News of the Past

October 2014
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Medea's Ritual of the Mandrake

By Sarah Anne Lawless

Witch, pharmakon, demi-goddess, princess, niece of Circe, fierce devotee of Hecate, and beloved sorceress of ancient Greek and Roman literature. Whether a fictional or historical figure, Medea has always fascinated me. My favourite tale featuring the witch Medea is Apollonius Rhodius’ The Argonautica from around 200 BC (though its sources are so old as to be indeterminate). This famous tale of Jason and the Argonauts is the only surviving Hellenistic epic. It is hard to say if it is legend or myth, fact or fiction, but the tale has enchanted mortals for millennia.

Today it exists in the form of numerous movies, tv episodes, children’s books, and even as a video game. The beauty of the survival of such an ancient epic from pre-Christian times are the rituals and magic that have survived along with it. Enshrouded within the pages of The Argonautica is Medea’s ritual of the Mandrake. It is in fact two rituals — one of the harvest and one of the consecration of this famous magical root. Combining the ritual fragments from this epic with other knowledge of ancient Greek magic, one is able to reconstruct these rites so they may be performed today.

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Coffee Magick 101: Wake Up People !

By Lilith Dorsey

[Snip] New Orleans Voodoo pairs coffee with everything from blessings to bourbon. The city is known for it’s preference for coffee with chicory. Natives of the crescent city often add eggshells to cut the bitterness of the blend and give it a flavor all it’s own. This however is much more than just a beverage, coffee is used as a medium for drawing ritual Veves. These are ground drawings laid out in elaborate patterns to both call and honor the Loa, or deities. Most often they are made with white flour or cornmeal, but when laying out a divine space for Maman Brigitte, the ancestors, or Papa Legba, coffee can be the sacred sprinkle of choice. Veves are laid out using both hands to represent the journey into both the visible and invisible world, Veves can be some of the most beautiful and powerful creations to behold. For more information check out Veves Sacred Cell numbers for the Gods . Coffee is also used as an offering, be sure to see my New Orleans Ritual Voodoo Coffee Recipe.

In Haiti’s Vodou religion coffee is also used an an offering for the ancestors. Known as Les Baron and Les Gede, these powerful ancestor energies live on through the offerings they take. Coffee is only one of many offerings they are given including, liquor, food, flowers, money and just about everything a person living, or dead could want.

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Scapegoat Rituals in Ancient Greece

By Jan Bremmer

In the Old Testament a curious purification ritual occurs of which the final ceremony is described as follows: “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16, 21 f). It is this ceremony which has given its name to a certain ritual complex: the ‘scapegoat ritual.’ Similar rituals can be found among the Greeks, Romans, Hittites (5; 3), in India, and even in mountainous Tibet (5; 7). In our study we will restrict ourselves to an analysis of the Greek rituals, although we will not leave the others completely out of consideration.

The Greek scapegoat rituals have often been discussed. The so-called Cambridge school in particular, with its lively and morbid interest in everything strange and cruel, paid much attention to it. Our own time too has become fascinated once again by these enigmatic rituals: I only need mention here Rene Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, which has already reached a fourth printing in two years. Gradually, too, the meaning of these rituals is becoming clearer. Where earlier generations, still influenced by Mannhardt, often detected traces of a fertility ritual in the scapegoat complex, Burkert has rightly pointed out that in these rituals the community sacrifices one of its members to save its own skin. Although the general meaning is clear, many details are still in need of clarification. For that reason I shall analyze the ritual complex in a more detailed way, paying special attention to its structure. First, however, I shall present a general survey of the evidence.

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(H/T History of the Ancient World)

The Lost History of the Jack O’Lantern

By Carolyn Emerick

[Snip] As many already know, the O in Jack O’Lantern is a contraction for “of.” It is more or less slang for “Jack of the Lantern.”

There were originally regional variations in different parts of Britain such as Jack-a-Lantern, Jacky Lantern, Jack w’ a Lantern, and likely others.

So what exactly did this mean?

Well Jack was often used as a euphemism for a spirit. It could sometimes be a clownish figure, a good spirit or a bad spirit, a nature guardian, or other folkloric figures. You see more examples of Jack as a spirit in other folkloric motifs such as Jack in the Green (and a myriad of other Jacks in British folklore: Jack Frost, Jack-in-Irons, Jack o’Legs, and many more).

And, as with all of our ancestral customs and beliefs from the days when celebrations were not described in books or dictated at the pulpit, the lore associated with these customs varied over time and by geography.

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Court of Appeals Considers Neo-Pagan Tax Exemption Case

By Robert Gavin

An attorney representing Catskill [N.Y.] asked the state’s highest court Tuesday to deny tax-exempt status for a small neo-pagan religious group operating on a three-acre property in Palenville.

The Cybeline Revival, a pagan faith that worships the mother goddess Cybele, has received tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service but was rejected by town officials when it sought property tax exemptions rejections in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The not-for-profit organization, known as Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater Inc., challenged its denial before acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin, who sided with the town in 2012 following a trial. The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court reversed the decision, finding the property should be tax-exempt under religious use, which sent the case before the Court of Appeals.

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The Essential Enochian Grimoire, by Aaron Leitch

Reviewed by Gesigewigu’s

Considering everything that has been written on Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley’s Enochian system in the last century and a half, one can’t help but wonder what could be considered “essential” for an Enochian grimoire. Where does one start? What is included? Which Enochian systems? Which elements? Leitch admits this was a challenge when sorting out the material and decided “[i]t must present a simplified overview of the entire system, thereby allowing the student to see the whole proverbial elephant before focusing on the trunk, ears, legs, or other elephantine components in detail.” Again though, with all that Dee wrote, and all that has come since, a simplified overview is not an easy task.

The focus of the text is “Dee-purist Enochiana, meaning it will not borrow material from any of the sources that came after the man himself passed away.” Personally this is exactly the type of book I’d want. There are neo-Enochiana books galore, but very few focus on just Dee’s work, without the later synthesis of the Golden Dawn, and while I don’t have issues with the Golden Dawn adaptations of Enochian materials I would like to see them as they originally were. Unfortunately when you exclude the appendix and introductory material the ratio of Dee-purist against neo-Enochiana becomes 13 to 8, meaning really the focus is less than two thirds of the text.

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Seeing Fairies, by Marjorie T. Johnson

From the Lost Archives of the Fairy Investigation Society, Authentic Reports of Fairies in Modern Times

Reviewed by Janet Bord

If this book is any guide, there are a lot of people out there who claim to have seen fairies. Its 350+ pages are crammed full of first-hand sighting reports, most of them not duplicating the many accounts recorded in my own book Fairies: Real Encounters With Little People. Marjorie Johnson collected her reports over several decades, and the mystery is that she was never able to get her book published during her life-time (apart from editions in German and Italian), since it is a unique database of 20th century fairy reports. Simon Young, who was responsible for bringing about this belated English-language edition, details its history, and Marjorie’s involvement with the Fairy Investigation Society, in his comprehensive introduction.

Reading these strange accounts one after another is a disturbing experience. They give the impression that the countryside is heavily populated with little people who live alongside us but are never seen by most of us. Can this really be true? Common sense tells us that it isn’t, and that there must be some other explanation. How can we find out what it is? These are not questions that the author tries to answer, and if we are to solve the mystery, it will be necessary to adopt a more critical stance than hers.

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The Importance of Attribution

By Sara Amis

I love this rendition of “Earth My Body.” I love the additional music, I love the video, I really do. I just have one big problem with it, and it’s this: “the opening and closing chant is a very old song with an unknown author.”

No, ma’am. No, it isn’t. It’s neither “very old”…unless you consider 1987 to be very old, and since that is the year after I graduated high school I must strenuously object…nor are its antecedents completely unknown. I have a copy of Circle of Song by Kate Marks which says that the chant was published by Prana on their album “Return of the Mayflower” in 1987. I have never seen a copy of the original recording, so it remains unclear to me whether Prana (group or indiviual) wrote it or someone else did, and I’m not sure whether they gave an author. But the previous recording at least is pretty easy to find.

Here’s how this came about, and why it is a problem:

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Secret Staves of the Icelandic Witches

By Pollyanna Jones

Grimoires and secret books of spells have always had the power to ignite the imagination. From Victorian occultists to fans of Harry Potter, a dusty tome filled with strange symbols is a rare and wonderful discovery. A series of finds from Iceland has recently been published and features many “staves” that are now well known amongst fans of Norse lore. But are they really Viking? And what do these books tell us about the people that wrote them?

Icelandic Witchcraft

In order to understand the Icelandic staves, we need to look at their use within Icelandic society.

Most of the symbols and spells appear to be for the use of simple problems in life, from catching a thief, to overthrowing an enemy. Others help heal livestock, whilst others look at cursing the animals of another. We also see charms to help preserve food and ale, staves to bless the bearer with strength or courage, or symbols to help with fishing or prevent death by drowning.

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Shamanic Plant Medicine – Salvia Divinorum, by Ross Heaven

Reviewed by BadWitch

There’s an interesting new series of books out about shamanic plant medicines by Ross Heaven. Each title is about a specific teacher plant and is intended as an introduction to the subject with clear facts on ways the plant is used in shamanic practice, as well as the risks involved.

I picked up the book Shamanic Plant Medicine – Salvia Divinorum: The Sage of the Seers because Salvia Divinorum is something I have myself used twice in the past, but found both experiences a bit confusing. I hoped the Shamanic Plant Medicine book would help me make sense of what happened.

The first time I tried Salvia Divinorum was many years ago at a music festival. My partner and I bought it at a legal herbal high stall one sunny afternoon when we were in a mood for experimentation, then smoked it in the comfort of my beloved old camper van. The effect – well, we both felt rather disorientated. It didn’t last long, but wasn’t pleasant either. We both decided it wasn’t something we would ever try again.

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