Monday, March 5, 2012

The Dead Man's Hand: Part Three*

In the event that you missed previous Dead Man's Hand entries and wish to catch up:

“On the lone bleak moor,
At the midnight hour,
Beneath the Gallows Tree,
Hand in hand
The Murderers stand
By one, by two, by three!
And the Moon that night
With a grey, cold light
Each baleful object tips;
One half of her form
Is seen through the storm,
The other half ’s hid in Eclipse!”
- Tom Ingoldsby, The Hand of Glory.

“After a short time the Isle of Dreams came in sight close by, faint and uncertain to the eye. It had itself some likeness to a dream, for as we approached it receded and retired and retreated to a greater distance. Overtaking it at length and sailing into the harbour called Sleep, we landed near the ivory gates, where the sanctuary of the Cock is, about dusk, and on entering the city, we saw many dreams of all sorts. But first I desire to speak of the city itself, since no one else has written about it, and Homer, the only one to mention it at all, was not quite accurate in what he said. On all sides of it is a wood, in which the trees are tall poppies and mandragoras, and they have a great number of bats in them; for there is no other winged thing in the island. A river flows near which they call Sleepwalker, and there are two springs by the gates, named Soundly and Eight-hours. The wall of the city is high and parti-coloured, very like a rainbow in tint. The gates in it are not two, as Homer says, but four. Two face Slowcoach Plain, one of which is of iron and the other of earthenware; through these, it is said, the fearful, murderous, revolting dreams go out. The other two face the harbour and the sea, one of which is of horn and the other, through which we came in, of ivory. As one enters the city, on the right is the temple of Night, for the gods they worship most are Night and the Cock, whose sanctuary is built near the harbour. On the left is the palace of Sleep, who rules among them and has appointed two satraps or lieutenants, Nightmare, son of Causeless, and Rich, son of Fancy. In the centre of the square is a spring which they call Drowsimere, and close to it are two temples, that of Falsehood and that of Truth. There too is their holy of holies and their oracle, which Antiphon, the interpreter of dreams, presided over as prophet, having had this office from Sleep.”

The Enchanter, Armed with Potions, in Antiquity.

By no means is the concoction of herbs of a magical, or poisonous nature, into a drink an unknown item in antiquity. In Homer's Odyssy, as mentioned before, Circe uses a magical brew to reduce men to pigs. And as you will have noticed at the end of the second part of my meandering discourses on this topic, Mandrake is used to induce catalepsy or “evil sleep.” In addition to recipes (“spells”) for such effects, another common ingredient is that very illegal byproduct of the Poppy (Papaver Somniferum): opium. Unlike Mandrake, the poppy is not associated with Hecate. Rather, it is associated with Demeter and Persephone. In “Like What that Springeth Green”: Death and Return in the Myth of Demeter and Persephone by Kathie Carlson, she writes:
“A variant in which the flower Kore picks is a poppy rather than a narcissus suggests another symbolic meaning. Graves comments: 'An image of a goddess with a poppy–headdress was found in Crete, another goddess... holds poppies in her hand; and on the gold ring from the Acropolis treasures at Mycenae, a seated Demeter gives three poppy–heads to a standing (K)ore. Poppy–seeds were used as a condiment on bread and poppies are naturally associated with Demeter since they grow in cornfields but (K)ore picks or accepts poppies because of the soporific qualties and because of their scarlet colour which promises resurrection after death.' Red was also the color that was sacred to the dead. Here we already have some hint of both the connections and differences between Demeter and Kore–Persephone; the poppy connects to the upperworld of Demeter where it grows in her cornfields but has consciousness–altering capacities which link it to the underworld and to Persephone as ruler of a world beyond life.”
Here, again, we have mythic associations with a plant and a Goddess, which is also made use of in spells associated with either rendering one “magically to sleep” or perhaps even causing them to hallucinate while under the power of the brew. But who, in antiquity, would have employed such potions? And have no doubt that, despite the mythic quality of the above, there were concrete and real individuals making such concoctions: Plato discusses them. Morton Smith, when discussing the lower class Goetes of the late Plato's day, samples his comments on the matter:
As to poisoning, he recognized that the Greek term had two meanings, one, the damage done by a physical substance, the other, that done by 'tricks and spells and enchantments' which persuade men that they are harmed by others who thus practice goetia. He ruled that the latter type of 'poisoning' should by punished by death if the offender were a prophet or interpreter of portents; but by a penalty proportunate to the damage if an amateur. (Laws, 932ff.).”
- Jesus the Magician (p. 70)

This sort've magical activity was by no means unknown. What is interesting is that most of the concoctions often contain plants associated with deities of the dead, or the dead themselves. Mandragora Officinarum is by no means unique in this. It might be interesting to look at what the Goetes do, in trying to understand why the same word could refer to two distinct sets of activities (with, as we will see, both legitimate and illegitimate uses):
“The common Greek word for 'magician' in Jesus' time was goes (plural goetes). It was usually, but not necessarily, abusive. Plato, in writing praise of the demon Eros as the intermediary between men and the gods, had said in the Symposium (202e), 'Through him all divination is made possible, and the science of the priests and the specialists in sacrifices and initiations and spells, and all prophesy and goetia.' Here goetia (what goetes do) is one special technique like others named, a recognized and legitimate function. It seems to have been a sort of Greek shamanism, a form of mourning for the dead in which the goetes became ecstatic and were thought to accompany the dead on their journey to the underworld. Such goetes were evidently popular – their ability to charm their hearers (perhaps with songs of mourning, perhaps with descriptions of what they 'saw') was such that decietful but persuasive speakers were both called 'sophists' and goetes. (This may account for the use of both terms to describe Jesus.) Goetia could also refer to physical magic. According to Herodotus, men thought to turn themselves into wolves may be goetes (IV. 105). The followers of Euripides and Socrates, who detested sophistry no less than superstition, came to use goetia as a general term for 'deceit', and to equate goes with 'beggar,' 'deceiver,' and 'impertinent scoundrel'. A passing reference in the Meno (80b) indicates that by Plato's time, in some cities goetes were liable to arrest. Plato as an old man (when his feeling for Eros, song, and ecstasy was no longer what it had been when he wrote the Symposium) put into his Laws a penalty for men who 'are so bestial as to... say that they can lead about the souls of the dead and... persuade the gods, pretending they can charm them by sacrifices and prayers and spells' – these were to be imprisoned for life... These passages indicate the scope of goetia in classical times: accounts of the underworld, practice as mediums, necromancy, charms, curses, and therefore by extension, any deceitful persuasion.” (p. 70)
Lest we think that the Greek treatment of the goetes in antiquity (who could clearly get up to no good when they felt like it, much like later “witches”), the Magi fared no better. Smith writes: 
“Herodotus sarcasm was typical of the developing rationalism of his time. In the drama of the later fifth century magos can mean 'quack;' the 'arts of the Magi' can be equated with 'the use of drugs' and 'the deceits of the gods.'” (p. 71)
Jake Stratton-Kent briefly mentions, in the first volume of the Goesophia (p. 123) the Pharmakos, which he defines as “an enchanter with drugs.” This is clearly the iteration of the lower-class magician that Plato is talking about, and identifies along alongside the Goetes. For the record, I would like to know more about the Pharmakos in general. What you've been seeing, and the recipes in the Betz's book are unfortunately about as much as I know, beyond some meaningless trivia.

For lack of a better term, let's refer to this type of magical utility and identity as “Sorcery,” and suggest that this is one of the reasons that it was later identified – when it appeared – as “witchcraft.” Given the necromantic associations, which became increasingly treated as dangerous after the end of the classical era, it's easy to understand that while “natural magic” or “high magic” both came to be accepted, this aspect of practice was more and more marginalized. That does not mean it disappeared, as I will make clear.

Witches that Fly!

The earliest church document that discusses witches and their questionable nature is the Canon Episcopi (314/906* CE). It is remarkably interesting, for within it we find:

“Bishops and their officials must labor with all their strength to uproot thoroughly from their parishes the pernicious art of sorcery and malefice invented by the devil, and if they find a man or woman follower of this wickedness to eject them foully disgraced from the parishes... It is also not to be omitted that some unconstrained women, perverted by Satan, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and openly profess that, in the dead of night, they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Diana, with a countless horde of women, and in the silence of the dead of the night to fly over vast tracts of country, and to obey her commands as their mistress, and to be summoned to her service on other nights. But it were well if they alone perished in their infidelity and did not draw so many others into the pit of their faithlessness. For an innumberable multitude, deceived by this false opinion, believe this to be true and, so believing, wander from the right faith and relapse into pagan errors when they think that there is any divinity or power except the one God. Wherefore the priests throughout their churches should preach with all insistence to the people that they may know this to be in every way false, and that such phantasms are sent by the devil who deludes them in dreams... Whoever therefore believes that anything can be made, or that any creature can be changed to better or worse, or transformed into another species or likeness, except by God Himself who made everything and through whom all things were made, is beyond a doubt an infidel.”

This is interesting. Here we see a clear association between those who 'go forth in flight', 'sorcery', and 'dreams.' Can we find something in the historical record that clearly places something happening – even at the height of the witch trials – that involved aspects of all that we have discussed above?

We do. We find it in Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft, which also retains rituals involving necromancy, the dead, fairies (and sibyls that are fairies) and all other manner of weirdness. In his chapter on Flying Ointments, Scot gives two recipes and one account of successful use.


Quoting John Baptista Neapolitanus, who had found a witch and beaten her until she revealed her secret, he writes that the recipe includes:
“The fat of yoong children, and seeth it with water in a brasen vessell, reserving the thickest of that which remaineth boiled in the bottome, which they laie up and keepe, untill occasion serveth to use it. They put hereunto Eleose­linum, Aconitum, Frondes populeas, and Soote.”

Aconitum is aconite, or Monkshood. Sarah Penicka-Smith, in Caveat Anoynter, suggests Eleoselinm is either Parsley or Hemlock. Both Aconitum and Hemlock are absolutely deadly. Hemlock can also be known as Conium maculatum, coming from the Greek konas meaning “to whirl.” In fact, I recall seeing somewhere that one of the Greek names for it means “to whirl around and die.” An altogether unsightly issue, assuredly.

Monkshood contains a potent neurotoxin. It is also known as Wolfsbane, and if that name immediately recalls the old rhyme heard in The Wolfman (1941): “Even a man who is pure of heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a Wolf when the Wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright!”

It is a paralytic, amongst other things. I believe an encounter with Wolfsbane, and its paralytic qualities, may account for it being associated with both being able to create and destroy “werewolves” in legend. In this case, the paralytic aspect renders the person unable to move, and certain individuals begin astral projecting as an internal response to the trauma of such a physical reduction. Obviously, this is just a circumstantial theory.

Finally, the use of baby fat will know doubt freak some people out. Obviously, any fat could be used. However, individuals possessing the herbal skills to know about the “magical” or “poisonous” qualities of herbs and employ them as well, would likely have been considered as midwives by some women. In the event that there is a miscarriage – which was much more common prior to the 20th century – that meant easy access to baby fat. This does not mean they only used baby fat, we should suspect that practitioners using ointments used all manner of fats. The use of the fat of an unbaptized child, however, meant that it had necromantic associations.

On this matter, Lady Scylla comments:
The Witchcraft Reader, Second Edition, edited by Oldridge also contains some really interesting references to the use of 'lifters' - Nearly all of them involving baby fat, feces of some animal or another, and potent-deadly herbs.”

She adds:
“T'would stand to reason, in my thinking, that they would use human fat – the absorption would be stellar. However, I think the tenacity of the “Baby fat and bat shit” recipe has more to do with it's affront to “sensible people” than it's inherent usefulness.”
Actually, we are in both cases describing necromantic materia used both in antiquity and in later stages of witchcraft and necromancy. You will recall that in my second post on this matter, I described some of the souls who Hecate rules and who are 'restless' and have 'died before their time.' This would have included babies, children, women who are unmarried, suicides, and individuals who cannot cross the Styx, either because they lacked payment for the Ferryman or because they were placed in such a way as to be confused and not be able to “return to society.”

Hanged Men, hanged at crossroads, are often of the criminal sort to whom all recourse has been denied. Their placement at the crossroads – because it was a mix of places – was to confuse them so they couldn't return. In Ronan's The Goddess Hecate, he explains that an unclean spirit can be exorcised quite simply in the Goddesses' name. First, one aspurges or incenses a room. Following that, one finds all “polluted” materials that could be feeding the ghost, and place them together in a broken pot-shard. This is then carried to the trivium, and dedicated to the Goddess with a meal to attract her notice, with the spirit being dedicated to the care of the Goddess. The individual thereafter immediately leaves, without looking back – for the Goddess, in her most true form, is coming to claim the soul thus placed.

In other cases, magicians would have driven restless ghosts of the above mentions, to the crossroads with exorcisms. While there, these spirits can be impelled to use with a variety of curse tablets, including “love-madness” cruses. These tablets were deposited at places where restless spirits dwelled: deep chasms, crossroads, or places where the rivers of death surfaced on the earth. Equally, curse tablets meant to compel such ghosts have been found in Greek bath drainage areas, as they were underground. Some memory of ideas like this were preserved even into Reginald Scot's day, with the belief that the unbaptized cannot get to Heaven. This would leave those unbaptized here, and capable of being called on for similar reasons. Suicide is another common way to become stranded between “where we want to go” and “where we live.”

The materia itself is employed by itself, and without the use of Ghosts, as well. In PGM I. 247-62, we find a spell for invisibility, most likely astral. It calls for, amongst the materia, “eye of an ape, or of a corpse that has died a violent death...”

Pliny, in The Natural History, lists that the rope of a hanged man was a “cure” peddled by magicians for headaches. Pliny is referenced in both Agrippa, and in (I need to doublecheck later) 15th century German “Leechbooks,” discussed by Richard Kieckhefer in Magic in the Middle Ages.

Bats, similarly, would be part of the same class of materia. Bat shit, bat blood, bat wings. It comes as almost no surprise to see that inclusion. Many of these materials reflect sympathetic connections with the mythical worlds of sleep, or death. One again recalls that in the fragments of Aeschylus' The Evocators, when Odysseus performs the necromancy the souls that will be responding are described as a “swarm of night-wanderers,” which I take to be most likely bats. I could be wrong, though.

On to the second recipe (WARNING: HIGHLY DANGEROUS. SERIOUSLY CONSIDER NOT MAKING IT, BUT... Well, to each their own. Some folks seem to use it):
“Sium, acarum vulgare, pentaphyllon, the bloud of a flitter-mouse [=bat], solanum som­niferum, & oleum. They stampe all these togither, and then they rubbe all parts of their bodies exceedinglie, till they looke red, and be verie hot, so as the pores may be opened, and their flesh soluble and loose. They joine herewithall either fat, or oile in steed thereof, that the force of the ointment maie the rather pearse inwardly, and so be more effectuall.”

He tells us that “by this a moone light night they seeme to be carried in the aire, to feasting, singing, dansing, kissing, culling, and other acts of venerie, with such you thes as they love and desire most...”

Solanum Som­niferum is Deadly/Enchanter's Nightshade, or Atropa Belladonna. It is psychoactive and highly toxic. I believe this is the plant that Roy Bowers (Robert Cochrane) used to end his life, unfortunately. It has been suggested, and I have no idea if this is true or not, but that the toxicity of the plant can be controlled effectively with Opium; Scot makes no mention of this. I am not sure at all of it's true; but if it is, it may be a clue as to how the plant might have been used in an ointment to “cause flying” without killing the individual using the ointment. Regardless, given opium's status as a highly illegal substance, there is no way for me to even find out unless I talk to criminals who are also witches.

It should be remembered that Scot's source, John Baptista Neapolitanus was out to find a witch. Upon witnessing her demonstrate the use of the ointment, fall asleep, and return with her tales of her travel he concluded that witches' as believed in his day, who literally flew and worshiped the devil, were not real.

In From Sorcery to Witchcraft, Michael D. Bailey explains that Inquisitors began hunting down necromancers in the Catholic church. They were presumably looking for fellows who wielded Grimoires like CLM 849, also known as as the Necromancer's Handbook. As they moved farther and farther afield, they began to encounter folk practitioners and others whose practices were similar enough to be recontextualized as “witchcraft,” and this helped fuel the belief that the Devil was acting as a Field Marshall to witches – his troops. Looking at the materia relating to necromancy in the flying ointment, and some of the necromancy rituals in Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft clear shows a relationship between the two, albeit often misunderstood.

I have questions, though. Why is it that in antiquity we most often see “teas of doom,” whereas by Scot's (1584+ CE) day we see ointments? Is this due to easier access to fats that can be used to make the ointments? Is it for reasons of guile, such as an easier ability to hide the ointment? I have no idea. I have theories, but nothing more substantial to that.

I have yet to discuss incensed and mind-altering candles, and of the potential veracity (beyond as recorded in history). I'll break here to do that next.

Hope you enjoyed this update,

* See comments.


Scylla said...

Putting Ye Finest Point Ever on it: The seed of a hanged man or woman makes the Mandrake. It, being a gallows-child, with no hope of baptism or life, is automatically a spectre of the underworld. Therefore - it happily provides knowledge of treasure and hidden things like any other. As long as it's well respected and paid.
Because it is a child of the gallows, it belongs utterly to Hecate, and the right rituals must be performed in order to properly procure it and not die horribly by offending Her and Her Folk.

Making a salve from one of these roots (or from parts severed during the uprooting), the blood of one of Her animals, and rendered fat from one of Her people - well, that's going to give one the "substance" of those night-flying spectres, her Faithful Retinue.

In one aspect, it allows the witch to cross between life and death (where Her folk dwell), in another it allows them to travel to Her abode (where Her folk go), and to fully experience Her presence without being driven mad by it.

At least, that's the conclusion I find m'self at.

Anonymous said...

I am enjoying it. thank you for sharing this

faoladh said...

My immediate suspicion is that the change from teas to ointments is merely one of fashion.

Well, that and the teas taste like crap. That's fine if you're prescribing it for someone else to use, but not so much if you're making it for your own nocturnal flights.

Harold Roth said...

In terms of dosage, an ointment is safer than a tea. You can wash an ointment off. This is why I have never believed the ointment on a broomstick up the vagina thing. Kind of hard to get too much out of there. With a tea, after a bit you can no longer barf it up. You are screwed if you took too much.

The other thing is that tropane and aconite alkaloids have different effects depending on whether they are ingested or rubbed on the skin. I mentioned how belladonna plasters were commonly sold OTC up until the thirties in the US (and when I was a child, the pharmacy in my little town was still selling them, along with leeches, Lydia Pinkham, etc.). They were for pain relief and were relatively safe, especially compared to ingesting a tincture made from belladonna, which is known for its unpredictability. Likewise, if you look at the medical uses of poison hemlock, it was an ingredient in compound belladonna plasters, which were used as a painkiller applied to the outside of the body.

There is indeed evidence that opiates and tropanes antagonize each other. Look into "Twilight Sleep." Likewise, aconitine is antagonized by atropine.

Re the Canon thing, I think the date should be almost a thousand years later. Wikipedia gives around 1100 for the Gratian incipit. I think even that is early.

Jack Faust said...

Harold: "The Canon, or Capitulatum Episcopi was first attributed to the Council of in Ancyra (314 ce) by Regino of Prum, Abbot of Treves about 906, and was, until the 13th century, the official and accepted Doctrine of the Church. The document (translated below) essentially states that the acts of Witches were all illusions or fantasies of dreams. Therefore, belief in the actuality of witchcraft is pagan and heretical." That's from Prof. Mark Tulsa. You're right. I provided the earliest possible attribution to demonstrate how old the stream of thought the Church was drawing off was thought to be.

Jack Faust said...

I'll have more comments later. Gimme time to think. Hehe. I think both you and Faoladh have both made great suggestions.

Nox said...

Awesome stuff man, thanks for this thorough analysis. I would be very interested to hear some of your thoughts on how the hand's role in the Invisibles relates to all this.