How Futurity Becomes a Womb

At a dramatic moment in Chapter Nineteen, “The Number of the Beast,” in his book The White Goddess, Robert Graves quotes this poem, written by himself:

On Portents

If strange things happen where she is,
So that men say that graves open
And the dead walk, or that futurity
Becomes a womb and the unborn are shed,
Such portents are not to be wondered at,
Being tourbillions in Time made
By the strong pulling of her bladed mind
Through that ever-reluctant element.

He identifies the subject of these lines as “the Muse,” and from the context, the natural presumption is that the Goddess Herself is meant. In fact, the poem was originally written about Graves’ mistress–his personal muse, Laura Riding. The imagery of portents, of omens, as “tourbillons in Time made by the strong pulling of her bladed mind” nevertheless struck me as a significant casting-off point for thoughts about this difficult book and its persistent influence in the Craft of the present age.

In 1957, Robert Graves informed a New York audience:

My task in writing The White Goddess was to provide a grammar of poetic myth for poets, not to plan witches’ Sabbaths, compose litanies and design vestments for a new orgiastic sect, nor yet to preach matriarchy over a radio network…

One of the ironies in attempting to make sense of Graves’ position in the history of modern Pagan Witchcraft is that even in the space of this single talk, despite his disclaimer with regard to Witch sabbats and litanies for the old Gods, we find him just a few pages later hymning the Goddess with these words:

Though loving and just, she is ruthless. Her symbol is the double-axe–consisting of two moon-like blades, one crescent, one decrescent, set back to back and fitted with a haft. The crescent blade represents blessing, increase, joy; the decrescent blade represents cursing, plague and sorrow that punish human folly and disorder. The Muse-poets have always recognized these two blades: poetry proper is the constructive side of their profession, satire the destructive side. (Robert Graves, “The White Goddess: a talk, New York, 1957” presented as Appendix B in The White Goddess, edited by Grevel Lindop).

The description of the sacred Labrys he provides is surprisingly evocative of the old Craft precept: “Who cannot blast, cannot bless.” In fact, I wrote an essay on this subject in an earlier entry here. No wonder that when The White Goddess was published and began to circulate, Witches who read the book began to wonder if the author was not merely a poet, but also an Initiate. (Graves specifically denied in the 1957 lecture, and on several other occasions, that he was a member of any occult order, and categorically stated that he was not a practitioner of Witchcraft.)

Last September, thanks to the prompting of a close friend, I finally began the task of reading The White Goddess. It’s something I’ve put off for years. My own Teacher, Gabriel Carrillo, detested the book. But my Oathmother, Eldri Littlewolf, told me some things about her own experience of it, and how rich and significant she had found some of what Graves had written. What she shared made me realize that it was a text I had to study for myself. Some five months out from the start, I’m still wading through the book, alternately baffled, puzzled, and inspired by various things I have found in these rambling, arcane pages . I’m reading the 1997 edition produced under the editorial aegis of Grevel Lindop. This is the edition I always advise people to get hold of whenever they express an interest in this text. In a 2011 memoir, Lindop brilliantly summed up the book thus:

Nine chapters of history, nine chapters of magical lore, nine chapters on poetry. Again, a number of the Goddess. And by switching to and fro between them [rather like the spotted Serpent slithering up through the Well, or the Tree], Graves, like a juggler, was able to keep all three topics alive and in motion in the reader’s head without ever letting the logical intellect take control and reduce the book to a linear argument. I came to see that by constantly stimulating the intellect, yet constantly frustrating it–and balancing it–by leading the reader into speculations about the Number of the Beast, the ritual laming of sacred kings, or the reason why ‘so remarkably few young poets continue nowadays to publish poetry after their early twenties,’ Graves was drawing the reader into a kind of poetic trance, where fact, mystery and time-transcending clairvoyance all began to operate. The White Goddess, then, was designed as a book which would induce the poetic faculty in its readers. It was a book that could make poets.–Grevel Lindop, “The White Goddess: A Personal Account,” Abraxas no. II, Summer Solstice 2011.

(Painting of the Cretan Snake Mother, John Duncan, 1917)

In his poem “To Juan at the Winter Solstice,” Graves himself restated the themes and purport of The White Goddess in an ingeniously compressed, rebus-like sequence of imagery. One of the more coherent stanzas runs:

Water to water, ark again to ark,
From woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
The never altered circuit of his fate,
Bringing twelve peers as witness
Both to his starry rise and starry fall.

A strange, harrowing and ineffable image, “each new victim” treading “unfalteringly the never altered circuit of his fate”–these words recall Abelard’s mystic exclamation: Solus ad victimam procedis, Domine! (“As the lone victim Thou proceedest, Lord, offering Thyself to Death, whom Thou comest to destroy…”) As the poem’s beginning pronounces, “there is one story, and one story only.” A thoughtful friend of mine commented that what he really meant by that was  that there was “only one story worth telling.” It was a story that obsessed Robert Graves for the rest of his own life, re-worked and re-told in many different forms and manifestations. The twelve witnesses and the new year-victim make thirteen–the number of Jesus and his twelve disciples; the number of the classic Witches’ coven. Consider that, and you have the groove that keeps the whole book moving in its strangely stately, ineffable rhythm. That is the insistently throbbing beat that makes The White Goddess dance.

After publishing the book in 1948, Graves wrote a novel, Watch the North Wind Rise (also published under the title Seven Days in New Crete). It was published in 1949. In this book, he used an ingenious device to depict a world in which the religion of the White Goddess had been swept back into power, as presided over by an elite Priest/esshood of Witches. As the novel progresses, this seeming utopia takes on an increasingly dystopian slant, as the protagonist explores and learns more about the social order mandated and enforced by the Witches, supported by various customs and folk observances. After a sacred drama that ends with human sacrifice, the poet-protagonist endures a shattering encounter with the Maiden Goddess Nimue, who reveals to him a few simple truths of life on Earth in this distant time. The narrative concludes with a sudden exodus, leaving the violent imperatives of this uncanny vision unresolved.

Graves himself placed The White Goddess upon a singular pedestal, viewing it as a unique work engendered by his own extraordinary (and to himself inexplicable) gnosis and insight. Historically, however, the book fits into a pattern established by three significant earlier works. Graves intuitively synthesizes themes mooted and elaborated in the works of Charles Leland, James Frazer, and Margaret Murray. But his work adds a deeper rhetorical force and a more acutely thrusting aesthetic weight through the poetic, emotional, and sexual fervor with which Graves works through his threefold argument. “Her bladed mind” and “Her Triple Will” are accomplished and reiterated through a surprising sequence of images, choral suites, and dramatic flourishes as the reader moves through the book. At the same time, there’s an element of deconstruction in how Graves re-configures the pivotal themes of those earlier books. The White Goddess begins with elaborate statement of the poet’s personal belief in the magical power of language. Not only is the incantatory potency of poetry itself exalted in his philosophy; even the letters of the alphabet trace a mystic, riddling arabesque, ultimately concealing the Holy Unspeakable Name of God (as one of the chapter titles signals).

Robert Graves was given a tacit salute by Victor Anderson in his poem “Thorns of the blood rose,” which he placed at the front of his own first book of poems. And this became the title of Victor’s book, as well. The “appointed tree” could be read as the book itself, a reading favored by arguments strongly laid down by Robert Graves in several chapters of The White Goddess.  Even as we wonder what portents may be soon to manifest through the tourbillons of Her bladed mind, we may find in the promise of the infant year rising to claim His crown a spark of hope in these dark nights of January.

On this appointed tree, most gracious Queen,
Your spotted Serpent sheds His gleaming sheath
And bows His head until the Star of life is seen.

From Earth, Your fertile body far beneath,
Pregnant through winter nights and warm spring days,
The infant year shall rise to wear His kingly wreath.

Victor Anderson, “Thorns of the blood rose”

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Why I Am a Witch: Reflections at the Time of the Winter Solstice

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The beads [of the rosary] were red and white which symbolized [the Goddess’s] Mother and Virgin forms. The beads touching [these] were blue or black.

…Repeated prayers are not just so the Gods will hear, but for the rhythmic movement of copulation and music. It is the powerful surge of communion and creativity.

The rosary consists of five decades with one holding bead in between each decade. There is a total of fifty alternating red and white beads with five blue or black holding beads. These beads are placed one between each decade.

The cross at the end should be a ringed cross. The ringed cross is the signature of the Goddess. In Mayan religion it is Waka Chan or World True Unfolding Sun. The ringed cross represents the four great Powers of the universe supporting the sun. It tells us that the Goddess supports the stars of heaven which came forth from Her Womb about 18 billion years ago. The ringed cross belongs to all the great Cosmic Gods. …

… When horns are placed on the circle of the ringed cross it shows that the Goddess and God not only have sex, but they are sex, both male and female. This last mentioned ringed cross is the sign of Mercury.

—Cora Anderson, “The Rose Wreath” (circa 2002?)

(Art: “Star Goddess,” by Banshee Arts)

On this morning of the Winter Solstice, 2017, Cora’s musings on the “Pagan Rose Wreath” or rosary provided both illumination and the warmth of inspiration fire for my beleaguered heart. Both were greatly needed at this time of darkness. Cora’s teaching brought comfort in the old sense of that word–a strengthening, a renewal of fortitude and determination to go on. And among other things, her evocation of the “rhythmic movement of copulation and creativity” ignited a spark. And so, finally I find an auspicious moment to return to this fasciularium after a dormant period of nearly two years.

It’s interesting in the specific context of 2017 that Cora mentions Mercury. He (whom I love to address as the “Dancing Darling”) commands the powers of communication and technology. And this year, He’s going Direct the day after the Solstice. Not a moment too soon!

I especially loved the “Prayer to Mari” Cora composed for the rose-wreath, building on an old poem of Victor’s; the imagery is potent, energizing, and charged with expansive cosmic vibrations:

Hail Mari, Most Holy Mother Goddess of all living things,
And Governess of the Elements,
By Whose Triple Will the planets move,
And the clouds between the stars are gathered up,
Turning in stately revolutions,
In the darkness of Your Womb.
Hail Mari! The God is with You,
Your beloved Son and Lover, speaker of Your Word.
Hail Mari Kali Ma! Intercede with the Gods for us,
Be with us now and in the hours of death and rebirth.
Evo He, Blessed Be
Amen.

The period since I last wrote in this space has been busy and fruitful. And in the intervening time, I have had numerous thoughts for future ruminations to be shared here. At this moment of renewal–the Winter Solstice in the Northern hemisphere of our planet, the Summer Solstice in the South–there is a vivid, tangible sense of clearance, cleansing, and renewal. Some speak of this time as the moment when all the myriad manifestations of the Earth plane are dragged between the Pillars of Force and Form, to be reborn anew. In my personal practice, I see this as the end of the Fallow Tide, a completion of the period when all things lie dormant between the great feasts of Samhain and Yule. We have contemplated the teachings and the legacy of the Mighty Ones, honoring Their memory and opening our hearts to Their wisdom; now we light the candles of the Solar New Year to express our joy at the new opportunities and new challenges that beckon us onward.

This vital, ever-renewed engagement with cosmic forces in the context of my own human microcosm is one of the many reasons why I find such potency in living, working and loving as a Witch. In my many years of study, the Craft, as I have been fortunate and blessed to know and be trained in it, is the only path I have found that integrates so many distinct facets of being and existence into one sacred whole. One of the things I love most keenly about the Craft is that the wisdom takes shape in an organic engagement of ebb and flow in each Witch’s life; as a friend of mine loves to remind me, none of us can ever claim to know it all. And that’s wonderful, because it provides us with more opportunities to learn from one another, care for one another, and love one another.

Another thing I cherish about Witchcraft is how varied it is; how deeply rooted in the shifting tides of the embodied present; how it is at once deeply physical, and yet an Art that makes one profoundly aware of the realms of Dreamtime, Faery, Otherworld that forever seethe and glimmer at the threshold of our awareness. And through practice, meditation, and insight, we are granted the gift of becoming more intimately involved with these realms. As Levannah Morgan tells us in her beguiling, beautiful book A Witch’s Mirror (2013):

What is Witchcraft? Witchcraft is worshipping the Old Gods on a moonlit night on a high tor on Dartmoor. Witchcraft is tying nine knots in a red thread. Witchcraft is walking in the spirit world. Witchcraft is catching the moon in a mirror. Witchcraft is collecting rowan berries. Witchcraft is living with familiar spirits. Witchcraft is making a circle of holed stones. Witchcraft is dancing with the Horned God. Witchcraft is sitting on a deserted beach as the tides ebb and flow. Witchcraft is the oldest thing there is. …” (p. 7)

And it all takes place within the matrix of a loving relationship between the Mother of All Living and Her hidden children. As Victor expressed it in one of his most memorable poems:

I must obey Your quickening Triple Will
Though I may flee Your love with palsied dread;
At Your command my heart cannot be still
As I receive from You the holy bread.
When from the sky at dawn the moon has fled,
I keep the vision of Your moon-white brow,
Until the long-awaited feast be spread
In Avalon beneath the silver bough.
Though You have bound me with no marriage vow,
My passion burns with this eternal need
That I may love You then as I do now
When from the broken clay my soul is freed.
No darkness can death’s valley hold for me
If You, O Ceridwen, my moon will be.

–Victor Anderson, “Ceridwen”, Thorns of the Blood Rose (1970)

We call this season of the year Yule, which means Wheel, for this is indeed a mighty turning of the cosmic Wheel of Dark and Light. The candles we light at the end of this longest Night reflect the new illumination surging into potential birth within each individual’s soul.  May this light bring clarity, warmth, and renewed inspiration for us all. Blessed Be.

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Return of the Witch

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To she who is Guardian have I left my sword which is called “Moonfire”–the sword which is made only for my hand. I have dishonoured it in no way, yet I have built into that sword the dreams that are longer than iron and brighter than steel.—E. A. St. George, The Book of A. D. I. C. (Absolute Deity in Infinite Continuums) (1972)

E. A. St. George, aka Elizabeth St. George, known to her friends as Sandra West, was born on November 8, 1937, in London.  When World War II erupted and London was under threat from Nazi bombers, Sandra and her family removed to the Bahamas, where they spent the War. After 1945 the family returned to London.  Sandra was sent to a girls’ school, Roedean, in Brighton.  She was interested in entomology and spent a brief period working at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.  Throughout her life, she was an outspoken activist on behalf of animals, their care and their rights.  Most ancient Egyptian Deities were associated with animals of one sort or another.  When Elizabeth wrote about these divinities, she included information on the proper care of the animals involved and encouraged those devoted to the ancient cults to actualize their worship through volunteering at animal care organizations and donating money for conservation.

E. A. St. George had an active, vigorous life.  She became formally involved in the occult, it would appear, in her twenties, when she had a stint working at the legendary Atlantis Bookshop.  Later on, she became a familiar figure at occult fairs and Pagan festivals.

I am going to share some of Elizabeth’s poetry here.   Though seldom mentioned in histories of the period,  in my personal research I have found her to have been an exceptional personality in the British Pagan community of the 1970s-2000s. She certainly made a very strong, generally favorable impression on those who knew her, and she was much mourned by her friends and those who had spent time with her when she died on the Full Moon of June 1, 2007.

From the first poem of hers that I was lucky enough to find, in the book Bast and Sekhmet: Eyes of Ra (1999) by Storm Constantine and Eloise Coquio, I felt something very special, an unusual mixture of grace, wit, and sensitivity to the aesthetics of ancient magic and Pagan worship.  And I wanted more.  I am presenting here a minor selection from my research, which has lasted now some fifteen years.  I have found these poems in various books Elizabeth published through her own firm, Spook Enterprises, under the byline of E. A. St. George.

I will start with a poem invoking Mercury, as a phase of Mercury Retrograde is soon to visit us once again.  I myself am quite fond of the Dancing Darling as I like to call Him, but others can have difficulties with His tricky ways and devious arts.  The association with the beech tree may have its origin in the fact that the Druids sometimes used beechwood for tablets on which Ogham was carved; it may be a specifically English correspondence for the most honorable God of Sending and Escorting and Receiving.

Invocation to Mercury, to speed the return of a stolen car (from Return of the Witch)

Thief lord, thief lord, come to me this hour.
Thief lord, swift lord, answer witch’s power,
Sharp Lord, Swift Lord, come to me with speed,
Grant a fiery spirit here to aid me in my need.

Beech lord, beech lord, bring us back our own,
Offerings are in thy hand, we stand before thy throne,
Sharp lord, swift lord, answer us with aid,
Grant thy help unto a witch, a debt must be repaid.

Thief lord, thief lord, bring the vessel back,
Send a hunting spirit fast upon intruder’s track,
Beech lord, sharp lord, keep us in thy care,
Let the car come home again with all its contents rare.

Beech lord, thief lord, little is the time,
Send a hunter spirit swift to swift redress the crime,
Sharp lord, bright lord, knowing all we need,
Let the stolen be returned unharmed, O Lord, at speed!

The Curse of Macha (from The Book of Ghastly Curses)

Gather up a magic spell, summon forth the hounds of Hell!
Over sea and over land, answer to a Witch command
Changing moon from bright to dim,
The hounds of Hell must follow him.

Gather up a magic rite, hounds of hell go forth tonight!
Follow him where he shall go, follow hounds, the Witch’s foe.
Where he lies the blood will mark.
Changing moon from light to dark.

Gather up a magic spell, follow him, O hounds of hell
He who has betrayed must bleed, hounds of hell behold the deed
Changing moon from bright to dim,
The hounds of hell must follow him.

The target as written is male, but it could very easily be rewritten for a female malefactor; something like:

Seethe the cauldron, seethe and stir:
Hounds of Hell must follow her!

Poem XII from Under Regulus: a Handbook of the Magic of Sekhmet (1995) (despite the title, this is a slim booklet of twelve poems with a very short introduction; the first sentence of the latter may be of significance to some:  “The triple star, a Leo, once was considered to rule the heavens.”  She refers to the star of Regulus, one of the Four Royal Stars.)

Thou livest, O star at the heart of the lion.
The life doth surge in thy nostrils, O star.
Hail unto thee.
Hail thou star who dost burn in the heavens, O let me come unto thee.
I will dare the way, even the way through the darkness.
I will dare all the terrors of the underworld.
I will brave the fiends of the void and all the demons thereof.
I will walk the edge of the sword blade to come unto thee.
O star at the heart of Sekhmet.

Equally memorable is this devotional poem in honor of the Lady of the East, the Gracious Bringer of Joy, Royal Bast:

The beautiful cat that endures,
Lead us to peace, O Bast,
We wait for the sound of thy footfall,
Grant us thy sleep, O Bast.
Most beautiful cat that endures,
Guide us through night, O Bast,
We watch for thine eyes in the dark,
Lead us to light, O Bast.

E. A. St. George published many books–it would be fascinating to compile a complete bibliography.  They include such titles as Dog is God spelled Backwards, Voyage to the Cat StarAncient and Modern Cat WorshipGods with Wings, Meretseger the Snake GoddessHorse Lore and MagicA Place called Werewolf HallThe House in Warlock Road, and The Theurgicon.  I have never been able to track down more than a few of these.  Among those I do own, I think my favorite is Return of the Witch, originally published in 1984.  It concludes with yet another poem:

Witch Song

Mother Goddess, wild and free,
Spinner of our Destiny,
Guardian of fated door,
Let the soul return once more.
Moons must wax and moons must wane,
Let the witch return again.

Mother Goddess, wild and dark,
Let the soul the witch-light mark,
Lady who doth guard the gate,
Mother Goddess, shroud of fate,
Moons must rise and wax and wane,
Let the witch soul come again.

Mother Goddess of the way,
Souls come forth from night to day.
Grant the witch return to life,
Seek the rod, the cup, the knife.
Moons must rise and moons must fall,
Grant thy blessing on us all.

motherskemeth

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Gift of the Magi

And so we approach in the calendar of the Christian liturgical traditions the Feast of the Epiphany, the Three Magi and their gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.  Frankincense for Priesthood, Gold for Kingship, Myrrh for Sacrifice. The Word Made Flesh. Epiphany held within every breath.

The topic of Esoteric Christianity is really beyond the scope of this fascicularium, but the triplicity of the Magi and their gifts intrigued me since three is such an important number in both Witchcraft and Druidry.  I even thought of treating the three gifts as symbolic of the Triple Self/ves: Frankincense for the Aware Self or Talker; Myrrh for the Fetch; Gold for the God Self.  Compounded together, the three gifts might compose an incense with very unusual properties.  All three substances have been used in healing formulae and workings of various kinds, in a number of magical traditions.

In Pagan Christmas, a huge compendium on the holiday compiled by Christian Ratsch and Claudia Muller-Ebeling, lore concerning the gifts of the Magi (or Magoi as they were named in the original Koine Greek) is discussed.  Their research reveals that in North Africa, the supply of frankincense was controlled by a community called Minoans who claimed to be the descendants of an ancient Minoan colony.  Such an exotic legend sounds like something right out of Rider Haggard or Talbot Mundy.

The lore about the association with the “Star,” the arts practiced by the Magi, and the Mithras cult is quite suggestive. Apparently the narrative about the Magi appears only in one of the gospels and seems to follow a passage in the writings of Pliny the Elder. Mithraism was a major competitor with Christianity when it switched from being just another mystery cult on the block to a contender for the title of sole religion of the known world (i.e. the Empire).  Tertullian refers to the Magi as sacerdotal Kings (and notes that Christians were not permitted to practice astrology; Ratsch and Muller-Ebeling comment, astutely, that Christ would have been called a magus by the Greeks and Romans of the day).

According to the catalogue of an exhibition mounted in Cologne in 2014, the iconography of the Magi did not exhibit royal paraphernalia until around 1000 AD. One of my favorite pictures in the book shows the Three Kings sharing a bed–WITH CROWNS ON–and an angel reaching out a hand to one, warning them not to visit King Herod on their journey homeward. They’re all tucked up under a blanket. Too dear. The source is a relief carving, presumably in a church somewhere. The show was Cologne because it is where the relics of the Three Kings were brought in Mediaeval times, from an Italian city. So it became the center of their cult, which was hugely popular.  This despite the disapproval of many Church leaders because, after all, the Magi were Pagan astrologers. The true history of Christian folkways, and the esoteric recuperation of all the lore remembered in folk memory, is so much more complicated than most realize.  Consider the vexed history of the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary as yet another instance.

In German folk tradition, as reported in Pagan Christmas, one can cut  three white hazel dowsing-wands with a new knife and bless each in the names of one of the Magi. The wands can then be used for dowsing gold, silver and water. Another tradition postulates an echo of Jan. 6 as the Birthday of Dionysos (the cult was well established in Europe and still celebrated some centuries into the Christianization era so this may well be possible). You look up the chimney and count how many stars you can see, and that is how many glasses of wine you should imbibe on this night.  No wonder Three Kings Day became such a popular festival in many parts of Europe.

A painting of the Magi offering gifts from Ravenna (usually described as “Italo Byzantine”), dated 532 e.v.; they wear the raiment of magicians here, rather than the kingly regalia found in later representations.

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Magi offering gifts, Ravenna, circa. 532 e.v.

 

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The Fire Beneath the Ice

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A great benison during this gruellingly busy week has been the arrival of Jack Gale’s long-awaited study of the Winter Queen, Fraw Holda, brilliantly entitled Queen of Ice and Fire:  the Goddess Holda (Capall Bann, 2015).  Fraw Holda, as She is often addressed, is an ancient Germanic Goddess who is often experienced as an axis point for several historically attested Deities.  Gimbutas suggested that Holda was the origin of Them all.  The name Holda, in my understanding, is simply an Old High German kenning, “the Fair One.”  It may refer to the white and shining appearance of the Winter landscape.  The name Holda reminds one in meaning of Gwyn, the White or Shining One, a male Deity with some similar attributes.  Obviously, Holda is Northern/Germanic, while Gwyn is Welsh, but recent research has suggested that just as the peoples of these regions interacted more than was once thought in old times, their lore may also present many areas of shared gnosis and tradition.

Jack Gale provides some practical ritual suggestions, among them this “anthem,” which I prefer to think of as a carol. It is set to the tune of “God rest ye merry gentlemen,” and I suggest getting in the mood by playing the wonderfully Paganesque video Annie Lenox did a few years ago for that carol.  I changed some of the words provided by Jack to make it more singable for myself and my friends, and also because Holda Herself seemed to want me to re-work the song on my own.  This was the result:

The trees are standing leafless, and sun is standing still
When daylight comes but fleetingly and wind is blowing chill
As Old Year turns to New Year, we heed your Triple Will!

O great Holda, be with us now, be with us now!
O great Holda, be with us now!

From sleeping through the light time, our Goddess She awakes
With snowy white regalia, the silver Crown She takes
Her sacred Sign we now behold as feather bed She shakes!

O great Holda, be with us now, be with us now!
O great Holda, be with us now!

Rise up, O Winter Goddess, return and take Your place
We know Your Shining Presence extends o’er time and space
As Solstice skies grow bright with light upon Your shining Face!

O great Holda, be with us now, be with us now!
O great Holda, be with us now!

Holda’s sacred Sign is the Hagall rune, which looks just like an abstract snowflake crystal, and is a very potent and powerful sigil to which Jack Gale devotes two chapters in his book.  In an essay about Her composed in 2008 (which I cited in my post about Holda last year, but I feel bears repeating), I wrote: “This Rune provides a potent key to descend into Holda’s Well and unlock the secret gateway into Her Inner Sanctum. One way of visualizing this Rune is to see it as a Stave standing in the midst of the Crossroads… Holda holding the Stave at the Center of the Crossroads also embodies how, in the Northern Tradition, the Winter Festival stands as the pivot around which the entire year revolves, and renews itself. The Queen of the Snows also stands guard over the womb of the New Year. The singularity of Her Personality is the final resolution of the dualities of Life and Death embodied in the white quiet of Wintertide. One image that came to me … is that the six points of this Rune are reflected in Holda’s Pool and thus display the Twelve Nights of Yule, an illimitable energy vortex through which manifest Time and Space continually renew themselves. Holda’s Well and the Sacred Cauldron of Rebirth are, indeed, one and the same.”

In the book, Jack Gale reports these words received by a friend during a moment of intense psychic attunement to the Goddess:

I am the hearthfire
That burns deep within the ice,
The enemy of fear,
And lover of the blissful soul.

An aspect of Holda of which I had been unaware before beginning to read this book is Her identification with the ancient Lady of the Elder Tree, about Whom I wrote last year.  She is an imposing, potent Goddess very powerfully connected to the earth and to orchards, Whose presence was felt long after the displacement of the wisdom teachings by the Christian church.

The Power embodied in the phrase “Fire beneath the Ice” for me emphasizes the life-force deep within Earth Herself.  During the most severe months of Winter when everything seems buried under a heavy mantle of snow and ice, She remains alive, aware, and open to our visions and desires.  She is of many forms and many guises, but the pulsebeat of Her flame deep within burns constant and true.  The moment of the Winter Solstice and the tide of Yule and the turning of the Year remind us of this great hope.

 

 

 

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The Old Way of Wild Faery

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Recently, as part of my Samhain meditation, I was reading some things written by my Oathmother, Eldri Littlewolf.  This was posted to a journaling site we are both on, back in January, 2011.  And it really bears repeating.  Many of you who are reading this space now never saw it back then.  Eldri is speaking here about the Split in the Tradition–described by another Initiate at the time as “the Sundering of Feri.” Eldri’s words are so earthy, potent, and resonant for me that I can think of no more apt and accurate expression of my personal feelings about where we are now in the Tradition.

There seems to be confusion–no doubt understandable, given the vagaries of google and how little known our history is to outsiders–about the differences between the old (some call it Wild) form of the Teaching, and the newer Tradition which others are promoting through various endeavors, venues, and activities.  In the past we have seen Reclaiming and Third Road ™ take material from the old Teaching and craft it into something new. That process is happening again on several fronts, involving multiple projects set forth by several individuals.  Meanwhile, some of us continue in the older way.  As Eldri states so movingly, the Old Way isn’t better, it is just different.   In some of what I have written here in the past year, I have tried not simply to  state didactically  just how one works and lives in the Old Ways, but to exemplify through more straightforward storytelling and poetry HOW IT FEELS.

I will note that we have attempted to return to the spelling Faery (preferred by my late Teacher), to distinguish ourselves from the “public” face of the Tradition with its web boutiques and Skype classes.  But that doesn’t really work since various folks on that side (or sides) use Faery as well.  Furthermore, on a personal note, my own Oathmother actually prefers Feri because that was how Victor, who was (and to some of us, STILL IS) the Grandmaster, requested us to spell it.

Further details can be found on the site http://andersonfaery.org.  Click on the tab marked Principles for specifics of what we have agreed upon in common. This is I think what Eldri means when she says we have “a page” we can point to.  Now, four years after the words below were written, “the page” is a fully-fledged site with essays, reflections and words from many Initiates, and other resources to explore.  I am immensely pleased about this development.

It is worth noting again that those of us who hew to the Old Ways share many differences–differences of approach, method, belief, lore, and preference.   What we hold in common is a commitment to honor the principles set forth and agreed upon back in 2011.  For me personally, to honor these principles is to live by the Oath I swore and the Word I gave when I was made an anointed child of God Herself in the rites.

Eldri’s words:

Long ago, all dogs were wolves. Now there are Many kinds of dogs—each with a thing they (to human eyes) Do well. The others are not ‘Wrong’, just not that breed…
English Springers, American Springers —Now judged to ‘Different Standards’ still springers. Still dogs.

Apples: some sweet, some tart, some store well, some with *Pink Flowers!*-
all apples. No one would take them for plums.

Feri; some public, some private—*Still Feri* just not the *Same kind* of Feri.
Different needs, from deep in our souls—All still changing, and growing, all Her children.

…We are still working out our ‘standards’ here.
To Stop kinstrife this Had to happen–It Did Happen, years ago. (That part is done.)
Nobody is ‘better’,’more Feri’,or ‘less Feri’: we are Different, and that is Good.
When tribes get too big, they often divide—bands go different Directions- (hunt different game)–sometimes they meet up and camp together, later, then go separate ways once more.
This is not war–only clan division.

Change happens, we are witches.
We choose our paths, sometimes they diverge, that does not make us, better, or worse, than those who have taken another path. But, we Cannot remain tied together, and still freely follow All Paths.
—Paths need walking, some are called to one, some to another.

We chose to cut the rope instead of *Endlessly Tugging* trying to make others follow One path, instead of the ones that call their feet.
Now we have fallen in a Heap—and some are hurt, and angry.
Hopefully we can get up, go our ways, agree to ‘report back’ our adventures, when next our paths may cross-
-or *Write* in civil words, and with respect, what we have found.

I hear a lot of loose talk about ‘evolution’. I don’t buy it.
We can Not know about that, we haven’t the time scale- Changes, sure, That we have Got.
No one in our tradition is Exactly the same–as each other, as we were when we were ‘brought in’—and, isn’t that kind-of the point?

Folks are taking offense where *None was intended* —and then not listening when we say,–that Is Not what we meant.

“Look, we had to move the work-bench, folks were jostling our elbows—“

Outsiders were Telling me what my tradition was… I get Tired of it.
I spent many years defending the honor of Wolves, (no, really, kids, they were Hated) or explaining that all ‘hippie chicks’ do not sleep with anything that moves…
That part is done,… but now I have to start all over with my religion…NO.

Now I can just say, “Sorry, you mean those other Feri, over there…”
I can point to a page that explains, with *No Name Calling*, what *I* am about.
I am private, and do not Owe my time to strangers, but feel like I ought to explain.
“I am not a ‘red delicious’ I am some other apple from that”
I bid you all,
Good Hunting!–Eldri Littlewolf, January 2011

 

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Some reflections upon the Men’s Mysteries

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In various sources on the subjects of Paganism and Witchcraft, we often see references to Men’s Mysteries and Women’s Mysteries. In today’s world of shifting terrain around gender definitions and boundaries, there may well be questions as to how relevant, if at all, such terms and the rites they denote may be to seekers of Pagan wisdom in this challenging year of 2015. I would like to offer some brief reflections on this topic. By necessity, these will have to be quite preliminary, and there may be future writings from me taking specific aspects under deeper consideration.

The word Mysteries really means rites. But I would divide these into three categories: first, rites that involve passageways into changes of status, such as rites of adulthood (or, more accurately, manhood in the old Men’s Mysteries). The latter specifically have been widely described across many cultures in the works of ethnologists. Secondly, rites of sodalities that usually have a professional character. The classic case is the rite initiating an apprentice into full status as member of a guild. Nigel Jackson speculates (in a long essay he composed on the Tarot) that in the early Middle Ages, such guilds may have carried some esoteric teachings from the old Mystery cults of Antiquity, particularly those related to the visual and plastic arts. Until the 20th century, many professions were specifically closed to women. (There was a much smaller number traditionally avoided by men and dominated by women.) Thirdly, esoteric initiatory men’s mystery rites with an erotic element are hinted at in some of the old lore, notably the material so diligently collected by Randy Conner in his book Blossom of Bone. We find modern day attempts to revive such rites in such traditions as the Order of Chaeronea founded by George Ives in 1897, the Circle of Loving Companions begun by Harry Hay and John Burnside in the 1960s, or the Minoan Brotherhood established by Lord Gwydion in the 1970s. In Terence DuQuesne’s writing about Anubis, he speculates–evidently based on personal gnosis–that a male priesthood characterized by erotic rites may have had an initiatory ceremony dedicating a new acolyte to the Deity with specific acts. There are other instances that could be cited from the byways of the literature.

I will note parenthetically here that one of the most beautiful descriptions of a Women’s Mysteries rite I can recall reading was a menarche ceremony described by Emma Restall Orr in one of her books.  It is well worth reading for those with an interest in how such rites could be carried out today.

In Cora Anderson’s book Fifty years in the Fairy Tradition, she provides very brief lore regarding the Grey Dove covens which were working groups formed by men.  There were also Grey Wolf covens for women.   The image of the Grey Dove suggests Aphrodite, while the Grey Wolf makes one think of Dionysos and the wild women who terrorized the countryside in the play The Bacchae by Euripides.  It is worth noting that in the latter play, Dionysos acts as the Guardian of the Women’s Mysteries.  The language of the play describes him as being in between male and female in his own nature, which leads to devastating consequences for the ruler of Thebes, Pentheus, who is outraged by the ways in which the God flouts the conventions and social order of the city. This leads to my next point.

I will suggest that a new type of rite is appearing today, and one way of thinking about such rites is as Gender Mysteries. In the material collected by Randy Conner in the book mentioned above, in such cases as the Galli Priest/esses of Cybele Magna Mater or the Hijra of India, we see that there are forerunners. These were orders for people who were in some way embodying what was once called a Third Gender or Third Sex.  One very special quality of the Gender Mysteries is that while the rites specific to men and women often bring about a defined change of status, the Gender Mysteries may be about what Kate Bornstein has called “the space of no gender”–a spiritual land in betwixt and in between. I personally feel there is deep Power being tapped in such Work. It is all quite vibrant and dynamic and emerging in an organic way out of multiple processes and from the hands of many agents and activists. It feels way too early to me to try to say anything definite about where such work is leading. I have found some exciting new vistas being shown to those of us who are interested in learning from the Priest/esses of the Gender Mysteries about the new Wisdom they are revealing.

The nature of a Mystery rite is that is only going to be appropriate for certain individuals who are at a particular phase of personal development. In the rhetoric dominant in the present age, where we want to believe that every experience and every teaching should be accessible to everyone interested in learning of it, this is a difficult concept to consider. I have given my reasons elsewhere for why I, as a Mystery Priest/ess myself, take very seriously the responsibility involved in only sharing what has been bequeathed to me in due time, with due regard to place and person, in a way that I feel properly upholds the integrity I swore to guard with my life before the Mighty Ones. This isn’t melodrama. It’s knowing the character of a person before you hand her a sharp knife and invite her to go off and play.

In the case of Men’s Mysteries, I think that what is happening is that the rites are shifting from being collective experiences shared by all adult males, to being the province of more specifically defined affinity groups.  In the mythopoetic men’s movement which took off in the 1980s from admirers of Robert Bly’s work, there was a very sincere attempt to reconfigure ritual, collective work specific to the needs of men who felt wounded by the upheavals they had gone through in their lives.   This work provides many examples of attempts to find new strategies for performing men’s mystery work in the current era.  It is work that serves the needs of specific communities, and these communities have often emerged–and in some cases, fragmented and fallen apart–through the experience of seeking to do this work.

So, you may now wonder what the point of pursuing the Men’s Mysteries may be in this brave new world we now inhabit. As one answer–there are many more to be articulated, meditated upon and pondered–I offer these words.

In an entry written in August 2014, I quoted this passage from the writings of Dennis Melba’son, describing a spontaneous ecstatic rite which occurred at the climax of a 1980 Radical Faerie Gathering:

Suddenly there appeared before me Cernunnos, who pulled me into Him. The cape enveloped His body and we kissed. Then He asked me to lift the shawl above our heads and walk with Him around the circle, drawing Fairies closer to the central pole, where we hung the shawl for all to see. The circle drew in tighter and tighter. The seven Names of the Goddess were being chanted louder and louder. Suddenly there leaped into the circle a young dancer, fully clothed. He began to undress. All around the circle–now quite tight, perhaps 2-3 Fairies deep–buttons began to be popped, shoes untied, pants unzipped. Clothes were thrown at the base of the pole, offerings to Cernunnos, as naked Fairies leaped into the inner circle and began to dance. The Chant of the Seven Names grew faster, more insistent. Cocks grew hard. Mouths and bodies enveloped them. Strong arms encircled my body. The dancer leapt up the pole. The chant changed: Pan, Cernunnos, the Horned One Comes … PAN, CERNUNNOS, THE HORNED ONE COMES! The figure behind me pressed closer. I could feel His hard cock through the cape. He pulled me closer–pressing, caressing. The dancer came against the pole and was lowered gently into loving arms. I turned to see the face of my lover. No one was there.

I turned back into the inner circle. Naked Fairies were getting down on it all over. The outer circle began to chant: NO MORE GUILT. The bodies writhed in ritual Sex Majik that healed us all. The chants changed to groans and moans and sighs and whimpers and cries of ecstasy. The God descended. The Horned One came. (RFD issue 25, Winter 1980, pp. 14-15)

Poseidon and Pelops

Poseidon and Pelops

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