Monday, April 7, 2014

Memo from the Black Brotherhood #4

“The unjustly injured are not benefited if the same injury is inflicted on the aggressor: punishment should not only be corrective but compensatory to the victim. This does not preclude other kinds of deterrents if necessary.
If you must murder, seek the murderers; meet evil with evil, even unto yourself.”
- Austin Osman Spare, The Logomachy of Zos.
And what should we do about predators loping about about in our midst?

Here are the Basalt Tower of Chorazin, we've always been of the mind that it is your personal responsibility to ensure the safety of your family, and fellow practitioners as well.

Rapists, pedophiles, and other such predators should not be tolerated. And should it be discovered that they have harmed those you love, they should be put to the (perhaps proverbial) sword.

Cursed until the Law catches up: forced into an infinite spotlight which refuses to allow them to hide or cloak their actions in any way. Bound into silence and forced apart from the community they have taken advantage of until their dues have paid, and perhaps still viewed askance long after.

We are, after all, perfectly comfortable with the malefic aspects of magic. Are not such times the very reason we have such terrible tools in our toolbox?

We strongly suspect that the answer is obvious, and that attempting to blame the victims or pretend that some celebrity is a “good guy” after inflicting harm on another (often while insisting that “no one would ever do that!” – we have heard that argument many, many times before) is far worse than the most abominable black magic one might ever decide to practice... Unless, of course, said “black magic” involves inflicting such harm simply because one can. Many of us will never understand the latter standpoint, aside from when it is spouted by those who have confused “mastery of the self” with “mastery of the world.”

Isn't this all about power, and aren't you arguing a point based on taking power?”

We have always held the outlook that the profoundly disempowered should first work on their own mind (“your mind is a Fortress of Solitude, and you are totally Superman/Woman/Other”), and then they should take power back for themselves. And that to deny that right to take power back for themselves, even if it is only within the mind of the practitioner, is a rather horrible assertion... And one which benefits those who harm far more than those who have been harmed.

We have often asserted that those who can gain the most from our practices are those who have been disempowered at some point in their lives and refuse to allow this situation to return. No spirit, no other person, can give this to you. You must feel secure in yourself to take the step, and then you must take that step. And you must always remain aware that there is something you can do.

Again and again the question arises:
Aren't you arguing that we should 'control' situations?”

We do not assert that any such ability to control exists in any situation. Rather, you are always capable of influencing that situation for better or worse. The problem remains that once you have influenced a situation, you are responsible for that influence and what comes about. But that does not change our outlook on this matter.

Power is both a personal and collective matter, and influence is transient. It can be used for corrupt reasons, or to bring about a swift resolution in relatively terrible matters that we would not wish upon our worst enemies.

As in all things, balance does matter.

Nonetheless, what lies at the core is the resolve to act... or not act. As in all things, such decisions are situational and lie with the individual or the community.

There remain a great many who, incapable of looking into the eye of the storm and seeing what is happening around them, will attempt to insist on reasons not to act. Occasionally, they are wise in this regard... But typically they are simply giving power to those who have clearly chosen to use it for harmful reasons. That is a matter of the blind leading the blind.

We see no reason to join them in sailing on their Ship o' Fools. We rather suspect that it will sink, shortly, drowning all those who have failed to apply empathy to survivors... And have instead chosen to give it to their favorite celebrities. We name them “Abomination” and wash our hands of them.

Finally, we would also add that an appropriate influence that one can always choose to unleash is to aid those who have survived the harmful events they find themselves mired in so that they might find the solace of friends, and the conditions necessary to heal terrible wounds. Even if one chooses not to put predators to the sword, there is always an action to take on behalf of those who have been harmed.

We see no reason as to why so many have failed in this regard. And we, the loathed Brotherhood of Darkness, cannot possibly comprehend the “side” some have chosen to take.

In Mars and Saturn we place our trust,
Jack Faust.
Chief of Public Relations for the Black Brotherhood.
The Basalt Tower of Chorazin, upon the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

[EDIT: Due to backchatter, I will clarify this post. I'm honestly not a member of the "Black Brotherhood," but many years ago was accused of it... A lot, actually. As such I began writing tongue-in-cheek posts under the "memos" moniker while arguing that one meditate, practice theurgy, etc. This time, I decided to be a lot more serious... Because certain topics and individuals have made me literally feel ill on this matter. I felt that given my rather malefic stance on the matter, it was deserving of a "memo" post. But it's still a struggle to write this crap without flipping my shit and screaming "DESTROY THE INFIDELS!!!" ... so the post is admittedly choppy.]

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Furious Host

Herakleitos, Fragments 76-77 (535-475 BCE)
… they roam together – the night-walkers, the magicians, the Bakchai, the Lenai, the participants in mysteries full of unholy rites. Their processions and phallic hymns would be disgraceful exhibitions if it wasn’t for the fact that they are done in honor of Dionysos – that Dionysos who is the same as Haides; it is in his honor that they rave madly and hold their revels.

Proklos’ Commentary on Timaios 3.262f (412-485 CE)
For about the god there are more partial gods; daimones proceeding together with or being the guards and attendants of the god; and the elevated and magnificent army of heroes, repressing in advance all the disorder arising from matter.
Luís Vaz de Camões, Os Lusíadas Book Eight (1524-1580 CE)
So, lower’d the night, the sullen howl the same,
And, ’mid the black-wing’d gloom, stern Bacchus came;
The form, and garb of Hagar’s son he took,
The ghost-like aspect, and the threat’ning look.

Via Sannion's new project.

Fuck, man. You have no idea how much I began cheering at that page.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Astrological Magic & Chaotes

 Recently, Gordon over at Rune Soup interviewed Jake Stratton-Kent. During the interview, you can hear Jake discuss Pete Carroll's dismissal of astrological magic and how silly he thought this was.

What was relatively unamusing is that not long after that, I came across someone playing their "I'm a superior magician" card by bringing up Carroll's dismissal of astrological magic. That's not entirely unexpected; I've spent more than enough time hanging out with American Chaos Magicians to know that Carroll's ideas are fetishized and occasionally taken gospel.

That said, Carroll's outlook is hardly the only one to emerge from Chaos Magic circles. Another Chaote worthy of note - and who has been involved in forms of astrological magic for quite some time - is Fr. U.D.

U.D.'s High Magic series certainly has astrological magic as part of the work presented. This is relatively unsurprising, since by his own admission he was at one time a member of the Fraternitas Saturnai. Indeed, Saturn cycles are even discussed in the aforementioned works by U.D.

More recently, Jason Miller put out Advanced Planetary Magic. (You can see my review here), complete with 'sorcerous' planetary seals, and a number of other items which are well worth messing around with.

The short version of what I'm saying is this: just because one of the Chaote founders was prototypically dismissive of certain practices does not mean that the rest of us have to be, nor does his viewpoint encompass the totality of thought on such matters in Chaote circles.

At present, my Saturni-Lunar Gossip Trap remains one of the most well-liked and re-linked entries. Which I certainly would not expect if everyone simply mindlessly agreed with Carroll on everything he wrote.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Noobsauce Unlimited

“Χαῖρε Διόνυσος θυρεπανοίκτης.”
(“[...] which means 'Joyous greetings, Dionysos, Opener of the Door!'” - Sannion.)

Cleanup by the wonderful VVF.

Monday, January 13, 2014

1874: Black Rosicrucians, Officiating Ladies, & Magic Mirrors*

 “When he talks of initiations, ‘officiating girls’ and ‘strange oaths,’ we may infer that he held meetings of some kind, but I have failed to obtain particulars.”
- Arthur Edward Waite, On Paschal Beverly Randolph's Rosicrucian Rooms.

“I studied Rosicrucianism, and found it suggestive, and loved its mysticism. So I called myself The Rosicrucian, and gave my thought to the world as Rosicrucian thought…

Nearly all that I have given as Rosicrucianism originated in my soul; and scarce a single thought, only suggestions, have I borrowed from those who, in ages past, called themselves by that name – one which served me well as a vehicle wherein to take my mental treasures to a market, which gladly opened its doors to that name, but would, and did, slam its portals in the face of the tawny student of Esoterics.”
– Paschal Beverly Randolph, Eulis! The History of Love. (1896 Edition; P. 47.)
“One night – it was in far-off Jerusalem or Bethlehem, I really forget which – I made love to, and was loved by, a dusky maiden of Arabic blood. I of her, and that experienced, learned – not directly, but by suggestion – the fundamental principle of the White Magic of Love; subsequently I became affiliated with some dervishes and fakirs of whom, but suggestion still, I found the road to other knowledges; and of these devout practitioners of a simple, but sublime and holy magic, I obtained additional clues – little threads of suggestion, which, being persistently followed, led my soul into labyrinths of knowledge themselves did even suspect the existence of. I became practically, what I was naturally – a mystic, and in the time chief of the lofty brethren; taking clues left by the masters, and pursuing them farther than they had even been before; actually discovering the ELIXIR OF LIFE; the universal solvent or Alkahest; the water of beauty and perpetual youth, and the philosopher’s stone…”
- Paschal Beverly Randolph, Eulis! The History of Love. (1896 Edition; P. 48.)
A couple of years ago, I compiled a short list of Paschal Beverly Randolph's works together in an entry titled similarly to this one. It also, however, contained a long-winded and largely unnecessary rant about Blavatsky and the notions regarding “black magicians” she and the Theosophists (as well as a few other Victorian occult authors) have contributed to. When I decided to recompile links to Randolph's works, I felt it was necessary to also dissect my complaints from the materials themselves. Even if my opinion regarding such matters is correct, no justice is done to the man's work by including links to it beside an easily misunderstood rant. As such, that entry has been booted back into a 'draft' format, and this one exists to replace it as well as rectify my previous failings.

My interest in Randolph and his work was first sparked by John Michael Greer, who corrected my misguided notions regarding Aleister Crowley being the innovator of sexual techniques and magick. He quite correctly pointed out that P.B. Randolph's work predated Crowley, and went on to extol the many virtues of America's “Rosicrucian.” The information sat in the back of my mind until – while creating my own Fluid Condenser recipes and attempting to figure out what the Hell I was doing – I was finally forced to look into Randolph's work. Subsequently, I found that I quite enjoyed what I was seeing and a few years later, my intent to study Randolph and his work remains as firm as ever.

It also helps that most of his work is available as public domain works, which also negates most concerns regarding piracy when it comes to the books. At the same time, it can also be quite dated, and some of his language is archaic. There are still a few volumes I'm looking to get my hands on, but this compilation of documents should give those interested plenty to experiment with or simply take a look at.**

Not included is: Paschal Beverly Randolph: A Nineteenth Century Black American Spiritualist, Rosicrucian, and Sex Magician by John Patrick Deveney – but is probably the best documentation of Paschal Beverly Randolph's life and thoughts available to the public. My copy is through Google books, and was purchased as a digital edition for around $15 – $20.

In the event I come across those books that have escaped my Sigilized “nets,” I will be sure to include them in updates to this entry in the future. Initially, I planned to upload some of the harder to find works to Mega to avoid the ephemeral nature of the 'net – however, it looks like most of them are now available on, thus making that action unnecessary. Should that change, let me know and I'll upload them to my cloud storage and add links.

Paschal's Magical Literature:

Seership! The Magnetic Mirror: Archive.orgGoogle Books.
Contains some of Randolph's thoughts on magic mirrors, clairvoyance, & etc.

Eulis! The History of Love: Archive.orgGoogle Books.
Contains Randolph's thoughts on sexual theurgy, as well as some of the key autobiographical details that Deveney fleshes out his wonderful book. It also includes his disclaimers regarding his own brand of Rosicrucianism.

Sexual Magic (Robert North translation):

Contains Randolph's core techniques (Volantia, Decretism, & Posism), as well as his instructions on Fluid Condensers, the creation of “magical mirrors” for scrying and evocation, and his thoughts on sexual magic. My understanding is that North's translation of the text has been surpassed by the recent re-translation by Donald Traxler – which expands on which areas of the text are contributions by of Maria de Naglowska, who had the French manuscript in her possession. I debated linking this work, but it is among the most useful available to those seeking to understand Randolph at this time. Given that Mr. North passed away several years ago, I don't think linking it is hugely problematic. However, if I discover that this is not the case, I will remove the link. If you want to make sure someone gets due credit and $$$ for their work, buy a copy of Mr. Traxler's translation. 

The Rosicrucian Dream Book:

Contains Randolph's thoughts on dream interpretation, and a rather lengthy list of interpretations regarding symbols in dreams. I laughed
hysterically when I looked up what hashish signified...

The Unveiling: Or, What I Think of Spiritualism: Archive.orgGoogle Books.

Probably the least useful and least “magical” of those linked so far. However, it details Randolph's break with certain factions of the spiritualists, and includes references to the thoughts of certain German Mesmerists that he was influenced by.

The New Mola:

Another of Randolph's works on clairvoyance. Admittedly, I haven't spent as much time with this book as I probably should have. I intend to finish reading it in the next few months.

Other works by Randolph: 

The Wonderful Story of Ravalette: Archive.orgProject Gutenberg.

Tom Clark and His Wife: Archive.orgProject Gutenberg.

Dealings with the Dead:

After Death: Or Disembodiment of Man: Archive.orgGoogle Books.

Some of the above are narrative stories, and fictional, but contain elements of Randolph's magical thought. Dealings with the Dead and After Death both include his descriptions of what the “world's beyond our own” are like, in which he applied his experiences as a trance medium to help aid the fiction. Tom Clark and His Wife has some of my favorite prose that Randolph ever penned, and... I haven't read Ravalette yet.

In addition to the above, he had several “pamphlet” style works that I've yet to discover, but don't feel too terrible about failing to have on hand. In any event, hopefully the blog readers that have put up with me rambling about Randolph over the years will find these works useful.

* In 1874, Randolph re-established his Rosicrucian Order in San Fransisco. It doesn't look like it had a ton of members, but it certainly existed.
** I am still looking for The Book of the Triplicate Order, and The Guide to Clairvoyance. The Guide to Clairvoyance was re-worked by Randolph into Seership!, which is included, but had appended to it a “special paper on the uses of hashish” that I hope to hunt down in the next year.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Death & Supper

Sannion has recently returned to unleashing (barbed) mockery and raising the question of whether one should be concerned about giving Hekate's Deipnon to the poor; there is a trend of bypassing the offering given at the crossroads, and instead directly donating to the meal to the poverty stricken in the name of Hekate.

The question of whether or not this is wise... is actually a rather good one. Dver over at the Forest Door blog is of the opinion that this tendency is wrong:
For years in the modern Hellenic polytheist communities, a misconception has been floating around about the idea of the deipnon having been a roundabout way to feed the poor. This has become so prevalent that many people are now donating to homeless shelters and food banks in lieu of making proper deipna, and that’s something I’d like to see changed. There is only a single passage responsible for this issue, and it comes from a comic play (that should tell you something) by Aristophanes called Plutus. His character says:
“Why you may ask this of Hecate, whether to be rich or hungry be better. For she herself says that those who have and to spare, set out for her a supper once a month, while the poor people plunder it before ’tis well set down: but go hang thyself, and mutter not another syllable; for thou shalt not persuade me, even though thou dost persuade me.”
If you understand the context of this conversation, you will see that Aristophanes is not referencing an acceptable religious practice of helping the unfortunate, but rather mocking the fact that the hungry poor are so desperate that they will even steal food from an ominous goddess like Hekate. (I’ll note that even in more traditional sacrifices where the resulting meal is “shared” between gods and worshippers, there are still parts that are expressly reserved for the gods alone – one would never set those out for Them and then eat the same items without fear of serious consequences.)”
As I also give regular offerings at the crossroads of precisely this sort, I must admit that I agree with Dver generally. However, my outlook is a bit different than the one Sannion is sarcastically presenting. Over the years I've gotten to know individuals who give to the needy in precisely the manner being criticized. I've never felt the need to correct them because – while I am of the opinion that we are not performing the same act – I do not think their actions are necessarily offensive to either the spirits of the dead, nor the Goddess Hekate.

In Restless Dead, Sarah Iles Johnston establishes the context of the Deipnon beyond rites involving Hekate (Chapter 2, “To Honor and Avert: Rituals Addressed to the Dead”). She first addresses the Deipnon in the context of Funerary Rites (p. 40 – 43):
“Offerings were made at the grave at the time of the funeral. These always included choai, libations made of honey, milk, water, wine, or oil mixed in varying amounts. There was also a “supper” (deipnon or dais) of various foods; the dead who partook of these sometimes were described as eudeipnoi, which we best can translate, perhaps, as “those who are content with their meal.” The word, a euphemism, seems to reflect the hope that, once nourished, the dead would realize that they had nothing to complain about. There is some evidence that water was also given to the dead person so that he could wash, just a host would give a living guest water in which to wash before a meal. Offerings to the dead might also include jewelry, flowers, and small objects used in everyday life such as swords, strigils, toys, and mirrors (although gifts, like lamentation, were sometimes restricted by funerary laws). It is hard to avoid the conclusion that these gifts were expected to be useful in the afterlife, particularly when ghost stories tell of the dead demanding objects that were forgotten or omitted at the time of burial.” (P. 42)
But then again, individuals who had been given proper funeral rites were not as likely to become 'Restless' and act upon the living. The deipnon given at the crossroads during the dark moon phase in honor of Hekate was a means of averting the attention of the Restless Dead. One of the ways by which one could end up in this situation was to not have proper funerary rites. Other ways involved failing to be finished with one's life: violently dying – leading to one entering existence as a Biaiothanatos Daimon (“Violent Death Spirit”), or dying during childbirth (generating what S.I. Johnston refers to as an “Aorai”), or dying as a child, or dying before one married. While distinct, all of these spirits were seen as restless and a plague amongst the living. Daniel Ogden, in Greek and Roman Necromancy, notes that some suicides were noted as such on their grave markers. These were warnings so that one would not end up acting cheerfully next to them, thus angering the spirit and bringing their wrath upon one's person.

Hekate can be seen as ruling all these spirits. The
Aorai have a rather natural sympathy with other spirits she travels with, such as the Lamia and the Mormo. There are PGM spells which explicitly utilize the Holy Names of Hekate to compel Biaiothanatos daimons (typically for “compulsive love-curses” – in this regard the Mistress of the Netherworld was also considered the Demon of Love-Madness by late antiquity). And she is referred to as surrounded by these ghosts in her Orphic hymn.

In Dver's entry, there is the apt reference to Aristophanes' Plutus. The mockery of the hungry and destitute, and their willingness to risk Hekate's wrath for a meal is... Well, I cannot help but contemplate that those enduring starvation will pretty much eat anything. I also found it interesting that the character declares one should go hang thyself in response to the matter discussed. Given that this is a rather precise way to end up amongst the dead who are Unquiet, I wonder if there isn't a double-joke going on.

For example:
- The poor – particularly the homeless – were less likely than those of other classes to have proper funerary arrangements made for them. In fact, one might argue that the homeless are amongst those most predisposed to ending up in the ghastly condition of restlessness after death.
- The homeless already live amongst the restless dead, side-by-side. While I won't argue that California is even remotely similar to areas of Greece in antiquity, I have personally observed the homeless in my city sleeping just outside – and if it is raining, occasionally inside – local cemeteries.

As I noted in my comment on one of Sannion's entries, I see the sympathy of the street reflected in both. And given that some of those being given meals by well meaning pagans may very well end up amongst the tides of spirits Governed by Hekate after death, I have a hard time feeling inclined to indicate that they stop.

For me, the question of whether the practice is questionable or not comes down to how the meal is consecrated, and how it is given. It becomes questionable when you a preparing one of
Hekate's Suppers to deal with and attract a spirit of the restless dead and explicitly pay homage to Dread Triformis so that she takes that spirit into her Horde after the delivery of the meal to the crossroads. On the other hand, if that is not the what the individual is doing, then they are giving a meal in the name of Hekate. They may be inaccurately describing their offering as something else, but that doesn't make it less meaningful, or more dangerous. It may be ahistorical, but there's still plenty of good reasons to do it. One of them means that sinister Goetes have fewer spirits to deal with (or compel to ruin your life).

The question of whether or not the meal can be used to honor only Hekate is another matter; the historians I've consulted on this matter seem to indicate that wasn't the point of the
Supper, but I again don't feel the need to tell people to stop. My personal divination on the matter has indicated that it is a good practice. (I try to give to both, along with cleansing routines.) 

I must admit to being somewhat disappointed by those who work with Hekate and ignore the way the dead play into one's work with her. After all, if we were to start acknowledging the ghosts that can become part of her Horde, we might have to honor them properly and seek to give them an end to their suffering.

 Which, funny enough, is also the goal of providing offerings to the needy in the name of a Goddess they might come to know. I don't know. I guess I'm just never comfortable with any side of the conversation. I see the merits in multiple viewpoints, as well as (what I perceive as) downsides in multiple aspects of such a discourse.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

PGM VII. 505-28

Meeting with your own Daimon:

“Hail, Tyche, and you, the daimon of this place, and you, the present hour, and you, the present day – and every day as well. Hail, Universe, that is, earth and heaven. Hail, Helios, for you are the one who has established yourself in invisible light over the holy firmament / ORKORĒTHARA.”

You are the father of the reborn Aion ZARACHTHŌ; you are the father of awful Nature Thortchophanō; you who are the one who has in yourself the mixture of universal nature and who begot the five wandering stars, which are the entrails of heaven, the guts of earth, the fountainhead of the waters, and the violence of the fire AZAMACHAR ANAPHANDAŌ EREYA ANEREYA PHENPHENSŌ IGRAA; you are the youthful one, highborn, scion of the holy temple, kinsman to the holy mere called Abyss which is located beside two pedestals SKIATHI and MANTŌ. And the earth's 4 basements were shaken, O master of all, holy Scarab AŌ SATHREN ABRASAX IAŌAI AEŌ ĒŌA ŌAĒ IAO EY AĒ EY IE IAŌAI.”

Write the name in myrrh ink on two male eggs. You are to cleanse yourself thoroughly with one, then lick off the name, break it, and throw it away. Hold the other in your partially open right hand and show it to the sun at down and [...]* olive branches; raise your right hand, supporting the elbow with your left hand. Then speak the formula 7 times, crack the egg open, and swallow its contents.

Do this for 7 days, and recite the formula at sunset as well as sunrise.
- Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. (P. 131 – 132.)
This one caught my eye due to its relative simplicity; similar rituals in the PGM are more complicated, such as the first one (PGM I. 1 - 42), where one prepares an entire meal to be shared with the Daimon, shaves off all their hair (see G&J on this ritual act), along with a slew of other preparatory items.  Also interesting is that you salute Tyche (Fortune) first, and the praises to Aion (Deified Time, master of the revolutions of the stars). In other PGM spells and rituals, Tyche and the Agathos Daimon (Good Daimon), along with Aion, are praised together:
“Give me all favor, all success, for the angel bringing good, who stands beside [the goddess] Tyche, is with you. Accordingly, give profit [and] success to this house. Please, Aion, ruler of hope, giver of wealth, O holy Agathos Daimon, bring to fulfillment favors and / your divine oracles.” (PGM IV. 3125 – 7)
Typically this dispensation of fortune (wealth and health, if you will) can be seen as falling under the jurisdiction of a High God, such as Zeus:
“And so accept everything which happens, even if it seem disagreeable, because it leads to this, to the health of the universe and to the prosperity and felicity of Zeus (the universe). For he would not have brought on any man what he has brought, if it were not useful for the whole. Neither does the nature of anything, whatever it may be, cause anything which is not suitable to that which is directed by it. For two reasons then it is right to be content with that which happens to thee; the one, because it was done for thee and prescribed for thee, and in a manner had reference to thee, originally from the most ancient causes spun with thy destiny; and the other, because even that which comes severally to every man is to the power which administers the universe a cause of felicity and perfection, nay even of its very continuance.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book Five).
 A similar sense is found in the Orphic hymn to the Daimon:
“Thee, mighty-ruling, Dæmon dread, I call, mild Jove [Zeus], life-giving, and the source of all:
Great Jove [Zeus], much-wand'ring, terrible and strong, to whom revenge and tortures dire belong.
Mankind from thee, in plenteous wealth abound, when in their dwellings joyful thou art found;
Or pass thro' life afflicted and distress'd, the needful means of bliss by thee supprest.*

'Tis thine alone endu'd with boundless might, to keep the keys of sorrow and delight.
O holy, blessed father, hear my pray'r, disperse the seeds of life-consuming care;
With fav'ring mind the sacred rites attend, and grant my days a glorious, blessed end.
- Orphic Hymn to the Daemon (Taylor translation).
True, the Fates 'weave' destiny (or at least follow it's thread), but the ultimate authority for dispensing with Fortune is the 'Ruler,' if you will. As such identifying the Daemon with Zeus seems appropriate... Incidentally, Marcus Aurelius also makes a stray comment in the fifth book of Meditations that caught my eye:
Live with the gods. And he does live with the gods who constantly shows to them, his own soul is satisfied with that which is assigned to him, and that it does all that the daemon wishes, which Zeus hath given to every man for his guardian and guide, a portion of himself.* And this is every man’s understanding and reason.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book Five).
Perhaps Yeats was not so wrong when he wrote in Per Amica Silentia Lunae:
I think that all religious men have believed that there is a hand not ours in the events of life, and that, as somebody says in Wilhelm Meister, accident is destiny; and I think it was Heraclitus who said: the Daemon is our destiny. When I think of life as a struggle with the Daemon who would ever set us to the hardest work among those not impossible, I understand why there is a deep enmity between a man and his destiny, and why a man loves nothing but his destiny. In an Anglo-Saxon poem a certain man is called, as though to call him something that summed up all heroism, “Doom eager.” I am persuaded that the Daemon delivers and deceives us, and that he wove that netting from the stars and threw the net from his shoulder.*”
And yes, I've been musing on this all week... As well as the identification of the Genius through one's astrological chart, as per Agrippa.

* Italix mine.

[EDIT]: I won't lie. I thought it would be rather hilarious to transpose Marcus Aurelius and the practices of abominable sorcerers side-by-side.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

1400 – 1780 CE: Adventures in the Otherworld, Part One.

“Still, it can hardly be denied that Ginzburg was onto something. The specific scheme he reconstructed, the journey to the realm of the dead, may have relied on suspect and arbitrary connections across cultures and across millennia. But other scholars, more cautious, are finding material of value in this type of evidence. Deep folkloric beliefs or mythic structures mattered to the way in which the common folk conceptualised witchcraft. There is no need to emulate Ginzburg’s plunge into the archaic past; early modern evidence exists and calls for explanation. What it indicates is that people had relationships with other worlds and other beings that did not necessarily derive from orthodox Christianity. This is inherently probable.

And if so, it is probable for Scotland. Scottish peasants were not provincial; they had a cosmopolitan culture, fully accessible to this deep folkloric material. Orpheus was important to Ginzburg, and Scottish peasants sang Orpheus ballads – in a distinct version in which Eurydice was carried off by
fairies, and Orpheus rescued her successfully...”
— Julian Goodare,
Scottish Witchcraft in its European Context. (From Witchcraft and Belief in Early Modern Scotland, edited by Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin and Joyce Miller. P. 31)
Behind the Madness

This series of blog entries – which may very well take a few months to finish – is about fairies, devils and demons, and witches and magicians between the late medieval period and the early modern period. It is also about the blurred understanding regarding the nature of these spirits that took place as various factions destroyed the traditional groundwork and understanding of such subjects and became increasingly intolerant of both each other and the interlopers that they found in their midst and quite often subsequently put to death.

This series will act to set-up what comments I eventually will have on “
Pacts with the Devil” – by establishing a context for the popular outlook on such practices – as well as several other subjects that tie in to the over-arching themes established within this context. Appearing as “companion” entries of a sort to the series will be a few blog entries entitled “Treasure Magic Errata Trivia,” which will focus less on spirits and practitioners and more on other subjects (like the Hazel wand and its affinity with the Dowsing Rod).

Additionally, these entries will also include a hefty focus on folktales, ballads, and medieval romances which provided aspects of cultural understanding that fueled practitioners of popular magic as well as Elite” or learned practitioners. For the most part, these will be contrasted with witchcraft trials with
one exception: this entry. I greatly enjoyed reading the Ballad of King Orfeo recently, but have no awareness of popular magical practitioners using it to fuel their own practice. It is quite possible that I will later come across such information, but at present I simply like the ballad and so it will form the end of this entry.

Fairies, Devils, Angels & Ghosts
The Fairy Queen by Marjorie Cameron.
“The grass-roots association between fairies and the Devil was also, from a Christian perspective, rather ambiguous. In orthodox theological terms the name 'devil' denoted a purely malevolent spirit who was either the Devil himself or a demon in his service. On a popular level, however, the term was less morally specific. In 1677 a Scottish clergmany refers to a type of fairy familiar whom 'the vulgar call white deviles, which possibly have neither so much power nor malice as the black ones have, which served our great grandfathers under the names of Brouny, and Robin Goodfellow, and, to this day, make dayly service to severals in quality of familiars.'” (P. 17)

“Some contemporary descriptions of fairy familiars make them sound stereotypically demonic. Kirk claimed that 'they are ever readiest to go on hurtfull earands, but seldom will be Messengers of great good to men' and Robert Burton that 'Terrestrial devils are those Lares, Genii, Faunes, Satyrs, Wood-nymphs, Foliots, Fairies, Robin Goodfellowes, Trolli, &c. which as they are most conversant with men, so they do them most harm.'” (P. 76)
- Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits.

The situation in Europe leading up to the Protestant Reformation, and directly preceding it, involved intense distrust of any spirits which could not be proven to be angelic in nature. While the antique inheritance of Europe prior to these periods of time involved any number and division of spirits – ranging from the Nymphs, Gods, and ghosts – the Elite authorities of Europe began formulating purely “demonic” outlooks with regards to these subjects, and lumping together spirits that in antiquity would have been seen as “benign” with the “demons” of Christian theology and found within the Bible. This motivation was increased as the Crusades brought magical texts back to Europe, and the formulation of magical practices caught the attention and imagination of the European elite.

As early as the 13th century, but especially in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Inquisition began encountering heretics in their own midst who were engaging in magical practices that they did not approve of. Following the onset of the Protestant Reformation, these tensions only increased. The Protestant reformers drew off the texts and outlooks formulated by the Catholic Elite authorities such as Nider, Sprenger and Kramer, while also promoting their own unique views which retrofitted Catholic theological perspectives in to an explicitly demonic format. “Popish blasphemies” were of great concern to such individuals as King James (known both as King James the Fourth in Scotland, and after his ascenion to the thrones of England and Scotland as James the First), as were the spirits that populated the Orthodox Catholic world. This allowed both factions to declare either side “witches” or “heretics” and put them to death.

It also, one should note, had a hefty impact on both popular culture and popular magical practices. In his excellent paper entitled
From Sorcery to Witchcraft, Michael D. Bailey outlines how the Inquisition began to widen their search for heretics, they began to encounter practitioners of folk magic who they confused with the Elite practitioners of Necromancy that festered within the Church:
Gui also instructed that suspects should be asked what they might know or may have learned about “thieves to be imprisoned” and about “discovering thefts committed or disclosing secrets.” After healing and warding off disease, the discovery of theft and the subsequent divination of the guilty party, or simply the location of a lost item if no theft was involved, were among the standard uses of common magic. Love magic and spells and charms designed to produce affection (or discord) or to aid in conception were also among the standard elements of the common tradition, and Gui included questions about “concord or discord between husbands and wives; [and] also causing the sterile to conceive.” The evidence that most clearly indicates that the inquisitors and judges for whom Gui was writing were dealing with common sorcery,* however, is the passage referring to the implements and devices by which that magic was worked. Gui instructed that inquisitors should ask about “these things which they [the sorcerers] give to be eaten, hair and nails and certain other things,” and about “making incantations or conjuring through incantations, with fruits and herbs, with girdles and other materials.” Here we see the sort of everyday items typically used in common spells and charms, not the costly rings and polished mirrors of ritual demonic magic that Pope John feared. Only at the end of this section did Gui briefly mention baptized images of wax and images of lead and various other devices, which might seem more the tools of learned necromancers schooled in church ritual.”
Similar outlooks occurred in the British Isles as well, with King James' Demonologie providing theological justifications for the destruction of witches, as well as declaring that certain spirits which had been dealt with on the Isles and commonly believed in to be, themselves, demonic. A prime example of this factor is ghosts, which James took aim at in the second book of Demonologie:

Epistemon: […] This we finde by experience in this Ile to be true. For as we know, moe Ghostes and spirites were seene, nor tongue can tell, in the time of blinde Papistrie in these Countries, where now by the contrarie, a man shall scarcely all his time here once of such things. And yet were these vnlawfull artes farre rarer at that time: and neuer were so much harde of, nor so rife as they are now.”

“What should be the cause of that?”

“The diuerse nature of our sinnes procures at the Iustice of God, diuerse sortes of punishments answering thereunto. And therefore as in the time of Papistrie, our fathers erring grosselie, & through ignorance, that mist of errours ouershaddowed the Deuill to walke the more familiarlie amongst them: And as it were by barnelie and affraying terroures, to mocke and accuse their barnelie erroures. By the contrarie, we now being sounde of Religion, and in our life rebelling to our profession, God iustlie by that sinne of rebellion, as Samuel calleth it, accuseth our life so wilfullie fighting against our profession.”

Philomathes:Since yee are entred now to speake of the appearing of spirites: I would be glad to heare your opinion in that matter. For manie denies that anie such spirites can appeare in these daies as I haue said.”

Epistemon: Doubtleslie who denyeth the power of the Deuill, woulde likewise denie the power of God, if they could for shame. For since the Deuill is the verie contrarie opposite to God, there can be no better way to know God, then by the contrarie; as by the ones power (though a creature) to admire the power of the great Creator: by the falshood of the one to considder the trueth of the other, by the injustice of the one, to considder the Iustice of the other: And by the cruelty of the one, to considder the mercifulnesse of the other: And so foorth in all the rest of the essence of God, and qualities of the Deuill. But I feare indeede, there be ouer many Sadduces in this worlde, that denies all kindes of spirites: For convicting of whose errour, there is cause inough if there were no more, that God should permit at sometimes spirits visiblie to kyith.”

Here we see the formation of an Elite theory with ramifications that extended well into the English and Scottish witch trials: even if one thought they were encountering the ghost of a dead man, a fairy, or most other “visible spirits” (including, in some cases, angels!), they were being deceived by the power of the devil. Furthermore, even if they thought that they were conjuring a spirit by the Power of the Almighty, they were still being played with by the Devil and were thus suspect as heretics.

This put the Elite who sought out witches at odd with local practitioners, because it created a new justification for the destruction of those who didn't fit within the narrow parameters Protestant faith within the British Isles. Belief in all manner of spirits was caused by the “errors of the Catholics,” which allowed the devil and demons to adopt the guise of many other spirits, and thus lead mankind astray. (This, by the way, is what I mean when I suggest that on the whole the witch-trials represent a conflict between opposing factions following the Reformation.) There is a bit of humor in this outlook, as the spirits occasionally dealt with by accused witches – such Bessie Dunlop's ghostly fairly familiar Tom Reid – seemed to prefer that Catholicism, with its worldview rife with Saints, the ghosts of unbaptised children, and its many Angels out to come back:
16. [Being] asked what she thought of the new law [the Reformed Religion] , [she] answered that she had spoken with Tom bout that matter but Tom [had] answered that this new law was not good and that the old faith should come home again but not such as it was before. [Being] asked if ever she had been in [a] suspect place with Tom, or had carnal dealings with him, [she] declared - not upon her salvation and condemnation, but [that] once he took her by the apron and would have had her go with him to Elfame.”
- Edinbough Assize records regarding the Trial of Bessie Dunlop. (From Emma Wilby's Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, P. viii.)

In part, some of the trials in the British Isles are rendered obscure by such outlooks; it is unclear, in plenty of cases, what sort've spirit the accused may or may not have been dealing with, even when they admitted or confessed to such relations. The case of Bessie Dunlop is sufficient to express this factor: her “fairy familiar” was the ghost of a man who had died at the Battle of Pinkie, named Tom Reid. Of the errands that Reid requested of Dunlop in the context of their mutual alliance, one was to visit his still living relatives and to deliver a message to them.

As will be seen, this blurring extends far beyond a single trial. The trial of Andrew Man (“Andro Man”) from Aberdeenshire – to be covered in subsequent entries alongside the tales of Thomas the Rhymer – shows similar ambiguity. Man claimed to have become the consort of the Queen of the Elves, and that his master was an “Angel” (occasionally also referred to as “the Devil”) named Christonday, God's Godson. It is interesting to note that the name “Christonday” shows up in another Scottish trial from Aberdeenshire, suggesting that the name may have had local folklore in the area that both “witches” came from. Nonetheless, there is not evidence at present I am aware of to support this suggestion.

That these trials occurred, given the background information supplied earlier, is hardly surprising. It is even less surprising when one takes into account the learned perspective of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, who writes in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy:
There is moreover as hath been above said, a certain kind of spirits not so noxious, but most neer to men, so that they are even affected with humane passions, and many of these delight in mans society, and willingly dwell with them: Some of them dote upon women, some upon children, some are delighted in the company of divers domestick and wild animals, some inhabit Woods and Parks, some dwell about fountains and meadows. So the Fairies, and hobgoblins inhabit Champian fields; the Naiades fountains: the Potamides Rivers; the Nymphs marshes, and ponds: the Oreades mountains; the Humedes Meadows; the Dryades and Hamadryades the Woods, which also Satyrs and Sylvani inhabit, the same also take delight in trees and brakes, as do the Naptæ, and Agaptæ in flowers; the Dodonæ in Acorns; the Paleæ and Feniliæ in fodder and the Country. He therefore that will call upon them, may easily doe it in the places where their abode is, by alluring them with sweet fumes, with pleasant sounds, and by such instruments as are made of the guts of certain animals and peculiar wood, adding songs, verses, inchantments sutable [enchantments suitable] to it, and that which is especially to be observed in this, the singleness of the wit, innocency of the mind, a firm credulity, and constant silence; wherefore they do often meet children, women, and poor and mean men.
With a few notable exceptions – like the trial of accused the “necromancer” and “Satanist” Richard Graham – many of the trials to be discussed in future entries will involve Agrippa's “poor and mean men” (and, of course, women) and the springboard by which they drew inspiration for their own practices.

Orfeo in Scotland: The Orpheus Who Didn't Fail.

As said before, this ballad does not tie in with the above theme terribly well. I am hoping that by drawing attention to it, I shall eventually stumble onto a trial that explicitly involves themes in the Folk Ballad of King Orfeo (whether due to the mention by others, or through sheer “coincidence”).

Regardless, what follows is the Ballad of King Orfeo. It shares a number of similar things with Sir Orfeo, a narrative poem dated between the 13th and 14th centuries. As in Sir Orfeo, Orpheus is actually able to win her back from the King of the Fairies. While the Underworld of classical antiquity could be entered by the still living and heroic if they knew the way, it was normally only Gods and demigods who seem to have “won souls back” from the Otherworld (such as when Dionysos rescues his mother, Semele, from Hades). In these variants of the Orpheus tale, elements of the story of Tam Lin (which also shares common elements with the tales of Thomas the Rhymer) supercede classical myth and reshape the story. The edict “not to look back” is not imposed upon Orpheus, and thus his anxiety and subsequent failing do not lead to both losing his wife until his death, and his profound melancholy that stirs the Maenads** to destroy the body of the man while in a state of frenzy. Subsequently, his head is separated from his body and beside his lethe floats down the Hebrus singing mournful songs.

There is a heavily fragmented version on Sacred Texts, which is worth flashing:

“DER lived a king inta da aste,
Scowan ürla grün
Der lived a lady in da wast.
Whar giorten han grün oarlac

Dis king he has a huntin gaen,
He’s left his Lady Isabel alane.
‘Oh I wis ye’d never gaen away,
For at your hame is d’ol an wae.
‘For da king o Ferrie we his daert,
Has pierced your lady to da hert.’

* * *

And aifter dem da king has gaen,
But whan he cam it was a grey stane.
Dan he took oot his pipes ta play,
Bit sair his hert wi d’ol an wae.
And first he played da notes o noy,
An dan he played da notes o joy.
An dan he played da g’od gabber reel,
Dat meicht ha made a sick hert hale.

* * *

‘Noo come ye in inta wir ha,
An come ye in among wis a’.’
Now he’s gaen in inta der ha,
An he’s gaen in among dem a’.
Dan he took out his pipes to play,
Bit sair his hert wi d’ol an wae.
An first he played da notes o noy,
An dan he played da notes o joy.
An dan he played da g’od gabber reel,
Dat meicht ha made a sick hert hale.
‘Noo tell to us what ye will hae:
What sall we gie you for your play?
‘What I will hae I will you tell,
An dat’s me Lady Isabel.’
‘Yees tak your lady, an yees gaeng hame,
An yees be king ower a’ your ain.’
He’s taen his lady, an he’s gaen hame,
An noo he’s king ower a’ his ain.”
However, given some may be unable to interpret the above: he following version of the Ballad of King Orfeo has been taken from Andrew Calhoun, who has even recorded the modernized version of the Ballad:
“There was a King lived in the East
Green the wood grows early
Who loved a lady in the West
Where the hart runs yearly.
This king he to the West did ride
And he brought home a comely bride
This king is to the hunting gone
He left his lady all alone.

“Oh, I wish ye'd never gone away,
For your hall is filled with woe today.
The king o' Faerie with his dart
Has pierced your lady to the heart.”

The King then called his nobles all
To guard her corpse within the hall
But when the lords all fell asleep
Her corpse out of the house did sweep.

The king is to the wildwood gone
Till he with hair was overgrown.

When he had sat for seven years
A company to him drew near
Some did ride and some did run
He spied his lady them among.

There stood a hall upon a hill
When they entered, all was still
And after them the king has gone
But when he came, t'was a grey stone.

There came a boy out of the hall
“Ye're bidden come in among us all.”
The king did enter in the hall
And he went in among them all.

And first he played the notes o' noy
And then he played the notes' o' joy
And then he played a merry reel
That might have made a sick heart heal.

Then he took out his pipes to play
For his poor heart did pine away
And first he played the notes o' noy
And then he played the notes o' joy.

And then he played a merry reel
That might have made a sick heart heal
The king of faerie then did say
“What shall we give thee for thy play?”
“For my play I will thee tell
I'll have my lady Isabel.”
"Thy sister's son, unworthy thing
Tomorrow shall be crowned king.

“Ye take your lady and go home
And ye shall be king o'er all your own.”
He took his lady and went home
And now he's king o'er all his own.
What can I say? As much as I love the myth of Orpheus, I rather like this fairy-laden version and his subsequent success.

Be seeing you,

[EDIT]/PS: I would like to wish Sannion luck with his latest endeavor. If he ends up pursuing the last of his goals - the drunken and mad death cult - I wouldn't mind being part of a thing. Hahahahaha.

* Italix mine, for emphasis.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I've bumped the entry on Pacts with the Devil back into draft format. It'll either be re-worked into something I can tolerate, or be ignored until such a time as it matters.

In the meantime, back to Mandrake research.

I apologize to anyone who wanted to read it and can't see it via a cache; I am an intolerantly moody bastard when it comes to my writing. Watch: later tonight I'll smoke a joint and decide I don't care anymore, or something.

Additionally, this headache that keeps trying to become a migraine is pissing me off.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Witchcraft: Balancing History Against Practice

One of the most annoying and recurrent fights that erupt between witches involves dealing with academic outlooks on the subject of witchcraft, and how much historically accurate information we should apply to our own practices. In part, these fights erupt because a great many witches are heavily acquainted with outdated source material which flowed into the “rebirth” process of witchcraft as Wicca and other traditions were undergoing their birth pangs.

A detailed explanation of this process falls outside the spectrum of this rather limited blog entry; however, a rather simple explanation is that as various traditions and individuals were prepping to unleash a new outlook on Western witchery upon the world, they were enormously inspired by academics and pseudo-Academics who published various materials relating to the study of the phenomenon. This explanation applies to both Gerald Gardner – who was extremely influenced by Margaret Murray – and Roy Bowers (Robert Cochrane), whose essays show a fairly obviously influence by Robert Graves (in particular, The White Goddess is referenced in some of his letters).

Since then an ever increasing number of Ivory Tower scholars have cast their eyes upon the subject of witchcraft and other elements, refuting Victorian and post-Victorian scholarship and calling even elements that have now seeped into practice in Traditional circles into question.

This places those practicing any number of aspects related to witchcraft in a rather odd position; on the one hand, if we ignore the work of present academics we run the risk of making ahistorical and genuinely wrong claims about what we do. But, on the other hand, we also should not discount even certain ahistorical elements if they present a pragmatic solution to problems that plenty don't even realize may exist.

To use an example, let us take the “Wheel of the Year:”

The “eight Sabbats,” or specific holy days currently still in vogue in plenty of circles, was first presented by Margaret Murray in The Witch Cult in Western Europe. She writes:
“It appears from the evidence that certain changes took place in course of time in the religion; and, as might be expected, this is shown very markedly in the festivals. The ancient festivals remained all through, and to them were added the festivals of the succeeding religions. The original celebrations belonged to the May-November year, a division of time which follows neither the solstices nor the agricultural seasons; I have shown below (pp. 130, 178) that there is reason to believe these festivals were connected with the breeding seasons of the flocks and herds.. The chief festivals were: in the spring, May Eve (April 30), called Roodmas or Rood Day in Britain and Walpurgis-Nacht in Germany; in the autumn, November Eve (October 31), called in Britain All hallow Eve. Between these two came: in the winter, Candlemas (February 2); and in the summer, the Gule of August (August 1), called Lammas in Britain. To these were added the festivals of the solstitial invaders, Beltane at midsummer and Yule at midwinter; the movable festival of Easter was also added, but the equinoxes were never observed in Britain. On the advent of Christianity the names of the festivals were changed, and the date of one – Roodmas – was slightly altered so as to fall on May 3; otherwise the dates were observed as before, but with ceremonies of the new religion. Therefore Boguet is justified in saying that the witches kept all the Christian festivals. But the Great Assemblies were always held on the four original days, and it is this fact which makes it possible to distinguish with certainty between the Sabbath and the Esbat whenever dates are mentioned.”

In fact, plenty of the dates and festivals mentioned still had observance during the medieval period, although Murray's outlooks regarding fertility festivals are based on the rather hilarious concepts of the matter unique to the world of Victorian and post-Victorian academia, and are problematic at points. Nonetheless, the festivals themselves are at times – such as the overlap between the festivals of Beltane, Walpurgis Night, and Floralia – imbued with cultural elements relating rather directly with the practice of witchcraft and the emerging beliefs regarding it during the late medieval and Early Modern period.

More importantly – to practitioners especially – this system of utilizing a set of seasonally based days and practices, allows for one to create and interact with both the land and one's deities in a way that is highly worthwhile. It is, nonetheless as it exists in Murray's text, a rather ahistorical means of looking at festival days that were practiced well into the onset of the Early Modern period with Christian justifications following attempts by the authorities of the Church to keep the converted populace from falling back into practicing festivals (and religious observations) from Europe's “pagan” heritage. Despite these attempts, collective memory of former celebrations still remained and thus infused specific days with the spirit of “witchcraft” in later periods.

In this sense, the use of such days allows for one to tap the “deep, mythic roots” of witchcraft but also creates the potential for much misunderstanding; in many cases, the understanding of such events is rather directly shaped by Murray's over-arching (and rather hilarious) thesis, rather than from the events themselves.

As noted above, the pragmatic aspects of adopting a set of days linked to both folklore and witch beliefs is especially useful. It sets up an internally coherent map of events upon which offerings are given to one's Allies, during which one pays due attention to their personal deities and the spirits that work alongside said deities, and creates a period in which one is interacting with the spirits, the land upon which they act ritually, and so forth. I am personally of the opinion that this matters more than the ahistorical outlook from which it derives and allows us to bypass the rather dangerous desire to only practice aspects related specifically to the work of academia.

In other words, even if there are pitfalls to using it, it still works and aside from a few minor adjustments to our outlook, there is no reason to dismiss it entirely. On the other hand, one can also use festivals such as the Fasts of the Four Seasons, also known from the late Medieval period as the Ember Days:
“For in the year 1544, Martin Crusius, in his Annales Svevici, cites a curious tale, borrowed from an older chronicle. Wandering about the Swabian countryside were certain clerici vagantes who wore yellow nets draped about their shoulders in the place of capes. They had approached a group of peasants and told them they had been on the Venusberg and had seen extraordinary things there. They claimed knowledge of the past and could foretell the future; they had the power to discover lost objects and possessed charms which protected both men and animals from witches and their crimes; they could even keep hail away. With such boasts, intermingled with fearsome words mumbled ominously through clenched teeth, they shunned both men and women, especially the latter, and extorted money from them. As though this was not enough, they also declared they could call up the 'Furious Horde', made up of children who had died before they were baptized, of men slain in battle and of all 'ecstatics' – in other words of those souls who had had to abandon their bodies, never to return. These souls, they said, were accustomed to gather in the deserted places on Saturday nights of the Ember seasons and on Thursdays of the Advent, wandering about, sorrowing, until the appointed timeof their deaths, when they could be received amongst the blessed.* These clerici vagantes claimed that they had two lenghts of rope, one for grain, the other for wine: if one of them was buried, the price of grain or wine would increase that year...”
- Carlo Ginzburg, The Night Battles. (p. 55)

One of the aspects that Ginzburg highlights in his studies of witches, “proto-witches,” (my term) and similar practices is that on specific days and times of the year, certain individuals became ecstatic and dealt with the Otherworld; or to put it another way, individuals continuing to act in that capacity (even if they've been influenced by shoddy scholarship) are continuing a very long process of practice dating back several centuries, if not further afield along the timeline.

To this end, active practice is more of a requirement than long-term engagement with academic sources. And it always has been.

Extending this mindset to other elements is not terribly hard, either. I was recently reading a review of Emma Wilby's
Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits and was shocked when towards the end of the review, the reviewer noted that Wilby seemed to contradict herself regarding the practices of cunning folk. Sometimes, she noted, Wilby seemed to indicate that the individual was interacting with a spirit (or at least thought they were), whereas other times she indicated that the individual might be starving and thus hallucinating during the “encounter.”

While on the surface, these statements seem to contradict each other, from the perspective of active practice they do not. Fasting has long been an aspect of any number of magical practices, and we now know today that fasting causes
altered states of consciousness. The act of fasting causes the body to rely on its reserves of fat, burning them as fuel. As a result, one of the biochemical reactions triggered by the state is the release of “beta-endorphins” (endorphins are natural painkillers, a biological form of opiates that the human body itself produces) which can allow for one to basically “trip ballz” in a natural way. Starvation, rather than intentional fasting, can also cause these biological changes within the human body.

Given that we are seeing an altered state, and sound reasons for it appearing, this makes the potential for interaction between a starving poor person and a spirit all the more likely from where one sits as a practitioner. The “conditions” (biological, that is) are correct for just such an encounter, and what remains is what the practitioner got out of the encounter. It is only when they themselves come to doubt the event – perhaps based on false promises from the spirit – that we need to quirk an eyebrow.


* Italix mine, as well as bolding for emphasis.