Robert Place and I had so much fun with his first interview that we decided to give you Part 2. Robert is such a interesting man having not only designed five beautiful tarot decks, but being an occult scholar as well. So please enjoy more of our fascinating conversation.
Can you tell me what The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery is about? It sounds very intriguing. Is it based on a Mystery Tradition? The art I saw looks very beautiful as well.
I started on The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery in 2001. At present, it consists only of the Fool, the 21 trumps, the ace and two of coins, the ace of swords, the ace of cups, and the ace of staffs. I also completed a set of the Fool and Trumps printed oversize with annotations in the margins and background done in a calligraphic script. I completed this for my exhibition in the Crafts and Folk Art Museum in LA in January, 2010. I made 17″ high prints of these and they were the main focus of the exhibit. They are also included in my book based on the exhibition, The Fool’s Journey: the History, Art, and Symbolism of the Tarot.
The inspiration for the deck came when I was looking at the paintings of 19th century English Pre-Raphaelite artist Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites believed that art was a spiritual or magical endeavor and toward this end they formed a mystical brotherhood of artists dedicated to recapturing the sincerity of the art of the early Renaissance—the same historic period that gave us the Tarot. In many ways they paved the way in England for the Golden Dawn. Burne-Jones, in particular, based his tall female beauties and melancholy heroes on the paintings of Botticelli and Michelangelo, two artists whose works are considered primary examples of Renaissance Neoplatonic mysticism. I noticed that Burne-Jones painted some of the same allegorical figures that are found in the Tarot such as Foolishness, Temperance, and the Wheel of Fortune. I always loved his style of painting and I wanted to complete the Tarot deck for him that he seems to have unintentionally started.
Robert Place: The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
As the deck progressed, besides being enamored with the beauty of the style, I found that it was the perfect means to express all of the insights that I had developed concerning the nature of the Tarot and its mystical message. It allowed me to bridge the gap and synthesize the Renaissance ideas expressed in the original Tarot with the broader archetypal interpretations of those images that were added by 19th century occultists.
The name of the deck comes from my belief that the Western system of seven virtues, is a yogic system designed to purify the seven soul centers, which ascend the human spine, and that have been known in the West at least from the time of Pythagoras (the 6th century BC). The World card, in particular, represents the virtue Prudence, who is the culmination of the four cardinal virtues. The other three virtues: Temperance, Strength, and Justice, were considered the parts of Prudence, and that fact helps to explain why the three are more explicitly illustrated in the Tarot. Prudence as Sophia (the Wisdom of God) was also the mother of the three Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Prudence symbolizes the enlightenment that is achieved when the virtues have completed their jobs and brought each soul center into balance and health.
I went to an exhibition of Burne-Jone’s work in Burmingham when i lived in England. His work is absolutely stunning. I can see why you would be inspired by him. He also did so much! In England even some of the small country churches have stained-glass windows by Burne-Jones. That is a perfect medium for his work with the light coming through. Come to think of it—your work would make amazing stained glass.
I use to be a stained glass apprentice for about a year when I was first out of college in the 1970s.
Burne-Jones did a lot of stained glass in the US also.
I did a search to find some of his pieces and saw some great ones in Boston and Delaware. But it turned out that his first US commission was in the Episcopal Church right here in Saugerties where I live.
(Here’s a link to the stained glass windows in Saugerties:
They are gorgeous—Angels by William Morris., the rest by Burne- Jones)
I want to explore more about symbolism with you
and how you find your inspiration in other arts like painting and films and magic.
Maybe something like:
Is there a mystical unity between your tarot themes?
Is there an alchemy in the art of Burne-Jones as there is with vampires?
There is certainly a link between vampires and the PreRaphaelites.
Did you know that John Polidori who wrote The Vampyre, was
D.G. Rossetti’s uncle? Did you know about the vampiric myth that grew up around Lizzie Siddal?
I have a screenplay half written about that.
What about the Grail legend? Is that part of your alchemy as it is of Burne-Jones?
Your themes of Saints and Angels — how do they fit in? There is a Gothic quality to your
work taken as a whole I think.
Chew chew chew
Robert Place:The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
These are good questions and I will try to answer them as best as I can.
I feel that there is a unity behind all of my Tarot decks. At first glance, this may not be obvious because my first three decks: TheAlchemical Tarot, The Angels Tarot, and the Tarot of the Saints, were based on Western mystical and religious themes, and then with the creation of The Buddha Tarot and The Vampire Tarot, I seemed to be drifting further and further away from that area.
But, my goal from the beginning was to recover the original mystical message that was expressed by the Tarot’s 15th century creators and to find ways of expressing that wisdom by illustrating its connection to popular mythology or mystical systems.
My Buddha Tarot is not just about Buddhism but how it is similar to Western mystical traditions and how this comparison helps us to better understand our own traditions. My Vampire Tarot, which although it was just published last year, was actually the second deck that I began after The Alchemical Tarot, is about Dracula and how this story is based on the Grail legend which was one to the early influences on the Tarot, and that this story in turn grew out of the shamanic practice of soul retrieval.
I believe that Edward Burne-Jones was a mystic and that his paintings were his alchemical practice. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which he belonged to, was founded in 1848 by a group of artists in England who came out of the Romantic movement and shared a romantic fascination for the art of the Middle Ages. They wanted to capture the sincerity and honest piety of the works created before the time of the Renaissance painter Raphael (1483-1520). A time when paintings were believed to have magical curative powers, were used in rituals to heal and protect cities, and were the inspiration for pilgrimages. They believed that their art could uplift their viewers to a higher moral state and counteract the illnesses brought about by industrialization.
Burne-Jones was a second generation member of this movement and the art critic Ruskin labeled his variation the Mythic School. He focused on a mythic Classical or Arthurian world populated by tall, pale, beautiful heroines or femme fatales, and equally beautiful armored heroes. He was a major influence on the Symbolist painters that became popular in the rest of Europe at the end of the 19th century and helped create the atmosphere that led to the revival of occultism.
Toward the end of his life, beginning in 1881, Burne-Jones worked on a large mural,”The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon.” During this period he also created a number of works depicting the legend of King Arthur, including a series of tapestries (1890-1891) designed for Morris & Company, sets and costumes for the play “King Arthur” (1895) performed at the London’s Lyceum Theater under the management of Dracula author Bram Stoker, and illustrations for Sebastian Evans’ The High History of the Holy Grail (1898). But “The Sleep of Arthur” became a personal work that he slowly perfected between other commissions. When he worked on it, he would say that he was retreating to Avalon. He finished it in 1898 and died shortly after. When I read about this, I had a strong intuition that he had achieved his goal and escaped to his inner world –escaped to Avalon.
I didn’t know that Polidori, the first author of a Vampire prose, was D.G. Rossetti’s uncle. Rossetti, of course, was Burne-Jones’ mentor and was a major influence on his style. But the vampire theme comes out of the same Romantic movement, with its obsession with the Middle Ages, the irrational, and the occult, that gave rise to the Pre-Raphaelites. I believe that the pre-Raphaelites and Burne Jones in particular influenced Bram Stoker. In Dracula, Stoker created, a strong beautiful heroine, several femme fatales, and a group of heros that were basically knights –characters that were similar to Burne-Jones’s figures. I acknowledged this by incorporating a Pre-Raphaelite style in my illustrations for my Vampire Tarot. Some of the figures are based on photos of the famous Pre-Raphaelite model Jane Morris; for example, the Mina trump.
Robert Place: Vampire Tarot
I love the Jane Morris paintings. She had a very mysterious, silent quality that suited those mystic images of women.
Rossetti first wife, Lizzie Sidall, was the artist’s primary model and in spite of their class differences he married her in 1860. With his instruction and encouragement she also became an artist. By 1862, Lizzie feared that her husband was looking for a younger muse. After her daughter was stillborn and she became pregnant again she was hopelessly depressed. She committed suicide by taking an overdose of laudanum. Overcome with grief and romantic ideals, Rossetti placed a book containing the only copies of his poems in her grave. After seven years he had second thoughts and had her exhumed so that he could retrieve this book. Her body was said to have been in perfect condition. Her red hair had continued to grow while she was dead and now filled the coffin framing her and creating a memorable last impression. The image of the beautiful dead Lizzie surrounded in her luscious hair captured the public imagination and led to the rumors that she was actually undead. Red hair in itself is often associated with vampires. Stoker was likely to have been influenced by this description when he wrote the scene with Lucy beautifully laid out in her coffin.
Burne Jones’ son, Philip Burne-Jones, was also a painter, but his only well known painting is “The Vampire,” a portrait of a femme fatale vampire leaning over her male victim. The model for Philip’s vampire was Mrs. Patrick Campbell, an actress who in 1893 played the lead in “The Second Mrs. Tanqueray,” captured the public eye, and became famous for her beauty and talent. Philip dated her for a while, showered her with expensive presents, and painted her several times. But for the vampire portrait he worked from memory after she broke his heart by dumping him for a leading man and then a series of other lovers. In 1897, he displayed the painting at the annual summer exhibition of the New Gallery, a major show that included works by Sargent as well as Philip’s father. Alongside the painting, Philip included a poem “The Vampire” by his cousin, Rudyard Kipling, that described the foolishness of a man allowing himself to be destroyed by a heartless woman. This exhibition was held only a few months before Stoker’s Dracula was first in print.
Philp Burne-Jones: The Vampire
Philip’s painting received good reviews in London, but bad reviews later, after a New York showing. Some reporters also recognized his model, and speculation on the circumstances that led to her depiction as a vampire became the focus of gossip. During her American tour, which coincided with the American exhibition of “The Vampire,” Mrs. Campbell’s agent played up her connection to the painting. Philip, his painting, and Mrs. Campbell all came together in Chicago and the press had a field day with the story. In 1907, Porter Emerson Browne was commissioned by the actor Robert Hilliard to write a play based on the painting, which was called ” A Fool There Was.” Katherine Kaelred played the vampire and the play was carefully constructed so that it ended with a tableau that echoed the painting. The play was a popular success and influenced the burgeoning American movie industry. William Fox bought the rights to the play and created a film version, which stared Theda Bara. This role as a heartless femme fatale, which Bara continued to play in over 40 films, earned her the nickname ” the vamp.” As you can see, Pre-Raphealites, vampires, and popular imagination and culture are all intimately connected.
This was a really fascinating interview, Bob! I have long been a fan of the PreRpaelites and Dracula—-all of it and you told me things I didn’t know. Thank you Robert, it has been wonderful talking to you.
I would like to mention that Robert has a beautiful new book out:
The Fool’s Journey: The History, Art, and Symbolism of the Tarot
An 8.5″ by 11′ full color book
A PDF download is also available for only $10.00.
In the early 1990′s I taught a workshop called Into the West: A Course in Celtic Shamanism, that included ritual work centered around an ancient poem by the great Welsh bard, Taliesin called The Spoils of Annwn. It is probably one of the most powerful initiatory poems ever created. If you work with it, image by image, you will be taken on a journey to Otherworld, by ship, to capture the Holy Grail. Many teachings and gifts come from contact with the Grail; gifts of wisdom, healing, and artistic creativity, especially the power of poetry, and the ability to bring forth Tales from the deep mind of the Collective Unconscious.
I am printing a translation I have never seen before. It would take ages to unearth the one I used to use found in the works of John and Caitlin Matthews that is much more traditional.
This one is very well done! The keys are not in the words themselves, though they must sing to be effective. What you must focus on with any of the Arthurian stuff particularly, are the IMAGES. the more clearly you form images in your mind, the more you bring them to life. When you get really good, you can enter into them and the journey becomes a reality in the Otherworld of Faery.
A Small Interpretation
It is in Annwn ( pronounced An-ah-oon) that you will find the Mabon, here called Gwair. He is imprisoned, held by a chain, in the Spiral Castle, by Awrawn, (Awr-ah-oon) King of Annwn who is also Lord of the Underworld or the Dead.
In the poem below, King Arthur brings his men to release the Divine Child from the Annwn, and to seize the Grail, or, Cauldron of Rebirth. The symbolism of the Cauldron is that of the Great Mother. Gwair is divine because he is the son of the Goddess. Gwair was captured and held in the Underworld by Awrawn, thus depriving the earth of his vital force, the lack of which contributes to the desolation of the Wasteland.
I believe this poem contains the vestiges of an ancient ritual in which Gwair is released and returned to the land of the living by Arthur, who also brings the great Goddess back in the form of the Grail. This ritual was done to insure the harvest and to protect the fertility of the land.
Demeter and Persephone / Mabon and Modron
There are parallels between the Mabon and Modron story and that of Demeter and Persephone, but whereas the Mother/Daughter myth is fully Pagan and untainted by Christianity, the story of Mabon and Modron has come under its influence. Keys to the understanding of this dynamic, and that of the Grail Legend generally, are these:
1. The Grail legends describe a spiritual and social battle between Faery and encroaching Christianity.
2. The need to heal the Wasteland is implied when it is not spelled out.
3. There is a conflict between the old ways of honoring the Goddess Sovereignty and respecting her rites so as to insure the fertility of the land, and the deliberate destruction of the ways of the Goddess by the Christian ecclesiastics who are determined to spread their influence into Her territory to redeem the land, in their terms, under the rule of Christ as God.
With these underlying concepts in mind, it is easy to see that the Goddess is symbolized by the Cauldron of the Grail, and her Divine Son is the pre-Christian Son who must bring life back to the land through some kind of rite of scared marriage or, as is most likely in the Arthurian saga, to replace the aging and enfeebled King, wounded by a Christian relic — the Spear of Longinus.
So, here is the great shamanic poem — the first work of literature that mentions King Arthur, as he attempts to steal the Cauldron of Annwn.
The Spoils of Annwn
I will praise the Lord, the Sovereign, the King of the land,
who has extended his rule over the strand of the world.
Well equipped was the prison of Gwair in Caer Siddi
according to the story of Pwyll and Pryderi.
None before him went to it,
to the heavy blue chain’ it was faithful servant whom it restrained,
and before the spoils of Annwn sadly he sang.
And until Judgement Day our bardic song will last.
Three shiploads of Prydwen we went to it;
except for seven, none returned from Caer Siddi.
I am honored in praise, song is heard
In Caer Pedryfan, four-sided,
my eulogy, from the cauldron it was spoken.
By the breath of nine maidens it was kindled.
The cauldron of the Head of Annwn, what is its custom,
dark about its edge with pearl?
It does not boil a coward’s food; it had not been so destined.
The sword of Lluch Lleawg was raised to it,
and in the hand of Lleminawg it was left.
And before the door of the gate of hell, lanterns burned.
And when we went with Arthur, renowned conflict
except for seven, none returned from Caer Feddwid.
I am honored in praise, song will be heard.
In Caer Pedryfan, island of the strong door,
noon and jet-black are mixed.
Bright wine their drink before their warband.
Three shiploads of Prydwen we went to the sea;
except for seven, non returned from Caer Rigor.
I, lord of learning, do not deserve lowly men.
Beyond Caer Wydr they had not seen Arthur’s valor.
Three score hundred men stood on the wall;
it was difficult to speak with their watchman.
Three shiploads of Prydwen wen went with Arthur;
except for seven, none returned from Caer Goludd.
I do not deserve lowly men, slack their defense.
They do not know what day…,
what hour of the midday God was born,
They do not know the Speckled Ox, thick his headring,
seven score links in his collar.
And when we went with Arthur, disastrous visit,
except for seven, none returned from Caer Fanddwy.
I do not deserve lowly men, slack their attack.
They do not know what day…,
what hour of the midday the lord was born,
what animal they keep, silver its head.
When we went with Arthur, disastrous strife,
except for seven, none returned from Caer Ochren.
Monks crowd together like a choir of whelps
from the battle of lords who will be known.
Is the wind of one path? Is the sea of one water?
Is fire, irresistible tumult, of one spark?
Monks crowd together like a pack of wolves
from the battle of lords who will be known.
They do not know when darkness and dawn separate
or the wind, what is its path, is its onrush,
what does it destroy, what land does it strike?
How many lost saints and how many others?
I will praise the Lord, the Great Prince.
May I not be sad, Christ will endow me.
Underworld by Eric Kincaid
My Mabon Mystery
Today I gave Her blackbirds. To me She gave a dark heart.
She is Binah, the Sorrowful Mother. She points to the earth.
Her tears fall on the earth and go down under the ground
bringing with them Her pain and sorrow.
The Child is in my heart
radiant and crowned
But below me is a starry cave in the dark center
of the earth. Down there
is a radiant child wrapped in a strong blue chain.
Gwair! Mabon! The Divine Son of the Goddess.
I follow a mischievous child
down a dark, L shaped corridor.
I sense mirrors, shimmering.
We enter a wide cavern. Along the walls
are the effigies of dead heroes.
Light comes through a crevice in the ceiling
and shines on a beautiful Goddess
bathed in blue and starry light
with the Child upon her lap.
“I am the Divine Mother at the center of the earth.
I am the Mother of the Wild Beasts.”
Antlers flicker on her head to be
replaced by a large gold crown.
“I am Lady Sovereignty.”
She hands me a golden vessel
filled with rose-gold light.
I pour its contents over me.
A vista opens in the wall —
all green and lovely. Tinkling sounds
A sweep of stairway –
a tower in the distance
high upon a hill — Glastonbury Tor.
I go up the winding stairway.
The tower shifts and then revolves.
It flickers. Stars begin to spiral around its top.
Day has turned to night.
I enter a vast lit hall with a
checkerboard tiled floor.
I sense a host of beings
at the far end of the vast room.
I must walk very slowly.
Above the chandeliers tinkle
and give off a radiant, holy light.
I walk against a force — laboriously I move forward.
the room begins to spin widdershins –
I feel swept away by its motion.
It stops and I am moving toward a Faery Host.
Suddenly my steps are swift.
The Faeries part and then I see
a Queen upon a high throne
of such radiance and beauty I cannot speak or move.
A huge shaft of light goes
up from her body to the top
of the tower and out to the
spiral of stars.
This is the Triune Goddess in Her
“Where is the child?” i ask.
I am beckoned to come close to her.
The light is almost blinding.
I am lifted up the shaft of light
like an elevator
and find myself at the top of the tower
looking out over the silent, peaceful world.
The top of the tower becomes a great basin
in which I float.
A silver ladder falls from the sky.
I grab it and moved into Oneness…
Oh the power of the Faery Magic! May the Green Light of Faery fill Your Life with Abundance!
I grew up in religious Catholic family with a long history of Jesuits and nuns, but I was never Confirmed.
The Bishop did not deign to come to our one-horse-town but once every twenty years, even though 90% of its tiny population were French and Irish Catholics. What that meant was that, when he finally did show up, we were all teenagers and able to think for ourselves.
“When you go up to the Bishop, he’s going to slap your face, and then you have to kiss his ring,” said my mother.
“You heard me.”
My mother’s favorite word….
Well, I had a major Aquarius attack! There was no way somebody was going to slap my face and I was going to kiss his ring!
As all of my peers lined up to have their faces slapped, I skipped out of Confirmation.
Everyone came out from the church with these new middle names, mostly Bernadette and Paul. I would have chosen Francoise, for St. Francis of Assisi, because he loved animals. (I named myself anyway, and stuck to it until I realized that St. Francis had also taken a Vow of Poverty. When I was sick of being poor, I dropped it.)
Maybe that was how the Devil got my soul, and I became a Witch….
As a child I had the measles. I remember having refreshing dreams of thrashing rivers and waters flowing. I must have been thirsty from fever. I decided, since I was confined to bed, that I would read the Bible from start to finish.
I could not reconcile “Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men” ( we were all Men in those days) with all the violence and treachery in the Bible.
“Ma, how come the Bible is so violent?”
“I don’t know. That’s the Old Testament.”
“Your only supposed to read the New Testament.”
“Then why is the Old Testament in here?”
“Just because.” Pause. “Catholics aren’t supposed to read the Bible anyway.”
“The priest is supposed to read it for you.”
I was disillusioned.
When Vatican II happened, they took all the art out of the Church. Sculptures and paintings were now “graven images” and had to be removed. Decorations spoke of unfair wealth and pride. They threw out Latin and replaced it with English “for the people”. They started having “Folk Mass”. That meant church was turned into a coffee house where the son of the owner of the sleaziest bar between Leicester and Worcester was on the altar playing the guitar, and we were forced to sing along.
“Kumbaya, my Lord…” ewe!
Everything was ruined!
The original Catholic Church had given a creative girl, from a tiny podunk town in Massachusetts, exposure to the great art of Leonardo and Michelangelo, soaring music, a mysterious ancient language, incense, bells, sonorous chants, shining robes, elaborate magical rituals… Towering cathedrals, rich with carvings — some of them even Pagan — instilled a sense of the Divine. You were part of something wise and ancient, primal, reaching out through the shadows of history to take you into another world.
Wasn’t religion meant to inspire? To transfer you into the Divine realms? To show you the highest aspirations of the soul? Was Richie Hennessy and his guitar supposed to replace all of that? Kumbaya replace the Ave Maria?
Because I had grown up listening to English folk music, I became aware that many so-called Christian ballads were much older than Christianity and originally told stories about Pagan rituals honoring Goddesses and Gods. My interest in the Child Ballads led to the discovery of Pagan rites such as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance — still practiced in England — as is Cheese Rolling and the Hobby Horse. (They were rolling cheese down hill while I was living in England in the 21st century.) Ballads of Robin Hood seemed deeply ritualized, hinting at a lost spiritual tradition of the forest.
Folklore became a passion of mine. I traded the Bible for Greek and Roman mythology; the origins of Christmas really fascinated me. “The real color of Christmas is black…” said one of these books. Darkness and fire, gold and red shining in shadows…of course, the Holy Grail appeared to be Christian except that it was guarded by Ladies of the Lake, Sorceresses, and other Faeries…In fact the whole Arthurian Legend spoke to me about the liminal space between the Old Ways of Magic in the countryside, and the encroaching Christianity of the Royal Courts, hinting at the forces struggling against each other in the dark ages, that mirrored the struggle going on in me. Morgan LeFay was the great protector of the Old Way of Magic against the usurping Church, and she was the character I that held my interest most.
I was far more drawn to this Old Religion than I was to this Folk Mass Catholicism. I guess I was looking for a replacement for the Mystery I had lost.
As began to study the occult, beginning with my clairvoyance and the Tarot, and then moving on to mythology (I included the Bible in this category now) I came across writers who suggested that the old Catholic priests were really magicians and the old Catholic Mass was a magical ritual descended from Roman Paganism. It made sense to me since the Church started in Rome. I suppose it should always have been obvious except for the smokescreen of a certain guilty “goodness” that was always put forth, and the way that American Masses didn’t seem to have much power –they just seemed to be going through the motions while the congregation looked around at each other, slept, cried, sang off pitch, or looked as bored as I was.
I later found out that in France there were churches where the Transubstantiation took place, which means the Host and wine actually became the body and blood of Christ. How Gothic is that? What is that about?
The Holy Grail stories, with visions of Christ coming out of the Grail, were extremely powerful magical workings capable of taking the hero into Heaven while still in his living body. Contact with the Divine Blood transformed the seeker into a kind of demi-god. We prayed in church for Christ to wash our sins away in His blood.
We celebrated Pagan holidays, we had sublimated human sacrifice, we believed in resurrection from the dead — for wasn’t Lazarus raised from the dead by Jesus? Necromancy must have been perfectly acceptable then. We held fertility rituals using symbols of eggs, rabbits and trees.
I think I have shown how many of the seeds of my early choice of Paganism was logical given the underlying truth of Catholic tradition. My brother discovered this too and took a different Christian path — as if the Pagan past was a bad thing! I feel the opposite; it is a good thing. The Pagan elements helped me find my way home.
It is interesting to see how people can come to such different conclusions, no matter how close they are. I found my path because I carry the Witch Blood. My brother must not, but he couldn’t live in a manner he found hypocritical any more than I could.
It was a further revelation for me to visit Cathedrals in England and France where all of the great art is in place, as it has been for centuries. In France, church images are far more honest as to their roots. The aisles are lined with columns meant to represent trees in the forest — the first cathedrals. Green men, or men with asses ears peer out from the walls. Most, if not all Catholic churches in Europe are built on the site of ancient Goddess worship. This didn’t happen to erase or stamp down the old powers — oh no! The cathedrals were built there to absorb the old powers, and transform them to use in the Mass.
Spiritual power resides in the Earth aligned with the stars. You can’t get more Pagan than that!
I died when I was born. Reluctant to enter the world that my soul knew was the next phase of my journey, I attempted to flee the womb. I tried to leave for a second time and was sent forcibly back to be born under a dark, winter moon.
Since then, my life has been one long series of deaths, and rebirths, and forced removals . I have been thrust into changes I would not have volunteered for if not for the heavy influences of unseen forces involved with my soul. At times I have complained that it was more than I could bear, the suffering was too great, my emotional tides too strong, my frame too weak to contain them. At others the pristine light of understanding brought perspective, often helped by the experiences of others who, in prior lives, elected to complete the Great Work.
In the depths of winter I was born under a witch’s moon.
Capricorn, sign of the Horned God, was crossed by Neptune, bringer of poetry and visions. Aquarius, the Grail Bearer, dispenser of dreams and wishes, barely escaped from this realm of shadows, its one solar eye looking back into darkness so old even the earth has forgotten it.
“He stands at the gate by which we must return with his tall antlers, and his cloven hoof…”
“Moon in Capricorn just behind the sun in Aquarius in the tenth house — career? Practical occultism.”
The astrologer was so certain. But what did it mean? At the age of twenty-five, I had no idea that I was practicing magic. I thought it was art, dance…yet my own dances were always patterned on myths and rituals: north, east, south, and west, the center, the circle. Sword, vessel, wand, and mirror. Circe. Hecata. Bleodewedd. Salome. The Lady and the Unicorn.
“She brings a dark force to her dancing. She emerges from it carrying a light…”
So said a perceptive, poet friend in my hearing.
“Do I do that?”
He had always known. He wrote a poem about me called “To a Sleeping Astrologer” when I knew nothing about astrology.
“What is the dark?”
“I think it’s sexual.”
“Of course…but it’s old. The dark is anything that is hidden.”
“Why are things hidden?’
“Maybe because they are not meant to be seen.”
“Yes. The ancient mysteries…Orpheus, Dionysis. Those are my favorite ones.”
“The Elusinian mysteries…”
“And some have reduced it to mushrooms…”
I am trying to describe the nature, the experience, of the witch blood. And how you can have it and not know what it is for a long time… It sets you apart. At the age of twelve my mind and body were flooded with visions and telepathic communications with the trees and birds, the sky, the hills…It got so intense that I would stand among my friends and forget I was with them. After a while, they got sick of me and I was shut out of their circle. Nothing could be more painful, and yet when the call floated over the low hills, I heard it, and hearing it, was alone.
“We are here…You see us, don’t you?”
The Earth is our mother, the beginning of life, and the end of life. Before the dissolution of the body, they come and ferry our souls into a parallel world, a spirit world, where we live until the Mother ushers us back to mortal life again. I always knew this. It has not been easy to know such things in our modern times, but since I almost died at birth, moving between the worlds is my second nature and my proof.
Within is deep stillness, is silence, a winter lake surrounded with bare trees whose branches trace letters across the sky. The high black rock sings under the stars. The water has strange patterns in it…The holly drips berries like blood…Every step over the ground is holy. It is not easy to know this beauty, this love, this creation, when it is being destroyed minute by minute for money. When the paths to rebirth are being closed to us forever. When the Wasteland arises again out of ignorance and arrogance and greed.
Just as in the old Romances, the Grail appears and is withdrawn again when we have proved powerless to choose the good.