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On Veils and Webs and Hedges…

Much folklore, tradition, and mythology talk of a boundary, an edge, a division between worlds. Why this is common should be fairly evident. If there is an Otherworld, Underworld, any type of world beyond ours, if there was no separation, there would be no other world, the two would be one. For the two to be distinct, or function as distinct, something must divide them.

There are different words in different languages and cultures, different meanings, different methods to cross this boundary. But the boundary is constant, because it has to be. If there’s another world, there is a boundary making these worlds distinct.

One common word used in English is the Veil. This is the term I most commonly use. As do many others.

The term brings to mind for some the veils of nuns or brides, the veils of mourners, the veils of Islamic women. For others, it brings to mind the veils of belly dancers, or harems, or erotic chambers. For others still, it brings to mind the curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem, and of the verse in the New Testament of that veil torn in two from top to bottom.

These imaginings of the Veil are useful, of course they are. But how accurate are they? Why do we use the term, and do our images match the reality the term is trying to describe.

Lets start with the meaning of Veil, and it’s origins.

veil (n.)
c.1200, “nun’s head covering,” from Anglo-French and Old North French veil (12c., Modern French voile) “a head-covering,” also “a sail, a curtain,” from Latin vela, plural of velum “sail, curtain, covering,” from PIE root *weg- (1) “to weave a web.” Vela was mistaken in Vulgar Latin for a feminine singular noun. To take the veil “become a nun” is attested from early 14c.

The beginning of this description of course is some of the uses we described above, a head covering, a curtain. But note first the Latin vela, velum. Despite it’s use as singular, vela is plural, and that is the word we get veil from, not the singular. Of interest, though, is that the Latin velum also becomes the English velum, which is the soft palate, the roof of the mouth. A veil is thin and covers, but it isn’t necessarily cloth or fragile.

Of more interest is the fact that Velum comes the reconstructed *weg- meaning “to weave a web”. It is the image of a spider’s web across a surface or over an opening. Have you ever walked into a room or cave or cavern or between trees and walked right into a spider web at face level? That is a veil.

Web comes from the same word and so does weave. These two retained that meaning well. Most of the words coming from this root mean something along the lines of entwined, interlaced, woven.

But, as words do change meaning over time, do these meanings hold relevance to our Veil, the way we use it in the context of this discussion?

Consider for a moment, the idea of the endless Web of Fate I have described elsewhere. Each being, human or not, has a knot of Threads at their core, that tie them to everything else. These Threads interconnect with other Threads of those we encounter and interact with, and to our ancestors by blood, lore, or past lives. These form a multidimensional Web, woven by the one who weaves. I describe the web like this:

“Picture a spider web, a huge orb web, threads of web radiating out in all directions on a plane from a central point. Picture those threads connected to other threads between them, forming circles, spirals, curves around that centre. Picture the log thread stretching from the central point out to infinity in all directions, an infinite web. Picture the way the light shines through and across those threads, sometimes making them shine like glass, sometimes hiding them from view. Sometimes you see one thread, or three, or ten, sometimes just the part of the web near you. Lift your head, change the angle. You see the whole web sprawling out to eternity in the direction you are looking.”

What if this Web I describe is the boundary between worlds? What if it is our woven interconnectedness throughout Time and Space that separates us from that which is outside our Time and Space? If this is the case, the Web that binds us together holds us in what we think is reality. This would make crossing over that boundary very difficult, because we ourselves become the sentilils and guards, the Guardians of the Gate if you will. All our experiences and pasts and futures and interactions in this world tie us deeper into the Web and more to what we think is reality. People tend to see what they expect to see.

But, then, crossing that boundary also would mean being disentangled from it. Not necessarily cut free (after the one who cuts cuts our Thread, we cross the Gates of Life and Death; completely cut free of the Web is freedom from this world and our bodies, for the Threads are what knits flesh and spirit, spirit and flesh) but loosed. So, to cross over, the knots that hold us to what we know and expect of reality must be loosened and the Threads allowed to bend. The Threads of Fate but be bent, Fate must be bent.

Consider for a moment the word “warp”. In most common usages in Modern English, it is to “to bend, twist, distort”. This word is believed to come from the reconstructed Proto-Indoeuropian *werp- meaning “to turn or bend”. In weaving, it is used in contrast to “woof”, the woof being the set threads in the loom, the warp twisting and turning through the woof, bending it, to create a fabric. “Woof” comes from *webh- meaning “to weave”, which is the source of both our English weave, web, and wave.

If the Web of Fate is the boundary between worlds, and the All as a loom, and we see it as the woof in that loom, the threads that aren’t connected to the woof that twist and turn between them and bend them become the warp. The warp bends the woof, the weave, the Web. Without a warp in a loom, there is no fabric. Cut the ends and the woof is a pile of strings. But with the warp wove through the woof, a fabric forms. The warp hold the woof in place, and of course gives it colour and pattern. The woof is the foundation, but the warp defines its form.

Some Celtic sources describe the worlds as the Endless Knot, two separate lines interwoven but never connecting. The is of course the two worlds, the world we know, and the Otherworld. The two are seen as being tied together in certain places, and the Veil being thinnest there. Places meaning points on the earth, spatial places, and points in time, temporal places. At certain locations, the Veil is very thin because the worlds are so close. At certain times, liminal times, the worlds draw close, and the Veil thins. This idea of two interwoven worlds fits well the idea of the fabric of the Veil being the interweaving of the woof, our world, and the Threads that connect us, and the warp, the Otherworld and the Threads that connect those that live beyond the Veil, beyond the Gloom out in the endless Gleam.

Then, expanding the metaphor, and the reality it describes, crossing over is a matter of being tied to that other Web, that is the warp, which would mean that those who cross over are tied to both webs, that the Threads at their core run both out into the Woof Web of Fate and the Warp Web of Fate. They span the worlds, are the Gates, and guardians thereof, they are of both worlds, so not fully of either.

It’s by no accident that one of the folk etymologies for “witch” is that it came from a word meaning “to bend or turn”. Especially when we consider that the English “weird”, from the Germanic “wyrd”, urdr, ultimately meaning Fate, and is the name of one of the three Norns in Norse myth, comes from *wert-, from *wer-, the origin of *werp- we discussed above, “to bend or turn”. The warp of the loom, the wyrd, the fate, the Norns who decide the fate of all beings, the Spinner who spins the Thread, the Weaver who weaves it into the Webs, and the Cutter who cuts to on the Black Altar. The Grimr.

Moving on from weaving and webs and veils, let’s consider another common term for the boundary between worlds, the Hedge.

The image here is English style hedgerows of the type that separate fields or surround a residence. These form a living, wild boundary between two fields, or between what is inside and what is outside. For metaphoric purposes, we can use the image of a hedge around a residence, separating the inside and the outside.

Taking this idea back, and looking at the residence with a hedge around as an extension of the hill fort with a baracade or the castle or city with a wall, the inside becomes “us” and the outside “them”, the hedge as protection from the Other beyond it. Inside, we cultivate and control, we build and grow crops, we live life in relative safety. Outside, there’s uncertainty, danger, the settled, civilized farming settlement with the dangerous dark wood beyond, the image of the shift from nomadic to settled life.

The hedge is a wild and dangerous place, but intentionally so. There’s a reason two of the most common hedge trees are the whitethorn (hawthorn) and blackthorn (sloethorn). While pretty trees, and both producing fruit (the haws and sloes) that provide food for those within and without alike, and to birds and rodents and other animals, the thorns are the important part. These are thicket forming trees with long, dangerous thorns. The blackthorn’s thorns will cause nasty infections, and both are long and very sharp. You can’t cross the hedge without a lot of pain and threat to your body. Among the thorns creatures live and other plants, including other trees, grow intermixed. The result is a very dense wild boundary almost impossible to cross.

The hedge, though, being a wild space, also becomes a space where many herbs and other plants grow, giving rise to one of the two major modern usages of the term “hedgewitch”. The second meaning relates more to the hedge metaphor I’m going toward than the mundane hedgerows.

Often stiles are built where passage is needed. Stairs up one side and down the other, these triangular constructions allow passage over the hedge, the only safe passage. And these often can be gated at the top, and also mean limited known ingress and egress points.

Our hedge is like that, a wild space that both keeps us in, we that live in the Dreaming, the reserve if you will, and keeps the Other out, the deadly things that roam the Gleam, dangerous things our hedge protects us from. The hedge itself is dangerous to both, but limited and defined, a wild place that keeps the inward inward and outward outward.

The thin spots we talked about above function similar to stiles, but it should be remembered that what allows one to go outside the hedge also allows one to come inside the hedge. The stiles both allow passage out into the Gleam through the Gloom and become a dangerous gateway for things to possibly come into the Dreaming.

Just like with the mundane hedgerow, there are things in this hedge that can provide healing and nourishment, and things that are poisonous or deadly. Those who enter the hedge can gain much for it, but also must be cautious. And those that cross completely through or over the hedge instead of riding it must be very careful, because there’s a reason we live inside the hedge. The risk can definitely be worth it, though.

~Lorekeeper, Muninn’s Kiss

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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in muninnskiss


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Jacob’s Ladder: Changing Heaven and Fallen Angels

Many religions and tradition make a focus on reaching heaven, of going up. The Norse Valhalla and Fólkvangr were where the hero who died in battle went, both in the upper worlds. Much of Christianity is focused on getting to Heaven. Islam, too, has a struggle to get to Heaven.

Though the Greeks and Romans saw everyone going to the Underworld, some heroes who pleased the gods where either placed in the sky as constellations or made into gods and allowed to live on Mount Olympus. This theme of the abode of the gods or the land of the dead being on a mountain top appears in many cultures, including Chinese. Mountains rise above us, just as heaven is above.

Other cultures have a heaven-like land of the dead that, while isn’t above, is very similar to those that are above, a paradise. These tend to be across the sea, inside a hill or mountain, or far far away. The Welsh Annwn is one example.

And of course in some cultures, everyone goes to the underworld, which might be nasty or might be paradise, depending on the culture. But I’ll get back to that later.

We focus on above and getting there. Even Buddhism describes enlightenment as ascending. We all want to be like Jesus ascending into Heaven in the first chapter of Acts. But why?

I’ve talked lately about fallen angels. They are “fallen” because they once were in heaven but are now on earth. Some were kicked out and some left by choice. It’s the second group I want to talk about.

The Watchers are the prime example. They saw the beauty of the human women and chose them over heaven. They chose to teach mankind, like Prometheus and Epimetheus. Why is it that we long for heaven but they chose earth, we long for the Divine, but they chose Man?

Have you read about Jacob’s Ladder in Genesis?

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. ~Genesis 28:12

Most Christians describe it as the way to heaven, but there’s something noticeable. The angels are ascending and descending, not just ascending.

I’ve heard the Tree of Life in Kabbalah described as Jacob’s Ladder. But who’s using the Tree means a lot in how this applies. Any neopagans and New Agers, and others, who get into Kabbalah use the Tree as a visualization and meditation tool. You follow the “Lightning Path” to enlightenment, or the Divine, or Heaven, or the upper world, or whatever. The Middle Pillar exercise Regardie Israel of the Golden Dawn is the opposite. It’s about bringing down the power of heaven to earth, rather than raising you up to heaven.

The Jewish idea of the Tree is different. The saying ceremonial magic and hence much of the Western Mystery, Occult, and esoteric community, uses, “as above, so below”, is only half of the Jewish idea. “As above, so below, as below, so above.” To the Jewish Kabbalist, the Jewish people are how G-d works in the world. This is the World of Action. Actions occur here, not in heaven. The actions of the Jewish people change things in heaven, which then change things on earth. Doing a mitzvah or saying a prayer is like a letter that goes up the Ladder, angel to archangel or whatever, to the upper worlds and changes things there, helps rectify things. These then cascade back down the ladder and helps to redeem our world. This goes up and down the Tree, as it goes up and down through the four worlds. Many interpret the Tree as something to climb to leave the physical for the spiritual. But in the Jewish understanding, we aren’t meant to ignore and leave the physical. The physical is where the actions occur. Nothing can happen in heaven if we don’t act on earth.

On one of the lists I’m on, we were discussing the Otherworld a bit ago. Part of being a witch is crossing over into the Otherworld, jumping the hedge. Going across is obviously seen as a good thing. If it wasn’t, why would we? But if it’s so good to be there, why are there all the warnings in folk tales regarding Faerie, the Otherworld, and the Fey about not eating food and other things that can make it so you can’t come back? And why is it seen as so terrible when the Fey take someone, be it a baby or an adult, and bring them to the Otherworld for the rest of their lives? Wouldn’t it be a good thing to stay over there?

In Feri circles, it’s talked about to be Fey. To be Fey is to be both fully Divine and fully Human. The Godself part of us is Divine. She’s connected to the Divine. She is our personal I AM. The Talker part of us is Human. She only knows this world. But both are part of us. “I would know myself in all my parts.” We are fully Divine AND fully Human. Both are important. We can’t ignore either.

Now, back to fallen angels. The universe, heaven and earth, is the macrocasm and we are the microcasm. What is outside us, while important as an external thing, tells us a lot about what’s inside. The universe shows us ourselves and allows us to better understand ourselves. Likewise ourselves show us the universe and allows us to better understand the universe. What do fallen angels mean to us, inside us?

Fallen angels are the Divine, heaven, coming into us, choosing us. They become more human and help us become more Divine. They are Godself, Neshamah, descending and joining with us, becoming our lover.

~Muninn’s Kiss

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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in muninnskiss


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Romulus and Remus: Establishment and Witch – Part 2

Okay, back to Romulus and Remus.   I’d first like to quote from the Wikipedia article about them, since I think it gives a pretty good summary.  The think to remember is that there are many versions of the myth.  This doesn’t reflect all of them.

Romulus and Remus are Rome’s twin founders in its traditional foundation myth, although the former is sometimes said to be the sole founder. Their maternal grandfather was Numitor, rightful king of Alba Longa, a descendant of the Trojan prince, Aeneas and father to Rhea Silvia (also known as Ilia). Before their conception, Numitor’s brother Amulius deposed his brother, killed his sons and forced Rhea to become a Vestal Virgin, intending to deprive Numitor of lawful heirs and thus secure his own position; but Rhea conceived Romulus and Remus by either the god Mars or the demi-god Hercules. When the twins were born, Amulius left them to die but they were saved by a series of miraculous interventions. A she-wolf found them and suckled them. A shepherd and his wife then fostered them and raised them to manhood as shepherds. The twins proved to be natural leaders and acquire many followers. When told their true identities, they killed Amulius, restored Numitor to the throne of Alba Longa and decided to found a new city for themselves.

Romulus wished to build the new city on the Palatine Hill but Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. They agreed to determine the site through augury. Romulus appeared to receive the more favorable signs but each claimed the results in his favour. In the disputes that followed, Remus was murdered by Romulus. Ovid has Romulus invent the festival of Lemuria to appease Remus’ resentful ghost. Romulus names the new city Rome after himself and goes on to create the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate. Rome’s population is swelled by incomers, including landless refugees and outlaws; most are men. Romulus arranges the abduction of women from the neighboring Sabine tribes, which immediately leads to war but eventually results in the combination of Sabines and Romans as one Roman people. Rome rapidly expands to become a dominant force in central Italy, due to divine favour and the inspired administrative, military and political leadership of Romulus. In later life Romulus becomes increasingly autocratic, disappears in mysterious circumstances and is deified as the god Quirinus, the divine persona of the Roman people.

The image of the she-wolf suckling the divinely fathered twins became an iconic representation of the city and its founding legend, making Romulus and Remus preeminent among the feral children of ancient mythography. The legend as a whole encapsulates Rome’s ideas of itself, its origins and moral values; for modern scholarship, it remains one of the most complex and problematic of all foundation myths, particularly in the matter and manner of Remus’ death. Ancient historians had no doubt that Romulus gave his name to the city. Most modern historians believe his name a back-formation from the name Rome; the basis for Remus’ name and role remain subjects of ancient and modern speculation. The myth was fully developed into something like an “official”, chronological version in the Late Republican and early Imperial era. Roman historians dated the city’s foundation from 758 to 728 BC. Plutarch says Romulus was fifty-three at his death; his reckoning gives the twins’ birth year as c. 771 BC. Possible historical bases for the broad mythological narrative remain unclear and are much disputed. Very few scholars believe in the historicity of Romulus and Remus, but Andrea Carandini is one. He bases his belief on the 1988 discovery of an ancient wall which he names as the Murus Romuli on the north slope of the Palatine Hill in Rome, and dates to the mid 8th century BC.

In all versions of the myth, there are strong parallels between the birth of the twins and the birth of Moses in the Torah.  Both were meant to die but were saved.  Both were placed in baskets in a river, in this myth on the Tiber instead of the Nile.  Both were saved from the river.  Moses was found and raised by a princess, whereas Tiberinus, the river deity, directed the twins’ basket to the reeds where they were rescued and suckled by a wolf.  There are a lot of parallels between how the Jews view Moses and how Rome viewed Romulus, but I won’t go there here.

Whether the myth is true or not, whether Romulus and Remus really lived, whether they really founded Rome, doesn’t really matter, like it doesn’t with most myths.  The myth, Romulus, is Rome and Rome is Romulus.  The myth shaped Rome and Rome shaped the myth.  You can’t have Rome as it was without Romulus.  And you can’t have the modern Western world without Rome, because it grew out of Rome.  Most of Europe and the New World are the result of Rome.  Basically what is identified as the Christian world is the modern Roman world.  The West is Rome and Rome is Romulus.  We, the modern world, are the results of this myth.  Romulus formed the Roman Senate in the myth, and Western government, and also Western religious structures, come from the Senate.  It is all the product of Romulus, Romulus the son of a god, Romulus raised by wolves, Romulus the shepherd, Romulus the warrior, Romulus the leader, Romulus the kinslayer.

But what of Remus?  There is no Romulus without Remus.  They are twins.  The story of Romulus is the story of Remus.  There’s a reason why Remus, so mysterious to historians, is always part of the story.  But all the stories are either about both doing something or about only Romulus.  Who was this Remus?  Why is he important?

Seeing Romulus as the leader and Remus as the follower is easy with the focus on Romulus.  It’s easy to think Remus just followed his brother’s lead, never questioned, never argued, did whatever Romulus wanted.  But is this true?  The stories say they both proved to be excellent leaders and gained many followers.  It wasn’t just Romulus the leader and Remus the follower.  This matches my dream with each of the twins leading a group.  But what more do we know about Remus?
Some versions of the myth tell of a disagreement.  The twins want to build a city, the city that would later be known as Rome.  They disagree on which hill to build it one.  They decide to use augury to decide.  Remus sees six eagles (or vultures) and Romulus sees twelve.  Remus claims it favoured him because he saw his six before Romulus saw any.  Romulus claims it favoured him because he saw more.  Romulus and his followers start building a wall (or a boundary, a trench, etc, depending on the version), while Remus watches, criticizing.  I’ll finish this story in a moment, but first, what do we see here?  Is Remus just a follower?  Obviously not.  They disagreed, and Remus didn’t just give in.

The end of this version is interesting, and gets to the root of where I’ve been heading.  Remus jumps over the wall as an insult to the defenses.  Romulus gets mad and kills Remus and says, so will happen to anyone who jumps over the wall.  This can, of course, be taken as talking about that anyone who tries to breach the defenses of Rome will be killed.  And this understanding would have been the one Romans saw in the myth.  And for a long time, anyone who went against Rome ended up losing.  But is there another way to look at it?

The wall, the trench, the boundary.  Liminal.  Crossing over.  Liminal space is important, because a boundary in the physical world reflects a boundary in the spiritual.  Witch lives in the liminal, one foot in each world.  Part of what makes Witch is the crossing over.  Some use the term jumping the hedge.  Is it a great stretch to compare this to jumping a wall?  Can we see Remus as Witch?<

Romulus is the one building, he is the establishment.  The government, the Church, order, the authorities.  Remus is on the sidelines, the outcast, Other, Witch.  Remus is a threat to Romulus, to what he is building, to his plans.  Other is always a threat to the establishment, whether the establishment is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, pagan, heathen, atheist, whatever.  Witch is always a threat.  Because the establishment doesn’t like change.  Change can’t be predicted, can’t be controlled.  But Witch is change.  Change can’t help but come.

So, we see Romulus as the establishment, and Remus as Witch.  Romulus isn’t evil, nor is Remus.  But neither are good, either.  The Church isn’t evil, the government isn’t evil, science isn’t evil.  Witchcraft isn’t evil, either.  There is no inherent good or evil in either.  But both may do evil or do good, or more accurately do harm or help.  Romulus kills Remus, not because Romulus is evil, and not because Remus is evil, but because Remus is a threat.

But what is Romulus without Remus?  The important parts of the story are done with Remus’ death.  And what is Remus without Romulus?  They are twins, they are one.  Romulus is Remus’ reflection, and Remus is Romulus’ reflection.  They are each others’ soul.  So too with the establishment and Witch.  Without Witch, there is no change.  The establishment becomes stagnant.  And without the establishment, Witch becomes complacent.  You see this in today’s witchcraft.  It has grown in numbers in the last sixty years, but so has the number of “witches” who aren’t serious, who just think it’s cool, who never dig deep.  The establishment and Witch, like Romulus and Remus, are two sides of the same coin, the outside expression and the inside expression.

Okay, back to my dream.  In my dream, both Romulus and Remus were obviously leaders as they each had large groups of people.  I only one I actually encountered was Romulus.  Was Remus already dead by then?  I don’t know.  But as important as he is in myth, as important as he is in the discussion above, he must not have been important in the dream.  It was our interaction with Romulus, with the establishment, that mattered.

Romulus was the large group, the majority, as the establishment always is.  Or, I should say, followed by the majority.  We were the small group, the minority.  Romulus’ people seemed like followers, lackeys.  It was him and those who followed him.  Our group felt like a team, one.  There was a leader, the secular leader, the representative.  And there was me, the priestess, the spiritual leader, the Bridge.  But we weren’t above the rest, superior to the rest.  We were all equals even if we had different roles.

Romulus tries to force himself of the leader.  She is the physical, I am the spiritual.  She is this world, I am the Otherworld.  She is human, i am divine, fey.  Together, we are whole.  Together, we are Witch.  He forces himself on her, because he can touch the physical word.  He can touch the body.  But he can’t touch the spiritual, he can’t touch the soul.  I aid her in trying to fight him back.  We are one, so we fight together, the spiritual aiding the physical, the soul aiding the body.  It’s only together we can fight back.

There is a lot more in my dream, though some of it is personal.  And there is a lot more to the story of Romulus and Remus.  But I’ll leave both be for now.

~Muninn’s Kiss

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Posted by on April 7, 2011 in muninnskiss


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