Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic

She neither prays to Gods Above nor begs divine

aid with suppliant hymn, nor does she know prophetic

entrails. Decking altars with flames funereal gives her

joy — so does incense filched from pyres already kindled.

The Gods Above grant her every evil the moment

she invokes Them — They fear to hear her second prayer.

~ description of Erichtho from Lucan’s Pharsalia, Book 6, lines 523-528 from Jane Wilson Joyce’s translation

The last few months I haven’t put a great deal into writing here because I have been so focused on finishing my thesis for my M.A.

It focuses on the classical witch Erichtho and her appearance in one of John Marston’s plays. I fell in love with the witch Erichtho in an independent study on the witch in literature last year.

It is finally officially done and published! If you’re curious, you can find it here: http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020/

I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope I can keep working on this fascinating, powerful witch figure.

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia - From the British Museum Online Collection

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia – From the British Museum Online Collection

Abstract:

Since classical times, the witch has remained an eerie, powerful and foreboding figure in literature and drama. Often beautiful and alluring, like Circe, and just as often terrifying and aged, like Shakespeare’s Wyrd Sisters, the witch lives ever just outside the margins of polite society. In John Marston’s Sophonisba, or The Wonder of Women the witch’s ability to persuade through the use of language is Marston’s commentary on the power of poetry, theater and women’s speech in early modern Britain. Erichtho is the ultimate example of a terrifying woman who uses linguistic persuasion to change the course of nations. Throughout the play, the use of speech draws reader’s attention to the role of the mouth as an orifice of persuasion and to the power of speech. It is through Erichtho’s mouth that Marston truly highlights the power of subversive speech and the effects it has on its intended audience.

DeVoe, Lauren E., “Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic” (2015). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2020. http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020

Choosing and Consecrating Magical Tools

This was a column I wrote for The Pagan Household on May 20th, 2013:

 

The tools that we work with in ritual are important elements of our workings. They are objects that focus us in directing our will and our energy to complete whatever work it is that we are doing. These sorts of tools become more effective the longer we have been using them, and the longer we have been working to invest our energy in that particular tool.

These tools know us and vibrate in harmony with our use of them when they have a relationship with us. While our tools are not sentient, I wouldn’t call them passive either. These are tools that channel magic, and the longer we use them, the more magic we imbue in them.

Some of us are lucky and these sorts of tools are handed down to us with a great deal of magical energy already present. My best friend’s Athame is the straight razor her grandmother used in her sewing projects. This is an Athame with a great deal of family history and ties. These sorts of tools recquire little more than a sort of getting to know you period where you and the tool aclimate to each other and establish a working relationship based on the ties already present.

Most us, unfortunately, aren’t that lucky. While there are many more second and even third generation Craft practitioners these days than there were even ten years ago, most of us are starting out on our own and have to pick up our tools the old fashioned way. And some of us don’t want that combined history and simply want to start fresh with something that is completely and only ours.

I’ve recently acquired two new tools that have a large significance in my rituals: an Athame and a wand. The athame was a tool I helped to choose, and was presented to me at my initiation; the wand was a gift from my partner.

So how do you start creating this sort of working relationship?

Never buy a tool that doesn’t call to you. All of my Craft tools, in whatever form, have pulled me to them specifically. There has been an immediate zing of energy exchanged that was impossible to ignore. In the case of the wand, it called my partner to it. It will be a tool that our coven uses together.

I look for tools that are traditional; not everyone does, but I prefer bone and wood that have been handcrafted over cheap, machine made items. Tools like this handle energy much more naturally.

It’s not always possible to know the maker of your Craft tools, not all of us are lucky enough to live near someone who makes these sorts of items, but I would also recommend not buying these types of tools online. You need to be able to handle a tool and speak to the person who was responsible for its creation. If you can make them yourself, even better. This is true of most magical items. There are very few online vendors that I trust, the ones that I do have been recommended to me by other reliable practitioners of my acquaintance and when I have bought items from them, they have been exactly as advertised.

Most Craft store owners should be able to tell you the provenance of an item and the exact materials used to make that item. They also usually know whether the maker has a good reputation or not.

You don’t have to find a tool immediately. Take your time, go to festivals, go to fairs, talk to people and see where they have found their tools. It may take a few months, don’t be discouraged. Remember, these are items that we will use for years to come. Rushing something like this ensures that you will not find the correct tool.

Once you’ve found the perfect item, don’t haggle for it. Pay exactly what the seller is asking if it’s a fair price. When you haggle a price down, it diminishes the power of the tool and takes away from the effort the creator took in making it. If you can barter for the tool and give something in trade, this is perfectly acceptable. You’re still paying a fair price, you’re offering something of equal value, even if that is simply the gift of your own energy.

Once you’ve acquired your tool, take the time to consecrate it and then invest your energy into it everyday. When I’m at home, I carry my Athame around with me, even when I’m not in ritual. I push my energy through it constantly. If I’m not carrying it or I’ve had a busy day, I take a second to pick it up and just think at it for a minute or two. I also won’t let other people touch my tools until I’ve firmly established my own bond with that tool. I’ve only had my Athame for four months now. It will not be touched by anyone other than my partner for a long time yet and the only reason that he is allowed to touch it is because he and I are magical partners as well as significant others and when I do most magical workings, he plays a significant role. He is not a casual lover and I would not recommend sharing your tools with anyone who is.

To consecrate a tool:

Set an altar with representations of the four elements. It is traditional to set Air in the East (usually incense), Fire in the South (candle), Water in the West (bowl of water) and Earth in the North (bowl of salt), but this is up to you and how you usually work.

Choose your representations with what feels right to you. I start in the East; many like to start in the North, again, this is up to you and if an element calls you specifically, start with it.

Take your tool and kiss it, focus your energy on it and take a few minutes to think about what you’ll be using this tool to do.

Wave the tool through the first element and say: I ask ____ to bless and consecrate this tool in doing (state whatever you will be doing with the tool). I ask that ____ bless this tool with (whatever nature the element represents). Bless and consecrate this tool in my service to the Craft. (You can also name any patron deities you’re using). So mote it be!

For example, I started my consecration of my wand with the East and Air. I waved my wand through my burning incense and said: I ask Air to bless and consecrate this tool in it’s use for casting enchantment for me and for my coven. I ask air to bless this wand with its intellect and its quickness. Please bless and consecrate this tool in my service to the (name of my patrons). So mote it be!

Move to the next element and repeat. Do this for all four of the elements. After you have done this, either offer the tool your own blood (which I did in the case of my Athame so that it never works against me) or offer it your energy (which I did with my wand) by placing it against your heart and feeling the energy move between you and the tool.

At the end of the ceremony, place the tool on your altar, continue with whatever work you normally do, and let it acclimate itself to your altar and energy. Leave it for a night and then start carrying it around with you and using it as you would with any tool you already work with.

Monstrous Women

Since most of my research focuses on monstrous women these days and since so many people think I am one…

King Henry (originally an English/Scottish folk song)

Let never a man a wooing wend
That lacketh things three,
A store of gold, and open heart,
And full of charity;
And this was seen of King Henry
Though he lay quite alone,
For he’s taken him to a haunted hall
Seven miles from the town.

He’s chased the deer now him before
And the doe down by the den
Till the fattest buck in all the flock
King Henry he has slain.
His huntsmen followed him to the hall
To make them burly cheer,
When loud the wind was heard to sound
And an earthquake rocked the floor.

And darkness covered all the hall
Where they sat at their meat,
The grey dogs, yowling, left their food
And crept to Henry’s feet.
And louder howled the rising wind
And burst the fastened door,
And in there came a grisly ghost
Stramping on the floor.

Her head hit the roof-tree of the house,
Her middle you could not span,
Each frightened huntsman fled the hall
And left the king alone,
Her teeth were like the tether stakes,
Her nose like club or mell,
And nothing less she seemed to be
Than a fiend that comes form hell.

Some meat, some meat you King Henry,
Some meat you give to me,
Go kill your horse you King Henry
And bring him here to me;
He’s gone and slain his berry brown steed
Though it made his heart full sore,
For she’s eaten up both skin and bone
Left nothing but hide and hair.

More meat, more meat you King Henry
More meat you give to me,
Go Kill your greyhounds King Henry
And bring them here to me;
And when he’s slain his good greyhounds,

It made his heart full sore,
She’s eaten them up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.

More meat, more meat you King Henry
More meat you give to me,
Go fell your goshawks King Henry
And bring them here to me;
And when he’s slain his gay goshawks,
It made his heart full sore,
She’s eaten them up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but feathers bare.

Some drink, some drink now King Henry
Some drink you give to me,
Oh you sew up your horse’s hide
And bring in a drink to me,
And he’s sewed up the bloody hide
And a pipe of wine put in,
And she’s drank it up all in one draught
Left never a drop therein.

A bed, a bed now King Henry,
A bed you’ll make for me,
Oh you must pull the heather green
And make it soft for me;
And pulled has he the heather green
And made for her a bed,
And taken has he his gay mantle
And o’er it he has spread.

Take off your clothes now King Henry
And lie down by my side,
Now swear, now swear you King Henry
To take me for your bride.
Oh God forbid, says King Henry,
That ever the like betide,
That ever a fiend that comes from hell
Should stretch down by my side.

When the night was gone and the day was come
And the sun shone through the hall,
The fairest lady that ever was seen
Lay between him and the wall.
I’ve met with many a gentle knight
That gave me such a fill,
But never before with a courteous knight
That gave me all my will

 

Willie’s Lady (originally a Breton/Scandinavian folksong)

King Willie he’s sailed over the raging foam,
He’s wooed a wife and he’s brought her home.

He wooed her for her long golden hair,
His mother wrought her a mighty care.

A weary spell she’s laid on her:
She’d be with child for long and many’s the year
But a child she would never bear.

And in her bower she lies in pain.
King Willie at her bedhead he do stand
As down his cheeks salten tears do run.

King Willie back to his mother he did run,
He’s gone there as a begging son.

Says, “Me true love has this fine noble steed
The like of which you ne’er did see.

“At every part of this horse’s mane
There’s hanging fifty silver bells and ten
There’s hanging fifty bells and ten.

“This goodly gift shall be your own
If back to my own true love you’ll turn again
That she might bear her baby son.”

“Oh, the child she’ll never lighter be
Nor from sickness will she e’er be free.

“But she will die and she will turn to clay
And you will wed with another maid.”

Then sighing said this weary man
As back to his own true love he’s gone again,
“I wish my life was at an end.”

King Willie back to his mother he did run,
He’s gone there as a begging son.

Says, “Me true love has this fine golden girdle
Set with jewels all about the middle

At every part of this girdle’s hem
There’s hanging fifty silver bells and ten
There’s hanging fifty bells and ten.

This goodly gift shall be your own
If back to my own true love you’ll turn again
That she might bear her baby son.”

“Oh, of her child she’ll never lighter be
Nor from sickness will she e’er be free.

But she will die and she will turn to clay
And you will wed with another maid.”

Sighing says this weary man
As back to his own true love he’s gone again,
“I wish my life was at an end.”

Then up and spoke his noble queen
And she has told King Willie of a plan
How she might bear her baby son.

She says, “You must go get you down to the market place
And you must buy you a loaf of wax.

“And you must shape it as a babe that is to nurse
And you must make two eyes of glass.

“Ask your mother to a christening day,
And you must stand there close as you can be
That you might hear what she do say.”

King Willie he’s gone down to the market place
And he has bought him a loaf of wax.

And he has shaped it as a babe that is to nurse
And he has made two eyes of glass.

He asked his mother to a christening day
And he has stood there close as he could be
That he might hear what she did say.

How she spoke and how she swore,
She spied the babe where no babe could be before,
She spied the babe where none could be before.

Says, “Who was it who undid the nine witch knots
Braided in amongst this lady’s locks?

“And who was it who took out the combs of care
Braided in amongst this lady’s hair?

“And who was it slew the master kid
That ran and slept all beneath this lady’s bed
That ran and slept all beneath her bed?

“And who was it unlaced her left shoe
And who was it that let her lighter be
That she might bear her baby boy?”

And it was Willie who undid the nine witch knots
Braided in amongst this lady’s locks.

And it was Willie who took out the combs of care
Braided in amongst this lady’s hair.

And it was Willie the master kid did slay
And it was Willie who unlaced her left foot shoe
And he has let her lighter be.

And she is born of a baby son
And greater the blessings that be them upon
And greater the blessings them upon.

Spell for a New School Year

This was a column I wrote for The Pagan Household last year on August 12th, 2013. I found myself plagued with back to school anxiety dreams last night and thought I would post it here for anyone else in the same boat. Good luck with the new school year!

 

This morning on my way to work, I saw lots of parents anxiously ushering kids onto buses or waiting for the streetcar. (I love that many kids in New Orleans ride the streetcar to school).

I too will be going back to school this year. And even though it’s for my Master’s degree, I find that I am suffused with the same excitement that I remember from grade school. I’ve been disappointed all weekend that I have to wait another two weeks to start myself!

(Remind me of this conversation in a few months when I’m drowning in graduate English papers).

I’ve been carefully picking out my new school supplies and searching for a new backpack. Things like this make it easier to start the new school year off on the right foot.  But just because you have the right supplies, that doesn’t mean that your student isn’t still anxious about starting a new school year.

What if your teacher is mean? Or the work is too hard? Or you have problems getting to school?! We aren’t the only ones to worry about these things; students throughout the ages and all over the world have worried about the same problems.

In one story, there is even a magical element to getting to school! This very old English ballad tells a story of a little boy that meets a stranger on the road and he has to outwit the stranger before he can get to school safely.

“Oh, where are you going?” says the false knight on the road.

“I’m going to me school,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“What is on your back?” says the false knight on the road.

“Me bundles and me books,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“I came a-walking by your door,” says the false knight on the road.

“That lay in your way,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“Flung your dog a stone,” says the false knight on the road.

“I wish it was a bone,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, what sheep and cattle’s that?” says the false knight on the road.

“They’re mine and me father’s,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“And how many shall be mine?” says the false knight on the road.

“The ones that have the blue tail,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, can I get a share o’ them?” says the false knight on the road.

“You cannot get a share of them,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“And why the stick all in your hand?” says the false knight on the road.

“To keep me from all cold and harm,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, I wish you were in yonder tree,” says the false knight on the road.

“A ladder under me,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“The ladder it’ll break,” says the false knight on the road.

“And you will surely fall,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“I wish you were in yonder sea,” says the false knight on the road.

“A good boat under me,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“The boat will surely sink,” says the false knight on the road.

“And you will surely drown,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Has your mother more than you?” says the false knight on the road.

“Oh, none of them for you,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“I think I hear a bell,” says the false knight on the road.

“It’s ringing you to hell,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

~ Steeleye Span sing False Knight on the Road, Traditional English Folk Ballad

(You can listen to it here or you can hear The Fleet Foxes version here…)

 

Hopefully your student won’t experience anything like that, but what can you do to sooth fear and anxiety about a new teacher, a new classroom, harder work and new friends?

I love baking and I love bottle spells, and this is an excellent opportunity to combine both!

This is a variation on the honey jar spell, which you can do to “sweeten people up” for any sort of new endeavor.

 

What you need:

Your favorite cookie recipe and all the ingredients to make the cookies.

An apple

A candle

A tin with a lid (make sure that the tin is big enough to hold the apple).

A piece of paper and a pencil

 

Directions:

Do this the night before school.

First, core your apple and set it inside the tin.

Next, bake your cookies. Do this with whoever is going to school. For each ingredient, as you measure it out into your cookie dough, talk about what you want out of the school year.

For example: While adding your sugar you could say “I hope I have a teacher that loves to teach me new things and who is kind to the students!” or for vanilla you could say, “I hope this year that learning will go more smoothly!”  For salt you could ask for protection from bullies and safety in traveling to and from school. As you discuss each ingredient, toss a pinch of the ingredient into your apple core in the tin.

After you mixed all your ingredients and put your cookies in the oven, take your piece of paper and write the name of your student on it. Have your student cup it in their hands and make a wish for a great school year! Then put it in the apple core with everything else and put the lid on the tin.

Next, set your candle on top of the lid. (You can either melt the wax onto the tin lid or use a candle holder). I would place the spell on my altar, or you could also put it next to the bed of your student. Light you candle and let it burn down completely. (Wherever you place the spell, make sure that there aren’t any fire hazards and that the candle can burn safely).

As the candle burns, it will take all your students anxious energy and concentrate it down into the spell for a better school experience.

After the candle has burned down the next morning, you can bury your apple in the garden or in a potted plant to continue feeding the spell and then you can fill your tin with cookies to send to school with your student to share.

Happy start of school all!

apple-book

*For those of you who need a cookie recipe, try that old classic, Nestle’s Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Magical Mundanity

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans January 6th, 2014.

 

Willow: But, there’s also other stuff that we might show an interest in, as a Wicca group.

Wanna Blessed Be #1: Like what?

Willow: Well, there’s the wacky notion of spells. You know, conjuring, transmutation.

Wanna Blessed Be #2: Oh yeah. Then we could all get on our broomsticks and fly around on our broomsticks.

Willow from “Hush,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer


We have a joke in my household. My partner can make the mundane magical and I always manage to make the magical mundane. But that’s just the way I am and honestly, I think I have the better end of the deal.

I am not what most people have in mind when they think of a stereotypical Pagan woman. I don’t wander around discussing the position of the stars in the sky or what astrological sign we’re under. I don’t do crystal healing at the drop of a hat. My house doesn’t have shrines in every corner (just one very well tended one, thank you very much). I don’t wear too many flowing skirts and bangles. And magic is not generally what I would call my focus.

sorry, I don't generally contemplate skulls as witchily romantic as it might seem. Sleepy Hollow - Wise Woman by Raskolnikova-Sonya)

sorry, I don’t generally contemplate skulls as witchily romantic as it might seem. Sleepy Hollow – Wise Woman by Raskolnikova-Sonya)

But, it is still a very important aspect of everything I do.

I don’t have to run around casting spells everyday to be a serious magical practitioner. While my practice is generally on worship, that doesn’t mean that I can’t whip something up when I need to.

And besides, everything I do in ritual as a Priestess is magical.

Sweep? Magic. Cast a Circle? Magic. Calling the Elements? Magic. Calling the Gods? Magic. Wine and Cakes? Magic. Drawing down? Magic.

Any spells I do decide to work take a lot of my energy, focus and intent. While I enjoy little household magics, I’m just generally not that sort of Pagan.

But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of my fellow Pagan friends, other initiates in my tradition and other various loved ones, complain about the usual sort of  life difficulties: finances, relationships, bosses and jobs; you know, the same things everyone has problems with at one time or another.

And I end up sitting there thinking “well, are you a witch or aren’t you?”

Maybe the holidays have brought out my snark, but what’s the point of calling yourself a witch if you can’t change your life and the world around you. Isn’t that sort of the idea?

While I don’t generally run around casting magical spells all the time, if I’m having a tough spot with finances, I sit down and rework my budget and rethink my spending habits and then I go and get myself a green candle and I work a little money magic.

If my boss starts giving me a hard time, I may come up with different ways to approach the situation, but I am also going to go and work a little magic to cause things to go in my favor.

Love life suck? Again, magic comes in handy. Attracting the right person your way can be just the ticket.

Need an update on the coming months? Out come my tarot cards.

Magic is not the focus of my life because as a witch, my life is magical. To me, the magical is mundane.

I think it’s really easy, when we get caught up in the everyday world around us, to forget that we do have the power to change things.

You don’t have to be a 32nd degree OTO member, you don’t have to be a Master Warlock,  you don’t have to be a third degree Elder Priest/ess to create change in your life. Are you magical or not? Your attitude towards your magic counts.

I sat in on one of Orion Foxwood’s workshops at a small North Carolina festival and listened to him talk about being a young practitioner and staring at himself in the mirror everyday and saying “I am a witch” over and over and over until he believed it with every fiber of his being.

Believing in your own Craft is probably the most significant tool any practitioner has.

So.

Are you a witch? Or not.

 

The Ordeal

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans on July 27, 2013.

 

“…And you will earn the right of return,
and all the moons you can swallow”
~Tea With Witches, Kate Chadbourne

Right before I left for Sirius Rising, I came across one of Star Foster’s blogs about her experience with her own initiation, Considering Consent: Initiation, Baptism, and Other Religious Milestones. This blog left me with a lot to chew over, since my own initiation was nothing like Star’s experience and I was preparing to assist in elevating two of my students.

In the blog Star says, “I told my initiator afterwards that had I had an understanding of what the ritual would entail, I would never have requested an initiation. I would have remained a ‘friend of the house.’ To be perfectly honest, had I been given a paper copy of the ritual to peruse ahead of time, my response would have likely been ‘Oh HELL NO!’”

A required reading in my tradition is “What Witches Do” by Stewart Farrar. The very first chapter of the book is about initiation and describes a man going through it. I didn’t read it before I took initiation exactly because I didn’t want to know what would happen during an initiation. I have read the book since and am glad that I made the choice not to do so beforehand. For me, going through initiation was partly about proving to myself that even without knowing exactly what was going to happen, I was ready enough to handle it without any forewarning. That I could blindly take what was done and have the knowledge to handle anything thrown at me. While initiation is an undertaking that you’re given by others, my initiation was a test I had also set for myself.

Walking into my initiation, I was fairly nervous. While I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, I was trained well enough to have a good idea of what to expect. While I didn’t read other accounts of initiation before hand, my priest and priestess didn’t send me into things blindly. I didn’t walk into my initiation expecting a “positive, loving experience” as some of the people that Star talked to told her about, I walked into my initiation knowing that I would be facing my Gods face to face and was bolstered by the knowledge that my initiators deemed me ready to handle whatever came next. I expected to be uncomfortable, I expected to be tested. I expected to swear serious vows and to be asked uncomfortable questions. My tradition made sure to equip me with the tools I needed to get through my initiation healthy, happy and whole.

Initiation was not something I expected to be pleasant, it was something I expected, in some ways, to survive. It is about the death of an old life and the start of a new one. I didn’t expect this to be a happy experience. I expected this to be an ordeal.


Initiations and elevations are supposed to be ordeals. Jason Mankey, Pagan scholar and blogger (he has a blog over at Patheos called Raise the Horns and he will soon have a new column here at Witches and Pagans, go check it out!) and also a dear friend and Gardnerian was discussing initiation with me at Sirius Rising. Jason used that word, ordeal. And I think “ordeal” sums up everything about initiation beautifully.

During Sirius Rising, I assisted with two elevations. They were the first elevations that I have been the acting priestess for. While they were outer court elevations, they were elevations that are about the acceptance of taking the path to initiation.

What surprised me about leading others through this elevation was that it was not just an ordeal for the ones undertaking to elevate. This was also an ordeal for myself and my priest as well. In some ways, getting ready for this ritual was harder for myself and my partner than it was for those who were elevating. They just had to show up and get through it, we had to memorize several pages of lines, find a place, have all the tools, get the right objects needed, provide some things for after and facilitate the ritual, the ritual that was more draining for us performing it and channeling deity than it was for those undertaking it!

It took us several days to get ready and that was after all the time spent making sure our students were taught and properly prepared to handle the elevation. I stood anxiously throughout the ritual, after having done my part of it, waiting to see if our students stood up to the tests provided, hoping that I had prepared them enough and had judged correctly that they were ready. In many ways, their elevation was as much a test for me as it was for them, it was a test of my role as teacher.

This definitely changed my perspective on the act of initiation. I don’t know if I would have understood how an initiation or elevation could be an ordeal for those giving it without experiencing both sides of the coin first, but initiation is an ordeal for everyone involved. And I have a feeling that if it isn’t, you aren’t doing it right.

Also during Sirius Rising I took part in Jason Mankey’s Morrison ritual and was initiated into the Morrison Clan. If you ever have the opportunity to go to one, it is a heck of a lot of fun. The Morrison clan embraces the idea that Jim Morrison of the Doors fame was an incarnation of Dionysius, the ritual celebrates excess and all that life has to offer with music by the Doors playing in the background. Once again I had to prove myself deserving initiation. This time, initiation was a lot more fun, but that apprehension was still there. This time around, the things I did to “prove” myself were a lot more fun, but they were still trials, they were still an ordeal. I was still aware that we were in a Circle with the Gods and that my life would be changed forever by that act.

I hope that for my students now and in the future, I will not misjudge and I will continue to provide all the knowledge and support needed to get them to that place where they are ready to handle their initiation without feeling that they didn’t consent to what happens during one. I would hate to think that I had left someone with as a bad a taste for the Craft the way that it seems Star was. I hope to remember initiation is and always will be an ordeal. Initiation is not for the unprepared, it is trial, triumph and tribulation rolled all into one.

King Duffus

When all the witches were haled to the stake and burned,
When their least ashes were swept up and drowned,
King Duffus opened his eyes and looked round.

For half a year they had trussed him in their spell:
Parching, scorching, roaring, he was blackened as a coal.
Now he wept like a freshet in April.

Tears ran like quicksilver through his rocky beard.
Why have you wakened me, he said, with a clattering sword?
Why have you snatched me back from the green yard?

There I sat feasting under the cool linden shade;
The beer in the silver cup was ever renewed,
I was at peace there, I was well-bestowed:

My crown lay lightly on my brow as a clot of foam,
My wide mantle was yellow as the flower of the broom,
Hale and holy I was in mind and in limb.

I sat among poets and among philosophers,
Carving fat bacon for the mother of Christ;
Sometimes we sang, sometimes we conversed.

Why did you summon me back from the midst of that meal
To a vexed kingdom and a smoky hall?
Could I not stay at least until dewfall?

~Sylvia Townsend Warner

XIII The Death Card

In my tradition, this is the time of year when we focus heavily on divination. Imbolc is coming up and of that’s an important time for knowing what’s coming in the next few months. In the past, it would have been the time of year when it was extremely important to know when to plant the coming crops. Of course, many of us are fairly removed from the actual planting these days, but it’s still a good time of year to stay indoors and divine what the Spring will bring.

Tonight, while in ritual, we discussed the difference between doing intuitive divination and more codified divination. As an exercise, we passed around a bag of random objects: different types of stones, buttons, jewelry, shells, ect. Each person had to choose (blindly) three items from the bag and then read someone in Circle using the items they’d picked. This was a good exercise for looking at how one can divine from anything, and how to really focus on your own intuition and inner knowledge. It was also a good way to remind people that you can see divination in anything around you, and often should. (While also pointing out that you really can read too much into something at the same time!)

I am a much more codified reader. I usually focus on the tarot and its Qabalistic and ceremonial magical background.

Which brings me to the Death card. Which came up tonight as well.

Death is one of those cards that scares people a great deal, because they don’t understand what it actually means. So let’s break it down a little bit.

It is the 13th card in the Major Arcana. Of course, in our society, this is an unlucky number anyway. In Hebrew, the letter 13 is Nun. This is pronounced as “noon,” which means fish. Fish? You say? According to Paul Foster Case, this is important because fish multiply quickly and thus represent growth and fertility. Not exactly what one usually thinks of when they think of death, right? It also gives us the idea of motion and transition. A school of fish doesn’t stay still for very long, do they?

If you notice the clergyman standing in front of Death, the hat he is wearing, the mitre, looks like a fish head. Many scholars believe this is to point out the death of the Age of Pisces, that will give rise of the Age of Aquarius. The Age of Pisces was an age of violence and dictatorships. It gave rise to industry, especially the destructive industry of the war machine. The Age of Aquarius is supposed to be an age of peace, creativity and prosperity.

We can also get “to walk” from nun from the Qabalistic viewpoint. So, as Case points out “from this are derived a great variety of other meanings such as to travel, to grow, to depart, to pass away, to whirl, to sail away, and so on” (145).

Nun is related to Scorpio, which is often associated with reproduction, though it is also associated with the eighth house of the horoscope, which is the house of death.

(In case you were curious, it is also related to the musical tone of G-natural).

Through this idea of reproduction, we can begin to see what the Death card is really showing us. Physical death is a force of change, which is also connected to reproduction and life. Case says, “Death, like every other event in human life, is a manifestation of law. When we understand the law we can direct the forces of change so as to overcome death” (146).

The main figure in the Death card is, of course, the skeleton. The skeleton represents the body. The body couldn’t move anywhere or maintain its form, without the skeleton. When put in those terms, the skeleton looses some of its awful fearsomeness. Waite said of his card, “The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher.” This again ties back into the letter nun. Thus, we see that the Death card is actually about change. Case continues to say, “It is by death that social changes for the better come to pass. Old ideas pass away with the death of the persons who hold them. New ideas gain currency as the new generation comes to maturity. Thus the actual fact of death is an instrument of progress” (149).

We can even see this in the concept of the body’s cells changing constantly. The body is essentially a completely different body every eleven years. The death of the old cells allow for the life of the new. Our body is constantly changing through death and rebirth. We could not live and thrive without this process occurring. We can also see this in our spiritual transformation. As we gain a greater consciousness of the world around us, our view points change the thoughts of a personal view point die off to embrace a view point of a greater conception (initiation helps bring us to greater awareness).

Waite changed the card drastically. He took it from being a figure of the medieval grim reaper, to that of the skeleton, a much more Pagan symbol of change. In it, Death carries a flag with a white rose on it. The white rose is a symbol of the birth represented in The Fool, who also carries a white rose.

So, through this logic, we can see the Death card as being a part of a series within the Major Arcana that starts with The Fool, is carried through by the Death Card and then finalized by Judgement, which represents rebirth.

In Waite’s card (or should we say Pamela Coleman Smith’s card…?), Death is riding over a King’s body. This shows that death comes for everyone, high or low. We also have the figure of a child and an adult, who look like they are next. This is the same idea, but here it’s that death comes for both the young and the old.

The two towers in the background, are the towers of Boaz and Jachin from the Tree of Life. These are seen for the first time in The High Priestess Card and continue throughout the deck. They represent male and female, goddess and god. The sun rising between them represents dawn and rebirth. The river that starts with The High Priestess is also in this card, which supports the Age of Pisces and the continued transition of the world. This also ties into the dead fish that farmers would use to fertilize their crops, once again coming back to the idea of growth and fertility from death.

The ship on the river is the boat that crosses the River Styx. Carrying a soul from one world to another.

So through all of this, the Death card is not about physical death, it is a metaphoric death that allows for new growth. Without death, the world around us cannot change for the better. Death is how this transition happens.

So the next time the Death card comes up for you in a spread, know that it’s actually a positive card. Even if the change itself is a hardship, it will lead to a new and better world.

Case, Paul Foster. The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

At the Hearth

I spent the afternoon cooking for my coven and for my family for the rest of the week. It made me think about the magic inherent in the act of cooking and magic that is only found in the kitchen. This reminded me of one of my favorite books. When I couldn’t find it online to share with you, I decided to read it to you. So without further ado…!

“At the Hearth” is the first chapter from the book Between Two Fires: Intimate Writings on Life, Love, Food & Flavor. Laura Esquivel is probably most well known for her book Like Water for Chocolate. Her stories are imbued with magical realism and capture many beautiful truths about the world around us that very few are able to see. I often reflect on this chapter and it’s meanings on my own life. As a witch, I think I often return to the kitchen of the past generations and even though I live in the modern world, those that came before me still have a great deal to teach me about life and the Craft that I work.

Happy belated Thanksgiving all! I’m thankful to live in a world where I can openly be who I am and one in which people like this are willing to write down their thinking about the world around us.

I am also thankful for partners who are willing to help me at 1 AM create a video on software I am completely unfamiliar with. To my own masculine partner, I love you and appreciate all the wonderful things you do for me. My life is much richer for your presence in it.

Tyger, Tyger

Meanwhile, at the library…

I had bought some comic books for one of our endowed funds. When the vendor (who also happened to be the author) sent me the items I had ordered, she also sent me some postcards advertising her website. One of them was:

Which I found to be absolutely hysterical. No one else did, but then I have a weird sense of humor.

Of course, this postcard is referencing William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience and in particular, the poem “The Tyger.”

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

1794

This poem is talking about the beauty and the power found in the act of creation. Blake is questioning the creator’s ability to continue creating when the horrible beauty of the thing being created begins appearing. The Tiger is beautiful, it is also fierce and terrifying.

While Blake addresses the Tiger, he is clearly trying to discern who the creator is. The “primal ferocity” of the tiger shows that whoever created it is not a particularly benevolent deity. Blake openly questions whether the Christian God could have been the one to create such a being, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” The tiger is a reflection of it’s creator and Blake doesn’t necessarily believe that the Christian God could have made something this terrible.

This has always been one of my favorite poems and while Blake’s work focuses within Christian theology, he was one of those early existentialists who questioned how evil came into the world. This poem is wondering about how “beauty and horror” can exist side by side. To me, the Tiger is not in any way evil, since evil is not something that comes to us from the natural world. The Tiger simply embraces it’s innate power as a carnivorous hunter. Those who are weaker are forced to bow before its capabilities. This is a power in and of itself and is the horror of surviving in a hard world.

But for me, this poem also sums up the magic inherent in creation. Magic is both horrible and beautiful. In the midst of the act of the creation of anything, the thing that is created will always carry something of you, the creator, no matter what your intent in it’s creation was.

At the end of the poem, Blake asks what hammer and anvil created the tiger. I believe that this is the the forge of the gods, the place from where we occasionally find drips and drabs of their leftover power to tap into for our own workings. Blake is clearly wondering about the responsibility of creation and of the power of personal will in creating the Tiger. This is something that I, as a witch, certainly have to question before any magical working I do.

It’s often easy to forget about the power inherent in the forces we work with in Circle (or outside of it). When I step Between the Worlds and call on the spirits, the gods and the land around me to create something new, this place where the Tiger was created is what I am tapping into. The awe and the respect of the fearsomeness of this work is something that we should never lose.

As a witch, I am this dreadful hand.

It is important to never lose sight of that, but also to embrace it with every inch of our beings. It is only through doing so that we light that spark within us and add it to the spark of creation to create our own Tigers.

I don’t think that I could ever personally create something as awe inspiring as the Tiger, that is certainly the work of the gods. But the things I do create will reflect everything I am. And by casting a Circle and starting a ritual, I grasp my will to build my own forge to create something new, which are the powers that I, as a witch, lay claim to.

Blake may not have been a practitioner himself, but he certainly understood how closely the act of creating art reflected what the gods did when they created the world.

So dare to clasp deadly terrors whenever you begin something new, whether it be art or magic. Understand that being a creator of anything is a powerful responsibility. Even things manifested to exist in this physical world can at the end, possibly eat you alive.