News of the Past

November 2014
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Liquor is Quicker- Spirits for the Spirit

By Lilith Dorsey

Alcohol is a normal offering for the spirits in the traditions of New Orleans Voodoo, Haitian Vodou, and Cuban La Regla Lucumi, also known as Santeria. Most people are familiar with the custom of offering rum as a blessing. Some altar setups definitely give the impression that the bar is always open. People of all religious traditions have been known to leave out a glass of wine, or pour out a sip of beer or whiskey for those who are no longer with us. The use of alcohol as an offering, however has evolved into so much more.

The Crystal Head

Modern practitioners have certainly taken a liking to the new Crystal Head Vodka. This beverage seems primed for use in a spiritual context, not only because of the skull shaped bottle, but because the elixir itself is filtered through Herkimer Diamonds, a special variety of Quartz crystal that is said to grant magickal healing properties. Plus the company is partly owned by former Ghostbuster himself, Dan Akroyd. The Crystal Head website explains “the Head. Not a skull, but a head. A symbol of life to reflect the … message of spiritual power and enlightenment. An exquisite vessel to house a white spirit of super natural purity.” Wow, that’s quite a statement. I’ve tried the vodka, it’s pretty good, but I don’t know if I felt healed any more than I do after any much needed libation.

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Aphrodite’s Tortoise: The Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece

Reviewed by Jolene Dawe

[Snip] Women veiling. Pagan women veiling, in ancient Greece. Before monotheism became the big thing that it would later become. How wonderful! How delightful! No, I don’t need historical precedence to legitimize my veiling practice – it is something that my god asks me to do, and that is what living traditions are about. But, how exciting, to look into the past and see what our spiritual ancestors were doing, and why. Why were they veiling? What was the religious significance? What might we have in common?

This book was invaluable to me when it comes to providing alternative terms to use, for veiling styles. A trouble we have in the Pagan veiling community is a lack of non-other-religious terms to use for how we tie fabric upon our heads. Hijab, for example, as a practice has more to it than simply fabric placed upon the head, and it’s a concept that males within the faith often aspire to as well. While tichel (Yiddish for ‘kerchief’) may be less specific than Hijab (the corresponding concept within Judaism would be tznuit), ‘tichel’ as a term does have a strong association with a particular way of veiling within Judaism. For the record, the veiling style I favor is one modeled after tichel wrapping, and so I often will say, I wear my veils tichel-style.

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The Rose in Myth and Legend

By Yewtree

The rose is the flower of Venus and the symbol of love in all its delicious variety. It is symbolically linked to Adonis, Aphrodite, Dionysus and Eros. Greek lovers gave roses as a courting gift to their eromenoi. “So must you beautiful boys arm yourselves with roses,” wrote Philostratus in the second century CE.

According to mythology, Aphrodite trod on the thorns of a white rose-bush when she rushed to succour her mortally-wounded lover Adonis. Her blood stained the petals red, and this is how the red rose came to be. The red rose is sacred to Venus and Aphrodite, who rule over love, life, creation, fertility, creation, beauty and virginity. The open rose is a symbol of the feminine, while the rosebud is a symbol of the masculine, and suggests same-sex love, especially in the Middle East.

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Are Demons Real?

By Brandy Williams

[Snip] European (Graeco-Roman) Paganism acknowledges the existence of spirits. “Demon” derives from the Greek word “daemon”, a spirit midway between people and deities. Daemones could be either hostile or helpful to people. The Latin word “angelus” described the same sort of spirit; this word passed into English as “angel”. Eventually “angel” came to mean helpful spirit and “demon” described a hostile spirit. Contemporary ceremonial continues that division, with angels treated as powerful beings friendly to humans, while demons are lesser beings, indifferent or mischievous or actively hostile.

Medieval grimoires treated demons as fierce spirits with powers that could be harnessed to the magician’s will through compulsion. This is called “goetic” magic and has its own rituals, tools, invocations and banishings. The most famous and popular book of goetic magic is the Lesser Key of Solomon the King which lists 72 demons who can be invoked to assist the magician in specific tasks such as finding lost items, telling the future, locating a fortune, and procuring love. Other demons have loftier powers such as teaching the sciences and mending friendships. The demons are described in meticulous detail; they are expected to physically appear to the magician in the course of the operation.

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Power Before Wisdom Primer: Learning Magic the Dangerous Way

Reviewed by Erin Lale

[Snip] This book has both beginning and intermediate level magical practices in it. Beginning level magic includes grounding, shields, and other basic practices. However, it’s not aimed at beginners. One thing that really resonated with me was that “the basics are the secrets.” More advanced magic users can get more out of the basics than they got the first time around, and should revisit them. New levels of understanding come from more practice and more openness to experience rather than more new techniques.

Another thing that had me nodding was that using magic casually can screw up your life. Magic should be approached with caution. “Power before wisdom” means learning by experience, and sometimes trial and error can lead to really unfortunate errors. The author says that means one should put up with flawed teachers. I don’t completely agree, because sometimes students put up with things in order to learn that no one should have to put up with, but my personal experiences were probably very different from the author’s.

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Building a Better Heathenry

By Galina Krasskova

[Snip] When I first became Heathen, it was all but taboo to discuss or give any personal credence to what was (then as now) termed “UPG” (unverified personal gnosis). In good Protestant fashion, anything remotely smacking of mysticism, experience, or messy, messy emotional engagement was frowned upon, strongly. As a religious studies scholar, I find this not particularly surprising but ironic and very, very amusing given that all religion is, at its heart, UPG, but I digress. All emphasis was placed on a body of non-religious texts termed “the lore.” This included the “Poetic Edda,” “Prose Edda,” Icelandic Sagas, Anglo-Saxon medical charms, historical and legal accounts as well as contemporary scholarship. The idea was to reconstruct the religion of our ancestors as accurately as possible and to that end, Heathens would comb through the extant sources looking for evidence of how rites and rituals were performed. Validity of an approach or practice rested on its presence in the lore. The Gods were, by and large, an afterthought. Certainly there was very little sense of the terrifying immediacy of devotional engagement, and rituals were largely constructed to keep the actual rawness of the sacred at a distance.

The reasons for this textual focus were many: the majority of our converts come from Protestantism, quite often fundamentalist Protestantisms in which the written word is given tremendous credence; there was a strong desire to do things right — and this I fully understand. We should want to do things the proper way for our Gods; there was a desire to separate oneself from Wicca and other non-historical forms of Paganism; and from its beginning in the States, Heathenry has attracted a doggedly blue collar demographic, with a powerful work ethic but an ingrained aversion to contemplation of that which wasn’t immediately apparent or immediately accessible to a community.

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Cults of the Shadow, by Kenneth Grant

Living Tradiitons

Cults of the Shadow is the final volume in Kenneth Grants first trilogy. It has been long out of print and Starfire Publishing offers a superb new edition of 1500 copies, revised and corrected with new images and is a great addition to any magician’s library. The front and end pages are illustrated from handwritten notes from Grants research and the whole work illustrates Starfire’s eye for quality.

Kenneth Grant’s work revolutionized modern magic in general as well as Thelema in particular, prior to his work Thelema was locked within a “western mystery tradition” mould and while Crowley had taught Yoga, Pranayama and Tantra, nobody really appreciated how it could be applied. At the same time while the terms Obeah and Wanga, which are African in origin, appear in the Book of the Law (AL I:37) this subject was little explored. Grant expanded our understanding of Thelema and magick in general with a deep understanding of the Left Hand Path and the nature of Tantra with reference to the kalas of the female practitioner. Developing the content of The Magical Revival and Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God (now both back in print from Starfire Publishing) Cults of the Shadow places Thelema within the larger context of the Left Hand Path. Too often modern Thelemites have thrown the “baby out with the bathwater” and only tried to work with Crowley’s work alone, Grant makes it clear that Thelema had many antecedents and the declaration of the New Aeon in 1904 was a re-establishment of earlier Typhonian tradition.

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Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition

Reviewed by Gareth J. Medway

This is a revised edition of a work originally published in 1997. Vyse begins by discussing Wade Boggs, a baseball player who set some records that have never been equalled. His “professional life was filled with superstition”. Believing that he hit better after eating chicken, he consumed it every day. He also had a long “pre-game ritual” (which I don’t quite understand, not being familiar with the terminology of baseball). Vyse might similarly have mentioned Norman Parkinson, who in the 1970s was the official portrait photographer of the Royal Family. He would never pick up a camera unless he was wearing a fumi, an embroidered skullcap popular in parts of the Middle East. He believed that it would be bad luck to try to work without this headgear. It is easy to jeer at men like Boggs and Parkinson, but they did reach the summits of their respective professions.

Superstitions are more common with people whose life is uncertain or risky, for example “gamblers, sailors, soldiers, miners, financial investors, and, somewhat surprisingly, college students.” I seem to recall that, decades after Donald Campbell drowned in Lake Coniston during an attempt to break the world waterspeed record, divers finally recovered his body, along with his lucky mascot, which evidently had not worked on that occasion.

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The Golden Dawn Underworld Initiation

By Nick Farrell

There are those who like to see the Golden Dawn as all sweetness and LVX and assume that it would never touch those dark regions of the unconscious where demons and other nasty beings like hang out.

Of course, since Christianity arrived and told the pagans that their terrestrial gods were all demonic and the underworld was hell, it has made life a little more black and white.

However encoded into the Golden Dawn 0=0 is a formula which suggests that that particular ritual is a journey to the underworld of archetypal proportions.

Your standard visit to the underworld, at least while you are alive, is to rescue something, a princess or the love of your life, and get away still alive without looking back. Of course, if you are dead it is another matter but the rules of what you meet are similar.

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Creating My Own Reality

By Nimue Brown

We have beliefs about the ways in which, by action and sheer will, we can change our reality, and we also all have beliefs about the ways in which there is no scope for change whatsoever. Some of these are more sensible than others, and I am picking some examples that strike me as especially nuts.

A great many adult humans spend vast amounts of money on products and interventions which promise the illusion of youth. We are all getting older, that’s a key feature of being alive. Rather than accept this process and work with it gracefully, we expend vast amounts of human time, energy and resource on fighting it. This tide will not go back no matter how we shout at it.

On the other hand, we’re willing to treat human constructs as inevitable and unassailable. We’ve built a vast and complex house on the sandy base that is cheap energy. When the oil runs out, we’re in trouble, and yet we do not consider changing the system. We’ll look anywhere for answers, no matter how short term and suicidal rather than even consider the systems we built might have to change.

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