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.

A Sense of the Sacred

Ive just spent a lovely half hour walking my mothers dog. We wandered down to the pebbly beach and I collected hagstones, an item of great worth in my work with the fae. It’s an amazing beach, it is probably one of the most bountiful in its provision of holed and unusual stones that I have ever come across. Just a few minutes will yield a pocket full of stones. Most of which I return at the end of my stay. Although sometimes, just sometimes the odd one makes it way permanently into my life. It’s a very special place, its seen me snuggled under a duvet watching the stars with what was then my soon to be husband. It comforted me as I howled at the moon whilst grieving the loss of my father. It welcomed my small daughter summer after summer, watching her grow into a strong and independent woman. In short, it is personally one of the most sacred places in the world as far as I am concerned.

Sacred doesn’t have to mean a long archeological provenance. It neednt be a place of worship. Nor do the Ancestors, Guardians, Old or Mighty Ones have to be involved. No magickal beings have to be in evidence. Although in reality I tend to find they seem to crawl out of the woodwork (quite literally) once you acknowledge the hallowed nature of a place. It’s actually why I tend not to cast a circle at all outdoors. I don’t banish. I work in harmony with the energies of the place. It’s why choosing your ritual locations is quite important. Picking a spot because its easy to get to, infamous or just because you are curious about it isnt’ always going to give you the results you expect.

I live within a 40 minute drive of the near legendary Alderley Edge, well known by certain initiatory Wiccans and practitioners of several Trad craft lineages. Ive tried working formal magick there. Normally with others who think it would be really cool “Coz witches do stuff there” ! Ive stood back as they have cast a circle or bellowed out an LBRP*. And Ive felt the place close down, it feels thick and muddy, and I can sense this treacle like sensation spread out into the woods which then fall eerily silent and still. But equally I have sat very quietly against the trunk of one of the giant beech trees that line the route to Stormy Point. Letting the darkness creep in around me. Ive listened to people congregating at the Druids circle totally oblivious to the Magick (and the magickal people) going on around them. Ive regularly seen a Goat like figure wander along the pathways. Stop to observe me, bow its head in acknowledgement before silently moving on. At that moment the whole place is overwhelmingly sacred. But because I am in communion with it.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot practise formal ritual in chosen places of power. It means that a relationship has to be built. Permission has to be given. Experiences shared. My beach has seen me invoking the planetary powers, at sunset and sunrise. Long formal Orphic hymns used as the invocations. A circle scratched in the sand with the planetary symbols etched around its circumference. A rite of balancing and growth. Considering the history I have with the place it was the ‘only’ location right for the ritual. The Ocean has silently observed my passing years. Whilst to it my existence is but a blink of an eye, it knows me, it knows my energy. And that is the key.

*Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram

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.

Saturday Thoughts – Who are the Mighty Ones

One of the biggest benefits of a training coven is that you never get stagnant. New people bring new thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Facilitating this kind of environment also means you have to be completely sure of your facts, because there will always be a neophyte who will happily shout up if you are wrong. And long may that last. The ability to question, to challenge, to ask why, is probably the most important characteristic of a successful witch.

What this means for me is that I spend a lot of time looking historically at why we do things. I also analyse the effectiveness of our practises based upon this information. I’ve recently been doing a lot of work deconstructing the traditional circle cast and the stock liturgy involved in Wiccan ritual. My current obsession being the subject of the “Mighty Ones”.

I don’t think I’m the only one to have considered this conundrum at length either. Raven Grimassi, Christopher Penczak and Deborah Lipp have all debated the concept in more or less detail. I rather love Deborah Lipp’s statement in her book ”The elements of ritual”

Although I have worked with them in ritual for years, I know little about them, because the nature of the Guardians is elusive.
– The Elements of Ritual 1961

I suspect different covens have different ideas about these beings. The decentralised nature of Wicca is both a strength and a weakness; each group works with and develops that which they find most important, so what is sacrosanct lore to one may not even be discussed by another. As a result this isn’t an area that I have examined closely until now.

In 1949 Gerald Gardner published ”High Magic’s Aid”. A fictional story which has some very familiar passages. Gardner claimed to have written it as a work of fiction because his High Priestess had vetoed the idea of a non-fiction work about Witchcraft. In chapter 16 entitled The Making of the Great Circle, one of the protagonists casts a circle so familiar that it could be recognised by pretty much any neo-pagan today, regardless of their tradition.

”I summon, stir, and call thee up, thou Mighty Ones of the East, to guard this circle.”

At each of the cardinal points an invocation to the Mighty Ones is proclaimed. And in the following chapter the Priestess Morven also declares:

”I will in sooth call up the Old ones. The Mighty Ones, to be present and witness your Oaths.”

In 1978 Doreen Valiente publishes almost exactly the same words in her seminal work ”Witchcraft for Tomorrow”. However, now she uses the term Great Ones and Mighty Ones interchangeably.

”Then take up the bell, and pass again round the circle, starting at the east. Call upon the Great Ones who have gone before, saying:
I summon, stir and call ye, ye Mighty Ones of the East, the guardian spirits of witchdom, to witness these rites and to guard this circle

Now we are presented with an additional layer of meaning. Valiente’s words imply both ancestral aspect and a very specific link to those who practice the craft. Our Mighty Ones are no longer just elemental powers. They are our Witch mothers and fathers (whomever they may be). This concept is taken one further by David Rankine who suggests that:

We use the term Old Ones collectively to describe the spirits which govern the motion of the universe, the order of the stars and planets, as well as the spirits to be found in our environment around us, such as genius loci (“spirits of the place”), guardians of sacred sites, dryads, hamadryads, nymphs, fairies etc. The Old Ones are sometimes called the Timeless Ones.
– Magic without Peers, David Rankine & Ariadne Rainbird 1997

The concept of the Mighty Ones isn’t just Wiccan though. The Golden Dawn book on tarot known as “Book T’ give the Empress the title Daughter of the Mighty Ones. The Ceremonial Magician Madeline Montalban suggests that these beings are The Watchers.

The Mighty Ones are often called “The Watchers”, occult beings who dwell “in the spaces between the stars”, and whose task it is to see that nobody interferes with the rhythm of the Universe, expressed in occult symbolism as wheels within wheels.
– Prediction, March 1961

She believed that these watchers along with their daughter The Empress were in essence a kind of Guardians of the Galaxy trio intent on ensuring that pesky black magicians and ne’er do wells of the Occult world didn’t get their wicked way.

To prevent this kind of thing on a Uni­versal scale, ancient occult law said there were the watchers, who lived in the Four Watch-towers, and that these Watchers had a daughter, now known as “The Empress”, or the Daughter of the Mighty Ones.

Her occult duty was to help counter­balance the disturbances that might occur through man’s intrepidity (or impudence) in occult practice (since in those distant days, science and the occult were not divorced).

An interesting concept. Especially as it then provides a possible solution as to why Magick sometimes doesn’t work! But I digress.

The Empress is the 14th path on the Tree of Life between Chokmah and Binah. It is assigned to the Hebrew letter Daleth, which means door. As it can be argued that each watchtower is a doorway; then it is not unreasonable to assume that the Mighty Ones of that doorway are the Primal Masculine and Feminine principals associated with each element. Truly Mighty indeed.

So when building the visualisations in our circles, instead of one Guardian perhaps we should be looking at two? Or maybe even three? Hey! some of the Trad-crafters have been intuitively doing this for years. They may be on to something.

 

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.