Coronation Oil and Reclaiming the Magic of Youth

It's been on my to-do list for months to write this post. I'm really, really good at procrastinating, it turns out.

I'm also good, it seems, at avoiding stuff which will help me deepen my understanding of my own spirituality. It's kind of scary, isn't it, to delve into what we believe? What if I stumble upon something that doesn't make sense, or what if I'm crazy? Confronting the intangible is always, always difficult, but it's the difficult stuff that always yields the best rewards.

"The Anointing of Queen Alexandra at the Coronation of Edward VII"

I've spent the last several years investigating and refining what I've sometimes called "Spiritual Minimalism." The original idea was that spirituality is its most pure when you forge a direct connection between yourself and the divine, something I thought could only be done in the complete absence of tools and spiritual aides.

I'd read in other books and websites that in witchcraft the tools that are used (wand, athame, altar, etc) have no innate power of their own. In fact, many authors go so far as to say that you don't actually need these things at all (but that they're fun!). An athame is, in many modern witchcraft traditions, required for casting the magick circle (creating sacred space). The witch holds the athame (a double edged knife, never used to actually cut physical objects) in their dominant hand and, at the appropriate time in the ritual, uses it to direct energy through the tip and to draw the magick circle (energetically) in the air around them. If you don't have an athame, though, don't fret! You can just use your finger.

As I got older, this idea bothered me. Why have religious and spiritual tools if you don't actually need them? Are people just capitalizing on the commercialism of religion? If I only need myself to create scared space, to perform magick, to do ritual, to communicate with the divine...why do I need anything else?

For a few years, I walked down this minimalist road. I, at various times, either kept an extremely sparse altar or had no altar at all. I got rid of a lot of my magickal tools, candles, herbs, and stones. After all, they were just sitting in boxes being unused at this point.

Whoooo boy, let me tell you: I felt so morally and spiritually superior. Like yeah I see your instagram witchcraft over there and it's beautiful but look at me! I am a powerful and spiritually connected witch and I don't need any of that junk! And that means I'm amazing! And you should all be hella impressed with me!

It's this idea of minimalism that kept me engaged with Modern Spiritualism even after I realized that it was, in no way, the progressive haven that it used to be. Spiritualism doesn't offer a set of spiritual tools to further your journey. When you join the church you are given a "handbook," which essentially is a "for dummies" version of the religion. Churches sometimes have a library and/or bookstore where they offer texts that expand upon the ideas of the religion. The only "thing" the church sold (which you could only buy from the national headquarters) was a spiritualist trumpet, an object used in trumpet mediumship. This is typically done in a seance setting, so it isn't something you'd even buy to use on your own. The religion had a serious lack of clutter, and I liked it.

Despite loving Spiritualism, despite reading the ideas of other authors and taking them a step further, despite feeling like I was really super awesome, I honestly didn't feel any more spiritual than I did before. In fact, as time went on I felt disconnected from Spirit in a way that I hadn't felt in years. Removing the physicality of spirituality from my life had also, it seemed, removed the spirituality itself.

But how could this be? I knew intellectually that ritual is just something we do to trick ourselves into believing magick is real so that we can actually do magick. Right? So if I just know magick is already real then I don't need the ritual, right?

* * *

Over the last couple years I started rereading a series of books I'd read in my younger years. The Earth's Children series by Jean Auel starts with the book "The Clan of the Cave Bear." It is, in retrospect, a fairly offensive look at a time in history when cro-magnon people may have interacted with neanderthals. There is a lot of white savior stuff, and, holy shit, is there a lot of super graphic caveman sex. Like, wow. I read the books as a teenager not because I was super into hetero caveman love, but because the books also focus on Ayla, a medicine woman caught between peoples. We get to see Ayla learn the value and magick of herbs and plants, and treat those around her with the wonders found in her medicine bag. There is also a beautiful spirituality woven through the book and, while I don't know how much of it was invented by the author, it still spoke to me.

On this second reading I was entranced with the use of an "amulet pouch" by the tribe of neanderthals we follow (the clan of the cave bear). At a certain point in a person's development, they are given an amulet pouch (I think it was when they become an adult, but I can't remember for sure). The pouch is a simple leather drawstring pouch that uses a long piece of leather or sinew such that the person can wear the pouch as a necklace.

An amulet pouch I made (center). An athame (right), and a wand (bottom). 

When they are given their amulet pouch, it is during a religious ceremony. The holy person overseeing the ceremony places a piece of red ochre in the pouch, a pigment sacred to the people. The ochre symbolizes the connection each member of the clan has with the spirit that guides them: the cave bear. Each person, though, has their own personal "spirit animal" who guides them individually. If they ever receive a sign from their totem, they can place that symbol in their amulet pouch. Ayla is doing some serious soul searching in one part of the book and is having a conversation with her totem animal, asking for advice. She decides what she should do, and then asks her totem if that is the right idea. At that moment, a beautiful crystalline rock catches her eye in a nearby stream. This is, she knows, a message from her totem affirming her idea. She adds the rock to her amulet pouch.

Despite living the #SpiritualMinimalistLyfe, this idea really resonated with me. A physical connection with your spirituality, with your deity, one that you interact with regularly, hanging around your neck at all times sounded...perfect. It, somehow, felt like something I need to be doing, something I need to be experiencing.

So, I started sewing pouches. Being vegan, I, of course, went with cotton fabric instead of leather. While I understand the spiritual connection to animals in spiritual practices like that, it is something I do not feel connected to and, in fact, do not feel is ethical in a time and place like the one I'm in.

The pouches I made largely didn't sell. Perhaps it was the price, perhaps it was the size and shape. But for whatever reason, they didn't catch on. So, I forgot about the physicality of spirituality and again and let that feeling slip away.

That is, until I was watching a documentary on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. I'd been watching The Crown on Netflix so I've become more than a little interested in British monarchy. Having known nothing of the coronation process previously, I learned that the ceremony is not only a ceremonial transition of power, but also a spiritual ceremony during which the monarch acknowledges that their ascent to the throne is the will of God and that it is the monarch's duty to, as long as they should live, protect and guide all of their people. During this ceremony, the monarch is anointed with "coronation oil," a sacred combination of rare and exotic fragrances meant to forge the bond; the monarch is anointed as the protector of the people.

It wasn't until I started watching The Crown and subsequent documentaries that I learned about this spiritual connection to monarchy and I found it quite moving. Certainly today we have a lot of very valid critiques about governments run by religious figures or run in a way that is said to be God's will, but, even so, there was something so essential about a person embodying this idea and giving their life to God to fulfill His will. It was amazing.

The vessel used to hold the coronation oil, and the spoon used to deliver it. 

And it was the oil in all of this that really made it feel real. The ceremony, the pomp and all felt expected. I mean, she's the Queen. We expect lots of over-the-top ceremony and customs with such a figure. But during the coronation ceremony, a veil is lowered over the Queen and the priest, and the cameras turned away so that this moment, between the two of them and God, was allowed to be private and personal, and something that she can reflect on for the rest of her life.

It was in this moment, learning about this particular ritual, that I realized the mistake in my thinking process. Ritual (and the tools and bits and bobs that come with it) is necessary for spiritual connection. But, ritual, in itself, is useless. Ritual provides a space for contemplation, for meditation, for communication with All That Is. You can perform rituals day and night and never engage in this mental aspect.

In fact, that's what we think about when we hear the word ritual, isn't it? I, for one, think about a priest telling someone that they need to pray 10 Hail Marys and 5 Our Fathers in order for God to forgive them their sin. It's easy, I think, to find yourself in this type of thinking. But praying the rosary isn't a punishment of length, it's a request to perform a ritual on your own that will allow you to connect with God (or Mary, or a Saint) and figure out 1) why your sin was a sin, and 2) how you can learn to avoid a similar transgression in the future. Praying the rosary should be a beautiful and meditative experience, not a soulless ritual done out of obligation.

And this is the key to all of it, isn't it? Ritual, tools, magic spells, prayer, meditation, anointing...all of these things are simply actions or objects that can be done or used with no intention whatsoever, with no deeper thought. In themselves, they hold no power. [That's my opinion. I'm sure people of other faiths would disagree, and that's totally ok.] The power is within you, but these extra things help you access it. Not only that, but they provide a structure for you to use so that you don't need to create one, and, therefore, so you can use your full mental energy for spiritual connection.

If this all sounds beyond obvious, you aren't the only person to think that way. I knew all of this as a kid. I discovered religion in the woods behind my house. I cast spells and talked to spirits before I knew what I was doing because I understood that my feelings should guide my actions and not the other way around. I knew that ritual was something that could only come from a place of spiritual purity and anything else was superstition.

This is a truth that is, I think, easy to miss if you're the only spiritual teacher you have. Books that I read about Wicca, witchcraft, paganism, and "new age" thought almost always seemed to focus on the tangible aspects of religion. "To be a witch you need to have an altar. Your altar needs to have the following items arranged in the following order. You need to do a full moon ritual on every full moon. The ritual needs to consist of the following parts. You need to decorate your altar for the ritual in following way..." Aside from vague concepts of the God and Goddess, and their associations with the sun and moon, there was very little talk about the actual spirituality buried within the religion.

But those people wrote books! They spoke at conferences! The sold lots of stuff! It never occurred to me that they weren't more knowledgeable than I was as a kid in the woods. It never occurred to me that many, many religious people have lost of the knowledge found in the woods.

It took me a third of my life to rediscover that.

The frustrating part is that, visually, it's not like my life or practice looks a lot different now. But spiritually, I'm in a completely different place. And, though frustrating, that's the point. The visuals, the optics, aren't the important part. The important part is within you, and I urge you to always, always be searching for that. Never let your rituals become dead and rote, and if they have, fix them. Spirituality isn't a habit to add to your habit tracker. It is, instead, a way to live your life, a way to engage with the world. No matter your faith or your religion or your particular spiritual practice, I invite you to take this approach to spirituality. Strip it all away, if you have to. It might just help you realize why it was there in the first place.

* * *

In the documentary about Elizabeth II's coronation, they let slip a recipe, of sorts, for the oil. In a base of sesame and olive oils, mix the following oils and solids (warmed to a liquid state):

  • Rose
  • Jasmine
  • Orange flowers (neroli)
  • Cinnamon 
  • Benzoin
  • Musk
  • Civet
  • Amergris
This recipe comes from a very old version of the oil, one that, reportedly, has been the base of future oils. If you'd like more information on coronation oil, please check out these two sources I used for this post (source 1, source 2). 

Maybe you'd like to try making your own coronation oil to use in your rituals. Use the above list of ingredients as a starting place. Though, I'd suggest you seek out synthetically produced animal oils or use blends of plant oils that mimic the properties of the animal oils. The collection of musk (from musk deer), musk from civets, and amergris from whales, has caused lots of ethical issues (and mass killing of animals). If you'd like to create an oil to help you achieve a connection with God, the ingredients matter, and, I think, using ingredients not based in cruelty will help you get to a better blend.

* * *

Let me know if you do make your own coronation oil, and what (if any) substitutions you make. Happy blending! And remember: the scent helps you access your own power, it doesn't create it.


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