Attributes of the Horned God During the Dark Night of the Soul

This picture saved me!

Christina Oakley gave this extremely powerful image to me over tea and cookies in her office at Treadwells Bookshop in Covent Garden, London. Seven years after my harrowing spontaneous initiation with the Horned God, I had finally drummed up the courage to ask for help.  It was not easy to find someone who would understand the difference between visionary experience and insanity — especially in the UK where ‘mental and emotional problems’ are still perceived quite harshly.  But the only way out of darkness for me has always been to find meaning in the experience. I felt Christina could provide that meaning, for she is a knowledgeable initiated Witch.

This Initiatory ordeal is discussed in depth in my previous posts: The Horned Ones, and London: How I Encountered the Spirits of the Land.

The Horned God had come to me in the form of large and powerful Stag/Man.  Due to my own resonance with deer, I always see the God in the form the French Cernnunnos, the Stag. I had written a poem about Cernunnos as he appears on the Gundestrup cauldron a good 15 years before he came to me in the night.

( Intimations of Ancestry: Song of the Gudestrup Cauldron)

In England, the Stag is called Herne the Hunter, Lord of the Wild Hunt. Indeed, it was as he was leading the Wild Hunt through my house that he found me and my ordeal began.

When it comes to spirits and the Elder Gods: “If you can see them, they can see you.” Never take this lightly.

In her own poetic style, Christina told me about the picture at the top of this post. The bottom shows the Stag  in the dark forest. We, as Hunter, or man in his primal, unconscious, undifferentiated state, have chased him there thinking “Wow I have found a big one! One that will feed me for many months!” In our pride we fail to see that the case is reversed. It is he who has led us into his wild domain.

The Hunter thinks the Stag is the one who will die — or who will serve him, or feed for him for a long time, but it is not so. It is the Hunter who dies by entering the Dark Night. The Hunter enters the maze and cannot find the way out until the God decides he is ready. This usually takes seven years in human time.

Does anyone know the reason seven years are required to face one’s demons and walk out wounded, but wiser, and profoundly changed? It is seven years. I know for a fact!

(In writing this, I just realized, I had asked for this experience back in 1996. I was questing in true Arthurian fashion in an Arthurian, Faery domain. In other terms, I was hunting the God — following the White Stag into the Otherworld to discover the richness and beauty of the unseen worlds.  Where would he take me? What marvels would he show me? I thought he would he ‘feed’ me for a long time with wonders and possibly a spiritula prize of great merit. But rather than into the Grail Castle of transcendent beauty, he led me into the Abyss where death and a darkness waited to consume my to my very bones….for to the mortal being, the Faery realm is the abode of spirits, shades, the dead — and that is a dark place indeed.)

In Christina’s picture, the Stag’s antlers grow and branch into the Tree of Life. For Qabbalists, you can see that the Stag is not only BELOW the Tree, in the Qlippoth, but is actually the ROOT of the Tree. The traditional Qabbalistic propaganda about about the roots of the Tree of Life, or its upside down reflection, it shadow on the earth, is that they are the abode  devils, demons, chaos, and evil to be strictly avoided in meditation and magical workings. Very dangerous indeed!

This fear, in my thinking, was promoted at a time when the Roman Church sought to separate the people from their Pagan Gods, who were also rooted in the land, and thus sever them from intimacy with nature. An image of the roots of the Tree of Life beginning in the horns of an animal with cloven hooves, is remarkable indeed. For the horned and cloven ones came to be, in Christianity, synonymous with the Devil.

The Dark Forest

Wandering in the Dark Forest, is the symbol for the Dark Night of the Soul. You are lost. It seems even God has left you to grope your way through your own blindness, left you unprotected to face the monsters you grew in the shadowy corners of your mind that lurk and block you until you admit their presence. No one can advise you in the murky terrain of your own soul.  It is the helpless, lonely stage of the Quest, where no one answers your questions, where you don’t even know the right questions to ask, and comfort is in short supply.

But look again at the picture. High in the antler/branches of the Stag, are birds fluttering their wings. They hover just below the culminating symbol of what I guess is an embryonic deer, seeded in the womb space that pokes into the Upper World just under the earth. Singing, the birds conjure a blazing light around the top of the tree. Yet they seem to be barred from ascending to the Upper World, where light and life is. These birds show, not that there is a way out of the darkness, but that there is light in the darkness. The symbol also shows that the antlers of the Underworld Stag terminate in buds. These buds will flower and live again when conditions are right.

Seeing the pattern of the antler/tree reminds me of the labyrinthine path one follows in the forest of the soul. I have come to believe you must tread the maze completely before you are able to come back out into the light where the birds sing and fly free. This is because the pattern and boundary of the maze are fixed– its route, and our journey along it, is pre-ordained by the nature of its fixity.

Birds have always been symbols of the Soul. The presence of birds tell us this is soul work, this Stag chase into the woods is how we reclaim our soul.

Our Reward:Coziness

When we return to the light and the living, we find our way to the sunny mountaintop where a cozy cottage sits in plain view with smoke coming out of the chimney. A warm, welcoming fire awaits us. We see the forest far below, visible and no longer threatening. Nothing can ever threaten us again, once we have faced the darkest dark and gone through it, not even the Devil with his horns and cloven hooves can scare us!

Looking closely at the image of the little hut on the hill, we see the impressions of flowers growing along a path that climbs a hill of solar rays, and terminates in a fire inside the house. Smoke flows out of the chimney.The land is cleared and the view is spectacular. In the distance, across the treetops of the forest, we see another such hill with another little hut with smoke coming out of the chimney.  We are separate but not alone.

The flowers bloom from the buds at the points of the antlers that poke up out of the Underworld, the path ending in fire is an extension of the central trunk of the Tree of Life. Though the mountaintop is a classic symbol of spiritual attainment, this image is homely, earthy. The path of the Horned God does not lead to a celestial abode of angels and endless harping, but to life close to nature without being at its mercy. We are sovereign, but not lonely. But as the path leads up, it also leads down again. Our relationship with the God is cyclical and permanent. As this image so eloquently tells us, the Stag/God/Tree sustains us as he sustains all of life through nature.

Herne the Hunter and his Symbols

There were many other spirits that came to me with Herne — all of them part of his iconography, listed on his Table of Correspondences. When Christina described these things to me, the information was all the more convincing for my not having known it consciously before.

Herne’s Rites are traditional for Autumn Equinox, but I learned by experience that the Rites of Autumn are foreshadowed in the Spring, due perhaps to that Scorpio Full Moon at Beltane. The veil is thin at both seasonal tides, and when the veil is thin, the spirits come out upon the Earth.

Among the images associated with the Stag God are:

Harvest: First is the Harvest of Grain. Then comes the Harvest of Grapes for the wine. Third is the Harvest nuts. Last is the Harvest of Souls.

The idea of a Harvest of Souls always stirs us. It comes at the time of Samhain as we descend into the freezing darkness of Winter. Perhaps in primal times, many humans died at this time. The ancient Celts had a tradition of flogging each other with birch rods to cleanse impurities from the soul. I imagine this was a kind of insurance in case one did not survive the snows. In Christian times, the weak and sick must have run to the priests to cleanse their sins and gain absolution. Certainly the priests used this time of worry to harvest souls for Christ.

But Samhain was also a time for hunting. A large animal such as a  stag would provide meat for many weeks, feeding a family in the deepest winter months when it was dangerous to stray out of doors. For farmers, October/November would have been a time to slaughter livestock, weeding out the old so that the new born in the Spring would be strong and healthy. Thus, the animal souls were harvested by the Gods, brought home again to be reborn in the Spring.

Symbols: Grapes, Wine, Vines, Garlands

The vines suddenly burst up through my bed, driving up over the sheets to wrap around me like snakes. Lengthening at a great speed, the green vines shot up through my mattress to bind me for the God.

Animals: Wolves!

If you ever get to read my fiction you will see I have been just as busy with wolves as I have been with Stag/Men.

Wolves prowled around the edge of my protective circle — but, strangely,  couldn’t get in.  Everything else did. Also Dogs, Birds of Prey, Blackbirds, Stags, Goats, Salmon ( the wisdom part)

Plants: Vines, Ivy, Cedar, Hops

Ritual Meaning: Celebrating the Second Harvest, Darkness Overtaking Light, Celebration of Wine.

Often Initiation leads through a death and second birth. In those terms, a second harvest  would have to do with gathering the fruits of the second birth, sacrificing those fruits in preparation for another death. So the cycle goes round and round.

Deities: All Wine Deities especially Dionysus and Bacchus, Persephone, Modron, Morgan le Fay, Demeter, the Muses, Snake Woman, Sphinx, Thoth, Hermes.

Oh my! All of my most significant Gods and Goddesses! What could it all mean?

Activities: Wine Making and Adorning Graves.

What is this connection with wine and death? Anyone? Perhaps the answer is here: Stirring the Witchblood: John Barleycorn Must Die

Foods: Grapes, Acorns, Root Crops, Nuts, Apples (Goddess), Wine, Ale, Cider.

Witchcraft is the Green Religion

I am not writing all of this to blather on about myself, but to show how real the Initiation of the Horned God was and how real the Gods are. They were not contrived by ancient poets and bards, they were not invented by story tellers. They exist in their own Time/ Space and can be contacted through magical rituals and conscious observation. Our ancestors lived with these Gods and Goddesses, communicated with them regularly, made sacrifices to them to insure an abundant harvest. These ancestors were not silly children with overactive imaginations. Rather we moderns lack the instincts and intelligence of our forebears. We give nature short shrift, deny her our true attention. What right do we have to decide that the Gods of Earth do not exist just because we have cut off the organs we used to have to see them with? Safe inside the walls of our cities, we have decided that nature, our very source and provider, is irrelevant.

Seeing the spirits of the land, respecting the Gods and Goddesses of Earth proves that the Earth and all of nature is alive! The Gods embody the wisdom and sentience of the Earth, the animals her soul, the plants her spiritual essence. The Gods may be forceful towards those of us with the Sight because it is so important that they re-establish their priesthood. Who else will say what I am saying here: The Earth is your Mother, the Sky is your Father. That which is Above is as that which is Below. The Under World of spirit gives life to the Upper World of mortality. Without one, the other cannot exist.

Please be aware that you are walking on the Gods.

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Everything Has a Soul

One cannot have the Witchblood and perceive nature as a collection of dead objects to be harvested or exploited. For ones like us, everything is alive and has consciousness. That consciousness is not the same as human consciousness, but since we are all on this earth together, we share a certain life force, a certain reality base that has been obscured for human beings by things like ‘religion’, ‘science’ and materialist philosophy, by ‘rationalism’ and other reductionist, fear based, ideologies.
Open your heart and you will ‘know’ that the trees speak, the animals have much to share with you, what the mountain gives, and the seas transmit.  That all of it is nothing except love. All of nature will vivify, and open itself to you, and you will walk into a magical world.
The downside is that all the abuse and cruel exploitation of the ‘rationalists’, scientific reductionists, and harvesters, can break your heart.

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Legacy of the Witchblood


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?”
“Of course.”
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.”
“Mysteries.”
“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?”
“Yes.”
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.



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13 Signs that You Have the Witchblood

When you are born with the Witchblood there are things that move you, things that other people may not notice or may not care about, but that mean a great deal to you. These are usually natural things, for a true Witch lives in alignment with Faery and Faery is part of the natural world. Despite what computer games may suggest to you, The Faery flees metal, synthetics, unbalanced electro-magnetic waves, and will not appear where there is not an open and receptive heart.

These are the signs by which we are known and by which we know ourselves:

1:  You love the moon and all things related to the moon: Night, mirrors, pools of water,  owls, cats, the sound of frogs and crickets singing, pearls, crystals, willow trees, night blooming jasmine….

2:You love what is old and speaks of the past: Castles, ruins, stately homes, old books especially magic books, antiques, fairy tales, folk ballads…

3: You respond to silence and can sit for long periods of time in the woods, or by the sea, just communing with the trees and sky, the animals and the spirits of the place. You recognize ‘power spots’ and go back to them frequently for refreshment.

4: You are drawn to graveyards and tombs, the older the better, for you are in touch with the ancestors, those who have gone before and you know instinctively that the dead are still alive in a parallel dimension.

5: You dress differently to others. You feel the need to be in a distant time and place and so express yourself  as if you were already there. Your visions of the Faery will be clothed like you because the time and place you long for is Faery.

6: Animals are attracted to you and you to them. They sense your strong connection to nature and the Faery and so they trust you. Horses and cats, dogs and deer will approach you and wish to speak with you. You may know how to do this even if it happens below the level of awareness.

7: You are interested in Tarot cards, Astrology and perhaps you watch the stars and know the constellations. Divination is constantly fascinating for you. The movements of these things through Gypsy caravans and passed through the hands of Magicians with their magical books of sigils and talismans are your favorite areas of study.

8: Solitude is you friend for it allows you to commune with your soul where all things come together in the still center. From that place you are able to create, to bring forth the images of beauty and poetry that live within you that are the gift of your dual perception through Nature to Faery.

9: You are creative and artistic, a born poet, a painter of visions, a singer of strange songs. Especially if you are Green Ray, you are compelled to express what is in through the arts.

10: You can feel alone in a crowd, alien to the others, as if the people around you are less real that whatever it is that calls you from over the low, dark hills. Feeling misunderstood and as if you are not from this world is a common  phenomenon.

11: You are very sensitive, empathic and kind unless your empathy has been terrible abused and your sensitivity trampled and scorned. Then you can become very vindictive and seek the left hand path.

12:Stories and books about weird things, fantasy, fairy tales, ghost stories, sci-fi, dark fantasy and horror, erotica, lives of outsiders, arcane subjects and history bring you endless enjoyment. But this is not because it is fashionable, or only a whim. This is because the authors of these works are like-minded souls who experience and understand the same things you do  and are able to share worlds that you know exist, even when many dismiss them as ‘imaginary.’

13: The main three religions are uncomfortable for you. You cannot accept that thee is only one God, cannot believe in a philosophy that leaves out the earth and the rest of the living things to focus soley on mankind. You know in the depths of your soul that the Earth is our Mother from whom we are born and to whom we return, and to whom we owe our very life in between.

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