Friday, July 29, 2011


Lammas is the first of the three harvest festivals, and is sometimes called "first fruits". It is a symbolic wake for the Sacred King (the Oak King) after his annual sacrifice.  Although it seems here in the Midwest that summer is at its peak, Lammas marks the end of summer and the start of autumn.  It is a time for merry mourning, a recognition that the heady days of summer are limited and that we should rejoice while we can.

Lammas is one of the Greater Sabbats, which occur when the sun is 15 degrees in a fixed sign of the zodiac, in this case, Leo.  This typically happens around August 6th, although tradition places the date at the kalends of the month instead.  Also, since the Celts reckoned their days beginning at sundown, Lammas is properly celebrated beginning on the eve of August first.  Like all of the Sabbats there is a span of roughly twelve days surrounding the holiday that make up a season of celebration.

Lammas takes its name from the Old English "hlaf," meaning "loaf" and "maesse," meaning feast. This was the day on which loaves of bread were baked from the first grain harvest and laid on the church altars as offerings.

In Irish Gaelic, this feast was referred to as Lugnasadh (Loo-nah-sah), a feast to commemorate the funeral games of the Irish sun-god Lugh. However, it is not Lugh's death that is being celebrated, but the funeral games which Lugh hosted to commemorate the death of his foster-mother, Taillte. That is why the Lugnasadh celebrations in Ireland are often called the Tailltean Games. The word element "nasadh" relates to the Gaelic, "to give in marriage," and so Lugnasadh can be interpreted as the "Marriage of Lug."  In relation to this, a common feature of the Tailltean Games were the Tailltean marriages, a rather informal marriage that lasted for only a year and a day or until next Lammas. After the trial year, the couple could decide to continue the arrangement if it pleased them, or to stand back to back and walk away from one another, thus bringing the Tailltean marriage to a formal close.

Lammas was also the traditional time of year for craft festivals. The medieval guilds would create elaborate displays of their wares, decorating their shops and themselves in bright colors and ribbons, marching in parades, and performing strange, ceremonial plays and dances for the entranced onlookers. the modern expression of this is in the many county and state fairs that take place during this time.

The Stag King falls in sacrifice.
There is a strong tradition of sacrifice associated with Lammas.  This is the day the Oak King falls at the hand of the Holly King in order to bless the land. The last recorded sacrifice of a king of England may have occurred at Lammas, in the year 1100. King William II (Rufus the Red, or William Rufus) rejected the relatively new Christian beliefs, and openly declared himself Pagan. His death in a "hunting accident" on August 2, 1100 c.e., is believed by many historians to have been a case of the traditional sacrifice being disguised for the sake of the Christian priests.  The novel "Lammas Night" by Katherine Kurtz (now out of print and hard to find) explores these themes of kingly sacrifice.  It also explores the old witch legend about English covens raising the Cone of Power at Lammas to stop the Nazi invasion during WWII.

Until recent years, in Scotland, the first cut of the Harvest was made on Lammas Day, and was a ritual in itself. The entire family must dress in their finest clothing and go into the fields. The head of the family would lay his hat on the ground and, facing the Sun, cut the first handful of corn with a sickle. He would then put the corn Sun-wise around his head three times while thanking the God of the Harvest for...

"corn and bread,
food and flocks,
wool and clothing,
health and strength,
and peace and plenty."

This custom was called the "Iolach Buana."

In the British Isles, the custom of giving the First Fruits to the Gods evolved into giving them to the landlord. Lammas is now the traditional time for tenant farmers to pay their rent. Thus, Lammas is seen as a day of judgment or reckoning. From this practice comes the phrase "at latter Lammas", meaning "never", or "not until Judgment Day."

A heraldic Catherine Wheel
An old Lammas custom is the construction of the Kern-baby or corn maiden. This figure, originally made from the first sheaf, would be saved until spring, then ploughed into the field to prepare for planting. The Maiden thus returns to the field at Spring.  Another popular Lammas tradition is the rolling of Saint Catherine's Wheels. These are wagon wheels set ablaze and sent rolling down a hill, likely in imitiation of the sun's decline after solstice.

In our own tradition Lammas is the time of year when the White Goddess, who is the Queen of the Fey and Lady of Sovereignty, is at her shining peak.  The Spiral Castle is open to the south gate, and the earth sends forth its bounty in abundance.  It is is a time of celebration, and for "gathering rosebuds while ye may", for it is the last hurrah before the wheel turns to the dark of the year.

There are mysteries here, for just as surely as this is the wedding celebration of the Solar Oak King to the Goddess of the Land, so too is this his death.  Our Lady is La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and to be king you must wed She who is Death in Life.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci on her pale horse.
A Lammas Song
by Robert Burns
traditional to many Book of Shadows

    It was on a Lammas night,
    When corn rigs are bonny,
    Beneath the moon's unclouded light,
    I held away to Annie:
    The time flew by, with tentless heed,
    Till 'tween the late and early;
    With small persuasion she agreed
    To see me through the barley.

    Corn rigs, and barley rigs,
    And corn rigs are bonnie:
    I'll not forget that happy night,
    Among the rigs with Annie.

    The sky was blue, the wind was still,
    The moon was shining clearly;
    I set her down, with right good will,
    Among the rigs of barley
    I knew her heart was all my own;
    I loved her most sincerely;
    I kissed her over and over again,
    Among the rigs of barley.

    I locked her in my fond embrace;
    Her heart was beating rarely:
    My blessings on that happy place,
    Among the rigs of barley.
    But by the moon and stars so bright,
    That shone that hour so clearly!
    She ay shall bless that happy night,
    Among the rigs of barley.

    I have been blithe with Comrades dear;
    I have been merry drinking;
    I have been joyful gathering gear;
    I have been happy thinking:
    But all the pleasures ever I saw,
    Though three times doubled fairly
    That happy night was worth them all.
    Among the rigs of barley.

You may listen to an interpretation of The Lammas Song from the 1973 version of the film The Wicker Man below.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Counting Out Chant

There is a certain chant in the Gardnerian Book of Shadows that begins "Eena meena mona mack..."  This is a chant with its roots in antiquity, but not because of its great magical virtue.  Rather, this chant is a variation on the Anglo-Cymric score counting out chants popular with children of all English-speaking nations.  You are probably familiar with this variation: "Eeny, meenie, miney, moe..."  Both of these chants are crude reworkings of the Welsh counting system.  They are called "scores" because they typically count up to twenty.

These old Welsh chants have a strong association with counting out rhymes to decide who is "It" in a game. Therefore they have an uncanny tie to old sacrificial rites of deciding who would be "It" (ie: the Year King, the Fool, the May Queen, the Carlin, etc. as appropriate for the rite).  Some of these counting out chants are explicitly linked with witchcraft, such as the Gardnerian variation above. Some samples for review are submitted below.

Onery, uery, ickery, see,
Huckbone, crackabone, tillibonee;
Ram pang, muski dan,
Striddledum, straddledum, twenty and one.

Eny, meny, mony, my,
Tusca, leina, bona, stry,
Kay bell, broken well,
We, wo, wack.

Intery, mintery, cutlery corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock,
Five coneys in a flock;
Catch him Robin,
Hold him Jack,
Blow the bellows,
Old man Black.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of variations on the Anglo-Cymric score counting out rhymes. A good selection of them is collected here.  They are of interest to the witch for the same reason that the "Mother Goose" rhymes are of such importance.  These children's rhymes contain old folklore that has survived for centuries.

You may want to consider adapting the Anglo-Cymric score rhyme format to your own personal chants. Here is one I just made up.

Onery, uery, ickery, orn,
by crooked path and old blackthorn
Hukka, pooka, waning moon, 
Red bone, red thread, twenty 'un.

The Red Thread (and the Initiatory Process)

I have the sense that the Red Thread is one of the deeper Mysteries of the Craft as we are coming to know it. This sense is based on the fact that both Glaux and I find ourselves referring to it regularly in symbolic ways and during Craft discussions, but I am having difficulty putting my thoughts together in any coherent manner in this blog entry. The fact that we are able to point to the symbol as a deep point of connection for our magic, but verbalization seems to fail on some level, tells me that "here be a grave Mystery."

Perhaps in order to approach the Mystery, we should only look at one aspect of it in this post. The Red Thread and the Initiatory Process. 

The "Red Thread" is the moniker we use to refer to the line of Witch Blood that connects us to Tubal Qayin. A few of us come to this Tradition with ties to Qayin, bonds or possibly even Witch Marks that we reinforce through charms or the process of admission into a curveen. Many create that link through specific ritual.

Our system of admission is actually quite simple. We have a beginning level which we call Greening. I'll reserve full discussion of this level for another post, but I'll say here that this is the level for "children" within this path -- whether literal or figurative.

Next is Adoption, and it is at this time when the Red Thread is linked. This Tradition is linked very intimately to flow and nature of the family, so the Adoption corresponds to the time of puberty. When a child has come into physical, mental and emotional maturity sufficient for the study of basic magic, she may be brought into her Craft family. When a Seeker, regardless of physical age, has passed the period of initial giddiness and done some serious work and review of his aims as a Witch, he too is eligible for adoption into the Craft family.

The goals of the Adoption Rite (which you can also think of as a Dedication) are 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. (This period is until the age of adulthood, in the case of family trad practitioners performing the Adoption with teens and tweens.)

This rite can happen at any of the Gates or Castles. In other words, it can happen at any Sabbat.

During the course of the ritual, the candidate is challenged and queried by the curveen members. Provided that she meets with approval at the end of all challenges, she will take blood oath on the anvil. There are two points to make note of here: 1) participation in the ritual doesn't guarantee success; and 2) the anvil is the "oath stone" of the Tradition and is intimately linked in symbolic terms to Tubal Qayin. 

The candidate is given a Red Cord to wear at the waist, which is a reminder of the Red Thread itself, the umbilical cord, and the fire of Qayin's forge. He is also given a bone and silver ring, which is symbolic of the bone soul (intimately related to the Red Thread and the Ancestors). The ring should be fitted to the Witch's index finger in his power hand, as this is the ultimate location where he will be tattooed with the Stang (or Witch's Mark) at his Raising.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Shelg

Beads and awl
I went to the flea market the other day and found some fun pretties to turn into tools.  First was a strand of white quartz and onyx beads which I'll be re-stringing into a witch's ladder.  The other tool I found was a rusty awl.

I've transformed the awl into a nice little shelg.  I've been getting questions lately on what a shelg is, and I thought this would be a nice time to clear that up, in addition to showing off my new tool.

The shelg is the (secret!) red handled knife of the witches. Just as the black handled knife, or athame, is used to cut and direct energy, and the white handled knife is used for cutting and carving in a material sense, so the red handled knife has its own particular uses. The shelg is used for blood magic and sacrifice. It may be used to open a small wound in the flesh in order to produce blood for oath-taking or binding links. It is also used during the housle to activate the Red Meal as a true sacrifice.

The shelg is a tool of the third realm and relates to the Red God of the Forge, Tubal Qayin.  Although sterile lancets are often used in place of the Shelg for safe bloodletting in small amounts, the shelg is still symbolically passed over the wound to seal the link to Qayin.

So, the shelg is a kind of bloodletting knife or, in this case, burin.  The word "shelg" comes from an old Manx word for a hunting knife.

I got the idea for using an awl rather than a blade from this amazing example at the Witch of Forest Grove's blog.  She refers to her tool as a "Thumb Pricker" from the famous witches from Macbeth:

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes… 

Here are some photos of my shelg in progress.
Sanded and sharpened. Look, ma, no rust!

Pyrography of an owl and the stang rune, or witch's foot.

Stained with red ochre oil paint and ready to taste blood!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Staff

Note that this is a discussion of the generic witch's staff. It is not to be confused with the Blackthorn Staff or the Distaff, both of which are different tools with distinct characteristics. These tools will be discussed in future entries.

Witches' staves
The staff is a straight stave cut from any wood.  It can be of any length, usually ranging somewhere from waist height to just slightly taller than full height of the witch who will be using it.  There is no specific type of tree that is chosen for a staff, rather, the witch will wander the woods at will, communing with the spirits there, and feeling for a young tree that is willing to give its life for the creation of a magical tool.

You may already have a piece of dead-fall or a walking stick which you wish to use for a staff.  If you do not, you should seek for a young tree in a copse of other trees.  This will encourage the tree to be straight, and will leave less impact on the forest. Raise the power and send it coursing into the potential tree. Tell the tree in your own words what you are seeking and then ask it if it is willing to give itself to become your staff. The tree must give consent before proceeding.

You will need to make an offering to the tree.  The traditional offering is, as always, a piece of silver.  Birdseed and fertilizer are also good choices, especially if you choose to make ongoing offerings to the tree over a course of time.  When you are ready to harvest your staff take the offerings to your tree along with a mundane handsaw that has been consecrated for this purpose, the shelg, bottled water, and a first aid kit.

Confirm a final time that the tree agrees and desires to be your working tool.  Lay a compass to hold the energy in the grove. Make your offerings to the grove.  Ask the tree to send its life force down into its roots. Cut the tree down with the handsaw, concentrating on the purpose of your task.

When the tree falls use the shelg to cut your palms.  Hold the tree and let your blood and spirit fuse with the wood. Consecrate the wood in the name of any deities and powers that you wish.  Clean your wounds and bandage them well. Use the handsaw to cut your staff to the length you desire.  Cut any “scrap” wood from the tree that you wish to use for besom handles, wands, etc.  Scatter the remaining wood and branches throughout the grove, leaving as little trace of your work as possible.

If you are working from a piece of dead-fall wood be certain that it has not been compromised by rot or insects, then proceed to blood the wood just as you would with a newly felled tree.

You may choose to adorn your staff however you wish.  You may remove the bark, or leave it on.  Your staff can be as elaborate or as simple as you like, and it may evolve in style and decoration as you grow and change in the Craft.  Some witches choose to keep their crane bag hanging from their staff.

One thing that must be done before the staff is used formally in ritual is the shodding of the staff.  You may choose to do this during a consecration ritual for the staff.  To shod the staff you need only to drive a nail up into the bottom end of the staff.  This seals the staff as a weapon in the name of Qayin, and creates it as a properly iron shod steed.

The staff may now be used to cut the boundary of the river of life and death when laying the compass.  It can also be ridden both as a gandreigh and a tool for treading the mill.

The staff is a truly personal tool of a witch. It is not passed down as a kuthun to students or family.  It is best if the staff is destroyed upon a witch's passing, or that it is given back to earth, water, or fire with the witch's remains.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July Totems: Eagle

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. July's totems are the Hound, the Eagle, and the Elm.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Hound (Cu) – loyalty, protection, guidance
Elm (Lemh) - elves, light, purification, wisdom
Eagle (Iolair) – light, renewal, loyalty, intelligence, courage


Golden Eagle
In America, the two primary species of eagle are the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle. It is a symbol of freedom for Americans, and it was likewise a royal and bird among Romans, Egyptian pharaohs, Greek Thebans and the Celts of Ireland and Scotland.
The eagle has a long association with sky Gods, such as Zeus and Asshur, which strengthens the bird’s connections to the sun, storms, lightning and fire. Eagle is often associated with war and bravery, as well.
Native Americans hold the Eagle in highest esteem among birds, and Eagle medicine was greatly prized. Most tribes have an eagle clan, for instance, and eagle songs, dances, and ceremonies are all well-known.
Druids, as well, valued eagle magic and were said to choose this form for shapeshifting for certain ceremonies. In fact, the eagle is almost as powerful and popular a bird in Celtic myth and legend as it is in Native American lore. It is one of the four most frequently mentioned birds in the Irish and British traditions (along with the raven, swan and crane). The eagle is particularly intertwined with the salmon at a symbolic level in Celtic myth – one representing the heights of intellect and vision; the other representing the depths of emotion and the unconscious.
Eagles are known for their swiftness, keen vision, strength, and courage.

July Totems: Elm

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. July's totems are the Hound, the Eagle, and the Elm.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Hound (Cu) – loyalty, protection, guidance
Elm (Lemh) - elves, light, purification, wisdom
Eagle (Iolair) – light, renewal, loyalty, intelligence, courage
Common tree in both England and America. Its folk name is “ Elven” (because of its long-standing association with elves, both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts of the Fey).
Attracts love when carried and protects against lightning strikes – both because of elven associations.
Associated with death, the grave and rebirth in legend and myth. At Orpheus’ song upon emerging from Hades’ underworld realm, the first Elm grove is said to have sprung into existence. Elm was also used for coffin wood later in English tradition, linking it to this early mythos and to the elven lore that connects the elves with burial mounds.
In Italy, Elm and Vine lore is intermingled, especially in the stories of Bacchus, due largely to the tree’s use as a vineyard superstructure.
Elm branches were carried by the clergy and members of the chorus during annual “beating of the bounds” ceremonies, thereby linking the tree with border-marking and rulership.

The Toad Bone Amulet

Witches are infamous for deriving a bit of their power from a magical amulet known as The Toad Bone. The toad bone is first mentioned in Pliny's Natural History, and it disseminates throughout the western world from there. We are primarily interested in the motif of the Toad Bone in the British Isles, and its influence on American folk Craft. Given below is a first hand account of the Toad Bone ritual by Albert Love (b.1886) published in 1966.
‘Well, the toads that we use for this are actually in the Yarmouth area in and around Fritton. We get these toads alive and bring them home. They have a ring round their neck and are what they call walking toads. We bring them home, kill them, and put them on a whitethorn bush. They are there for twenty four hours till they dry. Then we bury the toad in an ant-hill; and it’s there for a full month, till the moon is at the full. Then you get it out; and it’s only a skeleton. You take it down to a running stream when the moon is at the full. You watch it carefully, particular not to take your eyes off it. There’s a certain bone, a little crotch-bone it is, it leaves the rest of the skeleton and floats uphill against the stream. Well, you take that out of the stream, take it home, bake it, powder it and put it in a box; and you use oils with it the same as you do for the milch. While you are watching these bones in the water, you must on no consideration take your eyes off it. Do [if you do] you will lose all power. That’s where you get your power from for messing about with horses, just keeping your eyes on that particular bone. But when you are watching it and these bones are parting, you’ll hear all the trees and all the noises that you can imagine, even as if buildings were falling down or a traction engine is running over you. But you still mustn’t take your eyes off, because that’s where you lose your power. Of course, the noises must be something to do with the Devil’s work in the middle of the night....’ "

This description of the Toad Bone ritual contains many of the elements common to Toad Bone folklore, primarily the stripping of the toad's flesh by placement on an anthill, and the ability of the Toad Bone to float upstream.

In Haggard (ed., 1935, pp. 13-14) we read the following account of the full toad-bone ritual. This version is recounted by an old Norfolk poacher, who states that he had learnt the charm from his grandmother, a person who was quite evidently a typical rural wise-woman. The indications given in the text for the ages of the poacher and his grandmother probably locate the grandmother’s version of the charm approximately around 1850.
‘There was one charm she told me of wich was practiced wen any one wanted to get comand over there fellow creaturs. Those that wished to cast the spell must serch until they found a walking toad. It was a toad with a yellow ring round its neck, I have never seen one of them but I have been told they can be found in some parts of the Cuntry. Wen they found the toad they must put it in a perforated box, and bury it in a Black Ant’s nest. Wen the Ants have eaten all the flesh away from the bones it must be taken up, and the person casting the spell must carry the bones to the edge of a running stream the midnight of Saint Marks Night, and throw them in the water. All will sink but one single bone and that will swim up stream. When they have taken out the bone the Devell would give them the power of Witch craft, and they could use that power over both Man and Animales.’

Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita, formerly Bufo calamita)
The toad in question is the British walking toad, the Natterjack Toad, beloved by Doreen Valiente. Natterjacks have short legs that give them a distinct "walking" gait, and possess a yellow line trailing down their back which could be the "yellow ring" sought for.

The Toad Bone was a common element of the society of the Horseman's Word, a group associated with folk magic.

I am indebted to the late Andrew Chumbley for his treatment on the Toad Bone, The Leaper Between, which is, alas, no longer available online other than via the Google Wayback Machine.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Orkney Charm for Becoming a Witch

Standing stones in Orkney
While recording the rapidly disappearing folklore and traditions of Sanday in the 1880s, folklorist Walter Traill Dennison documented the ritual carried out by aspiring witches to gain their magical powers.

The witch had to first wait for a full moon. Then she would go to a solitary beach at midnight where she had to turn widdershins three times before lying prostrate on the ebb - the area between the limits of high and low tide.

She then had to stretch out her arms and legs, and place stones beside them. Further stones were also placed at her head, on her chest and over her heart.

Once enclosed by the circle of seven stones, the witch spoke aloud:
O' Mester King o' a' that's ill,
Come fill me wi' the Warlock Skill,
An' I shall serve wi' all me will.
Trow tak me gin I sinno!
Trow tak me gin I winno!
Trow tak me whin I cinno!
Come tak me noo, an tak me a',
Tak lights an' liver, pluck an' ga,
Tak me, tak me, noo I say,
Fae de how o' da heed, tae da tip o' da tae.
Tak a' dats oot an' in o' me.
Tak hare an hide an a' tae thee.
Tak hert, an harns, flesh, bleud an banes,
Tak a' atween the seeven stanes,
I' de name o' da muckle black Wallowa!

"The person must lie quiet for a little time after repeating the Incantation. Then opening his eyes he should turn on his left side, arise, and fling the stones used in the operation into the sea. Each stone must be flung singly; and with the throwing of each a certain malediction [unrecorded] was said."
Here is a rough modern interpretation of the Orkney charm.
Oh Master King of all that's ill,
Come fill me with the Witches' Skill
And I shall serve [you] with all my will.
Troll take me if I sin!
Troll take me if I fly!
Troll take me when I cannot!
Come take me now, and take me all,
Take eyes and liver, organs and feet
Take me, take me, now I say!
From the brow of the head, to the tip of the toe.
Take all that’s out and in of me.
Take hair and hide and all to thee.
Take heart and brains, flesh, blood and bones
Take all between the seven stones!
In the name of the great black Witch Goddess!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Treading the Mill

Once you have the compass laid, it is time to begin the magical work. But how does one act when in the circle?  In Wicca movement is always clockwise 'round the circle, but in Traditional Craft movement can be deosil or widdershins, depending on the rite.  Also there is a particular form of movement by which we raise power.  This is known as treading the mill.

Robert Cochrane discusses treading the mill in his typically riddling style in one of his letters to Joe Wilson.  Included below is the text.
This is known as "Approaching or Greeting the Altar". There are many altars, one is raised to every aspect you can think upon, but there is only one way to approach an altar or Godstone. There is a practice in the East known as "Kundeline", or shifting the sexual power from it's basic source to the spine and then to the mind. Cattle use this principle extensively, as you will note if you creep silently up to a deer or cow -- since there is always one beast that will turn its back to you, and then twist it's [sic] neck until it regards you out of it's [sic] left or right eye alone. It is interpreting you by what is laughingly known as "psi" power and that is how an altar is used -- with your back to it, and head turned right or left to regard the cross of the Elements and Tripod that are sacred to the People as the Crucifix is to the Christians.
If this business of cattle and kundalini sound confusing, it's only Cochrane's way of veiling the mysteries.  What he is getting at is that you are simply circling the "altar... of the Elements and Tripod" while looking over your shoulder at the altar.  You would look over your right shoulder to the center of the circle if you are moving clockwise, and over your left shoulder if moving widdershins.

So what is this secret "cross of the Elements and Tripod that are sacred to the People as the Crucifix is to the Christians"?  Cochrane appends a diagram of the device at the end of his letter to Wilson.  It is shown below.

Looks rather ceremonial and pretentious, doesn't it?  Not at all like shamanic, folkloric, Traditional Craft.  Again, this was Cochrane revealing by concealing.  The item that forms the altar in the center of the circle that is as "sacred to the People as the Crucifix is to the Christians" is the stang.  The cross is the base of the symbol for the stang [ + ] and the tripod is the horns of the stang, the three rays of awen [ \|/ ]. Together they create the glyph that Cochrane signs with his name:
So, treading the mill is simply walking around the perimeter of a circle that has a stang raised at its center, while looking directly and intensely at the stang. It is the "crooked path".  The mill can be tread using the lame step, adding honor to Tubal Cain, and special purpose to the use of the staff.

The mill can be danced, although moving through the mill grounds can feel very much like one is hooked up to an old-fashioned mill stone like some beast of burden.  Treading the mill sometimes feels very much like walking against a swift current.

It can be helpful to sing or chant together in order to keep rhythm.  Collected below are some mill songs, some of which we have written ourselves, others which are traditional.

The Mill of Magic

Fire flame and fire burn, make the Mill of Magic turn.
Work the Will for which we tread by the Black and White and Red.

Earth without and earth within, make the Mill of Magic spin.
Work the Will for which we tread by the Black and White and Red.

Water bubble, water boil, make the Mill of Magic toil.
Work the Will for which we tread by the Black and White and Red.

Air breathe and air blow, make the Mill of Magic go.
Work the Will for which we tread by the Black and White and Red.

Power of the Elements

Power of Sky and power of Wind and power of Air the North doth send,
We tread the Mill to work our spell, both by your Breath and by out Will.

Power of Spark and power of Fire, power of all our hearts' desire,
We tread the Mill to work our spell, both by your Flame and by out Will.

Power of Ice and Water free and power that hides in depth of Sea,
We tread the Mill to work our spell, both by your Wave and by out Will.

Power of Stone and power of Land and power of rich Soil in our hands,
We tread the Mill to work our spell, both by your Earth and by out Will.

Lady Weave

Lady weave the Witches' fire
'Round the ring of Caer Sidhe's spire,
Earth and Air and Fire and Water
Bind us to you.

Basque Akelarre Chant

Har har, hou hou!
Eman hetan!  Eman hetan!
Har har, hou hou!
Janicot! Janicot! Janicot! Janicot!
Har har, hou hou!
Jauna Gorril, Jauna Gorril,
Akhera Goiti, Akhera Beiti.

A very rough translation of which is:

White Worm, White Worm!
Look ancients, look ancients!
White Worm, White Worm!
Black-Goat-God! Black-Goat-God! Black-Goat-God! Black-Goat-God!
Look ancients, look ancients!
Red Lord, Red Lord,
Goat above, goat below.

Apparently it was popular with some older curveens to dance the mill with their back to the stang, as is shown in this woodcut from 1594 of a sabbat at Treves.  You can see the dancers in the red box.

This sabbat's stang is alluded to by the enthroned goat with a flaming torch on his head, reminiscent of the stang, Janicot, and Baphomet.  Indeed, I wonder if this was once the way sabbats were held, with a horned God enthroned overseeing the proceedings in place of the stang?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Laying the Compass

(This post has been edited, as of Oct 12, 2013 to reflect how we have grown into the laying of the compass.)

Most modern witches have been taught to work in a circle.  The circle is an organic shape that places each of its members as equals.  Energy flows smoothly when directed in a circle, and the circle serves as both container and barrier for various energies.

In our tradition we also work in a circle, although its creation and its purpose differ from the Wiccan circle.  Whereas Wicca has been influenced by Ceremonial Magical traditions to cast a circle to serve as a metaphysical protection from outside energies, we view the circle as a kind of cauldron. It is a container to intensify and direct energy from.

Wiccan circles are cast three times, once with salt and water, once with fire and incense, and once with steel (an athame or sword). Our circles are cast by calling in the three spheres/circles of power and protection -- the Realms, the Gates (Quarters), and the Castles (Watchtowers).

The cutting of the boundary is less important than the laying of the compass.  By laying the compass we invite the wards and energies of all of the realms and directions to be present in our circle. In our tradition we base the laying of the compass on our year wheel, and we call Powers that lie opposite each other as a pair. So for example, when calling the Gates, we call North, then South -- both being called toward the center of the circle. Thus, they form a road or an energetic pathway, with the Stang as the center point. The we would do the same with East and West, which creates two crossed roads.

We begin at the center of the compass and raise the stang.  The stang serves as the world tree and connects the three realms of upper, middle, and lower.  If we are going to voice the calls, we speak an evocation to the 3 Realms -- Upper, Middle, and Lower. At the base of the stang is the oath stone, or anvil.  It is on this stone that we make our blood oaths to the tradition and through which we call forth Tubal Cain.  Near the oath stone are the cauldron and the skull.  These represent the mysteries of life and death, and tie us to our ancestors.  Also placed at the center of the compass are the personal fetishes of each member of our Clan, and the three knives.

With the raising of the Stang and the calling of the Realms, the 1st Circle is cast.

Then we begin calling the next circle, which can either be the Elemental Gates or the Castle-Watchtowers. This really is up to you (or perhaps you will base it on the time of year. We often begin with whichever part of the Year Wheel we are actually in  -- so, Castle Perilous would be the first thing called, if we were closest to the Fall Equinox, West Gate if we were at Samhain. If you call a Castle, its opposite across the Circle should be next, followed by the remaining two Castles. The same philosophy applies to Gates. Call them as opposite pairs, as siblings, as light and dark halves of each other.)

For this example, we are going to call the Gates as our 2nd Circle, beginning in the North.

At the north gate are placed the staves of the coven, along with the spear, and the troy stone, or gate stone. Also at this gate are symbols of the Black Goddess (including a lily) and totemic pieces associated with her.  Thus, an owl's feather, fur from a cat, and a stave of willow are all acceptable here. Any tools associated with air are kept at this gate, such as the censer if one is used. If the scourge is to be used it is also placed at the north gate.

The south is the gate of the White Goddess.  At her gate are placed red roses.  The weapon kept here is the targe, tool of earth.  The binding cords and the bread for the red meal are placed at this gate.  Horsehair, apples, and swan feathers are all symbols for this gate.

In the east are the tools of fire.  Here we place the blacksmith's trade (hammer and tongs) and keep a bonfire burning, if we are outdoors.  The coven sword is here, as is appropriate to a weapon of steel. This is the home of bull, hawthorn, and bee, so offering of honey, or mead in cow horns is appropriate. Also kept here are offerings for Tubal Cain, such as dark beer.

The west is the gate of water.  It is the quench tank of Tubal Cain. Representations of water are placed here, along with toad, and crane. Elder is only brought into the circle for certain dark magics.  The weapon of this gate is the helm, and the masks of the Clan are kept here.

Whether you speak words, silently call, dance, etc. is up to you. But having called the Gates, the 2nd Circle is now cast.

Now, we call the 3rd and final circle, that of the Castles.

At the north-east is the Castle of Revelry.  Here we place the lantern of inspiration and the broom. The totems are hare, birch, and goose, so a goose feather, a rabbit's foot, and some birch bark are all good to place here.  Also, if you can procure a model of a castle painted gold it would be well to place it here.

In the southwest is kept the silver chalice or quaiche, along with the red wine that it will hold.  Hawk feathers, vines, and representations of the boar or sow are also placed here.  The Castle Perilous is represented in miniature as a castle painted black with red accents.

At the northwest corner is the Glass Castle.  It is represented by the serpent's egg, or glass orb.  The totems are goat, holly, and wren.  Tools of divination are kept in this castle.  It would be nice if you can find or commission a small castle made of blown glass to place here.

The south-east is the home of the Stone Castle.  The stone bowl and the casting stones are kept here, along with stag horns, acorns, and oak staves.  A model fortress painted grey, or appearing to be made of stone, is placed here.

The 3rd Circle is now cast, at which point we usually acknowledge once more the center-point of the Compass, the Stang, the Spiral Castle, which opens into every place and is at the crossroads.

Thus is the compass laid. It may be as elaborate or as spartan as your tastes and needs dictate. Although the instructions above explain the placement of all of the gates, treasures, tools, weapons, and totems, simply treading the mill once and acknowledging the four gates and the four castles, along with their rulers, is enough to lay the compass.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


A crystal ball used for scrying
Scrying is the technique of gazing into an object such as a crystal ball or mirror for the purposes of divination. Anyone can learn to scry, but, like most things, it takes a little practice at first. The amount of time you use for scrying can vary from a few minutes to half hour.   

Scrying is comparable to meditation, and is most easily performed by individuals familiar with meditation techniques and working with their intuition.

Dim the lights of the room and set the scrying object in front of you. Relax your eyes and gaze steadily into the surface of the tool. Do not worry about if you are staring "correctly", rather, if you need to blink, blink! If you feel your gaze shifting, allow it to happen. Stay relaxed, and stay focused on your question.

Typically a mist will seem to form on the surface of the object, almost as if a veil is being lifted before your eyes. It is important to not become too excited at this occurrence, rather you should strive to remain calm and focused. Eventually, the mists will clear, and you should be able to pick out shapes or images in the scrying surface. These images may appear as crude symbols, or occasionally with the clarity of a photograph.

Although you will actually see these images with your eyes, what has happened is that the images themselves begin to form in your mind via your intuition. As this stage progresses, you will no longer see the images projected onto the scrying surface. Rather, you should allow your attention to focus on these mental images.

As the images become clearer, you will find that you know things about what you are seeing. Background information will come to the surface of your mind. Pay attention to what you know about the images you are seeing. This stage is marked by astral impressions, which is evident by the dreamlike quality of the state.

Tools used for Scrying

Although the crystal ball is the immediate tool that comes to mind when visualizing a scrying witch, it is far from the only one available. Other methods of scrying include:
A scrying mirror is a concave glass painted black on the reverse side.
  •  Water in a black bowl or cauldron
  • Scrying Mirrors
  • Crystal Balls and/or scrying stone jewelry (also known as a keek stone)
  • Fire/flames
  • Incense smoke
Beginners to scrying may find it easiest to scry from fire or smoke, or to add a silver coin to a the back bowl of water. These methods allow a point of focus, depth, and in many cases movement which lulls the intuitive mind into a working state.

Scrying Tips

Following the candle scrying ceremony outlined here, relax your eyes and stare at your face in the mirror. Your face will darken, as with shadows, and will shift shape. This is extremely useful for past life work.

When scrying with a crystal ball, it is useful to hold the ball in one or both hands with a piece of black velvet behind it. It may also be helpful to turn the ball occasionally.

Links and Link Cutting

Magical links are threads of energy fed through the astral that connect each of us and affect us in diverse ways. Links can be formed through repetitive action, great emotion, or an act of Will or magic.

While we were in the womb the first link, the umbilical cord, was formed. At birth that first cord is cut, and we become an independent life. As children we have other links, such as those to our parents and our parents to us. As we develop the links are broken or cut and new links form. As we grow into adults our links with our parents evolve into a basic heart link. As we form relationships new links form, and if they are heart links they are almost always healthy. Heart links make us more caring and give us a feeling of connection.

Some kinds of links are not as healthy. In most people there is often a tangled mess of links weighing them down,  hindering them from life. Links to our hands and feet prevent us from acting of our free will. Links to the back, knees elbows, and navel are some of the links that remain from over protective or manipulative parents. There are links from lovers past and present, If these are heart links they are good but most are there to control or manipulate us. We can and do form links to the people we fear or dislike most either by accident or in misplaced efforts to control them. Remember that all links go both ways. Negative links are draining on us and can hold us back from our potential. Link cutting is a powerful and transformational ritual in which we dispose of all negative or unnecessary links.

Every time we do spell craft or send a thought form we are connected to the work by a link. It is through this link that magical returns travel, be they good or ill. These links can be formed purposefully to weave fate.

A blood link is permanent and cannot be cut. Blood links cannot be created without your knowledge and consent. They are used for some handfasting rites and for initiation into the lineage of certain traditions of the Craft. The blood link, or red thread, connects a witch to the ancestors, gods, and mighty dead of the tradition.

The Rite of Link Cutting

You will need: The black handled knife, salt and water, a besom.  You must be skyclad.  It is best to do this ritual with a partner, who can assist you with hard-to-reach links, and act as a second set of eyes for any lingering links.

To begin cast a lay the compass and cast a circle.  Sit quietly and breathe deeply.  Sense your etheric body.  Feel and/or see the links in your energy field.  Some links may be heavy cables, others may be as fine as spider webbing.

When you are open to sensing the links, you may begin by taking up the athame and dragging it like a razor just over the surface of your skin.  Imagine you are shaving away the links.  When the athame gets too full of psychic sludge, simply shake it off and rinse it in the salt water.

You may find that certain links are too thick to cut through cleanly.  These will require you to pull them out by the root, just as you would pull a stubborn garden weed.  If after pulling a deep link you feel a psychic tear in your energy field, simply cleanse the area with salt water. This will patch up any holes in your aura left by links.

Link cutting can be stressful and emotional work.  Remember, each of these links is there for a reason!  Some of them may have been draining you for years.  You may feel a great catharsis after cutting a particularly deep link.  This is another reason it is best to perform this ritual with a trusted partner. They may be able to help you through your potential emotional upheaval.

The final link to be cut is the one leading out of the mouth and down into the digestive tract.  This link is kept for last as it is a very painful and exhausting link to remove.  Gagging and nausea are common side effects.

After you have completed the business of link cutting you will notice that the circle you are in is filled with psychic sludge that you have cast off.  Take up the broom and sweep up the sludge.  You will notice that, remarkably, the sludge does not adhere to the besom. Sweep it right through the boundaries of the circle and though your home out the back door.  Toss the salt water after it.  Return to the ritual area and take the circle down.  Rest.  The ritual is complete.

Note: After this ritual you will want to do immediate blade care on your athame, as the salt water can damage the blade.
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