old gods

Book Review – The Witch’s Book of Mysteries by Devin Hunter

March, 2019

Book Review
The Witch’s Book of Mysteries
by Devin Hunter

The forward of The Witch’s Book of Mysteries, written by Jason Miller, jumps right into what the reader can expect from The Witch’s Book of Mysteries by Devin Hunter.

… “What is a Witch? It’s a tricky label. For some people witchcraft is a religion. If you worship the old Gods and follow a religion like Wicca, then for those people your are a Witch. Other People focus on the craft part of witchcraft and consider use of folk magic as the defining characteristics of a Witch. If you know the magical properties of herbs, the words of spells and the use of oils and candles and stones, then you are a Witch.”….

And, as Jason aptly states, the definition of what a Witch has all of the overlays of modern society and traditional practices rolled into one.

This is the third book by Devin in a systematic approach to introducing the experienced student to the practices of witchcraft and honing their skills into becoming a Witch. The first of the books, The Witch’s Book of Power, explored all that comprises the journey of developing your power and knowing when and how to tap into it for a sustainable and effective practice.

The Second book, The Witch’s Book of Spirits furthered developed the power of the burgeoning Witch in accessing the world of spirits, mediumship and all that is of what Devin calls the Familiar Craft. And, as promised in this third book, The Witch’s Book of Mysteries coalesces all that has preceded and the reader begins the practice of working with those of the Sacred Fires, the Grigori, and the expansion of the practitioners powers to becoming one with all of the worlds.

This is not a book for the beginner and demands of the reader a working-not theoretical-knowledge of witchcraft and all that goes into claiming the title of Witch. The book is divided into two parts and each builds upon the other in knowledge and practical application. Many of the concepts presented are not your traditional craft practices. Instead, they are a refining and adaption of concepts that include some techniques and teachings that would have been designated as disciplines for other paths.

Much like Christopher Orapello and Tara Maguire’s book Besom, Stang & Sword (read the review of this book in our February Issue), these are concepts of the Modern Witch drawing on the best of the old and propelling the seeker into a new form of witchcraft that makes use more cosmic principals.

One of the best examples of what this new craft encompasses is the definition and explanation of the a familiar concept, the Witch’s Sabbat. As Devin points out, this term has come to be associate with the eight festivals of the Witch’s Wheel of the Year. These being tied to celebrations of specific times of the year, deities and experiences largely pulled together and used as such associations by those of scholarly works and not necessarily of the craft themselves. Just this idea makes so much sense if you consider that those we considered to be practicing witch’s hundreds of years ago would not necessarily have set aside valuable time and resources to celebrate in the ways we do today. Even the Deities that may have been associated with such rites would have been culturally based.

We learn in this book that the Sabbat is an experience that occurs in deep trance or while sleeping and requires the Witch have command over his/her magical form that has the power and ability to move in its pure form of power onto the plane of the Sabbat. This requires the development of lucid dreaming, psychic awareness. and as Devin states regarding the goal…”isn’t necessarily to leave the body and travel to a different dimension, but rather to travel through the inner realms of the mind and the paths of the psyche to get to a different dimension”….I found this a telling perspective that emphasizes the reality that being a Witch is really hard work that demands knowing yourself and a very mature attitude towards stepping into your power.

Part Two of “Mysteries” focuses on taking the Witch beyond their scope of power and realms of working and issues the call to reaching beyond what is believed of the limitation of form and reach out to those Spirits and guardians responsible for creation-particularly ours-itself. These entities move well beyond the archetypal and anthropomorphic energies of specific Deities, pantheons and the traditional Gods/Goddesses. The Witch must thoroughly know who they are in all of their power and rise to stand as co-creators with those lesser known (and worked with) beings who are of support.

The bibliography and recommended reading at the end of the book exemplifies the care and thought that went into this book and, more importantly supports Devin’s encouragement to learn as much as you can about as much as you can to truly be informed in your own practice.

The Witch’s Book of Mysteries is a valuable resource to the advanced practitioner regardless of the form your witchcraft may take. In fact, whether you consider yourself a witch or not, the information and way in which it has been compiled is well worth reading. This is the craft that will move into the next generation of and with that statement, you will hopefully see the durability and strength of a power that is organically a creative and universal energy.

To hear more from Devin about his practices, Tradition and more:

The Modern Witch Podcast

modernwitch.podbean.com

The Witch’s Book of Mysteries on Amazon

***

About the Author:

Robin Fennelly is a Wiccan High Priestess, teacher, poet and author.

She is the author of (click on book titles for more information):

The Inner Chamber Volume One on Amazon

It’s Written in the Stars

Astrology

The Inner Chamber, Vol. Two

poetry of the Spheres (Volume 2) on Amazon

Qabalah

The Inner Chamber, Vol. Three

Awakening the Paths on Amazon

Qabalah

A Year With Gaia on Amazon

The Eternal Cord

Temple of the Sun and Moon on Amazon

Luminous Devotions

The Magickal Pen Volume One (Volume 1) on Amazon

A Collection of Esoteric Writings

The Elemental Year on Amazon

Aligning the Parts of SELF

The Enchanted Gate on Amazon

Musings on the Magick of the Natural World

Sleeping with the Goddess on Amazon

Nights of Devotion

A Weekly Reflection on Amazon

Musings for the Year

Her books are available on Amazon or on this website and her Blogs can be found atRobin Fennelly 

Follow Robin on Instagram & Facebook.

Pagan Theology

September, 2011

The Old Gods and Goddesses

One question that seems to be fundamental to Pagan belief is whether the Gods and Goddesses represent one idea or underlying form that has many names, or whether they represent many individual entities that, well, have many names.  This must be an important issue because it almost always seems to get mentioned in any discussion of belief or working.   The way it usually goes is along the lines “she is the mystery that we call by many names.”  This seems to be subdivided between those who say there is some practical division (male/female, dark/light) in the mystery and those who feel that everything is unified at the deepest level.  But however it goes we almost always work with various aspects or avatars of that underlying mystery.

Well, you say, anyone can believe anything they want so the answer is “yes, of course.”   Or 42.   Yes, anyone can believe anything they want, that’s why there are Christians.  But the key question in my opinion is what effect does the various ways of thinking about the Gods and Goddesses have on belief, worship, and what we take away from out encounters with them.

I am not talking about monotheism, as I’ve discussed the past there is no historical incompatibility between Paganism and monotheism, nor is there necessarily a theological problem with it.  Instead the question is how to think about whether the Gods and Goddesses are somehow layered, stacked one on top another in some sort of endless mystery spiral that ends in chaos, or they are “flat” and all somehow equal in their characteristics and priorities.

The idea that there is one mystery at the heart of deity, and everything else stems from that mystery appears to be related to the theological problem of theodicy, the study of god’s omnipotence and perfection.  I would contend that idea of an underlying mystery arises directly from the ontological argument.  As you will recall this argument essentially says that god exists because to not exist would be a lack of perfection (Descartes version) and, of course, the definition of god is perfection.  Kant had some problems with this argument.  Kant’s problem can be boiled down to the observation that the argument kind of assumes the result as a starting point.

From a modern Pagan perspective the idea of unity as a desirable trait, that one is better than many, seems like a logical assumption.  If we have an underlying mystery then it can be seen as above and beyond all the various dualisms that give rise to conflict and imperfection, such as male/female, good/evil, etc.  The various aspects of the sacred, from elementals to pantheons, come from this fertile pool of unified deity.   The underlying unity gives a depth and direction to our working, and makes explaining where the varieties of deities come from logical and consistent.  If the underlying mystery is the consciousness of the universe, the Mother of all, then we have a unity between the mystery, the Gods and Goddesses, and our own consciousness.   We are all simply embers or sparks from the divine fire, a fire we can neither know nor explain.

Unfortunately (for you) I do not like this line of argument, because I believe it is too easily transitioned into the New Age idea of union and blissful integration of all into one great mystery.  It also sounds like a concession to the ontological argument, which, in turn, makes it seem like we are arguing with the Christians to justify our beliefs.  I tend to think we need to stand on our own two feet.

But the alternative view, that all Pantheons stand on their own and Paganism’s defining characteristic of tolerance is the glue that keeps everything together, seems to lack the depth that an underlying, unified, mystery gives the theological idea of the Gods and Goddesses and their worship.  It just isn’t terribly satisfying if all there is are a bunch of Pantheons without some way to delve deeper into the mystery of what is behind it all.  Without some underlying unity we could easily ask why we spend all this energy on one set of deities as opposed to another.  Where are we going in our worship if not to the ultimate source of all?

In this month’s Cauldron I was reading a very interesting article about the Pale Faced Goddess and it occurred to me that the Witches might have an interestingly profound way of thinking about the mysteries (surprise, surprise) [1].    The standard Wiccan [2] way of thinking about the God and Goddess is that they are the manifestation of the deeper mystery, often an unnamed, or secretly named, underlying deity that is behind it all.  Sometime this deity is sentient, and other times it is a force of nature.

This Wiccan mystery can be translated many different ways, and the most common way I have seen it translated is what I have characterized as the Wiccan ontological argument: Theologically we need something at the bottom, a turtle, so to speak, upon which the rest of the world can be constructed, and this mystery is what we have.

But this does not seem to be either the Gardnarian or other Traditional [3] form of the mystery.   There is a more historical aspect to the Traditional approach, one that recognizes just how ancient our faith is and how deeply mysterious.

Now I must have a bit of an aside here to say what I mean my historical.  There are a couple of ways in which we can use the term.  First is the linear sense of a series of events or dates that occur as we proceed backward in time.  Or we can mean the study of the past and its characterization and analysis in the present time.  But I don’t want to mean any of those.  Instead by “historical” I mean that one thing is built on another over time like the layers in a sedimentary outcrop.  We could call this the stratigraphy of deity, but that would need just as much explaining as calling it a historical approach does.  The Gods and Goddesses had those who preceded them in time, and they grew and evolved themselves over time.  The Gods and Goddesses have a history, both mythologically as well as archeologically.

So in thinking about the Gods and Goddesses we can envision a wheel or a genealogical chart.  At the root is the great-unknown mystery of existence.  It is the creation of all, what was there beyond the big bang [4], before existence itself came into existence.  But from that beginning was borne the older Gods and Goddesses.  Take the Irish pantheon as an example.  Before Dagda and Morrigan came the Gods and Goddesses of those who moved in after the last glaciation and the following Neolithic megalith builders.   Crom Cruach [5] would be an example of one of these older Gods that survived relatively undisturbed (take that for what you will), while others of the Neolithic Gods and Goddesses became incorporated in subsequent generations of Gods and Goddesses.    Many of these older Gods and Goddesses became incorporated into subsequent Pagan Gods and Goddesses, such as Cernunnos and Herne, and eventually became Christianized as the devil.

While they may have been integrated into subsequent pantheons, these older Gods [6] still exist as unitary entities.   They are known by different names, Lilith, Holda, Norns, the White Goddess., or the various representations of the Fates.  Sometimes  their names obscure their real intentions and abilities.  Generally these ancient Gods and Goddesses are primal, and not always focused on the best intentions of those who call them.  They are truly independent, independent of our intentions and ideas, and often independent of our concepts of good and evil.

Calling on these Gods and Goddesses is both powerful, and dangerous.  Dangerous both in the traditional sense, and because when they manifest it can be overwhelming.  They are capable of producing awe, and fear.  We have all had moments in ritual when entities came, and things happened.   Often these interactions occur when the older Gods and Goddesses awaken and come.

These Gods and Goddesses are not always welcoming, but reflect the values and attributes of an earlier time when life was not lived by the same rules we live it by now.   They are independent of us and our values, lives, and wishes, but they can be a source of great inner power, support, and comfort in the same way that a good ship’s captain can make you feel better simply because you know he is in the wheelhouse.

These Gods and Goddesses are elemental not in the sense that they are related to the elements, but they are elemental’s of spirit.  They are fundamental forces or natures that do not relate as easily to our conditions as the Gods and Goddesses that came later in the historical development of Pagan deity.

Later Gods and Goddesses, the ones we typically associate with the Pantheons, arose from these older, foundational, Gods and Goddesses.  One generation of Gods and Goddesses gave birth to the next, and the next, and so on.

We see this form of understanding in the Theogony of Hesiod.  Chaos [7] and Gaia gave birth to the first generation of  Gods, the Titans [8].  The Titans Cronus, Coeus, and Oceanus with their consorts (and with some help from Gaia and Uranus) in turn birthed the Gods and Goddesses who were more human-like in their actions: Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite and their relatives [9].   While this is all more complicated than it should be (Cronus overthrew Uranus in a particularly awkward way), what we have here is both a history, and a genealogy.  One layer of Gods and Goddesses builds upon the other.

Whether this history is part of the history behind the Gods and Goddesses, as in the case of the Greek Pantheon, or occurred naturally through the passage of time and the evolution of a peoples, as in the case of the Irish, both ways produce a wide range of deity, not all of which are the focus of modern Paganism.  In more recent times the focus of many Pagan rituals and workings has been on the most recent, “youngest” Gods and Goddesses.  The older Gods and Goddesses are not as popular, perhaps because of their more elemental, visceral, and distant nature.

But why Aphrodite or Hekate and not Coeus, Cronus, or Oceanus?  What can the older Gods and Goddesses tell us about deity, and about ourselves?

First I believe we can dismiss the notion of a “hierarchy” of Gods and Goddesses with the older being somehow “better” than the younger.  That seems to me to be a similar fallacy to the one discussed by Stephen Gould in the Mismeasure of Man: that we tend to like to see rankings and patterns in data where there really are none to see.  Just because one thing precedes the other in chronological order does not mean that it is either better, or more primitive, than the thing that follows.  Those concepts are human ways of thinking about the world, and don’t necessarily apply to everything in nature.

So the old Gods and Goddesses are neither better nor worse than the more modern ones.  But what they are is different.  They are more distant, more removed from the human-like traits we see in the younger Gods and Goddesses.  They are not your best friends, they are not waiting to welcome you with sweet verse and soothing balms into their arms.  They are demanding, they are tough, they are not what we would create if we were to make ourselves a deity.  This can be tough when it comes time to work with them, something the Traditional Witches seem to understand.

The old Gods and Goddesses have a lot to teach us, and a lot of power that we can draw from.  Their very distance is a form of healing from the world.  They can give the perspective of something beyond the world, an entity that does not worry about the same kind of things that we do.  Distance is sometimes as effective as engagement.

Their demands are demands that we should consider.  They ask for sacrifice, duty, and hard work.  They do not provide easy rewards.  These are attributes that we can use to get us what we need, or what we want.   They are the demands of the hard stones, the fallow land, and the drought.  Responding to their leadership leads us to survive and prosper.

They provide the power of self-confidence.  They are the example that risk-taking needs.  Who better to give us power, to lend us the ability to work toward our goals than an entity that has cracked the stones and ground the bones for millennia.   Their power comes from their age and their irreverence for the things that we value.  Gaining their perspective means losing a little of the world that we hold onto, of letting go so that we can become more than we are.

As I write this a thunderstorm is overtaking the house.  Lightening is flashing and thunder is booming.  I take this as a caution.  In advocating for attention to the Fates, to the old Gods and Goddesses, I am suggesting we engage and work with something elemental, fundamental, dangerous.  At the same time the danger, to those of true intent and will, is the jumping off point for an amazing encounter with power, a power that changes and breaks and grows faster and more deeply than the powers we work with in our daily rituals.  We should be careful, but we should also be curious.

[1] Theresa A. Lucas.  “The Pales-Faced Goddess, The Witch Goddess as seen in some forms of Traditional Craft.”  Cauldron.  141, Aug. 2011.   Though I’ll note that none of the commentary I make in the text has much at all to do with the article.

[2] Just to be clear, I’m using terminology precisely in this paper.  “Wiccan” refers to all the post-Gardnarian Pagans who identify with the general Wiccan set of practices.  Gardnarian means, Gardnarian.  Traditional means historical Witchcraft but not Gardnarian.   Gardnairans may or may not be Traditional; it depends on whether Old Dorothy was real.

[3] I’m capitalizing the “T” in traditional to try and distinguish between those versions of Witchcraft that do not descend from Gardner, but do claim ancient descent, and those that descend from Gardner.

[4] I know that neither space nor time have any meaning beyond the singularity, but you have to say it somehow.

[5] A gentleman I would not engage without a good reason, and sincere intent.  Respect.

[6] I’m avoiding the use of “elder Gods” for obvious reasons.

[7] Actually “Chaos” is better translated as “chasm” which I think is much more interesting.  Instead of Chaos getting busy with Gaia, the earth, we have Chasm or gap, or nothingness, coming together with matter, or Gaia, or somethingness to create the world.  Existentially this suggests that in the beginning the nothingness of consciousness was infused into the material of the world, and from that sprang the original sentient Gods and Goddesses

[8] Actually it’s a bit more complicated.  Chaos birthed Erebus and Black Night, which in turn produced Aether and Day.  Gaia produced Sky (Uranus) through parthenogenesis, and then mated with Uranus to make the Titans (Glenn W. Most (trans.).  Hesiod Theogony/Works and Days/Testimonia, Harvard, 2006.)

[9] A good place to see all this is here: http://www.ancientgreece.com/s/Mythology/#c_r