Tag Archives: death

Requiem Aeternam Dona Eis: Some Thoughts on Misruletide

’Tis the season. But what season? This is an interesting time of year.


A time of rest.

The land stands fallow and sleeping.

The days shorten, the nights lengthen.

The shadows stretch, the darkness grows.

What season?

There is a time, a time outside of time. A season? Certainly. Better, a time, a tide.

A time outside of time. The Time of Misrule. The Tide of Misrule. Misruletide.

I’m not talking just about the Christmastime, Christmastide, celebration by this name, but the portion of time starting at All Saint’s or All Hallow’s and extending to Candlemas. I’m talking of a year ending at Hallowtide and starting at Candletide. The year has ended. The year has not yet began.

It is a time of rest. Certainly. A rest for whom? The land, well, yes, but who else? If it is the Time of Misrule, the Season of Misrule, the Tide of Misrule, we should start with what Misrule is, both in the festival use of the word and how we mean it here.

I won’t go much into the festivities or history, but the tradition of Feast of Fools and similar celebrations on Christmas and around that part of the year, was a celebration where everything was turned on its head, socially. It was a time or revelry and irreverence, a time of no rules, or, namely, misrule. Depending on where and when, it was sometimes a large scale celebration and sometimes a private affair. Regardless, the “ruler” over the festivities was among the peasantry or the lower clergy, taking the role of king or abbot. In Britain, the Lord of Misrule. One aspect of this, anything trying to hurt or cause problems for those higher in society would be mislead into going after those low in society as well. I can’t rule out that this aspect was not a part of things as well.

This is the sense I am using for this part of the year, from its end at Hallowmas to its beginning at Candlemas. The Time of Misrule, the time when the normal order of things is tipped on its head.

It is during this time of year, at various points, in various forms, that we see lore of the Wild Hunt and traditions and folktales that have descended from the Hunt. In its many forms, the faeries or the dead or witches or other beings ride abroad. They are lead by various figures, Öðinn, Frigg, Frey, Freyja, Holda, Frau Holle, Berchta, Diana, Gwydion, King Arthur, Nuada, Herne, the Devil, Sir Francis Drake, Manannán, Arawn, Nicnevin, Ankow, and many others. The Wild Hunt is said to occur, depending on the lore, on All Hallow’s Eve, on Midwinter’s Eve, on Christmas Eve, or on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve), or simple during the winter months, during the Misruletide we are discussing.

The variations veil and hide things, for it is the nature of lore to shift, but under it all, we see a Hunt lead by a figure, or two figures, and a host of the Dead or of spirits. It is interesting to note that the lore of All Hallow’s Eve is of a time when the Dead or spirits roam in the world of the living. This is not the “normal” state of things, it doesn’t follow the normal rule. And many of the figures seen leading the Hunt are either dead folk heroes or gods or goddesses of death.

If we consider the parallel of a time when the Dead walk lead by a lord or lady of death with the Feast of Fools led by the Lord of Misrule, the idea becomes apparent.

Consider for the moment an image.

See a woman dressed in black robes with a red veil hiding her face. She stands in a stone chamber deep beneath the ground, a round chamber with stone benches carved in the sides. There are two thresholds in the room, an empty doorway with no door to her right, and a pair of massive doors to her left. A figure stands before the black doors, watching her, still as death, silent as the grave. In front of her is a black altar, a cube of unworked black stone, the colour of deepest night, deepest shadow. A body rests on this altar, or a Thread, there is less difference than there seems. The body is familiar. In one shrivaled hand, she holds a rod or wand, wood, made of a blackthorn root. In the other, she holds a knife.

When the time becomes full, when the tide is complete, the knife drops, the Thread is cut, the blood flows from the body, blood black in the shadows, covering the black altar. This time has ended, the Thread cut, the Cutter’s knife has fallen.

The woman raises the rod and points at the doors, and the figure before it moves. The figure it tall and thin, covered in black tattered robes. His face is hidden in the shadowed cowl. Folded at his back is a pair of skeletal wings with shadow stretched between the bones. His hands, sticking from the arms of the robes, are nothing but bone. In one hand, he holds a book, chained to his wrist. His other hand is em

When the woman raises the rod, the winged figure wipes a line from his book with one skeletal finger. The ink flows like smoke off the page and a figure rises from the body and joins it, the two becoming one, a spectral image of the body still on the altar. The figure reaches and opens the doors wide. Beyond, it is both as dark as the night and bright beyond imagination. A wind fills the cavern, and the body crumbles to dust and blows away.

The figure beacons, silent, and the spectre walks through the Gates of Life and Death, which are closed fast behind them.

It is finished.

This is the normal rule, the Quick die, becomes the Dead, cross through the Gates, and rest until the time comes for them to return, becoming Quick again. But this is the time of Misrule, the Dead don’t always stay dead, sometimes the Wild Hunt rides.

But who sides at the front of the Hunt? Who leads the Dead? Death. Like Hel leading the people of her domain in Ragnorak, like the Queen of Faerie leading the people of her domain forth, like Odin or Freyja leading the Dead they have gathered forth, Like King Arthur leading the knights that died, Death rides forth at the front of the Host.

But, if Death leads the Hunt, who guards the Gates? Ah. The Time of Misrule. The Quick caught up in the Host become Dead, and the Dead beyond the Gates can walk. This is Misruletide. Among other things.

Now, when the Keeper of the Lost sits as Regent, and the Quick and the Dead can switch station, now is when things aren’t always what they seem.

So, what do we have at Hallowtide? Not just All Hallow’s Eve. It is the Eve of All Hallows, of course, All Hallow’s Day, All Saint’s Day, which is followed by All Soul’s Day. Three days focussed on the Dead, in different ways. But let’s look specifically at All Soul’s Day.

This is of course best known in the part of the world I live in as the Mexican celebration of Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, when masks are worn and feasts and presents are prepared for the Dead, often at grave sites, is a similar fashion to the tradition practiced by many of my Craft brothers and sisters in a Dumb Supper on All Hallow’s Eve. The giving of food to the Dead is present in many cultures throughout the world and throughout time, though not always this time of year. It is common this time of year, however.

In Catholic practice, All Soul’s Day is a day of commemoration for the “faithful departed”. This is a somewhat enigmatic phrase to many. It’s taken to mean those who have died and are in Purgatory. The phrase is, “fidelium animae”, fidelium, fidelis, fides, faith/belief/trust/confidence, so faithful, believing, or trustable, animae, anima, soul/spirit/life/air/breeze/breath, so spirit of the dead in this context. Those that believe but haven’t obtained heaven, basically.

Misruletide begins with a focus on the dead, and another use of the phase “fidelium animae” gives some interesting things to consider. A prayer has been commonly prayed for the “faithful departed” is as follows:


Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.

The last phrase, many of us are familiar with, at least in English, “rest in peace”. This has become the most common expression for those who have died, though if you read lore of the dead from many times past, this directive implies a desire for the Dead not to be unrestful, not to rise. The Dead don’t always rest peacefully, that the Gates aren’t always sealed, as we’ve been discussing.

Consider this phrase in Latin for a moment, “requiescant in pace”. “Pace” is “pax”, meaning peace or harmony. The sense is not in terms of no war, like we often see in in English, it’s the sense of being silent, not being dissident, not conflicting. “Pax!” was also used like we would use, “Be silent!”, or “Hush!”. “Requiescant” is “requiesco”, to rest or repose or sleep. Rest in peace, sleep peacefully and don’t cause me trouble. If you pardon my humour.

But “requiesco” is “re-“ and “quiesco”. “Re-“ means back, backwards, or again. Basically, to go back to a previous state. “Quiesco” means to rest, cease, sleep, repose, abstain, cease, stop, and similar ideas. It is from “quies” and “-sco”. “-sco” changes a verb to have a meaning of starting to or beginning to. “Quies” means to rest, repose, quiet, and figuratively, to dream. So, getting to the root, we have the same meaning as we started with, but the combination implies a bit more specific sense than we saw with the original meaning. “Quiesco” would be, to begin or start to rest, repose, or be quiet. “Requisco” would be, to return to a state of beginning or starting to rest, repose, or be quiet. But beginning to rest or repose would be to go to sleep, basically, and to begin to be quiet would be to stop making noise. So, returning to these would be to go back to sleep, or to become quiet again. A returning to a previous state of sleep or quietness.

This brings to mind discussions of Charon the ferryman being silent, and of the Dead being silent until Odysseus provides blood, and other stories relating to the silent dead being given speak though blood or other methods. Bran the Blessed’s cauldron returned the Dead to life, but they were silent, unable to speak. This is common in much of the lore, the Dead cannot speak, they are silent, unless voice is brought by some means. To be Dead is to be Silent. “Requiesco” implies a return to a state of sleep and silence, a return to death.

In modern Catholic context, the prayer implies those in Purgatory moving on quickly to Heaven, but the wording has other repercussions, and begs the question, as this prayer was introduced by St. Benedict in the sixth century and is believed to be older still, was the meaning always what it is now seen as? The formalized beliefs concerning Purgatory were much later, though the concept existed in deferent forms back before Benedict. It seems possible, though, that the implications of the prayer as that to keep the Dead at rest is not impossible.

“Requiem aeternam” is of note. “Requiem” is of course from requies, also, a “place of rest”. “Aeternam”, “arternus”, is translated as permanent, lasting, eternal, endless, immortal. Hence, eternal rest, or an eternal resting place. The second word comes from “-rnus”, making it an adjective, and “aetus”, meaning lifetime or age. The root meaning is more about a resting place that will last a lifetime than the modern sense of eternity.

So, my tongue and cheek transition:

A place to sleep until we all die, O Lord please give them, and let the uninterrupted light shine on them, and those of the Dead who are trustworthy, by the mercy of God, keep quiet and not bother us. Amen.

Misruletide is a time when the Dead can walk among the Quick, and when much of the feasts, fasts, celebrations, measures, folk traditions, and rituals are concerned with keeping them from doing so, or misdirecting them so they don’t succeed in whatever they seek to do.

And, I say:

Hail, oh Builder of Storms, Keeper of the Lost, Regent of the North, Ruler of the Time of Misrule, bringer of Change.

Hail, oh Cutter, you whose Knife cuts every Thread when the time comes, the Last Witness, Priestess of the Black Altar.

Hail, oh Guardian of the Gates of Life and Death, Darkling Twin, Shadow of the World, Keeper of the Book in which all is written and all is erased.

May the Time of Misrule bring its secrets and lore and surprises, may the storms bring the life of spring, may the Dead speak when speech is needed, be silent when it is not, ride forth when it is time, and rest in peace when all is accomplished.

Dance, oh Spirits of Misruletide, dance through the long dark nights, and may the lights of the new year find us when Candletide comes again.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.

~Muninn’s Kiss

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 24, 2016 in muninnskiss


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dance Under Starless Skies, Fair King of the Pictish Witches

As more and more of a generation crosses the Veil, those of us left, both those of the generation that brought us to were where are and those of us that inherit their legacy and lore, contemplate mortality in ways that weren’t as literal not long ago. I could talk of many of the elders in our traditions and stream who have passed over the years and especially in recent years, but I’ll take the liberty of talking of one in particular.

On the Dark of the Moon this last Friday, Tony Spurlock, Brian DRGN, King of the Picts in Exile (no longer), and the founder and High Mojomuck of The First Church of The Doors, passed from the land of the living, leaving those of us remaining to mourn our loss and celebrate his gain. As has been noted, the King of Dead, long Live the King.

The timing saddens me, as I was possibly going to be in San Francisco later this month and was hoping to finally meet him in person, but it’s too late now. May he dance under starless skies. I would not be where I am or who I am if it was not for him, great soul. I will miss him greatly, and I know many others will. The Mighty and Blessed Dead embrace him, as he joins the Dragons who went before.

I have known DRGN only a short time, all said. Many who grieve have known him longer. I met him online five years ago, in 2009, on the 1734 list he had just joined, which I had been a member of for some time. At the time, I asked if he would be willing to teach me Anderson craft. He declined, not out of unwillingness, but because he felt he could not well teach it remotely. Over the years since, we shared much conversation, and I think I can honestly say that even though he wasn’t teaching me, per se, I learned more of my craft from him than any other, and wouldn’t be who I am or what I am today without him. And, though he felt in exile at times from the tradition, I think I can say the tradition would not be what it is today without him. And I’m talking the Heart of the tradition, that which will sustain and survive any tribulations the tradition may suffer, that which is true Feri by whatever name, that which is Anderson Craft.

It was with a heavy heart that I heard of his passing, and I do truly mourn, as do many. I truly wish I had met him in the flesh, and hope to meet him in spirit. I will always cherish the lore and insights and knowledge and understanding and wisdom he shared with me, and friendship and connection we shared.

Hold your head high, DRGN, King of the Pictish Witches! Dance, dance for joy, dance for sorrow, dance for all that was and is and will ever be.

“Forget the night.
Live with us in forests of azure.
Out here on the perimeter there are no stars
Out here we is stoned – immaculate.”

“For seven years, I dwelt
In the loose palace of exile
Playing strange games with the girls of the island
Now, I have come again
To the land of the fair, and the strong, and the wise
Brothers and sisters of the pale forest
Children of night
Who among you will run with the hunt?
Now night arrives with her purple legion
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready.”

~Muninn’s Kiss/Lorekeeper

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 27, 2014 in muninnskiss


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Five Rivers Past the Gates of Death

Last July, I wrote a post concerning death called Close the world, Open the Next: a Requiem for Life, a Soliloquy for Death (Blogger, WordPress, LiveJournal). Within it, in a small section concerning the Song Of Amergin, I made the following statement concerning the River Styx:

The Hawk, according to Graves and the myths he connects to the Cliff, is on the Cliffs of Nonacris, in Arcadia (because everything comes back to Arcadia). From the Cliffs flows the headwaters of the River Styx, one of the rivers of the Underworld. In some myths, it is the River Styx that Charon ferries the dead across. Styx is firmly rooted in Death, and is where the gods go to make oaths, swearing them on the waters. Styx is Hate, and it’s followed by Sorrow, the Tear that the Sun lets fall. Cochrane said, “A Crafter is born not made, or if one is to be made, then tears are spilt before the Moon can be Drawn.” Sorrow and Tears are necessary ingredients to Witch. The Tears fall for the desolate world, the Wasteland.To expand a bit on this statement, I’d like to discuss the five main rivers of the underworld discussed in Greek myth.

Styx, Στύξ, in Greek literally means “hate” or “detestation”, that which we despise and reject, the abject.

The River Acheron is literally the River of Sorrow, or River of Woe.

The River Cocytus is literally the River of Cries, or River of Lamentation.

This leaves two other rivers, the River Phlegethon, the Flaming River, and the River Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness, or River of Oblivion, or River of Concealment.

It’s said Styx loved Phlegethon, but his fire burned her and killed her, that’s how she ended up in the Underworld. Phlegethon is said to coil around the earth, much as Loki’s son in Norse mythology does, then flows into the depths of Tartarus. There, Styx and Phlegethon were allowed to unite, flowing together, fire and water.

The River Lethe is of course the river souls drink from to forget the pains and sorrows of life. The Eleusinian Mysteries and a few others taught their initiates how to find the pool or river Mnemosyne, Memory, instead.

Styx (Hate) leads to Acheron (Sorrow). Acheron leads to Cocytus (Tears). Cocytus leads to Phlegethon (the fire that burns away the chaff). And Phlegethon leads to Lethe (Forgetfulness) or Mnemosyne (Memory).

But this is easier to see when we think of Styx as the abject, the casting off of what we hate in ourselves, rather than the hate itself.

Through the Gates of Death, we first cast off that which we hated about ourselves in life. Then we feel the loss of that which we loved in life, this is our sorrow. This leads to tears, lamenting the loss of all we thought he had in life, after we’ve cast off both what we hated and what we loved, all our attachments. But then we burn off even the sorrow and lamentation, leaving nothing but our unbiased memory of what came before. We then stand at a crossroads. Do we drink of forgetfulness and lose even the memory of things past, starting with a clean slate, but losing also that which we learned, or do we drink from memory and hold onto that last part of the life we lived before, remembering the lessons and wisdom, learning from them in that which we now enter?

This is paralleled in the Descent of Inanna, of course.

This is of course the course not of just physical death, but of all try initiation. And it the path we take to fully realize what it is to be Witch.

~Muninn’s Kiss

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 26, 2012 in muninnskiss


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Cup of Life, Cup of Death: The Two Hands of the Poisoner

Ding’ sind Gift, und nichts ohn’ Gift; allein die Dosis macht, daß ein Ding kein Gift ist. “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” ~Paracelsus

We live in a dangerous world, but most of as aren’t aware of it.  Many think the world around us is ambivalent and is a loving mother, wanting to help us, to protect us, to heal us.  But, as some put it, “our mother is red in tooth and claw.”  There are as many things in this world that can kill us as can heal us, and many times these are the same.

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives this about the origin of the word “poison”:

poison (n.)
c.1200, “a deadly potion or substance,” also figuratively, from O.Fr. puison (12c.) “a drink,” later “a potion, poisonous drink” (14c.), from L. potionem (nom. potio) “a drink,” also “poisonous drink,” from potare “to drink” (see potion). The Old English word was ator (see attercop) or lybb. Slang sense of “alcoholic drink” first attested 1805, Amer.Eng. 

In many Germanic languages “poison” is euphemistically named by a word equivalent to English gift (cf. O.H.G. gift, Dan., Swed. gift; Du. gift, vergift). This choice might have been aided by Gk. dosis “a portion prescribed,” lit. “a giving,” used by Galen and other Greek physicians to mean an amount of medicine (see dose).

You’ll notice that poison comes not originally from something to kill, but from something given to heal.  The more you study herbs, the more you learn that some of the best herbs for healing are some of the nastiest poisons at larger doses.  Choose any poisonous plant.  (WARNING, SOME PARTS BELOW CAN BE DISTURBING TO READ, AND NOTHING HERE IS A RECOMMENDATION TO USE ANY OF THESE PLANTS.)

Take for example my favourite poison, aconite, also known as monkshood, friar’s cap, mousebane, wolfsbane, blue rocket, auld wife’s huid, helmet flower, thung (Anglo-Saxon for any very poisonous plant), and iycotonum (Greek for wolf’s bane).  My herb book of choice, The Herb Book by John Lust, says this for properties and uses:

“Anodyne, febrifuge, seditive.  Monkshood preparations are sometimes used for the pains of neuralgia, sciatica, and arthritis, as well as for gout, rheumatism, measles, nervous fever, and chronic skin problems.  CAUTION:  Monkshood is among the most poisonous of plants.  Small doses can cause painful death in a few hours.”  And in preparation and dosage: “Do not use without medical direction under any circumstances.”

From A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve:

“Anodyne, diuretic and diaphoretic. The value of Aconite as a medicine has been more fully realized in modern times, and it now rank as one of our most useful drugs. It is much used in homoeopathy. On account of its very poisonous nature, all medicines obtained from it come, however, under Table 1 of the poison schedule: Aconite is a deadly poison.”


“The symptons of poisoning are tingling and numbness of tongue and mouth and a sensation of ants crawling over the body, nausea and vomiting with epigastric pain, laboured breathing, pulse irregular and weak, skin cold and clammy, features bloodless, giddiness, staggering, mind remains clear. A stomach tube or emetic should be used at once, 20 minims of Tincture of Digitalis given if available, stimulants should be given and if not retained diluted brandy injected per rectum, artificial respiration and friction, patient to be kept lying down.”

And also:

“Some species of Aconite were well known to the ancients as deadly poisons. It was said to be the invention of Hecate from the foam of Cerberus, and it was a species of Aconite that entered into the poison which the old men of the island of Ceos were condemned to drink when they became infirm and no longer of use to the State. Aconite is also supposed to have been the poison that formed the cup which Medea prepared for Theseus. (Note—Aconite and Belladonna were said to be the ingredients in the witches’ ‘Flying ointments.’ Aconite causes irregular action of the heart, and Belladonna produces delirium. These combined symptoms might give a sensation of ‘flying.’—EDITOR)”

Reading the above, you see pretty easily both how dangerous and how beneficial aconite can be.  As it was mentioned in the last quote, let’s look at belladonna next.  Belladonna is also known as black cherry, deadly nightshade, dwale, poison black cherry, devil’s cherry, naughty man’s cherry, divale, devil’s herb, great morel, dwayberry, banewort, atropa (from the Greek Atropos, the Fate who cuts the thread of a human life).  Once again from Lust:

“Antispasmodic, calmative, diaphoretic, diuretic, narcotic.  The narcotic action of belladonna can produce paralysis by affecting the central nervous system.  Not to be used without medical direction.”

Grieve says:

“Belladonna is supposed to have been the plant that poisoned the troops of Marcus Antonius during the Parthian wars. Plutarch gives a graphic account of the strange effects that followed its use.”


“Buchanan relates in his History of Scotland (1582) a tradition that when Duncan I was King of Scotland, the soldiers of Macbeth poisoned a whole army of invading Danes by a liquor mixed with an infusion of Dwale supplied to them during a truce. Suspecting nothing, the invaders drank deeply and were easily overpowered and murdered in their sleep by the Scots.”


“Thomas Lupton (1585) says: ‘Dwale makes one to sleep while he is cut or burnt by cauterizing.’ Gerard (1597) calls the plant the Sleeping Nightshade, and says the leaves moistened in wine vinegar and laid on the head induce sleep.”


“Narcotic, diuretic, sedative, antispasmodic, mydriatic. Belladonna is a most valuable plant in the treatment of eye diseases, Atropine, obtained during extraction, being its most important constituent on account of its power of dilating the pupil. Atropine will have this effect in whatever way used, whether internally, or injected under the skin, but when dropped into the eye, a much smaller quantity suffices, the tiny discs oculists using for this purpose, before testing their patient’s sight for glasses, being made of gelatine with 1/50000 grain of Atropine in each, the entire disk only weighing 1/50 grain. Scarcely any operation on the eye can safely be performed without the aid of this valuable drug. It is a strong poison, the amount given internally being very minute, 1/200 to 1/100 grain. As an antidote to Opium, Atropine may be injected subcutaneously, and it has also been used in poisoning by Calabar bean and in Chloroform poisoning. It has no action on the voluntary muscles, but the nerve endings in involuntary muscles are paralysed by large doses, the paralysis finally affecting the central nervous system, causing excitement and delirium.”

Once again, we see many helpful uses for this deadly poison.  One more, then we’ll move on.  Foxglove, also know as digitalis (from Latin digitabulum meaning thimble), American foxglove, dead man’s bells, dog’s fingers, fairy fingers, fairy gloves, finger flowers, folks’ glove, lion’s mouth, ladies’ glove, purple foxglove, witches’ glove, gloves of our lady, bloody fingers, virgin’s glove, fairy caps, fairy thimbles, foxes glofa (Anglo-Saxon for the glove of the fox), revbeilde (Norwegian meaning foxbell), fingerhut (German for thimble), and dead man’s thimbles (Ireland).  Lust says:

“Cardiac.  Foxglove contains glycosides which are extracted from the second year’s growth of leaves to make the heart drug digitalis.  Even touching the plant with bare skin has been known to cause rashes, headaches, and nausea.”


“Poison.  Do not use without medical direction.”

From Grieve:

“Digitalis has been used from early times in heart cases. It increases the activity of all forms of muscle tissue, but more especially that of the heart and arterioles, the all-important property of the drug being its action on the circulation. The first consequence of its absorption is a contraction of the heart and arteries, causing a very high rise in the blood pressure.

“After the taking of a moderate dose, the pulse is markedly slowed. Digitalis also causes an irregular pulse to become regular. Added to the greater force of cardiac contraction is a permanent tonic contraction of the organ, so that its internal capacity is reduced, which is a beneficial effect in cases of cardiac dilatation, and it improves the nutrition of the heart by increasing the amount of blood.”


“The action of the drug on the kidneys is of importance only second to its action on the circulation. In small or moderate doses, it is a powerful diuretic and a valuable remedy in dropsy, especially when this is connected with affections of the heart.

“It has also been employed in the treatment of internal haemorrhage, in inflammatory diseases, in delirium tremens, in epilepsy, in acute mania and various other diseases, with real or supposed benefits.

“The action of Digitalis in all the forms in which it is administered should be carefully watched, and when given over a prolonged period it should be employed with caution, as it is liable to accumulate in the system and to manifest its presence all at once by its poisonous action, indicated by the pulse becoming irregular, the blood-pressure low and gastro-intestinal irritation setting in. The constant use of Digitalis, also, by increasing the activity of the heart, leads to hypertrophy of that organ.

“Digitalis is an excellent antidote in Aconite poisoning, given as a hypodermic injection.”

And also:

“In large doses, the action of Digitalis on the circulation will cause various cerebral symptoms, such as seeing all objects blue, and various other disturbances of the special senses. In cases of poisoning by Digitalis, with a very slow and irregular pulse, the administration of Atropine is generally all that is necessary. In the more severe cases, with the very rapid heart-beat, the stomach pump must be used, and drugs may be used which depress and diminish the irritability of the heart, such as chloral and chloroform.”

Once again, like with aconite and belladonna, we see smaller doses of foxglove helping, but larger doses hurting.  This holds true for most poisonous plants, but even holds for non-poisonous plants.  Take for example tarragon, a common herb used in cooking, especially in Italian food, and found in many kitchens.  I use it in all my Italian sauces and I also add it to the water when I cook the noodles.  You can find plenty of breads with it in it.  Lust says:

“Diuretic, emmenagogue, hypnotic, stomachic.  In popular use, tarragon serves to relieve digestive problems and catarrhal difficulties, as a diuretic to stimulate the action of kidneys, and as an emmengogue to promote the onset of menstration.  The tea stimulates the appetite, especially when it has been lost because of illness.  Taking the tea before going to bed helps to overcome insomnia.”

Innocent, non-poisonous, right?  However, tarragon contains a substance known as estragole.  It makes up about 60% of it’s essential oils.  It is found in anise, star anise, basil, bay, chervil, tarragon, fennel, and marjoram, and also in turpentine.  Studies in mice have shown the development of liver tumours from it in large doses, and the way this comes about appears to be consistent between rodents and humans.  While it’s not proven it can cause these tumours in humans, studies imply it is likely.  But we’re talking large doses.  The amount of estagole in the spices used in cooking, or even in tarragon tea, aren’t enough to worry about.  But the point is clear.  Even non-toxic, non-poisonous herbs can be dangerous in large enough quantities.

This also holds true outside herbology and herbalism.

Take alcohol for example.  Studies have shown that a glass of wine a night can help lower blood pressure.  My mother was actually prescribed by a doctor a glass of red wine every night, as was a man I knew.  But, “all things in moderation”, if you drink too much alcohol over time, it can destroy your liver.  And too much at a time can cause alcohol poisoning, resulting in mental confusion, vomiting, seizures resulting from low blood sugar, slowed, irregular breathing, irregular heart beat, dropped body temperature, stupor, coma, choking, stopped breathing, stopped heart beat.  Basically, some alcohol will help your blood pressure, increasing your life span, but too much will kill you.

Or look at caffeine.  Caffeine can increase memory, detox the liver, cleanse the colon, stimulate hair growth, ward off alzheimer’s, ease depression, increase stamina, and many other beneficial things.  But too much can cause nausea, anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and even cardiac arrest.  It takes a lot to get enough to cause the more severe of these, and is virtually impossible with caffeine beverages, but can happen.  With pills, it gets more likely, and pure caffeine, it only takes about 500mg for the moderate symptoms.  One gram would kill just about anyone.

Even water shows this.  We all know the effects of not enough water.  Dehydration can cause loss of appetite, dry skin, constipation, increased heart rates, elevated body temperatures, fatigue, headaches, decreased blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, delirium, unconsciousness, swelling of the tongue, and death (a hangover from too much alcohol is actually not the lingering effects of alcohol, but dehydration caused by the alcohol).  So, obviously, we need water.  Water makes up about 72% of our body (about the same percentage as the portion of the earth covered by water), so of course getting enough water is important.  We should drink at least 64 ounces (1.9 litres) of water a day.  But, like all things, too much water is a bad thing as well.  Water poisoning (water intoxication) is caused when too much water is consumed and leaches out or dilutes the sodium and other electrolytes from the body.  In essence, electolytes control osmosis, the process by which water, carrying oxygen and nutrients, passes through the walls of the cells.  Too little electolytes (too much water) causes an imbalance and causes too much water to be taken into the cells, causing them to swell.  This can cause all types of health and other problems.  In the brain, it can cause changes in personality, confusion, strange behaviour, irritability, drowsiness, and sometimes hallucinations.  In the rest of the body, it can cause cramping, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and sensory issues.  It can lead to seizures, brain damage, comas, and death.  Also, pure water, completely void of impurities, like distilled water, can be deadly, because it absorbs just about anything, so will leach the body of minerals it needs to function.  This is why dumping water that is too filtered into rivers can kill fish just as fast if not not faster than polluted water.

But how does all this talk of doses and poisons relate to anything esoteric or similar subjects?  By a much disputed word.  The ancient Hebrew word כָּשַׁף, kashaph, is translated in most versions of both the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah and Tanakh as either witch or sorcerer/sorceress.  It is considered a primitive root, and all related words are derived from it, not it from any.  Some of these include כֶּשֶׁף, kesheph, only found in plural form, translated as incantations, sorceries, witchcraft, and כַּשָּׁף, kashshaph, translated as sorcerer or enchanter.  Some argue it comes from two words, kash (herb), and hapalah (using), so meant “herb user”.  Kash, however, is found nowhere in the Tanakh, it seems unlikely the Lamed would be dropped from the end of the word, since it is used either as part of a root or as a prefix, never a suffix.  The Heh on the end would indicate a doer, so dropping it would could happen but would imply it being a verb, not a noun.  However, the Septuagint seems to support this meaning, as it translates it φαρμακεύς, pharmakeus.  This was translated as maleficos in Latin, which literally means wrongdoers or criminals but is generally used for sorcerers or magicians.  In English, uses of pharmakeus in the Christian New Testament are translated witch or sorcerer in most cases, matching the English translation of kashaph.  But this word is connected to φαρμακεια, pharmakeia, meaning pharmacy, the practice of making and administering medication.  This fits well with “herb user”, so this implies at least at the time the Septuagint was created, the Jewish understanding of the word was related to medicine and herbolism, not wrongdoing.

Now, many claim this meaning means that the word meant poisoner, but looking back at the root of poison at the top of this discussion, we find our word poison comes from the Latin potio.  Looking at potion, we find, also fro the Online Etymology Dictionary:

potion (n.)
c.1300, from O.Fr. pocion (12c.), from L. potionem (nom. potio) “potion, a drinking,” from potus “drunken,” irregular pp. of potare “to drink,” from PIE root *po-/*pi- “drink” (cf. Skt. pati “drinks;” Gk. pinein “to drink,” poton “that which one drinks,” potos “drinking bout;” O.C.S. piti “to drink,” pivo “beverage”).

All the words potio are related to are words for drinking or a drink.  So the Hebrew word seems to be connected to herbs, and the English word ultimately to drinking.  The use that became potion and poison both imply the mixing of herbs into something that is drunk.  There is no real way to separate the words for poison mixture from those for a healing mixture.  If the assumption that kashaph means poisoner is used, it follows that it is also a word for healer.  There’s no indication of wrong doing in the word in and of itself.

Now, lets look a bit deeper at kashaph, into the letter themselves and see if we find any hints.  The word is Kaph-Shin-Pe.  Literally, Open Hand, Palm – Tooth – Mouth.  Symbolically, Potential – Change – Communication.  Now, there’s some interesting details in the symbolic meanings, of communicating the potential for change, which would imply prophecy, and for bringing for the potential for change by proclaiming it, or communicating with that which has a potential for bringing change.  All these have relevance to the Craft, but they are digging a bit when the goal is the meaning of the word.  Kaph, the open hand, the potential, is the act of giving, like the Germanic words for poison, connected to the Greek dosis, a potion prescribed or given.  Shin, change makes sense, something is given to bring about change.  And Pe, the mouth, that which will bring change is given through the mouth.  This could in fact imply either poison or a drug to heal.  So that meaning does in fact fit.  The other possibility, of course, is that the giving isn’t of medicine or poison to the one needing change, but an offering to a spirit.  An offering to bring about change, combined with speech, muttering, a prayer or incantation.  This of course fits the idea or a sorcerer quite well.  From the meaning of the letters, each is as likely as the other.  Or both.  In a modern context, witchcraft can include either or both of these things.

A bit more mystic, 20 (Kaph) + 300 (Shin) + 800 (final Pe) = 1120, which reduces to 4.  1120 also represents the word for dragons, the word for sought, the word for sermons or lectures, and the word for to regulate or to formulate.  Dragons, that which is sought, that which is conveyed or communicated, that which is organized and analyzed.  With the exception of dragons, these all go together nicely.  Unless, of course, dragons are the spirits or the thing being sought, communicated about, analyzed.

The reduction, of course, 4, is Daleth.  Literally, the Door, figuratively, the humble man, the poor man, whom Gimel runs after to give to.  Daleth receives, both as the humble poor man receiving from Gimel, and as the door, receiving into Beit/Beth, the House.  But our kashaph gave, it didn’t receive.  It gave healing and killing potions.  It gave sacrifices and offerings.  But here, in the hidden heart of the word, we see it receive.  The right hand gives, the left hand receives.  Daleth stands on the left hand of the Tree, connecting Understanding to Severity, Binah to Geburah.  Gimel stands on the right hand of the Tree, connecting Wisdom to Mercy, Chokmah to Chesed.  Chesed is unlimited giving, Geburah is unlimited receiving.  On the surface, kashaph gives, but underneath it receives.  What does this mean?  A witch does not give to the spirits just to make them happy, it is an exchange.  Read the stories of the Fae.  Every time something was given to the Fae, something was received in its place.  And vice versa, every time something was given by the Fae, there was a price.  The witch gives, the witch receives.  An offering is given to the spirit in exchange for something.  For knowledge.  For understanding.  For wisdom.  For power.  Like Odin giving up his eye to Mimir in exchange for a sip of the well that brings wisdom.  He didn’t give his eye for nothing.

But what about the other side?  The witch gives herbs or potions, to change the one asking.  What is received?  Payment of some type.  It was a profession, not a hobby.  You went to a witch for a service, you paid for that service in some way.  In the same way that the witch went to the spirits on your behalf, and the spirits received payment in some way, the witch being the Bridge between you and the spirits.  And a witch didn’t poison for nothing.  It was either paid for by another to poison on their behalf, or it was done by the witch to receive something by doing so.  And remember, everything has a spirit, even the herbs that are used to heal or hurt.

There’s always two sides to everything, but they’re never separate.  The separation is an illusion.  The different between a healing herb and a poison herb is only a matter of use, and of quantity.  I’ve often talked about Yin and Yang, and this another example.  There can be no Yin without Yang or Yang without Yin.  They are the same thing, just two different ends of it.  All things can be divided into Yin and Yang, and all Yin or Yang can be further divided into Yin and Yang.  Yin creates Yang and Yang creates Yin.  Yin transforms Yang, Yang transforms Yin.  Yin is withdrawal, rest, death, ending.  Yang is advancement, motion, life, beginning.  Healing is Yang, it causes increase.  Poison is Yin, to causes decrease.  But Yang turns into Yin with too much of the herb.  Yin turns into Yang if not enough is taken.  Interestingly, too much is a Yang thing, so too much Yang leads to Yin.  Interestingly, too little is a Yin thing, so too little Yin leads to Yang.

Even a doctor uses both Yin and Yang.  Even a doctor causes healing and harm.  The Hippocratic Oath soon becomes the Hypocritic Oath, when medical practice is weighed against the prohibition in the oath  of doing harm to anyone.  If a bone was not set before healing, it has to be re-broken to set it for proper healing.  Cancer is treated by either chemotherapy (poisoning the body to kill the bad cells), or by radiation (sending harmful radiation in the area of the bad cells).  Both of these do harm, both hurt more than just the bad cells.  If a wound gets infected and isn’t treated, or if a wound is too large to repair, sometimes a limb must be removed to save the person.  Harm must sometimes be done to heal.  A doctor, a physician, is both a healer and a poisoner.

There is a common description used in the occult community which I’ve talked about before.  Some traditions, groups, and paths are described as Right Hand Paths and others as Left Hand Paths.  The name originally came from Hindu, but has been applied in the West to many things.  In Hindi tradition, Right Hand is the following of the prohibitions, the taboos, of the writings called the Vedas.  The Right Hand practitioners are described as Vedic practitioners.  Those who deliberately and intentionally break the taboos, following the writings called the Tantras, are Left Hand.  They are described as Tantric practitioners.  There are other Right Hand and Left Hand traditions in India, but these two main ones illustrate the concept well.

The concept gets confused in the West, because it gets conflated with the Right and Left Pillars of the Kabbalic Tree of Life.  This lends to misunderstandings of both the Pillars and the Hands.  The Pillars, as I’ve talked about often, are the Pillar of Mercy (the Pillar of Fire) on the Right and the the Pillar of Severity (the Pillar of Water) on the Left.  Many Westerners stick with the Left-Left, Right-Right language and never understand either enough to see where it breaks down.  The main reason for this is that the Pillar of Mercy, the Right Hand Pillar, is the more masculine side of the Tree and the Pillar of Severity, the Left Hand Pillar, is the more feminine.  This is partly because Kabbalah sees male as the giver and female as the receiver (a la the penis being received into the vagina, the sperm being received into the womb).  In Kabbalah Tree of Life, above gives to below that receives, and right gives to left which receives.  Hence the feminine pillar is on the left and the masculine is on the right.  Most Westerners equate Right Hand with patriarchal religions with male head gods and the Left Hand with matriarchal religions with female head gods.  Also, many Westerners associate Lilith with the Left Hand Path and Goddess Worship and Feminism, all of which have become conflated in the West.  But Lilith in relation to the Left Hand Pillar is part of Judaism and Kabbalah, which are patriarchal with a male god. Lilith is part of the Left Hand Pillar, because she’s part of Geburah, part of Severity, part of Judgement. She is seen as a punishment for sin, not as a liberator.  She kills infants and breeds demons from the semen of men from wet dreams.  Not to say this it the only view of Lilith, or the only valid view, but using her association with the Left Pillar to show it being the Left Hand Path isn’t a successful argument.  Kabbalah has the Right Hand Pillar, the Pillar of Mercy as unlimited expansion, unlimited forgiveness, unlimited mercy, unlimited allowance.  It is the side of no taboos, no rules, no restrictions.  The Left Hand Pillar, the Pillar of Severity is unlimited restriction, unlimited judgement, unlimited severity, unlimited restriction.  It is the side of all taboos, all roles, all restitutions.  The Left Hand Pillar is closest to the Right Hand Path, and the Right Hand Pillar is closest to the Left Hand Path.  But, that, too, doesn’t really work.  The Right and Left Hand Paths are approaches to the Divine.  The Right and Left Hand Pillars are principles of how the universe works.  There is no direct connection between the Pillar and the Paths, they are describing different things.  In our discussion of poison, the Pillars describe the effects of the herb.  Poison is the Left Hand Pillar, it restricts life.  Herbs used for healing is the Right Land Pillar, it expands life.  But the Paths do fit the Pillars when looking at the poisoner and the healer.  The Poisoner is the Left Hand Path, because he breaks the taboo against murder or harm. The Healer is the Right Hand Path, because he follows the taboo.  But the Poisoner functions in the Right Pillar, because he isn’t restricted, even though the poison functions in the Left Pillar.  And the Healer functions in the Left Pillar because he is restricted, even though the healing herb functions in the Right Pillar.  As I said, things get confusing when you try to link the Paths and Pillar.  With the Pillars, ultimately, Right is Yang and Left is Yin.  With the Paths, ultimately, Right is Yin and Left is Yang.

Now, leaving the Pillars behind and going back to the Paths, we have Victor Anderson’s statement, “My magic is two handed.”  This is a direct response to the people claiming traditions as Left Hand traditions and Right Hand traditions.  Some have claimed Feri to be a Left Hand Path.  With that statement, Victor declared it to be both, and neither.

There is a saying heard passed around in the occult community.  It is used in direct opposition of the often quoted line from the published version of the Wiccan Rede, “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will.”  The saying is, “Who cannot hex cannot heal,” or, “A witch that can’t hex, can’t heal.”  This statement, while mostly used to separate from Wicca, outlines an underlying truth, which I’ve pointed to in different ways above.  The difference between healing and hexing is intent.  In essence, they are the same thing.  It’s the same energy, same techniques, same processes, whether you’re helping the person or hurting them.

This can be seen with blessings and curses.  A blessing is only a blessing if it gives what the receiver wants or needs.  A curse is only a curse if it gives what the receiver doesn’t want or need.  Take for example healing, whether as a doctor with modern medicine, as a herbalism with herbs, or with a magical method with energy.  There are two ways to heal, with blessing or with curse, with creation or destruction, with help or harm.

The first is the route of blessing, doing something to help, strengthen, grow, a Yang approach.  This is seen with steroids, with stimulate the body to do the desired thing, to heal, to strengthen, to fight off bacteria or virus.  It is seen with vaccines, used to increase the body’s immunity before the sickness.  It’s seen with vitamins and minerals to increase health.  The goal is to increase the good, thereby combating the bad.  It can be seen in magic to help an enemy to get a dream job elsewhere to remove them from where you are.  It can be seen in me giving the dog a treat to get her to leave the cat alone.

The second is the route of cursing, doing something to hurt, to weaken, to shrink, a Yin approach.  This can be seen with antibiotics, a medicine given not to strengthen the body, but to kill the bad bacteria.  Too much, of course, will kill the good bacteria in our body to the point of causing more problems.  It is seen with chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer.  It is seen in amputating an arm to save the body.  It can be seen in a spell to make an enemy lose their job, forcing them to leave.  It can be seen in me grabbing the dog and putting her in her crate to get her to leave the cat alone.

An example of a blessing that’s a curse is the much over-quoted Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.”  A curse that’s actually a blessing would be for someone unhappy in there job and needing to move on, making themself miserable, but unwilling to leave out of fear and not wanting the change, to curse them with losing that job.

Back to witchcraft, all magic in my experience is either blessing or cursing, or to put it another way, all magic is loosing or binding.  For binding restricts.  It holds something back, reduces something.  It is Yin.  Cursing is binding, it’s magic that reduces the options, it takes something away.  Loosing releases.  It allows motion, gives choices, expands possibilities.  It is Yang.  Blessing is loosing, it’s magic increases the options, it adds something.  I see all magic, in all its forms, as loosing and binding the Threads of Fate.  These Threads tie us all together, and tie the past to us, and provide our options for the future.  When you bind, when you curse, you tie two or more Threads together, restricting the possibilities in the future.  When you loose, when you bless, you untie some Threads, allowing for more possibilities in the future.  Sometimes less possibilities is really a blessing, because we can’t make any mistakes, and sometimes more possibilities is really a curse, because it can remove some of the protection we have.  When you nail down your property, this is a binding, it restricts the possible futures where you lose what is yours.  This is done for protection, is a major form of protection, actually.  The loosing of that removes the protection.  But that protection also restricts your options.  You *want* to loose those bindings if you want to sell your property and leave that place.  When you nail down the property, you are also nailing yourself to that place.  You are bound to it and it to you.  For good or for bad.

Magic is like poison.  Or, more accurately, like a poisonous herb.  It can be used to heal or to kill, to help or to harm.  It is both a healing draught and a poisoned chalice.  The witch or magician is both healer and poisoner, but for themselves and for others.

This brings to mind Shani Oate’s article, the Poison Chalice, in her book The Star Crossed Serpent II: The Clan of Tubal Cain: The Legacy Continues: Shani Oates (1998-Preset).  She talks about the Graal in its evolution as the Chalice, and the contents as the draught of immortality and as the poisoned elixir.  This leads us to the ecstatic rites of Dionysus, with it’s orgies and horrors, of extremes of life and death, of sex and murder, of tearing and ripping and blood, drinking from the cup of Dionusus.  Of Cerewyn’s Cauldron of Inspiration, the draught within her cauldron which Gwion, her servant, accidentally sipped, and, after she ate him after a shapeshifting dual, becomes the bard Taliesin, the greatest Bard Wales ever knew.  This brings to mind Bran’s Cauldron of Rebirth, Mimir’s Well of Wisdom, Miriam’s Moving Well, Urth’s Well of Destiny, Jacob’s Well, the Roaring Cauldron, Odin’s Mead of Poetry.  Magic is a poisoned draught, a strong poison.  Some can handle it and not die.  Some can handle it enough not to die but are harmed by it in a way that can never be healed, driven insane.  Some drink of it and become poets.  It’s like the Devil’s Seat; if you spend a night on it, you will return dead, mad, or a poet.  This is the poison of magic.  And Witch is both Poisoner and the one poisoned, but also both Healer and the one healed.  As Cochrane put it, the Hunter, the Hunted, and the Roebuck in the Thicket are one.

What heals us can also kill us.  What kills us can also heal us.  The poisonous herb can be the most potent healer.  The best healing herb can be the most deadly of killers.  The cup that heals us, the Cup of Life, is also the cup that kills us, the Cup of Death.  There’s a reason all initiation involves Death.  There is no rebirth if there is no death first.  There is no Yang if there is no Yin first.  Change requires both creation and destruction, both life and death, both healing and hexing, both nourishment and poison.  The path of Witch is one of dangers and delights.  It both heals us and poisons us, with each sip from the cup.

The Poisoner stands before us, a Cup in each hand.  Do we drink of the Cup from Her Left, or the Cup from Her Right?  Does one give life and one give death?  Is one a healing drought and the other dread poison?  Is there a difference?  We must drink.  Which will be choose?

~Muninn’s Kiss

Posted by on October 2, 2012 in muninnskiss


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Exitium in initio ponebatur

This is a time for endings.  My grandma died a week ago, my great aunt a week before, another great aunt in the last few months.  On Friday, my job ended.  It is a time of endings.

(This post was begin August 26, the evening after my drandma’s memorial service and the Dag after my job ended.)

All things that begin must end.  Something must end for something new to begin.  The end is present in the beginning.  The destruction is present in the creation.  Exitium in initio ponebatur.

An ending is an opportunity.  It clears the slate.  Until something ends, you are commuted to the current path.  You have to consider the consequences.  If you are working, accepting a job means quitting the old or determining how to do both.  If you are in a relationship, starting a new one requires ending the old one or facing how the new one will effect the old.  But when al job ends, you are free to accept any new ones that come.  When a relationship ends, you are free to accept any new ones that come.

Initiation of course comes from the word “initium”, “to begin”.  This is conjugated into “initio”, “beginning”.  One thing present in all forms of initiation is death and rebirth, though the form these take varies.

The first event in my life I can truly call initiation was the ordeal and connected rituals I went through joining an order as s teenager.  There were four elements to that ordeal: a night alone in isolation, silence, physical labour, and limited food.

The night of isolation followed a ceremony, a ritual, and was a time to contemplate the mysteries I had seen.  Isolation is always a time of contemplation, especially following seeing and hearing the mysteries.  Note that after his baptism and the holy spirit coming upon him as a dove, a very obvious initiation, the holy spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, the Eremus, the Wasteland, to be tempted.  Following the initiation he received, following things he had seen that were mystery and new, he spent forty days in isolation, alone, and the temptation only came at the end.  Also note in the Graal myths, the Graal Knight, after failing to ask the questions that would heal the King and with him the Land, spends years in the Wasteland in isolation, a self imposed excile, during which he contemplates the things he saw and the questions he didn’t ask.  Isolation is the Wasteland.

The second element was silence.  I was under oath not to speak the entire ordeal.  This also reflects the Graal myth, especially the earliest, where the knight that trained Sir Perceval instructs him to listen more and talk less, which leads him to not ask the questions.  This silence, and the events that follow it, leads to the Wasteland, and the Quest (to ask, to seek) for the answers to the unasked questions.  Silence is the Catalyst.

Third was labour.  During the day between the night alone and the final ceremony, the actual initiation, I performed manual labour, honest labour, service.  This is also seen in the Graal myth, for in the Wasteland, the Graal Knight does service, rescuing those in danger, protecting those threatened, feeding those who are hungry, helping those in need.  You see the same thing from Jesus between Initiation and Death.  This is selfless service.  This is changing Wyrd to help others, binding and loosing the Threads of Fate.  Overcoming Fate for others.  Labour is the Overcoming.

Fourth was limited food, denying the body.  With Jesus, we see this as the fasting for forty days in the Wasteland.  For the Graal Knight, we see this in the oath he takes before heading on the Quest, to not sleep two nights in the same place, to avoid strange tales, to engage in combat any knight claiming to be better than another or any two nights claiming the same.  The denial here is of course denial of a home, denial of fancy, and denial of safety.  Denial is the Suffering.

These elements of course are all present in such initiations as spending the night in the Devil’s Chair.  The Catalyst is that which calls you to do so, to make the trip, to take the risk.  The Suffering is fasting and staying awake all night, denial of food and sleep.  The Wasteland is your isolation up there, no one to help you, no one to comfort you.  And the Overcoming is the result.  You will return mad, dead, or a poet.  The poet overcame.

This ordeal, Catalyst, Suffering, Wasteland, and Overcoming is the process in Initiation of Death and Rebirth.  The old dies in the Wasteland, to be reborn in the Overcoming, which is in fact Nexus, the coming back together, the Divine Twin of the Catalyst which begins the process of breaking apart.

We go through this process with the death of a loved one, though it’s not as clear.  In effect, in our mourning and sorrow, we die with them, and are reborn from that sorrow.  Their dying is Catalyst, making use experience death, look at ourselves, begin the sorrow and grieving process.  Our fear and sorrow, grief and pain are Suffering and the Wasteland.  We must Overcome to be able to move on, to live again.  We are reborn from the smashes of our sorrow and grief.  Changed, yet moving on.

Losing a job is the same.  The point of layoff or firing is the Catalyst, loosing the Threads that held us to the old job, unbinding the bonds that held us there.  The job hunting process is Suffering and Wasteland, Suffering being the sacrifices made to get through that time, eating as cheap as possible, not giving in to our desires, because money is short.  The Wasteland is that time of isolation when we have no job, no income, no boss, no coworkers.  We are the wounded Fisher King, no longer able to do what we once could.  We are the slain knight, beheaded in the act of losing our job.  But most of all, we are the Graal Knight, on a Quest for the answer to, “what is the meaning of these things?”  The Overcoming, of course, is a new job at the end of the Wasteland, Nexus, the coming back together of the frayed Threads, ragged in the Wind of the Wasteland, the anchoring back down of our lives.  Changed yet moving on.

“Behold, the old has passed away and all things have been made new.”

All things that begin must end.  Something must end for something new to begin.  The end is present in the beginning.  The destruction is present in the creation.  Exitium in initio ponebatur.

~Muninn’s Kiss

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 1, 2012 in muninnskiss


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Close the world, Open the Next: a Requiem for Life, a Soliloquy for Death

What’s the first thought you have when you hear the world “death”?  What’s the image that comes to mind?  How do you handle it when someone you know dies?  Does it devastate you with grief?  Do you try to pretend it didn’t happen, or that it doesn’t effect you?  Do you rejoice for them?  Do you find skulls and bones spooky?  Beautiful?  Scary?  Indifferent?  How about graveyards?  Do you find them scary, or peaceful?

Graveyards and cemeteries are odd things in our culture.  We make pilgrimages to them on special days, we want them kept up, neat, beautiful.  We want them taken care of, in honour of the dead, in respect for them.  But most people want someone else to keep it up, not to have to go do it themselves, just like many people don’t like to visit the aged and sick.  These things remind us of death, of our own mortality, and we don’t like to be reminded.  Death is a subject even more taboo than politics and religion and sex (if the three really can exist separately).  We avoid it like the plague, like we might catch death if we talk about it, like saying the name of the Dark Lord, that saying “Death” will summon her.

We’ve become a society that thinks death and aging isn’t natural, that we need to strive against it, get surgery to hide aging, do everything we can to prolong life, to avoid death.  And when it comes, we still try to hid it.  We take the elderly and put them out of sight, often not visiting them.  We try to rush through the burial or cremation process, limit the grieving time to as short as possible, try to forget about it and pretend it didn’t happen as early as possible.  If we ignore death, it will go away.  But it won’t.

Life and death aren’t two separate things.  You can’t eliminate death by prolonging life.  You can’t break the two apart, any more than you can break day and night apart.  Day bleeds into night, into day.  Dawn and dusk.  So life and death blend into each other, birth, the dawn of our life, dying, the dusk of our life.  Yin and Yang.  As I’ve discussed other places, from the Web That Has No Weaver:

All things have two facets: a Yin aspect and a Yang aspect.
Any Yin or Yang aspect can be further divided into Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang mutually create each other.
Yin and Yang control each other.
Yin and Yang transform into each other.

These are true of life and death.  Life is Yang, death is Yin.  They ware one thing.  Yang, life, is growth.  Yin, death, is breaking down.  What is to be built up must first be broken down.  What needs to be n down must first be built up.  Life becomes death, death becomes life.  If we look, we see this everywhere.

I talked before about the lodgepole pine/beetle/fire cycle, of how the destruction and death the fire brings opens the cones that bring new life to the forest.  How the life and expansion of the beetles brings death to the trees.  How the death of the trees brings fire.  How the growth of the fire brings death to the beetles, but new life to the forest.

Life leads to death, death to life.  In Before the Beginning of Years, Algernon Charles Swinburne said:

Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance, fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath;
Night, the shadow of light,
And life, the shadow of death.

In linguistics, there’s a concept called “markedness”.  In every pair, there’s a default word, the “unmarked” word.  It’s opposite is “marked”.  Marked means you have to specifically indicate a desired response, unmarked you’ll get either side of the pair as a response.  For instance, you ask how big something is, not how small in general.  Big is used in general for size, small only when it is assumed it’s small to indicate how small.  There are many examples.  Old/young.  Tall/short.  Happy/sad.  Pretty/ugly.  Soft/hard.  Wet/dry.  High/low.  Bright/dark.  Hot/cold.  These vary with language but also with culture.  Some of what I listed above directly link to Yin/Yang relationships, others reversed of them.

We tend to see Life/death that was.  We presume Life is the default, unmarked, state with Death the marked.  We want to know if someone is still alive, not if they’re dead, unless we specifically want them to be dead.  The poem I quoted part of, however, states Life as the Shadow of Death, not Death as the Shadow of Life.  Death as the norm, Life as the exception.  Death as unmarked, with Life being specifically indicated when needed.

This brings to mind the 23rd Psalm in the Jewish Tanakh and Christian Bible.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  Shadow of Death.  By the poem above, we could infer the Shadow of Death is Life, so, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of life.”

Shadow of Death is one word in Hebrew, צַלְמָוֶת, tsalmaveth, death-shadow, very deep shadow, basically shadow so deep and thick it’s like the grave, like the underworld, like the realm of the dead.  It is made of two roots.

The first root is צֵל, tsel, meaning shadow or shade, from צָלַל, tsalal, to become dark, to grow dark, to be shaded, to be dusky.  It’s the process of becoming dark, not the state of darkness.  And a verb obviously.  It implies hovering.  It’s something hovering over and therefore darking or shading it.  Like a cloud passing over the sun.  But it’s connected to the darkening of dusk, implying night or darkness hovering over the earth, darkening it.  It’s connected to the word צֶלֶם, tselem, meaning image, likeness, semblance, with a strong emphasis on an empty image, an image that looks like the thing but isn’t it.  It is usually used in relation to idols, but looking at the idea of a cloud over the sun, think of the reflection of a cloud in a lake or on the sea, looking like the cloud but not the cloud.  Looking at the letters of tsel, we find Tzaddi Lamed.  צ, Tzaddi or Tzaddik, Fish Hook, To Hunt, Righteous One, Chaos, Side, Manna and Water, My Beloved, To Shout, To Rejoice, Wisdom.  ל, Lamed, Ox Goad, Staff, Prod, Go Forward, Tongue, To Learn, To Teach, Secret Heart of Eve, Tower Soaring in the Air, Heart that Understands Knowledge.  These two letters are the 180th of the 231.  It’s interesting that one letter is a fish hook, the other an ox goad, both tools, one to catch, to bring in, fish, a wild, non-domesticated animal, to hunt it, the other to direct, to send away, a domesticated, non-wild animal.  Very much a Yin/Yang relationship, wild/domesticated, bring in/send out.  Sending out is Yang, bringing in is Yin.  Tzaddi is Wisdom and Lamed Understanding, Chokmah and Binah, the first division, the Divine Twins.  Combined, there can be many meanings, of course.  Teaching the Righteous one, teaching my beloved, hunting for understanding of knowledge.  It can also mean shelter, and is gramatically equivalent (120) to Support, Master, Foundation, Season (as in the time for something to happen), Strengthening, Prophetic Decrees, Veil, Imaginary, Vermin, Mocker, and Moth.  Imaginary relates well to tselem above.  Veil is an interesting one. It is טמר, tamar, used for veil or covering, which actually means palm tree.  So in sense, the palm tree covering you from the sun or rain.  Relating back to tsel, the palm tree shelters, and shades, the Tower souring above the Beloved.  Notice that tselem is the same letters as tsel, with a ם, Final Mem added.  Mem is water, so the reflection of the palm tree in water is implied.

The second root is מָוֶת, maveth, meaning death, dying, Death personified, execution, the realm of the dead, the state of being dead, a place of death.  Maveth comes from מוּת, muwth, to die, to perish, to kill, to have executed, to be destroyed.  Figuratively, muwth means the heart dying or failing, ie, dying inside, or the trunk of a tree, or land left untilled or fallow.  The middle Vev can be removed, as it is the Hook commecting מ Mem and ת Tau.  מת, Mem Tau, is the 195th gate, the letters of both the noun (maveth) and the verb (nuwth).  מ Mem, the Third Mother, Water,  Ocean, Sea, Fountain, Womb, Love, Oneness, Feminine, Severity, Shekhinah, Bride, Wisdom, Undergound, Underworld, Fountains of the Deep.  ת Tau, Mark, Cross, Seal of Creation, Passing to Future Generations, Truth, Conclusion, Active Finishing, With His Hand, Year, Wives, Time, You Will, You Did.  This Gate is the completion of pregnancy, the end that is the beginning.  And so with death, the end of Life is the beginning of Death, and Death is the beginning of Life.  Gramatically, it is 440 or 1000, so equivalent to Flashings, Zones, Members, Day, Seas, Times, Vases, Vessels, Space, Drug, Poison, Crown of Flowers, The End, Appointed Time, Terror, Horn or Rays, Tooth, Whole, Perfect, To Blossom or Bud.  Many of these can be applied.

Putting them together, back to tsalmoveth, death-shadow, we have the imagery of the completion or end casting a shadow over you.  Your Death casting a shadow over your Life.  This expresses the other side of the coin.  Instead of pretending Death doesn’t exist, it’s living in fear of it, where Life becomes purely a pursuit of avoiding Death.  In doing so, you miss the blessings of Death but also the blessings of Life.  Without either, what’s the point of living?  Is it really living?  As Garth Brooks said, “Life is not trying, it’s merely surviving if you’re standing outside the fire.”  To quote a bit more of that song:

We call them cool
Those hearts that have no scars to show
The ones that never do let go
And risk it the tables being turned

We call them fools
Who have to dance within the flame
Who chance the sorrow and the shame
That always come with getting burned

It truly live is to to risk death knowingly.  A large part of the population of at least the Western World aren’t truly aware Death exists.  They live their lives by script, puppets to Fate’s Strings, unaware that Time, Death, is stalking them.  And there’s a small minority that are well aware of Death’s Sting and who know of Fate’s Strings, know how to overcome Her, but are too afraid of Fate and Time to do so.  And there is a small minority of those who are aware, are awake, who actually take the Spear of Destiny firmly in their hands, and fight and strive and truly live, truly knowing and embracing both Life and Death.

Robert Cochrane, his article in Pentagram, On Cords, said:

Mrs. Basford has raised an interesting point about the real purpose of cords, harvest twine, string dolls, etc. They appear to have originated from the woven strands of Old Fate, the major deity of all true witches. They are, of course, the origin of such descriptive terms as “spellbinders.”

In his second letter to Joe Wilson, he said:

Some groups seek fulfillment in mystic experience – this is correct if one does not forget the duty of ‘involvement’ – the prime duty of the wise. It is not enough to see The Lady, it is better to serve Her and Her will by being involved in humanity, and the process of Fate (The single name of all God’s is ‘Fate’). In fate, and the overcoming of fate is the true Graal, for from this inspiration comes, and death is defeated. There is no fate so terrible that it cannot be overcome – whether by a literal victory gained by action and in time, or the deeper victory of spirit in the lonely battle of the self, Fate is the trial, the Castle Perilous in which we all meet to win or to die – Therefore, the People are concerned with Fate –for humanity is greater than the Gods’, although not as great as the Goddess. When Man triumphs, fate stops and the Gods are defeated – so you understand the meaning of magic now. Magic and religion are aids to overcome Fate, and Fate is a cradle that rocks the infant spirit.

Fate is the hand that directs us through life if we follow the script, if we don’t become aware, if we don’t bind or loose the Threads of Fate, rewriting the script, if we don’t overcome her.  She is all gods, and the true deity of all witches, as Cochrane says, for Witch is aware of Fate and has the ability through that awareness to overcome her and write our own script, to bind and loose her Threads.  In essence, she is Life, for all life is directed by her.  Only Time operates outside her.

Cochrane says of Time is his fourth letter to Joe, “The Flood is again symbolic and represents Time.”  The context, of course, is from Robert Graves’ version of the Song of Amergin:

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

I am a spear: that roars for blood,
I am a salmon: in a pool,
I am a lure: from paradise,
I am a hill: where poets walk,
I am a boar: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker: threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen, arch?

I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze: on every hill,
I am the queen: of every hive,
I am the shield: for every head,
I am the tomb: of every hope.

Cochrane says:

I am a Stag Who — survived the Flood,
I am a Flood — That destroyed the world,
I am a Wind — Of God moving across the desolate world,
I am a Tear –The sorrow of Fate,
I am a Hawk — The Child who survived the Flood,
I am a Thorn — The beginning of Fate (Death),
I am a Wonder- For I alone transform.

He saw the Flood as Time.  The Flood is that which destroys the world, the end of the world, you could say.  It’s working backwards.  The Wonder comes before the Thorn, the only thing that transforms.  Chochrane says, “The wonder is survival of Death – The Wizard is Merridwen, the Sky re-creating Life out of Death.”  So the Wizard, who sets the cool head aflame with smoke, comes first, bringing Life out of Death.  That which survived Death, the Life the Sky brings forth, is the Wonder, among the flowers (think of the flowers always placed on graves).  The Thorn, beneath the nail, is the beginning of Death, the end result of Fate, for all Life leads to Death.  It’s no coincidence that Christ was crowned with a crown of thorns and nailed to the cross, Thorn and Nail.  Both pierce, of course.  It’s also no coincidence that both whitethorn (hawthorn) and blackthorn are traditionally associated with harm, the woods often used for that purpose.  Harm and it’s sting is what leads to Death, the breaking down, entropy.  Clausius’ statement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics applies here, “Heat can never pass from a colder to a warmer body without some other change, connected therewith, occurring at the same time.”  Basically, energy is lost in any process.  This includes the process of Life.  This is the sting of the Thorn, the bite of the Nail.  The Hawk, Horus, the resurrected Child, the surviver of the Flood.  The Hawk, according to Graves and the myths he connects to the Cliff, is on the Cliffs of Nonacris, in Arcadia (because everything comes back to Arcadia).  From the Cliffs flows the headwaters of the River Styx, one of the rivers of the Underworld.  In some myths, it is the River Styx that Charon ferries the dead across.  Styx is firmly rooted in Death, and is where the gods go to make oaths, swearing them on the waters.  Styx is Hate, and it’s followed by Sorrow, the Tear that the Sun lets fall.  Cochrane said, “A Crafter is born not made, or if one is to be made, then tears are spilt before the Moon can be Drawn.”  Sorrow and Tears are necessary ingredients to Witch.  The Tears fall for the desolate world, the Wasteland.  It’s hard not to think of the Fisher King here.  The Wind, the Shekhinah as Cochrane says, the Breath of God over the Waters, the Spirit, Ruach, hovering over the Waters, the deep lake.  A reference to Genesis, of course, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”  The four classic elements are here, as I discussed in a previews post.  Darkness is black Fire from Geburah, the Left Hand side.  Bohu, “void”, and tohu, “formless” are snow in water, sludge.  Tohu settles, becomes Earth, bohu is Water.  And Ve-Ruach Elohim, the Spirit of God, the Breath of God, is Wind, Air. Bohu is the deep lake.  Tohu Va-Bohu, Formless and Void, Desolation, the Desolate World.  Why is it desolate, what destroyed it?  What destroys it again?  The Flood, across the plain.

Which brings us back to Time.  “The Flood is again symbolic and represents Time.”  Time is that which destroys.  Graves equates Chronos, Time with Kronos, the father of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter, the leader of the Titans. While the Online Etymological Dictionary says that the name Kronos is probably not related to the word Chronos, Cicero, in his De Natura Deorum in the first century BC says:

By Saturnus again they denoted that being who maintains the course and revolution of the seasons and periods of time, the deity so designated in Greek, for Saturnus’ Greek name is Kronos, which is the same as khronos, a space of time. The Latin designation ‘Saturnus’ on the other hand is due to the fact that he is ‘saturated’ or ‘satiated with years’ (anni); the fable is that he was in the habit of devouring his sons – meaning that Time devours the ages and gorges himself insatiably with the years that are past. Saturnus is bound by Jove in order that Time’s courses might not be unlimited, and that Jove might fetter him by the bonds of the stars.

We then, following Cicero and Graves, can go back to Cochrane’s Destroyer of the World, Graves’ Flood, as Time, Chronos, Kronos.  Time, which devours its own children, Time, which is Death stalking us.  Time, who cannot be separated from Fate, for Chronos, the three-headed serpent, is wrapped around Ananke, also a three-headed serpent, Past/Present/Future wrapped around Fate/Destiny/Necessity, their movements opening the World Egg, forming Ouranos (Uranus, Sky) and Gaea (Earth), and from the Egg comes Eros, who inspires the two to Lust.  The movement of the two, of Chronos and Ananke, of Time and Fate, moves the stars and moon and sun, moves the affairs of men.  Death and Life, Life and Death.  The Puppeteer and the Devourer.  The Weaver creating, the Devourer consuming.  Brahma creating, Skiva destroying, balanced is Vishnu, the Maintainer.  Chesed expanding, Geburah restricting.  Yang and Yin, Yin and Yang, the Divine Twins.

The Devourer, Kronos, Time, the Raven God, Bran the Blessed, the Oracle of the Talking Head, like Mimir’s head that Odin consults.  The Devourer like Fenrir, who will consume Odin in the end, dying in the process.  His children, Skoll who will consume the sun, Hati who will consume the moon.  Devourers all.  The Death of Odin, the God of Death, is the end of an age.  “O Death, where is thy sting?  O Grave, where is thy victory?”  “O Thanatos, where is thy sting?  O Hades, where is thy victory?”

θάνατος, Thanatos, Death of the Body, Separation of Soul and Body, Power of Death, Thick Darkness, Netherworld, Underworld, Maveth, Death.  From θνῄσκω, Thnesko, to die, to be dead, Muwth.  Thanatos, in Greek myth, the daimon of non-violent death, brother of Hypnos, Sleep.  Both children of Nyx and Erebus, Night and Darkness, Nyx ruling the Realm of Sky, the later Realm of Ouranus, Uranus, then Kronos his youngest son, the Zeus, Erebus the Darkness Below, Tartarus, the Underworld, the later realm of Hades.  Their sisters were the three Keres, serving the Moires, the Fates.  Hypnos took people to the Realm of Dreams, to Morpheus.  Thanatos took those with non-violent deaths.  The Keres took those with violent deaths, like the Valkryies gathering the slain in battle for Odin and Freyja’s Halls, while the non-violent deaths went to Hel’s Hall.

ᾅδης, Hades, Brother of Zeus and Poseidon, given rulership of Tartarus, of the Underworld, of Orcus, the Netherworld, Realm of the Dead, Tsalmaveth, Death-Shadow, the Grave, Death, Hell.  Son of Kronos and Rhea (ruler of Earth after Gaea), father of the Erinyes, Furies, the Left Hand of Fate (Ananke), bringing Justice and Revenge on the wicked, the embodiment of curses.  Hades, Aides, Aidoneus, sitting on a throne with a bird-tipped sceptre (like Thoth’s head, Thoth bringing the dead to the Judgement of Ma’ath), the Curser.  Plouton, Pluto, Pater Dis, Father of Wealth, giver of wealth and fertility, the Blesser.

Orcus, punisher of broken oaths, Horkus, personification of Oaths, born of Eris, Strife, who’s nursemaids were Erinyes, the Furies.  Eris, Strife, Discord, Discordia, sister to Harmonia, Concordia.  Enyo, Bellona, Ma, daughter of Zeus and Hera, twin and companion of Ares, Mars, Destruction to his War, Destroyer of Cities to his Killer of Man.  Horkus as Oath relates back to the River Styx as a place of Oaths.

Oaths.  The future Olympians meeting at Ara, the altar in Arcadia where the gods swore an oath and made sacrifice before attacking Kronos and the Titans and taking over, overcoming Time and Fate.  Who did they sacrifice to?  By whom did they swear?  Who was the altar to?  Obviously not the Olympians.  Obviously not the Titans.  Also, the Norse gods meeting at the Well of Mimir to swear oaths and to plan.  The Well where Odin sacrificed his eye for a sip to gain Wisdom.  The Well from which Mimir drank.  Mimir who was beheaded, like Bran, and whose head Odin kept as an oracle, as Bran’s head was an oracle.

Oracles bring us indirectly back to the Hawk on the Cliff.  I mentioned Horus here, the Falcon or Hawk.  Horus can be seen as the rebirth of his father Osiris, but there’s also a story where his is killed by a scorpion sting, but brought back to life by Thoth. Death and Resurrection.  Most people today would think of Jesus, but there’s another parallel (well many other parallels but we’ll look at one).

There are many different myths of the Greek Dionysus, Bacchus of the Romans, Liber in other cultures, often contradictory.  And many theories of where they come from.  Most scholars believe both the name and the myths came from somewhere else, not from Greece originally.  Some versions tell of Semele, priestess of Zeus.  Semele once slaughtered a bull on Zeus’ altar, then bathed in the River Asopus to clean off the blood.  Zeus, as an eagle, flew over and spotted her and fell in love.  He seduced her and visited her often in secret.  Hera, Zeus’ wife, found out about the affair and sought out Semele, appearing to her as an old woman.  Semele told her after a while about her affair with Zeus.  Hera pretended to doubt the story and made Semele start to doubt that it was really Zeus.  Semele asked Zeus for a boon, and he agreed, swearing on the River Styx (as we talked above).  She then asked Zeus to show himself to her in his true form, in all his glory.  Zeus tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted, so, bound my his oath, he did so, abet trying to minimize the effect, but it burnt her to death.  She was pregnant, however, and he was able to save the fetus by sewing him into his thigh.  A few months later, Dionysus was born from that thigh.  As an adult, Dionysus traveled to Hades and rescued Semele, who became a goddess.  Other versions, Zeus (or Jupiter) seduces Persephone and she gives birth to Dionysus, a horned child.  Dionysus, still young, ascends Zeus’ throne while he is away, either by decree of Zeus or without it, depending on the version.  While he rules for a short time, with Zeus’ scepter or lightning bolt, the Titans cut or tear him to pieces.  Zeus, grieving, gave the heart of the child in a drink to Semele, who drank it and became pregnant.  Other versions, Zeus swallows the heart, then sleeps with Semele with the same results.

The theme here shows a horned child who dies and comes back to life, giving him power over both life and death, allowing him to cross the borders of our world and the underworld and back.  Dionysus is very chthonic, both in his death and resurrection and his ability to pass both ways to the underworld.  This is a horned child, son of Zeus, allowed to sit on the throne and rule.

But how does this relate to oracles?  Everyone knows of the Oracle of Delphi, with Apollo the oracle diety, but less talked about is the Oracle of Thrace, the seat of the oracle of Dionysus.  Also, it was said Dionysus shared the Oracle of Delphi, that it was of Apollo in the summer and Dionysus int he winter.  Greek deities are often described primarily as either Olympian or Chthonic.  The dichotomy is the Olympians living in the high place, on a mountain, above the ground, and the Chthonic deities living beneath the ground, ie, in the grave or in the Underworld.  In general, Chthonic deities tended to be concerned with fertility and crops, and were sacrificed to at night.  Sacrifices were usually in pits or sunken chambers, sometimes on an altar, and the sacrifice was killed with throat down, then either buried or burnt whole.  For Olympian gods, sky gods, sacrifices were done on raised altars with the throat up.  Once killed, the sacrifice would be shared and eaten by the people.  Olympian gods were more concerned about the affairs of men than the fertility of the land in general.  Apollo, with his association with the sun, is very obviously a sky god, and his sacrifices reflected this.  Apollo was a god of order, of reason, of control, of harmony.  Dionysus was chthonic, having died young and tasted death.  His sacrifices were of a chthonic nature.  Dionysus was a god of disorder, of intuition, of ecstasy, of being out of control. All this would have been reflected in their oracles and prophecy as well.  Their oracles would have been from two different viewpoints, from two different directions.

I’ve discussed very similar concepts in my article Living Amongst the Roots of the World that I hope to get published soon, when I discuss the differences between wands made from branches versus roots.  A branch is outward facing, whereas a root is inward facing.  So too with Apollo and Dionysus.  Apollo is direct and to the point, outward and conscious.  His prophecies and oracles, while still veiled and cryptic, would have sent out.  Go and do so and so.  It would have been daylight and the sun, actions and directions.  Dionysus is indirect and symbolic, inward and subconscious.  His prophecies and oracles would have called inward.  Come and meditate on this, take this in and understand it.  It would have been night, stars and moon, shadows and underground places, intuitions and riddles.

Likewise their healing.  Healing and prophecy are always coupled, those doing one do the other.  Apollo would have healed by promoting growth, increasing the body (or mind or soul)’s ability to fight off the illness or damage or defect.  Blessing and loosing. Dionysus would approached from the other side.  Destroy the decease or blockage, fighting the issue itself.  Cursing and binding it.

For the purposes of the main subject of this discussion, Apollo is Life, Dionysus Death.  Each rolls into the other.  Apollo gives way to Dionysus in the Death of Winter, Dionysus withdraws and allows Apollo to bloom come Spring.  These two brothers, these two sons of Zeus, are Divine Twins, always dancing, spinning around, lovers and adversaries, loving and fighting, advancing and withdrawing.  Death stalks Life, and Life stalks Death.

As anyone who has read my blogs for a while knows, I have a strong affinity to ravens (and crows and magpies and all other corvus).  There are many very interesting and fascinating things about them, but we’re talking about death here, so, focusing on that.  Corvus are mostly scavengers and carrion birds.  The carrion bird part matters here, as it is part of the association with the dead.

You’ll notice Odin, who takes half the dead that die in battle, has two ravens (Muninn and Huginn) and two wolves (Geri and Freki).  This is directly connected to his status as a god of war, of battle, of death.  On a battle field, both ravens (corvus in general) and wolves would have been found consuming the dead.  Consider the meaning of Geri and Freki, both coming from roots related to greedy.  They are ravenous wolves, always hungry, always greedy for more flesh, the flesh of the slain.  The corvus family are the only other animal wolves will allow around corpses they are eating.  They will chase off or kill anything else, but allow corvus to feed along side them.  In return, it’s been observed that corvus tend to stick close to wolves, and when they find carrion, they will call out and both other birds in their family group (often called a murder) and the wolves they live near will come to that call.  There’s a symbiotic relationship where the corvus inform the wolves of food and the wolves allow the corvus to feed with them.  Both ravens and wolves usually form close family groups.  Both ravens and wolves mate for life.  And they seem to form partnerships, family group to family group, murder to pack.  So, imagine the scene for the Northern people.  The battle is met, and the calls of ravens are heard echoing across the battle field.  It’s said ravens and crows know where a battle will occur before the fighters do, lending power to the belief in Odin’s oracular and martial nature.  The caws continue, and slowly increase, joined by the howls of wolves, as the ravens and wolves gather, watching on, waiting for their chance to feed on the slain in battle.  Is it any wonder that Odin is associated with such animals, Odin who watches the battle and takes those he chooses?  Is it any wonder Valkyries, gathering the chosen slain, are closely linked to ravens?

In Irish myth, we find the Morrigan.  She, or rather they, as sometimes the title is used singular, Morrigu, sometimes plural, Morrigna, sometimes for a single being, sometimes for three though which three varies, is Terror incarnate.  She is Death and War and Strife and Wrath.  She sometimes appears as a crow, an eel, a wolf, and a cow.  One name, Badb, means crow, and the Morrigan often flies over battlefields in the form of a crow.  Another name is Macha, plain or of the plain, in association of horses used in battle (note Odin’s horse Sleipnir).  Another name is Nemain, poison, or enemy or nemesis, or to seize or take, or wrath, or curse, or blame or crime, or greater twister or great bender.  She is battle frenzy, taking the warrior and propelling them both to kill and to death (think of Odin as Gapþrosnir, the One in Gaping Frenzy, and as Gunnblindi, Battle Blinder).  Another name is Anann, said to be the Morrigan’s actual name, probably from the Proto-Celtic *Φanon- meaning goddess.  She is the personification of Death, oracularly prodicting death in battle, but also a goddess of fertility and prosperty, bringing to mind Pater Dis in Greek myth, the Father of Wealth, who became synonymous with Pluto and hence Greek Hades as god of the underworld.  Badb and Nemain are listed as the two wives of Neit, a god of war, though sometimes Fea is listed instead of Badb, and sometimes Nemain alone.  His name means passion or fighting.  He may be connected to Neto, also called Mars Neto, the Iberian equivalent to Roman Mars.

Death has always been a big part of human existence.  As it has to be for mortal man.  To quote Tolkein’s famous poem from Lord of the Rings, “Nine for mortal man, doomed to die.”  The Christian Bible says in Hebrews 9:27-28, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”  For mortal man, the reminder of our mortality and coming death are hard to avoid, as much as modern Western culture often tries.

The idea of immortality, of cheating Death, is a theme common both in myth and folklore and in popular culture.  Take, for instance, the Highlander movies and series, with its immortals, who could only be killed by beheading (Bran and Mimir and John the Baptist come to mind), that any other death, they returned from.  Yet even they, with the contest for the Quickening, killed each other to win, and the last immortal standing became mortal when he stood alone.  Look at the Final Destination movies, with a vision saving people from impending death, but Death stalking them to take what is rightfully his.  Take Death in Gaimon’s Sandman comics, a cute, young, goth girl who comes for those who will die and comforts them but doesn’t bargain, for when it’s time, it’s time.  It also deals with a man that Dream makes a deal with Death to allow immortality.  Every century, Dream met with the man to find out how he spent the previous century, and deals with both the joys and woes of immortality.  In Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker Trilogy, there is a character that obtains immortality, and has no idea what to do with it.  So he embarks to insult every being in the universe in alphabetic order.  Tuck Everlasting also deals with immortality, where a family is immortal from drinking from a spring, and hated and feared by those around them because of it.  The book and movie deal a lot with the pain of watching those you know and love grow old and die around you.  Vampires fascinate us because of their immortality.  Anne Rice’s vampire books deal a lot with the boredom and loneliness of immortality, and the need for companionship to be able to deal with it.  In the movie Death Becomes Her, the characters take a potion giving them immortality, and then have to deal with the repercussions of that.  The Order deals with a Sin Eater who is essentially immortal, and is hated because he is Other, salvation apart from the Church, yet he is sought out for his power to eat sin and remove it and its effects.  The newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie deals with the search for the Fountain of Youth and also touches on the Other in relation to the Church, and with what the Fountain of Youth means to different people.  Earlier Pirates of the Caribbean movies dealt with Davie Jones and what it meant for the dead at sea to serve eternally as his crew, and with a curse that meant immortality and the desire to break that curse.  The World of Darkness Vampire: the Masquerade and later Vampire: Requiem deal a lot with the idea of what happens as vampires age and move further and further from the humanity of their origin, of the hunger and isolation.  Robert Reed’s Marrow books describe immortality as the advance in technology necessary for a race to move from planet based to a space fairing race, and deals with the tremendous amount of time that passes to travel large distances of space, and what humans, and other races, become when Death no longer is a reality, and what murder and death can mean when natural death is a thing of the past.  In James Clemens’ Godslayer series, we see a world where a group of immortals came and conquered a world, and are the gods of the people, ruling over them.  The books deal with what happens when an immortal god who can’t die is killed and what that means to a society.

This search for immortality, the fascination with the same, and authors’ and writers’ pursuit of just what immortality would mean, is a reflection of both our fear of death and our fear of immortality.  Both life and death hold our fascination but also our dread.  So we seek to push off the questions of life and death, to dwell on the known past and avoid that part of the future where our future might end, and try to pretend life will never change.  But life is change.

Cemeteries and graveyards are liminal places.  We set them aside, so we can visit death, but then leave it and forget it.  There is a terrible peace and silence in a graveyard, a sense of rest and stillness, yet a feeling different that other places, of a place where the Veil is thin, where the Dead are waiting just on the other side, waiting patiently and quietly, waiting for the Gate to open.

The Guardian of the Gate stands ready, waiting for us to understand.  To understand Life and Death.  To understand the Gates of Life and Death.  To understand the Guardian of those Gates and who he, or she, truly is.

~Muninn’s Kiss


Posted by on July 28, 2012 in muninnskiss


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

On Easter and the Fertility of Aspens

Ostara by Johannes
Gehrts, 1884 

Most people know (or should know) that modern Easter is a celebration of fertility and spring in Europe, joined with the death and protection of Pesakh (Passover) of the Jews, and the resurrection of Jesus of the Christians.  There’s some common threads there, if you look carefully.  Death and Rebirth.

The Resurrection of Christ
by Carl Bloch, 1890

The Christian calendar shows Good Friday, which was last Friday, as the day Jesus was crucified.  He was dead before sundown, as they removed the bodies before the Sabboth, with begins at Dusk.  So Good Friday is the day of Death, and Easter, Sunday, is the day of Life, or Rebirth, when Jesus returns from the grave.

A depiction of the blood
on the door posts.
Artist unknown.

The Jewish Passover, of course, recounts when G-d came to kill all the first born of Egypt.  To be safe, the Jews had to put blood on their door posts, and G-d would pass by.  This is in a way a story of rebirth as well, though different.  And a story of magic.  Death is coming around, and blood is placed on the door post to fend it off, to turn it aside.  It is a sacrifice.  A lamb was prepared and taken care of until the time, then killed, their blood put on the door post to ward off Death.  It is a ritual, a Rite.  The meat had to be roasted.  Everything had to be eaten before morning, or burnt.  You were to eat it with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet, your staff in your hand.  There is the practical aspect that they were to leave immediately afterwards, so needed to be ready, but there is the symbolic aspect of the Rite.  You are prepared to leave, because you will be able to leave.  Blood for Death to pass by (pass over), a meal to consecrate the action, dressed to leave to show that the magic would work.  A Rite both of protection from Death, and to be allowed to live Egypt.  Overcoming Death, receiving a new Life.  In this way, it is a Rite of Initiation.

From a Witch point of view, these symbols and connections are important.  If we look back, we have the Sacrifice of the God on Samhain, the Old Year, the Darkling Twin, he passes through the Gates of Death into the Underworld, the Otherworld.  His journey ends at the Winter Solstice, he settles in.  The old year is dead with him, Autumn gives way to Winter, as his coils curl up around it and he sleeps.  The sun is reborn, a premonition of his return.

At Imbolc, his Bride calls for him and he awakens, uncoils, and prepares for a new journey, swimming up across the Veil through the Well of Worlds, seeking Her, who he died for and will now be reborn for, the New Year, the Bright Twin.

On Imbolc, Spring begins, though it’s slow in awaken in Wyoming, often not realized until May or June.  By the calendar, Summer will begin on the first of May, but these are tides, not calendars, and May 1 is a convenient date, but the tide falls where it will.  The Spring Equinox marks the approximate middle of the Spring Tide.  Passover begins on the 15th day of Nisan.  As I’ve discussed before, the Hebrew calendar is Lunar.  Each month begins when the moon becomes dark.  The 15th of each month lands on the full moon, or close to it, the mid point of the month.  The 15th of Nisan is always the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, so it’s a lunar event timed to the solar mid point of Spring.  We’re in the middle of Passover at the moment, so the Christian Easter landed on its old determination this year.  Essentially, Passover (which originally determined Easter, Good Friday being the first Friday after the beginning of Passover, until changes in calendars messed it all up) is point of importance between Imbolc and Beltaine.

Cernunnos (La Tène) / ‘ernunno
on the Gundestrup Cauldron

Around Passover and Easter is the resurrection of the God.  Jesus, of course, is a type of the Sacrifice God, so it’s no surprise that his ressurrection would fall around this time.  Since Imbolc, the God, the Bright Twin, has been swimming upward, and now he emerges, the First Fruits, the rebirth of Spring.  New Life comes from the Death of Samhain.  Now he prepares for his wedding to the Bride, the May Queen, God Herself.  The Serpent warms himself in the sun, and prepares for what is to come.

Spring, be it Imbolc and Candlemas, be it the Spring Equinox and Passover and Easter, be it May Day and Beltaine, is a time of rebirth.  It’s Himself reborn, the Sacrificial Mortal God, but also the rebirth of the earth, of the land.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching the aspen trees wake up.  I work during the week and have an aspen right out side my window.

Aspen tree beginning
to bud, April 2, 2012

On Friday, March 30, it still looked asleep.  No sign of buds.  The next Monday, April 2, there were small buds.  I presumed they were leaf buds, that I would see leaves soon.  It had been in the low 70s F that weekend, but had dropped below freezing that day.  I could see a hard coat around the buds and figured that was to protect the new leaves from the cold that could still come for a few more months.

The same aspen tree
with larger buds, April 5, 2012

By Thursday (April 5), the buds had grown quite large.  I still thought they were leaf buds, but they were getting big enough, over an inch long, that I thought I’d see leaves in the next few days.

The same aspen tree,
now with male catkins,
April 9, 2012

Today, however, I discovered I was wrong.  They had indeed opened, but it wasn’t leaves inside.  They were flowering.  In the trees where the buds had been, there were almost two inch long catkins hanging, dangling in the wind.  Very neat to see.

I’ve never really had a chance to observe the cycles of aspen before this, I haven’t looked closely at them over an extended period. But with a tree just outside my window at work, I get to see it, with all its changes, every work day. Very interesting to observe. I’d love to figure out a way to observe the willows and lodge pole pines in the same manner.

From what I read, male catkins droop, and female catkins are erect (make what metaphors you want with that).  The male ones produce pollen, and if fertilized, the female ones produce tiny seeds.  But reproducing that way is actually fairly rare.  Each tree is either male of female, and most groves are basically one tree, reproducing via runners that form an exact natural clone, so essentially, each grove is either male or female.  Logically, this means that a male grove with always remain male only unless it grows far enough to combine with a female grove, whereas if the catkins in a female grove get fertalized, potentially it could contain both male and female aspens.  I really wish the mountain roads were open this time of year, so I could go up and look as several groves and find out which ones were male and which were female and find out if there was a different “feel”, a different “energy”.  But you can only determine the sex when the trees are in bloom, which is around this time, and the roads don’t typically open until Memorial Day, which is May 28th this year (last year, they couldn’t get the roads clear for Memorial Day for the first time in like 30 years, because the snow was eight feet deep and kept blowing back full every night, so they couldn’t make progress; the roads opened in July).

Which brings us back to fertility and rebirth.  The Aspens awake first, not with leaves to harness the sunlight, but with flowers, the catkins, to reproduce.  They awake in fertility, in Sex, the essence of Creation.  As should we all.

~Muninn’s Kiss

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 9, 2012 in muninnskiss


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,