Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bah.

I've bumped the entry on Pacts with the Devil back into draft format. It'll either be re-worked into something I can tolerate, or be ignored until such a time as it matters.

In the meantime, back to Mandrake research.

I apologize to anyone who wanted to read it and can't see it via a cache; I am an intolerantly moody bastard when it comes to my writing. Watch: later tonight I'll smoke a joint and decide I don't care anymore, or something.

Additionally, this headache that keeps trying to become a migraine is pissing me off.

Jack.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Witchcraft: Balancing History Against Practice


One of the most annoying and recurrent fights that erupt between witches involves dealing with academic outlooks on the subject of witchcraft, and how much historically accurate information we should apply to our own practices. In part, these fights erupt because a great many witches are heavily acquainted with outdated source material which flowed into the “rebirth” process of witchcraft as Wicca and other traditions were undergoing their birth pangs.

A detailed explanation of this process falls outside the spectrum of this rather limited blog entry; however, a rather simple explanation is that as various traditions and individuals were prepping to unleash a new outlook on Western witchery upon the world, they were enormously inspired by academics and pseudo-Academics who published various materials relating to the study of the phenomenon. This explanation applies to both Gerald Gardner – who was extremely influenced by Margaret Murray – and Roy Bowers (Robert Cochrane), whose essays show a fairly obviously influence by Robert Graves (in particular, The White Goddess is referenced in some of his letters).

Since then an ever increasing number of Ivory Tower scholars have cast their eyes upon the subject of witchcraft and other elements, refuting Victorian and post-Victorian scholarship and calling even elements that have now seeped into practice in Traditional circles into question.

This places those practicing any number of aspects related to witchcraft in a rather odd position; on the one hand, if we ignore the work of present academics we run the risk of making ahistorical and genuinely wrong claims about what we do. But, on the other hand, we also should not discount even certain ahistorical elements if they present a pragmatic solution to problems that plenty don't even realize may exist.

To use an example, let us take the “Wheel of the Year:”

The “eight Sabbats,” or specific holy days currently still in vogue in plenty of circles, was first presented by Margaret Murray in The Witch Cult in Western Europe. She writes:
“It appears from the evidence that certain changes took place in course of time in the religion; and, as might be expected, this is shown very markedly in the festivals. The ancient festivals remained all through, and to them were added the festivals of the succeeding religions. The original celebrations belonged to the May-November year, a division of time which follows neither the solstices nor the agricultural seasons; I have shown below (pp. 130, 178) that there is reason to believe these festivals were connected with the breeding seasons of the flocks and herds.. The chief festivals were: in the spring, May Eve (April 30), called Roodmas or Rood Day in Britain and Walpurgis-Nacht in Germany; in the autumn, November Eve (October 31), called in Britain All hallow Eve. Between these two came: in the winter, Candlemas (February 2); and in the summer, the Gule of August (August 1), called Lammas in Britain. To these were added the festivals of the solstitial invaders, Beltane at midsummer and Yule at midwinter; the movable festival of Easter was also added, but the equinoxes were never observed in Britain. On the advent of Christianity the names of the festivals were changed, and the date of one – Roodmas – was slightly altered so as to fall on May 3; otherwise the dates were observed as before, but with ceremonies of the new religion. Therefore Boguet is justified in saying that the witches kept all the Christian festivals. But the Great Assemblies were always held on the four original days, and it is this fact which makes it possible to distinguish with certainty between the Sabbath and the Esbat whenever dates are mentioned.”

In fact, plenty of the dates and festivals mentioned still had observance during the medieval period, although Murray's outlooks regarding fertility festivals are based on the rather hilarious concepts of the matter unique to the world of Victorian and post-Victorian academia, and are problematic at points. Nonetheless, the festivals themselves are at times – such as the overlap between the festivals of Beltane, Walpurgis Night, and Floralia – imbued with cultural elements relating rather directly with the practice of witchcraft and the emerging beliefs regarding it during the late medieval and Early Modern period.

More importantly – to practitioners especially – this system of utilizing a set of seasonally based days and practices, allows for one to create and interact with both the land and one's deities in a way that is highly worthwhile. It is, nonetheless as it exists in Murray's text, a rather ahistorical means of looking at festival days that were practiced well into the onset of the Early Modern period with Christian justifications following attempts by the authorities of the Church to keep the converted populace from falling back into practicing festivals (and religious observations) from Europe's “pagan” heritage. Despite these attempts, collective memory of former celebrations still remained and thus infused specific days with the spirit of “witchcraft” in later periods.

In this sense, the use of such days allows for one to tap the “deep, mythic roots” of witchcraft but also creates the potential for much misunderstanding; in many cases, the understanding of such events is rather directly shaped by Murray's over-arching (and rather hilarious) thesis, rather than from the events themselves.

As noted above, the pragmatic aspects of adopting a set of days linked to both folklore and witch beliefs is especially useful. It sets up an internally coherent map of events upon which offerings are given to one's Allies, during which one pays due attention to their personal deities and the spirits that work alongside said deities, and creates a period in which one is interacting with the spirits, the land upon which they act ritually, and so forth. I am personally of the opinion that this matters more than the ahistorical outlook from which it derives and allows us to bypass the rather dangerous desire to only practice aspects related specifically to the work of academia.

In other words, even if there are pitfalls to using it, it still works and aside from a few minor adjustments to our outlook, there is no reason to dismiss it entirely. On the other hand, one can also use festivals such as the Fasts of the Four Seasons, also known from the late Medieval period as the Ember Days:
“For in the year 1544, Martin Crusius, in his Annales Svevici, cites a curious tale, borrowed from an older chronicle. Wandering about the Swabian countryside were certain clerici vagantes who wore yellow nets draped about their shoulders in the place of capes. They had approached a group of peasants and told them they had been on the Venusberg and had seen extraordinary things there. They claimed knowledge of the past and could foretell the future; they had the power to discover lost objects and possessed charms which protected both men and animals from witches and their crimes; they could even keep hail away. With such boasts, intermingled with fearsome words mumbled ominously through clenched teeth, they shunned both men and women, especially the latter, and extorted money from them. As though this was not enough, they also declared they could call up the 'Furious Horde', made up of children who had died before they were baptized, of men slain in battle and of all 'ecstatics' – in other words of those souls who had had to abandon their bodies, never to return. These souls, they said, were accustomed to gather in the deserted places on Saturday nights of the Ember seasons and on Thursdays of the Advent, wandering about, sorrowing, until the appointed timeof their deaths, when they could be received amongst the blessed.* These clerici vagantes claimed that they had two lenghts of rope, one for grain, the other for wine: if one of them was buried, the price of grain or wine would increase that year...”
- Carlo Ginzburg, The Night Battles. (p. 55)

One of the aspects that Ginzburg highlights in his studies of witches, “proto-witches,” (my term) and similar practices is that on specific days and times of the year, certain individuals became ecstatic and dealt with the Otherworld; or to put it another way, individuals continuing to act in that capacity (even if they've been influenced by shoddy scholarship) are continuing a very long process of practice dating back several centuries, if not further afield along the timeline.

To this end, active practice is more of a requirement than long-term engagement with academic sources. And it always has been.

Extending this mindset to other elements is not terribly hard, either. I was recently reading a review of Emma Wilby's
Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits and was shocked when towards the end of the review, the reviewer noted that Wilby seemed to contradict herself regarding the practices of cunning folk. Sometimes, she noted, Wilby seemed to indicate that the individual was interacting with a spirit (or at least thought they were), whereas other times she indicated that the individual might be starving and thus hallucinating during the “encounter.”

While on the surface, these statements seem to contradict each other, from the perspective of active practice they do not. Fasting has long been an aspect of any number of magical practices, and we now know today that fasting causes
altered states of consciousness. The act of fasting causes the body to rely on its reserves of fat, burning them as fuel. As a result, one of the biochemical reactions triggered by the state is the release of “beta-endorphins” (endorphins are natural painkillers, a biological form of opiates that the human body itself produces) which can allow for one to basically “trip ballz” in a natural way. Starvation, rather than intentional fasting, can also cause these biological changes within the human body.

Given that we are seeing an altered state, and sound reasons for it appearing, this makes the potential for interaction between a starving poor person and a spirit all the more likely from where one sits as a practitioner. The “conditions” (biological, that is) are correct for just such an encounter, and what remains is what the practitioner got out of the encounter. It is only when they themselves come to doubt the event – perhaps based on false promises from the spirit – that we need to quirk an eyebrow.

Jack.

* Italix mine, as well as bolding for emphasis.

Friday, October 4, 2013

To Speak With Any Person That Is Dead


Earlier today I was challenged on a certain matter – or at least felt challenged – and after initially responding, I broke open the Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet to double-check just how much necromancy is in it. (I was correct in remembering that it was quite a bit.)

Immediately upon opening the book, however, I noticed one of the smaller sections that I had previously missed. And immediately became deeply amused.
Bibliomancy, how does it work? LOL.
To Have Conference with Spirits: –

To Speak with any person that is dead:
Go into the churchyard on a Friday at night at 12 or 2 of the Clock And Walk round about in the Alley 6 times And when you come to a Corner Stand still And say the Lord's Prayer and the Creed And before you have gone 6 times about you shall meet them that you would speak with As they were wont to go.”
- The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet, Edited by David Rankine. (P. 288)

It's followed by some of the
Fairy Conference rituals, which also may involve ghosts...

And then I noticed something just as amusing:
To Go Invisible:
Take the water of Fennel and go unto a Ants hillock Saying 9 Times putting down the water on the hillock:
Conjuro te Belzebub hostem domini nostri Jesu Christi ut redeam in Lapidem per quem eum invisibilis.
- The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet, Edited by David Rankine. (P. 300)
There are a few other invisibility spells in that section of the book, all of which look fascinating and some of which I will clearly have to mess around with. It is immediately followed for spells to be used in conjunction with magical plants – Valerian and Vervaine – that look incredibly awesome, too.

I have to give Mr. Rankine due credit:
he has armed us with a most excellent Grimoire, and highly useful rituals and spells insofar as a certain type of practitioner may be concerned. Honestly: I cannot recommend the book enough.

Be seeing you,
Jack.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Images in the Palace of Twilight

Rossetti's Mnemosyne. 1875 - 1876.

“Μνημοσύνην καλέω, Ζηνὸς σύλλεκτρον, ἄνασσαν,
ἣ Μούσας τέκνωσ’ ἱεράς, ὁσίας, λιγυφώνους,
ἐκτὸς ἐοῦσα κακῆς λήθης βλαψίφρονος αἰεί,
πάντα νόον συνέχουσα βροτῶν ψυχαῖσι σύνοικον,
εὐδύνατον κρατερὸν θνητῶν αὔξουσα λογισμόν,
ἡδυτάτη, φιλάγρυπνος ὑπομνήσκουσά τε πάντα,
ὧν ἂν ἕκαστος ἀεὶ στέρνοις γνώμην κατάθηται,
οὔτι παρεκβαίνουσ’, ἐπεγείρουσα φρένα πᾶσιν.
ἀλλά, μάκαιρα θεά, μύσταις μνήμην ἐπέγειρε
εὐιέρου τελετῆς, λήθην δ’ ἀπὸ τῶν δ’ ἀπόπεμπε.”

(“The consort I invoke of Jove divine,
Source of the holy, sweetly-speaking Nine;
Free from th' oblivion of the fallen mind,
By whom the soul with intellect is join'd:
Reason's increase, and thought to thee belong,
All-powerful, pleasant, vigilant, and strong:
'Tis thine, to waken from lethargic rest
All thoughts deposited within the breast;
And nought neglecting, vigorous to excite
The mental eye from dark oblivion's night.
Come, blessed power, thy Mystic's mem'ry wake
To holy rites, and Lethe's fetters break.”)
- Orphic Hymn to Mnemosyne, Titan Goddess of Memory. (Original Greek & Taylor Translation.)

The Palace of Twilight

This post is about the “Memory Palace,” a technique originally developed in antiquity to extend the powers of the memory to abnormal (“artificial”) – if not practically divine – potential. It was used by orators in Greece and Rome to memorize their often quite lengthy speeches, and to allow them access to vast swathes of information prior to the arrival of the printing press. During the Renaissance – and even after the printing press made access to written material a trivial concern – it was used to magicians for reasons both pragmatic and (as Francis Yates puts it) “mysterious.” I first encountered the
Memory Palace in Thomas Harris' Hannibal, in which there are scenes depicting the villainous Hannibal Lecter using his memory palace. At the age of 16, I thought that there was nothing more fascinating than the idea that one could travel in a completely “imaginary” space, as well as perform actions that would allow for further access to memory in real-time. As such, I very quickly sought to learn how to make my own Memory Palace and began using it. Later, while using the “Astral Temple” as described by various magicians and traditions of Western Magick, I began noticing that there wasn't a huge difference between the two. In fact, the Astral Temple described for use by Patrick Dunn in Postmodern Magic is easily correlated, if not conflated (there are a few key differences, but I see no proof those differences weren't used in the classical sense, either), with the Memory Palace.

The origins of these memory techniques, referred to in Latin as the
Ars Memorativa or Ars Memoriae (“Art of Memory”). It probably derives from Pre-Socratic (“Sophist”) philosophy, although Pre-Socratic philosophy was largely shattered by Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. The Art of Memory holds a special place in the Pre-Socratic Trivium. Writing on McLuhan's thoughts regarding the Trivium and Quadrivium, Bill Kuhn's (in the last link) writes:
“The trivium and the quadrivium constitute what the ancients and later the medievals call the seven liberal arts. As Thomas Aquinas writes of them, 'these subjects are known as the trivium and quadrivium because by them, as if by certain roads, the eager mind enters into the secrets of philosophy.' The arts of the trivium are the arts whereby one comes to know and express things, the arts of language, or the Logos: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. The quadrivium consists of the four classic disciplines of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.”
In this sense, Memory is always a key to utilizing and enacting the other aspects of the Trivium and Quadrivium. Thus the Memory Palace (which I am calling “The Palace of Twilight” more for poetic reasons than historical ones) allows access to the information places within it, so that the individual can draw upon this information at will. In fact Francis Yates, in The Art of Memory, writes (regarding Aristotle's thoughts):
Aristotle's theory of memory and reminiscence is based on the theory of knowledge which he expounds in is De anima. The perceptions brought in by the five senses are first treated or worked upon by the faculty of imagination, and it is the images so formed which become the material of the intellectual faculty. Imagination is the intermediary between perception and thought. Thus while all knowledge is ultimately derived from sense impressions it is not on these in the raw that thought works but after they have been treated by, or absorbed into, the imaginative faculty. It is the image-making part of the soul which makes the work of the higher processes of thought possible. Hence 'the soul never thinks without a mental picture;' 'the thinking faculty thinks of its forms in mental pictures;' 'no one could ever learn or understand anything, if he had not the faculty of perception; even when he thinks speculatively, he must have some mental picture with which to think.'”
(P. 32)

The
Memory Palace consists of these images, and maintains the use of them for the art of memory. Through texts like the Rhetorica ad Herennium these techniques were handed down from Antiquity and well into the Renaissance, where they were used by such august fellows as Giordano Bruno.


Loci: Places and Palaces.

The palace itself is a location, classically taken from a real and accessible place which could thus be memorized:

“A person with a relatively large experience can easily equip himself with as many suitable loci as he pleases, and even a person who thinks he does not possess enough sufficiently good loci can remedy this. 'For thought can embrace any region whatsoever and in it and at will construct the setting of some locus.' (That is to say, mnemonics can use what were afterwards called 'fictitious places,' in contrast to the 'real places' of the ordinary method.)”
- Francis Yates, The Art of Memory (P. 8)

Classically, it appears that 'real locations' were preferred to 'fictitious' ones because they allowed for easier memorization. Yates, at one point, notes that the individual moving slowly – step by painstaking step – through a building as if they were memorizing each minute detail was the Rhetorician. The
ad Herennium recommends (as does Cicero):
“Again, it will be more advantageous to obtain backgrounds in a deserted than in a populous region, because the crowding and passing to and fro of people confuse and weaken the impress of the images, while solitude keeps their outlines sharp. Further, backgrounds differing in form and nature must be secured, so that, thus distinguished, they may be clearly visible; for if a person has adopted many intercolumnar spaces, their resemblance to one another will so confuse him that he will no longer know what he has set in each background. And these backgrounds ought to be of moderate size and medium extent, for when excessively large they render the images vague, and when too small often seem incapable of receiving an arrangement of images.  Then the backgrounds ought to be neither too bright nor too dim, so that the shadows may not obscure the images nor the lustre make them glitter. I believe that the intervals between backgrounds should be of moderate extent, approximately thirty feet; for, like the external eye, so the inner eye of thought is less powerful when you have moved the object of sight too near or too far away.”
The first Memory Palace I ever maintained and used, as an example of Loci, was a delapidated mansion in a town that I grew up in. When I was eight years old, I snuck into it on a dare and after about thirty minutes of exploration fled when I was certain that the devil was coming for my “soul,” because I was a too-clever sinner. It is far more likely that I woke up a homeless fellow living inside it, but I was convinced during the encounter that it was the devil coming for me with terrifyingly loud stomps. It is also quite possible that it was my boyhood friends playing a prank on me. The sheer fear of the event left at least 90% of the mansion burned into my memory, and I quite often had nightmares later on which I was trapped in the place with some sinister, shadowy individual “coming for me.” Shortly after converting it into a Memory Palace and focusing logically on the events that transpired that night, I stopped having said nightmares and seem to have balanced it well enough for use.

I have subsequently added quite a few more locations for use, depending on what I'm doing and what information I'm storing. These include often visited – but rarely frequented – libraries, and a few other buildings besides. I use almost all of this
Loci with more regularity than most probably realize.


Imagines Agentes (Giving Images)

Once a suitable
Loci or Palace is found and created, it is equipped with statues or figures which are so vivid that they allow for easy recollection. To these images, symbolic details (and even symbolic language itself) may be applied. For the sake of this (somewhat) brief blog entry, we'll focus on their uses for memorizing aspects of occult correspondences. Since I don't use QBL, you will note a distinct lack of any reference to it. It is advised that those who use the 'Tree of Life' and QBL consider incorporating those aspects into their Memory Palace.* Just don't ask me for help with it, for the love of all that is Holy.

I have a specific room in one of my palaces – with a dome, upon which the planets and stars of the sky have been sketched – which is equipped with statues of the classical planetary rulers. This is not something I either invented, nor came up with by myself: Gordiano Bruno, in particular, mentions created just such spaces within one's memory palace.

Thus I have a statue for: Luna (Diana, Hekate, or Persphone work well, along with a number of other deities), Mercury (Hermes), Venus (Aphrodite), Sol (Apollo), Mars (Ares), Jupiter (Zeus), and Saturn (Kronos). This follows the Ptolemaic Order of the planets, which I use because it happens to be “Traditional.”

One of the easiest ways to establish such figures is to grab sculptures or busts of the respective deities and then alter them for use. To each of these statues is added, at the base that the statue stands upon (or upon their forehead) the planetary symbol for the relevant astrological body. More recently, I've been adding a garden or representations of plants associated with the relevant planets and rulers.**

Additionally, all of the statues are made of their traditional metals, either in their corroded state (minus the noble metals, which do not corrode) or in their original state. The metal associated with a given planet was traditionally taken from Alchemy, as well as the colors that correspond to the planetary body. An example for this is Venus: the metal commonly associated with Venus is Copper, which initially has a bright rosy tint to it, but when it corrodes or oxidizes turns to a deep green coloration. Thus one can either use one or both images on their Statue for the deity. Using both actually works quite well, as the clothing on the statue can remain the traditional color, while the extremities (arms/legs) of the statue can be the color the metal presents following their having been oxidized.

Thus we'd end up with a Statue of Venus:


Before it, a small garden within which are growing***

Violets:





Valerian:



And so on.

Before the statue is an offering basin, made from a beautifully crafted copper:



 and in which we place gleaming gems of Emerald:

Chunks of Coral:


And so forth...

Thus whenever I enter this area of my Memory Palace, I can immediately see the Order of the Planets, the statues of their rulers sitting beneath them, and then the items that they are sympathetically linked to. And so long as I maintain and use this room in my Memory Palace regularly, the recollection is almost instantaneous. They are further linked by the simple symbol of the Planetary body, such as that of Venus:



And even if I do not wish to fully enter that room within my mind and view it, I can recall the correspondence quite quickly simply by summoning into my mind's eye the symbol of the planet... Once these images are correlated together, it is quite hard to think of them quite as distinctly. The simple symbol brings to mind the statue, and then the offerings placed before it, and the plants growing and sprawling around it. We may even add, behind each of the statues, another garden environment in which grow trees and larger shrubs that are sympathetically linked to the relevant bodies.

Furthermore, within this room we may also perform evocations for the planetary rulers and 'give life' to the statues themselves, allowing for quite read and easy access to the planetary deity. Routine use of such techniques allow for discussions with the Planetary Rulers regarding what they do and how they work – and how we
ought to work with them – that anyone can perform, any time, even if they are in a space that is not conductive to ritual activity. In a very real way, the way we equip and use our Memory Palace allows for us to set in motion all later magical activities, to easily recall relevant details and sympathies linked to our magical work, all of which lying behind which is the extraordinary beauty and twilight “reality” of interior space.

By creating and maintaining the interior space of the
Memory Palace, we are creating profound linkages between our interior “mental world” and the exterior world upon which we act ritually.

For within the field of perception and the mind's eye, the two are always linked in extraordinary ways. But don't take my word for it: pick up a copy of Yates book, build your own, and see for yourself. Obviously, this will only interest those with visual memory as a primary faculty... But it is highly useful.

Be seeing you,

Faustilocks.


* Note: Unfortunately, this blog entry will not be long enough to get into every single detail, potential use, and aspect of the Ars Memoriae. I am focusing on pragmatic aspects versus other elements that – while useful – may distract blog readers new to the subject.
** One can either ask the plants, hunt down classical associations between the plants and the rulers in traditional texts (like Pliny's
The Natural Histories and Dioscorides De Materia Medica), or use the Doctrine of the Sympathies.
*** All of these correspondences have been taken from Agrippa. Many, if not all of them, can be found and easily referenced on Chris Warnock's Renaissance Astrology site.