Western Prayer Flags and Agrippa

(Originally published in March 2011 under the title: Some Words of Encouragement and Practical Tips from the Past.)

 

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere Spring has arrived and despite some still present chill and possible snow, preparations for gardening are already underway. I remember as a child my great-uncle and grandfather both having large garden plots side-by-side.  This was in part because they liked gardening, but also because it was a practical activity that gave them something not only to show for their time, but also something to eat. As young men during the Great Depression and Second World War having enough food available to eat was not always a problem, but money was, and it became easier to grow some food when possible and spend what little money there was on other things – like shoes.

Of course, while birds and other creatures can be your friends by helping to pollinate your potential harvest, they can also be a nuisance as they decide to stay beyond their welcome and eat your food. Finding ways of keeping birds, bugs, and a variety of hopping and burrowing creatures from wreaking havoc on one’s work has plagued farmers of all kinds since the beginning of agriculture.   For many in traditional communities this took the part of prayers, spells, or incantations for a good harvest.  Ritual items, amulets and talismans were often buried in the ground or made visible nearby.  At other times ritual objects would be placed so that they blew in the wind.  The combination of physical motion, color, sound, and ritual action were thought to contribute to their effectiveness.

For my great-uncle, being of German descent, practicality reigned supreme and he used an ancient medieval practice of hedging his bets and used both the in-ground and above-ground methods. First, iron nails or railroad spikes were placed in the ground [I’ve heard of copper pennies used as well, as copper is under the rulership of Venus, and Taurus.] as iron denotes strength as well as actually aided the process to some degree. I’ve seen iron nails actually driven into sick trees to strengthen them, believing that the iron content of the nail will be a sort of vitamin to the tree.

Then, what modern New Age types would call ‘ Prayer Flags ‘ were hung. These were not multicolored flags on a rope, but instead strips of white cloth tied to the various stakes used to support the growing plants.

These ‘prayer cloths ‘ were a common practice in the Medieval period when prayers were written in black ink or with charcoal on a strip of linen and tied to a tree. Like their Tibetan counterparts, they were left to wither in the elements as the seasons rolled along.  The air, the carrier of the essential life force of all creation – the vital energy without which nothing is achieved – but with which all is manifest  -was both blessed, as well as blessed by, the words written on these strips of cloth and carried them afar.

Now for the gardener or farmer, having something waving in the wind also helped nicely to keep potential furry and feathered raiders at bay. But for the folk practitioner, there was also the added element that their prayers made visible on the amulet of cloth would also be made visible through the efficacy of their simple and devote practices.

These simple strips of cloth were, made of linen, the traditional cloth favored by the Egyptians and nearly everyone since for occult operations, and while their crude markings were not like the more beautiful talismans of the leisured classes, they were none the less as effective in the hearts and minds of those who used them. I have seen a few of these, with the prayers in black ink, pencil, or charcoal, written in Latin, German, or corrupted Hebrew.  The sign of the cross was made at the beginning and end of the prayer, occasionally in red, but more often not.  I’ve also seen this done on flat stones and rocks, again similar to the Tibetan practice.  These rocks of course would be left on the surface, buried in the earth, or cast into bodies of water to bless them.  Given the variety of attitudes around folk practices, there was no one single time when it was best to hang or place these simple signs and their sacred signatures so that the eyes and ears of nature could receive their prayers.  Given the rules laid down by Agrippa, it would be fine, as one old practitioner did, to place the stones on a Saturday in the Sign of Taurus, and to hang the prayer cloths on a Wednesday in the Sign of Gemini, of course paying attention to the lunar cycles.  When communities would do this, it was easy to see how a tree, be it in a church yard, at a crossroad, or a commons, could be seen as a sacred tree, and with all of these prayers hanging from it, be an early forerunner of the Christmas Tree of centuries later.

It is important that our practices be close to us, a part of us, so that they may be constant reminders to protect our Thought, Word, and Deed, and thereby grow in Illumination. It is too easy to dismiss simple practices, particularly modern ceremonial magicians, and fall into the dualistic trap of perfectionism.  In fact, our personal practice benefits tremendously by applying the principal of compound interest to it. In the world of finance, compound interest says that a little over time adds up to a lot – Albert Einstein called it the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.

For us, a little over time, that is a few short meditation sessions each day rather than one long one, allows us to break our habits, relax, and make progress rather than get upset because we are too tired to sit for an hour at night, making our practice a burden and something we regret.

The same is true with such simple visual reminders as these stones and strips of cloth made sacred through our thoughts [desired purpose], words [written prayers], and deed [making and displaying of it].

For those who wish to undertake this practice using practical qabala, the suggested Magical Use of the Psalms, and corresponding Divine Names, as found appended to The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses is a good source. This can be found in Joseph Peterson’s edition by IBIS, or at his website.

The memory of my great-uncle standing in the midst of his garden, hands resting on a garden hoe, his eyes closed in prayer, with the cloth strips blowing their aspirations to heaven in the warm, soft breeze of summer evening,  is one I wish to pass on to each of you.

******

In line with the above, I recently received the following email from one of our readers. I hope that it is both inspirational as well as practical to each of you in your journey.

Mark,

I just wanted to send you a note to relate some of the ways your books, emails, IHS products and calls-to-action, have inspired a series of small, steady changes in my life.

Since I began reading your materials, I have been:

* Locally sourcing as much of my esoteric materials as possible (local Booksellers, etc.)

* Contributing money on a monthly basis to charities preserving authentic esoteric culture.

* Reducing my consumption (becoming more reliant on public transport and biking for commuting, recycling, maintaining a modest plan with my family for reducing consumption of just about everything).

* Establishing a program of daily prayer and devotion as the guiding center of my esoteric program.

* Distancing myself from New Age eclecticism and distraction to a more self-consistent practice.

* Placing my worldly contribution as a central measure of personal and esoteric development. (After 20 years of well-intentioned, but ultimately selfish esoteric and personal goals).

I have to admit, making these small changes have been a bit of a struggle, but as they say “good habits are hard to form, but easy to keep”. I wouldn’t trade what I have now for the world.

Again, I just wanted to let you know that your work has enabled and prompted me to make some hard choices and to at least effect some meaningful changes.

With gratitude,

J

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION on this topic see:

Words of My Teachers – A Companion to the IHS Audio Programs

Ritual Purification – Exorcism and Defensive Magic

Pow-Wow: Traditional Folk and Grimiore Magic

All are available from Amazon.

 

Thank you for reading VOXHERMES, the blog of the Institute for Hermetic Studies, a registered 501c3 non-profit. We encourage you to subscribe to this blog to get all updates sent directly to your email in-box.  You will also find information about our mission contained in the link below.  Click on it and find out more about what IHS has to offer and how you can participate.

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One comment

  1. Stewart Cook · · Reply

    The subject-matter of this article reminded me of two things that have always stuck in my mind:

    First, when I was young and growing up on a farm/ranch owned by my grandparents, they would have me take any poisonous snakes I found and hang them belly up on the fences to bring the rains. My grandmother had several practices for enticing or controlling the weather. I remember one incident with a mesocyclone (tornadic) thunderstorm bearing down on us. She began praying in Czech and burning palm reeds over the stove while I watch the weather broadcast on a local station. The fast moving storm barreled toward our area, abruptly detoured around us, and then resumed a straight course to the south-east.

    Second, I was planting roses in front of the first house I ever bought and accidentally dug up a St. Joseph figurine planted by one of the previous owners. I found myself in a dilemma as I decided between putting it back or taking it out. I opted to take it out even though my wife kept saying I should put it back. That house was not only a hotbed for paranormal activity, we were actually driven out by a rapid house-wide contamination of black mold. The whole structure began to deteriorate around us quickly and we felt a constant pressing sense that we needed to leave by any means necessary.
    The house sat vacant for nearly three years after and the new occupants, a large family, never had any issues that I was aware of and even loved the place according to my former neighbor. It was as if that old place expelled us! With the things we got up to there over the years, I would have expelled us too.

    Like

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