Archive for the ‘magic’ Category

Some Notes for Druid-Christian Ritual Design   2 comments

In the previous post I looked at the beginnings of a Druid-Christian ritual, letting the two traditions talk to each other through their images, rather than drawing on theology or metaphysics. (Druids and Pagans generally do have theologies — many of us just haven’t explored them in great depth or gotten them down in writing yet. Practice usually is more interesting, anyway.)

Name a purpose, and we can draft a Druid-Christian rite for it. Want a wedding, or a blessing, or an initiation? Both traditions have rich materials to draw on. Among other references and resources, Isaac Bonewits discusses ritual design at length in his book Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work. Note Isaac’s focus on public: I use private Druid-Christian rituals that might not appeal to others, given our different histories and experiences with religions.


Shansui, the Chinese word for landscape: “mountains (and) water”

Already tired from too much thinking? Use the image above. Enter the scene. Walk that beach. Feel the warm, wet sand between your toes. Feel the wind play through your hair. Listen to the awen of the waves, calling. Salt air, seagulls.

Looking for a calendar, a whole set of practices and observances? The Pagan festival year lines up quite well with classical Christianity, for reasons that have been thoroughly (endlessly) explored and documented. Who knows how many Pagans sit in pews with Christian relatives at Yule and Easter, knowing other names, and sensing both kindred and at times estranged presences and energies?

For foundations for daily practice, one need look no further than the example of J M Greer’s The Gnostic Celtic Church, where Greer notes:

… personal religious experience is the goal that is set before each aspirant and the sole basis on which questions of a religious nature can be answered.

Greer also asserts as a piece of (Universalist) belief:

… that communion with spiritual realities is open to every being without exception, and that all beings — again, without exception — will eventually enter into harmony with the Divine.

What do I want and need? Do I even know? How can I find out?

The world’s spiritual traditions offer hundreds of variations on practices to answer just such questions. It’s good to check in from time to time, asking such things, living with the questions till they bud and leaf into answers, or into more beautiful questions.

As Mary Oliver sings, “So many questions more beautiful than answers …”

We change, and our practices need to keep up. Singing the awen, or other sacred word, is one tested and proven practice most traditions put forth for those seeking a new path, or a new branching along a path we know already. I sing till things clarify. Often for me this may take weeks, or months even … “Patience”, says one of the Wise. “Is not this our greatest practice?”

(But I just want to get to patience NOW …)


Smudge the whole cosmos, if necessary

Greer outlines practices for those interested in exploring a “Gnostic, Universalist, and Pelagian” Druidry. The ceremonies, rituals and meditations include the Hermitage of the Heart, the Sphere of Protection, the Calling of the Elements, the Sphere of Light, a Solitary Grove Ceremony (all but the first deriving from Druid AODA practice), and a Communion Ceremony that ritualizes the “Doctrine of the One”:

I now invoke the mystery of communion, that common unity that unites all beings throughout the worlds. All beings spring from the One; by One are they sustained, and in One do they find their rest. One the hidden glory rising through the realms of Abred; One the manifest glory rejoicing in the realms of Gwynfydd; One the unsearchable glory beyond all created being in Ceugant; and these three are resumed in One. (Extend your hands over the altar in blessing. Say …)

If you tried out Greer’s prayer above, who or what did you bless? If you didn’t, why not try it now? Say the words aloud …

Looking for a short form? Abred (AH-bred), Gwynfydd (GWEEN-veeth), Ceugant (KAY-gant).

/|\ /|\ /|\

I’ve looked before at these lovely Welsh names for the levels of being according to Celtic lore:

With the love of triads and threes that marks so much of Celtic art and story, it’s no surprise that the Celtic conception of our spiritual journeys should mirror this same triplicity. From the starting point of Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld, we move forth and back through three states of manifestation and consciousness, in a kind of dance that sees us revisiting old lessons until we’ve fully mastered the material, spiralling through different forms and perspectives.

Most of us hang out for a considerable time in this present world of Abred, this place of testing and proving. From here we proceed to Gwynfyd, a world of liberty and freedom beyond the pale shadows of these forces in our present world. Back and forth between Abred and Gwynfyd, with dips into Annwn here and there. And last comes Ceugant, an unbounded, infinite realm. By definition, no end point, but a new beginning. The horizon recedes.

/|\ /|\ /|\

And lest someone coming to the beginnings of Druid-Christian practice from the Christian side wonders how to begin with all of this stuff, consider this.

Nicholas Whitehead opens his curious book Patterns in Magical Christianity like this:

Christianity is a magical religion. This is not so controversial a statement as some might think. For all religious traditions are potentially magical by the simple fact that they embody or employ symbols, myths and rites that are mediatory, that intend or enable the translation of spiritual energies between levels of reality (pg. 13).

The author outlines a set of characteristics of such magical symbols, noting they

  1. “are inherently appropriate”. He gives the example of a plant, with roots in earth, flower in the air, and “within its stem the life bearing sap rises and falls. Because of its intrinsic structure, the plant is a symbol for the ideal spiritual life … we live upon the earth, with our roots within the land. We are nurtured by the soil in which we live. Yet, without losing our connection to it, it is our destiny to rise above the land, to flower in the crowning glory of the light … Again note that we cannot make the plant into a symbol. It is simply is a magical symbol by virtue of its inherent structure and its role in the rhythmic life of the cosmos”.
  2. “always participate in a greater reality”.
  3. “enable the translation of energies between levels of reality”.
  4. “are trans-rational”.
  5. “are polyvalent”.
  6. “tend to assemble in groups” (pg. 16).

Of course there’s a tremendous amount to unpack here — which is why it takes Whitehead a book to do so, along with a set of exercises he has developed in a workshop in order to put these precepts to the experimental test. Rather than debate them, which is a head trip I (mostly) don’t plan to take, they’re worth simply trying out, just as one would test the statement that water freezes at a certain temperature, rather than debating whether the claim is true. Of course adding salt, raising a wind over the surface, setting the container in a vacuum, and so on, all change the experimental parameters.

In the same way, my beliefs, intention, mindset when I experiment, past experiences, and spiritual awareness will all figure quite largely in any results I achieve. I’ve found I’m more interested in learning how certain things are valid or operational for me. That is, do they help me get somewhere worth reaching? Otherwise, an inner nudge or whisper usually alerts me: Move along — these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Later I can play the thought and reason game for what it’s worth. Sometimes a lot, sometimes quite little.

/|\ /|\ /|\


Greer, John Michael. The Gnostic Celtic Church: A Manual and Book of Liturgy. Everett, WA: Starseed Publications (Kindle)/Lorian Press (paper), 2013.

Whitehead, Nicholas. Patterns in Magical Christianity. Sunchalice Books, 1996. (More recent editions exist, though I haven’t yet been able to find one.)


Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail   Leave a comment

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

Knight, Gareth. The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend. Aquarian Press/Thorsons, 1983. [More recent reprints available from other publishers.]

I’m reading Knight’s book as I draft a workshop proposal for the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Gathering. In spite of my tendency to discount such coincidences, I’ve found scant evidence for them. More often than chance could ever explain, two events will turn out to be not just linked in some way, but in a way I can learn from and grow by. And if you conclude I simply haven’t dug below my claims of coincidence into the sheer pervasiveness of chance that underlies it and rules the universe, I’d chuckle at the depth of your superstitious belief in chance, and continue learning from coincidence, a much richer journey altogether. Events talk to each other, and I want in on the conversation.

Maybe you can explain it by my suspicion of the universe, one of my admitted biases. I find this an odd but useful approach. It sounds like I’m a skeptic, still a popular stance in a world that nevertheless keeps on not conforming to our desires, whims and wishes, in spite of things like the Law of Attraction (which tends to operate inwardly, I’ve found, not in the world of physical form). I apparently get to keep a doubting and superior viewpoint, which is what so many unexamined beliefs afford — protection for the ego. But deep down, a part of me knows there’s almost always much more going on than meets my ill-trained eye. My ego’s been pummeled often enough along the way to discovery that I take yet another instance of it as a good sign I’m getting warm. This universe, it turns out, has a will of its own.

I say “ill-trained”: raised in some of the materialist and psychically-polluted environments that pass for much of what is called Western civilization*, it’s little wonder I don’t see things for what they are. It took me the longest time to determine that most of the illusion is in me, not in things. We’ve been trained away from much of the truth of things. Like death and rebirth, polarity, spirit guides and companions, energy centers in the earth, the power of ritual, the centrality of the imagination in our emotional and physical health, the daily magic we all practice, the value of a spiritual discipline, the power of mass belief for good and ill. Basically everything you can find in that section of many bookstores, however obscured by bad writing and incomplete knowledge. And much more importantly, it’s our vast human heritage, the largely unwritten world of experience our ancestors keep whispering we really need to pay attention to, in our DNA, our dreams, our daily lives.

Veteran comedian Steve Martin used to mock human pretension and idiocy in his 70’s routines with references to things like “how I turned a million in real estate into twenty-five dollars in cash” or “how to make money off the mentally ill”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the problem of mental illness was less acute then or at least less visible, though its roots lengthened daily underground. Of course, large numbers of writers still practice this lucrative trade, on both sides of the bookstore aisles, and on the workshop circuit, stumping for stop-gap measures to make the status quo more quo. We thought the karmic consequences of Western civilization’s less happy choices would all appear on the physical plane, which is where, after all, we’d apparently set them in motion. But we didn’t expect the damage to ourselves to take form before the physical-world effects fully caught up with us. Or as the Wise say, all the planes of existence are connected. We couldn’t despoil a physical world without having already despoiled our own inner worlds.

grailachemyWhat does the foregoing rant have to do with Arthur, or a secret tradition? Knight gets right to it on his first page. He explains “the hold that the legends of Arthur and his Knights exercises on the imagination … they enshrine a secret Mystery tradition … which was also the guiding force behind the old stone circles and trackways of Western Europe”.

Or as Mara Freeman puts it in the first line of her book, “The Holy Grail won’t go away” (Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition. Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2014).

Thank the gods for that.

As the French knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail tells Arthur, who has just pompously invited his master to join his Quest for the Holy Grail (and you can hear the capital letters in his voice), “He’s already got one” (around the 1:10 mark).

If I come at the Grail with a team of knights, appropriately theatrical music suitable to my nobility accompanying me on my way, and mounted like Arthur, I too may be met with the taunting the French knight offers Arthur and his companions. Grails are, paradoxically, a dime a dozen. One on every street corner. In every castle.

Nonplussed, Arthur asks diffidently, “Can we come up and have a look?”

Of course, no single source of healing will meet our need, given that we’re such a various and noisy and difficult tribe. (Or as the French knight replies to Arthur’s request for a look, “Of course not! You are English types”.) From so many paths and tracks, we converge at this present moment, and do what we will. And learn from that.

Knight outlines what he calls the Lesser Mysteries of Arthur, Merlin and Guinevere: lessons and practices for the individual, for the group, and for polarity working with both individual and group as part of spiritual service. But, you might say — and Knight does — that this is the introductory material. The Greater Mysteries concern the Grail, the old Celtic Cauldron of Regeneration we meet with in myth and legend.

My intermittent dissatisfaction with OBOD ritual and practice, as I’ve shared here, has slowly led me to developing my own practices connected with the Grail, in an idiosyncratic form and tailored to my quirky nature. It’s hardly a system**. Spend too much time systematizing anything, I keep re-learning, and too often it dies in your hands. (Knight notes (pg. 175) provocatively that “archetypes, like individuals, are capable of redemption”.) I’d rather practice what seems to work.

Pieces of it that may be of use to others I’ll try to share in the next series of posts.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Every civilization offers much to admire, and ours is no exception. The best music and art the West has produced rival the best of other civilizations. Coming to terms with the corresponding limits and faults of a civilization is part of the work of its maturation. No civilization lasts forever. This simple fact still seems to shock many, who apparently believe the West, or at least the United States, is somehow exempt. But if anyone doesn’t also glimpse the weaknesses of the West by now, that person simply hasn’t been paying attention. It’s doubtful, in fact, that such a one has even been conscious for the last 75 years. As with preceding civilizations, we will corporately (if not individually) deny our problems until they overtake us and execute harsh justice on its false suppositions and its deeds, and on those inheriting both their benefits and drawbacks. Which is all of us.

Arthurian legend as Knight examines it addresses such cultural and civilizational collapse as one means of renewal and rebirth.

Social justice warriors: we appreciate at least the relatively sane among you for sounding the alarm and putting a few of your fingers in the dike, but karmic payback on a scale you can’t achieve is already starting to take shape.

**Those seeking a system may find Freeman’s book and its associated practices and workings help answer that search.

Sex, Death, Green Knights and Enchantresses — Part Four   Leave a comment

[Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four]

Why now? Well, this fourth and final installment was promised “soon”, at the end of Part Three — on October 14, 2015.  “Soon” can apparently mean more than three years later. Are we on that much-abused term Pagan Tyme here?

Also, someone recently visited one of the posts, reminding me of the series. Thank you, anonymous reader.

A third reason? Perhaps the best: both the quest and the poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight end shortly after New Year’s Day.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Sex, death, magic — none of these are alien to whatever spirit pervades things, God on high, or pervading Mystery; Goddess who wears all things as her forms in this world, or spirits, devas, demons; Platonic archetypes, or thought-forms who share and shape the cosmos with us.

How do I know? Because these things — sex, death and magic — haven’t been added to the mix. They’re part and parcel of it, part of its shaping, its innermost warp and woof, dynamic, its movement and melody. There’s no break in the continuity among the many ways life propagates here. Things vibrate to each other, so that more of them can join the show, even as the older ones yield the stage, so that the human and world family continues.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“But wild-looking weather was about in the world”, as Simon Armitage* translates the poem, rousing his hero Sir Gawain on a wet and windy New Year’s Day (like yesterday was, here in New England!), the day of his deadly appointment with the fearsome Green Knight. Enough of feasting and dalliance! We get some 40 lines of the dressing of both knight and his trusty steed Gringolet — anything to delay the inevitable — until finally nothing remains for it but to depart.

Let’s pause for a moment, and recall the twists and turns the tale has taken:

The Green Knight came to Camelot a year ago at Christmas, a fabulous two-week affair of feasts and revelry. The enormous stranger crashes the party. He bursts in on the court uninvited, unannounced, and taunts the assembly. He and his horse, too, people keep noticing, are green. Entirely green. Uncannily green. Magic’s clearly afoot.

The Green Knight has offered a great ax, and the first blow, to whoever has the guts to take him up on his challenge. No one answers. “What, is this Arthures hous?” scoffs the Knight. A pathetic showing from such legendary fighters!


From the British Library manuscript, showing the beheaded Green Knight. (MS Cotton Nero A X, art. 3, fol. 90v.)

The King himself, his blood up at the interruption, the rudeness and the mockery of the man, is ready to answer and seizes the ax. But the king’s nephew Gawain rises and claims the challenge for himself: “This melee must be mine”.

“I schall stand hym a stroke”, says the Green Knight, as long as Gawain agrees to one in return — in a year and day. Repeat the terms, just so we’re entirely clear. And Gawain does.

Hit the green bloke hard enough now, his uncle the King advises Gawain, and you needn’t worry about any future payback. And Gawain heaves the ax and strikes the Green Knight a fearsome blow that does in fact behead him.

But decapitation is small inconvenience when you’re magical. Picking up his own head, the Knight calmly reminds Gawain he’s now bound to take a return blow, a year and a day hence.

“Thou shalt seek me thyself, wherever thou hopest I may be found” says the green head the Knight holds in one hand.

But “What is thy place?” asks Gawain in considerable dismay. “I know not thee, knight, thy court nor thy name”.

The Knight turns the head toward Gawain. “To the Green Chapel … I charge thee” to receive “such a dint as thou dealt”. Many men know me, “the knyght of the Grene Chapel”.

A year and a day. “So come, or be called a coward forever”, as Armitage renders it. At that, the Knight swings up into the saddle and rides off.

/|\ /|\ /|\

For a long while, procrastination serves Gawain quite well. In fact, he delays his departure and delays it again, until finally bad weather has returned the following December. Set yourself a year and a day to accomplish a task, and you too may feel, as I have, that it’s too much time. Too much, too little. Find a balance. Isn’t that what magic’s about?

Gawain sets off at last, and after many travails arrives at a court that he’s told lies very near the Green Chapel. No need to seek further. So he can spend the final few days at his ease.

Once again, the holiday entertainments at court are lavish. Each day the lord of the region goes out hunting, while Gawain remains in the castle, increasingly tempted by the lord’s lovely, charming wife. Her boldness and obvious wish to sample the love of a knight from the famous court of Camelot become harder and harder to resist with each passing day. Nothing like sex-and-death to blend and kindle our heightened awareness of each. Not quite a liebestod, a “love-death”, an operatic aria or duet preceding the suicide of lovers. Or maybe agreeing to such an insane challenge as an exchange of blows with edged weapons is indeed a form of suicide, when your opponent is magical.

“Strangely enough, it all turns out well”, says Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love.

“How?!” demands Shakespeare, as do other characters in their turn.

“I don’t know”, Henslowe admits. “It’s a mystery”.

Mystery or not, on the third and last day of these temptations, the lady convinces Gawain to wear her girdle at his fateful appointment. “No hero under heaven might hew him” who wears it, she urges him, and so at last he relents. Succumbs to fear. Cheats. “What should we call it but what it is?” But what is it, really? Has Gawain forfeited his honour? Squandered his good name as a knight of Arthur’s court for merely personal safety?

The poem itself offers a number of delicious clues to an answer different from any expected yes or no, and as it does so, to use film-making terms, it pans neither right nor left, but draws back and offers a wide-angle shot.

First is the fact that Gawain does yield to the Lady. He’s no “perfect knight”, whatever that means — not some bloodless ideal, but rather a mortal man.

Next is the triple blow the Green Knight offers him. As with a year and a day, we’re in magical territory with this set of threes. At the first blow, Gawain flinches, and the Knight chides him for it. At the second blow, a test of his resolve, Gawain holds firm. He readies himself for the third, which the Knight delivers, but this time merely to nick his neck, just enough to make it bleed a little.

The challenge, by its own strict terms, has been fulfilled. Gawain stood a blow in return for the one he gave the Knight a year and a day before.

But hold a moment. Gawain has also fulfilled the terms of the second contract, between himself and Bertilak, returning kisses — all he received — in exchange for the wild game the lord brings home each day. Except for this morning, when the Lady gave him the girdle, but Gawain offered no exchange to Bertilak for that.

Third is the Green Knight’s behavior here, at Gawain’s resorting to the trick of the girdle. The Knight reveals himself, and calls Gawain on his failure — but gently!

At the third time thou failed …
And therefor that tappe [of the ax] touched thee.
For it is my wede [garment] thou wearest, that same woven girdle —
My own wife weaved it for thee, I wot [know] well …
I know well thy kisses and thy conduct also,
And the wooing of my wife — I wrought it myself.
I sent her to assay thee …
Thou art the most faultless fellow that ever went on foot …
A little thing you lacked, loyalty …
Not for wooing, or any other wild work,
But that you loved your life, so I blame you less.

Fourth is Gawain’s own overblown sense of shame at being found out: “I am fawlty and falce, and have been ever”, he exclaims. Has he even heard the proportion and balance in the Knight’s estimation of him? As the ground shifts with the Knight’s revelations, both we and Gawain learn that the lady, the Knight and the whole of Bertilak’s castle are all players in a larger play — which Gawain wants nothing to do with, now that he’s been found wanting, even a little.

For Bertilak/the Green Knight reveals still more. Keep the girdle, he urges. Behind all this show is Morgan Le Fay, your uncle king Arthur’s half-sister — and thus your aunt — she who learned magic from Merlin. Come back to the Castle and finish out the New Year’s feast with us. You’ll be most welcome, all trickery now done with.

But Gawain declines. I’ll wear this girdle, yes, and thank you. But as a token of my weakness and sin. And then follows a traditional Christian catalog of men tricked by women, from Adam and Eve on down.

However, the poem’s not yet done. Gawain returns to Camelot and confesses everything to the assembled court, resolving to wear the girdle openly as a penance for the rest of his life. The court holds deep affection for him. Arthur comforts him, and everyone laughs — laughs! Then the knights of Camelot all agree that each of them will also wear a green belt as well, slanting across the chest — for Gawain’s sake! For that was acorded the renoun of the Rounde Table. And so the girdle becomes the sign and symbol of the Order of the Garter, founded in 1350. What good is your shame, if others transform it to honor?

And last is the subsequently-added French tag that closes the poem, the motto of the Order of the Garter, and an admonition to the reader: honi soit qui mal y pense — “shame to anyone who thinks it bad”, we might say. What goes around comes around, say others, centuries later than the Medieval poet.

Perhaps you hear it differently, but in these multiple ending moments I hear Pagan laughter. Tolerant, forgiving, intimately familiar with human weakness and pride, capable of the long view, able to shape good from misfortune, and delighting in the often ironic reversals that achieve these things.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007.

Days of Solstice   Leave a comment

On the first day of Solstice, the Goddess said to me …

I go looking for words, sometimes, to make do for deeds. But as I practice over these short midwinter days, as I celebrate them — the same thing, if I hold space for the desire to make it so — I find words coming both before and after the actions.

Slowly I start looking for guidance in more places, rather than shutting it down before it ever has a chance to reach me, wing of a bird-thought across the cheek, merest touch of feather-feeling brushing away dullness and lighting the heart to wonder, if I don’t turn away out of fear, or doubt, or — worst of all — busy-ness. Guest-guidance, I might call it, the stranger knocking, briefest word from a passer-by, bird across the sky, squirrel darting over the drifts in the backyard, woolly-bear caterpillar sluggish in the cold, clinging to the wood I carry in for the fire. Two fires today, for main house and weaving studio.

Josephine McCarthy wryly remarks, “Most of the jobs of a magician [I substitute “person” here, my fellow magicians, readers all] are about restoring balance — very simple, very unglamorous and not very useful if you want to get laid or have a new car”*. Gods know we need re-balancing almost everywhere. We’ve got our work cut out for the new year.

I reach for a natwanpi, lovely Hopi word, “instrument of preparation”, tool or implement or aid. [Go here for a post from 5 months back that talks a little about natwanpi.] For my wife, often, her natwanpi-of-the-moment is in the kitchen, whisk or blender or saute-pan. Much of her magic is a love of cooking, paired with an exquisite sense of taste that can detect herbs and spices in almost anything we eat, from our own kitchen or another’s. Other natwanpis at hand? Her looms, her warping mills, her heddles and stocks of fiber. And further out: her gift for friendship, her generosity. A wide and rich palette, a set of living natwanpi she cares for and delights in and deploys regularly.

I reach for a natwanpi, so many of them it’s an embarrassment of riches, though a bout of melancholy or seasonal affective disorder or depression can seem to raid memory of the treasure-house and make me forget or deny all I have to draw on. Google “natwanpi” and images come up from this blog, a hint of what I carry around, but also of what we each have our own versions of, and that’s just the treasure-house of images. Add in memories of people, places, animals, experiences that rest in other senses, smell and touch, sound and emotion.

McCarthy writes:

My deepest personal experience of that is with the lighting and tuning of the candle flame. The intent to light a candle to prepare the space for a ritual act developed from that simple stance, to an act of bringing into physical manifestation an elemental expression that lights through all worlds and all times: it becomes the light of divinity within everything (Magical Knowledge, pg. 70).

IMG_1936Or what seems almost the opposite to flame: I reach for a stone to hold in hand, door to memory, cool to the touch, scented with earth and mud and time, piece of the planet in my palm. The same, not the same: I build our house- or studio-fire, humming quietly to Brighid, the path of the act of building the fire paralleling the path the fire itself takes through the wood. I kindle, but whether it’s my spirit or the wood that’s burning starts to matter less: it’s both.

Oh, how to say these things we all know so intimately, yet often lack the words for? How to get at them? Much of magic is activating what and who we are already, what sloughs off with time if not renewed, what we can re-ignite with intention and love.

Or this, appropriately enough from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale: “Thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born”. What he doesn’t say is this: they’re the same things. What’s different is me.

Here for you is a spark of Solstice light: the vocal group Antiphony, singing “Solstice Carol”:

And here’s the original version by the Weird Sisters — some slight difference in lyrics and arrangment:

/|\ /|\ /|\

*McCarthy, Josephine. Magical Knowledge Book 1: Foundations. Mandrake of Oxford, 2012, pg. 57.


Six Problems with CAOS   1 comment

CAOS — that’s Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, in case you’re blissfully off the grid, out of contact with modern media, and indifferent to fandom’s predilection for abbreviations. Six “problems” — does this mean I won’t or don’t watch it? No. Otherwise, I couldn’t write about it here with anything valid to say. I’m on my second viewing, in fact. I want to like it, and to give it a fair chance. (I’m even holding out very shallow hopes for the Holiday Special tomorrow.) But too many things about it trouble me, and if you’re a sympathetic reader of blogs like this one, at least some of them should trouble you, too.

Come on, I hear you grumble. It’s just a show. OK, don’t waste your time reading this, then. Allow me my occasional rant. Pop culture holds tremendous shaping power over our psyches — it deploys light, sound, imagery, metaphor, archetypes, emotion — a type of magic all its own.


1–Let’s start with the show’s name: I can form my own judgments and supply my own adjectives, thank you. Not that there’s much really chilling here. Some stuff in poor taste, yes. Sometimes out of character, inconsistent, aiming for cheap thrills at the expense of story. New Adventures of Sabrina? Fine. Actually descriptive. Sabrina: The Dark Years? Justifiable, and usefully vague. But chilling? It’s not even accurate as irony.

2–High Priest Faustus Blackwood’s pronunciation in Episode 2 of Samhain as “Sam-main”: Really?! Let me grab my athame “ay-thame”! A minute’s Google search, by showrunner or writer, would have avoided that absurd mistake. It’s a known Irish and Pagan word. A smallish detail? Maybe, but representative of a larger sloppiness. The High Priest of the Church of Night can’t get it right? What authority does he deserve to hold? You don’t want to be jerked out of a created, secondary world by careless errors like this. The Norman Conquest … in 1067. Lincoln assassinated … in Chevrolet’s Theater. You get the idea. A small wrongness like that mangles the whole scene, out of all proportion to its size. I don’t know about you, but that predisposes me to distrust future, larger details. I had a long-term substitute high school English teacher who pronounced epitome as “eppy-tome”. Sorry, but some errors are so blatant they deserve to be pilloried.

Click-baity posts like’s “20 Things Fans Forgot about the Original Teenage Witch” might more aptly be titled “20 Things Producers and Jaded Viewers Simply Don’t Give a Damn About Today”. A better and much more informative read is Indiewire’s guide to all the references, episode by episode. The show actually includes many such references, to the delight of allusion-hunters everywhere. Why be sloppy with such a prominent one as Samhain?

3–The worst stereotypes of medieval witchcraft and magic-as-Satanism: Book of the Beast. Dark baptism. Blood sacrifice. Covens. (And oddly, patriarchy intact. Why no High Priestesses? Witch Queens?) Goth fashion, out of date well over two centuries ago, but continuously retweaked, now for the 21st century. Magic for selfish reasons, not the good of the whole. Treachery. Betrayal. Magic dependent on outside forces, not mirroring energies found within the self. Magic, in a word, as … dark. The stuff of monsters under the bed. Low astral dreams. Bad trips. Christian nightmares, not the universal, world-wide spiritual technology that’s the birthright of all.

original Sabrina

Cast of the original Sabrina, 1996-2003

4–Sabrina, apparently sprung full-grown from Artemis’s brow, second-decade-of-the-21st-century wokeness (mostly) intact. Girl-power rampant, speaking truth to patriarchal school principals and Witch Priests, fighting injustice, moral code pure and untainted — despite an upbringing by her two often clueless and Satanically-bound aunts, one of whom happens to murder the other occasionally. Not the role models that would ever have produced this prodigy. Not the role-models of the original series, who served as mentors to their niece. Despite a sit-com trend fishing for irony or social commentary, with feckless adults raising enlightened children, it hardly ever works out that way. Add actor Kiernan Shipka’s preternatural maturity lending her portrayal of Sabrina a curious post-Puritan moral absoluteness — until it must conveniently fail, whenever the plot requires chilling. See next point.

5–Justice for all — except apparently when memories need purging, or throats need slitting. Sabrina erases her boyfriend Harvey’s memory when it could prove troublesome — though we’re led to believe she really does love him — and in Episode 8 sacrifices Agatha, one of her Academy of Unseen Arts classmates, without hesitation or reflection, by ritually slitting her throat. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as in real life, actions have real, fascinating and plot-thickening consequences. Not so, too often, for Sabrina. In some ways that’s the most — well, not chilling — perplexing aspect of the show: cause and effect are often in abeyance. What cosmos is this, anyway?

6–“Magic’s not for Mortals”. But for half-mortals like Sabrina, it’s fine! See John Beckett’s Dec. 2 post, “My Biggest Complaint with Magical Fiction”.  All right: you’ve read my takes on magic in previous posts — no need to rehash them here.

Is anybody disposed to argue on behalf of the show and tell me where and why I’m over-reacting?

/|\ /|\ /|\

IMAGE: Original Sabrina.

Applied Magic   1 comment

[Part One | Part Two]

If you’ve ever planned for the future, you’ve practiced a form of magic. Wait a minute, you say. That’s not magic.

Sure it is. You have an intention or goal, and you imagine it, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting it in ways that seem so ordinary and commonplace we mostly pay no attention to the marvel of what we’re doing. Only when we find ourselves saying “But it didn’t turn out like I thought it would!” do we encounter a mismatch between the picture we painted and carried around with us, and the reality as it finally manifested. Obviously we held a pattern, image, blueprint, plan, etc. in our awareness. It took a few side-roads on the way to appearing here, where we can see and interact with it. No matter. More than before. Do it differently. Revise, modify, experiment.

I may be a visual person, or an auditory or a kinesthetic one, or some other kind of perceiver and manifester, by predilection and experience, that doesn’t have a ready label. Further, the event I manifested may or may not match what I expected or hoped, but it did manifest — as it never would have, if I hadn’t set it in motion in the first place. “As above, so below” — in this case, the above was my plan, and the below was the physical form it took. Schools that could teach us how to get better at this ability instead teach almost everything else but that. Often that’s because the teachers themselves have had the ability taught right out of ’em.

Plenty of folks would like to deny us recognition and use of this basic ability altogether, because it’s the key to freedoms and joys of many kinds, and so it cuts into their power plays. Our politicians insist that only they can fix what’s ailing the town, province or planet, our partners insist they’re essential to our happiness (or we are, to theirs). Priests, pastors and imams would prefer we not discover how independent of them we actually can be, so the ability gets labeled evil, sinful, diabolical, dangerous, forbidden, and any other convenient and manipulative name, even though every one of us alive uses it daily in its simplest forms. But the more advanced levels in particular, the ones that grant larger abilities to change and grow, are naturally more dangerous to the stable order of things, and to those who ardently desire to profit from “the way things are”.

That’s one reason fear is such a popular tool for control, and so widespread today. Keep people ignorant and afraid, keep them from using or even knowing the potentials of their own ability, keep them dependent on a big mommy or daddy for a pitiful, reduced version of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and you’re halfway home to power — of a sort.

Cover up the push into ignorance and dependency with a skillful blend of threats and promises, of magicking up a useful opponent to take the fall, the blame, the consequences of the fear you’ve sown in people’s hearts and minds — and there are so many opponents ready to hand — to distract people from what you’re doing to them, and you’re home free.

If you can attack the very freedom you’re taking away as the cause of the troubles the people face, you’ve graduated to “excellent dictator” status. Congratulations! You’ve mastered one form of debased magic, depriving other people of their birthright. No need to argue whether it’s successful — just look at today’s headlines.

If such low and often negative magic can accomplish so much, what of more positive varieties?

0-FoolExperiment with learning more about your animal familiar — an ancient and worldwide practice. Animal guardians and teachers abound in myth, legend and folktale for good reason. Many of us know instinctively why we keep pets, and every year we learn more about the health benefits and remarkable abilities domesticated animals bring into our lives. The tarot Fool sets out on the long journey toward wisdom already accompanied by an animal. Who are your companions and what can they teach you?

Formal study and practice of traditional magic may not be for you, temperamentally or practically. But if you decorate your living space with harmonious colors, bringing in plants and pictures that uplift you and establish an oasis of harmony and balance, you’ve magicked your dwelling to aid you in daily life. Or look at your musical tastes and contemplate the harmonics of sound that feed and nourish you. Investigate the effects and use of song, chant, rhythm, pitch, etc. Drums, bells, musical instruments of many kinds can assist you in sound magic. Again, many religious and spiritual traditions speak to the power of the word, voice, sound of creation, music of the spheres, names of gods and angels, etc. Long human wisdom testifies to the potency of sound magic.

Dream work can help put us in touch with levels of experience and consciousness beyond the daily news awareness that can seem like all there is. Plenty of resources exist for studying dreams, recording them, analyzing them, and learning from what they have to teach us. And inspire us. Work on anything that asks you for creativity, and if you focus long enough, the work will follow you into dream. Write, and your characters will begin to talk to you. Paint seriously, and you’ll eventually see patterns, colors, worlds of beauty inwardly nearly impossible to render with earth tones and hues. Garden, and you may be led to plantings and pairings you hadn’t anticipated, or to resources to help you and your plants flourish. Many gardeners know how restorative the work can be. And so with many professions and occupations. It’s hard in fact to think of one that lies outside the purview of dream power and exploration.


Rachel Pollack

The Tarot is a course of magical (and life) instruction all by itself. Find a good overview or book of practical exercises. Two texts I can recommend from long work with them are 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack and 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary Greer. They pair well together, these masterworks by acknowledged masters of the Tarot, complementing each other’s perspectives. When I just checked a few minutes ago, both were available used for $8 or less. Rachel Pollack’s pocket admonition: “To learn to play seriously is one of the great secrets of spiritual exploration”.

Another excellent and quite painless way to acquire a set of vantage points for a magical understanding is to immerse yourself in fantasy and mythology, while practicing visualizations and ritual work with the archetypes present in the latter in particular. Fantasy propels us into alternate realities through the written word, already a magical act. Add the further dimensions that film affords, combining sound and color and embodiment by (usually) skilled actors, and you expand the experience into one quite close to ritual. It’s no surprise that the magical and visionary arts have enjoyed a resurgence in the last century, when we have such preliminary training on hand in these popular forms.

To sum up, then, magic is our birthright, something we practice already, and can explore and refine, like any talent. We shift states of consciousness every day, and what we can’t do in one state, we can often do easily in another. The methods and techniques for shifting, because they bring us to face locks on consciousness, as the previous post indicated, allow us to begin to circumvent, break down or dissolve these impediments.

Then we begin to discover that there are many worlds, and at the same time we discover how to gain access to them, since we intermittently inhabit them already, in moments of heightened experience, in grief, joy, love, exaltation, intense focus and creativity. Each of us is and has a doorway, eventually multiple ones, that we can activate to explore and grow and delight in. And it is there that we meet and shape and begin to fulfill our destinies.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Expanding — and Focusing — Our Magic   Leave a comment

[Part One | Part Two]

In a recent comment, Steve writes:

A broader definition of magic sounds interesting, especially when compared with some of the ideas about it I have encountered over the years.

Do you have a working definition you could share or is this something you have developed in your blog?

I do have a working definition of magic, and I’ve also written about it in various forms fairly frequently, though not always under that label. But it’s good to regularly take out opinions and understandings, dust them off, rattle them, note what shakes free, scrape off the rust, and buff and polish the rest. So with the spur that Steve’s comment provides, that’s what I’ll do in this post.


Yevgeny Zamyatin / Wikipedia / public domain

Our definitions come, mostly, after experiences. Before that, we don’t have much to attach them to, and if anyone who’s reading this is anything like me, your definitions at that point may not match things that you later DO experience. So then we get mired in the mismatch, rather than referring back to the original experience. Or — even better than looking backward — experiencing more, other, wilder. So I open up once again a page where I can re-read irascible old revolutionary Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), whose essay “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters” reminds me: “Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow’s stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud”.

“Privilege”? Tired of a too-steady diet of cud, I aim to forage more widely.

So I’ll begin by asserting we all practice magic, and work outward from there, using this as a core assumption and seeing how it holds up. We do much of our magic half-consciously, so that we often don’t perceive the patterns, causes and effects of what we set in motion as clearly as we might. After all, like most of us, I insist on who I am: in my case, straight, white, male, employed, married, healthy, intelligent, rational. But when even one of these breaks down, as every one of them has for at least some of us over a lifetime, my world trembles violently, even if it doesn’t collapse outright, and I scurry and latch on to explanations for what’s going on.

Isn’t such an interval about the least likely time for any of us to notice the patterns, causes and effects of what we’ve set in motion? And even if and when we do, we tend to account for them only with naturalistic explanations (Pagans may add supernatural but not necessarily more accurate ones), including blaming other people, fatigue, stress, illness, the government, conspiracies, the Man, our reptilian overlords, a loveless marriage, plain bad luck, and so on, forgetting how much even of our conscious experience at the very moment of our explaining has been programmed by education, habit, expectation, culture, practice, a “reasonable explanation”, and a simple, overriding human desire not … to … be … weird.


But … magic?!

At the heart of this often-inaccurate accounting is a precept that disturbs and offends Westerners in particular, taught as we are that we are free and independent beings, with wills and choices subject to our conscious attention. We are not so free after all, but if we can’t even examine this assertion in the first place, what are we to do? If we all practice magic, as I claim, we all need to, because as musician and mage R. J. Stewart observes:

With each phase of culture in history, the locks upon our consciousness have changed their form or expression, but in essence remain the same. Certain locks are contrived from willed patterns of suppression, control, propaganda, sexual stereotyping, religious dogma; these combine with and reinforce the old familiar locks restraining individual awareness; laziness, greed, self-interest, and, most pernicious of all, willful ignorance. This last negative quality is the most difficult of all to transform into a positive; if we truly will ourselves to be ignorant, and most of us do in ways ranging from the most trivial to the most appallingly irresponsible and culpable, then the transformation comes only through bitter experience. It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20-21).

“[D]enied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness”: we might think such a “locked-up” person simply needs re-education, or better training, maybe positive reinforcement, a decent opportunity. (I note here that it’s almost always some other person who’s the problem, or needs the help — never me. After all, I’m awake and in charge of my life.) This is also where we get much of the American program of self-improvement, “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, as it used to be called. Those who can afford it try therapy, or weekend retreats and workshops. Those who can’t may rely on pharmaceuticals or liquor or increasingly available weed. As the evidence mounts, as the growing dysfunction, suffering, addiction, unhappiness and all-around misery attest, something’s not working.

So why magic, of all things? Surely any number of other options would be preferable to something so half-baked, superstitious, irrational, etc., etc. — the list of slanders, some of them justified by pernicious snake-oil salesmen, is long.

J. M. Greer, ecologist, blogger, conservationist and mage, puts it this way:

[t]he tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough (J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88).

To put it another way, in what is not a particularly poetic magical Druid triad: Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, and an endlessly adaptable technique.

The fact is that each day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again.  We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly. They serve different purposes, and what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another.  The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. What we do mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will and through them to achieve insight and change. Often, for me anyway, this is nothing more mysterious than moving out of a negative, depressed or angry headspace at will into a more free, imaginative one, where I can problem-solve much more effectively, and also be much more pleasant to be around. Or so my wife tells me.

“The major premise of magic,” says R. J. Stewart, “is that there are many worlds, and that the transformations which occur within the magician enable him or her to gain access to these worlds” (R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 7).

The technique — a cluster, really, of practices and techniques — is the training and work of the imagination.  This work typically involves the use of one or more of the following: ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images and group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness. “… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse …” says Stewart. “… certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect”.

Ouroboros-benzene.svgEven mundanely, golfers visualize a hole in one, carpenters see the finished design long before it emerges from the blueprint, chemists rely as much on inspiration as any artist for discoveries like that of August Kekule, who dreamt of the structure of the benzene ring via the archetypical image of a snake swallowing its tail.

Furnish the imagination with the food it needs, and it can be a powerful tool and guide. Abandon it to others who do not know us, nor have our best interests at heart, and we cast away our birthright.

PART TWO — Applications — coming soon.

/|\ /|\ /|\

%d bloggers like this: