Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Memento Mori Anthology

I have two chapters in the forthcoming anthology “Memento Mori: Magickal and mythological perspectives on death, dying, the Underworld, Afterlife, ghosts, ancestors and mortality." This collection is edited by Kim Huggens and published by Avalonia Books. It will be out soon... quite soon... So stay tuned for that! Meahwhile... check out this interesting blog, Morbid Anatomy. There's lots to intrigue and entertain there.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What I did at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting in San Francisco, November 2011 - and why I was SO TIRED!

Thursday November 17.

8.20 – 10.25am

Archaeology of Cyprus I

Theme: This session focuses on current archaeological research in Cyprus from prehistory to the modern period. Erin Walceck Averett Presiding. Paper (that I went to): Sam Crooks, University of Melbourne. “What are those Queer Stones? Baetyls: Aniconism and Ambiguity in Prehistoric Cypriot Cult.”

10.40am – 12.45pm

Theoretical Approaches to Near Eastern Archaeology I

Theme: Conceptualising Space and Place. Louise Hitchcock, University of Melbourne, and Andrew McCarthy (CAARI), Presiding. Introduction; Papers: Emily Miller Bonney, California State University, Fullerton. “Computer Modelling and the Epistemological Dilemma of Reconstructing the Past.”; Antonietta Catanzariti, University of California, Berkeley. “The Study of the material Culture of the Obelisk Temple at Byblos: An Insight into Social Customs of Middle Bronze Age Byblos.”; Rhian Stotts, Arizona State University. “Changes in Households through the Urbanisation Process: The Case of Bronze Age Cyprus.”; Caroline Tully, University of Melbourne. “The Sacred Life of Trees: What Trees Say About People in the Prehistoric Aegean and Near East.”; Susan Cohen, Montana State University. “Stability and Sustainability: Approaches to Urbanisation in the Bronze Age Southern Levant.”; Ann Schafer, American University, Cairo. “The Assyrian Palace as Microcosm: Current Theoretical Approaches to Empire and ‘Space’.”

2.00 – 4.05pm

Theoretical Approaches to Near Eastern Archaeology II

Theme: Materialisation of Status and Identity. Sarah Keilt Costello, University of Houston, presiding. Introduction.; Papers: Rick Bonnie, Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven. “Grasping a Developing Cultural Melting Pot through Archaeology: A Case Study from Galilee during the Second century, CE.”; Cynthia Colburn, Pepperdine University. “Performance Spaces in Prepalatial Crete.”; Stephanie Reed, University of Chicago. “Gift Ideology in the Persepolis Sculptures.”; Eudora J. Struble, University of Chicago. “Carving Culture: Ethnoarchaeology as a Tool for Understanding Ancient Near Eastern Stone Carvings and Craftspeople.”’ Rick Hauser IIMAS–International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies. “Sapir and Quantifiable ‘Crudeness’.”

4.20 – 6.25pm

Individual Submissions

Zev Farber, Emory University. “Egyptian Images of Death: A Reaction Formation?”
Lolita Nikolova, International Institute of Anthropology. “Health and the Prehistoric Terracotta Figurines from the Eastern Mediterranean.”

Friday November 18

8.20 – 10.25am

Archaeology of Cyprus II

Theme: This session focuses on current archaeological research in Cyprus from prehistory to the modern period. Elizabetta Cova, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, presiding. Papers: Catherine Kearns, Cornell University. “The Problem of Place: Refiguring the Landscapes of First Millennium BCE Cyprus.”; Johanna Smith, Princeton University. “Cypriot Iron Age Glyptic: New Evidence from Marion and Kourion.”; Pamela Gaber, Lycoming College. “Cypriote Sculpture and Israelite Pillar Base Figurines.”; Michael Toumazou, Davidson College, Derek Counts, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, P. Nick Kardulias, College of Wooster, Erin Averett, Creighton University, Clay Coffer, Bryn Mawr College, and Matthew Spigelman, New York University. “Atheniou Archaeological Project, 2011: Investigations at Atheniou-Malloura, Cyprus.”; R. Scott Moore, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and William Caraher, University of North Dakota. “A New Hellenistic Fortification at Vigla, Cyprus.”; Katherine Tipton, University of Calgary. “Idalion, Cyprus: Excavations of an Industrial Complex, 2010-2011 Seasons.”

10.40am – 12.45pm

Archaeology of Ritual and Religion I

Theme: This session features papers on the archaeology of ritual and religion in the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean. Andrea Creel, University of California, Berkeley, presiding. Introduction.; Papers: Carl Savage, Drew University. “Assemblage at the Gate: Sacred Domestic Ritual?”; Eilis Monahan, Ruprecht-Karls Universität. “Community and Complexity in the Mortuary Landscapes of Prehistoric Bronze Age Cyprus.”; Sharon Zuckerman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Cult In and Out of the City: The Case of Bronze Age Canaan.”; Kim Shelton, University of California, Berkeley. “Reconstructing Ritual in the Cult Centre of Mycenae.”; Erica Hughes, University of Liverpool. “Structured Deposition in the Neolithic of Anatolia.”; Annlee Dolan, San Joaquin Delta College. “Communal Ritual Meals: Evidence for Feasting in Iron Age Transjordan.”

2.00 – 4.05pm

Archaeology of Ritual and Religion II

Theme: This session features papers on the archaeology of ritual and religion in the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean. Dana DePietro, University of California, Berkeley, presiding. Introduction.; Papers: (that I went to) Elizabeth Bloch-Smith, St Joseph’s University. “The Bare Facts: Archaeological and Inscriptional Evidence for Phoenician Astarte.”; Darren Ashby, University of Pennsylvania. “Because of his Reverence for the Gods and his Respect for Kingship.”; Elizabeth Minor, University of California, Berkeley. “Conflict and Co-option: The use of the Egyptian Winged Sun Disk Motif in Nubian Burials of the Classic Kerma Period.”;

Yavneh – Celebrating the First Report of the Iron Age Favissa

Raz Kletter, University of Helsinki, presiding. Papers: (that I attended) Wolfgang Zwickel, Johannes-Gutenburg University. “The Character of the Sanctuary at Yavneh.”; Irit Ziffer, Eretz-Israel Museum. “Diminished Sanctuaries: The Cult Stands of Yavneh between East and West.”

4.20 – 6.25pm

Reports on Current Excavations and Surveys – ASOR affiliated II

Assaf Yasur-Landau, University of Haifa, presiding. Papers (that I went to): Eric Cline, The George Washington University and Assaf Yasur-Landau, University of Haifa. “The Four-Dimensional Palace: the Middle Bronze Age Palace of Kabri Through Time and Space.”; Nurith Goshen, University of Pennsylvania. “Building Technique and Cultural Identity: Floors, Orthostats and the Construction of the Palace at Kabri.”; Inbal Samet, University of Haifa. “A View from the Chrono-Typological pottery Sequence from the Middle Bronze Age Palace at Kabri.”; Ligh-Ann Bedal, Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College. “The Petra Garden and Pool Complex.”

Saturday November 19

8.20 – 10.25am

Archaeology of Gender

Theme: This session explores the interface between gender and archaeology and the ways in which archaeology and related disciplines can reconstruct the world of women and other gender groups in antiquity. Beth Alpert Nakhai, Univerisy of Arizona, presiding. Papers: April Nowell, University of Victoria, and Melanie Chang, University of Oregon. “Pornography is in the Eye of the Beholder: Sex, Sexuality and Gender in the Identification of Upper Palaeolithic Figurines.”; Kathleen McCaffrey, Independent Scholar. “Decoding the Rite and Image of Lamashtu.”; Rainer Albetrz, University of Münster. “Goddesses as Theophoric Elements of Levantine Personal Names.”; Sarah Dorsey Bollinger, Hebrew Union College. “The Mysterious Actions of the Captive Woman in Deuteronomy 21: 10-14.”; Jennie R. Ebeling, The Presentation of Women’s Lives in Antiquity in Museums in Israel and Jordan.”

10.40am – 12.45pm

Secondary Context for Objects with No Known Prevenance (A Workshop About the Ethics of Scholarly Research)

Theme: This workshop will consider how the field should deal with controversial areas of study, exhibition and publication of artefacts whose origins are contested or unknown. Rick Hauser, IIMAS–International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies, Christopher Tuttle, American Center for Oriental Research, and Christina Brody, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, presiding. Presentations: (that I heard) Elizabeth C. Stone, Stony Brook University. “Why Looting?”; Christina Luke, Boston University. “The Conventions in 2011.”; Giorgio Buccellatti, University of California, Los Angeles. “The Site as Book.”; Zahi Hawass, Minister for State Antiquities, Republic of Egypt. “The Value of Objects.”

12.45 – 2.00pm

Projects on Poster Session

2.00 – 4.04pm

Religions in Bronze and Iron Age Jordan

Theme: This session is devoted to material, written and artistic evidence for religious practices and ideas of Bronze Age and Iron Age Transjordan and to the interpretation of that evidence, including new discoveries and new insights on existing evidence, in view of both continuity and distinction within that larger chronological span. Joel S. Burnett, Baylor University, presiding. Introduction.; Papers: Paul Donnelley, University of Sydney, James Fraser, University of Sydney, and Jamie Lovell, University of Sydney. “Sacred Landscapes and Sovereign Territories: A MB–LB Migdol ‘Border’ Temple.”; Stephen Bourke, University of Sydney. “The Bronze Age–Iron Age Pella Temple and Cultic Artefacts.”; Ken Bramlett, La Sierra University. “The LB Temple at ‘Umaryi and Implications for the Interpretation of Religion in LBII Jordan.”; P.M. Michele Daviau, Wilfrid Laurier University. “Temples and Shrines in Central Jordan and the Negev.”; Chang-Ho Ji, La Sierra University. “An Iron Age Temple at Khirbat Ataruz, Jordan: Architecture, Cultic Objects and Interpretation.”; Rebecca Trow, University of Liverpool. “Beyond Religions of Identity: The Dhiban Figurines in Context.”

4.20 – 6.25pm

Alcohol and the Near East

Michael Homan, Xavier University of Louisiana, presiding. Introduction.; Papers: (that I heard) Louise Hitchcock, University of Melbourne, and Alex Zuckerman, Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. “Drinking the Sea Dark Wine: Performativity and Identity in Social Drinking in the Bronze-Iron Age Mediterranean.”; Brent Davis, University of Melbourne. “Alcohol and the Minoans: Interpretations of Ritual Libation and Consumption.”

“Figuring Out” the Figurines of the Ancient Near East

Stephanie Langin-Hooper, Bowling Green State University, presiding. Introduction.; Papers: (that I heard) Doug Bailey, San Francisco State University. “Uncertainty and Precarious Partiality: New Thinking on Figurines.”; Christopher A. Tuttle, American Center for Oriental Research. “Miniature Nabatean Coroplastic Vessels.”; Erin Darby, University of Tennessee and Michael Press, University of Arkansas. “Composite Figurines from the Iron II Levant: A Comparative Approach.”; Andrea Creel, University of California, Berkeley. “Manipulating the Divine and Late Bronze/Iron Age ‘Astarte’ plaques in the southern Levant.”

So... this is what I went to, there was much more going on that I did not go to, unfortunately. But doing this much at least is the reason I was so tired by the time I got to the CoG AAR Reception!

What I did - and did not do - at the American Academy of Religion 2011 annual meeting in San Francisco

Thursday 17 November, 5.00pm

I was actually at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting – an archaeology conference – at this stage, having just presented my paper for that conference. On this night however, my friend Sam and I went out to dinner and the opera (Carmen) with Pagans, Fritz Muntean and Deborah Bender. I did not officially transfer over to the American Academy of Religion conference until the Saturday night, as per below:

Saturday, November 19, 9.00pm – 11.00pm

Northern California Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess welcomes the American Academy of Religion and the San Francisco Bay Area Pagan Community! (Hilton Hotel).

This was an amazing event that included representatives of Afro-Diasporic, Ceremonial Magic, Druid, Heathen, Pagan, and Wiccan groups. There were over 30 different groups, organisations, and distinguished Elders present, representing the Bay Area’s diverse Pagan and Heathen scene.

Sunday, 20 November, 7.30am

Got up extremely early to attend a young scholars breakfast organised by the Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary, Wendy Griffin (it wasn’t necessarily for ‘young’ people, more early career researchers). Then we all went over to the first session, listed just below:

Sunday, 9.00am – 11.30am

AAR Contemporary Pagan Studies Group and Religion and Ecology Group

Whitney Bauman, Florida International University Presiding. Theme: Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices. Panelists: Rosemary R. Reuther, Claremont Graduate University; and Starhawk, Earth Activist Training. Responding: Marion S. Grau, Graduate Theological Union; Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo; and Heather Eaton, Saint Paul University.

Lunch 11.30 – 1.00pm

I had lunch with Reclaiming Witch, Macha NightMare, who I have known online for years. It was great to get to chat intensively with her and I can see that if we had more time we could go on and on talking for hours. Hope to do that some other time!

1 – 2.30pm

AAR Contemporary Pagan Studies Group

Graham Harvey, Open University, Presiding. Theme: West Coast Pagan Practices and Ideas. Papers: Christopher W. Chase, Iowa State University. Building a California Bildung: Theodore Rozak’s and Alan Watts’ Contributions to Pagan Hermeneutics; Kristy Coleman, Santa Clara University and San Jose State University. Re-riting Women: Dianic Wicca; [and unfortunately cancelled] Kerry Noonan, California State University, Northridge. “Wish They All Could Be California Grrrls?”: The Influence of California Women on the Goddess Movement and Neo-Paganism. Responding: Fritz Muntean, Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

3.00 – 4.30pm

Simply had to go rest in my hotel room.

5.00pm – 6.30pm

Indigenous Religious Traditions Group

Jace Weaver, University of Georgia, Presiding. Theme: behind Enemy Lines. Papers: Lee Gilmore, California State University Northridge, and Sabina Magliocco, California State University Northridge. Pagans at the Parliament: Interfaith Dialogue between Pagan and Indigenous Communities; Carmen Landsdown. “Dances with Dependency”: An Indigenous Theological Exploration of Dependency and Development Theories and Their Influences on Liberation Theology for the Twenty-first Century; [and an unfortunate no-show] Comfort Max-Wirth, Florida International University. The Occult and Politics in Ghana: Tapping into the Pentecostal Discourse of Demonizing African Traditional Religion as a Political Strategy; [and another no-show!!!] Orenda Boucher, Concordia University. Violence and the Grotesque of Sacred Bodies: Iconography of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.


Collapsed from tiredness in my hotel room.

Monday 21 November


Through lack of sleep, unable to rise early enough to attend the Cherry Hill Seminary breakfast. (Grrr!) Slept in sufficiently to be fresh for presenting my paper today.

1.00pm – 3.30pm

AAR Contemporary Pagan Studies Group

Shawn Arthur, Appalachian State University, Presiding. Theme: Pagan Analysis and Critique of “Religion”. Papers: Suzanne Owen, Leeds Trinity. Definitions, Decisions and Druids: Presenting Druidry as a Religion; Christine Kraemer, Cherry Hill Seminary. Perceptions of Scholarship in Contemporary Paganism; Helen Berger, Brandeis University. Fifteen Years of Continuity and Change within the American Pagan Community; Caroline Tully, University of Melbourne. Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions. Business Meeting: Chas Clifton, Colorado State University, Presiding.

4.00pm – 6.30pm

Western Esotericism Group

Cathy Gutierrez, Sweet Briar College, Presiding. Theme: Western Esotericism and Material Culture. Papers: Egil Asprem, University of Amsterdam. Technofetishism, Instrumentation, and the Materiality of Esoteric Knowledge; Shawn Eyer, John F. Kennedy University. The Use of Tracing Boards and Other Art Objects as Physical Aids of Symbolic Communication in the Rituals and Practices of Freemasonry; Stephen Wehmeyer, Champlain College. Conjurational Contraptions: “Techno-gnosis”, Mechanical Wizardry, and the Material Culture of African American Folk Magic; Henrik Bogdan, University of Gothenburg. “Objets d’Art Noir”, Magical Engines, and Gateways to Other Dimensions: Understanding Hierophanies in Contemporary Occultism; Joseph Christian Greer, Harvard University. Storming the Citadel for Knowledge, Aesthetics and Profit: The Dreamachine in Twentieth Century Esotericism.

6.30 pm

European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism and Aries Reception

The European Society of the Study of Western Esotericism and its associated journal Aries invite[d] current and potential members of ESSWE and current and potential contributors to Aries to a reception to hear briefly about plans for ESSWE and Aries, and to renew or extend contacts within the field.

(There was also a session on Saturday 19 November from 8.30am – 12.30pm that I was invited to present in but which I could not attend, as I was still at ASOR: Phoenix Rising Academy. Theme: Demons in the Academy? Renouncing Rejected Knowledge, Again. Description: Join us for a special session exploring the transdisciplinary options for balanced and integrative approaches to Western Esotericism, while drawing attention to issued relating to the focus on disinterested empiricism as the sole acceptable method for the study of these topics. Integrative models and approaches combining scholarly rigor with imaginative and sympathetic engagement have long been established in many areas of the humanities and social sciences. Yet the question of scholarly overengagment with their topic continues to be a point of contention, while voices calling from channels of dialogue and mutual understanding between scholars and practitioners in order to better explore the application and potential of such epistemologies are frequently met with suspicion in academic circles. In this session we seek to explore ways to build bridges of fruitful communication and mutual understanding between seemingly disparate voices and perspectives. Topics include: Legitimate ways of knowing: experiential knowledge and/or symbolic perception; How can we learn from each other? Bridging the practitioner-scholar divide; Is history and discourse analysis enough?; Paradigms for integration and applied transdisciplinary methodology. Details here.

That’s All Folks!

Friday, November 25, 2011

American Academy of Religion Conference 2011

I've just come back from a fabulously stimulating time in San Francisco during which I attended the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) conference and the American Academy of Religion (AAR) conference. I'll report on ASOR later and concentrate on the AAR for the moment. Now that I've presented my paper at the AAR I will post my original proposal here - which I wasn't really even sure would be accepted. But it was, so I had to work hard on it, fortunately it was built from the paper I presented mid year at the Archaeology and Narration Conference at Melbourne University. Here it is:

Researching the Past, is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a response by practitioner Pagans to academic research on the history of Pagan religions.

Modern Paganism is a new religious movement with a strong attachment to the past. Looking back through time to an often idealised ancient world, Pagans seek inspiration, validation and authorisation for present beliefs and activities as espoused in the familiar catch-cries of “tradition”, “lineage” and “historical authenticity”. A movement that consciously looks to the past and claims to revive the ancient religious practices of pre-Christian Europe, modern Paganism has always been dependent upon academic scholarship—particularly history, archaeology and anthropology—in its project of self-fashioning. Dependant primarily upon late nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship, Pagans often vociferously reject more recent research, especially when it contradicts earlier findings, perceiving it as threatening to their structure of beliefs and sense of identity. Not only do the results of such scholarship traumatise Pagans—however unwittingly on the scholars’ part—in some cases it rebounds upon the researchers themselves when Pagans seek to traumatise the scholars, the “bearers of bad news”, in return.

This paper will present case studies which display the contested nature of the past by highlighting the combative interaction between Pagans and academic researchers at three types of site-as-stage: the text, the archaeological site and the museum, and explain how the performers fail to communicate as a result of speaking different “languages”. The paper will initially focus upon the frequently negative reception, by Witches, of recent historical research on modern Pagan Witchcraft. It will also look at Goddess Tours to Crete and other ancient Mediterranean sites, as well as the “new indigene” prevalent in British Druidry and their involvement in the dispute regarding access to and interpretation of archaeological sites and museum objects. The paper will then discuss the infusion into Paganism of hybrid vigour through the activities of the Pagan Studies scholar, a researcher often in the role of participant-observer, who can function as a “go-between”, easing the sense of resentment by Pagans toward the perceived colonisation of their religion by “hackademics”.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Word of Tree and Whisper of Stone

Well, this is what I did at the Mt Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering 30th anniversary - that is, when I wasn't maniacally socialising. I went for a nature/powerwalk around the crater rim and visited with trees and stones on the inside of the crater. For more social pictures of the event, see the official Mt Franklin blog.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Upcoming Travels

Oh boy! I have so much to do. On the 28th of this month (that's next Friday) I'm going up to the 30th Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering in Central Victoria for Beltane (yes, it's Beltane in the southern hemisphere... at least in regions where a reversed northern hemisphere sabbat calendar fits). I first attended Mount Franklin in 1986 and I went regularly for 12 years, up to 1998. Then I stopped going as part of a general withdrawal from Pagan socialising on my part (but not from Paganism itself). So in the years in which Witchcraft boomed here in Oz, the late 90s and early 2000s - and as a consequence of which the which Mount Franklin event got absolutely huge, from what I hear - I just wasn't there. So, I'm going up for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday with my friend from my Pagan socialising days, Philippe. I haven't been camping for over 10 years so it's going to be, erm... interesting.

Next, the week I get back, I have to present a paper on Minoan tree cult at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies 'Work in Progress Day'. This is actually a slightly longer, practice version of the paper I am presenting at the American Schools of Oriental Research
Annual Meeting in San Francisco in November. A few days before that though, I am going to Pagan songstress, Wendy Rule's handfasting - that ought to be interesting. Wendy (who I last saw at Tim Hartridge and Tori Collins' handfasting in Sydney, where she officiated) and her partner Tim are having a British friend perform their handfasting. No doubt it'll be an Australian Pagan 'who's who' at that event and I look forward to wishing Wendy and Tim all the best for their nuptials.

As I said, I'm going to San Francisco in November, to the
American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) meeting to present my paper, 'The Sacred Life of Trees: What Trees say about People in the Prehistoric Aegean and Near East'. There will also be tons of other people presenting work there and I will be going to as many papers as possible - particularly those on the archaeology of ritual and of gender. After ASOR I am going to the American Academy of Religion (AAR) to present in the Contemporary Pagan Studies session. My paper is titled 'Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a response by practitioner Pagans to academic research on the history of Pagan religions'. This will be the first time in the USA for me, and also the first time I will meet many American Pagans in the flesh, particularly those Pagan Studies scholars who I've been corresponding with since 1999 and who - frankly - have kept my interest in contemporary Paganism alive in subsequent years.

So, basically I'm going to have to be very sociable within the next month...

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I am naked, blindfolded. I can't see a thing but my other senses are heightened. I hear whispering, I feel my wrists chafe against the cord that restrains them. The smell of incense invades my nostrils and my mouth is dry with anticipation. I am disoriented, but I know where I am. No, not in the midst of a bizarre sado-masochism session as it might first appear. Nor am I a prisoner of any sort, here against my will. In fact, I have come to this place voluntarily, eagerly, with an attitude of perfect love and perfect trust. Although bound, paradoxically I am free. I am in the process of being initiated into modern Witchcraft.

Initiation is somewhat of a controversial subject in Witchcraft these days, different Witches holding attitudes toward it which range from the idea that you must be initiated by a recognised lineage, to the belief that a Witch can perform their own self-initiation. Some say that the initiatory current must pass from woman to man, others say that it’s ok to be initiated by someone of the same sex. Several traditions have multiple levels of initiation, whereas others have only one, and some Witches dispense with it altogether. With the explosion in popularity of Witchcraft as a spiritual path, the manifold Wiccan traditions all using similar terminology, and the often bewildering spectrum of techniques and styles, an aspiring Witch could get more than a little confused. What goes on during initiation? Is it scary? Is it safe? And most importantly, is it necessary to be initiated to call yourself a Witch?

Wicca: a modern Mystery Religion
The aptly-named Mystery Religions had their heyday in ancient Greece and Rome and were secret religious groups composed of individuals who decided to be initiated into the profound realities of a particular deity. Probably the most famous of the ancient Mystery Religions were the Rites of Eleusis which centred around the myth of Demeter and Persephone, but there were also many other types such as the Mysteries of Isis and Serapis, Dionysus, Cybele and Attys, and Mithras, indeed even Christianity started off as a Mystery Religion. Unlike the official state religions practiced by the majority of society, the Mysteries emphasised an inwardness and privacy of worship within closed groups, they were secretive, exclusive, and entry to the rites was through initiation.

The word 'mystery' itself derives from the Greek verb 'myein' meaning 'to close' referring to the closing of the lips or the eyes. An initiate was required to keep his or her lips closed and not divulge any secrets that were revealed at the ceremony. Most ancient initiates kept so quiet about what actually occurred during the rites that today we do not have much of an idea about what really went on. As a descendant of the Ancient Mysteries, admission to Wicca's secret rites is still via initiation, however these days, amid mixed reactions amongst the initiates, the Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccan initiations have been published and are widely available, so to a certain extent they are no longer secrets,(although in practice there is still unpublished oral content used only within the tradition). The actual Mysteries themselves however, cannot be revealed, indeed they cannot even be described because they occur within the soul of the initiate and are only triggered by the initiation ritual, they are not the ritual itself.

What is Initiation?
Initiation does not only occur within the context of a Mystery Religion, nor does it even necessarily require the use of ritual. Significant points within a person's life-cycle such as sexual maturation, marriage, childbirth, menopause, ageing and death are also forms of initiation which may, but do not have to be, accompanied by ceremonial rites of passage. In a general sense, an initiation is a transformative event or process which results in the initiate being irrevocably changed. According to author Michael Meade, "Initiatory events are those that mark a man or woman's life forever, that pull a person deeper into life than they would normally choose to go. Initiatory events are those that define who a person is, or cause some power to erupt from them, or strip everything from them until all that is left is their essential self... there is departure from daily life, a suffering of ordeals and dramatic episodes, and a return as a marked and different person. Initiation is the dramatic way the psyche shifts ground and orientation..."

Wiccan author, Vivianne Crowley, confirms that there are indeed many types of personal initiation, but that "there is also another form of initiation - initiation into a magical or spiritual tradition whereby we are grafted onto its group mind". This type of initiation is deliberate, it is not something which just happens to you as part of life, but something you consciously strive for. It is a voluntary step into the unknown, an acceleration of the deep processes of consciousness. However, initiation is not a reward, or merely membership within a group, or a one-off achievement, or the end of something - indeed the very word 'initiation' means 'beginning' - it is a dynamic process which takes its own time to manifest. A ritual cannot 'make' you an initiate: although someone might participate in an initiation ceremony, a genuine initiation only happens because a person has a profound, inner transformation. Ultimately it is the Gods who decide who receives true initiation.

What happens during Initiation rituals?
Plutarch (late 1st century AD) noted the similarity between the Greek verbs 'teleutan' meaning 'to die', and 'teleisthai' meaning 'to be initiated', and observed that people who die and people who go through initiation ceremonies experience comparable transformations. Initiation into a religion such as Wicca involves a symbolic death and rebirth; the novice 'dies' to their previous life and is then 'reborn' into their new life. Initiation ceremonies the world over also frequently consist of a three-fold structure involving the themes of separation, transition, and integration; the novice undergoes purification which separates them from their previous life, they then transit through various dedications, consecrations and initiatory teachings, which finally results in their being integrated into the new society of, for example, Wicca. Initiates are bound not to divulge the nature of the rites to ensure the content from being profaned, and also to enhance the novice's excitement, fear and reverence for the occasion. Initiations imprint upon the susceptible mind and symbolic content is likely to make a bigger impression if it is somewhat of a suprise.

As well as having the three-fold structure in common, initiatory rites of varying kinds may also include some, or a combination, of the following components: Pre-ritual meditation in a chamber of reflection, disrobing, restraining hands and sometimes feet with a cord, blindfolding, disorientation, obstruction or difficulty entering the ritual space, a purification/baptism with water or other liquid, consecration with incense and/or oil, a wholehearted acceptance of the new path, an oath of loyalty, scourging, passwords, secret handshakes or signs, an ordeal or test, creation of a magickal link with the tradition, communication with Deity, the receiving of a new name, the infliction of a certain mark which may be a tattoo, kissing, sex - symbolic or actual, receiving a special book of rituals, accepting new tools, special jewellery or clothing, and religious and magickal instruction. - Some of these things may cause the novice fear, however initiations are designed to be entirely safe. No one is ever forced to undergo initiation, and anyone applying for initiation into a group is at liberty to later decline because such rites are always done of your own free will. Conversely, initiations can also be withheld at the discretion of the Initiator or tradition, indeed the Roman Emperor, Nero himself, was denied entry into the Eleusinian Mysteries.

In Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witchcraft, initiation must pass from female to male and vica versa, a male Witch must be initiated by a woman and a woman must be initiated by a man. In other traditions, such as Dianic Witchcraft which only admits women, the High Priestess as representative of the Goddess initiates members of the same sex, and in some mixed groups the Coven member of highest status, the leader, whether this is a male or a female, initiates the members. The initiator is the vessel or conduit of the initiatory power which comes from the Gods and ultimately can be of either gender. As the famous occultist Dion Fortune said "All the Gods are one God, and all the Goddesses are one Goddess and there is one Initiator."

Wiccan initiation may be a single ritual, however it is usually tripartite, or there may even be up to ten initiatory gateways to pass through, again, depending on the individual tradition. In some variants of Witchcraft there is only one degree, attained after a year's apprenticeship (in fact it is not even really a 'degree' as such, but a swearing of loyalty and acceptance into the Coven). This sort of initiation can be quite simple and might only involve the novice Witch kneeling on one knee, putting one hand on the crown of her head and one under the sole of her foot, and offering all in between to the Deity who is represented by the Man in Black. He then places his hand on her head and asks her to give all under his hand over to him and to say "I place myself at every point in thy power and in thy hands, recognising no other God, for thou art my God." Multiple initiations, on the other hand, are akin to a series of significant thresholds and portals through which the novice passes along a path of self-development. Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witchcraft have three degrees of advancement which High Priestess, Judy Harrow, notes are in some ways "comparable to the ranks of Apprentice,
Journeyman and Master in the old craft guilds, or Bachelor, Master and Doctor in the university system."

In a three-degree system, after the year and a day of dedicated postulancy, the Wiccan novice applies for the First Degree. In this ritual they are introduced to the magickal tools, taught how to bless salt and water, how to use the athame, cast the circle, set up the altar, call the watchtowers, and basic Craft principles. They may also choose a new magickal name at this stage. At the conclusion of the rite they are acknowledged as a Wiccan initiate, a Priest/ess and Witch. During the Second Degree the Witch is introduced to the mysteries of death and rebirth and is elevated to the rank of High Priestess and Witch Queen, or High Priest and Magus. They are expected to have a deeper understanding of the Craft and the Deities, to have a magickal partner of the opposite sex, and to have enough knowledge to be able to teach a First Degree novice. They may also 'hive off' from the parent Coven, if they so desire, and form their own group under the watchful eye of their Initiator. A Third Degree initiate is introduced to the concept of the perpetual and infinite nature of existence signified by the Great Rite - the sexual congress of the Goddess and God - and must display extensive knowledge of the principles and workings of the Craft, an understanding of the symbols, magickal tools and ritual procedure, and be able to successfully invoke the Deities. As 'thrice consecrated' High Priestess and Witch Queen (High Priest and Magus) the Third Degree initiate is quite independent, answerable only to the Gods, and may found a fully autonomous Coven.

Wiccan or Witch?
So... do you need to be initiated into the Wiccan Mysteries to be a Witch? In a word, no. Wicca is a mystery religion and the Witch's craft is a separate magickal practice which is included as part of what Wiccans do. All Wiccans are Witches, but not all Witches are necessarily Wiccans. You can become a Witch by saying "I am a Witch" three times, and thinking seriously about what that means. All who declare themselves as Witches offer their lives to the service of the Goddess and God, exactly the same as those who stepped into some tradition's initiatory circle. An 'uninitiated' Witch can be just as wise, wonderful and witchy as a Wiccan initiate, the only difference being that they will not be privy to the initiation rituals of a specific tradition - which is in no way the same as saying they will not have access to the Mysteries - quite the contrary, the Gods are fully capable of providing powerful and effective initiatory experiences directly without any human intervention. Admission to a Mystery Initiation certainly is a worthy experience, but not an not essential one, what matters is that a Witch develops reverence for Nature, contact with Deity is achieved, and the power and guidance of the Goddess and Horned God informs all one's being and doing.

Further Reading
A Witches' Bible. Janet & Stewart Farrar
Descent to the Goddess. Sylvia Brinton Perera
The Ancient Mysteries. Ed. Marvin W. Meyer
Witchcraft For Tomorrow. Doreen Valiente
Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed. Doreen Valiente and Evan Jones

Monday, October 10, 2011

Australian Beltane

The constellations Cetus and Eridanus appear in the eastern night sky followed, as the season progresses, by Taurus and the Pleiades. In southern Australia this is early summer; warm, even hot in the day, but still quite chilly at night. Many trees and shrubs are in flower and the song of cicadas heralds the imminent summer. Birds are feeding their young and mountain pygmy possums give birth. In the north, it is the 'build up', the time of the pre-monsoon storms, characterised by hot, cloudy, humid weather, flickering lightning and intermittent rain. When the first rains fall, the dry earth rapidly becomes green, frogs are heard croaking, and the land regenerates after the fires of the previous dry season. Wallabies and tree kangaroos give birth, and estuarine crocodiles and turtles begin nesting.

Meditation: Like a cicada who leaves behind its brown underworld shell, as the weather warms up we eagerly strip off our winter coverings to reveal an invigorated summer self. Unveiled, pale-skinned, singing of the green season which will be over all too soon, we venture out to greet the sunlight. This is a time to make offerings to tree spirits, to listen to the earth, and to celebrate the life force. Scarab-like, the cicada symbolises the eternally returning sun-cycle, his shell a talisman of infinity.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Invocation to Thoth of the Ibis Head

I invoke Tahuti, the Lord of Wisdom and of Utterance; the god that cometh forth from the veil.

Oh thou, majesty of the godhead, wisdom-crowned Tahuti, Lord of the gates of the universe. Thee, thee I invoke.

Oh thou of the ibis head. Thee, thee I invoke.

Thou who wieldest the wand of double power. Thee, thee I invoke.

Thou who bearest in thy left hand the rose and cross of light and life. Thee, thee I invoke.

Thou whose head is as an emerald, and thy nemyss as the night sky blue. Thee, thee I invoke.

Thou whose skin is a flaming orange as though it burned in a furnace. Thee, thee I invoke.

Behold, I am yesterday, today, and the brother of tomorrow. I am born again and again. Mine is the unseen force whereof the gods are sprung, which is as life unto the dwellers in the Watchtowers of the Universe. I am the charioteer of the east; Lord of the past and the future. I see by my own inward light; Lord of resurrection who cometh forth from the dust, and my birth is from the house of death.

Oh ye two Divine hawks upon your pinnacles who keep watch over the universe. Ye who company the Bier to the house of rest, who pilot the ship of Ra, ever advancing onwards the heights of heaven. Lord of the shrine which standeth in the center of the earth.

Behold! He is me and I in him. Mine is the radiance wherein Ptah floateth over the firmament. I travel upon high. I tread upon the firmament of Nu. I raise a flashing flame with the lightening of mine eye. Ever rushing on in the splendor of the daily glorified Ra, giving my life to the dwellers of earth. If I say come up upon the mountain, the celestial waters shall flow at my command. For I am Ra incarnate, Kephra created in the flesh. I am the eidolon of my father Tmu, Lord of the city of the sun.

The god who commands is in my mouth. The god of wisdom is in my heart. My tongue is the sanctuary of truth and a god sitteth upon my lips. My word is accomplished every day, and the desire of my heart realizes itself as that of Ptah when he created his works. I am eternal, therefore all things are as my designs.

Therefore do thou come forth unto me from thine abode in the silence, unutterable wisdom, all light or power.

Thoth. Hermes. Mercury. Odin. By whatever name I call thee thou art still nameless to eternity. Come thou forth I say, and aid and guard me in this work of art.

Thou star of the east that didst conduct the magi. Thou art the same all present in heaven and in hell. Thou that vibratest between the light and the darkness, rising, descending, changing ever, yet ever the same. The sun is thy father; thy mother the moon. The wind hath borne thee in it's bosom and earth hath ever nourished the changeless god head of thy youth.

Come thou forth I say, come thou forth and make every spirit of the firmament and of the ether, upon the earth and under the earth, on dry land and in the water, of whirling air and of rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God the Vast One may be obedient unto me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


This pic is an ad for my perfume of choice, Dior's Hypnotic Poison (although I've currently run out of it, except for some drops at the bottom of the bottle, despite having gone through the duty free perfumes section at the airport several times reasonably recently - apparently it's cheaper at those 'chemist warehouses', really must get some more). Perfumes with evocative names aside (did you know that Exael is the devil in charge of the perfume industry?)... One of my side interests, or I should say many interests, as they only become 'side' interests when one of them is requiring my full attention and pushing the others to the side, is poison. Yes, poison - the woman's weapon. It sounds glamorous, but in fact it's not. Actual poison works in most unaesthetically pleasing ways - and it's also easily detected. While I will write more on this soon - when I have time - I'll currently post my own bookslist of reading material on poison. Also, those in the UK can check out the Alnwick Poison Garden. This bibliography is split into two parts: books on the so-called 'Affair of the Poisons' in which members of Louis XIV's court, including his most important mistress at the time, Madame de Montespan, were embroiled in accusations of consorting with the infamous witch, LaVoisin, from whom they obtained love potions, poisons, congress with the Devil, and cosmetics (Azazel is the devil in charge of cosmetics). The next lot of books are on poisons in general, and may I especially recommend Deborah Blum, James Wharton and Gail Bell. Have a look at Nataniel Hawthorne's Rappacini's Daughter as well, and finally, try and get a hold of Seneca's Medea for an over-the-top description of making magical poisons. Here's the Loeb translation from 1917.

Poison Biblio

Strange Revelations: Magic, Poisons and Sacrilege in Louis XIV's France. by Lynn Wood Mollenauer (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007).

The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV. by Anne Somerset (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2003).

Athénaïs: The Real Queen of France. by Lisa Hamilton (Little Brown, 2002).

The Affair of the Poisons: Louis XIV, Madame de Montespan, and one of History’s Great Unsolved Mysteries. by Frances Mossiker (Victor Gollancz, 1970).

The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work and Play. By James C. Wharton. (Oxford University Press, 2010).

The Poisoner’s Handbook. by Deborah Blum (Penguin 2010).

The Bean of Calabar and Other Stories. by Steve Macinnis (Allen and Unwin, 2004).

The Poison Principle. by Gail Bell. (Picador 2001).

The Mammoth Book of Murder Science. by Roger Wilkes (Robinson 2000).

Silent Death. by Steve Preisler (Festering Publications, 1997).

Murder With Venom. by Brian Marriner. (True Crime Library 1993).

ABC Guide to Poisons. by Dr Leah Kaminsky (Haughton Miffin, 1991).

The Lady Killers. by Jonathon Goodman. (Piatkus, 1990).

Rappaccini's Daughter. by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1844).

Seneca’s Medea.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Australian Eostre

The constellation of Pegasus and the brightest star in the galaxy Andromeda are rising in the northeast at this time. In southern Australia, spring can be a changeable season and is often characterised by warm days interspersed with wind and rain, vigorous plant growth, abundant flowers and nesting birds. Young koalas leave their mothers’ pouches and mature koalas begin mating. In northern Australia this is the hot dry season; the atmosphere is sticky, water dries up and the ground is very dusty. Swamps and waterholes evaporate, and birds and animals gather around the shrunken billabongs. During this season Aboriginal people burn off the dry grass which flushes out game such as wallabies, goannas, snakes and lizards. Emus are laying their eggs now, and several turtle species, as well as brown snakes, mate.

Meditation: According to Aboriginal legends from the Murrumbidgee area of New South Wales and from the Murray River region in New South Wales and Victoria, the sun is created from the yolk of an emu egg which was thrown up into the air where it struck and then ignited a pile of kindling. Emu breeding habits display cooperation between the sexes: the female lays the eggs and the male hatches and rears the chicks which are striped light and dark – like the year. The emu’s egg, laid during the time of the equinox, signifies harmonious balance, partnership, sharing, polarity, duality and androgyny.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Witches of ancient Greece and Rome

Ancient Greek epics such as the Odyssey, and the Voyage of Argo tell of princely heroes destined for kingship who seek out legendary sorceresses, appealing to them to wield their magickal power for the sake of a royal line. Witches had pivotal roles in these stories, acting as guides for such heroes as Odysseus and Jason; men who were required to enter the feminine, womb-like space of the underworld, or to travel to the ends of the Earth, as part of their courageous journeying. Later on, in Roman literature, such as in Horace’s Odes and Epodes, or Lucan’s Pharsalia, Witches degenerated into the cemetery-scouring hags familiar to popular culture, no longer sending the hero down to search the underworld, but instead, bringing the realm of the dead up to their customers by performing necromantic rites.

There are many Witches featuring in Greco-Roman literature, some of whom have familiar names such as Circe and Medea, and others who may be somewhat lesser-known such as Simaetha, Perimede, Agamede, Pamphile, Fotis, Erictho, Dipsas, Sagana, Canidia, Veia, Diotima and Oenothea. This article, however, focuses only on Circe, Medea, Canidia and Erictho. Circe and Medea are demoted Goddesses, whereas Canidia is based on an actual real life character, and Erictho is a fearsome composite of several Witches - as well as of the goddess Hekate. These intriguing sorceresses inhabited the margins of society, they personified peripheries, edges, boundaries, and were fringe-dwellers in every sense of the word - if they didn’t live far out to sea on an island like Circe, then they might come from foreign countries like Medea and Erictho, or inhabit the fringe of ‘decent’ society as did Canidia.

Dealing with Witchcraft was a step away from the confines of normality for both the mythic hero and the average citizen, it was an adventure between the worlds where transformation was possible. Apart from goddesses and queens, Witches were practically the only women with fleshed-out personalities and important roles to play in classical literature, and their characters acted as ‘templates’ for the portrayal of Witches in literature for centuries to come.

And then the demon goddess lightly laid
Her wand upon our hair, and instantly
Bristles (the shame of it! but I will tell)
Began to sprout; I could no longer speak;
My words were grunts, I grovelled to the ground.
I felt my nose change to a tough wide snout,
My neck thicken and bulge. My hands that held
The bowl just now made footprints on the floor.
And with my friends who suffered the same fate
(Such power have magic potions) I was shut
Into a sty.
~Ovid, Metamorphoses.

The first magical operation recorded in Greek literature is found in Book 10 of the famous Odyssey by Homer which was written in the 8th century BCE. This magic was performed by Circe, a Witch who lived on an island called Aeaea at the edge of the known world. Ancient Greeks believed the world was flat and that it was encircled by the ‘river of ocean’, Circe lived at the boundary of this world - practically as far away from civilisation as possible - near the entrance to Hades, the Underworld. She is a Heliade, a daughter of Helios the Sun God, and is sister to both Aeetes, the father of Medea, and Pasiphae, mother of the Minotaur. It is likely that Circe herself was also originally an ancient Goddess of some sort, perhaps a ‘Potnia Theron’, a Mistress of Animals. She is also a predatory seductress, and her name in Greek, Kirke, is related to kirkos which means a circling bird of prey, or a wolf, and which in Homer, denotes a hawk.

On their way home from the Trojan War, the hero Odysseus and his companions arrive at her island where "...all about them were lions, and wolves of the mountains, whom the goddess had given evil drugs and enchanted, and these made no attack on the men, but came up thronging about them, waving their long tails..." No sooner does Circe meet with the men than she waves her wand over them and "they took on the look of pigs, with the heads and voices and bristles of pigs, but the mind in them stayed as they had been before... Circe threw down acorns for them to eat, and ilex and cornel buds, such food as pigs who sleep on the ground always feed on." Pigs were sacred to Demeter and Persephone and associated with the fertility of the earth, so perhaps Circe is, in a way, designating the men as offerings to the chthonic Earth Mother/Daughter duo.

With the aid of the god Hermes, who supplied him with a magickal plant called ‘moly’, Odysseus becomes immune to Circe’s magic and so instead of transforming him into a pig as well, she invites him to become her lover. Eventually Odysseus persuades her to change his companions back to their human form, and they all remain living on her island for a year. However, Odysseus needs to obtain the advice of a famous prophet called Tiresias, (who unfortunately is dead), to find out exactly how to reach his home to reclaim his kingship. Circe explains the ritual processes required to enter the underworld so he can consult with the Seer, and shows him how to get there. Here she seems to be a type of gatekeeper, and her island, a portal to the realm of the dead.

In addition to her role in the Odyssey, in later literature Circe had dealings with the prophetic divinity, Picus, who loved the fruit goddess, Pomona, and was consequently changed by Circe into a woodpecker for preferring Pomona over her. She also loved Glaucus but he was in love with Scylla, consequently Circe put poisonous herbs into the fountain where Scylla bathed and she was turned into the famous monster which lurked in a cliff overlooking the strait between Italy and Sicily. Circe was also associated with Marcia, mother of Latinus by Faunus, and with Aphrodite.

My magic song rouses the quiet, calms the angry sea,
I move forests, bid the mountains quake,
the deep earth groans, and ghosts rise from their tombs.
Thee too bright moon, I banish...
~Ovid, Metamorphoses.

Medea is the niece of Circe, a Heliade, and also a Priestess and Witch in the lunar cult of Hekate. She is known to us from the Voyage of Argo, or as it is also known, Jason and the Argonauts by Apollonius of Rhodes, which was written in the 3rd century BCE. Probably the most infamous Witch of antiquity, many writers were fascinated by her and she also appears in works by Seneca, Euripedes and Ovid. In the story of the Argonauts, the goddesses, Athena and Hera, convince Aphrodite to send Eros to smite Medea with love for Jason, leader of the Argonauts, because it fits in with their plans which favour Jason. He had been sent to her kingdom of Colchis to find the Golden Fleece by his uncle who would not let him ascend the throne of his homeland without it. Medea consequently betrays her own people by helping Jason obtain the Golden Fleece, and then has to flee with him back to Greece.

Back in Jason’s kingdom Medea is seen as exotic and foreign and fails to be assimilated into society. Although she was instrumental in putting him on the throne and lives with him as a wife, ungrateful Jason later abandons her because he is offered a chance to marry a local princess for political reasons. Medea derives her sinister reputation from what she did to punish Jason - she made a poisonous robe for the princess he was to marry, who dies horribly, and then she kills her own children. Readers throughout later centuries have had difficulties reconciling their feelings of sympathy for Medea, with their abhorrence at her murderous behaviour. Many explanations for her actions have been suggested ranging from the obvious; that she was just desperate and furious, to the more subtle; that writers used it as a way of making her appear even more ‘alien’. Other versions of the story say that she left the children in the temple of Hera where they were stoned to death by the Corinthians and still other stories mention descendants of Medea and Jason, so if she did kill her children she only killed two of them. One of the survivors, Thessalus, was said to be the father of the Thessalian race.

Medea was not executed for her murders and infanticide, but flew away on her magical chariot and appealed to foreign kings for asylum. To one king, Aegus of Athens, she bore a son Medus whom in some versions of her story she took home to Colchis and who eventually became the father of the Medes, a powerful Asian race. Some writers say that she went to Italy where she was deified by people called the Marrubians as the obscure goddess, Angitia, whose name came from her abilities to kill serpents and cure snakebite; (anguis = serpent). She was also identified with the Roman goddess, Bona Dea, who was the chaste sister, or wife, to Faunus, and who was also associated with serpents. Bona Dea’s cult was a women-only affair, she was a goddess associated with healing, and medicinal herbs were sold in her temples.

Canidia and Erictho appear in Roman poetry, not in epic stories or plays, and so their characters are less-developed than Circe or Medea’s. They are meant to be repulsive, frightening hags, not sexy, amoral sorceresses, which seems to be the way Roman authors perceived Witches. Nevertheless, these types of Witches were to make a big impression on the readers of such literature and this Roman stereotype persisted for the next two thousand years. Hag-like, spooky Canidia, along with her companions, Sagana and Veia, are thought to be (besides the Norns and the Fates), the inspiration for Shakespeare’s ‘Weird Sisters’ from Macbeth. Canidia appears in poems by the Roman writer Horace (65 - 8 BCE), and seems to have been based upon a real Neapolitan pharmacist and perfume-maker called Grattidia, famous for her potions and poisons.

Canidia orders funeral Cypresses,
wild fig trees dug out from tombs,
a nocturnal screech-owl’s feathers,
and eggs smeared with the blood of a nasty toad.
Herbs supplied by poisonous, fertile Iolcos and Spain,
bones snatched from a starving bitch,
to be scorched in the Colchian flames.
~Horace, At o deorum.

According to Georg Luck’s essay in Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome, Horace deliberately satirises Canidia as a depraved practitioner of the black arts in an effort to debunk popular belief in Witchcraft and discourage people from paying Witches for their services. Just as in northern Europe, southern European Witches were always ready with an elixir or a poison and many people sought their aid: The love-struck, seeking to ensnare a beloved or to destroy a rival; young women unable to conceive a child, begged the Witch to bestow upon them the blessing of fertility; and men with impotence problems implored Witches to straighten out their dilemma.

Arrest and persecution of Witches, whether they were hexers or healers, was not unique to Christian Europe’s Witch trials. In the years 184, 180-179 BCE, (which was, incidentally, before Canidia/Grattidia’s time), Roman magistrates ordered the execution of thousands of people accused of veneficia (poisoning) or malign magic, in one case killing 2000 alleged magic-workers and in another 3000. Performing magick, and especially being famous for doing so, like Grattidia, was a dangerous business and practitioners were always at risk of being denounced by an unsatisfied client.

Nay, though the Witch had power to
call the shades forth from the depths,
‘twas doubtful if the cave were not a part of hell.
Discordant hues flamed on her garb as by a fury worn;
bare was her visage, and upon her brow dread vipers hissed,
beneath her streaming locks in sable coils entwined.
~Lucan, Pharsalia.

Such is the description of the Witch, Erictho, in Book 6 of the Pharsalia by the Roman author Lucan (39 - 65 AD). In this incredibly long epic poem about the Civil War between Julius Caesar and Pompey, we meet a fearsome figure who seems to be a combination of all the previous Witches, as well as being reminiscent of Virgil’s description of Hekate in The Aeneid. Erictho lives in Thessaly, the classic country of sorcery, and is consulted there by Pompey’s son on the eve of the battle of Pharsalus (48 BCE). She has enormous powers, more like a Goddess than a Witch, and emerges as a kind of Great Mother Kali scouring the cremation grounds, collecting the bones and ashes of the dead. In the Pharsalia, instead of guiding the supplicant to the underworld, Erictho brings the underworld up to him by performing necromancy and reanimating a corpse to foretell the future about the outcome of the battle. Such operations were believed to really work and reviving the dead was a subject discussed in scientific circles up to the 19th century. Georg Luck tells us that the poet Shelley read Lucan with his wife Mary, and that this is probably where she derived her idea about writing Frankenstein.

What can we learn from these Witches?
Investigation into the classical Mediterranean Witch figures (by reading the sorts of titles listed below) reveal the beginnings of the sexist stereotyping of women who practiced Witchcraft, as well as showing us interesting role models of what we would now call ‘Solitaries’ or perhaps ‘Hedge Wytches’: there are no covens (unless you call Canidia and her two friends a ‘coven’), no pentagrams, and no ‘Great Rites’. The Witches’ patron deity was Hekate and Witchcraft seemed to be more concerned with attainment of power, in a worldly sense, control of sex, fertility, life and death, and medicine for healing or harming, rather than any sort of religious practice. These ancient Witches are quite different to the rather pervasive ‘fluffy bunny New Age Wiccans’ of contemporary society. Although they are not necessarily based completely truthfully on real life ancient practitioners, personally I think that anyone who studies and/or practices Witchcraft today needs to be aware of these ancient Witchy prototypes and their role in the stereotype/archetype of the Witch.

Where to find Greco-Roman Witches
These once-popular classic works have been somewhat neglected of late by many Pagans, however these books are recommended reading for the popular revival/practice of Stregheria as well as any sort of Hellenic or Roman reconstructionist Paganism, and for those who have an affinity with Mediterranean cultures.

The Odyssey by Homer, (Penguin 1946), the Voyage of Argo by Apollonius of Rhodes (Penguin 1959 & 1971), Medea by Euripides (Penguin 1963), Metamorphosis by Ovid (Oxford University Press 1986) the Aeneid by Virgil (Penguin 1990), Complete Odes and Epodes by Horace (Penguin 1983), and Pharsalia by Lucan (Penguin 1992).

Other helpful titles
Arcana Mundi by Georg Luck. (John Hopkins University Press USA 1985), Women of Classical Mythology by Robert E. Bell (ABC-CLIO USA 1991) (Has lots of obscure goddesses as well as more familiar ones listed). Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. Ed. Bengt Ankarloo & Stuart Clark. (Athlone Press 1999) The Rotting Goddess by Jacob Rabinowitz. (Traces the development of Hekate from a local fertility deity into a somewhat sinister Witch Goddess). (Autonomedia USA 1998) and Goddesses of Sun and Moon by Karl Kerenyi. (Highly recommended for his analysis of the figures of Circe and Medea) (Spring Publications USA 1979).

Originally published in The Cauldron #106 (November 2002).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Upper Palaeolithic... and me.

I have just finished reading the sixth and final book in Jean M. Auel’s “Earth’s Children” series, The Land of the Painted Caves. This series – for those who don’t know – is set in Europe during the Upper Palaeolithic (or Late Stone Age) period, dating between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. Auel’s books are meant to be set around the 28,000 BCE (30,000 BP) mark. The first book in this series, The Clan of the Cave Bear, came out in 1980 but I didn’t discover and read it until around 1986. That was also the year that the film of the book, starring Daryl Hannah, came out – although I didn’t see it until several years later. I’ve heard that it was voted worst film of that year and I agree, it was not good. The book on which it is based however, is excellent.

Back in 1986 when I was reading Clan of the Cave Bear, inspired by a magazine devoted to rural self-sufficiency called Grass Roots, I had recently moved from the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda (yes the seedy carnivalesque one) to rural Central Victoria. It was the absolute tail-end of the Back to the Earth Movement that had been prominent in the 1970s, and I was really sorry that I’d – apparently – missed it. My boyfriend and I thought we’d do rural self-sufficiency anyway; I was already spinning my own wool, weaving and making clothes in my St Kilda flat. We made a pact to move to the country whether we were ready to or not. When we first arrived in Central Victoria we squatted in an abandoned farmhouse from which we soon got evicted (it wasn’t so abandoned after all) and by the time I discovered Clan of the Cave Bear, maybe a month or so later, I was living in a tiny caravan in a forest on a rural property belonging to the first other witches ever I’d met. (They were friends of the bohemian artist father of my boyfriend’s best friend). One of the witches had turned me onto Auel’s book – she was always good for supplying interesting books of the 80s witchy zeitgeist.... Marion Zimmer Bradley’s
Mists of Avalon, for example.

At this rural retreat there was no electricity, water came from rainwater caught in a dam, and if you wanted it hot it had to be heated over a fire. The heroine of Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla, was the perfect role model for me at that time. Did I need to make a fire? – Ayla was my role model. If I had to bathe in a chilly dam – Ayla swam in much colder rivers. Making one’s own clothes or building dwellings like Ayla did was all a part of the modern Back to the Earth Movement (Ayla didn’t grow veggies though, but she knew all about recurring seasonal plants for harvesting – oh hunter-gathers, the first affluent society). One of the stand-out things in Clan of the Cave Bear was the description of herbal medicine and we all knew that was a part of [modern] witchcraft. Author Jean M. Auel excelled in the description of herbs and other plants, as well as the characteristics of the landscape. She had researched hunting and butchery, and ancient crafts. It was the perfect headspace for alternative life-stylers.

One of the really interesting things about the Earth’s Children series was the background of what we understood, in a Goddess Movement-Gimbutas kind of way, as an ancient religion of the Great Mother Goddess. The inside flap of Clan of the Cave Bear had a picture of the
Venus of Willendorf, and Ayla’s partner Jondalar (who appeared in book 2, The Valley of the Horses) came from a people who called this goddess Doni. I was already familiar with the forms of witchcraft deriving from British Wicca, as explained by Doreen Valiente and the US Feri/Reclaiming Tradition of Starhawk, with their focus on a Goddess as well as a God, from when I lived in the city. Now, in the country, along with Clan of the Cave Bear I was reading up on Celtic and other mythological systems and the American Goddess Movement. Marija Gimbutas’ books were also available for me to peruse. It all made absolute sense: there was an ancient Great Mother Goddess who had a younger male paramour, and this is where the gods of witchcraft came from. I was deeply intrigued with the tiny bronze Venus of Willendorf pendant that the above-mentioned witch provided for me, and hung it immediately on a leather thong around my neck. Living in the forest, with a fire burning to keep me warm at night and the southern stars whirling above my head, I really felt I could be someone like Ayla.

It didn’t really matter that this was 1986 and we weren’t actually hunting our own food with spear throwers or pit traps. We made clothes, used herbal remedies, believed in a weird religion, attended the
Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering for Beltane and the Down to Earth Confest, an alternative lifestyle festival held on the Murray River in northern Victoria, around Litha – such events seemed exactly like the Summer Meetings that Jean M. Auel described for Ayla’s people in deep prehistory. At the 1989 Confest at Walwa (one of my favourites ever) I even met a woman whose new baby girl was called Ayla. As far as I was concerned I was living the life! I didn’t know much about historical periods, about archaeology... I just wanted to live a dreamy, aesthetically pleasing life, in a utopia of nude swimming, handmade objects, herbalism and magical spells and rituals. To paraphrase a now absolutely cliché bumper sticker, the Goddess was alive and magic was afoot.

Sure, Jean M. Auel’s characters, Ayla and Jondalar, were the Stone Age Barbie and Ken. Yes, Ayla was suspiciously responsible for discovering many things – too many things for one woman; she was a Stone Age “Everywoman”, no, a Superwoman! – but that was good for me. It was empowering to think that women did important things in the past; it meant we could do them again now, and in the future. Yes, the social aspects of real Upper Palaeolithic Europeans may not have been anything like the way Auel described them in her books, they probably weren’t. As I said above however, she had done a lot of research on the environment, flora, fauna, crafts, cave paintings and other characteristics of this period – and these are novels after all, not academic textbooks. Back in the late 80s however, from what I can recall, I think we generally thought of them as “history”. How – why – would we have thought otherwise?

The third instalment in the series, The Mammoth Hunters, was just great (I wasn’t too thrilled with the second one, The Valley of the Horses, it was was necessary) and I think that a reader could be satisfied finishing the series there, with the third book, and never reading another one. I don’t actually recall where I lived when I read this one; it came out in 1985, so maybe I was still in the country. (It was in The Mammoth Hunters that the
Venus of Brasempouy, thought now to be a forgery, featured). After I’d read the third book I think I forgot about the series for a while. It wasn’t until quite a bit later, after I had moved back to Melbourne in the early 90s, that I met someone (in the context of his being interested in the Church of All Worlds, the Australian branch of which I had co-founded with Anthorr and Fiona Nomchong in 1992) who, during our conversation, told me a strange tale about the books. He said that Jean M. Auel had become an alcoholic, that she’d had to give back her most recent advance to the publisher and that there would be no more books in the Earth’s Children series. I couldn’t believe it and hoped it wasn’t true.

I still don’t know whether this story was actually true. I never got confirmation of it. You can imagine my consternation however when, sometime in what must have been the early 2000s, contrary to what this informant had told me I heard of a fourth instalment in the series, The Plains of Passage, that had apparently been out for a while but which I had been oblivious of. I immediately bought and read it to catch up on Ayla’s and Jondalar’s movments (you know how you can get attached to fictional characters...). This was a particularly satisfyingly descriptive instalment of their story, particularly in regards to what Auel does best: the vivid descriptions of flora, fauna, landscape, crafts, hunting, herbalism, the construction of dwellings, and dealing with horses. I read the next book, The Shelters of Stone, in 2002 in the wake of a traumatic birthing experience (which is detailed in Celebrating the Pagan Soul, edited by Laura Wildman, New York: Citadel Press, 2005. 226–230). While I was pleased to be continuing with the story and it distracted me from my ordeal, there may have been a little too much description of caves in the book... yes, it was interesting, but we don’t need to hear about so many.

This was also the point in my life at which I became disillusioned with believing in the Venus of Willendorf and other prehistoric figurines as “goddesses”. As I had discovered (simultaneously, not as a result of) in Ronald Hutton’s The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, we do not know whether such objects depict deities, humans, or what these statuettes were used for. Were they fertility figurines, anti-fertility – or something else entirely? Coincidently however, as a result of my reproductive trauma, Marione, editor of the Goddess magazine The Beltane Papers, sent me a little statue of this very Venus as comfort... It was a kind gesture on her part and I do love it. I’ll always be fascinated, from an aesthetic angle, with ancient art. Another of my absolute favourite Stone Age female figurines is the
Venus of Lespuge; it’s so...‘modern’.

And now it’s 2011, twenty-five years since I started the Earth’s Children books (how time flies!) and I have finally finished the series. And that’s it. Auel isn’t going to write any more, I hear. Maybe 6 books is enough – although I bet fans would welcome more. Yes, the prehistoric society Auel depicted is largely based on the peaceful Earth Mother worshippers soon to be taken over by the patriarchal Kurgans model, so prevalent within the Goddess Movement and criticised by Cynthia Eller in
The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory... Yes, you could read Margaret Elphinstone’s The Gathering Night for a less Ken-and-Barbie inhabited rendition of European prehistory... and I recommend it heartily. You could also watch the French-Belgian movie, Quest for Fire, for a more believable and aesthetically pleasing film adaptation of the Stone Age than the abysmal Daryl Hannah Clan of the Cave Bear film. Yes, there are things to be critical of in Auel’s Earth’s Children series... but there is also something really evocative about this story of a European “Adam and Eve”. Maybe it’s just escapist reverie, but then again, perhaps there is actual value in such a tale of what Cro-Magnons – what we early humans – may have been like.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Stregheria: An Introduction to Italian Witchcraft

Now at last I salute your potent art,
and kneeling I beg by Proserpina’s realm,
by Diana’s immovable godhead, by your books
of incantations strong to unfix the stars
and call them down from the sky, Canidia,
leave off at length your supernatural spells
and let the swift wheel reverse, reverse.
- Horace, Iam iam efficaci.

To mention practical Witchcraft these days almost always means British Witchcraft of some sort, a religious, magical or shamanic system from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland or thereabouts. Owing to the publicity that Witches such as Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders received in the past, English Witchcraft in particular was highlighted, so to speak, on the world map. Any research on Witchcraft history however, will show that it actually occurs all over the world in different variations. One of these Witchcraft varieties is the Italian version called ‘Stregheria’. The word ‘Strega’ (stray-guh) means a female witch, singular, ‘Streghe’ (stray-gay) is the most common plural form, a male witchcraft practitioner is a ‘Stregone’ (stray-go-nay) and when talking about a tradition of Italian witchcraft it is a ‘Stregheria’ (stray-guh-ria) tradition not a ‘Strega’ tradition. If you find yourself drawn to the gods of classical antiquity, those majestic deities from ancient Greece and Rome and if the cultures of the Aegean and the Mediterranean resonate within you, then Stregheria may be the Pagan religion and folk witchcraft for you.

Popularised in the later twentieth century by such public Italian-American witches as Leo Martello, Lori Bruno and Raven Grimassi, Stregheria is rapidly increasing in popularity amongst Pagans in the USA and is rather more slowly making inroads into Australia as well. Stregheria, in a roundabout way, has already had a profound influence upon modern British Wicca. One of the major Stregheria texts which is also an old Wiccan favourite, ‘Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches’ compiled by Charles G. Leland and published in 1899, is believed by several scholars to be the inspiration for the Charge of the Goddess, the primary invocation used in Wiccan ritual:

...Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana...
-Aradia. p.6

In his essay accompanying the new 1998 translation of ‘Aradia’ by Mario & Dina Pazzaglini, Wiccan author Robert Chartowich suggests that ‘Aradia’ is also responsible for the use of nudity within British Wiccan ritual:

And ye shall be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also.
-Aradia. p.7

Consequently, Anthropologist and Folklorist, Sabina Magliocco, suggests that ‘Aradia’ should be looked at ‘as the first real text of the 20th century Witchcraft revival.’

So what is Stregheria then? The Streghe worship Diana, the Roman moon goddess who is recorded in Roman history as having three aspects and is known as Diana Triformis. Her three-fold nature consists of Luna, the moon, Diana the huntress and Hecate the underworld goddess, thus she has influence over the three worlds, celestial, terrestrial and chthonian. Usually represented in mythology as Virgin, in Stregheria Diana is the mother of Aradia by her brother Lucifer the Light-Bringer (Apollo). Streghe believe that Aradia, or as she is also known, Herodias, once manifested as an earthly incarnation and as a lunar ‘avatar’, taught witchcraft to mortals.

‘Tis true indeed that thou a spirit art,
But thou wert born but to become again
A mortal; thou must go to the earth below
To be a teacher unto women and men
Who fain would study witchcraft in thy school...
...And thou shalt be the first of witches known;
And thou shalt be the first i’ the world.
Aradia. p.4

Why Herodias in particular would be a daughter to Diana is a puzzle. Herodias is a name most often associated with the wife of the Biblical Herod Antipas and the mother of the infamous dancer Salome however, she is also a figure associated with Night Flying and as the Canon Episcopi recorded Diana as a generic goddess name associated with the Wild Hunt it is possible the two eventually became conflated. Early Witch Trial records list confessions of night-journeys following ‘Erodiade’, the Italian name of Herodias.

Speaking of Night Flying, the word ‘Strega’ actually comes from the Latin word ‘strix’ meaning screech owl. Pliny the Elder wrote about ‘Striges’ (plural of strix), who were women who could transform themselves into birds of prey by means of magic. The Roman author Apuleius (b. early 2nd century CE) gives a description of this metamorphosis in his book ‘The Golden Ass’: “...watched Pamphile first undress completely and then open a small cabinet containing several little boxes, one of which she opened. It contained an ointment which she worked about with her fingers and then smeared all over her body from the soles of her feet to the crown of her head. After this she muttered a long charm to her lamp and shook herself; and, as I watched, her limbs became gradually fledged with feathers, her arms changed into sturdy wings, her nose grew crooked and horny, her nails turned into talons, and soon there was no longer any doubt about it: Pamphile had become an owl.” It certainly seems then that Stregheria once was a shamanic type of witchcraft such as the sort Carlo Ginzberg writes about in his brilliant book ‘Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath’. In that sense then it belongs to the collective archetype of the so-called ‘9th Sabbat’: the perpetual Sabbat in the center of the Wheel of the Year, accessed through spirit-flight, in this case manifesting through a Mediterranean lens.

Although certain contemporary authors such as Raven Grimassi claim to be practicing and teaching an hereditary form of Stregheria, and in Grimassi’s case have published ‘how to’ books on the subject which are very popular, (although his detractors call it ‘Wicca Florentine style’), Stregheria is really a Pagan religion under re-construction. Grimassi’s books are not the last word on the subject and if you are interested in digging deeper, books such as ‘Etruscan Roman Remains’ and ‘Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches’ by Charles G. Leland are your next step. These have their limitations though and making the effort to study particularly Italian folklore, Roman and Etruscan magic, Paganism and history will also prove rewarding. A suggested booklist appears below. Nor is it actually necessary to be of Italian descent to successfully practice Stregheria, but it helps if you have a deep interest in Roman Paganism, as well as both ancient and recent Italian history. Some students go as far as to learn Latin and/or modern Italian for performance of rituals and to access texts in those languages. For those who do have Italian heritage, the revival of Stregheria has also stimulated much family folklore collecting and different traditional paths within Stregheria are now evident.

A Note on Amulets.
If, like me, you are partial to wearing amulets and other decorative clutter, just as many Wiccans often wear Pentagram jewellery as both an amulet and as a symbol of their faith, Streghe may be identified by the wearing of a Cimaruta. ‘Cimaruta’ means ‘sprig of rue’ in Neapolitan and it was probably originally carved in red coral which has a naturally branching form. The Cimaruta is usually a three-branched amulet and is supposed to resemble the top of a rue plant. It is cast in silver and has other traditional Italian charms at the end of its branches. The charm as a whole can be said to consist of thirteen components sacred to Diana: these are Rue, the triformed branch shape, the metal silver, a hand, a horned crescent, a serpent, a key, heart, rooster, eagle, sword or dart, fish and vervain flower. Not every Cimaruta will have all thirteen attributes however, up until the end of the 19th century it was reputedly difficult to find two Cimaruta which were exactly the same, but now that they are less common there tend to be copies made of a few particular types.

This article is only the briefest general introduction to Stregheria. There are many websites and internet discussion lists devoted to this subject however, for further information I suggest the following books.

Useful References
Apuleius. The Golden Ass. translated by Robert Graves. Penguin. London. 1954.

Mary Beard, John North, Simon Price. Religions of Rome. Vol.2. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 1998.

Frederick Elworthy. The Evil Eye. Colier Books. New York. 1958.

James G. Frazer. The Golden Bough. abridged edition. Macmillan. London. 1983.

Carlo Ginzburg. Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches Sabbath. translation R. Rosenthal. Pantheon. New York. 1991.

Carin M.C. Green. Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 2007.

Raven Grimassi. Italian Witchcraft. (originally Ways of the Strega). Llewellyn. St Paul. 1995.

Raven Grimassi. Hereditary Witchcraft. Llewellyn. St Paul. 1999.

Horace. Complete Odes and Epodes. Trans.W. G. Shepherd. Penguin. London. 1983.

Charles G. Leland. Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches. (new translation). Mario & Dina Pazzaglini. Phoenix. Washington. 1998.

Charles G. Leland Etruscan Roman Remains. Phoenix. Washington. Reprint of 1892 version.

Sabina Magliocco. Spells, Saints and Streghe. The Pomegranate #13. August, 2000.

Ovid. Metamorphosis. translation A.D. Melville. Oxford Uni Press. Oxford. 1986.

Ovid. Fasti. translation A.J. Boyle & R.D. Woodard. Penguin. London. 2000.

Virgil. The Aeneid. translation D. West. Penguin. London. 1990.