Friday, February 24, 2012

PBP - Dawn and Discordia

Brace yourselves for some back-door gnosis!

Cult of the Living Bull and AZO

I belong to a distinctly Discordian  (*hem*) "tradition" called the Cult of the Living Bull. As a group, we began at the Starwood festival with the folks who tended the great big fires -- and the folks who passed water, danced, drummed, and generally kept the energy going around the fires.  We have Bull God, AZO -- whose name is a magical device referring to everything to do with the fire from A to Z, and the "O's" (or circles) we make around the fire. We have some history and symbolism in our Discordian fire traditions, but the basic concepts are: fire, O's, red straps (suspenders -- as markers of membership), dancing, drumming, passing water, shouting Liber Resh vel Helios at dawn.

Morning Resh (facing the East):

"Hail unto Thee who art Ra in Thy rising, even unto Thee who art Ra in Thy strength, who travellest over the Heavens in Thy bark at the Uprising of the Sun.
Tahuti standeth in His splendour at the prow, and Ra-Hoor abideth at the helm.
Hail unto Thee from the Abodes of Night!"

(We add:) "BUUUULLLLLLL!!!!!"

Essentially, when you have managed to stay up ALL NIGHT LONG by the fire, and you're there to great the sun with the folks who have been keeping that fire going all night, you've put a lot of energy into the thing -- and gotten a lot out. The thing you MUST remember, though, is that it's all BULL!!!! Or, more importantly, let go of the BULL.

Sisterhood of Wholly Chao and OZA

Okay, the women of the Cult of the Living Bull at Our Haven (in French Lick, Indiana) witnessed the beginning of a new deity within the pantheon of the Cult. Well, we thought she was new, but I'll get to her potentially ancient roots in a moment. Let me begin by introducing her as we were introduced.

At the Women's Goddess Retreat in 2009, one of our circles was an evening fire circle, and the women of Fyre Trybe were asked to step forward. There were something like 14 of us, and we named another 6-8 that hadn't been able to make it. We realized in that moment how many women were in the Cult of the Living Bull just at Our Haven.

Prior to that night, some of us had teased about being "Concubines of the Living Bull" because we lost our men to the fire, she was their first wife and we were on the sidelines. But standing there together, tending the fire with the just the women, we realized that we had a helluva lot of firetenders among us -- women who LOVED the fire as much as the men. Someone said, "We are the Sisterhood of the Holy Cow" (later re-spelled Wholly Chao), and we gave that female cow the name OZA, the same letters and meaning as her male consort (just backwards) -- the O's we do around the fire and everything from Z to A. Her chant is a serene one, "Ooooom" (Moo, backwards).

Now, I've seen Deities created before. Manbat, Lobo, Mabel the Parking Goddess. But I'm starting to think OZA was already around and we merely recognized her. Let me share with you a passage that I found in Paul Friedrich's The Meaning of Aphrodite. He is writing about a Vedic Goddess of the Dawn.

"Ushas (usas) is herself radiantly beautiful and white or golden in color; 'she rises, light and clothes in white, from out of the darkness.' Her rays are repeatedly described as (depending on the passage and translator) red, purple, ruddy or red-tinted and are said to resemble cows, oxen, or steeds of these colors dispersing from their stalls; she is sometimes called 'the mother of cows.' She mounts the heavens in a large shining chariot drawn by ruddy beasts."

He goes on to describe how she is associated with dancing, fire, water and walking or making paths.

The last thing he says of her is that "the full signification of Ushas combines cosmic order with cosmic ambiguity."

So, from the similarities in the name of the Goddess, to the attributes, to the cow itself, it seems to me that the Sisterhood of the Wholly Chao, and our beloved OZA, taps into something old and deep and awesome. For what it's worth, I wanted to share it with you all. Oom!

Balefire Magazine -- call for Submissions, Beltane 2012

Issue 3 of THE BALEFIRE, the Midwest's premiere magical magazine, is in production, and we are seeking  contributions of original articles, rituals, reviews, poetry, fiction, photography, and art.

At this time, we are not working under a thematic structure, but we do ask that material relate to the practice of magic and/or Paganism in the Midwest US. Our regional focus is what makes us unique, and it allows THE BALEFIRE to be a resource to practitioners in this part of the country (and world).

Regular sections to which you might consider contributing:

Community Services: profile of a Pagan/Occult charitable organization
Festival Forum: reviews & previews of area festivals and campouts
Fireside Chat: feedback from readers about articles, stories, etc.
Group Guide: Highlights working covens, hearths, circles, groves or other bodies (or groups of related bodies)
Red Straps: discussions related to Fire Tribe (the woodbusters, firetenders, fire performers, water bearers and energy workers that maintain the bonfires at many Pagan gatherings)
Rites of Passage: announcement related to individual & group Rites of Passage
Teen Retreat: teen reflections & contributions related to magic and spirituality
Vendor’s View: profile of a festival, online, or brick & mortar vendor


We are specifically seeking columnists with interest and experience in the following areas:

  • Ceremonial Magic -- Enochian, Goetia, Qabbala, etc.
Beyond that, we know that we would like at least 1-2 more regular columnists with a burning passion for subject area and a strong connection to the region. 


Complete guidelines can be found here. Since we publish semi-annually, the Beltane issue covers Beltane, Midsummer, Lammas and Mabon (or, roughly April through September).


You can download a free copy of our first issue, Beltane 2009, here.


We do accept advertising. Information is available here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dancing the Divine

Dance is an amazing way to connect to the Divine, as is evidenced by all the religions and cultures that use dance to do just that. Pagans are great at finding what works in other cultures and bringing it into our own cultural mix. This is especially true for American Pagans, I think. We ARE a mix of cultures, after all.

Like many Witchy women, I have a deep and abiding love of American bellydance, in all its myriad forms. I had the great fortune, from 2005 to 2008, to be involved with a group of women who were part coven, part dance troupe. We created rituals using the medium of dance, specifically bellydance.

Our first full ritual was a Goddess-inspired dance. We had an opening and a closing, and different configurations of us dance four different Goddess dances in the middle. The videos above show our Maiden, Mother, Crone dance and our Closing.

Our second ritual was Elemental. We had plans for more ritual dances, and we've been excited to learn that other dancers have started doing very similar work.

Cords as Markers of Admission

I actually wrote this for the American Folkloric Witchcraft blog last year, but since I'm trying to play catch-up, I thought I could borrow ...

One of the Robert Cochrane (Roy Bowers) "writings" that  you'll want to read is titled "On Cords." It first appeared in issue 3 of The Pentagram in March 1965. In it, he discusses two aspects or uses of the traditional Witch's Ladder.

The first is the piece of magical craft that we'll be covering soon. It involves using the cord for spellwork.

The second use of cords is that of the devotional ladder. While many of us will make and use multiple devotional ladders for trance and meditation work related to a variety of focal objects, a great many Witches receive their first ladder as a cord (or set of braided cords) that marks their admission to a curveen.

The cords are usually a length of silk or wool rope, braided yarn, or upholstery cord, whose thickness, length and color vary by tradition. They are versatile, as they are used for cinching ritual robes, indicating rank or degree, measuring the circle, and sometimes for binding blood flow in certain circumstances. When used to control blood flow, they may also be called the cingulum.

Cords used as a cingulum help alter consciousness and they are often employed in initiation rites. There are a few different ways to tie the cords to act in this capacity, but the most common is shown below. However they are used, a cingulum should be administered with care to avoid causing damage or harm.

Cords can also be used as a meditational or trance tool in much the same way as a Catholic rosary. Because they are usually braided and knotted, often with multi-colored fibers, they bind together symbols and imagery that is important to the Witch who wears them. Meditating on a particular knot, strand, or other element of the cord will produce a focused experience on the symbol set contained therein, while working through all the knots (climbing the ladder) produces a transcendent state.

The Spiral Castle Tradition uses a specific progression of cords as markers of admission to the curveen. Each strand of cording that we use is made of a 3 hand-braided strands of wool yarn.

Greening -- single green cord -- This cord represents new growth, the beginning of the learning process and the budding interest of the green Witch in the curveen and Tradition. The purpose of the ritual is to form a magical link with loose bonds between student and cuveen and to establish the beginning of a learning period of at least three months. The Green Cord serves as a physical reminder of that link. Aside from interested adults coming to the Tradition, children of the curveen are eligible to wear the Green Cord (and thereby to acknowledge their relationship to the Craft of the Family) at the Age of Reason. This cord is cut and burned at the time that a Witch progresses to Adoption.

Adoption -- single red cord -- This cord represents the umbilical cord, the blood of birth, and the fire of Tubal Cain. It is a manifestation of the Red Thread. The purpose of the Adoption Rite is to forge a formal magical link between the student and the coven and to establish a formal training period of at least a year and a day. Again, the Red Cord serves as a physical reminder of the link between the Witch and the curveen, but it also reminds her of her link to all Children of Qayin. Children of the Family may be adopted within the Craft at the Age of Puberty.

Raising -- single black and single white cord braided together with existing red cord  -- This set of cords is the final set that a Witch within our Tradition will use. The cords are fashioned so that there is a loop on one end, and a long set of tails on the other where the cords remain unbraided. The knot that hold the loop fast is the White Goddess knot. The knot closest to the tails (which somewhat resemble three flails of a scourge) is the Black Goddess knot. A knot is tied in the middle of the braided section -- the Tubal Cain knot. A Raised Witch is a full member of the curveen and Trad, and she wears the most potent symbols of our Craft when she dons her cords. Children of the Family are eligible for Raising, provided that theire knowledge and practice of the Craft is sound, at the Age of Majority.


Brewing potions is one of the things I love about my very Witchy life. For my Etsy shop, Blade and Broom, I make my very favorite brew -- flying ointment -- about once every two weeks. (My non-toxic flying ointment is our shop's most popular product.) Tonight, I made up another lovely batch.

I have a little red pot that I only use for brewing. The lovely cooking utensil is hand carved by an Etsy Witchy friend from near Salem. I love sitting with the herbs as they simmer -- mugwort, lemongrass, cinquefoil, rue, Dittany of Crete, poplar buds (balm of Gilead), clary sage, and wormwood (plus benzoin powder and vitamin E oil as preservatives).

The sweet, sticky poplar buds open up in the heat of the salve's base oil as they simmer.

A pound of base salve yields about six 2-oz. tins of flying ointment -- or one of the large jars. Isn't it a lovely olive green? One of the names for flying ointment in the Middle Ages was "green salve." You can see why.

Bellarmine Jar

A Bellarmine jar is, by strictest definition, a brown ceramic bottle or jug with a face depicted on its side, used by Witches for housing spirits, hexing targets and removing curses or hexes. These jars were very durable, and they were very, very popular among the west county Witches of England because they would last, literally, for centuries -- protecting both their contents and the magic contained therein.

They weren't always known as Bellarmine jars, though. "Bellarmine" is a reference to an unpopular 16th Century Cardinal whose face appeared on the jars. Originally, though, these jars were manufactured in Frechen, near Cologne, in Germany. Here, they were called Bartmann jars -- "bearded man" jars, in reference to the bearded face who always appeared on the side.

Today, they are commonly called Witch Bottles, and the availability of a variety of materials used for bottling, canning and preservation means that contemporary Witches needn't use only brown crockery. Of course, the more durable and longer-lasting, the better. Glass might be the most popular of today's choices, but standard glass may not be your sturdiest alternative.

When creating a Bellarmine jar as a spirit house, the old, customary face can be a useful depiction of the spirit to whom you've provided a vessel. You can find potters and artisans who make contemporary versions of the old jars, or you can paint/carve/engrave your own.

Common contents of Bellarmine jars, for both spirit houses and curse/protection bottles, are hair, nail clippings, and charms/figurines. A spirit jar might also contain a few drops of blood and offerings related to the spirit housed within. A jar with the aim of both cursing and protecting might contain pins, broken glass, urine, etc. (Let's hear it for the power of intent in spellcraft!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A is for Asteria

I have been both a Priestess of Aphrodite and a Witch for several years. Most of my regular blog readers are familiar with writings on Aphrodite. That's how this blog began, in fact -- as a means to explore that priestesshood and share it with others. What I've struggled with in the last few years is finding a balance between the very traditional witchcraft that I practice and the lessons I've learned under Aphrodite's tutelage.

The secret lays in my favorite of Aphrodite's epithets -- ASTERIA. It means "starry" or (when used alone) "the starry one."

Aphrodite is a much more complicated Goddess than most folks realize. Part of her character -- the golden and starry aspects -- are pretty much direct imports from Middle Eastern religions. You can trace the trade routes along with the etymology of the Goddess names from the fertile crescent to Greece. ISHTAR becomes ASTARTE for the Phoenicians, who in turn bring Her to Cyprus and into Greece. Soooooo many of the myths surrounding Ishtar/Inanna and Astarte have direct correlates in Aphrodite's Greek stories. Nearly all of the symbol sets and epithets found manifestations in Aphrodite as well.

She's not just a clone of the Middle Eastern Star Goddess archetype, though. She's also one of the many manifestations of the early European Water-Bird Goddesses (as researched and discussed so wonderfully by Marija Gimbutes) and also the Proto-Indo-European Dawn Goddesses. (I'm not going into all that here. Whew! That would be a fascinating and looooong post. If you're interested, though, I highly recommend Paul Friedrich's book, The Meaning of Aphrodite.)

Okay, so my witchcraft tradition works very heavily with Tubal Cain (who can also be accessed by the angelic name Azazel). He is the bringer of metalcraft and sorcery (among other things) to mortals. He is the Witchfather, bringer of the cunning fire and originator of the Red Thread (the blood line that connects witches to their Mighty dead and, ultimately, back to Nephilium).

Among the most sacred iron used in smithing is that which comes from the stars -- meteorites. Fallen stars and fallen angels have always been intimately linked, just as alchemy, sorcery and smithing have always been linked. And the mighty, alchemical Forge Gods invariably love, desire, seek and sometimes even marry whom? ...... You guessed it, the starry, golden Goddess of Love.

Aphrodite and Hephaestus
Venus and Vulcan
Freya and the Dwarves

Interesting (at least to me) point:
In cultures where the Forge God isn't connected with with Love Star Goddess, he almost always is connected with one of the other two above-mentioned aspects of Aphrodite:

Wayland and the swan-maiden Hervor (a water-bird lady)
Tvastar and Saranya (dawn goddess)
Seppo Ilmarinen and the Bride of Gold (golden lady, made by Ilmarinen)

It makes good sense, doesn't it? The iron lord of the forge would seek and crave the starry lady of love.

I've posted a couple of poems here before that are part of my exploration of the connection between these two. I'm sure I'll write (and paint) more to explore this concept. But here's what I've done so far:

Alchemy  &   To Hephaestus

I also wrote this in response to my own resonance with Asteria (and her depiction in the Star card of the Tarot):

The Star

A foot on the shore.
A foot in the brine.
Sand and sea sparkle
and twinkle and shine
as they drip from my hands
to the water below,
a dancing and decadent
glittering glow.
Morning star, evening star,
Goddess or girl,
your hope and your daydream,
your wish and new world.
I’ll guide you through oceans
turned black with the night
and see you back safely
to the dawn’s golden light.
Lover’s sweet reassures –
words, music and art –
discovered by starlight
in the depths of one’s heart.

I’ll dance in the darkness,
but I AM the light
that burns without ending
through eternity’s night.

A is for Altar

I've decided to participate in the Pagan Blogging Project -- both to contribute to a cool project concept and to reanimate my own blogging efforts. I haven't been writing much of anything lately, and this is just the shot in the arm I've been looking for.

So, now I'm playing catch-up, and my first topic is ALTARS.

I thought I would go visual on this one and share some of my current altars as well as altars I've made/used in the past.

Altar to my familiar spirits

The main altar of Dragon's Eye Coven -- I made the altar top.

An Aphrodisian set-up for a Clan of the Laughing Dragon altar.

The altar and shrine to Aphrodite that I help maintain at Our Haven Nature Sanctuary.
The main altar I share with Glaux (circa 2009) -- with Mr. Jinx.

Part of our family's ancestor altar. (The adorable baby is my grandfather -- he's next to the bomber and in the wedding photo, too)