Saturday, September 29, 2012

Some Reviews for La Maga

Sorcerers, Magi and Mystics
Starry Vere
Format:Kindle Edition

Ah, the inner planes. I love to visit there myself, but never have I imagined a world filled with characters like these. Magicians and sorcerers with powers and personalities that clash and express all the best and worst of our familiar human condition. I absolutely loved this book. I must naysay the person who said it's not like Harry Potter. It is, to me, only better! La Maga captures the otherworldliness of Harry Potter but tackles larger political, spiritual, and emotional issues. Soror's writing style drew me in from Sofia's awkward walk down the school hallway through her complicated relationship with Leo De Lux and a life-or-death magical battle and all the way to hope for what today might be called Occupy the Inner and Outer Planes! And I wanted more. I've had the luck to preview the two other books in this series, of which the second is actually my favorite (The Sex Lives of Sorcerers). La Maga is an engaging read for anyone who refuses to think that what we see is all that exists, a trip into a parallel universe that gives unique, playful form to the concepts of Shaktipat, Buddhism, folk magic, mysticism, the occult and adolescent rebellion all mixed together into a brilliant, poignant and ultimately timely story
By L. Skutch
Format:Kindle Edition|
La Maga is an initiation of sorts for me, I don't usually read magical fantasy fiction and I've never seen a Harry Potter movie! I am however, drawn to anything which makes me shift my perception, makes me think and gives me "aha" and "mmm" moments. This book did this on many occasions. I am also incredibly impressed with the depth of knowledge that the author appears to have for various mystical and spiritual arts from the mainstream to the more obscure. It's a smooth read, peppered with layers of deep spiritual teachings and references should the reader's interest be piqued. The mystical and spiritual details read like poetry, not preaching. It's a skillfully rendered sensual work about magical beings that inhabit their world, and more surprisingly, our own.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Glory of the Goddess

Durga Puja, an important Hindu festival, is coming up in October. It commemorates the victory of good over evil, order over chaos, and reveres the Great Goddess as the Redemptive Principle and Savior of the Universe. During this time, a section of the Markandeya Purana  known as the Devi Mahatmyam, or Chandi, which relates heroic exploits of the Goddess, is ceremoniously chanted in the context of elaborate ritual. Images of the goddess are constructed for the event, worshipped as representations of the Goddess, displayed in pageants, and then sunk in the Ganges or other waterways in locales outside the “Motherland,” such as the USA.  See the Wikipedia entry on Durga Puja here

I had been dedicated to the goddess Durga for very many years. I was (and continue to be despite my perhaps incongruent immersion in Western occultism and contemporary Paganism) a long-time adherent of reformed Advaita Vedanta.  I was obsessed with the aforementioned text Devi Mahatmyam for at least a decade. The title translates as “Glory of the Goddess.” It has been dated to the 3rd century and is a trilogy of mythologies in which the Goddess, personifying the combined power of the gods, defeats various demons in battles and, thus, restores the order of the Universe.

The full text, which takes more than an hour or three to recite, is chanted in the context of devotional ritual (puja) and is prefaced and followed by several auxiliary prayers, chants, mantra, and ritual gestures. It is generally done as a thaumatergic exercise in which the Goddess is thought of as a beneficent entity who is being addressed for the sake of gaining favors and for protection from both supernatural evil and the nasty world-at-large. In working with the text, I ultimately took a more Gnostic and literal approach. After all, Advaita Vedanta is jnana yoga, the discipline of spiritual integration through contemplativism and gnosis. In addition, the translations of the names of the demons that the Goddess is battling in the Devi Mahatmyam include The Great Deceiver (Mahahanu), The Aimless One (Parivarita), The Hypocrite  (Bidala), Anger (Kruddha), The Savage (Ugrasya),  He Who Gives  Way to Temptation (Durdhara), The Vicious (Chanda), The Malicious (Munda), Conceit (Shumbha), and Self-deprecation (Nishumbha). And the most famous demon celebrated in the scripture is Mahishasura—the “Buffalo demon” of egoism, the depiction of the slaying of which is an important piece of Hindu iconography.

So, the demons that The Goddess is protecting you from are not oogah-boogah things “out there”; they are negative qualities within yourself that the Goddess battles with a barrage of weapons: the sword of discrimination, club of articulation, bow of determination, arrow of penetration, pike of attention, rod of restraint, axe of right action, net of unity, trident of harmony, and discus of revolving time. Then she cuts off the head of your ferocious ego. And, frankly, this is why, philosophically speaking, “bad things happen to good people,” because they are not “bad things”; they are transformational and transitional things. Or else, they are just stuff happening in the grand drama of life.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Ritual Cup

The ritual cup is a magical and mystical symbol and a tool important to both pagan and Christian spirituality and mysticism. The cup represents the element of water. As a meditation on the water element, the cup is associated with water, emotion, sensuality, intuition and the deeper consciousness, and also selflessness, sacrifice, and the pathways between worlds.  

In Neopagan traditions, it represents the Goddess. In ancient times, the cup was an item associated with both the sacrifice of the dying and resurrecting god and the potential for ecstatic gnosis in states of liminal consciousness.  

 In the second part of Book ABA (Book IV), the mage Aleister Crowley refers to the “Magick Cup” as a symbol of the magician’s Understanding. He compares it with one of the sephira of the Kabbalist Tree of Life called Binah. Binah is associated with the feminine/lunar polarity and with the planet Saturn. Simply put, the “Understanding” or “Knowledge” implied by Binah concerns that of duality and limitation in contrast to union in the divine reality. It is the knowledge about the hard realities about life but also the assurance that there is a way to enlightenment in the divine source.   

Crowley says: “This Cup is full of bitterness, and of blood, and of intoxication.” On the one hand, the statement refers to the cup’s association with the sephira Binah. On the other, it refers to its association with the unconscious—the place of dreams and unwieldy thought processes. In achieving self-mastery, the magical worker must strive to know the self and master personal consciousness instead of being mastered or led astray by it. In practice, this can be like walking a razor’s edge teetering between self-actualization and insanity. Like in Dionysian rites, the path is initiatic and typically of a “shamanic” or “Tantric” type.  
Crowley’s statement also refers to sacrifice wherein life gives of itself for life. This concept is strongly seen in the Christian, Mithraic, Bacchic and other pagan mysteries.  


Cauldron and Grail Mysteries

In Gnostic and mystical Greco-Roman/Middle Eastern paganism at the turn of the first millennium CE (the same time as the emergence of early Christianity), the highest idea of God was that of the divine light. The sun was a symbol of this. The vegetation god—that is, the dying and resurrecting god—was a manifestation of this light and sustained life through self-sacrifice, often symbolized by grain and fermented drink. One of the iconic symbols for this concept of life, death, and regeneration was the cup or chalice or the drinking horn/horn of plenty, which, if we travel north, is related to the cauldron.

Although the drinking horn, chalice, or cup were utilitarian and special objects in and unto themselves, they also may be miniaturized versions of the cauldron—which became associated with a “greal” (also spelled “graal” and “greel”) from which we get the word “grail.” We think of the grail as a chalice. In Arthurian legend, it is said to be a vessel that 1) collected the blood of the crucified Christ and 2) was used at the Last Supper either as a chalice that held the wine or a platter on which the pascal lamb was served.  

“Greal’ is an archaic French term for the medieval Latin word “gradale.” A gradale is a wide, deep dish used to serve a fancy meal. Gradale, in turn, is related to the Latin word, gradatim, which means “great” and abundant. Some also say that the word grail is derived from the Latin garalis or cratalis—which also mean “crater,” or “big bowl.”

  In An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present, Doreen Valiente says of the cauldron:

A cauldron is an all-embracing symbol of Nature, the Great Mother. As a vessel, it represents the feminine principle. Standing upon three legs, it recalls the triple moon goddess. The four elements of life enter into it, as it needs fire to boil it, water to fill it, the green herbs to cook it, and the fragrant steam arises into air.

She goes on to say:

 [It] is itself a vessel of transformation, because it takes raw uneatable things and transforms them into food; makes herbs and roots in to medicines and potent drugs; and is the emblem of woman as the greatest form of transformation, who takes the seed of man and transforms it into a child. In a sense, to the pagans all Nature was a cauldron of regeneration, in which all things, men, beasts, plants, the stars of heaven, the lands and waters themselves seethed and were transformed.

Valiente goes on to quote Hargrave Jennings in The Rosicrucians, Their Rites and Mysteries which was published in 1870: “We claim the cauldron of the witches as, in the original, the vase or urn of the fiery transmigration, in which all things in the world change.”      

But although the cauldron is part of legendary witch lore, it did not originate with “witches.” It was an important item in Druidic and Celtic homes and had religious value because of its life-sustaining properties.          

Various Celtic myths, such as those of Cerridwen and Gwion and of Bran-the-Blessed, celebrate the value of the cauldron by referring to it as an instrument of wisdom and regeneration.  In the first myth, the goddess Cerridwen brews wisdom in her cauldron, which she intends to give to her son, Morfran. Some of the brew spills onto the finger of a dwarf-servant named Gwion, who then attains the gift of knowledge. Cerridwen is angered by this. Both characters shapeshift as the one chases the other until Cerridwen, in the form of a hen, swallows Gwion, disguised as an ear of corn. Cerridwen becomes pregnant because of this. Nine months later, she gives birth to Taliesen, the greatest of all the Welsh poets.  In the Celtic legend of Bran-the-Blessed, Bran, a warrior-god, obtains a cauldron of wisdom and rebirth from Cerridwen. The cauldron can resurrect the corpse of dead warriors placed inside it.        

Elements from these myths figure into the Arthurian Grail legend, which combines Christian lore about the chalice used at the Last Supper with more ancient Celtic pagan lore about cauldrons.

Rosicrucian writer Manly P. Hall, says:

There is evidence to support the claim that the story of the Grail is an elaboration of an early pagan Nature myth which has been preserved by reason of the subtle manner in which it was engrafted upon the cult of Christianity. From this particular viewpoint, the Holy Grail is undoubtedly a type of the ark or vessel in which the life of the world is preserved and therefore is significant of the body of the Great Mother—Nature. Its green color relates it to Venus and to the mystery of generation . . .      

He goes on to say that “The earliest Grail legends describe the cup as a veritable horn of plenty. Its contents were inexhaustible and those who served it never hungered or thirsted.” Here he seems to be referring to the Cauldron of Dagda, the supreme deity of the Celts. Note that Dagda means “shining divinity" (derived from Proto-IndoEuropean “Dhagho [brilliant]-deiwos [deity, divinity, “shining one”],” so we are talking about a transcendent solar deity here.          

The cauldron is said to be gifted to the Tuatha de Danaan by the sun-god, Lugh, whose self-sacrifice (although in some early version, the self-sacrifice of his mother) is commemorated during Lughnasadh. In myth, the cauldron of plenty feeds a thousand people and revives warriors after battle.  This regeneration of warriors is believed to be depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron, which is dated to the 1st century BCE.

Form Is Emptiness

Having pointed out the association between the ritual cup and the womb of the Great Mother, the Holy Grail, the cup of sacrifice and regeneration, I would like you to put it together and think out of the box about the ritual cup. 

To summarize:

  •       To modern pagans and Wiccans, the ritual cup represents the Goddess, named by some simply as The Lady of the Moon, and collectively referring to all goddesses that personify the cycles of Nature, Time, and spiritual or occult mysteries.
  •      The ritual cup symbolizes water because cups hold fluid. Thus, the cup represents the water element and its meanings and correspondences.
  •       The cup is associated with the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail, which is related to both Celtic pagan spirituality and Christian legend and spirituality. In this sense, it is the cup of enlightenment and the cup of self-sacrifice and regeneration.
The cup then not only represents the divine feminine but the divine masculine as well: the divine mother and son, which is also the divine sun reflected in the waters of life.

But to say that the cup represents the divine feminine—or the Goddess—or that it or its contents represent the divine masculine—or the solar deity, which essentially is the god of death and resurrection, is to say that the cup is really Us. It represents our body—our form. What it contains is life and spirit, the containment and limitation of which is only seeming. As the cup, we are the microcosm in which the macrocosm is reflected.      

In its association with the West, the realm of the setting sun, the cup symbolizes liminal space—the space between worlds—where the manifest and unmanifest meet.          

In ancient times, waterways were considered to be the pathways between the world of form and the spiritual world of formlessness. Indeed, the cup symbolizes the mystical relationship between form and space, perhaps harkening to the famous line from the Tibetan Buddhist scripture Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra (The Heart Sutra of Supreme Wisdom): “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form. Form is none other than emptiness; emptiness is none other than form.” And again, a passage from the Yoga-Vashishtha , an Advaita Vedantist scripture, says: “The world is in the mind like space in a jar.” These adages speak about the nature of Self and of Reality as well as the relationship between inside and outside, spirit and matter, form and formlessness. In considering this, we can go beyond patent or sentimental ideas about the ritual cup and touch gnosis.


Selected References

-Aleister Crowley. Book ABA.
-Frater UD. High Magick.   Woodbury, Minn: Llewellyn Publications, 2007, 231-233.
-Charles W. King. Gnostics and Their Remains Ancient and Mediaeval. London: David Nutt , 1887(reissued by Kessinger Publishing).
-The Holy Grail. New Advent.
-Doreen Valiente. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present.  Blaine, Wash: Phoenix Publishing, 1973; 57-58.
-Manly P. Hall. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. 2003; 309.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Deconstructing Karma—and Debunking It

He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future. - George Orwell

Karma is a Sanskrit term that means “activity” or “work.” It is derived from the word root kri: to do or to act. It originally referred to attending to religious observances (making offerings to the gods in the appropriate way) and being diligent about one’s culturally defined responsibilities. In this way, it was somewhat conflated with ideas about destiny. It became a term applied to a somewhat scientific observation of cause and effect or action and reaction, and it also came to be used in relation to the idea of merit and demerit, sin and punishment, or punishment and vindication. Parallel ideas existed in the West, and we need to look no further than the Bible for corroboration in coming upon tales in which people mull over what unwitting grievance they or someone else –or some ancestor of theirs—had committed that was the root cause of their lousy luck. We find a treatment of this, in fact, in the Book of Job, in which the idea of “karma” as the modern world now bandies about, is debunked.

I sat through an interesting sermon/lecture at the local Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The guest speaker, the Reverend Deb Morra who is a social worker and mental health professional and an activist for the underserved and disadvantaged, spoke at length about the Book of Job, about “why bad things happen to good people,” and about the pleasure/pain principle that we, as humans, struggle with and interpret. In conclusion, she reminded us that, in the grand scheme of things, pleasure is not a reward and pain is not a punishment. In life, people don’t “get what they deserve”; they just get to be alive and live.

We find the idea of “karma” or the adage, “you reap what you sow,” solacing, especially when we reflect on it in relation to people who have wronged us. (i.e., they will “pay” for it—if not in this life, then in the next). The doctrine of karma, however, is more subtle and complex than this. It needs to be understood if one is to understand and make peace with oneself and have compassion for others.

I once found myself being strongly chided by a Buddhist lama because I questioned his teaching about karma. The lama’s approach was rather simplistic, black and white. In his view, a person could expect to get back an exact reflection of whatever she did and was wholly responsible for whatever ills befell her. This caused some people in his sangha to be meticulously neurotic about their treatment of such things as insects lest obliterating one result in their own reincarnation and demise as a lowly bug.

The lama did not like my argument about how that didn’t make sense in the context of interdependent arising—or perhaps he didn’t like my impudence. The next day, I went on a retreat at a Vedantist ashram. Serendipitously, the theme of retreat was the meaning of karma. In the first lecture of the day, the swami who was facilitating the retreat told us basically what I had told the lama the day before and what I am going to tell you here in this essay. It is also the gist of Job that Rev Morra eloquently related in her sermon to a UU congregation.
Life is full of ups and downs, gains and losses, and hurts and regrets. You know the adage: Shit happens.  And what happens is often a matter of interpretation. The Reverend paraphrased the American Buddhist monk Pema Chodron from the book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times:  If someone turns to you and says, “You’re old,” you might either be very proud (as, say a 5-year-old graduating kindergarten or a 98-year-old who is alive and kicking) or insulted (as, say, a 50-year-old woman, like myself).
Although we reap the consequences of our actions in one way or another (actions lead to reactions), it is presumptuous to make judgments about the quality and the root causes of those consequences. Sometimes things that seem “bad” only seem so because of our self-centered perspective. We judge everything by whether it is a pleasant or painful experience. If it is painful, we say it is “evil” –although we may sometimes draw the conclusion that it happened because we “deserved it.” But if we subject ourselves to transformational processes and take refuge in the mystic energies of those processes, we can be sure to experience pain and upheaval. This is called catharsis. It is what is meant by being purified in the Spirit, and it is a natural consequence of processes related to ego dissolution in the interests of gnosis attained through spiritual practice.     

When “bad things happen to ‘good’ people,” the question should not be “why me?” especially in an age in which pressing a bottom on a remote control or gliding your finger across a pad on an electronic device gives you access to minute-by-minute, blow-by-blows about how really bad millions of other people in the world have it. Because the answer will always be, “Why not you?” And this is sort of what God ended up telling Job in the Biblical fable. “Shut up and take it like a man,” is what he basically told the guy—as if Job had unwittingly been drafted into the Marine Corp, and this is indeed a metaphor for Life.

 It is self-defeating to blame misfortune on something done in the past, particularly if we think that whatever was done occurred in a speculative previous existence. Other persons (such as family members, friends, and others populating our environment) have a strong effect on how we behave and the choices we make such that we cannot be solely at fault for our choices. We are often led into them by the nose like stupid animals who don’t know any better. Indeed, our very selves in the form of ego-personalities are, in part, the epitome and the consequential effect of the persons who surround and influence us, who are themselves the hapless consequences of other hapless influences. Automatons—Programs on automatic.         

In light of this, the point of life is to become more aware and compassionate, and we often can only do this by making mistakes, having regrets, and going through trials.            

In the book of Job, Job asks a bunch of wise friends and God why bad things happened to him despite that he did all the right things to stay in favor with the Divine. The friends tell him to search his soul because he must’ve f@#&ked up somewhere along the line and is getting what he deserved. God, on the other hand, tells Job that God, being who/what he is, can do anything he God-damn pleases arbitrarily and with impunity, and who are puny humans to question him about it. His reasons are mysterious. “Resistance is futile,” and “cleanse your bottoms; it’s going to be bumpy ride.” In this, Job is left with feeling guilt and remorse—not for unknown actions that may have led to current misfortune—but for second-guessing God and presupposing what life is really supposed to be about.       

But is God a meany then and is life that precarious and grueling? This questions and the Biblical fable of Job causes me to make the leap to two other Biblical passages. It causes me to read them in a way I’ve never done before. It takes me out of the realm of glossy sentimentality and into an “ah-hah” experience about the nature of God, self, and the circumstance of being alive. Indeed, it is as if all the pious and pretty jargon written around the lines I will cite are blinds like the flowery piety the fills heretical steganographic Medieval magical grimoire. That is, there is something more, something quite deeper to extract and integrate from the prose.             

The Biblical passages are the First Letter of John 4:16 and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 13.7. In John 4:16, we are told that "God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him." Note that it does not say that God is an old man in the sky; it says that God is love and that we can live “in” It. For people who have any sense of religious philosophy or history or how to put things in context, they would know that when 1st century people talk about Love or Beauty or Order in a philosophical way, they are talking about what God is—Cosmos—Life with a capital L—Manifest Reality. (Uh . . .  “qualified nondualism,” “panentheism.”) In Corinthians 13.7, we are told that “[Love] is always ready to forgive, trust, and endure whatever comes.”  

Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. The knowledge I have now is imperfect; then I will know as fully as I am known.  --I Corinthians 13:12. 

Think about it.     



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Perseus, Medusa, the Hero, Dragon, and Damsel

And after him rushed the unapproachable and unspeakable Gorgones that longed to seize him. As they advanced upon the pale adamantine shield, the weapon rang sharp and clear with a loud clanging. Two serpents with heads curved forward hung about the Gorgones’ waists. The Gorgones tongues were flickering, their teeth were furiously gnashing, and their eyes were fiercely glaring. Upon the awful heads of the Gorgones, great Fear was quaking.

From the Shield of Heracles. 216 ff  by Hesiod, dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE (passage adapted from a [grammatically convoluted] translation by Evelyn-White).

The mythology of Perseus fascinates me. Like the epic Hindu hero and avatar, Krishna, he may have been a real person who live during a proto-historic era and became the stuff of fantastical legend. Both the Mahabharata, which stars Krishna, and the Perseus myth, relate how important dynasties came to flourish. The story of Perseus, however, has very many motifs that are repeated in other western myths and legends—including Biblical legends. More importantly, it is a classic tale about the journey of the hero. I think that elements within it can be interpreted as metaphors about psychospiritual transformation in which chaotic energies are harnessed and integrated into power, wisdom, and true creative force.

In it, we have the hero (Perseus, whose name might mean “destroyer”) representing the solar hero (the son of Zeus and a mortal woman who was born, not through the carnal act but because the god “rained gold” upon Perseus’ mother Danae). He is sent on a contrived quest: to slay the gorgon Medusa, after which he uses the gorgon’s head to slay a sea monster and save the girl of his dreams, Andromeda, who is being sacrificed to it. After that, he goes about numerous other mercenary and political exploits (that include killing relatives in the quest to claim a throne—which was the way it was often done in the “old days” if you look into ancient middle eastern history). In any case, Perseus becomes a well-respected ruler with a beautiful queen by his side and a bunch of kids who further his lineage.

In the portion of the Perseus myth in which Perseus encounters Medusa, we are told that of the three monstrous creatures called gorgones, Medusa (which means “guardian”), is mortal, which is why she is the target to be slain. She and her sisters were the offspring of sea creatures and thus are related to the sea—the primal waters representing the preconscious realm and chaotic primal energy that must be transmuted into real creative force though the power of consciousness. Perseus is aided by several deities to overcome Medusa, namely Athena (logic) and Hermes (mercurial genius). Like other monstrous feminine sea creatures (such as the sirens), Medusa has qualities that are poisonous—or perhaps too profound—for mortal man to experience: gazing upon her directly will turn the viewer to stone. By slaying Medusa (and having the wherewithal to observe her in reflection rather than directly) Perseus conquers wild primal energetic force.

From Medusa’s neck emerge her two otherwise trapped children (conceived through an affair with Poseidon), the winged horse, Pegasus (which means “spring”), and the kingly giant Chrysaor (which means “golden blade”). This has been interpreted to mean that Perseus brought about the end of a drought wherein Pegasus represents the renewed waters and Chrysaor represents grains of wheat. In examining it according to archetypal motifs, we also can interpret it to mean that a wondrous transformation occurred whereby the chaotic and latent primal energy of the hero is transformed into something of beauty, substance, and efficacy.  After all, Pergasus flew up to Mount Olympus where it became a pet of the gods, and Chrysaor became a beneficent king.

Although later (Renaissance) illustrators of the myth show Perseus flying away on Pegasus, Perseus actually travelled around via winged sandals bestowed upon him by Hermes. He comes upon the damsel Andromeda (a name which means “queen of men”) who is chained to a rock as a sacrifice to the sea monster Cetus. Pegasus uses Medusa’s severed head (that is, he used the transformed creative energy that he has mastered) to kill the sea monster (which is just another symbol of the primal chaotic energy that needs to be conquered) and saves and marries Andromeda. Just as Medusa and Athena might be thought of as two poles along a spectrum within the consciousness of Perseus in the earlier part of the myth, Cetus and Andromeda are also two aspects of the same thing—the soul in desperate need of rescue from the chaos it arises from. It is rescued by the light of higher consciousness, represented by Perseus. The monster in a sense becomes the damsel by joining with the animating and integrating solar hero. Thus creative energy manifesting as the individual soul (represented as Andromeda) is redeemed by divine spirit (represented by Perseus). The soul in turn gives form to spirit so that it might participate in creative acts.

As Crowley noted in Liber CDXVIII “. . . the Absolute is called the Crown, God is called the Father, the Pure Soul is called the Mother, the Holy Guardian Angel is called the Son, and the Natural Soul is called the Daughter. The Son purifies the Daughter by wedding her; she thus becomes the Mother, the uniting of whom with the Father absorbs all into the Crown.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

All About the Magical Wand: the quintessential tool of magicians, fairies, witches, and all manner of other magical folk

 Free illustrated pdf booklet History & insight on the
magical wand and inspiration for making your own

Why is the magical wand the quintessential tool of magicians, fairies, witches, and all manner of other magical folk? Why and how would you make a wand of your own? Find out. 

The wand is the quintessential tool associated with the magical worker or occultist. It also is an important ritual tool in Western magic and mysticism. Not Harry Potter swish-n-flick (even though that is great too!). But real magic by real people in real history. --History that belongs to you and me!

My willow wand
Unlike the sword or dagger, which are aggressive magical weapons that cut through space and are traditionally used in banishing operations, the wand is used to command and move energy. As a ritual tool the wand represents the magical will and qualities such as command, heroism, determination, and efficiency.

The famed Victorian-era mage Aleister Crowley has said:

 “The Magick Wand is thus the principal weapon of the Magus; and the ‘name’ of that wand is the Magical Oath.”

A Little History
Just as dinosaurs are thought to have shrunk into birds and small reptiles over the course of evolution, the wand may be a mini-version of the staff or scepter. The staff or scepter is a stylized version of weapons such as the club and pike. The person who held the staff or scepter in ancient communities was the one who held the power.[1]

The wand or staff also may be related to mysticism related to snakes. 

The snake may have been equated with the magical staff and used in fake "miracle working" feats by ancient spiritual teachers.[1] When a snake handler presses on a snake’s head in a certain way, the snake is temporarily paralyzed  so that it takes the form of a staff or a pole. When the “staff” is flung onto the ground, the snake  revives and appears to be a snake again. Such an event is described in the Book of Exodus (7:8-13):

Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, “If Pharaoh says to you, ‘Produce some marvel,’ you must say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down in front of Pharaoh and let it turn into a serpent. To Pharaoh Moses and Aaron went and did as Yahweh commanded. Aaron threw down his staff in front of Pharaoh and the court, and it turned into a serpent.  Then the Pharaoh called for his sages and sorcerers and with their witchcraft, the magicians of Egypt did the same. Each threw his staff down and these turned into serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up the staffs of the magicians.”

Aaron was Moses’ brother and apparently held political or magical power because Moses often is depicted telling him to use his staff to make magical catastrophic events occur. As in stories in the New Testament, the magical actions of the protagonists aren’t considered to be “magic” but acts of God, whereas the exact same actions performed by the enemy/rivals/nonbelievers are labeled “witchcraft.”

A similar scenario occurs in the New Testament Book of Acts in which stories of confrontations between Peter and magoi (mages), are related.[1-4 Like the story of Aaron and the Pharaoh’s wizards, the magic performed by Peter is considered to be a miraculous sign of God, but the magic of Simon and other magi are painted as misguided and diabolical.

Fresco of Jesus raising Lazarus from Dead
And so some controversy exists about whether early Christians thought of Christ as a kind of magician. A third-century fresco discovered in the catacombs of the St. Callisto Chapel in Rome shows Jesus holding a wand in his right hand while raising Lazarus from the dead. In another example from that era, a gold glass plate from the Fourth Century, now housed in the Vatican Library, shows Jesus using a magic wand to raise Lazarus from the dead. In a series of images on Christian sarcophagi dated to the 4th and 5th century, Jesus is depicted using a wand to resurrect Lazarus, turn water to wine, multiply loaves and fish, and heal the widow’s son.[1-4]

The staff/wand also may have had its origins in the staff of Asclepius, Greek god of healing  It is a single serpent encircling a cypress branch—a reference to a certain benign, tree-climbing snake that was common in the Mediterranean.

 The staff represents the power of knowledge and healing and came to be confused with the caduceus of Hermes. Rather than the art of medicine, the caduceus of Hermes represents the balance and union of opposing or complementary forces and the self- mastery that is achieved by the person who can unite opposites.

Witchy Wands

Circe by John William Waterhouse
The first literary reference to a wand, which appears in the Odyssey, does not associate it with male power or sorcery. The wand is wielded by a woman--the sorceress Circe.

 Circe was associated with the goddesses Diana and Hecate, which in turn were later associated with the Fate (pronounced like fa-tay)—Italian fairies.

Italian fairytales were the first place that fairies appear in literature.[5] They are depicted holding wands, equating them with the sorceress Circe. They were the counterpart to more threatening ideas of female power, which also were related to Diana and Hecate--the mythical witch.

 The fairies depicted in Italian fairy lore were different from those in Northern European tradition. Italian fairies were full-sized, elegant, goddess-like women who  protected and performed favors for those mortals  they took a liking to.[5]

They evolved from the idea of the Fates (Roman/latin, Parcae; Greek, Moirae; Teutonic, Norns), who spun, wove, and cut the thread of life. 

Whereas the wand of the male magician or mystic represented masculine will, leadership, and potency, that of the female magician represented the power to weave and ensnare. Rather than a scepter or weapon, the wand of the witch or fairy may have derived from the distaff--a antique tool used to spin thread.

The flipside of the wand-wielding fairy is the mythological witch. Rather than a wand, the witch was depicted with a bifurcated branch—that is, a bune wand, which is a rough distaff—or else a broom.  

 Brooms were not only a kind of wand used for symbolic space clearing but also magical objects for fertility. Jumping the broom, thus, was—and continues to be—part of the marriage rite within folk culture. There is also evidence that brooms handles were used in provocative ways for trippy shamanic adventures involving flying ointment [6]. . . .

 Learn more . . . .

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Selected references

1. Joe Lantiere. The Magician’s Wand Parts 1-4.
2. Michael D. Bailey. Magic and Superstition in Europe A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present. NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2007.
3. Lee M. Jefferson. The Staff of Jesus in Early Christian Art. Religion and the Arts. 2010;14:221-25.
4. William Storage and Laura Maish. Christ the Magician. A survey of ancient Christian sarcophagus imagery.
5. Raffaella Benvenuto. Italian Fairies Fate, Folletti, and Other Creatures of Legend. Journal of Mythic Arts. 2006.
6. John Mann. Murder, Magic, and Medicine. New York: Oxford University Press. 2000.

Excerpt from Chapter  VI The Pyr Sacra Empowerment  in La Maga A Story about Sorcerers and Magi

Leonard knew nothing was askew in the house—only he was, but as he had told his father, whatever it was, it wasn’t “bad.”

 He found Victor. He was the head of his father’s personal cadre of staff-bearers—his bodyguards. He lived with a wife and a pack of boxers on the property in a nice-sized stone cottage apart from the nestling of cottages in which the household help lived. He was a husky man with a strong but calming demeanor who approached his role as a chief attendant to the Consul with unwavering and ungrudging solemnity and faithfulness. Leonard found him at home, where he was propped on a sofa, watching a movie, and savoring pretzels and oatmeal stout while his wife was gardening in the moonlight.

He and Leonard and the canine guard skulked around. The dogs sniffed here and there, but neither the dogs nor that staff-bearer were willing to descend into the dungeon of de Lux senior’s tower.

 It was gloomy, with a single low-volt lighting fixture with which to illumine the shelves housing artifacts, worts, potions and props, organic materials, and metal plates and parchments of wicked sigils and defensive glyphs. The room had a well and a pit with a flue that took fumes of burned things through a tunnel in the ground to the outside away from the house. Nothing unusual seemed to be there.

 In the ground floor studio, Leonard found the big staff. His father didn’t tote it around in the way too many magical persons did their own staffs. The man could summon it through the ethers and into his grip on demand. The talent was fast becoming a lost art, primarily because persons weren’t as martial these days as in the past. (Schools didn’t allocate much time to perfecting the practice, and instead of staffs, more and more younger persons were carrying wands, which were more easily concealed and portable.)

Wands and staffs typically had a wood core, generally oak, yew, holly, ash, rowan, cherry, or willow. They all had specific magical properties. Oak was commanding; yew bridged the here and hereafter; holly drew on the energies of the element of fire as ash did those of water; rowan was mercurial, cherry good for love magic, and willow for moon magic and healing.

The wood would be sheathed in a full coat or lattice of metals: iron, silver, platinum, gold, copper, bronze, nickel, etc. and studded with special stones. The staff that Leonard’s father had asked him to retrieve was made of oak and hawthorn sheathed in a serpentine design of iron and tin, spotted with chips of black and red stones. An onyx finial of the sea-goat Capricornus—the zodiacal sign under which Leo de Lux had been born—was mounted on a jewel-crusted girdle of platinum on the top of the staff.

Oak for majesty, hawthorn for the power of lightning, onyx for smiting magical attacks, and the metals of Mars and Jupiter. Capricorn: the sea-goat; the southern gate of the sun; the Babylonian Ea, god of wisdom; Grecian Aegipan, restorer of Zeus’ might in defeating the Titans; saturnine, mercurial, and spanning the heights to the depths. This staff was a martial and lethal weapon but not because it made a good cudgel.

Victor jumped back when Leonard grasped the staff. The dogs barked and whimpered.

 “What are you going to do with that, Lenny?” the man nervously asked.

 “My dad told me to get it,” Leonard replied, “to protect myself, I think.”

 “Watch where you point it, son,” Victor cautioned. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Elephants, Eagles, and Crocodiles: Excerpt from La Maga

“And what are these creatures on your dress?” Madame Whitehead inquired and waved to Leo and a man who seemed to be Mister Whitehead. “Come and listen. The maga is going to tell us a story about her dress.”

“Alright then, let’s see it in color—the story, I mean. Leo, you’re the expert,” the gentleman said.

“An illustrated tale?” Leo mused.

“Do you want to see Leonard do it?” Sofia grinned. “Lenny. Come here,” she anxiously chanted.

A group converged around Sofia and Leonard in the center of the patio to hear the story.

“Okay. Now make it nice. Nothing cheesy, Leonard,” Sofia admonished.

“First tell us what these creatures are, La Maga Magus—the one’s on your dress,” Miss Noumen requested.

Sofia answered, “Elephants, eagles, and crocodiles.” Then she began: “Once, there was an elephant.”

With a fidget of fingers, Leonard created a handsome-looking, scaled down elephant, the size of a chair. It had big, winnowing ears and long, thick tusks and was floating in space.

“We need an Indian elephant. That one’s African,” Sofia said. “Sorry, Lenny.”

The ears had to shrink, and the tusks had to be much thinner although Sofia told Leonard that they could be longer and curly.

“Make the scene junglely with a watering hole,” she instructed.

The elephant began to plod in place while the flora within the courtyard grew denser and more enveloping. The creature reared its trunk and let out a squeak.

“Okay. So, once there was an elephant,” she stuttered again, with her usual goofy bravado. “And it went to go soak in a lake when a humongous crocodile—not an alligator, Leonard, a crocodile—caught the elephant’s leg in its jaws.”

The ladies screamed. A creature heretofore resembling a rock jumped out and gripped the elephant’s right hind leg. Bellowing and thrashing began. The ruckus spilled beyond the magical mirage’s boundaries causing the walls and pillars within the courtyard to shudder, the trees to bend and sway. Quelled swamp water doused everyone and made a mess.

“Good show, Leonard!” the impressed guests cried. They blotted their mussed hair and attire.

“The crocodile was going to drag the elephant under and have a tasty meal, but in that moment, as the elephant faced its death, it remembered that, in a past life, it was a human king who was very devoted to the Divine Pervading Principle of the Universe, Lord Vishnu. I’ll do that one, Lenny,” Sofia interjected and went on: “The elephant prayed to Lord Vishnu but nothing happened. So then he prayed again, and nothing, ‘cause . . . gods are like that.” 

The thrashing and splashing, rumbling and roar continued with heightened violence. Sofia hollered her story above it: “Finally, just as the elephant was about to be overcome by the crocodile, its heart filled with the desire for—not life but . . . redemption. Nearly with its last breath, it called out one last time to the Divine Lord of the Universe. And then, the deity finally showed up, wafting around on his mighty giant eagle.”

With hands swirling in the air, Sofia materialized an image of a white eagle astride which was a handsome pale blue deity bejeweled, garlanded, and clad in orange-yellow fabric. A pack of arrows were strapped to his back. With his four arms, he held a conch shell, a discus, a gilded club, and an ornate archer’s bow.

The eagle and the deity placidly soared in loops overhead that Leo—inspired—doctored into a luminously endless galactic sky. Indeed, he obscured the boundaries of the courtyard with a wave of his hand, creating a jungle. Startling caws of birds and small primates, moisture, heat, and smells of musk, detritus, exotic flora, and loam enveloped the audience. Wild creatures lurked in the distance.

“Although on the brink death, the elephant plucked a lotus from the lake and held it aloft as an offering to the deity,” Sofia continued. “Acknowledging the gesture, Lord Vishnu whirled his discus to stun the crocodile. He dismounted his eagle, and—this should be good, Len—grasping the crocodile’s jaws, he tore the creature apart.”

Guts spattered across the room and doused all who were near. Squeals, grunts, and laughter resounded.

Quietly amused, Sofia wiped her forehead and picked bloody bits of grizzle from her hair. Lord Vishnu, spotless despite the grisly conquest, flew on his eagle into the sky’s galactic radiance. The elephant, showered in flowers, trumpeted and assumed a kneeling stance. Sofia recited the last stanza of a prayer:

“In the early morning, I praise that great god who holds the conch and the discus with which he tore apart the crocodile to relieve the elephant’s great distress. He who removes all fear, him I praise so that the sins committed by me in previous births may be destroyed.”

Sofia placed her hands over her face because the words still made her cry.

“That was very sweet,” the ladies said. The men heartily applauded and pat Leo on the back because his son was so clever.

Excerpt from Chapter 9 Elephants, Eagles and Crocodiles from La Maga A Story about Sorcerers and Magi by Soror ZSD23 available from 
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On Michael and Lucifer: Two Ends of the Stick

Michael slaying the dragon by Albrecht Durer

A well-known legend, found in the Book of Enoch and other Biblical and apocryphal texts tells the tale of a revolt in Heaven. In it, a certain key archangel named Lucifer gets his nose in a snit because God tells the angels that they must bow down to and serve his latest invention: mankind.
Lucifer announces that he will not bow down to anyone or anything besides God Himself. A bunch of angelic hosts side with him. The brouhaha escalates into a war that is resolved when the archangel Michael defeats Lucifer and throws him and his renegades out of Heaven. The Lucifer myth is conflated with a similar myth found in Biblical and apocryphal texts about the archanagel Samael/Satanel’s fall from Heaven.          

Lucifer was a name of the morning star (the planet Venus) in the ancient world. (For an interesting run down on the term Lucifer throughout the ages, see .  In short, the myth of Lucifer’s fall from Heaven, in part, may have been just another version of how the morning star came to be separated from the other stars of the night sky. And the story of the war in Heaven is also said to be a veiled story about the fall of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar who identified himself with the planetary intelligence Lucifer (Venus). 

Venus is the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon, respectively. Nevertheless, it cannot be seen at night like the other planets, nor can it be seen at midday, like the sun. Some myths about Venus explain why this is so: first, Venus was a bit of a cuckolding tease and vixen, and so was isolated by the other god-form planets. Second, it was fancifully suspected that Venus shined so brightly because she wanted to take over the status of the key deities of ancient Roman culture, Saturn and Jupiter, and was thus ousted from the night sky because of such overreaching ambition. 

Like Venus, Lucifer/Satanel of the Judeo-Christian tradition was a celestial entity who was full of himself and suffered a spectacular fall from grace because of it. For me, the myth is a moralistic tale about having the appropriate spiritual attitude. Lucifer was associated with the sin of pride (and Satan with wrath) in 1589, when Peter Binsfeld paired each of the 7 deadly sins with a demon who tempted people by means of the associated sin. As it relates to Lucifer, the idea was the self-importance and arrogance got the best of Lucifer, leading him disobey the will of God. I see something else in the myth, though. Although I have not seen it put this way, I think that the moral of the story is that one serves and “loves” God by serving and loving mankind, not by paying homage to a code or ideology. One might read a similar moral into the variant myth of Satan’s fall from Heaven. Satan, we are told, was a rather sadistic archangel who relished meting out God’s punishments. He then got above himself in his sense of importance and power. We are told that he sought to make his throne “higher than the clouds over the earth and resemble ‘My power’ on high.” Because of this Satan-Sataniel was hurled down (by God’s champion, the archangel Michael, a name with means “Who is Like God”), with his angelic renegades, “to hover in the air above the abyss.”        


In an important Hindu myth, we have a similar entity, Mahishasura, the “Buffalo demon,” whose name has figuratively been translated as “The Great Ego.” Just as the archangel Michael overcomes an entity who personified gratuitous self-will, ambitious, pride, and arrogance, the Great Goddess of Hinduism, who is described as the personification of the combined energy of the gods, overcomes an entity who also represents all that is base and self-ingratiating in the human character.            

Although some persons look at these myths and think of them as tales about good entities battling bad entities in some other dimension for the benefit of humankind, they are really metaphorical dramas in which the higher self is depicted as overcoming the lower self. This is what ideally occurs in the course of spiritual practices, such as yogic and hermetic work. It is sometimes tumultuous and often not “fun.” In it, one’s perceptions, habits, and conditioning must be broken down to liberate what was there before neuroses and artificial conventions took hold.             

Some years ago, I was doing meditations on the archangels of the four quarters. When I first began doing meditations on Archangel Michael, the impressions were a little troubling. I would find myself submerging into difficult childhood memories related to current patterns of emotional conditioning. Or else, I would simply feel odd and exhausted about the iconography in which the angel was fated to be continually stabbing and beating back a demon clawing at his feet. In time, I wondered what part of the iconographic image I mostly was: the demon, the struggle, the struggling angel, or something valorous and heroic.         

In time, however, the imagery became less about tension and struggle and about valor and even virility. I began to experience Michael as the ideal masculine, associated with the sun, fire, light, heroism, power, potency, self-control, and any all positive masculine attributes. I equated the angel’s signature staff with the Tantric lingam, which although thought to represent a phallus, also (and some Hindu commentators say only) represents the pillar of the light of creation.           

I view Michael as the transformational element—the Azoth and the Kundalini—through which the dragon and the angel are two poles of a single shaft—just as the leaden black sun of Saturn becomes the golden Sun of illumination and the coiled serpent becomes a splendorous goddess. Michael represents the courageous path of return from darkness to light.

Excerpt from Chapter 8: 7 [The Chariot] A Giant Pink Dragon from The Fallen Fairy

 A breeze swept over her and a light source flashed. It made Bella startle. She turned to see who had come upon her, but no one was there.
She closed her eyes and envisioned the sky as if jettisoned into the vault of night: the myriad of stars spied when the evening was clear and the moon was new. The scintillation before her eyelids was merely the effect of over-breathing from stress and sobbing. Still, with wet eyes and bitter endearment, she held the image of Michael in her mind and while uttering the name envisioned his angelic namesake. Micha-el, Who is like God: a towering archangel, shining white and made of fiery light who subdues chaos and guides and protects souls as they traverse the spheres. The crown of the secret fire and guardian of the interspaces between the end and beginning.

Bella let it embrace her. She imagined it being virile and great, like Michael had been. She let it pity her tenderly and gently command the cessation of tears. Its potency grazed her face. Her sinuses, impacted with bitter tears, cleared. Then she could breathe. A calm feeling overcame her.

So she rested with that feeling of communion with that presence (whether it came from within or without) until dusk descended and then night. Then Bella went home. That would be the end of visits to Michael’s apartment.

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