Prunings from the Hedge

June 1st, 2011

The Power of Stillness

The northern quarter of the circle is the quarter of Earth, and its inner or elemental power is traditionally called the power to keep silence.  It would be more accurate to call it the power to keep still, because the quarter of Earth includes the material body.   The Watcher of the north is Ghom or Ghob in ceremonial magic, and his elementals are called gnomes or ghobelins (goblins).  In the related tradition of Tuscan witchcraft, the Watcher is named Taga or Tages, the Divine Child of the Etruscans.  Tages sprang from a furrow a farmer was plowing early in Etruscan history, and presented that people with a scripture (they were one of the few pagan peoples to possess a revelation), by which their seers and soothsayers were able to predict the future.  Because of this revelation, the Etruscans knew that their civilization would pass through a number of crises and eventually succumb to a conqueror – the Romans.

The Watcher of the north, according to magical tradition, came to the Earth from the star Fomalhaut, one of the four royal stars of the Medes.  Fomalhaut is prominent on the northern horizon at dawn on the winter solstice, and thus winter is the season of the northern quarter of the Wheel of the Year, which is related to the ritual circle.  The north is called ‘the place of power’ in witchcraft, and in many traditions the altar is placed in the north rather than the center of the circle.  This is because the Earth, which revolves approximately in the plane of the ecliptic, is oriented towards the star Polaris, and the Sun points in about the same direction in its progress around the galaxy; thus, the World Pillar is aligned with the pillar of the solar system and turns in sympathy with it.

When Ghom arrived on the Earth ages ago, he took up residence in the Earth, and his elementals, the gnomes, traditionally live underground.  When a witch is assigned a personal gnome at initiation, it goes into the pentacle, the weapon or tool magically resonant with the witch’s inner pillar.

In Celtic tradition, sacred wells were similarly in magical sympathy with the inner pillar of the druid.  They were thought to extend all the way down to the Underworld, the place of residence of the root-soul of the druid or other worshipper.  The surface of the well corresponded to the surface of the mind, and focusing on its waters, the druid went into trance and dove deep into his or her own inner pillar, plunging into the ever-quieter depths down to his or her root-soul.

The surface of our everyday minds, as we know, is generally rather chaotic, with mental conversations crossed by sudden images or outbursts of feeling.  This is most evident when we start to fall asleep, our senses withdrawn from the outer world.  Images and words are jumbled together in illogical association, and trains of thought wander off and disappear before they are completed.  In dreams, chains of imaginary events often exhibit the same harum-scarum quality.  In waking life, we often force ourselves to focus on certain sequences of thought selected out of the welter of mental static, and we often lose the thread and wander off into byways that have no practical relevance.

One manifestation of this turbulence is the feeling one often has of uneasiness connected with whatever we are doing at the time.  We feel that somehow we should be doing something else, and this gives us a sense of hurry that often spoils whatever work we are doing, particularly if we are trying to do more than one thing at a time.  Cats do not experience this feeling, and that is one big reason why witches have traditionally kept them as familiars.  When a cat relaxes, it does so completely, and when it eats or chases a string, it does so in perfect peace.  It is not concentrating in the human sense, for concentration usually involves a sense of forced attention, keeping out internal and external distractions.  Distractions simply do not exist for it.  It is not plagued by trains of thought because it cannot think in the sense of talking to itself.  It lives in silent knowledge without words.  Cats do, however, register and remember sounds, and that is how they can recognize our voices and tell from our tone what we are feeling, in a simple way.  A witch keeping a cat for a familiar will seek to emulate this inner quiet and even practice repeating sounds mentally, as a way of regaining access to the pre-verbal mentality humans once shared with animals.

This inner quiet in which cats live out their lives is necessary for witches in ritual, as it is necessary for people practicing yoga or martial arts or meditating.  The witch must descend his or her inner pillar at least one level, below the surface level of chatter and static, to what lies just beneath.  Thoughts do not cease at this first sub-level but they quiet down from mental speech to mental whisperings, much as happens when we let go of the day and fall asleep.  The witch’s personal gnome helps him or her to accomplish this descent, and this is what should happen, ideally, when the witch places his or her hand on the pentacle or special stone on the altar.

The gnome shows the witch how to focus on the spaces of silence between sounds, and this causes mental sounds to spread out, so that they are more widely spaced and no longer overlap or interrupt each other.  Repeating external sounds mentally also helps to spread out or dilute mental noise.  The witch slips between mental noises, as it were, descending through the silences between them to the next lower level.  At this level one hears whispers not unlike those that pass through the mind as it is falling asleep; but this is only the first lower level.  The inner pillar is like an elevator, and it can take the traveler down many floors.  This is a form of soul or astral travel that takes place without leaving the material body.

At the next level down, there are no more whispers, these being replaced by subtle currents, sometimes called ‘the still, small voice within’ by contemplatives and mystics.  One can focus on one of these silent voices and derive meaning from it, surfacing once again in the process.  In this way, Socrates became aware of what his personal daimon was advising him against doing.  This is the level cats operate on, using their memories of sounds.  If one is descending with open eyes, these currents will seem to enter consciousness from the perimeter of the visual field.

In his or her inner spirit journeys the witch will eventually descend even farther, but for ritual purposes it is sufficient to attain the first sub-level of whisperings.   As mentioned, these inner whispers are spread out and do not overlap or interfere with each other.  If the witch can live much of the time on this level, he or she will feel freer because of the increased inner space.  He or she will enjoy “fifty miles of elbow room,” in the words of an old Dixieland song.

This greater room to move around inside will not only facilitate ritual but make it possible to tackle small habits and compulsions.  One has then acquired energy for one’s salamander and can, with its help, start  cultivating the power to will; for elementals are attracted to the energy of the opposite quarter, seeking a two-element balance.  In addition to providing communication with the Watcher of its quarter, one’s personal elementals also seek to take in the energy of their opposite on the Sun-wheel or circle, and, getting it, they provide the witch, in turn, with the energy of their own quarter.  As we will see when we discuss the southern quarter and the power to will, will (which is inseparable from action) is not a matter of gritting the teeth and forcing something.  When inner quiet and space have been achieved, will can flow gently into action, without any sense of inner violence.  This is what the Taoists call wu wei, action in inaction, and is one of the inner meanings of the Rede’s “harm none, and do as ye will.”

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