I don’t dip my toes into Buddhist waters very often, let alone go for a swim, but the concept of Right Livelihood is something which has stuck with me. I believe I can trace it to the compelling essay “On the Path, Off the Trail” by Gary Snyder in his collection The Practice of the Wild. In a nutshell Right Livelihood is a part of the Noble Eightfold Path. It states that in work a person should not compromise the five moral precepts of not killing, stealing, misusing sex, lying or abusing intoxicants. These morals transfer readily to other wisdom traditions and can be thought of as basic instructions before leaving earth. Add other morals and ethics and reduce as necessary to form your own moral code as it applies to Right Livelihood. The point is, these form a core bedrock of standards of behavior, that if you don’t follow, you’ll have trouble achieving anything else in life. If you telescope in on these types of moral & ethical codes many of the jobs in industrial society would be precluded.
From what I understand Right Livelihood is something applied to lay people, or those outside of the priesthood. Yet this idea of earning an ethical living should also be applied to the various spiritual and magical teachers a seeker may encounter on her or his path. It should certainly be applied to oneself. There are desperate and trying situations where any type of work may need to be done for a period of time in order to keep yourself and loved ones from even worse situations, i.e, to keep them fed, clothed, and sheltered. Outside of these situations it becomes another story.
What is a proper way to earn a living if you are called into work as a teacher, artist, magician, priest/ess or cultural worker of some other kind? And how does the mindset of unconditional service further affect the choices available to us in a society afflicted with the multiple ongoing crisis of imperial collapse, energy shortages, and climate change?
Many of the newer modes of operation for individuals involved in these sectors of work will no longer be sustainable on the economic front as the institutions supporting these activities fall into disrepair, itself a result of the money behind them being allocated to other resources critical to day to day survival. The grants, scholarships, and tenure may still be there for another decade or so, but in my reckoning it’s only a matter of time before no one will pay for such things. The same goes for the mage or esoteric teacher who makes a living catering to middle class folks by hosting workshops, online courses and the like. As society continues to collapse other forms and models will take hold, and I hope these will be a mixture of tradition and innovation.
In thinking a lot about magical teachers lately, I came to realize that though I myself had paid for instruction in esoteric arts on a number of occasions, most of the real significant moments came to me in my everyday life, or a teacher appeared for a time as part of my journey. And they asked for nothing in return.
YOGI BHAJAN ROCKS THE MIC
After I graduated high school I went down to Tennessee to visit some friends who’d moved there, and a girl I’d been writing letters to -who became my girlfriend over the summer. My cousin who was my best friend at the time came with me. My then-girfriend had been taking yoga classes in Knoxville from a guy named Dharam Singh. He was an old white hippie who’d reformed from his psychedelic-drug taking ways. He made his living by doing a paper route. So he was a fifty-something paper boy (that was in ’98). His yoga lineage came from Yogi Bhajan and the Sikhs based out of New Mexico. They called it Kundalini Yoga (he founded the Kundalini Research Institute), but I later heard other people call it Kriya Yoga. They had more emphasis on mudras and mantras than I’ve seen elsewhere in yoag the west (not that I’ve ever been to the east!). Every summer solstice the Sikhs had a camp in the mountains near Espanola. The story was that the Hopi’s donated the land to Yogi Bhajan because he’d fulfilled some prophecy of theirs (I have no idea if this is true, but its what I learned from my paper boy yoga teacher). For three days at the camp we did “white tantric yoga” in polarity with a female partner. It was about 6-8 hours each day, with a break for lunch. Those experiences were really powerful, for an 18 year old without much discipline. My discipline is only mariginally better now. They had Sikh liturgy at various times too, but a lot of the people there weren’t Sikh’s and they never seemed to pushy about the religion. If you were just there for the yoga that was fine.
After the yoga camp we went to the National Rainbow Gathering which was in Arizona that year. Dharam Singh set up his tipi and out of taught Kundalini yoga two or three times a day to anyone who showed up. Back in Knoxville he taught out of his apartment, if my memory serves. He may have passed a hat around for a donation, but that was the extent of it. In this manner he was able to fulfill his duty as a teacher and be of service to seekers without it becoming some kind of illuminati franchise.
I didn’t stick with Kundalini Yoga as a discipline in the long run. However, I learned a lot that summer, and one of the things I took away from my friendship with Dharam Singh, who continued to stay in touch through the mail for a few years after that trip, was a connection to the Peace Pilgrim, whose work Dharam turned me onto. She gave up all her worldly possessions and took to the roads in pilgrimage and prayer, sleeping where she could, and eating only when food was offered to her. That’s not a way of life for hearth holders, but she still has a lot to teach.
The most I hope for out of my work would is to become independently poor. To work in my day job long enough that I can pay off my house and then quit or go to part time so as to focus on other things, such as the household economy. The phrase “independently poor” I gleaned from notorious pederast Hakim Bey. He had inherited enough money from his family to be able to live without job, and work on his writings, anarchist and publishing activities without recourse to a 9 to 5. At the same time, for an anarchist with the means to be independently poor, I wonder how much the struggles of daily life ground away at him to shape his character. It’s easy to be a lifestyle anarchist when you are independently poor. It’s whole other story when the first thing on your mind are the struggles of day to day existence. That’s the fire where character is forged.
So if you are an artist, magician, or other independent spirit, my advice is to find a day job that is in alignment with the character of your work or your ethics, or something you simply enjoy to do. Get in the business of making something of value instead of offering spiritual services to the highest bidder. The work that needs to be done in service will come to you of its own accord, as will the means for fulfilling your creative potential. The joys and sorrows of your life, will fill your cauldron of inspiration.
I’ve been reading stories from the Ulster Cycle the past two weeks. Randy Lee Eickhoff has done an excellent job translating them into an English I can relate to. Thomas Kinsella’s version of the Tain Bo Culain I had tried to read before, but couldn’t get into it. Of course it took a trip to Texas to really get an intuitive grip on the story at all (seeing all the cowboy stuff in Texas helped me to understand herding and cattle raids in a way closer to home for this American). Anyway, it’s come back around as something for me to delve into again.
Also, while in Texas I found some used books by Steve Blamires that I bought. They’ve been sitting on the shelf unread the past 2 1/2 years but now they see to have some useful stuff for me, particularly in The Irish Celtic Magical Tradition: Ancient Wisdom of the Battle of Moytura. And Randy Lee Eickhoff is a Texan too. He wrote some cowboy books. Don’t know what it is about the Texas-Irish connection for me but there seems to be one? (I didn’t enjoy actually being in Texas all that much though.)
One of the things I’ve found while looking into the Ulster Cycle is this 21 minute animation of the Tain made for the band the Decemberists who did a music EP of the same name. Their lyrics don’t always seem to relate as far as I can tell to the story, but the animation is awesome. If you don’t like the music you can turn the sound down, as it stands on its own, or put your own soundtrack to it. Just thought I’d share for people’s viewing pleasure.
Sometimes, in order to move forward in any given practice or discipline, other activities will have to be cut out. In order for something to grow it needs room and space to mature. Too much overcrowding, in terms of time and physical stuff, can stifle roots from going as deep as they otherwise might and shoots or stems from reaching up to the light. We’ve all probably seen the canopy of a tree contort into an unnatural form because of the placement of electrical power lines. Our own lives become distorted from their inherent pattern when left cluttered. Our efforts are less effectual because of distortions in the system. And once the distortions are in place they have a tendency to further shift and shape subsequent actions.
It is hard to live split down the middle for an entire life. Certainly as humans we can manage to adapt in all manner of situations, from the merely aggravating, to the terrible, as is exemplified in Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. Yet for the sake of this argument, let us imagine a human who is in a relative state of stability as far as her or his basic needs are concerned (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Yet because of the junk food they have filled up their life with, in terms of entertainment, material goods, social obligations which serve neither party, and the like, their growth has become stunted. The tide of encroachment must be halted, and perhaps flood walls in the form of boundaries erected so as to prevent an out-and-out flood.
To heed an inner call of service it often times becomes necessary to cull and weed out from your life those things which no longer serve. This is perhaps one reason why monastics have traditionally taken a vow of poverty. Not only does directing your attention away from materialistic gain enable the further cultivation of those things which are of spiritual value, voluntary poverty is also a simpler way to maintain a “steady state” economy because the time and effort otherwise put forth in keeping up with what has already been acquired can now be turned inwards.
Uncluttering our physical lives is one way to turn down the noise in our life. It is a way of making stillness by removing obstacles. All the things that we own, somewhere in our mind, occupy a part of ourselves on some level. Going through the house, cleaning out the desk, the closets, the drawers, putting it in the recycling bin, or taking things to the thriftstore (where in my house is where we often first acquired the junk) becomes a way of ridding ourselves of burdens we didn’t know we were carrying. The further we climb up the Mountain it becomes more and more necessary to let go -of dogma, of opinions and beliefs, of things we never wanted, needed or used in the first place . It gets steeper the closer you get towards the pinnacle and those things will only hold you back. Besides, the way back down requires complete letting go, the dissolution of who you are in your surface life.
So in this time after Samhain, in this moonth ruled by Scorpio, I have undertaken the task of going through my possessions, and sending them to an appropriate place, either to where someone else can find them, or into the trash where they have belonged. What I am finding is a feeling of liberation. Much of the stuff I’ve shedding, has been either material I’d planned on making some kind of art project with, books, CDs, and the like. What I feel happening inwardly as a result of heeding this inner call is an opening up to a greater sense of dedication to the path -and making way for new possibilities which were potentially being held back by all the energy expended holding on.
Frater Acher has recently written part one of a post On Resilence and Renewal. It’s basic theme is a message many of us in the contemporary Western world need to remember: when our live are bogged down by a surplus of desires and wishes, constantly shifting from one thing to another, it depletes our available energy to put forth towards those things that would truly nurture and renew us. He also gives an exercise for determining what a healthier ‘work-life balance’ might look like and another tool to map the orbit of your desires, and see which ones fall outside the current scope of your actual ability to achieve in three months time.
His essay is timely for me, as ever. I’ve been contemplating what I need to trim away and prune from my life as I move into the dark half of the year -a time I think of in terms of creative hibernation and incubation- so come spring I may be send forth shoots in emergent areas, and strengthen the roots of other areas and interests in my life that I wish to go deeper.
Frater Acher wrote: “Constant accessibility of goods, resources, information and social partners as well as an increasing convenience in lifestyles has empowered our wishes to simply take over. Where our ancestors might have had cravings or desires life taught them in nine out of ten cases that not bothering too much about it and simply getting on with work was what would be a good strategy to survive the next year. This changed dramatically with the Industrial Revolution, when desires and cravings were turned into the most essential commodities of all. Fast forward to the 21st century – and here we are overpowered by technological, economical, social and even cultural services and products, which all feed off our inability to say No to our own wishes, to delay pleasures and to balance cravings and prurience with calm and composure.”
What I see as related to this is experience of being shaped and sculpted by our limitations. Our limitations form us in ways, that being open to the vast sea of potentiality can never do. It is impossible to try and actualize every inherent possibility of who we might be, of what we could do in this life. Such behavior ultimately makes our efforts disparate amid the cognitive dissonance and workload of such a multiplicity of aims. In The Dyslexicon I wrote about this tug as going in eight directions at once. Working at a library I am constantly being exposed to all kinds of interesting ideas, pathways, hobbies to pursue, areas to research. And while I have often felt that weaving together these various threads in a syncretic manner is part of the function of both artist and magus in this 21st century, I must also admit that having the discipline to do so without going out of balance, or as a carpenter might say, out of true, is a truly difficult task. Not only does pursuing eight things at once put a strain on yourself as a person, but also on the supportive web of spouse, family and friends, who at times must pick up the slack when you hit the point of inevitable burn out.
Our character is forged in the fire of limitation. The daily grind of living, with all of its joy, ecstasy, frustration, repetition, sadness and heartbreak chip away at us until our skin becomes weathered. As time goes by we look more and more like sailors who have become as they are from their daily congress with the elements. The cracks in our skin mirror the cracks in our personality. Yet these cracks allow for the hidden substrata and deep ore of the philosophers to emerge from below. For we are also like miners who have to pan and sift through silt and mud looking for those flecks which reflect the light; who only find the vein of gold after taking a pick axe to those which have calcified inside of us.
Orson Welles said the “enemy of art is the absence limitations.” In this culture that constantly proposes that you be all that you can be, it is instructive to take a step back and throw some cold water on your face and gaze unflinchingly in the mirror. What is it that you can’t be? What can’t you have and what can’t you do despite your best efforts? The society around us preaches the gospel of excess. When that is shed, what is left behind, what remains? In our restless sailing from port to port, hunting down exotic wares in strange markets and bazaars do we ever feel the stir to return to home ground?
I think it is important to address such questions to ourselves now and adjust the till of our boats accordingly, as we move deeper into a literal age of limits and scarce resources. Those who continue to cast their nets into the sea of possibility may well starve when they come back to shore without a catch.
So much has changed since I encountered Magic of the North Gate by Josephine McCarthy. This book came to me at a difficult time in my magical life, a time when I was questioning everything about the path. It didn’t answer all of the questions I had inside of me but it did act as a catalyst and reignited a long held desire to be of service to the Land, and gave me a bunch of tools to do so. There are so many books, classes and courses out there in the world of occultism and magic whose main aim seems to be personal development and the acquisition of material things. This is totally different. There is no narcissistic navel gazing in these pages or polishing of the magical mirror to glamorize your self image. You won’t find sorcerous techniques or any drawings of sigils optimized to add a net gain to your stock market account. Rather, it is a detailed investigation on the Land, the Living, and the Living Dead.
There is no beating around the bush here, rather Josephine gets straight to work and discusses the practical and visionary means of working the magic of the North Gate. The language she uses is straight forward, and filled with humor and wit, traits altogether lacking in most magical texts. It does not attempt to wrap itself up in displays of verbal prowess. For the new initiate or seeker this means they are able to spend less time trying to work out just what the heck the author means and spend more time testing and applying these techniques to their own practice. Don’t get me wrong, I love cunning word play, but all too often it is used to mask a lack of substance, or to add filler to what should have been a long essay instead of a book. Furthermore, Josephine is a wonderful writer anyways. Her voice is authentic, rooted in experience, and unafraid to lance the many tumors growing on the sacred cows of occult tradition.
Now… on to the content of the book! I look at it through the subjective lens of my own relationship with this material and the experiences resulting from that interaction.
WORKING WITH THE MAGICAL ELEMENTS
I had begun 2013 with the idea and intention of working with the Four Elements during each of the Four Seasons that they correspond to; Earth in Winter, Air in Spring, Fire in Summer, and now Water this Autumn. And I had steadily been posting some of my experiences on my blog. Up until I started working with the material in the book. Within was laid out a powerful method of initiation into the mysteries of the four directions and elements for those who wish to take it. Yet when I first started applying those visionary methods I wasn’t thinking of it as a path of initiation -and Josephine doesn’t lay it out as such. It has just been what is now unfolding in a natural rhythm from the work of going in vision into the Four Elemental/Directional Temples. These inner events started to change me in ways I’m still grappling with. One of those ways is how much or little to share in public.
Josephine quotes a teacher she had in her introduction: “You can only really master the skills of one direction in a lifetime.” Yet for the person who dares to walk into the gate of the East, South, West and North (not necessarily in that order) a literal initiation will occur. That shouldn’t be surprising to the working occultist. In the course of our years we go through many initiations; some may happen in a lodge, coven, or druid grove but most of them happen from experience in the inner worlds. And having had these visionary encounters with various contacts in the four elemental directions I find my body is changing from these “initiations” and the way I need to live in my home is changing. Adjusting to these changes can be a bumpy process. Luckily the Body and the Home are dealt with in Chapter 1 and 2 of the book, so after skipping ahead and getting fried a bit by the elemental journeys presented in chapter 6, I was able to go back to the beginning to learn how to cope with the inevitable results.
AT HOME, IN YOUR BODY
Visionary magic stretches the practitoner out, literally into other worlds and other times. The impact this has on the body should not be underestimated. If mediation comes naturally to you, as it does to me, loads of energy might be pushed through you because of this work and that can leave you feeling zapped. So it is important, right up front, to have some tools for coping with those effects. The deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the more important it becomes to be able to balance the dynamics of power that the body becomes a mediator of. Josephine equates the shift of a magician from working with smaller amounts of power to larger as that of an amateur athlete who has just made the cut to go pro. As you get rolling, expect changes in diet, sleep patterns, and a myriad other issues. This chapter sets you up so you know what to expect and can take some preventive measures to keep yourself out of the hospital.
The second chapter goes into extensive detail about living magically in your home. The practicality of having a dedicated working space isn’t within in everyone’s reach, and depending on what it is you are trying to achieve, isn’t always necessary. It’s the difference between commuting to work or working from home. When you are properly “plugged in” you shouldn’t need a shop full of fancy accoutrements to display to guests. Still, objects and tools will have a way of flowing to you. There will probably be shrines to various deities or powers at some point in your magical career. And if you don’t want them all at war with each other, much like human people and families sharing a space, you’re going to have to find ways to accommodate each other.
If you’re doing regular work, you might also from time to time, draw the attention of things you really don’t want hanging around. Parasites, little nasties, and other buggers of the astral plane. But hopefully you’ve gotten to the point where you don’t need to go banishment crazy. The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram can be an effective tool, but it has gotten to be the be-all-end-all in many of the 101 books out there. I wonder now how much my indiscriminate use of the LBRP as a daily ritual banished many good things from my life? Household protection that doesn’t blast out all the friendly non-physical beings around is the way to go, and that is covered here, alongside general balancing of the home, and having your ancestors, fairies, dead relatives, and other folks around to sip on a pot of coffee with me.
With the basics covered I’m now more aware of what I might expect -and what to do- when a sudden power surge runs through my body after a working, or if things start going bump in the night around the house. Now I can really get to work.
MAGIC OF THE LAND
The next three chapters go into extensive detail about working magically with the Land, which makes this a book that will be just as much at home on the shelf of a Witch, or Druid, as it would with the Ceremonial Magician (who really does need to get out of the Lodge more often and go do some work in the woods or at the river, besides all that time indoors can make you look pasty).
So much wisdom is condensed into these three chapters that even the most enterprising and tireless magician could unpack the material here and continue to work with it, all the while discovering more, for well over a decade. From the simplest of beginnings on researching your Land, the people and legends and stories connected to it, to checking in with the beings who dwell in the trees, fields, hills and creeks. To turning on the inner guidance system that will draw you to that park or patch of land you hadn’t known about before, but turns out to be a hotspot, places of ingress or egress patiently waiting for a human to stumble upon and get to work. Here are insights about working with the weather, with the tides of life and death. Ways to nurture the Land are included from the simple but endlessly profound act of gardening -and how the small acts of a contacted magician working in her garden can ripple out to the surrounding country. Both short and long term construction of magical working spaces -on the inner plane of the Land- are covered in detail. Working with Faeries, Deities, and Ancestors and the various shrines and structures corresponding to them are also what you will find, sitting comfortably alongside stories from Josephine’s own experience, all entertaining and instructive.
Look at the Land around you. It’s crying out for a worker to help in the many ways it needs. These three chapters, and the instructions you get from your the Land you live on, will have you breaking a wonderful sweat.
CONTAINERS OF POWER
Beyond these chapters there is so much more that I’ve got the chops to feel comfortable working with. Yet there may come a time when it is needful that I do, and here is a reliable guide to the Qliphoth. In some circles of magic it has become very fashionable to work with the Qliphoth. There are many reasons one might do so. Unfortunately, proving how dark and edgy you are isn’t one of them. Josephine cuts away the chaff on a subject that is often needlessly confused. This is a clear exposition on how to do this work. Now there is no need to try and make your way through the maze Kenneth Grant has left so many people in.
MAKING FRIENDS WITH DEATH
The ways a person can be called to work in death, with death, and for the dead are many and various. On the one hand it can be the service of ushering those who have lingered on to the other side of the river, helping them board the ferry and get along with their journey. Or some bones may find their way to you and they may have a reason to be with you and for you to work with them. Sometimes a family member may return for a visit, pop in to a dream to give you some information you and your family may need, or just to let you know what they are up to on the other side. And for the mage, there is the long work of preparing for your own death. In doing so, you’ll probably be in a position at some point to help others when they are dying by assisting them in vision as they cross over. In the West our relationship with death is very unbalanced and perverted. I see this manifesting in the collective as a current obsession with zombies and vampires. These obsessions say a lot about our lack of a healthy relationship to death. This chapter packs a big punch and goes a long way towards healing that rift in the Western psyche.
THREADS OF LIFE, DEATH, AND FATE
I’ve long had a relationship to Spiders and their connection to the various Weaver Goddesses. This is a domain of such powerful magic, that though I haven’t worked with in the depth represented here, caused me to say “whoa” and take a step back. Fate is not something to take lightly in your hands. Your own or another beings. In some cases it may be appropriate. The final chapter is all about weaving power into form, learning to work with the Fates, to be able to patch places where the fabric has become frayed, to mend, stitch and alter the material in ways that are of service to the larger patterns being played out in life and in the Land.
The Foreword to the work is by Frater Acher, a wise German magician who has also now posted a number of free e-books on his website. In the foreword he writes about the need to move beyond the idea that attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Gurdian Angel is the be all and end all of magic. As someone with a Thelemic background I agree with my whole heart. This ideas has become so prevalent in Western occultism since Crowley made a mountain out of it, that it can be a huge stumbling block for younger magicians. It is such a daunting task, you might give up on all the other useful things in need of doing. There are so many areas of magic that are in need of repair, in need of dedicated work and experimentation, that perhaps if we set aside for a time our own ideas about personal attainment, we may attain something else for all the beings around us.
Here is a book to keep you busy and put you to work for years ahead. It has layers and layers of meaning and learning to be extracted from it as you begin the process of working with the material. Have you heard the call of the Land? Mother Earth is in need of some folks who are willing to get their hands into the dirt and start working.
My wife and I were in Columbus, Ohio a few weekends ago visiting her best friend. We brought our dog with us and twice a day I would take Nula for a walk. Down the street from her friends house I stepped onto “Walhalla Rd”. This street is in an old ravine and and the stream there has been preserved along with the native plants creating what they called an “urban arboreteum”. From Walhalla Rd. I take a left up “Brynhild Rd.” a street with two long brick walls on other sides and huge white oak trees.
When I get to the top of this street a sign announces I am in the Midgard Neighborhood. There is Midgard Pl. and off it, Gudrun, Mimring, Iswald. Nearby is Woodbine. Eventually As I loop back down towards the house, I see another street called Druid street…. and I’m thinking, if I ever moved to Columbus, this is my neighborhood! Then I see a truck in a parking lot for someone who does tree work. Their bumper sticker says, “Trees are the Answer“.
Later in the evening after 10PM I take the dog out for another stretch around these streets, and all of a sudden I spot a coyote on someones manicured front lawn. The wild can’t be kept out. The rise in deer population in Ohio has also meant a rise in the number coyotes and they are creeping closer in the cities. We regard each other for a moment and then it is off.
The Sword of Heaven is the fascinating memoir of photojournalist Mikkel Aaland‘s involvement in a global peace project initiated by a Shinto priest. The practices and beliefs of Shinto have been a subject I’d been very curious of since I had a series of Japanese hued dreams several years ago, around the same time as I became obsessed with the writings, work and legacy of Lafcadio Hearn. Mikkel’s book took me a bit deeper into the world of Shintoism, though it isn’t primarily about the beliefs and practices of those who follow The Way of the Gods. It is more about the authors quest for his own personal peace and power as the son of an engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a facility that specialized in nuclear weapons and plutonium research. Set against the backdrop of the final days of the Cold War, with Regan’s Star Wars project looming overhead, proxy conflicts in Central America, and the Berlin Wall still dividing a nation, the tensions at play in the world are mirrored in the tensions of Mikkel’s personal life. The project took place at a time when the Doomsday Clock was ticking closer towards midnight. The sense of urgency with which Mikkel roamed the planet to place his share of the 108 broken pieces of the Sword of Heaven, each containing a Kami or “god” matches the urgency of the superpowers in their race towards mutually assured annhilation.
You could say Mikkel was raised in a bomb shelter. This isn’t far from the truth. The town of Livermore, also known as Atomic City as a producer of nuclear weapons was also a known target for the “enemies” own nukes. As such, Mikkel’s father, a Norwegian immigrant, built a bomb shelter in the front yard for the family just prior to the time of the Cuban Missile crisis, accessible via a stairway and underground hallway. This became Mikkel’s bedroom after the major threats were over (for a time). It later became the setting of a recurring nightmare that haunted the photojournalist until he had a major breakthrough with it as a part of his work with the Sword of Heaven project. This is part of what I loved about this book -it weaves together dreams, synchronicities and actual Japanese magic. That Mikkel became involved in this project through the chance meeting of someone at a San Francisco dinner party seemed to be the very hand of the Fates.
The project itself involved placing a magical sword, The Sword of Heaven, into a stone. “A Japanese Shinto priest, a survivor of Hiroshima, had a horrific vision of the end of the world, and a subsequent vision of how to save it. The priest, or sensei as he is called in Japanese, was instructed by God to break an ancient Shinto sword into 108 pieces and place the pieces in stone. Each piece, which now became a kami or god, imbued with magical powers, was then placed strategically around the world. After each placing the priest and his followers in Japan were to conduct a special ceremony to help fight the evil that was engulfing the world.” Often these pieces housing Kami were placed under water in rivers, lakes, and ocean. Sometimes in other places, such as the one buried near Trinity, New Mexico site of the first nuclear blast and birthplace of the atomic age. This placement was carried out by an American Indian. Many of the placements were carried out by volunteers other than Mikkel. In as much as he placed a number of pieces himself in Norway, Florida, Iceland, South Africa and South America, he also acted as a facilitator in getting them to other people who then were able to place them.
Mikkel traveled to Japan a number of times to meet a man named Kazz, one of other students of the Shinto priest working on placing the kami, and the Shinto priest himself. In these he was able to participate in some of their ceremonies and take some classes on various aspects of the Way of the Gods at the monastery his teacher was associated with. One of the most interesting parts of the book was about one of these ceremonies. The gathered group would begin to chant while also waving about swords and daggers in the air. Meanwhile the priest would be engaged in astral travel while fighting “bad spirits” -the energy produced by the group giving him added strength it seems. In this respect the use of the sword among the Shinto is not a far cry from the way ritual swords are used by practitioners of the Western Mystery Traditions -for exorcism, for defending the Land, for protection against those beings who would do us harm.
And while I harbor many reservations about magical work that is directly aimed at or aligned with political goals, this working had the feeling of being unconditional, of being a work in service to the planet during a time rife with danger, and initiated by people who had seen the terror of a nuclear blast. That it was further carried out by the man who grew up sleeping in a bomb shelter inside Atomic City has further implications of the Fates connecting people across and around the world
The Fakir had cultivated the venom of his winged cobra with such care and erudition that connoisseurs of the ecstatic delights gained from poison came from all corners of the kingdom to sample its bite. As is frequently the case among addicts there were those who overestimated their resilience to tolerate the effects of the reptilian substance. Feeling the pinch of the Uraeus at the base of the spine and subsequent flooding of the sensorium with inexplicable tinglings, sensing the emanations of the stars, was known, in some, to cause madness and death.
So the Fakir Srikanth was never surprised when his assistant Legrange, a dirty French emigre, had to drag another casualty down to the bone yards alongside the river. The first time a corpse came back, blackened but not burned, revivified, breathing, intact, it did surprise him. It was a strong venom indeed which took a man so deep into a coma as to resembled death. Of these cases, and there were only a few, the celebrant of the serpentine mysteries often reported such vivid encounters in the supernal realms as to defy even the the Fakir’s ratiocination. With supreme dread and fear he reluctantly sent the poisoned back out into the world. They had been torn apart and were in need of healing. Yet he was no healer. His hand was not for mending. They walked away from his shack, back into the desert, wounds gaping wide.
He rued that word from these few fortunate unfortunates would somehow spread, and the respect he had earned for genetically engineering such fine specimens as the winged snake would be ruined. Only the opposite was true, and those who had been so close to becoming ash came back to test once again their temper and strength against the fire of the serpents venom. And they brought with them devotees eager to submit themselves to the hand of chance, people fervent to partake of the miracle themselves. So it was that many pilgrims began slithering to the Fakir’s once humble dwelling. And so his pride began to swell as did his purse with gifts received from the many petitioners desirous of the ineffable poison. Indeed, his now frequent visits to the brothel, his commanding swagger and sway among the people of the nearby village who feared his art, all combined to attract the attentions of the Heresiarch.
The electric chair of the inquisitors had been sitting dry for many a year as the populace had finally succumbed to his lashings. Yet the Heresiarch was eager for the high he got when he made another man taste the juice. There was nothing quite like watching eyeballs boil to a blister in the socket. When he want to the Fakir’s dwelling he hadn’t counted on being taken in by the strange rhythms of the circle of snake charmers whose somnolent pipings now attended the increasingly elaborate services of the Fakir.
Soon he was among them, the sweating poor and merchants alike, among the warriors and converted priests, among the flying reptiles amidst the celebrants. All burned with violent inebriation. The snakes were hungry and ready to pounce.
Sometimes I eat books in my sleep. It’s a side effect from frequent visits to the Great Inner Library. During a weekend nap in late April I was browsing the Three Hands Press website. In my dream I found a book that isn’t a part of their physical catalog. It was called Healing Techniques of Ancient Ireland. I put this book into my stomach. Non-physical books have a different gestation rate than the ones we read with our eyes, but the thing about them is the whole body & soul ends up absorbing this knowledge, which later trickles, or floods as the case may be, into waking life.
The next week at my day job in the library I felt an intuitive nudge to have a look at some of the works of Rosalie K. Fry, most famous for her book The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry, later adapted for the screen by John Sayles into the charming and magical The Secret of Roan Inish. I’d always wanted to read it, but as it turned out the institution I work for didn’t have a copy. Yet it still pays to go digging in the stacks for Children’s books & novels which are no longer popular. The book I ended up borrowing from the stacks by Fry was Whistler In the Mist, first published in 1968. The language is simple. The story is set in Wales, in the valleys and hills around the Black Mountain. It takes us deep into the folklore surrounding faery contacts, their interaction with humans, and the founding of an ancestral line who become the guardians of a body of herbal lore, some eventually to become doctors.
Such a story has put me to ponder on the ways humans have often received knowledge and guidance from Otherworld beings, how certain arts and sciences seem to be bestowed on humanity, and into certain family lineages and traditions. It also makes me think about how many people in the world have strains of Otherworld blood in them? How many people have that streak of the fey coursing through their veins?
Of course in asking such a question, I would in no way be promoting any of the racist shenanigans perpetrated by some esoteric groups who are better left unnamed. Besides, the role of herbs in healing was greater for all of our ancestors, no matter an individuals specific genetic descent. It’s only been since the advent of industrial culture that medicines have moved further away from their original sources, from ns, forests, glens, and gardens to become chemical composites of strange unpronounceable names manufactured in factories.
Part of the back story in Whistler In the Mist is that the young heroines ancient ancestor on her mom’s side was actually the Lady in the Lake. This story is based on a traditional tale associated with the Llyn y Fan Fach, one of two lakes folded into the Black Mountain. The son of a widow from the nearby town of Blaen Sawdde agreed to marry a beautiful girl who arose from the lake. As is typical of Faery stories a stipulation is laid upon him, that if he hits the lady three times she will return to the lake. This eventually happens, as he strikes her in admonishment for things such as laughing at a funeral and crying at a wedding. The faery’s think and feel differently than us and the Lady of the Lake was not accustomed to our learned social behaviors. By the time the widows son had hit her three times she had already born him children. So it is with sadness she returns to the lake. From time to time her kids to go to the lake and she instructs them in herbal lore (among other things), and one son in particular, Rhiwallon. He, with his brothers, eventually went on to the court of Rhys Gryg where they became the famous Physicians of Myddfai beginning a tradition of handing down this knowledge from one generation to another. A number of their herbal recipes and medical formulas were preserved in The Red Book of Hergest.
I knew about none of this before reading The Whistler in the Mist. With regards to my dream about Healing Techniques of Ancient Ireland, I had begun searching around on the internets and in library search engines for material on this subject. In doing so I came across a fascinating article by Rosari Kingston, An Overview of the Irish Herbal Tradition: The Thread That Could Not Be Broken. One section of Rosari’s essay is devoted to Irish Medical Families. The passing on of skills in doctoring was hereditary in nature. Each of the four counties of Ireland had a number of doctoring families. She writes, “Ó hÍceadha (Hickey) and Ó Leighin (Lane) mean literally healer and leech respectively. [A “leech” was a traditional title given to some Irish doctors -from their practice of using leeches to bleed patients.] How many people with the above names today, realize that they are descendants of the great Irish hereditary medical families?” And it makes me wonder in particular if the Irish medical families have any surviving stories involving the impartation of knowledge from the Otherworld? Specifically stories of the intermarriage of Faery and Human, as in the Welsh example?
Whatever the case may be, there is one thing we can be certain of. Stories have the power to preserve in memory the vital knowledge of healing with plants. In connecting with the plant powers we may also deepen our relationship to the Land in general, and by connecting further to the Land I believe it is possible to make contact with some of the Faery beings who also make a home here -partially in this world, partially in the Other. In remedying ourselves with herbal treatments we can also remedy our relationship to the wide world of plants and begin to explore those spectrum’s of consciousness existing beyond the human.
One of the books I’ve been reading is Nigel Pennick‘s The Celtic Sacred Landscape. Near the beginning it had this quote from the British Triads that struck me and stuck me about the three principle endeavours of a Bard:
“The Three Principle Endeavours of a A Bard: One is to learn and collect sciences; the second is to teach; and the third is to make peace and put an end to all injury; for to do contrary to these things is usual or becoming to a Bard.”
I feel this is such a powerful statement of what a Bard should do and be, and what a person setting out to embody the way of the Bard should aspire to, that it would make a good subject for meditation. So I meditated on each in turn, using the discursive method of meditation.
A Bard is to learn and collect sciences. I started by contemplating some of the sciences I am collecting myself. I thought about each of the seven liberal arts and how they are useful not only to a Bard, but to the community a Bard is in service to. I also felt, while meditating, that learning discursive meditation will help my public speaking skills -public speaking in turn being affected by knowledge of rhetoric and grammar. Ecology, permaculture, and design-science will also be useful in my Bardic toolkit. I thought of Magic as one of the main sciences of the Bard.
A Bard is a teacher. In my meditation on the Bard as a teacher, I mused on how a Bard must not only be a keeper of sacred memory and lore, but a transmitter of it as well. Knowledge is not to be hoarded, but used and shared. Stories, songs and poems all can be used as containers for sacred knowledge, and can affect a person on many levels. They are also one of the best ways to teach people, because a good story, song, or poem engages a person on all levels of being. It can effect them emotionally, intellectually, spiritually which in turn can have physical effects on the body. By encoding the keys to the Inner worlds in the artifacts of culture, these keys will be preserved forever, opening the doorways to those worlds for successive generations. It’s strange to think of SF author and digital activist Cory Doctorow in terms of Bardism, but I do love his storytelling. One of the things I enjoy the most about reading Cory’s fiction books, is how much I learn about a whole plethora of subjects by reading a wonderful story. Those of us storytellers who are also occultists and practitioners of magic can do the same thing: teach people about magic in the guise of a grand story.
A Bard makes peace and puts an end to all injury. One of the thing Bard’s used to do -in societies and cultures that still upheld this role- was to commemorate the good deeds of leaders and satirize the failings of those who did wrong to clan and troth. We see the satirists at work today as comedians who often have some of the most insightful views on politics. I don’t keep up too much with stand up comedy, but the late George Carlin and Bill Hicks are prime examples of this in action. I’m not sure if they created peace per se, but with precision they pointed out the glaring hypocrisies at work in our industrial culture. This needs to be done, and humor is one tool to combat the darkness. By bringing levity in to ourselves, and sharing it with others, we give ourselves strength to face the many injustices of the world. A Bard, through her or his eloquence, can also be a peacekeeper through the magical act of goodly speech. Through words they can act as mediators between two hostile camps -whether they be political parties, fundamentalist religious groups, gangs, or a married couple in the heat of a dispute. These are some of the areas a contemporary may be called upon to work in as a peace maker and mediator.
A Bard is very much a mediator in many ways, transferring energy from the Innerworlds to this Worlds-Realm as needed, working in unconditional service.
Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.