The Power of Taboo

Posted by

It’s pretty obvious, if you read my blog, that I’ve spent most of my career on Mediterranean traditions, and that a certain emphasis falls on the Hellenic tradition. It might surprise you, then, to learn that solidly half of the initiations I’ve written in my lifetime have been based on Celtic folklore.

Yes, I heard it through my computer monitor.

“Dafuq??” You rightly ask.

On a whim, on a random, ridiculous whim, nearly by accident, I did something very, very right. Taking, as I do, a methodical and rational approach to magick (if that is even possible), I asked myself some important questions, formulated some hypotheses, and then tested them. I used theories generated by following Jewish law to attune myself to the Seelie court. Then, I turned back, and applied what I had learned to the Hellenic tradition.

Interested? Then, read on.

Why do Jews keep kosher?

kosher-foodI had heard a bunch of proposed answers to this rather common question. Trichinosis in pork? Yeah, ok, that explains pigs, but what about camels, which were traditionally eaten by other people living in the same region, during the same time, and remain on the menu for a neighboring religious tradition, IE Islam. What about mixtures of stuff? Milk and meat, wool and linen? Come on, I thought. It must be there for a mystical reason that both makes sense and can be re-purposed for other traditions.

I had to live it to understand it. 

Here is what I found: keeping kosher made me think of Judaism all the time. Every time I wanted to eat, which is a thing that happens at least three times per day, I had to have the following conversation with myself:

“What am I going to eat?”

“No, I can’t eat that. Damn. Why am I doing this?”

“Ah, right…”

 Anything you say to yourself every day, several times per day, will shape the way you think. 

thinkaboutalldayI started thinking about the Torah moreConsequently, I started having insights. My ability to read Hebrew improved, even though I was not conscious of making any additional effort. This was probably because Hebrew words and phrases started meandering their way into my daily self-talk. Words like yad soledet bo and charifah and ta’am, which allude to the underlying concepts necessary to keep kosher fully.

It dawned on me how powerful this must be for the religion’s egregore. I thought of millions of people all thinking about the same thing, every day, several times a day. It dawned on me, too, what a powerful tool this could be for attuning to a deity, any deity. Then, it occurred to me that Judaism is full of these daily practices which build mindfulness, and entail constant sacrifice.

A nation of priests, eh? Well played, Hashem, well played indeed.

Will this work if I apply it to another tradition?

4270367_f260My hypothesis: I hypothesized that any practice which causes a fundamental and inconvenient change to a person’s daily life will powerfully shape the way that they think. If I undertake dietary taboos for a tradition I have very little connection to, I will start to notice a connection forming to that tradition, will develop intuitive insights related to it, and will be able to channel its power more effectively.

What I did: I chose the fae, rather than the Celtic deities. I specifically chose them because I understood less about them. I prepared a statement that I read each night, and then, each day, I refrained from eating certain foods that were emblematic of “human civilization” such as baked grain products and fermented beverages. I refrained from meat, as well, since I desired to appear less threatening, and that is easier to do when you haven’t eaten anyone recently. I planned to do this for 50 days.

What happened: On about day 30, I was lying in bed, when I had a vision of a black dragon (a flying, featherless beast with curling horns, the body of a reptile, the claws and face of a lion, and wings), hovering before a golden gate. He introduced himself as “The guardian of the Summer Lands.”  He told me a name which I was not to repeat to anyone. He made me swear various oaths, the most important of which was that I should never tell anyone his true name. Then, he began reciting a litany of crimes which had been perpetrated by human beings, and explained that as a consequence of these crimes, the gates to these lands he guarded had been closed to all descendants of the British Isles.

“How might they be opened again?” I asked.

I got no answer from him. I thought, at least, that I had gotten no answer. I continued for the next 20 days, hoping for another vision.

Then, I was inspired: I wrote a circle casting based on the cycle of time. I created a ritual that identified the inner nature spirit and brought it forward. More and more insights came, until, finally, I understood the symbolic nature of these “gates,” and the “crimes” than humanity had committed. What I understood could only be expressed in poetry, and in mystery rites.

Unlike my previous attempts at writing initiations, which were slow, full of confusion and arguing with myself and co-colaborators, these rites simply poured out of me. To make a long story short, since this is not the main point of my post: the “gates of the summer lands” are actually the connection between the rational mind and mythological consciousness. The “crimes” were simply the ways which, on a daily basis, we cut ourselves off from that reality. The initiations sought to rectify that, in various ways, in the human psyche.

The Conclusion: Assuming dietary taboos may be a very helpful tool in helping to attune a person to a tradition, build an egregore, and facilitate insight.

Might this help others to create mystery rites? What specific things might a person do to help them to connect to, say, the Greek tradition?


Probably. At the very least, it will probably help to create mindfulness. Here is what I was thinking in terms of restrictions and time-frames.

Time frame: I was thinking that a good start might be to devote a week to each of the 12 Olympians and one week each for Hestia and Hekate.  There are other deities. There are heroes. There are important nymphs and Underworld deities. However, I could literally be doing this forever, and I want to spend a meaningful chunk of time for each portion. The best thing to do would be to refrain, in each case, from the thing symbolic of the goodness that the deity puts into the world, and continue to refrain from it until you hear from them that you have earned their gifts.

For Zeus: Refrain from the flesh of animals. Anything made from just the bones and the fat is ok.

For Hera: Refrain from foul. Birds mate for life.

For Poseidon: No fish.

For Demeter: No grain.

For Dionysos: Nothing made from grapes and no intoxicants.

For Hephaestos: Nothing cooked using a fire-forged implement.

For Aphrodite: Nothing that another person cooked for you.

For Hermes: Nothing you purchased for yourself. Alternately, or additionally, no beef, because it was taboo to all people before he stole it.

For Athena: Use nothing imported. It is the power of diplomacy (and martial strength) that makes international trade possible.

For Ares: You must eat meat, but not its blood. Sorry, but this means you are going to have to salt and/or brine all of your meat to remove the blood before you can eat it.

For Apollon: No fruit and no cold remedies.

For Artemis: No meat at all. Hunting was how we first acquired a taste for meat.

For Hekate: Anything, so long as it is cold.

For Hestia: Nothing baked. Especially, no bread, cakes, cookies, muffins…

The important thing, of course, is not the specific thing you choose to do for the deity. The main thing is to do this in such a way that you feel the sting, provoke a conversation with yourself about the deity’s contributions to reality, and make a genuine sacrifice out of forgoing whatever it is. The choice should make symbolic sense to you.


Leave a Reply to Ian Phanes Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s