Past Views and Elders

A Moot Gone Wrong

Once upon a time in a shithole far from where I live now, I was sitting at a pub moot that had gone severely downhill. (For those of you who have heard of the ‘Coarse Witchcraft’ books, it was the kind of event that would have taken up a whole chapter, for the fuckery was that deep.)

To cut a long story short, our local monthly moot had been taken over by another moot composed solely of Druids of the OBOD variety who then proceeded to hold their own event at our moot with us as…I dunno, audience to their greatness, I guess?

They didn’t think a whole lot of anyone who wasn’t them or who hadn’t done their courses, and they talked over or patronized anyone who wasn’t them. Well, except when trying to hand out business cards for whatever they were trying to flog us, of course.

Now back in the 2000s, I was way more of a fucker than I am now. My fucks had flown the coop at some point in the 90s, and I had zero problem with in-person trolling. So that’s what I did. I forcibly inserted myself into their conversations and made digs at them that were humorous to the few regular members who had stuck around instead of fleeing the pomposity.

Did I mention that I often have no filter and that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t just see an innuendo passing me by, but jumps out, grabs it, and dry humps it into the gutter?

As the moot ground on, they must have realized I was impervious to them and that shittiness would just earn them shittiness in return.

Infinitely more embarrassing shittiness (for them).

At one point, one of the OBOD members began to diss my shithole of a hometown – which don’t get me wrong, I have zero issue with. But what this lady and her husband followed up with was pure gold.

“I hate this place. We once tried moving here and it almost killed us!” she said.

Now I’m fully aware of the sins and dangers of my chav-infested hometown, but that seemed a bit steep and so I asked for clarification.

“We bought a house down near (place name omitted) because we wanted to live like the Pagans of old. But it had no water and electricity and it was terrible! We almost died.”

That made me laugh, and I congratulated her on her authentic ancient pagan experience with no running water or electricity and struggle for survival. She was not amused, but most importantly, they never came back again.

 

The Past Through A Rose-Tinted Lens

For all the fuckery of that moot though, the story told by that wannabe emulator of ancient pagans ways highlighted a mentality we see a lot of in modern Pagans and Heathens – the romanticism of the past.

As a movement, Pagans and Heathens have a somewhat romantic view of the past. It’s always thought of as a simpler time when no one had things like credit card bills to think of. A time in which no one felt like anything was missing from their lives, and that whatever hole people are trying to fill inside themselves when they come to Paganism and Heathenry is just magically filled. A time of belonging, and tribe, and incredible rituals that make you feel like you’re a part of something greater.

Or whatever.

But the past was far from simple. It was often bloody, people buried their children far too often, diseases we hardly think about now (but for antivax idiocy – yeah, I said it) were things that could carry you from this world. Rituals could also be deadly, and slavery was a thing for a good chunk of people. It wasn’t some ‘Mists of Avalon’ fantasy in which people just kind of knew all the things and looked ethereal and shit. They fought, fucked, got sick, dealt with debt, lost loved ones, feasted, starved, worked their asses off, loved, hated, and died. That’s just life in every era.

 

That Never-Filled Hole

And speaking of that hole inside, lemme just drop something on you all here: there isn’t *anything* in existence that you can take, exploit, or buy that will fill it or get you closer to what you imagine those Pagans of yore to have had. The key to that one is inside you – available for the steep price of ‘free, but with an assload of work’.

 

The Sins of the Past and Our Elders Today

In a similar vein, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Pagan elders of late. People are also looking at the early years of modern Paganism with a critical eye – for many Pagans now, the actions of these religious forebears is no longer something to be ignored in favor of the achievements of those individuals who are falling under a spotlight attracted by bigoted words and sinful deeds. It’s all very ‘Saturn in Capricorn’, and what was sown is what is being, and what will be reaped.

Naturally people are divided here and these elders retain their supporters. The division has also become something of a generational one, with older Pagans casting aspersions on the younger generations for having the audacity to call out the elders and gurus of the movement.

All in all, this has become a more pagan-flavored version of the “Millennials are destroying (Applebee’s/washing powder/the diamond industry/insert every insignificant thing here)” bullshit that we see in the mainstream.

To my mind, this is yet another iteration of the larger tendency to see the past with rose-tinted glasses. As a movement, people seem to want to have elders that know all the things and somehow remove the doubt from life. They want people who hook them up with the path that will fill all holes.

But just as the historical past is complex, so are people. We are all the product of many factors, and none of us are the same person we were even a year ago. Why? Because everything around us is subject to change and we have the wonderful gift of learning. We are not static, we can change with work and time – even elders.

And that is what I believe will be necessary for those elders who wish to truly serve their communities and everyone in them regardless of how similar or different people are to themselves. Because it’s one thing to claim to be inclusive, but to actually be inclusive requires intersectionality. (I’d recommend this book for its explanation of intersectionality alone.)

I truly believe that not doing this work, staying static, and falling back on ire against detractors is going to be a fatal flaw of the elders concerned. Because just who do you think will be around to carry their wordfame when they are fallen from this world?

That’s right, those millennial iconoclasts, and that ain’t something you get a choice in.

We all die.

From

Your friendly neighborhood Gen-X/Xennial.

You Don’t Own Witchcraft (and Other Rants)

witchcraft - devil

Ownership and Gatekeeping

You don’t own witchcraft – none of us do. It kind of makes me sad that I feel witchcraft - morpheuslike I have to say this, but witchcraft isn’t just the domain of (predominantly) white neo-Pagans – there are forms of witchcraft all over the globe, existing in multiple worldviews. Just because you’ve created modern forms of religious witchcraft, it doesn’t mean that you somehow have a claim on it all, or that it bears any resemblance to (any) historical witchcraft. In other words, none of us get to be gatekeepers here.

You know what does bear a resemblance to historical (European) witchcraft though?

Some of the shit in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (hereafter referred to as CAOS).

You know, that shit that some of you are getting mad about.

Look, I get it. You don’t like the inclusion of Satan/the Devil/Old Nick in a show about witches, and some of you seem to think it’s playing into a Satanic Panic mentality. But let’s be real for a moment here.

Sympathy for the Devil

First of all, the way Pagans react to the Devil/Lucifer/Satan/Old Scratch/Whothefuckever (not that they’re all the same being anyway) is ridiculous. It’s 100% Christian baggage over a being who is basically the kitchen sink of all the shit the Christians hated.

witchcraft - satan
“Oh fuck…I think I left the coffee machine on.”

I mean, could you honestly say that you’d feel the same about the Devil if we lived in a world that had retained large polytheist populations and the Christians were ranting about this being? You probably wouldn’t. You’d probably file it away in your head that he might be worth slitting some (animal) throats over in certain situations, but could also be a royal dickbag.

And it’s not like we avoid worshipping beings capable of being royal dickbags as a collected mass of religious and spiritual movements either (see: current popularity of “fayeries” for a great and exceedingly ironic version of that). We’re actually pretty cool with that – it’s edgy even. They just have to be ‘our’ (potential) dickbags.

But a dickbag, is a dickbag, is a dickbag.

So why do we elevate one dickbag over all the others in terms of how we perceive their inherent dickbag…ness?

Could it be that despite our best efforts to Pagan ourselves the fuck up, we inherited more than a few attitudes from the dominant religion/s in our society anyway?

Yes, of course we did. None of us live in bubbles.

But that’s not the whole story – there are bullshit respectability politics at work here too.

To some degree, I can understand this. After all, we’re only a few decades out

witchcraft-Dees20
I know, I know…but I wasn’t sure if I could rip off any actual D&D pics for this post.

from when playing D&D could get you into trouble. But there are some very real issues with engaging in respectability politics that I think we should all be mindful of (which you can read about here).

Sabrina and Satanic Panic

Secondly, the obvious ‘hole’ in the Satanic Panic worries is that the witches from CAOS were clearly intended to be fantastical. I mean, they’re immortal (or near enough) and you’ve got people kissing the Devil’s hairy hooves, for goodness sake!

Their magic is also massively more successful – like supernatural being successful. This and the immortality element are important markers of the fantasy elements of this show. The witches here are not *meant* to be believed in in a literal sense.

And look, don’t get me wrong, we can do a lot more with magic than we witchcraft - Devilgenerally think. We *could* do a lot more, but most of us just aren’t there yet (you know, if we’re being real). We’ve got a lot to build and paradigms to shift before we can really get there.

But none of that is inherently a bad thing. Because the Satanic Panic concern isn’t entirely misplaced; our current social climate is absolutely ripe for a resurgence of kind of awfulness.

It won’t be CAOS that will set it off though. If anything, it’ll be all the highly public grandstanding curses of public figures and groups like the NRA.

To Keep Silent

It’s one thing to network among practitioners and set up working groups – that carries very little risk. As does democratizing magical efforts via anonymous fora such as 4Chan. However, it’s quite another thing to go in front of a camera crew and ramble on about how you’re going to work malefica on people in power! (People in power who, I might remind you, enjoy a good deal of support from the kind of zealous motherfuckers who would gladly burn people like you and I had they the chance)

These public rituals have already planted those seeds in their minds too. Pastors and other sources on the right already talk about the curses against the president, and the NRA put out a video not all that long ago warning of that very thing. So in other words, they were taking that threat seriously and starting the rumblings of what could become another Satanic Panic way before CAOS came along. If you think this is going to be instigated by a Netflix show with a talking cat, then you haven’t been paying attention.

No, if anything, what will come will be because of what people within Pagan communities themselves were putting out. CAOS isn’t the problem here.

Disbelief is Our Friend

Because as galling as it might be, one of the greatest protections we could witchcraft memehave in times like these is disbelief. We don’t want people to believe we can do the things they associate with witchcraft. Especially not in times like these.  Trust me, we probably wouldn’t like their BBQs, and it wouldn’t just be because the potato salad has raisins in it.

Restoration, Not Reenchantment

restoration -ljosavatn

Hey, you there!

Yes, you, my fellow North American Heathens/Pagans/Witches. I’d like a word with you about a few things. You see, I’ve had a lot to think about of late, and I think some of you all really need to hear what I have to say.

Restoration - Ljosavatn
As you can see, it was a truly horrible place.

First of all, if you’re not already doing it, you need to be going on pilgrimages. Speaking as someone who’s been in Heathenry for a while (over twenty years, fml), we don’t really have a culture of pilgrimages, but we should. Now I’m admittedly biased about this shit seeing as I recently co-presented the Land, Sea, Sky Hiddenfolk, Witches, and Elves tour in Iceland with the incredible Morgan Daimler, but hear me out.

Making the Case for Pilgrimages

When we think of pilgrimages, I think we tend to think of them in terms of

Restoration - rock face
Here’s Johnny!

going to a place that’s considered inherently holy in a way, and trying to gain the favor of some numinous being. And don’t get me wrong, pilgrimages can be that. But I don’t think they have to be that (or at least that’s not where their greatest usefulness lies for us). Sometimes, pilgrimages can be a way to experience things related to your worldview that you wouldn’t otherwise experience in your normal environment.

You know, key things like ‘what it’s like to live in an actually inspirited landscape’.

A Tale of a Few Cultures

Let me tell you a quick story to sort of illustrate the point. The second time I visited the United States, I went to a large East Coast Heathen event where I facilitated the construction of a fire labyrinth. When we first went to the planned site and started to discuss the logistics of construction, we foundRestoration - Labyrinth ourselves being mobbed by mosquitoes.

A common enough occurrence, you say?

True. But none of them were actually biting, and so I took it as a sign that the local spirits of the land required some assurances and payment in order to proceed without us becoming walking clouds of mosquitoes while we worked. So I got some hard cider and addressed my words towards the woods, explaining the entire process for finding the stones we would use to mark out the labyrinth, the contained use of fire that would not burn the land, and how we would put the stones back in the forest when done. Then I poured out the offerings and the bugs left us alone.

To me, that was nothing – that small act of explanation and offering would have been a baseline response in so many other places that I’ve inhabited. However, it simply hadn’t occurred to my American counterparts to do that, or even that the wights would even be a factor to be taken into account. This led to me being introduced as someone who was especially into working with wights for the remainder of the event.

The Whole in the Hole

Now I’m not telling this story in a ‘nur nur I’m better than you stupid

Restoration - Godafoss1
It was just awful…so awful

Americans’ kind of way. (I’m an American citizen now too, so I’m also a stupid American.) I just wanted to illustrate how far they tend to be from the minds of modern American Heathens/Pagans/Witches, despite the fact that the existence of the numinious Other forms a key part of the historical worldviews of each of those groups. Even worse, where people do profess belief, it’s often not in a concrete way. Gods are easy for Americans to grok (as a culture we’ve a long history of god(s)-bothering) – ancestors too to some degree. But the Other is hard.

There are some good reasons for this, but to boil it all down to the most TL;DR explanation ever: Early colonists saw the colonization of America as a kind of religious crusade in which they had to “win” territories from the devil and “cleanse” them of the Heathen. (Don’t believe me? Check out this book, and the rantings of Cotton Mather here.) America was to be a covenant nation, given by god and kept for a long as Christianity held sway. This is the society most of you grew up in, and it is one that not only drove out the spirits in many places, but still lacks nuance when it comes to viewing those beings. If it is not dead or godly/of god, then it is demonic, and here is where we come to the crux of our problem.

There is no cultural framework within mainstream (predominantly white) American culture for interacting with the non-dead and non-godly. So is it any surprise that the Other remains and afterthought for many Heathens/Pagans/Witches here?

Restoring Pieces

Yet I believe it is the missing piece of the bigger picture, and I think many of us feel it or re-enchantment would not be a topic within our community.

Restoration - coast
We were just tortured by stunning natural beauty and elvish sex vibes.

This is where going somewhere that you know to be inspirited (by reputation) comes in. I appreciate that not everyone can afford to go to places like Iceland, but pilgrimages (or perhaps more accurately ‘retreats’) don’t have to be to places that are considered particularly connected to Pagan or Heathen traditions – they can be far closer to home. (Do we really think all those mysterious National Park disappearances are purely coincidental?) Take some like-minded friends! Take some apotropaics (bells, black salt, iron, wolf bones…you know, the usual)! Make a weekend of it!

Restoration - Dimmuborgir
Trust me, the rent isn’t worth it.

Go out there and experience the Other that peeks out of rocks, invites you into ‘move-in ready’ holes (don’t accept though), throws disembodied voices, moves your shit around, and just generally makes itself known.

Do that until you have this kind of an experience,*then* let’s continue our conversations about the ‘re-enchantment of the world’, but instead let’s call it ‘restoration’, and ‘finally getting our boots on for a spiritual war that’s worth a crap’. (Because what do you think all that Christian Spiritual Warrior crap has been doing anyway?)

Restoration > Re-Enchantment

The more I think about it, ‘re-enchantment’ as discussed in modern paganism sucks. (You can find a good example of how some modern Pagans interact with the concept here.) I mean, it’s not inherently bad but I think there are some definite issues with the current discourse:

Firstly, the world is viewed along an axis of enchanted vs disenchanted in this discussion. This suggests an endpoint at either extreme of the axis and I don’t

Restoration - Godafoss2
How the fuck did we even handle it?

believe that to be the case (for reasons I will go into).

Secondly, the predominant focus of re-enchantment is on human perceptions. There is no partnership with the Other here in this ‘re-enchantment’. It’s about humans rediscovering the enchanted nature of their local environment.

Thirdly, it’s all well and good to ‘re-enchant’ your perceptions of your local environment, but what if you work on that and there’s fuck all there? You may perceive the Other just fine when away from home, but what about when your local area is just…empty? Or how about pissed?

This is why restoration needs to be the goal as opposed to re-enchantment – that is just a step along the way.

Going Beyond Re-Enchantment

So what should restoration look like? In my opinion, it should involve inviting the Other back from the Outer yards, creating sanctuaries for them on our lands, building relationship, and giving them greater footholds among us. It should involve facing up to our collective shit as a culture and making amends for past sins.

Restoration - Gryla
Gryla says “Hi!”

I’m not going to lie, it’s not always going to work out. Some folks are likely to have shittier experiences than others with this. Some of you will have spirits that have absolutely zero interest in working with you, and will likely want to skullfuck you into next week. Those spirits have always existed, the same can be said about humans.

It’s time to stop freaking out when the Other makes itself more known, and it’s time to stop talking in ominous terms about the ‘Otherworld bleeding through’. Because this is, and always has been the fight in this land – the back and forth of Christians driving out the Other (both Human and non-Human) in order to maintain their damned, blood-soaked covenant. Cotton Mather knew it, as do his modern Dominionist counterparts do. We just need to finally get on board and start fighting our corner.

”Wherefore the devil is now making one attempt more upon us; an attempt more difficult, more surprising, more snarled with unintelligible circumstances than any that we have hitherto encountered; an attempt so critical, that if we get well through, we shall soon enjoy halcyon days with all the vultures of hell trodden under our feet. He has wanted his incarnate legions to persecute us, as the people of God have in the other hemisphere been persecuted: he has therefore drawn forth his more spiritual ones to make an attack upon us. We have been advised by some credible Christians yet alive, that a malefactor, accused of witchcraft as well as murder, and executed in this place more than forty years ago, did then give notice of an horrible plot against the country by witchcraft, and a foundation of witchcraft then laid, which if it were not seasonably discovered, would probably blow up, and pull down all the churches in the country. And we have now with horror seen the discovery of such a witchcraft! An army of devils is horribly broke in upon the place which is the center, and after a sort, the first-born of our English settlements: and the houses of the good people there are filled with the doleful shrieks of their children and servants, tormented by invisible hands, with tortures altogether preternatural.”
Cotton Mather – The Wonders of the Invisible World

Our side in this was decided long ago.

Love and tea,

Me

P.S Check out Morgan’s open posts on the Pleiades for similar content on opening things up.  Part One. Part Two.

P.P.S Morgan is fucking awesome and a pleasure to stalk all over a volcanic land.

Doorways

Doorways - Doorway

Introduction To Ranting About Doorways

Doorways are interesting things, and in my opinion, they’re also rather underrated and underused in modern magic. Well, at least from what I’ve seen

doorways - Cyprian
Please cool kids, come back! I’ll give you moar necromancies!

anyway. Which you know, considering that I’m the kind of person to either work in ridiculously niche groups or alone, that’s not saying a whole lot. I mean, for all I know, you’re all rocking the doorway-thing, and it’s way bigger among the cool kids than St Cyprian was a few years ago.

(Please tell me this is true?)

But things were quite different in Heathen period Northwestern Europe. For one thing, they didn’t have the internet to start massive “witch wars” on. Nor did they have convenient sandwich makers upon which to create endless grilled cheese sandwiches to get fat on.

Life was just different back then.

Doorways - mound
Tadaa!!!!

One thing they did have though, was burial mounds. Yes, wonderful, boob-shaped containers for the dead. (Or pudendas. Honestly, whichever junk-based imagery you like best is good here).

And some of those wonderful bosoms of final doom also have what appear to have been post holes in front of them. Or more specifically, post holes for (most likely) doorways.

Now this may sound like completely irrelevant bollocks, but it’s  not, and to find out why, you need to stick with me through a minor detour.

Oh Look! A Conveniently Labeled Digression!

So, these pudendas of death didn’t just have post holes. No, some of them also have what appear to have been ditches. And moreover, pollen analysis of some of those ditches demonstrates that they used to be filled with water for at least part of the year. This would have turned these mounds into temporary, de-facto islands of the dead.

Doorways - boat
I was looking for “boat burial” and this came up. This is better. This is far better                                                                             

When you factor in the amount of European death lore that describes the dead crossing over water of some kind to the afterlife, it’s not hard to see the applications for all kinds of dead-related activities here.

The point I’m making with this digression?

We often build our holy places with ritual and cosmology in mind. If you want to figure out ritual and cosmology, it’s good to look at the holy places.

YAY!!!! The Return of the Original Point!

Now, a bunch of post holes wouldn’t really be anything, and we wouldn’t necessarily guessing that they’re door posts were it not for a continuous thread of ritual doorpost usage connected with the dead.

Moving forward in time to the Viking Age (you know, that time period all the

Doorways - Doorway
Imagine a relative buried in your doorway. Every time you walk over it they get to see…Imma stop now.

bros like to fap off over), you have the doorway burials of the Viking age. You see, some folks back then would actually bury the people they wanted to stick around post mortem in the doorways of their homes.

Well, there’s nothing like  keeping the family together, amirite?

As you might expect though, this backfired sometimes. Most usually when the person you unwisely decided to give visitation rights to was a raging dick in life. You see, rule number one of ‘Necromancy Club’ is that a rabid cockwomble in life is sure to be a rabid cockwomble in death.  People don’t just automatically become wise and loving ancestors; there’s a process for that in most cultures that still have coherent ancestor cults.  Unfortunately, most of us in modern WEIRD Pagan communities come from cultures where the death rites were taken over by some imperialist death cult that worships a dead dude on a torture/execution device. So, to say that our ideas on all of the above can be a little fucked up and unhealthy is something of an understatement.

But anyway, doorways!

They were a thing in the foul arte of necromancy back in the day. (Although to be fair, it was probably just called “going to ask Aunt Guðrún about that there thing we were talking about”.)

“Wake aunt Guðrún, wake auntie good.
At the back door I call you (to ask you where our fucking sheep went)”

And she’d bitch you out, call you crazy, and then tell you want you need to know. That’s a filch of an actual invocation btw. It’s from Svipdagsmal, and yes, it mentions doors.

The Final Point!

Aye, so doorways are interesting things. To stand between doorposts is to be neither in nor out, neither here nor there. It is to stand in a liminal place in which things may be seen, and through which things may pass (albeit when engineered a little bit…)

Doorways - Druidenhain
Here’s one I made earlier. Ok, so it wasn’t really me. Not this one anyway.

One of the best things about doorways too is their availability, so you don’t need to drop a load of cows or bling on obtaining fancy schmancy stuff. Because if you don’t have any kind of doorways and don’t have access to some woods where you can create arches in the trees to work in, then you’re probably a fair way up shit creek and should be working on other stuff first.

So yeah…give it a go.

The first time I tranced in a doorway, my garden filled with mist, a storm blew in, and I heard screams on the wind. I’m not claiming the storm here, but to hear the screaming on the winds of a storm that had taken lives on its way across the land before hitting my area? Would I have heard them had I not been trancing in a doorway? Who knows! But still. Doorways are useful things in magic, and they have the benefit of being easy to get out of if things become a bit much.

Don’t like seeing what you’re seeing? Go in and close the door. Make sure your wards are awesome. Good times!

Well, that’s it for me today. I’m currently in the middle of packing for going to Iceland where I’ll be co-hosting this trip with Morgan Daimler!

 

Of Witch Kits and Gatekeeping

When I first saw the whole Sephora “witch kit” thing on social media, I had roughly three thoughts:

“Huh, that’s not a bad price! Wonder what those perfumes smell like.”gatekeeping - white sage
“Ugh, white sage…”
“I bet this is going to piss some people off.”

Now 2018 might be an utter shitshow in that “Hold my beer, 2016!” kinda way, but it’s sort of nice to know we still have some constants, you know? And a tacky ‘witch kit’ created by Pinrose and being flogged by Sephora enraging a whole bunch of people for largely nebulous reasons has been that constant in this case.

(Thank you, Internet. I love you too.)

But that’s not to say that there aren’t real reasons to give a shit about this Pinrose/Sephora foray into (Basic?) Witchcraft. For starters, there are valid criticisms surrounding the inclusion of white sage in these kits from both appropriation and sustainability standpoints. Then there was the booklet (which I haven’t seen), apparently it also contains appropriative bullshit (because I guess they were going for a theme here?).

So you know, real reasons.

But also a lot of nebulous feelings based in “exploitation” and even “appropriation” (which is a little rich considering how much white Pagans take from marginalized peoples and you know…appropriate the shit out of it).

Some of it, undoubtedly, also comes down to gatekeeping, which is handy, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about today!

Gatekeepers and Gatekeeping

gatekeeping - ghostbusters
So romantic!

Louis: I am The Keymaster!

Dana Barrett: I am The Gatekeeper!
Ghostbusters 1984

Our communities are filled with gatekeepers of various kinds, operating under various motivations. In Heathenry, we tend to deal with a form of gatekeeping based in the heritage of adherents. Because for some assholes (usually the kind who rage against “miscegenation” while ignoring the fact that historically, white boys haven’t had a whole lot of issues with that as long as it was the product of them getting their rape on), that’s a thing.

It’s a dumb thing, but it’s still a thing for them. Those are the gatekeepers we’re downright infamous for, but they’re far from the only kind.

Recently, The Wild Hunt covered (badly, like really badly), the story of the “Pussy Church of TERFy doom” (or whatever the fuck those lot are called). This again, is another form of gatekeeping. genital gatekeeping. With doxxing, and what looks like a nascent tithing system.

But gatekeeping isn’t just the domain of fuckernutters who essentially just want to discriminate under some pseudo-spiritual guise. There are other, more well-intentioned forms of gatekeeping too. You know the kind of thing – the preventing or discouraging of people from trying forms of magic that are considered (either rightly or wrongly) to be dangerous.

Will the Real Gatekeepers Please Stand Up?

Now, my views on danger in the Craft are probably well known by now. This shit isn’t safe. I would even go as far as to say that if you’re doing something real then this is all managed risk anyway. Forget “safe”. When you’re dealing with numinous beings with agency that are actually *real* (as opposed to being some feel good imaginary friends), “safe” isn’t really a guarantee.

Which brings me to who I consider the real gatekeepers to be.

When we think of a tradition or practice, we often only think of it in terms of the human side of things, and forget that there is also the numinous side of the equation to take into account. But what is any tradition or magical practice without its numinous powers?

Those of you who’ve tried scrying both with and without summoning the spirits into the water will know the answer to this one.

The answer is “lacking”.

The Other (regardless of what form it takes) is integral to the practice of witchcraft. And for as much personal power and raw talent as we can bring to the game, it’s nothing compared to what they can gift us.

Here is where we come to the crux of the matter.

Because ultimately, it’s the numinous beings who matter, these are the real gatekeepers here, and ideally, we humans work in concert with them. It’s not for us to do the accepting based on whether or not someone has the right training or got their start via some tacky ‘witch kit’. (Or from watching The Craft! What up, 90s witches! I see you!) The real test is when we bring them, or they themselves stand before the powers with whom we work.

Burned Fingers and Adult Pants

For some people though, the gatekeeping they practice is a matter of responsibility to the wider community. They believe in restricting information to certain practices in order to keep people safe. However, this tends to have the unfortunate side effect of stifling growth and keeping people in the shallow end of the pool.

Let me explain a little.

The vast majority of us come from broken or simply newly created traditions. Now let’s be honest here, our magical technologies need an assload of work, and the bar for what we believe magic can do needs raising. Don’t see what I’m saying here? Check out the kind of operations contained in the Greek Magical Papyri and grimoires! Check out reports from cultures from outside our WEIRD society! Are we anywhere near that level?

I don’t think so. Again, I can’t help but think of what I’ve seen from “Core Shamans” here in the States versus what I’ve experienced at Mudang shrines in Korea. And if you’ve ever gotten off a mountain path to allow a God-as-solid-block-of-wind to pass on his way to a shrine to possess a Mudang, then you’ll understand what I’m saying here.

But you see, we’re not going to get there if we’re hiding people’s adult pants and dousing them with water so they can’t get their fingers burned. At some

gatekeeping - pants
Actually, this is pants optional.

point, once the caveats have been given and understood, you just have to get out of the way and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s not to say you can’t take out forms of ‘insurance’ though. Think the person you just taught that curse to might use it irresponsibly? Why not take some of their hair in exchange for the knowledge and let them know just what you’ll do if you ever hear of them flinging it round like cum in a bukkake session? Got a tradition you want to protect? Why not enlist some spirit protectors? See what I’m saying? There are things that can be done that don’t douse or steal pants, and I think they’re worth doing.

Because we live in interesting times now. Okay, so it may often feel like we’re dancing upon the edge of a great precipice, but we shouldn’t forget that these are also times of great potential and growth. How many of us are having more common and intense experiences with the Other now? How many folks have you come across that don’t normally encounter anything but are telling wide-eyed stories of things that “couldn’t possibly happen”?

I would suggest that perhaps we are living in a time when things are becoming steadily re-enchanted (and how many of us have been wanting that to happen?). And if that is the case, then surely that re-enchantment would bring with it the potential for greater magic? We just need to remember what it is ‘to dare’ first.

Sex and the Dead: A Right Load of Fuckery

sex and the dead - skull

The Paradox of Sex and the Dead

For the ancient Greeks and Romans, the onion was considered a vegetable of the dead. Perhaps it’s because it grew in the ground as the deceased are planted? Or perhaps the reasoning was something else. Either way, along with parsley and celery, the onion commonly graced the tables of funeral feasts

sex and the dead - onions
Viagra, a long time ago.

(“Eating with the Dead”).

But here is where we come to a paradox, because the onion was also well known as an aphrodisiac. And what of grim and unyielding Hades himself? Not only was he connected with the cycle of the year, but was also arguably connected to fertility too.

As it turns out though, this collocation of sex and death is not unusual, and it’s not limited to the classical world either.

Among the Germanic tribes, for example, the god of the mound is also the god who fertilizes the earth. It is he who is depicted with a large phallus – a sign of his virility. Ruler of Alfheim, so too do his subjects share the same associations. Mound-dwelling and sexually deviant, elves would eventually come to be known as incubi.

Moving slightly further afield, the Canaanite Ba’al the god of life and fertility is shown to be constantly locked in battle with Mot, the god of death and sterility.

To move even further afield (at least from the perspective of my resting paradigm), we see the same dichotomy in the Haitian deity Papa Ghédé who presides over both death and eroticism.

Again and again, fertility (or even straight up eroticism) and death walk hand in hand. Life is spun and then unspun in a cycle of generation and dissolution, the fibers falling away only to be respun again. These are in truth, two sides of the same cycle, and without the one there cannot be the other.

Man Imitates Gods (or Elves)

This also seems to be the case for many humans who work with the dead too, and the grave may be just as inseparable from sex and generation within some human practitioners, as it is with the aforementioned gods.

“Thus the Gods did, thus men do”

Taittirīya Brāhmana
(Eliade 98)

sex and the dead - beso negro
Those witches will get with any old unclean spirit!

There also seems to be something in the “wiring” here too. For anyone who has studied historical witchcraft accounts, accusations of “sexual deviancy” go hand in hand with accusations of trucking (sexually or magically) with demons or elves. Again and again we see this pattern of chthonic beings with fertility aspects and their human partners engaged in both necromancy and apparent sexual deviancy. (See Lee Morgan’s ‘A Deed without a Name’ for further discussion on these relationships both among historical and modern practitioners)

It would seem that one cannot separate the sex/eroticism from the chthonic, and by extension, death itself. And this can be unsettling to our modern WEIRD minds. (I note here that apparently Papa Ghédé enjoys fucking with white people because of exactly this kind of hang up. Go Papa Ghédé!)

But patterns rarely emerge without reason, and this one is no exception.

A Matter of “Wiring”?

First though, I’d like to talk about the matter of the “wiring” of human practitioners for a moment. Because here too are patterns to be observed. Why is it that the witch was so associated with sexual deviancy in historical accounts? Why did Jordanes write of the Halirunnae (Gothic for Helrune), if you’re interested) going out and having issue with “unclean spirits”? Why was that so believable to him that people associated with Hel practices would be all about fucking the “unclean spirits”? (Getica XXIV, 121-123)

This matter of “wiring” is something that Martin Coleman (aka Draja Mickaharic) comments on in Communing with the Spirits: The Magical Practice of Necromancy. To quote him regarding women with the propensity for necromancy:

“If you are a woman you may have had occasional vivid dreams of a sexual nature which you remember upon awakening. In some cases, the dream may

sex and the dead - necromancy
According to Pixabay, this is what necromancy looks like

have been so vivid that you awakened as a result of the orgasm that the dream produced. This is not an uncommon phenomena found in those women who are able to work with the spirits of the dead. Women who are able to work well with the spirits of the dead often have very little sense of physical modesty. In a few cases they are excessively modest. Often women who can work with spirits of the dead are quite uninhibited in comparison with most of the women of their generation. Occasionally they are asexual, but these women are usually found at the extreme ranges of dress and sexual behavior.”

So what is going on here? Why can working with the dead turn into such fuckery? (Ha, see what I did there?) Why does this collocation exist?

Sex as a Safety Mechanism

One thing you quickly learn when interacting with the dead is that to interact with the dead is to interact with death, and pull away from life. But to engage in the primal act of intercourse is to pull away from death and to reassert one’s place within the living world. It is to leave the world of shadows and rejoin the world of the heart pounding, heavy breathing, and corporeality of skin and bodily fluids. To fall once more under the spell of the sensual and reconnect with one of the joys of this world. It is in this sense, a way of exorcising the touch of death from yourself in the same way that you may take salt or wash your feet, or whatever else you do to purify when leaving the places of the sex and the dead - life and deathdead.

This is not some sick and perverted thing as some might think. There is no sexual attraction to the dead present (and I actually hate that I feel like I have to say that). Instead, I find it to be more like the triggering a safety mechanism that occurs in response to a certain degree of proximity to death. It’s a form of medicine. When you think about it, this is really no different from people fucking at or after funerals. It is, I believe, the same underlying mechanism at work.

In short, this is a piece of protective wiring for those of us who experience it, and deities like Papa Ghédé rightfully mock us when repression keeps us from this act of self-healing.

(Ace folx, I’d be curious to hear what you experience post-interacting-with-the-dead!)

Bibliography

Eating With the Dead: Funeral Meal Practices, by Tylluan Perry in MEMENTO MORI A Collection of Magickal and Mythological Perspectives On Death, Dying, Mortality and Beyond

The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, by Mircea Eliade

Communing with the Spirits: The Magical Practice of Necromancy, by Martin Coleman

Whiteness is the Witchcraft-Killer

Introduction

I’ve sat on this post for a long time. It’s a post that started with a dream that became a maelstrom of thoughts. And since the morning of the 27th of October (which was when I entered the dream into my journal), I’ve been turning it over in my head. You see, I want to be clear about this, because this topic is important.

But it may also be difficult for those of you who share my melanin-deficiency.  I do however, ask you to set aside your initial feelings, read with an open heart, and then turn this topic over in your own mind some before reacting.

Because it is not white skin that is under attack here. I do not deny the realities of white privilege or the different lived experiences of oppressed peoples – those things are as plain to me as the nose on my face. But this is about whiteness, why we must not buy into it, and why we must work to free ourselves of it.

Before continuing though, I should probably define what I mean by whiteness - gated community“whiteness” in this post. When I speak of “whiteness”, I speak of a construct that sits in our society like a gated community that limits its entry to those who fit certain criteria. To reiterate, this is not a post about the the intrinsic and innate, of melanin and ancestry. It is a post about a social construct which actively excludes, harms, and which I believe to be completely incompatible with Witchcraft.

A Brief History of the Concept of Whiteness

Before the 17th century, “whiteness” as a concept or racial category didn’t whiteness - struggleexist. Laws both in the early colonies and Barbados instead focused on religion, setting aside freedoms for Christians and relegating non-Christians to servitude and slavery. However, as times changed and more people of color (both free and enslaved) became Christians, that legal language was changed. The goalposts were moved in order to retain power among the white landowning elite. 1697 saw the passage of the first law that restricted voting rights to only the white [Source].

But whiteness then was not the whiteness we know now; the membership requirements for that gated community have changed again and again, and ethnic groups that are now automatically considered white often found themselves on the outside. They were, according to the thinking of the day, varieties of “lesser” white [Source].

The construct of whiteness as it exists today is inherently a modified version of WASPishness.

Originally coined in 1962 in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, the term “WASP” stood for “White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant”. (There’s also some further underlying fuckery with the “Anglo-Saxon” label that further elucidates the intentions of the creators of this term which you can read about here). But the stereotypical WASP is, in a sense, the epitome of the whiteness ideal. It is that which is to be emulated in so far as nature and circumstance will allow if one wishes to gain and retain access to that gated community. The criteria has changed somewhat since the 60s – largely to allow greater buy-in from a greater number of people, but they can be summarized thusly:

You must have the right skin.
You must have the right tongue.
You must have the right faith.
You must have the right worldview.

And should you catch a glimpse of another worldview, you must not rock the boat.

In short, it should be considered the very anathema of witchcraft. The gated community of whiteness is not a space in which Witchcraft can truly exist, and any attempt to root it within those manicured lawns is not without its betrayals.

Respectability Politics

The term, “respectability politics” was first articulated in 1992 by Professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920.. It is a tactic of performed compatibility that is undertaken by minority groups in the hope that they are either treated better by the dominant group, or given access to the same benefits. Here too we find our gatekeepers.

People of color are well acquainted with this tactic. It has, after all, been a matter of survival for them. The more a person of color endeavors to make themselves more “respectable” from the perspective of the whiteness construct, the more “acceptable” he or she is considered to be. POCs routinely report code-switching around white coworkers and friends, dressing more ‘white’, emulating white seeming hairstyles, and a whole host of other behaviors that are ultimately designed to coddle white feelings in the hopes of getting thrown a bone.

whiteness - harmless pagans
“See how harmless I am as I wander whimsically through this field with (probably) tick-laden flowers on my head!”

This is essentially what we Pagans and Witches also do when we reassure the Christians in our lives just how “normal” and “harmless” we are; when we hold up the threefold law as a kind of “See! We’re not really dangerous!”; and when we get into that mindset of seeing it as some kind of “win” to be deemed acceptable enough to be invited to Interfaith meetings.

But what is lost when we do this? What is traded away for the scraps we’re thrown? And what of the value of these scraps? Do we truly believe that these would protect us should the law change tomorrow and allow our active persecution? Gentle people, this is what is known as a “forlorn hope”.

Witches and the Other

It is here though that we come to the real crux of this matter: Witches belong far more to the Other than to any inner, and not only do we belong to it, but we are also driven to interact with it.

whiteness - fence
Hedge…fence…whatever.

The image of the hedge rider is a powerful one here. We do not belong fully to any one world, instead going between and negotiating many, and we’ll always have far more in common with those without than those within. As my friend Morgan says, “the Other is the soul of witchcraft”. They are absolutely correct in this, and for more than one reason.

We’ve always seated our cults and practices in both the between places, and among those who society fails or allows to fall through the cracks. The ancient groves of Diana with their diverse adherents comprised of those who would traditionally be excluded are an old world example of this (Green 53-54), but as Peter Grey demonstrates in Apocalyptic Witchcraft, witchcraft has ever been the tool of the oppressed. To then exclude others in our modern cults because of sexuality/gender/social status/ethnicity – the values of the gated community of whiteness – rather than what they have shown through their actions, is to betray that heritage.

Moreover, when we subscribe to whiteness, we hinder our own interactions with the Other. When you exist within a paradigm within which other humans are not fully human depending on arbitrary and innate qualities, then you have little chance of forming the kind of relationships with non-human persons that are the fuel and soul of Witchcraft. I have already written a little about how our attitudes towards other humans affect how we interact with the Other, and some of the common assumptions that that has led to. You can read about that here, but hopefully my point is made.

There is no Witchcraft without the Other, because no matter how much Witchcraft is made increasingly safe and removed from its beating core of inspirited dark nights and heart-pounding experiences, that is what Witchcraft has always been and always will be. It will always be about partnerships with the Other, be that Other the elves spoken of Isobel Gowdie, and referred to as far back as the Old English magico-medical manuals, or the Ov of the Witch of Endor. You cannot replace that with whitewashed bullshit that exists to make the practitioner feel good as a form of edgy self-help.

Witchcraft is service.
It’s not safe.
It’s hard.
It takes work.
And it sure as shit isn’t compatible with whiteness.

If anything, whiteness and the respectability politics it demands for bare scraps of “acceptance” is a Witchcraft-killer, and that is by design rather than accident.

So please, dear people, think about where you stand and what you espouse. whiteness - groveThink about the voices you listen to and the voices you give space to and elevate (here’s a good video by the amazing Benebell Wen about that very thing). Rock that damn boat, use your voice to argue for destroying those gates, make an effort to learn about how things are outside those gates, and make damn sure you don’t erect the same gates in your Pagan and Witch communities. In other words, return to the groves, the Other, and your human siblings.

Bibliography

1. Green, C.M.C Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia
2. Grey, Peter Apocalyptic Witchcraft

Bad Witch Checking In!

Earlier today, famous Fairy-firkler Morgan Daimler, posted their blog confessing the ways in which she’s apparently a ‘Bad Witch’. Just to be clear, they’re not talking about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the sense of ethics here. But rather the ways in which they suck at some of the things usually expected of a witch.

In all honesty, I quite like this conversation. As a group we have this ridiculous tendency to act like we know more than we do, or don’t fuck up as often as we do. A good chunk of us could also do with laughing at ourselves more (but that’s another conversation and another rant).

So in the interests of adding to this conversation, here are the witch things I’m utterly shit at.

Bad Witch Fail #1: Remembering What to Say

This is my biggest issue right here. I can craft some really beautiful ritual but

Bad witch - ridiculous magician
This is in fact me.
(No, no it’s not)

can I remember it? No I really fucking can’t – and that blows. I’m that person in ritual who has to read from the book/paper because she can’t remember what the hell she’s supposed to say. In my defense though, I have memory issues. My thyroid shat the bed a few years ago and now I have a real hard time remembering things like I used to.

And yes, I know there are some of you out there saying “Pshaw amateur! I just make it up as I go along!” Well bully for you, Keith! I don’t, and that’s largely down to knowing the fuckery of my own brain.

You see, I believe that when I’m in ritual I’m interacting with numinous powers. That may seem like a no-brainer, but again (for the kids at the back), these are beings with agency. Which means they generally have their own plans and they aren’t necessarily plans we’d particularly like.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years (and especially since my memory became less useful), it’s that you can cut some really shit deals if you don’t go in there with a plan. Writing it all down before stepping into a circle is kind of like going to the store with a shopping list: it helps to keep you on track. It helps to keep you out of trouble, and even better, you don’t have to rely on your post-ritual memory to have a record of just what went down – it’s already there!

Which is adaptive and logical. But some folks can still get pretty dogmatic about it all.

Bad Witch Fail #2: I Suck at Growing Useful Gardens

I lose both Heathen and Witch points on this one, but for the past two years I’ve had shit gardens. I think I must have had a lucky year the first year I moved

bad witch - vegetables
My dreams, literally every spring.

here. We had lettuce for pretty much the whole summer, tomatoes that wouldn’t stop coming, zucchini, summer squash, okra, jalapenos, and green peppers. It. Was. Wonderful.

But last year we only got two loads of tomatoes and some lettuce (largely because a groundhog ate everything), and this year…

Yeah. I fail at this.

Ok, so my gardening isn’t a total loss. I’ve somehow kept an elder bush alive for a few years now (and it’s *huge*), a pile of wormwood is taking over the lower end of my garden, and my henbane seems to be happy. I just wish I could get fresh edible foods!

I know people who seem to just leave a trail of plants in their wake – almost as though they’re pooping them out or something. And it seems like almost everyone in my kindred has amazing gardens that they feed their families with. Except me.

But I’m not giving up! In fact, I’m going to go for a fall crop next. Because you know, why limit your failure to summer?!

Bad Witch Fail #3:Forgetting Tools/Offerings

Have you ever had that thing happen where you think you’ve got everything you need and you start the rite only to realize once you’re halfway through

bad witch - forget elephant
Fat. Chance. Dumbo!

whatever you’re doing that you’ve forgotten something and it’s actually pretty key?

Because that’s me. No joke, but I’ve actually had spirits do something to stop the right and then tell me to do it again and do it properly.

This is why you will see a ‘You Will Need’ section at the beginning of any rituals I create – because I literally make that list for myself to try and mitigate that whole thing.

Bad Witch Fail #4: I Often Miss Moon Observances

Bad witch - full moon
Fucking space egg. You are NOT the boss of me! That’s my 4 year old.

I know a lot of (if not most) witches observe the full moon, but it’s hit or miss for me. It largely depends on factors like how tired I am, when I have to get up the following day, and if I’ve lost track of the month or not.

I know, those are all really lame reasons. About the only thing I can say in my defense is that I deal with some pretty chronic exhaustion between my thyroid issues and a kid that hates sleep.

Bad Witch Fail #5: I Can’t Read Theban

I should probably qualify that: I can’t read Theban anymore. Because if my old Bad witch - Thebanjournals are anything to go by, I could back then. But now? Nope! It’s the so-called ‘Witches’ Alphabet’ (taken from Trithemius who apparently got it from a possibly mythical character), and I can’t read it.

That’s me, witchy as fuck.

Anyway, those are my confessions. The confessional is open if anyone else would like to have a try!

Law and the Dead

An Encounter with the Restless Dead

The saga refers to what happened as wonders, but I would not call them such. After all, people had died. Oh, it wasn’t just those who had initially died. No, they had returned, others had fallen sick, and more had joined their ranks.law - farmstead

Unlike the dead of other Indo-European descendant cultures, the dead always walked in Iceland. Draugar, they were called, revenants. Other places had them too – the Greeks, for example. They too knew revenants and practiced arm-pitting dead enemies, severing the vital tendons that would allow ambulation should the deceased arise to walk and seek revenge (Ogden 162). But the Greeks also had ghosts; the preference for cremation during the Archaic Era coincided with a diversification of Greek underworld beliefs. The previously faceless dead that existed unaware of the living world above now understood that their descendants poured out and burned offerings for them. The expansion of cremation burial also coincided with the arrival of the psychopomps – a role which would be extended during the Classical Era (F. P. Retief “Burial Customs”).

The Icelanders though, they did not burn their dead, and so their dead walked as you or I do (Davidson 9).

The Court is Convened

But these were not the mindless rotting zombies of movies; let’s not think that they were. No, draugar didn’t rot, and were fully capable of thought and action, passing through the earth of their mounds to visit and all too often harass the law - doorliving. But their visits also brought sickness, and that’s just what they brought to the people of a place called Frodis-water.

So the people of Frodis-water decided to hold a dyradómr, a kind of door-court during which the dead would be judged in accordance with the law, and hopefully sent on their way. Now doorways are significant; they’re liminal places where living and dead can meet. To keep your beloved dead close, you might bury them in a doorway, and the door post holes found before Bronze Age burials could not have been a coincidence (Hem-Eriksen “Doorways”). So they held their door-court at the doorway and called the dead to them to hear their judgement.

Surprisingly, the dead took their judgements and left without argument. But that was the power of the law, and no one living or dead, wants to reside outside of the protection of the law.

The Law is Sacred

You see, law – or at least a certain kind of law – was sacred. It was the difference between order and chaos, between thriving and destruction, and as such, it was valued. It is the ŗta of the Vedic texts and the asha known to the Zoroastrians. These were in turn cognate with the Greek aristos, ‘the best’; harmonia, ‘harmony’; and ararisko, or ‘to fit, adapt, harmonize’. All though, can probably be traced to the same Proto-Indo-European root word, *H²er-, or ‘to fit together according to the proper pattern’ (Serith 30).

The First Rule?

We don’t know that “proper pattern” though, and we cannot claim to know it despite the fact that it would be useful to anyone who follows any traditions inspired by pre-Christian IE cultures. However, we can perhaps infer what law - noosesome of those laws might be. I am going to infer one right now: that our rights to this world are lost when we breathe our last.

This is why the dead must be dragged by fetters or snares from the world of the living. It is why the Rig Veda refers to the “foot fetter of Yama” (the Lord of the Dead); why there are hel ropes in the Sólarljóð; why Horace wrote of mortis laqueis, or “snares of death; and it is why Clytemnestra had a net (Giannakis “Fate-As-Spinner”). The dead do not wish to go, so they must be dragged. It is noteworthy that they only return at the end of all things (Ragnarök), or that their return brings sickness and death. This is one law we can infer; this is part of the proper pattern.

The Rule of Law

Another is that nothing exists outside of this. To be removed to the Underworld is not to be removed from the reach of law. The Underworlds are varied, and descendants would not have made ancestor offerings were those ancestors truly gone and wholly disconnected. We must always remember that a human community has two sides: the living who dwell in the Middle Earth, and the dead who dwell below.

law - gibbetThe story of the door-courts suggests that both living and dead are equally bound by the law. We also see this reflected in the burial customs of those deemed to exist outside the protection of the law. These were often the criminals left to rot at the crossroads, those buried in unhallowed grounds, and those who were too young at the time of their passing to be formally accepted in a community (Petreman “Preturnatural Usage”). Is it any coincidence that the materia magica sought from the human body came most often from these sources? Is it also coincidence that those were the sources thought by the Ancient Greeks to carry the least miasma (Retief “Burial”)? To exist as dead inside the protection of the law is to sleep soundly – or at least it should mean that. Of course, there have always been violations as Burke and Hare could well attest.

From these perspectives, the case against the dead at Frodis-water may already seem airtight. After all, we’ve already established that by virtue of being dead they’re not supposed to be in the world of the living, and that they are just as subject to this “proper pattern” law as we ourselves are. However, there is one more legal argument pertinent to the dead that we have not yet examined, and that is the law of possession.

Claiming and Keeping Space

Fire has always been sacred to the various Indo-European descendant cultures, and was considered to have various functions. We’re perhaps the most familiar with fire as a medium through which offerings may be made to law - firethe holy powers, but fire also played an important role in property ownership too. For the Norse, carrying fire sunwise around land you wished to own was one method of claiming that land (LeCouteux 89), and under Vedic law new territory was legally incorporated through the construction of a hearth. This was a temporary form of possession too, with that possession being entirely dependent on the ability or willingness of the residents to maintain the hearthfire. For example, evidence from the Romanian Celts suggests that the voluntary abandonment of a place was also accompanied by the deliberate deconstruction of the hearth. And the Roman state conflated the fidelity of the Vestal Virgins to their fire tending duties with the ability of the Roman state to maintain its sovereignty. The concept of hearth as center of the home and sign of property ownership continued into later Welsh laws too; a squatter only gained property rights in a place when a fire had burned on his hearth and smoke come from the chimney (Serith 2007, 71).

Sovereignty and the Dead

There is more here too – the matter of sovereignty looms large. So too perhaps is a form of imitation of the relationship between king and goddess of sovereignty played out here between men and the wives who keep the hearthlaw - hearth fires burning. To maintain the hearth was to maintain possession of property, and to maintain the hearth, a woman was required. (Or several, if you happen to be the Roman state.)

And here is where I come to my final argument regarding law and the dead: the dead keep no fires in the habitations of the living. Without the ability to maintain a hearth fire, the dead cannot claim sovereignty in the land of the living, and this is an important point to bear in mind. Because while we often joke that possession is nine tenths of the law, thankfully for the people of Frodis-water, it most likely was that which saved them.

Sources

Davidson, H. R, Ellis. The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. Print.
Giannakis, George. “The “Fate-as-Spinner” Motif: A Study on the Poetic and Metaphorical Language of Ancient Greek and Indo-European (Part II).” Indogermanische Forschungen Zeitschrift Für Indogermanistik Und Historische Sprachwissenschaft / Journal of Indo-European Studies and Historical Linguistics 104 (2010): 95-109. Web.
Hem Eriksen, Marianne. “Doorways to the Dead. The Power of Doorways and Thresholds in Viking Age Scandinavia.” Archaeological Dialogues 20.2 (2013): 187-214. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. <https://mariannehemeriksen.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/eriksen-marianne-hem-2013.pdf>.
Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land – Ancestral Lore and Practices. Inner Traditions Bear And Comp, 2015.
Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
Petreman, Cheryl. “Preternatural Usage of Human Body Parts in Late Medieval and Early Modern
Germany.” Diss. U of New Brunswick, 2013.
Retief, Fp, and L. Cilliers. “Burial Customs, the Afterlife and the Pollution of Death in Ancient Greece.” Acta Theologica 26.2 (2010): n. pag. Web.
Serith, Ceisiwr. Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ADF Pub., 2009.

Dream Initiation

Dream - skull

Dream Initiation – Preface

When I wrote this, I did so to get it out of my head. To write, for me, is to reify and process, and I very much felt the need to do this. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have been encountering the dead since I was a child, and that it is something that I have often struggled with over the years. In many ways, last year marked a watershed of sorts for me in that I formally committed to working with the dead. I began a lot of deep ancestor work within my own lineages, and found my life and practices changing quite dramatically.

The experience that I write about here, I believe to have been one of the initiations of that work. That it took place in dream is still strange to me despite my deeply held beliefs on the importance of dream and its scope for interaction with the dead and Other. However, I find myself very much changed by the experience, and am finding myself doing things now that I could not do before. There will probably be quite a few blogs about my work with the battlefield dead. It is the work of my heart, and I have only just begun.

An Account of Dream Initiation

I enter the room nervously. I had been told nothing of what was to come except for that I would undergo an initiation of sorts. The room is hazy with incense – a pungent scent I struggle to identify – and candles flow as a wave over every available surface. A young man I think I recognize leads me to the center of the room, and the priest begins her invocations. On the floor, I notice a large black sheet.

For a moment I panic, and hope that I do not misspeak. I pray to my gods that any errors be forgiven, and mentally prepare myself for any invocations that I must also give.

But there are none.

There is only the black sheet on the floor, and the young man beckoning me to lie down upon its surface.

I soon notice that half the sheet is gathered at the bottom, and when I lie down, it is pulled up to cover me; it covers all parts of me.

“You need to journey now. You need to let it take you where you must go.”dream - path

And I am confused, for I am already in dream. But I school myself quickly, and begin my usual processes for entering trance.

For what seems like the longest time, nothing happens. But then, I realize I’m moving; a gentle rocking motion carries me forth. Soon I regain my eyes and notice a roughly woven cloth upon my face. I can see through the holes to the sky above, this is not the cloth from the ritual room floor. Above me, trees curve over the path to form an archway, and I try to move but cannot. I am bound but not by ropes, conveyed forth by unseen hands.

The thought soon comes to me that I’m dead, and travel a corpse path, and for the longest time I abide in this knowledge. What am I to learn here? How long will this go on for? What about the room and the ritual?

The Inevitable Path

I have so many questions, and little patience. I work to exit trance, and find myself rolling out from under the sheet in the ritual room. The priest is now gone and only the candles and the young man remain. I stagger around without sense and understand that unless I finish what was begun, that I would not return whole. So I reenter the now-red-sheet and hunker down once more, returning to the endless plod of the corpse-road.

At some point I decide that I’m thinking too hard, that I’m too agitated for one

dream - mound
My local mound where I grew up.

who is already dead, and so I let go, and that’s when I find myself within the mound.

I sit up to find myself surrounded by the dead; dead of many different ages, some appearing bigger, and others appearing smaller. The shroud loosens and I sit with corpse-pale arms and hear their words.

They have much to tell me about how they wish to be worshipped, and the kinds of things they wish me to do. They also gift me something too. I can feel it within me, intangible and indescribable. Like something returned, it feels familiar and right. Then they release me from the mound, the door opening to bright sunlight.

As the sun touches my skin, it lives again. I live again. I step out into light that’s far too bright for my eyes, and into the path of the one I know as Gwyn. We walk back together along the corpse way, and he talks to me of owls and pathways down. The road does not seem so long on the way back, but it was never really about time or distance in the first place. I know that now.

I return to my dream once more, to the ritual room where the young man waits. He’d been waiting the whole time, he says. I’d been gone longer than was normal, and he wanted to make sure I was alright. Three and a half hours was quite a while, and it was kind of his job. I stand up and this time I’m clear. There’s no staggering and I feel whole. I leave the room and find myself at a party for a while, watching people as they perform for the dead they have lost. Their songs are their offerings, their dances are prayers, and it makes their hearts shine.

The heart is the key to this kind of work.

Eventually it’s time to go. My husband and child await, and I’m suddenly aware that I have new clothes that I must pick up. They’re green, and were also once lost but now returned. I put them on and wake up with a scream.

A Rough Awakening

My body hurts now, my trance had been deep. My shoulder is dislocated, and it takes me three days to fully put it back in. I should probably feel angry or upset dream - manassasabout that but I don’t.

If anything, I just thole. It’s a small matter next to the monumental change that took place within. I cannot yet name what was given that night in the mound. Yet weeks later, when I step out onto one of the battlefields of Manassas and walk towards the Dead with my equally touched companions, I feel it as keenly as I feel my limbs.

The Dead surround me here too, but this time, it’s myself and my companions who guide the way along the corpse path for now.