Hello There

My thoughts about Traditional Witchcraft, Wicca, cooking, gardening, and anything else that catches my fancy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Season Of The Witch

I am now the proud owner of my very own DVD copy of George Romero's overlooked '72 film, "Season of the Witch." The movie, originally titled "Jack's Wife," chronicles the story of an insecure, borderline-abused housewife named Joan. Approaching 40, she's ignored by her boorish husband, and feels irrelevant compared to her modern, "hip" daughter. Joan seems to have little outlet but weekly bridge games and drinking, and her closest friend is an alcoholic older woman who fills her head with horror stories about aging.

That is, until Joan takes up Witchcraft. After her friend Shirley mentions knowing a "real Witch," Joan is intrigued and the two women end up visiting the Witch, Marion, for a Tarot reading. Simultaneously frightened and captivated by how accurate the reading is, Joan buys a book (which we will get back to in a minute) on Witchcraft and hits up the antique store and organic foods shop to pick up the tools and herbs she will need to cast her spells. This delightful little segment, which takes place in a montage set to Donovan's "Season of the Witch" tune, brings back memories of myself as a young teenager, having to shop at Whole Foods and the thrift stores trying to find herbs, oils, cauldrons, and such as there were very few Witch shops then, and no internet to order from.

The movie takes an interesting approach to her Witchcraft (which is presented in a very realistic, straightforward manner.) Does she have real powers, or not? Do the ensuing events (some of which are either tragic or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) occur because of Joan's spells, or are they merely coincidence? By avoiding the typical Hollywood thing of either making the magic totally unrealistic (no lighting bolts from the fingertips here) or else showing it as dangerous and Satanic, Joan's actions seem completely believable. The film isn't perfect, and drags in some places, but it's still highly recommended if you want to catch a glimpse of Witchcraft before the modern "McWicca" fad (just be sure NOT to get one of the inferior, heavily edited versions of the film, in which so much is cut out that the plot is destroyed.)

Oh, and the book I mentioned from the film? In the movie, it's called "To Be A Witch" but, to those in the know, it's actually a BARELY fictionalized copy of "Mastering Witchcraft." It's all there, with Joan drawing the runes on her magical tools, consecrating her knife with salt and water, and drawing the talismans. Even the spells she says are more or less the same, with only a word or two altered. I've heard that Romero had some friends who were Gardnerian Wiccans or other kinds of Witches, and it really shows in how accurate his portrayal is. It's definitely a treat to see "Mastering Witchcraft" (about which there has been a lot of talk lately) show up in some a prominent position in a film, even in a fictionalized form.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Plant Spirits, Sacred Woods, and the Source of Magic

As I have mentioned previously, the magic of trees and woods is one of my special areas of interest, so I thought I’d write a more detailed article to share my knowledge of them. In the occult community, there is much talk about the “magical properties” of certain woods, but little discussion as to WHY those woods have those properties, or where that power comes from.

Obviously, the most popular use of wood in magical practice is in the construction wooden wand or staff. The most common woods used for such tools are Hazel, for the wand, and Ash for the staff. Hazel is the wood of inspiration and divination, and Ash is the wood of the World Tree. For the blasting rod, or cursing stick, Blackthorn is most commonly used. But why these? Are these things “just tools” which have no power other than that which we give them? Or, do they have their indwelling energy, which we can harness to our own ends?

The power of woods, trees, and plants comes not from the assignment we “give” them, but from the spirit indwelling in the plant….of which there are two types. The first type is the spirit which lives within the individual tree or plant itself, and which is unique to that specimen. This spirit can die or be destroyed with the death of the plant in question. The second type is the spirit which is specific to the particular KIND of plant, and is common to the whole species. For example, Hazel has a common spirit which can be found present in each and every tree. It is this indwelling spirit which gives magical tools their power, and what differentiates the “dead” wood used to make, say, a table, from the wood used by occultists. It is also this spirit which empowers herbal magic, and which gives magical potions, incenses, and brews their ability to create change. A large part of the path of the Witch is learning to work with these plant spirits, learning their abilities, and mastering the ability to utilize them to create change or gain gnosis.

For whatever reason, all too often this kind of work is either neglected, or completely pushed aside. Perhaps even more damaging, there’s been a lot of talk lately that magic is purely some kind of “mental shift” or “change in consciousness.” Others make the odd claim that nothing really has magical power other than that which we assign it, which in fact makes little sense. If this were true, then it wouldn’t matter what herb was used in a spell, as a handful of sawdust would have the same effect as even the most carefully prepared potion. This is more or less the equivalent of throwing everything in the kitchen pantry into the oven, and claiming that the mess that comes out is a “cake” merely because you want it to be.

To carry the cooking metaphor even further, I like to think of working magic as preparing a recipe. What you include depends on the desired result. Just as mixing salt and alum will never create a sweet batter (no matter how much you might “will” it to) using the wrong magical tools will not result in a successful spell. This is why magical history is so important, as we can draw upon the thousands of years of magical lore and correspondences. Learning the lore of the plants, trees, and natural world are vastly important if one is going to have a successful magical practice.

If you attempt to draw solely on your own power during magic, you will quickly become exhausted. If, however, you learn to draw upon the power of the natural world, you will be tapping into a vast well of mystical energy that can aid you in your work. Taking the time to learn the powers of the natural world all around you can aid you immeasurably, and mean the difference between magical failure, and magical success.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy Birthday to Doreen Valiente

Today, January 4th, is what would have been Doreen Valiente's 90th birthday. If you've been following my blog, you'll already know in what high regard I her work; truly, she has inspired me more than any other author, dead or alive. Some people are Gardnerian, some are Alexandrian, but if I had to label the "flavour" of my own practice, it would probably be Valientean.

I think what I like best about her writing is how she managed to bridge the gap between Wicca and Trad Craft, and how she was able to effectively convey deep occult truths in a simple and easy to understand format. She was there right at the beginning of the modern Witchcraft revival, worked with both Gerald Gardner and Robert Cochrane, and yet wasn't afraid to puncture overblown egos or demolish popular legends when the truth needed to be told. Finally, of course, I absolutely must mention her amazing, magical way with words. Her poetry and chants went a long way in creating the Wiccan liturgy, and her version of "The Charge of the Goddess" is known the world over. My own book contains many of her published Witch songs and chants, as they really capture the feeling of magic and timelessness experienced when celebrating a Sabbat or even having a quiet, personal moment with the Old Ones.

So, happy birthday, Doreen! Thank you for everything you did, and the legacy you left behind. I certainly wouldn't be the Witch I am today without it.

Doreen Valiente
January 4th 1922 - September 1st 1999