Thursday, October 28, 2010
“Hear me, Lord of the Stars.
For thee I have worshipped ever
Witch stains and sorrows and scars,
With joyful, joyful endeavour.
Hear me, O lilywhite goat
Crisp as the thicket of thorns
With a collar of gold for thy throat,
A scarlet bow for thy horns.”
“Our way is the way of the serpent in the underbrush,
Our knowledge is in the eyes of goats and of women.”
In the last decade or so Witchcraft’s membership has swelled considerably, making it one of the fastest growing spiritual paths in the Western world. Many of the new recruits are female and this has led the media and other outside observers to adopt a skewed image of just who Witches are. Witchcraft is frequently portrayed as a women’s religion: indeed, many people are surprised to learn that men can be Witches at all. Within the Craft itself there has also emerged a strong tendency to promote the Goddess over the God and to see the feminine as more worthy than the masculine. One of the reasons for this is to correct the imbalance incurred by thousands of years of women’s oppression by patriarchal society, and this is admirable. However, we need to take care that we don’t make men into second-class citizens in the Craft, or the Horned God into a scapegoat.
I asked prominent Pagan, Hawthorn, if he thought the Craft was too girly? “The relative lack of attention to the male aspect in some forms of modern Craft is unfortunate. When I got into the Craft there were a lot more men than women involved in the groups I was aware of, particularly in positions of responsibility. That situation has changed considerably since then. There are now many more active women facilitators and I think that is a good thing. However, the apparent perception that the Craft is women’s business is a worrying trend. The Craft has much to offer men and men have much to offer the Craft.”
One of the most attractive things about the Craft for women is undoubtedly the emphasis on a female deity, the Goddess. It is so empowering to discover God in our own image, a Goddess who actually understands us. Unlearning all the traditional taboos of femininity – submissiveness, silence, sin – and reclaiming menstruation and sexuality become spiritual journeys in themselves that Witchcraft actively encourages. It’s therefore no wonder that women feel like we’ve “come home.” Witchcraft can be a welcome respite from the “men’s world” so prevalent in contemporary society, and a haven for many women who, quite often, have been so turned off the idea of any sort of male Gods that they see no reason to include them in their practice.
Witchy woman, Briar, says that: “When I first came to realise my Path as a Witch, it was through discovering women’s spirituality and Goddess worship. I come from a particularly negative Christian church experience, which also involved an abusive marriage, and I didn’t want anything male in my sacred space... It’s only now, five years down the track, that I can even consider the thought of learning about and working with male Gods. I will always primarily work with Goddesses but I am in a place now where I am moving toward accepting God energy into my life.”
Many men also welcome the chance to see deity as female. Regional Pagan Alliance coordinator, Kim Robertson, explains that: “For the last year or so most of the magickal work I have done has been with Luna, the Moon Goddess in her raw and natural form, and also with Gaia, Mother Earth. Both of them are gentle. Luna is a wise teacher of those on the path to spiritual growth and is also a great deity to work with in ritual – she is like an older sister or young aunt. Gaia is more the one who is with me all the time, letting me know that I am loved as a person wherever I go, that I am the child of the Gods and will never be alone.” It can also be exhilarating for men to work in partnership with the Goddess’s priestesses – strong, assertive, intelligent women. Indeed, according to Hawthorn: “being surrounded by lots of powerful, self-confident women is a big turn-on for many Pagan men, myself included.”
Unlike many female Witches however, as much as Pagan men love and revere the Goddess, they are less likely to exclude her consort, the masculine aspect of deity known as the Horned God – and why would they? One of humanity’s most ancient deities, the Horned God of Witchcraft has a great deal to offer men, including a model of masculinity which rejects patriarchal “power-over.” In her ground-breaking book The Spiral Dance Starhawk describes the Horned God as “the power of feeling, and the image of what men could be if they were liberated from the constraints of patriarchal culture.”
Hawthorn explains that: “A lot of male Pagans are attracted to Paganism partly because the ideal of manliness doesn’t buy into a lot of the aggressive male stereotypes that mainstream society does.” Auld Hornie is strong but not violent, playful yet deep, sexual but not sleazy, loving without being possessive, and emotional without fearing disintegration. He is a God, a man, an animal, a plant, even a soil-bug, and is so connected to the Earth that if he lies down for too long he is likely to sprout leaves!
The Horned God also has a lot to give women. As a male paradigm which exists outside the cabal of stern father Gods and their sons, the Horned One offers a way for women to learn about, make peace with, and embrace masculinity if they choose to. Obviously no one should be coerced into acknowledging the traditional male aspects of the Witch Gods, and certainly within the Craft there are perfectly satisfying, exclusive women’s mysteries honouring the Great Goddess. But that is only half the story. In Traditional Craft, alongside the Goddess there is an equal presence of a male deity: he of many names and faces, Lord of Life and Death. Like the Chinese symbol of Yin and Yang, the Goddess and God of Witchcraft are complementary and inseparable, the two sides to the one coin.
Even if women choose to ignore male deities, and men in general, the masculine principle in nature is not simply going to disappear. Fathers, brothers, sons, the man in the local diner – men are unavoidable and the Horned God exists, whether we choose to acknowledge him or not. Maybe we are a bit scared of him? Pagan writer, Gavin Andrew, proposes that: “...a lot of women (and men) exploring the Craft are dealing with a great deal of cultural imprinting as it relates to the Horned God/Devil paradigm. I’d suggest that the reason why the Goddess is more appealing is that the fear factor, learned at Sunday School or other places very early in life, isn’t there. I think that men as well as women should look into the God of Witchcraft more, if only to help identify and alter this cultural imprinting within themselves.”
The Goddess image provides a divine personage for women who extol the special attributes of being female. Yet I feel that it is important to balance the feminine force with the masculine, as night is complemented by day and the moon by the sun. According to a Jungian interpretation of the Craft, for in individual to attain inner unity, unrealised aspects of our inner self must be acknowledged and embraced – for women the animus or inner male, and for men, the anima or inner female. So, for women, invoking the God is actually psychologically healthy, just as it is for men to invoke the Goddess. Meeting the divine opposite becomes a personal alchemical marriage. In Kim’s experience: “As a man and an active eclectic magickal practitioner, I have evoked and invoked Gods and Goddesses and played all parts in ritual. I find that playing either gender role in ritual is a journey where you learn, either about your own gender, or that of the opposite.”
Restricting the deities we work with to a single gender decreases the number of magickal experiences available to us by half. Why limit ourselves in this way? If we refuse to let biological gender determine the other aspects of our lives, why would we allow it in Witchcraft? Through familiarity with an energy which is dissimilar to our own, we grow and become wiser, our sphere of consciousness becomes broader – and connecting with the Horned God doesn’t have to mean abandoning the Goddess!Katherine, a Witch who is very much involved in women’s blood mysteries, says: “I relate to the Horned God as a lover mostly, the face of the primal, sexual masculine, erect, virile, powerful... He’s a big part of my pantheon. Him, the Green Man, Pan and Odin are the faces of the Gods that I relate to the most at present. The Gods don’t tend to have much to do with Menstrual Magick, although Odin has his own relationship with it, sly bugger.”
The Horned God can be approached in many ways and it might be more useful to meet up with him in trance, before going all out and invoking him. Environmental activist and Witch, Indigo, describes a vision she had in which she encountered a Hunter figure: “He stands to face the growing light of sunrise, and from behind I see that what I took to be a headdress is the mass of his own tangled hair with a small set of horns protruding from his skull. As I watch, the horns change from one form to another. They are the horns of a goat, the antlers of the elk, the curved horns of the ibex, the heavy burden of the buffalo. They are the weapons of the bull, the curled protection of the ram, the tines of the stag, and the pointed scimitars of the oryx. In this half light, he is all these things, the hunter, the hunted, prey and predator, poised to both flee and fight, the wild and free, and the beast of burden.”
Or he may come to you of his own volition. I love this description of an epiphany which Hawthorn had: “I’ve always felt a strong relationship with the God. The last time I was in England I went to see the Cerne Abbas Giant. Whilst wandering around the site I saw an amazing beech tree that was bent so that the upper trunk was at 90 degrees to the lower trunk and parallel with the ground. The top branches of the tree were brushing the top of a small earthen mound. I don’t know if it was natural or man-made, ancient or modern – it could have been a midden for all I know – but the tree drew me to it. I sat on the mound and closed my eyes. Within a short time the area around me as filled with the sounds of footsteps and rustling vegetation, but there was no wind. I heard and felt footsteps walk up behind me and felt an overwhelming presence. I opened my eyes and noticed my shadow – jutting out from my head were the shadow outlines of a pair of horns. The feeling was uncanny, I did not look around, but stayed there in a sort of trance for an indeterminable time.”
One of my own favourite manifestations of the Horned God is Pan who reminds me that we are all animals – smart ones, but animals nevertheless. The ancient Greeks represented Pan as having the legs and horns of a goat but his appearance can actually range from that of a real goat standing upright, through to a man with a goatish face, human torso and goat legs, to a wholly human form sporting curved horns upon his head. A very popular deity in antiquity, Pan survived in medieval Europe as the goat-footed God of the Witches. The Christian church turned him into the Devil and the cloven hoof, once the sign of fertility and abundance, was regarded as evil. Anyone who has had much to do with real goats will know why they have a reputation as consorts of Witches. A buck goat looks like a man with a beard and wants to hump anything – including human females! Female readers, you might try going up to the fence next time you spy a billy goat and see if he doesn’t curl his lip in an epicurean fashion whilst inhaling your woman scent! It can be quite confronting for a city-dweller, but that’s Nature in all her incomprehensible glory.
By Caroline Tully. This article is first appeared in Pop! Goes the Witch: The Disinformation Guide to 20th Century Witchcraft. By Fiona Horne (Ed). (New York. Disinformation. 2004). Available online from www.fionahorne.com
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
This is part of a presentation I did in conjunction with Tim Hartridge at the Australian Wiccan Conference 2007. I did Part 1 Nut: Whence the Star Goddess? and Tim did Part 2 Nuit's Veil: An archetype of a witches’ coven.
Nut Presentation - Australian Wiccan Conference 2007.
Almost two thousand years after the closure of the Egyptian temples by the Roman Empire, an English magician receives a communiqué from an ancient Egyptian goddess, Nut (Nuit). The goddess asks him to help her unveil herself, to become in effect, her prophet. The magician – Aleister Crowley – does this by publishing “The Book of the Law”, the first chapter of which contains the voice of Nuit. Who exactly is this goddess, and how did she come to be speaking to Aleister Crowley?
Goddess of the Milky Way
Nut is the ancient Egyptian goddess of the Milky Way, in fact she is the Milky Way.
So, what is the Milky Way? If it is clear tonight we will see it above us – it always looks so great in the country. The Milky Way is an enormous spiral galaxy containing, at one edge, our solar system. We’re not even in a particularly important place within this galaxy – if you think centrality is important. When we look at the Milky Way above us, we’re looking through the flat disk of the galaxy. When we look away from the Milky Way we’re looking into the rest of Space. It can give you a wonderful sense of vertigo!
As the personification of the heavens, Nut is usually represented in profile as a woman arched over like a bridge, whose hands and feet touch the earth. She is often accompanied by her partner, the earth god Geb, depicted beneath her, and sometimes the air god Shu is shown between them, separating Nut and Geb. Nut is primarily depicted in anthropomorphic form, she can also be shown as a cow – Hathor the goddess of love was also depicted as a cow – and as a pig, sometimes with piglets.
According to the Heliopolitan creation myth (different districts had different creation myths – this one is from Heliopolis) Nut is the daughter of Shu and Tefnut, who are in turn the children of the primeval god, Atum.
Atum – the self-engendered one – arose at the beginning of time and created the first gods by masturbating (sometimes his hand is personified as a goddess). These were Shu (god of air) and Tefnut (goddess of moisture). Shu and Tefnut then become the parents of Nut (sky) and Geb (earth).
In many pantheons, sky deities are male while earth deities are female. The apparent reversal of this symbolism in the Egyptian pantheon may be connected with the fact that in Egypt, the regular source of water (associated with fertilizing semen) was the Nile – which came from the earth – rather than as rain from the sky. For time to begin, sky and earth needed to be separated and this is shown by Shu raising Nut up away from Geb.
Nut and Geb are the parents of Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nepthys. And Osiris and Isis are the parents Horus. Osiris is the god of order, fertility and lush vegetation, he represents deceased Pharaoh and is also god of the underworld (underworld gods are often providers of food). Isis is a mother goddess, a magician and the personification of king’s throne. Their son Horus represents the living king. Set is the god of the desert, chaos, foreigners, and is the usurper of the throne. Nepthys is a funerary goddess.
Celestial Nut, mother of Sun and Pharaoh
The Egyptians believed that the earth was a flat plate and that the sky was a vast body of water. The name “Nut” may mean “the watery one”, although this does not mean that she rained, the idea is more like a Great Lake or Sea. The movement of the sun across this water was understood as a voyage by boat.
As well as being the mother of Osiris, Isis, Set and Nepthys, Nut also was the mother of the stars and sun which she gave birth to daily. The sun, Re, is often depicted in astronomical ceilings being swallowed by Nut in the evening, traversing through her body at night, and being born again at dawn. It was understood that Nut’s head lay in the West where the sun set, and her vagina in the East where he rose. The image of Nut swallowing the sun and stars led her to be identified with the Great Sow who eats her piglets.
It was the sun’s capacity for rebirth that the Pharaoh sought to identify with after death, hence the image of the sun travelling though the body of Nut appears in royal tombs. Later on it also appears on coffin lids. Nut’s depiction on the coffin lids emphasises her role as the coffin, she literally embraces the deceased - originally only the king, but later on anyone who could afford a coffin.
Goddess of the Dead
Before being depicted on coffins, Nut was an important deity in the Pyramid Texts in which she appears almost 100 times. The Pyramid Texts, written on the walls of the pyramids, instructed the Pharaoh how to behave, and advised him on what he would encounter, in the afterlife. Originally the instructions in the Pyramid Texts were only for the Pharaoh. Nut played a central role in them regarding his resurrection. She was known as his “mother Nut in her name of “sarcophagus”… in her name of “Coffin” and… in her name of “tomb”.
As the afterlife became more inclusive the Pyramid Texts evolved into the Coffin Texts. These contained similar instructions but were written on coffins, so what was originally an exclusive relationship between Nut and the Pharaoh now incorporated the non-royal elite as well. Eventually the Coffin Texts became The Book of Going Forth By Day, or as we know it, The Book of the Dead, written on papyrus.
When depicted on coffins, Nut was represented frontally on the underside of the lid, often showing the solar disk in the process of being swallowed or reborn. Sometimes she was also depicted on the sides and inside the coffin. When the lid was placed over the deceased a kind of union was achieved. The coffin symbolically became the body of the goddess from whom the deceased would be reborn.
Lady of the Sycamore
This connection with the wood of coffins may have been what led Nut to be identified with the divine sycamore tree who nourishes the deceased in the afterworld. In the private tombs of Thebes and in images in the Book of the Dead, Nut is depicted as a goddess rising from the trunk of this divine tree, offering life-sustaining water and nourishment. She is the Tree of Life.
Why a sycamore tree? Egypt was not famous for its trees, although it did have them of course. In the oases the weary traveller arriving from the desert would come across the sycamore – actually a sycamore fig – from which he could obtain fruit, as well as water from the spring which bathed its roots. In chapter 59 of the Book of the Dead it says “Hail thou sycamore of Nut, give thou to me of the water and of the air which are in thee”. The accompanying image shows the deceased kneeling at a pool in the midst of which a sycamore is growing. The goddess extends her arms toward him, with a tray of food in one hand and a jar of water in another.
The ancient Egyptian cult of Nut appears to have been relatively modest, with evidence of few, if any, sanctuaries or priests. However she is known to have received food offerings as a mortuary goddess and been presented the sacred menat necklace in a ritual scene. The minimality of her cult should not be construed as signifying her lack of importance however: her roles of mother goddess, mortuary goddess, sky goddess, and orderer of the day and night each constitute significant functions. While she did not have huge temples, her place in popular religion is evident from the many sow amulets that have been excavated.
New Aeon Nut / Nuit
How did this sky and funerary goddess - who did not have huge temples, cult or priesthood - come to be important today? Why Nut? ... Why Egypt?
To answer this question we need to fast forward from ancient Egypt to England and the year 1888 when three prominent Freemasons – William Wynn Westcott, Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers and Dr. W.R. Woodman chartered the Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This was an exclusive magical order incorporating, among other things, explicit Egyptian components.
Again, why Egypt? It was a sign of the times. After the French and British campaigns in Egypt of 1798-1801, the Napoleonic investigations of Egyptian architecture were published in 1802 and again in 1828. Subsequently, enthusiasm for all things Egyptian became widespread in 19th century taste, particularly in France and Britain, but also in Spain, North and South America, South Africa, and Australia. It was during this century that Egyptology evolved into a professional discipline. [Interestingly, one of the major figures in modern Witchcraft - Margaret Murray, author of The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches – was a professional Egyptologist, being in fact an assistant to Professor Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, the “Father of Egyptology”.]
The general enthusiasm for Egypt in the 19th century ensured a continuous passion for Egyptian design in the decorative arts and architecture and, if the Golden Dawn is anything to go by, spirituality. Macgregor Mathers is known to have said “I have clothed myself with hieroglyphics as with a garment.”
Aleister Crowley was initiated into the Golden Dawn on the 26th of November 1898 when it was under the leadership of Florence Farr. It may have been while under her influence that he became aware of the importance in ceremonial magic of Egypt, as she had a particular interest in it. Farr had formed a separate group within the Golden Dawn called the “Sphere” which had a specific Egyptian focus – although Crowley was not a member of this group. Farr obtained inspiration for the direction of the group from an “Egyptian Adept”, Nem-Kheft-Ka, possibly a priestess of the temple of Amon at Thebes, who she was in communication with through her coffin in the British Museum. As we will soon see, Egyptian antiquities in a museum context - albeit a different museum - will be significant for Crowley as well.
In 1904, Crowley and his new wife Rose Kelly were honeymooning in Egypt. Although Rose was not trained in magick and did not really know anything about it, Crowley continued his regular magickal practices. On March 16th he performed the “Preliminary Invocation” or “Bornless Ritual” intending to entertain Rose by showing her the Sylphs (Air Elementals). Rose did not see any Sylphs but began behaving strangely, telling Crowley “They’re waiting for you”. He didn’t know what she was talking about and did not pay much attention.
The next day, 17th of March, they both successfully invoked the Egyptian god of writing and magic, Thoth. Rose was still saying weird things. This time she told Crowley “It was all about the child” and “all Osiris”.
On the 18th March, Rose claimed that the god Horus was waiting for Crowley at the Boulak Museum - in Cairo. They went to the museum and after walking straight past several images of Horus, which seemed to confirm to Crowley that she did not know what she was talking about, Rose singled out a funerary stela depicting Horus that had the catalogue number 666. Crowley very much identified with the Biblical “Beast of Revelations” so this number was significant for him. This stela was later to be known as The Stele of Revealing.
Between March 23 and April 7 Crowley had the hieroglyphs on the stela translated into French by a museum assistant and then made a versified English version of them. He subsequently composed several Horus invocations in order to directly encounter and explore the deity and find out what, if anything, he wanted. This is known as the Cairo Working.
The culmination of the Cairo Working came on April 8, 9, and 10 of 1904. Following Rose’s instructions, Crowley entered his temple space at noon each day and wrote down what he heard for an hour. He received a direct voice dictation from an intelligence that described itself as “the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat” (or Harpocrates, the Greek name of Horus the child) named Aiwaz or Aiwass. This dictation forms what is known as The Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX).
The Book of the Law consists of three chapters. The first is devoted to the goddess Nut, now called Nuit (French for “Night”). Subsequent chapters concern Nuit’s male complement, Hadit (possibly derived from a form of Horus called Behdet), and their “child” Ra-Hoor-Khuit (Re-and-Horus-of-the-Two-Horizons). This god is actually two god-forms – the active Ra-Hoor-Khuit, and the passive, Hoor-paar-kraat.
Nuit describes herself as “Infinite Space and the Infinite Stars thereof” – like her ancient Egyptian counterpart. In the second chapter she is described as “the circumference” while Hadit, her male complement, is the “centre” - the point within the circle. Nuit’s sign is a five-pointed star with a red circle in the middle of it, symbolising Hadit, “the flame that burns in the heart of every man and the core of every star”. Ra-Hoor-Khuit is the synthesis of Nuit and Hadit and – if we look at the ancient Egyptian Horus - the deified living Pharaoh. Ra-Hoor-Khuit is actually quite warlike. I interpret this as the energy needed to go through life.
Although this explains how Nuit reappeared as an important goddess today, it does not explain why it happened - or why it happened to Aleister Crowley. Was he just the best self-publiciser of all the Golden Dawn? Crowley interpreted the reception of the Book of the Law as the “Equinox of the Gods” – a cosmic changeover time in the divine “rulership” or “influence” of the planet from the dying-and-reborn god of the Aeon of Osiris to the Crowned and Conquering Child of the Aeon of Horus. Is that what it was… or is? There are many who would say yes.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Today, which happens to be Aleister Crowley's birthday (happy Birthday AC, you'd be 135 today if you were still alive!), I received the joyous news that my article "Walk Like An Egyptian: Egypt as authority in Aleister Crowley's reception of The Book of the Law", has been accepted by an academic journal - Pomegranate: International Journal of Pagan Studies. Now, I'm thrilled about that because I worked hard on it... and also bemused, as several 'synchonistic' things have been happening during the process of preparing the piece for submission - nothing dramatic, but noticable... Firstly, while I was working on it I got an email from a magickal order dedicated to Crowley's works (which shall remain nameless, as I'm sure they'd prefer) and which, while I have been a member thereof on and off, am currently 'inactive' within and so we tend not to talk; secondly, the person who introduced me to Crowley, Thelema, and Magick in general, and who I haven't spoken to for way over a decade contacted me... and thirdly of course, is that the article was accepted on Crowley's birthday. Synchronicity? Who cares, as long as people read my article! Stay tuned for actual publication, after which I will post the abstract and links for university library and/or subscriber access.