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Morvoren – Music for The Devil – Interview with Anna Dowling, Gemma Gary and Jane Cox on their Latest Album

Morvoren Music: Anna Dowling, Gemma Gary and Jane Cox
Morvoren Music: That is the project by the »Troy Books« Publishers Gemma Gary (Bodhran) and Jane Cox (Guitar, synths and bouzouki), completed by Anna Dowling who joins for violin and vocals

Most readers will be familiar with Gemma Gary’s work on Traditional Witchcraft and connected titles from her home publishing house »Troy Books«. Most probably they will reserve – I know I do – a very special place in their bookshelves for this distinctive publishing house from Cornwall and their beautifully illustrated, edited, and bound books on traditional and mostly – cornish – witchcraft. So it came as exciting news to me, when I discovered at the beginning of last year (2020), that very soon the very same people attempt to occupy such a special place in our witchy musical playlists: »Morvoren« – that is music for the Devil (and his friends) or put differently: the invocations from Gemma Gary’s book »The Devil’s Dozen – Thirteen Craft Rites of the Old One« turned into music. This for, Gemma took on the Bodhran – a kind of Irish framed drum and the percussion, while Jane Cox plays the guitar, synths and the bouzouki – a long necked lute – obviously the Cornish The Bouzouki is a flat backed Irish one in Irish tuning, not the greek type. New, but essential in this lineup is violinist Anna Dowling, who does not only play on her pyrographed violin (she sometimes also uses it as a guitar), but who also acts as a composer and gives the entire ensemble her voice.

Back then I took the chance to meet the three girls for her show at the Book launch party for Willmar Taal’s »The Gnome Manuscript« (Troy Books) at the Atlantis Bookstore in London, where they had a magic performance. During their loaded concert, two copies of the »Witches All« couldn’t help but literally jump out of the shelf and a fully charged camera decided to get the batteries drained in no time, so most of the concert was not filmed… Now, 9 months later, their first album was born and shipping started now, about one year later. On that occasion, Anna Dowling, Gemma and Jane were so kind to give us an interview for theoldcraft.com

Morvoren logo - black white
Morvorens logo – as the Cornish name suggests (mor: sea and voren: maiden) it builts on the idea of a mermaid

AH: What does Morvoren mean? What does it mean to you specifically and why did you choose it as a band name for this project?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: It is said to mean ‘mermaid’ in Cornish from mor ‘sea’ and voren, aspirated form of moren ‘maiden’, it is associated with the Mermaid of Zennor, a mysterious local legend from the small coastal village in West Cornwall. I think the liminal nature of the mermaid suits our music well!

Gemma Gary / Morvoren: Yes, it is the liminality of the ‘merfolk’ that made the name appealing to me, and suited the landscape in which the project was born, surrounded as we are on three sides by the sea. Merfolk are also symbolic of the initiate, operating in both the spiritual world (symbolized by the sea) and the material world, and Cornwall has its own version of traditional stories in which magical powers were gained by those who interacted favorably with a mermaid.

AH: It took a while after the recording and announcement of the album at last Samhain Eve to finally appear. Where can it be bought, where to will it be shipped and how can we get it if we want it in our digital playlist?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Good things come to those who wait! We experienced a bit
of Covid delay whilst recording, however we happy to announce that our album is now
available to buy from our webpage ( www.morvorenmusic.com ), we are shipping physical copies worldwide, you can also purchase a download version from there too.

The devils dozen - hardback edition with gold print of horned witches god
»The Devil’s Dozen – Thirteen Craft Rites of the Old One« by Gemma Gary has fast become cult book for practitioners of traditional witchcraft. It contains thirteen chapters with rites and invocations dedicated to the horned witches god.

AH: The music was inspired by Gemma’s “The Devils Dozen”, the lyrics are based on the rituals – what is the scope of the music (enjoyment or ritual, or both?)

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I think it quite happily fits both. The music can be enjoyed in its own right, however, as an added bonus the lyrical content can be used for rituals. I have often memorised text to a tune, so hopefully it will help people to remember the incantations through music!

Jane Cox / Morvoren: For me it’s equally the music and Gemma’s words, when I first read the ‘Devils Dozen’ manuscript I was just loved how poetic Gemma’s invocations were and loved the book for that reason. As is kind of well-known, I’m not a practicing witch which surprises some people considering I’m with Gemma and what we do. I express my connection to nature and the changing seasons through music and festival. That’s not to say I haven’t been involved in a great many rituals over the years. The invocations really spoke to me and I knew they were special. It was quite a while before I had the light bulb moment where I thought they would work with music really well. It stayed just a thought for quite a while though as we had a lot going on in our lives at that time.

As I was thinking about who we might work with on the project we met Anna through the Penzance Montol mid-winter festival community band Raffidy Dumitz. I was drawn right
away to her amazing playing and talent, one day when talking to Anna she revealed that
she had some of Gemma’s books and soon after that I joined the dots that she was our
girl!. I had no idea atto that point that she could also sing. So, I put the idea to her and
right away she said yes and added “I sing a bit as well”. A is evident, “a bit” really
should have been “I have an amazing voice”.

After that point our busy life got even busier and a house move to be closer to my
elderly mother in Devon was needed. After the move and things calmed down I gave
Anna a call and asked if she was still interested and the rest is history. The first demo
songs she sent us were amazing so Morvoren was a band from that point.

So for me the music is very special and I enjoy playing the tunes immensely, they have a
deep significance as they are very dear to my heart. I also hope that the more meditative synth and drum- based tunes will be useful for ritual. We plan to do a lot more music like that for ritual in the future.

AH: So if the music was inspired, by The Devil’s Dozen, do we have a track for every rite, or how many there are?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: There are tracks for most of the rites, I picked the longest first as they were songs just waiting for a melody. Gemma’s writing is perfect for transforming into music and it flowed very naturally.
I thought we should stick to thirteen, being the devil’s dozen! The titles of the songs have been chosen to reflect the nature of the chapter they are from.

  1. I conjure Thee
  2. Dark Bull
  3.  Spirit of the Wise
  4. Devils Candle
  5. Pace the Round
  6. The Wild Hunt
  7. Hidden Path
  8. Blasting Thorn
  9. Come Bucca
  10. Hallowes Night
  11. Old Goat God
  12. The Man in Black
  13. Lords Prayer
Anna Dowling playing the pyrographed violin
Anna plays a self-pyrographed violin, featuring a mermaid on the front, and a ship on the ocean on the rear side of the violin. Pyrography is the art of painting on wood through burn marks. Besides the esthetics, Anna prefers the sound over the sound of the varnished violins.

AH: Which one is your favorite and why?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I enjoyed the composition process for all the tracks. Quite often I come up with the melody first, then fit in the chords and arrangement around the track. However the track Come Bucca was one of my favorites as the melody just appeared in my head… ready composed!

There were a few mysterious goings on in our house whilst I was recording. I live in an old granite cottage that has a lot of history and a few resident spirits, whilst recording I certainly noticed that they were listening. Unusual noises and sightings are fairly regular here, but whilst recording and singing lines of the invocations repeatedly, with intent it seemed to intensify. My eldest son is also very sensitive and would wake up in the night after recording sessions after seeing and hearing people in his room! (I went in with full cleansing measures after!). We also heard footsteps in the rooms upstairs and feet moving at an incredible unnatural speed drumming on the floor. John (my husband) was mixing and engineering the album and he was poked several times during the recording
by an unseen person. After a few tracks I decided I would record in a circle with a candle lit as a protective measure. I also noticed a bit of activity after I recorded the Lords Prayer backwards! I loved recording that one, it was on a Sunday morning and the birds were singing loudly in the garden…I left them on the track. It was a challenge I enjoyed as I had to think about how it would sound reversed, so adjusted my singing and piano accordingly, I think it creates quite an atmospheric effect.

Jane Cox / Morvoren: I love them all but ‘Blasting Thorn’ I guess if I had to pick one as it’s so much fun to play and upbeat, also the words are very powerful. I also have a bit of a soft spot for ‘A Devil’s Candle’ as Anna based that on a tune a I wrote years ago, I’m not a composer by any means but one day this tune popped out when I was playing around on my guitar.

Gemma Gary / Morvoren: It really is difficult to pick favourites, I’m so delighted with the job Anna has done in turning things I’d only ever heard spoken in ritual into full-blown songs. I second her earlier point about the usefulness in aiding memory – there is one particular call in the book I have for some reason always struggled to remember fully in ritual, and so I’ve often changed the words on the spot. Since having the song version in my head the words come to mind effortlessly.

‘A Devil’s Candle’ is one that I have a particularly soft spot for – it is a tune of Jane’s I am particularly fond of. It was called ‘The Greyhound’ and we’d quickly come to associate it with our beloved hound Inky. What Anna has done with the tune has brought an added dimension and made it something quite spectacular. Another one I love is ‘I conjure Thee’. As the invocations of the virtues of the crossroads it sets the scene for the rest of the songs, just as its invocations set the scene for ritual.

AH: Jane, once surprisingly revealed, that she is actually not a practicing witch, and that she does not feel the calling, as she puts it. How about you, Anna, are you a witch?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Yes I am. I realized I was when I was a young girl. I always felt different and had an affinity with nature, history and being outdoors rather than your more usual teen activities. I had a few experiences when I was young, around 13 years, I was practicing my violin and heard footsteps approaching the bedroom door, I
went in a rage to shout at my younger brother for messing about whilst I was practicing,
only to find there was nobody there. This happened regularly when I was practicing.
Which I now recognize is a way of going into trance. I also saw things moving off the
mantle piece and clocks jumping off the wall! I asked my mother about it and she said
she saw things too. After then I tried finding books on witchcraft, but only came across
more popular wiccan style writers. I quickly found this was something that I didn’t
resonate with and went about practicing in my own way. It was only years later when I
read Gemma’s Cornish book of ways that I felt an affinity…and realized I was a
traditional witch and had been doing things that way intuitively. It was an amazing
feeling to find that people practiced in the way that I did!

AH: How did you find to Witchcraft or maybe better, how came it Witchcraft found
you?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I think witchcraft finds you. If it’s in your blood it’s difficult
to ignore! Unfortunately, I think many people are out of tune with nature and their own
inner voice, if you listen you find out what you need to know and what to do. I think I’m
lucky to have a hereditary line of craft, I remember my mother using tarot
cards and I have a family deck.

AH: How does your practice look like? Do you practice daily? And how does it
influence your every day life?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I practice when I can. I have a busy life with 5 children!
In our house we follow the wheel of the year and I make time to keep in tune with the
moon cycle. I often take long walks around the coastpath as it is an excellent way of
feeling the land energies and meditation.

AH: How did you, Gemma and Jane actually met and how was the idea born to put the invocations into music?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: It was in Penzance through the Raffidy Dumitz band. Though it was Jane’s idea to form a band! I already had a few of Gemma’s books before I met them both, which I think was at my first Montol rehersal in 2014, the first tune I sent them was Hallowe’s Night, I remember worrying if they would like it!

AH: Do you meet often?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Not at the moment due to the pandemic, but we’rere looking forwards to rehearsals and gigs hopefully soon.

Jane Cox / Morvoren: Before Covid we got together about every couple of weeks and spent whatever time we could practicing and developing Morvoren. When it camen time to start recording the album we had a few sessions but of course Covid stopped us meeting up. After that I would play along with our recordings most days for practice, to be honest it’sit is something that has helped me though the lockdowns as music is something I have to do, I miss playing and sharing the experience so much, so that was the next best thing I could do. When it came to finishing the album we had to record our parts separately, laying our parts down over Anna’s and we finally managed to finish the album. We could not have done it without the amazing help and encouragement from Anna’s husband John who is an awesome banjo player. He also mixed the album and has a wonderful ear for it, we are very lucky to have him onboard with the project.

AH: What are your plans for the future, and the rest of year and thereafter? Will there be more shows/concerts and which are the ones you already can announce as far as we can plan that given the pandemic?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Hopefully once the world returns back to normal, we will be able to get out gigging again. We have a few ideas for further albums brewing in the cauldron which we will hopefully be working on soon.

Jane Cox / Morvoren: As Anna said we are hoping to be able to get out gigging again which I miss so much. We also want to shoot some more music videos for the current album when restrictions are lifted. We also have a lot of ideas for other albums based on Gemma’s words and also ritual music so it’s going to be interesting.

AH: Will these also be based on lyrics by Gemma or was this a one-time project and maybe concept-album?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I love writing to Gemmas lyrics, so we will keep working
with her words, they lend themselves beautifully to music, but I also have a few songs of
my own that I might throw in at some point!

Cornish Guising costume
Guising is a Cornish winter mumming tradition, which initially was practiced between Christmas and the Twelfth Night, the last night of Christmas (5th or 6th January). Today it may be practiced also at other times of the year, such as for the Dark Gathering at Halloween, in Boscastle, Cornwall.

AH: You guys are involved in “guising”. What exactly is this and what does it mean?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Guising (pronounced geeze-ing) is an old tradition from Cornwall in particular, though it can certainly be found in the other counties. The idea is to have a disguise, so you can enjoy creating ‘mis-rule’ over the dark winter months. There are different styles, wearing animal masks, cross dressing, mock formal and tatters.

Jane Cox / Morvoren: Anna explained it very well, for me it’s an outlet for my mischievous side! Putting on a mask and taking to the streets and pubs to entertain puts me in a whole different mindset! The idea of Misrule is to be mischievous and be more daring and do things you might not normally do and act other worldly, it’s very liberating. Sadly due to our move we haven’t been involved in the Penzance festivals since moving away but we have stuff planned for when life gets back to something approaching normal. We also have introduced it into Morvoren as along with our original material we play guising tunes. We have a part of our set where we play these tunes dressed in guise costume complete with masks. We get the audience up serpent dancing as well which is a dance where everyone links hands and weaves in and out of things and people, it always goes down well.

AH: Where do these costumes come from? Which ones are yours (and why/what is their significance)?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: All costumes tend to be home made, as it adds personality and individuality to them.
I have hat with a veil, so it doesn’t interfere with singing or my glasses! Though I do have an owl costume that I wear on odd occasions and an Oss called Tarosvan Mor. I made the Oss from an old cow skull that my husband found, it took some work to create
though I had help from Gemma and Jane who had me a few Osses before.

pyrographed violin - mermaid motive
A pyrographed violin with mermaid motif, spinning the associations of the name »Morvoren« further.

Gemma Gary / Morvoren: Making masks, Osses and costumes for guising has been a labour of love. To date, Jane and I have made four Osses – three mare skull Osses and one ram skull Oss. I was the original ‘rider’ of one of our mare Osses, Kasek Nos (Cornish for ‘night mare’) in which I would dance during the Montol festival through the streets of Penzance and around a large bonfire in the middle of an often very muddy park. It was a wonderful way of manifesting the force and virtue of the seasonal tide, but enormously hard work and is really better suited to someone stronger and more physically capable of carrying the sheer weight. I took on the ‘teaser’ role instead for a while before Jane and I moved to be closer to her mother. Kasek Nos and another Oss – Pen Hood – are now looked after for us by their current riders, the other two Osses were sadly pinched! We have plans to make more Osses, but won’t be letting them out of our sight! Jane and I have also made a number of masks, such as a Cornish Chough (a member of the crow family), an owl, a hare and a badger which is currently Jane’s favourite. I tend to wear a veil mostly as it’s more comfortable. The important thing is that element of disguise, and the ability to let the persona be overtaken or ‘ridden’ by those chaotic and otherworldly forces given free rein for the night at the nadir of the year.

AH: Speaking of music … which are your own musical preferences, and who does inspire you… When it comes to music in general … And occult-themed or styled music

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I love listening to all styles of music, though I have always had a special love for folk and roots musicians. I studied as a classical violinist, though I would always play Irish jigs and western swing as well as my classical pieces.
I’ve been inspired by many artists over the years, however I think Rufus Wainwright is one of my all-time heroes!

Jane Cox / Morvoren: I was a teenager in the late seventies and I adored electronic music, Gary Numan and Kraftwerk OMD amongst others had a big impact on me which is evident today I guess as I play a bit of synth in Morvoren. I never really liked a lot to the mainstream pop but was always drawn to the more unusual stuff and often introduced music to friends they would not normally have heard. Divo was another band that I loved and turned people on to. I adored ‘The Cramps’, I loved the punk psycho billy style and their versions of old tunes. I had the pleasure of seeing them play live in the 80’s and they were amazing, they had such stage presence. Their music was always a little off beat and unpolished which I love. I also love folk music, I think The Pogues were sort of my first introduction into folk music.

Gemma Gary / Morvoren: My musical tastes tend to differ depending on mood or what I happen to be doing. I have loved Classical music from a young age, one of my first tape cassettes as a child was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, another was a compilation of harpsichord and chamber music. Alongside this I adored punk, particularly Siouxsie and the Banshees and have long been a bit of a folkie too with a love of Clannad, Steeleye Span, Pentangle etc. I adore the often experimental and improvised strangeness of the Third Ear Band and
have even worked ritual to the backdrop of their 1969 Alchemy album!

AH: When is the next time we will hear from you?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: On our album very soon! Plus I think we might have a new
music video or two appearing over the year.

AH: Ok, then let’s come to our two traditional questions: first: what is your top ten book list and second: what is your take on Aleister Crowley?

Anna Dowling / Morvoren: With Aleister Crowley…I think he’s fascinating as a man and certainly character. I have a few of his books and have found them quite hard to read but interesting. His style of magic doesn’t fit in with my own practice, but he was certainly detailed! He came to Cornwall a few times, and there’s rumours of him performing a few rituals down in Zennor.

My top ten books (This is super difficult as I have too many books and love them all!):

  1. Devils Dozen… beautifully written practical book. The first time I read it I knew this was the right book for me!
  2. Cornish book of ways… again Gemma’s gorgeous writing style and artwork, great for beginner witches and filled in knowledge gaps for me. I think I read it all without putting it down.
  3. mastering witchcraft by Paul Huson, a vintage number but very practical. I like his spells and charms.
  4. lord of the rings… Tolkien. Must have read it at least 4 times! It keeps drawing me back!
  5. the weird stone of brisingamen by Alan Garner… a book from my childhood that spurred on a love of folklore and wizards, I never looked back and always knew there was something else in the world after that book.
  6. sabbats by edain McCoy… I bought this as a teenager, it was my first reference point for the wheel of the year and I like the informative historical context.
  7. natural magic Doreen Valiente… beautiful book, easy to ready and informative. She’s one of my hero’s!
  8. under the bramble arch Corrine Boyer… I love my herbal remedies and foraging for medicinal plants. This book includes some folklore, practical spells and lovely recipes.
  9. hedgerow medicine Julie burton-Seal… my favourite herbal bible! I’ve made most of the remedies in this book. Useful for myself and my family.
  10. treading the mill …Nigel Pearson… I love Nigel’s sense humour and writing style, it’s informative, accessible and a great read. I’d recommend this to anybody just starting out on the path.

Jena Cox / Morvoren: Surprisingly perhaps for a publisher I was never an avid reader of books as such. I read some science fiction as a child as I loved Star Trek and Doctor who. I loved Isaac Asimov’s ‘I Robot’ and in particular the short story “Runaround” because it explored the 3 laws of robotics, the rules that should govern AI. As a child I didn’t fully grasp the full implications of it, but it stayed with me. Of course these days I do a lot of reading as there are always manuscripts to review.

I was always I guess a nerdy child and loved science, chemistry was one of my fav and best subjects at School, perhaps because I have always had an enquiring mind, hence being drawn to science fiction I guess.

I also loved fantasy tales, we read ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ at School both of which I loved.

As an animal lover I loved the James Herriot books and read ‘It Shouldn’t happen to a vet’ having grown up in the countryside in wellies the book struck a chord with me.

Moving on back in the 90’s I read a book I got for my Dad that he wanted titled Quantum Golf’! It’s an odd title but a very interesting book and a great read even if you don’t play golf. It’s a book that was supposed to help golfers improve their game through meditation and imagining playing the perfect game. I read it out of curiosity and loved it, my dad swore that it vastly improved his game.

Of course I have to include some of our book, Gemma’s books of course and of course top of the list is ‘Traditional Witchcraft a Cornish book of Ways’, as it’s the book launched Troy Books. I loved Gemma’s poetic style of writing and her ability to put you in the places she so describing. I knew the moment I read the first draft of the book that it was going to change our lives, which it did.

‘The Devils Dozen’ of course because the invocations were the inspiration for Morvoren.

Graham Kings book the ‘British book of spells and charms’ is another favourite as Graham explores how we have integrated magic into our every day lives and don’t really know it. Who didn’t chant ‘rain rain go away and come again another day’ as a child! Basically a spell. It’s a fascinating book that explores this and one that really educated and entertained me.

Also Cheryl Straffons book ‘Between the Realms’ and Alex Langstone’s book from ‘Granite to Sea’, both explore the folklore of my beloved Cornwall so are firm favourites because of that.

Gemma Gary / Morvoren: The first book I remember being completely enthralled by as a child was ‘The Reluctant Vampire’ by comedian Eric Morecambe, so that will always be a favourite. I remember being fascinated also by a book my grandparents had about lycanthropy and included rituals for becoming a werewolf such as by wearing a belt of wolfskin. I cannot remember what it was called but will have to track it down one day. The ‘AA Book of the Countryside’ was another favourite with great snippets of information on a wide variety of things such as British trees, birds and folklore. My father gave me the wonderful ‘Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain’ with its beautiful cover featuring the Dorset Ooser. Sadly it was ‘borrowed’ many years ago and never returned, along with another favorite ‘A Folk Herbal’ by Jon Hyslop and Paul Ratcliffe which is a little magical treasure-trove. Craft-wise I have always had a soft spot for the books of Doreen Valiente and always recommend ‘The Rebirth of Witchcraft’ and ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’ in particular to those first setting out to explore the Craft. Personal favourites in my own early explorations include ‘Popular Romances of the West of England’ by Robert Hunt, ‘Cornish Feasts and Folklore’ by M.A. Courtney and ‘The Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor’ by Ruth E. St Leger-Gordon.

One could describe Aleister Crowley as a terrible person in many respects, certainly, but a genius and pioneer in others. The breadth of his contribution to and influence upon modern occultism cannot be denied.

AH: Thank you!

Interview: Simon Costin and the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic - Front View with Central door, pentagram and witch on broom
Entrance to the »Museum of Witchcraft and Magic«. While the »MWM« logo is a recent development, the witch flying on a broom has been (with some interruptions) on the doors since the beginning. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

The »Museum of Witchcraft and Magic« celebrates its 60th anniversary this year on the mystic-romantic shores of Boscastle, Cornwall, and at the same time can prepare for its 70th birthday next year, 2021 having opened in 1951 on the Isle of Man originally.

The history of the museum has been full of change and colorful events: after a failed attempt, due to the opposition of locals, to found a witchcraft museum in 1947 in England, Cecil Williamson opened the first version of the museum, »The Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft«, in an old mill on the Isle of Man in 1951. Gerald Gardner, the founder of Modern Wicca, joined Cecil as the resident witch in the museum and the museum’s name later changed to the »Museum of Witchcraft«. The repeal of the British Witchcraft Act in 1951 finally legalized the practice of Witchcraft after hundreds of years.

Cecil Williamson - Drawing on the book cover of "Cecil Williamson Book of Witchcraft" by Steve Patterson
Cecil Williamson (18 September 1909 – 9 December 1999) founded the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in the 1950’s. He was himself a witchcraft practitioner, friend with Wiccan founder Gerald Gardner, collector of folklore, editor and screenwriter and film director. The book by Steve Patterson, published by the cornish »Troy Books« publishing house, introduces readers to his life, work and magic. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Gardner and Williamson had established their friendship in 1946 after meeting at the »Atlantis« bookshop in London. The same bookshop where I met Simon Costin earlier this year for Wilmar Taals book launch about the Gnome manuscript – a part of the Richel Collection, which is a set of magical notes and papers housed in the archives since the ’90s in the museum.

But first things first: after being involved in the financially largely unsuccessful museum Gardner and Williamson’s friendship broke down and in 1954 Gardner purchased the museum keeping its doors open until his death in 1964. It’s contents ended up undeservingly by being sold off in 1970 by Gardner’s heir and High Priestess, Monique Wilson to the »Ripley’s Believe it or Not« company, an American franchise focused on sensationalism. All of Gardner’s artifacts have now been sold off through private sales once Ripley’s wanted to get rid of them.

Location of the »Museum of witchcraft and Magic« in Boscastle, Cornwall
Boscastle is a village in Cornwall, England, and lying at the confluence of two rivers – Valency and Jordan. After several rejections and violent resistance, Cecil Williamson found here in the 1960’s, near the harbor the final location for his witchcraft Museum.

Meanwhile, Cecil Williamson returned to England after the break with Gardner and founded his own »Museum of Witchcraft«. But both in Windsor, Berkshire, and the next at Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, violent reactions to the museum forced him, once again, to search for another place for his museum. In 1960, Williamson found this on the shores of Boscastle, where it has resided now for over 60 years. In 1996, three years before his death the now 87-year-old Williamson sold the museum to Graham King. King incorporated the Dutch, Richel Collection in 2000. But Graham also pushed the museum into a more scholarly direction. He was also the one to bury the skeleton of Witch Joan Wytte, rather than continuing to have her on display.

But in 2004 the museum was threatened again – this time by a series of flash floods which damaged the village and the harbor extensively. Only due to Graham’s vigilance, who noted the upcoming threat in time, greater damages and loss of life could have occurred. Graham’s engagement earned wide recognition and the Museum of Witchcraft received support even from the London Museum of Geology to replace broken display cases. It reopened in 2005.

Graham King, former director of the »Museum of witchcraft and magic« and Simon costin, the current museum director
Roughly 3 years before his death, in 1996, Cecil Williamson sold the museum to Graham King (left in picture). King was likewise a witchcraft practitioner and lead the museum until 2013, when he transferred the ownership to Simon Costin (right in picture). Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

The artist and art director Simon Costin, founder of the Museum of British Folklore, felt the urge to help and support the museum. Soon King offered Simon an internship, where Simon fell in love with the museum and everything in it. Simon and Graham became friends. After 17 years of being the director of the museum, Graham transferred the ownership to Simon and his Museum of British Folklore in 2013. Simon renamed the museum, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, and also continued the charity around it, the »Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic«, which was set up in 1997. So, Simon promised to look after the museum and continue its good work. And if we talk about continuity, we also need to talk about challenges and how to face them. Thus, we are happy to find Simon ready to do an interview with theoldcraft.com:

AH: This year the museum is closed for the entire year due to Corona. You arrived actually some four months before the planned reopening in April to prepare for this year’s season and then had to spend lockdown in Boscastle. How have you and the museum been since then? How is the team?

The Museum Team from left to right, Hannah, Fergus, Gypsy, Simon and Joyce.
The entire team consists, at the time of writing, of five people: From left to right, Hannah, Fergus, Gypsy, Simon, and Joyce. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Simon Costin: This is the second time in the history of the museum, that it has been forced to close for such a long time, so it took all of us some time to get used to. The first time was due to a flood and now its due to plague!

We have all had to adapt to the new circumstances and have been using our creativity to survive. We have created a new zine, Conjuration and have introduced new shop stock that we have been able to sell by promoting it on Instagram, which has really helped us. Normally we survive from the door takings with paying visitors so this year we have had to look at alternative ways of paying our bills.

The witches Stang, candle version, – popular item to buy and forged in cornwall for the Shop of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
A symbol of the horned god: many witchcraft traditions know something called the stang: a staff with a forged top and a shoe. In the picture, we see a candle version of the stang. Like for all museums, selling merchandise and books to visitors has been an important part of the financing. As the MWM had to remain closed this year due to COVID-19, the webshop plays an important role as an alternative source for funding. The stangs are available as staff and candle version, and both are hand-forged on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. The shop features several other magical tools and accessories, ranging from incense and spell sets to music collections, jewelry and books. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

AH: You used to commute and travel a lot, this year thanks to lockdown you had the opportunity to stay in Boscastle for a longer period. You even announced to move there for good and are currently selling your house in London. This sounds like lockdown had also positive side-effects. Can you tell us more about how all these came to be?

Simon Costin: The decision to move from London was made a year before Covid 19 came to be. My work at the museum, along with my own personal art practise, are the things I now want to focus on and moving to Cornwall is a large part of that. I am also in the process of establishing the UK’s first ever Museum of British Folklore and the collection is stored in Dover, where I’m lucky enough to have a house. My intention is to spend time in both Kent and Cornwall. Lockdown has only slowed this process down rather than helping it!

AH: I planned a visit for this year, probably many other readers will have the same question now: can we hope for a visit next year?

Simon Costin: We are looking at ways to enable us to open. Visitors will need to book a time slot online to be able to visit, so that we can control the amount of people we have in the building at any one time. This way we can comply with the covid regulations and insure that our visitors are protected. We hope to open on April 1st but updates will be posted on our website.

Simon Costin, Artdirector, fashion designer, artist, director of the museum of witchcraft and magic, and the museum of british folklore
Simon Costin, born 1962 in London is a British artist, set designer and curator. He works with luxury fashion brands and has artwork in the collections of the »Metropolitan Museum of Art« in New York, such as the necklace »Incubus« or »Memento Mori«. He is also the founder of the »Museum of British Folklore«, which stages exhibitions across the UK while searching for a permanent home. Foto © Crista Leonard

AH: Cecil Williamson practiced Witchcraft, Graham King was involved in Witchcraft, you often use shamanic and magic symbolism in your art. Are you a witch, too?

Simon Costin: I would say I was an Occultist or a Magical Practitioner rather than a witch as such, although you could say a lot of witches are magical practitioners! I don’t like labels and always try to avoid them. My practise and beliefs have changed and developed hugely over the past 38 years and I no longer feel the need to categorise what I do or how I structure my relationship with the forces that I choose to work with. It works for me and that’s all that matters really.

AH: So how did your relationship with the occult start and develop over the years?

Simon Costin: Who knows where these things start. My parents kept many of my childhood drawings which were always of strange and esoteric subjects and looking at them now, they seem to point towards a young mind trying to make sense of a growing awareness that there are other levels of existence and that we are much more than purely material beings. I wouldn’t say that the drawings were dealing with the spiritual in a traditional sense but they were certainly exploring what we might think of as ‘spiritual realms’, other ways of seeing and experiencing the world we find ourselves in. This later grew into a realisation that the way in which we generally experience life as children and young adults, is a very free and ambiguous one and that as we grow older and mature, we can become more rigid and analytical about the way in which we interpret lived experiences. The key to magical practise, for me, is to get back to an earlier state of being where our intuition and subconscious are allowed to be tapped into in a more immediate way. Artists and creative people do this naturally and some of the most magical people I’ve met are also wildly creative. Magical practise and creativity compliment each other. My art practise and my magical practise go hand in hand.

The Shores of Boscastle - River flowing into the open sea
Simon Costin: »Boscastle is uniquely situated at a point where the Valency river flows into the open sea. There was a distinct feeling of a strong genius loci here«. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

AH: What made you fall in love with the museum after the flood and what makes you most happy being the director?

Simon Costin: The first time I visited the museum it was not only the collection that spoke to me but the place in which the museum sits. Boscastle is uniquely situated at a point where the Valency river flows into the open sea. There was a distinct feeling of a strong genius loci here, and one that I felt the need to develop a relationship with. Like any relationship, there was a period of courtship followed by a degree of wooing and step by step my love for the museum and the location deepened and grew. I hope that Graham King, the previous director, could sense what was happening and ultimately felt happy to hand over the reigns. On October 31st 2013 I became the next custodian of the museum and signing the paperwork felt like a marriage.

I think the thing that makes me most happy is seeing the collection grow and develop, along with the way in which the objects are interpreted.

The Green Man - Museum of British Folklore
»The Green Man« from the collection of the »Museum of British Folklore« is one of the common motifs and synergies between the two museums Simon Costin is engaged in. Foto: © Simon Costin

AH: What is the connection between the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic and the Museum of British Folklore, whose founder you are?

Simon Costin: British Folklore is a passion of mine since childhood, when my parents used to take me on holiday and we would come across some strange and uncanny seasonal customs, of which there are hundreds which take place across the UK. It has always amazed me that there is no museum which cherishes and celebrates the vernacular culture of the British Isles. The project is ongoing and we have organised exhibitions across the UK in various locations while we search for funding to build a permanent home for the collection. Of course there are many cross-overs between witchcraft, magic and folklore, so the two projects sit next to each other very well. Our current exhibition looks at the Folklore of Cornwall for instance, with tales of the Piskie folk, the Bucca’s and fairy changeling babies.

AH: You are an art director, curator, and artist yourself. Indeed the museum has one of the most stylish websites on the occult internet. It more than once occurred to me that I listed it in my day job in briefings as a reference for good style, next to DG and Alexander McQueen. Besides style and your passion: what do you want to bring to the museum in the next decade and what is your vision for it?

Simon Costin: The decision to update the website was to make it easier to navigate, be engaging and to bring it in line with current museum practise. The style came as a result of that and was not the driving factor. I like things to be clear and visually interesting when it comes to a website.

The »wise woman's cottage« in the »museum of witchcraft and magic« in Boscastle
The »wise woman’s cottage« in the MWM. Under Graham King, the museum introduced a more scholarly approach. Instead of focusing on the witch as an evildoer, the focus was shifted to the healer and wise woman. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

As far as the museum is concerned, I began looking at the narrative that was woven through the collection when I took over, which was started by Cecil Williamson. Graham King had decided to do away with Cecil Williamson’s vivid but dated tableaux and to instil a sense of order to the collection, which in some way reflected the currency of the museum with the then contemporary audience, increasing in number, many of whom were not just craft practitioners or occultists, but artists and writers, and a more informed general public. The museum was divided into sections; Herbs & Healing, Protection, Cursing, Divination etc. Building on previous presentations, my own distinct vision intends to present objects in an increasingly poetic way by blurring the boundaries between them, and indeed sometimes between contexts in all forms of diverse practice. After all ‘Curse or blessing, wound or weal – that which harms can also heal’. For me, categorising magical objects is a little like trying to measure a cloud with a ruler. I want the objects to tell their own story and for the text that we may choose to go alongside them to hint at how they may have been used because in many cases, we do not know exactly how they would have been used. A human bone in the hands of one practitioner could be put to a completely different use in the hands of another. By trying to explain too much, you can destroy the magic, so I hope to bring some poetry and nuance to the collection and to use lighting and shadow to conceal as much as reveal.

I also intend to update the last gallery in the museum to bring things up to date. I am a collector by nature and am constantly on the hunt for artefacts to enrich the collection. The museum represents a vast repository of neo-pagan belief and history and it is the role of any director to see to it that the collection reflects those beliefs as best as it can and to act as a resting place for magical objects which elsewhere, may not find a home or could be lost to generations to come.

Pan installation by Simon Costin during a fashion event
An installation of the god Pan in one of Simon Costin’s set designs for Yule time. Foto: © Simon Costin 

AH: As an artist, you also use occult symbolism in your own work. For example, the necklace you made called, Incubus in the MET refers to the five elements. How else does the occult influence your art and work?

Simon Costin: That’s quite a difficult question to answer. Magical thought affects everything I do and informs both the way I see the world and the way in which I live my life. It would be difficult for me to divorce myself from it, so its influence is all consuming and pervasive in everything I do.

AH: The stock of museum items is still growing and you constantly add to the collection. For example the drawing “The Witches Boat” in 2019. Do you actively search for new items? What are the criteria on which you decide to add an item to the collection or not? And is the museum the right place for magicians and or their families to donate their items after going into the otherworld?

Richel Collection at the »Museum of Witchcraft and Magic«
The »Richel Collection«, named after the collector Bob Richel from the Netherlands, is part of the MWM since 2000. Author Wilmar Taal has dedicated several books to the collection and Bob Richel. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic 

Simon Costin: I am an inveterate collector, having been brought up by antique collector parents who distilled in me a sense of objects having their own life and existence. Consequently I am registered on numerous auction sites and am always on the lookout for objects, books and manuscripts to enlarge and enrich the museums collection, within the limited budget we have available. I have also spent many years nurturing friendships with Craft Elders to try and ensure that should they wish, their magical tools, Books of Shadows, robes etc will be conserved and properly looked after should they want to pass them on to the museum at any point. So much has been lost already or is stuck in boxes and unseen even when the person who left their objects to a group or individual, intended them to be shared and seen by others. The museum offers a safe space where their legacy will be cherished and interpreted for future generations.

Rose Cross Lamen from the Golden Dawn's Inner order
A »Rose Cross« lamen as worn in the second, inner order of the »Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn«, the »Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis«. It symbolizes the four (five) elements, the three alchemical or philosophical principles, and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the seven classic planets of Western occultism. Thus, it contains the core teachings of the order. The lamen is currently not on display but is part of the museum collection. It is one of the many items, which is not »Witchcraft« related and widens the spectrum of the MWM. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Currently, I have reviewed the collection and am actively looking for certain things which myself and the team here, feel would be good to acquire to fill certain gaps within the collection. Although we are constrained by the space we have here in Boscastle, there is no reason why the museum could not expand into a satellite space in the future. It would be foolish for us to ever pretend that we could cover all aspects of magical practise but what we can do is look to keep the collection up to date so that it reflects current magical trends and interests for example.

When Graham was here there was more an emphasis on Wicca and the key figures involved with it. Over the past 30 years there has, in the UK in particular, been an interest in Chaos Magic, Luciferianism and the work of the Cultus Sabbati, established by Andrew D. Chumbley, for instance. Currently they are not touched on in the museum. The recent rise of interest in what has become known as ‘Traditional Witchcraft’, will also be examined. As you know, magical practise changes through the ages and the museum should look to reflect this as best it can. As for our criteria for accepting objects, we tend to look at whether the donation will enhance the collection overall and also tell a good story or enlighten people as to an aspect of magical practise they may not have known about before. We can’t simply accept every single item people may care to give us and we always make sure we carefully discuss together whether the item/s are, in museum language, deemed to be of such significance that they merit permanent retention and preservation.

Gerald Gardner standing before the first Museum »The witches Mill« on the Isle of Man
Gerald Gardner standing before the first Museum »The Witches Mill« on the Isle of Man. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

AH: You managed to get a part of Gerald Gardner’s heritage back to the museum. How did this come to be?

Simon Costin: I have a number of very dear friends in the states, one of whom introduced me to a man called Mark Sosnowski who had bought quite a large number of items from one of the ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ sales, which happened when their various witchcraft displays were broken up and sold off. Ripley’s had bought the whole of Gardner’s collection from Gardner’s High Priestess, Monique Wilson back in 1971. Monique subsequently faced a huge amount of criticism from the Wiccan community at the time as this unique pagan legacy was lost forever. Over the years, various items have resurfaced and when I contacted Mark he said that he felt the items he had would be much better shared at the MWM and so in 2012 I journeyed to New York to meet and collect the pieces, which have been displayed here ever since.

We have also received a large number of items from Patricia Crowther, including Gardner’s favourite hat and the bag he used when exploring along with various ritual swords, athame’s and charms.

AH: What are some of your favorite items in the museum and why?

Simon Costin: This is so hard to answer because it changes all the time. Certain items will become special to me if I’m researching a particular subject and others just seem to suddenly become relevant for some unknown reason and I always try to listen to that inner voice that is telling me to focus on something because it can usually be trying to tell me something.

AH: The museum was renamed the »Museum of Witchcraft and Magic«. Why did you decide to change the name?

Sex magic installation in the museum of witchcraft and magic with half naked women on altar
An old installation from the time before Graham King – the sometimes »lurid« approach of Cecil Williamson was replaced with a more scholarly one and the installation in the photo removed. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Simon Costin: One of the first things I wanted to do when I took over the museum, was to add the word ‘magic’ as I felt that the museums collection describes far more than purely objects which relate to witchcraft alone. In it’s time the name of the museum has changed many times so I felt it wouldn’t be sacrilege to change it again!

AH: This year there appeared the first issue of the zine “Conjuration”. The limited edition of just 500 copies sold out in 16 minutes. I actually got one, but due to Corona I am not at home myself, so I have to wait until I get there to have a read. Until then, can you tell me and our readers about the authors, topics and whether this will be a constant periodical now?

»Conjuration« Magazine issued by the »Museum of witchcraft and Magic« since 2020
The magazine »Conjuration« issued by the MWM since 2020. The first issue was limited to 500 and sold out in just 16 minutes. Since issue 2 the number of prints is not limited anymore. Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Simon Costin: 2020 has been a very difficult year for us. We rely on the money from our visitors to keep going, so without that revenue stream we have had to look at other ways to survive. I was looking through our archive of zines from the 60/70/80’s and had the idea to produce our own. I took inspiration from the way they would offer up a range of ideas and articles, often with a distinct viewpoint or range of opinions. I wanted it to seem as if it was the museum itself who was the editor of the zine. As I’ve mentioned, a large part of what makes the museum so special, is the place in which it sits. The zine reflects this by opening and closing with a series of images of the landscape and sea outside the door. Recurring features are our 5 Objects project, where we ask friends and people closely associated with the museum to tell us about 5 of their favourite items from the museums collection. We have also worked with the film maker Ruth Hogben, who has edited interviews and images together and these are available to watch on our Youtube channel.

There are regular features looking at a particular item in depth, a list of divinatory practises, cuttings from Cecil Williamson’s scrapbooks, local folklore and a featured artist. We aim to bring out 4 issues each year.

AH: The museum has close ties to the occult community. What ways exist for occultists around the world to participate in the process?

Library in the »Museum of witchcraft and Magic» features over 7000 books and manuscripts.
The library in the »Museum of Witchcraft and Magic» features over 7000 books and manuscripts. It is one of the several ways the museum engages with the occult community. Access is included for members of the »Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic« Foto: © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Simon Costin: Under normal circumstances, our vast library of books and manuscripts, are available for people to use for research purposes but this year sadly, we have been unable to offer that service. Other ways the occult community can help are by spreading the word of the museums existence, purchasing things from our online shop and contacting us should they have items of interest that they would like to donate or offer for sale.

AH: Please allow me two traditional questions at the end: Can you share with us ten books (preferably occult, but necessarily – Your passion for Joris-Karl Huysmans for example would be a good start) which influenced you the most and why do you deem these of extraordinary value?

Simon Costin:

  1. Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey
  2. À rebours (Against Nature) Joris-Karl Huysmans
  3. The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter
  4. The Rings of Saturn, W. G. Sebald
  5. Folklore, Myths and Legends of Great Britain, Readers Digest
  6. The Cunning Man’s Handbook, Jim Baker
  7. The Red Goddess, Peter Grey
  8. Children of Cain, Michael Howard
  9. The Blessing of Pan, Lord Dunsany
  10. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman

It would take me months to write of their importance, so if you haven’t read any of them, please do so and draw your own conclusions.

AH: And last, but not least the fun question: What is your take on Aleister Crowley?

Simon Costin: The world would be a far duller place had he not been born…

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Interview with Greg Kaminsky: Awakening to Authentic Spiritual Practice – The Uncommon Path

Greg Kaminsky, founder and host of the podcast »Occult of Personality« lives in Michigan with his wife and children. He explores Western (and Eastern) Esoteric traditions not only over his podcast but also as an academic who graduated at Harvard, as well as a practitioner himself. Recently, Greg started to share some of his own experiences and insights after over 15 years of practice. Reason enough to invite him to an interview on theoldcraft.com

Greg Kaminsky started »Occult of Personality«  the – maybe first – but for sure the most prominent and constant podcast around the Western Esoteric Tradition in 2005. Since then, he produced more than 200 high quality and well-prepared shows with a large variety of mostly well known, but surely worthwhile occult authors or, as the title of the show suggests, personalities. Topics covered range from freemasonry, chaos magic, Enochian magick, Thelema, Voudon, witchcraft and heathenism, to gnosis or alchemy. The subscription-only membership section »chamberofreflection.com« offers older shows and many additional materials, as for example, Greg’s Harvard university thesis on medieval Cabalist Pico della Mirandola and his system of celestial intelligences. Indeed, Greg has been known to approach the occult not only as host of his podcast, but also as a recognized academic.

"Occult of Personaility" - The current logo of the occult / esoteric podcast. 2020.
The podcast »Occult of Personality« started in about 2005 and produced since then over 200 shows with a large variety of occult celebrities and practitioners. Many thousands of listeners tune in every month over a variety of podcast outlets or social media channels, but also Greg’s own membership site »ChamberOfReflection.com«.

A little bit less known may be Greg as a spiritual practitioner.
He is personally heavily invested in the occult after a Kundalini experience in 2005, which changed his life in many regards for the better. He is a Scottish rite freemason,  practiced magic, Thelema, tarot and divination, cabala with David Chaim Smith, inner alchemy, but also tried Reiki. Yoga and other eastern teachings such as Dzogchen have always been on his radar, and right now Vajrayana Buddhism is the main component of his daily practice. Greg lives with his wife and children in North America, where he moved not so long ago to the countryside.

Even though Greg has been practicing for a long time, it is only since recently that he also started opening up and to share some of his experience and knowledge. A first step in this regard is a set of 15  tips »to lit up« your spiritual practice. I wanted to have Greg for a long time as a guest on theoldcraft.com and thus, take this opportunity to talk with him more about himself, his path and his latest recording.

AH: Before we dive into the details of your latest show, or recording in which you start sharing some of your experience, let’s add a little bit more context. When did you get started with your own occult or spiritual practice and what were the whereabouts?

Greg Kaminsky: I became interested in esoteric spirituality a bit as a teenager, but really seriously when I was in my early 30’s and working for a Fortune 50 company in software development. I began to feel an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness about my job and my life more generally. That’s when I intuited that the spiritual realm was a good place to go looking for solutions.

"Occult of Personality" - The first logo of the occult / esoteric podcast from approximately 2005 or 2006.
“Occult of Personality” – The first logo of the occult / esoteric podcast from approximately 2005 or 2006 showed nothing but the double headed eagle from »Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry«, a book on masonry according to the Scottish Rite. The version above is from 2010 or 2011 and has already more details added to it.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to look too long before I found some clues. I had a kundalini experience early on during this time that propelled me into the awareness that what was happening to me was mysterious and I had to have some faith that I was moving in a positive direction. It seemed that my path involved the awakening to embodiment and through that to understanding of awareness-appearance as a great mystery that involves our entire beingness and existentiality. From there I began investigating a number of paths including plant medicines, ceremonial magick, alchemy, Tarot symbolism, secret societies and esoteric orders, mythology, psychology, philosophy, art, music, and meditation. Eventually, my curiosity about all these subjects impelled me to begin Occult of Personality podcast in 2005 or 2006 as a way to talk to experts and create an archive of my investigations. It has served me, and hopefully others, well over the years and has been a crucial part of my path. I am very grateful to all the guests who talked with me and shared their knowledge and experience as well as all the listeners whose support kept me going during times when I felt uncertain. It has certainly been an adventure!

AH: From your current point of view – what is the ultimate goal or the great why of spiritual practice? 

Greg:  Humans have the capacity to do what other creatures seemingly cannot–know themselves as both finite (human) and infinite (divine) simultaneously. This means that we exist within a sphere of divine expression as a part of it. Realizing this and living it is our true purpose and brings about joy because we can become love and experience ultimate meaningfulness. Humans are the only way that the divine can know itself and this is the reason and purpose for which we exist. It is both our birthright and our obligation. Not living up to it is to waste the potential, but we will all get there eventually, if not in this lifetime, then in a future one… I think Viktor Frankl expressed the crucial point – we must transcend ourselves in order to realize our full potential. The spiritual path is the way to self-transcendence.

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic “the self-transcendence of human existence.” It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence. – Man’s Search for Meaning

AH: So, a modern interpretation of a thought formulated in Pico della Mirandola’s »Oratio« – Man is not a fixed being and can live up to the divine. But likewise, he could also degenerate, to a less  liberated/realized form of life…? 

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) as painted by 16th century artist Cristofano dell'Altissimo (1525–1605).
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) is often considered in humanities the author of the key »manifesto of the Renaissance«. Long overlooked by mainstream academics however was, that Pico laid in this “Oration on the Dignity of Man” and his 900 theses the foundations for the Christian Cabala of the next centuries. Pico, an exceptional polymath and rare syncretist, tried to reconcile classic ancient wisdom from heathen Rome and Greece, hermetic and gnostic – in short: Neoplatonic – thought as well as Jewish Cabala and Christianity. The resulting 900 theses were intended to be discussed openly in Rome, but earned the aged 23 Pico only to become the author of the first printed book to be universally banned by the church. In his defense, Pico wrote the “Oration on the Dignity of Man” which”s introduction is probably one of the most cited Rennaisance texts to date. Greg Kamsniky is one of the few scholars who, in his Harvard Dissertation, also examined the esoteric system and thought presented by Pico in the very same texts.

Greg:  Yes! Not only Pico, but all of the great sages have told us that where our thoughts are is where we are, and not only where we are, but what we are. This is how contemplation works. This is how the “I” is imputed to any thing at all. We just have lots and lots of practice imputing it to our physical body. But where our thoughts are is where we are, so if your thoughts are on the divine, then one has the capability of divine union. But if our thoughts, as they so often are, are filled with self-concern, comfort, and other non-virtuous things means that most of the time, we are like animals or plants more than human beings. I could write pages and pages on this topic, but rather than try to give you historical quotations from authoritative sources or convince you based on my own experience, you should try it yourself. Devote two hours to contemplation of the divine without any interruption and see what happens. Can you even concentrate for that long? Likely not without practice. Quickly you may find that unless you’ve trained yourself, you cannot keep your mind from going astray almost continuously. This helps to show us that to walk the spiritual path, we must first make the mind our servant and not let it go wherever it wants like a naughty puppy. Once we make our mind the servant, we can contemplate for hours and really derive great benefit from it. It is a struggle to elevate our thoughts, but only by mastering our minds can we even hope to become serious spiritual aspirants.

AH: Actually, one of your 15 pieces of advice has been: Consider the purpose and the expected results of your spiritual practice. But it is also strongly connected to another tip: Learn and understand the views of your path. This sounds very basic and maybe even a bit boring. But most starters are so obsessed with getting results or any kind of phenomena, that they try out everything, become masters of nothing and are doomed to remain starters forever. But for all others, who are ready to put in the work – could you explain a bit what these points mean to you, maybe you have even some examples on how they impacted you or somebody you know for the worse or the better? 

Greg:  If we live out a view of reality that does not match the facts, then we suffer. Typically, this can be summarized as, ‘I want things to be the way I want them instead of the way they are.’ So, it is important that one works towards realizing a view of reality that is accurate in order to understand how we create our own suffering–that is the first step in intentionally working to end that suffering. For me, understanding the view of the path is crucial because it tells you what realization you are working towards. If the view is incongruent with what you want to do and be, then one must figure out why or simply find another path. The methods of the path are ways to practice the view, so it is good if the view is articulated, recognized, and understood. Otherwise, it becomes necessary to investigate and determine what it is. Because at the beginning we don’t really even know ourselves, we can only know the view and the purpose. If the view and the purpose are ideas that we can devote ourselves to without any reservation, then that is a good beginning. If the view and purpose are not ideas that resonate with our beingess, then we know that spending time on that path is likely not to be productive or beneficial. For me, this is best observed in the path of Buddhist tantra. Known as the resultant path because the view is presented right up front, the methods are ways to practice the view, and the realization would be of that same view. So the path is coherent and holographic where all teachings, methods, symbols, deities support and reinforce the original expositions about the view and nature of reality. This is incredibly helpful because everything creates a vectoral momentum towards understanding reality as it is.

Vajra and bell and mala (prayer bead) - tantric buddhist ritual items.
Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism emerged originally in India as a part of Mahayana-Buddhism but is mainly common to Tibet and Mongolia. Also known as »Diamond« or »Thunderbolt Vehicle« it may also be described as esoteric Buddhism, with Tantra and Dzogchen as important practices. The picture shows the Vajra, the bell and a mala – the Buddhist prayer bead as typical ritual items. Source: CC Wikimedia.

AH: If we then take Buddhist Tantra as an example: What is it, and what is the final result that awaits the practitioner after some proficiency has been achieved (just not to necessarily presume there is an end to it). How does one know he or she is »getting there«? 

Greg:  So the view of Buddhist tantra is that all there is is divinity and phenomenal appearance is divinity’s expression. We are existing within a sphere of divine wholeness and when we see, recognize, and embody that view, we participate in that wholeness. This view also posits that all sense perception, consciousness, and the way we interpret forms is all interdependently originated meaning that our conception of a self is illusory and ultimately awareness is not temporal or localizable and is synonymous with phenomenal appearance (Awareness-appearance are not two). So it is an entirely non-dual view and, if one attains realization on this path, that would be it.

AH: If we are talking about duality here – in popular Esoterics the »Ego« is a widely used notion and the scapegoat for everything. However, beside this simplistic view there is more to be said about this topic. For example you had a recent discussion on Facebook where it was mentioned that at the very moment somebody is blaming »the Ego« the question should be pursued »who is doing the blaming?«. Can you develop that subject from your point of view?

Greg:   Well, from my perspective ego is not a thing, it is an activity. So there is nothing to tame or remove, it’s just an activity that can be stopped by engaging in a different activity. Ego can generally be described in its intentionality as self-concern. This feeling is characterized by mental grasping, desiring reality to be different than it is, and an overwhelming interest in oneself instead of others. If we can recognize our self-concern and the way it manifests in our actions, then we have the capacity to change it. But to do that requires engaging in what I would call virtuous activity instead. Virtue can be seen as qualities that are inherent to the divine. So if we want to be close the divine, we must act like the divine, thereby engaging in virtuous conduct. If we do this, it will prevent us from being so self-concerned and we will be more inclined to care for others instead. Also, when considering the entirety of the spiritual path, we must have humility because we can easily see that there is virtually nothing we do or have control over. We don’t control our digestion, our sleep, and even walking across the room requires a gathering of so many circumstances, most of which are not accomplished by us, even though we like to feel in control. So when you can see the interdependent origination of every thing, including ourselves, our self-concern and desire to have things be just so is not the way to freedom.

AH: Also, you mentioned before that different paths may have a different result in the end. For me that sounds like a well justified rejection of the likewise popular ideas that all ways lead to Rome or that all religions have the same destination. Can you name an example of a path you consider has a different result in the end? 

Michelspacher, Cabala, speculum artis et naturae... - Allegories on Alchemy
Michelspacher, Cabala, speculum artis et naturae… – »Mirror of Art and Nature«”. The image shows the objective of »Art« (i.e. Cabala and Alchemy) to lead from raw nature (»prima materia«) to its most refined form: »ultima materia«. It introduces the Western esoteric worldview based on the four (five) elements, seven planets and three alchemical philosophical principles, sal, sulphur and mercury as well as their correspondences. The right understanding of these allows the practitioner to transform both himself as well as physical matter in the laboratory. Eastern esoteric traditions typically focus on the inner world – the mind. Greg Kaminsky is one of the more prominent figures in Esotericism who question, whether Eastern or Western systems have the same goals and destinations.

Greg:  It’s true. Not all roads lead to Rome. Some roads lead to Cleveland or Hoboken or San Francisco. Well, if we stay within the Buddhist milieu, then you have Mahayana schools that hold different views and generally speaking, the result is more like a consciousness-only view that holds that all is consciousness and there is nothing else. Now some Buddhist tantra lineages go further saying even consciousness is empty, but practitioners will get different results from holding different views and practicing methods whose accomplishment reinforces the view.

When we extend this analysis into Western esotericism, we can notice some interesting things. First, most traditions in the West don’t actually articulate a coherent view. Then we notice that some schools progressively reveal their view as one moves through the stages of the path (and the view may change depending on where one is). And then it becomes obvious when we start to ask where are those who have accomplished the path and realized gnosis? They are very few and far between because, I would argue, by not beginning with a coherent view of reality, it precludes an actual destination or goal. So, you get a range of possibilities, but gnosis tends not to be one of them because gnosis is so far outside the normal function of the human mind that it only asserts itself in those who practice methods designed to allow it to arise. So, I would say that for the most part, what we consider Western esotericism has a different result than enlightenment. We could call the result initiation or knowledge and understanding, but it is not the realization of the nature of mind. I want to be clear here though, Western esotericism does not produce enlightenment, but some Chassidic Kabbalah schools do, and some Orthodox Christian monastic schools do, and some Sufi schools do. I would also argue that people have also gotten results in the Gurdjieff Work as well.

As the Sufis say, “Spiritual practice will not cause enlightenment, but only those who practice become enlightened.” And the crux of this is that only those who practice methods designed to bring about realization will have that possibility. At least this is what I’ve been taught and this has been what I’ve observed.

Gnostic Gem with lion faced deity - maybe depicting the demiurg - found in Bernard de Montfaucon's L'antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures.
The Gnosis was a movement of various sects and religious ideas evolving around early Christianity. Being mainly syncretisms of Judaic or Christian ideas with classical ancient wisdom and religious ideas these early forms of belief were more likely to make Christianity acceptable for educated Romans or Greeks. A common trait of gnostic schools however was the emphasis of Gnosis – the direct knowledge or awareness through spiritual experience rather than just following teachings and third-handed knowledge. A typical gnostic idea was that the material world was an inferior representation of the world of the good god. Thus, the creator of the physical world was not the true, good god, but a usurper: the demiurge. The dualistic, maybe pessimistic view features several parallels to Eastern ideas, maybe the dichotomy Samsara – Nirvana. Many central ideas of the Western Esoteric Tradition resemble Eastern ideas, not necessarily via a recent import, but over the gnostic heritage, which deeply influenced Christian sects until the late middle ages (such as Catharism). The picture shows a gnostic gem with lion-faced deity – maybe depicting the demiurge. Until today the term gnosis is often used to describe knowledge or realization through spiritual practice.

AH: You use the term “Gnosis” a lot. Many readers will identify this term with the ancient western movement which synthesized or maybe tried to reconcile ancient philosophy and mythological wisdom with christianity; maybe they will translate the term to “insight”, “knowledge” or “awareness”. How would you define it? 

Greg:  I recognize that some may be tempted to recall historical examples and such, but let’s be clear, gnosis is a type of knowing–all-knowingness. That doesn’t mean that the one who has attained gnosis knows every thing. Instead it means that one is made up of only knowingness. And not knowing any thing in particular. Instead knowing the nature of the mind and reality and that those are not two. It is the recognition, in my understanding, that awareness and appearance are not two. That our perception and the way we habitually decode it leads us to believe some things that turn out not to be the case. For instance, perception does not actually imply a perceiver or a thing perceived; just like knowing doesn’t imply a knower; and what we think of as consciousness doesn’t actually imply beingness either. So, gnosis is a full-body knowingness that the Self is not an independent entity and when it is looked for, it is not found. This is similar to what is discovered when perception is investigated, and consciousness too. There are these processes of awareness occurring, but they don’t automatically mean that we are a subject in a world of objects. So, gnosis could also be described as a non-dual realization. Other words could be used too: self-realization, enlightenment, illumination, liberation, etc. I like to describe it as all is the divine and the recognition that we exist within that and are not separate from it. Gnosis means that the divine can know itself through the human being. And that is our ultimate purpose.

AH: Another important tip, even the first, is something which could be boiled down to »Know thyself!« – at least this is how I summarized this point for me. To some it may sound very basic. Could you share some examples here, of what do you mean by it? 

The ruins of the temple for greek-roman god of light Apollo in Delphi, Greece. On its doors were written – among another 146 »delphic maxims« – the often-quoted words »Gnothi seauton«  – “Know thyself” which entered latin as »nosce te ipsum« or »temet nosce« (Cicero).  Source: CC Wikimedia

Greg:  Well, from the ancient Greek philosophers, the aphorism “know thyself” has been the clarion call of mystics, seekers, and spiritual aspirants in the West for thousands of years. Why? Without deep consideration, it might seem that it would be more beneficial to know God or to know the world and with that knowledge, one might better understand themselves and their place and function. But our mind is the faculty by which we know anything, and our mind is partly what we are, so, in a sort of paradoxical manner, one learns through experience that we really must know ourselves fully before it is even possible to comprehend the world or the divine. This is partly because, as all the great philosophers and mystics have expressed, the human being contains all as a sort of reflection because the mind which perceives reflects whatever is held there, like a mirror.

The great Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola wrote about this in his Oration, expressing his belief that this aphorism, know thyself, was part of a formula, known far and wide in the ancient world, for the growth and what could be considered the divinization of humans.

The sacred names of Apollo, to anyone who penetrates their meanings and the mysteries they conceal, clearly show that God is a philosopher no less than a seer; but since Ammonius has amply treated this theme, there is no occasion for me to expound it anew. Nevertheless, O Fathers, we cannot fail to recall those three Delphic precepts which are so very necessary for everyone about to enter the most holy and august temple, not of the false, but of the true Apollo who illumines every soul as it enters this world. You will see that they exhort us to nothing else but to embrace with all our powers this tripartite philosophy which we are now discussing. As a matter of fact, that aphorism: meden agan, this is: “nothing in excess,” duly prescribes a measure and rule for all the virtues through the concept of the “mean” of which moral philosophy treats. In like manner, that other aphorism gnothi seauton, that is, “know thyself,” invites and exhorts us to the study of the whole nature of which the nature of man is the connecting link and the “mixed potion;” for he who knows himself knows all things in himself, as Zoroaster first and after him Plato, in the Alcibiades, wrote. Finally, enlightened by this knowledge, through the aid of natural philosophy, being already close to God, employing the theological salutation ei, that is “thou art,” we shall blissfully address the true Apollo on intimate terms.

While Pico correctly addresses the essence of know thyself, P.D. Ouspensky elucidates it for us in a more modern context with an eye towards practicality:

To know oneself—this was the first principle and the first demand of old psychological schools. We still remember these words, but have lost their meaning. We think that to know ourselves, means to know our peculiarities, our desires, our tastes, our capacities and our intentions, when in reality it means to know ourselves as machines, that is, to know the structure of one’s machine, its parts, functions of different parts, the conditions governing their work and so on. We realise in a general way that we cannot know any machine without studying it. We must remember this in relation to ourselves and must study our own machines as machines. The means of study is self-observation. There is no other way and no one can do this work for us. We must do it ourselves. But before this we must learn how to observe. I mean, we must understand the technical side of observation: we must know that it is necessary to observe different functions and distinguish between them, remembering, at the same time, about different states of consciousness, about our sleep, and about the many I’s in us.

Peter D. Ouspensky, Пётр Демьянович Успенский
Peter D. Ouspensky (Russian Пётр Демьянович Успенский) was a Russian esotericist and follower of the Armenian esoteric teacher George Gurdjieff, whose work he later teached in England and the USA. He met Gurdjieff in Moscow 1915 and remained his student until 1924, when he chose to continue his journey on his own. He nevertheless kept sticking very close to Gurjieff’s teaching of »the fourth way«, a spiritual system for self-perfection which does not require complete avoidance of the world, such as practiced by the three traditional ways: Yogi, Fakir and Monk.

First, one discovers their nature and how mechanical and similar it is to most everyone. We see how we like our habits and prefer to sleepwalk through our days. That often we prefer our suffering to changing. We see all the ways we could be better and don’t take the steps required to actually become that. We see all the ways we fall short and fail ourselves and others. We feel confused and unsure of the right course of action. We may discover that who we are and who we want to be are so far apart that we don’t know where to begin. And hopefully, we discover that we cannot change into who and what we want without help.

And what is hopefully eventually discovered at the end of the path when one undertakes that task of self-observation? At the very basis is the realization that a human being is simultaneously finite and infinite, that to intimately know ourselves fully is the way to know the divine. Our ultimate purpose as humans is to hold this knowing, to be it, and to live it. This in no way implies we are the divine, rather we exist within its sphere and are an inextricable part of a larger whole. And in knowing and living that, we participate in that wholeness. And participating in that wholeness is the very basis for meaningfulness—ultimate meaning, in fact. And what does living that wholeness of wholeness actually mean? It means caring for others instead of being self-concerned, feeling joyful because of meaningfulness instead of worrying, doubting, and suffering, it means making offerings to and serving the divine instead of serving our own narrow interests, it means being stewards and caring for our lives and our world instead of desiring to be cared for, essentially it is the enactment of wisdom.

So, in assessing this formula of (1) nothing in excess, (2) know thyself, and (3) thou art, it seems superficially simple, yet simple does not equal easy in the same way that information is not equal to transformation. Work is required to change, not just intellectual knowledge, and in this case, Great Work is required. Why is that? Because it is not possible to go from our negative habit patterns into unborn wisdom awareness. As the great sage Thinley Norbu Rinpoche expressed, we must change our negative habit patterns into virtue habit before it is even possible to consider a leap into the open luminosity of pure freedom. We cannot go from fearful grasping at phenomena to pure gnosis without an intermediate process. And that process entails the purification of our perception. Even Christ and the Buddha had to go through an intermediate process. Not to compare ourselves to them, but that alone should clue us in to the fact that authentic, sincere, and difficult work must be accomplished to change our way of being.

AH: You mention work – Indeed, what makes the difference between a magician, yogi, mystic and a thinker is that the first three put in some work. What does your work actually look like? 

Greg:  That is a good question. In the past two years I have gone from a lazy, but always thinking individual to a person that is still lazy, but works hard and doesn’t value thought as much as I used to. I begin practice the moment I wake up and do offerings and meditation. Then I go to my job, which is currently for my teacher working on a book, so my day is full of study, reading, and writing of material that is focused entirely on the spiritual path. After dinner, I spend another 2 hours or so doing practice and prayers.

Yet, from last autumn into the spring, I was practicing about 8 – 10 hours a day. That was intense and I didn’t think it would be possible, but it is and I miss it now. Life has an entirely different feeling the more time and energy you spend in spiritual practice. Much of my practice is now meditation that is done by visualizing a deity and their palace while repeating mantra. In the moment it is simple and straightforward but the amount of preparatory work required to do it is years. So, I don’t take the practice for granted, in fact, my life revolves around it.

AH: This strong commitment is very typic for Eastern traditions. Obviously it should be the same for any Western School if a student wants to have results, but in my experience few practitioners of western schools maintain such a discipline. Could you explain here a bit also what the preparatory work for you has been to get to that point? And how did you decide or realize that it will take this much? 

Greg:  There are pre-preliminary practices like the Four Noble Truths, the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to Dharma, the Four Immeasurables, and the Six Perfections. These are foundational teachings that must be considered carefully, then alchemically

Traktung Khepa is an American spiritual teacher of Tantric Buddhism and teacher of Greg Kaminsky. Greg works also closely with his Traktung Khepa in daily life. More information is available on his website, traktungkhepa.com

contemplated so they become the basis upon which one’s life is built.

Alchemical contemplation via Traktung Khepa: ‘The spiritual propositions, considerations, of the path are not mere intellectualisms, hip philosophy, good ideas but rather they are alchemical transformative power packaged in language. Each consideration can be unpacked through alchemical contemplation in 3 stages.

First clothe it in intellect, consider it, hold it in mind, chew on it and allow its impact to pervade conceptual processes.

Next clothe it in emotive consideration. Hold it in feeling, allow the implications of its meaning to unfold across the felt quality of your life.

Thirdly hold it within the core of beingness as contemplative silence allowing what one is and the proposition to combine.

Do this repeatedly until the proposition becomes a living force within you and then apply it to living’s actions. Allow mechanical habit to be re-examined in light of the new force of contemplation. Bathe intellect, emotions and being in the force and implications of each consideration. Submerge mind again and again within the purificatory power of wisdom.

If these are approached in this way, then there is no choice but to devote yourself to spiritual practice. Then there are preliminary practices known as ngondro (before going). This involves accomplishing 111,000 of each: refuge practice of prostrations, compassion prayers, purification meditation, mandala offerings, and guru yoga. This can take anywhere between a few months and 3 years. It took me almost 2. At the end I was practicing 8-10 hours each day. In my experience, it is not possible to authentically accomplish these preliminary practices as the same person who began them. I realized it would take this because that’s what my teacher told me. And it’s what is traditionally done. So, if you want to progress on this path, it’s a requirement. Higher level teachings and practices are not even accessible to one who hasn’t accomplished that. And what one learns in doing it is that we can do much more than we imagine if we only make it a priority.

AH: Now, after we have seen how much your life revolves around your practice it doesn’t come as a surprise that you also give some advice regarding lifestyle. In short: live a life which serves your spiritual aspirations, instead of running counter. Most practitioners though will know: modern life just takes its toll. You yourself quit a well paying job in a Fortune 50 company to pursue a more fulfilling life and had the courage to start over, giving your own development a higher priority. Is your ideal lifestyle a monastic one or how would you describe it? 

Greg:  My ideal lifestyle is simple. I take care of commitments and obligations and the remainder is used for spiritual pursuits. It’s what my teacher calls an economics of energy. You see, spiritual practice and the realization of wisdom requires a tremendous amount of energy and attention. If my time is spent on other activities, there won’t be enough. Energy and attention are trapped by non-virtuous habit patterns. By turning non-virtue habits to virtuous ones, we free up the energy and attention that are bound and may use it for our spiritual practice. When we do this consistently, for long enough, we may reach reservoirs of energy and attention that can be used to allow us to realize wisdom.

AH: You moved some years ago from the city or the suburbs to the countryside. You even grow some food on your own, raise chickens. How came this to be, how did it change your life, maybe also your practice? And how do you stay in touch with like minded people? 

Greg:  My wife and I have always been interested in gardening and eating less processed food. So, when the opportunity arose to have a home with a little land for gardening and animals, we took it. I recognize that food is nourishment and sustenance, but it can also be love. You can love and enjoy the growing and the labor involved, and you love your family and want them to eat well. So growing the food and being able to feed my family is just an act of love. We live in a rural area, so most everyone around us does the same sorts of things and has a similar appreciation of food in that way. It’s like a celebration of life, love, and joy made possible by the sun, rain, the earth, and our efforts. I’d like to think living that way supports my practice and that is the goal–to have my life, both inner and outer, completely congruent with my spiritual path. That way the alchemical vessel of my existentiality has integrity and can hold the blessing force generated through spiritual practice.

I typically stay in touch with like-minded people via the internet as I always have. Occult of Personality podcast and the Chamber of Reflection have served this purpose very well and continue to do so. There is also a small community of practitioners centered around my teacher that I have regular contact with.

The four cardinal virtues: prudencetemperancefortitudejustice. First systematically mentioned by Plato they have been adopted by Roman thinkers such as Cicero or Marc Aurel, later Christian thinkers and freemasons. Greg has recently added a show on his member-website ChamberofReflection.com on how to practice virtue

AH: You mentioned virtuous and non-virtuous habit patterns several times. Could you give some examples for that? How to know which habits are non-virtuous, which are? How to change them? After all we speak about deep changes in life and character. Many professional psychologists have modest success in pulling these off.

Greg:  So non-virtuous habits are those that we typically are engaged in and don’t have any positive spiritual value. For example, I like to drink a little bit of beer and it brings me some joy. But I’m under no illusion that drinking beer is going to allow me to realize the nature of mind or to permanently end mine or others suffering (though it may do so temporarily but ultimately creates more suffering than it ameliorated). So for me, the beer drinking is not virtuous, meaning that it’s alright to do it once in a while if I have fulfilled all other commitments, but it cannot be a habit that I engage in with regularity. Virtuous qualities are the qualities of the divine and we enact them in order to be closer to the divine, because to be close to the divine, you must become like the divine. And to change non-virtue habit, one cannot do it by just stopping because that never works. One must replace the non-virtue habit with a virtuous habit in order to make these changes. That is the only way. And it requires real work and a willingness to suffer through it in order to realize a greater degree of freedom. So, to undo a bad habit, one must replace it with a good habit. Simple, but difficult.

AH: Sidenote here: you just published also an episode on virtue and how to practice them. So,I will give here the link for anyone who wants to dive in deeper into that topic: https://chamberofreflection.com/on-virtue-and-the-practice-of-virtue.

To get practical again: – reading the primary source texts of your tradition is a tip I regard as more than hot – there is nothing which can bring you closer to tradition and to initiatory experiences, except for a living teacher. And even this will often demand you to read the old texts directly by yourself. Our last guest, the alchemist Daniel Hornfisher was so kind to share his top 10 of essential reads in the last interview, I would now like to ask you to do the same with your own selection of essential reads. Which texts would you choose if you had to limit yourself to 10?  

Greg:  This is a difficult question because many books are specific to a certain path. I will try to pick some that people can apply to whatever path they are on.

  1. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution by P.D. Ouspensky – This book is an excellent introduction to the spiritual path because it describes the mind as it is, not an ideal. The lectures lead you through some of Gurdjieff’s system in a very preliminary way so that one can at least clearly see the need for the spiritual path and that it is not possible to do alone.
  2. Oration on the Dignity of Man by Pico della Mirandola – This is the classic assertion of the Western esoteric tradition from antiquity into modernity. Although often cast as a sort of declaration of Humanism, in reality it is saying humans are primary only because we can unite with the divine. Really Pico was saying that the Perennial Tradition is what we should be concerned about and not much else.
  3. Original Innocence by Traktung Yeshe Dorje – This book by my teacher is one of the most clear and inspiring texts on the subject of the nature of mind, reality, and that we all have the capacity to realize gnosis and end our suffering.
  4. I Am That: Talks With Sri Nisargardatta Maharaj – This is the book that really cracked open my mind and allowed for the possibility that there was more there than I could ever perceive. Just reading this book made me begin to see things in a different way, that Western esotericism didn’t have a lock on wisdom and maybe didn’t even know what it was…
  5. Jesus Christ, Sun of God by David Fideler – A great primer on the basic theories and background of Western esotericism. I found more knowledge in this book than I expected. A real gem.
  6. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – A classic text written by a man who knew his subject with an intimacy that we all hope we never have to confront. Reading this book provides much needed perspective and insight into the human condition and the way our minds function.
  7. Meetings With Remarkable Men by G. Gurdjieff – I loved this book because it gave me some sense of Gurdjieff the man. His tales of travel, adventure, searching for secret masters are extraordinary and because they’re based on his experiences, we can get some sense of the purpose for his quest, how the people he knew shaped his life and ideas, and the rare quality of his mind.
  8. Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism – This is a classic text that not only describes Tarot symbolism in exquisite detail, but also the doctrines of Hermeticism and Western esotericism generally in such a way that if you are interested in the subject, it is a must read.
    George Gurdjieff, born somewhen between 1866 and 1877, died 1949 was an Armenian spritual teacher and founder of the so called »fourth-way«. A system of self-development which unlike the “three traditional” ways (monk, fakir, yogi) could be practiced in the real world, without the need for isolation. He brought his teachings over Russia – where he met Ouspensky – to Europe, France, while his student Ouspensky would bring his teaching to the anglo-saxon world. Central for Gurdjieff’s teaching is that most people live in a sleep-like state of mind, but higher forms of consciousness can be developed with his system of awareness and self-observation.
  9. The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis by David Chaim Smith – I love this exegesis of Genesis 1-3 so much because it allows the reader to see the text, and our ideas about creation, in a completely new way. Smith’s non-emanationist Kabbalah is the precise antidote for the tendency in ceremonial magick of the will to power and the reification of the self. And the way that it opens the door to appreciate the Kabbalah in new ways is quite astounding (non-theistic, non-emanationist, and even non-creationist!).
  10. The Tower of Alchemy by David Goddard – I practiced the meditations from this book every day for more than a year and the results I had were amazing. Goddard’s comparative analysis of Western alchemy with Vajrayana symbolism is quite nice and I found the meditative exercises really stretched my capabilities and allowed me to grow more than I expected.

AH: And last, but not least, our traditional Crowley-question: What is your take on Aleister Crowley

Greg:  So, this is my opinion and I’m not passing judgement in a declaration here, just sharing my own thoughts. People should think and do what they want, and they always do. In the past, I had a lot of respect for Crowley and his work. But as I’ve continued learning, studying, practicing, and talking to my teacher, my opinion of Crowley is not the same as it used to be. I believe that Crowley did not actually have any stable realization of the nature of mind, though he seemed to have glimpses. His writings display some remarkable insights and he was certainly the most prolific occultist I’m aware of by far. But when I look at the history, Crowley was more experimenting and indulging in experiences rather than cultivating wisdom. I also find the way he developed his public image and habitual behaviors to be indulgent. I feel that Crowley presented himself later in life as a master, but I don’t see the evidence that he had attained wisdom that would make that assertion valid. So, in my opinion, creating a magical system and church seems audacious by one who hasn’t yet accomplished the path, but audaciousness was his stock and trade. I also understand that he was not under specific obligation to embody wisdom and I don’t disparage him or his work because the fact of the matter is that it very well may be beneficial to some of his followers and students. And I will never speak ill of a teacher because someone may actually benefit from their work. And if that is the case, then who am I to pass judgement or stand in the way?

Interview With Daniel Hornfisher – Traditional, Practical and High Alchemy and Spagyrics in the 21st Century

Book cover for "Löwe und Phönix" (engliAH: Lion and Phoenix) by Daniel Hornfisher. Appered in 1998 in the German publishing house "Aurum Verlag"
Daniel Hornfisher’s book “Löwe und Phönix” (engliAH: Lion and Phoenix) appeared in 1998 in the German publishing house “Aurum” , was soon sold out and has become quickly a highly sought modern classic on practical alchemy. Maybe it is the single occult book to ever receive a »Goethe Price« in Weimar (1999)

An absolutely unique treasure in any collection on alchemy is »Löwe und Phönix« (»Lion and Phoenix«) by Daniel Hornfisher, which appeared in Germany during the late 1990ies.

Soon after, this practical guide to alchemy was already sold out. Used copies are now being sold on the second hand market for prices up to 20 times higher than the initial retail price. In 1999 it received even – as the single esoteric book – the »Goethe« price in Weimar.

Indeed, the book is unique – not only in it’s (seemingly) simplicity: After a short series of definitions and a mini history of Alchemy Daniel Hornfisher explains without further ado in small steps the basics of any alchemical operation, the processes, tools and materials involved, and the symbolism behind starting with plant spagyrics.

Already after the first quarter of the book the reader can start his own alchemical / spagyric operations at home, starting with simple ingredients and utensils – but nevertheless based on old classic »recipes«. The remainder of the book deepens the knowledge by introducing further alchemical notions, explaining ancient or classic alchemical texts and guiding the reader into translating them into modern day language and breaking them down into practical steps. Often discussed are Hollandus, Basil Valentine or George Ripley. This is fast to read, but a bit harder to comprehend without doing actually the work and gaining experience. An introduction to »Inner Alchemy« helps to blend the outer work with the corresponding inner work. Overall, the whole program can take some years at least to turn into practice. There are many reprints of old Alchemical texts around nowadays such a practical guide on how to approach them is still rare. All in all, the book is unique.

Mr. Hornfisher runs his own edition (The »Edition Hornfisher«, available over the Schulten publishing house at fulcanelli.de and part of the S) in Germany, with a selection of alchemical facsimiles, books on herbs, the occult and local lore. So it is our pleasure to have Mr Hornfisher today as a guest on theoldcraft.com

AH: Mr, Hornfisher, let’s start with a simple question, which may be not so simple at all nowadays: what is alchemy?

DH: Alchemy is the art of eliciting a soul from matter.

Alchemical distillation using a retort. The retort is an advancement of the alembic: a medieval device consisting of two glass vessels connected by a tube. The retort already contains the tube which connects to the destillation flag. .
Distillation is one of the basic procedures in alchemy. The picture shows a retort, which is based on the alembic, which we often find in ancient alchemical texts. The alembic is a distillation deceive consisting of two glass or ceramic vessels connected by a tube: the distillation flask or »cucurbit« contains the liquid to be distilled, a »head« or helmet then is set on the receiving vessel, with a long tube leading into the mouth of the distillation flask. Under heat vapor rises, leads the mouth into the helmet of the alembic where it cools down into the receiving flask. The retort, has the helmet with the tube already »hardwired« to the receiving flask. Together, the alembic and retort form a microcosmos in which liquids can rise »to heaven« and then return »to earth«, but which allows for separation of ingredients.

AH: So, it is still about physical work in the lab with very physical substances. So what is your take on the now popular notion which reduces alchemy to a mere psychological process, or metaphor for spiritual development? 

DH: In alchemy, too, there are always fads, some of which are due to the prevailing Zeitgeist. The heyday of a purely psychologically or spiritually oriented interpretation of the Hermetic Art was from the 1950ies to the 1980ies, when depth-psychology according to C. G. Jung and Eastern Philosophy became accessible to a broader mass. Today, it seems to be turning again more in favor of laboratory practice, I feel. Even a fervent advocate of the “depth-psychological theory” such as Israel Regardie quickly came to the conclusion, that the sole fixation on it is not very helpful. Alchemy can be practiced purely spiritually or purely in the laboratory. In my opinion, however, you get the most out of it, if you skillfully combine both.

We could observe another hype a few years ago: In the “Book of Aquarius” the author propagated, that the Philosopher’s Stone must be created from urine. This is of course complete nonsense (which does not speak against the fact, that valuable products can be made from urine and other animal products by spagyric means). But I do find the idea quite charming, that there was a time in human history when there was a flask of rotting urine in many kitchens around the world, the contents of which were supposed to make sure, that at some point the house credit would be paid off.

AH: So alchemy is still about – inter alia – making gold, in the very physical sense?

DH: Absolutely! Even though physics and chemistry insist that this is impossible, partly because it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Cover page of (Johnann) Isaac Holandus treatise on the philosopher's stone. Woodcut on paper, Frankfurt, 1669.
Cover page of  Isaac Hollandus’ treatise on the philosopher’s stone. Woodcut on paper, Frankfurt, 1669.
The philosopher’s stone, Latin: »Lapis philosophorum« or German: »Stein der Weisen«, is the Opus magnum of Alchemy and known under a large variety of names: »Red Lion«, »Great Magisterium«, »Red Tincture« but also »Aurum Potabile« or the »Elixir of Life« if dissolved in liquid for inner application. Once achieved, it shall be able to transmute base metals such as lead into noble ones such as gold or silver. Moreover, as panacea it heals any kind of disease and can rejuvenate the body and prolong life. The magnum opus is sometimes divided in 4, 7 or 12 steps.

AH: There also seems to be some evidence that there is a principle possibility to transform one chemical element into another. Particle accelerators have been reported to transmute bismuth, a close to lead element into gold – even though at a cost exceeding by far the value obtained. So what is the final goal of alchemy and its quest for the philosopher’s stone? 

DH: Yes, there are numerous indications that transmutations can also take place at low energy levels. Perhaps the Second Law of Thermodynamics need not necessarily be questioned by a transmutation …

I personally do not think there should be an ultimate goal in alchemy. What should you do when you have achieved it? Retire? Commit suicide? The Great Work is a process of continuous unleashing. There is no end to the liberation from the bonds that all rigid structures impose on us by their very existence, whether material or otherwise, or to the refusal of accepting the fundamental powerlessness of “things just are the way they are”. As Aleister Crowley wrote: “The whole universe is but an illusion. – But one that’s hard as hell to get rid of!“

If we focus too much on one goal, we quickly lose sight of all the wonders that we constantly encounter and that we can continue to pursue. Even the Philosopher’s Stone is not regarded by many Hermetics as the final destination of the Great Work, but merely as a “parergon” (πάρεργον), an accessory that is a proof of great skill and that has great advantages, but in which the work is by no means exhausted.

I rather compare the Great Work with the mythological topos of the Wild Hunt. This hunt is an enigma and seemingly pointless, and it knows no direction and no destination, and whoever it encounters is not the same anymore.

AH: How did you yourself get started with Alchemy?

Painting of Razhes, the Alchemist in his Laboratory in Bagdad, by Earnest Board
Rhazes oder Rasis, the latin form for ar-Rāz (short for Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā ar-Rāzī) was a Persian alchemist, physician and polymath around the 9th century. Rhazes was one of the early Arabian alchemists, which should have a huge impact on the revival of Alchemy in the West in medieval times and thereafter. The painting shows Razhes as an alchemist in his Laboratory in Bagdad, by Earnest Board. Image CC BY 4.0 via Welcome Gallery

DH: For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in all occult topics, herbal lore and natural healing, and alchemy has always played a special role. However, the beginning of my practical experience started a bit bumpy: When I was at primary school, I secretly bought (because I was not allowed to read this kind of stuff) an annual astrological calendar-book, which also covered many other esoteric topics. To my great joy I discovered a slightly strange text in it, written by the Arabic alchemist Rhazes (Abū Bakr Muḥammad bin Zakaryā-ye Rāzī): “The recipe to make gold.” − “Hey, that sounds cool”, I thought to myself and went to the nearest pharmacy, where I asked for “lime of gold”, “red mercury”, “whitened sulphur”, and “water of sal ammoniac”. When the pharmacist said, she didn’t know all this stuff and asked me what the hell I wanted to do with it, I replied something like: “I want to make Red Nuqra out of it, of which one Mithqāl turns 500 Mithqāl of any metal into fine gold.”, as I had read in the recipe. I don’t know if the good woman thought I was kidding her or if she believed me to be a little nuts, in any case I had to make my way home without the hoped-for treasures.

About the same time I found in Hans Biedermann’s „Handlexikon der magischen Künste“ (“Concise Dictionary of the Magical Arts”) a description from the Hollandus’-writings how to make the Philosopher’s Stone from “Vitriol” and “Vinegar”. Since I was the proud owner of a chemistry kit, I tried to put the recipe into practice with these alleged substances, of course without success.

Alchemical Motto VITRIOL in the Viridarium chymicum (Chymisches Lustgärtlein) from 1624 by Stolz von Stolzenberg. VITRIOL being short for »Visita interiora terrae, rectificando invenies occultum lapidem«
Vitriol is the trivial name for compounds containing sulfates, such as the blue »copper flower« chalcanthite or other divalent sulfates as from iron (green – ferrous sulfate). However, VITRIOL also became an alchemical Motto. The picture above shows an icon from the »Viridarium Chymicum« (Chymisches Lustgärtlein) by Stolz von Stolzenberg, 1624. VITRIOL is here a short for »Visita interiora terrae, rectificando invenies occultum lapidem«: »Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying (purifying) you will find the hidden stone.« We find this motto first  in Basil Valentine’s »L’Azoth des Philosophes«, where it appears in its complete form as »Visita interiora terrae, rectificando invenies occultum lapidem, veram medicinam« (the difference being here the addendum »veram medicinam« – the »true remedy/cure«). Later, we find the motto in Rosicrucianism and the »Chamber of Reflection« in Freemasonry.

After this somewhat frustrating start, I shifted – still during my primary school years – to more tangible things like the production of gunpowder and other explosives. When I spent the Easter holidays with my great-aunt for example, I visited a boy of the same age from my distant relatives for a few days. When we were bored, we thought it would be quite funny to send my grandaunt a package, that would explode, when she opened it. We had absolutely nothing bad in mind, but we believed it was a harmless prank that would go non-hazardous like in a comic. So we constructed an igniter by attaching a match, which could be lit on a rough surface, to the bottom of a box with a thread. We stuck the head of the match between a clothes-clamp, to the inside of which we had glued some emery paper, and we attached this clamp to the lid of that box, which we filled generously with homemade gunpowder. Finally we put some nice wrapping paper around the packet. If my great-aunt were to open this present, the match would ignite on the rough surface of the emery paper, then fall on the gunpowder, thus creating a lot of good humour and merry laughter, we thought. Originally we had planned to send her this package by mail. But we decided differently, so that we could watch my grandaunt opening her surprise present as a life event. When the glorious day finally arrived, and my poor great-aunt’s car showed up, we ran excitedly with the package towards the front door. But − luckily for my grandaunt and all of us − it slipped out of our hands in the living room and fell to the floor. Just as we were about to pick it up again, a several metres-long darting flame and thick, sulphurous vapours shot out of it, ruining the brand new living room carpet completely and almost setting fire to the rest of the house. This was the last time, I was invited to this boy’s family … I sometimes wonder, what would have happened, if we had sent the package by post. Those days were the heyday of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany. A burnt-out mail truck or a devastated post-office would certainly have been blamed on them.

German Alchemist Alexander von Bernus at the age of 77 in 1957, Portrait, close-up, black white source unknown
Alexander Freiherr von Bernus (1880 –1965) was a German alchemist, spagyric practitioner, writer and polymath with wide-ranging interests: He studied in Munich Philology, Philosophy, Chemistry and Medicine, published poetry (20 poetry collections and an estimated 1,000 poems, but also prose, drama, novels, theatre plays and mystery plays – about 450 works in total to which add several translations from English such as William Blake and Dante Gabriel Rosetti) and was well received in Germanies literary elite circles with close contacts to writers such as Stefan Zweig, Frank Wedekind, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse and many others. Rudolf Steiner, Alfred Kubin and Else Lasker-Schüler wrote in his philosophical-anthroposophical magazine “Das Reich”. As alchemist he stood in the tradition of Paracelsus and developed in his laboratory SOLUNA over 30 spagyric remedies. The same-named company SOLUNA commercializes these until today. The gross of his legacy is preserved today at the German Baden State Library

After this „alchemical awkward age“ a more serious study of the Hermetic Art began, starting with Alexander von Bernus’: “Alchymie und Heilkunst”, and also a more serious practice, supported for a while by a personal teacher who had worked closely with von Bernus and other known and unknown adepts.

I came across the subject of detonations again a few years ago, when a retort exploded directly in my hand during the production of the “Secret Fire”, with a violent development of huge flames and nasty, caustic fumes. This event could have killed me, or at least I should have been mutilated, burned, poisoned, cauterized, blinded and disfigured. But miraculously, absolutely nothing happened to me. Not a single drop of blood was spilled, not one hair was singed. Nevertheless, this event showed me that in all our works, even the seemingly familiar or even harmless ones, we must never become careless. At the same time, the effect of the “Secret Fire” has become clearer to me: In the alchemical work, its explosive, hot power is not directed outwards in a flash, but unfolds inwards in a long, slow, organic process, thus causing a restructuring of seemingly unchangeable structures.  − This is why it is also called “the fire against nature”! I know, I’m getting close to possibly questioning the universal validity of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but that is a burden I have to live with. In one of his posthumous works, Austin Osman Spare writes that we always imagine infinity as “infinitely large”, but we never think of it also as “infinitely small”,  which nevertheless exists in just the same manner. Taken in this way, this fact is one of the keys to the art of Alchemy.

AH: Do you work alone?

Cover of the book »Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy – How to prepare medical Essences, Tinctures and Elixirs« by Professor Manfred Junius
Manfred Junius, author of the modern classic »Handbook of Plant Alchemy – How to Prepare Medicinal Essences, Tinctures and Elixirs« studied pharmacology in Germany but left early for India where he pursued his passion music and even advanced to become a professor for Indian Music. He entered the world of Alchemy first under the guidance of the Italian Augusto Pancaldi. Later, back in India, Junius studied Ayurveda, became even Doctor and lecturer. Junius spoke reportedly 14 languages, and moved in 1979 to Australia, where he started »Australerba Laboratories«, a company focused on spagyric and ayurvedic remedies. Manfred Junius died in Australia in 2004 at the age of 75.

DH: Yes. But there are several small groups scattered around the world, who receive instructions from me. Besides my already mentioned teacher of my youth, I worked closely with my good friend Achim Stockhardt for several years, until his sudden and much too early death. He was an intimate confidant of Manfred Junius and Isa von Bernus, the widow of Alexander von Bernus, and for some years he was the laboratory manager of von Bernus’ spagyric company “Soluna”.

AH: And are there alchemical operations which require more than one participant?

DH: Of course it makes a lot of things easier, when you work together or even in a group, not to mention the fun factor. But operations, for which this would be absolutely necessary, are not known to me.

AH: Your book “Löwe und Phoenix” was very soon sold out. Used copies are sold for prices up to twenty times the initial price. This seems like a huge success. How come that there has been no new edition so far?

DH: Shortly after the „Aurum-Verlag“, which had published  “Löwe und Phönix”, was awarded the “Goethe-Verlagspreis” for my book on Goethe’s 250th birthday in Weimar, it was taken over by another publishing house. This changed the general programme orientation which shifted more towards Advaita, so there was no space for a book like this.

But later I became quite comfortable with this situation. There are so many publishers who try to create a scarce item artificially, a kind of “real-life Necronomicon” by extremely limited editions of their books, special features, additional supplements etc. But if a book becomes a kind of myth and a legendary collector’s item on its own, then it is the natural development that it wants to take place, and this should not be stopped.

It is still quite possible to get a copy of my book from an antiquarian or that it can be viewed in a library. You just need a little patience, or you might have to save for a while, both things that are not very popular.

The image shows a three-headed dragon – the dragon or snake is an often-used symbol for the »prima materia«. Here the three heads symbolize the three basic alchemical principles Sal(t) (the physical plane), Sulfur (astral – soul) and Mercury (mental – mind) –  they are an inherent part of the same prima materia. Like all hermetic traditions, alchemy is based on the platonic assumption that the pure nature of things and beings contaminates in the real world with impurities or at least non-essential-features – named »feces«. Respectively it is assumed that substances (and beings) ripe over time to perfection. Thus, the alchemist does not seek to isolate singular »active substances« – as chemistry typically does – but aims to set free the true nature of the material he is working with, in its final state as it was meant to be. This for, he will separate from the base material he is working with the three aforementioned »philosophical principles«: sal, sulfur and mercury and clean them from »feces«. Later he will reunite the now cleaned or sublimed three principles extracted of the base material, usually also aided by procedures, which assure better adaptability to the human body. Confusion is often caused as, salt, mercury and sulfur sometimes refer to the alchemical principles, other times to the physical substances, and then again it may in the case of mercury it may also refer to the planet… The seven planets and the four elements are likewise important in alchemy and part of the symbolism Sometimes their corresponding metals are named instead of the planet and vice versa, adding much to the confusion. Image: Clavis Artis, a 17th century manuscript on alchemy.

When I held my first “real” alchemical book in my hands, a reprint, at about ten years of age, I had saved almost a whole year for it. The moment when I finally opened it, however, was a bitter shock for me, because the text was set in Gothic script, which was illegible for me. But instead of giving up, I started to try to decipher the text. After a while, I managed to identify single words, then single sentences, at some point whole paragraphs, and soon reading was as natural to me as any other writing. But when the text was readable for me, the next difficulty arose: The Baroque or New High German language of past centuries is anything but easy to digest on first contact. Many people can’t handle it at all. But here too, I just kept on reading, until at some point I even learned to appreciate this old diction very much.

In the past I also often went to other cities to study old alchemical manuscripts and books in libraries that I could not get through interlibrary loan. Additionally I had microfilms made for me from those writings, that were particularly important to me, which was very expensive and was only topped by the cost of processing them. Being a really poor student at that time, this almost ruined me. Some texts I even copied by hand.

Today we are used to receiving information and knowledge at the push of a button. This can sometimes be very practical and shorten things. However, relying solely on such a form of knowledge transfer is fatal. One aspect of this negative tendency is that it makes us unlearn to actually value and internalize knowledge. It becomes a pure, exchangeable consumer good. It is dead. Other cultures are also confronted with this problem:

In the third volume of his fascinating trilogy on “The Thai Occult”, Peter Jenx writes for example about the Thai way of passing on esoteric knowledge: „Technology is another problem, as everything gets passed on quickly through copying photographs and written descriptions without any associated understanding or experience. In the past, a student had to sit down and write everything by hand, and then test the magic, so the magic itself came from the experience of creating magic. The old way of teaching was to give their students a test to see how devoted they were, how smart they were and how eager.“ (“The Thai Occult, Appendix”, Timeless 2020, p. 67)

I’m really not someone who likes to complicate things. Where simplifications are useful and necessary, one should definitely prefer them. Sometimes, however, it is the winding path that leads to the goal, because the serious effort that you invest in it will pay off many times over at some point.

Kunckel von Löwenstern,
Kunckel von Löwenstern, sometimes Kunkel, born Johannes Kunckel was a German Alchemist of the 17th century. Renowned until today as successful glassmaker – the red glass was one of his inventions – and knighted by king Charles XI of Sweden left several writings on early chemistry, glass manufaction and alchemy. The Laboratorium chymicum is considered one of his main works.

I still remember exactly that holy moment when I opened my first really old alchemy book, which I had bought from an antiquarian bookshop, an edition of Kunckel von Löwenstern‘s “Laboratorium Chymicum” of 1716. The fascination of reading in a haptically, tangible piece of the past and not in a facsimile or on a screen, is difficult to put into words. Since then, I have incorporated hundreds of such originals, printed as well as handwritten, into my collection, and this fascination has been the same for each one of them, and reading a book in this state of enchantment can open doors of understanding that would otherwise remain closed. One might dismiss these words as the personal passion of a bibliophile or even a bibliomaniac, but this approach is one of the ways to connect us directly with our tradition.

There are various publishers in the occult field such as Theion Publishing, Ouroboros Press, Xoanoan, Three Hands Press, Troy Books, Scarlet Imprint, The Society of Esoteric Endeavour, Ixaxaar, Fulgur etc. who try to evoke exactly that with their “talismanic editions”. David Beth, one of the owners of “Theion” writes about this on his homepage: „Theion Publishing is firmly convinced that a book may potentially become alive. We consider bookmaking an alchemical process aiming at the creation of a perfect vehicle for the transformative nature of the wisdom it embeds. Through the exact fusion of outer and inner, not only a book of supreme beauty comes into being, but also, and more importantly, a fetich in the true magical sense. The physical manifestation of an auric book gives birth to an entity through which a reader may enter ever deeper into the Gnosis.“

Here, too, a look at Asia shows a similar understanding of the possible role of a book: „Some Wicha [knowledge gained through study or practice] books are considered to be alive and need to be cared for properly, especially when an old Ajarn [a lay practitioner of the Occult arts] dies, as they can go wild.“ (“The Thai Occult”, Appendix, Timeless 2020, p. 13)

A while ago I bought a Pustaha manuscript from the 19th century at an auction. These are oracle books written in ritual language by the magic priests of the Batak, a people in Sumatra, Indonesia. Besides magical formulas, the Pustahas contain recipes for medical applications and magical remedies as well as instructions for ritual acts. My copy is a small leporello, made of palm leaves with paintings of lizards, insects, mythical creatures, strange writings and a chessboard-like field over which insects crawl. It is bound in wooden plates with a carved lizard figure and flower ornaments as cover. In the beginning I had looked at its pages again and again and enjoyed the strange, beautiful, unfathomable illustrations, but at some point I began to feel very, very uncomfortable doing so. I felt even sick every time I opened the volume. It took a while before I realized why: The book did not want to be looked at just out of curiosity! It did not accept me!  Its former owners had held it in the highest esteem all their lives and had only opened it on certain ritual occasions. − I had committed a sacrilege! Some time afterwards I read on Wikipedia: „Pustaha belongs to the most important ceremonial accessories of ritual-religious festivals of this ethnic group. The magic priests have a certain monopoly position, as they are the only ones who are able to read the Batak scripture from the pustaha.“ − Since then I have never opened it again!

Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur: in Alchymia in 1615
Stephan Michelspacher: »Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur: in Alchymia« (Cabala – Mirror of Art and Nature: In Alchemy), Chalcography, 1615. Probably one of the best-known allegories in the great work of alchemy. It depicts the basic concepts and steps in alchemy. The four elements, the zodiac and the seven planets, which also correspond to the (sometimes four, sometimes twelve or seven) seven stages of the alchemical process, which are depicted here as the stairs: Calcination, Sublimation, Solution, Putrefaction, Distillation, Coagulation, Tinctur. Overall, the whole alchemical operation is imitating nature (symbolized by the rabbit which the alchemist follows, but the savant ignores – thus, for the savant the entire inner world of the mountain where sun and moon meet will remain unknown to him) or just aiding nature to reach its final goal by shortening the time in which the process of developing to perfection takes place.

You can download complete alchemical libraries to your hard drive. Nevertheless, if you don’t handle them with the correct mindset, they will be of hardly any use! Moreover, the abundance of available information means, that we may never grasp completely different ways of transferring skills and knowledge, which may be even faster, deeper and more efficient than anything we can normally think of. In Taoist and Buddhist traditions, it is said, that there are masters who transfer all their knowledge to their best student shortly before their death. In the Cyber-Magic that  Frater U. D. from Germany has developed in the 1980ies, there are similar approaches (but without the need to die for it).

One of my martial-arts-teachers, who is also a great master of magic, once gave me a light blow to the solar plexus at the end of a training session without comment. The next day I began to realize little by little, that my whole body and movement structure had completely changed overnight, and I could suddenly effortlessly and without thinking do all those things, my teacher was able to do.

I knew everything and was able to put into practice immediately what my teacher knew about movement, martial arts and magic, and he can do the hell of a lot of really, really amazing things, that you normally only know from Taoist legends! I was especially puzzled, that I was also able to transfer parts of this knowledge and these skills spontaneously to other people.

But insidiously, this phase was timed, so that it gradually subsided after a few weeks, and I returned to my familiar patterns of movement and thought. Nevertheless, this experience was an important stepping stone for developing these skills on my own, and it showed me, what possibilities exist for transferring knowledge, unheard of by most people.

So these points are the reason why I have made my peace with the fact, that my book has only been published once.

AH: Will there be an English edition any time soon? And which books would you recommend our English speaking readers if they were to get started?

DH: No, there is no English translation planned so far. Besides, I would have to make some alterations, as a lot of things have changed since the German edition.

To get started with the art of alchemy, I would always recommend to begin with plant spagyrics, as most teachers do. It is relatively easy to handle, but already familiarizes you with many basic techniques, without being really dangerous. Moreover, it is fun, you get quick results, and you can make many remedies, liquors and cosmetics for yourself, your family and friends.  Most practitioners stick to exploring the plant kingdom, and that’s perfectly fine. A useful reading list of books in English language could be the following, preferably in that order:

Manfred Junius: The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy

Still a classic and simply a must-have.

Heliophilus: Alchemy Rising. The Green Book

Quite a recent publication with nice photos and good explanations of the processes given. These have also been selected with knowledge and care. I’m looking forward for the next books of this series to appear.

Combining both books give you a solid foundation of the principles of practical alchemy in general and plant spagyrics in particular, from where you can travel on. You find lots of experiments in them, some are easy and some rather tricky.

Daniel A. Schulke: Viradivum Vmbris. The Pleasure Garden of Shadows

Daniel A. Schulke: Ars Philtron. Concerning the Aqueous Cunning of the Potion and its Praxis in the Green Art Magical

Coverpage of the book »Le Mystère des Cathédrales« by Fulcanelli (1926). Illustration by Jean Julien Champagne.
Coverpage of the book »Le Mystère des Cathédrales« by Fulcanelli (1926). Illustration by Jean Julien Champagne. Fulcanelli was an Alchemist of the early 20th century whose true identity is still unclear. Reportedly he achieved the stone. Among his students were Eugène Canseliet and Jean Juliene Champagne – both are sometimes considered candidates for Fulcanelli’s true identity. The language of birds or »langue verte« (green language) is a recurrent motive in alchemy. Who could understand the language of birds would be able to access perfect knowledge in wisdom. A motive we already find in Germanic mythology: in the Völsunga saga, Sigurd starts understanding the birds around him after accidentally tasting from the dragon blood. But the language of birds is sometimes also a synonym for music and indeed we find close ties between alchemy and music. The life of Manfred Junius may be a modern example, Michael Maier’s multimedia publication »Atalanta fugiens« may be another example (The 50 emblems with sound, example of sound including voice).

I love all the books by Xoanoan Press, particularly the works of Mr. Schulke. These two volumes are especially valuable for anyone working with plants on a more spiritual level, being a combination of magic and cunning lore with alchemical principles. Following the instructions can speed up your understanding of the mysteries of the vegetable kingdom and help you making alchemy a part of your daily life. Besides, they are written in a unique kind of language. Alchemy and language have always been inseparable. The Hermetic Art has never expressed itself in pure recipes. In addition to word-to-mouth-traditions, it has always been pictures, technical terms, symbols, parables, allegories and even architectural constructions that clothed its secrets. Many authors also used deliberate deception and misinformation. Mercury is after all also the god of liars and thieves, a “trickster”, as one would say in Shamanic traditions. The highest form of alchemical language is what Fulcanelli calls “The Language of Birds”, the unity between word, the mystery, its concealment and at the same time its revelation. Thus it becomes a sort of magic word, in which the written (or spoken) and the impact are one.

Some echoes of this  can be found nowaday, for example, in what the master hypnotist Igor Ledochowski calls “mind-bending-language”, a special way of using language that bypasses the waking consciousness and thus addresses the unconscious directly, which is extremely efficient.

Stanislas Klossowski de Rola: The Golden Game. Alchemical Engravings of the 17th Century

A beautiful survey of baroque alchemical iconography. All the books, that the engravings have been taken from, can also be recommended for further studies, if you want to connect with the spiritual aspects of Western Hermeticism as well as with its laboratory side. Just let the images and their mysteries speak to you. Imagine how each and every one of these pictures may have affected a viewer at the time of their creation, in an epoch without TV, paintings on the wall, telephones, the Internet, clubs, streaming, concerts, online-shopping, wallpapers, associations, highways, advertisements, drive-ins, political parties, holidays, smartphones, post-offices, restaurants, pornography, electricity, theatres, drugs, bluetooth-speakers, posters, wellness-resorts, social networks, magazines, radio, cinema, selfies, shopping malls, and for most people even completely without books.

During this era, life was mostly lived in close rural communities, and hardly anyone traveled at all. The only highlights were the change of the weather, the cycle of the four seasons and their associated festivities, and the sequence of the celebrations of birth, marriage, offspring and (mostly) early death.

What impression would a person from such a living environment have had if he had suddenly found a book in which only ONE of these pictures had appeared? How would he have looked at this picture? How would it have stimulated his imagination? How would it have spoken to him? What would he have discovered in it?

Alexander von Bernus writes: “The researchers and scholars of today generally make the mistake of judging man of earlier centuries and completely earlier epochs in his organization and mental configuration according to ours of today, and to draw analogous conclusions from this. But this behaviour is quite absurd and leads to completely wrong ideas. (…) It is a complete misunderstanding of the entire development of mankind, if one believes, as is generally the case today, that the early Persian, the ancient Egyptian, even the archaic Greek or the Nordic people of the Edda would have experienced the same as the man of today. The state of mind at that time was so fundamentally different that the modern exegetes and researchers must inevitably come to a superficial and false interpretation of the great revelation-poems and writings of earlier epochs, if they approach them from the aspect of today’s mentality.“ (Alchymie und Heilkunst, Nürnberg 1972, p. 123).

I might add: In the meantime, we cannot even grasp the mental configuration of people of 20 or 30 years ago, not even our own, being now polluted by digital and other cognitive overload.

When I was about seven or eight years old for example, I was fascinated by the covers of some German horror novel paperbacks that were popular at that time (“Vampir-Horror-Taschenbuch” and “Dämonenkiller”). They had really gruesome pictures of decaying corpses and horrible monsters, and these images were very, very explicit for the 1970ies. I think, if some of them were printed on cigarette packets even today as a deterrent, it would drastically reduce the turnover of the tobacco industry.

To my disgust, my parents would not allow me to read these books, and my pocket money was not enough to buy them secretly. So I regularly walked long distances to train station bookstores and magazine stores to at least look at these covers and study their ghastly details to get a scary gooseflesh-kick from them, which then haunted me into my dreams. In the same way, I often went to the city to see the posters and stills of science fiction films or horror movies like the “Blind Dead”-flicks, Jean Rollin-, Dario Argento- and Lucio Fulci-movies or Godzilla-films for example, which I bitterly regretted to be too young to be permitted to watch. − All this may have been but a small personal glimpse of the effects that an overwhelming alchemical picture could have had on a person of olden days …

After letting the hermetic images in this book speak to you, you can read the interpretations given by de Rola, even if they shouldn’t make any sense to you. Confusion is a valuable component in alchemy, as it breaks our thought patterns, habits and biases. If used in a creative way, confusion can be a mighty tool for personal evolution. It is a materia prima par excellence, a chaos, the very seed of gold. Personally I don’t agree with some of de Rola’s explanations, but there is no absolute truth in this art, and this is also something one has to learn and to accept. Hermetic imagery is not a kind of crossword puzzle or treasure map with one and only correct answer to unleash. Intuition and intellectual understanding should always be united in a chymical marriage.

(Attributed to): Anton Josef Kirchweger:The Golden Chain of Homer

Another must-have. In hardly any other book is the alchemical view of nature better described than in this one. The practical work in it should be part of the basic knowledge of every serious spagyric, even if some of the higher processes only work up to a certain point, because there are some important omissions. I read this book at least once a year and always discover something new.

Lapidus: In Pursuit of Gold

A fine introduction into the Great Work, written by a pen friend of Aleister Crowley, but it has to be read with great care and a grain of salt. His suggested reading list is also very good.

Johann Seger von Weidenfeld: Concerning the Secrets of the Adepts

Alexander von Bernus, “The Paracelsus Research Society” and “The Philosophers of Nature”  have greatly appreciated this book. The latter two, however, fell into the trap of claiming that the “Philosophical Spirit of Wine” is acetone and its derivatives. But this is definitely not the case! In this respect, the “Acetate Path” is an absolute aberration, no matter how often it is propagated. You can make good remedies this way, and you can also learn a lot about how to handle the substances you work with. But this has not much to do with High Alchemy.

Besides, this book gives you a perfect reading list for the rest of your life, if you are interested in the Great Work or the manufacture of REAL alchemical medicines, that surpass normal spagyrics by far. You won’t find a better survey of the books of trustworthy adepts to use as source works. All of the classical authors that Weidenfeld quotes, like (Pseudo-) Lullus, Basil Valentine, Paracelsus, George Ripley, Hollandus etc., are the real deal.

AH: If we come to reads, you encourage the reader to take on the classics himself and guide them into deciphering them on their own. You mention a large list of alchemical manuscripts from all centuries. If you would need to restrict yourself to a reading list of ten – which ones would make it on the list?

Paracelsus, or Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim. Chalcography, 1540. by Augustin Hirschvogel
Paracelsus, or Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim. Chalcography, 1540. by Augustin Hirschvogel. Paracelsus was a Swiss physician and alchemist. Known and recognized for several advancements in medicine, including a stark criticism towards the back then prevalent humorism. Replacing them with the alchemical view of Mercury, Sulfur, and Sal Paracelsus developed new paradigms, for example he started to compare digestion to the alchemical process of fermentation, which also slowly gave way to a revolution in nutrition and cooking. The doctrine of signatures – crucial for hermetics and alchemy in many regards – advanced under him. We also find his descriptions of the elemental beings (gnomes, sylphs, undines and salamanders) until today in nearly all western occult traditions. Most modern alchemists still stay in his tradition.

DH: Here‘s my personal Top Ten. The book of Alexander von Bernus was for me personally the beginning of my journey and has influenced me a lot, that’s why it comes first. The rest of the order does not represent a ranking:

  1. Alexander von Bernus: „Alchymie und Heilkunst“. One of the best and most enlightening works ever!
  2. Johann Seger von Weidenfeld: „Concerning the Secrets of the Adepts“.
  3. Fulcanelli: „Mystery of the Cathedrals“ and „Dwellings of the adepts“. I consider both books as one, that is why I also count them as one here.
  4. Pierre Jean Fabre: Collected works. Unjustly a rather unknown author, he left behind a monumental, very original oeuvre, covering all areas of spagyrics and alchemy, their symbolism, theory and practice.
  5. Christoph von Paris: „Elucidarius“.
  6. Anonymous: „Schlüssel der wahren Weisheit“.  You can learn a lot from the last two!
  7. Conrad Khunrath: „Medulla destillatoria“. One of the most interesting books, if you are looking for suggestions for spagyric remedies.
  8. Paracelsus: Collected works.
  9. Johann und Johann Isaac Hollandus: Collected works.
  10. Basilius Valentinus: Collected works. No serious student of this art can avoid these last three!

AH: One curiosity if permitted: during the entire book you do not mention Dom Pernety at all, even though he is often considered an essential read. Is there a special reason for this?

DH: Quite simply, at the time of writing, I had Perny’s works in my collection, but I had not yet read them. But his “Treatise on the Great Art” is very good, and also his “Dictionnaire Mytho-Hermétique” is full of valuable references.

AH: What is your take on Isaac Newton’s alchemical writings?

DH: He shows us that “animated mercury”, may appear to have some unusual physical properties, but that the Great Work cannot be executed in this way. Unfortunately, after almost 500 years, there are still people who believe that they can reach their goal by this route.

The three kingdoms of nature: The kingdom of man and animals, plants and minerals. Actorum Laboratoriichici Monacensis, seu Subterraneae, Johann Joachim Nercher, Frankfurt, 1669
The three kingdoms of nature as seen in Alchemy: The animalic kingdom of both man and animals, the kingdom of plants and the kingdom of minerals. Each kingdom has its own degree of difficulty and procedures – even its own stone. Image: Actorum Laboratoriichici Monacensis, seu Subterraneae, Johann Joachim Nercher, Frankfurt, 1669. The image depicts the realized alchemist, who, has mastered the four elements and three kingdoms and thus, rules in an enlighted state as the sun above them all.

AH: Alchemy distinguishes between the mineral realm, the realm of plants, animals and the realm of men. The difficulty of alchemical operations increases as we move towards the mineral realm because one objective is to make the substance better adapted to the human body. However, you ordered the difficulties as follows: plants, animal kingdom including human substances, inorganic substances. Why this switch between the realm of animals and plants?

DH: This is primarily due to the differences in putrefaction. With plants it is quite easy to carry out a fermentation process. In animals, however, too much putrefaction can ruin the whole work. The result is then not necessarily easier for the organism to assimilate at all.

AH: For the first alchemical steps you invite the reader to experiment with plant tinctures – solutions based on one ingredient – and elixirs – solutions based on a mixture of ingredients. But you do not give here any particular suggestions or recipes. For the other realms in the book – the operas of the animal and mineral kingdom – suggestions seem more specific as for the outcome. What is the rationale here? Is it maybe even completely arbitrary what tinctures and elixirs are made for a starter?

DH: Exactly. With single essences, you can start with any plant, with which you may have a special relationship, or with those that are readily available, or you can choose those, that are suitable for a particular disease you wish to cure. It doesn’t matter, what you start with, as long as you do it!

As for compound elixirs from plants, there are so many recipes that it is impossible to pick out anything special. It is also necessary to distinguish between compound elixirs, which are supposed to have a general toning effect on the body, and others, which serve against specific complaints. The intensive study of herbal books to find an elixir, that appeals to you, can thus help to promote your own intuition, as well as developing confidence in approaching the world of plants. This is always better than serving everything pre-digested. With animal products, minerals and metals, the possibilities for error are much greater, so the didactics should be different in these realms.

AH: And how would you recommend to get more proficient in the plant kingdom? Are books in herbalism of any use from an alchemical point of view?

Nicholas Culpeper, Painting/Portrait by Richard Gaywood, etching between 1644 and 1662
Nicholas Culpeper was a physician, herbalist, and astrologer in 17th century England. His book the »Complete Herbal« is still printed today. Culpeper related diseases and plants to astrology and advocated empirical knowledge rather than just following older authors. This strong inclination to own experience and first-hand knowledge is something already Agrippa von Nettesheym distinguished from his contemporaries. Painting/Portrait by Richard Gaywood, etching between 1644 and 1662

DH: Whether historical or modern: Books on herbal medicine should not be missing in any alchemical collection. They are indispensable for obtaining a profound knowledge of the nature and effects of herbs. Besides, many of the older authors like Leonhardt Thurneysser zum Thurn, Theodorus Tabernaemontanus, Nicolas Culpeper, Johann Joachim Becher, Frank von Frankenau, Samuel Müller, Bartholomaeus Carrichter, Johann Jacob Bräuner, Walther Ryff, Johannes Hiskias Cardilucius, Christoph Hellwig etc. have also practiced spagyrics and alchemy.

Apart from pure reading, you can practise recognising the plants you encounter on walks and try to let their nature take effect on you, instead of stepping blindly past them. Gardening, fermenting food, regularly preparing teas, wild herb salads, herbal baths, fumigations, brewing wine or beer from fruits and herbs, making herb liqueurs etc. is also a good way to get in touch with the vegetable world.

Spagyric is first of all a set of pure techniques, but knowledge of the plants and their nature is the prerequisite for using these techniques successfully. Otherwise you act like a mere technocrate. This is best achieved, the more familiar you are in everyday life with those plants, that grow all around you.

AH: After some proficiency in the plant kingdom is achieved, the student can prepare the »Plant-Stone«. What is this about and what are the next steps on the way to becoming a master alchemist? 

A plant-stone, which can be produced in both solid and liquid form, is the essence of the highest and purest potentials of a plant that have been released. In contrast to other preparations, it works not only on the material plane but also on various subtle levels. It can be used as a very potent medicine, for rejuvenation and as a tool for personal development. Once you have become adept at making plant-stones, you can begin to devote yourself more intensively to the other natural kingdoms, especially minerals and metals. Alchemy should slowly become an integral and indelible part of daily life. Techniques of inner alchemy can be very helpful in this process. Under no circumstances should one be too ashamed to make mistakes. Failures will always accompany us on our path anyway. And as banal as it may sound: the road to mastery consists of one thing: practice, practice, practice!

AH: You also run your own shop over the internet and a small publishing house. The website is named fulcanelli.de and indeed you mention Fulcanelli quite often in your book. What is his significance for the practitioner today?

DH: Fulcanelli’s books are definitely one of a kind. They teach us to really read and to discover the Mysteries where we might not even suspect them. Although they are not how-to-books, they are full of practical hints, and the processes he describes should be reworked at some point if possible. Sometimes it is claimed that these texts are only suitable for advanced hermetics. I do not see it that way. Even beginners should read them, if only to immerse themselves in their linguistic atmosphere and their secrets, and let them confuse them. – Here too, what I have already said about confusion applies! For a long time I thought that these linguistic bolides were absolutely untranslatable. But Dr. M. P. Steiner has taught me a better lesson. With his German translations, for which he needed decades, he has done an absolutely fantastic job. It could not have been done better!

AH: In the Edition Hornfisher also appeared a book about Jiaogulan – a Chinese herb which is praised as the plant of youth or described as “ginseng, only better”. Today we have access to several herbs which are not native to our surroundings. Ginseng, Echinacea, but also witchhazel (at least for the Europeans among us) are just some examples. Is it from an alchemical point of view important whether a herb is local to the practitioner or not?

DH: It is absolutely useful to first deal with one’s own immediate environment in order to learn its secrets and those of its plants. Paracelsus’ dictum, “that where the disease appears, its remedy also grows”, cannot be denied. But the world does not end at our garden fences, and even in very old pharmacopoeias exotic ingredients were often considered to be particularly potent. For a long time Guaiac was considered a miracle weapon against syphilis, and when drugs such as coffee, tea and cocoa became popular in the 17th century, many books were published about their healing effects, sometimes bringing them close to Panaceas. So: Don’t limit yourself in any way!

AH: You are currently working on a book about “high alchemy” – when can we expect it to appear and can you already tell something about the content?

DH: Unfortunately, the appearance will be delayed for quite a while. Numerous other projects still take up too much of my time, and the linguistic presentation of the text also burdens me with unexpected challenges. In terms of content, the book will deal exclusively with the Great Work, whereby I will explain, among other things, many processes that Alexander von Bernus only vaguely hinted at in his writings.

AH: What other plans do you have for the future?

DH: There are numerous book projects of old texts from different subject areas (not necessarily alchemical), which I want to publish. Among them are some completely, but unjustly forgotten naturopathic procedures, that are extremely powerful. Another book I’m working on is about medically effective beers.

And otherwise: My plan is “Refining the elixir”, to put it in Taoist terms. This is a project that never ends and that pervades everything.

AH: So you maintain a large variety of interests… As for the hermetic arts, you also practice magic and especially, Enochian magick. Rather than diving into the next subject I’d just like to ask: how much time do you devote to your occult work? 

DH: I practice daily and also try to maintain some techniques permanently, even during sleep.

AH: Another question I have to ask – because I ask it everyone interviewed here – what is your take on Aleister Crowley? 

DH:  He has had a big influence on me from my teenage days ‘till my early twenties. I still appreciate him as a pioneer in many fields and as a unique personality and eccentric. Many of his essays and other writings are still top-notch today, because of Crowley’s razor-sharp intelligence, his nonconformism, his great spiritual experience and his humor. He was also perhaps the first to make a large set of powerful occult techniques generally available to the public. In addition, he was one of the few advocates of the concept of self-initiation in his days, despite his elitarism and his faible for founding lodges.

However, in my opinion, with his concept of Thelema and proclaiming himself as the Logos and saviour of the New Aeon, he fell into the trap of many gurus and religion founders, who indulge in fantasies of world-salvation and megalomania.The manic obsession, with which Crowley subordinated everything to the Law of Thelema in his later life and works, robbed him of much of his original fire. This and all that his successors have made of it, has little to do with liberation, but much to do with dogmatism, narrow-mindedness and clubs and societies. Finally, I agree with Frater U. D.’s assessment that Crowley was not so much a magician, but rather a mystic. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but labeling him a magician in the first place, as it is mostly done, is somewhat debatable.

AH: Mr. Hornfisher, thank you!

Interview with Wilmar Taal on »The Gnome Manuscript« and Gnomes in The Netherlands

Dutch Author Wilmar Taal in The Atlantis Bookshop in London at the PResentation of his Book: The Gnome Manuscript. Book launch party 01.02.2020
Wilmar Taal on his presentation »Gnomes in the Netherlands« during the book launch party for »The Gnome Manuscript«. London, Atlantis Book shop, February 2020

There are quite a few books on like every possible subject piling up in the archives of Western occultism, but books on elementals or the little folk – and gnomes in particular – are still rare. The writings by William Mistele come to mind, and I also remember an article in the 90ies in a German edition of the AHA magazine from the magical diary of the writer, which turned out to be a pleasantly written account on the writer’s astral journey into the earth element, and thus, the world of gnomes. I enjoyed this article quite a lot, and I recently wondered, if there would not be time for more accounts like this. So, it immediately caught my attention after I spotted Wilmar Taal’s latest Book “The Gnome Manuscript” and its promotional video from Troy books.

“The Gnome Manuscript” is the first part of a trilogy dedicated to Eldermans research on the little people. Two more volumes are planned: The Gnome Grimoire. Magical workings with Nature Spirits” and “The Gnome Compendium: miscellaneous writings”.

Just recently, there was the launch party in London for the book, so I used the opportunity and met Wilmar at his presentation at the Atlantis Bookstore. There, I learned not only more about gnomes in the Netherlands but also about Wilmar and Mr. Eldermans.

Wilmar Taal at the launch party for his book "The silent Listener" in London 2018. With his wiffe (left) Jane Cox and Gemma Gary from Troy Books and Geraldine Beskine and Bali Beskine from the Atlantis Book shop
Wilmar Taal debuted at Troy Books two years ago with “The silent Listener“, a biographical account on the life and works of J.H.W. Eldermans, whose occult writings were donated to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle. Photo was taken in London 2018 at the book launch party at the Atlantis book shop. With his wife Natascha (left), Jane Cox (middle, back, left) and Gemma Gary (middle, back, right) from Troy Books and Geraldine and Bali Beskine from the Atlantis Book shop (front).

Alexander: Hi Wilmar, I hope you had a safe flight home and enjoyed the presentation as much as I did 🙂 The gnome manuscript and your presentation are mostly a collection on J.H.W.  Eldermans writings and a solid layer of your own research. So the first question should be – who was J.H.W. Eldermans?

Wilmar: The flight home was alright, a little bumpy at the end, but we landed safely. J.H.W. Eldermans, or Johannes Hendrik Willem Eldermans was a probation officer from The Hague who created a massive collection of drawings, sketches, objects and manuscripts concerning the occult. Many people have tried to categorize Eldermans, but he was a magical omnivore. In his writings he could easily go from witchcraft to cabbala and from parapsychological phenomena to alchemy. Let’s say he was obsessed with the supernatural and anything related. There are differences in opinion when he started with his works. His former neighbour said he was already working on this collection in the 1950’s. There are also clear indications that some of his writings and sketches have been made after his retirement in 1970. The Gnome Manuscript, as we know it, is made in the 1970’s, presumably based on earlier notes. Eldermans is quite vague about his sources, and if you study the drawings in detail, you see all kinds of references to other ‘documents’, but I think these are spoofs. I haven’t found any indication that these refer to something. If so it is either destroyed or it never existed. I prefer to give Eldermans the benefit of the doubt, and believe these references are among materials he destroyed at the end of his life or were destroyed by his wife after he passed away in 1985.

JHW Eldermans left a large legacy of occult and esoteric manuscript and items. A part of it. The Riechel collection is now preserved in the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall.
JHW Eldermans left a large legacy of occult or esoteric manuscripts and items. A part of it, »The Richel collection« is now preserved in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall.

Alexander: What are these collections all about and what is the Richel Collection?

Wilmar: Well, the overall collection is called the Richel-collection. It is a collection of objects, drawings, manuscripts and sketches bequeathed to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, United Kingdom, back in 2000, after Bob Richel passed away. Bob was courting the Museum for a little while, hoping he could sell his collection to them, but the museum didn’t have the money to pay for it. Bob visited the museum in 1998, and he invited Graham King, the director at the time, to come to his apartment in Amsterdam to see the collection for himself. In the meantime Bob started to send the museum small ‘gifts’ from his collection. This collection consisted of a large part of the drawings, objects and manuscripts by Eldermans. Bob was married to Eldermans’ daughter, and he kept Eldermans in very high regard. The collections deal with anything you could call Hermetic philosophy, or more broader oriented; the supernatural. Eldermans was as interested in high magic, as he was in poltergeist-phenomena, dowsing or folklore. Gnomes were a special interest to him.

Alexander: It seems that Eldermans himself was not a practicing Occultist – so what motivated him, how deep was his level of understanding. What is the significance of his writings to the practicing occultist if any?

 

JHW Eldermans. or with full name: Johannes Hendrik Willem Eldermans in 1934. Black / white Photograph.
JHW Eldermans. or with full name: Johannes Hendrik Willem Eldermans in 1934. A former probation officer, who, even though apparently not an occultist himself, produced a large collection of texts documenting occult beliefs.

Wilmar: Well that puzzled me for a long time. His sources mentioned in his writings were on one hand from old grimoires or texts concerning magic from let’s say the 15th century. But I never got the impression he actually read those books. Most of his knowledge came from popular books like Modern Witchcraft by Frank Smyth, Sex and the Supernatural by Benjamin Walker, Anatomy of Witchcraft by Peter Haining and some of the ‘books’ he mentioned, like The Tools and Methods of Magic or Spirits of Nature were chapters in The Encyclopedia of Magic and Superstition. Recently I finally got my hands on a book by Kurt Seligmann, and I curse myself for not having obtained that book four years ago, as this is one of the most important sources of Eldermans’ own work. The significance of his work is in my opinion the effort he put into it to produce such a vast body of work, and in his writings on sexual magic and sadomasochistic magic he even introduces concepts unheard of in the magical world, like the Rueff method, or tools like the PS-bridle and the SS-bridle.

JHW Eldermans. or with full name: Johannes Hendrik Willem Eldermans in 1955 with his wife. Black / white Photograph.
JHW Eldermans in 1955 with his wife. Black / White Photograph.

Alexander: You actually bumped more or less accidentally into Eldermans and his work and then were asked by his family to write about him. You agreed on the spot and this is how your first book about him – The silent Listener – appeared. But: what determined you to start a trilogy on gnomes and their magic?

Wilmar: Well, actually he came to my attention when I wrote my first book in Dutch about the Round House mysteries. He was involved in the research on the occult rituals that presumably were performed there. It was Eldermans who brought the ‘researchers’ working on that case on the trail of the Pangermanic movement. I contacted his granddaughter to try to get more info and we stayed in touch. She indeed approached me to write The Silent Listener. The Life and Works of J.H.W. Eldermans. This book was launched at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle. There I spoke with the museum staff and the manager, Peter Hewitt, and from these conversations I gathered that the gnome manuscript was something that really puzzled them. Peter gave me the basic idea of translating the manuscript, commenting on it, and maybe doing some extra research on locations or literature mentioned in the manuscript itself. And once I got started, it was a fun job to do, I learned a lot during this process, and I have seen some locations I otherwise would never have visited, like the Hunenborg (a medieval ringfort) or the gnome-crossroads in Helden, in the south of The Netherlands.

Drawing of a gnome and some his tools by JHW Eldermans from the Riechel collection in Boscastle.
Drawing of a gnome and some of his tools by JHW Eldermans from the Richel collection in Boscastle. The gnome here has an estimated height of 0.95 meters (3.11 feet).

Alexander: So it was some external impetus that brought you to write the gnome manuscript? Meanwhile, you seem to have become quite an expert on that matter. I presume the subject has become a favorite of yours.

Wilmar: Well, you have to understand that two years before I even started looking into these matters, we always went on vacation to the same spot in The Netherlands, and around 2010 I got a little bit fed up with it. Our financial situation was not allowing us to travel abroad a lot, so I had to make the best of it. And as you know, fate will guide you in these matters. I was visiting a small book-fair in Putten, a little town near our vacation home, and I found two small books on local folklore. I bought them as they were fair priced, and then the idea came to me to read such a folklore tale and step on my bicycle and try to find the place where it took place. Some of these places were forgotten, like the Bamberger Pit near a little village called Garderen, so it was a sport to find the exact place. And some of these tales concerned gnomes. It also awoke a fascination with local folklore, so I started collecting books on the subject and now I have two shelves filled with books concerning folklore. The research on Eldermans sometimes made it necessary to buy books on folklore in the places where he lived, like Almelo. That would take some skill, because some books are hard to find. Fortunately I am a seasoned bookhunter. I go to the Deventer book fair every year, the largest book fair in Europe. And I never managed to come home with empty hands.

Author Wilmar Taal with Graham King, the former director at the "Museum of Witchcraft and Magic"in Boscastle.
Author Wilmar Taal with Graham King, the former director at the “Museum of Witchcraft and Magic” in Boscastle.

Alexander: Indeed, there is a lot of your own research in the Gnome Manuscript, which adds much knowledge and context to Eldermans writings. So let’s switch to the gnomes themselves. There are several theories about what gnomes are or may have been – but most can be divided into two types of theories: the first one, believes gnomes are or were physically existing beings and the others see gnomes rather as beings belonging to the astral plane. What are these theories and what were Eldermans beliefs in this regard?

Wilmar: The Pygmy theory says that gnomes are flesh and blood. There is also a tale in the writings of the Greek historian and philosopher Strabo about the Idaean Dactyli, a dwarf-like race that mined mountain Ida on Crete. In Eldermans’ writings these Dactyli started migrating north once the mines on Ida were depleted, and they travelled as far north as Ramsbeck in Germany, where they started mining iron, copper and tin. These Dactyli never mingled with the local people and kept to their own in their mines, so people would start telling stories about them, attributing occult powers to them and so our gnome-tales were born. The other theory sees gnomes as spirits. In most of the witness-reports Eldermans noted in his manuscript the gnomes are spirit-like, they appear and disappear in a haze or mist. What Eldermans’ personal beliefs are concerned, he was very skeptical at the age of 42. He could not find the faintest shred of belief inside himself. When we go forward into the 1970’s, he changed his mind and certainly believed that there was something happening. Once he remarked that gnomes existed to a couple of people, and he wrote that if people would look at the evidence at hand, they might think differently.

Alexander: And how about your personal beliefs?

Wilmar Taal 2018 at St Nectans Glen. Photo taken by Jane Cox from Troy books.
Wilmar Taal was born in 1969 in Zaandam, The Netherlands and works at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. He studied Cultural studies at the Open University Netherlands and graduated with a thesis on H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. He published three books so far: Wie Nunspeet zegt, zegt Van Vloten. De sage van het Ronde Huis (2014), The Silent Listener. The Life and Works of J.H.W. Eldermans (2018) and The Gnome Manuscript part one: Origins, habit and culture (2019). He also writes various articles for magazines. He lives in Koog aan de Zaan with his wife and »a spoilt rotten cat« as he declares.

Wilmar: I was raised a protestant Christian, so when the time came to become a man, I rebelled with satanism. So reading The Satanic Bible by our esteemed friend Mr. LaVey (Eldermans loathed that man), playing music with satanical lyrics like Venom, Slayer or Mercyful Fate, and there was this interest of me in UFOs. During my time in the Dutch army I was offered the possibility to follow some education, and I saw this course in parapsychology. I finished it a few weeks before I was sent on grand furlough. In 1994 I decided to go back to the University and challenge myself to a college education, and that’s how I got involved in the field of Cultural studies. It was a very open-minded university, as the occult was considered a part of our cultural heritage and was also treated in the curriculum. Although I am quite skeptical, I am still interested in Hermetic Philosophy and the Occult sciences as a cultural phenomenon. It can’t be denied that people like Blavatsky, Crowley, Germer, Mathers, Murray, Gardner, Spare et cetera had a major influence on Western civilization. If I ever would become religious again, I might consider a pagan religion, simply because they don’t judge people’s sexual identity or orientation. I love the idea that you, as an individual, should be free to be who you are.

Alexander: So, this probably implies you haven’t met gnomes yourself, yet? What are gnomes anyways?

Wilmar: No, but I would love to meet one. Seen from a cultural point of view I think gnomes represent a part of nature that was unknown to our ancestors. In The Netherlands we know them as ‘kabouters’, but also as ‘Eerdmennekes’ or ‘Alven’. Alven is actually something from Germanic and nordic culture. It could very well mean that the concept of a gnome is introduced in our society rather than that it existed by itself. If you look to the south, the gnome-folklore is more rooted in Celtic tradition. Take for instance the belief in the province Zeeland that a gnome could cause you to get lost. In Great Britain they know this type of behaviour as ‘being pixie-led’. The remedy was to turn your coat inside out and wear it that way. That would confuse the little people enough to leave you alone.

Alexander: There seem to be many parallels to folklore surrounding gnomes in other Germanic countries. So how are they related to the Scandinavian Nisse, Jultomte or the German Heinzelmännchen?

Wilmar: Well I am speculating now, but I believe that all these European traditions are connected in one way or another. It could originate from a single culture that once inhabited Europe, but I think that explanation is too simple. I believe that contact between various tribes, be it through war or trade or travels, have imported these ideas into strange societies and vice versa, brought their ideas back to your own tribe. And if you go look worldwide, there are a lot of cultures who have stories about ‘little people’. In Surinam for example, they know the ‘Bakru’, a dwarf-like creature that knows black magic, and you shouldn’t mess around with them.

Another page from the Riechel Eldermans collection showing a gnome working and some of his tools
Another page from the Richel Eldermans collection showing a gnome working and some of his tools

Alexander: I know I tried to meet gnomes when I was a kid. I left milk evenings in the garden to feed them. They even wrote some thank-you letters sometimes, but I identified the script as my father’s handwriting =) So, I did not learn much first hand either. What else are the most commonly reported features of gnomes?

Wilmar: Gnomes do chores if you reward them well. They repair things, clean your house, clean your pots and pans, feed the cattle, tend to the horses and all you have to give them in return is food. They can’t eat it due to their spirit-like nature, but they appreciate the smell and the effort shown by humans to prepare it for them. Gnomes can be attracted, but they don’t want to be around humans by choice, as they detest our smell, especially from women and mostly from women who have their period. In one of the future installments is an instruction for women how to wash themselves when they want to meet gnomes. It concerns rainwater and leaves of rue. It takes away the smell enough to not disturb the gnome too much. Gnomes are also guardians of treasure according to Eldermans, so if you want to find treasure, you should seek help from a gnome. In the Keys of Solomon there is a ritual that describes what measures to take to make sure the gnome doesn’t extracts its vengeance on you once you forced it to seek treasure for you. Gnomes can also be greatly annoying, a pest or even right out dangerous. In the second book there are a number of rituals including how to defend yourself against gnomes or even repel them.

Alexander: You mention rituals to get rid of gnomes. Why is that and how would one do that? But in the first place: is there also advise on how to attract a gnome?

Wilmar: There are a number of theories on how to see a gnome. One is to have the talent yourself. Some people are born psychic and are able to see them. There is also a theory by Henriette Gorter that only people who have experienced the proximity of death at an early age (and that could be because you were close to death yourself, or you lost someone dear to you at an early age) are able to see gnomes. There are also magical means to see gnomes, by drilling a hole in a peg of a certain kind of wood, apply the right pentacle on the wood, and at a certain hour on a certain day under the influence of a certain planet you might be able to witness gnomes. Eldermans described and drew a number of these strange looking apparatuses. When you do see a gnome, you know there should be treasure nearby. If you manage to find that treasure, you will experience the wrath of the gnome, and that comes in all shapes and sizes. The gnome could infest your house and behave like a poltergeist. Or the gnome could lead you astray. It could bring ideas in your head that scare you half to death. So knowledge about gnome magic is necessary once you decide to use magic to see them.

Alexander: So if someone would need to repel a gnome and they would go for Eldermans advice, they would end up banning the gnome using the Lesser Key of Solomon and would need to use Christian elements… How is the gnomes relationship to Christianity? What does Folklore tell about this?

Wilmar: Actually from the greater Key. The Christian elements can be found in the work of another folklorist, a contemporary of Eldermans, Jacques Sinninghe. Gnomes and Christianity don’t go together rather well. Gnomes are considered to be ‘demonic’ in nature, so the Church forbade the people to tell these kinds of stories. In other cases gnomes were exorcised from their homes by priests. There are stories in the works of both men that gnomes can’t stand the sound of the church bells. In one theory the sound physically harms them, in the other theory they loathe the sound because gnomes consider Christianity to be a hypocrite religion. I still haven’t come across reasons why gnomes consider Christianity hypocrite, but I can imagine why.

Alexander: Well, so do I 🙂 You focus on gnomes in the Netherlands and you made some discoveries regarding the geographical distribution of their appearance…

Wilmar: Well, it appeared that gnomes had a certain appearance in Twente and De Veluwe areas in The Netherlands. They looked like they dressed as medieval peasants, often had beards, but some didn’t. They wore sturdy pointy hats, not necessarily red. Gnomes loved to dress in earthy colors. The gnomes from the south, according to Eldermans, were quite muscular and dressed in a loincloth with a white pointy cap. Local folklore contradicts this as they describe gnomes to be dressed in rags and have ‘the features of the Devil’ in their faces. It led a recent researcher to the conviction that gnomes were actually children with Down syndrome, which is very stereotyped in my opinion. Gnomes in Twente came closer in appearance to so-called fairy tale gnomes, the ones we know with the red pointy hat.

Alexander: What is or could be the explanation for these contradicting accounts?

Wilmar: Geographical differences, but also difference in culture could be one explanation. Not all people in The Netherlands share the same beliefs. For instance, in the east they are terrified of so-called White Women, as in the north-west they never heard of such creatures. If you look at it from another perspective: there might be different races of gnomes living right next to us. I am skeptical of the thought, but do not dismiss it at first sight.

Alexander: The first part of the trilogy focuses on the origins, habits and culture of the gnomes. How would you describe gnome culture in short and what surprised you the most?

Wilmar: Well, what I learned is that there is no such thing as gnome culture. It is a mingling of all kinds of cultures, gnomes are not known for their magnificent monuments or their writings. There is actually very little to go on. Mostly they express some form of culture in their clothing, shoes and tools. What surprised me is that gnomes appear to have very broad feet, and there are shoes pictured in Eldermans’ work those feet would never fit into.

Drawings by JHW eldermans showing tools for ceremonial magicAlexander: The second part will focus on Gnome magic – what exactly can we expect from this?

Wilmar: We are currently editing this part of the trilogy, and there are three chapters in the book that are even larger than those in the first book. The first chapter deals with magic to attract gnomes. This comes from various sources, like The Key of Solomon but also from local folklore. The second chapter deals with gnomes that need to be removed by magic. Gnomes can become enormous pests and you don’t want such gnomes in your home or on your land, so there are a number of ways to make sure they don’t come near your home. The third chapter deals with seeking treasure with the aid of gnomes. And here the sources vary from old texts to local folklore.

Alexander: … and what will be the content of the third book then be?

Wilmar:  The third book will deal with writings that could not easily be categorized. One chapter deals with witness-reports Eldermans collected. One chapter deals with gnome mythology, another with persons associated with gnomes, like Mrs. Annie Gerding-Le Comte, the gnome lady from Nunspeet. Eldermans corresponded with her in 1976 concerning a gnome migration route that went straight through her garden. And there are the real leftovers mentioned in a separate chapter.

Alexander: When can we expect the next volumes to go into print?

Wilmar: I believe that part two will go into print this year. But Troy Books has their own way of planning, so it could also be shifted into 2021. It was originally planned to be released quite quickly after each other, but since Troy Books is growing, there are more new authors coming on board and new books being published. I do hope we will manage it this year. The third book will follow a year after that.

Bob Riechel with Pipe, 1966 - Black White Photograph
Bob Laurentius Richel with Pipe, 1966. It Was Richel, having been married to Eldermans daughter Louise, who preserved Eldermans work and approached The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle.

Alexander: Do you have any other projects ongoing right now, or planned?

Wilmar: Currently I am laying the last hand on a book about Bob Richel, titled Traveller inside the frame of a strange painting. The occult life of Bob Laurentius Richel. When that one is done I am going to work on my next project concerning the history of the UFO in The Netherlands, which I am looking forward to very much. Then there are a couple of ideas I am toying with, like a book on Dutch folklore for the English market and two more books on the Eldermans collection. One will be called Eldermans: Witch and deals with Eldermans’ knowledge on ancient and modern witchcraft and The Light of Egypt: Sexual magic in the works of J.H.W. Eldermans, which will be quite a voluminous work. Most of his collection concerns sexual magic.

Alexander: You mentioned Bob quite some times before. Bob Richel was the one handing the Eldermans collection to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Who was this man and what can we expect from his biography?

Wilmar: Well, Bob’s life started with his family fleeing their home because of poltergeist phenomena, so does the family tell me time and time again, his life is drenched in the supernatural. He was a quiet, humble man who loved to make art with an occult theme to it, but also with a surrealist touch. Bob had some gruesome experiences during World War II, he joined the resistance in Amsterdam and went to Indonesia when the nationalists declared their independence from The Netherlands. After that he never wanted to go to war again. In the 1950’s he met Louise Eldermans and became acquainted with her father. Eldermans looked down on Bob, but Bob adored his father-in-law. That relationship never changed. But everyone I met during the research for this book said the same thing: he was a kind, humble, friendly soul with a certain black sense of humor. When I interviewed Graham King for this book, he described Bob in the same words. And I wouldn’t call him an occultist either, but someone with great love for the subject, and a great love for mandrake roots. He grew a couple of them himself, and fashioned them into mandrake men. These are now on display in the Museum of Witchcraft and magic.

Alexander: Wilmar, thank you very much for these insights into the folklore of gnomes, your latest book and the outlook on your future ones. I hope to re-see you soon and then to continue our interview with the occasion of the next book launch 🙂

Wilmar: The next launch will be in Boscastle during the release of the third book. Troy Books is thinking about releasing a limited edition cassette with all three editions in them. We will probably launch it at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, as the Gnome Manuscript can be found there in the library. It would be great to reconnect there, but as the North American release of The Silent Listener draws near with Llewellyn Worldwide, there might be other occasions coming real soon! I will keep you posted. Thank you for the opportunity to elaborate on my work, and I hope to speak to you soon.

Alexander: It was my pleasure and I had a really good time at your party and reading the book. See you soon!

The Old Craft- The Old Craft
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The Witch’s Besom – How to Craft and Use Your Own Magical Broom

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"Los Caprichos" print by Francisco Goya from 1799. As depicted here, the broom is most constantly thought of as a magical vehicle that carries the witch or the wizard to the sabbath or to a metaphysical world.
“Los Caprichos” print by Francisco Goya from 1799. As depicted here, the broom is most constantly thought of as a magical vehicle that carries the witch or the wizard to the sabbath or to a metaphysical world.

The besom or the witch’s broom is a humble and apparently common household object. It became associated with witchcraft at a time when it was believed that witches concealed their wands among the bristles of their brooms and consequently used them to fly on them to their nocturnal gatherings and sabbaths. It was believed that an ointment was used on the handle of the broom that either made it levitate or made the witch hallucinate and gave her the sensation of flying when mounting it. While nowadays the besom is not a flying vehicle anymore, it is still very potent in ritual magic and witchcraft. While every witch knows that you can use the besom for cleansing and energy sweeping, there is more to the power of the broom that is often overlooked.

Artemisia absinthium or Wormwood from "Flora von Deutschland Österreich und der Schweiz" by Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thome, 1885. This plant is used by Romanian women to create bristles for magical besoms on Marina's Day. Not only does it make for a protective magical besom, but it is also an important ingredient in the making of Absinthe and it takes its name from queen-commander Artemisia, named so after the goddess of the wildland and the Moon beloved by all witches, Artemis.
Artemisia absinthium or Wormwood from “Flora von Deutschland Österreich und der Schweiz” by Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thome, 1885. This plant is used by Romanian women to create bristles for magical besoms on Marina’s Day. Not only does it make for a protective magical besom, but it is also an important ingredient in the making of Absinthe and it takes its name from queen-commander Artemisia, named so after the goddess of the wildland and the Moon beloved by all witches, Artemis.

In Romanian lore, the besom is a potent object which becomes truly magical at special occasions. For example, for Marina’s Day which is celebrated in Romania on July 17, mothers celebrate Marina, the protector of the souls of dead children, by crafting brooms with bristles made out of Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and offering them to each other alongside flowers, corn, and chicks, and they keep the brooms which they use to sweep their homes and yards. They believe that these special brooms not only sweep away the dirt, but also bad luck and spirits such as the strigoi. Strigoii, which are believed to mount the brooms of the villagers to go to their nocturnal gatherings on the nights of Sângiorz (April 23) and Sântandrei (November 30), were unable to mount the brooms made of Wormwood. The Wormwood broom is also used by the Romanian people to bring someone back home, to sweep away evil forces, and even illness by sweeping around the ill. The broom is also a potent tool against Muma Pădurii (the mother of the forest). For this, the broom of the witch or the disenchantress or the broom of the mother whose child is haunted by the mother of the forest is used during a disenchanting ritual by sweeping the entrance to the home or by placing it next to the child’s bed. In all the spells and charms where the broom is used to repel something evil, the disenchantress or the witch always says to said evil to leave and go far away “because I will sweep you with the broom” (“Că eu cu mătura te-oi mătura”) otherwise.

Now we live at a time when brooms are mass-produced, thus they lack personality and ‘magic’ and not many commit to crafting brooms, such as the Wormwood brooms of the Romanian women, but you can craft your own magical broom made out of a tree of your choosing or you can buy one from a specialized seller. Luckily for me, I live in Transylvania, Romania, and here people still make and sell besoms that closely resemble those of our ancestors. I bought my broom from a handcrafter who sells traditionally crafted wooden objects such as spoons, boxes, and besoms on the side of the road. Because of this, each besom is different from the other, it is unique, and hand work was put into it.

Illustration by Anton Kandaurov from 1899 of a witch from a fairy tale by А.С. Pushkin. As strongly suggested by the image, the handle of the besom is a phallic object, emanating male energy, but the bristles add a feminine touch to it - which is what makes the besom and interesting tool through which both male and female energies flow.
Illustration by Anton Kandaurov from 1899 of a witch from a fairy tale by А.С. Pushkin. As strongly suggested by the image, the handle of the besom is a phallic object, emanating male energy, but the bristles add a feminine touch to it – which is what makes the besom and interesting tool through which both male and female energies flow.

When I acquire such objects for my craft, I use an advice which was given to me by a historian who works at the Museum of Arad, my hometown, when I was in 5th grade. I often went there as a child and still do nowadays, to visit the ancient and medieval artifacts connected to my place of birth, and every time I’d reach the end of my visit, I’d stop by the little shop set at the entrance where they sell souvenirs, gemstones, crystals, and even shark fangs (well, there was only one and I bought it!). So, in 5th grade, I stopped by the little shop to buy my first gemstone. I knew nothing about gemstones other than the fact that I wanted to have them at home with me. There were so many beautiful gemstones and I was so torn that I couldn’t decide which one to pick, so I asked the historian lady to help me out. She said: “You see, this is a very personal thing, I cannot choose on your behalf, but here’s an advice you can use from now on: choose the one that winks at you.” Somehow, I knew exactly what she meant and in a split second, the Green Aventurine twinkled at me. So I got it. Ever since, I look for that twinkle in certain objects before I get them. And when I saw the besom I own now, it instantly twinkled at me, so I got it and we’re great partners ever since.  Try to look for that twinkle as well when you choose your broom, if you’re looking to buy one.

How to Create and Use your Besom

Magic witch's broom - decorated with pentagram and colored ribbons. Wicca broom / besom for witchcraft and sabbath.
Because it is not used as a regular broom, the magical besom can be adorned with ribbons and charms of your choosing to increase the besom’s magical potency. Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/6329809951

There are a few ways in which you can create your own besom. You can start from scratch, begin by acquiring a handle and then make everything yourself from there, or you can acquire a besom and make it your own. If you would like to commit to crafting your own besom from scratch, start by choosing a tree you would like to bond with and one which you know would be accessible to you. You may also choose more than one tree if you’d like the different parts of your broom to be made out of different wood. Doing this will enable you to bring in your space and craft the qualities of that tree and introduce an energy that serves you in your system. After you’ve chosen your tree, choose a special occasion such as your birthday, a full moon, or one of the seasonal festivals from the Wheel of the Year when you will take what you need from the tree to make your besom.

Hexenflug of the "Vaudoises" from a manuscript titled "Ladies' Champion" from 1451, by Martin Le Franc. This is believed to be the first such illustration of women flying on a besom, respectively a stick. According to this illustration, the only difference between a mere woman and a witch is the ability to fly on a besom, which is unlike most manuscripts of the time which depicted witches as deformed creatures.
Hexenflug of the “Vaudoises” from a manuscript titled “Ladies’ Champion” from 1451, by Martin Le Franc. This is believed to be the first such illustration of women flying on a besom, respectively a stick. According to this illustration, the only difference between a mere woman and a witch is the ability to fly on a besom, which is unlike most manuscripts of the time which depicted witches as deformed creatures.

On that special occasion, ask the tree for permission to take a branch and twigs and honor it by leaving an offering (fruit or water). Then activate them during a ceremony. You can do so during the same or another special occasion, by blessing the branch and the twigs or by consecrating them through smudging. Bind the twigs to the branch with a ribbon or rope of your choosing or with another twig if you can. If you already have a handle, you only need to take a few twigs from your tree of choice and use the same process to craft the besom.

Whether you’ve started from scratch, a handle, or you already have a besom, you must make it your own. You do this by carving or painting symbols of your choice on the handle. You can also tie ribbons to it in colors of your choosing, adorn it with bells, and even add feathers in the bristle bouquet. I’ve put a feather from my native totem, the raven, and a couple of peacock feathers among my bristles, but you can use whatever feathers you have or which are of a provenance that is significant to you. If you have a spirit animal that is a bird, you may use feathers that belong to it. This will increase the potency of your broom. To finalize the crafting ritual, gently blow on your broom, from the bristles to the end of the handle, so that it may carry and protect you. In Romanian lore, another way to consecrate the besom is to sweep with it at the entrance of a cemetery.

Now that you have your own magical besom, you may use it for cleansing rituals. You can cleanse your home, by going from room to room and sweeping away negative energy, but make sure that the bristles don’t touch the floor as you do this. If you want to protect your home against unwanted visitors (physical or spiritual), sprinkle some salt at the entrance of your home and then sweep it outside. You can also use it to open and close your ritual circles, to cleanse your ritual space before and after casting a circle, and you can also use it to prevent nightmares or to remove night terrors and sleep paralysis. For this, you only have to place the broom under your bed at night and it will protect you.

Lastly, you may use the crafting of a besom for another witch to symbolize a rite of passage. It is something very endearing that doesn’t have to be reserved only for witches that belong to the same coven. Similar to the tradition on Marina’s Day, one witch may craft a broom for another witch and offer it to her as a way to honor her craft, magical maturation, and continuity of their magical lineage.

Broom Bristle Cleansing Spell

Every part of the magical besom is potent in spellwork. While the entire besom is used for energy sweeping and cleansing, the bristles can be used as spellwork ingredients too, especially for protective and tracking spells. Photo of Radiana Piț and her magical besom by Vlad Tudor. Instagram: @crowhag
Every part of the magical besom is potent in spellwork. While the entire besom is used for energy sweeping and cleansing, the bristles can be used as spellwork ingredients too, especially for protective and tracking spells. Photo of Radiana Piț and her magical besom by Vlad Tudor. Instagram: @crowhag

As a practitioner of predominantly Romanian folk magic, I rarely use the broom as it is traditionally used in Western witchcraft. In Romanian tradition magical sweeping and cleansing ritual involving the broom are reserved for special occasions such as the night of Sângiorz or Sântandrei, in Romanian spellwork, the bristles of the broom are often used to repel evil forces, illness, or negative energy. This inspired me to develop a ritual that draws from the cleansing power of the broom. While I still use my ritual broom to sweep in the air throughout my home during every New Moon, or to cleanse my sacred space before and after magical work, I sometimes use the bristles when I feel jinxed, unlucky, or like there’s a cloud of negative energy over my head.

At dusk, I take a bristle of my broom, a needle (or a spindle), and a twig of thyme that I hold in my left hand, and with my right hand I hold my hair up. I then spin three times anticlockwise as I say:

Evil eye look away,
Return from whence you came
Or with the broom I’ll sweep you,
With my hair I’ll whip you,
With the needle I’ll prick you,
With thyme I will burn you.

After I do this, I take a strand of my hair, the broom bristle, and the thyme twig and I burn them. I first smudge around myself, and then I continue smudging by going from room to room. I feel much better afterward and as if whatever was bothering me was removed.

If you ever feel like there’s a cloud of negative energy around you and you want it removed quickly and efficiently, perhaps this ritual will work for you as well. If you believe in the cleansing power of your broom, there is no reason why it wouldn’t work. Good luck!

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www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

The Wolf as in Animal Magick, Spirit Animal and Totem – The Keeper of Time

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Sigill with Raven Wolf for the book Yearning For Spirit by Crowhag AKA Radiana Pit
Sigil made by Radiana Piț on the cover of her book, Yearning for Spirit. Her native totem, the Crow-Raven and that of her Daco-Thracian ancestors, the Wolf, are depicted together in order to represent the symbiotic relationship between the two totems | Instagram: @crowhag

In my introductory article: Totems, familiars, power animals and where to find them, I’ve briefly mentioned the Wolf in regards to the symbiotic relationship it has with Corvus (Raven/Crow) in nature. I’ve repeated that in my The Crow and the Raven as Spirit Animals article, with regards to how my native totem, Corvus, has bonded with the totem of my Daco-Thracian ancestors, the Wolf as is represented on the cover of my book “Yearning for Spirit”.

While this is a bonding on a more personal level, perhaps only significant to me, it is generally true that the Crow and the Wolf work together splendidly both in nature and on the metaphysical/astral plane. The reason why I am sharing this brief personal account of the bond between the Crow and the Wolf is because I hope that it can serve your work in this direction and help you find your own totemic extension and symbiotic relationship.

In learning about the Wolf and other totems, you not only get to know the metaphysical and natural world of the animals, but you get to extend yourself and become deeply connected with nature and all of its fantastic beasts. The Wolf is the best animal to help you develop a deep connection with your instincts. He is a solar symbol, as well as a devourer of celestial bodies, he is a warrior hero, as well as a mythical ancestor.

He guides us in the darkness of the underworld on an initiatory path to the light of the wisdom of the ages. He is a keeper of time and his dark mouth (“Gura lupului” in Romanian) is a symbol of death and rebirth. The stability of his protective and reproductive behavior has been preserved and unchanged throughout time, which pretty much confirms the Romanian saying: The wolf changes his coat but not his nature, from the Latin proverb: Lupus pilum mutat, non mentem.

However, this is often used and interpreted negatively, but it still has the positive component of a preserved nature and strong determination. The wolf’s dignity survives throughout time and it is reflected by man’s inability to train the wolf into a circus dog.

The Wolf as Spirit Animal

White wolf, close up, orange eyes, in winter landscape
Wolf is the keeper of time, he is a symbol of death and rebirth, as well as a loyal protector. As a totem, the Wolf will always help you stand your ground in the face of adversity.

The wolf is a universal symbol of personal power, freedom, and autonomy. In Romanian lore, the Wolf is the only creature who can see demons no matter how hard they try to conceal themselves. Interestingly enough, wolves have also been observed to have a highly developed “sixth sense”.

The wolf may appear to you in order to warn you about something you are not able to see coming or in order to help you sharpen your intuition. Because it is also an independent and strong social character, the wolf can help you reduce your social anxiety and become more confident. In challenging times, he is also a reminder that everything you need to overcome misfortune with is already within you.

Contrary to popular belief, wolves don’t attack unless they need to or are provoked. However, they do stand their ground and can be quite intimidating. That is why the Wolf will always help you stand firm in the face of opposition. He is also extremely protective and his territory, pups, and proteges are sacred to him. In this sense, if he appears in your dreams or as a symbol around you, he may convey that your home needs protecting and you may rely on his protection.

The wolf also appears when you feel lost… his howl will help you find your tribe of kindred souls. As a totem, the wolf helps you develop your instincts, intuition, and connection with nature. If you’ve worked with this totem for a while, you probably crave or have found freedom and made a significant progress in developing your agility and vigilance.

The predatory nature of the wolf might often be misunderstood by those working with this totem. It is important to channel this predatory energy into a scholar, professional, or magical ambition, rather than a social or personal ambition that might end up hurting other people who are weaker than the wolf. As a power animal, the wolf will always appear when summoned.

Unlike the Raven-Crow who only appears to the worthy, the Wolf appears to anyone who needs protection and strength. If you howl, he’ll come to you. But be sure you can handle his intense energy that will start flowing through you for the time he’ll be present. It can come out more aggressively than desired unless measures are taken beforehand.

Wolf Lore

Daco-Thracian Wolf-Cults

Artwork by Radiana Piț of the Dacian Wolf, Draco.
Illustration 1: Artwork by Radiana Piț of the Dacian Wolf, Draco. The red, yellow, and blue are associated with the 3 colors of a flame, and they would’ve been used by Dacians on the Draco banner. The current Romanian flag is inspired by the three colors of the Dacian banner. | Instagram @crowhag

The most prominent Wolf Cult in history was that of the my Daco-Thracians ancestors. The other peoples of Antiquity often called Dacia (the current territory of Romania) “the land of the wolves”. The Dacian people believed that they were descended from wolves, which is why the wolf was their totem and protector of the Dacian Army.

The Dacian Draco, the dragon with the head of a wolf was the banner they carried into battle and it can be seen in the depictions of the battle scenes from the Daco-Roman Wars (101-102 and 105-106) on Trajan’s Column in Rome. The banner had the body of a snake prolonged into a tail made of fabric and the head of wolf that had multiple metal tongues. The head was mounted on a pillar that the horse-rider carried into battle and when it was held in the wind, it would make fierce howling sounds that intimidated the enemy army.

Draco was alive in the minds of the Daco-Thracian army just as much as it seemed alive to their enemies. The word Draco (Latin) or Drakon (Greek) means “dragon”, but the origin of the word comes from the Greek “derkesthai”, often referred to as the “Dragon’s Eye” and it can be translated as “the one with the (deadly) glance.”

In his book, From Zalmoxis to Genghis Khan, the Romanian philosopher and historian, Mircea Eliade, suggests that the Dacians were a warrior breed under the sign of the wolf. Strabo names the Dacians as “Daoi” (from the word “daos” which originates in the Illyric word for wolf, “dhaunos”). The Daoi were worshipers of Kandaon, the Daco-Thracian god of war often associated with Mars. More specifically, the Daoi were also seen as a distinct brotherhood of Dacian warriors who believed their dragon-wolf banner was a manifestation of their supreme god, Zalmoxis, also known as the “Sky Dragon”.

It is said that Zalmoxis’ favorite animal was the wolf (“daoi” or “daos” in Thraco-Phrygian dialect) and the god was often associated with a white wolf. Romanian legends speak of the Great White Wolf with great respect. One of the oldest legends says that Zalmoxis turned one of his priests into a great white wolf which protected the land and people against enemy invasions. The ancestral Wolf would join the Dacian armies and with his howl, he summoned the wolves of the land into battle.

The wolf played an important role in the spiritual life of the Dacian people and this importance of the wolf was passed down from generation to generation. Saint Andrew was a witness to this in the old days and he found himself associated with the Wolf Cult. One legend says that it is the Great Wolf that welcomed the Saint into our lands.

Wooden scultures of traditional dacic / dacian wolves, dimly lit in a statuary complex inside the Unirea Salt Mine in Prahova, Romania. Black white image.
Wooden sculptures of the Dacian Wolf at the salt mine in Prahova, Romania. The Dacian Wolf had the body of a serpent and the head of a wolf. Photo: Flickr.

Romanian Wolf-Cult and Lore

Remnants of this Wolf Cult still survive today. Originating in the solar symbol of the Great White Wolf associated with Zalmoxis, the wolf in Romanian mythology becomes a psychopomp. He guides the souls of the dead in the underworld and he is often invoked in funeral laments. In the old days, Romanians would baptize their weak children with the name “Lup” (“wolf” in Romanian) so that they would take the strength of the powerful beast.

Nowadays, Romanians celebrate the Wolf Sabbat or the ancient Dacian New Year, throughout the period of death and rebirth. It starts with “Filipii de toamnă” (Autumn’s Phillips) on November 10th – 14th and it ends approximately 80 days later, at “Filipii de iarnă” (Winter’s Phillips) on January 29th – February 2nd, when the long period of wolf breeding ends.

Each of the 7 days of celebration is called a “Filip”, which are wolf patrons, zoomorphic divinities ruled by the Great Phillip (overlapped with Saint Phillip the Apostle). There are multiple traditions and magical celebrations associated with each of these days, many of them borrowing the might of the wolf, asking for its protection, and favor.

However, the most important celebration that marks the transition between the old and the new year is the Night of the Wolf, which is now celebrated alongside St. Andrew’s Day – the Patron of Romania and Wolves – on November 30th. You can learn more about this celebration and its origins in my article The Night of the Wolf: The Romanian Celebration When Evil Spirits and Fearsome Wolves Roam the Earth.

Wolf-Cults Around the World

Statue / monument of the lupa / shewolf feeding the brothers Romulus and Remus, who became the founding fathers of the city of Rome.
Capitoline Wolf Statue in Cluj-Napoca, Romania – the Capitoline Wolf is the most famous depiction of the mythical she-wolf, Lupa, and twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. It stands today as the symbol of ancient Rome and it is a testimony to the importance and age of the Wolf Totem. Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram @crowhag

Much like the Dacians, the Romans also associated wolves with war and even with their god of war and agriculture, Mars. His sons, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were nurtured by the mythical She-Wolf Lupa (from the Latin word for wolf, “lupus”), as depicted by the Capitoline Wolf. The Greeks also associated the wolf with one of their gods, the same god that they associated the Raven with, Apollo.

Just like the Dacians, the Turks, Mongols, and Ainu people also believed that they’ve descended from wolves. To Mongols especially, the wolf was a symbol of luck and it was even involved in Mongolian folk medicine. They believed that eating the intestines of a wolf could alleviate chronic indigestion. To the Native American Pawnee, the wolf was a symbol of luck and strength as well. According to their creation myth which is similar to the myth of Pandora’s Box, the wolf was the first creature to experience death.

It is said that the Wolf Star was not invited to participate in the discussion on how the Earth will be created. Enraged by this, he sent a wolf to steal “the whirlwind bag of The Storm that Comes out of the West”. The bag contained the very first humans. When the Wolf Star opened the bag, the humans killed him and brought death into our world. The Pawnee associate Sirius with the Wolf Star and the Milky Way with the Wolf Road. The coming and going down the Milky Way of Sirius is a reflection of the birth and death of the Wolf Star.

The Wolf in Norse Mythology

The wolf was a prominent figure in Norse mythology as well. However, the wolf in Norse mythology is more dangerous and destructive. While Odin’s faithful pets, the wolves Geri and Freki were considered good omens, Loki’s eldest son and his offspring were quite the opposite.

According to legend, the malevolent wolf Fenrir, the eldest son of Loki, was bound by the gods. It is said that he will grow so large that his upper jaw will touch the sky while his lower jaw will touch the earth. His chains will no longer bound him, he will break free, and he will devour Odin during Ragnarok. His offspring, Skoll, and Hati will also devour the Sun and the Moon. Fenrir is a symbol of the end of times.

On the same note, the Zoroastrian, Japanese, Indian, and Finnic mythologies associate the wolf with death and destruction. The wolf has always been particularly hated and feared in Finland. Even the Finnish word for wolf, “hukka”, means “perdition”. Sadly, the wolf has been mercilessly hunted and killed by the Finns, as it was considered a malicious predator that killed more than it needed to.

Mythical Lycanthropy

The idea that man could transform into a wolf is present among the ancient people throughout the world and in Proto-Indo-European mythology, the wolves were associated with warriors who could transform themselves into wolves. Many believe that lycanthropy is a medieval concept, but it is much older than that. While the common European idea was that humans can turn into wolves, Virgil noted that the spirits of the forest were those that turned themselves into werewolves.

Unlike wolves, who can be seen as zoomorphic divinities, werewolves are always seen as evil and cursed. In Romanian mythology, the werewolf devours the Sun and the Moon and according to tradition, someone can be turned into a werewolf if they are not baptized, they disrespect tradition, kill their brother, or if they are bitten by an impure animal on the Night of the Wolf.

Wolf on mountain hills against the sunset.
The Wolf, often perceived as a dangerous creature of the night, has inspired the belief in mythical lycanthropy, in which the keeper of time becomes the devourer of the celestial bodies, the Sun and the Moon.

It is said that such a thing leads to a transformation that can cut the soul from their body and their soul can be lost forever. To the Native American people, however, skin-changing into a wolf is considered an honor. In Greek mythology, Lycaon, the king of Arcadia who established the cult of Zeus, was turned into a werewolf after sacrificing a child to the god.

However, “mythical lycanthropy” is a primordial totemic and shamanic tradition that symbolizes metamorphosis and which has entered the realm of rituals in order to help humans attain the power of the wolf. This primordial tradition of attaining such power became a curse, especially in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, pathological lycanthropy was explained through witchcraft and demonic possession and it was believed that committing a sacrilege would attract it as divine punishment.

That is why witches who were believed to be able to turn themselves into wolves to join the Sabbat were considered to be cursed and that a chance encounter with them on a moonlit night would pass the curse onto you.

Lycanthropy aside, the old relationship between man and wolf has surfaced once again thanks to the recent and well-deserved popularity of G.R.R.M.’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”. While werewolves were all the rage for a long time, now the man and wolf in a magical bond seem to be more popular. We see this in the House of Stark, where each of the Stark children is given a dire wolf that throughout the story accomplish various significant roles in the lives of each of the children.

It is suggested that all of them can warg into their wolves in their dreams, but more notably we see Bran before he becomes the Three-Eyed-Crow developing his warg and greenseer abilities through his wolf, Summer. With Jon Snow, we see a slight representation of the “death and rebirth” myth of the wolf and his role as a psychopomp.

In the books, just before he receives the final stab that kills him, Jon Snow whispers “Ghost”, which is the name of his wolf. That suggests that he might’ve warged into Ghost. In the television series, Jon’s dead body was left alone in a room, only with Ghost sleeping by his side. And just before he resurrects, Ghost flinches and looks towards him. On this note, I’ll leave with the words of Lord Eddard Stark: “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Occult Art: The First Walpurgis Night – Cantata by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy After A Poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Witches' Sabbath - Johannes Praetorius: Blockes-Berges Verrichtung, Leipzig, 1668
Johannes Praetorius – A German writer and historian shows in his work “Witches’ Sabbath” from 1688

In 1799 the German mason, member of the illuminati, natural scientist and first and foremost: poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote the ballad “Die erste Walpurgisnacht” – “The first Walpurgis night”.

In a sharp contrast to the Walpurgis night scene in Goethe’s Faust, which pretty much resembles the inquisitor’s cliche about the orgiastic meetings between witches and the devil on their Sabbath, the ballad “The first Walpurgis night” is different: It depicts a pagan community celebrating a spring festival according to the old ways, such as Beltane, despite being suppressed, criminalized and followed by the new, Christian majority.

In order to escape the prosecutors the pagans mask themselves with devil’s masks, exploiting the superstitious beliefs of their enemies. The plan works out and the druids finish their worship of May Day in peace, to celebrate the arrival of spring and the power of the sun.

Goethe –  A Heathen?

Cover page of Goethe's ballad "the first Walpurgis night"
Cover page of the ballad “Die erste Walpurgisnacht”. Written in 1799 and from the beginning intended to be set in music, the complex task would not be finished earlier than 1842. Ten years after Goethe’s death.

Goethe was sometimes called a heathen himself. However, in a different way: In a letter to Johann Caspar Lavater he once wrote that he would not be “an antichrist, neither an unchrist, but a decided non-christ”. In particular, he despited the symbolism of the cross, the original sin (which seemed to him an insult towards creation), and he opposed the Trinity as blasphemy against the one god, as scholar Werner Keller summarized.

He appreciated pantheistic views, in his art he fancied polytheism (especially of the classical antiquity), but his morals, still were Christian, as he used to underline.

Hence, despite Goethe’s inclination to masonry and occult topics – overall: his main work Faust is loosely based on rumors around the German Renaissance magician and cabalist Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim – he was no “heathen” in the way described in his poem “The first Walpurgis night”.

Meaning and Significance of Goethe’s “First Walpurgis night”

This raises the question what drove Goethe to his empathic poem (the text leaves no doubt on which’s side the poet stands!) about pagans celebrating spring and tricking and frightening their Christian persecutors with devil costumes and forks.

Goethe wrote from the very beginning the poem with the aim to have it set to music – a cantata for which he wanted his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter to be the composer. By sending a letter to Zelter, Goethe explained the background of his ballad:

A historian would have tried tracing back the origins of the ancient German belief in the devil’s or witches’ sabbath on the mountain Brocken, Harz (Germany). He found that the old pagan priests, after being driven out of their sacred groves, and after Christianity was made mandatory for the people, gathered with their true remaining followers in the hard accessible Harz mountains to celebrate the arrival of spring the old way.

In order to protect themselves from armed, but superstitious Christian prosecutors they would have covered up their faces with devil’s masks, to safely and unrecognized finish their “pure” worship.

Regardless of the historical accurateness, Goethe obviously liked this idea, and labels the Christian priests with their superstitions even as “dull”. His feelings are with the pagans, whose religion he depicts as supreme.

The Long Way to the Cantata

Composer Zelter, however, soon realized that this task was way beyond him. Instead, he arranged a meeting between Goethe and the 12 (!) year old Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in 1821.  The music was brilliant, but Goethe criticized the understanding of the text as “shallow”, thus the 12-year old could not transpose the complex layers of meaning Goethe had laid into his work. It would take 11 years until 1832 for Mendelssohn to finish the cantata. Goethe died in the same year. Whether he would have liked the result or not is unknown.

Mendelssohn himself felt the need to rework the cantata again, and the first performance was 10 years later: in 1842. Considered often a masterpiece, it took not less than 21 years to create it.

Three times seven – I am not an adept of music, and neither of Goethe, but there is magic in this music and seems the right soundtrack for a day like this 😉

Blessed Beltane, May Evening or Walpurgis night!

P.S. Do not miss Radiana’s post on the Witches’ Sabbath.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: “Die erste Walpurgisnacht” Music and Video

Goethe: The First Walpurgis Night – German Text and English Translation

Es lacht der Mai – May is in full bloom

EIN DRUIDE

Es lacht der Mai!
Der Wald ist frei
Von Eis und Reifgehänge.
Der Schnee ist fort;
Am grünen Ort
Erschallen Lustgesänge.
Ein reiner Schnee
Liegt auf der Höh;
Doch eilen wir nach oben,
Begehn den alten heilgen Brauch,
Allvater dort zu loben.
Die Flamme lodre durch den Rauch!
So wird das Herz erhoben.

DIE DRUIDEN

Die Flamme lodre durch den Rauch!
Begeht den alten heilgen Brauch,
Allvater dort zu loben!
Hinauf! hinauf nach oben!

A DRUID

⁠⁠Sweet smiles the May!
⁠⁠The forest gay
⁠From frost and ice is freed;
⁠⁠No snow is found,
⁠⁠Glad songs resound
⁠Across the verdant mead.
⁠⁠Upon the height
⁠⁠The snow lies light,
⁠Yet thither now we go,
There to extol our Father’s name,
⁠Whom we for ages know.
Amid the smoke shall gleam the flame;
⁠Thus pure the heart will grow.

THE DRUIDS

Amid the smoke shall gleam the flame;
Extol we now our Father’s name,
⁠Whom we for ages know!
⁠Up, up, then, let us go!

Könnt ihr so verwegen handeln? – Could you be so rash, so daring?

EINER AUS DEM VOLKE

Könnt ihr so verwegen handeln?
Wollt ihr denn zum Tode wandeln?
Kennet ihr nicht die Gesetze
Unsrer harten Überwinder?
Rings gestellt sind ihre Netze
Auf die Heiden, auf die Sünder.
Ach, sie schlachten auf dem Walle
Unsre Weiber, unsre Kinder.
Und wir alle
Nahen uns gewissem Falle.

CHOR DER WEIBER

Auf des Lagers hohem Walle
Schlachten sie schon unsre Kinder.
Ach, die strengen Überwinder!
Und wir alle
Nahen uns gewissem Falle.

ONE OF THE PEOPLE

Would ye, then, so rashly act?
Would ye instant death attract?
Know ye not the cruel threats
⁠Of the victors we obey?
Round about are placed their nets
⁠In the sinful heathen’s way.
Ah! upon the lofty wall
⁠Wife and children slaughter they;
And we all
Hasten to a certain fall.

CHORUS OF WOMEN

Ay, upon the camp’s high wall
⁠All our children loved they slay.
⁠Ah, what cruel victors they!
And we all
Hasten to a certain fall.

Wer Opfer heut zu bringen scheut – Whoever fears to sacrifice

EIN DRUIDE

Wer Opfer heut
Zu bringen scheut,
Verdient erst seine Bande.
Der Wald ist frei!
Das Holz herbei,
Und schichtet es zum Brande!
Doch bleiben wir
Im Buschrevier
Am Tage noch im stillen,
Und Männer stellen wir zur Hut
Um eurer Sorge willen.
Dann aber laßt mit frischem Mut
Uns unsre Pflicht erfüllen.

A DRUID

⁠⁠Who fears to-day
⁠⁠His rites to pay,
⁠Deserves his chains to wear.
⁠⁠The forest’s free!
⁠⁠This wood take we,
⁠And straight a pile prepare!
⁠⁠Yet in the wood
⁠⁠To stay ’tis good
⁠By day till all is still,
With watchers all around us placed
⁠Protecting you from ill.
With courage fresh, then, let us haste
⁠Our duties to fulfil.

Verteilt euch, wackre Männer, hier – Divide your forces, valiant men

CHOR DER WÄCHTER

Verteilt euch, wackre Männer, hier
Durch dieses ganze Waldrevier
Und wachet hier im stillen,
Wenn sie die Pflicht erfüllen.

CHORUS OF WATCHERS

Ye valiant watchers now divide
Your numbers through the forest wide,
⁠And see that all is still.
⁠While they their rites fulfil.

Diese dummen Pfaffenchristen – Christians and their priests are dull

EIN WÄCHETER

Diese dumpfen Pfaffenchristen,
Laßt uns keck sie überlisten!
Mit dem Teufel, den sie fabeln,
Wollen wir sie selbst erschrecken.
Kommt! Mit Zacken und mit Gabeln
Und mit Glut und Klapperstöcken
Lärmen wir bei nächtger Weile
Durch die engen Felsenstrecken.
Kauz und Eule
Heul in unser Rundgeheule!

A WATCHER

Let us in a cunning wise,
Yon dull Christian priests surprise!
With the devil of their talk
⁠We’ll those very priests confound.
Come with prong and come with fork,
⁠Raise a wild and rattling sound
Through the livelong night, and prowl
⁠All the rocky passes round.
Screech-owl, owl,
Join in chorus with our howl!

Kommt mit Zacken und hit Gabeln – Come with prongs and pitchforks

CHOR DER WÄCHTER

Kommt mit Zacken und mit Gabeln,
Wie der Teufel, den sie fabeln,
Und mit wilden Klapperstöcken
Durch die leeren Felsenstrecken!
Kauz und Eule
Heul in unser Rundgeheule!

CHORUS OF WATCHERS

Come with prong, and come with fork,
Like the devil of their talk,
And with wildly ratthng sound,
Prowl the desert rocks around!
Screech-owl, owl,
Join in chorus with our howl!

So weit gebracht, dass wir bei Nacht – It’s come so far that now by night

EIN DRUIDE

So weit gebracht,
Daß wir bei Nacht
Allvater heimlich singen!
Doch ist es Tag,
Sobald man mag
Ein reines Herz dir bringen.
Du kannst zwar heut,
Und manche Zeit,
Dem Feinde viel erlauben.
Die Flamme reinigt sich vom Rauch:
So reinge unsern Glauben!
Und raubt man uns den alten Brauch,
Dein Licht, wer will es rauben?

A DRUID

⁠⁠Thus far ’tis right,
⁠⁠That we by night
⁠Our Father’s praises sing;
⁠⁠Yet when ’tis day,
⁠⁠To Thee we may
⁠A heart unsullied bring.
⁠⁠’Tis true that now.
⁠⁠And often, Thou
⁠Favourest the foe in fight.
As from the smoke is freed the blaze,
⁠So let our faith burn bright!
And if they crush our olden ways,
⁠Who e’er can crush Thy light?

Hilf, ach hilf mir, Kriegsgeselle – Help, oh help me, comrade

EIN CHRISTLICHER WÄCHTER

Hilf, ach, hilf mir, Kriegsgeselle!

Ach, es kommt die ganze Hölle!
Sieh, wie die verhexten Leiber
Durch und durch von Flamme glühen
Menschen-Wölf und Drachen-Weiber.
Die im Flug vorüberziehen!
Welch entsetzliches Getöse!
Laßt uns, laßt uns alle fliehen!
Oben flammt und saust der Böse,
Aus dem Boden
Dampfet rings ein Höllen-Broden.

CHOR DER CHRISTLICHEN WÄCHTER

Schreckliche, verhexte Leiber,
Menschen-Wölf und Drachen-Weiber
Welch entsetzliches Getöse!
Sieh, da flammt, da zieht der Böse!
Aus dem Boden
Dampfet rings ein Höllen-Broden.

A CHRISTIAN WATCHER.

Comrades, quick! your aid afford!
All the brood of hell’s abroad:
See how their enchanted forms
⁠Through and through with flames are glowing!
Dragon-women, men-wolf swarms,
⁠On in quick succession going!
Let us, let us haste to fly!
⁠Wilder yet the sounds are growing,
And the arch fiend roars on high;
From the ground
Hellish vapours rise around.

CHORUS OF CHRISTIAN WATCHERS.

Terrible enchanted forms,
Dragon-women, men-wolf swarms!
Wilder yet the sounds are growing!
See, the arch fiend comes, all-glowing!
From the ground
Hellish vapours rise around.

Die Flamme reinigt sich vom Rauch – The flame is purified from smoke

CHOR DER DRUIDEN

Die Flamme reinigt sich vom Rauch:
So reinge unsern Glauben!
Und raubt man uns den alten Brauch,
Dein Licht, wer kann es rauben!

CHORUS OF DRUIDS

As from the smoke is freed the blaze,
⁠So let our faith burn bright!
And if they crush our olden ways,
⁠Whoe’er can crush Thy light?

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Walpurgisnacht – Or: Walpurgis’Night – The Witch’s Flight to the Great Sabbath

2
"Witches near Treves", engraving from about 1600. Witch riding on her broom in the sky.
“Witches near Treves”, engraving from about 1600. Many of the depictions of the witches’ flight to the Sabbath were inspired by the confessions of accused witches, who shared their visions and sensations of flight with the accusers. These visions and sensations were often acquired after using a secret magical ointment before sleep on the night of the Sabbath

On April 30th for Walpurgisnacht, witches, warlocks, and wizards gather for the Great Sabbath of the year. Some fly to the meeting places on their brooms or forks, others turn themselves into cats, goats, horses, and toads for the journey, some leave their bodies and attend the meeting in spirit, while others cover their bodies with a secret ointment to grow bat wings so they can fly to the gathering. In their place, they leave a vicarium daemonem, their demonic double. It doesn’t matter which method is used for traveling, as long as the meeting is honored by everyone’s presence.

They gather just before midnight at crossroads, mountain tops, and in forests, they light a roaring bonfire which they jump through and dance around, until their Horned God arrives in their middle and the true Night of the Witches begins. They commune with their god and make love to him, they release their magic to defend it against the rising cross which with its shadow darkened the light of ancient magic. The Witches’ Sabbath is the conversion of ancient Dionysiac mysteries to a Christian context. The ancient fertility rites which were Dionysiac in nature were performed in the cover of the night, when the fire was brighter and when the aphrodisiacs were stronger.

The priestess performing these rites were accompanied by men disguised as mythical figures with horns and hooves, such as Faunus or Pan, and they partied for their gods, such as the drunk god, Silenus, and the horseman god, Sabazios. The priests and priestesses attending the Dionysiac celebrations covered their bodies with magical ointments which gave them vivid dreams, hallucinations, or a profound sleep. The secret recipes of these ointments survived through the Dark Ages, guarded by the witches who participated in the Great Sabbath.

Before they went to sleep on the Night of the Witches, they covered their body with these secret ointments, which gave them visions of fire, flying witches, and horned gods. In the Middle Ages, many witches testified to the sensation of flight given by some of these ointments that contained narcotics and poisonous herbs. The Inquisition tried to find out the recipes for these secret ointments, and the witches who confessed did so using code names for the ingredients they used. Ingredients like baby fat, bat blood, opium, and mandrake fed the imagination of the public that witches were evil creatures that kidnapped children to use them for their sabats.

"Saint Walburga" at St. Martin's Church in Messkirch, by Master of Messkirch, sometime around the 1500s.
“Saint Walburga” at St. Martin’s Church in Messkirch, by Master of Messkirch, sometime around the 1500s. She is celebrated on Walpurgisnacht by Christians as a protector against witchcraft.

Walpurgisnacht is the greatest of all sabats throughout the year, it is a night of “bewitched bodies” that “glow with flames through and through”, of “werewolves and dragon women passing by in flight” (Die erste Walpurgisnacht), when witches fly on their brooms to mountain tops where they conjure the ancient magic of the old gods. Although the Christian Church has tried to overturn the old celebration by trying to establish a Christian patron that protects against witches on the very night of the witches, the essence of this celebration is still there and perhaps nowadays it’s embraced for what it is more than in the previous centuries.

Walpurgisnacht or Hexennacht which is celebrated in the Germanic countries of central Europe is often considered as a version of Beltane, since both fall in extremely close proximity to each other. While the celebration of the Germanic Walpurgisnacht begins on April 30th and continues to May 1st, the Gaelic Beltane is most commonly celebrated on May 1st.

A Short History of the Night of the Witches

The origins of the image of Walpurgis night being a witches’ sabbath are unclear. However, it is striking that it coincides with Beltane and maybe other pagan festivals  in earlier time. Goethe presumed in one of his poems such an origin.

St. Walpurga

For Christians, Walpurgisnacht is also known as the Feast of Saint Walpurga, that is celebrated from the evening of April 30 to the day of May 1st. Saint Walpurga or Walburga was the daughter of St. Richard the Saxon Pilgrim and sister of St. Willibald and St. Winibald. When her father went on a pilgrimage with her two brothers to the Holy Land, he left Walpurga, who was only 11 years old at the time, with the nuns of Wimborne Abbey, where she was educated and learnt how to write.

She traveled in an attempt to bring German pagans to the Christian faith and she also authored Winibald’s biography, which is why she is considered as one of the first female authors in Germany and England. Walpurga became a nun in Heidenheim am Hahnenkamm, the monastery founded by her brother Willibald, where she became the abbess after his death in 751. Walpurga herself died on February 25 on 777 or 779 and she was canonized by Pope Adrian II on May 1st, around 870, when her relics were transfered to Eichstätt, Germany.

St. Walpurga is prayed to for protection against witchcraft and it is believed that during the night of April 30, she is able to ward off spells, witches, and evil spirits. This belief may stem from the overlapping of her canonization with Hexennacht or the Night of the Witches, the celebration that has its origin in ancient fertility celebrations. Hexennacht is a Germanic tradition more prevalent in the 17th century, when witches and sorcerers gathered together celebrate.

To protect against their magic, the Western Christian Church appointed the night of April 30 to St. Walpurga’s Feast. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Walpurgisnacht was popularized and its witchy connotations were revived through the literature of the time, such as in Jacob Grimm’s work who wrote in 1833: “There is a mountain very high and bare… whereon it is given out that witches hold their dance on Walpurgis night”.

Goethe also dedicated a poem to the celebration called “Die erste Walpurgisnacht” (The First Walpurgis Night), which was set to music by Felix Mendelssohn and published as his Opus 60 in 1843. The poem contrasts sharply with the Walpurgisnacht described in his main work “Faust”. In his ballad, Goethe relates the superstitions around Walpurgis night to the usage of devil’s masks by pagan’s in order to exploit the superstitions of their Christian suppressors and to protect their identities. A short background story and a translation into English of the ballad including the music can be found here.

Frau Holle

Ernst Ludwig Rochholz, the Swiss historian and folklorist looks closely at the depictions of St. Walpurga and writes in his book “Drei Gaugöttinnen: Walburg, Verena und Gertrud als deutsche Kirchenheilige” (Three goddesses: Walburg, Verena and Gertrud as German church saints) from 1870:

“Nine nights before the first of May is Walburga in flight, unceasingly chased by wild ghosts and seeking a hiding place from village to village. People leave their windows open so she can be safe behind the cross-shaped windowpane struts from her roaring enemies. For this, she lays a little gold piece on the windowsill, and flees further. A farmer who saw her on her flight through the woods described her as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle, as does Berchta. A troop of white riders exerted themselves to capture her. So also another farmer saw her, whom she begged to hide her in a shock of grain. No sooner was she hidden than the riders rushed by overhead. The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain.”

This tale serves Walpurga’s depictions of holding a bunch of corn in one hand and the tradition of securing the barns during her intercession. But there’s more to this tale than just her patronage over peasantry. Her description is similar to that of a Germanic goddess. Such a Germanic goddess is Frau Holle, who Jacob Grimm revered as goddess Holda or Hulda, who may be the cognate of the Scandinavian forest creature Huldra.

"Holda, the good protectress", by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, published in 1882.
“Holda, the good protectress”, by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, published in 1882. The Germanic goddess of witchcraft and protector of women’s crafts, is depicted in Germanic folklore flying through the air at night accompanied by the demonic spirits of men and women who left their bodies behind, which is reminiscent of the flight to the sabbath.

Frau Holda was associated with witchcraft, women’s crafts, and agriculture in the German folklore and similarly to Walpurga, the spindle was appointed to her as a symbol. The distaff, which resembles a broom, was also a symbol of Frau Holda. She was believed to ride on distaffs at night with her Hulden, the nocturnal spirits of the women who became her witches.

According to the Canon Episcopi quoted by Carlo Ginzburg in his “Ecstasies: Deciphering the witches’ sabbath” from 1990, the Hulden went “out through closed doors in the silence of the night, leaving their sleeping husbands behind” to go to feasts or battles in the sky. According to the Canon Episcopi, if a woman was accused of such a deed, she was required to do penance for a year.

Although Walpurga’s association with Holda is undeniable, there is evidence that points to yet another association, although it needs more exploration. A sibyl of the 2nd century AD from the Semnone tribe who was named Waluburg was in the service of the Praefectus Aegypti, as attested on an 11th century Greek ostracon from Egypt. Historians and archaeologists Camille Jullian and Théodore Reinach from the early 19th century wrote in 1920 a document titled “Une sorcière germaine aux bords du Nil” from “Revue des Études Anciennes” in which they talk about the inscription on the Greek ostracon from Egypt published by M. Schubart during the war in the Bulletin of the Museums of Berlin.

Weleda

Various texts attested the aid of divineresses in the military and political life of the Germanic people, such as this fragment from Dion Cassius that refers to the reign of Domitian: “Masyos, king of Semnons, and the virgin Ganna, who, after Véléda, had taken the role of prophetess in Germany, went to Domitian, who dismissed them after having filled them with honors”. The inscription on the ostracon names this divineress Βαλουβουργ (Valouvourg), which according to M. Schubart, transcribes to “Walburg” and undoubtedly evokes the night of the Walpurgis.

Waluburg’s name was also allegedly found on a list of Greek-Egyptian soldiers which is something that made many speculate on the origin of her name, as it may be connected to the Walkuren, who bring the slain on the battlefield to Odin in the afterlife.  This further rises speculation on the etymology of Walpurgis.

Wal could mean “wand” and “chosen/corpse”, while purgis may stem from burg (homestead) or berg (mountain), which is further correlated with the rune Berkana, the rune of May, rebirth, nurture, creation, which evokes the Goddess’ motherly bond to her child. In this sense, Walpurgisnacht is a time of rebirth for nature, when the veil between worlds is thinner, and when the feminine power is at its peak.

Engraving from the 17th century by Michael Herr, depicting the events on the Blocksberg on Walpurgisnacht, accompanied by verse from the German poet Johann Klaj, warning against belief in witchcraft.
Engraving from the 17th century by Michael Herr, depicting the events on the Blocksberg on Walpurgisnacht, accompanied by verse from the German poet Johann Klaj, warning against belief in witchcraft.

Jacob Grimm

Speaking of mountains and peaks, Jacob Grimm wrote in 1888: “The Witches’ excursion takes place on the first night in May… they ride up Blocksberg on the first of May, and in 12 days must dance the snow away; then Spring begins… Here they appear as elflike, godlike maids.” The Blocksberg that he refers to is also known as the Brocken and it is the highest peak of the Harz mountains in Northern Germany.

Various bizarre rock formations on the Blocksberg have such names as Teufelskanzel (the Devil’s Pulpit) and Hexenaltar (the Witch’s Altar). The mountain has been associated with witches since the 3rd century and it is likely that it used to be a site of ancient rites and celebrations. Legends say that witches flew on broomsticks from all over Germany to gather there and conjure magic, especially during the burning times.

Another legend says that Wotan married Freya on the Broken in Schierke, while other legends of devils and witches inhabiting the place were very prevalent due to the Brocken Spectre phenomenon which creates eerie optical illusions and gave raise to many superstitions, all of which inspired Goethe to write about it in his book, Faust.

Superstition and Tradition Throughout Europe

Engraving from 1829 by W. Jury, depicting the Walpurgis Night Scene from Goethe's Faust.
Engraving from 1829 by W. Jury, depicting the Walpurgis Night Scene from Goethe’s Faust.

Although flight to the Sabbath is no longer a tradition, Walpurgisnacht is still rich in superstitions and traditions. One of the more famous ones are the loud cheering and banging pots together that scare evil spirits and witches away, and the ritual bonfire, which people leap over, dance around, and which they use the purify and purge the year that passed, by throwing in the fire dolls made of straw that they imbue with all the misfortunes that may not befall them. Traditionally, women must also leap over their brooms, burn the old ones, and set a broom in the doorway to prevent evil witches from entering the house.

They also protect the cattle against evil witches, by hanging bells on the cows’ necks. Wearing a wild radish was also believed to protect against witches and evil spirits. As with any other such celebration, the Walpurgisnacht was a prosperous time for divination and love spells. If one slept with just a single sock on, they would wake up the next day to find a hair in it, the color of which predicted the color of the betrothed’s hair. A traditional divinatory love spell during the night suggests placing a linen thread next to a statue of Virgin Mary and unravel it at midnight as you say: “Thread, I pull thee; / Walpurga, I pray thee, / That thou show to me / What my husband’s like to be.”

Walpurgisnacht in modern day Erfurt, Germany. Festival with masked persons around fire.
Walpurgisnacht in modern day Erfurt, Germany. Nowadays, Walpurgisnacht is considered by some as the European Halloween, when people throughout Europe dress-up as witches and monsters, build a bonfire, and party in celebration of Spring. Walpurgisnacht is a public event that evokes the Sabbath of the Dark Ages and the fertility rites of Antiquity. Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michael-panse-mdl/6985387308/

Variants of the Walpurgisnacht celebrated in Germany can be found throughout Europe in the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, and more. In Czech Republic, the night of April 30 is known as pálení čarodějnic (burning of the witches) or Valpuržina noc, while May 1 is the Day of Love. It is celebrated by young people who gather on top of the hills around bonfires where they create effigies of witches and throw them in the fire.

In Estonia, it is known as Volbriöö, and it is celebrated from the night of April 30 when people dress up as witches, into the day of May 1, when Estonians celebrate Spring Day. In Finland people celebrate it as Vappen, while in Sweden people celebrate it as Valborg, which marks the arrival of Spring, and both celebrations are revered as important public events. In Sweden, people light bonfires, they dress up, dance, and sing in the celebration of spring.

It seems that a large part of Europe celebrates its own version of Walpurgisnacht as a traditional welcoming of spring and renewal, which just like Beltane, originates in an ancient celebration of fertility. Fire and feminine power seem to be at the core of these celebrations. The first of May which follows the Walpurgisnacht, although now celebrated by all as International Worker’s Day, is a time of peace, serenity, and recreation on a spiritual level for many.

Walpurgisnacht has truly become a traditional night when witches celebrate their magic, either by participating in the public events that evoke the old days or by gathering in private. On this note, I’ll conclude with a few verses from “Die erste Walpurgisnacht”: “As the flame is purified by smoke, so purify our faith / And even if they rob us of our ancient ritual, / who can take your light from us?”

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Florence Farr – The Evocation of Taphthartharath, and the New Woman of the Golden Dawn

Portrait of Florence Beatrice Emery Farr (Florence Farr) in black white. Close up with head.
Promotional photo of Florence Farr from the Abbey Theatre, also known as the National Theatre of Ireland. One of the leading Irish playwrights at the Abbey was Florence’s friend and fellow Golden Dawn member, William Butler Yeats. Like Yeats, Florence would play an important role in the Golden Dawn, where she became a pioneer in scrying, astral travels, and Egyptian magic.

In 1896, London, some of the most revered Adepts of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn gathered to perform a ritual written by Aleister Crowley’s teacher, the man who basically introduced Buddhism to the west and institutionalized it in the UK: Allan Bennett. The ritual would make the spirit of Mercury physically manifest before them. Allan Bennett was there as an assistant Magus, the master of the ceremony, Florence Farr, who was a beautiful woman dressed in a white robe adorned with a yellow sash and on her head she wore an indigo nemes – the headcloth of the pharaohs. Around her neck she wore the seal of Taphthartharath, the spirit of Mercury, around her waist was a belt with a holy dagger, in her left hand she held an Egyptian symbol of immortality, and in her right hand, she held a lotus wand. Before them was a cauldron of simmering hellbroth to attract the spirit of Mercury, Taphthartharath, sometimes described as malevolent (Agrippa), but however complementary to Mercuries intelligence, Tiriel. The participants to the ritual claimed that they saw an arm and a leg appear first until the apparition emerged as a gray human which emanated immense power. After just a few minutes, it disappeared.

The sigil of planet Mercury (center, up), intelligence Tiriel (left, down) and the spirit, Florence Farr evoked: Taphthartharath (right, down).
The sigil of planet Mercury (center, up), intelligence Tiriel (left, down) and the spirit, Florence Farr evoked: Taphthartharath (right, down).

Florence Farr was respected as the Order’s most powerful seer and for her ability to summon Taphthartharath. Not only was she one of the most prominent female occultists of her time. She was also one of those in the Golden Dawn, who denied Crowley’s advancement into the inner order (5=6) due to his libertine lifestyle, and she is also an icon of the first wave of feminists of the 19th century. She was the muse who inspired Crowley’s Soror Cybele in his “Moonchild” novel from 1917, she was several years the muse and lover of George Bernard Shaw, who wanted her as the “New Woman” and star of his plays, and more notably, she was the muse who made William Butler Yeats shiver with her voice. After her death, in yearning, Yeats called upon her in his poem “All Souls’ Night”:

“On Florence Emery I call the next,
Who finding the first wrinkles on a face
Admired and beautiful,
And by the foreknowledge of the future vexed;
Diminished beauty, multiplied commonplace;
Preferred to teach a school
Away from neighbor or friend,
Among dark skins, permit foul years to wear
Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.”

Florence Farr’s Life and Herstory

 "The Golden Stairs" from 1880, one of the best-known paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. The painting features Florence Farr and her friend, May Morris, alongside other of Burne-Jones' favorite models at the time, such as his daughter, Margaret. The painting depicts the women as dreaming musicians, a role Florence will get closer to in her acting career.
“The Golden Stairs” or “The King’s Wedding” or “Music on the Stairs” from 1880, one of the best-known paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. The painting features Florence Farr and her friend, May Morris, alongside other of Burne-Jones’ favorite models at the time, such as his daughter, Margaret. The painting depicts the women as dreaming musicians, a role Florence will get closer to in her acting career.

Florence Beatrice Farr was born on July 7, 1860, in Blickley, nowadays part of the Greater London area, in Kent, England. Her mother was already forty-three and the second wife of physician Dr. William Farr, who named the newly born Florence after his friend and nursing pioneer, Florence Nightingale. Dr. Farr was known as an advocate of professional and educational equality for women at the time, which strongly impacted Florence’s feminist views from an early age. In 1873, Florence attended the Cheltenham Ladies College, and from 1877 to 1880 and later she attended the first woman’s college in England, the Queen’s College. At the age of 19, her childhood friend May Morris introduced Florence to the artistic and scholar circles in London at the time, and she even modeled with her friend for “The Golden Stairs”, a Pre-Raphaelite painting by artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Marriage – Florance Emery

After she graduated from college, Florence became a teacher for a short while, before she followed her dream to become an actress and started taking minor roles at the Folly Theater. Her father didn’t want the family name to be associated with theater, so Florence adopted the stage pseudonym of Mary Lester. She switched back to her real name after her father died in 1883, when she also began working at the Gaiety Theater. In 1884 she married Edward Emery, a fellow actor. While Florence Emery stopped her career to fit into the role of a Victorian wife, her husband Edward was often occupied with drinking and gambling. Four years later, in 1888 Edward Emery left to America and neither Florence nor his family would try to stop him.

In 1895, after her first successes, she divorced him upon the advice of Bernard Shaw, who feared Florence’s husband could return now and raise claims against her.  But Edward agreed without complications into the divorce. Florence Emery Farr would remain a free woman for the rest of her life.

W.B. Yeats, Rebirth as Magus and Initiation into the Golden Dawn

Florence Emery Farr in 1890 at the Folly Theater, London. Black white picture. Full size.
Florence Farr in 1890 at the Folly Theater. In this year she first met her friend and professional associate, William Butler Yeats. Yeats also introduced her to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Florence became the 88th member. Ritual magic would become a constant in her life.

Florence was now 28 and practically, free again. The eventful years to follow were economically a challenge, despite hard work, but on the other hand, full of opportunities she would take on.

In 1890, the year Florence would turn 30, was the first of many eventful ones: She moved to Bedford Park, another suburb in the Greater London Area, known for its community of bohemians, free thinkers, artists, writers, and women of power. She thrived in the community as an early feminist who advocated for women’s equality. She moved in with Henrietta, her sister, and Henrietta’s husband, the painter and stage designer, Henry Marriott Paget.

It was around this time that she met the roughly five years younger poet and Golden Dawn member, W.B. Yeats, who also lived in Bedford Park, when he commissioned a portrait of himself from Florence’s brother-in-law. Yeats also introduced her to McGregor and Moina Mathers. They first met at Madame Blavatsky’s place. Florence was initiated in the Golden Dawn in 1890 and took the magical motto  “Sapientia Sapienti Dona Data” or “Wisdom is a gift given to the wise”. She and Yeats often would visit the Mathers family in their home at Forrest Hill, in the South-East of London.

Scrying and Clairvoyance

Her life surrounded by magicians was interesting: in her wonderful and empathetic read Mary Greer (The Woman of the Golden Dawn – probably the best source so far on Florence Farr – the magician) quotes Yeats’memoirs: one day while being on a walk Mathers pointed to a flock of sheep and told Florence he would now imagine himself being a ram. Interestingly, the flock started to follow Mathers. Another time he subdued a thunderstorm with his Masonic sword. But what seemingly impressed her the most is when Mathers held a paper card with a geometrical symbol to her forehead and she had a vision of walking on cliffs above the water, seeing and hearing the seagulls around. The vision was so lively and real, that it obviously impressed Florence so much, she would become a pioneer in this techniques.

The 25 Tattwas or Tattvas in color on black ground. First line represents Tejas (red - fire element) and its five aspects, followed by Prithivi (yellow - earth element), Apas (silver - water element) and Vaju (blue - air element). Finally Akasha (usually black or violett - aether).
The 25 Tattva symbols as used on the Tattva cards in the Golden Dawn: Tattva (sometimes Tattwa) stands in Sanskrit for element or principle, an aspect of reality. The symbols are representations of the five elements and their possible combinations, as each element, is said to contain all the other elements, just as any Sephirah on the tree of life contains all other Sephiroth within. In the case of the elements, this leads to 25 combinations or Tattvas. The first line represents Tejas (red – fire element) and its five aspects (fire of fire, fire of earth, fire of water, fire of air, fire of akasha), followed by Prithivi (yellow – earth element), Apas (silver – water element) and Vaju (blue – air element). Finally Akasha (usually black or violet – aether). The Golden Dawn used this 25-er system as used in Hindu Tantrism. Astral journeys and visions by using the tattvas as gateways was an important practice in the Golden Dawn. Florence Farr would become a pioneer in this, and other disciplines – labeled as “clairvoyance”.

The technique Mathers showed to her was popular in the Golden Dawn and was often used for clairvoyance or scrying. “Clairvoyance” as defined in the Golden Dawn came in three stages: seeing, traveling, rising:

  1. Seeing – the main objective here was to obtain a vision. Usually, this would happen in the temple and with the help of external tools, such as a scrying mirror
  2. Traveling – Astral projection; the conscious mind leaves the physical body and wanders the astral world
  3. The active traveling on the paths between the sephiroth of the cabalistic tree of life

For clairvoyance, the Golden Dawn often used symbols such as the Tattvas (elements), planetary symbols, but also Tarot cards or sigils as gateways. The ritual of the qabalistic cross and the banning pentagram ritual should be performed for protection and the visions should be tested by other rituals, gestures, and signs taught in the Golden Dawn, but also by the vibration of the Hebrew names of God. False visions would not withstand, while authentic visions would persist. Often a scribe was also present, to take note. Many teachings of the Golden Dawn were obtained through scrying, and Florence would be one of the pioneers, alongside Moina Mathers. And another talent already started to show up: her voice and vibration, which she applied both in magic and in theatre.

Theatre and George Bernard Shaw

Painting portraying the young William Butler Yeats in 1900. Portrait by artist and painter John Butler Yeats - Williams father.
W.B. Yeats in 1900. The Irish poet, nobel prize winner, later member of the Irish senat and fellow magician. Yeats and Florence would nurture a life long friendship and also be lovers. But before, Yeats dwelled in one-sided romantic feelings for actress and Golden Dawn member Maude Gonne. Florence, would first have a long and tumultuous relationship with George Bernard Shaw. However, their friendship remained a constant until Florence death’. Portrait by artist and painter John Butler Yeats – Williams father.

The same year, Florence played the role of the Priestess Amaryllis in the theatrical production “A Sicilian Idyll: A Pastoral Play in Two Scenes”, by playwright and later Golden Dawn member, John Todhunter, who was also an associate of W.B. Yeats. Some say that Todhunter joined the Golden Dawn to be near to Florence Farr. The political activist, critic, and playwright, George Bernard Shaw, was in the audience to review the play. Although he was unimpressed by the play itself, he considered Florence’s performance outstanding and described her as a “startling beauty” with “large expressive eyes, crescent eyebrows, and luminous smile”. Florence and Shaw met also at the meetings of the socialist league.

One evening, he walked her home and this was the beginning of a year-long lasting relationship with many ups and downs, ons and offs. Shaw was emotionally unstable and often involved with more than just woman, even though, reportedly many of these adventures remained platonic in nature.

George Bernard Shaw in 1889, one year before he and Florence would meet. The Irish playwright, socialist and critic and Florence Farr would be emotionally involved for many years. However, Shaw used to be emotionally involved with many women.

Shaw envisioned Florence as the star of his plays and he wanted her to become “The New Woman”, a term popularized in the 19th century as the representation of the heroic female who exhibited independence. This figure became widely used in plays and novels at the time, more notably in the writings of Henry James and Henrik Ibsen. In one of his letters to Florence, Shaw wrote: “You are so real to me as a woman that I cannot think of acting being to you anything more than a technical accomplishment which I want to see carried to a high degree of perfection”. In later letters, however, he managed to claim her successes for his doings and guidance while being also generous with blame for her faults. He constantly tried to optimize her and was angry that Florence was not willing to pay the price for excellence – living on and for the stage.

Florence Farr – Praemonstratrix and Egyptologist

Golden Dawn symbol: The Rosy Cross Lamen used and worn by the magicians of the Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis, the inner (second) order of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Rosy Cross as used in the second inner order of the Golden Dawn, the Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis. Standing in the tradition of Rosicrucianism, the Golden Dawn’s rosy cross condenses the order’s main teachings: the basic four (five) elements and the three primes of alchemy (mercury, salt and sulphur), the elemental pentagrams of the microcosm, the zodiac, and the hexagram of the planetary spheres – the macrocosm. The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet for the 22 paths between the qabalistic sephiroth (and Tarot trumps), as well as the formula I.N.R.I. in the tradition of Christian Rosenkreuz, the founder of the Rosicrucian order. The order and the work in the Golden Dawn would fill many of Florence Farr’s best years.

But Florence had another agenda: rather than to focus on Shaw’s ambitious plans for her, she gave already lectures in the Golden Dawn on Enochian magic, language and obviously scrying. She studied many hours in the British Library. Under the guidance of Wescott she read classic alchemical writings and dwelled in ancient Egyptian texts. She wrote several of the flying rolls of the Golden Dawn (or commentaries therein), and she was one of the first to write practical instructions and commentaries, instead of just mere theory.

Even though she was the 88th member which joined the Golden Dawn, she was the second member to be admitted to the inner (second) order. After Wescott resigned from his role as Praemonstrator, she took over, even though Annie Horniman already served as an adjunct for Wescott before. As Praemonstrator she was responsible for the rituals, instructions and teachings of the Isis-Urania Temple, while Mathers, the Imperator (the decision maker of the order), moved in May 1892 to Paris. In 1896, Florence visited him and his wife Moina in Paris. Florence soon received her contact to the last, third and secret order (grades over 8=3).

Succes as Actress and “The Dancing Faun”

Meanwhile, she still was still working on her career. But in order to better her scarce finances, she also took commissions for embroidery. For both Shaw and Yeats, Florence was the icon of feminism and femininity. Florence’s role as the Priestess Amaryllis also impressed W.B. Yeats who wrote: “[Florence Farr] won universal praise with her striking beauty and subtle gesture and fine delivery of the verse. Indeed her acting was the feature of the whole performance that struck one most, after the verse itself. I do not know that I have any word too strong to express my admiration for its grace and power… I have never heard verse better spoken.”

To him, Florence was a candid muse whose voice was calming. He liked her voice so much, that he created roles for her such as the bard and seer Aleel in “The Countess Cathleen” from 1898, a role for which she sang all of her lines.

 Florence Farr portraying the New Woman, Rebecca West, from Henrik Ibsen's "Rosmersholm". Florence was the first woman to play this role in England. Portrait by H.M. Paget - her sisters husband.
Florence Farr portraying the New Woman, Rebecca West, from Henrik Ibsen’s “Rosmersholm”. Florence was the first woman to play this role in England. Portrait by H.M. Paget – her sisters husband.

In 1891, she stared in Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm as Rebecca West, the “New Woman” of her time who releases herself from the chains of Victorian Christianity. Not only was this the perfect role for Florence, but she was actually the first woman to portray the role in England.

In 1893, true to her “New Woman” roles, Florence began to take matters of directing and producing into her own hands. Having support from her friend, Annie Horniman, Florence enlisted Shaw and Yeats to write plays for her to direct and produce at the Avenue Theater on the Embankment.

During the years 1894 and 1895 her relationship with Shaw cooled down, due to his close relationships with other women and accelerated by the resulting sceneries of jealousy produced by some of his friends: One evening Jannet Patterson made herself access to Florence’s apartment and claimed Shaw for herself. According to Greer her novel “A Dancing Faun” (published in 1894) is a mixed portrait of her experience with both Edward Emery, her husband, and Shaw. Shaw later accused Florence of promiscuity and the inability to say no to sexual advancements. However, as far as the records are concerned it seemed to be the other way round, even though Shaw often (but not always) remained a “platonic friend”. As far as Francis King notes: for Florence, only three lovers are certain: Her husband, Shaw and W.B. Yeats. With “Willie” she developed a closer relationship in this time and the years to follow, who in his letters referred to her as his “equal”. After all, they had both magic and theater in common as Greer underlined.

Occult Writer and Chief Adept

Samuel Liddel MacGregor Mathers as Lieutenant.
Samuel Liddel MacGregor Mathers as Lieutenant. Mathers and Wescott were the still living co-founders of the Golden Dawn. While Mathers took the position as decision maker (Imperator), Wescott served as Praemonstrator (responsible for the teachings and rituals of the order) and later as Chief Adept in Anglia – the representation of Mathers in England and the UK, as Samuel and his wife Moina meanwhile lived in Paris, France.

After several frictions with Mathers Wynn Wescott, co-founder of the Golden Dawn, resigned in 1897 from his position as “Chief Adept in Anglia”, and Mathers gave the position to Florence. Thus, she became the leader of the English lodges of the Order and the official representative and spokesperson for the only remaining (co-)founder (Samuel Mathers). However, it meant also to be more involved in the politics of the order. One of her first tasks in the world of politics was the removal of Frederick Leigh Gardner as officer. This was a delicate matter, as Gardner, a stock exchange broker, was also Mathers publisher for the (yet outstanding) Abra-Melin book and financial supporter; he supported Florence herself with commissions and overall his involvement in the order was important. However, still several members disliked his harsh style as an officer during ritual, and Florence and Mathers took unemotionally the necessary decision their position required.

Two years before, in 1894, she had published “A Short Inquiry concerning the Hermetic Art by a Lover of Philatethes”, which is her first philosophical paper on alchemy. Now, in 1896 she published “Egyptian magic” for the Collection Hermetica. Judged by volume it can also stand by itself and indeed is today often commercialized as a self-contained book. Florence received access to the third, secret order and created a group with members of the second Order, called “The Sphere Group”. She neglected her acting career even more in favor of the order, despite (manageable) financial pressure. That year, Shaw wrote to her: “…and now you think to undo the work of all these years by a phrase and a shilling’s worth of esoteric Egyptology“. It were these studies in Egyptology – among her scrying skills – which would impact and shape modern magic in several ways.

Florence Farr, Aleister Crowley, and the Order Revolt

Aleister Crowley posing as Magus with the Stelae of revelation and magical weapons: wand, chalice, sword and the Book of the Law – the Liber Al Vel Legis
Aleister Crowley posing as Magus with the Stelae of revelation and magical weapons: wand, chalice, sword and the Book of the Law – the Liber Al Vel Legis

In 1897 Farr oversaw the initiation of a 23-year-old, promising magician into the order. As Frater Perdurabo (“I will endure”) Aleister Crowley joined the Golden Dawn. His magical skills and knowledge were widely respected or even admired, and as far as it seems Crowley respected Florence Farr likewise.

But soon Aleisters’private conduct raised concerns among the Victorian moralists of the order: rumors about an affair with married order member Elaine Simpson “Soror Fidelis” arose, as well as about his homosexuality. In 1900 he was searched for by the police, as Crowley and other Cambridge friends, were accused of homosexuality. To put things into context: It was the same year Oscar Wilde died broken after having spent three years in prison for the same criminal offense.

Maybe this is why Florence Farr denied Crowley’s admission to the second order, despite all his admitted brilliance. Interesting in this context is flying roll number 2. She only co-authored the Flying roll with a commentary on how to strengthen the “will”  as main magical ingredient, but all in all the roll exhibited slight definitory similarities with Crowley’s later definition of will in Thelema.

The Battle of Blythe Road

But already in 1899, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was divided by conflicts about Mathers’ leadership style. Other members had a hard time accepting Florence female leadership, and again others had mixed feelings about the “Sphere Group”. The golden years of the Golden Dawn were apparently over. The admission of Crowley to the Adeptus Minor degree, in particular, was just the final straw. Yeats wrote in a private letter about the Crowley issue, that a magical order would not be a borstal. But Mathers initiated Crowley nevertheless into the second order.

An open conflict and revolt against Mathers followed. Later, in April 1900 Crowley tried on behalf of Mathers to overtake the premises of the order  – which were leased on Florence Farr’s name – but was stopped by Yeats, who invoked the power of earthly law and justice – with success. Crowley had to give in to police and lawyers. Mathers and Crowley had lost the episode also known as “the battle of Blythe Road”.

Mathers vs.Wescott

William Wynn Wescott in the ceremonial garment of the Rosicrucians.
William Wynn Westcott (17 December 1848 – 30 July 1925), freemason, theosoph, magician and co-founder of the Golden Dawn and Supreme Magus of the S.R.I.A. His magical motto in the order was Frater “Sapere Aude” (“Have the courage to think for yourself”). Wescott, Mathers and Robert William Woodman (who already died in 1891) founded the Golden Dawn with the permission of the “secret chiefs” – An order of Rosicrucians, represented by the German countess “Anna Sprengel”, whose identity never could be cleared.

As dissent reigned between the Adepts Florence offered her resignation to Mathers in January 1900. In reply, Mathers refused. He assumed an intrigue to get Wescott back into the order for the latter to regain leadership.

Thus, in his reply to Soror S.S.D.D. (Florence ) Mathers accused co-founder Westcott, that the latter would never have been in contact with the secret chiefs of the order. Any correspondence he may show in this regard would be a mere fraud – only he, Mathers would stay in contact with the secret chiefs and all order material, of both the inner and the outer order were of his, Mathers, doing.

Maybe Mathers was unaware of the impact this assertion would have: it came as a shock for the members of the order, as it implied Wescott’s correspondence with Anna Sprengel was also faked, hence, the founding documents could not be authentic: was the order’s foundation based on a fraud? Did Florence Farr in her leading position initiate candidates into an order based on a forgery? Crowley reported in his “Confessions” her morals were deeply affected. But, the same sense of duty which allowed her before to remove Gardner, despite all his merits, as an officer now allowed her to stand up to Mathers.

Mathers Expelled

Florence brought these accusations to Yeats and six other members. Soon, three of them formed with seven Adepts of the Golden Dawn a committee to investigate the matter. But the work of the committee was largely without results. Westcott did not collaborate and Mathers even refused to accept the committee. It is not even clear with how much vigor this committee conducted the investigation. The documents available to Ellic Howe do not render a very confrontational picture. Anyways, Mathers was offended. In his view, they were oathbreakers, as one of the oaths for the higher ranks in the order asked for obedience to the Imperator. Mathers removed Farr as his representative in England and the Isis-Urania Temple, but now the real revolt started: as a response, Mathers was expelled from the order.

Horniman (expelled by Mathers in 1896) re-joined the Golden Dawn and Florence, Yeats and Horniman tried to rebuild the order. However, during all these scandals including the judicial aftermath of Crowley’s takeover attempt the Golden Dawn transformed from a secret society into a public ridicule made laughable before the court and in the press.

Moreover: the magicians of the Golden Dawn were at war. Was it Mathers before who magically took a pack of peas and baptized them with the names of the rebels just to summon the demons over them, now it was Florence’s Sphere Group who evoked the spirit of Aleister Crowley’s mistress and instructed her to abandon Frater Perdurabo. W.B. Yeats indeed reported, that a few days later a woman whose identity he kept confidential, approached them and told she would not be ready to only break with Crowley, but to confess to the police. Yeats congratulated himself and was pleased with the outcome of their hard magical training.

Controversies Around Florence Sphere Group

Annie Hornieman. Black and white photograph.
Annie Horniman (3 October 1860 – 6 August 1937), daughter of a wealthy merchant family and later theatre patron, who worked closely with Yeats, Shaw and Florence Farr. As a Golden Dawn member she remarked herself in the later years trough rigid thinking – the reason why Mathers expelled her was her harsh turn on a fellow member who was occupied with sexual magical theories. After rejoining the order after the revolt of 1900 she started to take on Florence and her Egyptian magic.

But even with distance to Mathers and Crowley peace did not sink in. The worm-can was opened and soon Florence friend and partner in theatre and business, Annie Horniman developed into a prominent critique of the Sphere Group.

In particular, she criticized Florence introduction of Egyptian symbolism into Western magic, while Yeats tried in vain to mediate and also had to take sides. Not only he envisioned the order as a place where the members would meet and exchange openly rather than being divided into closed sub-circles (“astral unions” as he called it), but he also had to acknowledge the obvious: things were out of control.

Furthermore, Farr herself started to make exceptions to the rules (for example by secretly admitting a novice to protect her social status as a noble lady) resulting in an inconsistent leadership style.

Turn Towards Mysticism

Florence resigned from her position in 1902 and the Golden Dawn broke into several splinter groups: Mathers tried to gather new followers in an order named Alpha et Omega, A.E. Waite transformed the Isis-Urania temple into a Christian mystical order without practical magical implications and Felkin founded the Stella Matutina as successor for the spirit of the initial Golden Dawn. W.B. Yeats took the role of the Imperator in 1911 and remained a member until 1923.

Slowly mysticism started to outweigh Florence’s passion for ceremonial magic. This is an experience which probably all magicians make at some point: the swing of the pendulum from the right pillar on the tree of life to the left one – the point when magic turns into theurgy. S.S.D.D. (“Sapientia Sapienti Dona Data”) had surpassed the vast majority of Golden Dawn members and especially her critique Annie Horniman, among who most (still) relied so much on the usage of external tools, sigils and accessories to get into contact with the inner realms or to produce results.

Charles Henry Allan Bennett - Portrait, Black and white.
(Charles Henry) Allan Bennett or Bhikkhu (this is a title for an officially ordained Buddhist monk) Ananda Metteyya was the second English ever to be initiated as a monk into the tradition of the Theravada Buddhism. He studied many years Buddhism and Eastern Esotericism in the East, was a teacher and friend of Aleister Crowley and can be described as the man, who introduced Buddhism to the West. In England he founded the first Buddhist mission, a journal and the Buddhist society. He introduced Florence Farr to the Tamil mystic and politician Ponnambalam Ramanathan, which Florence later followed to Ceylon.

And as Allan Bennet, her powerful partner in ritual, Florence Farr turned eastwards. In June 1902 she joined the Theosophical Society in London where she met upon Bennetts introduction Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, the Hindu and Christian mysticist who was in London to lecture on Eastern philosophy and who later became a member of the Tamil Parliament in Ceylon. Not without consulting her spiritual guidance on the inner planes she realized that the higher powers work through many vehicles. This was an answer to her delight. Classical Christianity and monolatry had never been for her. Eastern meditation techniques were the natural next step of her own discoveries through scrying and her studies of the book of the dead.

Florence sympathized also with Ramanathan’s desire and plans to enforce educational rights for young women in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). During this time, she became more involved with her acting career. She wrote and produced two plays that were inspired by Egyptian esoteric themes, such as “The Shrine of the Golden Hawk” and “The Beloved of Hathor”.

In between 1902 and 1906, she was active in the theater scene, performing, directing, and involving in the musical composition of several productions for various theaters in London. She also continued her association with Yeats, by collaborating with his Abbey Theater and performing his poetry to music. In between 1906 and 1907, she and Yeats had a romantic affair, but she also toured in Europe and then in America. Thus, the relationship turned out to be more a distant one, and furthermore, Florence always put the necessities of her spiritual life above any relationship. Maybe she was even bored within an all-set relationship, as Greer suspects.

Florence’s Late Forties

Photo from 1896 by George Bernard Shaw of Florence Farr as Louka, a servant girl from the Balkans in the "Arms and the Man", a play at the Avenue Theatre of London written by Shaw.
The theater would remain a constant for Florence during all her work life in the West, as well as the collaboration from time to time with Shaw. Photo from 1896 by George Bernard Shaw of Florence Farr as Louka, a servant girl from the Balkans in the “Arms and the Man”, a play at the Avenue Theatre of London written by Shaw.

In America, Florence met Pamela Coman Smith, the artist, and occultist who illustrated the classical Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, who became her stage manager. Overall, this time was characterized by exoteric activities: she was active as an actress and director and produced several written documents. Not only on theater, but also on women’s rites and Egyptian esoterics – all of them published in various journals such as the British Journal of Art and Politics, the Theosophical journal, and the New Age journal.

In an essay entitled “Our Evil Stars” which she published in the New Age journal in October 1907, Florence writes that legal reforms are not sufficient to truly liberate women, suggesting that there is more than needs to come from within, a conviction that one’s self is worthy and able to emancipate itself:

“We must kill the force in us that says we cannot become all we desire, for that force is our evil star that turns all opportunity into grotesque failure….So let us each recognize the truth that our first business is to change ourselves, and then we shall know how to change our circumstances.” 

But also in a very practical sense her view’s were so modern sometimes, that they have not gained fully acceptance until today: in her article “The Rights of Astaroth” (New Age Journal 1907) she not only asks for the legalization of prostitution for the well-fare of prostitutes, but revers it as an ancient sacred vocation which should be treated accordingly:

“Ancient Egyptians, ancient Hindus agreed that the vagaries of nature must be obeyed; and certain women, trained as dancers, were dedicated to the gods and their worshipers. In their temples prostitution was a sacred institution.[…] The Hindu, for instance, considers that woman is part of the Immortal Mother of Life herself and to unite with a woman is to clasp the Universe in your arms and taste the ecstasy of Being.”

In 1908 she opted for a warm and affordable living at the French Riviera during the winter months and kept publishing also on occult matters. Her article submitted to the Occult Review on Symbols she briefly compared the meaning of various magical symbols in different currents and civilization starting with Egypt, while Yeats wrote her from London the city would be “unendurable when you are not in it”. Florence returned to London during summer, but she also kept touring Europe.

Hindu Burial for an Egypt Magician

Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan
Florence Farr moved to Ceylon to work as a teacher and principal a Girls College, founded by her friend, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. Yeats however speculated that Florence did not want to be seen as she grew older or maybe even ill.

In 1910, Florence was now 50, she published her book “Modern Woman: Her Intentions” and a collection of aphorisms: “A calendar of Philosophy”. Information about the following two years is scarce, but financial pressure remained a constant.

In 1912, at the age of 52, Florence moved to Jaffna, Sri Lanka after selling all of her possessions, in order to serve as a teacher and principal at the Uduvil Ramanathan Girls College, founded by her friend, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. Florence’s version was that she intended to end her days “in the society of the wise”, but Yeats suspected she did not want to be seen aging or ill.

For unknown reasons, she resigned in 1916 from her position as a teacher and principal, but remained at the school in Jaffna. Greer supposes it may have been the first signs of illness, and indeed Florence was diagnosed with breast cancer by the end of the year and underwent a mastectomy. In February 1917, she wrote to her friend, W.B. Yeats:

“Last December I became an Amazon and my left breast and pectoral muscle were removed. Now my left side is a beautiful slab of flesh adorned with a handsome fern pattern made by a cut and thirty stitches which were ‘put in’ by the eminent surgeon of Colombo, Dr (Samuel Chelliah) Paul.”

Florence's letter to Yeats, from 1917, in which she told him of her masectomy on her left breast, which made her an Amazon, and drew a picture of her scar for him.
Florence’s letter to Yeats, from 1917, in which she told him of her masectomy on her left breast, which made her an Amazon, and drew a picture of her scar for him.

She included in the letter a self-portrait she drew of her mastectomy scar. Despite professional medical attention, the cancer kept spreading. Two months later, on April 29, 1917, Florence died aged 56 in the Colombo hospital. To honor her last wishes, her body was cremated according to the Hindu rites and the ashes were scattered in the sacred Kalylaani River by her friend, Ramanathan. Yeats married six months later.

In her 1910 article in the occult review on symbols, she described death as “the consummation of initiation”. And indeed, it was Florence Farr, who discovered the Egyptian Book of the Dead and it’s significance for the magician.

“I fly up to to heaven and alight upon earth and mine eye turneth back towards the traces of my footsteps. I am the offspring of yesterday. The caverns of the earth have given me birth, and I am revealed at my appointed time.”

Photo of Florence Farr as Aleel in her performance at the Abbey Theatre, a role from "The Countess Cathleen" written by William Butler Yeats.
Photo of Florence Farr as Aleel in her performance at the Abbey Theatre, a role from “The Countess Cathleen” written by William Butler Yeats.

For Florence, these verses from the sixty-fourth chapter of the Book of the Dead were the “Triumphant Death Song of the Initiated Egyptian”, who like the slain Osiris will rise again – a grand work of “spiritual alchemy” as she declares in her book Egypt magic.

As Mary Greer observed: from the ancient Egypt texts, it was Florence, who re-discovered (like so many other things which nowadays seem given to the younger generations of occultists) that the magician can invoke the gods themselves, thus see, speak, act and command as the gods themselves.

A practical consequence of this discovery was that it would not be necessary to use threats on the behalf of god (hence, as a servant of god) as typically applied in (monotheistic) Western magic to call upon the spirits. Florence discovered that the magician could directly invoke the god and then summon his servants. And this is what she did in her famous evocation of Taphthartharath: she spoke to the spirit of Mercury not as a (wo)man, not as a magician, but as the eternal Toth, Hermes, Mercury himself. How could Taphthartharath not appear?

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.theoldcraft.com – The Old Craft

Fairy Tail Hair with Stinging Nettle Tonic

Romanian braided plaits - pigtail - with red cord. Macro on Romanian woman with national costume and traditional Romanian necklace.
Just like most cultures, Romanian tradition reveres long and healthy hair as a sign of beauty and fertility and some even consider it the “external soul” of a person. It is believed that washing the hair with tonic waters from sacred plants, such as the Stinging Nettle, not only makes the hair beautiful and healthy, but it also imbues it with the power of seduction and fertility. Photo: Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

When we began our journey into the world of plants and the role they play in Romanian lore as well as in contemporary witchcraft, I mentioned the important part that The Stinging Nettle – the fire in the garden, played in my childhood. While the “Healing Fire” tea and the “Rejuvenating Elixir” syrup have been used since the old days in Romanian tradition, the hair tonic seems to be one of the oldest methods of using stinging nettle in beauty rituals and the very first one I experienced as a child.

Winter turns into spring with the celebration of Sântoader, a caballine god in the Romanian pantheon who is especially cherished by women. He is summoned during an elaborate ritual on the first Friday of Lent as the women dig for the root and rhizome of the sacred Horse-Heal flower and chant an incantation asking Sântoader to give them hair as long as the tails of mares. They would continue the ritual the next day, by bathing and rinsing their hair with the tonic obtained from boiling the Horse-Heal in water. Throughout spring, bathing in tonic water became a custom, but instead of using the sacred horse-heal reserved for the celebration of Sântoader, women use the more modest stinging nettle to get the same results.

Basket and jar with fresh collected nettle leaves. common nettle, stinging nettle - left for drying.
Nettle picking has become a Spring tradition since the oldest of times. The Stinging Nettle holds a special place in the Romanian witchy kitchen. Men and women pick their own nettles (protected by gloves of course) at the beginning of spring and use them for food, tea, and hair tonic, especially during ritual bathing. Photo: Flickr.

Long and healthy hair is traditionally a sign of beauty and pride for the Romanian women. And because nature is the healthiest source of beauty, many women look for ingredients for their beauty rituals in nature, especially in spring. The stinging nettle is already famous and acknowledged for its hair care properties and even though now we can prove why it works, in the old days women have already discovered its powerful abilities and used it to grow their hair long and strong.

Hair loss is often caused by scalp sensitivity and inflammation, and other body changes caused by the turning of the seasons. The stinging nettle is a fortifier, and not only does it combat inflammation and improve scalp circulation, but it can inhibit the production and release of certain hormones that can cause hair loss. Additionally, it is rich in antioxidants that can help regenerate your hair and protect it from damage caused by free radicals.

Stinging Nettle Tonic – How To Make It

The traditional fairy tail hair tonic is quite simple: you pick a few fresh nettles, boil them in water, allow it to cool, and continue to rinse your hair with the tonic obtained from that. But this simple method opens up new possibilities that you can experiment with by mixing it with other natural oils or tonic waters and you can use it as a conditioner as well. Here is an example to get you started:

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons of fresh or dried nettle leaves
  • 2 cups of water
  • a few drops of castor oil (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (optional)

Instructions

  • For fresh nettle leaves, boil them in the water for 10 minutes.
  • Strain the water and add a few drops of castor oil to it if you desire.
  • For dried nettle leaves, let it brew in the water for 20 minutes before you add the castor oil.
  • Store the tonic in the fridge, no longer than 6 months.

After your normal hair wash, massage your scalp with a little bit of tonic and leave it in for about 10 minutes, just as you would a conditioner. Rinse with normal water or with water combined with apple cider vinegar. This will help fortify your hair, prevent hair loss, promote hair growth, and treat dandruff.

Even if nowadays this treatment seems divorced from magick, its use since the old days is a testament to the power of beauty spells and rituals. Not only is it proven to work and has health benefits for your hair, but believing in the old and modest nettle to help you become more beautiful is a safe way to perform a beauty spell that empowers you both physically and mentally.

And if you need an incantation to empower you even further, there’s a thing called “singing in the shower” and I promise it works. Sing as you rinse: “Nettle, nettle of Mars’ flames, give me braids as long as mares’ tails!” and surely, the modest nettle will heed your call.

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Bone Magick: Or Using Bones, Fangs, Feathers, Claws, and Shells in Animal Magick and Ancestor Work

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Bone magick and necromancy: Witch Radiana Pit holding skull with sigills and magical symbols into the yellow candle light.
Bone magick: the usage of bones is helpful for necromancy and animal magick, as they help to build a bridge from the earthly plane, thus facilitating your communication with ancestors or spirit animals. It also allows you much easier to draw from their qualities and powers.

Bones, fangs, feathers, claws, and shells are potent tools for animal magick and ancestral communion, as I’ve mentioned in the articles dedicated to said subjects. However, I find it absolutely necessary to state in this article as well, that animal remains should be treated with respect, they should be ethically acquired and I do not encourage or endorse the harming of animals in any way shape or form. The bones I use in my craft are gathered and hand-picked by myself from the local woods and the river’s bank and all of them were already old and weathered by the time I came across them.

Bone magick accessories: fangs, sea shells, crab claw and bones.
From my personal collection: bones, fangs, seashells, and a crab claw. These are mostly gathered from the woods of Arad in Transylvania, Romania, the beaches near Carnac, France, and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. These locations are of spiritual significance to me, which is why I believe they are very potent and work well especially in ancestor work. Photo by Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

On the same note, I do no encourage the use of human skulls or bones, especially since most of them are acquired as the result of grave robbery, something that I personally find unnecessary, disrespectful, and disgusting. Also, human bones may contain impure energies which will not serve anyone, unlike animal bones which are imbued with pure and natural energy. Human remains contain energetic imprints made by the intentions, will, and even reactions of those they belonged to. This makes them impure as opposed to animal remains which are attuned to the natural flow of things.

Bone magick: Animall skull with magick signs and symbols for ritual use.
In animal magick, bones and skulls can work as effigies or fetishes that represent the genus of a spirit animal and they can be inhabited in order to facilitate communication or draw energy from the spirit animal during ritual. Photo by Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

Human spirits can be disruptive through those energetic prints, whereas the spirits of animals rarely disrupt the natural flow of things and they’ve most likely never broke through the flow, since it is their condition of existence. Unless your own will is to bind and control human spirits, working with human remains may be disruptive. For these reasons, this article is focused only on animal remains which are ethically acquired and re-purposed, and not on human remains or animal entrails.

Bones in Animal Magick and Ancestor Work

Animal remains such as bones, feathers, fangs, and even shells are used since the oldest of times and throughout many of the world’s cultures and traditions for divinatory and shamanic purposes. In animal magick, bones work as fetishes or effigies of your spirit animals. Fetishes or effigies are usually inanimate objects which can be either manufactured or occur naturally. They are representative of supernatural powers, such as spirits. Animal bones, which occur naturally, are representations of their respective spirit animals and when they inhabit them they become active.

Upon summoning or invocation, a spirit animal may inhabit such an effigy for communion or spellwork. It ties them to the earthly plane, thus facilitating your communication with them and allowing you to draw from their qualities and powers. Likewise, in ancestor work, the animal spirits inhabiting the bones will work as messengers or guardians during ancestral communion or ancestor work. This will help you especially if you don’t already have an established cult of the ancestors. Spirit animals will protect you from unpleasant spirits, they will guard your sacred space and help guide you towards ancestral spirits that will serve you.

Bone magick: a bull skull with magical symbols and sigills on carpet for ritual use.
Drawing symbols or sigils unto the bones help bind the spirit animal to the earthly realm and consecrates the animal remains as a home for said spirit. Photo by Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

To bind a spirit animal to an animal bone, you may decorate the bones with symbols or words that are relevant to the spirit animals you wish to call upon. They may also be primeval symbols of life and death, that together may reconcile the gap between the two by creating a space for the spirit animal to come into. Another common practice throughout the world is the reddening of bones. By making the bones red, one imbues them with Eros, lifeforce, and it mimics the vitality of blood that once covered them. Usually, the bones are reddened with a mixture of red ochre and red wine in which the bones are laid to rest for a few days until they are stained with red color.

Bones in Ritual

Animal remains can be kept on your altar or sacred space, either on display or kept in bags or boxes, and depending on their size and provenance, you can even wear them. You can keep them in small glass vials or bags to carry them on you, or you can use them as ritual adornments in your jewelry.

  • Ritual Adornments: Fangs, shells, small bones, claws, or feathers can be used for protection, luck, for shamanic practice, or in order to draw from the qualities and abilities of the spirit animals that inhabit them. For example, a crow feather or claw may help balance your life and enforce your quest for knowledge of the greater mysteries, or fox fangs or bones may help you attain the wits you’d need in order to sail through a difficult situation. Likewise, they can be used during shamanic work for protection and guidance when traveling between worlds.
  • Ritual Tools: Various bones, fangs, antlers, and shells can be used to adorn ritual tools with, such as wands or daggers, or they may be used as object rituals in and of themselves. They may also be used as divination tools, by carving or painting Runes on them, or you may even create your unique divination system by assigning a different meaning to each particular bone, fang, or shell that belong to the same divination set. You can also use large bones as vessels for the candles you use in your work. You may also use feathers among the bristles of your broom to enforce its power of “flight”.
  • Smudging Rituals: Feathers are particularly potent for smudging rituals. You may use a feather from your spirit bird or make a wand that consists of multiple feathers, in order to spread the smoke throughout the space you are cleansing. Additionally, you may use a large bone or skull as a vessel in which you may burn the smudging herbs or incense.
  • Witch Bags: You can use bones, feathers, fangs, and shells of your choosing in your witch bags for various purposes, as well as for witch bags you create for the sole intention of working with spirit animals. You may carry this on you, or you may use it while meditating or sleeping in order to help you travel between worlds.
  • Ritual Arrangements: You may use animal remains to form a pattern on your altar or “work shrine”, which is only built for a given ceremony, in order to allow the energies of the spirit animals bound to the bones to flow throughout the altar.  You may also meditate on these patterns, as they facilitate communication with the spirit animals present within them.

Bones in Romanian Witchcraft

In old Romanian tradition, the bones and antlers of a deer were the most revered among animal bones. The antlers were kept in sacred places to honor the spirit of the deer, which in Romanian lore bears Death, the old goddess, on its horns. Likewise, I also keep the antlers of a deer in my sacred space to honor the spirit and the goddess.

Radiana Pit in her Ia, the traditional romanian blouse with ethnic patterns and typically red on white
My raven claw is both a ritual tool and ritual adornment which is representative of my birth totem, Corvus (Raven/Crow), and which alongside my traditional Ia (Romanian Blouse or Carpathian shirt) is part of my ceremonial attire. Photo by Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

But Romanian tradition also regards certain animal remains as very potent for ‘dark magic’. For example, the claw of a rooster or a crow is believed to represent the cross with its arms broken and bent down, which makes it symbolic of ‘dark magic’. While this is obviously a Christian influence, it actually reinforced the belief in its potency for ‘dark magic’, because for example the rooster’s first song is considered sacred and able to break spells, while the crow is highly revered as a funeral and solar bird whose killing is a blasphemy. So, whoever would have a rooster or crow claw would be looked at as someone who obtained it after committing a blasphemy against these sacred animals.

I personally don’t believe in ‘dark magic’. Magic is magic and the way it is used defines only the magician. Likewise, I believe that any animal remains obtained as a result of directly or intentionally harming or hurting an animal are indeed potent for dark feats. But old animal remains that you find, whether you actively sought them or not in places you’d know you’d find them, are released from the superstition of ‘dark magic’ as long as you honor them. And speaking of bones you find, some people like to actively seek only certain animal remains and dismiss others.

For me, whatever comes my path I believe it’s there for a reason and I don’t discriminate against them. For example, I have cow, bull, and goat skulls, and even though these are not as revered traditionally as deer antlers, they are still as potent and they still belong to a genus of spirit animals that I revere and work with, whether they chose me by crossing my path, or whether they were just there because the woods seem to have become a dumping place for farmers, or that they simply died there and my sensitivity for the animal world, physical or spiritual, didn’t allow me to simply pass by them. We resonate and that is what matters.

Romanian necromancy and bone magic: Ritual arrangement using canine bones, deer antlers, seashells, crab claw, and shark fang.
Ritual arrangement using canine bones, deer antlers, seashells, crab claw, and shark fang through which the energy of the spirit animals they belong to flows. This is a meditative arrangement, for it is only used to refresh the atmosphere and uplift my spirit. Photo by Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

I mostly use the bones that I have as ritual adornments, arrangements and tools during ancestral communion and animal magick work. I tend to use the same methods instinctively for different purposes. My magick is what a friend of mine endearingly calls ‘felt magick’, which means that I work primarily on instinct and intuition, and when my work happens to coincide with the ‘book’ or ‘special occasions’, it is just right and perfectly aligned in the great scheme of things.

In this case, what I mean by this is that I make ritual arrangements in the way I feel at that moment either to form a flow of energy generated by the spirit animals that the bones belong to in order to form a wall of protection during communion with the dead or the ancestors, or to commune with a certain spirit animal. I also burn incense in a vessel made from an occipital bone and spread the smoke with feathers so that the spirit animals they belong to enforce the cleansing ritual. I also purpose smaller bones for good luck and use them as charms that I wear in my earrings or necklaces.

Bone Magick and Spirit Animals or Totems

In order to truly benefit from the power of the bones you are using, you should learn more about the spirit animals they belong to, what deities are associated with them, and which are the messages they most commonly convey. For example, I have a raven claw that I wear as a symbol of my native totem, which is the Crow/Raven, during communions, magical work, or whenever I want to surround myself with its presence. When I don’t wear it, I keep it on the central place of my altar to honor my native spirit animal. The Crow/Raven is most commonly known as a funeral bird, it’s a great messenger between the dead and the living and during any type of work that I do, I fly on its protective and powerful wings. While the lore of animal magick is very important to take note of, the way you feel about the bones and their spirit animals is also very important.

Whenever you acquire animal remains, make sure you read the energies they bring. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to read bones, so trust your instincts when they tell you that some bones may serve you and others may not. This is important because there might be dormant or remnant energies tied to the bones that may not resonate with you, there may be pain and suffering that there is no way you would know of other than by reading them, or there may be certain spirit animals that would not like to serve you, and that is ok. But make sure you don’t bring bones into your sacred space before you attempt to read them.

And lastly, don’t forget to clean the bones you pick. Try to pick bones that have no smell or soft tissue on them and that have been out in the open for a while. I call them weathered bones because they are usually old by the time they reach this state. Once you’ve picked your weathered bones, simply soak them in warm water with biological washing powder, clean them with hydrogen peroxide, or simmer them in hot water, and then leave them in open air to dry for a few days.

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Stinging Nettle Syrup – The “Rejuvenation Elixir”

Fresh Nettle leaves in a basket.
Nettles are associated with the war god and fire lord Mars, which is why it is also known in Romanian folklore as “the weed of Marţ”. Its resistance to cold inspired the Romanian people since the oldest of times to consume it as the first food of spring and to create the recipe for the Rejuvenation Elixir with the Stinging Nettle as the main ingredient. Photo: Flickr.

We continue our spring journey into the world of plants, Romanian lore, tradition, and contemporary witchcraft, by learning how to work more efficiently with The Stinging Nettle – the fire in the garden. If last time I presented to you how to make Stinging Nettle Tea – the “Healing Fire”, which is perfect for spring purging, this time I present to you the Rejuvenation Elixir, which is perfect to restore your youthful vigor.

Coming out of the cold winter, you need to rejuvenate. It is essential to sharpening your witchy senses. Through spring, Nature brings forth everything we need to restore our youthful vigor. And in order to align ourselves with the rebirth of Old Dokia and the reawakening of Nature, we turn to traditions such as the gathering of seasonal herbs that help us rejuvenate naturally. The gathering of nettles in the month of March is a long-held tradition among Romanians, who use them in a number of ways to restore good health and strengthen their immune system.

Rejuvenation Elixir May Help: 

  • low energy levels, fatigue
  • poor immunity
  • anemia
  • dysentery
  • inflammation and fever
  • detoxification
  • rheumatism and arthritis
  • bleeding
  • tissue regeneration
  • hair loss
  • coughs
  • asthma
  • stress

Stinging nettles have a distinct significance that associates them with the primordial forces of the season. They are natural effigies of the battle between summer and winter and their sting causes healing burning sensations just like the war god’s fire. In fact, they are truly powerful healing plants that can help you restore and maintain your health naturally.

The “Rejuvenation Elixir” is a traditional remedy that the Romanian people have been using since very old times to restore their vigor after long and cold winters. It is a simple mixture that contains stinging nettle and honey, which makes it a natural remedy for multiple health conditions.

How to prepare the Rejuvenation Elixir

Basket and jar with fresh collected nettle leaves and sprouts. Common nettle, but they are not stinging yet, as the nettle sprouts are young - left for drying.
The Rejuvenation Elixir is a natural medicine for Spring asthenia and it is meant to revitalize the body after winter, protecting it from allergies, cold, and fatigue. Photo: Cristina Sanvito CC.

Because of the iron dense nettles and energy boosting honey, this elixir is a great remedy for those who experience physical weakness, anemia, or spring asthenia. But it is also excellent in helping relive rheumatism and arthritis symptoms. Furthermore, it helps with asthma, coughs, and various skin conditions. You only need two ingredients to make this elixir and just a little bit of commitment, but it’s fairly quick and easy.

Ingredients

  • 40-50 fresh nettle leaves
  • 200-250g honey

Nettle

  • benefits the endocrine system
  • stimulates the libido
  • rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
  • improves circulation
  • helps treat throat infections
  • kills parasites
  • boosts immunity
  • protects against cellular damage
  • promotes feminine health
  • improves skin and hair
  • increases energy levels

Honey

  • natural energetic
  • antiseptic properties
  • strengthens the immune system
  • effectively treats coughs
  • improves cholesterol levels
  • helps lower blood pressure
  • promotes heart health
  • helps digest stored fat
  • improves the skin
  • reduces gastrointestinal disorders
  • regulates blood sugar levels

Instructions:

  • Wash and pick the fresh nettle leaves in cold water.
  • If you want to make sure that you got rid of the needles, you can rub the nettle leaves in a towel, and then rinse them again to make sure there’s no residue on them.
  • Finely chop (or mash) the nettle leaves and place them in a jar.
  • Only fill the jar with the nettle leaves up to 3 quarters, and pour the honey over the nettle leaves until the jar is filled.
  • Close the lid and vigorously shake the jar before placing it in the fridge.
  • Let it sit and soak for 30 days, but make sure that you shake the jar every day, during that period.
  • After 30 days, filter the mixture to obtain the syrup.
  • Store the syrup in the fridge.

Eat a spoonful a day, every morning on an empty stomach for 3 weeks, and you will notice how this ritual will improve your overall well-being each day. You can soon expect to feel more energetic and focused. And if you’ve been experiencing joint pain or coughs before taking this elixir, you’ll notice how these symptoms will be significantly reduced.

Restore your youthful vigor

Macro of burning nettle leave. Stings of common nettle leave. Green against black background
Stinging Nettles appear at the beginning of spring to offer us a small “green pharmacy”. The leaves are rich in silicic acid, iron, magnesium, manganese, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and sulfate salts which make the Rejuvenation Elixir a potent medicine.

Seasonal spring herbs, such as nettles, have everything they need to survive the battle between winter and summer. They are there to remind you that you only need to reach out to Nature to ensure that you get the right treatment for the season. So take advantage of that and treat yourself to natural rejuvenation. Use this opportunity to strengthen your immune system and energize your body while aligning yourself with the life force that reawakens this season.

Be mindful and aware when you prepare this elixir because that mindfulness will prove itself rewarding. It truly is a matter of “what you put in, comes back out to you”. Do it out of love for yourself. Go nettle picking and be grateful to mother nature, for she knows best.

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

The Crow and Raven as Spirit Animals – The Keeper of Mysteries

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Raven landing on white ground.
The keeper of secrets and mysteries, the Crow/Raven is a totem that often works as a messenger of the gods and guide into the unknown.
Photo: Flickr.

In the introductory article: Totems, familiars, power animals and where to find them, I’ve mentioned that my native totem is the Raven. After writing about the Owl and the Fox as spirit animals, it is only appropriate to address this mysterious spirit animal that is the Crow or the Raven and to help you understand it better. In the same article, I’ve also mentioned that a totem is representative of its entire genus, it’s not divided into species and individual animals.

That is why I will address both species of birds as one. In fact, they are pretty much the same, both are in the family Corvidae and their genus is widely referred to as Corvus. There is no consistent distinction between ravens and crows, other than size – generally, crows are smaller than ravens. Furthermore, there is no consistent distinction between them metaphysically or spiritually. However, in Romania ravens are protected by law and tend to live closer to the mountains, while crows can be found in any area of the country.

Sigil of Crowhag (Radiana Pit) – Raven and Wolf
Sigil made by Radiana Piț on the cover of her book, Yearning for Spirit. Her native totem, the Crow-Raven and that of her Daco-Thracian ancestors, the Wolf, are depicted together in order to represent the symbiotic relationship between the two totems | Instagram: @crowhag

The Crow or the Raven is incredibly important to me personally and to my own Work. As I’ve previously said, your totem is an extension of who you are, an archetype. I’ve embraced the raven as such and its presence can be seen throughout my work, from my avatar as Crowhag, to the sigil present on the cover of my book “Yearning for Spirit”, where I refer to the symbiotic relationship between the Raven (Crow) and the Wolf, the totem of my Daco-Thracian ancestors.

Rightfully so, Carl Jung associated the Raven with the archetype of the Shadow, the “dark side” of our psyche. It is representative of the unconscious, its depths, darkness, and power. Our Shadow, our Raven, must be integrated to fully allow ourselves to be in touch with our most inner self. In this regard, the raven is very much a symbol of the inner truth.

In universal mythology, the raven is seen both as a solar hero and psychopomp – messenger of death. In some instances, the dark bird is even seen as a manifestation of the Demiurge. He is a keeper of the Great Mysteries, one that – as opposed to other spirit animals – is not empowered by its ability to see in the dark, but its ability to become the darkness itself.

Much of the respect and fascination with the dark bird stems from the “Icarus aspect” within every human being. The desire to rise above the mortal plane, to fly, to soar freely and to touch the divine is what makes mortals admire the raven or the crow and invest it with the functions of a messenger for the gods. It is the same thing that makes them fear the bird.

Its secret knowledge is forbidden to man and its connection to the afterlife can be scary. That is why it became a symbol of the macabre, of death, destruction, war, and a bearer of darkness and shadow. Regardless, Corvus is a symbol for the superior states of being.

The mythos around the dark bird has roots in reality. Ravens and crows are possibly the smartest birds on Earth and their exceptional intelligence makes them outstanding. While they tend to be solitary beings in the animal kingdom, with the exception of their connection to the wolf, crows are able to create bonds with humans and of adapting their language intentionally, and not out of reflex. They are also able to create tools for themselves, to understand, to develop strategies, and they are capable of other cognitive processes as well.

Crows and Ravens – The Genus »Corvus« as Spirit Animal

Raven sitting in London on pillar
As a spirit animal, the crow or the raven conveys messages from the spiritual realms and it is often representative of the souls of the dead. Photo: Flickr 

The Raven, also known as the “Keeper of Secrets” is the messenger between heaven and earth, the dead and the living, man and gods. When a raven or a crow flies into your life, they warn you of imminent change. And because they are masters of synchronicity, they bring with them the power to bend time and space, thus creating the perfect “right place at the right time” situation.

The dark bird is also creating the perfect context for emergence. You might expect a multitude of aspects in your life to intermingle in the dark and come forth into the light as one. Through dreams, the raven or the crow can help you discover secrets that are being kept from you, as well as repressed aspects of yourself that you need to handle.

Ultimately, when the crow or raven flies into your life, it is there to help you discover your inner truth and become more self-aware. It symbolizes the depths of your unconscious and it guides you through it. It is there to help you untangle the knots woven into your life and reveal your inner self. A crow usually appears on its own and it rarely responds when being summoned. That is because the raven or the crow only shares its knowledge with those worthy of it.

Corvus Lore

The symbol of the Raven (Crow) dates from the Paleolithic age when many corvids circled around human encampments and followed the hunters to gather the scraps. The corvids were seen as the Prehistoric’s man connection to divinity and the afterlife, and this perception hasn’t changed much throughout time. The bird is still an archetype of elevation, of the desire and will to rise towards the absolute in the limitless sky. The raven or the crow was and still is a universal metaphor for the soul.

People have always banished crows and ravens out of fear of what they may convey. They were always considered jinxes and death omens. Because of their association with death, they became known as funeral messengers. While they are universally seen as such, this is not at all what they are reduced to. The crow or the raven is believed to actively seek the death of its prey and this is because of the symbiotic relationship it has with the wolf in nature.

Their social attachment helps them feed on the same prey and survive in harmony. One alerts the other about prey and that is why it is believed that ravens call their “wolf-birds”, as they are nicknamed, in order to kill for food. We cannot judge nature for being natural, but this lack of control over nature is what made the ancient man feel powerless when faced with the raven’s ability of “conjuring” death.

 Nine of Swords from the Shadowscapes Tarot: "Stormcrows herald impending dissolution with voices cawing raucous absolution, round and round and spiraling ever near, one future sought - one future feared." | Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag
Nine of Swords from the Shadowscapes Tarot: “Stormcrows herald impending dissolution with voices cawing raucous absolution, round and round and spiraling ever near, one future sought – one future feared.” | Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

It is pretty self-explanatory that the raven is an Air element and it is universally seen as such. It often correlates to the Swords in the Shadowscapes Tarot, and some associate it with water as well. According to Agrippa’s “De Occulta Philosophia”, a raven is a familiar

Crowhag with Crow and Dragon - portrait by Elena Cercel.
A portrait of Radiana Piț made by artist Elena Cercel. The totem of the Crow-Raven is depicted as a prehistoric entity, having teeth and a saurian appearance. One interpretation of the totems in this portrait can suggest a correlation to the Abrahamic interpretations of the black crow, who once was a white dove.

form of the spirit of Mars, which ties it to fire as an element.

The Raven is also the symbol of A’arab Zaraq – »Ravens of Dispersion”, also known as Harab Serapel – »Ravens of the Burning God«. A’arab Zaraq is the Qliphothic counterpart of the Sephirah Netzach on the Tree of Life. The Ravens of Dispersion are often depicted as demon-headed ravens that emerge from a volcano.

Here, the raven is the dark counterpart of the white dove and it represents war, storm, passion, sin, and forbidden wisdom. It is also seen as the Raven of Death that feeds off of the fallen ones on the battlefields – this alone evokes the image of the plague doctors in the Middle Ages. On the same note, the raven is a metaphor for the soul of a dark mage.

In the Hebrew Talmud, ravens are credited for teaching mankind funeral rites. When Cain slew Abel, it was a raven that showed Adam and Eve how to bury their son, thus marking the first burial. In the Qur’an’s version of the story, the raven taught Cain how to bury his brother. Christian and Hebrew superstitions regarding the raven also arose from the Great Flood myth in order to explain the raven’s failure to return with news of dry land after the flood and to justify the misconceptions surrounding the bird.

Noah sent a raven to search for dry land, but the raven forgot to return. It is suggested that the raven did not return because it was busy feasting upon the carrion left behind by the deluge. That is why Noah cursed the bird to change its plumage from white to black, to only eat carrion until the end of time, and its chicks to hatch only during the coldest of days. Much of this mythos has inspired “Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow” by Ted Hughes, which is wonderfully depicting the often misunderstood, innocent, and powerful Crow. However, many have still perceived this masterpiece as an attack on Christianity. But, as my favorite poem from the book, “Crow’s Theology”, reads:

»Crow realized there were two Gods-
One of them much bigger than the other
Loving his enemies
And having all the weapons«

 

Ted Hughes – »Crow’s Theology«

Nevertheless, in the same Abrahamic context, the raven seems to have a redeeming quality.  As the legend goes, a small group of ravens was once ordered by God to feed Saint Elijah. The Ravens brought the saint bread, meat, and fresh water in the morning and evening. These Abrahamic legends are also present in Romanian folklore alongside other pre-Christian legends. And perhaps because of the syncretism, there are some superstitions in Romanian folklore that exhibit both fear and great respect for the sacred bird.

Coat of Arms of the Hunyadi Family showing Raven. Corvin Castle. Photo by Radiana Pit.
Inside the Corvin Castle of the Hunyadi family, built in the 15th century in Transylvania – It is said that the Raven became the noble family’s symbol after a raven stole a golden ring from Iancu of Hunedoara. Iancu, who is a prominent figure in Romanian history, was the illegitimate son of Sigismund of Luxemburg, king of Hungary, and he was given the golden ring at birth so he would be recognized by the king. A raven stole his ring when he was a child, and Iancu is said to have shot an arrow through the raven’s heart to recover the ring. It was then that he decided the raven would become his symbol and the descendants of his noble house inherited it from him. | Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

It is said that if you kill a raven or a crow, the village will be hit by hail. If someone kills a crow chick, the crops will be hit by drought. The bird is sanctified by the symbol of the cross on the roof of its beak, which makes it both a messenger of the gods and a funeral bird in Romanian lore. This is why the bird must be respected and protected. Hurting a crow or a raven means hurting the entire community, the village and everyone in it. The symbol of the Raven can also be found in the legends and coat of arms of the Corvin family, one of the most important noble houses in Transylvanian history.

Because the dark birds have been known since ancient times to be smart and to sometimes even be able to “talk”, they were invested with the power of prophecy and wisdom. However, ancient Egyptians and Hebrews believed that the dark bird was evil, especially because it was often seen plucking the eyes out of dead bodies. In the Mahabharata crows and ravens are also believed to be the messengers of death. For the Celts, however, the raven or the crow was a symbol of war, fertility, and prophecy.

The Irish associated it with the war goddess Babd who was also known as Babd Catha (»battle crow«), who was often the physical embodiment of the goddess. Babd is one of the three aspects of Mórrígan, the great phantom queen, goddess of war and fate. Crows and ravens also play a key role in »The Dream of Rhonabwy«, when Owain orders his ravens to attack Arthur’s army. In Norse mythology, Huginn (»thought«) and Muninn (»memory” or “mind«) are Odin’s (Wotan) ravens that fly all over Midgard,  and act as his eyes. This is symbolic of shamanic practice.

Similarly to the shamanic practice suggested by Huginn and Muninn, the same is suggested through the raven’s role as a protector and teacher of seers. The witches and magicians who have developed their clairvoyant abilities were believed to have been able to transform into a crow to escape their enemies.

In Greek and Roman mythology, the raven was positively associated with longevity, fertility, hope, and the Sun, while simultaneously being associated with death. Crows and Ravens were seen as the messengers of the god of truth, prophecy, and the Sun god, Apollo. According to Strabo, the messengers of the gods with prophetic powers, ravens, were those who established the center of the world at Delphi. According to Greek tradition, ravens have also predicted Plato’s death.

Mural from the Korean Goguryeo period of the Three-Legged Crow flanked by a dragon and a phoenix, also known as Samjok-o in Korea
Mural from the Korean Goguryeo period of the Three-Legged Crow flanked by a dragon and a phoenix, also known as Samjok-o in Korea. The solar bird is believed to be superior to both the dragon and the phoenix.

In China and Japan, the dark bird is a symbol of love, loyalty, and gratitude towards the family. Furthermore, the spirit of this bird was honored as a solar hero that moved the Sun and purged the Earth after the war has ended. The Three-Legged Crow found in the Eastern Asian myths is a representation of Yang, because of it’s ability to animate the Sun and bring light to mankind.

According to tradition, the three legs correspond to the three phases of the sun: dawn, zenith, dusk. Similar to the legend of the crow as a solar hero, the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni believe that the world would still be immersed in darkness if the Crow wouldn’t have emerged from the dark womb of the universe. Other Native American tribes believe that the Crow is a physical manifestation of the Great Spirit who once helped create the Dark Mother, the Earth.

We can’t discuss Raven lore without at least mentioning the most famous poem about the dark bird. The mythos of the raven has never before been more beautifully depicted in one single poem. Besides the mythos, we see the Raven as an archetype in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”:

“And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”

Edgar Alen Poe – »The Raven«

Here, the dark bird is a metaphor of his own shadow, echoing his fears, while simultaneously being a prophet, a messenger of the divine, and a “Raven of Dispersion”. Through the raven’s repetition of the word “nevermore” as an answer to all inquiries, we sense it’s unmovable stance, the darkest truth, and even a little bit of a trickster quality that emerges only as a result of the reactions its partner in conversation has.

Besides E.A. Poe’s “The Raven”, another endearing representation of the spirit of the raven is the one found in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”. In that universe, the greenseers could speak and see through the birds which are able to speak the True Tongue, that of the children of the forest. In the Iron Islands, they are believed to be servants of the Storm God, and in the Faith of the Seven, it is said that the first raven came to the world when “the Crone peered through the door of death”.

Witch Nettle with Raven and essential oils in her shop - Witchdoll Nettle , the symbol of Nettles Garden
Nettle in the presence of the Raven, the keeper of mysteries. Photo by Nettle’s Garden, Instagram: @nettlesgarden

This spirit is personified through the Three-Eyed Crow and the Crows of the Night’s Watch or the “black brothers”. The Three-Eyed Crow or the Three-Eyed Raven is, in fact, a spirit that becomes the extension of its greenseer vessels. It is passed down from one greenseer to another, but it is a unique role. We see that through the former Three-Eyed Raven: Lord Bloodraven. He appears in dreams to Bran Stark and nurtures him into becoming the last greenseer, the next Three-Eyed Raven after he passes.

This is also a testimony to the spirit of the crow that comes as a messenger in dreams and who only passes its knowledge to those worthy of it. The Night’s Watch, however, is a testimony to other aspects of the dark bird: solitary, outcast, banished, messenger of death and destruction. The men of the Night’s Watch “take the black”, they become ascetic and become crows of the military order that dedicates itself to holding the Wall, to protect the realm from what lies beyond it.

Through this entire mythos and even through its presence in »A Song of Ice and Fire«, the raven-crow is here to remind us that it never left. It is not only a totem, an archetype, or a symbol. It is a condition of being that we can only perceive through the mythical phenomena and physical manifestations it has.

Despite its power and knowledge of all things hidden, the Crow is a modest spirit who cleans up after the wars and battles of humans, who is often shunned and banished. On this note, I’ll leave you with the words of the powerful Three-Eyed Crow: “I have been watching you. All of you. All of your lives, with a thousand eyes and one.”

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Cord Magick with Stinging Nettle Thread

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Cord with knots used for magickal purposes.
Cord or Knot Magic is traditional to many cultures and various forms of witchcraft. However, the principle is always the same: binding your will into a series of knots and then releasing its power using different methods, such as by untying them over the course of several days within an adequate astrological context or burning them during a ceremony. The fabric, length, and color of the thread, as well as the number of knots tied, should reflect your will’s intent or desired outcome. Photo: Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

As we’ve learned so far, there are many things you can do with the Stinging Nettle – the fire in the garden, such as the Healing Fire Tea, the Rejuvenation Elixir, and Fairy Tail Hair Tonic. It’s pretty self-spoken that these methods of using the common nettle require a holistic approach. This way you can get acquainted with the sacred herb and learn how to work with its energy in different aspects of your life that require magickal assistance.

Introducing the energy of various plants into your system offers you the possibility to use them as resources for your Work. The stinging nettle is a phytomorphic embodiment of the war god Mars. No wonder it proved itself to be an efficient soldier in dealing with the fire of love. Of course, there are other magickal ways to work with the stinging nettle, such as wearing it as a talisman in your pockets, a doll, or a bag to protect you from lightning, jinxes, and hexes.

The way you can use it is very similar to how you can carry a four-leaf clover on you to bring you good luck. So the methods are only limited by your imagination. But one of the more intriguing ways of working with the sacred herb is to use it in knot magick, also known as cord magick. Most often, the types of spells used in knot magick are binding spells, since the tying of knots is symbolic of controlling the threads of the Fates.

Knot magic: The cord may be imbued with energy and power through different methods, such as soaking it into a sacred oil or a smoke bath of holy incense.
The cord may be imbued with energy and power through different methods, such as soaking it into a sacred oil or a smoke bath of holy incense. Additionally, it can be left on a ceremonial altar to charge itself with energy sources placed in a pattern of your choosing. Organic sources that correspond to the elements that reflect your desire are preferable. Photo: Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

As you can imagine, this type of binding spell is incredibly old and it can easily be associated with many legends in universal mythology, such as the Gordian Knot and the Knot of Heracles in Greek mythology, or the Knot of Ham in Jewish mythology. This practice is also found among sailors, who tied their knots to bind the wind and untie the knots to release it. Throughout time, witches have adapted this type of binding spell to their own crafts and have used strings, ribbons, threads, and yarns made from various fabrics and in a variety of colors to suit the work they were doing and to reflect their will and intent.

In Romanian tradition, the use of a string or thread made from stinging nettle is commonly used to bind a lover to you. There are many variations I’ve come across as to how you can do this binding spell and they are all very similar to each other, just with a few tweaks here and there. This may be so because some areas of the country have their own local interpretations, just like many individual witches alter it to make it more personal to themselves and their respective communities. However, I tend to stick to the method that was passed down to me by an elder when it comes to sharing it with other people.

Binding Spell with Stinging Nettle Thread

Knot magick: preparation of cord for release ritual. Witchcraft
To prepare your cord for a release ritual, place it on a ceremonial altar and project your will on it. You are ready to release the cord once you are ready to relieve yourself from the primeval intention of the cord. Allow magick to do its work. Photo: Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

To bind someone to you-you need a string or a thread made from stinging nettle and, of course, favorable astrological conditions. The thread made from stinging nettle is said to kindle the heart of the lover and make it burn with desire for the caster, by Mars’ grace.

Likewise, the passionate burning can hurt and cause pain if the lover cannot find their way to the caster, so be mindful of that. On a New Moon night, tie 9 knots in the same direction behind your back and say the following 9 times as you tie each knot:

New Moon, New Moon,
Brighten up the night,
For (lover’s name) is marrying to
The daughter/son of (name of the caster’s father)
And he comes bearing the gifts
Of pearls made of kindling
And earrings made of snowdrops.

Step 4 knot magic: burning the cord.
Burning the cord during a ceremony, although definitive, is very potent. By burning the cord you invoke that which you desire to come forth out of the knots you have tied, while also releasing the binds which keep you from manifesting your intention. You can tie the knots and create the cord during a New Moon and burn it during a Full Moon. Photo: Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

The cord is kept until the Full Moon of that same month when it is placed in a concealed place, such as under a rug or a doormat so that the bound lover can step over it without knowing so. After the bound lover stepped over it once, the cord must be immediately removed from there and depending on your desire, you can either keep it (and even wear it) so you can untie the knots later, thus releasing the lover if the outcome is not what you hoped for. Or you can throw it in the fire so that no one can unbind the spell, other than Mars, who rules over stinging nettles. If the bound lover steps over the cord a second time, the spell cannot bind him anymore, and the work becomes undone.

You can alter this binding spell to not only control the heart of a lover but to control situations in your life or aspects of yourself that seem to get out of hand. Simply alter the incantation to suit the situation and think of the approach you’re going for. For example, the progressive approach is to use the cord to trap the power of your will into the knots and then release it over time by untying them. With this method, you release the power within the knots to become productive, but you can also undo the spell depending on the context of your work.

The more definitive approach is to think of the knots as “permanent traps” and then release their power (not unbind the spell) by burning the cord, preferably in communion with lords of fire, such as god Mars. Also, you can either wear the cord or keep it in a place that is sacred to you until you untie every knot or burn it. Cord magic is fundamentally a simple, but it can become complex when it comes down to specifics. Whatever you wish to do with it is only up to you.

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Ancestral Magick and Communion with the Cult of the Ancestors

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Animal skull on witches altar or shrine. Flowers. Still life.
Animal magick is strongly related to ancestral magick, at least in my system. Spirit animals can work as messengers and guardians during ancestral communion. The use of animal bones acquired ethically can be helpful for ancestor work, especially if they are also representative of your cultural, familial, or personal spirit animals. Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

Ancestral magick, ancestor work, or as I call it, “ancestral communion”, holds a sacred and central place in my belief system and practice. I revere it just as much as I do natural and animal magick. The essence of these three pillars of magick are an inherent part of the natural and metaphysical world, and so it is inherent to each and every single one of us. I’ve become aware of this early in my childhood, largely due to my ancestors and cultural heritage.

Everyone’s experience of ancestral magick is different and it is influenced by factors such as family history, culture, blood ancestry, magickal ancestry, personal belief system, and more. I found that, regardless of said factors, the naivety I was born with is what makes my experience of ancestral communion rich and productive. This naivety, which is characterized by simplicity, truthfulness, and a lack of “spiritual sophistication” in the presence of instinct and intuition, is very potent and despite the dedicated study and a lot of experimental practice with ancestral magick, which can often “tame” said naivety, I’ve somehow been able to preserve it.

I recommend the same naive approach when you begin your ancestor work, and this is because often times, naturalness is more potent when dealing with the ancestors because it is symbolic of the traits inherent to your “ancestral family” and it makes you more identifiable to them and vice-versa. For whatever reason you chose to begin your ancestor work, make sure you are candid about it and try to draw from your naturalness, rather than your expectations, emotional ties, and even memories of your ancestors.

When you think of your ancestors, you have to understand that your lineage is old and doesn’t consist of just the recent dead in your family. Your ancestors are ancient, unknown to your memory, you cannot remember them and channel your own projection of them. To put it simply, your ancestors consist of your family, whether known or unknown to you, they are your familial ancestors, the ancients who are your cultural ancestors, the magical ancestors who may or may not be genetically related to you, but whom you’ve chosen as part of your family, and then there’s something else, an “undefined energy” that comes from the very proverbial beginning of the lineage through each of the ancestors.

That energy is natural, untamed, and it reflects in your own naturalness, but in order to draw from it safely, you can have the members of your lineage intercede and trust that they will only allow to come through what you can handle.  This is why the members of your lineage that you work with have to resonate with you. It’s easier to do so working with the ancients or familial ancestors that have passed before you were born and to whom you feel attracted to.

Familial ancestors who have been a part of your life when they were alive or those who have passed recently might not be ideal to work with because of the emotional attachments that may be involved. Likewise, if you’ve had family members that were toxic to you, you might experience the same toxic effects if working with them in death. However, be sure to forgive, ask for forgiveness, or say what you have to in order to release yourself and them from the emotional attachments that may not serve you.

The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Maramures county, Romania is famous for its tombstones with naive colorful drawings, the distinct shade of blue called 'Sapanta blue', and for the sincere and funny depictions of the deceased's live through drawings and poetic epitaphs. The making of these tombstones became a respected craft and it has great artistic value. It's the most 'death positive' cemetery in the world and its philosophy is derived from the Zamolxianism of the ancient culture of the local Dacians. I often use it as an example to depict how my culture influenced my naive approach and fundamental understanding of the dead. A death positive attitude is necessary for ancestor work. Photo of Radiana Piț by Kevin Davis. Instagram: @crowhag
The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Maramures county, Romania is famous for its tombstones with naive colorful drawings, the distinct shade of blue called ‘Sapanta blue’, and for the sincere and funny depictions of the deceased’s live through drawings and poetic epitaphs. The making of these tombstones became a respected craft and it has great artistic value. It’s the most ‘death positive’ cemetery in the world and its philosophy is derived from the Zamolxianism of the ancient culture of the local Dacians. I often use it as an example to depict how my culture influenced my naive approach and fundamental understanding of the dead. A death positive attitude is necessary for ancestor work. Photo of Radiana Piț by Kevin Davis. Instagram: @crowhag

The ancient and familial ancestors are not only soothing for one’s soul, but they can also help channel that untamed energy at the very beginning of the lineage, which your intuition might tell you it’s your very essence and you would not be wrong, to do work such as healing, divination, and clairvoyance if you feel inclined to do so. You can do the same if you know of ancestors who have been healers or psychics and call upon them to impart that power and ease you into it.

But the ancestors from the ancients to the magical may serve you in different ways. They might fulfill requests you make, they might send you visions of immemorial times or the future, warn you about certain situations, protect you against spiritual threats, and much more. And the communions you make with them help you sharpen your magical sense and perhaps even attain wisdom in some aspects.

So, for whatever reason you decide to start your ancestor work, make sure you have a fundamental understanding of your ancestors and the dead. Before you learn of your family, genetic, and cultural history, which is something you must do as you begin your ancestor work, be sure to revisit your perception of the dead, what you feel when you think of “the dead”, and if necessary, return to that simplicity with which you thought of “the dead” in childhood and look at your cultural tradition for inspiration.

Folklore and tradition are important to our understanding of the dead, especially if the dead we’re trying to work with were immersed in said tradition.  And even though you may not use tradition as practice, it helps form your comprehension, which stands at the basis of your ancestor work.

I was born and raised in Transylvania, Romania. Transylvania is a confluence of culture and although my family is Romanian whose ancestors are mainly the ancient Daco-Thracians and the Greeks, the Transylvanian Saxons and the Hungarians have also contributed to what the Transylvanian heritage truly is. And this is significant because my cultural heritage influenced my mythical beliefs, which in turn have influenced my spirituality.

A significant part of the Romanian folklore and spiritual culture is dedicated to the veneration of the dead. The tradition of honoring the dead also ran in my family and this was significant for me in my childhood. Aside from the celebrations, ceremonies, and traditions that most Romanians took part in as well, my experience with dead veneration and ancestral communion was also marked by my family’s inherent affinity towards passing down family history and the history of our ancestors, but especially by my paternal grandparents’ behavior towards the dead.

I’ve spent a significant part of my early childhood with my paternal grandparents who lived across a cemetery, less than 5 minutes away from our home. Almost every single day when it was warm and sunny, my grandmother went for long walks in the cemetery. And she took me with her every time. While other children spent their time on the playground with their grandparents, I spent most of my time outside with my grandmother in the cemetery, and happily so I might add.

For my grandmother, the cemetery was quiet and it relaxed her, but for me it was vibrant and alive. She always sat on a bench next to some distant cousin-in-law’s grave and I would always sit next to her just to greet said cousin, before I went on my exploration of the cemetery in the company of my “friends” there. I’ve looked at every tombstone, photo, and picked mirabelles from every single bush and tree in that cemetery.

Offering on witches altar: burning cigarette in seashell
In many traditions and dead veneration practices throughout the world it is customary to offer cigarettes, especially for the dead who loved smoking. While many smoke at the graves of the deceased and leave a lit cigarette for them at their graves, I prefer (and recommend) a more discreet approach in the comforts of the ancestor work-shrine built for them. For this offering, I use the wooden cigarette holder that belonged to my grandfather. Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

When the fruit I picked was sweet, I’d conclude that the dead nearby was good. And when the fruit was sour or bitter, I was convinced that the dead nearby was just as sour and bitter as the fruit. Although this was regular pastime, I always discovered a new story, a new friend, a new relative of someone dead who’d tell me stories of the one they were visiting there, and it was always fascinating and endearing. As I matured in my adolescence and adulthood, I continued to return to that cemetery to visit old friends, and I continue to do so, especially now that both my grandmother and grandfather are buried there.

My grandfather never joined my grandmother and I in our cemetery walks. He was bedridden at the time from a fatal car accident he had before I was born. That accident almost killed him, leaving him in a coma for six months. The doctors said he wouldn’t survive or if he did, he would forever be brain damaged and in a vegetative state. They considered him a walking miracle for surviving the accident, the medical interventions, and waking up from the coma without any brain damage.

But he was not the same. While he was in the six-month coma, my grandfather never opened his eyes, but he spoke. He spoke to the dead relatives of the doctors, nurses, and complete strangers that were in the same hospital room as him. He also spoke with the dead relatives in our family and he seemed to have acknowledged my grandmother’s presence, who was at his bedside every day and night. My grandfather’s conversations with the dead were loud and my grandmother often heard him saying he’ll go with them, but she insisted and begged him not to. When he finally woke up, his ability to speak to the dead stayed with him. He could hear and sometimes even see them.

I visited my grandfather in his room every night before bed, and asked him about those he saw and was always curious what else was out there that I couldn’t see. My grandfather told me stories about our ancestors, our family, his post-war childhood, his beliefs, and he taught me chiromancy as much as I could understand it back then. He read my palm, and allowed me to practice by reading his.

He always took it up a notch and pulled another interesting book from his bedside cabinet, which was converted into a small library of his favorite books on medicinal herbs, palmistry, the paranormal, Romanian history, and… cars. I remember one night from that learning period when I came across a book, which I can’t really remember anything about other than the fact that it had depictions of the devil pulling a child from their bed by their legs into a hell that seemed to be located under the child’s bed. That image struck me and upon seeing it, I remember feeling a spike in my heart, which is a feeling I still experience today when I look at empty and dark hallways.

I remember asking him what was happening in that picture, but before he could give me any insight, my grandmother interrupted us to ask me to go to bed because it was late. She let the door open for me to go to my room, and I could see the dark hallway I had to go through to reach my room. My room seemed so far away at that moment and I was terrified for the first time to go through that hallway I’ve crossed in the dark many times before.

My grandfather took the book from me and wished me good night and I told him I was afraid to go. He asked why and I replied that the devil is in the hallway and I didn’t want to cross him. My grandfather raised himself halfway up, looked down the hallway and symbolically spit towards it, as Romanian superstitious folks do, and told me that now I was safe to go to bed. Now, through all the dark and scary hallways in my life that I have to cross, I know that my grandfather, Babacu’, as we all lovingly called him, is with me.

Because of these experiences in my early childhood, I have a unique understanding of the dead and my ancestors, from the recent to the ancient ones and I carry them with me. Your ancestor work and ancestral communion start with your very own understanding of the dead and knowledge of the ancestors.

Shrine / altar to rember the ancestors: skull, photo of deceased family, flowers, seashell for offerings, spirits and candles.
Ancestor work-shrine. While there should always be a place for your ancestors in your heart and on your altar, ancestor work-shrines shouldn’t be constantly open and on display, unless they are attended to. These shrines should not be neglected and only used for ancestor work and celebrations such as birthdays, death dates, and days dedicated to the dead. Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

Ancestral Communion and Necromancy

All cultures of the world from European, to Asian, African, and Oceanian, from Sumer to Mesoamerica, and from pre-history to the present, have their own versions of veneration of the dead, ancestral communion traditions, and a day of the dead. And from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to the Bardo Thodol, there are plenty of texts that describe the transition from life to the afterlife.

Your own understanding of ancestral communion is defined by the traditions of dead veneration you’ve inherited and those you identify with, followed by your own personal experiences or lack thereof with your ancestors. This makes it an understanding of dead veneration that is unique to you and which comes naturally as a result of the aforementioned factors.

When you actively seek ancestral communion, it is almost impossible not to do so without the practice of some form of necromancy. From Shamanism to Obeah, most systems include the practice of necromancy, on their own terms of course. I will not focus on specifics, because regardless of which day of the dead you celebrate, your cultural heritage, and your choice of spiritual practice, ancestral communion works on the same principle of actively seeking the dead by means of necromancy based on a fundamental understanding that you are your own ancestors.

You are the result of your ancestors’ lives, it’s in your genetic memory, in your spirit, and in your very essence of being. Furthermore, their gods, myths, and their pantheons are part of your magickal legacy and they deserve a place in your cult of the ancestors which I will elaborate on later. For now, I’ll insist on this fundamental understanding a bit more

Rock from ancient Dacian Capital Sarmizegetusa Regia. Hold by female hand, background: altar.
Rock from the ancient Dacian capital, Sarmizegetusa Regia. Rocks are said to retain ‘memory’ and energy from their places of provenance. I always have it on my altar and I place it on my ancestor work-shrine during communion with the ancients as a symbol of my Daco-Thracian ancestors. Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

Once you’ve identified with your own ancestors, you begin to know them. If you start close to home, perhaps you begin your communion with the spirits of recent ancestors. And from there you can go further back, to your ancient ancestors and if you feel adventurous, you can go even further, although I recommend against it, unless you’re very experienced in dealing with primeval manifestations of energy which can be uncontrollable.

If you are naturally hypersensitive to spirits, you may easily seek your ancestors intuitively, without the need of any form of practice. A simple meditation could be sufficient to open the door to ancestor work. However, whether you’re hypersensitive or not, always protect yourself before a communion, because unless you already have an established cult of the ancestors, you may encounter unpleasant spirits, even among your ancestors.

As I’ve said before, everyone’s experience of spiritual communion is different, but for many is similar to a meditation, a trance, or a conversation with the spirits. It can be ceremonial, on occasion and according to your tradition, or it can be a continuous flow, heightened by ceremony and from which you can unplug when you choose to do so. But to be honest, not many practitioners can commit to the continuous flow of ancestral communion.

Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t reserve your ancestral communion for celebration dates dedicated to the veneration of the dead or celebrations when the veil between worlds is lifted. On those days make sure you do honor the dead and commune with your cult of the ancestors, but if you believe that you are your own ancestors, then any day of the week is the right day to begin your ancestral communion as long as you feel it in your bones.

You can start by clearing your mind and allowing it to blend your imagination and memory into a vision of your ancestors or a specific ancestor you’d like to call upon. Meditate on that vision and allow your intuition to guide you. The more you do this, the more familiar you become with this process and it’ll start coming to you naturally.

Then you can start introducing objects into the process, little by little. You may use photos, jewelry, clothing, dust from their graves, hair locks, or any object that might’ve belonged or could be associated to a recent or even distant ancestor. Additionally, you may use location as a way to grow closer to their energy by visiting their resting places, homes, or places of significance associated to them.

Hair lock in red witch bag on altar.
Certain objects can be very potent during ancestral communion. While animal bones can represent spirit animals and work as messengers and guardians, a hair lock from an ancestor can represent them and placing it on your ancestor-work shrine may convey to them that they are welcomed to join you in the communion. Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

Once you are familiar with the energies and you’ve nominated the very first spirits you’d like to continue to commune with, you may dive into it and prepare offerings for them. Think of it as if you are their version of heaven (which in some regard, you are, we all are). Offer them what you know they’ve loved and enjoyed. Food, water, alcohol, flowers, incense, and lit candles are usually among the favorites of the dead. Place them with your objects and begin your invocation.

Before you end your ceremony, eat the food or drink the water you have offered, so they will draw it from you, and only then give thanks and end the ceremony. Your ceremony may differ according to your practice, it may involve sigils, burying the food, or performing it in the cemetery or another place significant to the dead.

However, I believe that unless this is part of a traditional celebration or an occasion such as the Day of the Dead, doing this in your own home is more respectful, discreet, and safe. You can do this type of ancestor work on occasion and according to tradition, but if you feel like there is more to explore here, you may start creating your cult of the ancestors.

Cult of the Ancestors

The Cult of the Ancestors is first and foremost a commitment. It’s a commitment to the continuity of your family lineage, as well as ancestral and magickal lineage. Secondly, your Cult of the Ancestors is a temple for your ancestors, gods, legacy, and even for yourself and your descendants.

Magickal diary on Romanian carpet with pattern
An important part of the cult of the ancestors is keeping a written chronicle of your cultural, familial and magickal ancestry in the way you perceive it, with collected lore, history, and accounts of your communions. This will not only serve you, but it may serve your descendants in the future. Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

The metaphysical aspect of the cult of the ancestors involves the creation of a pantheon that consists of your ancestors and gods, documented history as well as mythical history, folklore and family lore, and the corpus of all aforementioned elements, as well as magickal workings, traditions, and celebrations that you know of from as far back as you can investigate and are of importance to you, as well as an account of yourself, your practice, and spirituality. Since it can be rather impossible to remember it all and the part involving you implies that you will continue to add to it in the future, I recommend the written version of the corpus, which brings me to the physical aspect.

The physical aspect of the cult of the ancestors involves setting up an altar or a shrine, which again, you will do according to your own tradition. It should contain objects that have belonged to your ancestors, and organic elements such as sea shells, animal bones acquired ethically which help intercede between you and the ancestors, dried flowers, dust, wood, or stones which would be ideal if you could get them from your ancestral locations, and also symbols and representations of the gods that were most significant to them but which are also in resonance with your own spirituality.

On traditional celebrations, dates of death and birth, as well as every time you wish to commune with a certain spirit of a dead relative, set their portrait on the altar or shrine, but do not leave it there if you are not working with it. On the same occasions, put fresh flowers on your altar and allow them to wither until the next occasion.

For your written corpus, there is a lot of information you must gather and remember as I’ve mentioned before, but don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by it. There is no deadline for it, so write it all down, little by little. Include in it an account of your experiences with the ancestors and your visions and dreams of them.

If you will have descendants, whether by blood or not, this will be part of your legacy to them and establish your authority. Nowadays, you can also record what you gather and remember, but for discipline purposes, sit down when you can and write down what you’ve recorded. It’ll give you a chance to revisit the information and reformulate it more coherently.

Ancestor work shrine with skull, ancestral photograph and offerings.
This specific ancestor work-shrine is dedicated to my grandparents and for my communion I used their photo, as well as animal bones and a rock from the ancient Dacian capital for the intercession of spirit animals and the ancients. I’ve also used dried flowers, incense, candles and țuica (traditional Romanian spirit) as offering, and a dried olive branch I’ve kept from Greece to honor my Greek ancestry from my grandmother’s side. The candle covered in white fabric and tied with a black thread is a funerary candle traditionally given in Romania to the attendees of someone’s funeral. This one is from my grandmother’s funeral and I only use it to imbue with energy, rather than light it – which is something I keep for another occasion of a greater importance. Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram: @crowhag

As you can see, your cult of the ancestors is not separate from you, at least not to me. Just as I’ve said about the spirits in animal magick, it’s an inherent part of you and it is an extension of who you are. While your cult of the ancestors will continue to expand for as long as you live if you are dedicated to it, the creation of the cult is marked by your established bond with the ancestors, which doesn’t need a written corpus to occur.

Finally, keep in mind that you don’t have to work with “dead people” you don’t like. Your Cult of the Ancestors consists of your magical, ancestral, and familial lineage and you choose to whom you bring offerings and commune with. But a true Descendant will not exclude anyone, because they understand that it’s not their personalities from life they commune with, but the Ancestral Spirit which is present in all of the ancestors. The Ancestral Spirit is an egregore in which the astral impressions and memories of mankind’s physical and metaphysical ancestors are crystallized.

Likewise, they will understand that while this is true, each ancestor has their own identity and it should be respected for what it is, regardless if they choose to honor and remember them or not. But generally, those who enter the Cult of the Ancestors are respected, honored, and remembered, they are loved and beloved, regardless if their identities are known to us or not, if we remember them from when they were alive or from legends, history books, and folk tales.

Once the cult of the ancestors is created, you may commune with it to support your practice. All types of practitioners from healers and mediums to witches and shamans do this on their own terms, of course, for divinatory purposes, to perform better, attain wisdom, or simply to be in the presence of spirits that love and nurture them. But to me, there’s more to the cult of the ancestors that is left unexplored by many. On this note, I’ll end by saying: let us always remember the good dead, the wise ancients, and the immemorial ones, lest they be lost to us in the mists of oblivion.

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Liber Al Vel Legis – Aiwass, Aleister Crowley and 114 Years »The Book of the Law«

Aleister Crowley posing as Magus with the Stelae of revelation and magical weapons: wand, chalice, sword and the Book of the Law – the Liber Al Vel Legis
Aleister Crowley posing as Magus with the Stelae of Revealing and magical weapons: wand, chalice, sword and the Book of the Law – the Liber Al Vel Legis

On March 16, 1904, in the King’s Chamber at the Great Pyramid of Giza, Aleister Crowley attempted to show the Sylphs to his wife, Rose Edith Kelly, during the Bornless Ritual. She couldn’t see them, but she entered a trance and repeatedly told her husband: “They’re waiting for you!” Crowley didn’t pay much attention to it until two days later when, on March 18, after invoking god Thoth, his Rose told him that the one waiting for him was Horus. To confirm this, Crowley took her to the Bulaq Museum which was nearby their honeymoon suite, where he asked her to point out Hours to him. After passing by many depictions of the Egyptian god, Rose pointed to the depiction of Horus on the stele of Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu, also known as the Stele of Revealing.

Family father: Aleister Crowley with Rose Edith Kelly and daughter Lola Zaza. If the dating is correct (1910), the photo was taken one year after the divorce (1909). Black and white photograph.
Family father: Aleister Crowley with Rose Edith Kelly and daughter Lola Zaza. If the dating is correct (1910), the photo was taken one year after the divorce (1909).

At the time, the stele was numbered 666, the number of the Beast, which was of significance to Crowley since his childhood. Following this event, on March 20, Crowley invoked Horus successfully, and 3 days later »he« began translating the hieroglyphs on the Stele of Revealing until April 7, when Rose instructed Crowley to enter the “temple” at noon for an hour over the course of the following three days and write down what he heard. On the 8th, 9th, and 10th of April 1904, in the heat and mystical fire of Egypt, in Cairo, Aleister Crowley wrote the book which ushered in the new Aeon of Horus and which would become the central scripture of a new religious movement known as Thelema. Under the directions of his wife, Rose Edith Kelly, during the three days, Crowley sat in his room at noon and spent an hour writing down messages for mankind dictated by a shadow behind him. The shadow was the non-physical intelligence Aiwass, the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat, and Crowley’s own Holy Guardian Angel. In his book, “The Equinox of the Gods” from 1913, Crowley describes the voice and presence that spoke to him:

»The Voice of Aiwass came apparently from over my left shoulder, from the furthest corner of the room. It seemed to echo itself in my physical heart in a very strange manner, hard to describe. I have noticed a similar phenomenon when I have been waiting for a message fraught with great hope or dread. The voice was passionately poured, as if Aiwass were alert about the time-limit … The voice was of deep timbre, musical and expressive, its tones solemn, voluptuous, tender, fierce or aught else as suited the moods of the message. Not bass – perhaps a rich tenor or baritone. The English was free of either native or foreign accent, perfectly pure of local or caste mannerisms, thus startling and even uncanny at first hearing. I had a strong impression that the speaker was actually in the corner where he seemed to be, in a body of ›fine matter‹, transparent as a veil of gauze, or a cloud of incense-smoke. He seemed to be a tall, dark man in his thirties, well-knit, active and strong, with the face of a savage king, and eyes veiled lest their gaze should destroy what they saw. The dress was not Arab; it suggested Assyria or Persia, but very vaguely. I took little note of it, for to me at that time Aiwass was an ›angel‹  such as I had often seen in visions, a being purely astral«.

The original of the Stele of the Revelation, today numbered Cairo A 9422. At Crowley;s time numbered Bulaq 666. It shows the stele owner Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu before Ra-Horakhty ("Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons"), the winged sun, Hadit (or Egyptian: Behedeti) and Nuit. Color.
The original of the Stele of Revelation, today numbered Cairo A 9422. At Crowley’s time numbered Bulaq 666. It shows the stele owner Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu before Ra-Horakhty (“Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons”), the winged sun Hadit (or Egyptian: Behedeti), and Nuit.

The word of Aiwass, the shadow behind Crowley, is the »Liber AL vel Legis« or »The Book of the Law«. For me personally, after a dive in the obligatory and foundational western classics of occultism, the Book of the Law was one of the very first books on modern magick which I desired a lot when I was twelve, and the first religious text (maybe with the exception of the Edda and some Egyptian myths) which I would have read until that age. But back then, because of my young age, the owners of the occult bookshop refused to sell this title to me so I tactically opted for Crowley’s »Eight Lecture’s on Yoga« until I nevertheless ordered the book I desired so much in another bookstore, which was not aware of its contents. Some years later when I was sixteen, I was already working myself in that occult bookstore, and everybody (nearly) forgot the whole episode – obviously, the Liber AL did not spoil me. Even today it is sometimes hard for me to understand how such a small book can cause so many and so big controversies. As far as »Aiwass« or »Aiwaz« is concerned, already Crowley himself puzzled about the ontological status of the voice. Not having been in a trance, he claims to have been compelled to write, even though he was conscious and heard the disembodied voice of Aiwass clearly. In »The Equinox of the Gods«  Alick concludes that it cannot be a mere psychological phenomenon:

»Of course I wrote them, ink on paper, in the material sense; but they are not My words, unless Aiwaz be taken to be no more than my subconscious self, or some part of it: in that case, my conscious self being ignorant of the Truth in the Book and hostile to most of the ethics and philosophy of the Book, Aiwaz is a severely suppressed part of me. Such a theory would further imply that I am, unknown to myself, possessed of all sorts of praeternatural knowledge and power. The law of Parsimony of Thought (Sir W. Hamilton) appears in rebuttal. Aiwaz calls Himself ›the minister of Hoor-parr- Kraat‹, the twin of Heru-Ra-Ha. This is the dual form of Horus, child of Isis and Osiris. If so, the theorist must suggest a reason for this explosive yet ceremonially controlled manifestation, and furnish and explanation of the dovetailing of Events in subsequent years with His word written and published. In any case, whatever ›Aiwaz‹ is, ›Aiwaz‹ is an Intelligence possessed of power and knowledge absolutely beyond human experience; and therefore, Aiwaz is a Being worthy, as the current use of the word allows, of the title of a God, yea verily and amen, of a God.«

Cover sheet of the handwritten manuscript for the later Liber Legis, published by aleister Crowley
The cover sheet of the handwritten manuscript for the later Liber Legis, published by Aleister Crowley

Besides Crowley’s refusal to accept the Liber AL’s source to be psychological the quote shows another interesting aspect, some forget about today: Aleister Crowley, the man, struggled quite a bit with the contents of the »Book of the Law« as dictated by Aiwass to the ears of »Master Therion«.

The Lost Manuscript

In 1904, Crowley rejected the word of Aiwass or the »Law«, as stated in his – probably the world’s first and last – autohagiography »The Confessions of Aleister Crowley«: »The fact of the matter was that I resented The Book of the Law with my whole soul. For one thing, it knocked my Buddhism completely on the head. … I was bitterly opposed to the principles of the Book on almost every point of morality. The third chapter seemed to me gratuitously atrocious«. Furthermore, he planned to just publish the thing in his third volume of »Collected Works« from 1907, of which he stated that: »The Book of the Law annoyed me; I was still obsessed by the idea that secrecy was necessary to a magical document, that publication would destroy its importance. I determined, in a mood which I can only describe as a fit of ill temper, to publish The Book of the Law, and then get rid of it for ever«.  At this time he described the Liber AL as »interesting example of genuine automatic writing« and denied any further responsibility for their contents, with the small exception of »the verse translations of the stele inscriptions«.

Boleskine house in 1912, photograph taken by Aleister Crowley.
Boleskine house in 1912, photograph taken by Aleister Crowley. Crowley purchased the Scottish manor house in 1899 for his »Sacred Magic of Abramelin« operations, but also served as residence for »Lord Boleskine«. In 1909 Crowley rediscovered here the manuscript for the Liber Legis.

But, he changed his mind and did not publish the book for another two years, instead, he claims to have lost the original manuscript. He found it again on June 28, 1909, in his loft at Boleskine House in a brown envelope, while he was searching for his skis. He was uplifted by this event, which followed a series of misfortunes in his life, and he finally felt that it was time to publish the book and surrender to his true will.

The First Editions of the Liber Al Vel Legis

The book of the law appeared already in the same year, 1909, privately published with a set of other writings and commonly labeled as »Thelema« – ΘΕΛΗΜΑ. The next edition of only 11 copies was due in 1925 in Tunis. This »Tunis edition« is the first to be accompanied by a warning, nowadays famous as the »Tunis comment« on the Liber Legis:

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. The study of this Book is forbidden. It is wise to destroy this copy after the first reading. Whosoever disregards this does so at his own risk and peril. These are most dire. Those who discuss the contents of this Book are to be shunned by all, as centres of pestilence. All questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings, each for himself. There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt. Love is the law, love under will. The priest of the princes, Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu

»World Teacher«: Aleister Crowley as »Baphomet«, the 10° of the OTO in 1919. The text reads as follows: An XII, ☉ in ♑ Baphomet; X° O.T.O. R.S.S. Ireland Iona and All the Britains.
»World Teacher«: Aleister Crowley as »Baphomet«, the 10° of the OTO in 1919. The text reads as follows: An XII, ☉ in ♑ Baphomet; X° O.T.O. R.S.S. Ireland Iona and All the Britains.

Despite the tiny circulation the impact of this small book showed itself to be enormous already in the same year of its appearance: Aleister Crowley claimed at the Weida Conference in 1925 the title of the OHO of the OTO (»Outer Head of the Order«, meaning the international leader of the order Ordo Templi Orientis). In Crowley’s own, obviously exaggerated and deeply subjective accounts, this conference was attended by a large number of official delegates from various Rosicrucian and other occult orders, which would have come there on behalf of their orders to accept the Law of Thelema and Aleister Crowley as spiritual world leader of the new Aeon – the very much awaited Age of Aquarius, which indeed deeply preoccupied the Esoteric Scene back then. More credible accounts draw a slightly different picture: Crowley visited Heinrich Traenker’s during summer 1925 upon the latter’s invitation, but blatant misusing his hospitality. Traenker, the leader of the German OTO wanted to discuss with Aleister Crowley, the leader of British OTO the question of international leadership – a position known as OHO, which was vacant after the initiator Theodor Reuss had passed away in 1923 and left the question of further international leadership open. Another item which was discussed was the law of Thelema and its acceptance in the OTO. Traenker was obviously naive and unprepared for Crowley’s strong (ruthless) commitment to overtake leadership. Soon all kind of arguments between the participants arose (notably about women and money) and the result was that Traenker’s former partner Karl Germer joined Crowley henceforth, who successfully claimed the title of the OHO and left Traenker with a damaged reputation caused by an aggressive slander campaign by Crowley. Crowley did not only overtake the OTO, but as a consequence of the bad light shed on Traenker and the internal quarrels to follow, the Pansophical lodge practically shut down in 1926.

Theodor Reuss, founder of the Ordo Templi Orientis
Theodor Reuss and Carl Kellner founded the OTO in 1906. The latter died soon after, so Reuss remained the sole leader of the new, tantric esoteric, Illuminati order. Reuss died in 1923, leaving Crowley as the British leader of the OTO and Traenker as the German leader of the OTO. Crowley claimed Reuss designated him already in 1921 as his successor but never could back up his claim.

Its successor was the Fraternitas Saturni, founded and lead by Traenker’s former follower Eugen Grosche and became the most influential, known magical orders in Germany during the 20th century. While Grosche kept his lodge name Gregor A. Gregorius, the Fraternitas Saturni accepted henceforth the law of Thelema, though, without accepting Crowley as a person being related to their order. Maybe Grosche understood in Weida, that it is wise to keep Crowley – the person – distant, but maybe it was also the Beast, who understood that Gregorius would be no easy victim and that messing with him would not be worthwhile. Thus, the Fraternitas Saturni became the first non-Crowley thelemic society. Karl Germer, on the other hand, remained loyal to Crowley and both brought the OTO to America into a colorful future. This debut at the Weida conference is symptomatic for Aleister Crowley and the Liber Al. While Uncle Al has by no means lost the capacity to rile up both occultists and non-occultists alike and to divide them like no other, the Liber AL pretty much stands for itself since this conference and sometimes it is able to unite. And if it does not unite through its content, at least through the mere fact that until today, there is virtually no occultist who would not have an (usually strong) opinion about either Crowley, the law, or both. Even Franz Bardon makes a reference to the law in his first book (»Love is Law, but Love under will«).

The Law of Thelema

The backside of the Stele of Revelation, color, numbered 666. Made from Replica.
The backside of the Stele of Revelation, preceding the three books of the Liber Legis. Crowley met in Cairo with Egyptologist Émile Charles Albert Brugsch , who had an assistant translate the text for Crowley.

»Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will«. This is the law of Thelema, which Liber AL conveys to its readers in the three chapters therein. Although Aiwass was the one heard by Crowley, each chapter is spoken by a different aspect of a trinity which articulates itself through Aiwass. The first chapter is spoken by Nuit, the Egyptian goddess of the sky, the star bearing woman arching the earth, mother to Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nephthys: the »Queen of Infinite Space«, the female aspect who Crowley calls »Lady of the Starry Heaven, who is also Matter in its deepest metaphysical sense, who is the infinite in whom all we live and move and have our being«. Nuit introduces herself and the »Law for All« in poetic verses, metaphors and instructions on her symbols: »I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice«. (AL I:58) The second chapter is spoken by Hadit, the male aspect, appearing as a winged sun on the Stele of Revelation, he is the sun god, the prime representation of a star, the spirit of the inner self, the Secret Seed, he is at flame at the core of matter (who is Nuit) and he represents Will: »I am the secret Serpent coiled about to spring: in my coiling there is joy. If I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one. If I droop down mine head, and shoot forth venom, then is rapture of the earth, and I and the earth are one«. (AL II:26) The third chapter is presented by Ra-Hoor-Khuit or »Horus is on the Horizon«. He belongs to Heru-ra-ha, a syncretistic deity, composed of an active and a passive aspect: the active aspect is the Conquering Child – Ra-Hoor-Khuit, complemented by the passive aspect Hoor-paar-kraat. Hoor-paar-kraat or Greek Harpocrates meaning »Horus the Child«.  Harpocrates represents childhood and his gesture is a finger held to the lips. The Greek interpreted this Egyptian mudra as sign for silence, though the correct interpretation is childhood. We find the Greek (mis-)conception again in the Golden Dawn. His brother, the active part Ra-Hoor-Khuit is the conquering child and a god of war and vengeance who instructs: »Fear not at all; fear neither men nor Fates, nor gods, nor anything. Money fear not, nor laughter of the folk folly, nor any other power in heaven or upon the earth or under the earth. Nu is your refuge as Hadit your light; and I am the strength, force, vigor, of your arms« (AL III:17). He is also the author of some of my favorite verses

»I am in a secret fourfold word, the blasphemy against all gods of men. Curse them! Curse them! Curse them! With my Hawk’s head I peck at the eyes of Jesus as he hangs upon the cross. I flap my wings in the face of Mohammed & blind him. With my claws I tear out the flesh of the Indian and the Buddhist, Mongol and Din« (AL III:49ff)

The Liber AL – A Fraud?

Cover page of the liber al vel legis - black white
Cover page of the Liber AL vel Legis. Since its appearance, it keeps inspiring – and annoying – people all over the world. Ironically Crowley himself declared several times to be »annoyed« by the Book of the Law.

With such verses, and the lifestyle of its »prophet« the book of the law keeps earning strong reactions, until today even from people who consider themselves otherwise atheists or rationalists or even libertarians. A recent example is the obvious Crowley hater Richard T. Cole who spent considerable time and effort to prove that little Sunshine 666 »fabricated« in bad faith the Liber AL.

»Liber L. Vel Bogus – The Real Confession of Aleister Crowley« by Richard T. Cole

Since the beginning critics did question the legitimacy of the Liber Al or Liber Legis. Sometimes Aiwass is psychologized in the one way or another, at other times Crowley’s propensity to narcotics is seen as the source of the Liber AL, sometimes bad faith is assumed. Richard T. Cole promises hard evidence for the latter. In his »Liber Bogus« Cole attempts the proof in three parts: In the first part of his book, he depicts Crowley as a narcissistic psychopath of bad character. It is not really hard to follow Cole in this part, even though some allegations seem unfair, harsh or maybe a little bit misleading. Very soon Cole starts to lack style. But then again, who else, if not the great wild beast can make people lose their temper and manners even if already long dead and gone? The packaging of the second part becomes trickier and interesting: Cole demonstrates several inconsistencies in Crowley’s own accounts surrounding the Liber AL and the story of its reception. Most of them refer to the many scribbles in Crowley’s various diaries or their missing. Especially the missing of diary entries serves now as proof. This would be convincing if we had later diary entries, which would demonstrate sustained efforts in creating the Liber AL. But such evidence is not presented, and the scribbles invoked by Cole are tiring because they need way too many assumptions and interpretations to yield the desired result: none of these is conclusive by itself and it remains hard to follow Cole here. Three arguments, however, seem sound: 1) Crowley stated he lost the Liber AL after its reception and rediscovered it only in 1909. However, as we have seen already, Crowley obviously worked on it and classified it as an example of »genuine automatic writing« in 1907 as he intended to publish it in his Collected Works. Cole takes this as evidence that Crowley is not sincere in regard to the reception story.

Crowley's first attempt to publish the Liber Legis in the Equinox in 1907. Comment by Aleister Crowley explaining the source of the Liber al vel Legis.
Crowley’s first attempt to publish the Liber Legis in his Collected Works in 1907. The entire document is made available at Lashtal.com (User account needed to download). Cole considers this a »proof« of Crowley’s faking of the Book of the Law.

He also overstretches here quite a lot the importance of the word »genuine«, and the comment »came into my possession in July«. Crowley clearly stated in the same document that it was received by his own magical personality (The Beast) in 1904.  Came into possession means in this context nothing else, that he, Aleister Crowley, the man, did stumble upon the transcript (again) after forgetting about it. Every magician worth his wand should have some of these in his cellar.

» Liver L. Vel Legis Given from the mouth of Aiwass to the ear of The Beast on April 8, 9 and 10, 1904 [This Ms (which came into my possession in July 1906) is a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing. Though I am in no way responsible for any of these documents, except the verse translations of the stele inscription, I publish them among my works, because I believe that their intelligent study may be interesting and helpful.A.C.”]«

The rest of the comment can be interpreted that little Alick just did not know what to do with the Manuscript back at that time, and what to think about it. This is also pretty much in line with what Crowley told later about the matter. And seemingly, Crowley was referring to this time in chapter 60 of his autohagiographical confessions, which we already cited before: »The Book of the Law annoyed me; I was still obsessed by the idea that secrecy was necessary to a magical document, that publication would destroy its importance«. This very insightful comment is made as Crowley describes how he sent the Manuscript of the Liber AL to Fuller. It is striking that Cole discusses the Fuller encounter in depth but leaves these passages out. Obviously, they run counter to his agenda. The second argument, which could constitute a hard fact is highly unlikely data given by Crowley for the time after the reception of the Liber AL. Cole seems convinced that it would be nearly impossible for Crowley to already be in Paris on the 26th of April, where he dined with Arnold Bennett, assuming that on the 24th Crowley was still in Cairo. Arnold Bennet himself mentioned his meeting with Crowley in his »Paris Nights: And Other Impressions of Places and People«. Moreover, Crowley met Annie Bessant on his nearly 4,000 km journey. Applying the rule of the three to the distance Cairo – Paris and comparing it with Crowley’s Way from Colombo to Cairo Cole convincingly concludes that this would be impossible. For the records: Even if this was true, it would not mean that Crowley wouldn’t have been in Cairo two weeks before, to receive the Liber AL. It just would mean that he misdated the day of his departure. The folks on the forum at Lashtal.com put some serious effort into researching this argument, including checking all relevant timetables for the relevant ferries.  And, they found the clear result, that Uncle Al could very well be on time in Paris and meeting Beasant if he would have taken the Ship »Isis«, the sister ship of the »Osiris« Crowley mentioned. This would be in line with Bennett, Beasant and Crowley, except for the shipname. The entire argument is lengthy and includes several corrections of data, among them a misdating by the authoritative Crowley Biograph Symonds, which Cole used without further fact-checking. The conclusion is that Crowley was in Cairo when he received the Liber AL from the 8th to 10th April and met Bennett on the 26th in Paris. The entire argument can be read here.

Page 60 from the handwritten manuscript of the Liber AL vel Legis. The origins of the manuscript or at least, their status are still subject to debate – for some. Cole claims the paper stems from 1905, which would make a reception of the Liber AL in 1904 impossible. Clear evidence is not presented.

But the most serious argument against Crowley’s version of the 1904-reception of the Liber AL is the paper on which the original manuscript is written. Watermarks on every page show without a doubt that it was produced by Scottish Papermaker Alex Pirie & Sons. However, the »London Brand«  of »Standard Typewriting« was »not commercially available until late in 1905« – this argument is deadly to any claim that Crowley would have received the Liber AL in 1904. However, Cole mentions that this would be according to »company archives« but fails to show any evidence. And furthermore, he does not explain why Aleister Crowley, Lord of Boleskine in the Scottish Highlands would desperately need the London Brand of Scottish Papermaker Alex Pirie & Sons. The company, by the way, merged in 1921 with Wiggins, Teape & Alex. Pirie Limited, merged again with Appleton Papers in 1991 and in 1999 they merged with Arjomani Piroux into the French-based company ArjoWiggins. Whoever is up for the challenge may contact them on their website and ask whether such company archives about the commercial availability of the »London brand« exist, and whether »Standard Typewriting« may have been available in Scottland or at least – uncommercially? Overall, the Liber Bogus promised a lot, but was a very weak read and lacking sufficient fact checking and documentation, where it was needed the most. On the other hand, the author displayed several incidents of attention seeking behavior. I admit, he succeeded for a short while. Many Thelemites meanwhile declared that the content of the Liber AL would stand very well for itself, but obviously, it bothered many.

The »Abbey of Theleme«. Illustration by Gustav Dore in the early 19th century, depicting the live of the »thelemites« in Rabelais novel »Gargantua«
The »Abbey of Theleme«. Illustration by Gustav Dore in the early 19th century, depicting the life of the »thelemites« in Rabelais novel »Gargantua«

A much more interesting and worthwhile connection is the relation to Rabelais and his »Gargantua«.

Rebalais and the »Thélèmites« in »Gargantua«

Sometimes critics note a certain similarity between Crowley’s »Thelema«, its central dictum »Do What Thou Wilt« and the monks of a certain anti-monastery »Abbey of Theleme« in the satirical novel »Gargantua and Pantagruel«, written by the medieval monk and author François Rabelais. The »Thélèmites « living in Rabelais’ Abbey, which was build by the Giant Gargantua were maybe early anarchists:

»All their life was regulated not by laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their free will and pleasure. They rose from bed when they pleased, and drank, ate, worked, and slept when the fancy seized them. Nobody woke them; nobody compelled them either to eat or to drink, or to do anything else whatever. So it was that Gargantua had established it. In their rules there was only one clause:

DO WHAT YOU WILL

because people who are free, well-born, well-bred, and easy in honest company have a natural spur and instinct which drives them to virtuous deeds and deflects them from vice«

It is not clear whether »Aiwass« was inspired by Rabelais’ »Fais ce que veulx« or not. Crowley proactively addressed the issue himself as early as of 1926 stressing that »Love, and do what thou wilt« would appear for the first time with St. Augustine (Aleister Crowley: The Antecedents of Thelema. 1926). Then, after pointing to Gargantua and analyzing in detail the many similarities, Alick asks in a very Crowleyan manner the really important question: whether Rabelais was »aware of the prophetic fire of his immortal book«? Indeed, this approach is much more elegant, than to puzzle whether Crowley or Aiwass would have built on Rabelais, but the other way round, Rabelais is declared a prophet which anticipated the arrival of »Master Therion« AKA »Frater Perdurabo« (Crowley’s first magical motto in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) and even predicted his very name:

» ›How praiseworthy he Who shall have perserved even unto the end!‹ He who is able to endure unto the end, he insists, is to be blessed with worship. And what is this I will endure unto the end but PERDURABO, the magical motto at his first initiation of the Master Therion?« Aleister Crowley: The Antecedents of Thelema. 1926

Floor plan for »Abbey of Theleme« by Charles Lenormant in 1840.
Floor plan for »Abbey of Theleme« by Charles Lenormant in 1840. While some argue that Crowley would have built on Rabelais, it is hard to see many similarities between Crowley’s Thelema and the novel, except for the name. Already the definitions of will are contradictory.

It is clear, that we cannot expect serious answers from a permanent jokester like Crowley on that matter. At the end of the day, the Liber AL and the definition of »Will« differ from Rabelais as much as from St. Augustine and as such, they will continue to play a rule as a unique impetus to modern occultism and Western Esoterism per se. Much more, Crowley and his Book of the Law repeatedly served as multiplier, influencing entire currents such as modern Witchcraft (via Gardner), the modern Left-Hand Path (via LaVey, which let to Aquino), modern magic in general, first via the Equinox, then via his student Israel Regardie (whose Golden Dawn revelations were possible only through Crowley) or via the Fraternitas Saturni and its several publications in the 20th century, to name just a few, and to leave out the obligatory pop-culture examples such as the Beatles. For me, the Liber AL’s »Every man and every woman is a star« is a beautiful reminder of our human nature. And Hadit, the sun god is not separate from the stars, as opposed to so many other traditions before. This is an idea, so powerful, that Giordano Bruno had to give his life for it. But the Liber Al was the first to make this a central teaching.

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Stinging Nettle Tea – the “Healing Fire” – Focul Vindecator

Witch jar with dried nettle leaves and nettle smudge for ritual use.
While the health benefits of the stinging nettle have been scientifically proven in modern times, this plant has been used in herbal medicine, especially by witches, for thousands of years. Photo: Flickr CC.

We began our journey into the world of plants in Romanian lore and tradition, as well as in contemporary witchcraft, by learning about the Stinging Nettle and its distinct significance and properties. But practice is what makes this journey remarkable, so here is a first and easy way to use your knowledge on The Stinging Nettle – the fire in the garden to make a traditional Romanian elixir called The Healing Fire or in Romanian: Focul Vindecator.

The coming of spring brings forth renewal and return to Nature as it reawakens. As opposed to winter, which in many regards is a time of conservation, spring is a time of dynamic purging, it’s about attuning your spirit to your body and allowing that to flow outwards to the world outside of you. This dynamic purging specific to spring is very much connected to the energy of Mars, the war god, whose element is fire.

Fire, according to my favorite philosopher of Antiquity (Heraclitus) is the essence of the universe and of life. It is the primordial element of renewal, change, and becoming. The process of becoming, especially in a time of renewal, can be quite challenging and you may not always feel prepared for it. Perhaps that’s why nettles peek through the snow during this time, to help you purge and heal. Their sting is only a reminder that the war god is on your side, that fire can burn, but it can also heal and renew.

Nettle – What is inside the Plant?

  • Histamine
  • Acetylcholine
  • Serotonin
  • Minerals (Silica)
  • Formic acid
  • Vitamins A, B2, B6, K, C
  • beta-Carotene
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Protein
  • Potassium

Stinging Nettle tea is truly a healing potion for those suffering from depression, spring asthenia, hair loss, and more. Even though the stinging nettle is not the friendliest plant to your skin, it has wonderful benefits for your health. The tea made from this plant is known as the “healing fire”, which is inspired by the Latin name for the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). It originates from the word “urere” which means “burning”, similar to the stinging sensation of a nettle’s touch.

This healing fire burns away physical weakness and various ailments while restoring your health to better functions. It was used internally in Antiquity, Middle Ages, as well as in modern times to treat arthritis, cough, tuberculosis, as well as externally to stimulate hair growth. Nettles are dense in protein, iron and essential minerals.

Benefits of the Healing Fire Nettle Tea

Infusion of nettle leaves in bowl with hot water.
The Healing Fire tea has its name not only from the healing properties of the stinging nettle but also from the plant’s association with the lord of fire, Mars. Photo: Yesica.

Because it is so rich in natural and healthy compounds, the Healing Fire tea helps boost immunity, ward off the common flu, and help detoxify your body. A diet with stinging nettle tea is a natural way to mineralize yourself, balance your immune system, and avoid spring-related anemia. It is often used to promote better female health, but it also naturally boosts testosterone, thus increasing vitality in males. Additionally, it speeds up wound healing, it has analgesic properties, alleviates pain caused by fibromyalgia, reduces arthritis symptoms, and much more.

Internal use:

  • helps detoxify the body
  • promotes health restoration
  • strengthens the immune system
  • wards off spring-related anemia
  • alleviates arthritis symptoms
  • promotes faster wound healing
  • helps relieve pain caused by fibromyalgia
  • it has analgesic properties
  • it can be used as a female tonic
  • helps stabilize blood-sugar levels

External use:

  • Helps regenerate and epithelialize skin tissues
  • Improves skin health
  • Combats dandruff and strengthens the hair

How to prepare the Healing Fire Nettle Tea

Brewed nettle tea in cups. Beautifully decorated with nettle leaves and wood.
Nettle tea is great as a health boost for overall well-being, especially in spring. You can drink it hot, cold, or in combination with any other tea you desire. Photo: George Wesley & Bonita Dannell 

As with most teas, the stinging nettle tea can be obtained through scalding or infusing. This is the best way to prepare the healing fire so that the stinging nettle can retain its healing properties. For a larger quantity of tea you will need:

  • 5 spoons of dried stinging nettle leaves
  • 1 liter of boiling water

Simply pour the boiling water over the nettle leaves and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. You should drink up to 4 cups of this tea a day for about 30 days. This will help heal you from the inside out. If you want to, you can mix the nettle leaves with dried yarrow to help tone your stomach.

If you are on professional medical treatment, make sure you consult your medical care provider before attempting to detoxify with nettle tea. Some drugs may react negatively with the stinging nettle, and it’s best to be safe than sorry. Some people may experience stomach discomfort and females may also experience womb contractions. And that’s one of the reasons why pregnant women should avoid stinging nettle tea. Furthermore, if you suffer from allergic reactions to nettles, you shouldn’t rinse your hair with this tea or allow it to touch your skin.

Purging Nettle Tea for Spring

Stinging Nettle or common Nettle against sunset
Known as the “fire in the garden”, the stinging nettle is associated with the element of fire and with god Mars. While its sting can burn, its healing power can purge away weakness, pain, and rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit. Photo: Ray Wewerka

Stinging nettles usually appear in spring which makes them the right choice for a spring detox in both body and spirit. It doesn’t only have an effect on your body, but it also helps focus your mind on maintaining the ritualistic habit of drinking the Healing Fire. It may sound simple, but it does take a little bit of discipline to master.

Additionally, if you think of the magickal implications of the stinging nettle, the Healing Fire is a ritualistic beverage that reconciles the fire within, the energy of the war god Mars, and it attunes oneself to the energy of Baba Dochia (Old Dokia), the goddess, as she dies and is reborn in the spring month of March, the month of the war god.

The Healing Fire burns away pain and weakness while turning your inner fire into a positive force that is reborn at once with Nature. The mere gathering of the nettles on the first days of March (Old Dokia’s days, 1st-9th March) is a sacred process that celebrates the coming of spring and the reawakening of Nature. Just make sure you wear gloves when you go nettle picking, or else it might sting!

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Urtica dioica – The Stinging Nettle, “Weed of Mars” Or The Fire In The Garden

Stinging Nettle or common Nettle against sunset
Known as the “weed of Mars” in Romanian folklore, the Stinging Nettle is considered as the “fire in the garden”, not only because of the burning sensation caused by its sting, but also because of its purging powers. Photo: Ray Wewerka.

The world of plants and crystals is as fascinating as it is empowering. That’s why I am inviting you to take a dive into this world with me. There’s a lot there waiting to be discovered and experienced, so be my guest! Not only do I want to learn more about it myself, but I want to tell you about Romanian folklore, witchcraft, and what roles these natural wonders play in it. First on my list is the Stinging Nettle,  which happens to share the name with our host.

Not only because we are in Nettle’s Garden right now, but because it is one of the most important plants in Romanian lore and traditional herbalism. It is also very important and significant to me personally, so it’s only appropriate to begin this journey by learning more about it from a unique perspective.

The Common Nettle is one of the most important plants in Romanian folklore and one of the most prominent presences in traditional herbalism for good reasons. In fact, the common nettle was my first introduction to traditional Romanian herbalism. It was so present in my life as a child that I cannot exactly pinpoint the very first memory I have of it – other than touching it and feeling its sting, but I do have one very vivid memory of my grandmother washing my hair and explaining its benefits to me. And the way she talked about it made the old “urzica” (Romanian for nettle) seem alive, almost personified in my perception.

Stinging Nettle or Burning Nettle - macro of leaves, stem and stings
Although the sting of the nettle feels like burning, the “whipping” of certain areas of the body with stinging nettles was believed to “burn” away various illnesses. In some of his texts, even Hippocrates recommended the common nettle as a treatment against certain afflictions. Photo: Kevin Thiele

As a child, I had very long, thick, and shiny dark hair which I received many compliments on (and I still do today). One of the main reasons my hair was so beautiful was because my grandmother used to gather nettles from the riverside, boil them in water, and then rinse my hair with said water while telling me how beautiful my hair will be because of it. In fact, growing up I realized how widespread this hair-washing technique was and how many Romanian women rely on the common nettle to beautify their hair.

Urtica dioica also known as the common or stinging nettle is part of the Urticaceae family and it is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant. It is native to Europe, northern Africa, Asia, and western North America. The name was inspired by the Latin word “urere”, which means “burning” or “to burn”, which is obviously the result of a first-hand experience with this plant. In Antiquity, the nettle was used by the Romans, Greeks, and Geto-Dacians to treat ailments, to cook, and to make certain dyes. Nettle tea was a very common remedy for the common flu, chest pain, and throat issues, and it survived as a remedy for the same afflictions to this day.

But in Romanian folklore, Nettle is more than just a plant. It is seen as a strong entity associated with the war god Mars, which is why it is also known in Romanian folklore as “the weed of Marţ”. It has distinctive qualities that make it worthy of the war god, such as the stinging hairs (trichomes) that protect it,  and resistance to cold and drought. It appears as soon as the winter snow melts in the month of March, the month associated with the war god.

It has a practical and therapeutic importance even in folklore. It is a sacred plant which is eaten only on important days of the year, especially on important days during spring, such as Old Dokia’s days (1st-9th March), the Passion Week, and Easter Saturday. The first nettle meal of the year would often be accompanied by a magick formulae, similar to a prayer, that said: “may my womb hurt when the woman will birth foals, and the mare will birth children”. But the common nettle is not only consumed as a sacred meal.

Macro of burning nettle leave. Stings of common nettle leave. Green against black background
According to Romanian tradition, if you wash your face during Easter morning with virgin water in which you put a red egg, a coin, and a stinging nettle leaf, your cheeks will be as red as the egg, you will be as strong as the coin, and as tough as a nettle.

Nettles are gathered with the first flowers of the spring by both girls and boys on the day when the birds are betrothed (Dragobete, 24th of February), and the gathering is accompanied by songs such as: “thread of black grass, my mother asks which labor is my dearest, I told you that no labor is, aside the one with my beloved on the meadows, when I choose a nettle to give to the chicks.” The stinging nettle is also used in ritualistic “nettling”, when young men make nettle bouquets that they whip each other with in order to revive their agility and health for the coming year. This ritualistic whipping is reserved for the sacred days of Sângiorz, Easter, and Arminden.

On the first day of May, girls gather nettles very early in the morning, and later boil them in water that they use to rinse their hair with, in order for it to grow long and strong. And similar to the “nettling” tradition, they gently whip everyone in the home with their nettles bouquet in order to awaken their agility and protect them against illnesses.

Tangka with Tibetean Yogi Milarepa - Green Body
Tibean thangka showing the Yogi Milarepa in green. Milarepa feeded during his fasting and retreat years in the mountains mainly on Nettle tea, which caused his skin to turn green.

The nettle was often used as a fortifier for the people who were weak and malnourished during winter, which inspired the saying: “the nettle is fed to the mouth of starvation”. On Palm Sunday it is said that the nettles “marry” because they are blooming and they are no longer safe to eat. That’s why in the Romanian folk calendar Palm Sunday is also known as “Nettle’s Wedding Day”. This plant was truly versatile to the Romanian people because not only was it used in remedies and beauty rituals, but the stems were also used to create textile fabrics from.

The Nine Herbs Charm

The Stinging Nettle is also one of the ingredients needed for the Nine Herbs Charm recorded in the Lacnunga manuscript in the 10th-century AD. Aside from the stinging nettle, the other herbs needed for the charm were: mugwort, cockspur grass, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, crab-apple, thyme, and fennel. The Nine Herbs Charm was used to treat infection and poisoning and it consisted mainly of a poem used as incantation and prose instructions on how to prepare the treatment.

The herbs mentioned above were crushed and mixed with old soap, apple juice and a paste from water and ashes. The fennel was boiled into the paste and bathed in beaten egg both before and after the ointment was applied. The lyrical part of the charm was used as an incantation sung 3 times over each of the 9 herbs, as well as into the mouth, ears, and wound of the patient before the ointment was applied. The poem refers to each herb in part as if to a personified entity and describes their powerful qualities. The strophe dedicated to the stinging nettle reads:

Nettle it is called, it attacks against poison,
it drives out the hostile one, it casts out poison.
This is the herb that fought against the serpent,
it has power against poison,  it has power against infection,
it has power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.
Put to flight now, Venom-loather, the greater poisons,
though you are the lesser, until he is cured of both.

Biological illustration of Urtica dioica in various stages and views.
The powers of the Stinging Nettle are not only acknowledged in the 9 Herbs Charm, but also in Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia. According to him, nettles are Martial plants that by touching the skin, they “burn it, prick it, or make it swell”.

Nowadays, many people tend to think that the Stinging Nettle is mostly surrounded by superstition and not actual facts. Because it can grow in almost anyone’s backyard, although it is often weeded out and thrown away. But the truth is that the common nettle has many wonderful benefits and it is one of the most documented plants in history.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis – That ritualistic nettle beating is a testimony to this plant’s ability to aid with joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology acknowledges the stinging nettle’s anti-inflammatory powers and that is why it is often used in professional medical treatments.
  • Hair Growth – The stinging nettle is also said to stimulate hair growth, which is why our grandmothers and the other women before them used “nettle water” to rinse their hair. Nowadays, there are hair care products that contain stinging nettle extract that claim to not only stimulate hair growth but make your hair thicker and shinier.
  • Blood Flow – Whenever I complain about a nettle’s sting, someone is there to remind that “it is good for your circulation.” And indeed, studies have shown that it increases blood flow and improves your energy levels.  However, you should not pick nettles with your bare hands for this purpose. Always wear gloves when you do that!
  • Feminine Health – Nettle tea is often used during painful child labor because it can act as a coagulant. Post-labor it can help stimulate lactation. Additionally, it helps relieve menstrual symptoms, minimizes blood flow, and it can help smooth the transition for women undergoing menopause.

The stinging nettle, although common, truly has healing and beautifying powers. And I am not just saying this because I am an Old Crow in Nettle’s Garden. This “Hail Marry” to the stinging nettle comes from my own experience with the ancient plant and its very endearing significance. You can use various forms of nettle tea for better health, beautiful hair, and to bring you a chance of good luck throughout the year.

To me, the stinging nettle is more than just a medicinal herb. It is a strong presence in Romanian folklore that emanates an ancient aura and its association with the war god Mars only makes it more intriguing to me. It is definitely a herb that should not be missing from any witch’s kitchen and that should be treated with the respect it deserves

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Emanuel Swedenborg – The Favorite Seer of the Occult Revival

Portrait of Emanuel Swedenborg by Carl Frederik von Breda, made sometime before 1818
Portrait of Emanuel Swedenborg by Carl Frederik von Breda; made sometime before 1818. Swedenborg was considered mad, but brilliant by many, especially for his common-sense view that God is Divine Goodness who is neither vindictive nor in need of Christ’s atonement for Adam’s sin. Kant disregarded him publically as a »Spirit-Seer«, but privately is said to have held him in high esteem (Herder).

Stories of psychic powers, visions, and predictions were prevalent in the 18th century. But not many of them are backed up by facts and solid accounts. However, there are a few stories that cannot be easily dismissed. The following is one such story.

In 1759 on the 19th of July a devastating fire broke out in Stockholm, Sweden. The well-documented event describes the fire spreading rapidly and destroying nearly 300 homes in its path. About 400 km away from Stockholm, in Gothenburg, Swedenborg was having dinner with his friends. At about 6 o’clock, he became visibly anxious and confessed to his friends that a fire broke out in Stockholm which threatened to burn down his home.

At 8 o’clock he was relieved, saying that the fire had stopped just three doors away from his home. Word of Swedenborg’s strange claims reached the provincial governor who that same night summoned Swedenborg to recount his story in detail. Three days later, the couriers from Stockholm reached Gothenburg with the news of the fire, validating Swedenborg’s story down to the precise hours when the fire had started and when it had stopped.

Emanuel Swedenborg, one of the most brilliant, complex, and well-rounded historical figures of the 18th century was a mystic who constantly experienced visions and strange dreams since the spiritual world opened itself to him.

While he is primarily known for his philosophy and theology, Swedenborg was a polymath whose areas of study and expertise included mathematics, geology, metallurgy, mineralogy, crystallography, anatomy, chemistry, physics, cosmology, and more. And although in many regards he was a scientist ahead of his time, his life and spiritual awakening established Swedenborgism as the foundation of the New Church and as an important influence on Spiritualism and Theosophy.

Swedenborg's place of birth is commemorated at Hornsgatan 43, in Stockholm, Sweden.
Swedenborg’s place of birth is commemorated at Hornsgatan 43, in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: Creative Commons.

Swedenborg’s Life and Spiritual Awakening

Emanuel Swedenborg (Swedberg) was born on January 29, 1688 in Stockholm, Sweden, as the son of Jesper Swedborg, the bishop of Skara in Sweden. He is one the most notable churchmen in Swedish history. He received a noble honor from Queen Ulrika Eleonora after King Charles XII’s death which changed the family name from Swedborg to Swedenborg. Jesper is famous for his criticism of the Lutheran Church in Sweden and his naive form of Christian belief that he had since childhood which influenced his son’s spirituality. More notably, Jesper’s belief in angels and spirits greatly impacted Emanuel’s spiritual vision.

After graduating from the Uppsala University in 1709, Emanuel Swedenborg traveled through the Netherlands, France, Germany, and he made his way to London, England. He lived there for the next 4 years. Because London was a central location for science at the time, Emanuel developed an interest in physics and mechanics, alongside his interest in philosophy and poetry.

Sketch of Swedenborg's Flying Machine from his notebook. He first sketched the Flying Machine when he was just 26 years old and later published it in his Daedalus Hyperboreus in 1716
Sketch of Swedenborg’s Flying Machine from his notebook. He first sketched the Flying Machine when he was just 26 years old and later published it in his Daedalus Hyperboreus in 1716

Over the course of only 2 years, Swedenborg went on to develop engineering projects such as the »Lost Draft Invention of a Submersible Ship” in 1714 and the »Flying Machine” in 1716, that he started sketching a few years earlier.

Because of his reputation as a scientist, he was offered a chair of mathematics at the University of Uppsala in 1724, which he refused saying that his main interests were geometry, chemistry, and metallurgy and that because of his stutter he did not have »the gift of eloquent speech” worthy of a professor or public speaker.

However, what he did not speak, he wrote. According to Swedish critic Olof Lagerkrantz, Swedenborg’s extensive argumentation in writing is due to his speech impediment. Considering that he published 14,000 pages and that he left behind 28,000 pages in manuscript form, this may very well be one of the true aspects behind his written work.

In the 1730s, Swedenborg began his studies of physiology and anatomy, having developed significant prescient ideas that anticipated the modern scientific discoveries about the nervous system, neurons, the cerebral cortex, the function of the pituitary gland, and more. It was around this time that he also began to study in depth the relationship between spirit and matter. He developed his own philosophical method which consisted of experience, geometry, and the power of reason after his attempt to understand the order and reason of creation.

While there is an underlying sense of this in his »Opera philosophica et mineralis”, a work of 3 volumes published in 1735 in Leipzig that conjoined philosophy and metallurgy, the first manuscript to really touch on the spiritual aspect of the relationship between spirit and matter was his »De Infinito” published the same year. In it, he explains his vision of the finite-infinite relation and proposed that the soul is based on material substances.

In 1743, he made plans to travel abroad in order to gather research for his Regnum Animale, in which he wanted to explain the anatomy of the soul in no less than 17 volumes. In 1744, Swedenborg was in the Netherlands where he began to have distinctive dreams which he wrote down in his Journal of Dreams, which was published in 1859, after being discovered at the Royal Library in the 1850s. These distinctive dreams continued for about 6 months and followed him to London, where he traveled after leaving the Netherlands.

The last entry of the journal dated 26–27 October 1744, depicts Swedenborg’s conclusion that he must follow a new path and abandon his Regnum Animale project. Soon after that, he started a new project that he did not complete, but still published in 1745, titled »De cultu et amore Dei”.

The same year he claimed to have entered a spiritual state and experience a spiritual awakening, although the spiritual world opened to him before, on April 6, 1744, during Easter Weekend, when he claimed that God enabled him to visit heaven and hell at will and that he had a revelation that he was chosen to write the Heavenly Doctrine with which he would reform Christianity.

Page from the first edition of Arcana Coelestia from 1749 by Emanuel Swedenborg
Title page from the first edition of Arcana Coelestia from 1749. The book revolutionized the way the Bible verses were understood at the time. Swedenborg’s interpretation gave spiritual meaning to many who couldn’t understand the word of the Scriptures

Thus, Swedenborg spent the last 28 years of his life investigating, experiencing, and writing on spiritual matters. In June of 1747, he resigned from his professional duties to fully dedicate himself to completing a new project he began. He began studying Hebrew and intended to make a spiritual interpretation of every verse of the Bible. This project which lasted for 10 years since 1746 is considered by many his magnum opus and it is known as »Arcana Cœlestia”. The work was published in 8 volumes in between 1479 and 1756, at first anonymously, until Swedenborg was identified as its author in the 1750s.

“Arcana Cœlestia” provides an exposition of the spiritual meaning of the contents of the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus, without dismissing the historic validity of the events described in said books. However, he describes these events and their meaning as spiritual symbols. Swedenborg states the following in the opening paragraph of the first volume of »Arcana Cœlestia”:

“From the mere letter of the Word of the Old Testament no one would ever discern the fact that this part of the Word contains deep secrets of heaven, and that everything within it both in general and in particular bears reference to the Lord, to His heaven, to the church, to religious belief, and to all things connected therewith; for from the letter or sense of the letter all that anyone can see is that ̶ to speak generally ̶ everything therein has reference merely to the external rites and ordinances of the Jewish Church. Yet the truth is that everywhere in that Word there are internal things which never appear at all in the external things except a very few which the Lord revealed and explained to the Apostles; such as that the sacrifices signify the Lord; that the land of Canaan and Jerusalem signify heaven ̶ on which account they are called the Heavenly Canaan and Jerusalem ̶ and that Paradise has a similar signification. »

The Swedenborg House in London - View from Bloomsbury Street
The Swedenborg House in London. Even though, London is the city were Swedenborg would die, aged 84, this house is the Headquarter of the Swedenborg Society, which was founded later, in 1810. The society resides there since 1925 . Creative commons.

After his »Arcana Cœlestia”, which many believe is the foundation of his theological works, Swedenborg published around 18 other theological works, such as »The Last Judgement” from 1578 in which he claims that he witnessed the event named in the very title and that it took place in between 1757 and 1758. He claimed that the judgement took place »halfway between heaven and hell”, in a spiritual plane, and that it occurred because the Church had become faithless and corrupted, thus threatening the balance between heaven and hell.

However, Swedenborg’s most popular book to this day is »Heaven and Hell” published in 1578, which describes his vision of the afterlife and even the process of dying. He sees death as a peaceful transition into a spiritual realm where people are met by angels and he describes the realm as a world more real than the physical one. Furthermore, his vision of heaven is a »geography of love”, where people are distributed according to what they love most and in which people can be their best version of themselves. He also gives an elaborate depiction of angels and divine worship.

Swedenborg completed his last book, »Vera Christiana Religio« at the age of 82 in July 1770 in Amsterdam and he published it in 1771. Later that summer he traveled to London and just before Christmas that year he suffered a stroke that left him bedridden, having partially paralyzed him. He died on 29 March 1772 in London, aged 84. Probably the most interesting about his death is that he accurately predicted it. He told his landlord’s servant, Elizabeth Reynolds, of his time of death and that he was not only at peace with it, but happy about it.

And if the account of a servant girl isn’t enough, there is also written evidence. Swedenborg corresponded in February of that year with the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, who wrote to him that he was embarking on a journey of 6 months and that upon his return he would contact Swedenborg again. Swedenborg replied that it’ll be too late because he was going to make his final journey to the spiritual world on March 29.

Emanuel Swedenborg's Tomb in the Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden
Emanuel Swedenborg’s Tomb in the Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden. Foto: Francisco Anzola, CC.

According to his friend and landlord, Pastor Arvid Ferelius of the Swedish Church in London, when he asked Swedenborg if he would like to recant anything in his final hours before death, Swedenborg raised himself up, put a hand on his heart and said: »As truly as you see me before your eyes, so true is everything that I have written; and I could have said more had it been permitted. When you enter eternity you will see everything, and then you and I shall have much to talk about«.

Swedenborg And Swedenborgism As Influence on the Occult

Copperplate with Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish Scientist, Theosoph and Seer.
Swedenborg’s vision of the afterlife made him a favorite among many enthusiast occultists during the occult revival. His optimistic view resonated with the spirits of many who found comfort in imagining a heaven for all. Image: Flickr, CC.

Swedenborg’s teachings became popular with the enthusiasts of the Occult Revival in the 19th century. For occultists, Swedenborg was a visionary whose doctrine of correspondences was just in line with the theosophical tradition of alchemist Paracelsus or the mystic Jakob Böhme, and who like John Dee, the occult philosopher and astrologer before him, communed with angels and imparted his belief to people based on his own personal experiences with the spirit world.

And even though philosopher Kant publically slammed Swedenborg’s visions (after an initial phase of interest and admiration) quite unflattering as »dreams of a spirit-seer«, Swedenborg had the enormous advantage of being not only well versed but innovative and commonly accepted in the science of his times.  According to Herder, even Kant never lost his respect for Swedenborg, and overall, the story of the bishop’s son who went out to become a scientist and ended a mystic is just convenient for the weakened self-confidence of Western Esotericism since the Age of Reason.

While magicians like Eliphas Levi and spiritists like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle revere him as an occultist, Swedenborg never held himself as one nor is there any solid proof that he could’ve been one. The common and decided interest in the supernatural at the time shared by the enthusiasts of the Occult Revival viewed Swedenborgism as a refreshing philosophy that served their practice of and belief in the occult with all the meanings the word »occult” may convey.

Alchemist and hermetician Dom Pernety (1716-1801) was a personal friend of Swedenborg and translator of the Seer’s Latin work »Heaven and Hell« into French. The Berlin circle around Pernety had personal contacts to Swedenborg, the French Martinist and leading member of Pernety’s »hermetique rite« and »Illumines d’Avignon« Benedict Chastanier was one of the first »Swedenborgians« to spread the Seer’s gospel into England’s masonry.

The »Swedenborgian Rite«, sometimes attributed to a »Marquis de Thorn«, sometimes to a »Marquise de Thome«, consisted of 6 degrees (Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master Neophyte, Illuminated Theosophite, Blue Brother, and Red Brother) and was built on top of the  »hermetique rite« as practiced in circles around the »Illumines d’Avignon«, enriched with Swedenborg teachings. While the Masonic »Swedenborgian Rite« was at first short-lived in England, several Swedenborgian Churches started to spread. The »Swedenborgian Rite« made it’s way into American Masonry, though and from there found it’s way back to England at the end of the 19th century.

However, these seem to be the only noteworthy connections between Swedenborg and Freemasonry and unlike suggested by Dr. Marsha Schuchard, historian of esoteric culture, there is no real proof that Swedenborg was a fringe freemason or that he was even remotely involved with Masonic rites, orders, or lodges.

Emanuel Swedenborg with the manuscript of »Apocalypsis Revelata«. (»The Apocalypse Revealed«). Painting by Per Krafft the Elder, about 19766.
Emanuel Swedenborg with a print of »Apocalypsis Revelata«. (»The Apocalypse Revealed«). Painting by Per Krafft the Elder, about 1766.

Although Swedenborg never founded a church, a cult, or an order, his teachings and theology influenced many who after his death gathered in small study groups to read and discuss his work. His Heavenly Doctrine was appealing especially to those who felt that Christianity at the time needed to be reformed through a more optimistic and comprehensive vision. Swedenborg’s reputation as a seer, his vision and experience of the spiritual realm, his accounts of talking to angels, and his belief in a heaven of divine love for all, became the fundamental belief of the New Church of Jerusalem, founded on May 7, 1787 in England.

The New Church’s belief is that Swedenborg was truly chosen by God to write down his Heavenly Doctrine. Their fundamental Swedenborgian belief is that God, infinite and loving, is at the center of life, that the Bible contains deeper spiritual meaning for the soul, that those who pass become angels or spirits, and that heaven is dictated by state of being and what one loves most.

One of Swedenborg’s earliest readers was poet and artist William Blake, whose own visions of the spiritual world are revered to this day. He is known to have attended with his wife the first conference of the New Church, which was then still in its embryonic phase. Romantic Blake (who also had a deep antipathy against the alchemist Isaac Newton, which he perceived as »sterile«) was attracted to Swedenborg’s vision of divine love, but he was repelled by the doctrine of the church. His satire »The Marriage of Heaven and Hell« from 1790-1793 was deeply influenced by his rejection of Swedenborgism.

 Ornament from Arcana Coelestia depicting two angels close to the Sun. Angels are central to Swedenborg's theology and about them he said: "Angels never attack, as infernal spirits do. Angels only ward off and defend."
Ornament from Arcana Coelestia depicting two angels close to the Sun. Angels are central to Swedenborg’s theology and about them he said: “Angels never attack, as infernal spirits do. Angels only ward off and defend.”

During the Occult Revival, when followers of Swedenborgism blended the mystical aspects of Swedenborg’s work with divination, spiritism, alchemy, and theosophy, »Heaven and Hell«, Swedenborg’s most popular book, became a favorite among those in the Spiritualist movement who were particularly interested in the afterlife and communion with the spirit world. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even wrote in the first volume of his »The History of Spiritualism« from 1926 that: »In point of fact, every Spiritualist should honor Swedenborg, and his bust should be in every Spiritualist temple, as being the first and greatest of modern mediums«.

The association with Spiritualism was opposed by some Swedenborgian groups stating that the practice of spiritualism may be dangerous and against Swedenborg’s recommendations, while others sided with the Spiritualist movement and embraced the practice. While Swedenborg himself was open and candid about his spiritual experiences, visions, and communion with angels and spirits, he did warn against making contact with the spirit world, as it may open the door to evil and unwanted spirits.

He believed that the ability to communicate with the spirit world must be given as a gift from God and not a skill that should be developed. However, Swedenborgian spiritists dismiss these warnings and continue to credit Swedenborg as one of the first modern mediums. Swedenborg’s visionary experiences of the spirit world were revelations, which made them either inherent or god-given, but they were not actively sought.

Eliphas Levi commented on this with the following words in his »The History of Magic« from 1859: »The means proposed indirectly by Swedenborg for communication with the supernatural world constitute an intermediate state allied to dream, ecstasy and catalepsy. The illuminated Swede affirmed the possibility of such a state, without furnishing any intimation as to the practices necessary for its attainment«.

Because of Swedenborg’s growing popularity with spiritists and enthusiast occultists, his teaching appealed to the Theosophical Society. Helena Blavatsky, the occult philosopher and occultists who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875, was well-read in Swedenborg she cites him in her book »Isis Unveiled« from 1877.

»It is a belief (founded on knowledge) among the kabalists, that no more than the Hermetic rolls are the genuine sacred books of the seventy-two elders – books which contained the ‘Ancient Word’ – lost, but that they have all been preserved from the remotest times among secret communities. Emanuel Swedenborg says as much, and his words are based, he says, on the information he had from certain spirits, who assured him that ‘they performed their worship according to this Ancient Word’. ‘Seek for it in China,’ adds the great seer, ‘peradventure you may find it in Great Tartary’!«

She considered Swedenborg »the greatest among the modern seers« and often cited him to serve her own agenda, but she also expresses criticism over his inability to remove himself from his »ingrained Christian theology« which limited his vision. She also criticizes the fact that Swedenborg was couldn’t tell the difference between his spiritual visions and his vivid imagination because he was an untrained medium and that his visionary experiences took place only in the astral plane only and never exceeded to higher spiritual planes. She most notably does so in her »Theosophical Glossary« from 1892:

»His clairvoyant powers, however, were very remarkable; but they did not go beyond this plane of matter; all that he says of subjective worlds and spiritual beings is evidently far more the outcome of his exuberant fancy, than of his spiritual insight. He left behind him numerous works, which are sadly misinterpreted by his followers«

Madame Blavatsky was not the first nor the last to suggest that Swedenborg might’ve had a vivid imagination. While she doesn’t see it as something pathological, many believe that he must’ve suffered from a mental illness, given the nature and content of his visions. Whether or not there might’ve been a drop of madness in the man’s brilliant mind is irrelevant at this point. His coherent and extensive work couldn’t have come from someone who was completely divorced from reason.

Ultimately, Swedenborg’s name, despite no direct connection to occultism or the occult revival, was taken as an epitome of Spiritualism and served many of the hopes, dreams, and even schemes of the enthusiast occultists from the 19th century. But for a distinct few, Swedenborg was the object of a passionate love and hate relationship.

One of these distinct few is one of Swedenborg’s earliest readers. Poet and artist William Blake, whose own visions of the spiritual world are revered to this day, although considered mad by many, he has a brilliant mind and intense spiritual experiences. He is known to have attended with his wife the first conference of the New Church, which was then still in its embryonic phase.

Golden Dawn member and magician William Butler Yeats (image: about 1923, Anonymous) confirmed his respect for Swedenborg on the occasion in his Nobel Prize Banquet speech.
Golden Dawn member and magician William Butler Yeats (image: about 1923, Anonymous) confirmed his respect for Swedenborg on the occasion in his Nobel Prize Banquet speech.

Romantic Blake (who also had a deep antipathy against the alchemist Isaac Newton, which he perceived as »sterile«) was attracted to Swedenborg’s vision of divine love, but he was repelled by the doctrine of the church. His satire »The Marriage of Heaven and Hell« from 1790-1793 was deeply influenced by his rejection of Swedenborgism.

Blake’s admirer and Golden-Dawn member William Butler Yeats touches on this symbolic relationship between Blake and Swedenborg, while also crediting the Swedish mystic for his own charm which had drawn Yeats to him in his speech at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm which he held in December 10, 1923:

»I have been all my working life indebted to the Scandinavian nation. When I was a very young man, I spent several years writing in collaboration with a friend the first interpretation of the philosophy of the English poet Blake. Blake was first a disciple of your great Swedenborg and then in violent revolt and then half in revolt, half in discipleship. My friend and I were constantly driven to Swedenborg for an interpretation of some obscure passage, for Blake is always in his mystical writings extravagant, paradoxical, obscure. Yet he has had upon the last forty years of English imaginative thought the influence which Coleridge had upon the preceding forty; and he is always in his poetry, often in his theories of painting, the interpreter or the antagonist of Swedenborg. Of recent years I have gone to Swedenborg for his own sake, and when I received your invitation to Stockholm, it was to his biography that I went for information«. Source: Nobelprize.org

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

The Keeper of Flame – Fox as Spirit Animal or Totem in Animal Magick

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Fox at night before a door
Fox, the witty keeper of the flame, the guide of those lost in the dark, is a teacher who challenges one’s adaptability, wit, and responsiveness. Photo: Flickr.

After the introduction of Totems, familiars, power animals and where to find them, we have looked at the Spirit of the Owl and noted that despite the superstitions, the owl is an extremely powerful totem that provides guidance in the unknown. Another powerful totem that is often a guide in the dark is the Spirit of the Fox. The fox has very often appeared to me as a power animal which is why I enjoy talking about the witty creature quite a lot.

Just like the owl, the fox has a bad reputation sometimes as well. That is because many cultures see its wits tricky and possibly dangerous. However, the fox always uses its wits to adapt to its environment and to be on top of the survival game. That’s at least one of the reasons why “clever as a fox” is such a compliment for those who can find their way out of difficult situations and “outfox” their challengers.

The Fox as Spirit Animal

While the fox is almost always associated with the figure of the trickster, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the trickster is a figure much needed in one’s intellectual progress and magickal initiation. When a fox appears in this form, it must be acknowledged for what it is – a power that tests your ability to exceed.

But as a spirit animal, the fox rarely appears as a trickster set on pranking and testing. It is often a teacher that guides you in the dark and teaches you how to find your way around obstacles. As a totem, the fox helps you develop your wit and adaptability. Because it helps you increase your awareness and responsiveness, the Spirit of the Fox is an excellent aid in tricky situations.

And because of its affinity with nocturnal activities, the fox is a great guide in the dream world and it can help you evolve as an oneironaut. When the fox appears to you as an animal, spirit animal, or symbol, it may indicate that you need to increase your awareness.

Sometimes they may warn you about a tricky situation or a cunning person in your life. The fox appears to help you see through deception by guiding you on the right path for you especially when you feel tempted to follow a path that does not serve you.

Fox Lore

Japanese fox Kitsune statue with red decoration - yodarekake
For the Japanese, Kitsune (“fox” in English) is a divine messenger of the god Inari. Kitsune statues are often adorned with red votive bibs, called yodarekake. The color red is associated with the god Inari and worshipers often place these votive bibs on the statues at Inari shrines in order to establish a bond with the god. Photo: Flickr.

Most cultures associate the fox with wit and adaptability before anything else. In many European tales, the fox is a character who outsmarts humans and other animals even in the trickiest of situations. In early Mesopotamian mythology, the fox was one of the sacred animals of the Sumerian mother goddess, Ninhursag.

In one ancient myth, Enki, the Sumerian god of water, was dying from an illness that none of the gods could heal, except for Ninhursag, who was nowhere to be found. Only her fox knew how to find her and it guided her to Enki, in order to heal him. In Ancient European lore, the fox was a messenger of the old gods of the woods and it was considered a symbol of fertility.

However, in the Middle Ages especially, the fox was associated with the workings of the Devil because of its nocturnal activities. In China, the fox was a shapeshifter that could trick and lure the innocent. It was also a symbol much associated with the afterlife and it was believed that fox sighting was a death omen. The Celts believed that the fox was a guide. Not only did they cherish the fox as a guide in the woods, but also in the spirit world.

Some Native American tribes also considered the fox as a wise messenger or guide, while other tribes considered it a trickster. But no other culture honors the fox more than the Japanese one. People and foxes have lived close together in ancient Japan, which is why they have so many legends about the witty creatures.

Kitsune statues at Inari shrine with offerings
Inari shrine at Mt. Takao – Worshipers of the god Inari often leave food offerings for the kitsune, such as rice and sake. They do this hoping that the divine messenger will deliver their prayer or request to god Inari.

The Kitsune (Japanese for “fox”) is believed to possess supernatural abilities that only increase as they age. And according to Yōkai folklore, one of its supernatural abilities is that of shapeshifting into human form. Sometimes, the kitsune uses this ability to trick or test humans, while other times it uses it to become a friend, lover, or even wife – that’s one foxy ability!

Kitsune is also a rain spirit, the messenger of Inari, the kami of foxes, fertility, rice, tea, sake, agriculture, prosperity, success, and one of the main kami of Shinto. This is why the fox is considered a sacred messenger of the Japanese god. The most interesting part of the Kitsune mythos is that the more tails a kitsune has, the older, wiser, and powerful they are.

A kitsune can have up to 9 tails, which is when they become almost a deity and traditionally, they are worshiped as one in that case. And speaking of the Nine-Tailed Kitsune – you know where this is going… Kurama! The Spirit of the Fox was beautifully depicted as the Kyūbi no Yōko, or Kurama as named by the Sage of Six Paths, in Naruto – the popular Japanese manga/anime series.

This Nine-Tailed Demon Fox is the 9th and most powerful of the bijū, the nine-tailed beasts which are great manifestations of unlimited chakra. The depiction is extremely close to the kitsune lore, but what makes the storyline outstanding is that it shows how the Spirit of the Fox works with humans. Despite its amazing power, a power that surpasses that of mere humans, the Spirit of the Fox becomes even greater in serving the human it becomes attached to. And despite its loyalty, it is very much an independent spirit with an interesting set of morals.

Ace of Wands from Shadowscapes Tarot - Foxes
Ace of Wands, Shadowscapes Tarot – Foxes, like Wands, are elements of fire that represent personal power, creativity, courage, and adventure. | Photo by Radiana Piț, Instagram @crowhag

Another one of my favorite representations of the Fox Spirit can be found in the Shadowscapes Tarot, which is the tarot deck I use the most in my work. Almost all of the Wands cards in the deck have a representation of the fox in them. And that is because just like wands, foxes are elements of fire, determination, and personal power.

 Illustration for "The Fox and the Crow" from Aesop's Fables. .
Illustration for “The Fox and the Crow” from Aesop’s Fables. The story is an example of the Fox getting what it wants by using its wits and flattering the naive crow. Photo: Flickr.

Perhaps the most famous depiction of the fox can be found in Aesop’s Fables, the slave, and storyteller who lived in Ancient Greece. In The Fox and the Crow, both animals become archetypes and the fox proves that wit is a virtue. Ultimately, the spirit of the fox is one of mankind’s oldest friends. A friend that guides, teaches, and when needed, tests one’s ability to help them overcome their limits.

As a spirit animal, the fox is distinguished by the unique bond it has with humans. And perhaps this is also because of its ability to take human form. And on this note, I’ll leave you with the words of the famous fox from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince: “To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…” 

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.NettlesGarden.com – The Old Craft

Nicolas Flamel – The Scribe Living (in) the Alchemist’s Dream

Portrait of Nicolas Flamel - The French scribe who gained a world famous reputation as alchemist
Portrait of alchemist Nicolas Flamel by the French painter Balthazar Montcornet from the 17th century. The French scribe is the epitome of Alchemy and his legendary possession of the Philosopher’s stone appears in esoteric literature such as the alchemical novel »The Red Lion« by Maria Szepes as well as fantasy stories such as »Harry Potter«

At the core of any legend, there’s a dream. Such as a dream to turn any metal into gold, whether by touch or by other means, and the dream to live for as long as it is possible. But Nicholas Flamel’s dream was different. He did not dream of gold and immortality. Instead, he dreamt of a book, a book he could not read but which he was determined to decipher. In his famous dream, Flamel was visited by an angel who held a book in his hands and told him: »Look well at this book, Nicolas. At first, you will understand nothing in it neither you nor any other man. But one day you will see in it that which no other man will be able to see«.

One day, when he was working alone in his shop, a stranger came to sell him a manuscript. Flamel recognized the book, it was the one he had dreamt of before and he immediately bought it without bargaining. The book’s pages were grouped into 3 parts of 7 pages each. He noticed Greek, Hebrew, and other writing he couldn’t recognize, as well as diagrams and symbols he couldn’t understand. His dream for the next 21 years would be to decipher this mysterious and divine book. His quest for knowledge made him immortal, as in our minds today he is still remembered as the alchemist who had never died, the one who discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life.

The Life of an Alchemical Legend

Nicolas Flamel was probably born in the year 1330, in Paris, France, but as an alchemical legend he was born on 22nd of March, 1418. Little is known about his life, but what we do know is that Flamel was a French scribe who spent much of his time copying and authenticating documents and letters, sometimes even giving writing lessons to noblemen. He also had his own tiny stall at Église Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie where he sold and bought manuscripts. He later moved his manuscript business to the ground floor of the house he bought on Rue de Marivaux.

In 1368 he married Perenelle, a widow who was married twice before and who had inherited the wealth of her former husbands. She was supposedly a little bit older than Flamel, very intelligent, but most importantly, she was discreet enough to become his confidant and perhaps even his partner in the practice of alchemy. The Flamels were both Roman Catholic philanthropists who used much of their wealth in support of the church. In fact, it is believed that they were alchemists whose transmutations resulted in multiple charitable and generous acts all over Paris and Boulogne.

Flamel’s life is a real mystery, just as much as his death is. But it seems that in the 17th century, the historical Flamel turned into an alchemical legend. That is because it was believed that he was successful in his quest for discovering the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life. But how did this belief appear in the first place?

Even though there is no real indication that the historical Flamel was as wealthy as the alchemical legend, perhaps some believed that his wealth and generosity was possible due to his knowledge of turning base metals into gold and that his long life in a time when people died young was because he had discovered the Elixir of Life.

Emblem from Michael Maier's Atalanta Fugiens -
Emblem depicting the Philosopher’s Stone from Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier (1617). While many have speculated over its source and composition, the alchemical symbol of the Squared Circle is the geometric expression of the metaphorical stone.

It could also be that he truly was an adept and people believed his wealth and longevity was a result of it. It is also possible that his legend may have been a hoax made by the publisher, P. Arnauld de la Chevalerie who wrote the book using the pseudonym »Eiranaeus Orandus«. While historians today tend to believe the hoax version, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, people defended the validity of the book and the legend.

Alleged sightings of Flamel at the time enforced the belief he was still alive thanks to the Elixir of Life that he had discovered and some even suggested that the publishing of the book was orchestrated entirely by Flamel who anticipated the ripples it would make and which would travel further in time.

Either way, the legend is just as intriguing as the enigmatic figure in history who indeed was a real person and because of the few and vague facts we have, it is safe to say that the very way this legend transfers to our “history of magic” and even pop-culture, is making a significant and even “alchemical” impact on an adept’s imagination and even aspiration. And that is a fact that speaks for itself.

Alchemical hieroglyphics from the Book of Hieroglyphic Figures by Nicolas Flamel
Alchemical hieroglyphics from the Book of Hieroglyphic Figures by Nicolas Flamel. The depictions were meant to be painted on an arch in Cimetière des Innocents, in the churchyard of St. Innocents. According to the book, these depictions were inspired by the “strange figures” engraved in the mysterious manuscript that sent Flamel on the quest for the Philosopher’s Stone.

Most of what we know of Flamel’s life comes from a book which was published in 1612 in Paris. The book called »Livre des figures hiéroglyphiques« is claimed to be Nicolas Flamel’s own long-lost composition comprised of designs he commissioned for a tympanum at the Cimetière des Innocents, which was already gone by the time the book was published.

The introduction to the book was made by the publisher and it describes a quest for the Philosopher’s Stone in which Flamel was deeply involved. His quest started with the purchase of a mysterious book of only 21-leaves whose contents he tried to elucidate. One night he dreams of an angel announcing a book to him, and sometime after that, a stranger sells him the same object foretold by the angel in his dream.

To uncover the mystery, he traveled to Santiago de Compostela in Spain in 1378, under the pretext of a pilgrimage to hide the true purpose of his visit to Spain, which was to perhaps enlist the help of an erudite Cabalist for a translation of the parts of the book which were in Hebrew. He got lucky on his way back home when he met a sage who helped translate one of the book’s pages and who told him that the mysterious book in his possession was a copy of the »Book of Abramelin«.

The Magic of Abramelin. Page from a German edition 1725
Page from the Book of Abramelin, published in 1725. It is believed that the mysterious manuscript in Flamel’s possession was a copy of the book which contains Abramelin’s secrets on magic, Kabbalah, and the making of the Philosopher’s Stone. The influence of this book stretches all the way from medieval alchemy to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

It is said that Flamel studied the book for 21 years – a year for each page of the book. But it was truly the Hebrew translation that enabled him and his wife to successfully uncover the instructions for obtaining the Philosopher’s Stone with which they were able to produce silver in 1382, and gold soon after that.

Some constructions attributed to Flamel seem to indicate that he might’ve indeed all of a sudden acquired wealth with which he was able to build estates, such as houses, churches, and hospitals. And many suggest and believe that this wealth was acquired through the use of the Philosopher’s Stone which he discovered.

51 rue de Montmorency, Paris, the house of Nicolas Flamel is
At 51 rue de Montmorency, Paris, the house of Nicolas Flamel is a historic monument that still stands today. The house is considered to be one of the oldest in Paris and many believe that while Flamel built, he never lived there. Nevertheless, after Flamel’s death, the house was broken into multiple times in an attempt to find clues to the Philosopher’s Stone.

One of the houses Nicolas Flamel built stands since 1407 until today in Paris, at 51 Rue de Montmorency with its old inscription on the facade: »Nous homes et femes laboureurs demourans ou porche de ceste maison qui fut faite en l’an de grâce mil quatre cens et sept somes tenus chascun en droit soy dire tous les jours une paternostre et un ave maria en priant Dieu que sa grâce face pardon aus povres pescheurs trespasses Amen«. (»We, ploughmen and women living at the porch of this house, built in 1407, are requested to say every day an ‘Our Father’ and an ‘Ave Maria’ praying God that His grace forgives poor and dead sinners.«)

Although he was »rich« in the eyes of many, especially having discovered the Philosopher’s Stone, Nicolas Flamel was leading a life of modesty and compassion, and the gold he had obtained he used only to help the poor and those in need, instead of overindulging himself in material wealth, which is perhaps where the secret of the Stone lies. Historian Louis Figuier writes: »Husband and wife lavished succor on the poor, founded hospitals, built or repaired cemeteries, restored the front of Saint Genevieve des Ardents and endowed the institution of the Quinze-Vingts, the blind inmates of which, in memory of this fact, came every year to the church of Saint Jacques la Boucherie to pray for their benefactor, a practice which continued until 1789«.

Gravestone of alchemist Nicolas Flamel
Nicolas Flamel designed his own tombstone in 1410. Although his tomb was sacked by those who searched for his secrets, the Stone, and the Manuscript, many believe that his tomb is in fact empty because he never died in the first place, having found the secret of immortality.

In 1397, Flamel’s wife, Perenelle died. He continued to take care of his manuscript business until his death. When he reached his 80s, in 1410, Flamel started preparing for his own death and he designed his own tombstone. On it, there can be seen carved images of Christ, St. Peter, St. Paul, as well as a sun above a key and a closed book in between the figures. It can still be admired today at Musée de Cluny in Paris, where it is kept. Flamel died in 1418. But his legend was just being born.

The Quest continues

After his death rumors started spreading that Flamel left clues for the formula of the Stone in his grave and other places with significance to him. In more recent times, it’s been suggested that these clues will lead one to the very alive and kicking Nicolas Flamel, for there is where the Stone lies. Because of these rumors, the sculptures and inscriptions connected to Flamel were broken off and removed by desperate adepts who even broke into his home in an attempt to find either the mysterious book or the Stone.

These rumors got out of hand in the 17th century especially, with the publishing of the book »Livre des figures hiéroglyphiques« and the alleged sightings of Flamel being alive well after 200 years from his death. It is then that most of his buildings were ransacked and damaged, along with all the clues, inscriptions, and perhaps even documents he had written.

"God Mercury of the Pagans", engraving from the Book of Hieroglyphic Figures by Nicolas Flamel.
»God Mercury of the Pagans«, engraving from the Book of Hieroglyphic Figures by Nicolas Flamel. The engraving depicts Mercury or Hermes facing an old man who symbolizes Death. The image is symbolic of the relationship between alchemy and death and it is an allegory to Flamel’s legend.

A document which is alleged to have been originally written by Flamel in 1414 in a »coded alphabet consisting of 96 letters« surfaced in 1750, when the myths and sightings of Flamel were still circulating. In 1758, Monsieur de Saint Marc and his friend, Father Pernetti, decoded the document and it looks like it contains instructions on how to make the Philosopher’s stone:

»Take thou in the first place the eldest or first-born child of Saturn, not the vulgar, 9 parts; of the saber chalibs of the God of War, 4 parts. Put this latter into a crucible, and when it comes to a melting redness, cast therein the 9 parts of Saturn, and immediately this will redden the other. Cleanse thou carefully the filth that arises on the surface of the saturnia, with saltpetre and tartar, four or five times. The operation will be rightly done when thou seest upon the matter an astral sign like a star.«

More important than the Stone in this legend is Flamel who is undoubtedly the most famous alchemist of all times, having made appearances in Isaac Newton’s journal »The Caduceus, the Dragons of Flammel«, Victor Hugo’s »The Hunchback of Notre Dame«, J.K. Rowling’s »Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone«, and even the upcoming »Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald«. But perhaps, the story I find the closest to the truth of the Stone is the one found within the symbols of the movie »As Above So Below«, where a hunt for the Stone starts at the headstone of Nicolas Flamel that leads not to a physical stone, but a non-physical one that is found within upon transcendence.

Isaac Newton – The Last of the Magicians and the Translator of Tabula Smaragdina

Sir Isaac Newton • Portrait by Godfreyd Kneller (1689)
Sir Isaac Newton • Portrait by Godfrey Kneller (painted in 1689). Location: Institute for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge

Most people nowadays think about the apple, the tree and the law of gravitation when the name »Newton« is mentioned. But, let’s start with a story about an alchemist and his dog, Diamond. “O Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done”, said Sir Isaac Newton as he watched his work of twenty years go up in flames.

Newton was on his quest to discover the Philosopher’s Stone. For twenty years up to that point he had researched, studied, and experimented with alchemy and ancient wisdom that he had documented in his writings. But his favorite dog, Diamond, upset a candle that in its fury burnt so many of Newton’s manuscripts… Whether this is exactly how the fire in his lab happened or not, I find this story extremely endearing, from the symbolic name of his dog to the fury of a candle, all the way to Newton’s exclamation.

Engraving from France, 1874 showing Newton's laboratory on fire and burning his documents. Sir Isaac Newton tries to save the papers, while dog Diamond is also in the picture.
Some historians debate whether Newton actually owned a pet or not. Some say the wind and an open window caused the candle to lit the fire, while Newton himself was on his way to church. Others say, that the whole story about the fire may have been a small incident or none at all. For sure is, that the Newton Project still has many millions of words left to transcribe and to translate and that Newton’s unorganized seeming way of journaling is not very helpful in this regard.

Newton’s worldview was not purely mechanical, as most remember today. It is not to be overlooked that the man was more of a mystic who was passionately seeking the wisdom of the ancients within hermeticism and alchemy. His translation of the Emerald Tablet is a testimony to his interest, passion, and mission.

As F.E. Manuel says in his book »The Religion of Isaac Newton«:»The more Newton’s theological and alchemical, chronological and mythological work is examined as a whole corpus, set by the side of his science, the more apparent it becomes that in his moments of grandeur he saw himself as the last of the interpreters of God’s will in actions, living on the fulfillment of times«.

Sir Isaac Newton’s Life and Work

Sir Isaac Newton was born prematurely, at full moon and »an hour or two after midnight« (Maynard Keynes), on December 25, 1642 in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Lincolnshire to widow Hannah Asycough. He was raised by his grandmother, Margery Asycough and as a young child, he despised his mother for marrying his stepfather whom he strongly disliked. In a list of »sins committed« by the age of 19 that he had made, Newton wrote that he had once even threatened his mother and stepfather »to burn them and the house over them«.

Photo from Newton's chambers in Woolsthorpe Manor,
Photo from Newton’s chambers in Woolsthorpe Manor, where he was born and where he also conducted his private studies on mathematics and alchemy. It is said that this is also the property on which the famous apple tree that inspired him to formulate his law of universal gravitation was. Photo: Flickr.

From the age of 12 to 17, Newton attended the King’s School in Grantham, where he learned Latin, Greek, and mathematics. In October 1659, his mother became a widow once again and removed Newton from school, bringing him back to Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth in order to turn him into a farmer. Newton disliked the idea and he despised farming, but thanks to the headmaster of his former school who intervened and persuaded his mother to allow him to finish his education, Newton was able to go back and become the top student.

In 1661, Newton received a recommendation from his uncle, Rev William Asycough, with which he was admitted to the Trinity College in Cambridge. He earned his BA degree in August 1665. Soon after that, the university was closed down due to threats of the prevailing Great Plague at the time. Although he didn’t distinguish himself from others as a student while in attendance, Newton was privately studying and developing his theories on calculus, optics, and the law of gravitation at his home in Woolsthrope.

When he returned to Cambridge in April 1667, he was elected as »Fellow of Trinity« and in 1669, after earning his MA degree, he was elected as »Fellow of the Royal Society«, when he had to take the following commitment: »I will either set Theology as the object of my studies and will take holy orders when the time prescribed by these statutes [7 years] arrives, or I will resign from the college.« In 1669, he was also appointed as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics which meant that he did not have to undertake »holy orders« or become an ordained priest.

»Newton« A painting by William-Blake
»Newton«. A painting by William-Blake (finished 1795 and reworked 1805) showing Sir Isaac pretty much the way as he is remembered today: A man, a compass, and some mechanical drawings. The romantic and mystic Blake rejected Newton’s deistic worldview and his distinction between spiritual and physical (optical) vision offended him in particular. Accordingly, Blake depicts Newton rather cold – a symbol of the »sterile« worldview of Enlightenment/the Age of Reason, which the poet opposed with passion.  For Keynes and the taste of most people today, however, Newton remains closer to the magi.

In 1675 when he was required to commit to his vow, Newton argued that his position as a Lucasian Professor should be enough to discharge him from the ordination. His unorthodox views did not resonate with Anglican orthodoxy, but thanks to Charles II who accepted his argument as a Lucasian Professor, a conflict between his views and that of the church was averted.

In between 1666 and 1684, Newton wrote several mathematical papers that circulated among his colleagues and which gained him the reputation of a proficient and »extraordinary genius«. He also lectured on optics in between 1670 and 1672, when he also researched refraction and made an analysis and resynthesis on the white light which was influenced by corpuscular alchemy, especially as seen in his »Opticks« published in 1704.

In 1675, he published his »Hypothesis of Light«, in which Newton used still the notion of »ether« as a transmission medium for forces between particles. But soon his interest in alchemy was revived, thanks to Cambridge Platonist Henry More (who also influenced Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled), Newton replaced the »ether« soon with the fundamental hermetic idea of polarity  – or »occult forces that were based on Hermetic ideas of attraction and repulsion between particles« as some biographers noted.

The title page of the »Principia«, first edition (1686/1687) by Sir Isaac Newton
The title page of the »Principia«, first edition (1686/1687) by Sir Isaac Newton

He published his »Principia« (Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica) in 1687, which is a work of 3 of his books that state his laws of motion, and which formed the foundation of classical mechanics and his famous law of universal gravitation. Newton’s “Principia” is one of the most important works in the history of science today and it is part of the Scientific Revolution, although at the time its revolutionary waves were not immediate.

The turn of the century came with many changes for Newton. He spent the first part of it writing religious papers, after which he moved to London to take his new position as warden of the Royal Mint first, and soon after as Master of the Mint in 1699. Newton retired from his position at Cambridge in 1701 to fully dedicate to his Master of the Mint duties, which he did for the rest of his life. It has been suggested that Newton thought of his work at the Mint as part of his alchemical practice. In 1703, he was elected as the President of the Royal Society and in the April of 1705, he was knighted by Queen Anne, making him the second scientist to be given the Sir title, after Sir Francis Bacon.

Newton died in his sleep on March 20, 1727, in London and his body was buried at Westminster Abbey. A postmortem examination was conducted on his hair and traces of mercury were found, which many believe was a result of his alchemical practice. It was suggested that his alchemical practice exposed him to mercury poisoning, which could’ve explained his »eccentricity« towards the end of his life as well as his nervous breakdowns earlier in life. In a note he made before his death, Newton wrote:

»I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.«

Magical Legacy: The Emerald Tablet

Many of Newton’s works are now considered occult studies. Out of the estimated 10 million words left, about 1 million of them are written on matters of alchemy and over 2 million on religion. Just as Agrippa von Nettesheim or Dom Pernety, Isaac Newton is a perfect example on how science and the occult were still not mutual exclusive. Much more: magicians, alchemists or innovative religious philosophers (such as the Neoplatonists and Bruno) subsequently prepared the ground and even pushed forward modern science in their quest to enlightenment.

Which is also to say that indeed his theory of gravity did not come from »modern«, »rational« science as some still think today, but it was to a large extent a (by)product of Newtons mystical and alchemical science. Nevertheless, despite all his fascination for alchemy and the occult,  Newton was a discreet man who kept his interest in the occult successfully hidden from most of his contemporaries.

He may have also chosen not to publish any of his alchemical papers due to the ongoing study and practice which was not yet completed, even after decades of meticulous research and experimentation. Newton was a known perfectionist who would only publish his works once he considered them complete. John Maynard Keynes, the economist who won the auction on half of Newton’s papers on alchemy said that: »Newton was not the first of the age of reason: He was the last of the magicians«. And even though he is not the last, he may have been the last at a time, when both worlds still could coexist quite well together. The mystic and poet William Blake accused Newton (among some other prominent Philosophers of the Age of Reason such as John Locke) to be responsible for the schism, and wished that Newton should burn in hell.

Estefania Wenger writes in her book »Isaac Newton: A Biography« the following: “Some practices of alchemy were banned in England during Newton’s lifetime, due in part to unscrupulous practitioners who would often promise wealthy benefactors unrealistic results in an attempt to swindle them. The English Crown, also fearing the potential devaluation of gold, should the Philosopher’s Stone actually be discovered, made penalties for alchemy very severe. In some cases, the punishment for unsanctioned alchemy would include the public hanging of an offender on a gilded scaffold while adorned with tinsel and other unspecified items.” This further explains Newton’s discretion which might’ve not only been out of caution and aversion of scrutiny and punishment, but also of distinguishing the purpose of his alchemical studies from other practitioners of alchemy of his time.

While the true extent of Newton’s alchemical work is unknown, several of his documents which survived to this day indicates that he was on a quest to create or acquire the Philosopher’s Stone. Newton was deeply inspired by the wisdom of the ancients when it comes to his occult studies. More notably, this can be seen in his book »The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended«, in which he wrote a chapter on his research on the Temple of Solomon. He was mainly interested in the sacred geometry of the temple, which he believed was built with divine guidance, thus making it more than just a mathematical blueprint.

Image from 1606 showing a fictive version of the Emerald Tablet (Heinrich Khunrath,)
Image from 1606 showing a fictive version of the Emerald Tablet (Heinrich Khunrath,)

But the most important contribution to the popularization of alchemy and hermeticism was probably the translation of the Emerald Tablet (Tabula Smaragdina) from Latin into English. This fundamental piece of alchemical and hermetic writing, alongside the »Corpus Hermeticum«, shapes Western Esoteric thought like few other known texts and is one of the most cited ones. The formula »That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below« has become the fundamental credo for occult currents of all kinds. Often in a shortened version, which says »As above, so below« and »As inside, so on the outside«, omitting the second part, which may very well suggest that the influence works both ways, even though this is not the common interpretation.

Hermes Trismegistus. The legendary author the  »Corpus Hermeticum« and the »Emerald Table«. Newton would be the first translator from Latin into English.

Hermes Trismegistus, the syncretism between the Greek god of magic and his Egyptian counterpart, Toth, fascinated scholars since the Renaissance after Cosimo de Medici acquired in 1462 a Greek copy of the »Corpus Hermeticum« and Neoplatonist Ficino translated it into Latin. The Hellenistic scriptures are nowadays commonly dated between the 1st and 3rd century. The much shorter »Tabula Smaragdina« can be traced into the sixth century, first among Arabic sources, Latin versions spread since the 12th century. Mircea Eliade assumes that the first Latin translation stems from Italian scholar Gerhard von Cremona, Albertus Magnus and Geber are supposed to have known the text.

For Hermeticians, it summarizes until today in a short and beautiful manner the basic principles of hermetic science. However, it’s outstanding simplicity is not less deceitful, than putting all the principles of mathematics on one single DIN A4 paper – which would be quite possible, but for most people not practicable or helpful, as the large body of mathematical literature suggests. Thus, the best way to see and approach the Tabula Smargdina is the same way as Bruno’s mnemonic devices: a memory hook for what we already know, and a guide for study, contemplation and further meditation for what lies ahead.

The translation made by Isaac Newton of the Emerald Tablet, which is today kept in the King’s College Library at the University of Cambridge, reads as follows:

The Emerald Table as Translated By Isaac Newton

  1. Tis true without lying, certain and most true.
  2. That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing
  3. And as all things have been and arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
  4. The Sun is its father, the Moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.
  5. The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
  6. Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
  7. Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.
  8. It ascends from the earth to the heaven and again it descends to the earth and receives the force of things superior and inferior.
  9. By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world
  10. And thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
  11. Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing and penetrates every solid thing.
  12. So was the world created.
  13. From this are and do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world
  14. That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished and ended.
Portrait of the old Isaac Newton (1643-1727) by James Thornhill
Portrait of the old Isaac Newton (1643-1727) by James Thornhill

His translation of the tablet is his most well-known and highly appreciated attempt to »update« ancient knowledge and reconcile it with his then present age. Furthermore, with his translation of the tablet, there was also a commentary that he made, part of which reads:

“And in whatsoever way the world has been made from the dark chaos through the production of light and the separation of the waters of the firmament of the air from those of earth, so our work was created from the black chaos and its prime matter through a separation of the elements and their illumination, and leads to the origin of matter. Whereby arise adaptations and marvelous arrangements in our work, the mode of which is concealed within the creation of this world. On account of this art Mercury is called thrice greatest, having three parts of the philosophy of the whole world, since he signifies the Mercury of the philosophers, which has and is made up of the three most powerful substances, body, soul, and spirit and has dominion in the mineral kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, and the animal kingdom.”

Newton’s magical legacy does not only stand in the translation of the Emerald Tablet, but also in the power of his own example as a passionate alchemist who did not separate the “quintessence” from his scientific discoveries.

Bonus: Isaac Newton’s Contributions to »The Crowning of Nature« Explained by Dr. R.A. Pilmer

 

Figure from the Text "The Crowning of Nature" by Sir Isaac Newton
Figure from the Text “The Crowning of Nature” by Sir Isaac Newton. Dr. R.A. Pilmer from Courtyardalchemy.com was so kind to comment the symbolism for NettlesGarden.com

»The Crowning of Nature« is an Elizabethan text on alchemy. Newton probably had a copy of a preceeding text and enriched it by adding the color symbolism. He labelled it the Lapis Philosophorum or Philosopher’s Stone – sometimes regarded as the goal and active principle of alchemy.

 

He also wrote numbered colouring instructions (his interest in optics) alongside, for black, green, blue, yellow and red. In the original manuscript, it appeared as the first figure named Chaos; a central disk is surrounded by seven smaller disks, each segmented by a seven-pointed star. Signs of the seven most notable heavenly bodies (the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, plus the Sun and the Moon) these are then assigned to the points of each star, and inscribed in rings around each disk. The archetypal forces of the seven planets surround the four elements of earth, water, air and fire in the centre.

 

Out of these ingredients, the Great Work of alchemy proceeds. The use of esoteric symbolism seems at odds to the modern eye, especially at the hand of the man who established our understanding of the solar system. However, Newton believed in the possibilities of alchemy, writing over half a million words on the subject. The planets are also the common symbols for metals: Saturn lead, Jupiter tin, Mars iron, Venus copper, Mercury quicksilver, Moon silver and the Sun gold. For Newton, they were transformed by a vital spirit under the Decknamen »magnesia«, »mercurial spirit«, »body of light«, etc…, it was responsible for all growth and decay, and representing God’s will at the heart of all matter.

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

First Hermetic International Film Festival: 28 Films as Finalists and the Award Winners 2018

City of Venice from above with Logo of FHIFF 2018
28 films made it into the list of finalists at the First Hermetic Film Festival 2018 in Venice

Not less than 28 films, most of them with open, some with more concealed hermetic or esoteric messages or symbols, were shown about two weeks ago on the First Hermetic International Film Festival in Venice, on the 1st and the 2nd of March 2018. A week ago I shared my first impressions and my personal favorites, today I am back with a complete list of the 28 finalists, including a description and – if available – a trailer for each. For some films, detailed and exclusive interviews with the filmmakers are already scheduled.

Sara Wundersaar Ferro at the First Hermetic Film Festival 2018 in Venice
Happy with the feedback for the first edition of the Hermetic Film Festival: Director Sara Wundersaar Ferro

Festival director Sara Wundersaar Ferro (Italy) and Technical Director Chris Weil (Germany) are happy with the outcome. The expectations have been quite high, explains Sara for NettlesGarden.com, namely to unite a wide array of different subjects and cinematic approaches in order to document the plethora of different perspectives in contemporary esoterism. As the title of our festival suggests, our focus was hermeticism, but also had the explicit aim to include split-offs, parallel or even contradictory developments, as we also witness in history. Thus, the festival tried to be open to all kinds of esoteric approaches, even if they would not look very hermetic on first sight.

The selection criteria were not only regarding the contents, i.e. how well the film covers the topic or fits the manifesto, but also took formal criteria into account, such as the availability of all necessary intellectual property rights.

The feedback for the festival was very positive, explains Sara, and transmits her and Chris’ thanks on this way to all filmmakers, helpers, visitors and the team between the festival, who made the event possible.

Witch Nettle among the guests at the First International Hermetic Film Festival 2018 in Venice
Witch Nettle will join again the next edition of the Hermetic Film Festival in 2019.

Meanwhile, Sara and Chris already plan the next edition for 1st and 2nd of March 2019. Witch Nettle already looks forward to joining again and revisit Venice. Whoever wants to submit a film can do so on the official festival website. Besides the basic requirements for the content including an appropriate cinematic and intellectual level and topical fit, intellectual property rights for all the entire opera, including images and sound are a necessary precondition because it would not be possible otherwise to show the film. English subtitles should be available, to overcome language barriers, but are not mandatory for submission and selection.

And here is our list of the 28 finalists and the 10 categories for 2018:

 

1 Esoteric Philosophies

The festival was divided into ten categories, and it was fun to reason whether they may correspond to the sephirot of the tree of live or not. In some cases, this works smoothly, in others, such as the first category it’s a bit of a challenge to find the correspondence. Anyways, all »Esoteric Philosophies« (the name of category 1) try to shed light on the very beginning, »primum mobile« and the primordial. This is where Kether comes in.

FURIO JESI – MAN FROM UTOPIA

Furio Jesi - A Man from Utopia.
© FURIO JESI – MAN FROM UTOPIA – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Furio Jesi – Man from Utopia«, directed by Carlo Trombino and Claudia Martino won the Paracelsus Award for the best feature documentary at FHIFF 2018. The Italian feature-length documentary of about 60 minutes explores the life of Furio Jesi. As the film was entirely in Italian the following wrap-up relies quite a bit on secondary research, but nevertheless, I can say the documentary seemed quite lively. Jesi was an »independent scholar« without a formal degree, writing on various topics such as Greek and Egyptian mythology, history and philology.  The film explores the life of Jesi, who stemmed from a Jewish family, through the accounts of his friends and colleagues, as well as through footage of some of the most important places in Jesi’s life, such as Turin, where he was born, Palermo, where he taught towards the end of the 70s, and Genoa where he died at only 39 years old.

The documentary delves in the post-war history of Turin when Jesi and his colleagues were the leading cultural group in the country at the time. Colleagues and friends of Jesi, such as Gianni Vattimo, Giulio Schiavoni, Angelo D’Orsi, Claudio Vicentini, and Elisabetta Chicco, not only recount the history of that time, but also Jesi’s place in it.

Another emphasis is made on Jesi’s genius, his travels to study myths at their place of origins, and the philosophical notions he proposed like the »mythological machine« and »wordless ideas« which are explored alongside his fascinating relationship with academic education.

While he dropped out of school at 16, Jesi won a contest for a university chair at the University of Palermo in 1975, which made him one of the last academy teachers in the country to be appointed without a degree. The director of the film, Carlo Trombino sees this documentary as a method of documenting history outside of academic institutions, which is strongly linked to Jesi’s relationship with the academy and the history of Turin as a capital of culture. The film was entirely in Italian, without subtitles – I hope very much that they will follow.

 

Deeply Absurd Lucidity

Film scene: Deep Absurd Lucidity
© Deeply Absurd Lucidity – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Deeply Absurd Lucidity« was the world premiere of a truly international film from Egypt, in Arabic, English, Hebrew with English subtitles, filmed in Germany and Egypt.

Deeply Absurd Lucidity is the winner of the Ficino Award for the best editing at FHIFF 2018. The experimental short film shot of 8 minutes runtime is directed by actor and composer Sammy Sayed. The idea of the film occurred to the director while he was attending a tech-myth production workshop, out of the desire to experiment with sound and visuals in order to create something aesthetically different from the commercial norms.

The result is a film that sets a dark, tense, and surreal atmosphere, that with its Arabic and English subtitles sets a language of its own. That language is similar to the language of dreams, scattered, unconscious, full of meaning, yet stripped of it at the same time.

The film is shot from the perspective of an alien or external entity that looks inside the mind of the protagonist, who is experiencing the conscious and the unconscious simultaneously, trying to make sense out of a rather chaotic experience consisting of symbols that affect him, such as war, religion, history, and mysticism.

 

2 The Secrets of Alchemy

The second category of films on the First International Hermetic Film Festival 2018 was »The Secrets of Alchemy« and featured three films. The second Sephirah on the Tree of Life would be Chockmah and is about expansion and the creative force. An important ingredient in alchemy most forget about.

CHRYSALIS. Film poster for the same named film by Nic Nassuet
© CHRYSALIS – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

CHRYSALIS

This was the first movie, which made me feel a real hermetic vibe on the festival. Shown as European Premiere on the FHIFF, it was featured in the category »The secrets of Alchemy« and won the Vitrol Award for the best experimental film.

The short color movie of about 5 minutes shows the alchemical process of transformation of an army veteran getting back into civil life, embedded deeply in classical western hermetic symbolism best known from the Golden Dawn tradition (and it’s many successors) and hermetic freemasonry.

While the first part shows the soldier’s descending into the blackness, the second part shows the process of transformation and rebirth in a pretty universal matter: Following a woman in a robe making the sign of Harpocrates into the underworld accompanied by the IAO-Formula (Isis, Apophis, Osiris), the journey leads directly into the tombs. It was the first time the tombs of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California have been filmed.

The sign of Osiris the slain and Osiris the risen are self-explanatory followed by an ascent into a new life, symbolized by a newborn child exiting the tomb crying and following the woman now holding the Rose-Cross. Through the Rose Cross the child is born alive again, finding itself in harmony in a green and vibrant garden.

Hollywood based artist Nic Nassuet, born Nick Ortiz-Trammell, turned out to be a great conversation partner on a lot of occult topics. He is nowadays mainly a Neo-folk musician, after leaving his career behind as spy for the US army. Thus, we can suppose, the veteran in the film is Nic himself – as he also admitted for NettlesGarden.com.

Nic had been involved in film and television since early childhood and continued to be active in the acting community, through several boards, the best known may be the Emmy awards committee of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He appeared in several films as an actor, but also as a writer or in the music department. CHRYSALIS (with caps) is an experimental short film and his first production. He was so nice to hand me out a copy of his debut album, “Eleutherios”, which – positively – surprised me. I recommend the YouTube clips or iTunes to check.

Alchemical Chess (2016)

Alchemical Chess - Film Poster
© Alchemical Chess – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Alchemical Chess« was for the first time shown in Italy at the FHIFF and screened in English with English Subtitles. The film from 2016 with about 8 minutes and 11 seconds was nominated for the Apuleio award for the best animation film, Kenneth award for the best music video, and Jodorowsky award for the best topic at FHIFF 2018. Completely directed, filmed, and produced by occultist and artist Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule, Alchemical Chess is an Australian short experimental film and music video which depicts a game of chess between alchemical symbols that experience transmutation and become something else. The music itself resembles a bit Current 93, with violin and characteristic speech-singing.

The game itself is a symbol of war, which easily can turn into a game of love. Thus, a game of change that allows the players to transcend their suffering and unite with alchemical archetypes. The ultimate union of these symbols becomes the first condition of existence, a symbol of the embryonic state of spirit in the form of a Cosmic Egg.

Both video and lyrics are completely on Vimeo and can be watched below. The chess figure set used has its own website here.

 

Entropia (2017)

Entropia - Film Poster.
© Entropia – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Entropia« is one of the three winner of the Audience award at FHIFF 2018, where it had its first screening in Europe. Directed by actress and director Marinah Janello, the 14-minute and 55 seconds lasting short film from 2017 was shot in the United States and the story focuses on a woman’s struggle with aging.

The director summarizes the storyline as »A lonely woman attempts to regain her youth through her taxidermy and spell books«, which is a quite good fit for this horror film with Sissy O’Hara in the key cast. Having no company except for a plethora of preserved and mounted animals of all kinds around her, the woman, obviously trapped in her own mind by repetitive thoughts, engages into obscure recipes and operations in her body in the attempt to preserve her youth, or better: to gain it back.

The movie is an account of one woman’s entropy, or decline into chaos, triggered by her obsession with youth and beauty, which maybe shall compensate her for her lonely and empty life. The film’s main question could be summarized as »How far would you go to turn back time?« or to stay young, and indeed, the film often goes to the limits of aesthetics. And so do people in general in their quest for beauty and youth.

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3 Hermetic Society

The third category on the FHIFF 2018 was »Hermetic Society«. My first thoughts for this term were obviously hermetic brotherhoods, such as the Golden Dawn, the Fraternitas Saturni or at least a witchy Coven. But Binah, the Sephirah of Saturn is a form giver and sometimes a strict reminder. In this case it reminded me, all Hermeticism, no matter how advanced it may be, can be traced back to the first shamans in archaic tribes, where it received its first form. »Vestitio«, the second film, reminded me, that most of the time, our consciousness is formed in society, no matter how much spiritual practice we do for ourselves, and that the collective reality formation taking place in society is based on the very same principles.

Above and Below

Prehistoric shaman in film scene from Israeli Animation film - Above and Below
Prehistoric shaman in film scene from Israeli Animation film – Above and Below. © Above and Below – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

The 9 minute and 36-second lasting short animation film »Above and Below« (Hebrew: מעל ומתחת) from Israel is the thesis film of the two students Oved Poran and Liron Narunsky in the Screen based Arts department at Bezalel. Completed in 2016 the digital sound only film was shown for the first time in Italy on the FHIFF in the »Hermetic Society« category.

The movie »Above and Below« won the Apuleio Award for the best animation film and shows very beautiful and in an emotional interpretation the ritual burying of an old shaman woman, who farewells her tribe during a parting ritual.

Background for the movie are findings of a prehistoric burial in the cave of Hilazon Tachtit, in Western Galilee in northern Israel. Scientists discovered there in 2008 about 25 skeletons, most of them buried together, and belonging to the Natufian culture (12,000 – 9,000 BC) from the Levante; a transition between hunter and gathering cultures to early farmer societies.

One of the burials stood out, as it belonged to an approximately 1,50-meter tall woman, about 45 years old. Alongside some deformations of the bones, which suggest a walking impairment since birth, the grave goods lead scientists to the conclusion that the grave belonged to a tribal shaman: not less than two weasel skulls, 50 turtle shells, the bones of an eagle wing, a wild boar, and even the bones of a human foot as well as a basalt-bowl should accompany the shaman on her way to the otherworld.

Even though Leore Grosman’s (University of Jerusalem) interpretation of the finding as evidence for an early »voodoo«-cult or shaman burial have not been unchallenged (Mina Evron from the Haifa University described the interpretations as “colorful”) – the film depicts quite well the early stages of shamanism – no matter the culture.

Vestitio

Film poster: Vestitio
© Vestitio, marvin88production – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Vestitio« is the winner of the Sulphur award for the best short film at FHIFF 2018. The Italian short film directed by Luca Tartaglia and lasts about 16 minutes and 9 seconds. The film was screened in Italian with English subtitles and shows the moments of a rebellious leader facing the justice system in his public »re-education«. He is followed by a brainwashed mass belonging to a society captivated by a manipulative and everybody equalizing government spanning the globe.

The film borrows symbols such as the AUM-sign from eastern esoterics and visualizes the spark of consciousness during this process. The brainwashed society, which’s individuals do not even realize that they are living a dream woven by someone else can be indeed used as a parallel for the illusional veil of Maya, which can be lifted by enlightenment.

 

Hermetica Komhata HK320

Film Poster for Hermatica Komnata HK 320. Chelovek Kadmon
© Hermetica Komhata HK320 – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

The film Hermetica Komhata HK320 screened likewise for the first time in Italy at the FHIFF. Languages were Spanish and English with English subtitles.

The approximately 1 hour and 33 minutes lasting feature film »Hermetica Komhata HK320« by Director Ricardo Salvador is somewhere to be situated in between metaphysical retro-Sci-Fi, experimental and surreal. The black and white film was screened in English and Spanish language, with a bit of Enochian, made to sound Russian.

The film presents itself as a documentary, which tries to reconstruct a lost fictional Soviet film (destroyed by the authorities) by the likewise fictitious Dr. Joseph H. Stanislaw. The latter is said to have studied cosmic emanations with the help of Ektoplasma. Destroyed during the siege of Leningrad it was now finally possible to restore the original film and to release the phenomenal esoteric findings of the Soviet-era scientist.

The result is a combination of esoteric, spiritualistic, philosophical speculation, science fiction and experiments on humans, relying heavily on symbolism derived from hermetic and cabalistic manuscripts. Though director Ric Salvador is not a believer in any esoteric current himself, he likes to borrow the symbols to express his own philosophical attempts. One would be the question, how to heal human defects in ways alternative to the classical political or religious approaches. For example, war is seen as a disease, being born from hate, which belongs to the pathologies of man. A condition for which neither religion nor law have found an antidote so far.

The term ectoplasm was coined by French Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine (1913) Charles Robert Richet. Beside his undisputed merits in the research of medicine, he received criticism for being a proponent of Eugenics and racist views.
His various interests spanned from poetry, over history and social sciences to philosophy. However, he spent a considerable amount of time on researching the paranormal.

In this context, he tried to explain the possibility of mediumship in 1894 by postulating a grey-whiteish, sometimes maybe light pink, foaming substance called ectoplasm. Ectoplasm was thought to be a real, material substance stemming from the medium itself and opposed to typical spiritistic ideas  (ghosts), which would be involved in many spiritistic phenomena such as materializations. Usually very sensible to light it could be barely observed, except for darkened rooms.

Ectoplasm did not make it into science. So far all evidences were found to be not credible or even fraudulent. However, ectoplasm made it into popular culture (Ghostbusters) and into spiritistic and even some occult literature around the beginning of the 20th century.

Important for Komhata HK320 is, that Dr. Joseph H. Stanislaw studied the »influence of cosmic emanations on the human mind, through his experiments with a film of Ectoplasmic sensitivity«.

I enjoyed the film a lot, which during the festival won the Mercure Award for the best picture, the Eco Award for the best research and the Jodorowsky Award for the best topic. Likewise, meeting with the crew of the film at the afterparty turned out to be worthwhile and enjoyable. A fun fact is that during the film, some sound samples supposed to be  Russian actually contain Enochian, the angelic language known from 16th-century occultist John Dee. The team readily admitted that they found it just easier than learning the Russian grammar, which I can confirm comes not always in handy. From an occult point of view, a good choice anyways 😀

 

Stella Erratica

Stella Eratica. Film Poster
© Stella Erratica – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Stella Erratica« was nominated for the Vitriol Award for the best experimental film and the Atalanta award for the best music at FHIFF 2018, where it also had its Italian premiere. The 9 minutes and 25 seconds lasting movie directed by Ben Barton was shot in the UK and screened in English.

The film had a budget of an estimated £3,000, but was lucky to use requisites from David Bowie’s “Blackstar” music video. Hand-editing was used to obtain the vintage style of the movie, which otherwise is better to be described as science fiction. The film’s vintage visual effects look authentic.

The sci-fi experimental film had its premiere at the Cannes film festival and shows the journey of an astronaut to a distant planet, which seems lonely and vast. The only »hermetic moment« is probably the appearance of a unicursal hexagram, as probably most popularized through Aleister Crowley’s »Thelema«. However, the question whether we are alone in space or if the real monsters are actually already among us remains interesting.

4 Kabbalah and Antiquity

The fourth category of the festival was »Kabbalah and Antiquity« – it is easy to relate this to Chesed, the fourth Sephirah, as Jupiter is the order bringing principle. Just as the Kabbalah and the esoteric currents of antiquity gave an order to all occult knowledge until today.

Niggun

Niggun - Film Scene
© NIGGUN – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

Nominated for the Apuleio award for the best animation film and the Atalanta award for the best music at FHIFF 2018, Niggun is a short 2D animation film from Israel directed by Yoni Salmon. The film is entirely in Hebrew and was screened with English subtitles. In the 12 minutes and 25 seconds lasting movie, a Rabbi and an Archaeologist from the faraway future each search for their place of origin, Earth.

They only find fragments of it that survived in the form of symbols, one of which is the city of Jerusalem, which the Rabbi was hopeful of finding. The name of the movie, Niggun, refers to the religious Jewish song of worship which may hint towards the ideal the two characters are looking for that just like music, is not found in matter, but it is just as real and acts on a physical level.

The style of animation alongside the subtle reference to a spiritual enlightenment is representative of the innocence and naivety of someone who seeks the answers already within them somewhere at their origins or outside of them, in the material world. The film treats the Kabbalah from a traditional Jewish, religious perspective, but the symbolism in the film is deep and intentional. »I am a religious jew and I find meaning in animation and pop-culture« declared Yoni Salmon for NettlesGarden.com and we agreed to follow up shortly with an interview on the similarities and differences between the traditional Jewish and the occidental, hermetic Kabbalah. Meanwhile, we strongly recommend the extensive official website for the film.

 

SHIVTA (2018)

SHIVTA - Film Scene
© SHIVTA – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Shivta« is yet another film from Israel, the winner of the Audience award and Black Lion award for the best web series at FHIFF 2018, where it had its Italian premiere. The short experimental student film was shot in Israel and is directed by Or Meir Schraiber, who also appears in the key cast.

The genre of the film can be best described as experimental, dance and musical short film without dialogues and shows two dancing travelers in »Shivta«, the ruins of an old city on the former spice route in the »Negev desert« of southern Israel. Shivta belongs since 2005 to the UNESCO World Heritage and may have been a Nabataean town from biblical times or a Byzantine colony.

Accordingly, the movie explores the journey of the two dancers in the desert, after a strange door appears out of nowhere or »like a Fata-morgana«. travelers who are tempted by a mirage in the desert which comes in the form of Fata-Morgana. After entering the door, they find themselves on the site of Shivta, under the musical spell of an oriental fortune teller.

Agadah

Agadah - Official Film Poster
© Agadah – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Agadah« (2017) is an Italian adventure film of 126 minutes length in French, Italian, Spanish and was screened with English Subtitles. As I am not very into experimental movies or movies per se, this was probably the film I enjoyed the most.

The name itself is derived from the cabalistic term Aggadah, which means story, lore, legend, saying or collection. Often it refers to a collection of (rabbinic) texts, which are based on binding doctrines (the Torah or Talmud for example), but not binding doctrines themselves, and illustrate morals, advice, and teachings on all matters of life in historic or folkloric anecdotes.

The film, by director Alberto Rondalli, sometimes also named an 18th-century Decameron, is based loosely on the French novel »The Manuscript Found in Saragossa« by Polish writer Count Jan Potocki.

The movie starts showing Count Potocki writing his novel, while a young Bourbon officer decides to cross the haunted Murge plateau, or »Altopiano delle Murge« in Italian, to reach his regiment on the way to Naples.

The journey is divided in 10 days, which correlate to the ten sephiroth of the cabalistic tree of life (the book features 66 days) and mark a cycle of initiation into a secret society, probably masonry, as Potocki was a mason himself.

The 10 days – and especially nights – are full of unusual happenings and encounters, floating between the real world and the world of dreams, featuring erotic encounters with Mohammedan princesses, which turn out to be demons, meetings with cabalists or adventures in a gypsy camp.

The film ends with the death of the novelist, who committed suicide in the very same way as Count Jan Potocki killed himself in 1815. At the FHIFF »Agadah« won the Caduceus Award for the best feature film.

 

5 Gnosis: Good vs Evil

The fifth category on the FHIFF was »Gnosis: Good vs. Evil« and featured one of my favorite films – »Metanoia, Metanoia«. For the ancient Gnostic, her spiritual quest was a struggle, and as such – it may be easy to relate it to Geburah, the fifth Sephirah, ruled by the planet of Mars.

METANOIA, METANOIA

Metanoia, Meanoia - Film scene.
© METANOIA, METANOIA – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Metanoia, Metanoia« had its European premiere at the FHIFF and was nominated for the Agrippa award for the best director and the Sulphur award for the best short film. The 15-minute lasting movie was directed by filmmaker Joshua Alexander Matteo and shot in the United States. As already mentioned in my last post, this movie was one of my favorites.

The movie is fascinating in many regards. While the plot itself can be told shortly, the various layers of meaning attached to the movie cannot. So first the plot: a young woman discovers three chests in the woods and henceforth wanders New York City experiencing frightening and strange situations, in a music only film, with the atmosphere of classic Italian horror movies.

Indeed, director Matteo’s initial intention was to create a horror or fantasy thriller, Italian style such as the movie »Inferno« by Dario Argento’s (the second movie of the Three Mothers trilogy).
However, during his research, Matteo came into contact with the world of Gnosticism. And while the plot remained the same, he started to add various gnostic symbols to it, based on a real sound research, which made me decide to feature soon an entire stand-alone article on the film »Metanoia, Metanoia«, its mythological background and the director’s thought about it. Anyways, let’s keep on with the short version for today.

Already the title of the movie »Metanoia« refers to the aim of all Gnosis. Usually translated as change, atonement, spiritual conversion or repentance, this ancient Greek expression in Gnosis also referred to the liberation from the flesh’s sin and the return of the divine spark out of »Kenoma«, the empty, physical world, into the shining ocean of light »Pleroma«, the realm of the true God. It can be thus compared to what Eastern religions call »enlightenment« and the liberation from »Samsara« and this is indeed also the short interpretation of Matteo for his film: »Becoming Enlighted, fearing the unknown, and making a leap of faith to move on into the next world« as he declares for NettlesGarden.com. Without a good knowledge of Gnostic symbolism, this may be however hard to discover, after all, the footage is seemingly a thriller.

For the film, Matteo sought inspiration and motifs from »The Hymn of the Pearl«, the Archons, and mainly Sophia. But he inspired himself also by the Eleusinian mysteries – »not quite Gnostic«, as he admits further in a recent conversation.

Otherwise, the film sticks strictly to the symbolism. Even the boxes the young woman and protagonist of the film finds, contain real Gnostic artifacts: a coin of Abraxas and a chart of Sophia from the »Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians« book.

For the director, the film brought him into contact with Gnosticism in a life-changing manner, as he says. Not being an organized religion, it is something he can resonate with, and now (re-)discovers everywhere. My take on this: How not?! Gnosticism, after all, is one of the most important spiritual and cultural heritage we have in the Occident, being rooted in classical antiquity, a vibrant part of early Christianity until the middle ages, and since then continuing to live in alchemical and occult traditions of the west, with huge impact on theosophy, Rosicrucians and all other currents thereof and even the psychology of C.G. Jung. Parallels to Buddhism are striking.

But let us end this review for now with some trivia, as narrated by the director: »The Hymn of the Pearl speaks about how we are all divine light that has forgotten this when we came into this world. We must claim the pearl from the dragon and remember our divine origin to return to the light. I was surprised by this because I had already styled by archon with a pearl! This became a perfect plot device«.

Joshua Matteo was so nice to grant an exclusive permission To NettlesGarden.com to show the Grand Central scene, so you can discover the symbols on your own.

 

To Help the Human Eye (2017)

To Help the Human Eye - Film Poster
© To Help the Human Eye – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»To Help the Human Eye«, the winner of the Agrippa award for the best director at FHIFF 2018, where it was screened for the first time in Italy, in Spanish language with English subtitles. »Ayudar al ojo humano« , the original Spanish film and project title, is a feature film shot in Spain and India, directed by Velasco Broca and Julian Genisson. The film with a total runtime of 1 hour and 23 minutes is constructed as an anthology consisting 3 short films: »New Altar« and »Dioses Autonomicos« by Velasco Broca, and »The Mugging Nurse« by Julian Genisson.

The story follows a priest whose Spanish grandfather, also a priest, was cursed in India in the early 20th century. The curse would follow his descendants, including his grandson, who experiences exile and surrenders to the Atlantic Ocean.

In his initiatic journey triggered by this curse, the priest has to face a series of symbolic antagonists, such as archons, insects, wizards, thugs, and even the Devil in a stylized film that arranged these symbols to compose a dramatic and surreal dream-like visual.

 

6 Healing and Science

The sixth category on the FHIFF 2018 was »Healing and Science«. And indeed, both films in this category showed popular attempts to somehow reconcile esoteric thinking, healing and science. As Tiphareth, the sixth Sephirah of Synthesis, we may go with the numbering.

Grand Tour Omeopatitco

Grand Tour Omeopatico - Film Poster
© Grand Tour Omeopatico – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Grand Tour Omeopatico« is the special mention winner at FHIFF 2018. The Italian documentary of about one hour runtime directed by Giovanna Poldi Allai follows the journey of the master of “The awakening of the healer” school of homeopathy, Annalisa Adami and homeopath Nathanael Schwartz.

Master Annalisa Adami is an Italian woman who became a successful homeopathy practitioner, Guru, and healer in Berlin, Germany. Through the lessons she shares in this documentary, the audience is able to acquire a deeper understanding of her healing practice and gain insight into her healer’s way of life and the journey she makes.

The colorful footage of her journey in places like Italy and Bali, introduces the audience to an exotic culture focused on health and healing which doesn’t look at alternative medicine as a one-time solution, but as a way of living a simple life consciously in gratitude and joy.

For me, personally, the film is a reminder how old hermetic ideas carry on to live in modern alternative lifestyle approaches, even though, in homeopathic doses.

 

Vibration: Symphony of Life

Vibration: The Symphony of Life - Film poster
© Vibration: The Symphony of Life – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

The special mention winner at FHIFF 2018, Vibration: »The Symphony of Life« is a documentary filmed in the United Stated and directed by Justin Wilkinson. The documentary had its European premiere at the Hermetic Film Festival 2018 in Venice. Lasting nearly an hour (58 minutes), the documentary is an attempt to find place esoteric ideas in a scientific paradigm with »vibrations«, which are declared a »law«.

Thus, the documentary features various experts who explain how vibration can affect our physical bodies, hearts, and how it can also affect us mentally. Learning about how vibration works can potentially help people to use it in order to attain happiness, spiritual enlightenment and more. This synthesis of science and mysticism is said to be able to produce practical applications for those who want to make good use of vibration in their lives, and some of these techniques are presented in the documentary.

“The Symphony of Life” in the title refers to how one’s individual vibration participates in the “greater symphony of life”, by receiving and transmitting notes and frequencies that alter their state of being. Being conscious of this can not only rise one’s individual vibration but also contribute in rising the world’s vibration. A trailer is available below, while the full video can be purchased on the film’s website.

 

7 Religious Strains

The seventh category on the festival »Religious strains« had a strong focus on the East, this year. The first film »The Blacksmith« is a spiritual journey into Ukraine, while the second film, »Christ/el« contains at least a few memories of Eastern Germany. The third film finally, shows a rare religious ritual from Armenia. The relation to the seventh sephirah, Netzach, ruled by Venus, came to me via the principle of aesthetics. There was a lot of beauty in »The Blacksmith« and »The Elegy in Light«.

The Blacksmith

Film scene from the movie " The Blacksmith" - Ukraine
© The Blacksmith – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

The German 30-minute film »The Blacksmith« by directors Ivan Andrianov and Nina Gudme was filmed in Ukraine, had its Italian premiere at the FHIFF in Venice (World premier was at Cannes Film Festival) and screened in Ukrainian with English subtitles. Both directors are students at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf in Germany.

Located on the Ukrainian countryside around Kiev blacksmith Sergey explains his worldview to his student while teaching him the process of hammering and forging as they create a new piece of work on the anvil.

Not only their working style and the environment is rural but set in a stage which so far has suffered little exposure to modern lifestyle. Also, the mentality is in many regards still untouched by modern life. One of the most obvious scenes in this regard is the Blacksmith’s comments about his feeling of time and the right timing. The entire surroundings, starting with the landscape and ending with the people and their lifestyle merge perfectly well with what for the most western ears is archaic sound, but which in many parts of Eastern Europe still is traditional popular music.

The directors intent was to show the »closed, rich and worldwide unknown culture of Ukraine  … revealing its essence of strength and resistance«. I enjoyed the music and the rural images a lot, it reminded me often of Transylvania before joining the EU. This makes some sense, both Romania and Ukraine share a part of the Carpathians.

The film won the Atalanta Award for the best music at the FHIFF.

CHRIST/EL (A.Grützner)

Christ/El - Film scene
© Christ/El. – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Christ/el« was nominated for the Pelican award for the best short documentary and the Rosenkreuz award for the best foreign documentary at FHIFF 2018. The short German documentary is directed by independent filmmaker, Andreas Grutzner, filmed in Super8 shooting format and featuring footage from 1975-1977 tapes.

The story explores for 8 minutes and 39 seconds the world of a young boy, his family life, and his memories of coming of age, but mainly evolving around questions regarding belief. Director Andreas Grützner reflects various attempts during his life to find his home in Christianity, but is also in a large part, a reflection on his parents and their relation to belief. Accordingly, the title»Christ/el« refers with the first part to someone who is a Christian, and if read entirely to the name Christel,his mother. The ironic point of the short film is that latter had been a strict believer all her life but died as a doubter (or maybe just kept the secret of her belief so hermetically well).

Elegy in Light

Film poster for doku short film " Elegey in Light".
© Elegy in Light – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

Winner of the Rosenkreuz award for the best foreign documentary, »Elegy in Light« is a short documentary with 10 minutes runtime directed by Zareh Tjeknavorian in Armenia. The ethnographic film contains footage that documented the funeral of Catholicos Vazgen I, the Supreme Patriarch of All Armenians, who died on August 18, 1994.

An important figure in their culture, Vazgen I dedicated much of his life to renewing ancient Armenian churches and attempted to reunite both wings of Armenian Christianity. The film shows the »rarely seen rite of the Armenian Church with the sound of monastic ritual chant« (Zareh Tjeknavorian) which is a passing ceremony that interprets the soul’s metamorphosis and transition into the next world.

This makes it a valuable insight into Armenian Christian culture. Additionally, the film leaves an impression on how we remember our history and meditate on life and death while also preserving what is left of “Near Eastern religious tradition” that dates back to the early 4th century.

8 Magic and Witchcraft

This category featured three films: »Left Hand Path«, which was shown for the first time outside of Canada, »Modern Craft« and »Jenny loves Satan«, which were shown for the first time in Italy. For me, they were obviously among the most interesting films on the festival. Being the eighth category, we can relate it to Hod, the Sephirah of Mercure and Hermes, the androgyne fathers of our craft.

Left Hand Path - There are Wyrd Things Done in the Midnight Sun - Official Poster for the film by Jessica Hall
© Left Hand Path – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF

Left Hand Path (2017),

One of my favorites during this FHIFF edition was »Left Hand Path« by Jessica Hall. A documentary featuring the Setian religion of James Carman Kirby. James was an artist from Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada and Magister Templi in the Temple of Set until his death, in late autumn 2017. As far as Nic Nassuet told me, James died on Halloween, after a long illness, and as it seems on his own terms. So basically he died the same way as he had lived his life.

Kirby was a creator of fine jewelry in gold and silver, as well as other rare and precious materials such as gemstones, or ivory. However, he did not work with any animal material with the exception of fossilized Woolly Mammoth Ivory and dinosaur bone. In the film, while working on one of his unique pieces of jewelry James C. Kirby explains the philosophy behind »black magick« as understood by him and probably many members of the  Temple of Set. The documentary also shows him in his ceremonial magick altar space, which he explains with the words:

»…  So when we do ritual, we act as gods. That’s the purpose of ritual, to make conscious changes to your life, in a very direct fashion. You’re speaking to yourself through yourself, to your highest self. This is my altar and every Setian’s altar will be different. You don’t need an altar, you don’t have to have one. I come from a ritual magic background from Thelema. So I like the ritual aspects of having an altar…«

This was the international premiere of the 14-minute short film and documentary from Canada, filmed in Canada, directed by Jessica Hall. The movie is in English language and has English subtitles, which come in quite welcome in certain passages, such as in the part where a lot of specialty lingo in Greek or Egyptian is used. »Left Hand Path« won the Pelican Award for the best (short) documentary at the FHIFF.

 

Modern Craft

Witchy Broomsticks. Modern Craft - Film poster for the documentary by Jessica P. Jackson
© Modern Craft – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Modern Craft« is a short documentary with nice, witchy imagery and atmosphere, which contrary to the suggestive film poster and a large part of the scenery does not want to further spread prejudices about witchcraft. Rather, it is director’s Jessica P. Jackson’s aim to decompose stereotypes and to demystify Wicca by showing what it really is: a peaceful and non-offensive religion. Honestly, I have no idea whether she succeeds or not, having been an occultist nearly all my life since childhood. I do not see the problem which some outsiders may have with Wicca in the first place.

Anyways, during the roughly 11-minute lasting short-film, the spectator comes in touch with Wicca through a Wiccan High-priestess, a young newcomer Wiccan and a Christian, who is studying this neo-pagan religion. The High Priestess, Lady Passion, is a third-degree Gardnerian Elder in the Californian Line and High Priestess of Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville, NC.

By real name Dixie Deerman and of Northern Irish ancestry, Lady Passion has been a »public witch« since 1976, counsels clients since 1979, focuses on herbal medicines, divinations, but is also a registered nurse since the late 1980ies. She wrote a total of four books so far: Candle Magic; Simply Savory: Magical & Medieval Recipes; Ask-A-Priestess: Wise Answers From a Real Witch; and last but not least: Pagan Prisoner Advocate’s Guide.

The Film from the United States was screened in English, filmed in the US  and had its premiere in Italy on the FHIFF.

 

Jenny loves Satan (2017)

Film Poster - Jenny loves Satan - 2016
© JENNY LOVES SATAN – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Jenny Loves Satan« is a short film of 14 minutes and 21 seconds. The movie was produced by the University of Southern California and realized by students: Jenna Bryant as Director, Paul Jones as writer; Nikolaj Wejp-Olsen and Ricardo Salinas as producers.

The 12-year old teenager Jenny, played by Leah Black, decides to become Satanist within an act of well-through-thought rebellion:

»I know that you are just simply a representation of man’s carnal nature and a symbolic rejection of false deities« sounds Jenny’s satanic prayer in her penumbrous children-room, set against the background of a wall with pink wallpapers. »I didn’t think you were real…« she adds.

But soon she will find out, that her »symbolical rejection of false deities« quickly exposes and overburdens the quite limited capacities of many in the world around her.  Not only other kids at school, who much her, but »rational« adults, such as parents and a teacher at the school, which lets her know, that religious liberty is for everyone, except for Satanists.

During the movie, Satan hears Jenny’s call and appears – played by Julia Kern – to offer help.  I laughed and enjoyed the movie so much. Maybe because it compensated me post-hoc for all the experiences with irrational teachers, and other themselves well-educated deeming persons in society I had to deal with when I was the same age as Jenny. I am not sure if this was what the filmmakers were thinking about while filming »Jenny Loves Satan«, but it is my take on the film, which won the Audience Award on the FHIFF 2018.

 

9 Spritism and Rituals

The ninth category of the FHIFF 2018 dealt mostly with spiritism this year, and »Spiritism and Rituals« can be related to Yesod, the sephirah of the moon, subconscious and dreams.

The strange case of Emily Grey (2016)

Short film: The strange case of Emily Grey by Luigi Parisi
© The strange case of Emily Grey – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF

The Italian short horror film of 9 minutes and 44 seconds in color and Full HD was screened in English with Italian subtitles.

It shows spiritistic medium Emily Grey during a seance, in which she breaks the circle due to the unprofessionalism of the attendees.  However, as a consequence, she gets into trouble with an evil spirit which was attracted during the seance.

Perhaps what is most interesting about the story is that it differs from typical “seance” based film in that, in this story, the entity starts haunting Emily, the experienced spiritist, and not some unassuming victim who was a mere participant in a séance conducted by someone else, who is often, left untouched.

The director Luigi Parisi is a declared lover of fantasy, horror movies and thrillers and names Hitchcock and Polansky among his favorites. Main inspiration, however, were the Italians Dario Argento and Mario Bava. The movie »The strange case of Emily Grey« was nominated for the »Sulphur« Award for the best short film and for the »Black-Lion« award.

Holy Terrors (2017)

Film poster "Holy Terrors" - Six Weird Tales by Arthur Machen
© Holy Terrors – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Holy Terrors« or »Six Weird Tales by Arthur Machen« is a digital feature film from the United Kingdom, for the first time shown in Italy and directed by Mark Goodall and Julian Butler. Best described with the genres Horror, Supernatural and Ghost stories the about 1 hour and 14 minutes lasting film is mostly black and white but has also some scenes in color.

A detailed review with an extensive background is available here at folkhorrorrevival.com, but let’s give a short overview and some words about Arthur (Jones) Machen’s relation to the occult and the hermetic sciences: Born 1863 in Wales as Arthur Llewellyn Jones, the later »Machen« became a popular writer of fantastic and horror stories, who influenced among others H.P Lovecraft. However, he was also a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn but seemed to prefer the safe haven of the Anglican church in the long-run.

Nevertheless, he had been a close friend with A.E. Waite and the interest in the occult and supernatural have been a constant in both his life and work. The literary breakthrough in 1894 came with the horror novel »The Great God Pan« on the coexistence of the real world and a mythological Celtic-roman parallel-world. Even though Machen is said to have been a down-to-earth person, who would not just readily believe in the supernatural, mythology and the fantastic always remained a constant in his writings.

The film captures the elegiac style of his stories, was well received by fans and won the Special Mention Award at the FHIFF 2018.

 

The Tale of the Idiot (2017)

Film poster: The Tale of The Idiot. A Tale by Seth Morley.
© The tale of the Idiot – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»The Tale of the Idiot« is an Italian experimental short film of 35 minutes directed by Seth Morley. The film re-interprets and tells the story of the Idiot, a character from a science fiction novel, »More than Human« by Theodore Sturgeon, which inspired the movie. »The Tale of the Idiot« had its Italian Premiere at the FHIFF and was screened with English subtitles. The film is winner of the special mention award at FHIFF 2018.

In the book, the Idiot has never experienced real human connection, despite the fact that he has telepathic abilities. In the movie, Evelin lives in an isolated home with her father and sister and since her mother died, no one left or entered the property.

Her story is that of coming of age in a sterile environment, awakening a desire for freedom and exploration within her. While this is happening, the Idiot leaves his home behind in order to seek a girl he has met in his dreams.

 

10 Myth and Demons

The tenth category was Myth and demons. While the film »Hellsaga« revives old Norse and Icelandic mythology, we meet in the film »TAU« a daemon in the original sense of the word. Maybe the 10th category »Myth and Demons« relates to Malkuth, the earthly Sephirah of manifestation, because »Hellsaga« is a prime example of how earthly the ancient gods in many pantheons actually were. And with »TAU«, we meet a daemon walking the earth, and commenting the life in a modern city.

Hellsaga

Hellsaga - A Swedish Viking Saga. Film Poster.
© Hellsaga – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Hellsaga« or »A Swedish Viking Saga« is a 12-minute color-short film by director Viking Almquist from Sweden, and was screened in Swedish with English subtitles on the FHIFF.

For the first time shown in Italy, we could see the story of »a young warrior [who] seeks the wisdom of the gods« in this historical adventure film from 2017.

The film claims to be “based on the Poetic Edda, a tale of magic and myth”. What we see is a Wanderer without a name (played by Viking Almquist himself), clashing with a »black viking«, seeking advice from his mother, meeting a troll in the woods, talking to the dead at the beach before meeting again with the Black Viking for the final battle…

We see some runes and the encounter with the troll in the woods seems very much inspired by the classic battles of knowledge in riddle form between Odin and the giants. In particular, it reminded me of the encounter between Odin and Vafthruthnir in the Vafthruthnirmol.

Also in other regards, the film incorporated historical references to archeological Viking findings, such as the helmet of the Black Viking and the horns of troll.

Thrill over Fear

Thrill Over Fear. Film Poster.
© Thrill Over Fear – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

Winner of the Kenneth award for the best music video at FHIFF 2018, »Thrill Over Fear« is a Greek music video of the music duo A Flow Mobz, directed by John Katehis. The video’s emphasis is on facing fears and challenges without being altered by the battle against them.

The main symbol present in the video is the serpent-headed gorgon Medusa, who in the Greek myths was able to petrify with her look and turn people into stone. Given the myth and the visuals of Medusa being petrified herself in the video, it would be interesting to assume that she was petrified by her own eyes, which would be a great metaphor for facing inner demons.

Ultimately, the stone cracks and she is experiencing a form of “enlightenment”, which means that she was able to overcome the paralyzing effect of her fears. The other imagery in the video suggests that outside the inner struggles, there are bigger challenges, but winning over inner battles is one step closer to winning the entire war.

 

TAU, the daemon and the city

Film scene: Tau, the daemon and the city – All rights reserved.
© Tau, the daemon and the city – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»TAU, the Daemon and the City« was the last film shown on the 2018 edition of the FHIFF and won 3 awards: The Fludd Award for the best cinematography, the Cagliostro Award for the best storytelling and the Jury Award. It was screened in Catalan with English subtitles and had its international premiere on the FHIFF.

»Tau is, at once, a fiction film on spirits, a documentary on the passing of time in a small town and a portrait of Catalan traditional culture«. The spectator witnesses a fictional portrait of the Catalan city Taragonna, shown through the eyes of a daemon, living in a parallel world, which is both transcending and surrounding our human world.

The slightly over 2 hours lasting film (123 minutes) is comprised of old footage director Gerard Gil collected during the last years, during a time, while he was also working as a cameraman for TV in his hometown.

Or as Gerard Gil declares for NettlesGarden.com:

»I often found myself in a situation where I had to film some images for a program and, meanwhile, I noticed the really interesting images where happening aside. But I couldn’t film them at that moment, since I was working for tv. The film came afterwards, going to the streets on my own, with no preconceptions on what to film, and being completely free with the camera.

 

It actually took several years of going out to the street in this way to get the footage for the film.«

The story, or voice over, was directly dictated to him by the daemon itself after Gerard had read Plotin’s Enneads. »It’s hard to say whether we have ideas or ideas have us« asks the director of TAU, commenting his work and the process of its creation.

A good question, to end a film festival around the Hermetic tradition, which owns so much to the works of the Platonists.

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

The Keeper of Sacred Knowledge – Owl as Spirit Animal or Totem in Animal Magick

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close up of female portrait and owl - black and white drawing
Portrait of Radiana Piț and the Owl by artist Elena Cercel, who was also Radiana’s visual arts teacher at the school she attended. In this context, the owl is not only a feminine symbol of mystery and wisdom but also a symbol of education.

With the introduction of Totems, familiars, power animals and where to find them, it is only fitting to delve deeper into the world of fantastic beasts and learn more about them. I mentioned in my previous article that I’ve been noticing this popular embrace of the owl and it’s truly a wonderful thing to witness, especially because, in the old days, owls were downright spooky to people.

I grew up in a cultural background where, even though owls are omens of death, they are well respected. I even have a few fond memories of the nocturnal birds as a child, right about the time when Harry Potter became popular as well. The school I’ve attended (from 1st to 12th grade, I might add!) is one of the oldest schools in the west of the country, very prestigious and well-respected.

The school was surrounded by cottonwood that every single autumn was home to… owls! So many owls that the trees would bend. I remember how fascinated I was alongside the other kids and we would go to the school’s yard, despite the cold, just to gaze upon the still and silent creatures. My school, Preparandia, really felt like Hogwarts back then. And despite the superstitions, at least us children were really happy to have seen the birds.

The Owl as Spirit Animal

Barn-owl - full size portrait - spirit animal or totem
The owl is a nocturnal bird whose symbolic wisdom comes from its ability to see in the dark. While some cultures such as the Greek and the Romans considered it as a symbol of divine wisdom and fortune, other cultures considered it a messenger of change and especially, death. Foto: Flickr.

Owls are nocturnal birds of prey that have always represented evil omens, death, and illness, at least to most cultures of the ancient world. Some cultures still consider an owl’s hoot to be a bad omen. However, owls are symbols of divine wisdom and intuitive knowledge. As spirit animals, owls appear at a time when illusion must be dispelled, to announce a transition, or to encourage intellectual wisdom.

You may also summon the Spirit of the Owl when you want to gain access to greater knowledge and allow it to guide your way into the unknown. According to De Occulta Philosophia, an owl is a familiar form of Saturn, which often addresses themes of death. However, death and rebirth are symbols of transition and change.

Despite its reputation as a messenger of death, the owl has been associated with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and war, the same goddess that the Romans called Minerva. The owl has also been associated with the Sumerian goddess of love and war, Inanna, further contributing to the mythos of the nocturnal bird. This is in part why they are perceived as feminine, wise, and powerful spirits.

Owl Lore

Owl hieroglyph at the Temple of Edfu in Egypt. Stone.
Owl hieroglyph at the Temple of Edfu in Egypt. To the Egyptians, the owl was a guardian of the Underworld and protector of the dead. It was believed that the nocturnal bird was able to guide the souls of the dead in their journey to the Underworld. Foto: Flickr.

While some cultures see owls as messengers of death, other cultures see them as symbols of fortune and wisdom. I believe that lore contributes to the meaning of your totem and that learning about the myths, superstitions, and traditions around it can help you know your totem better.

The hieroglyph for the letter m is an owl, and the Egyptian name for the owl is Mulak or Moloch. It was often used to allude to mourning and death and Owl amulets were also worn to help the owner in the Underworld. In African culture, the owl is associated with dark magic and sorcery and people like the Bantu and Swahili believe that seeing an owl brings about illness and hexes.

The Native American peoples have also associated the night bird with death and destruction. The Cherokee believed that if an owl flies over your head in daylight, a loved one will die within a week. Mexicans also have their death superstitions about the night bird. As their saying goes: Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere, meaning “When the owl sings, the Indian dies”.

Witch Nettle and her Spiritus Familiaris and dusk
Witch Nettle and her Spiritus Familiaris and dusk

Likewise, in Romania, Hungary, and Italy there are plenty of superstitions regarding the cry of the owl. If an owl cries near the house of a sick man, it means that death is coming for them. However, to the Athenians, the owl was a sign of fortune and the appearance of an owl announced victory. Additionally, it was also the emblem of their goddess, Athena.

At the end of the day, “owls are not what they seem”. And in the words of Charles Knight: “Some writers say, beautifully if not truly, that the owl became the symbol of wisdom from its property of seeing in the dark.” That is indeed the true power of the Owl Spirit, an old spirit that has guided man in the dark since the dawn of time. And if the old Owl is your totem, familiar, or power animal, then your adventures in the dark will only make you wiser. On this note, I’ll leave you with the words of none other than Albus Dumbledore: “Don’t count your owls before they are delivered.”

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.NettlesGarden.com – The Old Craft

Totems, Familiars, Power Animals and Where to Find Them – Animal Magick and Witchcraft

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Radiana Pit in robe holding a goat skull in the woods
Photo of Radiana Piț during a communion with the natural world. The animal bones she uses are acquired ethically, often times found in the Transylvanian forests where she lives. She uses them mainly to honor the ancient spirit animals and also uses them as “guardians” in her household. | Instagram @crowhag

While lately, I’ve been venturing into the world of herbs, I’ve never left the world of beasts – be they fantastic or not. I’ve always had a totemic fascination with the world around me from a very early age, which is why I’ve particularly worked and studied in that direction for a long time. I believe that this type of work should be included in everyone’s craft and system.

After all, our human world is interconnected with the animal world and establishing a spiritual relationship with them is of utmost importance. Not only does this type of work teaches us humility and respect, but it also teaches us about the power of nature and metamorphosis. It also allows us to develop the virtues of our respective spirit animals and work with them creatively and productively.

One of the things I keep noticing is that many people seem to be confused about “animal magick” and that they cannot differentiate between a totem, familiar or power animal. Lately, they’ve all been reduced to “spirit animals”. Indeed, all of them are spirit animals, but they have distinctive traits and purposes that you should know about in order to help you identify and work with them more efficiently. Let me explain.

Animal Totems

Statue of Hermanubis at Vatican Museum:
Statue of Hermanubis at Vatican Museum: The zoomorphic divinity is a hybrid between the Egyptian god Anubis and the Greek god Hermes, or Roman Mercury. It was often depicted as a canine or a man with the head of a canine such as a jackal (or African golden Wolf). He is a psychopomp who watches over the dead and the Underworld as well as an alchemical and hermetical figure in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Photo by Radiana Piț | Instagram @crowhag

While they are often associated with the indigenous people of the Americas, totems can be found in almost all of the cultures in the world. And that is because mankind went through a totemistic phase in ancient times. Their totems have survived through myths, legends, and symbols that are still present today. And that in itself is a testimony to the power of the Totem.

As a belief, totemism is strongly connected to animistic religions and it is usually represented by animals or natural figures that carry a spiritual significance to an individual, clan, tribe, or an entire culture. Throughout time, many noble houses, countries, and even military institutions had their zoomorphic figure incorporated into the design of their emblems, flags, totem poles or other similar structures.

Likewise, individuals who are involved in some type of animal magick use their totems as representations on personal objects that can look like simple fashion statements, such as a piece of jewelry that they wear all the time.

Native totems, however, are personal. In most traditions, your native totem is determined by your astrological context, such as the time of your birth. Your native animal totem never changes and it stays with you throughout your entire life. It is a symbol of your qualities, a symbol of an aspect of yourself that contributes to your overall identity.

The Snake-Witch or the Snake Charmer - picture stone from Sweden - 400-600 AD
The Snake-Witch or Snake-Charmer is a picture stone that dates to 400-600 AD found in Sweden, which depicts a figure holding a snake in each hand alongside a triskelion consisting of a boar, eagle, and a wolf. Foto: Flickr.

Your totem is representative of its entire genus, it’s not a particular animal necessarily. Most traditions suggest that a totem is the spirit of a wild animal, but domesticated animals, insects, mythological creatures, as well as all animals of the Earth, Air, and Sea can be totems. Your totem is an archetype, it is an extension of who you are, more than it is a spirit separate from you.

While some are deeply in touch with their totem naturally, other people require some type of practice to unlock the power of their own totem. Shamans, magicians,  and witches each have different techniques to identify, honor, and work with theirs. Additionally, your totem is in part responsible for your relationship with the animal world, with nature, and with your life-long metamorphosis.

Familiar Spirits

Your familiar spirit is very different from your totem. Your totem is an inherent part of who you are and you enter this world accompanied by it. A familiar spirit, however, enters your life when you become involved with some type of magick, witchcraft, or shamanism. You may invite your familiar in your life, or it may find you before you do.

Witch feeding her familiars - 1579, illustration appeared during the Witch trials period
The witch and her familiars – image from a pamphlet from 1579 that depicts the witch trials in Windsor, 1579. The women mentioned in this pamphlet were accused witches who were believed to have kept spirits and fiends under the disguise of toads, cats, and rats that acted as their servants and companions, who would feed on their blood.

“Spiritus Familiars” was used in reference to the animal companion of the witch or magician and it was often synonymous with a serving spirit that might’ve been assigned to their master by a higher power, demon, or entity. The concept of the familiar spirit became popular thanks to European witches and druids, but records of men establishing a relationship with an animal helper can be found in the ancient history of the entire world. And indeed, there seems to be a clear line that separates the familiar from the totem in most of these records.

For example, the Romanian historian and philosopher Mircea Eliade noted in his book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy that: “The Goldi (Nanai people in Siberia) clearly distinguish between the tutelary spirit (ayami), which chooses the shaman, and the helping spirits (syven), which are subordinate to it and are granted to the shaman by the ayami itself.” Here the ayami is the totem, while syven is the familiar spirit.

It is not a general rule that the familiar spirit is subordinate to the totem. Different cultures have different traditions on how a familiar works. However, it is commonly accepted that your familiar spirit comes to guide and assist you in your magical work. Generally, there are two types of familiar spirits: physical and non-physical.

The physical familiar is a real animal, perhaps even your pet, but its spirit is an evolved entity. A non-physical familiar doesn’t have a physical body, but it may still manifest physically in the form of an animal. Whether they have a physical form or not, familiar spirits exhibit shape-shifting abilities, a superior intellect, and a distinctive sense of loyalty.

Tales from the medieval times say that familiars used to spy for their masters and do their bidding. They usually made a pact to serve them for a period of time and it was rarely a life-long engagement. In any case, your familiar will exhibit extraordinary qualities that surpass the physical form they take.

Power Animals

Throughout your life, power animals will come and go to guide you, assist you, and protect you. They can be summoned or they can come on their own if you ever need them. They come to teach you a lesson, to guide you through a spiritual journey, a struggle, creative process – you name it.

Sometimes, although not always, they may be connected to the circumstances that they appear in more than they are connected to you as an individual. They may also appear in the form of symbols more than physical forms.

Spirit Animals, Familiars and Totems – They will find you

As with most things, they will come to you when the time is right. But you should prepare for it nonetheless. Meditation is the easiest way to open yourself to them. Your totem is already there, you simply need to identify and acknowledge it. Likewise, your power animals will make their presence known through synchronicities and symbols that you only need to be aware of. As for your familiar, well, that’s different for everyone.

Magickal communion of animals: Cat, goat, crow meet with witch
Animal magick consists of working with totems, hybrid gods, and other spirit animals. The zoomorphic divinities often work as extensions of being while simultaneously bringing an external element into a system. Drawing of a magical communion with spirit animals by Radiana Piț | Instagram @crowhag

Our ancestors from all over the world have been working with totems, familiars, and power animals that we can still learn about from traditions, myths, legends, and their association with various old and mythical gods. Through his De Occulta Philosophia, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim has been one of the first in the late Middle Ages to propose a synthetic vision of magic that combined the natural world, alongside the animals in it, with the divine and the celestial, thus introducing a type of animal magick.

If you are naturally inclined to this type of work, you might already sense your spirit animals. If not, it’s easy to identify them through a little bit of practice. And of course, there’s always the freedom to work with whatever spirit animal you choose. Additionally, systems such as the Chinese calendar, and even people in your life through their own spirit animals will affect you in one way or another. And the more you know yours, the better.

Arrangement of animal bones, horns and apple for witchcraft purposes.
Working with animal remains such as bones and fangs, enables one to communicate with the spirits of the dead and spirit animals. The spirit animals attached to the bones can act as messengers between the dead and the living. Certain pattern arrangements can also help one meditate and connect with the spirit animals. In this arrangement, sea shells, canine fangs, bones, and lamb horns are used to form a meditative pattern that allows communication with certain spirit animals. The apple is an offering to them, and the wooden wand is a tool to be charged by their energy.

Likewise, entire communities tend to gravitate towards certain spirit animals at times. For example, in the past years, I’ve noticed a collective embrace of the owl from internet posts to various forms of art and jewelry. There’s always an animal that starts trending in various communities and you can see it being represented in different ways. That’s a sign of that spirit animal guiding the community at that time.

You can encompass your community’s spirit animal into your work just as much as you incorporate your personal spirit animals in it. The more the merrier, I say – as long as they don’t eat each other. For example, my native totem is the Raven and I work with the Wolf – who is the totem of my Daco-Thracian ancestors, quite a lot. The wolf and the raven have a symbiotic relationship in nature that transcends into the spiritual realm. So they work together splendidly. I told you what my native totem is, now it’s your turn. What is your native totem? And if you don’t already know, what do you think it is?

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.NettlesGarden.com – The Old Craft

Witch Nettle on the First Hermetic International Film Festival 2018 in Venice

Witch Nettle among the guests at the First International Hermetic Film Festival 2018 in Venice
Witch Nettle among the guests at the Hermetic Film Festival 2018 in Venice

Last week, on the 1st and 2nd of March 2018 the First International Hermetic Film Festival, for short FHIFF 2018, took place in Italy. Overall, 28 films in 10 categories were among the finalists and were shown in 2 days at the »La Casa del Cinema«, in the very city center of Venice, competing for 17 Awards (and 3 bonus awards). Everything was organized for the very first time by the sole initiative of a German-Italian team, comprised by Sara Wundersaar Ferro and Chris Weil.

Over 200 guests came from all over the world, including Hollywood filmmakers, and at peak times, the cinema was overcrowded. Nettle, by the way, also was among the guests and captured by the photographers.

Festival Director Sara Wundersaar Ferro and Technical Director Chris Weil at the FIHFF 2018
Festival Director Sara Wundersaar Ferro and Technical Director Chris Weil at the FHIFF 2018. The Italian and German duo worked before on several projects, including a documentary on the hermetic »Ritman-Library« in Amsterdam, which holds more than 23,000 manuscripts and books on Hermeticism, Alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Gnosis, and Esoterica. Thanks to a donation by bestselling author Dan Brown the library could start to digitalize a part of its collection and make the rare materials online available for research purposes.

In their manifesto of the First Hermetic International Film Festival Sara Wundersaar Ferro and Chris Weil define the event itself as »A truly unique film festival overtly dedicated to the domain of Hermetica« and furthermore:

»The arcane never stopped being a silent companion of modern and postmodern culture«

The occult sciences – notably Alchemy, Astrology, Natural Magic – have been the prelude of ensuing scientific discoveries, the very base of them in the antiquity and premodern world … The arcane, although it has always been sold and perceived as the flip side of the civilization process, never stopped being a silent companion of even modern and postmodern culture.

As NettlesGarden.com shares this precise observation, I took the chance to visit Venice as an official partner of the FHIFF 2018, following Sara’s invitation. In the following weeks I will discuss all of the films, some of them in detail, today we have a quick walk through my personal favorites on the two days.

Colorful, diverse, and different, with topical themes ranging from classic, over medieval to contemporary interpretations with some elements of science fiction is also the best way to describe the program of the FHIFF 2018, which was divided in 10 categories, with 28 films. Upfront, not all films seem for a practitioner or somebody deeply drawn to a specific part of  »Western Esoteric Tradition« really related to »her« path.

Festival Director Sara Ferro at the opening of the FHIFF 2018
Festival Director Sara Ferro at the opening of the FHIFF 2018

And it cannot be any different, especially for such a specific sub-subject such as »Hermetics«, »Hermetism« or »Hermeticism« for which even the official denomination is subject to debate. Not just because in it’s over 3,000-year-old history so many different disciplines have been associated with it and even these disciplines underwent considerable change over the course of time. There is more to it.

Let’s take alchemy, for example, which was often tied to the blacksmith’s profession in the ancient past, gave birth in (relatively) modern times to spagyrik and then influenced much newer developments such as Homeopathy until it underwent a psychologization with C.G. Jung. Neo-pagans try to revive the Edda but also carry new, contemporary ideas into ancient forms. And every generation tries, to connect the old esoteric traditions and practices to the current body of scientific knowledge. At Ficino’s and Newton’s time this worked much smoother than in the 20th century, but attempts nevertheless existed (e.g. »ectoplasm« or the aforementioned psychologization of magick and alchemy).

First Hermetic International Film Festival
First Hermetic International Film Festival 2018

This is why disciplines and currents labeled as »esoteric« seem at times extremely disconnected and different from each other. This is also true for some of the movies at the FHIFF.  But for most outsiders they have one thing in common: they do not (anymore) belong to the commonly accepted part of mainstream science and religion. On the other hand, they for sure are all part of our European cultural heritage and history of thought and in »the quest for the meaning of life and its destiny« as written in the Festival’s manifesto. And this is why they then again fit wonderfully well together, in the 2 days of extraordinary movie time 🙂

My personal favorites have been »Left Hand Path« for an outstanding accurate portrait of Magister Templi in the Temple of Set, James Kirby. I do not deem this documentary accurate because I would have known Kirby, but because I never felt so well represented by a documentary piece, may this be written, visual or any other way. I loved CHRYSALIS for its symbolism and the exclusive images from the tombs of the Rosicrucian Museum.  The Blacksmith from Ukraine for its romantic blend of music and countryside images, an absolute favorite, was feature film »Agadah«. But let’s go through them one by one, and next week I will follow with a complete list and description of all films shown at the festival.

City of Venice from above with Logo of FHIFF 2018
28 films made it into the list of finalists at the First Hermetic Film Festival 2018 in Venice

1 Thursday – 1st of March

The first day started with several strong films, and here are my personal four favorites of the first day, excluding number five »Metanoia, Metanoia«, which as a plot started as an Italian Horror or Fantasy movie, but incorporated quite well researched gnostic symbolism and authentic antiquities.  The film »Metanoia, Matanoia« by Joshua Alexander Matteo will be discussed next week.

CHRYSALIS. Film poster for the same named film by Nic Nassuet
© CHRYSALIS – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

CHRYSALIS

This was the first movie, which made me feel a real hermetic vibe on the festival. Shown as European Premiere on the FHIFF, it was featured in the category »The secrets of Alchemy« and won the Vitrol Award for the best experimental film.

The short color movie of about 5 minutes shows the alchemical process of transformation of an army veteran getting back into civil life, embedded deeply in classical western hermetic symbolism best known from the Golden Dawn tradition (and it’s many successors) and hermetic freemasonry.

While the first part shows the soldier’s descending into the blackness, the second part shows the process of transformation and rebirth in a pretty universal matter: Following a woman in a robe making the sign of Harpocrates into the underworld accompanied by the IAO-Formula (Isis, Apophis, Osiris), the journey leads directly into the tombs. It was the first time the tombs of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California have been filmed.

The sign of Osiris the slain and Osiris the risen are self-explanatory followed by an ascent into a new life, symbolized by a newborn child exiting the tomb crying and following the woman now holding the Rose-Cross. Through the Rose Cross the child is born alive again, finding itself in harmony in a green and vibrant garden.

Hollywood based artist Nic Nassuet, born Nick Ortiz-Trammell, turned out to be a great conversation partner on a lot of occult topics. He is nowadays mainly Neo-folk musician, after leaving his career behind as spy for the US army. Thus, we can suppose, the veteran in the film is Nic himself – as he also admitted for NettlesGarden.com.

Nic had been involved in film and television since early childhood and continued to be active in the acting community, through several boards, the best known may be the Emmy awards committee of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He appeared in several films as an actor, but also as a writer or in the music department. CHRYSALIS (with caps) is an experimental short film and his first production. He was so nice to hand me out a copy of his debut album, “Eleutherios”, which – positively – surprised me. I recommend the YouTube clips or iTunes to check.

Above and Below (2016)

Prehistoric shaman in film scene from Israeli Animation film - Above and Below
Prehistoric shaman in film scene from Israeli Animation film – Above and Below. © Above and Below – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

The 9 minute and 36-second lasting short animation film »Above and Below« (Hebrew: מעל ומתחת) from Israel is the thesis film of the two students Oved Poran and Liron Narunsky in the Screen based Arts department at Bezalel. Completed in 2016 the digital sound only film was shown for the first time in Italy on the FHIFF in the »Hermetic Society« category.

The movie »Above and Below« won the Apuleio Award for the best animation film and shows very beautiful and in an emotional interpretation the ritual burying of an old shaman woman, who farewells her tribe during a parting ritual.

Background for the movie are findings of a prehistoric burial in the cave of Hilazon Tachtit, in Western Galilee in northern Israel. Scientists discovered there in 2008 about 25 skeletons, most of them buried together, and belonging to the Natufian culture (12,000 – 9,000 BC) from the Levante; a transition between hunter and gathering cultures and early farmer societies.

One of the burials stood out, as it belonged to an approximately 1,50-meter tall woman, about 45 years old. Alongside some deformations of the bones, which suggest a walking impairment since birth, the grave goods lead scientists to the conclusion that the grave belonged to a tribal shaman: not less than two weasel skulls, 50 turtle shells, the bones of an eagle wing, a wild boar, and even the bones of a human foot as well as a basalt-bowl should accompany the shaman on her way to the otherworld.

Even though Leore Grosman’s (University of Jerusalem) interpretation of the finding as evidence for an early »voodoo«-cult or shaman burial have not been unchallenged (Mina Evron from the Haifa University described the interpretations as “colorful”) – the film depicts quite well the early stages of shamanism – no matter the culture.

Hermetica Komhata HK320

Film Poster for Hermatica Komnata HK 320. Chelovek Kadmon
© Hermetica Komhata HK320 – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

The film Hermetica Komhata HK320 screened likewise for the first time in Italy at the FHIFF. Languages were Spanish and English with English subtitles.

The approximately 1 hour and 33 minutes lasting feature film »Hermetica Komhata HK320« by Director Ricardo Salvador is somewhere to be situated in between metaphysical retro-Sci-Fi, experimental and surreal. The black and white film was screened in English and Spanish language, with a bit of Enochian, made to sound Russian.

The film presents itself as a documentary, which tries to reconstruct a lost fictional Soviet film (destroyed by the authorities) by the likewise fictitious Dr.Joseph H.Stanislaw. The latter is said to have studied cosmic emanations with the help of Ektoplasma. Destroyed during the siege of Leningrad it was now finally possible to restore the original film and to release the phenomenal esoteric findings of the Soviet-era scientist.

The result is a combination of esoteric, spiritualism, philosophical speculation, science fiction and experiments on humans, relying heavily on symbolism derived from hermetic and cabalistic manuscripts. Though director Ric Salvador is not a believer in any esoteric current himself, he likes to borrow the symbols to express his own philosophical attempts. One would be the question, how to heal human defects in ways alternative to the classical political or religious approaches. For example, war is seen as a disease, being born from hate, which belongs to the pathologies of man. A condition for which neither religion nor law have found an antidote so far.

The term ectoplasm was coined by French Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine (1913) Charles Robert Richet. Beside his undisputed merits in the research of medicine, he received criticism for being a proponent of Eugenics and racist views.
His various interests spanned from poetry, over history and social sciences to philosophy. However, he spent a considerable amount of time on researching the paranormal.

In this context, he tried to explain the possibility of mediumship in 1894 by postulating a grey-whiteish, sometimes maybe light pink, foaming substance called ectoplasm. Ectoplasm was thought to be a real, material substance stemming from the medium itself and opposed to typical spiritistic ideas  (ghosts), which would be involved in many spiritistic phenomena such as materializations. Usually very sensible to light it could be barely observed, except for darkened rooms.

Ectoplasm did not make it into science. So far all evidence was found to be not credible or fraudulent. However, ectoplasm made it into popular culture (Ghostbusters) and into spiritistic and even some occult literature around the beginning of the 20th century.

Important for Komhata HK320 is, that Dr. Joseph H. Stanislaw studied the »influence of cosmic emanations on the human mind, through his experiments with a film of Ectoplasmic sensitivity«.

I enjoyed the film a lot, which during the festival won the Mercure Award for the best picture, the Eco Award for the best research and the Jodorowsky Award for the best topic. Likewise, meeting with the crew of the film at the afterparty turned out to be worthwhile and enjoyable. A fun fact is that during the film, some sound samples supposed to be  Russian actually contain Enochian, the angelic language known from 16th-century occultist John Dee. The team readily admitted that they found it just easier than learning the Russian grammar, which I can confirm comes not always in handy. From an occult point, a good choice anyways 😀

Agadah (2017)

Agadah - Official Film Poster
© Agadah – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Agadah« (2017) is an Italian adventure film of 126 minutes length in French, Italian, Spanish and was screened with English Subtitles. As I am not very into experimental movies or movies per se, this was probably the film I enjoyed the most.

The name itself is derived from the cabalistic term Aggadah, which means story, lore, legend, saying or collection. Often it refers to a collection of (rabbinic) texts, which are based on binding doctrines (the Torah or Talmud for example), but not binding doctrines themselves, and illustrate morals, advice, and teachings on all matters of life in historic or folkloric anecdotes.

The film, by director Alberto Rondalli, sometimes also named an 18th-century Decameron, is based loosely on the French novel »The Manuscript Found in Saragossa« by Polish writer Count Jan Potocki.

The movie starts showing Count Potocki writing his novel, while a young Bourbon officer decides to cross the haunted Murge plateau, or »Altopiano delle Murge« in Italian, to reach his regiment on the way to Naples.

The journey is divided in 10 days, which correlate to the ten sephiroth of the cabalistic tree of life (the book features 66 days) and mark a cycle of initiation into a secret society, probably masonry, as Potocki was a mason himself.

The 10 days – and especially nights – are full of unusual happenings and encounters, floating between the real world and the world of dreams, featuring erotic encounters with Mohammedan princesses, which turn out to be demons, meetings with cabalists or adventures in a gypsy camp.

The film ends with the death of the novelist, who committed suicide in the very same way as Count Jan Potocki killed himself in 1815. At the FHIFF »Agadah« won the Caduceus Award for the best feature film.

Friday – 2nd of March

The second day, featured some of the most interesting films for Nettle’s readers, as an entire block was reserved to Magick and Witchcraft – mostly »Left Hand Path« and »Modern Craft«. Moreover, »Hellsaga« should appeal to neo-pagans while »Holy Terrors« turned out to be a well-done feature film bringing Golden Dawn member Arthur Machen’s stories to life. »The Blacksmith« I liked personally a lot for the beautiful imagery of the Ukrainian countryside and the atmospheric blending with music. »TAU, the daemon and the city« was much awaited and director Gerard Gil joined us at the after party.

The Blacksmith (2017)

Film scene from the movie " The Blacksmith" - Ukraine
© The Blacksmith – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

The German 30-minute film »The Blacksmith« by directors Ivan Andrianov and Nina Gudme was filmed in Ukraine, had its Italian premiere at the FHIFF in Venice (World premier was at Cannes Film Festival) and screened in Ukrainian with English subtitles. Both directors are students at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf in Germany.

Located on the Ukrainian countryside around Kiev blacksmith Sergey explains his worldview to his student while teaching him the process of hammering and forging as they create a new piece of work on the anvil.

Not only their working style and the environment is rural but set in a stage which so far has suffered little exposure to modern lifestyle. Also, the mentality is in many regards still untouched by modern life. One of the most obvious scenes in this regard is the Blacksmith’s comments about his feeling of time and the right timing. The entire surroundings, starting with the landscape and ending with the people and their lifestyle merge perfectly well with what for the most western ears is archaic sound, but which in many parts of Eastern Europe still is traditional popular music.

The directors intent was to show the »closed, rich and worldwide unknown culture of Ukraine  … revealing its essence of strength and resistance«. I enjoyed the music and the rural images a lot, it reminded me often of Transylvania before joining the EU. This makes some sense, both Romania and Ukraine share a part of the Carpathians.

The film won the Atalanta Award for the best music at the FHIFF.

Left Hand Path - There are Wyrd Things Done in the Midnight Sun - Official Poster for the film by Jessica Hall
© Left Hand Path – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF

Left Hand Path (2017),

One of my favorites during this FHIFF edition was »Left Hand Path« by Jessica Hall. A documentary featuring the Setian religion of James Carman Kirby. James was an artist from Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada and Magister Templi in the Temple of Set until his death, in late autumn 2017. As far as Nic Nassuet told me, James died on Halloween, after a long illness, and as it seems on his own terms. So basically he died the same way as he had lived his life.

Kirby was a creator of fine jewelry in gold and silver, as well as other rare and precious materials such as gemstones, or ivory. However, he did not work with any animal material with the exception of fossilized Woolly Mammoth Ivory and dinosaur bone. In the film, while working on one of his unique pieces of jewelry James C. Kirby explains the philosophy behind »black magick« as understood by him and probably many members of the  Temple of Set. The documentary also shows him in his ceremonial magick altar space, which he explains with the words:

»…  So when we do ritual, we act as gods. That’s the purpose of ritual, to make conscious changes to your life, in a very direct fashion. You’re speaking to yourself through yourself, to your highest self. This is my altar and every Setian’s altar will be different. You don’t need an altar, you don’t have to have one. I come from a ritual magic background from Thelema. So I like the ritual aspects of having an altar…«

This was the international premiere of the 14-minute short film and documentary from Canada, filmed in Canada, directed by Jessica Hall. The movie is in English language and has English subtitles, which come in quite welcome in certain passages, such as in the part where a lot of specialty lingo in Greek or Egyptian is used. »Left Hand Path« won the Pelican Award for the best (short) documentary at the FHIFF.

Modern Craft (2016)

Witchy Broomsticks. Modern Craft - Film poster for the documentary by Jessica P. Jackson
© Modern Craft – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Modern Craft« is a short documentary with nice, witchy imagery and atmosphere, which contrary to the suggestive film poster and a large part of the scenery does not want to further spread prejudices about witchcraft. Rather, it is director’s Jessica P. Jackson’s aim to decompose stereotypes and to demystify Wicca by showing what it really is: a peaceful and non-offensive religion. Honestly, I have no idea whether she succeeds or not, having been an occultist nearly all my life since childhood. I do not see the problem which some outsiders may have with Wicca in the first place.

Anyways, during the roughly 11-minute lasting short-film, the spectator comes in touch with Wicca through a Wiccan High-priestess, a young newcomer Wiccan and a Christian, who is studying this neo-pagan religion. The High Priestess, Lady Passion, is a third-degree Gardnerian Elder in the Californian Line and High Priestess of Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville, NC.

By real name Dixie Deerman and of Northern Irish ancestry, Lady Passion has been a »public witch« since 1976, counsels clients since 1979, focuses on herbal medicines, divinations, but is also a registered nurse since the late 1980ies. She wrote a total of four books so far: Candle Magic; Simply Savory: Magical & Medieval Recipes; Ask-A-Priestess: Wise Answers From a Real Witch; and last but not least: Pagan Prisoner Advocate’s Guide.

The Film from the United States was screened in English, filmed in the US  and had its premiere in Italy on the FHIFF.

Jenny loves Satan (2017)

Film Poster - Jenny loves Satan - 2016
© JENNY LOVES SATAN – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Jenny Loves Satan« is a short film of 14 minutes and 21 seconds. The movie was produced by the University of Southern California and realized by students: Jenna Bryant as Director, Paul Jones as writer; Nikolaj Wejp-Olsen and Ricardo Salinas as producers.

The 12-year old teenager Jenny, played by Leah Black, decides to become Satanist within an act of well-through-thought rebellion:

»I know that you are just simply a representation of man’s carnal nature and a symbolic rejection of false deities« sounds Jenny’s satanic prayer in her penumbrous children-room, set against the background of a wall with pink wallpapers. »I didn’t think you were real…« she adds.

But soon she will find out, that her »symbolical rejection of false deities« quickly exposes and overburdens the quite limited capacities of many in the world around her.  Not only other kids at school, who much her, but »rational« adults, such as parents and a teacher at the school, which lets her know, that religious liberty is for everyone, except for Satanists.

During the movie, Satan hears Jenny’s call and appears – played by Julia Kern – to offer help.  I laughed and enjoyed the movie so much. Maybe because it compensated me post-hoc for all the experiences with irrational teachers, and other themselves well-educated deeming persons in society I had to deal with when I was the same age as Jenny. I am not sure if this was what the filmmakers were thinking about while filming »Jenny Loves Satan«, but it is my take on the film, which won the Audience Award on the FHIFF 2018.

Holy Terrors (2017)

Film poster "Holy Terrors" - Six Weird Tales by Arthur Machen
© Holy Terrors – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Holy Terrors« or »Six Weird Tales by Arthur Machen« is a digital feature film from the United Kingdom, for the first time shown in Italy and directed by Mark Goodall and Julian Butler. Best described with the genres Horror, Supernatural and Ghost stories the about 1 hour and 14 minutes lasting film is mostly black and white but has also some scenes in color.

A detailed review with an extensive background is available here at folkhorrorrevival.com, but let’s give a short overview and some words about Arthur (Jones) Machen’s relation to the occult and the hermetic sciences: Born 1863 in Wales as Arthur Llewellyn Jones, the later »Machen« became a popular writer of fantastic and horror stories, who influenced among others H.P Lovecraft. However, he was also a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn but seemed to prefer the safe haven of the Anglican church in the long-run.

Nevertheless, he had been a close friend with A.E. Waite and the interest in the occult and supernatural have been a constant in both his life and work. The literary breakthrough in 1894 came with the horror novel »The Great God Pan« on the coexistence of the real world and a mythological Celtic-roman parallel-world. Even though Machen is said to have been a down-to-earth person, who would not just readily believe in the supernatural, mythology and the fantastic always remained a constant in his writings.

The film captures the elegiac style of his stories, was well received by fans and won the Special Mention Award at the FHIFF 2018.

Hellsaga (2017)

Hellsaga - A Swedish Viking Saga. Film Poster.
© Hellsaga – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»Hellsaga« or »A Swedish Viking Saga« is a 12-minute color-short film by director Viking Almquist from Sweden, and was screened in Swedish with English subtitles on the FHIFF.

For the first time shown in Italy, we could see the story of »a young warrior [who] seeks the wisdom of the gods« in this historical adventure film from 2017.

The film claims to be “based on the Poetic Edda, a tale of magic and myth”. What we see is a Wanderer without a name (played by Viking Almquist himself), clashing with a »black viking«, seeking advice from his mother, meeting a troll in the woods, talking to the dead at the beach before meeting again with the Black Viking for the final battle…

We see some runes and the encounter with the troll in the woods seems very much inspired the classic battles of knowledge in riddle form between Odin and the giants. In particular, it reminded me of the encounter between Odin and Vafthruthnir in the Vafthruthnirmol.

Also in other regards, the film incorporated historical references to archeological Viking findings, such as the helmet of the Black Viking and the horns of troll.

TAU, the Daemon and the City

Film scene: Tau, the daemon and the city – All rights reserved.
© Tau, the daemon and the city – All rights reserved. Via FHIFF.

»TAU, the Daemon and the City« was the last film shown on the 2018 edition of the FHIFF and won 3 awards: The Fludd Award for the best cinematography, the Cagliostro Award for the best storytelling and the Jury Award. It was screened in Catalan with English subtitles and had its international premiere on the FHIFF.

»Tau is, at once, a fiction film on spirits, a documentary on the passing of time in a small town and a portrait of Catalan traditional culture«. The spectator witnesses a fictional portrait of the Catalan city Taragonna, shown through the eyes of a daemon, living in a parallel world, which is both transcending and surrounding our human world.

The slightly over 2 hours lasting film (123 minutes) is comprised of old footage director Gerard Gil collected during the last years, during a time, while he was also working as a cameraman for TV in his hometown.

Or as Gerard Gil declares for NettlesGarden.com:

»I often found myself in a situation where I had to film some images for a program and, meanwhile, I noticed the really interesting images where happening aside. But I couldn’t film them at that moment, since I was working for tv. The film came afterwards, going to the streets on my own, with no preconceptions on what to film, and being completely free with the camera.

 

It actually took several years of going out to the street in this way to get the footage for the film.«

The story, or voice over, was directly dictated to him by the daemon itself after Gerard had read Plotin’s Enneads. »It’s hard to say whether we have ideas or ideas have us« asks the director of TAU, commenting his work and the process of its creation.

A good question, to end a film festival around the Hermetic tradition, which owns so much to the works of the Platonists.

Nic Nassuet (CHRYSALIS), Gil Gerard (TAU), the team from Hermetica Komhata HK320:  Judith Queralt, Daniel Sanz (Producer Hermetica komhata) Maya and Mark Baker (co-Writer Hk) and me, Steffen, host at Nettle's Garden - The Old Craft, at the afterparty of the FHIFF 2018 in the bars of Venice (left to right). Photo by Nic Nassuet.
Nic Nassuet (CHRYSALIS), Gil Gerard (TAU), the team from Hermetica Komhata HK320: and Judith Queralt, Daniel Sanz (Producer Hermetica komhata) Maya and Mark Baker (co-Writer Hk) and me, Alexander, host at Nettle’s Garden – The Old Craft, at the afterparty of the FHIFF 2018 in the bars of Venice (left to right). Photo by Nic Nassuet.
Festival Director Sara Wundersaar Ferro and Technical Director Chris Weil at the afterparty of the FHIFF 2018, celebrating the success of the festival and Chris 30th birthday
Festival Director Sara Wundersaar Ferro and Technical Director Chris Weil at the afterparty of the FHIFF 2018, celebrating the success of the festival and Chris 30th birthday. Nettle and The Old Craft congratulate 😀

 

Nettlesgarden - The Old Craft
www.Nettlesgarden.com – The Old Craft

Baba Dochia – The Princess, The Goddess, And The Hag

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When we’ve learnt about the love god, Dragobete, and his celebration on the 24th of February, I mentioned his beloved mother, Baba Dochia. She is a very endearing presence in the Romanian pantheon who is surrounded by captivating legends. As a child, I was fascinated by the tradition of Babele, which celebrates the changing of the seasons, the ascension of the goddess, and man’s struggle with nature.

Baba Dochia with Martisor and Mars Symbol - Black White Drawing by Crowhag - Radiana Pit
Daughter of a Dacian King, mother of a Dacian love god, and defier of the god Mars, Baba Dochia is just one of the many aspects of the Agrarian Goddess who dies and is reborn at the beginning of March. Drawing of Baba Dochia by Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

In the Romanian pantheon, Baba Dochia (Old Dokia) is identified with Gaea. She is believed to have been a real person born in the time of the Roman emperor Trajan. In some instances, her figure is overlapped with that of Eudokia of Heliopolis, but the historical consensus is that she was the daughter of the Dacian king Decebalus and betrothed to Trajan. The church sanctified her as the usurpation of the Neolithic agrarian goddess celebrated at the beginning of March.

Even though she is a reimagined depiction of the Neolithic agrarian goddess, Baba Dochia’s legends are rooted in the wars between the Romans and the Dacians, the two civilizations that formed Romania as a culture and nation.

One legend says that the Roman emperor Trajan fell in love with Dochia, who was a Dacian princess. The love was not mutual and even though she rejected him, Trajan was determined to marry her. He was advancing in his conquest to conquer Dacia (which is on the current territory of Romania) and Dochia knew that she couldn’t escape marrying him much longer. So she disguised herself as a shepherd and her people as sheep to seek refuge in the Carpathian Mountains. When she asked the old Dacian god Zalmoxis to save her, he turned her and her flock into stones. Today you can still see the legend petrified in the rock that bears the name of the Dacian princess in the Ceahlau Mountain and her flock, Babele (The old Women) in the Bucegi Mountains.

Another legend says that Baba Dochia was the mother of the young Dacian love god, Dragobete. He married the older sister of the hero Lăzărel against his mother’s wishes. In some versions of the legends she is also named Lăzărel herself or Lăzărita, and she is is also Dragobete’s sister. Baba Dochia sought to make her daughter-in-law’s life difficult. She gave her many impossible tasks that Lăzărita, was always able to accomplish with divine intervention. This made the tensions between them grow, and so this old mother in law- young daughter in law relationship is valued in Romanian folklore as the opposition between the new year being born and the old year dying, as the new year is born between war and peace, cold and warm, winter and summer.

One winter day, Baba Dochia sent her daughter in law to gather wild ripe berries from the forest, even though she knew it would be impossible to find berries in winter. She told Lăzărita not to return home without the berries. God saw Baba Dochia’s cruelty and Lăzărita’s suffering, so he disguised himself as an elder and met Lăzărita in the forest, where he gave her the ripe berries. When she returned home, Baba Dochia thought that the berries were a sign of spring, so she prepared her flock to ascend the mountains.

The other shepherds advised Baba Dochia not to ascend because that would offend the war god, Mars, as it was not yet the season. But Baba Dochia insulted the old god by replying: “I’ll put little Mars through a little nail”, which became a tradition known as Mărţişor, that is still celebrated today. She then covered herself in 9 sheepskin coats and ascended the mountains with her flock.

Seeing her defiance, Mars took a few days from the Ironsmith, Făurar, which is the personification of the month of February in Romanian folklore, same as Mars is the personification of the month of March. This is why February has fewer days than the other months. This made the weather seem warmer to Baba Dochia and she was tricked into believing that it was only going to get warmer still.

Mountain route from the Ceahlau Massif in Romania. Snow covered and misty wood landscape in the carpathian mountains
On Baba Dochia’s trail – Mountain route from the Ceahlau Massif, on the way to Baba Dochia’s Stone. The legend says that Baba Dochia climbed this mountain and was turned into stone by exposing herself to the freezing cold. The impressive stone that bears her name can be seen today by following the route marked with blue that starts at Izvorul Muntelui Chalet in the Ceahlau Mountains. Photo credit: Flickr

In order to cool herself as she was ascending the mountain, Baba Dochia shed a sheepskin coat off her back each day, starting with the 1st of March, until the 9th of March, when she shed the last coat and exposed herself to the freezing cold. She was turned into stone along with her flock of sheep. The old day of the spring equinox, March 9th, also celebrated as the day of Macinici marks Dochia’s death and her rebirth as a child.

On June 24th, at summer solstice which is also celebrated as the Day of Sânziene, Baba Dochia becomes the maiden goddess Drăgaica. At autumn equinox she becomes mother goddess, before finally dying at the spring equinox in order to resurrect with the seasons. To this day, Romanian women celebrate Baba Dochia’s death and birth through the tradition of Babele (the Hags). Each day in between 1st and 9th of March is associated with one of the sheepskin coats Baba Dochia shed while ascending the mountain.

During this time, people are faced with unexpected snowstorms and freezing weather, that they believe are summoned by her spirit. Romanian women use the tradition of Babele as a method for divination. They pick one day out of the first 9 days of March beforehand. If the day they have chosen is going to be warm and fair, they will turn out to be fair in their old age and the new year will be bright. If the day turns out to be cold, they’ll turn bitter in their old age and the new year will be dark. On this note, may your Hag Day be bright and your old age be light!

Rock formation " babele" or "the hags" in the Romanian Mountains - Bucegi, Romania
The Old Ladies or the Hags (“Babele” in Romanian), is a natural rock formation on the Bucegi Mountains plateau. Some legends say that this is the exact place where Baba Dochia froze and became stone alongside her flock of sheep. Today, Babele is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Romania. Photo credit: Flickr
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Mărţişor – Rope of the Year, a Romanian Spring Tradition

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As we’ve come to learn, the ending of February and the beginning of March is a time of celebration for the Romanian people. They celebrate the new agrarian year through old traditions such as the Week of Sântoader’s Horses, Dragobete, and now Mărţişor – little Mars. By far it is one of my favorite traditions and my collection of “mărţişoare” is a testimony to that. I’ve kept the most significant ones since I was a child and to this day, I cannot wait for the 1st of March to come around to celebrate and of course, to receive (and make myself) new mărţişoare.

This celebration is important to me because of its significance and lore… “I’ll put little Mars through a little nail”, said Baba Dochia in defiance of the war god and guardian of agriculture when she ascended the mountain with her flock. Thus, the tradition of pinning little Mars close to one’s heart was born.

2 traditional, handmade martisor talismans from Romania
The Primordial Signs used as Stitched Symbols by Romanians and their ancestors, the Daco-Thracians, are derived from the symbols of the Dacian Solar Cult. The symbols are complex patterns of which each element has a purpose. The shape of the rhombus is used as a symbol of Earth’s fertility and vital force. The angles represent the purpose of a life, giving sense and direction, while the segments are associated with different aspects of life, depending on their numbers, for example, 3 parallel lines represent the 3 stages of life: birth, self-realization, and death.

Mărţişor is a Romanian tradition of Daco-Roman origins celebrated at the beginning of spring, on March 1st. The word Mărţişor is the diminutive of March (“Martie” in Romanian) and it means “little March”. In ancient Rome, New Year’s Eve was celebrated on the 1st of March and it was named Martius in the honor of the god of war and guardian of agriculture, Mars. Daco-Thracians, also celebrated New Year’s Eve on the first of March.

While the Romans named their March after their god Mars, Thracians named their March after the god Marsyas Silen, the inventor of the pipe, a wind instrument that has spiritual significance for the Romanian people. His cult celebrated fertility and the rebirth of nature. Mărţişor is also the name for the red and white rope, also called “the Rope of the Year” (“funia anului” in Romanian), which is given to dear ones as a sign of appreciation and admiration on the 1st day of March.

The Mărţişor is a talisman as well as a symbolic calendar. According to old traditions, it must be given before sunrise and it is believed that those who wear it will be strong and healthy throughout the new year. In the old days, both men and women used to wear it as bracelets, pendants or pinned to their clothes, close to the heart, until the last day of March when they tied it to a twig of their twin tree, or a fruit tree if they didn’t have a twin in nature.

Rope of the Year - Martisor Talisman with Coin
The Rope of the Year is a symbolic calendar representative of the battle between the Spirit of Winter and the Spirit of Summer. It also symbolizes the union of opposites and a marriage of the masculine and the feminine. It is traditionally attached to coins, totems, or stitched symbols that are meant to bring vitality, force, health, and good luck.

Nowadays, only women keep the tradition of wearing it, but men participate in the tradition by offering it to them. Even though there is a huge market for the Mărţişor Day in Romania, where you can find all sorts of charms, trinkets and jewelry tied to the red and white rope made of either wool or silk, traditionally the rope is accompanied by a stitched symbol or a coin (silver or gold) that could be worn around the neck as a pendant.

The rope symbolizes the union of winter and summer, the gold coin symbolizes the Sun, and the silver coin symbolizes the Moon. In the old days, after wearing the coin for a certain amount of time, people used it to buy red wine and sweet cheese with. It was believed that coin would invest the wine and cheese with magical powers and that their faces would remain as white as cheese and as rubicund as the wine for the rest of year.

Baba Dochia - Drawing by Crowhag - Radiana Pit
“White is the father, the sky above all, and black is the mother, the earth beneath all.” – It is said that Baba Dochia was the first to spin the Rope of the Year. She did in black and white to symbolize the union between the Earth and the Heavens. However, the god Mars, who had an influence on Dochia’s life, would influence the Rope as well, by turning the black thread red. – Drawing of Baba Dochia by Radiana Piț | Instagram: @crowhag

The two strings that make the Rope of the Year represent the union of opposites, the link between winter and summer, dark and light, war and peace, death and life. It is said that it is the thread of the days of the year and it was spun by Baba Dochia herself, such as the Fates spun the threads of life and destiny at birth. One legend says that the Dacian princess Dochia originally spun the thread in white and black because white is the father, the sky above all, and black is the mother, the earth beneath all.

Due to Roman influences, the black thread became red instead, as inspired by the Roman tradition of embarking on military campaigns in March. Thus, the red string now symbolizes vitality, life, fire and blood, and the passion of women, while the white string symbolizes the clouds, victory, and the wisdom of men. Therefore, it also symbolizes the union between the feminine and the masculine which gives birth to the eternal cycle of nature.

Stiched martisor black on white with red paper.
Mărţişor with Stitched Symbol: This is an inherently Solar Symbol, with a combination of the Cross and Star motifs, which are both associated with the Sun. In Romanian tradition, the Cross protects against “deochi” (enchantments, jinxes or “evil eye”), while the Star is believed to help the one who wears it find their way guided by the light of their twin star in the heavens. The chosen color is of importance as well. A symbol stitched in black on a women’s Ia or Mărţişor is a representative of her social status as a wise woman. It is also a symbol of their decency and sobriety.

Even though nowadays Mărţişor is a token of friendship, respect, love, and admiration, Daco-Romanians still use this opportunity to celebrate the agrarian New Year. On the first day of March women not only give and receive this token of admiration, but they also choose one of the Hags in order to predict how their year and old days will be like. The Hags (Babele in Romanian) are the first 9 days of March, when Baba Dochia is said to haunt our plane, as the spring sets in.

Mărţişor is a lovely celebration of ancient origins that has survived to this day and that has still kept much of its original tradition. The Rope of the Year is a symbolic calendar that unites opposites and consecrates nature. This is what makes it a potent talisman that can be used to bring about health, fertility, and good luck. So, as a token in time, this is my Mărţişor to you.

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Moina Mathers, The High Priestess and Mother of the Golden Dawn

Portrait: Moina Mathers (Mina Bergson). Black white.
Moina Mathers – The high priestress behind the Golden Dawn

Moina Mathers is often seen as the “strong woman behind the great man”. The unconventional beauty of her time, with her unruly dark-brown hair, blue eyes, and slightly dark skin complexion, who was fluent in French, German, and English, was considered by many as kind and charming, yet highly intelligent. Her dream was to become a career artist… instead, she had an impoverished life of self-sacrifice, one that many are blind to due to the blazing glamour of the Golden Dawn.

If not for Moina’s love for Samuel, there wouldn’t have been any Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and modern occultism wouldn’t have been where it is now. Her work is only remembered in association with her husband, for example, her most popular painting is that of her husband as a Magus. But Moina, the quintessential archetype of the High Priestess, deserves more recognition.

The Life of the High Priestess

Moina Mathers was born Mina Bergson, on February 28th, 1865 in Geneva, Switzerland. She was the daughter of Orthodox Jewish parents and the sister of Nobel Prize-winning philosopher, Henri-Louis Bergson. Moina was of English and Irish descent from her mother’s side, and of Polish and Jewish descent from her father’s.

Her father, Michel Bergson, was a talented composer and musician who moved around Europe teaching piano in an attempt to escape the prevalent anti-Semitism at the time. Moina and her family lived in Paris for a while and after leaving Henri there to continue his studies on a scholarship, they moved to London, England. While there is little known of Moina and Henri’s relationship, both siblings were involved in the mysterious world of the occult and the paranormal.

Moina was destined to become one of the greatest female occultists of her century, while Henri, among his many accomplishments, became the president of the British Society for Psychical Research and has devoted much of his life and work to the study of psi phenomena.

Photo: Annie Horniman. Black white.
Photo: Annie Horniman. Moina Mathers and Annie knew each other since school , when Moina was only 17 years old. Annie would become an important sponsor for the Golden Dawn

At the age of 15, Moina joined the Slade School of Art in order to refine her artistic talent. The school was known at the time for empowering women in Arts, and indeed Moina was empowered with a scholarship and four merit certificates for her drawing. It was at this school in 1882 that Moina met Annie Horniman, her future friend who would later become the financial sponsor for her and her husband and their Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Moina spent a lot of time at the British Museum drawing and studying Egyptian artifacts. It was there that she had a fateful event in 1887 when she met her future husband S.L. MacGregor Mathers, who had just published his first book, a translation of Knorr von Rosenroth’s Kabbalah Unveiled. Moina loved Samuel dearly, she often referred to him as her half and teacher.

Many find similarities between Henri, her brother, and Samuel, her husband. And indeed, it seems like Moina, the artist, and archetype of the High Priestess was surrounded by men of systematic thought, who she might’ve influenced more than people would like to admit. Just like many occultists throughout time, Samuel too didn’t have a steady income, and because Moina was already coming from a background at the edge of poverty, her parents disapproved of her relationship with Samuel.

However, she married him on June 16th, 1890 in the library of the Horniman Museum, when she became Moina Mathers, by taking her husband’s name and changing her birth given Mina to Moina, in order to emphasize her Irish ancestry. Rumors about their marriage being “celibate” circulate even today.

Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers young. Photo black white. Unknown author.
Photo: Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers

But in fact, these rumors stem from a misinterpretation of a statement Moina made in a letter to her friend, Annie Horniman, in which Moina describes her marriage to Samuel as “pure”, which does not by any stretch of the imagination mean “celibate” necessarily.

A year after she met her husband, in 1888, when the Isis-Urania Temple, the first temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, was opened, Moina became the first initiate of the temple and took the Latin motto ‘Vestigia Nulla Retrorsum’, meaning ‘I never retrace my steps’. Her contributions to the Order were extremely significant. She provided a great amount of information to the Inner Order through her mediumship abilities.

While Mathers was the Magus, the magician who created rituals, Moina was the High Priestess, not only for her husband but for the entire Order. She was the main diviner, seer, and clairvoyant for the order, as well as a channeler (and creator) of visionary material for the rituals of evocation of the Inner Order.

Moina used her artistic abilities and her knowledge of ancient Egyptian symbolism – which she trained by the time she met Samuel, to design ritual chambers and create elaborate temple furnishings influenced by Egyptian motifs and symbolism. Likewise, she contributed to the design, regalia, and furnishings of the Ahathoor Temple in Paris and the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega. She is also the creator of the Order’s original ritual grade diagrams and original designs of the Golden Dawn Tarot.

Drawing by Moina Mathers - "Abramelin the Mage"
“Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.” (1897) – Drawing of the magus Abramelin in her husband’s translation of the same named work, attributed to Abraham von Worms

A year after Moina and Samuel married, in 1891, they visited Paris and on July 30, he was initiated by the “Secret Chiefs” of a Continental European order of Hermetic alchemists, who passed unto him the Hermetic and Rosicrucian lineages, as well as an “esoteric corpus and skeletal initiation rituals” with the help of which he created the Second Order (Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aurae Crucis).

With the guidance of the Secret Chiefs, Moina and Samuel moved to Paris in 1892, where they founded the Ahathoor Temple two years later. Samuel continued to receive knowledge from the Secret Chiefs, such as “certain techniques of Hermetic Inner Alchemy” and “advanced teaching about spiritual sexuality”. These practices are allegedly part of a secret oral tradition, which Moina nonetheless referenced in writing:

“Knowing as yet only something of the composition of the human being as a Theoricus Adept, you are really not in a position to form an opinion on these subjects… discussed as… human sexual connection… So if one of these… come up you would have to refer the question to a member of a much higher grade than Theoricus Adept.” – to Annie Horniman

“As I hear that the Sex Theory subject has been under discussion in Thoth Hermes Temple, I should like to say a few words to you on the subject. I regret that anything on the Sex question should have entered into the Temple at this stage for we only begin to touch on sex matters directly, in quite the higher Grades. In fact, we only give a rather complete explanation of this subject in that Grade where the Adept has proved to be so equilibrated and spiritualized that he is complete lord of his passional self. Believe me, this is not mere theory. I am not speaking to you from a merely theoretical point of view.” – to Paul Foster Case

Photo: Probably the most used photo of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers during an Egyptian Ritual
Photo: Probably the most used photo of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers during an Egyptian Ritual

However, moving to Paris to stay in contact with the Secret Chiefs made their impoverished lifestyle even poorer. Their living conditions worsened, always having to change locations, and to top it off the turn of the century would come with litigations, unwanted publicity, and schism. Even though Moina was now worn by poverty and had an alcoholic and depressed husband, she stood by him as a loyal supporter never thinking of him less than she did when she first saw him as the mystical genius he was.

In 1906, Moina and her husband established the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega (A.O.), the Third Order founded by the couple. In 1918 on November 20th, Moina’s husband died, leaving her behind alone and financially insecure. His last years were a struggle with depression, scandals, and legal battles with Crowley over the publication of a certain Golden Dawn doctrine, but through it all, Moina was by his side.

She claimed that his death was caused by the accumulative effects of the Secret Chiefs visits, whose presence became unbearable for Samuel’s already weakened psyche. Moina continued the work she had began with her husband and she went on to establish the A.O. Lodge.

Even though she became weary and afraid of an “occult attack” that would have the same effect on her as it did on her husband, she continued to communicate with spirits and she would sometimes be helped by a mysterious Frater X, after many initiates of the A.O. failed to meet Moina’s requirements for the task.

One of these initiates was Dion Fortune, who claimed that Moina caused the death of an A.O. initiate, Miss Netta Fornario, through black magic. This murder accusation was received with a lot of sarcasm, having that Moina died 18 months before Miss Fornario. When Fortune was still a member of the A.O., Moina accused her of revealing secrets of the Order regarding spiritual sexuality in her writings.

This conflict made Moina expel Fortune from the order, as opposed to Fortune’s account that she was expelled because of the “wrong aura”, which may have been the reason why Fortune wanted to smear Moina’s name after her death.

Moina presided over the A.O. as its Imperatrix for 9 years, and even though she returned to London, her financial situation was worse than before. She tried in vain to salvage her career as an artist by painting portraits sporadically. Some even say that her artistic skills had degenerated due to years of lack of practice and exclusive focus on the Order.

In 1927, her health began to decline drastically and she got to a point where she refused to intake food. There are many speculations as to why she refused food, that maybe it was the influence of the Secret Chiefs or that maybe she was fasting in order to purify herself.

But a life of impoverishment can cause sickness and people refuse or become unable to intake food, be it from a physical condition or a mental disorder caused by the desire to die and shed the physical body. Regardless, Moina Mathers died on July 1928 in St. Mary Abbott’s Hospital, with the given possible cause of death being self-starvation.

Photo: Moina Mathers during the Rites of Isis in Paris
Moina Mathers during the Rites of Isis in Paris

Moina never bore children, but with her husband, she brought forth spiritual progeny in the form of the Golden Dawn, R.R. et A.C., and the A.O., all of which strongly influence occultism nowadays. It was through her friendship with Annie that they were able to finance the First Order, it was through her artistic abilities that they were able to afford the visual art, and it was through her willingness to allow herself to become a vessel for the spirits that they were able to attain information otherwise unreachable to them at the time.

She lived a life of devotion to her husband and of ritual devotion to her spiritual path. Her marriage was a constant experiment of divine guidance, consecration, and conversation with spiritual beings. On this note, I’ll leave with her words from an interview about the Rites of Isis that she performed on the stage of the Theatre in Paris:

“How can we hope that the world will become purer and less material when one excludes from the Divine, which is the highest ideal, part of its nature which represents at one and the same time the faculty of receiving and giving – that is to say love itself and its highest form – love the symbol of universal sympathy? That is where the magical power of women is found.”

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