Bluenose Magic

March 2, 2009

Bluenose Magic: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions in Nova Scotia by Helen Creighton

The Ryerson Press, 1968

 

“Old Daddy Red Cap was supposed to have been a wizard. He put spells on people. One time he went to see a man and said he wanted to buy his cow. The man had no need to sell and said he wouldn’t part with her. Soon after, a snow-white bumblebee sat down on the cow and she didn’t give any more milk. [Allandale, English]”

— Creighton

 

I’ve always enjoyed reading folklore, and I’ve often wondered why I’ve met so many pagans and witches that avoided it like the plague. They might learn the lore of a country that they’ve never visited, or of a culture that they have no connection to, but would never consider researching local folk remedies or spells. It puzzles me. Perhaps they think that their area doesn’t have any ‘folklore.’

 

Luckily for me, my area has a long tradition of folklore and many dedicated folklorists who’ve traveled around gathering up songs, stories, and other useful bits of information. The lore of the many peoples who’ve settled here (Acadian, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, African Loyalists, Dutch, etc.) mixed together with the legends of the Mi’kmaq people, and became something else entirely.

 

The late Helen Creighton is the Nova Scotian folklorist par excellence, and any of her books are worth reading. This particular title covers faery lore, witchcraft, folk charms, healing and remedies, meanings of dreams, divination, lore about animals, crops, and the weather, superstitions about good and bad luck, and stories of ghosts, forerunners, and the devil. Of particular interest is the concept of the “witch masters,” such as Sammy B., who filled a role very similar (identical?) to the cunning folk of Britain. They found and could control the malignant witches of a community, and could break their spells as well as cast their own.

 

This is a great book, and one of my favourites. The information in the book is linked up to a Motif Index, so you can find overarching concepts and similarities. I recommend it to anyone living in Maritime Canada, or even if you don’t. Of course, finding yourself a book of folklore local to your area might be even more interesting.

Wicca Candle Magick

April 13, 2008

Wicca Candle Magick by Gerina Dunwich

Carol Publishing Group, 1997 (Citadel Press, 1989)

 

With little information on candle magic and even less on Wicca, I’m not sure how the title of this book came about. Surely entitling it Correspondences of Stones and Voudou Lwas or Ten Pages of Candle Colours and 150 Pages of Filler would have been at least a tad more accurate. This book is a mishmash of hoodoo, Judeo-Christian ceremonial magic, Voudou, and folk magic. Besides a few pages of ‘candle’ Sabbat rituals, there are about four sentences on Wicca.

 

My major issues with this book:

 

1) Inclusion of Voudou Lwas in a book proclaiming to be Wiccan in essence. How ‘bout that culture-theft? Not only considering that the deities called upon in Voudou are propitiated differently than those in Wicca, they also are accustomed to being ‘horsed’ (i.e. possessing their devotees) in a way that is rarely, if ever, done in Wicca. If a type of Voudou interests you, find a teacher or a half-decent book, get rid of the weird-coloured candles and break out the cigars.

 

2) Inclusion of Hindu deities in a list of ‘Wiccan deities’. White and brown candles for Parvati? How about puja instead? The underlying problem here is considering Hinduism to be the same as Neo-Paganism because they both can be polytheistic. This cultural appropriation frustrates me to no end.

 

3) The lack of explanation of… anything, really. Why give the Three-fold Law a page of its own if you’re only writing two sentences on it? Why include it at all if you’re going to assume that everyone already knows about it? A book for beginners would need more explanations; a book for more experienced practitioners would actually have something useful or thought provoking in it. This book lacks both.

 

4) The author doesn’t note where the information is coming from, but I guess that’s true of any book that gives correspondences. Still, why invoke Odin with red and purple candles? Why not navy blue, a colour that is at least associated with the god? Why not do some research, find offerings that suit the deity, build a relationship and stop treating your religion like a drive-thru?

 

5) I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the section on Healing Herb Candles, either. The author suggests adding Jimsonweed to a candle to heal poison ivy rash. Isn’t Jimsonweed actually Datura, a poisonous hallucinogen? (People usually burn candles in enclosed spaces. A warning about the plant would’ve been nice.) Gathering Jewelweed (a plant actually known to be effective against poison ivy rash and often found growing near it) and making a poultice from it would be more immediately useful.

 

I’m a tad wary of this author now. This book seems like one of those kill-a-tree-make-a-buck schemes. Although I’m happy that I now know what to do with a skull-shaped candle (if only I had one), there’s nothing here you can’t get off the internet for free. Not recommended.

The Horn of Evenwood

March 23, 2008

The Horn of Evenwood by Robin Artisson
Pendraig Publishing, 2007

  The moment you’ve pinned him down, you find yourself staring at the bare ground, the empty sky, a dim forest, or just handfuls of dust. What you thought was a fleshy body is just bare white bone, and when you grasp for the bones, they turn out to be slivers of light on the ground.”
— Artisson

 Having dithered over the introduction to this review off and on for several days now, I’ve decided just to state that although at times I have found Artisson’s writing to be long-winded, I have never been disappointed by it. His most recent effort is a tidy grimoire and sourcebook for those interested in pursuing a more traditional witchcraft path. It engages the spirit of the writings of Nigel Jackson and Robert Cochrane and is a fascinating elaboration on the themes of their work. 

Artisson describes his book as a tool kit, rather than a recipe book. He gives techniques designed to help you forge relationships with the spirit world, and although his “exemplary sorcerous workings” can be used as written, they are meant to show one possible method of doing things. This is a teaching grimoire, and to make the most of it, you have to apply what has been written to your own practice, rather than just following along.  

The book begins with Artisson’s absolutely chilling invocations. Simply reading the poetry gave me shivers. These are given without explanation; Artisson states that as you read on in the book, you can figure out what to do with them and how to create your own. The reader’s engagement with the text is required; this is not a 101 book where everything is laid out in front of you. You have to think about it, and sometimes, to not think about it.    

Next is a section called the Ten Pillars, which consists of some basic points to ground your practice of witchcraft. These include brief instructions on preparing materials for talismans, old-school (seven planets) astrology, the power of spoken words, familiar spirits, and a few other concepts that should be taken into consideration. The section ends with a few practical notes about tools and what Artisson calls the “Power that Binds,” meaning the weaving that holds the worlds together. He asks the reader to really think about how our words and actions affect ourselves and everything else.  

I think this is one of the reasons why I keep returning to Artisson’s writing. There is a deeper level to it, an underlying philosophy that holds true throughout his works. All of his further ideas for rites or spells are built up from this foundation of relationships with the spirits, the quest for true knowledge, and the recognition of Old Fate Herself.  

Continuing on in the book, Artisson offers a method of casting a Witch-Ring and several sigils for invoking the Huntsman, the Witch-Queen, and the Master. I wasn’t as impressed with Artisson’s chapter on the Mandrake plant, mostly because I didn’t see anything new, although there is a lot of good information gathered there for someone unfamiliar with the plant. I especially liked that he gave a way of using the Mandrake that encourages people to grow it, rather than going to a New Age shop and buying root chips in a plastic bag. 

Some of the most interesting pieces of information in the book are Artisson’s thoughts on the Horned Master of witches. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it in the Luciferian current, the ideas are certainly leaning that way. Several meditations on the subject are included, and they (along with the section on arcane flight) are worth the price of the book by themselves. (Also, the appendices of various sorcerous currents, such as Lunar or Mercurial, are more useful than any correspondence table could ever be.)

In Part Six, Artisson takes a charm from the Long Lost Friend, deconstructs it, and puts it back together again in various usable forms. He throws enough ideas at the reader for them to re-write the charm a thousand different ways for hundreds of purposes and still not be done with it.  

To end the book, the author explores the pagan themes in the folktale, The Nixie of the Millpond, and also gives several rather dark rituals for springtime: “I feel real fear now. I am a blasphemous creature of winter evenings long dead, stalking about in fields of gold and white…” The writing is, as always, evocative of the Unseen landscapes. A fascinating book; it’s definitely recommended reading.  

Grimoire for the Green Witch: A Complete Book of Shadows by Ann Moura
Llewellyn Publications, 2006 (2003)

Be careful what you do.
Be careful who you trust.”
– Aoumiel

Despite having read several other books in the Green Witch collection (namely, Green Witchcraft and Green Witchcraft II: Balancing Light and Shadow), I’m not sure how this book is a grimoire for a green witch as opposed to a Book of Shadows for an eclectic Wiccan. Although the author distinguishes three types of green craft (dare I say Catholic folk magic, pseudo-monotheistic non-religious folk magic, and Wiccan folk magic?), she then proceeds to offer a mostly Wiccan viewpoint. That’s fine; I just don’t why this series is the one recommended to people looking for non-Wiccan material. Comparing the information within to that of many Wicca 101 books, there isn’t much difference, except that this book is better.  

This is a massive workbook, tastefully laid out, which collects all of the practical information of the Green Witch series. There aren’t many explanations or reasons given for anything, the author assumes for the most part that you will know how to use the information presented. At times, the brief explanations or personal notes serve only to raise other questions, such as when Moura gives her family deities as Bendidia (Mediterranean) and Shiva (Hindu).

The book is divided into two parts: rituals and spells. Included in the rituals section is a brief introduction to green craft, and an elaboration on the various ways and contexts in which it can be practiced (see my confusion in the first paragraph). Some of the most interesting information in the book is the lore handed down from Moura’s Catholic mother and grandmother, though there isn’t much of this. 

The author gives rituals for all the Wiccan Sabbats, six versions of the circle casting, and four different Esbats (full, new, dark, and sidhe). She includes the usual recitations that are easily found in almost any other book, or on the internet (Charge of the Goddess et al.). The chants and songs, however, are mostly original. After these, the author adds more rituals (which might have been better placed nearer to the Sabbats), including rites for Wiccanings, funerals, dedications, initiations, consecrations, namings, and handfastings.  

Other useful info includes a calendar of observances, a short note on grounding and centering, an extensive glossary, common symbols used in green craft, notes on the tools, basic materials needed in formal ritual, altar arrangements, general magical tips, and magical alphabets (runic, ogham, and Theban). Space is given at the end of each section to add a few of your own notes. 

The second part of the book is devoted to spells and spellcraft. There are more correspondences here than anyone would know what to do with, and they are organized in a myriad of different ways, depending on whether you’re looking for a certain herb, planetary hour, rune, stone, or element. Sigils and seals of planetary spirits and geomantic characters are given with a very brief explanation, and a few demonic names with no explanation at all. (It’s probably the only material in the book that a Wiccan would look askance at.)

The herbal associations are quite extensive, and in the standard Wiccan format (meaning a mix of folklore and 777 and nonsense, which you have to sort through). The book ends with spells, oil mixes, and extensive information on making and using various divinatory tools. There is a lot in this book, but you have to know what you’re looking for, and what to do with it when you do find it.  

In my case, this book sits on my shelf and looks pretty. I think the only time I’ve actually used it was to look up a few symbolic meanings of feathers. I’m sure it would be a great reference for a Wiccan who has read a few 101 books and is looking to put together their own Book of Shadows. While I wouldn’t use any of the rituals myself, they make great (if long and complicated) examples both of format and the range of activities for which they can be adapted. The herbal tea recipes aren’t bad either.

Nocturnicon: Calling Dark Forces and Powers by Konstantinos
Llewellyn Publications, 2006

  “Ia, Ia, Cthulhu Fhtagen.”
— Konstantinos? 

I was lured to this book by its cover artwork depicting the Danse Macabre, and bought it despite my fear that it would be just another 101 book with a gothic colour scheme. My first pleasant surprise was to see Llewellyn publish a book that’s based in chaos magic. My second was discovering information within that I’d never seen anywhere else; firstly because I hadn’t known it existed, and secondly because some of it didn’t exist outside of this book.  

I must say that Konstantinos does overdo it a bit when it comes to being Oh So Dark, and that although practicing magic is not exactly a safe activity, the disclaimers that Llewellyn comes up with for his books are a little ridiculous. It’s a bit much for my taste, but that may be part of their selling technique.  

The book begins with a chapter of nocturnal mental exercises designed to increase your psychic awareness and/or scare you senseless. The author theorizes a bit about dark matter and quantum mechanics and gods, perhaps bringing in a bit of physics to soothe the skeptics. (I’m not sure how this would help, as theoretical physics is just as weird if not weirder than most occult concepts. They just do a lot of math to back up their opinions.) 

Konstantinos discusses the Austin Osman Spare method of sigil creation, offering a clear and concise overview. He follows this with a few ideas for spicing up their use, which may or may not harm your retinas, and then adds his advice on getting out of your head, which mostly involves sex and drugs. (You know, you almost can’t see the little crescent moon on this book’s spine…) His wry sense of humour complements the book’s technical information and the subjects are interesting. There’s no slogging through ponderous amounts of dry material to pick out what you need. The chapters are a nice mix of theory and practical applications. It’s a quick read, and it’s meant to be immediately useful.  

The material involving Hades was a surprise, and completely new to me. I’m not sure if I could find a use for all of the rites in my own practice, but the info on using various areas (hallways, staircases) of buildings in ritual has definitely got my imagination going. I wasn’t as interested in the material on Daemons and Lucifer, but that was mostly due to conceptual differences. 

I’d never heard of GOTOS, the connection with Nosferatu, and the Brotherhood of Saturn before reading this book, and the Nocturnicon also gave me my first taste of the Cthulhu Mythos. I’m happy to have finally gotten in on this tentacled strangeness, if only to be able to avoid it in the future. 

Having read several other books by Konstantinos (Nocturnal Witchcraft, Gothic Grimoire, and Vampires: The Occult Truth) I must say that I enjoyed this one the most. It’s always nice to pick up something that’s a tad different from your usual read and actually learn some new tricks to play with.  

Generation Hex

February 11, 2008

Generation Hex edited by Jason Louv
The Disinformation Company Ltd., 2006  

This is the business we have chosen.”
— Godfather II
 

Before reading this book, I’d often find myself running in the opposite direction when I saw anything labeled Pop Culture/Occult, and I’d been wary of disinformation guides since the time they let Fiona Horne edit a book on witchcraft. I figured this book would be aimed at bored urban youth wanting to freak their parents out with something that involved less effort than Wicca. And I was absolutely wrong.  

The theme of this book is summed up in Jason Louv’s essay “Spooky Tricks” as “Create positive change on this planet or shut your mouth.” All too often occultism becomes a stagnant cycle of ego-gratification, with practitioners oblivious to their surroundings and their fellow human beings. These essays encourage engagement with the world (even if that means destroying every belief you’ve ever held about it), and using magic to make it a better place. (And as love-n-light as that sounds, these essays will convince you that it’s possible, and you won’t even have to gag down any fluff.)

My favourite essay in this book is Christian Sedman’s tale of young magicians (himself and friends?) attempting to create a meaningful existence, “They Only Want You When You’re Seventeen, When You’re Twenty-One, You’re No Fun.” It actually moved me to tears. It is a wake-up call, a ragged voice screaming from the top of a building, ‘What are we doing? Where are we going? Pay attention or you’re as good as dead already!’ Sadly, this was Sedman’s only contribution to the book. I haven’t been able to find anything else by him.  

Stephen Grasso gave three excellent essays: “Beneath the Pavement, The Beast,” “Learning to Open the Haunted Kaleidoscope,” and “Dreams of a Midwich Planet.” The first details the concept of drifting (an extended ramble in an altered state) and is one of the few essay topics that I’ve managed to use in my own practice. The second discusses the practicality of magic, and the last is a short (moral?!) tale about bringing magicians back into the service of their communities, rather than just working for their own gain.

Elijah’s essays hurt my brain with jargon overload. I think copious amounts of drugs taken beforehand would’ve eased the reading process, provided I could still focus my eyes. Despite this, I am quite fond of his Grendel’s Had an Accident script, and have already destroyed it beyond all recognition.

The rest of the essays ran from Rachel Haywire’s somewhat pointless though highly entertaining ego-boosting ramble “Eris is My Biatch” and Chris Arkenberg’s mind numbing “LoveWar with Fox News” to better ones by the editor Jason Louv about a shamanic yoga-type training experience and “Spooky Tricks,” about the indescribable essence of magic. There were essays on group magical consciousness, and plenty of ideas and tips to help a novice magician on the way or inspire jaded fools to resume their foolishness.

Two issues: One) Of fourteen contributors and nineteen essays, only two are from women. (This makes it better than Rebels and Devils by Christopher S. Hyatt, in which there was one article by a woman out of a seeming gazillion by men.) Maybe this has something to do with the Chaos community in general? Or perhaps I’m just used to being in the female-dominated witchcraft community.  

Two) I’m okay with the subtle (haha) anti-pagan digs, (hey, I make fun of the pagan community myself) but there were a few which were funny in the sense that the writers were really making comments on behaviour that also applied to themselves, and didn’t realize it. It doesn’t look good for your supposed enlightenment when you miss something like that. I mean, I’ve met just as many sad fucks dancing at raves as I have dancing in the woods.  

That said, being a neopagan is not an excuse to shy away from this book. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in Chaos magic, the essays included transcend beyond our labels of occult practices. It will encourage you to think, if nothing else, and that’s worth far more than the cover price.