Beltane 2021

Beltane is upon us, the second of the four fire festivals and the one most associated with fertility. This is the time where the fertility of spring is in full view, the days are warming and there is a sense of joy. Many of the traditions associated with May Day, as the day is better known, such as the pole and fire dances are reminders of this. In addition to themes of fertility the association with fire also give the festival an association with purification and protection.

For the second year I won’t be celebrating Beltane with ritual and a trip up to the moors. It is disappointing but at least the latter is because people’s schedules don’t match rather than we don’t know if we can actually leave the house. I don’t even know if the situation around Covid is actually improving. Things are more open but people are taking more risks and the R rate in the UK is on the rise…

My Beltane thoughts are centred very much on the balefire and its purifying function. The driving of livestock through the twin fires would drive out illness and ill luck for the season ahead and this is still something that the world is still in need of.

Beltane Fire Festival

I don’t want to potentially manifest anymore forest of moorland fires but with this prayer I wish you all blessings and protection that Beltane brings…

Bless, O threefold true and bountiful,
Myself, my spouse, my children.
Bless everything within my dwelling and in my possession,
Bless the kine and crops, the flocks and corn,
From Samhain Eve to Beltane Eve,
With goodly progress and gentle blessing,
From sea to sea, and every river mouth,
From wave to wave, and base of waterfall.
Be the Maiden, Mother, and Crone,
Taking possession of all to me belonging.
Be the Horned God, the Wild Spirit of the Forest,
Protecting me in truth and honor.
Satisfy my soul and shield my loved ones,
Blessing every thing and every one,
All my land and my surroundings.
Great gods who create and bring life to all, I ask for your blessings on this day of fire.

Adapted from ‘The Beltane Blessing’ in Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichae

Posted in Prayer, Sabbats | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Animal Remains in Modern Magic

What follows is my research from a talk given to Ravens Rest Moot in April 2021

A (very) brief history of animal remains in magic

Animals have been used in magical and ritual context from time immemorial. From age to age and culture to culture the way humans have engaged with animals has evolved and changed, reflecting the way that the natural worked was viewed at the time. Some practices, such as sacrifice and haruspicy (divination by animal entrails), are particularly challenging to modern sensibilities whilst others, such as wearing of pelts to evoke the spirit/energy of an animal, are challenged by law and environmental ethics.

That being said, lets look at a limited number of historical examples from Britain and beyond.

The Antler Headdresses

A number of explanations and rationales attached to antler headdresses found at Star Carr, North Yorkshire. The antler and partial skull of male dear are preserved and holes drilled into the remaining skull bone apparently to create an anchor for creating a headdress which incorporates a full animal skin. On a mundane level they have been described as hunting disguises, though their practical value is debated. Alternatively, they have been described as a form of ritual dress which were worn as part of a ritual “hunt” performed by hunters and religious persons to ensure a successful hunt.

Mummified Cats

Mummified cats form part of the hidden objects tradition, with over a hundred examples of cats placed into dead spaces of a home such as a in wall cavities, under floorboards or in other crawlspaces. Folklore associate’s cats with a sixth sense and it is assumed that in some cases there has been a deliberate placement of the animals remains, for example in a hunting pose, or in association with vermin remains has led to the understanding that the cats were places in the capacity of a vermin scarer either of actual vermin or of a magically sent pest such as a witches familiar. This might have been enacted after the death of a beloved pet, as a way of drawing on their loyalty to the family, or purposeful killing intended to bind the spirit of the animal to the home either as a foundational offering or as a counter-magical response during a time of threat.

Animal Sacrifice

The term sacrifice derives from the Latin sacrificium, derived from the words sacer “to set something apart” and facere “to make”. In other words sacrifice is a process of setting something secular/profane aside so it may enter the sphere of the spiritual/ supernatural. For example, an animal may be made sacred in offering to the divine in order to initiate communication (divination). Once upon a pastoral time, animals were a high value item which were necessary to survival. Offering a prized breeding animal to deity as a form of request of fertility and prosperity, particularly when its absence may lead to starvation or other forms a lack if things do not going well, would be viewed as a form of reasonable exchange between deity and devotee. I give you this and you give me the thing I ask for.

Another variation of animal sacrifice can be seen in the practice of haruspicy, the reading of animal entrails. The practice usually involves a domestical animal (cow, sheep etc) or birds and seeks guidance on a variety of subjects, from whether to go to war or what is causing the illness of a man. For example, Babylonian clay models of sheep livers dated between 1900 and 1600 BC suggest animal livers, specifically sheep, were commonly used by Mesopotamian priests and seers looking for information about a person’s illness.

Some modern witches feel it isn’t possible to overcome personal ethics and objections regarding the use of animal remains, citing “golden rules” such as the Wiccan Rede as justification or personal ethical choices around their diet and consumption as a consumer. The aim of this discussion isn’t necessarily to challenge these sensibilities, but rather offer those who are interested in learning more about how to source, process and use animal remains in their magical practice. 

Ethical Acquisition

Foraging

Though unpleasant in a number of ways the salvaging of animal victims of RTA’s is one way of ethically obtaining animal remains. Animal remains are usually collected by local councils and highway maintenance crews and whilst some effort is made to trace owners of domesticated and pet animals but where this fails, or the animal is a wild species, the remains are destroyed.

It is important to do this safely, and with an awareness of the law. For example – incidents involving large animals such as horse, cattle, ass, mule, hinny, sheep, pig, goat or dog must be reported to police. Certain animals, like badgers and foxes, may need special handling due to being carriers of diseases and parasites dangerous to humans, and given you can’t always be certain how long something has been dead foraging the meat in addition to remains such as feathers and bones may not be advisable. X X

Foraging in nature is another way to obtain animal remains. In the case of most animals and wild birds it is legal to keep bones and feathers so long as you can prove that they were obtained following a natural death (ie it wasn’t killed by a human) or from natural shed ie natural feather loss. This can be a nightmare to prove, and in the case of birds of prey and protected species it’s a good idea to take photos of the finds context before you move it. As an example, read this blog from Jakes Bones about his experience with a “mystery bird skull”.

The primary laws you should be aware of in the UK are

The Conservation (Natural habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994

                In particular Section 3

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

You may also find this article from Ben Dolphin useful, as well as this booklet on identification from the National History Museum in the UK

Meat by products

Where animals are killed for food salvaging anything for additional usage is a win so make friends with your local butcher. Anything obtained this way is going to come with a lot of meat still attached so you will want to be familiar with ways of processing and cleaning skulls and bones and have enough space to undertake this. Though it is possible to salvage bones after cooking the heat changes the quality of the bone and they will not necessarily look as aesthetically pleasing.

Sustainable and Responsible Hunting/Culls

Culling as part of population control and sustainable hunting practices are entirely acceptable ways to obtain animal remains as a subset of meat by products. The animal has been killed in a humane and mindful way for the purposes of food or to ensure that the population remains sustainable where there may not be natural predators to maintain the population naturally.

This does not include hunting for “sport” or which uses unnecessarily cruel means as in the case of fox hunting, illegal activities such as hare coursing, culls based in inadequate science such as the Badger/TB Culls, poison bait.

Vintage Objects and Taxidermy

The ethics of our parents and grandparents are not necessarily our own. Fur coats, stoles and wraps were once all the rage, as were stuffed animals and bone / ivory ornaments and jewellery. We can’t undo the past, but we can honour the lives of these animals through our practice. Vintage sales boom and taxidermy is still a thriving trade which operates within the law and are entirely ethical.

Mindful Consumerism

Not everyone has a friendly butcher, hunter or lives somewhere where they can make awesome foraging finds, or have the space to process roadkill in their kitchen. There are many people out there on site such as eBay and Etsy participating in vulture culture and selling items online. That being said it is important to be mindful when buying things from others. Ethical members of vulture culture are usually very transparent about how they source their items, either on a case-by-case basis or on their seller’s profile and will only sell items which don’t require a special license. 

Bones and Skulls

Bones are essential to life – without them we would be a mushy puddle of flesh on the floor. Bones provide structure as well as protection to soft organs such as the lungs and heart. They provide a site for the attachment of muscles enabling movement, though in the case of the skull this also provides us our individual identify and characteristics and protects the seat of consciousness, our brain.

The skull can therefore be used as a vessel which holds the spirit of the animal originally associated with it, a collective ancestral spirit of the species or some other spirit entirely. Once a spirit is housed within the skull, either on a permeant and ritual basis, it can than aid your spell work. The energies and qualities associated with the animal are there to be drawn on, to be invited to act as mediators, messengers and guardians in spirit communication and even ancestral work.

There are a number of different ways that this can manifest in praxis, mostly driven by personal praxis and UPG. For example, Lupa GreenWolf, an American vulture culture artist, has developed a series of praxis including her Bone Tarot and scrying processes. Lupa particularly focuses on gazing into the skull cavity from the base of the skull, though other praxis will use suggest the eye sockets. Lupa doesn’t provide a specific ritual but provides enough guidance.

Bones are the foundations of our structures and as such can be used as the foundation of our magical work, with our energies securely attached to them. Smaller bones and skulls can be perforated and worn as charm or included in pouches, jars and sachets. Bones have also historically been used for protection, good fortune etc. For example, people have carried a rabbit’s foot for good luck over generations, what is this but a fetishes? Even if they don’t have a magical purpose attached skulls and bones can be worn as ritual adornments, incorporated into ritual tools or incorporated into altars.

Furs and Pelts

Definitions first. A fur is no longer attached to the skin where as a pelt is both fur and skin. Snake skin falls within the same category as leather. Wool is a fur, fleece is a pelt. Simples.

The skin is our connection to the outside world, hundreds and thousands of nerve endings bring messages about our external world to our brains so that we can adjust to our environment.

Most of what we know regarding the use of pelts and furs comes from cave paintings and writings on indigenous cultures. Most often pelts and furs were used as garments or soft furnishings, particularly during winter, but they can also be used as contains both of objects and liquid. The practical uses of leather/pelts/fur are endless, and are easily incorporated in to the practical side of magical practice, such as pouches, bags, the ritual adornment etc., but what about magical uses?

Lets look at an ingenious example in the Navajo skinwalkers, yee naaldlooshii which translates to “by means of it, it goes on all fours”. In this the yee naaldlooshii is the antithesis of the community healer (medicine man), manipulating magic and creating a pervasive version of practice which serves personal gain rather than community development. Yee naaldlooshii are said to be able to assume animal form by wearing the pelt of an animal, particularly that of the coyote or those associated with death or bad omens. They are also said to be able to possess the animal associated with that skin, or even other humans.

Such things need to be approached with caution by western magical practitioners as it can be very easy to stray into cultural misappropriation. The concept of the object representing the animal in a sympathetic manner is fairly universal, and does appear in western traditions so it is less the wearing and more what you are doing whilst wearing which may bring you in to troubled waters.

Feather, Fangs and Claws

Feathers

Feathers are keratin filaments that cover the outside of birds, making up the plumage, providing warmth and water resistance and facilitating flight. Like animal pelts and skins, feathers do not preserve well over time so much of what we know of their historical magical uses stem from indigenous cultures, cave paintings and ancient mythology. Feathers have long been used as ornamentation on ceremonial garb, particularly headdresses, and other forms of ritual adornment. 

Birds are believed to connect the material world with the spiritual world and have been used in different ways to aid this kind of communication. With Feathers the association with flight is used to facilitate the movement of the wearer/holder, between these two worlds.

As with animals each bird has different associations, which vairy from culture for culture. Eagles, for example, are associated with the sun as well as strength, wisdom and protection. For example, in Celtic tale of Culhwch and Olwen, Culhwch is tasked with finding the magical child Mabon. He asks a number of animals to help him in his quest, the eagle being the animal who tips him off as to where Mabon is. 

Feathers are sometimes included in Witches Ladders, a magical string of feathers and other objects and charm hung in the home, usually as a form of magical protection. Withes Ladders were common in the late 1800s, hung in the eaves of homes or in some other hidden places. Occasionally finders of such hidden objects will associate them with ill wishes, with each feather/object being through to be an individual ill-wish or curse, which could only be broken if the ladder was doused in water and the feathers loosened, not untied) from the knots. Modern applications are usually turned to more positive ends such as reinforcing positive intent and drawing, with each feather representing a wish. 

Teeth and Claws

Like feathers claws are also made out of keratin whilst teeth are made from a combination of tissues, outwardly having a similar appearance to preserved bone (nb they are not bone as they are not a living tissue unlike bones when we are still alive and using them). Animal teeth and claws have been found in the archaeological record, usually appearing to take the form of jewellery and amulets. This may imply that they were valued in some way, either for their spiritual and magical properties or as an expression of wealth or some other status.  

Teeth and claws have been used both as a form of magical protection or sympathetic magic in relation to children and child birth. For example; The Medici family used teeth as a worn charm to encourage the development of their children’s teeth whilst in ancient Rome wolf claws were carried by an expectant mother to invoke the protection of Lupa, the wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus, for both mother and unborn child.

In ATR contexts animal teeth and claws are included in mojo bags to bring protection, good luck or bind a person and incorporated into divination alongside small bones, shells and other curios. The use of animal remains such as teeth and claws are less attested to in a written western magical tradition, though it is present in the Greek Magical Papyri. Today witches use teeth and claws in decorative settings, such as personal and ritual adornment, or in magical context such as bags.

Blood, guts and other gore

I am going to opening this section with a caveat – I am not against the use of wet animal remains in ritual. I am also not necessarily against animal sacrifice in ritual but I firmly believe if you are going to do this you should be trained in such matters. If you have not been trained, either within a tradition or a slaughterhouse, put down the knife and walk away from the chicken.  

I personally take the approach that if I can pick it up from my traditional butcher then I will use it in spells and as offerings to deity. Lungs, livers, hearts and the occasional arsehole, all of these can be picked up for a surprisingly reasonable price with only minimal odd looks. Given some of these, particularly organs such as the liver, are glorified bags of blood that means that you also have animal blood on hand.

I mentioned a chicken – we generally associate the use of wet animal remains with ATR’s, like vodun, but this is not exclusively true. The practice also appears in the later grimoires of the 1800’s, and it is something that we see in the archaeological record even here in the British Isles. Cunning folk like Issac Rushworth were using bull hearts in their workings, particularly in relation to love magic, in addition to other items. There is also an association with the heart and anti-witchcraft rituals either as a way to connected to the animal to a protection spell or as a way of identifying a witch. They also appear in older writings, such as the PGM and whilst not all the items listed will be available in your local western butcher substitutions may be made based on the sympathetic connection of the item. In short – If we are performing a love spell, then any heart will do.

What I am trying to do here is provide you a jailbreak to help you avoid cultural appropriation. Whilst we may associate the use of animal offal and wet remains with vondu and other similar traditions there is no reason that we as non-ATR practitioners can’t pick this up in our own practice. Don’t just look at an ART practice and think “I’m gunna do that”, look to the sympathetic connection and place it within your own tradition and practice.

Roundup of Uses

The core concept attached to the use of animal remains in witchcraft is that of sympathetic magic. The presence of the remains are intended to invoke the energy of the animal or the correspondence of the item. Most of the time you are going to be drawing on a set of collective correspondences everyone will connect with but don’t forget that your associations also count.

  • Divination: skulls, small bones, fangs, shells or feathers can be used in a variety of ways for the purpose of divination, particularly thrown oracles. This is a good space for exploration because you can mix bones with other forms of curios as well as using developing you own bones only method. You can focus on the species for your meanings as well as the type or appearance of the bone. There aren’t many books out there to help with this but curio based divination is highly personal. You can also scry using the skull so long as the cranium is complete and enclosed. For more information on this I recommend Skull Scrying by Lupa Greenwolf.
  • Ritual Adornments: Fangs, shells, small bones (including small skulls), claws, or feathers can be incorporated into jewellery and other forms of ritual adornment. They can be intended to draw in the qualities of the animal spirit they represent, hard items like bones, shells etc may also cause ambient noise through movement which can aid trance, or they can just look pretty.  
  • Ritual Tools: Various bones, fangs, antlers, and shells can be used to adorn ritual tools or they may be used as object rituals in and of themselves. Some bone, horn and antler can be worked into handles for knives and wands, or even as wands themselves. Fans made of wings or tail feathers will help with lifting messages on the incense of ritual. Skulls can become spirit houses and the focus of a bond being built between the practitioner and the spirit animal.
  • Spells, Pouches and Bags: You can use bones, feathers, fangs, and shells in any number of ways in spells and pouches either as a way of carrying the spirit of the animal with you or to bring the quality of the animal to your working. They may be useful in helping ensoul the spirit of the animal into a shrine that is not in of itself part of the animal (like a statue) or to form part of a dedicatory offering for a vessel intended to be worked with deity.

In all of this the only real limit of usage is you imagination.

Working with the Spirits of Animal Remains

Build a relationship with the spirit animal the remains belong to, their deities, messages, lore etc. Context is important. If you are working in a specific tradition focus upon the animal within that context.

Begin the process of building this relationship before you bring them into a ritual setting. If you are cleaning your own bones begin the process at this point otherwise as soon as possible as soon as they have been acquired. This process is known as “reading” the bones, and there is no right or wrong way to do this so it is important to trust your instincts. Is the spirit awake or dormant? Do they resonate with you? Do they consent to be used in magical settings? You may encounter pain and suffering, consistent with the way that the animal passed, which can be worked through using ritual and offerings.

Though the initial reading of the bones may be a direct and meditative the process of formalising the magical relationship is far more ritual in nature. When using animal remains as a form of spirit house it is important to set the remains apart for this purpose. One way of doing this is through decoration. These might be universal symbols of life and death, which can help bridge a gap between yourself as a living practitioner and the spirit world, or symbols associated with your purpose and practice. One simple and very ancient practice is to redden the bones using red ochre. When mixed with water red ochre forms a paste which will colour the bone, mimicking the colour of blood and the vitality associated with it.

Moving forward, you are building a relationship with the spirit, and this will require a degree of quid pro quo on both sides. In return for acting as a messenger to the gods and/or ancestors or providing protection for yourself and space the spirit will expect something from you as the practitioner. Honour and veneration are the bread and butter of such things. This might be very direct, such as regular ritual dedications to the spirit at its earthly tether (food, flowers, incense etc). This will be something that occurs as a foundation act, which may include a written charm and spell pouch, which is added to regularly and replaced on an annual basis. Maintenance may take on a more indirect expression, such as in the form of donations of time, money, belongs etc. to charities associated with that animal. The important thing, like any agreement with deity or spirit, is that what ever you agree with the spirit of the animal is honoured and that their space is not neglected.

All good things come to an end, and if you have bothered to spend the time to cultivate and maintain a relationship with spirit it is important to bring it to an end in an acceptable manner. Avoid simply allowing your practice to slide and put out of sight and out of mind. At best, failing to end this kind of relationship well will result in it being harder to establish new relationships with similar spirits, or reactivate the spirit communication at a later date. At worst you’ll manifest some unhappy spirit activity in your life.

Conduct a final ritual, give thanks and make a final offering, pack away so that it will be safe from damage and undisturbed etc.

Posted in Archaeology, Divination, Foraging, Photo Inspiration, Tools of the Trade, Witchcraft | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hekate’s Strophalos

I have a new toy if you pardon the pun.

I recently commissioned a Hekatean Iynx with Strophalos design from Etsy seller EmAnElle, who sells wonderfully designed and decorated wooden toys, including spinners (aka Buzzsaws). Yes, I could have made my own but I am a weird combination of entirely lacking artistic talent and highly self-critical perfectionist and it results in entirely too much stress. To avoid all of that I approached EmAnElle about a custom design, sending her the basic Strophalos design along with an ideal colour scheme. It arrived just after the Easter Weekend and it say I was pleased with it would be a vast understatement!

It’s the little, unasked for, details that make it so perfect, like EmAnElle chosing to do the finished design on the nine spoked cog and adding the golden “Greek” designs to them and the handles. EmAnElle also made it double sided, painting the spokes read on the opposite side, meaning that there are two ways to engage with the tool.

Now with this tool in hand, and having recently been researching a shake up to my sadly stale personal praxis (damn you COVID-19), I though I would also take the opportunity to reengage with the strophalos symbol and what it means to me. 

The Chaldean Flower of Fire

There is little clearly written about the strophalos symbol but most point to the Chaldean Oracles, which describes Neoplatonic metaphysical world view, as a way of understanding the image. In this the cosmos is created out of the divine intellect of an ineffable Father, representing paternity, power and intellect. This First Father oversees a series of other beings who in turn represent beings of empyrean intellect and the material world. Hekate is described in this schema as forming a dividing line between the intellect of the First Father and the materiality of the Second Father and the Material Fire from which creation is formed. This dividing line is sometimes referred to as a sub-lunar realm, and here Hekate, as Mother and World Soul, translates the thoughts and intention of the father into the material world. This is usually described as a process undertaken by the soul which begins at the moment of birth when Hekate translates the pure intellectual soul into the impure material body. The goal of the overall schema is to enable the theurgist to undertaken periods of austerity, contemplation and perhaps magical operation in order to rise up through the planetary spheres and achieve the degree of soul purity to enable communication with the intellect of the Father either through Hekate or directly. [Hermetic.com] [Chaldean Text]

When read, however, the strophalos symbol does not appear in the Chaldean Oracles, rather it is the magical tool that is being described, referred to by its other name; iynges.

What is an Iynges?

Shine brightly, Moon; I will softly chant to you, Goddess, and to Hekate in the Underworld – the dogs shiver before Her when She comes over the graves of the dead and the dark blood. Hail, grim Hekate, and stay with me to the end; make these drugs as powerful as those of Circe and Medea and golden-haired Perimede. Draw to my house my lover, iynx [magic wheel]

Theocritus, Idylls 2

The Iynges, or iynx, is a magical tool which is mentioned by various Greek poets and later Neoplatonist as being used for a variety of purposes. This spinning wheel, sometimes triangle, is referred to in relation to rituals invoking the divine, weather magic and even love magic where the spinning designs can enchant and the whirring noises draw the attention of the Gods.

The name Iynx is usually attributed to the Arcadian mountain nymph Iynx, the daughter of Pan. In myth she was credited with creating a magical love-charm, which she used to attract the attention of Zeus either for herself or fellow nymph Io. The charm was described as a spinning disc with a wryneck bird attached, which was the ultimate fate of poor Iynx when Hera exacted her jealous revenge.

The iynx is also associated with Aphrodite, who was said to have invited and taught its use to her son Eros for the attraction of a lover or to call back one who has been faithless. A finger ring found in Egypt, in the collections of the British Museum, depicts Eros holding the Iynx and may have been a charm intended to arouse desire in people who met the wearer. Aphrodite is also described as aiding Jason in his persute of Medea by providing him with a wryneck bird, when the “bird” was turned about, with certain words said over the operation, the love of Medea was excited and she was moved to aid Jason in his persuit of the Fleece.

A note on the wryneck – the Eurasian or Northern Wryneck is a member of the woodpecker family, though their bill is not as long or as strong as other members of the Picidae family as it locates its prey in decaying wood or in the ground. The wryneck genus or jynx get their name from the ability to turn their heads almost a full 180 degrees. They have an odd defensive mechanism in which they twist their neck and “hiss” in a thread display somewhat similar to that of a snake. This imitation is deepened by the barred, mottled shading of their head and back and the sinuous movement of their head. The genus name both reflects the Ancient Greek name for this bird and draws a link between the birds odd behaviour and an association with witchcraft, particularly love magic as described above. 

The Iynx and Theurgy

The iynx, and indeed the Strophalos of Hekate, are referred to by a number of Neoplatonists as a theurgic tool

“The strophalos of Hekate is a golden sphere with lapis lazuli enclosed in its centre, which is spun by means of a leather thong, and which is covered with symbols: as it was spun they [the Theurgists] made their invocations. These spheres were generally called iynges and could be either spherical or triangular or of some other form. And while they were making their invocations they emitted inarticulate or animal cries, laughing and whipping the air. So the Oracle teaches that is the motion of the strophalos which works the ritual, on account of its ineffable power. It is called ‘of Hekate’ as consecrated to Hekate.”

Michael Psellos commentary of the Chaldean Oracles, C11th CE, translated by D.J. O’Meara

Further to this Eusebius of Caesarea records statements of Porphyry, who was quoting Pythagoras in turn, on reasons that the gods invoked by sacrifice are compelled to attend the ritual. The following statements are specifically ascribed to Hekate and reference both the spinning of a wheel, compulsion in the form of persuasion and secret charms and spells which seek to bind the god. 

“Thou know’st the secret spell, which mortal man has learn’d, to charm immortal spirits down … I come at sound of thy persuasive prayer, which man inspir’d by heavenly counsels learn’d … Some from the sky thy wheel with mystic charm draws swiftly, though unwilling [divinities], down to earth… What need of thine, by spells that bind the gods, calls Hecate from swiftest ether down?”

Eusebius of Caesarea Praeparatio Evangelica Book 5

Movement, movement everywhere…

So its clear that the tool is one which moves and makes noise, so how do we link this back to the symbol?

The entmology of the word “strophalos” itself gives us our first clue. Made of either the word strophao meaning “to turn hither and thither” as well as “to rotate, to twist” or strepho meaning “to turn (around), to direct” the concept of movement is key Both the word the use of Iynx tool as a circular or triangular disc intended to spin in a circular motion reinforce the concept. x x

This is further reinforced by the serpentine design itself, which is a stylised form of a triskelion, the very design of which is intended to impart movement. This symbol was found amongst a collection of wooden pottery stamps from excavations at Learna, located on the southern Peloponnese, dated to 2300 BCE, along with various gammadion or tetraskelion forms. This indicates that the strophalos symbol, normally considered as very modern, is actually quite ancient in origin. [x]

Understanding the Strophalos

So, with this in mind, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Whilst it is unfortunate that the Chaldean Oracles are not actually speaking to the symbol it does not mean that we can’t engage with this world view through the symbol.

The Strophalos can function as a mind palace for anyone interested in the practice of theurgy. It is also very well designed for use on a tool which is intended to spin.

Please remember, this is my understanding, so milage may vary, but hopefully people will be able to follow my through process as I draw on the concept of emanations, working from the centre of the symbol outwards.

The Central Star

This represents the Emanations of Intellect emerging from the First Father. This is the divine spark within us, that thing that makes us a child of Heaven and Earth, Stars and Stones. It is where our divine spark came from, and it is where the Mysti seek to return.

The First Circle

Representing the mediating Empyrean World of Hekate, the dividing line between the divine spark of the First Father and the material world of manifestation and life. If the centre is as bright as the sun this is the subdued shimmering realm of the moon where all mediating spirits reside, ruled by Hekate as the World Soul.

The Labyrinth

This represents the Material World of the Second Father, where the divine through of the First Father is brought into being. This is our world, where we are manifested in life and where, if we chose to, we prepare out soul for its eventual return to the First Father. The three loops of the labyrinth represent the stages of being

Life – In the moment our birth our soul is bound into material manifestation. In Gnostic thought this is a process of corrupting of the pure spirit into the evil of material existence but personally I view this as the moment of manifestation of my own consciousness and the beginning of my journey as a Mysti. The twists and turns of life are part of my journey back towards unification with the divine and may prepare the way or make the process harder, depending on how life goes.

Death – Death is just a moment, the moment in which our divine self is released, but it is the moment for which all Mysti prepare. The goal of the Mysti is to be prepared for that moment of release so that the soul is ready to return to the divine at the centre of all creation. This is a life long process (pun intended) and the aim is to ease the passage of the spirit back through the Empyrean World. 

Rebirth – Rebirth is the goal, though whether that is rebirth as part of the Emanations of the Father or back into the material world I leave open to interpretation. I believe that both are possible under a process of self-assessment (ie being your own Spiritual Assessor after death) and have both been the goal of the Mysti at one time or another, depending on the system being engaged with. Some ancient cults required three or more “prefect” lives in order for the soul to escape the process of maternal incarnation, others systems provided secret passwords (the Orphic Mysteries) or ritual operations to help prepare the soul in its return (theurgy). Regardless of what you think you are moving towards it is a form of rebirth in my understanding.

The Second Circle

This outer circle represents the Material Fire of the cosmos, the Flower of Fire. Though it is something that that might be better places within the first circle and in direct association with the Empyrean World I prefer to place it here. By placing it beyond the Material World of the Labyrinth it becomes something that Hekate reaches out to in order to use it to enable the manifestation of the First Fathers thought. In this the fact that Hekate can move seamlessly between both Material and Intellectual worlds is further illustrated.   

Using the Strophalos/Iynx

Making the Strophalos/Iynx Spin

Think of the Strophalos/Iynx as a tool in much the same sense as the bullroarer. It requires concentration and control, produces a whirling noise once up to speed and a captivating circular visual. The bullroarer is a piece of wood at the end of a piece of string and requires quite a bit of space in which to swing it. On the other hand, the Strophalos/Iynx is smaller, needing less space to be used in but producing all the same effects. 

  1. Take hold of the cord or handles, on side in each hand, so that the disc is suspended in the centre. Swing the disc up and over in order to place tension on the cord. Repeat this until the cord begins to shorten and draws your hands together.
  2. Slowly pull your hands apart to cause the disc to spin. The cord will unwind and will immediately begin to wind up in the opposite direction, drawing your hands closer together again.
  3. Continue to allow your hands to move in and out in slow and controlled movements in order to keep the disc spinning. As you build momentum and the disc spins faster the disc will begin to make a whirring noise and the design of the Strophalos will blur.

Magical and Ritual Uses of the Strophalos/Iynx Spin

The spinning of the disc can be used to raise energy for the manifestation of a desire. Concentrate on what you want to manifest in your life and begin to spin the disc. Slowly gain speed as you stare into the whirring design to build up energy. Chant words of power, such as voces magicae, or a charm describing your desired outcome as you continue your visualisation or say nothing at all if that is your preference.

It can also be used as part of the process of invocation of Hekate’s presence, either for direct devotion or as a mediating spirit opening access to other divine forces. The act of causing the disc to whirr along is enough to attract the attention of the Goddess but you can also speak words of invocation at the same time.

Alignment with the Seven Heavenly Spheres

The spinning of Strophalos/Iynx is also consistent with the spinning of the Heavenly Spheres and the Spindle of Necessity. Jeff Cullen touches on this in his book Liber Khthonia in discussing the Iynx as a working tool of Hekate.

Whilst spinning the tool and in a meditative breathing state vibrate the sounds of the heavenly sphere in order to achieve resonance with the deathless stars. This is particularly useful both as a daily practice and something performed in preparation for ritual.

LetterSoundPlanetDeity
AlphaahMoonSelene/Artemis
EpislonehMercuryHermes
EtaayVenusAphrodite
IoyaihSunHelios/Apollo
OmicornawMarsAres
UpsilonooJupiterZeus
OmegaohSaturnKronos

As even I am guilty of standing on the backs of giants and I wasn’t able to weave all my references into the main text.

Other sources include;

Crossroads Witch Iynx

Crossroads Witch Strophalos

Hex and Balances

Psychopomp GroupieTribe Hekate – Strophalos and the Wryneck

Posted in Hekate, Musings, Tools of the Trade | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Persus – Father of Hekate

“And Eurybia, bright goddess, was joined in love to Krios (Crius) and bare great Astraios (Astraeus), and Pallas, and Perses who was preeminent among all men in wisdom.”

Hesiod, Theogony 375 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.)

It is hard! to find out things about Persus. Unlike Asteria there is very little written about him in his own right. His role as the father of Hekate, the son of Krios and the brother of gods with far greater involvement in Olympian mythology means he is vastly overshadowed. Add to this that he is easily conflated with a Colchian king of the same name.

Perses comes from a family closely associated with asterism. His father and three uncles are associated with the four pillars of the sky, with Krios associated with Aries the Ram. His brother Astraeus is the god who fathered the stars and the four seasonal winds by Eos (the Dawn) whilst his other brother, the warrior god Pallas, is associated with the constellation Auriga the Charioteer, particularly the main star Capella which is associated with the storm bringing Goat Aix.

Persus is no exception to this association. He is sometimes associated with the Perseus constellation which rises in close proximity to Aries but he was also associated with Canis Major (the greater dog), in particular the main star of Sirius better known as the Dog Star. This association is one that links with the characteristics of Hekate most closely, a goddess who’s presence is announced by the baying of hounds.

In terms of characterises he is separate from his two brothers. Pallas is particularly war like, fathering Hatred (Styx), Power (Bai), Strength (Kratos) and Rivalry (Zelos) and was likely imagined as being very animalistic in character, taking on the skin and facial characteristics of the goat so that his pelt could go to making Athena’s goat hide arm-guard.  Similarly, Astraeus is described both as rustic and equine in form, being that the seasonal winds themselves were depicted as horses. In this case the same doesn’t appear to be true of Perses, with Hesiod referring to this god of war and destruction as being “preeminent among all men in wisdom”.

This could be Hesiod’s familial connection to Hekate painting a rosy picture of a god associated with war and an asterism which heralded the scorching of the earth to destruction. Given his name means “destroyer” and “the Ravager” it is likely that he was far from cuddly and worship focused on trying to avoid the damage his summer heat would bring.

Hopefully this isn’t the whole of his character. The prayer that I found to accompany this post, again from Underflow, refers to Persus as the “breaker of bonds” and “defender of [his] brethren”. Whilst I think this is a reference to the association drawn between Persus the Titan and Perseus the asterism, which is imaged as a warrior with weapon upraised in the final stroke of victory, they are characteristics which imply familial loyalty and some degree of wisdom in battle and they are ones that can conceivably be drawn on when considering working with him in a triad with his wife and child…

Deipnon is a could of days away now so I’m going to play a game of “suck it and see”.

I call to great Perses, almighty destroyer,
son of wise Krios and tender Eurybia,
beloved companion of bright-eyed Asteria,
father of Hekate, mistress of magics
who holds such honors in all the worlds,
warrior of the Titan gods, breaker of bonds
and defender of your brethren. Perses
who is the wisest of gods, great of learning,
great of judgment, discerning one
who knows what must be, I call to you.
I honor you, good and gracious Perses,
I offer you my praise and seek your blessing.

Underflow – Prayers to the Gods of Olympus

Posted in Hekate, Musings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Asteria – Mother of Hekate

Asteria – Goddess of the Stars sn0wcake

“Again, Phoibe (Phoebe) came to the desired embrace of Koios (Coeus). Then the goddess through the love of the god conceived and brought forth dark-gowned Leto . . . Also she bare Asteria of happy name, whom Perses once led to his great house to be called his dear wife. And she conceived and bare Hekate (Hecate).”

Hesiod, Theogony 404 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.)

Many devotees of Hekate also build a relationship with her mother, the Titaness Asteria. This isn’t something that I have done beyond acknowledging her as the material progenitor of the object of my devotion. After finding the above image I realised that this was probably an oversight on my part.

In trusth she is an interesting character of Greek Mythology in her own right. Daughter of Koios and Phoibe, sister of Leto and indeed the very ground upon which Artemis and Apollo were born upon.

Like her daughter she appears to have been numbered amongst those Titans welcomed on Mount Olympus during the rule of Zeus though she was not safe from the attentions of the new King of the Gods and his equally lusty brother Poseidon. Asteria was perused by both, first by Zeus who she escaped first by turning into a quail and then by throwing herself into the sea when he caught her in eagle form. Once in the ocean she was chased by Poseidon, who she escaped by turning herself in to an island. This island, once known as Asteria, is now better known as Delos.

This particular part of Asteria’s mythos resonates strongly with me as it appears to echo her daughters association with the three realms.

Her first instinct as a Goddess of the sky is to take the form of a bird but when this proved ineffective she threw herself into the sea, linking her to the second realm. Finding no peace in this realm Asteria lowered herself further still (metaphysically speaking at least) by turning herself in to an island. This final transformation finally aligns her to the Earth realm, fixing her previously airy and ethereal form into a earthy and material one.

I need to sit with all of this a bit more but my initial instinct is that incorporating Asteria and her husband Perses will enrich my work with Hekate and is something I plan to pursue. Beka Evie Bel over on Patheos has blogged on working with Asteria and the Titans in general previously so I am defiantly going to take the opportunity to benefit from their experience and wisdom.

Watch this space…

Asteria who dwells in darkness, star-bright,

mistress of the spangled skies, I praise your name.

Daughter of Phoebe, great of understanding,

and restless Coeus who seeks to know all;

sister of twice-blessed Leto; mother of Hekate

to whom all honors are given, I pray to you.

Beautiful goddess, pursued by thundering Zeus,

in fleeing you became a quail and fell

into the sea, to rise again an island,

fair Delos of famous name. Asteria,

mistress of auguries, lady of the falling star,

great of glory, I praise your wisdom and your might.

Underflow – Prayers to the Gods of Olympus source
Posted in Hekate, Musings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Other Cunning Folk and Interesting Tales

Rough Robin

Of the ” wise/’ one of the most celebrated, both for personal shrewdness and professional prosperity, was a man who called himself ‘Rough Robin of Rumbles Moor.”

From Old Yorkshire – Works of William Smith, F.S.A.S pg 267

Rough Robin was a hermit/cunning man who resided on Rombalds Moor. He appears to have garnered some fame for his predictions, particularly regarding future spouses and the location of missing objects. It appears that his abilities were well known, with his reputation extending across the Pennines into Cumberland. A common carrier, carrying goods between Aldstone and Penrith, approached Robin for a consultation when passing enroute. The carrier wished to know who had stolen goods from him wagon. Rough Robin assured him “that if the thief did not restore the stolen property before a given day (25th February), it should be the worse for him!”. The carrier returned home and made sure to circulate the dire prediction amongst his neighbours and nervously waited for the approach of the day appointed.

The goods were not returned to the carrier and worry amongst the villagers grew as the 25th approached, fearing that they were about to be caught in magical crossfire. They began to prepare themselves and their homes for some great cataclysm, such as fire of earthquake, which was all to the good. During the night of the 24th February a great storm battered the country. Most places were caught unprepared but the carrier’s village was less affected due to their preparations. Perhaps the country wide disaster could have been avoided if the carrier’s belongings had been returned, on the other hand the village may have benefited from Robin conflating a long-range weather prediction with a prediction regarding the return of the items. Whatever the case the outcome didn’t result in the damage of Robin’s reputation, rather amplified.

Eventually, Robin decided that whilst being the Hermit of the Moors was poetic it did make him a little hard to reach. To make himself more available to potential clients he decided to take rooms in Meadow Lane in the largest city in the area, Leeds. During the summer and autumn of 1806 he did very well for himself and drew the attention of the Leeds Mercury. When they wrote up the results of their investigation they reported that he drawing enough clientele that he managed to earn 18 shillings in a single day, approximately £40 in 2017 terms. A cunning man earning the equivalent 6 day wage of a skilled tradesman in a single day clearly didn’t endear Robin to the Leeds Mercury, who rounded out their article with this stark and very public warning;

if he did not beat a quick march of the town he would before Monday night be tipped with a magic wand called a constable’s staff, and lodged in an enchanted castle, where he may confer with his familiars without danger of interruption except from the turnkey

From Old Yorkshire – Works of William Smith, F.S.A.S pg 267

Robin took the hint and hurriedly left Leeds, returning to the Moor where he continued to ply his trade until his death.

Other Planetary Rulers and Water Casters

From the business directories and newspaper reports we know of a number of other men offering various services which fall within the remit of the cunning folk. Most of the information that follows has been extracted from Owen Davies book Murder, Magic and Madness

William Broughton, a druggist working at 46 Meadow Lane also listed himself as offering water casting services in the Leeds 1858 business directory. His son Alfred also offered water casting services, initially in Williams Meadow Lane shop and then from his own herbal and drug store at 33 Call Lane. Once at Call Lane he set up a consulting room above his shop from where he would offer fortune-telling and astrological services. In 1857 Alfred fell victim to a honey trap, where a local superintendent directed two women to enquire with Alfred about astrological services. Once they knew the price the police officer gave the women marked coins so that when they raided the premises that evening the consultation could be proved and the astrologer arrest under the Vagrancy Act. In court Alfred Broughton attempted to argue in court that astrology was a science connected to astronomy, describing it as “perfectly legitimate, whatever the predicts against it”. The magistrate disagreed and he was convicted and given a span of hard labour. Neither father nor son appeared in court following this date and the appearance of William in the 1858 business directory suggests that at least he continued to work in the city. Whether his son returned from prison to set himself up in business again or work under the umbrella of his father is unclear. It might be implied that with William still advertising himself as a Water Caster that some form of magical service were still being offered under the counter.

Henry Hardy, the deaf and dumb planetary ruler, was brought before the court by Mrs Mary Anne Walker in 1868 following an unsatisfactory forecast which cost her £2. The forecast was said to have been;

Mrs Walker must be on her guard against a certain deceptive female; that she would be twice a wife; that she would be the mother of one child, a daughter; that her affections were placed on a young man whose name was William that she must be careful in whose company she was on the 17th March 1868. That she was a person who should several times in her life be in contact with the police authorities, and shat she would not always live outside the walls of a prison; that she would have to live a great deal in Scotland, would change her name in 1868, would live to a ripe old age, and that she had yet many years of great happiness before her.

O Davies; Murder, Magic and Madness.

James Trenham, planetary ruler and herbalist, who had a long history of advertising his services and seemed to have had a substantial relocation locally. Unlike many Trenham does not seem to have been brought up on charges himself but appeared in Leeds Court House December 1854 to press charges of theft and assault against George Scott and Maria David. His magical practices were referenced in the case but it does not seem to have affected him being successful in wining his case.

James Roberts, known as the Black Bank Doctor, lived in Leeds at the turn of the 1800’s was said to have displayed a sign above his cottage which read

Black Bank Doctor and Urin Castor and Botanist ND By the elp of God and herbs of british Growth cures all manner of disorders inhuman and cattle And as performed vera greet cures all our this country

O Davies; Murder, Magic and Madness.

Posted in Ancestors, History, Witchcraft | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring Cleaning / Spring Equinox

Today is the Spring Equin, the day when the hours of daylight and darkness are balanced. It marks the point at which we transition into the light half of the year and the real and tangible start of spring.

The Spring Equinox is a time of new beginnings and intention setting, where we leave the comforting embrace of the cold winters earth to emerge anew into a world of warmth and light. This feels especially relevant given then year long hibernation like experience of lockdowns, home schooling and the like. 


In the spirit of new starts and fresh energy I’ve engaged in some spring cleaning over the last couple of days. My work desk has been formalised, the tangle of cables tamed and generally made functional. I also restarted an upcycling project which just stalled out in lockdown 1 (pictures to follow). I’m even getting my intentions to ‘get out more’ underway by going foraging for wild garlic today. With this in mind I offer this prayer and blessing to all.


May you find the balance you desire and need,
light and dark,
spirit and body,
mind and soul.
May you recognise the gradual powerful rebirth
happening within you.
May you awaken to the potential
and the blossoming
of your own self.
And like the wild geese,
May you find your way home.

Source FionaLynne

Posted in Foraging, Photo Inspiration, Sabbats, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

William Dawson Bellhouse – The Galvanist

William Dawson Bellhouse was born in August 1814 to parents John Bellhouse and Elizabeth Dawson, being baptised in Woodkirk Church on the 14th of that month.  William was an only child, and he was only 3 years old when his mother was buried at the same church. Church records indicate that between Williams birth and Elizabeth’s death the family lived in Topcliffe but not long after being widowed John relocated into Leeds proper. 

The next time we find William in the records is in relation to his own marriage at Leeds Parish church to Mary Richardson, daughter of a clothier on the 27th February 1847. He appears in local business directories as a shopkeeper first on North Street and then later on Templar Street, where they lived until sometime until the early 1850’s when they moved to a rather upmarket area of Liverpool.

The exact date of the couple’s move is uncertain. The earliest references to his presence in the town were from testimonials from local residents who had received the latest in “medical” treatments from “William Dawson Bellhouse – Professor of Electricity and Galvanism”.

Galvanism was a much discussed but fringe treatment for a number of medical complaints, the outgrowth of the increasing interest in the new power of electricity. Most galvanists were self-styled “doctors” and “professors (both titled which Bellhouse would claim at one point or another) who would build their own devices for the treatment of everything from asthma to indigestion. Most common a patient were women of a “hysterical” nature.

Bellhouse is first recorded as using this title in his business directory listing in 1853, and by 1855 he had elevated his achievements to that of “surgeon” and Medical Galvanism would remain Bellhouse’s main profession until his death in 1870.

Though the use of such prestigious titles shouldn’t be taken to indicate Bellhouse actually achieved the level of education we would today associate with them he was well read. During his time in Liverpool one of his achievements was the publishing of a number of pamphlets on Medical Galvanism (read plagiarised, added to and published under his own name). He was also renowned for his library and parafnalia, both medical and magical.

Bellhouse was particularly interested in astrology, and a trip to visit the Professor might include both a treatment of Galvanism and the casting of a horoscope. That being said, his skills were not held in high regard amongst the other astrologers of Liverpool, though their denigration of his abilities may have been nothing more than professional jealousy. 

Though it is not clear when Bellhouse became interested in magic his personally transcribed book of magic is stamped with his first Liverpool address, 42 Gill Street, appears in the front it is certainly something that was in full force by the time that he moved into the more prestigious address of 17 Pembroke Place. This personal book of magic, entitled “a Complete System of Magic” contained hand copied sections from;

  • Agrippa’s “Three Books of Occult Philosophy”
  • “The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy”
  • “The Heptameron”
  • Barrett’s “The Magus”
  • Scott’s “Discoverie of Witchcraft”
  • Hiebner’s “Mysterium Sigillaum, Herbarum and Lapidum”
  • An anonymous work called “Witchcraft; Detected and Prevented”

It also contained personalised charms, full list of planetary hours (inc angels and sigils), and details on the use of Witchbottles. Bellhouse also appears to have developed a system of scrying, involving lenses of various shapes, invocations and a set of horary charts apparently of his own design.

Whatever the opinion the local astrologers had about his skill Bellhouse was more than able to make up for this in presentation as can be seen from a newspaper report from the Liverpool Mercury. The article was one of series of exposes penned by Hugh Shummin in wake of the trial of William Dove, part of the media campaign to denigrate the credulity of the masses. Though not mentioned by name is if clear from the combination of references, including the subject’s origins and practice of galvanism, that not only did Shummin attend a session with Bellhouse but that he managed to gain his confidence sufficiently to reveal some juicy details about the consulting room.

According to Shummin the handle of the door from the lobby into the consulting room was electrified to discourage any of those in the outer room from listening at the door. Between this and the fact that the door would immediately swing open with the door pull was rung lead to general gossip that the man was cohabiting with devils. In truth both mechanisms were in place as much to protect the reputation of his high society visitors, allowing them a swift and discreet entrance and privacy during consultation, but the added mystique didn’t hurt either.

That being said, Shummin was not impressed, either by Bellhouse or his practice saying

“If you had seen this fellow, the impression of a small, ill-fed Yorkshireman, carefully Italianised, would have been stamped upon your mind. Cunning lurked in the deep recesses of his dark eyes; villainy coiled about the corners of his mouth, and his coward heart gave a peculiar faltering to his tongue….

Image result for victorian gentleman doctor
I don’t believe there are any photos of William Dawson Bellhouse but this is what imagine when I picture him.
A Victoria Gentleman Doctor

His sanctum was more respectably furnished than the generality of room devoted to such purpose; but he was more than a fortune-teller. Not only lay the horologe, the planisphere and the crystal on his table, but scientific instruments of unquestionable value were there also imposingly displayed. Drug jars with Latin inscriptions decorated some of the shelves of his library, for he did a little in the “doctoring way” as well as in the scientific. His library chiefly consisted of choice works on magic and the occult sciences.”

Freud’s Office From “A Dangerous Mind” – the Victorian Gentleman Doctor’s man cave
Source

Though he denied currently practicing ritual magic, Bellhouse was comfortable enough to share with Shimmin that this was something he had done in the past, presumable following procedures from Agrippa and Hiebner. Bellhouse presumably failed to achieve, or was underwhelmed by, results of such operations, telling Shimmin he had found it “unimpressive”. It was Bellhouse’s contention that his rituals for crystal-gazing, along with the repertoire of standard cunning man spells, charms and cures, were far more reliable. In his article Shimmin opined that “it may be that he was too mean and despicable a villain for any order or degree of spiritual intelligences to truckle with” suggesting that the preference for crystallomancy lay in part because Bellhouse would give the crystal to the client to hold and view, giving him a way to distance himself from anything the client may see. There was a slight hint in his reporting that Bellhouse would lay his hand upon the consulting client during this process, using the example of placing a hand upon the knee of a woman. This may have been a legitimate description of practice, because it is a procedure seen in older literature, but it may also have been a very Victorian attempt to cast Bellhouse as a sexual predator like Harrison. If it was the attempt failed. 

Life took a substantially downward turn for Bellhouse in 1856. His second practice in Southport was not doing well and he was taken to court in and on 20th July and ordered to pay damages of £20 to his tenant. This trial is what probably drew Shummin’s attention to him, who must have acted on the tip straight away as Bellhouse would be incarcerated in York Galo for insolvency between 3rd and 26th January 1857 and both the Liverpool and Southport practices would be closed by the time the scathing investigative report was published in April 1857.

The next time Bellhouse appears is in the Whites Business Directory 1858 for Leeds as a Galvanism at 1 Park Street. This was a rather ballsy move considering the expose done by Shummin as one Bellhouse’s new Park Street neighbours was none other than Dr George Morley, the doctor who had been responsible to identifying the method of poisoning in the Dove case. This respectable address was still within sight of the town hall and was perfectly placed for attracting a higher quality of client and he does appear to have done well at this address, despite potential stumbling blocks such as the Medical Act of 1858, which should have ended him being able to claim the title of doctor. By the time of the 1861 census Bellhouse is still recorded as living at Park Street, along with his wife and a live-in servant, offering services as a Galvanist.

It is not clear whether or not he was still practicing astrology and crystallomancy during his second residency in Leeds. None of his later trade directory entries make reference to offering such services but this makes sense given the recent trials of Dove, Harrison and Rushworth. It is possible that Bellhouse decided not to carrying on offering these additional services, or he did so in such a discrete manner that it did not come to the attention of the authorises and newspapers. I personally prefer to conclude that it is the latter.  

William Dawson Bellhouse was buried on the 9th June 1870 in the parish of Woodkirk, at the age of 57. Burial at the church of his childhood, bringing his journey through life full circle. Though he had no children his personal grimoire found its way into the New York Public Library, where it would be found by librarian Daniel Harms. Harms went on to publish A Complete System of Magic through The Society of Esoteric Endeavour (Caduceus Books) in 2018 along with his research into Bellhouse and associated matters, which has been the main resource for the writing of this post. 


Taking A Closer Look – Witchbottles and Counter Witchcraft

I’ve covered the topic of Witch bottles in the past so rather than go into it in depth a third time I will focus more on what Bellhouse records in his Complete System.

To hurt or destroy a witch

Cut a little hair of the nap[e] of the next of the afflicted person or party bewitched and with pairings of finger and toe nails and some of his blood, and three quarts of his water [urine] a chain of seven links the middle link turn down and the heart of a fowl fresh and three new needles and three new pins take them and stick them in the heart a few rusty nails and cards teath[?] then take three pennyworth of aqua fortis [nitric acid] th[r]ee penny worth of vitriol [sulphuric acid] three pennyworth of french flies [Cantharides aka spanish fly] Three pennyworth of Brims[t]on[e] [sulphur] Thee pennyworth of Devils Dung [asafoetida] 3c Pennyworth of Dragons Blood & in smaller bottles put three drams of each. Those most be all put in a strong bottle that withstand[s]s fire, or a pan, and boil them on a slow fire until all is consumed The chain must be half red hot before it is put in stir it with a red hot poker five or six time and say Turning the Poker these words Witch Witch Witch. I thee burn (or I thee kill) in hell fire If thou does not leave this person and evil turn to thyself thou shall feel the wrath of God for ever more Amen after this read the 70th Psalm if a pan is used scrape all well out and bring to the north side of the house and This will finish it.

That is quite a list of ingredients, and there are some interesting instructions. Though a bottle, which symbolically would represent the witches body/bladder, it is clear that the operation could also be performed in an open pan prior to bottling the content. The use of a metal chain is also unusual, and perhaps represents the link between the witch and the bewitched, heated to transmit pain to the witch or to weaken it so that it may be induced to break. There is also a very explicit instruction that the final bottle should be placed in the north of the property in order to complete the operation.

For me the process being used by Bellhouse falls somewhere between the two ways that witch bottles are used; heated to cause pain to the witch or buried/hidden as a form of spiritual decoy. This two pronged approach is actually consistent with the way that I have conduct my own witch bottle operations in the past, because why limit yourself?

Whilst I was finalising todays post I decided to see if any witch bottles had ever been recorded in Leeds and found this post from @CuratorKitty on Twitter. I wonder what other charms and curiosities Leeds Discovery Centre holds.

Further Reading

The Folklore Podcast Season 3 Episode 42 A Liverpool Cunning man and his Magical Manual

Dan Harms Website

Knot Magick Witch Bottles

Knot Magick An Evening with Brian Hoggard

Posted in History, Magick, Rituals & Rites, Spells, Witchcraft | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Isaac Rushworth – the Planetary Ruler

Issac Rushworth was a so called “Planetary Ruler” in operation in Leeds at the same time as Henry Harrison. He offered a number of different services including astrology service, magical charms, herbs, drugs and protection against witchcraft. Rushworth’s ability, he advertised, was in his ability to “rule of the planets” of the client to ensure the desired outcome and healing and was something that was being discussed as far afield as Sheffield.

Rushworth comes to our attention after appearing in court during mid to late 1857 following his involvement with a lady by the name of Kitty Littlewood. Kitty, originally from Sheffield, was a woman of poor health and on recommendation from a friend she visited Rushworth in Leeds. He “ruled her planets” and confirmed that she was the victim of an ill wish, providing her some pills to aid with her heart palpitations and the advice that she should move to Leeds so that she could consult him more readily. Despite the pills not having the desired effect Kitty clearly believed that proximity would improve results and moved to West Ardsley with her father in the spring of 1856.

Rushworth provided Kitty with a number of medicines and regular consultations and at some point, began to suggest that they needed to create a “greater connection” in order to break the bewitchment she was under. Although she resisted at first Kitty became increasingly vulnerable to his advances, first when she moved to East Ardsley, coming closer into Rushworth’s orbit, and then when her father died in December 1856. Between the move and her father’s death, during a visit to his house, Rushworth fed Kitty some treacle which left her stupefied and ill during which time she appears to have agreed to have sex with him and following her father’s death would consent to further sexual encounters.

Throughout this period Rushworth maintain that Kitty was the victim of witchcraft and in addition to the sex was extorting large amounts of money from her for medicines, rituals and charms including;

  • burning a bullock’s heart to inflict pain on the witch
  • instructing Kitty hide shoemakers’ awls under her pillow and around the house to keep enemies at bay.
  • providing two written charms, one to ward against witchcraft and another to draw a young man to her door.

All of this cost Kitty £5 – about £400 in 2017 terms.

Cows Heart from the Edward Lovett Collection

By February 1857 it was clear that Kitty had fallen pregnant and Rushworth began to pressure her into an abortion, providing her with some “seeds of paradise” (aka cardamom) which he said would induce a miscarriage. By the 26th March the pregnancy ended in a premature birth and the death of the child. Shortly after this, having had his sexual pleasure and defrauded her of a large amount of money, he stopped visiting.

Kitty reported Rushworth to the police and his premises were searched, with a number of books on astrology and divination being confiscated. He was arrested and tried in July of the same year for the procurement of abortion and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment with hard labour.

Kitty’s ordeal didn’t end there, with Rushworth starting on a campaign of mental torture whilst he was still in the dock. Rushworth managed to have a message sent to Kitty during his initially imprisonment saying that he would send devils to harm her and should he die as a result of the trial he would haunt her for the rest of her life.

After the verdict Kitty went into a fit, gouging her face and neck with her fingernails. Her mental state continued to deteriorate to the point where she was admitted to the West Riding asylum in a state of insanity. Poor Kitty remained in this stated for a long period of time, coming to the belief that she herself would be hanged for the outcome of the trial. Unless restrained she continued her pattern of self-harm and on more than one occasion attempted to hang herself to fulfil her belief.  Rushworth does not appear in the record following his period of imprisonment but no doubt he returned to his previous way of life undaunted.

Taking a Closer Look – Animals and Counter Witchcraft

A subject which is uncomfortable for some is the use of animals in the practice of witchcraft. There are lots of ethical issues that come in to play when looking at this in a modern context but these are things that need to be set aside when discussing a historical context. Animals were, by and large, a commodity and there was far less squeamishness about the use of offal either as a food source or as a prop in sympathetic magic.

There are a number of examples of bovine hearts being used in counter witchcraft in the hundred or so years prior to Rushworth. For example; the Edward Lovett collection includes a cow’s heart stuck with pins and nails. The charm was worked by a Bethnal Green dairyman, on the instructions of a local wisewoman, based on his belief that his cows had been cured by a neighbour after two died suddenly. The pierced hear was hung by a cord in the dairyman’s chimney. The charm, or at least the gossip about it, proved effective as the dairyman was soon approached by his neighbour offering reparations for poisoning the two cows in question.

Other animals were also used in this capacity. The Clarke Collection includes examples of hearts from bird, pigs and sheep and were likely chosen to represent that animal which was the target of the witches malefice, also referred to as “overlooking”, or were simply easily available.

Seagull heart ©Scarborough Museums Trust
Photographer: David Chalmers

What is consistent is the way in which the heart was treated.

The heart would be stuffed with pins and/or nails made of iron, a metal long associated with the negation of magical energies, and hung by a cord in a chimney. Once hung the fire would be stoked with the sympathetic result that as the heart is heated so the witch is subjected to the same discomfort. In her article for Folklore Thursday Jennifer Dunne refers to the hour of midnight being the appointed time for such spells, with incantations being muttered as salt was cast to turn the flames green (because as Disney has informed us, the colour of evil is lime green). Regardless of the exact process or incantations the aim was to have the witch reveal themselves as a result of the pain the counter-spell inflicted upon them. The spell could easily be ended by removing the heart from the chimney but the roasting could continue, particularly if the purpose of the charm had been as a pre-emptive precaution against witchcraft.

The written charms which Rushworth is reported to have directed Kitty to carry to draw a man into her life are fairly pedestrian but the instruction to hide a shoemaker’s awl under her pillow to keep enemies at bay is interesting. I don’t quite understand why a shoemaker’s awl would be the item, beyond it being made of a iron and being a somewhat offensive weapon if wielded in that capacity… it’s a pity that Kitty didn’t put it the that use.

There isn’t going to be a write up of a spell this week, though I am sure the astute reader could easily construct one.

Some Resources

Murder, Magic and Madness; O Davies; Pearson Longman, 2005

Cunning-Folk in the Medical Market-Place during the Nineteenth Century, O Davies, 1999

Open Graves and Minds Twitter Thread

Cunning-folk as abortionists in nineteenth-century England

Posted in History, Magick, Rituals & Rites, Spells | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Henry Harrison – Wizard of South Market

Henry Harrison was born in the year 1816 to a family of dyers living in Boar Lane. During the August of 1833 Harrison married the daughter of a fellow dyer named Jane Brayshay, with the couple eventually having two children. At some point in 1837 Harrison lost his job and by August of that year the family was destitute, becoming displaced and in the care of the Parish before Jane moving herself and the two children in with her father. Harrison appears to have abandoned the family by the end of the year, slowly beginning to drift into crime involving theft and vagrancy at various times.

Harrison seems to have been fairly rootless until 1844 when he took lodgings in Moor End, Holbeck and appears to have formed a relationship with his landlady, Elizabeth Browne. Though they never married Elizabeth would often introduce herself as Elizabeth Harrison and to all intents and purposes they lived as a married couple, moving first to Dewsbury Road and then to 5 North Row, South Market where Elizabeth and her son George set up a grocer’s shop.

Early on in his stay with the Browne’s Harrison set himself up as a wizard, selling herbs and drugs before branching out in to spells and charms. He specialised in locating stolen goods, though a number of times he managed to expose himself as the thief by leaving the evidence in plain sight around his lodgings when his client/victim came to call. By the 1850’s he had further expanded his services and was describing himself as “an astrological doctor and dentist” on business cards and recording his occupation in the census as “Doctor and Water Caster” operating out of rooms above the shop on North Row.

The terms “water caster” had been quite popular in the Georgian period but it had fallen out of favour with the scientific advancements of the Victorian era.

The practice of water casting, aka urine scrying or uroscopy or diagnosis via urine, had been widely accepted by the medical community up until the early 17th century. Due to the limited medical value of the practice as it then existed it had largely fallen out of favour but the process of using urine to determine the sex of an unborn child, the life expectancy of someone or if they were the victim of witchcraft still persisted most likely being perpetrated by astro-medical textbooks such as William Salmon’s Synopsis Medicinae – A compendium of astrological, Galenical and chymical physick (1671). It wasn’t uncommon for such services to be still offered under the counter by back street wizards, like Harrison, or those working in pharmacies and drug stores.

We likely wouldn’t have known of Harrison as his practice and services were very commonly offered below the counter, or above stairs, of shops and pharmacies throughout the city. At the same time Harrison was operating from North Street William Broughton, druggist, was listed in the Leeds business directory as a water caster from 46 Meadow Lane whilst his son was providing the same services, plus astrology, from 33 Call Lane.

Harrison truly comes to our attention because of his involvement with tenant farmer, William Dove. Dove approached Harrison in October 1854 for magical aid and fortunes with regard to his life, in particular maintaining his tenancy and his marriage. When Harrison visited the farm in the November, he performed a ritual for magical protection, involving hiding four copper pieces with “hieroglyphical inscriptions” in the entrances and doorways around the farm yard and a fifth being hidden in the home. He also provided Dove with a written charm to help him influence the farm owner to renew the tenancy and offered the initial view that the marriage would become happier Harriet Dove was to have children.

Between late 1854 and early 1856 Dove frequently consulted Harrison, receiving various charms and predictions with varying degrees of accuracy. Though the relationship wasn’t always positive Harrison managed to keep the faith and trust of Dove, despite Harriet’s dislike of the wizard.

During January and February 1856 Dove became fascinated with the case of William Palmer, a southern GP who was being investigated for the murder of a friend using strychnine. Today we know that Palmer was indeed guilty and that strychnine was identified scientifically, but Dove did not know this. He first took advice from Harrison, who told him that vegetable-based poisons like strychnine were not traceable in the body after death but when asked if he could provide Dove any he said he could and would not. Dove also spoke to his pharmacist when visiting to collect his wife’s medicine, who assured him that not only was it scientifically possible his employer, Dr Morley, had successfully done this the previous year. To drive the point home the pharmacist provided Dove with scientific journals which outlined how this could be achieved.

William Dove’s faith in the Wizard of South Market, both in his advice and positive predictions. These had included Dove’s 32nd year (1856) being the year he would be widowed and remarry a woman who would “have auburn hair, light complexion and a good fortune. If you have married a person of this description at first, you would have done well”, which described closely Dove’s new neighbour who he had met in December. He conveniently seems to have forgotten that Harrison had also cautioned him to avoid any lawsuits in that year.

Dove proceeded to purchase 15 grains of strychnine from the from the pharmacist over the next few weeks. Three grains were used to poison a neighbourhood cat and a mouse, the rest found their way into poor Harriet Dove between 23rd and 29th February 1856, leading to her death late in the evening of the 29th.

Due to a lack of subtlety Dove was quickly arrested and charged with his wife’s murder, with Harrison being a key witness for the prosecution. Following his conviction on the 19th July and execution on the 9th August Harrison became known in the local and national press as “Dove’s evil genius” and used his involvement as a way to denigrate the credulity of the masses. The continued belief in such things as magic and witchcraft, they said, exemplified the poor state of the nation From the News of the World

“Is it not humiliating to know that, in spite of all the intellectual advancement of which we are prone to boast in this later day, there are still amongst us men, and those not wholly uneducated, who are capable of surrendering their reason and of weakly falling victims to arts so low and despicable as those of Harrison.”

More locally the press was sensitive to the idea that Leeds was seen as a hotbed of “superstitious credulity” and many talking heads were calling for additional legal measures beyond the vagrancy act and witchcraft act. Harrison could have kept his head down but he launched a public counter offensive in the Leeds Mercury on the 18th August 1856 in the form of a self-serving, rambling rant full of bluster and self-justification. All publicity is good publicity, and Harrison’s business boomed if anything, but it would ultimately be to his detriment when he was himself taken to court for aggravated assault and crimes under the Vagrancy Act in respect of a young maid called Eliza Croft.

Eliza had consulted Harrison in the hope of securing the affections of a young man. Harrison provided charms and scrying services to Eliza but also suggested the need for a “greater connection”, a very Victorian term meaning she should have sex with him to ensure the magic would work. Despite being refusing a number of times Harrison eventually assaulted Eliza.

By the time the matter was brought to court in 1857 Harrison’s infamy worked against him and the prosecutors sought additional ways to bring him to justice. During his first trail the judge asked those present who wished to make a formal complaint against Harrison at which a careworn woman stepped forward and said;

“My name is Jane Harrison, and I am the wife of the prisoner. I am a married woman and have been married for twenty-three years. I live at Hunslet. The only complaint I have to make against the prisoner is for neglecting his wife and family. I was married to him on the 3rd August 1833”.

In an epic piece of court room drama the prosecutor stood and announced “this is his first wife. Mrs Browne we shall bring forward hereafter to show that she is his second wife.” But it wasn’t Elizabeth Browne that Harrison had married, but rather her daughter Sarah-Ann who he had married on the 18th May 1846 after he got her pregnant. The domestic arrangement at Moor End had been strange, with Harrison sharing his new wife’s bed for a few weeks before moving into the mother’s bed.

Not content with bigamy Harrison went on to commit trigamy, marrying Maria Steel at St John’s Church Wakefield in October 1850.

The act of bigamy was surprisingly common in rural and working-class communities. Husbands and wives would move apart and move on whilst separated. Both Maria Steel and Sarah-Ann Browne were also bigamously married, Maria before and Sarah-Ann after their respective marriages to Harrison. Whilst the middle and upper classes made much of it as a morality issue it was an issue in these classes too, but in the case of Harrison it was the prosecutions route to ensuring that Harrison was dealt with as harshly as possible for his treatment of Eliza Croft and general notoriety.

On 9th December 1857 Harrisons charges of bigamy were heard at York Azises. Judge William Erle had a lot to get though that day and the issue at hand, whilst tangled, was well proven and not one which was going to earn Harrison any sympathy given his notoriety in the last two years. Earle said that Harrison had been “leading a life of unparalleled profligacy” and sentenced him to four years of penal servitude on top of the 9 months he had already been served.

This closes the curtain on the life of Henry Harrison, for we don’t hear of him again, presumably dying during or shortly after his prison sentence.

Taking a closer look – Hidden Coins

When Harrison visited the farm in the November he undertook a series of magical operations on behalf of Dove, but the one that caught my eye was the ritual for magical protection. Harrison appears to have undertaken a series of steps though because we are seeing them through the lens of William Dove they are obscure. We can separate them in to four stages

  1. Locating the cardinal points
  2. Placing 4 copper discs at the main entry points of the farm yard, including the farmhouse door,
  3. Saying a prayer to the “seven wisemen” amongst which Harrison counts himself
  4. Placing the fifth and final coin secretly within the house, its location unknown to Dove himself.

It is not clear why Harrison identifies the four cardinal directions. I haven’t been able to locate a map of the farm so don’t know how the four gates and doorways relate to the directions but presumably they lied up in some way.  We also don’t know what the “hieroglyphical inscriptions” on the discs were and we don’t know what prayer Harrison recited.

In short, we don’t know much but we can draw some connections between the actions and elements and make some guesses.

Discs or coins?  Personally, I think Harrison was using copper coins (small denominations). It is possible he inscribed them with a cross but I err to the idea that the description is being deliberately exaggerated by Dove.  

Coins do make sense as they form a part, both singular and within purses, of the catalogue of hidden objects found within historic buildings. Usually, they are found in the fabric of the building, under floorboards, under doorsteps, hearths and in another liminal spaces. There may have been placed there as a charm of prosperity, particularly silver sixpences which have been a traditional gift to a bride in her right shoe to ensure a prosperous, love filled happy marriage, but they also carried a protective element. Silver, of course, has strong association with protection, including the trapping of evil spirits, and being an enemy of the witch.

This is all well and good but Harrison was using copper, which has far fewer associations with protective magic. Coins have another protective association in the form of their design, particularly in countries where there is a crowned head of state. Royal symbols such as the coat of arms, heraldry is associated with royal protection and around the portrait of the monarch (at least during the time frame we are looking at) is the shorthand invocation of the monarch’s relationship to the Divine.

  • D G REG/REXDei Gratia Regina / Rex – By the Grace of God, Queen / King
  • F D Fidei Defensor – Defender of the Faith

The coin does need setting aside as different from the kind you spend. Most hidden coins are found either to have been bent or inscribed with a cross, two forms of defacement which would remove the coins ability to remain in circulation. I believe that Harrison marked up the coins, which Dove described in court as some form of “hieroglyphical inscriptions”.

Why five? One for each for the direction and one for the centre (the farm house). Nice and simple.

Why in the gateways? The places described appear to be breaks within the main boundary of the farmyard. These are the points through which people with ill will towards the inhabitants would pass and thus needed addition protection.

Where’s the fifth? Based on the above it is likely that the fifth coin was placed somewhere liminal like the fireplace or dropped between some floorboards near the front door.

Who are the seven wise men? I am really not sure. I haven’t turned anything up in my research and I tried both wise men, magi and sages in good old Google. I am aware that The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet: A 17th Century London Cunning-man’s Book of Charms, Conjurations and Prayers contains a prayer to Seven Angels which has planetary association and it might be that Harrison was using something of this nature. There were lots of blue and black books being published in the 17th, 18th and 19th century, many of which are lost, and it is even possible that Harrison was using something of his own devising. The concept of associating oneself with other great names such as Jesus, Solomon, Moses and the like, defining yourself as a spiritual heir of these greater men, is something seen elsewhere in ceremonial magical and it is possible that was Harrison’s purpose in referring to himself as a wise man.   

A Ritual to Protect Against Witchcraft

You will need

  • Five copper discs inscribe an equal armed cross or 5 small denomination silver coins i.e. 5 pence pieces
  • A compass (optional)
  • Any other ritual equipment you may deem appropriate

Locate the four cardinal points in relation to your property, using a compass if you are unsure and then identify four places, either on the land or within the home itself, where the coins can be hidden from sight. This might be between floorboards, under carpet, behind skirting board etc. Finally, locate a central location to hide the fifth coin, preferably in a hearth or internal wall.

As preferred light candles, incense and invoke the presence of deity etc. at the central point of your home. Proceed to place the coins one by one from East to North and then Centre, visualising the drawing of a circle which is activated by the fifth and final placement.

Return to the centre and invoke the protection of the divine against all forms of harm and witchcraft. I wanted to channel Harrison in presenting an example so offer a portion of the Novena to the Magi adapted to purpose – you should substitute these for your own words.

“O Holy Magi, who were gladdened by the reappearance of the star which led you to Bethlehem; obtain for me from God protection from all ill will and witchcraft, that I may be consoled by His grace now and for all eternity. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen”

Repeat your invocation three to seven times (as you prefer) reinforcing the visualisation.

Renew on a regular basis as preferred/required.

Some Resources

Murder, Magic and Madness by O Davies; Pearson Longman, 2005

Dark Histories Podcast – William Dove and the Wizard

The Poisoner’s Cabinet Episode 3 – William Palmer and a horse named Chicken

Posted in History, Magick, Rituals & Rites, Spells, Witchcraft | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment