Way of the Wyrd
The world is holy. Nature is holy. The body is holy. Sexuality is holy. The imagination is holy. Divinity is immanent in nature; it is within you as well as without. Most spiritual paths ultimately lead people to the understanding of their own connection to the divine. While human beings are often cut off from experiencing the deep and ever-present connection between themselves and the universe, that connection can often be regained through ceremony and community. The energy you put out into the world comes back.” – Margot Adler
Gods and goddesses were mysterious forces that protected and helped people, but they could also be capricious and potentially mean. The important thing was to know what pleased them and stay on their good side.” – John M. Riddle
There’s nothing really genuinely new I can say about magick in a timeline taking place after The Magicians and Harry Potter. Still, everyone in the soul sick West is now generally psychologically restless and fed up with the inherent emptiness of Western materialism. In many ways it seems the West is still suffering from a false conflict between LHP and RHP paths in the alchemy of the psyche.
I think there will always be a quiet longing for the scintillating raw sigil-data beyond the matrix-grid, hence the Western mystery tradition’s obsessive mathematical foundations in sciences like sacred geometry and numerology. Scholars like John David Ebert have suggested that we use video games, technology, and the internet to virtually replicate the same feeling that we miss in genuinely escaping the psycho-physical complex altogether, through a variety of trance inducing methods. For example a Skype call would, in the ancient world, usually be conducted by astral travel. The tech world has induced a kind of pseudo-shamanism, but the Old Gods and the Old Ways still call to us.
We live in a world where there is tons of data that tells us of how common and similar most out of body experiences are. But spooky witchcraft remains controversial (and increasingly popular) because it suggests something that the monthotheistic religions deem heretical; it claims that through precise magic-ritual action we can know the Gods directly, without mediation. Not only that, but the entire history of witchcraft suggests that the Gods are in fact immanent and active, and that they are, ultimately, our friends. Friends who can actually consider us as equals in the grand cosmic mystery.
Northern magick scholar Nigel Pennick argues that the material world matrix we find ourselves in is:
The Web of Wyrd is a symbolic description of the reality in which we live. Wyrd embodies the fundamental structures and processes that manifest themselves continually as recognizable elements of the physical world. These principles can reveal themselves spontaneously, or may be identified by human intelligence. In this sense, the visible world is an emanation of the invisible. The true principles of Wyrd are often viewed as the signature of divinity. Like a piece of fabric already woven, Wyrd is something that cannot be altered or undone. But either we can be passive and allow the vagaries of life to defeat us; or we can deal creatively with the situation in which we find ourselves. Wyrd weaves our place in life, and an old saying from the Borders of Scotland and England expresses creative acceptance of our situation: let us dree our weird. That is, let us endure whatever becomes of us, and make the best of it. It tells us that one we stop complaining and accept our Wyrd, for we can turn its disadvantages into our advantages. (p. 15)
From this Shankara-esque non-dual perspective, it appears that even the most basic operations of the Arte Magickal (ceremonial or otherwise) are just keys to having consistent, ritualistic access to the unending depths of the spirit realm. We’d add that for psychic self defense alone magick remains a rewarding (and constantly evolving study), simply to get in touch with your own personal guardians.
While traditional witchcraft and Wicca are still pitted against one another sometimes erroneously, Crowley’s Thelemic foundations centered around his love of Eastern tantric practices. The starfire kala mystery certainly still remains central. Fiery kundalini spark shimmer unites the diverse corpus of both Manly P Hall and Crowley. It also counts amongst their most obsessively studied and forbidden subjects.
According to Lady Sable Aradia, the Great Rite of Wicca suggests the alchemical blending of opposites in sacred union to enact the great work of the enlivening black flame (spirit). Seems to me that’s the same end game as the RHP approach to yoga, i.e. the experiential knowledge of Self or the awakening of the primordial 5th element of spirit. Although, we’d imagine actual effectiveness for these rituals are heavily reliant on training/psychological preparation, set and setting.
The LHP philosophy of sex and sacred plants potentially leading to enlightenment and self deification will likely always be considered more dangerous and controversial. But there is also a lot of sober data to support the fact that the terrain can be traversed safely if approached with due caution and proper long term integrationâ€”an elemental balance dance of sorts.
As the mother of witchcraft Doreen Valiente has said, all of the most popular art, media, and the very foundations of Western culture have been profoundly influenced by the witches Craft, in one way or another. Sure, art is magick, magick is art, we’ve heard it all before. Still, I always enjoy studying the history of Wicca because it seems so innocent in a way, as if the early founders really were just serious seekers of the Old Religion for the primary purposes of Self/Spirit connection and genuine healing.
Somehow, the neo-psych band Animal Collective’s recent song Hocus Pocus comes to mind:
So many times
The prints don’t match
The brush that painted it
Don’t take a forge
Or fake to dazzle
As a conjurer
Behind the drape
Behind aims of a grave arrangement
Stuck in the slime
Guarded lives don’t tend to dabble
Legalize this principle
Jump into a spot not physical
Bring it closer to the middle
Want to write with control
One step a
Wander from the cynical
Take a look at this atypical
With an answer to the riddle
As a tightening grip
Just when it
Starts to let go
Like Valiente, Michael Harner also used scholarship in order to conceptualize the history of altered states, entheogens, and shamanism. The inspiration for his entire career came, not surprisingly, from an intense ayahuasca session in 1961 where he traveled to the underworld:
I had occasion to drink the hallucinogen [ayahuasca] in the course of field work with another Upper Amazon Basin tribe. For several hours after drinking the brew, I found myself, although awake, in a world literally beyond my wildest dreams. I met bird-headed people, as well as dragon-like creatures who explained that they were the true gods of this world. I enlisted the services of other spirit helpers in attempting to fly through the far reaches of the Galaxy. Transported into a trance where the supernatural seemed natural, I realized that anthropologists, including myself, had profoundly underestimated the importance of ayahuasca in affecting native ideology. (pp. 16-17)
Ayahuasca visions (outside of the side effect of connecting one to the cosmic love beamers called the Plaidean aliens) are sometimes said to be subjective hallucinations with no basis in reality by skeptics. Still, scholars like Marlene Dobbin De Rios and Steve Beyer have contributed some decidedly non New-Age anthropological field work with consistent scientific results regarding the central mystery; can entheogens and ritual magic actually unveil other worlds that exist beyond our own?
As Ex-CNN journalists have already scientifically demonstrated, entheogens can offer anyone with no meditative experience of any age a direct tune up into the hyper frequencies of the God-channel directly. One of the most radical implications of the witch philosophy towards the so-called Poison Path is that your ego-identity and everything that you think matters doesn’t mean shit to the Gods, who are as indifferent to your emotions as they are willing to help, in the right setting. Often without speaking the gods Will, of their own volition, just open the crown up and pour that flaming spirit of light-love right in there. They could honestly care less if youâ€™ve never meditated a day in your life.
Outside of Christian Ratsch and Claude Ebeling Muller’s defiantly radical bibliography on sacred plants, Thomas Hatsis has also recently contributed some impressive scholarship as to how the Poison Path has significant influenced the history of Witchcraft.
â€œDemosthenes was among the first to use the Grecian name for those mixers of chants and poisons, pharmakis (from which our word pharmacist derives), when he ordered the death of the reason for [her trial], Demosthenes explains, was her drugs [pharmaka], which she used to either drive people mad or cure their ailments. Although Plato’s earlier meaning for pharmakeia included decidedly nonpoisonous magical arts” the use of puppets, for example” this would change shortly after his death in ca. 347 BCE. The term pharmakis would become the customary word for â€œwise womanâ€ or witch until its replacement by the later Latinized venefica. Plutarch called TheÃ´ris a priestess (hiereia); yet come the Middle Ages most other informal lay healers/poisoners existed in a lower-class social stratum alongside local diviners, seers, amulet dealers, and jugglers. Sometimes several of these skills overlapped in a single person. Indeed, a diviner might possess knowledge of veneficia; and a venefica might prophesy as well as poison”there was no telling what kind of odd skills a local magician might possess. Proximity to forests, herbal knowledge passed down for generations, experience gained through trial and error”any number of sources contributed to the formulas of the venefica. As early as the first century CE, Pliny the Elder mentioned such people in his Natural History, a compendium covering such diverse topics as astronomy, botany, geography, zoology, and the entire scope of pharmacy in the classical world.” (Hatsis pp. 32-33)
I guess the ancients really did know how to trip out and heal their own tribe with medicinal plants.
Ye Spooky Witches
When your in the depths of an altered state, the Ecstasy-Power Nexus of the Astral Sabbath begins to quickly make itself known. Initiates will likely shudder when hearing the sabbath’s alluring siren whisper. This is the hidden meaning of the Pan-Satyr-Faun’s charming flutes.
It can defined briefly as the most primordial of all astral congregations, a spirit-witch conjunct; the invisible college, the central meeting point. The atmosphere alone will make your hair stand on end and your spine tingle. Although this particular light-grid configuration is often wrongfully considered by many to have sinister connotations by medieval Judeo-Christians, I don’t think that its function-existence is evil or malevolent at all.
As Eva Pocs says:
In early modern Hungarian witchcraft, the popular witches sabbath, uninfluenced by demonology, was generally a gathering, merriment, or other social activity of the spirit witches, their doubles, and their bewitched victims, and it took place in the alternative world those accused of witchcraft also had the common faculty for trance, as mentioned earlier in connection with the visionary experiences of injured parties. A significant proportion of the documented confessions referring to trance or visionary experiences concerns witches who spoke about the way they came to be a part of the company or to be present at the gatherings.
So basically here we find the physical realm mirroring the bliss-celebration on the astral. Even in the most early of recorded Wiccan ceremonies I strongly feel there was just a simple gathering of friends and letting go of the world, in order to find the precise location of the ecstasy of those free spirits on other planes. To me, this sounds like a damn good time. Magick in the early Wiccan history seemed fluid, filled with life force.
Medieval scholar Claude Lecetoux has also connected the witches sabbath with the so-called Wild Hunt, a subject made even more popular in recent times by The Witcher 3.
As so many others have said in relation to primal moonlit feminine mysteries, they seem to be wrongfully depicted in media as the forbidden zone, despite the reality of the Goddess and the God. But in the past this was not always the case. There the feminine darkness was said to be about joy and to celebrate the entrance of the gods to the material plane. Maybe in the evolution of consciousness it really was as Owen Barfield and Jean Gebser have previously argued; that the material plane itself seemed thinner somehow, back then.
The description by Pocs definitely sounds different than the Witch hunts of the middle ages, where witches were accused of kissing the devil on the ass etc. As Carlo Ginzburg argues:
â€œFrom their fusion with the image of a hostile sect, projected in turn onto lepers, Jews, male and female witches, there sprang a cultural formation: the Sabbath. Its diffusion outside the Western Alpine arc began during the early decades of the fifteenth century. Local and supra-local circumstances explain the intensification of the witch hunts on each occasion: without any doubt the stereotype of the witches Sabbath, invariant except for certain superficial variations, powerfully contributed to their intensification. With the end of the persecutions, the Sabbath dissolved. Denied as a real event, relegated to a no longer threatening past, it fed the imagination of painters, poets and philologists..the very ancient myths merged into that composite stereotype and have survived its disappearance. They are still active. The unfathomable experience that humanity has symbolically expressed for millennia through myths, fables, rituals, and ecstasies, remains one of the hidden centers of our culture, of the way we exist in this world. The attempt to attain knowledge of the past is also a journey into the world of the dead. (pp. 23-24)
Comic book writer Alan Moore’s reverence towards Austin Osman Spares take on the ceremonial or tantric aspects of sex (i.e. for Kundalini raising) in the mysterious sabbatic cult is also worth noting. The hidden flaming astral serpent of Kundalini is often considered by those interested in popular forms of yoga like Hatha to be dangerous. In some cases it is considered literally promethean, hence Moore’s experimental super heroine initiation comic Promethea.
While kundalini can be an instantaneous form of energetic cleansing and metaphysical comprehension, sparked according to Moore and others by very specific ritualistic sex”there have also been many other less sensationalized reports of slow and safe prolonged forms of kundalini awakening, activated by a variety of physically safe psycho-spiritual techniques. This is likely why the snake charmers were revered in India, another outer rite for a coveted inner mystery.
Of the Sabbath itself, Spare said that it is;
An inverse-revertion for self, seduction; an undoing for a divertive connation: Sex is used as the medium and the technique of a magical act. It is not only erotic satisfaction; the converting sensual, sublimation detached, controlled until later and final sublimation. Sex is for full use: and he who injures none, himself does no injury. Finally, the personal aesthetic culture has the value, has destroyed more affective affinity than any other belief; but he who transmutes the traditionally ugly into another aesthetic value, has new pleasures beyond fear. For the ethical pragmatist I can assert; it has never harmed most, but the reverse, by improved health and self-control, and has made them more tolerant, understanding and compassionate. It has inspired and gives the acceptance of more than probability as possible: the only thing that has made reality magical, and the magical reality. (p. 153-154)
Philip Heselton has recently uncovered that Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner both met Spare personally. Afterwards, Gardner was said to be in possession of a mysterious amulet of Spare’s. In general, it seems that the so-called righteous Right Hand Path always seems to play a shadow dance with the left. Michael Howard also pointed out that the Sabbath was a central disagreement between Spare and Gerald Gardner (who met by way of Kenneth Grant). Gardner was decidedly more conservative” despite still advocating for ritual (sky clad) nudity of his early female coven initiatesâ€”many of whom went on to form their own independent circles after being fed up with too much formality.
It turns out that the big Melisandre shape-shifting reveal in Game of Thrones recently likely has some historical evidence. As Michael Howard says:
Spare evoked with pen and pencil the weird denizens of the elemental realm and the grotesque participants, human and nonhuman of the Witches Sabbath. Strange entities, half-human and half-animals, writhed across the pages of his drawing book, and demons and devils danced in wild abandonment with naked hags at forbidden nocturnal rites. These crones were then transformed into beautiful young sirens as the magical glamour of ancient witch magic blurred the edges of reality. (p. 122)
Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead also comes to mind for the idea of facing and transmuting the shadowy realms to further our own psychological evolution.
So, rather than an actual Eyes Wide Shut style situation, the astral Sabbath in the Western mystery tradition appears instead to be a hearkening back to the relative naivety of trancing out in paleolithic caves. In the most primal of trance ecstasy states, the artists, witches, yogis, and gnostics the world over have all been going beyond all opposites to rekindle the veiled black flame of the Spirit, our true identity.
The Sabbath is a place that recalls Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. it is here at ouroboros-crossroads circle between worlds” that all of the gods transhuman energy absorbs the most defiantly sickly vibes of our deepest (and most mundane) suffering, so that we may be finally healed. The mystery of the sabbath exists to provide alchemical renewal and seek forgiveness of our most shadowy mistakes. The mind is healed, on all levels, at its most primal core.
Witches and wizards remain outsiders to convenient societal conditions because they claim to know about that which lies beyond the veil. This on the surface is quite spooky and edgy. Suddenly there may be more meaning to the world than J.G. Ballard” esque consumerism and base physical survival we typically find ourselves trapped in like sullen caged animals in Plato’s beloved cave.
Apparently, the medieval witches of Europe used to fly on broomsticks to the sabbath. According to authors like Dale Pendell, Christian Ratsch, and Daniel Alvin Schulke, witches and wizards still utilize complex plant tinctures to form various hallucinogenic ointments (a popular recipe being Abramelin oil), allowing trance and astral travel to more easily take place.
Although the application to the most absorbent part of the vagina is the usual explanation for female practitioners natural affinity for magical broomstick flight (OBE), it’s worth noting that men can still benefit from the Old Ways in naturally absorptive parts of the skin (like the wrist), with consistently potent results.
As Hatsis says:
Witches ointments were magical drug pastes, ointments, and oils that women and men were said to smear over their bodies, and later, over flying vehicles such as brooms and rakes. Those thus anointed would then fall into a deep sleep, a soporatum, experience fantastic visions, and upon waking, claim to have traveled great distances and copulated with others. Contemporary reports have led some modern scholars to theorize that the so-called witches ointments contained soporific, hallucinogenic, or otherwise psychotropic ingredients mostly culled from the Solanaceae family of plants, and that the effects of these drugs were the cause of such bizarre delusions. This theory is not without evidence; most historians of medieval European magic agree that several kinds of medical folk magic existed and were practiced by low-status women and men. There is little doubt that this folk magic involved the use of plants and herbs in remedies and potions. (p. 24)
While I am a big fan of Gershom Scholem’s traditional interpretation of the Kabbalah from the traditional Judaic perspective, I also think that the Qliphoth as a Jungian psychological tool is quite handy in occult studies.
We know that the forms used in modern approaches to the Qliphoth, based primarily on the Golden Dawn, have roots in the writing of Eliphas Levi, which he presents as An Ancient Fragment From the Key of Solomon. The name ‘Gamaliel’ is also found in the Treatise on the Left Emanation.
The jury is still out as to whether the Sephiroth and Qliphoth are just components of our own psyche, or if they have an independent existence as literal independent realms but it’s becoming apparent not to deny the latter in favor of the former, and vice versa. A balancing act, as with everything we’re forced to learn on the material plane.
The LHP philosophy of nightside realms meant to be used in balance with the dayside and higher stellar realms in Qabalistic philosophy certainly isn’t new, but I think it’s still a fresh philosophy because of all the fluffy “good vibes” messages constantly out there. There is a natural philosophical conflict between the Qabblah and the Kabbalah in history, but a needed one. The shadow realms existence is for a very specific metaphysical lesson. According to Thomas Karlsson, the worlds of the Qliphoth oppose the tyranny of the Gnostic demiurge. As it should!
Witches are still considered cultural anomalies today because they understand that the chaos-shadow side of the psyche (often unpleasantly) reminds us of the need for energetic balance and the absolute psychological requirement to face and transcend our own deepest fears. They offer modalities of healing that involve directly facing the darkest part of your own soul. These are life long lessons that even the most cunning of witches still often have to re-learn.
Lastly itâ€™s always worth saying that the dreamy Sabbath is only one example of the many possible places for astral travel, according to the great Mircea Eliadeâ€™s disciple Ioan P. Culianu, who teased out the meaning of higher aspects of heavenly astral flight in the classic text Out of this World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein.
And perhaps you still donâ€™t think the magicks exists? Well, the next time you hear muzack at the store, turn on the TV, or go on the cold internet trawls, carefully observe, because your fleshy brain is being thoroughly fucked with fresh brewed occultism, right then and there!
Magick is love, magick is life. Amen.
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon, 1986.
Aradia, Sable. The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power: A Complete Course in Magick and Witchcraft. New York: Weiser Books, 2014.
Barfield, Owen. Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.
Culianu, Ioan P. Out of This World: Other-Worldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1991.
Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1985
Ginzburg, Carlo. The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1983.
Ginzburg, Carlo, and Raymond Rosenthal. Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath. New York: Pantheon, 1991.
Grant, Kenneth. Aleister Crowley & the Hidden God. London: Muller, 1973.
Harner, Michael J. Hallucinogens and Shamanism. New York: Oxford UP, 1973.
Hatsis, Thomas. The Witches’ Ointment: The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic. Maine: Park Street Press, 2015.
Heselton, Philip. Doreen Valiente: Witch. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2016.
Hoeller, Stephan A. The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Pub. House, 1982.
Howard, Michael. Modern Wicca: A History from Gerald Gardner to the Present. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2010.
Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Lecouteux, Claude. Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and Ghostly Processions of the Undead. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2011.
MÃ¼ller-Ebeling, Claudia, Christian RÃ¤tsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl. Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2003.
Pendell, Dale. Pharmako Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path. San Francisco: Mercury House, 2005.
Pennick, Nigel. Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition: Customs, Rites, and Ceremonies. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2015.
PÃ³cs, Ã‰va. Between the Living and the Dead: A Perspective on Witches and Seers in the Early Modern Age. Budapest: Central European UP, 1999.
Riddle, John M. Goddesses, Elixirs, and Witches: Plants and Sexuality Throughout Human History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Semple, Gavin W. Zos-Kia: An Introductory Essay on the Art and Sorcery of Austin Osman Spare. London: Fulgur, 1995.
Schulke, Alvin Daniel. Viridarium Umbris : The Pleasure Garden of Shadow. XOANON, 2005.
Spare, Austin Osman. Ethos. Thame, England: I-H-O, 2001.