Category Archives: To the Old Ones
First thing in the morning, as my family shuffles about in search of bathrooms and coffee, one or the other of us will tell our dreams from the night before. Usually it’s something like “I had another stress dream … worked all night trying to send emails, but my computer was really a wood stove, so it wasn’t working.”
But recently, my son had a real doozy. He dreamt he met — to use his words — a bunch of small gods. Although he met quite a few, he could only remember three of them.
In his dream, the election was over, the Republicans won, and Bible study replaced all the subjects in school. Son became a fugitive; on the lam from authorities who meant to catch him and make him Christian.
It was in his flight that he met the small gods.
In Colorado he met the Surfer God, who looks Hawaiian, and was wearing Hawaiian shorts and shirt. The Surfer God told him it would be better for Son to hide in plain sight, being noisey and boisterous in public because “people do that.” He himself often appeared drunk in public, in an effort to blend in. The Surfer God was also very worried about how stressed Son was, and gave him lots of advice on that, none of which Son can remember. The Surfer God was always slipping away to surf, even though Colorado is nowhere near the ocean.
Then Son met the God of Locks. He is a bouncer in Los Angeles. The God of Locks doesn’t say much.
The one Son remembers best is the God of Keys. He lives in a big city. “Perhaps New York?” says Son, as if trying it on for size.
The God of Keys is a thief.
But the God of Keys doesn’t steal from just anyone. For instance, he’ll steal from someone who has just gotten a bonus and thus has some money to let slip. And the God of Keys has a high opinion of stockbrokers; he won’t steal from them because they keep money moving about.
Fascinated, I asked if the God of Keys was stealing from the rich to give to the poor. At first Son said “no, he keeps it,” but after thinking a moment, said “that’s not right, it becomes like loose change on the ground. That feels right.” The God of Keys also told Son to stay away from the God of Locks. When Son pressed him for details, all he would say was that the God of Locks is “hard to talk to.”
This dream vividly reminds me of my own brushes with other small gods. Especially the surprising details, which blow through preconceived notions of Who is God of what, and just how the whole God Thing works.
It makes perfect sense, though, that the God of Locks could be a bouncer, tossing out those who didn’t behave well, or belong. That he would be miserly with his words.
Just as a God of Keys could best unlock money and liberate it into circulation by being a thief.
Shakespeare said “the play’s the thing.” Personally, I’d have to say that these otherworldly experiences are the thing. Pleasant or unpleasant, short exchanges or long relationships — we’re changed and enriched by each one.
The next time I get a little extra money, I’ll spend some right away. Because that God of Keys sounds like a fine fellow, and he was nice to my son.
After all … how better to start up an acquaintance with a god than by doing the things he likes, in his name?
For those of you who — like our merry band — celebrate Hallowstide after October 31st, below is one way we’ve worked it with good results. It’s actually from last year’s ritual done for the book club group, hence the ceremonial wordings. As always, change it up to suit yourself, speaking from your own heart.
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Set up your altar with a skull, or representation of a skull. We used a pottery skull with old skeleton keys crossed in front of it, as crossed bones, or “feet.”
Light candle beside skull, saying
.From this fire, exorcised unto our need, spring forth now the Cunning Fire, which sits between the horns of our god. Be Thou a lamp to light our ways, and a beacon to call forth our Beloved Dead this night. .
Knock three times, then say:
.By my Will I shape this throne And call our Dead upon this Bone Come ye in my Master’s Name Until I send Thee back again
Breathe life into skull, until you feel it stir and waken.
All stand in circle around altar. Take up a red thread. Each person ties knots into their thread, in the fashion of a snaim. More about this another time, but for now — Don’t touch the thread with either forefinger at any point during the process. Bring the thread to your forehead while concentrating on your intent, then down in front of you to tie the knots, then to your lips to whisper the name of one of your Beloved Dead, or to send a general call to the Ancestors.
Tread the Mill, stepping sideways and moving widdershins. Pass thread deasil. Whisper names of Beloved Dead, interspersed with “One by one and all together.”* Keep steps slow, but allow chant to increase in volume and/or speed.
When the Mill reaches its natural conclusion, one at a time, each person takes a thread up to the altar. Offers a sign of love or respect (usually kissing the “feet”), then places bead end of thread into eye socket of skull, holding the other end. Commune.
Remove thread, take up candle and pass around head 3x, to “take in” the cunning fire. Rejoin circle.
When all have communed, perform a housle**:
.For our Ancestors, our Gods and ourselves, we do this. . (((Knock 3 times))) Here is bread, the life of the Earth,
Blessed to give us life and strength.
I consecrate it in the name of the Witch Father With my left hand I bless it (mark it with goosefoot)
With my left hand I shall eat it. . (((Knock 3 times))) Here is wine, filling the cup with abundance
I consecrate it in the name of the Witch Mother
With my left hand I lift it,
With my left hand I shall drink it. . Holding the cup in your left hand still, bring it near your lips, and say . I drink this cup in the Witch Mother’s name: She shall gather me home again.
Then drink a little. Everyone who shares from the cup should say the same, holding the cup with their left hand, before they drink. After everyone has shared from the cup, everyone should eat a piece of the bread- tear or cut it apart, making enough pieces for everyone. As you bring the piece of bread, held with your left hand, near your lips, you should say:
. I eat this bread in the Witch Father’s name, that I might have of his cunning fire
Make an offering of bread and wine into a bowl.
Make subsequent toasts spontaneously from the heart.
Make the final round in silence.
Pass the bowl around for each to anoint their forehead with mixture in offering bowl.
While this happens, one of your number says:
.As some is taken, so is this given
By the sons and daughters of the family of the Old Faith
I give it to the Ground
I give it to the Pale People below
That above and below will become one
For what is taken is truly given
And what is given is truly taken
The day and night are wed
As the living and the dead.
Here is shown a mystery. .
Close the Skull, saying:
.In my Master’s Name, I bid you depart to your proper place, and be there love between us ever more. So mote it be!
Silently, each person takes up a candle from around the circle or on the altar. One of your number takes up the offering bowl and starts a procession to a quiet place outside. This could be a place where 3 trails meet, or any place you find good for leaving offerings. In our case, our Magister is at the end of the procession, because the “Devil takes the hindmost.”
Pour your offerings onto the ground, “To our Beloved Dead”
Leave your candles burning by offering.
Turn and walk away, without looking back.
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May you and the Ancestors be blessed!
*Peter Paddon uses this phrase, and I like how it works.
Thanks to a happy conjunction of astrophysics, the moon will be extra bright tomorrow night, as it reaches it’s perigee (closest point to earth).
It will be enormous (not that size matters, of course!).
Thanks to something Ed Fitch said to me recently, and with his blessings (I feel like a celebrity, just being able to say that), I’ve been working on an idea for “spinning the moon,” which I plan to try out tomorrow night. Perhaps you’ll join me?
Wait until it’s late enough that everyone’s in bed, or otherwise engaged, and head outside with a bowl of water, some clary sage essential oil (if you have it; if not, the water will soon be enough), a stick of incense and a lighter. No candle needed; the light from the moon will be a gracious plenty.
Strip down (yes, I am that kind of witch). Kneel on the earth, with not only a clear view of the Moon, but with the moonlight washing over you. Light the incense. Set the bowl between your knees, and pour the water into the bowl. Consecrate it with three drops of clary sage oil and smoke from the incense. Stick the incense into the ground.
Looking up at the Moon, reach up with the fingers of your right hand, so you seem to be grasping the Moon between your thumb and middle fingers. Pinch down on the Moon, and, rubbing your thumb, third and ring fingers together, roll the Moonlight between your fingers, stretching it down to the bowl, until your fingers touch the water.
Touch the wet fingers to your forehead, and repeat, until the bowl feels full of the Moon.
Then, saying a prayer to the Moon, pour a little of the Moon water over yourself with each line (aren’t you glad we didn’t wear any clothes now?):Before the Moon Mother’s face, By the Hornéd Lord’s grace, By the Spirits of this Place, Bless me in my coming in and my going forth Bless me in my entering and my leaving Bless me in field and shed and bed Unto the coming of the next Full Moon.
Be it so!
To set the mood, listen to this lovely hymn to the moon, sung by the John Renbourn group.
I’m not an in-your-face kind of witch. I actually like flying under the radar. There’s just something about it. A power in the silence.
But if I am going to tweak the paradigm’s tail, spring’s the time to do it. So here goes. My little piece of spring madness:
Sometimes, I am one of those starry-eyed witches who wishes that I could walk out my door, turn a few corners, and happen upon a public altar to the old gods, out where everyone can see it. Out where everyone can use it.
Sometimes, I am one of those flinty realist witches, who thinks that such altars would be (1) covered in hate graffiti, (2) held hostage by squatters who want to ‘posses’ the craft as if it were a toy, and (3) staked out by numerous spies of church and state, all taking notes about who’s visiting and what’s being done.
Mostly, I am a witch of the middle ways, who believes such places are possible, if problematic.
So let’s engage in a few minutes of fantasy together. How could a public pagan altar be made, so that it had some chance of sucess? Let’s agree to define success simply, so it is tantalizingly possible — success is 10 strangers coming upon it, and using it in active devotion to its gods.
What would such an altar look like?
Perhaps it would be chthonic — built under the overpass of a freeway. One with heavy foot traffic. The pillars are spray painted with the images of gods, together with words for their devotion. “Blessings upon you who makes devotion to Me. Say My Name three times while stamping your right foot, clasp your hands to your heart, turn on your own axis clockwise one time, and bow.”
Or perhaps it would be an altar chalked onto a sidewalk near a sporting field. “I smile upon you who tread My Pattern. Hopscotch through the numbers to trace My Sigil. Strength to your team. Honor and victory to you in your upcoming game.”
Even a hopscotch pattern for the devotee to divine his or her fortune, like the one using the Magpie Rhyme in Morecambe, England.
The family who builds an altar together would be truly altered. Taking a leaf from Sannion’s Herm of Gratitude: At an auspicious family gathering, each member remembers an instance when Hermes favored them, and, using a paint pen, marks the details on a small stone. Leave the stones piled in a herm at the place where 3 sidewalks meet, along with a paint pen and blank stones, for the use of passers by.
Upon the lip of a public fountain, a sturdy piece of paper, pinned in place with a rock. “Kiss the palm of your hand, and touch it to the water in My Name. Anoint your forehead with My Waters. For I am She who will buoy you up through the storms of love. Whose gentle rains will wash you with Beauty.” .
You who read this. You understand. Because it stirs at the pit of your soul, as well. At the star in your third eye. Get out there, and make a little spring mayhem.
And if you do, please, feel free to send pictures!
If you’re fortunate enough to belong to a coven, or already gather with a group of like-minded friends to explore the old ways, below is one way for your group to infuse energy into the System, and with the gods, work to assure your own continued harvests. If you are working alone at the moment … well, the concepts still apply. If you don’t have a leader, it’s you — and you alone — who’s responsible for what goes on in your solitary circle. So adapt this ritual to work for you, and work away!
Fashion a man of bread — a mellman (from the Old English melu – ground grain, and man). Extra points if your mellman is made of flour ground from the grain of this season’s harvest.
Late last night I went out under the moon to pour a dish of wine to the Beloved Dead of my blood and of my line.
Last night I dreamed of the Beloved Dead. Moving amongst us, unseen by most everyone, but brisk about their business.
In my dream, my son and sister and I were in a school cafeteria, and my son was uncomfortable because of all the unseen folks. “Of course we can leave,” I said. “It’s very busy in here.”
He quickly got his bearings, and later we made small talk with the Dead Ones. Nothing of great import, just exchanging smiles and pleasantries as we passed each other in the hallway. We reached to touch one another.
This morning, I told my husband and son, “I dreamed of dead people last night.”
“I did too,” my son said. “My friend was dead, but he didn’t know it and wanted to turn in his homework, so I was like a medium and did it for him. There were other dead people around; some kids, some adults. You could tell them apart because they were blue.”
This lovely piece, written by Paul Huson back in 1974 for the Witches’ Almanac, does a powerful job of describing us witches and how we feel about magic.
Many thanks to the folks at the Witches’ Almanac for generously giving me permission to reprint it here. You folks rock!
The Old Ways…
What is it that calls to us from all ancient things: tangled woods; mossy lichened stones; secret gardens like Avalon; forgotten paths and long lost secrets? These things possess a power which flows from their very oldness.
I would say that such experiences are the call of the Old Ways, paths of myth, fable and legend, human dreams, your roots and mine. All ancient things partake of this mysterious ability to stir one’s soul.
Jung, the depth psychologist, attributed such feeling to the workings of the unconscious mind; anthropologists refer to them as Numen or Mana; poets call it inspiration.
Witches have a better name for what stirs us.
We call it magic.
Lay out a deck of Tarot cards and you will feel it breathing out from behind the pale hands and faces of the actors in the Tarot play, once gods and goddesses, now funny little puppets, quaint and heiratic, but still potent. Or open any book of mythology, tales of wonder and lost cults, of Morgana and Arthur, Math and Gwydion, the Tuatha De Danaan, Aradia. Even the contemporary myth- Tolkien’s Middle Earth- reverberates with the power of the Old Ways, and you will find magic there, for these are the bibles of our hidden gospel.
Yet behind the ceaseless interaction of the elements, rise and fall of stars, birth and death of the year, lie those sources that join our actions to theirs, the great common denominators, the eternal play of birth, love, death, and birth once more, enacted by the unseen Old Ones, lost gods today, but once simply primordial powers. To many of us they are just the Lord and Lady. Whether we care to call them Hu and Cerridwen, Bel and Ioevohe, Pan and Diana, Lucifer and Aradia, Watto and Andred, Cernunnos and Habondia, the archetypes are the same.
Whether our observances are traditional or discovered, handed down within a family or secret group, esoteric book, or even within the fabric of a dream. If they elicit a shiver of wonder and awe- then they are of the Old Ways. Deep will call to deep, power will come down. For at their most fundamental, before they were ever organized into any cult framework, the following could be said of these rites:
‘No special class of persons is set apart for their performance. The rites may be performed by anyone, as occasion demands. No special places are set apart for the performances. There are no temples. The rites are magical rather than propitiatory. The desired objects are attained not by propitiating the favor of the divine beings through sacrifice, prayer and praise but by ceremonies which are believed to influence the course of nature directly through a physical resemblance between the rite and the effect.’
These are not my words but Sir James Frazer’s. His Golden Bough along with Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology and The White Goddess by Robert Graves are our Testaments.
So if you seek knowledge of the Old Ones, turn to the sun and kiss your hand to the moon; be aware of the sky above your head and the earth beneath your feet, nature’s bounty, herbs and all living things.
Above all, observe the seasons and the tides. It isn’t in human institutions that the true secrets of vision and power are to be looked for, but only in the inwardness of your own being as reflected in nature.
Why go elsewhere when you have what you seek so close at hand?
Father of Witches,
blessed be Thy Name in Thy Secret Kingdom.
In Nature Thou dost give us meat and drink,
fire to warm our bodies
and love to warm our hearts.
Be strength unto Thy horn
and to us power, wealth and wisdom.
Honour to the crescent and the waning
and She who walketh in brightness,
The Mother of Enchantments.
Be good fortune in Thy waxing,
merriment at Thy full
and evils be banished in Thy decrease.