Fennel – a Sacred Garden Herb

 My fennel (Foeniculum vulgare syn. Anethum foeniculum) plants are starting to come into seed. I love this delicate, feathery aromatic plant, and find so many uses for it. It really is a gift of the Gods.

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all ate fennel’s seeds, aromatic leaves and tender shoots. [1] Young shoots were cooked as vegetables, the raw stalks were chopped into salads, and seeds were placed under loaves of bread as they were baked to add flavour.[2] The seeds, bulb and leaves are all used in cooking. The flowers and feathery leaves can be sprinkled into salads, soups and sauces.  The stems, which resemble celery, have a pleasant anise-like flavour. They can be diced into soups and salads, or used for savouring stews and stir-fry vegetables, or eaten like celery sticks.  Fennel seeds are used to flavour bread, cakes, pastries, soups, stews and sweet pickles, apple pie, and tomato-based sauces. The fennel ‘root’ you can buy is Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce).  The edible white bulb is actually stacked leaves, and not a root at all.

And then fennel is great for the skin! It has skin-softening and anti-aging properties. Use a fennel seed tea (see below) as a wash to cleanse and tone the skin, remove grime, excess grease and dead skin cells. It will firm the skin, tighten pores and reduce wrinkles. If you wake up with swollen and sore eyes, prepare a cup of fennel tea, soak a cotton ball in it and place it over your closed eyelids for 10 minutes. Use fennel seed tea as a final hair rinse to cleanse chemical residues, revitalise hair, strengthen hair follicles, and to treat dandruff and scalp problems. Rub cellulite patches with a paste of ground fennel seeds and water or use the paste as an exfoliant. If you have acne, add some crushed fennel seeds to a bowl of boiling water, and give your face a cleansing steam, by leaning over the bowl with a towel over your head to keep the steam in.

Fennel has been used in healing since ancient times. In the third century BCE the Greek Hippocrates used it as a stomach soother for infant colic, Dioscorides recommended it to nursing mothers, and the Roman naturalist Pliny included the plant in 22 remedies. [3] The Physicians of Myddfai declared “He who sees fennel and gathers it not, is not a man, but a devil”,’[4] while the mediaeval abbess and herbalist Hidegard of Bingen wrote: ‘Fennel forces (a person) back into the right balance of joyfulness and that its benefits included good digestion and a good body odour. Is it any wonder that Charlemagne mandated its growth in every garden? [5]

Fennel is considered an antispasmodic herb, meaning that it relaxes the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract, so it is used for gas pains, indigestion and IBS.  Many Indian restaurants have a bowl of fennel seeds provided as an aid to digestion. [6] Fennel contains a compound called fenchone, which helps relax the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract. Chew a few fennel seeds or drink Fennel Seed Tea twenty or thirty minutes before a meal to prevent cramping and dispel wind in the gut.

Fennel Seed Tea

1 tsp seed, slightly crushed

1 cup boiling water

Infuse 10 minutes in a covered container (a teapot is good), strain and drink.

It also has anti-acidic properties and is extensively used in commercial antacid preparations. A cup of Fennel Seed Tea can help ease heartburn. Commission E (the German equivalent of the FDA) endorses fennel for treating digestive upsets. [7]

Fennel is also used for treating cough and catarrh as Fennel Seed Tea is a mild expectorant, containing the phytochemicals cineole and anethole, effective in treating inflammation of the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, helping remove mucus and phlegm from the lungs.

Fennel is a diuretic, increasing urination. Its reputation as a weight loss herb may simply relate to its diuretic action, though fennel seeds have the reputation of supressing appetite. The ancient Greeks called fennel maraino which means ‘to grow thin’, believing it contributed to weight loss, while Roman ladies took fennel to prevent obesity. [8] Culpeper also wrote “…all parts of the fennel plant used in drink or broth to make people lean that are too fat”. They were believed to stave off hunger and were used by those fasting on Christian feast days, and widely employed in old and modern slimming formulas. [9]. Fennel seeds are used to be used by people fasting to combat hunger, so Fennel Seed Tea may be useful if you are dieting.

Last but not least, a cup of Fennel Seed Tea may relieve a hangover!

Fennel is one of our most widely used sacred garden herbs. According to Greek mythology, [10] the earliest humans lived naked, cold and hungry, without hope or inspiration. The Titan Prometheus (‘Foresight’) felt pity for them, and implored the Olympian gods to help but they refused, saying that they didn’t want humans to become more like gods.  Deciding to act alone, Prometheus stole fire from the hearth of the gods and, concealing it in a fennel stalk, took it down to the earth.  He taught humans how to warm their homes and how to use fire to cook. Bleakness and darkness were now illuminated by light and hope. People learned how to grow food, domesticate animals, craft metal, create art and writing, to pursue philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. One spark of celestial fire concealed in a fennel stalk made all the difference.

Everything is illuminated and vitalised from within a divine spark from the gods; it animates all life. Inspiration sent by the Gods is called the ‘fire in the head’, where thought and spirit meet to create something new. Sometimes we feel that the fire within has gone out, and this is when you can utilise the magic of fennel. The abbess Hildegard of Bingen said “However fennel is eaten, it makes men merry, and gives them a pleasant warmth…”  If you are feeling stuck, low and uninspired, fennel can be employed in spells, rituals and spiritual work to ignite the fire within. Use in the form of Fennel Tea, in spells, rituals, incenses, charm bags, sachets and talismans. One spark is all that is needed to change a life or indeed, the world.

Fennel is a protective herb, used to dispel negative influences. It is one of the sacred herbs mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Nine Herbs Charm recorded in the 10th-century CE [11] to treat the ‘flying venom’ thought to cause disease, or those who had been ‘elf shot’ i.e. bewitched with illness after being shot by fairy arrows. The nine herbs (fennel, mugwort, cockspur grass [or perhaps betony], lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, crab-apple and thyme), were used as a herbal salve and a recited charm, the Lacnunga, or Lay of the Nine Herbs.  During the Middle Ages fennel was hung over the door on the dangerous Midsummer’s Eve to keep away evil spirits. The seeds were also pushed into keyholes in the belief that this would prevent ghosts from entering. For protection and purification, fennel can be used in incenses, add fennel seeds to charms, amulets, talismans, add Fennel Seed Tea or Fennel Leaf Tea to the ritual bath or use in a wash to cleanse ritual space and magical tools. Use Fennel Seed Tea to magically seal doorways and windows to prevent evil from entering.

CAUTIONS:

Fennel is considered safe for most people, but do not use on children and avoid if you have bleeding disorders, hormone sensitive cancers or are taking Tamoxifen, have endometriosis or uterine fibroids.  Fennel may slightly decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. Pregnant women should not take fennel as a medicinal herb internally as it is a uterine stimulant, though small amounts used in cooking are considered safe.

© Anna Franklin, July 2020

[1] Jeanne D’Andréa, Ancient Herbs In the J. Paul Getty Museum Gardens, ©1982 The J. Paul Getty Museum

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael Castleman, The New Healing Herbs, Rodale Inc., New York, 2001

[4] John Pughe (trans.), The Physicians of Myddfai, The Welsh Mss. Society, facsimile reprint Llanerch Publishers, Felinach, 1993

[5] https://jonbarron.org/herbal-library/foods/fennel accessed 13.9.17

[6] Michael Castleman, The New Healing Herbs, Rodale Inc., New York, 2001

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] Julie Brunton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Kitchen Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books Ltd, London, 2010

[10] Hesiod

[11] Pettit, Edward. 2001. Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585: The ‘Lacnunga’, 2 vols. (Lewiston and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press).

30 JUNE – ROSE DAY

June is the month of roses, when they are at their most abundant.  The garden is full of roses this week. They flop over the fences and scramble up the trellis, their soft, sensual blooms filling the air with a voluptuous perfume. It is easy to understand why they are sacred to so many gods and goddesses of love – Isis, Aphrodite, Venus, Eros, Cupid, Inanna and Ishtar to name just a few. I bless the plants and gather armfuls of flowers.

I take them into the house and lay them on the kitchen table and begin to separate the red flowers from the white. I’m reminded that in one Greek tale, when the goddess Aphrodite first arose from the ocean and stepped onto the shore, the sparkling sea foam fell from her body in the form of pale white roses and took root, but later, as she pursued the beautiful youth Adonis, she caught herself on a thorn and her blood dyed the roses crimson red, symbolising innocence turned to desire and maidenhood turned to womanhood. [1] For magical purposes, while my white roses stand for purity, perfection, innocence, virginity and the moon, the red roses represents earthly passion and fertility. Wound together, they signify the union of opposites, symbolism we use at Beltane to celebrate the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess, an act which reconciles male and female, summer and winter, life and death, flesh and spirit, and brings about all creation, driven by the most fundamental and powerful force in the universe – love.

Like other flowers with rayed petals, they are an emblem of the sun. Like the sun, which dies each night and is reborn each day at sunrise, the rose is an emblem of renewal, resurrection and eternal life, which is why the Celts, Egyptians and Romans used them as funeral offerings. [2] [3] [4] I set aside some to make offerings for dead friends later.

I’m still left with an abundance of blossoms. I take down two clean glass jars from my cupboard and pack both of them with the scented petals I carefully pull from the stems. One jar I top up with white vinegar and set it on the sunny kitchen windowsill. I will leave it there for two weeks before straining the liquid into a clean jar. My resulting rose vinegar can be used as a delicate salad dressing, as an antiseptic wash for wiping down my kitchen surfaces, or dabbed onto my forehead to relieve headaches.  The second jar of rose petals I fill up with one part distilled water to three parts vodka.  I label it and put it in a cool, dark place in my pantry where it will stay for three weeks. When it is ready, I will strain the liquid into a clean jar, and lo and behold, I have made my own rose hydrosol.  I use it just as it is as a skin toner, but I could chill it to make a compress for puffy eyes, or use it as a final conditioning rinse for my hair. Next month I will incorporate some into skin lotions and creams.

The gorgeous fresh petals I have left could be baked into cakes and cookies, made into a delicate jam or a wine for next year’s Midsummer solstice, or crystallised for cake decorations.  Tonight I will drop some petals into my bath to make a relaxing soak after a hard day in the garden, and before I go to bed I will put a handful into the teapot and infuse them in boiling water to make a subtle, fragrant tea, which is mildly sedative and good for tension headaches.

I spread out more petals on a tray and put them to dry in the airing cupboard. These dried petals are not only good for rose tea later in the year and the usual potpourri, but can be employed in magical talismans, charm bags and incense –  red for love, yellow for Midsummer, renewal and the sun, and white for moon rituals. So many virtues in just one plant, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what the rose has to offer. Each day, Mother Nature has a different gift for me.

I decorate my altar with roses today, to honour the Goddess.

© Anna Franklin

[1] Jennifer Peace Rhind, Fragrance & Wellbeing: Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche, Singing Dragon, London, 2013

[2] Miranda Green, Gods of the Celts, Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, 1986

[3] Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, The Ultimate Guide to Roses, Macmillan, London, 2004

[4] Laurie Brink and Deborah Green, Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context. Studies of Roman, Jewish and Christian Burials, de Gruyter, Berlin, 2008

 

Artemis, Goddess of the Wild Heart

Artemis is the daughter of Zeus, King of the Greek gods, and Leto, one of his many mistresses. According to the legend, Leto was in labour nine days and nights, all the time pursued by Hera, Zeus’s jealous wife. Then, on reaching Delos, she gave birth to Artemis who, astonishingly, helped Leto deliver her own twin brother, Apollo. The pair became goddess and god of the moon and sun. Artemis is the maiden goddess of the new moon, and the sixth day from the new moon is sacred to her. She rides her silver chariot, pulled by silver stags, across the sky and shoots her arrows of silver moonlight to the earth below. When Artemis was a little girl, Zeus, her father, wanted to give her a gift and asked her what she wanted. The goddess replied “I want to run forever wild and free with my hounds in the woods and never, ever marry”. She is one of only three beings who are immune to the enchantments of Aphrodite the goddess of love (the other two are Hestia and Athene). She is normally depicted as tall and slender, wearing a short tunic and carrying a bow.

Behind this classical myth, however, there was an older Artemis, reflected in the stories of the goddess as the free spirit who rejects the company of gods and humans, preferring instead to roam the solitary woodland grove and the bare mountainside, dancing and singing in the company of her nymphs. She is a huntress and, carrying her silver bow, delights in the reckless pursuit across the countryside, running with the Alani, her pack of hounds, a gift from the nature god Pan.

She is the patroness of hunters, who would gratefully hang the skin and horns of their prey in her temples. She is also the protector of wild animals and knows all their ways, from the elusive bird and the timid deer, to the savage lion and fierce bear. She binds the hunter and the hunted, since she is the goddess who both gives and takes life. The Greeks called her the Huntress of Souls.

Artemis is the goddess of wild and remote places, unsullied land far from the reach of man. Her nymphs are the spirits of its trees, streams, rocks and flowers, the souls of nature embodied, while Artemis herself is the imminent goddess of Nature in its raw and untamed state. She is a maiden, chaste, eternally young and virginal, called ‘Artemis the undefiled’ in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. Those men who defiled her mysteries she ruthlessly hunted down and killed. One such was Actaeon, a hunter who caught sight of Artemis while she was bathing. The goddess, thus profaned, punished him by turning him into a stag whereupon his own hounds, not recognising their master, tore him to pieces.

She is the patroness of unmarried girls and was served by virgin priestesses; when women married, they had to leave her service forever. Yet no marriage took place without her. Young girls considering matrimony went to dance at her festivals. On the night before the wedding, they dedicated their tunics on her altar, and left behind their childhood memorabilia. She is the protector of all women, swift in her defence of those tormented by men, always coming to the aid of those who called upon her, punishing the wrongdoers. It is this aspect of Artemis that women in labour called upon since, despite being a virgin, Artemis is the goddess of childbirth. It is in her power to spare both mother and child, or to take them. It is part of her mystery that a woman in travail must surrender herself to her animal side, nature at its most raw, uttering that last savage cry at the moment of birth. In Ephesus she was called Dea Anna and “many-breasted”, the patroness of nurturing, fertility, and birth.

Artemis is the least civilised of the Greek goddesses, and perhaps the oldest, dating from a time before the land was cultivated. She is also the wild and untamed part of ourselves. While her brother Apollo, is logical, dignified, lord of the sun and daylight, she is animal instinct, impulse, intuition, freedom, the lady of the moon and night. They represent the two sides of human consciousness, both necessary in balance. Artemis is the soul of the wilderness, uncivilised and untamed. She is the goddess imminent in manifest Nature: untamed energy.  She calls upon the wildness in your heart.

Remember too, that Artemis is the goddess that women call upon when they are in trouble or abused. She befriends the abused and punishes the abuser. Within every woman (and every man) the spirit of Artemis exists, independent, confident and, like her warrior maidens the Amazons, not needing a romantic partner to make her life complete. She goes where she wants and does what she wants without having to seek the approval of another. She doesn’t deny her own nature to satisfy another.

 

Text © Anna Franklin, The Oracle of the Goddess, Vega, 2003

Illustration © Paul Mason, The Oracle of the Goddess, Vega, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

Witchcraft – The Way of the Mighty Dead

“…you shall be taught to be wise, that in the fullness of time you shall count yourself among those who serve the Gods, among those who belong to the Craft, among those who are called the Mighty Dead. Let thy life, and the life to come, be in the service of our noble Lady and her gentle Lord.”

Witchcraft is often called ‘The Crooked Path’, because it is the path of the outsider. Witches were driven out of society, cloaked in the garb of otherness.  While historical druids were an elite class of men, pillars of the establishment, the historical witch was always an outsider, the despised or excluded person who threatened the established order and – of all the most dreadful things imaginable – usually a woman with power in a world where women were often otherwise powerless.

In the past, the Church saw witches as the antithesis of what a woman should be – meek, subservient, industrious and obedient (and some Christian traditions still maintain this). Any woman who was a free-spirits independent and sexually active must be a witch.  During the times of witchcraft persecution- the days we call The Burning Times – it is estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 people were executed, 80% of them women.

In 1484, in response to reports that many women were engaging in sorcery “to make the conjugal act impossible”, Pope Innocent VIII appointed two German Dominicans, Jakov Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, to pursue witches. They wrote the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, which means “Hammer of Evil Doers” or “Hammer of the Witches”. So popular was their book that it ran into nineteen editions and was a principle text for the Inquisition.

They wrote that “woman is an imperfect animal, and always deceives….

In Christian lore, women are responsible for the fall of humankind and its expulsion from paradise, since Eve was tempted to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge and persuaded her husband Adam to do the same.[i]

For the Christian thinker, God is male, and thus the only true gender is male.[ii] From the very beginning, they argued that women were inferior to men, as Eve was made from Adam’s spare rib, and being formed by a bent rib she was naturally flawed.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote “Every girl child is a defective male, conceived only because her father was ill, weak or in a state of sin at the time,” and “Life comes from the male sperm, and the woman merely serves as the soil in which it is planted.”

According to the Malleus Maleficarum: “Women are intellectually like children” and

“All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.”

The Church felt that women were more carnal than men, as was clear from their many ‘abominations’; women menstruate, get pregnant and give birth, all evidence of the sexual activity which was reviled as sinful by the Church. The Malleus Maleficarum was very unambiguous in its references to women’s sexuality as an evil force. A woman was said to be impure “during her monthly periods.”

Tertullian called women the “devil’s gateway”. Like Eve, all women were considered temptresses, inciting men to seek the forbidden fruit of lust. If a woman was raped, it was considered to be her own fault.

St Thomas Aquinas wrote “Women exert an evil influence over men which causes them to have involuntary erections, and thus distracted them from contemplating God.”

According to the Malleus Maleficarum: “Any woman knows more magic than a hundred men,” and “There are more women than men found infected with the heresy of witchcraft, ”.

“A woman is by her nature more quicker to waver in her faith and consequently quicker to abjure the faith, which is the root of witchcraft” and most damning of all “…women are weak in themselves, and can only perform magic in league with demons”.[iii] The clergy exclaimed

“Blessed be the Highest who has so far preserved the male sex from so great an evil”

While any woman practicing fortune telling, midwifery or herbalism could be executed as a witch, male doctors, astrologers and alchemists were left unscathed. The fifteenth century Council of Trent specifically forbade women from having anything to do with medicine, a profession they were not to be re-admitted to until the late nineteenth century. If any women stood before a tribunal accused of practising medicine or healing it was automatically assumed that she must have achieved any cure by witchcraft and she was put to death [iv] According to the Malleus Maleficarum “If a woman dare to cure … then she is a witch and must die”. Male doctors were trusted implicitly by the authors: “Although some of their remedies seem to be vain and superstitious cantrips and charms… everybody must be trusted in his profession.”

“no one does more harm to the Catholic Church than midwives…the midwives exceed all other witches in deeds of shame”

“A midwife is guilty of sinning if she eased a woman’s pain during childbirth, since that suffering was imposed by Jehovah as a punishment on all women for Eve’s transgression.” (Clerics reminded Queen Victoria of this when she asked for chloroform in the royal labour ward.)

There are still parts of the world that prosecute and burn witches. Women in Papua New Guinea still face violence if they are accused of sorcery or black magic. In Ghana, women (usually elderly widows) have formed “witch camps” and “witch villages,” as safe refuges for those accused of witchcraft in their communities. As many of the supposed Ghanaian witches are widows, the accusation can be seen as a ploy by the family to take their property. “’The camps are a dramatic manifestation of the status of women in Ghana,’ says Professor Dzodzi Tsikata of the University of Ghana. ‘Older women become a target because they are no longer useful to society.’ Women who do not conform to society’s expectations also fall victim to the accusations of witchcraft.

Since we inherit a worldview that sees man as reason and woman as nature, we are still in the grip of the beliefs that fostered witch burning. While the vast majority of society see the druid as a benign eccentric and the shaman as a hippy with a drum, witches are still feared. We are still outsiders. The initiation oath of the Craft reminds us: “Remember the Burning Times, when all we could promise our brothers and sisters was a painless death before the flames took hold. Do you still desire to take that oath, knowing what has been may yet be again?”

We stand of the shoulders of giants, the witches who have gone before, those we call the Mighty Dead. Those who learned, those who suffered, those who forged the crooked path.

When joined my first coven Julia, our high priestess, told us stories of the herb wives of the past, who cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments with herbs, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. She held them up to us as examples of powerful, magical women in an age when women otherwise had little influence. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, she said, and who laid out the dead at the end of life.

These village healers and magicians had different names in different places, including handywomen, blessers, witches, conjurors, herb wives, wild herb men, snake doctors, fairy doctors and currens. [1] In some parts of England they had the title of Old Mother Redcap, since the red cap was a badge of office amongst wise women. There was often some oddity of dress among wise women and cunning men, such as odd socks or a garment worn inside out. [2] These practitioners didn’t use athames and magic swords but everyday objects – stones, keys, shears, sieves, pitchforks, brooms, divining rods, wax, bottles, paper and anything that came readily to hand from the kitchen or farm.

I gradually realised that such expertise formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and that women developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no contemporary historian wrote about them or accorded women due status for their invaluable work.

Women’s knowledge has been derided and ignored for most of our history, and this is just as true today in western culture, in which knowledge is ‘owned’ by experts and can only be passed on through state-approved academic institutions, and where those seeking to follow traditional or alternative paths – such as herbalism – are dismissed as uneducated, naïve or even dangerous. But this is our knowledge, our heritage – as women and as witches, both male and female.

In the Craft, women have power. Traditional covens are always led by a woman (which is something that some men and even some women struggle with). Moreover, the image of the older woman is positive and powerful. She is the wise one, the teacher, the witch. We look to the Crone goddesses, the witch goddesses, the mistresses of magic, the keepers of the secrets of life and death, Black Annis, Hecate, Ceridwen, Baba Yaga, the Cailleach, Kali, Lilith.

Witches in stories are described vas ugly old crones. Dictionaries describe the crone as an old, ugly, withered woman or ancient witchy female, or say that crone is a derogatory word for an old woman. It is a word derived from ‘carrion’ i.e. dead meat. In fairy tales the crone is always evil. However, this was not always the case. In previous ages, she was the respected elder, a woman with a lifetime’s garnered wisdom, incorporating that of maiden, mother, middle age and old age. She was the keeper of history, the fount of lore, the healer and midwife, the one consulted in time of trouble because her experience told her what to do. She was the Cailleach or veiled one, the coron or crowned one. She is the hag, another derogatory term now, but derived from hagia, which means ‘the sacred one’ (as in hagiography, the study of saints), or from heilig meaning ‘holy’. In Japan, older people are honoured as ‘living treasures’. In our own society, with its heritage of patriarchal monotheism, older women are seen as useless, and that seems to refer to any woman over 45. Today’s witches are trying to reclaim the title of Crone as an honourable and respected estate, in which an older woman is empowered to be herself: as wise, holy, rebellious, incorrigible, astute, funny, sexy, or irascible as she wishes.

Witchcraft is watching the sunrise or sunset, the forest in the light of a glowing moon, a meadow enchanted by the first light of day.   It is the morning dew on the petals of a flower, the gentle caress of a warm summer breeze upon your skin, or the warmth of the summer sun on your face.   Witchcraft is the fall of colourful autumn leaves, and the softness of winter snow.   It is light and shadow and all that lies in between.  It is the song of the birds and other creatures of the wild.   It is being in the temple of Mother Nature and being humbled in reverence.

According to our bard, Dave the Flute, witchcraft is like making good tea. If you follow the way of the Abrahamic Regions of the Book – referential, scripture based – you are told what to believe and the actions you must take to be successful. Take mug, put in tea bag, pour on boiling water, take teabag out, add milk and serve. In may be quite a foul cup of tea and you might have preferred some sugar, but you have done as you were told. But a witch would also prod the bag to see what it was doing, note the colour of the tea as it got stronger and compare with past experience of tea making, giving it a taste to try see how it was doing. And ends up with an ace cup of tea. The witchcraft method is experiential, personal and non-scripted. It is the path untrod… revelation through your own effort.

The Witch sees the sacred within the physical, the magical in the mundane, and uses this knowledge to incorporate spiritual practice into her everyday life, treading lightly on the Earth and seeking to harm no-one. She draws her strength from the sacred flame that burns in her hearth, from the earth that sustains her, the water that nourishes her, and the inspiration of her breath.   She finds her gods in the land around her: the spirits of water, stone and tree, Earth, Moon, Sun, Stars and Sky. She needs no watch, calendar or magical almanac to tell her when to work her magic, but works with the observable ebb and flow of the changing seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, and the waxing and waning of the moon. A Witch is drawn to the traditional ways, the rhythms of nature and the call of the wildwoods.  It is a path as old as time and as new as the newest witch.

Witches are the canny, the riddlers, the healers and the givers of gifts. Witches weaver in and out of the fabric of fairytales with wiles and guiles and the truth that every woman (and every man) must learn their own magic.

If you do not feel the pull of Mother Nature than this is not a path you will be able to, or want, to follow, you won’t understand it or see its value. If you measure success in terms of money and fame it is not for you. But if the starlit night draws you from the comfort of home and fire, if your heart swells at the sight of a swathe of woodland anemones in the spring, you will already know what I mean.

Like all secret arts, witchcraft is learned by apprenticeship. Its deepest secrets are printed nowhere.

Text © Anna Franklin 2018

Illustration © Anna Franklin, The Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer, 2015

 

 

[1] Nigel Pennick, Secrets of East Anglian Magic, Capall Bann, Milverton, 2004

[2] ibid

[i] This is a misreading of a far more ancient Mesopotamian Goddess myth. The name Eve, in Hebrew Hawwah, is from the Akkadian word Hayah meaning “to live”. She is thus called Hawwah because she was Mother of All Living” according to Genesis. This was a title of the Sumerian goddess Ninhursag. In the Sumerian myth the god Enki (possibly cognate with Yahweh or Jehovah) was cursed by Ninhursag because he stole forbidden plants from paradise. His health began to fail and the other gods prevailed on the Mother Goddess to help him. To do this she created a goddess called Ninti (literally nin= lady, ti= rib ie lady of the rib, a play on words since the phrase also means “to make live”). He claimed his rib hurt him and she healed him.

[ii] This is still argued by people who deny that women can be Christian ministers.

[iii] Jani Farrell Roberts, The Seven Days of My Creation, iUniverse Inc, Lincoln, 2002

[iv] ibid

The Web of Wyrd

Now the wonder of the universe, which was set in order by the will of Odin the All Father, is the great ash tree Yggdrasil, the tree of existence, which nourishes and sustains all spiritual and physical life. Its roots spread through the divisions of the world that fill the yawning gulf, and its boughs are above the highest realm of the Gods. It grows out of the past, it lives in the present and it reaches towards the future.

The three Norns make their abode at the roots of Yggdrasil and sprinkle the roots each morning with precious mead from the fountain of life, so that its leaves may be ever green. Thence comes the honey dew, which drips upon the world and is stored by the bees. The three Norns are Urd or Wyrd, and her two sisters, Verdandi and Skuld. They weave the web of wyrd:

I am Urd. I uphold the primal law of the Universe, to which even the Gods are subject. This cannot be changed. I gaze into the well of time at what has already been: the deeds of ourselves and others. These things have shaped the web we weave.

I am Verdandi, that which is becoming, drawing together the threads of the past and the layers of your thoughts and deeds to make the present. By your thoughts and actions you weave your own wyrd minute by minute into the great cosmic tapestry where it is touched by the wyrd of others. Your actions now will weave your future.”

I am Skuld, that which may become, a web of possible outcomes influenced by what has already been. What you call your destiny and your soul are one and the same.

The threads of their woof resemble cords, and vary greatly in hue, according to the nature of the events about to occur. As these sisters flash the shuttle to and fro, they chant a solemn song. They do not weave according to their own wishes, but blindly, executing the wishes of Orlog, the eternal law of the universe which is immutable. They are in nowise subject to the other gods, who might neither question nor influence their decrees.

Wyrd

The Anglo-Saxon noun wyrd is derived from a verb meaning ‘to become’, which, is derived from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to turn’. Wyrd literally means ‘that which has turned’ or ‘that which has become’. Wyrd embodies the concept that everything is turning into something else while both being drawn in toward and moving out from its own origins. Thus, we can think of wyrd as a process that continually works the patterns of the past into the patterns of the present.

In Norse mythology three goddesses called the Norns are responsible for shaping lives out of ørlög, the layers of the past. Their names are Urd ‘that which has become’, Verdandi ‘that which is in the process of becoming’; and Skuld ‘that which must be’.

The idea of fate being woven exists in countless mythologies throughout the world.

The Fates

In Greece, the three fates or Moirai were Clotho, meaning ‘spinner’ who spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle, Lachesis meaning ‘allotter’ who measured the lifespan of each person with her measuring rod, and Atropos, meaning ‘inevitable’, who cut the thread of life with her shears.

In fairy tales, three fairy godmothers appear to bless or curse a child at birth.

Sometimes the weaver was a solitary creatrix, as in Welsh legend, where she appeared as Arianrhod, whose name means ‘Silver Wheel’, the mistress of Caer Arianrhod, the Spiral Castle which is located in the circumpolar stars that circle the Pole Star. The castle reflects the spiralling skein spun from her wheel, which is the revolution of the stars. Souls resided in her castle between incarnations, while poets and shamans, seeking inspiration, journeyed there in spirit. The spiral shape, which is the basis of the spider’s web, is an ancient and almost universal symbol of regeneration and rebirth.

The spider is the archetypal spinner and weaver. It was associated with all spinning and weaving goddesses, those twisters of fate who spin the thread of human destiny, as well as the world, the stars, the cosmos and the web of energies that joins it all together. Spider patiently spins her web with the skill of a craftsman, sometimes trying repeatedly until she has it right.

In Hindu mythology Indra’s net is a network of threads stretching to infinity throughout the cosmos. The horizontal threads are placed in space; the vertical in time. It is a wondrous vast net, much like a spider’s web in intricacy and loveliness. It stretches out indefinitely in all directions.

Everywhere the threads cross each other, there’s an individual. And every individual is a glittering jewel. Since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. The sparkling jewels hang there, suspended in and supported by the net, glittering like stars. The polished surface of the gem reflects all the other jewels in the net, so that the process of reflection is itself infinite. Every single one of these beads or droplets reflects the entirety of the web as a whole—they carry within them the reflection of all that is.

Every jewel is connected with all the other jewels in the net.  A change in one jewel—or person—produces a change, however slight, in every other. Whatever is done to one jewel affects the entire net. Just as you cannot damage one strand of a spider’s web without injuring the entire web, you cannot damage one strand of the web that is the universe without injuring all others in it, whether that injury is known or unknown to them. A single helpful act—even a simple act of kindness—will send positive ripples across the infinite net, touching every jewel, every person in existence.

One tug pulls the whole net, one tug connects you to the whole net.

It was not until the mid-20th century that quantum physicists first identified an “energy field” which seemed to lie at the heart of existence. Science identified it as an omnipresent energetic substructure and they called it the Zero-Point field.

Matter springs forth into physical reality from the wave nature of the quantum field. Everything in our universe, no matter what its size, is part of and is comprised of the zero-point field. Matter itself is made of waves. All matter in the universe is interconnected as and by quantum waves which have no boundary. They are infinite.

The brain is like a quantum computer. If thought and memory exist outside the confines of the body (as part of the totality of the zero-point field) and physical structure synchronizes with the information and frequencies it interprets from the zero-point field, this means that your consciousness and the thoughts you think determine your physical reality.

Interacting With Wyrd

Imagine a patterned piece of cloth being woven on a loom. The horizontal threads (the woof) are woven in in layers along the vertical threads (the warp). The horizontal threads represent layers of past actions. The vertical threads represent a time line. The colour of each horizontal thread as it is woven in will add to the pattern that is already established and influence the pattern that emerges. The threads already woven in cannot be changed, but the overall pattern is never fixed. Existing designs can be expanded into new forms. New designs can be added. Everything we do adds one more layer to the pattern.

Our past affects us continually. Who we are, where we are, and what we are doing today is dependent on actions we have taken in the past and actions others have taken in the past which have affected us in some way. And every choice we make in the present builds upon choices we have previously made.

We interact with wyrd (that which has become) to create certain personal patterns which affect and are reflected in universal patterns. Those universal patterns, in turn, exert forces which shape our lives.

Imagine that the woman next to you has just really insulted you. How you react is going to depend on the patterns of your wyrd already in place – you personality characteristics, social conditioning, past experiences with being insulted, your relationship with the person who has insulted you, even your hormone levels.

To the extent that your reaction is determined by these patterns, wyrd is shaping your life at that moment. You might choose to slap her, shout at her, or walk away.  But no matter which way you chose to react to the insult, your reaction will add to the patterns in place and constrain your future actions (if you are insulted a second time, your reaction will be determined in part by how you behaved when you were insulted the first time.) So, at the same time you are caught up in experiencing certain patterns of wyrd, you are creating them.

Moving from the personal to the universal, your reaction will also add to the patterns affecting the behaviour of the person who insulted you. As a result of your response, she may change her behaviour towards others which will, in turn, change her personal wyrd, and so on.

Ultimately, each little choice we make affects universal forces which can come back to affect us in strange ways. The larger patterns of wyrd created by individuals in a particular time and place is the source of the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) which informs the beliefs and behaviour of everyone in a society. Thus, “that which has become”, wyrd, both creates and is created by individual actions, states, and choices.

If we imagine the universe as a big spider’s web and imagine that each node where two strands meet represents an event (or a person or a life) we can visualise the interconnectedness of things. We can see how some things are directly connected whereas others are more distantly connected through a series of links. We can also see how nodes which are closely connected from one perspective (following a single strand from the centre outwards) can be distantly connected from another perspective (following the spiral that continually expands its radius as it moves from the centre).

Furthermore, we can see that if we were to disturb any part of the web — say by blowing on it or shaking it, the entire thing would reverberate – though the parts closest to the disturbance would react the most strongly.

We affect the web with our thoughts and actions.

We can also affect the web by using magic. When something vibrates at a certain frequency, whether a thought, sound, colour, crystal, perfume etc. any object near it will begin to vibrate with the same frequency, and we can use this to vibrate the web in the way we want, and this is something we will look at in the future.

Furthermore, by reading the vibrations and patterns of the web, we can predict outcomes. Imagine you were to witness a raven swooping out of the sky to peck out the eye of a warrior. You would say that the flight of the bird was connected directly with the wound. But if you had observed the flight of the same raven the day before the attack you would see no connection with the warrior’s injury. Nevertheless, the pattern of the raven’s flight at noon is bound to the pattern of its flight at dusk, just as surely as the progression of night and day. One can read the pattern and see what the future has in store.

Text © Anna Franklin 2017

Illustration © Anna Franklin, The Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer, 2015

EXPANDING CONSCIOUSNESS

I had already been a witch for twenty years when the Gods decided I needed to go deeper into the mysteries. This experience was spread over several years.  It began when I had a parathyroid tumour, and after the operation to remove it I was catapulted into full body tetany when each muscle in my body contracted, one by one, until I could not breathe. I thought then that my heart muscle would be the next one to cease functioning – that I was dying. Despite this, I realised that while my body was panicking around me, experiencing its own fears and the desire to survive, my conscious self was separated from these sensations, and was utterly calm. Above me I could see a doorway, the exit from life, and was silently begging for it to be opened so that I might pass through, but this was not to be. It had taken the medics nearly thirty minutes to respond to my panic button, but eventually I was given emergency treatment and brought back.

Later that night, shocked and now very frightened, the world became nothing but crimson light, out of which shadowy figures emerged, the only clear parts of them threatening teeth and pincers. They haunted me nightly while I was in hospital, and I was plunged into a state of such severe trauma that I began to experience my surroundings in a completely different way. Every sound around me, from the rumbling of hospital trolleys to the calls of the other patients, resonated in a different chakra: low tones were experienced in my root and spleen chakras, while high notes reverberate in my throat and third eye chakras.

After a couple of years, I developed a constant sore throat to the point where it became painful to speak, and eventually impossible; I had developed another growth, this time on one of my salivary glands. Even after this was removed, I began to grow more ill and the medication I was given caused a stroke. Trying to push through this and continue working as well as I could, I felt worse and worse, and eventually developed severe ME – my body and my psyche just could not cope with any more strain. From going about the world I became confined to the house, then to a room, and eventually to a bed. I was in constant pain so severe I wept. I was unable to feed myself and had to be spoon fed. I was unable to take myself to the toilet, to wash and clothe myself. I couldn’t hold a book to read it, and then I lost my eyesight for a time.

Everything I was had been stripped away from me. For the greater part of two years I lay in bed, feeling myself to be an empty shell, completely separated from the world and no longer part of it- it went on around me but I was caught in some hinterland between life and death. Each night I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning; that the gods would take me, but every day I woke up just the same. Each night I was plagued by dreams and visions of dark tunnels and monsters were teeth and claws that wished to devour me, that were devouring me. I was nothing, and I must either change or die. I surrendered myself to death.

Then one night I lay beneath an open window. The wind was fierce, and gusts played about my bed. “Come with us,” they said, and I left my body to travel the night with the storm, across the paddock and away over the fields. The next morning a phrase from a dream lingered in the air ‘the earth soul and the fire soul’. I understood that the earth soul stayed anchored in one place, while the fire soul was free to roam.  From then on, each night I travelled the world with the breeze.

Gradually, little by little, by sheer effort of will, I would crawl from my bed, and Chalky would take me out in the car. Each tree I passed was an immense presence, vibrating with life. I was taken to lie in the garden, and found I could understand the language of plants. Human speech was mostly just a buzz and a blur, but I, who had worked with herbs for many years, finally understood the spirits of plants directly. It seemed to me that I had slowed down so much that I had sunk deeper and deeper into a new level of consciousness, like a person falling into the mud at the bottom of the pond, while on the bright surface other people skittered, moving too fast with their everyday concerns to see what was really going on at the root of things.

Then, one autumn equinox, my friend Sue suggested that we go out for a drive. We decided to go where fate drew us, feeling for the pull of the web at the end of each road to decide which way we should turn. Fate took us to Croft Hill. Though it is only a few miles from my present house, I had never been there before.

Two women with severe ME climbing a steep hill doesn’t seem sensible, but we both knew this is what we were meant to do, struggling with trembling and weak muscles, panting with unfit lungs. Half way up, we stopped and looked back at the landscape laid out before us in the bright September sunshine. For the first time since falling ill, I felt a rush of joy and a sense of being part of the world. Nevertheless, as I struggled to the summit, I felt that the effort was too much and that I would literally die on reaching it. I laid myself on the cleft rock that tops the pinnacle, having the impression it was like a sacrificial altar, and I was willing to die there, in a beautiful place on a beautiful day, and be happy to do so; let the gods take me.

Instead I was aware of being drawn through the rock to deep within the hill. There the spirit of the hill appeared to me, the presence we were later to call Old Man Croft. He showed me many things, including how the hill mediated the power around the local landscape, how energy flowed in and flowed out, and how the rocky crest was the backbone of the hill, his backbone.

After what seemed like aeons I surfaced again and was led to a grove of hawthorns, which I realised made a perfect circle on the hillside. I sat beneath one, and the dryad of the tree emerged and told me to eat one of her fruits. I did. The hill had become part of the tree, and the tree became part of me, and thus we were all connected. I witnessed the souls of the other hawthorns come out and dance on the hillside, weaving a web with the land, the wind, the birds and the sunshine; I knew that the dance would change as the seasons changed. They drew me into the dance; I swayed as a tree, flew with the birds among the branches and blew with the wind about the summit, vibrantly aware of the energy flowing into and out of the hill.

Though I should, by rights, have been exhausted by the trip, when we returned I felt more vigorous than I had for several years, as though my soul was returning to my body. I was brimming with an inexpressible joy.

Croft Hill became a place of pilgrimage for us. On the Summer Solstice of 1999 I poured a libation of water into the summit cleft, and laid a bunch of camomile flowers at its foot. The hawthorns were beginning to form fruits and I reflected on how this was the time of fertilisation, the impregnation of the Earth Mother. However, it was not the day to linger at the hawthorns, so I set off to visit the oak in the hollow. As I sat beneath it, I watched a pillar of light travel upwards from the trunk into the sky, then down again through it into the earth: a cosmic axis. The oak explained that in each place, one tree takes on this role, though not necessarily the oldest one. I thought about the role of the World Tree with its branches in the heavens and thought ‘Well, trees are not that tall, not like mountains’ and the tree replied that its leaves were in more than one realm and that each leaf was a realm in itself.

The next day I was visiting my friend Angie, and when we returned to her house in Rugby we noticed a colossal flock of gulls circling the cornfield. What were so many sea birds doing inland at that time of year? More were flying in to join them all the time. I went across the road to see what was attracting them and they followed me. I went back to the house and again they followed me. Angie and I went inside to get them some bread and water, but when we went out again, they had completely vanished. I knew this must be an omen of something coming along the Web towards me.

That night I entered a trance and began to dance slowly. As I moved, I felt the energies fluctuate around me. I saw the strands of the Web and how things were connected. I understood how to change things by weaving the threads of the web, feeling and seeing which threads I needed – maybe this energy from an oak tree thread, this energy from the grass and the energy from this location and so on. I only needed to pull the energies along the web without involving physical objects at all. I discovered how to draw and weave the energies of stars, moonlight, place and people in ritual.

My illness had given me immeasurable gifts, and the things I saw and experienced were only possible because it changed my level of consciousness, because the world of everyday reality became distant for me and I was forcibly stilled to the point where I saw beyond it.

NON-ORDINARY REALITY

We’ve all experienced different levels of consciousness. The word ‘consciousness’ is derived from the Latin con-scire meaning ‘with-knowing’. Consciousness is a spectrum from wide-awake, logical thinking to daydreaming, dreaming and deep trance. In the modern western world, only logical thought is considered important and ‘real’, while dreams and visions are dismissed, though in the past people firmly believed that gods and spirits communicated with them in dreams and visions. This was true even in Christian countries where the clergy used meditation, fasting and flagellation to induce visions which gave the recipient both status and power. (However, any non-clergy having visions were subject to investigation and suspicion, especially if they were women.[i]) While in the west, only the state of being wide-awake is given credence as ‘reality’, in religious and shamanic world-views, other levels of consciousness are equally valid. In the world-view of tribal people everywhere, the realms we know from dreams and visions, the worlds inhabited by gods, spirits, animal powers and ancestors, are recognised as equally real. Moreover, these realms hold the key to solving problems, healing and knowledge.

 Carlos Casteneda coined the terms ‘ordinary reality’ and ‘non-ordinary reality’. Ordinary reality is the consensual reality we all experience everyday – we can all agree that there is a table over there, rain is wet, two and two make four and so on. We experience this reality through our five senses. It is often called the physical or material plane, the time-space world.

In ordinary life, we are focused on the business of living, yet while we are dreaming or meditating, we experience other kinds of realities.  In dreams and visions, we might meet dead relatives, other beings, speak with animals and experience the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Non-ordinary reality is only encountered during an altered state of consciousness. This form of reality is experienced by an individual; he or she sees things that are meant for him alone, and they are generally witnessed by no one else.  The exception to this is the work of a close magical group who are trained to change consciousness together using specific methods.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY CONSCIOUSNESS?

 Dictionary Definition of Consciousness

  • The quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself
  • The state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state or fact
  • The upper level of mental life of which the person is aware as contrasted with unconscious processes

 According to The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: “Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspects of our lives.”

We take in the information that is provided by our five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, and the brain processes them to give us a picture of our surroundings and what is happening. This gives us a consensus of ‘reality’. For example, when you hold a flower, you see the colours, you see its shape, you smell its scent, and you feel its texture. Your brain manages to bind all of these perceptions together into one concept of a flower.

However, if we encounter something outside of the ‘reality’ we have logged in our internal data banks, we can overlook it or even not see it. Native American Indians on Caribbean Islands couldn’t see Columbus’s ships as ships because they were beyond their knowledge. They just saw them as features of the horizon. It was only when the shaman was taken on board one of the ships, could walk around it and see how it related to his world, that he was able to process it and share this knowledge with the rest of the tribe.

A classic experiment on visual processing involved asking people to watch a video of six people passing a basketball, and press a button every time a particular team has possession. Invariably only about half the people tested ever notice a woman in a gorilla suit walking across the middle of the screen during the game. We don’t see things in front of our eyes if we’re not looking for them.

The brain processes 400 billion bits of information per second, but we are only aware of about 2000 of them. The brain receives the rest of the information, but we don’t integrate that knowledge; we are only aware of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the brain receives. Our eyes see far more than we process, but we only process and integrate the things we need, or which seem to be what we need or which fit in with what we expect to see. [ii]

Everyone’s senses are not the same though. Synaesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight. Another form of synaesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, colour or flavour. Imagine that when you see a cloud, you taste blackberries. Or when you hear a violin, you feel a tickle on your left knee. Or you are completely convinced that Wednesdays are red. [1] Many researchers are interested in synaesthesia because it may reveal something about human consciousness. One of the biggest mysteries in the study of consciousness is what is called the “binding problem.” Synesthetics might have additional perceptions that add to their concept of a flower.[2]

UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS?

Consciousness is one of the biggest mysteries in the universe. There is no real consensus of what it is and how it arises.

The materialist viewpoint states that consciousness is derived entirely from physical matter, that it is a random function generated by the brain. This raises the question of how and when consciousness emerged, and how exactly did consciousness emerge from something non-conscious?  The second theory is Dualism which holds that consciousness is separate and distinct from physical matter, that consciousness is a kind of ghost in the machine of the body.

However, increased understanding of quantum physics has led to a growing band of scientists and philosophers who believe that consciousness permeates the whole of reality. Rather than being just a unique feature of human experience, it’s the very foundation of the universe, present in every particle and all physical matter – every single particle in existence has a simple form of consciousness. This isn’t meant to imply that particles have a coherent worldview or actively think, only that there’s some inherent subjective experience of consciousness in even the tiniest particle. These particles come together to form more complex forms of consciousness. The Integrated Information Theory argues that something will have a form of ‘consciousness’ if the information contained within the structure is sufficiently “integrated,” or unified, and so the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Because it applies to all structures—not just the human brain— this means that physical matter has innate conscious experience: rocks will be conscious, spoons will be conscious, the Earth will be conscious – any kind of aggregation gives you consciousness.

An alternative theory holds that, rather than individual particles holding consciousness and coming together, the universe as a whole is conscious. This would explain the phenomena of quantum entanglement—the finding that certain particles behave as a single unified system even when they’re separated by such immense distances there can’t be a causal signal between them— and suggest the universe functions as a fundamental whole rather than a collection of discrete parts. Physicist Sir Roger Penrose believes consciousness to be a fundamental property of the universe, present even at the first moment of the universe during the Big Bang.

PAGAN CONSCIOUSNESS

That’s a very Pagan way of looking at things.

In the monotheistic worldview, supported by western materialism and rationalism, man is the only entity in creation that has consciousness, the pinnacle of creation, above the rest, made in god’s image, the only being that can pray and be elevated to a holy state. The rest of creation is lesser, not conscious, transient and there just to be used.

But this approach is a reflection of a culture that sees the spiritual and physical as separate. If we think of consciousness pervading all things, nature becomes a single whole. Traditional Pagan societies have always recognised that the spiritual and the physical are indivisible and that one is a reflection of the other. To the Ojibwa Native Americans, ‘persons’ comprise one of the major classes of things to which the self must become orientated. This can include animals, plants and inanimate objects.

From a practical perspective, we see everything in life as a distinct, separate entity, with its own unique properties that set it apart from anything else. Essentially, though, this is a construct of the mind, a way to order the world so as to create a structure that is familiar and in which we feel safe to live. It’s not true.

Even your body is not a solid object that carries you through life. It is a network of energy and information in dynamic exchange with the world around you. With every breath, every mouthful of food, every noise you hear and sight you see, your body changes. In the last few seconds, it has exchanged four hundred billion trillion atoms with your environment.[iii] The body only appears to be static because the changes taking place are too small to see. Every year 98% of the atoms have been exchanged.

“Any glass of water you drink might contain one or more water molecules that were previously drunk and later excreted by, say, Isaac Newton. Since water makes up a large percentage of our tissues, your morning coffee probably contained a molecule or two that was once an active part of Newton’s brain. You possibly also have some molecules that were in your own body on the day you were born but then were excreted, recycled through rivers and seas, the sap of trees and the bodies of other creatures, only to turn up a second time in your food.” And if these molecules contain a proto-consciousness, and once formed the consciousness of another entity, what does that mean for our consciousness?

The body is an energy that exists in a constant state of transformation. At the deepest level of existence, we truly are one with the Cosmos.

If we recognise that there is no such thing as ‘me’, ‘mine’, but a flow of creation, and not separate at all, this involves a whole new way of seeing, acting and belonging. We call this letting go of the ego, the ‘I’, an essential stage in changing consciousness.

Text © Anna Franklin 2017

Illustration © Anna Franklin 2017

 

[1] https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/syne.html

[2] ibid

[i] David Lewis Williams & David Pearce, The Neolithic Mind, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 2005

[ii] What the Bleep Do We Know, http://www.thebleep.co.uk

[iii] What the Bleep Do We Know, http://www.thebleep.co.uk

Ritual Bread

Bread has been one of the primary staple foods in almost every culture. Archaeologists have found grinding stones dating back to around 30,000 BCE used to crush the grains of wild grasses and the roots cattails and ferns into a paste which could be placed over a fire and cooked as a kind of flatbread to provide vital carbohydrate-rich nutrition for the hunter-gatherers who followed herds of wild animals across the land.  The world’s oldest evidence of bread-making has been found in a 14,500-year-old site in Jordan’s north-eastern desert. Around 10,000 BC, with the dawn of the Neolithic age and the spread of agriculture, grains became the mainstay of making bread and bread as we know it developed in the Neolithic Era in Mesopotamia. Clay tablets from Sumer describe wheat planting, harvesting and bread production.

Though the ancients had many types of grain, including barley, spelt and rye, they discovered that wheat made the best bread. Though they would not have known it, this is because wheat contains the highest levels of gluten, which binds the tiny carbon dioxide bubbles produced by the fermentation of the yeast, which enables the bread to rise well. Yeast is a common form of fungus and it occurs naturally on grapes and other organic substances including on the surface of cereal grains, so any dough left to rest leavens naturally. However, early breadmakers often used beer as a rising agent; evidence from pottery indicates that fermented grain water was turned into beer as early as 9500 BCE.  Pliny the Elder reported that the Gauls and Iberians used the foam skimmed from beer called barm to produce “a lighter kind of bread than other peoples”.

The Religious Significance of Bread in the Ancient World

Bread has a significance beyond mere nutrition in many cultures. Bread is called ‘the staff of life’ and came to ritually symbolise all other food. Grain is one of the most important symbols of the nurturing Goddess, sacred to agricultural goddesses such as Demeter and Ceres. It was often seen as her son who awakens in the spring, grows through the summer and matures in the autumn, only to be harvested and die. The shed seeds lay dormant in the cold, winter earth, the belly of the Earth Mother, ready to shoot again in the spring. This was a never ending cycle of life, death and rebirth, a cycle also promised to worshippers. This story was recalled in songs among farming folk until recent times:

 There were three men came out of the West

Their fortunes for to find,

And these three men made a solemn vow,

‘John Barleycorn must die’.

They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in

Through plods of barley’s head,

And these three men made a solemn vow,

‘John Barleycorn is dead’.

They let him lie for a very long time,

‘Til the rains from heaven did fall,

And little Sir John sprung up his head

And so amazed them all.

They’ve let him stand until Mid-Summer’s Day

‘Til he looked both pale and wan,

And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard

And so become a man.

They’ve hired men with the scythes so sharp

To cut him off at the knee,

They’ve rolled him and tied him by the way

Serving him most barbarously.

They’ve hired men with the sharpest hooks

Who’ve pricked him to the heart,

And the Loader, he has served him worse than that,

For he’s bound him to the cart.

They’ve wheeled him around and around a field

‘Til they came unto a barn,

And there they made a solemn oath

On poor John Barleycorn.

 They’ve hired men with the crofting sticks

To cut him skin from bone,

And the Miller, he has served him worse than that,

For he’s ground him between two stones.

And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl,

And he’s brandy in the glass,

And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl

Proved the strongest man at last.

The huntsman he got off the fox

Oh so loudly to blow his horn,

And the tinker he can’t mend kettle nor pots

Without a little Barleycorn.

The narrative is clear- John Barleycorn, the spirit of the corn, is cut down and buried in the earth, seeming to be dead, but when the spring rains come he is resurrected and grows with the summer sun. With the late summer he begins to wither and weaken, and his head droops. He ages as autumn comes and his enemies cut him down. They tie him up on a cart (the sheaves of corn are gathered, tied and carted away), they beat him up (flail the grain), wash him, toss him about (winnow the grain), roast the marrow from his bones (scorch the grain) and grind him between two stones (mill the grain), then drink his blood (the alcohol brewed from the barley).

This echoes the story of the Egyptian Osiris imprisoned in a coffin (buried), dismembered and scattered (the corn is winnowed and the seeds scattered) and resurrected (the seed-corn grows in the spring). The followers of Osiris ate wheat cakes, marked with a cross (a sun symbol), which embodied the god.

In Greece and the near East, Adonis, Tammuz and Dumuzi are also torn apart, forced to go into the underworld and are resurrected in the spring. The death and rebirth of the Goddess Cybele’s lover Attis was celebrated at the spring equinox, first with a day of blood on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over his resurrection. Sound familiar? It gets more so. Attis was born of a human woman, a virgin named Nana on 25th December. He was known as a saviour of humankind by way of his sacrificial death, crucified on a pine tree so that his holy blood could pour down to redeem the earth.

Vegetation gods were often given the title ‘saviour’ because they give their lives so that mankind might live, often spoken of as incarnated gods, like Osiris and Dionysus. The flesh of such gods was eaten in the form of wheaten cakes.

For a thousand years before Christianity, Mithras was worshipped widely among the Persians, Indians, Romans and Greeks, up till around 400 CE. Mithras was born in a cave of a virgin mother, attended by shepherds, on December 25th and his religion spread with the Roman Empire and nearly took over the known world. He was the known as the ‘Light of the World’, ‘The Redeemer’ and ‘The Good Shepherd’. He baptised his followers and shared a Last Supper. An inscription on the temple of Mithras which lies beneath the Vatican reads:  “He who will not eat of my body, nor drink of my blood, so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved,” a saying later attributed to Jesus. He travelled far and wide as a teacher and had twelve companions. He was buried in a tomb and rose again at the spring equinox, which was celebrated with great rejoicing.

In Mexico, the god Xiuhzilopoctli was commemorated in the festival of ‘eating the god’ when people ate a dough image of the god raised on a cross.

When vegetation gods die they are said to go into the underworld (the seed is planted beneath the earth). Here they often become kings of the underworld and the dead- Crom Dubh was underworld ruler of the mounds, Osiris was Lord of the Dead, Dumuzi was Lord of the Abyss, Adonis became the lover of the Queen of the Underworld and so on.

An ear of corn was the central mystery of the worship of Demeter at Eleusis. Bread was eaten at the rites of Artemis and Cybele and other earth and moon goddesses, often baked in circles and marked with a cross, representing the four directions, the four phases of the moon and the four solar festivals.  This is still seen today in our hot crossed buns eaten at Easter, which was once the springtime celebration of the resurrection of the vegetation god, as well as the Christian’s communion wafers.

The bread is sometimes dipped in salt, which preserves foods and makes them incorruptible, representing permanence and immortality. It also symbolises wisdom and truth, and was formerly used in funeral rites to keep the soul safe from evil spirits. For the same reason it was placed on the tongues of newly born children. Bread and salt represented hospitality and to share them imposed obligations on both the giver and receiver, the sacred duties of host and guest.

Ritual Breads

Bread also has a symbolic roles in Judaism and Christianity. During the Jewish festival of Passover, only unleavened bread is eaten, in commemoration of the flight from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites did not have enough time to allow their bread to rise, and so ate only unleavened bread matzo.

In the Christian ritual of the Eucharist, bread is eaten as a sacrament either as a symbolic representation of the body of Christ or, as in the Catholic liturgy, as a real manifestation of the body of Christ.

More personal variously shaped and marked ritual breads were – and in some cases still are – used in many cultures and played a significant role in family, folk and annual ceremonies symbolising a desire for fertility, abundant crops, family prosperity and all good things. The round shape symbolises the cycle of life, the Sun, infinity, perfection and God. [1]

In many parts of Europe there are traditional designs of bread, baked at times of festival and celebration. Their designs are ancient and symbolic, and differ according to the time of year they are made. Designs vary locally, but each one is specific to its corresponding time, and is immediately recognized by local people for what it is. In Bulgaria, for example, every folk festival had its own bread, prepared and decorated in different ways. Traditionally the flour was sieved three times and the dough was mixed with ‘silent’ water – one brought by a maiden in absolute silence – in which flowers and herbs had been soaked. Different objects were represented on top. Christmas bread (Bogova pita or ‘Lord’s bread’) is decorated with varied representations such as pens full of sheep, wine casks, etc. depending on the occupation of the master of the house. Wedding breads are abundantly decorated with spirals, rosettes and figures of doves meant to symbolize good luck and blessings. Carol singers are given specially made rolls of bread which they string up on the tops of their shepherd’s crooks. In North-West Bulgaria, on the holiday of Mladentsi (the Day of the Holy Infants) the saint is venerated with a small loaf of bread shaped to represent a human figure. In Eastern Slovakia kračun or Christmas bread was enriched with various ingredients, such as various grains, garlic and chives, to ensure good health and good crops.  A variety of figural breads were also prepared at Christmas, such as bread in the shape of birds for carol singers.

Ritual bread was often consecrated and broken cross wise. [2] Several pieces were usually left as an offering to God, and other pieces buried near animals pens and corn fields as a fertility blessing.

Ritual Consumption of Bread and Wine in Modern Pagan Ritual

Foods have always played a key part in rituals and the worship of the Gods. Without food we would not live at all, and its production was one of the central themes of ancient religions. Mysteriously, the small seed planted beneath the dark earth would shoot and grow into something that would provide a sustaining meal. It was as though by placing it in the womb of Mother Earth she would nourish and sustain it, magically transforming it just as a woman would nurture the seed in her womb to produce a child.

The dedication of the bread and wine is one of the central points of every modern Pagan ritual. Eating bread and drinking wine was an important part of the rites of harvest goddesses and vegetation gods throughout the world, and pre-dates Christianity by millennia.

Festival bread is made especially for the ritual. It is made with due ceremony and intent; buying a machine-made loaf from the supermarket just isn’t good enough as an offering to the Gods. In many parts of the world, different breads are made for different occasions, their shapes and varieties reflecting the festival and its symbolism. Traditional loaf-shapes are based upon binding knots or in the shape of suns and moons, animals and humans.  [i] It would be appropriate to have a sun-shaped loaf for Midsummer, or one in the form of a sheaf of wheat for Lughnasa, and so on.  Breads can be scored with symbols, runes or sigils that open up as the bread cooks.

Catholics believe that the bread and wine is the transubstantiated flesh and blood of God, in other words, the bread and wine become the flesh and blood of God with the act of consecration. For ancient Pagans, grain and wine were god-essences intrinsically. When we consecrate bread and wine in a ritual, we invoke this god-essence, the spiritual core of the food; through it, we absorb the power of the Gods. When we eat the bread, we take in the life-force of the Corn God and it nourishes us, physically and spiritually.[ii]

© Anna Franklin 2019

[1] http://www.uluv.sk/en/web/magazine/archive/year-2004/rud-022004/rastislava-stolicna-ritual-bread-in-traditional-slovak-culture/

[2] http://www.omda.bg/public/engl/ethnography/ritual_bread.htm

[i] Nigel Pennick, Natural Magic, Lear Books,

[ii] Nigel Pennick, Natural Magic, Lear Books,

THE MYSTERIES OF ARIANRHOD

Arianrhod, great cosmic mother

You create from yourself alone

Spinning the stars upon your silver wheel,

Spiral goddess of the whirling galaxies,

Weaving your web from the threads of time,

All that is, all that was, and all that shall be

Endlessly becoming, spinning life into being. [i]

You are the sacred strand in all things,

Weaver of wisdom, weave us closer to you.

Arianrhod is the queen of the spiral castle, the swirling galaxy of stars. She is the goddess who spins the cosmos, the mistress of time and the seasons. She is the goddess who challenges. She is the divine initiator. Hers is not an easy path.

In Welsh myth Arianrhod is the daughter of the chief goddess Dôn, from whom all the Welsh gods descended and the god Beli Mawr (‘Beli the Great’). Beli is cognate with the continental Belenos or the Irish Bel, the sun god called the Fair Shining One, or The Shining God, a pan-Celtic deity associated with Beltane, the horse and the wheel.  Arianrhod’s maternal uncle was Math the magician, and her siblings included Gwydion, a magician-poet and Math’s heir, and Govannon, god of the forge.

 Though she is mentioned in the Welsh Triads, the only full tale of Arianrhod still in existence is found in the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh stories recorded by Christian monks in the mediaeval period.

The Story of Arianrhod

King Math ruled Gwynedd, but was under a taboo that his feet should always rest his feet in the lap of a virgin during peacetime. Sadly, his nephew Gilvaethwy lusted after the footholder, Goewin. He confided his secret to his brother Gwydion and, as they knew that Math was released from the taboo in time of war, by some clever machinations, provoked a war with their neighbour King Pryderi. Math was forced to go off to battle, leaving his footholder behind. Gilvaethwy seized the opportunity and raped Goewin.

Naturally, Math was furious when he returned, punishing his nephews severely by turning them into a series of mated pairs of animals.

In an attempt to regain Math’s favour, Gwydion suggested his sister Arianrhod for the position of footholder. When Arianrhod was asked if she was a virgin, she replied that she was morwyn, a word that means ‘little girl’ [ii] and might be construed as implying an unmarried state.

However, a magical trial of her status was required – to test her purity she had to step over Math’s wand, but as soon as she had done so, she gave birth to a golden-haired boy called Dylan (which means ‘Son of the Second Wave’), who immediately jumped into the sea and swam away. Arianrhod indignantly walked out of the door.

No one but Gwydion saw her drop a bundle, an unformed lump of boy-flesh.

Gwydion secretly raised the child himself. His growth was rapid; when he was four years old, he was as tall as a boy of eight.

When Gwydion took the boy to her castle, Arianrhod refused to recognise him as her son, saying that he should never have a name until she gave him one. This was a serious thing as to be without a name was to be nothing, in this world or the next.

 Gwydion came up with a plan to trick Arianrhod into naming her son. By magic he formed a boat from seaweed and rushes and some beautiful leather from sedge. Disguised as shoemakers, Gwydion and Llew sailed up to Arianrhod’s castle and began to sew the leather. Arianrhod looked down from her balcony and thought that she would like some new shoes, so she sent her maid down to the shore with her measurements. Gwydion knew that he must force her to come out and first made some shoes too big, then some to small, though both pairs were exquisite. Eventually Arianrhod went down to the boat to be fitted in person.

While Gwydion was fitting the shoes a wren came and perched on the boat. The boy took out his bow and shot the wren through the leg. Arianrhod was impressed. “Truly,” she said “the fair-haired one (“lleu”) has a skilful hand (“llaw gyffes”)!” “Thank you,” Gwydion said, “the boy now has his name – Llew Llaw Gyffes!”

Angry at being tricked, she declared that the boy should never have arms unless she should bestow them.

Nevertheless, Gwydion took Llew home to Dinas Dinllev and brought him up as a warrior. When he was ready, the two returned to Caer Arianrhod, this time disguised as bards. The goddess received them kindly, pleased to hear their songs and stories.

The next morning Gwydion cast a powerful spell that made it appear as though a vast army was descending on the castle. The air rang with shouts and trumpets and the bay seemed full of enemy ships. Arianrhod became afraid and asked Gwydion what she should do. “Give us arms,” he replied, “and we will defend you.” While her maidens armed Gwydion, Arianrhod herself strapped armour onto Llew. Instantly the glamour ended, and it was seen that no army threatened.

Realizing that she had been tricked again, Arianrhod laid a further taboo on Llew – that he should never marry a woman born of the race of men.

Gwydion and his fellow magician Math ap Mathonwy gathered the flowers of oak, broom and meadowsweet to fashion a lovely maiden as a bride for Llew. She was called Blodeuwedd (‘Flower Face’).

Llew and his flower bride lived happily until one day Llew was away and a hunting party arrived, led by Gronw Pebyr. Gronw and Blodeuwedd immediately fell in love and plotted to rid themselves of her husband.

The problem was that he could be killed neither by day nor by night, indoors or out of doors, clothed or naked, riding or walking, nor by any lawfully made weapon. Blodeuwedd tricked Llew into revealing to her that he could only be killed at twilight when on the bank of a river with one foot on the back of a he-goat and the other on the rim of a bath, under a canopy. The spear needed to kill him would take a year to make, working only on Sundays. Armed with this information, Gronw set about making preparations.

When all was ready Blodeuwedd asked Llew to show her how he could balance on a goat and bath at the same time. Llew was more than ready to indulge his young wife’s curiosity and took up his position with one foot on the rim of a bath, the other on the he-goat.

As he teetered there Gronw emerged from the trees and hurled the magical javelin at him, wounding him in the thigh. However, instead of dying, Llew turned into an eagle and flew away.

When Gwydion learned what had happened he set off to find his poor nephew. He searched far and wide until one day he discovered a sow behaving very strangely. It was devouring the maggots and gobbets of flesh that fell from an eagle perched in an oak tree. Gwydion immediately recognized that the eagle was the mortally wounded Llew. Using his magical powers he transformed his nephew back into human shape and took him home to nurse him back to health.

When news of Llew’s recovery reached Blodeuwedd and Gronw they realized that all was up and took flight. With her servants Blodeuwedd tried to cross the river, but her maids were in such a panic they all drowned in the swift flowing waters.

Left alone, the Flower Maiden was soon discovered by Gwydion, who revenged his nephew by changing her into an owl, the most hated of all birds.

Gronw tried to treat with Llew and offered him land and money in reparation. This Llew refused and demanded that Gronw meet him in the place of his treacherous act and allow him to return the favour under the exact same circumstances. The two came to the bank of the river and Gronw took up his position on the goat and cauldron, but pleaded with Llew that since he had come to this pass through the wiles of a woman, Llew should allow him the boon of placing a stone between himself and the blow. This Llew granted, but when he hurled his spear it pierced through the stone and through Gronw too, breaking his back. The stone still lies on the banks of the river Cynfael, with the hole through it, and it is called Llech Gronw or ‘Gronw’s Stone’.

How are we to interpret the myth?

While Arianrhod claims to be a virgin, she gives birth to twin sons.

The story of a birth of a god from a virgin mother is a common one in myth. She is the goddess who creates without needing any external agency. The divine son of a virgin mother is usually a seasonal death and resurrection god, as here Llew clearly is. Many goddesses were called ‘virgin’ despite being married or having lovers.

Twin sons are also fairly common in myth and represent polarities such as the light and dark or summer and winter who fight for rulership of the year. Dylan is the ‘son of the wave’ and Gronw Pebyr is ‘lord of the lake’, another metaphorical twin and rival of Llew in the seasonal battle for the love of the goddess Blodeuwedd, or nature.

Why did Arianrhod seem so harsh? Why did she seem to be denying her son his rights?  And why is she so powerful that Gwydion has to work so hard to outwit her?

Arianrhod the Initiatrix

In myths the hero meets a supernatural figure, perhaps a god or goddess, who sets them upon the path to their destiny.  Often they are associated with a spindle or a wheel, representing fate, and with riddling or testing. Arianrhod gave young Llew his fate when she laid on him three taboos. Her pronouncements are not curses; what she actually says is: “I swear a destiny upon the boy”.

Arianrhod challenged and pushed her son through the path of becoming a man, gaining a name, arms and a bride. She didn’t hand these things to him on a plate, but made him strive for them. He had to accept the will of the Goddess, but he did not surrender, did not give in, but worked within the challenges she set him in order to triumph.

The famous poem of the Welsh bard Taliesin states that he was three times in the castle of Arianrhod, or in other words, he travelled in spirit three times to the mystery at the heart of the universe to gain poetic inspiration directly from its source, the Goddess.

In the court of Ceridwen I did penance,

Pursued by a smiling black hag;

I fled with vigour, I have fled as a frog,
I have fled in the semblance of a crow,

I have fled as a roe into an entangled thicket
I have fled as a wolf cub,

I have fled as iron in a glowing fire,
I have fled as a spear-head,

I have fled as a bristly boar in a ravine,
I have fled as a white grain of pure wheat.
Into a dark leather bag I was thrown,
And on a boundless sea I was sent adrift.
I have been on the galaxy at the throne of the Distributor;
I was in the court of Don before the birth of Gwydion.
I have been three periods in the fort of Arianrhod,
Then I was for nine months
In the womb of the hag Ceridwen.
I was originally little Gwion,
And at length I am Taliesin. [iii]

Like Ceridwen in the story of Gwion who became Taliesin, Arianrhod is a challenging goddess who pushes the hero into wisdom and greatness.

Arianrhod is the initiator, the goddess who challenges the candidate and pushes them to achieve the next step.

The Three Taboos

The first taboo Arianrhod imposes on her son is that he will have no name until she gives him one. She doesn’t say that she is denying him a name.

In earlier times, and today in tribal societies, the naming of a thing or person was a great responsibility. The true name of something encapsulates its essential nature. Even today a child is named in a solemn ceremony and there is a belief that the name chosen will affect the child, in some way shaping its character. Often a child is not felt to be a person at all – or to have its own individual identity – until it is formally named. A person may take a new name with a change of status; for example a boy will assume a new name when he comes to manhood, a woman when she marries, a priest when he is ordained, and a witch when initiated. Taking a new name means taking on a new role and new identity.

Guided by his experienced magician uncle, Llew uses cunning, magic and skill to gain a name from the goddess. Arianrhod sees him hit a wren with his sling, and then names him ‘The One of the Skilful Hand’. With this, he becomes an adult – the child he was, with only the concerns of a child, is left behind.

The shooting of the wren is significant – it is the bird of the sacred king, and it foreshadows his own wounding later in the story. The wren is, in fact, himself. In ancient Welsh tradition the wren is the King of the Birds, triumphing over the Eagle, so this is an act of sacrificial kingship. The wren is hunted and killed at the winter solstice. In stories, kings are often wounded in the leg or groin prior to their demise. When he shoots it, and accepts his name, he assumes the role of the king who must serve the Goddess and sacrifice himself for the land.

Like Llew, the neophytes, guided by magician elders, must learn skill, cunning and magic in order to present themselves to the Goddess for initiation. The first degree initiation changes the status of a member of the coven – with it, they become a priest or priestess.  With it, they accept the path of service, just as Llew does, when he shoots the wren. The initiate takes a new Craft name to denote that they have died and been reborn as a priest or priestess.

The second taboo which Arianrhod pronounces is that he shall have no weapons until she arms him herself. This is very clearly an initiation test, a simple case of “you will receive arms when you have demonstrated your courage and earned the right to them”. The arms he gains will be used to defend his people.

In the second degree, the candidate is summoned to the edge of the circle and asked what they seek within this degree. Whereas in the first degree the candidate replied that they seek knowledge, in this degree the candidate responds that they seek “to better serve the Lord and Lady”. The first degree is about seeking knowledge, about learning, including the difficult job of learning about the self. In the second degree, this must have progressed to the point where the desire has become to serve – not because it makes the priest feel good, or makes people admire him, but because service to others is the way of the priest.

The third test pronounced by Arianrhod is that Llew shall never marry a mortal women. It seems cruel, but we must remember that he is a god and a sacred king. The primary relationship of the Celtic sacred king was with the land. Woven throughout the stories and myths of Celtic heroes and gods is the concept of Sovereignty, the right and authority to rule the land.  This right and authority is derived not from the right of inheritance or brute force, but a woman/goddess who represents the land. By denying him marriage with an ordinary woman, Arianrhod ensured that he would marry the sovereign goddess. Again, Llew could have given up or despaired at being denied a bride, but he sought the help of his uncles, Gwydion and Math, who created a bride out of flowers – oak, broom and meadowsweet – in other words, out of nature itself.

The story of Llew illustrates that the king must only take power in order to serve the land. The third degree initiate takes the grade only in order to serve others more fully. The person who takes it must not do so for his own glory, and must function in an unselfish way, putting the needs of the group or community first.

The Silver Wheel

But there are deeper mysteries here. Arianrhod’s name may derive from the Welsh words arian ‘silver’ + rhod ‘wheel, though her name is also given as Aranrhod from aran meaning ‘immense’ or ’round’ + rhod, meaning ‘wheel’.

Many Celtic gods are depicted with wheels, indicating movement and the passing of time and the seasons.

In Welsh folklore, the Northern Crown, the Corona Borealis, is called Caer Arianrhod, meaning Arianrhod’s Castle. It is near the Pole Star, but not so near that it does not rise and set.

The names of the various castles in Welsh myth relate to the celestial – the Milky Way was Gwydion’s castle, the Corona Borealis was Arianrhod’s castle, and the constellation of Cassiopeia was the location of the Court of Don. Caer Sidi, the revolving castle, is the Pole Star, the still point around which the stars spin, revolving through the seasons.

From our point of view, the stars revolve around the sky, and throughout the year the sun passes through each constellation of the zodiac, which is itself seen as a wheel that weaves our fates.

Arianrhod’s wheel spins the cosmos, weaving the silver threads of the stars and galaxies, and therefore time, the seasons, and fate.  She controls the maelstrom of creative forces at the heart of the cosmos.

The Goddess of the Labyrinth

Another goddess associated with the constellation of the Corona Borealis is the Greek goddess Ariadne, who helped Theseus defeat the Minotaur and escape the labyrinth at Knossos by means of a thread she gave him to lay a trail to the passage through the labyrinth. The jewelled crown he gave her was placed in the stars after her death as the constellation. One name for the Minotaur was Asterion, meaning ‘Starry’, implying a connection of the turns of the labyrinth and the motions of the stars.

In order to win a name, Gwydion and Llew come to the goddess disguised as shoemakers. Both the Irish and Welsh Llew pose as a shoemaker to gain access to a highborn girl or queen. In myth, there is a mysterious connection between sacred kings, shoemakers and labyrinths. In Poland a traditional shoemakers’ dance was connected with a labyrinth. In England the Patriotic Company of Shoemakers had their own turf maze at Kingland near Shrewsbury.

The spiral labyrinth reflects the arms of the Milky Way. The spiral shape, which is the basis of the spider’s web, is an ancient and almost universal symbol of regeneration and rebirth. Spirals are marked on many ancient tombs, coins, floors, and cave walls. They represent the path of the Sun throughout the year, from birth to death and rebirth (the same journey promised to the human soul), the labyrinth that the soul travels into death and the underworld and outward to rebirth. Taliesin wrote that he had been three times in the castle of Arianrhod, indicating a three-fold initiation, treading the path of that labyrinth.

The spinning goddesses of fate are often associated with the stars. In Viking mythology, Frygg’s spindle is said to be the stars of the belt of Orion. Spinning was the province of women and goddesses only, a magical act as the movements imitated the spinning of the cosmos.  Spinning goddesses were once considered to be the most powerful deities of all, and they appear in many mythologies.

Nwyvre

Arianrhod’s husband is Nwyvre (pronounced NOOiv-ruh). His myths have been lost, and there are only a few mentions of him in the Triads remaining. His name comes from nwyf, which means ‘vivacity’, ‘vigour’ or ‘energy’ and rhe, ‘a swift motion’, so his name means something like ‘swiftly moving energy’.

Nwyvre is thought of as the life force that infuses and animates all things, similar to the concept of prana or chi, [iv] giving them health and vitality. Those things that lack nwyvre are dead.

Arianrhod is the active principle, spinning starry matter with threads of magic from the heart of the Cosmos, the source of the divine spark of inspiration. In this regard, Arianrhod and Nwyvre might be compared to Shakti and Shiva in Hindu mythology.

Between the Mabinogion and the Triads, Arianrhod and Nwyvre are said to have four sons:

Gwynn (White)
Fflam (Flame)

Dylan (Wave)

Llew

These can be seen as representing the four elements, with the two great forces of the universe coming together to bring all things into being.

Arianrhod Invocation

Arianrhod, great mother,

Your womb is the dark void of space

Which holds the seed of all potentials

 You are the wheel of life,

You are the beginning and the end and the beginning once again

 Yours is the spiral castle of the stars,

Where we are remade.

 May we glimpse eternity,

And know your light.

 Blessed Be.

 

© Anna Franklin 2020

[i] line Inspired by She Who Altar http://spiralgoddess.com/SheWhoAltar.html

[ii] Jean Markale, Women of the Celts, Inner Traditions International, Vermont, 1986

[iii] Abridged from the original

[iv] The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. I., ed. by J. Williams Ab Ithel, [1862], at sacred-texts.com p. 372 p. 373

WHAT IS INITIATION?

The Craft is a mystery tradition that has formal degrees of initiation. In this, it differs from most other forms of modern Paganism.

Some Pagans condemn covens for their exclusivity, their systems of degrees and their titles of high priest and high priestess.  This criticism is understandable when we have characters like Lady Tiggywinkle, who read a book on the Craft a year ago and now she is a high priestess and has even written her own book about it. Or Darth Moloch who is magus of his own dark coven – or at least he is when his Dad lets him stay out late.  Such people have always existed of course, and are found in every branch of Paganism, but it is true to say that the Craft, with its hierarchies and titles, is a magnet for the egomaniacs and lunatic fringe.

However, the Craft degree system – and its hierarchy – provides a stable and firm foundation to assist individual spiritual progress. Candidates are enabled to develop at their own pace by a supportive group setting, under the guidance of an experienced teacher. As they progress, they become able to train and help the less knowledgeable – with each degree comes greater responsibility. Those groups that try to run as democracies where those with no know-how have as much say as those with a great deal, or those groups run by inexperienced [and all too often inflated-ego] individuals with no proper training tend to fall apart very quickly, as do those groups where people are advanced too quickly through the degrees. Over the many years I’ve spent in the Craft, I’ve learned the hard way that the traditional coven set-up is the by far the best way of organising and running a magical group. Every time I, in my ignorance or arrogance, have deviated from its rules, the consequences have been disastrous.

The Craft is a mystery religion, and a system of initiation through various degrees is implicit, and in this it follows very ancient principles. The word ‘mystery’ comes from the Greek musterion meaning a secret rite or doctrine. A follower of the mysteries in ancient Greece was a mystes  or ‘initiate’, a term originating in the word myein meaning ‘to close’ or ‘to shut’ i.e., to close or shut the eyes and mouth, since only initiates were allowed to observe the rituals and these were not to be spoken of to the uninitiated. In the ancient world, the mysteries were not open to everyone, but only to those who were properly trained and prepared, those who were mature and responsible enough to approach them with due reverence and ready for the profound inner changes it would create.

Initiations centered around the theme of death and rebirth, the candidate undergoing the same journey as the God or Goddess; thus the candidates became the ‘twice-born’. They followed the same basic pattern that most Craft initiations follow today, first with training, then the rite proper with ritual purification, warnings and challenges, an ordeal, a binding oath, revelation of the deity and secret symbols, rebirth and consecration as an initiate, followed by a proclamation of the new status of the candidate to all assembled.

Reputable covens ensure that the training for priesthood is thorough and monitored at every stage so that the priest/ess is ready for the degree conferred, is effective, competent, and works connected to the Gods. This training is difficult and requires a high level of commitment over many years. Most people are not willing to put in the time and effort, and this is the main reason why initiation is reserved for a few.

Putting aside those traditions that ‘initiate’ new members as soon as they arrive [in which ‘initiation’ is merely an acceptance into the coven and signifies nothing more] initiation confirms that the candidate has completed adequate training and achieved sufficient spiritual advancement as will enable them to function as a priest/ess.

Many beginners think that initiation is conferred by the ceremony, and that the person involved is thus promoted to a higher rank rather like an army officer. This is far from the truth. The neophyte, having undergone training and taken part of various rituals and spiritual practices, starts to experience a heightened state of consciousness and awareness. He or she is often very confused at this stage, suddenly aware of entities, archetypes, spirits, concepts and ideas that may seem contradictory and confusing. Many people take fright at this point and back away, but providing that the candidate handles this properly, accepting guidance from the elders, initiation will occur as a fundamental change of consciousness, a progression to the next stage. An experienced high priest/ess will recognise when this juncture is reached, and the candidate will be formally initiated: a ritual and magical event that triggers the next stage in the process.

At this point the initiation may fail, leaving the candidate in a spiritual limbo. This can happen for one of two reasons. Firstly, unless the candidate is set, properly prepared and ready to receive and return the power, no initiation can take place; Plato remarked ‘Many who beat the wand, but few who become Bakchoi.[i] Secondly, if the initiator is not in contact with the spiritual forces, he or she will fail to initiate the candidate.[ii] There are plenty of people out there claiming higher degrees who don’t even realise they have never had a true initiation.

Initiation is a death and rebirth not symbolically, but in a very real sense. In some tribal societies, the candidate is thought of as a ghost for the duration of the process, until the new birth takes place. He might be buried or coffined in some way, returning to the primordial earth-womb of the Goddess. Often, the initiate identifies himself with the reborn god. In Egypt, for example, in one initiation ceremony described in the Leyden Magical Papyrus, he ‘participated’ in the reconstitution of the scattered body of Osiris, and was reborn with the reincarnated god.[1] The old self can never be reclaimed, and a new self emerges from the old shell: the process is traumatic. It is said of several mountains in Wales, that if one were to spend a night there, one would either come down mad, or a poet [i.e. a bardic initiate]; true initiation is a harrowing process, and one which may lead equally to enlightenment or madness.

This threshold point was deliberately provoked in the initiation rituals of some mystery schools, when the candidates were put through terrifying ordeals involving burial or entombment for days, or being led through the darkness of a labyrinthine cave. In tribal cultures, suffering may be deliberately induced to mimic the crisis which sometimes triggers a shamanic initiation. Shamans may experience ‘death’ by being entombed for up to seven days, during which they experience being dismembered by demons before being re-assembled with new bodies that contain psychic powers. In all parts of the world the dawning of the shaman’s enlightenment begins with a ‘shamanic crisis’, often in adolescence, but sometimes much later.[2] This is a severe illness or breakdown which actually threatens his life, and he lingers for a time between on the threshold of life and death. The shaman is reduced, by the trauma of this incident, to a primal way of thinking and being, and only then can he enter the archetypal primordial state where humans can converse with gods, animals and plants. He experiences the sensation of dissolution and the separation of body from spirit, something that only usually occurs in physical death, and which cannot be compared to astral travel or out of body experiences, or even an initiation in other magical traditions.

Returning from his crisis, the shaman knows, from his own encounters, that the world is alive, that everything has spirit and that we are surrounded by spirits, a viewpoint called animism by anthropologists. When he interacts with the world of spirit, he is practising shamanism, and only then. He may work with a variety of supernatural beings and from these learn how to cure specific illnesses, divination, the mastery of fire, weather magic, hunting magic, the retrieval of lost souls or the accompanying of the souls of dead to the Otherworld, and the removal of curses. He can travel great expanses in spirit flight, hear what is going on at a remote place, send messages over a distance and even shapeshift. Furthermore, he may take on the role of the priest of a community, becoming the bridge between the world of spirits and humankind.[3]

Plutarch commented that the soul at the point of death undergoes the same experience as those who have been initiated into the great mysteries:

“…at first wandering to and fro, and journeys with suspicion through the dark as one uninitiated, and then come all the terrors before the final initiation, shuddering, trembling, sweating, amazement: then one is struck with a marvellous light and is received into pure regions…and bearing his crown joins in the divine communion… and the initiate beholds the uninitiated …huddled together in mud and fog, abiding in their miseries through fear of death and mistrust of the blessings there.[iii]

We can find many such descriptions of initiations in the ancient accounts, in stories from shamanic cultures, but also in more recent times here in Britain, deriving from the shamanic traditions of our Celtic and Anglo-Saxon ancestors [see my Path of the Shaman for a more full account of this].

Not every aspirant will gain true initiation in this lifetime. If a person encounters many difficulties in the path of initiation the Gods may be telling them they are not ready, or it may just be that they are being tested to see whether they are committed enough to overcome any obstacles. The Gods often interfere in someone’s life to point them in the right direction, or deter them from following the wrong path for them. This is why barriers are placed in the path of the would-be initiate, sometimes by the Gods, and always by the coven. Tests are made ensure the suitability of the candidate – who might not even be aware that they are being tested. In our coven, quests are given that must be pursued and resolved before initiation is even considered.

We do not recognise self-initiation at all. This is not to say that self-initiation is impossible, but successful self-initiation is rare. When people talk about self-initiation, they generally mean what we would refer to as Dedication, a promise to honour and love the Gods and learn of them. True initiation is something much more profound. I’m not even sure it is possible to be your own teacher – you are trying to teach yourself something you do not know, and this is a paradox. It is true that the real teaching comes from the Gods and spirits, but until you have learned how to contact them, how to recognise illusion and self-delusion from truth, this is fraught with danger. Furthermore, the changes the process effects are very difficult to deal with alone. An experienced high priest or priestess will be able to guide the initiate through the stormy waters.  A person can never initiate themselves into a tradition from which they have never had training or approval.

It must be remembered that initiation is not an end goal and the candidate is not perfected at the point of initiation; it is a mark post on the journey of the spirit which is a continuing succession of trials, revelations, back-sliding and progress.

© Anna Franklin, extract from Pagan Ritual, The Path of the Priest and Priestess, Lear Books, 2008

Illustration © Anna Franklin, Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer 2015

[1] Christian Jacq, Magic and Mystery in Ancient Egypt

[2] In some places, the role of shaman is hereditary, but only if the spirits have chosen the successor, and he has undergone the crisis.

[3] Anna Franklin, Path of the Shaman, Lear Books,

[i] Quoted in Mircea Eliade From Primitives to Zen, Collins, London, 1967, p 305

[ii] Dion Fortune, Applied Magic, The Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, 1981, p 28

[iii] Quoted in Mircea Eliade From Primitives to Zen, Collins, London, 1967, p 302

CORIANDER – love, cookery and healing

My baby coriander (Coriandrum sativum) plants are coming on. Coriander is a marmite herb – people either love it or hate it.

In Britain, both the fruit (seeds) and fresh leaves are called coriander, while in the US, the seeds keep the name coriander but the leaves take the Spanish name for the plant, cilantro, owing to their extensive use in Mexican cookery.  The Romans were very fond of coriander. They used it in a sophisticated seasoning mixture which included wild celery, coriander, mint, onion, pennyroyal, rue, savory and thyme. Coriander (cilantro) leaves are best used fresh to preserve their volatile oils responsible for the taste and aroma. They can be chopped and sprinkled on curries, stir fries, added to salsas and so on. Try making a coriander pesto instead of a basil one for a taste sensation, or add to your juicer to benefit from coriander leaf’s antioxidants.  The dried seeds, are available whole or ground, but for best results, buy them whole and crush them lightly in a pestle and mortar just before use. They flavour curries, breads, sauces, soups, stews, pastries and sweets and are used commercially to flavour gin.

The leaves and fruit are rich in volatile oils beneficial for the digestive system, what herbalists call a carminative, useful for bloating, gas and indigestion. If coriander is added to the diet, these symptoms may reduce.

Coriander is used as a natural treatment for high cholesterol levels. The acids (linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and ascorbic acid) found in coriander help to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and raise ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL). [1] Add some coriander to the diet and add the fresh leaves to fruits and vegetables in your juicer.

Regular consumption of coriander has been shown to reduce blood pressure in many patients suffering from hypertension.[2]

The volatile oils in coriander possess anti-rheumatic and anti-arthritic properties.

Cineole, a phytochemical found in coriander, is thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect. For arthritis and rheumatism, use some coriander in the diet, apply a coriander salve, coriander infused oil or pulverise the leave and use as a poultice.

The volatile oils found in fresh coriander leaves are antiseptic, antimicrobial and healing, and a rinse of coriander leaf infusion will help treat mouth ulcers.

 A well-known home remedy for conjunctivitis is to bathe the closed eyelids with coriander seed tea.

Coriander leaf contains antioxidants to combat damaging free radicals, minerals and vitamins that help in the battle against wrinkles and sagging skin.  They also have a cooling, antiseptic, detoxifying and soothing action. Try making a paste of fresh coriander leaves and mixing them with a little honey, apply to the face, leave 20 minutes and rinse off with warm water.

A hair rinse made from coriander leaf tea will promote new hair growth.

Coriander was used magically too. Pliny wrote that fresh coriander was believed to be aphrodisiac, adding that some thought it beneficial to place coriander beneath the pillows before sunrise. There is some evidence that coriander seeds were placed in Egyptian tombs as a symbol of eternal love and enduring passion. [3] Similarly, in Chinese tradition it was considered both a herb of immortality and an aphrodisiac. [4] It is mentioned several times in the Arabian Nights as arousing sexual desires, and in Europe in the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was considered to provoke lust and love and added to love potions. The seeds were put into the popular drink hippocras which was commonly drunk at Tudor weddings. Culpeper designated coriander as “hot in the first degree”, a herb of Mars, and rather than romantic gentle love and friendship, it is used in spells of lust and passion. Coriander is widely used in love spells, charms and incenses. It can also be used to anoint the candles used in love magic. It can be included in the ritual cup at handfastings and Great Rite celebrations. Add to the handfasting cake.

You can throw coriander seeds instead of confetti at handfastings, and indeed, coriander seeds may have been the original ‘confetti’. The fruits used to be made into the sweets called confits, coated in white or pink sugar. These were thrown into the crowds from the backs of carnival wagons. However, eventually this was thought to be wasteful, and they were replaced by bits of coloured paper, but kept their original name ‘confetti’. [5]

The word coriander is believed to be derived from the Greek word koris which means ‘a bedbug’,  [6] and this is  thought to refer to the strong scent of the leaves, caused by the aldehydic components of the essential oil present, which some people hate and others, like me, love. It is certainly named after a bug in several languages, but the earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek written in Linear B syllabic script, reconstructed as koriadnon or koriandron. [7] Now ari means ‘most’ and adnos means ‘holy’ and this is also the derivation of the name of the Minoan goddess of the labyrinth Ariadne’s name, so there may be a lost legend here connecting the two, or at least, coriander must have been considered a very holy herb. Coriander is certainly associated with the Phoenician/Canaanite warrior goddess Ana (Anatu/Anahita), titled Virgin, Mother of Nations, She Who Kills and Resurrects, the consort of Ba’al who wore horns and carried a moon disc. She wore coriander perfume and purple make up for battle. The greatest of gods were afraid of her. Coriander was much valued as a perfume in the ancient world. [8]

CAUTIONS:

Coriander is considered safe in food amounts and when taken by mouth in appropriate medicinal amounts for most people. When coriander comes in contact with the skin it can cause skin irritation and inflammation or an allergic reaction in some people. As always, if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, stay on the safe side and stick to food amounts.  Coriander can slightly lower blood sugar levels, so if you are diabetic, you should monitor these carefully.  It can also lower blood pressure, so if you take medications for hypertension or have low blood pressure, monitor levels carefully. Coriander seeds can have a narcotic effect when consumed in excessive quantity which is perhaps how it became to be known as ‘dizzycorn’.

Coriander Leaf Tea

1 tbsp. fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

250 ml boiling water

Pour the boiling water over the leaves. Cover and infuse for 5 minutes, strain and drink.

 

Coriander Seed Tea

1 teaspoon of coriander seeds

250 ml water

Lightly crush the seeds and put in a pan with the water, simmer for 15 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to stand for another 5-10 minutes, strain and drink.

 

Infused Coriander Oil

1 tablespoon coriander

250 ml vegetable oil

Crush the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar. Put into a jar with the oil, fit the lid and leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain the oil into a sterilised bottle.

 

© Anna Franklin, condensed extract from The Hearth Witch’s Kitchen Herbal, Llewellyn, 2019

[1] P. Dhanapakiam, J. Mini Joseph, V.K. Ramaswamy, M. Moorthi3 & A. Senthil Kumar, The cholesterol lowering property of coriander seeds, (Coriandrum sativum): Mechanism of action, Journal of Environmental Biology, Journal of Environmental Biology January 2008

[2] Qaiser Jabeen, Samra Bashir, Badiaa Lyoussi, Anwar H.Gilani, Coriander fruit exhibits gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering and diuretic activities, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 122, Issue 1, 25 February 2009, Pages 123-130

[3] Spices of Life in Ancient Egypt, http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/spices-of-life-in-ancient-egypt, accessed 26.9.17

[4] Julie Brunton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Kitchen Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books Ltd, London, 2010

[5] J.O. Swain, The Lore of Spices, Grange Books, London, 1991

[6] J.O. Swain, The Lore of Spices, Grange Books, London, 1991

[7] John Chadwick, The Mycenaean World. Cambridge University Press, 1976

[8] ibid