The Residual Light of Lady Olivia Robertson

We All Shine On

lady olivia
It is with great sadness and undying respect that we mourn the passing of Lady Olivia Robertson and celebrate the light she brought into this world. I am fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to meet Lady Olivia at a group Solstice ritual held in my home court of Nevada County and again on a subsequent trip when I found myself wandering the hills and dales of Ireland on a soul-seeking and life changing trip. Other than drinking massive amounts of Guinness and writing messy poetry in my journal, my purpose in Ireland held some direction, as I had been asked to deliver a gift sent by the local Fellowship of Isis in Nevada City, from Our Lady of the Yuba. I did visit Lady Olivia in her home  and was able to deliver the offerings directly to an altar there. The castle was magnificent, it’s gray stone and emerald grounds hovering forever in my memory, the rabbit warren of altars in the basement, the scent of incense, fire-smoke, earth. Lady Olivia was an absolute embodiment of the Goddess, and touched all who met her with her divine but very matter-of-fact love. And this is surely residual, in all the places she has been and will be, from the shores of the Yuba River to the Irish Sea, from castle walls to public halls.

In love and light,

~Amber Guetebier, Weiser Books Editor, on behalf of all of Red Wheel Weiser

Photo credit: Fellowship of Isis

Hoodoo Hangover – An Ankhie Ramble

New Orleans is a slow burn.

Ankhie returned from the Crescent City several days ago, but can’t shake the feeling that she is still there. Or at the very least, not quite here.

It was my first visit, although I’d been hearing about New Orleans my whole life. Wonderful things. Spooky things. So, being a Yankee exposed to hyperbole I starched up and went there not with great excitement, but with a make-do attitude and an eye for disappointment.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, everything shifted – ever so slightly, like the way things look and feel just before you come down with a raging fever. Now… Ankhie doesn’t travel well (and forgot her air sick meds) so that was a factor at the start. And the weather was much warmer and moister than Boston in winter, which makes for much strange perspiration. Then there was the food – fabulous, rich, and feasty – and the high-octane alcohol, all combined the unrelenting visual, aural and olfactory stimuli of the French Quarter.  Just taken at face value this sounds like a recipe for delirium. But the really strange part was that none of it – not the glow-in-the-dark cocktails nor the black cloth doll nailed to the hollow of a cemetery tree  – actually felt strange.  It felt weirdly organic, and disarmingly… normal. I was expecting to be disappointed or overwhelmed or terrified. Instead I was totally at ease.

We’ve talked a lot here about the power of place. It’s a subject near and dear to the heart of anyone who works with natural energies. A city like New Orleans, where the lives of its inhabitants, past and present, are so inextricably bound to the environment, is likely to be a highly charged magical place.  At the risk of sounding like a proselytizing tourist, I have to say that New Orleans is something more – something subtler, older, and more insidious.  I’ve been to places that have awed me – even lived in a few of them – but I have never been anywhere that got under my skin so quickly and so thoroughly. And not just the European charm and shabbiness of the French Quarter. Thanks to a fabulous nighttime cemetery tour courtesy of Bloody Mary – we traveled through places in the city well off the tourist map – places that I wouldn’t recommend going without a knowledgeable guide – and even there, it all felt right.  Not good or just, but as it was meant to be  at that place and in this time. Yeah I know what y’all are thinking – Ankhie drank the kool-ade. Not quite, but I did leave a little something on an altar for Marie Laveau, and came home armed with a wee dolly and mucho gris gris.

My companions and I went well-prepared with mainstream maps and tour books, but found ourselves well-supplemented by Denise Alvarado’s Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook. It is decidedly not intended as a travel guide, but nonetheless it proved to be an invaluable companion to the mysteries of NOLA witchery.

Here is a sample from Chapter One, on the history of New Orleans Voodoo:

New Orleans Voodoo originated from the ancestral religions of the African Diaspora. It is one of the many incarnations of African-based religions rooted in the West African Dahomean and Central African Voodoo traditions. It became syncretized with the Catholic religion as a result of the massive forced migrations, displacements of the slave trade, and the Code Noir. Slave owners forbade the Africans from practicing Voodoo under penalty of death and, in areas controlled by the Catholics, forced many of them to convert to Catholicism. The result was a creolization of the names and aspects of the Voodoo spirits to those of the Christian saints that most closely resembled their particular areas of expertise or power. Under the guise of Catholicism, the religion of Voodoo survived…

The term Voodoo Hoodoo is commonly used by Louisiana locals to describe our unique brand of New Orleans Creole Voodoo. It refers to a blending of religious and magickal elements. Voodoo is widely believed by those outside of the New Orleans Voodoo tradition to be separate from hoodoo magick. However, separation of religion from magick did not occur in New Orleans as it did in other areas of the country. The magick is part of the religion; the charms are medicine and spiritual tools that hold the inherent healing mechanisms of the traditional religion and culture. Voodoo in New Orleans is a way of life for those who believe.

Still, there are those who separate Voodoo  and hoodoo. Some hoodoo practitioners integrate elements of Voodoo, and some do not. Some incorporate elements of Catholicism or other Christian religious thought into their practice, while others do not. How much of the original religion a person decides to believe in and practice is left up to the individual. Some people don’t consider what they do religion at all, preferring to call it a spiritual tradition of African American folk magic. Throughout this book, I use the term Voodoo hoodoo in reference to the blend of the two aspects of the original religion as found in New Orleans Voodoo and as a way of life. A fellow New Orleans native and contemporary gris gris man Dr. John explains it this way:

“In New Orleans, in religion, as in food or race or music, you can’t separate nothing from nothing. Everything mingles each into the other – Catholic saint worship with gris gris spirits, evangelical tent meetings with spiritual church ceremonies – until nothing is purely itself but becomes part of one fonky gumbo. That is why it is important to understand that in New Orleans the idea of Voodoo – or as we call it gris gris – is less a distinct religion than a way of life.” (Dr. John, Rebennack & Rummel, 1994, p.159)

New Orleans Voodoo evolved to embrace aspects of the “fonky gumbo” of cultures in the nineteenth century and as a result, it is distinguishable from other forms of Voodoo and hoodoo found in other areas of the country. For example, there is a blend of Spiritualism, African Voodoo, Native American traditions, Santeria, Catholicism, and Pentecostalism. An additional hallmark of New Orleans Voodoo hoodoo is the borrowing of material from European and African folk magic, Kabbalistic influences, ancestor worship, and strong elements of Christian and Jewish mysticism, such as the use of various seals and sigils. In fact, for many practitioners, the Bible is considered a talisman in and of itself, as well as a primary source for magical lore. The psalms and the saints are aspects key to hoodoo practice for many practitioners, though not all.

New Orleans Voodoo is unique in its use of Spirit Guides in worship services and in the forms of ritual possession that its adherents practice. There is candle magick, and there used to be Voodoo seances.  (I don’t know how prevalent these are among practitioners today). The Voodoo-influenced Spiritual Churches that survive in New Orleans are the result of a mingling of these and other spiritual practices. I should point out that Spiritualists will typically say that they have nothing to do with Voodoo or hoodoo. Still, some of the spiritual practices are extremely similar, whatever you call it.

A most important difference, however, is the retention of the various religious practices from the different African cultural groups that arrived on the Louisiana Coast. For example, there is gris gris from Senegambia; the “serpent cult” of Nzambi from Whydah, or Li Grande Zombi as it is known in New Orleans; the obvious influence of fetishism, the nkisis or “sacred medicine,” from the Congo basin of Central Africa; and the Bocio figurines from the Gulf of Guinea and the Congo Kingdom.

This is just the briefest excerpt from this excellent book. If you have any interest in Voodoo or hoodoo I highly recommend that you pick up a copy. The table of correspondences for Saints/Angels and Loas/Orishas is particularly helpful.

And if you find your lucky self in this fabulous city, check out these excellent occult retailers and services – all Ankhie visited and Ankhie approved!

Bloody Mary Tours – I can’t say enough good things about Bloody Mary, Mambo Gina, and their amazing tours. This is the New Orleans you came here to find.

Esoterica Occult Goods – Lady Mimi Lansou is the real deal, and this is one of the spookiest (in the best possible way) shops in the French Quarter (on Rue Dumaine). Don’t miss it!

Voodoo Authentica – just across the street from Esoterica is this awesome little shop and cultural center. An astonishing collection of dolls, altars, and art are just the beginning of the educational opportunities here.

Erzulies – this shop on Royal Street looks deceptively like a ladies boutique or perfumery from the outside (lots of pink in the decor – it’s all about the love!) but don’t be fooled – this is a serious shop of hoodoo run by folks who know their business. Ankhie found the woman on staff (whose name I regret to say I did not catch) extremely helpful and informative!

Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo – one of the few shops on Bourbon Street that sells serious hoodoo supplies, and it’s endorsed by Bloody Mary so that goes a long way with me. Take a break from the glow-in-the-dark cocktails (see above) and spill-over nudies shows on the tourist  strip and step inside for some spookage.

HEX New Orleans – Christian Day is just getting settled in on Decatur Street  (with the excellent and indispensable help of New England transplants Tim and Sharon) but like its Salem counterpart, HEX New Orleans is shaping up to be all that a hard-core occultist could hope for in a shop. Less Voodoo oriented that the others but chock full of Old World Magick.  Ankhie personally recommends a reading with Sharon (who uses a well-worn Thoth deck) .

Coop’s Place – Not occult per say, but there is definitely something otherworldly going on here. I am still thinking about the jambalaya and spicy bloody mary I had at this amazing hole-in-the-wall eatery on Decatur Street. Had Christian not lead us there, we would have walked right by it. Tasty. Tasty. Tasty! Damn, now I’m hungry!

Special thanks to Doctors  K.J. and E.E. for financing Ankhie’s trip and to Dr. K.J and Bad Kris for making it both memorable and a total blast. And thanks to Christian Day for giving us all the private tour. 🙂

Resolution Rituals

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
          Not shaking the grass.
– Ezra Pound

Among the many resolutions Ankhie makes every New Year, one remains consistent. Live more. I make this resolution as though it were a vow to be renewed. All of us, ALL of us lead busy lives – overscheduled, overworked, always tired, stretched too thin – our lives, you say, are already too full!  But there is a world of difference between busy lives and full lives – one depletes, the other enriches. Think of a typical evening, hurrying home from work, shuffling the kids from one activity to another, making dinner, doing laundry, paying bills, falling into bed exhausted but too tired to sleep: that’s busy. Now think of another evening, standing under a starlit winter sky, the only sounds the wind in the trees and your own breath – the Milky Way so close, so bright you feel as though you could fall up into it: that’s full.

Resolutions, no matter how sincere or well intended, are often put aside or forgotten in the face of those very real and necessary day-to-day tasks.  How so we make the shift from maintenance living to full living? How do we become more of who we want to be? As with all things, a ritual can help to focus priorities, and affirm commitments. The following is from Karen Harrison’s The Herbal Alchemist:

Innovation Ritual

When we want to make changes and new beginnings in our lives, we often must first make room for them by releasing old habits, people, or ways in which we currently use our energies that are no longer working for us. This can be in any area of your life, so before doing this ritual, first begin by looking at the person, thought pattern, job, or lifestyle that you feel is hampering your efforts. Decide what you need to release in favor of new thoughts or perceptions that will allow you to alter your attitude and ingrained reactions. This will give you the mental space to plant new roots of behavior and to have them to grow in your life. Next, determine how you want to grow or change: spiritually, monetarily, emotionally, physically or intellectually. Once you know where you need to let go and what you wish to change about your life, you will be ready to do the ritual.

The supplies you will need for this spell are the following:

  • electric blue candle and candle holder
  • Incense burner
  • calligraphy ink
  • green quill
  • piece of parchment
  • an object that represents the new you (see Note)
  • three- or four-inch-long black silk or cotton (not polyester)
  • small box (such as a matchbox)
  • Uranus Oil (see Planetary Formulas in appendix e, Formulas and Recipes)
  • matches
  • Uranus Incense (see Planetary Formulas in appendix e, Formulas and Recipes)

On an evening when you will not be disturbed, arrange your altar with your candle at the left top edge; your Incense burner at the right top edge; your ink, quill and parchment at the right bottom edge; and your”new you” object at the left bottom edge, leaving the center for the black cord and small box. For the moment, just lay the cord coiled in the center of your altar. Cast your circle or center your energy. Anoint your candle with your Uranus oil, from the bottom of the candle to the wick, and light it. Light your Incense charcoal from the candle flame. Let it ignite almost completely across, then set it down on a bed of insulating sand in your
Incense burner. Place a small spoonful of your Uranus Incense in the center of the charcoal.
In the center of the piece of parchment, draw with your ink and quill a symbol that represents the thing that you are releasing from your life that has been holding it back. If this is a person, you can draw his Astrological Sign or initials, for example. If it is your employment, draw the logo of the company or its initials; if it is a bad habit, draw a simple image that represents this lifestyle choice. Next, around this symbol, draw a square, which represents the limitations that this has set on you. Set this parchment sigil in the center of your altar. Pick up the black cord and knot the two cut ends together, concentrating on the problems or limitations that you have encountered with this person, job, or lifestyle, placing the energy of the problem in the knot. Lay the cord in a circle around the parchment sigil in the center of your altar. For a few moments, continue to focus on the problem while you also become aware of your breathing. Each time you exhale, imagine yourself exhaling the hold that this problem has on you. Feel yourself becoming lighter and more relaxed. After each exhalation, say, “I release you.” Work on this release for about three minutes, or until you feel very relaxed and light.

Next, pick up your cord and carefully hold the knot in the flame of the candle, igniting the knot and burning away the problem. Set the remainder of the cord in the box. Next, holding the parchment by the very edge, ignite it with the candle flame. Let it burn toward your fingers and go out. If it burns dramatically, you can blow on it lightly to control the flame and blow it out while concentrating on release. Place any unburned parchment in the box with the burned cord and put the box to the side. When you have finished with this part of the ritual, relax for a few moments, enjoying the release and lightness.

Now take in your hands the “new you” object, concentrating again on your breathing and what you are bringing into your life. With each inhalation, breathe in energy, motivation, and optimism. As you exhale, breathe on the object, filling and charging it with this new, exciting change. After you have filled it, set the energies by anointing it with your Uranus oil, then hold it in the smoke of your Uranus Incense and place the object next to the candle. Leave the candle to burn down all the way and go outside to dig a hole to bury the box with the parchment ashes and cord. Bury the box, firmly tamp down the dirt, and walk away, never looking back. Feel the freedom and lightness.
The next morning, take the jewelry from the altar and go to a mirror. Watch yourself adorn yourself with the jewelry, focusing on the changes it represents. If you have chosen an art object, take it up from the altar and place it in a location in your home where it will be prominent, being mindful of the changes it represents.

* An object that represents the new you: This object can be a piece of jewelry with a clear quartz, rutilated quartz, amazonite, or kunzite stone set in it, or a small, lovely art object that you feel sums up the changes that you will make. If you use an art object, you will later set this piece in a prominent place in your home after the ritual so that you can see it every day to reinforce your changes. If you have chosen a piece of jewelry, you will wear it every day after you have charged it in your ritual to keep drawing that innovative energy to you.

** Note: In this ritual, you are literally “playing with fire,” so be careful. You may wish to also have a plate on your altar on which to set the burning parchment in case you get nervous. That way you can let it continue to burn without scorching your fingers. Also, since you are letting the candle burn all the way down, which will take several hours, your altar needs to be set up in a room that is closed off to all children and pets. You do not want to set your altar up near curtains or other flammable things. Your jewelry or object is going to be on the altar next to the candle, and you don’t want it covered with melted wax in the morning. Be sure that the candleholder you choose has a bottom that can contain melted wax. You may wish to place your jewelry or object in a small container set next to the candle just to be safe.

ap p e n d i x   e
Formulas and Recipes

These formulas are complete unto themselves, but you are encouraged to make them your own by adding or omitting ingredients and fashioning them in such a way as to create personal blends derived from your own intuition, knowledge, and inspiration. I have listed the amounts for each herb, essential oil, and resin in the time-honored unit of parts so that you can make the amount you deem useful for your workings. A part can be one handful, one tablespoon, one-quarter cup—whatever volume you prefer. I would recommend that with any of your essential oils, you consider ten drops to be equal to one part. After you have blended in your essential oils, let your creation sit overnight, then smell it to see if you would like to add more of any oil that you particularly like for a stronger scent according to your personal taste.

Planetary Formulas

one part allspice berries, crushed
one part powdered nutmeg
one part gum mastic
one part clove oil
one part elemi oil

Dark Earth and Deep Water

Ankhie just spent a glorious weekend (after a rather inglorious bout of stomach flu) in the Catskills with her near and dear, doing what we always do this time of year – outdoor rituals involving potable potions, swirling flame, best intentions, and a great deal of laughter and music. This year, there were new friends joining in – unused to our witchy ways and the peculiarities of the (rather enchanted) place – so there was some explaining to do.

The Catskills, for those of you who are unfamiliar, are situated about 2 hours north of New York City, west of the Hudson River and the granite hills of Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Catskills are composed mostly of ancient sediments -slate and shale – and when viewed from a distance the mountains display a distinct striated pattern.  They are stunning, and very spooky.

Our friends live in a hollow between foothills. The property was once owned by a fringe religious group, whose members occasionally still turn up asking “Have you found the root cellar?”  No explanation is offered. No clues as to what or where the cellar is, or why they are still interested. They seem harmless, just curious about how the property has changed, but won’t expand on their inquiries.  Because the ground is essentially rock with a thin veneer of soil and grass, a root cellar (or any excavated space) would have been quite a labor, and not quickly abandoned or easily overgrown. Even so, it’s location and purpose is still a mystery. What my friends have found is a chamber built into a  shale shelf behind the neighbor’s house (a likely candidate), a deep and truly unsettling cistern (think The Ring), and a quarry riddled with small animal dens.  The new members of our party were briefed on all of this, and appropriately fascinated.

What is it about these deep and dark places that so enthrall us? In my own extended, childhood backyard there is a well hidden just off an abandoned road. It has no walls above ground level, and is often disguised by fallen branches and leaves. It is a deadly thing. Deep beyond sight, and lined with jagged stone.  If I’m near it, I just can’t stay away – even though the debris makes its exact location a mystery and a threat, every time.  Then there is the old soapstone quarry, just a semi-circular cliff now, rising from the body of a reservoir. In a boat (the only way to access it) the walls are sheer and echo every sound, the water, clear as glass 100 yards away, is black here, and very still. I have never caught a fish there in decades of trying, but it’s always the first place I steer my boat.

It is not at all surprising that these types of places have always been associated with both the spiritual and the paranormal. Wells and springs haunted by faeries or other native spirits became associated with Saints, just as temples were torn down for churches. These places speak to the darker (non-intellectual) part of ourselves for good reason. What that reason is exactly, I’m not informed enough to say, but I did run across this passage in Freddy Silva‘s excellent Legacy of the Gods; the Origin of Sacred Sites and the Rebirth of Ancient Wisdom:

Beneath the holiest of Muslim shrines, the Ka’Ba, there exists a well; sacred springs exist below Temple Mount, just as they do beneath Chartres and Glastonbury Tor; the Gothic cathedrals of Wells, Winchester and Salisbury are built on marshland and designed to  practically float on such architecturally unsuitable terrain; in fact, so many beautiful pieces of sacred architecture sit on ground wholly unsuitable for heavy structures.10 The Egyptian pyramids sit above deep fissures of the earth through which flow hundreds of veins of pressurized water. Even stone circles amid the deserts of Nubia and Libya sit on domes of water, as does the Navajo altar in Monument Valley, situated between two voluminous sand dunes out of which bursts a serpentine gush of cold, clear water.

Without exception, every sacred site is located above or beside water. Water is the foundation of every temple.

Like sacred mountains or landscape temples, holy wells and sacred springs are the epitome of the temple in its natural state, and their hypnotic power has been honored since prehistoric times. Many have been integrated within the boundaries of constructed temples, even represented on the inside by the octagonal church font and its holy water. In his delightful discourse on the holy wells of Cornwall, Paul Broadhurst describes how these places were seen by ancient people “as gateways to the Otherworld, where the vital flow of life-force could be used to penetrate the veil of matter to experience a more formative reality. And so they were used to contact unseen realms where communication could take place with the gods and spirits.”11 Celtic Britain – Ireland in particular – still venerates its ancient holy wells and sacred springs, and anyone who visits these remote shrines is often taken aback by the monastic ambience pervading their surroundings. Direct contact with these special waters have provided healing and inspiration for poet and pilgrim since the days of Sumerian Eridu and its temple honoring Ea, the god of the House of Water, where the ritual of baptism was performed as an integral part of temple initiation.

Ea and the Babylonian post-diluvial god Oannes share identical characteristics and attributes thousands of years later with John the Baptist via the linguistic route of the Hebrew Yohanan, the Greek Ioannes, and finally, the English John. Strange how an identical character emerges in the Biblical narrative 9000 years after the god Oannes emerges from the flood, complete with fish symbology, and an aphorism Wells Cathedral sits over several sacred springs,from which its gets its name.reminiscent of the act of consecration of the Egyptian temple: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” 12

Throughout Britain, western France and northern Iberia, holy wells and springs came under the protection of the Celtic church, essentially a reformation of Druidism, which maintained the tradition of honoring the site to the degree that by the Victorian era physicians in London were still sending patients to be cured at such pagan sanctuaries. On my guided excursions to the wells and springs of Cornwall and southern Dorset I have watched groups of excited and inquiring minds develop an immediate languid state of mind as they approach the waters of St. Catherine’s well at Cerne, once part of a pagan temple honoring the fertility god Cernunnos. Likewise, the holy well at St. Clether, Cornwall, is a unique sanctuary where a channel of water from the outside well house passes directly through the tiny church and under a rough stone altar resembling one of Stonehenge’s trilithons in miniature.

Water at sacred sites is very different in frequency to ordinary water. Tests conducted using infrared spectroscopy show that holy water absorbs light at different frequencies. Holy well water is free from bacteria and contains natural minerals which are known to be beneficial to health and longevity.13 This extremely pure water also exhibits greater properties of spin, and such vortices create an electrical charge which then generate an electromagnetic field, certainly enough to transform it into something different from ordinary liquid.14

Despite the world being covered two-thirds by water, it is still a mysterious element: it grows lighter rather than heavier as it freezes; its surface tension causes it to stick to itself to form a sphere – the shape with the least amount of surface for its volume, requiring the least amount of energy to maintain itself. And yet when its extraneous gases are removed from a drop the size of an inch, it becomes harder than steel.15 Its potency can be enhanced by the use of crystals, particularly quartz, the prime material found in the stone used in temple-building. This has a marked effect on water’s surface tension, and Tibetan physicians have used this combination to make efficacious solutions for their patients.16 Not surprisingly, enlightened kings and queens of old had water transported from sacred sites to their court by means of rock crystal bowls, which served to maintain the energy of the water during transportation. Anyone who has tried this in recent times knows just how it makes the water taste like liquid air.

As a postscript – very near the quarry (across the water to the south) there used to be a spring – just a pipe jutting out of the hillside and spilling into and old horse trough. I remember drinking from it on hot summer days.  The pipe was pulled out and the trough removed years ago (worries over bacteria, etc. etc.) but no water, nothing in fact, has ever come close to that taste. If  I had to reduce the enchantment of childhood to one sensation, that would be it.

Guest Post by Bernadette Montana of Brid’s Closet – Community and the Season of Giving

Today, on the first day of Winter, there will be 9 hours, 40 minutes, and 50 seconds of daylight in the Northeast U.S. Those numbers will gradually start to shift, increasing first by seconds, then minutes as the natural year progresses, but in the meantime, the nights will be long and cold and difficult for far too many people. Holiday celebrations and the excesses of the season aside, most of us have more than we need. Maybe not financially or materially, but compassionately. Those who take time to step back and assess the value of their own hearts, will find that they have a lot to share this season. Look around in your community. Someone is waiting for a kind word, a kind deed, a gift of your time and attention. These are commodities we all have. They are not subject to financial markets and they do not expire. They are yours to give freely. Take, for example, the story that Bernadette Montana – owner of Brid’s Closet in Cornwall New York, offers  in this guest post:

What is community?

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while now.  The holidays are upon us, and for some, it is a time to help others who are less fortunate.

I myself, cannot afford healthcare.  I  limit my expenses and try my best to pay the bills.  Being that I am “self-employed”, I struggle with this on a daily basis.  Clearly-we all could use a little help. What might be less obvious, is that we can all offer a little help too.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from a friend who told me about a person who was in desperate need.

Jennie, who we affectionately call “The Hugging Goddess” is on full disability because of health reasons, and she was going to be evicted from her home.  Just one of her problems.

She had a leak in her kitchen.  It wound up rotting out the floors in the trailer home in which she lives.  Because of this, she lost her home insurance.  When hurricane Irene hit, she was flooded.  The water left garbage and downed trees all over her land and the house developed mold.  Then her furnace stopped working.  Now there was no hot water for showers and no heat to keep her home!  The whole trailer was being heated by space heaters.

She went to FEMA for help and was denied because she had no home insurance, and because of the condition of the land, the home association wanted to evict her.

Back to the original call…

Her friend Robin filled me in on what was going on.  I immediately put out a call for help to our pagan community.  Calls where made, The local press was contacted, and used social media (Facebook, Blogger, Twitter) in order to get the word out.  With 24 hours, committees where set up, donations of material and money started coming in, and a cleanup crew was sent to Jennie’s home!

In 2 days, the entire lawn was cleaned up, dead trees where cut down, the furnace was fixed, and a shed was rebuilt.  In the weeks to come, the rotted floors will be replaced, and new ones will be laid down with all the donations of wood, tile and money that came in.  Looking into finding used kitchen cabinets for her as well.

Jennie came into the store to thank me!  She gave me her famous hugs, got all “teary” and tried to give me the last $3 in her pocket! Very emotional…What is community?  It’s about the love we give one another.  It’s about caring and hugs.  It’s about honoring the Goddesses and Gods within each other.  It’s about the pagan community that I am soo blessed to have here!

Many thanks to Bernadette for sharing this story!

Blessings to each and every one of you this holiday season. May the days to come bring you health, happiness, and comforts to enjoy and to share.

Thinking About Books, All Day Long – an Ankhie Ramble

Seriously – ALL day.  Granted, sometimes I’m thinking about lunch, or the lovely person at the Dunkie’s drive-through who smiles at me every morning and makes the world a little less lonely and cold even before the caffeine hits my system.  Sometimes I’m thinking about bills, or aging parents, or kids growing up and growing away. But mostly I’m thinking about books. It is both an occupational hazard and a predisposition. And I’ll wager than anyone reading this also spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about books.  Go ahead… admit it.

So what does that mean? How does uncontrolled bibliophilia affect one’s outlook on life?

Let the ramble commence!

When I was in college (hundreds of years ago) I took a Comparative Literature seminar called “The Problem Wife” – a fabulous (exhausting) syllabus, focused and highly literate classmates,  and an amazing teacher. I can honestly say that the class changed the way I see the world and myself. It also changed what I read and how I read –  in part because of the material, but also in part because of a few words of advice the professor gave at the end of the semester. She looked around the table at her eager and intense young students and said. “If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be this – don’t live your life like it’s a novel.”  We were dumbstruck. That was, of course, exactly what we wanted to do.  The world waited for us, with drama and passion and adventure and tumult! And even though most of the “problem” wives we’d read about ended up dead (usually by their own hands) they had lived, really lived!  What the professor brought to our attention in that one, deflating statement, was that, no – these women had not lived. The consequences of their passions and misdeeds were as fictional as the acts themselves, existing only on the page and in the minds of the readers. We live in the physical world, where structure and narrative are artificial constructs that don’t neatly apply to the changing nature of personality, influence, and circumstance.

Fiction is great. It entertains, informs, and yes, helps to shape the way we think about the world. But it is not a place to live.

So, WHAT exactly are you getting at Ankhie? Excellent question, patient reader. My point in this ramble is to say that no book is a blueprint for living. No one book, that is. To truly live, we must fill our years with a rich variety of experience, and our minds with a rich variety of thought. The latter can be accomplished by reading often and reading well.

I don’t regret a single book I’ve read (well…), or a single moment spent thinking about them. Now, how many things in life can you say that about?

So go forth, intrepid lovelies, and read. Read everything!

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” – Lemony Snicket

Does Magic Make You Crazy? – an Ankhie Ramble for a Dark Winter’s Night

Magical thinking is (roughly) defined as a system of belief that allows for the unusual and scientifically unproven interrelatedness of things, based on subjective associations.  You know… pat the cat three times before you leave for work and the house won’t burn down. There’s a connection there somewhere, but it’s too weird and far-fetched to explain to anyone else. But hey, it seems to work.

One step shy of superstition, two steps shy of actual magic.

Yes. Actual magic. To be effective, a magical  practitioner must wholly believe in the power of sympathetic associations and correspondences. It is, after all, a spiritual tradition grounded in the tangible world. Whether you are a Hedge Witch or a Necromancer, the words and objects used to invoke the hidden realm must have power – power that you trust and believe in – in order for any spell or summoning to work. It’s that simple.  Things matter. Actions and words matter. You can theorize about magic all you want, but unless you work and see results on the physical plane, it is only theory.

Think about the house not burning down and chances are that everything will be fine. But pat the cat, and he will be roused and perhaps inspired to catch the mice that are just about to chew through the wires in your walls, wires that would have sparked against that old, dry insulation, burning down the house. It is a hair thin connection, but it is there.

Magical thinking is also a clinical symptom of several different types of mental disorders – schizophrenia and bi-polar being just two. Here we come to the meat of Ankhie’s ramble. I have a witchy friend who was diagnosed as bipolar many years ago (back when they called it manic depressive disorder) – she never embraced the diagnosis, refused to be medicated, and with the exception of occasional bouts of crazy has lived a pretty normal life. Magical thinking has always been an integral part of who she is. It was also part of what earned her that initial diagnosis. Recently things went kind of wrong for her and she went back into therapy. She also went on meds.  And they worked! She was surprised, and initially delighted by the results -she was calmer, happier, more productive and easier to be around. Yet somehow, she was also a lot less witchy. She started to lose interest in her practice. She started to question her beliefs. The magical thinking that had defined her and empowered a rather impressive record of spellwork, now seemed silly, remote. She still loves to read witchy tomes, but her interests are more academic.

Now, none of this is to imply that all magical folk are crazy (although we do have our stand-outs). The same ramble could have been written if my friend were a poet, or musician.  Magic, like art, requires a true leap of faith –  it’s power is found in that held-breath moment between the world we live in and the world we imagine. But with every leap there is the risk of a fatal fall. Every magical thinker, from Dion Fortune to Christian Day, has warned of the dangers inherent in occult practice. The doors we open cannot easily be closed again, and if we aren’t strong enough – mentally and physically – they will remain forever open, and the connections that work so well when we are in control start to tangle and bind us in hopeless knots.

So, does magic make you crazy? I don’t know. I do know that I am glad to see my friend “happy” but I miss the witch in her. And if I forget to pat the cat, I turn the car around and head back home.

Thieving Faeries, Ninja Mice, and a Ridiculous Ankhie Ramble

It’s been some time since I have rambled here – autumn being the season of all-out-witchery and assorted Weiser mayhem … all good, mind you. As a result, Ankhie finds that her brain is full, her imagination fuller, and her schedule easing up somewhat to allow for expansion of both.

Which brings me to a little non-sense that, were it any other time of year, I would probably just ignore.

One of the results of working for an occult publisher (and having occult interests) is that whenever something weird happens, I immediately start thinking about possible paranormal explanations. I would make a terrible ghost hunter for that very reason. Yet I’m not unreasonable. Although spirit-doings may be my knee-jerk reaction, I do seek (and usually find) some perfectly logical cause for the anomaly.

Scratching in the ceiling? Noisy Ninja Mice.

Candles relighting after they have been blown out? Hot wax pooling and a still-smouldering wick.

Dog acting weird and hiding under the sofa? A missing stick of butter from the kitchen counter and an unspeakable mess in the living room.

But every once in a while things happen that defy logic – every investigative turn a dead end. Like the mist that occasionally appears late at night, moving through the first floor rooms of the house. Or the recent disappearance of sweet and shiny things; chocolates, pastries, silver rings, a hand-beaded keychain. The members of Chez Ankhie have been fully interrogated and all proclaim their innocence. Although I am reluctant to give them the benefit of the doubt on the sweet-related front, there was, just yesterday, a donut that disappeared from a closed bag while the whole family was out. Now, said Ninja Mice are very, very clever (I have previously griped about their super-mousam skills of evasion) but I seriously doubt that they could open a bag, remove the donut, re-close the bag and leave not a trace of crumb or poo.  Seems silly, I know. But it’s something new every day, and I’m scouring my brain and my library for information on nefarious otherkin who steal donuts and shiny accessories.  So far I have come up with nothing, although I am inclined to think it’s house fairies.

What say you, learned readers. If it’s not sneaky critters or fibbing family members, then who or what?

“O coffee! By the Mighty Name of Power do I invoke thee…” – Crowley’s Magical Diary & an Ankhie Ramble

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6.55  Now the day has been gloriously broken, I awoke with some weariness, not feeling clean and happy, not burning with love unto my Lord Adonai, though ashamed indeed for that thrice or four times in the night I had been awakened by this loyal body, urging me to rise and meditate – and my weak will bade it be at ease and take its rest -oh, wretched man! slave of the hour and of the worm!

7.0-7.16  Fifteen cycles of Prana Yama put me right mentally and physically; otherwise they had little apparent success.

7.30  Have breakfasted – a pear and two Garibaldis. (These by the way are the small size, half the big squares.)

7.50  Have smoked a pipe to show that I’m not in a hurry.

8.5  Hanged Man with mantra in Visuddhi. Thought I had been much longer. At one point the Spirit began to move – how the devil else can I express it? The consciousness seemed to flow, instead of pattering. Is that clear?

One should note here that there may perhaps be some essential difference in the operation of the Moslem and Hindu mantrams. The latter boom; the former ripple. I have never tried the former at all seriously until now.

8.10 -8.32  Meme jeu – no good at all. I think I’ll get up and have a Turker.

9.0  Am up, having read my letters. Continuing mantra all the time in a more or less conscious way.

9.25  Wrote my letters and started out.

10.38  Have reached the Cafe de la Paix, walking slowly with my mantra. I am beginning to forget it occassionally, mispronouncing some of the words. A good sign! Now and then I tried sending it up and down my spine, with good effect.

10.40  I will drink a cup of coffee and then proceed to the Hammam. This may ease my limbs, and afford an opportunity for a real go-for-the-gloves effort to concentrate.

It cannot be too clearly understood that nearly all the work hitherto has been preliminary; the intention is to get the Chittam (thought-stuff) flowing evenly in one direction. Also one practices detaching it from the Vrittis (impressions). One looks at everything without seeing it.

O coffee! By the mighty Name of Power do I invoke thee, consecrating thee to the Service of the Magic of Light. Let the pulsations of my heart be strong and regular and slow! Let my brain be wakeful and active in its supreme task of self-control! That my desired end may be effected through Thy strength, Adonai, unto Whom be the Glory for ever! Amen without lie, and Amen, and Amen of Amen.

Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary, ed. by James Wasserman – excerpt from John St. John

Aside from the glorious invocation of coffee, what I like best about Aleister Crowley’s Magical Diaries is how ordinary they seem. Let me rephrase.  I like that they make this extraordinary process of spiritual discipline seem almost ordinary by placing it in the context of daily life. Crowley’s spiritual quest was completely integrated, which is probably why he had the success  he did. But if you only read his better known works, the treatices, instructions, meditations, and fictions – you would have a very different impression of who he was and how he got there. In the guise of the Great Beast he is fully formed – enlightened, erudite, and arrogant. The diaries reveal the man behind the process – not in the least bit lessened, but enriched by the struggle, the doubt, the surprising bursts of boyish enthusiasm.

So here comes the Ankhie ramble…

What do we lose by committing all of our thoughts to electronic media? It is assumed that the internet generation is guilty of over-sharing, posting  every mood and misguided deed for all to see. That is somewhat true, of course (Ankhie has a teenaged daughter – she knows of what she speaks), but most folks have some sense of decorum – they think about what they are posting, edit it with readers in mind. If you are putting it online, you expect that someone will be reading. What do you suppose Crowley’s diaries would have looked like had they been in blog format? or tweets? Would anyone have seen the very human, and humorous side of Uncle Al if he had been aware, with each entry, that he was writing for the world not just himself? Of course, Crowley must have imagined a future audience for these journals – but even so, there was the buffer of considerable time and distance between the experience & writing (nearly simultaneous) and the publication. That buffer made all the difference.

Just curious. Who out there keeps a real, pen and ink magical diary these days? How does that differ from your online musings?

PS If you know what a ‘Turker” is, let me know.  Unless it’s something totally filthy… oh, hell, let me know anyway!

Occult Under the Radar – Dion Fortune and An Ankhie Ramble

One of the things I love about J.K Rowling is that she really did her homework. Most of the magical material in her books is based on fact – or a least, legitimate occult and mythological sources. Perhaps that is why the boy-wizard books resonated so far beyond their targeted demographic. Something in them rang true – a sound that (for most folks) had long lain silent in the dark corners of their collective unconscious.

Fiction is many things for many people – a fantasy, an escape, a thrill, a terror, an insight into the human condition, and a way to investigate ideas and feelings that might be too scary or too risky to explore in real life.

Ankhie has a friend whose mother told her (on the eve of her wedding) that Anna Karenina would tell her everything she needed to know about marriage. Dark? Certainly. True? Well, it ain’t a classic for nothin’. Adultery and suicide are extremes, well beyond consideration for most people – but that doesn’t make them less real, or less probable under the right set of circumstances. We need this sort of heady fiction – not to know what is true (that territory is claimed, with varying degrees of veracity, by non-fiction)  but to know what is possible.

A fiction writer creates a world out of nothing – sounds conveyed by words empowered by ideas fueled by observation imagination and experience. Fiction that lasts makes those transitions seamlessly, and honestly. Most humans are born with excellent bullshit detectors – we know when someone (or something) is full of it. Beautiful words and lyrical phrasing will only get you so far. There must be something at stake for us to care. If the work is, at its core, dishonest, it won’t continue matter to us beyond the last page. Although it might have been entertaining, it is forgotten as soon as it is finished, mentally shredded with other passing distractions.

Next week, the Weiser Book Club on Twitter will be discussing The Secrets of Doctor Taverner by Dion Fortune. The author famously writes in her Introduction:

I do not wish to imply … that these stories all happened exactly as set down, for such is not the case; they are, however, all founded on fact, and there is not a single incident herein contained which is pure imagination. That is to say, while no picture is an actual photograph, no one is an imaginary sketch: they are rather composite photographs, obtained by cutting out and piecing together innumerable snapshots of actual happenings, and the whole, far from being an arbitrary product of the imagination, is a serious study in the psychology of ultra-consciousness.

Fortune was criticized by some of her peers for divulging occult secrets in her novels and stories – because those who knew the facts easily saw past the fictional mask. Those who did not know the truth sensed it, and responded accordingly. Popular in their time, these stories still entertain and inform, many decades later.

Diana L. Paxson – herself a writer of fantasy fiction and a practicing occultist, writes a beautiful foreword to the latest edition of The Secrets of Doctor Taverner in which she reflects upon it as “A Study in Secrets”:

When I consider Fortune’s approach to presenting real magic under the guise of fiction, I am reminded of the meeting at which my editor commented that there were “a lot of rituals in The Sea Star, but they work.” I did not tell him that they ought to, since I had actually done most of them. Fiction, which allows the author to express  subjective experience and atmosphere, can often be a more effective means of describing magical operations than a detached description.

I don’t think anyone could have stated it better or with more authority.

Truth doesn’t need to roar, or perform aerial acrobatics to be noticed. Even when flying under the radar, you’ll know it’s there.