Local Spirits: Series Round Up


I’m making this post for ease of use, just linking to five posts in my local spirit series.

Local Spirits: Categories and Classifications. Here I discuss common types of spirits that get lumped as local spirits, but aren’t necessarily such in my understanding.

Local Spirits: Clarifying Sadak and Shidak Here I discuss the sadak and shidak, and the nature of local spirits proper.

Local Spirits: Reasons of Engagement Here I talk a bit about why you should work with local spirits, what they can do for you.

Local Spirits: Offerings and Engagement Here I talk about how to make offerings and how to sense and work with the shidak.

Local Spirits: Sensing and Structures Here I discuss a bit more on sensing shidak, as well as how they seem to be structured and operate.


Local Spirits: Sensing and Structures


Sensing the shidak can be difficult, because you’re surrounded by them. If you go from place to place you can feel the difference, and if you really pay attention you can feel the boundaries, but it’s hard to sense when you’re in them. Think of it like a room, unless there is a noticeable draft or temperature outside of an acceptable range it can be hard to feel the air movement and temperature in the room, especially after you’ve been in the room for a while. You have to really stop to notice it. The shidak can be the same way, so one of the most important things to sensing them is stillness, of the body and mind.

Shidak are bigger than we are, and I’d say they’re slower in a lot of ways, so you really need to stop to sense them, unless you’re used to that particular one, or have gotten good are reading their flows. If you want to sense them just sit down, relax your mind, pick a spot on the ground in front of you and stare at it. Think about that spot, and if you find your mind wanders (and it will) focus on the spot again. When you’ve stilled yourself, then you can try to reach out and sense them, and communicate with them. If you have trouble communicating or sensing them try sitting in a Wildspace or in an “unusual” area, by an old or odd tree, in a spot where the grass is all shorter, whatever. This might be where they anchor themselves (a Well) and that’s an easier spot to communicate with them, they’re a bit more present there.

I find shidak, especially initially, take more work to receive communication from, because of this still, slow nature. So don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to get talking with them, just be willing to sit and be there for a while. Also just because you’re not receiving communication doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to communicate, or are unappreciative of what you’re doing.

Now I’ve mentioned the anchor spots before, where the shidak is more present, I was taught to call these Wells, but to make the leap of association I’d say it’s fair to call them chakras or energy centres.

Let’s take this a bit farther down the rabbit hole.

Think of the human body, your body is surrounded by your energy, your energy body and your aura. Within that it is focused and centralized in several spots, the energy centres. Along with having their own functions the energy centres are the anchor points between the subtle body and the solid body, they’re the bridging point between our flesh and our spirit.

When you work with shidak for a long time you might realize that their Wells have the same function. A shidak may have one or several primary centres (depending on size and activity), and a myriad of minor centres, just like a person. A person has a central column of six centres (disagree if you want, not the point here) but only one or two of them is their primary most active centre, then there are more minor centres at joints, and even smaller ones elsewhere. Shidak have the same. Their Wells can work differently too. I don’t think there is a standardized set, but that shidak may have different elements or focuses in different areas. One Well might really connect you on a spiritual level or even work as a place where the distinction between Subtle and Solid is weaker, while another may invigorate and refresh you. When you find a Well, be open to what comes with it, and you can start to map out the different aspect of the shidak.

Also like a person the shidak has more than just the drops, the Wells, the energy centres, but they have channels that move between them. If you can find a Well you can usually trace off a channel or few from it, but more importantly for working with the shidak if you can’t find a Well but find a channel you can follow it to the source. We all sense things differently, but I’ve found it’s helpful when trying to trace a flow to have my arms slightly extended to the sides, and slowly swivel my body back and forth. Like trying to feel a temperature difference, the slow movement through space, and the contrast between the two hands will help you more easily feel where the flow is. Once you can figure out where it is going you can follow it.

In a more natural setting it’s not uncommon to see an elephant path (the random path everyone walks through and thus the grass is beaten down) that follows the channels. I don’t know if people unconsciously follow the channels, or perhaps people moving over the space in the same route for a while redirects or burns a channel, but I’ve found it’s a safe bet to start with an elephant path when tracing a flow.

If you’re really methodical you could map out the major energy system of a shidak, it has little practical value, but is interesting to work with.

The reason I mention the Wells and flows is for a few reasons. First off, I have a thing for energy body structures and like studying them, and this is an interesting offshoot. Flows help you find the Wells, and from a Well you can find flows to other Wells, giving you a sense of where and how to work with and access a shidak. Disruptions as the Wells and flows distrupt the shidak. Though they’re less physically oriented than a sadak, they’re still tied to the land. So if it’s your property, knowing the Wells will let you make better choices for you and the shidak in how you manage the space. If it’s a public shidak, knowing the flows and wells will help you engage and even heal the shidak. If it feels weak or sick, you can follow the flows and see if something has been put in the way or is disrupting the energy for them.

Tumbling farther down the hole, past the weird cat, shidak do and can get sick or injured and even die. There are more causes than just disruptions though, I’ve encountered shidak that seemed sick, and it was just because their land was so polluted that it was making them sick (or at least that was the external cause or symptom, it could have been a deeper issue). I met another shidak that (major woogity moment) more or less said it had been in the same spot for centuries and its Wells were weakening, that it was essentially dying of old age. After a few years it “died,” the shidak was gone, the Wells were gone, and the place was dead. The grass didn’t grow much, the trees weren’t healthy, and the ground itself started rapidly giving away (it was a cliff shidak). After another two years the vitality returned, a few of the Wells were back, and a few new ones where present, the ground and plants returned to normal. Yet when I went to communicate with the shidak, I found one, but it wasn’t the initial one I had built a relationship, but another.

It is as if shidak are mortal like we are, but on a longer/larger scale, and after a time their soul departs and another takes up the land. I don’t know if shidak only “incarnate” as shidak, but I suspect that there isn’t an essential soul type for shidak, so a person could die and end up as a place, or vice versa.

I’m going to finish off my local spirit series with that note. I feel I’m moving away from concrete and practical, and into the abstract and bizarre. While abstract and bizarre are great I’d rather leave it here, let people think on it, work with it, agree or disagree, and if need be I can return to the topic later with greater depth. I wanted to open up the topic and get people thinking, and from the feedback it seems as if I’ve got the mental ball rolling.

Local Spirits: Offering and Engaging


So I’ve talked about what local spirits are, and why to work with them, now it’s time to talk about how to work with them. Like the last post this one isn’t as Buddhist focused, stuff will be drawn from a variety of places. Also even though I made the case about how the classes explained in the first post aren’t shidak or sadak, the techniques in this post can be used to work with most of these groups too.

First and foremost in how to work with a shidak I would recommend offerings. This is a very Buddhist approach, but it’s a good way to start for a few reasons. If the shidak hasn’t been engaged, or engaged in a long time it’s a simple peaceful way to get the ball rolling, you’re not asking for anything, you’re not doing anything, you’re just giving them something to show you acknowledge them though. Also as hinted at last post not all shidak are very active. Do you work in an office surrounded by people actually stupider than you? By the end of the day you might feel a bit dumb from engaging them at their level. Likewise if there isn’t someone spiritually engaging a shidak, or hasn’t been for a while, they can be inactive, almost like they’re asleep or just half paying attention. Offerings help build the connection with them, but also start giving them a source of outside energy to help begin waking them up.

While the shidak exists everywhere in the area, you shouldn’t just leave the offerings wherever, you should find or make a special place to them. Is there an area that feels different, or looks different? A tree that is older or oddly shaped? A place where flowers grow randomly? If so start with that place. Shidak tend to anchor themselves in a few places, and those areas have a greater connection, usually they look or feel different. (If the shidak has been inactive, you might not be able to sense that spot, and that’s fine, pick a place to work with, and as the shidak becomes more active you can find a better spot to work with.)

If you’re dealing with the shidak your house is on you have a few more options. (This specifically applies to people living in a place that they have control over their property, so not so much people in apartments, though you can tweak it.) If so it is great to make a Wildspace for the shidak, this is an area of your property that you don’t touch. You don’t mow the lawn there, you don’t trim the branches or bushes there, you don’t do anything but let it be. While there are ways to work with the shidak, it’s nice for them to have a spot that is untouched as much as possible. For me the far south corner of my backyard is such an area, and even though it’s only a few square feet you can feel a difference by it. This becomes a great place to leave offerings and work with the shidak. If you live in an apartment you can make a potted Wildspace, taking soil and grass/plants from the area, and then planting them in a pot. I wouldn’t say it’s as effective, but it could still give them an easier purchase on that area.

In terms of offerings I’m often boggled by what some people suggest. I’ve seen so many people say things like “I just pick some flowers, and give them to the local spirit.” What? Remember the shidak pervades the place and all the living creatures in it, including the plants. What you’re saying is “Here, I know you spent time and energy growing and expressing yourself through these plants, let me rip them up and give them to you.” It’s almost like giving a person an offering of their own toenail clippings.

Another offering I don’t get is using local honey. I ranted about it on twitter, and Catherine Mason took my phrase and made me an awesome image.


Again, the bees and the plants are part of the shidak, you’re just returning its own creation to itself. (Also, I still laugh at that image, even though it’s been like two weeks)

What should you offer then? Non-local foods, water, tea, incense. If you’re offering food pick something that won’t be dangerous to animals if and when they eat it, and they will, but don’t worry, they’re part of the shidak, so when they eat the offerings it is still supporting the shidak. So no chocolate muffins, but give bread or cake, that’s fine. Water and tea are great and common offerings. Incense works well.

Some people say you shouldn’t leave anything not biodegradable or that the spirit “can’t use.” I’m torn on this, because some people leave polished stones and what not as offerings, and people complain the shidak can’t use those…as if the offerings of food, gems, and incense to statues are actually being “used” by them in a conventional sense. While I haven’t felt a need to leave a precious stone as an offering for a shidak, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

So how do you make the offering? Just take whatever you have to the Wildspace or the place you identified previously. If weather and environment permit actually sit down with the offering so you’re touching the ground more fully. Place your palm on the ground and reach out and down a bit, introduce yourself, even if you’re worked with the shidak you’re just letting them know who you are and that you’re present. Like when you walk into a family member’s house you still yell who it is, or to the person so they know you’re there. Call to them, either out loud or through the connection of the ground, I usually tap the ground lightly as if to more localize their awareness. Then lay out the offerings, place the food, pour the water, light the incense, whatever. Just talk to them, it doesn’t have to be flowery or formal. “Hi, I’ve brought you some water and incense. Take from it what you will.” My offerings are usually double-sided, so pour your energy into the offerings as you give them.

After giving the offering take a moment to sit silently, let your mind drift and relax, and see if the shidak has any response. In my experience most shidak communicate through mindtouches rather than words. So sensory input, real or imagined, images and urges. For instance a shidak in a more forested area might communicate through your pareidolia using shadows cast by leaves, or the sound of the rustling. I’ve had shidak communicate yes and no answers through scents before. I’ve also had a shidak lead me on a high speed run to find a stang within its forest. I asked for it, explained it, and had this sudden impulse to run a certain direction, I had no idea where I was going, but had these quick urges of which way to turn, and then finally to stop and look under a log, and sure enough found exactly what I wanted. There was not a mental-verbal formation of communication, just the urge of movement and direction. Some shidak can communicate more linguistically, and while I’m not totally sure I suspect that is a function of their interaction and activity, so something they can develop into over years of work.

If you’ve not worked with the shidak before, I’d leave it at that. Don’t ask anything, don’t push, just give them an offering and thanks, and let them be. Do this once a week for a few weeks, and if they don’t go out of their way to engage you, then try gently communicating more directly. Once you get to know them you can start asking them if you need something, or even let them know who you are and what you’re doing, which is especially import if you’re doing magick in their space.

Lastly one of the best things to offer a shidak is taking care of its space. If it’s a public space, pick up litter, if it is your property check your plants, are the bushes in good health, can you do anything? The first shidak that ever made contact with me did so after I took it upon myself to start cleaning up its space. It’s a popular hideout for high school students, so sadly they often leave a mess, and after a few weeks of cleaning it once a week the mindtouches began.

Next post I’ll talk a bit more about sensing shidak and their structures.

Local Spirits: Reasons of Engagement


Before I start this post proper, can I just take a moment to say how awesome this comic is? Catherine Mason, inspired by my explanation of sadak and shidak did a great little comic on them. Her presentation of Louisiana, NOLA, and Bourbon Street is excellent. Check out more of her art here. Also there will be more work from her to come in this blog because she’s already hilariously illustrated one of my rants about local spirits, so stay tuned for that.

The last few posts have been a bit more Buddhist centric in their sources (but I’d argue fairly universal in application), but the next two posts will be less Buddhist directly. They will also draw on more shamanic practices, witchcraft, ceremonial magick, and personal discoveries. I just wanted to clarify here so what I mention doesn’t get misrepresented as a Buddhist theory or practice.

Now that I’ve laid the framework about local spirits it’s time to talk about engaging them. The thing that so many people ask is “Why bother?” That’s why you can have competent spiritual people engage every spirit in their area, but miss shidak, they don’t see a reason or method to work with them.

There are many reasons to engage the shidak of your areas, first and foremost it’s just a matter of understanding and etiquette. After all you’re living in and on them, you’re a part of them and vice versa, you should be more consciously engaged with them. Tied into that idea, not all shidak are exactly happy with the state of our civilization, we’ve dug into their land, built under it, paved over it, forced out plants and wildlife (another symbiotic part of the shidak), and more or less ignore it. When you work with the shidak, and make offerings to it, you’re showing that you appreciate it, as well as by giving to it you consciously give it access to your life. By giving it energy you help it sustain itself in a more vibrant way. A great deal of pagan and paganesque folks I know understand this on a global level and give thanks to Gaia in this way, but then forget about the spirit that was disrupted to build their house.

On practical levels (because let’s face it beneficence only goes so far) shidaks are great to work with. You exist symbiotically with them, if they’re happy and healthy it makes it easier for you to be happy and healthy. You know when you’ve been to a house of someone who is unwell and you can just feel it in the air, pulling on you? Now imagine that subtly spread all through your area, it would slowly get to you. If the shidak is sick or damaged (and that can happen) then it will filter into your life, and anyone else in their catchment.

Insurance, if you’re on good terms with the shidak and you do something offensive to it without thinking (cutting down that old tree in the back yard, digging in new plumbing) it is more likely to be understanding. Otherwise it might actually retaliate, and yes shidak can and do attack. I’ve seen them weaken people by draining their energy and making them sick, and classically they’re known to cause people to trip and injure themselves. Though I’ve never experienced that, one of my teachers started a retreat without giving offerings to the shidak (which is a huge faux pas) and in the first day tripped on nothing he could find and managed to break his ankle and had to cancel the retreat. If you’re on good terms they’re less likely to lash out.

Influence, you’re part of the shidak, they’re part of you, and so is everyone else in that area. If you need to work on a neighbour, good or bad, the shidak is a place to start. Rowdy loud neighbour, angry with you for no reason, see if the shidak can smooth over the rough edges, or even remove them from the area. Sick neighbour, along with everything else you can work with the shidak to keep the energy of their area healthy and flowing to facilitate their healing. For more concrete actions (getting a raise, or zoning permission) you might be better off with the drongdak (city groupmind spirit), but for interpersonal stuff the shidak is a great ally.

Protection, a shidak can work as a guardian for you, not in a dedicated sense, but if they’re on your side they might have a sense of who and what to redirect for you. Think of it like a friend, if you’re friends with your neighbours they might do something about someone snooping around, or know someone shouldn’t there when you’re not, or know that you don’t want someone there. The shidak is the same, they’re great at dealing with people in that way. Again the trip hazard can occur, I’ve seen shidak utterly disorient people to keep them from getting somewhere, they can drain/intimidate/weaken people who shouldn’t be there. I’ve had the perverse pleasure in watching a shidak paralyze someone with irrational fear about entering the area (a park) to keep them from me. While visiting a friend of mine I felt psychically dead, in a fog, we realized that their shidak wasn’t sure about me so was dampening my senses/abilities, so I couldn’t do anything, they were protecting the friend by inhibiting me.

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism it’s fairly uncommon to do any major ritual without addressing the shidak (and all the other classes that might be lumped as local spirits that I mentioned in the first post). Their influence is recognized as something to be courted, they can help and hinder, either just by presence or intention, so they’re often addressed before a ritual, even if only to say “I’m going to be using this space for a while, please don’t interfere.”

Also with a well-developed shidak (as they can be varying degrees of intelligent and active) they can make connections, so even if it isn’t their area to do something, if they have influence over someone or something that can help, they can direct you to meet.

I’ve encountered a theory that a lot of spirits in Solomonic traditions are essentially glorified shidak, and I think that can extend to a lot of collections of spirits. They’re spirits contacted in a certain place, and out of their element elsewhere. (Not to mention the fact that some gods just seem weaker outside of their regions, is that belief, or are they major shidak stretched too far?) I don’t know if I believe it, or believe it completely, but I bring it up because if it is true it shows the range of abilities shidaks can have. And as previously said, if they can’t handle something they sometimes can redirect you, in the same way sometimes one Angelic type will pass your request on to a more appropriate figure.

One final reason to work with shidak is because they’re accessible and present. They aren’t always as effective or efficient as an angel, a demon, a Bodhisattva, or god, or whatever, but they’re easier to quickly engage in most cases. There is no need to summon, to invocate or evocate, no special tools or ingredients required, because the shidak is already there. It’s as easy (when you’ve developed a relationship with them) as setting out an offering (to be polite) and just chatting about what you want.

I’ll stress this again, because I mentioned how there are so many things they can do, they’re not necessarily the best at the job you want and some other spirit might be a better choice, but they’re there and easy to work with. Your friend might not be the best choice to help you replace the bathroom sink, but they’ll do it for free, and are a simple text message away. A professional plumber is a better choice, but then you have to pay, arrange times, set up a contract, and a variety of other bureaucratic issues. A shidak might not be the best choice to help with a love spell, but they’d try.

Get to know them, don’t underestimate them, but don’t overestimate them either.

Next time, how to actually work with them.

Local Spirits: Clarifying Sadak and Shidak


A week ago I started defining local spirits and what gets lumped as them. This week I’m going to talk about sadak and shidak in more detail. Last time I mentioned that the Tibetan terms for local spirits are sadak (ས་བདག་) and shidak (གཞི་བདག). Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, but there is a difference. This might be a bit long, but there is no good place to divide this into multiple posts.

Sadak means Earth Lord. As a spirit the sadak tends to be very limited in scope, and very rooted into the land. While any local spirit could be upset if you started to dig without asking permission, a sadak is so rooted into the land that it thinks of the land as its body, and when you dig you’re actually pulling it apart. If you think of the soil as literally being ensouled, then that’s a sadak. I’ve never heard it said how big sadaks are or could be, but I’ve never encountered one that embodies an area bigger than a house property or two in the city. The average person could stand in the centre of a sadak’s influence and throw a tennis ball well beyond their control. I would also say in my experience that sadaks are not that intelligent, far closer to an animal than a human. (Yes, humans are totally animals, you know what I mean)

Shidak means Ground Lord, and is probably closer to what most people think of as a genius loci. A shidak lives in a certain area, and as a certain area. While tied to the land, they don’t tend to identify in and as the land in the way that a sadak does. The human analogy would be that a sadak is a person who thinks they are their body, and that’s it, while a shidak is a person who knows that the body is a part of them, but one of many.

The shidaks really are a soul of a place, a spirit that lives in and permeates an area. They’re the energy that envelops a region. A shidak is immovable within an area, or perhaps can only move slowly as the land itself changes. Saying they live as an area is meant to imply the level of connection they have to it. While the shidak could be considered the soul, and the area the body, you have to understand everything that makes up the “body.” It’s not as simple as the dirt, any more than our bodies are just as simple as a lump of flesh. The lay of the land, the positive space of hills, and the negative space of valleys are the body. The water of the area, the wind over the place, everything is part of the shidak.

Odd fact about the human body: We’re composed of roughly 1 trillion cells per kilogram, but our gut contains roughly ten times as many bacteria cells as are in the rest of our body. Meaning by the numbers our body is more composed of cells that aren’t us, than cells that are, by the numbers we’re more inhuman than we are human. This is another human parallel. The shidak is the land, the water, but they’re also the grass, the plants, the trees, but one step farther the shidak is in many ways all of the living beings within the space. The shidak is the insects crawling in the dirt or buzzing in the sky, the squirrels and raccoons in the tree, and yes, even us.

This is where a lot of people have issues thinking of shidaks, but we’re part of them, and they’re part of us. I don’t mean we’re an expression or incarnation of the shidak, but when we live in a place we’re connected to it, we’re symbolically linked, and while you might think of yourself as flesh and the shidak as dirt, the division between us can be really hard to find. If you have trouble conceiving how this works think of the shidak as the energy field of a place, rather than a sentient spirit. The energy of our neighbourhood transcends us, it moves through us, and shapes us, as we shape it. We draw on this energy, and we release our energy into it. In a lot of ways the “vibe” of a place is an aspect of the shidak. The bacteria in our gut has different DNA, it’s not us, but it’s in us, and we “feed” it when we eat, and they break down our food so that we can process the chemicals in it to fuel our body, and that makes it oddly tricky to clearly divide us. This isn’t a perfect analogy, as shidaks can and do survive without people, but it illustrates the level of connection we can have, and I feel that there is a quality to a “living” shidak that has an living biological component, and ones that are more barren of life.

Now to make shidaks a bit more nebulous, they come in different sizes and placements. So while only one human can occupy a single point in 3D space, more than one shidak can embody the same spot. I don’t necessarily mean a complete one for one, but an overlapping pattern. It’s less a clear cut map, and more a sequence of catchment areas. A shidak has a “core” area, but along the fringes, where their presence is less defined they can actually overlap with another shidak, both living in and as the same place. To go back to the human analogy, while physically only one person can occupy a single space, if two people are standing near each other their auras (or radiant heat) will have an area of overlap. So in the same spot you can actually be able to engage several shidaks of the same magnitude.

Magnitude? Did I just introduce another layer of complexity? Damn straight. Not all shidaks are the same size, and there is even more overlap when this is taken into consideration. Shidaks can be as small as single plot of land, or as large as a continent, and everywhere in between. So it’s not a simple matter of similar sized spirits overlapping in influence, but also larger and larger spirits controlling more land which encompasses even more shidaks. Think of it like a piece of paper with all sorts of different circles on it, different sizes, some overlap, some big circles contain an entire smaller circle, or only part of that area.

In this sense shidaks can be like the Russian nesting dolls, each one contained in a bigger and bigger version. Another way to look at it is place and identity. (Sorry for all the analogies, but it’s the easiest way to make the sense of this clear) Depending on scale, I could say I live in Canada, or Ontario, or Southern Ontario, or the St. Lawrence Lowlands, or the Golden Horseshoe, or the GTA, or Toronto, or Scarborough, or the Bluffs, or my street name, or my house number. All of these are right, it’s just an issue of size. Shidaks have a similar thing of overlapping each other in scale.

But while the larger ones are bigger and more “powerful” in that sense, they’re also less present. The larger shidaks are spread over so much that they’re hard to engage or sense, because you’re always in them and they cover so much, the smaller shidaks are more accessible. Like getting help, in a big city you have a politician in charge of your ward, who reports to someone above him, who reports to someone above her, who reports to another person and so on until you get to the mayor, but then above mayor is the Premier, and above them is the Prime Minister. Well if there is an issue with zoning in my area I can’t complain to the Prime Minister, he’s too distant (and he’s a worthless zealot Christian robot), but my local politician could help. Depending on what you’re doing with shidaks, you might be below their notice or reasonable ability to influence, and if you want something they may be too far removed to be of us, so the smaller more local ones are more practical to engage and sense.

Next week I’ll talk about why it is useful to deal with shidaks, and how to do so. I also plan on touching on the structure of shidaks, and more detailed methods of working with and influencing, and working with shidak and drongdak (the city spirits) in unison, as well as some of my personal work with them.

Local Spirits: Categories and Classifications


SekkwThe concept of local spirits is something that is often overlooked with magickal folks, and I think not really examined by enough people. Recently they came up on a forum I’m a part of, and some of the questions made me realize there are some gaps in how people think of them and work with them. Local spirits are a big part of my work, in fact other than Mother the first non-human entity I can remember encountering was a local spirit. In chöd, my primary Buddhist practice for the last several years, there is a huge emphasis on local spirits, to the point where I argue that if you only perform chöd in one spot you’re not getting that much out of it, because it’s all about your work with the spirits around you.

First off, what are local spirits? People use the term, but don’t really define it, and it can mean a lot of different things. Unfortunately while it means a lot of different things there is some overlap in the concepts making it a bit more confusing The term is used as an umbrella (purposefully or otherwise), so let’s break it down. Note: While I’m going to be saying several things that get called local spirits aren’t actually local spirits, that’s not any sort of judgment against them or working with them, just drawing distinctions, and there are reasons to work with all the classes I’ll discuss…except the last one.

The first is the most “obvious” of the meanings, what is generally called the genius loci, the literal spirit and intelligence that is embodied by a place. In Vajrayana Buddhism they’re known as sadak and shidak (ས་བདག་ and གཞི་བདག་). I’ll talk more about them later, because despite being the most obvious it’s actually a fairly complex concept. Also I’ll use the term shidak for this classification, not so much because I think it is more correct, but because it is free from a lot of the associations that local spirit or genius loci have.

Something that sometimes gets called a local spirit is more of a group spirit. Over time a place that is unified by a certain idea/identity builds up an energy to it, and eventually that can coalesce into a type of spirit, similar to an egregore. Not necessarily an innate soul, but still a potentially sentient and powerful spirit. In Vajrayana they’re known as a drongdak (གྲོང་བདག་), though the assumption/understanding is that they’re a “real” spirit rather than constructed, and I personally lean more to constructed or coalesced. A lot of cities have this type of group spirit. It isn’t the shidak of the place in a proper sense, but more the expression of the humanity of that place. Toronto’s spirit always shifts, which to me is appropriate for such a diverse population in such a time of transition, but generally feels like a large friendly woman of ambiguous/shifting ethnicity, but with a cautious edge to her. Cleveland’s spirit always strikes me as a grumpy old white man who just wants to read his paper in peace. These spirits are built up of the culture of the place, the attitudes, the feel and interaction. Old buildings with a lot of use can create something similar. I’ve been to a museum that has a sort of spirit curator, who isn’t/wasn’t a person, but is more of decades of tours and field trips slowly solidifying into a personality. Even though I wouldn’t classify them the same as a shidak, this does not mean I think they’re any less important or powerful, just different, and useful in different ways. In some cases the group spirit might be an interface for the shidak, but generally I perceive of them as distinct entities with an overlap in influence.

Related to the group spirit and the history of a place are ghosts, and ghosts sometimes get labelled as local spirits. Here, for simplicity’s sake, I mean some sort of remnant of a human, whether or not it is an actually spirit bound in a place, an energetic echo, or a cast off shell that has been animated. These might be spirits that are local, but are in another class from local spirits. Generally they are not nearly as big or influential as a shidak. I have encountered a spirit once that borders between ghost and group spirit, it was as if over time it subsumed (or was subsumed by) the collective identity of a place. I’m not sure if that’s something that happens with frequency, but I’ve only ever once got that sense from a spirit, and there was a sense that it was purposeful (on their end or someone else’s I can’t say). When you do offerings to a shidak, you may also be offering to these ghosts, and there is nothing wrong with that, but again I just want to have the terms a bit more clear and thought out. I say that specifically because I’ve seen people confuse a ghost with a shidak, simply because they didn’t know better, and the shidak didn’t want to be engaged so they assumed the only spirit in the area had to be the shidak.

There are guardian spirits that are tied to places. Again, this is something I could subdivide into its own post, but for simplicity I’ll just run through it quickly. Place guardians can be “natural,” for some reason or another a place has generated another spirit to watch over the place, almost like an assistant shidak. Other times a spirit “adopts” a place and watches over it. Sometimes the spirit is brought there by a person. How many sorcerers out there have set a spirit to guard a place? What if you die and never released it? Or it liked the place and stayed of its own accord. I separate these from shidak because they’re more specific, they protect a place, and dwell in it, but they don’t seem to permeate it, and exist in it in the same way, nor do they have the influence in the area that a shidak has.

Elementals can easily be grouped into local spirits and confused as them. Arguably many of them I’d be more likely to say are shidak than the other classes discussed. Elemental here is a vague term for the spirit of an element/quality of a place. Rivers, for instance, often have some spirit tied to them, the size/influence depending on the size/power of the river. While I wouldn’t call them a shidak, they do live in and as the water of a place, so it’s harder to make the distinction. Trees are another great example, but also that nebulous area. Trees can have individual spirits, trees in close proximity can also have a hive spirit. Again I wouldn’t call these a shidak, but more a spirit living in/on the land. It’s hard to draw the line between them and some shidaks. What makes it more complicated is shidaks often focus themselves in different areas, and large, old, or distinct trees are a common focus for them. So even if I don’t think tree spirits are shidaks, some shidaks focus their essence into a tree, making that division harder to identify.

A classification that I find in Vajrayana, that I’m only including for sake of education, is the naydak (གནས་བདག), which is the Sacred Place Lord. As far as I can tell they’re shidak of sacred places. While I’ve never encountered one I can’t say for sure, but I assume they are no different in structure/function from a shidak, but set apart because they inhabit a holy area, rather than a mundane one. Perhaps they’re more of an “angelic” type spirit occupying the place, it’s hard to say. They’re rare, apparently only living in the most sacred of places, so not every temple or powerplace will have a naydak.

Last, and certainly least, would be fae-things. I’m saying fae-things to avoid having to make long, complicated explanations. While we might quibble on details, you have a rough sense of what I mean. Elven, fae, faerie, and the like. While not human spirits, I’d say they’re like ghosts, in the sense of they might reside in a place and be local, but that’s not the same as being the local spirit, the shidak. Though their interaction is a bit more complicated. While a ghost exists in a place, the fae-things actually live there and consider the space their own. Even though they’re free to move on in a way that a ghost or elemental couldn’t, they can be more possessive/protective of the area because it’s their home and chosen land.

This is just the cursory break down of things that get classified as local spirits. In the next post of this series I’ll talk more about shidaks specifically.

Review: Drawing Down the Spirits, by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera


ddtsDrawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession – Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera
Destiny Books, 2009, 9781594772696, 338pp.

The idea and practice of spirit possession is one that is growing in the modern magickal and pagan communities. Despite the long and deep roots in a variety of traditions all across the world the practice more or less died out in Western traditions, but in the last decade or so it’s an idea and experience that is becoming more popular. In this book Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera start to fill in the gaps for the Western traditions and open up the conversation of possession.

First off, this is not a how-to book. If you’re looking to learn how to be possessed you can stop reading this review now because this isn’t the book you want. Filan and Kaldera suggest that people can’t learn to be possessed generally, it’s something that’s “wired” into you, and while I’m not sure I agree they still make very solid points about the role of the horse. (Horse is a term from the African diaspora religions for someone being possessed or ridden by the spirits, and is borrowed in this book.)

While not a how-to guide, the book is very thorough for what it does cover: the history of possession, traditions around the world, theories behind it and the spirits called into the horse. There are two elements to the text that really hit me as crucial reading for those getting into possession, but not from a tradition with an understanding or living history of the practice. The first is about the care of the horse, both in terms of the woogity and the mundane. They discuss how possession should be treated in safe, sane, and consensual manner, how to work with the spirits to set up boundaries. It might seem great to be able to be ridden by a patron deity, but despite ideas that such figures only work for your best interest, sometimes a spirit may go for a ride when it’s not wanted or even problematic. Kaldera and Filan give ideas for negotiating with the spirits, and ways to invite and close off possessions.

On the mundane side they cover the depth of what needs to be considered before, during, and after a possession. For instance most people inexperienced with possession might think it just happens, the horse stops, opens, and the god steps in, but the period of transition between self and possession can be a bit rough on the body, the horse might lose control of their limbs, so it’s addressed how to make sure they’re safe in that process. Also an emphasis on aftercare is covered, because having another spirit controlling your actions for a while isn’t necessarily the most comfortable or easy experience. The horse may need to be lulled back to the themselves, given food and drink, or a quiet place alone to settle down, and all of these ideas and more are laid out for the reader.

The second element I felt was crucial for readers is the discussion of the role of the horse in the community. Filan and Kaldera show how the horse is a social role, it’s not about the horse being someone big and important, but about what they can do for their religious community. Between the care and the context, I think the modern practitioner and group can get a sense of how to work with possession.

The book is written in a way that shifts back and forth from theory to experience, it’s filled with a variety of stories from Kaldera and Filan’s past that illustrate their points, without having so many that the text seems to be more about discussing cool experiences to prove how awesome the authors think they are.

As said right away, if you want a how-to guide on possession, this isn’t it, but if you’re curious about the phenomena or part of a group working with it, this text will help explain and explore what it means to work with the spirits in this way.

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