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.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Working with the AFW Totems

We have been asked recently to clarify the meaning, significance, and magical application within the American Folkloric Tradition of the Animals and Trees in our Totemic Cycle.
Working within the 13 month cycle gives us 39 Totemic Spirits with which to bond on a personal level. We won't have deep connections with all of them, but we certainly will with some of them. Making personal connections with spirits who are already looking out for us is, I believe, part of the natural work of the Witch.

These spirit animals and trees absolutely have ties to traditional approaches to totemic and shamanic animal work. Our personal totems reveal a great deal about who we are, and it can take several years to uncover your full set of totem animals. I have heard it said that many Native American religions see a person as having seven totems -- one for each of the cardinal directions on the Medicine Wheel, and one each for the Center, Above, and Below (the three Realms). Whether this is accurate or not, I can't say. However, it does resonate with me. Glaux and I have each come into contact with four of our personal totems.

Also referring to shamanic practice, these spirits can act as guides, guardians, and teachers in our vision questing and spiritual development. Some lead us into the Upper Realm of thought and hope. Others lead us into the Underworld of emotion and the subconscious. Still others lead us out to explore the realities and wisdoms of This World.
The Totemic Cycle is also is its very own system for framing the Wheel of the Year. It can be used separately from everything else, if you wanted to. Personally, I adore how the trees and animals are so intricately tied into the mythos of the rest of the Wheel. But it can be used as its own system. Indeed, it may be a study worth pursuing to some of you to do an intense AFW Totemic Year at some point along your path. 

The totems are also guides and teachers to better understanding the Deities and Gates/Castles they sit with. And the 4 sets that are not Sabbat-related, share their own Mysteries. (Those are the totems in January, April, July, November.) We can try to share some of that wisdom at some point, but we've only touched the tip of the iceberg ourselves, in that arena. Telling you there are Mysteries to explore in the non-Sabbat months is a key for us all. (I'll also share that the Moon names are woven pretty niftily into this tapestry, too. In this sense, the Moon may shed some light on these Mysteries for us all.)

These animals and trees have become so intricately tied to seasonal tides for me that I find them very useful and willing helpers in spellcrafting during their respective months, as well. I try to time certain magic to be in line with their skills or areas of interest/power -- the way most magic-workers (myself included) take moon phase and sign or planetary hour into consideration. When you, too, have treaded this particular Mill for a number of years, you will probably have set that particular clock into your core, too. For some, it may already resonate really strongly. For others, it may grow into a pattern with practice. For others, maybe it'll never really fit well or have incredibly deep meaning.

Here's another little nugget of information that is not canon in the tradition but holds Mystery, or leads to greater understanding. There is perhaps a totemic set for the center of the compass, the crossroads, as well. The stang, the spiral castle itself, is the world tree. It is the tree that is not a tree. The north star (pole star, Old Tubelo's Iron nail) is the point above that tree that the great Bear ambles around, visiting each of the other totems. And Spider, too, sits in Caer Arionrhod (the spiral castle) weaving her webs between all place and all time. They are nowhere and everywhere. 

October Totems: Lapwing

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. October's totems are Salmon, Hazel, and Lapwing.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Salmon – (Bradan) oldest animal; wisdom, knowledge, inspiration
Hazel – (Coll) wisdom, intuition, creativity, divination, the source
Lapwing – (Curracag) resourcefulness, distraction, wisdom, divination


The lapwing is one of the three guardian animals discussed by Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess (The other two are Dog and Roebuck, both of which have a place in our totemic wheel). The lapwing guards the Mysteries of the Wise, he says, by "disguising the Truth." She does this by feigning injury to make herself appear helpless to predators who have come to close to her nest. This nest is on the ground in the spring, with her hatchlings inside. She flops and flails and flies in little spurts, all the time leading the predator away from her young. When she has gone far enough, she abandons the rouse and flies away.

The Greeks used the phrase "deceitful as a lapwing" because of this same behavior. Framed positively, though, we see the lapwing's great resourcefulness and cleverness.

Because Lapwing's nest rests on the ground in the spring, hares have been known to sit in them, looking like they are hatching eggs (which is where the combined association of bunnies and eggs come from for spring fertility celebrations). It is actually said in myth that the Teutonic Goddess Ostara transformed a Lapwing into a Hare. The Hare, of course, is already associated with shape-shifting, and this myth shows that Lapwing is also a shape-shifter (further adding to her ability to "disguise the Truth").

She is a Guardian of the Mysteries, and she teaches us to look beyond the superficial details, to ignore appearance and aim instead for reality.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Distance Learning with AFW

We have *just* created a facebook  group to meet a growing need and request for  Craft instruction in the AFW style. We have been approached by students all over the US (and a few internationally) who want to work within the AFW model and would like a bit of direction from Natalie and Laurelei.
There may be a few kinks we need to work out in regards to teaching this way. Teaching Craft online/remotely is new for us, and since Craft is so experiential and personal, the best we can do for anybody (near or far) is to provide a framework for independent study,  a couple of voices of experience, and the opportunity to share personal gnosis in a group setting.
Most of the work a distance student will do will be very independent in nature, and then we will discuss what that work is like as a group. The insights, opinions, and experiences of the DLC’s members will prove to be a sounding board for each of us, much in the same way that happens in real-time, physical space meetings of the coven. Each person in this group comes from a different background, with varying levels of occult experience. That variety will prove invaluable in terms of digging into the material, as long as most everyone participates to some extent in discussions.
If you wish to join the group, please add Laurelei as a friend on facebook and send a request through her to join the group. (The group itself is listed as "secret" so it won't show up in search results.) Only join, however, if you are interested in serious study within *this* Tradition. Casual conversation regarding Trad Craft can happen in any one of a half-dozen other groups where Natalie and I participate.


Our plan is to post the month’s discussion topics at the beginning of each month.  We’ll post relevant links to the AFW blog (and elsewhere) to serve as a jumping off point for personal research and group discussion. Each person can then post questions, insights, etc in the comments below the corresponding topic.
If you have questions unrelated to the Red Cord class topic, you can either pose it to the group in a new post, or you can write directly to Natalie and Laurelei.
We leave it to your discretion to post other assignments to the group (or to send them privately to Natalie and I.) Within the “home coven” (Coven Caer Sidhe), we share all of our assignments with each other in order to have a better mutual understanding of the topic and of our siblings within the Craft family. However, we are nothing if not Willful, and we want you to do your Will in regards to find a balance between personal privacy and group bonding.


There are three rites of “initiation” within the AFW format. The first (Greening) is easy enough to perform on your own without much modification from the original format. It is basically an assertion by the individual that s/he is ready to begin her/his study of Craft and that s/he is giving AFW a few weeks of dedicated effort to see if this tradition is a good fit. The Greening period usually lasts about 6 weeks.
Adoption (Red Cord) gets a little more complicated. The ritual honestly looks very similar to Greening, and the intent is similar, too. However, as the name “Adoption” implies, this rite is intended to bring you into the Family. You are stating that you have given due consideration to the prospect, and you want to honor the Witch Blood within you.  Within a physical working group, each member takes a blood oath with the Adoptee, and we embrace each other as siblings. In a distance learning group, though, that blood bond can really only be made between the Adoptee (you) and Tubal Cain (the Witchfather). You will be symbolically linked to us, as all Witches of the blood are. But there is a difference in the extent of those magical links (between people), as I think you will come to understand. The Adoption period lasts no less than 1 year, but can take as long as a student needs.
The Raising (Triple Cord) is the true Initiation of the Witch. It involves trials of the mind and spirit in order for a person to fully and completely claim the title “Witch.” We honestly know of no way to offer the Raising without being physically in the same space. To that end, we are willing to work with each individual, should you choose to pursue Raising. We may be able to come to you, or you might come to us, or we might meet somewhere in the middle. Alternatively, we *may* be able to develop a self-directed series of tests and ceremony that will accomplish the same ends (but look a little different than the IRL version). Raising gives a Witch the full authority within this Tradition to start a coven and/or teach others. There is no human-made Initiation beyond this point, and you can choose to continue studying with the other Raised members of the group (including participating in Red Cord discussions), or you can structure your study and practice however you deem appropriate.


At the time of this writing, there are 6 corded members of the coven Natalie and I started in Indiana. Natalie, myself, and our Pythia are all Triple Cords. Our 13-year-old daughter and the Hearth Keeper are both Red Cords. And our 10-year-old son is a Green Cord. We also have a few folks preparing to take their Green Cords, including the Hearth Keeper’s 12-year-old daughter.
The coven isn’t large, per se, and it includes our children. These are both true because we consider ourselves to be members of a family tradition.
We don’t have a hierarchical structure within the coven. Nobody is the Maid (high priestess), and nobody will become the Magister (high priest).  Natalie and I have both come from other covens where the hierarchy choked the life out of the group, and we each even have experiences in being carriers of HPS Disease within past groups. There is no rule against hierarchy within AFW (for covens you may start after your training is complete), but we choose not to engage in it ourselves. We see ourselves as Sisters and Brothers to each other within this Craft Family.
The members of Coven Caer Sidhe are encouraged to participate in the discussions happening online, and it is my hope that together we will be able to create a sense of community – of extended family.
If you happen to be in the Indiana area, we would love to have you join us for class or ritual. Likewise, you are always invited to participate with us when we attend festivals or present publicly. And if you have a festival or event in your area that you would like for us to attend, let us know. We may not always be able to afford the travel expenses for events far out of state, but sometimes opportunities open up unexpectedly when we state our needs and desires.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...