Thursday, March 28, 2013

Self-oppression made easy

I realise that this post will seem like I am contradicting myself, but I've become very aware of the tone of many of the posts here. I have commented that being a witch means coming into contact with a lot of shit, specifically that I now have a psychic link to a paedophile. I have also commented that I can see no desirability is forgiving or being forgiven, nor yet in necessarily forgetting the wrongs that have been done one. There are two bottom lines in this one for me: sources of energy always come in useful for the witch & such strong emotions as hatred & anger are useful sources of them. The other bottom line is that in today's culture of apology people get this strange idea that apologising will somehow help the other person move on in their life.
I am going to use two big examples to illustrate what I'm getting at here: the experience of slavery undergone by the people who came to Britain from the west coast of Africa via the Caribbean & the oppression of homosexuals. Slavery is such a stain on human history that I can see no purpose being served by 'forgiving and forgetting', because humans are very good at not learning from their past. Also for individuals it has created such a trauma lasting over generations that it would be unreasonable to act as if that trauma wasn't there at all.
However I am a witch, & I know damn well that if you go around thinking 'I am oppressed' you truly are, & it is you doing the oppressing. A strange dynamic occurs in individuals or communities with a history of being on the receiving end of discrimination or oppression; by dynamic I mean the unspoken script that lays under the surface of our every action. The 'oppressed' either internalises the oppressor or projects the oppressor onto a safe external target. This last is a normal reaction to the kind of trauma that I am talking about here, in an attempt to make it manageable. As a white European, I can have some idea of where my forebears have been & their rough social standing for a number of centuries back. If I was a Black British person of African-Caribbean descent I wouldn't be able to, because an entire social system was deliberately destroyed in Africa, & then the slaves deliberately mixed up to reduce rebellion. That in itself creates a rootlessness, in fact even writing it I feel sick.
Where you go from that point is the difficulty & it tends to be there that people internalise their self-loathing. Neither of these routes actually liberates you & I feel the internalised oppressor is the more dangerous & insidious of the two routes. You see this in black people feeling they have to agree with each other because they're black (in fact, insert any minority you like for the word black). You particularly see it in discriminatees' attempts to fit in with the discriminators. This may well be 'I'll have a bit of what you've got,' but it becomes dangerous when it means the minority continues to see the externalised oppressor as normative.
I disagree with those who campaign for gay marriage on the basis of equality. I don't want to be equal, I've got far better things in mind for myself. I look at married couples & thank the G*ddess that I'm a pansy, because I just plain don't want to be like them. I'm aware that I have a slight advantage because at the end of the day I can always have a handfasting to someone else, while preserving the principle that the State can stay out of my love life. But that still wouldn't be a marriage. So I would say to any gay or lesbian who wants equality in marriage: be very careful. You are making the Judaeo-Christian heterocentric model normative, which is *exactly* what has been the pretext to persecute homosexuals for centuries, & you are perpetuating internalised self-hatred.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Food poisoning & tarot

A question came up in the pub earlier this week during a discussion of what bad hygiene practices we'd seen in catering: surely as magical people we should have ways to discern potential food poisoning. I wondered which tarot card would indicate that the food you're about to eat would give you projectile vomiting. One of us suggested the Moon, as meaning 'your food isn't what you think it is,' but we agreed that that would be more one food sold as another, horsemeat sold as beef, for example.
I asked the deck which illustrates this post what card would indicate food poisoning & got 8 of Swords. Interesting it's a sword. But not the 10, the peak of the 'swordiness'. In fact you can almost feel swords in the way you feel when you have food poisoning.
The deck is the Tarocco Indovino 1.96: strange name, I know, but it's taken me some effort to find it. Some time ago I posted a review of the Tarot Genoves (Fournier), a photographic reproduction of a 19th century double-ended gaming deck. This tarocco is interesting as being out of the same stable yet totally different. The cards are of the pattern which is often called Piemontese: the pictures on the Majors & Court cards are split in two & double ended, just as they are in the court cards of a modern deck of playing cards. This seems to take me as near as I am going to get to a tarot deck which is clearly a deck of playing cards, yet without the altered images of modern French tarot decks. The Piemontese style is clearly related to the Marseille style: the 2 of cups is the same & quirks such as the pentacles not having numbers on the cards are carried over.
But this tarot is different: it has meanings printed on the cards, one one way, another the other. This means that 'reversals' are possible because of the different meanings, in Italian only by the way. Italian isn't one of my languages but from what I can understand they are very traditional fortune-telling meanings. Of course these have the shortcomings that key words always have of over-simplification. The Devil is 'a bad time' pure & simple. More like the bender before the hangover, to my mind. Alec Satin has a spread to interview a tarot deck & find out what it's about. Being me, let's ask this deck some more pertinent questions & get to know it. These decks were born in the gutter between a pub & a fairground fortune teller's table; I like them because they give down & dirty answers to down & dirty questions!
What card would indicate the waiter has spat (or introduced another bodily substance) into your food? 8 of Wands (= he's not bothered about your health or his job, but will go his own way).
What card would indicate someone is about to do you over with defective goods or forged money? 7 of Swords. Those swords are being worked today!
What card would indicate the place you're about to eat in should be closed down? 6 of Wands. In RWS I always feel the horse in this card knows something the man doesn't & is almost winking at us. The keywords here, ironically are 'pazienza, periodo fermo'.
Tarocco Indovino 1.96 is published by Dal Negro. 22 + 56. Standard tarot. The cards are about the size of normal playing cards, longer than my poker-sized Bicycle cards. They feel & smell of cardboard. Having failed to get one from I bought one on & it winged its way from Milan well within a week. Not perfect if you want to read in a RWS/Golden Dawn/Thoth/Crowley tradition, but good if you want to strike out on your own or make out your grandmother was a strega!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A French method of reading the pip cards

This post has a subtitle: the French method comes head to head with the Golden Dawn in this post and wins!
Perhaps I'd better restate my position on tarot history: this is for my benefit, not yours, since if I'm not careful I'm about to lose handle on it & become a Marseille-only fanatic. My position is that tarot started off life as cards to play games, which attracted an esoteric meaning to themselves in the course of time. The meaning didn't have to attach to cards, it could havebeen to anything. There is also no single codified understanding of tarot divination, different schools in different places having had a go at it over the years, although the English-speaking world tends to be dominated by either the Golden Dawn or Crowley theories.
Cross the channel & you're in a divinatory different world. Even to search for tarot decks on amazon in its French, German or Italian forms comes up with different things, even decks meant for - can you believe it? - playing card games. The French-speaking cartomancy world is very different: Mdme Lenormand has become fashionable for us recently, but readings with Etteilla decks & Majors-only readings with Marseille-style decks haven't yet.
A popular French way of reading the pip cards - remember that this is meant to go with the Marseille deck & won't work so well with other styles - is called the "Majors in the Minors'. Trump I Bateleur 'governs' in some way the Aces, as being the ones. I personally really like this approach, having spent years making numerological connections within various tarot decks. But that is not what is meant by this approach: numerologically I want to move on to make connections with the higher-number Trumps. I'm bringing this approach out on its own because it will become apparent how well this approach works when compared (in a future post) to other numerological methods with the pips.
However today I came a cropper with this approach, caused by my. Love for making connections. I love the attributions of Hebrew letters, with their built-in meanings, to the Trump cards. I thought it would be interesting to apply these to this Majors-in-the-Minors approach & come up with Hebrew letters' meanings in the minors. The first snag was that I knew. Waite had changed two of the cards' positions for astrological reasons, but wasn't sure how this would impact on the Hebrew attributions.
Fortunately I wasn't at home when I thought about this, or I would have looked in my own notes, so googled it & found that the Golden Dawn attributions I had learned to go with the RWS deck are far from the only possible arrangement. Tarotpedia ( gives seven.
It seems to me that what I had thought were the Golden Dawn attributions are not right. Not even for the RWS. This is why I needed to restate my position before starting: it seems to me that the Golden Dawn messed it up.
For a start the Fool is not the first card, it is unnumbered. Surely the point is that it is everywhere & before everything. In fact I feel the Fool is best treated as on its own, & the last place it should be is where MacGregor Mathers insisted on putting it, before The World ( Using the Filipas method of giving aleph to the Bateleur/Magician, which is the card with a number 1 on it, means the first Trump has the first Hebrew letter. Why didn't I notice this before? It's so obvious!
Mathers gives aleph to the Bataleur, which must be from Mathers himself, although the website is a Golden Dawn website. Best of all he points out a further justification for this in talking about The Bataleur:
'1. The Juggler or Magician. Before a table covered with the appliances of his art stands the figure of a juggler, one hand upraised holding a wand (in some packs, a cup), the other pointing downwards. He wears a cap of maintenance like that of the kings, whose wide brim forms a sort of aureole round his head. His body and arms form the shape of the Hebrew letter Aleph, to which this card corresponds. He symbolises Will.'
I had never noticed that his arms actually do that (even the 'wrong way round' in RWS), just as the brim of his hat becomes a figure 8. So frankly I'm sold on this now, & so what we're left with when all the shouting is over are the pip cards with Trumps & Hebrew attributions as below:
Aces: I Bateleur - Aleph, which means ox.
Twos: II Popess - Beth, which means house.
Threes: III Empress - Gimel, which means camel.
Fours: IV Emperor - Daleth, which means door.
Fives: V Pope - He, which means window.
Sixes: VI Lovers - Vau, which means nail.
Sevens: VII Chariot - Zain, which means sword.
Eights: VIII Justice (I.e. The one that Waite swopped for Strength) - Cheth, which means fence.
Nines: IX Hermit - Teth, which means snake.
Tens: X Fortune - Yod, which means hand.
If this seems rather far-fetched, get out a. RWS deck & marvel at the striking coincidence that there is a window in the 5 of Pentacles, the wands in the four of wands create a doorway to the castle in the distance, the man's hand in the 10 of swords is making the Japanese mudra, & the woman in the 8 of Swords is surrounded by a 'fence' of Swords.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spirit of place: Moseley so-called 'village'

In my first post about the River Rea I mentioned my distaste for referring to a random area of Britain's second city as a village. Today I intended to go to King's Norton & follow the Rea's route out away from the city. Unfortunately on the bus towards Cotteridge I was going through my Marseille tarot cards (I'm going to learn to read those bad boys if it kills me) & when I next looked up the bus was approaching King's Heath. So I got off, did the charity shops in King's Heath then got on the 50 to Moseley.
Let's get the good things about Moseley out of the way before I begin my bitch-fest: it is home to some of Birmingham's most gorgeous & endangered buildings, such as the baths & the former art school. The latter is now in the private hands of an Islamic educational charity who do their best to maintain the fabric of their listed building but don't have the available resources for fancy restorations. Still they are doing the right thing by the building by keeping the water out & 'holding' the fabric, which is more than can be said for the council-managed baths.
Moseley is the most ridiculous example of the city's 'villages': King's Norton at least has its Green, but Moseley is just a dive. I have never understood why such a dump attracts rich earth mother types who think living in Moseley is wonderful. Perhaps it's the boho thing; while it certainly has an arty crowd it also has lots of homeless hostels, & just generally seems to attract the homeless, clueless, brainless, & just plain feckless. I popped into the Zen shop to look at the tarot cards: I didn't buy anything and rarely ever would because the only thing I would ever buy there is the hoodoo stuff they sell; it is literally impossible to buy a candle in the shape of a penis elsewhere locally. Unfortunately they've gone into selling legal highs: the fact they are legal is a loophole, it does not mean they are safe. The upshot is half the population of Moseley are trying to maintain its posh image & the other half are off their heads. I'm sure there's also some crossover in the middle, but I feel the neighbourhood may be going even more downhill from the dump it already is, because an area- rather than person-specific injunction has been taken out to curb drinking & antisocial behaviour in Moseley 'village'.
This is how West Midlands Police's website reports the injunction:
Priorities and Issues
Your neighbourhood team are currently working with the community and partners to address the following:
S222 injunction in Moseley village.
A long term problem in Moseley village and the surrounding roads has been street drinking and associated problems such as begging. A Section 222 Injunction was granted which covers a defined area in the village until June 2013. A map is displayed throughout the village with details of both the defined area and restrictions on certain types of behaviour.
S222 injunction in Moseley village.: There continues to be positive feedback from both community members, business owners and partners alike. We are actively pursuing at this time banning orders against a prolific individual regarding begging. A court case is impending regarding a previously prolific street drinker whom has been recently arrested for being in the village area thereby breaching his current ban. It is our joint intention with our partners to apply to extend the s222 injunction for a further year.
The illustration is of the notices which have been posted in the injunction area, & which shows what you can expect on a normal night in Moseley: riotous drinking, threatening begging, genital waving, & public sex. Village? I think not.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 29: I who am the beauty of the green earth

Only I could use this cartoon to illustrate this post!
I who am the beauty of the green earth; and the White Moon among the Stars; and the mystery of the Waters; and the desire of the heart of man; l call unto thy soul; arise, and come unto me.

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Arte Magical: I love you: I yearn for you: page or purple, veiled or voluptuous. I who am all pleasure, and purple and drunkenness of the innermost senses, desire you, put on the wings, arouse the coiled splendour within you, “Come unto me.”

Crowley: Law of Liberty: “I love you! I yearn to you! Pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous, I who am all pleasure and purple, and drunkenness of the innermost sense, desire you. Put on the wings, and arouse the coiled splendour within you; come unto me!” (2)

Crowley: Gnostic Mass: I love you! I yearn to you! Pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous, I who am all pleasure and purple, and drunkenness of the innermost sense, desire you. Put on the wings, and arouse the coiled splendour within you: come unto me!

Crowley: Liber AL vel Legis: I love you! I yearn to you! Pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous, I who am all pleasure and purple, and drunkenness of the innermost sense, desire you. Put on the wings, and arouse the coiled splendour within you: come unto me! (1.61)

For this passage I would favour Law of Liberty over Gnostic Mass as a source, and will treat it as such in the statistical analysis to follow, because in Law of Liberty it is preceded by the words ‘We have heard the voice of the Star Goddess,’ and in BAM it is preceded by the words ‘Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess’, which adaption would seem to indicate that that is the more likely source.


     This passage, which continues the description of the location, or nature, of the Goddess from the previous line, is one of the few passages where both the quotations from Crowley’s purple (in every sense of the word) prose have been completely rewritten for the final version of the Charge, without retaining at least some of the meanings of the Crowley passages. The idea has been made explicit in this passage that the Goddess can be seen in the world around us. Elsewhere in the Charge she is seen as both external and internal, transcendent and immanent.
     The Goddess is the beauty of the green earth, which introduces the idea of pantheism, an idea recurring throughout humanity’s religious history, even rearing its head in the monotheistic religions at times (where of course it occurs as a heresy attempting to resolve the conflict of the apparent distance of God with his apparent involvement in the world), whose base idea is that there is no difference between the God who is invisible and that which is visible (Information on pantheism taken from Ismael Quiles: Article ‘Pantheism’. In Karl Rahner (editor): Encyclopedia of Theology. Burns and Oates, London, 1975.). This understanding of divinity within Wicca is what places us forever outside the pale of the monotheistic religions, whose criticism of pantheism is that since it makes no difference between the divinity and the visible world, it must equate to atheism. I will take the opportunity of this slight shift in the understanding of the Goddess to introduce the theological jargon which describes the understanding of the Goddess in the Charge, which, apart from referring to polytheism, I have so far avoided using, because here the use of jargon can help to explain the understandings of the nature of the Goddess – thealogy proper – that are present in the Charge.
     What is called pantheism consists of two different views, either God is seen as so absorbed in the world that (s)he cannot be differentiated, or the world is seen as God’s means of manifestation. The latter trend is more properly called panentheism (God-in-everything) and is clearly the thealogy of the Goddess in the Charge and in Wiccan thealogy generally. If the Goddess could not be differentiated from the visible world around us, there would be no talk of Goddesses.
     These two modes are paralleled by two further contrasting theologies in pantheism: in immanentist pantheism, God is so completely in the warp and weft of the world that once again (s)he cannot be differentiated, only the experiential nature of the visible can be spoken of, and conversely in transcendent pantheism God is seem as the inmost being of things. Despite the emphasis placed in Wiccan thealogy on the closeness of the Goddess, and her involvement in our world, she can still be differentiated from the visible world, and is definitely seen as the inmost being of things. In the Charge she even says herself that she is. However there is also a pattern in which these two modes of pantheism can be mixed – in the immanent-transcendent form – where God both cannot be differentiated from the visible world, or perhaps it is better put from a Wiccan point of view that it is not possible to say that the world surrounding us is not the Goddess, and at the same time, in this view, God is realised in visible things. And so therefore Wiccan thealogy is actually an immanent-transcendent panentheism.
     A further division of pantheisms is possible, between the emanationist and the evolutionist. In the emanationist form, the visible world proceeds from the absolute unchanging divinity (this language is irresistibly reminiscent of the Qabalah). In the evolutionist form, the self-realisation of God is seen as occurring through the processes and evolution of the world, and so the emphasis on actions and deeds in the Charge and in broader Wiccan thealogy, places Wicca in this category, meaning that Wiccan thealogy is an evolutionist, immanent-transcendent panentheism.
     Where this journey into theological jargon leaves us is exactly where we started: the Goddess is the beauty of the green earth, but hopefully the journey helps to explain what this means for the Wiccan understanding of divinity, and where this differentiates this understanding from that of the dominant religions in our society.
     If the Goddess of the Charge is identified with the world around us, it is impossible to say that she is never present. This raises another aspiration for Wiccans, in an age when humans are seemingly intent on a headlong rush into oblivion: the recognition of the beauty of the green earth (and ourselves) as the Goddess implies a dedication to the avoidance of killing off the Goddess. Much more than a criticism of the defacement of our earth by the erection of masses of concrete, this radical understanding means that what we do to our earth, we do both to ourselves and to our Goddess, and it could result in our own extinction.
     This environmental motif, which has come to greater prominence in Wicca following the rise of environmental concerns in the 1960s, was relatively unimportant in the early days of the movement. It is, however, the natural outcome of the panentheistic (you see, there was a point to it) thealogy espoused in the craft’s rituals, for example, environmental concern is not mentioned explicitly in the Gardnerian/Alexandrian Book of Shadows, for example, but it is the natural outcome of the identification of the natural world as model and location of our divine life.
     The mention of the white moon among the stars, sounds an uncharacteristically Crowleyan note, apart from the occult significance of the moon for magic, and as representative of Goddess and feminine archetypes, in the material new to this version of the Charge, remembering his motto that ‘every man and every woman is a star.’ If that is so, then here the Goddess is pictured as among the stars, which are us, she is different from us, but definitely among us and involved.
The final words, ‘come unto me’, the only words retained from the Crowley quotation in the BAM Charge, once again change the placement of the Goddess from the immanentist emphasis of the beginning of this passage, to a being to whom one can go.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rea Valley (2) & Now That's What I Call A Hedge

Today I walked some more of the Rea Valley route. First I got the bus to Cotteridge where I found a copy of Israel Regardie's A Garden of Pomegranates in the PDSA shop: I'm taking this as another example of the resources coming along when you need them or are ready for them. I started off my walk on Fordhouse Lane (think I've got the name right) & went the opposite way from last time, towards the city centre. I was very gratified to see the hedge which illustrates this post, behind Hazelwell allotments. That is a hedge, it is a real hedge, somebody has been hard at work hedging that hedge & I have seen it with my own eyes. I will happily acknowledge that my own hedge would probably be made of barbed wire or concrete, but it tickles me to be able to illustrate this post with a real hedge, photographed by your beloved Hound.
I walked on towards Cannon Hill Park, where I got terribly distracted & managed to lose track of the walkway. I'll get out maps & find it again, have no fear.
I had not been to the MAC (Midlands Arts Centre) since its revamp. I went in with misgivings because it had many happy childhood memories of going to (children's) things there with my parents, & I think it's best not to go too much a la recherche du temps perdu, because that invariably ruins ones memories. However I needn't have feared: if I'd gone there not knowing it was the MAC I'd have had no idea I'd been there before.
Unable to find the route, I found my way to the Pershore Road where I got the bus home. The highlight was definitely the unexpected sight of an unexpected hedge! There is still snow on the ground & it snowed on & off while I was walking. The cold will definitely spoil the flowers that have started to come out. Heigh ho, I personally love being out in the cold, as long as I'm all wrapped up & with somewhere warm to go. Being stuck in a cold hedge would definitely be different!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Non-pictorial or 'Pip' Tarot Decks

My personal advice to anyone beginning to read is not to do what I did, buy a deck you think you'll like, but instead to get the jolly old Rider Waite. That is if you want fast results. Reading with a non-pictorial deck, such as the Marseille tarot or the IJJ Swiss, takes one into a whole different world. It is perfectly possible to learn with those decks, but it means either learning the theory behind tarot (a lengthy process to which magicians have devoted lifetimes) or learning a number of book meanings initially. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with learning meanings from books for tarot cards: that is how the reader stops himself from getting stuck in his own little hackneyed interpretation. The great difficulty is that there are 78 of them. Double that if you also want to do reversals.
While there is also no shame in looking up book meanings as you go along, ultimately you'll want to ditch them. *Some* of this labour can be saved by learning with a Rider Waite deck: I recommend this as the original of its tradition & the basis of much 20th century tarot. If you want to learn with a Thoth deck, you will simply have to learn it, study it, devote your life to it & be prepared to have this work make demands on you that you in no way expected. RWS comes out of the same tradition as Thoth, but the pictures allow you a way in to it without too much need for theory.
Like everything else in life, this, the RWS deck's strength, is also its weakness. Because it pictures a particular situation for what is happening in the card, that can be limiting. Don't forget that a pack of tarot cards, understood esoterically, is a map of the universe. The four of pentacles shows a man holding on to his pentacles or coins for dear life in RWS. That mere description can limit the meaning of the card, which shows the power of the number four combined with the elemental vibration of earth. In shorthand: the stagnation or stasis of something real and solid, tangible to us. If you think of the four legs of a table standing on four coins, it kind of gives the same effect of solidity & stability, whether for good or ill.
I have recently found myself moving towards the older types of tarot deck. The reason this post is illustrated by a picture of incredibly well worn playing cards is to make the point that there isn't anything special about playing cards per se. They have a particular map of reality attached to them but you can actually do divination with pretty well anything. The whole of transformative magic can be summed up as one thing representing another. Once you are so convinced that your action (or representation) on one plane equals something elsewhere, you're away.
This is the exact opposite of the Marseille tarot-only fundamentalism that I have been amazed to discover existed. It's right up there with those Christians who maintain that one must only read the King James Bible, or burn. "The true tarot, the authentic tarot, the Tarot de Marseille" is their cry (Source: Quotes from Enrique Enriquez in this post also come from that page.). Enriquez phrases the shortcomings of the pictorial decks (which you will note I have already happily acknowledged) slightly better than me. He calls them fantasy decks:
'The Tarot de Marseille (TdM) is as a poetic structure that speaks the language of direct revelations. I would like to suggest that the TdM's language operates under a distinct and separate logic than the language of what I would define as "fantasy decks" (Tarots which are fantastical either because they depict fantasy worlds, or because they have been shaped by the fantasy of their individual authors).
'This distinctive language has been mostly overlooked in the 20th Century. The most evident, and painful, evidence of this is the idea that the pips (Minors) need to be illustrated to be understandable.
It may seem paradoxical, but I will use here the word 'optical' to define this language in opposition to the 'symbolic' language assigned to the Tarot through its many incarnations in the 20th Century. The word 'optical' will be used here to denote a face value language which generates new, fresh, metaphors in us every time we look at the cards. (I would like to think that this is a logic that links the Tarot de Marseille with the elusive 'Language of the Birds'; but this would be the subject of another essay. Please see Paul Williams' "Language of the Birds" treatise on this website).
'This happens because in the TdM's optical language the image is first sign, and symbol second. XVII-L'Etoile would first be seen as a woman kneeling down and pouring water on a stream. Only after this image has been processed both by the conscious and the unconscious mind at face value, may it be seen as 'hope', 'The anima', 'Christ as the morning star', etc, although this is often unnecessary. This would be the opposite of a symbolical understanding of the Tarot, in which each image will always stand for something else than the image itself.
'A sign is a direct invitation to act. L'Etoile signals the act of pouring water, just as a fork and a knife together signal the proximity of a restaurant. Will we take a detour to eat? Will we let go of that water? How many times have you seen L'Etoile, understanding immediately its message, without having to utter a single word? At that point, delving in the possible occult meanings of the black bird perched on a tree that's far away and becomes pointless. There is no need for us to take a detour to explain that "Emperor Napoleon didn't like his mistresses to wash their private parts before getting intimate and that is why the Star has a brownish navel." You simply knew what you needed to know. Emphasizing this may seem silly, but it is very important if we want to understand the value of working with images of high iconic level when our aim is to experience the Tarot as a set of revelations.'
Now frankly he's trying to have it both ways here, or rather would have been better illustrating his argument with a pip card, rather than the Star, which while it is an excellent illustration of the two kinds of imagery, fails to support his argument that the pip cards do not need to be illustrated. His use of this example also lets him down because he's actually writing about the woman rather than the Star. Let me repeat that I don't completely disagree with his argument, but feel that it would be better to say that the Star could merely have a star on it, which would invoke all the associations that we have for stars, & would actually leave it looking more like a Lenormand card. But *that* really is a whole different post.
Guides to reading any deck can be found online, & don't have to be complicated. Alec Satin has a great  example on his website here. I have a copy which I'm sure I downloaded for free. I notice he is no longer giving readings, so perhaps he is concentrating on teaching and publishing now. Suffice to say that if you have a world map of what the suits can mean and what the numbers can mean, by combining the two you can literally read any 78-card standard tarot deck. A very good guide to reading the pip cards by connecting with your own deck, including the significance of what always seems to me fairly extraneous ornamentation, can be found here. This approach also doesn't mean a lot of rote-learning of card 'meanings, since it actually only means learning 16 things: the significance of each pip card from Ace to King, and then the significance of each suit. The LWB that came with my Grimaud tarot de Marseille has another approach, which while being apparently simple has scope for lots of depth.
In this post I mainly want to confine myself to some reflections on the suits & their workings. I know it's taken me ages to get here & I make no pretence that this will not become a personal reflection on some aspects of my own experience of the elements. This does have a purpose of showing how an understanding of the underlying 'vibration' manifests for us, & to show that pictorial pip cards can be truly limiting. Don't forget that the tarot is a - rather arbitrary - map of reality. There don't have to be 78 divisions, in fact inside the tarot there are others, so that all of existence could be divided into four domains. Five, if you want spirit separately, although I think it's better seen as interwoven among all the other domains. This is how the wonderful Donald Tyson puts it:

'The essential meaning for a suit symbol lies in its general shape,, not in its ornamentation or designation. In a general sense, Wands are wooden rods or staffs that are similarly blunt at both ends. Cups are concave vessels for holding liquids. Swords are steel blades pointed at a single end. Pentacles are flat, circular discs. It is these shapes that must be considered when seeking to understand the overall nature of the suits. Wands express balanced force and rule. Cups express nurture and reflection. Swords express directed force and punishment. Pentacles express solidity and substance.' (Donald Tyson: Portable Magic. Llewellyn Worldwide, Woodbury Minnesota, 2006, p. 18.)

Try to forget for a moment that pentacles, or coins, represents the domain of earth, so that we can come afresh to this as newcomers. In fact it may help to refer to the suits of playing cards to illustrate what I mean: hearts mean quite a different thing to us than cups, and similarly spades, clubs and diamonds illustrate the differences between the suits much more graphically for us than the tarot suits. The mutability of the elemental references in the pip cards is very well expressed on the Tarot Heritage website:
 Each of the four suits has been associated with just about every element at one time or another. I find most suits are a blend of more than one element and it’s a personal choice how you assign them. For instance, Coins are made of a solid substance like earth but they circulate like air. Cups are usually associated with water because they can hold a liquid, but the cups themselves are solid containers. Swords are used for stabbing and slicing, which associates them with fiery courage and aggression; but fencing requires finesse and strategy which seem airy. The Rods are often depicted as earthy tree branches, but they could also represent the fiery life force. When assigning elements to the suits you need to consider the court cards. Often the court figures and the pip symbols seem to carry very different elemental energies.
Most contemporary authors use the popular Golden Dawn system:  Coins = Earth, Cups = Water, Swords = Air, Rods = Fire. This system is as good as any, and is the default that most people are comfortable with. But you are certainly free to make your own attributions. Source
We necessarily come to the suits with a layer of preconceptions between us and them, 'knowing' what the suits 'ought' to refer to. Once again I'm both going to agree & disagree with Enriquez. I think that both pentacles (which mean nothing if you have no occult theory under your belt) & coins (which are a very limited illustration of the principle) are inadequate signifiers of the vibration or energy they illustrate. This is what Enriquez says, also excellently illustrating the basic principles of interpreting non-pictorial tarot decks:
'Look at the Two of Coins (Deux de Deniers) from the Marseilles Tarot. Two yellow coins comprise the card's whole format, balancing each other. A band emphasizes the dynamic tension between both coins. Looking at the Two of Coins we are reminded of how one single coin reigned over the whole format in the Ace of Coins (As de Deniers). Now that a second coin came into 'being', they relate to each other through equity and balance, a balance that will be redefined with the arrival of a third coin on the Three of Coins (Trois de Deniers).
'As soon as two elements start sharing the same space, they create a mutual tension that balances them. Think of two pugilists in a boxing ring, two cowboys ready to duel, a tiger and its prey, two lovers whose eyes lock across the distant corners of a bar, or the famous symbol of Ying & Yang. This transit from unity to duality is perfectly illustrated with total economy of resources in the Two of Coins. The distance between the idea and its representation is near zero. You only need one quick glance to get it.
'Now let's take a look at the Two of Pentacles on the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck. (I will be using the RWS deck for comparison here because it is the oldest deck in the tradition of fantasy Tarots, and the deck that started the trend of illustrating the pips, a gesture that implies making these cards less iconic, therefore limiting their meaning.)
'The same two coins, now bearing each one a pentacle, have been inserted into a lemniscate. The symbol of infinite is used here to reiterate the tension between the two coins. On top of that, as if turning the band into a lemniscate wasn't specific enough, the RWS's authors also drew a young guy juggling with the two coins inside it.
Every time I look at this card, I ask myself the same question: "What is that guy doing there?"
'The character and his lemniscate are moving the distance between the idea and its representation two steps back. In the Marseilles Tarot we have a card featuring two circles and a curve. On the RWS we have a card featuring two circles, a horizontal eight and a guy with a Turkish hat. The RWS deck uses three layers of elements to say what the Marseilles says with just one.'
I absolutely agree with what Enriquez says RWS does to the 2 of Pentacles in terms of more is less, and while I have no constructive suggestions as to a replacement depiction for what the coins refer to, I still feel the coins are too limited a depiction. What coins do for us is give us the ability to buy stuff we can't make ourselves, ie the idea of commerce meaning exchange is always there. There is also a suggestion of value in a more than monetary sense. What you would rescue from a house fire indicates what you really value, rather than what is expensive. Insurers insure the replaceable expensive stuff but will not be able to replace a childhood teddy. I feel that this suit genuinely encompasses more than monetary value.
Given the hedge theme of this blog, of course I feel that our understandings of these things - how we personally would draw our map of reality, if you like - are influenced by where we are ourselves. Some years ago I had a 'spot of bother' at work & at the time seriously considered suing my employers. When it became apparent that they would settle out of court to keep their shambolic management under wraps, I came to the conclusion that no amount of money would compensate me. Another important word: one that has become inseparably linked to financial compensation nowadays. What I wanted was something quite different, so first I did a little spell then made a formal complaint of bullying. All of the relevant people's lives became a living hell. Similarly when a...friend decided to run off with my laptop leaving behind a sample of his...DNA in a tissue, I decided not to claim on the insurance for the relatively paltry sum involved. I don't care about the money but if you take the piss you have to pay. So I reported it to the police & gave them the - ahem - evidence he'd left behind. As an Asian man he has far more to lose from his family knowing than any financial amount.
My experience with him also made me realise the full import of swords. They cut. Obvious I know, but they really do. I cast a little spell on him surrounding him with swords cards then dreamt I had a knife to his throat.
Cups? Well, cups contain. Emotions well up & are difficult to contain. They easily overflow.
I'm still waiting for my personal epiphany with Wands, but I can see them both building & being used to bridge things. You can bundle them together, burn them, build things with them.
These apparently simple reflections on the suits can act as springboards to deepening understanding, based on dividing up our experience into four, & the actual functions & energies represented by the suit symbols. Crowley wrote that everyone should create his own kabbalah, assigning events to sephiroth each day, & I feel that this can also go for the tarot. There is of course the traditional daily draw, but it may also help to assign events & actions to suits & numbers. 'I was having a real 3 of Swords day' for example.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Significant events in tarot

Recently I have been getting a lot of cards in daily readings which indicate significant events to me. Notice I say to me: we all know how the books tend to push a rigid division between the relatively significant major arcana and the 'mundane' events of the minor arcana. I have been pushed into reflecting on how some minor arcana have indicated major changes or transitions in my life.
Parallel to this are Rachel Pollack's 'Gateway Cards', cards which contain & draw you into deeper layers of meaning. They are: 3 of wands, 8 of swords, 6 of swords, 5 of cups, 8 of cups, ace of coins, 5 of coins, 6 of coins (tentatively), and 10 of coins. All Minor Arcana cards which open the gates.
Apart from this the tarot cards which mean great change to me personally are these:
Fool: All together now: 'one more step along the world I go...' This is probably the first time a hymn has been sung on a witchcraft blog. Incidentally it has always been self-evident to me that the Fool can see where he is going. That is the whole point of the RWS card for me, he's not just stepping out completely foolishly but what he can see will vary according to the querent.
I Magician: a time of opportunity & choice, which is quite literally what you make of it.
VII Chariot: a difficult time of testing & growing up. Traditionally the animals drawing the chariot face in different directions so this time will involve conflict where you mettle is tested & you have to stand on your own two feet.
X Wheel of Fortune: indicates unpredictable & uncontrollable change.
XII Hanged Man: refers to stagnation & the 'homeostasis' of the elements, which since we live in a perpetually changing world, means that this stasis can only be temporary & must be followed by change.
XIII Death: an unavoidable monumental change, often one that the subject of the reading will resist literally with every last breath.
XVI The Tower: whatever change this refers to is always monumental. A situation - or whatever 'edifice' the tower refers to - must come to an end. You have yourself built your own problem here, so naturally its resolution will ultimately be to your advantage, even if it feels painful at the time.
XVII Star: you are getting over the monumental change of the Tower, can see hope in the distance & begin to rebuild on a better foundation.
XX Judgement: but you knew that, didn't you? The arms in RWS spell LUX & reference a Golden Dawn ritual of death & rebirth.
XXI World: the figure in the World card is traditionally the fool, having completed his journey, & ready to start the cycle once again. N.B. This cyclical approach to the divinatory tarot surely must come from the 19th century interest in Eastern philosophy, usually mediated for occultists through Theosophy. I have no doubt at all that in the Europe which gave birth to the cards, if they had been understood allegorically at all they would have been understood as a single linear journey.
Aces: we can forget how weird the images on the RWS-tradition aces actually are, until we compare them to the aces in a gaming tarot, or even a modern deck of playing cards, which show the suit symbol unadorned. In an occult sense the hand coming out of the clouds holding the suit symbol signifies the raw undifferentiated power of the element bursting out into the open, 'for good or ill', as the old books put it when there isn't a judgement attached to an event, it just is.
2 of Swords: this frequently comes up to indicate something unseen; if the person is willing & able to remove the 'hoodwink' from their eyes, great change will certainly ensue. It often comes up in a past position to indicate a great change which has already happened.
4 of Swords: for me this card, being a Sword, refers to a rest in between exertions. None of the Swords is *that* restful!
5 of Swords: are you one of the people going off into the background? If you're not, where on earth did you get the idea that picking up 3 swords & running with them would be a good idea?
6 of Swords: not necessarily a literal journey, of course. Waite said that the swords in the boat were a light burden, so this 'journey' shouldn't be too traumatic.
9 of Swords: the 'not seeing' theme of the Swords is heightened in this card. The higher the number of the minor arcana card, the lower it is on the tree of life. These higher-numbers hit you over the head to draw your attention with their sense of urgency. You must open your eyes to see what you are refusing to see, I.e. change something or else the energy will move on to...
10 of Swords: Why does nobody ever notice that the clouds are clearing away? Also the man's hand in RWS is in a Japanese mudra indicative of renewal.
2 of Cups: this will usually include exchanging one thing for another, not necessarily an emotional thing; the people are contained in a garden in many decks & it can mean leaving one setting & exchanging it for another.
4 of Cups: in RWS decks this suggests more something you're not seeing, but since I learned tarot on the Morgan Greer deck & also use the Aquarian deck which heavily influenced it, I like to think of this card as almost another ace. Yes, it indicates stagnation, but I like to think it builds on the 3 of cups, the merriment of which can be almost blind. In the Aquarian 4 of Cups what you are not seeing is the hand from the clouds adding another chalice to those you already have.
7 of Cups: this card always comes up for me personally at times of tradition, & for me signifies the ability to dream dreams & reimagine your situation.
8 of Cups: indicates you doing something to alter a situation in which there is something wrong: not necessarily leaving, in occultism things are rarely seen as totally predetermined.
2 of Wands: the world is quite literally in your hands & you should feel free to take the bull by the horns & make changes.
3 of Wands: continues the energy of the 2 & heightens it by the addition of another emblem of Will. Your will can master whatever you are looking at.
4 of Wands: can indicate a journey into a new 'family' in the Roman sense, or even simply a wedding.
7 of Wands: I like to think of this as a situation that can't be continued forever: you are almost at the 'end of your tether'.
8 of Wands: self-evidently things are now speeding up!
10 of Wands: now you really can't go on. The effort that has been going on since the 7 really is too much & will come to an end before something new starts.
2 of Pentacles: again this is a card which depicts a stasis, but once again this stasis must necessarily lead to change. 2 is actually less stable than higher number, a 2-legged stool wouldn't be a great deal of use, for example.
5 of Pentacles: would it be over-simplistic to say that the sequence of events pictured in RWS is allegorical of the energies? - holding on to your money in 4P, being poor in 5P, & giving it away (or receiving it) in 6P.
8 of Pentacles: the back-handed compliment to this card is that whatever is happening to you, you've brought it on yourself. Key words for this card are often things like learning, work, apprenticeship, & of course a major way we humans learn things is with a right royal cock up.
Knights: the mature yet martial energy of the Knights refers to a person who is mature enough to have come into their power. You have dealt with your own shit in the domain referenced by the suit & can get on with the work in hand.

Spirit of Place: Derby - In Memory of Natalie

To Derby for one of my little sorties today. I've never been there before: once I penetrated far enough (yes, the sexual imagery is deliberate) it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be when I got there. The city has been well & truly bollocksed up by the building of the Westfield Centre, so that that is what you see rather than the prettier old bit.
On the way from the station to what they call the 'Cathedral Quarter' you have to pass a tiny park with benches in. The leaving of flowers at the site of a death, usually by the side of a road, is a wholly modern phenomenon, one studied by the Folklore Society. I've never before seen one of those shrines on a park bench, & when I got there it was both too early (around 11) for the populace of Derby to be awake, & too wet to read the cards on the tributes. On the way back to the station there was a man sitting on the pavement asking people for money, so I asked him who it was for. It was for a woman called Natalie, who was found dead, from drugs, around 4 weeks ago in her nearby flat. The shrine was on the bench because she had sat there every day for about the past decade. When the weather warms up & his hands work he's going to paint her a permanent memorial. Even the council workers had deferred the planned removal of those benches out of respect for Natalie.
He spoke movingly, almost in tears, of how he was missing her. She used to help him when he went to the jobcentre & found things difficult. Did he ask me for money? You bet he didn't. Respect is worth more than money to anyone. Those who live on the (h)edge recognise others who do, & witches particularly so. I shook his hand to make a connection while mentally giving him the blessing of the witch.
Otherwise Derby & my visit were unremarkable. I found the DVD of Guesthouse Paradiso & series 1 of The Professionals, both of which I've been looking for for ages. Oh, the answer to the inevitable question about The Professionals is: Bodie for me. I don't like Doyle's curly hair, & somehow Bodie is harder. I just feel he wouldn't take no for an answer...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Summer is here

It's official: in the Hound of Hecate wheel of the year, which only has two spokes, we have passed from the winter half of the year to the summer. The actual day this happened was yesterday, being the first morning I've gone to work for an early shift with no street lights on.
Then today I saw my first bare chest of the year: a man running. Not really my type, too ripped. Nonetheless I must write to the times with my sighting.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tarot de Paris

It will come as no surprise that I think a lot of rubbish is talked about the history of the tarot. The simplest explanation of its history is that card games were made reflecting the society of the middle ages (much as the Game of Life board game of my youth) which in the course of time got various moral, mythical and metaphysical meanings superimposed on it. I think the best evidence against the romantic origins of kabbalists, Romanies, etc, is that many of the early decks are what would nowadays be called non-typical tarot decks. The modern 22 trumps were by no means standard, & if you can get hold of a modern French or Italian deck for the playing the actual game & its many regional variants, you will find yourself in a very different world from our English-speaking Golden Dawn/Waite/Crowley-influenced tarot milieu.
One of these early atypical decks is the Tarot de Paris, from the first half of the 17th century, which arrived today as my birthday present to myself. It is available from & also
The tarot history website summarises the little that is known about its history thusly:
It is generally accepted that this one of a kind deck was originally published in the early 1600s. If this is correct, it would mean that it is older than any existing Tarot de Marseille (TdM), (the Jean Noblet Tarot is dated to around 1650, and the Jean Dodal to the early 1700s). Of course, the Cary Sheet indicates that, (at least elements of), the TdM style has been around since around 1500. The Tarot de Paris is usually considered the oldest existing deck that still contains all 78 original cards.
The Tarot de Paris (TdP) follows the numbering of the TdM, and like the TdM has titles and numbers printed on the cards. Some of the cards are clearly related to the TdM, but many have unique designs or are related to other decks. In some ways, the deck reminds me of the Jacques Vieville, it has a crude and wild streak, but sometimes the artwork is incredibly rich and beautiful. Some of the detail in the facsimile version published by Grimaud in 1985 is difficult to see clearly as the colours used in the original have darkened obscuring some of the lines and making some of the artwork difficult to decipher.
(Source: Scans of all the trumps are available there too. N.B. The colours in those scans are not as warm as the colours in the deck I've got.)
Andy's Playing cards summarises the strange mixture of influences in these cards as:
In conclusion, the Tarot de Paris may be considered as the attempt by an unknown card designer to blend the local traditional tarot with elements borrowed from other existing patterns (Italian, German, Spanish), moved by the intention of creating a fancy, unusual, attractive deck. And since four centuries later his cards still stir our interest, we should agree that his goal has been fully achieved.
(Source: Other galleries of early and unusual cards may also be found there)
I want to give some first impressions of the deck I have. I have been trying to read with a Grimaud Tarot de Marseille, but unfortunately find myself totally disconnected to it, but this deck feels very much like that one. The cards are square, not over-laminated, have a simple back & each card has its chequered border. I have a heavy cold so can't smell, but I'll bet they smell of card rather than plastic. If you don't look closely they look like Marseille but when you do, oh joy, this deck is a bawdy mediaeval world populated by eccentrics & real people! Since playing cards were made to play card games with (astounding theory I know) I'm also pleased to find a deck with an indication of which card is which near the top of the deck so that I'll be able to play tarot patience with them.
Andy's Playing Cards tells me that the real eccentricity of this deck, & the thing that shows the German influence, is the aces, which show the suit symbol on a banner, but what I like best is the trumps, of which these are the highlights for me.
The fool is an actual fool. He has a head on top of his stick, which I suppose may be formed from a bladder to hit people.
The 'magician', definitely of the David Blaine type, is doing tricks for two men who watch spellbound as a dog sleeps under the table.
The Pope doesn't seem to have a face: whether this is through age or reproduction, or whether it's an original feature, I don't know. None of the other comments I've found mention it, so it may just be me.
The lovers are embracing (the woman's hand is going between the man's legs!) Without the third character in Marseille-type decks.
The chariot is drawn by geese. A boy with a cat-o'-nine-tails sits on one of them trying & failing to bring them into order, since they will insist on going in different directions.
Justice has two heads - one male, one female - facing in different directions & both blindfolded.
The hermit is shown with buildings surrounding him: leaving them, I suppose. He is holding what looks like one of those implements Catholic religious used to use to 'mortify the flesh'. Andy's Playing Cards says that this is a rosary, though.
The expression on the face of the woman in Strength is one of pure concentration. Frankly she looks like a vet trying to look at the cat's teeth, or giving the cat a pill, which brings out the aspect of subduing some great force in this card.
The Hanged Man's head rightly (in my humble opinion) comes below the level of the ground on the card. I'm very attached to the interpretation of this card as being rooted in the earth so that all the sephiroth of the tree can be manifested in your body at once. This is why it is associated with time in suspension: everything is in equilibrium so the only change will be that necessary to maintain homeostasis.
Death is numbered, a move almost designed to annoy the Tarot de Marseille fundamentalists. There is an absence of severed heads, & his scythe seems to have an unusually fancy handle, ending in a sort of T shape.
Andy's Playing Cards sees Temperance as the standard depiction. What I see is the woman actually putting a fire out with the water from her jug. You can see the flames & the smoke. I'd not thought of temperance as being the juxtaposition of two opposed forces, rather than a balance of complementary forces, before.
The Devil is similar to the Vieville pattern, has no bound minions, & holds a whip.
The Tower or Maison Dieu become La Fou(l)dre, or lightning. Incidentally this reminds me to comment that it seems the commentaries online about this deck become far too wound up by the 'non-standard' spellings of the names in this deck. At that time standard spelling was a thing of the future. Anyway this card has the vieville name but not the picture. Andy's Playing Cards seems to have the best description:
The following card is probably the most interesting of the series: inscribed LA FOVLDRE (for la Foudre, "lightning"), it is a subject that the Tarot de Paris pattern retained from earlier tarots in place of the Tower or la Maison Dieu. Burning thunderbolts or balls of fire fall from the sky (see also this subject in Vieville's edition), and while humans desperately seek shelter, a demon, the central figure of the composition, dramatically remarks the rage of the heavens with the thundering sound of his drum.
The Star shows an astrologer with his instruments. He looked to me initially like Galileo Galilei, who was contemporary & which would make this deck incredibly up to date.
The Moon is one of the sweetest cards. By the light of the moon a man with a harp serenades an undressed woman in an upstairs window. A more earthy way of expressing the theme of things that are hidden coming out into the open!
In The Sun a woman is horrified by a blue monkey. I need to think more about this card!
The LWB, which is in French only, seems to be a sensible historical summary of the tarot & this deck's place in that history. It makes some interesting points about how the cards' use in the game can reflect their place in the cosmology of the tarot world. For example the Fool can neither be trumped nor trump another card.
All in all I would highly recommend this deck for a different take on early tarot decks.

Spirit of place: Birmingham Central Library and the World Monuments Watch

I've posted critically about Birmingham Central Library before, a building for which I have little praise despite, or because of, the hours I have spent in the reference library over the years poring over various tomes. It tickles me no end that it has been placed on the World Monuments Fund's (WMF) World Monuments Watch of buildings at risk, specifically under the heading of British Brutalism, along with the South Bank Centre in London and Preston bus station, bother seriously sexy brutalist buildings.
The image to left is the one that they're actually using to publicise their campaign and its unfortunate, because it actually shows what's wrong with it now. When it was built the area below the ziggurat in the picture, almost perfectly central to the picture, was open. That was how it was designed to be. Contemporary pictures show how it gave an impression of the library floating above the open space below. In - I think - the 1980s it was filled in completely ruining the one good thing about this building. As a building to study in  it is a disaster. You can tell it was built before the 1970s oil crisis, because it is impossible to read in there by natural light. Its treatment since built by the council has not helped: its poorly lit inside, has not been maintained well, the remaining orange 1970s carpets are not helped by the purple paint that some misguided soul thought would spruce it up. Repeated attempts to get this disaster area listed have rightly failed: it is not special architecturally, and in terms of town planning it literally hisses at the Georgian and Victorian buildings surrounding it. Listing this building would be a disaster because this year the new Library of Birmingham is opening a stone's throw away. I don't like the design, although functionally it cannot possibly be as bad as the present one. I'm hoping they'll have sorted out their catalogue, although ironically I feel that the little-known secret that all of their acquisitions before 1971 never made it on to the computer catalogue for 40 years, so that you still had to look in the card catalogue, may have saved some precious things from being filched.
I also can't think of a conceivable use for the empty building, so if it was listed it would just become a millstone around the council's neck. Don't these people understand that the important Brutalist principle of function dictating form should inform the demolition of buildings with no function anymore? WMF? WTF, more like.

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 28: Hear the words of the Star Goddess

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, She in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of Heaven; whose body encircleth the universe.

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of ye Arte Magical: Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess.

Crowley: Law of Liberty: We have heard the Voice of the Star-Goddess: “I love you! I yearn to you!...” (2)

Crowley: Law of Liberty: Then comes the first call of the Great Goddess Nuit, Lady of the Starry Heaven... (2)

Crowley: Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente: Then I beheld myself compassed about with the Infinite Circle of Emerald that encloseth the Universe. (3.17)


This passage is much more than a mere linking passage between the two halves of the Charge. Remember that at Valiente’s initiation Gardner read the whole thing to her himself? Nowadays this and the words beginning ‘Listen...’ are the two parts spoken by the High Priest: the rest is spoken by the High Priestess in her persona of the Goddess. We have become accustomed to thinking of the Charge in terms of the ritual drama which surrounds it in its modern Craft use, but if it is only one divine person speaking throughout, there would be no reason for this interjection by the High Priest. If one person reads the Charge through, it becomes apparent that this passage actually introduces a new speaker – or a new ‘name’ for the many-named Goddess who is in the High Priestess.
I feel that this passage introduces another Goddess totally, even if syncretised into the Great Mother paradigm of the whole Charge. This Goddess is not named in the Charge, but her presence underlies a great proportion of twentieth-century magical tradition, and the changes made to this section of the Charge between the BAM version and the final version make her presence her even more apparent. She is the Egyptian Goddess Nut (or Nuit). This apparent disjunction in the Charge feels very much like the changes between sections of Crowley’s Book of the Law, heralding the arrival of different divinities.
In the works of Crowley quoted in the Charge, he refers to Nut as the ‘Star Goddess’: the use of these words makes her presence here clear alone. The addition of the lines about the hosts of heaven lying in the dust of her feet and her body encircling the universe make it even clearer that it is Nut who is referred to here, because of her connection with Egyptian understandings of the universe, which they understood both in observational and mythological terms. Anyone can see the sun rise every day, but the Egyptians explained this as the Sky Goddess Nut (her body was covered with stars) giving birth to the sun every morning, and she swallowed the sun God (who was variously understood as different Gods) at night and so he passed through her body at night, before she gave birth to him again in the morning (This information on Nut is taken from Leonard Lesko: Cosmology. In Byron Shafer (editor): Religion in Ancient Egypt. Routledge, London, 1991, pp. 116-121.).
Nut was illustrated as arching her body over the world (sometimes this position was taken by the heavenly cow or the Goddess Hathor), supported by Gods. Elsewhere the stars are seen as Gods travelling in crescent-shaped boats along the body of the Goddess: how much Greater a Mother than this could anyone want?
The literature described the sun making this same journey across her body, before descending to the place of reeds before being born again. All of these images are common Wiccan images: descent, stars, crescents, the cycle of birth and death.
The appropriateness of this Goddess to Wicca becomes even more evident in considering the names the Egyptian mythology gives to the places the sun passes on its journey across the body of the Goddess: ‘Winding Waterway’, ‘Nurse Canal’, and ‘Doors Thrown Open’, which Lesko believes refer to Nut’s female anatomy, thereby introducing the major Wiccan theme of woman as Goddess, and the fertility of her womb.
Nor is the death strand of Wiccan thealogy missing from Nut’s ancient mythology, since – remembering the sun passing across her before descending before being reborn again – she is often seen as the coffin, or the womb pregnant with a new life to be born. Her image was painted in tombs and even inside sarcophagi for this reason. The inscription on the bottom of the sarcophagus of Seti I includes the Goddess speaking (another familiar Wiccan motif) these words:
‘I have endowed him with a soul, and I have endowed him with a spirit, and I have given him power in the body of his mother Tefnut, I who was never brought forth. I have come, and I have united myself to Osiris, the king... with life, stability, and power. He shall not die. I am Nut of the mighty heart, and I took up my being in the body of my mother Tefnut in my name of Nut; over my mother none hath gained the mastery. I have filled every place with my beneficence, and I have led captive the whole earth; I have led captive the South and the North, and I have gathered together the things which are into my arms to vivify Osiris, the king, the lord of the two lands, ...the son of the Sun, proceeding from his body, the lover of Seker, the lord of diadems, the governor whose heart is glad... His soul shall live for ever!’  (E. A. Wallis Budge: The Egyptian Heaven and Hell. Martin Hopkinson and Company, London, 1925, volume 2, pp. 57-59.)

Of course we see the world differently from the ancient Egyptians, but a link may be found to the Mother whose body is covered in stars in the discovery of dark matter (Timothy Ferris: The Whole Shebang. Phoenix, London, 1998.).  It is apparent that galaxies contain much more matter than the visible, luminous matter which can be measured; the remaining matter – up to 99% - is this dark matter, which holds galaxies in being and controls their velocity. It cannot be seen – but things look different when seen through dark matter. A remarkable synchronicity occurs in the etymology of the word ‘matter’, which derives from the Latin materia – the stuff from which things are made – and materia itself derives from the word mater, which means Mother (Etymologies in H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (editors, revised by E. McIntosh): The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Fifth Edition). Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1964, and J. Marchant and Joseph Charles (editors): Cassell’s Latin Dictionary (Twenty-fourth edition). Cassell and Company, London, 1946.).
Nut’s history also includes the theme of syncretism with other Goddesses:
‘As a goddess of the late historical period in Egypt Nut seems to have absorbed the attributes of a number of goddesses who possessed attributes somewhat similar to those of herself, and the identities of several old nature goddesses were merged in her.’  (E.A. Wallis Budge: The Gods of the Egyptians. Methuen and Company, London, 1904, volume 2, p. 100.)

An obvious explanation for Nut’s tacit retention in the Charge could be that for much of Crowley’s Book of the Law, from which most of the Crowley quotations used in the Charge ultimately come, it is Nut who is speaking. The two pages of The Law of Liberty from which Gardner took so many of the quotations he used in the BAM version of the Charge, contain the whole revelation by the Goddess Nut of a new age, which is altered slightly in the thealogy of the Charge. Crowley sees the age of the fear of sin and gloomy asceticism passing away to be replaced by an age of joy, in which people will follow the precept to drink and dance, granted by ‘...the Peace that passeth understanding. Do not embrace mere Marian or Melusine; she is Nuit Herself; specially concentrated and incarnated in a human form to give you infinite love, to bid you taste even on earth the Elixir of Immortality. (Aleister Crowley: The Equinox Vol. 3, No. 1, March 1919 (The Blue Equinox). Weiser Books, San Francisco, 2007, pp. 48-49.)’  This idea of the Great Goddess granting a new age, in which the slavemaster-gods of the past pass away, and humans can rejoice in their dignity of their humanity, is an idea which has passed over from Crowley into Wicca. And it was revealed to Crowley by Nut, by means of Aiwass.
The strange dislocation in the middle of the Charge may simply be explained by an overlooked glitch in editing it, and particularly in its change of use from an address read by one person to its present use. However in terms of Wiccan thealogy Nut’s unnamed presence, which is nonetheless there for those who can look under the surface, is more than adequately explained by a passage from Budge, a passage which could almost have been written by Gardner himself, since it contains almost every essential of Wiccan thealogy (it was first published in 1899):
‘Nut was the wife of Seb and the mother of Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. Originally she was the personification of the sky, and represented the feminine principle which was active at the creation of the universe. According to an old view, Seb and Nut existed in the primeval watery abyss side by side with Shu and Tefnut; and later Seb became the earth and Nut the sky. These deities were supposed to unite every evening, and to remain embraced until the morning, when the god Shu separated them, and set the goddess of the sky upon his four pillars until the evening. Nut was, naturally, regarded as the mother of the gods and of all things living, and she and her husband Seb were considered to be the givers of food, not only to the living but also to the dead. Though different views were current in Egypt as to the exact location of the heaven of the beatified dead, yet all schools of thought in all periods assigned it to some region of the sky, and the abundant allusions in the texts to the heavenly bodies – that is, the sun, moon, and stars – which the deceased dwells with, prove that the final abode of the souls of the righteous was not upon earth. The goddess Nut is sometimes represented as a female along whose body the sun travels, and sometimes as a cow; the tree sacred to her was the sycamore.  (E. A. Wallis Budge: Egyptian Religion. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1972, p. 94.)

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 27: Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice

Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice; for behold. I am the Mother of all things; and my love is poured out upon earth.

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of ye Arte Magical: nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.

Crowley: Law of Liberty: For hear, how gracious is the Goddess: “I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death: peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.” (2)

Crowley: Liber AL vel Legis: I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice (1.58)

Apuleius: Metamorphoses: I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of the powers divine, queen of all that are in hell, the principal of them that dwell in heaven, manifested alone and under one form of all the gods and goddesses (11.5)

Milton: Paradise Lost: Whence hail to thee, Eve rightly named, Mother of all Mankind, Mother of all things living, since by thee man is to live, and all things live for man. (11.158-161)  (John Milton (edited by Alastair Fowler): Paradise Lost. Longman, London, 1998, p. 607.)

The Bible: And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. (Gen. 3.20)

The apparent reference to Paradise Lost or the Bible creates a link with a different mythology from the wholly Pagan mythology used elsewhere in the Charge: Eve is the mother of all living, because she ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thus inserting a reference here to the countercultural aspects of Wicca. In Christianity Eve’s act precipitated the ‘Fall’, the original sin which all humans carry with them. For Pagans this gaining of knowledge of good and evil may be seen in a different light: it approximates us more nearly to the divinity, and so may not be seen as a bad thing.


This passage, new (from the word ‘sacrifice’) in this final version of the Charge, introduces an idea which seems to contradict a theory and practice found in Wicca today, that Wicca is a religion which does not seek converts (this is often perceived to be one of the strangest things about it amongst those who belong to religions which do seek converts).
The apparent contradiction comes in our Goddess saying that she is the Mother of all things, which introduces a strange universalism here. If the Goddess is the Mother of all things, is she not also saying that all things must therefore owe her some recognition and obeisance?
Gardner himself certainly believed that the religion of Wicca was not for all. Patricia Crowther (who first met Gardner in 1960 ( Shelley Rabinovitch and James Lewis (editors): The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism. Citadel Press, New York, 2002.) so the conversation must have taken place after that):
‘Of course, it isn’t a thing that belongs to everybody. Some people have a sense of the old things, a desire for peace, a sense of wonder, and a sense of companionship and good fellowship, and that’s what witchcraft gives you.’  (Patricia Crowther: One Witch’s World. Robert Hale, London, 1998, pp. 23-24.)

There are two other explanations in Gardner’s own writings, which can reconcile the apparent universality of the Goddess with the lack of a requirement to convert other people to her worship: the first, found in The Meaning of Witchcraft, ( Gerald Gardner: The Meaning of Witchcraft. Weiser Books, York Beach, 2004.) is that the witches believe it right for each tribe or nation to worship their own Gods, which have been appointed by the Supreme Deity, and the other, in Witchcraft Today, that this single Goddess is a different sort of divinity from those who require obedience and submission on pain of eternal suffering:
‘The faith of the cult is summed up in a witch’s book I posses which states that they believed in gods who were not all-powerful. The wished men well, they desired fertility for man and beast and crops, but to attain this end they needed man’s help. ...’what gave pleasure to man, gave pleasure to the gods’. Possibly they thought that the gods could feel man’s pleasure. There was also the idea that the gods loved man and were happy when he was happy, as opposed to the idea that god is an angry god who hates man to be happy.’  (Gerald Gardner: Witchcraft Today. Arrow Books, London, 1975, p. 145.)

This is not only a far cry from a single, vengeful, jealous God, but is also different from Crowley’s axiom that the Law was for all, and indicates a major area in which Wicca differs. So while the Goddess is Wicca states herself in the Charge to be the Mother of all, she is not a jealous Mother, she does not lay down a list of rules to be kept at the risk of Mother’s wrath, and merely wants her children to be happy. The functions of this aspect of divinity in Wicca can, however, extend far beyond how Wiccans approach their Goddess, and relate their religion to other people. This model of divinity can also serve as a different model of family life from the model of paterfamilias and obedient wife. It could even come as a welcome example of a new model for those who have experienced abuse at the hands of parents, or grown up in the families marked by extremely inconsistent parenting, which often results in difficulties of identity and functioning in later life.
This aspect of how Wiccans relate with their Goddess is sufficient explanation of why the Goddess does not require sacrifice. This is one of the things which differentiates Wicca from ancient paganisms, in which the Gods continually had to be propitiated with ‘due sacrifice’. Sometimes this passage is seen as a contradiction of the passage at the beginning of the Charge, about the youths of Sparta making due sacrifice, but it is not. The passage at the beginning of the Charge is in the perfect tense (they made due sacrifice), and this is now ended. This passage is in the present tense: but now I do not demand sacrifice, which implies that even though sacrifice was offered in ancient paganisms, what is proposed here is quite different entirely. Neither can the sacrifice made by the youths be seen as a ‘theologising’ of the scourging in Wiccan ritual, which is quite different from that undergone by the Spartan youths. Sacrifice in ancient paganisms was in blood. The very life force of (usually) an animal was given to propitiate the divinity. In our sanitised days when we can become remote from the animals killed to become the meat we eat, and most of us rarely if ever see a human who has died, we can forget that this was the point of sacrifice: it was about life. The symbol of a particular religious sacrifice – a cross or a crucifix, remembering that in that religion the divinity himself made one sacrifice which ensured future sacrifices would not be needed – can be seen in many places in the modern world, but the nature of the representation can make us forget that the nature of ancient sacrifice was more like an abattoir than most religious services seen in the western world.
Perhaps the eight theories of sacrifice identified by Joseph Henninger  (Joseph Henninger: artlcle ‘Sacrifice’. In Mircea Eliade (general editor): The Encyclopedia of Religion. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1987, volume 12.), together with an understanding of Wiccan thealogy, best explain why sacrifice is absent from the Wiccan tradition. Possible explanations for sacrifice in religion see sacrifice as a gift, an aspect which is totally absent from Wicca, where no impetus is placed on giving gifts to the divinities; as homage to the divinity; as a communal meal, an idea present in Wicca, but a meal which takes a different form from an animal; as a link between the ‘profane’ (we would say ‘mundane’) and sacral worlds, not needed in Wicca because in our monistic cosmology there is no such division, we would only differentiate between us and non-crafters; as magic, where sacrifice is seen as an exchange of the life-force of the offering with the divinity for the release of power, another idea not present in Wicca, where the power we use is seen as resident in our bodies; as a re-enactment of mythological events, whereas the mythology of Wicca does not place any emphasis on sacrifice as an act to be re-enacted; as an anxiety reaction, a ‘neurotic’ reaction, where success (for example in hunting) has to be somehow qualified by the ‘failure’ of losing the offering, although in Wicca this type of psychological reaction would be seen as something to be resolved in the light of the responsibility placed on the witch to take control of events; and finally as a mechanism for diverting violence, that is, focussing the community’s violent impulses on an external object, such as a scapegoat.
Henninger does not feel that any one of these possible explanations alone explains the presence of religious sacrifice in human life, but that together they can explain aspects of why it has happened. Together they also show that Wicca deals with each of the reasons for sacrifice in a different way, obviating the need for sacrifice.
Rather, in Wicca the idea of sacrifice is replaced by the idea of the continual circle of the dying and rising cycle of life, involving a certain element of inevitability, which is embodied both in our lives, and in the ritual re-enactment of this mystery yearly:
‘Through the symbolism of the corn harvested at Mabon, I discovered the truth behind another dark stereotype of sacrifice at a Witches’ Sabbat. We learn from nature that before we can harvest the seeds of new life, we must be willing to cut away that which we have outgrown – this is the Wiccan form of sacrifice. The sacrifice is from and of ourselves – our life is our offering to the divine. But contrary to the common misconception, it is not meant to be relinquished on the altar of death, but realized on the altar of life.’  (Phyllis Curott: Book of Shadows. Broadway Books, New York, 1999, p. 251.)

Nor is the scourging of Wiccan ritual a sacrifice. The Spartan youths were scourged in a quite different way from the light ritual scourging of Wicca, which has as its purpose either the changing of consciousness or raising the power, and in some cases becomes a token gesture which is present in the ritual ‘because it always has been.’ The reference to due sacrifice made by the youths of Lacedaemon in Sparta is not a theologising of Wiccan ritual scourging, because the youths of Sparta were scourged in such a way that they bled. Their sacrifice was the spatters of their own blood landing on the altar of the Goddess.