Time for a book review!
The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance is a really excellent book and it’s one of the rare works which is as valuable in the narrative it presents as much as it picks and chooses it’s citations.
I had a difficult time reading the book. The book is thick, but in the information density sort of way. The writing itself only stands at 263 pages, with the last 30 pages being devoted to notes and citations. This is where the book is amazing – the citations alone could propel someone into spending a year reading this book. The few months I spent reading it were made in short bursts of progress. Godwin would mention a topic or person who I wasn’t familiar with, I would flip into the notes and citations, and find that a week had gone by between reading those references and making progress in the book. In this way the book is delightful to read, and spending time picking through all the byways and forks in the road will lead the reader on a fantastic, meandering journey.
The other side of that coin is the book can be dry, and it seems to show when the author becomes bored of a topic. Another factor is the prints of art referenced in the book are only in black and white for their reproductions. A pet peeve of mine is a book on art which refuses to use full color prints, and instead we have been left with small reproductions in the marginalia of the pages. While on the topic of European gardens this might be barely acceptable, this format does not do justice to either the size nor color of the works it references. It would be a bit like visiting an art museum with sunglasses on – and this is the hardcover edition of the book. On the subject of Godwin’s writing – there’s three distinct phases to the book. The first third is filled with enthusiasm, and the next third wanes a bit and tapers off towards the end. Godwin seems to almost disagree with what he’s writing and I actually flipped to the end of the book to see if the bit with “satyrs gendered gaze” was written by a different person. My speculation is that the topic was broad enough to be notable but otherwise underrepresented in art. Finally the last third which we can think of as the end of the renaissance is treated with an almost clinical tone. The fire is definitely in the first half of the book. It is important, however, to read the entire book as this is critical to the expression of Godwins ideas.
Godwin’s narrative is paraphrased with the idea that paganism survived by the wealthy, and that Christianity itself has an uneasy relationship with the “default religion” being a latecomer to Europe. He says that Pagans generally treated Christianity as Yet Another Mystery Religion, viewing it through the lens of “the mysteries are presented through the interpretation of this particular temple”. There would be Bacchanal mysteries, presented by the Temple of Bacchus, and so on. Establishing the providence of these temples occupies the middle of the book, while the first part deals with antiquity. Following Christianity’s introduction to Europe, it has to establish itself. It has a duty to establish itself, because rather than presenting the mysteries (speaking from a Christian perspective), it claims to be the infallible word of God himself made flesh. This is viewed to the pagans as a boast, at best, but to the Christians it is the fulcrum of their faith. In this way, the pagans are tolerant and accepting of Jesus sitting at the High Table, but the Christians have to have the pagan Gods destroyed and pushed aside. While not discussed in depth in the book, this is how Christianity became more of a political force in Europe than a religion per se.
Who dabbles in politics, and has a court and land? The well-to-dos of the period. What we know about Paganism isn’t the passed on stories making a cohesive tapestry from the common folks, but the things which people left behind. The common person of the age was spent carving out what life they could from the earth, and couldn’t read or write, let alone paint. Sure we have stories and snippets of folklore passed along, but the narrative of the book draws from the art, and producing art was the equivalent of the space program in the 14th century. Art called for brushes, which are hard to make, inks which have all sorts of secret ingredients and processes, and the most precious resource in an age without electric light – time. All those things cost money, and so the art naturally followed around the rich, and the rich had painted what they desired to see and meditate upon. In this way we can tell that not only was paganism (as we call it today) alive and well in Europe but that the wealth of pagan art speaks to the legitimacy of the belief among the Europeans. In fact this was so prevalent in the fabric of social life in Europe that this art was oftentimes displayed in the public spaces, and not just limited to the private retreats of the wealthy.
The “modern pagan chapter” starts late in the book as “Garden Magic”. Here, Godwin thankfully retains the classical eye that such places were meant to inspire awe, and then contemplation, and we come full circle from curated temples of glowing marble to gardens built for such purposes too. Here also an important thing happens: Machinery is brought in to help inspire that awe. Imagine, if you were someone in the 13th century with no knowledge of machines as you know them now, who witnessed water jumping and playing music as it moved. It would be reasonable to assume that the water was somehow enchanted and bewitched. Now imagine that you’re someone who was wealthy, and that you might even have overseen the construction of the water organ itself. It would inspire you to consider the limitless supply of water out of the spring, and why the area was special, perhaps even blessed by the Gods and pleasing them that you’ve made a marvel out of their natural offering. This play, this theme of “switching places” happens throughout the book. The well to do and the makers of the age see fit to sanctify the natural world by creating inspiring works. Those living close to the springs instead see the supernatural qualities of the place and their thoughts are elevated towards the organization of a universe which has been shaped by the Gods. Their springs have now been imbued with hidden qualities and magic. This is not a lie in either case – the well-to-do depend on the spring for their works and inspiration as much as those living close to the land do for their daily sustenance. They both share the essential worship of the spring – they both revere the spring for the water it gives. There is a positive re-enforcement here where the well to do make altars and Gods out of the spring to honor those Gods, and the close to the land folks worship there and draw inspiration from this public art. The natural grottos and places of worship of Rome and Greece never left.
Fast forwarding to the end of the book at “Versailles, and after” serves as a warning to those who would remove the reverence of the Gods for their own decadence. The people who corrupted Europe ultimately did so because they put their own gratification above their relationship to the Gods. To them, the water organ was simply an organ. They indulged their hedonism and forgot to honor the Gods of the place. By discarding their reverence and profaning art – making art and science and building things into goals unto themselves (consumerism) – they fell to hedonism and debauchery. They deprived things of their natural dignities. Here enters Rene Guenon and Julius Evola. Quite a fast forward in a single chapter, but this contributed to my opinion that Godwin ultimately got bored writing the book. Both of them realize that Europe and Americas are hedonistic and decadent and hold nothing as Holy. Its easy to become depressed about such things when living through the first two world wars, but even while the politicians and wealthy are stirring the fires of war – they realize that even art has become enslaved to propaganda. Beauty has no longer been a product of inspiration, and philosophy, and mysticism, it has fallen to the service of manipulation. Both of them drop out of society and write sharp tracts against the modern world. Ultimately both of them realize the problem is internal, and that by forgetting the Gods, humanity has become selfish and blind. Guenon would eventually go on to adopt a sort of Islamic mysticism, while Evola found comfort in an inward journey which sits much more comfortably in modern mystic practices. Both of them spoke of Nietzsche’s “overman” idea but realized it came from much older sources in hinduism and mystic ideas. However, much in the same way Christianity came to Europe and had to become Pagan-esque to find any foothold at all, Nietzsche, Evola, and Guenon essentially “rediscover” a value which was there all along. Their upbringings in society had blinded them to these essential truths.
Godwin ends with “We can contemplate the Christian myths as well as the Pagan ones, and appreciate the values each has brought to the world. We are free to believe, or not to believe, in any of them. And this is to say nothing of the non-European cultures whose legacies are spread out before us. Yet in gratitude for this plenum, this superfluity of the past and the overwhelming superiority of its treasures, we may sometimes wonder what we will leave to our descendants, five hundred years from now. Are we creating anything of lasting value, or are we, for all our material success, mere spiritual parasites living off the capital of our ancestors? What is todays equivalent of the pagan dream, what riches of the imaginal world are we revealing for the future delectation of our kind?”
I went hunting with my father last weekend. It’s a bit bittersweet, I can remember when I used to beg him to slow down as he moved with purpose over the grey shale which makes up most of the woods in my part of the country. This year the reverse was true – he wanted to sit more than anything. He justified it by saying he hadn’t been out in three years and somehow his legs had forgotten the land. Although his beard was shorter than mine, it was easy to see the hint of moss in there. His body seemed to match the wooden logs. The act of hunting has become a ritual of remembrance, as he could not expect to chase the deer over the miles of broken ground. My father is one of the people who seems to have the blood of the woods in him.
The thought that this was a ritual in the woods was interesting. At one point I had written how going into the woods was itself a ritual. There’s all sorts of portals, literally and figuratively to get into the woods. I think this year was a bit different. My “civilized space” has shrank from going to an office to working remote. Some days I don’t even hear another soul except for my wife and children. The “work ritual” has blended with the “house ritual” and the “commute ritual” simply ceased to exist. The portals have moved from the front door of my house, to the car, to the office, and compressed themselves into rooms of the house. Even now blogging or writing correspondence to people, I am sitting in my ritual robes of casual clothes. Rituals seemed to have lost their portals, and have become places. Aethyrs. Temples. Even the grocery store has to be approached with caution, suitably prepared and duly armed.
To that end, being in the woods felt freeing, and welcoming. It was no longer a transgressive place to enter the back miles of the woods but rather it felt like coming home. Now the masks can come off and we can walk around and talk freely. The woods had become more natural than home. I can eat without having to look around for who is near. I can talk freely to the rocks, trees, animals, and my father. I don’t have to worry about what I touch.
To that end I got to thinking that maybe things are better out here. Even the bacteria and germs from drinking the water or inspecting a conspicuous piece of sedimentary rock are the beneficial type of bacteria. Things we grew up with. When I say that, I mean for millions of years, not just our fleeting youth. People purchase yogurt with “beneficial gut bacteria” in the store, simply because we don’t drink out of the milk bucket anymore. The same with COVID. If it’s designed by people, I’m inclined to hold people in contempt. If COVID is really the result of animal trafficking, then that is particularly awful as we have placed nature in an unnatural position. Nature is more than willing to hit back. As the old saying goes, “There has never been a deer that has died of old age”. That used to be the same for people. I think we’ve really done this to ourselves. Being home with family over the holidays is now transgressive. Being out in the woods feels more normal.
To that end I think there is a distinction to be made between being in the woods, and being, in the woods. I certainly believe that someone who is hiking can enjoy the woods. I believe that someone might look at the moon out their balcony near the sea and be taken by Her beauty. I also think that there’s a sense of “being” in the sense of participation that activities like primitive camping and hunting afford us. This seems to me to be distinctly different than traveling or Scouting. I have taken up leading a good portion of my son’s scout troop and I’m disappointed the scouts seem more interested in building camps than debris shelters. There’s a feeling of conquest there. Hiking is one thing, and it’s a good thing, but a hiker isn’t actively looking for food out in the wilds. I think hiking is more akin to tourism. Trying to get from A to B. I think some hikers do take time to notice the change of time in the woods. Maybe even notice how some parts of the woods are deeper than others, darker earlier. However there was never any real God of hiking, I think there’s a connection to be made to the God of Hunting. I think there’s even a more subtle God out there which would be the God of Nature itself.
Thinking of my father, sitting there on the log, the Green Man wanders into my thoughts. I think there’s three archetypes in the woods. Pan: who really represents livestock and the sexual nature of animals. Herne the Hunter, who really captures what Pan is not. Herne is an antagonist to what Pan is. They are the masculine, but opposed, side of the same coin, I think. Then there’s the Green Man, who represents the passing of time. The Green Man is a symbol from antiquity and wikipedia gives the topic an adequate but clinical treatment. Importantly, I think the symbol is best viewed through the lens of time. The man-as-nature motif goes back to the Egyptians, and I’m sure before that. Osiris was the green-faced-man and the God of grains, and of death and rebirth. Sounds pretty time-related to me.
The Green Man also stands as a Christian motif. The Green Man found his way onto churches and through the Christian era represented Christ resurrected. This in particular struck me as important because my father is a Christian, and I’m some sort of pagan platonist I suppose at this point in my life. At some point I had this Hellier-esque moment where I realized that this experience might actually be a sort of ritual – a Christian and a Pagan finding some religious unity in the symbolism presenting itself and in the common, shared experience. The passing of time, sitting in the woods, watching the sunset, was the experience to be had. That was the ritual.
On our way home he told me about his rituals with his dad. The ritual in the forest seemed to have taken him up too in the spirit of time. Dad’s rituals were firmly American rituals, and involved old cars and tourist traps in the backwoods of New England, and far too much caramel corn. He spoke of names I hadn’t heard since childhood and farms which didn’t exist anymore and people I only vaguely knew. He spoke of “buying his memories” – a 303 British SMLE which he purchased. Apparently he remembered all the good parts of chasing deer with it in his youth, and none of the bad parts like the thing arguably being the worse battle rifle ever made.
The lesson in the woods that day wasn’t about harvesting a deer, it was a visit from the immortal man of Nature. It was a statement of change. There’s seasons to everything, and Dad’s gone from his youth as Pan, through his middle ages as Herne, and finally gotten to his Green Man stage in his elder years. I’m definitely still in my Herne stage (and I’ve got the GPS logs to prove it), and my oldest son is approaching his Pan stage, Gods help all of us. I am, however, in love with the woods and the experience of life and what it affords to show me.
I normally hate pop culture. I think most ghosthunting shows are bunk or sensationalism. I think a lot of ghost hunting shows are a result of “I want to experience something” rather than I want to grow. Hellier started out with “what do they want to tell us” which was the only reason I stayed with it. It’s aliens and lizard people, but there’s that small bit of wanting to know what’s the overarching plan.
I just got done watching Hellier season 1 and season 2. I feel like it was good but just short of great. The first season can comfortably be skipped. If you’re just along for the ritual, really the finale of season 2 is the only bit you need. The only thing you need to know are that they’re (allegedly) ghost hunters and interested in the UFO cult. If you’re looking for X-Files evidence of little green men, it’s not here. The other frustrating thing is a lot of threads never run to completion. However this overall contributes to a sense of honesty about the show – people who end up in prison or otherwise incapacitated or removed from the story simply have to stay as they are. If season 3 is the operation of the magic and religion they’ve created for themselves, then season 1 and 2 become important as the instillation of the vocabulary. For the viewer, season 1 is the initiation. Another nod to Season 3.
I wish the show had more introspection. It seems like everyone is so caught up in the moment that the introspection – asking why – never happens. The ending of season 2 is the first time anyone offers up a “why” which I think is a critical part of the arc.
On their treatment of Crowley, I think that Crowley is Crowley and I think people tend to read too deeply into The Book of the Law and similar material as a sum. The importance of the book of the law and similar works of art is that they are art. They exist in the “information universe” as something to interpret. There is no right or wrong interpretation of art, there are simply things which speak to the beholder and things which exist silently. I’ve never been into Andy Warhol, for instance, I don’t think I would have any sort of mystical experience looking at a can of soup. You are supposed to frame your experiences against the art. The art (or rituals) itself is supposed to have hallmarks or touchstones of sorts (like NOX, or passwords and power words) which inspire emotional states the ritualist has worked to internalize through repetition. The mystic (pagan?), on the other hand, realizes these states from external stimulus and can use those as their stepping stones.
The same goes for the treatment of ritual, and I think they’ve arrived at a huge truth but backwards from how most people approach it. I think there’s a large set of people interested in authentic ritual, and I think there’s a much smaller set of people taken by ritual and that they are in this category. Ritual is largely comprised of the Hero’s Journey – the difference is that the Ritualist is the Hero. The last episode is just a goldmine here. The bones of the ritual experience are to announce that there will be a journey. After that, there is the journey, which involves leaving the comfortable “home space”. They do this literally and figuratively when they walk into the cave (the underworld) and then follow the magic recipe of making a circle and consecrating a space. Their ritual is effective because it works on the internal space and the external space. Their consecration of the tools (even the camera and laptop) announce that the tools themselves belong in this new space – it’s no different from packing a backpack and going hiking as they announce they are bringing these things on the journey. Then there is the adversity, the stressor. Again, they solidly nail the thing: The hike in introduces stress, they’re cold, they’re a bit afraid, and then finally they play the tones which introduce nausea to most of them. This is not an intellectual grappling of the mythology, this is now a visceral effect. Crowley’s “worship me with strange drugs” is exactly a nod to this as comfortable, familiar things don’t inspire the right state. Instead of drugs, however, this is music, and this is perfectly fine. It’s probably better too since music does not leave anyone unconscious on the floor for the night. Then there is the resolution and the acceptance, which manifests itself as some legitimate introspection from Tyler. When Tyler realizes the “optimal frustration”, it’s this leap from the experience of the moment into the why. Once they arrive at the why, there is acceptance, which then enables them to move further into the cave and accept this new location in their psychic landscape. The heros journey is resolved as they return home.
The hypnosis I could live without, I feel that entire thread in the second season is almost reprehensible and akin to slipping someone some hallucinogenics. A small amount of people will have the constitution to look back on the experience and learn from it. Most people will be injured by the experience. I don’t have much to say there except to say that the person seems worse off having had the experience and this is one of the unresolved threads. Similar to the woman sending the original emails to eventually ends up in prison – they don’t have the required coping mechanisms for their experience nor the mystical or Jungian psychological framework to process their experience and so they’re left destroyed on the rocks between the liminal places. I think both the ritualist and the mystic experience terror the first time there’s a concrete notion of something outside of themselves. But without processing it and continuing to put framing around it, they are left in fear.
What of the UFO cult? Why UFOs at all? Conner makes a small quip in the second season that “maybe UFOs are an experience in our mind”. That’s a really valuable observation, and it moves UFOs as “spacecraft” to UFOs as some spiritual thing. I’m not familiar with the UFO cult at all, so I found the idea novel. What if, in the age of atheism and the iphone, spiritual beings had to find a comfortable new archetype which to occupy? The Unknown, Highest God is one which cannot be put into words or archetypes or art – or knowingness – and so anything in the “information fabric” of the universe is fair game. Our underworld becomes caves rather than the center of the Earth. Demons (daemons) and landvetter become little green goblins. Angels become other beings from the sky – aliens with qabalistic names – and their chariots pulled by bulls or cats or wolves turn into silvery discs. The rules, the things that fundamentally make up the universe, all still apply to our new angel-aliens. So does the experience of art and synchronicity – the language is the same too. It’s just now placed in terms of technology. Where do they come from? Not from tall mountains or the bottom of oceans or other, difficult to access places. Walking further into the cave was a conquest of sorts – “we now belong here, we can operate in this space at will”. The same for man walking on the moon. Now our aliens and our astrology has to move further out to the stars themselves. These are the places mankind has not been, they still represent the deep woods and the caves of Pan. They live in the realm of the wild places where people are not and cannot be except as visitors or guests. To follow Crowley and Parsons here – the spacecraft of all sorts are a hymn TO PAN, a stabbing forth on an adventure into the wilds.
Finally the part I find most encouraging is the movement from terror to wonder. I think wonderment is the long-term fuel in ritual, as the terror can only last so long and doesn’t typically allow introspection. I find that folks who don’t identify as Christians (myself included) can operate the Enochian system fueled by wonder alone. Even when the crew goes down the “wrong path” of GPS coordinates and such, they do so out of Wonder and it still produces results. Even these small rituals work. I am glad they have found their Wonder (Window) and can hopefully take an active part in creating rituals in Season 3 as their “new magic”.
Speculation hat on: Wonder and Window are both related words and have their root word in vind (wind) in old german or norse. I would suspect season 3 has a wind theme, suchas windmills, since we seem to be playing a lot with the European mythology space.
I’m in the middle of the coronavirus quarentine zone in my state, so I’m actually catching up on my reading, which is nice. I’ve been mostly reading history – I’ve always been an advocate to the fact that cultural context is important (like the Dee archives) – and so I’ve been looking for books to scratch the itch between the history and magic. Since magic is mostly a cultural phenomenon, it becomes important to ask “What is the cultural view?” Since culture is a collection of people, and the view is shaped by how it can be expressed, language has been a major emphasis.
The Shaman of Oberstdorf is light on the magic, but heavy on the language. Modern Dutch is compatible with most of the languages spoken in the region and tends to be a less rigid version of German, or Swedish, or even French, and it’s filled with loanwords. But typically the modern Dutch can be understood (and speakers can understand) most of the European language cousins local to where it’s spoken. Unlike French or German, there’s no Académie française or “Legal German” in Dutch. It’s always been bedded with a spirit of compatibility and flexibility which it owes mostly to it’s history of the Dutch doing extensive trading and commercial interests. Being light on magic is also an interesting choice – the people involved in the original myth (and eventually the expansion into the general topic of mythology) are not practicing magic. Not in an active sense. Rather they are apprehended by magic. The lends a certain credence and weight to the story during what would bump directly into the Inquisition. These folks were really just minding their own business and suddenly come face to face with spiritual forces. The first bit of the book is based off their testimony.
My first brush with the language in the book left me scratching my head. I have German, a bit of highschool French, and some of the local Deisch from the farming community where I grew up, but I felt like the author was off base with a lot of the translation. Turns out H. C. Erik Midelfort is actually a savant in language and specifically studies the language in it’s period context, so he’s eminently qualified to translate it however he sees fit. I stopped second guessing his excellent academics after doing a bit of research. What we might call “Wizards” is Wuetes, which has no direct relation to any word I could derive. However Midelfort makes the connection that the Wuetes members of the Wuottisheer is actually Odin’s Army – The Wild Hunt – and so it’s in the same word family as Wotan. Similarly “Witch” is Hex, Striegen, Unholderi, or Zauberer. The excellent notes hold the language together so it’s not too confusing, while the original terms are presented and give us an excellent view into the loanwords which comprise the testimony. Most people would recognize Hex immediately, and understand Streigen is probably a loanword from the Italian Striga. Zauberer is straight German, meaning witch or enchantress, or fairy, which lends some ambiguity to the classification of who is in each myth. In that vein, Nachtschar becomes a catch-all classification of “things which go bump in the night”.
What occupies the hills? The spiritual forces are (for the most part) human, they do human sorts of things, and if we want to simply the whole thing down to DnD terms, they’re all chaotic neutral. Trying to seek them out produces no effect, but sometimes leaving offerings out attracts the fairies. The fairies are not the little cartoon people, but rather described as normal folks, except short, usually eating. Similarly there’s a class of elves who really don’t distinguish themselves from fairies, except that they are short and concern themselves with music. And finally there’s witches and wizards who occupy the skies. The witches are seen as beneficial and caring, while the wizards are seen as loud and unruly. The important part to understand is that these are not strong identifications and words are often used interchangeably to describe an experience which is beyond the comprehension of the person experience it.
All the interactions with the elves and fairies boil down to some rules and offerings. The fairies are frequently encountered eating the host’s food (or livestock) and drinking their wine, and if they’re welcomed, the encounter ends on a happy note with all the food and wine replaced the next day. Sometimes doubled, or the livestock slaughtered for food will be fattened the next day or even pregnant. If someone rebuffs the fairies, their livestock is killed or injured and their house is left in disarray. The elves bestow the arts – if someone is welcoming to the dance or festival, they know a stunning dance the next day or receive a beautiful instrument capable of playing an intoxicating song. If someone is refractory, they may be struck deaf or mute.
The witches and wizards are the most human, and given the broadest treatment in the book. They start out simply being a parallel society of people, either folks practicing magic or even possibly the dead, and seem to be mostly removed from interacting with people. They’re either coming or going, but never addressed in an individual sense. Witches are benevolent, and Wizards are loud and usually armed, but neither one is really interacting with the common folks. Later, as the Church applies pressure to root out Witches (where did the heavily armed Wizards of the Wild Hunt go?), Witches become malicious, individual members of the community, and in league with the Devil himself. The Elves and Fairies are gone, and the masses with once flew through the night sky are forgotten to whatever poor soul stood accused of witchcraft. The Witch Hunt is discussed in the book, and sparks The Peasant Rebellion chapter where attempts to suppress the folk beliefs directly only resulted in them being preserved.
This article was written by me and will appear in a private publication, it has been edited for content.
You can read part 1 here, also this might be a shorter post since I don’t really want to comment on the body of ritual in the second half of the book and my kindle apparently didn’t sync on the airplane wifi so I lost my highlights. First world problems…
I screwed up a bit – I should have been referencing Gardner’s “The Meaning of Witchcraft” which has some overlapping commentary. I remember reading it quite awhile ago and it didn’t stick in my head since I really hated Gardner’s writing voice at the time. “It is said…” and “it is known that…” would get any author the [citation required] tag on wikipedia which is what turned me off to it since I recognized some of the references but he didn’t publish any of the sources. Is it a defense mechanism? Probably not, he’s giving interviews on TV and such and I feel like it’s something by that time the bones of the golden dawn rituals were available and the freemasonry rituals were long since published. However he probably felt some obligation to secrecy from his oaths and that’s fine. I personally chose to omit commentary on passages myself when writing on Masonic/OTO/Golden Dawn topics so I am certainly sympathetic to the idea for Gardner.
The second half of the book isn’t as dense for religious commentary as the first half of the book. He’s got to wrap up a story after all and I won’t spoil the ending. One of the main themes persists where High Magic continues to be theurgic (communion with spirits) and witchcraft deals much more with practical matters. Curiously things like a talisman comes up and both the magicians and the witches seem to know about their operation, so I think Gardner really wanted planetary talismans to serve as the bridge of curiosity for advancement.
Morvan says, for instance:
Some there were who would look into a pool of water or a magic stone, and see visions of what was happening at a distance, and so we would be warned of approaching danger. By these means we escaped for long, though yearly, as we grew weaker, so did the hatred of our enemies increase, so that they came with armed men to our gatherings to take us … but, being forewarned, we would disperse ere they arrived. They said ’twas the Devil who warned us.
Gardner, Gerald B.. High Magic’s Aid (Kindle Locations 1592-1596). Aurinia Books. Kindle Edition.
Morvan is used as the mouthpiece for “this is something firmly in the realm of witchcraft” while Thur is usually the magician. To that end Thur himself is some sort of pagan, neither side is quite cleanly delineated in the book as a hard “this not that” and I think this mingling of the disciplines is intentional. Thur is never “only” the magician and Morvan is never “only” the witch. Thur’s name by itself is a saxon derivation of Thor, which leads us to the conclusion that if his parents were Good Christian Folk or something they would certainly have been aware of the “other religious practices” or some such. What would you call Thur’s birthday? Probably Thur’s Day.
’Tis a phallic religion,” said Thur, “and the broomstick symbolises the phallus.
Gardner, Gerald B.. High Magic’s Aid (Kindle Locations 1606-1607). Aurinia Books. Kindle Edition.
Thur has a really telling moment when talking about the broom symbolism (and the preceding passage) and this is pretty much straight up theurgic sex magic. Sex magic is older than Crowley but the parallels between the altar at the gnostic mass and the altar in wicca (and the tools involved) are worth a study. As usual, Gardner gives us one sentence acknowledging the source of an idea he’s trying to convey but never directly spells it out. This is a particularly good choice of kit because it’s one of the components from folk religion Gardner has picked to include but he very nicely relates it to higher purposes and religious analogy rather than simply saying “Well witches ride brooms, it’s what they do”. He directly relates it to the phallus, while Crowley warps the entire symbolism up into the wand itself.
To further illustrate the idea that High Magic and Witchcraft are supposed to go together, we find the following passage:
I have been looking at thy books, Thur. Tell me of them. Some have pictures of plants, and I think, tell of their virtues. Wilt thou truly teach me the art of reading them?”.
He laughed, and showed her his small stock, which was a mighty library as things went in those days. There was a Latin work of Apuleius Platonicus with drawings of plants, also a Grateuss, two books on astrology and several classical works, among them the poems of Sappho, with other Greek works. He read a little from a Herbal: “’For colds in the head, or if phlegm will not clear, take Horehound, which the Romans call Marrubium, seathe it in water, and let them take, and it will clear them wonderfully … .
For lung diseases seathe the wort in honey and the patient will heal … ’ For sore teeth take roots of henbane and seathe it in strong wine. Sip it warm and hold it in the mouth, and they will speedily heal. … For dizziness let them run three times, naked, after sunset, through a field of flax, when the flax will take unto itself the dizziness. For ague, eat nine sage leaves fasting, nine mornings in succession and you shall be healed.’“
“Truly thou art a wonderfully clever man…
Gardner, Gerald B.. High Magic’s Aid (Kindle Locations 1841-1847). Aurinia Books. Kindle Edition.
That’s about the closest we get to The Golden Bough or the notion of The Golden Thread, Gardner is clearly saying “look all these sources are knowledge that has been in what we call witchcraft since time immemorial and they are worthy of study”. The writing style also changes, and it’s written in a way which would be comfortable with Agrippa in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (please read the Kraig edition, if you feel so inclined). These books, however, are books which would have influenced Gardner, and so to conspicuously place them and the writing style in the hands of characters who lived (at latest) in the 13th century isn’t an accident – it’s a clear nod towards the encouragement to read them. The tell is that warfare had changed in Europe regarding castles and cannons in the late 13th century and the standard tactic for castle siege became mass volley fire both directions rather than bow and arrows. Gardner, being well read and English, would have certainly known this. Furthering the idea of period renaissance magic:
A Pentacle of Saturn will induce his good qualities of steadiness, perseverance and loyalty, but this can only be carried by one born under Saturn; to anyone else it would bring disaster. A soldier born under any sign could wear a Pentacle of Mars, with advantage, which might produce quarrelsomeness in a merchant, while the latter would be well advised to wear one of Mercury. While a medal such as described above is sometimes called a Talisman. This name should more properly be kept for articles made especially for its owner, with the express intention of bringing him success in what particular object he has in view, and are made in accordance with the owner’s horoscope. They are usually made by an expert, in the proper day and hour, with the special object in view, with protection and safety.
Gardner, Gerald B.. High Magic’s Aid (Kindle Locations 3421-3426). Aurinia Books. Kindle Edition.
That’s straight up Book of Solomon/Dee/Agrippa right there. The picatrix adds components which require the planet be in the right celestial house and in a fortunate sign and visible, but the emphasis in European sources for this magic at the time were day-and-hour sorts of magic and horoscopes rather than the arabic observations of the heavens. There wasn’t a good copy of the picatrix floating around at the time, it would be quite interesting to ask Gardner were he alive today if he would have included them. Regarding temptation and the era’s emphasis on being free from Christian error…
Here would be no temptation, no distraction for him in this beauty unadorned because a Magus must be immune to such conditions, ere he may become a Magus, for if he cannot at all times prevent his mind from straying, failure in his enterprises would be inevitable; rather was such nudity an added strength to him, for by its presence it signifies the strength of his will and the power of his self-control. For a Magus must ever work with a naked woman till nudity is naught to him, lest an evil or mischevious spirit should appear thus, and distract his mind at the critical moment and so ruin an operation.
Gardner, Gerald B.. High Magic’s Aid (Kindle Locations 3438-3443). Aurinia Books. Kindle Edition.
Jan has to fight off the sexual temptations when he’s tested by Mars, and this particular part of the book shows a good amount of philosophy. I would venture that a good portion of “first spells” are love spells, and its probably the most popular selling spellbook on amazon. Is a love spell something “good”? Sure, between a husband a wife, usually. But both sides have to consent or it’s a violation of free will somewhere. Therefor to attack the baser sexual components and redeem the raw sexual desire into the appreciation of beauty, there’s nudity. Crowley went about this in a very different way and embraced each vice to a fault until he was sick of them, I think in this way Gardner is somehow more polite and considerate than Crowley. Gardner isn’t saying we have to lead stoic lives, but rather sees the potential for mischievous temptation in magic and realizes that the strongest, basest desire (lust, sex) is probably going to be the stumbling block to everyone. I think it’s very likely he knew about the whole Dee Kelley wife swapping incident. For the unaware, Kelley is really trying hard to get with Dee’s young wife, and he redesigns the Great Table several times over the course of several days to produce an encrypted message supposedly instructing them to swap wives. It makes no sense whatsoever unless it appeals to each of their lusts – Dee for more contact with the spirits and more knowledge and Kelley to lay with Dee’s wife. There is a similar Kelley style crisis of faith which Gardner deals with:
The Church denounced what Thur was doing, declaring it to be sinful, punishable by death, and forbidden by God. Yet it Was God who was aiding Thur. Jan knew that Thur was not working through the Devil, as the Church said, all sorcerers worked, because one cannot invoke the devil in God’s Sacred Name. That evil would surely blast a man where he stood. No, Thur had worked through God with the uttermost reverence, and God had answered his prayers. So clearly it was God’s Will! In this creation of Bartzebal, Jan saw the hand of God in answer to solemn prayer, and Bartzebal sent by God’s hand was there, though he frowned and so was there unwillingly, and the thought came, he himself was there unwillingly, to gain his own ends. Was this not sin? and God in his infinite Goodness and Compassion, had plainly worked this thing…
Gardner, Gerald B.. High Magic’s Aid (Kindle Locations 3786-3791). Aurinia Books. Kindle Edition.
Finally, Gardner also sticks up for us who study “dusty old books” which are decidedly unsexy in pursuit of Dee style theurgy. Spiritual pursuits for the sake of sex and powder are essentially science without morality and we should be ever guarded to ensure we’re actually working for the best amount of good we can as we understand it.
It is the fashion to-day to laugh at the Magus and his pretensions, to picture him as either a charlatan or a doddering old fool, and bearing the slightest resemblance to the men who were in fact, the scientists of the day, who gave us alcohol, but not the Atom Bomb.
Gardner, Gerald B.. High Magic’s Aid (Kindle Locations 3460-3462). Aurinia Books. Kindle Edition.
I got about halfway through High Magic’s Aid again before hitting the “bad writing” wall, I think there’s distinctly a place in the book where Gardner must have hung it up and resumed writing at a later date. I ended up reading it halfway in almost one sitting because I was stuck in an airport. To that end the irony isn’t lost on me from the hecklers around “why didn’t you just ride your broomstick” or “why didn’t you teleport?” Maybe in the next life.
To that end, there’s a few things in the book which really stick out to me this go-round. For one, Gardner acknowledges the presence of freemasonry in the book. He also gets into the solomonic system and he’s clearly familiar with it more than in passing. He also continues what I observed earlier where objects and things take on their roles due to their placement. This becomes important later in the actual system.
The solomonic treatment is easy enough: When constructing the tools they’re made in a certain hour on a certain day. This is taken from the Lesser Key, and it’s pretty standard solomonic stuff. X tool constructed on Y day in Z hour lets you make A tool which is supposed to be constructed on B day in C hour and so on. And before long, you have a complete kit. Planetary influences are curiously enough not acknowledged in the book save for mentioning the ruler of the day and hour. To that end, we’re back to a system of magic which requires the use of one’s five senses and what they can perceive rather then throwing astrological charts. Gardner firmly believes that power comes from the individual, and in the preparation of the tools this is expressed. He acknowledges that making the tools is circular:
Instruments!” gasped the horrified Olaf. Jan gave an impatient half-gesture which bade him to be silent and not-interrupt.
“Without them there is much danger. Firstly I must make a circle with a properly consecrated sword.”
“How may one come by that?” asked Jan.
“It can be made, but the means are lacking, that is the trouble. To make the sword I need the burin, to make the burin I must have the
consecrated white-hilted knife, the witch’s athame. They in turn must be made by the burin.”
Jan drooped hopelessly on his seat, sitting
hunched with bent head. Thur looked compassionately at him. “‘Tis all in a circle, and I know not the way in.
So we learn two things: To properly perform this magic, you need to use the proper tools and they must be properly prepared, and no ordinary tool will do. We also see that power again might reside in things, but the exercising of that power lies in people. Therefor something like an almond wand cut at dawn and so on might have power unto itself, but that power is latent and not expressed until the wand is used properly. Later on in the book we see that our heros sit down and fashion some tools themselves using a set of properly prepared tools, which means that Gardner acknowledges the power inherent in things, and that power can be purposed even by people who don’t identify with a particular cult, but ultimately we’re left in a situation where people either have the mojo or they do not. Even at the very beginning when barbarous names are being used – they’re not merely spoken, but they’re spoken as “resounding as a gong”, which tells us that both the operator and the person perceiving the operation are equally beholden to raising power.
This is evidenced later in the book where a spell is cast with a harp. Morven has implicit power, but a harp isn’t something in the solomonic system. Because Morven has power unto herself, she can use that power. What is Morven’s power? She’s sexy. (Not kidding, read the book). She’s described as quite attractive and in this way can manipulate people. It would be easy to write that she just played people for their wealth like some sort of gold digger, but the fundamental unit of power in Morven is that she’s attractive. When the heros are trying to be discreet, they instruct their women to dress as boys. When Morven is playing the harp, she’s described as attractive. It’s safe to say that being attractive makes someone influential, and this shows up earlier in the story where the question about our heros traveling as husband and wife or uncle and niece comes up. Husband and wife implies a sexual component, whereas uncle and niece implies there is no sexual component. (They pick uncle and niece). This particular bawdy sexual power comes up when one of the soldiers requests a hymn, and she instead chooses her own music. This is to inspire sexual energy, and she then uses it to get the drunken soldiers to fight. The core component here is sexual polarity, something Crowley also went after in the OTO.
Is this the only power? Absolutely not. Gardner also gives a nod to the role of awe in magic. Here we see a friendly treatment of Freemasonry when our company comes upon a city:
From the heights of Hampstead they looked across the fertile valley to the splendours of the great cathedral, revealed sharply by the crystalline air of that clear day, its surface glistening here and there as the sun caught upon some facet in the newly-cut stone. They gazed at it in awe and wonder that man could devise and raise such an edifice, for in grandeur of conception and beauty of craftsmanship it had not its equal anywhere. There it stood, softened by distance and the peculiar English atmosphere to a pearly hue. It rose a mass of piled and carven stone. So solid … yet appearing airily poised as it soared into the intense blue of the sky, so that it indeed looked like the very throne of God himself.
“It is a marvel!” breathed Morven, breaking the silence into which they had fallen as they feasted their eyes. “It is the very symbol of God. Why cannot Mother Church be as holy and gracious in her deeds towards men as she manifests herself in that great temple?”
“‘Tis not Church!” jeered the elder Bonder with supreme scorn. “‘Tis themaster-mason and the men who build under him. ”
“Nay, there is more. ‘Tis the eyes with which we see, and the grandeur, of vision in the mind of the master ere ever he begins to build.”
Jan stared at this, uncomprehending, while Thur smiled in satisfaction and Morven nodded agreement.
I believe the wording choice is intentional and the emphasis is my own. There is a theme in the book where Christianity itself isn’t treated in particular contempt, but the Roman Church is bad at practicing magic. Somehow it’s lost it’s power. Now, the church cannot have sexual modes of power – lust isn’t something it could harness. I have deep seated political speculations that the church did rediscover this power and it manifested itself in some unhealthy ways but I would prefer to avoid the topic. That being said the notion of the Master Mason comes up and the word choice is quite interesting. Freemasonry itself sits upon ritual as it’s backbone, and ritualism in this form is devoid of sexual practice. Garnder, in so choosing to include a reference to Masonry in his book, also hat-tips us to the Masonic influences in Wicca of which there are many. To this end, his commentary on the inspiration in magic – the power of awe – is held here. A lot of my own personal Enochian experience is rooted in the notion of awe, I deeply respect Dee and I think the visions recorded are absolutely beautiful. I also appreciate the masonic temple in my own home town and it’s inspiring grandeur. Here, power comes from the ability to inspire. Not just sexual energy. The company laments that the mother church has squandered this. Surely, if the church used this, it would be accused of idolatry, and a lot of Protestant thought revolves around things like icons of saints and reliquaries being exactly that. However, I think Garnder would be generally accepting of both of these as reliquaries, especially ones properly prepared in the day and hour, would cover both the inherent nobility of the items power and the preparation requirements in the solomonic system. Gardner is – in my mind – extremely open minded when it comes to magic. Less important is the hows and whys, and more important is that the magic itself is respected.
Lets now talk about the depth of that respect. There’s a discussion in the book around the literal nature of magic and the figurative nature of magic. In the book, the discussion is around probably the most talked about charm in the solomonic books which is the one which makes the operator invisible.
Again you mock, but you should make some small spell for Jan’s especial safety … a spell of invisibility.”
“So?” said Thur, amused.
“‘Twill soon be the hour of Venus, and her day, Friday. Make the figure of wax and write the spell on the skin of a toad. Thus do we witches, ever bearing in mind that invisibility is not a lack of sight in all beholders, but lack of observation. Any but the blind may see, but he who carries the spell is not marked by all about him.”
“Your witchcraft, it seems, is very much a thing of the mind … the dominance of the witch’s mind over her surroundings. ”
“Truly. A thing of much accurate observation, and knowledge of what people do, and may do in certain events. The witch holds the mind of those she would influence. ‘Tis simple. An old woman with a load may come and go unnoticed, so long as her behaviour is that of an old woman with a load. ”
“So if she hurry, or stop to glance about her, she would be marked?”
“Yes, always one so disguised wears the charm of the talisman with such confidence that she knows none may note her. As she sees herself in her own mind, so do others see her. But if she trusts not in the powers she wears, and lets fear taint her mind, then does she impart fear to those about her They see her furtiveness, mark her,
remember her, question her, and take her.
Here we have the concepts above wrapped up into one unit: Objects have inherent power and must be prepared to enhance or unlock that power. The operator is the one who actually uses that power – but in Wicca this power is channeled into the operator. This makes quite a bit of sense since the operator would be preparing that power. There is an investment into the object and then a divestment of that power into the operator. Finally we have the power of emotion which is the real dynamo of living power, and the power is the dominance of the mind over the other factors.
Finally how do we know the system is solomonic at all? (Aside of Gardner writing the system into the book explicitly…)
I see,” said Jan, dejectedly. He had based all his hopes on Thur and now found him a broken reed. “But, Thur, is there no way at all? I fear
not to risk my life; must I, as the monks say, sell my soul?”
“That is but a priestly lie,” said Thur. “The God whom the magicians invoke is the same One that the monks pray to, but we are taught to pray differently, that is all, using the methods of King Solomon, of whom the Lord said, ‘I have given thee a wise and understanding heart so that before thee there was none like unto thee, nor, ever shall arise.’
Solomon performed many wonders and great deeds by the use of the knowledge that the Lord had given him,. but when old age came o’er
him’ he wrote to his son, ‘Treasure up, oh my son Roboam, the wisdom of my words, seeing that I, Solomon, did do and perform many
wonders, and I have written a certain Book wherein I have rehearsed the secret of secrets; and in which I have preserved that hidden. I
have concealed also all secrets whatsoever of magical arts of any masters, and I have written them in this key, so that like a key it openeth a treasure house … so this key alone may open the knowledge of the magical arts and sciences.
“‘Therefore, oh my son, let everything be properly prepared; as set down by me both day and hour, and all things necessary, for without
this there will be but falsehood and vanity in the work.
“‘I command thee, my son Roboam, to place this key beside me in the sepulchre.’
“And,” continued Thur, “it was so done, but in time came certain Babylonian philosophers, who dug out the sepulchre, and they. made
copies of the key, and with them worked many marvels.
And so there we have it. Not only do we have a confirmation that elements of the system are in fact solomonic but we also have the freemasonry connection once again that there was a lost word and the word was recovered, and the word may be learned once again.
Part 2 to follow next time I’m stuck in an airport.
Has it been two years? Has it?
It feels like yesterday.
The silence was self imposed. It was a pact with Saturnian forces. Why not the Sun or the Moon? There was a lot of work to be done. Saturn at the time was in sagittarius, having just left scorpio. And by “just left” I mean it takes it three years or so to transit a sign so we’re talking about magic that takes three years to work since zodiacal magic tends to spring on the transits. Do you like long games? Saturn is the planet for you! If you happen to enjoy slow-burn sorts of solutions full well knowing this is going to take awhile and understand that Saturn is a slow, underworldly process of alchemical redemption and death, great. There were a lot of times I was tempted to blog about the mess and, frankly, brag, but the goal was to achieve something and the ego ultimately destroys magic. Magic is about doing something, and then letting it cook in it’s own way until you get the result. I think bragging is like opening the oven every five minutes to tell someone you’re baking a cake. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: “To know, to will, to dare, to shut up“. (Yes I realize the irony of running a blog espousing this).
Since then, I’ve overcome a good amount of organizational resistance and brought order how I see fit to my personal universe. The celebration was a personal one. I don’t think it’s particularly fit to mention the circumstances or the players but the bottom line is that I ended up being initiated into the Gardnerian Coven my wife was presently a member of.
Now, these folks are cool, the high priestess doesn’t say “you can’t study this or that” or “you can’t be friends with these folks or your spouse or tell your spouse anything”, and there’s a good appetite for exploration, which is what got me originally hanging out with them. Its not a feminist cult which is where I think some wicca takes a left hand turn into a barn fire. I’ve written several times before about why wicca can suck on my blog and honestly, none of those things are happening in this group. In fact, the high priestess had to make a hard choice between tradition or postmodern awfulness, and she stuck with the tradition. That makes me extremely happy since I believe that modernism is a trap and compromise erodes things into an unrecognizable mess. There’s the notion of advancement – we have cars which in 100 years are still recognizable as cars – and there’s the notion of pollution, which is when cars suddenly sprout wings and become something else. To have the pure car experience, you’re really looking at “four wheels and moves along the ground”. The same sort of thing is visible here with the solomonic or enochian posts – rather than making “enochian runes” and other claptrap, I’ve really tried to give the systems a fair shake as written in the oldest material I could find. Similar to the previous arc also, things started out solomonic and moved into enochia and seem to be orbiting back to solomonic (or pagan, at least).
Will the blog become a Gardnerian blog? No. I think things are going to take a naturalist twist here. I’ve been extremely specific about ritual before and to contrast that, the Gardnerian ritual and material is only going to be spoken about in the most general of ways (which is to say – whatever Gardner published on Amazon…). On the other hand, I think it’s going to be really quite interesting to compare previous philosophy to where things currently sit. Specifically what strikes me from the last few rituals is the notion of physicality. If we want certain aspects to be presented to things in the circle, we place them in that quarter of the circle. It was an ah-ha moment I wonder why I had missed before. Sympathetic magic! Things assuming virtues of other things! I’ve written about this a hundred times and at no point did I say “lets move things around so they pick up virtues of where they’re placed.” Writing about it seems quite simple. In retrospect it seems quite obvious why a compass rose was never included in the diagrams of the circle of the Lesser Key.
Why then, are there four six rayed stars in each of the cardinal directions and five rayed stars in each of the mutable directions? Well, you’re supposed to move around the mirror, of course, which is why it’s a circle and not an arrow. This bears experimentation later. Gardner was no dummy and was working with some good minds (Crowley) and some good organizations (Masonry). Gardnerian wicca, properly, does not exist in a vacuum and should embrace other sources and operations, and the one group had a really good class on the Thoth tarot, which was also a welcome discussion I enjoyed with the presenter long into that night.
If you’re familiar with the choirs of angels, or the original solomonic material, suddenly it becomes much smarter to place the mirror in the quadrant of the circle you’re interested in summoning from. So and so spirit rules over a particular quarter, the mirror goes there. Talking to a choir of angels from a particular quarter? The mirror goes there. The mirror is the proverbial telephone by which someone’s voice is made manifest. Now suppose you had someone video conferencing you, and you noticed the sun was a particular direction in the video. Wouldn’t you wish to place your phone in such a way that the image had the sun from the correct direction to make communication much more accurate, congruent, and enjoyable? In this way the circle and the articles in the circle lend a passive and practical role to the magical operation. Nifty. This notion also extends to other devices in the initiation circle where it almost seems like Gardner saw this in a very practical light when reading ritual material. Your lionskin belt is fitted to you, and it also happens to be made of lion, so to speak.
That being said, it’s a particularly interesting branch of magic in which the power isn’t like surfing – it’s not generated by observing the positions of the heavens and trying to guide the energy generated by the motion of the universe. It is a personal power, it’s something distinct to the group that raises it and I now believe the cone of power is real. I strongly suspect that Gardner was exposed to magical power (arguments the origin of which aside) and went to make the most practical system he could using the myths and material as he wanted to present them.
Last night I had the strangest dream…
After initiation, my High Priestess asked if I had any peculiar experiences in the circle. To that end, being psychic is a mode I can access when I’m in the right state of intoxication, but I was asked to eat lightly and refrain from substances. At the time, I had a notion of my aura (a white body) being pressed down, and from above a black egg entered me from the head. Beyond that I didn’t get much aside of the normal imagery where I can usually detect a “good” night from a “bad” night when we’re doing that. The lack of alcohol and such kept me firmly in the “here and now” sort of space. I was exhausted and that night I slept like the dead neither having dreams nor a sense of time. I did notice that while the ritual ended much earlier, I was missing about two hours I cannot trace to a particular event. We merely did the initiation and enjoyed each others company. I was thankful my wife drove home, I was beyond tired.
Two days later, I found myself in a thick wood, on a dirt path. Everything was verdant and green and the impression was that it was almost midday. Not hot, but bright in the way the forest gets when the leaves of the trees filter out the sunlight as though they’re so many outstretched hands. Traveling the path, I caught glimpses of a young, youthful, adolescent Pan. He was always just a bit beyond sight, never quite coming forth and never close. As I traveled the path a long distance, I became lost. There was a sense of a disconnect, but not a panic. I didn’t have a map, but I knew where I was roughly. It was akin to hunting in winter having done all the scouting in summer. Everything is familiar, but not readily recognizable in this particular mode. Pan had pipes in his hand, and finally draws me to a grove. The grove itself is huge, a grassy field, well used, and in the middle is a stone table with a fire in it. A blonde woman in blue, also youthful and well endowed takes me into the circle and there’s a sense of eroticism here. Shes wearing particular jewelry and a blue, deep diving robe with silver trim on the borders.
A ritual of a sort takes place with parallels to what I had just experienced but the preparation of the circle is notably absent. Why should there be a circle prepared? This is the native space of the spirits and there would be no circle cast where I scrying the place of any other spirit either. I am a guest here. Names are exchanged, confirming the authenticity of the dream in my mind.