Back in 2008, an Icelandic lady by the name of Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir published her seminal (ha, see what I did there?) work ‘Please YousELF – Sex With The Icelandic Invisibles’. Now, Iceland isn’t a country in which elves making the news is all that uncommon, however this was particularly standout. Because for all the stories of road rerouting (like here), it’s really not that common for Icelanders to claim to be banging elves.
The internet naturally responded as you might imagine – with mockery. However, I for one am grateful for people like Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir for a couple of reasons:
1. The woman has balls of steel to put a book out about her elf-fucking experiences, under her own name, and go on camera talking about it too.
But on a more serious note, I was mostly happy to see Hallgerður’s stuff for another reason, and that’s because it got
people talking about elves and sex, and well…that’s not that weird of an association to make.
To examine this further though, we need to start with the ‘D’. You know, ‘demons’ (and the devil too to some degree).
Checking Out The D
There’s actually some pretty good evidence that at one point, elves were equated with the devil and demons. For example, the eighth century Royal Prayer Book contains the phrase ‘Satanae diabolus aelfae’, meaning ‘devil of the elf Satan’, and in Beowulf, elves are aligned with ‘misbegotten beings’ of the not very nice variety (Hall 69-71). Another example of this can be found in a Lacnunga charm against elves that borrows from the same liturgy as a Christian exorcism (North 54-56). When it comes to the word ‘Ælfs?den’, a word probably referring to a type of magic (‘s?den’ being cognate with the Old Icelandic word ‘seiðr’), Richard North tells us that ‘All temptations, but especially demonic possession, are indicated in Ælfs?den’(North 55).
Speaking of possession, it’s in the specifics of these particular associations with demons where things become really interesting, especially with regards to elf-sex.
In the Bosworth & Toller dictionary, a possible translation of the word ‘ælf’, is incubus (Bosworth & Toller 14), or in other words, a type of male demon known for its penchant for boning people in their sleep. This translation is likely taken from Chaucer, who equated elves with incubi in the ‘Wife of Bath’s Tale’ (Hall 162); and even though we’re out of the Heathen period by quite a long time by Chaucer’s time, there are some interesting points about elves in earlier sources that make this connection pretty reasonable.
The first thing is that the earliest elves were male. Yup, it was an elven sausage fest back in the day. No elven ladies to
be found anywhere – that came later (Hall 157-166 ). Secondly, the connection with sex, and more specifically sexual deviancy with elves (by the standards of culture back then), is not an uncommon theme. You just have to know what constituted sexual deviancy back then, because if you were hoping for something that looked like ball gags and whips, you’d be sorely disappointed.
Taking a quick trip over the Atlantic to medieval Iceland, we come across the terms hvatr and blauðr. Now, some of you are possibly going to absolutely hate these terms, but to cut a long story short, hvatr was ‘bold, independent, powerful, vigorous, and sharp’, and blauðr ‘weak, soft, powerless, yielding’. Scholars such as Carol J Clover have argued that initially these terms were separate from biological sex, having more to do with power and independence. However in spite of this initial lack of alignment with biological sex, hvatr was more the domain of aristocratic males, and blauðr, that of women (Clover).
Regardless of whether those dick Christians turned us all from whatever egalitarian pagan utopia though, some sources do suggest that elves didn’t really fit into the manly man hvatr category (hvategory?).
The first way in which elves totally blew that one out of the water is that they were reputedly beautiful, and in a way that doesn’t really suggest handsome either. The elf Volundr, for example, is described as having a white neck, which although doesn’t seem particularly significant to us, is significant in that that was the kind of description only applied to women back in the day (Hall 43-45). Hell, if you trace the etymology of ‘elf’ back, you get ‘white’. The only other male figure to be described as being hvitr or ‘white’ is Heimdall, and given the collocation of Álfar with Vanir, plus Heimdall’s ability to divine the future, it’s arguable that he might also be considered an elf (as well as a god) anyway. Significantly, the description of Heimdall’s whiteness (and ergo his girly beauty), appears in the same stanza as Heimdall suggesting that Thor participate in a spot of cross-dressing in order to win back Freyja’s necklace, Brisingamen.
This association with elves and beauty can also be found in the OE word ælfscyne – which is used within the context of a kind of bewitching, otherworldly, yet dangerous beauty (Hall 88-95).
So they were hawt, probably in a Prince or Bowie kind of way.
Secondly, they defied the usual expectations about manly roles. For example, in The Lay of Volund, we’re told that a maiden called ‘Svanhvit’ guarded Volund’s white neck. Remember that whole thing with hvatr and blauðr? Which category do you think Volundr would have fallen into? Unfortunately for Volundr, nine winters into shacking up with this swan lady, she leaves; and unlike his brothers (who are also in the story, and also have ladies of their own), he stays home and doesn’t go in search of Svanhvit. From this point forth, things go seriously downhill for Volundr, because a certain king by the name of Douchebag (just kidding, his name was Níðuðr) heard that Volundr was no longer protected and he wanted Volundr to make him a load of swag. Poor Volundr is then hamstrung, imprisoned on an island, and forced to make bling for king Douchebag (Hall 39-46).
Eventually Volundr has his revenge (part of which happens to be raping the king’s daughter) and flies off using his feet as propellers or wings (I shit you not).
Another possible example is that of the god, Freyr. Again, we have a potential ‘god and elf’ situation here. In Grimnismal 5, we’re told that Freyr was given Álfheim (elf-home) as a gift for cutting his first tooth, which aligns Freyr with the elves. Once again, we see the theme of a man undone by love – this time by giving up his sword as part of wooing the giantess Gerðr (in the Lay of Volund, his sword is taken from him by king Douchebag). Moreover, Freyr’s manservant, Skirnir, who is sent to ‘woo’ Gerðr has to resort to magical threats in order to coerce her into to ‘saying yes to the dress’ (North 52-54). As an aside, this kind of magical coercion is a disturbing feature of old school ‘love’ spells.
For Richard North, who spends over three hundred pages densely building his arguments in ‘Heathen Gods in Old English Literature’, Freyr is the god associated with hieros gamos rituals, and whose cultic passage through the land signaled a period of sexual license (270-271). He is the god who the church came to see as the devil, and like the devil, was known as ‘god of the world’ (76).
Then there is the matter of Freyr’s priests per the description in the Gesta Danorum (chapter 6):
“After Bemoni’s death Starkather, because of his valour, was summoned by the Biarmian champions and there performed many feats worthy of the tellings. Then he entered Swedish territory where he spent seven years in a leisurely stay with the sons of Frø (Freyr), after which he departed to join Haki, the lord of Denmark, for, living at Uppsala in the period of sacrifices, he had become disgusted with the womanish body movements, the clatter of actors on the stage and the soft tinkling of bells. It is obvious how far his heart was removed from frivolity if he could not even bear to watch these occasions. A manly individual is resistant to wantonness.”
See what I’m getting at here? Doesn’t exactly fit in the ‘hvategory’.
Elves and those associated with the worship of elves, though male, deviated from ideas about how males should act – at least within a sacred context (on the part of human worshippers).
Out of all the legions of demons, whicht type in particular do you think would fit the bill for elves? And that isn’t even taking into account all of the later stories about elven seduction and half-elf children, OR the associations with elves and nightmares that came throughout the intervening years. Hello, nocturnal-slumbering-person-boner demon! Hallgerður’s path is a very well-trodden one.
Sources Carol J Clover – Regardless of Sex Alaric Hall – Elves in Anglo-Saxon England Richard North – Heathen Gods in Old English Literature
Bored with the same old candle spells and rhyming couplets? Why not dabble in a spot of necromancy for the kind of life change that only the dead can bring! Practiced for generations and common to pretty much every culture on earth, necromancy is the new way to find out shit you wouldn’t otherwise know.
The Dead > Siri
We all have things we want to know about: lost items we want to find, things we want to know about other people, what the winning lottery numbers are…. and well, as we all know Siri can be a right royal bitch! But who the fuck is she to be a bitch? Sure, the dead can be bitches too (see point #2 ), but they arguably have some sentience (depending on your worldview). It’s like the difference between getting attitude from a fucking Furby, and you know, an actual person. Yes, Siri, you’re just some flashy Furby pimped up with spy tech! You are NOT the boss of me.
(FYI, the Dead also beat Alexa. The gods don’t go to any old schmucks for information!)
But the point is, the dead can help with lots of questions. From modern iterations on the traditional treasure-hunting theme (“Where are my keys?”), to questions designed to find out hidden knowledge (“How many people has my aunt ____ banged? How many does it take before people start to call you a ‘bike’?”), the dead have you covered.
Your Dead Entourage
For the truly self-centered and destructive among you, necromancy also gives you the option of compelling the dead
to go and fuck up someone you hate! Yes, for the small cost of completely shitting on any chances of being a decent human being and the potential consequences of getting caught robbing graves, you too can have your own dead army. Marvelous!
Of course, there’s a lot of argument about whether it’s *really* bad to do that to the bones of traditional targets (like hanged criminals and shit), but I’m going with the moral absolutism here. It’s way easier to be sarcastic about absolutes than shades of grey.
The Underworld’s The Limit!
Did you know that there are a fuck load of dead people buried in the earth, and that lots of people have died since the beginning of humanity? This means that there are literally millions of dead people to choose from with your necromancy. The Underworld is the limit, people!
So, what key tips would I give to the would-be necromancer? I’m glad you asked that, because I have some right here!
1. Pick The Easy Ones
This is something of a no-brainer, but you generally want to go for either the somewhat debilitated or you know, people who actually liked you in life. The reason for this is that if you have a Code:Draugr situation, the weaker ones won’t be able to fight you as well, and people who liked you won’t automatically try to fuck you up when you drag them kicking and screaming from their miserable afterlife existences. Don’t go for the cool-sounding warrior or king, because that hardly ever goes well. The same goes for criminals or people who have died in really bad ways. That kind of anger sticks around (also: see point #2)
Generally the best advice is to go for your grandma who used to feed you cakes every time you went round to her house. Only this time, she’ll be feeding you information instead of diabetes.
2. An Asshole In Life Is Still An Asshole In Death So, once upon a time there was a douchebag called ‘Hrapp’ who lived in Iceland way back when. Now everyone thought he was a grade A prick even in life, so it should have been a no-brainer to not bury him IN A FUCKING DOORWAY! Except they did, and it was terrible, because doorways are weird, liminal places, and Hrappy-boy stayed right where he was. Yes, they had a Code:Draugr situation, and it sucked. Because if they thought he was a prick in life, he didn’t exactly improve on death. No, he got worse, and even worse, he had draugr-powers.
To be fair, his wife probably just dealt with his demand to be buried in the doorway with the same level of give a shit or existential terror as she may have done to his demands for horse ass for dinner. Whatever, the moral of this story is clear: death doesn’t erase douchebaggery, so don’t raise douches. (That’s a moral for more than just necromancy, right there!)
3. Be Respectful So, you’ve got your dead all nice and necromanced, how do you talk to them? Well, if your answer was something along the lines of “Well, like Zak Bagans!”, do the world a favor and slap yourself. Actually, slap the shit out of yourself and put down the necromancy, no more necromancies for you!
No, the best way to deal with the dead in necromancy is to reign in all your inherent douchebaggery and pretend you’re a respectful fuck who isn’t just really trying to find out who his/her aunt banged for the lolz.
4. It’s OK To Be Scared In fact, if you’re not scared, you probably have no internal capacity for risk assessment. If you cannot do that, then put down the necromancy. Fear isn’t a bad thing, it’s natural when raising the restless or rested. If anything, that preternatural cold kind of inspires it. It’s like a visceral warning that what you’re doing is not just a little bit against the natural order of things, and that’s the kind of instinct that keeps you from either joining them, or winding up in a straitjacket.
You just have to learn to handle the fear, not rid yourself of it.
5. Fuck-Ups Happen, So Have Backup Plans Another thing you have to handle is the potential for fuck-ups. Or even ways in which you vastly underestimated the situation (same diff). This is incredibly common, and despite the new and improved character sheets the dead now come with which allow you to compare their stats with your own to see who has the most dots in whatever, fuck-ups are pretty much a part of the necromancer’s life.
Once upon a time, there was this dude called Benvenuto Cellini. Now Cellini got in with a necromancer back in the day and kinda let him know that he was up for learning about it. Kind of like a bucket list kind of deal really. So Cellini, his new necromancer buddy, and a couple of other mates he invited along, went off to the Coliseum to go and bother the dead. The first time they went, it was all a bit “oooh” and “ahhhh”, and “when will I see my dead girlfriend again?” (FYI, not a good question to ask.)
The second time though, there were more spirits than you could shake a stick at of various kinds. I mean, this was a situation seriously going downhill. But did the necromancer turn into Zak Bagans? Nope, he stayed respectful. His assistants were terrified, Cellini was terrified, the little virgin boy psychic they’d brought along was terrified. Seriously, they were so close to being completely up shit creek because the Coliseum was crawling with the dead and everything else.
Thankfully, the necromancer had a good plan to disperse the dead, and this is where we get into back-up plans.
6.Fart-o-cism Yes, you read that right.
Cellini’s necromancer had a big pile of stinky ole asafetida. Because the dead apparently don’t like stinky stuff. (Nor
do the elves btw, a euphemism in Icelandic for ‘to take a shit’ allegedly literally translates as ‘drive out elves’).
However, they didn’t really need to crack out that fetid weed, because….
Cellini’s bud Agnolo cut cheese like you wouldn’t believe. No really, from the description it sounds like that fart would have left a mark. But it worked, and the dead started to get the hell out as soon as they could. So you know, if you’re really in trouble, try shitting yourself.
7. Put Them Back When You’re Done Remember when you were a kid and you finished playing with some toys, left them out, and got bollocked by your mum for not tidying up after yourself? Well it’s the same principle here. If there’s one theme that keeps coming up again and again in the different accounts of necromancy, it’s that the dead mostly don’t like being raised, so the least you can do after finding out where your car keys are, is put them back. Necromancy that focuses on just calling them up is half a job done. Don’t be one of those guys.
8. Purification, motherfuckers! Lastly, when you’re done with your necromancing for the day, don’t forego your purification rites in favor of climbing into bed and getting a few more minutes of sleep. You already messed up your night’s sleep with going out and fannying about at the local cemetery/burial mound/crossroads, you may as well just suck it up and make sure you end the night right.
The dead are kept from the living for reasons, mostly that they’re not too good for us. So, it’s a good idea to make sure that you leave the fun of the graveyard, in the graveyard. Popular options include a good old-fashioned scourging, suffumigation, and ritual bathing, so there’s bound to be a method to suit every necromancer!
If all of this sounds good to you, and you’re the kind of person who enjoys the kind of pant-staining terrifying fun with the dead that only necromancy can bring, why not actually give necromancy a go?
Sometimes magic is fast and dirty; the kind of magic that’s worked on the fly with whatever is to hand, with words that tumble unbidden from lips and adrenaline pumping a wild fire through the blood.
But other times though. Or perhaps most of the time even, it’s a far more subtle and well-considered thing. The planned, the plotted, the consistently performed over time to bring about a specific goal.
And then there is dream.
To work with dreams is to blur the lines between waking and sleeping. It is the realization that sometimes, what is seen in dream is another kind of reality – a middle ground where human and the Other may also meet, create bonds, and learn. In some ways, dream makes it easier to do these things, to have these interactions and have these experiences. However, sleep also makes it harder, pulling on the mind like a recalcitrant toddler who just wants to go on the playground slide over and over again.
The first challenge is to actually get to dream, to take the right path at the fork in the road where dream and trancing-while-asleep part from each other. I’ve found the latter mostly only comes when doors must be beaten down and messages gotten across, and the day afterwards is always marked by the rough dragging of exhausted limbs. Whether you are awake or asleep, trance is work. Most people don’t see this fork or experience anything but dream. But for those of us that do this kind of work, it seems to be the case that the more you do the work, the more that fork in the road is revealed.
When the first challenge is passed, and the path of dream is under foot, the next challenge is to have a meaningful dream. We all dream, but not all dreams are created equal. Not all dreams are messages or interactions, and far too many are lost in a waters-of-Lethe-like forgetfulness. There are ways to increase the odds of dreaming meaningfully – especially if you wish to encounter the Other – but you’ll need to be skilled in other areas too lest you have that interaction but sleep binds your mind too tightly to react appropriately. Sigils or signs associated with those you wish to speak to under the mattress or pillow can help, as can offerings to the right beings. Entheogens can also push you further along that road and give you more profound experiences, but again, caution must be taken.
And what of the skills required for such things?
The Skills of Dream
The ability to move consciously in dream, to interact deliberately, and to choose – these are all necessary if you wish to work in this place. The good news is that most people can learn the skill of lucid dreaming. But like meditation, it’s a muscle to be developed over time.
The two mainstays of magical work are important here too: journaling and meditation. Both practices increase awareness of self and require discipline. This makes them both important components of developing the ability to dream lucidly. Through the journal you’ll identify wider themes, develop a record of what worked for you, the factors that improved or worsened your ability to dream, and most importantly, record any interactions you have. Especially the promises you make. (Please, always be sure to record the promises you make.) Through meditation and the myriad of exercises involved in developing your meditation practice (especially mindfulness), you will gain not only the self-knowledge to identify what state you are in, but the muscles to make the transition from automatically reacting to interacting. Through the discipline involved in both, you will build on your will power.
Sometimes though, no matter what you do, your dreams will be brain junk. Just like not all dreams are created equally, not all times or places are either. Factors in your life may also affect your ability to have these experiences. Just go with it, sometimes that’s just what you need.
Over time, your journal will become your friend and may come to hold rituals, secrets, symbols, and messages – all gotten from dream. Your dreams will increase in intensity and vividness, and you may find certain themes repeated in dream that signal the transition from regular dream to dream of a more magical sort. Sometimes these themes are mundane but out of place (e.g., taking a shower in a strange place, walking through a public place and passing the same three people looking at you), and other times they’re most definitely strange (e.g., a flip of time of day/season/weather that feels more like a huge shift rather than anything random). You will meet beings who are not of dream but using it as common ground. Some of them may even become allies, but have a care – this can be practice at the knife edge.
In 1919 John Brodie Innes, a clergyman friend of Charles Darwin recorded the story of two friends who fell out over a shared romantic interest. After the transgressor refused to apologize, the man who felt slighted challenged the other to a duel – a duel to the death. However, a week before the duel, the man who made the challenge, called Innes to his home. He’d had a dream about the duel and seen himself get wounded in the face before killing his opponent. To Innes’ amazement, there was a large red welt upon the man’s face which he claimed was dream-gotten. Shortly after that, the other man also called Innes to his home with a strange story of a dream. In it, he had seen himself killed and was subsequently more than happy to issue an apology.
And then of course, there is Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (or SUNDS)to take into account. Although it is extremely rare among people who are not of Southeast Asian descent – especially those who live within far more traditional cultural contexts – it is significant that for many Southeast Asian cultures, the deaths are usually attributed to spirit attack. Many Europeans had a similar explanation in the past too – the word ‘nightmare’ for ‘bad dream’ once signified a terrifying nocturnal spirit that would kill the sleeping.
Fairytale Rules Apply
These are disjointed examples, but hopefully they serve to illustrate that this is no ‘safe’ alternative to going into the wilds and encountering the Other. The beings you encounter in dream, the ones who stand out from the normal
dream characters, who feel more real and significant and solid, and who guide you to places beyond your normal dreamscape, require no less caution than in any other setting. Don’t eat the food you are offered that looks all too perfect for where you are by the people who look out of place and yet so perfect. Especially if you find yourself in a venue that seems particularly ‘catered’ to you in an impossible ‘Santa-came-early’ kind of way. Don’t say yes to bargains you cannot keep in waking life no matter how logically they’re presented to you, and don’t ever think that everything will be ok when you wake up again or that what you did and said in dream will be automatically forgotten. Plot spoiler, but they’re not. Things from dream will follow you and will demand you pay your dues if you promised them. Over time, if you continue with this, a landscape will be revealed to you with places you will see again and again. Over time, you will see the same beings, and even sometimes the same objects. You may even carry objects through multiple dreams. Dream, when you work with it, loses much of its randomness and gains similar rules to those of the Otherworld. The folklore of times past can serve as a guidebook for us here too.
If this is a form of practice that intrigues and interests you, be sure to study and practice hard to develop those magical skills that you use in the waking world. Grounding, centering, banishing, shielding, licenses to depart, casting, creating space for magic, summoning – all of it, all the stuff I’ve missed out here. Study and practice because magic is a language that works far more overtly in dream than the waking world. In dream, your ability to protect yourself is far more pressing and the consequences far greater than in waking life. Lastly, learn how to make the quick exit for when you’re outnumbered or overwhelmed, because some day, it could save you a whole lot of trouble.
This past fortnight seems to have been a time for confronting and dealing with what may seem to each of us to be “alien views”. But I don’t want to get into the politics of that here, because that conversation is dominating the discourse pretty much everywhere else.
No, I want to go in a different direction with this post. Instead, I want to talk once more about agency, patterns, and if it is truly possible to understand that ‘alien’, non-human logic of the Unseen.
In “Fair” Facebook Do We Lay Our Scene
It all started with a conversation on Facebook (where else?) this morning, with a young man who thought there was nothing wrong with putting on a Native American war bonnet while in the ‘wilderness’ and invoking the energies of a Native American chief. (This is a young man who is from and still lives in the UK, I might add.)
I have to admit, the idea of that – all of it – is just so wrong to me for so many reasons. I can’t even understand the thought process behind it or what this man would hope to even gain from doing so, let alone the amount of false entitlement involved in the use of a war bonnet and expectation that the spirit of a Native American chief would just show up for a person in a completely foreign geographical area.
The conversation went on for a while, but along the way, we got back to the question of agency and spirits of land again. (Ah, that old chestnut!) So here I am, writing another post on the Unseen and agency, only with a little twist.
I’ve talked about the land being like an onion before: this idea that land from a more ‘spiritual’ perspective is made up of many layers comprised of the traditions, beliefs, actions, and magical practices of each people that has ever dwelled upon it. Of course, this onion also affects the kinds of Unseen that might be there: the types of Unseen, their attitudes towards humans, how they expect interactions to look, the pacts that were made between humans and Unseen in years past, and the kinds of offerings they like. Sometimes these layers are things that you might expect. After all, who doesn’t expect Native American layers, and other layers made up of mostly Christianity in America? But even in America, there are also often layers that are far less expected – like the layer of occultism derived from Francis Barrett’s ‘The Magus’ that permeated the life of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism (Horowitz, 23), or the Freemason connections that a good number of the founders held. And regarding that first American religion, I can’t help but feel it significant in some way that its founder and first American prophet not only participated in the occult for years and scryed a holy book from a shew stone, but met his death by mob while allegedly wearing an incorrectly engraved Jupiter talisman. (Quinn 1998). Let that sink in for a moment. America may have layers of Native American religions and crosses, but she also has layers of sigils and magic – even among the saints. (As an aside, there’s a book I really want to pick up at some point called Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People that apparently attempts to track the plurality of religious expression, magic, and sacralization of the land in pre-revolutionary America.)
But that’s not the end of it. Now imagine that onion has a pattern running through it. Something scored on each
layer that has built up into a larger and more coherent pattern over time.
For those of you that bought my book (thankyouthankyouthankyou), you may recall the essay called Sources of Power, Layers of Action and the explanation of how what we do now affects what we have to work with in the future. For those of you that didn’t, a Cliff Notes version of that would be to say that every action a person undertakes sets down a ‘layer’ for that person that goes into a kind of universal store of events and that the accumulation of those ‘layers’ over time, affects what you have to work with in life. In other words, it all builds a pattern, but more about that later.
Space As A Container For Action
In ‘The Well and the Tree’, Paul Bauschatz wrote that “For the Germanic peoples, space, as it is encountered and perceived in the created worlds of men and other beings, exists, to any significant degree only as a location or container for the occurrence of action.” (Bauschatz 86). This is a pretty significant concept in of itself. After all, I think most of us have been to places that have had a certain vibe or lived in homes we’ve felt were ‘luckier’ than others. However, we are also told that , “Every action calls to itself other actions to which it is significantly linked.” (Bauschatz 64), and that “They would bring factors from beyond the immediate to work and predicate events, returning them, as it were, to the great universal store of events from which all power came and in which all meaningful action returned.” (Bauschatz 113).
In other words, if space is a container for action, actions set down layers (which call other similar actions to themselves), and there is a force that ensures that those contexts are revisited, then it would stand to reason that spaces have ‘patterns’ or contexts that get revisited again and again. Not only that, but these patterns don’t just affect humans; as the first Bauschatz quote says, these spaces-as-containers-for-action also seem to apply other beings too. Or at least that’s the best guess of what Germanic Heathens thought about the matter during the Heathen period.
As a caveat, Bauschatz does limit these space-containers to spaces that are enclosed, but I think they can apply to outside spaces too. After all, if we believe in the existence and agency of Unseen beings, then why wouldn’t we believe them to be capable of creating and delineating their own spaces and enclosures that we just cannot see?
When you really think about these ideas, ideas about layers and patterns, even just as a thought experiment, it’s really no surprise that you have oddities like the freak accident that kills every seven years at a river that was once
Bauschatz’s work may be theoretical, but I do find a lot of practical application in his ideas, especially in light of my own experiences and UPG.
To Forget the Past is to Repeat the Future….
Does any of this give us the keys to these “alien views” of non-human persons though? No, but there’s a lot to be said for drawing closer to an understanding of some of the (even theoretical) “rules of play” so to speak. As always, the best way to understand as much of that non-human logic as much as possible, is to go back to the fairy and folk tales. These rules of play further reinforce the importance of knowing the old tales, and the warnings and rules of etiquette they contain. To know the past and the things yet unknown to you in the present, is to have the best guess of how to proceed in the present. The future will be made when we get there.
I’ve written about understanding the previous religious, magical, and folk traditions held in the layers of the land onion before now. However, I think these layers are also patterns, groupings of actions that call out to actions that are similar to themselves and which are more likely to reoccur. For many people, the great religious story of the US is that of Christianity, and yet for people like you and I, the far greater story is in the Joseph Smiths, the Fox sisters, the many homes in which a copy of Barrett’s ‘The Magus’ sat, and the myriad of other long-standing religious traditions that cluster in this land somewhat off the beaten path of the Nazarene.
Because it’s a story in which the Unseen were somewhat more seen, and that’s not something they’re likely to forget.
If someone were to come to you today and ask why it is that you do this crazy magic thing, what would you say? How would you answer this deceptively difficult question?
Just think about that for a second, because aside from the undeniable pull that many of us feel drawing us to this stuff like the proverbial moth to a flame, there’s probably also another goal there too. Maybe it’s a drive to do what is known as ‘The Great Work’, or maybe it’s an interminable curiosity that drives you? Whatever it is though, it’s irrelevant here.
Now imagine this self-same imaginary person were to ask you about that goal. “How do you think you’re doing with that?” they say, with their head cocked slightly to the side with interest. What would your answer be now?
The usefulness of asking ourselves how we’re doing with what we’re doing, or in other words, undergoing a periodic process of self-evaluation cannot be over-stated when it comes to magic. Because whatever our goal is, I’m betting that improvement is part and parcel of it, but you only really improve if you make a concerted effort to do so.
Recently a friend told me that she likes that I keep reminding people to do the work, but in truth, that is only half of the equation. It is not enough to simply do the work, you also have to evaluate the work you do and then decide how you’re going to either rectify issues or continue to improve. There is no end point when you are ‘fully trained’ and therefore do not need to continue improving. Not even the skies are limits to people like us, and nor should they be. But we’ll never figure out how far we’ve come if we do not occasionally take stock. Now I want you to think about the past month and what you’ve been doing magically. Go ahead, take a piece of paper and write it down. If you keep a journal, take a look at the pages you’ve filled. How does it look? Have you had any discernible gains or have did you not really do a whole lot and coast along? Does what you have before you look like the efforts of someone who is taking this *seriously* and who may actually eventually get somewhere?
If your answer was something that resembled a regular practice that was sustained – even if you didn’t have any gains – give yourself a pat on the back. That’s a record of self-discipline and willpower right there, and even though it may not have paid off this month, the point is that eventually it will.
But if your answers were a bit sparse, well, only you can decide what you want to take from that.
What you just did with this exercise though was a simple self-evaluation, and if you’re being honest with yourself, it can be an uncompromising process. But herein lies its value. Self-evaluation is about knowing yourself better, holding yourself accountable, and making sure that you take your magic seriously so that you continue to level up. You simply cannot do those things if you are fooling yourself about the work you’re not doing or the efficacy of the work you are.
The Tools of Self-Evaluation
If you did the exercise above, was it easy to remember everything you’d done during the course of a month? Could you even remember what had happened? And even if you did find it easy, did you remember all the details of the rituals/spells/meditations/dreams you had during that month? Could you have given a full account of what went right, what went wrong, and what you’d decided to change for the better in the future? This is really where journal keeping comes in and why more old-school teachers will insist that you keep one. Their usefulness really cannot be overemphasized. We live in an age of information, in which we’re bombarded by content pretty much constantly. Every time we go online, there are countless pieces of content vying for our attention. This blog post for example, is one of them.
The point though, is that it’s all too easy to forget what you had for dinner last week, let alone what happened during meditation three weeks ago! Finding a way to record for posterity is simply a wise choice, but this is not the only benefit of keeping a journal.
A couple of months ago, my parents sent me a box with stuff from when I was younger. In the box was an old, battered green A4 notebook with a garish fairy postcard glued on the front – my journal from when I was seventeen. Of course, back then I called it a ‘Book of Shadows’, because it was the nineties and that’s what the four or so library books I had access to called it. The pages are littered with rituals, ritual write-ups, spells, prayers, random snippets of information, and drawings of things I saw in my early trances. There are also random pictures of fairies and toadstools that I did with my complete lack of drawing ability scattered *everywhere* for ‘decoration’. (I really wanted one of those awesome-looking books that you see in movies back then, but didn’t we all?) So, it’s embarrassing looking back, but I also love it dearly for the snapshot it gives of who I was back then, the kind of witch I was, and the exercises that I built my craft around. (I did an awful lot of making candle flames leap.) Another book my mother sent me, the
one I created after this, informed me that these were my third and fourth journals; sadly I have no idea where the other two are.
With enough time, self-evaluation also comes with nostalgia and glad memories.
I have a nice leather-bound journal now, unassuming, black. The kind of book you wouldn’t look twice at on someone’s desk. I liked the size of the pages and the way they lie flat when you’re writing in it, and that was all that went into the process of finding a new journal for me. I also have flashier journals, but they don’t get nearly as much use because they’re not as comfortable to write in. The act of writing by hand is becoming increasingly rare nowadays, so if you are going to do it, it’s good to do it on surfaces that are comfortable – and prepare yourself for the inevitable aching hands.
Some people prefer to go the tech route with their journal, some even plan their month like a magical campaign that they plot in Excel. The format doesn’t matter though. Because all that really matters is that you actually use it.
The Process of Self-Evaluation
To evaluate yourself is to look at yourself with the hard eyes of objectivity. It is to periodically look back at the hard data of your record and ask yourself how you think you’re doing and also if you think you’re actually doing enough. What seemed like a good reason for not doing something at a certain time is often revealed to be a petty excuse.
On the months when the answer to your evaluation questions veer into the negatives, it can be a bitter pill to swallow if you care about your practice. However, it can also be one of our best teachers and motivators, serving as a proverbial kick up the butt. The experience of looking back and recognizing the petty excuse masquerading as a ‘good reason’ can help us to avoid falling into that trap again, and improvements can start out small and be done incrementally. There is always room for improvement if you commit to it. The act of self-evaluation, through revealing our failings, forces us to face up to not only our failings, but how dedicated we are.
I have a thing for liminal gods and spirits. Not in some weird ‘sexy times’ kind of way, but there’s definitely a draw
there for me. The same goes for places too. I love those liminal in-between places in which the Other almost feels close enough to reach out and touch. The kind of places where you wouldn’t be all that surprised if it reached out and gave you a quick grope either.
So as you might imagine, the concept of ‘gatekeepers’ (or beings connected to boundaries in general) holds a high level of fascination; after all, you don’t get much more liminal than a gatekeeper.
But whenever we talk of gatekeepers, especially within the context of Indo-European Paganisms, there is this sense that they’re a borrowing from outside and don’t belong.
It all started with a book review…
Recently though, I came across a blog post that discusses the role of the gatekeeper spirit within the Western Occult Tradition and its possible uses and origins. Well ok, the post wasn’t *really* about that, it was a book review of Jake Stratton-Kent’s Encyclopedia Goetica. The post is a very concise and well-done review of a series of five books examining the origins of the magical tech and spirits of the Grimoires, and even though the combined cost of all the books together would be around $140, I have a mighty need to buy them like you wouldn’t believe.
I’m a big believer in figuring out the origins and meanings of things, in deconstructing things like old charms in order to figure out the underlying mechanisms. I’m not a fan of simply copying and taking the (arguably) easier route of having a tradition handed to me. I like to do the work, and then take that work and try it out ‘in the field’ so to speak. So it goes without saying that I find all of this work being done within the occult community to dig for the meanings and underlying mechanisms very, very exciting.
Of Pagan Origins and Christian Veneers
From what I understand from the review, Mr Stratton-Kent’s general argument is that the grimoires represent a survival of ancient Pagan religious and occult practices. But you know, with this covering of Christian and Qabalistic stuffs. The main of Stratton-Kent’s work in his Encyclopedia then, is in stripping away that covering, and revealing those ancient practices as much as possible. At the root of it all, Stratton-Kent argues, are the Greek goetes, those wandering magicians of the pre-classical period from whom we derive the word goetia. Which, if Stratton-Kent is right, has massive implications for not only Western esotericism, but for any magically inclined Pagans in general. (Again, I haven’t read these books yet so I’m being cautious with my language here. Like I said, I have a mighty need.)
Scrying and Survivals
In the first book of the Encyclopedia,The True Grimoire, Stratton-Kent examines the use of a gatekeeper spirit as intermediary between the other spirits and us. More specifically he focuses on the ‘Armadel’ method, a method of scrying in which spirits are called into the surface of the water. It is this method of scrying that Stratton-Kent argues (at least as I understand it from reading the review), is our tie back to the scrying methodology of the Greek Magical Papyri and the Pagan world. For Stratton-Kent, the ‘Armadel’ method reflected in the Greek Magical Papyri of calling a spirit into the surface of whatever you’re scrying with, is a piece of magical tech reflective of the decline of the Pagan period. It was a particularly clever work-around for the problem of how to interact with the old gods without all of the traditional Pagan religious apparatus. The magician or seer would call an intermediary spirit into the surface of the scrying medium. This intermediary spirit is then tasked with setting up a ritual scene in preparation for the arrival of the bigger spirits. The reviewer Kadmus, points out that often the request is focused on setting up the right number of chairs for a kind of banquet for the spirits. This is reminiscent of some of the earliest methods of religious ritual among the Indo-Europeans. After this feast, the magician or seer is then at liberty to ask for a boon; do ut des and all that. By shifting the celebration of a Pagan rite to the Other that lies beyond water, the practitioner can fulfill the exigencies of ritual in a far more discreet and less dangerous manner than if he or she were to set up such a ritual scene in the physical world.
Papyri and Lines
When dealing with the Greek Magical Papyri (or PGM), there is always the question of what comes from which tradition. The PGM date from between 200 B.C.E and 500 C.E, and are the product of intense cross-cultural interaction and blending in the Mediterranean. Kadmus sums this up best when he writes in his review that the PGM are “just as much Egyptian Magical Papyri as Greek ones”.
This is where things become complicated and where we must not only ask ourselves which part of that PGM heritage the use of a spirit intermediary or gatekeeper draws from, but also where we draw the line when it comes to consideration of which sources are ‘ours’. If Stratton-Kent is correct in his assertion that the grimoire tradition has its roots in these origins and that there is a high degree of conservation when you scrape away that Judeo-Christian veneer, then the level of complication is compounded. Perhaps more so for groups who have an expressed IE focus like ADF, for then there is the added task of teasing out the IE influences from non IE – and as we have seen with the Armadel method, that is not always so clear (especially when it comes to magic, Greece, and Egypt).
Continuities and Threads
We all tend to gather in our respective boxes and behind our respective labels, we like to think of cultural traditions as being handed down relatively unchanged for millennia – after all, the world is easier to think of that way. But even without the benefit of reading the Encylopedia, I think that if there’s one thing the grimoires teach us, it’s that the world was never so simple. Cultures interacted, people traveled, aspects of the ‘not us’ found their way in to the ‘us’, and the world marched ever on. Traditions grew, metamorphosed, and sometimes even died. The Armadel method was transmitted, spirit lists persisted (reportedly showing a high degree of conservation), and a newly controversial saint from Antioch found his way into Scandinavian grimoires where he was cited as the author of numerous black books of magic. Going back to those gatekeepers, maybe they *don’t* belong in the strictest sense of the word, but their usefulness can hardly be denied within these settings.
In many ways, magic is like those fleeting shadow figures that disappear when you focus upon them – those liminal figures that are often spied out of the corner of your eyes. This butterfly seems to defy attempts to systematize and classify it, but it makes little sense to ignore what we do have because some parts of it may look a little ‘moth-like’. Because as has been demonstrated time and time again, you can often learn a lot about the bits of something you do like, by looking at those you don’t.
It’s funny how things seem to coincide sometimes, isn’t it?
When I wrote my last blog about local spirits, adaptability, and not being afraid to learn different types of magic, I
had no idea that a blog had surfaced on Patheos that was calling into question the whole idea of working with St Cyprian because he was a Christian.
Just to give a bit of back story here, but Cyprian was a pagan magician who converted to Christianity after getting into a magical barney with someone who used the sign of the cross on him and won. Well, it was a bit more complicated than that (and you can read more about it here), but essentially that’s what it boiled down to. Eventually, old Cyprian was martyred (as the prefix ‘St.’ suggests), and now people are all about that Cyprian shiz because a couple of books have surfaced about Mr Saint’s grimoire.
I feel like I’m saying this a lot at the moment, but so what?
So what if people want to get on down with St Cyprian and work from his grimoire?
The only reason I’m writing this blog is because of the, quite frankly, ridiculous assertion that using the grimoires of Christians – or working with ostensibly Christian spirits is somehow “cultural appropriation”.
Yeah, you read that right. “Cultural appropriation”.
Cultural Appropriation? Cultural Cyprianation?
There are so many reasons why this accusation is ridiculous that I barely know where to start (or how to do so in a coherent manner without sputtering all over the place because of a surfeit of flabbergast).
First of all, as a friend pointed out on her post about the blog post in question, the person who made the accusation worships Egyptian gods; how is this somehow not cultural appropriation but pulling anything from Judeo-Christian culture somehow is? (You know, if we’re going to go there…)
Neither case is cultural appropriation IMO as the necessary power dynamic that makes a thing culturally appropriative is absent in both cases. Judeo-Christian culture is the dominant culture, there is nothing taken in terms of power or wealth from their culture by Pagans who happen to decide that they’ve got a swanky-looking spirit and that a bit of magical interfaith diplomacy might not go amiss. The same goes for the Pagan Egyptians because…well, they’re dead, and unless you’re in possession of some bones and are bullying some spirit, you can’t really oppress people who are dead. The cultures of Pagan Egypt are gone. Still, one would hope that if you worship Egyptian gods, you’d try and find ways to give something back to the culture and country they became eventually. (Not going to get into arguments about who the ‘real’ Egyptians are here.)
Secondly, seeing as most of us are from a Judeo-Christian background, in a sense this is a part of our cultural heritage. As Pagans/Heathens none of us seem to have an issue with looking into whatever Pagan heritage (no matter how far removed by time) we feel we maybe belong to (usually because of cultural or sketchy DNA test result reasons). This shit is a part of who we are. The vast majority of us have at least a thousand years of Christian ancestors at our backs – are we to ignore them too because they were Christian and have Christian cooties that automatically taint one’s pure Pagan soul? Are we now going to decry the simple act of lighting a candle in a church for a deceased Catholic relative as ‘cultural appropriation’, or are we going to see that act for what it actually is – an act of respect towards one’s beloved dead?
Christian Cyprian?,/h3> And you really think even SAINT Cyprian was fully Christian in terms of his worldview (assuming he existed, of course)? Yes, he converted, but as
many of you can attest, there is no magic wand of conversion. It takes *time*, generations even, to change a worldview. In all likelihood – just like many of the people clutching their pearls about the man himself – Cyprian probably didn’t manage to shuck even a sizable percentage of his Pagan worldview baggage during his life time. I mean, let’s face it, the whole “Wow, that worked awesomely, I think I’ll worship the god you do because I want that same shit” thing is pretty Pagan in of itself. In the Heathen period, people would offer to gods and then if their gifts weren’t met with any kind of reciprocity in return, they worshiped different gods. The whole story of Cyprian’s conversion sounds like he had an expectation of reciprocity from the get go (to be even more shit hot at magic than he already was with the help of his new deity). Reciprocity isn’t really a thing in Christianity from what I understand. I haven’t actually read St Cyprian’s stuff, but I’d be very surprised if a lot of the underlying magical tech can’t be traced back to something that’s a little more agreeable to the Pagan purists out there.
Because that isn’t anything new, a lot of these texts with a Christian veneer have underlying Pagan continuities, and just as you may make offerings to a Christian ancestor in a way that might be agreeable to them, why *wouldn’t* you show a spirit you’re hoping to learn from the same respect?
My mother has an idiom that I think would fit here, “it’s no skin off my nose”. And it isn’t – unless of course, you still think of these Christian things as having any/greater power over you (or like the heroin addict that has to keep away from any sniff of opiates, fear a fall from the wagon). Again, these are the questions that need to be wrestled with. People like to write about doing ‘shadow work’, but why not explore all the negative feelings and fears you hold about your previous faith and try to come to some kind of a peace with it all? It’s only when the chains no longer constrain you that you can really dance freely, and people do so need to dance again.
On the whole, the blog post in question felt like no small amount of sour grapes towards Gordon White (a major voice about things Cyprian) and his current popularity. Gordon consistently puts out quality content, and is advocating for a far freer way of doing things – one in which the individual does not need to look to anyone else’s authority. It is not a worldview in which would-be bishops would do particularly well. And maybe therein lies the crux? People becoming interested in magical arts that need not exist within a hierarchy, is quite threatening to those who would perhaps be that hierarchy. Look at how threatened the church hierarchy was by magic, as Giordano Bruno would tell you, they killed over it. Mr White is simply dancing and showing others that there are many types of dance that are possible. It also felt like there was a bit of the old ‘more Pagan than thou’ tone in there too, but which is more Pagan here: avoiding all things Christian lest you be tainted by those Jesus cooties; or deal with the spirits you come across, as you come across them, without giving more weight to some over others because they happen to be Jesus-y?
‘Cultural appropriation’ seems to be quite an easy target nowadays to get people riled up. And don’t get me wrong – it’s a massively serious issue that negatively affects the lives of many people around the world. We should be calling out the members of dominant cultures who take from more oppressed cultures, make bank off their backs, and give nothing back. But over-applying the term to the point of ridiculousness, in a way that the term does not cover, does not help this. If anything, it helps to detract from the seriousness of actual cultural appropriation.
And with that said, I’m going to go ahead and enjoy my weekend in these stunningly beautiful woods.
Have you ever wondered why witches are always so bloody minded? Why we fight so often with each other and get into all kinds of crazy adventures?
I mean, let’s face it, we’re kind of like magnets for weird things and not just weird things that are decidedly other either. No, over the years, I’ve attracted everything from very, very short people with guitars, to that Aryan Brotherhood guy who did pull ups on the grab bars of a moving bus while trying to talk to me.
I often use the analogy that I’m like a pile of turd attracting flies. A super sexy pile of turd, obviously…well, as these things go at least.
Being the proverbial pile of turd can complicate life somewhat in that no matter where you go, because you will always encounter what is there. That shit will pop right up and introduce itself to you on moving-in day/walking through the park/doing whatever it is that you’re doing that isn’t even remotely magical.
Like this one time when I was volunteering to help clean gravestones in my then-town and I felt something very bony tap me on the shoulder to see what I was doing. Or that other time when I was standing in another town with a friend and kept getting shoulder taps and “psst”. Or then there was that time we…never mind, you get the idea. In other words, if you’ve been dealt in by the ‘cosmic croupier’ I referred to in my last post, you will always have to interact with your landscape (both Seen and Unseen). There will always be this process of you getting their attention and them getting yours for various reasons.
Traditions Based In A Land
This is why more traditional currents of witchcraft hold that it’s entirely natural for witchcraft (like Heathenry) to vary from place to place. After all, if you are working with the liminal, local spirits of the land where you live, then your witchcraft cannot help but be localized in some way.
When you see your local land, what do you see? If you haven’t already experienced the Unseen in your location, how do you imagine it to be? Now think about the history of where you live: the various peoples that came through there (if any) and the circumstances of their migrations. What about the religious movements that the area is known for? And lastly, can you point to any occult traditions that you know to have operated in your area? Because these are the kinds of things that affect not only the kinds of spirits that you might come across, but the most effective ways of dealing with them should you need to.
If you live anywhere like where I live, your land – even just by imagining – is a veritable ‘onion’. Or in other words, layer upon layer upon layer of peoples with different beliefs and practices interacting with local spirits and bringing their own spirits and practices with them.
In these kind of environments, a certain kind of adaptability is needed, and those of us who live in these onion-like environs need to attain a certain degree of fluency in multiple magical traditions.
Because witches, as bloody-minded as we typically are, are usually the type of people to get the things done that we need to by hook or by crook. We tend to take a pragmatic approach (if we’re not the kind of people to pretend that we fart magical success of course).
But when it comes to that success – location and the Unseen we encounter in a place are huge factors. Because for as much as we see this whole image of the all-powerful witch on TV, we’re only really as powerful as the relationships we build with the Unseen (like our local spirits) and our Dead. Sure, we can do some things without them, we do have our own intrinsic dynamistic power, but it’s with the animistic powers – best remembered as ‘the things we can make offerings to or interact with’ – where the greatest power (and our greatest potential) lies.
But there’s always some resistance to this idea of gaining fluency in different magical traditions – at least from what I’ve found. Especially when it comes to people who consider witchcraft as a path or even a religion.
A Different Kind Of Beast…
Both descriptors are problematic. A path is restrictive in that you can only be on one at a time, and while calling something a ‘religion’ grants some kind of legitimacy to a group, there’s a whole lot of baggage that comes with that word. You see, we have very definite ideas of what kinds of things a religion involves, and even if we put it into a Pagan context (erasing words like ‘worship’, ‘prayer’, and anything people feel is a little too Christian), we do still end up in the same behavioral patterns.
We start to think of things like the ‘right’ way of doing something and what can be considered a part of that religion or not. Well, I would say that outside of religious observance, it’s the ‘right’ way if it works, and you absolutely want to be doing it the ‘right’ way if you’re being religious.
But historically, witchcraft was always a different kind of beast, and in spite of ideas of ‘the old religion’ surviving in
witchcraft throughout the ages, the likelihood is that the witches back then considered themselves some kind of Christian. Like the old ladies of Norfolk, who up until relatively recently, still knew and used charms in order to keep the elves from spoiling their butter.
The problem with bringing that kind of religious baggage to witchcraft, is that you always run the risk of becoming a purist. I know that’s a trap I’ve fallen into in the past, because it’s so very easy to think you’re on to some amazing ‘explanation of all the things’ and that you’ve figured out an accompanying system. (For why this is foolish, I refer you to the discussion above on the effects of location) Before you know it, you’re no longer looking at what is actually there and instead trying to slot it all into this ‘perfect’ explanation like some kind of mad historian trying to slot the gods of various cultures into the Graeco-Roman pantheon model. It’s also all too easy to get dogmatic about what sources you use too (again, not particularly good for interacting with what is actually around you).
Take the grimoires for example, while not as numerous as you might think, they are a veritable gold mine for magical practitioners. I mean, how many of us have wished at some point to find some book of great antiquity that shows us how witches back in the day got down? Well we have some books just like that, and yet they seem to be largely ignored by modern Pagan and Heathen magic workers.
Is it because of this dogmatism, because these grimoires are often filled with talk of demons and angels and lengthy invocations using the various names of Yahweh? I think that’s throwing all the proverbial babies out with all of the bathwater.
But this is a topic I’ve discussed before, in my last post even, when I talked about the proverbial (Christian) elephant in the room and the necessity of either dominating it or making peace with it. Because if you’re dealing with spirits who come from the kind of paradigm reflected by the grimoires, it’s going to be far more effective to engage full stubborn, suck up whatever issue you have with the punchy Jesus pachyderm, and crack out those grimoires.
Ask yourself, what do you really have when you strip away labels like ‘demon’ or ‘angel’, what is it that you’re left with at the end of the day?
An answer of ‘nothing’ is too facile. Sure, it may make the respondent feel better (because “we don’t believe in that kind of thing, yo”), but there are reasons why these books and the various spirit lists they contain are as long-lived as they are (some of them have threads that go *way* back), and there are reasons for the notoriety surrounding these books.
I mean, could you imagine most modern witchcraft books becoming even remotely notorious in the future? I mean, aside from Paul Huson’s book (a book which pulls from the grimoire tradition and contains that ‘repugnant’ reverse recitation of the Lord’s Prayer).Could you imagine any of them even enduring long enough to gain the weight of tradition that some of the grimoires have?
Of course not, because there’s little to no threat in the average witchcraft 101 book. Every effort seems to be taken to look as benign as possible, and to avoid any suggestion of the Judeo-Christian elephant. After all, we don’t want to give the impression that we are what they always said we are – that we truck with demons and kiss the devil’s arse after liberally rubbing ourselves with entheogens – we’re a religion after all, right?
And it’s here where my points begin to collide.
Tying It All Together
There’s a whole lot going on in this post: from the importance of localism in witchcraft, to labels and how they affect identity (and some of the respectability politics involved).
But so what if we sometimes do the things that those faceless ‘they’ say we do? So what if we dance with the devil and dally with demons? According to a book I’m currently reading, a thoroughly Heathen god that I worship was progressively portrayed as the devil by Christians, and my beloved Ælfe presented as demons (scandalous, sexy demons even). How many of the demons from the spirit lists have their origins in pagan deities – Astaroth, anyone? And to those who would judge us, none of that matters anyway; for whether we call the powers we truck with ‘gods’ or ‘daemons’, or ‘(insert sanitized term here)’, they will never *not* see those powers as the legion forces of evil. It’s really pointless to try with people like that. I’ll be giving that osculum infame business a miss though.
And so what if some of us take entheogens in order to trip our balls (metaphorical balls in my case) into deeper interactions with the Unseen? We humans have been doing that kind of thing for rather a long time. In fact we probably made beer a long time before we made bread, and it wasn’t as though those early brews adhered to some kind of Reinheitsgebot either – archaeologists have found all kinds of mind-altering additions to ancient beers. It’s only relatively recently that we humans have had any kind of issue with entheogen use, or associated it with slovenly and antisocial behavior. I think there’s even a good argument to be made that the removal of mind-altering substances from sacred context has contributed to the abuse and harm of these substances!
For various reasons, time and again, I see us removing ourselves from some of our best tools for getting to know and interact with the Unseen, for putting down roots in our lands, and becoming a part of it all. And I just find it an utter shame. We live in a time in which the other is so much closer; the church bells no longer sound to keep it away. We just need to learn more than one dance.
“You cannot simply draw a bath, light a few scented candles, and declare yourself a witch. Take your bath, but you are only a witch after the demons have come calling, which they most certainly will.” (1)
Growing up in Blighty, sometimes it feels as though most of my childhood took place under steely grey skies. Of course, it wasn’t like that *all* the time, but that is my dominant memory – or maybe it’s simply just the way I like to remember it.
I remember running wild under those steely grey skies, I remember countless adventures up on the moors and in the hidden places where adults didn’t seem to go: like the ‘ravine’ that was really a small stream down the side of an old Victorian factory that led into a more modern industrial park; or the ruins of Victorian farms built in the shadow of a brooding moor.
We never seemed to be dressed for the weather either; choosing little more than the ubiquitous 90s ‘combat pants’ (you know, those pants with all the pockets on – perfect for adventuring), a t-shirt, and a hoodie for the vast majority of these jaunts.
I think about those times on days like this – days clouded over and raining in a way that my mum would describe as ‘spitting’. You know the kind of rain I mean, the kind that isn’t particularly heavy but just feels as though maybe the sky is spitting at you. It’s a kind of rain I played in often as a kid.
The last post I wrote was about how the summer makes me feel dead inside. Well, not quite, that’s a bit of hyperbole. But there is a draining sensation at the end of the summer, and a dragging, and an “Oh for fucks sake, why can’t it be Fall already?” But Fall *is* coming. The leaves are turning, the sky is looking more ‘right’, and I am beginning to come out of my slump.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently, reading up on things that are a little bit different than my usual topics, and it has been truly excellent.
It’s from one of those books that I pulled both the quote at the beginning of this post (and the inspiration for this post as a whole).
You ever read something where you find yourself agreeing so much with what the writer is saying that you find yourself nodding, and mentally giving the author a “Right on, man! You tell em!”? Well, I’m reading a book like that right now. Had this been a church sermon, the entire section that inspired this post would have had me shouting “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lard!”, because it is just so nice to come across someone who writes things that you so completely agree with. That doesn’t happen a lot for me.
The question of what makes a witch is a perennial one in online discussions. Some people think it’s initiation within a specific tradition. Other people think it’s in the doing. For my part, I think initiation is a part of it, and that it is through the doing that you put yourself on the path to that initiation. But it’s not the kind of initiation that comes from other humans (although other humans can set you on that road), but from the Unseen powers.
Today I’m going to talk about the kind of initiation that happens when the demons come calling.
During the course of the summer, I seem to have somehow acquired a couple of students. We had a good first session – covered a lot of ground – and I’m pleased that I have two lovely students with as much potential as they have. I’m really looking forward to seeing them grow (and seeing how much I’ll learn from teaching them, you always learn more from the teaching if you’re doing it right). But at the end of the first session, I warned them that when you set feet upon this path, that there are things that will come a-knocking. When you start doing things, things that garner attention from the Unseen, things that effectively put you in a position for (as Gordon White put it) ‘the cosmic croupier to deal you in’, you will get into situations in which you have to think on your feet and deal with some really fucked up circumstances.
This may sound like I’m rehashing my previous post about Witchcraft not being safe, but if anything, I don’t think I went far enough with that post. Because in spite of what some people think, it’s not about being edgy or ‘dark’, it’s about having the kind of experiences that leave you (to quote Gordon again), “with a lasting, visceral, unshakable knowing that the universe extends beyond what can be physically observed.”
In Paul Huson’s classic Mastering Witchcraft, the student is advised to light a candle right before going to bed and to say the Lord’s Prayer backwards while visualizing the breaking of chains, a move that Jason Mankey referred to as ‘repugnant’ in his review of the book. But in spite of his distaste for Huson’s methodology, Mankey concedes that Huson’s rationale for this makes perfect sense. And it does.
Because we live in a society in which there are many barriers to even coming across the Unseen, let alone seeking initiation from those hidden powers. Our lives are so busy, so full of noise and distraction, and I’m not decrying electricity or anything (I LOVE living in a place with solid walls and mod cons), but there are reasons why when we do have those soul-shattering experiences they tend to be out in the lonely places.
In the liminal places.
Far from the buzz of tech with its incessant reminder of the outside world.
And that’s even before I talk about the barriers of belief involved here. Like the materialism that says that such things simply *cannot* happen, or the generations of dogma that declares that seeking out or trafficking with such things is a sin.
How many new Pagans and Witches claim to no longer believe in their previous monotheisms? And yet how many would baulk at sitting before a candle and reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards?
“Nema! Livee morf su revilled tub Noishaytpment ootni ton etc…”
How many Pagan paths offer an alternative to Christianity without eschewing it completely, an alternative in which that person can go an entire lifetime without wrestling with that Jesus-y elephant in the room? Because I think that sooner or later, if you practice witchcraft and you truly want that kind of transformation that witchcraft makes possible, you have to find a way to take that motherfucking pachyderm down. (Or at least figure out how it fits in within your worldview. Clue: it’s all just spirits). You can’t break the chains if you ignore them.
Now I’m not saying that people have to go and recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards tonight or something, but it’s certainly something to think about. Witchcraft is not just unsafe, it is also transgressive. Usually when people talk about that transgression nowadays, it seems to be in very political terms, but I think it’s a lot deeper than that.
This is the kind of transgression in which simply having transgressive opinions isn’t enough. It’s not enough to want to ‘stick it to the man’ (or whatever), you have to step outside of the norm, you have to pass beyond. You have to go from the safe places of the inner yard that everyone else huddles in, away from those electric lights, and the safety and comfort of traditional religion.
You have to cross that boundary, try to traffic with the spirits, get that dirt under your fingernails, muddy up those boots, fuck up, make mistakes, and just have those crazy experiences that are usually highly unpleasant, but that leave you with the kind of clarity that comes with the dawn.
Because it’s often in those times, that the most meaningful of initiations are found.
Things have been quiet around here recently – those of you who read this blog regularly might have noticed the lack of recent posts. Generally, I aim to get a post up per week, but lately things just haven’t been working out that way.
It’s not like I haven’t been writing though, I’ve actually gotten quite a bit done on my book over the past few weeks. I found a whole other line of research that supported what I’d already put forth and spent a few days mired in German texts. Another week, I found some new evidence for another theory elsewhere in my book, so on that front of things, it’s been quite productive. It’s like every time I think I’m done, a new piece of evidence just comes my way in the most random of ways, and I have to chase it down. I am getting closer though with this rewrite/initial edit and am currently looking at my publishing options. So that’s the flood part of this post.
Aside from that though (and the various bits of writing I do for work), I really haven’t felt moved to blog here, and that’s been bugging me for that past few weeks. But this morning, it occurred to me that sometimes there’s a lesson in that.
In the first week when I didn’t post I spent days trying to think of a post to write, but it all just felt artificial and forced. Eventually, I realized that most of the ideas I was having were polemic in some way, and I found that problematic in a ‘low hanging fruit’ kind of way. I mean, who *can’t* just turn on a good rant?
But I don’t want this blog to be that. Sure, I rant on here, but it’s about stuff that has genuinely got my fire up, and I don’t want to get into manufacturing that just because those kinds of posts tend to get more views. Don’t get me wrong, I love that people are visiting my site, but it’s important to me that I don’t just use this platform to tear down, but to build up as well.
And that building up, or more accurately that writing about building up sometimes takes time. Sometimes blog post ideas have to ripen; it takes time before they become the itch under your skin that you can’t *not* write about.
There’s also the season too. I find those final dog days of summer to be pretty sapping in terms of creativity. A lot of people find the darker half of the year to be the time when they go into a more inert and incubatory state, but I’m quite the opposite – this is my ebb. Maybe it’s because I come from an island in the North Sea where grey skies and cooler temperatures are far more the norm than where I currently live; but whatever it is though, towards the end the heat and humidity of Maryland become like the final leg of an endurance race for me and I crave the cooler days. (I’ve even started knitting a cardigan in the hope that I’ll get to wear it soon.)
Because it’s during those cooler days when I begin to emerge and take my daughter out on little adventures again. It’s during those cooler days when I do as opposed to hiding my pasty skin from Sunne’s harsh summer gaze like some strange kind of crysalis-dwelling creature.
And if there’s one thing I want people to get from this blog, it’s the value of doing.
But there is no ebb without flood, and I will be back when my cauldron is brimming once more. I just need to wait for the wave.