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Blog on mini-hiatus!

August 25, 2014

Word, homeslices!

I’m taking a mini-break from my biweekly updates to work on a few other projects that need some attention.  I’ll likely resume regular posting around September 8.

–Melissa

Pre-Orders for Cecil Williamson’s Book of Witchcraft Now Up!

August 18, 2014

cecil-williamson-special-edition1As the story goes, Steve Patterson spent part of 1996 helping the new owner of the Museum of Witchcraft, Graham King, with refurbishments to the collection.  He happened upon a handwritten manuscript by the Museum’s founder, Cecil Williamson, that was a bit of a esoteric hodge-podge:  there’s a record of spells and charms and divinations, but there’s also a history of Williamson and the Museum, an explication of Williamson’s concept of traditional witchcraft, a recount of his meetings with Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner, and so on.Patterson took the manuscript, edited it up into a 304 page book, and has now made it available for sale through publisher Troy Books.  There’s four different editions: hardback, special edition, fine edition, and special fine edition, and they range in price from £30.80 GBP ($52) to £400 GBP ($670).

The books are available for pre-order now through Troy Book’s website, and the book is to be officially launched in two events:  one at the Museum of Witchcraft itself, and another at Atlantis Bookshop in London.  Both of which will happen sometime in early September, from what I can gather.

While the prices of the book (even it’s standard hardcover edition) are a bit too dear for me at the moment, it is a book I am interested in and can see having value to the traditional witchcraft community.  I can’t wait to read it!

Wand and Blade: Which is fire and which is air?

August 14, 2014
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Do these associations make sense?

I think it takes approximately two seconds of reading any two different pagan books to realize that one chunk of the community associates the athame with fire and the wand while another chunk hold that the athame is air and the wand is fire.  That’s kind of a big discrepancy, isn’t it?

Or do these?

From as best as I can tell, most Wiccan traditions influenced by Gerald Gardner practice the athame:air::wand:fire analogy.  However, it does not appear that this association was handed down from Gardner.  Frederic Lamond, one of the last surviving members of Gardner’s last coven, wrote in his book Fifty Years of Wicca that “each tool symbolizes one of the four elements”, “although the Book of Shadows does not state it” (90) and also that “Gerald Gardner did not tell us that each of the magical tools symbolizes one of the four alchemical elements, which is well known in other magical traditions” (125).  Nevertheless, Lamond notes that while he’s personally felt that the blades represent fire, Gardnerian tradition holds that they are air (90).

I believe that the Gardnerians et. al drew these associations from ceremonial magic traditions that were popular in the middle of the twentieth century.  It’s well known, for example, that Gardner drew a deal of influence from Aleister Crowley, and Crowley’s Thelemites practice the dagger:air::wand:fire analogy, too.  Some of the O.T.O. initiates I am acquainted with have told me they consider blades to be air tools because blades–like air–can penetrate all things.  Similarly, wands are fire tools because they are made of wood and can burn, which indicates that fire resides within them.  The Golden Dawn–the granddaddy of modern magic–also holds this association:  Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn lists the “four elemental weapons” as “the Fire Wand, Air Dagger, Water Cup, and Earth Pentacle” (323).

The Golden Dawn’s Air Dagger and Fire Wand

In the Golden Dawn system, these elemental associations are primarily made with joining elements to the phrases “to Know” and “to Will”.  The airy quality of knowledge here is defined as the ability to make distinctions, that which allows us to “slice up” the known universe into understandable metaphors that then allows us to see the necessary magical dualism in the singular universe.  Golden Dawn practitioners also tend to point out that this association of sharpness and the intellect is such a deep one that our very language is littered with idioms that reinforce the pairing.  For example, we have the phrases “sharp mind,” “honed reason,” “keen wit,” and my favorite “sharp as a tack”.

Conversely, within the Golden Dawn the Wand/Fire paring draws heavily on the association between Will and Fire.  The wand is basically a pointer:  a tool that directs someone’s attention to that which you desire them to see.  It’s a tool, then, that communicates the bearer’s will.  More importantly, though, is the Fire Wand’s direct association with the human penis and sexual will.  Unlike the stereotypical Wiccan wand, the Golden Dawn’s Fire Wand is tipped with a fairly large bulb.  This was done to emulate the scrotum and make the already phallic wand more penis-like.  Of the four Golden Dawn elemental tools, then, it is the most masculine and most akin to the creative, sexual will.  Naturally, Golden Dawn practitioners demonstrate the elemental link with sexual will in the idioms our language has acquired.  A flip through any Harlequin novel will expose dozens of phrases like “burning loins,” “fiery lust,” and “flaming passion.”

The Great Rite in Token

Here’s the thing: the Golden Dawn’s rationale behind linking their wand to fire is exactly why I think Gardnerian-influenced Wicca is a little misguided in following the athame:air::wand:fire analogy.  In our religious practice, sexual union is most commonly enacted symbolically by inserting the athame into the chalice.  In many BTW traditions, this is enacted as part of the consecration of food in Cakes and Wine, and–very often–it is accompanied by words such as “As the athame is to the male, so is the cup to the female, and so conjoined they bring blessedness and delight.”  While we can use, and sometimes prefer, the wand for this act, nine times of ten we reach for the athame.  Therefore, in practice our most masculine tool, the tool of sexual Will, is the blade and not the wand, and if we followed logic like that of the Golden Dawn, the athame would be a tool of Fire, not Air.

Indeed, I think that there is far more intuitive evidence to support the athame:fire::wand:air analogy than there is to support the Gardnerian-influenced one.  For example, when I asked my Gardnerian HPS a year ago why we aligned the athame with air and the wand with fire, she essentially asked me to meditate on a few questions, one of which being “How might a knight rule with a sword and how might he rule with a scepter?”

I don’t think my answer to that was quite what she thought it would be.  To my mind, a leader who leads by military control–or the sword–is one whose reign is characterized by his own needs, not those of his people.  As history has demonstrated time and time again, those rulers who secure and enforce their sovereignty by military control almost always earn the label of ‘despot’.  Magically speaking, this type of totalitarian ruler is far too Willful.  On the other hand, those leaders whose people grant him sovereignty through the symbolic scepter might be a monarch, but they are very often also the heads of a collaborative government that–if not elected by the people–still often represent the people’s best interest to their monarch.  The scepter here is a tool of order that the monarch might use to point to an advisor to grant him permission to speak and let his will, and that of the people’s, be known.  This type of collaborative ruler is always in search of the best possible information in order to make the decisions that will benefit the most people.  Magically speaking, this type of ruler thrives through knowledge.

If we look at the manufacturing of each of these tools, I think we’ll also find a natural alignment between the blade and fire and the wand and air.  Though both the wand and the athame are created from materials that come from the earth, the argument could be made that both are ‘tempered’ in their respective elements.  For example, casting and shaping the athame’s blade requires a great deal of heat to melt and temper the metal.  Similarly, wands are harvested from tree branches–not the roots or the trunks.  Therefore, they come from the parts of the trees that are shaped by the wind:  branches must be pliable enough to bend with the breeze but strong enough to resist its forces.  Wind, then, tempers branch wood as much as flame does metal.

As I mentioned earlier, my O.T.O. acquaintance argued that wands corresponded to fire since they can be burned, which he interprets to mean that fire resides within the wand.  But, as we all know, metal is capable of producing fire…and it doesn’t have to be destroyed to do so.  Anyone who’s watched a Hollywood sword fight knows that steels spark when struck.  Sparky knives were even common in the time before man could work metal.  In the stone age, many tools were made of flint, which also sends out a spark when struck with a harder surface.  Since blades can emit literal fire and not be destroyed, I would say they contain the element of fire within them.  Similarly, wands contain air within them, too.  They are the only one of the four elemental tools that is crafted from a formerly living substance.  They were capable of drawing air into their cells, using oxygen, and emitting carbon dioxide.  Air was–and still is–in them, but it doesn’t consume them as, say, oxidation does to metals.

In the end, I believe that in the context of Wiccan practice, the analogy of athame:fire::wand:air makes far more logical and magical sense than athame:air::wand:fire.  When I use the athame as air during work with my Gardnerian coven, I have to admit that I do feel like I’m beating someone to death with a knife.  In the end, good magic is made–the person does eventually die in my metaphor–so the tool does work in this air capacity…but it works much more efficiently to stab with fire.

I suppose every practitioner should honor the couplings as taught by their tradition when working with and in that tradition, but I do strongly encourage all practitioners meditate on these couplings and work out the couplings that personally feel right.  You might be surprised at the difference it makes.

Adventures in Pagan Fiction: Gail E. Haley’s “The Green Man”

August 11, 2014

I don’t read much children’s fiction these days, having no little ones of my own, but I came across Gail E. Haley’s The Green Man at a library sale this week, and boy did I ever snap it up.  It was a forgotten childhood favorite of mine, and all the memories came flooding back as I flipped through the illustrations.  Haley originally published it in 1980 (at least here in America), and I think it’s been out of print since about 1988.

Gail E. Haley's "The Green Man"

Gail E. Haley’s “The Green Man”

Haley’s The Green Man tells the story Claude, the son of Squire Archibald.  At the tale’s outset, Claude is an arrogant, selfish young man who spends his days hawking and hunting and parading around the village wearing his fine clothes.  One day he rode into the village to order a lavish meal and as he waited, he watched the villagers.  He noted several of them laying food outside and laughed at the practice saying, “Look at those ignorant peasants putting out food for the Green Man when they can barely feed their own children!”  The landlord of the inn gently rebuked Claude and tried to explain that the villagers were expressing their gratitude to the mythical figure who kept their animals healthy and protected their children if they ventured into the forest and who helped the seasons turn and the crops grow.  Claude, of course, scoffed at this as rubbish.

Some days later Claude went hunting and found no animals were coming from the woods.  He ventured further into the forest and got lost.  The day was hot and Claude petulant and sweating, so when he came across a pond he stripped off his clothes and dove in.  As Claude swam, a beggar man made off with his fine clothing.  Claude tied some leafy branches around himself and set off to return home, but it was so far away that he couldn’t return before nightfall.  He took shelter in a cave, and when he awoke the next day he found it was someone’s home: there were chickens and goats and a few necessaries like baskets and an axe.  No one arrived to care for the animals, though, so Claude fed them and then himself.

Illustrations from the story

Illustrations from the story

Soon Claude heard a search party sent by his father to find him, but was so ashamed to be seen without his fine clothes–after all, he was now dirty and covered in leaves–so he hid himself saying he’d borrow something from the person who lived in the cave.  But no one came.  Over time, Claude found purpose in tending to the livestock and observing the wildlife.  Soon he gathered berries and nuts, and gleaned from the grain harvest to feed the livestock.  He learned and lived in solitude, and eventually helped animals and young children in distress, who then asked him if he was the Green Man.   A year went by in this manner and Claude grew more and more skilled in the ways of the forest, and turned his selfless skills to helping the forest flourish.

Eventually Claude came across a swimmer in that same pond he himself had been in so long ago, so Claude snatched the swimmer’s clothes away and returned to his father’s manor.  His parents were amazed to see him; they’d thought he’d been killed by robbers or wild animals…but all Claude would say was “The Green Man saved my life.”  He returned to life as it was before, but his arrogance was gone.  He now cared for his animals and the villagers…and every night set food outside for the Green Man.

Honestly, this is pretty much an all-around winner.  The pagan theme is rich, the story arch of character growth is moralistic without being cloying, the demonstration of living with nature is on point, and the art is great.  The only quibble I have is that its publishers have put it out of print.  Luckily for us, Amazon, Alibris, and other online booksellers can connect us to people with copies to sell:  every site I found had at least 20 sellers listed.  Scribner did only publish paperbacks, but a few “library edition” hardcovers (like mine!) can be found.

Adventures in Pagan Fiction: Donna Jo Napoli’s “The Great God Pan”

August 7, 2014
The cover of Napoli's short novel "The Great God Pan."

The cover of Napoli’s short novel “The Great God Pan.”

A few weeks ago, Jason Mankey created a lovely post tracing the “literary cult of Pan” that ended with his reading the evocative passage on Pan in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908).  This lovely piece got me thinking about all the times I’ve encountered Pan in prose and poetry–a not infrequent encounter given that the writers I study are usually caught up somewhere in Pan’s cult.  Eventually I found myself dwelling on a young adult novel published just as I was entering college:  Donna Jo Napoli’s The Great God Pan (2003).

For those of you who are unaware, Napoli is an esteemed linguist who began publishing young adult novels in 1993 with The Magic Circle, a beautiful re-telling of Hansel and Gretel that is rich and textured…and makes plenty of medieval magic.  These re-tellings have largely become Napoli’s bread and butter in young adult literature, and she makes great use of fairy tale, myth, and history in creating them.  Often, she brings together aspects of different stories or myths to create a new perspective on an old tale.

Such is her treatment of Pan, where Napoli marries his myths with those of Iphigenia, the illegitimate daughter of Helen of Troy.  Napoli introduces the reader to Pan as a perfectly content nature deity, half-god, half-goat, who can change himself into any creature other than fully god/man or fully goat.  He is dedicated to his father, Hermes, and wary of Aphrodite, who cursed him to his liminal state following the death of her child with Hermes, Hermaphrodite.  Aphrodite causes him to meet with Iphigenia, and Pan falls in love with her, for she responds to him in a way that forces him to question all his known reality–love, truth, family…even his own god-hood.  Ultimately, in a twisting together of Plutarch and Pseudo-Apollodorus, Pan goes beyond himself and transforms fully into a goat to take the place of Iphigenia, who was to be sacrificed so that her adoptive father Agamemnon could get the winds to sail into Troy for the war.  And so the great god Pan allows himself to be killed for love.

As with all of Napoli’s young adult texts, she excels in tracing a deep internal struggle for the main character and the maturation required to make impossible choices.  There’s a texture, a grittiness in her work that is hard to find.  It can even be alienating–despite being in Pan’s first person narrative, there’s a strong distance held between him and the reader.  But her prose is beautiful and her stories poignant.  The Great God Pan is not a perfect work…but it is one I come back to as a mature reader and can find something new and wonderful in it with every re-reading.

You Just Can’t Beat Olympia Street Art

August 4, 2014

When it comes to embracing street art, Olympia is of the mind that you go big or go home.  We use it to make political statements.  We use it to commemorate local historical heroes and welcome people to the town.  We use them to celebrate comic book heroes and Star Wars characters.  Don’t even get me started on how many downtown businesses turn their storefronts into murals.  (I swear, just about every word in that sentence could have been hyperlinked to a different mural.)  Most recently graffiti artists have popped up two separate murals along the parking lot wall of our Indian restaurant, Great Cuisine of India, on 4th Avenue.  First came Ganesha:

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Ganesha on the wall of Great Cuisine of India, Olympia, WA, July 2014.

Then, over the course of a few weeks, Kali joined him:

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Kali on the wall of Great Cuisine of India, Olympia, WA, July 2014.

Given how popular it is for businesses here to sport street art on their walls, I assumed the restaurant’s owners had commissioned the pieces, which are amazing.  But no, as Niki Whiting of A Witch’s Ashram discovered, the murals just began appearing not long after they had painted over a long-standing palimpsest of random tags and images.  I guess after Ganesha went up, the creator(s) of Kali saw it as a challenge and popped up their art.  I rather love the call-and-response thing our local street artists have going on here, and I hope they add more members of the Hindu pantheon to the wall–there’s lots of white space left!

Where else in America can you have street artists battling it out to create representations of deity?  Olympia is so cool.

Book Review: Raymond Buckland’s “The Magick of Chant-O-Matics”

July 31, 2014
The obligatory cover shot.  My, there's no way anyone is going to miss that yellow cover on your bookshelf.

The obligatory cover shot. My, there’s no way anyone is going to miss that yellow cover on your bookshelf.

This post is not a review.  This is more akin to your mom gleefully sharing embarrassing baby pictures with your new girlfriend or boyfriend.

As the Gard community is well aware, we have Raymond Buckland and his first wife, Rosemary, to thank for bringing Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States.  They left the Long Island Coven in 1973 following their separation.  Later that year Raymond went on develop his own version of the Craft, Seax-Wica, and has spent the remainder of his life publishing books pertaining to witchcraft, the occult, and gypsy practice.  (For what it is worth, I have yet to meet any Romani, Banjaras, or Doms who have a favorable opinion of Buckland’s gypsy books.)  Today, Buckland is best known amongst the general Pagan community for two publications, Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft (1986) and Practical Candleburning Rituals (1970).

I recently came across this original 1978 copy of one of Buckland’s most forgettable books, The Magic of Chant-O-Matics, at a little hole-in-the-wall occult bookstore in Portland, propped up on a piano.  And I bought it because it is straight-up hilarious.  This is 1970s pulp publication at its finest, people.  From the insane title on the cover to the hyperbolic ‘real life examples’ to the generous amount of exclamation points within, the book is the best of grocery-line gimmicks and attention grabbing.  Now, I suppose Buckland had a good reason for the title.  As he puts it, when you use these chants “attainment is automatic!  For that reason I label it CHANT-O-MATICS.”  But it certainly is not a reason that stands the test of time.

A sample of the contents within

A sample of the contents within.

Neither, sadly, is the content.  It is true that Buckland–to his credit–gives some decent magical background for how one might prepare and carry out a petition chant, and he does coach to hold strong, concrete visuals in mind while performing the chants.  But, as the book goes on, the chants become increasingly odd.  The chants in the first couple chapters are basically English rhymes with a steady, galloping meter.  But by the time you get to the end of the book…lord only knows what the linguistic origins of the chants are.  That alone is not bad–but with chants, you need to know what every word is so that you can use it to focus your intent.  If you can’t even create a translation for something strange, how will you know it will be effective?  For all you know, your chant to help you get a paying job might actually mean something along the lines of “keep your dog of my lawn, stupid neighbor!”  Of course, Buckland gives no translations or even nods at to what language the various chants come from.  Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if some were pure gobbledegook.

Still, I love the book.  I’ll never use it seriously, but it puts a dopey grin on my face whenever I catch sight of the spine…and it stands as an amazing testimony to just how far the Craft has come in such a comparatively short amount of time.

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