Saturday, October 12, 2013

Upon an Uneasy Seat Above Caer Ochren

In his 1st letter to Norman Gills, Robert Cochrane writes the following about the process of invoking the Goddess of the season:



"... invokes the Goddess through 'The dark of night and the evening star meeting together', which as you should know is brought about in the beginning by 'in an uneasy chair above Caer Ochren'."

Whatever interpretation of the above lines might be considered most accurate, we would like to offer *our* take on it.

Let's start with 'The dark of night and the evening star meeting together.' For reasons that are difficult to articulate clearly, we believe this is a reference to possession/channeling. I suppose the reasons are difficult to explain because they fall into the category of "Mystery." We can understand it, and even try to speak it, but will have some challenge in sharing its deepest meanings with you. We'll try, though, if it means helping others find the way to the Mysteries." Even Cochrane, later in the same letter, says that this process can't be taught in writing. Perhaps we should say that we aren't attempting to actually teach this process, but to shed some insight on this process and its significance to Craft practice.

I think perhaps it is easiest to say that the "dark of night" is a reference to the Self -- that internal place; the opening, yearning for something greater than what is known and seen. We all have it, this chasm that cries out for spiritual experience, for that which is beyond us.

The "evening star," then, is the Goddess who is being invoked. It could be any Goddess, though in our home-coven we only do invocations with the Black Goddess and the White Goddess (and Tubal Qayin, the Red God). We do these at their respective Sabbats, and we do this for the primary purpose of oracular communications from these Deities. We seek their advice and listen to the wisdom that they share throughout the year. We only use the method described above, though, -- the "uneasy seat above Caer Ochren" -- when we are doing oracle invocation with the Black and White Goddesses. (We use other methods with Qayin.)

The "uneasy seat" is perhaps a stellar reference, but we have interpreted it as something more practical. Caer Ochren, we believe, is a reference to the Spiral Castle. Certainly, Caer Ochren is one of the castles of Grail lore, and we believe it is Caer Sidhe itself. Some of this is just our gut instinct, but a little comes from an interesting linguistic find. "Ochren" means "sides." It could be easy to mistake "sidhe" (which means fairy) as "sides" -- or to intentionally muddy the waters by playing language tricks with these words.

So, now we have an uneasy seat above Caer Sidhe, the revolving castle, the Spiral Castle. For us, this is the center point of the compass -- and opens into all the sides. A seat above it, poetically, speaking could be the the starry point to which the central spire of the castle rises. The North Star, Tubelo's nail star, the iron hook.

It reminds us, too, of the oracle of Delphi sitting upon her tripod stand above the fissure within the temple's floor. The temple at Delphi held the omphalos, the world's navel, the center point. 

For us, we use a rocking chair as our tripod, as our "uneasy seat." When one of us sits in the rocking chair at Imbolc (the Black Goddess, Kolyo) or at Lammas (the White Goddess, Goda), we begin the process of ascending to the top of the Spiral Castle. It is the seat of wisdom, the seat of vision. By rocking back and forth as we work toward invocation (possession) we know that we are seething, which is a VERY effective way to alter consciousness.

So, while we can't exactly teach the art of possession, we know it to be one of the important arts or skills within Craft practice. Cochrane, then, is advising new practitioners to use seething as a tool to experience possession until other methods are easier at hand.  

 

The Castles: Cross-Quarter Watchtowers of the Spiral Castle

The four Castles of the AFW Tradition can be thought of as four Watchtowers on the Spiral Castle. These Watchtowers (Castles) house the four treasures of the Trad and are kept by the Kings and Queens -- aspects, essentially, of the Witch Father and Witch Mother.

Why Castles? That is an excellent question.

Robert Cochrane writes about the castles of Arthurian legend playing a large role in his sense of the Arte Magical. He discusses the Castles and the Two Kings and Two Queens only a little in his letters with Wilson and Gills, but they are mentioned and even explained to a certain extent.

Also, my (Laurelei's) teacher within the Craft talked a little of Castles as a circle-casting system. However, we never had enough instruction in that system to adequately make use of it.

So, as we read through the Cochrane materials together, we addressed this question of Castles head-on. Did they fit our system? Which Castles were they? What and who was in them? What purpose did they serve?

The many castles that are mentioned within Arthurian legend (and beyond, in sources like the Mabinogian, etc) are integral parts of the Quest. They each hold treasures and are kept by wise and sometimes fearsome Masters. They guard the Mysteries, each in their own way. So, yes, we saw them as symbolically linked to the Tradition we were creating.

The following is a simplistic overview of each of the Castles. In time, we hope to have fuller descriptions of each. (As of this writing, we only have two described in their own posts.)


The Glass Castle – Caer Witrin, Glastonbury


Keeper: The Holly King, Janicot, the Goat God
Treasure: Glass Orb 
Symbol: an empty blue circle
Location: upon a cloud, northwest
Times: Yule
Totems: Goat, Holly, Wren


Castle of Revelry – Valhalla, Hell, Golden Castle

Keeper: Hulda, Freya, Brighid
Treasure: Golden Lantern 
Symbol: a yellow circle with a yellow dot at its center
Location: surrounded by a Lake of Fire, northeast
Times: Spring Equinox
Totems: Hare, Goose, Birch


Stone Castle – Caer Bannawg, Four-Cornered Castle, Hillfort

Keeper: The Oak King, Basa-Jaun, Cernunnos, the Stag God
Treasure: Stone Bowl 
Symbol: a green circle with an equal armed cross
Location: upon a hill, southeast 
Times: Midsummer
Totems: Stag, Robin, Oak


Castle Perilous – Grail Chapel, Binah, Bloody Castle, Silver Castle
Keeper: Silver Queen, Cerridwen, Babalon
Treasure: Silver Chalice 
Symbol: a red circle with a horizontal line
Location: surrounded by a Lake of Blood, southwest
Times: Autumn Equinox
Totems: Chicken, Swine, Vine

Laying the Compass, Cheat Sheet

We have had lots of questions recently about Laying the Compass. To clarify the process, we have just updated and edited our original post on Laying the Compass, which you'll want to read if you would like to do rituals in the AFW-style.

Also, for ease and convenience, I'd like to put forward this shortened version, which can act as a cheat sheet for helping you remember the order of the calls. I know that many of you will be Laying the Compass and doing ritual entirely by yourself, so these are notes that reflect how I call everything when I am alone.


*Ground and center first

 
*Stand in the middle of the space -- where the crossroads meet

 
* Call the Realms (1st circle) -- above, below, between

 
* Call the Gates (2nd circle) -- N&S (Wagon Track), E&W (Line of Qayin) (We call them in their opposite pairs and bring them toward the middle -- this is how we create the crossroads)

 
*Call the Castles (3rd circle) -- Revelry & Perilous (Queen's Road) , Stone & Glass (King's Road) -- (same thing -- calling opposites toward the middle to form the crossroads)

 
* Acknowledge the Spiral Castle as the Stang at the Crossroads, the Tree on the Hill -- that central place that opens into all worlds

I don't ever stick to a script, and sometimes I don't use words at all. (If I'm doing it solely for myself, I don't use words.) I focus on the feelings, the imagery, the Deities, the treasures/weapons, the road -- all of the things that I know are in that place.


Now that I have been doing it for such a long time, I don't often have physical symbols near me, either. Our coven doesn't have the space at the moment to set up all the regalia, either. So, it is is helpful to note that you can call on the power of each Realm, each Gate, and each Castle without having those "magic feathers" to remind you. All you truly need is yourself, filled with intent and visualization.




Monday, October 7, 2013

Airts -- The Western Gate


The Western Gate – Airt of Water

Values: Emotions, Intuition, Cleansing, Mystery, Sacrifice
Colors: Grey, turquoise, blue, indigo
Symbols: Crescent, shell, boat, anchor, cup, Undines
Tools: The chalice or quaiche, cauldron
Weapons: Helm
Totems: Crane, Toad & Elder Tree
Musical Instruments: Chimes
Times: Samhain, Twilight, Autumn, Adulthood
Places: Oceans, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, wells, beaches, baths
Zodiac: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Sense: Taste
Power: To Dare
Process: Bathing, Healing, Drinking, Baptism, Charged Waters, Blood magic



You can visualize the Gates (the portals to each of the four cardinal directions) in anyway you like; but I'm particularly fond of viewing the West Gate as a three-legged dolmen. A dolmen constructed this way was seen as a portal to the Underworld, the place of the Dead.

The Wetsern Gate is very much associated with the Dead, as it is the direction in which many ancient cultures (including the ones informing this Tradition) believe that spirits travel after death. Very often, this imagery is connected to a final journey of the soul across a body of water -- crossing the ninth wave and leaving behind the mortal realm, consciousness, and consensus reality.

The West is also a place of dreams, emotion, and deep knowing. It is twilight, the liminal space between waking and sleeping. It is where the sun sets, and it is thus the Western point of the Red Thread (in this case, the path of the Sun) that connects the bright half of the Witch Father with his darker aspect.

In the West, Qayin is the keeper of the quench tank, the waters that temper the glowing creations of the forge. He is the Lord of Death, keeper and guardian of the Mysteries. His name is Azazel here, the scapegoat and the one who takes the sacrifice. He is the one who wanders alone -- a reminder that death is an individual journey.

On our Year Wheel, the Western Gate is open and most easily accessed at Samhain, and the three totems that sit here are all intimately linked with Death and with blasting magic. It is said that the Elder tree brings actual, physical death within the circle of those who summon it. (This lore is carried even into popular culture, where the most powerful wand in JK Rowling's created universe is the Elder Wand, the Death Stick, the wand of Death himself.) The "crane stance" is a well-known blasting practice among traditional witches, as is the power of the Toad Bone.

This is a time for honoring ancestors, exploring the Mysteries of Death, and connecting with our own dark selves.


Meditation: Visiting the Red God, Qayin, at Samhain

 Our tradition uses guided meditation to help impress certain symbols on our members' consciousness. Below is our Samhain meditation. It takes place at the Western Gate of the compass, the place of water and sunset.  It is the home of the Witch Father, whom we know as Tubal Qayin, Lucifer, Azazel, Melek Taus. To use this meditation let yourself relax comfortably and picture yourself drifting downward and inward to the third realm, the lower realm. The third realm is a place of darkness and mystery.  Let yourself sink down into the third realm and rest there peacefully.



Visiting the Red God, Qayin, at Samhain
 
You open your eyes to see that you sitting in a large, freshly harvested field. The damp earth is stubbled with the stalks of the grains that have been hewn down, the farmer’s scythe resting on a nearby fence. Looking to the West, you see the Sun sinking toward a large pond.

You rise and start walking toward the pond, squelching through the muddy field. The trees that border both the field and pond have nearly dropped all of their leaves, but a few brightly colored ones still cling to the barren branches.

A movement from above startles your attention skyward, and you see a crane in flight. He is joined by two others, and they make great swooping circles in the sky – forming a triskele, spirals, and great arcs. One breaks formation and dives toward the pond, and you follow him to the water’s edge. As you approach the bank, you see him standing on the edge of the water. You are surprised by his height and the uncanny way in which he stands. He regards you as you come close, still giving him a wide berth.

The crane turns his head upon his long neck, and you follow his gaze. There is a rowboat in the pond very near to where you are standing. You climb in head for the opposite shore. The sun is now very low in the sky, and you hear frog-song and the croak of many toads about you in the marshy reaches of the water. When you reach the western shore of the pond, you see a large, fat toad hopping just in front of you before disappearing into dark grey stones of a cemetery ahead.

You enter the graveyard, aware of the damp wind and the solitary Elder tree standing sentinel on the border of the plot. You read the names on a few of the mossy stones until your attention is drawn to a cairn some distance ahead. You can see that a three-legged dolmen forms the entry way, and you walk toward it, unable to see past the darkness of the doorway. This is the Western Gate, and you know that beyond it lies the Realm of the Dead. This gateway has strange markings and symbols carved into the stones. Some are unfamiliar to you, but other have deep meaning in your mind. (Pause.) You see a toad carved into one of the rocks along with the Elder tree rune, a crane, and a triskele.

Your eyes adjust to the gloom of the cairn as you pass beyond the arch, and you can see stone stair spiraling down in a left-hand circle. You follow them carefully and discover a torch set into a bracket a few feet ahead. Holding it ahead of you, you circle down and down and down into the deep belly of the graveyard until you reach a cavern that opens into a great room of stone and earth. You recognize this place as a forge, though there is no clinking of metal upon metal. The great bellows are still and no forge-fire brightens the room. The tools are neatly stored away, and you are met with silence. All is dark and quiet, and only the light of your torch reveals the large hooded and cloaked figure sitting on bench near a brimming barrel of water. A few doors and earthen pathways open into this room, and you realize that there is more than way to access this place.

The large figure holds out his hand to you, beckoning you forward. Standing before him, you can see that his face is painted as white as Death, and the outstretched hand is decorated with white bones upon his coal-black skin. A helm rests at his feet very near the quench tank.

His eyes glint from beneath his hood, and he holds you in a piercing stare.

He speaks to you. “This is a place of transformation, of alchemy, holds great power and Mystery even when it is dark and cool and quiet. The spark of life is wedded to the watery womb that is also the tomb of the world.”

He scoops water from the barrel with the helmet and places it within your hands. The helm is cold and hard, and the water within looks black and deep. Holding his hands over yours, he looks into your eyes and speaks a message only for you. (Long pause.)

You thank him, and after a moment more of looking at you, he resumes his takes the helmet from you and draws his hood lower over his face. Knowing that the time has come to leave, you turn and walk back up the stairs that brought you here, curving on a right-hand path now toward the darkening night.

You pass out of the cairn and cross the graveyard and pond where the crane and Elder tree each stand guard. The frogs and toads croak in the pond as you return to the harvested field. Sitting down again in the damp and stubbly field, you close your eyes and breathe deeply, coming back to yourself.

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