Monday, March 30, 2009

Witchcraft – The Word and the Figure

Here's the long first part of a long article. This stuff keeps bubbling in my head, so I may as well serve it up here. Not too very directly related to Druidic Occultism, but perhaps useful to students doing their 'Neopagan history' papers. I heartily invite comment. My material on ancient witch sources is summary, and I'm interested in discussing the 'witch' in pre-christian days...
Part 1: Roots and Branches.Big topic... I remain bemused by the shifting boundaries around the word ‘witch’. I’ll spend a little time on the subject, in fact it will require two parts, but I can’t see reaching any firm conclusions, because it’s all so very confused in the magical culture right now. ‘Witch’ is being tugged at by Neopagan religionists, neogothic occultists, folk-magic charmers and spellbinders and by reconstructionist euro-shamans. Almost anyone who wants to participate in its coolness devises a rationale that allows them to use it. What makes this word so cool, and why do so many types of modern magical types want to own it? We’ll start with the easy part, a look at the history of the word and concept.

Linguistic Roots
Etymologically ‘witch’ derives from roots in Old English and older Germanic sources referring directly to magical practice, dealing with the dead and even with priesthood. Posited IndoEuropean roots incude *weg2 – strength, power, and its immediate derivative *weg-yo, which produces the proto-germanic *wikkjaz - necromancer. These roots produce the well-known Old English word wicce, a magic-user. *Weg-yo also directly produces ‘wicked’ suggesting that the word ‘witch’ is infected from the beginning with notions of social danger. The term is used neutrally in some sources, such as references to midwives, but the primarily Christian sources for Old English tend to use the term to translate Biblically proscribed practices such as ‘necromantia’. The Latin ‘augur’ – a diviner - is also translated ‘wicce’. So we have a term that refers plainly to the practice of those specialized spiritual arts that have been called ‘magic’ – vision-journeying, spirit-contact and alliance, knowledge of the powers of natural things, and the skill to do the little manipulations of influence that are called ‘spells’. While the etymology doesn’t connect ‘wicce’ with wisdom, the same sorts of spiritual specialists were often referred to as ‘wizards’ and other terms drawn from roots meaning ‘wise’. In these origins we find the idea of witch as priestess of Paganism, as community spiritual professional.

The Witch Figure In Paganism
We are familiar with the medieval and renaissance image of the witch as rebellious evil-doer, using arcane powers to trouble the common people. What many Pagans may not realize is that the archetype of the night-riding dangerous (female) magic-user comes directly from Pagan roots, with no help needed from the new church. The Bacchic cult in Rome displays much of what became associated with the later Witches’ revels – drinking, dancing, song and illicit sexual fun, all under the goat-horned mask of the God. Greek culture feared a nearly mythological class of women who worshipped the Underworld Gods, practiced abortion and worked charms and spells. There is very little evidence that such people existed, but they are common figures in the popular literature of the time. Of course the practice of spellbinding and divination as a craft was common enough, but while such lower-class magicians might be scoffed at by the educated they weren’t associated with the notions of the ‘strega’ in Roman times.

In northern Europe the Germanic influence provided another stream of boundary-breaking spirit sorcerers. Continental terms translated into English as ‘witch’ include the German hexe, Dutch heks and Old High German hagzusa, all derived from roots meaning ‘hedge-rider’. Germanic tradition records various categories of magic-users, including female seers and spellbinders, male singers and spirit-masters. Many writers would like to find a connection between Odin as the strange, wandering sorcerer’s god and the later quasi-Christian notion of the ‘devil’ with who witches must consort. Other aspects of the later witch myth, such as ‘familiars’, the Wild Ride, flight on staves or animals and the connection with the werewolf all find models in Germanic Pagan lore.

Once again, all the material we have in writing from northern Europe comes from the beginning of the Christian era, and this makes it difficult to tell how much these practices were associated with a figure called a ‘witch’ in pre-Christian society. More specifically, it seems unlikely that there was a Pagan ‘witch-cult’ as such. The various Gods, beliefs and practices that became associated with the ‘witch’ seem to have been distributed in the many varieties of common Pagan religious practice. The ‘witch’ seems to have been as mythological in Pagan times as in later Christian ones.

The Medieval Witch
Historically the word witch immediately passes from Pagan cultures into the hands of the literate church, which used the term to translate the various forbidden practices in their scripture. The text of the Bible has little use for the work of sacred images, divination and conjury that played a part in most non-Biblical religions, and the term ‘witch’ took on the connotation of daemonic (and demonic) polytheism, dangerous and illicit practices, and eventually even of opposition to human good and survival. Memories (and in various places, actual survivals) of the pleasant revels and stranger sorceries of Pagan religion were grafted with monks’ psycho-sexual fears to produce the sort-of Malleus Maleficarum archetype of the ‘Satanic Witch’.

Interestingly, I know of no example of an artifact or text of ‘medieval Satanism’. When the Church actually persecuted Pagan remnants they look pretty Pagan, though we may imagine a tendency among the peasants to conflate their old merry gods with the ‘devil’ of the new theology. In any case by the time we reach the early modern period the word witch has come to have nearly exclusively negative connotations and it’s difficult to find an example of a magical practitioner – either folk or scholastic – who will own the word. The fantasies of the Church finally begin to be enacted during the late renaissance, with the ‘black masses’ of the French court and the diabolism of modern folk societies such as the Horseman’s Word. Even then we have no example of someone plainly saying, “yes, we are ‘witches’” – at least not outside of the context of a trial.

Early Modern Rethinking
So we come into the late 19th and early 20th century with this layered notion of the ‘witch’. The witch is Pagan sorcerer (and/or 'devil-worshipper')and keeper of wisdom, she can heal or she can curse, and she might choose to work for fair pay. They might be members of secret sects or cults, where they broke the rules of society and reveled as they pleased. As the renaissance merged into early modern times, the witch was more and more a part of the ideological past. The effort made by European society to rise above the superstition of the witch-hunts reduced the ‘witch’ to a figure of ridicule among educated people in the 18th and 19th century, even as the practice of folk-magic by semi-educated conjurers and cunning folk remained a thriving trade. However the 19th century saw a new angle on the interpretation of the witch. Led by such writers as Jules Michelet in the mid 19th century, and giving inspiration to early 20th century writers like Leland and Murray, the witch came to be seen as a desperate or heroic rebel against the oppressive system of feudal state and church. The witch became the socialist peasant, worshipping ‘Satan’ (the half-remembered Old Gods) to spit in the church’s eye, or keeping their Old Ways in spite of persecution.

The Dawn of Modern Witchcraft
So how do we begin to see modern occultists self-defining as Witches? Of course with the publication of Leland’s Aradia in 1904 literate occultists could have found a model for practice that embraced both the fashion for classicism on one hand and the romantic political opposition of the poor to the church on the other. The entire hermetic tradition staunchly rejected the term witchcraft at that time, granting it at best a reference to remnants of folk-magic and at worst to imagined ‘black lodges’ of the Wheatley sort.
We can see a few pre-1950s examples, perhaps Cunning Murrell and Pickingill, perhaps some other revivalists or village practitioners in Britain who might have quietly admitted “some would call us witches”. The Australian artist Rosaleen Norton was inspired with occult, witchcraft and diabolist romanticism, and certainly referred to herself as a witch, and kept a coven in King’s Cross into the 1960s.

There’s an interesting side note in the Thelemic interest in the term. While Crowley himself discarded the word, both Frater Achad (in 1923 see #22 at that link) and John Parsons (in c.1950) wrote descriptions of a kind of Neo-Pagan ‘witchcraft’, and both in a time-frame that would have made their writings available to Gardner. (I’ve recently discovered accounts of a trip by Gardner to California and possible meeting with Parsons, which would help sew up a little theory of mine… more to come…) I’m still fairly willing to assume that Old Gerald found *something* going on in the woods, and combined it with his own occult knowledge to make his cult. As far as I can see the first occultists in the English speaking world to openly endorse the term ‘witch’ for their practice were Gardner’s new covens.

I must mention that there is some evidence of self-identified ‘witches’ in (neo) folk-magic sects in the new world. Appalachian and Ozark mountain traditions may have been conducting group ritual initiations involving swearing to ‘the devil’, sexual rites and other late Christian witch motifs for some while before the 1950s. There is an interesting by-road in the story of the US’s first ‘Satanic Panic’ in the 1930s and 40s which could, itself, have produced self-proclaimed ‘witches’. The legends of Ozark witchcraft are certainly there, and it’s possible that the sensationalist journalism of the times produced early self-defined ‘witches’. Once again little hard evidence exists.

The question of the real origins of Gardnerian (and thus of much of Neopagan) Witchcraft is being dealt with by historians even as we speak. Whatever one thinks of his claims to have discovered a coven in the woods, his system has proved to be a seed from which a whole category of modern occult practice and Pagan religion have grown. Gardner’s system influenced the practice of nearly every self-defined witch in the following 30 years, as invented North American groups assimilated or reacted to the new model. To me it makes sense to view Gardner’s Witchcraft (and its same-generation imitators, such as Sanders) as the “original Witches” in modern occultism. For convenience let’s think of the date for that as around 1950 – it’s clear that Old Gerald has his thing cooking by then.

At about the same time that Gardner was solidifying (and publicizing) his new system, a man remembered as Robert Cochrane was doing the same, with a different flair and perhaps less concern for the newspapers. Cochrane brought an interest in Celtic and British lore (soon imitated by Gardnerians) and harked back, perhaps, to the Bacchic rites, with the Staff planted in the north to mark the sacred space. In some ways Cochrane seems to me to be a reaction to Gardner’s work, but that may be selling short the man’s life-long interest in reinventing the Old Ways. Cochrane enjoyed referring to his work as older and ‘more authentic’ that Gardner’s, and attempted to invoke the authority of the “old witch families” of England. There’s been little evidence for any such families (outside of testimony from their last surviving representatives), or of their maintenance of ‘witchcraft’ traditions that can’t be accounted for by the popular occult or folklore literature of their times. Family traditions of occultism – common enough; family traditions of a ‘witch-cult’ – no evidence has been presented.

The Secret 70s
The Gardnerian initiatory lineage arrived in North America in 1966, brought by Raymond Buckland and his priestess. It immediately encountered the various strands of American occultism that were already using the term ‘witchcraft’, and sometimes even adapting practices from Gardner’s earlier writings, which had reached across the water before then. It’s possible that strains of folkloric witchcraft had survived in the Appalachian and Ozark mountain communities, and if so these were probably satanic in a sort of post-medieval sense. Of course the other major influence that merged with the new witchcraft was the countercultural ideology and its environmentalism. This phase has been very well documented and discussed by Chas Clifton in his book Her Hidden Children.

In 1970 a writer named Paul Huson published Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks and Covens. Huson wrote as an independent occultist with no connection with either Gardner or Cochrane, or to any ‘old family traditions’. He created a system of practical magic and a model for creating covens that allowed small groups across the US to begin working as ‘witchcraft’ groups. Some of these adopted Gardnerian bits, some less so.

In 1974 an American woman named Jesse Wicker Bell published The Grimoire of Lady Sheba. This book contained much of the material in the Gardnerian ‘Book of Shadows’, the ritual book of the Gardnerian Witches. What Mastering Witchcraft had begun was energized by the publication of material that had been secret for 20 years, and the creation of covens continued throughout the decade. In this phase the word ‘Witch’ was earnestly contended for by these Neopagans – the message in the 70s was “Witchcraft is a religion”.

These bootstrap traditions tended, at first, to imitate the ‘mystery religion’ model of Gardner’s Witchcraft. They were secret and initiatory, and created their own secret books, rituals etc. This was also the period of the most ridiculous ‘witch wars’ in which these construct traditions compared pretentious origin stories and tried to one-up each other in the nascent Pagan press.

My own experience in the 1970s is probably typical of many who eagerly sought witchcraft, magic and the occult in those days. Having been a student of ‘the occult’ throughout my youth I had begun my own ritual experiments based on several published sources. I met my first self-proclaimed witch in 1972, in a local university. He was an earnest fellow, who had consecrated his tools and made his Book of Shadows, and came complete with a tale of teachers now departed, who “just didn’t tell him much” about the history or origins of his system. Personal differences in style meant I wouldn’t become a member of that group. My own awareness of the Pagan "scene" as a participant begins in around 1976, while teaching a college ‘free school’ course on the occult in the mid 70s. I met an Alexandrian Witch, but she was cut off from her coven. I met witches in the Society for Creative Anachronism but they weren’t in my neighborhood. In about 1978 I began working with a group that was an example of a new phenomenon – a non-initiatory ‘outer court’ for a Gardnerian Coven. One of the first of these in the US was the Temple of the Pagan Way in Chicago. Our group worked a system very like the Gardnerian, based on the material published as A Book of Pagan Rituals. By 1980 several members went on to become initiated Gardnerians, while I and others found other initiators.

The other trend during the 1970s was the beginning and growth of public, self-confessed Paganism. The so-called “British Traditional” style of Neopagan witchcraft (now more frequently being called ‘Wicca’) was attracting a lot of excited students – too many for the slow and personal training methods of those systems. Traditional covens began to produce ‘Outer Court’ groups, in which inquiring strangers might attend a few classes and maybe even attend seasonal rituals that resembled traditional witchcraft rites. From the other side many young people were simply taking the results of their own study and putting it into practice. Not all of these chose to imitate the secret and initiatory covens – some, such as the Church of All Worlds, and Circle Wicca chose to be open to seekers, and they also tried on the word ‘witch’ to see how well it fit with their new approach. In 1975 traditional Witches founded an effort at national organizing, the Covenant of the Goddess, which is now one of the largest Wiccan organizations in the world.

A Moment of ChangeIn 1976, organizers out of Chicago, the Midwest Pagan Council, created the PanPagan Festival, open to anyone who found their way to the place. I began to attend in 1979, and in 1980 more than 500 people attended the fest, including almost everyone who was anyone in the witchcraft and Pagan scene at that time, and many who would become well-known later. For the first time in who-knows-how-long 500 Pagans and Witches danced the circle under the moon. This event inspired the creation of the Pagan Spirit Gathering, the Starwood Festival, the Elf-Lore Gatherings in Bloomington, and inspired Boston’s Rites of Spring to move to the woods.

Just as important as this kindling of organizing, were the various moments when the various Secret Witchcraft Traditions of the 1970s met up with each other over a fire and a bottle. Many a moment of awkward silence (“er… I don’t actually talk about that…”) gave way to an exchange of ideas that both cross-fertilized the practice and myth of various systems and also pulled away the (usually phony) veil of Ancient Secrets that was so customary in the early days. In many ways the festival ‘movement’ put an end to (or a big dent in) the ability of a teacher to pretend to having secret witchcraft teachings passed down from wherever. We’ll discuss the 80s and beyond in our next segment.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the word ‘witch’ was being earnestly fought for by the Neopagan Goddess and God worshipping sects descended from Gardner’s experiments, and their imitators and competitors. Efforts were made to encourage dictionaries to adjust their definitions, and ‘Witches’ made an effort to place themselves as a religious minority in the US. The question of the ownership and meaning of that old word remains disputed, however. In the years since the early 80s the word has been used by a number of occult and Pagan systems.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Solitary Druid Ritual

Just for archival purposes I'm going to post this rite here, so that there will be a full-script example of an ADF ritual on this blog. This rite is based on the old Simple Rite of Offering, with longer Kindred calls, and some new language for the Blessing. The genera intent of the rite is to give the student an opportunity to meet the Kindreds at the fire. Old hands may be interested in some of the new language for hallowing and receiving the Blessing.
A Rite of Offering and Calling To All the Spirits.
You should have a completed Shrine, and a good, comfortable seat placed before it, located so that you can reach all sections of the work area. Materials Needed: Small bell, fire-pot or candle & censer with incense (the Fire), cauldron with blessed water - (the Well), world tree symbol, a horn or cup for pouring and drinking, an offering bowl before the Fire if the rite is indoors, offerings (corn meal, silver, olive oil or essential oil, or incense, ale, bread and salt, herbs and small chips of semi-precious stones) ale, fruit juice or water for drinking, and a tool with which to take an omen.

1: Give nine knells on a bell, then raise hands to the sky, and say:

I am here to honor the gods, and to seek the wisdom of the Old Ways. Be with me, all you Gods and Spirits, in my working; forgive any errors, and grant me, I pray, your blessing.

2: Offer a pinch of corn meal onto the ground, saying:

Earth Mother, I am your child. Mother of all I pray you bless and uphold my rite, as you uphold the whole world. Earth Mother, accept my sacrifice!

Place your hands on your heart and open to the light of inspiration, saying:

Sky Father, Fire of Inspiration, attend the shrine of my soul. Quicken my tongue that I may work this rite in beauty.

Set a small offering of drink aside to the south of the ritual space, saying:

Outdweller spirits, hear me! You ancient dark ones, you who stood against the gods and in your striving helped to make the worlds, any spirits who might wish ill upon this work, accept this offering and trouble me not.

3: State the purpose of the rite, saying:

I have come to do as the wise ancients did, to make offering to the powers and to bless my body, my mind and my spirit with the blessings of the Gods and Spirits. As our forebears did, so do I do now, and so may my descendants do after me.
I seek the Wisdom of the Elder Wise, to know the Ancestors, the Landspirits, and the Shining Gods and Goddesses. I seek to be strong in the Sacred Center, to hear the Voice of the Fire and Water, and hold their power in my hands, to see and know the spirits, and be seen and known by them. This I do that I may grow in health, and wealth and wisdom, in wisdom, love and power, in service to the spirits, to the folk and to my own being. To those ends, I will hallow this Sacred Grove.

4: Offer silver into the cauldron, saying:

In the deeps flow the waters of wisdom. Sacred Well, flow within me.

5: Make an offering to the Fire, saying:

I feed the sacred fire in wisdom, love and power. Sacred Fire, burn within me.

6: Sprinkle and cense the world-tree, wand or self, saying:

From the deeps to the heights spans the world-tree. Sacred Tree, grow within me.

7: Sprinkle everything with sacred water, and cense all with incense from the Fire; see the Powers flowing in the whole Shrine turning away ill, repeating three times:

By the might of the Water and the light of the Fire, this Grove is made whole and holy

Spread your hands, and encompass the whole shrine in your awareness, saying:

Let the sea not rise, and all ill turn away.
Let the sky not fall and all ill turn away.
Let the land hold firm and all ill turn away.
Before me bounty, behind me wisdom
On my right hand magic, on my left hand strength

Contemplate the worlds and the Shrine, saying:

The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree, flow and flame and grow in me!
In Land, Sea, and Sky, below and on high! Thus is the Sacred Grove claimed and hallowed. So be it!

9: Offer oil or incense to the fire, saying:

I make this offering to the Keeper of the Gates. Gatekeeper, Lord of the Between, Keeper of Roads and Opener of Ways, join your magic with mine to guard and ward the gate of this working. Gatekeeper, accept my sacrifice!

Make a deosil triskel or spiral over the Fire, saying:

In every place where Triads meet, there is the Center of the Worlds.
Let this sacred center be the boundary of all worlds, that my voice be carried and my vision see.
Now let the Fire open the Gate
Let the Well open the Gate
Let the Tree hold fast the Way Between.
Open as an eye of seeing
Open as a mouth of speaking
Open as an oaken door, between this Sacred Center and the Otherworlds.
By the Keeper of Gates, and by my Will and Word, let the Gate be open!

10: Prepare the offerings for the Three Kindreds, and say:
Gods and Dead and mighty Spirits, Powers of Land and Sky and Sea,By Fire and Well and sacred Tree, offerings I make to thee!

• O Mighty Ones, my Ancestors, my kindred; I your child honor you, and ask you draw near my hearth.
You whose life and death creates my life, you whose wisdom upholds my wisdom,
Elder Clans of the Wise, the Warriors and the Keepers of Land, here I give you your due welcome.
To those who dwell below, to those who dwell above, to the tribes of spirits in land, sea or sky.
Hear your true worshipper (your name) as I make due sacrifice to the Dead, the Spirits & the Gods.
And to the Wise Dead I call.
Priests and Priestesses, Seers and Oracles, Singers and Magicians and Sacrificers,
hear me as I call to you.
I have come to the Well and Lit the Sacred Fire – let us meet at the Crossroad, at the Tree of Worlds.
To you who hear me, I offer this offering. (offering of ale)
To you who would teach and aid, I offer this offering, (offering of bread)
To all you who come without harm, I offer this offering (offering of salt)
Whisper to me, Wise Ones, teach the Old Ways for New Days.
Bless my work and aid me to gain from my seeking.
Let the voice of the Wise be heard in the World.
O Mighty Ancestors, I honor your presence, offering my love and worship.
Be with me in my grove and in my heart, and accept this gift in token of my kinship.
All the offerings are given, with an offering of ale, saying:
“Ancestors, accept my sacrifice!”

• O Noble Ones, my Allies, with whom I share the worlds, I ask you welcome me in your places.
You who fill the land with wonder, Spirits of Stone and Stream, Red blood and Green sap,
Tribes of Spirits, the Peoples of the Otherworld,
Here I give you your due welcome.
To the spirits of this land on which I dwell, in which I light the Fire,
I offer a welcome and give an offering.
Spirits in the waters, spirits in the soil, spirits in the stone, spirits in the wind,
And the spirits in the beams of sun and moon, I honor your presence.
Tribes of spirits in the land, Noble Ones, you who rule the Lovely Court, I would be your ally.
Meet me at the crossroad, Noble Ones, see me at my Fire and show yourselves to me in this light.
To you who hear me, I offer this offering. (offering of incense)
To you who would teach and aid, I offer this offering, (offering of stones)
To all you who come without harm, I offer this offering (offering of whiskey)
So dwell with me in peace Noble Ones, and let there be good will between us.
Peace on the land, within the sea, beneath the sky, and I will give you proper offerings.
O Noble Spirits, I honor your presence, offering my love and worship.
Be with me in my grove and in my heart, and accept this gift in token of my friendship.
All offerings are given along with an offering of incense. Cry:
Landspirits, accept my sacrifice!

• O Shining Ones, my Elders, Goddeses and Gods of All Realms, I ask you to draw near to my spirit.
O Wisest and Mightiest, loving and comforting, wrathful and wild, you who sustain all the worlds,
First Children of the Mother, the Tribe of the Goddess
Here I give you your due welcome.
To all the Gods who see my Fire, who hear the voices in my Well, I offer welcome.
To the Mother of This Land, First Goddess, Queen of Land, Sea and Sky, I make due offering.
To the Lord of Wisdom, Magician-God, Lord of Secrets and Priest of the Fire I make due offering.
To the Gods of my hearth, known or unknown, Shining Powers of Blessing, I make due offering.
To you who hear me, I offer this offering. (offering of scented oil)
To you who would teach and aid, I offer this offering, (offering of precious metal)
To all you who come without harm, I offer this offering (offering of mead)
Reveal yourselves to me in your beauty, Shining Ones,
Guide my soul to the Center
And brighten my spirit in reflection of your Light.
O Shining Deities, I honor your presence, offering my love and worship.
Be with me in my grove and in my heart, and accept this gift in token of my kinship.
Drink from the horn is spilled on the ground or into the bowl. Cry:
Shining Ones, accept my sacrifice!

Pause for a moment and feel and envision the Gods and Spirits approaching your Grove. Prepare a final offering, and gather up all your worship and aspiration toward the Gods and Spirits, as you make the final sacrifice, saying:

Hear me my kin, my allies, my elders, I pray, and make your wisdom open to me, let your love flow with mine, and your power be strong with me. Mighty, Noble and Shining Ones, turn your faces toward my Fire, and join me now in my Grove! Oh Host of the Holy, I call you on the Spirit Road; by the Four Winds and the Nine Waves, by the World Tree’s root and branch. By Fire’s light and Well’s might, come to my call, be welcome at my Fire, and accept my sacrifice! (make final offering)

13: Take up your divining tool of choice and meditate on the patrons and on the intention of this rite. Cast for a simple omen, with this charm:

Spirit of the Gift, Spirit of the Song, Spirit of Destiny
Give me the gift of seeing, let me hear the song of the Turning of the Worlds
Mighty, Noble & Shining Ones, I have offered to you.
Now let the true sight be in me, the true speech be mine,
Answer me now, O spirits, what blessing do you offer me, in return for my offerings?

Draw the symbols and lay them outbefore you, perhaps reciting their names and meanings aloud. Meditate on the omen, seek to understand what blessings the powers offer in return for the sacrifice. Then, compose of all this - the image, the intention, and the omen - into a single gestalt of energy.
14: With the omen in mind, lift the Coire Beannacht and call for the Blessing, saying:

Now I call to the Holy Ones, to the Elder Wise,
To the Kings and Queens of the Land,
To the Mother of Blessing and the Lord of Wisdom.
Send me your Blessing in Three Steams
From the Well of Wisdom,
From the Cauldron of the Mead.
Send me your Blessing in Three Steams
Into the Three Cauldrons
Into the Vessel of Blessing.
Send me your Blessing in Three Steams
Fill me with the Blessing
Of wisdom, love and power.
15: Pour the drink into the Cauldron and breathe the combined energy current into the drink saying:
I call upon the Holy Ones to give to me as I have given to you,
as a gift calls for a gift.
Let this be the Vessel of Blessing
And let this be the Draft of Blessing.
Let it shine and flow in this mead.
I open my heart to the flow of your blessing, I, your child and worshipper.
Behold the waters of life!

Reverently drink most of the blessing, perhaps sprinkling any object to be consecrated in the work as well. Meditate on the influx of spiritual current.

16: With the Blessing in you, find your Center and your Power and settle into a trance of vision. Open your eyes to the Inner reality of your Grove, and recite this briocht:
By deep Well and bright Fire
By the World Tree’s root and branch
I come before the Gods
May I be the Kin of the Mighty Dead
May I be the Ally of the Noble Spirits
May I be the Blessed Child of the Shining Gods
Wisdom be upon me
Love uphold me
Power at every hand around me
And Wisdom, Love and Power
In my truest heart.

Rise in your Vision Body, and see there the Host of Spirits that you have called, especially the Gods, and the Elder Wise, and those of the Landwights that seem to come to you.­­ Spend what time you may desire observing them and speaking carefully with them. Then return your awareness to your body before the Fire, and say:

The worlds are in me, and I am in the worlds
The spirit in me is the spirit in the worlds
By Gods, Dead and Spirits;
By Fire, Well and Tree;
The blessing flows and shines in me!
So be it!

17: When all is done, give thanks, saying:

By this work I am blessed, by the power of the Mighty, Noble and Shining Ones! Secure in their blessing, I go from the Grove into my life and work. I go with the blessing of the Gods in my head, and heart and loins. To all those who have aided me in this holy work, I give thanks.

Triple Kindreds, Gods, Dead and Landspirits:
I thank you for your presence in my small Grove.
Shining Ones, Mighty Dead, Noble Spirits
I thank you for your aid and blessing.

18: Make a closing triskel over the Fire.
Lord of the gates, lord of knowledge, I give you my thanks.
Now let the Fire be flame, the Well be water,
Let all be as it was before, save for the magic I have made
Let the Gates be closed!

19: Recenter and contemplate the entire working, and end, saying:
To the Mother I give thanks, for ever upholding my life and my work.

The blessings of the Holy Ones be on me and mine
My blessings on all beings, with peace on thee and thine
The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree
Flow and Flame and Grow in me
Thus do I fulfill the work of the Wise.
So be it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eggs for Spring

are very cross-cultural. There's very little Gaelic context for keeping the Equinoxes,while there do seem to be some British Isles egg customs, and our local Grove undertook a cultural excursion and worked our Equinox rite in a Slavic style. For us that means studying the myths and ways of Slavic peoples and employing the Gods and customs that fit well in our customary ritual order. This is the very first time that Stone Creed has worked Slavic, (no, the second time, recalling an early experiment at summer solstice in... 1993?...) and our choices are tentative, but we have a number of members of Slavic descent (this being greater Cleveland) and the feel of the rite was really quite good. We blessed eggs of our own (much simpler eggs), sacrificed to Morena and Dazhbog and had blinis (the potato type) for blessing with our mead.
Slavic customs make a great deal out of painting eggs, and we used as much of that symbolism as we could. The omen for the rite was taken using a set of 21 symbols that our Chris J found, called znaky, that are the core vocabulary of the egg decorating art, called pysanky. She made the symbols on nice wooden lots, and we drew a very nice omen.
This fellow, which turned up in an odd corner of the Daily Kos while I searched, is another matter. Perhaps he symbolizes the world of the Great Old Ones waiting to be born, a cockoo's egg among the fuzzy conies of the season, the power of spring bringing the rising tide of a more purple and ebon sort of life, squeezing squamous from the cracked cosmos egg of your pitiful reality! ia! Azathoth!
Anyway, a Blessed Spring to us all, from shoot to blossom!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Gods of the Sacrifice

This is another snippet from the ongoing Initiate's Work writing. In the course of thinking about how to introduce students to the (postponed from the first draft of the Dedicant's Work) Patronage of the Deities, it occurred to me that anyone who hopes to take up the work of priesthood (and that includes those who want to do more fully empowered magic) should build a personal relationship with the Earth Mother and the Gatekeeper. I remain very interested in figuring out the mythic relationship between the kind of Lord of Travelers we find in MacLir, and the strange, magic-king Varuna/Odin, and the Agni-type Priest of the Gods. I rather like a Wizard-god figure that might be Manannan Enthroned - not unlike Math ap Mathonwy, but perhaps more vigorous and active. In any case, here's the snippet, with a charm.

Concerning the Gods of the Druid's Work
In every full rite of Sacrifice the Druid seeks the aid of two of the Great Gods. Every rite opens and closes with an offering to the Earth Mother. The Mother of All is the most ancient, a Primal Power of the cosmos itself. For mortals the Goddess is very near and real – she is the Spirit of the Land on which we light our Fires, the River Mother, the Goddess of the Mound. From her the Corn springs and the Well springs. Yet she is also the Underworld Queen, who welcomes the Initiate in deep places, and the Primal Night, the Great Sea of Stars. She is Queen of Heavens, Earth and Hell; Plow-Queen, Spear-Queen and Sovereignty. The Mother is the Tri-functional Queen of the Gods, and the Earth Mother that sustains all mortal life.

The Lord of Wisdom is the Keeper of Gates. It is the Power of Wisdom that allows mortals to speak through the mist to the spirits, and to receive the Blessing in turn. The Druid brings the skills we call magic, and the friendship of the Lord of Wisdom is the power that guarantees the work of the Gate. The Lord of Wisdom is the Wizard King, who works wonders yet helps to maintain the Order of the Worlds. He is also the Wanderer and the Watcher, who moves between worlds, who walks the Mists Between. He is a King in the Otherworld and a teacher of magical ways to the Druid. Beyond the Gate-work of formal sacrifice the Lord of Wisdom is the Guide and Initiator, leading the Druid through the Between to the Isles of Wonder.

In the course of building a personal practice you will work with many of the Shining Gods. The round of seasonal rites brings us before many of them and the jobs we hold, the skills we treasure all lead us toward special relationships with one or a few of the Deities. Those who seek to do the Priest’s work, or to use our rites of sacrifice as a part of personal magical work, will gain by making a special alliance with the All Mother and the Wizard God.
In the course of the Initiate’s Work each student must come to choose which of the cultures of the ancients she will make her focus. Our Druidry encourages us to choose a specific culture and do our work within it, and especially in the matter of the names and forms of the Shining Ones this is important. For those who, like Your Author, have chosen the Gaelic Celtic culture as our focus the choices for the Druid’s Gods are fairly plain. I have for many years honored Manannan Mac Lir as the Lord of Wisdom. In our local work we name the Mother of the Land Aine, as a variant of Anu/Danu that is historically visible. I offer invocations for these, below, for those who might find them acceptable forms.

The Druid who wishes to make his alliance with these Gods should obtain images or grounding-objects for them, and place them on her Home Shrine. Honoring those Powers should become part of regular practice. A small offering of incense or an individual candle can be sufficient for most days.
Invocation of the Druid’s Gods
As a Child of the Earth I come to the Elder Fire.
As a seeker of wisdom I seek to know the Druid’s Gods.
As a Keeper of the Hallows I seek the aid
Of the Mother of All and the Lord of Wisdom.
Mother of the Starry Deep, Mother of the Sea,
Mother of the Green Land and all the beings of the worlds,
I call to you as a Seeker of Wisdom.
Lord of the Sacred Fire, Lord of Roads and Ways,
Lord of Secret Knowledge and the Ways of the Sacred Grove,
I call to you as a Seeker of Wisdom.
I call to you, Gods of the Wise
To come to my Fire and receive these offerings:
Perfumed oil, that even the air be sweet for you.
Silver, fit for a noble guest.
Whiskey, the Waters of Life
Let these gifts be the simple tokens of my awe and reverence.
Let each one be as a thousand, the gifts of my worship.
Behold me, I pray, and let me behold you
In the light of the Fire!
Mother of all and Lord of Wisdom,
Accept my sacrifice!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Satanism Discussed

I hang around that Catholic Answers Forum, because it occasionally produces something interesting. My usual zone is the 'Non-Catholic Religions' forum. Someone asked whether anyone knew the meaning of the various kinds of modern Satanism, giving this list:
LaVeyan Satanism; Temple of Set; Modern Satanism; Theistic Satanism; Luciferianism; Satanism Dabbling
This produced a somewhat anemic discussion, with the usual fear-stricken handwringing by the stereotypical RCC types. I was, eventually, moved to comment and, hating to waste a few minutes of writing, will post it here. I guess this comes under history and taxonomy of modern occult religions...

I find the original question on this thread interesting, mainly because it illustrates that Satanism is actually now a growing thing, with enough people who care about it to actually discuss what their particular path is called. That was never the case in the past, as far as I can see from history.

Medieval Satanism is mainly a thing of Christian legend, a pathology of the medieval church that had little or no expression among the people. To my knowledge there is no single example of a book or artifact of 'devil worship' or 'Luciferianism' from the middle ages. There are the transcripts of the trials, which may have a few remnants of a folk identification of 'the devil' with one or another of Europe's pre-Christian Gods. However the prejudices of the monks who recorded the statements must be weighed as well. The occult tradition of the late middle ages gives occasional rites of offering to spirits angelic or demonic, but those are purely practical formulae, usually followed by prayers to the usual Christian God. In no place have we found an example of a ritual of satanic worship, or a satanic chapel, or statue, or liturgical item, from the medieval or rennaissance eras.

In the Renaissance we find a very short list of tales of people who actively perverted the Christian sacraments for personal 'magical' goals, so there had been a problem with church functionaries misusing their spiritual authority - that still isn't Satanism... Apparently the use of Christian rites for magical goals had formerly been common. This from wikipedia, but it's not wrong: "Additionally, the Rite of the Mass was not completely fixed, and there was a place at the end of the Offertory for the Secret prayers, when the priest could insert private prayers for various personal needs. These practices became especially prevalent in France. ... the institution of the Low Mass became quite common, where priests would hire their services out to perform various Masses for the needs of their clients - such as blessing crops or cattle, achieving success in some enterprise, obtaining love, or cursing enemies (one way this latter was done was by inserting the enemy's name in a Mass for the dead, accompanied by burying an image of the enemy). Such practices were eventually condemned by the Church, however."

In the 19th century we start to see what we would call 'black masses' performed as tourist gags in france, and the romance of 'black magic' was culturally established. Europe had at least a couple of Luciferian magical groups in the late 19th and early 20th century, even as most occultism continued the search for the divine, as it has always done. The 19th century saw the invention of the idea of 'left and right hand' paths, and the creation of the famous 'baphomet' image by the former RCC priest Eliphas Levi, based on some remnants of templar symbolism. Levi wasn't a Satanist - he invented the Baphomet to embellish his stories of 'Satanic magicians'.

Many call Aleister Crowley the father of modern Satanism, but I just don't think it's true. Crowley remained an earnest seeker after divine truth throughout his life, though his search took him in strange directions. He *did* have an attitude about public orthodox Christianity, though he valued the insights of Christian mystics. He enjoyed playing with the images from John's Apocalypse, and he made them key to his new mythic system - that was, and is, sure to bristle many Christians.

Self-identified 'Satanism' barely existed before Lavey. After Lavey it caught on with a few folks, and they quickly developed schisms, as new religions will do. All the categories that the original poster listed simply did not exist in, say 1985. I think he missed a couple of categories, such as Daemonolatry, but never mind. Some Satanists attempt to find a pre-Christian Satanism in one or another ancient Pagan religion, but the whole effort is pretty flimsy - there just isn't a category for the Miltonian 'Rebel Prince' or the 'author of evil' in most traditional mythologies.

So, my position is that the old Christian notion of secret conspiracies of demon-servers working against society is nonsense, and so is the Satanist notion of secret ancient cadres of brave spiritual adventurers. Satanism is mainly a modern invention, growing mainly from the imagination of the medieval church, and only secondarily (or less) a part of 'occultism' or 'Paganism' or even 'witchcraft'. Mostly there's so little of it that it doesn't amount to anything but a body of writing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Framing Rites for Practical Magic

(Druidic Orthopraxic Heresy)
I’ve been thinking about about ‘framing rites’ for magical work, as contrasted with liturgical work. A part of the material I’m working on lately has been down-and-dirty spellbinding in a Celtic Pagan or Druidic context, as well as more ritualized forms of practical magic. Liturgical worship is the High Church end of Pagan work, using the tricks and skills of theatrical ritual to produce religious experience for a broad group of ‘villagers’ or Pagan congregation. However in cultures that accept application of spiritual skills for personal goals, such as Vedic or Hindu cultures, the style and form of liturgical rites are often used for full-production personal rites. The yagnas offered for the wealth or fertility of householders were Big Damn Deals, even though they were essentially just a spell. Our Druidry has its model of liturgical theurgy pretty clearly outlined and supported, and we’ve done some work on using it for practical rites. The question for me is how to translate that outline to personal work, especially to simpler works.

It seems to me that from a folk magic perspective we see very little in the way of ‘opening and closing rites’ in the remnants of magic preserved into the 18th and 19th centuries. Now, to some extent I suspect this represents a mere loss of material from an earlier system that would have included some sort of opening rites. In the Christian magic of the Middle Ages there would have been at least the recitation of a prayer or psalm, by way of invoking the protection and blessing of ‘God’. There are various folkloric examples of using a circle, though it’s hard to tell how much the folktales or practices have been influenced by the more scholastic magic of the grimoires.

In the Wicca I began in we would have chosen to ‘cast a circle’ for any formal spellbinding or magical event. The Wiccan circle-casting is an excellent centering and focusing spell, and certainly does the job of setting the magician’s mind into place for unusual states. I think that, for modern practitioners, such things are important. The ancients had their lifelong cultural immersion to produce just the right states of awareness for them as they approached a bit of strange ritual, or perhaps the methods of pre-ritual purification and focus and post-ritual close-down were the parts that didn’t get written down, and so didn’t get passed down as the European magical tradition became weaker. In any case I think it is helpful to moderns to have a set of opening rituals that help us move from common awareness into the mental place where we do magic.

I do think that shorter framing rituals work better for those who are experienced in more formal rites. By working the full Order of Ritual, the full Druidic Fire Sacrifices we drive the meanings and images of the rites into our minds. Then when we work abbreviated rites we can draw upon those more powerful imprints to enliven the short words. In the hands of new students such short rites have the risk of distracting from learning the full depth of the symbolism.

So, I have been slowly working to reduce our ritual elements to as short a set of framing rites as makes sense. In so doing I essentially abandon much of our traditional order of Ritual, in favor of a simple use of the Fire and Water, and a simple request for the aid of the spirits. Over the last years I’ve written progressively shorter Druidic framing rites – see the ‘Druid’s Circle’ in SFHW for an intermediate version. It seems proper to me to have various levels of complexity for various sorts of works.

For example, as I write the first lessons of an Initiate’s Book for ADF, I find myself prescribing rather a lot of small rituals. The work of connecting with the Spirits, and making one’s set of tools, requires various customs to be established, and things to be blessed. I just can’t see why a householder Dedicant Druid would need to do quite that many full liturgies in the first month or two of the work. Of course those with a taste for it can certainly use the liturgical rites up through the Gate Opening as an opening for any working. However I’m not even sure that the Gate needs to be formally opened for small workings. When the point of the work is really to just purify and prepare, and to work with powers and spirits of the immediate local world, then I don’t see the Gate as crucial. So for simple framing for fast spells, or for bits of work in the woods or at the Shrine, I offer this shortest-ever opening and closing.

A Simple Opening and Closing
Let the Druid have her Fire and Well tools, and whatever else she needs for the work at hand.
• Work the Kindling Charm, or Two Powers centering.
• Light the Fire and silver the Water, saying:

Fire I kindle, Water I pour
The Hearth and Well I hallow.
By the Mother of the Land be hallowed
By the Lord of Wisdom be hallowed.
Blessed and made sacred to the work.
Sprinkle and cense yourself and all as you say:
So by the Might of the Water and the Light of the Fire
Let this place be cleansed of all ill,
Made whole and holy
For the Work of the Wise.
Simple offerings are made, either of grain into a real fire, or incense into a censer, saying:
I make offering to the Earth Mother
Bless me in my work
I make offering to the Lord of Wisdom
Open the Ways for me
I make offering to the Dead,
To the Spirits, to the Shining Gods.
Bless me in my work
With Wisdom, Love and Power.
• At this point the details of the work at hand are performed.
• Upon concluding you should thank any beings who have aided you, and end formally:
Let bound be bound and wound be wound
Thus all is done, and done, and well done
And thus I end what was begun.
To the Three Holy Kindreds I give thanks
To the Lord of Wisdom I give thanks
To the Mother of All I give thanks
Thus do I remember the work of the wise.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Coolest Thing I've Seen This Week

Thanks to Jason at The Wild Hunt Blog for pointing me at this. With the probably-less-than-stellar film adaptation of Alan Moore's classic comic Watchmen hitting theaters this week, I'd thought I'd point this out. Moore is himself an occultist, with a very unique perspective on the art. His whole output is worth attention.

Of course nobody this weird could completely ignore Lovecraft. Moore's short mythos story The Courtyard is cool, and even cooler, perhaps, is the Courtyard Companion, with page after page of Moore's notes on his litle in-jokes and references in the tale.

I am just tickled wiggly to note that he's working on his very own grimoire of the occult arts. I just can't wait! Unfortunately, dates I've seen for it run from this year all the way to 2011... ah well...