Sunday, 13 October 2013

Towards The Future: A New Blog

You will have noticed my blogging here has dried up to a wee dribble. Blogging about magick is a lovely idea, but since my available time has increased and i no longer live in the middle of nowhere I have reintegrated back into a community, and into practical magical work in group contexts. I have always said that magick is a practical thing for me, and from my personal work with the A.'.A.'., and my group work with the Irish Order of Thelema my life is already very full of the strange, and I don't need to live that out online. This blog has been an important undertaking, and there will surely be future thoughts on magick, the occult, and thelema.
But for this I would like to start a new space which is integrative of all that I am - as a craftsperson, a therapist, a thelemite, and as a citizen of the world. There is more to me and my work than the 'occult' and I would like to start again and to present the entirety of my being as a pursuit of my will, from my support of sexual liberation, feminism, and the political left, to my work with publishing, events management and art. I am so much more than dusty arcane knowledge and though I will still muse on magick and  general strangeness, I am more than that. So come and join me as I undertake a new adventure with more of the same, and lots more besides...

Friday, 8 March 2013

Holy Cow!

Holy Cow (Fr. Docet Umbra) Photography, collage, & digital manipulation Some source images taken from the logo of the Irish Order of Thelema

Malevolent Magick and the PC Patrol

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law

We live in politically correct times, particularly in the Pagan and esoteric communities. From ethogens (visionary drugs) to ethics, the politically correct brigade, who are not everyone, but who feel empowered to speak for everyone, are very willing to tell us that drugs are bad and no one in the esoteric community ever causes magickal harm to others (amongst other things). It is this latter point I will today take complete exception to for several reasons.

The first of these is that in real, everyday life, pagans and esoteric folk can be just like everyone else. They know joy, and beauty, but also anger and hate. There is a curious opinion in the community that magickal malevolence is terrible, unconscionable  and just plain wrong, and yet the same people who hold these opinions are capable of such horrid behaviour to their fellow man. I am all in favour of having ethics, but I find it so curious when people have completely different ethics in their magickal and their muggle lives. Great if you're all magickal and shiny in your ideal magickal persona, but if your still an arse in real everyday life, that also counts, and probably more.

I am very influenced by the social definition of magick given by Aleister Crowley. Crowley defines it as the art and science of causing change in accordance with will , which is to say causing change under the knowledge and direction of higher principles.  Crowley makes no explicit differentiation between technical magick (rituals and 'spells') and other forms of causing change in accordance with will. I do not have two sets of ethics. I have one, expressed through different means but the same ethic. 

A lot of Pagan ethics are situational. From the law of thelema to the Wiccan rede, though an implied ethic is present, it is a call to think of consequences, as different situations call for different measures. It calls for measuring consequences, but not for inaction due to dogmatic ethical limitations. 'An it harm none of Wicca does not mean turn the other cheek (so someone can hit you again) or let people walk on you. It means weigh your options, do the least harm possible, but by all means stick up for yourself.

My second issue with the PC patrol is the claim Witches don't curse, magicians don't curse etc. History begs to differ and this is something unique to a modern PC patrol. In any of the traditional grimoires, there are explicit malevolent methods. In hoodoo, and in traditional Witchcraft there is an injunction that a Witch must be able to curse as well as be able to heal. If you go to the Witchcraft museum in Boscastle there is ample evidence for cursing. Even the mammy of Wicca, Doreen Valiente admitted to using a poppet and blackthorn sharps to silence a blackmailer. 

 For more on the Witchcraft of cursing, I recommend the Ethics of Malevolence by Sarah Lawless. 

Before moving on from Witchcraft, I would like to take on a very neo Pagan idea of 'threefold return'. This idea has no origins in Traditional Initiatory Wicca (Alexandrian or Gardnerian) from what I understand. It is a random innovation that is an altered Judeo-Christian worldview. If you do something wrong, you'll get slapped hard! If you do good, you'll be rewarded. To speak of this in terms of karma is also painful to hear because there is no such teaching in Eastern philosophy, and the very understanding of karma as retributive misses the point completely. Karma is an expression of the will, acting to align the individual with their true will.

In Thelema there are obvious militant streams, and precedence for cursing, particularly in Liber Al chapter three (that Ra Hoor guy likes his cursing!), and in Liber Oz. I was looking online for an article written by a British thelemite on cursing, but it has disappeared from the internet. At a loss for that, there is an interesting (and under heard) voice emerging in contemporary thelema, being Ryan Murray from Toronto. He gives the following lecture on Curses, Hexes and Magickal Destruction of Ones Enemies. I find his position intelligent, well considered and worth checking out.

(in multiple parts. Parts I- V  of which this is Part I)

Before its suggested, I am not advocating going out and cursing left, right and centre. What I am doing is asking you to consider all the options when in times of difficulty or trouble, and asking you to come to your own ethical position based on the circumstances at hand, not based what the PC patrol tell you is the status quo. 

And for you, PC patrol who may be reading this, don't tell me, or anyone else what 'we believe' or what we should believe. Uphold what you will, but don't interfere with my will, because I and many others don't believe in a completely literal harm none. With a magician or a witch in company, it might be better advice to 'piss off none'.

(spurned by recent comments that my position is unpagan and has no place in the community. For those who hold such opinions, you are not the community and you most certainly don't speak for me!) 

Love is the law, love under will

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Imbolg - In The Belly

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law

Over several years I have worked with a poem at this time of year which has very evocative imagery. I have worked with it in a cultural context (rituals for and with the community), and in planting but it can also be used for more inner, meditative work. It is by a woman named Hilary Kidman.

When the seed calls out
Underneath, Under earth,
There is a fire in the dark 
That will rise into form,
The seeds are alive,
In the night of the soil.

Toil into green,
And burn a path, 
'Til the stem is out,
Like a flame through the earth.

Wishing you and yours warmth of hearth and the sparks of inspiration, at this, a most inspiring (yet cold) time of year.

Love is the law, love under will 

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Review: A Practical Guide To Irish Spirituality

A Practical Guide To Irish Spirituality: Sli an Dhraoi

By Lora O Brien (Wolfpack Publishers, 2012)

For some time before A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality came out, I followed Lora’s progress and heard several times how this title is not the fabled second book. Though perhaps not the planned sequel to her previous title Irish Witchcraft From an Irish Witch, at 245 pages (written over a span of only three months!) this is an impressive tome in its own right.

This book has already been out a while, but due to the experiential nature of this book it is pretty much impossible to ‘just read it’. I am writing this review without considering myself finished with this book. I have read it, considered it, and even done some of the more easily manageable exercises, but this is a book of starting points through exercises and pathworkings that could easily take a solid year or more to get through (and still feel like theres more to do).

First off we are struck by the workbook nature of this book. Already journaling and introspective practice are encouraged in the introduction with a series of questions including the readers expectations in undertaking such a process. O Brien does not mince her words, and makes clear the user (reader seems inadequate for such a format of book) will only get out as much as they put in.

The style of writing is very informal, more informal than one would otherwise encounter in a nonfiction book(or at least in the ones I read), but this element of familiarity and narrative has a special charm, though at times it leans towards reading highly caffeinated, for example in the end of the introduction:

 The stage is set, the structure is in place. And so we begin this part of our journey together. Hand in hand almost, we step onto this path, you and I. Are we ready? I feel ready. And scared, did I mention the scared? Not to worry, we’re doing the work we’re supposed to be doing; we’re ready to put in the effort, and we CAN do this. Deep breaths… and we’re off.

Such content gives for an energetic sense of anticipation, and I have to admit, though I am not used to reading material written in this style, I often found myself smiling at the ‘wee chat’ quirkiness of it all.

The core of the book is quite structured into the threefold definition of cosmology found in the Tain – land, sea and sky.

Under the realm of land we are given resources and questions around Ancestry, including a sane way of beginning to look into ancestry (though some of the indications given are for people exploring Irish ancestry, the basic method is good for people of all ethnic backgrounds), as well as the tangible relationship the Irish have with the dead, and the customs that exist around death, both contemporary and ancient. Though I am familiar with Lora as a ‘pagan’ author (boxes and labels are so troublesome), one thing I found very useful about this book is its fluid relationship to all aspects of Irish culture and spirituality, with the ancient and the Pagan, and the more recent Catholic traditions standing side by side. These are presented as a continuum. Practical indications are also given for honouring the ancestors.

This is followed by a chapter on working with sacred sites, which gives a lot of indications. I have to say I was reading this section half asleep, so I came to a ‘list of things to do at a sacred site’ and I was horrified (and surprised) only to reach a section directly afterwards that declared that yes, she was being completely sarcastic. Again, this is an unusual literary tool, but an effective one and I let out a sigh of relief. And yet many of the practices described are very common desecrations of important archaeological sites. OK, on we go.

This is followed by a chapter on rhythms and cycles. This included indications on the ancient festivals including the fire festivals and solar festivals. I really enjoyed the sections on the solar festivals because of the details of the solar alignment of sights for these festivals. Ritual marking of the festivals is recommended with a very broad form, but no ritual words or actions specifically. The reader is encouraged throughout the book to be innovative, and to enable this O Brien gives just enough help, but not too much as to make the reader reliant on her authority.

The next section, in the realm of sea, continues with a threefold of chapters on the Sidhe (the so called fairy folk), deities or Gods, and the Otherworld, and journeys or Imramma to the Otherworld. A lot of resources are given, as well as anecdote, and a series of projects for deepening knowledge, You certainly won’t find ‘this Gods name means this, has to do with this, his colour is this’. The work of specific experience is given firmly into the hands of the reader.

The final realm of sky or air also has three chapters, being Magical Craft, Literature and Priesthood and Community. Magical Craft gives an excellent overview of magical belief and practice in Ireland. Literature touches on the major sources materials of Irish mythology, as well as sections on poetry, Breton law around trees and ogham. The final chapter deals in a way with life cycles, dealing with the big events of life and how we mark them in the context of community. Out of this the question of priesthood arises – on one hand the personal spiritual authority to mark events, but also to carry this role in a community. O Brien emphasises the context of a community as central to any spiritual work where any title of priesthood is used, and that taking on such a mantle carries responsibility to the community.  She goes on to speak about coming of age, gender questions, and the transition of death.

Running through all of these chapters like a golden thread are a series of pathworkings, or inner journeys through images that allow for an inner experience of the subject being explored. In many ways these are a kind of meditation, giving both form, yet also freedom. I personally enjoyed these pathworkings and felt they form an important balance to the outer work of questions, journaling and research.

In general, looking back after reading the book, and after doing some of the exercises, I was pleasantly amused that many of the questions I have posed to myself on my path of Irish spirituality, I encountered again in this book. O Brien rightly says there is no set path, as everyone follows the road that they want to. Still, this book is a condensed version of a much more crooked and distracted road I took over many years (and I still haven’t reached the mythological end).

I have read many of the things written here over many books, and have learned some of these things out of hard experience, and yet I do not recommend this book primarily as an informative read, or as interesting anecdotes and narrative. I honestly believe that this book, if used, has the possibility to open you to new questions, or perhaps to old questions that have gone unspoken. Ultimately it is a book about you, your journey and your unfolding self. I recommend this book as a good foundation for a very personal spirituality rooted in this journey.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

What I did for Candlemas/ Imbolg

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law

Here in windy Kilkenny we had our Candlemas celebration yesterday evening with 40 odd of us (though its hard to keep count). I'm afraid I don't have any pictures as after moving all my stuff around recently I cant find my camera. If I manage to source some Candlemas pictures from someone else I will put them up.

The day started early enough as I gathered old candles to melt down into molten wax for earth candles. This is symbolicaly very nice for continuity (and a great way to use old nubs of candles). Earth candles are candles formed and burned in the earth. Candle wax is melted in a double burner (ie a saucepan of boiling water with a bowl or tin inside with wax). Lengths of wick are easily bought in craft suppliers, though thick cotton string (untreated) can be used in a bind. The wicks are primed or dipped into the wax once, then allowed to dry. Priming the wick eliminates air and allows for good burning. This is especially important for earth candles as it can rain outside, and if the wick hasn't been primed, and if it becomes wet, it will be very difficult (or impossible) to light. 
Earth candles are formed by creating a hole in the ground several  inches deep. It is best if this is in the form of a cone pointed downwards, as the tapered shape creates a natural centre for the wick. This hole can be made with a hand shovel or a fence post (ie the round ones with an existing taper - all the easier if you have a post driver, but if not, then a sledge hammer will suffice.  The diameter is up to you but be aware of how much wax you have and how many candles you will make so you don't run out. Suspend the wick in the ground and tie it to a small branch at the top of the hole so it hangs in the centre. 
Pour in the molten wax, but do not fill level to the ground as leaving the wax a little deeper in the ground makes the flame less vulnerable to the wind.
We created a space with five earth candles, at the four cardinal points, and at the centre of the space. Around the central candle a small trench was dug in a double loop (cross like) and inlaid with first coal and barbecue charcoal, and then lengths of braided cotton soaked in accelerant. My friend who constructed this part of the space previously worked as a fire fighter so has an intimate knowledge of fire (and like many fire fighters, secretly loves playing with fire). Several small Christmas tree candles were added in small holes in the ground to form the arms of the cross out to the cardinal points.
After spending the morning doing this, I then made soup for the feast/ meal and prepared some of the celebration. 
We started to meet around 5.30pm. We organized people into the four cardinal points based on the elemental attribute of their astrological sign (ie mutable, cardinal and fixed water at one point). We sand a few Candlemas songs, the best known being a musical setting of the following verse: 

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

The weather divination of Candlemas is also found in the German Pennsylvanian community (USA) as Groundhog Day on the 2nd of February. 
We also sang several others. We then lit the cardinal points speaking a verse for each quarter, each containing an elemental reference. There was also a verse containing all four elements which was spoken together. Earlier in January we had looked at the four elements and formed a kind of 'Western medicine wheel'.
The verse we used mother earth, father son, sister rain and brother wind as personifying the elements. This has resonances with my thelemic work and Crowleys correspondences of the Tetragramaton. It is written by a woman named Eileen Hutchins.

Mother Earth, 
Mother Earth,
Take our seed
And give it birth 

 Father Sun
Gleam and glow,
Until the roots
Begin to grow

Sister rain
Sister rain
Shed thy tears 
To swell the grain.

Brother wind,
Breathe and blow
Then the blade 
Green will grow    

Earth and Sun,
Wind and rain
Turn to gold
The living grain.  

The central candle and the fire sculpture were then lit while I spoke about the two most popular image of Brigid. On one hand there is the legend around Brigids cloak and the obvious sovereignty over the land as a mother of the earth. The other is the forming of the Brigids cross as a sun wheel. Between sun and earth Candlmas stands. The sun and the skies quicken as the cross begins to dynamically spin. The earth quickens under the soil as the first seeds begin to stir, and as daffodils begin to rise. We accompany this process through the person of Brigid as mother of the earth, and keeper of the sacred flame. 
Continuing our elemental theme we learned the song Earth is my body (which is used in Reclaiming) with bodywork and actions. On such a cold evening it was good to move a bit.

Earth is my body, 
Water is my blood
Air is my Breath 
And Fire My Spirit 

To finish we ended with the words of Fiona Mcleod (aka William Sharp) again set to music and in a few voices to finish our gathering. This also has an elemental theme.

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. 

So ended a beautiful gathering, and we went back inside for fodder.   I hope you have enjoyed hearing about my candlemas/ Imbolg and I wish you prosperity and healing, force and fire, inspiration and poetry in the coming time...

Love is the law, love under will

Friday, 1 February 2013

Lá Fhéile Bhríde, Brigids Well & The Living Tradition

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law

I grew up in Co. Kildare so Brigid is someone I am very conscious of. I will not try to say I have always felt drawn to Brigid, or any of the other usual resonating experiences often described of ‘relating’ to a deity. But through the cult of Brigid I had my first sense of the Paganism, just below the surface of Catholicism in Ireland.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the official St. Brigids well outside Kildare town. Here there is a holy well, and a (not particularly Christian) statue of Brigid. It was here, as a child, I first saw a rag tree, covered in strips of clothing representing wishes for health, or other forms of petition as money, rosary beads, pieces of paper with petitions (spells in essence) and other very personal and moving offerings including items from children.
This form of Catholicism, involved in petitioning saints, lighting candles, leaving offerings, and a general magickal outlook is prevalent in Ireland, on one hand in a certain generation of Catholics, and becomes stronger outside the pale (the area around Dublin). These magickal/ petitioning practices are also a strong and vibrant part of Pavee (Irish Traveller) culture, something which infinitely fascinates me in a time and culture of modernism and abandonment of folk culture. These practices in turn have deep roots in folk traditions dating back centuries, some even over a millennium. I am always sceptical of any claims of historical continuity in religious practice, but I have come to recognise that there is a wellspring, an origin point, and continuing and evolving expressions of the living waters.
I even remember in my school days making Brigids crosses from reeds in school, fire wheels, solar wheels which are such thoroughly Pagan symbols. Like I said, just below the surface of Irish Catholicism, Paganism is alive and well.
There is more than one Brigids well in Kildare, and by all accounts the popularized well is not the original Brigids well, but as a place of living tradition the grotto and Brigids well currently in used is a sanctified site, made special by its conscious use. It is a place of peace and power that shows me new and wonderful expressions of an Irish spiritual stream.
I will celebrate my festival of warmth, light and candles tomorrow for Candlemas. Perhaps you will get an update on what we have done for Candlemas (we’ll see). Until next time, I wish you all a good festival of St. Brigid. May Brigid burn in your heart of hearts. May she bring new stirrings, inspiration, healing and warmth.

Lá Fhéile Bhríde Maith

Love is the law, love under will