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.