Unicorns – A Talk at Leeds City Museum

The fact that I am posting two event reviews one after the other may give the impression that I live a busy fun packed life. In reality I was was a little bit tardy in getting the Nameless Arte blog out and it happened to cross over with the Unicorns  talk and book signing.

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(left to right) Anne Stokes and John Woodward ©Vicky Newton

On the 11th of November I took my daughters to Leeds City Museum to listen to a talk by author John Woodward and illustrator Anne Stokes on the subject of Unicorns.  I doubt that Anne  (link) needs much of an introduction; even if you don’t recognise the name you will have seen her art and licensed products all over the neo-Pagan world. John Woodward on the other hand is a children’s book author, focusing on science subjects and the natural world. Anne and John have previously worked together in producing Spellbound – A Book of Spells Woven from the Art of Anne Stokes but it was their latest book Unicorns which was being presented at the talk. Combining the wonderful art of Anne and the research and writing flare of John, Unicorns details the history, appearance, biology and symbology of the purest of beasts, and the talk too us through both elements of the book and gave us an insight into the mind and processes of the illustrator.  

It was possibly a little adventurous to take the children, in hindsight. Although the event was billed as child friendly asking my youngest to sit through an hour of talk and then line up for a signature was possibly a little much. Whilst I had packed her enough activities to keep her occupied I apparently  failed to provide enough food; one solid chocolate unicorn lolly from Kake and Bakes was simply not enough!

Still, the eldest enjoyed herself and as a budding artist she was very interested in hearing Anne’s portion of the talk. ED enjoys drawing, particularly live subjects, but the use of models beyond herself has never really featured. Now her limited web time is spent finding people to draw. She was also more than a little excited to see the depth of symbolism that Anne employs, from the composition of the image itself to the colours, flowers and animals included in a scene. We are wild garlic nuts in this house so ED sat to attention She she realised that not only were wild garlic flowers included in the image “Pure Heart” simply because they are pretty and white but also because they represent purity and purification.

The main focus of the talk was of course the mythical unicorn, and John lead us through an overview of the book’s content in a series of short explanations of the origin of the unicorn in both art and literature and how it unites so many cultures over a fast spread of time. Of course my favourite reference was to the earliest depiction of what is interpreted as a unicorn in the Lascaux caves located in the Dordogne region of France. The caves, found by a young boy searching for his lost dog, are amongst the best examples of upper Paleolithic art and show the range of animals and landscapes within our ancestors experienced. Amongst these animals is, supposedly, the earliest depiction of a unicorn.

I will admit I am a little confused, and perhaps this is a sign that I need to read the book. The Unicorn Panel, located in the Hall of the Bulls, depicts a number of horned animals. Google “Unicorn Lascaux  cave” and two pictures will predominant be returned.

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The first image shows an animal clearly sporting two horns, although many pages cite it as the unicorn. John, on the other hand, included the second image in his talk and to my eye there is one horn, with the animal in question looking downwards.  Also, it more closely matches the horses that surround it in form and design than the animal in the first image and I think that I am more comfortable with this representing the mythical unicorn, even though it is far from shining white in comparison to the other animal.

One reason for this is that the white hue of the unicorn, as John explained, was a relatively late addition to mythological cannon. The beautiful, elegant light filled creature we all know appears from the 13th century onward and the change in colours and form were intended to align the symbolism of the animal with the concepts it was used to represent such as purity.  

What I find fascinating is the breadth of historical figures who sought to connect themselves with the Unicorns mythology,  particularly as a sign of legitimacy. From Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great, encounters with the Unicorns have connected many of the great men of history further highlighting that the unicorn myth is not limited to just western society but appears throughout the world.

The Unicorn has appeared in many places beside myth and legends, including the bible, which has ensured that it remained in the public eye once the Good Book was translated into the vernacular. The graceful horn would be used as a recognisable sign for the humble apothecary,  with the magnificent horn being endowed with many magical and healing properties. In truth it is the test of the narwhal which is most often found as being sold in this guise and it is really only after the 13th century that the image of the single, gracefully thin spiral horn became synonymous with the Unicorns.  Prior to that the horn had taken on many shapes, including branched, gnarled and multi coloured depending on who was depicting the mythical beast. Unicorn horn was considered very rare, and the narwhal horn that was sold in its name worth more than its own weight in gold. It is not surprising therefore that on Wall Street any start up business worth more than 1 billion is referred to as a “Unicorn”.

Of course no discussion about Unicorns can neglect the subject of innocence and the capture of the Unicorn. Some of the most stunning depictions of the medieval unicorn dwell on the subject, showing the personification of wild naivety meekly submitting to the presence of an equally innocent maid. The honest, purity, strength and valour of the Unicorn has made its way into heraldry; standing at the centre of our own national identity here in the UK.

The Unicorn is a creature of the liminal,  similar in appearance to the horse that we are all familiar with but sufficiently different enough to be almost alien to our day to day experience. The encounters described and depicted in literature and art lend the unicorn an insubstantial air, emerging out of the forest one moment only to blend back into the mist and haze the next. These is a theme not only taken up by Anne in her artwork, blending colours seamlessly to give the effect of unity between the animal and the background, but also in the new age belief that the Unicorn is a creature through which we can communicate with other realms of existence.  

But why has the Unicorn remained such a powerful presence in the modern mindset? Whilst there is no doubt that it’s presence in the bible has been a factor the beast has transcended not only religion but also cultures. In a sense, once they reached the mass populous their powerful themes of purity, honesty and innocence stand in stark contrast to the structures of power and control that exist. That there is a creature that stands above the tyrants and deceivers, with the wildness to punish them with hoof and horn, is more than a little appealing.

For this, and many other, reasons the Unicorn has been featured over and over again in literature. As literacy expanded, and the methods and means of communication become more and more universal, the Unicorn has kept pace alongside us; giving us hope in the heart face of apparently disastrous political landscape.

 

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The Nameless Arte – Aspects of Traditional Witchcraft in Britain

Introduction 

The 2nd September 2017 was a special day for two reasons. First, it was the OP’S birthday and second was the first, hopefully not last, Traditional Witchcraft Occult Conference celebrating the Nameless Arte, a phase coined by Nigel Pennick to describe the traditional witchcraft of Essex and East Anglia. The day was organised to celebrate the rich folklore, tradition and practice of the southern counties which may begin the question why was a northerner like myself attending in the first place.

Well for starters it was an epic road trip with friend; good food and good company all round. Travelling gave me the opportunity to socialise and make new friends in the wider community as well. Secondly, it never hurts to learn about folklore outside of your own immediate area. Survival varies and sometimes it is possible, even necessary, to look at similarities and build up from there. Finally; learning about lived experience and practice helps put my own process in to context. As was mentioned at the conference, we are now more connected than ever and there is no need for us to be little mushrooms under our own personal rocks. Let’s get out, share thoughts and see all Witchcraft practices grow and become more relevant in our modern lives.

Speakers

Master of Ceremonies

Andrew Collins is an author and explorer living who’s books challenge the way we perceive history as it is given in the mainstream. Amongst his notable publications are Ashes to Angels, a discourse on the Watchers and the Bible, and the Cygnus Mysteries.

Andrew gave an interesting introduction to the day by recounting the experience of an Italian friend interested in learning more about Witchcraft. The moral of the story – witchcraft is not something you can learn in a weekend, or can be denoted by the receipt of a certificate. It is an experienced process which occurs by working with the land and the forces that stalk it.

Andrew is very right in this assessment. Too many people, once upon a time myself included, think that they can read a book and suddenly they know it all and can do it all. All too soon it comes crashing down around people’s ears because they wade far too deep into the deep end with no understanding of the basics… but that is another conversation. Andrew’s caution that whilst we would learn much that day it wasn’t our attendance that made us witches but our practice.

Michael Clarke – Traditional Witchcraft as a Way of Life

The first speaker of the day was Michael Clarke; practitioner of the Nameless Arte and Toadman. Michael gave us insight into his own experience of traditional and folkloric practices in the rural lands of Essex, describing the Horsemen and other agricultural fraternities. He also described the infamous Toad Bone ritual to use, warning that with great power comes a great deal of trouble and strife, as any pact with Old Hornie might.

Michael’s wide ranging experience with the Craft in Essex was reflected in the wide range of subjects covered, which probably represented just a fraction of what he wanted to cover on the day. Speakers were strictly kept to 45 mins, with enough of a break in between speakers to make it possible digest and discuss subjects (and shop of course). Three quarters of an hour may not seem like much but it amazing what can get packed in by a good speaker.

Martin Duffy – Graven Image – the crafting and Manipulation of Effigies in British Witchcraft

Britain had a rich practice of image  magic from which to draw from and one really only need to visit at the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle to see the breath of method and materials used. Failing that, a wonderfully illustrated and comprehensive talk by Martin Duffy can bring the Museum to you. Martin’s talk, which discussed the materials, magical procedures and methods of deployment as well as the potential uses of poppets, was brought to life through the inclusion of photos from the museums archives.

I love poppets, but I particularly liked the knitted woman dressed in an WWII RAF uniform. Whoever the doll represented the maker went to great lengths to create her doppelganger. The talk was based on Martin’s new book Effigy: Graven Image and Holy Idol which, despite my long standing rule the shipping shouldn’t exceed the item, may mean I will be paying to ship a book from the States.

Richard Ward – Between God and the Devil – The origins, history, evolution and preservation of folk magic in rural Essex

This talk was divided in to two parts.  Firstly Richard discussed the blurred lines between Christianity and Paganism in the rural practices of Essex and how the concepts of God and the Devil were not as clear cut as we perceive today. The Devil was close, and the Arte of appeasing him a fine and noble one, just a few steps removed from making parts and controlling Him. Richard discussed his own family background within the Roma tradition as well as practical such as maintaining a plot of land dedicated to the Devil to ensure the productivity of the rest of the farm.

The second part concerned about gentleman know as Cunning Murrell.  Perhaps not as well known as George Pickingill, a name became synonymous with the pelars of Essex, Murrell’s existence and connections in the landscape are clear in the literature of Edwardian folklorists. Pickingill on the other hand burst on to the scene some time after his death, being dragged from the memories of people who lived in the area. The so called Pickingill Papers have recently been called into question and given that many of the attributes and feats accorded to him were first attributed to Murrell in contemporary sources it is likely that the identity of Pickingill as Cunningman extraordinaire is a later fabrication. This opinion may be unpopular for many, but compelling when presented with evidence of both men in comparison.

Andrew Mercer – The Wicked Shall Decay – Charms, Spells and Incantations of Rural Britain

Andy is a member of the Folklore Society and as a native of Essex has a keen interest in the magical practices of the area so it was nice to find out that his new book “The Wicked Shall Decay” looks beyond the southern counties and into the north. Included in Andy’s talk was reference to a charm/spell from the north riding of Yorkshire, a mere stones thrown from myself in the West Riding. Andy stumbled a bit with the rhyme, having a soft southern accent there were elements of dialect he just couldn’t wrap his tongue around. It is hard to believe that prior to increased mobility both for information and labour the difference in language from one end of the country was very marked. Even now it is possible to find pockets of dialects which sound like entirely different languages, far closer to the old English and Norse from which the dialect emerged. 

 

As one might expect, many of the spells and charms were concerned with cursing, either causing or averting them, as well as finding and creating love where it may not have been before. Modern practice hasn’t really travelled too far from these core concepts if truth be told, and the preoccupation remains strong amongst people first approaching the craft. It can be hard to see the wood for the trees but there are some useful lessons to be found in referencing and may be even adapting these older examples into our modern practice, even if it only to keep them alive in our own traditions going forward. Andy’s book is currently available on Amazon for pre-order and is definitely something I will be adding to my shelf when the time comes.

Gemma Gary – Cornwall and the Modern Traditional Craft

The final talk of the day was delivered by Cornish Witch Gemma Gary. Gemma is well known in the Trad Craft community as the owner of Troy Books publishing house as well as a most prolific author on the subject on folk magic and traditions of Cornwall. One particularly defining book is Traditional Witchcraft – A Cornish Book of Ways, which will be celebrating its 10th year in print in 2018, and Gemma used her talk to revisit the book and its subject in light of the conference. Whilst being centred on Gemma’s own experience of the Craft community, including the various working groups and covens she has engaged with over the years, Traditional Witchcraft was written in such a way that it has gone on to influence a large number of independent traditional covens and  solitary witches up and down the country. As well as giving an overview of the book itself Gemma read passages and used them to illustrate her experiences over the years, helping the listener understand not only the context and content of the book but also how it truly represents a lived tradition.

Panel and Excursion

The day of talks closed with a panel consisting of all the speakers. Amongst the usually questions for clarity or to reinforce concepts and ideas with personal experience was one particularly profound and pertinent questions on which the day was closed. What is the future of Traditional Witchcraft? My thoughts align very closely with the sentiments expressed by the speakers on the day; Traditional craft practices are, by their nature, an exercise in looking back at the sources and references we have and finding a way to incorporate them into our own practices. By doing so we are inevitably drawing the past into the present, blending our own traditional practices for future generations. They will, as one might expect, have far more information to draw on that we do currently but even as they read our material and the inspirations behind it they will bring their own changes and inspirations. Traditional Witchcraft is a lived and living tradition, changing and evolving to meet the times. It is a practice of working with the land and the spirits of the dead, how we work with them reflects our own time and place it is the very fact we work with which makes our craft Traditional.

The entire event was followed by an excursion, lead by Richard Ward, around the sites and places associated with Cunning Murrell. Unfortunately I was flagging by this point, as were others in my party so we bid our farewells this point. It would have been nice to meet up with the people a few hours later at a pub for drinks and to digest some good food and interesting information but we weren’t clear on where the excursion would end so we settled on Taco’s and Tequila instead. Very yum.

Photo’s © Victoria Newton

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Castlerigg

Of all the ancient sites that you can visit in Cumbria Castlerigg is possibly the most awesome inspiring of them all. Inspiration to artists and poets alike if it weren’t for the English Heritage signs by the gate you would think you had been dropped into a scene from Skyrim. As my OH said ‘those ancients sure knew how to pick a location’.

Situated a short drive outside of the picturesque town of Keswick, and erroneously signposted as a ‘Druid’s Circle’, Castlerigg is an open access site with limited roadside parking. Sheep are grazed in the enclosure alongside the stones so it is advisable to keep animals under control. My two animals were pretty well behaved but the YD developed a strange desire to becoming friends with the sheep.

History of the Site

Castlerigg is a slightly flattened circle measuring 32.6m (107ft) at its widest point. Constructed from local metamorphic slate somewhere around the 3200 BCE mark, placing it in the later Neolithic /early Bronze Age period.  Castlerigg is officially recognised as having 40 stones in its construction, including the so called sanctuary, a rectangular structure located in the eastern quarter. Counts vary between 38 and 42 stones as erosion has revealed a number of stones which may more accurately be defined as packing stones.

The heaviest stone is estimated to weigh 16 tons whilst the tallest stone measures approximately 2.3m high. There is a 3.3m wide gap in its northern edge, which is normally designated as the entrance to the circle. With an earliest construction date of 3200 BCE Castlerigg is recognised as the earliest stone circle is Cumbria, perhaps even in England, though that designation may be a result of Castlerigg being one of the most investigated sites in Cumbria as well.  

The purpose of any stone circle is often Horley debated, and Castlerigg is no exception. In addition to a number of astronomical alignments (see below), which may indicate use as an agricultural and religious calendar / location Castlerigg is often cited as agricultural example of the combination of religion and socio-economic structures. The site is situated upon a plateau surrounded on all slides by hills and fells and the natural amphitheatre is clearly awe inspiring but it is location close to the Langdale fells which is most relevant to this suggestion. The area was home to the Neolithic Langdale axe industry and Axes associated with this industry have been known to travel as far as Ireland and Cornwall.

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Inner Rectangle / “Sanctuary” © Victoria Newton

Archaeoastronomy

Given that Castlerigg is the most excavated site in the region it makes sense that is is also the best explored in terms of astronomical alignment.

There are a number of notable solar alignments including midsummer’s day, where the setting sun creates a shadow between the set stone and the ridge of Latrigg. In reverse, the same alignments seems to correspond with the rising of the sun on Candlemas. The other significant sun alignment occurs on the sunrise of the autumnal equinox, with the Sun appearing over Threlkeld Knott in the East. Various other alignments with the midwinter sunrise and lunar stations are also suggested but sometimes archaeo-astronomy can be a bit of a ‘draw a line and see what fits exercises. Not all observable alignments were intentional or even relevant.  

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Modern Pagan Usage

Given its mid summer and winter alignments Castlerigg is a place of pilgrimage for modern pagans, and others, at these times. Being accessible by road is both a blessing and a curse as it means it is easily accessible by everyone so observers at rituals are likely even if human observers aren’t present sheep are likely to wander in and out. I suspect the site is quiet after dark, bar the odd local dog walker, so I am sure that locals make use of the space.

Unlike Long Meg, Castlerigg doesn’t have a history of deposited offerings being left, in part because the field is still in use by the farmer and the site is actively maintained by English Heritage due to its popularity. This means that attempts at digging ‘offering pits’ is both discouraged and stymied and offerings tidied away.

Stones in the Next Field

I may have mentioned in the past, at least in face to face conversation, about the presence of stones in the field across the road from Castlerigg. When I was studying for my degree many moons ago I was told that these were potentially evidence of a cairn or degraded long barrow which predated the stone circle in the wooded area across the road. I went looking for the stones and indeed located them, though I suspect they are more to do with field clearance than any ancient monument. If you are up there take a poke around yourself, they not far from the far right entrance (as you look at Castlerigg from the road). It seemed to me that there was enough modern farm debris mixed in with the stones to call into question the explanation I was originally given.

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Long Barrow or Random Stones? © Victoria Newton 

 

Other Fun Photos

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View from the North Entrance © Victoria Newton

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Cumbrian Hills © Victoria Newton

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Looking South © Victoria Newton

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Meeting the Locals ©  Victoria Newton

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Dodola and Morena – Queens of Autumn and Winter

Given the current changing of the seasons and the approach of All Hallows Eve I thought it appropriate to honour the season. Dodola and Morena are the two Slavic goddesses most associated with the later months of the year and both the drawing in of harvest, both arable and pastoral, and the coming times of shortage. Like Mokosh, Dodola is a Goddess associated with roles of women, particularly household roles such as wife and month, where as Morena is her antithesis; representing decay and the dissolution of the family unit through her power over life and death.

As the year slips through autumn into winter the bite of the darkening days cuts deeper and deeper, bringing the dread of death ever closer. In our modern world we have lost a sense of what these dying days of the year really meant to our ancestors.

Dodola – Goddess of Autumn

Dodola, also known as Perunica, is the seasonal goddess associated with the harvest and autumn rains. She is the wife of the God Perun and has control not only of the rains but of lightening also. She is said to wield her lightening of her husband in order to punish those who were violent or disrespectful of their wives and women. She would also use lightening to punish those who broke oaths taken in her or her husbands name. Ensuing oaths, particularly those associated with debt and provision of food and shelter, were fulfilled in the dying days of the autumn was something that was of high importance in a world where winter very often brought death. 

The name Dodola is consistent with the Lithuanian word for lightening, whilst the name Perunica is the feminised form of Perun, sharing the same roots. Both Dodola and Perun were highly popular deities and as a result they were transformed by later Christian commentators into a snake and a dragon respectively.

Dodola was invoked through the act of dancing, particularly during periods of drought. The goddess would be worshipped and specific songs and dances performed in her honour in order to encourage her to visit them, bringing the rains with her. The Dodole dance is still performed by folk groups, particular during July  as a result of her conflation with Mary Magdalene in the Christian calendar.

Offerings – milk, round cakes, flowers, ribbons, fresh fruits and vegetables

Altar – evergreen, willow branches, iris flower, flower crown, rain water, chimes

Spaces – outdoors, hilltops, evergreen, pine groves, mountain meadows, fairy rings

Day – Thursday

Animals- Cow

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Morena – Goddess of Winter and Witchcraft

Morena is the Slavic Goddess of Winter, Death and Nightmares. She is the opposite of Vesna is all senses, being cold and hateful towards humanity. Of all the goddesses Morena is the most feared because the season she is associated with is one of death and despair.

The name Morena shares the same Proto-Indo-European root of mor-, signifying death. This route is also similar to the Russian word for pestilence. Where her name is rendered as Marzanna an associations with nightmares and hallucinations is established. Death, winter illness and fear are three things that stalked the ancient Slavs in the dead of Winter and Morena was believed to gather the dead to her so that she could draw them down into the world of Nav to become part of her entourage. Morena is often likened to the darker aspects of Hekate, particularly in the form of a psychopomp and Queen of the Dead. 

At the end of each winter season the departure of Morena is celebrated with great joy, as her departure announces the arrival of Vesna. One of the main rituals associated with this time is the construction of a straw effigy of Morena which is then ceremoniously walked to a river or lake where she is drowned. This act both enacts the victory of Vesna over Morena and the return of spring but also returns Morena to the world of Nav, where she resides until the next winter season.

Offerings – raw meat, elder, henbane, mandrake, birch, lily of the valley, nightshade, blood

Altar – death motifs, skulls, bones, besom, scythe, straw effigy, epidote

Spaces – forest ponds, elder groves, crossroads

Day – Saturday

Animals – fly, cat, swan

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Image Source

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Hekate and Crossed Keys

As a Hekatean the appearance of keys, particularly crossed keys, in my altar paraphernalia is an absolute necessity. Keys are laden with magical correspondences which perfectly resonate with Hekate’s liminality and role in transition and transformation.

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© Vicky Newton

 

Hekate’s Keys

The concept of Hekate being associated with Keys is established within the Orphic Hymn to Hekate, within which she is referred to by the epitaph Kleidoukhous (key bearer). She is said to hold the keys to the world and it inferred that by this she holds the key to understanding the whole of the cosmos and creation. Because of her associations with the Underworld and its two leading deities, Hades and Persephone, some authors and devotees refer to Her as holding the Keys to Hades; able to facilitate passage between the realms of both living and Dead. These roles are linked not only to her roles as Psychopompe (Soul Guide) and Propolos (Guide, Companion) but also to her role as the Cosmic World Soul within the Chaldean system where Hekate facilitates movement of the spiritual essence from the empyrean sphere to the material and visa versa.  

Keys are associated with transitions in the form of doorways and are also used to refer to the access of occult wisdom through devotion and worship of Hekate. In addition to being symbolic of transition and knowledge The Key is sometimes perceived and used as the wand of the Heketean, used for directing energy and stirring.

Procession of the Key

The Procession of the Key was a religious observation which took place at Lagina Temple. The temple, which is usually referred to as a Temple of Hekate, survives in the form of 2nd century BCE temple located in modern day Turkey.

There are a number of festivals which were celebrated at Lagina but one of the most well known is the annual Hekateaia festival. This festival in referred to in a number of inscriptions found at the towns of Lagina and Miletus which show that when a new gate was constructed in the city a statue, shrine or temple of some significance was constructed at the same time. The opening and closing of these gates through the use of a key may have been symbolic of Hekate’s ability to protect the city from negative influences whilst alone opening them to positive ones. There are other cities which had statues, or Hekateaia, erected at city gates including Rhodes, Athens and Caria, where she was considered the Goddess of the City.

During the Procession of the Keys a young girl would be named as the Key Bearer and was charged with carrying the Temple Key’s to the city. In addition to the maidenly Key Bearer a full procession would occur, including various temples functionaries,  some of which were eunuchs according to tradition. The process travelled the Sacred Way connecting temple and town and presumably took a path which would ensure they visited all of the city gates in order that they be blessed and protected for the year ahead.

Others traditionally in attendance are the members of Hekate’s own mystery tradition; presumably the Mysteries which were focused on the Temple site located outside of the town of Aegina, on an island of the same name. These Mysteries were initially a healing cult which focused on healing divine madness and possession, two things Hekate was believed to cause and therefore conversely be able to cure. Through these Mysteries initiates would seek healing for themselves and their loved ones, but over time evolved to incorporate a deeper allegorical meaning which may have been similar in composition to the Eleusinian Mysteries. Certainly by the 2nd Century CE the leader of the Mysteries was referred to as the hierophant, a title which is also used in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Although it is not clear, a link between the Procession of the Keys and the Mysteries of Aegina does appear to be present.

 

St Peter’s Keys

When most westerners think of crossed keys the image that comes to mind are the Keys of Heaven, granted to St Peter by Jesus in Matthew 16:19. Usually depicted as crossed lever lock keys with the ‘bit’ orientated upwards, the crossed keys symbolise the authority of the Papal office as the preeminent Christian authority, amongst Roman Catholics at least. As such this style and composition are often the basis of crossed key designs associated with Hekate, indeed when I commissioned my own crossed keys pendant I directed the metal worker to St Peter’s Keys given I was in the shadow of York Minster’s at the time.  

Some variation does occur. Instead of being upward pointing, implying a connection to heavenly spheres Hekate’s Keys are also presented inverted, invoking a connection with chthonic realms. Further still the keys can be oriented one in each direction, implying her links to both realms. As my pendant was cut according to the orientation of the Keys of Heaven I really only have two options available to me. I can wear it in the orientation intended or I occasionally reverse it and use the jump ring to suspend another, relevant charm.

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© Vicky Newton

Keys as a Magical Item

Keys have a number of symbolic and magical Uses in the various magical traditions around the world. Here is a quick rundown of just some of them.

As an object which is used to unlock things keys can be used to open new opportunities and possibilities in our lives. They can also be used to remove blockages from our lives.

Keys symbolise new beginnings and can be used as a divinatory tool for matters relating to hearth and home. They are often incorporated into spells and charms to protect the home.  

Keys also represent passage along a journey, particularly those associated with spiritual development and the acquisition of knowledge. This may be as a symbolic passing from one level of knowledge or attainment or another or represent a particular piece of information which allow this to occur.

It is also interesting to note that keys were once a symbol of both authority, and indeed power, in cultures where the need for a lock was both rare and confined to particular sections of society. The role of holding a key, be that of a treasury, city or other important structure, were often sought after position even if the role was as simple as to walk through and give particular responses to questions asked as in the Ceremony of the Keys carried out by the Chief Yeoman Warder each night at the Tower of London. Another example would be the ceremony carried out at Holyrood Palace, Scotland, when the British monarch is in residence. In this the Lord Provost of the city of Edinburgh symbolically offers the keys to the city, ritually receiving them again with a confirmation of their role. Although these acts are now purely ceremonial in nature there is a strong history behind them where power, rank and privilege dictated who may receive and hold the key in question, and that some greater authority was represented in its presence; in this case the King/Queen of Britain. What role then could the presence of a key have in a magical workings? It may be taken infer the practitioner’s right and authority in a particular setting or over a particular being.This may be useful when working with spirits and beings both infernal and divine, particularly in workings relating treasure and/or hidden knowledge.

I can’t find any evidence for this last assertion on my part, and it is not something I have tried myself so take it as a statement of untried UPG. I do have a large brass ornamental key which I have used as a wand in my rituals from time to time and I do feel rather imposing wielding it around my working space which is why I have build up the connection I have.

 

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RuneSoup Grimoires Course

After Sigils came Grimoires, specifically their history and development with a view to helping people to give it a go should they want to.

I came at this from the historical perspective. The development of the magical process surrounding the grimoires has taken place over thousands of years and touches upon subjects that interest me such as Hekate and the PGM. Although these connections weren’t the main focus of the course the whole concept appealed to my inner history geek.

So over the course of about 20 hours of podcast Gordon took us on a journey from the Solomonic Prehistory of the grimoires right through the rise and fall of the classic civilisations, past the manipulations of Italian city states and into the new world.

The biggest hump to get across in the course was the aptly named ‘Spirit Lists Car Crash’. The deliberate deconstruction and mixing up of spirit lists during the Blue Grimoire and later periods makes it very hard to navigate the practices but Gordon provided a great base level to start from.

My Take Away

(I may have come up with this title whilst looking at my local fish and chip shop)

The ultimate focus of the course was to get us to perform our own invocation, specifically that of Birto from (Treasure Spiris). I did attempt, and will perform again, the invocation though I was likely unsuccessful in my first attempt. There was some indication that I garnered the attention of something but I was not able to achieve a visible manifestation and fit remains to be seen if my petition yields fruit. I am fighting my circumstance and setting, none of which are conducive to working with spirits according to Dr Skinner, but I do believe these can be overcome as my circumstances are not too far removed from those before. My biggest barrier was trying to choke out all those thee, thou’s and aforesaid’s so there is definitely going to be a “dumbing down” when it comes to language used. Barbarous words I can cope with, 16th and 17th century convention not so much.

Still, I will plug away at it and I recommend anyone with even a passing interest in getting their heads around the history and use of the grimoires hook themselves up with this course.

The third course, journeying, has just drawn to a close. Due to my circumstances in the last few months participating in the course has been neigh on impossible. I have either been on holiday, travelling or too uncomfortable to do anything more than listen to the content, which as always was brilliant. It remains to be seen what comes next as the voting “papers” have just been sent out; fingers crossed for something on the PGM. Any excuse to get my Betz out.

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Pagan Parenting – Ceremonies

Pregnancy  

Pregnancy is a magical time. New life is blossoming in every way and ultimately represents a new chapter in our lives.

Many feel drawn to create altars to celebrate the blessing of pregnancy as soon as conception is confirmed. This permanent and evolving altar serves a number of functions throughout pregnancy and after birth; enabling the prospective parents not only to celebrate their state of glorious experiencing but also support the process magically.

Birth Altar

Such altars initially start out as fertility altars. It doesn’t matter whether the couple performed fertility rites ahead of conceiving, though any altar previously dedicated to that purpose should form the basis of this one.

Items to incorporate into the space may include eggs, seasonal flowers, pomegranates and other fruit or animals associated with fertility and multiplicity.Associated colours would be green, for growth, and pink, representing love.

As the pregnancy progresses milestones, such as ultrasound scans, can be commemorated and the space can be used to perform personalised rites of celebration on a regular basis.

As time and pregnancy progress the symbolism of the altar should adapt to represent new life this might include using images of young animals with their parents. You may also wish to include images of family members that have gone before at this point.   

After the birth of the child a final rite of thanks and celebration should be performed. In particular any deities or powers invoked during its use should be thanked and any promise of offerings made good on. Once done the space can be deconstructed and cleansed for reuse in other ways.

Naming Ceremony

As society has increasingly become more secular there has been a rise in the popularity of naming ceremonies. These ceremonies focus on the welcoming of the newborn into both the family and often wider network of friends and community. The same kinds of promises of guidance and support are made by family and friends but the emphasis on a ‘God fearing’ duty has been removed.

In modern times these welcome ceremonies are performed within months of the new arrival however the ancient ceremonies which many Pagans like to cite as the origin of suggested ceremonies were more often carried out as children reached their third or fourth year. This is the point in life when a child had proved it was likely to survive and be able to offer something to society. Many modern pagans are uncomfortable with this seemingly mercenary attitude but in a time when infant mortality rates were high and the demands of life and society great such timings are understandable.

As a result most naming ceremonies are carried out in accordance with the prevailing Christian time scale of within a few months of birth. The necessity to baptise within the first minutes and hours of birth to avoid original sin is long since past and to retain this early welcome is more in keeping with social norms.

Organising a Ceremony

There are many naming ceremonies published in books and on website and it can appear that they differ wildly from one another. One reason for this is that many ceremonies are written to fit a particular tradition or understanding of Paganism. The underlying format of the ceremony is so simple that they can be adapted to suit the family needs. It is not unusual for a nuclear pagan family to have extended family members who are not pagan and the benefit of the naming ceremony is that it can be made ‘Pagan Lite’ by using the Humanist Ceremony and adding appropriate readings and invocations if / where appropriate.

There are people who, for a fee, will carry out a naming ceremony on your behalf. Often they will be willing to working with the family to build a ritual according to their needs however some may wish to limit themselves to their own traditions.

Given that there are no universally recognised officiating Pagan bodies those unable to find, or afford for someone to officiate on their behalf in an official capacity can always ask a trusted friend to officiate for them. Equally, there is nothing to stop the parents carrying out the ritual themselves, although the tone pf the ceremony may need to be carefully managed.

Themes to Consider

When constructing a naming ceremony there are a number of elements which can be included in addition to the central reason for the event, the presentation and naming of the child.

  • Consider statements on the following subjects
  • Responsibilities of parent towards child
  • Responsibilities of wider family towards child
  • Responsibilities of sponsors towards child
  • Nature of guidance in respect of nature
  • Nature of guidance in respect of wider society
  • Nature of guidance in respect of deities (if appropriate)

These may be made organised as statement and response, or repeat after me statements and pendants by the official or participants.

In Set Up

It isn’t necessary to cast a fully and ceremonial circle, or indeed possible or reasonable in all circumstances. That being said the symbolism of the circle is highly appropriate and where possible attendees should invited to stand in a circle or semi circle around the central participants.

Given that a wide range of people may be attending the ceremony it is advisable to keep ritual elements as few and/or as simple as possible. If casting a circle keep summoning simple and general. If invoking deity don’t get too in depth about their attributes, particularly if they are prone to be misunderstood by those lacking familiarity.

Ideas for Gifts

Living in a materialistic culture we tend to find new born are inundated with stuff. Toys, cloths, equipment; the chances of getting something in triplicate are high. When I was planning our naming ceremony we were given two suggestions for gift giving ideas, both of which fit into the concept of blessing a new arrival.

Blessing Boxes

Invite family to buy a gift for the child to receive in the future, say when they are 16 / 18. The gift should represent a wish that the giver has for the child. I invited people to write a little message on a tag which was then attached to the gift so that in years to come the intention, and giver,  were identifiable. Some of the suggestions may be

  • Animals ornaments with totem associations
  • Coloured candles
  • Crystals with meanings

After the ceremony the items and tags are placed in a box. There is no ceremony but at a later date it will be a fun family exercises to open it up and review with your grown child the gifts, the givers and all the thoughts and memories that go with them.

You don’t have to leave them alone for ever more. I have added items to the girls boxes over time, particularly as relatives have passed. Memories of milestones and activities are also things I have added, making the box as much about memories as blessings

Wish Trees

This option is really one for those with a little more space and requires the purchase of a tree sapling. The sapling, which represents the child and their future growth, should form a central part of the ritual and attendees invited to write down wishes and blessings for the child and to tie them to a tree.

After the ceremony  (and writing down who wished what for posterity) bury the wishes amongst the roots of the tree so they may nourish the seedling as it grows. So too, sympathetically at least, the child will be nourished.

Those that I am aware of having done this have invited those wishing to give to the child to gift the cash equivalent which has then been uses to start savings accounts for the child’s future.

Coming of Age

Coming of age ceremonies based on biological development are something society has has a fluctuating relationship with. Historically, and what is now called the Middle East, such times were important in marking when a child became ready to take on more adult responsibilities within their society.

Female

Female coming of age ceremonies are inextricably linked to the ability to reproduce. Those first, bright signs of fertility signal that a girl has become a young woman and is ready to take on fuller responsibility within the community. In times past these were not just relating to domestic roles but those of motherhood as well.

Male

In contracts, coming of age ceremonies for young males ceremonies were more often based on age, or the achievement of certain feats and social goals. Although physical maturation and development of adult characteristics may have played a part in timing they were not as significant with comparable female events in terms of significance.  

The form these ceremonies took would be dependant on the society and the particular skills or characteristics held desirable in the male population. Any even would have been designed to highlight the desirable characteristics of that society either through deed or instruction.

Modern Equivalents

In recent decades and in particular within spiritual circles, that has been an increase in the observing of female coming of age ceremonies. So called Red Tent rituals or Menses celebrations are used to celebrate feminine maturation and coming of age. These celebrations focus on the feminine identity and role of women as bringers of life and fertility. The appearance of the menses is is a key on dictionary that a your woman is biologically capable of bringing life into the world, if not physically so.

There are a number of issues that arise from this revival of observation. Firstly, in a modern western society girls can begin their menses as young as 9 and 10 years old as a result of the improvements in diet and health care. Historically, such ages ranges would have been unusual, even amongst the higher classes. Even today, these tender ages are hardly classified as being ‘mature’  and the concept of coming of age at this point seems somewhat premature.

Secondly, not everyone agrees that the revival of such practices are a positive step. Red Tents were, originally, a form of social exclusion of women who were experiencing their menstrual cycle based on the believe that women were made impure by this natural process. The issue of social exclusion, lack of access to feminine products and even healthcare because of these antiquated believes is still very real issues in this day and age, particularly in third world countries. Whilst many who recreate Red Tent and similar rituals do so from a standpoint of reclaiming femininity not all agree that it is a universally positive process.

Next is the tonality that is associated with some Red Tent movements. Take this as an example. Presumptive? Definitely. Creepy? Pretty much. It is hardly a good advert for the Red Tent movement but even step back the movement encourages some unhelpful and hazardous (biologically anyway) practices, such as free bleeding in an attempt to reject the patriarchy.

Finally, many feel that such biologically driven ceremonies exclude too many people from participating. In addition to excluding transgender children it is important to note that not every young woman will experience a menstrual cycle for a whole host of medical reasons.

For these reasons, and others which I am struggling to articulate, I won’t be recommending this kind of ritual. Instead, I belief that such coming of age ceremonies should be based on age in relation to societal role and responsibility.

The obvious age to go with is sixteen. Generally this is considered the point of social maturation it is at this age a young person can leave compulsory education and get a job should they wish to. Although the really juicy possibilities like voting,  buying alcohol or becoming totally emancipated from adult guardians will not occur until the age of 18; at 16 the responsibilities of adulthood coming creeping into their awareness.

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Suggested Celebrations

I have not reached this stage with my children and the subject is such a minefield that I am hesitant to direct people to online resources.

Personally I would like to arrange a good old knees up, tied into the 16th or 18th birthday, and invite friends and family. Ultimately this would be something that the children would have to decide on. They may not be interested in a pagan path in years to come and as it has never been my intent to force my path on them. It might just be a birthday party but they may wish to have something more ritual in nature as well. In my mind this would be something very similar to the blessing ceremony we had previously, with a small ritual content which called on the ‘powers’ to witness the event. Given that 15-16 years is a long time I would also want to work in an ancestors element, calling on departed loved ones to witness the occasion and guide the maturing child in the years to come. In concept I also like the idea that the parents would be adjusting the promises made at the naming ceremony to reflect the increased maturity of the child. This should both confirm the child is moving towards adulthood and ready to assume greater responsibilities but reaffirm that the parents will always be there to guide them.

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