Witches Soul Work: Sacred Stories and Flying
“If that which thou seek thy find not within thee, thy will never find it without.” (1)
The Craft involves deep soul work leading to understanding the authentic self, the connection with the divine, and understanding the Mysteries. If you were Buddhist you might called this enlightenment. What is enlightenment for Witches? Many people new to the Craft read the beginner books and think that that is all there is. I would like to share with you some of the ways that Traditional Witches do soul work, the way they approach and understand the Mysteries and an exploration of what the Mysteries are. This idea was inspired by a course called Soul Work from Cherry Hill Seminary (2) and from a comment by a woman on our local pagan internet site who said that she was quitting our group because we were not serious (i.e. fluffy) about our spiritual work. (Thank you dear!) The Craft is the most deeply spiritual path I know, but because it is hidden it is not easy to find.
Sacred Stories and Flying
The old tales conjure up times gone by, medieval knights and dragons, Merlin and Arthur, Ladies rising from mysterious lakes and magickal swords. These stories, no matter what tradition they come from, live century after century and fuel our imaginations because there are hidden truths in them that are part of the fabric of who we are. Witches use the Sacred Stories as blueprints for pathworking or soul work. One way of entering the story is by using the technique called ‘flying’ which you might have heard referred to in modern day as ‘shamanic journey’. Witches flew to the Sabbat to celebrate if they were not able to go there in person and they did this by leaving their bodies and flying up the chimneys. Often they would use ‘flying ointments’ which are different hallucinogenic concoctions that facilitated the flying-state. This is common in Shamanic Cultures all over the world, and the Witches were the Shamans of what we now call Celtic people.
Sarah Ann Lawless writes in her article that “most flying ointment recipes include plants from the Solanaceae family; you may recognize some or all of them: belladonna, datura, henbane, and mandrake. Other traditional flying ointment herbs include the opium poppy, water hemlock, monkshood, and foxglove. Wherever these plants are to be found, so are witches.” (3). Witches would smear this ointment on different areas of their bodies to facilitate the flying. A less toxic kind of flying ointment is made from oil of basil but flying ointment is not needed at all for flying. You can do it by following their steps. They started by imagining that they were lifting up from their bodies and going to their brooms near the hearths. Mounting the brooms they imagined themselves flying up the chimney and into the star-studded night. Swiftly riding the dark winds they would whisk over the old forests to the Sabbat Circle where they would experience the ring dance and other ecstatic trance-inducing practices.
You can use the practice of flying in the same way to enter the Sacred Stories. Pick a story and read it until you know it well. Pick the characters and places in the story that seem to be the most important to you. When you are ready cast your circle and lie down in a comfortable position. Imagine yourself taking your broom and flying up the chimney and into the story. If you don’t have a chimney you can imagine yourself taking your broom outside your front door, mounting it and flying into the night sky. Only go to one character at a time and when you return make sure that you take good notes as this type of practice is like dreaming and it can be forgotten easily.
The Lady of the Fountain
I first started working with the Lady of the Fountain when I created a Solitary Pathworking for Initiated Witches called “the Path of the Cauldron”. This pathworking is an inner quest for the Cauldron of Cerridwen using the sacred stories of the Mabinogion. Part I is working with the Lady of the Fountain story using reflection, meditation and flying journey.
When I started this work I didn’t really know how much it would affect me and the others who followed the path. This is the fourth spiral, or time, that I am doing the pathworking with another Coven and each time I learn more and go deeper into the understanding of what the Cauldron of Cerridwen really is. I would like to share with you some of the new insights and experiences that it created. In the pathworking I used only half of the story and I welcome you to read the rest if you are interested by following the link below.
The Lady of the Fountain (4)
In this story Sir Kai tells the story of travelling into the forest and meeting the Black Man, a huge giant with one eye and the ability to call and control all the wild animals. The Black Man tells him how to summon the magick of the Fountain of Barenton in the Forest of Broceliande by throwing water using a silver ladle on a slab beside the fountain. This summoned the Black Knight who challenged him. In the story Sir Kai was defeated by the knight but Owain was inspired to follow his footsteps. He also met the Black Man and the Black Knight, but defeated him and went in search of the Lady of the Fountain. He was helped in his quest by the Lady’s handmaiden, Luned.
Here are some of the experiences I had with the story, but they may not be the same as yours. If you consider that these stories contain not only the magick and mysteries of our ancestors, but also the secrets of our own souls, they take on a deeper meaning. Which story calls to you?
- The Black Man also called the Woodward
- The Fountain
- The Black Knight
- The Lady of the Fountain
The Black Man also called the Woodward
In many myths of the world the elder gods are giants. For example the Greeks have the Titans, the Celts have the Formorian, the Norse have Frost Giants and the bible talks about the Anakim and Nephilim. These giants represent primordial forces of nature and wild untamed chaos. So what is the Woodward doing in this myth and why is he important? What does he mean in soul work? Sir Kai starts his quest after meeting the Landholder in the castle who tells him about the Black Knight and the Fountain. Yet the first person he meets is not the Knight but the Woodward. Significantly the Woodward is standing on a mound. In Ireland mounds are connected to Faery or the Sidhe who are said to dwell within the earth, and are also considered to be an elder race of the earth. Is the Woodward a Faery? Is he an elder god or an elemental?
We suppose that this sacred story is a map for soul work and even a map of the soul. So the first person the wanderer meets is this terrifying giant with one eye standing on top of a mound brandishing a huge club. He represents the challenge at the gates because we cannot pass until we have met him. In a flying journey into the story images I met the Woodward and he gave me a lot of advice about purification. Before I could carry on with the quest I had to meditate more, eat healthier and even bless the food and water I ate, making it sacred. He seemed to be creating a way for me to purify my intentions and my physical and energetic body before I could continue. I felt as if he were preparing me for the journey and challenging me to look at the way I was living my life.
At this point in the journey a wanderer can easily give up! We don’t want to change and we don’t want to take a good look at ourselves. We don’t want to face challenges head on and overcome them. My challenge was about food and meditation but for others it might be leaving a bad relationship or leaving an unhealthy job. When we start our quest we are challenged by the Guardian at the Threshold. Do we really want this?
The Fountain is not a character in the myth and yet the Lady is called the Lady of the Fountain. The Black Knight is protecting the Fountain and when the wanderer throws water from the fountain on the slab terrifying things happen. The Fountain is also called the Fountain of Barenton and is said to dwell in the Forest of Broceliande. This story is a mine of magical information but when reading it and working with it I wondered: what is the importance of the Fountain?
As the wanderer continues her quest and after she has met and overcome the challenges from the guardian at the gate she comes to a place where she is helped. All magical tales have this moment where the wanderer finds something that will give him luck. I think the Fountain is a mirror of the Cauldron of Cerridwen, so the Lady owns the Fountain just as Cerridwen owns the Cauldron. The Fountain contains magical water that is the catalyst for change. The wanderer must throw water on the slab with an intention. If she is not challenging the Black Knight then the storm will not kill her and the Knight will not threaten her. She is calling her power by this act and solidifying her intention to go further on the quest. It is not enough just to meet the Guardian and his challenges, but we must name what it is we are seeking and set the intention or outcome of our soul work. All the secrets are contained in the Fountain but we don’t know that yet in the story. In fact the Fountain represents our own soul and we need our own power to continue on our soul work.
The Black Knight
The Black Knight is the protector of the Fountain and the champion of the Lady. In the map of the soul he represents the support that we have on our journey. Who is protecting you? Who loves you and supports you in your soul work? We all need supporters and Knights who will champion us or we cannot carry on. We need our families, our Covens and our friends. This is the lesson in the soul work not to neglect love and our relationships in the ‘real’ world. Owain kills the Black Knight and then he replaces him. If we destroy our own support networks then we have no-one to support us but ourselves and we have to be our own champions. This is not a comfortable place to be but perhaps it is part of the challenge of the soul. If we cannot champion ourselves and stand up for ourselves, then we may not be strong enough to do the work. We need the support of others but they cannot do it for us.
Luned is like our High Priestess, our guide on the path, like a soul friend who is ever-present cheering us on and giving us advice. She saves Owain from sure death by giving him the magical ring of invisibility. This is what he needed on his quest which must have been hard for such an egotistical Knight. We all have an inner guide, that some may call the Higher Self, who watches and suggests if we will only listen. Luned wouldn’t let me continue on my quest until I could hear the voice of the wind, understood fire, felt the emotion of water and walked earth. This is some of what I learned:
I have listened to the voice of the wind—it is the voice of the Creator and it whispers AWEN, the birds sing the songs of the Universe. The wind is also within me and is my own inner voice. I must always listen to my own inner voice because then I too can hear the song of the Creator (Creatrix) and sing the songs of the Universe.
Fire is the God energy manifest. Fire heals, purifies and inspires. The Fire within us is the spark of God energy. Sitting with Fire can inspire us to solve our problems. Air is intuition and voice and very different from Fire. Fire is masculine.
We release our obstacles such as anger by letting water carry them away. We grow our wishes and needs by planting the seeds in the earth.
How funny that Luned was bringing me back to beginner Craft training! Truly a return!
The Lady of the Fountain
The Lady represents the Goddess, who is ever-present within us and is that who is “attained at the end of desire”(1) When I met her in my inner work she said:
“Luna means moon. Lunette means glasses (in French). Luned is one who sees the Moon and I am the Moon! I am Arianrhod and the Black Knights fight and are killed the same way as the Oak King and Holly King fight. (5) The Black Knight is the Sacrificial God. Please read and study the story of the Fisher King.” So the Lady leads me on to the next Sacred Story which is the story of the Grail King who is married to the land and has a wound that cannot heal.
Re-visiting this story has brought me some new insights about all of the characters in the story and the way I can use it as a soul map. I begin to understand how Witches can use Sacred Stories of all types to help people to find their way through the landscape of their own lives and their own souls. Everyone faces the challenge of the guardian, and everyone needs to clarify their intention and call their own power. We all need support and the ability to accept change as renewal. Listening to the voice of our inner guide and meeting the Goddess within shows us the mysteries of the soul and the next step on the path.
- Valiente, Doreen. The Charge of the Goddess http://www.doreenvaliente.com/Doreen-Valiente-Poetry-11.php
- Cherry Hill Seminary. http://cherryhillseminary.org/
- Sarah Anne Lawless, Flying Ointments. http://sarahannelawless.com/2011/09/10/on-flying-ointments/
- The Lady of the Fountain by: Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Guest(Translator), Anonymous (Author)from: The Mabinogion from the Llyfr Coch o Hergest, and Other Ancient Welsh Manuscripts, with an English Translation and Notes(Pp. 39 – 129) 1838-1849
- Wikipedia. Oak King and Holly King Myth. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holly_King_(archetype)