Midwinter

by by Jesper Toad

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The curved face of Newgrange appears suddenly, looming through the hedgerow of trees, dominating the otherwise flat farmlands.  White quartz stones, fished out of the Boyne five millennia gone, shore up the sides of the hill, while the west facing entrance features inwardly bowed walls of dark stone, towering over the cup-marked and bespiraled kerbstone that marks the entrance to this ancient megalithic site.  Uncanny, the great mound has an un-natural relationship with surrounding landscape: the entire structure has been constructed by the hands of man.

The monolithic monument of Newgrange in Ireland aligns itself to the winter solstice sunrise, and is believed to have been erected somewhere around 3200-3000 BCE, during a creative cultural and spiritual transition from the construction and use of early tomb-shrines to that of circular ceremonial enclosures.  Although it is important to recognize the ritual importance of the stations of the sun, and in particular the nadir of the winter solstice, Newgrange, Stonehenge, and the other megalithic monuments aligned to cardinal points of the sun are atypical, comprising only a small percentage of the hundreds of Neolithic structures in Britain (Hutton, 1996, pp. 4-5).

Midwinter in the northern hemisphere marks the height of the period of cold and darkness, and the point in which the great annual gyre begins spinning back toward light and warmth.  The dominant symbolism of the season, shared by several religions, is that of the return of light, often represented in the image of a numinous child emerging from the obscured and unknowable womb of the great mother.

Newgrange swells up from the surrounding Irish countryside like the pregnant belly of a woman, promising life, even though it also serves as the repository that receives the remains of those who have gone before.  This megalithic monument seems intimately linked with birth, occurring at the moment of greatest darkness, and death, that darkness into which we all must travel: they are one in the same gate through which we pass between the visible and the invisible realms.

To enter the great burial mound is to take a journey into the underworld.  The great kerbstone—the threshold of the house of death and rebirth—must be clambered over, and then one squeezes past the flat, upright stones that line the narrow corridor leading to the inner chambers.  As I shimmy sideways and duck where the ceiling is low, I wonder about the people who essayed this passage before me: not just the thousands of tourists wandering through on a yearly basis, but back in the mists of time, to people who approached the mound as a mystery, who housed their dead within this raised earth, and whose bones and ashes eventually found themselves interred in the great stone basins of the side chambers.

The visitors crowd the central chamber beneath the corbelled roof. The lights dim, and finally go out completely in order to demonstrate how the light of the sun passes through the roofbox and travels down the sixty-foot passage to illuminate the farthest reaches of the burial mound.  Standing in the utter darkness, I realize how seldom modern Americans experience a complete lack of light, and a tangle of panic begins to unwind from deep in my belly.  The weight of the unseen burial mound above and around me presses close, and I fight unbidden feelings of isolation and terror.

Mythically, this traveling into the abysmal depth of the realm of the dead at the time of the winter solstice is the beginning of the abaissement du niveau mental, which exhausts the ego of psychological energy as the individual descends into the creative unconscious to witness the cyclical destruction and recreation of not only the world.  It is a rehearsal for the end of our lives, when the temenos of the mother swallows each of us down.  The great womb becomes our resting place, our grave: we dissolve in the absolute darkness, returning to an undifferentiated state.

Later this grave, the tomb, the ash-filled urn becomes a womb-like alembic, a transformative container in which the sacred conjunctio oppositorum—the union of opposites—of death and rebirth occurs (Abraham, 1998, p. 219).  Reduced back to this primal state of being in the maternal womb we are ready for the recreation of the world, and the re-emergence of the purified and reconstellated ego (Edinger, p. 47-48).

The darkness is so absolute that the images behind my eyes emerge and dance across the vacant visual field.  When the dagger of light first dimly glimmers upon the floor, it seems as if it is one of these hypnagogic images, until I brightens enough to banish the phantasmagoria of the mind, and becomes the only thing within the darkened place of death, silence, and possibility. Light darts down the corridor and enters the small crowded space, playing out golden upon the dusty floor, driving panic before it as it fills the room with life and hope.

On the winter and summer solstices the sun appears to set and rise in the same place upon the horizon.  The word solstice is phenomenological, deriving from Latin solstitium, meaning that the sun stands still (Hutton, 1996, p. 2).  This lack of movement of the solar orb suggests a suspended moment of time, a mystical diastema between the fading of one year and the vitalization of the next.

Newgrange has a special orifice above the main passage through which the morning sun shines, invading the central chambers and disrupting the reign of darkness and death but a few days surrounding the winter solstice (Hutton, 1996, p. 4).  This orifice, carved with a geometric lozenge and cross motif, reminds me of the fontanel, that fissure at the top of the skull through which shamanic healers blow back a lost soul into the corpus of the body (Ronnberg, 2010, p. 404).  It is through this rectangular stone oculus above the entrance to the tumulus that the sun fertilizes the tomb, calling forth the souls from the fecund darkness, and initializing the return of life and vitality from where it lies resting within the earth.  As witnesses to the rebirth of life, we take our place in the cosmic dance of destruction and creation, knowing we will never be eternally lost, but will re-emerge, transformed, to span another and another cycle upon the face of the beloved earth.

In this way we enter into the mythic narrative.  The birth of the wunderkinder—the wondrous child—at the winter solstice is also, if we submit to the transformative process, the rebirth of ourselves.  Standing in the darkness of the womb-tomb, between the living and the dead, at the moment the sun stops, our hearts stop, our minds stop, creativity incubates and we prepare for a new stage of growth.  If we have engaged out work in earnest we experience an apocatastasis, a resurrection to an original state of wholeness and potential.

The tourists file out, ducking the low stones, and squeezing the narrows.  The passage out of the tumulus is now like a birth canal, as one by one we blink our way into the sunlight to clamber over the great kerbstone.  I pause, looking at the spirals, circling in, circling out, in a constant circumambulation around an obscured center point.  Walking out amongst the stones upon the Irish green on this soft summer day, I wonder at the re-enactment of the midwinter sunrise in the darkness and the elsewhere and the elsewhen it evoked.

When we have come through the darkness, when the sun has begun to strengthen and we know that the fertile seasons are fated to return, then it is time for celebration.  The pre-Christian festivals that marked the dying and reborn annual cycle included various practices, common among them bedecking living spaces with evergreens, feasting, gift-giving, dancing, and singing.  Consequently, a song seems most appropriate.  I have adapted the old carol to suit new needs, to serve as a song for this endris night—endris meaning long and enduring—at the dark time of the winter solstice.

 

This Endris Night
This cold and lonely endris night

Of darkness and dismay

The shadows catch between my bones

Lullay, bye-bye, lullay.

 

But from my belly shines a light

A babe as bright as day

Struggling to be born this night

Lullay, bye-bye, lullay.

 

The babe’s head crowns as if through clouds

No moon or star astray

And cries aloud into the dark

Lullay, bye-bye, lullay.

 

My arms enclose the lambent form

An innocent display:

The babe upon the mother’s breast

Lullay, bye-bye, lullay.

 

Brought forth upon this endris night

You bring the break of day,

Sweet child of promise, child of light,

Lullay, bye-bye, lullay.

 

The interplay of light and dark—

The stars, the moon, the day—

Each spirit tending to its sphere

Lullay, bye-bye, lullay.

 

Brought forth upon this endris night

You bring the break of day,

Sweet child of promise, child of light,

Lullay, bye-bye, lullay.

 

Hutton, R. (1996). The stations of the sun: A history of the ritual year in Britain.  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Ronnberg, A (Ed.).  (2010).  The book of symbols: Reflections on archetypal imagery.  Cologne, Germany: Taschen

Edinger, E. (1985). Anatomy of the psyche: Alchemical symbolism in psychotherapy.  La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Abraham, L. (1995). A dictionary of alchemical imagery.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jesper Bio image

 

Jesper Toad is a Georgian and a Gardnerian initiate, and studied the Feri Tradition with T. Thorn Coyle for nearly three years. His personal practice of three decades blends elements of all these traditions, as well incorporating spiritualist, shamanic and depth psychological perspectives. These seasonal writings and images are excerpts from The Enchiridion Magistellus, A Visual Handbook of the Witches’ Art. Jesper can be contacted at jespertoad@gmail.com.

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Images of Rebirth: the Ancient Egyptian Concept of Creation

by Maatkara, Chantress of Hathor

We are your children, we ask for rebirth,
Each day anew, we are born with the Sun
.”
– “Lady of the Sky”©2002 by Morgana RavenTree

Tut Lotus
Tutankhamun in the guise of Ra rising from the lotus on the Mound of Creation

Existence began in darkness.  The Primordial Waters existed alone, unchanging, but moving continually.  At one moment, the flowing waters caused a grain of sand to move. This caused it to push against another grain of sand and caused it to move, and so on and so on, until slowly the Benben, the first mound of sand, rose from the waters to become the first dry land.  Upon this mound, a fragrant lotus bloomed and from the lotus emerged Atum, the First One, he who was both male and female for he brought forth life from within himself.  He masturbated, sneezed or spat forth Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture) from within himself.  From them proceeded all the other gods.

There are many creation stories from all over ancient Egypt.  Each major city had its own version featuring its local deity.  In some versions the creator was Heru, in others Ptah, in still others Asar (Osiris), or Amun.  In the city of Iunu (more commonly known by its Greek name, Heliopolis), the creator was Ra (or Re) the Sun God.  Each day Ra travels across the sky until at the end of the day he is swallowed by Nut, the goddess of the night sky.  At dawn, he is reborn from Nut’s womb and begins his journey again.

These images of rebirth and renewal were an integral part of Egyptian cosmology.  For the Egyptians, these events happened not in some distant past, or even their own early history.  The creation of the universe happened this very morning and happens again every morning.  The creation “myths” were happening all around them in the present.  Creation was not a one-time event, but occurred and reoccurred continuously – the annual inundation (flooding) of the Nile, the Sed festival renewing Pharaoh’s life and reign – but it all begins with the rebirth of the Sun, and therefore the universe, every morning.

It is difficult to imagine what it is like to live surrounded by such imagery, one of the many reasons it is difficult for modern people to understand the true nature of Egyptian culture.  So, which of the creation myths is true?  They’re all “true” in their essence, a concept modern people find hard to understand, but the Egyptians understood.

One of these mornings, go out just before dawn and raise your face to the rising sun (but don’t look at it).  Spread your arms and feel the warmth and power of the sun.  Let it re-energize you.  While the Egyptians had complex rituals for this purpose, you need only greet the Sun with humility and praise in your heart, and receive the power of (re)creation.

Recommended readings: Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts by James P. Allen; Idea into Image: Essays on Ancient Egyptian Thought by Erik Hornung; Ancient Egyptian Religion by Stephen Quirke; Eternal Egypt by Richard J. Reidy

I Give You Bread, I Give You Beer – Food Offerings in Ancient Egypt

By Maatkara, Chantress of Hathor

“Hail Amun-Ra, I present to you honey, the Eye of Heru, the sweet one, the exudation of the Eye of Ra, the Lord of Offerings.”

1What exactly are “offerings” and why should we give them?  Simply put, offerings are gifts we give freely with joy in our hearts.  We give them to the Gods out of respect (or sometime fear), to the ancestors to honor them and even to spirits to appease them. 

In ancient Egypt, one of the most important aspects of ritual was the act of making offerings to the gods or ancestors.  The Pharaohs of Egypt were called the “Sons of Ra” (the sun god) and functioned as the intermediary between the gods and the people.  Because of Pharaoh’s divine status only he or she could act in this capacity.  Each day at sunrise, Pharaoh, or an officiating priest representing him, removed the statue of Ra from its shrine inside the temple so it could be purified (with incense, natron (sodium carbonate) and water), dressed in clothes (literally, the statues wore clothing and jewelry) and anointed (with oils or sometimes honey), then returned to the shrine, ready to receive a ritual meal.  The meal enabled the God to regenerate his life force.

Although the gods were also offered fragrant flowers, scented oils and incense, the simplest food offerings were bread and beer, traditional foods no Egyptian could live without.  Meat, fowl, fruit, vegetables, oil, honey and wine might also be offered.  After allowing time for the God to consume its essence, the priests and temple staff would share the foods.

A similar “feast” occurred at the end of the funerary rites after interment of the mummy into its tomb.  As part of the funerary rites the family would gather in a special room in the tomb and assemble a funeral banquet.  The food offerings would be blessed by the priest and the family would celebrate the departed family member. This was a festive occasion and the guests would wear their finest clothes and jewels.

Afterwards, when the deceased had “eaten” the essence of the foods, they were divided up by the family, with a portion also given to the priest. Often a portion of the meal was placed inside the tomb before it was sealed. 

In a sense, when Pharaoh (or priest) performed the morning ritual, he was making offerings to his own ancestors, being their divine descendent.

In common villages, the family might hold a similar funeral banquet and share the food with the village.

The offerings were a farewell to the deceased and a symbolic nourishment for them, but they also had another purpose. They distributed food among all the family members or even the village so that even the less-fortunate could share in the bounty.

When you observe your rituals, you may wish to add the offering of foods to the gods as the ancient Egyptians did. Remember, the best offerings are the ones given with no expectation of return.     

 Recommended readings: Egyptian Food and Drink by Hilary Wilson; Eternal Egypt: Ancient Rituals for the Modern World by Richard Reidy; and Ancient Egyptian Magic by Bob Brier.

Offering, Oblation, and Sacrifice

by Jesper Toad

I believe that the practice of Witchcraft includes initiating, fostering, and maintaining reciprocal relationships with the invisible spirits.  Ritual transactions that include offerings, oblations, and sacrifices—the gifts crossing the divide from the visible to the invisible realms—act as foundational communications that open currents of power between us and the multitudinous spirits with which we share the world.

Although traditionally thought of as a transaction or communication between superior spirits (gods and such) and inferior spirits (lowly mankind), I tend to interact with the spirit world not in terms of power-over, but in a praxis of power-with.  Starhawk defines power-over in terms of domination and control, as opposed to power-with, which is based in influence and social power (Simos, 1999, p. 269).  The spirits of the land, the spirits of the dead, the good people, and all the other spirits one might meet, are different from me: as far as I can ascertain, I have both a physical and a spiritual substance, move around in a concrete body in a manifest word subject to time and space; the invisibles have an insubstantial, eternal quality, and are not subject to the same temporal linearity.  As an incarnate entity, I can do things though the medium of my concrete, physical body that  invisible and discarnate entities cannot.  Conversely, the spirits can influence the world in beneficial or malicious ways that are not within my immediate abilities.  For the Witch, the shaman, the magical practitioner, the important relationships between the visible and invisible are reciprocal: we work together toward shared goals, as well as co-inhabit the world.  Additionally, I work from a place of equal-but-different, and think of these invisible spirit entities in the same terms I would incarnate individuals.  How would I treat the neighbors in the next house over?  How do I interact with my co-workers, family members, and friends?  I treat them with respect, and hope that they treat me in the same manner.  With those that I share work, goals, and aspirations, I strive to foster and sustain reciprocal relationships.

Although one may disagree to my leveling everything from the soul of men to the mighty gods under the umbrella term of spirit, one will agree that they are all spirit on some level, and we must foster and sustain right relationships with them so that we may further our spiritual work in the world.  One tenet of the Anderson Feri Tradition that I happen to hold dear is that that one does not submit their life for to anyone or anything (Coyle, 2004, p. 239).  This submission would include turning life force over to any entity, flesh or spirit, man or god.  My use of the word spirit for all such discarnate entities is a linguistic attempt to level a playing field, avoid having my energies co-opted by entities and efforts that do not serve me, and to enter into relationships characterized by power-with rather than power over.  These respectful and reciprocal relationships between the visible and invisible worlds are created and sustained through three related modalities of offering, oblation, and sacrifice.

Offering

OfferingOfferings tend to be spontaneous, an act of sharing rooted in affection, celebration, or gratitude.  Such informal offerings are given freely, an act of generosity.  Earnest offerings to newly encountered spirits often herald the beginning of relationships.  Generally, where offerings and libations are concerned, spirits appear to prefer gifts that have been enhanced by the work of human hands.  The cream and butter churned from the milk of domesticated stock, oatcakes or bread baked by the lady of the house, and fermented beverages are all traditional offerings found in European folklore.

Often modern people will observe that offerings of cream, oatcakes, or whisky appear to be left untouched.  Obviously, it is not the physical substance of an offering, but the vital etheric energies that are consumed by the invisible.  Consequently it is unwise to eat food that was left as an offering, not only because the offense it may cause to the spirits involved, but also because such food has no goodness in it, and stories are told that eating of it can cause sickness (Wentz, 1911).

Oblation

OblationSome offerings are performed on a regular basis to ensure the continuation of reciprocal relationships between the quick and the dead, the human and the fairy, the seen and the unseen. For me, the term for these exchanges is oblation—from the Latin oblatio, meaning ‘to offer’—and occur predictably, maybe daily, perhaps at the turning of the moon, or on the commencement or peak of certain tides of the year.  These gifts are a manifestation of a tacit contract, an obligation intended either as a compensation of services, or a paying forward of offerings from the unseen yet to be delivered.

According to Lecouteux, domestic spirits traditionally receive a portion of the food prepared within the household as a daily offering, usually left upon the heath, which was considered the center of the household (I wonder, now that we rarely have hearths in our dwellings, does this suggest our homes lack a center point?).  Such sprits are considered members of the family, and are treated with the respect that is accorded them (2013, p. 146).  If established oblations are neglected disaster of some sort is sure to follow: cows are taken, crops fail to thrive, objects disappear, and other maladies and accidents occur (Briggs, 1978; Lenihan & Green, 2003; Wentz, 1911).

Oblations performed to honor the spirits of the land are similar to those of domestic spirits—Lecouteux suggests the land spirits often were installed as house spirits—with the exception of where offerings are presented (2015, p. 30).  The spirits of the land receive offerings at crossroads, boundary markers, and borders: all places where the fields of men meet the wild, liminal, in-between places.

The spirits that are honored with less frequent regular oblations are sometimes those that visit from elsewhere.  At All Hallows’ Eve food and drink are prepared for the beloved ancestors as they pass through the thinning veils to visit the living.

Sacrifice

sacrificeI refer to the third exchange between the visible and invisible realms with the word sacrifice: this practice digs deeper into the human side of the equation, and is aimed at transformation.  Sacrifice, as most will tell you, has its origin in the Latin sacrare, meaning to make holy.  The accepted definition of sacrifice suggests that it is used as an act of propitiation or homage.  While propitiation carries the idea of either assuaging or appeasing another, making them favorable or gracious in their attitude and actions toward you, homage refers to, in its original usage, a ceremonial pledging of one person to another.  The aspects of propitiation and homage in relationship to the act of sacrifice appear to be more personal, specific, and deliberate than acts of offering and oblation.

To confuse matters, the word “sacrifice” has been used broadly to describe what I am here dividing more finely into casual offerings and obligatory oblations.  Sacrifice, in my opinion, demands a change in the person committing the sacrifice, which further suggests to me that what is sacrificed is given away irrevocably.  What has been sacrificed is no longer available for use, and those energies belong specifically to that which the sacrifice was dedicated.  Ninian Smart observes that those things that are sacrificed are destroyed or otherwise obscured—often by fire or casting them into water—removing the sacrificed object from the perceptual world and transferring the essence to the invisible realm (Smart, 1996, p. 79).

Lecouteux views the act of sacrifice as primordial, recalling cosmogonic myths involving dismemberment of supernatural beings, resulting in the creation or recreation of the cosmos as the result (2013, p. 22).  In this I tend to agree: the act of sacrifice reroutes the life force of an individual (or of a substitute living being) toward change in the way of being in the world of that individual, or for a larger community.  In my illustration of the sacrifice, the red thread of the life force has been deliberately cut.  The light of consciousness and the innocent heart, represented by the candle flame and the cardiotaph, bear witness to the act: the heart and head must be united in the commitment to the act of sacrifice, and one with the hand that wields the blade that cuts away what is to be gifted and transformed.  Following this notion of sacrifice, any such serious offering of life force must be dedicated toward change, and there can be no looking back.

Briggs, K. (1978). The vanishing people: Fairy lore and legends. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Coyle, T. T. (2014). Evolutionary witchcraft.  New York, NY:  Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.

Lecouteux, C. (2015).  Demons and spirits of the land: Ancestral lore and practices ( J. E. Graham, Trans.).  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. (Original work published 1995).

Lecouteux, C. (2013).  The tradition of household spirits: Ancestral lore and practices ( J. E. Graham, Trans.).  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. (original work published 2000).

Lenihan, E. & Green, C. E.  (2003). Meeting the other crowd: the fairy stories of hidden Ireland.  New York, NY:  Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.

Simos, M.  (1999).  The spiral dance: A rebirth of he ancient religion of the great goddess, special 20th anniversary edition.  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. (Original work published 1979).

Smart, N.  (1996). Dimensions of the sacred: An anatomy of the world’s beliefs. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA:  University of California Press.

Wentz, W. Y. E. (1911).  The fairy-faith in Celtic countries.  London, UK: Oxford University Press.

Jesper Bio image

 

Jesper Toad is a Georgian and a Gardnerian initiate, and studied the Feri Tradition with T. Thorn Coyle for nearly three years. His personal practice of three decades blends elements of all these traditions, as well incorporating spiritualist, shamanic and depth psychological perspectives. These seasonal writings and images are excerpts from The Enchiridion Magistellus, A Visual Handbook of the Witches’ Art. Jesper can be contacted at jespertoad@gmail.com.

 

On Sacrifice

by Scott K Smith

It’s autumn and hot. And it’s time to sit with my ancestors. I’ve also been thinking about the turning of the wheel, of life, and in the last few days on a Goddess and God myth. She as the Weaver, as Ma-Mother-Matter. He as the Singer and the song, the light and vibration. My sitting was with my place in the world, in context with this time, that is for me ancestral, and my place within my family both living and dead. I am looking for inspiration in birth, life, and death. In nature, stars, and most poignantly in the lives of those I love. I’m only trying to impress my current jam, what looks like a shared gnosis, regardless of the trappings, that we are all indeed in relationship with the same thing. Earth. Life, and the inevitable passage from matter into spirit.

I find meaning in knowing I am part of the Mysteries of Nature. That I continue on in the rock, stone, and soil. And in the tree and green. And through the ancestral. And even through the connection to the divine however you or I connect to that.

Through these stories and moments of contemplation I feel that I am part of everything I touch and see. I see mind and body as one, and I am in the body of nature. That’s my context as a self-identified Witch and Queer magickal being. For myself, engaging my circle and the seasonal year is the narrative of the rise and fall of the the natured life. Life and death like threads of green and red. And the rise and fall of the sun, a dance of light and dark, the mysteries as they are revealed, are the threads of gold and black that lace this experience we are woven into at birth, through ancestral lines and starry origins.

Juxtaposed with my experience is the dominant cultural narratives. Stories that I personally feel are less relevant to me, but there nonetheless. I see them in movies, I hear them in the news, they are meme’d into the culture. Life, love, valour, heroic sacrifice, redemption and salvation. Among cultural morals, sacrifice is an heroic and noble act.

Noble is an interesting word with a root of gno- “to know,” and from the French “worthy of respect.”

To look again, that’s respect.

Knowing is an intimate for me. In knowing I must taste, feel, and derive a relationship. It is not faith or belief, it is understanding. In knowing I am willing to sacrifice a boundary of comfort. Do I say hello to a stranger? Do I take the trip? Do I try this food? Do I dare vulnerability? Do I speak up? Whatever the relationship it is crossing a liminal threshold. An unknown. A sacrifice.

It is like approaching my ancestors at the altar, with all of my shadow and light, acknowledging the boundary between worlds, and the hedges of my heart space. To reach for knowledge is to make a sacrament of my comfort and in these Hallowed spaces as I reach across space and time to hold hands with ancestors.

Sacrifice is also an intimate for me. It is a little death made sacred with a conscious act of giving. It brings me closer to knowing. Piecemeal offerings I make on the way home… in the end, as Ram Dass once said, “We are all just walking each other home,” it is our approach to death that dictates everything about how we are living. Sacrifice is vulnerable, whatever it is that given in the sacred space has a moment of wide eyed opening as it is taken.

I grew up with culture telling me that if a thing is uncomfortable then it’s best to cover that over with hope, faith, and positivity, and at the minimum, don’t acknowledge it because it’s weak and makes you vulnerable. Because openness is bad, softness is bad. Feeling is bad, especially as men. But it really opens up knowing. And so intimacy, and to be intimate is to be vulnerable. That is to allow ourselves to show up as we are with our scars and tethers, and maybe feeling sometime we forgot to put on pants for the work.

Knowledge for me is an offering and a sacrifice. It is a relational piece of the wheel. To acknowledge limit, in what feels like a limitless space of magick is grounding. To witness the space where the joy and the loss in giving is powerful. It is an autumnal moment on the roll into winter. Especially poignant now in our current climates of weather and politics. And it’s also okay. It’s the part where we make offering of our tender bits, and the Spirits are ready for it. It’s okay to feel. To be open. To sacrifice…

In this season of ancestral connection I bring fresh water to the altar. I leave parts of meals. I bring fresh coffee in the morning and sit and write and dialogue with my ancestors, known and unknown, beloved and… some not so beloved. I am ritually engaging the time as magick, and opening up to lay tender memory on the altar as sacrifice for the liberation that can rise out of the pain and intimacy with the departed.

I offer sacrifice as sacrament, and as practice for now. For everyday along the way home. To come closer to knowing the other parts of the meaning in the turning of my personal wheel. To make life more sensual, full and connected in my magick. To make offering in a real, truthful manner. To provide those Spirits homage to their journey with honesty, witnessing and coming closer together, with the pleasures of things remembered. To offer gifts of the things I keep in shadow that are ready and powerfully able to go to seed and rise like green things as I place them on the altar as offering.

Scott SmithScott is a multi-disciplined queer healer, Witch, student and priest in the Temple of Witchcraft. The core of their work is magick, and making sacred of otherness, through classes, workshops, writing, and sessions based in the teachings of Love, Will, and Wisdom. They founded the Temple Los Angeles in 2015 where community events, classes on magick, witchcraft, and divinity are the cornerstones of teaching. They can be reached for healing work at TheSacredOther.com

 

Making and Using a Witch’s Mirror

by Hayley Arrington

scying mirrorOne of my favorite activities at Hallows is to perform divination for others and myself. The liminality (it is the Celtic New Year, after all) and the thin veil between the worlds, make Halloween an especially auspicious time for all manner of divinatory work. Scrying with a black mirror (popularly called a witches’ mirror) is also very witchy and fun. Scrying is a form of divination that involves staring at or into something to induce psychically perceived visual images. As far as we know, viewing images in a reflective pool is the oldest form of divination there is.

There is also a belief that spirits actually speak through the mirror to the one scrying. This hearkens back to fairy tales where the Wicked Queen entreats a spirit in a mirror for knowledge about her own beauty and about Snow White. Some say that black mirrors, as opposed to regular reflective ones, are best for speaking to spirits who can advise or inform you of things you wish to know. Either way, using a black mirror is a great way of focusing your mind and being open for visions to come.

Making your black scrying mirror:

Materials:
~Glass pane. Choose a piece of glass you would like to use. I found a really cheap round clock that, while plastic had a glass pane covering the face.
~Black acrylic paint and a brush
~Black felt
~Craft glue like Elmer’s Glue-All

1. Thoroughly clean your piece of glass with warm water and soap. Let it dry completely.
2. Using your black acrylic paint, make long broad strokes across the side of the glass that will be the back of the mirror.
3. Once it is completely covered, allow it to dry and reapply the paint until you can no longer see through it.
4. Cut the black felt around your mirror so that it is its exact size. You can use the glue to draw divinatory and magical symbols on the painted side of your mirror; they will not be visible when dry. Place the sized felt onto the glue side. The felt will keep the paint from chipping.
Storing your mirror:

Keep your mirror wrapped in soft black cloth somewhere safe. You can also keep it on a small wooden or plastic stand as a metal one may damage an edge of your mirror. I prefer to keep mine out of sunlight once it has been consecrated.

Consecrating and dedicating your mirror:

Like other magical tools, you may find it important to consecrate your witch mirror.  Here are several ways of doing this:

~ Simply visualize it as cleansed.

~ Cleanse by charging beneath a full or dark moon.

~Clean it with a mugwort infusion. Say, “Blessed be, my tool of divination,” or something similar, in order to bless it, as you wipe the infusion onto the glass.

~Consecrate it by the four elements: Say, “Blessed be, my tool of divination! I consecrate this witches’ mirror with the power of the four elements.” Bless and imbue your mirror with the attributes of each element as you pass it through, or above, that element: for instance, incense, candle flame or smoke, water, salt.

~Dedicate it to a Goddess: You may want to do any of the above before dedicating it to a Goddess, perhaps one associated with divination. Light a candle and/or sit in front of a statue or picture of your chosen Goddess. Say something like, “I dedicate this, my witch mirror, to you, Goddess of the Far-Seeing Eye!” (or whoever).
Using your black mirror:

~It is best to use your black mirror at twilight or at night, illuminated only by candle or moonlight.

~Some people like to gaze into their reflections, as this may aid in connecting with their higher selves, but this is not necessary for scrying. You may not like to see yourself; perhaps you like candle flame reflected back, perhaps not. Experiment to see what works best for you.

~Mugwort is a great psychic aid. Anoint your mirror with mugwort infusion before and after your scrying. Anoint your third eye with the same infusion or oil. Place dry or fresh mugwort on your altar, or wherever you will be scrying. Drink mugwort tea sweetened with honey to aid in prophecy. Burn mugwort, sandalwood, or wormwood incense.

~Talk to your mirror. Ask it to aid you in learning that which you wish to know.

“Queen of Faerie, Lady of the Sidhe
Open my eyes that I may see” (p. 93).

“Golden Lady, silver boughs
Sparkling crescent at Her brow
Lady Moon, Mother Sun
Tell me now what’s to be done” (p. 95).

~Invocations by Yasmine Galenorn from Embracing the Moon: A Witch’s Guide to Ritual Spellcraft and Shadow Work
Viewing Past-Lives

“Find a dark place where you only have enough light to make out your own reflection on the mirror’s surface. Close your eyes for a moment and allow your mind to relax. Concentrate on the past and focus on seeing what and who you were/are.

Close your eyes, and allow your mind to slow and detach itself from your everyday reality. Then begin softly chanting about your goal. As you do this, feel yourself slipping backwards through time with each rhythmic beat. Try one of the following couplets, or create your own:

Mirror’s face in dark of night,
open the past bringing dark to light.

Darkened misty hidden past,
open your secrets to me at last.

Across the veil of time and space
show me myself in another place.

When you feel sufficiently in the right frame of mind, open your eyes and gaze into the dark surface of the mirror. Do not try to force images—wait for them to come to you. Some people see only the face of who they once were; a few will see entire dramas from their past playing as if on a movie screen. Most experiences fall somewhere between these extremes. As with any occult endeavor, the more you practice, the better you become.”

Excerpted from Lady of the Night: A Handbook of Moon Magick & Rituals
by Edain McCoy

Witch mirrors are an interesting and very effective way of changing consciousness and diving.

Happy scrying and Happy Halloween!

Hayley Arrington earned her M.A. in women’s spirituality from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, where she wrote her thesis on Celtic sun goddesses. Her interests include mythology and folklore as sacred text, writing essays, fiction and poetry, and discovering women’s myriad ways of knowing. Her writings have been included in the poetry collection Folk Horror Revival: Corpse Roads, The Oracle, SageWoman Magazine, and Eternal Haunted Summer. Initiated into the Twilight Wiccan tradition, she is very active in Twilight Spiral Coven. Hayley was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where she still lives with her husband, David and their son, Stephen.

Additional references:
Scrying the Secrets of the Future by Cassandra Eason

My journey to an altar…

by Krystal Rains

20161106_090026For several years I have been attending the local Canoga Park Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration in November. It is a lovely combination of Art show, Chalk Festival, and Car Show; that has grown and expanded over the years. My favorite part of the celebration is the Ofrenda tent of family altars.

Each year I go visit the tent and ask those by the altars, “who is this family member?” I listen as they tell me all about their father, mother, uncle, grandparent, auntie or other family member and often, what they meant to this person. The altars are similar from year to year, as these are local families. One year I mentioned who my boyfriend Richard’s parents are, as they were devoted members of the Catholic community in the SFV for 50 years and found that several knew of them. I was excited to share the memories of his parents from the community with Richard when I got home.

When the movie Book of Life, by Jorge Gutiérrez, came out, I was excited to learn more about the tradition of Dia de los Muertos. As I watched it the first time, I realized how my interaction with the family members is an active part of the tradition to ‘remember’ the person and bring them life on the other side of the veil.

In our home, we have an ‘altar’ by our door for Richard’s parents. I created it in 2009, after the death of his mother in early September. His father had passed away two years earlier. I had new bookshelves and had not populated them yet, so I used the top shelves to celebrate their lives. This original altar was relocated to a lit cabinet next to the front door and is kept up year-round.

In 2015, Richard and I were visiting the Ofrenda tent at the festival together and he obtained information about participating in the festival with a public altar for his family. Our first altar was created in 2016 at the 16th annual Canoga Park Dia de los Muertos festival. It celebrated his Mother and his Father, their lives and their dedication to their faith and community.

 

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All Hallows

By Jesper Toad

21909026_10155895424080116_2119218784_oThe festival of All Hallows marks the third harvest, following the harvest sabbats of Loaf Mass and Harvest Home. All Hallows witnesses the bringing in of the last of the fruits of the field: pale, fleshy turnips, potatoes, and bloody turnips dug from earthy beds, squashes stacked in barns as their vines wither in the field, and the last of the apples gleaned from the trees. In past centuries this was also the time when herds were culled. Animals not expected to breed back, that were nonproductive, low performing, or too fragile to last the winter were slaughtered, and the resulting meat dried, smoked, pickled, honeyed, and salted so that it might feed the people in the coming winter months.

The eve of the last day of October, called Samhain by Witches and Wiccans, and popularly known as Hallowe’en, falls midway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, and directly across the wheel of the year from the festival of Beltane. The tide of life energies that reversed direction at Midsummer, crossed the point of equilibrium at the equinox, has now descended into the darkness of the underworld. This energy of this season partakes of the tides which it intersects: the dry drift of the autumnal equinox, and the dark cold spate of the winter solstice. Even in Southern California, where our growing season extends through the winter, most biennials and perennials have slowed above ground growth, sending their energies downward into their roots to survive the dark and cold of the months to come. The last of the annuals—those plants that live only for the space of a year—are being harvested and processed, the seeds saved away to be planted when the light returns. The fields are full of yellow stubble, withered vines, and the rustling of dry, dusty corn stalks. Brown leaves stir in the sudden eddies of cold wind, and shadows haunt the corner of the eye. This is all part of a great annual pattern, and the descending energies of life. All Hallows is a liminal time, nearing the nadir of the dark, descending energy of the winter solstice, which will trigger the enantiodromia—the abounding toward an excess of force or quality of energy that invariable leads to a shift toward the opposite force—that initiates the ascent of the energetic tide toward the light.

For Contemporary Pagans, this greater sabbat, or cross-quarter day, marks the beginning of winter, and is considered the time when the veils between the worlds thin, allowing phantoms of all sorts, including the spirits of the ancestors, to cross over into the realm of the living, to be recollected and receive offerings of love and remembrance. This festival is a time to celebrate those who have preceded us in death, honor their memories, share with them the food and drink they loved in life, and stop a moment to commune. If we do not, these spirits may engage in mischief or vengeance upon those who refuse to remember. This is also the time when the dwellings of the good people, the gentry, are open. Visitors at your door at this time may not be only the spirits of the dead, but the fair folk themselves. Be your visitors fey or dead, it might be best to leave them an offering, and remember them with a kind word. Additionally, the thinness of the partition between the worlds and the coming and going of spirits is a perfect time for rituals concerning divination, in particular those concerned with the usual milestones of life: birth, marriage, and death.

The myths and legends Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans associate with the time of All Hallows involve the descent of a spirit of life—either feminine or masculine, depending upon the culture from which the myth is drawn, and possible the sex of the storyteller—into the underworld, where it encounters a dark entity, either a king or queen of the realm of the dead, in an attempt to discover the mystery of death and what lies beyond. This katabasis—from the Greek κατάβασις, meaning to “go down”—is a common pan-cultural mytheme of the descent into the underworld, and the seeking of the hidden knowledge of life and death. Examples of this mytheme that include a descent of the feminine are the legend of Inanna and Ereshkigal, the abduction of Persephone by Hades, and the Descent of the Goddess contained in the Gardnerian canon. Other iterations of this mytheme, with a descent of the masculine into the underworld, occur in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, wherein Gilgamesh travels into the underworld to obtain the secret of immortality, Orpheus braving the Greek underworld to retrieve his beloved Eurydice, and King Arthur’s excursion into Annwn in the Welsh Preiddeu Annwfn, to save the imprisoned Gwair and retrieve one of the cauldrons of the underworld.

The myth of the wild hunt is also prevalent during the dark season. The folklore of the wild hunt occurs throughout Europe and into the United States, and involves a supernatural hunting party made up of the fey, the dead, or witches, following a hunt master with underworld connections, that passes in savage pursuit, sometimes gathering hapless travelers into its retinue. Often the leader of the wild hunt is gathering the souls of those who have died over the course of the year and taking them down into the underworld. The wild hunt has become a popular motif among Wiccan and Witches, and the leader of the hunt is often identified as the horned spirit of the Witches, Cernunnos or Herne.

My gathering up and cobbling together of bits of folklore and legend yields what can only be one of the many mythic narratives for the time of All Hallow’s Eve. In my story, the masculine spiritus vitae, personified as the King of the Wildwood and the Life of the Fields, follows the tide of life as it turns at the Autumnal Equinox, and begins to flow downwards, out of the world of men, and into the underworld. He descends until, at All Hallows, he comes face to face with the Lady in White, the mistress of fate, initiation, transformation, and rebirth.

As syntheses of these mythic elements, I offer the following: a rewriting of Gerald Gardner’s invocation to the Lord of the Gates of Life and Death. Rather than an invocation, however, this verse describes the moment of the opening of the Gates from outside the underworld, in order that the King of the Wildwood may enter, descend, and encounter the Lady in White, the Pale Queen who is the keeper of the Cauldron of Rebirth, and the tender of the seeds that hold the life that will rise again in the spring.

Dread Lord of Shadows,

Spirit of Life,

The knowledge of you is

The knowledge of death.

Hunter and hunted,

Throw wide the gates

Through which all must pass!

Throw wide the gates

And descend into darkness!

Throw wide the gates

And behold her pallid face!

Throw wide the gates

And release the beloved spirits,

The ancestors,

those who walk before:

Let them return for this season

Of hospitality and remembrance.

And when our time comes, as it must,

Be our co-conspirator and confidant,

Our companion upon the crooked path

As we pass the Gates

Of Life and Death

Into that other place

To face the Pale Queen

And rest in her embrace,

Safe in the knowledge

That we shall be initiated into death,

To be transformed

In Cauldron of Rebirth.

Let us be born

In the same place

And the same time

As our beloved ones:

May we meet, and know, and remember

And love them again.

 

Jesper Toad is a Georgian and a Gardnerian initiate, and studied the Feri Tradition with T. Thorn Coyle for nearly three years. His personal practice of three decades blends elements of all these traditions, as well incorporating spiritualist, shamanic and depth psychological perspectives. These seasonal writings and images are excerpts from The Enchiridion Magistellus, A Visual Handbook of the Witches’ Art. Jesper can be contacted at jespertoad@gmail.com.

Autumnal Equinox: Rest and Repose

By Jesper Toad

21057794_10155821137930116_343506890_oThe theme of sacrifice continues on into the Autumnal Equinox, also referred to as Harvest Home or Mabon. The second of the three Pagan harvest festivals falls equidistant between Loaf Mass and All Hallows and occurs on at the time of the autumnal equinox, when the hours of day and night are experienced in equal measure. Up until the time of the autumnal, equinox the hours between dawn and dusk are greater, and at this point the darkness born at the summer solstice overtakes the light, and the dark rises.

Like the celebrations of May Day and the Summer Solstice, folkloric traditions overlap due to variations in climate, season, and culture. Mabon, the name in common name given to the autumnal equinox in usage with Contemporary Pagans, references the Welsh myth featuring the rescuing of Mabon ap Modron—Mabon, son of Modron, the mother—by the legendary King Arthur. Created by Aidan Kelly in the early 1970s, this myth does not appear directly connected to the phenomenological experience of the season. An in-depth study into the associations between the season and the myth are outside of the purview of this article. For me, the stronger connections are always embedded in the shift of the season as it manifests: the rising tide of darkness as the light declines; the gathering in of the harvest; the empty fields, haunted by a lone scarecrow silhouetted against a full, yellow harvest moon; and the celebration of the spirits of the field, the vineyards, and the orchards that have given of their life force.

If we view the cycle of the seasons in terms of the cycle of a human life, the Autumnal Equinox is a time of rest and repose following the work and toil of life, and preceding the season of death that is All Hallows. Although the harvest is not over, we rest a moment, celebrating the work we have created jointly with the spirits of the land. This is the abundance of Harvest Home.

Harvest Home—harvest from the Old English word haerfest, which means autumn—rejoices the ingathering of the crops from the fields, and occurs at the time of the Autumn Equinox. The lunation occurring nearest to the time of the equinox is referred to as the Harvest Moon. The two elements in common to all harvest celebrations are the time of rest away from the work of the fields and feasting, along with music and dance, against a backdrop of fruits, vegetables, and grains that have ripened at the time of this harvest.

The English harvest festival hymn “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, written in 1844 by Henry Alford, expresses the excitement and celebration of Harvest Home. In this version the lyrics have been reworked to remove Christian reverence, and focus on the reciprocal relationship between the reaper and the field.

Come, you thankful people, come,
We have brought the harvest home!

We have brought the harvest in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
spirits of the land provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Raise your glass high and laugh some,
Raise a drink to harvest home!

Harvest Home, Oh, Harvest Home,
We have plough’d and we have sown,
We have reap’d and we have mow’d.

Bringing in the harvest home!

Scythe and sickle, rake and hoe

Through the ready fields we go
We have brought home every load,

Bringing in the harvest home!

We have brought the harvest home:

Bushel baskets filled with corn,

Shining golden in the sheaf;

Orange pumpkins, yellow squash,

Heads of cabbage, pale and green,

Rosy apples, berries bright,

Verdant grapes, and damson too.

We have brought the harvest home!

Raise a drink, remembering,

The ragged tattie bogle,

The old man of the ravens,

Flapping lonely in the field.

This spirit of the harvest—

Scare bird, hay man, mannequin—

Reigns over his stubble field,

Waiting his rest and repose.

Like the shift from light to dark that occurs at this equinox, the life force also changes direction, turning into the underworld, the otherworld, away from the physical and manifest reality, and into the invisible, un-manifest realm of being. Because of this shift into introspection, we need to foster an awareness of the psychological seeds we have harvested and are now being placed into the storage house of the psyche. Would we prefer that some of these weedy seeds not germinate in the spring and raise their invasive heads into the light of the next year? This is a time examine those unresolved issues—emotional or physical—and give them some of the attention they need before heading into the shadows of the year. If we attend to these issues, whether they are psychological seeds that will germinate into troublesome weeds in the next year, or just things that we need to keep in our awareness, we can manage them responsibly and keep them from running rampant in the gardens of our souls when the year turns round again. However, be mindful that this sort of reflection and action take both time and effort, and being able to identify our emotional responses to situations is both an indication of progress and a step toward wholeness.

Herbal Allies for Deep, Restorative Sleep

by Julie James, Green Wisdom School of Herbal Studies

http://www.GreenWisdomHerbalStudies.com

Among the most common questions I’m asked is “What herbs are good for sleep”. Not surprising, as sleep disturbance is an issue that affects a majority of people in our culture, with severity ranging from occasional sleep disturbances to chronic, debilitating insomnia, which is a serious medical condition. Sleep deprivation can cause or contribute to a host of illnesses in virtually every body system.

There are factors that come into play in all sleep situations, nutrients we all need, practices that help us all. You know the litany: avoid caffeine completely if you can, or limit to mornings only. Turn off the blue screens at 9 pm, lower the lights, draw the curtains, clear the space, clear the mind… all of which are critical. In this article, I want to focus on the use of a few plant medicines, and share how to differentiate between them to find the herb that is best suited to the individual experiencing the insomnia.

Before you jump into using specific Soporifics (herbs that bring on sleep), you’ll have much better results if you cover some foundations: nourish the body, and nourish the nervous system. Depletion or excess in those systems is a major factor in insomnia and is often the root of the problem.

Use herbs that are deeply Nourishing: Oatstraw, Alfalfa, Nettle, Horsetail, Red Clover—there are many to choose from. Use one or two as the base of your formula. For nervous system conditions like this, I particular like using oatstraw as the base, as it has an affinity for that system and is rich in calcium and magnesium (two nutrients in which deficiency is linked directly to insomnia).

Next, choose an herb that specifically restores and nourishes the nervous system, the primary system out of balance in this situation. We use Nervine Tonics or Trophorestoratives for this: Herbs like St. Johnswort, Skullcap, Milky Oats, and Reishi are among my favorites.

Finally, you now add in some Sedative herbs. These are plants that induce sleep, but they work in very different ways, and so looking at them in more detail is necessary.


Some of my favorites are:

-Passionflower. Passionflower is a mild anodyne (pain reliever), and is cooling and calming. Its particular gift as a sedative is that it is really fine in its ability to quiet down a chatty brain. When you’re lying in bed for hours with a body that is achy and tired, but a brain that JUST WON’T SHUT UP, Passionflower is an exceptional choice.

-California Poppy. Another Go-To sedative and anodyne, and it’s a pretty decent muscle relaxant, too. Cooling and bitter and very good for overheated and restless insomnia especially when accompanied by pain.

-Valerian. This is one of the first that folks generally think of when it comes to sleep issues. And for good reason, as valerian is a really exceptional muscle relaxant and analgesic, with a warming and moving energy significantly different from the cooling plants above. Valerian can have a paradoxical effect, causing stimulation rather than relaxation, in about 20% of the population. Best for those with a more cold constitution. Also, it stinks. REALLLY stinks. It’s kind of a cool stink if you’re an herbalist, but for the masses, they just think it stinks.


-Skullcap. A bit milder than some of the above plants, it is nonetheless very much loved, as it is both a nervine tonic and a sedative (fulfilling two of the above three requirements in a balanced herbal sleep blend). Skullcap is restorative to the nervous system while also calming brain function, relieving dull, achy headaches, and improving sleep. Very good for constricted muscles and tension, and sensitivity to light and noise.

-Mimosa Bark. Also known as The Tree of Happiness in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Mimosa is very helpful for insomnia linked with depression, sadness, or anger.