Understanding Myth

Just a bit over a week ago the Independent posted an article called “I spent a week becoming a witch and the results were worrying.” Obviously, and with good reason, it created quite a bit of a stir in the pagan communitiy. The article can be found here.

I do not wish to comment on that article directly as there are several other people who have done that already, but I do want to write a little about a subject that touch upon some of the points that some of the criticizers have pointed out.

As I have said in previous posts there is no kind of unison idea of what witchcraft is, which makes it quite complicated to dive into. I even think that some people who claim to be practicing witchcraft actually are doing something else. That alone makes it difficult to get a good overview within a short time period.

On top of that perhaps the most difficult thing about witchcraft or the reconstruction of ancient religious practices is understanding “myth”. To move away from our normally logical and organized modern worldview and into a mythical one is something that takes practice and a lot of effort. The reason for that is that becomes myths are anything but logical and organized. They can be quite irrational to our modern standards, there can be different version of myths and still they might be considered to be true even if they can be conflicting to one another.

To our modern minds things essentially need to be either right or wrong. If anything falls inbetween those two categories we find it disorganized and difficult to grasp. Often myths do exactly that. They claim to be true, but there is little or no evidence to prove their validity. A rational mind would then be inclined to disregard the story simply as false. Granted, according to scientific standards the tale of a myth does not hold up, but a myth is not something that only aims to describe events just as they happened. They are stories, but at the same time they are filled with information about our cultural heritage. In that sense they need to not to be true even if they claim to be. There may be elements in them that are true, but whether or not they were true may not have been that relevant to the ancients. It is us in the modern world who care about making that kind of distinction. In the mythical world they were still being treated as if they were true.

Perhaps the best example is the Trojan War. None knew exactly when this war had been fought, but it was commonly accepted in ancient times that this actually was a real event that happened even though none was sure of when exactly it took place. Today, none of us, would have accepted a tale about a war in the distant past without some kind of evidence of it. To the ancient Greeks though it was very real and the stories of heroic deeds from an ancient mythical era were used to educate and teach the desirable virtues.

My point here is that with myths the boundaries are often blurry. That is why they can be difficult to work with. I highly doubt that most modern day pagans would take the myths literally. I suppose even the same could be same of the Abrahamic myths. Although it is less common to talk about them as myths as in the western world those are the dominant religions. In fact, myth has been suggested to be “the religion of others”.

That kind of mindset which is required to understand and work with myths isn’t something that can be developed quickly. It requires practice, reading the myths and contemplating them. It requires the ability to shift the mind from being logical and rational to something that is more undefinable. Something that is not quite irrational either, but something that follows its own “inner kind of logic”. It is the understanding of the world inbetween the categories – the thinking outside of the box; beyond right or wrong and true or false.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

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A Fair Warning About Online Courses

In my last post I wrote about the current ongoing magical revival where I focused on some of the issues related to that. One thing that I did not mention is that alongside it there are also a myriad of different online courses being set up which will promise to teach you all kinds of things. There is nothing wrong about that as such, but there are more than a few people out there who seem to be more interested in earning a few quick bucks.

I think that some of them setting up those courses genuinely think that they have something interesting to offer, but sometimes they seem to be a bit too eager to be coaching others. So my advice whether it is a magical course or a tarot course is to try and get an overview of the course material before signing up. Sometimes it can be difficult as we usually enroll into courses if we do not have any prior experience with the subject, but it is at least worth it to make the effort. These courses can be quite expensive, usually a lot more expensive than books and it would be a big disappointment when you enroll only to find out that it is not in the slightest what you expected and you end up giving up on it.

I have myself taken a few online courses – none of which I ended up completing. And I also considered taking a few others too that I probably also would not have completed. At first they may have sounded appealing, but when I looked at the course material I realized that 1) This is not what I am interested in or 2) I already have a lot of the material found here available in books that I already bought.

If it is a good and well set up course then it will structure and help you out with the material and perhaps give you the right motivation so they are not all bad. Still it is worth being a bit extra cautious so you do not jump aboard one of the many bad and expensive ones.

In my personal and non-commercial opinion (spambots please stop asking to send me traffic, I am not interested. I do not sell anything) the need for courses are highly exaggerated. It is far better to get some good book recommendations and set up your own syllabus for what you are interested in. Don’t know where to start? Start somewhere. If it is something you end up liking a lot of books often have a reading list for further reading. That is a stamp of quality as it also means that the author has done some proper research.

-Thus Spake the Night Spirit

The Tragical Revival

In recent years more and more people are coming to an agreement that we currently are in the midst of a magical revival. Compared to 15-20 years ago the amount of texts that were available have skyrocketed. This is of course something positive and there is no doubt that scholars are doing a tremendous job in making old texts accessible to the public, but in its shadow and mainly in social media, something else that is less positive has also emerged in its wake: a kind of unhealthy and competitive spirituality.

I am not of the opinion that everyone needs to agree with each other, but the aggressive tone of the various discourses goes well beyond that. And it seems to be the norm everywhere whether it is regarding Solomonic Magic, Witchcraft and perhaps the occult in general. This is why I have chosen to call it “The Tragical Revival” as the premises for making something better is there, but the general outcome is rather tragic and depressing.

One example of a discussion which tends to get quite heated is the discussion of methods within Solomonic Magic and perhaps particularly the method of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC). On one side you have the grimoire purists and on the other side you have those with a more experimental view. I am not going to go into that discussion here. My point is rather that it quite clearly demonstrates a kind of competitve tone in the discussion between two sides who are not willing to settle on their differences.

                 Mysticism and Magic

Recently another discussion has popped up, which at least I have not picked up on before, that relates to mysticism and magic. In a recently published anthology called Circling the Compass by Anathema Publishing Dr. Stephen Skinner is quite explicit on that he does not see a place for mysticism within magic. That is of course a legitimate view, although I strongly disagree with it, and find it quite peculiar based on that the Magical Revival in the 20th century had a lot of mystical ideas in it. It remains unclear whether Dr. Skinner thinks that the leading occultists of the 20th century were practicing much magick at all. In any case, it is not a matter that is undisputed.  Although I can agree that there seems to be limited interest within Solomonic Magic for mystical ideas.

However, this is not my main problem with his article in that book. My problem is with what he proceeds to say. He states that the techniques found in Solomonic Magic is similar to scientific methods where the experiments are repeatable and that he values this type of scientific enquiry also in magic. It all makes sense so far. But then he goes on to tell the reader about the supposed dangers of not having a proper circle. Okay, so he agrees on that the warnings in the grimoires about physical demon attacks are a bit too much, but he claims that he often hears accounts of people who shortcut the method and make careless mistakes. And then he, rather arrogantly, adds that they are mostly protected by their own incompetence.

I have two problems with that. The first being that “hearing accounts of…” is not very scholarly. I understand that this is not a scholarly work, but one cannot simply go from stating that scientific values are highly desireable in magic to come with such an unspecific example. Sure, I have heard “accounts” of people who have dabbled in the grimoires and horrific things happened to them. The problem is that none actually knows these people. It’s always that friend of a friend or someone distant. Taking away all those who have managed to scare themselves, there are not much to these accounts at all.

The second problem is quite revealing. It is obvious that Dr. Skinner cannot have an overview of what methods or what amount of knowledge these people supposedly have had. To me the whole thing sounds like an ad-hoc explanation, while at the same time trying to establish his own authority with cheap rhetorical tricks. I found it unecessary as Dr. Skinner is already highly regarded for his work. And I also find it disappointing that someone who has done so much for the occult scene feels the need to take part in that kind of competitive spirituality. It is definitely not a kind of behaviour that I associate with scholarly or scientific work. These types of formulations are things to be expected to be found in social media discussions (who unfortunately are way too toxic) and certainly not in a published anthology. The essay certainly left me with a feeling of left-hand work. Although this post is not meant to be a book review I can reveal as much as that there are several other interesting essays in there that may be worth getting it for. Dr. Skinner’s contribution however only left me with that I should be getting his other books and follow the formulas precisely, if not, I would be considered incompetent.

Let’s leave Dr. Skinner alone for now, but I am not quite done with the grimoire purists and their view of magick yet. Naturally, I cannot say that all the grimoire purists share the same idea as Dr. Skinner that magickal experiments should be repeatable similarly to how scientific experiments are, but my general understanding is that it is quite a common opinion to have among them.

That brings me to the Abramelin and the idea of the Holy Guardian Angel. It needs to be said that the Abramelin operation is not considered to be Solomonic Magic – yet for some reason it is still quite popular among the grimoire purists, First of all, the idea of a Holy Guardian Angel to begin with, is a mystical idea, secondly, everyone seems to have their own interpretation of what the Holy Guardian Angel is and thirdly because the Abramelin operation is extremely demanding in a modern society (it was already demanding enough back in the days), almost none can follow it by the book. Suddenly because of the great inconvenience of the method it seems to be okay to shortcut it. To me there seem to be just as much to that as that there is a gentleman’s agreement to that a bikini on the beach is okay while underwear is taboo. Personally I disregard the whole idea of a HGA as none can seem to agree on what it actually is anyway.

My point is not to take any experiences away from anyone, quite to the contrary, I just want to encourage people to not be so vocal about them and also refrain from commenting too much on what other people experience.  There is a reason for why one of the powers of the sphinx is to be silent. I don’t think it is in the best interest for the continuation of magick within the frame of competitive spirituality. The original Magical Revival had a lot of mystical elements to it and that is why I find it tragic that they now are being left out.

Well, that is only partly true though. For starters I am not sure how one could claim that having contact with angelic beings and so on would not have some element of mysticism in it. The lore around which they build upon is quite mystical.

Then you have different brands of magic such as various traditions within traditional witchcraft. And surprise, some of them are highly mystical. Just look at the works of Andrew Chumbley, Robin Artisson, Nigel Aldcroft Jackson and several other writers and tell me that there isn’t any kind of mysticism in it.

               The Witchcraft Issues

Witchcraft has also undergone a process of renewed interest, but the challenges it faces are quite different from what is currently happening within Solomonic magic. My main issue with witchcraft is that there seems to be so much nonsense going on. It’s so diverse that it is really difficult to get into and see what it really is about, but it seems like most of the Facebook groups out there are mostly busy with posting nonsense cat memes, getting advice for their own experiences in life (often completely unrelated to what I understand being relevant for witchcraft) and progressive political opinions (naturally these people are extremely offended if you would disagree with them).  There is very little discussion of witchcraft practice in itself or in the very least the history of the various practices of witchcraft. Most people seem disinterested in that or they are just unaware. And don’t even get me started on the Wiccans who always seem to have the most fantastic and embellished accounts that I ever read across any occult tradition.

I find it tragic that with access to all this new information and possibility to connect and share experiences through social media, that it seems to be a step backwards rather than a real revival of anything. I am not so sure if it is the quest for truth that is the most important for everyone involved. If it was, then why spend so much time and energy on other people to try and influence their opinion? It seems like a self defeating thing to do and it does not have any place in anything that can call itself a true magical revival. And that is a great tragedy, as there is potential to be had out there. But in its current state it does not seem to be anywhere near fulfilled.

I am not here to decide what works or not for others. I am here to share my own experiences so that other people can decide if that works for them or not. That is also how I treat books by the authors I read and what I look for when connecting with other people.  Right now I feel quite disillusioned about the whole thing. It seems to make more sense to just take a step back and only focus on my own stuff, because “everyone” you connect with on social media seem to be focused on anything but themselves. Except the likes they generate of course. Who knew that the meaning of life (and magic) after all is a number: the number of likes that you generate. At least we can agree on that isn’t very mystical…

-Thus Spake the Night Spirit

Tarot or Runes – what to choose?

In this post I will examine some pros and cons for choosing either tarot or runes for a few different purposes. You can of course choose to learn both, but as they are quite different from each other it would also mean it would take twice as much effort. For the purpose of this post I just assume that a standard tarot deck based on RWS is being used.

Both tarot and runes can be used for both magic and divination. I should probably also mention that there have been some attempts to combine the two by making various Viking or Rune tarot decks. I am not a big fan of such attempts for several reasons, but mainly I find that it complicates things if you try to force one system into another system. Let’s just leave it at that and keep them separate. Having that said, I don’t mind as much to bring some tarot knowledge into a runic system and the reason for that is that there are quite a few gaps to fill with the runes. I touch a little upon that subject in this post. Assuming that you have no prior experience with either tarot or runes, learning the runes will therefore take much more effort, but there are some good books to get you started. For example this one I reviewed here. 

                        Divination

I have done tarot much longer than runes and personally I prefer tarot as it is a much more developed system. Runes are a lot less visual and they don’t give you many clues to their meaning just by looking at them. I also find that with runes you need to develop your own system and meanings a lot more. There is an abundance of information written on the tarot, but when it comes to the runes there is so little that we know that we have to close the gaps ourselves. It works too, but it requires a lot more effort.

In a standard tarot deck you have 78 cards in contrast to when you are working with the Elder Futhark runes you have 24 runes. My experience so far with experimenting with runes is that it feels less more like they function better on the bigger picture, while the tarot can be used on both the bigger picture and go a bit more into the details. If you only read tarot with the Major Arcana you would probably get a similar result.

I also don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to do big spreads with runes. When you do the big spreads in tarot, you generally include the Minor Arcana, which make a lot of difference.

So when doing a rune spread, I would probably do something similar to a three card spread in tarot. For example: 1) What influences to let go of 2) What can I expect the situation to look like if I successfully let go of these influences and 3) What new opportunities should I be looking out for. Note that when I use this spread I tend to switch around the positions depending on what phase the moon is in with the first rune or card representing the current moon phase (in the example waning, new moon and waxing moon).

If you are only planning on doing these smaller, more general “big picture” spreads, I find that the runes can be a good tool. If you are looking to do divination professionally, and give readings to customers, I also think that adding rune reading to your repertoire would make you stand out a little bit more in the vast competition. There is definitely something exotic and intriguing about the runes that a lot of people are attracted to.

 

                           Magic

I cannot really say that tarot or runes work better than the other for magic. There are nearly infinite possibilties of how you could use them in your magical practice, and probably, it is more important how they are being used rather than what is being used.

If you are interested in tarot magic I can recommend Donald Tyson’s “Portable Magic”. It also goes under the title Tarot Magic –  Ceremonial Magic: Using Golden Dawn Correspondances. There are a lot of interesting ideas in there.

Personally I find tarot a bit inconvenient if you are going to create talismans etc. As it may mean you need to remove cards from the deck and purchase new decks everytime you want to create a new talisman. It can be quite costly.

If you know the runes you can just carve them into something or paint them. I find that to be a great advantage.  In my opinion it’s a lot more flexible and a fun, creative way to work. You can create powerful rune sigils that just look awesome, inspiring and feel magical in themselves. So for me, this isn’t even a close race. Maybe it is just me, but it makes me feel much more involved in what I am doing and everything that brings a little bit of extra enthusiasm into the magical work is usually a good thing.

 

                      Conclusion

Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. If you have the time and patience for it learn both. If you are willing to put in the extra effort the runes can really be worth it, especially if feel drawn to norse mythology, vikings and paganism. If I had to pick one of the two, it would be the runes because I consider them to be more flexible, but I do find tarot better for divination.

Edit: This has been in my drafts for a while, but I just never published it.

 

-The Night Spirit

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Cultural Appropriation

Some time ago I got involved in a discussion about cultural appropriation. And I would like to share my thoughts around this concept in the context of witchcraft. There are quite a few people out there who apparently see witchcraft as a progressive political movement with strong roots within feminism. I am not saying that it cannot be that, but that is not the only thing that witchcraft is about. A lot of currents within witchcraft are counter-cultural and opposed to the ideas of mainstream society, but that does not mean that it has to be political.

When I pointed that out to someone who apparently saw it like that, they got offended and could not understand that someone else could be of a different view.

Personally I have huge problems with the concept of “cultural appropriation”. In my opinion it encourages racism in the sense you cannot borrow from other cultures and therefore they will remain “pure” or separate from one another. It’s a political ideology based on the idea that you need to be careful about not offending someone else. The problem is that cultural appropriation does not have any good definition and it is extremely problematic to know where the limits are. For that reason alone, I do not think it is very fruitful to use it. If a boundary is overstepped and something is “culturally appropriated” and it is clear that the intent was to offend, it can easily be defined as racism, sexism etc. instead. We do not need a concept that is masking up other concepts and making them more unclear. It is not doing anyone any service.

Historically, things get mixed when different cultures meet. Just look at the syncretizing of deities in the ancient world. I don’t think we can point to just one reason for it happening, but one of the reasons was people in conquered territories would be allowed to keep their own customs. Over time it would evolve and maybe be merged with a similar local deity. This happened for example with the Roman deity Mars who essentially is the Greek God Ares mixed with a local agricultural deity.

Also it doesn’t only need to happen through conquest. When traders met, it is not unlikely that they also would gain knowledge of how to gain safe passage through meetings with other cultures. Asking for safe passage has been one of the main things that people asked deities for.

I think the important thing to understand here is that when a custom was adopted, that it does not necessarily take exactly the same form as it originally was. That is not something that is done out of disrespect of the original source rather it is something that happens and evolves over time. Take the goddess Hekate for example: the mother, maiden, crone aspects are a modern invention. Some people decide to use it, others don’t (I’m not).

Another example is how Tarot and Runes have been appropriated by the New Age Movement. I personally cringe when I hear some of the modern ideas about tarot. But it has to be that way.

The point is that the meeting of cultures happens all the time. It did not stop in the ancient world. And today with the internet and information so easily accessible. It’s a natural organic process that things get mixed up. Sometimes it happens that it won’t resonate with us. It could for example be argued that seeing witchraft as a progressive political movement is an appropriation of what witchcraft used to be, but that’s fine, even if I don’t agree with that version of witchcraft. There is just no way that we are going to have a world with a political consensus where we can agree about everything. And that is why there is no use for concepts such as cultural appropriation.

 

-Thus Spake the Night Spirit

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My calling and the Goddess Hekate

In January 2018 I had a dream. I often dream when I sleep and usually there is some kind of strange story going on. And if there isn’t a story going on at least there is some kind of location or setting that would be possible to describe. In January 2018 though, when I had this experience, there was neither a story going on or any particular location that I would be able to recognize. Everything was pretty much black or grey. It could be that I am in a dark cave or something, but I cannot tell because I don’t really see anything.

All of a sudden I feel a force that seems overwhelmingly powerful and frightening. I understood instinctively that I was no longer alone in this dark space. I would never hold any conversation with any entity without trying to have it identify itself, so I asked it what it was and it replied “I am the Goddess Hekate”. At the time, I did not really know much about Hekate at all. I had never worked with her before and the only context I had heard her mentioned in was a negative context as something dark and terrifying and referred to as the Queen of the Witches. So perhaps not so surprising my response back was asking what she wanted from me. Her response took me quite a bit by surprise: “I want you to become my messenger”. Only a fool would accept such an outrageous request immediately so my response was somewhere along the lines of “Hell no!”.

Today, I am not actually sure how much choice I had in the matter. I don’t act on or put too much meaning into every single dream I have, but now I felt strongly to seek out information on Hekate. Perhaps this was the intention. It is likely she already knew that I would seek out more information. I ended up getting a few books and reading up on the historical Hekate. It was a lot more complex than I had expected with all the different epiphets, syncretisms and alternative names so getting a clear picture of exactly who she is, isn’t easy. I am not going into detail of that here, as I think that is a process that is useful for anyone with an interest in her to go through, but she is definitely not what I thought she was when I first met her in that dream.

I also had some books recommended to me by an “occult friend” who had been interested in Hekate some years ago and that’s  when I got into reading books by modern day devotees of Hekate. I enjoyed these and I enjoyed reading about the historical Hekate so eventually I decided that I would be willing to be working with this entity. So  I set up a devotional shrine where I can honor and petition the Goddess. After that I have just been continuing that practice as well as incorporating new elements into my practice, adding things step by step, as it feels appropriate when I read something new and discover new ideas. The studying doesn’t stop (it never will). And I frequently have new and interesting experiences.

One rather interesting episode happened after I got my statue of Hekate. I had decided to invest in a proper nice statue and much to my dismay it arrived broken. It was broken in two places. The headdress of the statue I managed to fix quite easily with some glue, but the torch she was holding in her left hand proved to be more difficult. I tried to glue it back on, but it just wouldn’t hold. When I took my fingers away after holding it in place for a longer period of time it would fall off again. So I went to the store to buy a second type of glue and repeat the process. It still wouldn’t hold. In a last desperate attempt I went back to the first type of glue and it still didn’t seem to work, but after I got tired from holding the torch in place at the correct angle, I decided to try and support it up with a small box of incense sticks that I placed between the torch and the body of the statue. It seemed stable enough, but suddenly the box of incense sticks fell rather violently to the ground. Anyone familiar with spirit communication knows that it doesn’t necessarily take the form of audible sound. In this case I suddenly felt a strong sensation of “I don’t need this”. The torch has been standing in place ever since.

The reason why I said that I am not sure how much choice I had in the matter is that now recently, I have been asked to hold a talk about witchcraft in a local shop. It wasn’t even my idea! I don’t know much about Wicca or other types of witchcraft so naturally a lot of my talk will center around Hekate and the type of work that is possible to do with her. What was absolutely unthinkable for me before is about to happen. I suppose I have gone from a “hell no!” to a “hell yeah!” Having that said, I consider this story that I just shared to be rather ordinary and normal. There are a lot of devotees out there with interesting stories (many way more interesting than my own).

Going forward I suppose I will share more of the work I am doing with her as it ties into some of the other topics I have already started writing about here.

 

– The Night Spirit

 

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Again I find myself standing at the Crossroads.