Why I Do Not Teach Long-Distance

Hekate where three roads meet

Faery witchcraft is worked in a container of beloved relationship. This includes relationship with one’s human community, but even more importantly, it includes the local plants, animals, streams, and hills in all their aspects (physical and spiritual), as well as the Gods who manifest through the land and through our flesh.

–Helix, “Bardic, Shamanic, Ecstatic?”, entry dated May 19, 2016, AndersonFaery.org

I have been known to say that teaching a student in person is difficult enough–for me, doing it long distance, via email, telephone, video chat and other “platforms,” is impossible. It starts, for me, with the responsibility I carry for the challenges, transformations, shifts, and upheavals a student who is actively working magic may face. It continues with the responsibility I feel towards my Self/ves, towards the Ancestors, towards the Gods–a responsibility to swear for the honor and integrity of any whom I may bring before Their altar. For in bringing a stranger before the Altar, I am setting in motion the process, the journey, through which that individual will end, if all goes as it should, in becoming sworn Kin of me and mine. And this process goes further still with my personal perception that Witchcraft is a deeply physical, deeply organic process. It is one thing to check in via phone or videochat–to answer specific questions or share thoughts about certain aspects of where we are in the Work we’re sharing. It’s quite another to pretend that performing a ritual “remotely” via software application is somehow “exactly the same” as being physically present with everyone who is a part of that ritual. That has not been my experience. To be between the worlds in the sacred Circle is not something that is at all remotely like logging into a chatroom.

My views on teaching and training have evolved over the years, and no doubt will continue to evolve. This is the nature of Witchcraft: that it constantly shifts shape, and yet is always the same. Like the Moon in Her phases, the Gods in Their immortal dance of Dark and Light, the Land spirits in their waning and waxing with the tides and the seasons. Witchcraft shifts and morphs and seethes and dances. Yet it is ever the Art that has been passed hand to hand across the ages. The continuity is one of spirit, not of mundane historical fact.

I am avoiding any attempt to be unduly prescriptive in what I write here. It is not for me to tell others how to teach, how to evaluate who they choose to teach, or how to conduct training exercises. I only have genuine clarity around what I can reasonably expect to accomplish: what kinds of standards, what kinds of limitations, what kinds of obligations I can impose upon myself, and upon an individual who comes to me to learn the Craft.

My guiding principle can be expressed in this reminiscence from Willow Moon about how Victor taught:

Even though Victor applied diverse methods to working and describing Feri, he was consistent in his approach and style. After listening to him teach for seven years, I concluded that although he talked about Feri in many different ways, they were congruent. His consistence lay in his emphasis on basic self-respect. Respect for the world, its places and its powers flows naturally from the spring of self-worth.

–Willow Moon, “Is Feri an eclectic system or a Tradition?” Witch Eye, issue 8 (2003)

From a practical point of view, there are elements of teaching that can be done via written communication, phone call, or other forms of technologically mediated check-in. The way I was originally trained involved lots of time working on my own, during which I would often check in with my teacher in an e-group with other students present to comment and discuss various things. All of this was followed by travel at specific intervals to work in the physical presence of my own teacher. These gatherings always included other students, and their contributions and interventions were often just as significant as what the teacher brought into the room. Those physical meetings were turning-points, hinge-points in the Work, because it was only on those occasions that certain specific teachings and, even more significantly, certain energetic contacts were passed. Some of the relationships I formed with other students, as well as other Initiates who came to work with us–including my own eventual Oathmother–were just as important as being present with my teacher during these visits. It all came together with beautiful serendipity. And thus it was as much a form of coven training as it was a time of apprenticeship.

Teaching for me is very organic and, yes, deeply, fiercely Witchy. I follow a pattern rather than a curriculum. It’s like following the twistings and turnings of a labyrinth, weaving and threading the sacred spiral of the Goddess, and sometimes it is a movement outwards that leads in the fulness of time to the Center. To Her abode that is beyond the limits of time and space.

In closing, I still find significance in these words I wrote a few years ago about teaching:

In my own experience, it is the teacher’s job to mentor a student as safely and smoothly as possible through this process. Faery by definition isn’t safe. Perhaps no true practice of Witchcraft is. But as a teacher, I have to do what I can to guide the traveller through the most perilous streets and across the most sharply cracking ice. I have to shepherd them towards the next challenge brought by the Work, to the best of my ability. And this requires building relationship with the student in a manner most aptly characterized as the apprenticeship model. The coven model works well too; in some ways, it may be superior, since the tapestry of the student’s experience of the Art is woven by many hands and sung through many voices. It all begins with what you decide is your goal, or sequence of goals, in teaching. My goals are to mentor the student towards initiation, to offer spiritual direction and what guidance I may have to give, and to witness the student coming into the full awareness of their own Power, the complete realization of their fully aligned Self, and the beautiful accomplishment of their true Will.

8c68RGrzi

 

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Gwydion’s Tribute to Victor

Gwydion with Chalice

Halloween is past, and “astrological Samhain” approaches–November 7 this year. As it was the date preferred by my late teacher, Gabriel, for the celebration of the Sabbat, I always pay attention to this event.. This year, the anniversary of Gwydion Pendderwen’s death in 1982 falls on the eve of astrological Samhain, on November 6.  It has been said that it was Gwydion’s suggestion to give the name “Faerie Tradition” to the teachings of Cora and Victor Anderson and the new coven, Mahealani, they founded with Gwydion during the late 1960s.  (The name Mahealani means “Full Moon”–or “Heavenly Moon.”)  Gwydion is an important ancestral figure for many Faery Witches–his photo is on my permanent ancestral altar, and I always listen to his music as part of the preparation for each Sabbat celebration. And thus, in honor of Gwydion’s memory, I would like to share the original preface he wrote for Victor’s first anthology of poetry, Thorns of the Blood Rose, originally published 1970. I wish to thank my beloved Oathsister Nightshade for her kindness in sending me a photostat of the original text.

Gwydion wrote:

With today’s overwhelming interest in the occult by people of all walks of life, Thorns of the blood rose is a timely work, depicting the innermost thoughts, strong convictions and lifelong torments of a priest of the Old Religion.

Blind since infancy, Victor Anderson has spent a lifetime struggling against various obstacles that would have left most men broken, dejected wretches without any will to live. His childhood years were filled with the rabid pronouncements of his Fundamentalist family; his teens were years of frustration in which his burning desire to learn was constantly belittled, years when love flirted with him and aroused him, but offered no lasting solace.

Adulthood brought little in the way of comfort to him. Injustice, cruelty and horror lurked in every stinking alley-way he passed; preachers condemned sinners on every street corner, while sinners anesthetized their already infernal lives with opium and cheap whiskey; TB-ridden girls of fourteen sold themselves for the price of a fix; and all the while, the churches were filled with people buying their way into heaven with nickels that should have bought their next meal.

The poet was a part of this world of the damned. He heard the crying of starving babies, the cough of the dying hobo; he drank from the bitter cup of the beggar and touched the weeping eyes of the prostitute. And yet his spirit did not die in the midst of this misery, but seemed to comprehend the why of it all.

Life held a precious joy for him, though. Even before he had learned to walk, spirits would come to him in the night and teach him the mysteries of the universe. Bright beings, whom he could see with that inner eye neglected by his contemporaries, showed him the structure of molecules and took him to the stars where he learned their gaseous natures.

It was the bedsprings, he once said, that first spoke to him of the mysteries of life, when all else was silence. Many see in this the seeds of schizophrenia, but here was no stranger phenomenon than that of spirits speaking oracles to the ancients through the crackling of green branches in the fire.

Secretly, Victor Anderson would go to join the covens in their ancient rites under the full moon. In time, he was initiated into the circle of witches, learning a magic vital to man since the first shaman spoke with the wind: We are all part of the Goddess, who is all things to us. She is earth, air, fire and water. While we do not abuse Her, She will be bountiful unto the end of time.

In the Oregon of his youth were many strange and wonderful persons who became his teachers. An Indian who barely spoke English, a band of gypsies who seemed never to grow old, and the ever-present crone who lived in a decrepit hovel on the edge of town–all sought him out as if they knew that he was chosen to speak for them when their world was gone. As a poet, Victor Anderson speaks for all men, but most especially for those whose lives are but faded memories.

Thorns of the blood rose is the voice of sadness, fondness, reverie, despair, hope. It is the voice of a spirit whispering softly in a wondering child’s ear.

The legacies of both Victor Anderson and Gwydion Pendderwen live on in the world in an active, ever-evolving form. In music, bardcraft, memory, story, and the art of magic itself that lives in the blood, bones, and breath of every human, one may catch an echo of the immemorial truths they held however briefly in their joined hands, like Olympic racers passing the torchlight on, to rekindle the fire upon the sacred altars of old. Let that light be a beacon to us as the darkness of the year draws in. So Be It! Io Evohe!

Victor with lei

 

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FreyR, Harvest Lord, Harvested Lord

(Art by Brigón Munkholm)

With softsmile shimmering,
As ripened fields glimmering
At Summer’s high tide:
Like bright gold your hair
Seductive your lair
My beauty Your pride:
Flame that desire has wrought,
Swift with the swiftness of thought,
Heat of desire
Summer’s bright fire
You have taken me, FreyR, you have claimed Your own!
–Invocation to FreyR (by Leafshimmer)

On this night of August Eve, as we move into the sacred tide of Lammas and the offering of the first fruits of the fields, I find myself remembering Freyr, Lord of the Harvest and Harvested Lord.  Brother of Freyja, known to some as the Golden God and the Bringer of Joy, friend of farmers and ally of those who seek the wisdom of the ancient Earth magic, FreyR also was my personal Initiator into the mysteries of the Runes and to a deeper understanding of my own nature as a worker of magic and keeper of once-forgotten lore. His gentle, nurturing guidance has opened new paths in the tangled undergrowth at my feet, and shown me a footpath up steep mountain slopes I had thought completely beyond my reach.  Whether I have been consciously aware of Him or not, whether I have known Him by this Name or one of his myriad Others, FreyR has been a Presence in my life… a Presence I realized had been with me from the beginning.

FreyR, as a noble lord of the ancient Vanir, is the Ruler of the Faery realm. In truth, I believe I was born with His fiery mark upon my soul.  But it was not until I was moving through early middle age that I had several experiences that brought Him to the fore of my consciousness. His dramatic epiphany during the twilight of my fortieth decade heralded the awakening of a new phase, a pivotal turn in the spiral labyrinth of my current Earthwalk.

In the wider world, I see FreyR’s influence manifest far beyond the rebirth of Heathenism and the renewal of the old Pagan ways. It does not take much imagination to see the touch of the Harvest Lord at work in such spheres as the flourishing of the organic farming movements, in the settling of Intentional Communities (particularly those dedicated to fostering greater Earth consciousness and peaceful, cooperative forms of society), and, perhaps, in the renewal of Men’s Mysteries within the broader domain of Pagan spiritualities.  I don’t see these developments as exclusively the result of FreyR’s Presence and the
unique ferment of His secret current, but I do see Him taking a lively interest in how these phenomena have unfolded.

I remember a line in a favorite novel of college days, Lord Dismiss Us by Michael Campbell:  “Serenity comes only after passion.”  Perhaps the most important role FreyR’s presence is playing in my life now is His firm weight upon the need for Balance in all phases of vital existence.  What I feel He is embodying for me
is this:  true wisdom comes not by subjugating the needs of the body to the will of the intellect, nor by seeking the hedonist’s transfiguring “disorder in all the senses” (to quote Rimbaud’s phrase), but in a joyful acceptance of all parts of human selfhood. Above all, I feel His love manifesting in a reinvigorated vision of the role we humans play as one among many Kingdoms of species living, playing and evolving here on our beloved Earth.  His laughter echoing from the Hollow Hills into the summer-filled meadows that surround my own home brings the magic and mirth of the Shining Ones into the warm abode of my own hearth.  I feel His embrace in the arms of my own lover. His heat is here in the thrusting of our cocks together. I know that my own heartbeat also partakes of the rhythm of FreyR’s sacred circle.  In the gold and purple of twilight, in the silvered grey of dawn, His eyes shine forth and teach me to cherish each moment as alight with the splendor of His secret beauty.  Above all, FreyR’s love is a reminder that life, which may seem like a struggle and an unremitting vigil in the lonely watches of the night, can actually become a dance of joy and fulfillment when we invoke into ourselves the Golden God and His love for our Earth–and for life itself.

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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

star_goddess_screenres

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

image001 (1)

 

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.

fig-1-Adorazione-dei-Magi-Ravenna-Basilica-di-Sant-Apollinare-nuov

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

 

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