All posts by Lupa

Coming Back to Roost: The Importance of the Ego in Personality Aspecting

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Personality aspecting (heretofore known simply as “aspecting”) is the art of invoking, for varying lengths of time not necessarily limited to ritual space, aspects of the self other than the ego. We as humans are capable of utilizing the entire range of the psyche, though through conditioning and habit we tend to be narrowed down to a sliver of preferred patterns known as the ego. Part of this is sheer necessity of communication. We’re used to identifying people by their behavior patterns, and anyone who acts noticeably “out of character” may be questioned.

Any symbolic system may be used to represent the different aspects of the self: the eight colors of magic in Chaos magic; the four quadrants of transactional analysis in Prometheus Rising by Wilson; any of a number of pantheons of deities in cultures across space and time. Personally, I tend to work with animal totems as external guides to help me draw on the corresponding parts of myself. Ellwood asserts that when we invoke an entity, the invocation leaves a piece of the entity’s energy in the magician like a homing signal. While I agree with this, I also believe that that energy latches on to the part of the magician that it most resembles—like attracts like.

While external beings may be used in conjunction with aspecting, they’re not necessary. For one thing, invocation is generally done within the confines of a set space and time for ritual purposes; aspecting may be continued for hours, days or even weeks after the initial invocation of the aspect of yourself. Banishment is done only when the desired changes to one’s internal programming has changed (e.g., you’re able to access that part of yourself at will and/or integrate it with your ego). While it is invocation of a sort, it differs from the traditional structure and duration associated with that act.

The Ego Itself

Much is made of the act of shattering the ego. In order to progress beyond a certain point in metamorphic magic in general, whether going through an initiation into a group or experiencing a solitary rite of passage, it’s necessary to shatter your hold on the ego, to escape its constraints for a time. In the case of aspecting, you’re shifting to one side or the other of the ego, so to speak. In any case, to truly and permanently destroy your ego in its entirety would take a monumental effort, and would quite possibly leave one stark raving mad.

Even in the most extreme rites of passage, the initiate has something to go back to, even if many of the details have changed. A person who liked pizza, hated being in the cold and liked to sleep late prior to an initiation would probably still exhibit those traits afterwards (unless the point of the initiation was to break an addiction to greasy fast food). Additionally, the actual long-term changes that result from an initiatory experience may take a while to actually manifest—the heightened state of consciousness from the ritual exposes the initiate to the changes to come, but s/he must return to an earlier state of existence in order to build on what s/he has to start with, using the tools the ritual gave hir. Our growth comes more smoothly when we allow it to happen gradually, integrating new experiences and information at our own pace rather than trying to make sudden jumps in evolution without time to adjust properly. We have to adjust either way whether we like it or not; however, doing so in a controlled manner makes for a more complete transition, with less cleanup afterwards.

The Ego and Aspecting

With aspecting, it is much healthier to use the ego as a home base to which you can return. It’s possible, with enough effort, to transfer the duties of the ego to another aspect entirely; however, the shock of doing so in too short a time can cause more harm than good. We spend years creating our egos (and having them influenced by others) and a few rituals, no matter how shocking, will not result in a clean shift from one aspect to another, for the same reason we can’t drastically cause permanent changes in ourselves through initiation without some serious setbacks.

Think of the change as metabolism. The body is designed to metabolize food taken in at a certain rate. If you were to try to make your body digest food faster (such as drinking a gallon of water with your meal) you would get less nutritional value from your meal as it would spend an inadequate time in the enzymes and tissues that facilitate digestions. Additionally, it would quite possibly cause serious discomfort to your body, especially if repeated. So it is with integrating new information into our systems. Even when we eat a huge meal, we still need to take the time to let it digest and get what we can out of it. Similarly, when we ingest a new food, our bodies need time to adjust to the different composition. So it is with information gained through magic.

It’s important, particularly if you’re not used to aspecting, to introduce yourself to short periods of being other aspects. Choose something that’s not too different from your ego, and try it on for a few hours. Then wait a few days or weeks and see what effects it has on your ego. Repeat as many times as you see fit, extending the amount of time spent in the other aspect each time. Do this until you can access that aspect whenever needed; for example, if you’re normally a shy person, work with an assertive (but not necessarily aggressive) aspect of yourself. Then, when you are in a situation when you need to be assertive, call on that aspect which has become familiar to you and be what you need to be instead of just being stuck in your timidity. If you feel the need to be a more assertive person in general, continue to access that aspect until it bleeds over into the ego and permanently changes it. Keep in mind, though, that to do this thoroughly takes time. When doing any sort of metamorphic work it’s very easy to slide back into older habits and patterns, even after we think we’ve successfully changed ourselves. Twenty or more years of full-time conditioning can’t reasonably be written over in a matter of hours (violent brainwashing techniques notwithstanding—we’re looking for healthy changes here).

There’s nothing wrong with returning to the ego once a period of aspecting is done. You haven’t failed; instead, you’ve demonstrated the necessary control to keep from flying off into delusion and personality issues. Think of it as shopping—you go out, buy stuff, and then come back home and integrate it into your existing home. Very few people throw out all their stuff, move to a new location, and then buy a whole bunch of new stuff all within a short period of time—about the only time this happens is after a severe robbery, escape from an abusive situation, or a house fire, all of which are traumatic events.


The ego often gets a bad reputation because people often hang onto it long after it’s stagnated into a useless lump of dogma and stubbornness. However, in aspecting it has its purpose, just as with any other aspect. The trick is to balance it out with other aspects rather than continuing to allow it to have free rein over the entire psyche to the detriment of the rest.

Lupa is a twenty-something pagan and experimental magician living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and fellow author, Taylor Ellwood. She is the author of several books on occult and related topics, as well as a prolific magical artist. She may be found online at

The Differences Between Traditional and Neopagan Totemism

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Animal totemism is a hot topic among magical folk, in particular pagans and shamans. This, of course, has spawned a growing number of books about totems which vary in quality from excellent to appalling, as books are wont to do. Many of them attempt to be an improvement on Ted Andrews’ works, which spawned the “totem dictionary with some extra stuff” trend. In addition, there are numerous websites about totems, again of varying quality. It’s laughably easy to find the information you seek.

One of the biggest misapprehensions about the bulk of this material is that it is genuine traditional totemism “just like the Indians do it!” A lot of this has to do with the amount of cultural appropriation that first the New Agers, and then the pagans, indulged in in regards to various Native American cultures. From the time Columbus ran into an island off the North American coast purely by accident, til the increase in social awareness in the 1970’s, the indigenous people of the American continent were steadily demonized by those of a European origin. I had a friend who had no idea what his tribal background was, only that he was part Native. His grandfather, the person from whom that heritage came, was incredibly tight-lipped about it due to a lifetime of being ashamed of his genes. Wimmin’s Lib and Black Power in the 1970’s. While this raised some recognition of the heavy bigotry against indigenous people, it also had an unexpected side effect.

All of a sudden, it was COOL to be an Indian. I was born in 1978, but I’ve seen pictures of (Caucasian) hippies wearing moccasins, fringed buckskin jackets, beadwork, and so forth. This was paralleled in the fringe spiritual community as well. The “back to the Earth” movement that began to take hold led to whites wanting to be just like the Indians, supposedly noble savages who lived at one with Nature, spoke with the spirits all the time, and were morally superior to mainstream American culture because of it.

The 1980’s and 1990’s saw an increase in New Agery of all types—including pseudo-Native. While a few people from Native tribes came out with books (the quality of which is debated by other Natives) there were also whites who went so far as to pose as Native Americans, or who at least tried justifying themselves by claiming to have learned from Native teachers (many of whom were unverifiable in tribal records).

The sale of Native culture included totemism. It fell prey to the same homogenization of other cultural traits—people talked about “Native American totemism” as if it were a single conglomerate that held true from the Mayans to the Inuits. The appropriators picked and chose among the lore whatever they found useful and discarded the rest, ignoring the claims of tribal people that “Native belief systems are COMMUNAL, not focused on the individual’s faith like Christianity, and are TRIBE-SPECIFIC.”

In all fairness, most of the New Agers meant well. They weren’t trying to make money off the fad; they simply wanted to find a way to connect with Nature in a culture devoid of that connection. However, even today there are still people being exposed as frauds, and occasional accused of crimes such as rape.

But let’s de-tangentalize and head back to totemism, shall we?

The Roots of Neopagan Totemism

All this blending of ideas hit the neopagan community in a big way, particularly when Jamie Sams and David Carson published “Medicine Cards”, and then a few years later with Andrews’ first book, “Animal-Speak”. Some pagans, being generally more down-to-earth and sticklers for research than New Agers, took the idea and began cutting out the pseudo-Native elements. While the history of totemism, particularly in Native American cultures, was acknowledged, neopagan totemism began to take on a unique flavor.

Neopagan totemism draws primarily from two threads in traditional totemism. The first is the clan/family/etc. group identity totem. Found in cultures around the world, group totemism is a way to define one collection of people from the rest. Exogamy, the process by which cultures determine who may marry whom, thereby avoiding incest in smaller groups of people, is also a strong proponent of traditional totemism in many cultures. And the division between male and female may even be punctuated by sex-based totems. Claude Levi-Strauss, in his work “Totemism”, describes an Australian aboriginal culture that has sex-based totems. If the sexes are at war with eachother, so to speak, one group may kill an animal representative of the other group’s totem as a way to strike a blow to the morale and punctuate their displeasure with their rivals—a battle of the sexes indeed!

More commonly talked about is the personal guide, particularly within the context of certain Native tribes. Traditionally, and generally speaking, at puberty boys (and sometimes girls) would go to a remote area to receive a vision of their personal animal guides. This animal would then guide the person throughout their hir life. A shaman or other magic worker would have specialized guides to help hir navigate through the Otherworld (however it was conceptualized) and to aid in acts of magic, benign or malign.

So from the identity focus of group totemism, and the individual focus of the personal guide, we get the hybrid that is neopagan totemism. This isn’t surprising, given that American culture tends to be very individual-based. Few of us live in the same area as our extended family, and we rarely make strong bonds with more than a few people outside of our nuclear families—if even then. We don’t live in villages with all the people we’re related to, interacting with the same folks our entire life. So socially traditional group totemism doesn’t apply very well in our personal context. In addition, our obsession with identity makes us add the identity of group totemism to the intimate bond with the personal guide, given extra flavor with the lore of the guides of the shamans and magic-workers whom we may want to emulate.

Does this mean that neopagan totemism is illegitimate? Not at all. I have practiced it as my primary paradigm for a decade now and have had great success all the way. The key to neopagan totemism is custom-tailoring it. Since we don’t have any ancient traditions of our own that must be upheld, we can pretty much experiment with it as we go. The thing to remember, as with all magic, is is it works for you, use it. However, the lesson to be learned from cultural appropriation is to also recall where your information comes from and how you represent it to others. Reading “Animal-Speak” does not make one a genuine real live Indian—nor is there any need to make that claim. Neopagan totemism is developing into its own paradigm, and is uniquely created by us, the neopagan community. Instead of trying to be like the Natives, why not try being like ourselves?

Recommended Reading

  • “Animal Wisdom” by Jessica Dawn Palmer – one of the best dictionaries out there
  • “Totem Magic” by Yasmine Galenorn
  • “The Personal Totem Pole” by Eligio Stephen Gallegos – totems + chakras = works surprisingly well! Not neopagan-written, but very relevant
  • “Power Animals” by Steven Farmer
  • “Animal Spirit” by Patricia Telesco and Rowan Hall
  • “Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic” by Lupa (yours truly) – if you liked this article, you’ll love the totemism chapter. I drew a lot of my information for this article from my research for it. Also, for paleopagan totemism, try these:
  • “Totemism” by Claude Levi-Strauss
  • “Animals and Ancestors: An Ethnography” and “The Power of Animals: An Ethnography” by Brian Morris
  • “Animals of the Soul: Sacred Animals of the Oglala Sioux” by Joseph Epes Brown

Finally, I also highly recommend reading “Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community” by Sarah M. Pike for the chapter on pagans and cultural appropriation.

Author of “Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic”
The Green Wolf