Guardians & Custodians: The More Than Human Home

by Nate

Owning this home has been a wild ride.

It was a bit of an overextension to begin with. I didn’t really have enough money but we were in the middle of the 2008-2009 economic crisis and the government was doing everything in its power to stimulate home buying. In my case they paid $8,000 towards my down payment in a once-in-a-lifetime, one-time tax incentive.

I thought buying a home in the US was a good investment, and picked the home that I did on the premise that it was in a good neighborhood, near excellent schools, in good condition, etc. -in other words, it would resell one day without issue.

And I’m sure that it will. Especially now that we’ve put well over $70k in improvements into the house and yard. Add the interest, taxes, and insurance I’ve paid and I would have made considerably more putting that money in a savings account than a house. We can sell it for a nice lump sum, sure…but not a profit by any means.

Financial motivations attracted me to this house initially but time taught me to appreciate it -to love it. To care for it, and protect it, anticipate its needs, and make reparations for my own carelessness. I may have always been an animist at heart but, sadly, I wasn’t always aware of my own impact on the other conscious beings around me, human and otherwise.

I feared the responsibility of the house and resented it. The house quickly developed foundation issues (common in Texas) and cracks in the walls. A good rain or drought would almost always result in new fractures and fissures in the drywall. In my state of house-rich / cash poor, there wasn’t anything I could do about it and so I just fretted as the cracks widened for years until I could afford the costly repairs.

Living through that experience -and overcoming it- however, was very educational. In the “what doesn’t kill you” kind of way, owning this house taught me patience and observation. I also eventually saved enough to pay for the foundation repair. And now, in 2021, we’ve invested the rest of my savings into a full renovation so that we can put this house on sale and take advantage of the crazy seller’s market in Texas.

But, in an animist framework, selling a home is more than transferring a financial asset; it’s a custodial transition where one party passes on the responsibility to love and care for something to another. And, as such, abandoning one’s sanctuary after more than a decade is an understandably sensitive issue with the spirits that watch over it and its inhabitants.

More than that, I get the sense that the spirits of this place have taught us quite a lot in the eleven years we’ve lived here; many times in indirect ways that we haven’t even attributed to them. I also can’t escape the naggingly profound feeling that the lessons of these past few hectic months of renovation, downscaling, and down-shifting, not only had to be gone-through -to be fully experienced– but that these lessons are important both for what’s directly in front of us and further down the road as well.

This idea of a house spirit, playing messenger, duty-bound to serve as a rite of passage in our spirit-lead emancipation to a foreign land, is fascinating to say the least. Who can say how real this is? Who knows what motivations drive the more-than-human…

What I know is that Sarah and I both experienced, simultaneously, an intense and lingering “negative energy” for weeks earlier this year and then dispelled it by addressing issues we uncovered (belatedly) working with the spirit guarding our home.

Suffice it to say, the experience left me with a strong impression of the importance of maintaining good relations with the spirit that guards you while you sleep. The purpose of this post is to tell that story and relate some of the lessons we gathered from the experience.

Image: Room Interior by Svitlana Harkusha

Home Is Where The Hearth Is

Homes play many roles for us. They provide security; sanctuary from the elements, privacy from prying eyes, sovereignty in society, and more. Equally, they play spiritual roles as protectors –guardians.

More or less inconceivable in any modern western cosmology, the concept of house spirits is under-appreciated even among the magically inclined. Fortunately for us, back in Q3 of 2020 we began another of Gordon White’s presciently well-timed quarterly Rune Soup Premium Membership modules that was directly relevant. The course, titled “Custodianship“, provided the scaffolding on which to construct an animist understanding of home and place; which became centrally important to our lives in the new year.

In it Gordon talks a lot about the hearth as the center of activity both physically and metaphorically in the home. And traditionally, when the hearth was used for cooking rather than supporting the family television, it served as the social, as well as functional, hub.

To his credit, Gordon also explicitly describes both house guardian spirits and the concepts of nested frameworks in the course material, but sometimes I just can’t fully understand something until you rub up against it the wrong way…

Suffice it to say, despite having a pretty good hearth-game by the end of 2020, our understanding of custodianship was about to get upgraded abruptly by personal experience.

Image: Gathering of the Spirits by Nele-Diel

Nested Frameworks & Spirit Dynamics

Before the course, we’d become aware of the term “spirits of place” and left offerings periodically in our backyard to, what we’ve come to believe is, the genus loci of our suburban lot; the live oak tree in the backyard. We’ve spent a lot of time in its shade and entertained by the birds and squirrels in its branches over the years. Connecting with the tree as representative of our bit of land seemed to make sense.

What we failed to recognize was the difference between our home and the land we live on, and the nested nature of home/land/place spirit dynamics. Our oversight angered, or at least frustrated, the guardian spirit of our home; whose response was to cast a gloomy pallor over all our magical efforts to divine important details of our exit strategy (follow along with our escape to paradise).

This manifested in deeply disturbing tarot self-readings, an inability to clearly interpret spirit messages (synchs, portents, and omens), an unshakeable gloom, and the feeling of not being in flow that indicates something is awry spiritually.

Magical Diagnostics

Things were not going well. The messages we were getting from the universe were being skewed, tarot was confusing -even misleading- with doom and gloom in every spread, and our depression was getting out of hand.

We decided that there was either a hex on us, or a jinx of our own creation; the sudden onset of symptoms and the (also sudden) opaque and contradictory nature of our divinations made this impossible to explain otherwise.

Making use of another bit of (adapted) Rune Soup tech, I insisted that we begin a week-long uncrossing and road opening ritual:

  1. Each night we invoked Hekate, using adapted Jason Miller rituals, calling on her as Enodia (Goddess of roads) and Kleidouchos (Keeper of the keys).
  2. We ritually burned frankincense and dragonsblood incense, cupping and “bathing” in the smoke to suffumigate ourselves.
  3. And prayed for Hekate to clear the roads before us.
  4. We did this for 3 nights…
  5. On the fourth night we each took a simple jinx-breaking coffee wash: A cup of coffee, diluted in a pitcher of lukewarm water, poured from head to toe; wiping downwards as you go…
  6. Afterwards and for the 2 nights that followed (or potentially more, I can’t remember now) we suffumigated ourselves in abre camino while praying to Hekate to open the roads before us.

In the aftermath of this battery of unjinxing magic, Sarah had the inspiration to call for backup; enlisting the help of our friend Amaya Rourke to divine answers to our situation.

More Than Human Requires More Than Words

Amaya’s essential contribution was to bring us into awareness of our oversight and to help us understand the tools at our disposal for negotiating a compromise with our offended guardian spirit.

Through a combined analysis of our transiting charts and a series of tarot readings, Amaya was able to quickly diagnose our issue: neglecting to involve our house spirit in our transition, our current renovation, and ending our ties with this place and its biosphere.

I was taken aback by the reading and what was revealed…after months of offerings and dialogue with the nature spirits local to our home, I was convinced that I had developed a relationship -and established an understanding- with the local spirits of place. But, in discussing the situation with Amaya, it became obvious that we’d missed an important step in our transition process.

It might feel weird to think about a house having an opinion -and this isn’t quite right- but, essentially, this is how one applies an animist framework in a modern context. First we have to allow other beings to be, literally to exist, in our worldview. Ignoring them comes at a cost to us and, in this case, to our ability to manifest the future we want. Next we have to engage with them, as one would do with any human cohabitant in a similar situation. If some form of person, human or otherwise, is affected by a decision that you make, the right course of action is to engage with them, negotiate the best situation for everyone, and move on with life in peace.

To achieve this, and to right our mistake, required communicating directly with the guardian spirit of our home -a job that, frankly, I’ve been neglecting as the owner and custodian of this bit of land. When I asked Amaya about the best way to communicate with the house spirit, I was pleasantly surprised that her answer was Tarot, because it actually makes a lot of sense.

Tarot is essentially a language of archetypal images which evoke similar enough responses sub/un-consciously in the human brain to be useful in communication. If you think about how language works, every word is a symbol -a composite of multiple symbols, to be specific. Words can have different meanings in different contexts. Visual language is like this as well, to an extreme. It’s only through a common understanding of these symbols that they have any meaning at all.

What’s interesting is that spirit communication is, as often as not, a non-verbal form of communication. I have received messages via clairaudience before but very infrequently. More commonly, the message is either a nagging impression (feeling), a jolt of sudden inspiration, or an odd encounter in the physical world (oh look, the crows are following me again).

Tarot is useful beyond its traditional role as an oracle -it is a diviner’s all-purpose tool. The visual language of Tarot extends beyond the sphere of human experience to encompass a portion of the world beyond humanity as well. For this reason, Tarot excels as a medium for contact with the more than human world.

Amaya’s homework assignment was simple. Give offerings, make contact, and commune with the guardian spirit of our home. Share our authentic respect and gratitude, explain our desire to move and the path we’ve been set on, and negotiate an arrangement that satisfies both of us.

Image: Old Dark Wizard by Amit Kumar

Pacts, Negotiations & Things Left Unsaid

A pact is simply an agreement; no more, no less. When you can’t simply “shake on it”, a pact is a form of agreement enforced by the universe; by Lady Fortuna and the Morea (fortune and fate). Pacts do not require blood, nor do they always end unfairly to the human party. Quite the opposite, pacts are our means of engaging with the more than human world -and we do so unconsciously, all the time.

It is wise to approach any spirit as you would a wild animal; feral, unpredictable, and entirely driven by its own ends. This isn’t to say that you should be fearful, for like any wild setting, fear attracts the wrong sort of attention from the spirit world. Projecting bold willfulness and self-sovereignty is key in these sorts of engagements; but so is a circumspect awareness that you’re dealing with intelligence that may or may not be aligned with your interests.

And this is the value of pacts. We engage with the more than human with offerings first, to demonstrate our respect and awareness; which is in itself a measure of recognition not often paid to non-human persons. Then we negotiate mutually beneficial arrangements, or pacts in the parlance of the magical community, which appease the needs of spirits for advancing our own interests in exchange.

This was the nature of our engagement with our home’s understandably offended guardian spirit. Working again with Hekate as intermediary, we set out offerings of wine, bread, water, incense, and fire on the mantle and reached out to our home’s guardian spirit. Shortly after our invocation, we sensed a sort of no-nonsense female presence arrive, and proceeded (per Amaya’s directions) to share our feelings of respect and gratitude in a heartfelt statement of appreciation. This actually became quite emotional, which is generally a good sign that magic is in the air; and it certainly felt like our message was appreciated.

Navigating cautiously, I approached the topic of our plan to depart for Mexico and a new life in paradise as a matter of divinely-inspired purpose -something larger than ourselves that is simply fate and not a reflection on our relationship with this place, our home, or the sanctuary it represents.

Finally, reaching the crux of the conversation, I asked what we could do in reparation for our oversight that would conclude our time here peacefully and in good standing; and, further, for any assistance it could provide to us in our transition.

Using tarot to dialogue with the spirit was straightforward enough. We framed a direct question, asked it aloud several times, shuffled, cut, and dealt three and five card line readings onto the granite in front of the fireplace. With questions like “Are we in contact with the spirit of our home?”, “How can we make amends for our oversights while planning this renovation and departure?”, “What does the spirit of our home want from us before we depart?”, and so on, we negotiated a mutually agreeable arrangement for the rest of our time in the house.

We also felt a real sense of belonging, and protection. It was there all along, of course, but now it’s something we’re more aware of. The process of engaging with the house spirit highlighted a number of benefits the house has provided which are worthy of our gratitude. We’ve grown here as people because had sanctuary in which to do so. We’ve turned the house into a home, raised two puppies we love very much, spent over a decade together, and recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.
We’ve spent the vast majority of these very fulfilling years in the safety of this home and its protective embrace. It was important for us to take stock in these things as the gifts they are; and to show our earnest appreciation for them.

Image: The Witch’s Familiar by James Hayball

The More Than Human Home

Humans have grown to become thoughtless, unobservant creatures more concerned with vanity and self-interest than their part in the greater whole of the world. This isn’t a new development; it’s a several thousand-years-old selfish streak in the human condition that derives from our obsession with apotheosis (man’s pursuit of attaining god-hood). While there’s nothing wrong with enlightenment, it lends one to becoming more “civilized” and moving further afield of…well, the field.

The field is the reality in which we all coexist. In one sense it’s physical; our atoms rubbing against one another and sharing electrons, all messy like. In another, consciousness is also a field; one where thoughts are swimming about like fish in an ocean of awareness, moving through currents of intention. Another way of thinking about the field is spiritual, where nested frameworks of being and belonging -of self and other- stack in infinite fractals of perspective.

This field in which we exist is also us, or rather, we are it. We are made of it and part of it and therefore we cannot be separate from it -and it cannot be separate from us.

Our coexistence, meaning not just co-presence but literal co-being, connects us indelibly and intimately to our environment. In particular our local environment, in the sense of both place and time, coalesces with us in the here and now to bring ourselves into being in each moment.

Who you are, in part, depends on where you are, who you are with, what you are doing, and many other factors; including, potentially, the position and influence of the stars, ancestral contracts, unintegrated shadows, and spirits working for or against you.

Having had my clarity and magical potency drastically affected by these unmitigated issues with our house spirit, I can say from personal experience that the effects were quite intimate. And I got the impression while working with the spirit, once we’d followed Amaya’s advice, that it was not so much angry with us as unable to fulfill its end of the (unstated) bargain on which our relationship is based.

That this perturbed our house spirit and, I think perhaps unintentionally, affected us emotionally and spiritually, can be explained by our coexistence in the field. We are part of this house. In the nested and overlapping frameworks of place and spirit dynamics, we are simultaneously each ourselves, part of a married couple, a house(hold), and the biosphere that surrounds it (and more).

Home is a part of our lives and our story (and the lessons we learn), a sanctuary that facilitates our growth as people, and the hub that connects the most important human-and-non-human relationships in our lives. During this time in our lives, this house and the yard that surrounds it, were the setting in which we built our relationship, our little family, and our life together. This house has also been our safe harbor in these totalitarian p*ndem*c times and the hideaway from which we planned our escape to paradise.

As we set out on our future adventures we do so with a deeper appreciation for our entanglement with the environment around us. Not only the ones of the natural world: the plant allies, animal friends, and other tangible beings; but with the intangibles, like spirits of land and place. Their fates interweave with our own just like ours wind around those human persons with whom we spend our time. The disincarnate spirits that coexist with us in our living spaces impact us in ways we often fail to recognize; but that mistake is on us.

Engaging with spirits of place is rewarding, of course, but more importantly, it’s necessary. Not engaging with them productively means you’re unwittingly engaging them unproductively -and trust me, that can cause all kinds of difficult-to-diagnose problems.

Our role as human members of more than human communities is custodial. It’s a contract, like the social contract, and it’s no less real for being unspoken. It is, however, a considerably better arrangement, based on being in right relation with the universe. To receive these benefits though, and avoid the repercussions of failing to recognize that we share this place with beings seen and unseen, regular offerings and acts of respect are essential preventative care.

For situations where something has gone wrong, feels off, or otherwise awry already, I recommend a hero dose of uncrossing / unjinxing with your psyschopomp of choice, support by professional fortune-tellers, and active reparations (with no small measure of humility). Your intentions speak loudly and carry a great deal of weight in these types of encounters; authenticity is key. And most problems, bad as they might feel in the moment, can be remedied.

It starts with simply recognizing your place in a world that extends beyond sensory perception into the imaginal and your role as custodian (caretaker) of the chaotic natural world and its confusing, nested frameworks of spirit, personhood, and belonging.

From there you can navigate your world experientially / phenomenologically -you can feel your way through it- as an animist by engaging its many inhabitants directly with tarot, sensing exercises, or simple observation.

Featured Image: Rootbeard’s House – Exterior by Chris-Karbach

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