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Rowan & Bone

dark arts, bright spirits

Month

August 2016

Otherworld

(Image: Cave of the Nymphs, Greece)

I think of a woman born in early Christian Ireland, a woman told of the Christian God, of Jesus and of Mary. She would have believed. And why not? She was a believer. She believed in ghosts and fairies, the way you and I believe in germs and viruses. Why not the God of the Hebrews? Why not His Son, crucified on a tree?

This God – and this Jesus and this Mary – fit comfortably into her cosmogony. The new holy days were artfully matched up with the old. Her life didn’t need to change much. She would go to Mass on Sunday, and put porridge out by the front door at night for the fairies.

I wonder about this woman, my ancestor, because her belief is where I feel I’ve landed, or am trying to land.

I believe in the Christian God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in Mary. But it doesn’t end there.

I believe everything has a soul. I believe the Otherworld is vastly more complicated than Heaven-Purgatory-Hell. I believe the spirit world is vastly more complicated than Angels and Demons. I believe in the gods, not in a strictly literal way, but in a way I can’t explain in one paragraph. I believe in the World Tree. I believe the Big Bang means pieces of God are in every atom in the universe. I believe the dead still exist somewhere. I believe some of us can reach them.

It makes sense that the Church forbade necromancy and divination. Crossing the veil is dangerous, and I don’t just mean that the ill-prepared or unlucky person can let evil spirits through the doorway. (Although of course I believe they can.)

What I mean is, these glimpses of the beyond, these peeks at the Otherworld, are the Forbidden Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. To the Church, understanding of the realm beyond ours is too much for human beings to have. It makes them powerful, this wisdom, in a way that humans should not be.

The Church wants our wisdom to come from patience, meekness, humility, and hard work. We are supposed to kneel, obey, and wait for our eternal reward. The Bible tells us, “If you think you stand, take heed lest you fall.”

I am not condemning the idea of humility before the God of All Creation. But I am also no longer frightened by the idea of standing in front of the mystery of the cosmos, of consciousness, of death, of eternity, and reaching out to it. It isn’t enough for me to read and pray and ponder. In the words of Tina Fey, “I want to go to there.”

I want a little taste. I need it, as a matter of fact.

My favorite stories – whether they’re books or films – are essentially fairy tales. They’re stories where the hero – who is rather ordinary, or at least living a rather ordinary life – finds out there is actually another world behind it all, behind the world she knows. Whether it’s Harry Potter getting invited to Hogwarts, Frodo venturing out from the Shire, or even Clarice Starling encountering Hannibal Lecter’s madness, the best stories are those where a protagonist tumbles down the rabbit hole and finds out that this whole time there was an Otherworld.

I don’t have a letter from Hogwarts. I don’t have a farmhouse to ride through a tornado to a world of vivid colors and singing munchkins.

But I do have folk magic. I have ritual. And I have this call I’ve always felt, this pull, like someone is tugging at my gut, someone I know very well but haven’t met. I am supposed to reach out and find the world behind mine. I’m supposed to travel. I’m supposed to go on a journey. I won’t let fear or doubt stop me. This is the most profound question we have as human beings: what else is there?

I’m not getting out of this alive. Eventually I’m gonna know. But maybe if I know something now, soon, before I die at least, I’ll make different decisions. I’ll figure something out. I’ll live a better life.

 

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The Golden Bough

I’ve just started reading James Frazer’s classic work on magic and the origins of religion. The version I’m reading is an abridgement prepared by the author. The original work reached several volumes – I think six? A little too much for me.

I attempted to read this as a teenager and sheepishly put it down when it went a little beyond me. Not the subject matter, mind you, but the way it was presented. I was an avid reader but it proved too dense and dreary for my teenage brain. Even now it is not an easy read, as it is written in a somewhat stilted, turn-of-the-century academic style.

Despite this, and despite its 750 pages, I feel it absolutely critical that I read this book and absorb it. It is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the religious mind of the human being – whether you’re a student of comparative religion, a witch, a shaman, or a seeker of any kind.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s in the public domain and therefore free. You can download it straight to your kindle from Amazon for exactly zero dollars.

I’ll be posting my favorite bits as I reach them.

(Illustration: J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the Golden Bough incident from The Aeneid)

Three Tined Stang

I found this two days ago in the grove, very near where I found mine. It’s much shorter than mine at about 3 feet, and more substantial, with thicker branches. I’m excited to get started stripping the bark off. It’s been on the front porch for a couple days, probably confusing the neighbors.

Three-tined stangs are particularly “lucky” as they mimic the shape of humans. This one will be a nice handheld size.

A stang is a multipurpose ritual tool and can replace both a wand an altar. Think of it is a shamanic Leatherman. If you have one of these puppies, you need no other tools to cast a caim.

I’ve been experimenting with a dremel tool. Today I found a piece of scrap wood and tried out the various bits. I used one – a round sandpaper-feeling one – to smooth out a few knots and rough places on my stang.

(I still don’t have a bit that will cut stone, so my rune project remains on hold.)

I have now spent several hours on my big two-tined stang and have decided I’m done with the blade and moving on to sandpaper only. If I keep fussing with it, it’ll end up being too thin. I’m a perfectionist at heart so I keep finding little spots I can make better. The point of course is not that it is perfect but that I pour my care and attention into making it glorious. I have boiled linseed oil standing by when it is smooth enough. I left the tines thick at the top so I can inset quartz crystals.

I have only just begun working with wood but I adore it. I have never been the hands-on type – more of a thinker, writer, debater, entertainer, speaker, philosopher – overall a wordsmith, a communicator. But I find peace when I’m working with the wood. It relaxes me, calms my mind. I’m not a yoga or meditation type, but as I work with the wood I feel clarity, timelessness.

I’ve been retreating from the world in the past couple months. Being a semi-public figure did not suit me. I don’t mind the speaking part of public speaking – it doesn’t bother me. It’s the rest of it – meeting tons of people, making small talk, the anxiety of traveling all the time. Business travel is very different from traveling for pleasure. You’re on someone else’s dime and mindful of it. You feel obligated to be available, obliging, cooperative. You can’t relax and do what you want. You’re constantly “on.” It’s quite exhausting.

If I had been doing something I truly loved I may have felt differently. But I was continuously and completely aware that was not truly where I belonged.

After a few months of that I had to hibernate for a while. Went back to work part-time at the bookstore. Enjoying the hell out of that. Yes, customer service is a bitch, but it’s a pretty relaxed store. And I get to look at books all day, think about books, dream up ideas for my book. There is a lot of tidying and straightening, which I love. I enjoy restoring order. The staff and management are, for the most part, helpful and agreeable. I don’t mind going there, and it feels good to be back on my feet moving around for four or more hours a day, four or more days a week.

The semester is starting soon. I’m going to concentrate on learning, making good grades, writing, my herb garden, and my projects, especially the woodworking. I have taken myself out of politics and social issues. With the election coming, it’s going to be an ugly year. I don’t want to be a part of it.

Luckily, the grove will provide a good supply of staves. I have a few earth-friendly colored stains in mind and a pyrography tool in my Amazon wish list. This time next year I’ll be starting my last semester of my bachelor’s degree and figuring out what to do next. Maybe I’ll focus on entrepreneurship. Maybe I’ll be further in my writing career. Maybe I’ll be looking at MFA programs.

But more than anything I am concentrating on my spirituality, on exploring the nature of reality. It has always been of great interest to me to see beyond the veil, to prove to myself that this is not all there is. It is the most important question, isn’t it?

If this new little three-tined stang turns out well, I may offer it for sale in my new shop (coming soon). Perhaps it will make some traveler happy.

 

Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914) ‘Oh, what’s that in the hollow, so pale, I quake to follow?’ ‘Oh, that’s a thin dead body, which waits the eternal term.’, 1893, Watercolour with gum and scratching-out on paper, Royal Watercolour Society

The Withered Boughs

The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams.

W.B. Yeats

 

Why Rowan, Why Bone

I agonized a little over the title of this blog. I had several in mind – The Wicked Wild, The Dread Meadow, Sickle & Sage, Milkwinter Alchemy – but none of them felt exactly right.

Rowan & Bone occurred to me quite out of the blue when I stopped trying, and I knew at once it was perfect.

My first exposure to the rowan tree was through a novel called The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. There is a lot of silliness in her novels, but they remain a guilty pleasure. I highly recommend The Witching Hour, although you can probably skip the two sequels. It is, in many ways, a ridiculous book, but contains nuggets of wisdom and is a helluva fun and engaging read.

The main character, Rowan Mayfair, is a powerful witch. In Rice’s universe, witches are born, not made, and a witch is defined by psychic powers: second sight, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and so on. Each generation has its most powerful witch, and she (or he) is marked by a visit from “the man,” a potent spirit known as Lasher. Rowan is sent away to be adopted at birth in an attempt to spare her the complicated fate and inescapable doom of her foremother witches, and given the name Rowan because the bush was sacred to her Scottish ancestors, known for warding off evil spirits and dark forces.

The tree and its lovely name stuck with me longer than the story. I do have some Scottish ancestry, but more than anything the rowan’s protective powers called to me. I’m not afraid of much, but malevolent spirits – demons – terrify me. It is an ongoing struggle for me to not let this fear rule my spiritual journey.

(Funny: I have never once beheld a rowan tree in person. I’ve only been to one place where they grow – northern California – and there I never left the city of San Francisco. (If there are any in the city, I didn’t know or notice.) Where I live – in temperate zone 8 – it’s too hot for rowan trees.)

One of the least appealing things to me about the popular incarnation of neo-paganism – usually presented as Wicca, even by those who aren’t sure of the difference between paganism and Wicca – is its emphasis on “white witchcraft.” (As in the threefold law and the Wiccan Rede.) What this has done is turned witchcraft – at least in the current popular imagination here in North America – into a toothless benignity, a digital illustration of a maiden with long blonde hair wearing a pentagram necklace and hugging a doe. Witchcraft has been reduced to silly candle spells written by neophytes and published on tumblr blogs with names like The Grimoire of Persephone StarDolphin. It’s been repackaged and sold to a Christianized society that fears and loathes the very idea of a curse or a reckoning, who blanches at the word “necromancy,” and who wants their neo-paganism declawed, sanded down to soft edges, prepackaged under cellophane, and utterly devoid of the unpleasant truths of the real history of witchcraft or folk magic: that it was born of blood and bone, of sickness and necessity, for healing that sometimes hurt, to smite the enemy and leave his ruin behind you.

This was what I was looking for in my practice, and I finally found it when I began exploring European folk magic and the history of Celtic shamanism.

And that’s where the bone comes in. I am not a “white witch” or a Wiccan priestess. I do not go by Moongift and I do not say “Blessed be.” I am a witch, a worker of magic, a rootworker. I use bones and animal parts in my workings. I use tobacco, alcohol, blood, menstrual blood, spit, urine, and other substances that make the pastel pagans gag. I commune with the spirits of snakes and spiders. I call out to the night creatures. I gather dirt from the graveyard. I seek the spirits of the dead.

If this scares you, ask yourself why, and don’t be content with a pat answer like “It’s wrong” or “It will come back to you threefold.” Ask yourself why you think that way, and how you know for sure it’s true. Read more. Speak with those who follow other paths. Always seek the truth. Never settle for the easy solution.

I work for fertility, peace of mind, healing, productivity, and good fortune – the rowan. I also curse, cross, command spirits, demand justice, and cross the hedge – the bone.

Aradia, Gospel of the Witches

It took me years of searching to find a compendium of information on a witchcraft that made sense to me, and that was in the blog posts of Sarah Anne Lawless, the Witch of Forest Grove. I owe much to her. She published a recommended reading list that opened my mind and soul, and I’m not even through it yet.

The first book on the list is the mysterious and controversial little Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland. Whether it was truly the grimoire of an ancient hereditary tradition given to Leland by the Tuscan witch Maddalena or a pure work of the author’s imagination is a question debated to this day, more than a hundred years after its publication. The truth is – as usual – probably somewhere in between the two extremes.

In any case, it is a paean to the Moon, known to the Romans and beyond as the Goddess Diana, she of the swift foot and the hunt, the night and the forest. Sister to Lucifer, mother to Aradia, and Queen of the Witches, Diana is adored, honored, invoked, and threatened in these pages.

The little threats (see below) are some of my favorite parts of the book. There is a wicked splinter in my heart that burns with delight when I get to that part of the spell or ritual, those one or two little lines where the witch demands the Goddess listen to her – or else.

My years as a Christian taught me to approach the One God directly – not through intermediaries such as the deities, or as I see them, the spirits of His Creation – and always as a supplicant, always humble, meek, mild, and entreating. What this does over time is not so much humble you as make you bitter, deeply regretful of your loss of what I call personal power – that awareness and experience of your own life force, the deep and vibrant wellspring of universal knowledge and primal strength that for most of us remains buried in your subconscious.

This is one of the many things that make more sense to me in my evolving personal cosmology – approaching the Great Creator through, for example, Diana as the Moon. I have always felt compelled to do this without knowing why.

For years I secretly harbored a suspicion that the Big Daddy God is a Creator, detached from the affairs of men. This is a no-no for Christians – one of my many pet no-no’s. We are supposed to approach God directly or through one of His other persons – the Son or the Holy Spirit. I have always felt very close to the Son, but not so much to the Father or the Holy Spirit. I now see the Holy Spirit more clearly by a different name, but that is the subject of another post.

To get back to the matter at hand – the Gospel of the Witches- I suggest if you are interested in Traditional Witchcraft, shamanism, or folk magic, you read this book and its enlightening footnotes.

Here are some of my favorite passages, some of them written by Leland and some coming to him ostensibly through Maddalena.


Witchcraft, like the truffle, grows best and has its raciest flavour when most deeply hidden. C.L.


Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead…

And it came to pass that Diana, after her daughter had accomplished her mission or spent her time on earth among the living (mortals), recalled her, and gave her the power that when she had been invoked… having done some good deed… she gave her the power to gratify those who had conjured her by granting her or him success in love:

To bless or curse with power friends or enemies [to do good or evil].
To converse with spirits.
To find hidden treasures in ancient ruins.
To conjure the spirits of priests who died leaving treasures.
To understand the voice of the wind.
To change water into wine.
To divine with cards.
To know the secrets of the hand (palmistry).
To cure diseases.
To make those who are ugly beautiful.
To tame wild beasts.


Whatever thing should be asked from the spirit of Aradia, that should be granted unto those who merited her favour.

And thus must they invoke her:

Thus do I seek Aradia! Aradia! Aradia! 1 At midnight, at midnight I go into a field, and with me I bear water, wine, and salt, I bear water, wine, and salt, and my talisman–my talisman, my talisman, and a red small bag which I ever hold in my hand con dentro, con dentro, sale, with salt in it, in it. With the water and wine I bless myself, I bless myself with devotion to implore a favour from Aradia, Aradia..

The Invocation to Aradia.

Aradia! my Aradia!
Thou who art daughter unto him who was
Most evil of all spirits, who of old
Once reigned in hell when driven away from heaven,
Who by his sister did thy sire become,
But as thy mother did repent her fault,
And wished to mate thee to a spirit who
Should be benevolent,

And not malevolent!

Aradia, Aradia! I implore

Thee by the love which she did bear for thee!
And by the love which I too feel for thee!
I pray thee grant the grace which I require!
And if this grace be granted, may there be
One of three signs distinctly clear to me:
The hiss of a serpent,
The light of a firefly,
The sound of a frog!
But if you do refuse this favour, then
May you in future know no peace not- joy,
And be obliged to seek me from afar,
Until you come to grant me my desire,
In haste, and then thou may’st return again
Unto thy destiny. Therewith, Amen!

To find a stone with a hole in it is a special sign of the favour of Diana. He who does so shall take it in his hand and repeat the following, having observed the ceremony as enjoined:

I have found
A holy-stone upon the ground.
O Fate! I thank thee for the happy find,
Also the spirit who upon this road
Hath given it to me;
And may it prove to be for my true good
And my good fortune!

I rise in the morning by the earliest dawn,
And I go forth to walk through (pleasant) vales,
All in the mountains or the meadows fair,
Seeking for luck while onward still I roam,
Seeking for rue and vervain scented sweet,
Because they bring good fortune unto all.
I keep them safely guarded in my bosom,
That none may know it–’tis a secret thing,
And sacred too, and thus I speak the spell:
“O vervain! ever be a benefit,
And may thy blessing be upon the witch
Or on the fairy who did give thee to me!”

It was Diana who did come to me,
All in the night in a dream, and said to me:
“If thou would’st keep all evil folk afar,
Then ever keep the vervain and the rue
Safely beside thee!”

Great Diana! thou
Who art the queen of heaven and of earth,
And of the infernal lands–yea, thou who art
Protectress of all men unfortunate,
Of thieves and murderers, and of women too
Who lead an evil life, and yet hast known
That their nature was not evil, thou, Diana,
Hast still conferred on them some joy in life. 1

Or I may truly at another time
So conjure thee that thou shalt have no peace
Or happiness, for thou shalt ever be
In suffering until thou grantest that
Which I require in strictest faith from thee!

It should be observed, and that earnestly, that the prayer, far from being answered, will turn to the contrary or misfortune, unless the one who repeats it does so in fullest faith, and this cannot be acquired by merely saying to oneself, “I believe.” For to acquire real faith in anything requires long and serious mental discipline, there being, in fact, no subject which is so generally spoken of and so little understood. Here, indeed, I am speaking seriously, for the man who can train his faith to actually believe in and cultivate or develop his will can really work what the world by common consent regards as miracles. A time will come when this principle will form not only the basis of all education, but also that of all moral and social culture. I have, I trust, fully set it forth in a work entitled “Have you a Strong Will? or how to Develop it or any other Faculty or Attribute of the Mind, and render it Habitual,” &c. London: George Redway. C.L.

Pessimism is the result of too much culture and introversion. C.L.

For every woman is at heart a witch. C.L.

Feather and Stang

When I was 15 years old I read a little novel called Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. It was a mind-blowing experience for me, being as it was my first exposure to the Law of Attraction and a lot of other ideas that struck me at the time as crazy spiritual and enlightened. Today I think of it as typical 1970s New Age hippie-dippie nonsense, but I still have affection for the book.

The basic idea – which we now popularly call Law of Attraction – that you could “vibe in” things by focused intention was a powerful one to me. I set out to try it, and I used the example given in the book of meditating on a blue feather, imagining it coming into my presence, surrounded by a white light. “The feather is on its way to me. It is mine.” I repeated that to myself.

The next morning, while opening the garage door, I found beneath it a blue feather, lying there right in front of my face, plain as day, perfect, unmissable. I kept it. I still have it. It was a big moment in my life, seeing my will influence the universe in such an inexplicable way.

Fast forward to today. I have been reading about shamanism, and was thoroughly enchanted by a blog post about the stang. Until I read it, I never felt like I needed a stang. I associated it with the Horned God or the stag, a deity (and animal) with whom I’ve never felt a close affinity.

This post focused on the stang as a representation of the World Tree. As I have been drawn more and more toward hedgecrossing, reading about the stang’s “horns” reaching up into the upperworld, the “foot” into the underworld, resonated with me deeply.

Also, I have never felt right with a wand in my hand. I have a lovely hand-carved oak one, given to me as a gift. It feels good to hold and I like everything about it, but a wand feels too delicate and light for me when casting a caim.

This morning I felt drawn out of the house toward a park nearby. This is weird for me, because it’s hot, and when it’s hot I stay inside.

Also, I live in the (sub)urban jungle so I have to search for pockets of wilderness. (I am counting the days til I can move to the woods.) There is one in particular, a few miles away, that despite being right off the freeway service road is quiet, empty, secluded, and full of great gorgeous oak trees.

I put the dog in the truck and headed over. No one was there, as usual.

As I said, it’s strange for me to go outside in the daytime in the summer. It’s usually over 100 F, and today was no exception. Of course, it was cooler in the shade of the trees.

As I started walking I suddenly realized I was there to find a stang.

I walked to one felled branch, but it was still covered in leaves, would have taken a lot of trimming, and didn’t feel right. So I walked another 50 feet and there it was: almost 7 feet long, two perfect “horns,” already dead and fallen to the ground but free of insects and rot.

I picked it up, and sticking straight up out of the ground – tip in the dirt – was a blue feather. The black-striped blue with the white tip. A bluejay feather, just like the one I found that day in my garage.

I knew not only that this was my stang, but that this stang would take me places.

I thanked the nearest tree, thanked the Old Woman (profusely), put the feather in my bag, and headed home.

I have virtually no experience in woodworking, but I’m learning. I do have sharp knives and some handy tools. I spent a couple hours stripping the bark. I used a handsaw to cut a few inches off the base and each horn. I used my knife again to whittle off some of the branch nubs. After about 3 or 4 hours of work I had the makings of a gorgeous stang.

I’ve just started going over it with the coarse sandpaper. I will continue sanding until it’s nice and smooth, then rub it all over with linseed oil. There is a large recess in the front that I will inlay with semi-precious stones. It will need this and a few other little touches – such as a certain blue feather – before I am ready to cleanse, consecrate, and use the stang.

On days like today, when I am given clear signs and great peace, I know my path is true.

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