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Cunningham’s Thirteen Goals of a Witch: An Interpretation

October 1st, 2017

 

The Enchantment of Candles

 

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With a hushed prayer, I light the sacred candle of Hekate. The flame leaps to life, casting ghostly shadows upon the temple walls. In silence, I meditate upon the day, reflecting on the blessings that I have witnessed and contemplating the challenges I faced. I thank the Queen of Shadows for the light She has provided, awakening to the illumination of lessons learned. I softy blow out the candle—hallowed gratitude upon my breath…

Simple yet effective, candle magic is a central focus of enchantment in my home. The creating of candle centered spells is both relaxing and invigorating. The choosing of the color, shape and scent of the candle is magic in the making. I can spend hours in a candle shop, relishing over all the vibrant color combinations and exotic aromas. The rubbing on of oils and rolling in enchanted herbs sends my senses into a whirlwind adventure into worlds of alluring charm.

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One of my favorite forms of candle magic is the creation of artistic offerings. The picture above is a hallowed offering to the Nature Spirits and Faery. The fashioning of this work of art is a scared act and the magic emanating from it can be felt every time I light the candle. I have many of these around my home filled with all kinds of found objects from nature. They are like mini altars and can easily be disguised as a center peace on the kitchen table or coffee table.

candle3

 

For fast and easy candle magic, tea lights are the way to go. By adding a drop oil and a pinch of herbs appropriate for the spell, this simple charm is for those of us with busy lives. You can even carve some runes onto the top of the tea light with a toothpick or right out a charm of paper and place beneath the candle. If the scent of the burning herbs are overwhelming, sprinkle less herbs on the candle or simply sprinkle them around the candle. Make sure to burn this candle on a heatproof dish, the herbs and oil can catch fire.

 

candle4

 

I found this lovely candle of Hekate on etsy. When you burn a tea light behind it, the wax figure glows. It was scented in oil and I occasionally anoint the wax with more. This is a beautiful way to show devotion to the Goddess of the Flame and each time I light the candle I ask Hekate to bless my home with happiness, health, and harmony.

While there are many forms of candle magic, these are my favorites and ones that I use on a daily basis. Be creative with this bewitching art form, the beauty that comes from the making of candle spells will bring enchantment into your home and life.

*There are many lists of the appropriate candle colors to use in magic as well as herbs and oils. I like to use my intuition on the making of many of my charms and spells. What one color says on a list may be different from how that particular color makes you feel.

Witchpower

 

 

 

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

1: Cycles

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

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

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

2: Directions

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

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

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

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

3: Expanding Awareness

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

4: Conserving Magical Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5: The Familiar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6: The Patron Deity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7: Inventory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

5. See Knab in the bibliography.

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

7. See Davidson (I) in the bibliography.

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

9. See Davidson (II) in the bibliography.

 



Bibliography:

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson, Nigel, Call of the Horned Piper,

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

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

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

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

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

Like many others my age, the first witch I saw on TV was Samantha on the show Bewitched. But there was real life witch in my area whom I saw on TV several times. Jeffrey B. Cather RN, better known as Lady Circe of Toledo, OH, was respected by the media when they turned to her as the unofficial representative of the Pagan community. She was well spoken, knowledgeable and had an air of leadership about her. When I saw her on TV in the 70s and 80s, I was not yet studying the old ways, but it was in the back of my mind and the knowledge that such people existed kept the spark of my interest alive. When she passed away in 2004, I read she was a WW II veteran and since this was before the VA decision to add the pentacle as a symbol of belief, I’ve wondered if her headstone was ever changed.

Shortly after I was hired by the Postal Service in 1994, I saw a documentary called “Witches, Werewolves and Vampires.” It was more on the lighter side, but I was intrigued by what the Witches were saying about a magical nature centered religion which included a goddess. This was the moment I decided to see if what the Witches were saying was true and if this was something for me. Its funny how the words and attitudes of someone we never meet and who have no idea we exist can change our lives, so perhaps our words and attitudes can in turn affect people we will never meet and may not even know they exist.

I looked in the library in Port Clinton, OH where I was working at the time and found a book, the name of which I have long ago forgotten. It claimed to be about witchcraft, but with instructions to self initiate that included saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards three times at midnight and making a wand stuffed with a blood soaked cotton ball, it sounded weird even in my naiveté. Fortunately it disappeared never to return before I could check it out. Perhaps someone was keeping me from starting out with misinformation.

Eventually I found a few useful accurate books at the library and bought some at a bookstore in another town. But I yearned for contact with a like minded person, someone I could learn from, ask questions, and gain understanding. There was a woman on my mail route I wanted to talk with as she received metaphysical catalogs, had a stained glass pentacle on her door, stickers on her truck reading “witches heal” and “born again pagan” and had a banner in her window wishing “Blessed Samhain.” One day she was sweeping her sidewalk, so I stuck up a conversation, complimenting her on her Halloween decorations. She replied that it was important to her as she was a Witch. I replied that I was a newbie Wiccan and she offered to be of help.

I learned so much from Soraya. She explained the difference between Witch and Wiccan and elaborated on her path of Hedgewitchery. She was the first other Pagan I had met in person, so being a newbie, I tended at first to hang on her every word, something she discouraged. Instead, she encouraged me to listen to different views, try different things and see what worked for me. There was an author whom I idolized at the time, but my mentor had a rather negative opinion of her. I was able to step back and be objective about that author as well as any other. We were comfortable disagreeing agreeably and I never felt pressure to agree with or imitate her. I was a fan of the TV show Charmed and she thought it was stupid. She thought the movie The Craft insulted our religion but I could watch it over and over although I understood how those not familiar with our ways could get the wrong idea. Practical Magic was a movie we both enjoyed.

Soraya encouraged me to interact with other Pagans. She started a local meet and greet called Pagans in the Pub and invited me to come. I was too reluctant to do so and unfortunately after two meetings, it stopped due to lack of interest. She was a member of a Cleveland, OH based group and drove to their monthly meetings. We talked about me riding with her sometime but again I was reluctant. Considering the problems I have now finding the time to participate in Pagan groups, I wish I would have went.

I did manage to find other Pagans online and she pointed the way. She recommended the Witch’s Voice and a few other quality sites as well as setting up her own Pagan message board, Soraya’s Witch’s Tavern. I was one of the first members at her invitation and as I sat at the library internet computer pondering a user name, it came to me, Postalpagan, a name I still use 12 years later. It amused me when she said that some of the other members asked her if it was a reference to the term “going postal”, and she replied that I was her mail carrier. When someone asked her how she changed her hair color like one of the girls in The Craft did, she replied that she started by going to the drug store and buying a box of hair color. One Imbolic morning I knocked on her door because I had been feeling like I had way too much coffee since an early morning ritual. She went through a checklist of the steps of ritual and when she got to grounding and centering at the end, I realized my omission. Once I followed her advice to perform the missing step, I felt myself calm down. One thing she would not do was let me join her in ritual as she said she was strictly a solitary.

Her proudest moment during the time I knew her was the front page story on her in the local newspaper. She had called them about ten days earlier to point out the error in a Halloween article that claimed the Celtic god of the dead was Sam Hain and Samhain was named after him. After she replied yes to a newspaper staffer’s question if she was Pagan, she agreed to an interview at home. The article with a photo of her on her porch swing was published October 23, 1999 in the Port Clinton News Herald. It was spot on both in regards to her personally and our religion. Only one of my coworkers at the Post Office criticized her as eccentric and I defended her even though I was still in the broom closet. In spite of her fears, she did not receive any threatening phone calls or hate mail. I walked into the newspaper office to praise both the article and their willingness to be open minded. Sadly, I found out a few years later from another newspaper staffer, who was Pagan, that they received so many complaints that the editor decided that they would never run another piece on anything Pagan.

A little over two years later, I transferred to Clyde, OH and said goodbye to Soraya thanking her for her help which had meant so much. She encouraged me to keep learning and practicing as well as remaining active at the Tavern. But she soon closed the message board and I heard she moved to North Carolina. I saw her on the membership listing of Witchvox under that state for a while, then she disappeared and repeated web searches have found nothing. If perchance she is reading this, I would like to give her a big thank you for being my mentor and my dream is that someday I could be as helpful to a new Witch somewhere.

No one person can teach all of the Craft.  No one person can learn all of the Craft.  The Craft is too big.  Every witch specializes in something, and acquires proficiency with three or four other things.  This is why the saying declares “You cannot be a witch alone.”  It is best to be in a coven, from six to twelve persons plus the high priestess.  But people move around the world and it is not always possible for covens to keep together.  The next best thing is to associate with one or two witches and keep in touch with others over the internet.  Witchcraft and Neopaganism could not survive in the world today without the internet.

No one can compile an exhaustive list of topics covered by the Craft, and everyone’s personal list will be prioritized differently, according to that witch’s practice.  For me the Craft includes herblore, traditional handicrafts, farming and hunting lore, divination, dreamwork, trancework, meditation, spellwork, study of ancient religions, study of indigenous religions, local study of nature, ritualwork, and covencraft, but I am proficient in only a few of these areas.  I am not proficient in herblore, and moreover I currently live in a country, Norway, where people do not enjoy herbal freedom.  It is very difficult to obtain certain herbs here, and people are not supposed to import them.  For my herbal knowledge I must rely on friends who live elsewhere in the world and who can advise me over the internet or by telephone or letter.  Sometimes these can be obtained in the woods.  Except in the cities, there are small stretches of forest throughout the lowlands.

Local study of nature can only be carried out locally.  If you have one or more partners in the Craft, you should acquire some guidebooks to local flora and fauna, geology and topography, and go out together in different seasons of the year for camping trips and hikes, to study the locale and familiarize yourself with the animals, plants and minerals of the area.  For this topic one must combine book-learning with personal familiarity.  I am aware of the animals and plants in my neighborhood, though I am not given to long hikes or to camping anymore.

Every witch will practice some physical discipline and engage in some form of work developing manual skill, in addition to more mental pursuits.  Every witch seeks balance, both within and with the environment, including inner and outer spirits.  Witches seek freedom in all its forms, and for this reason will not use addictive substances, and will either abstain from habit-forming substances altogether, or at most will use them rarely.

Witches follow the Sun-wheel in all their practices, seeking balance in their use of the powers of elemental Air, Fire, Water and Earth.  They align these practices with the directions of East, South, West and North, respectively.

Air contains the power to know.  Thought is breath.  Every process is begun by increasing knowledge.  Witches always seek to know rather than hide from knowledge.  A witch is nothing if not practical, and will always seek to make use  of knowledge in some way.  Knowledge that is purely negative will be buried by a witch, who can draw on its power without letting its negativity emerge.

Fire contains the power to will.  Will is inseparable from action.  Witches cultivate strings of actions which require regular effort.  They take oaths before the gods to fulfill these strings.  Some strings, such as learning a language, are ongoing and have no foreseeable end.  Strings are cultivated through two forms of action, practice and praxis.  A practice is engaged in at particular times and for particular intervals of time.  A praxis is engaged in at random moments, whenever one thinks of it.  Practice and praxis support each other, and every string involves both forms of action.  To establish a string requires some form of sacrifice, for space must be found in one’s life for the new activity.  The sacrificial fire was always built traditionally in the south, and it is the means of communication with gods, demigods and ancestors.  Witches begin by sacrificing very small things, such as minor habits, which generally tie up large amounts of energy.  The ancestors approve of such sacrifices and will send the witch a special form of vigor as a sign of their approval.

Water contains the power to dare.  Witches dare to go beyond their current limitations.  They examine their assumptions and question them, seeking to think outside the box, as the saying goes.  They explore other possibilities, of awareness, of living.  They change habits to experience living in other ways.  This can also take small forms, such as taking a different route to work on occasion.  But they also seek initiation, psychic death and rebirth, and, when it is the wise choice, they will follow their passions.

Earth contains the power to keep silence.  Silence is inner as well as outer, and involves physical stillness as well as control of speech and thought.  In order to be physically still one must exercise regularly and stay in shape.  A witch will practice some form of meditation in order to be inwardly still. Avoiding unnecessary talk is important not just to preserve discretion (very important during the Burning Times and still important today), but as a way of conserving energy.  A witch conserves energy and only uses it to accomplish a worthwhile purpose.  For this reason, witches are enjoined to overcome and suppress nervous habits.  Unnecessary talking, especially expressing negative emotions, qualifies as a nervous habit.

A witch has several names.  His or her innermost name is known only to the gods, and the witch uses it in silent prayer or when praying and offering to the gods alone.  If a witch is in a coven with a tier of initiations, he or she will have an inner court name, used only among fellow initiates.  Among non-initiates or non-coven fellow witches or pagans, he or she can use an outer court name.  My outer court name, which can be read above in the byline to this paper, is Quicksilver.  This means that one of my gods is Hermes or Mercury; it also means that I tend to spread myself thin in my interests and jump around a lot from one thing to another.  I celebrate this weakness light-heartedly and by naming it I keep it within bounds, thus converting it into a strength, or at least into an element of personal style in my practice of the Craft.  The inner court name, if one has one, and the innermost name should likewise be meaningful, with the innermost name in some way expressing where one is at in one’s current incarnation, and where one is going.  An innermost name can often be the name of an animal or bird.

Witchcraft is both serious and joyful, in this way resembling the play of children.  We witches believe in reincarnation, and also periods of rest and recuperation in the Summerland  (a pleasant place in the Underworld) between lives.  Thus, we are not in a hurry and can afford to enjoy ourselves.  At the same time, our play and restful recreations generally involve some form of learning or practice.  We are children of the gods practicing being grown up, with a view to eventually engaging in some form of work helpful to the demigods (daimones) and elementals, and through them to the greater gods and goddesses.  Laughter and light-hearted glee or zest is an important part of play.  Witches come together at Esbats (generally held at the full Moon) and Sabbats (eight per year).  ‘Esbat’ is from a Middle French word, esbattier, meaning to frolic.  ‘Sabbat’ means a rest.  This implies that the real work of the Craft is done between these occasions.

Witches regard all forms of life as equal and worthy of equal respect.  Humans are not regarded as higher than animals, and even stones are thought to be conscious in some way.  Personal evolution involves harmony within and without, and faculties shared with animals and other forms of life are considered just as important to cultivate as those that seem unique to human beings.

Progress in the Craft is not uniform in pace; it slows down and speeds up at intervals.  As with mountain-climbing or attending a university, there are certain levels to be attained, and reaching them requires a period of intensive preparation when one is getting close.  In the Craft there are three levels or degrees of initiation.  Upon attaining to a new level, the nature of learning in the Craft changes its form.  One emerges victorious with respect to old struggles but must now assume more mature responsibilities; this is described in the witch saying “First the victory, then the battle.”  Initiations are like promotions in school.  Eventually one graduates, and this graduation, lifetimes ahead, is sometimes referred to as the transmutation or transformation.  Thereafter, a witch need not incarnate but can stay on the Other Side, performing work useful to the daimones.  He or she acquires the ability to visit this surface Earth, at first as a sort of light; later on a material body can be projected temporarily for a particular purpose.  This is what the ka was believed able to do in ancient Egypt.  Transmutation generally takes place on the Other Side, though accounts from stregheria (Italian witchcraft) suggest that it can occur while in a material body on this side, in which case the experience is said to be excruciating.

Witches are not much concerned with transmutation.  It lies far ahead.  One goes to the Sun and receives a body of light.  If you’re interested you can read about it in the Prasna Upanishad.

Samhain 2015 for Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

 

This article is cheating. I admit it.

I was looking over last year’s article to ensure I did not write close to the same thing this year, and I stumbled upon the file for the talk and ritual I gave at our Samhain last year. It was conveniently and entirely different from last year’s article.

Of course, memories came flooding back. Each Sabbat and gathering is packed with good memories with loved ones. Samhain, the time for honoring the dead, is a good time to connect with the living as well. In pre-Christian times, it was a time of communal work and celebration of a good final harvest and bringing the herds in for winter. It was also a time to give thanks, and ask the powers that be for protection from sickness, starvation, and death in the cold months.

I reworked my talk into an article. That is the cheating! The article discusses some history, as well as ancient practices, and then the ritual we used to honor the Sidhe has been reworked and is given at the end.

A LITTLE HISTORY AND WHY THEY HAD SAMHAIN

Samhain originally comes from Ireland and was celebrated as the beginning of winter. It dates from times when the folk were dependent upon herds. May 1, Beltaine, was of course when the herds were brought out to Summer fields, and Samhain was when they were brought in for the winter. It was also the cold part of the year. People got sicker and were more likely to die. So, people would be doing rituals for protection at Samhain.

They also believed that the dead had more access to the world of the living at that time. They not only honored the dead, but also did things to ward off spirits that were not so nice. Bad spirits could bring disease and death of livestock or people.

Back before refrigeration, insulation, electricity, and preservatives, all of this was a very big deal. The people believed very strongly that the spirits, gods, and the ancestors directly influenced what happened to the living. They could bring suffering and sickness, or bestow life, health, wealth and blessings. It was very important that all the proper taboos were observed and honor was paid to the gods, the dead and the spirits. All the proper workings and rituals had to be observed so everybody made it through the cold winter. And of course it was at the end of final harvest, so there was eating, drinking, feasting, and revelry!

ANCIENT SITES

We know what neo-Pagans do now, but we rely on the writings of people like the monks to let us know what the pre-Christian Pagans did. Some of the writings depict things we’d never do in modern times.

One god who was honored Samhain time was Crom Cruach- who favored human sacrifice. At the historical plain in what is now in Ulster, called Magh Slecht ( maw shlaykht), an image of Crom Stood, and that is where some Samhain rites were said to begin. At Magh Slecht, there are monuments dating back to before 4000 BC and there are 80 known monuments on the site. It became the center for worship of Crom, and devotees were said to prostrate themselves to Crom by kneeling and putting their foreheads on the ground. Thus, the name Mag Slecht means, “The plain of prostrations”. The monuments still there include not only Christian sites, but also artificial islands, burial sites, stone circles, and even a couple of castles. According to the monks, St, Patrick struck down the statue of Crom, ended the worship of him, and founded a church there. It is said when he struck the statue down, a ring of stones encircling the statue sank into the ground. Interestingly, it is said the Killycluggin Stone is the one St. Patrick struck down. Others say the stones around the Killycluggin Stone were actually the image of Crom. There is of course, an amazing looking replica placed where the original was excavated in 1921, as well as remainders of the stone circle. The original Killycluggin Stone is now in the County Cavan Museum in Ballyjamesduff. An online source at

themysticwood.com/shop/2015/08/01/10-tidbits-about-crom-dubh-sunday

has beautiful photos and a little more about Crom and the stone.

Other sites where Samhain was celebrated was The Hill of Ward in Ireland. It was an Iron Age ringfort where a lot of things happened, and its massive Samhain gatherings were to light the winter fires, which took place in Medieval times. Its structures date from 200 AD. It is said the god Lugh was honored on Samhain on the Hill of Ward. The Hill of Tara was also a site where Samhain gatherings occurred. It is 12 miles away from the Hill of Ward, and when fires are lit atop the hills, the fires can be seen all the way 12 miles away at one another. I lucked into an awesome You Tube Video the University of Dublin created called “The First Halloween”. You have to see it!

Another site watched was a cave where the dead were said to emerge. It’s called Oweynagat, The Cave of Cats. It is part of a complex of sites known as Rathcroghan that has burial sites, and was used for huge ritual gatherings. It complex is estimated to be 6,000 years old. The cave itself is just part of that. It was specifically the door to the other world guarded by Queen Maeve who was said to transform into the Morrigan. She held off the beasts from beyond to protect humanity. It was said she was born and also died at the entryway. She is said to emerge in her chariot every Samhain pulled by a one legged chestnut horse. Inscribed in Ogham on the lintel above the door is “Hellmouth Door of Ireland”. They also call it the cave of cats because it is said a three headed long fanged cat guards the door. I watched a video of somebody brave enough to enter. It’s a small cave where many have entered and finally, some workmen started installing electricity, and a portion collapsed to form a dead end. If you’re like me you think maybe the dead do not want people snooping around in there. It was not a place you wanted to be when those creatures emerged.

You can find the footage I am talking about at YouTube. Type in Oweynagat, cave of the cats, Rathcroghan. A journey into mother earth. Mike Croghan is the one who made this video.

Scientifically speaking, very little excavation has been done on the whole complex, but they have used radar surveys, which show a lot of similarities between Rathcroghan and the Hill of Tara complex.

BONFIRES

At these ancient sites, there was not just sacrifice on Samhain. Of course, bonfires were lit on the hills to drive out or burn up unwanted influences, as well as having two bonfires people and livestock walked between to bless them. People took flames from these fires back to their homes and lit new fires from them.

THE SIDHE AND THE DEAD

As for the honoring of the dead, it was originally the Sidhe who were honored. People left food and drink for them, sometimes leaving a portion of crops in the fields for them. If the people had to walk outside , they would turn their clothes inside out or carried salt or iron to keep the Sidhe from harming them.

The dead were welcomed into the home by setting a place for them at the table. They were honored and kept happy, because if they were upset, or wanted to come for revenge, little could be done. The Sidhe, in particular, were those creatures who you did not want to offend. Nowadays, many Neo Pagans like to decorate with fairies and dress in pretty costumes with gossamer wings, many of whom look similar to Tinkerbell. A lot of people think of the Sidhe as sweet, pretty, little earth folk who are charming and enchanting and sprinkle pixie glitter and whatnot, and that is not the way things are at all. To this day, the people of Irelend go out of their way to not piss off the Sidhe.

Some believe they are the descendants of the Tuatha De Danann- or children of the goddess Danu and when the Milesians defeated them, they went to live in the mounds. Historically, the Milesians are actually an ethnic group of people said to have come from Iberia, and settled the Island. And it is historically accepted by some that the Tuatha de Dannan were the pre-Celtic inhabitants of Ireland. They were said to go live in the mounds, which have been proven to be ancient burial sites. According to the lore, as the children of Danu were forgotten about, they shrunk in stature. Some Xtians believe they are fallen angels. Some believe they are spirits that go about their lives just like everybody else. Many believe that we live in parallel worlds with the Sidhe and our world comes in contact with theirs at times and boundaries have to be respected. Money is thrown in wells for them, great care is taken to build roads AROUND sites said to be theirs, food and drink is left for them. If people believed the Sidhe had blessed them or done work for them, gifts of a bowl of cream or new clothes was left for them. Baked goods, apples, and berries were also left for them.

The Sidhe could smile upon you, but they could also harm you. They may not only kill you or your livestock, but they could take you home with them. The belief was that the fairy mounds were completely open at Samhain time. It was a big worry that you might be carried off. If you wound up there, you might find your way back…eventually- but the Sidhe’s time is not our time. What would seem like moments in their time can be decades in our time.

A tale is told of a man who was perhaps the greatest fiddler alive. The Sidhe liked him- a lot- and so they took him with them- and he was seen sometime after his disappearance- looking horribly exhausted, filthy, starved, and a look of horror about him- and his arms seemed to be playing the instrument all on their own, detached from his body.

Encounters with the Sidhe did not always go this way, but there was a chance they could, So it was very important if to stay in or close to home if not at ritual come Samhain time if at all possible, but if you had to leave home, you could do things like- leave gifts, of course, wear your clothes inside out and carry iron, or salt to ward them off.

COSTUMES

You could also disguise yourself. Costumes started from people disguising themselves to confuse or ward off the supernatural creatures- you might get carried off to the other world if they were not disguised well. It further developed into mumming, or going from door to door costumed as part of the festivities, which is still observed all over Britain to this day. Sometimes, it was done in costume to collect things for the celebration from each household, and sometimes it was done for fun.

FUN AND PRANKS

Alcohol was used to celebrate since the time of the ancient Irish, in more recent times, they did so as well. Fueled by booze, the pranks could get pretty wild. For example- folks would throw rotten fruit or veggies around houses, throw bags of flour all over people, or make noises outside their houses.

The Sidhe could also play pranks on people. They might do something as mild as put thorns in your bed or like those horrid creatures from the Otherworld, they could wreak damage on property of livestock. They might even swap their kid for yours.

Maybe it was the Sidhe and the dead that got us started doing tricks and pranks Samhain time, but folks sometimes, to this day go too far-

Like in 2012, a 17 and 18 year old were arrested for throwing an egg in a 71 year old woman’s face who thought she was answering the door for trick or treaters.

In 2010, two women were arrested for a prank. They wrapped a mannequin in a “bloody sheet” and dropped it off on the highway and waited at the top of a hill with binoculars to see how many people they could scare.

Maybe in the days of yore, you could blame a prank on the Sidhe or spirits- but nowadays, I don’t think the police are going to buy that.

DIVINATION

Samhain was also a good time to do divination. Since the otherworld was much more active in this world, the realities shifted, messages would be clearer. They did not do “readings” the way we do. They sometimes used food. An apple was peeled, and the peel thrown over the shoulder to see if it would reveal the first letter of the person’s future spouses name. Eggs whites were dropped in water to see if it would reveal the number of children a couple would have. They sometimes had each person present put a rock representing themselves in a ring together. Everybody would run around the stones and in the morning if any stone was mislaid it was supposed to show who would not survive the winter.

TODAY AS OPPOSED TO THEN

For us Neo-Pagans, we do Sabbat. Usually an evening ritual and gathering. But in days past, the festivities might last a week from first bringing the cattle in, to blessing them and getting them situated- down to slaughtering the last of the meat- especially the animals they felt would not make it through the winter and then having the feast prepared- which might last for more than one day.

So from its humble beginnings – in Ireland thousands of years ago, we now have people all over the world celebrate this blessed time of year when the living and the dead commune and when we prepare for the ice and snow and dark and cold.

We may celebrate differently today and for perhaps different reasons but this ancient occasion is what brought us all together tonight.

One other thing about the Sidhe- it is really not polite to talk about them, and I have talked about them a whole lot, haven’t I? It is a good thing the ritual honors them!

In Honor of the Sidhe

This ritual comprised the closing for our Samhain in 2014 and I am sharing it here. The ritual is a good one to do with anybody, including kids and people who have no formal training in ritual. They do their reading, and give their offering. Simple.

Preparation

Gather things for four offerings. Food, drink, coins, and incense.

Do not cast circle, as your people will stand in a circle and that will comprise your circle. You do not want a closed circle for this out of respect for the Sidhe and so they may come and go as they see fit. Plus, when you leave your offerings, each person needs to be able to move around to place things wherever they deem fit. That might just be a distance from where you are standing to do ritual. Plus, you do not want to banish.

Do not set up an altar. You just need your papers with the readings written on them, and your offerings. It is really best to do this outside in your garden or in nature. You can have garden torches if you like, or outside lights if available. Then again, if you are in a deep forest, or if the stars and moon are not bright enough, you can always let people have their own flashlight or candle to illuminate. But if you cannot be outdoors for this rite, just turn off the lights and light enough candles to see by.

You can have three people to give offerings of drink, food, and money and you can offer the incense at the beginning. Ideally, you want to leave the offerings out in nature for the Sidhe to accept without being watched. You can split up the readings for your group. You can also do all the parts yourself if you are doing Solitary ritual.

You certainly can have people stand facing the appropriate directions when they give their offerings, but you really don’t have to. Wiccan use of the four directions comes out of traditions that came later on in Pagan practice. While the purpose of this is to honor the Sidhe, not to necessarily stick with any given dogma, if you prefer, you certainly can do things “by the book” as they say, moving only clockwise, and standing facing in the traditional Wiccan directions.

The Ritual

Opening Reading

If history, lore, and science are believed, some of us, perhaps all of us in this very room are the descendants of the Sidhe. Some writings say they were the first inhabitants of Mother Ireland. The ones originally responsible for the very fact we have Samhain. If all this is to be believed, they walk among us morseo this time of year, and more than that their blood flows in our veins. It is because of them that we are alive today. And because of us, they are alive today.

It is them who we will honor and ask for blessings in this rite.

Reading #1

(Light the incense, and put it in the center of your group of people.)

Hail to the Sidhe.

Beautiful and Terrible.

Small, and Great.

Seen and Unseen.

Hail to you Fathers of Fathers.

Mothers of Mothers.

Guardians of the Otherworld.

Reading #2

(Put the drink in the center)

You can heal or you can harm.

You can grant life or death.

Accept our gifts and respect

As we enter the cold, dark months.

Reading #3

(Put the food in the center)

Spare us and our loved ones another winter

That we may make it to the Summer.

Increase our wealth and give us good health.

Help us to pass this winter in good company

And to create good memories

Accept our gifts and our respect.

Reading #4

(Put the money in the center)

Smile upon us, give us safe passage home this night

And this season.

(Now those offering gifts will gather up gifts, and with all attendees, take the things and place them where the Sidhe can find them.

Come back together.)

Closing

(Have all join hands.)

The Sidhe have been gifted and honored, and now, may your gods and guides bless you. May the ancestors be ever present all of your days. May the Sidhe smile upon you, and may we all see one another soon.

Merry Have We Met,

Merry Shall We Part,

and Merry Shall We Meet Again.

Blessed Be.

Blessed Samhain.

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