Category Archives: Ancestors

Thank you Frieda, Lady Harris

“She devoted her genius to the Work. With incredible rapidity she picked up the rhythm, and with inexhaustible patience submitted to the correction of the fanatical slave-driver that she had invoked, often painting the same card as many as eight times until it measured up to his Vanadium Steel yardstick!”

― A. Crowley, The Book of Thoth

Ancestral Spirits play a huge part of Pagan and Magickal world view. For me this isn’t just blood Ancestors, although I’ve got a couple of pretty exciting ancestors in my history. If my fathers tales are to be believed my family line includes a Scottish Cattle raider and a sailor who went with Columbus to find the New World. But that is by the by. I also believe that our political, religious, spiritual and magickal ancestors should also be venerated. Their lives, their work, their struggles, have all contributed to who I am now. Had Emmeline Pankhurst and her sisters never been born I would not have been able to vote in our local elections last week. Thats worthy of rememberance.

Without Gerald Brosseau Gardner, Philip Peter Ross Nichols (who I have recently discovered went to school in the same village I grew up in) or Orrell Alexander Carter (Alex Sanders) I would not have the religious and philosophical view that I have. They are another form of ancestor. And I also venerate them accordingly. As a result my personal diary doesn’t just contain the important dates relating to family and friends it also lists the birth and death dates of other important people. This week we have the anniversary of the death of Helena Blavatsky and Frieda, Lady Harris. Both movers and shakers in the Occult world in the last 150 years.

I shall leave Mdme. Blavatsky for another day because her influence on the world probably deserves several posts dedicated just to her alone. But Lady Harris is currently of great personal interest for she, along with Moina Mathers and Pamela Coleman Smith form a Triad of talented mystical women who have shaped the face of the world of Tarot. One of my life’s great passions.

Much of late has been done to recognise Pamela ‘Pixie’ Coleman Smith and the part she played in the Rider Waite Smith deck. And not surprisingly because its is probably the most popular deck in the world. I know very few readers who didn’t start out life with some variation of this deck. But two other decks have also shaped the world of tarot, although they are somewhat less talked about. Possibly because their symbolism is a little bit more obscure, a little bit more abstract, and at times dare I say it, more beautiful.

The Thoth, sometimes called ‘The Aleister Crowley Thoth’ is to me as much the work of Lady Harris as it is of the Great Beast, as Crowley liked to call himself. And it is said that this deck is the stunning, complex, detailed and deeply occult deck it is today because Frieda encouraged Crowley to add his own knowledge and imagery to the work rather than just creating another derivative Book T inspired Tarot deck.

Born in 1877 Marguerite Frieda Harris seems to have lived the first half of her life in relative comfort and respectability. The daughter of a Surgeon she went on to marry an MP of the liberal party who thanks to a baronetcy awarded in the 1930s was entitled to call her self Lady Harris. There is an interesting quirk regarding this title. As the wife of a Baronet she was entitled to use the name Lady before her surname, so in formal situations she could be introduced ‘Lady Harris’ but in more informal situations she could not be called ‘Lady Frieda’. Thus when discussing her it is correct to call her Frieda, Lady Harris. However this didn’t seem to stop her from ‘adopting’ the name ‘Lady Frieda’ and it seems to have stuck. It’s not very common to read articles or listen to discussion involving her that use her correct title.

Although an apparently quite private conventional person, in my opinion this little quirk alone is indicative of a more free spirited personality hidden underneath. The fact that at the age of 60 she took up with the man who was known as ‘the wickedest man in the world’ to paint the most amazing tarot deck ever created cements that belief in my eyes. What is it they say, behind every strong man there is an even stronger woman and I truly believe that to be the case when it comes to Coleman-Smith, Mathers and Harris.

She was obviously a deeply loyal woman, she continued to care for Crowley supporting him both physically and financially right up until the end. She used her connections to promote gallery exhibitions of the original artwork for the deck. Helped finance the first run of 200 decks, and as a woman of means even paid Crowley an allowance to allow him to pursue his work in the Occult. And when his body (and many friends) failed him she provided nursing care. Finally she then gifted the original artwork to Crowley’s secretary Gerald Yorke before moving to India to live out her days.

She died on this day 11th of May 1962 in Srinagar Kashmir.

 

Travel well Lady Harris,  daughter of the firmament, may your artwork continue to inspire students of the Tarot and the Occult for generations to come.

Invocation to the Old Ones – Making a Connection

Hail Old Ones, Ancient Ones of Time and Space
You who were before the first breath and will be after the last ember
Spirits Who dwell in the void of spirit between the worlds and the stars
Who govern the motions of the stars and planets
Hail Indwelling spirits of trees and rock and lake
Hail Dryads, nymphs and fairies, guardians of sacred sites
– Magick without Peers, David Rankine & Ariadne Rainbird
– Capal Bann 1997

We use this invocation in Coven a lot. It’s a general invocation which ensures all the potential spirits regardless of their origins or place in the universe are honoured. Ensuring that the Spirits get honoured is a very important part of my rites and rituals.

Witches, Wizards, Druids, Shamans call us what you will are all very good at remembering to honour the “big”. We raise our arms in ecstasy and call down the Goddess or the God. At Samhain the ancestors get a look in. Normally with a glass of liquor and a bite to eat. Although I have been to a few rituals where this hasn’t been the case. At public rites, particularly the summer ones we tend to hear about the Genius Locii and the Spirit of the Corn. But that isn’t guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination.

It seems to be there is a disconnect in our minds between the importance of contact with spirits compared with that of deity. I’ve really thought long and hard about why this might be the case. With so many of us being nominal converts from other faiths, is it residual indoctrination? Do we place so much emphasis on “God” as a result of conditioning, that the Spirits are dirty things to be ignored if at all possible. I think this is a real possibility and one so ingrained into our western culture that we don’t even register that there is a problem. Certainly our folklore is full of stories where the primary focus is keeping the Fae away. And there is great merit in approaching the Good Folk with caution.

However, they can also be some of the most important allies we can ever have in our magickal world. If I want something doing, I am more likely to approach an angel, a daemon, a saint (yes a saint, remember they are just beatified ancestors and us witches are all about the ancestors – or we should be), a fairy or a spirit of place. Gods can be a little too abstract and requests to them (in my experience) tend to be of the long slow burn kind of outcome. And the result if not always how you imagined it. Whereas some spirits seem to have a good handle on the human condition and come up with the goods swiftly and reliably. So building strong relationships with all the spirits of the other are just as important as the relationships we build with our Gods.

I give thanks to Our Lady of the Holy Death. Santissima Muerte. Who manifests the will of the divine and gives blessings

As part of this relationship building I think it’s very important that we write our own invocations. Not just big flowery charges used in circle, but also the smaller more personal ones used on a daily basis. This simple exercise makes us really think about the spirits around us, how we interact with them and what that means. Its not an arduous task and I try and write something personal for every spirit that I work with. I write my invocations on index cards. They are small and portable. A bit of blue-tak on your dash can secure the card so its the first thing you see (and say perhaps) before heading to work. Sat on your beside table it can be the last thing you see before bed. You can even prop it on an altar or devotional space. Perhaps decorate it with a border. Or drawings of the spirit you are working with. The effort and the intent will be appreciated and your connection will be stronger.

You will also be pleasantly surprised how quickly you can memorise something relatively complex when you approach it like this.

Post Samhain Musings

Samhain has become increasingly important to me as the years go by. And although my celebrations are still far from over, for nowadays the festival seems to spill over into days rather than hours, to fit around complex working patterns and the need to co-ordinate many people, I still hold Samhain night as the most sacred.

Last night I chose to spend time with a lovely group of people honouring the ancestors in a way that couldn’t have been more perfect for me if I tried. For mere miles from the town where my father and grandfather grew up we performed a Despatcho ceremony. A ritual quite literally from the land of my paternal ancestors.

A Despatcho is in essence a living prayer bundle, used in a number of ways. It can be for healing, emotional or physical, gratitude, honouring or even celebrating such as blessings for births, deaths and marriages.

A mandala is built up slowly over time, with each item representing something the participants wish to pray for, or honour. Last night we gave thanks for the land we live in, all the peoples of this world, human, animal, vegetable and mineral. We gave praise and thanks to our ancestors and offered up Kintus sets of 3 leaves which we infused with our intent. I chose my leaves very carefully. One Sycamore, one Bay, one Ivy. Make of that what you will 😉

We also honoured our ancestors with sound, participating in drumming in the winds and spirits of the directions, the spirits of those above and below, the spirits of place and Mother Earth. Followed by a Gong bath that allowed us to fall into trance and if the ancestors wished it, receive messages and guidance. It was terribly moving. And I truly felt a weight lifted and a child like delight return to me after the Despatcho was passed over me.

However, I would dearly love to know who Michelle is, for whilst in trance a young boy came to my side, knelt down and told me to say to Michelle that she will not find the stone for her ring. Not very mystic I know, but hey we don’t get to dictate what the spirit world offers us. Obviously its very important to somebody somewhere or they wouldn’t have bothered breaking through into my reverie. If this relates to you, please, please tell me, my curiosity is eating me up.

 

For my Father

When I sat down this morning to write, it was going to be an academic treatise on Cults and festivals of the Dead and how they relate to or can be adapted to working with the Lady Hekate, and perhaps I will write it still, although maybe not today. All things considered, today seems like a good day to muse upon those that have gone before.

I am not a Wiccan, nor have I ever been, and although my other great love is the stories and tales of the land we now know of as Wales, neither is my path specifically a Celtic one (although I actually hate using the word Celtic, because it doesn’t really mean much); that being said, this time of year has always held a special signifcance for me, it has always felt different and never more so than in the last decade since my father, my first mentor, passed on around this time.

He taught me many things (although at the time I am not sure I appreciated quite what he was teaching me), not just to walk and talk or to ride my first bike, he taught me the names of the flowers and the trees, to eat hawthorm leaves and call them bread and cheese, to gauge just right how many slightly under-ripe cob nuts I could eat without getting the colly wobbles, how to make cider, to garden, and even to knit, crochet and sew, he told me stories and tales some awe inspiring, some frightening, some just down right ridiculous, we used to laugh and call him our font of useless information, a talent I can now proudly say I have inherited.

He called himself a heathen, although he wasn’t one in the way most people use the word now, he didn’t know about fancy groups and troths, although he had a deep one with the land, he knew of course of the Aesir and Vanir for his knowledge of old stories was phenominal, but they weren’t his gods, to use his words, he worshipped only at the altar of the compost heap.

He was an honorable man, a quiet man, a gentle man, loved by everybody who knew him; he talked many times of his funeral in the years before his passing, he said he always wanted a Viking funeral, or failing that to be buried “face down and bum uppards holding a bottle of whiskey”. Of course such schemes were to never come to pass, although plans are in place, his ashes safely stowed for a future time, when he and my mother will be sailed out on a flaming balsa wood boat across lake windermere, one of his most favourite places in the world.

And as the sun goes down tonight, I shall light a candle and pour him a glass and think of all the gifts he gave to me and I never thanked him for.