Monthly Archives: December 2014

Reflections on “Applied Magic and the Occult Path,” Dion Fortune

appliedmagicI found this among my Dad’s book collection while staying over Christmas. It really isn’t the sort of thing he’d usually read – I imagine he got it because of his interest in Grail legends, which Dion Fortune has also written about. Having heard her name in other works on witchcraft cited as one of the most influential people in shaping modern witchcraft, I thought I’d give this book a go.

The edition I read (Aquarius 1984) opens with a publisher’s disclaimer, saying that the original was written “a very long time ago” (1940s?) and that many ideas in the book are no longer held today. You know when something like that’s included in the introduction, something’s up.

Another warning sign is the Rule of Capital Letters. In that, the number of Terms Made Up By The Author, and therefore Capitalised To Denote Proper Nouns is inversely proportional to quality of the content. The opening sentence of Applied Magic and the Occult Path has five such Proper Nouns. The rest of the book follows suit.

I really don’t like doing wholly negative reviews, especially when reflecting on works written by highly respected authors, but I have to be quite damning with this one. I thought Applied Magic and the Occult Path was one of the least useful books I’ve read to date on occultism. It’s deliberately vague yet relentlessly dogmatic, talking in earnest about its own mythos of angels, Jungian archetypes, and various Ways of Something and Paths of Something else without actually saying anything. This is far less a book of instruction (which one would expect it to be from its title) than it is a book of disjointed streams of thoughts and ideas. Perhaps those following an ecstatic, shamanistic path are more in tune to this style of writing, but I have to say it did nothing for me.

What’s worst about this book is that one aspect is downright harmful, and that is its racist overtones. It’s rather old-fashioned and patronising views of “the Eastern verses Western mind” or the sweeping Jewish stereotypes could possibly be written off as a sign of the time in which it was written, but its ideas of “Racial Angels,” in which the “Aryan” angels are considered the top of the hierarchy over the top of “less civilised” societies, are unacceptable in my opinion. I found it all very abhorrent, and it’s at that point I think I stopped reading in-depth and skimmed the rest.

I feel sad to say this, but I got nothing of value our of this book. In my opinion, it’s a work best avoided, especially when there are so many other great works on magic and witchcraft out there.

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Candlelight Meditation with Rooted In Yoga

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By Bryan Tong Minh (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday I took part in a candlelit meditation hosted by Rooted In Yoga. I’d found out about the meditation after attending Rooted in Yoga’s “Meditation Flashmob” back in November, and enjoyed this so much I was very keen to take part again.

The meditation itself was similar to the November one, in that it was a guided meditation intended to spread light, love and compassion to others. The difference was that the focus of the meditation was the light of the dozens of candles illuminating the hall in which we were seated. We focussed on a particular candle and visualised taking in its light and warmth, and then sending that light out to the others in the room, and other people we felt needed light and healing.

While I followed the guidance to an extent, I found that I simply enjoyed focussing on the single candle for most of the time. As I’ve found with previous Full Moon Esbats, gazing at a bright light (such as a candle or the moon) for an extended period can be quite an effective way of getting into a meditative state, as eventually the surroundings seem to fade to grey leaving the light the only thing in your field of vision. As I gazed at the single candle, all the other candles in my peripheral vision seemed to blink rapidly like stars as they faded, and the other people in the room faded out of my vision entirely. It became quite an otherworldly and intimate experience.

I thought the meditation was a fantastic way to celebrate the spiritual side of Christmas for people of any or no faiths, and to bring serenity and clarity of thought after all the frenetic activity of the holidays – as the leader of the meditation Kate said, Christmas can be a sensitive and an emotional time, and I think this is very true. Being such an exciting and magical time, it can be wonderful – but it can be quite an exhausting time too. And for those who are missing family and friends, or who are experiencing other problems in their life, Christmas can be a difficult period. I think this meditation was a wonderful opportunity for participants to have a bit of peace and self-healing, while also remembering to extend feelings of love and compassion to others.

The next Sabbat is Imbolc, which is strongly connected with candles (indeed it’s known as Candlemas to Christians). I’d therefore like to try a similar candlelit meditation at Imbolc – I’ll need to look into bulk-buying some tea lights though!

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Salt Dough Otafuku Mask for Setsubun

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My salt dough Otafuku mask

Now that the Winter Solstice has passed, I’m already thinking forward to the next Sabbat – Imbolc in February!

As a Shintoist, I plan on celebrating Imbolc together with the Japanese equivalent, Setsubun. Celebrated at the same time as Imbolc, Setsubun celebrates the coming of spring. Setsubun is associated with a lot of activities and symbols, but perhaps the most well-known ritual is to scatter soy beans outside houses while crying out “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (literally, “Demons out, fortune in.”) It’s a type of purification ritual, meant to drive out harmful spirits.

It’s interesting that both Imbolc and Setsubun are strongly associated with a particular goddess. The Celtic fire goddess Brighid is usually venerated by Pagans at Imbolc, while Setsubun is closely associated with an obscure female character known as Otafuku, who personifies luck and joy.

Although Otafuku is commonly regarded as a comical figure, I agree with John Dougill of Green Shinto that she is probably an aspect of Uzume no mikoto, a central figure in one of Shinto’s most important myths. Uzume is said to be the goddess of passion and mirth whose comical yet sensual dancing lured the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami out of the cave from which she was hiding from her frightening brother. It seems very likely to me that a figure attributed with leading the sun goddess out of a cave would have close ties with the coming of spring – a time when the sun emerges after being hidden in darkness during the winter.

I also suspect that Otafuku is also a symbol of fertility. Depending on how it is depicted, her face is often yonic or phallic in nature. Again, this would tie in with her connection to Uzume (identified as a goddess of love), as well as the coming of spring.

Because I’d like to celebrate both Imbolc and Setsubun together, I decided to make a miniature mask of Otafuku to put on my altar in the run up to the festivals. I made her out of salt dough painted in acrylic. Now all I need is something to represent Brighid…

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Christmas 2014

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Merry Christmas everyone!

As always I spent Christmas with my family, and since I’m pretty much out of the broom closet now in terms of them knowing that I’m a practising Pagan, this year I decided to make them some cookies with a bit of a Pagan spin on them – each one had a different rune cut into them (the recipe was basically the same I used for my Samhain soul cakes but with additional raw cane sugar for that extra Christmas flavour!). I let everyone pick their own cookie and look up their meaning on this chart.

My husband tried one with a Peorth/Hearth rune on it, which apparently means “Divination/Luck/Primal Law.” We’re looking for a house right now so I hope a rune with a combined meaning of “Hearth” and “Luck” foretells some good fortune in that area in 2015! My sister, who’s recently given birth to her second son, picked out the “Fertility” rune and refused to eat it!

Although fortune telling activities like this aren’t usually associated with Christmas (it’s more of a Halloween thing in Britain), it is associated very much with O-shogatsu (Japanese New Year). Dreams had on the night of New Year are taken very seriously as they are said to fortell the year ahead, while a popular activity that Japanese may do while visiting the temple or shrine at New Year is O-mikuji – a kind of fortune telling “raffle” where the participant receives a slip of paper that tells them how lucky they will be in the future.

Because my sister now has two young children, our Christmas celebrations have changed quite a bit – they’re far more child-orientated now, just like they were when my sister and I were children. I think this is how it should be. Christmas is a very magical time for children indeed, and they should definitely take central stage. And as a Pagan, I can now celebrate the Winter Solstice as a more spiritual and personal time, so everyone’s happy!

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Capricorn

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The latest in my Goth Zodiac series – Capricorn!

Capricorn is my sign! Although I don’t think I’m a very typical Capricorn at all. I think I’m much closer to Aquarius, which I was only a few days away from (and I was born early…). I think Capricorn has some rather dark aspects being so linked to Saturn and the sign of the goat – I can imagine this pair here in high-powered jobs by day, but into some serious Crowley-inspired ritual magic by night!

I’d like to dedicate this to Goth icon Chris Sheehan, former guitarist of the Sisters of Mercy, who recently died of cancer.

You can view the rest of the series so far and my other artwork here: http://trellia.deviantart.com

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An Impromptu Wassail

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An apple tree sapling hung with wassail toast. By Andy Dingley (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Tonight when I went to visit some friends at my sister’s house, something very unexpected happened – my non-Pagan family suddenly decided to hold the very Pagan tradition of wassailing!

My brother-in-law had just planted some new apple and pear trees, and had heard about the Yule tradition of wassailing in orchards to ensure healthy growth. So he decided to hold a little wassailing ceremony with my Dad, his best friend and myself, based on the information he found on wassailing on Wikipedia.

My brother-in-law poured out the wassail drink (spiced cider) into a large wooden chalice handmade by his uncle, which certainly looked the part. We then dipped some toast in the wassail and, as I was the only woman taking part, I was selected as the Wassail Queen to hang the toast on the tree, while the others intoned the traditional wassail song. My Dad sprinkled both the young and old fruit trees with wassail, and finally we all shared the remaining wassail together (I suggested saying “May you never thirst” when offering the wassail to each other, as we do in ceremonies at Medway Pagans).

I was really very surprised to see my otherwise non-Pagan family hold such a ceremony, even if it was held just for a bit of fun. I’d really love to encourage them to hold more Pagan rituals in the future…perhaps I can?!

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Harry Potter and the …School of Witchcraft without Wiccans??

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J.K. Rowling frequently treats fans to explanations and back-stories to the world of witchcraft she has created in Harry Potter through her official website Pottermore and her Twitter account. But last week she dropped a bit of a bombshell when she tweeted: “To everyone asking whether their religion/belief/non-belief system is represented at Hogwarts: the only people I never imagined there are Wiccans.”

As both a long-time fan of the Harry Potter series and as an Eclectic Pagan influenced by Wicca, I have a problem with this tweet. It seems utterly unnecessary to say such a thing that is inevitably going to make some of her Wiccan fans feel alienated. She later explained that Wiccan magic is somehow not compatible with the magic of Hogwarts, but this has a rather hollow ring. There are plenty of other religions that have magical elements to them (including Judaism, which J.K. Rowling categorically stated is represented in the student body of Hogwarts), and much of the magic in Harry Potter is clearly inspired by Wicca and related living witchcraft.

This tweet is also very dismissive when bearing in mind how loyal Rowling’s Wiccan fanbase has been. Let’s not forget that she came under a lot of fire from conservative Christians for writing children’s books featuring witchcraft. Many Wiccans, on the other hand, love her series (I even featured Harry Potter in my list of top 10 Wiccan movies for children!), and I know from personal experience that she inspired a generation of young people to gain a serious interest in magic and witchcraft. It therefore strikes me as insensitive, if not downright mean-spirited, to say that Wiccans are not represented among the students of Hogwarts.

Finally, I find it very sad that J.K. Rowling has been so quick to exclude Wiccans from her world when she has famously stood up for marginalised communities in her writing. Even when it meant incurring the wrath of those who disagreed with her, she has given a voice to the LGBT community, immigrants, victims of abuse, the disabled, the impoverished, and even criminals. Why, therefore, has she stated that Wiccans don’t belong at Hogwarts? Wiccans and other practitioners of witchcraft have faced persecution for hundreds of years now, and even today a great number feel the need to conceal their religion from others out of fear of misunderstanding and discrimination. It feels like being kicked when you’re already down when the famous champion of victimised minority groups doesn’t make you feel welcome!

The only reason I can think of for J.K. Rowling to say such a thing is to be “ironic,” without really thinking through how it might make her Wiccan fans feel, or because she lacks an understanding of what Wicca really is – does she somehow think that Wiccans wouldn’t want to be at Hogwarts for religious reasons? Because in my experience that’s not the case at all.

So let me be clear now – J.K. Rowling, you do have many Wiccan fans who have taken a lot of pleasure and comfort in your representation of a world where magic has a place, and many of them have been left puzzled and saddened by your throw-away comment on the lack of Wiccans at Hogwarts. Please think more carefully about how your words may make your fans feel in the future.

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Yule 2014

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Dode Church, decorated for Christmas

My first ever Winter Solstice as a Pagan has turned out to be even more magical than I imagined.

The day began with watching the sun rise with my husband at Windmill Hill, the highest point in Gravesend (the great thing about watching the dawn at Yule is that you don’t have to get up too early to do it – the sun rose at 8:00 this morning). Due to the cloud cover and the houses and trees to the east, we didn’t actually get to see the sun, but that’s fine – I still made an offering of sherry to the Sun. At the moment of sunrise, my husband played Thus Spoke Zarathustra on his phone, which I’ve always found a perfect piece for representing the power and majesty of the dawn – but there was something quite comical about playing it when we couldn’t actually see the sun and it made us laugh!

We spent the rest of the day getting ready for my parents’ arrival, as I’d booked for us to all go for the annual carol concert at Dode Church, where we were married and handfasted. After enjoying some mulled wine, roast chestnuts and other snacks, we all went up to Dode.

The church had been especially decorated for Christmas, with boughs of evergreen and holly hanging here and there – including a huge arrangement above the altar with mistletoe hanging at the bottom. At the beginning, the church’s owner Doug explained the history of the church and the ancient village it once served, including their tragic demise through the Black Death. In memory of the people of Dode, the very first carol was dedicated to them and the electric lights in the church were dimmed, leaving only the flickering candle light. The carol chosen for this was “Silent Night,” the first verse of which (“Sleep in Heavenly peace“) was incredibly poignant when thinking of the people who used to live there. This was followed by a very lively and suitably medieval-sounding rendition of Gaudete, sung by a small a cappella choir (their only accompaniment was the occasional beat on the bodhran). The audience could then join in for the next three carols, which were Away In a Manger, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. This was followed by a haunting solo performance of Little Road to Bethlehem by a very young, very talented singer. After this, the choir sung one of my favourite carols – the medieval Coventry Carol. It was so beautiful and moving that I was almost in tears. We then all sung The Holly and the Ivy and O Come All Ye Faithful, and finally the choir sang a really fun round of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Right at the end, delicious mulled wine and mince pies were served, and we gave donations to the Children With Cancer charity.

This probably sounds like quite a Christian way to spend a Pagan celebration, but I really don’t see it any conflict with this at all. For one thing, Dode is not a consecrated church and it is in fact built on an ancient Pagan mound. This, in addition to the standing stones outside and the handfastings that Doug himself performs there, makes it a very Pagan-friendly place. I would even say that it’s one of the key places of Pagan “pilgrimage” in Kent. For another, my family and I really love carol singing – it probably comes from being ex-Catholics! Singing well-known songs about love and light with other people is a wonderful tradition that I’m not going to give up any time soon. Finally, I think the themes of many carols are very Pagan anyway, and it doesn’t take much imagination to interpret references to the baby Jesus as references to the rebirth of the sun. And songs such as “The Holly and the Ivy” are very Pagan anyway.

And the magic didn’t end when we returned. We heard the foxes making a lot of noise outside our house – perhaps their equivalent of carols to sing in the solstice! And then, my husband swore he saw a white fox. Anyone who knows anything at all about Shinto will know that the white fox is a very auspicious sign, especially for followers of Inari – perhaps the most auspicious sign of all. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t see it myself, but I’m really glad that my husband saw it; I really hope it means good things are headed his way! I made some offerings to Inari-sama at my outside altar, including some festive chestnuts and a clementine, and thanked her for a wonderful solstice and for letting my husband see the white fox. All the time I was making my prayers, I could hear the foxes calling (although I didn’t see them).

Everything today, from watching sunrise with my husband to singing carols at the place where we were married, made this Yule a really, really special and memorable one. I feel somewhat sad that it’s all over now – but I still have Christmas and New Year to look forward to!

Some more photos from Dode:

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Yule Moot 2014 with Medway Pagans

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Tonight was a particularly special moot with Medway Pagans – a Yule ritual followed by traditional Christmas dinner. This is an annual event for Medway Pagans, but for the first time it was held at the social club where we meet rather than a restaurant.

The moot began with a ritual by one of Medway Pagans’ founders, who also happens to be one of my oldest friends (she also wrote our handfasting ritual). It’s the first time I’ve seen her perform a ritual and as always it was great – both serene and energising at the same time. She follows a particularly Wiccan-oriented path, and this showed in her ritual, which included casting a circle with an athame. That’s one thing I love about Medway Pagans – anyone can choose to lead a Sabbat ritual which leads to a lot of variation and personalisation. In keeping with Yule, she served spiced cider and chocolate yule log for the simple feast, which went down really well – although I regretted taking such a big slice of yule log once I saw the size of the dishes served at our three-course Yule meal!

One other thing that was a little different to other Medway Pagan rituals I’ve been to was we had some Pagan-friendly Christmas music playing in the background throughout the evening, including the ritual – I think it really added to the atmosphere and perhaps I’ll try the same thing when I come to lead my first ritual (Lammas).

ChiastoliteThe ritual was followed by the full Christmas dinner, including turkey, beef, sprouts, roast potatoes, mince pies, Christmas pudding – you name it! It was really, really delicious but so generous that we all struggled to finish it! We also did Secret Santa (the present my husband and I got was perfect because it was two bangles with pentagrams on them – his and hers!), pulled crackers and got merry and silly.

Right at the end, one of our members brought out some crystals that she sells, and I decided to buy a Chiastolite, a mineral I’ve never seen before – it has a distinct, natural cross pattern in the centre which I found fascinating.

It was a lot of fun and a fantastic way of celebrating the rebirth of the sun at the solstice.

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My first attempt at working with salt dough

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Inspired yet again by Ozark Pagan Mamma’s blog, I decided to try making some things out of salt dough. I’d actually never heard of salt dough before reading her blog, but I’ve since learned it’s something that mothers like to make with children as it’s really simple, cheap and harmless if swallowed (but pretty foul tasting – believe me, I tried!). I loved the idea of crafting with something so easy to make and environmentally-friendly, not to mention that it’s a combination of basic, sacred ingredients in Paganism (water, flour, salt) so I thought I’d give it a go!

I was surprised at how easy it is to make the dough to the right consistency. It’s similar to working with clay, but it’s more brittle and small-scale fine detail is hard to achieve. It also tends to collapse under its own weight a bit, hence most salt dough ornaments you see are flat. Yet it’s easier than you would think to shape and smooth. And it took less time than I thought for them to harden as well; baking them on a low heat, I’d say about 2 hours is sufficient (but I left them in for two hours longer for good measure). Again, I was surprised at how well the figures fared in the oven – they didn’t develop any cracks, but they did lose their shape a little.

I’d had the idea of making some little salt dough kodama figurines from Princess Mononoke (one of my favourite Pagan-friendly movies!) as they’re so cute and appealing, plus my husband really likes them as well. Not to mention that their design is really simple! The above photo shows my attempt – they were really fiddly to make with the right proportions and still sit upright without crushing themselves under their own weight. None of them turned out looking brilliant, but for a first attempt I’m fairly satisfied with them; I learned a lot about how to use the dough in the process.

saltdough1I also made this little statue of Jizo which I thought would be good to place in our spare room – Jizo is the guardian of travellers, which seems appropriate for a room used for guests. Unfortunately, he fell over in the baking process which now means he can’t stand up on his own (he’s being propped up in the photo!) I could give him a base, or try and make a better one next time.

I finally made a miniature mask of Otafuku, a figure representing luck at Setsubun, the Japanese “bean throwing” festival held about the same time as Imbolc. I haven’t featured a photo because she won’t look anything like Otafuku until I paint her. I plan to display her on my altar during Setsubun/Imbolc.

I’ve found working with salt dough really enjoyable and I definitely want to try again! It’s a bit of a shame that it seems generally considered something for kids, as I can see so much potential for adults to enjoy working with it as a serious craft tool. And seeing as you only need three common ingredients that most people usually always have in the house, there’s no reason to just start making some salt dough right now!

Finally, seeing as the kodama are tree spirits, I thought they’d look great on our Christmas tree! So here they are enjoying their new home…

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