NO NO. being a doormat is not politeness. When you make offerings, and use proper etiquette, you will soon find that spirits of many traditions might be interested in contacting you. After all, you are a person that has proved to keep commitments, act with respect, and throw excellent parties (offerings). But you must be up-front about your willingness to engage, and frank about the level of contact you can maintain. Learning to say no respectfully and frankly is an important part of etiquette and magic.
*I feel that often this is based on a false understanding of how porous most traditions are, and sometimes a fetish for a certain time and place within those traditions at the exclusion of all else. For example Grimoire Magic in 1700’s Europe, Hoodoo in early 1900’s Rural America, etc, Ceremonial Magic in Elizabethan England, or Wicca in the 1960’s.