Friday, September 30, 2016

The Womb of Being: Looking for the Spirits of a Land Long Gone.

This post is part of the Strategic Sorcery Blog Hop.  We're all writing about the magic of place.  

You might have noticed that I haven't been writing here as much as usual.  There are a lot of reasons; partly, as most of you know, I recently moved home to Pittsburgh, and, as cliche as it sounds, I'm writing less because I'm less miserable.  But, I've also started working on a big writing project with two other people, including my magic BFF, Simon Zealot.    It's a fantasy role playing game set in Muslim-controlled Spain at the turn of the 2nd millennium CE.  Here's the opening "teaser" poem, by Simon.  You can follow along with more of the game's progress here.

We've had no trouble finding tons of resources on Muslim and Jewish magics from the period and the earlier Roman magics, but the native Iberian magic has been hard to find a lot of sources on.  And so, I've been doing a lot of magical and journeying and channelling, looking for the spirits that arise from a land I've never set foot in, trying to feel the bones of the hills of the Iberian peninsula.  What I'm bringing back is, unquestionably, completely personal gnosis, and gnosis I'm fictionalizing at that.

And yet, as I continue to research, I keep finding that gnosis being verified, settling into the shape of the land and the history of her people, more and more.  So, instead of talking about the things I'm discovering (you'll have to wait for the book to come out!), I'm going to walk you through a guided meditation, which you can use to commune with the spirits I'm working with, even when you are not there.  The first few times you do this, it might be easiest while laying on the ground, or with your back against a tree, but if you have any experience in trance work, it will feel very familiar, and you'll be able to do it anywhere and anywhen.  If you're not familiar with trance work, you'll want to be sure you do this somewhere you'd feel comfortable falling asleep; it can be hard for beginners to maintain their sense of the "real" world while deep in trance.  You might also want a sweater or a blanket; I often find myself cold and stiff when I "come up" from being entranced for a long time.

Avalon, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
I have a print of this in my bedroom,
which I often stare at as I enter into trance or sleep.
Take a look at her other work while you're there,
and buy a print or two.  Support artists!
It is my belief that much of sacredness, if not all of it, arises from and abides in the land itself.  And yet, life everything else, these spirits live and die, grow and change, over time.  The Spirits of modern Spain are not the spirits of Al Andalus, and yet, the land remembers, and nothing is ever really lost.  The Earth, our home and our mother, the source and substance of Life, is One, and every part of her, every cloud, every leaf, every person, is woven together with every other; an irreducibly complex web of Life and Being.

Begin by focusing on your breathing.  Breathe in, and life-giving air, the breath of the Mother of All, enters into your lungs.  Breathe out, knowing that the air you exhale gives life to the plants.  Breathe in, and know that the air you are breathing encircles the globe, a blanket of warmth and love and life.  Breathe out, a continuous cycle of respiration uniting every living thing on Earth.  Continue to breathe, slowly and deeply, deeply and slowly, feeling the whole world breathing with you.

Feel the weight of your body, the pull of the Mother on your flesh.  Allow your body to settle and relax, your spine straight, your shoulders open and relaxed, every muscle relaxing, unclenching, opening.  The substance of your body has lived many times before and will live many times again.  The fruits of the earth feed and sustain us, and in time to come, your body will decay back into the earth, there to feed and sustain new life.  The substance of your body came from the earth, is part of the earth, and to earth it will always return, a never ending cycle of life and death, growth and decay, a never ending circle of being.  Continue to relax, feeling your body melt into the whole, feeling yourself as one part of the earth.

Feel the pulse of your blood.  The salinity of blood is identical to that of the sea; the waters of life are one.  With every beat of your heart, feel the waves crash, feel the tides of life ebb and flow, the rhythmic slish-slosh of the rivers out of Eden, the splash of the fountain of life.  Rain falls to earth, and makes its way to the river and thence to the sea.  The sea evaporates to the cloud, who gives of herself as rain.  An eternal cycle of Being, an unbroken circle, the waters of life unite everything that is.  Feel yourself afloat on the Sea of Life, your heartbeat the lapping of the waves.

Feel the warmth at the core of your Self, the fire of love in your heart.  Feel the energy that enlivens and enlightens you, the metabolic heat that lets you know you are alive.  Allow the heat to sink and coalesce at the core of your being, in the Dan Tien, the Womb of Being, the Cauldron of Life.  Feel the energy circle and grow there.  Abide in that warmth, recalling the warmth and safety of your own mother's womb.  Feel your Self wholly ensconced in this warmth, floating in the Sea of Life.

The cave of St Michael, on Gibraltar
You are in a cave, the Cave of the Nameless, the Womb of Mother Earth, adrift in a small boat.  You can float in the boat as long as you like, but when you want to go to the shore, just tell the boat to do so, and it will.  When you drift to the edge of the lake within the cave, you are met by an old woman, the Lady of the Cave.  She wears a long green/grey dress and her hair is under a white linen veil.  There is something slightly odd about her face; she might not be entirely human.  And yet, when she smiles at you, she is beautiful, and kind, and you know there is nothing to fear.  You walk, hand in hand, through the caves.  These caves, the caves at the center of the earth, the Womb of the Mother of All, connect to every place on earth.  Tell the Lady where you'd like to go, and she will help you find your way to the correct opening of the cave.  Try going to St. Michael's Cave, on the island of Gibraltar.  Report back what you find there.  I don't think you'll be disappointed. :)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Why I use the Word Witch

Sometimes people as why I prefer to use the word "witch" to describe myself rather than sorcerer or magician or occultist, or any of the other available words. I understand why people ask, because "witch" has such negative connotations. On the one hand, witches are the evil corrosive hags of medieval blood libel and the green skinned villains of Victorian fantasy. On the other hand, "witch" has been co-opted by Wicca, a religion I do not practice, although I am a pagan. In that end of the spectrum, witches are considered fluffy and foolish, and not take at all seriously. Finally, there is the Halloween witch, turned into a plastic sex object with neither motivations nor ideas of her own at all.

How is it that "witch" can mean "so evil and serious we need to burn her" and "so white-light and nonsensical we should mock and ignore her AND "vapid fuck toy"? It's almost as if "witch" has the exact same negative connotations as "woman"! And THAT is why I use the word witch, because I'm sick of that shit, and I'm taking back the night. I'm not evil, and I think anyone who knows me or sees my work knows that. I'm not fluffy, which, again I think is so amply demonstrated that I'm effectively proof against that claim. Finally, I assure you, I'm no one's toy. I am, however, incontrovertibly a witch by any definition, and a witch is a person who is dangerous to patriarchal hegemony.

Before I talk about the strict opposition of witches to oligarchical patriarchy, I want to talk about the word itself a little. "Witch" is a word with a fascinating and very ancient etymology. It is among the oldest and most culturally-embedded of English words for magical practitioners. Out modern word "witch" surely derives from the Old English "wicca" (male) and "wicce" (female). To modern ears, both words sound more or less the same, something like "witt-sheh" and were in wide-spread use by at least the 11th century. The pre-Old English etymology of witch is unclear. It appears to enter English through Germanic rather than Brythonic roots, although there are not clear Germanic cognates. Several Proto-Indo European roots are in play, including *wikk┼Źn (sacred/prophetic) and *weg'- (rouse, as in, the dead). Early Wiccans prefered a derivation from *weid- (wise) but modern scholars largely disagree. No matter how it entered English, for as long as people have been speaking English, and likely long, long before, a person (of any gender) who told the future and spoke with the dead was a witch.

The earliest recorded use of the word "witch" in English is from circa 890 CE in the Laws of Aelfred. It is already in the pejorative. "Tha faemnan, the gewuniath onfon gealdorcraeftigan and scinlaecan and wiccan, ne laet thu tha libban." Take a second to try to read it out loud before moving on to the "translation" below.  Let me interpolate a bit for you, showing which words still "work" in English, and which don't: "The femmes, the ?? and ? and witches, no let thou them living." Notice which words still work? THOSE are powerful words in English, words which retain their idea-generating force across millennia. The words that dripped from our earliest language-ancestors' tongues directly into our blood. "Women who are accustomed to receiving enchanters and sorceresses and witches, do not let them live!"

What did our language-ancestors think about witches before Christianity? It's hard to say. The Christianization of English began with the Gregorian missions of the late 500s. The last openly pagan king of England, Arwald (mya his name be blessed) was slain in battle in 686CE, after which time all English rulers have been (at least nominally) Christian. The persecution of witches almost undoubtedly enters England by way of pagan, but patriarchal, Rome. There is very little evidence to support claims that witchcraft was demonized in pre-Roman western Europe, and much evidence (such as the Prose Edda) to support the idea that it was not. However, none of this evidence is from English speakers.

The hatred of witches appears to be among the foundational pillars of oligarchical patriarchy, and there is no way to topple patriarchy without addressing it. So, I call myself "witch" as a continuation of that line of ancestresses who held that torch.