Friday, May 20, 2011

Black Bunnies...

So, I’ve been debating… is ‘Black Bunny’ funnier than something like ‘Scaly Snakies’ or 'Bat Fanciers’? So far I think it is.

If you hang around internet occultism and the rush of self-published magic books, you’ll know who I mean. The “Bitterness and Dark” crowd. The types who seem to revel in half-baked mythologies that owe more to Milton than to any actual mythic material. Folks who think that authors like Ford or Grant have something serious to say about the Old Ways. Some of them are messianic, like “The Cosmic Man will enslave ya, and only us Smart, Strong, Scary people can make it…”. They’re likely to run around in black get-ups with some variation of heavy-metal or punk accessories, or else they do the Dangerous Lawyer look, in suit and tie, which makes even lawyers look like they have a wand up their colons.

You know, Black Bunnies…

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Coolest Thing I've Seen This Week

Been a while since I did one of these, but this struck me as cool.
At the House of Vines, a cat named Sannion is pursuing his work as a hellenic polytheist. In general it's a cool blog and related site (or vice versa) but I especially struck by Sannion's work as a public oracle in Eugene Oregon.

I've known folks who busked tarot before, but none who offered Greek-letter sortilege, or direct oracular speech from Dionysus, either! I'd think that even up there in Ecotopia that has to be an unusual thing. A street-corner oracle who sets up his own shrine to the gods of his work is cool enough for me...

He also uses the 'Homeric' oracle, but he seems to use modern six-sided dice. I like my ceramic astragals...

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Busy Season

Well, we’ve had a cold, wet spring here on the southern shores of Lake Erie, though things are warming up at last. April was mainly a wash – literally - in terms of getting anything done here at the old homestead. For readers who don’t know me as well, my wife and I keep a small stead in what I call the exurbs. People *do* commute an hour so that they can live in the ‘country’ and have a city income, but we’re still rural enough that cries of ‘accept our sacrifices’ and sounds of gunfire (from the target-shooters down the road) are unremarkable.

However, Beltaine hit the old schedule like a train. First, we had a marvelous work-weekend with the help of that wild-ass gang of Lemurians, the Space Rangers. This is a new aggregated neo-tribe that seems to have arisen (or arrived in their ships) at last year’s Starwood, and has already made great strides. It was astounding to have them come out and lay brick, dig holes, clean stuff, and then rock out!

That same weekend was our public Beltaine rite. Yes, it’s the start of the busy season.

That meant we were quite ready for our annual May Party the weekend after Beltaine. The May Party is our oldest event, L. having begun hosting it long before she and I were a couple, for the nascent local Pagan scene in the early 80s. This year we had a memorial for one of my closest friends, who passed in the spring, and that brought a lot of folks. The Space Rangers returned with their lights and sounds, and it was bonfire meets tiny rave, in the woods…

Now I’m prepping for the Wellspring Gathering at the end of the month. Wellspring is Stone Creed Grove’s annual festival, which has hosted the ADF national meeting for many years. It isn’t a giant event, but then we don’t have a giant staff for it either, and we have folks coming from all over, even from Down Under. Lots to do…

Giant event-wise, I’m an organizer for Starwood and that hits 4 weeks after Wellspring. In the meantime we’ll have Summer Solstice here at Tredara.

The upshot is, I’m still gonna try to post!

Writing Projects
Having completed the Book of Summoning (remember, don’t buy this if you’ve already bought the Book of Nine Moons, unless you’re some wacky Corrigan completist ; ) ) I’m poking around at my next writing projects. Here’s the list in my head, roughly by priority:
• The Novel: This will happen, probably this year. Occult adventure/horror with a little Mythos action. What else would you expect…
• Book of Visions: The trance and meditation material from BoNM arranged for more popular appeal. This will probably happen, maybe even for the summer, same caveats as the Book of Summoning.
• Basic Non-Wiccan Paganism book. This is an idea for an heretical-reconstructionist popularization. Take basic Indo-European religion, reduce focus on specific ethnicity and old-world cultural material, and apply the framework and techniques to making alliances and relationship with the spirits in your place, and the gods of your inclination. American tradityional paganism?? Speculative, but in development…

Occult Projects
Having completed a round of the Nine Moons work, L. and I are feeling charged and focused. This summer (in our copious free time…) we mean to deepen and focus our ritual relationship with the specific guardians of the land on which we have lived for so long. From there I expect us to find a number of new directions and options.

I have always been interested in rites of group theurgy. For many years I used more standard Neopagan magical models to write rituals intended to induce psycho-spiritual experiences in festival and ad hoc groups. As I have become more committed to a spirit-model of magic, I’m interested in how to use that model for the same intentions. That amounts to looking for ways to make ‘mystery’ rites, usable in a post-modern context.

Watch This Space.
So I hope this stuff will keep me stocked with material for the blog. Thanks for reading, and, of course, I welcome your comments.

Incidentally, the photos are of Tredara, our little place, our barn and Nemeton.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Balthazar writes...

I was pleased to notice that DHr Balthazar, who writes the excellent Gnostic Conjure blog, had signed on as a reader of this blog. He probably did that when he posted this reply to my long screed on Traditional Witchcraft and Paganism. I finally noticed that post... duh.
My reply is too long for the comments section, so I'm going to post it here. 'Witchcraft' and its meanings remains one of the murkiest semantic corners of our occult times, in my opinion...

Balthazar writes: This is an interesting dissection Ian. But to play, er, the Devil's advocate for a moment:

Hey, thanks for writing, Balthazar! I enjoy your blog a lot! I’m gonna snip this for brevity…

I think the distinction between pagan and christian witchcraft is somewhat arbitrary in your argument.

To be real clear, I’d never really use the term ‘Christian witchcraft’ because I generally reserve the term ‘witchcraft’ for magic outside of Christian rules.
There has always been ‘Christian magic’ and ‘Christian sorcery’ – neither of those terms have the religious connotation of ‘witchcraft’. But to use ‘witchcraft’ as a synonym for either one adds to confusion, imo.

For instance, at first glance hoodoo is a form of Protestant folk-magic, but when studied more closely you find an african heart at it's core - alive and beating very strongly. Much of the apparently christian trappings in hoodoo are expressions of deeply african, specifically kongo derived, religious/magical ideas and techniques. They simply found a new host form.

Yep. Now, in England of, say 800 ce, I’d wager we might have found something quite similar. The oppressed and illegal previous religious system reworks itself in barely-permissible clothes. ATR in North America is, after all, no more than 200 or 300 years from its African Roots (less in the Caribbean).

But to consider what an early modern practitioner inherited, we’re talking 1500 more years of deliberate suppression of both pre-Christian religious practices and magic in general. While early modern grimoires *do* retain ritual elements and occasional snippets of mythic content, misremembered deities in the demon-lists, etc, that’s all pretty slim. Nowhere near what Palo remembers of its Congo mythic structure, for instance.

Just because Jesus and the saints are getting air time doesn't mean it isn't pagan! Look at Haiti, Cuba, Brazil...

Yes. Polytheist cultures can adopt Jesus and other Christian mythic figures as some of their spirits. Perhaps I’m too concerned with theology, but to me that doesn’t make them in any way Christian. In the same way a Christian can use PGM ritual forms to summon and converse with Christian-mythic spirit forms. I don’t think that makes what the Christian does Pagan.

However, by the witch-hunt period we don’t seem to be looking at blended-troth (as the Heathens say) at all. The indigenous mythic content has been almost entirely washed away in favor of the new regime’s system. That’s why I’m not a believer in pre-Christian survival witchcraft in later western Europe – I just don’t see enough evidence for it.

Witchcraft throughout history and culture seems to co-opt the dominant religious expression of the time and subvert it for its own ends. And here lies its true genius as a transcultural magical impulse.

I think the term ‘witchcraft’ is best reserved for western-European contra-christian magical practices. Such things certainly existed in the early Christian periods, as Pagans resisted the political advancement of the church. (As to whether or not ‘Satanic’ witchcraft really existed in, say, 1500, I’m undecided.) Other cultures have their own terms, and I think we’d do best not to translate ‘strega’ or ‘seidrkona’, but rather to describe them inside their own cultures.

*Magic* is transcultural. Methods, techniques etc pass from age to age and culture to culture and get reframed as needed for practical use.

I’d no more use ‘witchcraft’ to refer to a shaman than I’d use the term shaman to refer to a Catholic priest. I might use the term ‘magic’ to refer to the practices of either. A clean vocabulary is a happy vocabulary, and I prefer clarity to ambiguity every time. Nothing is more ambiguous in modern occult usage than ‘witchcraft’, and if we narrow it a bit we’ll do our understanding good, I think.

I think you are right to distinguish cunning-folk from the main thrust of neo-pagan witchcraft, and so-called 'traditional witchcraft' - which in my opinion seems exorbitantly atavistic in it's attempts to reconstruct something which at this point seems to owe more to a dark literary notion of witchcraft than anything historical.

I rather dig atavism as a method, and so I respond to so-called Trad Craft’s night-and-fire, bones and blood approach. My own primary spiritual work tends toward daytime community ceremony and blessing, and so a bit of night-and-fire naked dancing is a good thing.

I find no personal use for ‘Luciferian’ or gnostic spirituality. I do respond to an older vibe, of survival Pagans meeting by night to light the old fires and sing the old songs. Such things must surely have actually happened, way back in the first millennium…

In the end, aren’t we all making esthetic choices about in what cultural paradigm we enjoy doing magic?

This might well prove to be a valid and powerful expression of magical creativity, nonetheless - to call it 'traditional' seems a bit a disingenuous.

All a part of the ongoing “We’re real because we’re old” thing in western magic…

Monday, May 2, 2011

Trance and Evocation

One more teaser for the Book of Summonings.
The topic of trance and imaginal vision is much debated in modern grimoire-magic circles. I understand the position of those who assert that a combination of the rhythm and focus of the rites themselves with the direct power of the spirits can provide all the vision or presence of the spirits that might be needed. However, I am mainly on the side that asserts that modern people can benefit from deliberate trance induction and imaginal leading in making contact with the Others.
Here's an excerpt from the single article on trancework and mental exercise in the Book of Summonings. (I actually think the article is my best job yet of constructing a concise set of practices to build skill in the kind of trance vision that supports spirit contacts.)

The Sorcerer’s Eye – Trancework for Spirit Arte

In the work of spirit art the question of how the spirits will or won’t appear to the magician is often discussed. Books of magic often make it their business to describe the appearance of their beings, and sometimes to discuss the mechanisms by which the spirits appear. As these old writings have been interpreted by modern mages several types of spirit appearance are commonly described:
• Material manifestation. In the most traditional descriptions, the spirits are said to gather bodies of the subtle elements of the air, of mist or smoke, and thus be visible to the material eye. While some schools place a great deal of emphasis on this kind of manifestation, we will treat it as a bonus, which indicates an especially strong connection with a spirit. It is good to follow tradition and let your Fire of Sacrifice generate a good sweet smoke, but material manifestation isn’t required for a successful conjuring.
• Manifestation in vision. This is probably the most common method used world-wide by shamans, priests and mages. In this manifestation the spirit makes itself present through the imaginative faculty of the mage, as a spontaneous or willed envisionment. In many variants this includes sleeping dream-states, but it also includes a variety of waking dreams and visions. In some traditions the rites, herbs and work of the invocation are expected to spontaneously generate the required trance-states, but in others the imaginative faculties are deliberately cultivated. This system is written with the latter approach in mind.
• Manifestation by effect. This is also an extremely common method of dealing with the spirits. When the invocations are well-worked the mage may perceive the presence of the spirit by a feeling. This can vary widely - a sense of peace or fear or comfort or alarm that comes to mean that the spirit is present. Often the sorcerer simply proceeds with the spell, confident that the spirits are hearing her, and their presence is then judged by the outcome. Divination is a direct means of seeking to commune with the spirits by effect. The spirit is perceived as present when the divination tool says so, and when communication happens.
In this system we will use a combination of deliberate waking-dream trancework with observation of effects and divination. If and when a material manifestation occurs, these will have made you ready.
The work of learning to focus and manage the impulses of the mind is a topic for a different instruction. In fact here in this grimoire we can give only the simplest set of exercises. These can, if practiced, lead to sufficient skill to enhance the effect of the rites. The alliance rites, especially, depend on the ability to enter a Threshold Vision and see and speak with images of the spirits.

The Threshold Realm
One of the primary spiritual powers of Druidry is the Power of Seeing. In the later folklore of the Gaels we hear of an da sheiliagh – the double-sight or second sight. That sort of seeing is commonly used to discern events at a distance, but there are also tales of the ability to see the Other Folk, their halls and lands and works. In this spirit arte, we will seek to draw the spirits close enough to our common world to be seen with this Inner eye.
In many kinds of trance and vision exercises the seer enters an imagined series of landscapes and environments. However we will use vision is a somewhat different way – we will establish an Inner vision, as part of the ritual space in which we work, and the events of the rite will then play out in both the material and the vision eyes of the magician. We will consider this half-constructed, half-discovered imaginal world to be a Threshold, a place Between the common world and the independent reality of the Other Places. This avoids the risk of taking our own imagined visions too seriously, yet reminds us that the spirits can arrive in that place as surely as we can. The forms we see (and make) in the Threshold may or may not be the ‘true’ forms of the spirits but that need not prevent us from speaking to them through those forms. The Threshold is a medium for reflection both of our common world and of the Other realms beyond.
While we may consciously shape and influence it, the Threshold realm exists without our conscious making. Just as the landscapes of dream occur as if subjectively real so the places of Threshold are often waiting for us when we arrive. Just as in a lucid dream we can shape events and places, but the life of the Threshold realm goes on, even around our conscious constructions.
It is this state of strange awareness, where the magician exists as a symbol of himself, and the symbols of the rite may move and speak as beings, which allows the spirits easy access to our awareness. The mage learns to stand strong in the Threshold, and to deal directly with the spirits, even while remaining physically active in the rite, making offerings, singing and speaking aloud. In the simplest form of the Threshold Double Sight there is no distinction between the ‘vision body’ of the mage and the material body – it is simply that the eyes of vision are open and the hands of vision are working.

Why Do We Need Trance?
It is worthwhile to ask ourselves how these techniques relate to traditional patterns of magic. Pre-modern writing about magic seems to assume that visions will simply occur when the conditions are right. There is very little discussion of states of mind or of methods to induce proper states of mind, beyond theological notions of ‘righteousness’ or ‘holiness’.
I believe that the distinction lies in the kind of world in which the ancient mage lived, and the kind in which we live today. For the ancients mental access to imaginative states and spontaneous visions seems much more a part of common life. The low levels of mental stimulation, lack of artificial light and constant presence of fire and smoke, along with a strongly oral culture and many other aspects of pre-technical living, would have inclined to a strong and well-developed imagination. This imagination would have come into play as the magician immersed himself in the symbols and ideas of his system, producing envisioned events of dreamlike power.
In contrast, modern minds have been taught a strong separation between imaginal content and ‘real’ or significant events. We are taught to disregard our dreams, to dismiss our imaginary playmates, and to distinguish plainly between self-generated ‘fiction’ and accepted fact. We live by an industrial clock rather than by the rise and set of the sun, and sleep in prescribed doses. For such as us, it simply makes sense to use specific techniques to induce trance states that can replicate the more naturally-occurring trances of traditional peoples. Thus, I hold with the importing of techniques of mental discipline and vision into the traditions of ritual spirit arte.