Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Coin showing the shrine of Cloacina on the Roman sewer
I have a soft spot (not soft like that) for Cloacina, the Roman Goddess of sewers, who seems to have started out as an Etruscan Goddess of marital bliss, but became associated with the cloaca maxima, the main drain of Rome. She is to be invoked for cleanliness and purity.
Personally I have to thank her for taking so much rubbish out of my life that I don't need. I actually keep a pen by the lavatory so that I can write things on toilet paper that I then ask Cloacina to sort out for me, which she does marvellously.
I have only today discovered that Jonathan Swift wrote a hymn to Cloacina (my source is here) in his A Panegyric on the Dean: In the Person of a Lady of the North, supposedly written about him by Lady Acheson, on whose estate he built two privies.

Thee bounteous goddess Cloacine,
To temples why do we confine? 230
Forbid in open air to breathe;
Why are thine altars fixed beneath?

When Saturn ruled the skies alone,
That golden age to gold unknown;
This earthly globe to thee assigned,
Received the gifts of all mankind.
Ten thousand altars smoking round
Were built to thee, with offerings crowned:
And here thy daily votaries placed
Their sacrifice with zeal and haste: 240
The margin of a purling stream
Sent up to thee a grateful steam.
(Though sometimes thou wert pleased to wink,
If Naiads swept them from the brink)
Or where appointing lovers rove,
The shelter of a shady grove:
Or, offered in some flowery vale,
Were wafted by a gentle gale
There many a flower abstersive grew,
Thy favourite flowers of yellow hue; 250
The crocus and the daffodil,
The cowslip soft, and sweet jonquil.

But when at last usurping Jove
Old Saturn from his empire drove;
Then Gluttony with greasy paws
Her napkin pinned up to her jaws,
With watery chaps, and wagging chin,
Braced like a drum her oily skin;
Wedged in a spacious elbow-chair,
And on her plate a treble share, 260
As if she ne'er could have enough;
Taught harmless man to cram and stuff.
She sent her priests in wooden shoes
From haughty Gaul to make ragouts.
Instead of wholesome bread and cheese,
To dress their soups and fricassees;
And, for our home-bred British cheer,
Botargo, catsup, and caveer.

This bloated harpy, sprung from hell,
Confined thee, goddess, to a cell: 270
Sprung from her womb that impious line,
Contemners of thy rites divine.
First, lolling Sloth in woollen cap,
Taking her after-dinner nap:
Pale Dropsy with a sallow face,
Her belly burst, and slow her pace:
And lordly Gout wrapped up in fur:
And wheezing Asthma, loth to stir:
Voluptuous Ease, the child of Wealth,
Infecting thus our hearts by stealth; 280
None seek thee now in open air;
To thee no verdant altars rear;
But, in their cells and vaults obscene
Present a sacrifice unclean;
From whence unsavoury vapours rose,
Offensive to thy nicer nose.
Ah! who in our degenerate days,
As nature prompts, his offering pays?
Here nature never difference made
Between the sceptre and the spade. 290

Ye great ones, why will ye disdain
To pay your tribute on the plain?
Why will you place in lazy pride
Your altars near your couch's side?
When from the homeliest earthenware
Are sent up offerings more sincere
Than where the haughty duchess locks
Her silver vase in cedar box?

Yet, some devotion still remains
Among our harmless northern swains; 300
Whose offerings placed in golden ranks,
Adorn our crystal river's banks:
Nor seldom grace the flowery downs,
With spiral tops and copple-crowns:
Or gilding in a sunny morn
The humble branches of a thorn.
(So poets sing, with golden bough
The Trojan hero paid his vow.)

Hither by luckless error led,
The crude consistence oft I tread. 310
Here, when my shoes are out of case,
Unweeting gild the tarnished lace:
Here, by the sacred bramble tinged,
My petticoat is doubly fringed.

Be witness for me, nymph divine,
I never robb'd thee with design:
Nor will the zealous Hannah pout
To wash thy injured offering out.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 6: Artemis

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Arte Magical: Artemis:


Artemis is a Greek Olympian Goddess, the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and Apollo’s elder twin sister. It is unclear whether her origin was as a great Mother Goddess in the Near East who then acquired Maiden Goddess characteristics in Greece (Miriam Robbins Dexter: Whence the Goddesses: A Sourcebook. Pergamon Press, New York, 1990.).  She appears extensively in Greek mythology and history, her imagery and cult changing from place to place. In her earliest appearances she is a virgin and huntress, who presides over transitional times of women’s lives, and in men’s lives as patroness of hunting and of war (Simon Price and Emily Kearns (editors): The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003.).  She has a somewhat contradictory mythology, being associated with both childbirth, loss of virginity, and sudden death: it is not for nothing that she is portrayed with a bow, and Greek tragedy associates her with human sacrifice, or which there is no evidence in her later cult, but could be a memory of an earlier cult. The more violent element in her mythology appears in these lines from the Iliad:

‘The truth is, Artemis of the Golden Chair
Had brought the scourge of war on the Aitolians;
She had been angered because Oineus made
No harvest offering from his vineyard slope.
While other gods enjoyed his hecatombs
He made her none, either forgetful of it
Or careless – a great error, either way.
In her anger, the Mistress of Long Arrows
Roused against him a boar with gleaming tusks
Out of his wild grass bed, a monstrous thing
That ravaged the man’s vineyard many times ...
So huge the boar was, no small band could master him,
And he brought many to the dolorous pyre.
Around the dead beast Artemis set on
 A clash with battlecries...’
(Homer (translated by Robert Fitzgerald): The Iliad. Everyman’s Library, London, 1992, p. 220.)

Unlike some of the other Goddesses named here, she was seen as chaste, associated with virginity, and became enraged when her favourites lost their virginity. It seems that there was a development in her mythology from being a patroness of wild places and hunting, to later being a city Goddess of women (Herbert Rose: Artemis. In M. Cary et al (editors): Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949.).  Later she became associated with the moon, and by acquiring the title Trivia, became assimilated with Hecate, gaining in the process some of Hecate’s magical and underworld qualities. Robbins Dexter creates concord among some of these apparent contradictions by pointing out that all the Goddesses of the Olympian pantheon were either married or celibate, and feels that Artemis’s maiden status allowed her to retain her power for herself, whereas if she were married she would have had to become a consort to a God. At the time of entering the Greek pantheon she was probably Mistress of Animals, and a Mother Goddess, responsible for birth and death, and only acquired her virgin status as a Greek Goddess. So the contradictions of her mythology may be accounted for by her non-Greek origins, having started off life as a Goddess of fertility, fulfilling the functions of both a Mother Goddess, and a Goddess of death and regeneration.
Artemis’s worship differed in different places. Her cult at Lacedaemon in Sparta connects two aspects of this cult with the line of the Charge about the youths making sacrifice, and with the religious practice of scourging. The first practice was the Artemis decreed that her altar should be stained with human blood to propitiate her, which would make her take away from the Spartans the disease she had inflicted on them for defiling her altar. After some years of human sacrifice on her altar, this was replaced with the practice of scourging prepubescent boys enough that their blood would spatter on the altar.
The other practice relating Artemis to scourging at Sparta was a ritual in which groups of young men would compete to take some cheese placed on the altar of Artemis. The first group would defend the cheese with their whips, and the second group would try to take it, although in this ritual the connection made between sacrifice, blood, and the altar of Artemis is more tenuous (Sorita d’Este and David Rankine: Wicca: Magical Beginnings. Avalonia, London, 2008.). 
Artemis was particularly associated with the bear, particularly in her cult at Brauron, where young girls dressed in saffron robes in imitation of bears, in a dance in Artemis’s honour. The connection with bears may come from a tale in Hesiod (Robbins Dexter, op. cit.), where Callisto, a nymph who lived with Artemis among wild animals in the mountains, caught the eye of Zeus. He seduced her, and after some time of not noticing it, eventually Artemis saw her bathing and realised that Callisto was pregnant. Because the nymph had not retained her virginity, Artemis in her rage turned her into a bear. Zeus took pity on Callisto the bear when she was in danger of death after wandering into Zeus’s precincts, and he set her among the stars as Ursa Major.
The bear can hardly be described as a gentle animal with which to be associated, and indeed Artemis had the title ‘Deer-Shooter’ and in the Homeric Hymns is pictured as ravaging all wild animals. The contradictions of her mythology also continue in the Homeric Hymns, where she is pictured hanging up her bow and arrow, and leading the dance of the Muses and Graces. In some places she was also associated with the orgiastic rites of the Bacchantes, her temples containing their cymbals, and Artemis carrying titles of Maenad, Thuiad, Phoibad, and Lussad, all titles associated with women possessed by Gods such as Bacchus (Robbins Dexter, op. cit.).
Artemis is mentioned in the New Testament: the cult of many-breasted Artemis at Ephesus (where she was later venerated under her Latin name of Diana) was targeted by the early Christians for destruction. They highlighted that a roaring trade was done in images of Diana or Artemis at Ephesus – and stressed the monetary aspect of her cult – but the people were adamant in their support of the Goddess. Ultimately the temple at Ephesus was razed in the fifth century (Barbara G Walker: The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1983.),  but the episode places Artemis amongst the Goddesses in the Charge who are to be found in a context of conflict between monotheism and the older religions.
Gardner tells the story, in The Meaning of Witchcraft, of how the temple of Artemis at Iolcus in Thessaly had fifty priestesses. One was chosen by lot every seven years to be Queen, who could take whom she wished as her spouse, who was sacrificed at the end of the seven years, when a new queen was chosen. He equates the power of this priestess to that of the High Priestess in witchcraft, who is seen as encompassing the divine power in herself, and so may choose whom she will as High Priest. Gardner comments on the difference that in Wicca the High Priest is not sacrificed (Gerald Gardner: The Meaning of Witchcraft. Weiser Books, York Beach, 2004.).  This may be seen as an attempt to find an ancient precedent for the pattern of priesthood in Wicca, but it does more in connecting Wicca with a Goddess with a mythology of two halves, reflecting the polarity principle of Wicca. Another significance of Artemis’s mythology to the Wiccan milieu is the changeability of her cult at different times and places, and the different understandings of this aspect of the ‘Great Mother’ which mark her mythology.
In modern witchcraft Artemis is often seen as one of a trinity of Goddesses: either Artemis, Hecate and Selene to represent waxing, full and waning aspects of the moon, or Artemis, Persephone and Hecate, to represent the three realms of the living, the dead, and spirits (Judika Iles: The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. Harper Element, London, 2005.).  Gardner himself wrote of this trinity of Goddesses as related to three of the phases of the moon, preferring the Artemis (waxing), Selene (full), and Hecate (dark moon) formula. He comments that in ancient art each of them carries a large knife, which he equates to the witch’s athame, a torch, and a scourge. He believed that the greatest magical power was with Hecate (Gardner, op. cit.).

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gay men and their mothers

Close? Or destructive?
I have been reading a lot recently about the relationship between gay men and their mothers. There seems to be a lot of convincing evidence that this has both biological and dynamic elements: the women in a family with several homosexual men are often biologically dominant, super-fertile matriarchs. The down side of this is that the men's relationships are marked by an extraordinary closeness with their mothers. Everybody 'knows' this, but in reality I think this relationship is actually too close: the closeness in the picture on the right cannot be right for a grown man in my opinion. Gay men often report that their mothers are also their friend: it is so not right as an adult to consider your parent your friend. Yes I would also say this about women who are friends with their mother. The (very old and probably discredited) evidence seems to be that the relationship actually goes beyond this: mothers of gay men are too intrusive, too controlling, almost too intimate. They will relate to their sons in ways which are not appropriate: touching them too intimately, being too controlling, and positively smothering them.
This is exactly my experience with my own mother, and our relationship has actually deteriorated over the past couple of years to the point where we are estranged; an estrangement that was initiated by me. In retrospect I can see how she has been controlling, so that I have wound up spending my entire adult life holding her at arm's length. As she has got older and more cantankerous, the dodgy dynamic between us has been accentuated, which has had the unfortunate effect (for me) of embittering what I thought was previously a good relationship. The phrase 'I've bought a duffel coat just like yours' now takes on a completely new light. the situation has been worsened by the fact that she has a sister who in my opinion is a nasty piece of work, but who has been seen as the 'mad uncle' of the family, which has tended to detract from how f*cked we all are, and also by the fact that I am an only child. I know for a fact that she is going round telling people that I am not talking to her (G*ddess knows I've tried to), and she doesn't know why (which just indicates that she actually hasn't listened to a word I've said to her over the past couple of years and reinforces the faultline on which our relationship is built). Unfortunately she's shot herself in the foot, because for the first time in my life I've actually realised how much better my life can be without my mother in it.
Now you may say, and I would agree, that I shouldn't feel like this about my own mother. I don't want to feel like this, but despite attempts to formulate some kind of relationship with her that is workable, i have never managed to do so. So the result is that I now do not want to be in contact with my mother at all, because I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that our relationship can never be workable. This is absolutely one of those left-hand-path type of actions: it is not acceptable actively to want to exclude the woman who gave birth to you from your life, but I do. I ought to be helping her in her declining years, I ought to be standing by my mother, I have tried to do these things, but the main obstacle to this is my mother herself. I'm writing this secure in the knowledge that I will never have children to demonstrate my own poor parenting, but the kind of relationship a gay man's mother has with him too easily flips over into either smothering or pushing him away. I have responded to her clear message of 'piss off' by doing just that. By my socially unacceptable action, I have actually discovered how good life can be, but it means that I have actually grown up.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Be credible

This is typical of a witch's bookshelf: the books are a rather eclectic mixture just as witchcraft is a rather eclectic mixture
There is a problem in the history of witchcraft which I want to address today, namely the ridiculous fable that witchcraft is an ancient Pagan religion, and that anyone can claim to have had initiation passed down from ancient times.
You will notice one thing about the stories told by those who claim to come from an ancient tradition: the stories are never backed up by any evidence other than their own word, and usually the word of a number of people who are dead, otherwise unavailable, and who wouldn't tell you about it anyway because it's oathbound.
This level of historical evidence is very low indeed. To use another example: we know that the second world war happened because of the vast quantities of evidence, documentary, artefactual, etc, that exists. At the time of writing there are people alive who remember it. Because the ancient lineage of modern witchcraft does not have this sort of evidence it will always be very doubtful.
In fact before Gerald Gardner the only evidence for a religion which incorporated the witch figure is Leland's Aradia. That in itself is suspect as historical evidence: it is the only evidence of its kind, and was obtained in the suspicious circumstances that Leland, who may or may not have been sleeping with Maddalena, told her what he thought was happening and then she produced the exact evidence to back it up. It has the feel of authenticity because of its incorporation of Italian folklore.
I think the real history is this: from the 18th century onwards there were a number of movements towards ancient deities and back to nature. Parallel to this there grew up the theory (which nobody believed before the 1820s and which is now completely discredited by respectable historians of the witch trial period) that what was being persecuted was an ancient religion. The inner group of the Rosicrucian theatre to which Gerald Gardner belonged may or may not have believed that what they were doing was an ancient tradition, but their mixture of co-masonry, ritual magic and rosicrucianism (none of which could date from before the nineteenth century) attracted the witch label. They may even have believed Murray's hypothesis literally and been sincere in thinking that they had inherited an ancient tradition indirectly. Gardner got initiated into this, publicised it, and the rest is history.
So it's necessary to be a bit canny about claims for initiations. Ask to see evidence. Seriously. For the ancient religion hypothesis to be true, a whole religion has to have vanished leaving only one piece of evidence (I discount Murray because what she is talking about is plainly different from modern Wicca; I discount the witch trials for the same reason and because the evidence was obtained in circumstances that amounted to torture). This is just not credible. Treat suspiciously someone who claims to have secret knowledge, unprovable lineages, and so on. This is not lacking in trust. The Goddess gives us brains and it is a slap in her face not to use them to recognise charlatans, psychopaths, sexual predators, Walter Mittys and the just plain mistaken sincere, for what they are.
As for creating an artificial history: we as magical people are in a much stronger position to change the future. That is what we should be visualising and making how we want it to be. Better for all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Today a few thoughts on a subject which is better known amongst Christian monastics than amongst witches. Accidie was an affliction identified among the early monks and nuns in the desert. Living a totally monotonous life, this is what happened to them:
AND whenever it begins in any degree to overcome any one, it either makes him stay in his cell idle and lazy, without making any spiritual progress, or it drives him out from thence and makes him restless and a wanderer, and indolent in the matter of all kinds of work, and it makes him continually go round the cells of the brethren and the monasteries, with an eye to nothing but this; viz., where or with what excuse he can presently procure some refreshment. For the mind of an idler cannot think of anything but food and the belly, until the society of some man or woman, equally cold and indifferent, is secured, and it loses itself in their affairs and business, and is thus little by little ensnared by dangerous occupations, so that, just as if it were bound up in the coils of a serpent, it can never disentangle itself again and return to the perfection of its former profession. (John Cassian: Institutes, book 10, chapter 6. Accessed 21.8.12)
This may appear to have nothing to do with witchcraft, but think about the behaviour described above and how it would actually look. Then think about witches we have known, and you can be sure you will see this pattern of behaviour! In witches it manifests more as the pursuit of numerous initiations into different traditions, witch wars, and so on. Maxine Sanders described Alex Sanders as having a sort of restlessness which often afflicts male occultists. This is nothing other than accidie. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone describe it as 'second degree syndrome'; this need not be a negative thing however, but is more like the children of the coven growing up and getting into conflict with the high priestess.
I think Robert Cochrane's description of 'the roebuck in the thicket' is useful here. The point is that the roebuck is stuck in the thicket. It doesn't know what the future holds or whether it will ever get out. This is exactly what accidie feels like: there is no 'carrot' in front of you, so you end up in irritation and boredom, and cast around for something of interest.
For John Cassian the remedy to this is work, work, work. He also has this to say:
WHEN I was beginning my stay in the desert, and had said to Abbot Moses, the chief of all the saints, that I had been terribly troubled yesterday by an attack of accidie, and that I could only be freed from it by running at once to Abbot Paul, he said, "You have not freed yourself from it, but rather have given yourself up to it as its slave and subject. For the enemy will henceforth attack you more strongly as a deserter and runaway, since it has seen that you fled at once when overcome in the conflict: unless on a second occasion when you join battle with it you make up your mind not to dispel its attacks and heats for the moment by deserting your cell, or by the inactivity of sleep, but rather learn to triumph over it by endurance and conflict." Whence it is proved by experience that a fit of accidie should not be evaded by running away from it, but overcome by resisting it. (John Cassian: op. cit. chapter 25)
Of course the early Christians understood it as a demon, one of many to afflict monks. Nowadays we can recognise the symptoms of this without having to accept the personification of it. What Abbot Moses is actually telling him to do is not to try to escape from the feeling. For us as witches this highlights the magical importance of knowing yourself first and foremost. An important living skill is to be able to sit with the presence of yourself and tolerate it without running away. So much of our life involves business, noise, distraction, all of which allows us to escape from some of the less desirable things we find inside ourselves. Hence the importance of a meditation or divination or grounding or even banishing practice. This is of course another reference to the hedge. We as witches have a problem with a lack of control, but when we find ourselves stuck in a thicket or hedge, sometimes it's best not to break out of it, but to stay there for a while, and see what the hedge has to offer.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Witch Craft: vodka and beads!

Parma violet vodka at the beginning (left) and the finished product
There is much debate over what witchcraft is, whether it is a religion, or a mystery tradition, its ancient credentials, its modern creation. What nobody can deny is that it is called witch-craft, it is the craft of those who are witches. The etymology of the word actually comes from the root which means bend. There is no evidence that it comes from the similar root meaning to be wise (this is why the makers of Witch Doctor products, made from wych hazel, have got it so wrong, since wych sounds like, but is unrelated to, witch). If the craft of the witch means bending, then it must involve doing things, presumably including the Hollywood image of the witch sticking pins into a wax image to do harm. Of course the real reason witches do things as part of our craft is that by making changes in one plane, we can make changes in another one. This is often called the law of association.
Granny Weatherwax says in one of the Discworld books, words to the effect of, 'You can't help people with magic, but you can help them with skin,' meaning that witchcraft involves rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty. The witches of the Discworld draw on the theory of a connection between midwives and witchcraft (historically the evidence is actually the other way: midwives were involved in trying whether women accused of witchcraft were such, by means of intimate examination to find the 'devil's teats'). Nonetheless the principle of witches living in all worlds necessitates a rootedness in this world! The simplest way to turn a light on is to walk across the room and flick the switch: it would be ridiculous to try to do it by magic!
I have undertaken two crafty, although not necessarily witch-crafty, projects recently. Since I stopped smoking I have had a problem with drinking. I have never been a great drinker, but when I was smoking my metabolism was so high that I could drink beer on a night out and not put any weight on. I'm frightened to drink beer now, because every time I open my mouth I put on another stone! So I tried going onto red wine, but I get really pissed on that really quickly, invariably do something I regret, and don't even forget it so can't convincingly deny it. So I've tried spirits, but all the mixers I can find are a bit sweet, like coke, or lemonade. And I don't want to be the old queen in the corner with a gin and tonic! So I've tried flavoured vodkas mixed with soda water, but they don't really taste of anything by the time they're mixed. Then a friend told me that you can dissolve parma violet sweets in vodka to flavour the vodka. I did my first batch and have solved my drink problem, at least at home!
It's easier than the recipes on the internet make it sound! You need: vodka and parma violets. You will read that you get a better result with better vodka, but I don't think this is true. I use giant parma violets in the proportion of 3 packets to half a bottle of vodka. This makes the taste of the violets really strong, but that's how I want it, because I make it into a tall drink with lots of soda water and still want to taste the violets. This may also be why I think the quality of the vodka isn't that important. What you do: put the parma violets into the vodka. It's as simple as that. Of course you will need some sort of sealed container (you can't just start off with a full bottle because there's not enough room for the parma violets). Put the container somewhere you will come across it fairly often and give it a good shake a couple of times a day. The fat from the parma violets will separate from and sit on top of the vodka, which will turn a gorgeous red colour. It will look revolting at this stage but that's OK. This process will be speeded up if you break or crush the parma violets before you put them in. You know it is ready when the parma violets have mostly disappeared from the bottom, or have just left bits. I have read on the web that this can take up to a fortnight, but I would say more like a week maximum, if you keep shaking it. You then have to strain it through a coffee paper into a clean bottle. It may need straining a couple of times until it is clear. Enjoy!
The other crafty thing I have been doing is making my own 'rosaries' to say the chaplet of Hecate I mentioned in a previous post. These two are made from skull bracelets that I already had and some extra beads. The one on the left is made with beading wire, which was unexpectedly forgiving to work with. It has eleven skulls so that three times up and down it is the 33 names I've fixed on. The other is made with a beading twine, which is slightly too thick for a double thickness to go through the skulls, so I may remake it with wire. I wanted a double thickness because I found instructions for tying a knot after each bead so it doesn't completely run away if it gets broken. The three skulls at the end or beginning are not for prayers specifically, it just felt right to have something hanging off the end, and it felt right that there should be three skulls since it is for Hecate!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The smallest listed building?

This is, believe it or not, listed. What is hidden behind the board is one of Birmingham's Victorian cast-iron urinals. They were always green for some reason. There are numerous of them around the city, most in the areas of the city centre that would have been both industrial and residential in the nineteenth century. The only one which is still open for use is the one in the suburb of Harborne (perhaps posh people micturate more carefully: I can see that having these old urinals in use leaves them vulnerable to vandalism and they would be fantasically difficult or expensive to repair). That one was closed for many years and then re-opened because the residents wanted it to be. The ones in the city centre went the other way: they were open and in use until the 1990s, then the council gradually closed almost all of its public loos, replaced them with superloos that you have to pay for, and/or handed the care of them over to external companies.
Anyone who reads this young blog with any regularity or attention will not be surprised that I don't think this is the whole story. LGBTQ readers will remember or have heard the stories of how the police used public toilets for sting operations for homosexuals. A particularly pretty or well-endowed officer would make a pass at another man in a toilet and if he showed any interest he would be arrested for importuning (Sex in a public toilet is now a sepcific offense in British law). These sting operations were happening as late as the 1990s at this specific urinal. I heard of one where they let the man finish himself off before they arrested him. One man was so attached to this urinal that when the council closed it permanently he put a bouquet of flowers outside. A rather offbeat fragment of the hidden history of Birmingham!

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 5: The Great Mother

A detail of Birmingham's disused Methodist Central Hall

...of the Great mother, who was of old also called among men...

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical: of the Great Mother, who of old was also called among men

Ye Bok is obviously the immediate source of these lines, since it was what was being rewritten to form the new version of the Charge, however the passage is clearly influenced by the ideas in this passage from Apuleius's Metamorphoses:

‘For the Phrygians that are the first of all men call me the Mother of the gods at Pessinus; the Athenians, which are sprung from their own soil, Cecropian Minerva; the Cyprians, which are girt about by the sea, Paphian Venus; the Cretans which bear arrows, Dictynnian Diana; the Sicilians, which speak three tongues, infernal Proserpine; the Eleusians their ancient goddess Ceres; some Juno, other Bellona, other Hecate, other Rhamnusia, and principally both sort of the Ethiopians which dwell in the Orient and are enlightened by the morning rays of the sun, and the Egyptians, which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustom to worship me, do call me by my true name, Queen Isis.’ (Apuleius (translated by W. Adlington): The Golden Ass (The Loeb Classical Library). William Heinemann, London, 1958, 11.5)


There is no single unified understanding of divinity amongst Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans. All positions on a continuum from monotheism to hard polytheism can be found. A few – very few - witches are actually monotheistic, believing that there is only one God. Some are henotheistic, a system of belief in which only one God is honoured, but others are acknowledged to exist – an example of this would be the Dianic practice of honouring ‘the Goddess’ who may have many names: the God may exist, but he is not normally honoured. The most common mode of belief among Wiccans is duotheistic, belief in the Goddess, and the God, who in practise may be syncretisms (i.e. a mixture; this word is most often used to refer to the mixing of elements from different religions) of any number of Gods and Goddesses into two on the basis of gender. It may or may not be seen that these divinities have different characteristics at different times, or may be known by many names, a position which is verging towards a ‘soft’ polytheism. Reaching the other extreme of the scale from monotheism is ‘hard’ polytheism, in which ancient Gods and Goddesses are seen as individual entities; while there may be an aspect in which there is a single ‘Being’ behind these many divinities, they are never seen as amalgamating with each other, but strictly separate.
Another continuum of belief and practice is found in what these Goddesses and Gods are believed to be. Again at one end of the spectrum is the belief that these divinities are genuine individual entities, who may be seen as superior beings to us, or there may be an element in which humans contribute to the existence of divinities by their worship of them. At the other end is the opinion that the Gods and Goddesses are psychological constructs, often referring to parts of our conscious or unconscious as Jungian archetypes. It has even been argued that it is possible to be a practising Wiccan with no actual belief in the divinities involved. As these differing views impact on the study of the understanding of divinity found in the Charge, one view is immediately apparent in the Charge itself: that there was of old a Great Mother, who was known by many names.
Who is or was the Great Mother? There are two main historical problems in answering this question: the first is that we as Pagans/Wiccans/Witches tend to think in terms of the Goddess, and so are in danger of reading this archetype into antiquity. At this length of time, and with the relative paucity of evidence, we cannot come to an unbiased understanding of how ancient people saw their divinities, and our understanding is coloured by what has come since, including such things as Romanticism, Darwinism, and even the myth of the Great Goddess itself. The second problem is that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we look back on Gardner’s development and understanding of his religious texts through a filter of sixty years of modern witchcraft, and under the influence of both the Feminist movement, and the modern Goddess movement.
I shall therefore attempt to outline the likely influences on Gardner’s understanding of the Great Mother, sources which are known to have influenced him and other Wiccans subsequently, but who did not have an influence on the thealogy of the Charge, and also consider what has come since his time, which colours our own understanding of who ‘the Goddess’ is.
Hutton dates the beginning of this idea of one female deity who is either the embodiment of all other goddesses or the most important, and the personification of the earth and the moon, to ‘a couple of centuries ago.’ (Ronald Hutton: The Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001, p. 32. In this survey I have combined the view of Hutton with that of Goodison and Morris (covering the same ground, but with more emphasis on the modern Goddess movement) in Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris (editors): Ancient Goddesses. British Museum Press, London, 1998.) Until that time pagan deities were understood as they were in ancient times: as individual entities.
Around 1800 the impact of the Romantic Movement increased reference to female divinity in literature, emerging in an image of this divinity as personified in the green earth and the white moon. Meanwhile a scholarly debate was ongoing as to whether primitive religion was a repository of noble truths, which later degenerated, or a combination or superstition and fear. Models of both ‘progress’ and ‘deterioration’ of religions were used, depending on the writer’s point of view. A German classicist first suggested in 1849 that the Goddesses of ancient Greece had been preceded by a single one, who was worshipped in prehistoric times. The figures excavated from prehistoric graves, derogatorily dubbed ‘Venuses’ were not at this time interpreted as figures having any religious significance.
This changed in 1901, when Sir Arthur Evans changed from his previous view that these figures had been placed in male graves as symbolic ‘concubines’, to the view that ancient Crete had worshipped a single Goddess, began to interpret female figurines in the light of this theory, and believed that this Goddess was seen as both maiden and mother.
In 1903 Sir Edmund Chambers published a slightly different view: that the whole of Europe had worshipped a single Goddess in two aspects of creatrix and destroyer. Jane Harrison believed that this Goddess had three aspects, the first two named maiden and mother. She did not name the third.
Perhaps of more immediate influence on Wicca (since his works are still referenced by many Wiccan writers) is Sir James Frazer, who ultimately came to state that the whole of Europe worshipped a dual Goddess, mother and daughter. By the 1910s it was standard for textbooks of Greek religion to say that the veneration of a single Goddess later degenerated into the worship of multiple divinities.
Contemporary to these developments in the fields of history, anthropology, and archaeology, was the influence of Darwinian theories of development, so that society was seen to develop from an ancient matriarchal society, into a modern civilised patriarchal one, and the influence of the Jungian idea of the Mother archetype. Of course as this affects the theory of the Great Mother, the progress has been seen as starting from worship of a Great Mother and deteriorating into the worship of single polytheistic divinities, before developing again into monotheisms or henotheisms. The connection of an idea of improvement in connection with Darwinian theories is apparent here, and apparently historical accounts can be coloured by the moral assumptions of the viewer. A hopefully more morally-neutral view, which is not contradicted by the historical evidence, would be that religious beliefs and practices centred on individual deities were earlier in time than the later monotheistic beliefs.
There are several later writers who are known to have had a direct influence on Gardner and particularly on his composition (or fleshing-out of fragmentary inherited material) of the Charge, which includes lengthy direct quotations from two main published authors.
The first is Aleister Crowley: the passages from his works included in the Charge are either directly from or from works quoting his Liber Al vel Legis, his Book of the Law. An appropriate choice, since this is itself a channelled work which Crowley received from the Goddess Nut, for a third of which this Goddess is speaking. Gardner uses this slightly differently in the Charge, in that Liber Al does not mention a single Great syncretistic Mother, but individual deities, and Gardner has the Great Mother who is known by many names, speaking these words.
A second direct influence on Gardner in composing the Charge was Leland’s Aradia, or Gospel of the Witches. Aradia, the daughter of the Goddess Diana, is sent to earth as the saviour of the oppressed, very much in the tradition of the witch-cult as protest movement. There is again no mention of a single syncretistic Goddess, however, and once again Gardner uses the text slightly differently from how it appears originally, since in the Gospel it is Aradia who is speaking about her mother Diana. Once again Gardner changes emphasis to have the speaker speaking about herself.
Two other writers must be named, who have both been widely influential in Wicca since Gardner’s day; direct quotation from them in the Charge is unlikely, although there is evidence there of Graves’s ideas. One is Robert Graves, who in his book The White Goddess builds on the theory of a single Great Mother (which already existed) with three aspects (from Harrison), related them to the waxing, full and waning phases of the moon, and called the third phase the Crone (which is not mentioned in the Charge). This book could have influenced Gardner and/or Valiente in composing successive versions of the Charge, although direct quotation in the text is not apparent. The other writer is Dion Fortune, whose influence on Wicca has been great since Gardner’s time. Hutton does not think she had an influence on the development of Wicca (Ronald Hutton: Dion Fortune and Wicca (Address given at the Company of Avalon’s Dion Fortune Seminar 2009). <> Updated 2009, Accessed 8.3.10.), although Clifton feels that the ‘elements and purpose’ of Drawing Down the Moon are already present in her novel The Sea Priestess, and reports that Valiente wrote to him in 1985, saying that Gardner was very fond of Fortune’s novels (Chas Clifton: A Goddess Arrives: The Novels of Dion Fortune and the Development of Gardnerian Witchcraft. <> Accessed 8.3.10.).  There are two possible influences on the idea of the Great Mother of the Charge from her novels. One is the famous dictum of ‘All the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess, and there is one initiator,’ from her novel The Sea Priestess (Dion Fortune: The Sea Priestess. Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1985, p. 227.), but this idea alone could have come from other sources. Of her two novels in which the influence of Paganism and Goddesses further increase, and which have been influential in Wiccan circles since, Moon Magic could not have had an influence on the thealogy of the Charge because it was not published until the 1950s, and The Sea Priestess could chronologically have been read by Gardner, but Hutton feels it is not likely because it was published privately and did not sell well through the 1940s, although Valiente lists it among the books of which he was fond.
These are the likely and less likely influences on Gerald Gardner, in identifying the origins of his understanding of the Great Mother. It is clear that while Aradia and Crowley’s writings had a direct influence, their theology is not the same ‘Great Mother’ idea embodied in the Charge, and also clear that the theology of the Charge was present in wider cultural sources. A document which does contain the same syncretistic Goddess thealogy of the Charge – the Metamorphoses of Apuleius – does not show any direct influence on it. Gardner may have referred to it – there is a copy in the catalogue of his books  – and decided on other sources (New Wiccan Church International: Gerald Gardner’s Library. <> Updated 2005, Accessed 9.3.10. This catalogue cannot wholly be relied on for the contents of Gardner’s library at the time of his death, as the collection appears to have been added to, including books published since his death in 1964.).
The idea which is found both in Apuleius and in the Charge is the idea of a single Great Mother Goddess, who incorporates all other Goddesses into herself – in Apuleius she is identified as Isis, who also appears under other names. The only other appearance of this idea in classical antiquity is found in Lucian’s De Dea Syria – both these works are relatively late, dating from within the Christian era. In antiquity Gods and Goddesses were often conflated with each other, incorporating names and features from other divinities as their cult developed, including such titles as ‘mother of the Gods’. An example of this tendency would be the cult of Cybele, one of whose titles was ‘Magna Mater’ – Great Mother, in Latin; the difficulty of understanding the nature and history of the Goddess’s cult is complicated by the later complications of her history, and ‘the modern “myth” of the Great Mother. (Simon Price and Emily Kearns (editors): The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, p. 140.)
It must be said that the overarching consensus from the academy is that the evidence which is used to support an ancient, matriarchal, single-Goddess-worshipping society, does no such thing. As far as I can see, the consensus is that the evidence is of such a nature that no final understanding of these matters can be achieved. The conservative understanding seems to be that no final conclusions can be reached on the religious beliefs or practices of the prehistoric world, but that the evidence does not likely suggest that ‘human society and religion began with the worship of a Goddess in a peace-loving, egalitarian, matriarchal society, and that female divinities everywhere represent survivals of this early mode of religious expression.’ (Goodison and Morris, op. cit., p. 6.)
Since Gardner’s time support for the idea of ‘the Goddess’ and of ‘Goddess civilisations’ has expanded, largely among non-academics, but also by the occasional academic (For a work by the academic who takes the concept of ‘the Goddess’ as read, see Maria Gimbutas: The Language of the Goddess. Thames and Hudson, London, 1989.).  The influence of the feminist movement since the 1960s has been shown, both in feminist and feminist-inspired reinterpretations of the available evidence, and in a search for suppressed feminine figures and the feminine divine in the past. Within the modern witchcraft community, the influence of this movement has been huge. Starhawk begins her influential book on witchcraft with a recounting of the myth of an ancient peaceful matriarchal Goddess culture (Starhawk: The Spiral Dance. Harper San Francisco, New York, 1999.).  Another strand is found in explicitly feminist witchcraft. In consequence witchcraft has tended to be seen (from the inside and outside) as a women’s activity (‘...Goddess rituals, spellcasting, and other womanly arts...' (Zsuzsanna Budapest: The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries. Wingbow Press, Oakland, 1989, subtitle.)), whereas other magical practices are for men (‘ type of magic – chaos magic – appealed to ‘heavy metal’ motorcyclists without means.’ (Tanya Luhrmann: Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1989, p. 29.)), to the extent that more recently attempts have been made to reclaim the masculine in modern Pagan magico-religious traditions (For example Isaac Bonewits: The Pagan Man. Citadel Press, New York, 2005.).
Where does all this leave us in attempting to understand both what Gardner would have understood by ‘the Great Mother’ and what influences contribute to our understanding of her? At the time when Gardner was  developing Wicca as we know it from the sources he had inherited, it would have been a commonplace among non-academics (for which support could be found in the work of some academics), that the first religious belief of humans was a single Goddess, later deteriorating or developing into a number of Goddesses, which later still developed or deteriorated into worship of Gods (or a God). Goddess-worship was something which had an aura of antiquity, and was already present or incorporated into the early theology of Wicca.
Which raises the question of why people want to believe in the Goddess today and whether it matters to them that ancient peoples did not believe in her. Or  whether ancient peoples lived in peaceful, matrifocal civilisations. I would argue that it is different to believe in the idea of a single ancient Great Mother Goddess, and to live with whatever the Goddess means to us. To become too attached to a particular reading of history, which becomes an orthodoxy, has the danger of fossilising our modern spiritual traditions, and of exposing these traditions to ridicule if the foundation myths are disproved. Apparently the Flat Earth Society still exists.
Rather the mythology (using this word in its best sense) of ‘the Goddess’ and ‘Goddess civilisations’ provides us with a vocabulary to express modern ideals. As a religious movement we have not tended to espouse a past ‘Golden Age’, although Starhawk’s telling of Mellaart’s version of Catal Huyuk’s history comes close to a Golden Age myth. It does not so much matter whether it actually happened in the past, as whether we can do what it takes to help to create a Golden Age in the future.
Similarly ‘the Goddess’ may not refer to an actual single deity worshipped at any time or place in the past, but this idea of her worship can serve a modern function of referring to those in the past who have practised key activities of our modern religion: attempting to live in right relation with other people and the earth, knowing that there is nothing in me and other people that is not of the Gods, taking responsibility for ones actions in creating the present and the future. Understanding and acknowledging the sources of our own mythology is important for intellectual credibility, but since magical paths are usually based in experience rather than belief, the words ‘the Goddess’ can mean different things to different witches, whether as the energy which holds everything in life, or as a psychological construct, and so on. As magical people, we can hold two contradictory concepts in mind at once, and so it is both possible to think of ‘the Goddess’ (understood as you will), and maintain an awareness that she may not have been a historical reality.
The point of this for us as modern witches is what the Goddess can do today, perhaps best expressed by Hilary Valentine:
‘There is a saying in Witchcraft that “a healthy priestess makes all things whole.” Just as we cannot be completely happy in an unjust and disordered family or community, so a family or community cannot remain as unjust or disordered if one member heals. We can learn to call on the power of the Goddess and her ancient cultures to change ourselves. And we will inevitably change our surroundings, making our personal world and the people we love healthier, happier, and more whole.’ (Starhawk and Hilary Valentine: The Twelve Wild Swans. Harper San Francisco, New York, 2004, p. 26.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Walking round the rose garden with the Goddess

When I was a practising Catholic I would have a go from time to time at the devotion called the rosary. That's right, the thing it's become fashionable to wear around the neck, something that Catholics don't do as it makes it impossible to use it. I never took to the devotion; I think for me the Ave Maria is too long a prayer, and in two halves too, to be uttered aloud or silently while concentrating on the mystery to be meditated on. I felt less distracted from the meditative frame of mind by the Jesus Prayer & had more success with that, but since then I've tended to leave beads and repetitions alone.
Recently, however I have felt drawn to this again. I can see that the feel of the beads in ones hands is comforting. I have even found Greek-style worry beads satisfying.
The other possibility for a witch would be the repetition of a word or phrase, with or without the use of beads to count. Some Moslems take pride in counting on the joints of their fingers, rather than on beads, because this is what the Prophet did.The only world religion in which I have not found this practise is Judaism.
The other thing I have done is to put together a litany of Hecate's ancient titles, the repetition of which she likes better than anything. I want to memorise these in order so that I can say them without checking! It is intended to be said using a 33-bead Islamic prayer beads (meant to refer to the 99 names of Allah, but Hecate does love multiples of three!). Here it is:

Far away one.
Infernal one.
Terrestrial one.
Celestial one.
Traveller between all worlds.
Twined with serpents.
Only-begotten maiden.
Of the crossroads.
On the way.
Tender one.
Guiding light.
Before the gate.
Nurse of the young.
Leader of the dogs.
Terrible one.
Angry one.
Necessity hard to avoid.
Of the earth.
Queen of the night.
Friend & companion of darkness.
Lady of the underworld.
Queen of the dead.
Devourer of the rotting corpse.

Friday, August 10, 2012

'You girls watch out for those weirdos...'

To the moot I go to this week. This notice was in the pub. Perhaps it's just my sick and twisted mind, but is it just to me it sounds incredibly filthy?
Then on the way to the bus I found this sign in an underpass. Of course it is merely that some wit has left it there, but i thought how good it would be if the continual road works in Birmingham had actually moved St Chad's way over from St Chad's Queensway to the other side of the city!

Living the divine game

I solemnly swore I would not post about the Olympics. So here is my post about the Olympics.
Actually it was prompted by this picture that a friend sent me of the Olympian Bjorn Barrefors. Normally he wouldn't be my type, but he is really rather scrumptious, isn't he? In fact, when I got the picture I was so distracted by the beauty of his...eyes, I had to ask my friend what country he represents, completely failing to notice the acres of blue and yellow, and the word 'Sweden' in large letters across his chest. In fact his... eyes still draw me so much that I should probably apologise in advance in case this post is more incoherent than usual.
I called him an Olympian for a purpose. it has come to mean someone who completes in the modern Olympic games, but originally the Olympians were the main deities of the ancient Greek pantheon. In mythology they lived on Mount Olympus, hence the name. What I love about the divinities in polytheistic systems is that they are much more like us than the single deity of monotheism. It must be a very lonely life being a single God, with no-one to argue with, be married to, have children with! Perhaps this explains why monotheistic deities so often take it out on humans, since they don't have any other Gods to argue with.
Of course this also means that we are more like our Gods than monotheists are. I mean, you only have to look at Mr Barrefors to see that we can be gods, divine, and any other attribute you care to use. In fact one of the marvels of the pagan new religious movements of the twentieth century is that not only are our Gods more like us than those of the monotheists, but the line between divine and human is blurred slightly. One of Pindar's odes about Medea refers to her lips as divine, and this is one of the aspects of the traditional witch figure which is most happily drawn on in today's movement: the traditional witch figure continually crosses the boundary (the hedge?) between divine and human.
The implications of this for our daily life are quite astounding: if I can start off the day by looking in the mirror and seeing the divine looking back at me, that can only have a major impact on all my actions! It also influences my interactions with others: if I look around and see other people (and some would say things) as participating in the divine economy that must change how I look on other people. I would venture to give an opinion that this is why codes of ethics are more public relations exercises than actualy valid codes for witches. Witches don't - should not - need codes of ethics because they are attuned to the divine cycles of life. Yes, I know: this means that people are going to die and bad things are going to happen, but we don't have the difficulty explaining these things that you have in a system where there is only one all-good divinity (this is why they have to project bad stuff onto a figure of evil, because it doesn't make sense that bad things could happen): they just do. Shit happens. Of course this also has the potential to go extremely wrong where a witch things they are so part of natural cycles that they lose their balance, end up with too much credit, as it were, and end up being part of the cycle of destruction. I will certainly return to the discomfort monism gives me in future posts!
I also love the way the ancient Olympic games were actually part of the worship of the Gods, since doesn't our Goddess say, 'All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals'? I certainly would place the modern revival of the Olympic games in the same melting pot of things which led to the creation/revival of our modern pagan religions. The modern triad of mind, body and spirit is not quite as the ancients would have envisaged it. However our divine mature means that acts of pleasure (for ourselves and others) do genuinely pay homage to divinity. This is not quite the way the non-theistic Satanists would see it, since they see themselves as the only entity really, and then everything else is opposed in duality (how anyone can not see that this is not Christianity turned upside down escapes me, and Isaac Bonewits used to say, 'I get almost as much hate mail from Satanists as I do from the other fundamentalist Christians.'). Although I do like the idea of keeping your own birthday as a major feast day of your religion! Witchcraft and most other modern traditions in the same vein differ from this in that while we are not dualists, we are not totally immanent monists, since in that system you actually end up with no God, as God is indistinguishable from everything else. We are more panentheists, since while the divine is in everything, it/he/she/they can still be differentiated from everything else.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


 Yesterday I had a reason to be out of town so I spent the day in Leamington Spa. I found my way to this unassuming street of mixed owner-occupied and council flats. No seriously, this is Royal Leamington Spa after all, and they don't let you forget it. Although after lunchtime the streets began to fill with chavs - I really felt quite at home. I came to Clarendon Square to find a house associated with a great man. Across the square I spotted a blue plaque and rushed over to find that it was merely that Napoleon III had lived in that house.
 Instead this was the house I was looking for, no. 30. Please note that I did not go to the library and ask whether the road has ever been renumbered: my relative confidence on this is based purely on the fact that the numbers on all the doors look as if they have been there for a good long time, and may even be original. Assuming I've got it right, it was in this house, on 12th October 1875, that Edward Alexander Crowley was born. He is better to known to us magical people as Aleister Crowley, and his name wasn't the only thing to change as he got older. When he was naughty as a child, his mother used to say to him, 'You beast!', and he came to think of himself as The Beast. When I was nuaghty as a child, my mother used to say to me, 'You're a holy terror.' And we know how that has influenced me!
Incidentally this collecting box for guide dogs is at the railway station at Leamington. I hadn't thought before I saw this that the Goddess could have a soft spot for blind people in particular. But the dog Goddess definitely likes this, and they've unwittingly put three dogs on it: she loves things in threes! The last time I was in Leamington someone had dumped an empty coffee cup on it, which she thought was hilarious. She is enemy of the sun, and friend and companion of darkness, so no wonder if she would have a love of those with difficulty seeing (on any level). May she grant us the light of her torches where we have difficulty seeing the way ahead.

Friday, August 3, 2012

God's wife: a case of deliberate obfuscation?

It's true: not only did God have a wife, but she just loves gay men
A colleague asked me whether it is true that God used to have a wife, and I'm afraid he started me off because she is one of my pet subjects. Anyone with any idea of the background to the Hebrew Bible (remember it is not the old testament to the Jews) knows that the whole Judaeo-Christian tradition gestated in a melting pot of various competing divinities, of whom Yah ultimately became the single deity.
His wife was called Asherah, and if you know what to look for her presence is everywhere in the bible. The translation in which it is least apparent to us us the 'Authorised'/King James Bible where you really have to look hard for it. This is part of the account of King Josiah's setting up of the worship of Yah over Asherah in 2 Kings 23:
Yup, these are definitely poles
This seems so casual but unless you know what you're looking for, all is not being told. For a start he doesn't just stand by a pole, just casual like, because the pole was the ritual object in the temple for the worship of Asherah. He is taking this oath in the temple because he is consecrating himself, the people, and the temple to the worship of the one God. He then commands the people to remove from the temple the paraphernalia and personnel of the worship of other divinities. But hold on, what can 'the vessels...for the grove' mean? After he tells them to bring out the priests who burned incense in high places (high places occur so frequently in the Hebrew Bible that the people can not have been wholeheartedly monotheistic, because they are a sure sign of the worship of other Gods) he then has the grove actually brought out from the temple. A grove is a small wood without dense undergrowth. I know, I had to look it up. I suppose you could conceivably have a small wood growing in a temple, but the actual Hebrew words translated here indicates what is actually  happening. You've got it, thte word is Asherah. It was actually the Asherah pole that was being removed. This is the development of monotheism in action: while the victors' record defines it as a commitment to pure and correct worship of only one divinity, it can also be phrased as the total extirpation of others' divinities.
I particularly like the next bit, where he breaks down the houses of the sodomites. A dictionary definition of sodomite is 'one who engages in sodomy', and we all know what that is. But once again all is not being told. It wasn't by chance that an absolute busload of Mary-Anns were camping (literally) in the temple. Once again the Hebrew word shows the real situation: the word is kedeshim and its root meaning is 'consecrated ones'. They were ritual male prostitutes, and this was the worship of Asherah. Bear in mind, though, that at most periods of time the word prostitute has not had the relatively low-life meaning it has now, the kedeshims' prostitution was a sacred thing.
What makes me mad about the King James Bible is that although the words are translated using perfectly possible translations, it has succeeded in completely hiding what is actually happening! Modern versions of the Bible tend to be better, but this is an example of the victors rewriting history to write out the vanquished. A story of the imposition of monotheism on a people who weren't really interested becomes the triumph of the worship of the one, true, only revealed God.
Incidentally I love the Vulgate's version of the bit about the kedeshim:
Destruxit quoque aediculas effeminatorum quae erant in domo Domini
The Douai Bible (always screamingly  funny) has translated this way too literally and come out with the wonderful:
He destroyed also the pavilions of the effeminate, which were in the house of the Lord
In the interests of fairness, perhaps I'd better show how a modern version reveals more of what is actually happening: this is the New Revised Standard Version:
The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.  The king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. He deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who made offerings to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the host of the heavens. He brought out the image of Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the Wadi Kidron, burned it at the Wadi Kidron, beat it to dust and threw the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. He broke down the houses of the male temple prostitutes that were in the house of the Lord, where the women did weaving for Asherah. 


This isn't me; I wish it was, or at least that it was waking up next to me... It's the lovely Mr Philipp Tanzer. And you may ask what someone who looks like this could possibly do for a living, and the answer is: DJ and porn star!
I have tattoos. I haven't had one for a little while, you have to have a certain relationship with your tattooist and I'm between tattooists at the moment. I started having them after I was quite majorly ill a few years ago, and also had some moles removed from my back. It started to distract attention from the scars!
Are all of my tattoos exactly as I would like them to be? No. But I don't regret them. I will never regret them. They all have special significance to me personally, some as souvenirs and some as reminders. People always ask the what if question: what if you regret it?
And that's the key: to make damn well sure you don't regret what you do. Think it out beforehand and act with a certain assurance. Too often people post on forums that they've cast a spell and now regret it and how do they change it. Tattoos are another example of this kind of action: it isn't literally permanent for eternity, but it's very difficult to undo. If you walk into the studio, point at the wall, and say, 'I'll have that one,' you get what you deserve. Just as you do with a spell.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Because mums (and witches) go to Iceland

What you find around you can be used for magic as long as it has an effect on you: if it is quaint or picturesque and this helps you, more power to your wand. (Picture courtesy of TranKmasT on flickr)
To work magic it is not necessary to have access to incredibly exotic or expensive ingredients, unless you want access to a particular magical current that requires silver, lambskin and parchment. To work 'low' magic, of which the basic principle is that you can use your inner world to influence your outer world, it is much more important to use the materials that press the right buttons in both worlds. Of course it is possible to work magic in a completely mental manner, with no 'props' at all. However it took me ages to realise the purpose of the tables of correspondences you find in the magical books, that is, collections of things which have links to each other in the greater picture, and which can therefore be used to influence each other by manipulation of something in the smaller picture. Similarly I had difficulty understanding 'as above, so below,' but of course this is a seemingly more hierarchical way of expressing the same thing.
Similarly, because it is important that the materia magica make an impact on your inner world, this will be related to your personal hedge, the source of your personal magic. Different things mean different things to different people, however it is also notable how magical traditions adapt to their environment. Hoodoo (African American folk magic) is a prime example of this. African slaves transported to the Americas didn't have access to the plants they'd used in Africa, so began to use local plants for magic. As they came into contact with Native Americans, they integrated aspects of their folk magic, folk elements of Catholicism were also incorporated from their captors, and even elements of Kabbalah or Solomonic magic were incorporated from contact with Jewish pharmacists, whom white people didn't want serving them. Similarly modern witchcraft uses a greater paraphernalia of ritual equipment because of its availability. Our predecessors (that is, those who have always done what we do now, even though they wouldn't usually call themselves witches) used many fewer 'tranklements', and the props of magic do change with time.
For witches who live in urban areas, without access or understanding of the ancient herbs and weird substances prescribed by many of the books, our hedge is formed by the things we find around us each day, and these things can be turned into our own correspondences and used in magic.
For example I'm very fond of bottle spells because they are so adaptable and can be kept so that someone like me who tends to scratch can come back to it and have another go without bringing back the spell. Finding an object  link of the person is not as hard as it seems: people leave bits of themselves all over the place unwittingly. Once I have it I often speak to it, I usually keep it on the altar for some days until its identification with that purpose (person, intention, institution) is complete in my mind. I usually use large coffee jars, and will put the object link in it, doing this more or less ceremonially depending on my mood, remembering that the important bit is the total identification of the object link with the person in my mind. What I then do with it depends on the purpose of the spell. I will pour vinegar over it if I want to make things unpleasant for them, again because I hate vinegar myself, and I will visualise the unpleasantness happening to them. If I want to make it sweet I pour over runny honey. For them to have pangs of conscience I use nails. To stick someone in a situation of their own creation glue is get the idea.
A lemon can be used to embitter a person or thing. The hair from a cat and a dog can have marvellous effects in starting rows. I was astounded to discover that the ingredients in many Hot Foot Powder recipes are the same as the ingredients in chilli powder, so that's what I use. You can steep herbs in oil to make it for different purposes. To cleanse? Jolly old sage. In higher amounts this can also be used as Essence of Bend Over because it's so overpowering (and usually overdone in shop-bought stuffing). You get the idea.
Even if I can't get an object link I usually don't have any trouble creating one. I often use things bought from charity shops, just being careful that they remind me of the person or thing the spell is for. I have used a letterhead to cast a spell on an institution. I love what Dorothy Morrison has to say in her book Curses, Hexes and Other Unsavoury Notions about using Barbie dolls as poppets. She suggests ways of personalising them to the person. The only thing I've never been able to work is her idea of stuffing the doll's cavities with things for the spell, for example cotton wool in the head to induce confusion. Perhaps it's just that I don't take them off gently enough, but I can never get the bits bask on (they make a nice popping sound when you pull them apart, though). Nails are surprisingly difficult to get through them. I once nailed one to the bedroom floor without meaning to, using a mallet and masonry nails. I have bought china ornaments that have reminded me of the target of the spell. As a general rule, if I've thought about the spell for long enough, suddenly the materials for it will appear, the time will feel right, and the spell will almost do itself. Perhaps this explains why the effect of a spell is often noticed just before you've actually done the action: you've already made the necessary changes elsewhere and things are starting to fell into place. That said, when I once turned a pig's ear into my problem and fed it to a friend's dog who shat it out all over the house, it didn't take that much turning!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 4: Listen to the words

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical: Listen to the words

Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical (BAM) is clearly the source of the preliminaries of the Charge. This article will speculate somewhat on its origin as a literary genre, however since there is no obvious single source for the BAM version of the Charge, this section is treated as an original composition by Gardner.

Thealogy and the ritual use of the Charge

Both Valiente and Gardner describe the Charge as something that is used at initiations (Gerald Gardner: Witchcraft Today. Arrow Books, London, 1975), and Valiente comments that the ‘Charge’ being read to a ‘properly prepared’ candidate for initiation is very reminiscent of Freemasonry (Doreen Valiente: The Rebirth of Witchcraft. Robert Hale, London, 2007).  Although the word ‘charge’ used as a noun does not often have this sense now, records of the use of the word to indicate a task or duty, or a precept or injunction, date back to the fourteenth century (J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner (editors): The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition). Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989, volume 3.).
    Harry Carr describes two different things as ‘Charges’ in Freemasonry (Harry Carr (revised by Frederick Smyth): The Freemason at Work. Lewis Masonic, London, 2004.).  The ‘Old Charges’ were histories and rulebooks of the craft, of which there are many versions dating from between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries; they begin with a history of masonry, and then continue to both ‘operative’ regulations for working masons, and moral advices to prevent masonry coming into disrepute, such as not to steal, to keep the master’s secrets, fidelity to church and craft, and avoidance of lechery.
    The modern ‘Charge to the Initiate’ is purely a moral exhortation, with no element of history, intended only for Speculative and not Operative masons, and containing different matter from the earlier Charges. It is read to the candidate after first degree initiation by the Worshipful Master, a Past Master, or a Warden. This quote gives a taste of how it differs from the Charge of the Goddess:

‘Bro. A. B. As you have passed through the ceremony of your initiation, let me congratulate you on being admitted a member of our ancient and honourable institution. Ancient, no doubt it is, as having subsisted from time immemorial, and honourable it must be acknowledged to be, as by a natural tendency it conduces to make those so who are obedient to its precepts. Indeed no institution can boast a more solid foundation than that on which Freemasonry rests, the practice of every moral and social virtue. And to so high an eminence has its credit been advanced that in every age monarchs themselves have been promoters of the art; have not thought it derogatory to their dignity to exchange the sceptre for the trowel; have patronised our mysteries and joined in our assemblies.
‘As a Freemason, let me recommend to your most serious contemplation the Volume of the Sacred Law, charging you to consider it as the unerring standard of truth and justice, and to regulate your actions by the divine precepts it contains. Therein you will be taught the important duties you owe to God, to your neighbour, and to yourself. To God, by never mentioning His name but with that awe and reverence which are due from the creature to his Creator, by imploring His aid in all you lawful undertakings, and by looking up to Him in every emergency for comfort and support....
‘As an individual, let me recommend the practice of every domestic as well as public virtue: let Prudence direct you, Temperance chasten you, Fortitude support you, and Justice be the guide of all your actions....
‘...Secrecy consists in an inviolable adherence to the Obligation you have entered into, never improperly to disclose any of those Masonic secrets which have now been, or may, at any future period, be entrusted to your keeping, and cautiously to avoid all occasions which may inadvertently lead you to do so...
‘And as a last general recommendation, let me exhort you to dedicate yourself to such pursuits as may at once enable you to be respectable in life, useful to mankind, and an ornament to the society of which you have this day become a member. To study more especially such of the liberal arts and sciences as may lie within the compass of your attainment, and without neglecting the ordinary duties of your station, to endeavour to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge...’ (Walton Hannah: Darkness Visible. Augustine Publishing Company, Chulmleigh, 1984, pp. 107-109.)

This ‘Charge to the Initiate’ differs both in content and use from the Charge of the Goddess as used in Wicca today. The only similarity is in that Valiente and Gardner both report its use at initiations in the early days of Wicca; its use differs today.
    The Masonic Charge quoted above is wholly different in tone from that of Wicca, which does not feel the need to comment on the social standing of its members in the Craft’s past. The tone of the Gardner/Valiente Charge's admonitions as to the witches' behaviour feels also quite different.
    Another context in which an address in made to the initiate at his initiation is found in the Neophyte Ritual of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn , in which after the initiation the hierophant gives the hierus the duty of making a short address to the new initiate (Israel Regardie: The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic. Falcon Publications, Phoenix Arizona, 1984, Vol. 6.). This is obviously the same use as the Charge has in Masonry and in the early days of Wicca, although it is not called a Charge. Its form and content is also more similar to that of the Masonic charge above than to the Wiccan Charge, and its purpose is given as advice on how to cultivate a mental condition appropriate to the Order.
    Its contents are more similar to the Masonic Charge in feel, consisting of short advices and instructions, including to revere the Lord of the universe, never to ridicule another’s religion, to remember to keep the seal of secrecy of the Order, to study the proper balance of mercy and severity, and not to be daunted by the difficulties found in the study of occultism (Ibid, vol. 6, pp. 19-20.).
    The main difference from the charge in Masonic initiations and from the address in Golden Dawn initiations is found in the person speaking. In Masonry the Charge is read to the initiate by one of the officers of the lodge in his own person. In Wicca the Charge is spoken in the person of the Goddess, with exhortations to listen from the High Priest; the writings of Crowley which Gardner quoted in his original text are mostly Crowley’s own quotations from his channelled Book of the Law. Similarly the passages quoted from Aradia are passages in which Aradia is speaking to the witches before she leaves this world. (From Valiente’s comments on the difficulty the members of the coven experienced in pronouncing the Goddess names in the verse version of the Charge, rather than merely the High Priestess having difficulty pronouncing them, perhaps that version was used differently and sung by all, perhaps as part of a ritual dance.)
    Which leads to the difference in use of the Charge in Wicca today, as opposed to how Gardner himself used it at Valiente’s initiation in the 1950s: as part of the ceremony of ‘Drawing Down the Moon,’ in which the Goddess is invoked into the High Priestess so that she is literally speaking in the person of the Goddess (For more on Drawing Down the Moon, see Janet and Stuart Farrar, A Witches’ Bible. Robert Hale, London, 1984.).  Some people may find this calling-into or possession strange, but it actually has parallels in many religious and spiritual traditions: Vodou is the one that springs to mind, but it is also found in some of the more charismatic forms of Christianity, and in acting in the person of the divinity, the High Priestess is only doing what Catholic priests do on a daily basis (although perhaps it should be noted that I am interpreting Catholic theology from a Pagan perspective, and this is not how Catholics would understand this action), as witness this passage:

‘It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.’ (St John Chrysostom, cited in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994, paragraph 1375.)

In doing this, witches are actually in a great and ancient magico-religious tradition. This cannot come from the mediaeval Judaeo-Christian grimoire tradition, from which Gardner also drew for ritual material, because in that spirits are evoked by the magician into a triangle drawn outside of the circle. The magician stays inside the circle as a protection, whereas in Wicca it also has the purpose of a container for the energy built up by the witches. Neither does it come from the legends of witches of classical antiquity, although the name ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ is a reference to this mythology. It was believed that the notorious witches of Thessaly were powerful enough to – literally – draw down the moon from the sky, and this belief is referred to by Aristophanes in his comedy The Clouds:

‘Suppose I bought a Thessalian slave, a witch, and got her to draw down the moon one night, and then put it in a box like they do mirrors and kept a close watch on it.’ (Aristophanes (translated by Alan Sommerstein): Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds. Penguin Books, London, 1973, p. 143.)

Virgil also refers to the possibility of doing this:

‘Spells can pull down the Moon herself from heaven. Circe with spells transformed Odysseus’ men. Sing the right spell and you can blast the clammy snakes that live in the fields.’ (Virgil (translated by E.V. Rieu): The Pastoral Poems. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1954, Eclogue 8.69-71, p. 97.)

Rather, the invocation of divinities and spirits into a person has a venerable magical pedigree, since it is also found in the ancient Greek Magical Papyri from Egypt, which were published piecemeal through the twentieth century, but the available texts only published as a collection after Gardner’s death. In these magical texts a spirit or divinity is invoked into a person, usually a man or a boy, in whom it can be commanded to perform actions or give information. For example:

‘...Hear me, that is, my holy voice, because I call upon your holy names, and reveal to me concerning the thing I want, through the NN man or little boy, for otherwise I will not defend your holy and undefiled names. Come to me, you who became Hesies and were carried away by a river; inspire the NN man or boy concerning that which I ask you.’ (Hans Dieter Betz: The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Second Edition) Volume One: Texts. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996, p. 55.)

From its already established place in the Greek Magical Papyri of antiquity the principle of invocation, as opposed to evocation, has been found in magical traditions through the ages, including those created or inspired by Aleister Crowley.
This physical presence and closeness of the divinity in Wicca may be one of the elements inspired, in part, by Murray’s ‘Witch Cult.’ She writes of the witches’ love for their God, their joy at his presence:

‘This was undoubtedly the great appeal of the Old Religion; the god was there present with his worshippers, they could see him, they could speak to him as friend to friend, whereas the Christian God was unseen and far away in Heaven, and the petitioner could never be sure that his prayer would reach the divine ear.’ (Margaret Murray: The God of the Witches. Sampson Low, Marston and Co., London, 1933, p. 128.)

Ritually, the Charge equates to the second stage of Bonewits’s fundamental pattern of ritual: following supplication-introduction, it is the Reply from the Deity (Philip Bonewits: Real Magic. Sphere Books, London, 1974.),  which actually places Wiccan ritual in a universal pattern of religious ritual. As early as the publication of High Magic’s Aid, in 1949, the witch ‘maiden’, Morven, speaks to the assembled witches at the meeting, and they eagerly hear her words (Gerald Gardner: High Magic’s Aid. I-H-O Books, Louth, 1999.). However, there is no indication that she is considered to have invoked any entity, nor that she is speaking some set piece of ritual.
In most religions, especially those with canonised Scriptures, this usually takes the form of a reading from those Scriptures. In Wicca, which does not have revealed Scriptures, it seems strange that the text under consideration here, the Charge, should therefore be an invariable part of the ritual. Even if it used as a set piece, its delivery can differ from occasion to occasion; Janet Farrar writes that she is never sure how the Charge is going to come out (Janet and Stewart Farrar: A Witches’ Bible.  Robert Hale, London, 1984.).  Frederic Lamond counters this ‘liturgical’ use of the Book of Shadows rituals with his own experience in the early days of Wicca, indicating that the way the rituals are used has changed over the years:

‘The spirit in which we performed the BoS rituals was, however, different from that of many contemporary covens. For us, rituals – whether taken from the BoS or improvised – were strictly means to the end of putting us into an altered state of consciousness and then raise a cone of power to heal or improve the life of one of our members or one of our friends. Today many covens, especially in North America, seem to practise them for their own sake, and thus have turned a spellcasting magical tradition into a liturgy.’ (Frederic Lamond: Then and Now. Witchcraft and Wicca, Issue 15, Lammas 2007, p. 56.)

He suggests elsewhere that

‘...the high priestess should then channel the Goddess and give on Her behalf specific advice to the coven as a whole or to individual members. The Charge of the Goddess is a standby to be recited if the Goddess doesn’t come through.’ (Frederic Lamond: Fifty Years of Wicca. Green Magic, Sutton Mallett, 2004, p. 134.)

In addition to disquiet expressed at the use of the Charge as a set piece of liturgy, rather than the inspiration of the invoked Goddess inspiring the High Priestess to say the Goddess’s words at the time, dissatisfaction is also felt within the Wiccan community at the nature of the sources used in the Charge, particularly the Aleister Crowley quotes. Sorita d’Este is one Wiccan High Priestess who has publicly queried the appropriateness of the words of the Charge as representative of the deity of Wicca, both because they come from Crowley, and because they were originally spoken by other divinities. She comments on the growing awareness of the Charge’s origins and growing dissatisfaction with them, but also on the Wiccan community’s reluctance to change this ritual text (Sorita d’Este: Speaking for the Goddess... <> updated 2009, accessed 22.3.10.).
One further use of the Charge should be mentioned: as a well-loved piece of inspired (that is God/dess-breathed) poetry in the Wiccan and witchcraft movement, which has inspired songs, and even the titles of a series of novels. The section sometimes called the ‘Eight Wiccan Virtues’ has been used as a Wiccan equivalent of the Buddhist loving kindness meditation (Runewolf: Eight Virtues of the Craft. <>  Accessed 16.6.08. This excellent meditation unfortunately seems to have vanished from the internet.).