Tag Archives: kabbalah

The Spider’s Song: I Made an Offering of Wind…

I made an offering of wind upon the altar of dust.  ~Grimr

In the beginning was a song.  The song.  The only song there ever was, and ever will be.  It was a love song, and a song of loneliness.  It was a song of joy and sorrow, of love and loss, of peace and war, of life and death.  It was the song of creation, the song of all things.  It was the spider’s song.

It began with one note, ringing out through the outer darkness, like a single bell rang in a place of silence, or a the first harp string plucked.  It was a pure note, perfect, the only note that could pierce that silence, the silence of the outer dark.  It was the voice of the Nagara, the single note that was all, the love song of the Nagara to the Nagara, deep calling out to deep.  And it hung there in the darkness like a spark of light, like a seed, like a single harp string, or a single thread.  It was the first thread of the web, a single thread in the abyss of the outer darkness, a note ringing for none to hear.

And it echoed.  That single note reflected back on itself, reflecting off that which is not, the dark curve of the darkness.  It echoed back and in doing so, it changed, not the same as it was going out.  It rang in harmony with itself, a perfect harmonic, a perfect fifth.  The danced, round and round, catalyst and nexus, nexus and catalyst.  And so, one note became two, one thread became two, both vibrating in the darkness of the abyss, in the outer darkness, the first two threads of the web.  Two notes, hearing each other, responding to each other, first in dissonance, then in consonance, the dance of the twins.

From their play a third note arose.  It vibrated between them, both notes moving the third, the perfect third, a chord in the silence of the dark.  Three notes ringing out, moving, shifting.  A perfect chord.  Three mothers, three weavers each moving each other.  Three threads hanging in the abyss, the first three threads of the web.

But the song wasn’t finished.  The chord grew and the perfect seventh came forth, four notes, four threads, stretching out into the abyss in four directions, four winds.  And still the song grew, for where there’s a first, a third, a fifth, a seventh, there, too, there’s a second, a fourth, and a sixth.  Seven notes ringing out through the darkness, and a melody formed, the vibrations of the web.  Seven builders, seven keepers, seven guardians.

Breath.  What is breath?  Breath is life, for even many one celled life take in oxygen and need it to live.  Breath is wind, for it is the movement of gas, in or out.  There is no breath in a vacuum.

Breath.  What is breath?  Breath is the most basic of sounds.  From it comes the vowel sounds in all oral languages, the sounds made without obstruction, without build up.  Sound passing through only changed in sound by the narrowness or movement of the side it passes between.  It is outward moving air, unblocked, unfettered, unbound, loosed.

Breath, vowels, are the first notes of music, pure sound, untempered.  They are the notes of the sound of the music, of a song, the song, the first song.  They are the beginning.

Breath bound, tied, constrained, blocked, fettered, becomes consonants.  As the vowels are given form, as the tent pole is raised, the bound vowels becomes first Three Mothers, then Seven Doubles, then Twelve Singles.  22 consonants, 22 letter.  Two Dancers, Three Weavers, Seven Builders, twelve in all, twelve notes, twelve threads, Twelve Watchers.

And consonants gather around vowels, the bound around the loosed, and words form.  Words, symbols of ideas.  And the complexity grows, the song grows.  Three Mothers, Seven Doubles, Twelve Singles, 22 consonants, 29 sounds, become 231 Gates, each gate a pair of consonants, the first and the fifth.  And the 231 Gates are joined by others, 20 consonants added to the beginning, to the middle, to the end, 13,860 roots if none repeat.  And roots combine to be words, and words combine to form sentences, and sentences combine to form paragraphs, and paragraphs combine to form chapters, and chapters combine to form books, and books combine to form sets and series, and sets and series combine to form shelves, and shelves combine to form racks, and racks combine to form rows, and rows combine to form stacks, and stacks combine to form floors, that the whole world is a library, the 10,000 things.

Every note holds power.  Every breath holds power.  Every vowel holds power.  Every sound holds power.  Every consonant holds power.  Every word holds power, every sentence, every paragraph.  And the longer they exist, the more they are used, the more their power grows.

Stand in a used bookstore or library.  Look at all those books.  How many are there?  How many words do they contain? How many letters do those words contain?  Each sound is a note in the song, the song of creation.  Each sound is a vibration in the web that is all, stretched across the face of the deep, the abyss, the outer darkness.  How much power is in those pages?  What secrets?  What notes?

Now think of the world.  How many books are in the world?  Right now.  And how many words in each one?

Now think of all time.  How many books have there been?  How many will there be?  And how many words in each one?

Now realize that books are just the ideas, the thoughts, the words that have been written down.  They are written language.  They have meaning because of the oral language that spawned them, the consonants with bound flow, the vowels with looses flow.  The power is in that oral language, the written is only that small piece that was written down, loosed power bound into a page.  How many words are spoken that are never recorded?  Each is a note in the song, the song of creation, the spider’s song.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.  And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” ~Genesis 1:1-3 JPS 1917 Edition of the Hebrew Bible in English

“darkness was upon the face of the deep” – וּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם – v choshek ‘al-peniy tehowm

וּ – v – and

וְחֹשֶׁךְ – choshek – darkness, obscurity, secret place

עַל-פְּנֵי – ‘al-peniy – the face, the presence, the person, the surface of, that which is in front of, before, toward

תְהוֹם – tehowm – deep, depths, deep places, abyss, sea, ocean, abyss, grave

“spirit of God” – וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים – Ruwach ‘elohiym – Ruach Elohim

רוּחַ – Ruwach, Ruach – breath, wind, air, gas, spirit, vivacity, vigour, courage, temper, anger, desire, sorrow, will, energy of life

אֱלֹהִים – ‘elohiym, Elohim – rulers, judges, divine ones, angels, gods, god, goddess, godlike one, G-d

“hovered over the face of the waters” – מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם – mrachaphit ‘al-peniy mayim

מְ – m – from

רַחֶפֶת – rachaphit – to grow soft, relax, to hover

עַל-פְּנֵי – ‘al-peniy – the face, the presense, the person, the surface of, that which is in front of, before, toward

הַמָּיִם – mayim – water, waters, urine, springs, fountains, flood

So we could read is as:

“and the secret place was upon the surface of the ocean, and the breath of the rulers settled upon the surface of the water.”


“and that which hides the face of the abyss, the wind of the gods, from the face of the water.”


“and darkness was the presence of the grave, the temper of the gods toward the flood.”

But, a bit of a tangent.

Ruach is breath, but also wind and life.  Ruach is also, in Kabbalah, part of the soul.  In this way, it is the emotions, will, and energy of life.

The Breath.  The Soul.  The Wind.  Life.  Ruach, hovering above the waters of the abyss, in the darkness, is the notes of the song, which are also the threads of the web.

In the beginning was a song.
The song.
The only song there ever was, and ever will be.
It was a love song, and a song of loneliness.
It was a song of joy and sorrow, of love and loss, of peace and war, of life and death.
It was the song of creation, the song of all things.
It was the spider’s song.

I made an offering of wind upon the altar of dust.

~Muninn’s Kiss

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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in muninnskiss


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Mercy and Judgement, Rules and Transgression: A Look at Left and Right Hands

I addressed this some in my post, Cup of Life, Cup of Death: The Two Hands of the Poisoner, and have touched on it in other posts, but I’d like to talk about it directly.

There is some confusion on the terms “left hand path” and “right hand path” due to misunderstandings of the terms. Ultimately, the terms refer to India Subcontinent practices, not to the Pillars in Kabbalah. The conflation of the two is actually contradictory.

The term in India refers to transgression.

Right hand paths are those that keep the restrictions, denying in order to break from the illusion we live in and escape the reincarnation cycle (another thing that causes confusion, as Western thought most often sees reincarnation as a good thing, but in Buddhism and the religions the West call Hinduism, reincarnation is a trap to be escaped). There are others, but the Vedic traditions are the most popular right hand paths. Those that follow the Vedas, the written rules, basically.

Left hand paths take the opposite approach, breaking free from the cycle through transgression. A set of practices that break the rules to break the illusion, seeing the rules as the framework that binds us into the illusion, and transgression as the way out. The most common left hand paths are the Tantric traditions (which is about far more than sex), which follow a set of Tantras, actions or practices, which are a sequence of deliberate violations of the Vedic restrictions, some traditions symbolically, some literally. But we also have those traditions that go a step further with the eating of rotting human corpses or living in piles of dung.

Now that’s the same application in the West. Right hand path is used to refer to rule-based religions or traditions that seek to be good and follow what is generally seen as acceptable by society. Left hand path is used for religions or traditions that transgress either the rules of a given right hand path or of accepted society.

But it gets confused, as the Kabbalah Pillars have been conflated with these. Because of the masculine nature of the Right Pillar and the feminine nature of the Left Pillar, people assume any path that is matriarchal or worships a female entity must be left hand and all left hand paths are matriarchal and worship the feminine. And that any right hand path is patriarchal and worships the masculine, and that any path meeting those must be right hand. But there are notable examples that contradict this.

Part of the confusion stems from the use of the words, “right” and “left”. It’s important to note the the India use of the words is from the Sanskrit words and is Indo-European in understanding, where as the Kabbalic use is from the Aramaic words (the language the Zohar is written in) and is Semitic in understanding.

The Sanskrit term translated as Left Hand Path is वाममार्ग, Vāmamārga. वाम, vāma does mean left, but more literally means in an opposite or different manner, contrary, or perverse. It also means beautiful or pretty or splendid, and also hard or cruel. मार्ग, mārga, means passage, path, route, way, journey, walk, search, course. The Sanskrit term translated Right Hand Path is दक्षिणमार्ग, Dakṣiṇamārga. Literally it means “southern course”. दक्षिन, dakṣiṇa, means south but also right. This dual definition makes sense if you stand facing the sun at sunrise. South is to your right, north is to you left, the opposite of dakṣiṇa, opposite of south. Consider that India is at the south end of Asia. All of Asia is to the north. The English word north is of Germanic origin, a people on the north part of Europe, with most of Europe to the south. North comes from *ner ultimately, a Proto-Indoeuropean word meaning left, but also below. Standing facing the rising sun, the north is one the left, hence the name. In India, the land people live in is south of the mountains, north of the mountains is other, opposite, different, vāma.

In Hebrew and Aramaic, right hand is יָמִין, yamiyn, and left hand is שְׂמֹאל, semowl. Yamiyn means right hand, the direction right, and south, for the same reason dakṣiṇa means south and right. Likewise, semowl means left hand, the direction left, and north. Yamiyn comes from יָמַן, yaman, meaning to choose the right, go right, use the right hand, be right handed. Yaman is likely connected to אָמַן, ‘aman, to support, confirm, be faithful, to support with an arm, to carry a child. It has the sense of the bare arm used to hold a child, the left being covered with cloth, and in the the sense of swearing an oath or making an agreement, with the right hand reached out, the left hidden. We see similar in semowl, which is likely related to שִׂמְלָה, simlah, meaning wrapper, mantle, covering garment, garments, clothes, raiment, a cloth. It could be argued that the idea of the right hand being used for agreements and the left hand concealed relating directly to the Sanskrit idea of the left being contrary and the right being that which is normal. But this ignores the fact that the Zohar refers to the right hand as יד הגדולה, the great hand, and the left hand as יד החזקה, the strong hand. They are considered the two hands of G-d, though the Zohar refers to a third and fourth hand as well. This contradicts the idea that the right hand is that which is agreeable and good and the left hand the opposite and evil. The symbolism is different. The revealed hand, the right, is the one stretched forth in agreement, but the concealed hand, the left, holds the knife of judgment, which becomes the sword of fire at the gate to the Garden, swinging in all directions.

The other source of confusion comes from Lilith in the Zohar coming from the Left Side. We focus on her as transgressor, so assume the Left Side in the Zohar is transgressive, as with Left Hand Path in India. This, however, is not the case. There’s a second term also used, the Other Side, which does refer to evil and transgression. But it is not the same as the Left Side. Other Side is אַחֵר שְׁטַר, sitra achra or shetar ‘acher, sitra meaning side, achra meaning other or different, very much the sense of vāma. Lilith came from the Left Side in the Zohar. Sammuel might be from the Right, though the similarity between his name and semowl is striking, the two words sharing the same Hebrew letters. But in the Zohar, together they lead the Other Side, Lilith as the Serpent and Sammuel riding on her back. Lilith is from the Left Side, so she finds comfort after Adam and Eve are kicked out near the sword of fire that flashes all directions, Geburah manifest, that guards the Garden.

The Left Side is defined by its centre, Geburah, and the Right Side by its centre, Chesed. Judgement and Mercy. The Left Side is not transgression and allowance, it’s judgement and restriction. It is the rules and their consequences. The Right Side is not rules and denial, it is mercy and expansion. The Left by itself restricts and denies all. The Right by itself expands and allows all. Just the opposite of left hand vāma and right hand.dakṣiṇa.

So conflating the two concepts of left and right just brings confusion.

~Muninn’s Kiss

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Posted by on March 21, 2013 in muninnskiss


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Gate 12: Aleth-Mem (אם)

א – Aleph – Air, Strength, Silence, Separation, Mirror, and Union.

מ – Mem – Water, Wisdom, Womb, Love, One, and Pregnancy.

אֵם – ’em – Mother of humans, figurative mother of the people (Deborah), mother of animals, point of departure or division
אִם – ‘im – if (conditional), no or not in oaths, if, whether, when, whenever, since, but rather
לְאֹם – leom – a people, nation (Lamed as a prefix is to/for; for the mother, people or nation)
אָמָה – ‘amah – maid-servant, female slave, maid, handmaid, concubine. (Heh as a suffix makes a pronoun; pronoun of mother rather than the mother herself)
אַמָּה – ‘ammah – cubit, distance the length of the forearm, 18 inches. Metaphorically beginning, head, foundation of a thing. “Mother of the Arm”, forearm.
אֻמָּה – ‘ummah – people, tribe, nation
אֲמָם – ‘Amam – their mother
נָאַם – na’am – to prophecy, utter a prophecy, speak as prophet, say
נְאֻם – neum – utterance, declaration, revelation
אָמַן – ‘aman – to support, confirm, be faithful, uphold, nourish, foster-father, foster-mother, nurse, pillars, supporters of the door, to be established, be carried, make firm, sure, lasting, verified, to trust, to believe in.
אָמַן – ‘aman – to take the right hand, to turn right, choose to the right, go to the right, use the right hand
אָמָן – ‘aman – master-workman, artist, steady-handed one, artisan
אָמֵן – ‘amen – verily, truly, amen, so be it
אֹמֶן – ‘omen – faithfulness
אֱמֶת – ’emeth – firmness, faithfulness, truth, sureness, reliability, stability, continuance, true testimony, true judgement, divine instruction, truth as a body of ethical or religious knowledge, true doctrine.
אָיֹם – ‘ayom – terrible, dreadful
אָמִי – ‘Amiy – bond-servant, descendant of Amon, Solomon’s servant.
מָא – ma’ – (Aramaic of Hebrew מָה, mah) what, how, of what king, whatsoever, whatever, how now, why, wherein, whereby, wherewith, by what means, because of what, the like of what, how much, how many, how often, for how long, for what reason, to what purpose, until when, how long, upon what, wherefore, anything, aught, what may
שַׁמָּא – Shamma’ – desert
מֵאָה – me’ah – hundred, 1/100th
מְאָה – ma’ah – hundred, one hundred
מָאן – ma’n – vessel, utensil
מָאֵן – ma’en – to refuse
מָאֵן – ma’en – refusing, unwilling to obey
מֵאֵן – me’en – refusing

The core of the gate is אֵם, ’em, mother. Aleph-Mem, is like Gate 1, Aleph-Beit, Ab, Father, ox-house, strength of the house. ’em, Mother, ox-womb, is strength of the womb. The point of departure or division is the lips parting to reveal the womb, strength of the womb shown in childbirth. Mother. Or, looking differently, Aleph is separation, and Mem the womb, bringing the idea of the point of departure or division. A people or tribe or nation, leom and ‘ummah, is the fruit of the womb and the mother, those that come from her. The use of Aleph-Mem as metaphorical mother, the mother of a thing, is important. We see this in the vocal words, na’am and neum, prophecy and utterance. Speech is the beginning, the mother, of action. “God said…and it was so.” In ‘aman, we find meanings of nourishment, commonly seen as part of what it is to be a mother. A craftsman, ‘aman, can be seen as the mother of his or her art. In ‘amen, so be it, we see the commitment to something, and that commitment is the mother of it. Reversed, the core is מָא, ma’, though this is the Aramaic form. Ma’ is questions and exclamations. This links well with mother, for questions are the mother of discovery, and exclamations bring forth. In a way, ma’en/me’en, to refuse, refusing, unwilling to obey, are the opposite of their anagram, na’am/neum, prophecy, and the opposite of the point of departure/division of ’em. But this isn’t quite true. Refusal and unwillingness to obey is it’s own departure and division from the authority that is refused, and this act is the mother of what comes of it. Ma’n, vessel or utensil, relates well make to the womb, for the womb is a vessel. Mystically, Nun is a servant or vessel of the divine. Ma’n can be seen as “Who is the vessel of the divine?” The vessel of the divine is filled with the divine in the same way the womb is filled with the unborn baby. Or ma’n with the anagramic meaning, ’em, could be the mother of the vessel, or the vessel that is of the mother, the womb. Shamma’, desert, is a bit harder. Shin is the tooth, and symbolically, this is nourishment. But desert? The desert by definition isn’t nourishing. But Shin as a prefix changes a verb into the doer, so Shin-Mem-Aleph, Shamma’, would be One Who Mem-Alephs. One Who Questions? That Which Questions? Does this imply the desert is that which brings questions? I’m not sure. It is interesting that the word is made from the Three Mothers, from Shin, Fire, Mem, Water, and Aleph, Air. Me’ah/ma’ah, hundred/hundredth, is problematic as well.

Aleph (1) + Mem (40) = 41. Or, with the final Mem, Mem is 600, so 601. In addition to ’em, 41 is fecundity, ram, force, hart, My God, to fail or cease, Divine Majesty, terminus, to burn, terror, to go round in a circle. 601 isn’t anything by ’em. 41 reduces to 5, Heh, and 601 reduces to 7, Zayin. Heh is the window, and mystically the first breath. Zayin is a weapon, and mystically marriage. 5 is also mist, vapour, back, food, elevation, top, pit, water-hole. 7 is also lost, ruined, desire, good fortune, was weary, riches, power, fish. Fecundity fits well, productiveness in offspring, vegetation, intellectual pursuits, basically to be good at giving birth. The others are harder. The destructive and ending words from 41 seem to be the opposite of birth and motherhood. Same with many from 7. But marriage fits well. And a water-hole could easily be seen as a womb.

The 12th Gate is definitely the Gate of the Mother. It is akin to the 1st Gate, the Gate of the Father, but a different type of strength. The 1st Gate is about protecting, the 12th about nourishing. While not every male is a protector and not every female is a nourisher (and in fact the reverse can be true), the role of the Father is as protector and the role of the Mother is as nourisher. The Gate of the Mother is the Gate of Nourishment. The lesson to learn, to cross the gate, is how to nourish those things we create, those things we give birth to, in our lives.


~Muninn’s Kiss


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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in muninnskiss


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The Road to Tipherah: Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces

“The first step in finding beauty is to see it. There is beauty in all things.” ~Grimr

Beauty is a hard thing to find, not because it’s so rare, but because it’s so common. It is everywhere, in all things, both in the wonderful and the horrible. It is everywhere, but we don’t see it because it’s everywhere, we are numbed to it, so therefore blind to it. A young child sees it everywhere. This is Innocence. But we lose our Innocence along the way, we cease to see beauty because we forget it’s important. We see only ugliness, getting lost in the qlipoth, the empty shells of what we first knew.

At the core of the trunk of the Tree of Life stands Tipherah, Beauty, the balance of all things. Above it are the Three Minds. Da’ath, Knowing, spanning the Abyss, the Dark Bridge. Binah, Understanding, the Deep Sea. Chokmah, Wisdom, the Deep Well. Beyond is Kether, the Crown, the root of the Tree. To the right of Tipherah is Chesed, Mercy, Lovingkindness, complete openness, complete acceptance, unlimited expansion, unlimited loosing. To the left is Geburah, Judgement, Severality, complete closeness, complete denial, unlimited retreat, unlimited binding. Below are the Three Manifestations. Netzach, Victory, on the right, emotion and passion, conquest and force of arms. Victory by advancing. Hod, Glory, on the left, intellect and cunning, magic and planning. Victory by retreat, by holding back. Yesod, Foundation, in the middle, sex and subconsciousness, instinct and intuition, the foundation of Action. And below, Malkuth, Kingdom, Manifestation of Manifestation, the Three Manifestations becoming Action. The playground of the soul.

Beauty stands at the centre, if it is lost, the whole Tree is lost. This is the lose of Innocence, and results in separating us from the Root. We become a branch or a twig or a leaf, drying and dying without the sustenance that can come only from the Root. And, as the dying leaf, we see only darkness, only ugliness, only decay. We can’t even see that even the darkness, the ugliness, and the decay contain beauty. For there is beauty, truly, in all things.

When people look at the Wasteland, they see only ugliness. Walk in the Sonora Desert that spans the United States and Mexico. People see the lack of water, the lack of shelter, the lack of life. They focus on what isn’t there, on the negative. But walk in those sands and look carefully. See the form of the saguaro cacti, each stove pipe reaching to heaven like the trees of the Pacific North West. See the lizards and snakes, how they move, their skin protecting them from the environment around them. Watch the waves the wind creates in the sand, so much like the beaches of Florida that many find so beautiful. Look at the mesas rising in places, as majestic as the Rocky Mountains. The desert holds much beauty.

Walk in the High Plains of Wyoming. People see the cold and wind, the dryness and flatness, the barrenness, the remoteness. They see what’s not there, not what is. They see the negative. Look closer. The plains roll, with valleys around rivers with trees, with wet spots and dry, thick vegetation and thin. Look at the old growth sagebrush, almost five feet tall, older than the oldest tree in the Pacific Northwest, ancient and strong, able to survive the freezing winter, the pounding heat of the summer, the persistent wind that scores the mountains and hills, but the sage still stands. Watch the hawk soaring on the wind, diving for a rabbit or rodent. Watch the pronghorn antelope run faster than most cars, bounding and tearing across the plains. The High Plains abound with life. And with beauty.

People will point to the worst of mankind, of the qlipoth and dying leaves, and say, no, here is a place there is no beauty. Take rape for instance they will say. There is nothing beautiful about rape. There is pain and suffering, hurt and no hope. But they’re once again looking at the negative, to what is lacking. The human spirit is strong, and beauty can rise from that ugliness. As healing comes, the victim, though scarred, will move on. They will reclaim their body that was stolen. And they might be able to help with the healing of others. Yes, there is nothing beautiful about rape, but it only stays that way if beauty is not looked for. Even from the ugliest ugliness, beauty rises from the ashes like the phoenix.

The first step in finding beauty is not to look for it, it’s to see it, because it’s already there. We don’t see beauty when we look at what’s lacking, not what’s there. Sorrow is only meaningful as a lack of joy. Fear is only meaningful as a lack of courage. Pain is only meaningful as a lack of comfort. Suffering is only meaningful as a lack of peace. Ugliness is only meaningful as a lack of beauty. But these things don’t exist without their opposite, for it’s not truly an opposite, it’s two ends of the same thread. Sorrow and joy are not distinct, it’s a matter of where you are on the thread. Every Yin contains Yang and can be further divided into Yin and Yang. Every Yang contains Yin and can be further divided into Yin and Yang. There is ugliness in beauty, but there is beauty in ugliness.

Finding beauty is the reclaiming of Innocence. And it is found purely by opening our eyes and seeing clearly the beauty that is before us, all around us, in everything. And with the return of Innocence, and the return of Beauty, Tipherah, the Tree of Life returns and we are connected once more to the Root, nourished by that Source from which all things spring, and to which all things return.

So look! Open your eyes! Let he who has eyes see, let he who has ears hear! The beauty is around you and in you. Look and see it!

~Muninn’s Kiss

*The subtitle comes from the album from Seether, released after the suicide of the lead singer’s brother. Many of the songs are him working through that pain and sharing the good that could come out of it.

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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in muninnskiss


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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


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Taboos and Geases: Before you can advance, you must first withdraw…

Learning T’ai Chi Chuan, I learned a valuable lesson about the often misunderstood Yin and Yang.

I understood them on an intellectual level, from my study of Taoism and Traditional Chinese Medicine.  I knew not to think of Western dualism, the product of Zoroastrian influence.  I’ve talked before of the descriptions in The Web That Has No Weaver by Ted J. Kaptchuk.  His five descriptions greatly helped me understand Yin and Yang:

  • 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 principles describe a concept foreign to most Westerners.  The poetic understanding of the two is a hill on a sunny day, with no other hills or trees or mountains to cast shadows.  Before Dawn, the hill is all in darkness, is all shadow, is all Yin.  As the sun rises in the morning, it hits the Eastern side of the hill.  This is Yang.  The Western side is still in shadow, still Yin.  As the sun rises, the Yang part grows and the Yin shrinks.  Yin transforms into Yang.  by noon, the entire hill is sunny, all Yang, no shadow, no Yin.  But this doesn’t last long.  As the sun moves West, the Eastern edge darkens, shadow forms at the base, Yin, then grows as the sunny section shrinks.  Yang transforms into Yin.  As Dusk fades, it is all Yin again.  Yet it’s all one hill.  The hill doesn’t change, only the ever changing light.  It is Yin changing to Yang, changing to Yin again.  But it’s all one, the Tao.

Easy to understand intellectually and to observe, but what does it mean personally, how does it effect me and you specifically, beyond the intellect?  This is what T’ai Chi Chuang taught me.

T’ai Chi is the tent with a ridgepole, with form.  It is always moving, constant movement, constant change.  What changes, though, from what to what?  The forms change, our body, constantly in motion, moving, moving Chi, energy.  It changes, like the light, from Yin to Yang, to Yin, to Yang, and so on.  But what does this mean?  Have you ever tried to move without preparation?  Can you hit without pulling back your fist and have any force?  Can you step without first lifting your foot?  In T’ai Chi Chuan, Yin is pulling inward toward your centre, toward your lower Don Tian, preparation.  Yang is moving outward, away from your centre.  You learn quickly that before you can advance, you must first withdraw, and advancing puts you in the right position to be able to withdraw again to prepare for the next advance.  Yin transforms into Yang then back to Yin again.

That idea of advancing and withdrawing is visible in the Sepheroth of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah.  The two outer Pillars, the Pillar of Mercy and the Pillar of Severity, are named for the middle Sepherah of each side.  The Pillar of Mercy is the Pillar of Chesed, of mercy and loving kindness and forgiveness.  The Pillar of Severity is the Pillar of Geburah, of severity and justice and judgment.  Ultimately, in a base and stripped to the core manner, Chewed is infinite, unlimited expansion.  Geburah is infinite, unlimited restriction.  Geburah is Law, Chesed is Liberty.  Geburah is Yin, withdrawing, pulling inward; Chesed is Yang, advancement, moving outward.

Ultimately, Law (Geburah/Yin) takes one of two forms: a taboo or a gease.  A negative law or a positive law.  A taboo is negative in the sense that it says no, “thou shalt not”, it’s restrictive.  A gease is positive in the sense that it says yes, “Thou shalt”, it’s proscriptive.  But both are Law, and both are Yin, bring withdrawal.

At the scale of a large society like most modern societies, and the scale of large organized, taboos and geases are used to control and to prevent people from finding the power and strength and mystic connection that might make them a challenge to that established structure.  This is an extreme use of Law, of Geburah.  This is the legalism so common in organized religion, and the totalitarian tendencies of most government.  The more anarchic elements of society tend toward the other side.  The complete ignoring and breaking of taboos and geases just out of principle.  The “don’t tell *me* what to do!” attitude.  They assume all rules are wrong and made to be broken.  Of course, only a few take this to it’s complete extreme and break all rules including murder of random people and suicide.  The elimination of all rules, of all Law, is what Chesed as government would be, all is forgiven, all is allowed.

On a smaller scale, the extremes fall away.  Or do in the right context.  A tradition or teacher that operates fully in Chesed tends to become too “fluffy”.  The lack of Law tends to lead to a lack of structure and boundaries.  This can make learning from the tradition or teacher very difficult.  On the other extreme, a tradition or teacher that operates fully in Geburah, all Law with no Liberty, where everything that is not forbidden by taboo is dictated by gease.  The lack of Liberty tends to keep all students following the same path, which makes it easier to make sure the right things are learner, but it also stifles creativity and self discovery.

I think the best approach is a balance, more Tipherah, Beauty, than Chesed or Geburah.  The balance between Law and Liberty, Love, leads to Knowledge and Wisdom.  That balance leads to Da’ath, Knowing, to Binah, Understanding, to Chokmah, Wisdom, and on the Divine in Kether,  the Crown.

In this balanced approach, taboos and geases serve three important functions and should not be lightly broken:

  1. They serve as a guideline to keep the group or student all pointed in the same direction. Taboos serve as a map as it were for the path the group is walking or the teacher is leading the student.  This is similar to the use in the Law approach, but less firm, allowing flexibility, a map instead of a wall.
  2. They can serve to protect the student or person new to the tradition. There are very real dangers in any path worth taking, and if you are not prepared, those dangers may cause damage that cannot be undone, physical, emotional, mental damage, or create a road block that prevents them from going forward.  This gives a safety net and buffer as the student moves forward and develops the tools, the skills, the defenses, the weapons to face those dangers and truly to be tried by them.
  3. They create a contrast for later transgression. You need to sometimes learn the rule and learn to follow it before you learn when to break it. And there lies Wisdom and when you’ve moved past basics, when you can recognize when to break the taboos, and why.  This is ultimately the process of learning when to ask questions and learning to ask the right question.  And finally, to actually ask that question.

This can be seen in Conte del Graal by Chrétien de Troyes, the oldest Graal story we have.  Percival, found wandering in the woods by the woman who chose then to raise him, is enamoured with the knights of King Arthur he sees.  He sets off to become a knight.  Lord Gornemant meets him and looking kindly on him, trains him in the basics, knights him, and sends him on the way, on his own path.  This teacher, this mentor, as he was leaving, made a final statement, a taboo in some ways, a gease in others.  “Qui trop parole, pechié fait.”  “Who talks too much, commits a sin.”  This statement, though not phrased as either, implies both a taboo and a gease.  The taboo, of course, is, “avoid excessive speech.”  The guessed is, “be silent unless it is necessary to do otherwise.”

Necessity.  Learning that is Wisdom.  As Robert Cochrane said, “Do not do what you desire, do what is necessary.”  Following the taboos and geases is learning the first half, “do not do what you desire”.  But that is only half the lesson.  Learning when to break those taboos and geases is learning the second half, “do what is necessary”.

Percival learned the first lessen well we see as the story progresses.  There’s a set of principles that many trad craft witches I know tote as almost a central Law of Magic.  It is called the Four Powers of the Sphinx.  “To Know, to Will, to Dare, to Keep Silent.”  These Powers are found primarily in the writings of Eliphas Lévi and Aleister Crowley, with no real mention before them.  Most people I see quoting them focus on the last, “to be Silent”, the very command Gornemant gave Percival.  The context is often either oaths made in relation to initiations (it should be noted that being knighted, as Gornemant did to Percival, is initiation), or in discussions of speaking of your magical practice being giving your power away, that speaking of it is sharing power and therefore diminishing that power.  There is truth in this, but I think we should look more at Lévi’s discussion as it is the foundation of later discussion.  He says several things in the Great Secret and Transcendental Magick that should enter the discussion.

“To attain such an achievement it is necessary to KNOW what has to be done, to WILL what is required, to DARE what must be attempted and to KEEP SILENT with discernment.”  “When one does not know, one should will to learn.  To the extent that one does not know it is foolhardy to dare, but it is always well to keep silent.”  “In order to DARE we must KNOW; in order to WILL, we must DARE; we must WILL to possess empire and to reign we must BE SILENT.”

There’s a lot in those quotes demanding discussion, but we’ll focus on what’s relevant to this discussion of taboos and geases.  In the first quote, the phrase “with discernment” sticks out.  Lévi isn’t talking about blindly being silent, he’s talking about having discernment about when to speak.  As Cochrane said, “I was taught by an old woman who remembered the great meetings – and she took no terrible oath from me, but just an understanding that I would be discreet. She did not require silence, only a description of what I had seen and what I had heard and said when I was admitted. The Gods are truly wise – they know the future as well as the past and they admit not those who would abuse knowledge or wisdom.”  This is what Percival needed to learn, as do we.

In the second quote, Lévi is discussing when you’re working from a point of partial knowledge.  When you don’t know, no matter where you are in the path, you become a beginner again.  In this situation, of course silence is best.  You learn more at that stage from listening than from talking, and until you know enough to ask the right question, to know and dare to speak, you might prevent yourself from learning what you need to know to be able to dare.  Leaving Gornemant, this was where Percival was at.  He didn’t know enough to ask yet, so the gease of silence was best.

The last quote gives an order.  First you must know, then you can dare, then you can will.  Will gives you dominion, but silence keeps it.  We’re seeing a cycle here.  In the beginning, you are silent until you know enough to ask the right question.  Then you ask and learn more.  But when your knowledge is complete, when you have fully dared and fully willed, you return to silence.  This is discernment, knowing when to ask and when to be silent.  When to keep the taboo against speaking and the gease to be silent, and when to break them and ask.

So, back to Percival.  Percival eventually came upon the Fisher King in his boat on the river, then to the Graal Castle.  There he feasted with the Fisher King.  While he was there, he received a sword, he saw the Graal carried through by a maiden, with two pages with candelabras ahead and a second maiden with a carving dish behind, and he saw a lance that bled.  He kept silent, remembering Gornemant’s gease and taboo, and didn’t ask about these things.  He stayed the night, and the castle was empty in the morning, so he left, hoping to find the servants of the castle.

Instead, he finds his cousin.  She asked him what he saw in the castle and he describes it, answering each of her questions until she asks if he asked the meaning.  The conversation shows he knew enough to ask but kept silent.  She tells him his question could have healed to King and his silence brought desolation the land.

He proceeds to King Arthur’s court.  A horribly ugly maiden came and chewed him out:

“Ah, Perceval, Fortune is bald behind, but has a forelock in front. A curse on him who greets or wishes you well, for you did not seize Fortune when you met her. You entered the dwelling of the Fisher King; you saw the lance which bleeds. Was it so painful to open your mouth that you could not ask why the drop of blood sprang from the whim point of the lance? When you saw the grail, you did not inquire who was the rich man whom one served with it. Most unfortunate is he who when the weather is fairer than usual waits fir even fairer to come. It was you, unfortunate man, who saw that the time and the place were right for speech, and yet remained mute. You had ample opportunity, but in an evil hour you kept silent. If you had asked, the rich King, who is now sore troubled, would have been wholly cured of his wound and would have held his land in peace–land which he will never hold again. Do you know what will happen if the King does not hold his land and is not healed of his wound? Ladies will lose their husbands, lands will be laid waste, maidens, helpless, will remain orphans, and many knights will die. All these calamities will befall because of you!” ~The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol, Roger Sherman Loomis, Pg, 40

“…for you did not seize Fortune when you met her.”  This brings to mind something else Cochrane said, “In fate, and the overcoming of fate is the true Graal, for from this inspiration comes, and death is defeated.”  “Overcoming of fate” would appear to be the same statement, “seize Fortune”, as Dame Fortune was the guise Fate took in the Middle Ages, when Comte del Graal was written.  Percival failed to “seize Fortune”, failed to “overcome Fate” when he failed to ask about the things he saw, in effect failed to ask about the Graal.  Cochrane said the true Graal was fate and the overcoming of fate, and the maiden says failing to ask the question was failing to grasp Fortune.  It follows that Fortune, which is Fate, and therefore the true Graal, is obtained by asking the right question, asking the meaning of the Graal.  You obtain the Graal by asking its meaning and whom it serves.

Percival failed to ask.  He kept the gease and the taboo, and therefore failed to ask the question, failed to grasp Fortune, failed to overcome fate, failed to obtain the Graal.  The secret lies in learning when to break the gease and taboo.  And in general, the secret to Mystery, to Knowing, Understanding, and Wisdom.  To Kether and the Divine.

~Muninn’s Kiss

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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in muninnskiss


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Those Who Pray, Those Who Fight, Those Who Work: Musings About Labor Day

Yesterday was Labor Day in the US, in a lot of ways the Twin of Memorial Day.  Labor Day is the first Monday of September and Memorial Day the last Monday of May.  If you consider March, April, and May as Spring, June, July, and August as Summer, and September, October, and November as Autumn, Labor Day and Memorial Day mirror each other, exactly thirteen weeks apart, a quarter of a year.

But it’s not the date that makes them Twins, that ties them together, but their nature.  There’s two parts to this, the original intention, and the organic evolution.

Though it has evolved, Memorial Day is and always has been, throughout its history, a day of remembering those who died serving in the United States armed forces.  It is ultimately a day of mourning for the fallen, characterized by visiting graves and laying flowers and other offerings on the graves.  It has evolved in that people don’t only visit military dead, but family as well in a lot of cases.  It has become almost the US’s Dia de los Muertos.

Unlike Memorial Day, Labor Day is a celebration, not mourning.  It was a day created to honour the contributions of workers to the economy and society.  However, seldom is that element mentioned at this point.  It is seen as a reward for laborers, giving them a day off, laborers used to mean all those who have jobs, though I don’t think management and others that aren’t laborers in the traditional sense.  It is normally celebrated with picnics and barbecues, the last weekend of the summer season.  It is celebrated with family.

You have several levels, as I said, that make these two holidays Twins.  The first is obvious.  Memorial Day is a day for the military, Labor Day is a day for civilians.  This has been a strong dichotomy throughout history, with the addition of a third group, which I will get to in a moment.  Rome had a strong division between the civilians and the soldiers.  Civilians where pretty much set in their place unless they became soldiers.  You were either a citizen by birth, or you became one serving as a soldier.  There were other groups as well, but these were the largest two.  Medieval thought described the three estates, Oratores, “those who pray”, Bellatores, “those who fight”, and Laboratores, “those who work”.  A simplified summary of India’s caste system has four main castes, with the outcasts as a fifth.  These are: Brahman, “priests”, Kshatriyas, “warriors”, Vaishyas, “traders”, Shudras, “workmen”, and Panchama, “the fifth”.  Traders are of not, because as the Borges developed in Europe into a Middle Class, it was traders that they were.  But priests and traders are smaller portions of society, by their nature.  Fighters and laborers are the largest portions in all societies that have try classes or castes.  And they are very much opposites in their nature, but both essential for society.

On a deeper level, the two holidays represent life and death.  Memorial Day is a day of mourning the dead.  Labor Day is a celebration of life.  Memorial Day is visiting the dead.  Labor Day is spending time with family, the place our life came from.  Life and Death.  What is curious, these days, opposite on the calender and opposite in nature, are opposite of the older holidays, holy days.  Spring is normally a time of rebirth and life, Candlemas and May Day, the length of days growing.  Autumn is normally a time of death, harvest, Samhain.  But these two are opposite that.  Why?

If you think about Labor Day from an agricultural point of view, you realize Labor Day is during harvest time, and in many parts of the US, the end of harvest.  It’s appropriate that laborer’s would be celebrated after harvest, after the hard work they have done.  So Labor Day is easy to see as a traditional harvest festival, especially with the focus on the family gathering around food.  And the food from harvest, though often seen as dying, is the life that gets people through the winter.

But what about Memorial Day?  It’s important to note that the current Memorial Day comes from the Northern date after the Civil War.  The Southern equivalant occurred on May 1, May Day.  The secret here comes from a detail of the ceremony of visiting the graves.  The practice of laying flowers on the graves.  This practice is very ancient and didn’t start with the holiday.  The holiday determined a specific day for an older custom.  Now May is well known as the month flowers bloom (though it’s not as set as customs imply).  May Day is most commonly celebrated with gathering and giving of flowers.  Flowers on graves probably came from creating a place for the dead that was like where they would go in death, in the belief it would make that place better.  Just like the Egyptians filling tomes with what the dead would need.  So, if the intended custom was the placement of flowers (and the original name was Decoration Day because of this custom), it only makes sense that it would need to be at a time when flowers bloom.  Suddenly, Memorial Day becomes a flower ceremony, the placing of flowers on graves becomes a ceremony of planting, just as the body placed in the ground is the seed, the death that will bring life.

So the two Twins do in fact fit their seasons.  Memorial Day, a day of death, is a day of planting.  Labor Day, a day of life, is a day of harvest.

To get back to Labor Day specifically, lets look at labour itself.  In Kabbalah, this is Olam HaAssaiah, the World of Action.  It’s the world where things happen.  It isn’t the World of Planning or the World of thinking.  It’s the World of Action.  Priests in most cultures deal with spiritual things.  They are the ones who pray, not the ones who act.  Traders typically take the things made by laborers and transport them then trade them with others.  They distribute the result of others actions, don’t act themselves in the way we’re discussing.  But both laborers and warriors act and change the world, laborers typically by creating and building, warriors by killing and destroying.  Ultimately, labour is action, and action is the stuff of this world and the only way to change the higher worlds.  This is why down to earth, salt of the earth, people are the ones who labour, the farmers and ranchers that produce our food, the construction workers that produce our shelter and roads, the steel workers building skeletons of our cities and the cars we drive, the miners and droppers and rig workers who give us energy for our electronics and our heat, that provide the iron and copper, the lumberjacks that provide the wood for our houses, the teamsters who get our things from one place to another.

Part of the reason the craft has always been made up of outsiders is because we span the classes and castes above.  We work.  You can’t be a witch if you don’t do the work.  We trade.  On multiple levels.  On a mundane level, most magical services were bartered and traded for.  A charm in exchange for food, a curse in exchange for repairing my fence, an amulet for a bushel of wood.  On a spiritual level, much of magic is trade with the spirits, giving them something in exchange for a service or information from them.  Witches tend to be excellent traders.  We fight.  As Victor Anderson said, the craft is martial and a warrior tradition.  It’s not coincidence that many folk tales are about witches flying to fight spirits in the night.  As Cochrane said, “What I have, I hold!”  What can you hold if you don’t fight for it?  And we pray.  All spells are truly prayers, but more specifically, we are Priests and Priestesses.  We form the Bridge between the people and the gods, between the Kingdom and the King, between the mundane and the Divine, between this world and the otherworld, between heaven and earth, between this world and the underworld, between life and death.  We are the Bridge because we stand between worlds.  We are liminal, neither here nor there, but both, so can connect the worlds for others.  We are Priests, Warriors, Traders, Workers.  We are all things.  Liminal.  So we become the Fifth, the untouchables.  Because we can’t be contained in category because we claim them all.  So we become outsiders, Other, Monster, untouchable.

~Muninn’s Kiss

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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in muninnskiss


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