What’s shaking?

Hey y’all,

Sorry for the scarcity of posts.  A few things are going down in real life for me that’s sucking up my time.  I’m preparing for second and taking on a coven project or two.  And my job is asking a lot of overtime hours from me (yayboo?).  But what’s really eating up all my hours is that I AM MOVING!

Yup, that’s right.  I’ll be sharing an apartment with a couple friends here in Olympia.  But since I own no real furniture (bed?  desk?  sofa?), I’ve been spending a lot of time sourcing them, wrapping up projects at my current place, and starting the whole process of preparing to move everything ever.

So. Much. Time.

So. Much. Organizing.

Wish me luck!

Pagan Pride Day and Tolerance

This has been a very odd week for me.  I’ve been busy navel-gazing with my own spirituality, preparing for Soma Sidhe’s “performance ritual” at the Central Sound Pagan Pride Day which was this past Saturday, and generally minding my own business.

Pagan Pride Day was certainly interesting.  In between snippits of shopping and getting to know different people in the area, I sat down on a bench to chug some water, rest my feet, and maybe create a new Facebook status update.  But that got waylaid.  My Facebook feed was full of messages from my undergrad friends posting about a high school classmate and friend of theirs.  I won’t post his name here–the last thing he needs at the moment is his name popping up on some Pagan blog–but you’ve heard about him if you’ve seen the news over the past couple days.  He’s the Indiana man who is currently next up on the Islamic State’s beheading block.  He initially went to the Middle East as an Army Ranger, but returned after his honorable discharge to become a humanitarian worker who trained civilians in medical treatment for refugees.  He was captured last October while traveling to eastern Syria as part of his relief work.  During his captivity, he converted to Islam.

But that’s unlikely to keep his head attached to his neck.

It was supremely surreal to learn of this news–and how close I was to it–at an event for religious tolerance and community building.  As I flicked through Facebook and felt my horror escalating, I felt keenly how different life must be in the Middle East.  The CSPPD coordinators had been worried that there would be protesters at our event, given some missives they’d been sent by various other groups in the area and by the events at Antelope Valley’s PPD.  We were worried about yelling people with signs.  In the Middle East, non-Muslims worry about abduction, torture, and death.

That makes our concerns seem like first world problems.

With that in mind, I think we at the PPD missed a real opportunity.  The event was fun–don’t get me wrong.  It was awesome to see so many Pagan and paganish people all in one place and to put faces to names and groups I’d only encountered online or by reputation.  But we didn’t really do anything to strengthen our community other than showing up and buying things.  There just wasn’t space for any meaningful dialogue.  Despite a huge turnout, the workshops, talks, and rituals were underutilized.  For example, there were maybe 6 people at the class on religious tolerance I went to, and the class itself was pretty much just a speech prepared by the leader…a speech I barely heard over the noise of the crowd.

If we’re really going to be the change we need to see in the world, we need the space to start that discussion and to be heard.  There’s not much interfaith infrastructure in Paganism, let alone between Pagan Paths and other religions, so opportunities provided by events such as Pagan Pride Day are few and far between.

From what I experienced this week, we can’t let even one of these opportunities pass us by.

Samhain Decoration Idea: Wineglass Centerpiece

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I saw this picture online and knew I had to replicate it for the centerpiece of my Samhain dumb supper this year. It’s so simple it takes practically minutes to pull together, but the effect is really quite classy.

What you’ll need are a large platter, an assortment of stem-ware (beer glasses, wine glasses, hurricanes, margarita glasses, etc.  The more varied the shapes and heights, the better), miniature pumpkins and gourds small enough to fit under the glasses, votive candles in a fall color, and clear votive cups (not in this picture). You’ll also want pine cones, acorns, grapes, dried flowers, or some other small-ish item to strew around the glasses on the platter. I think it is important to use votive cups here as the candles will burn down and puddle over an hour or so and make a mess otherwise.

Just place the votives in their cups, place the pumpkins on the tray, up-end a glass over them, and place a votive on the wine’s base. Strew some pinecones between the glasses, light up the candles, and you’re done!

The Story of How I Realized It Was Time to Ask for Second Degree

I have been dithering about asking to take the second-degree elevation for awhile now.  There’s so many things I feel that I need to do first, and–honestly–I could write several substantial posts on those alone.  But this is not that post.  This is the story of how I realized it was time to request second.

This past weekend, the Washington faction of Soma Sidhe took a road trip to Eugene to meet up with our Oregon faction to celebrate the Autumn Equinox, or–as we call it–Harvest Home.  Initially, the four of us were to travel down together…but due to real life problems like work schedules, that was a short-lived plan.  So I found myself on a road trip with nothing but NPR and my own thoughts for company.  Alas, the ISIS in contemporary news is not the Isis I’d like to hear about when traveling to a Pagan spiritual event, so NPR got nixed somewhere just south of Portland.

About two seconds later, I saw my very first dust devil.

It was just a little one in a harvested wheat field, and it was over almost as soon as it began, but I was thrilled to see the funnel of dirt rise, fall, and twirl about in the air.  I was pleased to have had the opportunity to see something so relatively rare, and it made me a little nostalgic for my Indiana hometown and tornado season.  I filed that away in my “blessed to have experienced” mental file and proceeded down I-5.

Holy geez. Over the next 90 minutes, I think I saw about 200 different dust devils.  Just past Salem and Corvalis where the valley opens up toward the east, I almost stopped the car, there were so many in my line of sight all at one time.  I counted just over a dozen very big, dark, obvious ones.  They were great columns of dirt sending debris maybe 150-200 feet into the sky.  Interspersed around them were some 30 or 40 smaller ones that were of various sizes between 15 and 30 feet, and which were much shorter-lived.  My jaw was on my car floor.

Dust Devils near Albany, Oregon that I stole from someone's Flickr because I was not about to try and kill myself by stopping to take a picture on I-5.

Dust Devils near Albany, Oregon that I stole from someone’s Flickr because I was not about to try and kill myself by stopping to take a picture on I-5.

Honestly, it was a visual image very close to some of my nightmares. As nostalgic as I am for the amazing storms and tornadoes of my childhood, a nightmare I have fairly frequently is watching tornado after tornado appear and snake through the sky, destroying everything in their paths as I watch in horror. They keep coming, these tornadoes, one after another, until I wake up shaking.

But without the strength and violence of a tornado, I could see these baby twisters in a different light.  Sure, they turned everything helter-skelter for a little while, but when they fizzled out, everything returned to a new order.  Maybe another one would form soon thereafter and the cycle of tumult would occur again.  Maybe it wouldn’t.  But eventually, the changes the dust devil brought would fade and life for all the little bugs and things it disturbed would return to normal.

One major part of me putting certain things off, things like requesting second degree, is because I feel a bit like I’m caught up in one of these twisters.  It’s not terribly violent, but I feel things swirling around all the time, and it’s not coming to a rest.  When I do end up in a lull, I’m too afraid of the next blowup to make any commitments or create anything new.  So I stagnate.  But in watching the dust devils, I realized that even if things are temporarily tumultuous and might become so again in the future, I’ll be able to roll with the punches.  So why not take on what I can now?  I’ll be able to fit it into any brave new world.

And so at our Harvest Home festival, I officially asked to take second.

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

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?

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”

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.