Sunday, October 4, 2015

Samhain: The Ancenstral Altar

It is that time of the year again. Persephone has made her descent into the underworld, the weather is turning cooler. We've had our first rain of the season of the season here in California. Pretty soon we will be getting out our arm warmers, boots and scarves, and start walking around with that warm mug of witches brew in our hands to keep our cold fingers warm. 

Samhain is upon us, and it is time to discuss the art of the ancestral altar. I'm looking forward to having some time to pursue this project. It's something I've given a lot of thought to but haven't actually mobilized myself to tackle it yet. This is mostly due to the fact that for years my life was very unstable, moving from one place to another and living out of storage containers, boxes, and temporary places to live, and never really putting roots down anywhere. I can't say I'm really in the place at the moment where I will be rooting deeply, but at the very least I can catch my breath some, unpack and sort my belongings, clean out the closets, and throw out what no longer serves the new person I am becoming. Before we discuss the altar, let me detour a bit so you have a back story. 

In my recent introductory post I warned everyone that this blog might get a little edgy. I finally decided to dive in and dig through some dirty corners of the underworld.

First you need to know that you are dealing with someone here who does not really have a lot of great memories of my family growing up. There are a few. But overall, I come from a broken home that was rife with alcoholism, sexual abuse (yes me) and drama that never ended. I come from a long line of mothers that were not close to their mothers, basically women who hated women,who hated their daughters and who hated their mothers. I come from hysterical screaming and shattering glass, a War of the Roses worthy divorce of my parents, and pill popping relatives. I survived a near death drunk driving experience on Hwy 49 when I was 11 years old as a passenger, careening down the road with headlights turned off while being called every four letter name in the book; a nervous breakdown my senior year of high school, a grandfather who couldn't keep his pants zipped up in the presence of children or any other women; and a string of disastrous relationships culminating in my recent divorce 3 years ago. Gee what a surprise... It's not like I had the greatest role models in the world.

So why on earth does someone like me give a shit about an ancestral altar? Honestly I didn't for many years. And why on earth would anyone else LIKE me, give a shit about an ancestral altar? That you have to decide for yourself. It's a little hard to wrap my brain around it now that I've decided to pursue this, but I'll do my best to explain how this makes sense to me, and why it became important. 

I think everyone has a basic instinct no matter what the circumstances to know where we come from and why. For those of us on a spiritual or occult path, the idea of karma and the working out of karma and past lives can even come into play when contemplating some of these sentiments. Sometimes, it's just a need to feel connected to something, anything.... and make the most of it. I'm also a firm believer in the idea of genetic memory, and have had ample opportunity to see it work itself out in strange ways, but that is for another blog post for another day.

I became interested in my own genealogy several years ago when I realized how little my family cared about knowing these things or preserving any of the family history. The problem in the entire family I realized was a huge “disconnect” in general from life. I had to actually dig deep, going back to my great grandmother in order to find any sense of continuity at all, and any reason for caring. My great grandmother was a self proclaimed Rosicrucian who I am told, had the ability to read tarot cards and to astral project. So even in my personal family's overall unhealthy condition, who wouldn't be interested in that? I certainly was. It just so happened my mother pulled an envelope out of her stash one day and handed it to me, which had a number of papers belonging to my great grandmother within it. In this mysterious envelope I found some personal correspondences about her interest in UFO-logy, and her studies and experiments in dream control and telepathy with a Rosicrucian organization. I was in my 30's before this was given to me.   

Whatever this was, this mysterious metaphysical inheritance, jumped two generations and landed in my lap. My mother's aunt married a freemason, and incidentally I myself as a co-mason have inherited his masonic bible. I always found it very curious. Curious enough that in spite of all of the family sewage, I needed and wanted to know more. So I took up the torch in a mission to find out more about my genealogy. I'm not going to go into any lengthy dissertation on what that history is save for the highlights that matter to this entry, but the point I wanted to make is that I found a reason to care. And in that, especially over the last three years of trying to rebuild my life, post divorce, once and for all, to overcome this multi-generational curse of misery; I've come to terms with a few things. It was time, if only in my mind, to try and find the best in some of these people and be grateful for some of the positives that were handed down to me over the generations. This is where the ancestral altar became an important idea to me because it was a means of being able to systematically do just that as a form of therapy.

As a bead work artist, part of acknowledging my ancestry is in the acknowledgment of my grandfathers' (the child molester), Native American Indian heritage. That branch of the family is descended from the Lenne Lenapi (Delaware Indian) Tribe. Part of what will be included upon my personal ancestral altar is a priceless pair of handmade beaded Delaware Indian slippers, a gift from my grandmother to me. The story has it that when my grandfather was a very small child, Some of the Indians living in Montana at that time, would come to visit his mother who was a half blood. They never sat in chairs, they always sat on the floor, and they gifted these slippers from their tribe to his mom (my great grandmother on the other side of the family tree). Part of the fascinating thing of the journey for me, was that at the time I became involved in bead work, I had no idea that I was descended from Native Americans at all. The instinct came first, the knowledge came later.    

Those slippers provide me with a more positive anchor and gives me hope that within the genetic memory of my own DNA, I can tap into something much older and much more rooted in a better way of life, then the emotional and sexual dysfunction of my grandfather. When I invoke the ancestors in any magical operation, I don't necessarily have to have had a relationship with my grandfather in order to connect to where he came from. I think that is part of the healing journey is knowing that there is more to the story then what I was given initially.

My grandmother on my moms side was a constant thorn in my mothers side. She was an alcoholic as was my mom's father. I remember many nights growing up, listening to my mother shriek in anger, and even once ripping the telephone off of the wall, wires and all, in her fury, after talking to her mother on the phone. I never heard anything good about her growing up. Every tale that was ever told about that grandmother of mine, was colored by my mother's hatred of her. 

When I knew her as a very little girl she had had a stroke and was disabled. The stroke had happened before I was born. The story behind her stroke is morbidly fascinating in a horrible way. It's a horrible story and I'm going to tell it. The night it happened she had been participating in sexual congress with her third husband, (against her will, I'm told). She was being forced to perform oral sex and her head had been knocked on the wall in the process of her husband pleasuring himself in this manner. .....the stroke happened during her forced participation in this activity. Among many of the genealogical documents I've come to possess, I have one written by her. It's a ten page type written letter titled: “I married a sex maniac”. The very first sentence of this ten page letter reads: “I married a sex maniac and as a result I am horribly crippled for the rest of my life. I am writing this in the hopes that it will be published and will reach a few women to warn them that these perverted sex practices are very dangerous......” It is ten pages of sordid soap opera material describing a very un-enlightned and equally uneducated attitude toward sex in general that was inherited from her very fundamentalist Rosicrucian mother, her record of personal abuse, and a great deal of ex husband bashing. It also goes onto describe her anxiety over the fact that her other daughter thinks this kind of sex is OK, and she has tried and tried to tell her how dangerous it really is to no avail. The type is so faded you can barely can read the print. I don't know when this was written there isn't a date on it, but it is symbolic of the remnants of an outworn 1950's mentality and it is horribly sad. 

So what is the positive takeaway here? What is it here that is worth salvaging in the memory of this woman for my ancestral altar aside from a legacy of drinking, domestic violence, institutionalization and rape? She was a dancer. A chorus girl, “can can” dancer. This is a part of her life no one ever talked about with me when I was growing up. She wrote another equally long document called “The Adventurer and the chorus Girl” which is the only witness to this part of her life. She was a chorus line dancer at the age of 17 with the Paramount Theater. She traveled on tour with them until their show shut down. The biography describes her trials with several different dancing jobs, being hired and fired. She was fired at one job for drinking and falling off the stage mid performance, and fired from another for refusing to go out with her boss. Eventually she met her “adventurer” at one of these dancing “gigs” who became her first husband.

Three nights a week I stand with my “sisters” at the Belly Hive, in belly dance class, with a group of wonderful women, dedicated to female empowerment and the Goddess. Some part of me feels compelled to take one of those dancing photographs of my alcoholic, crippled grandmother before life ruined her, and create a beaded tribal dance necklace or dance belt as part of a tribal dance costume, with her picture as a centerpiece. It's the only positive story I have of her life. This item will no doubt find it's place on my ancestral altar as well. It was probably one of the few times in this woman's life she ever felt she was following her bliss. I have been fortunate enough to have inherited the instinct and the talent for dance through her. She was also an artist. I remember her house being full of oil paintings when I was a child. Most of them were not very good because she was painting with a partially paralyzed arm, I do have two charcoal sketches she did of an old blacksmith shed and a house that are her originals. My mother inherited this gift for art as well, though she never used it beyond drawing a couple of pictures she has hanging in her house. I also inherited it. I haven't drawn anything in many years, but I took art in college and used to have a passion for pencil sketching animal portraits. As I said, life happened over the years and I really didn't have much time to pursue this interest in the chaos of my life, so it's gone dormant for many years. I still think someday when time and space provides, I might re-visit that chapter of my life and invest in an art pad again. In the meantime, my bead work is my primary art at this time. So through these things, I can acknowledge that no matter who this woman was, or what her character flaws were, she did contribute something worthy to the cause, and these are the takeaways I choose to recognize.

So lets talk about your ancestral altar for a minute. You are either like me, trying to salvage something worth salvaging from your history, or you are fortunate enough to have a lot of other lovely memories of your childhood and your ancestors. Which ever one of these directions you resonate with, I encourage you to contemplate your altar this Samhain. Do you have photo albums in dusty old boxes that never see the light of day? Find something in one of them and create something meaningful. Maybe it's an old jewel in your jewelry box that you never wear, from your Great aunt, or some memento from a long lost uncle, a stamp collection, a foreign coin.... whatever little tidbits you might have laying about, you can magically craft something out of them that you WILL use on your magical journey if you feel so called. The idea here is that if those ancestors are dead, it's now time to “make it your own”. You have permission to do anything you want with it, even if it would have horrified them. If you want to cut that picture up and turn it into a craft project then do it. Or you can do what a friend of mine has recently been doing. As she was sorting through her late mothers belongings, she realized she had very strong sentimental attachments, not to the object but to the story behind it. For example, the old clay pot her mother baked beans in every winter... the pot was ugly as sin.... but the memory of baking beans brought back fond memories of her mom. She learned that she could take a picture of the thing to help preserve the memory and the story, but let the actual object go since she didn't really “like” it aesthetically. This is what I mean by making it your own. It helped her release some of the guilt and let the attachment go that needed to move on. 

I do bead embroidery, I have a mind to go through some of these old photographs and create a beaded wall hanging out of them much like you would bead a cabochon necklace. You can make medicine bags, altar pictures, Tarot card bags with ancestral mementos or photos attached.... the sky is the limit. If you have any strong inclination to honor any magical or spiritual inheritance from a specific ancestor, consider combining that memento into a magical tool, perhaps a wand, other meaningful altar piece. If you have the space, you can consider making this a permanent fixture in your house. The way some people hang photo's on the wall, your ancestral altar can become the “hearth” or “power center” of the house complete with offerings, incense, sage, candles and the whole nine yards, and anything personally meaningful to your connection with your history, your present family and your future offspring. The trick for some people though is to make sure if you are healing the more negative influences of family histories, to do the healing work, and keep only the things that make you happy in some way on this altar. Find a way to re-frame the story and keep what's best. You don't want to create an altar as your power center in your home that has the potential to make you depressed. This isn't about owing anything to anyone's memory, it's about empowering yourself in spite of these memories and keeping the gifts you were given that have helped you survive your history. If you are not one of these people like me, then you will not have these issues to battle, and your journey to this altar will be a great deal more joyful from the beginning.

So while you are warming those hands on those hot cups of coffee, cider and coco, do some sipping while you go through those old boxes that you pulled out the basement. Write that book, assemble those memories, or compile something to pass onto your own children this Samhain. Make it a family project if you are inclined. Get your kids involved and take the opportunity to teach them the stories as you go through the stuff. More importantly, if you are like me, take the time to do some healing and find whatever is good in the legacy of chronic darkness. You can turn it all around with a little intention, ritually discard what is no longer useful as an “inheritance” mentally, physically or emotionally, and work toward a huge internal change for something better as you rise out of the ashes. This is the Celtic New Year. It's time to begin with a clean slate.

Tell us about your process and what you plan to do with your ancestral mementos below this year.  

Happy Samhain!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Product Review: Tarot Cards, A Beginning Guide

With a zillion tarot decks available on the market where on earth does a beginner start to learn tarot? Well, that all depends on what your philosophical orientation is for starters. I'm going to break up the subject of tarot into two sections. Traditional Hermetic Tarot firstly, and Oracle cards secondly.

To start with, the beginning tarot student will have to identify his or her preferred orientation. The question will be, do you wish to learn tarot as it was intended initially to represent hermetic and alchemical secrets? Or do you wish to rely on your own intuition and do “free form” or “new age” tarot readings?

If your interested in the first, then Traditional hermetic tarot is where you should start. If you are interested in the second, then I will refer you to the many beautiful modern oracle decks that are available on the market to use for readings, but are actually not authentic tarot images. In my book section in the Emporium, you will find two tarot sections that are representative of these two different categories. So you can decide which category you belong in, and then begin your search for the perfect deck in the appropriate category.

Traditional Hermetic Tarot

The traditional tarot student will typically have an interest in hermetic or “ceremonial magic” which necessitates learning the qabbala, astrology, and alchemy. Learning all of these sciences is key to understanding the profound meaning of the traditional tarot images.

To give you an idea of the complexity of tarot, each of the images of the major arcana correspond to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet which has a specific symbolic meaning. That letter in turn corresponds to a number with a specific numerological meaning. Additionally each of the tarot cards correspond to either a path on the qabbalistic tree of life, or sephiroth. Some cards correspond to astrological signs, planets, and elements. Planets have their associations to the seven alchemical metals. And it becomes even more complex then that when you really dive in. Based on this information alone, the process of reading a tarot card becomes an integrative process of reading not just the image in the card, but the number, the Hebrew letter, and the qabbalistic, astrological and alchemical meanings that are all associated with individual cards.

For those of you who have no idea what the Qabbala is exactly, it is a tradition of Jewish mysticism This teaching has it's roots in the Torah, The Bible (mostly old testament) and the Zohar. It's symbol is a hieroglyph of ten wheels or emanations connected with 32 paths. Arthur Waite (author of the Rider Waite tarot) has written a very lengthy book called the Holy Qabbala which gives an account of the history of this system of philosophy. This book is for the hard core student and requires a great deal of devotion to read.

The word tarot also means “wheel”. You will notice that the word itself can be permutated in the following way very much like the motion of a wheel: taro arot rota tarot. (There is an intriguing association here with a very old magical square called the rota/sator square.) Spelled backward tarot reads torat or “Torah” meaning “the law”. And in the High Priestess card, the traditional image is of a woman seated on a throne, holding a scroll with the word Torah written upon it. The Torah is as we have just said a religious Jewish text. Tarot and Qabbala have very mysterious origins. No one really knows where either one of these systems originated. There is a theory that Qabbala is much older then the Judaism and that perhaps it migrated from ancient mystery schools. All we know for sure is that the first qabbalistic texts that were written down, were written by the Jews.

The Rider Waite deck is the absolute base line deck for a beginner deck. The companion book I recommend to go with this deck is “The Tarot” by Paul Foster Case. You can also get the Waite book that goes with this deck, but it is nowhere near as informative as Paul Case is. Alternatives to the Rider Waite deck are renovated versions of this deck such as the Radiant Rider Waite Deck. The only difference in this deck is that the colors are much more vivid making the images very dynamic. This deck is a little “prettier” then the standard one and as a result has a slightly stronger appeal to some.

Additional books that I recommend , when first learning the Rider Waite deck, are by Mary K Greer, the most useful being “Tarot Reversals” and “Understanding the Tarot Court”. Tarot reversals gives you a very good baseline for the meaning of the minor arcana cards (the four suits) which is almost impossible to come by anywhere else. It will also give you an understanding of the difference between the upright and inverted images of both the major and minor arcana, and how the meanings change in a reading. Understanding the tarot court, gives you a very in depth description and understanding of the court cards of the minor arcana (kings, queens, Prince (or knight)/ Princess (or page). This information is equally as difficult to find anywhere else. Most traditional tarot books are dedicated strictly to the major arcana and give you virtually no understanding of the minor cards what so ever.

Next I recommend Paul Foster Case again and his book “The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order” which includes a large section that is dedicated to the major arcana cards. I also recommend a book called “The Thursday Night Tarot” written by a devotee of Paul Case. This book is a compilation of lectures that were transcribed into a book about the major arcana cards. It is very helpful for the beginner as well.

As long as we are on the topic of Paul Case, it is important to know that he founded a society called “The Builders of the Adytum” ( which is a mail correspondence school for tarot and qabbala lessons, and it comes very highly recommended by me personally. You cannot go wrong with this course if you are at all serious as a Western Mystery Tradition student. The rates are reasonable and the organization as a whole is very reputable for it's integrity. This school is highly recommended by experienced ceremonial magicians, masons and others who are drawn to the Rosicrucian teachings. I encourage you to look them up on the internet if you are inclined to seriously pursue your path in tarot study.

Once you familiarize yourself with the standard Rider Waite Deck and it's images, you can then move to other “traditional” themed decks that might be more appealing to you on a personal and artistic level. Once you begin to branch out, you'll have to “adjust” your understanding to compensate for some of the alterations of some of the images. Here are some examples of what I mean below.

The Llewellyn tarot. (This is my personal reading deck by the way). The Llewellyn tarot is based on the traditional Rider Waite symbolism. The style of artwork is very different, but the minor arcana images are identical to Rider Waite in structure and concept. The variations you will find in this deck are regards to the Major arcana. The major arcana of this deck are based on the mythology of the Welsh Mabinogian and the Arthurian and grail stories. The traditional “fool” card of the Rider Waite becomes “Peradeur” (or Percival) of the Welsh Arthurian legend in the Llewellyn deck. Instead of appearing to step off of a cliff, in the Llewellyn deck he is riding a horse that is jumping over an abyss. The proverbial “leap of faith”. Each of the major arcana have a specific reference to Welsh mythology and Arthurian lore, but they still manage to maintain remnants of the traditional Waite symbolism. The more familiar you are with the subtleties of these symbols and all of their other associations, the more you will be able to recognize their traditional hermetic relevance, even though the mythology changes slightly in the deck. Here is another example of what I mean. In the Emperor card, the traditional image for “sulfur” is not represented by the crossing of the Emperors legs, however the predominance of the color red in this card indicates an adequate substitute for the meaning that sulfur represents as well as for the association to Mars/Aries and the element of fire and it's correlation to the Pillar of Severity on the tree of life. The Death card, instead of being a skeleton with a scythe, is the God of Annwyn (of the wild hunt) with his hounds of Annwyn riding a white horse. He is still the Underworld god of death “hunting” for the souls to take back to the underworld according to Welsh myth. Regardless of the artistic license that has been taken in this deck and others like it, the artist has still retained knowledge of original intention regarding the authentic symbolism. So the card fundamentally does not change in meaning, it rather becomes embellished with cross cultural ideas and mythos while retaining it's original meaning.

This is the primary distinction between traditional and oracle cards. Oracle cards stray so far away from the traditional images that they loose all meaning in the traditional sense and technically should not even be called “tarot”. This is why I refer to those types of cards as “oracle cards” as distinct from “tarot”.

The Robin Wood Tarot: This is a lovely deck which is very obviously based on the Rider Waite deck much like the Llewelyn Tarot is. The Robin Wood deck will appeal to the Celtic Pagan/Wiccan primarily. Its “tweaks” are that it has taken the standard imagery and put a Celtic-Wiccan twist on it. The magician is wearing stag antlers, taking on the persona of a Wiccan priest, that sort of thing. The magician is still standing in the same symbolic position with the same four elemental tools on his table. Robin Wood is a very well known Celtic mythology artist within the pagan community. Some of her art I believe has even been translated into pagan jewelry.

The Morgan Greer Tarot: Also based on the Rider Waite symbolism. The difference here is in the feel of the artwork. Obviously the artistic “feel” of each deck will be different and that will contribute in large part to how attracted to one deck you are and not to another.

The Tarot of the Templars: This is a beautiful deck. I've included it here because I feel it still resembles traditional hermetic imagery, even if the images are not completely “standard”. If you are inclined toward the Rosicrucian and Templar traditions, or Gnosticism, this deck is worth a look. It's possibly a deck that is for a slightly more advanced student who can interpret the variations on traditional alchemical and Rosicrucian imagery though. If you are a beginner it may take a little longer to understand this deck. The same will apply for the “Alchemical Tarot” 

Italian Decks: There are several of these. Some of the Italian images are probably quite a bit older actually, then the Rider Waite Deck is. They have a much more “antique” feel to them and represent a much older artistic representation of the hermetic symbolism. Some of these older images are probably where Arthur Waite started from when he created his Rider Waite deck.

The Thoth/Crowley Deck: This is a pretty psychedelic deck artistically speaking, in comparison to the Rider Waite, but it's imagery is none the less still traditional. It's beautiful. If you haven't seen this deck, It's kind of like tarot on LSD. The important thing to know about the Crowley deck is that Crowley switched the positions of a couple of the cards numerically. What this means is that the qabbalistic correspondences also change because of the numerical change. In the standard Rider Waite Deck, the Strength card is Key 8 and Justice is Key 11. In the Thoth Deck, These two cards have switched places, Justice is moved to Key 8, and Strength is moved to Key 11. This is because Crowley had a slightly different interpretation of these images based on his magical system of tantric and qabbalistic magic. There is one other deck I know of that follows Crowley's numerical order switch, and that is the “Scampini Tarot” which is a lovely and interesting deck. It feels to me like a combination of traditional Italian art combined with a sort of Salvador Dali flavor. I have unfortunately, not been able to find this deck available yet on Amazon, but I will keep looking and see if it ever comes available. The author of the Scampini Tarot was obviously a devotee of Crowley. So if you are a Crowley aficionado you will possibly want to have a look at the Scampini tarot if you have not done so already. To read the Scampini tarot you will want to first familiarize yourself with the Thoth deck (because of the logic behind the numerical switches, since Scampini follows the same pattern). You will want to get The Book of Thoth by Aliester Crowley, and a companion book titled Understanding the Thoth Deck by Lon Milo Duquette in order to learn these two decks. The Thoth deck is very difficult to learn. Crowley did not have a knack for speaking the beginners language. He is complicated to read and he is full of tricks and traps. So again I will refer the beginner to the standard Rider Deck to learn FIRST, and then go ahead and branch out to Crowley if that is how you are inclined but know you have to adjust what you have learned to understand why he made the changes he made to the deck. If there are other decks, like Scampini, that follow in the tradition of Crowley, I don't know what they are, or I haven't come across them yet, but I will let you know if I do. If anyone does actually know of any other decks of this kind that represent these same changes, please feel free to comment below in the comment box and let us know.

You will definitely have to have a working understanding of the Qabbala to understand Crowley and his Book of Thoth. You need it anyway, but you especially need it to read Crowley. Without that foundation you will be utterly lost in that man's writing and you will not have a single clue what he's talking about.

As an antidote for that problem, for the beginner to Qabbalah, I recommend reading Dion Fortunes “Mystical Qabbala” and Gareth Knight's “The Complete Guide to Qabbalistic Symbolism” Get a handle on these two books which are about as simplistic as it's ever going to get on the subject, before you even try to read Crowley. To begin to understand the tarot and how it crosses over to the Qabbalah, these two books will prove indispensable at the onset of your studies, along with Paul Cases beginning tarot book. 

Branching out into even more esoteric territory if you are really uber dedicated to tarot study, you can get yourself a copy of Meditations on the Tarot. An excellent book, but recommended for an advanced tarot student who has a good grasp on the fundamentals. Feel free to tackle it as a beginner, I'm not discouraging you, but you'll have to read it again and again and again over the years as you keep learning. This book is huge This is not light reading. It's a journey through Christian Hermetic Philosophy. Martinists will recognize the author as the “unknown philosopher”. This book is a compilation of personal meditations and insights on each of the major arcana cards by a Christian mystic. 

There are a couple of Jungian books on tarot that I recommend. Jung and the Tarot and Tarot Revelations. These are a more “intermediate” level tarot book and will appeal obviously to a student very interested in Jungian psychology. Tarot Revelations will appeal to any Jospeph Campbell fans out there , although I have to say, in my personal opinion, I'm not convinced Joseph Campbell had quite the correct grasp on the tarot cards and their meaning, but his insights are interesting at any rate. I think the Jungian insights are a little more accurate though.  

New Age Oracle /Tarot Decks

What sets traditional tarot apart from other oracle decks? Well for starters the tarot of the cat people which has a very cute picture of a different cat on every single card, is not going to communicate to you the secrets of the Rosicrucians or give you the directions for the making of the philosophers stone, nor will it give you any accurate astrological correspondences. Neither will the Unicorn deck, the shamans deck or the Goddess tarot or the angel cards..... You get the idea. I recently bought a tarot deck that I fell in love with called the “fantastical creatures tarot”. It makes absolutely no sense to me from a traditional perspective. Actually a few of the cards make sense but many of them do not. If I were to use this deck for reading, I'd have to switch gears to a completely Jungian perspective and read only based on “archetypal” mythical themes and what they mean. The numbers, the astrology, the numerical order, the qabbala and the hermetic meanings have little to no relevance in the images of the more modern tarot/oracle cards.

Oracle decks really do not require a lot of education. They require a lot of intuition. Traditional decks require both. The kind of education you will need for an “oracle” deck is going to be fundamentally in the area of mythology. If you find a deck with a particular mythos that appeals to you, then it is basically up to you to find sources of information that will provide you with information on that specific mythology. In other words you are kind of on your own. The goddess Tarot (a stunning deck featuring the art of Susan Boulet) for example, will require you to know something about cross cultural representations of the different goddesses around the world from different cultures. The difference in the card meanings will be the difference in whether you pulled the Aphrodite card or the Persephone card. One is the goddess of love, the other the queen of the underworld. So you have some guidelines for interpretation if you are educated on the mythos. There will be very little astrology, and no qaballa involved. Perhaps a tad bit of Jungian alchemy may come into play. Some of these decks like the cat people deck are just plain silly and fun. If however you are well schooled in the Rider Waite deck you can take the cat deck or any deck for that matter, provided you can remember in your minds eye what each card in the Rider deck looks like as you are looking at a silly deck, and read traditional meaning from memory, regardless of the image in front of you. In this case you will be focused strictly on the numerology of the card in front of you, while you recall the traditional image from memory that number is associated with. Or you can simply try to interpret the image in front of you which will very likely have little or nothing to do with the numerology it's assigned. In this case you are reading the card based on your understanding of archetypal or symbolical images alone. A Jungian education would be very helpful in your path of learning oracle decks. Otherwise again, you are entirely on your own unless these decks come with little companion books that at least help you a little. These decks will have many different cultural representations. Some will be Native American, some will be fantasy oriented, (dragons, fairies, unicorns). I think there is even a stone oracle deck with different crystal and stone images... so a knowledge of stone lore would be necessary for such a deck.

As a result the meanings of the cards are entirely different then traditional “authentic” tarot, and leave a lot more room for your own creative and free form interpretation This is not to say that these decks are any “less then” authentic tarot but they should not be confused as authentic hermetic images. It's only to say that they are designed for an entirely different purpose which is assisting you to be more creative with your own intuition from a much more “shamanic” level. At the very least a basic knowledge of numerology might help you with some of these new age decks if nothing else. These decks will not ask you to memorize reams of technical hermetic information and specific, symbolic correspondences, including Old Testament biblical symbolism, that traditional tarot described above requires. There are hundreds of these oracle decks on the market and more that are created and published all of the time.

I'll be updating both of these sections every so often and adding more decks as I see fit to this category when I find some juicy ones so keep checking back and feel free to ask questions in the comment box below if you have any. I update the blog once a week, so it might take me a week to see your questions.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wicca Book Reviews / Voodoo Book Reviews

I wanted to discuss one of the sections in my Amazon store today. I will be doing this sort of thing periodically, mainly for the benefit of “newbies” to metaphyics. It helps to have someone sort out some of the topics for you and give you some idea of where and how to begin your studies, and this is one of the biggest reasons I've created this store. There are sooooo many books and metaphysical products on the market that it can be overwhelming to know where to start if you are still not very familiar with some of the magical topics.

As I've mentioned before I created this store and became an Amazon afilliate which means any purchases made through my afilliate store then allows me to receive a modest percentage of sales. But this isn't the reason why I created it. I created this store as a resource, and also as a means to share with you some of my own knowledge and help you sort things out in the world of magic.

Today's review begins with the Wiccan Book section where I will be sharing my own personal book reviews about the titles I've chosen to represent through the store.

Gerald Gardner / Gardnerian Wicca

The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald Gardner: This book is written by the founder of Wicca. Gerald Gardner is historically responsible for the initial revival of this practice at a time when it was politically still a bit dangerous to come out into the open. You can't get much more historical then this book.

Janet and Stewart Farrar / Traditional Gardnerian Wicca

The Witches Bible Complete by Janet and Stewart Farrar: This is a classic. You'll see that I have provided many titles by these authors and the reason is that Janet and Stewart were responsible for building these resources as the foundation of the Wiccan Craft shortly after Gerald Gardner revived the movement. I had the pleasure of taking two workshops with Janet Farrar and her new companion Gavin Bone, when they toured here to the states from Ireland. Their knowledge of Wicca is profound and personally feel that they are representative of some of the best education you could possibly get on Wicca. The Witches bible was in Janet's words written as a “guideline” for Gardnerian Wicca. She said it was never intended to be a dogmatic work which is what it actually became for the Gardnerian movement. It is commonly known that Gerald Gardner is the “father” of modern Wicca (Thus “Gardernain Wicca”). When Janet and Stewart began their journey into Wicca they were very frustrated because there wasn't a lot of information about the practice at the time. Since they couldn't find the books to learn from, they had to write many of them themselves. To give you an idea, Janet explained that she was originally initiated by Alex Sanders, who himself was initiated by Gerald Gardner. Frustrated with the lack of training structure within the Alexandrian coven, she broke away from Alex Sanders and she was eventually fortunate enough to make the aquaintance of Doreen Valiente who became Janet and Stewarts primary mentor into the Craft. (I've included many of Doreen's books also).

The Witches bible is a compilation primarily of ceremonial (hermetic) magic “structure”, which is filled in with European folklore for which Doreen Valiente was primarily responsible for contributing. Janet lamented that it was a shame Doreen never really got the credit she deserved because if it wasn't for her contribution Wicca would not have become what it is now, and Gerald got all of the credit.

In this book you'll find very precise wiccan ritual structure, meanings of the traditional holidays, and instruction for using the Wiccan tools. There are also other tidbits on spell working, and esbats and sabbats (new and full moon rituals). It's a must for any Wiccan as a general reference work on basic Wiccan structure.

Other titles that Janet and Stewart wrote during that area include:

Spells and How they Work

The Witches Way

Eight Sabbats For Witches

The Witches God

The Witches Goddess These two volumes are excellent references for looking up specific mythical deities and learning about their stories, sacred symbols and cultural origins.

Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone / Progressive Wicca

After many years of her journey in Wicca, and after the loss of her husband Steward to cancer, Janet became aquainted with Gavin Bone, (her current partner) and together they have both paved the way for a much more liberal and progressive practice of Wicca that was intended to leave behind some of the outmoded dogma of Gardnerian-”ism”. You'll find a lot of inspiration from this newer approch to Wicca within such titles as:

Progressive Witchcraft

The Healing Craft (Designed especially for healers, bodyworkers and reiki practitioners who practice the Craft) Gavin Bone is a registered nurse by the way. So he writes this book with a great deal of authority. He provides information on the chakra system, it's basic correspondence to the physiology and anatomy of the body and how the systems of the body work. He also includes information on sacred healing sites, and healing practices, including the making and use of healing poppets and healing spell craft.

The Inner Mysteries (discusses trance and oracle work for the more advanced practitioner)

The Pagan Path: (An explanation of the practice of wicca and it's ethics for everyday life, as a way of life)

The Complete Dictionary of European Gods and Goddesses

Doreen Valiente / The “Mother” of Wicca

Doreen began her sojourn into Wicca as one of Gerald Gardners original Priestesses. This is how she came to be considered an authority in her own right on the topic of Wicca. After falling out with Gerald Gardner she mentored Janet and Stewart for many years. Among her book titles here you will find:

Witchcraft for Tomorrow

An ABC of Witchcraft: (This reads like an encyclopedia. It's excellent for looking things up)

The Rebirth of Witchcraft

The Charge of the Goddess (Poetry by Doreen Valiente)

Natural Magic

Where Witchcraft Lives

Ameth The life and Times of Doreen Valiente (A biography)

Witchcraft A tradition renewed

Some of these titles I have not seen before. Either they had never been published, or they have possibly been revived by Janet in the recent years. Doreen is no longer alive. So without knowing for certain, I suspect Janet may have had an influence in bringing some of these titles to light, but I honestly don't know. I could be speaking out of turn on that note. Maybe they were available a long time ago but out of print. I couldn't say. Whatever the case, I imagine they are excellent reading. I have read only the first two on the list, which are in my possession. I do not recall ever seeing any of the other titles for sale anywhere else before until I found them here on Amazon recently.

Mythological foundations

The White Goddess by Robert Graves

The Golden Bough

These are older sources of information which were pivotal in assisting to bring the Wiccan religion to life at the very beginning. Many good books on magic will often quote these two sources wich are well worth the time for anyone to read. They are part of the scholarly “classics” which the Craft has drawn upon heavily over the years.

Charles Leland

If memory serves me correctly Charles Leland was a sociologist (I think), and his books are written more from that perspective. I do not think he was a practitioner, however he did contribute a great deal of excellent material particularly for Italian Witchcraft known as “Strega”. Garnerian lore gets a lot of mileage to support the legitimacy of Wicca as an “ancient” religion, out of the reference to one of his books:

Aradia, Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland

Other Titles by Charles Leland Include:

The Gypsies

The Mystic Will.....

Etruscan Magic and Occult Remedies


The English Gipsies and their language

Russian Witchcraft

I don't know anything about Russian magic, but I suspect this might have to do with some of the origins of the Romany Gypsies and their folklore and possibly the Strega traditions mentioned above. I have not read these two books and I am not versed or read at all on Strega, Slavic or Romany magic. The most I know about Romany magic is that I know who Dracula is. :) But these titles looked fascinating to me, and I myself would love to get around to reading them one day, so I have included them here.

The Bathhouse at Midnight: An historical survey of magic and divination in Russia by W.F. Ryan

Russian Magic Living Folk traditions..... by Cherry Gilchrist

Fairy Lore

And the last title in this section today is:

The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by Evans Wentz. This is a fantastic book. I've read it. I love it. The first half of the book is a compilation of sightings, beliefs and personal case histories of people living in the British Isles who believe they have contacted, experienced unusual experiences or who have seen the fairy folk. The second half of the book includes a section dedicated to William Butler Yeats the famous poet and member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at the turn of the Century. There is also a fascinating segment about the similarity of “fairy sightings” and more modern “UFO sightings” which you can't help but to be intrigued by. There is a lot of “meat” in this book. It's an important book if you really want to understand the daily life and folk belief of the people living on the land in that part of the world. The fairy faith is a “way of life” for these people and a cultural inheritence that is deeply programmed into their very DNA, very much like Native American Indian Beliefs are to the Indians. I highly recommend this book. I have a very sentimental attachment to this book because my original teacher in the Craft loaned me his copy many years ago to read when I was first learning in my early 20's. It was one of several he loaned me.... I'll be sharing more of his recommendations as well in time.

In fact as an aside, when I was learning back then from Ambrose I remember a conversation we had one day. He loaned me his copy of the Witches Bible to read and he asked me if I ever wanted to travel to England and meet Janet and Stewart someday. It was one of those things that I never actually thought would ever be possible, but we had fun at the time fantasizing about it. Imagine my total shock when I found myself sitting in her workshop in Loomis California. I was more then a little heart broken because Ambrose had died by then, and I was not able to share the experience with him or let him know that it actually came to pass, especially since he had put the bug in me to consider meeting with her as a possiblity in the first place some 15 years earlier. Anyway.... a moment of nostalgia.

Evens Wentz's books are very scholarly. While we are on the topic of Evans Wentz I'm also including his other fantastic book which really has nothing to do with Wicca per se... but I'm including it anyway.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This is for anyone interested in the mysticism and lore of the Tibetan magical tradition. I tried to read this book in high school as I recall but it was a bit over my head at that time, and I never got through it. I'll get around to it again one of these days and give it another try. I vaguely recall something about the whirling dirvishes in one of the chapters... but I can't remember anything else about it other then it's good. What I do remember is that this book is just as “meaty” and scholarly as the Fairy Faith book is. It's been around a very long time. Worth the read.
African Voodoo

I'm going to switch gears and book sections now and include some titles from my Voodoo section. There are not many titles there so it should fit into this post without too much trouble. First off, I know NOTHING about voodoo personally. And I really haven't read much about it, but I've come across a couple of impressive sources that I have read and some others that look equally as interesting.

Wade Davis

The Serpent And the Rainbow

Passage Of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie

Some of you might already be familiar with the Serpent and the Rainbow. There was a movie made about it. It's a true story. (I've included the DVD in the store as well) Wade Davis is a medical doctor and he travelled to Haiti in order to do some research on the “zombie potion”, a powerful paralytic and neuro-toxin. There was initial speculation that this toxin might be a useful for the purpose of medical anathesea which is how Wade Davis became involved in looking for it in the first place. His quest to find find this voodoo potion led him straight into the heart of the Hiatian black magic and political underground.

The second book, Passage of Darkness is really interesting. Wade Davis actually had to live among some of the African tribes to gain access to the information he wanted. This book discusses his quest, as well the methods and pharmacology of the zombie potion, and various possible sources from which it “might” be made including Datura and the more likely suspect, puffer fish toxin. The other segment of the book discusses in great depth the dangers of the political underground and how Hiatian politics is tied in with a very dangerous black magic voudoun subculture. He discusses the history of the slave trade as it relates to the use of the Zombie potion as well as some of the historical and political turmoil of Haiti. The back of the books provides a very interesting glossary describing the differences between various voudoun traditions (white and black), as well as myth, lore, medical and herbal definitions for your reference. From what I've heard Haiti is an incredibly dangerous place to be even as a tourist. Super duper, hard core, scary, voudoun shiz-nit. This is the real thing.

Moving right along:

Catheryn Yronewood

Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic

The art of hoodoo candle magic

The Black Folder

Catheryn lives in Forestville, California. She grew up in Oakland and she learned Hoodoo as a child from the African Americans living in the city. She is, from what I understand, a pretty good authority on this subject and her research appears to me to be pretty impeccable. She has taught classes for years and she may or may not still own a metaphysical store in Sonoma County. She probably leans a little “left” and thats ok, in my opinion, that is probably what you want when you are learning a topic like this. (refer to scary shiz-nit above). If I were to learn about something like this after all of these years in my magical journey, I'd want a trustworthy left leaning guide, but that's just me.

I have the first title mentioned on this list and it is very interesting. It reads a bit like an encyclopedia. You can look up various herbs in alphabetical order and learn about their lore and use in root work and spell magic. I haven't read her others. But I'm pretty confident about her information.

Additional Voodoo Titles

Africa's Ogun old world and new: Sandra T Barnes. I have it, but I haven't read it yet. It looks to me as equally fascinating as Wade Davis's books are. The back reads: “The ancient African god of iron, war and hunting is worshipped by more then 40 million adherents in West Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Africa's Ogun is a rich interdisciplinary collection that draws on field research from several continents to reveal Ogun's dramatic power and enduring appeal. Five new essays, focusing mainly on Ogun worship in the new world enhance this landmark introduction to Yoruba religion.

Leafing through it, there are a lot of tribal photographs, chapters on trance possession, dancing, chanting, philosophy of living and dying.....looks like some pretty good stuff.

The last title in the store in this section I have no comment on. It might be good, it might not be. I just kind of threw it in there since other then the titles mentioned above I have no other personal experience regarding voodoo books to recommend. So you can take your chances on this one.

The Handbook of Yoruba religious concepts: by Baba ifa Karade. 

Last but not least:

Possession (Demoniacle and Other): I didn't know where else to put this book so I put it here in the voodoo section. This again is another book I bought in the recent past but have not yet read it. I found it in the Sociology section of our local used book store. It's the first book I've ever seen about the phenomena of possession and the practice of exorcism that is not written by a fundamentalist Christian perspective. This is a sociological study of the phenomena of demonic possession in various tribal cultures around the world and it looks completely fascinating to me, on par with Wade Davis and the Ogun book above. Some very serious, heavy weight, metaphysical reading.  (This book is currently not available on Amazon, I'll keep searching to see if it becomes available.)

And that's all for today. Please check back again for more reviews and stories. There will be more titles coming. As you can probably see I'm pretty picky about the content I'm providing as a resource for your enjoyment, so I'm taking the time to find the really good stuff I want to share. Anyone can buy any of the ten million books on Wicca that are trending out there. I'm trying to keep things a little more unique here though. Sometimes to really learn about magic you have to get out of the metaphysical section and wander around sociology, and archaeology as well. Please keep checking back and I will update often.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Product Review: Temple of the Gods Store Section

I've been having a lot of fun putting the Amazon store together.

I wanted to give a little explanation about some of the categories. When you visit the store you'll find I've included a section called “Temple of the Gods”. Under the sub-categories you can click on the deity of your choice. What you will find in these temple sections are a very wide variety of things that at first glance don't have anything to do with the occult. You might be a little confused if you are a newbie pagan.

What I have done is compiled items that are symbolically “sacred” to each of the deities.  So basically you will find a mish mash of any and everything that is appropriate for active worship, ritual, and daily offerings as well as temple decorations for each deity.   Skin care and bath products are intended for ritual bathing purposes.  Foods can be used for both offerings and ritual cooking.  Plants for building garden shrines.  Fine art for general temple decoration, and other useful symbolically appropriate things sacred to each God and Goddess.

In Aphrodites section you will find a number of resources for many varieties of Crepe myrtle trees for example. The Crepe Myrtle in ancient Greece was sacred to this Goddess as is the Rose. If you find yourself called to Aphrodite's temple, you might consider building your garden shrine with her sacred plants in mind.

In the Persephone and Hades section you will find many Obsidian stone items such as raw stones, beads for crafting ritual necklaces, and obsidian skrying mirrors and athames. Also ruby stones and jewels. Obsidian is Sacred to Persephone and Ruby/Garnet to Hades. Plants sacred to these deities are Pomegranate (Persephone/Hades), Narcissus (Persephone) Ivy (Persephone), Peppermint (Hades), White Birch (Hades) and Figs. These plants figure prominently in their mythical stories.

Ritual bathing and skincare products for Persephone will be different then for Aphrodite.  For Persephone it would be appropriate to use Pomegranate scented or infused products.  For Aphrodite, Myrtle and Rose or Honey. You get the idea. I'll continue to add product review posts of these different products with instructions for various types of Deity worship and more specific information about the background, history and mythology of the symbols on a regular basis. 

I've also included the appropriate themed ritual anointing oils or essential oils for those of you experienced in making your own witchcraft products, in the deity sections that are specific to that deity,

I will constantly be adding to these temple sections so please continue checking back to find new additions for each of the deities.

If you are interested in the worship of a deity I have not yet included in the temple section don't hesitate to let me know and I will add a section for you after researching the deity in question to help you get started building your temple.

I have only just begun, so this is a work in progress.  Keep checking back!  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

New Occult Store. Persephone's Place Amazon Afilliate

I wanted to let everyone know the exciting news about my new addition to the Blog here.   Please look on the left hand side of the blog for the link to the store, underneath my logo.

I have just created an Affiliate store with What this means is that anything that you purchase from within my Amazon store, will generate a small portion of the sale payable to Persephone's Place. For your entertainment and shopping convenience I have compiled an “occult” store and have personally hand picked everything that is in it. The inventory in the store is a representation of my personal recommendations, because these are items, I have, know about, or have used. Others I just like because they are fun.

The store will be updated often. Probably weekly.

Things you can hope to find here are some of the classics:

Occult Books, including underworld mythology, Golden Dawn Magic, Enochian Magic, Wiccan, Goddess Worship, Mythology, Alchemy, etc....  I have also added a Tarot section.  I may have to rearrange some of these categories again so if they disappear, don't worry, they will be back.  It's a trial and error thing while building and compiling the store.  The books might disappear for a few hours on whatever day I'm working on the store till I get the categories right.

I've added Suns Eye Ritual oils. I love these. They smell heavenly. They are perfect for Wiccan ritual oils. They are primarily used as fragrance oils for anointing spell candles, or wearing as perfume. These are not essential oils. (Do not use these in oil burners).

I've added some herbs with the Azure Green label. I'll be doing some more research on herbs and I may change my mind on some of these. If Amazon has them available I'd to find a reputable organic source.....

I've added some ritual candles. I couldn't find everything I wanted here.... so the collection is small.. I'll keep looking.

There is Gift accessories such as Celtic tote bags, Wiccan ritual kits and pagan statuary. Some of the classics that everyone loves.

There will be more to come. I'm going to try and find some athames and other alter items...cauldrons etc..... This will be a full blown occult supply store.

I do believe Amazon has changed it's policies since I did this once before. It would appear that if the store does not generate sales within three or four months they might shut me down....I'm not quite sure how this works... So feel free to spread the word and please consider doing your metaphysical shopping here if you are already shopping on Amazon. Thanks so much!.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


I sometimes find myself feeling jealous of some of my other pagan friends. I knew a lady once who was a priestess of Iris, the Rainbow Goddess. There are those women out there blessed to work in Aphrodite's temple for a lifetime, and I find myself thinking sometimes.... how the hell did I end up in the underworld? Why me? I imagine Hades must have asked the same thing when Zeus sentenced him to eternity in the underworld after drawing straws to see who got which section of the multiverse to rule.

My mother called me on the phone the other day to ask me to come and take some photographs of her old horse. The decision had finally been made, and the date with the Ferryman was set. The vet would be out to put her down. I hung up the phone and flung my head back gazing up toward my ceiling..... close my eyes and take a deep breath. How come I didn't get the “rainbow” goddess? That phone call was a reminder of my call to duty for the Cthonic Gods of the underworld. Sometimes my human self just isn't into it, and there are days like that day where I resent my spiritual obligations.

First chore of the day after the phone call I found myself driving to town only to be stopped by a fallen tree in the road. “How interesting” I thought to myself with mild irritation, “Is this an omen?” A ten minute wait ensued before I could get through the road block. Off to the library to donate my magazines, (that went well), then to the bookstore to make a trade... wait for an hour for the owner who was supposed to be back in a half hour, to be told he won't trade my books, doesn't want to deal with buying books today... and by the way so sorry, but we don't take debit cards. ????!!!!!! This is where I lost it. I put the books I really wanted to purchase on the counter and walked out in disgust. I heard him apologize behind me as I'm walking out the door, and I didn't care. I didn't say anything, I didn't look at him, I just walked out thinking what an incredible waste of my time THAT was. The hormones were raging. This behavior is actually really uncharacteristic of me, but It's been happening more and more over the last couple of years. My mid life crisis has created a bit of a hormonal anger management issue I've noticed. It was a shitty bad hair day, and I had to go photograph a horse who will be dead the next day.

I went home and threw my keys at the wall because the noise was very satisfying. Scared the crap out of my cat who was accidentally locked in the house while I was gone. He couldn't get out the back door fast enough when I opened it for him. Time to clock in for Hades.

I grab the camera, and drove up to the main house and down to the barn where the old black mare is waiting after her bath, all fresh and clean clean. Camera in hand, the photo shoot began. Over an hour later, I had something like 70 pictures on my digital camera. I think my mother was confused why I took so long. She was probably only expecting me to take a couple of pictures. But what my mother didn't actually know is that I'm a closet beginning photographer and I haven't really told anyone yet. I've learned that to get two or three good high quality pictures you have to take about 70 of them.

As I took the photos I could feel the calm settling over me. I got into my zone and started making my connection to “Patty” the horse. She is a temperamental thing, kinda like me today. At the age of 27-ish this old girl literally didn't have a good leg to stand on. She was very painfully arthritic and had such a hard time walking around it hurt to watch. That is why the decision had been made. I had noticed she seemed to be getting worse over the last week. I thought it was my imagination but mom said she noticed it too. She was doing OK for the moment because she was full of anti-inflammatory medication, but it wouldn't last long. I kept clicking away with the camera, and pretty soon she started following me around. So after the photo's were finished I spent a few moments scratching her neck and talking with her. Trying to prepare her for the long journey she would take to the summer-land. She'd be going to see my old horse who already took that journey two years ago.

I spent more then a few minutes talking to my mother who was hoping she was making the right decision. I committed to meeting the vet myself at 9 AM the next morning, in case she or my stepfather was not going to be capable to assisting the vet in this process. My mother with her bad knees and given the emotional attachment probably shouldn't be the one to hold her for the vet. The jury was out on whether my stepfather would there on time, or be able to deal with it either. It might end up being my task. Most of the time horses go quietly with euthanasia but sometimes they have very violent reactions. It's usually a matter of tranquilizing them first to drop them slowly and carefully to the ground, and then giving them the final dose of euthanasia and hope they don't flail. They are large animals. The last thing anyone wants is a 1200 pound animal thrashing violently on the ground, at the end of the lead rope because of bad reaction. Not only is that emotionally distressing for all concerned under the circumstances but it's also potentially very dangerous.

At any rate, the final details were discussed and I went back to my house with my camera to see how my pictures came out.

I ended up with some really lovely ones. It occurred to me as I was editing these photographs, what a great photographic subject this mare really was. First of all she's entirely jet black, which is rare. With some of the editing tools that I use, and the way I like to brand my photos, I realized I could really play with these photos in such a way that I could transform her image into something very mythical and archetypal, to honor her transition to the spirit world. I was taking these pictures primarily at the request of my mother. I really didn't want use any of the portrait prints I was taking for her, as my own promotional photography prints. This was a personal matter. But I had a good feeling about the ones which I was able to edit into archetypal manifestation. Patty was taking the journey herself, as death goddess, into the other world in only a matter of hours.

As I looked at the pictures all I could think of was “Pooka”

The Pooka in Celtic mythology is a mythical black fairy horse, and a death omen. It is said anyone who can catch and ride her can avoid the death curse, but generally anyone who tries is dragged down by the creature, story has it, into the bottom of a lake or river which the pooka dives into, drowning the rider. This is a metaphor of course for the descent into the unconscious realm. The Pooka is interchangeable with the Irish Selkie, taking the form of a woman who can transform into a seal and back to a woman at will. She is also sometimes known as the “washer woman at the ford” who can be heard wailing her death cry while she washes her clothes in the water. Some call her the “Banshee”. Those who hear her cry are destined to die.

In ancient Greece the black horse totem was sacred to Demeter. In older versions of the myth, Demeter and Persephone were not distinctly separate. They were two faces of the same goddess, and she had a much more “cthonic” energy. During the dark half of the year Demeter would retire to her dark cavern, veiled in black and turn into the form of a jet black mare, a goddess body with the head of a horse. In that form she would rule as queen of the dead until spring returned again. This older Greek myth is very probably where the origin of the “nightmare” came from. The “nightmare” was a dark horse headed, hag like goddess, which visited people in their dreams, and tormented them with their deepest fears.

Ultimately her origin is interchangeable with most any death goddess in any myth or culture. She changes from a black fairy horse to a seal shaped selki, to a mermaid, to the furies, to the hag, and ultimately back again to some form of a Black Madonna depending on what part of the world celebrates her. She is a universal shape-changing archetype in any culture.

I thought of this myth as I thought of Patty and continued to play with the pictures. My mother was explaining that in this mare's younger days she had developed a reputation for her nasty temperament. She had been given a nickname. “The Black Bitch.” How Pooka is that? How “night hag” is that?

Well I took my bitchy underworld priestess self into that paddock today with my camera and had an opportunity to have a very pleasant visit with this soon to be Pooka. She followed me around while I snapped her pictures and we enjoyed some neck scratching time and cuddles.

She really is lovely isn't she? 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ariadne: "Mistress Of The Labyrinth"

Being self employed is a learning curve. Pun intended.

I started my day with everything mapped out exactly how it was supposed to go. I would clean the barn, take care of my massage clients, and then reboot for the second half of the day which included writing this blog and taking photographs of the new jewelry pieces I have made, to be listed on Etsy. Within the confines of my never ending “to do” list, I actually managed to do everything but the blog and make time for my yoga workout. I have been suffering from the proverbial writers block for about three or four years now. Today though, my back was to the wall because I was committed. I had already announced last week that this blog would be posted today and updated every Saturday from now on. So I knew I had no choice but to deliver the goods. With a million things happening in my head though, I had no idea how to extricate any “one thing” to blog about for this weeks topic. The anxiety began to build as the evening started to get darker. I decided to just let things flow, cook my dinner and with any luck my brain would relax and I would be inspired after I had eaten. I cooked myself some chicken curry and rice, watched an old episode of Millennium and then finally my subconscious gave it up and it all came together for me.

I had to let my mind backtrack to the early afternoon for my inspiration. After making my bank deposit, I drove down to the Biblical Gardens (add link) here in Grass Valley, California because it's a lovely place to photograph my jewelry and it is only a few miles from my house. As luck would have it I had the place to myself and I was able to soak in the peace and quiet and accumulated spiritual vibe of the place. My favorite thing about the Biblical Gardens is the meditation labyrinth that has been built there on the grounds. As a priestess of the underworld myself, I feel a powerful draw to walk it every time I visit the place. In my meditations I'm always coming to new conclusions about various problems I'm experiencing each time I walk the labyrinth.
The Meditation Labyrinth At the Biblical Gardens, in Grass Valley, California

The labyrinth as most know, is a symbol of the underworld and it's lore is very ancient. The center of the labyrinth represents the Jungian confrontation with the “self”. This confrontation has been represented in a myriad of ways throughout many different cross cultural myths, arcana and legend; but today I want to focus on ancient Crete and the “Mistress of the Labyrinth” who is none other then Ariadne.

Ariadne is a Cretan-Greek form for Arihagne, the “utterly pure”, from the adjective adnon for hagnon. (1)

Among the Greeks the epithet “utterly pure” was attached preeminently to Persephone, the queen of the underworld. (1)

I recently designed a new jewelry collection that I have called the “Ariadne Collection”. The collection shown below were just a couple of several other unrelated pieces, which had to be photographed for my Etsy store today. I realized after letting my dinner settle that my walk through the meditation labyrinth earlier in the day, had naturally resolved my writers block dilema, but I just didn't know it yet at the time. Later on this evening it seemed obvious to me that having my “Ariadne Collection” with me to photograph at the Biblical Gardens, and then walking the labyrinth before returning home, obviously presented an opportunity for a theme to develop that was worth discussing. Ordinarily I keep the jewelry blog and the underworld diaries separate, but this would be an exception.

When I made the “Ariadne” pieces, my intention was to design them as ritual jewelry, the symbolism of which is based on symbols found in ancient temples. This collection is designed to speak to a priestess or to a sacred ritual dancer, however it is certainly fashionable enough to wear in the everyday world as well. 

The design you see loomed on these pieces is called the “meander” pattern representing one of the earliest forms of the labyrinth. It is symbolic of the pathway to the underworld. It is also sacred to the Goddess Ariadne, and to the Minotaur which Theseus defeated and killed in the labyrinth. The “meander” is a common design on many ancient Greek art pieces. 
Ariadne Choker Necklace:  Available on Etsy
Ariadne Earrings:  Available on Etsy

Carl Kerenyi tells us: 

Sokrates, in the dialogue that Plato brought out under the title Ethydemus, speaks of the labyrinth and describes it as a figure whose most easily recognized feature is an endlessly repeated mender or spiral line: “Then it seemed like falling into a labyrinth; we thought we were at the finish, but our way bent round and we found ourselves as it were back at the beginning, and just as far from that which we were seeking at first. (1)

The labyrinth suggested by meanders and spirals was a place of processions and not of hopelessness, even though it was a place of death. When closed the labyrinth was indeed a place of death. ….He who is confined here loses his life” (1)

If you look closely you'll notice that the meander design I loomed in the choker and earrings is intentionally “open” just as the ancient design at the temples were, suggesting that not only is the entrance to the underworld possible, but so is the return. To close the meander design as explained above would suggest death to the traveler or initiate. 
Ariadne Earrings:  Available on Etsy
Aradne Choker:  Available on Etsy

Kerenyi also says:

The meander is the figure of the labyrinth in linear form...... The angular form makes its first appearance on the coins from the fourth century B.C. And only later, on those from the second century B.C., does the rounded form appear, as though in an effort to recall the dance figure. (1)

The meander is impressively used in a monument at Didyma near Miletos, and in an inscription (a table of building costs) connected with it the word “labyrinthos” is repeatedly used for the structure. The structure recurs in two stairwells, one at either side of the entrance to the great hall of the temple of Apollo at Didyma; they house winding stairways leading up to the roof terrace of the temple. (1)

Theodor Wiegand, the archaeologist who completed the excavation, wrote that each section of stairs had its own horizontal marble ceiling. “one such ceiling is fully preserved. It bears a meander pattern in relief, nine meters long and roughly 10.20 meters wide, painted blue in the hollows; brightly colored rosette patterns filled the inner most squares and the whole rested on wall blocks bordered with cymatia painted red and blue”. Wiegand declares that these meander patterns were “symbolic” in significance and cites Paul Wolters, another great archaeologist, who had proved, on the basis of Attic vase paintings, that the meander in the representation of the Minotaur legend was employed as a 'symbolic indication of the labyrinth”......the winding stairways leading to the temple terrace were characterized as labyrinths by the meander pattern. Here we have at least two elements clarifying the nature of the labyrinth: the staircase as a spiral, a winding path, and this path leads upward. (1)

It is believed that in the ancient underworld rites at Crete, in the palace of Knossos, and possibly the Eleusinian mysteries that sacred dance, with temple priestesses, played a very important part in representing to the ritual pathway to the underworld. This is very probably where modern paganism gets it's emphasis on the “spiral dance” in modern Wiccan rituals.

At Knossos the way to the mistress of the labyrinth and back again was danced publicly on a certain dance ground. The mistress was at the center of the true labyrinth, the underworld; she bore a mysterious son and conferred the hope of a return to the light.

The underworld journey is commonly understood as an initiation. Joseph Campbell calls it “The Hero's Journey”. Arthurians' would call it “the grail quest” and Jungians' would call this process, “Individuation”. 

The ancient Crete's had a term “Diadalos” which is a name seemingly associated with the two aspects of the labyrinth as both a prison and a dance ground (or initiation journey), as well as also being the name of the builder of the mythical labyrinth that imprisoned the Minotaur. To the ancient Crete's the journey to the underworld was the “journey to the light”. 

The meander and spiral lines point to an open labyrinth which if one turned at the center was a passage of the light. (1)

The Creten story goes that Queen Pasiphae, Wife to King Minos fell in love with the white bull that Posiedon to Minos with orders to sacrifice. When Minos did not give the sacrifice as instructed, Posiedon cursed Queen Pasiphae with an unquenchable lust for the bull. Diadalos built a wooden cow to hide Queen Pasiphe within, tricking the bull to breed with it. Pasiphae then became pregnant with the Minotaur named “Asterion”, half man, half bull, and Diadalos then built the underworld labryinth to imprison the beast within it. Every few years sacrifices to the Minotaur were demanded, until such a time as Theseus arrived, venturing into the underworld to slay the Minotaur and escaping only with the help of Ariadne's thread. 

Queen Pasiphae was the daughter of Helios The Sun. Some sources also equate Persephone's name to have meaning associated with the ideas of “light”, and “shining”. It is intriguing to me that the re-occuring theme of light and the symbolism of the Sun seems to always have it's place in the underworld journey. For those of you interested in alchemy this idea can further lead to some very intriguing meditations on the relationship of Saturn or the ”midnight sun” and Sol and of the science of turning lead into gold. 

One of the things I've been very grateful for on my own journey is the discovery of the “Belly Hive” here in Grass Valley, which is a community of women dedicated to the art of the Belly dance. I often think of the sacred underworld dances from these ancient rites when I am at class with these women.  

For my part, the last few years as I have said have been a labyrinthine “learning curve” with tons of twists and turns and other world journeys through grief, despair, rebirth and major changes of my own along the way. Finding my “tribe” and finding my place on my path as a bodyworker, metaphysician, bellydancer and a jewelry designer have been part of that journey.

I'm a romantic at heart and a huge fan of all things Dion Fortune-ian. In a similar way that Dion Fortune describes purchasing white elephant pieces of real estate to revive ancient worship in out of the way places, my goal is to integrate the ancient and modern world symbolically through my art, in any way that I can. The “Ariadne Collection” is one way in which I have attempted to give the modern woman a taste of the ancient world. In this way the old magic may be ritually activated using costume and sacred ritual or dance, as we continue to “meander” in our dance on “the way of wyrd” toward the light, and reclaim the dark and lost parts of ourselves along the way. 

Please look forward to new additions to this jewelry collection over time.

Blessed Be.

Similar articles of interest in the underworld diaries archives: The Oracle At Thalamae  This article discusses the worship of Aphrodite-Pasiphae or "Dark Aphrodite" in Sicily.
For your entertainment:  A labyrinth themed you tube clip:  Enya "Anywhere Is"

  1. Dionysos (Archetypal Images of Indestructible Life), Carl Kerenyi; 1976 ; Princeton University Press.
  2. The Labyrinth (Symbol of Fear, Rebirth and Liberation) Helmut Jaskolski; 1997; Shambhala Publications
  3. The Narcissus and the Pomegranate, Ann Suter; 2002, The University of Michigan Press