Monday, July 30, 2012


'That's how it is'
'You'll have to learn to accept that'

These, and others like them, are comments that I have had great difficulty with since I was a child. I have never been able to see why many religious and spiritual traditions ascribe some kind of virtue to
acceptance. Obedience as usually understood is another one that I don't understand.
This is particularly so if what is happening is just plain wrong. I am passionately interested in clerical sexual abuse, and was reading this morning about the scandal in Holland. There I think it is actually even worse than in Britain because of the involvement of the church in political parties so that the cover up of the abuse extends as far as the Dutch parliament.
The targets of these abusers would no doubt have been discredited, castrated (no, seriously), persuaded in various ways. In that situation independence of thinking is paramount, because a major strategy of abusers is to blame the victim. Even if redress is gained, there is then pressure to 'move on', even to accept that it has
happened and forget it.
As a witch this makes my blood boil. I feel no obligation to accept things I know to be wrong. Even if things are not as I will, I will work on changing them. Normally this makes me feel that I am such an arrogant bastard.
I have, however recently gained a new insight on acceptance. Last year I was diagnosed with glaucoma, and have put major efforts into making sure that I can still see when I drop dead. I take my drops religiously, have stopped smoking, improved my diet, and so on. I wouldn't, however, have thought of this as acceptance - who on earth would want to have glaucoma - until I was talking to someone I work with who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes. It hadn't struck me that the opposite of acceptance is denial, and she was totally in denial about her illness, to the extent of not taking her medication and just hoping it would go away.
So perhaps acceptance can mean you accept that the problem is really happening to you, without passively leaving it as it is, rather than deny it is happening at all.
On the other hand I was reading the problem page in some magazine: a woman wrote in to say that her sister was being beaten up by her husband but did not want the police called or to leave him, and what should she do. The advice was to keep in contact with her and offer support until the sister decided she wanted that sort of help. I sat there thinking wtf? So here is the witch's answer: First decide whether keeping your relationship with your sister at all costs is worth more than ensuring her physical safety. If it is not, call the
police and/or social services immediately. If you prioritise your relationship with your sister make strenuous efforts to get her to accept help.Then hex the bastard so that he will never do it again. And I mean never.
And then walk free, knowing that you have stopped another shit from hurting a woman. Know that this is the work of the Goddess, and what witches are for. And remember that if you're going to start accepting things, you might just as well roll over and die now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The right sort of black

'Wash dark colours separately.' Separately from...?

'You just go and find this Omnian and keep an eye on him.' 
'What should I look for?' said Agnes sourly. 'A column of smoke?'
'They all wear black,' said Nanny firmly. 'Hah! Typical!'
'Well? So do we.'
'Right! But ours is... ours is...' Nanny thumped her chest, causing considerable ripples, 'ours is the right black, right? Now, off you go and look inconspicuous,' added Nanny, a lady wearing a two-foot-tall pointed black hat.

Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum.
Doreen Valiente
You can no doubt find the question of what a witch looks like answered in many ways on the internet. An image search finds the classic pointy hat and warty nose image, while many modern witches will tell you that witches look like anyone else. This is a valiant attempt in public relations terms but I doubt that it is quite true. There is certainly no uniform look for witches, but the one thing that is sure is that we tend to look like nobody else, we are always somewhat marked out as the weirdos. In some cases this may be the conscious reason for dressing a certain way - adolescents and young adults often seek to identify with their peer group as a reaction to an identity as their parents' children, or else rebel as a means of self-definition.
I love some of the older pictures of witches of the past. Certainly in the earlier days of the movement witches did tend to look like anyone else - but this is probably best explained by the fact that a greater variety of individual choice came in the sixties; certainly in the fifties people would have had fewer clothes than we have now, and there would be much less choice for people on an ordinary income. Gerald Gardner looks like any other old colonial in the earlier pictures of him: it was only after the publicisation of Wicca that he began to look more witchy with pointy beard and capes. Rae Bone looked like a normal person. The surviving pictures of Robert Cochrane show him in a suit or tie or in potholing gear: once again he doesn't look like most people would expect a witch to look. I particularly like the earlier pictures of Doreen Valiente in which she looks like someone's secretary (which was exactly what she was during the day), and I always think Patricia Crowther's theatrical background is apparent in her appearance and demeanour. The common theme here - all of these people come across as larger than life characters, with their own individual style.
Z Budapest
The next generation began to look a bit more witchy. The pictures of Alex Sanders look surprisingly old fashioned. There is one picture of him towards the end of his life (which I'm afraid I have been unable to find online and can't remember where I saw it), bare chested and shaven headed, which gives a much greater impression of mature wisdom. In his younger photos he tends to come across as rather shifty. Maxine Sanders is almost unrecognisable from her pictures in the seventies and is a very good example of dignified ageing for a witch. Janet Farrar had the best-known Wiccan breasts for many years but it is difficult to know where to go from that as you get older. Stuart Farrar fitted his role of grand old man of Alexandrian witchcraft down to the ground, and just look at the pictures of him with Janet in the Witches' Bible: he is absolutely devoted to her, exactly as it should be for a Wiccan priest. Another recurrent theme becomes apparent: how we look gives an impression to the world outside. The impression could be a 'glamour', a deliberately projected impression intended to deceive, or it could be a genuine expression of an interior reality. Either way, appearance is part of the magic. It is possible to do magic completely mentally with absolutely no props at all, but the props work their magic on us to set the stage and get us into the right world to do the magic. In a community where a major principle is 'as above, so below, as within so without,' this movement from within to without and back again is an important act. Similarly an external appearance can be intended as a magical act in itself. Witches wear an awful lot of black for reasons of psychic perception, power, and protection from other people's stuff. It's also slimming, stylish, you can dress in the dark, and wash everything together with no runs.

Christian Day
The following generations are probably the most public of modern witches yet, and so there is even greater variety and individuality, so the people I will pick of younger generations will be deliberately for the purposes of this post. Of the feminists it is difficult not to mention my beloved Z Budapest. You can feel the power of the woman in the photos of her in her younger days: there is no doubt that this woman is a witch and a force of nature and not to be trifled with. She has also aged with grace: her hair is its natural colour, and though she has begun to look more frail now she has wisely chosen her publicity photos to be a reflection of who Z Budapest is. Starhawk is known for her activism and concern for ecology, and I believe that this is expressed in her garb. Some witches may wear a lot of fairly traded or organic or hemp clothes, because this is what their concern is as a witch. A female witch whose look I like very much is Dorothy Morrison, who wears a lot of business suits, and commented on an interview that at a Pagan festival, she is the one you would remember because she would be the only one not running round in a sun dress and flip flops. Again this is dressing for her purpose: giving an impression of Dorothy Morrison as the sort of person who wears business suits, creating the sort of relationships with clients that are businesslike and being remembered! Which brings me nicely to Christian Day, who pumps up the witch (or rather, warlock in his case) look to the maximum. He often talks about this aspect of magic in his radio show, how magical people throughout history will deliberately be different so as to be a spirit magnet. He also talks about garb as a manifestation of ones inner witch. I love the way he talks about wanting plastic surgery in years to come and fighting the ageing process as hard as he can: once again all acts are magical acts and there is nothing to stop a surgeon's scalpel being a magical tool if your will is that you look different. Of male witches another person whose look I like partly because it isn't that witchy is Jason Karl. I wasn't aware of him being open as a witch before he wrote a book about it, but his interest is apparent (to those in the know) in the series of Most Haunted in which he appears. Apart from anything else he's hot as f*ck, and that's almost the definition of witchcraft in many people's book.
Jason Karl. Yum.
I said that it was apparent to those in the know that Karl was a witch, so quite apart from the image we project for everyone else, how do witches recognise each other? I think we pick it up on an energy or even astral level, and in fact can often tell when witchcraft is crying out for a person before she can herself. What we pick up is the inner, more subtle, expression of what is expressed externally by the way the witch chooses to appear. On this level, whether dressed in Ren Fayre garb or jeans, a witch is always recognisably a witch.
This post would be incomplete without some mention of the witch undressed. There is a great tradition of ritual nudity as an expression of equality and priestly power in modern witchcraft. The historical source for this is more likely to be twentieth century naturism than any ancient religious tradition. It was thought that nudity was in some way good for you. It may well still be thought so, I don't move in naturist circles. Certainly the evidence would suggest that the tendency in recent years of covering up compromises vitamin D absorption. How often we faggots have thanked the Goddess for the urge of working class men to get their shirt off at the first sign of sun. Anyone growing up from, say, the nineties onwards, will have grown up in a world where it is much less acceptable for men to be bare chested in public. I think the reason for this is that it has become sexualised (remember Marky Mark?), and there is more pressure on men to look a particular way (i.e. six pack) nowadays. I think this is a great loss. As a witch my instinct is to think that very few things should be considered wrong in and of themselves. A disparagement of body uncovering can lead to shame and embarrassment. In the right company nudity shouldn' be a problem. But the key thing here is that it should be the right company: the witch should have a certain effortlessness of action, and so should also cultivate a certain effortlessness in this area. Other people's discomfort and possible consequences of wearing the 'wrong' thing would be the test: just as you wouldn't wear cut off jeans at a Buckingham Palace tea party, so you should pick the right moment when to prioritise not causing embarrassment to other people or when boldly to go without... Of course I would hate anyone to think that I believe the witch's choices should be decided by others' norms and expectations. The witch's approach would be more to think that if you cannot face wearing the sort of clothes that would be necessary in a particular function, wild horses wouldn't drag you there unless you particularly want to go, in which case you would make a point of superficially fitting in, but leave nobody in any doubt that you're all witch underneath!
(With thanks to N who reminded me of the Discworld quote with her comments on the right sort of weird. I thought it was Granny Weatherwax who said it: imagine how pleased I was to find it was Nanny Ogg!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 3: Sources of the Charge

The sources of the Charge
Sources for the texts used in the Charge are identified in the commentary to follow, building on the sources identified by Serith (Ceisiwr Serith: The Sources of the Charge of the Goddess. <> Updated 2003, Accessed 18.6.08.), Dearnaley (Roger Dearnaley: The Influence of Aleister Crowley upon “Ye Bok of ye Art Magical”. <> Updated 2005, Accessed 9.3.10.), Kelly (Aidan Kelly: Inventing Witchcraft. Thoth Publications, Loughborough, 2007.),  and d’Este and Rankine (Sorita d’Este and David Rankine: Wicca: Magical Beginnings. Avalonia, London, 2008.). I have decided to treat the text slightly differently from any single one of these, however. The Charge as we now encounter it is a literary composition by Gardner and Valiente, with both quotations from other writings, and passages influenced by quotations from other writings used in the first version, but changed as the Charge as been edited. I have therefore decided to treat the Charge as one single text drawing on a number of influences, rather than as a collection of quotations drawn from other works.
My approach is not based primarily on the approach of any one of the four sources above, although I have been heavily influenced by all of them and taken pointers from them. In identifying sources and influences I have had to make some decisions on what I consider to be the weight of the evidence. I have given the reasons for these decisions, but none of them can be considered final conclusions on sources. Even in direct quotation there are sometimes several sources the same quotation could have comes from, and in other places sources show their influence in more subtle ways: I would identify four levels of influence on the Charge by other texts. The present version of the charge is a recension of the version of the Charge in Ye Bok of ye Art Magical, so I treat that as the direct source for the last version of the Charge. This is the first level of influence. The second level of influence on the Charge is direct quotation from other works (usually present in the first version of the Charge). The meaning of some of the direct quotations in the first version survives into the final version, but are no longer direct quotations, which is the third level of influence. Finally a fourth level of influence can be seen: passages influenced by the ideas contained in other writings, without actually quoting them directly. These of course are well-nigh impossible to detect, but I think one instance of this level of influence becomes apparent.
Serith argues for the non-inclusion of Isis’s speech in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses in the Charge, but I would argue that the Charge is influenced at this level by Isis’s speech. As a literary composition (the speech of a Goddess), the Charge belongs to the same genre; it is known that Gardner was aware of the existence of this passage of Apuleius – in The Meaning of Witchcraft he gives an account of the story, which he describes as ‘a romance of witchcraft’ (Gerald Gardner: The Meaning of Witchcraft. Weiser Books, York Beach, 2004, p. 71.),  with reference to the Goddess and the witches of Thessaly; many of the same ideas of divinity are contained in both texts (such as a number of phrases beginning ‘I am’, even to the extent of some being preceded by ‘Behold’); it is a rare account from the late Classical world of a syncretised Goddess such as is described in the Charge; and, as I shall show below, the High Priest’s introduction to the Charge both most clearly shows the influence of Apuleius, and has no other apparent source. Sources and influences can be shown for the rest of the text, and so it would be unusual if one section were the composition of Gardner alone.
At the end of the commentary  the reliance of the Charge on other sources will be analysed in terms of the number of words, and the relative proportions of material which cannot be attributed to other sources.
I give the sources from Crowley as they appear in The ‘Blue’ Equinox (Aleister Crowley: The Equinox Vol. 3, No. 1, March 1919 (The Blue Equinox). Weiser Books, San Francisco, 2007.),  since all these sources appear in that work. The primary source for quotation of Crowley should be The Book of the Law, but the Charge’s quotations from that text appear as they do in Crowley’s own quotations. It also appears naturally more likely that the single available source (both in the 1940s and now) for  all of those quotations would be the actual source used, rather than a number of editions. Further, many of the quotations used appear close together (on only one page in the edition I consulted), and in the same order as they appear there. After the commentary The Law of Liberty will be compared to the Charge to show the closeness of the quotations used.
It should be noted that only five things can be said with certainty on the origin of the Crowley quotations in the Charge: that the Charge appears in the form of a single text in BAM, rather than in the form of notes from different sources; that a number of passages in the BAM version of the Charge quote directly from the published works of Aleister Crowley; that Gardner told Valiente he used these to flesh out fragmentary inherited rituals; that the one single Crowley source which contains all the quotations is the Blue Equinox; and that we can only know that Gardner had access to any volumes of the Equinox after May 1947, when Crowley wrote to Gerald Yorke and told him to send ‘The Equinox of the Gods’, which Gardner had bought (Crowley, letter to Gerald Yorke, May 9th, 1947 (Warburg Institute Library, Gerald Yorke Collection, OSD5, 33) cited in Morgan Davis: From Man to Witch: Gerald Gardner 1946-1949. <> Version 1.1, accessed 5.4.10.).
Rumours such as that Crowley was paid to produce the Book of Shadows rituals, or that Crowley was a member of the witch-cult, are supported by no evidence at all. Dearnley theorises that Gardner had access to a copy of the Blue Equinox at some time in the early 1940s and used it in his work on the Charge.
Heselton , conversely, theorises that Gardner inherited rituals compiled by someone else, in part using material from Crowley, which Heselton does not believe need have come from the single source of the Blue Equinox, material which Gardner recognised, despite being relatively unfamiliar with Crowley’s writings, although Heselton believes he must have had access to a copy of the Blue Equinox after receiving the rituals in BAM (Philip Heselton: Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration. Capall Bann, Milverton, 2003.).
I believe that both of these explanations involve unnecessarily complicated explanations of the available evidence, and that the evidence referred to above best supports this explanation: the Charge was compiled by somebody, who was not an OTO initiate, using the Blue Equinox as the source, at some time in the years before the late 1940s, when Gardner’s possession of the text in BAM is believed to date. Since Gardner acknowledged to Valiente that he used Crowley to flesh out the rites, in the absence of other evidence I would attribute editorship to him.
In the commentary below I will give likely sources for the last version of the text, giving them in descending order of influence:
First, the version of the Charge in Ye Bok of ye Art Magical, as being the source text for the final version of the Charge and  which was being rewritten.
Secondly, apparent direct quotations from other literary sources.
Thirdly, sources directly quoted in the Ye Bok of ye Art Magical version of the Charge, edited for use in this version.
Last, sources which are likely to have been drawn on for ideas in this text, but which are not directly or indirectly quoted.

Muscular Witchcraft

Fr O'Malley liked to put the altar boys through their paces on a Friday night
This post's title is a shameless parody of the idea of 'Muscular Christianity', which came into vogue from Victorian times, and stressed both energetic masculinity and fitness, and energetic evangelism. This Christianity was vigorous, stressed clean living and doing things for others. Its remnants remain in organisations originally created to promote its dual ideals: nowadays we think of YMCA as meaning a gym, but it stands for Young Men's Christian Association.
Muscular witchcraft is decidedly different from its Christian variant (and the fluffbunnies will find it somewhat controversial no doubt). As humans we continually have to decide how much to give to other people, when to say no, and what priority we can give to looking after ourselves over looking after other people.  There is a great Christian tradition of considering yourself the least, and putting yourself behind everyone else (although I am wary of the motivational issues around Christian selflessness, since the bloke who started it all said that that putting yourself last actually will make you the first), a tradition which is almost entirely absent from all modern magical and esoteric traditions. However if the problem for muscular Christianity is a contradiction in their theory of positioning the problem for witches here is that we have a real problem with competition and power, related to our public relations problem around the w-word which still means the personification of 'evil' to the muggles, to the extent that many witches are frightened to do anything that may imply they are acting without others' consent and so these people become paralysed in the face of others' aggression. The problem here is that we are a new tradition without a great tradition of ethics, whose ethical systems have been created by people with no great training in ethics.
What were they thinking of?

I have no doubt that I will return to the subject of witchcraft ethics in this blog, but the point of dragging the subject of the use and abuse of power, and the literal or metaphorical flexing of muscles, into this post is an entirely personal one. Last year I stopped smoking. While I was smoking I had a metabolism like a sprinter and could shovel back the food and never put weight on. Since I stopped smoking I have put weight on every time I've gone into the kitchen. I've tried eating sensibly, I've tried walking home from work a few times a week, and keep losing a little weight only to put it back on again, and have a gradually increasing waistline. I've not tried dieting, and wouldn't, as diets just put you temporarily into starvation and don't work in the long run - another of my bugbears.
But I seem to have found a solution to this problem: my will is to use all of the means at my disposal to ensure I remain as healthy, supple, and fit as possible for the rest of my life. Given that my will is to use all of the means available, and having exhausted some, I have resorted to using means which I never thought I would: I have actually been exercising at home. To anyone who has known me for any length of time this will seem out of character, but not smoking and exercising mean I am probably the fittest I have been in my life. Only a few weeks in I am feeling the benefits in terms of feeling firmer, being more flexible, and having better balance. If I had known that it would be this simple to feel this good I would have done it years ago.

My PE teacher missed his vocation
Of course the reason I didn't is that I didn't know it could feel good, and I am afraid here I have to put the blame firmly on the shoulders of one man: my school PE teacher. I wonder whether in today's target-driven schools teachers actually make an effort to engage the interest of their pupils, and lay the foundation of a possible interest in their subject for the rest of their lives, which in the case of physical education would mean a foundation for health and fitness for life. My PE teacher was a bully. If you were 'good at sport' to start off with, he nurtured you carefully, you could get away with murder in the gym, and so forth. If you were not a 'jock' to start off with, his continual humiliation would ensure that you gained no interest in fitness and you would be left to associate physical training with being screamed at and humiliated. Although he did wet himself when a boy who was frankly obese actually had a heart attack on the running track, since he had been given a task which he was plainly not up to.
I have since wondered about the culture of the school, since in retrospect there were a number of teachers with this attitude. Of course as a child you don't look at grown ups and have the resources to work out what is happening for them. At the time he was just a turd, but with hindsight I can say two things with complete certainty (I don't know them, or course, but I do g-now them, and in my gut feel one or both must be true). Either he wanted to get into the armed forces and wasn't fit enough, or he wanted to do a degree in something brainy and couldn't get the exam marks he needed. A recent google search of his name reveals that he has worked with the Royal Marines since I was at school. What was driving him was plainly his own bitterness at never getting to what he wanted to be.
The best days of your life?

So I say to him: I'm fitter than I was. I'm on the way to being even fitter. I have found an interest in fitness despite your best efforts. Your bullying ways have not been enough to stop me. I will not allow you power over me for the rest of my life. And I lay on you an obligation: you will treat people with respect, and you will treat the privilege of being allowed to train young minds and bodies, with respect. If you bully people, they will flourish at your expense. Their strength will be taken from yours, tendon from tendon, muscle from muscle, bone from bone, blood from blood. The power of personhood you take from other people will be taken from you and given back to them. This is my will and it is done, as rising moon and setting sun.
As for me, starting to exercise has cast my spell on myself. Obviously I feel no obligation to forgive those who wrong me, but I am now free to develop my interest in fitness. It could have been developed 25 years ago, but he took it from me. As a witch, I have a responsibility to ensure this doesn't happen to others, hence the spell. Please don't email me telling me I'm a black magician, if you read my sepll carefully, you will see that if he treats people right nothing will happen to him. I have been freed from a 25 year old wrong, and Aradia says to all those who are oppressed in any way: 'You will be free from slavery.'

(This post comes with due credit to S, whose offhand comment inspired it. You know who you are)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 2: History of the Charge

The Charge of the Goddess exists in a number of manuscript versions, both in modern witches’ Books of Shadows, and in Gerald Gardner’s notebooks. The earliest version exists in a ritual book cum notebook entitled Ye Bok of ye Art Magical (BAM), presently owned by the New Wiccan Church in Canada. No direct evidence for its sources or composition, such as would be formed by letters from Gerald Gardner, for example, now exists, but some dates can be surmised.
The published history of the Charge of the Goddess begins in 1953 At Doreen Valiente’s initiation by Gerald Gardner. He had read his then version of the Charge at the initiation, was discomfited by her recognition of the quotations from Aleister Crowley’s published works in it, and challenged her to do better (Doreen Valiente: The Rebirth of Witchcraft. Robert Hale, London, 2007.).  This text equates to two of the recensions of the  text of the Book of Shadows identified by the Farrars as ‘Version A’, since it appears in Gardner’s Ye Bok of ye Art Magical, and ‘Version B’ , that further developed by Gardner and used at the time of Valiente’s initiation in 1953 (Janet and Stewart Farrar:  The Witches’ Way, p.3. In Janet and Stewart Farrar: A Witches’ Bible.  Robert Hale, London, 1984. Text A equates to hypothetical rituals inherited from the New Forest coven and developed by Gardner. Text B refers to the more developed version he was using when he initiated Valiente in 1953. Text C refers to the version of the rituals further developed by Gardner and Valiente together, and still being used today.). Kelly dates Ye Bok to 1949,  while Dearnaley dates it to before 1947 (Roger Dearnaley: The Influence of Aleister Crowley upon “Ye Bok of ye Art Magical”. <>  Updated 2005, Accessed 9.3.10.) . Dearnaley bases his dating on the evidence that the quotations from Crowley’s Book of the Law in the Charge do not come directly from this work, but from it as already quoted in the books contained in the Blue Equinox. For this reason he discounts the rumours that Crowley personally contributed to the compiling of the early Wiccan ritual texts; anyway a Thelemite would hardly use the text of the Law in the way which it is used here. He bases his pre-1947 date on the fact that Gardner bought The Book of the Law from Crowley in 1947, so we know he had access to the text after that, and surmises that previously his only access to the text was via The Blue Equinox, which does not contain this book. (I am treating Versions A and B as the same, since Kelly identifies no changes in the Charge by the time of Valient’s initiation, and Valiente describes the Charge as containing many phrases from Crowley) (Aidan Kelly: Inventing Witchcraft. Thoth Publications, Loughborough, 2007.).  This version (i.e. Text A or B) and the final version are here exactly as they appear in Kelly; subsequently the spelling will be corrected without further comment, and eccentricities of typing corrected:
Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who of old was also called among men Artimis: Astarte: Dione: Melusine: Aphrodite and by meny other names.
At mine Altars the youth of Lacedmonia and Spala made due sacrifice.
Whenever you have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full. They ye shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of me who am Queen of all Witcheries.
There ye shall assemble, ye who are fain to learn all Sorcery, yet have not won its deepest secrets, to those will I teach things that are yet unknown.
And ye shall be free from slavery, And as a sign that ye be realy free, ye shall be naked in your rites, both men and wemen, And ye shall dance, sing, feast make music, and love, all in my praise.
For ecstasy is mine, and joy on earth.
For love is my law. Keep pure your highest ideal: strive ever toward it. Let naught stop you or turn you aside.
There is a Secret Door that I have made to establish the way to taste even on earth the elixir of immortality. Say “Let exstacy be mine, and joy on earth even to me, To Me” For I am a gracsous Goddess. I give unimaginable joys, on earth certainty, not faith while in life! And upon death, peace unutterable, rest, and ecstasy, nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.
Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess.
I love you: I yearn for you: page or purple, veiled or volupluous.
I who am all pleasure, and purple and drunkenness of the innermost senses, desire you, put on the wings, arouse the coiled splendour within you, “Come unto me.”
For I am the flame that burns in the heart of every man, and the core of every Star.
Let it be your inmost devine self who art lost in the constant rapture of infinite joy.
Let the rituals be rightly preformed with joy and beauty. Rember that all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. So let there be beauty and strength, leaping laughter, force and fir be [sic] within you.
And if thou sayest, I have journied unto thee, and it availed me not, Rather shalt thou say, I called upon thee, and I waited patiently, and Low, Thou wast with me from the beginning For they that ever desired me, shall ever attain me, even to the end of all desire.” (Ibid, pp. 109-110. This is the version which appears on pp. 263-268 of Ye Bok of ye Art Magical, and is here exactly as it appears in Kelly, including spelling and punctuation, but without his single quotation marks to indicate where he has identified sources. The double quotation marks are in the original.)
Gardner was the first to publish any part of Wiccan ritual, including part of a slightly different version of this text of the Charge in Witchcraft Today in 1954:
Before an initiation a charge is read beginning: Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who of old was also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite and many other names. At mine altars the youth of Lacedaemon made due sacrifice. Once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, meet in some secret place and adore me, who am queen of all the magics....
For I am a gracious goddess, I give joy on earth, certainty, not faith, while in life; and upon death, peace unutterable, rest and the ecstasy of the goddess. Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.... (Gerald Gardner: Witchcraft Today. Arrow Books, London, 1975, p. 47.)
After her initiation Valiente, keen to rid the Craft of any association with Crowley, set to work on the rituals and retained the part of the Charge which quotes Leland’s Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches in a verse version:
 Mother darksome and divine,
Mine the scourge and mine the kiss.
Five-point star of life and bliss,
Here I charge ye in this sign.

Bow before my spirit bright,
Aphrodite, Arianrhod,
Lover of the Hornèd God,
Queen of witchery and night.

Diana, Brigid, Melusine,
Am I named of old by men;
Artemis and Cerridwen,
Hell’s dark mistress,
Heaven’s Queen.

Ye who ask of me a boon,
Meet ye in some hidden shade,
Lead my dance in greenwood glade,
By the light of the full moon.

Dance about mine altar stone,
Work my hold magistry
Ye who are fain of sorcery,
I bring ye secrets yet unknown.

No more shall ye know slavery,
Who tread my round the Sabbat night.
Come ye all naked to the rite,
In sign that ye are truly free.

Keep ye my mysteries in mirth,
Heart joined to heart and lip to lip.
Five are the points of fellowship
That bring ye ecstasy on earth.

No other law but love I know,
By naught but love may I be known;
And all that liveth is my own,
From me they come, to me they go. (Valiente, ibid, pp. 61-62.)
Unfortunately the members of the coven found some difficulty with pronouncing the Goddess names, and the word ‘magistry’, so finally Valiente wrote the better-known prose version of the Charge, which ironically reincorporated much of the Crowley material she had been keen to eliminate. This version (of Text C) is taken from Kelly, as Valiente did not publish her own version:
THE CHARGE, to be read while the initiate stands, properly prepared before the Circle.
[Magus]: Listen to the words of the Great mother, who was of old also called among men, Artimis; Astarte; Dione; Melisine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen; Diana Arianrod; Bride; and by many other names.
[High Priestess]:
At mine Altars the youths of Lacedemon in Spata made due sacrifice.
Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full. Then ye shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me who am Queen of all Witcheries.
There ye shall assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet who have not won its deepest secrets To these will I teach things that are yet unknown.
And ye shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that ye be realy free, ye shall be naked in your rites, and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music, and love, all in my praise.
For mine is ecstasy of the Spirit, and mine is also joy on earth, For my Law is Love unto all beings. Keep pure your highest Ideals. Strive ever towards it. Let naught stop you or turn you aside.
For mine is the secret which opens upon the door of youth; and mine is the cup of the Wine of Life: and the Cauldren of Cerridwen; which is the Holy Grail of Lmortality.
L am the Graceious Goddess who gives the gift of Joy unto the heart of Man.
Upon Earth I give the knowledge of the Spirit Eternal; and beyond death I give peace and freedom; and reunion with those who have gone before; Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice; for behold. I am the Mother of all things; and my love is poured out upon earth.
[Magus]: Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, She in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of Heaven; whose body encircleth the Universe.
[High Priestess]: L who am the beauty of the green earth; and the White Moon amongst the Stars; and the mystery of the Waters; and the desire of the heart of man; l call unto thy soul; arise and come unto me.
For l am the Soul of nature who giveth life to the Universe; From me all things proceed; and unto me, all things must return; Beloved of the Gods and men; thine innermost divine self shall be enfolded in the raptures of the infinite.
Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold; all acts of Love and Pleasure are my rituals; and therefore let there be Beauty and Strength; Power and compassion; Honour and Humility; Mirth and Reverance within you.
And thou who thinkest to seek me; Know that they seeking and yerning shall avail thee notl unless thou know the mystery, That if that which thou sleekest thou findest not within thee; Thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold; I have been with thee from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire. (Kelly, ibid, pp. 183-184.)

In memoriam

This weekend I hung up the pointy hat temporarily in Warwick. This inscription on the church has always intrigued me. My impression of this has always been that Louisa Ryland was both very keen to make permanent her munificence in making up the funds lacking to restore the church tower, and also very keen to exclude hoi polloi by making sure the inscription was in Latin.
It turns out that Louisa Anne Ryland (1814 - 1889) was a philanthropist and major donor to the town of Birmingham, using her wealth inherited from her father, who made his millions in industry. She gave the land that became Cannon Hill Park, the land that became Victoria Park, Small Heath, contributed to the building of the School of Art and obviously to the restoration of St Mary's Church, Warwick. Birmingham's Ryland Street is named after her, and the headquarters of Birmingham Social Services is named after her. She bequeathed her estate, valued around two million pounds, to Charles Alston Smith, the son of the man she had wanted to marry. Her father opposed the match, wanting her to marry the Earl of Warwick. She didn't marry either of them.
What is this touching tale of Victorian philanthropy and frustrated romance doing here? This was going to be a blog entry about showy Victorian charity, commenting on cyclical time and how magically the driving force behind an effect is usually hidden, so let's start there. The whacking great carved inscription in stone has been enough to make me find out who Louisa Ryland was 123 years after her death, so it has obviously served its purpose. Whether or not she wanted that inscription, she has been immortalised for performing that one action.
Attempting to work out what makes me so uncomfortable about this, I have come up with a question: how do I want my achievements remembered? The answer is, not like that. I would like to think that my impact on people is much more subtle and based on individuals. I suppose this comes back to the Hedge, that creating a reality is like weaving a hedge, there is a warp and weft to the tapestry of reality. There is usually some sort of idea among witches that things repeat themselves. This is usually seen in the common belief in karma (this comes to us via theosophy, since we usually think of it as theosophists understand karma rather than as it is understood in Eastern philosophy). This has the effect of both making our every action more and less important than they are as understood in a linear understanding of time.
Ryland's one action has been immortalised, but imagine the inscription if she had given again for it to be restored again in another 300 years! The one action would become overshadowed by subsequent inscriptions. On the other hand it would make her more inclined to make sure that the architect and masons got the restoration right to last a good long time so that she would not have to give again. If our actions are seen in the perspective of lives rather than this one life, this is the effect it has on our sense of proportion.
As magical people our impact on the world around us has often of necessity to be hidden, not least because people often simply will not believe that we are witches. And of course it is in silence that magic is accomplished, so that many traditions enjoin not even thinking about a spell after you have cast it. I personally find this very difficult and tend to pick at things and worry at them (if I was a real dog I would be a Jack Russell!), so I tend to make sure I cast spells where I can come back to them and prod them a bit.
This silent action behind the scenes is of course never commemorated by tablets of stone ('The Hound cast a spell for...'), but sometimes part of being a witch is being the one who will stand up and speak. I love this aspect of the witch figure: being the person who is the one to go against the grain, and in so many ways our tradition has consciously developed being different from everyone else into an art form. It is not even necessary to say 'I am doing this because I am a witch': there is just something so witchy about being a spoke in the wheel of progress around us.
As for Ryland's romantic involvement, it has totally softened my heart to her. I am envisaging a stern mutton-chopped Victorian father telling her that she would be cut off without a penny if she married the man she wanted to. He obviously married someone else, but the irony of leaving her father's inherited millions to his son! That is the action of a witch if ever there was one.

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 1: Introduction

A few years ago I began work on a commentary on the Charge of the Goddess. I envisaged it as a book originally, but have decided that I will publish it here as blog posts with irregular frequency. I will label these posts with Charge of the Goddess so that they can be isolated from the rest of the blog. I am sure that the references will get mixed up, publishing it this way, but please bear with me, a bibliography will appear at some ill-defined time in the future.


This work aims to serve two roles in relation to the Charge of the Goddess, the well-loved ritual text of witchcraft and wicca. It aims to be a commentary on the text, identifying sources for it, how those sources have been adapted for use in the Charge, and what this use means in terms of Wiccan thealogy. A thealogy – the term which has come into use in the past few decades as a feminine form of the word theology – is its second function. What does the Charge say about witches' understanding of the Goddess, and how does this understanding impact on what Wiccans and witches do?
There is nothing original here, I have merely marshalled sources, and attempted to bring these sources together as they relate to the Charge.
Nor is this a work of academic scholarship: many of the sources of Wicca are not now considered academically credible, and I have tried to indicate where this is so, but these are the sources which must be looked to for Wicca’s foundations. There is also little that is firmly evidenced in this work, it does not claim to be the final word in any sense, and few firm conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the available evidence. This difficulty is created by a total absence of any evidence before the 1940s for the creation of the Charge as used in Wicca today. Therefore in the textual analysis I have been forced to make decisions on sources based on what I feel to be most plausible. These decisions therefore cannot be considered final.
The thealogy is based on evidence of a mixed nature. Many of the writers influential on Neo-Paganism are not considered authoritative by the academic community, so I have tried to indicate where things are supposition or I have not been able to find wide agreement. That said, because the thealogy of Wicca and witchcraft is in places founded on ideas which were commonplaces in the worlds of history, archaeology, theology, folklore, anthropology and mythology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (or at least as popularly understood), and are no longer accepted by either academic concept or popular understanding, I have been obliged to include sources for the thealogy which would not now be considered authoritative, again trying to indicate this where appropriate.
I have taken further liberties in sourcing understandings of the Goddess, quoted sources of different witchcraft and occult traditions, even used (and misused) Christian sources, because that has been the available source for what I want to say: once again this thealogy is in no way authoritative and I will be delighted if people feel free to differ.
There are three agendas underlying this commentary, which should perhaps be made clear at the start.
The first is the underlying historical assumption: I do not believe Wicca to be the ‘Old Religion’, reaching back to the Neolithic, nor do I believe Gerald Gardner to have created it himself. The assumption here is that there were antecedents to Wicca as publicised by Gardner, there was definitely something magical going on in the New Forest area of Hampshire, but there is very little evidence as to what it was and how it relates to Gardnerian Wicca.
The second agenda is to appeal to my fellow witches to bear in mind that it is possible both to be a witch, or even an initiated Gardnerian Wiccan, and also take seriously the findings of modern historiography about those who were called witches in the mediaeval and early modern periods and the antecedents of our religion. The days of Murrayism, and pseudohistory supported only by the testimony of dead grandmothers are gone.
And my final agenda is another appeal: it is high time we passed beyond the basics. Too many books of the Introduction to Witchcraft for Beginners type continue to be published – of course this is because they sell – but there is little available for those who wish to pass on to a mature understanding of our traditions. It is time to pass on to a deeper understanding of what we have already done, rather than rehashing the same material all over again.
A word on terminology: I have taken further liberties here and opted for the North American usage in which ‘Wicca’ and ‘Witchcraft’ are interchangeable, so that here Wicca can also mean witches of other traditions. This is because the Charge is not only used by Wiccans as strictly defined by Gardnerian (and/or Alexandrian) initiatory lineage, what is referred to in America as British Traditional Witchcraft, but has broken loose into the broader Pagan community, so that these words are not only addressed to those of one tradition. Similarly I have not followed the usual English convention of referring to divinities in polytheisms as gods or goddesses, with a small g, but capitalised these words throughout, except in direct quotation, as referring to real divinities to whom people pay homage today.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Introibo ad altare Deae

For several years I resisted having an altar in the house. I think I was reacting to so many beginners' books that tell you you have to buy the left ear of a saber tooth tiger captured on the third Sunday in September in a leap year, and under no circumstances haggle for it... Substitute whatever ridiculous example you like, you get my drift, that books are often over-prescriptive and make impossible demands.
That was why it was a relief to me when I discovered Phyllis Curott's book Witch Crafting, for while she does make suggestions for setting up Wiccan altars (she was initiated into the Minoan Sisterhood originally) she also has exercises for working without tools and without altars. She even called her tradition Ara (latin for altar) because the practitioners are the temples of divinity.
'During the same lunar cycle that you work without tools or aids [...], work without your usual altar. Take it down. Cleanse, bless and thank each of your tools, your symbols, your statues, your personal objects. Wrap them carefully and put them away.
'Try to work outdoors as much as possible during this cycle.
'As often as you can during the month without external forms, cast your circle and stand, sit, or lie at its centre. Ground and centre yourself. As you do, you will find the practice has more power, and meaning, than you have ever experienced before. Feel all of the elements within you - air in your breath, fire in your heart and belly, water in your veins, earth in your bones and all of your body. Revel in the clarity and perceptiveness of your mind, the passion that fuels your life, the love and all the emotions that flow through you, the strength of your body. Sing, dance, laugh, be silent. Pay attention to your feelings, for it is in your heart that you build a temple to the Divine. Feel the Sacred that resides within you, that is you, and that surrounds you.'
(Phyllis Curott: Witch Crafting, Thorsons, London, 2002, pp.237-8)
How much more does this example illustrate the freedom and ecstasy of the Goddess than slavishly following the instructions in a book and wondering whether you're getting it 'right'! However for witches the divine is not merely inside us, the reason we are encouraged to experience the elements within us is that our bodies are a microcosm of the macrocosm. All of the modern 'nature religions' 'pagan  traditions' and magical paths emphasise the immanent (divinity as within and tangible) over the transcendent (divinity as far away and intangible, requiring priests to contact for us), which is relatively more emphasised by the big three monotheistic religions. Therefore we experience the divine as external as well: this is a two-way traffic where we can both externalise our inner divinity and experience divinity as coming to us from external events, people, etc.
One of the ways in which the external divinity manifested to me was coming home one day to find a child's toy Mystery Machine (from Scooby Doo) on my front wall. I went out again and it was still there when I came home so I decided to treat it as a message from the universe, referencing one of my favourite TV programmes as a child and a lot of the things that that programme represented for me.
By this time I had an area set aside as an altar in the house. In fact the way witches use their altars means that they are not altars at all. Strictly speaking an altar is a place where sacrifice is offered. The Hebrew Bible describes the sacrifice in the temple being tied to the 'horns' of the altar to stop it getting away before it was sacrificed, and many Roman altars retain the remnants of incense offerings or have channels in the top to allow the blood to run away. This was one of the aspects of Roman religion that the early Christians 'baptised' by turning it into the final sacrifice of Jesus, which is re-membered in the eucharist.
Witches however downplay a sacrificial element in our way (except in so far as we consecrate things to divinity, or burn incense, or throw things into rivers, etc: sacrifice comes from two Latin words meaning 'make holy'), so that for most witches the altar is actually a shrine or else acts more like the altar in a Masonic lodge as a sort of combined bookstand, work table, and place for centring of attention.
A candle spell for a friend
In magic workings, as a priest of a chthonic Goddess, I tend to use the floor if I'm working indoors, even if upstairs. There is a crossroads near my house that was absolutely perfect for working at the dead of night (until the council improved the street lights), and I also often use a nearby tunnel under a road. These places have both been chosen for and by me, once again embodying the principle of two-way traffic.
My altar in the house, meanwhile, is very simple. I have a statue of my Goddess, which isn't always on the altar, because she likes her ancient symbols just as she likes nothing better than to be called by her ancient titles. She also likes things in threes, so at the moment it has a candlestick in the shape of a snake, a small soapstone dog, and a knife. This is not essential to my life and work, nor my connection with divinity, but is a place to remind me of the link, and functions in a very similar way to the picture of my father in the sitting room. I know we are all one and I have a connection to these beings, but there can be no harm from being reminded of it. 
A totally gratuitous picture of the high altar of Cardross Seminary: the most recent picture I could find online, i.e. showing the most damage to it. The early Roman Christians used the word 'Pagan' as an insult to mean the country bumpkins who stuck to the old religion after they converted to sophisticated city Christianity (none of these old religions survives in a continuous form today, by the way). Nowadays we would call them neds. The indentation on the top is where the stone containing relics of martyrs and other saints (which makes it the actual altar) would have been removed as the church was deconsecrated when the seminary closed. The state of this altar demonstrates an instance of triumphalist Roman Christianity in withdrawal and its place being taken over again by the pagans or neds!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The hedge

Hedges require work
I'm a hedgewitch. Don't be misled by this phrase into thinking that this is some ancient tradition handed down from village wise women of old. After the explosion of interest in the new age, pagan, and occult and magical subjects in the 60s there was no way that the coven initiation system run by Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans would be able to accomodate everyone who wanted to 'learn' witchcraft. So people began to look to the archetype of the village wisewoman (Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca draw on the coven-based witch religion archetype found in Margaret Murray's books), to create a magico-religious tradition where the individual could work and learn alone or with others in different numbers, while not needing to find a high priestess willing and able to initiate. The word 'hedgewitch' comes from Rae Beth's book of that name. It is not a book I personally particularly like - it is very much Wicca for one, and over-emphasises male-female polarity for my taste. But this movement took off, and now 'hedgewitch' mostly refers to practitioners who work alone or with others not in a formal coven structure.
In a sense the work 'hedge' creates a problem because sometimes it is used to refer to what could better be called Green Witchcraft, a much more herbalist type of witchcraft. If I can't feel pavements under my feet and see street lights, I have a panic attack, and can't sleep in the country because it's too quiet.
The answer is that the hedge is not always a literal hedge but can be illustrated by the idea of a real hedge. A hedge is a liminal place separating one from another. By crossing the hedge you go into a different place, in a magical sense into different worlds, where you see things differently and come back transformed by the journey and what happened to you. A traditional hedge is something requiring much work and being built up into an almost impenetrable barrier over years or even centuries. If you try to get through this barrier, you will almost certainly come up against insurmountable odds, which would make it seem very unlikely that you will succeed in your journey. The challenges you meet in, on , and through the hedge are the initiatory traumas that the hedgewitch passes through and returns transformed. They can never be predicted beforehand, but hints that this is happening would include that you experience illness, pain, loneliness, and have to make decisions with no real assurance of the likely outcome.
A different sort of hedge
For this reason I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to be 'taught' hedge witchery, although teachers and guides (whether people or in other forms) will appear as you need them. Each hedge witch's hedge is very individual, it is never traversed by anyone else, and what is learned ultimately cannot be put into words, because the hedge witch has a series of life-changing experiences tailored to his or her own life. And this is why hedge witches are all different, because the hedge is different. It can be found in our romantic relationships and work lives. Anywhere where we can be forced to cross a boundary into another world can be found the hedge.
Of course this experience has wider implications for the person's life, and he or she will certainly have to lose things along the way. The witch will also find that it is necessary to break some dearly-held conventions. This is, of course, the essence of the left hand path, but it is also the way in which people exceed limitations and access previously unthought-of resources of strength and creativity.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Not sweating it

The coven's trip to Whitby was a roaring success
hII like to tell myself and others that there should be a certain effortlessness in the witch's dealings. Part of the point of seeing things with a greater penetration than 'muggles' is that we ought to be enabled to avoid some of the pitfalls.
While standing by this as a general principle, it is not always true, of course, and there are times when I feel things beginning to get on top of me. This is the time for strategic planning, to get out the divination tol of choice and look at the whole picture. On a purely personal level this offers the opportunity for priorities to be set and advice to be sought. In the past I have simplified any ongoing magic I hve in hand as areult of one of these rethinks, and on other occasions have started new workings. The bigger view gives the opportunity to see where simple pressure can be applied to a situation to make the required changes with minimal effort.
This is what I mean by the effortlessness of the witch, it lies more in planning and seeing, so that when ation is required it can seem to need no effort at all! Of course this is advice for myself: really must clear ot the freezer...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

At the crossroads

I am beginning this blog as a place to post my thoughts about witchcraft, life, and everything.
Who am I? I am in my thirties, an urban hedgewitch, queer, work in healthcare, am in a number of dfferent relationships but basically available, in the middle of a ongoing mid life crisis, ad don't get on wth my family.
I have a degree in Christian theology (it seemed like a good idea at the time), and my particular interest nwitchcraft is in a historically viable creation of a modern tradition incorporating the witch image and avoiding extravagant claims of lineage. I have been influenced in this by Doreen Valiente, TeRry Pratchett (I'm Nanny Ogg before you ask), Starhawk, Z Budapest, Ronald Hutton, all the usual suspects in this vein. I am also interested in the parallels between the modern witchcraft movement and Afro-Caribbean traditions, and more recently in Zen and martial arts