The Soldier’s Tale: A Short Analysis of a Dream of Initiation

by Jeffrey Albaugh

The experience of initiation invokes a shift in relationships and the individual’s way of being in the world, regardless of whether this experience is earned through the process of study and achievement and enacted in ritual, or occurs spontaneously through dreams or other liminal experiences (Eliade, p. 33 1964).  The follow account documents a transformational dream experienced by the author:

I am a soldier on patrol on the edge of the village, in that place where the cultivated fields give way to the wild.  A shallow ditch separates new wheat from a wall of trees.  A small grave yard is placed here, by the green fields, at the edge of human habitation.  I pace my patrol at dusk, and as I walk the perimeter I peer into the gloom beneath the eaves of the ancient forest. I can sense a threat, the eyes of the predator upon me, but I cannot tell from what direction the attack may come.

Suddenly, and before I can react, a great she-wolf, eyes blazing yellow, leaps from the underbrush.  Her teeth catch me in the throat, and with a great heaving snap of her jaws and a gout of blood, my head is severed from my body.  My body is merely meat, and the she-wolf settles into her meal.

But the head rolls across the ground, toward the grave yard, and the ground gives way to a great sloping decline descending into the underworld.  As the head rolls it sheds it mortality: hair scatters in all directions, the eyes roll from their sockets, and skin and muscle peel away, all lost on the journey downward.  The skull, now white and shining, rolls through the shadows until it comes to a flat place: here a circular labyrinth winds in great loops, the paths demarcated by a multitude of skulls, each gazing inwards toward the center.  My skull rolls inward, upon the meandering paths, rolling, rolling inward, until it comes to rest in the heart of the labyrinth.  I have come to the center, to the place where all the ancestors watch and witness.

The dream shifts.  I am myself now, no longer a soldier, and I am wandering through the avenues of an old style carnival with tents and side show attractions.  I stop at a puppet show, located to the left of me.  Before the curtain appear three poorly crafted puppets, each a skull with a hinged jaw and comically overemphasized eyes and teeth.  These three disembodied heads begin to sing a song about a soldier who met a grisly fate at the maw of a she-wolf.  The curtain opens and other puppets take the stage and act out the story.  After the curtain closes on the puppet narrative I resume my wandering through the carnival.

A short ways on and to my right fortune teller’s tent presents itself.  In front of the tent is a small table, with a tall brass candle in a holder and an eyeless skull perched atop a book.  As I begin to pass by the skull turns to me and begins to speak, relating the now familiar story of the soldier who lost his head to the she-wolf.  At the end of the skull’s narrative I awake.  The illuminated numbers on the clock read exactly 12:00.

Although I realized the importance of this dream, it wasn’t until later in my life that I could more completely acknowledge power and implications contained by the images.  Working with the text of this dream, I realized that the liminal elements–the motifs of death, transformation, transition, and rebirth in the underworld—all suggest an initiatory significance.

According to Jung, when we fall into a dream the first element presented to our dream senses is a sense or idea of place.  In this dream, there exists a juxtaposition between the domestic, signified by the cultivated fields and the distant township, and the wildness of the impenetrable dark and sinister forest, far from the safely locked doors and shuttered windows of the town.  In the opinion of the author, initiation into the mysterium pulls us into the space between the domestic, cultivated, safe folds and fields, and the untamed, unpredictable, and perilous wilds.  To be a initiate of the mysteries is to walk widdershins on the edge of things, eyes askew in both directions, within the perimeter of the shadows cast by the central fire burning in the heart of the community, but not so deep in the dark that our belonging to the community is obscured.  This is, I think, the nature of the esoteric practitioner, to hover near the margin of social norms, tight against the invisible membrane that divides the cultivated from the wild, the concrete from the imaginal, the manifest from the un-manifest, the wake from dream, and the seen from the unseen.

The initial statement of place that begins a dream is coupled with in introduction of the dream figures, or dream protagonists.  The apposition between the edicts and structures that society values and the laws of the wild are further reflected in the dream figures of the soldier and the she-wolf.  Not unlike an officer of the law, the soldier patrols the margins of the village, protecting and upholding the social and cultural structures that hold the community together.  He holds back the seemingly unpredictable and savage wild, lest it ravages and destroys the elements that comprise the structured civilization contained within the safety perimeter.  The soldier cannot breach the boundary without taking with him the elements that create the very domesticity and culture that he so zealously guards.

It is the she-wolf that unexpectedly breaches the barrier, initiating the exposition of the dream, tearing apart the static relationship between the wild and domestic, the beast and the soldier.She leaps and snuffs out the human life, bringing with her action the terror of the unknown, a red flush of murder, and the taste of fear.  However, she is only following the demands of her own nature: she must feed, perhaps she hunts for her pack or her offspring, or she defends her own territory from the encroachment of a perceived enemy. Her wildness, her savagery, and the in-human laws she follows leads her to disregard the boundary that separates the domesticated from the feral. Depth psychologist James Hillman might suggest that this dream beast is a manifestation of a familiaris, a soul-brother or soul-doctor that has an understanding of the laws that govern the night, the pale, the wild, and the underworld (Hillman, 1979, p. 105).  This spirit animal in this dream is the guardian of the wild, walking on the margin of the forest, just as the soldier is a guardian of his domestic world.  She is the feral initiatrix, and the soldier the initiand.  Her attack initiates a change in status of the soldier and serves as a transformational passage between the worlds of the wild and the town.

However, the attack upon the soldier is not the climax of this story.  As initiatrix, the she-wolf opens wide the life to new possibilities and the culmination of this dream, the peripeteia, is the rolling descent into the labyrinth and the confrontation with the ancestors.  This boundary crossing, and the power of the hot red fountain of sacrifice, activates the liminality of the space between.  The ditch between the cultivated fields and the dangerous gloom beneath the trees gives way, and a portal to the underworld yawns wide, swallowing down the soldier’s noggin.  As the head rolls down into the underworld it experiences a further dissolution: the fleshy bits wear away until all that is left is the immortal, enduring skull.  The lasting image in this dream is of the soldier’s skull in the center of a great labyrinth of skulls, the focus of the empty gaze of many ancestors.  The mythologems of death, dismemberment, and the descent into the underworld, and communion with the spirits or souls of the mighty dead are all a part of the cannon of shamanistic initiatory experiences (Eliade, pp. 33-34, 1964).  In such an initiation the individual has made the ultimate sacrifice of the self.  This notion of the self, this persona or mask, tears asunder exposing to the initiate the truth of who they are, and who they are not, beneath the narrative of personality they have woven for themselves.  Once revealed in this manner to themselves, they must endure the scrutiny of those that have gone before.  This is ecstasy in a very literal sense of the word—to exist or be removed outside of oneself—and this transcendent experience forms, in my experience, is the ultimate aspiration of our magical and esoteric practices.

This shift into a second locale is significant.  The labyrinth occurring in this dream is a circular unicursal figure based on a seed pattern that consists of a central equal-armed cross-shaped component with four seed points: seven circuits or pathways are formed by connecting the terminal ends of the cross and the points, creating a mandala-like figure with a hidden fourfold demarcation.  The labyrinth’s path leads both to and from the center where the soldier’s skull sits enthroned.  These meanderings of path can be viewed as a metaphor for the digestive process, like the coiling serpentine path of the intestines.

The soldier’s circumambulations of the labyrinth lead him closer to the goal of psychic development of the self (Jung, 1961, p. 96).  The soldier in the dream narrative has died, his meaty physical part of his being devoured by the she-wolf, the identity obliterated with his face, and interred in the spiraling bowels of the underworld; these are the transformational elements if an initiation—the destruction of the old body and way of being and the resurrection of the individual within a new, previously unrealized center of power (Moore, 1990, p. 6).  The latter part of the journey, within the curves of the labyrinth, the soldier’s journey is witness by the empty gaze of the ancestors, and eventually he take his place among them, in the center of the circle.

The final stage of the dream narrative, the lysis, concerns itself with the resolution or result of the dream story (Jung, 1960/1974, P. 81).  The third shift of location occurs, and the dream self is strolling along the un-natural sights and sounds of a carnival.  The atmosphere of this location is full of the strange and the bizarre; a liminal, between-place civilized people sometimes dare to stray to catch a peep at the macabre, titillating, and frightening.  English gains the word carnival from a circuitous route from the Latin caro, or flesh, and is related to the word incarnate—and, appropriate to this dream narrative, disincarnate.  Carnival once was a time that the community came together to eat quantities of meat.  During Christian times this occurred as a preparation of fasting before Lent; in pre-Christian times carnival may have been celebrated with a sacrifice, and a sharing of meat with the divine (Walter, 2014, p. 26).  Within this liminal place related to the eating of flesh, the main narrative arc of the dream is twice repeated twice, as if to emphasize the importance of the dream, each time with fewer images involved.  The initial dream presents itself with a cinematic quality, like most visual dreams.  The first of the subsequent retellings uses visual puppets and a chorus of macabre puppet skulls, and is told to amuse an audience of children.  This retelling is amusing, theatrical, and the blood and gore of the wolf attack is artistically buffered and minimalized.  The third and last of the retellings is completely oral, relying only on words to convey the narrative, and all the while the animated skull relating the story is supported by a book, a thing of paper and words that long outlives the author.  There seems to be a process here relating to the action of the dream, and how the story will be remembered in the context of time as the narrative of transformation to be related at the time of carnival.

Storytelling, in either waking or dreaming life, reflects the soul’s deepening of experience and revealing of unconscious elements to the conscious mind, all in the service of creating a increasingly structured and consolidated identity (Moore, 1990, p. 5).  Part of my process of working with the material and text of a dream is to write it into a specific poetic form.  I find the restrictive meter and rhyme required for some styles of poetry often condenses the dream to its figurative and argumentative core and clarifies the central archetypes, constructs, and constellations of the dream narrative.  The narrative style of this dream text appeared most suited to a ballad form, including alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter, and an alternating A-B-A-B rhyme scheme. The last stanza of the ballad the soldier’s skull imparts a vital message, encouraging us to engage the world not as a collection of end products, but by experiencing, submitting, and being aware of the transformative journeys of the soul.

The Soldier’s Tale

The soldier with his sword unsheathed

Upon the field of green,

His death he knew would be ungrieved,

That much had been foreseen.

 

But plowed he forward through the field,

‘Tween bone yard and the chase,

Not knowing that the trees concealed

A beast both vile and base.

 

Ancient and grizzled, rolling eyes,

Great chops of yellow’d gnash,

No sooner soldier did it spy

From the shadows did it lash.

 

It lept at him from out the dark,

The howling hulk a blur.

Dire fanged death it struck its mark,

In throat its teeth interred.

 

The soldier’s cry a crimson flood,

His beating heart it ceased;

The horrid beast engorged by blood

Plied red jaws to the feast.

 

It gobbled flesh and snap’d the bones—

Consuming all it could—

It left the head to roll alone

And slunk into the wood.

 

His grinning face it peeled away,

All aptitude had fled.

Toward the near necropolis

The soldier’s noggin sped.

 

With each turn the flesh unknotted:

A corps perdu!  Atone!

Eyes, brains, lips, and tongue outwitted,

‘Til all that’s left was bone.

 

He rolled into the charnel home

Between the mourning stones,

A whitened skull with polished dome

Bereft of cries or moans.

 

Into the catacombs he fell:

His ancestors await,

That he might find a place to dwell

In honor of his fate.

 

The labyrinth, it welcomed him:

Of kindred skulls built round,

In seven circuits twisting grim,

Within the core path wound.

 

He took his place within their rank,

The center occupied,

His truth amid the dim and damn’d

Enshrined and beautified.

 

O traveler, the secret seek,

The mizmaze walk and hear

The dogged lipless soldier speak:

“Engage your path and never fear!”

 

The experience of initiation invokes a shift in the relationship with the world.  In this dream the soldier has thrown off life, been thrown out of time and space, and rolls into a moment of eternity.  Like the Buddha, he has transcended life.  However, in the lysis of the dream, his lives on in the world in the story told at carneval.  As Campbell remarks in the Power of Myth, the Bodhisattva, an individual whose being is illumination, and maintains an awareness of his or her relationship with eternity, does not withdraw from the world, regardless of the horrors that it might hold, but instead regards the horrors as a manifestation of the spirit of the world, the animus mundi (Campbell, Moyers, & Flowers, Ep. 2, 1988).   Engaged in the game of life, these theophanies are experienced as aesthetic, beautiful, wondrous things, regardless of all life being filled with hate, sorrow, and greed.

 

References

Campbell, J, Moyers, & B. Flowers, B. S (Ed). (1988).  Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth: Ep. 1 The Hero’s Journey.  Initial broadcast June 21, 1988 on PBS.

Campbell, J. (1949).  The hero with a thousand faces.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Eliade, M. (1964).  Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy. Trans., Willard R. Trask. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Hillman, JH. (1979).  The dream and the underworld.  New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Jung, C. G.  (1961).  Memories, dreams, reflections.  New York, Ny: Random House.

Jung, C. G.  (1974).  On the nature of dreams.  In R. F. C. Hull (Trans.), Dreams.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  (Original work published 1960).

Moore, R., Gilette, D.  (1990).  King, warrior, magician, lover: Rediscovering the archetypes of the mature masculine.  San Francisco: Harper Collins.

Walter, P. (2014).  Christian mythology: Revelations of pagan origins (J. E. Graham, Trans.).  Rochester, VT.: Inner Traditions.  Original material published 2004.

 

JeffreyJeffrey Albaugh, and independent scholar and educator.  He holds a Bachelor’s in Theatre, a Master’s in Depth Psychology, and has been a profession teacher for over thirty years.  He has served on the Board of Directors for Cherry Hill Seminary and is currently Program Manager for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies and Pacific Circle Revival.

His current teaching project is The Seminar of Dreams, a weekend seminar that enhances our understanding of the nature of dreams, teaches tools to unlock their content and invite their wisdom into our lives.  More information on the Seminar of Dreams can be found at Https://www.facebook.com/Seminar-of-Dreams-266017100852203

 

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Bringing the Art Contest to PPD

Tart contest winnershe Pagan Pride LA/OC Art Contest has been a great addition to our Pagan Pride event since 2014. We love seeing local artists show off their work to the community and the shirt sales have brought PPD closer to breaking even annually. This year we are going to try something new and bring the art contest to Pagan Pride Day!

Instead of having artists submit their work in August and have online voting we will extend the deadline to September and have the voting at Pagan Pride Day! Each qualifying submitted piece will be on display and everyone can vote for their favorite either online or in person. The first and second place designs will be featured in our 2019 Pagan Pride Day. The physical prints will be auctioned or raffled at our 2018 Pagan Pride Day.

Join our Art Contest Event on Facebook to keep up to date. Also help us spread the word by inviting your artist friends!

All original art entries should be:

   * Crisp Black and White or Grayscale 10×10 jpg images

   *  Include the words, “Pagan Pride LA/OC 2019”

*  Possible to convert to a transparent background for T-shirt printing

You must be the creator of the art that you submit. Your art must be your own original concept and not a copy of anyone else’s copyrighted material. You are solely responsible for any infringement on copyrighted materials. The artist retains all copyrights to their artwork as it exists without the words “Pagan Pride LA/OC 2019”. By submitting your art you are granting us a non-exclusive perpetual license to reproduce images of this piece as submitted for promotion and/or profit. Only one entry per artist, please.

 

Trance Guide to Mystical Place

by Laura Morgan

Enjoy this guided meditation to bring you a mystic place in which rests the key to your own magical gifts.

68115620 - silhouette of a woman sitting outside, starry night backgroundAs a Hypnotherapist, I use the tools of Hypnosis and Therapeutic Guided Imagery to guide my clients in creating positive changes and growth in their lives. Using these modalities to explore the realm of the subconscious mind, negative patterns, habits, and beliefs can be uprooted, released, and replaced with positive new thoughts and beliefs. Creating new neural pathways brings about transformation, healing, and empowerment from the inside out. I desire to guide you to connect with your own divine nature and inner wisdom to manifest freely the prosperous, healthy, happy life you desire.

My Hypnotherapy and Therapeutic Guided Imagery practice is rooted in the belief  that each and every person is an important piece of the Divine. We are all seeking and heading towards balance, peace, and inner knowing so that we can better share our gifts and talents with the world. In addition to Hypnotherapy, I have been exploring and studying healing, yoga, and the metaphysical realms for 30 years, and this has brought me to the understanding that Love and Compassion are the strongest healing forces in the universe. Daily I seek to align and anchor myself and my work in this. I am dedicated to helping others by providing a safe, trustworthy space in which learning, healing, and happiness can blossom forth.

Laura Morgan

Learn more at  lauramorganhypnotherapy.com

July 2018 to June 2019 Newsletters

First, an enormous thanks to Jesper Toad for leading us through the last year with fantastic Sabbat themes from his The Enchiridion Magistellus: A Visual Handbook of the Witches’ Art for our newsletters. If you missed the posts and the art then click here to see the full set. Thanks to his help we got started on the right foot.

The next 12 months we will be turning our focus on the zodiac. Each month we will focus our theme upon the sign in which a Full Moon occurs that month. Below is a handy chart of the themes and the due dates so you can plan ahead. Feel free to submit articles anytime.

Volume Month Year Theme Due Date Publish Date
16 July 2018 Revolutionaries & Geniuses 6/22/2018 6/29/2018
17 August 2018 Mystics & Dreamers 7/20/2018 7/27/2018
18 September 2018 Pioneers & Survivors 8/24/2018 8/31/2018
19 October 2018 Muscians & Silent Ones 9/21/2018 09/28/2018
20 November 2018 Witnesses & Storytellers 10/19/2018 10/26/2018
21 December 2018 Healers & The Invisable 11/23/2018 11/30/2018
22 January 2019 Performers & Rulers 12/21/2018 12/28/2018
23 February 2019 Perfectionists & Servants 01/24/2019 01/31/2019
24 March 2019 Artists & Peacemakers 02/22/2019 02/28/2019
25 April 2019 Detectives & Hypnotists 03/22/2019 03/29/2019
26 May 2019 Students & Philosophers 04/19/2019 04/26/2019
27 June 2019 Leaders & Hermits 05/24/2019 05/31/2019

 

Midsummer: Growth and Protection

By Jesper Toad

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The Gyre wheel spins from tide to tide;

Midsummer heat climbs to its height,

Protects the fields with phallic might;

The Gyre wheel spins from tide to tide.

Midsummer marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the annual cycle of the sun.  Known by the name Litha in most Wiccan or Witchcraft traditions—from the Anglo Saxon Liða meaning gentle or navigable—this sabbat falls at the height of the cycle of heat and light, and marks the point when the days begin to shorten, and the growing darkness ushers in the declining half of the year.  Situated between the flowering of Beltane and the harvest time of Loaf Mass, Midsummer marks a time of growth—both in the agricultural crops and in the pastoral animals—and a time when these things must be protected from the turn of the tide from light to dark.

Bonfires

French Medievalist Philippe Walter (2014) writes in Christian Mythology: Revelations of Pagan Origins that the Christian saints’ days of the early Catholic Church reflect the belief and practice of earlier polytheistic or folkloric strata.  The feast of John the Baptist is celebrated the twenty-fourth of June, near the day of the summer solstice, which wobbles between the twenty-first and twenty-second of June (strangely, the feast of John the Evangelist falls on the twenty-seventh of December, near the winter solstice).  According to Walter, The medieval Feast of Saint John the Baptist preserved remnants of primordial folk rites involving the celebration of the high point of summer and rituals of exorcism intended to ward against calamity and bad luck (2014, p. 128).  Central to these celebrations and rituals was—and if we bring them into the present, is—the element of fire, often in the form of a bonfire (p. 131).  Walter relates that bonfires were built around a tree from which all the branches had been removed.  Wreathes and crowns of flowers used to decorate this pole the dry and blacken blossoms would later find use as charms hung in the home to ward against lightning (p. 128-129).

These medieval rituals sometimes took a cruel turn, relative to our modern sensibilities.  Toads, vipers, foxes, cats and other animals considered baneful would sometimes be bound in a bag and burned in the fire, although equally efficacious would be the burning of the bones of the offensive animals.  This would seem to be a protective act, as these animals might spoil the crop, prey upon livestock, or otherwise prove dangerous.  The burning of these animals also served to drive away any spirits of the dead that might be malingering too close to the dwellings of the living (Walter, 2014, pp. 128-129).  Images of baleful beings also found their way into the bonfire: giants and giantesses burned in effigy, destroying and dispelling the evil and destructive influences that these being represented (p. 31).

While the bonfire blazed around the flowers and bones hung about the axis mundi, the people would sing and dance, circling the fire, and leaping over the flames to win twelve months of health and happiness (Walter, 2014, pp. 128).  Circles and wheels appear to be part of the symbolism of this celebration: these old Indo-European symbols represent lightning, or perhaps the flaming orb of the sun, blazing in an arc past its apogee and down into the decline of the year (pp. 140, 142).

The Phallus

Arousal, whether it takes the form of the triumphant phallus or the tumescent vulva, is connected to the mysterious forces of creativity, and to the origin of life (Hillman, 2007, p. 202).  The veneration of the lingam and the yoni is ancient, as evidenced by the extensive archeological record.  In regards to the phallus, Contemporary Pagans tend to associate the male organ of reproduction with fertility, reproduction, and perhaps pleasure.  However, additional associations emphasize growth, strength, stamina, virility, vitality, authority, power, and protection, connecting the phallus with the sabbats of the Vernal Equinox, Beltane, and Midsummer.  The upright, triumphant phallus belongs not only to the world of men, where it is revered as generative, virile, and fecund, but also is possessed of underworld associations, where it is proud, protective, and punitive. (Hillman, 2007, p. 201).  The phallus was used in ancient times to represent both gods of growth and ecstasy, like Dionysus, and underworld deities associated with death and rape, like Hades.  This connection between desire and terror, life and death, is depicted in the erection of the symbolic phallus (p. 202).

The image of the phallus is still considered to guard against the evil eye: the object draws the gaze of the ill intent away from those things that are under its protection, serving the role of a fascinum (Valiente, 1973, p. 274).  Fascinum comes to us, like the related word fascinate, from the Latin fascinus, meaning to enchant or bewitch.  The Romans used the word fascinum in reference to the phallus in the form of an amulet, a gesture, or decoration intended to ward off evil and bring good luck (Hillman, 2007, p. 201).   The phallus is simultaneously desirable and repulsive, enticing the eye and repelling it at the same time: we want to look at the phallus, and we must not look at the phallus (p. 207).  This confusion is exactly the mechanism that baffles and wards against the evil eye.  Belief in the destructive power of the evil eye continues into modern times: persons and animals affected by “casting the evil eye” or “overlooking” are prone to injury, fall ill, experience bad luck, wither away, or die (Melton, 2001, p. 548).

Another example of the protective power of the fascinum is recorded by Saint Augustin.  In Roman times the god Liber—possibly an alternative name for Dionysis—represented by a phallus, was honored first at the crossroads and then brought into the city for further celebration.  The propitiation of the phallus induced the growth of seeds and kept evil enchantments from the fields (Augustine, 1998, p. 292).  The Cerne Abbas Giant, on the side of Trendle Hill in Dorset, appears to have a similar function.  Doreen Valiente (1973) reports and incident in which a clergyman wanted to plow under the giant’s phallus, but is opposed by the common folk who tell him that if he does so it will result in the failure of the crops (p. 133).  The loss of the vitality and growth this chalk figure affords is compounded with the removal of the protective attributes of the phallus, leaving the fields vulnerable to negative influences.  In ancient Greece, and later in Rome, the boundaries, crossroads, and borders were marked with herms, square stone pillars surmounted by heads and proudly displaying a phallus.  Although revered as luck bringing, the power of the erect phallus also served as sentinel, guarding the lands, and warding them from harm.  Another rite, this one directly associated with the summer solstice, is that of the Holy Vinage, which was observed in the French city of Embrun upon Saint John’s Day.  A cultic stone, resembling a phallus, was scraped, and the scrapings added to a drink. The ingestion of this ritual beverage guaranteed health, prosperity, and protection (Walter, 2014, p. 134).

The God Stone

The Monad, a Pythagorean figure representing the first metaphysical being, is represented by a single point enclosed and centered in a perfect circle.  This figure is a single thing, but represented in two parts: the single point, and the encompassing circle.  Like the Indian Shiva Linga, the lingam—the phallic portion of the figure symbolizing energy and potential—is always represented conjoined with the yoni—the feminine and creative element that serves to contain, concentrate, and transform.  This point within the circle is also a symbol of the sun: as the sun stands in the center of our solar system, so the planets, and in particular our earth, circle around this source of life and heat.  At the time of the summer solstice the sun at it apogee: the solar orb stands at its highest point in the sky, and stands vigil over the longest day of the year in terms of daylight hours.  The generative and protective powers symbolized by the phallus swell to their maximum potential.

According to Nigel Jackson (1996) sacred stones could serve as containers for those spirits held sacred to Witches.  The masculine, phallic pillar of stone—the Godstone—and the feminine, rounded, holed Hagstone serve as physical bodies for the presence of the Master and Mistress of the Witches, the entities I refer to as the Witchfather and the Witchmother.  The Godstone was placed at center of the compass, much like the figure of the Pythagorean Monad, and from this single point and the circumference of the enclosing circle all of creation unfolds (1996, p. 21).

For Midsummer, a rite honoring and celebrating the phallic axis of the creation, and the enclosing circle that provides the horizon of existence, seems appropriate given the that summer months are the season of continued growth requiring protection to come to fruition and harvest.  The central image that gives form to this ritual was that of a ring of stones containing a fire, and the in midst of that fire an upright stone phallus.  Although I have written an ode for this ritual, I have also used the words allegedly chanted by the witches of Guernsey (Valiente, 1993, p. 49).  I leave it to anyone willing to perform this rite to improvise both a tune and the steps to the dance.

For this ritual you will need a round fire pit or fire bowl.  In this receptacle you will place upright an elongated phallic stone (it may be advisable to place sand in the bottom of the fire pit to facilitate standing the stone upright).  You may add a few rounded stones at the bottom of your phallic stone to complete the display.  Firewood is laid around the base of the stone, to be lit at the appropriate time during the rite.  Bowls of milk, cooked rice, wine, or white and red flowers or fruit are put aside in readiness for the offering.  This rite is composed as the central focus of a ritual; the manner of casting of the compass and the quarters is left to the practitioner.

After preparing the space light the fire with these or similar words:

Out from depths the pillar surges

Mightily soaring, it thunders,

Swollen full with seed and wonders.

 

Now reel around the primal urge—

Dance wild about the sacred peristyle

Begetting wants and witches’ guile.

 

We crank the handle of the grinding quern.

The phallus in the fires burn!

We wreak the plunger in the butter churn.

The phallus in the fires burn!

We make the gyring spindle twist and turn

Honoring the phallus that in the fires burn!

Join hands in a circle around the fire and begin to dance clockwise, singing:

Har, har, Hou, hou,

danse ici, danse la,

 jouce ici, jou la,

Sabbat, Sabbat!

Sing and dance until the fire is well established.  Begin to pour or cast offerings onto the phallic stone or into the fire with these words:

Blessings of life and strength,

Blessings of joy and abundance,

Blessings of safety and protection,

For what is taken is truly given—

And what is given is truly taken.

 

Continue dancing

Har, har, Hou, hou,

danse ici, danse la,

 jouce ici, jou la,

Sabbat, Sabbat!

The participants should dance deosil as they turn their attention toward the stone phallus and the brightly burning fire.  The object of this rite is to dance until participants have fallen into an altered state of consciousness, and then, utilizing the energy raised within the confines of the compass, engage the forces of growth and protection to energize and watch over those things we wish to bring to harvest come the next turn of the gyre.  At the conclusion of the rite, close the compass as you deem appropriate.

References

Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. (1998). The city of God against the pagans (R.W. Dyson, Ed.).  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jackson, N. (1996).  Masks of misrule: The Horned God & His cult in Europe.  Somerset, UK: Capall Bann Publishing.

Hillman, J. (2007). Pink madness or why does Aphrodite drive men crazy with pornography, in Mythic figures.  Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.

Melton, J. G. (Ed.). (2001). Encyclopedia of occultism and parapsychology, 5th Ed., Vol. 1).  Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, Inc.

Valiente, D. (1973). An ABC of witchcraft past & present.  Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing Company

Walter, P. (2014). Christian mythology: Revelations of pagan origins (J. E. Graham, Trans.).  Rochester, VT.: Inner Traditions.  Original material published 2004.

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. 

 

Planned Parenthood in Ancient Egypt

By Maatkara sit Hatheru

Silphium
Silphium an extinct plant used by the Egyptians as a contraceptive

The ancient Egyptians did not have a wedding ceremony. The woman moved into the man’s house and that was that. They were considered married. Marriage was an arrangement between families, not individuals (which is not to say there was no romance in Egypt, but that’s a story for another time). Girls were typically married by 14, boys by 20. The “purpose” for marriage was to have children – the more the better. For farmers and the working classes, many hands made light work. Among the upper classes, children were used to make alliances, and for all classes, many children increased the likelihood that some would make it to adulthood and live long enough to support their parents in advanced age (although the average life expectancy was 30-36 years, there were always individuals who lived much longer). So why would families, especially women, choose to not have children? Well, maternal mortality rates were high and medical treatises (papyri) advocated spacing pregnancies. There were any number of other situations which discouraged woman from becoming or wanting to become pregnant.

Both fertility and infertility were considered medical, rather than a “will of the gods” conditions. Physicians and midwives were very familiar with human anatomy and understood the connections between sex and pregnancy and the male role in conception. Although physicians believed the uterus “floated” inside a woman’s body, I would like to think midwives knew better. Medical papyri correctly stated the number of days of a typical pregnancy.

Women used several methods for contraception, or to induce abortion (yes, they did that, too). The most common form of contraception was use of a barrier of some kind to cover the cervix. One oft-described method was to soak cotton in a paste of acacia fruit, honey & dates, then insert it into the vagina. The acacia fermented into lactic acid, still an ingredient in some spermicides. Pomegranate was also consumed or made into a paste to use as a spermicide.

Silphium, a plant native to the ancient North African city of Cyrene, was consumed as both a contraceptive and an abortifacient (to terminate pregnancy). It was so overused in ancient times it went extinct millennia ago, though it must be pointed out that it also had other medicinal uses. Its close relative, Asafoetida, is still used for contraception though it is considered less effective.

Although it’s difficult to know how much men knew about these practices by women, there were also male contraceptive devices. The two most common types of condoms were made of sheep intestines, or linen soaked in olive oil or the same spermicidal mixture mentioned above.

Should these methods fail, there was a popular pregnancy test which, incidentally, was still used into the last century: mix the woman’s urine into emmer (wheat) and barley. If both sprout, she is pregnant, if not, she isn’t. If the barley sprouts it’s a boy, if the emmer sprouts, it’s a girl!

Sources:
Ghaliounghui, Paul, The House of Life: Magic and Medical Science in Ancient Egypt (ISBN 90-60780620)
Jayne, MD, Walter Addison, The Healing Gods of Ancient Civilizations (ISBN 1162621478)
Nunn, John F., Ancient Egyptian Medicine (ISBN 0-8061-2831-3)

Drums to Soothe the Savage Beast

by Devra Gregory

You feel the need to unwind, the stress of the day or week has your nerves frazzled.

“I need a drink” you decide. So you text a few bff’s for a happy hour relief session. You find yourself at a sports bar with music blaring, TV screens all over the walls and a mighty noise from the dozens of other stressed out victims of urban life. Hmm.

You order a “stiff one” in hopes it will help. After getting more stressed waiting for “way too long” for your cocktail, finally relief arrives.

Or does it? Is this really what you need to unwind?

After your second cocktail you are beginning to feel like you just don’t care about your stress. You have become removed from the “feeling” of being anxious, but in truth, nothing has really changed. As soon as you sober up you return to your daily dose of anxiety. Sound familiar?

 

While Pagans do have a tendency to imbibe and worship at the feet (or chalice) of Bacchus, drinking as a way to escape rather celebrate can be cause for a vicious cycle of personal discombobulation..

Do you wonder if maybe there is a way to actually help your nervous system deal with the stress rather than covering it up with alcohol, drugs, or distraction?

Many studies have been conducted on the healing and harmful power of music. Japanese scientist Matsura Emoto froze water crystals after being exposed to different music and words, and sure enough classical music and positive words produced symmetrical lovely patterns, while water exposed to heavy metal music and words of hate crystals did not really shaped into any crystallized form at all, just a chaotic mess. We are mostly water. Ya think?

Music certainly has the power to influence our behavior. Remember when they were blaming heavy metal death music for teens becoming murderers? While those kids probably had problems long before listening to death metal, the music most certainly DID affect them. Not only did the frequency of the sound agitate them into action, but the subliminal (or not so subliminal) programming of the lyrics influenced them. Through the music we listen to we are told what to think, how to act and how to behave with love interests. How many more love songs do we need telling us “I can’t live without you?” Aren’t we done with co-dependency by now? Music (sound, frequencies, waves etc.) absolutely has the ability to change our moods (meditation music), create synergy with others (great old folk tunes) or raise our vibration (primal drumming). Music with words is entering our subconscious minds and literally programing us with each “I can’t”, don’t want” “f bomb toward others” we hear. I say turn off the firkin radio, get yourself out of those generic sports bars, and find some conscious uplifting music to unwind to.

 

How do you feel after singing along with John Lennon’s “Imagine” or James Taylor “You’ve got a friend”? Like there is hope? One of my latest go to uplifting songs is from a Cirque De Sololei soundtrack called “Allegria” and even though it’s mostly in Spanish, she is talking about “that magic feeling.” So Pagan.

 

So what about drumming? Drum circles are popping up all over the place now. In ancient cultures drums were integrated into peoples lives on a daily basis. They were used for celebrations, conflict resolution, to commune and communicate with the spirit world. Without scientific studies these tribal societies knew or felt the power of rhythm.

 

When a group of people play together there is an entrainment that occurs, a connection what some call “riding the rhythm train”. And it feels great! I’ve been drumming for over 20 years and when I first started in a shamanic drum circle I was hooked. I stopped thinking, I went into “being” mode like in meditation, but the drums were also uplifting my spirit and my energy. I connected to the energetic pulse of those around me.

After several years of loving the drum I began to study traditional West African drumming and things started to change. I went back into my head. The rhythms were so complicated; I switched on my thinking mind. My teacher would constantly tell me “don’t think! Feel it.” In Africa they hear these rhythms from inside the womb, it is in them. I played piano as a kid, learned theory and classical music. While I would have been a better pianist if I felt that music, my mind never really let go. I was never told to just feel it!

 

To drum, my western music mentality needed to go. So now when I play a drum, I tune into the vibe of Africa, to the connection with others, and do my absolute best to get out of my head. Besides unwinding the mind, the healing benefits of hand drumming are numerous- it stimulates the immune system, balances the left/right brain hemispheres and connects us to others who are playing. The secret is not to go into the head/critical/thinking mode!

 

sacred flameAt the events I offer called sacred fire circles, we are not so concerned with traditional rhythms, because the intention is to be connected to the synergy of the circle. Some people are dancing; some sing (songs with uplifting lyrics!) and the drums are in support of the circle. There is an incredible connection with drumming and dancing around a fire; the the pulse of the drum brings us back into our tribal roots. The vibration gets us on our feet and into our bodies. We feel the drums inside of us, and that wave of sound can clear away obstacles through it’s permeation into our very being. Whats equally important is what’s going on with the drummer’s energy and what they are sending out (magically speaking) when they play. It’s important to play with reverence and not ego, to keep the synergy flowing. When we dance barefoot on the earth under the stars to the sound of the drum and the fire crackling with it’s alchemical force, something deep in our primal nature floods back into us. We connect to our own ancient roots, unwind, and let go of the stress that plagues us.

 

If only the mind doesn’t say “I can’t”.

 

Dev

Devra Gregory

Creator of Sacred Flame Fire Circles

www.sacredflamefirecircle.com

Beltane: Revelry and Consummation

by Jesper Toad

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Each season in its place abide;

Sweet Beltane’s love chase consummates

And revels, coiling threads of fate;

Each season in its place abide.

Beltane falls on the first day of the month of May, conjuring images of flowers in profusion, ribbons woven round the May pole, and sexual dalliances as the evening shadows gather.  The year has turned toward summer; the seeds that broke earth at Candlemas have grown tall through the time of the Vernal Equinox, and burst forth in bloom.  Walter (2014) suggests that plant life and flowers are the central theme of the mythology and rituals of this season (p. 111).  This sabbat lies opposite All Hallows on the gyre, at the confluence between the moist tide of increase and growth that peaked at the Vernal Equinox, and the hot tide of light and warmth that finds its apogee at the Midsummer Solstice.  The last vestiges of winter are past, the gates of summer stand wide, and the serpent energy flows through the earth, enlivening the green.

In Germanic countries the beginning of summer was known as Hexennacht, or, alternatively, Walpurgisnacht.  In German folklore, Hexennacht—literally the Witches’ Night—was the night witches held their meeting upon the Brocken Mountain, the highest mountain in northern Germany, in anticipation of summer.  Walpurgisnacht, named for the Christian saint Walpurga, was observed as a protection against witches and their maleficium.  At first glance, the folklore of the Hexennacht appear to have little to do with swelling life force and sexuality of a Beltane festival, but the connection between the witches’ sabbat atop the enchanted mountain and the circular dance around the May Pole come together in the notion of the axis mundi.

Both the Mountain of the witches’ springtime celebration and the May Pole are manifestations of the archetypal axis mundi, a center point of the universe connecting our middle world to the underworld and the otherworld (Eliade, 1991, p. 39). At this point of connection between the lower and higher realms the crossroads meet, and the four directions come together.  It is from this center that communication and transvection between the worlds occurs (p. 40).  According to Eliade, all inhabited landscapes possess a sacred center—be it the navel of the earth, the world tree, a cosmic mountain, or a sacrosanct garden—and this point serves as a connection not only to the other realms of being, but is also a connection to the birth of the cosmos and the single point from which creation unfolds, and from which it may be refreshed, replenished and restored (p. 39-43).  The center point is often placed in the middle of a circle, suggesting both the point of eruption into creation, and the world that is created.  The center point and circle recall the ring of dancers around the central May pole, each dancer connected to the center by a radius of ribbon, weaving crimson and white in a cross-cross pattern; the point expands and contracts, advances and recedes, energizing and depleting the cosmos within the circle’s circumference.  It is the great ebb and flow of life force that, as Black Elk observed, always manifesting and moving in circles (Neihardt, 1961, p. 121).

Like All Hallow’s Eve, Beltane is a time when the membrane that separates this reality from that waxes thin and supernatural forces slip across into our earthly realm.  At the turn of the season from spring to summer the fairy world often spills into the human realm, and the fey appear to be particularly active at this time.  To appease these otherworldly spirits, and to ward off the influence of malevolent or capricious entities, flowers and greenery would be collected from wild, outside the safe boundaries of the human dwellings and domesticated fields.  This gathering in the May would be used to decorate the town, this preventing mischief should they be visited by the fairies.  Leafy boughs and primrose would be scattered across thresholds, Saint John’s Wort tucked into barns and cow stalls to protect livestock, and the familiar European May Pole brought in and installed in the central square and festooned with greenery and flowers (Walter, 2014, p. 112).  The month of May was avoided as a time to wed in the middle ages: it was considered too great of a risk that the new wife or husband may be an enchanted woman or man from the other world (p. 11).

A mythic theme is reflected in rite of gathering in greenery and flowers from the countryside and bringing it into the heart of the town: it heralds the return of the untamed forces of nature and eroticism embodied in an archetypal woman or man—sometimes a pair—and the May tide revels celebrating the lust and life that comes with the renewal of spring (Walter, 2014, p. 112).  Bringing the wild spirits of nature—the King and Queen of Fairy—across the boundary dividing the wilderness from the cultivated fields and into the very center of the brings the feral and fertile into the sterile, staid, follow-the-rules structure of the civilized man-world, and celebrates an underlying human-as-animal condition that we often strive to downplay, ignore, and repress.  Here again we see the archetypal elements of the sacred center and the circumference, and an interplay between that which held in the center, and those things beyond the horizon.

31064414_10156468104125116_8136678829168001024_nTwo of the archetypal manifestations associated with the erotic wildness are the Queen of Ephame and the King of Fairy.  We are probably most familiar with them from their appearances in Western literature, in particular the characterizations of Titania and Oberon in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Other appearances of the Queen and King of Fairy in literature are numerous.   In the Legend of Thomas the Rhymer features the seduction of Thomas the Rhymer on May Day by the Queen of Elfhame, the world Elfhame referring to the land of Fairy (Howard, 20014, p. 85).  Tam Lin must be rescued from the Queen of the Fairies.  The Fairy King appears in various guises in medieval romance, sometimes in the form of a dwarf.

31047770_10156468104095116_7351608921137610752_nThese entities also appear in the dittays of early modern witch trials, particularly in Scotland.  Thom Reid, a spirit that attended to Bessie Dunlap, was ordered to assist Bessie by the Queen of Ephame herself (Wilby, 2009, p. 18).   Isobel Gowdie was entertained by the King and Queen of Fairies in Downie Hill (Henderson & Cowan 2001, pp. 45-46).   Andro Man of Aberdeen claims to have sired many children with the Queen of Ephen—and alternate spelling to Elphame—who Andro Man describes as having knowledge of all magic, and the ability to appear as old or as young as she pleases (Bennet, 1841, p. 116).   Accounts of the Queen and King of Fairy usually occur early in these forced confessions, later in the dittays narratives of fairies and elves are succeeded by and overlaid with the interrogators’ notions of imps, demons, and the devil (Wilby, 2009, p. 24 ).

Narratives surrounding the Fairy Queen and King portray them as ruling over a land that lies near or next to the world we inhabit, but somehow removed.  Time seems to move differently there, with a lifespan in the human world taking place within a moment in that fairy realm.  In stories the Queen of Elphame looks to steal away a human child, or takes a particularly handsome or talented man as her lover, spiriting him away to live by her side.  The Fairy King is also known for his sexual proclivities—one wonders at the parentage of Merlin, who was supposedly begotten on a mortal woman by a demon—but is more often noted as a granter of wealth or a keeper of treasure.  In this guise the Fairy King is often depicted as a dwarf or gnome, and, like Rumpelstiltskin, not above attempting to make off with a human child.  Much of the mythology of Fairy and its royalty are connected to the underworld, so much so that in many stories the two realms blend together, and the fay and the dead are often indistinguishable.

The higher powers, represented in the forms of The King and Queen of Fairy, or the King and Queen of May, Flower Bride and the King of the Green, come together at Beltane in the greenwood in the archetypal hieros gamos—the sacred marriage—a regeneration the land (Howard, 2014, p. 87).  The May Pole is a representation of this dance, as is the Wiccan Great Rite, which celebrates the conjunctio oppositorum—the mystical union of opposites—as represented as in a woman and man, or, when enacted in token, a chalice and an athame, and the release of energies that occurs when opposites conjoin.  Beltane is the point in the annual cycle of the gyre when the necessary union of energies occurs, engendering the fertile energies and releasing them into the world (author’s note: the hieros gamos can be a physical coming together of people of opposite or same genders: any time there is a coming together of two people there exists a union between the “I” and the “not I” and a sacred union can occur.  Furthermore, the sacred marriage is metaphorical: to make it literal is to create endless problems and misses the point entirely).

The Cushion Dance

 

Often danced at medieval weddings or at the conclusion of May Day festivals in times gone by, the cushion dance affords an alternative to the ubiquitous May Pole dances utilized in most Contemporary Pagan Beltane rituals.  Although the cushion dance replaces the May Pole, and instead has as its central features are a pillow, a chalice, a kiss, and a serpentine follow-the-leader type dance, the symbolism of the meander around the central point is still in evidence.  I have re-interpreted the cushion dance to feature the Queen and King of May: in this rite the intense erotic energies embodied by these figures is passed on to the participants in the dance with a shared toast and a kiss.

This dance begins when the Queen of May brings bears a drinking horn or chalice and a cushion into a circle of dancers.  Once the music strikes up she dances around the room alone, until she chooses the King of May as her partner.  She places the cushion upon the floor and kneels upon it with her partner.  After drinking from the horn or chalice they share a kiss and then rise and dance around the circle together.  The Queen of May passes the cushion and drinking horn or chalice to the King of May, who then dances around the circle and chooses his partner, and they repeat the kneeling upon the cushion, the drink, and the kiss, and dance together as the Queen of May follows behind.  This continues, with one partner choosing the next, and the others dancing behind in an increasing line.  When all the participants have been chosen, the assembled dancers are drawn into a ring and dance in a circle (Eckenstein, 1911, pp. 58-66).

Lavender’s Green

 The pillow dance requires some kind of music.  I recommend the lively Irish fiddle tune The King of the Fairies.  Another alternative would be the song below, rewritten for this dance, and sung to the tune of Lavender’s Green.

 Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
Dance in a queue,
Choose your true love, diddle, diddle,
Give them your heart,
And pledge your troth, diddle, diddle,

To never part.

Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Here is the king, diddle, diddle,
Give him is due,
strike up the chase, diddle, diddle,
let him advance,
when  she consents, diddle, diddle,
then they can dance.

 Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
Dance in a queue,
Choose your true love, diddle, diddle,
Give them your heart,
And pledge your troth, diddle, diddle,

To never part.

 Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Now comes the Queen, diddle, diddle,
Sparkling with dew,
Queen of the May, diddle, diddle,
white is her gown,
bedecked with flowers, diddle, diddle,
green is her crown.

Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
I dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
and I choose you,
Drink of my cup, diddle, diddle,
Give me a kiss,
For you and I, diddle, diddle,
We will find bliss.

Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
Dance in a queue,
Choose your true love, diddle, diddle,
Give them your heart,
And pledge your troth, diddle, diddle,

To never part.

Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
Dance in a queue,
Choose your true love, diddle, diddle,
Give them your heart,
And pledge your troth, diddle, diddle,

To never part.

 

References

Bennet, W. (1841). Miscellany of the Spalding Club. Aberdeen, SCT: Constitutional Office.

Eckenstein, L.  (1911). Comparative studies in nursery rhymes.  London, UK: Duckworth & Co.

Eliade, M. (1991).  Images and Symbols (Philip Mairet, Trans.).  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Harris, N. J.  (2004). Witcha, A book of cunning.  Oxford, UK: Mandrake of Oxford.

 

Henderson, L & Cowan, E. J. (2001). Scottish fairy belief: A history. East Linton, SCT: Tuckwell Press.

Howard, M. (2014).  Liber nox: Traditional witch’s gramarye.  Cheltenham, UK: Skylight Press.

 

Neihardt, J. (2014).  Black Elk Speaks: being the life story of a holy man of the Ogalala Sioux.   Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Original work published 1961.

Walter, P. (2014). Christian mythology: Revelations of pagan origins (J. E. Graham, Trans.).  Rochester, VT.: Inner Traditions.  Original material published 2004.

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

Wilby, E. (2009). Cunning folk and familiar spirits: Shamanistic visionary traditions in early modern British witchcraft and magic. Chicago, IL: Sussex Academic Press.

 

Bringing Yoga into the Pagan Toolkit

by Suburban Artemis

Coming to paganism is a highly individual experience, and there are as many reasons for being pagan as there are pagans.  Many of us come seeking a spiritual path that embraces the physical body, rather than denying it.  But how much of that do we live on a day to day basis?  Are we really present in our bodies?  Are we honoring our bodies as repositories for the divine?

Hatha yoga, the physical practice of yoga we are most familiar with in the west, is a set of tools which may be used by practitioners of any religion or tradition.  Like witchcraft, it is a means of manipulating energy for a specific purpose, and these tools may be used by anyone of any faith to move along their chosen path.

My project, Suburban Artemis, grew out of my desire to explore the connections between yoga and western pagan practice. My students enjoy the well-known benefits of yoga practice, such as increased strength, flexibility, and focus, in addition to furthering their pagan practice through creative means of connecting to their bodies, the elements, and the deities they revere.  Below, I will share a practice which illustrates some simple ways in which yoga poses can deepen our spiritual work.

Meeting the Ancestors:  A Restorative Yoga Practice
Or,
Ancestors:  Not Just for Samhain!

Have you heard of “Christmas and Easter Christians”?  People who only go to church on holidays and forget about it the rest of the year?  Well, I was a “Samhain Pagan”.  When it came to ancestor work, I would spend October in a flurry of research and preparation for welcoming those who came before me, only to forget about the connection the other eleven months of the year.

Maintaining a year-round connection with your ancestors (however YOU define them) can make a huge difference in your daily life.  Ancestors are your tribe!  By keeping a simple ancestor altar in a common space (like the kitchen), it is easy to get in the habit of offering little things they like to eat or even just lighting a candle each time the family gathers.  In addition to keeping an altar, spending time in meditation with the spirits of those who came before you is a lovely way to find guidance for issues that come up in daily life.  Below I will describe some yoga poses which will help you meet your ancestors in a full-body meditation.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN:  Find a comfortable, quiet spot on the floor where you won’t be disturbed, preferably near your ancestor altar.  If you have a yoga mat you could use it, but it’s not necessary.  Grab some blankets or towels and have them folded nearby, and if you have a yoga block, set that out as well.

POSE #1:  SAVASANA (Corpse Pose)

For best results in this practice, and for your own safety, it is important to take a little time to ground, center and shield before you begin the meditation.  Lay down on your back, and find a comfortable position, if possible with the legs extended and the arms by the sides.  Become still, close your eyes and focus on your breath.  In my own practice, I like to imagine roots growing down from my spine into the earth and breathing earth energy up into my body, then out around me like a shield.  You may do this in the way that is appropriate to your own tradition. Take your time.  When you have created your shield, seal it with the intention that only well and elevated ancestors may enter your space and interact with you.

WARM-UP:

Bring your knees in to your chest and move your feet and toes.  If you are preparing to commune with blood ancestors, imagine the ways in which your feet look and move like theirs.  Look at your hands.  Use them to move your knees in circles.  Bend and straighten your legs.  Explore all of your body you can see here, lying on your back.  You might even receive images in your mind from ancestors you did not know in life, pointing out your physical similarities.

POSE #2:  SUPPORTED TWIST

With your knees in toward your chest, let them drop over to one side while keeping both of your shoulders on the ground.  If your legs do not quite reach the ground, you can support them with folded blankets underneath or in between (see photo).  If it feels all right for your neck, turn your head in the opposite direction.

supported twistSUPPORTED TWIST

Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Twists act on the body like the wringing out of a sponge, allowing us to “squeeze out” anything that does not serve our practice.  Holding the twist, reflect on anything you have inherited from your ancestors that is not serving you.  (Remember, your shield is in place to protect you from any energy with malicious intent).  Be open to images that arise both from those you knew in life as well as those you have only heard about, and even those ancestors so far back you know nothing about them.  Let that unwanted inheritance dissolve with your exhales.  Stay on this side for 3-5 minutes, or as long as seems necessary for your work, and then repeat the movement and meditation on the other side.

POSE #3:  SUPPORTED BRIDGE

Place the soles of your feet on the mat and lift your hips up toward the ceiling.  You may want to move in and out of this, rolling up and down the spine, several times before holding the pose.  When you are ready to hold, slide a yoga block or a folded blanket underneath your hips (not the low back).  Let your hips rest on the support and take your arms out wide.  If it feels better to extend your legs forward on the ground, you may do so.

supported bridgeSUPPORTED BRIDGE

Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  With the front of your body stretched and open, you are ready to receive messages from your ancestors about what work they would like you to carry on.  Keep your mind quiet and open to anything that arises.  Your creative center is elevated, ready to hear your calling and bring it to birth.  Stay here for 3-5 minutes, then lift the hips, remove the prop, and hug your knees to your chest.

POSE #4:  SUPPORTED HEART OPENER

Roll onto one side and press yourself up to seated.  Fold a blanket or towel so that one side is about as long as your spine and then roll it up.  Sit in front of it and lower your spine down so you are laying on the roll.  You can use a second blanket as a pillow at the top if you need more support for your head.  You may keep the soles of the feet on the mat or extend your legs forward.  Take your arms as wide as is comfortable.

supported heart openerSUPPORTED HEART OPENER

Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Feel the space in your chest in this shape – lots of room for your heart, for love and gratitude to grow.  Take some time now to reflect on the sacrifices your ancestors made so you could be here right now.  You may know some of their stories.  Some may come through revelation in this moment.  Hold this space of gratitude in communion with your ancestors for 3-5 minutes.  Then carefully roll off of the blanket on one side and press yourself up to a seated position.

MOVEMENT BREAK

Sit with your legs crossed or any way that is comfortable for you.  With your spine tall and your shoulders relaxed, drop your chin to your chest and begin to rock your head from side to side.  Feel a gentle compression in your throat, activating your communication center.  Tune in to anything your ancestors need to say through you.  You are their voice.  If it feels good, begin to make full circles with your head in both directions, stretching the throat and opening yourself up to speaking their truth.

POSE #5:  CHILD’S POSE

Stretch your legs and come onto your hands and knees.  Press your hips back to your heels and walk your hands forward until you can put your forehead on the ground.  You may take your knees as wide as you need to make space for your body.  If the forehead does not reach the ground, fold up a blanket or place a yoga block underneath.  Anchor your third eye on the ground or the block.  Tune in to any other messages your ancestors may have for you.  If you get the feeling you should spend some more time in this shape, fold up several blankets and place them between your knees so your chest and one cheek may rest on them in supported child’s pose for 3-5 minutes.

supported childs poseSUPPORTED CHILD’S POSE

POSE #6:  SAVASANA

Remove your props and come back to lying on your back as you did in the beginning.  Still your body, close your eyes and allow yourself to rest, absorbing all the benefits of your practice.  You may stay in Savasana as long as you like; at least 5 minutes is recommended.

Suburban Artemis offers private and group yoga classes in Orange County, CA.  To learn more about my projects and public yoga classes, visit www.suburbanartemis.com or follow me on Facebook and Instagram (@suburbanartemis).  To experience a complete yoga session with Suburban Artemis, including music and guided meditation on connecting with the ancestors and many other themes, contact heather@suburbanartemis.com.

WestenhoferSuburban Artemis encompasses the creative work of Heather Westenhofer, artist, certified yoga instructor and second-degree priestess of the Twilight Spiral Coven in Southern California.  Drawn to art and religion at an early age, the interplay of these interests manifested itself in many different careers and hobbies.  After a period of upheaval, darkness, and introspection, Heather began to synthesize a way forward in communion with the spirits and beliefs of her ancestors.  She came to rest in the old religion, honoring the natural world and the divine in both male and female form.  She has dedicated her life to birthing the creative work of the goddess, bringing the numinous to earth, and releasing the untamed into the domestic sphere.