Witch Wars: Minimizing the Damage

Witch wars - tarot devil card

Which Witch War?

There are two kinds of “witch wars” in the Pagan world, and most of the time, it’s the gossipy, bitchy, war-of-words kind that is the most common. This blog

witch wars - praying skeleton
“Oh West Virginia Jesus, please don’t let me be misunderstood!”

post isn’t about that – largely because I suck at them. I just don’t have much investment in the kind of social fuckery that allows an actual honest-to-West-Virginia-Jeebus negative social campaign to form. In short, I’m not the droid your looking for when it comes to advice for surviving a social shit storm (but this droid might be helpful, and also this).

I am however, the droid that can give you some helpful tips on the second kind of witch war: the magical kind.

An Evil of Ego

To put it simply, this kind of witch war is usually an utter clusterfuck. Like the social shit storm variety, it usually comes about because one person gets their pants in a twist over some ego-related matter. They can come about quickly, Witch wars - tarot devil cardor they sort of ferment over time. In my experience of these slow wars, you usually have about 2-3 years of fermentation punctuated by relatively minor periods of being poked at before hostilities fully escalate.

The magical witch war can be soul-destroying, and can wreck your whole life in otherwise unbelievable ways. This is especially the case if you take the position that this shit just doesn’t really happen and so are perhaps not as vigilant as you should be. Moreover, if the attack is particularly bad, the aftermath can be quite difficult and take some serious recovery time .

Hands down the best way to deal with this kind of witch war though, is to avoid it in the first place.

But how can you avoid something that hasn’t (hopefully) happened yet? The simple answer is that you can’t. But there are some relatively easy precautions you can take to reduce both access and effectiveness that go beyond the usual wards and shielding.

Reciprocal relationships

One of your most important lines of defense against nastiness, is the reciprocal relationships that you nurture and maintain with your numinous powers. Sometimes it may be gods who help you, and sometimes Fair Folk. However, mostly it’s going to be ancestors and house spirits that do the bulkwitch wars - land spirits of the heavy-lifting here, so these are the relationships you really need to cultivate.

That’s not to say that the gods and Fair Folk wouldn’t get involved though, or that it isn’t worth taking the time to develop reciprocal relationships with them too. It’s just that they have less reason to be involved than the aforementioned groups, and unless there are already signs that you have their favor, their prices tend to be much steeper.

When you have good reciprocal relationships with your ancestors and house spirits, detecting, diagnosing, and dealing with magical attacks become much easier. Because when you have those relationships, you can get a lot done by simply calling to them with some offerings and checking in. I recommend checking in in this way on a weekly basis (at least).

Cleanliness

This is where I tell you to clean your house! No really, regular cleaning is one of the best steps you can take to create a layer of protection from some major whammy.

witch wars - cleaningYou see, sometimes witch wars involve sending asshole spirits to mess with you, and those asshole spirits tend to gravitate to the shitty, cluttered areas of your home like mosquitoes do to buckets of water. (This is pretty much why paranormal teams get people to clean up as part of the solution.)

Another reason why cleaning is an important activity (you know, aside from regular old health, hygiene, and decency), is that if you are in the slow moving kind of war, then you may find items planted in your home that come with…extra ‘gifts’ (in the German sense of the word). Regular cleaning keeps you familiar with what’s in your home and what doesn’t belong.

Lastly, and most importantly, there are layers of protection you can build into your cleaning regime. You can clean with apotropaic herbs and washes (especially if you make your own cleaning supplies like I do), and you can get into the habit of regularly fumigating your home to cleanse it. This helps to prevent a build up of magical nastiness over time, which is useful all the time, but invaluable if you ever end up having the misfortune of dealing with a protracted campaign.

To Gift is to Connect

One of the worst things about witch wars, is that most of the people you are likely to end up in magical altercations with, will have likely started out as friends. They are usually the people you’ve “talked shop” with, considered working with, or maybe even worked with. This is part of why your slow-moving witch wars are like car wrecks that you can see coming in the distance – you can see the wreck coming, but there’s also this desire to try and prevent it if you can. I don’t mean to be the plot spoiler here, but most of the time you really can’t. Because it’s usually not about you or your friendship, but simple ego and dominance, and that’s an ill that lies solely within the person that witch wars - giftstarts the war.

But in those early days of friendship before you get to know a person, it can be really easy to gift freely. However, until you know how things are going to roll out (or oaths are in place), it’s important to be careful with both what you gift, and also what you accept.

To give or receive a gift is an act of trust, especially among magical practitioners. Gifting connects and provides either leverage, or a way into someone’s life (the Trojan horse principle). Because when you gift – especially if that gift is something you made or have had for a long time – you’re essentially giving them something they can use to connect you to them in a spell. Alternatively, the gifts you accept can come with some added…”extras” that can make for some really unpleasant times.

So be careful who you give gifts to, and what presents you accept from others. If you really want to give gifts in those early stages of friendship, opt for gifting by Amazon or another online service. They still get the gift, but none of the “you” to leverage.

As an aside, I always learned to never accept salt from another witch. I don’t remember where I learned that now (it was a good two decades ago now), but it’s a taboo I’ve kept to. Your mileage may vary.

Personal Concerns

Even worse than a gift though, is when a rival gains something of you. The term “personal concerns” is quite delicate-sounding for what is being referred to here, but basically, it’s your hair, nails, blood etc. Any enemy practitioner (or practitioner yet to out themselves as an enemy) that gets access to any of witch wars - hairthese things, gains the keys to the kingdom. There is so much more that they can do to you with this stuff- trust me on this. Because there was this one fun time and it literally nearly fucking killed me.

Protecting your personal concerns requires both cleanliness and diligence. Don’t leave hair brushes, toothbrushes, or anything else with your hair lying around anywhere where any guests can get to them. Be extra careful with sharp objects when others are around. If you cut yourself, pocket any tissues you use to staunch bleeding and take them home. Count them as you pocket them and keep track. Try to wash away any blood spilled with whatever is to hand. Got flyaway hair? Tie it up or cover it while meeting with new folks. Get the idea?

Basically, adopt the level of paranoia a hated Roman emperor would have found admirable.

Final Words

Witch wars of this variety are thankfully relatively rare, and it can be all too easy to become a little too paranoid. There is a balance to be had here, and in the next post I’m going to discuss some of the things you can look at to try and discern whether or not someone is working against you.

But for now – and most importantly – don’t give this topic too much space in your head. Stray thoughts can be dangerous things for people who use their emotions, visualizations, and will to change reality.

A Magical Go-Bag Tour

magical go-bag - hag stone

In my last blog I talked about the process of putting together a magical go-bag, and some of the reasons why a witch might want to. In this post, I’m going to give you all a tour around my main magical go-bag to give you an idea of some of the options that are out there when putting these bags together.

My Magical Go-Bag: A Backstory

Call me paranoid, but I’ve always carried some kind of magical supplies on me. I’ve just had that kind of life. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been the proverbial poop pile to the supernatural flies, and so always having some supplies on hand just makes sense. However, the impetus to create a dedicated bag for going out on the battlefield (or whatever else I’m up to) only came last year. Before then, my bags were all repurposed, or small bags that I’d just shoved into other, bigger bags. Last year though, things changed

To cut a long story short, working more intensely with the dead led to other spirits showing up. One of those spirits was a crane-dancing woman who told me to create a what was essentially a magical go-bag. Jokingly, I called it a “crane bag” (because it was a crane-dancing woman who told me to make it). However, the connection between the crane bag of Irish lore, and the Irish analog of the Welsh god who has played a pivotal role in my battlefield work also did not go unnoticed.

So off to the internet I went to scroll through endless pictures of “crane bags”. But none of them worked for me, and soon became clear that the best option was to make my own. So I did.

I knew from the outset that it had to be grey and hardwearing. The inner fabric – which could be softer – was a chance find that I chose for the deer in the pattern (an animal that’s long held significance for me). I came across the giant crane-patch by chance while searching for fabric, and well, the idea of a “crane bag” with a giant crane on it gave me a chuckle, so naturally I slapped the ‘purchase’ button.

Making the Bag

I’ve never been a good (or even competent seamstress). I don’t know what happens but I can start off with a perfectly good sewing machine, and then it all goes wrong. The tension decides to do its own thing, then the thingie in the bottom is also like “fuck you”, and in the end, it’s raining, the earth is falling in, and I’m about ready to pitch the machine out of a window. So the prospect of creating a go-bag was daunting to say the least.

I used this tutorial at the recommendation of my mum (thanks mum!), and although it didn’t quite work out (because: me), I came away with a serviceable bag with the custom pockets that you can see here.

magical go-bag - crane bag

magical go-bag - pockets
Custom knife pockets ftw.

Once made, I consecrated it in a small ritual to Manannán Mac Lir as it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  And in the end, I think it was the right decision as it triggered the dream experience that you can read about here.

So that’s how, and the why of creating my go-bag.

My Essential Items

Now here is where I finally get to the things I consider essential for how I work, But as I mentioned in my last blog on this topic, your mileage may vary.

Hag Stone

Function: Apotropaic and tool.

First on the list (but not necessarily in order of importance) is the hag stone or holey stone. These are stones that have naturally occurring holes through the magical go-bag - hag stonemiddle of them, and although I haven’t really found good scholarship on them, my experience has been that these are both effective tools and apotropaics. They’re protective against the Unseen, and allow you – again, in my experience – to see through glamours and things that are normally unseen if you look through them.

You can sometimes find them along rivers, but they are also readily available to purchase online. I would advise caution when purchasing these online though as some unscrupulous vendors try to pass off drilled stones as genuine hag stones.

Black Salt

Function: Hardcore apotropaic.

Next up is black salt. Salt is a great addition to any magical go-bag in magical go-bag - black saltgeneral because it has so many uses. You can use it to salt boundaries, protect, and banish. But black salt is just taking regular old salt and leveling it the fuck up! The addition of iron, ash, and (in my case) ground wolf bone, makes black salt an excellent addition to a go-bag. It’s like an apotropaic powerhouse!

Even better, if you make your own black salt, you can build in extra layers of apotropaic magic into the creation process! Why just scrape some iron from your pan when you can use your pan to burn prayers asking for divine favor with some protective herbs, then add that to your fire ash before scraping the pan for iron? I have a dutch oven that I use specifically for ritual work so that I don’t have to wreck my cast iron cookware; it was $10 from a thrift store – bargain!

Spindle and Fiber

Function: Tool and offering.

I use a lot of spinning in my magic, and especially when it comes to working with spirits. Spinning in a space can trap both dead and leftover remnants of magical go-bag - mini spindleenergy that might “grow up” to get its own ideas and start its own trouble. Spun fiber can provide a bridge, delineate space, and serve as an offering in its own right. I have two spindles that I typically use in ritual work: one is a collapsible spindle that fits in my bag; and the other, magical go-bag - large spindlemy large one, was a gift to thank me for help given. I adore my large one because it feels weighty and authoritative – like a wand. It’s something I’ve wielded in ritual before now when opening portals and working my will. The collapsible one lives in my purse (yes, it’s that small) along with the sheep knuckle I use for yes/no divination.

Railroad Spike

Function: Apotropaic and tool.

This is something I tend to swap out with my black-handled knife. There’s a magical go-bag - spikeresonance to this item that just works. I’ve engraved it with words of power (which I won’t show here), and it’s one of my favorite spirit weapons for subduing, setting up some hardcore protective space, or for when things go bad. I don’t know whether it’s wholly iron or steel (which is mostly iron anyway), but it’s kickass anyway.

Red Yarn

Function: Apotropaic, tool, McGyver goodness.

magical go-bag - red yarnThis is one of my more McGyver-type items. Red thread can be used to bind and protect, or create new items (like a crossroads effigy or protective rowan cross). It can also be used for knot spells, marking off space, and much more. The yarn I use is hand spun with intent and then ritually consecrated.

Offerings of some kind

Function: Offerings, because being a magical murderhobo is bad.

And finally, because being the magical equivalent of a D&D murderhobo is not something that any of us should aspire to, I carry offerings. So many situations can be avoided or calmed by just communicating and making propitiatory offerings. Easy offerings to carry on the regular are cornmeal, tobacco, water, cedar, and small sealed butter or cream packets. Just please, take any trash home with you so you don’t ruin any of your good work by doing anyone the disrespect of leaving trash in their space.

The Ancestors Bring Blessings

ancestors - skulls

Several years ago, I had a dream that people told me couldn’t possibly come true. There was simply no way, it was too unlikely, and though it had left me shaken for the entire day, it was really nothing to worry about.

After all, how likely were pitched battles on the streets between Nazis and non-Nazis? Moreover, the dream had taken place in my hometown and I no longer lived there, right? But dream works differently, what is detail in life is symbol in dream, and I remember that dream all too well after the events of this past weekend. Nazis bearing swastika flags, spewing messages of hate and throwing projectiles, armed and deadly on unwelcoming streets. The harassed sounds of police horses and the clip of boots covering the feet of hastily deployed soldiers.

The sound of rounds being chambered.

And in the background, or maybe superimposed – who knows, dream is like that – was the voice exhorting the masses to rise up for ‘Queen and country’.

My friends had been right, it was highly unlikely back then, and yet it filled me with a sense of horror and dread. I can’t help but notice today, that aside from the police horses and setting in Lancashire, it wasn’t too far off what did happen in Charlottesville, VA. Not that I’m claiming my dream somehow predicted that, I’m not. But I do think it was a warning of what was then a coming wave.

Tea With the Dead

The Dead have always played a role in my life and practice. I grew up in a family that was very nominally Anglican, and not so ‘nominally’ Spiritualist. I grew up with a dad whose family had cut their teeth in Spiritualism in post (and presumably during) wartime London. Though I never knew either of my grandmothers and only one of my grandfathers, I had the benefit of a great uncle who still lived down in London, and whom I would go visit with my father as a kid.

My uncle Lew and auntie Ada were incredible people, always laughing, and they could drink enough tea to sink a ship. Like the rest of my father’s family, they’d also spent a lot of time around the Spiritualist circles, and that sense of otherness was palpable in their home. There was nothing threatening there, but I never quite felt like I was alone even when there was no one else around. Our visits there were mostly spent laughing over countless cups of tea – I loved them dearly.

But uncle Lew and auntie Ada also had stories to tell, and some of them were quite dark. You see, they’d been of an age to be around for WWII, and as Londoners -or more specifically Cockneys -they’d experienced the very worst of the Blitz.

Amazingly, most of their stories about this era were told with humor. They told stories of a world on fire in which no one knew if they would survive or not, and so they’d decided to enjoy what they could anyway for the most part. They were a people who had learned to dance on the knife’s edge, living as though every day was their last. And all of that might have sounded like bravado but for the heavy shadow that fell upon some of their words, that though delivered in such a matter of fact manner, had all the impact of a gut punch.

I often think about what they’d think had they lived to see the days we live in now. Would they recognize in us the same descent they experienced? Did the Dead scream in warning as loudly to them in the build-up to the war as they do to some of us now? Are we on the path to similar or worse?

The Use and Abuse of History

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984

As I’ve written previously, to know the past is to be able to predict the future. Divination in the Heathen period played many roles, but it was never about getting a set answer about what was going to happen next. It was for ancestors - memediscerning the will of the gods (and perhaps receiving a heads up from them about the future), for finding that which was lost, and for discovering past and present events that were not yet known to the enquirer. To know what was past and what was yet unseen was to be able to have a greater chance of predicting the future.

But what if you do not like what the past holds, or the world around you promises? What if none of that fits the model that you would like to see become dominant in the world?

Then you smash the statues, you break that link, and you harass anyone who presents evidence that contradicts that. Oh you claim to care while making those appeals to history/tradition/authority/science (all often incorrectly), but ultimately the people who would go down this route have no real respect for any of it. They simply recognize the truth that George Orwell expressed so succinctly in the quote above.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

This is why history, and perhaps to a lesser degree, memory matters. History shows us the patterns that are best off never repeated again, and a memory that is clear and true is the best protection against the hazards of the Overton Window.

One of the names I go by online is that of “Seo Helrune”, an Old English term that Pollington translates as meaning ‘one skilled in the mysteries of the world of the dead’ (Pollington 51). Though we do not know much about the actual magical tech employed by a Heathen period Helrune, this term still feels fitting for me. From the family I was born into, the kind of magical practice I do, and the history I voraciously devour, the dead and their world have always been a part of me. As strange as it sounds, I find a form of holiness in history; for not only is it in a sense the ‘world’ of the dead, but I believe it also contains the keys to creating a better future for my descendants. Put a pin in that thought though for now, I’ll return to this idea later.

To Conscript a God

Unfortunately, the dead and their world are not the only powers to have been pressed into service for the traditionalist cause – the gods have also fallen victim.

Or rather one god in particular has, and it does not go unnoticed that he is a god associated with the dead and the mysteries of their world.

”Sometimes even he called the dead out of the earth, or set himself beside the burial-mounds; whence he was called the ghost-sovereign, and lord of the mounds.”
(Ynglinga 7)

Again the theme and story repeats.

The god of course, is Odin/Woden/Wotan, and he now finds himself figurehead of a very 21st century phenomenon, the ‘meme war’. What a demotion! From having one’s names on the lips of actual warriors and kings, to being the figurehead of a fucking meme war comprised of keyboard warriors and internet personalities.

However his role does not end with ‘figurehead’, but he also fulfils the role of sacrificial victim too – sacrificed at the altar of ‘the white race’, or ‘folk’.

Consider these words:
”Now, I happen to have been a follower of Wotan, under his name of Odin, for some 45 years, and my personal experience is that He is utterly real, if inherently mysterious. But I don’t expect my Christian, or Atheist, or Agnostic, or Other friends to agree on that. Instead, I invite them to think of Wotan as Carl Jung, the famous psychologist, did: Namely, as an inherited symbol in the collective unconscious of the Germanic Peoples. Either way, as God or as Archetype, Wotan is a source of immense power, and we need to call upon that power to stir the European Peoples into action.” (From: here)

The only ‘god’ here that this worldview has room for is race, like a friend of mine says, My religion is gifting, theirs is white people.

And while I know that historically leaders and kings sought the favor of deities in their various campaigns, the difference is that they did not use them as tools in quite the same way. The rituals were expressions of do ut des as opposed to PR (though PR almost certainly played a part, as it does with any savvy leader), and they knew how to gift.

ancestors - odin
I don’t know that for sure, but this by Laura Tempest Zakroff is just brilliant – stickers available here:
http://www.magodjinn.com/stickers.html#psodin

The Ancestors Bring Blessings

Modern people, at least in our society, have a problem with death. We do not like to be reminded of it, it is taboo. The majority of us no longer lay out our own dead, or even see anything other than a sanitized version of death when we do. An entire industry exists to relieve us of those final duties to our kin, and it is an industry that has become adept at occulting death from society in general.

All of which I believe helps to draw a big, funerary black curtain between the dead and ourselves in terms how we understand our ancestors.

Don’t get me wrong, we do very well with remembrance, but it can be quite a surprise to us that our Heathen and Pagan ancestors didn’t just engage in rites to the Dead for the sake of remembrance, but for tangible gains too.

“it should be noted that the ancestors, as part of their ongoing concern for their descendants, are thought to bring blessings to family, flock, and field. This is why the Hunt was believed to be propitious, and why people welcomed it despite the chaos and even danger that came with it, an attitude as Höfler, Meuli, Wolfram, and others have amply attested. The *koryos brings increase for the same reason it brings order: because it makes the ancestors present among their people. And so, while the fertility aspects of the cult became all-important, after the conversion, among the country people who kept up these practices, they were always present.” (Kershaw 34)

Presumably what must be propitiated may also be offended, and consequences reaped.

”Three features, writes Meuli, govern the primitive’s conception of the dead person: He continues to live. He is powerful. He is at once well-disposed and malicious (Meuli 1975: I, 303).” (Kershaw 23-24)

Over the past few days, I’ve seen lots of people declare the deeds of their ancestors. Stories of participation in D-Day or at Dunkirk. Stories of liberation and blood, of freeing holocaust survivors and the long deep hatred of Nazis that permeated the words and minds of our more recent ancestors. Are we to think that the rise of this ideology once more, though touting the cause of ancestors would somehow be acceptable to those of our lines who fought those battles?

I suppose it all depends on your ancestors, but I know what mine would think. Tea and memories in a small house in a London suburb have seen to that.

The rhetoric of the far right is often framed in terms of survival of ‘the white race’. We see that ideology condensed into fourteen infamous words:

”We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
(Source: Wikipedia)

As one might expect in a movement with ideology such as this, women are both exalted as bearers of the future generation and excoriated for not having bred enough. The obsession with the womb, that long-time obsession of those who would exert a far greater degree of social control than any of us should be comfortable with, is a key feature here.

One would almost think that were they truly representing the will of the Holy Powers, that the ‘white race’ would be experiencing a fertility boom, right? (Well you know, if those lazy white women would just accept their role as childbearers…)

As much as I hate to be *that* person pointing this out though, perhaps that is simply not the case?

Sources

Kris Kershaw – The One Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-) Germanic Männerbünde
Stephen Pollington – Leechcraft

Clowns, Masks, and Ritual

masks - death masks

A Time of Madness, Masks, and Clowns

On the 20th of August 2016, some clowns allegedly tried to lure a kid into the woods near his apartment complex in masks - wasco clownGreenville, South Carolina. Over the course of the next week, a further five sightings were reported to the local police department. Those of us who didn’t live in Greenville, especially those of us raised on Stephen King’s IT, were relieved to not be there. Over the course of the coming weeks, the number of sightings grew – as did the number of locations. People speculated that it was all some kind of publicity stunt for the upcoming IT remake, but the movie’s producer denied all. A kind of paranoia and hysteria grew around the clowns, and as the reports grew, so did the debate around just what the clowns were and why they had masks - evil clownstarted to become so prominent. Some people pointed out the Fortean aspects of these crazes (which happen periodically), whereas others just stuck to more mundane explanations of creepy attention-seekers in bought or rented suits and masks. In a kind of collective madness, exacerbated by the fever of the late election cycle, we hurtled towards Halloween and rumors of a ‘clown purge’. With the exception of one Halloween night attack on a family by a gang of clowns that thankfully left them with comparatively minor injuries, there was no purge. Then as quickly as it began, it was all over and the clowns disappeared from the news.

But regardless of whether some of the clowns were supernatural as some claimed, or simply fucked up people in scary masks, there is a curious history to clowns and the act of masking that deserves some examination. Because sometimes, as the saying goes, you have to dress for the job you want.

A Dichotomy of Clowns

Believe it or not, but as creepy as clowns are, the original clown (at least in the Anglosphere) was supposed to be a kind of harmless rustic fool. According to the Etymological Dictionary Online, the word ‘clown’ (as ‘cloyne’ or ‘clowne’) is theoretically derived from various Scandinavian language words for ‘clumsy’, and was first used in the 1560s to denote a ‘rustic boor, peasant’. (1) However, the word is not the thing, and the history of the ‘rustic fool’ figure in entertainment settings goes back to the Ancient Greek sklêro-paiktês, a word which comes from the verb paizein ‘to play like a child’. (2) This is not the only word for this kind of performer in Greek theater, but I do not need to include them here to further make the point that this figure of a ‘rustic fool’ that we call ‘clown’ is quite ancient.

Ancient Greek theater was inextricably tied up in acts of ritual, Aristotle even cited the cult of Dionysius as being the origins of drama.(3) While this is a claim that is still debated, it does illustrate that theater was not merely a form of entertainment for the Greeks (although it was undoubtedly that too).

The clowns, or rather ‘clown-like’ performers of today arguably have their origin in the Zanni of the 16th century Italian Commedia dell’Arte. There were essentially two types of Zanni: the stupid and boorish ( in other words, those we would recognize as being clowns today); and the intelligent trickster types. Strangely, it is the more threatening Zanni, the member of the Zanni known as Arlecchino – despite his somewhat darker theorized origins – who is considered to be among the stupid. To quote Jennifer Meagher from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

” The zanni (servants) were in many ways the most important—and certainly the most subversive—characters of masks - harlequinthe commedia, as their antics and intrigues decided the fate of frustrated lovers, disagreeable vecchi, and each other. Perhaps best known of these is Arlecchino, or Harlequin (1974.356.525), a character whose origin is contested. It is likely that he derived either from Alichino, a demon from Dante’s Inferno (XXI-XXIII), or from Hellequin, a character from French Passion plays, also a demon charged with driving damned souls into Hell. Arlecchino is characterized as a poor man, often from Bergamo, whose diamond-patterned costume suggests that he is wearing patchwork, a sign of his poverty. His mask is either speckled with warts or shaped like the face of a monkey, cat, or pig, and he often carries a batacchio, or slapstick.”(4) (Emphasis is my own.)

Also worthy of note here, is the fact that “All characters except Pedrolino and the innamorati wore masks, a tradition deriving from ancient Roman comedies, Atellanae Fabulae, that featured character types similar to those of the commedia.” (5) The Commedia has its roots in old old custom.

To return to that first quote though, and Arlecchino’s connection with hell in both of his origins stories, there is a far richer history to be found here that makes this hellish connection, and especially with the dead especially apt.

Harlequin and Herela Cyng

Harlequins are curious things, both in terms of their dress as the black-masked performer in checkered material carrying a club, and the history suggested by the etymology of their name. The most complete exposition of the history of both the name and character comes from Flasdieck in his 1937 article entitled “Harlekin. Germanischer Mythos in romanischer Wandlung”. In it, the origins of the word ‘Harlequin’ are traced back to the OE *Her(e)la cyng, or ‘King Harilo’, which is itself a by-name of Wodan – a god connected with leading the dead in the form of the Wild Hunt. (6) In turn, Flasdieck traces ‘Her(e)la’ back to *Xarilan – a word deriving from *Xaria, or ‘army’. This is synonymous with Herjann, and leads us to the Germanic tribal name, the Harii. (It’s all a lot more complex than that, I’m trying to condense about seven pages of etymology into less than a paragraph. Seriously, get Kershaw’s book if you can.)

Remember the black mask of the Harlequin? Maybe it’s no coincidence – per Tacitus in Germania 43 (emphasis is my own):

“As for the Harii, quite apart from their strength, which exceeds that of the other tribes I have just listed, they pander to their innate savagery by skill and timing: with black shields and painted bodies, they choose dark nights to fight, and by means of terror and shadow of a ghostly army they cause panic, since no enemy can bear a sight so unexpected and hellish; in every battle the eyes are the first to be conquered.”

Masks and Ritual

masks - death masks
Image from here: http://bit.ly/2nBmA5a

Returning to the ancient classical world though, and this time the funerals of Rome, we see the act of masking in impersonation of the dead. One of the living would wear a death mask and clothes of the newly deceased, and impersonate them as much as they could. To clarify a little here, by ‘death mask’, I mean masks molded from the actual face of the deceased usually after death. Other mourners would similarly impersonate the ancestors of the deceased with their own respective masks. (7) Viewed from this perspective, the funeral then becomes a drama in which the decedent is escorted to the grave by the dead themselves.

To quote Kershaw in her ‘The One Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo) Germanic Männerbünde’, “It is the nature of the dead that they are not seen”, and yet there were times during the ritual year when the dead very much needed to be present. So how to solve a problem like that? How to give form to the unseen?(8)

Again from Kershaw (emphasis is my own): “The means by which they become the dead are Masks. By mask we do not necessarily mean something which covers the face. The most primitive form of masking is simply painting the face (and body). And while we have, from Scandinavia, representations of cultic dancers wearing very realistic wolfs’ heads and fur garments reaching to the knees, as in the helmet plate from Torslunda described in 1.4.3 above, other masks consist of (or are made to look like ?) parts of an animal’s head, or the whole head with the jaws agape and the masker’s face showing, as in the pictures of Herakles in his lion skin or Hades in his ????….The mask shows that the wearer is a dæmonic, or more-than-natural, being. He is no longer himself: he is an Ancestor.” (9)

Though Kershaw was writing about the embodiment of ancestors by living warriors by means of donning masks, this same principle applies equally to the impersonation of the deceased at the Roman funeral – the belief in possession by ghosts or the ‘more-than-natural’ is quite ancient.

Exapanding the ‘More-Than-Natural’

Earlier on in this post, I made the joke that sometimes you have to dress for the job you want, hopefully that joke ismasks - werewolf becoming somewhat clearer now. But I do not believe that this principle applies solely to the dead, and that we can see a form of this kind of embodiment of the ‘more-than-natural’ in some of the sources on shapeshifting too. For example, Sigmund and Sinfjötli of the Volsunga Saga become wolves through the donning of skins, and this theme survived into the 17th century when Thiess the self-described werewolf of Livonia testified that he and his fellow werewolves [on their journey to hell to retrieve seeds stolen by a sorcerer called Skeistan] had to strip off and don skins. (10)

Conversely, a person might return to the human state by either shucking the mask or skin, and/or dressing once more in the clothes of man. We see this at play in Petronius’s Satyricon in which a soldier protects his clothes by magically turning them into stone before turning into a werewolf. To protect one’s clothes is to protect one’s ability to return to the human state. This theme is also present in Marie de France’s 12th century lay Bisclavret (a Breton word meaning ‘werewolf’) in which a werewolf’s clothes are stolen him from returning to his human form.(11) This is not so different from the protective powers of cultivated land when being pursued by the Other in the wilds, the clothes acting as a civilizing influence in much the same way as working the land does a field.

Of Masks and Clowns

The 2016 spate of clown sightings were noteworthy in numerous ways, not in the least because every single clown described was of the ‘horror’ variety. They were embodying the Pennywise, the sick, murderous clown that goes out of its way to terrify children and adults alike, and all during a time of high passion and acrimonious national discourse. Given the historical use of masking within ritual contexts, and the meaning of that act of masking, a whole new dimension is added to the question of just what possessed those people to don those masks and go out behaving in ways they perhaps wouldn’t normally. Now obviously, I’m not suggesting that all of those clowns were possessed by some spirits stirred up by the then-zeitgeist, but it is an interesting thought, isn’t it?

Sources
(1) Etymological Dictionary Online – Clown
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=clown
(2) Etymological Dictionary Online – Coulrophobia
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=coulrophobia
(3) The Origins of Theater in Ancient Greece and Beyond: From Ritual to Drama – Eric Csapo, Margaret C. Miller P
(4)+(5) Commedia dell’Arte – Jennifer Meagher
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/comm/hd_comm.htm
(6) The One Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo) Germanic Männerbünde – Kris Kershaw (Pp 11, 15-19, 38-40)
(7) Impersonating the Dead: Mimes at Roman Funerals – Geoffrey S. Sumi
(8) The One Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo) Germanic Männerbünde – Kris Kershaw (p26)
(9) Ibid.
(10) Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages – Claude LeCouteux (Pp 118-121)
(11) Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages – Claude LeCouteux (Pp113-116)

Ancestral Shores | A Story Snippet

One Immigrant’s Story

On the day she came home, they’d been happy to see their daughter return. Communication had been difficult at times, sometimes even impossible. Like every child out adventuring out in the world, there were times when she simply hadn’t even remembered to check in, to let them know she was ok. But that was ok too, because she always did eventually. Full of life and happy to see home again even for the short time she’d be there before the next adventure.

This time though, things were different. When she’d arrived this time, they’d worried as she coughed, a dark shadow falling on her chest like never before. Watching her struggle to climb hills and moors that she’d climbed hundreds of times before with ease, they felt only sadness. But she always was a stubborn one and she’d carried on walking uphill regardless. They’d gone with her to see the doctor a week or so later, her coughing…no asthma had gotten so bad.

“I remember how bad that was for me”, Violet had said, “Marvellous what they can do nowadays with medicine.” Lillian had simply stroked their granddaughter’s forehead as she breathed in the nebulizer and her breathing stabilized.

Eventually though, she’d gone again, got onto the plane with her husband and left.

And after a few hours they couldn’t feel her anymore.

Late at night, when most people are comfortably ensconced inside, they would meet on the beach, the sometimes stormy Irish sea before them. Something about that direction, that place made them feel ever so slightly closer to her, their errant family member. Sometimes Lew would make comments like “She gets that from me, you know!”, and his sister and wife would slap him on the shoulder and tell him not to be so daft, and that he’d never literally disappeared before.

One of those nights, when the surf was up and they could almost hear what sounded like her voice on the wind, story - ancestral shoresJames came to the conclusion that this not being able to hear her thing had to have something to do with the sea and then the ocean beyond that. After all, she *couldn’t* be in Ireland, they’d know. They had family and blood there. At one point, Peter had even stood on the opposite shore and called to them that she absolutely wasn’t there. Thanking him, they’d engaged in a bit of banter before going back to keep an eye on the rest of the family.

It was finally when William was sitting next to his son, in the living room of 35 Primrose street that he’d heard Val say something about her being in America. It all made sense to them now, but still they missed her.

“It’s probably best if you go to Southport when the tide’s up” said Ken, he still wasn’t comfortable in his new role in the family, but he was doing well even though it hurt him to see his wife still so sad. “Take it easy, son. These things take time.”, his dad had said. He knew better than most how it was to go through that kind of separation, and Ken had always been the kind of big brother to take his responsibilities to his siblings very seriously.

So it was that they came to be sitting there on the beach during what was a horrible storm (for those that could still feel that kind of thing), straining their ears and trying to hear their long-lost daughter, they sat. They had all but given up, when they finally heard it, her voice weak on the winds.

It was their names in prayer, asking them to do their best to find her.

And right then and there, they decided that if the wind could find a way, so could they