A Mystic Guide to Cleansing and Clearing: a review

Genre: Wicca

Title: A Mystic Guide to Cleansing and Clearing

Author: David Salisbury

In this work, Salisbury draws on research into several traditions, seeking to distill the essence of cleansing practices for use in a Wiccan context. In that, I believe he succeeds. Moreover, based on the one tradition he references with which I am deeply familiar, I daresay he provides an accurate overview of how these practices are used, and is mindful of concerns about cultural appropriation which get raised more and more frequently in these cases. In five relatively quick chapters, the author touches upon tools used in cleansing, practices for cleansing people and places, how to deal with negative energy situations such as crossing and hexes, and his understanding of spirit entities which might be problematic.

Salisbury’s selection of tools is substantial, and I like the fact that he acknowledges what he’s used and what he’s simply researched. There is special attention paid to herbs, and the discussion around the usage of animal parts in a respectful and legal manner touches on one of those subjects we Pagans are trying a lot harder to get right. He observes that “bones are the gemstones of our ancestors,” and if harvested respectfully can be powerful cleansing tools.

The book also has chapters on self- and house cleansing, as well as one which covers hexes, crossings, and curses, and another focused on spirit entities. The author remains unapologetic about his Wiccan framework (the book is rife with clever rhyming couplets, for example), but that actually makes it easier to translate the techniques for another tradition. Specificity is strength. Far too many Pagan authors seek to be overly inclusive in their writing, making it nearly useless for anyone. This is not such a book.

Instead, the reader gets specific spells and recipes, and is not left wondering why any particular ingredient is included because the author has included that information. A lot of the books which came out before the turn of the century were either written with the expectation that the reader had a certain education in magical correspondences, or would simply accept the author’s mantle of expertise without question. Salisbury assumes nothing, and that makes him a stronger expert than any of the big names from the 1980s and ’90s. When authors make assumptions, readers do as well, and they’re often not flattering ones.

Nevertheless, this book might not be incredibly helpful to a reader focused solely on the practices from within a single tradition, unless that tradition happens to be the one the author practices. Since no such promise is made or implied, this doesn’t bother me one whit.

For those who are seeking to fill in gaps in their historic practices which have opened over time, as well as those simply interested in a comparative understanding, A Mystic Guide to Cleansing & Clearing is a decent beginner’s overview.

Title: A Mystic Guide to Cleansing and Clearing
Author: David Salisbury
Publisher: Moon Books
ISBN: 978-1-78279-623-7

On not being a downer

Someday I hope to be able to afford this book.  In the meantime it’s on my wish list in case the gods of gimme choose to smile upon me, but for all its limits my life is actually pretty damned good and think actually asking for a book that expensive would be pushing it.

I suffer from depression, which makes me curious how it relates to miasma.  Since a depressive episode already has the effect of making the victim feel cut off from loved ones — both corporeal and noncorporeal — it would be a real kick in the jimmy if the gods were to turn us aside because of that situation.

What’s taught in my tradition is the the real problem with miasma is distraction, not being able to focus on and give the gods their due.  Depression can make concentration exceedingly difficult, which suggests that yes, the self-perpetuating cycle of depression cutting one off from the gods is a very real thing.

However, a wise Druid once observed that this particular kind of brain fog comes from a cycle of negative introspection, and that focusing on something outside of oneself can be a lifeline.  Carrying this into Hellenic practice makes sense to me:  there are times when I cannot sense the gods even when my mind is clear, yet I pay cultus to them.  Therefore, going through the motions during periods of depression should not be any less sincere than those times, as long as I focus on the devotion rather than on myself.

In fact, were I to stop honoring the gods when I’m depressed, I think it’s a very real possibility that I would never start again.  It is the routine that gets me up each morning, no matter how I feel.  I give offerings even when some dark part of me is convinced that it is a futile act, which means that in that moment I am in no way hoping for something in return.  Offerings cast into the void, because it’s the right thing to do, without hope of future reward.

There is an argument, it’s true, that the empty feeling is because the gods reject my offerings due to my state of miasma.  I reject that argument.  I honor the gods because it is right to honor the gods.  If they don’t wish my offerings, I won’t know, because I certainly cannot perform divination in that state.  Therefore, there is no downside that I can see, and the benefit to the gods is clear:  they retain a follower, one who will surely do their bidding when he can hear them again, and they choose to ask.

My personal practice: adding layers

To look at what some Hellenic polytheists do to honor their gods can be more than a little overwhelming; must everyone devote so much time, energy, and resources to this path?

Of course not.

I doubt there are very many people who begin with a full-blown, life-altering schedule of personal devotion.  I also doubt that those people who follow a full-blown, life-altering schedule of personal devotion are in the majority; we’re just the ones who care enough to write about it in the first place.

As I detailed in my last post, initially I only committed to make a certain number of offerings in a specified period of time.  When it was over, it was over.  I could have walked away at any point, no harm, no foul.

I had a desire to figure this thing out, though, and set out to learn more.  Ares seemed cool but also freaked me out a bit, but Hermes was all right.  What other gods might I care to know better?

After a time I consulted with a priest who agreed to teach me about Hellenismos.  Heck, I’d never even heard the word before, so it was obvious I had a lot to learn.  He performed some divination and determined that while Ares might have been my gatekeeper, and Hermes an able messenger, it was Poseidon who claimed me as his own.

Elsewhere I have chronicled my initial unease with that revelation.  Nevertheless I set about to try, and my wife gave me use of a horseshoe to place upon my nascent shrine as I could not afford some crazy-expensive statue.  I learned that the eighth day of the month is sacred to him, and so too is Thursday in some traditions.  The whole lunar-calendar thing was way too complicated, so I poured a libation on the eighth according to the calendar, and on Thursdays as well.  Later on, as I learned about stuff like khernips and miasma and barley, I put out a bowl of the lustral water and another one to put barley in, but I kept it quite simple.

I had begun a regular practice, with about five offerings a month according to the same calendar I’d used all my life.  Anyone could remain at that level of regular devotion and add richness to their lives; their offerings would surely be accepted and please their gods.  Spoiler alert:  that is not what I did, but I certainly could have.