Category Archives: Musings blog…

The Trouble with Dichotomy

Either–or Thinking

Someone is saying it—whaddya mean, dichotomy? Dichotomy

So let’s start with an image: Two circles, one black labelled A, one white labelled B. They are identical in size and shape, completely separate in position, and have no shared content. This is a pictorial representation of a dichotomy. Oxford Dictionary defines dichotomy as “a division…between two things that are…entirely different.

So why does a witch care? Simple. The absolutism of either–or thinking, a concept that goes back at least 2500 years in religion to Zoroastrianism and affects all modern religions “of the book” also permeates occult writing of the past two centuries. For example, Theosophy, a religion (or “esoteric religious tradition,” to quote Joseph Campbell,) was promulgated by the Theosophical Society with Helena Blavatsky primary among its 1875 founders, In Theosophy, the atma (Sanskrit, “soul”) is the Higher Self so often taught in New Age self-help practices to be the individual’s source of true wisdom.The difficulty with the term higher self becomes evident when one asks the obvious question, “Higher than what?”

The notion that a lower self (or consciousness) exists within us all and must be overcome or improved by a higher self (or consciousness) pervades the New Age assumptions drawn from 19th and 20th century esotericism—which, in turn, borrow extensively from Hindu and Buddhist concepts that buried the Old English vocabulary of the witch, and even the Latinate vocabulary of the ceremonial magician. Even the religion of Thelema, product of Aleister Crowley (and Rabelaisian fiction) presupposes that practitioners have a “True Will” that manages their ethical dictum: “Love is the Law, Love under Will.”

Where Witchcraft Meets Dichotomy

Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?

—The Wizard of Oz, Glinda the Good the witch of the north, to Dorothy upon her arrival in Oz

Glinda’s question mirrors a more modern one, often posed to me: “Do you do white magic?” And the questioner invariably looked nervous while asking. Twenty-odd years of teaching, and I reflexively reply, “Is a hammer good when it hits the nail and bad when it hits your thumb?”

Magic is a tool, just as is a hammer. It is a tool used by witches, and a great many others; goodness or badness is a matter of perspective. More to the point, it is not a dichotomy, a division, at all. Goodness and badness as qualities are two ends of a spectrum, and less than that, or more. For a spectrum implies a line, or a series along a line, and goodness and badness do not fall into such a narrow space.  Good magic may mean effective magic, or helpful magic, or healing magic. Bad magic may mean baleful magic, or ineffective magic, or selfish magic. And sometimes selfish magic is beneficial, just as sometimes good magic is interference.

Outside of deliberately contrived fiction, witchcraft connects us to each other, to nature, and to balance. At the solstices, dark or light, humans yearn for a return to a balance. Summer solstice having just passed in the North, the 16 hours of daylight begin to interfere with needful sleep. Walking for fun or exercise is done at times of day when shadows fall broadly, and one instinctively chooses to walk on the shadowed side of the street. In the same way, at winter solstice, with daylight throttled to a scant 8 hours, dry moments of daylight are cherished, and the sun-warmth on skin is welcome, if rare.

labyrinthNorseWicca celebrates the Wheel of the Year, and yet the wheel we speak of is not a wheel but a spiral, for when we reach a point along its cycle, we are in a different time and space. Ancient and modern petroglyphs depict such spirals and their cousin–labyrinths.

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel…

“The Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

 

 

The past as prologue

Sorting the many piles of paper that need new permanent homes, I came across small something I wrote in 1973. And it still speaks to me, and perhaps to others. I choose to share it.

Healing

Fair and far the world may seem,
caught in sun or moonswift sheen.
Cold and clear is sight of land,
well to touch or see or stand.
Bright the brimming waters flow
shadow-dappled as they go
running under green-leafed trees,
singing softly in the breeze,
and moving on towards foreign seas.

Worlds may lap sometimes at need—
sorrow calls and woods may heed.
Quiet calms the troubled soulp
healing slowly makes it whole.
In the mundane light of day,
sylvan folk may walk and play.
Down a dark or dreary hall,
where troubles wait or cares befall,
listen to the fair ones call…

—spring 1973

©1973–2018 Deborah Snavely, all rights reserved

a word about wool…

Natural Fire Management

The first article I ever wrote for a Pagan magazine described my attribution of the four common natural fibers to elemental correspondences, in which I spoke about wool corresponding to elemental Water. There’s good reason for that. When exposed to flame, wool ignites reluctantly, the char spreads slowly, and tends to self-extinguish. These facts were used in early 20th-century quality-control textile testing of wool fabrics, according to the 1942 industrial Encyclopedia of Textiles. Every householder knew those fact before the days of synthetic fiber and central heating.

The Hearthrug

Historic home traditions in fire-fighting and fire prevention may puzzle the millennial generation. A hearthrug, as its name says, was a rug laid before the hearth or hearthstone. Modern dictionary definitions merely state that their purpose was to protect the floor—if your home had a floor made of wood—a luxury in many cottage households, while earthen floors were commonplace. Back to the wood floor; sparks jumping outward from the hearth fire—a cook-fire & heat source at once, were a commonplace event that marred that cherished wood floor. Hearthrugs were, of course, were made of wool. And wool hates to burn! A hearthrug, whether a whole sheepskin, a patterned wool weaving, or a rag rug that recycled the rags of worn-out wool clothing, lay where the sparks from an open cook-fire might leap, and extinguish any opportunistic flames that tried to take hold.

Blanket Means Wool

Home fire-fighting equipment consisted of a bucket of sand (not water) and old blankets—no one in the 19th century felt any need to specify that blankets were made of wool. During my childhood, Army surplus blankets—those olive-drab green remnants of WWII & Korean War oversupply—were routinely a few layers of the bedrolls mother taught us to make (what’s a sleeping bag?). The family camped with them in Mohave Desert, in Joshua Tree National Park, and in Sequoia National Park we discovered the environment on the western edge of the continent. By the time we lived in northern California in the mid-1960s, I recognized the value of that traditional fire-fighting technique, when dog-day grass fires saw every able-bodied man grabbing a blanket or throw rug as they ran towards the edges of the fire to contain & control it, often accomplished before the local all-volunteer fire department could arrive—who then wetted down the entire site to prevent surprise re-ignition. Wool blankets, wool area rugs, wool horse blankets: emergency equipment on ranches, farms, homesteads, and ordinary households.

Wool has a magic all its own.

 

IMPORTANT! Don’t try this with just any blanket today—
synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic, or fleece will flare,
stick to human skin, and retain heat long after active flame is gone—
more like napalm than fire-suppressant; people have died wearing polar fleece.)

A Lammastide Tale

Once a time, a great forest covered the westlands, streambanks and flatlands, vales and dales, meadows and hillocks, mountains and ravines and chasms deep in the heart of the country. Many kinds of trees grew there, the lesser—the rhododendron and buckeye, the dogwood and laurel, the manzanita and toyon and the greater—the dugh fir and the live oak, the tanoak and the madrone, the bay laurel and the huge valley oak.

redwoodscale.png - 1But greatest of all trees in the forest was the redwood, the sequoia, massive amid mountains or towering high along the land’s edge to drink the twilight fogs, gift of the sea. For those sequoia were more than single trees, they were the mother-tree of all the forest, gathering the mists to water its neighbors, amassing its duff to mulch the forest against the summer sun, and even in death, when an ancient tree, windfallen, cleared a space within the forest, new redwoods sprang quickly from its mouldering body.

RedwoodStreamCanyonAnd in that land, where stood these tallest of trees, blanketing the sharp-edged landscape, many waters flowed, tiny rivulets carving paths in the clay soil, or great rivers flowing easily over wide, pebbled streambeds. And not all the waters of that land were above it, for beneath the forest, the waters also ran, chill from mountainous seeps or heated with the very fires of the svartelven folk, the dwarves whose smithies ring powerful in saga and tale alike—but that is another story.

Among those waters ran a everlasting clear stream that issued forth from under the roots of a lofty, towering sequoia, old when the Norsemen relinquished their grip on the vine-lands—but that, too, is another story. From out a lightless hollow between two buttress-roots the which knotted firmly into the golden clay soil sprang forth lustily a pure gush of water, and, falling, smoothed the clay banks of the creek that issued therefrom. Even in these latter days, you may still see the remnants of this great forest, hidden away in clefts of the hillsides, nursed back to health in patches of treasured enclaves, or awaiting destruction from the hand of man.

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In these latter days, it came to pass that one such forest enclave still preserved the ancient lofty redwood and its astonishing freshwater fountain, untouched but for the addition of a cup, hooked at the great tree’s foot, ready to hand.

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Now in these days of sorrow for the forest, it came about that a harvest feast was held in that preserve whence stood the goddess-tree and her sacred spring. And a daughter of the preserve-keepers, those multi-generation farm folk, shared withal the secret of the spring, leading another girl Doireann, then but a lanky lass, into the edge of forest, and bade her drink, from the cup, of the earth’s bounty. And Doireann drank as she was bidden, and found it good.

It came about at the next harvest feasting that, though her guide—the farm daughter—was absent, Doireann was drawn alone into the deep woods. She traversed the trace, darkening from sunlight to forest dim, unsummoned, along the clay path beneath the sword fern and trillium that edged it and the watercourse to its wond’rous source, the sweet spring, for she was drawn to see and smell and drink this marvel once again. She followed her feet and her heart until she came to the great goddess-sequoia, and she felt of the texture and form of the tree, getting to know it better.

And she plunged both hands into the freshet, rinsing her hands and arms of the dust and sweat of the open country (where the Lammas sun beat fiercely beyond the cool forest air), scooping chill handfuls to cleanse her face as well. At last, she took the cup from its hook and rinsed it and drank deeply of the waters of the land, and knew that it was sacred. Leaving, she said naught of her feeling and her experience to others, fearing to make it seem less than it had been. For she felt a tie with the land, with the sequoia, with the forest that seemed new to her, yet long familiar. 

And that is the story of how Doireann met the mother-redwood and her sacred spring, but that is not the last of her tales, for it was she who serenaded the ancient sequoia of Armstrong Grove, and it was she who met the Hornéd One amid another redwood forest, and it was she who was gifted with wildlife contact amid the redwood expanse that yet survives—but those are other stories.

hollowredwood

Recycling Spirit

“In the economy of nature, nothing is ever lost. I cannot believe that the soul of man shall prove the one exception.”     —Gene Stratton-Porter (1863–1924)

There it is…a clear statement written almost a century before my own conclusion of similar ilk. I’ve thought for decades that nothing vanishes—not matter including living beings, not energy including the nuclear engines we know as stars or suns—nothing at all. Matter become energy becomes matter; thus, nothing that exists ever disappears/vanishes/evaporates/ceases to exist. Consciousness, or spirit, or soul, or qi, or ka, or that-which-lives is real, provable, tangible by its interactions with other consciousnesses. Why should consciousness be the only thing in the cosmos that evaporates, when we know that every thing else in the cosmos continues in other forms? Thus, living spirits continue.

Reincarnation

British Traditional Wicca incorporates a core belief, that reincarnation happens. Our funerary prayer includes a simple request of our Lord of Death & Rebirth:

…when our time comes, we will enter Thy realms gladly. …when rested and refresh among our dear ones, we shall be reborn by Thy grace and by the grace of the Great Mother. Let it be at the same time and in the same place as our beloved ones. And may we meet and know and remember, and love them again…

So mote it be.

 

 

 

Sacred springs…

inWater is life.      —First Peoples saying

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Greek bronze Pegasus figure, 6th century BCE

Having spoken of the Muses’ sacred spring, Hippocrene (which translates to mean “horse fountain”), it seems fitting to mention the myth of the spring’s creation. Tales tell that Pegasus—himself described as the steed of the Muses—upon launching himself skyward, that his hoof clove the rock of Mt. Helicon, opening the Hippocrene fountainhead  at that place. The Hippocrene remains accessible to hikers on Mt. Helicon today, with a battered old bucket chained to the stone well opening, allowing visitors to reach the subterranean water a few yards (meters) below the opening.

A Scattering of Sacred Springs

Look within, for within is the wellspring of virtue…      —Marcus Aurelius

As the Standing Rock water protectors have reminded us all, “Water is Life.” Freshwater sources, wells and springs, are and have been from time immemorial, regarded with respect at the least and awe at the most. Freshwater natural springs & wells are sacred around the globe.

  • Licton Spring, which I have had the honor to visit personally, is sacred to the Duwamish and intermarried regional tribes of Puget Sound; a source for the medicinal red ochre.
  • The goddess Brigid’s well in Kildare is older than the saint into which the goddess was subsumed. Brigid symbols abound: her sacred flame for forge & crafting; her sacred well for healing & inspiration; her Celtic cross for sun & grain.
  • Aquae Sulis The natural hot springs in Britain’s city of Bath are named for the mineral springs there revered by the Celtic Brythons before Rome supplied the Latin name. The occupying Romans knew her as Sulis Minerva (Minerva is the name they knew Athena by, goddess of wise counsel & creativity), while the Brythonic folk knew Sulis as a healer and judge.
  • Hippocrene fount, sacred spring of the Muses upon Mt. Helicon; the name (Greek compounded of words meaning “horse” & “fountain”) refers to the myth that Athena brought Pegasus as a young colt to be raised by the Muses; when the adult Pegasus leapt for the sky, his hoof clove the stone open to reveal the water beneath, which was reputed to grant inspiration to those who drink of it.

On Muses…

Most references state that the Greek Muses number nine, a few of whose names are part of modern English—terpsichore, the art of dance; and, calliope, a steam organ. These nine best-known Muses are connected with Hellenic Greek mythology of Mt. Olympus and the Olympian deities—these are sometimes called the Younger Muses.

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Mt. Helicon’s Hippocrene spring—sacred to the Muses

One must do further reading to learn that before the muses numbered nine, they numbered three, and before that, there was one. The little-known three Elder Muses have their own sacred mountain, Mt. Helicon, and their three attributes consist of voice, memory, and meditation. Those three attributes enable performance: of poetry, of theater, of music.

Whatever their number, Muses inspire.

When I was a music & theater major, that latter quality of meditation we called “concentration”—the focused, practiced production of sound, emotion, intention that seized and moved our audiences. And when I was brought in to the Wicca, I found that the same sort of “concentration” enables our magic. As the Brits say, “Snap!”