Diary of a Witch

wildhunt3
(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

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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
tryst.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lammastide

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)

tumblr_mz3cj2whk81touh1do1_1280

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Midsummer Power of St John’s Wort

800px-Saint_johns_wart_flowers

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

God Herself

blackgoddess

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.

sheelanagig-tira-brandon-evans

(Sheela-na-gig by Changeling)

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Hail the Midsummer Bee-Goddess

535531273612664

(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!

P1006

(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.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment