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The Serpent Path

The Serpent Path is one of the oldest cults on Earth. It predates all the solar cults of antiquity that later evolved into religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A quick look at pagan and shamanistic cultures around the world reveals synchronistic examples of serpentine reverence. Anthropology reveals the Minoan snake goddess, nagas in Asian mythology, the Yezidis of the Middle East, Kukulkan of Mesoamerica and the Rainbow Serpent of Aboriginal Australia. This is a mere scraping of the barrel. Examples of snake worship exist in the primordial depths of history around the world. These examples illustrate the importance of this earthbound reptile and its sacred role in the mythology and magical practices indigenous to early culture and civilizations. It was precisely the Serpent Path which church authorities persecuted in religious text and later through sinister efforts at ethnic cleansing. Though repeated efforts to eradicate serpent worship proved ghastly and cruel, this tradition still breathes, forming the roots of modern witchcraft. In fact, it is precisely these solar cults that by labeling the serpent worshippers evil, can claim the invention of the term witchcraft. Witchcraft can be seen as an antagonistic and pejorative term, opposed to the masculine solar cults which later developed a social system (patriarchy) to undermine all other spiritual paths. However, we embrace the term witchcraft, knowing full well that our spiritual roots resound a more ancient tradition, though a broken one. The stories were changed to reflect solar values, but a scratch below the surface reveals the truth. As Abrahamic religion spread out of the Fertile Crescent and into Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, missionaries and mercenaries continued to encounter serpent worship in the animistic cultures they conquered.

Thanks to global colonization, the final manifestation of the patriarchy, many indigenous cultures are dying out, permanently erased from the Earth. The extinction of indigenous languages is a daily phenomenon, as elders die without progeny to step into new roles of tribal leadership. The lure of modern, technological culture is too alluring for tribal youth. They abandon their ancestry to chase the gleam of consumerism and modern decay. But who are we to judge? How many of us are even capable or willing to return to tribal lifestyle? We were conditioned to hate and fear snakes. We were taught of their evil nature. We lost our way. Snakes, however, are hard to kill. They are quick and possess the ability to strike with a venomous bite.  Snakes are sinuous and lithe. They wind through the ether of our dreams, leading us into the crumbling labyrinth of our primal past. The importance of snakes as entities of reverence will never leave us. Even in the midst of conditioning by patriarchal society, serpent mystique is only a footstep away.

A closer look at Biblical reference to snakes, reveals the ploy of Christian writers. In the book of Genesis, the serpent “tempts” Eve by offering fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The key word here is ‘knowledge.’ Wisdom is one of the gifts of the serpent. As an initiator into the serpent mysteries, it is through choice that we enter. We are given two choices: to eat or to refuse. For an ecclesiastical writer, it was too easy to frame the serpent from Genesis as an adversary to Yahweh. Taint the ancient wisdom with the dualism of good and evil, and thus convince indigenous cultures they have been deceived. In the wake of the ensuing violence, rape and conquest, defeated tribes surrendered to the allegory of their beloved serpent crushed beneath the heel of the victors. We know the vanquishers write the history books, and the Bible is the example par excellence of this sad truth. How much knowledge, both written and oratory was lost in the raging fires of purge?

But even in spite of the campaign of invasion and subjugation, the serpent appears throughout the Bible in the staff of Moses and the magic of Solomon. Even as the Roman Catholic Church was in its stage of formation, the Gnostic movement, specifically the Ophite sect, sought to harmonize serpent and solar elements in texts found in the Nag Hammadi library. These scriptures were obviously censored, as our only copies of these works were finally rediscovered in the last hundred years.

So what does this mean for modern witches? We must remember. Regardless of our culture, heritage or past, we must sing the songs and tell the stories that have been lost. We must tell our children. This is not merely buying a tarot deck or lighting a chime candle. It is deeper than that. We must restore our history and culture, not as items to be placed in a museum, but as living proof of our place in the world. We must consciously innovate the magic we’ve been given, with respect to unbroken indigenous lineages which do not need further appropriation. We may learn much from the elder wisdom, but we must never corrupt it with ignorance or superiority. That would only show that we’ve learned nothing from history. At the same time, we must not make ourselves harmless or apologize for our beliefs. Patriarchal religion is adept at crushing opposition. The persecution of witchcraft still resounds in their holy scriptures. Hate is not the message I’m promoting here, I am suggesting a stance of assertiveness. Not allowing the rhetoric to defeat you. Not conceding to scrutiny or attempting to appease the oppressor. Having informed answers for the curious and storytelling amongst our kin. In the words of Jim Morrison, “ride the snake, to the ancient lake.” That is homework enough for us all. In my next post, look for ways to reclaim snake energy in your own practice. Until next time!

Author: Samuel McCabe is a visual artist, educator, operative magician and Tarot reader at Ritualcravt. He has ten years experience with ceremonial magick in group and solitary settings. He is currently researching the origins of magick through grimoires, mythology and anthropology. Samuel teaches using a project-based approach that inspires creativity and independence in his students. You can follow and connect more with Samuel via Instagram @thepeacockgrimoire


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Fairy Tales are for Witches

Image- 'Tree of Life' by artist: Kako Ueda

Within our culture of information, it is hard to find secrets anymore. We share our daily lives and intimate details in public forums. If we want to learn how to do something, we can find a video for it.  The world of secret knowledge is dissipating. But there are still secrets to be found in plain sight if you know how to look for them.  Fairy tales hold some of our most secret teachings from a time we can’t easily access because they were created before there was written language, before the printing press, before the internet.  These oral tales, passed down generation to generation, imbued the wisdom of our great, great, great, great, great grandmothers and grandfathers. Fairy tales are our bones, a skeletal system that is ancient and eternal, holding up the ideas about how the human psyche develops.  Their themes span across literature, time, and culture, providing a guide to the universality of the human condition. Reading the tales for their individual symbolism leads us down rivers of blood, flowing through generation after generation. Some of these paths lead to the heart of it all, and some to small capillaries that reveal our own dead ends.  It is in these stories that tales of human individuation are encoded if we learn to follow the signs.

As we first approach the fairy tale, it is best experienced the way our ancestors experienced it, orally and in a group setting.  In Fairytale Circle, held each month at Ritualcravt School, we gather within this ancient circle and read aloud the tale, listening together to uncover its hidden mysteries.  Parts of the tale surprise us, a mismatch to our expectations of what we thought the story told. Parts of the tale are as familiar as the color of our eyes, bringing back memories and feelings of nostalgia we long ago tucked away in our childhood - or calling to our ancestral memory.  The first question we ask as we read the beginning of the fairy tale is what is incomplete, what is missing? This will give us clues as to what direction the tale might take in order to bring about resolution. Working with fairy tales asks us to look inside at what is incomplete in our lives and what cries out to be transformed.  It tells us that we are not alone on this path and that generations before us have struggled with the very same things. It is memory held within our soul.

But fairy tales are not for the faint-hearted, and the fairy tale journey can be a long and arduous one.  They deal with our most basic instincts and drives, those unconscious forces that lead us to behave in ways we don’t understand.  Fairy tales are full of appetite, sex, and violence. Sometimes they are obvious, and sometimes they are in disguise, hidden in the imagery of the tale.  Most of the tales illuminate childhood trauma, dismemberment, the devouring mother archetype, and death. For example, in the tale “The Girl Without Hands”, the heroine lays down both of her hands and lets them be cut off by her father to protect him from the Devil.   In “Hansel and Gretel”, the old woman with red eyes built a little house made of bread and roofed with cakes to entice the children so she could cook them and eat them. In the tale “Mother Hole”, the heroine experiences a heavy shower of gold that covers her as a reward for her service to the old woman at the bottom of the well.  (This might represent the fertility of the Gods showered down upon her, and there is an uncanny parallel to our current president’s situation in this archetype.) The hardships that the characters experience in the tales offer universal guides in how to cope with these hardships ourselves. If you want to learn about how to handle grief and loss, there is a guide in the fairy tale.  If you want to figure out how to bring about regeneration and renewal, you can find that secret key in the fairy tale as well. How do your instincts create challenges in your life? When is it helpful to be guided by those strong energies, and when do they cause chaos in your world?

The maiden, the mother, and the crone are recurring figures within fairy tales, and the mysteries of their symbolism are woven throughout these stories. The young feminine is often the hero of the tale, struggling with the challenges of puberty and the patriarchy, such as “Little Red Riding Hood” who’s red cape may represent her sexual development.  The mother archetype is often missing or is a ghostlike figure in the tales. In Cinderella, the mother archetype is represented by Cinderella’s visits to her grave and the feminine gifts granted to her by her by her fairy godmother. The crone archetype is often the agent of change in the fairy tale. Without this force, the heroine or hero will not develop and not move forward towards the sacred marriage at the end of the tale.  She is essential for the transformation process just like she is the essential nature of the transformation process in our lives. We rejoice when she is introduced in the tale even if she has a reputation for evil because we know psychic change is coming. How does the Dark Goddess work in your life? What is your relationship to meeting her?

The magic of three is the number of synthesis.  The heroine or hero must engage in activities that move them forward three times.  The resolution will not come from the first attempt - those things are considered luck and not a sign of lasting change.  The second attempt could be a coincidence and not a sign of commitment to the change. Transformation only occurs after it is a pattern of behavior, developed out of conscious decisions, represented by the third cycle.  In “Rumpelstiltskin”, the heroine cries at the impossible task of spinning straw into gold to save her life. Her tears call Rumpelstiltskin to her, and she makes a deal with him three times. What deals have you entered into and what costs have they exacted?  What initiations have you gone through that you have integrated into your being?

The change process is not experienced alone. There are always helpers and guides along the way.  Often they can do the work the individual heroine or hero doesn’t have the capacity to do themselves. They can be special objects or animals, often representing ancestors, like the horse Falada in “The Goose Girl” who remembers the heroine’s royal blood even though she herself cannot speak of it.  Sometimes they are mice, donkeys, white kittens, swans, or bears, but in whatever form they take, just like the white rabbit in “Alice and Wonderland,” when the animal appears, you follow it down the (w)hole. The reward for doing so will be gifts that can be gained in no other way. What animal guides are showing up in your life, and are you listening to their messages for your change process?  

Often there is a resolution in the form of a sacred marriage at the end of the fairy tale for the heroine or hero, but there is almost always a horrific end to the antagonist. The sacred marriage is not about the saccharine sweet romance between a prince and princess.  It is the conjunction of the opposites bringing together things that previously seemed incompatible. It is the celebration of the work that was done to create something new and vibrant from something ancient and decaying. It is the creation of the third way of being that is different from the path that has been traveled before, and it should resolve the problem that was presented in the beginning of the tale.  In “Donkey Skin,” the heroine arrived at the palace in her beautiful dress, with her blonde hair all alight with diamonds and her blue eyes sweet… The king noticed the charms of his daughter-in-law, and the queen was delighted with her. The prince himself found his happiness almost more than he could bear. The kings of the surrounding countries were invited to the wedding, and they came mounted on huge elephants.  Her father wept with joy, and her fairy godmother arrived too. The fairy tale ending means that one cycle of rebirth has been completed and, like the cycle in the spinning wheel of time, it will turn again. The fairy tale ending asks you to look at what you have completed in your life and to celebrate your accomplishments, banishing all those things that held you back. What in your life is ready to be released with the turning of the wheel?  

 Fairy tales are not children’s stories.  They are tangled and thorny maps into the woods that reveal ancient paths, dark secrets, and wisdom as old as the Witch’s world itself. They are our Book of Shadows, and they are our Grimoire. Join me monthly at Ritualcravt to explore the mysteries that they contain.

References:

Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales (1993) Barnes & Nobel Inc.

Perrault’s Fairy Tales (1969) Dover Publications

The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images (2010) Taschen

Kaplan, Sarah, What Fairy Tales Tell Us About Where We Came From. Washington Post January 21, 2016.

Liabenow, Alonna, "The Significance of the Numbers Three, Four, and Seven in Fairy Tales, Folklore, and Mythology" (2014).Honors Projects. 418. http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/honorsprojects/418

Shesso, Renna Basic Char-Tarot Symbols-3rd Session-Chart (2005)

Author: Amber Raye Ellis, MA, LAC, is a therapist and archetypal guide that has her degree from Pacifica Graduate Institute in depth psychotherapy.  She uses myth, fairy tales and images to help people uncover the unconscious patterns that guide their life experiences. Amber is Hellenistic in her Pagan practice and has worked in dedicated coven environments for over a decade.


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On Death and Dying

I first tasted death when I was very young. My birth mother had had a strong sense of social justice and walked the walk. She had no reservation about fighting for equality and she put her literal life on the line to meet injustice where it stood. She lost her life to a police baton. In that loss, her warrior spirit passed to me. I always look down at my legs and i know that her spirit is what keeps them strongly planted in the earth, never to shake in battle.

My sister was killed in a very public manner. Their were news stories, media on our lawn, phone calls and a film crew at her funeral. This was when I first called in the shadow of Mictecacihuatl. I asked to be hidden and embraced by death, and she obliged. I didn’t know who I was calling on at the time. But when timing was right we met a few years later. Since the night of my sisters death,

She has walked with me. Santa Muerte has been my companion in Death work before I could say her name.

Death and I broke bread multiple times in between 12 and 18. Denver used to be a very different city, pre gourmet cup cake shops.  Violence often tore through the flesh of the night sky, claiming a son to be swallowed up never to fulfill the ancestral dreams. I still set lights for Them. Asking for nothing forever knowing I have a lot to live up to. Your ancestors aren’t only those that share your bloodlines. Sometimes they are the ones who’s blood fed the earth in order for you to survive.

At 18 my father left this plane. She came full of mercy and love. Muerte knowing She was taking an accomplished soul did so peacefully, leaving an offering that would memorialize his legacy endlessly.

She has been a constant accomplice in life.

Knowing She is forever the shadow I can call in, the warmth I can fall into, the warrior I can ride into battle next to, the magic I can loose myself into has been the most powerful feeding in this lifetime. I feed Death and death feeds me. She feeds my work, my magic and is my life’s blood. She makes herself known to all around me and invites those I love to fall into her embrace when needed. Working with the Dead will always be a place of power and a place of protection for me. Working in death is truly working with the most powerful and eternal form of life.

-Loo

Author: Loretta Ledesma, founder of the Mile High Conjure Gala, is Santisima Muerte devotee and practitioner who has had a relationship with the Santa Muerte for many years. She approaches the work from an eclectic and close relationship with the dead. Loretta walks her spiritual path openly and comfortably with the less freely-talked about workings and brings deep knowledge and experience of this strangely beautiful wisdom to her teachings. Find her at Ritualcravt or follow her on Instagram @thedeathwitch


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Healing the Wounds of Renunciation

Over the years, I have met many witches, magicians, heathens, pagans and magical practitioners. A vast number of them inherited an upbringing within a culture of organized religion and recount stories of leaving their previous spiritual path. These shared experiences frequently carry emotional scars of alienation and contempt for the renounced faith. Commonly, ties with family and friends become strained and sometimes severed. This can lead to self-doubt and shame. What is rarely discussed, are the methods of healing from the trauma of becoming an apostate. Apostasy can be defined as a renunciation or abandonment of a religious belief. An apostate is simply the person who rejects a religion. I will clarify that this is different from a heretic, who may hold views or beliefs counter to a particular religion, but is still functioning within that structure.

At this point, I run the risk of generalization, as I can only elucidate my own experience as an apostate, a term I have learned to embrace. Essentially, when I left the Lutheran church in my early twenties, it was due to a series of events which precipitated years prior. Magick was nothing new to me. I’d been reading tarot and performing candle magick out of a hidden shoebox for years. Renunciation came to me after years of practicing magick in secret. I knew the consequences of rejecting Christianity. My family to this day is still in denial of my apostasy. When I finally “came out” of the proverbial broom closet, I was adept in my magical practice. The healing remained to be addressed. I was now a self-exile to my spiritual culture. I had years of dogma to deprogram. I had sexual shame to overcome. I had repressed feelings to master.

One of the best practices I adopted was through automatic writing. By journaling my feelings without the restrictions of grammar and spelling, I was tapping into the deep, primal emotions of past trauma. I also saw a therapist. Sometimes I hit a pothole in processing a particular wound and needed a pair of objective ears to encourage and intellectualize with me. I tended to nerd out on Jung and metaphysics, but I was still dealing with my spiritual issue at heart. Some people may be averted to seeing a therapist; I think it depends on your therapist. I test-drove a few before I found the right one. Lastly, I practiced mindfulness. Through Kundalini yoga, I learned how to notice physical sensations of pain in the body as results of past emotional traumas. In meditation, I was able to then locate the source of the wound on a spiritual level, and detach from the feeling. This is different from repressing the emotion. Detachment from the sources of trauma and recognition of emotional triggers is essentially the same as the magical practice of “cutting the cord.” You are no longer feeding the scar with your emotional energy. You are detached from resentment, hate, loathing, fear, shame and guilt because you have conquered the trauma and transmuted it into personal power. This is not a form of forgiveness or forgetting. You may choose to forgive and forget, or not. The most important thing is transforming shadow energy into the vision of your true will and being.

Without healing, a witch or magician holds onto their scars and cannot mature into their true will. They become mired in their emotions and alienate themselves further, because they haven’t allowed themselves to integrate their new spiritual direction beyond a stage of rebellion. They become fanatics. In one of his lectures, Swami Vivekananda said:

“That singleness of attachment to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of the denunciation of everything else. All the weak and underdeveloped minds in every religion or country have only one way of loving their own ideal, and that is to hate every other ideal. Herein is the explanation of why the same man who is so lovingly attached to his own ideal of God, so devoted to his own religion, becomes a howling fanatic as soon as he sees or hears anything of any other ideal.”

Yes, Vivekananda was talking to an audience of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but I believe the same thing applies to us in the magical community. If we are ever truly going to embrace our magico-religious paths and reintegrate them into our souls, we must heal. Alchemy may best describe the process of apostatic healing; at its core it teaches the transmutation of base materials into refined substances. We must heal by transforming our traumas into our true selves. This happens when we sense a renewed spirit for life. When we can literally feel the buzzing of insect wings and taste nectar on the breeze. When we no longer feel alienated or lacking direction in our spirituality. The sweetness of liberation is intoxicating.

“Be goodly therefore: dress ye all in fine apparel; eat rich foods and drink sweet wines and wines that foam! Also, take your fill and will of love as ye will, when, where and with whom ye will! But always unto me.” –Liber AL 1:51

Hello. My name is Samuel, and I’m a Christian apostate.

Author: Samuel McCabe is a visual artist, educator, operative magician and Tarot reader at Ritualcravt. He has ten years experience with ceremonial magick in group and solitary settings. He is currently researching the origins of magick through grimoires, mythology and anthropology. Samuel teaches using a project-based approach that inspires creativity and independence in his students.


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Liminality: The Color Out of Space, The Shadow Out of Time

Liminal space is a concept that is integral to our spiritual work and is also ever present in our mundane lives. We encounter the liminal when we cast a circle or perform a Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, when we meditate, shapeshift or anytime we enter a transitional period of life. It’s the spaces between the words of this essay. Even the morning commute can be a liminal time. This liminal time and space can be defined as a location between two or more clearly defined locations. We perceive liminality while practicing the mindfulness of our present state. By tuning into the “in-betweenness” of the moment, we surrender to the liminality of our existence.

As spiritual beings, our own earthly lives are liminal.  We live out our current existence on a material plane, surrounded by an elusive, yet apparent spiritual realm. The spiritual realm beckons to us in dreams, artwork, music and film. It is this beckoning that we answer when we make the plunge into spirituality. While we can recognize this connection to a spiritual or astral realm, it seems to evade us. Through the aeons, spiritual explorers, or as Peter Carrol might label them Psychonauts, have plundered the nether regions of consciousness with the goal of aligning themselves with a higher understanding of the world around them. Even in the last century, great epiphanies have been realized and recorded in too many occult tomes to mention.

This brings us to a metaphorical crossroads of exploration, a liminal time of consciousness that is calling us to our own individual, spiritual quests. How do we answer the call to connect ourselves with our true will and destiny? Through self-discovery and initiative, true enlightenment is achievable. In many cultures, liminal spaces are described. Look at the Bifrost of the Norse tradition or Da’ath of the Cabalists. These are both liminal spaces. There are many other examples, but my point is that finding a resonating liminal space is essential in creating and designating a location from which to launch. Hedge witchcraft is a specific branch of witchcraft, with the purpose of “hedge-crossing”, or walking the path between the spirit and material realms. This path is just an illustration of one route to initiation with liminality.

After experimenting with liminal space in a ritual or ceremonial setting, it becomes apparent that recognizing and honoring liminal time and space in the material world is an important link in connecting our spiritual lives with our mundane existence. This is accomplished through practice in mindfulness: identifying liminal space in day to day life. Whether this liminal space presents itself in the time we prepare ourselves for the work day or in the liminal time of evening as we wind down our bodies and minds before bed, liminal space can become something we harness, to invoke a daily spiritual practice. In concluding these liminal thoughts, I encourage you to find the liminality of you own incarnation and explore its depths and recesses. May your journeys be blessed with understanding and compassion.

Love is the law. Love under will.

Author: Samuel McCabe is a visual artist, educator, operative magician and Tarot reader at Ritualcravt. He has ten years experience with ceremonial magick in group and solitary settings. He is currently researching the origins of magick through grimoires, mythology and anthropology. Samuel teaches using a project-based approach that inspires creativity and independence in his students.