Legacy of the Witchblood and Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches

Legacy of the Witchblood and Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches

“Lasher, for the wind that you send that lashes the grasslands, for the wind that lashes the leaves from the trees.”

witches

In her classic first volume of the  Chronicles of the Mayfair Witches, The Witching Hour, Anne Rice bases the witchy status of her characters on their relationship to a discarnate spirit called Lasher. Conjured through the veil in the 17th century by Scottish Merry Begot,  Suzanne of the Mayfair, Lasher’s presence is  heralded by the branches of the trees and bushes lashing the wind.

Suzanne’s unwise choice to dabble in magic got her burned in Donnelaith, but not before Lasher fell in love with Suzanne’s beautiful daughter, Deborah. He gave her a bottomless purse of gold and  a large emerald pendant with his name inscribed on the back to be passed down to all the Mayfair witches. For all his gifts, Lasher’s witches suffer tragic untimely deaths and madness. Deborah was burned at the stake for witchcraft in France.

Symbolism of the Emerald

The emerald is the classic stone of Faery and has many occult associations, not the least being the color of the green earth and the favored eye color of Faery beings.The Holy Grail is associated with the emerald that fell from Lucifer’s crown when he fell to earth after the Battle of the Rebel Angels in Heaven. It signifies the Emerald Tablet of Thrice Great Hermes and the philosophers stone.

image12

In each each succeeding generation of Mayfairs, the spirit, Lasher, would attach himself to a female child gifted with the “sight”, granting her the emerald and a bottomless purse in exchange for the energy he needs to gradually acquire a physical body. Sometimes Lasher is referred to as the Devil—-the traditional King of all witches—- Lucifer.

The Question of Witchblood

Though The Witching Hour is a work of fiction, thought by most people to be a fantasy, Anne Rice got me thinking about my own inheritance of the Witchblood.

*In modern witchcraft, Witchblood is usually thought of as bloodline stemming from ancestors who practiced the Craft. It is a formal initiation that is passed down from parent to child. My abilities did not come to down through a line of practicing witches, at least not consciously.

*In Celtic Faery Tradition, Witchblood can be the result of mediating Faery—-the archetypal Realm of the Ancestors. If done long enough, your ancestors “wake up in your blood”. Since the ancestors  of most, if not all peoples of earth, were  pagans, then any cunning craft or magical abilities  they had will come back to life in the Faery Seer’s blood.

*One thing that Anne Rice suggests is that the mark of a witch is the possession of psychic powers and the ability to see spirits. I agree that those abilities are all of a piece. What is it about these abilities that make one a witch? What is a witch anyway?

I think a witch is someone walks on the earth in a sacred manner and all of nature responds. Especially spirits. Like animals, they know who comes from the heart and who doesn’t. But if a spirit is summoned for selfish purposes—well this a realm where indeed you get what you give.

How Do You See Spirits?

I have been seeing spirits for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the woods and most of the spirits I saw were spirits of those woods. I saw the past life of the land roll out like film reels. I saw ghosts. I never feared these beings, rather I thought they were marvelous and they intrigued me. I never questioned why I could see them, I just did. I also knew by instinct that very few other people had these visions.

In The Mayfair Witches, Lasher reveals his agenda to Rowan Mayfair. She is the thirteenth witch in the family line and thus the one who is strong enough to help him to gain what he wants most profoundly, a human form.

witches

This notion of the witch having the strength to assist a spirit to manifest got me re-thinking about how we see spirits.

The spirits exist independently of us, whether we see them or not. Since our age of gross Materialism, very few people see them any more. Some people call the ability to the view the Unseen, a “gift”, or a special dispensation from God or the Devil depending on your view. Most people who think this don’t have it.

(I think Anne Rice has it…)
I always thought this clairvoyance was just part of a package  with a sensitive, nervous temperament and was kind of enhanced power of  creative imagination.
Then I thought it had to do with innate spirituality. Some us are born seers, people who in ancient cultures would have been members of a priest class.
Karma was another explanation, previous lifetimes of spiritual practice that opened the Third Eye.

These were the ideas I played while reading The Witching Hour..

I also thought it might have been a genetic inheritance from my French, Irish and Iroquois ancestors—–natural mediumistic races  all. I also thought of trance mediums oozing ectoplasm and causing spirits to materialize and bump the table up and down.

Now that might have at the back of Anne Rice’s mind when she was writing her book, among other things.

After reading The Mayfair Witches, I have another idea.

Spiritual Frequency as Materializing Force

Anne Rice suggests that Lasher’s ability to materialize is strengthened as each succeeding Mayfair witch grows stronger. The tide of passed-on experience and Lasher’s interference in the gene pool of the Mayfairs by pairing the most psychic family members to conceive the next child, increases the power of the new witch to bring him through.

What this means to me is that my ability to “see” spirits may not be a “sight” based thing at all. Rather,  I emit the right energetic frequency that allows discarnate spirits to densify in my presence.

witch15

When the Tuatha deDanaan came through my house back in 1997-98, they came as holograms —-complete and life-sized  3-dimensional light bodies dressed in the clothing of 12th century France. By that time, I had been working as a full time  energy healer in the long wake of a full blown kundalini awakening in 1989. My frequencies were sky rockets.

This level of frequency can only be attained when one is aligned to the vibration of Divine Love and the Soul of the World. It comes from the heart where no malice can be exist because it is instantly neutralized at that vibrational level. This is why I know the Faeries are not evil.

So—-did I simply lend the necessary vibrations to these Faeries that allowed them to take on material substance?
Would they have been coming through my house even if I couldn’t have seen them?
Or were they attracted to my space because of the frequencies, and knew I would be able to lend them form—and see them?

When they ordered me to start painting the Grail Keepers Tarot, I asked them why they chose me. I had lapsed as far as art was concerned and wasn’t good enough for such a project. They told me I was the only one who could do it, because I could see them and they could see me.

Children and the Sight

That still doesn’t explain how I, or anyone, could help them appear when I was a child.
The time of early childhood is a more likely time for these experiences. Is that because the purity of the child’s heart and thus vibration is so much stronger than an adults? Are many more of us born with the Witchblood than we realize?

Part of the lore of Faery is that they love to materialize. They seek to share with us this creation of life on earth. Anne Rice’s Lasher is a trickster figure, not really evil so much as corrupted by desire and ambition learned from his contact with human beings. This is also an interesting idea. The pure spirit is innocent. Physicality exerts it own influences. In Faery Tradition we say that the Faery being takes on the form we project upon it. We have the ability, in creating the conditions that allow them to materialize, to also influence their natures.

It has been my observation that many people who are raised, even today, in cultures where magic is practiced and the spirits are corrupted, flock into Christian churches for protection. They’ve been burned! The trouble with doing spells for worldly things has to do with all the desires and guilts and unclear emotions that human beings bring to the spirits. If the spirits  screw it up and your magic backfires, it is because that is the energy you were exchanging with them. Love begets love, malice begets malice, and even trickier, lust begets lust and all the Seven Deadlies.

Just like Lasher…

My Faeries were never evil, but then I didn’t expect anything of them except that they show me what they wanted all of us to know.

There was a time, I believe, when many many more people, if not all people could bring spirits through. The advent of the Industrial revolution and its rampant destruction and disregard for the natural world have not only closed our inner eyes, our minds, and darkened our knowledge of our origins on planet earth, but has closed the portals to Faery. I think witchblood flows through all of us. I think it is the life force of the earth. The sad part about losing it is that we are out of harmony and taking everything else with us.

Blackwings

For a really great blog post about The Witching Hour by Anne Rice check out Caroline Tully’s blog Necropolis

necropolisnow.blogspot.com

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What are the Magical Signs of Autumn?

Celtic Trees of the Equinoxes

Bloeuwedd by Emily Brunner

Blodeuwedd by Emily Brunner

Ogham

Those of you who have been following this blog have probably noticed that I am a great lover of trees and would naturally be drawn to the poetry of Celtic Ogham, the Sacred Tree Oracle of Ireland.

Ogham was used as a writing system, similar to Runes and are perhaps as ancient, coming from times when priests divined the future by the flight of geese, the entrails of men and animals, and the way the twigs and branches of the trees crossed the sky. There are thirteen trees, one for each lunar month, and they correspond to a letter — or a sign for a sound that makes up a word. Each tree is appropriate for the time of year in which its month falls. For instance, at Samhain, the Celtic New Year, the month of November is marked by Birch. Birch rods were used for purification. As the people moved through the gate of the year,they were flogged with birch branches to drive out undesirable energies. Thus they were enables to go through the dangerous dark time of year in a state where the darkness would not be able to find them or  stick to them.

Each tree was symbolized by a series of marks drawn on sticks. they could also be made with formations of the hands and fingers, and it has been said that the Druids used hand ogham as a form of sign language to keep their messages secret from the Romans.

ogham staves

ogham staves

Whitethorn, Blackthorn, Flower Maiden, Owl

As we move into Autumn, we move closer to Faery, and the veil is thinnest on the approach to Samhain.

Thorn trees line the paths into Faery. The entrances are graced by the Hawthorn, Maythorn, or Whitethorn, of Beltane. At the end of the road is the Blackthorn that marks the path into the Underworld.

Hawthorn, or Whitethorn, was once used to decorate May poles. At one time Hawthorns were believed to be Witches who had transformed themselves into trees. Witches have long danced and performed their rites beneath the thorn.

The Whitethorn is sacred to the Faery Queen, the Welsh Triple Goddess Olwen of the White Track, as well as the Flower Maiden, Blodeuwedd. These are all goddesses of transformation who stand at the gates of the year when darkness blossoms into light, and light  bleeds into darkness.

Though the Maythorn is white,  seeds of darkness are within it, for the bird with which it is associated is the Night Raven and its color is “Terrible”. It is also the sister of the trickster magpi, the cloven hoofed goat, the imitative cuckoo, and the dragonfly.  This symbolism suggests that  deep within the forces of  youth, life, and beauty, hides the germ of betrayal and death. Birth is but the beginning of a journey that leads to the same grim destination, no matter what twists and turns the path takes to get us there.

Blossoms

The Whitethorn (or Maythorn or Hawthorn) blooms brightest during the season of Beltane.  In April, May and June, it is full, bushy, strongly perfumed, and buzzing with a thousand bees drawn to the nectar that that heady fragrance shows off. Under the gauzy femininity of the Whitethorn in flower, are branches studded with long, sharp, penetrating thorns. The thorns are masculine: protective and phallic.  Flowering in Spring, the Whitethorn is associated with fertility; it stimulates eroticism, and encourages the fulfillment of desire. Its pallor brings it under the rulership of the Moon, long the Queen of Romantic Love, and Mother of Souls. The Moon in this role can also be compared with the Queen of the Bees that harvest the honey of the Whitethorn.

Thorns

Thorns are about penetration, breaking through the surface and letting blood. When we open to the Faery, sometimes we must let a little blood, get over our fears of pain and letting go. While the thorns of the Whitethorn symbolize sexual union, those of the Blackthorn symbolize death.

I also recall the paths between the graves in Highgate Cemetery being bordered with Whitethorn, the primary Faery tree. So again the mixing of light and darkness within the same symbol.

In 1997, I went into the depths of Cornwall looking for Modron’s Well, a sacred well of healing and wish granting. I had to walk about three miles before I came to a path that wound between frothy white bushes of Maythorn in full bloom. The sound of the bees was so loud and the scent of the may so strong, that I was in a light trance by the time I got to ruin of Modron’s Chapel and the Wishing Well, I was well into Faery. I know well the power of the Goddess in her white gown of flowers and thorns.

Straith

The Blackthorn tree is esoterically known as both the Mother of the Woods and the Dark Crone of the Woods. The sharp thorns were reputedly used by English witches to pierce poppets in their curses, called the “pins of slumber.”

As we enter the dark time of year, the Blackthorn, or Sloe Tree, begins to throw its shadow over the path. As we touch the lintel of the gates to Faery we will feel a blast of cold air, and we may hear the howling of wolves far off in the snow and darkness at the other side of Samhain. The blackbird and the toad attend the Blackthorn. In the same sense that darkness lurks at the heart of the light in Spring, so does light shine in the heart of the Blackthorn, for one only has to hear the gorgeous song of a blackbird in contrast to that of Night Raven, and to know that the Sacred color of Blackthorn is “Bright”. In folklore, the toad is said to have potent jewel in its forehead capable of dispensing lucid dreams.

The sloes, or British Plums that are the fruit of the Blackthorn are left to putrefy and transformed into Sloe Gin — a form of resurrection from dissolution, similar to that of John Barleycorn.

The night of the Blackthorn is that of the Old Moon, lit up by fires that mark the road into the Underworld of Faery where the Dark Goddess dwells with all her reckoning power. There we find Emain Macha fortress of the Goddess of Death, the Black Man of the forest with his book of souls, and his black dog that is said to be the devil. We find the Old Mother of the Woods — the classic Witch of Grimm’s fairy tales. As a thorned tree, Blackthorn is also protective. It can be used as a hedge, or its strong branches woven into fencing, to keep animals inside a pasture and the predators out.

Flower Face: Blodeuwedd

In between the betwixt and between, of the White and Black thorns is the Flower Maiden, Blodeuwedd. She has been very important to me in the last few years, appearing in the oddest places in my writing and my dreams. When I first went to England I found this poster in a small village in Somerset. It was past its time so I took it home and have it still.

Company of Strangers: a Wife Out of Flowers

Company of Strangers: A Wife Out of Flowers

The story of Blodeuwedd, from the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi: Tale of Math Son of Mathonwy,  in a nutshell, is this:

Lleu Llaw Gyffes was placed under three curses by his mother the Goddess, Arianrhod, and the last of these dictates was that he will never have a human wife.

Thwarting the Great Goddess’s rage, King Math, and Lleu’s uncle Gwydion, created a  beautiful wife for Lleu out of nine flowers, among them broom, meadowsweet, and oak.   She was called “Flower Face” or  Blodeuwedd. Since she was not human, Lleu was able to marry her and escape his mother’s curse.


One day, when Lleu was away from home visiting Math, Blodeuwedd saw a nobleman, the Lord of Penllyn, Gronw Pebr, passing by. She invited him in, to stay for a while. ( it would be rude not do so). They fell in love, and this led to the desire to kill Lleu.


Lleu had strong protection. There was only one way he could be killed, and that was his special secret. But clever Blodeuwedd tricked him into telling her what the conditions were, and they were these: He could not be killed indoors or outdoors, on horseback or on foot; and only by a spear forged when people were attending mass could inflict a fatal wound.  Yet even this killing could only take effect if he had one foot on a bathtub and one on a goat (the bathtub being placed on a river bank, but under a roof) and by someone using the sacred spear.

Gronw sepnt a year making the spear just as he was instructed by Blodeuwedd.


When the year was up,  Blodeuwedd managed to persuade Lleu to show her the odd position, of standing with one foot on a goat and one in a bathtub,  in which he might be killed. Suspecting nothing, he did so. Gronw, who had been waiting in ambush, threw the spear  at him. However, rather than dying outright Lleu turned into an eagle and flew away, sorely wounded.

Gronw then took Blodeuedd as his wife, and with her, Lleu’s land.


Llues’ uncle Gwydion went in search of him, and following the guidance of a magical pig, found him in his eagle form, and still suffering from his wound, at the top of an oak tree by a lake. He called him down from the tree with three stanzas of poetry called
englyn Gwydion, that transformed him back into a man. Gwydion took him home where Math nursed him back to health. When he was fully recovered, Lleu sought revenge on Gronw and his wife.


Blodeuwedd heard of this and fled, taking her maidens with her. They were so frightened, that they walked backwards to make sure nobody attacked them from behind. Unfortunately, they ended up falling into a lake. Only Blodeuwedd survived. Gwydion captured her, and instead of killing her, turned her into an owl saying
:” You will not show your face to the light of day, rather you shall fear other birds; they will be hostile to you, and it will be their nature to maul and molest you wherever they find you. You will not lose your name but always be called Blodeuwedd.”


Gronw offered Lleu land or money as payment, but Lleu would only accept one resolution: that he throw a spear at Gronw in the same way that he had been attacked. Gronw accepted, but asked that a large stone be placed between him and Lleu as a sheild. Nevertheless, Lleu threw the spear right through the stone and killed Gronw. After this, he took back his lands, and later succeeded Math as king of Gwynedd.

Goddess of Dark and Light, the Thresholds of the Year.

Blodeuwedd has within her the same light and dark qualities as the Whitethorn and Blackthorn trees that mark the way into Faery. Made of the flowers, she is the essence of Springtime fertility, youth, and beauty. At the core of this beauty lurks the seed of betrayal and death, for she was created to foil the curse of the Great mother, Arianrhod. This betrayal turns on Lleu as he is struck dead with a blackthorn spear. (The myth says he becomes and eagle, but birds are so often symbols of the soul in art, and in tales, that people who become birds can be thought of as dead.) Her transformation into an owl throws her through the Blackthorn gate and out into the night.
In this she is similar to Lillith — the Demoness who usurped the power of man and was banished for it into the outer darkness.
One can  follow Blodeuwedd as she grows. First she is the Whitethorn at the head of the Faery path at Beltane, then she dips into shadow as her blossoms fall and leaves and haws cover her in red and green. In Autumn, she  flies through the gates of the  Equinox to become the Owl of Samhain.

The owl as oracular bird, omen of death, calling unseen from the darkness, is found in many folk traditions.

The Eternal Unfolding of Darkness and Light

The thing I love about this Goddess, and all of the Celtic goddesses, is how they are all inclusive: the sweetness and light are not allowed to stand alone, making them insipid and flat. Rather, they bear the seeds of mystery, a dark glamor that gives them a disturbing, yet vital quality. One never knows exactly how to read these Goddesses. Something always remains aloof. Though there is seeming  danger here, there is also the promise of knowledge of life beyond mortality, of living consciousness that transcends bodily existence as spirit living in dimensions of the Unseen, and yet bound to return again in the time of  flowering.

Not of mother and father
Did my Creator create me
But of nine-formed virtues,
Of the fruit of fruits,
Of the fruit of the primordial God,
Of primroses and blossoms,
Of the flower, wood and tree.
Cad Goddeu

The owl has a flower face…

Related article:

How to Communicate With Trees

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Witches Familiars: The Witchery of Birds

Flight has always belonged to Witches, therefore we share a kinship with the birds.

There are as many different types of Witches and there are of birds as well. Each have their own qualities, abilities and traditions.

Here I will list a three birds that have been special to me: the Swan, the Crow, and the Owl.

I hope you will be inspired by my list to suggest some of your own.

Part 1: The Swan

The White Swan has been my familiar for a very long time. I was first given Whiteswan as a spiritual name by a Salish Indian spiritual leader who said he saw it in me. Later on, I had a Vedic, or Indian, Astrological Reading that revealed the symbol of the white swan in my seventh house. I was told the white swan in a Vedic horoscope is a sign of enlightenment. It is also significant that my rising sign, Taurus, is also ruled by Venus, the Goddess associated with swans. I think the spiritual leader “saw’ some real stuff!

Swans have an ancient association with the Goddess’s of Love due to their great beauty, and their tendency to mate for life. Ungainly on land, they blossom on the water like translucent lotuses, and in the air, they soar higher than almost any other bird. Because of their power of flight, birds, in general, represent the Soul rising heavenward. But, especially in Irish tradition,  the swan has also been associated with the journey of the soul  going over the sea into the west, the direction of the setting sun, to the Country of the Dead.

The White Swan shines like the moon on the water. The swan has always been a symbol of romance, sacred to Venus and Aphrodite.  The Black Swan can be said to represent the Dark Side of the Moon, and of Love. Together, the white and black swans are a perfect reflection  of the Goddess in her dual aspect of Love and Death, as well as in her cycle of Death and Rebirth.

The swan is mute, but legend has it that, at death, the swan sings its passage into the Otherworld. I know when I have done really deep Shamanic work, it has been the swan’s plaintive cry that has led me over the threshold into the Kingdom of Shadows.

Aphrodite and the Swan

I love what Buffie Johnson says about This sculpture in  her fabulous book, Lady of the Beasts:

A Greek terra-cotta (sixth century B.C.E.) shows Aphrodite standing in somber splendor on a giant swan. She wears a high tower crown and  carries a small casket, a reference to her possession of the hidden knowledge of death and the sectret of new life…A large and powerful bird, the swan is one of the earliest in the evolutionary chain, with an extra vertebrae in its spine and a mechanism above its beak to adapt to either salt or fresh water. The swan’s whiteness alludes to Aphrodite’s purity and dignity. Throughout the Bronze Age the swan acts as her epiphany or alternate form. Later, she no longer takes the form of the bird; she rides on it.

The black swan is the familiar of the Gorgon. She is called Golden Winged Medusa when she appears with the double wings of the black swan. These double wings along with her body tattoos, rosettes, swastikas, lozenges, and plant motifs reveal her a an embodiment of the Old Goddess. Her fangs and lolling tongue were a symbol of her power to draw rain, making her a important deity for farmers. The swastikas on the black swans’ wings turn both right and left to indicate that life and death move one into the other with ease. It was Medusa’s power over this that caused those who looked at her to be turned to stone.

The Divinity of Pale Creatures

White animals have been seen in many primal cultures as being spirit animals. I think this partly because of their eerie, ghostly appearance as well their association with the north. Souls, especially Witch souls, come down through the lunar tides to the North Pole, before being grounded in the womb.  I think the linking images of white and snow and stars glistering the winter skies during the dark of the moon, contribute to this perception.

The swan is a liminal creature. There is a twilight quality to the swan. It lives by sea and lake, flies high and dives deep under the water. When I was in Ireland in 1996, I went to Innishmore. It was a beautiful day, so a friend and I bicycled to the very tip of the island where the ruins of a 4000 year old ring fort faced a 300 foot sheer drop to the ocean crashing below. Peaked rocks went out like standing stones into the surf and the sun was almost touching the waves, turning the sea to molten silver when we decided it was tme to turn back.

We took the route that went along the shore on opposite side from which we had come. Heaped on our right side were little stone enclosed pastures and on our left, the darkening sea. The sky was turquoise and the moon was just in front of us, huge and full and the color of amber. Beyond the moon was the flash of a lighthouse guiding us back to the town.

We turned a bend and I had to stop. There was a little lagoon with a spit like row of standing stones going out along it. A heron sat at the end of the spit barely visible in the twilight. Then I saw a flash of white brilliance as on the far side of the lagoon, at the edge where the land met the sea, a white swan stood up, went down to the water, and floated there with the moonlight shining in its feathers.

This was surely a vision of the divinity of Earth.

Swans as familiars of the Gods

Swans have been connected to Gods as well as Goddesses.

Zeus famously turned himself into a swan to ravish Leda who then gave birth to Helen of Troy — a true priestess  of the Goddess of Love and War, whose extraordinary beauty brought the ancient world to its knees.

For male witches and Aradia fans, I found this lovely sculpture of Apollo with the swan. Here the swan is the moon,  sister of the God of the Sun.

The snake-like neck of the swan makes it a perfect masculine fertility symbol. The bird can even be said to combine both male and female elements in its form. The swan’s refection of the Inner Marriage is probably why it is included as an emblem in Alchemy in which it represents the aetheric, or shapeshifting, body.

Also see my article on Heimdall which the Swan brought to me in a dream.

Heimdall, Rowan, Aquarius, Winter Dreams

Celtic Tradition

It never ceases to amaze me how a soul can draw to itself congruent images. I have long been into Celtic Tradition, dating back to my first exposure to folk music from Ireland and Scotland as a child.

The Goddess, Brighid  therefore was a special deity for me especially when my Faery Seership reached its peak in the mid 1990′s.

The presence of the Swan is very strong in Celtic Tradition, being  associated with deities like Brighid who  participate in the symbiosis of the healing waters and the sun. They are associated with music, poetry, love, purity and the soul. They are shape-shifters, can take human form, and have mastered the elements of water, earth and air.

Among Druids, the Swan represents the soul, and in accordance with its death aspect,  is associated with the Festival of Samhain. The swan aids us in traveling to the Otherworld. Swans are also sacred to Bards, and their skin and feathers were used to make the tugen, the ceremonial Bardic Cloak.

Irish tales

Swans appear throughout Irish folklore. An Otherworldly bird, they are often the disguise of Fairy Women. At certain times of year, a swan maiden can transform herself back into a human, such as at Summer Solstice, Beltane or Samhain, when the veils between the worlds are thin.

The White Swans of the Wilderness were children of the Tuatha de Danaan, who settled Ireland, and became the sidhe after the invasion of the Milesians.

Grail Swan by Arlene deWinter

Grail Swan by Arlene deWinter

The Swan and the Holy Grail

I cannot leave this topic without sharing what I know about  the Swan’s relationship with the Holy Grail.

The Grail Mystery was the driving force of my spiritual path long before I was even aware of it. The tie in of the Swan with the Grail has double significance for me.

As I said above, there is a Hermetic aspect to the swan, which makes it not only a great Witches Familiar, but also a perfect companion for the Ceremonial Magician who works with the Grail Mysteries..

Aphrodite was in very ancient times associated with the Morning Star, as was Lucifer.  Her chariot was drawn by swans. I feel the blood in the Grail is the blood of the Swan in its role as Sacrificed God. What that means in this context is the Grail is meant to give the one who attains its vision, life immortal, but this eternal life is not granted without sacrifice.  An example would be Percival’s sister, Dindrane, who dies giving her blood to the dying Goddess to bring her back to life and fitness to rule — for Dindrane’s blood is charged with  the inborn power of the Grail. Because of this, she is transmuted into the form of a spiritual guide, or Muse, that powers the Grail Ship and brings her brother and his fellow knights into the Holy City. In that sense, Dindrane is like the white swan, the boat, the famous Swan Boat, and her death, a song.

My actual experinece of the Grail and Swan comes from my inter-dimensional contact with the Faery race of teh Tuatha deDanaan who brough the Grail Procession and the deeper Grail Mysteries into my house in the mid 1990′s. Because of the power of these visitations, I know I have a Faery soul whic, in Celtic Tradition, is associated with the White Swan. It is not an easy power to have. It is intense and cycles from light to dark to light often. It is much like what I show in the painting above which is the rear side to my Grail Keepers Tarot:

The swan bleeds into the Grail charged with Lucifer’s lost emerald of Gnosis. The Swan’s magical blood sets it alight, as the Swan dies and is reborn in the Grail. The stars are in the pattern of the Sign Aquarius, my sun sign and the emblem of the Grail Bearers.

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How To Create Moon Circles and Harness the The Power of the Moon

The Nightmare

The Nightmare by Fitzgerald

Painful Womanhood

When I was younger, I had horrendous menstrual periods. I dreaded every month as the symptoms came on, for it meant two days of agony, vomiting, dizziness, back pain, every kind of torture a girl can go through without dying.

During the 1980′s it was a new thing to discuss women’s health issues openly. Before that, it seemed all the doctors were men, or at least male thought dominated medical opinion, and so women’s maladies were dismissed as “hysterical”, “all in their heads”, or as my doctor told me as a teenager “Motherhood will cure you.”

Yet the pundits of the Women’s Movement in the 1980s’ were no better, especially when it came to gynacological problems. There were statistics about dysmenorea, the fancy word for  “cramps”, stating that women who were raised Catholic had much higher rates of menstrual problems.

Since I was raised Catholic, I actually bought this B.S. (I am sure the people who gathered this “data’ were not Catholic.) It was supposed to be a dysfunction of our legendary guilt trip.

It was actually caused by a growth spurt that went wonky when I was 14.


Moon Power

Trying to discover and understand  the roots of my problem via the Womens Spirituality Movement, (looming large in the 1980′s)  led me down the path of mythology. This suited me as I tend to mythologize everything anyway.

The menstrual cycle is ruled by the Moon. The Moon rules all the watery tides of life, including our blood, but the menses mirror the 28 day cycle of the Moon as well. The Number three is also important, for there are three phases of the Moon: Full, Dark and Crescent. These phases mirror the three phases of life for women: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. I don’t like the word Crone, I prefer something like Mentor which contains the root men, for it is a time when women take natural leadership roles if they have grown wise.  Even Elder is preferable, as Crone brings up images of decrepitude for me. Or how about calling us Hekate after the powerful Dark Moon Goddess?

The Moon stays in each phase for 3 days and most womens periods are 3 days long.

This is from the Online Etymological Dictionary:

menstrual Look up menstrual at Dictionary.com
1398, from O.Fr. menstruel, from L. menstrualis “monthly,” especially “of or having monthly courses,” from menstruus “of menstruation, monthly,” from mensis “month” (see menses). Menstruation first attested 1776; O.E. equivalent was monaðblot “month-blood.”

Moon, month, menses, mental, measure, moon blood, month blood, menisus, mensa, menses,mensuration, my moon, moontime, moon lodge, moo…

The moon, the month, the measure of time…

I studied the moon. I read everything I could from mythology, to Greek Drama, to poetry, to The Moonchild by Aleister Crowely, and Moon Magic by Dion Fortune.  On the desk in front of me I have my first book about the moon. It is called Moon, Moon, by Anne Kent Rush, and it was published in 1976.  It is one of the books that started me one the path of honoring the Triple Moon Goddess hoping she would heal my wise wound.

Moon Circles

In 1989 — such a long time ago now it seems — I brought together a group of close women friends for my first Moon Circle. This was the first time I had led led a ritual involving other people, and it was far from perfect. I wanted to bring my soul into harmony with the Moon in the hopes of healing my problem, but also to explore and address  Women’s Mysteries, which are Blood Mysteries having to do with generation, creativity, and birth. Our ability to bring another living being through our bodies is truly Goddess-like, far surpassing the attempts of magicians to create homunculii and Frankenstein monsters. (I never understood that drive considering the means of replicating human life exists everywhere in nature. — through the female.)

I also wanted to bring our Cycle out of the closet — for every female creature on planet Earth goes through some from of menses on a regular basis — over half the human race. So why can’t we be open about it? I wanted to erase the shame that our culture has attached to women’s bodies and mysteries from time immemorial.

Despite my crude initial attempts, four friends stayed with me as I held these circles every Sunday night close to the Full Moon and every Sunday night close to the Dark Moon. To be in harmony with the Moon meant menstruating on the Dark Moon to mirror the process of emptying and purification, and to ovulate on the Full Moon — the time of fullness and fertility. As women do, we began to synchronize our cycles. This told me the Circles were truly generating magical and healing power.

The more I led the Circles, the better they got. I wanted others to learn to lead it as well, but nobody ever stepped up to the plate and so it always fell to me.

These Circles went on for 9 years — then I left for England.  There was a steady core group of 4 women, but at one time I had as many as 12. Toward the end I began to include men as the energies had changed for me and I was tired of the feminist tendency to exclude men as if they were the enemy.

These Circles wers o powerful and healing that we hated to miss them. I had also opened powerful portals in my house through which the Faery would visit me in 1996.

Moon Bag

Two powerful we did to initiate entry into the Moon Circles was to have each woman make  a Moon Bag.

Here is mine:

I used to do a lot of bead work back then as you can see around the rim.

It is a circle of red velvet gathered with a cord. Very simple.

Inside you put your secrets. I can show mine now as I am Hekata.

It is a little muslin bag tied with red thread and symbols are marked upon it.

Herbs, flower petals, little charms are inside. I leave the rest to your imagination.

I also put my animal power inside: a white swan. In silver of course for the Moon.

This is a very powerful little Crane Bag, or Medicine Bag.

I also asked people to make their Moon Lodge shield. You can amke one by stretching leather over an embroidery hoop and painting it.

Moon Shield

Here is mine:

Using shamanic techniques, we journied into the Otherworld by opening and calling in the five directions, and drumming. This was immensley powerful as our power animals took us deep into parallel dimensions for healing, inspiration, and teaching.

In another post I will lay out the pattern for the Moon Circles in case you might want to start your own.

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Witches Familiars: Magic of the Horse

The White Mare of Britain

In April of 1996, I spent a full month traveling around the British Isles on what I called my “King Arthur Tour”, or my “Holy Grail Tour”.

The previous November, the visitations from the Tuatha de Danaan, or the Faery Court of Ireland,  had begun, plunging me into a life of altered realities: Grail Bearers processing through the house, portals opening in the aethers, visions of the Tarot cards as life sized holograms allowing me to enter and and return at will, etc. The Kingdom of Faery had moved into my house and had taken up residence there.

My eight year spiritual healing practice brought in a decent enough money for me to be able to travel to Europe. I was compelled to go to the Britain and ground my life-long obsession with the Arthurian Legends into my physical reality, as well as honor the sharp promptings of the Faery. So that April, I got on a plane to Heathrow and  landed in time for the sunniest April England ever experienced — I ended up living there for 9 years, so I should know! Having been warned about the cold and drizzle, I was always overdressed, but chic, I hope.

Part of my trip was to Cornwall to see Arthur’s birthplace, Tintagel Castle. It is a ruin of great antiquity that sprawls over the side of a cliff, crosses a channel, and continues up another cliff to the top where it overlooks the sea. It is park-like now, with green grass carpeting the ground between the rock formations of crumbled walls. You can look through loop holes and arches down to the rocky coast, or climb to the top of the cliff to sit in the remains of a walled garden. The sea surrounds you on all sides, waves crash and wallow in and out of deep caves, and drag away from the shore in a constant churning motion. And far below the castle, and deep under the cliff, is Merlin’s Cave.

I went down to Merlin’s Cave and went inside. It is quite a sensation to be a large cavern under the earth when you know an entire cliff and a castle tower over it, and that perhaps Merlin did indeed hide in this place. The cave looks very much like the painting above. It is a still, quiet haven at the edge of a tumultuous sea.

I tend to look for souvenirs from nature and found a nice, palm sized stone that had been worn down by the waves and by time, so that it looked a little like a fragment of solidified wave. Taking it outside into the light to examine it, I was amazed at what I saw! Traced in white crystals embedded in the gray stone was the head of a horse!

It looks more like a horse in real life, but it is definitely a horse!

Another syncronicity happened at that time. When Arthur was born at Tintagel Castle, it was said that a dragon tailed comet blazed in the sky to herald his birth. During the two days I stayed there, the Hale Bop comet floated in the sky  just above the water like a glowing golden ball in the twilight. It was a magical time.

Giant Horses Run Over the Hills

The British Isles are one of the most mystical places on earth. When one gets out of the smoggy, ghost ridden confines of London into the green hills of Wiltshire and Somerset, the train takes you through a landscape of green rolling hills, ancient villages crowned with tenth century churches, and endless populations of sheep.

Every now and then, the train rounds a bend and one sees a wonder. Little streams meander between rocky banks at the base of a crag, and in the near distance, a smooth, green mound looms, too perfect to have been made by nature. Is it the burial mound of an ancient King, or a Faery Rath, or a medieval storage unit? Then you will see more green hills and suddenly the White Horse, carved in the white lime rock of the land, gleams out at you. The more you travel, the more of them you see. What does it mean? Why do the English carve huge horses into the land that look like they are running over the hills?  When were they carved there? And why are they so carefully maintained? There weren’t always tourists coming through to see them. This is a land of sheep herders and farmers.

The Vale of the White Horse

The oldest chalk hill figure of a horse in Britain is the Uffington White Horse (see the top of the post). It is said to be between 3,000  and 10,000 years old. It is a a gigantic figure, 374′ in length, and was made of ditches dug into the hillside and filled in with white chalk. The stylized horse leaps across a steep hill above a lush, green, bowl- shaped valley called The Manger. According to local legend, on moonlit nights the horse leaves its place on the hillside to graze there.  (There has also been and annual cheese rolling festival there until recently).

Another steep hill ascends to what remains of Uffington Castle. It is one of the most gorgeous places in England. A friend and I did a ritual on top of a flat mound, called Dragons Hill,  in honor of the spirit of the Horse and the great Celtic Goddesses, Rhiannon and Epona who we suspect were revered there.

The other horses carved in the hills of England are more recent. One was created in Georgian times and others are Victorian. Though modern they are still in the spirit of the Uffington Horse, and are carefully maintained by English Heritage.  They were probably inspired by the Uffington Horse. I suspect crop circles may have a link to the Horses and other Hill Figures such as the Long Man, but who knows really…

The Horse and the Goddess of Sovereignty

It is said that horses existed in Britain before people. The small sturdy Dartmoor and Shetland ponies ran wild over the land. It isn’t strange then, for Sovereignty of the Isles of Britain to be symbolized by the Horse.

According to the apochrypha of Margaret Murray, the first human inhabitants of Britain were the Faeries. They tamed the wild ponies and stabled them in caves. The Celts invaded and, with their weapons of iron and their greater stature, overcame the Faeries, but the horse remained a sacred creature to them. To this day, the Irish are horse worshippers, as are the Gyspies who hold Horse Fairs in Britain during the summer.

Rhiannon, whom the Romans called Epona, was the Goddess of the Horse. The Mabinogian describes her as a Faery woman wearing a golden cloak and riding a white horse. The hero who follows her will never catch up, for she will stay just far enough ahead to elude and lure him into Faery.  In her story in the Mabinogian, Rhiannaon is put through a terrible trial that involves the sovereignty of Britain, in which she is forced to hand her power over to the men.

Spiritual Keys to the Land

If we consider how intimate humans and horses have been until very recent history, we may understand how the Horse Goddess can have been the Queen of the Land. Horses have been transportation, weapons of war, workers, slaves, food, muses, sacrifices, symbols of beauty, freedom and bondage. They have done our dirty work for centuries. Even now, they are hauled out at Christmas time to cart us around the city breathing the fumes from their mechanical replacements so their owners can make a little money and we can conjure up a little “Christmas spirit”.

As the indigenous creatures of the British Isles, horses were the first tribe. They therefore held the keys to the land. The Goddess, Rhiannon, whose name means Horse, was that key, was that interface with the land that grants rulership in a time when the earth was known to be alive and conscious. When nature and human interacted in deep relationship.

Therefore in old Ireland, the King had to marry the Goddess of Sovereignty, or Queen of the Land, in order to be endowed with the fertile power that was needed to rule. The ritual of Kingship is very strange and very old. In the occasion of his enthronement (a “renewal” of the world), the King would ritually mate with a mare, which was subsequently sacrificed. From its remains a broth was made, which was served communally to all.  This  sharing was how the population merged with the land, and mediated its fertility and power.

The White Horse and the Hill of Tara

I support the preservation of the Hill of Tara in Ireland as it is being threatened by development. The spiritual work being done there to claim it as a place of sacred significance is totally inspiring and awesome.

I am reprinting part of one of these rituals because the visualizations express so eloquently the power and magic of the Horse. It was led by Ireland’s Druid School and their website is at: www.druidschool.com.

Hill of Tara: Tara’s Celtic Goddess Dreaming

A suggested midnight visualization located in the high valley of Tara

“Tall leafy trees behind a Lady in White sitting on a White Mare; she leans forward offering a branch of thirteen leaves to three Celtic Women who open their hands to receive and reflect the old ways again. Eight Celtic Men form a semi circle around the three Celtic Women facing the Horse Goddess who emits a gentle white Light. Peace and Calm. Then, the neighing of a wild horse and the thunder of many hooves and the White Mare lifts her head to the gallop responding to the call to run free in the sacred valley… The ‘Three Ladies and the Eight Men’ of Tara step back enraptured in the graceful movement of the herd. This Fairy Host gallops along the entire Valley of the White Mare and down to the River of the Cow Goddess and back again, no fences or gates – just lush rolling grasslands edged by forest and overlooked by Rath Lugh and Rath Miles. Their free raw energy bursts through the mask of illusions every night at midnight. Light and freshness evolves in their space.”

Tara’s Celtic Goddess Heritage Park

“Join the visualisation / meditation / journeying at 23:59 Irish time, every night and heartlink to the Dreaming. The White Mare’s name is Edain Echraidhe and she lives in Ireland’s Celtic Goddess Heritage Park in the sacred valley of Tara. We suggest Rath Lugh as a focus for sending to. The co-ordinates of Rath Lugh are 693,829 / 761,317 and this magnificent monument is covered in trees, many of which are huge oaks and beech.
This desire dreaming of a Celtic Goddess Heritage Park around Tara’s sacred valley is to give substance to the White Mare as an expression of the Celtic Horse Goddess who then exposes those who seek to destroy the High Valley of the Royal City of Tara. But the night Mare is also kind and gentle and she will offer a lift to those who seek a return to the Light again, if asked properly.
Sunrise on Friday 22nd June”

Also, you can join the Hill of Tara at www.hilloftara.org and help save the Faery Halls!

Please let me know what you think and if I got all my details straight. this is a deep topic and I have lived with this knowledge for many years. Things expand as scholarship grows and I would love to know what you know and can add to the conversation.

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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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London: How I Encountered the Spirits of the Land

The Faery Queen and the Horned God

In March 1998, I went to live in London, England. I had thought I would stay there for 18 months while I researched my  Grail Bearers’ Tarot, but the Spirits of the Land had other plans for me. I have since come to believe they called me to the British Isles because of certain Magical links I had made, and because of my contacts with the Celtic Faery who are the true Grail Bearers.

As a Celtic Faery Initiate, I received powerful visionary visitations by the Tuatha de Danaan, or the Irish Faery. This began just after Samhain in 1996 a few weeks after a workshop I took with R.J.Stewart. The Tuatha de Danaan not only came to my house and opned portals into the Otherworld for me to pass through, they taught me many secrets of the Underworld Faery and their connection to the Holy Grail and the Arthurian Mythos. I was compelled to go the U.K. to wander through the lands of Arthur and Merlin to ground the visions into my soul and body — for when we embark on the Initiate’s,  journey our blood changes, our ancestors wake up in our blood.
My King Arthur Tour to the U.K. took place in a beautiful March of 1997. During the month I was there,  I roamed through England, Wales, Cornwall and Ireland. The last thing I did before I came home, was an eight hour overnight coach trip to Edinburgh to see Rosslyn Chapel, reputed to be the final sanctuary of the Holy Grail.

I had many powerful experiences on this Quest of mine that will be shared in future posts.

Mystical Encounters with the Spirits of the Land

Having grown up in the woods in Massachusetts and maintaining my bond with wild nature throughout my life, I have always had a strong sense of how different places have their own spirit, and spirits who are particular to that place. The liminal twilight atmosphere of the Massachusetts woods, the low rolling hillls, swamps, and  changing light, the striking cycles of seasonal transformation, suit beings very akin to traditional fairies, the types you find in Grimm, and in the Romantic descriptions of Yeats or Fiona Macleod; seasonal spirits of snow, ice and  flaming and then falling leaves, silence, and subtlety. There are also witchy spirits, for  the Black Man of the Forest, ruler of the witches lives there. There is the Salem Witch current, ghosts, and Iroquoise False Faces and Manitous.

Some of these seem to have been brought from England during Colonial Times. There are records of Scottish Faery Seers coming to these shores in during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I who brought their spiritual contacts with them, or drew them here over the water after seven years of separation.

Mexico has spirits of another sort: desert beings, spirits that rattle in the night, wind ghosts, an earth that vibrates with living currents of serpent power that you can feel as you walk over it. The animals behave in mysterious ways. Coyote appears on the horizon and in the blink of an eye is gone; the sea tortoise comes ashore under a moonless sky, and vanishes under the waves of the sea as if she never been. The sun charges the Earth so that, even in daylight, the spirit world is palpable.

In Ireland, I took a bus  ride over the Burren. As lead singer in a Celtic band, Castlerigg, in the 1990′s, I had heard form Irish players that many tunes had been given  to the bards by the Faery. Maybe it was imagination, but as my contacts with the Underworld Faery, especially of Ireland had taught me, imagination is the key to the Kingdom. But I heard music, the same as that of an Irish tune, coming up from under the Earth. Had I been a proper musician, I could have written it down.

As the Queen slays the King in the Upper World, so he rules in the Underworld.

Tarot of the Grail Bearers

I wasn’t in London long before the God and Goddess of the British Isles made themselves known to me. I was living near to Hampstead Heath, formerly the stag hunting forest of the Royal families of Britain. I had arrived in that neighborhood in late April of 1998, finding a cheap bedsitting room with a large bay window that gave me plenty of light to paint by.

I was working on a Tarot Deck, Tarot of the Grail Bearers. Each image was designed after intense 3-dimensional visions given to me, in an ordered fashion, by the Tuathaa de Danaan. It was clear they wanted this Tarot deck to be painted, and to be painted by me despite my lack of skill. The project took over my life for four and half years during which teaching after teaching was given to me along with the images for the cards.

Perhaps the Tuatha deDannaan chose me because I had been reading and teaching for most of my life. The Tarot lived in me. I have been told that my images have great spiritual intensity. I think this is because, as I painted each card, I was passing back and forth a doorway of its symbols the entire time. This deck is charged with Faery magic.

To see the full Tarot of the Grail Bearers, please visit my website at http://www.whiteswan-tarot.com/ and look through the Gallery. It used to be called Tarot of the Holy Grail until I realized it is not about the Grail. but about those who guard and keep it in the Otherworld.

50 The Drive

I had no idea the house was haunted. Not only haunted — but also on the Spirit Line of the Wild Hunt!

See my post  How to Know if Your House is Haunted for another angle on this tale of woe.

Initiation of the Horned God

This etching looks like Old London, doesn’t it? My bedsitting room was in a house down below there, on the path the Wild Hunt has taken through North London, over the Heath, from antiquity.

It began with nightmares.

Not long after Samhain, 1998, I was woken at 3AM by the presence of a shadowy Stag/Man standing near my bed. He was looking down at me with pale, fiery eyes. I had been visited by such a spirit as a child in Massachusetts, ( See my post: The Horned Ones)  but never had he displayed to me such awesome power, never had he focused his entire being on me. Alarmed, I sat up, but the vision did not go away. I was experiencing the same level of clairvoyance that brought the visions of the Faery and Holy Grail. But, where the Grail Bearers were gentle, lofty, sometimes tricky, this being was dangerous.

The Stag/Man was not endowed with a human conscience, he did not let feelings or emotions concern him. He embodied raw, untamed, male sexual power. There were nor reasons, no inhibitions, no consideration for me. He intended to take me, to possess me as if I was the same as he — a wild animal from the forest. I wasn’t about to let him.
Since I was well versed in magical protection, and because I thought this was an illusion brought by some kind of psychic attack, I got to work. On the first night, I performed a  Rite of Banishing, sealed my space and, finally, at 6AM, went back to sleep.
I thought I had succeed. It was peaceful for two nights. Then, the third night, at 3AM, the Horned One was back again, and much more insistent and violent. This  time, the Stag/Man was also accompanied by a wolf. The wolf prowled around the edges of my protective circle. I was so grateful my Rite had been strong enough that he couldn’t get in! The wolf was beautiful, with a shimmering silver coat of thick fur. He howled and stared while
the Stag/Man commenced to try to attack me.

I chanted all the spells of protection I knew, and refused to go to sleep and surrender control of my being.


To cut a very long ordeal short, over the course of six weeks, I was stampeded by Wild Riders that raged through the bed room from the windows through the wall. Vines grew up from under my bed, crawled up from the foot of the bed, wound around me, bound me in tendrils and stems as thick as your arm so that I could not move. Under the blankets, great phallic stems rushed  towards me like special effects in a horror film.
Spirits of darkness circled around the room, uttering strange piercing cries like night birds hunting, wolves prowled, and owls fluttered across my dreaming eyes. A strange man entered my dream/ visions,  playing crazy clown,  Ringmaster, or walking on stilts, trying to get into my brain.

There was no place to go! For me the invasion of my very inner space, always my last ditch sanctuary,  was just not acceptable. The Stag/Man came every night at 3AM to get into bed with me, holding me down while I fought. I refused to go to sleep until 6AM when the visions stopped with the dawn.

It is unfortunate that I did not understand what was going on, for in my desperation to ward off the nightmare, I began to throw psychic fireballs, and to attack these beings, devastating my inner world. This was because I was afraid that if I surrendered, I would be possessed. My training in kundalini Yoga had taught me to send spirits away and purify myself so that the serpent could rise without triggering karma. (snark) Well…

I am sure for initiated Wiccans this attitude is incomprehensible, but I was not, and am not, an initiated Wiccan. I was born with the Witchblood, so much of what goes on between myself and the Otherworld is unexplained. My teachers have been lax in this area also. There seems to be a conflict of interest.

If you wonder why I refused to surrender to my mystic, nocturnal visitor, it was also  because of the raw power, strength, and violence of the God. Imagine being chased through the forest by a horney wild elk! How can you surrender to that?

Eventually, near Christmas, I was so exhausted that I just stopped fighting.  As I slept, exhausted and unable to care, I felt the Stag/Man enter me. I was instantly consumed in a fire that burned from head to foot. I was wrapped in flames. This sensation lasted for three days — even in during my daily activities. I burned, and burned, and burned…It was highly charged erotic energy. Soaring fire and burning eyes. As a student of Alchemy, I knew I was in the furnace.
I made a decision to stay away from magic after that. It was the wrong thing to do because the magical people were the very ones who had an explanation of what I went through…


It comes to mind that such a fiery Initiation seems to mirror the fate of witches burned in Elizabethan times, and later under King James. How passing strange it all is…

We hunt him and then he hunts us. The God of Death and Rebirth.

I had spent so many years connecting with the bright side of Faery. Little did I know that I would be forced into the dark, that my pursuit of the White Hart into the Forest of Brociliande would carry meh into the abyss as the God took on his cthonic, or Underworld, form.

For seven years I felt I had been a spiritual victim. Afraid of psychic attack, I  avoided the magical practices that had once been second nature to me. I stayed away from like-minded others: magicians, witches, magical people. It was lonely trying to fit in with mundanes and New Agers, but at least I was safe…I thought.

Unable to bear the isolation any longer, I found my way to Treadwells Bookshop in Covent Garden. There I found a thriving and brilliant community of occultists and pagans. With much trepidation, because I was afraid of being thought mad, I approached the owner, Christina, and asked her if she would explain something to me.
Over tea and cookies, I gave her my horrific story. Despite my trauma, I knew my experience was significant. I wanted to know what it meant, what was it for, and why did I have to go through it?
What she told me was actually quite beautiful. She gave me an illustration of a circle patterned after a labyrinth. At the bottom of the circle, a powerful stag stood in a dark forest. At the top of the circle was a little cottage with smoke coming out of the chimney.

The Horned God in the Forest

Christian explained that the bottom, the dark forest where I had been, represented death; that as we hunt the Horned God, so he hunts us, and takes us. At the top  of the circle, where the sunlight shines upon the cottage, is our reward when we pass through our ordeal successfully: safety and coziness.


Of course this idea of the ‘hunt’ is not a literally about killing for food or sport. One chases the white stag into the forest of the deep self, the unconscious, the soul, if you will. The goal is to find a transcendent experience, perhaps to gain healing, or powers, or a gift from the Otherworld. But in entering the uncharted, moonlit labyrinth of the soul, one must encounter the dark forces that dwell there, the repressed things, the caged animals within, the history of old hurts, rages, and hates. To avoid this experience is impossible once one has set foot on the Path, and dark experiences are necessary if one is to gain spiritual maturity, true depth, and wisdom. Without these qualities, one is not fit to take one’s place as a teacher of the Mysteries. I had been a teacher before, and a healer. But now, my work is made richer, and more potent, for my having passed through the Abyss.
Christina also told me that Hampstead Heath, near where I lived, had been a Royal stag hunting forest since Norman times. So it was no surprise that the Horned God might follow an ancient trackway through the haunted house I lived in.
One of the great hunting monarchs of all time was the Faery Queen, Elizabeth Tudor. So it was no wonder that the two came to me hand in hand, symbolizing the inner marriage of the polarities of the Land
.

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Witches Familiars: Witchery of the White Sow

Witchery of the White Sow

The pig shares its symbolic value with the boar. In Mesopotamia, at Catal Huyuk, in shrine EVI8, rows of breasts molded over jaws and tusks of boars express the idea that life comes from death.- Buffie Johnson

But, I hear you say, “Isn’t the White Sow the beast of Cerridwen, and is she not a Lammas Goddess, a Goddess of sacrifice? Why bring her to darken the door of Springtime? What has she got to do with flowering  Beltane?”

Let me tell you a little story.

As the trees are reflected in a mirror lake, their branches reaching across the water from their roots into the underwater sky, so do I climb the branches of the Underworld Tree from roots to branches that plunge deep into the earth. Before me is light for which I aim — a green sky shining between the leaves. Out in the light, I reach the topmost twigs, and drop down to the green grass below. Lifted by a wind, I float to the low hills glimmering on the horizon. Inside the door of the hill the Watcher,cloaked in scarlet and black, waits. A penny for your thoughts? I drop a coin into box and find the opening that leads into the Palace of the Faery Queen.


The Faery Hall at Beltane

The dome of the Faery Hall is supported by pillars of trees. Its floor is composed of black and white stones filed flat as tiles set out in squares like a chess board. On a green terrace are two carved and ancient thrones where sit the Horned God, and the Lady with Antlers, the Faery Queen. When they see me enter, their gray eyes glitter, they stir. The low bells toll, and the drums roll under the earth.

The Faery Court surrounds me, full of focused intent. They wear the clothes of Medieval France. Their movements are graceful, coy, unpredictable. Do not be fooled. The Faery, though beautiful, are one with nature and, like nature, they are wild.

A horn sounds  near and far away. A huge white sow enters the Hall. Waving black steamers float around her head. She sniffs the air when she sees me and next thing I know, I am under her feet. As she tramples me with her cloven hoofs, I hear a great drum beating, but it is not a drum. It is the unified breathing of the Faery Court, keeping time to her stomping and grinding me into the black and white stones of the floor. Soon, I am nothing but a smudge of darkness on the white square, and a spray of gray dust on the black ones.

There is silence, and then a blare of trumpets coming from somewhere between the pillar-trees.  Suddenly I see myself, the way all dreamers do, sitting sideways, and unladylike, on the back of the great white sow. I am dressed in a green gown, my waving golden hair is encircled with flowers. Hawthorn flowers entwine the Sow, who is also crowned May Queen, She Who is Reborn in Spring. Smiling, the Sow Goddess dances on the black and white floor, taking me with her. I raise my hands, palm up, as if to catch the rays of the sun. The Faery Court claps and laughs. Soon we are dancing in the bright green light as the Sow carries me around the Faery Hall.

This vision was prophetic. Literally. For when the long seven years in the dark forest of the Horned God’s initiation was over, I went out to a May Day celebration at the Deveraux Pub in London, and was made May Queen by a drawing of lots.

Here is what remains of my hawthorn crown. It has traveled many miles with me. They were elder witches that gave it to me.

Beltane and the Underworld Goddess

Beltane comes to pass in the sun sign of Taurus. At mid tide, the Sacred Cow sees her self in the mirror of a Full Scorpio Moon. As Taurus is birth and the nurturing of life, Scorpio is the sting of death whose weapon is the blade of sacrifice.

Because they were less expensive to feed and care for than bulls, sows appear as lesser sacrificial animals in vegitative festivities. Afterward they were eaten by worshippers who thus partook of the essence of the divinity. In Crete the pig was a favorite sacrificial animal at the Peak Sanctuary on Mount Juktas and other mountaintop shrines consecrated to the Lady of the Beasts. In Crete the Crone, as Goddess of Wisdom, takes the form of a Sow... Buffie Johnson, Lady of the Beasts

Triplicity

Fertility, death, resurrection are the threefold cycle of Earth. The pig with her litter of piglets, sucking her to the bones. The Sow that eats her young. The sacrificed pig who fertilizes the grain, whose death is the promise of life to come.

The Sow is the creature of the Underworld — she lies under the Earth, one with the soil seeded with grain. Divinized, the pig’s blood is given to the soil from which the Goddess springs up in the long days of May. All  spiral into, and out of each other, feeding on each other as life feeds on itself. Close to the forces of nature, the ancients lived these cycles day after day, night after night, season after season. The Full Moon in Scorpio reminded them, that in the fullness of Spring, the darkness of Death was waiting.

Sow and Reap

As early as the seventh millenium B.C.E., the sow was involved in vegetation rituals. The pig’s habit of rooting in the soil with its tusks is a primal image of the plowing of the soil. the sow’s fast growth, and wealth of piglets, made her a creature of plenty. The existence of an ancient Sow Oracle attests to her transformative nature, and intimacy with the powers of fertility — the main concern of agrarian cultures worldwide. Ancient votive figures of pigs have grains pressed into their bodies, making them one with the crops. Neolithic Priestesses wore sow masks to represent the Goddess as they copulated in the fields during Beltane.

The association of sowing and reaping with iconography of Old Man, Death, are well known.

The Sow Goddess acts as an epiphany of the Lady of the Plants. The Greek Goddess, Demeter carries a pig and a torch into Hades when she searches for Persephone. It is no accident that the only witness to Hades’ abduction of Persephone is a swine herd, and that the swineherd reports the rape to Hecate, Goddess of the dark side of the Moon.

As the pig is sacrificed to the Goddess to make the crops grow, the boar is often the agency of death. Set takes the form of a boar to kill Osiris. The Irish God Diarmid is killed by a boar — in fact many Grail Knights are wounded in the thigh by boars to be rescued by Faery Queens. The rites of Tammuz follow the same boar slain pattern as all the dying and resurrecting Gods of the Grain.

Cerridwen

The Welsh Goddess, Cerridwen, has long associations with the White Sow, magic, and poetry. She is a Goddess of doorways between death and rebirth. A shape shifter, Inspiratrice, and witch, it was she that trampled me in the Faery Hall to initiate me into her Mysteries. It was she who dogged my steps for nine years.

Nine: Number of the months of human gestation. Sacred number of the Moon.

The  Black Book of Carmarthen  contains two poems by the bard Cuhelyn that associate Cerridwen with seeds, and therefore fertility and growth in the darkness of the Underworld. As she seeds the Earth, she seeds the imagination of poet, becoming his dark Muse:

A successful song of fruitful praise, relating to the bustling course of the host,

According to the sacred ode of Cyridwen, the goddess of various seeds,

The various seeds of poetic harmony, the exalted speech of the graduated minstrel–BBC III

Her Name

Scottish, Welsh) [KARE-id-ooín or KARE-id-win] Moon Goddess; Great Mother; Grain Goddess; Goddess of Nature. The white-corpse eating sow representing the Moon. Her symbol was a white sow. Death, fertility, regeneration, inspiration, magic, astrology, herbs, science, poetry, spells, knowledge.

Cerridwen is the goddess of dark prophetic powers. She is the keeper of the cauldron of the underworld, in which inspiration and divine knowledge are brewed. She is often equated with the famous Greek crone, Hecate, and to the Irish Badb. She is also sometimes related to the Greek Muses, only in a more violent and dark form.

Cerridwen’s name has many meanings that signify Moon, Sickle, Sow.

Cerid-wen: fair, beloved

Cerit: hooked, crooked Hook, sickle, ben: woman Crooked Backed Woman ( Sounds like the moon to me.)

Ceritwen: crooked white one

One can see that the round shape of the pig suggests pregnancy, the Moon. The cyclical swelling of her belly with unborn piglets decreasing to bone thinness after birth, mimics the phases of the Moon. While in Mexico, I saw a mother pig almost devoured by her suckling piglets who were almost the same size as she. The connotations of the life feeding on darkness as the sow almost dies to feed her young, are resonant. The crooked back of the Sow mirrors the crooked sickle moon, whose belly is in darkness.

The Moon, as has been discussed before, is the vessel of fertility, the place from whence the souls of the unborn descend to earthly incarnation.

Full Moon in Scorpio

Give me more death. — Pablo Neruda

The Poet and his Muse.

The artist must be taken sometimes against his or her will. The Muse possesses the artist, for the artist is the instrument through which the Goddess speaks. The creative process is a fire. It brings illumination, radiation, and sometimes pain, when one comes to close to the flames. The Goddess, Cerridwen, kept the Cauldron of Poetry and Rebirth. As Gwion’s fingers are spattered by the Witch’s brew, he gains the gift of prophetic speech. If he enters the cauldron he will be twice born, divinized, springing up like the grain from the soil of death. He becomes Taliesin, poet, prophet, divine son of the Goddess.

Beltane, your flowers spring from the death of winter. When the sun and moon are joined in the sign of the solar Bull and the lunar Cow, they procreate in the dark. The grass grows, the flowers bloom, the birds feast on buds, and worms that make the gardens fertile.

Merciless, the moon soon rises, and like a mirror, shines back to the joyous Great Mother Goddess her other face: Scorpion Queen of Samhain.

The cycles moves around and around, eternally, or as long as there is life on Earth. Sacrifice, Purification, Divination, and Rebirth. The transfigured Sow Goddess rules Beltane.

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Witch’s Familiars: Animal Spirits and Their Charms

What is a Witch’s Familiar?

I have written about the subject of Witches Familiars, but have not provided a definition. Some people may  not know this term, or not be aware of the special relationship that witches have had with animals since time began. There are quite a few layers of meaning to explore here, and  I will begin with something little discussed in this context.


Lady of the Beasts

From ancient times, the Great Goddess has appeared in animal guise. As far back in time as the pre-historic Lascaux cave paintings, she has been depicted wearing horns or antlers that rise like the crescent moon above her head. In my prior blog article, “Witch’s Familiars and Their Charms: Witchery of the Hare”, I discuss the connection of the Moon and procreation. As Great Mother, the Goddess is at one with the Moon.

(The Moon reflects the image of the Goddess down the levels throughout the sublunar realms, until her power becomes manifest on Earth. In that form, she can be petitioned for favors by the Witch or Mage as she fertilizes all of Nature with her life-giving power.)

Many are the Forms of the Primal Mother:

The Goddess of the Witches, Diana has been called Lady of the Wild Beasts. As Diana the many Breasted,  she nourishes all of the life forms that she has given life to. The animals surround her, follow her, and accompany her on the Wild Hunt.  As Mother of all of Life, Diana is able to transform herself into the many guises of her children.

The sacred cats of Egypt such as Sekmet, or Bast, are embodiments of the Divine Mother.  The swan and the dove belong of the Love Goddess Aphrodite as Mistress of Love and Death. The vultures and ravens of the battlefield are forms taken by the Triple Goddess’s  Hecate and the Morrigan. The serpent Goddess’s of Wisdom is a familiar of Athena. Hathor, Isis and Nut of Egypt were known to take the maternal and lunar shapes of cows and bulls. One school of thought would call these animal shapes icons, another animal totems. We of the Witch Way know them as ‘familiars.’

Witchery and Shamanism:

Though it was not called “Shamanism” in Europe, Witchcraft has deep roots in practices very similar to Shamans, and Shamans have long worked with animal spirits. Whether the need was to encourage procreation in the animal kingdoms, or to enlist the aid of animal spirits their special talents by identifying closely with them, Shamans have traditionally been able to communicate telepathically with wild creatures, and sometimes even shape-shift into the forms of wild beasts.  Judging by the early cave paintings and the activities of surviving Shamanically based cultures, fertility rites directed toward wild animals, even those where the goal was to acquire an animal skill such as the far seeing of the hawk, or the speed of the jaguar, were for the purposes of hunting. Animals are food, so great energy was expended to insure their plentiful numbers.

Pets as “Familiars”:

Women, as keepers of the house, have had a special relationship with domesticated animals. Women were perhaps the first keepers of pets, or animal companions with whom they share an emotional bond. It is highly likely that old women, often living alone, had very close relationships with their pets, as many do today. When Christian clerics began intruding into village life to gain converts, they certainly observed this phenomenon. Part of the Christian conversion program included a divide and conquer strategy — divide the people from the spirits of the land, the Great Mother, and her consorts by equating them with the Devil. A second strategy was to undermine the healing role of Cunning Folk, midwives, herbalists, and seers. It wasn’t long before the village wise woman and her pets were demonized, and lurid and degrading stories were spread about elderly Crones and their beastly ‘familiars’.

One story the Churchmen concocted was that witches kept domesticated animals, not out of love, but a as helpers in the spread of disease and death. Witches were apparently observed by these clerics going out at night under the full moon and transforming themselves into cats, crows, mice, or toads to poison wells, curdle milk, blight the crops, steal children for the faeries, and other assorted evils. A Witch kept her familiars and  ‘imps’ loyal by feeding them with her blood. The animals were said to suck blood from her fingers or from an unusually placed nipple on her body.

Persecution of Witches and Their Familiars

By the 1640’s, when the WitchFinder General, Mathew Hopkins came along, the possession of these ‘witches teats’ or ‘marks’ had become an irrefutable sign that the person was a devotee of the Devil. The witches marks were thought to be insensitive to pain, so to test the accused, long needles were inserted into these marks. If the accused cried out, he or she was innocent. To fail to react was proof of guilt.

Once this insensitive teat was found, the witch  was subjected to other, more intense, interrogation methods to extract a more detailed ‘confession.’

In 1164, Mathew Hopkins interrogated a witch in Essex, England. After much heavy torture, the witch spilled the names of her animal familiars: Pywakit, Pecke in the Crown, Griezzel, and Greedigutt were most likely cats.

In William Shakespeare’s play ‘MacBeth’ the three witches call for their familiars at the start of the play:

First Witch: I come, Graymalkin!

Second Witch: Paddock calls.

Third Witch: Anon.

ALL: Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Exeunt

(Three is the number of the Moon Goddess. Graymalkin is a cat and Paddock is a frog or toad.)

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Witchery of the Hare

Witchery of the Hare

Listening to the Moon, by Jackie Morris
Listening to the Moon, by Jackie Morris

I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again.

So sang the young witch, Isobel Gowdie, when, under the light of the full moon, she transformed herself into a hare. In this shape, she journeyed to take part in a lavish banquet with the Queen of Elfhame, in her Hall under the low hills.

For a poor woman in 1660’s Scotland, an invitation to a royal feast was worth the price of her soul.  All she had to do was leave her broomstick in bed beside her sleeping husband so she wouldn’t be missed, leave by the chimney, and shape-shift into a creature whose speed and endurance ensured her timely arrival at the Faery Ball. When she had had enough of wearing fine clothes, dancing, and feasting, she returned in her woman’s shape before dawn singing:

Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare’s likeness now,
But I shall be in a woman’s likeness even now.

Entrnace to Faery
Entrance to Faery

It is March. The Winterspells draw to a close. The Hare leaps into Spring to dance in the rains and frolic under the budding trees The Goddess, Oestar, arrives to herald the season of re-birth with her company of Hares. Even she, the great Goddess, became a Hare under the full moon to enjoy the wantonness of Spring.

You have heard the phrase “Mad as a March Hare.” Unlike the more docile rabbit, born naked and blind and burrowing under the earth for protection, the hare has the audacity to arrive fully furred with its pooka eyes staring wide, to sleep under the open air.  The heady call to mate in Spring inspires in the hare a frenzy of leaping and jumping, and boxing against other hares all mad with the lust of Oestar. An old legend says he is so full of fertility that he changes gender, from male to female, and back again, giving birth by mating with him/herself. Perhaps this belief is true, or came about because, even in the mating season, the hare is quiet, solitary, alone.

Yet the hare and rabbit are close cousins and share their lunacy and magic.  The hare lives in the upper world, visible to all. As such, he may be considered a creature of the light. Living under the earth in burrows and warrens, rabbits live in contact with the spirits of the Underworld, and may  be called upon to carry messages from the living to the dead, and from humankind to the Faerie.

Hare in the Moon
Hare in the Moon

The image of the hare is imprinted on the moon, the esoteric sphere from which souls descend to find embodiment on earth. The moon, Mistress of the Tides, also rules the feminine hormonal cycles of menstruation and heat. The moon is the Queen of Heaven in Her Witchery. She is the source of creative, generative power from which all life springs. Her rhythmic emanations govern the potency of herbs, the life cycles of animals and plants, and the oceanic flux of visions, dreams, and prophecy.

Spring is a season between seasons, a transitional time when one thing becomes another, the magic of the dark revolves into the light, the sleeping Earth stirs and begins to awaken, that which was hidden in the dark of the Underworld greets the light of day.

I shall never forget one early Spring morning when I lived at Oak Lodge beside Hampstead Heath in London. As the dim, liquid light of sunrise was barely glimmering through the trees, thousands of birds began to sing. I lay half awake and half asleep in the half light as cascades of song swelled and died and swelled again, filling the sky, and falling to earth, until it grew light, and the singing stopped. Then it was so quiet it was as if the birds, who had orchestrated their chorus for the first breath of Spring, had flown away forever.  I never heard anything like it before or since. The next night I was walking along the road beside the Heath and chose to take a path through the woods that led through a grassy clearing. There was a ring of flattened grass encircling a Rowan tree. I had no idea how it came to be there, but it reminded me of an old belief that in Spring, a group of hares was wont to dance in a ring around a young tree under the moon, while standing on their hind legs.

As the first stirring of Spring begins, the life that Winter held at rest below the ground, rises to the surface of the earth. The season of rebirth is a breath of fresh air.  The wind blows wild and gusty, carrying seeds over great distances.  Birdsong is carried on the breeze. The animals give birth and all grown things wake to new life. The clear horizon belongs to Spring, where the rays of rising sun stream over the hills, illuminating the grass and stones, and the first wild flowers lean towards their reflections in shining pools of rainwater.

With the Spring come the witchery of the Hare that stirs the Witchblood to carousal..

The Mysteries of the Goddess and the Hare:

The first of all Goddesses was Diana, that fertile darkness out of which life emerged.
Diana’s law reflects the cycles of the moon and hunt. Why is fertility combined with the hunt? What is the meaning of the cycle of birth and death?

Fertility brings game which is the purpose of the hunt. An abundance of life means and that there is plenty to eat. But, in the darkness of the soul, the hunter and hunted change position, for one cannot take life without being haunted by death. Everything on Earth is intertwined…the Goddess orders it this way in all of nature. Her sign is the appearing, disappearing, and reappearing moon.

The earth is a place of transformation, governed by the lunar wheel that cycles from light into dark, and into light again, reflecting the constant cycle of nature: what is born falls into death and what is dead springs back to life.

Both Diana of the Wild Beasts, the moon and the hunt, and Aphrodite of love and beauty include the hare or rabbit among their attendants.  Freya, the Love Goddess of the North, travels with a hare.  These make sense as the hare as legendary object of the hunt, leading the hounds on a relentless merry chase, while his  heightened sexuality and fertility align him to Aphrodite and Freya. A procession of hares carry torches behind the sky Goddess Holda at the head of the Wild Hunt at Beltane.  This suggests that the hare colludes in his role as prey, or even sacrificial victim, whose death supports the rest of life and whose prolific breeding ensures his quick return.

Yet, though the hare is hunted in Celtic countries it is taboo to eat her, for she may be someone’s grandmother, or a Faery, or a wisewoman-witch.

Yule Goddess by Angela Barrett
Yule Goddess by Angela Barrett

The Hare and I

I myself have roamed the low hills alone at night in the shape of a hare, wearing a long dark gown and a headdress of hare’s ears. Crouching under the full moon, with the smell of goldenrod and witchgrass in my nose, has been an eerie experience, plunging the consciousness into the soul of the animal while falling under the spell of the moon.  If you want to access the Witchblood, I suggest this guising as a means of merging with the Earthlight and accessing the Hall of Elfhame.

So special has the hare become to me that she found her way into my Gothic Faery Tale, The Golden Stair, as a companion to my villianess, the evil Countess Orzsebet.
Here, one of the Countess’s girls has created a tapestry that reveals the true soul of Orzsebet, and the dark forces working through her:

“Treszka unrolled the linen and revealed a length of remarkable needlework. The subject was strange, disturbing, for it showed forth something that I knew, deep inside, should never be revealed.
On a background of tiny, precise flowers called millefluers, a golden-haired Goddess stood under a raining golden willow tree clad in a green-gold gown. A troupe of white hares danced around her in an eerie ring. Hidden in the top of the tree, a dark face brooded; perhaps it was a witch’s face, or a spirit, from whose eyes dripped tears of blood. The blood drops fell, spattering the willow fronds, and staining the Goddess’s pale cloak with crimson points like bloody ermine’s tails. The stitching was exquisite, impeccable, and the colors perfectly natural, and yet decorative in their effect. I shivered.
“Treszka, where did you get the idea to make a picture like this? It is extraordinary! I can hardly believe my mother would let you take it away.”
“She doesn’t like it, so she says, but it does show what I can do. She wants you to learn to embroider flowers, my Lady.”
I had to wonder what my mother was playing at, for she knew my eyesight was impaired and that flowers were detailed and called for small, delicate stitches. I was also surprised she allowed Treszka’s handiwork out of her sight, for the perverse, witchy image was surely inspired by her if it was not a direct portrait of her.
“Treszka, have you always made pictures like this?” I asked.
“Not really, though I do like to embroider animals and flowers. I just put the Countess’s likeness in the midst, I suppose.” She held the tapestry up and looked it over. “Do you like the rose-colored background? I would have preferred dark blue, for it is meant to be a night scene.”
“Thank God it isn’t,” I murmured. “And who might the hares be?”
“The girls, perhaps. But not really,” she laughed nervously. “It is the same with this figure in the top of the tree. I don’t know where it came from, but it was impossible not to weave it into the tree. Oh, my Lady! I am not used to great aristocratic houses, but only fields and cottages. Places with secrets are frightening sometimes.”
“ Yes, they are.”

The Origin of the Easter Bunny

Celebrated on the first full moon after Spring Equinox, Easter, is named after the Anglo-Saxon fertility Goddess, Ostara. In her role as rising sun on the first days of Spring, she wears a white hare’s head with its long ears, like horns, signifying spiritual power.  A white hare stands at attention beside her. I imagine this scene on a rose colored ground of millifleurs, like the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

As a fertility Goddess, she is also a Mother. One day, to amuse her children, Ostara turned her pet bird into a hare. In this new form, it laid bunch of brightly colored eggs which she gave to the children as gifts. This is the origin of the Easter egg.

I shall end this essay with an evocative quote from Teri Windling on the magic of the hare:

“Now, as I walk through Devon lanes in the long twilight of a summer’s evening, rabbits dart out of the hedgerows, stare at me with unblinking eyes, and disappear again over the crest of the shadowed hills. I’m reminded of a 19th century children’s poem by Walter de la Mare:

In the black furror of a field
I saw an old witch-hare this night;
And she cocked a lissome ear,
And she eyed the moon so bright,
And she nibbled of the green;
And I whispered “Whsst! witch-hare,”
Away like a ghostie o’er the field
She fled, and left the moonlight there.”

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