Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Challenging Correspondence: Wisteria

Every Spring in the American South, when the weather begins to warm, but just before most of the trees produce the majority of their leaves, wisteria blooms. The air gets a scent that is nearly indescribable - something like a cross between the most scrumptious elements of lilac and grape jelly. It is a smell that heralds the Spring; its a smell that makes me feel both at peace and sexually charged. It is an odor so captivating and infectious that it seems to make my brain feel alarmed. I feel a similar alarm when my intuition thinks that spellwork is being done within my field. I become so shocked by my own reaction to the smell of wisteria that I crave possessing it for use in glamour workings. It's attractive power is that blatant to me.

The first time I notice the odor for the year, I realize that I have a very short time to collect wisteria blossoms. They last only about 2-3 weeks, especially if the springtime comes on quickly and warmly. Like many flowers, once they are gone, you have lost them for another 11 months. If you smell something like grape jelly after the trees have their leaves, you are most likely smelling kudzu, which has a similar odor, but is not as captivating.

Once one has wisteria blossoms in one's collection, how are they used? For what kinds of spells are they best? What magickal correspondence fits? For years I have been waffling over which correspondence list is appropriate. I have been leveraging the Doctrine of Signatures as best I could. One year I was convinced that is was an herb of Saturn, because it is a poisonous plant. The next year, I was more convinced that it better fit with Venus because it was a flower with such a powerful beauty to its fragrance. But this year, I feel like I have a more solid correspondence than every before. Here's how I came to my conclusions.

Wisteria in the USA could be any one of three plants from the Pea family. The native American wisteria is Wisteria frutescens and produces no scent that humans can detect. It is a smaller bloom than the other two more invasive species that actually produce a detectable odor. Japanese wisteria is Wisteria floribunda and Chinese wisteria is Wisteria sinensis, both of which are aggressive invasive species capable of wreaking havoc to forests and southern porches alike. The Chinese wisteria produces the strongest smell, so when we capture or copy the odor of wisteria, we are most likely referencing that species.

Historical use of wisteria cannot be discounted in our investigation for a correspondence. A magickal egregore has been established, though not as solidly as with some other flowering herbs. Unfortunately, writings about wisteria are scarce and brief in Neo-Pagan works. This of course excludes the internet, which is rife with the same plagiarized blurbs, mindlessly reproduced over and over, with no references or solid explanations. I was able to find a few writings in which I could place some confidence.

Cat Yronwode, in her extensive hoodoo writings, notes that the scent was more popular in the 1920's and lists some hoodoo-based recipes for simulating the fragrance with perfumer's chemicals. Interestingly, the recipes were to create a Yula Perfume Oil, which was a "death oil." Personally, I find the idea that a death oil could be attractive like a love oil to be terribly ingenious, but that's a topic for sitting in a bar with a good bottle of wine.

In 1989, Wylundt's Book of Incense, by Stephen Smith, revealed that the correspondence for "Wisteria Chinesis" was Venus and Air. There is no indication from which of the book's references Smith got his correspondence for this herb. Many later writers seem to be continuing with that correspondence. I can't help but wonder if the association was made simply because of the pretty odor. This seems to be the most popular plagiarized association on the internet.

Scott Cunningham says nothing about the plant parts of wisteria, but states in his Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (1985) that "wisteria oil" has the power of protection. Nothing more is specified in the book, such as what this oil actually is, or how one might call upon that power of protection. He again makes a wisteria reference in his Magical Herbalism (1982) where he writes, in the list of the magical powers of scented oils, "Wisteria is used to contact other planes of consciousness and existence, and to bring illumination." That information is a bit more helpful.

In Wicca: the Complete Craft (2001), D. J. Conway echoes the uses given by Cunningham, but instead writes that wisteria is an "oil of Saturn."

Gerina Dunwich states in her book, Herbal Magick (2002), that wisteria is an herb used for Candlemas (Imbolc) and the Summer Solstice Sabbats. Though nice to know, this doesn't point us to a useful correspondence. The bloom time of wisteria is most often in March or April, which is after Candlemas and way before the Solstice, depending on one's location. Wisteria isn't native to northern Europe, where the sabbats were observed, and was not brought to Britain until as late as 1816. Use at Ostara seems more likely to me.

In 2006, Lady Rhea and Eve LeFay published The Enchanted Formulary, which listed wisteria as an ingredient in "Venus," a love oil. It was also present in an oil recipe called "Voodoo Nights." Neither of these recipes necessarily point to any particular correspondence.

Despite the commonplace use of Venus, sources do not agree on the correspondence of wisteria. Cunningham's idea of communication seems to put the herb under the rulership of Mercury. This made the most sense to me since mercurial plants tend to be vines or "travelers" of a sort. Yet I was not convinced until I rechecked my Doctrine of Signatures so that I could consider the plant's medicinal energetics. Chinese wisteria is known as "zi teng" in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it is used to treat intestinal worms. Wisteria is also used in a Japanese medicinal formula called "WTTC" (wisteria, trapa, terminalia, coix). This formula was developed about 60 years ago for the treatment of gastro-intesinal cancers. Interestingly, the astrological ruler of the intestines is Virgo. Virgo actually has its ancient rulership under Mercury! The energetics of the plant seems to me to point to the correspondence of wisteria being Virgo, by virtue of Mercury, an Air sign. I have more confidence in this correspondence than any other I have associated before.

As with most flowers, wisteria blossoms are too delicate to produce an essential oil. In these cases, organic solvents are used to extract the essence, producing what are called "absolutes." To date, wisteria flower essential oil is impossible and no one is producing a wisteria absolute. I have seen most dealers selling either a "fragrance oil," which is likely synthetic perfume chemicals, or a wisteria "essential oil blend" that is designed to simulate the fragrance of wisteria. There are some excellent products available.

One company claims to actually produce wisteria essential oil, which is not impossible if one uses non-flower plant parts. This would mean that the EO wouldn't smell at all like wisteria flowers. The label of this product does not reveal what plants parts were used in its making, or if there is any floral odor present in the final product. Unfortunately, many "kitchen witches" who are producing what they call "essential oils" are actually fragrance oils, infused oils or oil blends. Few realize that putting the words "essential oil" on a bottle, according to US labeling law, defines the process used to produce the oil. If the oil was not separated from the plant by steam distillation, it is not an essential oil.

An old perfumer's technique is to use a bellows to draw the volatile scents from a closed chamber filled with blossoms across thin trays spread with beef or pig tallow, which would then take on the odor. These "pomades" were then used in beauty products and the odor could be later extracted back out of the pomade into a solvent. A similar technique would be to repeatedly infuse batches of the blossoms in a warm neutral smelling oil. This latter method seems more accommodating to modern kitchens, requiring no specialized equipment, but may require large quantities of blooms. Fortunately, the aggressive nature of wisteria ensures that it is often plentiful.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Witch's Pyramid: a House of Tarot Cards

Why do we use magic? Is it so that we can cast spells to get what we want? Well, yes, but if that’s all you think it does, you're missing the point. Using magic is not about filling your life with all the material crap you might desire. Magic is the divine power that permeates the universe, so if you simply suck on it like a calf from a teat, you will be back to repeat this life over and over again, never ascending beyond the earthly plane. The best reason to use magic is to evolve into higher beings – to ascend. The path to ascension lies in learning how to use magic.

Does this mean that the material plane is bad and we should seek to escape from it? It does not. Too many people already seek to escape the lessons of growth found on the material plane by seeking some amazing afterlife. The paradox behind the lesson of magic is that only by embracing that we exist in this material world for now, can we move to the next step. There is yet another step to take and it is only by facing the lessons that are immediately before us can we transition to the next stage in our journey. Think of it this way. When you are taking a road-trip, you might stop at a diner to get something to eat. When you are done, you move on, not because you hated the diner and because the next stop is so much better than the diner, but because your purpose for being at the diner has been fulfilled. It is just one stop on the journey. It is a stop at which you got some food, got some rest, but possibly also met some interesting people – perhaps your server or another traveler – that helped you to enjoy your dining experience or to appreciate something else about the world or even to learn that you really hate eating borscht. Like the diner, the material plane is not better or worse than the step to which we are going, it is simply the step at which we are now. Since this is where we are now, let’s do what we are here to do, which is experience it without being deviated from the idea that we are still on a journey.

Let’s follow the metaphor further. While at the diner, you might be served an amazing meal and a truly divine pecan pie! Could the pie be so good that you never want to leave the diner ever again? I have not yet had a pie that good, but you might still enjoy it better than any pie you’ve ever had before. And yet, when the pie is eaten, you get back in the car and continue on. You do not stay in the diner until closing, gorging yourself on slice after slice of pie. Similarly, becoming mired in the pleasures of the material plane does not serve your journey. Pleasure is one of the lessons to experience here, but so are fear and discontent. All of these things are here for us to experience because that’s what our job is while we are here. They are not blessed or sinful, they simply are. But by becoming so damaged by hardship that you seek to escape this world, or allowing yourself to become driven to load all of your experiences with only pleasure, are the surest ways to miss learning the lessons of the material plane. They are the surest ways of returning here again and again until it finally clicks what your real work in this world should be.

Those who study Wicca or other related magical systems are well aware of the Witch’s Pyramid. It guides the inner study of the witch such that magical work can become possible. But from where did this lesson emerge and what does it really mean to the witch? So many Wiccans with whom I’ve crossed paths tend to confuse the lessons of the pyramid or only grasp it in a limited way. They certainly do not really concern themselves with applying its teachings to improve.

Despite the old origins of its story, the rise to prominence of the Witches Pyramid started with the Hermetic Kabbalah occultist, Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant) in the mid nineteenth century. His writings comprised the most influential and the majority of the source material from which the Golden Dawn created their system, as well as those of the occultist and tarotist, Oswald Wirth. The Golden Dawn, in turn, greatly influenced Gerald Gardner and the New Forest coven. This is why so much of Levi’s writings are still present in contemporary Wicca today. If we go back to the source material, we find some interesting lessons about how magic functions as a mechanism to evolve mankind.

To assist my thesis, I’m going to refer to certain cards of a particular tarot deck, because the signposts of the magical work towards mankind’s evolution were conveniently placed there. One caveat: In the last 200 years, attempts have been made to link tarot cards to the glyphs of Egypt and the system of Kabbalah.  I am making no such attempt. This entry is not claiming to link all tarot cards with any ancient esoteric or occult doctrine. To be sure, A. E. Waite redesigned the trumps of the tarot to fit his speculation that they were a repository of esoteric knowledge. Maybe he was right and maybe he was wrong. I’m not claiming either. I’m simply using the deck designed by Waite because it borrowed some of Levi’s symbols and composed them into a system of iconography that helps to explain how mankind can evolve using the philosophy of the Witch’s Pyramid.

Just what is magic, exactly? Levi reveals this about magic in the Dogma et Rituel de la Haute Magie (translated by A. E. Waite, 1896):

Magic is the traditional science of the secrets of Nature which has been transmitted to us from the Magi. By means of this science the adept is invested with a species of relative omnipotence and can operate superhumanly, that is, after a manner which transcends the normal possibility of men.

Magi is simply an archaic word meaning “masters.” They are simply people who have figured it all out. Aren’t those the same guys who followed that star on Christmas morning? Yep, they were the wisest magicians from three different cultures. The gifts they gave were symbols of occult knowledge, not simply material wealth. Did you ever notice how the characters of Mary and Joseph, who were poor nomads, were never represented being thrilled that gold was given to their infant son? The story does not tell of them taking the gold around the town, trying to buy a nicer room for their newborn. The fact that three very valuable things – royal gifts – were just placed into the ownership of an infant in their care doesn’t faze them at all. Perhaps this is because the Magi didn’t actually give them material goods, but instead something symbolic. But this is a digression.

In the middle ages, "the secrets of Nature" were researched by alchemists and theologians. It was believed that the keys to understanding the true face of the divine lied in studying the natural world around us. Most alchemists were priests, monks and friars. Alchemy led to “physic,” which led to chemistry and eventually to modern medicine and the scientific method of test and repeat. Today the secrets of Nature are sought only by the scientific and technological disciplines. Somewhere along the way, science and religion became estranged. They have never reconciled. What we are really discussing here is not the separation of science and religion but the estrangement of logic and faith. Levi tells us that this is not at all beneficial, though perhaps necessary.

Read what Levi writes about the power of magic:

. . . there exists in Nature a force which is immeasurably more powerful than steam, and a single man, who is able to adapt and direct it, might change thereby the face of the whole world. . . . By the direction of this agent it is possible to modify the very order of the seasons; to produce at night the phenomena of day; to correspond instantaneously between one extremity of the earth and the other; to see, like Apollonius, what is taking place on the other side of the world; to heal or injure at a distance; to give speech a universal success and reverberation.

Levi’s words are describing exactly what has happened in our modern world thanks to technology. We can create isolated environments that allow crops to grow all year, we can turn to dust whole nations of people from afar, we can light up the night and talk with people around the world, all with the flick of a switch. All of these things are amazing creations. Certainly, if we were to show them to a person at the time of the birth of Jesus, or even a monk in the Middle Ages, we would surely be thought of as adept magicians, super-humans or possibly even gods. So how do we get there? What steps must we take so that we can use this power and evolve?

The first tarot card we should inspect is The Magician. This is our first evolutionary signpost. Here we find a person with great focus on his face. This man represents mankind, learning our magical lessons. One hand holds a white, double-sided wand above his head and the other points to the ground. The particular wand he uses is not like the rough staff that lies on the table; instead, it is symbolic of divine grace, purity and power. The ground, where the man is pointing, represents the plane of the material and the plane of solid manifestation. The magician is attempting to function as a conduit, to transform divine power into material existence. He stands in a garden of flowers (material desires) attempting to tap into the power of the divine above him -- trying to call it down to earth. What tools does he use to do this? They are the four elements, which are symbolically laid out before him on the table. The message here is that working with divine power requires application of the four elements to make divine power manifest in this world. Above his head is the symbol of infinity marking him as one with the potential to join with the infinite divine. Unfortunately, the Magician is functioning separately from the elements. He views the divine power as outside of himself rather than as within and part of him, which is why they lay on the square table before him (look for this shape later). Traditionally, the card represents a magus, but the subtleties of the symbols show that science and technology are yet unable to reconcile with faith. The elements of Nature are things to be manipulated by him, rather than powers with which he unifies to elevate himself. This is where most of us begin -- with the use of tools -- so we should not be surprised that this card is number 1.

How do we incorporate the elements into ourselves to achieve evolution? That answer lies in the Witch’s Pyramid.

The elements of the Witch’s Pyramid – elements that nearly every witch can recite – are traditionally “to know, to will, to dare, to keep silent.” This is the order that it is most often regurgitated, presumably because it flows off the tongue or out of the memory more easily that way. But let’s look at what Levi says about each step:

To attain the SANCTUM REGNUM, in other words, the knowledge and power of the Magi, there are four indispensable conditions – an intelligence illuminated by study, an intrepidity which nothing can check, a will which cannot be broken, and a prudence which nothing can corrupt and nothing intoxicate. TO KNOW, TO DARE, TO WILL, TO KEEP SILENCE – such are the four words of the Magus, inscribed upon the four symbolical forms of the sphinx.

Notice the order of the four steps. Here is what Levi says about why they are put in that order: “In order to DARE we must KNOW; in order to WILL, we must DARE; we must WILL to possess empire and to reign we must BE SILENT.” So we see that one lesson flows from the one before it.

To recap what each one means:
TO KNOW - an intelligence illuminated by study
TO DARE - an intrepidity (courage) which nothing can check
TO WILL - a will which cannot be broken
TO KEEP SILENCE - a prudence which nothing can corrupt and nothing intoxicate

Levi connects these four lessons to the four symbolical forms of the sphinx. The “symbol of the sphinx” is the pyramid, which is why these four lessons collectively have the name “Witch’s Pyramid.” Unfortunately, the images of sphinxes in different cultures of the real world do not compose all of the imagery that make them effective esoteric symbols. Instead, we must reconstruct the esoteric sphinx using Levi’s description:
. . . his the human head, in order to possess speech; his the eagle’s wings, in order to scale the heights; his the bull’s flanks, in order to furrow the depths; his the lion’s talons, to make a way on the right and the left, before and behind.
So the traditional image of the sphinx, which is usually the winged body of a lion with the head of a man, is incomplete. The esoteric sphinx would be more correct with the winged body of a bull that has the head of a man and the claws of a lion. The body of the bull is essential to incorporate the strength of that elemental power, which we will examine shortly.

How did these particular symbols get into the sphinx as representations of each element? Each of these four elements are present because of their astrological correspondences. The man is Aquarius, a sign of air. The bull is Taurus, a sign of earth. The lion is Leo, a sign of fire. The eagle is Scorpius, a sign of water. But there are three star signs for each of the elements, so why use these particular signs of the zodiac? Because these constellations made up a group of special constellations in ancient Babylon, which is where western astronomy and the mysteries of Kabbalah began to form. They were the constellations that rose at dawn on the Solstices and Equinoxes each year, and so were known as “royal signs.” As such, they represent the great cross that connect the four cardinal points of the sky.  The Biblical prophet, Ezekiel, was exiled by the Babylonians and likely incorporated these symbols into his vision, which he wrote into his book that was later canonized. (Those who discount the Bible as a useless book of myth fail to capitalize on the rich esoteric symbology, especially Kabbalistic, which is hidden within.)

Through their astrology, the qualities of the sphinx represent the four elements with which we must work to achieve mastery. Levi describes what we are called to do if we are to gain this mastery:

You are called to be king of air, water, earth and fire; but to reign over these four living creatures of symbolism, it is necessary to conquer and enchain them. He who aspires to be a sage and to know the Great Enigma of Nature must be the heir and despoiler of the sphinx ....

The symbols of Ezekiel were woven into the tarot card The Wheel of Fortune. A more correct name for this card would be “the cycle of karma” or “the cycle of reincarnation.” Karma is not a system of payback or come-uppance as most people believe. Karma is the life path or purpose that is most true for each of us. It is our path to godhood. When we deviate from it, we experience hardship. But when we pay attention to the signs and follow our true path, life improves. Here the wheel represents our continually regenerating lives on the material plane. We repeat our life lessons, both easy and difficult, going up and down the wheel. In control of the wheel is the sphinx, which has already incorporated the four elements into herself. She is an integrated human that is not bound by the cycle of rebirth, yet remains connected to the material world. She poses to us her riddle every time we go around the wheel (the mystery of rebirth). The four elemental angels (angel means “messenger”) surround the wheel as watchers and keepers of the records of our progress.

The Greeks told a tale of the sphinx in the epic of Oedipus. In that tale, the sphinx related an important riddle that, if answered, would allow Oedipus to rise to royal status. This story is symbolic of the life journey. Oedipus represents each of us attempting to master the four elements of Nature. Mastery would allow us to become elevated to a status higher than our normal human selves (transcending the normal possibility of mankind). The essence of the riddle is to ask what kind of creature can transform – become malleable and adaptable – as the journey of life passes. The answer of this very esoteric of riddles is that only mankind holds the power of ascending. Levi states for us:
The combination of these four types of face and being represents the Created Universe, a complete and eternal entity, Man in fact, the Microcosm; and this is the first formula of the mystical explanation of the enigma of the Sphinx.
Only man has the ability to overcome his limitations to transform into more than he is now.

What does it mean to “master the elements?” Levi tells us that too.

You are called to be king of air, water, earth and fire; but to reign over these four living creatures of symbolism, it is necessary to conquer and enchain them. He who aspires to be a sage and to know the Great Enigma of Nature must be the heir and despoiler of the sphinx: his the human head, in order to possess speech; his the eagle’s wings, in order to scale the heights; his the bull’s flanks, in order to furrow the depths; his the lion’s talons, to make a way on the right and the left, before and behind.

What do we need to do to “conquer and enchain” them? In more modern words, you are tasked with defeating your fears. To find mastery and do it well, you must not fear to stretch your mind as far as it can go, be ambitious to great heights of success, have the strength to face and master your darker self, and have the fierceness to fight against any opposition. Only by conquering your fears can you become a complete master of your life. You must become the sphinx. The great secret of Hermetic philosophy is that the power to do that – the power of all four elements – is inside you right now. Four “angels” are inside you right now. The very transformative power of the divine is inside you right now. You have the ability to transform yourself right now to be great. You simply need to overcome your fear and do the work.

Let’s examine each of these directions one at a time. First is to “possess speech.” We have already seen a clarification of this when Levi told us that this condition was about “an intelligence illuminated by study.” The link between speech and intellect is not a new one. A thorough understanding of anything is the mark of a great orator. Those who fear knowledge will always speak with the ignorance of a child or an idiot. You can see the unfortunate side of this lesson represented in the tarot card of the Fool. The boy turns into the abyss, away from the mountains and the light of the sun, which represent the sharp truths of intellectual pursuits capped by the cold snow of logic and the brilliance of inspiration. He is happier to avert his eyes in ignorance than to embrace real knowledge, and in so doing, we walks blindly into destruction. Only his animal instinct (the dog at his heels), which he completely ignores, seeks to avert him from complete oblivion.

To accomplish this lesson, we must be like the figure in the card Temperance. Unlike any of the other figures representing the four elements, this figure has wings. Most tend to explain this by claiming that he is an angel and indeed he is, but not more so than any of the non-winged figures we will meet. This figure has wings because, despite that he is a water-bearer and just like the star sign Aquarius, he represents the element of air. The brilliant light of intelligence shines from his head. He focuses intently on pouring water from one vessel into another, despite the unsteady endeavor of standing with one foot on the sure earth and the other in the uncertainty of water. It is a precise operation that he could not do without an understanding of the properties of the water, the cups and the physical laws that govern the world. Also, the pouring act attempts to portion the water, which is an intellectual act of measurement. Despite being divine, this figure is very much a scientist. Behind him is the long path that leads to the crown of achievement.

Exactly what does it mean to “furrow the depths?” Remember that the gift of the bull is fearlessness. To furrow means to plow or dig out. “Depths” are the deeper places of the inner self. To plow or dig out the deeper places of the inner self means we must be willing to examine our inner selves and dig out from what we hide. We must have courage in spite of what we find in the depths, no matter how ugly or repulsive to us. We see this represented in the card of the Hermit. Here is a man with a one small lantern to light his way. Gone is the brilliant sun seen in other cards. The crown from the last card has become his guide; his lantern is lit only with the light of hope. He has dressed himself in drab robes that obscure who he is, for his station in life is now irrelevant, as it is to all who do introspective work. His only task now is to look within and so, rather than stare into the distance, his eyes are closed in quiet contemplation. His companion is a staff, symbolic of the element of fire, the element of desire. He leans on his deep desire to discover himself – to find the inner answers that cannot be found in the external landscape. To him, the outer world, being irrelevant to his work, is barren of life and the sky is devoid of guiding stars.

We must “make way on the right and the left, before and behind.” This condition asks us to overcome the fear of opposition. External obstacles must be torn away with the lion’s claws, no matter from which direction they arise to challenge our wills. Because this is a condition of the will, our will must be fierce, like the claws of the lion! In the card of Strength, we see a figure that is demure, but not afraid to face the ferocity of a lion. With very little struggle, she closes the fang-filled jaws of the lion. Fearless, she exerts complete control over the animal despite that it could kill her.

“Scaling the heights” is what we do when we do not fear to succeed. This lesson speaks of ambition and wisdom. This is not the ambition of greed; it is the ambition of achievement. The latter is a reward unto itself and provides a boon to all mankind, rather than simply to the individual. Not being afraid to try for a goal that seems out of reach is the lesson of the eagle. Again, the Fool card, by being a card without value and with a degrading name, shows us who we will be if we do not aspire to be more. Conquering a fear of success is what turns us into the figure in the Chariot card. Here we see a warrior returning from a battle in his chariot, the vehicle of war. His vehicle is lashed to sphinxes of two opposite colors before him, which he commands. They are the duality of the universe – yin and yang, male and female, light and dark, this and not-this. He has shown that he is not afraid of the labels and boxes of the world that seek to categorize us. He can be fully himself, in control of any condition to which he is challenged. Likewise in war, prudence and silence are important. Spies are all around and multiple battalions must all be placed correctly. Prudence is the wisdom to manage all of the material assets in your arsenal to bring about your success, but without the unnecessary loss of life. Such important management is impossible if you spend too much time boasting of your plans, thus allowing others to influence or disrupt your management.

What happens to us if we do not conquer our fear and use the lessons of the pyramid to evolve? There are several cards that suggest to us what might occur, but the best card to examine is the Devil. Here is an animalistic figure with the same physical posture as the magician, for it is what he has become. However, now the wand, the link to the divine power, is missing. The figure stands on a black stone cube, a square like the table in front of the Magician, symbolizing the rigid stability of the material plane. To this same block are chained two humans that are horned as though they have devolved away from humanity towards a more animal state. They are chained to the block of the material, unable to break free from this plane because they rely too heavily on all that it offers. That reliance has caused them to actually move away from being human towards a less evolved (more animal) state of being. These humans are prisoners to everything they desire from the material world. They are incapable of viewing anything beyond it. By using this particular title, "The Devil," this card also evokes subtle fears inside the mind. Those who see devils in shadows are so consumed by their fear that they never see the truth - that what they are seeing are only shadows. They will fain to inspect the true nature of what actually creates the silhouette. They allow their fear to make them believe that shadows have more power than they do. Does this card refer to the mythic demon of the Bible? Perhaps. The proper name of the Devil, Satan, translates as “the adversary.” It is a complex concept embodying everything that is antithetical to progress. If the Biblical character is not an anthropomorphic being, but is instead a state of being, one which is devoid of courage, wisdom, generosity and justice, then this card may represent that state. This card ultimately symbolizes what happens to us when we become a prisoner to the material garden of desire in which the magician stands - a prisoner to the turning wheel on which the sphinx sits.

The completion of man’s evolution is seen in the tarot trump of The World. Perhaps a better name for this card would be “the Universe,” for that’s what essentially opens up to us when we incorporate the lessons of magic and gain mastery. The garland is the divine boundary between our material world and the void out of which all things emanated at the beginning of time; the area inside it is the divine area inside the magic circle, which is at once, both and neither a particular time or a place. The symbols of cosmic vastness, which floated above the heads of the Magician and Strength, are now wrapped around this divine boundary. The figure is female, as was the sphinx, because here, the four elements of the material world have separated from that first figure to stay behind on the material plane. She represents us once we have moved to the higher plane, no longer needing interaction with the material in the way we once did. Also, she is the Sophia (wisdom), which was present with the divine at the time of creation. The wands now exist in both hands because she is no longer simply a passive wire for power; she can now freely draw in and project power at will. She has become the Magus. This card is an image of the great work, which alchemists and Hermeticists called the “Magnum Opus.” The ultimate goal of the Magnum Opus is to master the power of creation – a power that is only accessible to man and to the divine – to become masters of ourselves and our world, so that we can ascend one step closer to being one with the great divine.

Addendum (in my own opinion)
It has come to my attention that, in recent years, the Witches Pyramid has had ascribed to it a fifth principle: "To Go." I believe this is happening from a misguided attempt to correlate the pyramid with the pentagram. The pentagram is a very different symbol and does not discuss the hermetic principle symbolized by the pyramid. The pentagram is a symbol of the unity of the five elements of the universe, not the principles employed by hermetic students to understand how to evolve the spirit. Though I'm fine with people developing whatever mnemonic device they feel is helpful, I do not agree with inventing something that never was while claiming that it did. The pyramid has older names including the "Hermetic Quaternary" and the "Four Powers of the Magus." Both of these names specify four principles, not five, because the new principle that has been invented is clearly not necessary. The four principles are forward-moving principles, so to state that one must then go is redundant to the goal. It also shows a failure to understand what is being taught.

The hermetic magical principles are not symbolized by the corners of the pyramid, but by the faces. There are four triangular faces representing the principles. They are supported by a square face that is hidden. Triangles are symbolic of active properties. Squares are symbolic of manifestation. The surprise to most is that we are not trying to metaphorically travel to the peak of the pyramid. Too many people assume incorrectly that the only way to symbolize the attainment of higher states of being is with a literal movement upward. However, in this case, what is revealed comes from looking at the face of the pyramid that we cannot see. On each of the active faces rests one of the elemental angels, as we saw in the Wheel of Fortune, above. On the base is the manifested figure of the Sphinx herself, for she represents the unity of the elements. Only through unifying the powers of the elements do we gain manifestation. This is the core lesson of magical work.

To help visualize this, I will provide you with a teaching tool that I use with my own students: A paper pyramid that you fold and keep as a visual aid. I also keep one of these in my library, on which I reflect from time to time. Just cut around the outer edge and fold on the grey lines, then glue together.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Blood of the Dragon

Today's entry is all about Magickal Inks. Rarely have I encountered a body of recipes and lore with more fluff, bunk and horse hockey than this one. The internet is nine-months pregnant with stolen recipes that amount to nothing.

They amount to nothing because most of the people self-publishing these stolen writings are just passing along a recipe created by someone else so they can seem more knowledgeable, more experienced or more witchy. Basically, they are witches of cut-and-paste. They have not worked with the stuff one itch. I can tell they haven't because the recipes they provide don't work. I don't mean they don't work for me, or that I had trouble with them. I mean their ingredients are chemically incompatible. Is there a chance these are simply subterfuge to prevent someone really knowing "witch secrets?" Yeah that's a possibility. But I find the best way to keep a secret is to keep silent. Now why does that ring a bell?

The popular, known magickal inks are basically just dragon's blood resin that has had its vibration modified with the addition of herbs of specific powers - dragon's blood ink, bat's blood ink, dove's blood ink. The exception is butterfly blood ink, which is based on saffron.

Being an inquisitive witch, I decided to spatter my work space with red, and did I ever! Be warned: the first lesson of dragon's blood resin is that it's relatively messy. With practice, it becomes less messy, but if this is your first go 'round with dragon's blood, you are in for it, so get prepared. It helps if you attempt this recipe only after you have some experience working with herbs and their preparations. It really isn't a project for a complete beginner.

I feel the need to have a short tirade, which is one I had with my brother recently who wanted to make his own soap, but said it was becoming too difficult. Most of what you will find online is based on a cup of this or teaspoons of that. Frankly, this is hogwash cooking. No good recipe ever gained consistency or quality with those kinds of measurements. If you want to produce anything, even in small batches for a witch of one or two, and do them well, get yourself a few essential precision instruments. Get a digital scale that can measure in grams, preferably to the hundredth of a gram. Get yourself some quality glassware, like a few small beakers and certainly a graduated cylinder of 10 and 25 ml. Get yourself a pharmacy-grade mortar with a matched pestle (not one of those cheap ones made of marble or granite for mixing guacamole). Lastly, some disposable bulb droppers come in very handy and are inexpensive by the hundred. Take your herbal craft as seriously as you take your magickal craft. Do it well or don't do it at all.

As with all recipes, I began by trying out a few of them. I could tell they wouldn't quite work out because of my own experience with herbs and kitchen chemistry. But I plodded through and wasted some materials anyway. Then I decided it was time for some homework.

I'm going to share a few facts so you will have an understanding why certain mistakes are made with this recipe. It will allow you to follow me as I debunk what's all over the internet.

Checking in Wikipedia, you will find that this stuff is a plant resin and that there are several species of plant resin that can be called "dragon's blood." My own experience with botany tells me that common plant names can be misleading, so I began to unpack each one. There are really only two plants that are of value here. The first is the most common form of dragon's blood, and it comes from the genus Daemonorops. This is the resin you will find most often for sale in markets and online. If the genus of the resin is not given, you should assume you are buying this one. It is a water soluble resin and when used medicinally, will actually cause blood to thin and flow profusely.

The other plant used for this resin is the genus Dracaena, also known as "Medieval dragon's blood" or sometimes "true dragon's blood." This resin hates water, being soluble in ethanol (that's the alcohol we can drink), and will make open wounds stop bleeding.

Medicinally speaking, these two plants couldn't be more different, which points to their internal chemistry. Sprinkling them each on ignited charcoal will make you wonder if they are the same, though there are some subtle odorous similarities between them. Visibly, the Dracaena looks substantially darker - more like blood - than the other, which appears to me like a pinkish talc. When still as a resinous lump, or "rock," the Dracaena can look nearly black; it very much resembles a scab!

The best way to dissolve a resin effectively is for the resin to be powdered. For me, a mortar and pestle is great for some resins, but it wasn't very effective for dragon's blood because the stuff is really, really hard. It didn't really give up to my grinding without giving me more than a workout and a bruise in the center of my palm. Contrary to popular belief, the mortar is not for pounding. Pounding produces projectiles and lots of mess. If your material doesn't give up in the mortar with firm pressure and a twisting, swirling or swaying motion, it's time to move to more mechanical means. I decided to sacrifice my $8 coffee grinder, which up until then had been reserved only for herbs. Powdering dragon's blood was a process of grind, sift and repeat. Eventually, I got some great fine powder. I also ended up with a grinder that could not be used for any other herb ever again, so I labeled the grinder, "For Dracaena sp. ONLY" and shopped for a new $8 coffee grinder to replace it.

Here's the first clue to creating a great ink recipe: remember that these two different resins have different solvents. I decided to test just how resistant they both were to their non-preferred solvent. I dissolved Daemonorops in water as it preferred and then began to add small amounts of ethanol. Adding ethanol to the mixture caused the Daemonorops to precipitate - condense - after very little alcohol. It hated ethanol so much, it dropped right out of the solution. By the way, when you use water as a solvent for herbs, you're making an infusion. In America, we incorrectly apply the term "tea," rather than the correct "tisane," but that's all you've made.

Next, I copied the previous steps, but dissolved Dracaena in ethanol, which it did wonderfully. I added small amounts of distilled water over time. The resin held up rather well, but at about 50% water, the solution began to break down, becoming "grainy," which is a sign that the resin wanted to precipitate out of the solution.

All of he internet recipes I had encountered so far included resin, alcohol and water. In the proportions I tested and in the recipes I tried, neither of the resins would dissolve in the solvent. Some recipes also included gum arabic as a thickener. So I thought that maybe that was the key.

First I tried hydrating my own gum arabic. That was for the birds! It may be water soluble, but only just barely and takes a great deal of effort and frustration to mix it up. Next, I purchased prepared liquid gum arabic from my art store after discovering that it is a tool used by watercolor artists. What a boon that was! Here's another warning: adding water in any form to a recipe may require a preservative to prevent mold, depending on the concentration of other chemicals in your mix, like ethanol.

After a few more recipe attempts, I discovered that gum arabic also hates ethanol, even more than Daemonorpos hates it! The droplets of gum turned into a slimy worm at the bottom of the jar, unwilling to play nice with the liquid. Ugh!

It was time for a return to the drawing board, literally. I thought to myself, "What is ink really for?" The answer was simple: making lines. But it was not for just any lines; it was for lines on paper, which meant it had to act correctly on paper to make writing legible and drawing precise. So I began to read about inks. The best inks flow from a pen without being too thick that they bind the pen, but also without being too thin that they run or bleed everywhere. They need to be somewhat coherent, which has a bit to do with the fiber of the paper, but more to do with the viscosity of the ink. Additionally, when they dry, their lines should have a balanced color across the stroke, not dark at the edges and lighter in the center, which is a sign of being too dilute to deposit color evenly as the solvent dries away from the particulates.

By the way there are two functional categories of ink. The first is a chemical stain of the page, as in the case of oak gall ink. The second is a suspended fine particulate that lays on top of the page, though may absorb into the fiber a little. Most inks are the latter, even these days, and that's also what dragons blood resin is.

While working with the mess that Dracaena created, I realized that its resin was remarkably sticky. The only thing that cleans it up is more ethanol, but ethanol does that very well. It is basically like a glue. When the solvent is gone, it stops flowing and stays put, but as long as there is solvent, it will break down and move along. So it seemed logical to me that the right amount of solvent would allow the resin to do the job without any gum arabic. I began to test different solvent to solute ratios. I also tested different proofs of ethanol. All of these tests were done using a quill pen and a brass calligraphy tip, which I used to draw lines on standard, inexpensive printer paper.

Since Dracaena hates water, it's best to use alcohol with the highest proof possible. Some states won't sell you anything with a proof higher than 151 (75.5% ethanol). This worked okay, but not great. If you can buy a higher proof in your area, I certainly recommend it. I have to drive to the next state, but doing so let's me buy nearly pure rectified spirit (190 proof; 95% ethanol). Using drink-ready booze like vodka, rum or gin will not work because their proofs simply are not high enough.

Since this blog entry is already too long, here's what I determined is a great way to make dragon's blood ink. It turned out that a simple recipe was best.

Measure three parts of pure ethanol into jar #1 (ex: 30 ml). Add to the ethanol one part finely powdered Dracaena resin (ex: 10 g). Close jar #1 and shake well for 10 minutes. Filter the contents of jar #1 through 2 layers of muslin into glass cup with a spout. Be sure to squeeze out as much solvent as possible (wear gloves!). Discard the marc, filter and your gloves. Slowly warm the filtered resin to drive off some ethanol until it reduces in volume by one third. Pour the liquid resin into storage or gift jars. Clean up with ethanol and lots of paper towels.

This can now function as a base ink to be modified with other herbs for various magickal purposes. I usually just add a few drops of an appropriate essential oil, but sometimes I don't have an EO with the correct correspondence, so I have to use solid herb. In that case, I add powdered herb into the ethanol along with the resin and filter them out together. If making traditional dragon's blood ink, add a couple drops of cinnamon essential oil at the end, or add powdered cinnamon into the solvent with the Dracaena to impart the traditional Mars energy. Empower and label.

Wow, that final recipe was kind of simple!

Monday, January 25, 2016

From Beyond the Grave

A great deal happened in my life in 2015. Around Thanksgiving, my relationship ended causing me to move from the cute home with access to 1/3 of an acre of growing things, to an apartment with no outside to call my own. I hope to spend more of my time focusing on the meditational portion of my studies.

Secondly, my mother passed late in the year, only 3 months after she found she had two tumors on her pancreas. She had been living in an independent-living apartment, but while she was in the hospital, she stated at one point that she was never going to meet the minimum functionality to return there, so us kids should get all her things packed up and moved out. I think it was also clear to her, and to all of us, that she was not likely to live through this illness at all. So as we packed up her apartment, everyone asked each other what we should throw away, or divide amongst ourselves, or put into storage. Having not yet moved into my new apartment, I told everyone that I wasn't sure yet what I would be needing, so if they didn't want something, it should be stored so I could go through it later when I moved in. As we went through it all, I thought over and over again how little of it mom really used. She was quite a collector of stuff "for a rainy day."

Everything was stored for about a month; when mom passes, it got moved to my new home.

Last week, as I unpacked, I unpacked two lives. The first was my own, which I had integrated with my partner and now tried to pull apart. This was packed and transported one room at a time over several weeks, since I was moving just a couple of minutes away. The second was that of my mother's which was put in boxes as she was dying. In the new place, I have very limited space so I had to be very clever with where I put things. An old friend of mine once told me that the best way to prepare for a long trip away from home is to spend the month prior to the trip living out of a suitcase. If you find that you don't have something you need, you can then pack it. Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to do that, so my first few days in my new apartment was filled with lots of "I need to remember to go back and pack that."

Interestingly though, I thought that would happen much more than it did. More often, I found myself saying, "Mom had one of those," which I would then find in one of the boxes from her apartment. This began happening so often that it felt like it was more that just coincidence; it felt like synchronicity. It was as if my mother had collected all of that stuff for my new start. I became my mother's rainy day. Though she wasn't not present in body, I could feel her with me, helping me make a new start.

As my studies progress, I know my mother will be a valuable resource to me. I don't feel that she is gone so much as I feel she is transformed.