Monday, June 25, 2012

M -- Mugwort Wine, Flying Ointment, & Other Entheogens #paganblogproject

Entheogen is a Greek derived word that means "generating the divine within." An entheogen, therefore, is a psychoactive substance that is used in a religious, spiritual or shamanic context. Traditional Witches have used entheogens of several types for centuries, as recorded in the lore of mythology, in the records of the trials and persecutions, and in the regional indigenous shamanic practices  that have been assimilated into the Craft various locales.

Among the most commonly used and widely known entheogens in European and American Witchcraft practice are Sabbat Wine and Flying Ointment. These are the two on which we'll focus our attentions in this exploration. (While there are many and varied regional entheogens that have found their way into Craft practice in some form or another, they are just too numerous for me to mention here. Furthermore, I really don't feel qualified to speak on them since I'm very inexperienced with them.)

Sabbat Wine

Wine, just as it is, constitutes a powerful entheogen. The Dying and Resurrected God is embodied int he wine in the form of Dionysos -- and in Jesus, for that matter, whose symbolism and mythology associates him with the wine. Dionysos, though, is the "Twice Born" God of the Vine, and his cup is the offering of ecstasy and madness. "I am the vine," he says, and he offers insight into death and rebirth, despair and joy.

Many Witches drink wine -- either a little or a lot -- as a part of their Sabbat rites no matter what. In American Folkloric Witchcraft, we include Sabbat Wine for two separate and distinct purposes -- and the wine is different depending on that purpose.

If we are celebrating the Housle as we usually do within the regular course of ritual, we will sacrifice a cup of red wine. It is the shed blood of the Red Meal that is the Housle.  In this instance, we don't add anything to the wine because we don't need any additional entheogenic effect.

If, however, we are doing trance work, flying out, seiding, or otherwise seeking an altered state of consciousness, we might prepare our special Sabbat Wine (vinum sabbati). We also prepare this Sabbat Wine for initiations. In our case, the vinum sabbati is a local sweet red wine (Oliver Soft Red) in which mugwort and lemongrass have been mulled. After straining the herbs, we add local honey to sweeten the mix and cut the bitterness of the mugwort. Both mugwort and lemongrass have gentle psychoactive properties.

It's interesting to note that the term "vinum sabbati" has actually been associated with flying ointment, or the witches' salve, which is the other major entheogen of witchcraft. In fact, Nigel Jackson said flying ointment was "the black wine of owls."

Flying Ointment

This greasy, trance-inducing substance was traditionally made of hallucinogenic (and often fatal) herbs that had been boiled in pig fat and then strained. It was called "green salve" or "witches' ointment" and it some of the stock ingredients (solinicaeds) caused a "flying" sensation as the hallucination began -- hence the popular image of the flying witch.

Great care had to be taken in preparing this ointment, though. Traditional ingredients included such components as henbane, monkshood, deadly nightshade, belladonna, hemlock, and mandrake -- all lethal in too large a dose. In some cases, that does could be quite small. One witch learned from another how to properly prepare the salve and how to administer it to herself, and I'm sure it was still "At your own risk, sister."

I'm simply not a brave enough woman to fool around with these poisons. So, I looked to some of the other traditional ingredients in the old flying ointments -- the ingredients that wouldn't cause a person to exsanguinate from their skin, for example. (Belladonna does that. It's the key ingredient in rat poison.) Cinquefoil and Balm of Gilead made the cut from the old recipes. Then, I gathered together herbs known for trance and vision work -- many of which I'd already used successfully. Mugwort, Dittany of Crete, lemongrass, clary sage, wormwood, rue.

I use vegetable shortening as the fat, and I add benzoin powder and vitamin E for preservation. None of the last is traditional in any way, but I want it to last and not get funky.

Our coven uses this mix a fair amount. We fly out at just about every Sabbat. Does my blend make you trip? No. Does it help you fly? Oh yeah. Everybody whose used it add reported back has shared positive results. At this point, that's been a fair few people, since we do sell this in our Etsy shop.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

L- Lapis Lazuli #paganblogproject

Lapis lazuli is the stone of the Goddess of Love from time immemorial. It is the color of the evening sky, flecked with golden stars. It was the stone the ancients referred to when they mentioned "Star Sapphire" -- because of its star-strewn indigo. Those golden stars are actually bits of pyrite.

I adore lapis. One of my first exposures to it as a magician was in learning its history as the gem worn by priestesses of Ishtar, Inanna, and Isis, and this stone has been associated with love magic in the ancient world . It's also one of the oldest stones on record as noted for its healing properties. (An Egyptian papyrus from about 1600 BCE relates the healing qualities of lapis along with several other stones).

This stone was used, even in ancient times, to bring peace and to dispel melancholy and depression. It is associated with the throat chakra, and as such, it brings healing to that area -- including healing an ill-functioning thyroid glad. (The thyroid is a gland of total-body systems regulation. Poor thyroid function can bring a host of physical and emotional ailments including weight gain/loss, migraines, high blood pressure, sleep disorder, and depression.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

L - Lorelei #paganblogproject

"Lorelei" (or, as I spell it, "Laurelei") was the first nickname I received as a child. It was the stage name I chose for myself as a beginning dancer. It is my pen-name, and many people tell me the name suits me better than my given moniker (Laura). In truth, Lorelei is the name my father wanted to give me at birth, but my mother insisted on the family name instead.

The Lorelei is a variation of the siren or the mermaid. She is a derivation of the ancient Water-Bird Goddesses written of by Marija Gimbutas. She is one of the many water-nymphs or sprites who inhabit a river (and who often personify it).

Her place is the Rhine, at a large rock on the eastern bank of that river near St. Goarshausen. The rock itself is named Lorelei (or Loreley). The name means "murmuring rock" (or possibly "lurking rock"). The heavy currents and the once-flowing waterfall in that area provided the inspiration for the name -- as did the many accidents that occurred in that locale.

The legend of the Lorelei began with the writing of a ballad by Clemens Baranto in 1801 ("Zu Bacharach am Rheine"). The theme was adapted by Heinrich Heine in 1824 in his poem "Die Lorelei" (which has been set to music by many composers, including Franz Liszt). The story does not emerge, as many believe, from a folk tale of that region.

The tale, as it is now told, envisions Lorelei as a beautiful, golden-haired woman brushing her hair atop the rock. So great is her beauty, and so sweet is her song, that sailors are distracted from their vigilance in the dangerous waters and are drowned.

Lorelei has been the inspiration for many poems, songs, and pieces of fine art since her appearance atop the rock. Just a few are listed here:

Sylvia Plath's poem  -- Lorelei
Thomas Bailey Aldrich's poem -- The Lorelei
Kenny Klein's song -- Lorelie
Blackmore's Night's song -- Loreley
Cocteau Twins' song -- Lorelei 
The Pogues' song -- Lorelei

Here is a link to a collection of song lyrics and poems about Lorelei.

And now, my own poem, if I may. This is my interpretation of my namesake -- or my vision of Self as the Lorelei:

The Lorelei -- by Laurelei Black (c) 2009

I am the Flood that drowned Man --
the Sea that swallows and soothes.
From my cup, honey is
poured onto the stone --
and wine
and brine --
and all the Ocean is come unto you,
my Love, my Lover.
I am the raging storm,
the tempest
that rocks the bark
and whips the sails and seamen
to frenzy
before lulling all into watery dreams
of me.
Come, dive into these depths,
be dashed upon my rocks,
and be lost in the waters
of bliss.

K - Kharisma (Personal Grace) #paganblogproject

"Kharisma" is the idea of personal grace that is perhaps the underpinning of the very persona of a hierodule. More specifically, we’ll be talking about the Kharites, the Goddesses who imbue us with personal grace.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary online, charisma is personal magnetism or charm, a quality that etymologically derives from the Greek word “kharisma,” meaning “divine favor.”
You should already be familiar with the concept of “kharis” – or reciprocity – from your readings and other studies. Indeed, you probably have a relationship with Aphrodite, at the very least, that demonstrates kharis.

Kharis, kharisma and the Kharites are all very closely linked, etymologically.

The Kharites, or Graces, were the Goddesses of pleasure, joy, beauty and happiness. They were the Goddesses of “favor” – the favors of beauty and charm and delight. The favors of those almost unnamable, intangible qualities of attraction. Is it any wonder that the Graces were considered the close companions of Aphrodite, then?

There are generally considered to be three primary Graces. They are Aglaea, whose name means Splendor; Euphrosyne, who is Mirth; and Thalia, who is Good Cheer. However, we’ll discuss in a few minutes that these are actually the oldest of the Graces, and they are the ones specifically honored in certain parts of Greece. There are, in fact, other Graces. Several.

Not only are there more than three, but even the primary three Graces are tied up very intimately with other sets of Goddesses whose qualities have an important impact on our discussion today. Where the Graces bestowed favor, charm and beauty upon Gods and mortals, the Horae (or Seasons) guarded the passage of time, and the Muses bestowed inspiration, intellect and understanding of the Mysteries. The Kharites, Horae and Mousai are often listed as companions of each other, but there are closer links among their ranks than that.  The elder Grace Thalia is also a Muse, and both Auxo and Hegemone are listed as Graces and Seasons by the Classical texts.

So, we have several Graces. More than three. In truth, we have a few sets of sisters and some individual Goddesses that make up the retinue of Graces. According to the Theoi Project, the eldest and most prominent set of sisters are Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia.

Aglaia is the oldest of all the Graces, and she is sometimes just called Kharis. She is also sometimes called Kalleis, which means “beautiful.”  She is the Grace of beauty, adornment, splendor and glory.

Euphrosyne is the second sister of this triad. She presides over merriment, joy and mirth. Euthymia, or contentment, is another name for her.
Thalia is the youngest of this of this triad of sisters. Her name means “good cheer,” and she is credited with presiding over banquets and festive celebrations. Thalia is also the Muse of comedy.

In my book, Aphrodite’s Priestess, I talk about the fact that only one of the three eldest Graces relates directly to physicality. Only Aglaia (Splendor) has a direct impact on the physical realm of the priest or priestess. Aglaia offers gifts of beauty, which we may feel like we either have or we don’t. She may have given or withheld these particular gifts at our births. But, of course, Splendor is about more than superficial concepts of beauty, as we’ll discuss in another podcast devoted entirely to Aglaia.

The other two Graces bear gifts of personality. Euphrosyne and Thalia are all about our demeanor and outlook. They teach us how to see the world through a certain lens, and they help us set the people around us at ease because we are pleasant.
The oldest Graces, and the oldest lessons about grace – about kharisma – are that beauty and joy and mirth are cultivated qualities. This simple lesson bears out when we look at the nature of the younger Graces, as well.

Athenian vase painting shows a host of young Goddesses that are counted among the Graces who attend Aphrodite. Most of these Graces are not mentioned in literary references, according to the Theoi Project, but are depicted frequently in artistic renderings. Antheia’s name relates to flowers, and she is credited with overseeing floral decorations and the garlands worn to parties and festivals. Eudaimonia is the Goddess of happiness, opulence and prosperity. Paidia is the Goddess of play and amusement. Pandaisia is the Goddess of rich banquets, and Pannykhis is the Goddess of night-time revelries and celebrations.

All of the Goddess mentioned above preside over qualities and skills that can be cultivated in an individual. Yes, sure, one person might be naturally more talented than another at throwing a party or setting an opulent table, but anyone can be taught. Anyone can learn.
Phaenna and Kleta are Graces that were worshipped in Sparta. Phaenna means “shining” and Kleta means “fame, glory.” The radiance of fame and glory, particularly in battle and heroic deeds, would naturally have been honored among the Spartans who were known throughout Hellas as a dedicated warrior people. Aphrodite was honored in her war-like aspect among the Spartans, in fact, as Aphrodite Area.

Auxo and Hegemone were Horae (or Seasons) that were also worshipped as Graces. Auxo was the Goddess of Spring growth. The name Hegemone means “Queen” or “Leader.” The Horae were said to be present at Aphrodite’s birth, and they are usually given credit for dressing her in a garment that is shot with innumerable hues. Not only do they adorn the body of the Goddess, but they adorn the Earth itself as time (ie, the Seasons) shift. It could be said that part of their art as Graces is in physical, bodily adornment.

Furthermore, there may be lessons for the devotee within the name of Hegemone, she who is called “leader” and counted among both the Horae and the Kharites. Perhaps the lesson is that one requires a certain amount of grace in order to lead. Perhaps a keen understanding of the passage of time teaches the needed grace.

Peitho, Goddess of persuasion, is often listed as one of the Graces. Peitho plays a part in all seductions, they say, and she has a very checkered history in Greek myth. She is often seen fleeing the scene of rape and abduction in paintings of Classic tales. Peitho is said to be one of Aphrodite’s daughters, and they are very close companions. In fact, they share the Aphrodisia festival, in many parts of Greece.

Pasithea is the Grace of relaxation, the wife of Hypnos, God of sleep. She may also be associated with hallucinogenic drugs, according to the Theoi Project.  At first glance, relaxation may seem like an odd candidate for inclusion on the list of charms or graces; but when you think about life’s pleasures, you may quickly realize how much they all hinge on your being relaxed. The marriage of Relaxation and Sleep makes perfect sense, for she precedes him. And in terms of enjoying the banquet, the beauty, the charms of a beautiful girl or a handsome man, the indulgences of music or theatre or night-time revels, tension is a barrier to it all.

All the Kharites teach us invaluable lessons, and the ancients knew that all of the joys and pleasures in this life passed through the hands of the rosy-cheeked Graces. Seek out these sweet Goddesses in your own life, give them honor and reverence, cultivate the skills that they teach, and you will wrap yourself in their kharisma.

Black, Laurelei. Aphrodite’s Priestess. Asteria Books, 2009.
Theoi Project. accessed March 30, 2010

K - Kyphi, Kapet #paganblogproject

Kyphi or kapet (as it was called by the Egyptians) is a sensuous and complex temple incense that is burned as a purificant and an offertory.

While many ancient recipes are extent for kyphi, as the folks at Ancient Egypt Online have noted (and compiled), there only seems to be one ingredient that is universally included in this incense type ... honey.  There are other ingredients that are *common* to the recipes (frankincense, wine, raisins), but only honey is attested in each blend. For this reason, kyphi is most logically considered a "type" of incense and not a specific blend.

I blend a kyphi. It began as an offertory incense blend, but then came the honey, making it sticky and shapeable -- and oh-so-aromatic. My blend (which was developed with my partner, Natalie) includes ingredients that are staple offerings from all over the world: honey, red wine, frankincense, myrrh, sage, tobacco, copal, sandalwood, rose petals and cocoa. It smells amazing in the container, and it is even more rich and sumptuous when burned.