From the years as a kid having little chats with my dad about why I saw the dead and the odd exercises ‘reading’ objects or ‘channeling spirit’, to the (now decades) of witchcraft that followed, I’ve seen and experienced my fair share of ‘Other’. I’ve had everything from being pushed around a room repeatedly by something unseen, to seeing objects floating in the air, to watching scratches appear on my skin as the scratch was being made by something unseen,to losing my ability to walk until leaving a place, to having a crooked stick actually jump up at me in a forest, to…well, you get the idea. I’ve dealt with possessions and curses, cleared haunted homes, experienced a deity, and participated in the odd bout of necromancy.
In other words, I know what it is to experience the ‘supernatural’ in a very tangible way and to feel the kind of power inherent in that.
I’m going to be honest here – downright controversial even – but most of what passes for ‘magic’ or ‘supernatural’ in the Pagan or Heathen communities isn’t it. I see so much stuff that is simply wishy-washy, that may as well be cold reading, that relies on people wanting to believe and experience. It’s rare that I see something that truly grips a person by the guts.
We need to up our game, not just with magic, but with ritual in general. How many Heathens and Pagans can truly say they’ve ever experienced hierophany? I’m not talking about the ‘Odinn told me that he *wants* some Twinkies and he says that you need to do (insert hopefully inane activity here)’ variety of experience. I’m not talking about experience via intermediaries, but true hierophany where you learn on the deepest gut-level the real meaning of awe, where that indescribable sense of fear and love permeates every cell in your being and any doubts are completely swept away by something that is so.much.greater.than.yourself. If more people had experienced that, the enormity of that, then we’d have far fewer people claiming to speak for the gods.
You may have noticed that I keep mentioning guts too – they’re important. The real grabs you by your guts and when that real is nasty, digestive problems are not uncommon. You see, your head may not know the difference between the real and illusion, but your guts do. If you have a reading and you don’t feel like you’re going to throw up, like somehow that person is peeking inside you – renegotiate the price. If you are told that someone is channelling a god and they have a message for you yet you don’t feel anything in your guts – don’t buy it, take a look at the person that’s making the claim and assess what may be going on with them that they are saying such things. If you put on a ritual and you don’t feel anything in your guts – go back to the drawing board and figure out how to do it better.
Because the responsibility is on us, it’s for us to figure out how to do better so that we might experience more. So that we might push things forward.
The problem though, is that too many of us are convinced we’re already at the endpoint, that we already know all that we need to know.
That’s like seeding a quarter of a field in exactly the same way year after year and then wondering why the yield becomes less as time goes on. Eventually, the field becomes barren and those that engage in that particular tradition of seeding the field starve.
We can do better.
But we need to be prepared to try, we need to be prepared to push past our comfort zones and reach for that better. We need to stop thinking about our gods in such ‘convenient’ ways and to truly respect them for what they are. This isn’t some alternative to psychology, the spirits aren’t automatically benevolent, and magic is often dirty. Being half-assed isn’t how we grow, it isn’t how we create something coherent and rich to pass on to our descendants, and it isn’t what will bring our descendants back to pour out offerings on our graves when we’re gone.
So, are you in or out?
Edited to add: This post got quite a response and some interesting discussion ensued which led to Deepening the Line
A long time ago in a land far away, a land of colour and mystery and things that went BUMP in the night, there lived a girl. Like many others, she had arrived with her backpack heavy with clothes and her mind heavy with dreams. She’d always wanted to travel in the east, ever since she’d read her first library book about China and learned how to write three simple phrases in Chinese.
“Big man” “Big man sits down” “Man too big”
Not that was any use really in Korea, but still.
She even found herself liking the look of the Korean script better than Chinese, its characters reminded her of the fish she used to go catch with her dad as a child; sitting on the banks of the canal and pulling up trout, gudgeon, and the odd tench.
Her first night in Korea was punctuated by a bad case of ‘Dehli Belly’, and waking up to what she thought were three bloodied women at the bottom of her bed, talking at her emphatically with words she didn’t understand. Unsure if she was hallucinating from the dehydration and sickness, she vaguely remembered that civil war and starvation were still within living memory for many in the country and went back to sleep.
The next day she felt better after drinking a little bottle of tonic a co-worker gave her. She didn’t even notice the weird tone her co-worker’s questions took.
“Is your apartment ok?”
“Are you sure?”
Not even when she told her that everything worked as it should and it was quite comfortable.
“Ahhh” *nod* ” But is your apartment…ok?”
These are the things you don’t necessarily pick up or think about until later on when things become apparent that maybe your apartment is a little weird.
It started with the noise of what sounded like a wet body trying to get out of a bathtub coming from the bathroom. From 11pm every night, she would hear and ignore that. At first she investigated it, stood there in the bathroom looking at the tub as the noises emanated from it. It wasn’t the neighbours – those impossible people who managed to be ever so quiet in spite of five kids and plastic walls.
A couple of weeks after that, the toilet exploded. She fixed it, moved on, and ignored the weird vibe in the apartment. She was being watched, and it wasn’t necessarily nice. Deciding to create a ‘safe room’, she worked protections on her bedroom – it’s at least good to get some sleep, right? So what if she could hear the wet body noises every night for two hours? She was good at ignoring things like that.
She met a boy, they hit it off, and thank goodness he was there the night her plastic bathroom ceiling set on fire. Even though the electrician ‘fixed it’ and declared it ‘safe’ with one layer of tape, it was still the end of the bathroom light.
Things moved on their own, from the empty candy tub that sailed ten feet across the room while she was on the phone with her mother, to the toaster oven door that would open and shut on its own. She made sure to always put the chairs under the table before going to bed because part of her was sure she would see figures sitting in them during a late night bathroom trip.
As she gained her feet in the new land, she gained ways of dealing with it. She set up a shrine to appease the spirits with coins. A spirit showed up one evening, “My men call me the General, General Yi”, and she felt a little safer. The next day at work while leafing through books, she found a picture of the man that had leaned over her the night before – General Yi Soon Shin, a native of the area where she was living, made Admiral posthumously. So the General found a place on her shrine too.
Periodically she’d bury the coin pile of offerings that built up and start again, and something resembling an easy peace was kept. When she forgot though, that’s when the scratches would start.
“OMG you have a ghost!”
That had been her boss’s response when she’d seen the scratches – along with her heavily bitten fingernails, nails her boss had gently chided her over before.
Then there were the dreams in Korea, dreams that blurred reality, dreams that bordered on trance and made her feel exhausted come daylight.
Once such dream scared the daylights out of her. It felt significant, a dream of life and death, of witchcraft, underworld beings, and women – goddesses undulating with snakes around their bodies, “watch out for the snakes, it’s all about the snakes.”
It had been so unsettling, she’d awoke, relieved to see her then boyfriend sleeping beside her – until he spoke in his sleep.
“Watch out for the snakes, it’s all about the snakes.”
Where UPG (or Dream) and Research Meet
The thing about dreams and visions is that they don’t always make a whole lot of sense at the time, and it doesn’t mean anything. These things only gain meaning when you figure out their context. Until that point, it’s best to simply file them away for future reference, and keep the to the ‘personal’ aspect of ‘UPG’.
Sometimes they sit there until you forget them, or just put it down to a brain fart. Other times though, you find that context and the meaning hits you like a ten tonne truck.
Sometimes you find that context in a conversation or a place. Other times you find it in a book or indeed many books. No matter where you find it though, the effect is still the same.
It’s like a door unlocks and you’re plunged into potential and new avenues for exploration.
The Hittites used snakes in divinatory practices related to the ancestors, snakes and wells. Snakes and water – routes to the underworld, where a serpent called ‘MUŠ’
‘ sat upon wool being ever bound and unbound. Some IE cultures kept some of these pieces of worldview, some held only the barest echoes. Context found.
“Watch out for the snakes, it’s all about the snakes.”
Imagine a world that is like this one, except not – a “shadow world” maybe.
That is ‘here’, but somehow also ‘there’.
Imagine a world where the usually Unseen – like Aelfe (or any other type of wiht really) – may be readily seen. Imagine a world in which we-the-living and seen, are like sleepwalkers in this reality. Sometimes the colors are muted and washed out – the washed out blues of a wolf’s vision. But at other times, and in other places, they’re so vibrant that even modern animation techniques can’t touch it. Here too are shades of grey, punctuated by the odd flash of color.
There is a word in Old English, Scín. On the most basic level, it’s the skin that encases the meat suits we drive around, but on the the hand, it’s not. It’s ‘here’ but also ‘there’.
For the early English, though, and especially for those that knew a thing or two, this ‘skin’ that was here but also there was something that could also be manipulated, shaped, formed, and made to appear to others. It was ‘Scínlac’, for the Norse it was ‘Hamfarir’.
It was in this world/not world that the Seidrworker journeyed when any ‘journeying’ occurred. This world of the Unseen. Not Asgard, not Helheim, not anywhere but this glorious Middle Earth.
Among the pages of the Utrecht Psalter, there’s an illustration of these curious flying beings with horns and stingers. Creatures that couldn’t possibly exist in the physical world-‘áttor-coppe’ they were called, ‘poison heads’. Not the physical-but-unrelated ‘áttor-coppe’, no, they’re easily recognisable – we call them ‘spiders’, another kind of ‘poison head’ -Old English is nothing if not descriptive.
A kind of ‘flying sickness’ often taken as ‘infectious disease’ – but that’s only if the disease is physical, but who knows?
You see, these worlds don’t operate separately from each other, but in concert with each other – cause and effect. Sometimes the Unseen manifests here, sometimes the Unseen directly influences what happens here – lost keys, doors that open without anyone there to open them. Other times though, It’s the ‘Scín’-that-is-here-but-there that is affected and the whole becomes sick or well or gains some luck.
Now imagine what all of what I’ve written here could potentially mean. How do you interact with the Unseen? Do you understand yet its importance, or what?
When I was at university, my housemates used to joke about me being that kid from ‘Sixth Sense’. I was…weird. I saw things they didn’t, I knew things I shouldn’t have known, and I did things that scared them. A good example of this was the time I described my housemate’s dream that she’d had the night before.
“Hey, I had a weird dream last night and you were in it, it went like this…”
Her white sheet face and stuttered “How did you know?” before she left the room let me know what had happened. The next day she left for home and came back a few days later wearing Catholic blessed metals. I’d scared her.
But although that kind of thing was funny by the time I was at university, it was anything but funny as a child.
Regular readers will know that I have a bit of an atypical background in that my father’s side of the family were/are spiritualists. My father once told me that ghosts were more likely to pester me because people that can see stand out like bright lights in a dark landscape. It sounds poetic, but it didn’t make it somehow easier or less scary as a kid when the dark got ‘fuzzy’ and ‘pixellated’, and that preternatural cold rolled in.
And it was always in the western corner of my room too, which probably isn’t a surprise for those of you that know a thing or two.
Having a dog made it easier, I soon learned that the dog would leave the room before the fuzziness and cold. My cairn terrier crossed with a Bedlington terrier became a sort of early warning system, and when I was around 13 or 14, I took up witchcraft as a way to give myself some tools for dealing.
This brings us back to the present day and a situation that affects a number of parents in my group of friends.
Two nights ago, while helping my husband to build a hutch for the living room, we were disturbed by the sounds of our shrieking toddler over the baby monitor. As I was less engaged in the project, I went up stairs to (or so I thought) simply rock her back to sleep or maybe give her something to drink. But when I got there, the atmosphere was strange, and her room was darker than dark. I could barely see my way to the rocking chair in spite of the light on in the hallway.
Snatching her up, I tried to calm her by singing and rocking her while I went through the usual ‘oh you’re just imagining things’, and ‘but it feels nice in this house’. But my toddler kept looking at the darkest part of the room with fear while screaming and the dog wouldn’t come in. Whatever was there felt alien – not in the ET sense of the word, just ‘far removed from human’. I’ll use the word ‘wight’, because it’s easier, and before anyone gets hysterical about ‘demons’ and ‘evil’, it wasn’t anything as dramatic as that.
The idea of lullabies-as-spells has intrigued me for years – ever since I read a theory that the ‘vouch-pledges’ that Gudrid sang/chanted for Thorbjorg Little Volva were possibly used as lullabies for her to preserve the songs.
I like to think that I would have been better prepared for this eventuality before I became a parent, you know, given my background? But it was in that rocking chair with that darker than dark presence with my frightened toddler in my arms that I came upon the idea of turning spell songs into lullabies.
I sing all the time at home. My own personal magical practice is filled with songs, songs to drive out, songs to bless, songs of worship. Songs to pull kicking and screaming, and songs to repel.
So I sang, I began with an song in Old English of driving out and the room got lighter. I sang a song of protection and the dog returned to lay at my feet, and then I sang prayers. By the time I was done, the room was calm and the toddler was happily snoring.
The Morning After
Yesterday, I saw whatever it was in the upstairs hallway. It was strange, its shape was unfamiliar, and almost animal in presentation. Later that day, my husband asked me if I’d felt or seen anything weird knocking around upstairs. Our house backs onto a forest, in which there is a creek that leads to the Patuxent river, this shouldn’t be a surprise that something may have found its way from there -especially if my daughter shares in the family ‘trait’. If my dad is right, they would have followed that bright little light and come to see what it was, and this thing was curious.
I have faith that the ancestors and Cofgodas of my home won’t let harmful in, but I put iron in my daughter’s room all the same and made offerings to the Cofgodas amending my prayers that they also keep out things that feel downright weird and alien. Today things feel normal again, but I’ll probably mugwort and salt my home for good measure.
This has made me worry a little though. I don’t want my daughter to spend as many nights afraid as I did as a child. It doesn’t matter if something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or ‘not harmful’, as a kid, it’s strange and *still* scary. It takes time, practice, and support from good people to not be afraid when the usual signs of something coming begin, and the only exception I’ve seen to this are ancestors. I want her to have the tools to deal with whatever she may encounter, but she’s so small right now and too young to be taught.
The Parental Dilemma
When I was seventeen, I had a brush with what I would call ‘evil’. As always, this thing appeared in the West as a grey mist – after about an hour of this building sense of malice. I ran to my dad for help and got to see his face change completely from what I recognised to one I didn’t know. My dad wasn’t so much in charge of what he did as saw himself as an instrument of ‘Spirit’. His trances could be quite involved, but this was the only one I’ve ever seen him change so completely and gain features that weren’t his own – not to mention his voice, the timbre of which I still remember to this day as he said “Leave us!”.
Later that same week, while visiting with a friend, I found myself outside a locked, empty room, with furniture somehow moving around inside it.
That week was one for the books.
I want to spare her those kind of weeks and those kind of nights. I want to teach her so that she feels empowered and safe – well, as safe as you can really when it comes to stuff like that.
But in spite of my experiences as a child, and being far more proactive in my work than my father, I find myself , just like my friends who also deal with this, wondering how to go about it. No one writes books about child development and how it relates to teaching witchcraft. I mean, at what age can a child effectively visualise well enough to construct protections, and although I’m sure my stubborn toddler has the Will bit down, when will she gain the focus to consistently apply Will? How do you discipline a child that then takes the things you teach them and turns into an asshole with other kids or adults? What is an ideal model for gradually exposing your child to various types of wights so that they can gain confidence and not be afraid? What type of wight should you seek out or pull in first?
And once again, I find myself wishing my child came with a manual. Sound familiar?
Yesterday afternoon was hot and sunny, a day of baked earth and precious little wind. It was also the day that our naissent ‘protogrove’ had chosen to celebrate the high day of Lughnasadh. On a more personal note, this Lughnasadh marks two years since I first went to an ADF ritual and started ‘druiding-it-up’.
That sounds crude, I don’t mean it that way. My people are masters of understatement, and using humor or sarcasm to hide our true feelings about the things that are important to us. It’s why you’ll see sick jokes flying around after pretty much every national disaster. We seem to hide our hurts so they cannot be used against us and treasure our deepest joys to keep them safe.
A week ago, a friend asked me if I was now ‘dual trad’ because of my involvement in ADF, but to me that suggests a kind of separation, when my experience has been anything but one of separation; it’s been whole-making. Metaphorically speaking, my Heathenry waters one side of my ‘tree’, and the Druidry waters the other. Joining ADF has been literally life-changing, I’ve been much happier, and feel like my worldview is far more coherent than before.
Comparative Indo-European studies will do that for you. When you only see the Norse sources, you only see the tree, the eagle, the deer, and the serpent. When you only see the Irish Celtic sources, you only see the land, sea, and sky. But when you trace it back, eventually you’ll get back to the Hittites and find a tree with the eagle representing the sky, the deer representing the land, and the serpent representing the sea.
So yesterday, I was baking under the hot Pennsylvania sun with people I consider to be genuinely good, celebrating an Irish High Day in accordance with ADF’s Core Order of Ritual.
The Importance of Good Ritual
Good ritual is something I find lacking in many Heathen circles, we seem constrained by the bid to not be too ‘Wiccan’, or too ‘Christian’. We use words like ‘honour’ rather than ‘worship’, we ‘talk to’ the gods rather than ‘pray’, and bending a knee to the Holy Powers is rare. We typically laud simplicity and mostly veer away from scripted rituals , when all the evidence from other Indo-European cultures suggests that not only did ritual involve the recreation of the cosmos in ritual space, but that once that cosmos was recreated, great care was taken over what words were spoken within that space.
“<em>If anything was said improperly, if anything was done improperly, let it be as if it were done correctly.”</em>
These were words that were written on the Inguvine tablets, a set of seven tablets discovered in Italy in the 15th century, and dating back to possibly the 3rd century BCE. When you stand at the centre of the cosmos performing actions and prayers with the intent of upholding the sacred contract between the community of man, and the Holy Powers, a misstep can affect so much.
Let it be gone.
Let it be as though those mistakes were never made.
This is one reason why there is such a thing as the ‘Core Order of Ritual’ in ADF, by creating a framework we minimize the missteps. Another reason is because we’re an orthopraxy.
The past few High Days, our little group has been finding our pace, figuring out what works for us, and how best to organise our rites. Some High Days have been almost pulled out of our asses, and the omens have reflected that, others, like yesterday, have felt like we *got it right*.
On a personal level, I often feel self-conscious when I have to speak in ritual. I can drill myself on what I am to say over and over again, for days before the actual day, and I can almost guarantee it that I will go blank around the third line. When I go blank, I typically notice the people I’m around rather than the the Holy Powers that I’m addressing; the focus becomes less on the contract and doing it right in the sacred centre for the good of the whole, and more on petty concerns like, “Oh no, I can’t remember what I’m saying, *think*, I think people are looking at me, they probably know..”
And it becomes a kind of tailspin, when it is the last thing anyone should do or think about in that kind of a situation.
Learning to Focus on the Music
When I was a teenager, I used to play tenor horn/ B flat cornet in a band, I used to perform often, and as the lead, I couldn’t blend in with the background. One day in music class, we each had to stand up and perform with our chosen instrument. As each classmate stood up and performed, I felt myself getting more and more nervous, until eventually my mouth went dry and my heart pounded. When it came to my turn, I stood up, fluffed my notes, forgot what I was playing, and sat down ashamed as my classmates laughed at my ineptitude. The teacher, who had heard me play before and had placed me as lead trumpet in the band scolded them, then pulled me aside and gave me a marble telling me to focus on hearing the music instead of their faces, and suck on the marble so my mouth didn’t go dry; an old bandsman’s trick. The second time I stood up, I played a fantastic rendition of ‘Rock Around the Clock’, to the now shocked faces of my classmates. When I sat down, I sat down to complements.
It’s lesson I’ve been working on resurrecting, sometimes with more success than others. Yesterday during ritual, I remembered how to ‘hear the music’. It’s not about us, it’s about doing it right, being focused, and doing the job at hand. Anything else is as incidental as the complements I got as I sat down with instrument in hand, high off the adrenaline and my soul still buzzing with the dance of the notes.
So what the fresh hell is this “Cult of the Spinning Goddess”?
The ‘Cult of the Spinning Goddess’ is not an established cult or set of practices, but rather an attempt to create such a cult for the modern day. I was originally going to embark on this endeavor alone, but figured that there might be other interested parties and so decided to open it up. This cult construction is going to have the following requirements:
1. The creation of a space where cultic matters might be discussed, research shared, liturgy, ritual year, and cultic practices fleshed out.
2. A commitment to researching the figure of the ‘spinning goddess’, spinning lore, and what remnants might remain to this day through a combination of reconstruction, retrospective methods, and comparison of related mythologies.
3. Given that the ‘spinning goddess’ was a figure from further back in history than Heathens typically look, it’s obvious that it will not be possible to be completely historical. We’re aiming for a percentage, a percentage of history supplemented by practices created now that fit within the Heathen worldview. All new creations will be labelled as such and the rationale behind them given.
Okay, but who was this ‘spinning goddess’ you’re wanting to set up a cult to?
I’ll admit, she’s an illusive creature, her traces found (I believe) mainly in a series of bracteates (a type of amulet that depicted various things such as gods, goddesses, zoomorphic designs etc.), grave goods that combine ritual items with spinning items (and bracteates), later accounts of Gullveig and Heið, tales of magic that was spun, völva staffs that resemble ornate distaffs of the same period, and the continued existence of a group of numina in Germany heavily connected to spinning and magic. It’s my belief, based on the research I have carried out, that all of these things pertain to that original spinning goddess of the bracteates. I would like to attempt to create a working cult in her honour.
No, it is my opinion that what we see referred to as Seiðr in the sagas is actually the final remnants of practices that had their roots in some of the cultic practices of this goddess and I believe that there is some support for this in John McKinnell’s work, namely his paper titled ‘On Heið’. In ‘On Heið’, McKinnell makes the argument that the name ‘Gullveig’ is actually referring to an idol of wood that is covered in gold.
The war I remember, the first in the world,
When the gods with spears had smitten Gollveig, And in the hall of Hor had burned her, Three times burned, and three times born, Oft and again, yet ever she lives.
Heiðr they named her who sought their home The wide-seeing witch, in magic wise; Minds she bewitched that were moved by her magic, To evil women a joy she was.”
If McKinnell is right about Gullveig, then the above passage in Völuspá is potentially telling the tale of the stamping out of a cult by the followers of Hor (Oðinn), and the survival in the form of ‘Heið’, a title for Seiðr women.
It is my hope to focus on the ‘Gullveig’ rather than the ‘Heið’.
if Oðinn was a doo doo head to Gullveig, does that mean I can’t also worship him if I join this cult?
No, not at all. No migration period vandalism is going to be the boss of us!
It’s also not my intention that this cult becomes something separate or separating when it comes to other cultic activities or groups our cult members are involved in. I’m looking for the ‘as well as’, as opposed to ‘instead of’. I’m guessing it was a mentality of ‘instead of’ that led to any desecration (IF that’s what happened!).
Is that all the evidence you have for this whole spinning goddess thing though? I mean, this is pretty light on details.
You’re right, this is. But this is some initial FAQ that I hammered out in response to the many questions I received when I first mentioned the intention to create this cult. There’s a lot of research and a lot of sources, but that’s going to require an actual paper. It’s not something that would be particularly useful in some quick FAQ format.
So, are you all going to be doing witchy shit?
Some of the cultic practices are going to be magical in nature, but not all, and not all members have to participate in that. As a cultus, our primary function will be to create a reciprocal relationship with the spinning goddess, and some form of coherent cultic practice. So, we’re talking more worship, with some witchy shit for those that are interested.
Do you all want sausages with your clams?
All genders/sexualities are welcome here!
Are there any requirements for members?
So far, it would seem that there are three categories of interested parties:
* Those that spin, are interested in the intersection between spinning and magic, and who are interested in getting involved in the cultus.
* Those that don’t spin, but are curious about the cultus (but not the spinning).
* Those that are curious about both spinning and cultus and would like to learn.
Considering that we’re going to be a cult dedicated to a SPINNING GODDESS I’m going to stipulate that members must be able to spin or in the process of learning.
However, curious parties can be considered ‘friends of the cult’, and engage their curiosity by having access to a certain level of documents pertaining to the cult. As time goes on, if we are successful, I expect us to develop closer bonds and eventually practices that will be kept ‘in-cult’ only.
What’s your role going to be in this?
Well, I was considering becoming a Jim Jones, or David Koresh type dude…or maybe like that guy in Japan that collects pubic hair and puts people in giant microwaves! Just kidding. We may be starting a cult, but we’re not losing our fucking minds. You can all rest assured that I won’t be collecting anyone’s pubic hair, trying to score illicit sex with brainwashed minions, or creating some weird Heathen Waco. The only money I’d be taking from anyone would be if anyone wants to buy my book (when it’s finally out), but that’s called commerce, and as a capitalist society, that’s quite ok.
My role in this is going to be that of founder and leader. I encourage discussion and participation. Disagreement is cool, as long as you don’t be a dick about it. As things coalesce, if they coalesce, I’ll look into starting a council to work on different areas and so we have some kind of system and forum to discuss anything that crops up, but I’ll always retain my position.
When I was a little girl, I was the kind of girl that learned more from her father than her mother. Although my mother did try to teach me to knit and sew, I had no interest whatsoever. I devalued fiber arts, I didn’t understand what they were, I looked down on them. In my nascent feminism, Germaine Greer’s words were ever in mind, “Women have frittered their lives away stitching things for which there is no demand.” In those early years, my interest was always in being outside, in travelling, being out in the wilds, and well basically being some feral little savage that wandered the moors like Ibn Fadlan’s proverbial swamp donkey.
I would learn the value and sacredity of fiber arts later in life.
Fiber Arts and the Sacred
My first fiber art was embroidery, which I came to after finding my grandmother’s silks and hoop in the attic. For days, I’d heard the intermittent song of a music box. Trying to track it down, I turned my room upside down, but found nothing with the same tune. Eventually I decided to go into the attic and look there. Finally I found a box containing a music box, my grandmother’s silks, and her hoop. The song from the music box matched the song I’d been hearing. I never seemed to need teaching, my mother never embroidered or cross stitched, but it was easy to me. My first use of fiber arts for the sacred was embroidered pieces dedicated to deities, magical house protections incorporating the ALU charm, and shrines that could be folded away.
The next fiber art was knitting, which I came to reticently – at least initially, but ended up teaching myself via YouTube videos and copying a woman on the train when I lived in Germany.
While in Germany, it was our habit that I would find local folktales, translate them, and then we’d visit the place. This hobby rendered some interesting finds, including a place that folklore held to have been a cultic place of Wodan’s, an amazing site called Druidenhain, and eventually, Frau Holle. Around the same time, I developed an interest in spinning, and this pull to Frau Holle and spinning developed hand in hand. Over time, and through research, I found that aside from my UPG, that bone-deep certainty that Frau Holle is far far older than her medieval tales, that there was also a lot of very solid and thorough scholarship that supports this in the form of Erika Timm’s ‘Frau Holle, Frau Percht, und verwandte Gestalten‘. Through her in-depth study, Timm presents her theory that names like ‘Frau Holle’, ‘Frau Gode/Wode’, and ‘Frau Herke’ were regional ‘taboo names’ for the survival form of a far older goddess – the Germanic Frija – a spinning goddess, and whose functions,as Lotte Motz shows in her paper, ‘Nerthus: A New Approach‘, match those of the ‘Terra Mater’ of Tacitus’s description in his Germania.
Well, with the exception of the human sacrifice, but you know, times change…
Spinning to me, was now a sacred act. I learned about spinning taboos, and instituted some of my own to better understand what a taboo can be. I became a devotee of the ‘spinning goddess’, and over time, not only did I come to wear a symbol of her, and her image on my skin, but her connection (and by extension the connection of spinning) to Seiðr and prophecy.
Fiber Arts and Ancestry
Before I continue, and talk more about each of the different skills I practice in depth, I would like to talk a little about ancestry and the role of fiber arts in ancestral practice. When I work these traditional skills, my knitting, spinning, or even crochet, these skills from the ‘spindle side’ (and old term for the woman’s side of a family, usually denoting the women of a family line), several things are going on, at least for me. People belittle these skills, and consider them the domain of someone like Martha Stewart. I find this kind of insulting because, in my opinion, Martha Stewart is an ex-con that’s making money off these traditional arts by repackaging them in nice plastic simplicity and lifting them from all tradition and heritage. And while the argument exists that she’s potentially bringing new blood into old crafts, the new blood she’s bringing in is being introduced by the corporate mass-packaged version of what should be individual, heartfelt, and bespoke. It’s things like Martha Stewart, with her cookie-cutter versions of ‘creativity’ that leads to people seeing these arts as being mundane and producing the kind of ‘things for which there is no demand’ that Germaine Greer spoke of.
I realise that these are very strong opinions, and it’s not my wish to offend. In some ways, I’m impressed that Martha Stewart has managed to turn such a profit on crafts that are usually not particularly lucrative – at least not for the average stitcher.
However, aside from Martha and her cookie cutters, I find this form of belittling – especially by people that are supposed to grok the sacred and magical to be very short sighted and mundane in of itself.
If you just take a moment to think about what these fiber arts represent, the histories of things like the various traditional patterns (that even made it possible to identify the village or even family of the wearer), the various techniques employed, and how they related to the lives of the people that employed them, there’s something very tribal there. For example, the Fair Isle technique, as well as being colourful and providing a way to show local identity through specific patterns, also allows the knitter to layer numerous strands of wool upon each other in one garment, thus providing a far warmer garment. If you take into account the further consideration that wool garments can still provide warmth while wet (to a point), then it makes absolute sense that Fair Isle would be a part of the culture of northern fishing villages.
In these arts, there’s tradition, ancestry, there are wishes and intent, there’s knowing where you’re from and who you
are; there are stories, there are layers there. Every stitch you make, every length of yarn you spin, you are connecting with generations of women before you who, although you do this for pleasure, did this out of necessity. This is a way to connect with and honour ancestors.
Better still when you have something of theirs that remains unfinished or can be incorporated into something you’re making. That is when heirlooms are born, their stitches and intent nestling with your own, and joining those of your descendants.
Fiber, Magic, and Prophecy
Historically, and perhaps due to what I would call the ‘operative’ nature of Germanic magic (repeated actions carried out over time, integrated as part of daily function seem to have been preferred), the two main fiber arts connected with magic were, unsurprisingly, spinning and weaving.
The most famous examples of fiber magic are those of the raven banner, typically a banner woven by the mother or sister of the warrior in question, that was said to guarantee victory to the warband that carried it. The price of this victory being the death of the banner bearer (Orkneyinga saga, ch. 6, 11, 14, 17; Njáls saga, ch. 157).
Another famous example of weaving in magic is the killing shirt of the Orkney saga, which was a shirt woven with the intent of killing the wearer. This was a Seidr that was again, worked by women, and in the case of the killing shirt of the Orkney saga, was created by Helga and her sister Frakkok, who intended it for the Earl’s brother. However, the Earl himself found it and wanted it:
“..the sisters pulled off their bonnets, tore their hair and said that if he put on the garment his life would be at risk. Though they were both in tears he didn’t let that stop him, but no sooner was the garment upon his back than his flesh started to quiver and he began to suffer terrible agony. He had to go to bed and not long after that he died. “ —Orkneyinga saga, ch. 55
I can think of no examples of woven magic which do not include some kind of blood shed, or blood price. Like other forms of magic, the practice continued after conversion:
“Have you been present at or consented to the vanities which women practice in their woollen work, in their weaving, who when they begin their weaving hope to be able to bring it about that with incantations and with their actions that the threads of the warp and the woof become so intertwined that unless someone makes use of these other diabolical counter-incantations, he will perish totally? If you have been present or consented, you must do penance for thirty days on bread and water.”
-Corrector Burchard of Worms, ca. 1010
Spinning magic however, was more of a magic of creation and attraction, with archaeological evidence demonstrating a link between some of the various Seidr staffs found among grave goods, and medieval distaffs (Heide 2006, Enright 1996; 245). However, these distaff-like-staffs were usually made out of metal, which rendered them cumbersome and impractical for actual use. Many of these staffs have strong points of similarity with the staff described in Eirik the Red’s Saga (Price 2002). Metallurgical analysis has shown that many of these staffs were forged with the inclusion of organic matter, mostly bones of the dead, or of animals (Gardela 2009). Post mortem, these staffs were often symbolically killed, by means of being pressed by a rock – in this, they often shared the same fate as their owners (in a number of cases, the bodies of suspected Seidrworkers were crushed post-mortem by rocks). In numerous accounts in lore, the spindle, distaff, and act of spinning are linked to Seidr, such as the following:
* In Laxdoela saga, the Seidr which causes a storm that sinks a boat is called ‘harðsnúin frœði’, or ‘hardtwisted knowledge/sorcery’, suggesting a link between storms that are spun. * In Fóstbrœðra saga, a man is made invulnerable by a type of Seidr that involved working a kind of magic while spinning hanks of yarn that were then placed under the man’s clothes. * There are two accounts of spun magic used to create invisibility.
There are many more accounts that link spinning with Seidr, and I cannot recommend this paper highly enough for a far more in-depth examination of the link between Seidr, Gandr, and spinning.
It’s also worth mentioning that the spindle remained the symbol of witch or wise woman in German folklore, and witches continued to be depicted with distaffs (which conceivably had some crossover with brooms).
As the spindle and distaff was often the status symbol of the witch, or at least that which set her out in society as a witch in much the same way as the warrior his weapons, the same can be said for the tools of weaving too. Bracteates from the Fuerstenberg-B series that depict goddesses carrying spindles and weaving swords, are reminiscent of Fedhelm – the prophetess from the Táin Bó Cúailnge – whose symbol of status – whose *staff* was an ornate weaver’s beam. Fedhelm identified herself as banfhili (female poet), but is addressed as banfháith (prophetess) by queen Medb.
It’s interesting to note here that Fedelm regarded herself as a woman ‘fili’, or…roughly, a type of Irish poet that
originally prophecized and spoke her prophecies in poetry. Purportedly the fili composed their poems in the dark, or in other words, while ‘under the cover’ of darkness. This goes back to a wider theme of going under the cloak in order to speak prophecies (often in poetry) as found in Icelandic literature (Aðalsteinsson 1999).
While this is by no means an exhaustive blog post, I hope that the connection between magic and fiber arts is at least made clear. So much magic can be worked into fiber. Each stitch can be worked with intent, protective symbols can be worked in Fair Isle or stranded knitted pieces – a pair of mittens can become a prayer that is worn. The numerical patterns of lace can be an invocation or protection, in a shawl that’s worn while practicing Seidr, or as a way to ‘go under the cloak’. A thought form can be spun and put to rest as easily as burning a skein of yarn, and the lowly distaff may function equally well in the creation of a Gandus or as a holder for unspun roving.
It’s probably no surprise to those that know me, but I have many bugbears with the New Age movement. However, no bug is so big to bear for me as the concept of one’s individual ‘path’.
And I know, I get it. For those that don’t feel they belong sufficiently to a specific religious tradition to adopt the label, the words ‘my path’ are a convenient way of talking about what you do and believe. Your ‘journey’, in other words.
Not that I’m a fan of the term ‘journey’ in this context either, but that’s another conversation for another time.
However, I think when you start thinking in terms of individual paths, it’s not going to be too shocking when you also start to consider those not on your path as being either intersecting forces, or people to help you on your way. In fact, I *know* some people that think like that. Hell, I’ve been on the receiving end of an angry ‘my path-er’ for not playing what they saw as my role as being a helpful means to an end on their spiritual path.
And that right there, in this society of selfishness, is where the problem lies. It’s spirituality meeting the ‘people-as-means-to-an-end’ mentality of corporate retail culture in which instead of seeing others as rational beings that are (to paraphrase Kant)’ ends as themselves’, you treat them as means to your own ends. When you treat others in this way, what then is the difference between how you treat other humans and inanimate objects? Honestly, I fail to see how anyone can ‘develop spiritually’ with such a mentality.
Moreover, if you really care so much about your own path, what of family? What of children? What of community?
After all, if you’re only caring about your own individual path, what time do you have for others? It’s all about *your* enlightenment, *your* development, *your* progression along the path.
Throughout my time as a magic-worker, I’ve noticed that when it comes to working with others, several things seem to hold true. This post is going to take a look at four of those things.
People *want* you to build them a mystery
Regardless of whether or not a person is your client or a potential student, very often, that person has a mental image of how what you do should look like, and for all they’re decried, sometimes the ‘Dog and Pony show’ can be useful for this very reason (it can also simply just be the tradition of the group in question).
As a magic worker, I understand the importance of ritual, of building those actions and setting the scene for that *shift* to occur. It can be useful when your mind is being more of a chattering monkey than usual. It can be useful in getting the non-active participants into the right frame of mind. You see, depending on who you speak to, ritual either works to facilitate an internal psychological shift that allows the individual to get past whatever mental blocks were hindering them and allowing change (something which Terry Pratchett referred to as ‘Headology’), or it works via that far less intangible medium that we call ‘magic’.
However, there comes a point where this becomes problematic. It’s no longer that which facilitates and enables, it’s the whole *point* of the exercise.
And it will suck a person in as surely as a black hole.
When inhabiting a mystery, there is no rational thought, there is no consideration of the subtleties that are happening, or indeed if there is consideration, it’s interpreted from within the mindset of what atheists call ‘magical thinking’. And it doesn’t matter what that person is interpreting, even running out of something in your cupboards at the wrong time can be interpreted as some kind of ‘sign’.
Now this probably sounds like a weird thing for a self-described ‘magic-worker’ to discuss. Almost like I don’t believe in magic, right? That it’s ALL headology.
While headology is a good and useful (very useful) part of a magic-worker’s repertoire, magic – at least real magic – is rarely how we think it’s going to look, and it’s far simpler than we might imagine. The fact of the matter is, the rituals, the garb, the tools, the drums – none of that is actually needed. We do it because the dog and pony show is paradoxically easier than doing it without. But to forget the role of the dogs and ponies…well, as I said before, that’s where trouble starts. Moreover, you miss what’s actually real.
People want the shortcuts to somehow work
In a way, this sort of plays back into the ‘building a mystery’ section, as the mystery can be one big shortcut in a lot of ways.
When you bake a cake, you typically cream your butter and sugar, then add your eggs, flour and milk (and whatever else). At no point does anyone say, “Well, I don’t have flour, so I’ll just omit it, it’ll be fine, I’ll have cake!”, no, you have to substitute it for something similar that performs the same function as flour in the recipe. However, when it comes to magic, people never want to work on their mental discipline, which is as key to magic as the flour in a cake. Again and again, I hear people lament that meditation and/or visualisation is just too hard, and that they just ‘can’t’ do it.
Let me get this straight, most humans can do these things. It’s just that meditation and visualisation take work, practice, and losing the fear of failure at something that looks so easy from the outside.
Meditation is hard, visualisation is hard, these are skills that have to be built up by the practitioner, and along the way, you also get the bonus of developing mental discipline and your Will.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to this, you put the work in and have it, or don’t, and well…don’t.
People gravitate to the ‘wolves’
I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen this over the years; perfectly good people interested in magic and getting taken in by a charismatic wolf in sheep’s clothing. In fact, I heard about another case of this, this weekend just gone!
Thankfully, when you know what you’re looking for, these sweater-wearing wolves are easy to spot.
1. Do they have a discernible goal from being around you? What is it? Some of these folks use magical learning as a way to secure sexual favours from the naive. Others use it to feed their desire for power over others. Is anything that they want to do, or do, in violation of your bodily sovereignty?
2. Do they give you what you want? In other words, do they ever correct you or tell you you’re wrong about something, or do they allow you to labour under false ideas (as long as you don’t question them)?
3. Do you ever *actually* learn from them, or do they mostly tell you that you’re learning (and progressing) and yet you can’t actually quantify what you’ve learned?
4. How does the thought of bringing up a disagreement with them feel? How does the atmosphere in the room feel when you disagree even respectfully?
5. Is there a reliance on building the mystery as opposed to emphasis on the actual skills? Are people encouraged to stay locked within the mystery?
People will gravitate to the chaotic thinking they understand it better than ancestors that eschewed it
We live in the age of the underdog and the anti-hero. Our villains are portrayed in film as having a hidden sensitive and misunderstood side that just lures an audience in. We learn to forgive the negative because, “Oh look, he’s not a pure bastard, he’s *redeemable*!”
When looking at figures from mythology, figures that people now worship again, that mentality transfers over with some people, and beings that were given offerings to keep them away, are now being taken for ‘patrons’. There’s a romance there that our ancestors would have found truly puzzling.
Over the years, I’ve seen many take this path, and a good number of them have their luck turn to poo. Instead of accepting the cause of their troubles, they turn to other gods and beings to try and fix matters, and in the most extreme cases, they become serial ‘luck grabbers’. Jumping from deity to being, fostering a reciprocal relationship, and then moving on to the next once the initial excitement wears off.
Typically when questioned, they’ll talk philosophically about how chaos and order need to be balanced in the world, not once considering that maybe it’s plenty ‘balanced’ and doesn’t need any ‘help’ from them.
And that’s the thing, natural chaos that happens organically is good, natural chaos strengthens and leads to overcoming and growth. Inviting more in just makes no sense.
We humans are complex creatures, and as products (mostly) of societies that are based largely in a religious worldview that devalues personal power, and values complexities, it can be hard to discern what’s actually needed and what is simply fulfilling a psychological need.
I’ve had a few teachers over the years, and though not always in a formal format, without exception, each of them emphasised the importance of developing the skill of discernment when it comes to working with anyone in any capacity.
More than being able to discern spiritual or social matters, the skill of discernment teaches us something far more important – to know ourselves, our motivations, and how they affect our actions.
For it’s all too easy to fall into a trap when you’re not looking where you’re going.