Hyacinth, Beacon of Beltane


It has been said of old:

When whitethorn blooms at break of day,
Time it is to dance the May.

But here in New England, when I see the stately, regal, suggestively phallic plume of hyacinth in all his finery, I know that Beltane cannot be far behind.

Royal, rippling, with a heady fragrance that can make the mind reel towards strange fancies, it is easy in the present age of “Hyacinth Bouquet” to forget that Hyacinth was once a vigorously masculine name with mythic, ancient associations.  The name hyacinth comes to us from the Greeks, but the form of the name shows pre-Hellenic origins.  The youthful flower-god was connected with a Minoan origin among scholars of the early 20th century, but this theory no longer seems to carry the esteem of learned opinion.  But for the romantics among us, the image of a flame-eyed Minoan youth striding stately and solemn through the courts of Old Knossos is one that we will yield only with the greatest reluctance.  One tradition that was handed down by Pseudo-Apollodorus in antiquity had it that the beautiful Hyakinthos, whose ravishing form was like that of a young god, was loved by the mortal Thamyris, who was thus the first man known on Earth to love another male.  Because of this, Hyakinthos and the flower that bears his name became associated by the symbolist writers of the 1880s and 1890s with the forbidden raptures of male love.

The death of the fair Hyakinthos at the height of his powers, due to the jealousy of Zephyros, the West Wind, for the love the lad bore for Phoibus Apollo (for what flower loves not the sun?), enacts in mythic space and time the sacrifice of early Spring flowers to the often ruthlessly fickle weather of that “cruellest” of seasons.  Soon after, however, come the hawthorn blooms, and the lilacs with their heavy-scented boughs, and then in sweet revelry we dance to honor the May.  We go out hand in hand among the fields and lie in the sweet grass to let the earth Herself quicken with the love shared from our own loins.  So it has been since time immemorial, and so no doubt it shall be, so long as humans bear still within them some spark of rejoicing in the splendor of the renewed Earth, and the turning of Spring towards Summer.


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Spring Strathspey

Lavender_WikiDaybreak, and I wake to spring’s sweet bouquet
And the glorious day of beginning;
Myrddin is gone on his magical way,
But the Equinox Day leaves me spinning.

Gwydion Pendderwen, Spring Strathspey

I was walking through a snowy Cambridge afternoon yesterday and suddenly, came upon a bank of gentle snowdrops, their white brows drooping in pale phantasmal bloom.  My heart surged with the giddy joy of a maiden’s first sight of her bridegroom at the wedding feast.  It has been a very long, harsh, grim winter; there have been days of meeting and storytelling and singing, and nights of gathering together to share mirth and cheer. But there have also been long days and nights when going outdoors felt too forbidding due to the weather, and the fact that the snow and ice made the streets all but impassable.


I attended a lovely Ostara rite yesterday.  This time of honoring the Spring Equinox, a moment when Darkness and Light dance shoulder to shoulder, is always such a blessing.  Even if I am unable in a given year (as was the case this time) to celebrate on the actual date of the Equinox, I am still able to tap into the energy of the moment.  There is always a re-kindling of hope at this season of the year, and often, a spark of beauty comes unbidden.

We had a beautiful green altarcloth with a floral pattern, and under it, a shimmering gold fabric to represent this time of the waxing Sun’s beginning.  A vase of daffodils offered remembrance for Kore’s return from her exultant reign in the Underworld as Persephone, Queen of the Dead.  We shared words in honor of Her Consort, Hades, the Wealthy One, from Whose hidden realm all earthly treasure and abundance ultimately issues forth.  (Think of compost in the new Spring garden.)  And there was a statue of Hermes, Guide of the Dead, Herald of Mystery, energy of a newly rampant and throbbing Phallos, quickening with the reawakening pulse of Lifeforce returning.  My friend called Him forth, evoking a newly flowering meadow with its odor of lavender and wildflowers, and the musk of the deep woods and the clean dark reek of dill.  His wisdom, compassion, and artfulness, the Holy Mystery of Hermes, guide She who was Sovereign of the Dead back to the realm of the living, to be welcomed into the arms of Her grieving Mother, Demeter, Queen of Earth’s Foison.  The Mother’s grey veils of grief are changed overnight into green glimmering bowers of joy, as the Spring flowers burst forth seemingly faster than eye can see.  Here in New England, the pageant is often dramatic, and even challenging for those with the drowsy sleep of winter still clinging to beeswinged eyelids.

We sang together of the Snake Woman shedding her skin, the Blossom Boy opening wide, the dance of the sacred Elements of Life and the turning of the Wheel; we laid a garland of consecrated flowers at the foot of the May Tree in token of our hopes for the season of returning light and warmth.  We poured a libation of mead and gave thanks for surviving another Winter.

For the Balance of the Wheel goes round and round.  So Be It.


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Lady at the Crossroads of Winter and Spring


Hanging Her many-colored cloak on a beam of the sun,
She stands with arms upraised in the apple garden
At the Center of the World.
Was it not You, O Bride, Who saved my life
When the seas had nearly overthrown my curragh,
Who reached out Your hand and saved me from drowning?

–Old Irish ballad, translation from Sharon Devlin Folsom

My late Teacher, Gabriel Carrillo, wrote about Imbolc:

It is the time of giving birth, when, in the British Isles, ewes drop their sheep, and the first fruit trees burst into bloom, and the daffodils and narcissus begin their first stirrings. It is associated with wells, springs, and serpents; the serpent in the well is the Blue God emerging through the waters from the Underworld, and Yule initiation.

Brigit, or Bride, is a triple goddess;that is, there are three Brides: Bride the healer and midwife, Bride the scribe and poet and patroness of creativity, and Bride the smith, patroness of crafts in general and metalworking in particular: a very fiery Bride.

Her name in old British was Brigantia, the patroness of the Brigantes, and at one time their warrior Queen Cartimandua. The name means something like the Mighty One.

One of my first consciously Pagan poems was written for Her, around this time of Her tide. I remember I sat down at a table in the Someday Cafe in Davis Square and within five minutes, had written these words one early February afternoon:

Your hands write poems in the air
Like tawny flax Your russet hair
Red and Gold, green quickening Life,
O ancient Queen, immortal Midwife!
Bride, holiest, heed our song
As the dark days of winter throng
And winter unto Spring doth yield
With banners of crocus in the field.
As a bloom of thistle blown
Our from the dark robes of the Crone,
The land is drenched with raining milk
And o’er the mud sweeps Your train of silk:
And on high Your jeweled crown
Blesses the heralding Spring’s renown!

Some years ago, working through the Celtic Shaman’s Pack devised by John Matthews, I was very struck by Chesca Potter’s painting depicting Elen, Lady of the Ways (reproduced at the top of this post). Among other things, Elen acts as a Guardian of the Wisdom Traditions, and I have a large print of this painting on the wall hanging in front of my main working Altar in my workroom. Matthews comments: She guards all roadways and paths between this world and the other both by sea and land, and as an Empowerer opens the dream pathways down which we pass each night.  Elen is regarded by some as the prehistoric form, the Antlered Goddess, of the Being venerated in historic times as Brighid. And I personally believe it is true that as humans evolve, so too do the Gods. Though They exist outside the constraints of time, place, and person, our knowing of Them, our Gnosis, and how They manifest changes and shifts because we are changing.  So too the nature of the Work and Play we share with Them is also constantly changing. She changes everything She touches.

I personally seem to have some kind of attractive energy for Guardians of roadways, of gateways, of paths to and from.  I connect this energy to how, in my life, I have felt consistently like an outsider, rider of the hedge, walker of the Edge.  Many Witches live as outsiders; on the fringes of the community, perhaps offering service, but living apart. As a Keeper of the Gates, Elen stands at the Crossroads between Winter and Spring, a primal figure, the Antlered Goddess, offering both Promise and Warning. A sentinel, and a welcoming presence.  In my own way, I live as Her Priest, and in this season of the February Sabbat, She comes into Her own.

I keep a Bridget’s Cross over my stove–the hearth of every home in this time of the twenty-first century. And the image of that particular  “cross” both speaks to me of a tireless Eye watching in all directions, and of the “pivot of the Four Quarters.” Again, a point of crossing between the seasons of darkness and light–a balance-point between the forces of killing frost and nurturing flame. The Sword forged upon the heat of Her anvil can either protect and defend, or slay and destroy. The choice is in the hands of each person who dares to take up the blade.

Gwydion Pendderwen, who I regard as one of the founders of the Faery Tradition as it exists in this age, called Imbolc Lady Day. He wrote a song about it, which has been a part of my observance of this Feast for many years now. Although when I wrote my own poem, I had never even heard of Gwydion, the imagery of the two lyrics echoes one another across the years. This is what in the occult disciplines is called Gnosis. The words composed by Old Gwydion say in part:

Lo! the mighty Fairy Maiden
Rises from the Earth.
Dismal winter, gently thawing,
Heralds her rebirth.
Softly now, the budding branches
Offer new life for old,
And in splendor the Holy Maiden
Lets Her mantle unfold.

Treading softly through the valley,
‘Cross the snowy field,
She has brought the tufts of grass
Which every step revealed.
Quietly, She bares Her bosom
Where the fountain once played,
And in answer the waters come forth
To the will of the Maid.800px-Saint_Brigid's_cross

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Edmund Buczynski, Lord Gwydion


Why the need for Witches today? The answer is simple. The Earth Needs It!

… There’s small wonder why the churches and synagogues have been abandoned by the young.  Turned off by hypocrisy, blatant religious bigotry, anti-scientific thinking, and repressive moral codes which are imposed without reason.  Today’s young people are looking for something relevant to the real world.  And this is why many turn to Wica–the religion of Nature, the religion of the Real World.

People want to know about the world around them–about the unknown, and about themselves.  They are tired of Gods who are “jealous” and “vengeful.”  Gods who condemn them for living their lives with happiness and joy.  And so they turn back to the very Gods whose worship is happiness by definition.  The God and Goddess are only happy when their worshippers are happy! Our Gods are Gods of Life and Joy…

Edmund M. Buczynski, Witchcraft Fact Book (circa 1979?)

Among the visionaries who led the establishment of the Craft in the US during the turbulent period of the mid 20th century, Edmund “Eddie” Buczynski stands tall. In a period barely longer than half a decade, roughly from 1972-78, Eddie (known and remembered to many as Lord Gwydion) founded four Craft Traditions. Each new Tradition was both a culmination upon, and a deepening of, the work that had preceded it. The aspect of his legacy that holds my heart most dearly is his founding of the Minoan Brotherhood, an initiatory, oathbound tradition founded specifically for the celebration of the ancient, long-neglected sacred Mysteries given of old for men who love men.  At the time that Eddie accomplished this, in the mid-1970s, very few Craft or occult groups were welcoming to gay and bisexual men.  In some covens and lodges, in fact, we were explicitly forbidden from membership–though many did become initiates and adepts by concealing their true nature.  A prevalent attitude of the time was summed up by the statement of Gareth Knight that gay male sexual acts were “fit only for the practice of black magic.”  Equally typical was old Gerald Gardner’s statement that anyone who dared to initiate a gay male into the Mysteries of the Craft would suffer “the curse of the Goddess.”  Since those days, we have seen the publication of such books as Blossom of Bone by Randy Conner, Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture by the late Arthur Evans, and Celebrating the Male Mysteries by R. J. Stewart.  Despite seeing greater openness and a more exploratory attitude to the fluidity of human gender realities and expressions, in this year of 2015 there are still very few esoteric orders in existence that provide a consecrated space for the celebration of these particular Mysteries.  The Minoan Brotherhood remains an important exemplar of these immemorial teachings, a most precious jewel in the family of modern Craft traditions.

Beloved as the Brotherhood is to me personally, it may prove, historically, that Eddie’s founding of the Wica Tradition has had an even greater impact. In conversations with an initiate of this Tradition, I have been impressed with both the democratic way in which the covens are organized.  I have been further struck by the fact that initiation and the Priesthood are not tied to gender roles.  Given that this was established in the mid 1970s, all of this makes the Wica Tradition a very significant advance in the history of American Initiatory Witchcraft.  Eddie’s realization of this new way of working in the Craft has a very modern ring to it, especially when compared with existing practices and conventions during the period of the Seventies. It is also worth noting that Eddie’s work in establishing the Minoan Brotherhood, and assisting in the establishment of the Minoan Sisterhood, built solidly upon the work he did in formulating the Wica Tradition.

Eddie published very little in his lifetime.  Besides the short Witchcraft Fact Book quoted above, there were some essays and articles included in the short-lived Earth Religion News, edited and published by Eddie’s lover, Herman Slater.  Only occasionally in this published work do Eddie’s sterling qualities emerge clearly: his integrity, his passion for the Craft and its traditions, his love of lore and learning, his fierce commitment to truth and justice, and most notably of all, his great personal love for the Goddess and Her Consort.

In the Craft, we honor and remember our great ones who have passed beyond the Veil, our Mighty Dead, with devotion and steadfastness.  For us, these foremothers and forefathers are not merely pictures in an album or names inscribed upon a memorial stone.  They are a part and parcel of our living Work in every Circle.  Their spirits come to us at moments of trial and testing; they guide and guard our dedication to the Work; their potent teachings come alive once more as new gnosis unfolds in the ceaselessly evolving fabric of the Craft.  For those of us who have known him through this sacred heart connection, Eddie’s spirit still burns bright and true.

One of Eddie’s favorite authors was Thomas Burnett Swann (1928-1976). Eddie particularly admired Swann’s novel How Mighty are the Fallen, a fanciful retelling of the David and Jonathan romance (from the Hebrew Bible).  These lines from the novel always call to my mind Eddie’s passion, his vision, and his unflagging belief that the love men share with one another is a sublime exaltation that both honors and is given from the immortal Gods:

Jonathan held him with a wild urgency, meeting mood for mood, making of touch a language more articulate than song, and in that ancient oak tree the eternal Ashtoreth was honored more richly than by prayer or sacrifice… (How Mighty are the Fallen, DAW Books 1974, p. 94)


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Centuries or hours: remembering Sandy Denny


In spiritual life, the thread of bardic inspiration seems to grow all the more cherished, enjoyed, and exalted as the days go on.  For me, a particularly potent Bard who came into my life a few years before I began my formal Craft training was Sandy Denny.  Two or three songs by her were on a mixtape sent to me by a penpal who used the name BillyZilla.  Something about her voice, strangely spare yet remarkably beautiful, immediately took possession of me.  About a year later, I was getting ready to move one morning, and having a difficult time of it.  I played Sandy’s song Late November over and over again in my bedroom stripped bare of its bachelors.  The sound of her voice and the music she had composed kept me in a calm state throughout a very fraught day.

Although Sandy apparently did not identify as a Pagan–though who knows whither her own thoughts ran?–whenever she was asked where her songs came from, she struggled to find language to communicate what clearly was for her a trance state.  In one interview, she laughs wryly and tells the bloke she can’t remember a thing about composing one of the songs!  Her songs evoke mystical states and symbols: the holiness of nature, magical moods, the rising of the moon, following the North Star, listening for secret ravens cawing over a dark Tower, hearing the sea wash under the floorboards in London town, glimpsing the unicorn lurking in her own back yard.   She was something of a wild woman, boozing, laughing, bedhopping, drinking every man around her under the table.  Yet there is a kind of fragile beauty and a love for the unseen that emerges here and there in the fabric of her songs.  As she grew older, her voice grew slightly darker and just a shade more raw, but never lost its fine, pearlescent lustre.

It was very difficult to choose a poem for this short memorial.  I love All Our Days from the last LP she released in her own lifetime, bearing the significant title Rendezvous.  It is one of the poems we cherish from our beautiful Alexandria, known and remembered by her friends as Sandy.  May her spirit know true Peace.

All Our Days

by Sandy Denny

We search for everything
Keeping what we would win:
Orchids or tiny flowers,
Wooden huts or ivory towers,
Centuries or hours:

Dark are the winter days,
Holy in many ways,
Vaults of time unshaken,
Whilst as through them we are taken:
Sleeping forests wake,
Ice melts on the lake,
Birds begin making their way back home.

The frost and the fire goes.
East winds and winter snows,
Sun upon the daffodils,
Dancing on the verdant hills,
Lambs in the fields.

Warmer grows the morning sun:
Days of youthfulness and fun,
The prime of the year begun,
The song of summer to be sung:
Everything is one.
Working day is done.
Watch the river running through our lives.

How slowly the colours change.
We feel the drops of rain.
Mists of evening rise again.
We rarely stroll the shadowed lanes
As autumn night draws in.

We sit upon the sand,
Warmth draining from the land,
Watching the ruby sun,
Setting on the ocean:
The echoes in the caves,
The flame upon the waves,
Memories for saving all our days.

Read more: Sandy Denny – All Our Days Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

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Divine King


Today is poet Ian Young’s 70th birthday, and in his honor, I am posting one of his poems with a Lammas theme, somewhat against the grain of the season of the year.   Witches and Magicians, especially queer ones, need to read Ian’s poems.  I treasure his 1986 volume Sex Magick in which the poem below was published.  Not only are there many fascinating insights here into how Magick seeps into every fibre of one’s existence when one stops merely reading about it, but actually LIVES it; Ian’s poems also have a marvelous way of ensnaring the blurred, often contradictory and temporally shifting shoals of modern living.

The death of William Rufus is an important motif in the work of Margaret Murray, particularly her volume The Divine King in England (1954).  William’s death features notably in the novel by Katharine Kurtz, Lammas Night.  William’s death relates to a vital theme in the visionary writing of Robert Graves; the title of Victor Anderson’s poetry collection, Thorns of the Blood-rose (1970), refers to the death of the Divine King and Sacred Consort at the altar of his devotion to the Goddess.

In Ian’s poem, hints are very artfully given of how homoerotic male sex rites act as an Initiatory thrust in the sacred Men’s Mysteries of long ago.  There are hints, in this fragmentary lore, that the sacrifice on behalf of the Land can only be fulfilled when it is carried out in love, with intimations of an act of erotic worship between Priest and Chosen.  These are Mysteries, obviously, that were not confined to the Men’s cults.  But the eroticism plays out in a very special way when those involved are male.

A noteworthy detail Ian mentions is that the King bestows the arrows for his own sacrifice to his Beloved on the Day of Lammas under the Elder. Lady of the Elder, Mistress of the gifts of Life, Death, and Rebirth.

William Rufus

by Ian Young

(William II, King of England 1087-1100, the son of William the Conqueror, was killed by an arrow shot by Walter Tyrrel during a hunt.  The death has been variously attributed to a political assassination, a hunting accident and a lovers’ quarrel.   Evidence suggests it was part of a religious ritual.  An inscribed stone in the New Forest marks the spot where the last pagan king of England fell.)

They said my death was a mystery.
More than they knew.
When all my kingship is forgot,
still this stone stands, struck by the sun.
Sometimes the antic mind or body must be slain,
cut down to give a clearing to the light.
Mere man makes way for Lucifer.
After I fell, blood dripped to Winchester, they say,
and herbs and flowers burst from the loam.
Subject of this other realm, I have
no memory of it, only the sudden
pain of your wound
in a wood teeming with wild pigs,
of moving airward in a bleeding fall.
A ritual death is unlike any other.

You knew an old world had to die,
the true religion of the sun
fall ere it rise.
“The abominable crime not to be mentioned
among Christians” was a devotion for me, infidel
son of the Bastard, grandson of the Devil.
It was they who nailed his goat-head to a tree.
And if they cannot understand God,
can they fathom a mere king?

You were my only priest, Walter,
sent to redeem me.
Bound by my blasphemies, I scarcely knew
what worship we gave.
Nor could I ever give you all I would.
I changed you and was changed.
The holy face of Lucca does not change.
So in my dream: the temple of the stars
where the Druid church once stood.
Trees hung with Graecian tapestries
in seven semicircles round an altar
bore a stag
transforming to the bare body of a man,
your body.
“Henceforth thou shalt eat of me no more,”
you said, and turned to air.

I was the stag slaughtered, the lamb
led to the slaughter
after the breeding is done.
Did I command you then?
It seems not, though from my lips
I heard such words as chilled the blood,
spoken clear, or spoken as in jest–
and felt your real self send its shaft through me.

Mine the arrows given you at Lammas
under the elder,
the last sacrament of flowers and leaves.
My restlessness was a weakness of the flesh,
shifting and mumbling in the chapel,
not trying to escape.
And did I turn and call,
seeing your hand tremble:
“Shoot! by the holy face of Lucca!”
Loosed and fled.

So is the red king gone where the red sun goes.
I entered a bright world from a world obscure.
The sky transfused by blood, the wood of death
brought forth a one-eared pig,
squealing and rank.
The world went blank and only I remain, as air
and whispers yet remain
when no one hears.
The news was brought Anselm by an angel, straightaway.
All else is rumour.

Though they say who led a king to his kingdom
crowned him in blood, it matters not.
You were the one who knew.
I merely loved and blundered
into a thorn-wood on a holy day.
When all is done
a ritual death is a death like any other.
The consecrated ground denied me is ploughed under.
Still my stone stands.
They come who know of me
and honour what they can’t yet see,
as I was blind to thee.

Fire and soil we were though, Walter.
Water and air we were,
spirit and blood.
And the blood of the stag
and the blood of the sun
as the arrow lifted me
were one.

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Wild Nights of Fraw Holda


The Old Witch’s Call to Frau Holda

Holda, Holy, shining bright
Holda flying through the night
Hear and heed my Witch’s spell
Spin out luck and spin it well!

Goddess gruesome, Goddess gay
Frost by night and snow by day
As this spell is my delight
Let our luck weave strong and bright!

In Your Cavern deep as Hell
Heed and hear my Witch’s spell
Holda, Holy, Granny Dear
Spin our luck into New Year!

—as sung to Leafshimmer

Holda, the Snow Queen, the Gracious One, Mistress of the Wild Hunt, first came to me at Yule 1999.  Her Presence was a fascinating mixture of ageless majesty and very earthy, no-nonsense grit.  I learned more about Her modern epiphany from Jack Gale’s book Goddesses, Guardians and Groves, especially the chapter “Holda Rising,” and subsequently other lore about Her filtered in.  Interestingly, in the same year of 1999, a book by Marija Gimbutas was published, The Living Goddesses, in which she speculated that Holda was an ancient Germanic Great Goddess whose cult may have gone back into the prehistoric dawn of Neolithic times.  There is no doubt that the Anglo-Saxon Hagall Rune, an image of great Power and antiquity, is a Sign that dates very far back:


In an essay about Her composed in 2008, I wrote: “This Rune provides a potent key to descend into Holda’s Well and unlock the secret gateway into Her Inner Sanctum. One way of visualizing this Rune is to see it as a Stave standing in the midst of the Crossroads… Holda holding the Stave at the Center of the Crossroads also embodies how, in the Northern Tradition, the Winter Festival stands as the pivot around which the entire year revolves, and renews itself. The Queen of the Snows also stands guard over the womb of the New Year. The singularity of Her Personality is the final resolution of the dualities of Life and Death embodied in the white quiet of Wintertide. One image that came to me … is that the six points of this Rune are reflected in Holda’s Pool and thus display the Twelve Nights of Yule, an illimitable energy vortex through which manifest Time and Space continually renew themselves. Holda’s Well and the Sacred Cauldron of Rebirth are, indeed, one and the same.”

One of the things most pleasing to the Fraw is to keep a clean house, and I always look forward to a winter cleanse as a way of honoring the gifts the Snow Queen has brought to my home.

Nine white maidens attend Her
Where She treads without leaving spoor…
Now the Leprous White Lady
Leads Her train of the lost
Leads the spirits through glade
And wood and goodly fields of frost

—Gwydion Pendderwen

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Who Cannot Hex, Cannot Heal

print-cybele-andrew-kingAnd suddenly I began to cry, because I realized that I was in service to the gods to which I had been sworn.  That I loved them for letting me be their pen and keyboard.  And that I was part of something real, which could rise like a forest fire in my soul and could change the world, or crush me from inside.  I was a Feri witch, sworn not just to “harm none” but to actually go out and do something in the world.  …. For all my judgements and prejudices toward folks I know in the Feri community, coven, or class, new or old, of questioned or unquestioned lineage, I realized that they all had something in common.  Not one of them would hesitate to use magic in defense of a craft sibling.  They were completely fierce, and not bound by fear.  We live our lives according to our own black hearts and the oaths we’ve sworn.  It makes me proud to be a Feri initiate.  It is integrity, impeccability, and the courage to maintain it, even when other witches would like to set you roasting over briquettes. …

And one day, when you hear that distant rumble, be ready.  Because the gods will come calling, and you will do what you have been sworn to do.  That is your answer.  That is Feri.  —Cholla Soledad, 2000.

There is an old saying in the Craft:

Who cannot hex, cannot heal;
Who cannot blast, cannot bless
Who cannot curse, cannot cure.

For some time now, I have been meditating upon these words. Though seemingly so provocative, I feel strongly in my heart that this ancient wisdom bears within itself a deep and essential truth.  Not just for Witches, but for everyone.

In the book Fifty years in the Feri Tradition (1994), Cora Anderson wrote:

Our tradition is a martial art as deadly as any taught in Japan.

Martial arts training involves learning how to injure as well as how to disarm; ultimately, how to kill.  Just as electricity can fry someone alive or power a machine that saves a life in an operating room, so too human spiritual energy–call it mana, qi, prana or what you will–is a Power that carries no innate morality.  How could it?  Morality–an ethical code of conduct–has everything to do with the intention, the focus, the Will with which Power is wielded.  The integral Purity of that Power is something that must be maintained by its owner.  She must observe this in the same degree of devotion and diligence with which an expert swordsman cleans, polishes, and hones his blade.

Ever try to chop vegetables with a dull knife?  You won’t get very far.  To attempt to confine human spiritual power to a “force for good,” as elaborated in some ethical codes, is in effect to cut that power off at the knees.  To emasculate it, adulterate it, treat it as a sham, not a reality to be carefully wielded and honored.  In many old Witchcraft traditions, the aim was not “goodness” in and of itself, but a state of Balance.  Today we are seeing many spells in which an individual works “for the best possible outcome.”  This is a somewhat muted way of stating that the best possible outcome of a situation may be one that leads to unhappiness for the individuals involved.  In popular culture, we speak of “tough love.”  The Priest/esses of old knew that lesson well.

Surgeons must learn to break bones as well as set them.  Veterinarians must learn how to euthanize.  Bomb specialists have to be expert in both dismantling and detonating deadly devices.

I was speaking to a friend about Aphrodite and Ares recently.  Aphrodite has a little-known aspect as a War Goddess (“Aphrodite Bearing Arms”).  It came to me that Ares also can play a role as a God of Love.  My friend and I agreed that both the acts of fighting and making love share a very special intimacy.  Fighting or coupling–both involve efforts in which the humans involved are stretched to their limits, and have the potential to enter a pure state, emotionally and energetically pristine.   In Faery, this purity is called kala.  I personally think of it as a state of inner balance, of alignment among the constituent parts of the Triple Will.  Emotion plays a strong part in certain types of magic, as Phil Hine writes so persuasively in his essay on “The Magic of Need” in his excellent chapbook Permutations.  The training of a Witch involves learning how to be in the flow of strong emotion and yet hold the point of balance.  I see this as a very intensified form of kala.  It is a very difficult state to put into words, but the energetic feel of it sometimes comes through  in writing about the work of the Kahunas in Old Hawai’i.

All of this is one reason why the blade used by the Witch, the athame, to cast the circle and direct energy, is a blade with a double edge.  For some of us, the double edge is a very palpable reminder of the Divine Twins brought forth by the Mother for Her Pleasure and Joy at the dawn of Creation.  The double edge is also a reminder of the twinned nature of the Power we wield, a Power that comes from the core of every human being. To own this Power, to honor it, to be secure in it, is the birthright of every human being.  It is the same Power that feeds innate human desire, that is the wellspring of passion, that fosters excellence and impeccability in a healthy human manifesting hir full potential.  Dam up that Power, deny its pristine Beauty and Strength, attempt to divert it from its innate course, and you have the panoply of neuroses and obsessions that are unfolding today in the popular cultural milieu of North American life.

Of old, Apollo and Artemis were honored as Divine Patrons of both healing and pestilence.  The one brings a quickening of life and joy, the other a plague of sickness and death.  It is the same Power at work; only how, where, and to what degree the energy is directed is different.   A Witch needs to be fearless in hir relationship with Power, and s/he needs to be impeccable in hir dedication to inner Balance.   Hir duty is to hold the Scalpel of Will with reverence and understanding.  We should demand nothing less of our Selves.

I am the thunder in Heaven,
The lightning my semen and seed;
I remember old wrongs unforgiven,
In me is the voice of your need.
—-Victor Anderson, Light-Bringer

(Art:  Goddess Cybele by Andrew King)


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Initiation is: a beginning
an opening
a gate that leads beyond the fields we know
that opens into a whole new journey
into the perilous heart of the labyrinth
that shows us how little we know

Gabriel Carrillo, “Initiation”

In a later stanza of his poem on Initiation, Gabriel describes Initiation as “the great work; the greatest act of magic; the deepest sharing and trust.”  What is seldom adumbrated by those who venture to discuss this deep and truly perilous subject is a profound truth. Initiation is not really a single moment. Just as each sephira on the Tree of Life in the Qabala is a gateway to all other sephiroth, the moment of Initiation contains within it the energy of all moments. It is truly a Time that is no Time, a Place that is No Place, a Point of Singularity that intersects with the Infinite.

I would like to point out that this poem has been posted on a website, but for reasons beyond my ability to explain, the final line of the poem was omitted. It reads: Without the chain of transmission, there is no Faery.

It has been said that it is truly the Gods Who Initiate the aspirant, and there is a profound truth to that statement. We know of occasions upon which properly trained Priest/esses made the gestures, performed the rites, and uttered the Words of Power, and yet, in the words of a very old order, “the Hound turned his nose up at the cake.” I can only say that one Initiate knows another. The signs and the sense through which they are known are instinctual; gut-level.

I have been reading the book Shower of Stars by Peter Lamborn Wilson. It is a meditation upon initiatory dreams.  PLW explores material from the world of the Sufi mystics and the Taoist sages and a number of other cultural spheres, including the dreambooks of ancient Sumer and Egypt.  The concept makes me think of a poem Dion Fortune composed, a prayer to Great Pan (whom I have experienced myself as a God of Initiation):

Open the door, the door that hath no key –
The door of dreams whereby men come to thee.

The Door that hath no key is the door of gnosis, and over that door is written the words “Know Thyself.” For, as the Goddess teaches in the Great Charge:

And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou know this mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

These teachings, which most of us receive early on in our studies, point to another truth we would be wise to remember upon reaching the Gate of Initiation. The act of the Initiation rite is, as Gabriel also says in his poem, “a marriage that weds us to the Other, yet makes us more ourselves.” Over many years of both closely examining my own experience and thinking about the implications, I have come to realize that Initiation brings one to the threshold of the Door that opens into Mystery. The rite poses a question for the candidate. Many come to the threshold and receive a glimpse of the vistas the beckon beyond. And many choose to go no further. The door is always there; one may linger at the threshold for ever. It requires great effort, of a kind that cannot be told, to take the steps onto the path that lies beyond this seemingly “ultimate” moment. The choice is one each Initiate must make for hirself.

Further words from Gabriel’s poem:

… the wild and perilous Faery Power
That is the heart of Faery
more than words or gestures or symbols or names
that is passed in silence loud as the roaring sea
at the heart of the world
and in chanting as soft as the wings of the dove
that we touch through the one who brings us
through the beginning and links us in
the unending chain of transmission
one to one to one through time
since the ancient beginning.

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Purge me with Hyssop


From the time I first became aware of it, I have associated hyssop with the healing blessings of Goddess Brighid.  I do not think this association is traditional; I have certainly seen no trace of such a correspondence in any books on magical herbalism.  We are told that this herb’s planetary correspondence is Jupiter; that it is associated with the Chariot card in the Tarot (this according to Paul Beyerl); that it protects against pestilence, burglary, and all evil sendings; and that it is best gathered at the time of the Cancer New Moon.  Beyerl also gives associations with amethyst, a favorite stone of mine (both for friendship with the living, and a peaceful transition for those crossing the Veil to the Summerland); he also gives an affinity with lapis-lazuli, which I have always thought of as carrying a strong magical energy from the days of ancient Egypt.  It was frequently used in their necklaces, which were cleverly worked charms; and one can still feel the strength woven and forged into those enchantments thousands of years later, standing in a museum and looking at the jewelwork in a glass case.

Robert Graves spoke of hyssop as being deeply involved with the season of Yuletide, and especially with that sacred moment of the Winter Solstice: Alban Arthan as the Druids name it.  And as the Samhain full moon wanes out into the peace of the Fallow Tide of the Year, it is natural for one’s thoughts to turn to the rest and time of dark tranquil contemplation that for many of us precedes the lighting of the Yule log.  (Somewhat difficult if one lives in a typical modern American or European town, with garish “holiday” decor, cheap tawdry ornaments and cacophonous “festive” music blaring from every public corner, but we do what we can.)  As I write these words, I have lit the candles and offered incense at my House altars, and I have some hyssop essential oil diffusing as well with the aid of a tea-light under a specially made dish.  The soothing, purifying atmosphere bestowed by this sweet, natural odor cannot be denied.  I have been playing the recordings of Ani Williams sacred to Hathor, to Isis, to Osiris, to Sarasvati, sensing the rippling of Nile water as Winter begins to draw in.

Work with essential oils adds another note to the tapestry of herbal power: so too does the presence of tinctures and the balm of the crushed dried leaves of the plant.  The potent remembrance that there is a fineness, an essence, a sharp dizzying note of music that survives the darkest winter night, the coldest breath of frost, the most final curtain of night’s baleful abysm.  Hyssop comes on white wafting wings to bring purity, potency, peace evermore.  Blessed be.

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