Friday, March 23, 2012

PBP - F is for Familiars

I'm not necessarily talking about your favorite kitty, Miss Witch.

Okay, in one respect, I *could* be talking about your favorite kitty, but let's be really up-front that when a Witch talks about a "spirit known to her" -- a familiar spirit -- that isn't a historical implication of the household cat. In fact, as Judika Illes points out in her massive volume Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, cats weren't even the most likely animals to be a witch's corporeal familiar in the Middle Ages, as the cat wasn't a common household critter at that time. The term "pussycat" most likely referred to the rabbit (Latin "lepus"), an animal that was much more associated with witchcraft, lunar magic, necromancy, and shapeshifting.

Isobel Gowdie's famous confession is said to include the following chant for shapeshifting into a rabbit:

I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil's name,
Ay while I come home again.
(sych: such; meickle: great)
To change back, she would say:
Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare's likeness now,
But I shall be in a woman's likeness even now.
There's also a famous poem about "The Graveyard Rabbit" which I'll be covering next week, which brings up interesting associations between rabbits, witches, and the dead.

Of course, that isn't to say that your physical (corporeal) familiar can't be a cat -- or a dog, or a turtle, a snake or any other creature with whom you have a working magical relationship. My point is that your being a witch and having Puff or Fido in the house doesn't automatically make Puff or Fido your familiar.

Corporeal Familiar

A corporeal familiar is a living animal with whom you have a working, magical relationship. This animal shows an interest and adeptness for the type -- at least, for some types -- of magic you perform. Some familiars love ritual, and they present themselves promptly at the start of every circle and spell. Some are magnificent energy workers, and they'll help you direct healing energy. Natalie's cat, Jinx, does both of these. Hex, on the other hand, prefers to observe and comment upon the making of potions and mixing of herbs. (See, I told you I'm perfectly willing to accept cats as familiars.)

My rabbit George also loves ritual and energy movement, and he takes a very active role in ritual work, when he's part of the circle. On a harness and lead, he will go from one quarter to the next -- at exactly the right time -- and then to the main altar. Fred, my other buns, pays special attention when I'm working with the spirits of the dead.

Most animals like energy, and many animals are willing to help with the healing process in some capacity. As for willingness or talent to be a familiar in magic, you really need to pay attention to the proclivities of the specific animal. They aren't all interested or able, no matter how much you love each other.

Incorporeal Familiar

Witches didn't just have animals who helped them manifest their magic. Lore and witch trial records (not ALL of which can be complete fabrications) are filled with accounts of witches calling upon familiar spirits to do their bidding.

Nature spirits, angels, demons, magistelli, Deities, the Mighty Dead, the Good People (fairies). There are a host of unseen forces with myriad names. Witches have certainly worked with all of these. (Don't shake your head at the computer screen. Witches most certainly HAVE worked with Angels and Demons. Let's not forget that the word "angel" comes from the Greek ἄγγελος pronounced "angelos", which means messenger. "Demon" also comes from the Greek --  δαίμων pronounced daímōn, meaning nothing more or less than "spirit."  Neither was inherently benevolent, nor was the other malevolent. Can they be? Sure. I bet you can be nasty, too.)

Like most beings, angels and demons are primarily looking out for themselves, but they're willing to make a deal with you. Actually, I think that can be said of ALL non-corporeal spirits. Some are naturally more amiable and inclined to work with you. Some, not so much. A few can be down-right nasty, but don't let their category be the deciding factor. There are more fey that I would recommend avoiding than there are Goetic demons, frankly.

In fact, Paul Huson, in his book Mastering Witchcraft (a classic that I HIGHLY recommend) suggests getting in touch with a particular Goetic demon pretty early in your Craft practice. Natalie and I have long maintained that conjuring demons is a historical part of the craft. We don't recommend doing it lightly or unprepared, by any means. But having a good working relationship with a couple of these spirits is a good thing for a witch.

Maybe it's because I'm a necromancer, as well, but I also advocate reaching out to the Mighty Dead in search of a familiar spirit willing to guide you. This year at Samhain, our coven was blessed by the adoption, of sorts, of a witch from the other side of the veil. We have learned since that time that this is another time-honored tradition. We just stumbled into it. She came to us while we were using the Ouija board, and she has been present for us collectively and individually ever since.

The Unseen World enfolds us, and we Witches walk within it, while maintaining a connection to consensus reality. Our familiar spirits help us navigate and understand the Unseen, for they are a part of that world.

For more information on Familiars, I recommend:

Robin Artisson's series of guest posts (Forgetting Human) on the American Folkloric Witchcraft blog (which covers a great deal more than familiars, and is sooooo worth the read!)
Natalie's post on Familiars

Saturday, March 17, 2012

PBP - F is for Festivals

The following is excerpted from the Occult & Witchcraft Learning Series: Eclectic Witchcraft -- Wheel of the Year by Laurelei and Natalie Black, copyright 2011. The full text is available in PDF at Asteria Books.
Beltane at Our Haven. (My daughter is the one in the fabu hat.)

Every year hundreds of Pagan festivals take place all over the U.S and around the world. At these occasions, usually centered on or near a Sabbat, you will be able to camp and network with other Pagans, Heathens, Wiccans, Witches, Shamans, and general out-of-the-mainstream folks. Many of the events center around large group rituals, but some don't. Be sure to contact the event organizers in advance for information regarding fees, activities, workshops, and rules. Often you will find that a discount is provided if you sign up to attend early.

For a list of festivals near you, we suggest you explore the highly useful and exhaustive listing of Circles, Festivals, and Events at the Witches' Voice ( The Witches’ Voice also offers reviews of most festivals provided by its members.

Festival Tips

Your Noise Preference – Some parts of a festival ground are going to noisy (like near the areas designated for large bonfires and drumming) and some are going to be quiet. Choose a camping location that suits your needs and those of your family or companions. We also suggest that you take some earplugs in case you find that you’ve chosen poorly.

Rules and Laws – Know the regulations and laws for both the festival and the state where things like magical weapons and alcohol are concerned. Your athame and wine may not be welcome at all, or there may be certain restrictions on them. Then again, they may be perfectly fine. Best not find out by having them confiscated, which the authorities will be within their rights to do if you have violated the local laws.

Plants – Learn what poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac look like, and then scout your campsite for them before setting up. Keep an eye out for them while exploring the wilder areas of the festival ground, as well. Nothing ruins a great festival quite like learning your herbalism the hard way.

Bugs – Ticks and mosquitoes aren’t just irritating, they carry some serious diseases. We’ve known people who’ve actually contracted West Nile virus and lime disease at festivals. Protect yourself.  

Beasties – You should attempt to know something about the wildlife in the area where you’re camping, particularly the animals that may pose problems. You may only encounter raccoons, which can be a special sort of treat as they root through your festival gear and refuse if you don’t take proper precautions against them. However, your festival grounds may also be the neighbor or home of poisonous snakes, coyotes, cougars and bears. Each of these demands respect and different camping preparations, so try to inform yourself about the potential non-human festival attendees.

Companions – Whether you bring friends or make them at the festival, don’t plan on going it alone. Festivals are much more fun with a group. The process of camping is easier with a partner or group campsite, as well. You’ll have someone to share in the tasks of setting up and tearing down, cooking, tending the campfire, etc.

Building a fire at Our Haven's Women's Goddess Retreat
Work Shifts – Many festivals require that you volunteer a couple of hours of your time during the event to attend to grounds maintenance, set-up, tear-down, gophering duties, or other tasks that help the festival run smoothly. You can also very often make arrangements to do extra work to reduce the cost of your admission. Not only does this genuinely help the festival, but it is an opportunity to become a more integral and involved member of the festival community.

Perfect Love & Perfect Trust – When you come into a festival experience, you are often entering a complete magical community and possibly even consecrated magical space. When you enter a ritual circle, you are required to enter in “Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.” Though you will rarely be asked directly for this commitment at a festival, the concept is still sound. Treat your festival neighbors with love and trust and expect the same in return. Be a courteous camper, observing quiet times as designated, maintaining your campsite, and offering assistance when you see it is

There is a more intimate aspect of Perfect Love and Perfect Trust at play within the sphere of a festival, as well. A festival setting can be a time when the sacrament of sex is enjoyed rather freely among consenting adults. It is a time and a space of freedom with like-minded people, and it isn’t uncommon for festival connections to occur. Just be sure to engage in all intimacies in the same spirit of Love and Trust that you would enter circle. Protect yourself and your partner – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Psyche Station – Many festivals will offer a designated area for attendees to ground, center and even heal their energies. Psychic and emotional energy can run very high at a festival. You are experiencing magic and sometimes even enlightenment on a grand scale. Though this is empowering and wonderful, it can also be confusing and disorienting. Furthermore, your experiences at the festival may bring up old psychic and emotional wounds that demand healing. If the festival offers a place of recuperation for attendees, locate it well before you need it and don’t feel shy about going there when you do need it. It may be an unattended grotto where you can ground, center and meditate in solitude, or it may be staffed with healers who can help you work through your experience and get you back on your feet.

Packing Tips – We have found that packing our gear in plastic tubs with lids works very well for transporting your items. Critters stay out, everything stays dry even in a downpour, and they’re easy to organize and stack. Pack for all kinds of whether: hot, chilly, wet. We attend several festivals in the Midwestern United States, and the same event can manage to be hot, cold, dry, wet, and humid within a three day span. Bring your own shade. A canopy over your tent will keep it from being a hot-box and may spare you some of the onslaught of a terrible rain. A canopy to sit under while you’re relaxing will help keep you cool. An umbrella or parasol becomes portable personal shade to reduce your chances of heat exhaustion. Even if you’re hoping for a great wooded camping spot, you may not arrive in time to claim it. Having tarps and canopies to rig your own shade will make a huge difference. Futons do not deflate. Air mattresses travel compactly and are relatively inexpensive, but they have a fairly short lifespan. Before we switched to futons, we found ourselves sleeping on the ground several times due to air mattresses deflating in the night. You also may not have access to electricity for inflating your air mattress at many festival grounds, making them even less convenient. Hammocks, futons and cots are all comfortable, long-term alternatives to the air mattress problem.

911 – We hope you never experience a personal or family emergency while you’re attending a festival. However, preparing for the worst is often a great method of banishing it. To that end, make sure that the members of your camping group, or a neighbor camper if you’re attending the festival alone, have your emergency contact information and any medical alerts that might need to be relayed to First Aid in the case that you experience a problem. The festival organizers almost always collect this information as part of registration, too. If not, you should make sure that First Aid is aware of any drug allergies or medical alerts. In the event that you are unconscious, you really want this base well-covered.

Gaia Love – Most festival grounds don’t have the garbage pick-up budget to finance rubbish removal for hundreds or thousands of people. You’ll undoubtedly need to pack out your trash and dispose of it yourself. A good rule of thumb is to leave your site better than you found it. This includes things like cigarette butts, too. You also shouldn’t hunt, fish, or forage at the festival grounds without the express permission of the groundskeepers and festival organizers. These activities are usually forbidden. Whatever firewood you need for your campfire should be available on-site or at a local store just before you arrive. (Know the event’s policy on firewood before arriving so you can plan accordingly.) You should also ask permission before harvesting or planting at a festival site. Even well-intentioned unapproved plantings can endanger the ecology of the site.

Attunement – Take some time when you first arrive at the festival grounds to ground, center, and attune to the energies of the land and people. You’ve probably had a long car ride, and you’ve just shifted your reality from a world riddled with business concerns, bills, traffic, politics, and whatever plagues you each day to a world of magic, spirituality, nature, and the ideals you aspire to. You need a moment to adjust. Building your campsite can wait the few minutes you might need to do that. Feel this new place. Sense what magic is like here. Watch the people interact for a few moments. Take time to be still and attune to the rhythm of this world within the world before you build your new little home.

My kids playing with some of their best festival buddies -- first night they met, in 2008.
Little Witches – Children are welcome at most festivals, but you should always make sure that you have reviewed the festival’s policies carefully before planning to bring your child. Some festivals are strictly for adults, after all. At many festival grounds, you’ll find playground facilities, daycare programs for little ones, and activities for children of all ages. That being said, please keep in mind that children and minors are always the responsibility of their parent or guardian while at any festival. Children should not be left to wander unattended or unsupervised. If your child is being kept in a festival daycare program, you should take a volunteer shift at the daycare during that festival.

Touchy Tool Taboos – Please be respectful of other people's items, especially drums and other instruments around the main fire or ritual gear in ritual areas. Please do not play other people's drums without permission, and do not set items on drums. Drums are not tables, and can be damaged by pressure, moisture, and rough objects. Most Pagans feel about their drums, didgeridoos, Native American flutes or other instruments the same way that they feel about their athames and other ritual gear. All of these sacred items are infused with a Witch or Magician’s personal energy, and it is considered the height of rudeness to touch or play with them without permission.

Starwood's Saturday night bonfire is MASSIVE.

Sacred Fire – Almost all festivals will have a group bonfire on one or more nights of the event. The size and intention of the fire varies from festival to festival. Drumming is common to them all. Dancing is also popular. Some have a magical or alchemical focus. Some are geared toward trancework. Some are bardic opportunities with singing and poetry. Some are massive while others are over-sized campfires. Many central bonfires are tended only by designated personnel, while others are a community effort. All tend to be viewed as sacred, though. Generally, it is considered taboo to dispose of rubbish in the sacred bonfire, though it is quite common to do so at one’s own smaller campfire.

Laurelei & Natalie enjoying a post-ritual snuggle at Babalon Rising
Nakie Pagans – Many festivals are clothing optional or have areas that are designated as clothing optional. If this is the case, it will almost always be posted somewhere on the festival’s website or registration information, so you shouldn’t be shocked when you arrive. However, in the event that the festival failed to mention it, consider yourself forewarned that many Pagans take comfort in knowing that they can walk about au natural in this little magical world outside of the mainstream. There should never be any pressure for anyone to disrobe beyond their level of comfort, but you should brace yourself (and your kids, if they’re attending the festival with you) for the possibility of seeing the entire human form in all of its varied manifestations – young, old, Venusian, Willendorf, and so on. Gawking at the parts that are so often concealed is considered impolite, and being uncovered only means that the person wants to be free of their clothing – not that they’re looking for a date.

Laurelei & Natalie at Festivals

Are you near Indiana? Maybe you'll run into us at one of these festival locations:

Our Haven Nature Sanctuary, French Lick, IN – – This is our second-home. We actually organize some of the events that happen at Our Haven, and we are among a devoted core of members who help care for the land. You can always catch us at Babalon Rising Pan-Thelemic Festival and the Women’s Goddess Retreat (the two events we currently help organize).

Lothlorien & Elvin H.O.M.E., Inc., Needmore, IN – – Lothlorien is the longest-running festival grounds of its kind in Indiana, and it is literally right down the road from us. Nestled in the hilly woodlands of South Central Indiana, it is a beautiful location with a rich history.

Indianapolis Pagan Pride Day, Indianapolis, IN – – This isn’t a camping festival, but it is an all-day Pagan event. The Pagan Pride organization was actually begun in Indianapolis (long before we got involved). Still, Laurelei has been a Coordinator in some capacity with the event for several years, and you can find us there at the end of September showing our Pagan Pride, networking with the area’s Witches, Pagans and Heathens, and celebrating Laurelei’s birthday (which invariably falls on this auspicious weekend)!

Sometimes we are invited to speak at events, as well. Check out our schedules to see if we'll be in an area near you! (Mine is here, and Natalie's is there.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

PBP: Epitymbia, or How Aphrodite is a Goddess of Necromancy

Inanna and her sister Ereshkigal (Queen of the Underworld)
Within every Black Goddess, there is a shimmer of Light; as within every White Goddess, there is the Shadow of Night. Life hints of death; Death promises Life.

Aphrodite, for all intents and purposes, is the very epitome of a White Goddess. She is a a beautiful enchantress, the bestower of love and fecundity. And, in keeping with the simple Mystery stated above, she has a dark shadow -- one that not all who look upon her see. I believe that the Ancients saw it, though, and the proof is in a few of  the epithets they gave her:

Epitymbia - She of the Tombs
Melaina, Skotia - Black One

I also think it is recounted in her mythos, though we need to pull back the layers just a little (and remember her connections to Inanna-Ishtar and Astarte) in order to discover Aphrodite's connection to the Dead and the Underworld.

The Dying Shepherd

The myth of the dying shepherd is the first that connects Aphrodite to the Underworld, its Queen, and to her Middle Eastern cognates. While the story of Adonis, Aphrodite and Persephone varies in cultural tone and flavor from its Middle Eastern predecessors, there's no denying that Aphrodite and Adonis are the Greek counterparts to Inanna & Damuzi or  Astarte and Tammuz. Indeed, the mourning ritual commenced for Adonis (the Adonia) by all the women of Greece is an exact parallel to the mourning undertaken by the women of Damuzi and Tammuz myths. Also paralleled in both sets of myths are the fact that "arrangements" are made in such a way that the Beloved Man returns to the Goddess for a portion of the year, thus making him a dying and resurrecting God of land.

In the Greek version, Persephone falls in love with the youth, as well -- emphasizing the connection between the Queen of the Underworld and the Starry Goddess. In Sumerian, Babylonian and Phoenician lore, you see, these two Goddesses were sisters. In a sense, they were the light and dark halves of the same coin. In Greek myth, though, this isn't the case. Yet the myths bear out their connection again and again.

Journey to the Underworld

In the Middle Eastern variants, The Starry Goddess makes an Underworld Journey to plead to her dark sister, Queen of the Underworld. It is an important exception to the Greek myths, I think, that this doesn't happen. What *does* happen, however, is that the two Goddesses work in concert on at least two occasions (for Adonis and Psyche) and that they share a number of common symbols and sacred places. Among them are the Cyprus and the pomegranate -- both of which are vastly important to both Goddesses.

But of course the Starry Goddess -- whose "star" (the planet Venus) is both the Evening Star (Hesperus) and the Morning Star (Eosphorus) -- would be connected to underworld journeys. She dips below the horizon, into the west -- always the place of the dead -- and rises again. And if not her, then her lover (Adonis) and her priestess (Psyche) -- those whom she guides.

Psyche's Test

I plan on devoting a whole entry to Psyche, soon. In fact, I plan on devoting a whole book to Psyche!

Psyche was a mortal who was said to be as beautiful as Aphrodite. She was "sacrificed" by her parents and carried on the wind to the palace Eros (Love),  Aphrodite's beloved son. She disobeyed the instruction not to look upon her husband, who then fled. Psyche then sought Aphrodite's help, and the Goddess gave her seemingly unconquerable tasks -- one of which involved an Underworld Journey to retrieve a cask of beauty potion which was kept in the care of Persephone!

I don't believe that Aphrodite was trying to thwart her daughter-in-law, as most people who relay and interpret this myth seem to indicate. I don't at all see Aphrodite as jealous of the girl's beauty or resentful of Psyche's love for Aphrodite's beloved son. On the contrary, I believe she set Psyche upon the Heroine's Journey. She was testing her -- initiating her. At the end of Psyche's tasks, she is made immortal; and I believe it was the worthiness of this immortality that Aphrodite was judging -- and also the worthiness of the girl for her son.

Psyche means "soul" in Greek, so in essence, Aphrodite sent the human spirit on a quest that proved its worthiness of the immortality of the Gods -- and of it's worthiness of all-encompassing Love.

(By the way, if this episode in mythology doesn't illustrate the profound importance of the Love Goddess, I don't know WHAT can!)

Love and Death

Amor Vincit Omnia. Love conquers all things. She is the subduer of war-like Ares, where all others fail. And what about Death? Is Death, whose realm we all must enter, powerful enough to undo the touch of Love? While these myths give us room to speculate -- and are designed to make us do so -- I know that I have my answer. (I bet you can guess what it is.)

Aphrodite Epitymbia and the Necromancer

I call upon my Beloved and Mighty Dead all the time, and Aphrodite Veiled, She of the Tombs, is my guiding star. I approach them in love, respectful of Death's Dark Queen. Aphrodite, her sister in myth and spirit, is a mediator and light. With her, I continue to seek the Light in the Shadows, the Dark in the Light.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

PBP: Eos and Aphrodite

by Stanislaw Wyspianski
I mentioned in a recent post that Aphrodite's origins cannot merely be traced back to the golden Goddesses of Love, always associated with the stellar Venus, of the Fertile Crescent. She is also a manifestation of the Water-Bird Goddesses of early Europe, a Minoan-Mycenaean Goddess, and she is a hypostasis of the Proto-Indo-European dawn Goddess.

I know! Awesome, huh?

Eos ( Ἠώς, or Ἕως) is a Titan Goddess of the Dawn -- her name meaning "dawn" in Greek. The equivalent figure in Vedic myth is Usas, of whom I wrote last week. Deborah Dickman Boedekker, in Aphrodite's Entry in Greek Epic, points out that Usas is called the "daughter of the sky" (sky = dyeus, which is strikingly similar to Zeus, the Olympian sky God and Aphrodite's father). Aphrodite is given the epithet Ourania (Heveanly), which she shares with other sky-related Goddesses, but only she is called both this AND  the "daughter of God" (Dios Thugater). Boedekker points out that in the Vedic myths, it is only Usas (Dawn) who is called  "Daughter of God," but that Eos is never referred to in this manner.

Within Greek mythology, some of the characteristic of the Dawn Goddess within Indo-European tradition have been given to Aphrodite. (They *also* apply to Eos, of course. The argument here isn't that Eos is not worthily a Dawn Goddess, simply that Aphrodite is also a functional hypostasis of this same mythos.)

In particular, Boedekker points out that the Dawn Goddess often "figures in an episode that involves the snatching away, hiding, and preserving of another character" (39). There are three distinct instances in the Iliad where Aphrodite participates in just such an episode.

The first of these occurs when there is to be a decisive battle between Paris and Menelaus. Paris is defeated, and Menelaus begins to drag him away by his helmet strap, but Aphrodite snatches him away.  The second episode happens during a battle between her son Aeneas and Diomedes in which she covers her son with her shining peplos (a robes) and her "bright arms" to hide him. The third occurs when Achilles tries to mutilate Hektor's corpse. Aphrodite keeps the dogs away and anoints the body with oil to preserve it. Boedekker points out that in the scenes with both Hektor and Aeneas, Aphrodite needs Apollo's help -- the Dawn Goddess and the Sun God working in unison (42).

In his book, The Meaning of Aphrodite, Paul Friedrich also spends some time discussing Aphrodite's nature as a Dawn Goddess. In it, he uses three sets of triads to illustrate Aphrodite's membership within this group. 
Attic Vase: Eos pursues Tithonius

Dawn Goddess -- Mortal Husband/Lover -- Heroic Son

Eos                 --      Tithonius                 --     Memnon
Aphrodite       --       Ankhises                --     Aeneas
Thetis             --       Peleus                     --    Akhilles

Obviously, her connection to the dawn is only one small part of understanding Aphrodite's nature, meaning, and message. I completely agree with Friedrich when he writes that Zeus and Athena's mockery of Aphrodite in the Iliad (5, 297-448) is "... documentation that Aphrodite is the most potent goddess. The author of the hymns asserts that she is the most potent and that that is why Zeus wants to humiliate her" (62).