magic

Exploring the Penumbra: First Steps in Sorcery Part 1

June, 2017

Foreword

This is a story about a chance experiment in consciousness I suddenly tried at the age of twenty-two which turned my life in a different direction. Over thirty-two years later, the experiment is still going on.

Or was it chance? Accounts of similar experiments were certainly in the air:

in 1968, a graduate anthropology student named Carlos Castaneda published The Teachings of don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge, describing his experiences learning

native American sorcery from an alleged Yaqui brujo named don Juan Matus. I picked it up at the Aztec bookstore at San Diego State University. Wisdom from this hemisphere was a novelty to me back then.

This book affected people in different ways. D.D. went out to the desert regularly and took peyote and magic mushrooms and tried to fly. At the student union one evening three chicanos informed me that it was a sociological fable inaccessible to gringos.

I found don Juan fascinating but didn’t draw a connection between the book and my own experiments starting about this time. I only noticed similarities beginning with his next two books, A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan: we were both engaged in a practice he called ‘not-doing’ to build up a special kind of energy normally inaccessible to us; and we both tried to conserve this energy instead of squandering it.

This, then, is an account of my own explorations. I have worked mostly alone, although at times I have had partners, who are listed in the dedication. Where an exploration comes from them, I append the explorer’s initials in brackets.

It still seems funny to me that a barking dog changed the course of my life.

A Barking Dog

In 1968 I was living in a small studio apartment on Winona Avenue in east San Diego, and feeling frustrated. I had been trying for several minutes now to meditate in the Hindu manner, by withdrawing my mind from my senses. The trouble was this dog next door who insisted on barking every three minutes. I’d start withdrawing my attention from my senses when, bark, bark, in they rushed again.

Suddenly for no reason I turned my attention to the barking, letting it in instead of trying to keep it out. In a few moments I felt very light and relaxed. My ears were taking in all available sounds together, including the dog, traffic on University Avenue nearby, the refrigerator motor kicking in, an occasional plane passing overhead, somewhere a radio. It wasn’t a clamor; there were spaces between and around the sounds.

I started noticing things that were invisible before: the shadows of the bushes by the window, quivering a little from wind; overhead, squiggly lights playing across the fishnetted ceiling; Navajo white paint in the upper left corner of the wall starting to chip and peel away. Suddenly I was aware of a cramp I’d been ignoring in my left side, and shifted positions.

I went for a walk up Winona towards El Cajon Boulevard: birds, car engines, horns, barking here and there; telephone poles, power lines, cracks in the sidewalk, an alpine forest of TV antennas. Everything was in view, not just the stuff in front of my eyes.

I felt very light and peppy. Feelings out of old memories flowed through my mind, the nameless flavors of forgotten moments. Very loose feeling. This energy, I saw, had always been available, but was always tied up in filtering out supposedly irrelevant sensations. Apparently, filtering them out took a lot more energy than including them in awareness, because now I had a surplus.

Looking and Gazing

As I listened to background sounds, I became aware of things seen to the side, out of the corners of my eyes. I had the power to shift part of my attention to the side of wherever my eyes were pointing.

I experimented by placing two objects side by side, a clock and a framed photograph, and standing four or five feet back from them. First I looked at the clock; then, without moving my eyes, I shifted more of my attention to the photograph, then brought it back to the clock again, and so on back and forth several times, pausing now and then to feel the effects. When I shifted part of my attention to the photograph, something seemed to open up in the back of my head and there was a gentle flow of energy there.

While talking to C. one day, I tried extending my attention from her face to a potted plant on her right. Almost immediately, the tension in the room went down. I could look at her without falling into her face, mentally speaking, so I could really look at her now, in a relaxed sort of way. Of course I wasn’t really looking at C., I was looking at C.-sitting-in-the-chair-next-to-the-potted-plant; but she seemed unaware of that and liked the change.

If I paid attention to things where my eyes were pointing, I called that ‘looking’. If I kept my eyes on something and directed part of my attention to the side of it (or above or below it), I called that ‘gazing to the side’. Pointing the eyes to the side of an object and spreading the attention to the object itself I called ‘gazing from the side’. The first sort of gazing was easier to do with things nearby, the second with things farther away.

Like Castaneda I gazed at foliage and shadows. Shadows seem to acquire a depth or sheen when you gaze at them. They are all colors and blown by the wind. At noon cars glide by on their shadow carpets. Passing along store windows, I gazed at the reflections in the windows of cars driving by. When G. and I went for a walk down the beach, I gazed obliquely at the ocean while listening to the surf. Suddenly I started running, my ears full of falling waves. I was not a runner, I was generally out of shape; yet I ran without weight and felt no fatigue, just stopping when I stopped. G. was a block and a half back, trudging along amiably.

Not-Doing

“ ‘Do you know anything about the world around you?’ he asked.

‘I know all kinds of things,’ I said.

‘I mean do you ever feel the world around you?’

‘I feel as much of the world around me as I can.’

‘That’s not enough. You must feel everything, otherwise the world loses

its sense…I am talking about the fact that you’re not complete. You have no peace…You think about yourself too much…and that gives you a strange fatigue that makes you shut off the world around you and cling to your arguments. Therefore, all you have is problems.’ ” 1

Passages like these in A Separate Reality, which appeared in 1971, convinced me that I was practicing a subset of what Castaneda called ‘sorcery’. I identified ‘feeling the world around you’ with sensing everything I was aware of at once, with equal attention. Engulfed in my senses, I thought about myself rarely, and felt very peaceful and energetic as a result. It felt like I was living on the outside of my body; every day was a day at the beach. Apparently, mental talk produces a feeling of being divided from sensations, but over the years I had ceased to notice this because it was nearly constant. I only became aware of it when my mind grew quieter and the division blurred.

In Journey to Ixtlan, don Juan calls this ‘not-doing’. ‘Not-doing’ means not doing what you usually do, or doing what you usually do not do, performing everyday acts in an unusual way. By including ignored sensations in my awareness, I was doing what I don’t usually do; and because this switched off talking to myself mentally, I was simultaneously not doing what I usually do. Thus, every act of not-doing has two sides: something unusual is done, and something usual is not done. The effects of the former are felt almost immediately, while the effects of the latter are felt only over time.

While healing in inner silence from years of mental chatter, I began to see that the thoughts I habitually indulge in poison my life.

Lumina and Penumbra

While I could do these things in any situation, I was most aware of their immediate effects in quiet moments, and their cumulative effects during relatively peaceful periods of my life. Though far-reaching, these effects were subtle and I had become insensitive from years of mental talk and frontal focus.

I liked to sit quietly for a while after each exploration, feeling its effects. Similarly, each exploration began while my mind was still engaged in following some train of thought from the previous moment. Letting in background sensations, I watched each mental conversation fade away, the way one watches a sail disappear at sea. Thus, each exploration began and ended in savoring the moment just past. Sitting quietly afterwards became as important as the exploration itself.

As I grew more sensitive I could detect more rapid fluctuations in my attention. I discovered that I didn’t really look and think at the same time, but the two alternated rapidly. They seemed to be happening together when my attention to energy flows in my body was duller. In motion photography, images succeeding each other too swiftly for attention produce an illusion of continuity; so in this case, thinking and frontal vision seemed to coexist in the same moment. The old silent films had fewer frames per second, so that the images seemed to flicker. I was catching the flicker as attention oscillated between frontal vision and thought.

Thinking and looking, I reasoned, must use the same mental space or frequency. Because this space was like the narrow beam of a flashlight, I called it the ‘lumina’.

When I spread more of my attention to peripheral vision, hearing, and the other senses, I talked to myself less. Background sensation is more continuous because there is less interruption by thought. Withdrawing the extra attention from the periphery and confining it to frontal vision once more got me back into thinking again. Peripheral sensation, then, must use a different mental space. Things seen from the corners of the eyes were half-hidden, like objects in half-shadow, so I called this mental space the ‘penumbra’.

Periphery and Umbra

In 1969 I was living alone on Estrella Avenue in east San Diego. For days at a time I saw no one except when I had breakfast at a corner coffee shop at Winona and El Cajon Boulevard, for, as I recall, $1.25! Outside of giving my order, I would go for days without talking to anyone. When this happens, it becomes difficult to talk at all; you feel a certain hesitation due to lack of practice.

I was exploring the penumbra a good deal, taking advantage of my unusual isolation. My attention was evenly distributed throughout my visual and auditory fields. My thoughts quieted down to whispers, ultimately becoming flickerings on the edge of vision, like distant lightnings. If I kept my attention on the edge of the visual field, these flickerings or pre-thoughts died out there; if my attention wavered, they entered the lumina and stimulated auditory memory, the basis of mental talking. At that time, on walks to and from breakfast, that didn’t happen very often. My mind was unusually quiet that spring. Where do these impulses to thought come from?

This limit of the visual field, which I called ‘the periphery’, was peculiar in that it had only an inside edge. Picture frames have inner and outer edges because we can see beyond them; but by definition one cannot see beyond the visual field. It extends just so far, and then it somehow plays out. When I kept my attention on the periphery, I saw the visual field as one thing, one visual object with only an inner edge. There was something uncanny about this that my mind couldn’t comprehend. In a way the visual field was like my life, and the periphery like my first and last moments, at birth and just before death. Since I can’t see beyond my life, it also has a limit with only an inner edge.2

Keeping my eyeglass frames in view helped to maintain my attention at the periphery, since they were close to the edge of vision, and this kept my attention focused in the penumbra. This was useful done by itself; done with other explorations, such as peripheral listening, it took my mind down to deeper levels of quiet.

Watching the edge of vision distributes the attention evenly throughout the visual field, and stops the eyes from tracking. A test was devised for this. Sweep your head slowly from side to side; if individual objects become prominent, you are still tracking, or it’s started up again. Try doing this in front of a mirror; if your face comes into focus, you are tracking. [C.E.] The test itself is an effective way of beginning the exploration.

The visual periphery is not just to the sides; it includes what little I can see of my face without using a reflecting surface: a fuzzy blob for my nose, overhanging eyebrows, eyelashes seen through bright sunlight. Small children do not yet associate their reflections with themselves, and so go through a period of liking to look at ‘the baby in the mirror’. According to one writer, at this stage they see themselves as headless. Once I realized I am the baby in the mirror, I began ignoring the little fuzzy sensations I once thought were all the head I had, back in the days when I lived on the outside of my body.

According to the book On Having No Head 3, learning to attend to those sensations again can lead to an experience similar to what Zen Buddhists call satori, or enlightenment. The viewpoint that one is headless focuses attention on these ignored sensations, keeping it there longer.

Although I couldn’t see beyond the periphery, I knew what was there, for I only had to turn my head to see what was hidden. When I wasn’t turning my head, I was dimly aware of things in back of me. This sense that there was something more to be seen seemed to reside in its own mental space. I called this space the ‘umbra’, or shadow. There was also some sort of shadow, or opening, behind my attention; it moved with my head and therefore remained hidden. I could feel it there, just behind my eyes, where energy was flowing.

1 A Separate Reality, pp. 12-13.

2 I owe this comparison to the philosopher R.G.Collingwood, who owed it in turn to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. See bibliography.

3 Harding, D.E See bibliography.

(graphic from https://abstract.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/754369/)

Fox Dreaming: Family Magic

May, 2017

fox2

On Easter Monday 2017 I had a long and rather complex dream about a fox costume. (I had this dream during the night following the day where I had been running around a snowy forest in my bear suit while my husband filmed me, eating snow and sleeping in my cave. This actually happened, in ordinary reality! (The footage is part of an art film I am currently working on).

However, in my dream I had a very beautiful and realistic fox costume. The head was separate and fitted my head perfectly, like a helmet. It was also very life-like. I really BECAME A FOX wearing it. I decided to walk from the forest behind our house to the nearest town and enjoy the spring sunshine.

As I was strolling around a small market by the harbour, I got so hot that I took the fox costume off and put it down for a moment. Next thing I knew one of the stall holders was offering it for sale on her trestle table. I found myself faced with a dilemma: confront her? Buy my own costume back?! – At that point I woke up.

My husband served me a cup of tea in bed and I told him the dream. He makes daily phone calls to his elderly mother who lives about 400 km south of where I had the dream (in Sweden). Lo and behold : that day she too insisted on telling him her dream from the night before she lives in a small town (in real life) where she was running a market stall and looking for things to sell (something she does not do in real life!)

 

fox1

 

My husband said: “AHA! So now we can find out what happened to Imelda’s Fox Costume! Was there a fox costume for sale on your table? She said: “Yes there was, but it didn’t sell so Imelda can have it back!!”

To me this Family Magic! It is not just living with a husband who tolerates my “wyrd ways” (pun intended!) or raising three natural born shamans (which became the title of my first book). It is bringing a playful awareness to all we do.

It is setting out dinner plates for invisible but “not-so-imaginary” friends and companions. It is offering some food and drink to the ancestors as well on special occasions. It is asking the Spirit of our House to help all of us in our everyday endeavours and to provide safe space for all we do.

It is sharing our dreams over breakfast (and many days there is not much to share or we have more urgent thing to discuss, such as: did anyone borrow my calculator? I have a physics exam this morning!!

But sometimes we hit the jackpot!!

Imelda Almqvist

 

fox3

 

 

***

About the author

Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon in August 2016.  She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally.  She was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in July 2016.

www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/

http://shamanismsummit.com/

SpellCrafting: Spells & Rituals

May, 2017

Nightmare

(Nightmare Bag)

To Stop Nightmares

Merry meet.

Several people I encountered were experiencing nightmares and looking for relief. I began making charm bags (that I also call spell bags or mojo bags) and was told they worked, so I am sharing it with you.

Choose a piece of fabric or a purchased bag – of a natural material if possible – in deep purple, dark blue or black, but any one you’re drawn to will be good.

Based on my research, I came up with the list of ingredients below that have magical properties to alleviate nightmares. Read it over and select those you’d like to use. You can combine the dried botanicals and stones in almost any combination or ratio. Add a few drops of oil if you wish. If you feel stuck, try using a pendulum to make your selections.

A wise woman told me, “I have found magical blends to have more to do with one’s own personal relationship with the plants than with any recipe, formula or dogma. And what one has on hand at a time of need is there with reason, purpose and value.”

I hope you’ll take that advice to heart as did I. I didn’t have frankicense oil, but I did have frankincense resin, so that’s what I used. I was moved to put in rose petals and lavender flowers, and in one, a few grains of pink salt.

With your ingredients in the center of the piece of cloth, or in the bag, you can tie them up with a few words such as,

“This bag holds the power to restore peace, it brings a good night’s sleep as nightmares cease. As I will so mote it be.”

Put the bag near your head, on a hook above your pillow, next to your bed or even under the mattress.

Sweet dreams.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

List of gemstones:

Agate

Amethyst

Chrysoprase

Hematite

Lepidolite

Malachite

Prehnite

Quartz (clear or smoky)

Rhodochrosite

List of herbs:

Anise seed

Jasmine flowers

Morning glory seeds

Mullein

Purslane

Rosemary

Vervain

List of essential oils:

Frankincense

Lavender

Orange

Rose

Sandalwood

Splendid Poison: The Power of Words

May, 2017

Splendid Poison: The Power of Words

Celtic Triad: Three occasions for one to speak falsehood without excuse: to save the life of one who is innocent, to keep the peace among neighbours, and to preserve the Wise and their crafts.

 

Splendid1

(A stone near Killala, County Mayo, with Ogham writing upon it. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

 

Celtic tales only come to us courtesy of the scholar of the middle ages, who were proud of their manuscripts and the ability to write and illuminate these beautiful, treasured documents. Writing, in the middle ages, was a coveted skill; not something to be taken for granted, as many of us do today.

In contrast, the Celts barely wrote anything down. There are a few scratchings of Ogham here and there, but for the most part, the written word was alien to them. This may seem to go against the supposition, nay the fact, that words were seen as enormously powerful by the Celts. Satirist, poets and bards were revered and respected, even held in awe. A well-known satirist would be accepted into any king’s court at a minute’s notice, because the ruler feared the acid bite of the wordsmith’s tongue, and the damage it could to his reputation and that of his household. It was thought that a well-spoken satire would cause blemishes to appear on the victim’s skin, as an outward representation of the alleged corruption within.

If anything, the lack of Celtic writing supports their respect for words. Words spoken can never be taken back, but the written word may be destroyed; it may be altered, or hidden, or denied. The spoken word is the ultimate weapon as long as there are ears to hear it. A poet may move a room to tears, and this is magic of the moment. Reading that poem at home later is unlikely to have quite the same effect. A sly word in the ear of a gossip may spread a malicious rumour all around town, and who is to say where it originated? Words are powerful, and while you are able to (and encouraged to!) write your own words down, it is important you learn to respect the awesome effect words can have on other people, the universe and of course, yourself.

The poetry

The poetry is a love of mine; more than a hobby, more than a diversion and more than simply stringing words together. Every year I participate in NaPoWriMo, which is the challenge to write a poem a day for a month. Each poem must be entirely new. Making this kind of commitment to yourself is very focusing, and writing poetry in this way prompts you to be aware of everything around you. Searching for inspiration is mindfulness itself; exploring how things are, right now, and recording them with the written word in a form that will entertain others.

poetry is not just about clever form and rhyming schemes. poetry is about telling stories; using the rhythm of words to play your point into the reader or listener’s mind. poetry is about the musicality of language. poetry is about emotion; love and loathing; pain and regret; joy and anticipation. poetry is a vehicle for feelings, hopes and dreams. The Gaelic word that was used for Celtic poets was File (or Fili), which literally means ‘one who sees’. A good poet sees all, and uses what they see to enchant and amuse others.

I and Pangur Ban my cat,

‘Tis a like task we are at:

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men

‘Tis to sit with book and pen;

Pangur bears me no ill-will,

He too plies his simple skill.

This extract from Pangur Bán, a poem by an anonymous Irish monk from the 9th Century (CE), likens his cat’s hunt for mice to the writer’s own hunt for words. The mice are elusive but the delight in capturing them is beyond measure. poetry is like this. The struggle to find the words that will evoke the exact emotion you are feeling is hard, strenuous, maddening; but the completed poem is so pleasurable, every moment of the struggle is a joy.

poetry is also very cathartic. Pent up emotions can be bad for us, can even lead to physical problems such as ulcers, headaches and high blood pressure, and of course a multitude of mental health problems. poetry gives us a very real outlet for the words we might not be able to say out loud to someone else. It can take us on a journey of recovery or self-discovery. It can be our punching bag, our pillow to cry into and our best friend when we are all alone. Letting someone else read your poetry is a great intimacy, so it can even be helpful in personal relationships or bring you closer to a family member.

But what if you’ve never written before? Well, the best answer to that is to think about what you want to write about, and to read some poetry on that subject. Google ‘poems about…’ and read as many as you can get your hands on. Record the names of poets that inspire you. Examine how the poet strings words together. Do they use rhyme? Is it just a stream of consciousness? Make notes, mental or physical, and try and emulate the style of a writer that resonates with you. Remember, no one is marking you on this. Your poetry is a magic for you and you alone.

Try writing down a list of words that pop up while you are dwelling on your chosen subject. For ‘Bees’ you might have ‘Honey, flowers, pollen, work, joy, summer.’ Form a sentence around each of those words. Now put those sentences into an order that pleases you. Try reading it out aloud; maybe even record it and play it back to yourself. How does it sound? Change it until you are happy with it. Don’t be afraid to edit ruthlessly, but also don’t be afraid to think ‘This is good enough.’ and leave it as it is.

When you have finished your poem, keep it somewhere safe. If you are able and confident enough, keep it on show somewhere so you can be proud of your work. You have just externalised some of your feelings, and used them to create something new in this world. Feel the confidence that washes through you; feel that any negative emotions are diminished by this process, and that positive ones are lifted and highlighted by the power of your words. poetry is a magic that will never end; as long as we have words, we will weave them and give them to each other.

Spell

After reading about the power of poetry, it should come as no surprise that many magical rituals are written in a poetic style. Think of most spells you have seen written down, from any path. Nearly all of them will be in a form of verse. This is because the rhythm of the words helps to focus your mind on the task at hand. This frees up the rest of your mind to channel the magic, or energy required for your spell.

Now Lugh rests his shining head

Now the call to those called “Dead”

The cavalcade of fairy folk

Cernunnos in his winter cloak

Who calls to beasts; the stag, the hound

Who calls the great hunt, starts the sound

Of hooves a-drumming on the ground

Hide so you won’t be found!

The green that rests within the oak

The holly still in winter’s choke

Frantic, bursting to be free

Herne rides the land and sea.

Great lord, great god, great grasping hand

That holds the seasons, holds the land

And holds the reins: the hunt so wild

And every adult, every child

Will know he is abroad this night

As wild wind whip the world in fright

And the Sun stands still.

This is an excerpt from a Winter Solstice ritual I penned a few years ago. The purpose of this section was to focus the male energy in the room and evoke the presence of the male god; the Holly King, Cernunnos or the Green Man: the energy of the forest that goes by many names. The rhythm of the words kept all of us focused on the theme and the intent of the work, and as the pace of the reading increased, so did the energy in the room increase.

Spell craft is all about transformation, as what we are doing when we cast a spell is hoping to change something within our universe. Words are incredibly evocative, and with the skill of a poet, you can use your words to mesmerise and enchant, focus and drive, predict and prophet, calm and soothe, confuse and befuddle, impassion and allure.

You can also use the shapes of words as well as their rhythm to create magic. Each letter of a word can become the first letter of the line of a spell. Written down, this can intensify your intent and focus your energy more specifically.

Heal my friend and make her well

Ease her pain with my kind spell

Aid her now to health and light

Let her feel the sun so bright.

This is a very simple little rhyme where the capital letters on the left hand side read HEAL. Chanted over and over, the word HEAL becomes the subconscious and conscious focus of the practitioner, making it the undisputed focus of this spell.

In Irish literature, spells and magic are used for transformations, shape changing, cursing, sleep, healing and prophecy. Mogh Roith, the blind druid of Munster, used his words to control the weather and put fear into the hearts of his enemies.

I cast a spell,

on the power of cloud,

may there be a rain

of blood on grass,

let it be throughout the land,

a burning of the crowd,

may there be a trembling

on the warriors of Conn.

Splendid2

(Excerpt from The Siege of Knocklong, circa 15th century CE, translation copyright Seán Ó Duinn, 1992, image of illuminated Irish text freely available at http://www.isos.dias.ie/)

There is a sort of calm viciousness to these words, a sense that the fury of the druid is being focused fully into these words. The words themselves are well thought out, sparse and undecorated. They speak the druid’s intent and nothing more. There is no room for misinterpretation.

In your own magic, you should always make sure your intent is clear. Your words are a fantastic tool to do this. Wiccans (and others) use the phrase ‘an it harm none’ meaning ‘as long as nobody gets hurt’. This phrase is often used as a disclaimer in spell or ritual, to ensure that no ‘monkey’s paw’ situation arises; the magic will occur without detriment to anyone. The only danger with such a readily repeatable phrase as this is it can become stated by habit rather than with intent, thus losing its protective power. This is why your own words are so powerful, because they come from a place deep within you, and carry your magic out into the world.

Song

Brigid, who is also known as Persephone

Rises like an epiphany

From the womb of Winter’s death.

These are the opening lines to a song I wrote whilst walking home just before Imbolc about ten years ago. I was in a very suburban setting, houses and pavements and telegraph poles, but the sun was milky white in a hazy blue sky, and the January chill was offset by a warming sense of the approaching spring. There were blackbirds, Lon Dubh, calling and shouting, and even a wren chattering angrily as I invaded its territory. I remember feeling overcome with joy and gratitude that I could be a part of this burst of life, and I started humming. The tune was quickly recorded onto my phone, and later it became a full song that spoke of the world awakening after winter, both outside and within yourself. You can hear the song here:

This burst of inspiration is often called Awen by the druids, and trust me, it is an elusive but wonderful feeling. Even songs I am particularly proud of have not stemmed from true Awen but from everyday occurrences, emotional epiphany or often, simple hard graft. Awen does not come when called, indeed, if anything, it calls to you. Thankfully, there is plenty of inspiration in everyday life for even the most jaded of songwriters!

In the last chapter we examined the use of music as a magical tool, in particular drumming and chanting. I appreciate that not everyone who reads this will be able to compose and write a song, but if you can appreciate the form within poetry, and the magic within the words of a spell, then you can understand and revel in the sorcery of song.

I’ve often been at a group ritual where the leader bursts into song, often something quite simple such as Earth my Body so that others can join in if they wish. The sudden transformation either from spoken word or simple silence to entrancing music is a beautiful shock to the system. It lifts our souls and literally, physically moves our minds onto a different plane. Brain waves can be affected in various ways by audio stimulus, particularly music. Relaxing music increases the frequency of alpha waves, which is the same increase seen when moving into a meditative state. Increasing the alpha wave frequency normally lowers the frequency and amplitude of the ever present beta waves, which reduces stress, anxiety and tension.

So the magic of song is not just a thing of legend, but a widely documented scientific fact. Maybe the Dagda’s harp did put folks to sleep, by over-stimulating their brains and inducing a theta wave state just like that of a dream.

Think of a song that means something to you. Why is it important? Is it the tune or the words? Where were you when you first heard this song? What was happening? How did you feel? How does hearing it make you feel now? Do you associate this song with anyone person in particular? Do you share this song with others or listen to it alone? Does it evoke a particular smell or vision? Write these thoughts down and I think you will be surprised at just how much one song can affect you.

I remember listening to the album Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin when I was very young, just a child. I used to take my walkman to bed with me and fall asleep listening to ‘In the Light’. Even now, that song still makes me think of late, summer evenings, drifting off with the first touches of my dream world flickering around my eyelids. The haunting opening notes combined with the soaring vocal never fail to lift my spirits, and because I have enjoyed that song all through growing up, it feels timeless to me, like it can transport me back to any moment in my past that I care to explore.

Now that I write songs and perform them for others, I do try to make them as magical as possible, both in lyric and melody, but it is incredibly difficult to pour yourself whole heartedly into every single piece. Some songs are already alive and just waiting for you to pluck them from the ether. These ones flow and tease then blossom under the gentlest of care. Others lurk in the darkness, refusing to be finished and hiding their hooks and riffs in great, frustrating shadows. Being a bard in the musical sense is both a great joy and an endless struggle, and as such is rewarding and exhausting in equal measure.

A bard in druidic terms is also a keeper of history; a teller of tales. The British Druidic Order tells us that ‘The central principle of the bardic path is communication, chiefly through word and sound’.

Osborn Bergin, in his 1970 piece Irish Bardic poetry, quotes a lecture from 1912:

For we must remember that the Irish file or bard was not necessarily an inspired poet. That he could not help. He was, in fact, a professor of literature and a man of letters, highly trained in the use of a polished literary medium, belonging to a hereditary caste in an aristocratic society, holding an official position therein by virtue of his training, his learning, his knowledge of the history and traditions of his country and his clan. He discharged, as O’Donovan pointed out many years ago, the functions of the modern journalist. He was not a song writer. He was often a public official, a chronicler, a political essayist, a keen and satirical observer of his fellow-countrymen

So as a songwriter, is it our responsibility to observe and tell the tales of the world around us? I would say that’s certainly true for folk musicians, but most modern pop music strays far from this path. Of course, that makes the magical music stand out all the more sharply, so perhaps this is no bad thing. My only concern is that as a society we have lost reverence for the true art of song, as it is so readily available in a canned, commercial variety that has lost so much of its original mystery and wonder.

Hopefully after reading about poetry, spells and songs you have a more respectful attitude towards your own words. Perhaps as you write your journals, you will think about the words you jot down, and perhaps try to order some of your magical experiences into verse that will remind you of the day later? Or perhaps you will simply be more careful and wise in your choice of words to others, understanding that words, once spoken, can never be taken back.

As we move towards the end of this volume, it should be clear that every chapter emphasises the need for personal responsibility. Your words are your power made manifest; do not abuse that power, and do not let others do the same to you.

If you enjoyed this chapter, the whole book is available here.

The Good Witch’s Guide by Shawn Robbins & Charity Bedell – Book Excerpt Exclusive: Spells for Money

May, 2017

The Good Witch’s Guide by Shawn Robbins & Charity Bedell

*Credit:  Excerpted with permission from The Good Witch’s Guide  © 2017 by Shawn Robbins and Charity Bedell, Sterling Ethos, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

 

GoodWitchesGuide

 

 

Spells for Money

One of the most common sources of stress in modern life is money. We need money to pay the bills, obtain food, and have shelter. We have all had financial worries at some point or another. Some people struggle with earning enough money or are out of work. Other people may have unexpected expenses come up in their lives, like medical or repair bills. All of these issues cause stress, and too much stress can lead to illness. The following spells will help bring about a healthier bank balance and more peace of mind. Do be warned, though—casting spells for money will only bring about what a person actually needs, rather than what they desire: Never spellcast for greed, only for what you need.

 

Money-Packet Wish Spell

Materials

1 pen

1 green candle

1 sheet of paper

5 coins (4 pennies and 1 quarter, or for other currencies 5 silver coins will work fine)

40 inches (100 cm) thin green ribbon (giftwrapping style is fine)

Ritual

Using the pen, inscribe the wax of the candle with the word “money,” and then, using the same pen, write the word “money” on the paper. Go on to write all of the things you need the money for, using as much detail as possible. For example, if you need extra funds to pay the bills, write clearly in capital letters:

GAS BILL, ELECTRIC BILL, MORTGAGE PAYMENT, DENTAL BILL,

And so on.

As you write out your needs, pour your emotions into the paper. Place the coins on top of the paper, and light the green candle next to it. Say this spell seven times:

Like the trees growing free,

Prosperity there shall be.”

Keeping the coinage inside, start to fold the paper toward you, turning and folding the paper around the coins until you can’t fold it anymore. Take the green ribbon and wrap it around the packet. With every three rotations of the ribbon-wrapping, turn the packet toward you and chant these words seven times:

Money flowing free,

Prosperity there shall be.

Money worries gone from me.”

When the packet is almost completely covered with the ribbon, use what’s leftover to secure it with a knot. Drip wax from the candle onto the knot to seal the spell. Let the candle burn down, and bury any remains from it at the root of a tree near your home. Place the packet in your wallet or purse, or carry it in your pocket with you every day. If you wear a skirt or a dress, take a safety pin and pin the packet to the inside of your skirt or dress. Keep the packet with you until the money issues at hand have resolved. Then dispose of the packet at a crossroads or under a tree near your home.

 

Money-Tea Spell

Materials

Saucepan filled with water

Sharp knife

1 green candle

Copy of a utility bill or job application; anything that represents the need

Mortar and pestle

1?4 teaspoon finely chopped

chamomile flowers, either fresh or as dried tea (in a tea bag or loose)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1?4 teaspoon finely chopped goldenrod, either fresh or as dried tea (in a tea bag or loose)

Strainer

Mug or cup

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons honey

Candleholder

Ritual

Put the pan of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. While the water is heating up, use the knife to inscribe the candle with words of your intent (“erase debt,” “find employment,” “pay bills,” etc.). Place the candle on top of a bill, job application, or a piece of paper with your need written on it.

With the mortar and pestle, grind together the herbs and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon for the tea. As you mix them, visualize your financial stress disappearing and your desire materializing. As the water on the stove boils, charge it with images of financial security and what manifestations of prosperity and success would look like. Visualize a green and orange light flowing in the water.

Put the blended herbs into the boiling water. Leave it to simmer for a few minutes. Take the pan off of the heat, and leave to cool. When the tea is cool enough, dip your finger into it and anoint the unlit candle. The candle should stay sitting on top of the bill, application, or paper. Say this spell five times:

Money flowing free,

Money come to me.”

Pick up the candle and rub it a few times from bottom to top with your hand. Strain the tea into a cup and then mix in a teaspoon each of cinnamon, sugar, and honey. Repeat the chant five more times while you stir the tea clockwise. When you’ve finished, rub the candle down with the remaining honey, from the bottom to the top. Once the candle has been fully anointed with the honey, roll it in the remaining cinnamon and sugar. Next, place the candle in a holder and light it. Take a sip of the tea, then say this spell:

Money tea, I drink thee.

Prosperity there shall be.”

Drink the tea. When the candle burns down, take the wax and the strained herbs from the tea and bury them at a crossroads. If there are no crossroads available, a spot on your property or a plot of land is acceptable. You can toss them into the trash, but do so with a prayer or statement, so that it brings your intent to all corners of the world.

 

***

About the Authors:

 

Shawn Robbins is the author or coauthor of four highly successful books, including the newly released hardcover edition of Wiccapedia (Sterling) now used as a teaching and reference guide in many of the online Wicca schools. She has taught classes about herbs, health, and healing at the NY School of Occult s, as well as lecturing extensively throughout the country on this subject.

Charity Bedell (also known as Loona Wynd) has been a practicing witch for over 15 years, with an extensive knowledge of herbal medicine and magick. She has an online store where she sells her handmade herbs, tinctures, and oils (Mystic Echoes) and has a large following both in the Wiccan community and in mainstream America.

Useful Links:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-good-witchs-guide-shawn-robbins/1124566628

 

*Credit:  Excerpted with permission from The Good Witch’s Guide  © 2017 by Shawn Robbins and Charity Bedell, Sterling Ethos, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

May, 2017

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times: Beltaine 2017

BeltaineRitual

Bright Blessings!

I write this on April 21. It’s in the sixties here in Central Ohio, and my radishes and peas are coming up nicely. Big plans are in place to add manure to soil for our tomatoes, summer zucchini, cucumbers, and bell peppers.

Aside from that, people who have literally been hibernating save for the mandatory work, and errands, are slowly reappearing into creation. Outdoor gatherings and festival season is nearly here, and invitations are being sent left and right.

Every year here, this time of year is the same.

And every year, it is about Samhain time the hibernation begins.

Past articles I’ve written discussed the blessing of people and herds that were done at Beltaine time. The lingering “winter negativity” is blessed away, and there is much rejoicing about bursting forth into the Summer grounds. Gardens and fields, if they haven’t already been blessed, are, and while some focus on swimsuit bodies, Pagans tend to focus on camping, out-of-town Sabbats, and fire pits in the back yard whilst grooving with nature.

I find it interesting modern people follow the same patterns the ancestors did, and even non-Pagans do this. While we live in a climate controlled, and insulated world, the seasons still control how our bodies feel, directly influencing all that we do. Even if we don’t follow an Earth based tradition, we are still children of the Earth.

For us in Ohio, just before Beltaine, a Witchcraft Museum is set to open thanks to the man who brought Wicca to the United States, Raymond Buckland. I could write all about this, but you are better off seeing the Wild Hunt article about it. Here is the link!

http://wildhunt.org/2017/04/reboot-of-buckland-museum-set-for-apr-29.html

Beltaine is a fitting time for this opening, and while it’s not specifically a
“Beltainy” topic, I wanted to make sure to include information about it to spread the word.

As to Beltaine, I’ve written about what is done in days past and how modern Pagans revive that through my own experiences. Here is last year’s Beltaine article, for example.

http://paganpages.org/content/2016/04/celebrating-the-old-ways-in-new-times-18/

The bonfires, ritual blessings, and fertility rites are done in as many different ways as there are people celebrating. Generally, it is the Irish and Scottish festivities we look to for inspiration in modern times.

This year, I’d like to explore what is done in Wales.

Calen Mai

Like their other Celtic cousins in Ireland and Scotland, the Beltaine festivities mark the beginning of the Summer season, and the return of the animals to Summer grazing grounds. They also did the purification and blessing fires. They call May Day Calen Mai or Calen Haf.

The festivities kick off the night before, on May Eve, with the lighting of the bonfires.

Outdoor gatherings, are of course the order! A “fight” between Winter and Summer is staged, with actors performing the parts. Of course, Summer wins, and a May King and Queen can then be crowned. Human representations of the forces of Nature seem to be the rule no matter where May Day festivities are.

It is divination, especially, to see who you are destined to marry, that was part of the May Day festivities. It was believed that extra thinness of the veil between ours and the Otherworld would make messages from the spirits all the more distinctive.

Hawthorn is gathered to decorate the outside of the home to represent new life and growth- but the hawthorn blossoms are not taken inside, as that would be bad luck. Both hawthorn and birch were seen as auspicious for May Day, and in some cases, the Maypole itself was specifically made of birch.

Besides Maypole Dancing, folk dancing , including Morris Dancing goes on. I had not realized the rich history Morris Dancing has in the UK. It was first mentioned in writings at least six hundred years ago, and while some say their groups are modern revivals, other groups claim lineage for generations. The costumes and pageantry hearken back to pre-Christian Pagan times when masked dancers drove away the bad, and brought in all good blessings. I will mention the city UI live in has our own troupe of Morris dancers. They are called The Olentangy Motley Morris and Rapper Dance Team. Men, women, and children partake of this. While some Morris groups are men only, others include women and kids as well.

A video of modern day Morris dancers is here.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqVpXe5_GUQ

 

 

Some girls go out in the morning, and wash their faces with the dew. This is supposed to make them especially beautiful the whole year long.

Aside from these things, like any festival, there is music, food, fellowship, and good times. After a long, cold Winter, it is always nice to get out, and enjoy the weather and the good folk you are near!

Beltaine Working

This year, I suggest keeping it even more simple than I usually do, and having a day of a form of divination following a short offering for the spirits.

As it is believed Beltaine is one of the times the veil is thin, and messages from the Otherworld are stronger, it’s a good time to listen.

My opinion on divination is not a popular one. I believe being able to do so is a gift, not a skill learned. No matter how many classes you take, how many divination tools you buy, and how much you practice, if you don’t have the gift of prophecy, your readings will not be accurate.

However, receiving messages from ancestors and spirits is something we can all do, regardless of our gifts. So, instead of Beltaine divination, I’ll suggest Beltaine communication with the ancestors to receive messages.

Some have actual ancestor altars, and some don’t.

If you have an ancestor altar, all you need to do is give gifts and ask for messages, and omens about your future from your personal ancestors right at your very own altar. Just like always.

If you don’t, you can set up an altar for this at any time. Simply put any pictures of deceased loved ones, and gifts of food, drink, or something they would like, be it a trinket, a lit candle or incense, or even playing music they liked. If you have belongings of theirs, make sure to include those. You are setting up an energy center to focus your communications with them. It will act as a place to draw them, and for you to go for that communication. It becomes a meeting place of sorts! While spirits don’t just communicate with you AT the altar, it’s an excellent way to establish initial communication, and a work center for yourself.

You can ask specific questions, and then wait for signs.

Communication with spirits is not always as cut and dried as it is with the living. Remember, they do not have bodies, and thus, communicate differently sometimes than they would have when they were alive. So, while you may ask a specific question, sometimes, your answer from them will be less easily interpreted. Of course, for some people, the messages are loud and clear! In the event they are not, it may take some interpreting, or waiting for the meaning to come to you.

A friend of mine always knows when he sees butterflies, that is a certain ancestor speaking to him. My lucky number happens to be 666. Whenever I see that, I know my spirits are telling me I am on the right track. For some, like my mother, a dream of the dead meant she knew she would soon hear from the living. In her case, it meant she would hear from a certain family member she seldom heard from. A message from an ancestor may be that you “see them in passing“ out of the corner of your eye, then you turn to do a double take, and they will have vanished. It means they are near.

There are times the messages don’t come immediately, and creep in days, weeks, or even months later, and at the most unexpected of times! For example, after my mother’s passing, an angelic spirit visited me, and was very warm, and wanted me to let her into my personal aura. I did not recognize her, and refused, of course. It took a few visits for me to realize this was my mother in her new form. She was not anything like the individual she has been while alive, and was popping in from her new world.

Set up your altar indoors or outdoors. One method of leaving offering is, of course, to leave it outside for the critters to accept. This can be especially effective if say, your departed loved one was a bird watcher. Leave birdseed. If your loved one used to go feed the ducks, go do that. If your loved one was in animal rescue, then either make a donation in their name, or go ahead and rescue an animal in their honor. If they are like me, and love to garden, plant something as a gift for them. It is a gift you will continue to tend and nurture, and can act as both offering, and “altar” of sorts where you establish contact with them.

Then, wait for their messages or answers.

It is always best, however, when establishing contact for the first time, to do so without asking questions or guidance. For a while, just talk to them. Over time, the communication will grow stronger, and you can begin asking.

However you decide to celebrate Beltaine, be it with or without divination, dancing, communication with ancestors, or gatherings, may you be blessed with new growth, and good beginnings.

Blessed Beltaine.

Blessed Be

SpellCrafting: Spells & Rituals

April, 2017

Spell

 

To Follow or Not to Follow, That is the Question

Merry meet.

Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

So said the 2nd Witch in Macbeth (IV, i, 14-15), as she and two other ugly witches stir the bubbling contents of their cauldron. It’s one of the most familiar spell castings associated with witchcraft.

In Shakespeare’s time, people believed in witches and their powers to do evil.

Every culture has magick in its history. Some oral traditions and written documentation have survived, which has led some groups to choose to follow old spells to the letter. The more eclectic the witch, the more likely he or she adapts and improvises.

You can easily find spells that call for seemingly ridiculous or difficult workings. There’s one to get rid of your daughter’s boyfriend by hard boiling an egg laid by a black hen in urine (yours, his or hers), peeling it and feeding half to a dog and half to a cat while saying a specific sentence about how the couple shall become enemies just as the animals are natural enemies.

There must be something magical about black hens, because if you want a long life, you’re supposed to eat the first egg laid by one.

One love spell calls for cooking a chicken heart, drying it, grinding it into a powder, adding powdered coriander seeds to it and then putting small amounts into your beloved’s food to inspire passion. Another directs you to fill a shot glass with your sweat and perhaps a drop of menstrual blood, then place it atop a copper sheet and hide it somewhere the one you want to love you will walk past.

To get someone to return to you, a spell calls for wrapping three fresh eggs and a teaspoon of salt in an article of clothing belonging to that person and burying it where a footpath branches out into a fork, forming a Y shape. Saying the absent person’s name three times, you then state your wishes only once, quietly to yourself, cover the hole and leave without looking back.

A love spell calls for stealing three hairs from a woman, one at a time … on three separate occasions … while she’s sleeping … and, for maximum effect, the hair should be taken from near the nape of the neck. The strands are then to be braided and pushed into a crack of a tree.

Iron boxes, a mandrake root exposed to moonlight, fenugreek seeds and a divining rod cut from mistletoe growing on hazel or thorn trees are all parts of money spells.

Some profess that these methods have stood the test of time. Other witches believe not all that that is necessary, and might even say that magick is stronger with it’s organic and personally meaningful.

Whether you choose to follow complicated, traditional spells to the letter or you are willing to improvise and keep it simple, it’s still magick you are working. Done with intention, respect and personal power, either should be effective.

If you don’t agree, let’s have a discussion below.

Merry part, and merry meet again.

House Rituals

April, 2017

cottage

Purification Rituals

Purification is important to do on a daily basis, for witches and Pagans alike. Witchcraft is really not different from Pagan religion in general; it is just a special discipline within that religion, like the ancient mysteries.

It is, first of all, a more efficient use of energy. Our energy tends to manifest in cycles, and during each cycle we will experience one or more peaks and troughs of available energy. We have different cycles for different types of energy, but their number is fixed by habit and they tend to operate unobserved by us; we just know when we are ‘up’ or ‘feeling down’. Witches observe their energy cycles by noting when they have trouble keeping to a regular schedule of exercise, or meditation, or ritual, or anything requiring self-discipline. They get to know the sequence of their peaks and troughs of available energy by becoming sensitive to the energy itself.

When our energy becomes old and stale it is called ‘miasma’ in witchcraft, especially when it is connected with a certain place or object. Miasmic energy is very unpleasant and fastens on us. In the effort to get free from it, we resort to mechanical patterns of behavior that expend a lot of nervous energy and so send us into a trough. At last, through some habitual means, we manage to ‘bottom out’ of our trough; by dumping most of our available energy, we get rid of the miasma as well.

The means employed to bottom out varies from person to person: we’ll have a temper tantrum, or take a drink or a drug, or overeat, or go to bed and sleep for hours, or engage in some self-destructive behavior, anything to rid ourselves of the deadly embrace of miasma. Once free again, we slowly recuperate, building up our energy towards the next peak. In this way we can imagine we are making progress for years and really just be turning in a circle.

Witches dare to escape from all habitual prisons, and they escape from this one by renewing their energy through daily rites of self-purification. It’s good to use a number of these so they do not become mechanical habits themselves. The witch purifies herself 1 with the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, and must do so in a state of focused attention, because aether or spirit, the fifth element, manifests as attention and the four elements must come into contact with the fifth if they are to serve spirit, as symbolized in the upright pentagram.

Self-purification is also the first step in preparation for spellwork. First the witch purifies her person, then her other tools. Once purified, a tool (whether wand or athame or the witch herself) can be consecrated and charged. These operations correspond to the three visible phases of the Moon, waxing, full and waning; and also to the eastern, southern and western quarters of the Circle. After a spell is released, it is put out of mind, and this corresponds to the fourth phase, the dark of the Moon, and to the northern quarter of silence.

Here, then, are a number of purification rituals that can be performed at different times of the day or night. It’s good when starting out to perform one in the morning, but as you become more sensitive to the quality of your energy you may choose to self-purify whenever you feel your energy getting old and stale.

(1) For earth and water, dissolve salt in water in a special bowl and anoint your forehead, lips, and heart, saying “With the power of the sea that washes the shores, I am purified.” 2

For air and fire, light incense or sage, wave the sacred smoke on the head and chest, then pass it around the body deosil three times, saying “May I be pure; may all my impurities be burned away, carried away on the incense smoke.” If you have difficulty passing the smudge around your body, a simple expedient would be to place it in a burner close by between you and a fan, then simply turn round three times widdershins (this will send the smoke deosil around your body). This is an example of the right use of technology.

(2) This is a traditional purification before prayer. Pour water from an offering bowl over your hands, holding the bowl first in your power hand and pouring it over your palm, then the back of your hand; then switch the bowl to the other hand and repeat. As you pour the water, say “May I be pure, fit to approach the Gods.” 3 Dry the hands with a clean ritual towel, used only for that purpose.

(3) After performing (2), you can don a headband and a ceremonial robe. The Greeks wore a ribbon headband while praying. 4 While tying the headband, say “I am encircled with the sacred, girded about, encompassed, that my actions here today might be within the sacred way.” While donning the robe, say “The sacred covers me, I am surrounded by the pure.” 5

(4) In the same way, praying while donning amulets or other sacred items helps to purify our energy. While donning an image of Cernunnos, you can say the following: “My lord Cernunnos, I offer you my worship. Watch over me today as I go about my affairs: keep me safe, keep me happy, keep me healthy.” 6

Donning a pentagram or pentacle (encircled pentagram), you could say something like the following: “The elements are joined with the power of spirit. May I be blessed by the four. May I be blessed by spirit. May I be blessed by the five.” 7

(5) The ritual bath. This has been described before, but it is not out of place here. Light a candle in the bathroom and turn off the electric light. Light some incense, not necessarily in the bathroom but somewhere close by so you can smell it burning. Begin filling the tub and cast salt into it three times with your power hand, holding it over your heart first. With the first cast, say “I purify by the Maiden.” With the second, say “I consecrate by the Mother to – ” and name the quality you wish to take into yourself, such as ‘balance’. With the third cast, say “I charge by the Crone.” You can also add a fourth cast for the dark phase, saying nothing. Take the bath by candlelight, staying quiet and aware. When you are finished, thank the elements and the Lady.

(6) Proto-Indo-European self-purification: This rite comes from unpublished material sent to the author by Ceisiwr Serith, with written permission to make use of it in ceremony. It is based on the earliest Indo-European sources available, as supplemented by information from archaeology and anthropology, and attempts to reconstruct religious ritual of the Indo-Europeans before that people separated in their migrations into Hindus, Iranians, Hittites, etc.

“Purification is an act of sacralization. It removes anything that does not belong to the object being purified, or to the purpose to which that object will be put. It thus separates the object from the world. It also simplifies the object. A purified bowl is just a bowl. Everything extraneous has been removed. It therefore perfectly expresses its part of the artos. 8 It comes close to godhood.

“Before any ritual each celebrant purifies himself by pouring a small amount of water into his hands. He allows this to run through his fingers to the ground (or a bowl if indoors). He pours more, and splashes this against his face. He pours again, and rinses his mouth. This is all done in silence, while thinking with each washing “Puros esyem 9 [May I be pure].”

“Each celebrant then robes himself.” 10

The Threshold

The sacred household in antiquity corresponded to the human body, and the household familiars corresponded to the internal spirits that accompanied each human soul through life. The house, therefore, was like a temple and contained elements reflecting both male and female bodies. As such, it served as an interface between the human body (the temple of the soul and internal spirits) and our local cosmos (that is, the solar system as seen from the Earth). The solar system is too large for the individual to contact directly, so the sacred household was used as an interface between the two, an instrument amplifying outgoing human energies and de-amplifying incoming cosmic energies from the Earth, Moon, Sun and planets. In this way the sacred household, like the solar system itself, acts like an electrical transformer; its physical features transform incoming and outgoing energies for the bodies of the residents, while the familiar spirits inhabiting those features do the same for the souls and internal spirits of the residents.

The threshold of a house corresponds to the body’s sense-organs and the organs of breath and speech. These are our main interfaces with the outer world as we go through the day, and the doors and windows of a house are magically connected to them. This is especially true of the front door, and Pagans always kept a little shrine there to the threshold guardian. For the Romans, this was the God Janus, who had two faces, one looking outward and the other inward. If you hang a God-face close to your front door, you can imagine His head imbedded in the outer wall, with His other face looking outward on the outside world. Janus is the God of endings and beginnings, and his festival was held on January 9th, in between the ending/beginning of the solar year (coinciding with the new moon or Kalends of January) and the ending/beginning of the sacral year (1st of March). From that vantage, he is looking at them both. He was also honored at the Kalends, celebrated at the new moon of each month, as well as at the beginning of every important new undertaking.

As Jews came to inherit the position of mercantile carriers held in earlier times by the Phoenicians, the empire adopted their seven-day weekly cycle. As we still follow this custom today, it seems appropriate to celebrate Janus at the beginning of each week as well as at the monthly calends. Another reason for honoring Janus on the day of the Sun is that the Sun is also a threshold guardian who looks down on us protectively but also looks outward, into the stellar world, keeping vigilant watch against the wild spirits of the outer spaces.

Every God has something to teach, and Janus teaches us to direct our attention outward and inward at the same time, so we can guard the thresholds of our own personal temple and its indwelling spirits. When we honor our threshold guardian on Sunday or at the beginning of a month, year, or new undertaking, we should ask for his help in learning how to develop the double-face so we can be effective household guardians of our own inner temple. Looking out and in at the same time means while we watch the outer world we monitor our inner reactions to it, and while we are immersed in our moods and thoughts we keep part of our attention on the outer world. If we do the former we will prevent spirits of negativity from entering, and if we do the latter it will serve to eject negative spirits who are already inside.

When entering or leaving our homes, we should touch the doorframe while thinking of the threshold guardian, as a way of acknowledging his presence and of asking him to keep everything safe. The ancient Hebrews followed this custom when they were Pagans, and later changed it into touching the mezuzah.

My own invocation to the threshold guardian goes like this:

“Honor and thanks to you, Janus,

For guarding the threshold of my home.

May only harmonious beings enter here,

And may the discordant depart !

Open this week [month, etc.] for me on blessings,

And teach me to look out and in as you do,

That I may guard the door to my inner home,

For I too am a threshold guardian.”

The Hearth

As I mentioned in Part 1, ‘sacra privata’ is the term used by the ancient Romans for their household religion; it means ‘the sacred private things’ (as in Greek, there is no word for

‘things’, so literally it means ‘the sacred privates’).

While the threshold is where the home interacts with the outer world, the hearth is the center of the home and corresponds to the human heart, which was regarded as the seat of

memory. It is therefore the place where the ancestors are contacted, the door down to theUnderworld or Summerland, and the dwelling-place of an important familiar called the Lar familiaris by the Romans.

In the Italian witchcraft tradition, the lar is the primal ancestor and is responsible for keeping the family together, on occasions when the dead visit the living as well as when loved ones are ready to reincarnate, returning to Earth in the family or clan line. The stregha therefore prayed to the lar to reunite them with loved ones in future lives so they could meet, know each other, and love again.

The easiest way to understand the concept of a primal ancestor is to think of him or her as

an Adam or Eve for your particular family. Pagan peoples like the Greeks did not believe that all of mankind was descended from a single human couple. The Athenians, for instance, believed their first ancestors to have sprung from the soil of Attica; thus, they had always dwelt where they lived. Many a Latin and Greek noble or royal family traced its descent from a hero and a nymph, themselves children of one or another God or Goddess. The primal ancestors had great influence over their descendants and long ago evolved into daimones (the rough Celtic equivalent would be the sidhe).

In ancient Roman religion, on the other hand, the genius of the pater familias (the father-

head of the household) became the lar familiaris after the latter’s death, or possibly he was absorbed into a composite of the genii of all preceding heads of the family. But whether we think of the lar familiaris as an original ancestor or comprising one or more genii of deceased forefathers, he watches over the vitality of the family line, which includes its virility, fertility and ‘heart’. Similarly, each man’s genius, assigned at birth, performs the same service for him, as does every woman’s Juno.

As the household seat of memory, the hearth was the place where families gathered on

special occasions to tell tales of the ancestors and the old days, meetings called ‘treguendas’ in the stregheria tradition. The sacred hearthfire itself was the hearth guardian, and was traditionally tended by the lady of the house, who officiated as her priestess. This fire Goddess guarded the seat of memory (for without remembrance there is no family and no home) and, as sacred fire, communicated the family’s prayers to the Earth deities. In the Baltic tradition her name was Gabija, which means ‘the covered one.’ The Celtic equivalent of Gabija would be Brigid, who was also the blacksmith’s fire and presided over crafts. In Rome she was known as Vesta, and in Greece, Hestia.

I honor the hearth guardian, along with my lar, on Friday, the day commonly used to worship the Earth Goddesses. When I have a stove but no fireplace, I place her shrine close to the stove and light a candle whenever I am cooking, with the words, “I cook with Brigid’s fire”. On Fridays I burn a candle and incense to her and offer salt, bread and pure water.

With fireplaces, a more complete cult of the sacred hearthfire can be performed, taken from the Baltic rites of Gabija:

While the fire is being built, all present maintain a respectful silence and face towards the hearth.

While the fire is going, a large bowl of water is set out by the fire so Gabija can bathe and refresh herself, with the words “Fiery one, bathe, refresh yourself!”

While cooking, the mistress of the household from time to time throws scraps of food into the fire as offerings to Gabija, saying “Gabija, be satisfied.”

At night when it is time to retire, the fire on the hearth is banked; that is, more fuel is added and then it is covered with ashes so it will not throw off sparks. This practice was the reason the hearth Goddess was called ‘the covered one’. The mistress was naturally concerned to bank the fire correctly so Gabija would not get angry and ‘take a walk’ in the night, burning down the house! So, while banking the fire, she would pray to the Goddess like this:

Holy Lady,

I loose you skillfully,

lest you be angry !

Holy Gabija,

be peaceful in this place !

Live with us peacefully,

Holy Gabija !

The only respectful way to put the hearthfire out is with pure water.

These rituals could, I believe, be easily adapted to the Celtic tradition, substituting the name of Brigid (‘Breed’) for that of Gabija.

Holding a Dumb Supper

I recently held my first dumb supper for ancestors for the season. Following Norse and Baltic traditions, I hold a number of these between Mabon and Samhain, culminating with the great dumb supper on Samhain or Hallowe’en, October 31st.

Throughout most of the year I keep my photographs of parents, grandparents and other dear dead in a walk-in closet shrine. The reason I do this is so the photos will stay fresh for me instead of becoming invisible like most of the pictures on the walls of my living room. When it’s time to hold the first dumb supper, I bring the photos out and arrange them in a semicircle on the hearth (my apartment is blessed with a small fireplace, with a brick hearth in front of it). Next to them is a tall candle holder with a red candle in it, and a statue of my primal ancestor. This is a somewhat crudely carved shepherd, ithyphallic, pouring wine from a wineskin into a chalice. 11

As it gets close to sunset, I begin preparing the meal. For my first dumb supper I chose red foods; that is, they were all red to start with, though only some of them were red after being cooked!

I began by turning off the kitchen light and lighting the candle in front of my hearth guardian, the Goddess Brighid, who is the spirit of the household fire. As I lit the candle, I said “Honor to fire, honor to Brighid, honor to the hearth.”

I then put two red potatoes on to boil, sliced and diced two salad tomatoes, and opened a can of red kidney beans. I took out two lamb blade chops and dusted one side of them with oregano, cloves, pepper and a little garlic powder.

As the light waned, I lit another candle from the hearth guardian’s candle and placed it on the windowsill to serve as a beacon guiding the dead to my home.

After the potatoes had boiled a while, I put the lamb chops in the top of the oven and turned on the overhead broiler to 375 to briefly brown the tops. I set the kidney beans boiling and prepared the skillet for the diced tomatoes, melting some margarine in it.

These preparations done, I went into the living room and lit the candle on the fireplace hearth, saying the following to the photos:

“Shades of the dead, who still remember this house, honored ancestors, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother [naming them], who are worthy of eternal remembrance, and all your relatives and children whom death has taken from us, I invite you to this annual feast. May it be as pleasant for you as our memories of you are sweet to us!”

Lighting some aromatic herbs, I said:

“Let us 12 remember those who perished by fire and those who have drowned. We remember those who have had to die far from their homes, and those who have perished without a trace.”

I now returned to the kitchen and finished preparing the meal, switching the oven dial to baking and turning the heat down to around 325. When all was ready, I brought the plates into the living room, setting the ancestors’ down inside the curve of the semicircle of photos, and my own on a small table nearby. According to tradition, no silverware is set out for the ancestors. I brought in two glasses of cranberry juice (red again) and set one for them and one for myself. Then I said:

“Shades of the dead, honored ancestors, sit, eat and drink as the Gods allow!”

I sat down myself and ate in silence, looking at the photos of the dead and occasionally raising my glass to one of them. As I toasted them in turn, I remembered something about each of them, some brief, cherished memory, and I longed for those old times when we were together in the flesh.

For dessert we had bowls of raspberry sherbet. Afterwards I lingered a little in their company. When a polite length of time had passed, I rose and said:

“Shades of the dead, honored ancestors, this dumb supper is over. Go your ways now where your destiny leads you, and remember to do no harm to anything in the streets or fields.”

Then I extinguished the candle and said

“There is, there is not even a spirit here.”

Finally, I took away the dead’s food and disposed of it. It cannot be eaten but must be returned somehow to the land. I poured out the cranberry juice into the earth, saying “return to the elements whence you came.” I let the sherbet melt down the sink drain, which leads to the sea. As for the solid fare, I would have liked to dig a hole and bury it, but my apartment managers might not understand, so I was forced to simply throw it away. This was the only part of the dumb supper that I regretted.

Back inside once again, I extinguished the candle in the window, saying (as ever) “honor to fire,” and then the hearth guardian’s candle by the stove, saying “honor to the hearth, honor to Brighid, honor to fire.”

The dumb supper was over.

The prayers and basic ritual are derived from Pagan Lithuanian practice, with the name of the Celtic hearth Goddess Brighid substituted for the Baltic Gabija. Lithuania was the last Pagan country in Europe, and only began to be (forcibly) Christianized at the beginning of the 15th century. Consequently, much that has been lost in the pre-Christian traditions of other countries can still be found there, and in the land of their neighbors to the north, Latvia. For more information check out their website at www.romuva.lt.

1 I use ‘her’ for ‘him or her’, etc., in this article.

2 Serith, p. 31. See bibliography.

3 Ibid, p. 32.

4 For an illustration, see the Magician card in the standard Tarot deck.

5 Serith, p.32.

6 Ibid, p. 33.

7 Ibid.

8 The ‘artos’ is the pattern of the universe; the wyrd or rta.

9 Pronounced PUR-os es-YEM.

10 Serith, unpublished material. See bibliography.

11 This is a marvelous scholarly word meaning his penis is erect.

12 The ancestors and myself.

Supportive Practices of the Craft

March, 2017

Witchpower

 

 

 

In addition to the practices of witchcraft usually discussed, such as divination and herb lore, there are practices which support a witch’s overall efforts. The following seven sections describe practices I have found useful for tuning up my Craft practice and keeping it properly focused.

1: Cycles

Witches follow cycles in everything they do, out of respect for their overall balance of health. They don’t work all year, and then try to relax through a brief vacation; witches take little mini-vacations all the time. They sometimes appear to be laid back and lazy, but they respond well in a crisis, and they somehow get their tasks done.

A witch aims at discovering her own biorhythms, so as to work with, rather than against, her natural energy cycle. But in practice there are usually compromises to be made with work and other factors. Her actual daily schedule may be set somewhat askew to her biorhythms, but a witch will adapt to it and arrange for periods of rest between work to attend to quarters other than South / Will / Fire. There are knowledge and skills to acquire, and emotions and the circle and the practice of inner and/or outer stillness to attend to. And there is a little goofing off, daytime rest, which is essential; just watch the animals.

Starting with the Sun cycle and making allowances for work, etc., a witch reserves the earlier parts of the day for practical affairs. She will not work on taxes, for instance, into the evening hours, but will start earlier in the season and devote some weekend daytime hours to the chore. Evening is for going within, withdrawing to one’s own hearth and communing with ancestors and familiar spirits.

2: Directions

It isn’t on any list of witch tools, but a compass is important to the modern witch so she can orient her life and work to the four directions. Witchcraft is always done in a physical context. Pagans are highly aware of their immediate environment and traffic with spirits of the field, yard, stream, the most prominent local tree, as well as with household spirits. The key to contacting household spirits lies in feelings.

When you first move into a new house or apartment, it feels cold and uninviting, especially if it hasn’t been lived in for a while. Not much later, it fits you comfortably like a suit of old clothes; and if, in addition, it is alive with saged boundaries and household shrines, you feel liked by the house as well as liking it yourself. This is a boundary perception, which we are taught to ignore or treat as a subjective matter, but if instead we address the good feelings and express our appreciation for the atmosphere of our dwelling, we break that boundary and begin to recover ancient pagan perception.

In the same way, outdoor sprites can be contacted through greater sensitivity to one’s feelings without discounting them from habit.

Upon awakening in the morning, when a witch is ready to start the day, it is a good practice to take out the compass and address the four quarters. One begins in the North, opening oneself to calming energy. Then to the East, holding in mind briefly what needs to be known or learned today. Then to the South, deciding the first tasks. Then to the West, expanding awareness according to one’s ways. Then seal to the North, stilling the mind and body once again. The witch is now ready to face the day.

3: Expanding Awareness

One way of expanding awareness when silently addressing the West is to relax and wait for something in your peripheral awareness to stand out and beckon your attention. It might be the reflection of something in a window, or the shadow of a tree or the spaces in its foliage. Whatever it is, when it gets your attention, continue to view it peripherally. You are in touch with its mana, or magical energy, and can use it throughout the day when you call it to mind. The image in your memory should be peripheral, not central, i.e. the way it looked when it got your attention. This can also be done with things heard peripherally. These are some of my ways.

4: Conserving Magical Energy

There is a kind of energy or power that the modern world has forgotten, though the memory of it is preserved in folk tales and myths. Indigenous peoples are well aware of it and live their lives with reference to it. While the immediate environment abounds in it, and we take it in all the time, we do not notice it because we squander it in habitual ways, habits that have been with us from early childhood. The ancient Latins called it numen, and the Mongolians, hiimori. It is always personal, taking on the features of the person holding it.

It is only by conserving this energy that the witch becomes ready to do magic, both in the circle and life. We don’t realize that everything takes energy, even unconscious ignoring of things in our environment, such as shadows, eyeglass frames, or background sounds. When we expand our attention to include such things, we gain the energy that was used in keeping them in the background of our attention, the penumbra or half-shadow. This energy is always exponentially higher than the small amount required to expand the attention.

The energy takes four forms for witches, associated with the four ancient elements. The energy of Air makes us learn and understand new things that hadn’t occurred to us before. In everyday life, it also manifests in any new knowledge or understanding.

The energy of Fire boosts the will and lets us accomplish tasks in life that seemed too big to tackle. In order to bring changes into our physical lives, we have to both give up some things, at least temporarily, and adopt other things or actions that further the goal. In the Craft, habits or actions that squander magical energy have to be sacrificed, and then the freed energy finds new outlets on its own.

The energy of Water attracts us to the unknown, and gives us the daring to escape the current limitations of our lives. This is the energy of initiation, which expands and transforms our awareness and can give our lives a whole new basis.

The energy of Earth is cloaked in silence. Witches seek inner and outer stillness, quite as much as Zen monks or Hindu yogis do. This stillness is deep, and the deeper the witch descends into it, the more he or she is transformed and the greater the magical energy that results. It is pursued gradually and at first in little things, like learning to sit still and not scratch, or refraining from certain topics in conversation.

Not that the witch is inactive, quite the contrary; Earth, the North, is also the place of our physicality, and the witch exercises regularly, and takes care of business through Fire and the South. Stillness refers instead to the enormous amount of energy we waste in fidgeting and performing other small, unnecessary actions, both mental and physical: for instance, compulsively repeating past conversations in one’s mind or rehearsing conversations to come in some hypothetical future event (for all thoughts of the future are hypothetical) .

The witch sums up a past event and plans for the future, but these are finite acts that come to an end, instead of repeating over and over and wearing on the nerves. The energy to be had by restricting such habits cannot be anticipated in advance. Out of stillness comes new understanding, closing the circle of practice towards Air and the East.

Thus the witch pursues the four powers of the magus: to know, to will, to dare, to keep silence. But there is a fifth power that results from the balanced development of the four: to go. The witch is saving energy for his or her definitive journey, the flight to the True Sabbat, fellowship and celebration with the ancestors, spirits, and deities in the other world. Folklore depicts it as a joyous occasion, and colors it with the pleasures and longings of the time when the tales were spun. Some tried to cut corners and get there more quickly through the use of the witch’s flying ointment. The actual flight may or may not follow traditional lines.

One may not literally fly up the chimney and then meet the Wild Hunt in the sky and fly to a rath or burg and descend therein through a tunnel into the Otherworld. The journey may parallel many of these features, nonetheless; and there are preliminary journeys to be made that go partway there.

The flight to the True Sabbat is a milestone on the way to the witch’s ultimate journey to the Sun, when he or she acquires a body of light that can materialize at will, so that further incarnations here in middle Earth are no longer needed. This transformation seals the work of the Craft and completes the vows made at initiation; thenceforth one does other work, perhaps as a guardian elemental, paying back for the help received along the way on this side by paying forward.

5: The Familiar

Witches traditionally kept a cat, sometimes a horse, as a familiar. The witch’s astral journeys were made in company with the spirit of the familiar.

The best information I have found on this practice is in Timothy Knab’s A War of Witches, a factual account of an anthropologist’s investigation, some twenty plus years later, of a battle with brujos and brujas in the highlands of central Mexico. In the course of his investigation, he is inducted into Toltec brujeria by one of the survivors and makes a journey to Tlalocan, the Toltec Underworld.

Tlaloc, the Lord of the Underworld, keeps animal spirits called naguals in his corrals. He gives a nagual to each human at birth. The nagual could perhaps be thought of as the link, within each of us, to other animals, inherited though latent from the prehistoric past. But it is a real spirit and to be a brujo one must find one’s nagual. Afterwards, an experienced brujo, through many journeys to Tlalocan, may have acquired a number of naguals, keeping them in fetish objects like puma’s claws, or in a special gourd.

The human soul is called the tonal. It has two halves. One faces towards the Sun and stands guard over the body when the dark lower half, the shadow, goes on journeys down the world pillar to the underworlds. The shadow is so called, both because it lies below our daily awareness and faces towards the nether regions, and because it follows its nagual into the depths as the latter’s shadow.

If the nagual is a cat spirit, the shadow takes on the semblance of a cat spirit. This is done for protection from hungry denizens of the deep, who prize the heart blood of a tonal but will let a nagual go by.

The discipline Knab goes through in becoming a brujo is well worth the reading. But to return to our own practice, preparation for a liaison with a cat familiar’s spirit, besides the obvious step of getting a cat, would seem to involve re-molding one’s own psyche closer to that of a feline. We do this unconsciously when we sit in company with a cat and enjoy its utter relaxation. Cats are content to go from moment to moment doing whatever they are doing, even if it is only resting.

We, however, often have a habit of doubting whether we are making best use of our time, or regretting we are not elsewhere doing other things. Cats, apparently, have no such qualms. The daily practice of witchcraft in fact promotes a calm mind fully given to the moment. Apparently cultivation of inner stillness connects us with the animal, pre-rational mind, so that we can enjoy shuttling between two minds, as the occasion permits.

This is only an example of how the witch models him or herself on a cat familiar. Whether or not one goes on journeys with the cat, cultivating a close relationship with one will draw the witch closer to his or her own inner, pre-rational mind, through which he or she can call up power from the Deep in circle.

6: The Patron Deity

It isn’t incumbent upon pagans to have a special relationship with a single deity, but it can be a rewarding experience. The pagan will continue to honor the other deities and spirits, of course, and may enter into a similar relationship with another later on. Suppililiumas, the king of the Hittites, was singularly devoted to his goddess, and as we know, his subject Abraham devoted his wandering life to his family god, the later Yahweh.

All gods stand ready to teach by sharing their consciousness, and by helping the devotee to practice the disciplines that lead to that awareness. Pagans will generally choose a patron deity (male or female) on the basis of temperamental preferences, though they may be influenced by a dream or vision. The relationship can be devotional or more like a friendship. In the latter case the deity is like an older mentor or senior partner. In late heathen times, Thor was popular with people seeking this latter relation.

In the Craft, the Lord and the Lady serve as patrons. The Lord is the year-god, who has waxing and waning aspects, and these replace each other at the solstices. Because the outgoing aspect dies and is reborn six months later, the Lord (sometimes called the Lad) is more of a demigod, and is not quite up to the Lady’s level. Witches and warlocks alike tend to relate to the Lord as a tutor or preceptor, and to the Lady devotionally.

The continental Celtic god Cernunnos is associated by modern witches with the year-god. He is known only from artifacts and only by the description given him by Greek traders in antiquity on the Ister or Danube river – the horned or antlered one (we do not know his Celtic name). Cernunnos teaches witches the way to deal skillfully with both the outer and inner life.

The Oak King or waxing year aspect teaches, by example, how to deal with the outer world joyfully and fruitfully. The Holly King or waning aspect is the psycho pomp or soul-guide in Craft initiation, and also provides fellowship with ancestors at Samhain, October 31st.

On the Gundestrup cauldron, found in a peat bog in Denmark, Cernunnos is the central carved figure. He has two antlers, wears a torque or neck-ring signifying wealth, and holds another in his right hand, as bestower of wealth. His left hand grasps a ram-headed snake by the neck, an Underworld animal linked with healing and sacrifice.

It often happens that a pagan already pursues some discipline designed to conserve magical energy, and chooses an appropriate god or goddess, asking him or her to be the patron of that practice. If the god is willing, he or she will help, first of all, by reminding the devotee to practice whatever part of the askesis is appropriate for the present situation.

The devotee thanks his or her patron for these reminders, knowing from experience that practice would be slacker without them. As the partnership goes on, the world will start to take on the colors peculiar to that deity’s consciousness and personality, and will cause subtle changes in the personality of the devotee as well.

The patron deity also teaches in dreams and guides the devotee in waking life by means of signs and omens, often peculiar coincidences that seem mysteriously significant.

The Lady nurtures and feeds witches as well as all her children on the earth, and also teaches those who prefer to relate to a female divinity. The discipline taught by the Lady involves cleansing the emotions of their verbal accretions. The devotee learns to feel without thinking or analyzing or labeling the feeling. In this way, the witch or warlock draws closer to the animals, who have naked feelings unclothed in thoughts. The askesis of the Lady is especially suitable for couples.

7: Inventory

Supportive practices of witchcraft aim at optimizing the free flow of energy through the life of a witch.

A cluttered life is full of energy knots that trap old, stale energy called `miasma’ by the ancients. The first phase of a spell, purification, is designed to unravel one or more of these knots, so that an increase in the flow of magical energy renders the flow palpable. The energy must be felt to be directed, and as some of it is flowing all the time (however feebly) , the rate of flow must be increased for it to be felt. It can then be directed to a chosen purpose in the consecration phase, and, in the final phase, charged with all the force the witch can command through expanded awareness.

But if the witch’s life is full of energy knots, untying one or two of them by purification may not result in a very strong flow of energy. For a stronger flow, the witch must gradually remove clutter from his/her life so that energy knots are few and easily unraveled.

Clutter comes in many forms. There is mental and emotional clutter; the clutter of always being too busy because of over-commitment; the memory-clutter of too many unfinished projects; and the material clutter found in the home: over-stuffed closets, garages, basements, storage sheds, etc. This section is about material clutter.

By learning and applying the principles of feng shui, we can facilitate a free flow of the energy the Chinese call ch’i throughout the home; but before putting feng shui into practice, we must face and do something about the mountains of clutter tucked away in corners, closets, cupboards and other hiding places. We may think that if our accumulations are out of sight they will be out of mind as well, but the deeper, pre-rational mind we share with the animals keeps tabs on every least thimble.

When the writer Aldous Huxley’s house in California burned down, he remarked on how clean it felt to be free of so many possessions. This was a drastic example of what we can achieve in a smaller degree through the practice of inventory.

The deep mind keeps a file on every item we own, and these files must be closed and cleared away if the witch is to use the filing function for fulfilling oaths and following threads of self-discipline. Accordingly, at regular intervals a witch will go through some of his or her clutter, putting things together that belong together, and getting rid of items no longer needed. A good rule of thumb to follow is to keep what one can use (sentiment counts as a use) and put the rest where it is likely to do the most good. In this we see an illustration of the balance of the Craft, which aims at getting maximum enjoyment and effectiveness from possessions without getting bogged down in being possessed by them.

Putting things you don’t need where they will do the most good may mean giving things away; but be careful doing this, as you may lose friends if they feel you are dumping stuff on them. And above all, never tell anyone you are following the rule of inventory, as gifts should at least appear to be made from a feeling of friendship.

Closing accounts with past unfinished business, either by abandoning old projects or by completing them, leads to a greater integration with one’s past selves, and can clear a channel through memory, and far memory, for the witch to travel in the inner journey down to the Summerland.

______________________________________

Footnotes:

1. For numen see Rose, H.J. in the bibliography.

2. For hiimori see Sangerel, both references, in the bibliography.

3. For the folklore of the Sabbat, see Jackson in the bibliography.

4. On the journey to the Sun, see Grimassi, p. 219, in the bibliography, also Nikhilananda, vol. II, p. 158.

5. See Knab in the bibliography.

6. See Gurney in the bibliography. More recently, a royal charter of King Suppliliumas has been found, authorizing a mercantile expedition to Byblos on the ancient Lebanese coast. Abraham may have been in it.

7. See Davidson (I) in the bibliography.

8. For the significance of Cernunnos in modern witchcraft, see Farrar in the bibliography.

9. See Davidson (II) in the bibliography.

 



Bibliography:

Davidson, H.R. (I) , Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, London, Penguin , 1990.

__________ (II) , Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, Syracuse, NY, Syracuse
University Press, 1988.

Farrar, Janet and Stewart, Eight Sabbats for Witches, Custer, WA, Phoenix Publishing, 1988.

Grimassi, Raven, Ways of the Strega, St. Paul, MN, Llwellyn Publications, 1995.

Gurney, O.R., The Hittites, London, Penguin , 1952.

Jackson, Nigel, Call of the Horned Piper,

Knab, Timothy J., A War of Witches, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1995.

Nikhilananda, Swami, translator, The Upanishads, in 4 vols. New York, Ramakrishna-
Vivekananda Center, 1975. Prasna Upanishad is in Vol. 2.

Rose, H.J., Religion in Greece and Rome, New York, Harper Torchbooks, 1959.

Sarangerel (I) , Chosen by the Spirits, Rochester, VT, Destiny , 2001.

_______ (II) , Riding Windhorses, Rochester, VT, Destiny , 2000.

Notes from the Apothecary

March, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Narcissi

 

Apothecary1

 

Most of us will be familiar with narcissi in the form of the daffodil; spring’s signpost. Those yellow heads, nodding towards the returning sun, have provided seasonal inspiration for centuries. Wordsworth, in 1802, was moved to write:

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Which perfectly describes (as does the rest of the poem) the way in which daffodils are able to blanket an otherwise green or brown area, almost as if they are colouring in the season.

Narcissi is the plural of narcissus, the Latin name for these golden trumpets. The name may come from a Greek term for being intoxicated (hence the term narcotic) or may be linked to the Greek hunter of the same name, who fell in love with his own reflection and gave us the term narcissism. Pliny the Elder believed it was the former, and it is possible the Narcissus of Greek legend was named for the flower, and not the other way around.

The Kitchen Garden

One of the problems with bulbs is that they all tend to look pretty similar, and it’s not unheard of for people to go out looking for wild garlic, and come back with some bulbs that may look similar, but which could be narcissi, bluebells or snowdrops. The danger here, as you will learn below, is that most bulbs are quite nasty to the mammalian system, and can even cause death, so please, please don’t eat them unless you are 100% sure, and definitely don’t ever eat daffodils.

In the kitchen, a bunch of daffodils on the counter or kitchen table will brighten up the room, and bring a sense of welcome and peace to the area. As they age, their odour becomes stronger, and speaks of warm, spring days and the promise of summer to come.

Yellow represents happiness, a carefree aspect and vitality, so golden daffodils will bring those feelings into your home. White or orange daffodils will bring peace and kindness, respectively.

The Apothecary

It’s pretty key to understand that narcissi and many other spring bulbs are actually quite poisonous. Having said that, it’s very interesting to note that this aspect was actually used as a medicinal property in times gone by, and they were classed as a ‘purgative’; a chemical which makes one empty the bowels rapidly. Basically, by giving someone a very, very upset stomach, you were hoping that they would pass whatever else it was that ailed them at the same time.

Culpeper also noted that they could cause vomiting, and that this could be effective in soothing ‘tertian ague’; a kind of malaria which he advised occurred more in springtime, coinciding with the arrival of the helpful flowers.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Cunningham, in his popular Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs (Llewellyn, 1985), tells us that the daffodil is a feminine plant, associated with the planet Venus and the element of water. Using this information, you could place the flowers or bulbs at the western point of your altar or sacred space, or you could incorporate them into astrological workings where Venus was prominent.

If one transmutes the planet Venus into the Goddess Venus, then we have a flower that is connected to love and fertility, which are both facets of this plant, again, according to Cunningham. One can expand further upon this and see an implied association with Aphrodite, which allows the encompassing of the Greek pantheon as well as the Roman. Daffodils could be used as altar decorations when worshipping either of these goddesses, or honouring their feast days. Venus was particularly honoured during April, and there should still be plenty of daffodils available during this time.

Adonia is a festival that celebrates Aphrodite and Adonis, and is celebrated on the first full moon after the Spring (Vernal) Equinox. In 2017 this will be April the 11th (in the Northern Hemisphere) as the Vernal Equinox falls around the 20th March, depending exactly where in the world you are. Daffodils would be ideal to add to the flowers for these festivals, although roses should also be present where possible.

Culpeper disagrees with Cunningham, and finds that yellow daffodils are ruled by Mars. This puts them firmly in the hot, fiery camp, and makes them useful for sanctifying the quarter of south, and honouring the sun. This makes sense, when you think of how firmly these flowers are part of our springtime; nodding the sun gently back into place after the cold, dark winter.

Personally, I like to place my daffodils at east on my altar, and in a central point in my kitchen. They speak to me of Brigid, in the same way that snowdrops do; new beginnings, hard work and courage. They speak of the rising sun, and the pale to golden yellow of spring mornings.

Home and Hearth

 

Apothecary2

 

As we move more firmly into spring, check out your local supermarket/grocery store for offers on bunches of daffodils. I don’t condone picking them from wild spaces, but they are widely cultivated and these flowers are ideal to take home to bring a bit of spring colour into your life.

If you grow them yourself, of course you can pick as many as you like, but I would recommend leaving some to flower and die in the spot they were planted, as they will please your local spirits and also the bees and other insects that are starting to return.

Have a look and see if you can find any of the more unusual plants. You can find two headed daffodils, white ones, orange ones, white petals with a golden trumpet and vice versa. If you are a practitioner of colour magic, you can utilise these different kinds of narcissi in many different ways due to the sheer diversity in shade.

I Never Knew…

Socrates called narcissi The Chaplet of the Infernal Gods due to the level of toxicity the plant produces.

Image credits: Narcissus calcicola, Olaf Leillinger, 2006, via Wikimedia and Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis, KENPEI, 2007, via Wikimedia.

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author and musician, as well as a freelance journalist. See is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft. Follow Mabh on Twitter, Facebook and her blog.

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