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.

 

By the Great Pumpkin.

I’m going to have to have a little rant. Because to be frank it’s been bugging me. I love Halloween as much as the next person, but please by all that is orange and pumpkin like don’t confuse the modern holiday of Halloween with the festival of Samhain, or Nos Calan Gaeaf for that matter.

Please don’t go round running rituals where everyone dresses up as the Worst Witch, or a reject from Twilight or Potter world. It actually cheapens many peoples beliefs and practises. By all means have a party, invite me along I love a bloody good knees up. But don’t pretend that what you are doing is pagan. Particularly if you then plaster pictures of yourself all over Facebook. It totally misses the point of guising, which was to be unrecognisable.

If you want to combine reverence and mirth, how about a dumb supper eaten in silence, food brought to share, an empty space laid out for those that have gone before. Each person lighting a tea light for their ancestors. After the solemn meal songs and laughter may ensue, and when the last tealight burns out then the last ancestor has departed and the party is over. Another excellent practise is a vigil, take time to process to your local cemetery. Find the oldest graves there, for quite truthfully they represent the ancestors of the community. Take time to clear their graves, light a votive candle and thank them, sit vigil for a while before departing silently, not looking back.

If you aren’t squeamish about mixing a bit of ancient Christian lore you could even make soul cakes. A medieval tradition. Sweet biscuit like cakes made with cinnamon and nutmeg, which would have been almost prohibitively expensive and therefore a true sacrifice of time and resources. They were set out on All Hallows’ Eve, sometime with an alcohol libation as well. Very reminiscent of the Hekate’s suppers practised on New Moons. You can find a nice recipe for souls cakes here it’s a recipe from the Welsh borders so quite authentic.

I love Samhain, it’s possibly one of the most important festivals of the year for me. I genuinely feel the Magick in the air. The light has an eerie quality. Your skin prickles. You can almost smell the feral musk of the creatures of the hunt slowly waking from their summer slumber. Leaves skitter along the paths leaving you feeling like something is just a few steps behind. Whispered voices travel on the wind and you can almost hear small scampering feet. Waiting for the moment when the final shift happens. When, for another cycle Gwyn ap Nudd gains the upper hand in his eternal battle with Gwythyr ap Greidawl. The hounds of Annwfn bray and the hunt rides forth. Ready to sweep the unsuspecting human with eyes to see along, helter skelter into the night.

A sight both fearsome and truly wondrous to behold. A feeling that brings you to tears of awe and fear and love. And worth far more respect than some parody in black lipstick and a nylon costume bought from a superstore.

In the search of the Mabon.

It’s that time of year when the whole, “Why is the Equinox called Mabon?” debate rears it’s ugly head. Like many Gardnerians I’m fairly unimpressed by the name thanks to a whole bunch politics. There are other names for the festival, however, my personal preference is Equinox. It’s a good sturdy name that even those who do not follow my path understand. But On the whole I’m pretty happy to state that it’s each to their own.

I thought about writing a nice long academic post about the historical evidence and the modern justifications for calling this festival by certain names. But it’s been done to death by many very eloquent people. So if you are looking for that kind of article may I suggest you start HERE with Jason Mankey’s blog on the subject.

For the last few years I’ve been very much about the experiential being balanced with the academic. And that wondrous synergy that can occur when the historical and factual meets the new imaginings of dedicated practitioners of the craft. So this year I thought I’d approach the whole event in a different and innovative manner.

Last Winter Solstice I took part in an excellent read along on Twitter #thedarkisreading. In which participants read the enchanting Susan Cooper book “The Dark is rising”. Not only was it lovely to have a reason to sit and read for a short while each evening. It really made me focus on certain seasonal themes. Which gave me an idea.

One of the primary sources for the existence of Mabon ap Modron (Great Son, son of the Mother) is the Welsh Medieval tale “How Culhwch won Olwen”. The story is included in the misnamed collection of tales known by most as the Mabinogion. On the surface it’s a rip roaring tale of adventure, knights and valiant kings, brave young men and giants. This epic quest for true love sees the erstwhile hero and his amazing companions travel from the very South of Wales all the way to Cumbria. Performing seemingly impossible feats. Meeting the oldest animals and battling formidable creatures using all the powers and Magick sat their command.

It can of course be read just as that, an amazing tale of daring-do, but its a tale of layers. Embedded within are mysteries for those who care to look. Initiations of the body and mind, for those who would immerse themselves ritually into the very tale itself. So this year I resolved to take time reading it to see what wisdom it could impart for me during this season. A touch of meditative bibliomancy if you will.

I’ve studied this story many times, as an Awenydd of the The Anglesey Druid Order it comes up a fair amount in the orders amazing annual training course. So I wasn’t really sure what I might get from this exercise being so familiar with the text. But the gods of Land, Sea and Sky never fail me.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer quantity of shape shifting that occurs during the tale. Culhwch’s mother Goleuddydd (quite literally daylight) losing her mind in an echo of Rhiannon’s story and seemingly reverting to a zoomorphic state to give birth. Poor Pryderi is linked with a stable in the first branch, Culhwch a pig sty. Perhaps his mother is the very same sow that led Gwydion to the Ash tree from which the young Sun God Lleu Llaw Gyffes hangs between the worlds.

In fact pigs feature very heavily in many of the tales, from the very first branch it is the swine of Arawn slipping into this world that starts the whole story arch moving. Not a mare of sovereignty at all. Is this then an indicator of an older or parallel belief/initiatory system hidden within all the tales? Certainly food for deep thought. And now undoubtedly the focus of experiential ritual in my future.

I find this idea particularly poignant as the whole tale hangs on the hero’s relationship to sovereignty. In his case his relationship with Arthur. The kings willingness to trim the youths hair in recognition of kinship is echoed in the demands of the Giant Ysbaddaden. Reading between the lines his only real desire is to ensure an appropriate wedding feast for his Goddess like daughter and to have his hair trimmed using the comb and scissors held between the ears of the great Boar Twrch Trwyth (another pig). Thus effectively regaining his own sovereignty. Interesting huh?

Secondly the textual notes to the tale (if you get a good translation) reveals that one of the companions Teyrnon Twrf Liant ( Great Lord, Roar of the flood tide) whose kingdom in Gwent is often associated with the Severn bore. Now I’ve known this for a while, but I’ve never really put much consideration into it. My ritual landscape is primarily that of North Wales. But the Mabon of whom we seek it is claimed was held somewhere along the Severn estuary. He was discovered by the Salmon of Lyn Lliw who travelled the bore every flood tide. So here we have our divine child of the season, in his prison in Caerloyw (Gloucester) but held apparently by the bore. Just as Pryderi was kept by Teyrnon in his youth. And when is the bore at his strongest. At the equinoxes.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad name for the festival after all. I rather like it in-fact especially if we were to pair the autumnal equinox of Mabon with a vernal equinox of Modron…..oooo now there’s a thought?