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Aspecting in the Service of Deity

by Robin LaSirena

Aspecting — also called Possession or Drawing Down the Moon — is the calling in of a deity into a person, so that person speaks the words of the god/dess, and experiences things as that divine being.

People differ in what they believe happens. Some see it as actually having deity come into them. Some people think of it as drawing out their own god-selves. Others experience it as a heightened trance state. In the Catholic religion, possession is an evil experience, in which one is taken over by a malevolent being. Some ecstatic Christian faiths speak in tongues, and invite God or the Holy Spirit to come into them as a matter of regular practice. Some Wiccan traditions include drawing down as part of the training to become a priestess.

Aspecting is not used very often in Reclaiming. Our practice is rooted in the belief that no one else can stand as a spiritual authority for another person. To claim to speak for the gods could be an awfully cocky thing to do. We're wary because it could be used as a tool of power. Aspecting work must be done in the spirit of service to the gods, not as a way of developing personal power.

I was trained in a more structured tradition of Wicca, where part of our work involved learning how to aspect the gods. Later, when I began working with Reclaiming and became a teacher, I felt a desire to explore aspecting within this style of magic.

I have participated in some rituals where the aspecting didn't seem real. I decided to teach a couple of workshops on aspecting in San Francisco. My intention was to explore why aspecting did or didn't work, and to encourage people to be as truthful in their magical working as they could be.

I am also drawn to work around connecting with deity. Having my own personal struggles with crises of faith, it is good to have work that helps me reconnect.

I'm writing this article not as a how-to-explanation, but to bring up things to think about. Aspecting is a tricky skill — one shouldn't try it based solely on reading an article. This work should be explored only after a good amount of time working in the Craft. You need a regular practice of meditation or grounding, established for at least a year. You need a firm experience of your Self to come back to, and to know how to do this on your own.

So much of our work is about self-knowledge, which is a long and many-layered path. We need to be comfortable with our deeper and shadowy sides before doing this work.

I also believe one should not aspect alone. It is important to have someone else there to help you come back after aspecting, preferably someone with prior experience with the work, and who knows you well.

Levels of Aspecting

A few years ago I co-facilitated a workshop at Pantheacon (an annual Pagan conference that happens in the Bay Area) on Aspecting. It was fascinating to hear the experiences of people from different traditions. In Brazil, those who practice Yoruban tradition study and train for a full year before they are allowed to speak while aspecting. The voice brings up our personality and ego, and that's what we want to get out of the way.

We have to be comfortable with honesty and parts of ourselves we may not like. For instance, someone you're working with may feel that you were not actually channeling the voice of another being, but speaking out of your own beliefs. That might be hard to hear. You might want to defend yourself. But to really get better at the skill, you have to be able to admit, "Yes, I was nervous, and I wanted you to believe it was happening," if that's what is going on.

There are different degrees to which one can be affected. At witchcamp a few years ago, Anne Hill, based on material created by Judy Harrow, described four levels of aspecting.

  • The first and lightest is Enhancement. Here experiences are close to normal. One is in control of one's actions, but sensing things in a more intensified way. Language becomes more poetic.
  • The second level is Inspiration. One is still in control, but it feels like something is coming through. In this state people can often talk about things without having had knowledge of them before.
  • The third state is one of Integration, which some refer to as the state of actual Aspecting. This is when people speak as the God/dess. Some describe this as feeling like their personality steps aside from half of their space, to allow for someone else to come in. Afterwards the person may have some memory of what happened, but usually can't recount all of the experience.
  • The fourth level is Full Trance Possession. People do things they can't normally, such as speak in tongues, or do physical things requiring great strength. Afterwards there may be no conscious awareness of what occurred.

My friend Raudhildr, who works in the NROOGD and Norse traditions, describes it in her inimitable way:

  • Wrapped up — the Goddess has gently wrapped a cloak around you
  • Tied up — you're starting to be held by the attributes of that being
  • Tangled up — you're starting to get all mixed together
  • My Big Toe — you're not very present any more
  • Bye Bye Baby — you won't remember much of anything afterward

Preparing the Container

I believe in taking the cautious approach to aspecting. This means setting up a defined container for the deity to enter. I teach folks to create a contract of how long you want to be aspecting, and how far you'd like the deity to come into you. It's helpful to state this contract out loud to another person. This makes it more real, something you can't fudge on later. For example, "I will let Brigid in for 45 minutes, and would like her to help me to write poetry for a ritual to her."

It's also essential to have an intention for inviting the deity. It's just respectful — you don't want to be calling in a goddess just for a treat. It may be that you have created a ritual around working with a deity, and so will want to have them there to perform some magical working. Or you might have questions you want them to answer. Then you might write down questions beforehand to bring out during the ritual.

Having set the stage, one prepares the container. This process is about emptying your mind and getting yourself ready to meet the goddess. One can do this in several ways — meditating, praying, and calling to her. It is important to not rush this stage. Take the time to silence your talking, busy mind. You don't want your ego to get in the way of the work.

Another way to prepare yourself is to put on a specific piece of clothing (a mask, hat, veil, etc.) that you associate with that deity. This helps to define that you are entering that other state of being. In some traditions, it is also appropriate to take a specific stance. This position would be a receptive one, such as standing with arms open to take in what is coming to you.

There are different ways to "call in." Some spiritual traditions do it through music and dance. Specific movements and songs are associated with specific deities, and used to call them in. In the class I taught, we didn't dance, but sang an invocatory song for a long time — past the point where your mind gets bored. This also helps shut down your talking mind and gives it something else to focus (and then un-focus) on. In a group, this technique can work where everyone is calling in the god/dess into themselves. In group aspecting, it is important to have a few people who do not do the work, who can ground the circle and help people come back.

You can also work in pairs, having your partner invoke the deity into you. During the preparatory stage, the invoker would also be preparing. It takes strong intention to actually do the work of invoking. There are some traditional words one can use for the specific invocation. One calls to the God/dess, often praising them. Then one speaks an introduction of the person being invoked upon, and invites the God/dess in, saying "Here is your priestess _____. Hear with her ears, See with her eyes, speak with her lips." One might also touch the person purposefully to make real the moment of calling in. It's important to check with your partner as to what they are comfortable with beforehand. (On a cautionary note, it's not a good idea to touch someone while they are aspecting. That could draw them out of it, or they may react differently than you expect.)

One of the most powerful ways to invoke is to have a group call the goddess at once into one person. The most affecting such experience I've ever had was aspecting Brigid in a NROOGD ritual. This was after the big fires in the Oakland hills, and the ritual was intended to try to heal the land. I had no idea if it would work, praying for hours that I would be worthy. The priestesses put the crown of candles on my head, and I stepped towards them. They chanted repeatedly, and when I stepped into the center of their singing, everything shifted. It's because of this experience I know it can really happen.

I had a specific script to follow in that ritual, which I found really helpful — my ego didn't get in the way, trying to find words to say. During the feasting part of the ritual, I (and the pronoun "I" doesn't seem appropriate) told one of the priestesses that if people wanted to come up for healing, they could. I, Robin, would never dream of doing such a thing. I don't believe I have the power to heal. But in that state, it was something She wanted to do through me. It felt right.

Varied Experiences

What happens during the experience will vary. Most people will not go very deep the first few times working. In preparing for a recent workshop, my co-teacher Medusa and I practiced invoking for each other. The first time she called into me, nothing happened. I waited, and still nothing. Finally I said I didn't think it was working. She suggested I close my eyes, and when I did, I went on a trance journey with the goddess we'd called. It wasn't aspecting, but it was still connecting with the deity.

Some people will do automatic writing. This is setting pen to paper, and without thinking, letting whatever come out onto the page.

Some people may not want to go very deep. A recovered alcoholic I know said the thought of losing control over her actions rings too close to having a black-out, and she has no desire to do that again.

Knowing how to come back is an integral part to the work. State with intention that you are coming back. If you were invoked into by a partner, they would speak aloud words similar to the invocation — Hailing the God/dess, thanking them for coming, and saying, "You will now depart from your Priestess _________. She will now speak with her own lips, see with her own eyes, and hear with her own ears."

According to some longtime practitioners, the swallow response is suppressed when people are deep in trance. So it is good to get the person to eat or drink something. Some people like to be touched or massaged. Have the priestess perform some mundane physical task, or use her hands. It is good to give people familiar objects to hold, such as their own jewelry. I like to ask people to answer three questions about mundane things, such as to name three things in their medicine cabinet.

Asking the person to say their name is a way to check on them. Any hesitation is a good indicator of not being all the way back.

Some people don't like to have a lot of personal attention afterward, so they may say they're fine in an attempt to get their tender to back off. It's the job of the tender to give them the space they need, and still stick with them until they're really convinced the person capable of functioning normally again. (It's always risky to let someone drive a car after aspecting!)

Aspecting is not work for everyone. Some people may not want to do it, and some may never be able to let go enough to do it. But it is a valuable magical tool. I like the work, and intend to continue exploring it, with my own cautious style. When approached with a commitment to our spiritual paths, it can be a rich experience.

Robin LaSirena teaches Reclaiming classes in the Bay Area, directed the chorus for the Spiral Dance for several years, sings locally, and acts with Magical Acts Ritual Theater Group.