Archive for Initiation

Cingula

Posted in Folklore, Projects with tags , , , , , on May 9, 2015 by manxwytch

Of late, I have been weaving traditional Manx cords; a process that allows much time for thought and contemplation in the repetition of the weaving and twisting, and is also a potent vehicle for tactile connection with the Lineage in the materials, the spirit, and the passing on of new cords.

The materials and colours of the weaving and binding of the cords connect us with the old faery heritage of the Isle and reflect the dark and light energies with which we work, and must master in the course of our training. One strand of the cord is left its natural colour, another is dyed by hand with oak and iron, both puissant substances and linked of old to witches and our Craft. Twisted together they embody the ophidian power bequeathed to us, and the dual paths of blessing and bane traversed by the Traditional Manx Witch.

As umbilicus, the cord feeds us with life-giving Land and Lineage; as bond, it ties us to our Oath. In being worn, it defines personal otherworldly space, in being seen it shows a badge of office. Its magick is that of connection, (a magick much needed nowadays), whereas the blade separates and directs.

In the old Manx tradition, there are different cords made and given at different times, and used for different purposes. Some of the uses in magickal workings are widely known: the wheel, the ladder; some are shared by many traditions, for measuring and wearing; and a few have fallen out of popular use and knowledge, for controlling the flow of blood in the body and conjuring liminal states of consciousness.

Tradition, Lineage, Practice

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2012 by manxwytch

I’ve heard it said that in Christianity, faith, hope and love abide, and that the greatest of these is love.

In witchcraft, at least in my witchcraft, it is tradition, lineage and practice which abide, and it is practice which is the greatest of these.

Tradition consists of the collection of lore, belief, liturgy and instruction that is passed down to, or collected by the witch. It is the body of theory, the ideological matrix into which the practitioner integrates to create a coherent worldview. In the Craft, we have drawn from history, myth, folklore, herbalism, divination, vision, mythology, and a multitude of other sources to create our traditions. Some were handed down to us, others we researched and collected on our own, some are the result of our own experiences.

Lineage describes the line of teaching and initiation that stretches back to the origins of whatever brand of witchcraft we follow. At its greatest, it is the unbroken chain of living Witch Fire that is passed from initiator to initiate. At its least, it is a list of names of those who preceded you in a particular line.

Practice is what the individual makes of his/her Craft. Practices may be described in the traditional lore but it is practice, as a verb, that makes the witch.

You can be a witch without a tradition, (after all, there must have been a witch before the lore was assembled to be passed on). You can be a witch without a lineage, (because all lineages have to start somewhere). But you cannot be a witch without a practice, (there are no non-practicing witches because being a witch is not a matter of faith, hope or love; you cease to practice witchcraft and you cease to be a witch), and it is the practice that determines the authenticity of the witchcraft.

A witch is as a witch does.

I have been extremely fortunate in that I have been gifted with both a tradition and a lineage, but it is my practice that maintains my validity. And without the last, the first two are nearly worthless. I won’t say completely worthless, but will explain why later.

Having a tradition and a lineage bestows certain benefits, such as a covine of experienced and learned folk who have walked the same path to go to for guidance. It also means that much more traditional lore has already been assembled, including lore from non-published historical sources of various vintages. In addition it means that I have been guided in my learning and practice by people who have done it before, and can learn from their triumphs and mistakes along the way. A close covine also provides much fertilizer for personal awareness and development, and no shortage of drama and intrigue to keep life interesting and with which to keep one’s moral compass calibrated.

The tradition and the lineage exist both within and without the individual witch, unlike the practice which is inextricably bound to the Witches’ Craft. Because of this, it is possible for a person to pass on lineage and tradition in theory without him/herself having a valid practice. This person may be part of an initiatory line, may have lore to pass on, but the spark of Witch Fire does not live in his/her practice. Many have been the mediocre initiatory parents who give birth to a gifted child who far exceeds them, and also there are those exceptional brethren whose magical child is, nevertheless stillborn. And again there are those who, having accomplished what the gods set out for them to do, fall by the wayside and return to the base clay from which they came. That is why those who have have a tradition and a lineage in the absence of a valid practice may still serve a purpose; to carry on a mummers play of the Craft until they can pass it on to one who can invest it with life.

What makes a valid practice?

I approach this from several vantage points.

First, practicing the Craft is like playing a musical instrument, or building a house. You need to know what you’re doing, and the only way to figure out what you’re doing is by doing it, over and over, preferably under expert guidance, every day, for hours at a time, for several years until you become proficient in it. Then, once you become proficient, you throw yourself even deeper into it and you see if you have a talent for it. The effort must be total for the results to be meaningful. And to allow for total absorption in the practice, you must develop proficiency in the technique.

My second vantage point is the writing of the 13th century Soto Zen master Dogen. He eloquently described the requirements for authentic practice in a very simple way. He said authentic practice occurs when one side is bright and the other side is dark. Practice requires an intensity of focus and energy wherein anything that isn’t the object of your practice disappears into oblivion; hence one side is bright, the other side is dark.

The next two points are interconnected. In order to be inspired, or to inspire, (as in ‘to breathe in’), you must first breathe out. Breathing out means letting go of what you have, creating a void, a lacuna, which the gods, the spirits, the universe are then able to fill. Practice involves letting go of the personal self. If your practice results in feelings of  self-satisfaction, filled with hubris or if your practice becomes self-aggrandizement, it isn’t creating space for inspiration.

For a practice to be authentic, I feel it needs to be:

Consistent
Single-pointed
Inspired
Transpersonal

Simple, but not easy.

A Traditional Witchcraft Triple Bill

Posted in History, Library with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2012 by manxwytch

In addition to carving, I’ve been spending time with my bedside reading, making my way through a trio of new-ish offerings on the Traditional Craft.

Ars Philtron has been on my shelf for a while, but the broader scope of Viridarium Umbris demanded my attention first, even through the first edition of AP was the earlier publication. The Children of Cain is on loan from a witch who has university papers on medieval witch hunts to write, so I scooped it from her ample bookshelves until she has the time to go through it herself. The first of the Three Hands Press occult monographs is a recent arrival, and a quick and satisfying read that provided the icing on this particular occult layer cake.

Ars Philtron, Concerning the Aqueous Cunning of the Potion And its Praxis in the Green Art Magical, by David Schulke

Edition Codex Vasculum, Xoanon Press, 2008

In the author’s words, the focus of Ars Philtron is, “any ensorcelled aqueous coction compounded with Plant, Mineral, or Beast adjuncts, employed as a vehicle of enchantment.” (Italics are the author’s)

This book is part Alchemical, part Herbal, and part Grimoire. Simultaneously revealed and concealed within the writing style of the Cultus are instructions and lore dealing with all manner of potions, running the gamut from love philtre to thanatotic libation. Unfortunately, many of the formulae call for distillation equipment, putting them outside the scope of practice for most Green Witches and Wort Cunningfolk.

The author begins with a description of the materials and equipment used in the art, their preparation and function in the production of the potion. He proceeds to describe in detail the lore and manufacture of several classes of philtre, among them, aphrodisiacs, ablutions, sacraments, vinegars, potions to alter states of consciousness and dreaming, poisons and animating potions. To conclude, Schulke offers the consummation of the art, words to the Wise concerning the Real Work. This is followed by a brief lexicon and a useful bibliography.

Occasionally profoundly obscure, some sections require significant effort on the part of the reader to recall what it is the author is actually talking about. Though, as always, this offering from Mr. Schulke is a very thorough and valuable elucidation of the subject matter.

Children of Cain, A Study of Modern Traditional Witches by Michael Howard

Three Hands Press, 2011.

As the editor of one of the longest running and highest quality witchcraft periodicals in the world, The Cauldron magazine, Mike Howard is in an ideal position to write a history of modern Traditional Witchcraft.  His exposure to wide range of Craft traditions and practices over the years and his connections built up in the traditional community put him in a position to assemble and share a valuable history.

The Children of Cain is a general wander through the realm of modern Traditional Witchcraft.   The author provides a basic introduction to a dozen traditions in the UK and the US.  As might be expected from the author’s background, his approach is more journalistic than academic, and while some traditions are very well researched and referenced, others are presented with no new information offered than what has already been published elsewhere, and in some cases, no support given for what is offered beyond its presentation.  It may be in these cases that Howard relied only on secondary sources where he lacked personal contacts with the primary ones or, knowing what I know about Mike Howard, he chose to respect the privacy of his sources and their requests for secrecy about some aspects of their traditions.

Howard begins his book with Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal Cain, providing a short biography of the former and a valuable description of the beliefs, tools, Gods and methods as well as the documented and oral history of the latter.  Howard has been severely criticized by one member of the Clan for his treatment of Cochrane, but in reading the criticism, I am left wondering if we have in fact read the same book!  My impression as a reader without a vested interest is that Howard has dealt fairly with the details of Cochrane’s life and that his treatment has been realistic and balanced.  I didn’t read a depiction of a “dysfunctional madman” in the author’s writing.  As for the other criticisms, again, as an outsider it looks like the Clansman is grasping at straws or suffering from tunnel vision fixating on the parts of Howard’s narrative he disagrees with.  There has been little written about the Clan from its originator, and what there is Mike Howard has used in detail, along with information from Cochrane’s successor and past associates in the Clan.

From here he goes on to describe The Regency in a lengthy section, providing some history and details on the more neopagan outer circle and the traditional inner circle and describing the important role The Regency played in keeping old witchcraft alive while simultaneously making it more available to the growing neopagan movement.

The next section focusses on the legendary George Pickingill and his nine covens, though much of what is here was already published in the Pickingill Papers, which Howard relies on extensively.

After this he details the Guilds, and again Howard has drawn extensively on secondary sources for historical information on the various guild groups making use of witchcraft including the Horsemen, the Toadmen and the Millers Word.  Regarding the initiation rites, Howard goes into rather more detail that I would like to see revealed in a general survey of traditions.

The final two sections deal with Traditional Witchcraft imported into the US by European immigrants and a trans-Atlantic review of the Old Craft today.  Today is used rather loosely to include figures and traditions from the 1900s on, including Cecil Williamson and his museums, Austin Osman Spare, Rosaleen Norton and the contemporary Cultus Sabbati, among others.  With his personal connections to the Cultus Sabbati, Howard does an excellent and in depth discussion of its history, influences and approach, speaking extensively about Andrew Chumbley and the contributions he made to the modern occult movement.  He also includes discussions with Daniel Schulke, Chumbley’s successor in the Cultus.

In all, I would describe the Children of Cain as an excellent and detailed introduction to the Modern Traditional Craft, but not the definitive work that its publishers would like it to be.  I do highly recommend it and consider it to be an essential addition to any witchcraft library.

Mysticism, Initiation and Dream, by Andrew Chumbley

Three Hands Press, 2012

This slender volume is the first of the Occult Monographs series published by Three Hands Press and is an academic paper by Andrew Chumbley surveying Voodoo, Sufism, Tibetan Bon and other sources on the subject of Dream Initiation.  The work is particularly valuable in that it is not an historical survey of dreams and their meanings, but instead the author posits two directions of work for oneiric praxis – the first is the grounding of the dream into the physical, the second is the ennoblement of the dreamer through the dream.  In the author’s words:

“It is as if the initiatory dream is a window – a transliminal portal, set on the border between many worlds and many states, through which the divine numen shoots forth a starry beam; a ray with which to inflame the mystic’s heart whilst on earth, but nonetheless to draw him heavenwards.”

Chumbley’s thesis is that through the interpretation of the symbols in dreams, the sacred is made manifest in the dreamer’s world; and through dreaming, the dreamer is linked in an immediate and personal way to the source of the mystical dream, which shapes his outlook and actions to move him in that direction.  The author also addresses the concept and role of the dream initiator and the universality of access and gnosis in the dreaming.

The breadth and depth of Chumbley’s understanding of his research subject is, as always, impressive, and this addition to his published works is heartily welcomed. The production quality of the volume is up to the Cultus Sabbati’s usual excellent standards. Tantalizing glimpses of future titles and authors show great promise for the series as it addresses a broad range of subjects in sufficient depth to be of use to both experienced practitioners and critical scholars.