paganism

Book Review: The Witch’s Altar The Craft, Lore and Magick of Sacred Space By Laura Tempest Zackroff and Jason Mankey

December, 2018

Book Review:

The Witch’s Altar

The Craft, Lore and Magick of Sacred Space

By Laura Tempest Zackroff and Jason Mankey

As someone with many altars strewn about my home, I was happy to have the opportunity to read this book.

Whether for a beginner or someone with many year’s experience with Wicca/Witchcraft/Paganism, this book will help you in setting up, designing and maintaining your altars.

Just perusing the Table of Contents makes you aware that the two authors know exactly what they are talking about, as they have many years of wisdom and knowledge both individually and collectively.

It is a very reader-friendly book, conversational and easy-to-read with much information packed between its covers.

The book starts by relating different kinds of altars, i.e. shrines, temples, sanctuaries, etc., with descriptions for each.

The history of altars is here beginning with those first caves and stones, what they contain(ed) and how altars became one of the magical tools most relied upon.

All of the details are present from what an altar is, what it is for and how to build one. Since there are various reasons to build one, the authors discuss the specifics, such as what activity you will be using it for, such as devotion, ritual, spell-work. This includes tips on deciding where to build it, keeping in mind what you are looking to do.

Specific altars are always reviewed, such as, daily and seasonal altars, as well as outdoor altars and devotional altar dedicated to specific diety(ies).

One of the things I liked most about this book was how each author readily shared personal experiences with the reader.

Of specific interest was the section regarding altars for the dead and ancestral altars, something I have not read much about in other books. The information was fascinating and propelled me to make my own ancestral altar.

For those of you who travel, locally and abroad, there is a section on travel altars, whether to set up at a hotel, or to have with you on a daily basis in your own personal vehicle. This includes digital altars, a concept I would never have even considered.

Some of the topics had me thinking “oh, yes, I had not thought of that”, such as dealing with our animal companions climbing all over our altars, other people who feel the need to touch, and how to dispose of altar items that are no longer needed/wanted.

This highly informative book is also interspersed with recipes both magickal and mundane, include spellwork, prayers, chants, blessings.

At the end of each chapter is a section called “Altar-natives”, which features witchy friends of the authors adding their wisdom; in fact, giving us ideas from numerous people. A nice touch.

Allowing for the disclaimer that I personally know Tempest, I would like to say that I highly recommend this book – friendly, informative, enjoyable.

The Witch’s Altar: The Craft, Lore & Magick of Sacred Space (The Witch’s Tools Series) on Amazon

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About the Author:

Susan Morgaine is a Daughter of the Goddess, Witch, Writer, Teacher, Healer, and Yogini. She is a monthly columnist with PaganPages.org Her writings can be found in The Girl God Anthologies, “Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak” and “Jesus, Mohammed and the Goddess”, as well as Mago Publications “She Rises, Volume 2, and “Celebrating Seasons of the Goddess”. She has also been published in Jareeda and SageWoman magazines. She is a Certified Women’s Empowerment Coach/Facilitator through She is the author of “My Name is Isis”, one in the series of the “My Name Is………” children’s books published by The Girl God Publications. A Woman International, founded by Patricia Lynn Reilly. She has long been involved in Goddess Spirituality and Feminism, teaching classes and workshops, including Priestessing Red Tents within MA and RI. She is entering her 20th year teaching Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, being a Certified instructor through the Kundalini Research Institute, as well as being a Reiki Master. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She can be found at https://mysticalshores.wordpress.com/ and her email is MysticalShores@gmail.com

My Name is Isis (Volume 4) on Amazon

Bringing Up the Next Generation of Witches

July, 2018

As a child, I led such a weird childhood. I was known for seeing things that weren’t there and knowing things before they happened. I felt like a sin in my parent’s household as I was being raised in a Christian church. As I aged, I found solace in Wicca. Life and the things going on finally made sense.

When I was pregnant with my son (Little Bear), I made the decision to raise him in a Pagan household and support him, no matter what religion he decided on. Little Bear is now 4 years old and this has proven to be the best decision. He has shown signs of experiencing the same things that I went through as a child. Little Bear is a natural born healer, empath, and animal lover. He has to sleep with a light on because the dark brings weird things with it. While I cannot confirm it yet, it sounds like he is seeing people that have crossed over.

One of the major things that Little Bear and I have started doing is celebrating the Sabbats. Any reason to celebrate, right?

June 21st was Litha or the Summer Solstice. This is the longest day of the year and Little Bear and I took full advantage.

Every Sabbat, we discuss the Wheel of the Year. This helps remind us where we are on the Wheel and where we are headed. Because this follows the seasons, it is easy for Little Bear to understand. We discussed how Litha falls in the summer and some of our favorite summer activities. Little Bear loves grilling out, riding his bike and playing in the water.

The day started before sunrise. I poured out orange juice and we headed to the porch to watch the sun. It was a warm, quiet morning. I explained to Little Bear that we should be grateful for everything we have. I asked him what he was happy to have. “My bike, my mom, my bed, my dog” and the list went on and on. I smiled at his innocence and gave my own thanks internally. As the sun rose above the horizon, the world started coming alive. The birds started singing, the neighborhood stray cat came to visit, and we watched a herd of deer in the field across the street. We ended the morning with a barefoot walk around the property. We stopped at the outside altar and poured orange juice into the fairy dish as an offering. This is one of Little Bear’s favorite parts. We actually had to make a fairy altar closer to the house so he could easily access it without supervision.

After work, I had Little Bear help with dinner. We were preparing Grilled Chicken Salads. As we pulled the vegetables out, we talked about each one. Where they came from, how they grow, what the health benefits are, and what kind of super powers the vegetables might give us (This was Little Bears idea). I feel that knowing the health benefits of each vegetable will help Little Bear develop his Kitchen Witch side as he grows.

While making the salad, I noticed Little Bear had made a pile that contained a piece of each vegetable that went into the salad. It was his offering for the fairies.

We ended the night with a bonfire and watching the sunset. The longest day of the year had officially ended.

It may seem like I do a LOT of talking with Little Bear and I do. Little Bear is at the age where he is like a little sponge. He is asking tons of questions and curious about everything.

The next Sabbat is Lammas and I’m excited about it. This has always been a personal favorite because I love to bake bread. Lammas is the start of the harvest season. So breads, wheats, grains, grapes, apples, corn and wild berries are great foods. While I don’t have recipes pulled together yet, corn dollies and bonfires are part of the ritual for sure!

Some ideas to do with children are:

-Corn Dollies

-Magical Picnics (Make sure to leave an offering!)

-Collect berries for jams or jellies

-Time to harvest the garden

-Create a Witches Bottle (smaller children will need help with this since you will be working with sharp objects!)

-Time to redecorate the altar

-Visit an apple orchard (bring some home if the apples are ready!)

-Collect rain or storm water

-Bake bread, cakes, or muffins (cookies could be substituted so the little ones can decorate)

The biggest thing to remember, “It’s not about the action you are doing but the intent you are putting into it”.

What are some fun ways you are celebrating the Sabbats with your child/ren?

Blessed Be!

Book Review – The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within

March, 2018

THE MAGIC CIRCLE

Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within

A year ago I wrote a brief review of this book on Amazon but in this review I will expand on what I wrote in February 2017:

This is an amazing source book for families, schools, grandparents and youth leaders in different capacities. It offers a breath-taking range of ideas and ceremonies – ranging from fast and simple to more complex. These ceremonies can help children and young people navigate life transitions and events. From losing a loved one, taking courage, the magic of our own body, the weather, animals, ancestral sleuthing and so forth the possibilities are endless and very inspiring! The future of our Earth depends on young people staying attuned to the Web of Life and honoring all different life forms. This book is a must have for anyone raising such children or hoping to raise such children one day! It has given me ideas for the children and teenagers I myself work with!”

This book was co-authored by a team of three people: Ann Dickie, Jennifer Engracio and Katherine Inksetter. As parent, shamanic teacher and author of a book about shamanic parenting it always makes my heart sing to find high quality resources about shamanism for families, teachers and youth leaders!

Essentially this book provides ceremonies for every conceivable occasion, following the Medicine Wheel (starting in the Center: the Land of Void and from there moving South, than West and so forth).

All this material has been tried and tested extensively and a lot of reflection has gone into the way that activities are introduced and structured. This is important because it reduces the risk of misunderstandings or things “going wrong”. – Having said that: when proper preparations are made, things going “wrong” usually means that the spirits are playing with us and getting creative. In a sense you cannot go “wrong” in ceremony when you work from the heart! – Still, some people feel a little nervous about using shamanism with children, which is understandable, so using properly tested material takes some of that anxiety away.

The authors also point out – very correctly! – that any deep spiritual work or personal growth work will flush out issues needing attention. As a shamanic teacher just want to echo how true this is but, I will also say how those things are ultimately the ingredients of life-changing adventures, they open portals and rewire us on the level of soul. Don’t let that put you off.

Working your way through the whole book can certainly be done but it is a big commitment. It might be better to use the book intuitively – do what calls out to you or what resonates with an issue your child (or grandchild, or youth group etc.) is facing right now.

The Medicine Wheel is a wheel in a very literal sense: one could start anywhere and a journey will unfold. Wheels per definition do not have a beginning or end.

Another good thing about this book is that it includes a suggested age range for every activity. If you are going to be working with younger or older children – no problem, but you may need to simplify things a little or add some complexity. Any parent or teacher (or person who spends time around children) will do this very naturally.

Ceremony is a key-concept in shamanism because it opens the door to our soul and allows us to step outside time. Powerful work is done in the place where the spirits, ancestors and sacred dreams of our collective reside. Healing occurs naturally when we perform ceremonies.

This book gives families tools and high quality activities. Following those encourages children to stay tuned and – most importantly – to keep the connection to their own spirit allies alive and strong as they grow older and face the challenges life will throw at human beings. I truly believe that this is one of the greatest gifts we can give a child.

This book encourages creativity, time spent outdoors, connecting to ancestors, knowing that (as my eldest son once put it when he was just four years old) that “everything is medicine” – or can be, when used or embraced the right way.

I invite you to take this journey around the Medicine Wheel and discover what your own calling and unique medicine is – so you can fully embody and birth this in our world. – Our world in great turmoil and transition (paradigm shift) needs every person alive right now to activate their divinely granted talents and medicine. If we all do that – our world can change overnight!

Thank you Ann, Jennifer and Katherine for this magical book!

Essentially a book like this is spiritual dynamite (and the authors may quote me on that!)

Imelda Almqvist, 22 February 2018, London UK

For Book’s Website Click Image

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About the Author:

Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and SACRED ART. Her book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon in 2016.  She is a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit  2017 as well as on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. Her second book SACRED ART, A Hollow Bone for Spirit : Where ART Meets Shamanism will be published in the Autumn of 2018.

For Amazon Information Click Image

www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk  (website)

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/  (blog)

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=imelda+almqvist  (Youtube channel: interviews, presentations and art videos)

http://affiliate.soundstrue.com/aff_c?offer_id=124&aff_id=2260&url_id=86  (Year of Ceremony)

 

What Your Pagan Teacher Wants you to Know…About Practice

March, 2018

(Leather Bound, Pentacle Journal by Samantha & Jason of Earthwork’s Journals, Home of the Handmade Journal on Etsy.)

 

My mum was a music teacher. A strict one at that. She had this way of showing her immense disapproval with a slight tut and a look away. You ask any music teacher, any teacher at all really if they know that their student has been practicing or not, and they can tell a mile away.


“And you practiced every day?”


Maybe that’s where I get it from.


I’m a pretty good student. I take anything I study seriously (I make Hermione Granger look like a slacker) and I love to learn. Yet even as young as 18 I was already teaching my peers. I was good at encouraging and explaining. I was pretty fearless (but not reckless). It just kept happening really.
My last year of 6th form college (high school) I was sitting as a medium with psychic circles between three or four times a week on equal footing as some who had been practicing some 50 years (Glenis was lovely). I was doing card readings every lunch and break every day. I started reading cards at 14 (playing cards) from my friend’s mum who was a real gypsy.


It didn’t think of it as “work” back then.


Back then it was like finding out you’re are a prodigy at something and going full tilt.


This means I don’t get it.


I just don’t understand the excuses. I’ve heard a lot over the years.


“I didn’t have time.”


“I have a lot on at work.”


“My husband/boyfriend/girlfriend was…”


“My parents were around.”


“I didn’t understand it.”


I mean I could go on and on and on. The only excuse I allow is sickness. It’s damn hard to work on a breathing technique if you’ve been throwing your guts up!


Let me start with “I didn’t have time”. There is no perfect time to do the work. It’s like doing the dishes or brushing your teeth; it doesn’t care how busy you are and it shows if you do it “only on the weekend”. The magick techniques I give out to students are accumulative and knowing more in the craft means I expect you to do more, not less. Most of my assignments I give take between 10 minutes daily, maybe slightly longer on the weekend or a pilgrimage somewhere. The other thing is the techniques are of for you to use in the world, in your life. They are designed to change how you see, and think and interact with the world. When you give me this excuse I hear one thing: “I couldn’t be bothered”. I don’t care if you do it in the shower, in the car, on the loo, getting your mind in order is important.


“I have a lot on at work.” In truth I don’t really know why this is seen as an excuse. If I am trying to give a tool that helps focus your thinking and mind I am actually trying to help you, not hinder. This reads in a couple of ways. “I’m important in my job so you can’t make me feel bad for not doing what I said I would do.” Or “I am so stressed out that I worry if a take a minute to think about it my head might actually explode.” Either way your clear and clever excuse sounds like what it is to me: fear. I hear the fear and the bluster. Either way you have to show a little faith. Set aside your ego for a few minutes and I promise the world won’t fall apart.


“My boyfriend…” I understand that the drama of some relationships impacts a lot. However this relationship is your choice. If it is damaging, violent or difficult don’t bring it to me. You will not want my honest opinion. Relationships are hard work but they shouldn’t consume your whole life. If things are tense or very emotional maybe the work I’ve given you is supposed to help soothe that? Trust me a little? The truth is you can not (and should not) control other people’s behaviour. What you can control is yourself and I’m guessing that’s what I am trying to teach you.

 

My parents…” I don’t teach kids, except my own. So I am supposed to be talking to a grown ass adult? Most of the work I set is not a big witchy ritual with lots of pagan drumming. If you mean you have to clean your whole house because you are about to be “inspected” I can sort of understand. Yet again I say grown ass adult. If you mean, I must remove all pagan, witchy, spiritual stuff from my judgmental folks because I’m afraid, still in the broom-closet, don’t want to deal with that fight, I say “Oh boy, you need some good therapy”. Families are difficult and hard work and some are even legitimately dangerous for your wellbeing. If you are feeling fear, shame or any combination thereof I would kindly suggest that while they might share your D.N.A. that isn’t family. Family is safety and support. Family is love and trust. If you have to hide such a fundamental part of who you are from these people, then my home work is the least of your problems. I’ve known pagans come out to deeply religious or difficult parents, it tends to go one of two ways. They range from loving and surprising supportive or amazingly indifferent at one end to violent screaming loathing at the other. The truth is they might surprise you. Good parents are usually that, and crappy ones are well, crappy. None of which is about you.

 

I didn’t understand it.” This comes down to the idea that magick and its practice should enlighten and fix things immediately, well, like magick. They try something once and if it doesn’t fix everything at once it can’t be “real” or “special”. It is hard to see the benefit of brushing your teeth if you only do it once. I mean they get dirty again, what’s the point? Spiritual practice is like that. Magickal and mental cleanliness are not just good practice but important foundations. This is a trap more mature or experienced practitioners can fall into. They know the how and the why, and they do other deeper work and neglect the basics. Understanding something doesn’t always happen the first time you try something, or the tenth, or the hundredth. In fact understanding a practice ca be layered and nothing it teaches you is “wrong” or useless. It can’t teach you anything if you don’t do it!

 

In other startling revelations if you’re going to do your “daily journal” in the car before you turn up, park further up the street so I can’t see you! Magickal practice is not difficult. It’s not for only one kind of pagan or witch. It doesn’t care if you are bookish or not, or if you are smart or not. Able bodied or not. It doesn’t care how rich you are or what kind of background you have. It is open to everyone. The only factor is this, will you leave your excuses at the door and do the work? Then magick and knowledge will come. Maybe not easily, maybe not quickly but if you work at it you will be rewarded in ways you can not imagine.

Book Review – Sigils, Ciphers and Scripts: History and Graphic Function of Magick Symbols by M. B. Jackson

March, 2018

Sigils, Ciphers and Scripts: 

History and Graphic Function of Magick Symbols

by M. B. Jackson

Published by Green Magic, Somerset, 2013

 

Big thanks to Green Magic for sending me a copy of ‘Sigils, Ciphers and Scripts’ by M. B. Jackson to review. First of all, it’s a really beautiful book. Glossy black, A4, coffee table style; it’s certainly a conversation starter. The subtitle is History and Graphic Function of Magick Symbols, and I think it’s important to bear this in mind when reading the book. This volume is not a comprehensive break down and explanation of every single magical alphabet and symbolic system, as this would require a much thicker, denser volume. What this book does is introduce you to each set of symbols, give you a bit of the history, and provide you with some beautiful graphics.

My favourite aspect of this book is that it is not path specific. Symbolism from many different cultures, studies and religions appears here; Judaism, Paganism and alchemy, to name but a few. Each section is spread over two pages. The first page being a two-column history and description of the symbols; the second page being the symbols themselves. The illustrations are really beautiful and highly detailed where necessary.

Now if you are thinking you can pick this book up and learn the inner secrets of Enochian and how to communicate with angels, I’m really sorry but you’re going to be disappointed. But what you will learn is where Enochian was ‘discovered’, who made it famous, and the symbols themselves. What you do with this information is, I guess, up to you! Further reading is definitely required if you want to go more in depth or fully understand how to use the scripts. But again, this is in the title; this book gives the history and describes the symbols; it isn’t a ‘how to’ guide.

This is one of those volumes I’m likely to keep to hand, for those times when you see a symbol but aren’t sure of its origins, or simply for reference information. I particularly enjoyed learning how the ‘flower of life’ leads into the development of platonic solids, a connection I had not previously considered.

One minor criticism: in the further reading section, the first website listed is Wikipedia. I would never, ever cite Wikipedia as either a source or as recommended further reading on a specialist subject, as it is too easy to edit and place misinformation in there. As a first step towards finding other sources, it’s fine, but it was off-putting to see it listed as recommended reading in such a niche volume.

Other than that, I was truly delighted with this volume. The presentation is outstanding, and it really does give a good outline of each set of symbols or ciphers, giving you a good starting point and a great foundation to work from.

For Amazon Information Click Image

 

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

For Amazon Information Click Images

Exploring the Penumbra: First Steps in Sorcery Part 2

July, 2017

Wordless Knowledge

In time I realized that my new experiences came from a sort of energy flowing through my body. This energy was always there, but most of it was engaged with thinking and frontal attention; consequently, I rarely noticed it. I had discovered a way to increase the flow of this energy, so that I became aware of it for the first time as a factor in my environment. I had no name for this energy because we only name the things we notice. In this way shifts in energy awareness lead to wordless knowledge.

As energy flowed through my body, feelings flowed through my mind. I couldn’t put words to these feelings, but I could place them in long forgotten memories. Apparently memory, too, had a foreground and a background, and these detailed memories were of past moments that had lain forgotten in the background. Reselection of sensations must lead to a reselection of memories. From background sounds to things seen to the side to forgotten memories, one penumbra led to another.

Were all my memories as detailed as these? If so, background sensations must be stored in memory whether we are aware of them or not. Or were moments in the penumbra all somehow linked together in their own separate memory? I wasn’t remembering everything, like a drowning person; instead, I was somehow recalling the feelings of past moments. I could follow any feeling back to its memory, and in that sense I had potential access to all my memories, but it was the feelings that were important to me. Each one contained the particular perspective I had at a given moment in the past, both on myself and on life. My present sense of myself was expanding back through my past. I began recovering my early openness to new experiences, and came to feel that everything is potentially interesting.

As my inner silence deepened, psychic abilities like telepathy and precognition began to appear, like mice that creep out at night after the family has gone to bed, as one writer put it.1 These things just happened by themselves after I’d accumulated enough energy. In what follows I will show the reader how to access this energy and save it up. If energy itself is the teacher, this might explain how the knowledge of sorcery arose in the first place.

The Echo

In 1972 I was living in Encanto, then a semi-rural community of southeast San Diego. At that time I’d found that three or four hours were about as long as I could attend to background sounds before thinking would start in again. Then one day while walking along Imperial Avenue, it suddenly occurred to me to mentally imitate the sound of a truck that had just driven by. This immediately resulted in heightened attention to sounds and a powerful surge of energy.

At first my mental reproduction of engine noises was not very accurate, but that improved with practice. Sometimes I reproduced sounds mentally a moment or two after they occurred; at other times the echo happened immediately afterwards, and became like an extra resonance to sound. I called the first the ‘delayed echo’ and the second the ‘immediate echo’. The delayed echo heightened attention to sounds, while the immediate echo prolonged such attention.

The echo combined well with other explorations and amplified their effect. On this occasion I tried mentally echoing sounds just heard while keeping my eyeglass frames in view. The result of this doubling up was three full days (not counting sleep) in the penumbra.

At one point the feeling of lightness became like a breeze blowing through my body from back to front. Things seemed to take on a bluish tinge, but this was feeling rather than vision; it had to do with how fresh everything felt. The feelings blowing through my body flooded every pore with wordless knowledge.

By the third day, the breeze had risen to a light wind and was blowing through my memories. My personal history, the sense of who I am, was being shuffled like a deck of cards, or rolled like those little pictures in the windows of slot machines.

I call this episode in my life ‘the spirit wind’. By the end of the third day the wind set me down somewhere else in myself; that is, my store of familiar memories was completely revised and my feeling of myself permanently changed from that point on.

Mental talk uses the memory of spoken words, played back on a sort of internal tape recorder, I reasoned. When I mentally replay sounds just heard, I momentarily unplug this tape recorder from my store of familiar memories and plug it instead into immediate memory, into sounds selected randomly by circumstances. The effect, after several hours, was to send my memories on a roll. In the longer run I discovered that the echo was like a feedback signal and provided a sense of inner companionship I usually derived from thinking. I talk to myself because I am usually lonely and want to have a companion, here in my mind where I feel most alone. With practice, the echo replaced mental talk as my inner companion.

The echo gave me the power to be alone without feeling lonely; and I had flown on the echo, flown without the desert, peyote, or magic mushrooms. Poor D.D.!

Years later, some friends and I practiced the echo together in a circle. Each of us in turn made a single soft non-human sound, after which we would all repeat it mentally. After three or four go-arounds, M. laughed and said it really made her feel dizzy.

The Camera

I saw that vision supplies a sense of continuity to my experience even when interrupted by thoughts, so I tried disrupting this continuity by fluttering my eyelids like a strobe light. My lids soon got tired, so I tried opening and shutting them more slowly and resting them for a moment or two between ‘shutters’. Eventually I settled on a shutter speed that was slow enough to be comfortable but too quick for my mind to begin thinking about what it saw. I called this the ‘camera’.

In this exploration, close your eyes and breathe quietly for a few moments. Now open and shut them again immediately; not rapidly, just before you start thinking about anything. Take a few more breaths, then open and shut the eyes again. Do this for a few minutes. It works well to try it before a changing scene, so try it before an open window, or when you’re riding as a passenger in a car or on a train.

The camera can be practiced while walking across long flat surfaces such as park lawns or sandy beaches. Just look towards the ground about three feet in front of you and open your eyes often enough so you won’t trip over anything.

The disruption in visual continuity forces the mind to turn its attention to hearing and the other senses. At the same time, the slow deliberate interruption of the shutter interferes with the rapid disruption of frontal vision by thought.

An unexpected effect of the camera is to relax the chronically tensed muscles at the outer corners of the eyes. We tense these muscles habitually in order to track on objects. Once those muscles relax, something opens up there and a flow of energy enters the eyes from the sides carrying with it feelings and wordless knowledge. The eyes no longer strain to see but instead become passive windows, and vision becomes fresher and more vivid. Try varying the number of breaths taken between shutters, as well as the speed of the shutter itself. Eventually, your eyes will shutter by themselves spontaneously.

The ‘swing camera’ is performed by moving the head slowly from left to right several times, working the shutter at each end of the arc. Then face forward and slowly open your eyes. The whole visual field will appear united, with the left and right peripheries prominent.

Where there is danger of stumbling, the reverse of the camera can be performed: the eyes are open but are slowly and relaxedly closed and opened again at intervals. To avoid strain, let your eyes blink by themselves normally between times. The discoverer called this exploration ‘long blinking’. [P.J.]

A related exploration involves periodically opening the eyelids a little wider than usual, then letting them relax back into their accustomed position. This is most effective after practicing the camera for a while. [W.W.]

But there was one problem with the camera, and solving it led to a new way of exploring the lumina.

Phosphenes

When I first began practicing the camera, I noticed that I tended to drift back into thinking during the phase when my eyes were closed. So I took the explorer’s tack of looking for whatever I was ignoring in the situation.

What I was ignoring were phosphenes, all the little lights and vague shapes that seem to hang or dissolve across the backs of the eyelids. Here was an unexplored region of the lumina, a book only I could read, though written in an unknown language.

I was not trying to project known forms on my phosphenes; I simply picked out this or that detail and tried to follow its changes. Though these images were like nothing in the world, I could study the ways they changed into each other, getting a feeling for their movement. I saw that one way they change is by reversing figure and ground. At one point a detail that is part of the foreground begins to merge into the background, while background details gain in prominence, like the black silhouette of a wine cup that becomes two lovers kissing, or the ambiguous paintings of M.C. Escher.

When I combined this exploration with the camera, each shutter was followed by an after-image that faded into the usual slow dance of unknown figures. Whatever I caught sight of when my eyes opened slowly disintegrated when they were shut again, and in this way I saw something known gradually turn into something unknown. I tried to catch the point at which the after-image was no longer recognizable. These explorations deepened my inner peace suddenly. It felt like slipping down a floor or two in an elevator.

While watching phosphenes, the eyes can slowly and gently move from side to side, as they do more rapidly while dreaming. The eyes are not moved physically but move by themselves as the explorer moves his attention across the field of lights and shapes. [W.E.]

A related exploration involves opening the eyes just enough to admit a minute crack of external light, which is essentially the way Zen Buddhists peer at a wall while meditating. This ‘wall vision’ heightened the mind’s attention to phosphenes when the eyes were fully shut again.

Echoing sounds just heard provides a soundtrack to the phosphene movie. When I did this, my mind associated the two in a single rhythm. I called this sort of exploration a ‘blending’. Blendings concentrate the attention more fully in the penumbra, so that the explorer goes in more deeply and stays there longer.

Spirit Door, Spirit Candle

Early on I tried experiments with crossing my eyes, making the visual field all penumbra. It was hard to do without strain, so I developed a preliminary relaxation. First I crossed my eyes for short moments without focusing on anything in particular. This helped to loosen up some of the muscular tension around my eyes. I just crossed them a moment and then relaxed letting the muscles go, allowing my eyes to uncross by themselves. This warm-up by itself led to a calm feeling of strengthened will power in the center of my head.

As practicing the camera also helped relax the muscles around the eyes, it was natural to try it out with the eyes crossed, once they could be crossed without strain.

I tried darkening the room and lighting a candle on a table at eye level, three feet or more in front of me. I lit the candle and then did the preliminary relaxation, making two candles, then releasing the eyes and letting them return to one candle again. I repeated this several times until my eyes suddenly stayed crossed by themselves, without strain.

(Fig. 1: Spirit Door: 1st point, lower 2nd point.

Fig. 2: Spirit Door: 1st point, lower 2nd and 3rd points.

Fig. 3: Spirit Door: 1st point, upper 2nd and 3rd points.

Fig. 4: Spirit Candle.

The signature is my son Corin Elliott’s, who drew the illustration in 2000 C.E.)

My eyes were directed at a point midway between the candle flames and on a level with them. Keeping my eyes on that point, I extended my attention to a point just below the first (fig. 1). This made the space between the two apparent candles seem like a doorway; feelings began flowing through this doorway into my eyes, producing a surge of energy in the middle of my head. I called this ‘the spirit door’.

Without moving the eyes, I then moved my attention to a third point at the same lower level, but closer to me (fig. 2). This triangulation gave space a different geometry, in which the two apparent candles seemed to be rushing towards me without ever arriving. If I extended my attention to a point just above the first, and from there to a third point on that level but closer to me, the strange geometry also appeared, in which I seemed to be rushing towards the candles without ever getting to them (fig. 3).

When the candle was farther away, I redirected my eyes from point 1 to point 2 to point 3, keeping part of my attention on point 1. In other words, I practiced ‘gazing from the side’ instead of ‘gazing to the side’.2 I found both forms of gazing to be effective.

The ‘spirit candle’ was similar but used two candles of the same height and shape but of different colors. When crossing the eyes created a third ‘spirit candle’ between them, both colors were present in the candle but did not blend as a third color. When one eye got lazy, the corresponding color disappeared. Keeping the two colors steady helped to detect mind-wandering and stopped it in time (fig. 4).

My candle experiments became rather baroque after a while. I would place two candles side by side in the corner of my bathroom sink, where they were reflected in two mirrors at right-angles to each other, making as many as six apparent candles. The additional images didn’t result in more energy, however.

The spirit door and spirit candle filled me with calm will power. Will and knowledge seemed to be the same thing after practicing them, and this effect combined with a surge of power in the center of the head.

Filling the Boat with Water

The traveler in the penumbra must manage to integrate these strange practices into a reasonably normal life, or he may give the appearance of schizophrenia and wind up in an asylum, like the protagonist of the French film ‘La Vie a l’Envers [Life Upside Down]’. 3 It is probably not possible to avoid a certain appearance of eccentricity, but with circumspection one can avert raising a general alarm.

While sitting in an airport and maintaining peripheral vision I found it was enough to wear dark glasses and hold a magazine in front of my face, turning the pages occasionally, to avoid appearing odd. I called these tricks of protective coloration ‘alibis’.

I saw that every situation affords some opportunity for extending the attention beyond the lumina. In a restaurant it may be revolving shadows cast by a ceiling fan, a convenient thing to gaze at while waiting for one’s order to arrive, while of course maintaining an air of day-dreaming. This ever-present opportunity I called a ‘bindu,’ a Sanskrit word meaning a point from which new creation can emerge. So in every new situation I looked for the bindu and had an alibi ready for camouflage purposes.

This helped me to integrate sorcery into any given moment, but the question of integrating it into my life as a whole remained. I still built up my energy for two or three days and then wasted it through anger, worry, or mild obsession. I enjoyed the fluid lightness of continuous sensation, but could only save up just so much energy, since my thinking mind found so many ways to squander most of it. Accessing the energy, then, wasn’t enough; I had to find a way to save it and store it up if I wanted to make progress.

An eastern teaching says we are like leaky vessels; we should find the leaks and plug them before filling the vessel with water. This means correcting bad habits and purifying oneself ethically before opening the door to psychic development.

Exploring the penumbra, however, is like filling an old boat with water to find the leaks. The explorer saturates mind and body with the energy of the penumbra and then quietly observes what his personality does with the increased energy. The eastern

teaching is prudent, and the explorer should bear in mind that filling the boat with water can be risky at first until you know where your big leaks are. Although adventures can be therapeutic they also contain dangers. To protect themselves, seasoned travelers travel lightly, simplifying their lives by eliminating useless possessions, opinions, commitments, relationships, clutter of all sorts. Greater openness to sensations makes the explorer seek silence and solitude, and cutting down on distractions makes it easier to spot energy leaks and plug them.

After the leaks are plugged and the hull is caulked, the old boat can be launched into the sea of the unknown.

Bindus

Upon awakening, not putting on the light right away, but lying quietly, slipping gradually from sleep to waking. Watching the lights on the inside of the eyelids. Slowly beginning the camera, fluttering the eyelids open every third breath or so. After this getting up and moving around, keeping the attention in the penumbra for a few more moments.

Driving to work around dawn, watching the long shadows of trees fall across the face like weightless waves, shadow-surf. The eyes seem to feel things.

Noon, cars gliding by on their shadows like carpets fixed to the wheels, yet the wheels roll over them just the same, a visible contradiction.

Swimming slowly across the pool, watching unrepeatable detail, lights wriggling like phosphorescent worms along the bottom, how light this body, how long the breath can be held!

Restaurants are excellent for peripheral listening, even better in the evening, by a window or in a glassed-in patio, mixing reflections with listening. Ocean of conversations all together, surging and falling to a great tide.

Lights at night, exquisite when the mind is quiet. Reflections of the interior mingled with views of the night outside. This mind wants to see either the reflections or the night, so watch them both. Headlights of cars beyond the inlet moving across the forehead of that woman eating at the next table wearing a streetlamp behind her left ear.

In the evening listening to distant sounds, letting my ears travel to the limits of the night, echoing fugitive noises until the dark flows back into my mind and the night is inside and all around me.

Late at night, off with the reading lamp, shutting the eyes, falling-asleep thoughts mingling with phosphenes. Those vague lights and patterns will be woven into dream images. My day begins and ends with this book that only I can read.

Blendings

“I’ve always got some tune or other going through my head,” my father said.

Minor obsessions like tunes that stick in the head waste a lot of energy but can be dispelled by blending them with sounds heard in the moment. Begin by echoing sounds a moment after they occur. Let the pace quicken on its own, until you are echoing sounds immediately upon hearing them. Now listen to the tune and the echo together as though they were a duet, like one of John Cage’s chance compositions.

The mind will find a rhythm common to them and they will sound as though they were keeping together within it. Presently, the inner tune will be absorbed into the outer sound, and only the outer will remain.

Mental tunes and inner talking can also be absorbed into visual movement. Watch how things move, observe their rhythm and let the mind blend with it.

When I am sleepless or otherwise caught up with obsessive thoughts, I can blend them with the rhythm or sound of my breathing, the way sitar music blends with the droning tamboura in the background.

If I try to suppress thoughts, they will only grow stronger; so instead I blend them like tunes into external sounds, letting them reverberate and die away on their own. The solution to these small dilemmas can be found in this moment of sensation.

Sometimes, when I am upset about something I can’t do anything about for the present, I begin obsessively repeating what I am going to say when the time comes. Pointless rehearsing, as opposed to intelligent planning, is a major energy leak in the hull of my boat.

At other times, dissatisfied with my response or role in a situation recently past, I will begin rehashing the situation over again, seeking to look better in my own eyes; or else I will hug to myself some quick response I made that drew laughter or applause. Either way, I waste a lot of energy in my obsessive concern over how I appear to others.

Like all trains of thought, the rehash and the rehearsal can be blended into sounds just heard, or into visual sensations. The echo, in conjunction with other explorations, lets me build up enough energy to sidestep the rehearsal and rehash before they capture my attention.

The wake of the moment just past often contains a ready-made synopsis of my life’s ongoing story. Maintaining a running story-line for my life and worrying over the plot is a full-time job and engages most of my energy.

If I blend the synopsis with sounds of the present moment my story starts

to fade, and is eventually replaced with a series of timeless pictures, like the calm

colored illustrations by Clement Hurd to Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s book

Goodnight Moon. 4

These pictures convey the feeling of immediacy enjoyed by very small children. Here is a small rabbit saying good-night to all his familiar companions: chairs, a red balloon, the moon in the window. This ‘great green room’ must be his first room, where everything began for him; only this is near the beginning and his story hasn’t really started yet. Instead there is a series of timeless moments, each complete in itself. Everything fits together and makes sense the way pictures make sense, but the moments following each other do not add up to a story because there is no plot and no synopsis.

Mirages

When my second son was little, we used to take evening walks. On the way home one night suddenly we both looked at the moon. “It’s following us home,” I said, with that slight twinge of guilt parents feel when they’re lying about Santa Claus. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t noticed this for years, probably since being told it was an illusion.

Here was an experience usually ignored, like the shadow carpets of moving cars or the fuzzy sensations that are all I can see of my head without a mirror. These sensations, rejected once we ‘knew better,’ are doors into the penumbra. I decided to call them ‘mirages,’ because like desert mirages they tend to melt away when we suddenly see through them.

The mind’s proclivity for placing unrelated sounds in some sort of rhythmic pattern, so that all the conversations in a restaurant, for instance, seem to swell and fall in a great tidal pulse, was mentioned earlier. In the preceding section its usefulness for stopping mild obsessions by ‘blending’ them into external sounds was described. These explorations make use of the energy locked up in mirages.

When out walking on a windy day, attend to the wind in rhythm with your breathing. Don’t try to control your breathing, but follow the sound and feeling of breathing while listening to the wind as though it were the breathing of some enormous animal. Breathe with the wind, then breathe in response to the wind.

When clouds are packed up in more than one layer, look at one cloud and reverse it with the cloud in back or in front of it, switching figure and ground. This one is from my brother, a field surveyor. [W.W.]

The ancient Norse seeking their farmstead idols collected stumps and rocks and such that seemed to have faces carved in them by nature. 5 These were regarded as beings trying to emerge from stock or stone, and were carved and decorated just enough to help them come out. Like the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali, they looked for hidden faces in things.

We look at faces differently from mere objects, because faces look back. The explorer finds faces in wood grain, clouds or foliage and looks, then gazes at them as if they were faces looking back, without believing or disbelieving that they are. This is a good follow-up to the camera or echo, and augments or fine-tunes their effect.

Watching phosphenes leads to a feeling of being asleep while knowing one is awake. The next two mirages also play with the border between sleeping and waking and result in strong surges of energy accompanied by strange feelings.

When it is difficult to dispel the feeling of a dream, or if you simply recall the flavor of some dream, whether recent or from long ago, project its feeling into the current waking situation; that is, look for qualities or features similar to the dream and blend them with your memory of its mood or atmosphere. Pretend the dream is happening right now and you are temporarily aware that you are dreaming.

When you have actually had a lucid dream and can remember how it felt, project that feeling into the present waking moment and look at everything as though you were back in that dream. As lucid dreamers know, anything in a dream is a potential distraction that can make the dreamer lose his lucidity, so you want to look at things warily, without being drawn into them. Once you are drawn in you will forget you are dreaming and it will become an ordinary dream again. If you do this while awake, you will receive a strong jolt of energy.

We have a major energy investment tied up in the isolation of dreams from waking reality, which makes it very difficult for most people to become lucid dreamers. I will conclude by considering this barrier to lucid dreaming, and how it might be overcome through a mirage.

1 Alan Watts, I think.

2 See page 6.

3 Jessua, Alain, writer and director. See bibliography.

4 Brown, Margaret Wise. See bibliography.

5 Davidson, H.R. Ellis, Pagan Scandinavia. See bibliography.

Spiralled Edges

April, 2017

Spiralled Edges – Good and Bad Teachers

I’ve been thinking about teachers and students a lot recently. We talk a lot about teachers in Paganism. Someone to teach us how to be Pagan. How to do “it” right.

 

goodbadwitch

 

I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve been a student. I’ve been both at the same time. I’ve been a bad teacher, and I’ve been a good teacher. I’ve known teachers who were bad for me, but perfect for someone else, and vice versa.

But what, in my mind, makes someone a good teacher and for that matter, what makes someone a bad teacher?

A good teacher:

Has a good understanding of their history, including the myths that may be perpetuated about Paganism, and encourages others to know their history. This is true whether you are a Celtic Pagan, Wiccan, Heathen, Hellenic, or Eclectic

A bad teacher:

Presents myth as fact and discourages a deeper understanding or study.

A good teacher:

Knows that knowing the rules is important, but knowing when to listen to internal intuition and break the rules is even more important.

A bad teacher:

Holds fast to dogmatic rules and discourages intuitive awareness.

A good teacher:

Encourages their student to soar, while providing a solid grounding to land upon.

A bad teacher:

Keeps their student tethered to an unsteady ground.

A good teacher:

Admits when they don’t know the answer.

A bad teacher:

Is never wrong.

A good teacher:

Is learning alongside their student.

A bad teacher:

Already knows it all.

A good teacher:

Knows they are not always the best teacher for a particular student.

A bad teacher:

Thinks they are always the best teacher for everyone.

A good teacher:

Wants the student to surpass them.

A bad teacher:

Wants the student to remain less than.

A good teacher:

Sees their student as an equal

A bad teacher:

Sees their student as inferior

A good teacher:

Promotes tolerance and understanding between religions

A bad teacher:

Bad-mouths other religions and promotes intolerance

A good teacher:

Has their sh*t together in their personal life.

A bad teacher:

Is always moving from one crisis into the next in their personal life.

A good teacher:

Realises that sometimes they will be a bad teacher.

A bad teacher:

Tells you they are always good.

Now, I know that this list is not all-inclusive. I will most likely think of a few more that I could have added soon as this is published. It is however a pretty good starting point.

I am equally certain that others will think of items which could be added to this list based on their own experiences. Please feel free to comment with your own suggestions as to what makes a good teacher, or a bad teacher.

Spiralled Edges

March, 2017

Spiralled Edges – Real Pagans

 

witches

 

Occasionally, I see a resurgence of the perpetual “What is a ‘Real Pagan?’” argument. Usually connected to something that has been reported in the news, or a round of gossip or bitchcrafting.

Nothing new under the sun, these same arguments made the rounds years ago without the aid of social media. Invariably, any argument or discussion that being with “Real Pagans or True Pagans…..” finished with a list that manages to include everything the person does and excludes everything the person doesn’t. And for every single “Real Pagans don’t do X” I have seen I can point out a Pagan somewhere who does do it.

All Pagans are real Pagans. Not just the ones who follow a limited definition. This means that the Pagan who does curses is just as real as the Pagan who never curses. The Pagan who follows one God is just as real as the Pagan who follows many, or none. The Celtic Pagan is just as real as the Hellenic Reconstructionist. The Polytheist is just as real as the Pagan atheist. The witch who studied at grandma’s knee is just as much a witch as the witch who looked herself in the eye and recited “I’m a witch” three times.

Am I saying that anyone who calls themselves a Pagan is a Pagan?

Yes, actually, I am. It is neither my role nor my place to tell anyone else what or who they are. Pagan is not a single religion, it is an umbrella term that encompasses many religions.

I also see Pagans placed on pedestals by other Pagans, with a somewhat naïve expectation that because someone is Pagan, they somehow are above or incapable of negative actions. So let’s clear up a few of those myths and misconceptions.

Pagans come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and flavours. There is no one size fits all here.

  • Some Pagans cast spells, some don’t.
  • Some Pagans celebrate the Sabbats on the Wheel of the Year, some don’t.
  • Some Pagans follow the three-fold law, or the 7-fold, or the 9-fold. Some don’t.
  • Some Pagans follow the Wiccan rede. Some don’t. (Hint, if someone isn’t Wiccan there’s a good chance they don’t.)
  • Some Pagans are lefty-leaning, eco-warrior, long-haired hippy freaks. Some Pagans aren’t.
  • Some Pagans are right-wing fundamentalists. Some Pagans aren’t.
  • Some Pagans never eat meat. So do.
  • Some Pagans would never dream of doing a binding spell on anyone, let alone a curse. Some Pagans won’t hesitate to zap your butt if you threaten their family or loved ones.
  • Some Pagans are pro-life. Some are pro-choice.
  • Some Pagans are criminals. Most aren’t.
  • Some Pagans abuse their spouse or partner or children. Most don’t.
  • Some Pagans are obnoxious assholes. Most aren’t.
  • Some Pagans are sexual predators. Most aren’t.
  • Some Pagans I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them. Some I would trust with my darkest secrets.
  • Some Pagans are extroverts. Some are introverts.
  • Some have chronic illnesses, or mental health issues. Some don’t.

Pagans do not hold a monopoly on goodness and light. The vast majority are every day folk, just going about their lives the best they can. But, we are human and like all humans we have our good and our bad points.

We are all Pagan because we all claim the title of Pagan. It is not my place to exclude someone just because they aren’t the same kind of Pagan as me. Nor is it yours.

Process & Spirit

January, 2017

There is an old Chinese proverb: “When the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way.” This saying reveals the missing element in spiritual disciplines that do not bear fruit. You may read all the manuals of shamanism and witchcraft, and so forth, that you like, and you may try practicing one particular discipline consistently, following the steps laid out for you in the manual, and yet achieve only weak, spotty results at best. These disciplines all seem to require a commitment greater than one is willing to make in order to be effective.

We are living in a mechanistic age, a time when all problems are approached as though they are engineering problems and can be solved by the correct application of skill and discipline. We think that by learning a certain technique, and applying it efficiently, we can surmount difficulties in any field, including the realm of spiritual effort.

I once knew a young man who was socially backward and asked me to describe the “right approach” to women, in order to “get some action.” I said that the right approach is to genuinely like them; they really appreciate being liked. He was nonplussed at this advice, recognizing immediately that no technique could make him like women if he instinctively distrusted them, which he did.

The same thing applies to the religious or spiritual realm, and this was recognized in the pre-mechanistic age when the “technique” followed was interaction with spirits. Spirits are persons, not processes. You can switch a computer on and work at it for as long as you like, then save your work, switch it off, and later when you come back it will be ready to resume, whether you had stayed away for an hour or a year. Persons are not like that. If you put in time with a mate and then stay away for a year, you will not find that person very willing to resume where you left off if you come back to him or her. The same is true of spirits.

Another difference already alluded to involves the emotions. Your computer doesn’t care if you like it or not, but a person will care. You must not only like someone, but must show it as well; even in friendship, a certain amount of devotion must be paid. To some extent this follows upon effort, that is, if you make a great personal sacrifice of time and energy for the sake of a person, that person will acquire a measure of importance in your eyes, and vice versa. However, it is never a matter of mere investment on your part. You must dedicate yourself past the point where you forget profit and loss.

In the same way, a religion cannot be a mere hobby, one activity among many. Witchcraft comes to mind in this connection. For many, witchcraft is a hobby, something that can be taken up or laid down at will without consequences. There are no spirits in hobbies; you may lick and paste all the stamps you like into an album, but the album will remain unaware of you, and thus you can relax and simply enjoy yourself.

If that is all witchcraft or some other mystery religion means to you, that is all right, but realize that you will remain in the outer court of the mysteries and never pass through the gates into the inner sanctum. The gates of mysteries are guarded by spirits, and spirits are persons, and if you are to pass within, you must initiate, and keep up, a personal relationship with those guardians. When your efforts begin to bear fruit, instead of thinking “it’s starting to work,” think instead “the spirit is responding to me.” This will follow in the unpredictable nature of results, which come in their own time and way, seemingly incommensurate with the amount of effort put out; and this is another reason for regarding them as the behavior of a spirit, rather than the automatic results of an impersonal technique.

In our tradition, which might be described as Celtic-eclectic (that is, focused on Celtic lore but open to borrowings from related traditions), three initiations are held, preceded by a dedication. When a student is ready, he or she may request a dedication ceremony, at which a promise is made to study the Craft and the coven tradition for a year and a day. This is a promise to the coven, not a vow; as yet, no spirits are involved.

At the end of the dedication period, the dedicated one may request actual initiation into the coven. This ceremony, which naturally must remain secret, includes a vow and personal “introductions” of the initiate to the Watchers, the “great ones” or gods of the four quarters. The Watchers each govern a kingdom of elementals, and one elemental from each kingdom passes into the appropriate elemental tool of the initiate. In our tradition, a sylph passes into the wand, a salamander into the athame, an undine into the chalice, and a gnome into the pentacle. An initiate should have all four tools on hand for an initiation, though sometimes this is deferred until a particular tool is acquired. But in any case, the first degree initiation marks the beginning of a personal relationship for the witch with each of the four spirits known as “Watchers”.

The Watcher of the East is the elemental spirit of Air, and governs knowledge. The Watcher of the South is the elemental spirit of Fire, and governs will. The Watcher of the West is the elemental spirit of Water, and governs daring (that is, devotion or dedication); and the Watcher of the North is the elemental spirit of Earth, and governs inner (and outer) silence.

One’s relationship with the Watchers and their respective spheres must be personal, and this applies also to the elemental tools, for these must not be thought of as tools in the mechanistic sense, but rather as fetishes, each housing a spirit. The association of the tool with the elemental quality should be reinforced by having the wand at hand while learning, the athame while exerting the will in disciplined action, the chalice while going beyond one’s limits in a super-effort, and the pentacle while going within in inner silence. Traditionally the witch will name his or her tools, as it seems; but actually the name is for the indwelling elemental.

The philosopher Nietzsche, in his book Thus Spake Zarathustra, describes the “last man” and contrasts him with the “overman” (by which he meant the self-overcoming man). The last man is the product of mechanization, he (or she is understood) who seeks to cut corners at all costs, he who never gives himself in commitment, he who is unable to despise himself. The world of the last man is one in which one hears “a fool, who still stumbles over stones or human beings!” For in the mechanistic, measured-out world, stones and human beings are alike regarded as mere obstacles to one’s goals.

By contrast, the overman has gone through an overwhelming experience Nietzsche calls “the hour of the great contempt.” “What matters my learning?” asks the overman of himself. “I do not see that I desire knowledge as the lion desires food!” And similarly for the other virtues, the overman sees and rejects his own half-heartedness and disinclination to give himself to his values. This is the atmosphere of the witch dealing with his or her elementals and the Watchers. They are persons, not means to ends.

For pagans in general, the same can be said of one’s relation to one’s patrono or matrona, the personal god or goddess with whom one has a special relationship. Every deity has something to teach, a discipline to impart, and the devotee learns and follows the teaching, the discipline of his or her sponsoring deity. In our witchcraft tradition, the witch will put special effort into his or her relationship with one of the great ones, whether a Watcher of the four quarters, or one of the deities of the height, the center or the deep. In paganism generally, the patrono or matrona can be chosen from any deity in the pantheon of one’s chosen tradition.

Whomever one chooses, the important point is to dedicate oneself, not exclusively to the one spirit, but with the intensity and focus one would have towards a lover or intimate friend. A too exclusive dedication, as in monotheism, leads to spiritual imbalance; nevertheless, one should feel that one’s patrono or matrona is an important person in one’s life, and make continual (though not continuous) efforts in that deity’s discipline.

The benefits accruing from such a relationship will reinforce the efforts of the devotee, but must never eclipse the personal importance of the spirit involved. If this happens, one has fallen back on process and will make only mechanical, half-hearted (at best) efforts; and then the relationship with the spirit will wither and die. The wrong man will have used the right means, and the right means will have worked in the wrong way.

Spiralled Edges

September, 2016

Spiralled Edges: Do Pagans Have Free Will?

Every time I think I have something figured out about myself, my Pagan practice, or the Gods something invariably happens to make me thing – do I still believe that?

Recently, I’ve been considering the idea of Free Will. Philosophers and religious scholars from every religion have been cussing and discussing it for centuries. Free Will or Pre-Destiny? Do we make the choices in our life, or are out paths laid out for us well in advance of our arrival.

Or, is it somewhere between these two extreme ideas?

spiral

 

Many years ago, I was talking to a friend (Religion and culture: Hindu) about the subject of Free Will and he shared with me something he had been taught by his father.

Free Will can be compared to a goat tethered to the ground. The goat can freely decide where it will walk, and what grass it wants to eat within the radius allowed by the length of the rope tethering it. Free Will in this example is an illusion, existing only within the limits placed upon the goat.

Likewise, as humans, we have an illusion of Free Will within the limits that have been placed upon us.

When they were young, my children liked the independence of being able to choose what they wore each day. I made my life easier, and gave them an illusion of choice, by limiting their choice. Red shirt or blue shirt, blue shorts or brown. How many of the choices that we make as adults are in their own way just as limited?

My own ponderings on this subject have been triggered as I have explored what it means for me to be a priestess of The Cailleach. For years, I have told people that they always have a choice on which God/s they might serve and how, and on what God/s may be their Patron, whether or not they choose to also dedicate themselves to that Deity. Over the years I have had Patron Gods and I have worked with them, but never had I been called to actually serve as a Priestess. Until now.

I will probably still tell others that they always have a choice, but I am beginning to question what illusions there might be between free will, and planned destinations. How much choice did I really have in agreeing to be a priestess of the Cailleach? Or was I presented with limited choices that ultimately would have led me to where I am now, regardless of which choice I had freely made.

How often as we move through life, thinking that we are exercising our own Free Will, do we discover through hindsight wasn’t quite what we thought. Free Will within the limits placed upon us by circumstance, location, and possibly even a Deity or two.

Over the past few months, She has shown me ways in which She has steered me in my decisions in order to bring me to this point in my life. Seemingly unrelated events, like the creating of my staff over 20 years ago and the move to the UK 18 years ago were each tiny links in a chain. How often, I ask myself, have these not-so coincidental occurrences steered me towards who I am today.

How often have each of us lived under an illusion that we were exercising our free will, never realising that we had been limited in the options we were given?

It is only now, looking backwards through time, that I can see the patterns and the points where The Cailleach had touched me, spoken to me, and guided me on my journey. Hers was the whisper in my ear telling me to select the sapling of a particular tree for my staff instead of a branch on another tree. Hers was the urge in my soul to move further east than I had ever anticipated from my Kansas home when I ended up in London instead of moving west to California. She is the one who led me to study the art of Soul Midwifery so that I may one day work with those who are at the end of their life.

I am still working out just what being a priestess of The Cailleach means. One thing she has made clear though, I am the one, with an occasional nudge from Her, who will be doing the working out. With or without Free Will.

Spiralled image created by Nan using WeaveSilk.com

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