Category Archives: Conjurations and Receipts

Beltane, Carrot Cake and Kit Marlowe…

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The Latin motto translates as "That which nourishes me, destroys me." Oh, so true, but I'll be having carrot cake for breakfast this week, anyway...

There is no right or wrong way to celebrate Beltane.

I opened the Gates of Summer this year by baking one of my specialty carrot cakes (with homemade lemon-and-cream cheese frosting), downloading a couple of photos of the first two crop circles of the season, writing a sonnet, and making an online purchase of two books and a video by various people who think it is very likely that Christopher Marlowe was the true author of everything currently ascribed to the pen of William Shakespeare. (Writing the sonnet– a little bit of rhymed magick for when my Full Moon Ring is finished– put me in mind of the whole Marlowe-is-Shakespeare thing, which made me go look for the DVD Much Ado About Something on Amazon, and so on and so forth…)

Just for the record, I most definitely count myself a Marlovian– the stylistic and thematic similarities of plays by Marlowe and Shakespeare (i.e., stylistic elements and themes that are pretty much identical) make it highly likely everything was written by one person: Kit Marlowe, who already had a proven track-record as a playwright and poet. I also think the idea that Marlowe’s death at Deptford was faked (to allow him to escape being brought to trial on charges that he was an atheist apostate and therefore a traitor to the Crown because he was not ideologically on board with the Church of England) has merit for at least a couple of reasons– 1) Marlowe worked for Sir Francis Walsingham as the Elizabethan version of a CIA spook (as did the two other men that were with him when he was supposedly killed), and 2) the fact that his (supposed) corpse was hastily buried in an unmarked grave after a rather slap-dash inquest is highly suspect, given Marlowe’s then-fame as a poet.

Then there’s the fact that the surviving scraps of writing actually attributable to William Shakespeare– signatures– strongly point to the likelihood that the historical Will Shakespeare only held a pen when he was obliged to sign his name, which makes Marlowe’s claim to being the actual author look even stronger. In his youth, Kit Marlowe was something of a prodigy with a poet’s command of the English language early on, and he most definitely did know which end of the pen to put to paper. He left us plays and poems under his own name that sound “so much like Shakespeare, they could be Shakespeare’s early work”… and, come to think of it, where exactly is Will Shakespeare’s early work? It strains my credulity to believe that William I-can-hardly-spell-my-own-name Shakespeare suddenly wrote brilliant plays from day one, with no prior poems or plays on record and had no previous reputation whatsoever as a poet (or as a writer of any stripe, actually)…

At any rate, if folks are interested in finding out more about what is politely referred to as the Authorship Question, I can heartily recommend the following–

1) The DVD Much Ado About Something, a 90-minute documentary film by Mike Rubbo that lays the situation out in a very nicely balanced way. (I saw it when it originally aired on Frontline.)

2) The book The Shakespeare-Marlowe Connection: A New Study Of The Authorship Question, by Samuel L. Blumenfeld.

3) The book Marlowe’s Ghost: The Blacklisting Of The Man Who Was Shakespeare, by Daryl Pinksen.

4) The blog The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection (This is the blog of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, and features articles by scholars and researchers who think there is good reason to credit the extant works of Shakespeare to Kit Marlowe.)

5) The website for the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society. There is lots of basic info posted on the site that will give one a quick yet excellent grounding in the issues surrounding the Authorship Question.

The DVD and books are all available at Amazon, though be warned that the Blumenfeld book is pricey at $45 for a paperback edition. It is well worth the money, however, if you have any interest in the topic of Marlowe-as-Shakespeare.

One last-but-not-least word about Christopher Marlowe– in 2002, he was finally given a memorial place in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey. It’s a small, stained glass plaque which– though better than no place of remembrance in Poets’ Corner at all for so long– still seems shameful given the serious possibility that Kit Marlowe is the true author of Hamlet, King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Also notice the question mark in front of the death-date– the doubts about Kit Marlowe’s death are legitimate enough for the question mark to be there on that quiet little piece of glass in Westminster…

If I am ever lucky enough to make it over to England and get the chance to visit Poets' Corner, I'll be bringing some flowers with me. Seriously.

The Hare’s Sonnet

To thee, May Moon, I sing sweet praise,
Thou White Shell in the Sea of Night,
Thou Mistress-Witch of Magick Ways,
Thou Queen of Heaven, stars’ delight!
Upon mine hand, this Ring I place,
In token of thy Face so fair.
Grant me thy faerie wit and grace,
The Wise Blood of thy Lunar Hare.
I am, by thee, a Power old:
Thy Sacred Mirror doth dwell in me.
What I stop, shall stand and hold,
And what I bless, shall Blessed Be.
No art shall maze mine ear, mine eye–
I am The Hare ‘Twixt Earth And Sky!

(Yes, yes, I know my sonnet is in iambic tetrameter, not pentameter, but there is one Shakespearean/Marlovian sonnet that is in tetrameter, and Christopher Marlowe did use iambic tetrameter quite a bit– “Come live with me and be my love…”)

Anyway, Happy Beltane, Kit, and thanks for the help with the sonnet. Wish you could be here for some belated literary credit… and also a piece of homemade carrot cake…

The Wand Chooses The Wizard…

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Luna Lovegood and I share a Patronus, but this one is hers (from the movie), while the wand in the picture is mine (and, yes, it's a Yew-branch...)

One of the reasons I like the story of Harry Potter so much is that even though the author of the books, J.K. Rowling, may not herself espouse a Shaman’s view of the world, she does not look down her nose at people who see things from other perspectives. I also like the fact that although JKR doesn’t consider herself a magick-user in the real world, she respects her own intuition enough to allow it to guide her, and as a result of this, she actually does get some real-world magickal things “right”. Case in point, the nature of magickal wands.

The consensus-reality, real-time Shaman/Witch/Wizard’s view of the world and the Cosmos is that everything that exists within it– including dirt, water, rocks, and your dining room table– is part of a whole and living system, and therefore all things share in that life and sentience, even if they appear to be externally inert. In the Harry Potter books this magickal truism is expressed by the adage “the wand chooses the wizard”.

This magickal fact– that wands apparently think, feel and make choices– is represented in the series as being a very deeply mysterious thing that even witches and wizards themselves do not fully understand. I think it is presented as such because the author herself is looking at the story she is telling from a human perspective. Considering the sentience of wands to be a complete mystery would be the bog-standard muggle view of things, and I will say here that although I dislike the term muggle, I will use it in this post to indicate someone looking at the world from a point-of-view that holds that magick does not exist, rather than as an epithet for a person who cannot utilize energy to perform magick, as I do not think there are any real muggles in the latter sense of the term.

To a muggle point-of-view, then, wands that choose who they will bond with would appear quite strange and not at all understandable, but to a witch or wizard in the story, this should be a perfectly normal and natural state of affairs. It is also a phenomenon understandable by real-world magick-users, and I would now like to explain the entirely possible, real-world-magick reasons why Harry Potter and Voldemort were chosen by their respective wands, and why their wands reacted to one another as they did throughout the story.

First, let us look at Harry and Voldemort themselves. There are both strong parallels and differences between them, and these likenesses/differences are what drive the wands’ choices of the two wizards in the story. One of the most important parallels between the two is that both Harry and Voldemort lose their mothers in infancy– Voldemort’s mother dies, heart-broken and depressed, within hours of his birth, and Voldemort himself deprives Harry of his. (It is also one of the ways that Voldemort “marks Harry as his equal”– you’ll want to remember that prophecy by Sibyll Trelawney, as it also helps explain the magickal subtext of what is going on.) The actual circumstances surrounding the loss of each wizard’s mother are very different, and these differences also play a magickal role in how things develop– i.e., Voldemort’s mother dies in despair, leaving him truly alone, while Harry’s mum dies out of great love for him, defending and protecting him against terrible danger.

Now we all know what was said in the story about Lily Potter’s love protecting her son, and so on, but here’s how I as a magick-user understand the subtext– we start with Lily Potter desperately pleading for her son Harry’s life, and Voldemort kills her without a moment’s hesitation, as he is intent on killing Harry. As Lily dies, her great love continues to hold her Spirit near her son, and when Voldemort attempts to kill Harry, Lily’s energy (now entirely free of her physical body) can and does defend him by joining her own energy to her son’s, and both mother and son backhand Voldemort across the face with his own curse. Now that Lily is dead, her Spirit must of course “go on”, but the power of her love stays with her son, and even though a shard of Voldemort has broken off and embedded itself in Harry, the strength of Lily’s love and courage help keep the soul-fragment repressed. Thus Harry is the “Horcrux that Voldemort did not intend to make”– Voldemort doesn’t even realize that he’s made one, and Lily’s love keeps Harry safe from psychic take-over by the Spirit-fragment, so Voldemort does not understand until very, very late in the game that an extra bit of his soul-stuff is missing, and worse yet, his officially designated enemy and equal has possession of it.

The other thing that happens in the magickal exchange is that the energy directed at Harry literally marks him. Hagrid opines that Harry’s lightning-bolt-shaped scar is “the mark of a Dark curse”, but from a magickal perspective, the lightning bolt scar that Harry wears is the rune Sowilu, the Sun, symbol of light, truth, life and justice. While it is a physical mark of the rebounding energy of Voldemort’s Killing Curse, it is also once again something that is tempered and channeled by his mother’s abiding love into a much more positive result– the runic scar actually assists Harry in attracting the particular wand he winds up with, but more of this matter in a moment.

The rebounding curse destroys Voldemort’s physical body, but he cannot die and “go on” as Lily has done because he is trapped on the physical plane of existence (without access to Spirit-resources) by the Horcruxes he has made. Lily, on the other hand, passes beyond, and having bequeathed her maternal love to her son, she now becomes a fully-fledged Ancestral Spirit with a fair amount of power at her disposal. Because her exit from life was both clean and heroic, she is able to take on the guardian-and-protector role of an Ancestor almost immediately, and as Albus Dumbledore surely knows, her Ancestral Power to protect Harry will be augmented by Harry’s proximity to Lily’s sister, Petunia. So off Harry goes to live with the Dursleys, at good old Number Four, Privet Drive.

J.K. Rowling has mentioned that she chose the number four as the address for the Dursleys because the number always seemed “stodgy” to her (i.e., four-square, meaning “nice and normal”), but when a magick-user hears the mention of the number four, it evokes a different meaning altogether. Four is a very important number in many magickal traditions because of the Earth’s Four Quarters– North, East, South, and West. The number four is often used as a sort of magickal shorthand for the protections offered by each of the Quarters during magickal ritual, and some protective formulas are repeated in fours, so that there is one repetition for each Quarter, making a circle of protection around the wizard or witch performing them. This magickal use of the number four is echoed by the four Houses at Hogwarts, and each of the Houses is associated with a color and a classical Element (Earth, Air, Fire, or Water), just as the Quarters themselves are. By placing Harry with the Dursleys, Dumbledore makes sure that Lily’s Ancestral Powers surround Harry completely, and protect him in every direction, giving him his mother’s protection against the second strand of magick at work here, that of Voldemort’s Marking of Harry as his equal by having attempted to kill him.

Being Marked as Voldemort’s equal means that Harry’s early life circumstances now begin to magickally parallel Voldemort’s– living with the Dursleys, Harry endures true privation and aloneness, in almost the same way that young and orphaned Tom Riddle did, but with one difference: even though the Dursleys are completely horrible to him, they still (rather begrudgingly) grant Harry “family space”, which means that he can directly access his mother’s Ancestral protective powers. Be it ever so wretched, the Cupboard Beneath The Stairs still lies within a magickal circle, cast by Lily’s love and kept very much alive by Petunia’s blood-relationship to Harry.

Now let us turn to the wands themselves. We know from the story that the cores of Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands are the same, and they are also unique– they are the only two feathers ever given for wand-making by Albus Dumbledore’s Phoenix, Fawkes. Since Voldemort a) was chosen by the Yew/Phoenix wand, and b) since he had specifically Marked Harry as his equal, the other wand of the pair was primed to choose Harry, because the magick set in motion by Voldemort the night his Curse rebounded ensured just this outcome.

The woods that each of the wands are made from are also of interest, as they reflect in both cases a sort of “energy-bequest” from each deceased magickal mother to her still-living son. Voldemort’s wand is made of Yew, and as I posted previously, the energy properties of Yew wood are watery/airy and feminine. The Yew is the tree of death, the Ancestors, regeneration, and most interestingly, sure protection against evil and harm. Yew-energy is also very useful for magicks involving the dead, and for contacting the dead for their help and advice. From a magickal perspective, the Yew’s choice of Voldemort would seem to indicate that his deceased mother has regrets and wishes she could have helped him more, so the Yew is “sent” in hopes that he will somehow find his way back to her by the use of the its magick. The Yew also embodies Voldemort’s mother’s wish to belatedly protect her son, no matter what wrongs he has committed– Yew-energy is the absolutely best protection against harm, and in the story, as long as he was using his Yew wand, Voldemort was pretty much protected against any of the unpleasant consequences of his actions.

From a magickal perspective, when he accepted the Yew-wand’s choice of him, Voldemort was in a way unconsciously seeking after his dead mother, and when he rejected the Yew after the Priore Incantatem incident, Voldemort rejected his mother– and her post-death magickal gift of iron-clad protection– all over again. He could not get past seeing both his clinically depressed mother and his feminine-water-air Yew wand as “weak”, yet without the pliancy of the Yew (which is a springy wood that is often used to make hunting and long-bows) to assist him, both he and his magick became brittle and open to fracture and defeat.

In contrast, the wood of Harry’s wand is Holly. Magickally, it is said to hold a masculine polarity, and it is also associated with the element of fire. Holly is also held to be able to repel lightning-strikes, and it recognizes a kindred-spirit in Harry, who with his mother’s love, was able to repel the searing bolt of a Killing Curse. Harry is even marked with a lightning-bolt-shaped sign, indicative of his Holly-like power to repel harmful energy.

Another important piece of Holly-lore is that the Holly is the plant of the Winter Sun-King, just as the Oak is the tree of the Summer King. As the plant of the Winter King, the Holly represents the quality of emerging successfully from trial and adversity, which is just what Harry has done by making it to age 11 and leaving the Dursleys for the first time in his young life to go to Hogwarts and take up his magickal birthright. When he enters Ollivander’s, he has “Holly/Phoenix wand” written all over him, in a manner of speaking– and with a magickal sun-rune on his forehead spelling it out, no less!

Now as to the way the two wands– Yew and Holly– interact: since Voldemort and Harry are self-marked and identified as wizards of equal strength, and since the cores of their wands are not only identical with regard to substance but also in origin, the difference between the two wizards and their wands comes down to the wood. Yew is feminine-polarity, and Holly is masculine, and with their shared identical cores, they are more correctly thought of as a Sacred Couple, with “one heart beating in two breasts” rather than as “brother-wands” the way Ollivander describes them. When Voldemort regenerates his physical body (just as the Yew tree can regenerate its entire above-ground body from its root-bole) the two wands come face-to-face for the first time since they went out into the world from Ollivander’s shop. And far from it being a mystery with regard to how they will interact, any student of occult lore will be able to tell you with no difficulty. First, the two wands will not want to fight each other, due to their shared cores and the compassionate altruism of Phoenix-energy, and second, the Yew (female) will magickally open and receive the Holly (male) as her Sacred Other, which is exactly what happened when the two wands were forced to duel.

Something also occurs, thanks to Yew being the premier facilitator of communication with the dead– instead of simple images of Harry’s mother and father appearing due to Priore Incantatem, the Yew-energy augments them and allows the released shades to hold off Voldemort and his Death-Eaters long enough for Harry to escape with Cedric’s corpse, leaving Voldemort (who has stupidly neglected to plumb all of his Yew-wand’s magickal possibilities in favor of simply using it to deal out physical agony and death) feeling bewildered and angry, and underneath it all, betrayed. He very belatedly becomes interested in wandlore, but superficially, as in “what wand can I get hold of that will be stronger than Harry Potter and his wand?” More importantly, he stops using his Yew wand, a mistake of major proportions, as his Yew-given protection from any and all harm is now gone.

Because the Holly-wand and the Yew-wand share identical-origin cores, Harry’s wand knows that Voldemort has abandoned the wand that chose him. In a way, it’s another parallel with the wizards that wield the wands– Harry and Voldemort are aware of each other because Harry is the unintentional Horcrux, and the Holly and Yew know each other because they share cores. The bottom line is that Voldemort has been disloyal to– and dismissive of– his Yew/Phoenix wand, and when he attacks Harry at the beginning of Deathly Hallows with a borrowed wand, Harry’s wand acts of its own volition, fighting Voldemort with true anger for his magickal disrespect of the wand that of her own will came to Tom Riddle as a boy to partner with him magickally and help him. Voldemort then seeks the Death-Stick– The Elder Wand that is one of the Deathly Hallows– but even though the Elder Wand is very powerful, it does not grant the same all-purpose, all-the-time protection against harm that is the hallmark of the Yew, so ultimately, despite the strength of the wand, Voldemort remains vulnerable to magickal and physical injury.

Now, I have heard and read enough interviews with JKR to know that she is not a practicing magick-user in the real world. I also know that she has done her homework very well, so I know that the assignment of the Yew to Voldemort and the Holly to Harry were conscious choices on her part. What I do not think is planned is the “magickal correctness” with which the sentient wands operate– this I credit to her intuition and her willingness to be guided by it, which is a distinctly magickal trait, and which also gives a fabulous richness to her story of The Boy Who Lived.

[As a post-script, I will say that all rights to the characters and plot-lines mentioned here belong to J.K. Rowling as the author of the Harry Potter series, and the rights to the general magickal information within this article, as well as the conclusions drawn from it, reside with me. Go ahead and quote freely as long as attribution is given, but no copying of this post wholesale to submit as a school paper or to pass off as one’s own writing on another website. I am a magick-user myself, which means 1) I will find out, even if you live in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, and 2) the copyright-violation-hex is primed and ready to go. It is self-activating, but not self-limiting, meaning that you will have to confess to me and to the people you deceived by passing my work off as your own before I remove it. In the meantime, your ability to attract bad luck will become the stuff of legend.]

As Long As We’re Talking About Yew Wands…

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English Yew specimen. Everything about the tree is poisonous, except for the fleshy red part of the Yew-berry/cone.

To get the Pottermore-experience update out of the way, my unhappy time there continues– the Moments still refuse to load properly, but I can get into my Profile page, which takes about a half-hour and a couple of page-refreshes to complete. I can accept Friend requests, and look at stuff that I’ve collected, but I cannot even try to brew a practice potion, as the potion-brewing page also does not load completely. Interestingly, the practice spell page (in preparation for participating in Wizard Duels) does load, and I have so far managed to score 90 to 105 on the two spells I practiced briefly.

The one thing I really wanted to be able to access the Moments for– the extra back-story stuff that JKR has allowed to be published on the site– I cannot access at all from my home dial-up platform. Today at work, I used 40 minutes of my lunch hour and a public internet computer to try to get through as many Chapters as I could, collect as many objects as I could, and score as many Galleons and House Points as I could, while trying to find the thing in each Moment with extra (and locked) back-story that would allow me to open the locked material. I then dumped everything I opened into my Favorites folder for later perusal. I will also add that I almost froze the public computer I was using, because even with broadband access, the library computer I was on almost could not handle the pages when the graphics/animation quality was set to high. I also found that if I set it to low (to keep the CPU from making horrible asthmatic wheezing noises), I could see stuff like Galleons and other collectible items, but I could not actually collect them, so I’d briefly click back to high-mode, and try to collect whatever it was as fast as possible, before the CPU threatened to choke. I’m up around 24 House Points, having slogged my way to the beginning of Chapter 17. I’ve managed to collect a lot of potion ingredients, and some other trinkets and goodies, and I’ve collected enough Galleons to recoup most of the cost of my Screech Owl, which is nice, but not especially thrilling.

Next week, when I have a bit more time to myself, I will be sending in an email to Pottermore summarizing the problems I’ve been having, both from my home dial-up and from broadband public-use internet terminals at work. It’s just not been a smooth interface or experience any way you slice it, and my main complaint is that there is no way to opt out of the high-graphics-quality mode until you load at least one Moment to the point where you can select the low option. The site also does not remember that you selected the low setting, either– every time I come back, I’ve got to ask for the low option all over again.

Now on to something much more fun…

I was a bit surprised– though not at all disappointed– that the wood of my wand on Pottermore is Yew. It tickled me into going back through my various magickal books and herbals to re-acquaint myself with the occult properties of the wood. First, here is the little paragraph one gets at Pottermore describing Yew-wood wands:

Yew wands are among the rarer kinds, and their ideal matches are likewise unusual, and occasionally notorious. The wand of yew is reputed to endow its possessor with the power of life and death, which might, of course, be said of all wands; and yet yew retains a particularly dark and fearsome reputation in the spheres of duelling and all curses. However, it is untrue to say (as those unlearned in wandlore often do) that those who use yew wands are more likely to be attracted to the Dark Arts than another. The witch or wizard best suited to a yew wand might equally prove a fierce protector of others. Wands hewn from these most long-lived trees have been found in the possession of heroes quite as often as of villains. Where wizards have been buried with wands of yew, the wand generally sprouts into a tree guarding the dead owner’s grave. What is certain, in my experience, is that the yew wand never chooses either a mediocre or a timid owner.

This really does not give a very good insight into the mythological associations and the actual magickal and mundane uses of Yew wood, which are extremely interesting, and I think knowing about the real symbolism of the Yew tree actually explains some of the stuff that went on between Harry Potter’s Holly/Phoenix wand and Voldemort’s Yew/Phoenix one. First, here’s some general and also magickal information about Yew trees–

1. Yew trees can grow new trunks out of the original root-bole of the plant. Because of this ability to regenerate, it is estimated that some of the British Yew trees (Taxus baccata) now alive are as much as 4,000 years old.

2. Yew trees existed as far back in time as the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago. An archaic Yew, Paleotaxus rediviva, has left fossil traces in rock formations dating from the Triassic. It is believed that all 10 varieties of modern Yew developed from Paleotaxus.

3. The Yew has managed to survive great climactic and general planetary upheavals. Yew fossils have also been found that date from the Jurassic Period, 140 million years ago.

4. Pollen counts of samples taken from ancient peat bogs across Europe indicate that Yew trees were much more abundant during the last Ice Age than they are now.

5. Every part of the Yew tree is poisonous– roots, bark, needles, wood, and seed. The only thing that a Yew tree produces that is not poisonous is the fleshy part of the Yew “berry”.

6. Because the Yew is slow-growing, the wood it produces is tight-grained, resilient and tough. Many weaponry uses were found for it in the past– it was used to make staves, spear-hafts, hunting bows, and the very famous Medieval English long-bow. Arrowheads were also often treated with poison made from yew needles, bark or seed. Care must also be taken when filing, sanding or otherwise working the wood by hand– its name of Death Tree is well-deserved.

7. The Yew is sacred to all forms of the Underworld Goddess. It also has a Dark Lunar association because of its long-standing use as a raw material for making bows and poison for arrowheads.

8. In Britain, Yews are often found in churchyards, and it is plain from growth-dating the trees that they were there long before the churches were built nearby. There are many British churches and churchyards that once stood within a circle of Yews, and these Yew-circles are felt to be a legacy of Druidic Sacred Groves.

9. Yews are also associated with underground springs. In Wiltshire, at Amesbury, there are fourteen Yews in the churchyard that are all growing over blind springs. Eighteen yews at Bradford-on-Avon do the same. Of the ninety-nine churchyard Yews at Painswick in Gloucestershire, it has been determined that all of them are growing over nodes or underground springs. It is highly likely that the Yews were planted with the idea of marking and protecting these power-spots. Carvings of Yew-wood which were left as votive offerings have also been found during archaeological excavations at some sites of ancient springs and wells.

10. Magickally speaking, the Yew is considered the single most potent tree for protection against evil and malevolent intent. It is also held to connect one with the Ancestral Spirits, and is also held to bring dreams and access to the Otherworlds via soul-journey. Part of the probable reason for this association is that during warm weather, the poisonous resin of the tree produces a vapor that when inhaled causes torpor and in some cases, visions. The Spirit of the Yew can be invoked to assist with Otherworld journeys, and to enhance the openness of communication with the Otherworld. It also can grant an increased ability to perceive messages and other assistance being given to the practitioner by Spirit-Guides and other shamanic Helpers. It is also used for Summoning the Spirits of the Dead, and wands of the wood are particularly useful for “settling” or dispelling haunts and wraith-energy.

11. The Yew’s place on the Wheel of the Year is at Samhain, when the Veils Between the Worlds are thinnest, entry into the Otherworld is easiest, dreams are the most potent, and access to the Ancestors is most possible.

12. Modern magickal tradition identifies the Yew-energy-polarity as feminine. Traditions are split on the elemental identification, with some marking Yew as Water-associated, while others identify it with Air. It is probably safe to associate it with both elements, due to the ancient traditional planting of Yews over underground water and blind springs, and also because of the Yew’s visionary vapors, which are most definitely an Air-element trait. The Yew is also connected to the Zodiac-sign of Scorpio, which in ancient times, was not ruled by Pluto but by Mars, yet another energy-correspondence with the use of Yew wood for archery implements and other weaponry. Modern tradition planetary association identifies the Yew with Saturn, doubtless because of the Yew’s general poisonous nature, but I personally disagree with this. My own take on the energy is that it is much more Dark-of-the-Moon Lunar and thus watery in feel, mixed with a sharp and quick Mercurial vibe.

Here’s a bit more information from the Wikipedia entry on Yew trees–

All species of yew contain highly poisonous alkaloids known as taxanes, with some variation in the exact formula of the alkaloid between the species. All parts of the tree except the arils contain the alkaloid. The arils are edible and sweet, but the seed is dangerously poisonous; unlike birds, the human stomach can break down the seed coat and release the taxanes into the body. This can have fatal results if yew ‘berries’ are eaten without removing the seeds first. Grazing animals, particularly cattle and horses, are also sometimes found dead near yew trees after eating the leaves, though deer are able to break down the poisons and will eat yew foliage freely. In the wild, deer browsing of yews is often so extensive that wild yew trees are commonly restricted to cliffs and other steep slopes inaccessible to deer. The foliage is also eaten by the larvae of some Lepidopteran insects including the Willow Beauty.

Yew wood is reddish brown (with whiter sapwood), and is very springy. It was traditionally used to make bows, especially the longbow. Ötzi, the Chalcolithic mummy found in 1991 in the Italian alps, carried an unfinished longbow made of yew wood. Consequently, it is not surprising that, in Norse mythology, the god of the bow, Ullr, had an abode named Ydalir (Yew Dales). The yew longbow was the critical weapon used by the English in the defeat of the French cavalry at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415. It is suggested that English parishes were required to grow yews and, because of the trees’ toxic properties, they were grown in the only commonly enclosed area of a village – the churchyard. The yew tree can often be found in church graveyards and is symbolic of sadness. Such a representation appears in Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam A.H.H.”.

The Eihwaz rune is named after the yew, and sometimes the yew is also associated with the “evergreen” World tree, Yggdrasil.

I am planning a “Part B” to this post, in which I would like to talk about the interaction between Harry Potter’s and Voldemort’s wands from the perspective of  European Shamanic/Magickal practices and traditions, which I think adds an extra layer of richness to Harry Potter’s story (and I think such an exporation also helps clarify a few things about HP wandlore as well as JKR’s “writer’s intuition”), but I am tired as well as short on sleep from a very busy caregiving-and-work week, so I’ll end this here for now…

What Is It With Saint Patrick’s Day, Anyhow?

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Oh, I’m in a mood, and I’m tired with everyone– modern-day Christians, Neo-Pagans, brainless TV talking heads, and astronomers, just to name a few. Why? Because of the gross misunderstanding that surrounds the equinoxes and solstices, as well as general modern cluelessness as to how humanity’s most ancient calendar worked– the one measured out by places like Stonehenge and the Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel in Alberta, Canada. So, seeing as I am in a semi-foul mood, let’s start things out with a joke– this is from a greeting card I received several years ago, and it never fails to make me laugh…

So what is it about Saint Patrick’s Day, anyway? Today, thanks to Western astronomy co-opting the term “equinox” for its own purposes, and Christianity co-opting the date of March 17th as the celebration of the death-anniversary of a Celtic bishop who got all cranky-pants with the Druids, what we’ve got is a modern holiday where great swathes of elementary school children wear green clothing, make paper shamrocks and listen to stories about leprechauns. Adults tend to celebrate it by getting snockered on beer with green food-coloring added to it and/or by listening to hours and hours of Celtic music played at migraine-inducing volumes. If one polls any cross-section of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrants, one gets some very strange answers as to why March 17th in particular is so important, but the bottom line is, nobody ever gets it right.

For the record, here is the correct answer:

In Ireland, March 17th is the day of the Functional Equinox, that is, the 24-hour period when the length of the day and night are actually equal.

If this comes as a surprise to you, you are not alone. Neo-Pagans as a group are just as confused, thinking that by celebrating the Vernal or Autumnal Equinox at the precise day and moment their Witches’ Almanacs and Faerie/Tree/Moon calendars cite, that they are doing as the ancients did. Unfortunately, they are not even close– the dates that all calendars, time-calculating websites and news programs cite are the dates of the Astronomical Equinoxes, which are modern, artificially agreed-upon moments during the Earth’s yearly orbit when the Sun is directly overhead a specific point on Earth’s equator. Here is a quick little quote from the Wikipedia entry on “Equinoxes and Solstices” that explains what the Astronomical Equinoxes are–

An equinox happens each year at two specific moments in time (rather than two whole days), when there is a location (the subsolar point) on the Earth’s equator, where the center of the Sun can be observed to be vertically overhead, occurring around March 20 and September 22 each year.

At an equinox, the Sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: classically, the vernal point and the autumnal point. By extension, the term equinox may denote an equinoctial point.

This is most emphatically not what the ancients– who invented the term “equinox”, by the way– meant when they used the term and/or measured their equinoxes by direct observation. What they were measuring and referring to were the Functional Equinoxes– the specific days at their observing location when the length of day and night were exactly equal.

So you may well ask, why the heck do we need two different kinds of equinoxes? Well, here’s the reason, short and simple– the days of the Functional Equinoxes differ based on the latitude one is observing at. While the Functional Spring Equinox will always be on or near the same day at locations that share the same latitude, for locations at different latitudes, the Functional Equinoxes will be on different days. This is because of three things:

1) The earth’s orbital path around the Sun is elliptical, not circular.

2) As it orbits, the Earth speeds up as it gets closer to the Sun, and slows down the farther away from the Sun it travels.

3) The earth’s axis is tilted.

Here is a little table showing the dates for the Functional Vernal/Spring and Autumnal/Autumn Equinoxes for 2012 at three different North latitudes:

Functional Vernal/Autumnal Equinox Dates, 2012

Dublin, Ireland (53 degrees, 20 min. N. Lat.)
Mar 17, 2012    Sunrise- 6:34 AM    Sunset- 6:34 PM    11h 59m 32s    
Sept 25, 2012    Sunrise- 7:17 AM    Sunset- 7:15 PM    11h 58m 50s

San Diego, California (32 degrees, 42 min. N. Lat.)
Mar 16, 2012    Sunrise- 6:57 AM    Sunset- 6:58 PM    12h 00m 52s
Sept 26, 2012    Sunrise- 6:40 AM    Sunset- 6:39 PM    11h 59m 19s

Mexico City, Mexico (19 degrees, 26 min. N. Lat.)
Mar 13, 2012    Sunrise- 6:46 AM    Sunset- 6:46 PM    11h 59m 44s
Sept 28, 2012    Sunrise- 7:27 AM    Sunset- 7:27 PM    12h 00m 07s

You will note the date of the Functional Spring Equinox for Dublin, Ireland– March 17th. It is always very close to the same date for this location/latitude, year-in, year-out, and the ancients knew this and observed it. When Christianity started making inroads into Druidic Ireland, the day was “sanctified” by making it the death-anniversary of Patrick (something of a stretch, I’m guessing, but it still found a place in the liturgical calendar) because everybody celebrated on March 17th regardless of its pagan origins, and the early church felt obliged to do something to make it all less eternally-damned-heathen.

Then modern astronomers came along and said, “let’s make everything nicely uniform worldwide, because we can’t have a whole mess of different official dates for the equinoxes, or print different calendars for different latitudes”, so they co-opted the term “equinox” to mean an artificial moment in time when the Sun is directly over a particular point on Earth’s equator. Then they further muddied the waters by arbitrarily creating a new “official designation” for the Functional Equinox, even though nobody really needed one. Here’s the confusing name-swap garbage explained (supposedly) on Wiki–

Although the word equinox is often understood to mean “equal [day and] night”, this is not strictly true. For most locations on earth, there are two distinctly identifiable days per year when the length of day and night are closest to being equal; those days are referred to as the “equiluxes” to distinguish them from the equinoxes. Equinoxes are points in time, but equiluxes are days. By convention, equiluxes are the days where sunrise and sunset are closest to being exactly 12 hours apart.

No, guys, you just made that up on the spur of the moment to disguise the fact that you purloined the term “equinox” and completely ignored its original meaning because it was convenient for you to do so.

To sum up, then–

1) If Pagan groups want to celebrate the equinoxes as their forebears did, they need to get hold of yearly sunrise/sunset time tables for their individual locations and determine which days in Feb.-Mar. and Sept.-Oct. are the individual dates when day and night are of equal length at their latitude, because that’s the way the Druids and the folks who built the Majorville Medicine Wheel reckoned it.

2) If one is trying to reconstruct ancient magickal ritual, it is the Functional Equinox dates which are important, because that’s what was meant by the term “equinox” in previous centuries.

3) If one is trying to do a present-day magickal working that will truly harness the equal-light-and-dark vibe, then the work needs to be done on the Functional Equinox at the location where the work is being undertaken.

4) I spit on the term equilux. It is nothing but another layer of crap-jargon obscuring an already badly confused situation. Besides, I am perfectly capable of distinguishing between two different uses of the word equinox, which I have done quite satisfactorily in this post.

5) Just because stupid talking heads on TV news programs idiotically parrot nonsense stuff like “Today is the Spring Equinox– this means the length of day and night are the same today, all around the world…” it does not mean you have to believe one word of what they say. They are usually talking about the Astronomical Equinox, and are completely mistaken about every supposed “fact” they state about it (see the Wiki definition of the Astronomical Equinox in the above post).

6) Saint Patrick’s Day is very likely a church-preserved Functional Spring Equinox festival dating from the days of Olde Druid Ireland.

7) I am fed up with the general state of stupidity surrounding both Saint Patrick’s Day and equinox definitions! I think I need a beer, or maybe a nice, home-brewed raspberry mead. Hold the green food coloring, please…

Personal Sigils (or, Why Should Djinn, Demons and Planetary Intelligences Have All The Fun…?)

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As a Sorceress who Works a lot with Djinn (and their European shape-shifting counterparts, the Poukhas), I have learned some basic applications involving Planetary (a.k.a. Magick) Squares. One of the coolest uses of Planetary Squares is that they can be employed to generate sigils– shaped signs that invoke and hold energy. The fact is that sigils are not just for spirits and energies aligned with the Astral vibes of the Classical Planets of antiquity (i.e., Luna, Sol, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), they can also be made for the name of any applicant for whom a Sorceress may draw or construct a talisman, as well as for the Magician her/him/self, as a ritual signet, or– as I have a personal Egyptian bias to my Magick– a magickal cartouche. Magickal Names, when carefully chosen, have a great deal of power and consecrating force– personal sigils can not only be used to mark ritual tools, they also make excellent Warding Marks that nicely key the energy of a consecrated space to the user of that space. They also can be used to personalize a talisman– by creating a sigil for the given name of the subject who is to receive the talisman, the energy of the talisman will focus on that person only.

I will not go into all the ins-and-outs of Magick Squares for each of the Planets (that will likely come in later posts), but instead, I will focus on the simplest and yet most powerful of all the Planetary Squares, the Square of Saturn. Thanks to my experiences with Djinn and other planet-related energies, I have a somewhat different view of all things Astral, and Saturnian energy in particular.  I think Saturn gets very bad ‘magickal press’ because loads of occultists have projected their own Shadow-selves, personal fears and preconceived hierarchical notions onto the Planet for millenia, and have made a lead-plated mask and a dour, awful caricature of the energy the Planetary Spirits of Saturn actually modulate.

[I will also note here that I am way, way outside most standard magickal systems around today, and I think that what I understand of the Djinn tribes is as they were originally (and still are, despite attempted monotheistic ‘demotions’)– they are nothing less than the rulers, maintainers and distributors of planetary tides, forces, and yes, gifts, both spiritual and mundane. The angels– who are called messengers for the very good reason that this is usually the primary function they execute– often answer to, and perform tasks on behalf of, the Djinn Planetary Intelligences despite monotheist propaganda to the contrary. If this notion offends, dear reader, I will remind you of two things– 1) you may stop reading this post at any time, and ignore everything I am saying, as you have free will and may exercise it at your own volition, and 2) I have already stated that I am Pagan, so Working Magick and conversing directly with Astral energies and spirits is not forbidden for me. I will thus waste neither my time nor blog-space debating which Spiritual Win-Amp Skin is better, monotheist or pagan, especially when there is the most sublime Celestial Music playing on my Djinn-Powered Cosmic Win-Amp Player because I’ve actually learned how to work the Magick Buttons. Now back to the subject at hand–]

The key to understanding Saturnian energy is to be found in the Name of the Djinn-Lord of the Planet: Maymon Abba Nuch. If the name Maymon sounds vaguely familiar, it should– He is the biblical ‘Mammon’, intimately associated with the material plane. His energy was seen as ubiquitous in the world of the physical because Saturn/Maymon is the Lord of Structure. The planets of our solar system maintain the orbits they do in part because of the positions of Jupiter and Saturn relative to the Sun, and Saturn also manifests its own very beautifully organized miniature solar system of rings and moons. Both the organization and structure of physical life and the multiplicity of physical forms are manifestations of the Saturnian coalescing and organizing vibration.

The rest of Maymon’s Name, Abba Nuch, means Father of Rest. The Name references both the long, slow orbital period of Saturn as well as the Seventh Day of the Week– Saturday, the traditional Day of Rest, originally in honor of Maymon the Patient One, who moves deliberately and carefully through the heavens. Saturn was considered the Seventh (and highest) Planet of the Celestial Realm– Saturn’s sphere was the literal Seventh Heaven, which was raised above all others in sublime splendor, and this brings us to another main Saturnian energy– that of the Treasury, the Storehouse, and the Library. Saturnian energy amasses and stores, with providential Wisdom, and releases slowly and with regulation– it is the energy that enables the saving of abundance, over time, to meet future needs. It is the energy of patience, orderly regulation, and the collection of great wealth, both physical and spiritual.

Looking at Saturnian energy in this more respectful way (rather than as a dreary dumping-ground and mirror-of-projection for human fears and neuroses) makes plain the distinct need for Saturnian energy in every aspect of life, from healing to the management of physical, emotional and spiritual resources. It is no accident that the Djinn of Maymon’s Tribe were often petitioned by seekers after hidden or lost treasure, occult knowledge, or worldly power, as Maymon rules all these things as well as their withholding or bestowal.

Because of this structuring function of Saturnian energy, it was often invoked by Magick-users– the Square of Saturn has more recorded magickal uses than any of the other Planetary Squares. Besides the stabilizing function the Square brings with it, it is also the simplest to draw and use, as it is comprised of only nine blocks, laid out in a 3 x 3 grid. What I will demonstrate in this exercise is how to create a personal name-sigil, using a Square of Saturn. To do this, you will need pencil and paper, a Square of Saturn template and an alphabet/number chart:

The Alphabet Number Values are standard present-day numerological ones; other systems may be used, of course. The numbers in the Saturn Square itself are always placed in the same positions within the grid each time the square is drawn.

It’s always a good idea to practice– that’s another thing Saturnian energy is all about– and so I find it useful to keep a notebook handy, as there are many ways to draw any given sigil. I have found that sometimes I have to plot out a sigil more than once before I get the best, most energy-resonant shape for it. I definitely let my intuition guide me in this, and I do let the shape evolve through multiple sketches.

The drawing rules for the sigils are very simple– one starts by drawing a small circle in the box within the Saturn Square grid that corresponds to the first letter of the name or word being “sigil-ized”. If I were doing a sigil for my Magickal Name, Thorn, I would start by drawing a small circle in the upper right-hand square of the Saturn-grid, as the letter T corresponds to the number 2 in the Number Values chart. The next step would be to draw a line, either straight or curved, from the small beginning-point circle to the lower left-hand square of the grid, as the second letter of the name corresponds to the number 8. To indicate the sequence of numbers/letters in the sigil, an angled break is made in the line as it is drawn– thus, the angled points along the line indicate the numbered squares corresponding to the letters of the name. When one reaches the last letter of the name, a crescent or sickle-shape is drawn, indicating the “cutting” of the line at the end. I do a separate sigil for each element of the name, so if I were making a sigil for a person using their birth-name, I would actually do 3 individual sigils, for their first, middle and last names. Here are two diagrams of sigils for the names Thorn and Harefoot, with arrows indicating the angles that mark the letter-sequence of each–

It is alright for lines to cross in a sigil-- a crossed line is a bit of extra binding or protective force in the sigil.

It's no accident this sigil looks like a rabbit-- by the second drawing, I was starting to see the possibility of an ear-shape, but it took four tries for me to figure it all out.

Once I get the basic form of the sigils sorted out, then it’s time to think about any embellishments to them that I might want to add–

I turned the sickle at the end of the line into a Crescent Moon, and I added an extra circle to represent the rings of Saturn. I also included the Saturn-glyph, depending from the beginning circle, and the three dots reference the 3x3 Saturn grid.

Again, the rings of Saturn are referenced by an extra circle, the sickle-stop is now a Crescent Moon, and the Hare has an Eye.

Once anything extra has been added to the two sigils, I then combine them. I decided that this pair of sigils would go together vertically quite well, and so I set about turning them into a sort of “occult cartouche” that I could use in lieu of writing out my Magickal Name in runes or what-have-you. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve got an Egyptian thread running through my Magick, so the cartouche-idea seemed like a good one. Since I also like to do collage-type artwork, I did an e-collage to show how the sigils could be combined with other things to make a talismanic signature–

I collaged Mars into the picture, as with my natal Moon in Aries (Ist Lunar Mansion/Ashvini) and a Scorpio Ascendant, Martian vigor is definitely a part of my energy. I also added the wavy-energy-lines below the Harefoot-sigil to reference the Egyptian hieroglyph, wn-t (wenet), which means "to exist" or "to be".

As I am sure is obvious by now, there are lots of possibilities to be explored with this kind of sigil construction. Besides using a Saturn Square, I have also done some sigils using a Mars Square, which is a 5 x 5 grid.

For anyone interested in more information on either Magick Squares, Arabic Magick traditions, or Working with the Djinn, I would highly recommend the book Magic That Works: Practical Training For The Children Of Light, by Frances Harrison and Nineveh Shadrach. I have, of course, adapted certain things in that book to my own style of Working, but the thing that can never be stressed too much is that is that ritual repetition is of key importance…

Which brings us full circle and back to patient Saturn and Maymon Abba Nuch, who will happily explain all sorts of wonderful things to one– such as how to make sigils “from scratch”– but only if  persistence and ritual dedication are shown. The tendency these days is for people to expect everything to be instantly delivered to them, including magickal understanding, and as Saturnian energy is so disrespected and scapegoated even in parts of the occult community, I am not really surprised that “One-Spell-One-Shot-Quick-Fix” magickal theory is the predominant flavor at the moment. I also think that this is the reason why lots of so-called Magick doesn’t work all that well for people– patient Saturnian repetition is required to make a lot of magick work, but folks can’t be bothered, or they’re busy scaring the poop out of themselves worrying about an immanent Saturn Return, because Saturn is the Astrological equivalent of the boogeyman. At any rate, my sigils do work– I’ve used them successfully a number of times– but they take time and patience to create and refine. If you like the idea of using sigils in your Magickal Work, please feel free to adapt what is presented here, and if you don’t– well, you’ll notice those Saturnian Moons I drew at the back of my Hare-sigil could also double as Cosmic Rabbit-Droppings…

Salt of the Earth…

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Sometimes, when working magick, one finds oneself in need of quick purification, or there is no tub available for an herbal soak and showering is the only option. What works very well in these instances is to use a salt-scrub, made from table salt, powdered herbs, and oils or extracts that suit the magickal purpose for which the salt-scrub is being used.

The recipe below is one I developed for all-around purification. It works well for removing general negative vibes, but also can be used to remove traces of unwanted magickal energy. I began using the scrub for this very purpose when I discovered that oftentimes, after coven-work and subsequent post-spellcast grounding, I was still too wired from ritual work to sleep well. When I finally realized what was keeping me awake, I devised my ‘original recipe’ salt-scrub as a way of cleansing and dispersing any lingering magickal-vibe.

To use the scrub, mix up a batch according to the recipe. Then take a shower and wash as you usually do. At the very end of the shower, just before you are ready to get out, slather the salt-scrub all over your body, scrub well with it, and then rinse your skin thoroughly. Because of the oils and extracts in the basic recipe, it is strongly recommended that the scrub not be used on mucosa or very sensitive body-parts, as the essential oils can be very highly irritating to the point of leaving blisters on one’s more delicate anatomical bits.

Here is the basic recipe–

Purifying Salt-Scrub

1 cup table or sea salt (finely ground rather than coarse)
1 tsp. to 1 tbs. ground Sage (the generic stuff from the grocery store works just fine)
7 to 10 drops Oil of Peppermint or Peppermint extract
3 to 5 drops Pine Oil

If you are making up a batch of salt-scrub for purification rather than some other purpose (such as romance, success or healing), the three ingredients that need to always follow the recipe are 1) the salt (obviously), 2) the ground Sage, and 3) the Oil of/Extract of Peppermint. These three things are the backbone of the purifying energy of the scrub. The fourth element in the recipe, the Pine Oil, may be varied. When I make batches of this for others, I usually mix just the first three ingredients, and then I tell the recipient to add something as the fourth ingredient that is meaningful/powerful for them, so that the scrub is personalized for their use and energy.

I have also found that Oil of Clove, Oil of Cedar, and Oil of Basil are all excellent substitute oils if no Pine Oil is to be had. The Oil of Clove provides a healing vibe along with the purification, Cedar Oil is highly cleansing, grounding and restful, and Oil of Basil is very useful for dispelling a negative, ruminating kind of vibe. It is also especially effective for breaking hexes, should one wish to emply the scrub for that purpose.