Some reflections upon the Men’s Mysteries


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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Diary of a Witch

(The Wild Hunt, Nigel Aldcroft Jackson)

Black spirits and white,
Red spirits and grey,
Come ye, come ye, come ye that may.
Throughout and about, around and around,
The circle be drawn, the circle be bound.


There is a part of the Inner Planes, the Other World, which is called Witchdom.  There you may learn much, if you can contact it.  There are spells and chants, dances and music and such woods and streams as delight the hearts of witches.  … Nothing is lost, but much is stored deep. … Do not be in a hurry. Find few people and good. When the full moon is out, you can come close to Witchdom. The rays of the moon have power, when they bathe the earth with its light. It is the window, in more ways than one. You too can see through the window.– John (“Nicholas”) Breakspeare, as channeled by Doreen Valiente, 1966

The Waning Moon, void-of-course, the Wheel turning steeply towards Samhain–it’s not surprising that my thoughts turn to matters beyond this narrow span of years that limit mortal life.  Tonight I mark the first solar return of the passing of one of my dearest friends and mentors in the Craft, Niklas Gander.  There seem to be a huge crowd of mediocre, listless people who hang on endlessly while those whom the gods love die young (as the Greeks said of old).  But what can one do.  Those who are remembered, and kept close in our hearts, live.  And as Nicholas Breakspeare wrote through Old Doreen’s pen nearly fifty years ago now, much is stored deep.

I have been thinking of Niklas, and of another Brother of the Art we lost last year, Brian Dragon, as I have been reading Stephen Skinner’s fascinating volume, Techniques of Solomonic Magic.  I have become sufficiently engaged with Skinner’s narrative to page the prequel, Techniques of Greco-Egyptian Magic, from the library .  It’s fascinating, to judge from what the most up-to-date scholarship has confirmed, just how much of magical practice persisted from the era of Pax Romana down to a very recent age.  Francis Barrett’s The Magus, originally published in 1801, drew largely upon Agrippa, who was firmly in the Solomonic tradition.  That tradition, in turn, seems mostly to have drawn from Greco-Egyptian sources–sources I would call Hermetic, but then, I’m just a practitioner, not a scholar.  And if I’m not mistaken, The Magus was a key work in the activities of the Cambridge magical circle of the early 19th century, which led on to the magical revival of the mid to late years of the Victorian era.  I’m finding it all very thought-provoking to read through.  If I could call Niklas and discuss it with him, I know at some point he would ask me:  “But Shimmer, what impact does it have upon your practice?” Because a Witch is above all things practical.  But Niklas also loved learning for its own sake, and unfolded many vivid tableaux of lost lore before me during our conversations.  I cherish those memories.

I remember one night of sharing stories and songs of the Art that enthralled us both, over the telephone.  Even though we were disembodied voices to one another, a picture built up in my mind of both of us hovering over the hearth in our cowls and cloaks, brooding over the darkly shimmering flames of an autumnal fire, sharing the mead of good companionship and the wise words of the Old Ones.  Somewhere, somehow, that fellowship goes on.  The Wisdom weaves Herself ever more fully into the tapestry of the lives of those who continue both on this plane and in the Beyond, and the time that is to come may yet bring new secrets to light for us, of Witchery yet undreamt-of.

…Nothing is lost.
This half of a fruit from the tree of Avalon
Shall be our reminder, among the fallen leaves
This life treads underfoot. Let the rain weep.
Waken in sunlight from the Realms of Sleep.

 –Doreen Valiente, Elegy for a Dead Witch

Death, Visconti-Sforza Tarot, circa 1440-1470

Death, Visconti-Sforza Tarot, circa 1440-1470

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Dance of Darkness and Light

Fraw Holle by Nigel Aldcroft Jackson--the Hag riding high in Autumn skies

Fraw Holt (another Name for Freyja) by Nigel Aldcroft Jackson–the Hag riding high in Autumn skies

Hail, Blessed Mother,
whose body is light
and whose voice is truth.
Power of darkness
and womb of light.

Prayer to Kali by Victor Anderson

The Blood Moon of September 2015 will certainly live in memory as a night of Witchery at its most inwardly wild and unfettered. As I said to a friend at the end of the evening–our bones are of the Earth, but our blood is of the stars, and the Moon is the Gate to that Wild Ride from one to the other. She makes our souls sing as we hurtle betwixt and between these realms.

The Autumn Equinox was such a powerful throb in the pulsing pounding turn of the Year-Wheel this time around. I strongly felt the Presence of the Twins in Their Divine Dance of Shadow and Sunlight, feeding and filling one another in this surging sweetness of equal Day and Night. As I contemplate the Year, I feel such Balance in the way in which Feasts associated with the rhythms of Darkness and Light alternate with the great Four Sabbats. It’s all about the rhythms that move each Year through Her changes. The Solstices and Equinoxes, for me, are related to how the Year Tides help me to attune to these swiftly shifting energies. From Samhain, with its serene remembrance of our Dead; through the Fallow Time of rest to Imbolc, glimmering candle-lit beacon of Spring; through the joyous renewal of Beltane and its Rites; to the solemn harvesting of Lammas. The Equinoxes and Solstices counterpoint each of these grand Events with a kind of reflective pulsation that is both magical and memorable.

My late Teacher loved meditating upon the Isle of Apples at this season of the Autumn Equinox; I think he saw it, in some ways, as a movement towards the threshold of the season of Samhain. A time when ancestral fires begin to re-kindle once again as the Old Ones draw near and the darkness begins its inevitable waxing thrall towards Yule.

As I turn the Wheel, I pause at each point to meditate upon the gifts the Twins of Darkness and Light bestow. At the coming of Autumn, these are gifts of harvesting, of reflection, of seeking an inward renewal. This year, the Equinox fell in the midst of a period of Mercury Retrograde, which for me provided an extra deep layer of meditation and musing. The image of a Crimson Full Moon high in the sky like a great Apple upon the bosom of Lady Night was somehow the perfect pendant to the deep serene joy of this Holy Tide.

(Painting of the Divine Twins by Paul B. Rucker)

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The Hilltop Spirit

img_2796The August Full Moon brings a time of reaping.  And as the Moon begins to wane, we begin the downward slide towards Autumn.  Last Tuesday evening, I stood watching the eldritch beauty of the heat lightning flickering eerily in the distance. Huge banked clouds at the back end of the sky were outlined here and there with snaky, jagged tongues of fire and glimmering flashes of spectral light.  And I thought of the coming nights.  Nights when cool breezes will begin to waft, apples will tumble from the trees and blankets will be trundled out of closets and cupboards.  The shifting tide of the seasons brings an air of melancholy–but it is a sensation I find agreeable.

Hand to hand we pass the blade
Unsheathed by the Ivy Maid
Keen the edge that cuts the hand
Of the dancer unwary

–sang Gwydion Pendderwen long ago in his Harvest dance ballad. The time of Harvest, like all the gifts of the Gods, is a double-edged sword; all that has come to fruition must be gleaned and stored in a timely manner. There is work, diligence, toil; but at the end of it all, merriment and joy. There will be a few delicious frolics before the Winter darkness begins to gather.  It is a serene and beautiful moment in the turning of the year.

A book I often revisit in autumn is Arthur Waley’s lyrical and elegiac translation of The Nine Songs, ancient Chinese lyrics of shamanic dream and epiphany. I am vaguely aware that there has been a great deal of scholarly attention devoted to these texts and other relics of shamanic culture in China, but the simplicity and directness of Waley’s translations deserve to stand on their own merits. These lines from the ninth of the songs, “The Mountain Spirit,” always come to mind as the year turns towards Autumn:

Driving red leopards, followed by stripy civets,
Chariot of magnolia, banners of cassia,
Clad in stone-orchid, with belt of asarum,
I go gathering sweet herbs to give to the one I love.
I live in a dark bamboo grove, where I never see the sky ;
The way was perilous and hard; that is why I am late for the

High on the top of the hill I stand all alone ;
Below me the clouds sweep past in droves.
All is murk and gloom.  Ch’iang!  Darkness by day !
The east wind blows gust on gust, spreading magic rain.
Waiting for the Divine One I linger and forget to go back.
The year is drawing to its close ; who will now beflower me ?
I pluck the Thrice-blossoming amid the hills,
Among a welter of rocks and vine-creeper spreading between.


He of the hills is fragrant with the scent of galingale,
He drinks from a spring amid the rocks,
He shelters under cypress and pine.
His chariot thunders, the air is dark with rain,
The monkeys twitter; again they cry all night.
The wind soughs and soughs, the trees rustle ;
My love of my Lord has brought me only sorrow.
Now to the measure of the drums we have finished our rites,
From dancer to dancer the flower-spray has been handed,
Lovely ladies have sung their slow measures.
In spring, the orchid, in autumn the chrysanthemum;
So shall it be forever, without break.

Words like gems found in a hilltop field, reminding us that if autumn is the season of the “dying fall,” it is also a time of beauty and richness–in its own way, blessed by the Gods. And Samhain, perhaps the most important sabbat of all, comes at the close.

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11705162_10153475422431322_4944748685524819737_nLugh, the light of summer bright,
Clothed all in green,
Tailtiu, his Mother true,
Rise up and be seen.

At your Festival sounds the horn,
Calling the people again,
Child of barleycorn, newly summer-born,
Ripening like the grain.

—Gwydion Pendderwen, Lughnasad Dance

Lammas is a Feast observed in the Old Calendar.  It marks the offering of the First Fruits before the holy altars of the Guardians of the Land and the Old Ones, revered by our ancestors.  As a “cross quarter day,” it falls traditionally between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox.  My personal preference is to honor it in accord with events observed in the local harvest cycle, though I usually celebrate with my beloved Green Men in mid August or later, depending on how busy everyone always is in High Summer.

As the date of August Eve approaches, I wait for that sudden gust of bracingly cool air that always seems to raise the hackles on my flesh.  So unexpected in the heat of Summer–it makes one think of the gleam of a suddenly drawn blade by moonlight.  I had just this experience last Saturday, two days before writing these words.  I was walking down a lane near my home and suddenly a blast of cool air, seemingly from nowhere, made me pause and shiver.  And I reflected on the season of the year and marked the sign of the Lammas tide drawing in.

After I had been turning the Wheel of the Year for awhile, I began to notice that Lammas is a very special Sabbat for me.  These days inevitably bring forth a brooding, heavy energy.  The Blade of Necessity is endowed with the twin edges of Sorrow and Fortitude.  On Market Day, the local Farmers bring out the bounty of their fields by the groaning cartload.  This morning I ate a dish of local peaches, blueberries and raspberries, and the flavors were finely ripened.   I bring the peaches home from the Market and set them on a window ledge where the sun coaxes them into warmth and a firm, juicy softness.  Lammas may have tinges of sorrow, but it is inevitably a deeply sensuous, even sexy time of year.

This is the first of three Holy Feasts associated with the Harvest, and as such, for me it inevitably adumbrates the twilight of Summer and intimations of Fall.  The stories of the Tailtiu Games that have been recorded in some of the sources show that this was a time of fairs and merry-making, of games and diversions, singing and dancing.  Some of the “games” that have been set down sound like quite the field day for pranksters, too.  The peak of Summer is passing, but there is still time for fun, innocent or otherwise.  Even in recent times the month of August, when all Europe traditionally goes on vacation, was described as the “silly season” in the news.

Perhaps it is all a reminder that where there is sun, there must also be shade.  The Blessings of Darkness and Light are the twin Powers that rule the Wheel of the Year.  And Lammas is a most significant point in that great Turning.  There is sacrifice, but there is also hope for renewal, and an omen of new harvests yet to be envisioned awaiting us in the future.

I like to remember these words:

Thus the rite is done, the price paid, the sacrifice taken. But from this now dead ear shall spring new life, and each of you will in time take one seed from it. Plant it in your own homes, watch it grow, and then bring back to this our circle the seed from its growing. … As with the symbol of the seed, so may we take away with us some small part of the wisdom of the Mother.
(words from Lammas Liturgy, as recorded in Witchcraft: a Tradition Renewed, by Doreen Valiente and Evan John Jones)


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The Midsummer Power of St John’s Wort


Traditionally gathered at dawn on Midsummer Day (or, perhaps, at twilight on Midsummer Eve, when the Fair Folk and Lordly Ones were said to gather on the hilltops and high places), St John’s Wort is sometimes known as St Joan’s Wort. In Germany it is called the Devil-chaser, an echo of the old learned name, Fuga Daemonum. It has also been called Goatweed, Devil’s Scourge, Witch’s Herb, and Balm of the Warrior’s Wound. The latter relates to the fact that in mediaeval times, dried St Johns Wort petals were scattered into battlefield wounds, the plant being regarded as a strong disinfectant; this practice seems to go back to antiquity. The flowers are said to attract bees, whose magic is at its most potent at this holy tide, as we have discussed in previous notes here. The blood-red color of the oil produced by the flowers is associated with Women’s Mysteries, which is perhaps unexpected in a plant so strongly associated with the height of the Solar zenith. In the teachings of the Old Religion however, such things were taken as a matter of course.

Malcolm Brown, on the site Wight Druids, gives the following rhyme, which he attributes to a 16th century manuscript source:

St. John’s wort doth charm all witches away
If gathered at midnight on the saint’s holy day.
Any devils and witches have no power to harm
Those that gather the plant for a charm:
Rub the lintels and post with that red juicy flower
No thunder nor tempest will then have the power
To hurt or hinder your houses: and bind
Round your neck a charm of similar kind.

He gives further interesting lore, such as the kenning Witches Blood for the juice or oil secreted by the leaves, and the old saying that if a formerly barren woman walked out naked to gather St John’s Wort (presumably on Midsummer Day), she would conceive within the year.  Perhaps curious is the lore that while some said the plant would drive hex-hags away because of its strong power of purity, others held that the flowers were used by witches to aid them in hearing spirits.  In a similar contrast, on the Isle of Man the belief remained that this was a sacred Faery plant; on the Isle of Wight there were similar links to the realm and presence of the Shining Ones.  But elsewhere, it was regarded as a bane and a protection against the Fair Folk.  These apparently conflicting traditions reflect the process historically by which lore was fragmented due to church teachings about magic, the Otherworld and the old ways.  Though the church sought to link all of it to the province of the Devil, in various pockets undiluted streams of lore survived, no doubt because it was connected to practices, such as the use of herbs in healing and charms, that were of real practical value in people’s daily lives.

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God Herself


Quakoralina, the Star Goddess

A lovely black woman is waiting, waiting
In the boundless night.
A river of blackbirds are mating, mating,
In the dim starlight.

Down out of the sky they come winging, winging,
Drawn to Her black flame,
And the melody they are singing, singing,
Is Her holy name.

In the dust of Her feet are the hosts of heaven,
And Her star-sequined hair
Is crowned with a coven of six and seven
Blue suns burning there.

—Victor Anderson

The expression God Herself could be called a Faery koan.  Victor once wrote in a letter that Lilith was honored by the Harpy Coven, to which he belonged in his early life, not as “the Goddess,” but as God Herself.   This is an important distinction.  In a letter to Anaar published in the book, The Heart of the Initiate, Victor clarified:

When we say “Goddess” in my tradition, we mean God Herself, because God was first worshipped and first perceived by the ancient humans as the Great Mother, although this Great Mother has the power that we think of as male. … 

Later in the same letter, Victor taught:

We also speak of the Goddess as Kali when we say, 

Hail, Blessed Mother,
whose body is light
and whose voice is truth.
Power of darkness
and womb of light.

And we know in physics that the blacker the body, the brighter will be the light when it’s heated to incandescence. So black is power.

In one instance known to me, Victor did speak of God Herself as “our Father-Mother Spirit”:  the two expressions denote the same concept:

Our Father-Mother Spirit who dwells
In the Aka world of light above,
We call upon you, honoring and hallowing your name.

Victor Anderson, Prayer for Beginning the New Path (1972)

I like to think of blackness as pure potential.  My mind cannot conceive of a time when the separation between darkness and light had yet to exist, but I can look at the black candle which is used to represent the Star Goddess on the altar in our rites.  In that blackness, I can see a symbol of the Womb which pre-existed all.   In the way I was taught, we begin every formal rite by lighting the black candle, and chanting a prayer to Her from Whom all being flowed:  the lighting of the candle is a symbolic remembrance of  Her Pure Self becoming divided into Darkness and Light.  An instance of what Mircea Eliade called “the eternal return.”  In the Aradia text, it is said that She divided Herself  out of love.  This Creation brought forth the Lightbringer, the Consort, of Whom Victor frequently stated that He came into being not because God Herself needed Him, but because She desired Him out of Her pure lust.  It is a mythic statement of  a profound metaphysical truth, one that has found expression in recent time in some quantum physics theories I’m not even going to attempt to paraphrase.

In the way the Faery Tradition views Divinity, there is no conflict between the themes of Unity and Multiplicity–the One and the Many as it has been called in philosophy.  Just as a vast multitude may share the steps of the same Dance, so the shining infinitudes, the vast illimitable tapestry of Her creation, is united in the link all share with Her.  One of Victor’s most essential teachings is encapsulated in the statement:

God is Self, and Self is God, and God is a Person like Myself.

Again, simple words that englobe a complex and profound truth.  It is partly to be understood in terms of etheric anatomy.  You will note that the statement comes in three parts that compose a single sentence:  that represents a clue.  Victor chose words very carefully.  He valued impeccability in Craft teaching.  The spark of Divinity that is the core element of the Self, or Soul, of a living human being, is connected to the same force that brought forth the Universe in love: the Being we call God Herself.  Aleister Crowley expressed the same thought when he taught:  Every man and every woman is a star.  I also feel that Harry Hay’s vision of subject-SUBJECT consciousness, a praxis he intended to be the foundation of the Radical Faerie movement, could be said, turning around a favorite expression of Victor’s, to be taking the power of Divinity and raising it to the level of Humanity.  Think about it.

Every time I utter the phrase God Herself, I feel that I am reconfiguring my own mind to a slightly deeper, more profound level of resonance with the hidden Force that runs through every sentient being in the Universe.  Witches, like Taoists, know from experience that even rocks have consciousness.  The essence of the Work is not to understand this intellectually, but to LIVE it at a gut level of experience and epiphany.  When the fire of inner gnosis illuminates every breath, every heartbeat, every moment, everything is possible.

One of my favorite explications Victor gave of how what is commonly called Divinity suffuses all life-force is in the same letter quoted above:

So we who follow the Craft, by whatever name it is called, should be very natural in everything we do. Live a normal, wholesome life. Whatever we do, it is because God Herself needs to do it. When we make love, God needs to make love. When we eat, God needs to eat. We breathe, God needs to breathe. And we have a saying in my tradition of the Craft, which is a little tough to wrap yourself around, but it’s a very good saying: God is self, and self is God, and God is a person like myself.


(Sheela-na-gig by Changeling)

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Hail the Midsummer Bee-Goddess


(Art:  Bee Goddess by Q. Cassetti)

The Feast of Midsummer invariably brings to mind the mysterious and enthralling cult of the Bee Goddess, the Great Queen Bee.  So far as I am aware, the phrase “Midsummer Bee-Goddess”  first came to prominence in modern times through Robert Graves’ mystically meditative work Greek Myths. This inspired writing which should not be mistaken for a work of history or anthropology.  Graves was fascinated by the ecstatic but deadly hieros gamos (sacred marriage) enacted between the Queen and Her myriad consorts, the drone bees; the mating rite ended in the Queen consuming the drone’s genitals, the wreckage of the drone’s body tumbling back to earth and the quietus of the compost-heap from the heights of the Queen’s exalted bridal flight.  One had the sense that Graves fervently believed that the drone died with a smile on his face.  In this age of technological miracles, the bridal flight of the Queen and her mating with her drones has been filmed in intricate detail; you can watch it on Youtube.  Forget about your parents having sex; to me, this is undoubtedly a primal image.

With the dreadful spectre of colony collapse syndrome looming before us, and the very real threat of bee extinction, in this time thoughtful people have become more aware than ever before of the foundational role bees play.  Without bees, it’s questionable whether production of the world food supply would be remotely sustainable.  Paying some loving respect and care to the bees through the imagery of the ancient Bee Goddess seems even more significant today–even crucial.  Through myths, human awareness is sharpened and emotional energy is brought to the fore.

In meditating upon this theme, I wish to share some excerpts from an insight-laden essay composed by Linda Iles, a teacher and Priestess of the Fellowship of Isis, founded in the 1970s by the late Lady Olivia Forbes-Robertson. (A truly dedicated Priestess I once had the pleasure of meeting briefly, at her home in Ireland.)  “Priestesses of the Bee: the Melissae,” is an essay Linda published on the Mirror of Isis website.  Linda’s brilliantly thoughtful essay includes these very suggestive passages:

Porphyry (AD 233 to c.304) writes: “The ancients gave the name of Melissae (bees) to the priestesses of Demeter who were initiates of the chthonian goddess; the name Melitodes to Kore herself: the moon (Artemis) too, whose province it was to bring to the birth, they called Melissa…

Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921 – 1994) writes of this passage by Porphyry: “…we learn that Artemis is a bee, Melissa, and that both she and the bull belong to the moon.  Hence both are connected with the idea of a periodic regeneration.  We also learn that souls are bees and that Melissa draws souls down to be born.  The idea of a ‘life in death’ in this singularly interesting concept is expressed by the belief that the life of the bull passed into that of the bees.”… So the epithet of Bee in ancient Greece, applied not only to priestesses, prophetesses, or Goddesses like Demeter and Artemis – it was also bestowed upon poets, musicians, artists and philosophers – anyone touched in some way by divine inspiration. …

There is a group of stars, visible at this time of year (July – August) called the Beehive Cluster, whose Latin name is Praesepe, meaning “manger.” Praesepe is an ‘open cluster’ which spreads out, similar to a swarm of bees over a large area of the sky, with more than forty stars visible to the eye as a cloudy patch at night. It is located in the seasonal sign of Leo and in the constellation of the Crab (Cancer). The best way to find Praesepe – first locate the twin stars Pollux and Castor, then look left (or east) to locate Regulus. It lies between Pollux and Castor and Regulus. According to Pliny, when the stars of the manger were visible at night, it was a prediction of good weather and ease of passage.  … Recognized by the Platonists of ancient Greece as the highest point of heaven, this was the “Gate of Men” though which souls descended to earth from heaven. It is the opposite of the “Gate of the Gods” found in Capricorn, where souls of the departed ascended back to heaven.

This final paragraph is particularly interesting when we consider the relationship presented in some of the ancient lore between the Divine Twins, Castor and Polydeukes (Pollux), and the Great Mother.  It is also fascinating to consider the role of Artemis as the Great Bee, Melissa, in fostering the rebirth of souls.  The God Hermes, the Guide of Souls and Father of Wisdom, Magic and Trickery, is mentioned as well in lore given in the Homeric Hymns.  It all twines together in an intricate pattern of sacred gnosis.

On the Eve of Midsummer this year, my friends and I libated mead, a drink made from fermented honey, to Artemis and to Her Brother, Apollo.  Like the Dioskouroi, the Divine Twins, both Artemis and Apollo are Gods of Healing.  They are siblings and yet another exemplar of the Divine Twins. Artemis manifests purity and honor and opens the gate into Mystery; Apollo as the Sun God is the Sovereign of Inspiration and Prophecy.  The energies of Moon and Sun thus join together in  this holy Tide of Midsummer.  I became quite tipsy through drinking the mead, perhaps like the Delphic Priestesses of yore, and my friends and I enacted an ecstatic bee dance.  The sound of drunken buzzing and the heat of a Summer afternoon gave more than just a touch of surreal intoxication to the rite.  At this Midsummer tide, may the holy energies of Moon and Sun and the triumphant sway of Summer at its height bring blessings to all who read my words. And may the Great Bee Goddess bring healing and solace to our beleaguered, beloved Gaia. So Mote it Bee!


(The “Epiphany scene” from a ring found at Isopata, showing a Minoan Priestess embodying a Goddess, surrounding by dancing, chanting Priestesses. Note the “Bee Priestess” motif of their clothing.)

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Mutating Bloodrose

        Mutating Bloodrose
Spiral within spiral, fold within fold,
Never oh never may this secret be told:
Blossom of scarlet, blossom of bone
Never oh never shall it be known:
Ever a new dance, a new song ever,
In youth ever new, dance ceasing never:
Our veins are afire, our lips cry aloud,
The hosting’s aloft high over the clouds:
Spiral within spiral, secret sublime:
Endlessly whirling within this Fey rime.

Leafshimmer, Midsummer 2011

Once in a violet moon (so to speak), someone will ask why my line of the Faery Tradition is known as the Mutant Bloodrose line.  I was trained originally by Gabriel Carrillo, Founder of the Bloodrose School of Witchcraft, from which many of the curriculum-based  methods of teaching Faery derive.  When Gabriel was teaching us, he preferred to speak of our work as “the Faery Cauldron.”  It was said by Taliesin in a poem that the two words that never came forth from the Great Cauldron of Cerridwen were “be still,” so in modern terms the use of the concept of constant mutation is apt.  But Mutant really reflects lines that derive from my Oathmother, Eldri Littlewolf.  I’m sure she has her own reasons for her choice of the word.  One memory that comes to me is that a couple of times she has pointed out to me that Witches, when they are in their power and paying attention, see patterns.  It’s a significant part of what we do.  I think of a mutation as established in scientific discourse as a naturalist identifying a pattern, perhaps one that cuts against the grain.  Evolution has turned out to be a lot more complicated than we originally thought (another topic about which Eldri has spoken to me more than once), and the role of “freaks,” “monsters” and “deviants” has turned out to be more important than anyone ever guessed.  I really relate to that–as we used to say when I was a child, I dig it.

When I hear the word Mutant, I don’t think of the X-Men or anything like that.  I think of a Jon Pertwee Dr Who story I first saw sometime around 1974.  It was called “The Mutants,” and the role played by the title characters involved a rather spectacular revelation I prefer not to give away.  Later on when I read about Teilhard’s theories regarding human spiritual evolution, I thought of the imagery of “The Mutants,” even though it was a low-budget British science fiction serial (which originally hardly anyone I knew had ever heard of).  For me, these stories and films played the same role as the myths and sacred dramas did for the citizens of ancient Athens.  They were fantastic tales that had a magical resonance and revealed some hidden truths through the language of symbol and play.

The Bloodrose, of whose thorns Victor Anderson wrote with such searing poetic insight in his verses, is such a rich image, booming like a thunderclap through the firmament of my mind.  The image of an unfolding spiral rose whose swirls bring forth constant unfolding of Mystery and epiphany holds such wonder, and sums up for me what makes the Craft such a treasure of spiritual and magical exploration.  That is why I cherish the image of the Mutant Bloodrose, and why I am very proud that I am of this line.  Midsummer Blessings to all who read my words.

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The Divine Twins at Midsummer


The dyad of the Twins leads seemingly inexorably to the formulation of trinity. Whether this be the trinity of Their parentage from the Sky Father or Great Mother, or in some other sacred triangularity, an implicit triplicity is revealed over and over again in the legends as they have been collected over the ages by scholars, storytellers, and the curious. Thus, Donald Ward reports that the Indo-Iranian, Graeco-Roman, and Baltic traditions about the Twins each present the Brothers as having a Sister, typically characterized as a solar maiden or literally daughter of the Sun: “In Greek mythology the sister of the Dioskouroi is Helen, whose very name means approximately ‘divine splendor,’ and who, according to some reports, is also known as the daughter of Helios ‘the Sun’ … .” (Ward, p. 11)

—Leafshimmer, Red and Green:  Meditations upon the Twins (in progress)

In this month of June, our swiftly tilting planet swings Her Northern Hemisphere swoopingly towards the Sun, as eager as any Groom for the embrace of his Swain.  This June of 2015 has seen an exceptional burst of Divine Gemini energy–Sun in Gemini, Mercury Retrograde in Gemini, and an amplified, even perhaps somewhat haywire, soaring of Elemental Air energy.  Communications on all levels and of all descriptions have been stunningly affected.  Conversations have assumed a sometimes feverish level of intimacy, or a spectacular degree of misfire.  Motherboards, circuit boards, and trustee boards have erupted and frazzled.  Emails have gone astray and telephone calls have rushed into the realm of stupefying cowabungatude.   It’s no wonder that this Witch feels somewhat dizzy!  Still onwards we lurch with what we hope is a stately tread, and not just another drunken stagger, towards the event of Midsummer, the Summer Solstice.

My most constant bed-friend for the past fifteen years has a lot of Gemini energy, and I, as a Leo, personally groove with the vibe.  I offer a few quotes I have assembled in an unfinished paper about the Twins for your delectation:

“Either one or both of the Divine Twins can …function separately or together like two candle flames blended into one.”–Cora Anderson, Fifty years in the Feri Tradition (1994), p. 7-8.

“According to those who have seen the Dioscuri (the Divine Gemini Twins), the only noticeable difference between them is that Polydeuces’s face bears the scars of boxing. They dress alike: each has his half egg-shell [headgear] surmounted by a star, each his spear and white horse. Some say that Poseidon gave them their horses; others, that Polydeuces’s Thessalian charger was a gift from Hermes.” Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, v. I, section 74.p.

“How the heart of the initiate thrills when the antique mysteries are written of. She or he recognizes the same great truth expressing itself in many forms, yet as one thing.” Victor Anderson, in The heart of the initiate: Feri lessons (Harpy Press, 2010), p. 42

The final lines from Victor remind us that the Gods are the mistresses/masters of the Art of Shapeshifting (and yes, gender-shifting) and the “same great truth” can be found in a seemingly endless variation of forms across many cultures and teachings.  So it is with the Divine Twins.

I first encountered the Twins as the Red Man and the Green Man, Lord of the Beasts and Suzerain of the Plant Kingdom respectively.  I saw Them as eternal Lovers in a sixty-nining  erotic sarabande of consuming and being consumed.  In the way I was taught, it was said that it is as the Red Man and Green Man that They come most strongly at this holy hour of Midsummer.  I seldom see the erotic bond between Them acknowledged directly in the lore, perhaps because of all the taboos around sex, especially between siblings (incest taboos) in all historic cultures.  On a vase from a region of Italy called Magna Graecia in ancient times, there is a painting of the Twins with the Goddess Nyx, who in some Traditions was Their Mother.   Their hands are reaching out to one another but not quite touching, in a gesture that seems  at once eloquent, longing, and profound.  I believe that in the Illiad, Helen recalls her Twin Brothers while standing on the ramparts of Troy. The Homeric narrator comments that one brother is in the Netherworld, while the other roams through the sky; by decree of Zeus, “to appease the Fates and the Gods,” they keep switching places, but are never able to meet. In this stream, They are both mortal and divine, perhaps embodying a notion of the human state as eternally caught between the forces of death and rebirth.  In other legends, we find Them appearing, sometimes as Twin Stars, and performing various miracles.  Among the common folk, they were venerated as the Greatest Gods–Saviors and Patrons of the downtrodden and despairing.   This accounts for how enormously popular Their cult was, even though the only form in which They are generally known in modern times is as the Gemini Twins.
(Drawing of the Twins with Their Mother Nyx from a Vase by the Underworld Painter, as realized by Caroline Christian)

June, month of the Divine Twins, was named after Juno or Hera, and this accounts for why the Twins are sometimes depicted as attending Herself, the Queen of Heaven. She is the Matron of the Marriage Bed.  To this day, the month of June is favored by those who seek the rites of matrimony.  There is something mystically romantic about this month that follows the tide of Beltane and the Sacred Marriage that ushers in the Summer season.  It is obviously a mysticism deeply rooted in the physical–a specifically Pagan kind of realization, as I am very strongly reminded on this hot June evening.

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