Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I've Got Soul: Canaanite Magic and Napshu

When people ask me for “energy,” they don’t realize that what they’re really asking me is “send me a bit of your soul.” Unless the situation is dire, or unless I deem the situation appropriate, or unless someone consciously asks me knowing full well what they’re really asking me, I will send prayers instead. In addition to prayers, sometimes I will also send offerings to the deities on the requester's behalf, or I will make an offering of incense to aid the requester’s strength and wellbeing. Magic, or a full-on blessing, however, requires napshu.

I don’t work with “energy.” Canaanite magic works on a fundamentally different paradigm, using napshu as its key empowering factor. Napshu is a word that embodies many concepts in English: soul, vitality, will, charisma, appetite, and throat.

The word napshu, from the Ugaritic language, is an earlier version of the Hebrew word nefesh. Canaanite magic (charshu) works with the napshu of the mage, and it can work with the napshu of a deity. Napshu is not an impersonal resource like coal or electricity. Napshu is the very signature of your being, and it should be treated carefully and conscientiously. When you send some of it out, presumably through magic or blessing, you are sharing your vitality, a part of your personal being, with another.

A charash (Canaanite mage) can also call upon the deities to assist in an act of magic: the deity would then use his or her napshu to empower your own, or in rare cases allow you to serve as a conduit for it. To do so, you must be in a purified state, you must be a respected and good member of the community, and you must develop a good relationship, aligning yourself with the deity you call upon. The deity’s napshu should be treated with the tremendous care and respect. As such, it cannot be forced against a deity’s will, and one who would try would accrue khats’a, misdeed, which will ultimately lessen the mage’s potency and damage future attempts to do magic. It can also reduce a mage’s overall physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Making offerings help strengthen a deity’s napshu, and when a deity has a revitalized napshu, the deity can more readily assist those who call upon her or him. Offerings for the wellbeing of the rapi’uma suggest that these deceased ancestors also possess napshuma (plural of napshu), which are strengthened through these offerings. It is interesting to note that people, regular human mortal people, can also receive offerings to strengthen the napshu: peace offerings, shalamuma, serve this purpose--I recall coming across this aspect mentioned in ancient Ugaritic text.

The napshu is connected with the throat and the appetite. Gauging the health of both appetite and throat can help you to assist your overall physical wellbeing as well as the vitality of your napshu. In the tale of Kirtu, the narrative describes the ailing King Kirtu as having a closed throat: when the dragon-golem Shaʻtaqat cures him, she uses a wand or staff to release the knot of illness, she wipes the fever-sweat from his brow, and she opens his throat. When his throat opens, his appetite returns, his vitality returns, and his soul is seated back in his body instead of poising to leave his body in death. In the tale of Aqhat, a narrative preserved in 3200-year-old Ugaritic tablets, the goddess ‘Anat has the hero Aqhat killed: the text’s author describes Aqhat’s napshu as a vaporous mist which departs the body through his nostrils.

As such, we know that the nostrils are a portal for the napshu’s leaving, but I believe it is safe to say that they are also a portal for the napshu’s entry as well, which connects the concept of napshu to the Jewish idea of ruach elohim, variously described as the wind, spirit, and breath of God(s). Based on what I understand of ancient culture and applying those ideas further into the modern day, I believe that the napshu can be revitalized and restored through healthful living (which aids the physical aspects of appetite and the throat), conscious breathing (which connects with the idea of napshu entering through the nostrils), and living a goodly life (which supports the spiritual aspects of the napshu).

We know that napshu is connected to blessings, for deities and legendary humans alike are cited in the Ugaritic texts as making blessings such as “By my napshu…” or “by [deity’s name]’s napshu may you be blessed.” And one scholar, Wright, in Ritual in Narrative: The Dynamics of Feasting, Mourning, and Retaliation Rites in the Tale of Aqhat, suggests that this blessing was accompanied by the gesture of holding or pointing to one’s own throat.

As such, if you ask me for a blessing--or for “energy”--you should know that it is a deeply personal thing that you request of me. In most instances, if I am healthy and in agreement with the blessing, I am happy to give it and I can give it whether I am nearby or far away from you. (I believe this works similarly with deities who make their blessings upon us when we ask it of them.) But know what you’re asking for, and know what you’re getting; and be prepared to make an offering in return for the gift.

Today is:
17 Khiyyaru (month), Shanatu (year) 84


  1. Regarding energy requests: The idea of napshu makes a lot of sense and probably explains why I'm uncomfortable with the idea of asking strangers or people a person doesn't know very well to send energy. Maybe I don't *want* what you have to send, especially if I don't know your character or intent. Maybe it'll just make the situation *worse*. Like you, I've always preferred to pray and perhaps make an offering to try and strengthen the request...and that's typically reserved for the people in my life that I know, trust, and care about. Usually I just tell people that they'll be in my thoughts and wish them luck.

    Out of curiosity, would you pronounce napshu as "nahp-shu" or another way?

  2. Hi Mathbatu: for napshu, the a is like the a in "apple" or the u in "cup", the nominative case ending -u on the end is like the u in "put." The stress falls on the first syllable.

    I usually have no problem actively blessing someone or petitioning the deities on their behalf, I just want them to know what they're asking of me before I do it and I want them to be cognizant that they should make offerings to the deities and do something to strengthen my napshu at another time.