The No Woman’s Land of the Inner Yard

A Tale of Two Goddesses

I would like to tell you a tale of two witches, (goddesses really) inhabitants of a time beyond time. The first goddess was ordered and seemingly tame. Elegance and poise personified, she navigated the oft-tempestuous social waters of her hall with ease, winning words of kindness and oaths of peace from even the most hardened of warriors who sat at her benches. A skilled politician, she wove hearts and minds together as surely as she and her ladies wove the handspun yarn into wadmal, their movements around the room like a shuttle moving through the shed of a great loom, binding warp to weft and person to person.

She is not often called ‘witch’, but she has the talent and skills to be one. She is farsighted, foresighted and deep of mind, yet silent for the most part when it comes to revealing what she knows. She is also voluptuous and comely, with shapely arms and legs that pull lovers in. Those two things do not sound like they should be connected, but they are. This you will come to understand if you do not already.

Her sister however, if we may even call her that, is not of the hall but the wild between. From house to house she goes, “always the delight of an evil bride”. “Witch” some whisper, others whisper “whore”, but to some she is both. Where the lady of the hall is comely, she is magnetic, possessed of the kind of beauty that tempts, entices, and leads men to their deaths. Her prophecies are weapons that fall from her lips, sharp-barbed words that topple kings and sink ships. She is a lady of many names, known to many peoples, both human and other.

Her magnetism calls to us too, and her call to ecstasies are clearly heard. But I believe we have neglected the Lady of the Hall.

There has been much written about the need to re-wild witchcraft, to go out into the wilds and work with the land. To seek initiation from otherworldly powers and be the Heiðr who traverses the hedge. The natural world is hurting, we are to blame, and we are to work to heal and make amends as best we can. Now I’m not saying that I disagree with any of that. I too have seen and felt the suffering and anger of the outer. I too feel this need, as I would imagine anyone with anything approaching an animistic worldview would.

However, we live in a world that prefers and loves absolutes. We love our labels, our boxes, and our causes. Absolutism in thought though, often means that the subtleties are missed, and sometimes it is in those subtleties that some of the keys to a solution are found.

The Poisoned Vines That Choke Our Inner Yards

We humans have always sought somewhere safe in which we can dwell, work, and have our families. We’ve made villages, posted guards, built fences and homes. Since we first began to be recognizably human (and maybe even before), we’ve sought places in which we can keep out the dangers of the outer. For it is instinct to create safe space, and it is a good one. It has ensured our survival.

But it is my contention that the inner is just as poisoned, polluted, and sick as the outer, and until we heal that damage and pull back those choking vines, then there is no hope for doing anything more concrete for either inner or outer.

A Heritage of Flames

History is the greatest of smiths, it forms and forges us, giving us both our identity and the collective women's witchestraumas that we carry within the very fiber of our beings. The heritage of modern witches is not the same as the heritage of those who might have been called witches in the Heathen period, we hold different traumas in our collective psyche. The biggest trauma for those of us working within predominantly European-derived cultures, is that of the lamentably much-ridiculed period of history that was the European witch craze.

The witch craze was noteworthy in many ways, but rarely is it taken particularly seriously, or examined beyond the mutilation of the torture rooms and agonies of death at the stake. However, in examining the years preceding that systematized routing of female self-determination and magic, there is much that can be learned that is disturbingly useful for fighting the battles we face today.

The social setting in which the European witch craze took place was one of complexity and deceptively slow escalation, each incremental step laying the foundations for the extreme violence that would come. To speak in very general terms, there was an economic crisis of sorts, which was accompanied by an increasing obsession with both female reproduction, and controlling the behavior of women. This increase in misogyny was also unsurprisingly comorbid with a reframing of gender roles, and focus on masculinity. To cut a long story short, many of our modern ideas about ‘traditional’ gender roles were actually systematically introduced in the 16th and 17th centuries and further refined in the 19th century with the creation of the full-time housewife who only fucked out of a sense of duty (Federici 75).

“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again” wrote J.M Barrie in the children’s classic Peter Pan, and it certainly does seem to be the case that we are treading much the same path as our ancestors, albeit slightly differently. Stop me if any of this doesn’t sound at least a little familiar.

In parts of 14th and 15th century Europe, the rape of non-aristocratic women was practically decriminalized, with the perpetrators receiving little to no punishment for their actions. For example, gang rape was not uncommon in many French cities of this period and was carried out openly, without fear of legal consequence (Federici 47-48). This, scholars like Silvia Federici argue, “desensitized the population to the perpetration of violence against women, preparing the ground for the Witch-hunt which began in the same period.”

By the 1580s, the population of Western Europe was in decline and continued to be so into the 17th century. Times were hard, and people simply did not wish to reproduce (Federici 86). Concurrently a new ideology was forming, one that declared that the wealth of a nation might be determined by the number of citizens it has (Federici 87). In this climate, reproduction became a matter of fanaticism, and in the 16th century European governments began introducing laws that levied the severest punishments against contraception, abortion, and infanticide. New forms of surveillance were also employed to ensure that the eye of the state did not leave the womb of the woman: a 1556 French royal edict required all pregnant women to register their pregnancies and sentenced to death any women with concealed deliveries whose babies died before baptism; similar statutes were passed in both Scotland and England; and in France and Germany, midwives became de facto spies of the state, often being called in to examine women suspected of having recently given birth. In the 16th and 17th centuries, more women were executed for infanticide than for any other crime (Federici 88 -89).

The 15th century also saw the rise of a new male obsession with the idea of being dominated by women (and thus being rendered unmanly in the process). This has been referred to as the ‘Battle for the Breeches” and was often depicted in popular literature of the time. For the men of the time, the depiction of a man being beaten by a disobedient (breeches-wearing) wife, was one that provoked fear (Federici 96). It would seem that men in every era have feared the loss of their ‘man cards’.

women's breeches

The worst though, was that this new order sought to isolate women from each other, making them wholly dependent on, and entirely under the authority of their husbands. English women were actively discouraged from friendship with other women or visiting one’s own parents ‘too often’ after marriage, German women were forbidden to live alone or with other women, and Mediterranean women could no longer be on the streets unaccompanied without risking sexual assault (Federici 100).

Of this, Silvia Federici writes:
“Simultaneously, female friendships became an object of suspicion, denounced from the pulpit as subversive of the alliance between husband and wife, just as women-to-women relations were demonized by the prosecutors of the witches who forced them to denounce each other as accomplices in crime. It was also in this period that the word “gossip,” which in the Middle Ages had meant “friend,” changed its meaning, acquiring a derogatory connotation, a further sign of the degree to which the power of women and communal ties were undermined.” (Federici 186)

When it came to relationships with men, the propaganda of infanticide, baneful magics wrought by female hands, and the creeping threat of female domination was so effective that though there were individual attempts by husbands, sons, and fathers to save their female relatives from the stake, there was no collective uprising to save their womenfolk from the fires of persecution.

And it is from here, this place of tattered bonds and violent subjugation, in a society full of mistrust and hate, that we look to the far past, and the witches of the Heathen period.

A War of Spears, A War of Hearts

21. The war I remember, the first in the world,
When the gods with spears had smitten Gollveig,
And in the hall of Hor had burned her,
Three times burned, and three times born,
Oft and again, yet ever she lives.

22. Heiðr they named her who sought their home,
The wide-seeing witch, in magic wise;
Minds she bewitched that were moved by her magic,
To evil women a joy she was.

The themes of burning and torture are already familiar in this essay. However, unlike the women of the Early Modern Period, Gullveig has the capacity for resurrection, rising thrice from the ashes of the flames and reborn anew as Heiðr. In a sense, she is the mother of witches, as Heiðr is the archetypal name for the wild witch of the outer who travels between the inner yards of men.

In chapter 4 of the Ynglinga saga we are told of how the goddess Freyja, a blótgyðja or ‘sacrificial priestess’ (who unlike her male relatives was never named among the Diar though she was clearly divine), taught the art of Seiðr to the “Asaland people”. For the scholars Ursula Dronke and Hilda Ellis-Davidson, Freyja and Gullveig were one and the same.

However Freyja is not the only Old Norse goddess of magic by any stretch of the imagination, and it might well be argued that the adversarial nature of the story of Gullveig parallels the account contained within the Volsa þáttr of the cultic rite to a group of beings referred to as the ‘Mornir’. As Clive Tolley points out in ‘Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic’, the Volsa þáttr account is clearly that of a female-led home cult coming into conflict with the male state cult of Christianity. It should also be noted that Völuspá contains clear allusions to Christian ideas, and so it is entirely possible that the antipathy of the Gullveig account may not have reflected actual Heathen period views.

Magic and encounters with the supernatural are common themes in Old Norse literature. The Lokasenna poem introduces us to a number of other deities who have either the gift of seership, or who work magic as witches. Both Frigga and Gefjun, are credited with the gift of prophecy, and Oðinn is referred to as working magic as a witch (an aspect of the Allfather which is reiterated in chapter 7 of Ynglinga saga). Regardless of whether they have the skills of a seeress or of a witch though, they are all accused of sexual promiscuity.

Of Insatiable Lust and Passivity

“All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable”
-Malleus Maleficarum

Though we have no evidence for the integration of sexual activity into the human practice of Seiðr, the association between witches and carnality is far older than the fevered fears of the Early Modern Period, with evidence presenting itself from the mythical realm rather than the historical (Tolley 164). It is a thread that connects witchcraft, or rather ideas of witchcraft throughout the ages.
Gefjun tricks King Gylfi into giving her land in exchange for ‘amusement’ and Freyja beds dwarves in exchange for Brisingamen. Each is referred to as being a farandi kona, or ‘travelling woman’ – a term that held connotations of both ‘witch’ and ‘whore’ (Tolley 451). The insatiable woman was ǫrg, as the male practitioner of Seiðr was ergi (Tolley 156).

To approach an understanding of ergi though, one must first understand something of Viking Age ideas on gender roles. As in the Early Modern Period, the people of the Viking Age had very definite ideas about what was proper with regards to sex and gender. In ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe.’, Carol J Clover makes the case that the sex a person was assigned by their social peers depended on their behavior, and that in given circumstances, both men and women could belong to the female gender. The male was seen as ‘active’, ‘honorable’, the ‘default sex’ even. And contrary to what many think, it was no shame or considered ergi for a man to participate in homosexual activity during this period, as long as he remained the penetrator as opposed to the penetrated.

Though it is hard to find a definition of ergi that works in all cases, I think that the one provided by Tolley serves. Ergi, regardless of sex, was the ”opening oneself up for sexual penetration by an inappropriate person”. For a woman, this was anyone outside of a licit relationship, however for a man, this was anyone or anything.

To solely focus on the sexual aspects of ergi though, would be to miss an important point. As the servant girl in Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða, observes ”everyone grows argr as he grows older”, which potentially implies a loss of virility, might, or even both. In terms of Clover’s work, this would represent a feminization of man as he ages and loses his ability to live without the help of others (Tolley 158-159).

Tolley asserts that there is value in considering ergi from the perspective of individualism vs relationality (relationality being “ the doctrine that transactions, interactions, social ties and conversations constitute the central stuff of social life.”) (Tolley 159-160, Tilly 2002) . The ideal Norse male was a hero, self-sufficient, strong – an individual that stands out even from his battle brothers (should he have them):
“Once individuality is set up as the favored focus of aspiration, expressions of relationality come to be despised, and when realized in extreme forms (such as acts viewed as involving ergi) as shameful.” (Tolley 159).
To practice magic, regardless of type or purpose, is to enter into a series of reciprocal relationships with, and to some degree rely on other beings. For the woman, relationality and that magic of the ties that bind – that frithweaving has always been her domain. It is telling that whatever forces were working to shape the vast social and economic changes of the Early Modern Period saw to it that the bonds between women, and between women and men, were destroyed.

The Enemy Unmasked

I believe that this has all been to our detriment. To be an individualist is to see the self as primary, it is inherently selfish and egotistical. It is that which says ‘give me’, and ‘I will’. It is that which does and takes without thinking of the consequences to others, whereas those who work within a web of reciprocal relationships must work within the web and keep the consequences of not doing so ever in mind.
Here is where we find the root of the poisonous vine that has us wrapped within its clutches. It is perhaps fitting that our greatest weapon is that which the inquisitors tried to kill – our ability to create meaningful, reciprocal relationships with each other.

And once more, we find ourselves in a race back to those days of subjugation and reproductive control, of relationships based on fear rather than love and trust, an excessive legal interference.

Reclaiming the Hall

This morning I watched a video on Youtube by the former leader of a racialist ‘Asatru’ organization in which he talks about producing content to push an ‘awakening of the folk’ though producing content. Content, he contends, facilitates social shifts – drastic social shifts. He is not wrong, this was certainly the case during the Early Modern Period. It was content that was then delivered in the form of books, pamphlets and illustrations that helped to render the very fabric of society asunder and subjugate half the population. For all this individual’s talk of ‘folk’ though – a term that implies relationality – he and people like him, still bow to the cult of individualism and the focus on hyper-masculinity that inspires it. For them, the Holy Powers are tools to be used for human political ends as opposed to being ends in of themselves, and once again, the bodies of women are commandeered for the ‘War of the Wombs’. White women are told to ‘breed for the folk’, in other words, to try and make enough white babies to stop the ‘browning of America’.

Though these people invoke Oðinn’s name often, these are not the acts based in relationality that he himself engaged in.

Loki spake:
“They say that with spells in Samsey once
Like witches with charms didst thou work;
And in witch’s guise among men didst thou go;
Unmanly thy soul must seem.”

Lokasenna 24

Nor is this the healing and building of community that we so sorely need. This is only ever a path to war and genocide, facilitated by the false buoying of the downtrodden by the introduction of the cause (and scapegoat) du jour. This is not a solution (even if it may seem to be so to some at the time).
Unfortunately, this man and the forces of dissolution represented by his organization are not the whole game, but manifestations of a wider social malaise. Our inner yards are broken, and relatively few of us even know what it is to live in an actual community. The ties that bind us, that weave us together become ever more frayed by the day. But this should be no surprise, for who is there to weave and repair what has been sundered, when the lady has been driven from the hall to be made servant to the childbed?
As witches, we tend to look to the wilds, but we have been driven to them as surely as missionaries drove the wihta further and further away from the enclosed spaces of man. And just as with wihta, it was by means of iron and fire that witches were driven back. Heiðr wanders the wilds because as Gullveig she was pierced by the iron of a spear and burned.

But what if the wild witch were to remember her sister and her craft? What if she were to learn how to weave hearts and minds together as well as seeking partnership and initiation among the trees? How would our society look if relationality and reciprocity were returned?

What if the wild witch were to remember that there was a time when she too worked the magic of the hall as her sister also worked the magic of the wilds, and that there wasn’t really any difference between them?

To be a witch is to bend, it is to manipulate and shape, and although I have little talent for diplomacy, I ask us to weave and be shapers here anyway.
I ask you to dream, to see the world in which you would have your children live and then work to help others to see it too. I ask you to become the shapers of words that help change the world for the better. I ask you to shape the words that teach relationality, compromise, community, and reciprocity, instead of that harsh individualism that ultimately robs a person of their humanity. I ask you to step out onto that No Woman’s Land and engage in this war for hearts and minds.

For if all of this is ergi, then we would do well to remind ourselves that it is in the practices that involve ergi that lies the greatest power.

Gullveig rose from the ashes of her pyre.
woman - wonder woman

Sources referenced
Caliban and the Witch – Silvia Federici
Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic – Clive Tolley
Stories, Identities, and Political Change – Charles Tilly

Clowns, Masks and Ritual

A Time of Madness, Masks, and Clowns

On the 20th of August 2016, some clowns allegedly tried to lure a kid into the woods near masks - wasco clownhis apartment complex in Greenville, South Carolina. Over the course of the next week, a further five sightings were reported to the local police department. Those of us who didn’t live in Greenville, especially those of us raised on Stephen King’s IT, were relieved to not be there. Over the course of the coming weeks, the number of sightings grew – as did the number of locations. People speculated that it was all some kind of publicity stunt for the upcoming IT remake, but the movie’s producer denied all. A kind of paranoia and hysteria grew around the clowns, and as the reports grew, so did the debate around just what the clowns were and why they had started to become so prominent. masks- evil clownSome people pointed out the Fortean aspects of these crazes (which happen periodically), whereas others just stuck to more mundane explanations of creepy attention-seekers in bought or rented suits and masks. In a kind of collective madness, exacerbated by the fever of the late election cycle, we hurtled towards Halloween and rumors of a ‘clown purge’. With the exception of one Halloween night attack on a family by a gang of clowns that thankfully left them with comparatively minor injuries, there was no purge. Then as quickly as it began, it was all over and the clowns disappeared from the news.

But regardless of whether some of the clowns were supernatural as some claimed, or simply fucked up people in scary masks, there is a curious history to clowns and the act of masking that deserves some examination. Because sometimes, as the saying goes, you have to dress for the job you want.

A Dichotomy of Clowns

Believe it or not, but as creepy as clowns are, the original clown (at least in the Anglosphere) was supposed to be a kind of harmless rustic fool. According to the Etymological Dictionary Online, the word ‘clown’ (as ‘cloyne’ or ‘clowne’) is theoretically derived from various Scandinavian language words for ‘clumsy’, and was first used in the 1560s to denote a ‘rustic boor, peasant’. (1) However, the word is not the thing, and the history of the ‘rustic fool’ figure in entertainment settings goes back to the Ancient Greek sklêro-paiktês, a word which comes from the verb paizein ‘to play like a child’. (2) This is not the only word for this kind of performer in Greek theater, but I do not need to include them here to further make the point that this figure of a ‘rustic fool’ that we call ‘clown’ is quite ancient.

Ancient Greek theater was inextricably tied up in acts of ritual, Aristotle even cited the cult of Dionysius as being the origins of drama.(3) While this is a claim that is still debated, it does illustrate that theater was not merely a form of entertainment for the Greeks (although it was undoubtedly that too).

The clowns, or rather ‘clown-like’ performers of today arguably have their origin in the Zanni of the 16th century Italian Commedia dell’Arte. There were essentially two types of Zanni: the stupid and boorish ( in other words, those we would recognize as being clowns today); and the intelligent trickster types. Strangely, it is the more threatening Zanni, the member of the Zanni known as Arlecchino – despite his somewhat darker theorized origins – who is considered to be among the stupid. To quote Jennifer Meagher from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

” The zanni (servants) were in many ways the most important—and certainly the most masks - harlequinsubversive—characters of the commedia, as their antics and intrigues decided the fate of frustrated lovers, disagreeable vecchi, and each other. Perhaps best known of these is Arlecchino, or Harlequin (1974.356.525), a character whose origin is contested. It is likely that he derived either from Alichino, a demon from Dante’s Inferno (XXI-XXIII), or from Hellequin, a character from French Passion plays, also a demon charged with driving damned souls into Hell. Arlecchino is characterized as a poor man, often from Bergamo, whose diamond-patterned costume suggests that he is wearing patchwork, a sign of his poverty. His mask is either speckled with warts or shaped like the face of a monkey, cat, or pig, and he often carries a batacchio, or slapstick.”(4) (Emphasis is my own.)

Also worthy of note here, is the fact that “All characters except Pedrolino and the innamorati wore masks, a tradition deriving from ancient Roman comedies, Atellanae Fabulae, that featured character types similar to those of the commedia.” (5) The Commedia has its roots in old old custom.

To return to that first quote though, and Arlecchino’s connection with hell in both of his origins stories, there is a far richer history to be found here that makes this hellish connection, and especially with the dead especially apt.

Harlequin and Herela Cyng

Harlequins are curious things, both in terms of their dress as the black-masked performer in checkered material carrying a club, and the history suggested by the etymology of their name. The most complete exposition of the history of both the name and character comes from Flasdieck in his 1937 article entitled “Harlekin. Germanischer Mythos in romanischer Wandlung”. In it, the origins of the word ‘Harlequin’ are traced back to the OE *Her(e)la cyng, or ‘King Harilo’, which is itself a by-name of Wodan – a god connected with leading the dead in the form of the Wild Hunt. (6) In turn, Flasdieck traces ‘Her(e)la’ back to *Xarilan – a word deriving from *Xaria, or ‘army’. This is synonymous with Herjann, and leads us to the Germanic tribal name, the Harii. (It’s all a lot more complex than that, I’m trying to condense about seven pages of etymology into less than a paragraph. Seriously, get Kershaw’s book if you can.)

Remember the black mask of the Harlequin? Maybe it’s no coincidence – per Tacitus in Germania 43 (emphasis is my own):

“As for the Harii, quite apart from their strength, which exceeds that of the other tribes I have just listed, they pander to their innate savagery by skill and timing: with black shields and painted bodies, they choose dark nights to fight, and by means of terror and shadow of a ghostly army they cause panic, since no enemy can bear a sight so unexpected and hellish; in every battle the eyes are the first to be conquered.”

Masks and Ritual

masks - Roman death

Image from here: http://bit.ly/2nBmA5a

Returning to the ancient classical world though, and this time the funerals of Rome, we see the act of masking in impersonation of the dead. One of the living would wear a death mask and clothes of the newly deceased, and impersonate them as much as they could. To clarify a little here, by ‘death mask’, I mean masks molded from the actual face of the deceased usually after death. Other mourners would similarly impersonate the ancestors of the deceased with their own respective masks. (7) Viewed from this perspective, the funeral then becomes a drama in which the decedent is escorted to the grave by the dead themselves.

To quote Kershaw in her ‘The One Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo) Germanic Männerbünde’, “It is the nature of the dead that they are not seen”, and yet there were times during the ritual year when the dead very much needed to be present. So how to solve a problem like that? How to give form to the unseen?(8)

Again from Kershaw (emphasis is my own): “The means by which they become the dead are Masks. By mask we do not necessarily mean something which covers the face. The most primitive form of masking is simply painting the face (and body). And while we have, from Scandinavia, representations of cultic dancers wearing very realistic wolfs’ heads and fur garments reaching to the knees, as in the helmet plate from Torslunda described in 1.4.3 above, other masks consist of (or are made to look like ?) parts of an animal’s head, or the whole head with the jaws agape and the masker’s face showing, as in the pictures of Herakles in his lion skin or Hades in his κυνη….The mask shows that the wearer is a dæmonic, or more-than-natural, being. He is no longer himself: he is an Ancestor.” (9)

Though Kershaw was writing about the embodiment of ancestors by living warriors by means of donning masks, this same principle applies equally to the impersonation of the deceased at the Roman funeral – the belief in possession by ghosts or the ‘more-than-natural’ is quite ancient.

Exapanding the ‘More-Than-Natural’

Earlier on in this post, I made the joke that sometimes you have to dress for the job you masks - werewolfwant, hopefully that joke is becoming somewhat clearer now. But I do not believe that this principle applies solely to the dead, and that we can see a form of this kind of embodiment of the ‘more-than-natural’ in some of the sources on shapeshifting too. For example, Sigmund and Sinfjötli of the Volsunga Saga become wolves through the donning of skins, and this theme survived into the 17th century when Thiess the self-described werewolf of Livonia testified that he and his fellow werewolves [on their journey to hell to retrieve seeds stolen by a sorcerer called Skeistan] had to strip off and don skins. (10)

Conversely, a person might return to the human state by either shucking the mask or skin, and/or dressing once more in the clothes of man. We see this at play in Petronius’s Satyricon in which a soldier protects his clothes by magically turning them into stone before turning into a werewolf. To protect one’s clothes is to protect one’s ability to return to the human state. This theme is also present in Marie de France’s 12th century lay Bisclavret (a Breton word meaning ‘werewolf’) in which a werewolf’s clothes are stolen him from returning to his human form.(11) This is not so different from the protective powers of cultivated land when being pursued by the Other in the wilds, the clothes acting as a civilizing influence in much the same way as working the land does a field.

Of Masks and Clowns

The 2016 spate of clown sightings were noteworthy in numerous ways, not in the least because every single clown described was of the ‘horror’ variety. They were embodying the Pennywise, the sick, murderous clown that goes out of its way to terrify children and adults alike, and all during a time of high passion and acrimonious national discourse. Given the historical use of masking within ritual contexts, and the meaning of that act of masking, a whole new dimension is added to the question of just what possessed those people to don those masks and go out behaving in ways they perhaps wouldn’t normally. Now obviously, I’m not suggesting that all of those clowns were possessed by some spirits stirred up by the then-zeitgeist, but it is an interesting thought, isn’t it?

Sources
(1) Etymological Dictionary Online – Clown

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=clown

(2) Etymological Dictionary Online – Coulrophobia

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=coulrophobia

(3) The Origins of Theater in Ancient Greece and Beyond: From Ritual to Drama – Eric Csapo, Margaret C. Miller P
(4)+(5) Commedia dell’Arte – Jennifer Meagher

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/comm/hd_comm.htm

(6) The One Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo) Germanic Männerbünde – Kris Kershaw (Pp 11, 15-19, 38-40)
(7) Impersonating the Dead: Mimes at Roman Funerals – Geoffrey S. Sumi
(8) The One Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo) Germanic Männerbünde – Kris Kershaw (p26)
(9) Ibid.
(10) Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages – Claude LeCouteux (Pp 118-121)
(11) Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages – Claude LeCouteux (Pp113-116)

A Witch That Cannot Hex Cannot Heal Pt 2

In the first part of this two-part series on hexing and healing, I wrote about my views on hexing. Now it’s time to look at the opposite end of that spectrum, and the ‘why’ behind the adage that a ‘witch that cannot hex cannot heal’.

One of the things that has always struck me about mainstream Pagan or Witch views is that while cursing is often disparaged, healing is not. Countless words have been written about the dangers of cursing from both spiritual and material perspectives, and yet little has been written about the dangers of healing.

If anything, we encourage people to participate in healing rites regardless of how well trained they are, and view them as being almost harmless. However, I would argue that healing can be a more dangerous activity to the healer – depending of course on how it’s done.

A Family Heritage Of Sorts

As I’ve mentioned about fifty billion times before, I come from a family of Spiritualists – mostly Spiritualist healers – and if there’s one thing I’ve seen from those who do a lot of healing, it’s that they often suffer from a lot of sickness themselves.  I can even name family members who I believe wound up in an early grave because of their involvement in healing practices.

My dad once explained that when it comes to healing, he takes on what they have. I’ve had more people than I can count approach me to tell me about how my dad was talking to them, began wincing, described something they hadn’t mentioned, and then healed them of that pain. These people were often people we didn’t really know too – one woman was a stall-holder at the local market who sold rugs!

Looking at my family’s Spiritualist background, it’s all too easy to turn around and say that that’s something that happens to Spiritualists, and that they’re obviously doing x, y, and z wrong. After all, what else could my father expect if he takes on what others have? And yet, I’ve never seen it be an intentional thing for my father – more like something that is triggered when he comes into contact with the sick.

I also have a friend who is a professional healer. Unlike my father, he’s trained in multiple healing traditions, has years of experience, and yet healing can make him sick if he’s not careful. Sometimes it’s the expenditure of energy, but sometimes, a healer cannot help but have to go and encounter that which is causing the sickness in the first place – especially when working within an animist paradigm.

The point of this though, is that both cursing and healing are potentially dangerous to those who do them. They’re also opposite ends of the same continuum.

Introducing ‘Hælu’

I think a lot of people have a sense of this continuum if not the words and historical evidence. However, there are words and there is evidence for both.

We find our first word in the Old English word ‘Hælu’. It’s a lovely word, the Old English word from which we get our modern word ‘hale’, as in ‘hale and hearty’. But unlike the modern version of the word, the meanings of hælu were much ‘wider’ in scope. To quote Stephen Pollington from p453 of Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant Lore and Healing:

“The quality which keeps a person well is called in Old English, ‘hælu’, which can be translated as ‘health’ or ‘wholeness’, although this is slightly misleading. ‘hælu’ is a derivative of the adjective ‘hal’ which survives into modern times as the words ‘whole’ and ‘hale'; it implies good fortune, prosperity, good health, general benefit and well-being (and in Christian times, salvation). From it are derived also the verb ‘ hælan’ (make whole), our word ‘heal’ and another adjective ‘halig’ (holy) with the sense ‘blessed’, ‘fortunate’, ‘favoured by the gods’. The reverse of ‘ hælu’ is ‘unhælu’ which is a kind of ‘negative health'; to have ‘unhælu’ is both to lack the positive quality of health and to have the negative ‘unhealth’, disease, illness, misfortune.”[1]

As you can see from the above description, physical health was connected with what we would today consider completely unrelated matters, like ‘good fortune’, and ‘prosperity’. By extension it’s also connected with words that refer to a state of being ‘blessed’, or ‘favored by the gods’. The fact that those seemingly disparate concepts are all able to be expressed by one word suggests that at one point they were considered to be all part and parcel of the same thing – a quality inherent to a person.

To restore this quality (by whatever means) is to heal, to take this quality is to curse. This is why ill health often plagues those who are cursed and can even be one of the signs that a person has been cursed (if other signs are also observed concurrently). To manipulate this quality in any way without knowing what you’re doing is dangerous, and to manipulate this quality in any way while sick is eventually deadly.

Never So Simple A Story

But even then, the lines between healing and cursing were not so clear cut. Sometimes you had to curse an illness or growth in order to heal the person as in charm number 162 of the Lacnunga (a book of Old English magico-medical cures). In this charm, which is believed to cure cysts, we are given a story about the ‘nine sisters of noðþ’. Who this ‘noðþ’ is beyond an anthropomorphic representation of the medical complaint is not important (which is good, because we don’t know anyway). What is important is that the charm essentially counts them out of existence, in other words, this is a form of curse.

‘…then the nine became eight, and the eight to seven, and the seven to six, and the six to five, and the five to four, and the four to three, and the three to two and the two to one, and the one to none’

Bye Felicia.

Remember those pesky elves and their shot from the last post?

Well, we also see cures for all manner of ‘elf’ ailments in the Leechbooks too. Some of these can be traced to actual physical diseases, however others may refer to elfshot (curses) by witches, and other elf-related afflictions (which were, with the exception of some identifiable ailments, normally related to pains of the torso or mental ailments producing delusions). And elves weren’t just connected with cursing either – the right offering to the elves could hasten the healing of a loved one or friend as in Chapter 22 of The Saga of Cormac the Skald.

Again, my point here is that these things are not so clear cut, and that by viewing cursing and healing as some kind of ‘good vs evil’ dichotomy, we’re not only missing the point, but potentially endangering would-be healers by not acknowledging the danger inherent in being a healer, nor the necessity of training and aftercare. Because at the end of the day, healers work far more intimately and generally for far longer periods of time with their patients and the ailments they bring than most people ever do with curses.

So if anyone is going to get the metaphorical sticky turd on them, it’s the healers. It’s about time we respected that and stopped encouraging every one and their mother to have a go like it’s some harmless thing anyone can do without consequence.

[1]    Pollington, S. (2000). Appendix 3 Causes of Disease. In Leechcraft: Early English charms, plant lore, and healing (p. 453). Norfolk, England: Anglo-Saxon Books.

A Witch That Cannot Hex Cannot Heal Pt 1

The Perils of Hyperbole and Hex

It would seem that my last post confused a few people with regards to my position on hexing. Apparently satire is not so easy to spot in the age of fake news, regardless of how many hyperbolic statements are included, and I apologize for that. Judging by the comments, some people were so angry they didn’t even make it to the end of the post before exiting, and so didn’t see my final word on the matter.

But maybe that’s to be expected. This is one of those subjects that gets people’s backs up no matter what ‘side’ of the debate they fall on, and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember.

There are a lot of reasons for this depth of ire, and a lot of layers here to dissect. From what I’ve seen on the anti-hexing side of things, you have the influence of Wicca and the threefold law on the wider community, coupled with what I believe is a genuine desire to be ‘good’ in many people… and perhaps no small amount of identity politics. There are of course other reasons both philosophical and theological to take into account, but they all essentially boil down to this idea that if you hex, then you will have some kind of negative return on it as a kind of punishment.

As someone who is not so much pro-hexing as just views it as yet another tool in my magical toolbox, I have a disdain for others acting as though their ethics and their way of seeing things is the one true way™, and that anyone who doesn’t agree isn’t a ‘real witch’ ™.

Listen, if you are someone who believes it’s wrong to hex, then all power to you. That’s fine for you, but when you start trying to tell others ‘how things are’, well then you really have to ask yourself what the difference is between yourself and the Christians who are convinced that we all worship devils. Because if you’re really going to get into that one true way mindset, then eventually you’re also going to have to address the matter of who is ultimately right.

The Problem of Morality in Witchcraft

Witchcraft is a path of moral relativism, for there is no morality inherent in Witchcraft other than that of the Witch him/her/them self/selves. Even when people claim to take their morality from their interactions with the Other or the Earth, there is still relativism there because it’s one thing to have an interaction with the other, but we all perceive and process our interactions differently. Sure, we all usually get the basics down the same, such as “I was walking down the street and bumped into Gavin and Sue”, “we were stood outside the supermarket and chatted”, and “Gavin had to leave after a while”. But when we get into the finer details, that’s when we see the differences in interpretation. Sue may say that Gavin seemed like he was being a bit short with everyone but the narrator may think Gavin was just being his usual self.

These differences are further compounded when we move into the less tangible realms of trance and Otherworldly experience, and while a common ‘gist’ may come through to multiple people. Those multiple people may process and interpret that gist very differently.  And that’s even before we get into the matter of just what the Other you’re dealing with considers to be moral vs you as a human continuing to live lawfully in human society. It’s hyperbole, but taking morality tips from a bunch of redcaps (should you survive the experience) is likely to land you in jail for murder. See what I mean?

The Other Side of Hex

For me, it is in this consideration of the Other where the whole concept of a cosmic force that punishes baneful magics really falls down. After all, how often do you see stories of fae folk in which the ‘threefold law’ or karma, or whatever name you want to apply to that force fucks them up for cursing humans? I’m yet to find any.

And before anyone says “that’s different”, from a historical perspective it’s really not. In fact, the symptoms of a curse by human witch or fairy were so similar that in Irish culture the source had to be diagnosed by a kind of specialist (1). It is a theme in both Irish and Germanic cultures that witches derive their powers from the Other – including the power to curse (2). In the Germanic iteration of this theme, witches received the elfshot (curses) that they shoot or fire at other people from the elves (3).

So for me, I don’t see how a threefold law (or similar) can exist within any worldview that includes the Other Crowd in any kind of a meaningful way. Because if cosmic law be cosmic, then surely it applies to every being within the cosmos? This includes the Good Folk, and you can hardly separate the Gentry from the Witches.

Layers of Action, Layers of Magic

Another reason why this view of negative magics coming back to get you because of (insert term for force here), is because of how magic works within a Germanic context (which as my internet name suggests, is where I take most of my magical cues from). Because of the Germanic view of time, there are essentially two different kinds of magic within Germanic culture: temporary and permanent. To avoid getting into terminology, what we do in the now sets down layers in our past, and those layers accumulate over time into themes or patterns that keep repeating through our lives as we go along (4). What we put down now, affects what we’ll have to work with in the future. Makes sense, right?

This ‘mechanism’ is something you see at play in the descriptions of magic in the sources. Some forms of magic, like the spun magic that raises a storm or ensnares a mind, only last for as long as they’re being performed (5). As long as that action isn’t calling up a storm that sinks a ship and results in the deaths of people you hate, then these don’t have to be deadly. Sometimes, if you find the right place to ‘tweak’ with a single action, you can still cause some long-lasting woe for your enemy, but it’s usually not too difficult for them to fix should they discover that point of manipulation.

However, we also see the use implements such as the tablet weaving tablet (which I discuss more fully here) imbued with the intent of passing off the creator’s bad luck to a hated person. With every turn of that tablet, and every row woven, that would be a little layer being put down, a little more worked, a pattern created in the victim’s life (which would also potentially compound itself further as more and more bad things happen to the victim setting down their own layers). That would eventually grow and become something that lasts, and any attempts to change it would take a lot of effort and time. It may not even be possible for the victim to get out from under that.

The ‘Blowback’

With any of these magics though, you have to keep in mind that not only is the working of whatever you’re doing changing what is laid down for them, but also conceivably for you too – unless you find a way to set something up to work continuously in the background (also a popular option). But the woman with the tablet weaving tablet would have had as much time as she spent working that curse set down as layers for herself just as much as they were for her victim (albeit from the opposite side of things). What that could have meant for her is less clear than what it could have meant for her victim, but it didn’t have anything to do with a cosmic boogeyman.

It was the long-term accumulated consequences of her own actions, and in that way, baneful magics (or any other type of magics) are no different from anything else we do in life. No matter what we do, whatever action we take, we will always have to eventually face those long-term accumulated consequences. This can be as mundane as drinking too much alcohol or making bad financial decision after bad financial decision (especially if you’re not on the luckier end of the scale – but we’ll get to that another time).

Another theory that I see batted around about cursing is that in working with those more negative energies, you can’t help but get them on yourself like some kind of sticky turd. However, in my experience that isn’t nearly as much of an issue when you practice purification rites after doing your workings.

A Nuanced Tool

Ultimately though, this is just how I see things and the reasons for why I see them as I do. As I said earlier in this piece, cracking out the nasties is just one tool in my magical toolbox, and it’s a tool that is extremely nuanced in its use. Because of this nuance, you have to learn how to curse just as you have to learn how to heal – because if there is one thing that is truly dangerous about cursing to the practitioner, it’s screwing up your working. However healing is not without its risk either, but I’ll save that for the next blog.

Either way, none of us are ever going to change each other’s minds, but if there is one thing that we should all fight to preserve, it’s that there is no one true way in Witchcraft. Because even with the best of intentions, a person who believes they have the ultimate handle on the truth can do some truly evil things.

Sources
1. Morgan Daimler – The Witch, The Bean Feasa, And The Fairy Doctor In Irish Culture
2. Ibid
3. Alaric Hall – Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
4. Paul Bauschatz – The Well and the Tree
5. Eldar Heide – Spun Seidr

Why Witches Who Curse Aren’t Really Witches

So, the apocalypse has come and sundry magic workers are throwing more curses than an episode of American Dad throws shade. There was that one that was supposed to be written by some anonymous person in some super seekrit magical order that got passed around the internet faster than herpes at an orgy. It was problematic – for many reasons (see my rant on my FB page for details).

But worse than that, it was wrong.

Naughty, bad, wrong.

And I’m here to tell you that if you did that, if you *EVEN* think about cursing anyone, then you’re not a witch. So why are you all pretend witches if you curse then? Let me learn you a thing or two in my handy, serious as fuck, five point guide.

1. Rocks and Karma
So here is the thing, karma is going to fuck you up if you curse someone. It’s like a cosmic hit-man that goes round getting people who do ‘no-no’s. But don’t get fresh and start thinking you’ll score a huge lottery win if you earn enough karma points! Everyone *knows* that it doesn’t work like that, because karma is a bit shy about giving you really good shit for huge acts of good, but really amazing about giving you epic shit for a tiny bit of bad. It’s like a zero tolerance policy with a threefold return.

One way to explain it, is if you pick up a rock and let go of it, it falls to the earth. Now a lot of people might call that ‘gravity’, but that’s really a demonstration of how karma works, and you can always tell you’ve already fucked up because when you drop it, it falls on your toe. Does this analogy make sense to you? Because if it doesn’t, you should probably stay away from *all* magic because I just learned you the physics of witchcraft right there.

2. Cursing is an Addiction
Everyone knows that people who curse turn into power-hungry dickwads and that that

poppet - curse

This is just as addictive as crack. #NeverOnceTheHexCrack

power is addictive. Studies have shown that cursing is just as addictive and as harmful as either meth, or four marijuanas injected intravenously between your toes. It’s a slippery slope, and it doesn’t matter *why* you do it or how ‘noble’ you think your reason for cursing is. As soon as you get out those poppets and pins, you are on a fast track to fiending all the baneful magics, and that is something Real Witches ™ just don’t do.

3. The People in the Past were Amateurs

tablet weaving curse

Viking age hex addicts…morons.

Now some of you reading this will probably respond with a ‘witches in Britain cursed the nazis’, or that we have plenty of evidence for cursing going all the way back to the ancient world. Well, that’s great, but it doesn’t matter. Those people were obviously amateurs who didn’t understand the physics of witchcraft (see: point #1). It’s not their fault though that they didn’t know as much as we do now about the forms of magic they originated/were taught/existed within their culture with about the same level of commonality as hemorrhoids in the over 50s (or post childbirth) crowd. They just weren’t as enlightened as we are now, and we know that if Owd Demdike is giving it def at the other end of the village about you and using image magic on your hovel, the best answer is not necessarily to fiend the vil magics. What they didn’t understand about those situations is that in all likelihood, what Owd Demdike *really* needed was reiki, or some other form of healing, but sadly reiki hadn’t been invented by that point and so people suffered.

4. Famous Wiccan Authors Said Not To Do it
This should be a no-brainer but it just isn’t. A lot of people say that what those famous people say doesn’t apply to them because they’re not Wiccans and those Wiccans can only say who is in their in-group or not. But that is simply not true. These people got to where they are because they know, and because of that, they get to decide who is real and who isn’t. Also, they were really really brave for writing about their religion despite their oaths like they did so that we can all know what they really do in their covens and circles (this is important, I was working in an oblong shape before reading some of those books, and once there was that really ill-advised parallelogram). #NeverAgainTheParallelogramTimes.

5. Cursing Often Requires You Do Or Use Gross Things
This is one of the worst things about cursing, well, aside from the ethics, sometimes

Nidstang-curse

See, nasty. Here’s a dead horse on a stick pointed at the house of whoever they hate. Nasty.

people who curse use dead things. Ew, how nasty is that? That is NOT the witchcraft I know! I mean, they’re the kind of people to hide partially decomposed bits of animals in anthills to get them ‘cleaned’ so they can then put that shit in a jar or something. Or use things like animal hearts and blood. That’s just nasty, who does that?!

shoe - curse

More nastiness. A shoe filled with wax and a dead bird. This is what hex addiction does.

Addicts, that’s who. Like I said above, those baneful magics are as bad as meth, and just like meth, you can literally get your hands blown off cooking it up.

As you can see, none of these reasons are because of Wiccanism or Wiccanatism (except for maybe point #4), they’re about how things really work.

If you have someone you really hate or is threatening your family, you’d be far better off getting a teddy bear (or making a healing poppet if you’re not already a hex addict), and distance-reikying-it-up to give them the healing they so desperately need to advance and become enlightened.

You should also really ask yourself what you’ve done for karma to be giving you such trials and tribulations in putting that person on your path. Lastly, if you survive the experience, you need to ask yourself what you can learn from the experience.
/sarcasm

Final Word
Whatever you do though, it’s really none of my fucking business what another witch decides is an appropriate response to a situation, and unless you’re involved in the working or the one/s being worked against, it’s likely none of your business either. Also, let’s be real for a moment about all of this business of withdrawing other people’s ‘witch cards’ – on the most simple level, a ‘witch’ is someone who *does* witchcraft. It doesn’t matter if you like what another witch does, if they’re doing it, they are it. They’re just an example of that ‘it’ you disagree with, and that’s ok. Trying to attach an arbitrary set of ethics onto the craft that can then be used as a way to demarcate who is and who isn’t a ‘real witch’ is massively problematic. A religion may have a common set of ethics, but witches have traditionally held a myriad of religious views depending on their native cultures, and have often practiced the craft in opposition to those views. For example, the famous witches from my home county were Christians, we have recorded charms from them, and yet we all know what Christianity has to say about witchcraft. (Clue: it bad.) Wicca and other witchcraft traditions that blend religion with the craft are really the outliers in the grand scheme of things, and it’s cool that it works for them. But to then turn around and think the ethics of those paths are (or should be) common to all witches regardless of tradition, is just plain wrong. It’s also massively arrogant. The real ethics of witchcraft are the ethics of each individual witch alone, and that is that.

So let’s give the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy a break, and I’ll go prise my tongue from out of my cheek, aye?

Until the Herb Releases

I’m the whirling storm
The maelstrom
The howling wind over shingled roofs
Wild and unfettered I wend my way
Wind-breath soul in flight
Through the tiniest of cracks in heavy wooden doors
Without disturbing the latches I move
A breath
A dream
I take to the skies
I breathe deep the scent of ozone
And I shriek

I shriek of madness
Of Strife
And of “fuck you very much”
I exorcise myself of things too long left unsaid
Words impaled by teeth on tongue
The metallic tinge of blood swallowed back
My mouth is aflame
All righteous fury as I spit

I am that which cannot be controlled
I am the bee in the bonnet
that which is stuck in the craw
Subversive, I transgress
My nails are arrows
And my hair, snakes
I am that which has always existed
And that which always will
And I’m never alone

Until the herb releases
When I sink once more
The wind finally calmed
Slipping back through the door
My lic barely breathing
I lie on myself
Yawn deep
And I’m homeDream - mandrake

Witchcraft is Not Safe (Redux)

A Demon and a Palm Tree

There’s been a curious post going around on social media this morning. It’s a photograph that was purportedly taken in Arizona of what appears to be a demon dallying in a street. Over and over again, I’ve seen people assert that it’s a palm tree, despite the fact that it’s clearly not. Let’s face it, it looks nothing like a palm tree. Now I’m not saying it is a demon, we do live in the era of Photoshop, but what is curious is the vehemence that people are defending the palm tree explanation. This reminded me of something I heard while in a trance once. In the trance I was walking down the street, but it wasn’t just populated by the living and seen, but by everything from ghosts, to faeries, to creatures of a more mythological nature. Weaving in and around the living and seen, they went completely unnoticed, and I was baffled. How could these people just go about their shopping and *not* notice that dragon? Then came the voice. It was not a ‘head voice’ but external, coming with all the force of an air canon.

“They won’t see because they don’t want to see.”

That sounds like the kind of bullshit thing a shill sells to people in order to blur the lines of their reality and make them more invested in what the shill has to sell; but there is a truth to it.

Because that is how a whole bunch of people can look at a photo of a demon dallying down some Arizona street and argue vociferously that it’s a palm tree. They simply don’t want to see. Even in the age of Photoshop when you can create a demon and add it to a photo to freak people out on the internet, people will still argue for the tree. The bubble is being threatened, and any suggestion that things are not as they seem must be destroyed in the most mundane way possible.

The lines must be redrawn between the possible and impossible and the world reasserted, people must feel safe.

Because if we do live in a world in which there might be a demon that saunters down some street in the South West, then that means that there are a whole load of possibilities and dangers that people don’t know how to counter, and nobody likes that. Who among us doesn’t like feeling like we’re the one in charge?

In the same vein, it would seem that my post ‘Witchcraft is Not Safe (and Nor Should it Be!)’ has resurfaced after almost a year of floating in the depths of the web after the initial furor. Now, as then, I’m facing a whole bunch of criticism for having the audacity to actually go to a burial mound and call up the dead.

However, in an almost-year of reading and countering criticisms about something I did back in 2005/2006 by people who obviously know far better than I did in my twenties, I’ve learned a thing or two about that criticism.

First of all, this criticism is neatly avoiding the point of the post, but also proving it in some ways. It seems to come from certain groups more than others, but all essentially boils down to the same thing: if you place the blame on the practitioner, nothing is changed. Witchcraft remains that benign, misunderstood thing that is sold as part of the shitshow that is modern identity politics, and there’s nothing that could *really* harm you – except maybe breaking that ‘rule of three’ (and don’t get me started on that one).

Often it starts out with a ‘this wouldn’t have happened had you (not) done _______’. But the curious thing I’ve noticed about participating in these discussions and countering that criticism (because I do really want people to get what I was saying), is that when you counter with how you did do that, then you end up with a litany of similar pronouncements. The more you counter and detail the measures you took, the more the goalposts widen, and in the end it feels as though you’ve gone well into the territory of clutching at straws.

Challenging the Status Quo

People in Pagan magical communities, especially those who are considered authorities (or would like to be), hold up things going off without a hitch as being some kind of gold standard of their skill. But I don’t think that’s anything anyone should be proud of – no sword was ever considered strong or even usable without being tempered first. If anything, this adherence to making out like your magical shit doesn’t stink is contributing to the moribund state of magic in modern Paganism. Moreover, if you are actually out there, pushing boundaries, working at leveling up, and you don’t have at least some stories of when things went tits up. Well, you’re either lying your arse off because you don’t want to look unskilled, you’re not as experienced as you claim, nothing is happening for you, or you’re staying where it’s safe.

There’s a point to be made about this idea of safety too. We humans like to be safe. Ever since the beginning of humanity we’ve been running risk assessments and mitigating the dangers in our lives. For the most part, we’ve got the physical side of things down. Science tells us how things work, we have some measure of predictability, and we generally sleep at night without worrying about things like changelings, revenants, and goodness knows what else.

So when something comes along that challenges that sense of safety and predictability in a visceral (as opposed to the more typically cerebral) way, we fight back. We lash out at it in the hopes that it will go away. We try to find ways to explain the scientifically unexplainable in ways that are more acceptable to our worldviews. We scream that the denizen of hell in fuck knows where AZ is a palm tree.

We try to convince ourselves once again that we are safe and that anything vaguely threatening can be put down to some fucking amateur on the internet. In other words, we convince ourselves that nothing like that could ever happen to us. That kind of thing only ever happens to other people, and probably because they didn’t follow (insert piece of worldview that further reinforces a sense of safety here).

Redux

Witchcraft is not safe (and nor should it be!), because if it is, then we’re not pushing things forward. An element of risk is a part of this game, and if you look at that risk and ask yourself why anyone would do that, then maybe it’s not the game for you.

Witchcraft is not safe (and nor should it be!), because the unseen doesn’t come with D&D-style stat sheets that we can compare with our own and make the decision to keep away. They do come with a fuckton of agency though, you know, as you might expect for independent beings that aren’t just figments of the imagination. And sometimes, you don’t get to the ‘goodies’ until you’re a few hours into ritual.

Witchcraft is not safe (and nor should it be!), because now more than ever, we need to see the world for what it is and deal with it on that basis. We need to break down our mental barriers, hate fuck the Demon Palm Tree Bubble out of existence, and reclaim what we actually lost. People talk a lot about re-enchanting the world, but to me, that sounds like a goal-idea set further down the road that people can get behind as being interesting but without actually really changing anything in the now. It remains safe because it’s not so much in the now, and we are apparently the ones to be doing the re-enchanting. Well, have you ever considered that maybe the world never stopped being enchanted but we just learned to not see it anymore (lashing out whenever we’re given a hint of it)?

Witchcraft is not safe, for a whole host of reasons, but it should never be unsafe because the people you’re working with don’t appreciate the agency of what they’re working with, have an unrealistic view of what could potentially happen, or a lack of ability to roll with it when shit goes down. Because if we’re to break down that Demon Palm Tree Bubble and live in this ‘reenchanted’ world, it is far better to be the tempered blade than the good-looking, shiny one that was never tested.

Meme Magic

A Synchronicity And Meme Magic

Synchronicity is a strange old thing. Write a post mentioning meme magic one day, and get a podcast in your podcatcher the next about that very thing.

You may have already heard of the Pepe the Frog meme, a rather (in my opinion) uninspiring meme created in 2005 by a Matt Furie. Described by the ever-colorful Encyclopedia Dramatica, Pepe is a “retarded cartoon frog that has plagued the chan imageboards (and later the world)”, if you find him as uninspiring as I do, it’s hard to see why Pepe has become some popular. However, while the Encylopedia Dramatica attributes Pepe’s success to “the autistic basement-dwellers who won’t stop shitposting it”, A.T.L Carver attributes Pepe’s success to far more arcane reasons (see first link at the end for more). Reasons which I’m going to unpack here as well include my own additions, because it is all really quite uncanny.

In (Not So) Fair 4Chan Do We Set Our Scene

For those of you who avoid the dank 4chan (and similar) areas of the internet, the first thing you need to understand about 4chan is that anonymity is preferred. The second is that there are different boards on the site dedicated to a wide-range of topics, and that basically anything goes. Lastly, you need to know that Pepe somehow became the unofficial mascot of the /pol/ chan (‘politically incorrect’ board).

It’s hard to make any concrete statements about 4chan and the users who make up the site, there’s just far too much diversity of opinion on there to really label it one way or another. It is equally possible to see posts from alt-right and self-described Nazis as it is from communists, or indeed anything else. However, one thing they all seem to value is the right to say whatever the hell they want. In many ways, 4chan is the epitome of chaos.

However, as you will see, the association between Pepe and /pol/ would come to be a match made by Eris.

When Trump announced his candidacy Pepe became connected with Trump, but it wasn’t long before this link took a more bizarre and esoteric twist.

Meme Magic - Trump pepe

”Dubs” and “GETS”

The next thing that you need to understand about 4chan is that while the site is mostly anonymous, each post is assigned a 9 digit (it was 8 digit) ID number after posting. Because of the sheer volume of users on the site, this makes it impossible to know if you’re going to get what is known as “dubs”. “Dubs” are basically when you get the same two digits at the end of your post ID number. So for example, ‘#569823055’ would be a “dub”. The same principle applies with “trips” and “quads” (three and four of the same digits at the end of a post ID).

Because of the randomized nature of “dubs”, it became common to bet on “dubs”, in other words, to make a post essentially stating that it was going to be a “dub”, and when these bets were successful, they were “GETS”.

This may all seem pretty random right now, but bear with me, it will all start to become clear as I go on.

Now, 4chan is a heavy traffic site with around 900,000 – 1,000,000 posts per day. It’s a behemoth of a site, and it’s this traffic that needs to be kept in mind when considering the probability aspect of “dubs” and “GETS”. The chances are…well, people try to work it out all the time and invariably end up arguing about it, but it’s fairly high. It’s not something you can exactly plan, and so when “dubs” reoccur around a subject or personage, significance tends to be assigned.

Meme Magic - prophecy

‘The Prophecy of Kek’. Note the post ID #.

At some point during Trump’s campaign, users noticed a higher percentage of “dubs” and more frequent “GETS” on posts involving Trump. But the real breakthrough in this omen-via-4chan-ID-number came on 06/19/16 when post ID #77777777 made the declaration that “Trump will win”. This became known as ‘The Prophecy of Kek’.

Enter Kek

You’re probably wondering who this ‘Kek’ is.

Before going any further in this direction, it’s worth pointing out that the use of the word ‘Kek’ on 4chan and similar boards predates the election by about six years. Originating from Korean World of Warcraft players, ‘kek’ came to replace the ever-ubiquitous ‘lol” in these venues. Interestingly this happened either around the same time as, or shortly after the beginning of the Pepe trend on 4chan.

meme magic kek1However, it didn’t take long for some enterprising 4channer/s to discover that there was an Ancient Egyptian frog-headed god of primordial darkness. Counted among the Ogdoad, Kek was one of eight primordial Old Kingdom deities that were considered ancient even by the time of the composition of the Pyramid Texts (officially 2400-2300 BCE, although that is debated). Kek was the ‘bringer of light’, the chaotic darkness that heralded the new dawn – or at least that’s how the denizens of 4chan have taken him to be. For the users of 4chan, all of this added up to one thing: Trump was ‘god’s chosen candidate’.

Only it wasn’t the god that most people would think of when reading that statement.

For the ‘Kekists’ of 4chan, Pepe/Kek’s power was further reinforced around 9/11/2016 when Clinton fainted on camera. In a campaign that was marked by criticism of pandering by the press, a showing of any weakness from Clinton was welcomed by the opposition. A day later, the Clinton campaign site denounced Pepe as a symbol of white supremacy, and around the same time, some 4channer/s found what could be considered the anthem of Pepe.
meme magic - clinton

Produced by a band called SHADILAY and predating the campaign (and Pepe) by many meme magic - pepeyears, the CD for the song P.E.P.E (an acronym standing for ‘Point Emerging Probably Entering’) depicted a frog on its cover. Moreover, as one 4chan user pointed out, the clock on the album artwork looked a little familiar.
meme magic - album

meme magic - clock

Spot the “dubs”? What is the probability of that?

Speaking of probability, around two years ago, a new Pepe became far more common: smug Pepe. So named because…well, he looks smug, postings of smug Pepe were met with the response of “Why so smug, Pepe?” The first known meta discussion about smug Pepe took place in August 2014, and various theories have been put forth since then for the rise of smug Pepe.

Looking back, it’s almost like ‘Pepe’ knew something, right? Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

Another strange synchronicity (?) surrounding a frog god that is worth mentioning here is

the inclusion of the ‘frog god’ card in the 1994 collectable version of the Illuminati game.

meme magic - frog god

“The idols are both frightening and silly, and noone knows why the masters keep them around.”

There have been all kinds of conspiracy theories that have sprung up around this particular version of the Illuminati game that you can check out online on sites like this. Basically, the theory is that certain key events were predicted by the 90s version of the cards, and looking back, you can compare the images on the cards with photos of real events or personages. A word to the wise though, some ‘predictions’ are far better than others.

The Cult of Kek: Memeing With Intent

As time went on, Kek seemed to gain more of an intentional following, and a cult of sorts has formed around the personage of this frog-headed god/internet meme. One of the main stories in this cult was the production of Kek statues for sale in which the hieroglyphs at the base of the statue seem to show a figure seated before what appears to be a computer screen with what looks like a DNA strand behind it.

Although the hieroglyphs indicate that the statue is in fact depicting Heqet, a goddess of meme magic - kek related goods fertility that also has the form of a frog, that ultimately doesn’t matter to the Kekists who have purchased it. For them and everyone else who doesn’t read hieroglyphs, the symbolism is clear, and in a world of meme, that’s all that really matters. A cursory search of Pepe and Kek-related goods on Amazon also reveals an awareness by participants in the various 4chan-originated memes and meme wars. Among Kek/Pepe-related booty to be found on Amazon are books on Kek’s cult, and more significantly, books on Kek/Pepe internet meme magic.
Customer reviews also speak to this awareness.

Meme magic - kek reviews

It would seem that Kek/Pepe is not just a meme or a sigil, but a hypersigil and symbol of a deity.

New Fronts Opening Up

A common mistake for a lot of people is to assume that the majority of 4chan users just want to see the world burn. After all, why would they intentionally wage a magical meme-war on the behalf of a candidate like Trump otherwise? But what you have to understand here is that they simply don’t see it that way. They saw a far greater threat in Clinton because of her establishment connections and her polices that went against the general sentiment of anti-globalism to be found on the board. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they see themselves as having saved the world.

And so we have a movement of people adept in a very democratized magic, with anti-globalist sentiments who, aware of their own power, are looking to take the fightMeme magic - memorial elsewhere to continue their take-down of globalism. I don’t mean to make them out to sound noble here, any quick glance at the /pol/ board will show some truly shitty opinions. Because on a site like 4chan, literally anything goes. The reasons of individual users for participating in this take-down are undoubtedly numerous and varied, some terrible, and some noble. But that’s not important here, what’s important is that there is a common ground upon which many people from many walks of life and of many different political ideologies can unite and fight. Ironically, in their desire to tear down what they perceive as being the walls of PC globalist culture, they may well end up contributing to the erection of far more walls for us all.

As for the new battlefront for the Cult of Kek? Well, France has an election coming up, and Marine LePen fits the anti-globalist sentiment.

Where Liberals Went Wrong

Of course, it’s all too easy to point to the ‘bad’ and denounce the evil. That is not what I’m doing here, ‘denouncing’ people has proven to be particularly ineffective in all of this, and why denounce when you can learn, regroup, and plan?

In the run-up to the election, many liberal-leaning witches and pagans opted to try and work against the Trump movement. However, from what I saw of these attempts, they were typically carried out by exclusive groups defined by either connection to a network (i.e., who they know), a paywall (if they could pay to participate), or a combination of both.

By contrast, the meme magic of 4chan users was democratized in that everyone in that hub of emotion and chaos that is 4chan could participate, and most importantly, spread it far beyond those cyber borders. There is something admirable about this, and something that those who worked along the lines of creating a government that is more of and for the will of the people would do well to acknowledge and understand. You need to know what that will is before trying to work for it – outside of your own political bubble that is. Because if that was your magical intent, then who’s to say your efforts didn’t ultimately help the opposing side? And this is an important point about this election, there were enough people whose will was simply ‘not Clinton’, that in a two party system, any magical work based in the will of the people would have supported Trump by default.

Magic users tend to think of themselves as being something of an exclusive club, and as a community we privilege some lineages or types of practice over others. We also give regard to the attainment of position in the hierarchies of our groups and often don’t take those who haven’t been through those more traditional routes as seriously as practitioners.

On the other hand, for the 4chan users/Cult of Kek people, there were no entrance grades for participation. No old-school networks or paywalls required. You didn’t even have to be known to people by name, and in a schema like that, you will always have the benefit of sheer numbers.

Because remember, even though not all of those 900,000 – 1,000,000 daily posters to

meme magic - 4chanstats

Screenshot taken 12/29/16

4chan participate in the meme war stuff, even a small percentage of that is still significant and likely dwarfs the efforts of the opposing side.

As I said at the beginning of this section, there are some powerful lessons to be learned here.

The first and foremost is that we need to look at ways to democratize our own magical campaigns. We don’t need a small number of specialists, we need a lot of people – even if they only know the absolute basics. Remember, many hands tear down walls, not just a few. This also means that we need to reassess our ideas of hierarchy within magical traditions, because if we want to have any hope of competing, this is something we need to do

Secondly, as always we need to take the time to understand the opposition. How many of us even did that to even a rudimentary level? This kind of intelligence-gathering is essential if we’re going to get anywhere.

Lastly, we need to look at our attitudes towards more democratized forms of magic such as chaos magic. Because in the case of Pepe the Frog, it was chaos magic that quite frankly ruled over the far more complex ceremonial attempts of others. There’s a lot to be said for symbols/sigils employed in an environment of intense emotion (chaos) and posted ‘for the lolz’ (or ‘keks’). As I’ve said before on this blog, we need to do what is necessary as opposed to sticking to the methods of whatever tradition we adhere to. This is the kind of time we live in, and we’ll get nowhere if we do not adapt.

Because the Cult of Kek has realized its power, and we’re still struggling to get our fucking shoes on and get out the door.

For more information on the Cult of Kek by someone who is actively monitoring, see here, and here.

More here from Vice.

Unweaving A War of Walls

Recognizing the War

We live in a time of walls. We always have of course, but there are periods of history in which those walls become more restrictive and in which newer walls are far too easily built. In an attempt to disprove the existence of these walls, the skeptic would point to the promise of the Constitution. “See, it’s all right here. There’s nothing to worry about.” Except there is, because often the most effective walls are those that aren’t enshrined by law but in culture instead.

That is a war that the less conservative among us have been failing at badly. Let’s face it, most non-conservativesmorgenrot-1585566_960_720 outside of minority groups didn’t even realize there was a war until relatively recently, even though more socially conservative groups have been fighting it for years.

The election was the dawning of a new era, because not only was it the beginning of what is looking to be a drastic change in direction for the United States, but because a good many people finally woke up to the war and saw the strength of the opposition.

Walls That Protect, Walls That Imprison

So we now find ourselves in a time of walls, but more accurately, in a time of walls that are beginning to encroach on the meagre areas we’d previously kept while believing ourselves to be free – ironic when one considers that our president-elect included a promise to build a wall in his election campaign promises.

But this post isn’t about those physical walls that are built, immigration law, or the election. There are plenty of places that are discussing all of the above ad nauseum and only adding more noise to the cacophonous furor that is social media. Besides, what would be the point of that on a magic blog?

This post is about walls from a magical perspective, the kinds of walls, their origins, and what we can do to tear them down in our own lives and practices.

Most walls are erected against the unknown dangers that lurk beyond the safety of the hearth. Since the beginning of human history, mankind has created enclosures around his dwellings in order to delineate ‘inner’ as opposed to ‘outer’, and more importantly ‘safe’ from ‘potentially unsafe’. From this view, not all walls are bad. However, a wall can just as easily be employed for constraint as for protection, and that is the kind of wall I’m writing about here.

How A Foundation Was Built

'Lilith', by John Collier

‘Lilith’, by John Collier

In the beginning, after some clarting about, the Bible tells us that the Jewish god created a man by the name of ‘Adam’, and a woman by the name of ‘Eve’. The Alphabet of Ben Sira places Eve as Adam’s second wife, a kind of replacement for Lilith who, made of dirt as Adam was, refused to obey and become subservient to him. After all, why should she if they were made of the same materia magica? Lilith then left and refused all attempts to compel her to return to a life of drudgery with Adam.

To circumvent this with woman 2.0, Eve was created from a piece of Adam so that she would have no claim to equality. It would be her lot in life to obey. This would form the foundations of one of the first walls. However, that was not the only foundation found in the myth of utopian Eden. Eve, or indeed every woman she represents, would play a far more damaging role in the mythological history of humankind.

The Garden of Eden is described as a paradise in which its inhabitants neither wanted for anything, nor knew the kind of trouble that disturbs the mind. It is the perfect place created by a loving father god for his children, but with one significant catch: eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was forbidden.

When you pare down this myth, when you remove the language of paradise and lack of want, what you are left with is an enclosure of sorts that is inhabited by people who are kept naked, ignorant, and obedient. From this perspective, the Fall of Man looks more like a jailbreak from an unethical science experiment than the disastrous curse upon humanity that it is often presented as.

What of the serpent, though? It seems impossible to extricate the serpent from Eve adameveherself, the name ‘Eve’, or its Hebrew form ‘Hawwah’ being possibly related to the Hebrew word for ‘serpent’. Watch out for the snakes, it’s all about the snakes. Were it not for the serpent’s temptation, Eve would have never eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, nor would Adam, and mankind would still apparently be living it up in the garden of Eden.

Just ignorant and naked, with no right to one’s body or mind.

Since the Fall, women have been held to be the disobedient and destructive sex, our wombs and vaginas passageways to filth and depravity, and our only salvation to be found in obeying men. In other words, our salvation is to be found in becoming the property of and putting ourselves firmly under the control of men.

“In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. -Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women, chapter 1

This is the foundation of one of the walls in our society, and a wall that for all of our advances in women’s rights, remains one of the strongest to this day. If anything, this wall is being rebuilt in the places where it was torn down, fortified, and new construction sites opened up. We see this in everything from the rise of MRAs, the increased attacks on reproductive freedoms, to the renewed popularity of the insult ‘cuck’ (a word deriving from ‘cuckold’ meaning ‘husband of an adulteress’, in other words, a man who was not able to control his woman – his property – well enough to prevent her from disobeying). On more subtle levels, we may even see the maintenance of and reinforcement of this wall in the censure of opinionated women in communities that might otherwise extol their own perceived egalitarian nature.

This is not the only wall either, I’m sure we could all think of more walls in our lives. Walls that affect how we see and deal with people of color, walls that affect how people of color must move in the world in order to do so with less harassment, walls that mandate that only one kind of sexual relationship is valid, walls that enforce gender binaries that harm people who simply just don’t fit in those boxes…well, you get the idea.

And all the while, we’re told that without those walls there would be chaos, anarchy, the destruction of order. The people of color will want revenge will come and get you without that thin blue line. Men won’t be able to control women and will end up in some 70s B-movie scenario in which men are enclosed in the same walls women are now. The gays will gay up your kids and people will invent new genders. People will marry outside their own cultures, no one will be able to say “Merry Christmas”, and it will probably also rain. We need the wall, the katechon, that which holds back all of those things they’ve taught you to fear.

Look at the media today, how much of it is focused on emphasizing the things that must be held back? How much of it justifies all those barrier construction projects? We need to do better than we are at recognizing it all, at taking a deep breath and deciding what to listen to and what to ignore. How many of our friends are complicit in this on social media? How many have swallowed the propaganda hook, line, and sinker? The first step for all of us is recognizing where the lines are drawn in our outer lives.

But this would not be a magic blog were I only to speak of the outer and political. Here is a place to discuss the inner too.

Or more specifically, once more the realm of dream.

The War on Dream

“Dream, I will argue, is made. The metaphor that first needs to be grasped is one that bears repeating, that of a war on dreaming. The decisive action here is the one embarked upon by John of Patmos, another exile bound to a far flung isle. His was a deliberate action which set out to not merely loose chimeras in the garden of the mind, but to bar the gates of dream itself. So this is where we decant our vitriol and dissolve the locks that John applied, which State and church imposed. This is by no means the end of the process, but the point at which we choose to begin.” – Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey

Dream is a special state of being, one we tend to think of as a place of infinite possibilitiesberlin-840174_960_720 in which we may do or experience any number of things that we cannot during waking life. However, from the work of scholars like Lisa Bitel and Jacques LeGoff, we know that our inner dreamscapes are in all likelihood artificially limited. That there are walls there. These are not walls that we can necessarily see from within dream for ourselves – after all, how can we know about the walls if they were set there long before we ourselves even had a chance to dream? However, there is a paper trail that can be followed that shows how clerics attempted to control dreamers and restrict the dreams themselves.

If that very idea doesn’t make you angry, I don’t know that anything can be done for you.

It wasn’t enough to control the waking world, they had to try and find ways to control and restrict the dreaming world too. Dreams came to be labelled as ‘devilish illusion’, and true dreams the sole domain of an elite of saints and Christian kings. Oneiric diversity withered, and the dreams of the common man evaporated from record like the dream that flees upon waking. Nowadays, a medium through which one might have previously entered into the Otherworld of one’s cultural and physical landscape stands weakened by ridicule, pop-psychology, and petty dream dictionaries that tell you nothing.

But we need to be able to dream, and we need to be able to dream fully, because it is through dream that we have some of our most effective communications with the Other. Without that, we will never fully pull down the walls of Christian worldview in our minds, or have those better ideas for new ways of doing things that our world so desperately needs.

The Fight

When I first started to perform the Stele of Jeu ritual from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM), it was, like for many others who begin this work, initially for the purpose of attaining the knowledge and conversation of a ‘holy guardian angel’ (in my case, more a daimon in the Greek sense). However, the more I performed it, the more I noticed that it was far more important than that. The Stele of Jeu is a freeing ritual, a ritual of unbinding and empowerment. It’s a ritual that tears down walls.

“Holy Headless One, deliver me from all restraining daimons and misfortune”

In Chaos Protocols, Gordon White observes that “One thing I will say with every confidence is that your dreams will certainly get a lot more interesting” as a result of performing the ritual, and I’ve found this to absolutely be the case. My dreams are now far deeper and coherent. They feel far less random and more like I am dealing with other intelligences and indeed, another world.

Yet it does not seem to be an effect that lasts perpetually. There is a drop-off in dreaming quality if I do not perform the rite on a regular basis. My dreams become shallow once more, punctuated only by the rare shining gem of a dream that happens to break through the morass of whatever unseen effects are at work in dream. The wall is resurrected once more and must be torn down anew in order to continue.

A Hidden Front In Plain Sight

We are very mistaken if we think there isn’t some kind of metaphysical war aspect to all of this too. How many of you have ever heard of Christian ‘prayer warriors’? Have you ever read their prayers, or what should more accurately be called spells? Just because they are addressed to the Judeo-Christian god or Jesus does not mean that they aren’t spells; the Grimoires are full of spells with similar language. What of the pope’s decree that Catholics only now store the ashes of their dead in special church-approved places? The dead are mighty, and such a place might be viewed as a source of power for a church that historically hasn’t been exactly shy about using its own magic. And what of the power of meme? We don’t often think of meme as being a potentially magical thing, but when you think about the ways in which memes are similar to sigils in Chaos magic, then they take on another aspect.

“Does not matter, need not be.”

How many of us see a meme, invest emotion into it (usually anger or amusement), and then either scroll on or engage with the discussion around the meme before scrolling on? At least sigil magic is done with intent. See, it is really that nefarious.

There is much to be unwoven here, a lot of unnecessary things that need to be paredberlin-1250861_960_720 away, and walls to be torn down both in our outer and inner lives. Becoming aware of those walls, and how they are built is only the first step. The next step is working consciously to bring them down through deliberate action, but we can only do that if we first free ourselves, and most importantly our inner worlds. Lastly, we need to counter the magic that enslaves dream and mind, finding ways to appeal to the hearts and minds of others – the Berlin wall was not torn down by the hands of a few, but by many. If there is anything this past election should have taught us, it’s that haughty cold logic and the mere presentation of that which holds back all that is bad is not enough. We need symbols and messages that appeal to not only minds, but hearts and souls too.

There’s a war on, it’s about time we fought back.

Elves and Sex

“Bye love, I’m off to go bang some elves in Iceland”

– How I imagine saying farewell to my husband when I go co-Host That Trip To Iceland With Land Sea Sky Travel

Back in 2008, an Icelandic lady by the name of Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir published her seminal (ha, see what I did there?) work ‘Please YousELF – Sex With The Icelandic Invisibles’. Now, Iceland isn’t a country in which elves making the news is all that uncommon, however this was particularly standout. Because for all the stories of road rerouting (like here), it’s really not that common for Icelanders to claim to be banging elves.

The internet naturally responded as you might imagine – with mockery. However, I for one am grateful for people like Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir for a couple of reasons:

1. The woman has balls of steel to put a book out about her elf-fucking experiences, under her own name, and go on camera talking about it too.

2. It was a really nice diversion from the usual ‘godspouse’ thing that you see in Heathen circles. Now I could digress into a bit of a rant about why elf-spouses would beat your average ‘godspouse’, but I don’t really think I need to do that. Seriously, just look at Hallgerður’s stick-figure drawings of elven sexy times. Case. Closed.

But on a more serious note, I was mostly happy to see Hallgerður’s stuff for another reason, and that’s because it got people talking about elves and sex, and well…that’s not that weird of an association to make.

To examine this further though, we need to start with the ‘D’. You know, ‘demons’ (and the

Elves and sex

The ‘D’

devil too to some degree)

There’s actually some pretty good evidence that at one point, elves were equated with the devil and demons. For example, the eighth century Royal Prayer Book contains the phrase ‘Satanae diabolus aelfae’, meaning ‘devil of the elf Satan’, and in Beowulf, elves are aligned with ‘misbegotten beings’ of the not very nice variety (Hall 69-71). Another example of this can be found in a Lacnunga charm against elves that borrows from the same liturgy as a Christian exorcism (North 54-56). When it comes to the word ‘Ælfsīden’, a word probably referring to a type of magic (‘sīden’ being cognate with the Old Icelandic word ‘seiðr’), Richard North tells us that ‘All temptations, but especially demonic possession, are indicated in Ælfsīden’(North 55).

Speaking of possession, it’s in the specifics of these particular associations with demons where things become really interesting, especially with regards to elf-sex.

In the Bosworth & Toller dictionary, a possible translation of the word ‘ælf’, is incubus (Bosworth & Toller 14), or in other words, a type of male demon known for its penchant for boning people in their sleep. This translation is likely taken from Chaucer, who equated elves with incubi in the ‘Wife of Bath’s Tale’ (Hall 162); and even though we’re out of the Heathen period by quite a long time by Chaucer’s time, there are some interesting points about elves in earlier sources that make this connection pretty reasonable.

Sadly, this is the nearest pic I could find to a 'kinky elf'

Sadly, this is the nearest creative commons pic I could find to a ‘kinky elf’. Fail.

The first thing is that the earliest elves were male. Yup, it was an elven sausage fest back in the day. No elven ladies to be found anywhere – that came later (Hall 157-166 ). Secondly, the connection with sex, and more specifically sexual deviancy with elves (by the standards of culture back then), is not an uncommon theme. You just have to know what constituted sexual deviancy back then, because if you were hoping for something that looked like ball gags and whips, you’d be sorely disappointed.

Taking a quick trip over the Atlantic to medieval Iceland, we come across the terms hvatr and blauðr. Now, some of you are possibly going to absolutely hate these terms, but to cut a long story short, hvatr was ‘bold, independent, powerful, vigorous, and sharp’, and blauðr ‘weak, soft, powerless, yielding’. Scholars such as Carol J Clover have argued that initially these terms were separate from biological sex, having more to do with power and independence. However in spite of this initial lack of alignment with biological sex, hvatr was more the domain of aristocratic males, and blauðr, that of women (Clover).

Regardless of whether those dick Christians turned us all from whatever egalitarian pagan utopia though, some sources do suggest that elves didn’t really fit into the manly man hvatr category (hvategory?).

The first way in which elves totally blew that one out of the water is that they were reputedly beautiful, and in a way that doesn’t really suggest handsome either. The elf Volundr, for example, is described as having a white neck, which although doesn’t seem particularly significant to us, is significant in that that was the kind of description only applied to women back in the day (Hall 43-45). Hell, if you trace the etymology of ‘elf’ back, you get ‘white’. The only other male figure to be described as being hvitr or ‘white’ is Heimdall, and given the collocation of Álfar with Vanir, plus Heimdall’s ability to divine the future, it’s arguable that he might also be considered an elf (as well as a god) anyway. Significantly, the description of Heimdall’s whiteness (and ergo his girly beauty), appears in the same stanza as Heimdall suggesting that Thor participate in a spot of cross-dressing in order to win back Freyja’s necklace, Brisingamen.

This association with elves and beauty can also be found in the OE word ælfscyne – which is used within the context of a kind of bewitching, otherworldly, yet dangerous beauty (Hall 88-95).

So they were hawt, probably in a Prince or Bowie kind of way.

Secondly, they defied the usual expectations about manly roles. For example, in The Lay of Volund, we’re told that a maiden called ‘Svanhvit’ guarded Volund’s white neck. Remember that whole thing with hvatr and blauðr? Which category do you think Volundr would have fallen into? Unfortunately for Volundr, nine winters into shacking up with this swan lady, she leaves; and unlike his brothers (who are also in the story, and also have ladies of their own), he stays home and doesn’t go in search of Svanhvit. From this point forth, things go seriously downhill for Volundr, because a certain king by the name of Douchebag (just kidding, his name was Níðuðr) heard that Volundr was no longer protected and he wanted Volundr to make him a load of swag. Poor Volundr is then hamstrung, imprisoned on an island, and forced to make bling for king Douchebag (Hall 39-46).

Eventually Volundr has his revenge (part of which happens to be raping the king’s daughter) and flies off using his feet as propellers or wings (I shit you not).

Another possible example is that of the god, Freyr. Again, we have a potential ‘god and elf’ situation here. In Grimnismal 5, we’re told that Freyr was given Álfheim (elf-home) as a gift for cutting his first tooth, which aligns Freyr with the elves. Once again, we see the theme of a man undone by love – this time by giving up his sword as part of wooing the giantess Gerðr (in the Lay of Volund, his sword is taken from him by king Douchebag). Moreover, Freyr’s manservant, Skirnir, who is sent to ‘woo’ Gerðr has to resort to magical threats in order to coerce her into to ‘saying yes to the dress’ (North 52-54). As an aside, this kind of magical coercion is a disturbing feature of old school ‘love’ spells.

For Richard North, who spends over three hundred pages densely building his arguments in ‘Heathen Gods in Old English Literature’, Freyr is the god associated with hieros gamos rituals, and whose cultic passage through the land signaled a period of sexual license (270-271). He is the god who the church came to see as the devil, and like the devil, was known as ‘god of the world’ (76).
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Then there is the matter of Freyr’s priests per the description in the Gesta Danorum (chapter 6):

“After Bemoni’s death Starkather, because of his valour, was summoned by the Biarmian champions and there performed many feats worthy of the tellings. Then he entered Swedish territory where he spent seven years in a leisurely stay with the sons of Frø (Freyr), after which he departed to join Haki, the lord of Denmark, for, living at Uppsala in the period of sacrifices, he had become disgusted with the womanish body movements, the clatter of actors on the stage and the soft tinkling of bells. It is obvious how far his heart was removed from frivolity if he could not even bear to watch these occasions. A manly individual is resistant to wantonness.”

See what I’m getting at here? Doesn’t exactly fit in the ‘hvategory’.

Elves and those associated with the worship of elves, though male, deviated from ideas about how males should act – at least within a sacred context (on the part of human worshippers).

Out of all the legions of demons, whicht type in particular do you think would fit the bill for elves? And that isn’t even taking into account all of the later stories about elven seduction and half-elf children, OR the associations with elves and nightmares that came throughout the intervening years. Hello, nocturnal-slumbering-person-boner demon! Hallgerður’s path is a very well-trodden one.

Sources
Carol J Clover – Regardless of Sex
Alaric Hall – Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Richard North – Heathen Gods in Old English Literature