Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Dear Fan,

I am in an anonymous black metal/noise trio whose signature concept centers around the performance of music as an actual spiritual/occult ritual. We have been relatively successful despite not publicly performing live and have garnered some critical acclaim and a fantastic fanbase. Each of us comes to the table with distinct ideas about the practice of ritual music and we share a lot of common ground spiritually.

Up until recently all of us have agreed on the use of blood sacrifice in the performance of our rituals (recordings). But over the past year one of our members has converted to veganism and now refuses to participate in practices formerly utilized in the making of our music. The other member sees this practice as essential to what we do and I am on the fence about it. While I am for sacrifice as a spiritual practice I also understand the need to accept that people and their spiritual ideas change over time. But I don't see an easy way to reconcile the other two. What does one do when the spiritual beliefs of a band member change and then conflict with the core premise of the band? It's clear that we all want to stay together and continue, but something has to give.

Please advise, MT

Dear MT,

Despite my initial temptation to suggest you just let your newly vegan member substitute with ketchup, I sought out some expert opinions from a few witches and a shaman. Obviously you have a lot of belief invested in the blood sacrifice, as a bond and as a ritual that you believe aids in your career. I have even heard of your band, so perhaps your bloodletting is working for you.

One of the experts suggested that your members could do a series of blood draws over time, stockpile your own blood, essentially, for use in ceremony. I asked about substituting with menstrual blood and she said that it's usually only for rituals related to women's magic and “a very different resonance to blood that comes from making a wound.”

Aside from the substitution angle, I was hoping there might be a way where the whole band could take this as a mandate to evolve your practice. L.A.-based energy medicine practitioner Bettie Rinehart, who has expertise in this ceremonial realm, offered such a solution: fire.

“It seems to me that the vegan in the band is offering an opportunity for all the members to deepen the consciousness of their connection with spirit–which they are committed to obviously,” says Rinehart. “Blood sacrifice presupposes duality–it demands pain or death in order to appease another–and is related to the lower chakras, which hold beautiful gifts, but metabolize the more primal, less conscious energies. Fire seems like a happy medium, as it connects the soul to who we've always been and may have forgotten.”

Also, there seems to be some real power as well as an easily scaled and transportable spiritual practice: “Fire ceremonies can be intimate or quite large. In an outdoor fire pit or a living room fireplace. Even an ashtray works in a pinch. Like any ritual, it's all in the commitment, intent and gratitude. The offering comes from the heart — both the light and shadow sides. It's as simple as calling in the protective spirits, putting together a good blaze and offering the fire that which feeds it: sticks infused with prayers–just blow them in–and a little oil or a bit of kerosene if you really need to blow out some heavy energy (just be safe). The band members then can spend time focusing on that connection they find so inspiring to their music. Fire ceremonies involve all the senses. Feeling the heat, the beauty of the flames' movement, the crackle and pop, the scent and taste of the smoke. As above, so below.”

According to Pitchfork, it's believed that your secretive band lives in Canada. Surely you must know someone with some land who would let you go and camp out and–fire safety precautions in place–build a serious motherfucking bonfire. So it feels different than a campfire. Chop down some limbs together. Make your new ceremony a real special thing–you guys are graduating to this next level and you are doing it together. A fire ceremony could last for hours–and you could each add in your own auxiliary rituals, prayers, songs or practices. You could eat a unifying meal before or after to symbolize that this lifestyle choice is bringing you together as creators, rather than dividing you. I feel like some 15 foot tall fire would feel way more powerful than animal bloodletting, personally.

This is a chance to develop your unifying spiritual regimen as a band; magic and spiritual practice isn't a static thing because we are not static. I think it's best to embrace this veganism as a positive challenge, and to really welcome it as a chance to imbue something new in your work. Do some research, consult with some other occultists or your trusted practitioner and find out what all you can work into this new ceremony. If you kick him out because he won't go along with a blood ceremony, you will have to advertise that participation is mandatory for new members and that is a lot of pressure and you might be just pulling some wannabe Satanist who can't play from the dregs of Craigslist, you know?

Best of luck to your whole band and please cast some positive prayer sticks on the pyre for ol' Fan.


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