Spell-casting Using the Power of Animals
Spells are cast using the power of animal allies and familiars. Animal allies, familiars and the magic power inherent in specific animal species can help you achieve your spell’s goals. Notice that the above sentence reads “power of animals” not “parts of animals.” It’s not necessary to point any fingers; more cultures than not have engaged in this practice. It’s not necessary to discuss whether those spells ever worked or not, either. If they did work, would that make them acceptable today? That discussion veers dangerously close to the opinion frequently expressed about how tragic it is that tigers may soon be extinct in the wild because poachers kill them for medicines and aphrodisiacs that don’t work. If the medicines did work, would the situation be any less tragic? Whether those old spells ever worked or not, we now live in an era where the balance of nature is terribly tipped. Those spells are no longer viable. Because spells that rely on any part of an animal, physical or otherwise, are ultimately dependent upon the goodwill of its presiding Animal Spirit, those old anatomy-dependant spells will no longer work for us and may even backfire on the spell-caster.
Magic is a living, evolutionary art, not a static situation; what worked once must be adapted to present needs. Whether those old practices (rabbits’ feet for money spells, badgers’ feet for childbirth spells) were ever as prevalent as some would have us believe is subject to debate. The most sensational, lurid aspects of magic are inevitably emphasized by outsiders and story-tellers. The only thing many know about the vast, sophisticated magical system Hoodoo, for instance, is the infamous black cat bone. Spells using parts of animals are also taken out of context. Once upon a time, people were responsible for killing their own food. Nothing was wasted. What wasn’t eaten was utilized for other purposes, including magic. Out of context, a spell can sound terribly cruel. Thus, a Romany amulet called “eyes of the crayfish” implies that only the eyes are used, having been plucked out of the poor creature.
In reality, “eyes of the crayfish” refers to scrapings from inside the shell, the crayfish itself having been served for dinner. If you perceive power in this type of spell, however, they can be modernized, adapted, and improved. Candles, charms, and images, for instance, allow us to access the inherent energy of a specific animal species in a manner that retains magic power and is safe for both animal and practitioner. For example, hummingbirds are a frequent component of Central American love spells; a copper or gemstone hummingbird charm allows you to synchronize the inherent animal energy with a compatible material for enhanced spell-casting. For maximum effect, consecrate the charm to the animal spirit, which you would be unable to do if you were using actual body parts obtained through the animal’s suffering. This should not be considered mere New Age fluffy-bunny adaptation. Since ancient days animal image magic has been among the most powerful.
What was the Biblical golden calf after all but a magic image? A living calf would have been far less trouble. It was the specific juncture of animal magical symbolism with metal’s inherent magical energy, guided by human fear and desire that accurately and potently manipulated and directed magic power. Animal sacrifice has no place in magic; it is religious ritual entirely and completely, without overlap. All religious traditions at one time or another conducted animal sacrifice, some just further back than others. Some continue these traditions while others do not. What is certain is that no religious tradition permits laypeople to conduct these sacrifices. Permission is granted only after strict training and initiation. Where magic approaches the border of religion, symbols are used rather than actual animals.
Burn a dove-shaped candle to petition Aphrodite during a love spell or offer her the gift of a figurine, rather than killing her sacred bird. Again, this is not fluffy-bunny magic but ancient tradition. How can you reconcile the idea of a deity who accepts sacrificial offerings of a beloved, sacred creature in one context, but who angrily punishes anyone who harms a hair on the head of that creature in another? Over two thousand years ago, Hecate accepted sacrifices of dogs in her official temples, killed only by official priestesses in the context of very specific ritual. Even back then, individuals who preferred to make independent, private offerings, or who could not afford to pay the temple the cost of a dog, successfully offered tiny stone dog fetishes to Hecate instead.
When you have magic spells that require the participation of animals, It’s assumed that they’ll be treated with the respect one would pay human or spirit partners. It is also assumed that at the conclusion of the spell, the animal will be in as good a condition, if not better, as it was at the spell’s beginning. Several spells require cuts of meat similar to those you might eat for dinner, assuming you are not a vegetarian. Meat for these spells should be purchased in the same manner that you would normally obtain meat for a meal. There are many spells that require eggs, honey, and milk.
Vegans may choose not to perform these ones, and there are many more spells that do not use animal products. Magic spells are not divorced from real life. If something offends you in any another context, then it’s likely to be inappropriate for you magically as well. Manipulation of fragrance is an extremely important component of magic spells. As most fragrances derive from botanicals, the topic will be discussed in greater detail in that section. However, certain very famous fragrances have traditionally derived from animal sources, most notably civet, musk, ambergris, and castoreum. Castoreum, derived from beavers, is today only available in synthetic versions. Historic botanical substitutes for animals have always existed, here are some examples:
- For Musk, extracted from the musk deer: Ambrette (Abelmoschus moschatus), a shrub native to India, also known as musk mallow and treasured for its scented seed.
- For Ambergris, derived from sperm whales: Labdanum, a resin excreted from the leaves of the rock-rose (Cistus creticus, Cistus ladanifer). Allegedly labdanum from Crete has the closest resemblance to ambergris, although it is also obtained from French, Moroccan, and Spanish sources.
Whether the tendency to utilize animal body parts was ever as prevalent as some believe is debatable. Certainly, grimoires are filled with spells specifically requesting assorted species’ feet and hearts and eyes. Many classic grimoires are based largely on various fragments of ancient spell-books that were in circulation throughout Europe, Arabia and North Africa before the development of modern printing. Many of these spells derive from turn-of-the-Common-Era Alexandria. Professional magicians of that time, attempting to keep spells secret yet needing to write them down so that they themselves would remember complex formulas, created an elaborate code, so elaborate that someone had to write it down in order to use it. That list was discovered and translated amid the Magical Papyri, here are some more examples:
- Does a spell call for the heart of a hawk? No need to catch that bird, so sacred to indigenous Egyptian religion—what the spell is really asking for is heart of wormwood.
- Do you hesitate to cast a spell requiring lion’s tongue? No need, all that that spell really requires is a “tongue” of turnip.
- Wondering how in the world you’ll ever extract Hercules’ semen? Not a problem; just go out to the garden and pick some arugula.
Not every animal reference encoded in the Magical Papyri is a botanical, although (as with magic in general), plants do predominate. The spell that demands a physician’s bone neither commands you to commit murder or to dig around in the cemetery: a piece of sandstone is what’s really being requested. Many, if not all, of these animal references may originally have referred to botanicals and minerals. Of course, by the time the descendant of a single fragment of papyrus reached Europe, hundreds of years later, copied and re-copied over and over by hand, lacking the accompanying code, and some magician desperate to access the forbidden secret magic of Egypt got his hands on a spell…
The spells recorded in the Magical Papyri are fairly mean-spirited in general, full of commanding and compelling. Were the magicians irresponsible, not caring if others misinterpreted their instructions, or was this just an example of professional secret code, full of in-jokes and personal references, similar to the secret languages (sim) still employed by some modern Egyptian entertainers? Across oceans, continents and time, some modern Amazonian shamans also share a secret shamans’ language—a professional language only understood by other professionals—in order to protect their information from those who don’t know how to use it properly. Is this what those old Alexandrian magicians intended? We may never know.
The moral of the story, however, is never cast spells that aren’t comfortable for you. It is not uncommon for botanical and other materials to be named for animals, nor is the practice relegated to ancient history. If the spell calls for deer’s tongue. I assure you, no deer need be harmed. Deer’s tongue is a type of grass, reputed to provide eloquence: the name is a pun on the plant’s appearance and its ability. Swallow’s blood is a red powder that allegedly transmits the magical power of that long-migrating bird; no blood of any kind is required. Dragon’s blood, an extremely potent magical material, surely ranks among the Top 20 most popular spell-casting ingredients. No need to emulate Saint George, dragon’s blood is the resin from Dracaena draco, an Indonesian tree. Unlike most resins it’s red, hence the name. If you burn it, it does indeed bear a resemblance to blood. (There is also another dragon’s blood, used in Peruvian magic. This one, too, is a botanical substance, although completely distinct from the Indonesian resin.)