Oh, Tumblr

I've started following more pagan/polytheist/witchy types on Tumblr. This may eventually turn out to be a bad idea, but for now it's interesting. There are a couple of themes I keep seeing in questions from people who are new to paganism/polytheism and witchcraft, respectively, and both of them puzzle me every time. The first one tends to be something like "Am I allowed to worship gods I don't have a close relationship with?" Variations include "Am I allowed to worship a lot of different gods?", "How can I form a close relationship with this god because I feel like I ought to have one?", "Am I allowed to worship this particular god even though I am not part of the major groups they're the patron of?"* All of it seems to boil down to "How do I polytheism?" Which is fine. Nobody is born knowing how to worship. But it seems to me to essentially not quite understand what polytheism means on a practical level. Polytheism means believing in the existence of many gods. Lots of 'em, all over the place. And you can worship them. You get to worship them. It worries me a bit that people are... afraid of this. That they feel like they need to ask permission of people to worship. (If a god doesn't want you worshiping them, rest assured they'll let you know.) The other question tends to be something along the lines of "What are the different kinds of witchcraft?" or "Am I allowed to call myself a green witch?" or "Is there such a thing as a $DESCRIPTOR witch?" These questions all seem to think that there exists some list of Kinds Of Witchcraft, which is The Authority, and that they have to conform to the standards of this Authority in order to be witches. But, of course, witchcraft is a term for a wide variety of magical practices, typically low or practical magics, not ritual high magics. People pick adjectives to stick on the front of their witchcraft, but all it is is a descriptor. If you do witchcraft, you are a witch, and you can describe your witchcraft however you like. In both cases, what worries me is that people seem to think there is some Authority or some One True Way that they must follow. It's simply not true, and it's a dangerous idea. If you want to join a tradition with a One True Way or an authority, then go talk to them, but there's no such thing for polytheism or witchcraft in general. *Edited to add a note: Someone mentioned to me that this question might be a concern about cultural appropriation, which is of course something to avoid. But I was thinking specifically of questions from people who were already starting to practice Hellenic religion, and wanted to know if they were allowed to worship Hera even though they weren't married, or Apollo even though they weren't artists or doctors. This is not a matter of cultural appropriation. Hellenic religion in general encouraged everyone to worship, pray, make offerings, etc, to whomever you like. People were supposed to pay extra attention to the patrons of their occupation, age, gender, or other things, but weren't constrained from following anyone at all. Certain cultic groups might only admit you to their services or rites or mysteries if you were part of their group -- a guild of potters who held special rituals in honor of Athena, say, that only allowed potters in -- but nobody would try to stop you otherwise....

Alraun

Alraun I mentioned last year that I was interested in making an alraun, a root poppet in the shape of a person. Preferably, it grows into that shape, but it can be carved to accentuate the human-like qualities. The best-known alraun is the Mandrake, of course, but any root that grows into similar shapes can be made one. Sarah Anne Lawless’s article specifically mentioned dandelions, and I thought I’d pursue that. I did try digging up one that summer, but it turned out to be too thin and thready to make a good poppet. So this year I’m giving it another try. On the 2nd, the first day of the full moon, I dug up a dandelion root from a friend’s yard, took it home, potted it, and put it in the window in the ritual room. He had a head with a rough face and moustache, a very long torso, two arms, two short, stubby legs, and a tail. (It might have been something else, but it was on the other side from the moustache, so I’m going with tail.) The leaves were already drooping from the shock, and by the next day were crispy-dry. Lawless had assured readers that this was ok, the root would survive, so I snipped them all off (and later ritually burned them), and sure enough, within a week, new green leaves were turning up, ever so tiny, hidden among the dead ones. My friends had dug up another couple while I was working on mine, neither of which were terribly human-shaped, but which I’m also drying for other uses. Dandelion root has a number of uses, including for true dreaming. There was also a big pile of greens, which I had plans of cooking up. Unfortunately, the images I was seeing while looking up recipes were all wrong. Nor did they match my childhood memories of dandelions, now that I thought about it. The leaves were fuzzy, and not sharp-toothed. So I did some poking around, and it turns out that that’s not true dandelion, it’s cat’s ear, a false dandelion. Drat. Still, any root that grows right can be an alraun, so I decided to continue with that. And cat’s ear is perfectly edible, if it doesn’t have the pleasant bitterness of dandelion. I was disappointed enough that I never did eat the leaves, though. So. I’m giving the plant time to recover before I begin feeding it as part of the alraun ritual, which I will do starting Sunday, at the dark of the moon. I’ll continue to feed it for a lunar month, moon dark to moon dark, before digging it back up, drying it in the dark for a month, and then completing the ritual....

Spinning Cobwebs

But no moonlight. But actual cobwebs. There was, across our front porch, a large and lovely orb web, which I insisted we leave there. Now it is abandoned, and today, heavy with sleep drugs but unable to sleep, I went out draped in black, and hooked my skull-armed micro trindle into the center of the web, and I began to spin, drafting straight from the web. Spider, Spider, Spinning Spells We are Kin beneath the skin Spider, Spider, Spinning Spells We are Sisters in our Craft Spider, Spider, Spinning Spells Show me how you weave your Web Spider, Spider, Spinng Spells Help me work my Will And I did. I got about a yard of delicate, sticky, gossamer-fine thread with bits of old meals and blowing bramble caught in it. I wrapped it around a small smooth vertebra I had handy. I'll have a picture later, maybe. It will be a powerful amulet, when I am done with it....

Spider and Silkworm

I have started to work with new spirits lately. They aren’t ones that have sought me out, particularly, but ones whom I have found in my work, and am attempting to build a relationship with. For the moment, that means creating a tiny shrine for them, and chanting to them in my evening spinning. Tiny shrine to Spider and Silkworm, bramble wrapped in spell-thread, with beaded Golden Orb Spider and, covered in silk, an actual Silkworm cocoon with dried silkworm inside. My Spider is not, for example, Sannion’s Spider, nor Anansi the Spider, nor even Arachne as the Mother of Spiders (although certainly she’s closer to Arachne than to any of the others). I’ve never heard of anyone else working with a Silkworm spirit, but if I had, I doubt that this would be the same Silkworm, either. (Maybe, though; Silkworms are much rarer in mythology than Spiders. Maybe I should look into Chinese traditions. I’ve already found the Empress known now as the Silkworm Mother.) I hope that Spider and Silkworm will become specifically my allies in magic that uses spinning and weaving (this relationship is still in its very early days). They are witches in the same way that Sarah Anne Lawless and Harold Roth, aka the Alchemist talk about some plants being. They are witches differently than I am a witch, but I wish to learn their craft and spells, and indeed have already learned some. We are part of a sisterhood, bound by our threads. It is on that that I hope to build a relationship, on this that I give them a place in my home and my shrine room. I spin, chanting to them, and feel myself slip into a light trance that I do not when spinning my morning prayers. I feel the silk slipping between my fingers, and know that I am echoing their actions. I know that Spider weaves her golden webs, only to have them damaged and destroyed (and indeed sometimes she destroys them herself), and to build them again in new and more beautiful ways. She knows the cycle of creation-destruction-creation. I know that Silkworm sheds multiple skins and is renewed like a snake before finally weaving her cocoon, her womb, and then transforming herself into something completely different. She knows the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. I know that Spider is quiet but shows herself openly. I know that Silkworm is even quieter, and hides herself away. I know that Spider is well-known as a spinner and weaver, and that she protects us from many insects that would overrun us. I know that Silkworm produces the silk we actually spin and weave from. I don’t know what offerings to give them. Incense? Food? Drink? Flowers? Leaves and insects? Tea? All I know to do for them is spin, and chant. Soon, I’ll ask what more to do, through tarot or the Hellenic alphabet or geomancy, whatever seems to fit best. Spider, Spider spinning spells Show me how you weave your web Silkworm, Silkworm spinning spells Show me how you weave your womb...

Blackberry Journal, plus Alrauns

I mentioned before that I might try developing a relationship with the invasive blackberry in my yard as a baneful plant. Well, this morning, when I woke up after not enough sleep and still pretty heavily drugged, I finally decided to take action on that. I went down, asked the bramble’s permission to take some, offered blood by pricking my thumb on its thorns, frankly didn’t wait longer enough or listen hard enough for an answer, and harvested some parts. I didn’t wait and listen partially because I was very tired and heavily drugged (last night was bad, and it was full daylight and a lot of medication before I finally got to sleep), but the sections I chose came away easily in my hand, and took more blood than I had already offered, which I’ll take as a yes. I took a section of vine, a curly section that was trying to root, and a curly section that had rooted and been torn up, presumably by my dog Uther. I also took ten 5-leaf clusters. At this time of year, of course, there are no flowers or berries. When spring and summer roll around, I’ll collect some of those to dry, too. I mean to make a jar with different parts of the plant all through its cycle to serve as a point of contact with its spirit. I’m hoping to develop a relationship with it such that I can use its invasive and prickly nature protectively. The cultivar in my yard is Himalayan blackberry, which was introduced to Washington for fruit, but has run wild. Our mild winters aren’t enough for them to die back completely, so they continue to grow (albeit more slowly) through the winter). The stems and roots are very tough. My blackberry comes in over the fence from the empty lot behind us. If I were to get rid of the blackberry in my yard, I could still reach the mother plant through that lot. Given that the dog no longer has access to more than a small corner of the yard, I am hoping to drive it back somewhat, even though I am trying to build a relationship. I may resort to goats. My blackberry does indeed give fruit, and very tasty fruit it is, but hard to reach. As I said, I’ll have to brave the thorns this summer and fall for it, though, to complete the life cycle. I really ought to have gotten pictures of the yard while I was up earlier. Oh well. My copy of Paul Beyerls’ The Master Book of Herbalism, which is my go-to for magical uses of herbs and has been for at least fifteen years, gives the following information: It is a plant of Venus in Aries… If any ask the reason why Venus is so prickly? Tell them ’tis because she is in the house of Mars. -Culpeper The leaves of the bramble boiled in water, with honey, allum, and a little white wine added thereto, make a most excellent lotion or washing water to heale the sores in the mouth, the privie parts of man or woman, and the same decoction fastneth the teeth. -Gerard The Blackberry, or Bramble, growing in every English hedge-row, is too well-known to need description. -Grieve ... LORE As mentioned in the description, passing through or beneath a tangle of Blackberry is quite difficult. It must be for this reason that old lore says that “creeping ‘neath the Bramble is a sure prevention agains disease.” They also say that Blackberry collected at just the right phase of the moon is a powerful charm against evil things which may be written against you, negative energies, or people working psychically to harm you. They usually neglect to mention the time, which would most likely be when the Moon and Venus are conjunct in Aries. And then one may wonder if it should be waxing or waning. He also mentions the usefulness of blackberry (I think the leaves) in treating diarrhea, and the berries in treating people who are “run-down and anemic.” It has been used as a gargle for sore throats and laryngitis, and a strong infusion recommended for psoriasis. Well, the Lore part is certainly the kind of thing I’m looking for, but having never taken an interest in astrology, I have no resources handy to tell me when I can find that conjunction. Anybody got anything? I think that Ephemeris.com is telling me that the moon is in Cancer and Venus in Capricorn at the moment. But what I really need is a tool that will let me put in the conjunction I want and it will tell me when that will next happen. Anybody know anything like...

De Capitem Draconis

Note: This entry is nearly three thousands words long, and actually pretty difficult to understand. Not so much because the ideas involved are tricky, just that they take a lot of explaining, and some of them I don't understand that well, and some of them I didn't put the work into explaining them clearly, and some of them are just really dull unless you're a divination nerd. So, y'know, be warned, and don't necessarily expect to finish reading the stupid thing. Having finally finished my (fourth or fifth, in the 23 years I’ve been using it) study of the tarot, which I started doing when I renewed a regular practice, as a way to recondition my mind to thinking in certain symbols and patterns, I have embarked on a study of geomancy. Unlike the tarot, it’s something I’ve studying only briefly and superficially, once, years ago. I’m picking it up again now because divination and oracular practices (in the form of tarot) were my first foray into both magic and paganism, and studying or regularly practicing any method will reliably deepen my practice. I have been both a diviner and an oracle (a diviner is one who practices divination, the art of gaining information about the future; and oracle is one through whom a god delivers messages to mortals). First I gave tarot readings for friends, and later spent more than two years setting up weekly in a bookstore coffee shop and offering readings for tips, and occasionally hiring out for parties. (I remember one Halloween party where everybody was having fun and being pretty silly and enjoying the readings a lot… and then there was an older women who simply started silently crying in the middle of the reading, and thanked me profusely when I was done. I have no memory of what I said to her, and never knew what it meant to her at the time, but it really brought home to me how I could touch people with divination, even when I knew nothing about them or their lives, had no knowledge to draw on with which to refine the reading.) I studied runes, pendulum work, the I Ching, geomancy, tasseomancy (and other cup-reading methods, like reading the foam on a beer glass), scrying, and a couple of non-Tarot divination decks (like Morgan’s Tarot, which is not a tarot at all). Cartomancy and rune readings were the only ones I ever studied very deeply, and I’ve long since given up runes (although I still have a set). Divination, of course, is one of the classic witch’s skills. My oracular states have always tended to be at the will of the gods. I can intentionally use trance and ritual techniques to get there, but historically it’s been far more likely that I’ll be in the middle of a reading and suddenly somebody else is using me to get a message to the querent. I’ve dedicated myself to service to my gods, and I have no objection to this being part of it, but it’s not an easy thing when you’re prepared for it, and much less so when you’re not. So, as I said, this connects to both magical practice and religious practice for me, and since I’m working to make the practice of each of them a major part of my life again, I’m trying to keep studying more methods. This includes practicing the methods I’ve been studying, too. I no longer use the Greek litteromancy every day, but do turn to it when I have a question, and write down the answers and the ways they’re demonstrated in my life. Having finally freed up my favorite decks from the study, I’m also reading those for myself with some frequency, and sometimes recording those results, too. (It’s less necessary, since I already have a long history with tarot, and know how the cards reflect life, but not yet much about how the Greek letters do.) As an aside, I love the wide variety of methods of divination and the names for them. I love the ability of humans to take a set of information with some degree of randomness (and nearly every method of divination I’m aware of has some random element), find a pattern in it, and derive meaning and advice from it. The term apophenia was coined by Klaus Conrad, a German psychiatrist and neurologist, in 1958 to describe it, but he specifically intended it to refer to false meaning and delusion as a symptom of schizophrenia. Michael Sherman coined patternicity fifty years later for the human tendency to find pattern in meaningless noise, without any connection to mental illness, but it’s still...

The Catalyst of Other Witches

I spend too much time alone these days, or only with my wife. Don’t get me wrong, Kate is wonderful to talk to, and we chew over mythology and symbolism most productively. I have some stuff I want to write up about Maenads from our last conversation about that. But she’s not terribly witchy. Last night, for the first time in many months, I went out to a party. A friend insisted. It was the 40th birthday of another friend, one I cared about, but hadn’t seen in person in at least two years. (There are a lot of people I haven’t seen in person since the restaurant closed.) And I had a really great time. It was wonderful to get out and be around people and talk and hang out. At some point, I remembered I had Crossing the River in my bag and pulled it out and went around showing people. One friend, a writer himself, actually sat down in the middle of the party to read my piece, and told me how good he thought it was, and how beautiful my language was. It’s a high compliment, coming from him. But best of all, there were witchy people there. Jillian, who’s a hedgewitch, and Mila, who’s also a Hecatean, especially. The three of us gabbled and plotting and snarked a bit. There may have been a cackle or two. I now owe Jilli a “witchy cheese plate,” owing to an online exchange a few days ago, and my brain is bubbling nicely on the idea. Mila, meanwhile, is writing a book about Captain Hook, and this morning as I did my tarot study, the conversation we had last night and the work I was in the middle of collided, and now we’re collaborating on a Neverneverland Tarot, which has my mind on a different simmer. I now have to go read the book, as it’s been many years. Projects are good, but even better was simply to talk with people who understood, who knew what I meant when I talked about using the stories, of building your cabin in the dark woods, who understood the magic in reaching out and taking hold of things, of walking through graveyards. It was good to talk to sister witches, is all. Pardon me, I’m going to go take that walk in the graveyard....

For the Witches

from a 1983 production of Macbeth I do not talk much here about my worship of and work with Hekate. Do not take that to mean that she is not the first and foremost of the gods I worship, that her cult and her shadow are not my first home. If I keep my silence about much of what she is to me, about the paths I have walked and the choices I have made in her service, it is because they are very private. If I do not speak of what I have learned in her service, it is because I keep her secrets and my own. But I am beginning to feel a need to hold a Festival of Witches. To celebrate Hekate as goddess of Witchcraft, and Circe as their Queen (a goddess herself, but one who lived long among mortals and ruled the mortal kingdom of Aeaea), and Medea as Circe’s heir. To celebrate the Baba Yaga, the blind witch in the gingerbread cottage, the wicked stepmother, Maleficent, Witchy-poo, the Witch of the Waste, any witch from folklore or fiction. To celebrate them all, as my Sisters and Ancestors in the Craft. I am a Witch, too. I mutter over bubbling pots, I wind thread and stitch up poppets, I make amulets, I talk to the dead, I read cards and sigils and letters of ancient alphabets. Not, perhaps, so much now as I did once, but I do it still. There are arts I wish I could explore more, things that I cannot currently buy the supplies for. But I will, I will. I’ve wanted for may years to learn what they call now The Poison Path. There was so little to find on it, when I was a young witch, and no one to ask for advice, and no way to know what was safe. I was still learning the ins and outs of my brain’s delicate balances, and could not risk too many chemical alterations. I learned safer herbs instead. Now there are more guides and more books available, and I wish to learn to grow mandrake and belladonna and henbane and learn their ways. Eventually, I may explore their effects on my body, but first I will learn them as plants, and come to speak to their spirits. Yes, I know, these plants are dangerous, and moreso to me, with my uncertain brain chemistry, than to most. But entheogens have always, as far as we can tell, been a part of ecstatic practices and of magic. I have always dreamed of creating a poison garden, with a fence built of wooden bones, and a statue of a chicken-leg hut in the middle. A witch’s garden, to know and to cherish. I will, someday. Now my yard is overgrown with blackberry brambles, too much for me to plant a garden this spring, unless somehow I get the money to hire help to cut it back. I don’t have the tools or the knowledge. But perhaps a witch can learn the magic of the invasive plant, learn the power of the killing outsider, the power of overrunning and strangling. I don’t know. It’s been a long time since I tried to learn a new plant, growing. Perhaps the blackberry is a good place to start. But I want to have a Celebration of Witches. I’m almost tempted to hold what the Hellenic recons call an agon, a festival of art in celebration of a god or goddess or cult figure. Recons declare them, and spread the word around, and others write or draw or paint something for it. But most of the recons would hate it — many of them look down on magic, and indeed on the worship of Hekate (I’ve been told by several, dismissively, that she’s “a minor goddess” and not worthy of extensive worship) — and probably even few of those who didn’t would be interested, and the witches wouldn’t know what that is. I’m not well-connected to either community anyway, and couldn’t get word around to many people. But if you want to send me something, I’ll take it, and post it here when I do this festival, whenever that is. Send someone else’s work if you want — with credit and a link! — or your own. I’m planning on pop culture figures as well as old folklore. I don’t expect to get much. Send it to madgastronomer at gmail. Let’s call it February 28. If anyone wants to celebrate in tandem with me, wherever they are, you’re welcome. I want a bit of time to revel in my witchiness, to let my magic run feral....