Wormwood Crow

A virtual crossroads of my own path and yours.

Quacksalver! Quacksalver! Quack me a salve!

With a quiet day off Monday I spent the afternoon with Hutton enjoying a plate of nibblies and a glass of wine.

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The food was light, yet rich. I wanted something nutritious without it being filling since Monday was an in-between day of a double moon. Sunday night’s work was the heavy lifting, but I wanted my blood in my brain rather my stomach for tonight even though it’s “only” a tea brewing evening with the full moon as company.

This month seven years ago I cast my first job spell. A couple of days later I got a call, had the interview the same day and got hired right then. Definitely a confidence booster. So this Sunday night was another go at it, since I could use a little shapeshifting in my favor.

Whether or not I’m successful for myself is one thing, but a couple of months ago a friend was laid off and I casually commented I would throw some magic her way. She seemed pleased, but she’s not a believer. At best she sees what I do as something “based upon feminism and nature-worship and with a benevolent and life-affirming ethic; at worst, harmlessly idiotic.” (pg. 386 Hutton, 1999) Well, she’s still unemployed. I failed, in a sense. So how useful is magic to others? Do we sell snake-oil (if not an actual spell, at least as a way to foster a certain reputation)? Are we quacksalvers whose slight of hand and a few candles make for a good show?

I’m on good terms with the notion that magic is as much (if not more) about showmanship than it is about bending arcane forces to my will and manipulating the space-time continuum like clay. Even the solitary wielder of arcane forces will benefit from the pomp and regalia of ritual to set the mood, not to say anything of how such theatrics effect a group attempting to harmonize moods/energies/goals. I have a decent record for spells cast at myself. I’m in the circle. I’m the sender and the receiver. I want it. I’m a pretty big target. It amazes me my spells don’t get me more often! I have monstrously terrible eye-hand coordination, but it’s not like I’m throwing them that far. But a non-believer, respectful or not, is an evasive target. Perhaps if I had her tied to the altar with candles melting down on her abdomen while I chanted above her and wildly waved a censer of acrid smoke around I would get her attention. Perhaps she would be moved enough by the spectacle to feel a shift in the shapes around her. Perhaps the magic would bulls-eye.

That’s why I think paying for magical services should be required. Even if it’s only symbolic payment. The petitioner might not want to be tied down and have melted wax all over their body (which missing out on soooo much fun! Or so I’ve heard…). The spellcaster might not want to go through the trouble of coordinating their spell time with the petitioner and finding something with which to tie them down. But payment of some kind goes a long way in the minds of people in that they’re expecting to get something in return. Paying up means they’re a less mobile target. Suddenly a spell knows where to go. Certain shapes in magic need to be stationary before the shifting can start. I think of payment less as a bridge between the spell and petitioner and more as a means of encouraging the petitioner to be receptive to becoming a target.

Naturally I didn’t charge my friend anything. I mentioned it offhandedly and maybe, just maybe, I performed the spell with an equally cavalier attitude. In magic there are many shapes to take into account, motivation being one of them, and unless strongly motivated some of those shapes are just too nebulous to expect success.

As far as success is concerned, I expect a call back sometime this week.

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Burn the witch!

Papua New Guinea found some minerals and natural gas that’s worth something to someone somewhere, so some people are profiting from this boon, and some people are not happy about this boon to others. So much so, in fact, that they’re willing to torture and burn alive people who have a little more than they do. The excuse (besides greed)? Witchcraft! Allegedly. But when has an angry torch-wielding mob ever needed anything more than the barest allegations?

Earlier this year a former school teacher, Helen Rumbali, was attacked in her home by a mob wielding guns, axes, and machetes. Since the attack occurred at night I can imagine a few burning torches were brought along. The mob took Rumbali and three female relatives away to be tortured. Police came in and managed to negotiate for the release of the three relatives, who suffered multiple knife wounds. I assume negations began to break down shortly thereafter since Rumbali ended up beheaded or burned alive. The article is a little unclear here, for it writes about the beheading but the picture caption describes being burned alive. An unwanted end, in any case.

Was this unjustified? Well, a local villager got sick, and ultimately died. Witchcraft was suspected, since the “victim’s grave bore the marks of black magic”. And Rumbali would have gotten away with this nefarious deed were it not for a trail of pesky fireflies that led the witch hunters straight to her.

Tragically, until this year, a 42-year-old Sorcery Act gave people a partial excuse to slay alleged witches for causing the bane we all know they cause. Yet some experts seem to think that the real motivation for the current rise in witch hunts in Papua New Guinea has something to do with jealousy and not an actual fear of witches. Apparently, these experts think that the new found mineral and natural gas wealth is accelerating the gap between the wealthy and poor, which foments jealousy and a desire to strike out against the more economically fortunate. Superstitions once reserved for the highlands of the island have found popularity even in the cities as people deal, badly, with the growing economic divide.

Rumbali was one of these more fortunate. Her husband and son had government jobs and she lived in a real wooden house (until the torch-wielding mob burned it). She had something everyone wanted, including [allegedly] powers over demons in the form of small critters, so she was destroyed.

Economics played a role in the accusations made to the Inquisition as well. During a period when villages were transforming into towns, and the merchant and craft classes were developing, new economic gaps were forming between non-aristocratic peoples. Jealousy bred hatred and the Inquisition gave the green-eyed an outlet by pointing out the green-skinned.

There’s no lesson here. We can compare and contrast. We can pass judgment. We can feel pity. We can be moved to aid in humanitarian efforts abroad. I’m just struck by how fortunate we (we = “Western World”) are that we can blithely adopt a word as label where in other parts of the world that label can leave a person a head short.

Mostly, I’m just struck by the fact that people suck.

Naturalism

About a year and a half ago one of my favorite pagan websites, Humanistic Paganism, posted a poll requesting readers submit what three elements of HP they valued most. In addition to a fill-in-the-blank free space the choices included: naturalism, relationship to mythology, embrace of nature, responsible action, sense of wonder, rituals and meditations, and magic and divination. It should come as no surprise that amongst humanistic pagans magic and divination received no votes as most valued in their practice. (This is not to say it has no value among some, or even all, of the voters.)

I left a comment regarding why I voted the way I did:

I vote on those four elements I have control over. A sense of wonder, while so important, is something that I experience outside of my control. I don’t choose to be filled with wonder. I just am. Appreciatively. The four valued elements I actively choose to practice to define myself as a humanist pagan would be meditation (to learn about myself), relationships with mythology (to learn about my past), responsible action (to better my present and future), and naturalism (as a reflection of my view and position in the cosmos).

It’s been a while since I voted but I believe the fourth element I didn’t actually vote for in the poll was naturalism, because it requires further explaining a simple comment box wouldn’t accommodate. Naturalism can be considered contentious within the pagan community because it does away with something fundamental to many pagans: a belief in the unseen. When choosing those four elements I wanted to select some basic tenets all pagans could recognize as important. Presumptuous? Sure. But in a forum like the internet which lacks rigorous peer review I can make some pretty outlandish statements and fear only trolls, not censorship. Let’s get started.

Definition of Naturalism, as found on Dictionary.com

1)      Philosophy.

a)      the view of the world that takes account only of natural elements and forces, excluding the supernatural or spiritual.

b)      the belief that all phenomena are covered by laws of science and that all teleological explanations are therefore without value.

2)      Theology.

a)      the doctrine that all religious truth is derived from a study of natural processes and not from revelation.

b)      the doctrine that natural religion is sufficient for salvation.

1a encourages people to seek out answers grounded in facts, observable data, and reason. No matter how your personal belief system is constructed, it’s just common sense to find answers first in the “real world” rather than the “mystical world”. Globally we have people turning this around. African villagers set ablaze little girls accused of witchcraft because a run of bad luck. Mid-western American parents lose their ill children because group prayer was the preferred cure over any medical treatment. Start with the real world laws of nature to explain and understand and (sometimes even) control your world before you reach for the “supernatural” answers. (Note: I’m disinclined to believe in anything supernatural, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of naturally super things going on. That requires further explanation in the future.)

1b tells us that everything in our observable universe is explainable by the laws of science. Does this mean those things we currently consider “supernatural” are all make-believe? Well, fire was once considered a gift of the gods, germs were not identified until the invention of the microscope, and mental disorders were thought of as spirit possession rather than a physiological ailments, so…

It also negates the notion of a purpose to the universe. As the laws of science provide the mechanisms for the framework of the universe to chug along all on its own, it frees those with a brain to explore, romanticize and apply cultural decoupage to that framework. But those same laws provide so much stability in our universe that those who wish to just chug along are free to do so.

2a talks about Truth. Scientific theories are True. The scientific method is based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to reason and repetition. So if it’s true for one person probing our observable universe’s secrets, then it’s true for the next person and the next. What does science have to do with religion? Good question!

Definition of Religion, as found on Dictionary.com

        i.            a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

      ii.            a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.

    iii.            the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices.

These definitions tell us that religion is an agreed upon perception of the universe central to a group of people. The creation and continued operation of the observable universe is certainly superhuman. Whether or not it was created and is now or was operated by conscious entities (gods), the magnitude of the universe and its operations is superhuman. Science provides as a set of fundamental beliefs and the scientific method is the set of practices we use to continually uncover more Truths about the observable universe.

Dancing hand in hand with these objective Truths based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to reason and repetition, our minds are designed to, and thrive on, the creation of perfectly fanciful mythologies concerning the creation and operation of the universe. This allows us to translate the awe and fear and wonder we have toward natural laws, scientific abstractions and taciturn theories into poetry, art, and dance. We take the marvel of science and embrace it in many marvels of ethos. The same law, the same theory, but seen in a kaleidoscope of cultural colors.

2b saves us from dogmatic salvation, which in turns allows room for myth to flourish. Laws of a secular nature are adept at keeping civil order, cocooning pockets of the natural world from pillage, and providing aid in times of need. Once these safeguards are put in place, cultural variation can flourish. Both the conservatives holding to tradition as well as social innovators can dance the steps of their own myths. Every side recognizing that the basics for order are established along secular lines and each individual is free to safely pursue their own myth, alone or in groups.

Naturalism should be society’s springboard to spiritual fulfillment, not the cultural goal. It provides basic tenets that can be universally agreed upon: science as a means to explain, and natural law as a means to protect, preserve, and foster growth. Naturalism doesn’t take supernatural experience out of the equation, but simply never addresses it, rather leaving those experiences to the individual in what is commonly referred to as UPG (unverified personal gnosis). These revelations, while not measurable, have great impact on a person or group of people, but cannot be expected to hold True for everyone. Teleology is removed to provide each individual plenty of room to maneuver to create one’s own mythology. Whether that mythology is deterministic or not, it’s your choice! (Ironic’d.)

It is this view of naturalism that I encourage in others, pagan or not. It is a way of starting the conversation about my beliefs to others of less-than-like-mind without coming off as some New Age Harry Potter wannabe. It’s a minimum for everyone, everywhere, that allows for plenty of room to express a diverse array of personally satisfying ideologies. From there every pagan can choose what rituals and meditations to better understand themselves. Every pagan can develop their own relationship with mythology to better understand history and ethnic traditions. Every pagan can take steps toward responsible action, magical and mundane, that makes them and the world around them a little better.

As you can see, this commentary could not fit within the confines of a comments box, but I wanted to finally address all four elements I think can be universally recognized by modern pagans. And non-pagans. It’s actually meant to be vague. Vague, but positive. So everyone can adopt a positive approach based in reason and betterment. I suppose this article comes off a lot more New Age-I’m-okay-You’re-okay than candle, book and bell. I guess I’ll need to start working on a good spell for world peace that includes damiana, passion flower, and sigil work if I want to improve my Diagon Alley street cred. (Yep, that helps.)

Double Fisting Full Moons

            This month we had what I refer to as a Double Moon. This isn’t a Blue Moon, which is the second full moon in a calendar month, but rather a full moon two nights in a row. Generally speaking, a full moon looks pretty damn full three nights of the month assuming one of those nights is when the full moon actually occurs. The first and third nights have near-full moons, but an observer can still detect where the moon seems to be lacking a little either on its left or right side.

            A Double Moon occurs when the moon is technically at its fullest during the day sometime around noon. I arbitrarily assign a -2/+2 hours to noon. If the full moon for that month is at its fullest between 10am and 2pm (PST), I’ve always had a hard time determining which night is showcasing the more full moon. Is it the night before? Or the night after? Which night lays more claim to the full moon if it’s at its fullest during the middle of the day? My naked eye cannot tell the difference. The simple solution was to accept that that month has two full moons in a row.

            What does that mean? Well, really whatever you want it to mean for the full moon. Two nights in a row of Esbat ritual. Two nights in a row of spell work. Two nights in a row of consecration. Two nights in a row of anything you can concoct that needs getting done at the full moon.

            That being said, it’s important to voice the troubles that arise with back-to-back ritual or spell work that are particularly draining. With no time in between activities to recuperate, your body is going to feel the impact of burning the candle at both ends. On the plus side, you get two nights to put things into motion you might otherwise have to wait a month to do. Or try to cram multiple activities in a single night, which is probably even more strenuous than a double-nighter. I find planning one night of heavy-duty work and one night of lighter tasks tends to leave me still feeling functional the rest of the week rather than spacy or lethargic. This month I performed a job-related spell for a friend of mine on the first night when midnight heralded Thursday. The following night I kept it simpler with dedications of ritual items for the upcoming Sabbat. Yes, the following day I came down with a severe case of allergies, but I attribute that more to the fact that it’s been 90+ this week here and dry, dusty weather is my kryptonite.

Another benefit: if your group regularly meets on a full moon but you really need to get something accomplished solo, you then have a second full moon night in which to do it. Naturally, you run the same risk of burning out if you’re performing heavy work two nights in a row, so you may want to let your group know and make arrangements for playing a smaller role on the group’s night together.

So how often does a Double Moon occur? I’m glad you asked! Because I just spent the last two hours going over my notes and making a spreadsheet to lay it all out in the open for you and me.

Year

Number of Double Moons

Months

Featuring a Double Moon

Active Zodiac

during Double Moon

2001

3

Jan

Sept

Nov

Cancer

Pisces

Gemini

2002

3

Mar

June

Dec

Libra

Capri.

Gemini

2003

3

April

July

Dec

Libra

Capri.

Gemini

2004

3

May

July

Nov

Scorpio

Aqua.

Gemini

2005

3

Mar

May

Aug

Libra

Sag.

Aqua.

2006

2

June

Sept

Sag.

Pisces

2007

2

April

Sept

Libra

Aries

2008

3

Mar

June

Oct

Libra

Sag.

Aries

2009

3

June

Nov

Dec

Sag.

Taur.

Cancer

2010

1

Aug

Pisces

2011

5

Jan

Mar

June

Aug

Nov

Cancer

Virgo

Sag.

Aqua.

Taur.

2012

4

Feb

April

July

Oct

Leo

Libra

Capri.

Taur.

2013

3

Feb

April

July

Virgo

Scorpio

Aqua.

            It’s interesting how readily we’ll accept early indications of patterns as some sort of cosmological truth. If I had started this spreadsheet back in 2001 I would have accepted three Double Moons as a norm and spent weeks fixated on the significance of Gemini by the time 2004 rolled around. If I had access to a program like SPSS right now I could play around with this crude chart and look for other potential patterns. I could seek out almanacs that date before 2001 to increase my sample size. I could check those almanacs for other significant indicators that could be added to this chart and see if any patterns actually appear then. But statistics has never been near and dear to me, so I will just make note that this July we have another Double Moon and will plan accordingly so I don’t burn myself out.

Seminal blog

Three weeks after Ostara I call time-of-death on the triplets. Though I’m not sure you can call out the death of something that never showed signs of life in the first place. Three terra cotta flower pots, each housing its own smattering of seeds, continue to lie barren. Rosemary, sage, and lavender. I had been told they practically grew themselves. Apparently my thumb is blacker than it is pale and unaccustomed to toiling in the great outdoors: my backyard. Pity… I envy those who can beckon life from soil, bond with greenery, and otherwise enjoy a connection with their herbs. This seems especially important if you have intentions of a magical nature. A pinch of mugwort and a sprig of comfrey harvested from one’s own garden possess an air of authenticity seriously lacking from my order-by-mail herbal acquisitions.

Of course, one can be an all-powerful witch and never lay eyes on a trowel, but I’m not actively opposed to getting my hands a little dirty for my craft. I just don’t think plants like it when I touch them. My front yard follows city ordinance guidelines with military precision. Hence, it is bleak and uncreative. My backyard, on the other hand, is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of seasonal weeds, some resilient brush and a handful of stalwart fruit trees that appear to maintain themselves best with benevolent neglect from me. I can sit in my yard, listen to the birds, watch the bees, and be mercifully passed over by the creepy-crawlies of both land and air as long as I don’t touch anything. No pruning, no watering, no tilling, and naturally no pesticides. We have an understanding.

Starter plants would make more sense if I were to attempt a little in-home garden, but I fear my constitution too weak to watch fledgling plants wither in the pot despite my best efforts. Seeds which never germinate also never decay.

A seminal topic seemed appropriate for my seminal blog entry. Especially for this spring season. Seeds are interesting symbols. I think they’re most widely recognized as an expression of latent power yet to bloom. I tend to view them as thresholds; Species A stepping through the door away from the old body and into the new—continuation. The latent power is inherent, imbedded in the genetic material, proven time and again for generations. Amazing engineering, yes, but the real power comes from consciously recognizing the differences between one form and another or one phase and another. Old Tree to Seed to New Tree. We see seeds as symbols of latent power in the moment, but that particular example loses impact when Seed becomes New Tree, when power stops being latent and becomes manifest. Consciously meditating on the transitions, with the luxury of hindsight, better prepares us for handling changes in our lives that will inevitably transition us physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually with or without our consent.

Each moment of my life is a time when Old Me is being replaced by New Me, and that happens because multiple influences are effecting me, planting seeds of change. Some of these seeds of change I choose to cultivate, hoping for sweet fruit. Some seeds pop up like tenacious weeds, usually a result of uncontrolled behavioral or cognitive patterns that repeatedly resurface. Some seeds get blown in by the winds of the wider world. No man is an island.

So I view each seed as that moment where Old Me is making way for New Me. As an old tree will topple and revitalize the soil with its decay, so too will my Old Me provide the nutrients needed for New Me to flourish: memories, experiences, common sense, emotional stability, physical well-being, knowledge, etc. The seed IS New Me, certainly, but it is directly from Old Me. While New Me’s latent power may remain dormant a while, that seed was created because Old Me knew it’s time was coming to a close. Change is inevitable so it’s best to put the best of Old Me into the seed and hope New Me has a better go at it. The threshold was crossed with the making of that seed. And now knowing the seed is there, it’s time to consciously turn attention to it to see it has the best chance.

Three weeks ago on Ostara I found my flower pots still barren weeks after planting some seeds. Last week on my birthday I recognized myself cultivating seeds of connection and community that I started some months ago here online, first on Youtube. I’m not a particularly gregarious individual, and online social etiquette continues to mystify me, but I appreciate the online gardens others have cultivated for the world to see. So here’s my little terra cotta flower pot for the world to see. I don’t know if anything worthwhile will bloom from it, but it might be the season to get my hands dirty.

The Wild Hunt

A virtual crossroads of my own path and yours.

NaturalPagans

A virtual crossroads of my own path and yours.

Thorn Mooney

Traditional Wicca in the American South

Therioshamanism

All spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and nature is a window into that wonder. - Richard Louv

Humanistic Paganism

A community of Humanistic and Naturalistic Pagans