Tag Archives: Paul Huson

We make a start – the Introduction

And now, all you witches settle in for a satisfying run-up to Halloween — 8 delightful days of unabashed and uncensored exploration of witchcraft, through the eyes of Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft.

To start us off, Sarah Lawless shares her thoughts on topics found in the Introduction.

Sarah Lawless, known to most of us as The Witch of Forest Grove, is a Pacific Northwest spaewife, author, artist and wort crafter.  Her art has appeared in Hex Magazine and Hoofprints in the Wildwood, The Cauldron, and Witches & Pagans and her crafting is currently offered up at Stang and Cauldron.

Want to hear more from Sarah?  Read her article Land Guardianship in the current issue of The Cauldron, or visit her at The Witch of Forest Grove.

For your reading ease, bits from Mastering Witchcraft are quoted below, with discussion points.  The bolded bits are Sarah’s responses.

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ntroduction, in which Our Hero
proposes an origin for the gods,
the witch blood and magic, and
tells how the Winds of History beat upon
the Brow of Arte Magickal.
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It was my witchcraft teacher who told me I must read Huson, he being of the older generation and I of the new, and I delighted in reading it; here was a book that finally matched my darkly witchy soul and was unashamed of speaking of power, darkness, spirits, and necromancy. I ate it up and thirsted for more as it differed so greatly from the goddess-power-do-no-harm books I was used to finding in bookstores. Instead of giving a message of not to do any real magic because you can’t be trusted to make the right decision, Mastering Witchcraft gives out the message that the responsibility of your actions lies with you alone and that guilt and shame have no place in spellwork if it is to be effective. Why fight our nature? We are what we are.

“The stake and the noose are things of the past, and we may once more choose our own gods, bright or dark.”

Are the stake and the noose things of the past?  Are we coming out of, or going into repression?

Law or no law, I don’t think much has changed over the centuries as people are still people. We witches hang precariously in a balance between good and evil in the public mind. When they have need of us or for us to entertain them we are good, but when they need someone to blame for wrongdoings or tragic events it is our blood that is often spilled. Such tragedy is not behind us in the past. Cushioned Wiccans in N. America may have already forgotten the violence towards priests and priestesses of Vodou after the earthquakes in Haiti by the common people who believed it was their evil magics who had brought the wrath of God upon the island. Men and women are stilled killed in the world today for the accusation of witchcraft. It is foolish to think no one would ever harm us. Laws are nothing to fundy family members, angry mobs, and fearful prejudiced coworkers, bosses, and landlords. Even in “civilized” society people still lose their jobs, homes, and loved ones over witchcraft. As long as there is superstition in the hearts of men there will be witches and there will be witch hunters.

Do we choose our gods, do they choose us, or something in between?

I believe that, like Huson says, we can choose whether our gods are bright or dark, or to serve with both hands: “Witchcraft is witchcraft. The seeds of success or destruction lie within you and you alone.” Overall, I think it differs for each pagan, but I have noticed witches in particular follow specific deities, usually Mercurial or Saturnian in nature. Keepers of the ways between worlds and masters of magic and the first of our kind – the Witchmother and the Witchfather. I’ve watched many try to cherry-pick their gods only to be thwarted. I myself have been unsuccessful in putting the preferred cultural faces on my deities; they resist me at every turn and will have none of it as they are who they are.

It is my opinion that it is a bad habit of pagans and witches alike to try to choose their gods like a dog at a shelter –of course they will pick the most beautiful or unique or the one that matches their purse and not necessarily the one they need or who actually wants to work with them in return. It is often better in the long run to put away the ego and see who comes to you of their own will. This applies to spirits as well as deities.

It is also a naughty habit of us modern magicians to think we have to have gods to worship and in matching male-female pairs no less. It is okay to have only one god or to have twelve. It is okay to   have no gods and worship nature, animals, and the dead instead as an animist. The male-female pair of witch-gods to me are the first ancestors, the first magicians, and the divine essence of the masculine and feminine – not necessarily gods in the definition we modern pagans use.

“… Great Azael and his cohorts had to assume tangible bodies in order to descend upon the earth.  Because of their revolt against higher authority and the ties with this world which they had subsequently formed, they were unable to divest themselves of these material forms and re-ascend into the heavenly spaces again.  It is from these exiled beings that all true magical knowledge and power is said to be derived.”

“…though most of the giants yielded up their lives in the flood, many of their spirits partaking as they did of the angelic nature of their fathers, proved indestructible, and lived on, invisible yet powerful even in their disembodied state.”

Do you believe there is such a thing as witch blood?  Can you be a witch without it? Does everyone have it?

Many modern witches use the introduction of Mastering Witchcraft as proof of their claim to witch blood, but Huson does not mention blood – he mentions myths and legends found throughout the world all influencing and feeding off of one another. His introduction is rife with Luciferianism – pay careful heed to the specific deities, spirits, and heroes of legend he mentions.

I do not believe in witch blood in the popular modern literal view of it. It smacks of dangerous elitism and racism to me. Witches are not a separate race. We are not even special. We are common as dirt and found across the world under a thousand different names and titles. I rather like to believe that all of us humans contain that divine spark of magical potential, but some of us are asleep and never touch upon it, and others (witches, shamans, mystics…) are awake and use it to the fullest. We are all children of the gods and the universe, not just some of us. We all share the same blood and we all bleed red.

Which is more important to successful magical work, knowledge of magic or relationships with spirits?

No spirits, no magic. All the magical knowledge in the world is of no use unless you have power and can wield it. Power comes from mastering spirits, not becoming masters over them, but of learning their ways, how to work with them, and how to navigate their world.

The world is full of spirits: of plants, of trees, of animals, of earth and stone, of the dead, and of many a host of inhuman entities like Huson describes in the introduction:

“…many of their spirits partaking as they did of the angelic nature of their fathers, proved indestructible, and lived on, invisible yet powerful even in their disembodied state. On occasion, these shades are said to gain access to the world of men by reincarnating in human shape, and are referred to as intruders, ancient alien souls transmigrating from the past.”

What is a spell or rite without calling on the spirits of the plants in the incense or the charm, your animal allies, your ancestral spirits, your gods of magic? Usually, an unsuccessful one. Some of the most primally powerful witches I have known had never read a book or been trained; they were wild creatures of instinct and mysticism.

Is there one “stream” of magical knowledge, fractured by the passage of time, or many streams, existing separately? 

I like to see the streams as many threads in a great tapestry; some touch and some do not, but they are all connected by the weave itself. There are cultural threads, experiencial threads, and tradition threads. We witches can pull gently on a thread to better see it in the weave and access the knowledge and wisdom from it far back into the reaches of ancestral memory.  The cloth is a collective library of thoughts, practices, beliefs, experiences, knowledge, and wisdom of all who have come before us. The threads are always there, right at our fingertips, we need only see them and trace them back through the weave so our body of lore and ability is not forgotten.

“Scholars began to study the antiquities of the classical world and with them many of the old magical practices, always, however, relating it to a Christian framework, for safety’s sake if nothing else.”

Did the suppression of witch beliefs and practices strengthen or weaken them?

Documenting is still documenting, no matter if the scholar looks down his nose at the content or not. Without James Frazer’s obsession with proving Christians more enlightened and heathens as mere unintelligent savages who worshipped only the seasons and food we would not have The Golden Bough with its twelve volumes of documented rural practices, beliefs, and rites that would otherwise have been lost to time. Without such scholars entire native languages and spiritual belief systems would have been lost. It is a double-edged sword – on one edge the dominance of Christianity crushed indigenous beliefs, but on the other they documented them so they survived until present day to be taken up again.

As I see witchcraft as an experiential practice and spirituality, I do not think it can ever be weakened by suppression. Its abilities will always come unbidden to generation after generation.

When the witch laws were repealed, was that good or bad?

Good because it stopped senseless persecution and finger pointing at a singled-out group. But… we forget that the laws were originally created to protect people from being cursed or taken advantage of by frauds – not to arrest or execute people just for practicing magic in general. The laws still protect the public from frauds and swindlers taking advantage of the superstitious, but most now have the stipulation that, if the accused truly believes in their religion or spirituality and that magic is real, they are guilty of no more than exercising their religious freedom.

“Witch” didn’t used to mean innocent herbalists and healers, it once referred to workers of malevolent curses and bestowers of the evil eye. Now there is no legal protection from the darker sorcerers and such things would be laughed at today in court leaving the innocent unprotected. For those who need a mental smack to be reminded of who and what witches once were and are still thought of in the non-pagan public mind, they should read Witchcraft in Old and New England by George Lyman Kittredge.

Has magical knowledge been hopelessly muddled?  Is it possible to pick out original threads? 

It is only muddled to the armchair witch. The practicing experiential witch has no problem accessing the knowledge and arts of our kind, understanding them, and putting them to use. Books help to make connections, but they are only a small aid to what we can do and fathom.

Huson himself states that our remaining lore is

“a patchwork quilt of historical odds and ends, religious flotsam and jetsam, but containing in the midst of that welter of confusing symbolism enough of the old secrets to make the processes work if properly pursued”.

We need only to step back and see the pattern for the patchwork, the cloth out of the woven threads, and the forest for the trees.

How would you do so?  Does it matter?

The spirits and deities are our teachers and guides. We are never alone on our magical journey, never without help. Summon them, work with them, and learn from them if they deem you worthy. Commune with them in otherworldly travels, in dreams, through possession… Learn directly from the plants, animals, ancestors, and fey creatures of the wilds. Learn from other practitioners to help fill in the gaps of lore and share with one another. One receives no gifts if one does not ask.

Can magic be studied as a science? 

I do not believe so. Science tries to quantify and explain everything. How does one explain the unexplainable? Magic is full of paradoxes, symbolism, and metaphor. The otherworld is ever changing and different for everyone – it cannot be quantified. Science can help understand nature, the earth, and the universe, but it is only the tiniest littlest wee fraction of its true nature. I never understood why we try to craft metal vessels to reach the moon and stars and study them when we can just leave our bodies and go there and see them for ourselves and speak with their denizens. Much magic has been lost due to science and scepticism.

Does explaining magic in a scientific framework help or hinder its practice?

Some sciences can help people understand such as botany, genetics, and astronomy, but overall for me science is best left behind when diving into magic as it only serves to ruin the essence of magic. Some of my favourite quotes that reflect this opinion come from Emma Wilby and Paul Huson:

“Without an experiential dimension any set of magical beliefs, however sophisticated, becomes little different from a scientific procedure – a manufactured means through which to manipulate nature and the objects within it.”

Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits

“…if and when the firelight happens to dim, at those times when the unknown presses hard upon us, in the presence of death or insanity or insurmountable calamity, we again know instinctively that science is ultimately irrelevant, and we once again experience the old childhood terrors. […]Science still completely fails to come to grips with that outer darkness beyond the flickering ring of light.”

Paul Huson, Mastering Witchcraft

If science is the safe campfire of humankind, we witches are the dwellers in the night who can see in the dark – for we have the light of the moon and the spirits to guide us.

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Hot fresh witchcraft, with a prize inside

Drawn to a close — six Sundays of discussing Mastering Witchcraft and drinking tea with a group of fascinating witches.  Well, to be honest, most of us were drinking red wine, but we were sipping it from tea cups.  And some of the fascination came straight from Chapter 4 of the book.

I loved it.  So much so, that I’m bringing the fun to you.

Shortly, you’ll be able to read what well-known witches have to say on the concepts in Mastering Witchcraft.  I call them Celebrity Witches — high profile witches, who write, teach, speak and further the Craft in real and meaningful ways.  And that’s the tip of the iceburg, because to do those things well, they also have to be diligent practitioners of their arte “off screen.”

These Celebrity Witches will be working from the same set of discussion points used in the book club meetings.*  Please chime in with your own thoughts and experiences.  In many cases the celebrities are following along, so ask questions, as well.  The answers may surprise you!

And to sweeten the honey jar further, there’s a prize.  (Rules apply, see below for details.) Every time you comment,** I’ll put your name in the hat.  If you plug the online discussion on your site, I’ll put your name in three times.†  At the end of the online discussion,†† I’ll draw a winner.  The lucky witch will receive a copy of Mastering Witchcraft, which Mr. Huson has autographed with the inscription “you need but ask, the way is open to you.”

So stay tuned, to hear what Sarah Lawless of The Witch of Forest Grove, Jason Miller of Strategic Sorcery, Harold Roth of The Alchemist’s Garden, Hyperion of the UnNamed Path, Deborah Lipp, of Property of a Lady, Peter Paddon of the Crooked Path, Robin Artisson of Tracks in the Witchwood, and Mrs. Drinkwalter of North of Berkeley have to say about the concepts in Mastering Witchcraft.

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*Each Celebrity Witch retains all copyrights to their writings contained herein, with the sole exception that they have each agreed that I can post them on UsedKey.
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**And that means a *real* comment, not one of those sissified “me too” type responses. 
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†If you post on your site, email me at trothwy at live dot com, so I know to put your name in the hat.
 

††I’ll post an end date for comments to be eligible for the drawing, as discussions wind down.

 ¶Let the Discussion commence!

 

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Wonder what you’re missing?

 Last Sunday’s discussion exceeded my greediest expectations. 
 
As I told a new friend, the book discussion was “like one of those really deep, satisfying conversations where you’re up until 4 in the morning without even noticing it.” 
 
Except we weren’t up until 4 am … although we did run over, by about an hour.
 
 
 
 
It’s not too late to join us.  For more information, email bendith.y.cyrn@live.com, or call 832-684-5587.
 
Come over to the dark side.  We have tea and cakes!
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And the goat would be for?

In all fairness, you should be informed that this blog has been temporarily highjacked by a book club.

And now, you’re probably imagining this:

Well-bred ladies sedately sipping coffee and sharing household happenings over a tastefully appointed coffee table.

When really, it’s more like this:

And during the accompanying kaffeeklatsch, you read this quote from Mastering Witchcraft:

“When you cast a spell … Now supposing at just that precise moment the door to your place of working were to open and your husband or maybe your mother-in-law were to confront you … ‘Audrey! What are you doing dressed up like that in here?  And why haven’t you got any lights on? You’ll strain your eyes … And what’s all that terrible smoke?’  Total anticlimax.”

And you laugh, because you, too, have been there.

Only rather than confess to your dear old mum-in-law that you are a witch, you pretended to be smoking marijuana on the sly.   Well … it explained all that incense.

But not why you were naked.  Or what the goat was for.

Join Bendith y Cyrn in a book club style discussion of Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft.  And it gets even better.  Mr. Huson has agreed to autograph a number of books for me.  If you take part, you’ll be able for buy one for my cost (book price + shipping), as long as they last. 

To sign up, email  bendith.y.cyrn@live.com or call 832-684-5587.

 So call already.  Coffee provided.  Goats optional.

 

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A name for what stirs us

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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!

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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?

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How do you know?

I was playing around on Etymonline this morning, and ran across something interesting.

While English uses a single word for the concept “know,” many languages use two or more verbs to cover the same concept.  So when you say “I know” in French or German or Latin, the word you choose says something about *how* you know what you know.

For instance, Old English had two words:  witan (to know something because you’ve seen it, or have personal experience of it), and cnawan (to have a
perception or understanding of something).

In Latin, the words are cognoscere (to become acquainted with) and scire (to know, to see).

All this because I wanted to share with you a simple but powerful divinatory technique I’ve seen my dear friend the amazing Mrs. Drinkwalter uses on occasion.  I’m not sure whether she thought it up herself, or got it from someone else.  Quite possibly lots of folks have thought it up on their own; it’s just the sort of thing that makes you thump your head and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”   Mrs. Drinkwalter works it with runes, but really you could use anything.  Possibly even partially-sucked jello shots …  it’s just that good.

It’s based on the principles “To know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent,” which Eliphas Lévi writes of in The Key of the Mysteries:  “To undertake, one must know; to accomplish, one must will; to will really, one must dare; and in order to gather in peace the fruits of one’s audacity, one must keep silent.”

I use cards (no surprise) or a home-made set of weirden for this spread.   If it’s cards, I shuffle them, and as I separate them into halves, but before I bridge them, I tap each half of the deck, one on top of the other, right side onto the left, and left side onto the right, to form a crossroads.  As I do this,  I say Evn’s adaptation of a piece out of Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft:

Hermes, Lord of the Crossroads
In Thy Name, I take up the Cards.
From a word to a word, let me be led to a word.
From a sign to another sign.
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Then I fan the cards out and pick four — one for each of To Know, To Dare, To Will and To Keep Silent.  Here’s how I interpret them:

To Know:  an important aspect; sometimes one that’s hidden from me, and sometimes an aspect that I’m not giving enough attention to.

To Dare: something that I need to do in a mundane, roll-up-my-sleeves kind of way.

To Will:  something that I need to act upon magically.

To Keep Silent:  something that I need to avoid doing.

This is my preferred method of divination before any magical working, because it’s quick and thorough.  Just the thing!

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For love of the dead

Necromancy.

The word conjures up images of scantily-clad heroines and rotting corpses. Sadly for all you B movie buffs, Necromancy is quite simply, “divination by communication with the dead.”  Some candles … a little incense … no corpse required.  Although it should be, love isn’t a word usually associated with it.  Love for your ancestors.

If you don’t already venerate your ancestors, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to do so.  For a witch, making and tending relationships with your ancestors has very tangible and loving returns, divination and recovery of lost lore being only two.  And because time isn’t linear (one of the reasons witchcraft works), your ancestors have a physical existence both in the past and the future where, through the cycle of life, death and rebirth, they will be reborn.  So they know a thing or two about the future.

For some practical steps in necromancy, I can highly recommend two sources:

In “Mastering Witchcraft,”  Paul Huson sets forth instructions for an amatory necromancy — The Dumb Supper — as a means of contacting the spirit of a dead loved one or for calling forth “the spectral apparition of a future loved one or spouse.”  The ritual takes some real commitment; it requires a fair bit of set up and is worked over 13 nights.  I did a simplified version of it some years ago, with excellent results, so I can only imagine how amazing the the full on bells-and-whistles Dumb Supper would be. *

From a Haitian Vodou-inspired perspective, Steven Bragg developed an Ancestor Novena which he sets forth in his article “Samhain, the Time of the Ancestors.”  His Novena is an excellent for making and keeping contact with your ancestors.  Like the Dumb Supper, the Ancestor Novena is time-consuming, but well worth the effort.

These are just two ways to approach communion with the ancestral spirits.  Every culture has them.  So Hindu or Budhist, Christian or Witch, in your own way spend some time with your beloved dead.  

For in this time of Harvest Home, we’re their harvest.

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*About “Mastering Witchcraft” —  If you’re a traditional witch, you’ve already got it on your bookshelf.  If you’re new to witchcraft and interested in a traditional take on the Magical Arts, boy are you in for a treat.  I’m very nostalgic about this book, as it informed my first steps as witch when I was very, very young.

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