Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Light in the Underworld

Venus and Tannhauser by Laurence Koe.
Opening Remarks
I began working on this entry a while ago and paused. But I just witnessed a discussion on the entire “Right Hand Path” versus “Left Hand Path” dynamic that beguiles discussions between magicians. Frankly, I've abandoned the entire dynamic conceptually, as it is alien to the work I find myself doing. There is no reason to take outlooks from the Victorian period and apply them retroactively to the sum total of magical work that I do; therefore, I refuse to do it or to place any future stock within such outlooks.

This ties in to the topic of this blog entry, which is working planetary magick with Chthonic divinities. A few months ago, a member of an email list that I at least read regularly (although my interactions remain distant to a certain degree, because I can be an ass and do not wish to inflict that upon members) brought up the topic of plugging Chthonic deities into the planetary spheres and treating them along the traditional lines of rulership.

I want to make this clear right away: I have not taken the set I've put together from an archaic text, but rather attempted to find syncretizations or proper Chthonic deities that fit well enough with the spheres to be worked with. In other words: what you'll eventually see is completely the byproduct of my own research and ideas and I made it all up. It is not a bonafide source of ancient magic, and it is quite possible that working with my setup may cause individuals problems. If such is the case, I recommend research and coming up with your own lineup. You are, of course, free to use my own. Finally, at least one reference is largely a medieval concept, and may not jive with those predisposed to seeing the deities within an explicit timeframe limited to antiquity. On this matter, I apologize. I happen to enjoy representations of deities from multiple points in time – including after the rise of Christianity in the West – and don't feel the need to limit myself. This is in part due to being a magician: individuals such as myself have existed across the span of time, in different places and times. Being a practitioner of witchcraft also extends to this view, as many aspects of witchcraft do not exist prior to a certain period of time (around 1200 C.E., and thereafter, there is a conceptual shift that occurred in Europe that had long-term ramifications; but that would take far, far too long to discuss and elements existed before that point, too).

My work in this regard has been slightly hampered, because shortly after I came up with my set for daily work, Sannion went and released the daily lineup for the Thiasos of the Starry Bull's devotions*. As such I've found myself in the strange place of trying to work with Sannion's devotional lineup during the day, while also working with the Chthonic planetary work at night (and often at midnight)! Sometimes, I feel “off” after combining both sets of work – possibly because going from trying to dance alongside Satyrs on a Saturday and then switching to revering the fearsome form of Brimo-Hekate and her horde of terrifying specters at midnight doesn't always conceptually mesh together. Sometimes, it seems as if both practices counter-balance each other, one providing a purely underworld framework, and the other an all-encompassing Orphic framework. Long-time blog readers will probably realize that I'm very, very keen on the different cults involved in the subject of “Orphism,” and that I'm also open to entirely modern takes on the matter.

But before we get to my lineup, I want to address something: Chthonic work does not imply unending darkness, depravity, or worshiping a deity who plans to destroy the earth – although, Dionysos as a symbol of rebellion and liberation may well be keen on smashing oppressive social orders. That's part of what he does, and part of why I revere the deity so much.

The concepts of the underworld being a place of nothing but evil are anathema to my outlook. It is true that there are plenty of problematic daimons, dangerous daimons, and things you just plain shouldn't trust. The act of traveling to the crossroads at midnight to perform your devotions can be terrifying; particularly if you emulate my stance and do so on foot. You will be leaving behind many of your magical tools, your fancy altar, and instead learning an approach based on simplicity and necessity. But you certainly don't have to do that, particularly if you have a life that doesn't allow for acting in this capacity. If you do so I recommend brushing up on charms and talismans that ward off hostile visitants and dangerous daimons; learning invisibility spells, and considering using a lot of cleansing techniques involve plant materia.

Problems and Devotions.

In the long run, these things can help eliminate issues triggered by encountering hostile spirits. In some cases, hostile spirits can be won to your side with offerings of libations of sweet wine, meals (such as the Deipna Hekatates), honey, sweet fruits, and flowers. In other cases, you will have to either ensure that they cannot notice you (invisibility spells), or utter a command in the name of an appropriate deity who is willing to aid you, and perhaps even perform an exorcism. That said: nine times out of ten, I get by just fine by offering the fruits of the earth and cool water to said spirits; it is perfectly traditional (see Burkert's The Orientalizing Revolution, part two “A Seer or Healer” Magic and Medicine from East to West, specifically the lengthy discussion on Spirits of the Dead and Black Magic. Also see Ogden's Greek and Roman Necromancy, which has recurrent discussions on the matter).

The idea that even the most fearsome specters of the dead can become less-than-hostile with such simple offerings is probably baffling to some; however, both my experience is very much of that sort, and the consulting historical sources seems to bear it out, too.

The deities themselves are not problematic. They are deities; even if they are fearsome in and of themselves, they are still open to worship and devotion, and benevolent in their own ways. Some I would go so far as to call “the light in the underworld,” and surrounding them are vast swathes of other spirits that they send to and fro to do their work, some of whom radiate the same presence that is not unlike torchlight on a very dark night.

Perhaps the most stunning thing to note is that there is significant overlap between what may be given as offerings to deities of the underworld, the spirits therein (particularly the dead), and even in a few cases what might be given to the gods. Again we see a lot of offering sweet fruits, honey (which was given to the heroic dead, the restless dead, and the gods!), flowers and so forth. In some cases, offerings can also be made that were traditional to the deity in their own right, considerations of the underworld and Chthonic magic and devotion aside. It is also a very good idea to consider keeping frankincense and myrrh on hand to fumigate as part of the ritual, and make offerings thereof. Both are recurrent across the Orphic Hymns along with storax, and easily obtained today.

The Lineup**:


Sol = Apollo Soranus (potentially displaced with Asklepios; more on this another time)

The Hirpi Sorani (“wolves of Soranus”) are referenced in Virgil's Aeneid, where Arrun is considered a member of the cult, a fact particularly evident when he executes an ambush and cries the following prayer:
Apollo, most high of gods, guardian of holy Soracte, whose chief worshippers are we, for whom is fed the blaze of the pine-wood heap, while we, thy votaries, passing in strength of faith amid the fire, plant our steps on the deep embers – grant that this shame be effaced by our arms, O Father Almighty! I seek no plunder, no trophy of the maid's defeat, nor any spoils; other feats shall bring me fame; so but this dread scourge fall stricken beneath my blow, inglorious I will return to the city of my sires.”
It was also mentioned by Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Silius Italicus, Solinus, and Servius.

Once a year the cult gathered for what we would rightly call Chthonic rituals: a pile of wood would be heaped together, and lit until its embers gleamed. The Priests then walked or danced – most likely
three times – across the burning embers while barefoot. Solinus describes the priests movements as “leaping,” which is suggestive of fire-dancing, and the word used (exultant) includes a connotation of rejoicing according to Mika Rissanen. The author adds: 
The atmosphere of the ritual seems to have in fact to have been joyful rather than frightening. Silius Italicus describes Apollo being happy about the blazing piles of wood and their offerings.
All these authors point out that the priests were able to perform the ritual without burning their feet. The explanation gien by Varro, transmitted by Servius, is that the priests used medicated ointment to moisturize their soles,while Silius Italicus refers to some kind of trance that protected the priests.”
The cult seems to have centered around the region of Mt. Soracte, already appearing in the prayer delivered by Arruns in the Aeneid. Rissanen the primary inscription found at the mountain are to Apollo Soranus.

Rissanen also notes:
Ultimately, the name of the god (and thus the name of the mountain) is probably connectioned with Śuri, the Etruscan god of purification and prophecies, as suggested by G. Colonna.”
 We are also provided with a fascinating potential account in the paper linking the practices there to Dis Pater, the Roman lord of the underworld and potentially expressing an explanation for the fire dances via Servius:
It was on this mountain that a sacrifice to Dis Pater was once performed – because it is devoted to the chthonic deities – as wolves suddenly appeared and plundered entrails from the fire. The shepherds chased the wolves for a long time, until they arrived at a cave emanating pestilential gases that killed people standing near by. The reason for the emergence of this plague was that they had chased the wolves. They received a message that they could calm it down by imitating the wolves...”***
Servius goes on to suggest that imitation of wolves meant plunder, but Rissanen seems to be against this outlook; and it hardly makes sense when considering the fire-walking or fire-dancing celebration performed by members of the cult. In Greece wolves were strongly associated with Apollo (versus Rome's Mars and his association with wolves), which probably let to the two deities (Apollo and Soranus) becoming syncretized, and the inscriptions found to the divinity at Mt. Soracte.
It is recommended that burning wood is offered during work with Apollo Soranus; possibly pine, given that Virgil explicitly connects the wood burned at the celebrations of the Hirpi Sorani to it. Additionally, given the solar aspects of white frankincense, it makes a fine offering, as well as fumigation for purification, during the work.

Luna = Persephone/Proserpina/Kore:

“The Pure Queen of Down Below,” as some of the Orphic lamellae describe her. I would hope that folks are fairly well aware of the Goddess of the Underworld, who shares her power with Hades and therefore will only recommend fumigation potentials: mugwort (being lunar), poppies (I must pause here to note that opium is linked to both Persephone and Demeter; however, that is probably out of the question and I would recommend using poppies that are not an issue to use in terms of legality). Asphodel, a plant I have never encountered outside the references to the divinity, has also been mentioned as sacred. I should probably look into the potential of growing it...

Note: in some discussions on Orphic cosmology, Persephone is treated as the mother of Dionysos (as Zagreus), due to being raped by Zeus. But... a lot of what I've seen has been based on older scholarship, which is all kinds of problematic and I'm not sure how often the two deities are linked together as mother and son, and such. I intend to find out, though.

Mars = Dionysos as Render of Men (ὰνθρωπορραίστης):

While not typically viewed as a deity involved with matters of war, Dionysos was seen as a warrior, and given several titles – like “Render of Men” – which apply to the above quite well. Granted, Dionysian War is probably quite different that the open combat of Ares. In Nonnus' Dionysiaca, it is complained that he cannot be overcome because the God of Many Forms is constantly shape-shifting – taking the form of fire, a lion, a dragon. (And who wants to fight a dragon? I mean, really?) At least one of his titles is translated as “he who delights in the sword and bloodshed” by Otto in Dionysus: Myth and Cult. This idea also appears in Taylor's translation of the Orphic Hymn to Dionysus Bassareus Triennalis (“Bassarian God, of universal might, whom swords, and blood, and sacred rage delight”). The Dionysian 'frenzy,' and capability of the Maenads to rip apart those who have angered the god – or them, in the case of Orpheus! – also ties in to my placement of Dionysos to the sphere of war, rather than to redemption. This is not to say that he is not a redeemer – the Orphic lamellae certainly make that clear (“Bacchus has released you”) – or a mediator. He is. But he is also the liberator, and patron of several slave revolts. To my mind, it is massively important to emphasize both aspects – of the mediator of Orphic redemption – and as the literal liberator of slaves, and the oppressed.

Recommended fumigations: Storax, Frankincense, Myrrh. He's the son of Zeus after all and is as worthy of being offered that which one offers a king. Additionally, grape leaves are also excellent to add to one's altar, to to slather with honey at the crossroads.

Mercurius = Hermes Chthonios

At some point, I'll talk about Hermes Chthonios with a bit more length than here. But – he's the guide of the dead. And he's fucking awesome. He's totally got an Orphic Hymn to his name. Use it.

Fumigation: Storax.

Jupiter = Zeus-Typhon/Hades.

The King of the Underworld. Do I need to expand on this? Well, maybe on the unusual looking Zeus-Typhon: Ogden links it to Hades fairly explicitly in Greek and Roman Necromancy. Unfortunately, I am completely unaware of whether cults existed that utilized the name or not. Should I ever become aware of such matters, you can rest assured that I will expand on it in a blog – or somewhere, at least.

Fumigation: Storax, Frankincense, Myrrh.

Venus = Chthonic Venus. (i.e. Venus of the medieval Venusberg)

Between late antiquity and the late medieval period, Goddesses and spirits (and even fairies) tend to start overlapping heavily. Venus as an Underworld figure becomes prominently expressed in stories such as those involving Tannhauser. The Venusberg was a mountain within which she was believed to live, in a paradise of all delights hidden beneath the surface where she was served by nymphs, and even the occasional ghost (at least in the testimony of Diel Bruell, who was executed for witchcraft). These tales go back to the Sibyllenberg, a mountain in Italy not far from Narn, Italy today. The Sibyl's mount was apparently a place where necromancers traveled to learn their arts, watched over the Sibyl (similar to one of the Sibyls training Aeneas in the Aeneid in necromancy). Far from simply being stories, we can find these overlapping ideas in Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft (in relation to the “Fairy Sibyllia”), in accounts given by shady sorcerers that may or may not have been charlatans, and at least one aforementioned witch trial. I've honestly blogged about the subject more than a bit, and shall leave it alone except to mention that the figure is very similar – if not the same – as one of the major spirits discussed in Jake Stratton-Kent's True Grimoire. Should this figure not work for you, I recommend defaulting to Venus Libitina who is heavily associated with death.

Fumigation: Myrrh. (Rose petals if you're feeling experimental, although they may smell badly. Thanks VVF!)


Saturn = Hekate-Brimo, or Demeter-Brimo.

I talk about Hekate-Brimo, the “vengeful” aspect of Hekate, more than a bit, so I'll limit myself to complete this entry. She is suggested to have been called upon when one was in immense danger, or under attack by a spirit – as her mere name may have been sufficient to frighten them off. I make offerings to her regularly, and even consecrate some of the tropane-bearing plants I grow (nightshades, particularly Mandrake) to that name, as she is even more terrifying than their potential poisons. Furthermore, Jason calls upon her in the Argonautica, after performing Chthonic rites (immolation of an animal in a ritual pit) and prior to take the potion Medea has furnished for him to provide for his task.

Fumigation: Storax.

Be seeing you,
Jack.

* Note: there are two links in that sentence; one to the Thiasos masterlist and one to the hymns for use with it. I looooooove the Dionysos hymn for so, so many reasons and really enjoy the others.

** You will notice links at the names of the deities, to provide helpful information on them above and beyond anything I have to say.

*** I can't help but think of Ogden's discussion on necromancy performed at “birdless caves” (mephitic caves) in
Greek and Roman Necromancy. Such places were considered especially linked to the underworld, hence triggering their becoming major locations for the practice.

5 comments:

Jake said...


link posted on the GV list, which may or may not be the forum Jack mentions.

PS I should have discussed Sibyllia in TG, but delayed doing so until Geosophia *and* TCM.

V.V.F. said...

As far as the classical Venus goes, her sacred plants are myrrh, myrtle, and roses. Although, I've been told that roses don't smell all that great as incense.

Jack Faust said...

@VVF: Well then. Myrrh it is.

GIVE MYRRH TO EVERYTHING! haha.

@Jake: Your list certainly is the one referenced, but I didn't want to out anyone who is not me. LOL.

Io said...

Just fyi, I find burning roses pleasant and potent, though I don't do it often because most rose horticulture is terrifyingly full of poisons. If someone wanted to use roses often, I would heartily encourage sourcing them.

The whole light in the underworld is pretty much where my head lives, though I don't have the Orphic interests that so many folks around this material do. Still, neat idea.

I'm curious--you describe the Starry Bull lineup as dayside, but what little I have poked around Sannion's work has given me the same light in the underworld vibe as this stuff. Do you ping on the Starry Bull in general as dayside or is it just the lineup of devotions?

Jack Faust said...

Io: Sorry I missed your comment!

I think my own perspective and Sannion's line up well. In part, I use the day/night dichotomy just to make it so that I can do both my personal work, and the Bacchic Orphic work at the same time. In a very large part, they intersect well enough that I could try combining them - but I don't feel comfortable altering what Sannion has done yet, and wanted to leave his cultic framework largely alone while also pursuing my own interests. Overall, there's a huge dose of Chthonic devotions in his own work, and it would probably be fine to combine them in some way. I just haven't worked out how quite yet.