In the Season of Shadow Dance

November 28th, 2013

 

There is a chill in the air (at least in the Northern climes) as Autumn hurtles down the long slide into Winter. This is the season of Shadow Dance, or Samhain, Sovvan, Blood Harvest, whatever you want to call it. For me this time always feels like that last gasp of energy to get everything done, but with a sense of beginning to turn inward. It is that liminality between outward activity and inward stillness that calls to the Shaman, the in-between where possibility is just as strong as reality.

The Shaman dances along the edge of two worlds, walking the paths of the Otherworld and bringing back wisdom to his tribe. Often we focus on that first part, the search for Gnosis. But that second part is just as important as the first. He needs to live in this world and be a part of it to understand the people he is serving. Without that grounding the pursuit of Knowledge is purposeless. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the Shaman as a mountain –top guru dispensing wisdom from on high, but I tend to see the Him more as the “ready to get his hands dirty” type.  Of course my image of the Shaman is also a bit rougher than most. I see Him as often in leather or rubber as in furs or robes. But I am called to the Ordeal Path…what else should I expect. He’s as likely to order me to do something as He is to smile and ask how I’m doing. He is the Trickster, the Sage, and the Master.  He is always ready to help when needed, thought the way He helps is rarely how we expect, and isn’t always pleasant.

I just finished a really interesting book called My Babylon, a mostly straight, slightly kinky tale of goetic sex magick.  It was a fun read for a couple of days. But more importantly it reminded me of one of the gifts of the Shaman. The protagonist in the story is a ceremonial magician who tries to create a succubus but gets way more than he bargained for. Throughout the book the character is constantly talking about the dedication and discipline required for his art. This got me thinking about how I apply discipline in my own magical practices, and if there were differences depending on my level of adherence to said discipline.  When I am doing some sort of daily practice I feel more connected and more confident in my abilities. When I let that slip I start feeling more isolated and powerless. To be able to walk among the worlds as the Shaman does requires practice and application of will.  Taking on the Saturnian roles of Constrictor and Teacher, He calls on each of us to find that balance point that grows into wisdom.

Communing with the Shaman

November 15th, 2013

This is my favorite season of the year, both in spirit and in weather. The air is crisp and constantly changing. The winds are loud and harsh and wet, driving me inside to hot tea and a book (or popcorn-fueled movies with friends). Jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows signal a call to retreat.

Where my body goes, spirit follows. This is when I do my deepest searching, when I begin the internal transformations that will peak during the silence of winter. Late autumn is when we gather knowledge of ourselves and the world around us, to be reflected on in the deep dark of winter and acted on with the first shoots of spring.

In the Brotherhood, we call this ShadowDance, both the season and its beginning festival day. ShadowDance is the season of the Shaman, and that means being open to hearing truths both glorious and difficult. We ask the Shaman for the gift of opening ourselves to the subtle messages of spirit and deity, for the sudden inspiration that comes from speaking with our gods and guides. We call this Gnosis, and it’s what we’re seeking when we approach the Shaman.

 

The Shaman as seen by Brother and IO Mentor Belthor

The Shaman as seen by Brother and IO Mentor Belthor

 

On the festival day of ShadowDance, we join together in spirit to celebrate the Shaman and commune with him, whether we can be together in ritual or not. For the solitary practitioner who feels called to approach the Shaman, here is a short and flexible devotional outline.

A Devotion to the Shaman

  1. Gather supplies. You will need, at the least, a candle (preferably black), a bowl for offerings, and the offerings themselves. After that you can make the rest of your altar or space as sparse or decorated as you wish, whatever feels right to you. Try another representation of the Shaman or fruits of the season.
  2. Breathe and Center. After your space is prepared, close your eyes and breathe, centering in whatever way works for you.
  3. Build an image of the Shaman. Light the candle. Focus on the image of the Shaman, or close your eyes and conjure a different image in your mind’s eye. Focus on this image in as much detail as you can using all five senses, whispering His name if you wish. Imagine how the Shaman would smell if you encountered him closely, how he would feel in an embrace, how he sounds when he speaks.
  4. Welcome and introduce. When you feel as though you have sufficiently built up the god within your mind, welcome him into the space and introduce both yourself and your purpose. You can recite stories, poetry, or prepared prayers if you desire.
  5. Listen. After you’ve said (or silently recited) any words that you feel are appropriate, quiet yourself and be open to messages, signs, or feelings from the Shaman. Remember that these won’t always be words in your ear. Messages can come in all forms, so just keep your heart open.
    1. This is also the place in this short, personal liturgy where you can incorporate any guided meditations or spell-work that you feel is needed or appropriate.
  6. Offering. Give Him offering, based if you wish on the suggestions at the bottom of this post.
  7. Thanks and goodbye. Cross your hands over your chest. In your own words, thank the Shaman for any gifts you have received, using the words “Ta kya te“, if you desire, which mean “My heart is open to you.” End with “And now I go forth, into the world, renewed by the bonds of this Brotherhood. Out of the Flames, Into the Light.”, extinguish the candle, and take a finishing breath.

Let us know if you celebrate ShadowDance in the comments!

The Birth of the Divine Youth

February 12th, 2012

One day, long ago, the Sun was rising. There was nothing particularly different or special about this day, except perhaps that the clouds were a bit whiter than usual, the waters a little bit more blue. Certainly the Sun was feeling stronger, brighter, returning as he was from the slumbering winter. Who can say was else was different? Perhaps the Sea had made herself a little bit wider, a bit deeper. Perhaps the water in Her wide womb was just a little bit brighter, too? Who can tell?

The Sun is a notorious trickster and the Sea loves to keep her secrets, so they will certainly not be telling. Whatever the reason, that morning of all mornings the Sun looked on the Sea with a different light. He saw in her a beauty and depth He had not before noticed. She saw in Him a spark of Divinity so great and lovely that She just had to feel, to bring into herself. So She did.

When the Sun rose over the horizon, over the ample and fertile flesh of the Sea, they joined in a way they never had before. His burning rays moved into her so quickly, and her white-crested breakers rose higher than ever to greet him. There was a flash in the world when the Sun rose that day, the Sea washed in golden light. The brightness passed as soon as it had come, and all was as it was before, save for the small spot of light still playing on one of the Sea’s crests. The light did not fade, but formed, and in just moments there was a squalling babe cradled in the waves, with a brightness and a spark still shining from his open eyes.

Both the Sun and the Sea were quite certain that this Boy was the most beautiful of His kind ever born, with His shining eyes and high brow. They named Him then in their own tongues. It is not something that we can voice, of course, being made of neither light nor roaring water. But so it goes.

The Youth’s Divine parents loved Him more than anything and tried to keep Him close. The Sea nursed Him; He suckled on Her loamy waves and drank of the brine as if it were ewe’s milk mixed with honey. The Sun caressed his face and kept him warm. They kept hold of the Boy for six days and six nights. On the seventh morning the Sun looked down and said to the Sea, “We cannot keep our darling Son here with us. He has feet – not wings or fins – and must be taken to land. Eventually He will eat more than loam and brine and then where will we be?”

The Sea did not cry – what tears could the Lady produce, though she be already made with all the salted waters of the world? She did cry out, however, from her very depths. Every creature of the world knew her pain. She also know the truth of it and asked the Sun, “But where would we send Him? What out in the world could match His beauty, His brilliance?”

Said the Boy’s father, “I have another son, after a fashion. He is as bright as I and our child can live in his nest. Gold it is – gold straw and gold leaf, piled high and as soft as anything. He will be safe there, and they can take care of eachother as Brothers aught.”

The Boy’s mother agreed haltingly. The Sun called a Rainbow to him, and the Sea kissed her Boy with foamy white lips. With one final, warm touch to the sweet cheek of his son, the father sent him away to be reared by the boy’s brother, the Phoenix. The great bird cawed in delight at the sight of the wondrous babe. His love in that moment was as great as anything, and so excited was he that he grew brighter in that moment than even his golden nest. The boy, carried by rainbow and laid down gently on the golden thatch, looked at the fire-bird with shining eyes. The Phoenix, bursting with delight at the new life in His nest, tucked a wing about the boy, and together they slept.

Guest Post: Of Herbs and the Elements by Anne de Courtenay

October 7th, 2011

Anne began training in the Western mysteries with Althea Northage-Orr under a hybrid Golden Dawn/Gardnerian lineage in 2003. In this vein, she focuses on comparative mythology, magickal herbalism, Qabalistic study, and the development of ceremonial rites of passage and seasonal celebrations.

OK, fellow mages, pop quiz:

Which of the following statements about the magickal uses of herbs have I just made up?
  1. Cut an apple in half. Count the seeds that fall out. If you have an even number, you will be lucky in love. If you have an odd number, your love will be starcrossed.
  2. An amulet containing nutmeg will bring luck and money.
  3. Five cardamom pods placed above the door will ward off evil.
  4. Meadowsweet, carried by an expectant mother, will help prevent miscarriage.

As a serious student of herbalism for almost a decade, and a seeker in the mysteries for longer, I’ve spent no small amount of time plumbing the depths of the traditional magickal uses of plants. The result? Confusion, early on, and frustration, a bit later. It seemed like almost any herb fit into one of four categories:

  1. banishing evil spirits/bad luck
  2. attracting/divining love
  3. attracting wealth
  4. bringing visions

And then there were a few odd specific categories, like growing hair or preventing drunkenness or shining up your codpiece or some such.

Fourth category above aside (we do know for sure that some plants do indeed produce visions and dreams), the others seemed practically interchangeable and often somewhat arbitrary (eep!). In other words, the more I studied about what herbs actually do in the body, the less inclined I was to believe in these categories which seemed to reduce herbs to mere superstitious trinkets, harvested and carried to bring about simple wishes.

Yeah, I know, it’s all about “intention.” I remember the first time I went to a medicine-making class in California and tried to explain to my instructors the alchemical approach to making herbal medicines, spagyrics in particular, and being told in an unnecessarily slowed down cadence, “OK, so that’s a good example of ‘intention.'” But one man’s rose is another man’s asafoetida. And if you look at enough books on herb/magick correspondences, you’ll find that on very few herbs do they really agree.

I certainly advocate living with, meditating upon, and sensually experiencing as much as is safe, a particular plant to discover its magickal powers.

But another approach, one a little bit different from the common fare in plant magick guides, is to examine plants from an elemental perspective — that is, to identify their elemental signature (Air, Fire, Water, and Earth), and to wed this to what they do in the body. In the West, herbalists have been gathering and sharing information about common herbs and, thanks to empirical evidence and scientific research, they have been agreeing (more rather than less) upon herbs’ mechanisms of healing. The action of an herb in the body should give us a very important clue as to its elemental correspondence, and thereby its magical and elemental power. As above, so below.

Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine have always assigned to herbs specific “energies” — that is, hot, cold, wet, dry, etc. Beginning with Dioscorides, Greco-Roman medicine in the West relied upon a similar system. These systems were based on the four traditional elements, the essential building blocks of all matter. Use one element to control or augment another. It is an elegant and effective way of using herbs to heal that is still very much in use today.

As the caduceus, symbol of healing, is carried by Hermes, so too is magick within his purview. Healing can certainly seem like magick. Let’s face it, on some level healing IS magick — it is the willful manipulation of elements to bring about balance and well-being. When we know what an herb can do to bring our vital physical systems into balance, we can rather deftly arrive at its actions on the more subtle bodies, and on the subtle energies affecting the day to day world in which we live.

Want to find out more about common herbs and how you can use them as allies to bring about harmony in your life and magickal practice? Come to my class at the Brotherhood’s Spirit Faire and learn to orient yourself to the basic elemental nature of plants!

(Answer above: C)