Pagan Blog Project

Pagan Blog Project G – Gnomes

The graver Prude sinks downward to a Gnome,

In search of Mischief still on Earth to roam.

- Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock

In Earth-based spirituality the elements feature quite prominently and for good reason. The five elements encompass all the energies of life. In other words, everything is made up of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. Of course, I don’t mean this in the literal sense as the Classical philosophers did. But rather each of the elements represents a different type of energy and it is these energies that, when combined, embody the creative life force of existence.

While knowledge and use of elemental energy in ritual or magic is common, the use of elemental spirits is sometimes overlooked. It was the alchemist Paracelsus in the 16th century that first made mention of elemental spirits. He named them Sylphs, Salamanders, Undines, and Gnomes for each of the four elements. Each of these elemental spirits ruled over their elemental realm. For Paracelsus, the elemental spirits were the “building blocks” of nature. As Christopher Penczak points out in The Outer Temple of Witchcraft, each elemental has only one element to their nature and can be seen as a pure form of that elemental energy. In the case of gnomes, they are the pure form of Earth energy.

The gnomes of Paracelsus’ invention have their roots in European folklore. Belief in nature spirits was common throughout the classical and medieval world. In Germanic mythology there were dwarves. Greek mythology had the chthonic dactyls. And in the British Isles there were many types of little folk, from brownies and hobgoblins to kobolds and leprechauns. The word gnome likely comes from the greek word genomos, meaning earth-dweller. It wasn’t long before the elemental gnomes of Paracelsus became synonymous with the goblins and little folk of folklore. By the 19th century, gnomes would come out of obscurity and into popular imagination as a direct result of their inclusion in fairy tales.

Paracelsus described them as being reluctant to interact with humans. He also suggested they could move through solid earth, much like we move through the air. Today they are viewed in a much more helpful manner, as all elementals are generally seen to be willing to work with humans. One article I read suggested that gnomes are formless in their natural state but can take the form of whatever they interact with. The element of earth is strongly correlated with matter and the physical. As such, gnomes are able to take energy and give it material form.

Working with the elemental realms and their spirits can be a wonderful way to connect with elemental energy. There are many ways that we can do this today. Guided meditations or journeying can be done to visit each of the elemental realms. We can invite the elemental spirits into our rituals. We can also enlist their aid in magical workings. Gnomes in particular are suited to earth magic in areas concerning the physical and the material. Working with gnomes would be appropriate in matters concerning material gain, the physical body, the home, nature and grounding.

Today the most popular image of a gnome is of the small garden statue complete with white beard and conical hat. In light of their status as the elemental spirit of Earth, I think those to be excellent representations of these curious earth-dwellers.

Blessed be.

Sources Used:

Penczak, Christopher. The Outer Temple of Witchcraft. Llewellyn Publications: Woodbury, Minnesota, 2007.

The Mystica. “Elemental Nature Spirits.” http://www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/e/elementals_nature_spirits.html

Siderius, Edmund. “Knowledge in Nature, Knowledge of Nature: Paracelsus and the Elementals.” http://edmundsiderius.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/knowledge-in-nature-knowledge-of-nature-paracelsus-and-the-elementals/

Wikipedia. “Gnome.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnome

Wikipedia. “Elementals.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elemental

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Pagan Blog Project G – Grounding

Grounding is a very useful and important skill in ritual and magickal workings. In ritual we often work with energy and grounding helps us both before and after to raise and release that energy. This was a lesson I learned myself early on in my path. Having started as a solitary, I was not familiar with the level of energy that could be raised in a group circle. At my first witchcamp, there were fifty people in attendance. Each day we held a ritual, one for each of the elements. On the third day we held our fire ritual, and it was then that we raised a level of energy I had never experienced before.

In retrospect, I did all the wrong things. New to the Reclaiming ritual style, I had not bothered to pay much attention to the grounding we did before ritual, not fully understanding its relevance. And after the ritual, when I was unable to settle down, I told no one and simply tried unsuccessfully to go to sleep. After the ritual I had clearly not grounded myself. I felt agitated and couldn’t calm down. I also had a massive headache that came on quite suddenly. When everyone else was relaxing after the ritual, I was in misery and I didn’t even know why.

The next day, when chatting with others and still with a slight headache I told them my experience. Immediately they chewed me out for not coming to them right away and told me that I had not grounded the energy properly. So right there they walked me through a grounding and I felt the last of my headache disappear. That night after our fourth ritual, when I began to feel those same feelings, I used the techniques they showed me to ground the energy. Having learned the importance of grounding, I no longer took it for granted and was able to master the technique rather quickly.

Grounding, though important, is relatively simple. It can be done in many different ways, more than I could ever cover in a single blog post. But I will try to offer a couple different techniques that I myself use. I mentioned earlier that grounding can be done before and after a ritual. While we use the same word to describe both techniques, there is a subtle difference between the two that I think should be made clear. Grounding before a ritual is done with the intention to bring yourself into a state of readiness before the magickal working. Grounding after the ritual is done with the intention to release the energy that has been raised from that magickal working. In both cases the technique is similar, we connect to the energy of the earth.

Grounding before ritual is necessary to get us into the right frame of mind for ritual. During ritual we enter space that is outside the mundane world to work with various spiritual energies. It is important that we prepare ourselves mentally for this work. Grounding helps us do that by bringing us into the present, helping us set our worldly cares aside (for the time being), and shifting our consciousness in preparation for ritual. Taking the time to settle our minds and connect with the earth’s energies acts as a mental transition from the mundane to the spiritual.

The techniques for this type of grounding are varied but most often include a visualization method that connects our energy to the earth using tree roots and branches. One can do this grounding inside or outside. Obviously, the benefit of standing on the earth outside is quite powerful, but it is not necessary. Inside, one simply adds the extra step of visualizing their roots traveling through the floor into the earth. One can also do this grounding standing up, sitting down, or even lying down. Standing, one envisions the roots coming from the soles of their feet. Sitting and lying down, one envisions the roots coming from the base of the spine, or the root chakra. Another technique does not involve tree roots or branches, but rather a visualization of our personal energy merging with the earth’s energy in whatever way is most useful for the individual. Below I will share a basic script for grounding that is often used in Reclaiming circles.

Grounding after ritual is also important for releasing the energy we raised and helping us to return to the mundane world. This is the technique that I was unfamiliar with in the beginning. It is much less complex than grounding before ritual and can be done in many different ways. One simple method is to kneel down, place ones hands on the earth and visualize that energy draining through your hands back into the earth where it can be used as needed. Another method is to wash ones hands, which helps to bring your mind to the present. If you feel an excess of energy in your body, envisioning your crown chakra opening and letting the energy flow out is another great tip. Eating is an excellent method of grounding, which is why most rituals end with a shared meal or snack. In fact, the cakes we share in cakes and ale serve that purpose quite well. What better way to bring our consciousness back to our bodies than through eating.

Grounding is a technique that though simple, is very important to our own wellbeing. As wiccans (or pagans) we must often cross from the mundane world into the spiritual world. Grounding is the mental bridge we create between the two. It is the process that readies our minds and ourselves for the spiritual work ahead and the technique that releases that work and allows our minds and ourselves to return to the mundane. One thing I have found over the years is that grounding can be an intensely personal thing. Yes, in large gatherings one person will lead the group in a general grounding. But on your own, you must come up with the methods that work best for you. If you are using a technique that someone else has suggested but it isn’t working, find what will work for you. In the end, grounding is simply finding a way to connect to the energy of the earth and one does not need a manual on how to do that.

That being said, for those that are interested, here is a basic script of the type of grounding we do in our Reclaiming public rituals here in Vancouver:

Sit or stand, what is comfortable for you. Close your eyes. Feel yourself here in this moment. Feel the warmth in the air. Notice the smells around you. What do you smell? Notice the sounds around you. What do you hear? Breathe deeply. Feel the air coming in, filling your lungs. Exhale, feeling your lungs empty. Feel your breath slowing. Notice the rhythm of your breath as you sit/stand here. 

Feel your arms at your side, let them hang loose. Feel your legs, standing strong, holding you on the earth. Feel your feet standing on the earth, planted here on this spot.  Now from your feet, feel roots begin to grow. Feel those roots digging deep into the earth, growing from the soles of your feet. (If sitting, feel the base of your spine, your root chakra, begin to grow roots. Feels those roots push down, deep into the earth.)

Feel those roots push down into the soft dirt, pushing deeper and deeper into ground. Feel them push past the rocks and gravel deeper in the earth. Feel those roots going down, past the roots of other trees, past the bones of our ancestors, deeper into the cool, dark earth. Feel them go past the underground caves, the underground streams, into the cold dark rock of the earth. And push them deeper still. 

Go deeper and deeper until you begin to feel warmth. Your roots go deeper and it gets warmer and warmer. Feel the heat as you approach the beating heart of the earth mother. Now, begin to draw that warmth up your roots. Feel that warmth begin to climb your roots, up past the underground streams and caves. Up past the bones of our ancestors, up past the roots and the rocks and dirt. Feel that warm energy rising up your roots and into your feet. Feel that warm, pulsing energy spread up your legs, your thighs, and into your belly. Feel it fill your stomach and torso. Feel it spread down your arms and into your neck and head. Feel your body filled with that warm earth energy. 

Now feel the top of your head, your crown chakra open. Imagine branches sprouting from your head. Up and up they climb into the starry sky. Feel them go higher and higher into the heavens. Now begin to feel them connecting with the stars and the moon. Feel that cool, silvery energy from the stars and the moon sliding down your branches. Feel that energy slide down and down until enters through your crown and begins to fill your body. Feel that cool energy sliding down your neck, into your chest, your arms and torso. Feel the mix of energy in your body, the warm earth energy and the cool sky energy mixing together, swirling inside of you as you stand between the earth and the heavens. 

When you are ready, feel your deep roots and your branches begin to shrink. Feel them slowly come back to you. Feel your roots rising up from the deep earth and your branches lowering down from the heavens. Feel them come back to your feet and your crown and absorb them back into your body. Feel yourself here again in this moment. Feel the sun on your face and your feet on the ground (or your body on the ground). If you need to, place your hands on the ground to earth some of the energy. Pat yourself gently, touching your arms, your legs, your stomach. Feel yourself here, now, in this moment. And when you are ready, open your eyes.

Blessed be.

Categories: Pagan Blog Project, Rituals | 2 Comments

Pagan Blog Project F – Farrar’s, Janet and Stewart

For this second week on the letter F, I had a different topic picked out. But in perusing the prompts list, I began to consider the Farrar’s as an alternative topic. I owe a great deal of my knowledge and experience to the published works of Janet and Stewart Farrar. A Witches’ Bible was my first book on witchcraft and one that I still refer back to today. I would like to acknowledge their role in my spiritual journey with this post.

Stewart Farrar was born June 28 1916 in Essex, England. In his youth he became involved in the communist movement and when the second world war broke out, he immediately volunteered. After the war, Stewart began a career in journalism and would later go on to write screenplays and novels. It was his career as a journalist, however, that would place him directly into the path of Alexander Sanders. He was tasked with writing an article on this famous witch and though at first skeptical, was impressed enough by Sanders to begin work on a non-fiction book, What Witches Do. He began taking classes with the Sanders’ and it was here that he would meet Janet.

Janet (Owen) Farrar was born June 24 1950 in Clapham, England. Janet worked as a model and receptionist after high school. In 1970 she went along with a friend who was interested in joining the Sanders’ coven to protect her from what she though was a cult. In the end, however, it was Janet who joined the Sanders’ coven and became initiated as a witch. It was there that she met Stewart and began practicing with him. They took their second degree late in 1970 and by April 1971 had taken their third degree and hived off to form their own coven.

As a couple, they were handfasted in 1972 and later legally married in 1975. By 1976 they were settled in Ireland with their own coven and had begun writing extensively on the topic of witchcraft. Some of their early books include A Witches’ Bible, The Witches’ Goddess, The Witches’ God, and Spells, And How They Work.

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In 1993 they were joined in their writing partnership by Gavin Bone, an initiate of seax-wicca. The three would then enter into a polyfidelitus relationship. Gavin would contribute work on their next book, The Healing Craft.

In February 2000 Stewart passed away at the age of 83 and left behind a legacy as one of the most influential witches’ in the history of the Craft. After Stewart’s death, Janet and Gavin continued to write and published the book Progressive Witchcraft. This new book illustrated the ways in which their own practice had changed and evolved.

The early works of the Farrar’s can be seen as keeping in line with British Traditional witchcraft. A Witches’ Bible contains much of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows and their ritual liturgy, as outlined in the book, is based heavily on traditional Wicca. Similarly, The Witches’ Goddess and The Witches’ God both offer similar ritual styles as well as a wealth of information on hundreds of deities. Looking at their later works, primarily The Healing Craft and Progressive Witchcraft, one realizes how far from their roots the Farrar’s have evolved. Currently, Janet and Gavin do not have a specific trad label and prefer to loosely use the name progressive witchcraft to describe their practices. This new book offers some of the basic training in the Craft along with an emphasis on spiritual cosmology, the development of psychic skills and various energy work and trance techniques.

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I have found my own practice taking a similar route of evolution. Though I really enjoyed diving into A Witches’ Bible, I’m not sure I would recommend it to a beginner. It has a wealth of information, particularly on traditional wicca, but it can be rather daunting. I have a great deal of respect for Traditional and Gardnerian Wicca. Without it, we would not be practicing this religion today. I understand where we have come from, the history of our Craft, and yet I do not believe that we must stay there. Of course I have no intention of telling other’s how to practice, this is purely my own view of my personal practice. In my early years, my practice was heavily influenced by the Farrars’ approach and I would say it was as traditional as it could be for a solitary. But as my practice grew, I found it changing. Yes, I still cling to elements of the traditional, but there are new things too that have added a richness to my experience. I would no longer say I follow a strictly traditional path, but rather that I am walking my own path.

It is important to understand our past, but if we do not also look to the future then we risk becoming irrelevant. All things grow and change, and our practice is no different. I believe that learning from the past as well as adding based on our current experiences can only strengthen our personal practice. I have often casually described the Farrar’s and their work as very traditional, and while their early work certainly reflects that, it is not entirely accurate. They have, I believe, made a very capable transition from their traditional roots to a new, progressive approach that blends all of their experiences and knowledge together to create a tradition that is not a tradition, and one where all their members follow their own paths. It is my hope for the future that the Craft will continue to grow and evolve while still remembering its roots. With this approach I am sure that the Craft will continue to thrive and flourish for many years to come.

On their website, Janet and Gavin write:

“We consider all spirituality, particularly paganism, to be organic in nature and therefore a growth process.”

And for myself, I would tend to agree with them.

Blessed be.

Sources Used:

Janet and Stewart Farrar and Gavin Bone. “Our Wiccan Origins” http://www.callaighe.com/wiccanorigins.php

Wikipedia. “Janet Farrar.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Farrar

Wikipedia. “Stewart Farrar.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stewart_Farrar

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Pagan Blog Project F – Frankincense

IMG_0337For thousands of years, the fragrant aroma of frankincense has been used to perfume everything from ornate temples and holy shrines to simple homes and grain stores. It has been used to cure illnesses and treat wounds, to embalm the dead and to adorn the living. More precious than gemstones and gold, frankincense dominated trade in the ancient world for over a millennium and ensured a sustainable livelihood for desert regions. Though its perceived value has changed, this mysterious resin remains as relevant today as it did thousands of years ago.

Frankincense is the resin of the Boswellia tree. There are over twenty varieties of the Boswellia tree and each produces slight differences in the resin. Preferring limestone rich soil, the Boswellia tree is grown exclusively in three regions. The three main regions are North Africa, including Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, Southern Arabia, including Oman and Yemen, and India. Due to its love of rocky hills and cliffs, harvesting the resin can be dangerous work.

The resin is collected by first making an incision and removing a strip of the bark. The tree then “bleeds” a white sap from the incision which is left to dry. The dried resin is then collected and aged before being shipped around the world for a myriad of uses. This process is relatively harmless to the tree, making it a highly sustainable practice. Each tree can be harvested several times a year.

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From the eleventh century BCE to the third century CE, the frankincense trade was at its peak. It was highly prized and as it could only be produced in certain regions, the value only increased as popularity rose. Used in temples and religious ceremonies from Egypt to Greece to India, the perfume of frankincense was almost universal. It had many practical uses as well. Medicinally, all parts of the Boswellia tree were used to treat a wide variety of ills from digestive distress to wound care to name a few. The resin was chewed to aid dental health. It was even burned as an insecticide to protect wheat and grain stores from pests.

The medicinal benefits of frankincense are still being utilized today. It has strong anti-inflammatory properties which have been used to treat joint pain and arthritis. Recent research has indicated that burning the resin can help with the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Frankincense is also still used in cosmetics and perfumery to this day. There have also been recent claims to the benefits of using frankincense to treat cancer, though they have yet to be confirmed.

And of course, frankincense is widely used in and a popular choice of incense. Its resin can be burned alone or ground down and mixed with other resins, herbs and oils to create unique blends. The seeming universality of its magickal properties include purification and spirituality and make it a good choice when a general incense is needed.

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Drawing on its role in purification, I would like to offer an incense recipe that I often use. The recipe includes both the resin and the essential oil of frankincense and all the herbs used are dried.

1 part frankincense granulesIMG_0310

1/2 part sandalwood powder

1 part sage leaves

1 part hyssop

2-3 drops frankincense oil

In a mortar and pestle, grind the frankincense granules until almost a powder. Add the sandalwood, sage leaves and hyssop and grind as fine as you can make it. Add the drops of oil and mix well.

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I hope you have enjoyed learning as much as I have about this famous resin that remains as much an integral part of spiritual life today as it has for thousands of years.

Blessed be.

Sources used:

Crow, David. “Frankincense And Myrrh: The Botany, Culture, And Therapeutic Uses Of The World´s Two Most Important Resins.” http://www.naha.org/articles/frankincense%20and%20myrrh.htm

Morgenstern, Kat. “Frankincense.” http://www.sacredearth.com/ethnobotany/plantprofiles/frankincense.php

Sacred Scents of Earth. http://www.scents-of-earth.com/frankincense1.html

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