Fang and Fur,
It’s Samhain, and that means it’s the best time for running around in whatever crazy garb or costumery your heart (or twisted sense of humor) desires! Most of us as little kids dressed up as things like vampires, werewolves, ghosts—and maybe even Halloween witches with green skin and pointy black hats. And a lot of us still dress up for the fun of it, whether we stick with the classics or go off in philosophical, political or other creative directions. And the best thing is, if you happen to be running around in costume getting from point A to point B at any point in October, nobody cares—at worst you’ll get “Cool costume!”
This, of course, makes the Samhain season a great time for magic involving personality aspecting. This is the process by which we brings parts of ourselves other than our egos to the front of our consciousness and live as them for a time in order to understand ourselves better. As a culture, we are conditioned to primarily identify with our egos, even to the exclusion of other aspects of ourselves. However, for every thing that is defined as “I am”, there are a dozen that fall under the category of “I am not”—or so we assume. We’re so conditioned to pigeonhole ourselves that people often take an astrological chart to be holy writ and will even alter their behavior just to try and fit a certain stereotype. Those who don’t have their full charts done but who know their Sun signs may attach that label to themselves like glue, or claim that they can only work within the element that their Sun sign falls under. In effect, they define who they are by others’ standards to the point that they often ignore any traits that don’t match that specific stereotype.
Yet the truth of the matter is that while we may have dominant personality traits and behavior patterns that we habitually exhibit, we as human beings are capable of expressing and embracing the entirety of the human psyche. We only fool ourselves into thinking that we have to be the same all the time, and other people help support this by being surprised (and saying so!) if we happen to do anything “uncharacteristic”.
I’ve mentioned the traditional Western astrological model of personality charting above. However, the methods of breaking down the human psyche for easier digestion are myriad. Every pantheon of deities, every group of spirits, models such as the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, animal totems, Goetic demons—all of these sets of entities and/or symbols represents the human psyche as well as having an existence of their own. Our microcosm neatly matches up with portions of the macrocosm, and we can use one to influence the other. This is why when we allow the energies of our astrological signs, or our totem animals, or our patron deities, to influence us, more often than not the aspects of our psyche that correspond with those come to the fore. It’s also why we often get along with certain types of entity better than others, because the “translate” into our self-understanding better; for instance, I have a very easy time working with totems, but not so easy with the Goetia.
There is a definite advantage to being able to access more than just your ego, however. For one thing, being able to break out of the ego-tunnel-vision is essential to altered states of consciousness which are crucial to successful magic, including, but not limited to, invocation and spirit-journeying. However, on a more practical level it is important to “Know thyself”—and not just the ego.
example, we all have bad habits and things we’d like to change about
ourselves. Sometimes, though, we’re
conditioned to just accept them as they are and go through life not really
liking ourselves (often because liking the self is supposedly “vain” or
“selfish”). Yet a healthy self-image is
important to overall well-being. If you
don’t like yourself, you aren’t going to feel as satisfied as somebody who is
quite happy with who s/he is, or at least where
Because of the cultural conditioning that we just accept bad parts of ourselves and not complain, we often tie these negative traits into our ego-identifications—we say “Well, it’s just a part of who I am”. And in this way we continue to make excuses for these things, even as we know deep down inside we don’t need to carry them around with us any more.
Personality aspecting allows us to step out of our egos for a while and allow a new pattern of behavior and personality to take over, teaching us new patterns and laying down new circuitry. We are largely creatures of habit; we very commonly re-act instead of act on something. Think about what creates the word re-act: re, which means to do something again, and act, to do. So re-act means to do something again that you’ve done in the past—just because you’ve been conditioned to do so in that particular type of situation! Think about it for a moment. “I just re-acted” has a much deeper meaning now, doesn’t it?
Taking on a different aspect allows you to shake yourself out of your ego-based complacency for long enough to start paying more attention to your usual re-actions. Because you are using a different set of values, behaviors and judgments, you’re able to see the world differently and thereby access new possibilities that your ego may not have been aware of. We do, after all, get used to seeing things a certain way after years of conditioning.
So how do you access different aspects? The first thing to do is to figure out which model you want to use. I personally am fond of totem animals; I have a different animal associated with each aspect of mine. However, you may also use an astrological system, the personalities of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, the Tree of Life, or whatever suits your fancy. Depending on what my goal is, I may also combine the totems with a psychological paradigm, such as the Eight-circuit model of Timothy Leary, usually filtered through Robert Anton Wilson’s Prometheus Rising.
Next, take some time to explore the archetypal traits associated with the various members of the system—the animals, cards, gods, or what have you. You may find that more than one of these is familiar to you on some level, which isn’t surprising. After all, as I said we possess the capacity to be the entire human psyche (though not necessarily all at once!).
Now’s where the fun part begins. Pick one aspect that seems like it would be appropriate for issues you’re currently going through, or one that resembles some traits you’d like to make more dominant in your life—for instance, if you’re shy, call upon that which is bold and brash and loud. You might even try picking out the complete opposite of your ego. Make sure you warn your friends and family who are open to your magical practice about this experiment, of course, so that you don’t completely startle them once you start behaving “unusually”.
out and get or make a costume appropriate to that aspect. It can be something literal, such as a lion
for a Leo or a Lion totem, or it may be more abstract, such as Superman for a
powerful heroic mythological figure such as Heracles/Hercules. You can even mess around with more generic
costumes in creative ways—a naughty French Maid costume for a lust goddess with
a playful side, like Aphrodite. And,
because this is Samhain and nobody really cares, don’t be afraid if the costume
that seems most appropriate doesn’t match your usual sex and gender
When you get the costume, try putting it on a few times before you work any magic, just to get a feel for it and how it fits you. If you need to make adjustments to the physical garment, do so—you don’t want tight shoes or too-baggy pants distracting you. In addition, the costume may be very different from what you usually wear, even if it’s just random stuff from the thrift store that another person might wear on an everyday basis. One thing my husband, Taylor, taught me is that clothing doesn’t just make an impression on others—it makes an impression on the person wearing it.
And it’s up to you in this magical rite to take advantage of that impression. Again, one of the crucial factors is that you are shaken out of your usual headspace, and wearing the costume helps to do that. It causes you to take a look at yourself more deeply, when normally you probably take who “you” are for granted. You can see this in more subtle ways when you wear your usual clothing for different purposes. The clothing you wear for lounging around the house probably isn’t going to be the same as the clothing you wear to a job interview. When you put on each separate outfit, it triggers a different mode of thinking and acting—and identifying.
Aspecting is just a more dramatic version of that. Instead of replacing a few traits, but remaining primarily within your ego, you’re uprooting your ego temporarily and replacing it with another aspect of yourself. Keep that in mind—this is not a separate personality or an outer entity you’re invoking. This is a part of you and has always been a part of you; you’re just not used to working within that particular headspace. This means that when you aspect you are still responsible for yourself. You can’t use it as an excuse to do something harmful or that breaks the law or so forth. You are simply looking at the world from a different view; you are still there, just not that which you call the ego. If you can’t retain enough common sense to not be destructive then you probably shouldn’t be doing this kind of work.
Once you’re familiar with the costume, it’s time to bring out the aspect of yourself that you associate with it. This can be as simple as donning the costume with intent, or pulling out all the stops with a major ritual to call upon the exterior being that corresponds to that internal part of yourself. The important thing is that you invoke that aspect of yourself as thoroughly as possible.
Now you get to head out and play! Go to a party, or walk down a busy street where other people are about in costumes. If your costume can be considered street clothing by someone else, try walking around in a mall or grocery store. Observe how you act both to other people and your environment. How does it differ from the way you would normally act (or re-act)?
You may want to do this a number of times so that you have more observations to work with. You’ll find that the more you bring this aspect out, the stronger its traits become. Make sure, though, that at the end of the evening you allow your ego to come back into play, especially when you first get started with this type of experimentation. And once you’ve become comfortable with a particular aspect, you’ll find that whenever you need to act like it instead of your ego, all you have to do is think about the times you went trick-or-treating as that aspect and you’ll be able to access it with ease.
You don’t have to limit this to just the Samhain season; any time you’re comfortable going out in unusual (for you, anyway) clothing is a good time for aspecting. Just stick to regular street clothing for each aspect. On the other hand, this makes for a good yearly ritual—just pick a different aspect each year. You can even do as Taylor Ellwood mentioned in http://www.twpt.com/samellwood.htm and make it into a yearly dedication of sorts.
We’ve long known that the joys of play and imagination are useful for magic. This year, though, make your costume a little more meaningful, and get to know yourself a little better.
Lupa is a twenty-something pagan and experimental magician