News of the Past

September 2014
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Anthropomorphic Assumptions in Magical Work

By Taylor Ellwood

One of the challenges with exploring a non-anthropomorphic approach to magical work involves uncovering the anthropomorphic assumptions that show up in your thinking and practice. These assumptions can be quite subtle and yet can create a cognitive dissonance with the work you are seeking to do. At the same time, another challenge we face is the inevitable fact that at some point we need to translate and interpret experiences into something we can relate to. Anthropomorphism is one such route, though it is not the only route. I think that if we are to genuinely apply a non-anthropomorphic perspective and practice to our spiritual work we necessarily need to identify the anthropomorphic assumptions which may come up. Below are some such assumptions, as well as how you can identify them.

Applying humancentric categories or labels to experiences. One of the assumptions that comes up involves seeking to categorize or label a non-anthropomorphic experience. We use labels and categories to organize our thoughts and define the world around us, but the problem with such an assumption is that in our haste to define and categorize we can miss out on being open to experience. Admittedly, it can be argued that we use labels and categories to provide some type of explanation for what we’ve experienced, but perhaps in seeking to explain it using categories and labels what we lose is something essential about the experience that can’t be explained in that way. A better approach would be to take your time with the experience and seek it out multiple times. As you have it, allow yourself to express it without attaching labels or categories. Whether its stream of consciousness writing or painting or music or some other form of expression open yourself to expressing it differently.

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The Power of Prayer

By John Beckett

When I wrote about my experience with the National Day of Prayer, I said “there is power in prayer.” That phrase went directly to my fingers from my subconscious, a remnant from my Christian upbringing. I recognized the source as soon as the words appeared on the screen and I considered changing them. But I kept them, because “there is power in prayer” is as true for a polytheistic Pagan is it is for a monotheistic Christian.

If we do not understand the power of prayer, it is likely because we do not understand the purpose of prayer.

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The Triumph of Mabon

By Jason Mankey

I received an email the other day asking me to share a Mabon Ritual invitation with a local list-serv. It was a beautifully written invitation as far as these things go and had the word Mabon front and center in rather large text. There was no slash (/) after the word, no further explanation or note about the Autumn Equinox, just a big Mabon.

Most likely this doesn’t strike you as odd. “Mabon” contains just as much information as the word “Beltane” for instance. It suggests an approximate date and perhaps a ritual theme, at the very least it conjures up images of apples, pumpkins, and the grain harvest. I guess most of my surprise comes from my knowing of the continued resistance to the word “Mabon” in some quarters of Pagandom. It’s a resistance I’m so cognizant of that I often title my own equinox events as “Mabon/Autumnal Equinox.” As my friend John Halstead has said “Mabon has the worst name of all of them (the sabbats).”

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Doing the Work Is where Learning Occurs

By Taylor Ellwood

In the Process of Magic class, one of the expectations I lay out there is that people taking the class will ideally do daily work. I feel that daily work is an essential part of magical practice, and not something which can be ignored if you are really serious about studying magic. However daily work is only part of the equation. Another part is making sure that the core skills of magical practice are developed. You need to build a foundation that supports the magical work you do. This means spending some time learning those core skills, which may not be glamorous, but nonetheless are important because of how such practices provide the necessary experience to handle more advanced work.

Still the question that may arise is this: Is it is possible to make magic more accessible, to teach it in a way that makes it possible for anyone to pick it up? The answer to that question is both yes and no. It’s yes, in the sense that it is possible to write about magic in a way that strips away the esotericism and focuses on the technique, but it’s no in the sense that unless the person is actually willing to do the work, willing to apply what is read into actual, experiential practice, it is very hard for a person to get a lot of meaning out of magic. The student must do the work. Without doing the work the magic is just a concept, and the student is just an armchair magician. In the process of magic, one of my goals was to explore the fundamental process of magic by examining how techniques work. I feel that if you can help someone understand how a technique works, understand the principles that inform the actions, then what you do is make magic not only more accessible, but you also show a person how to personalize magic.

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The Ultimate Cocktail: Mixing Pantheons

By Kaif

[Snip] One issue that pops up on various forums and groups is whether or not it is appropriate to follow multiple spiritual traditions or paths, and how to go about doing so. It is this issue that I’m going to address today.

To anyone who has has read this blog before, it must be unsurprising to hear me say that I think it is absolutely appropriate to honor more than one pantheon of deities. I’m sure it is also unsurprising to hear me say that what I recommend is keeping your practices separate. The only real trick to this is keeping a separate shrine for each pantheon, and after that, tailoring your rituals to each specific path in regard to that path’s gods, their mythology, and the culture from which they come.

One of the most basic reasons I say this is because once you’ve separated everything, it’s easier to get a sense of what works well for each pantheon, and which deities or practices (if any) mesh well. Another important thing to consider is that one thing that is acceptable to one pantheon’s practice might be taboo in another. Blood, for example, can be a powerful offering to certain Celtic deities, but in certain Kemetic religions, blood is fairly widely considered to be an inappropriate thing to have at a shrine. Other such offerings include pork (which was never named in Canaanite texts as as an offering to the Iluma) or incense made with dung as a binder (which is a big no-no in both Kemetic and Canaanite traditions). Kemetic and Canaanite religions also often require some form of purification before ritual, whereas ritual purification isn’t as commonly practiced in Celtic traditions.

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Pathways in Modern Western Magic, by Nevill Drury (ed.)

Reviewed by Ethan Doyle White

The late Anglo-Australian Dr. Nevill Drury (1947–2013) was known internationally for his works of popular scholarship, helping to bring an understanding of Western esotericism and contemporary Paganism to a global audience. The book under review here, an edited volume containing contributions from fifteen different scholars and esoteric practitioners, represents his penultimate publication. Pathways in Modern Western Magic covers a wide range of different magical groups, from Wicca to Cyber-Shamanism, and from the Golden Dawn to the Left-Hand Path. In doing so, it provides a good primer for those making their first foray into the academic study of Western esotericism or Pagan studies, allowing the reader to appreciate the great variety and diversity found within these broad movements.

Pathways has its origins in The Handbook of Modern Western Magic, a volume that Drury was to co-edit for Brill alongside the University of Gothenburg’s Henrik Bogdan. When Brill’s editorial board rejected many of the contributions as being too emic, Bogdan converted part of the project into a special issue of Aries (12, no. 1), while Drury took the other half to Concrescent Press, the U.S.-based creation of doctoral student Sam Webster. Although not an academic press, Concrescent has published the book under a new imprint, Concrescent Scholars, through which it seeks to release peer reviewed works of scholarship on Paganism, esotericism, and magic that bring together the views of both academics and occult practitioners. This is an ethos that was shared by Drury; as both an esotericist and a scholar, he championed the value of emic, insider perspectives in the academic study of magic. Thus, most contributors to this volume are those who can offer an emic perspective on the subjects that they are studying; they are insiders to the world of magic, practitioners belonging to the traditions they are discussing.

Read the full review [NOTE: Opens as a pdf.]

Divine Wisdom, Mortal Filters

By Sable Aradia

Mysticism is an important experiential practice for many people. In several Pagan traditions we believe that we can communicate directly with the Divine. We have different beliefs about the nature and origin of these Powers, and the information we receive varies. Heathen völva breathe the fumes of wormwood and mugwort and speak the words of Wyrd. Druid ovates sink into trances and speak the guidance of the ancient gods. Many Greek pantheists incubate dreams or seek the wisdom of Apollo. Shamanic traditions both ancient and modern use drumming, dancing and entheogens to travel the spirit realm and bring out its insights or heal the body and spirit. And modern Witches and Wiccan/ates draw down the moon and the sun so that we can talk directly to our deities. There is a firmly divided camp between the skeptics and the believers. What is this phenomenon? Where does it come from? How much does it have in common with the mystical experiences of St. John of the Cross and Hildegard of Bingen, Mohammed, or even the trance channeling of Jane Roberts?

A Question of Theology

Literal Gods

Some Pagans believe that we are communicating directly with actual, tangible deities. To them, these beings are as real as you or I, with clearly-defined roles, powers, and personalities. In their belief, drawing down Hecate and serving as a cheval for Erzuli means that they are speaking and interacting directly with a personality that is independent and separate from us. These Pagans choose to serve individual gods or goddesses directly. They have consciously chosen to aspire to Valhalla or be remembered in Hades. To accept this belief accepts the literal existence of other deities and beings as well. Perhaps St. John really was talking to Jehovah and Joan of Arc really did hear the voices of angels; or perhaps not, as many Pagans who hold this view seem to believe that any religion that holds to some sort of “Overgod” who is greater than all other gods is false, but all the different cultural pantheons are true and real.

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Magic in Hellenismos?

By Elnai Temperance

[Snip] Something I often hear about the ancient Hellenic religion, and prescribed about its modern equivalent, is that there was no magic in ancient Hellas. This is true. It’s also a lie. It all depends on your definition of magic, and for the purpose of this reply, we are going to see magic as a form of prayer and ritual, conducted outside of the usual ritual steps. The Theoi were always invoked, but for magic, the sacrifices were usually to the khthonic, or Underworld Gods. When reading this post about a very specific subset of this type of magic, try to disassociate it with the modern use of the word: the same goes for ‘spells’, ‘cursing’, and ‘binding’.

The ancient Hellenes were a competitive people, and struggled with many of the issues we do today: the urge to perform well, the desire for justice to be served, and a need for love. Prayers for these things were made often, usually in their normal ritualized form at the house altar. If these requests were made against, or at the expense of another person, however, they were generally taken out of the realm of regular worship and kharis, and into the realm of the khthonic. The preferred form were katadesmoi.

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Five Things Every Aleyo Needs to Know

By Ócháni Lele

1. Spiritual and Religious Studies: The study of the religion needs to be a daily practice, no matter how long you have been in the faith. You will need to learn customs, practices, and protocols. You will need to learn how to pray. You will need to learn Lucumí, the liturgical language. You will need to learn how to move in the religious world, following customs and dictates that may seem archaic and, at times, unfair. All this study requires work; and, no, I’m not talking about hours poring over books, manuscripts, and internet forums. The simple truth is: If you want to learn this religion, you need to learn it from the ground up. The work is hard, laborious, and back breaking. It might seem thankless; it might seem pointless; it might seem like slave labor. Some of the rules might seem overbearing. But we all had to do the work; we all had to follow the rules. Work is worship, and worship is hard, physical work. If you’re not visiting your godparent’s house regularly doing something (cleaning the orisha room, polishing tools, helping set up and clean up before and after religious services, etc) you’re not going to learn anything. Period.

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Astrological Ages and the Great Astrological End-Time Cycle

By Robert

The current patriarchal idea concerning a great battle between good and evil, the Apocalypse, was drawn from an older matriarchal idea associated with the very early myths of the Triple Goddess, the Mother Goddess as a trinity. She was at once purity and innocence, passion and maturity, and old age and death. They encompassed the mythic colors of white for innocence, red for sexuality, and black for wisdom and death. They were expressed in the yearly cycle through the four seasons, as well as in the life span of human beings. They are also expressed through the cycle of astrological ages.

Purity and innocence was pleasant while old age and death was unpleasant. Spring brought forth new life as well as warm weather, while winter assaulted us with storms and snow, killing off most life. It was all part of life, earthly and cosmic, a dance embracing both the light and dark.

With the rise of patriarchal religions around 2200 BC, the new masculine religions divided the Triple Mother into two parts and set up a battle to replace the dance between light and dark. The new God of light associated himself with the white innocence and purity of new life and childhood, and a twin God, the brother of the God of light, became the God of darkness and the unpleasant underworld. They were set against each other in the new masculine warrior worldview where competition and war were more important than community. The red aspect of sexual passion and maturity was also split between the two sides with a somewhat chaste sexuality within a new masculine ideal of marriage being taken into the God of light’s domain, and loose, passionate sexuality being thus seen as impure or immoral, and dark.

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