Thursday, November 15, 2012

R -- Robin Artisson #paganblogproject

Robin Goodfellow. Cock Robin. Robin of the Hood. Puck.

The things the Craft community must remember about the contemporary writer who calls himself Robin Artisson is that A) he chose his name quite deliberately, and  B) he is a talented worker of Grey Magic, much like the notable Robert Cochrane.

For readers who don't know dear Robin, he is something of a controversial character within the Trad Craft community. Okay, honesty: He is a VERY controversial character. People either love him or loathe him. I've seen him blocked from groups and forums because people are afraid of what he might say or do.

Mind you, I've not witnessed him being hateful -- only thought-provoking (sometimes in the extreme, I'll warrant). But people get testy when he has posted a simple meme or comic post.

Why? What magic does this man weave?

Well, Glaux and I recognize in him something of a genius of contemporary Craft. He is, by our perspective, the heir of the Robert Cochrane legacy. The Modern Magister, if you will. His books are enlightening and relevatory -- they have grown and expanded with his own growth. And YES, thank the Goat!, he pushes people's buttons. He makes you think. He'll take both sides of an argument, tricksy shapeshifter that he is, to make you suss out your true thoughts and feelings -- or to point out your rigid grip on dogmatic schlock.

The name Robin Artisson has a long history, first appearing in the trial of Dame Alice. She, of course, was the first Irish woman tried and convicted of witchcraft, though her maid Petronila was the first to be executed. Dame Alice named Robin Artisson (or Robin, son of Art) as her familiar, her teacher.

Robin, as a spirit name, is associated with Robin Goodfellow, the Horned One himself. We see him as Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and he is known in myth and legend as a playful, mischievous, but ultimately wise and insightful spirit of the Unseen Realms. One of the Fey.

His writing is rambling and poetic. I love it. (I tend toward the prosaic and brief in my non-fiction.) You have to work to walk the path of mystery down which he leads you. It is informed by his BA in European History and Anthropology. (He also holds an MA in Poli-Sci and Criminal Justice and another in Family and Marriage Counseling -- both of which give him great insight into the best and worst in human nature.)

On a personal note, Glaux and I are holding out hope of luring Robin to the festival we help run, Babalon Rising, so that we can do awesome Witchcrafts in the Woods. (BR, with a little help from yours truly, will be adding more American Folkloric Magic -- craft and conjure -- to the schedule in 2013.)

Alright, so give his books and website a read. You will be the better for it!

Website: A World Unseen
The Witching Way of Hollow Hill
The Resurrection of the Meadow
The Horn of Evenwood

The Secret of the Wind -- coming in 2013

R - Robert Cohrane #paganblogproject

Robert Cochrane is the pen name of Roy Bowers, a British Cunning Man who was working his craft around the same time that Gerald Gardner was writing about Wicca. In fact, Cochrane was the one who coined the name "Gardnerism" or "Gardnerianism" for the form of Craft that Gerald was promoting. (The term came up in "The Pentagram" and other sources where Cochrane showed some disdain for the ceremonial-influenced Craft that Gardner was telling the public was "family heritage.")

Cochrane purported himself to be a member of a Craft tradition that had been handed down since the 17th Century, and he resented the false or watered-down version that he felt Gardner was presenting.

Glaux and I have always been drawn to the work and writings of Cochrane. In fact, it was one of the points of attraction for us. She had been trained within a reculed Gardnerian line, and my former HPS had a similar background. However, my HPS went from Gardnerian Wicca in the 60's and 70's to Druidry in the 80's and 90's, and she finally landed in a 1734 offshoot known as Roebuck  in the late 90's. I met her in 1998, at a time when she (my HPS) had formed her own Trad that was based on each of these lines of training, along with what we called Dragon Craft. While we always knew that we were "close cousins" to Roebuck/Ancient Keltic Church, it wasn't until I read the book written by the co-founder of that Trad that I realized we were really a sort of daughter coven  -- though a bastard, since my HPS hadn't taken her initiation with that group before striking out on her own. (The book is Forge of Tubal Cain by Ann Finnin. I highly recommend it.)

Okay, so back to Robert Cochrane.

He carried on correspondences with several people and wrote several articles that have become something like canon within Trad Craft circles. Doreen Valiente was the Maid of his coven for a period, in her search for authentic craft. That coven is called Clan of Tubal Cain, and it is still functioning today, decades after his death. Shani Oates is the current maid. (You should also read her book, Tubelo's Green Fire, if you have an interest in this type of Craft.)

His work has had a great influence on modern practitioners of Traditional Craft. His correspondence with Joe Wilson was a major influence in Wilson's establishment of the 1734 Tradition, which is an American adaptation of British Family Craft. From there, several Craft Traditions have sprung up, including Roebuck, which I mentioned earlier as a source of my own training.

The Mohsian Tradition, Blue Star, the work of Peter Paddon, Raven Womack, Robin Artisson, and of course American Folkloric Witchcraft are all influenced by Robert Cochrane and the writings that he gave the world.

Cochrane died by his own hand at the Summer Solstice when he was 35. He ingested belladonna -- some believe as an intentional ritual sacrifice.

P - Possession #paganblogproject

Folks in this modern Craft really dislike the term "possession," but it is nothing more than a descriptor for invocation, channeling, aspecting, being ridden by, or drawing down a Deity/Entity.  I have no fearful connotation against this term, so I use it more frequently than the others to point to this act of Craft.

I don't have an issue with the other terms, mind you. They are all perfectly acceptable, and a couple even describe the feeling of possession quite well. So, nope, I find no need to quibble over the terms. I would much rather get down to the nitty gritty of Bonus P Blog Topic -- possession.

When I first began my study of the Craft, I believed that every Witch had possession experiences eventually. I thought that all of us on this path sought to intentionally invoke the spirits of our beloved and honored Gods and Goddesses into our own bodies -- to give them a time within flesh, a voice with which to speak, hands to touch. I thought that learning to achieve this state -- to set myself aside and make room within my body for the Deity -- was part of the training of Witches. Of course, if you let something in, you should be able to let/get it back out, so I figured that was part of the training process, too. All in all, though, I really thought that most Witches underwent this training.

I was wrong. Many -- a very great many -- people who claim Witchcraft as their path openly fear and revile possession.

Possession was most definitely a part of my own training as a Witch, and I have helped my own students and covenmates learn to achieve and release the experience. Each person, in both Traditions of which I have been a part, has had to prove themselves proficient in this area in order to access the Initiation rite that allows them to fully claim the title of Witch. In one Trad, that was at 1*. In American Folkloric Witchcraft, we have only one initiation -- the one that Raises you. But in both cases, we feel that a Witch needs to be capable of this skill in order to have a complete working relationship with Deity and Spirit.

Initiation & Priestesshood via Aphrodite

Check out part 2 of my conversation with Karen Tate on "Voices of the Sacred Feminine." We continue our discussion of Aphrodite as a Goddess of liminality and explore the way that relates to initiation. We also talk about both the ancient and modern priestesses who serve Aphrodite.

Thanks. Karen, for having me back! It was a wonderful conversation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Aphrodite's Myths & Symbols - 09/12 by Karen Tate | Blog Talk Radio

Aphrodite's Myths and Symbols - 09/12 by Karen Tate | Blog Talk Radio

Listen in while Karen and I discuss liminality and initiation in Aphrodite's myths. It's going to be amazing, enlightening, beautiful, inspiring ... all that you could hope in an Aphrodisian initiation.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Q - Quicksilver #paganblogproject

Quicksilver is more commonly called mercury these days, in honor of the Roman God of the same name. It's Latin (scientific) name is Argentum vivum, meaning living silver. 

Oh, how interesting, dear readers! I'm not going to go into details about who did this work and when ('cause it's their work, and I don't need the back-lash), but my sweetie and I have some UPG (unverified personal gnosis) about quicksilver being used in the creation of a very powerful egregore.

An egregore, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is a thoughtform, and as such, it can be created by a magician and then fed power/spirit until it becomes a Spirit itself. If enough people work with a thought/spirit, it exists. This is, by one way of thinking, how Gods are made.

So, say you were making an egregor from quicksilver. What would YOU breathe into that being?

There's a watery-ness to this liquid metal already.

It is heavy and dense -- the heaviest of all the natural liquids on Earth.

It is related to Mercury (and Hermes, Thoth, etc.) -- so communication, travel, technology, computers, writing, magic, alchemy ...

It is as reflective as a mirror.

It is both a poison and a medicine.

Check out this interesting article for lots of cool facts about the strange physical properties of this liquid metal.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review of In Her Service (first edition of Aphrodit'e Priestess) by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Several years ago, this lovely review was made of the first iteration of Aphrodite's Priestess, my very first book and one of premier English-speaking works on the modern worship of Aphrodite. (Because it WAS several years ago, some bibliographic  details have changed -- like the book's title, my last name, the publishing house. You know, little things.)

Aphrodite's Priestess
Laurelei Black
Asteria Books, 2009

All you need is Aphrodite by Eva Yaa Asatewaa

Some months ago, Laurelei Dabrielle--High Priestess of Dragon's Eye Coven--sent me an invitation to review her book, In Her Service: Reflections from a Priestess of Aphrodite (Magic Woods Publishing, 2007). I was in the middle of one of the busiest times in both my personal and professional life. It was sent in the form of an e-book, which usually makes me leery--quality being a gamble there. I took a look at the stack of pages emerging from my printer, took a quick flip through ("Chapter 1: Priestess or Prostitute?") and thought, "Right...I'll get around to this someday..."

Someday--coincidentally?--turned out to be July 22, which is the Great Lady Mary Magdalene's day and, as I learned from Dabrielle's text, deep into Hekatombaion, the first month of the Athenian calendar, during which fell the bathing feast known as Aphrodisia. I also discovered that there was much to admire and enjoy in Dabrielle's well-written account of this little-publicized aspect of pagan practice.

Raised a Baptist in the Midwest, Dabrielle began to explore neopagan paths through the Internet and some covens and eventually felt most called to service of the One she calls "the violet-crowned Kyprian" and many other expressive honorifics. She interprets and honors Aphrodite in a way that makes sense to her, and she's not out to convert anyone to her particular approach. She is, by her own admission, a "hodge-podge," and I can certainly identify with her eclecticism and avoidance of dogma. She does not take herself too seriously, and her voice, throughout the book, is conversational even when authoritative.

If you have never considered Aphrodite (a.k.a. Venus) a serious goddess, then read this book, and the scales will fall from your eyes. I remember once hearing someone opine that the reason so many ancient statues of Aphrodite are armless is because they were deliberately ordered de-armed by the testosterone-fueled, but highly threatened, powers that be. I can't say if that's historically accurate, but Dabrielle underscores the formidable power of Aphrodite as more than a beneficent, even lightweight and easily-trivialized, goddess of romance and sensuality. The Lady should be understood as a Great Goddess archetype--Mother Creator, Majestic Harlot and Fierce Avenger. In Her Service relates the interwoven myths that show Aphrodite in all of these powerful roles.

Okay, so what about the nervous-making "prostitution" angle? Dabrielle includes an extensive discussion of the historical practice of "temple prostitution" or "sacred sex" and its problem for modern sensibilities and United States law but argues that "sex is only one aspect of Her service" and, indeed, an aspect that can be omitted if does not suit you. Priestesses did then and do now invoke, contact and often embody the Goddess, enabling supplicants to benefit from Her energy, whether it be through simple, compassionate acts of warmth and kindness or through actual ritual copulation as in the neopagan Great Rite (physically uniting the embodied Goddess and God). While Dabrielle notes the many ways in which Aphrodite worship may be expressed, she has her personal limits and counsels readers to decide what's best for them and respect their own boundaries, too.

"At its essence," she writes, "the force at work is that of Love," and goes on to speak about the priestess (and Goddess) as healer in a way that reminds me of the wonderful role Ann Margaret played in the movie Grumpy Old Men! Really! Rent that very funny movie, and you'll see what I mean!

Besides the personal and historical material, Dabrielle offers examples of ritual procedure, a mytho-history of the Venusian idea, some lovely description of the Three Graces (considered by some to be daughters of Aphrodite and ideal models for us) and the Oreads, mountain nymphs (who gift Aphrodite with unpolished gems and wildflowers, appealing to Her wilder side). She previews a book she's working on which should please potential lesbian and bisexual fans of The Goddess who might otherwise wonder what all of this has to do with them.

Dabrielle also lists and translates numerous names for Aphrodite, breathtaking in their diversity. Some of them are:
  • Eurynome: Creatress who rose from Chaos and danced all creation into being
  • Moira: Fate
  • Ambologera: Postponer of Old Age
  • Chrysheie: Radiant Like Gold
  • Euploios: Fair Voyage
  • Praxis: Action
  • Epitymbria: She of The Tombs
  • Callipygos: Beautiful Buttocks
and the inevitable
  • Porne: Goddess of Lust and Patroness of Prostitutes
The message of Aphrodite meditations and rituals seem always to be thus: Find beauty within oneself and love it fiercely. I certainly can't argue with that!

(c)2008, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Monday, August 20, 2012

Q - Qayin (Kain, Cain) #paganblogproject

All Gods are not one God. The Ancients didn't see it that way, and I am  not trying to put forth that claim, either. And yet, there are Gods -- great, ancient spirits (daemons ... δαίμων) who are so closely related in myth and religion that we can't mistake their relation. Just as a Red Thread connects us to the Witchfather who brought the Cunning Fire to humanity, so too does the Red Thread connect many of the beings from whom mankind has sought wisdom.

This is my and Natalie's experience with Azazel (who is called a demon -- literally, a "spirit"-- and an angel -- "messenger"), Qayin/Cain and Tubal Cain, as we've expressed at our American Folkloric Witchcraft blog. Very directly, in our communications with the Witchfather, he uses these names of himself almost interchangeably, and we have come to use them the same way.

There are other sources of information, though, that inform our understanding of Qayin-Azazel, and we'd like to share them.

Melek Taus

"Melek" means "king" or "angel" and "taus" means "peacock." The peacock angel is the central figure, the benevolent and creative demiurge, of the Yezidis. He is seen as repentant after the fall from God's grace, his tears quenching the fires of hell.

Though the Yezidis would disagree, others in the Arabic world (particularly those practicing Islam), equate melek Taus with Lucifer or Satan. Kabbalistically, Yahweh rules in the heavenly/spiritual kingdom of Kether, and Melek Taus (Lucifer/Azazel) rules in the earthly kingdom of Malkuth.

Within the sacred text of the Yezidis, the Black Book, specific reference is made to Azazel, equating the Peacock Angel with Azazel. There are several versions of this book extent from the Middle Ages, copies transcribed online.

Alchemical Symbol for Antimony
Azazel and Alchemy

We have touched on Azazel before, but there are some specific and noteworthy things to share about Azazel's connection to alchemical lore.

Enoch reveals to us that Azazel shares with humanity "all the metals and the art of working them...and the use of antimony." As it turns out, antimony (or stibium), was critical to the alchemical process of creating the Philosopher's Stone. This same element was called kuhl (or kohl) by the ancient Arabs. (You might also recall references to women decorating their eyes with this substance, and that art also being taught by Azazel. This may, in fact, have been a veiled reference to the alchemical process and not to cosmetics at all.)

Sir Roger Bacon tells us that when antimony is processed with vitriol, it is reduced to a "noble red oil" with all of the lesser sulfur having been purified out of it in the process. Red, then, is Azazel's color.

It is doubly his color when we consider that man is made from red clay, according to Middle Eastern tradition, and that Azazel is master of the material world from which man is made.


Oh my Holy Goat, there is so much that needs to be said about Lucifer in relation to the Witchfather. There is so much dross to sift through, so much misinformation that has been propogated about this one figure over the millenia, to reach the golden kernels of wisdom.

For now, let's keep it very simple, shall we?

Lucifer is the "light-bearer." He is Qayin in the East, the Morning Star. He is the torch-bearer of wisdom, inspiration, the Divine Spark, the Cunning Fire.

He is "Prometheus" (literally, "fore-sight"), who rebelled against God (the Gods) to give Fire (the Cunning Fire) to mankind and fell from Divine Grace.


The Nephilim, the "Fallen Angels" or spirits who descended into the material realm to interact with and guide mankind, were first seen as the "Shining Ones" or Gods of Sumerian lore. We've mentioned them before, and we'll write more about them in future posts, but for now, I'd just like to make the connection between Utu/Shamash and Azazel.

It's not a new connection. We're not the first to have made it, by any stretch. You can read this account, for starters. (There's lots of information there about goetic daemons and their counterparts in other lore.)

Utu is the Sumerian name, while Shamash is the Babylonian name for the Sun God of justice,law and salvation. He is linked in a triad with the Nannar-Sin (the Mood God) and Ishtar (the fertility-Earth Goddess, who incidentally is represented by the planet Venus, the Morning and Evening Star).

Ishtar and Shamash are divine twins.

*** This entry is re-posted from an entry I made to the American Folkloric Witchcraft blog. Interested in Qayin? Read more.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Marketplace Policy and New Blade & Broom blog

I've cooled off a fraction of a degree since my post on patriarchy and policy last week. That tiny bit is enough to re-direct my wrath not so much at the marketplace who hosts my shop (Etsy), but at its proper source, the FDA. The policy changes are top-down mandates from the federal government, and Etsy just happens to be a little over-zealous in their enforcement.

As Moma Sarah of Conjured Cardea has re-iterated, though, you really shouldn't "shit where you eat." Etsy is trying to cover its own rather large tookus, and they are interpreting the FDA's regulations on medical drug claims more stringently than most venues. Okay. I still need a place to sell my goods, and Etsy still seems to be working out well for me in that respect. They (Etsy) don't want trouble with the feds, and I don't want trouble with Etsy.

However, I still have an issue with the feds, and I think the laws are becoming too strict. If my issue is with a higher authority, I need to take it to them.

Is the FDA trying to protect us? Sure. Are they being ridiculous about it? Have you paid attention?

That mighty hand of Justice that moves within me simply doesn't allow me to sit back and let my government make bad choices for me and my neighbors. I paid attention in Civics class. First they come for a stranger; then they come your neighbor; then they come for you.

So, I have an Action Plan:

1. I have already revised all of my listings at Etsy. (I actually did that on day 1, as I didn't want my shop to be closed before I ever figured out what was going on.) The words "health" and "healing" have been removed from all my listings except in the context of "spiritual healing" -- which isn't a medical claim at all. Words like "insomnia" and "migraine" are gone. I've left terms like "wellness" and "relaxation" -- general states of being. In these listings, we've only included the metaphysical/magical properties.

2. I've created a blog specifically for Blade and Broom Botanica. I know some other Witchy, conjure, Pagan retailers combine their personal blogs with their business efforts, but Natalie and I both feel odd about that. Neither of us wants to feel like we are trying to sell our readers flying ointment and wands when you've signed on to read about our magical experience. We're happy to talk about our products, though, as we are uber-proud of them, and they ARE a huge part of our magical experience. At the Blade & Broom blog, we'll give complete product descriptions -- including both physical and metaphysical properties of herbs, gems, etc -- and talk about the crafting/Crafting process. In the event that we have products that completely unavailable at Etsy, we will also have descriptions and purchase information at the blog.

3. I'll be educating myself about the bills before Congress regarding herbalism, "fortune-telling," and anything else that affects the free practice of my religion. Witches have traditionally not just done this work for themselves, but have done it for a living and I find no shame or anything unethical in providing herbal, ritual, divinatory, or other Craft services for my clients. I'd rather not have our society revert to the 1500's, though, where I an my fellows must practice and work in secret, always fearing reprisals from a government that is too heavily infused with conservative religion.

4. The point above means that I'll probably be making a damned nuisance of myself to my elected representatives at the state and national levels. My writing talents will get used in new and interesting ways, yes indeed. (Not that I have already written to elected officials, mind you.) I'll probably end up on some watch list of Militant Hippy Witches, if I'm not already. C'est la vie!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Aw! I'm so schmoopy, giggly, and sparkly right now that I feel like a glitter-bomb just exploded in my lap. Thank you, Elle Hull of Avalon Blessings for nominating me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Per the award, as I understand it, I'm proudly displaying this award, sharing 7 (perhaps unknown) tidbits about myself, and nominating another 15 very inspiring bloggers to receive love and admiration on their hard work.

Seven Fun Facts About Laurelei Black

1. I have two children who are currently aged 12 and 9. I sometimes refer to them as Harmonia and Eros -- and have since they were each infants. That's based more on their personalities and proclivities than my relationship with Aphrodite. My daughter is a sensitive and artistic Piscean peacemaker, while my son is sensual little Tauran who shows an early and clear preference for leggy blonds. They are both snuggling, sweet love-bugs -- both smart and beautiful, both creative and happy.

2. My Sun is in Libra, Moon is in Gemini, Ascendent is in Capricorn. Concepts of justice and equality, beauty and harmony, are the order of the day for me. I am very orderly and organized, even within what sometimes seems like chaotic clutter. (It's always a lovely sort of chaos -- very artistic!)

3. I have two partners -- Natalie Black and Joe Black. Natalie and Joe were together for 5 years before I entered the relationship. We have all been together for 4 years now. (Our anniversary is in just a couple of weeks, actually.)

4. None of us are legally named Black. =) I have the closest claim to the name, as my father's biological father was named Black. So, if my dad had been raised by that man, my maiden name would have been Black. However, Dad was adopted, so neither of us ever carried that name.

5. Laurelei is a nickname I got at the age of four. I lived in Germany at the time, where my dad was stationed in the Army. My parents had a friend who called me Laurelei as a play on my given name (Laura) and the spirit of the Rhein (Rhine) River. Later, my college roommate called me Laurelei in honor of Marilyn Monroe's character Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It was after I took the name for a belly dance stage name that my father said he had wanted to name me Laurelei/Lorelei, but my mother had insisted on Laura (like my grandmother). Practically all my friends call me Laurelei at this point, especially within the Pagan community, and it is an official AKA for me at this point. =)

6. I've named every car I've ever owned. The first one was named Bubbles. My favorite car ever was named Sydney -- after Sydney Biddle Barrows, the Mayflower Madam. (I'm not revealing the current vehicle's true name. Too much power for some folks! *wink*) While one car was named for an actual prostitute, I'm now realizing they ALL sort of sound like hooker names. =) I like that!

7. I'll be 37 years old in a little over a month, and I am happy to say that I live with my parents! My father, (step)mother, both partners, kids and I share a communal, multi-generational home in a bedroom community to the southwest of Indianapolis. We have a total of 4 cats (2 are theirs, 2 are ours), 2 rabbits, and 3 wee fish. We have a garden, a pond, an orchard, and we have plans for chickens and bees. If Natalie and I had our way, there would also be goats, but I don't think anyone else is buying into this plan. We all support each other as best we can, and ours is a family built on Love and Will.

Now, my nominations for 15 Very Inspiring Bloggers!

Natalie Black -- Glaux's Nest -- Total, unabashed bias here. And love. AND she absolutely deserves it because my baby is amazing and inspires me all the time. She is a phenomenal Witch and she is starting on some art that is going to knock everyone socks off!

Vera Melata -- Crocosmia -- I can't say enough beautiful things about this blog or the woman who writes it. She is my soul's sister. She is our coven sister. I may be biased, but like Natalie, she is 100% deserving of nomination because she is a source of inspiration for me every single day. Musician, writer, poet, baker, free spirit! She is my Artemis, and I adore her!

Sarah Lawless -- The Witch of Forest Grove -- I can't say enough about Sarah's talent as a Cunning Woman, artist, writer, poisoner, woodworker, and more. I've been following her work since before I knew it was *her* work. Her path and work is so startling similar to my own (in some respects) that I find myself pushing (myself) to differentiate so that I don't seem like a drooling, copycat fangurl.

Robin Artisson -- Tracks in the Witchwood -- Love him or loathe him, Robin is nothing if not inspirational to the people of Blogland. To be clear, I adore him. Do I agree with every syllable he's every written? Um ... no. The same can be said for anybody on this list. I argue with Natalie all the time. I disagree with Sarah sometimes, but I don't feel the need to attack. People do love to attack the Robin. I have my theories on that -- worthy of their own blog entry, which they will get. My point? Inspiring! (And he makes me giggle.)

Sannion -- The House of Vines -- Sannion's writing was some of the first I read when I was first exploring Hellenismos. He's another somewhat controversial author among certain factions of Hellenic Polytheists (because of strange political and syncretic things that non-Hellenic Recons don't even know exist), but take a wild guess at how much I care? Yep, about that much. He is both reverent and irreverent -- just as you'd expect of a devotee of Dionysos. The maenad in me loves this man!

Cory and Laine -- New World Witchery -- I love this blog. Oh, boy! So much good info about Witchcraft and Magic in the Americas. Because Natalie and I have called our Tradition "American Folkloric Witchcraft," you might have noticed that we have an interest in such things. Cory and Laine do a great job on focusing on what magic and Craft looks like in this hemisphere, and I for one am quite inspired by that!

Jhenah Telyndru -- Seeking the Holy Isle -- Jhenah is an amazing woman. She and the Sisterhood of Avalon were my first introduction to the world of Goddess Spirituality, and I am so, so grateful and honored for the mentorship I found during my time within the SoA. Jhenah's writing is beautiful, compassionate and strong. I hope to lure her to our Women's Goddess Retreat someday very soon.

Daphne -- Lykeion of Apollon -- Daphne is a brilliant artist and devotee of Apollon. Inspirational blogs? The Greek God of art, music, light, and prophecy ... the ring-leader of the Muses, as it were ... lends his very name to this page, and oh, how his hand is upon Daphne! Brilliant -- in every sense!

Ruadhan McElroy -- Of Thespiae -- Rhuadhan is a worshipper of Eros who blogs pretty regularly about Eros, the Erotes, Thespian and Boietian worship, and his own personal relationship all of the aforesaid. I love his personal approach to his practice -- which I find perfectly fitting for those of us drawn to the Gods and Goddesses of Love. =) Of COURSE we're going to get personal with it!! He's a love, and he's done valuable research about non-Athenian Hellenic worship.

Jessica Reynolds -- Shuffling Fate -- Jess is a friend of mine and Nat's locally -- well, "locally" when we lived a little further south. She's a wonderful, witchy, FOXY lady with an open heart and a flowing magical spirit. Her eyes and voice simply sparkle, and I think that translates in her blog on Tarot.

Shannon  -- Blue Bird Grove -- Shannon is one of the most talented local artisans I know. She's so crafty and earthy. Her vision and skills are truly inspirational to me. This blog of hers is dedicated to the kitchen craft aspect of her world, which is as fascinating to me as it is foreign. I am many things, but a Kitchen Witch isn't one of them. Kudos to Shannon for embracing it with grace and style!

Moma Sarah -- Conjured Cardea -- I loves me some Hoodoo, mmhmm. And Miss Conjured Cardea, or Moma Sarah, she shore has one of the best shops and blogs related to conjure, rootwork and hoodoo around. I am inspired by her success and proud of the niche that she has carved out for herself.

Mojo -- Treading the Crooked Path -- Such a wonderful blend of Cunning Craft and old school western occultism. I want to seduce Mojo into presenting at Babalon Rising (and I *KNOW* they would be a great fit) and then do amazing Witchcraft rituals in the woods. Nothing less!

Veles -- Adventures in Witchery -- I really enjoy this Traditional Craft blog. I do, I do. And I love that Veles describes himself as a baker, awesomely bearded, and a Texan, in addition to being a Witch. I. myself, am a Baker (well, by genealogy, not by trade), a Texan (originally -- but ask any Texan, and they'll tell you that your citizenship is good for a lifetime), and a Witch. I'm not awesomely bearded, but I like that it's in his description. It pleases me.

Shivian Balaris Morgan -- Shivian -- Shivian's blog is visually stunning, poetic, edgy, and so full of magic that it tells its own tales of American Craft in Chicagoland. I love it. I love what Shiv does -- both as a visual/graphic artist and as a professional Witch!

Okay. Whew! Those are the 15 I picked. No small task. I could have chosen more, for certain. So many talented and inspiring people in my little world -- some who know I'm watching and some who don't. Thanks to you all for showing me why I work, why I make my own contribution. Thanks for giving me the gift of your art, your passion, your magic.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

P - Pickingill, Old George #paganblogproject

George Pickingill ("Old George" as he was often called) is probably the most infamous Cunning Man of the 19th Century. He lived and worked in Canewdon is Essex (the southeastern part of England, for those of us not brushed up on our British geography). The town of Canewdon has a long association with witchcraft and the paranormal, dating back to the 1500's and a spinster named Rose Pye, followed shortly by another woman named Cicely Makin. In fact, local folklore holds that there will always be at least six cunning folk in Canewdon -- three of cotton (working class) and three of silk (upper class).

Old George was a laborer and is credited with being the founder of 9 covens in the counties of Essex, Hampshire, Hertforshire, Norfolk, and Sussex.

Most of the tales associated with him are incredible -- too incredible to fully believe in a great many cases. The book The Pickingill Papers is the compiled source of most of these stories. You can also read a great deal about Old George, and the book, at

One of the most important things to remember, as you sift through tales of this notable Cunning Man's life, is that he cultivated an air of mystery and magic about himself -- that same air that so many great magicians and sorcerers, priestesses and witches have cultivated. Marie Laveau, Aleister Crowley, and Old George all knew and used a powerful tool in their work -- something many have called Grey Magic.

Paul Huson, in his book Mastering Witchcraft, discusses using half-truths and manufactured secrecy in order to inspire within your target a susceptibility to the magic you are performing. THIS is Grey Magic, for certain -- or one aspect of it -- and it is at the heart of Old George's works.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I am not in any way disputing the man's magic, for I believe him to have been quite the shapeshifter, charmer, blaster, healer, and so on. I just ALSO believe him to be a master of image and branding, to put it in today's jargon. He was a talented publicist, Old George was!

Friday, August 10, 2012

P - Patriarchy, Policy, and Pissing off Witches #paganblogproject

I'm going to be ranting about Patriarchy (witch a capital Penis), but I want to make it very clear before I start that I absolutely love and adore men. The men in my life -- my father, partner, ex-husband, son, friends -- are all questioning, egalitarian, wonderful men. They are part of what is right in our culture -- striving towards (and achieving) true partnership with women, each one enacting his/her Will, manifesting the Star within.

It is perhaps my beautiful view of the very real men in my life that makes me so perplexed and enraged when I encounter vestiges of Patriarchy, chauvinism, and male dominance in the world around me. I don't understand it. It is outside of my experience, and it feels like a betrayal -- a regression from the principals and work of my mothers and fathers over the last few generations.

Yesterday, I received notification that the major selling venue through which we have hosted all of Blade & Broom's wares has changed their product policy regarding anything that makes a "medical drug claim." In short, no seller is allowed to make any claims that "link a product to the cure or treatment of a health condition or disease. Medical drug claims are prohibited."

Okay, fine. It's a restriction for everyone's protection. We just need to throw in some CYA-language, right? Nope. They go on to say:

"Please note that this includes any historical references to medical drug uses for a given item, even if such claims are no longer widely believed. Furthermore, the presence of a disclaimer that the item is not FDA approved, will not make a medical drug claim meet our criteria."

How do I sell a tea without saying what it does? How do I list an herb without saying how and why it is used? The same questions can be asked about gemstones for healing, or poppets, talismans, candles, or other blessed items.

I'm angry with this listing service. I really am. This feels like Western medicine dominating and regulating herbalism and alternative healing. We've been here before, my friends. Midwives were restricted from their practice, and then punished, and then persecuted ... and then killed for heresy and witchcraft.

Am I over-reacting? Maybe not. It's been brought home to me recently thought I lost my teaching career because I published under my legal name while teaching in a conservative state. I'll never teach in a public school again because I'm a Witch -- at least not in Indiana. My partner, Natalie, lost her librarian post because we're openly gay. (She took bereavement leave for my grandmother's funeral last month, and they fired her for "excessive absenteeism." It was the first time she's taken off in 8 months.) There's a price for being loud and proud, and Natalie and I have already been paying it. I don't feel like I'm crying "Wolf!" on this new policy change.

Fortune teller laws still keep psychics and Witchy businesses on the outskirts of town in many places. How archaic is that? We have to label what we do "for entertainment" despite the fact that it comes from faith or belief. Tell the Baptists to write "for entertainment purposes only" at the bottom of their church signs, if you're going to make us do it! Your prayer is only as valid as my magic!

I'm a raging, Libran Witch, my friends, with a sword in one hand and scales in the other. I think I'm about to get active.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

O - Oaths #paganblogproject

Oaths can be very ticklish business within Witchcraft covens and magical societies. They are not idle words, and their interpretations can be quite complicated for all involved.

I learned years ago not to take an oath lightly. The first magical oaths I made were to my first coven and Tradition, and they were made in blood. *gasp* I know. Some of my readers will be shocked and appalled that any oaths would be made in blood, while others would expect nothing less. The philosophy behind the blood oath is that every bit of your life force, your magic, your Will, is encapsulated in one single drop of blood. To give it willing is to express  a willingness to die rather than betray the oath -- to put every ounce of Will and Life and Magic into the oath.

I have no objection to blood magic or to blood oaths, but my first Trad demanded this level of commitment for students at too new a place of study -- Witches who were too young in their magic and too green on the Path. If there had been no problems, or only a few problems, with those who took these oaths, I wouldn't be complaining. But ...


One of the bigger issues that I saw was not in coveners breaking their oaths. No. It was in the way a HPS would interpret the oath so that a covener might be labeled "oath-breaker" if they did something with which the HPS disagreed. More accurately, if they did something with of which she disapproved and then had the audacity NOT to apologize or take their meted out punishment. All the Fiends forfend  that a Witch should Know and Dare to do her own Will!

Oh? Do I sound bitter? Probably, yes. This is a serpent coiled beneath the rose that hath indeed struck deep into my heart.

Yes, yours truly was tarred and feathered as an oath-breaker. Unjustly. Painfully. And at a time when I needed the familial support of my coven, Tradition and HPS. No need for the bloody details. But the warning is this:

My HPS believed she removed me from the Tradition. (I was initiated as a 3rd Degree HPS, by the way. Even as a 1* Initiate, "removal" from that family wouldn't have been possible -- not according to the oaths we made to each other.) That was four years ago, almost. Where do we stand now? I'm as close with my former coven sisters as I ever was. One is my coven sister again, in my current coven and Trad. My HPS and I? Are our bonds cut? I know they are not. I dream accurately of her, just as I have for a decade. I have the rage of a dis-owned daughter, but I know we are still family. I love her, and I'm hurt and angry. Our oaths to each other, though, will forever keep us connected.

Beware your oaths. You can't un-make them. A bell cannot be un-rung.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

O - Ouija and Witch Boards #paganblogproject

I love the Ouija board. I really do. Natalie (Glaux) and I offer several forms of psychic or intuitive readings in the shop, but this is by far my favorite form of spirit communication and otherworldly guidance.

Divination and oracle by means of pre-printed letters, words and symbols which are then pointed to by a spirit have been known since the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Automatic writing, the pre-cursor of the board -- has been in use since ancient China. The Ouija (TM) board was named, trade-marked and mass-produced relatively recently, but the concept of the talking board is literally ancient.

Ouija gets a bad reputation from folks who don't know how to properly protect themselves while using it. Natalie and I ALWAYS work within a circle with their OUIJA (the favorite board for both them and the spirits of the several boards in their home). Our circle (compass and caim) is actually   triple-cast, making it an extremely safe space within which to call up spirits. Furthermore, when we're calling on a spirit whose motivations and personality are known to be dubious, we create a triangle around the board. The magician's triangle is a time-honored method of confining a spirit to a specific place.

We've designed our board, based on the circle and triangle, but it isn't ready to be produced for sale yet. We have one proto-type which is still under construction.

I've also received a board as a gift from a Blade & Broom client. The make of the board was very pleased with the reading she received from me (a combo of Dark Mirror and Ouija), and she made the board as a custom tool for me.

N -- Nuit (pictures) #paganblogproject

by Jason Augustus Newcomb

by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Friday, July 13, 2012

N - Necromancy #paganblogproject

Among the many labels that I give myself, "necromancer" is probably the most surprising for those who don't know my magic very, very well.

Merriam-Webster Online defines necromancy as the "conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events." It is also more generally defined as "magic, sorcery." This latter definition gets translated as "black magic" quite frequently, and a quick look at the etymology of the words in question might clear up why this is.

"Necro" comes from the Greek νεκρός (nekrós), meaning "dead body."
"Mancy" comes from the Greek μαντεία (manteía), "prophecy or divination."
The term νεκρομαντεία (nekromanteía) was first used by Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd century CE.

"nigro-," however, is Latin and means "black," and the term nigromancie was the more common term used in the Middle Ages to denote all of the forbidden magical arts, including the conjuration of spirits.

Glaux and I quite strongly believe that among the work of Witches is the communicating with the Unseen Forces -- the Dead and those Unseen Ones who never lived. I've written a little here about daemons, and I take great comfort, inspiration, knowledge, and wisdom from the Dead and the Daemons with whom I've worked. In the sense that Glaux and I conjure and request magical aid from both sorts of spirits, I suppose we fit both descriptions of necromancers -- conjurers of the Dead and black magicians.

In the same way that Glaux and I each have a couple of Daemons with whom we are particularly familiar (Samagina for me, and Issachar for her), we also have a single Ancestor with whom we work who acts as a tutelary spirit for our coven. She prefers that we call her Zeta, though she had another name in life, and she came to us at Samhain 2011 via the Ouija board. (We LOVE using the talking board as a method of spirit contact.)

As it turns out, in some parts of the UK, it has long been common practice for covens to be in contact with a departed Witch -- someone who acts as a guide and friend, a mentor if you will, ... or more poetically, as an Ancestor to the coven and its individual members. The skull that sits at the base of the stang (or on it) is thought to house this spirit, and sometimes the coven fashions a doll in the likeness of the Witch.

I'll be covering Zeta in a little more detail when we get to the end of the PBP. She is a fascinating spirit, and she has been extraordinarily helpful and sweet.

So, why did I say it is surprising for folks that I am a necromancer? My Goddess is a giver of Life. She is the embodiment of it. She is fertility and virility, Springtime, hope, and Love. I wear pink and aqua and flowers in my hair. My familiar is a rabbit, the symbol of fecundity and an icon of cuteness. But let's not forget that the rabbit is prey, and she knows of sacrifice and death. My Lady dances across the ocean, in the groves, and amongst the stars; but she also knows the Mysteries of the Underworld. She is the secret initiator, the bright gate-keeper, while her Dark Sister is the Queen of the Dead.

Christian Day has written a book called The Witches' Book of the Dead. I highly recommend it for anyone who feels drawn to the path of the necromancer. It is a fine place to start. In it, he talks about embracing life and celebrating your non-conformity -- that the Dead are drawn to Life! So ... surprise! ... Love (ie, Life) and Death are two sides of the same coin, and work them both in my magic.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

M - Melissae (Bees) #paganblogproject

Bee Goddess plaque from Rhodes
"Melissa" means "bee" in Greek, and to the Ancients, a melissa was a priestess of the Goddess. Of which Goddess exactly, we can't always be certain. Some melissae were dedicated to Demeter, to be certain. Some to Artemis. But some were priestesses of Aphrodite, and there is popular lore that holds that the bee itself is the embodiment of the soul of a priestess of the Goddess of Love -- a happy, productive little maiden continuing to produce the golden nectar of the Gods.

Omphalos stone from Delphi
No animal is a better example of the power of community than the bee. Each bee in a hive has a specific function which she will perform even if it means giving her life for the hive.  There are three types of bees: workers, drones, and queens.  The worker bees are the common bees we are most familiar with.  They secrete wax to form combs, and produce honey to feed the hive. Interestingly, only the drones, whose job it is to impregnate and care for the queen, are male. The rest of the rest of the bees -- all of the ones we see -- are female.

Pendant from Palace at Knossos

Seal Ring of Bee Priestess from Knossos
Bees communicate by dancing, and those who work with bees will find themselves drawn to dance and rhythm. The bee's dance is indirect relation to the sun in the sky.  Bees are symbolic of solar celebration.

Sumerian Bee Goddess
The bee's droning buzzing can be compared to the sounds of otherworldly trance. Its hum is commemorated in many folk names for the creature, including drumbee, drummer, doombledore, hummabee, and humble-dad. In Welsh the word for harp, tellinn, is a truncated version of the word for bee, an-tseillean. This heritage can be traced back as far as Minoan and Mycenaean culture and is evident in the worship of Kybele, the Great Mother, who was honored with drum and cymbal music. In fact, the buzzing of the bee is said to be the voice of the Great Mother herself, and the sounds of drum and cymbal in the worship of Kyebele were intended to imitate her voice.

For more information on the Bee Goddess and her priestesses, read this article.

Monday, June 25, 2012

M -- Mugwort Wine, Flying Ointment, & Other Entheogens #paganblogproject

Entheogen is a Greek derived word that means "generating the divine within." An entheogen, therefore, is a psychoactive substance that is used in a religious, spiritual or shamanic context. Traditional Witches have used entheogens of several types for centuries, as recorded in the lore of mythology, in the records of the trials and persecutions, and in the regional indigenous shamanic practices  that have been assimilated into the Craft various locales.

Among the most commonly used and widely known entheogens in European and American Witchcraft practice are Sabbat Wine and Flying Ointment. These are the two on which we'll focus our attentions in this exploration. (While there are many and varied regional entheogens that have found their way into Craft practice in some form or another, they are just too numerous for me to mention here. Furthermore, I really don't feel qualified to speak on them since I'm very inexperienced with them.)

Sabbat Wine

Wine, just as it is, constitutes a powerful entheogen. The Dying and Resurrected God is embodied int he wine in the form of Dionysos -- and in Jesus, for that matter, whose symbolism and mythology associates him with the wine. Dionysos, though, is the "Twice Born" God of the Vine, and his cup is the offering of ecstasy and madness. "I am the vine," he says, and he offers insight into death and rebirth, despair and joy.

Many Witches drink wine -- either a little or a lot -- as a part of their Sabbat rites no matter what. In American Folkloric Witchcraft, we include Sabbat Wine for two separate and distinct purposes -- and the wine is different depending on that purpose.

If we are celebrating the Housle as we usually do within the regular course of ritual, we will sacrifice a cup of red wine. It is the shed blood of the Red Meal that is the Housle.  In this instance, we don't add anything to the wine because we don't need any additional entheogenic effect.

If, however, we are doing trance work, flying out, seiding, or otherwise seeking an altered state of consciousness, we might prepare our special Sabbat Wine (vinum sabbati). We also prepare this Sabbat Wine for initiations. In our case, the vinum sabbati is a local sweet red wine (Oliver Soft Red) in which mugwort and lemongrass have been mulled. After straining the herbs, we add local honey to sweeten the mix and cut the bitterness of the mugwort. Both mugwort and lemongrass have gentle psychoactive properties.

It's interesting to note that the term "vinum sabbati" has actually been associated with flying ointment, or the witches' salve, which is the other major entheogen of witchcraft. In fact, Nigel Jackson said flying ointment was "the black wine of owls."

Flying Ointment

This greasy, trance-inducing substance was traditionally made of hallucinogenic (and often fatal) herbs that had been boiled in pig fat and then strained. It was called "green salve" or "witches' ointment" and it some of the stock ingredients (solinicaeds) caused a "flying" sensation as the hallucination began -- hence the popular image of the flying witch.

Great care had to be taken in preparing this ointment, though. Traditional ingredients included such components as henbane, monkshood, deadly nightshade, belladonna, hemlock, and mandrake -- all lethal in too large a dose. In some cases, that does could be quite small. One witch learned from another how to properly prepare the salve and how to administer it to herself, and I'm sure it was still "At your own risk, sister."

I'm simply not a brave enough woman to fool around with these poisons. So, I looked to some of the other traditional ingredients in the old flying ointments -- the ingredients that wouldn't cause a person to exsanguinate from their skin, for example. (Belladonna does that. It's the key ingredient in rat poison.) Cinquefoil and Balm of Gilead made the cut from the old recipes. Then, I gathered together herbs known for trance and vision work -- many of which I'd already used successfully. Mugwort, Dittany of Crete, lemongrass, clary sage, wormwood, rue.

I use vegetable shortening as the fat, and I add benzoin powder and vitamin E for preservation. None of the last is traditional in any way, but I want it to last and not get funky.

Our coven uses this mix a fair amount. We fly out at just about every Sabbat. Does my blend make you trip? No. Does it help you fly? Oh yeah. Everybody whose used it add reported back has shared positive results. At this point, that's been a fair few people, since we do sell this in our Etsy shop.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

L- Lapis Lazuli #paganblogproject

Lapis lazuli is the stone of the Goddess of Love from time immemorial. It is the color of the evening sky, flecked with golden stars. It was the stone the ancients referred to when they mentioned "Star Sapphire" -- because of its star-strewn indigo. Those golden stars are actually bits of pyrite.

I adore lapis. One of my first exposures to it as a magician was in learning its history as the gem worn by priestesses of Ishtar, Inanna, and Isis, and this stone has been associated with love magic in the ancient world . It's also one of the oldest stones on record as noted for its healing properties. (An Egyptian papyrus from about 1600 BCE relates the healing qualities of lapis along with several other stones).

This stone was used, even in ancient times, to bring peace and to dispel melancholy and depression. It is associated with the throat chakra, and as such, it brings healing to that area -- including healing an ill-functioning thyroid glad. (The thyroid is a gland of total-body systems regulation. Poor thyroid function can bring a host of physical and emotional ailments including weight gain/loss, migraines, high blood pressure, sleep disorder, and depression.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

L - Lorelei #paganblogproject

"Lorelei" (or, as I spell it, "Laurelei") was the first nickname I received as a child. It was the stage name I chose for myself as a beginning dancer. It is my pen-name, and many people tell me the name suits me better than my given moniker (Laura). In truth, Lorelei is the name my father wanted to give me at birth, but my mother insisted on the family name instead.

The Lorelei is a variation of the siren or the mermaid. She is a derivation of the ancient Water-Bird Goddesses written of by Marija Gimbutas. She is one of the many water-nymphs or sprites who inhabit a river (and who often personify it).

Her place is the Rhine, at a large rock on the eastern bank of that river near St. Goarshausen. The rock itself is named Lorelei (or Loreley). The name means "murmuring rock" (or possibly "lurking rock"). The heavy currents and the once-flowing waterfall in that area provided the inspiration for the name -- as did the many accidents that occurred in that locale.

The legend of the Lorelei began with the writing of a ballad by Clemens Baranto in 1801 ("Zu Bacharach am Rheine"). The theme was adapted by Heinrich Heine in 1824 in his poem "Die Lorelei" (which has been set to music by many composers, including Franz Liszt). The story does not emerge, as many believe, from a folk tale of that region.

The tale, as it is now told, envisions Lorelei as a beautiful, golden-haired woman brushing her hair atop the rock. So great is her beauty, and so sweet is her song, that sailors are distracted from their vigilance in the dangerous waters and are drowned.

Lorelei has been the inspiration for many poems, songs, and pieces of fine art since her appearance atop the rock. Just a few are listed here:

Sylvia Plath's poem  -- Lorelei
Thomas Bailey Aldrich's poem -- The Lorelei
Kenny Klein's song -- Lorelie
Blackmore's Night's song -- Loreley
Cocteau Twins' song -- Lorelei 
The Pogues' song -- Lorelei

Here is a link to a collection of song lyrics and poems about Lorelei.

And now, my own poem, if I may. This is my interpretation of my namesake -- or my vision of Self as the Lorelei:

The Lorelei -- by Laurelei Black (c) 2009

I am the Flood that drowned Man --
the Sea that swallows and soothes.
From my cup, honey is
poured onto the stone --
and wine
and brine --
and all the Ocean is come unto you,
my Love, my Lover.
I am the raging storm,
the tempest
that rocks the bark
and whips the sails and seamen
to frenzy
before lulling all into watery dreams
of me.
Come, dive into these depths,
be dashed upon my rocks,
and be lost in the waters
of bliss.

K - Kharisma (Personal Grace) #paganblogproject

"Kharisma" is the idea of personal grace that is perhaps the underpinning of the very persona of a hierodule. More specifically, we’ll be talking about the Kharites, the Goddesses who imbue us with personal grace.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary online, charisma is personal magnetism or charm, a quality that etymologically derives from the Greek word “kharisma,” meaning “divine favor.”
You should already be familiar with the concept of “kharis” – or reciprocity – from your readings and other studies. Indeed, you probably have a relationship with Aphrodite, at the very least, that demonstrates kharis.

Kharis, kharisma and the Kharites are all very closely linked, etymologically.

The Kharites, or Graces, were the Goddesses of pleasure, joy, beauty and happiness. They were the Goddesses of “favor” – the favors of beauty and charm and delight. The favors of those almost unnamable, intangible qualities of attraction. Is it any wonder that the Graces were considered the close companions of Aphrodite, then?

There are generally considered to be three primary Graces. They are Aglaea, whose name means Splendor; Euphrosyne, who is Mirth; and Thalia, who is Good Cheer. However, we’ll discuss in a few minutes that these are actually the oldest of the Graces, and they are the ones specifically honored in certain parts of Greece. There are, in fact, other Graces. Several.

Not only are there more than three, but even the primary three Graces are tied up very intimately with other sets of Goddesses whose qualities have an important impact on our discussion today. Where the Graces bestowed favor, charm and beauty upon Gods and mortals, the Horae (or Seasons) guarded the passage of time, and the Muses bestowed inspiration, intellect and understanding of the Mysteries. The Kharites, Horae and Mousai are often listed as companions of each other, but there are closer links among their ranks than that.  The elder Grace Thalia is also a Muse, and both Auxo and Hegemone are listed as Graces and Seasons by the Classical texts.

So, we have several Graces. More than three. In truth, we have a few sets of sisters and some individual Goddesses that make up the retinue of Graces. According to the Theoi Project, the eldest and most prominent set of sisters are Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia.

Aglaia is the oldest of all the Graces, and she is sometimes just called Kharis. She is also sometimes called Kalleis, which means “beautiful.”  She is the Grace of beauty, adornment, splendor and glory.

Euphrosyne is the second sister of this triad. She presides over merriment, joy and mirth. Euthymia, or contentment, is another name for her.
Thalia is the youngest of this of this triad of sisters. Her name means “good cheer,” and she is credited with presiding over banquets and festive celebrations. Thalia is also the Muse of comedy.

In my book, Aphrodite’s Priestess, I talk about the fact that only one of the three eldest Graces relates directly to physicality. Only Aglaia (Splendor) has a direct impact on the physical realm of the priest or priestess. Aglaia offers gifts of beauty, which we may feel like we either have or we don’t. She may have given or withheld these particular gifts at our births. But, of course, Splendor is about more than superficial concepts of beauty, as we’ll discuss in another podcast devoted entirely to Aglaia.

The other two Graces bear gifts of personality. Euphrosyne and Thalia are all about our demeanor and outlook. They teach us how to see the world through a certain lens, and they help us set the people around us at ease because we are pleasant.
The oldest Graces, and the oldest lessons about grace – about kharisma – are that beauty and joy and mirth are cultivated qualities. This simple lesson bears out when we look at the nature of the younger Graces, as well.

Athenian vase painting shows a host of young Goddesses that are counted among the Graces who attend Aphrodite. Most of these Graces are not mentioned in literary references, according to the Theoi Project, but are depicted frequently in artistic renderings. Antheia’s name relates to flowers, and she is credited with overseeing floral decorations and the garlands worn to parties and festivals. Eudaimonia is the Goddess of happiness, opulence and prosperity. Paidia is the Goddess of play and amusement. Pandaisia is the Goddess of rich banquets, and Pannykhis is the Goddess of night-time revelries and celebrations.

All of the Goddess mentioned above preside over qualities and skills that can be cultivated in an individual. Yes, sure, one person might be naturally more talented than another at throwing a party or setting an opulent table, but anyone can be taught. Anyone can learn.
Phaenna and Kleta are Graces that were worshipped in Sparta. Phaenna means “shining” and Kleta means “fame, glory.” The radiance of fame and glory, particularly in battle and heroic deeds, would naturally have been honored among the Spartans who were known throughout Hellas as a dedicated warrior people. Aphrodite was honored in her war-like aspect among the Spartans, in fact, as Aphrodite Area.

Auxo and Hegemone were Horae (or Seasons) that were also worshipped as Graces. Auxo was the Goddess of Spring growth. The name Hegemone means “Queen” or “Leader.” The Horae were said to be present at Aphrodite’s birth, and they are usually given credit for dressing her in a garment that is shot with innumerable hues. Not only do they adorn the body of the Goddess, but they adorn the Earth itself as time (ie, the Seasons) shift. It could be said that part of their art as Graces is in physical, bodily adornment.

Furthermore, there may be lessons for the devotee within the name of Hegemone, she who is called “leader” and counted among both the Horae and the Kharites. Perhaps the lesson is that one requires a certain amount of grace in order to lead. Perhaps a keen understanding of the passage of time teaches the needed grace.

Peitho, Goddess of persuasion, is often listed as one of the Graces. Peitho plays a part in all seductions, they say, and she has a very checkered history in Greek myth. She is often seen fleeing the scene of rape and abduction in paintings of Classic tales. Peitho is said to be one of Aphrodite’s daughters, and they are very close companions. In fact, they share the Aphrodisia festival, in many parts of Greece.

Pasithea is the Grace of relaxation, the wife of Hypnos, God of sleep. She may also be associated with hallucinogenic drugs, according to the Theoi Project.  At first glance, relaxation may seem like an odd candidate for inclusion on the list of charms or graces; but when you think about life’s pleasures, you may quickly realize how much they all hinge on your being relaxed. The marriage of Relaxation and Sleep makes perfect sense, for she precedes him. And in terms of enjoying the banquet, the beauty, the charms of a beautiful girl or a handsome man, the indulgences of music or theatre or night-time revels, tension is a barrier to it all.

All the Kharites teach us invaluable lessons, and the ancients knew that all of the joys and pleasures in this life passed through the hands of the rosy-cheeked Graces. Seek out these sweet Goddesses in your own life, give them honor and reverence, cultivate the skills that they teach, and you will wrap yourself in their kharisma.

Black, Laurelei. Aphrodite’s Priestess. Asteria Books, 2009.
Theoi Project. accessed March 30, 2010

K - Kyphi, Kapet #paganblogproject

Kyphi or kapet (as it was called by the Egyptians) is a sensuous and complex temple incense that is burned as a purificant and an offertory.

While many ancient recipes are extent for kyphi, as the folks at Ancient Egypt Online have noted (and compiled), there only seems to be one ingredient that is universally included in this incense type ... honey.  There are other ingredients that are *common* to the recipes (frankincense, wine, raisins), but only honey is attested in each blend. For this reason, kyphi is most logically considered a "type" of incense and not a specific blend.

I blend a kyphi. It began as an offertory incense blend, but then came the honey, making it sticky and shapeable -- and oh-so-aromatic. My blend (which was developed with my partner, Natalie) includes ingredients that are staple offerings from all over the world: honey, red wine, frankincense, myrrh, sage, tobacco, copal, sandalwood, rose petals and cocoa. It smells amazing in the container, and it is even more rich and sumptuous when burned.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Aphrodite Shrine at Our Haven -- a history (and update)

Friends and long-time followers of this blog know that I am one of the Temple Keepers for the Aphrodite Shrine at Our Haven Nature Sanctuary in southern Indiana. I've posted plans and pictures, hopes and even heartbreaks regarding this beautiful little piece of paradise for years now.

Each year, as I, my family, and now even a loving and dedicated core of friends, come out to tend and beautify the shrine, I am awed and amazed at what a breathtakingly beautiful place it is. The entire Sanctuary is stunning, mind you. It is 175 acres of rolling woodlands in the hills of the southern part of Indiana. There are a couple of large fields that had been cleared years ago for farming by the previous owners, and they now serve as the primary camping and event fields.

Sometime between my first arrival at Our Haven in 2006 and my re-appearance in 2008 (at which point I made it my spiritual home), two women set the stones that form the altar of the shrine. These two women are incredibly dear to me -- one of them being one of my life partners, and the other being one of our closest friends -- although I hadn't met either of them on the Solstice evening when they set the shrine. They aligned Her altar to Venus (the Evening Star) as she set on the tree-line that Summer Solstice night.

Aphrodite's Shrine is within a larger circle called the Great Rite Spiral, which was established near the same time. A large stone Great Rite altar dominates the center of the circle, and spiral path made of Chinese hedgerows winds into it from the outside. The only problem is that after the hedges were planted, everyone thought they died. They got moved over, due to that belief, and then the entire area was allowed to be overgrown in weeds and tall grass. It's naturally a very wet space -- which the hedges like, but so did the marsh gasses. That was how it looked when I first saw it in 2008. Tall weeds around a massive rock. I had heard there was Aphrodite shrine in there, but I'd never seen it.

The first work weekend in March of 2010 saw about six of us pulling dried grass and dead weeds out of that space. My other life partner, Joe, wanted to start again on the hedges. But would you believe it? More than half of the originals were actually fighting for life under the nest of weeds. Their original orange flags were still marking their resolute stands, and they were determined to live. This was the day I got involved, and I've been a rather persistent advocate for that spot ever since.

April 2010 -- Before donations, and before foliage had come in.
Cleared of weed cover, the hedges grew two feet that year. I'm not exaggerating. They grow fast! I also uncovered some of the original altar decorations that the temple founders had placed there. They had gotten pounded into the ground. Seriously. But I cleaned them up and put them back on the altar. I brought out some of my own, too, including a small icon, because I had promised Aphrodite that she would have an image on the land. It wasn't made for outdoor use, and it got pretty weather-worn, but I think it added character.

Babalon Rising 2010, photo taken by Nick Vitori of Envy Graphix

Also by 2010, people had read my writing about Aphrodite, and I was in conversation with a couple of people who wanted to donate some money to the upkeep of Her shrine! Wow!! We bought a beautiful outdoor icon (Venus of Medici), a trellis arbor, and two climbing roses with donations alone. Our family contributed mulch and energy. We got everything put in by June, and it was lovely. Obviously new and young, but lovely.

Weeds literally covered the entire shrine. *sigh*

The wind knocked the trellis down, though, and we got so much rain between June and August that Indiana felt like a rain-forest. Aphrodite of the Gardens became Aphrodite of the Jungle. Our lovely shrine was overwhelmed in an ocean of weeds. I came out on retreat and battled them single-handedly for 2 and 1/2 days -- literally singing and dancing with the bees in the weeds. Pricking my fingers on datura occasionally was the worst part. Natalie was on retreat, too, and sometimes she would come sit on the Great Rite rock and drum or take pictures of the progress. By Sunday, it was all beautiful again, and I poured libations at the shrine (wearing what has become my semi-official "Aphrodite Shrine Work Dress"). I had even reset the trellis.

In the spring of 2011, we had terrible storms. The trellis came down and took out both the icon and the stone shrine. I had set it well, and it came down HARD. Trellis and icon were a shambles. We reset the stones and tidied up. Only needed to do a little weeding. We put in some more mulch. The shrine was getting easier to tend. The hedges, were getting enormous. They seem to grow a foot each time we saw them. In September, I found a replacement icon (Venus di Milo) and a marble base. We placed her at the Women's Goddess Retreat.

It's 2012, and we have worked on the shrine twice already. One was a weeding and mulching day. My partners and two friends who are Our Haven members worked on that at the first work weekend. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful moment. We laughed and loved each other, and my heart was so full of gratitude for the many hearts and hands who have poured their love upon my Lady and upon the Land where She stands.

Last weekend, on Mother's Day, a good friend and her family planted two rosebushes at the shrine. They will be gorgeous when they grow and bloom.

Yesterday, my family and one of the same friends -- she's actually a coven sister -- filled in the entire center of the Shrine/Spiral with mulch and paved the spiralling pathway with pea gravel. The project was funded by the sweet friend, my Sister in Aphrodite, who founded the shrine with my beloved Natalie. It was another beautiful day, and the results are so startling, so stunning, so beautiful that I feel the touch of my Goddess in the work.

I am Temple Keeper, not because I have any claim or ownership, any special right or privilege over this Shrine. Indeed, I don't have those things at all. It's a public shrine within Our Haven Nature Sanctuary. I am a Temple Keeper because my heart is in that beautiful little piece of land, and I help to keep up the temple.