Sep 092013

hamlet 1Here’s a Hamlet photo I came across in Jan/ early Feb, when I was having a heavy Hamlet fixation. I think the photographer’s name was Marianne?

 Posted by at 6:25 am
Sep 092013
"Accept Our Sacrifice"

“Accept Our Sacrifice”

The Wicker Tree was a pretty bad movie. Yet I find myself thinking of the plot-line-

Scene from The Wicker Tree

Scene from The Wicker Tree

These evil guys lure this young guy to this remote village (there they seduce him into impregnating a lady)-

Scene from The Wicker Tree

Scene from The Wicker Tree

They set him up as the quarry in a version of the Wild Hunt-

Scene from The Wicker Tree

Scene from The Wicker Tree

They chase him into an abandoned castle, where they set upon him and rip him to shreds with their bare hands. Not happy for that guy, huh?

Sep 092013

As an HIV Pagan (a Pagan living with HIV), I remember the devastation of the AIDS era, when AIDS was a death sentence, and marvel at the era of HIV-effective meds, which enable HIV-infected persons to live without progressing onto onset AIDS. Now, if only one can afford HIV medication or have access to an insurance program that will cover same-

As an HIV Pagan, I find acupuncture to be a marvelously wonderful way to address HIV conditions. The Chinese system focuses on the ch’i, the body’s life-force or essential energy. It holds that illness or sickness is caused by imbalance in the ch’i, and acupuncture rewires the inefficiency out of the ch’i imbalance.

It is very Pagan in its way, as like Paganism (and Star Wars), it recognizes a Life Force.

Truthfully, I have had Western Medical doctors look at me and go, you suddenly have much less meningitis infection in your brain fluid; it’s like your body is throwing the infection off; we don’t have an explanation for this.

And I’m going, Aha! acupuncture.

Trust me, Pagans; acupuncture: it’s the healing way of the future.

Sep 082013
Sir Joseph Paton's Oberon (19th century)

Sir Joseph Paton’s Oberon (19th century)

“Thou rememb’rest since once I sat upon a promontory, and heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath that the rude sea grew civil at her song and certain stars shot madly from their spheres to hear the sea-maid’s music.” Oberon, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act II, scene i, lines 148-154)

Sir Joseph Paton's Titania, with changeling prince (19th century)

Sir Joseph Paton’s Titania, with changeling prince (19th century)

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine. There sleeps Titania sometime of the night.” Oberon, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act II, scene i, lines 249-253)

Sep 072013
The Bamberg Hexenhaus

The Bamberg Hexenhaus

There are certain themes prevalent in every variety of Witch-Hunt: one is the maligning of the Witch or Witches who are either the literal or figurative objects of the hunt, impugning them so viciously and thoroughly that their social assault comes to seem almost a noble and necessary thing; another is the inflammation of accusation and opinion so that a firestorm of hysteria erupts, subsiding finally into a state of reflection in which people often end up asking themselves, what was that going on? what happened? what did we do? Families and friends of the accused Witch or Witches are often drawn into the conflagration, as the contagion of Witch-hysteria spreads; transgressive sexuality is often an issue, as sexuality is a “hot-button” topic (imagine all the lurid medieval tales of Witches fornicating with demons, and consider the taboo impact that the word “fornication” alone has); accusations of the abuse of children frequently occur, as child abuse strikes a deep and primal chord (medieval Witches were thought to cannibalize children- think of Hansel and Gretel- and boil off their fat to make Witches’ ointments). All these things and more tend to be characteristic of a Witch-Hunt, whether of the Great Witch Hunts of Europe, or Salem, or the McCarthy Communist hearings, or the McMartin Preschool case, or the trial of the West Memphis Three.

According to Robert Rapley in Witch Hunts From Salem to Guantanamo Bay, the worst of the European Witch Hunts took place within the German cities of Bamberg and Wurzburg, each ruled absolutely by a Prince-Bishop. As was the case with European Witch Crazes, torture drove the hysteria, as accused Witches were tortured into confessions and the naming of accomplices, each new name reinforcing the perception that a massive Witch conspiracy was being uncovered. The short span of the Hunts (1626-1630) and the number of people accused and condemned (317 women and 136 men, with at least 278 put to death) indicates the frightening ferocity. The earliest accusations started in 1626, ballooning into major conflagrations by 1628. In 1626, 15 men and women were accused; in 1627, the number of accusations increased to 85; to 137 in 1628; rising to 167 in 1629 (the height of the craze). In 1630 the number of accused dropped to 54, with almost none after. (Throughout the ratio of women accused to men was roughly 2/3).

As might be surmised, something of a Witch-Hunting industry arose in both cities, with an almost factory-like system of moving accused victims into prison and torture; forcing the names of more accused; then processing them into “trials” based upon the “confessions” elicited, before the final stage of execution. The mechanical nature of the proceedings in Bamberg is seen in the construction of the Hexenhaus (“Witches’ House”); smaller German towns seem to have had lesser scaled equivalents. According to Emile Grillot de Givry in Illustrated Anthology of Sorcery, Magic, and Alchemy, the building was constructed in 1627 and depicted in the print seen above. A line from Virgil can be read above the entrance, “Learn justice, and having learned, beware you slight not the gods!” Two tablets on either side of the entrance quote a passage from I Kings ix, 7, 8, and 9: “This house…shall be…a byword…Every one that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the Lord done this unto this land, and to this house? And they shall answer, Because they forsook the Lord their God…and have taken hold upon other gods, and have worshipped them, and served them: therefore hath the Lord brought upon them all this evil.” The smaller building in the back contains the torture chamber. The first floor contains the warder’s room, with eight cells opening onto the hall, and a chapel in the rear. The second story contains a room called the Confession Chamber, eighteen cells, and a room for the warder. Six stoves provided heat; the building could hold up to thirty Witches.

The question comes: is this German House for Hunting Witches (with nothing similar existing anywhere else in Europe) possibly a precursor to the Nazi concentration camps?

Sep 052013

vintage witch 2In Act III, scene iii, of Thomas Middleton’s The Witch, having made their Flying Ointment, the Witches take to the air in a surprisingly lyrical scene. It opens with an offstage song, as “Voices in the air” begin to sing. “Come away, come away, Hecate, Hecate, come away!” [This is apparently the song incorporated into Act III, scene v, of Macbeth.] The Head Witch of the coven, Hecate (named for the Goddess) responds: “I come, I come, I come, I come, with all the speed I may, with all the speed I may. Where’s Stadlin?”

Another Witch of the coven answers: “Here.”

Hecate: “Where’s Puckle?”

Puckle: “Here. And Hoppo too and Hellwain too; We lack but you, we lack but you; Come away, make up the count.”

Hecate: “I will but ‘noint and then I mount.” Malkin, “a Spirit like a Cat descends” from the upper stage [Malkin was a common name for Jacobean house cats; the feline is the Witches' familiar.]

Malkin: “There’s one comes down to fetch his dues; a kiss, a coll, a sip of blood; and why thou stay’est so long, I muse, I muse, since the air’s so sweet and good.”

Hecate: “O, art thou come? What news, what news?”

Malkin: “All goes still to our delight, either come or else refuse, refuse.”

Hecate [having anointed herself]: “Now I am furnished for the flight.” She takes to the air, “going up” (according to stage directions, and singing): “Now I go, now I fly, Malkin, my sweet Spirit and I. O, what a dainty pleasure ’tis to ride in the air when the moon shines fair. And sing and dance and toy and kiss; over woods, high rocks and mountains, over seas, our mistress’ fountains, over steeples, towers, and turrets we fly by night amongst troops of spirits; no ring of bells to our ears sounds, no howls of wolves, no yelp of hounds. No, not the noise of water’s breach or cannons’ throats our height can reach.”

The scene ends on a plaintive note, as Hecate’s son Firestone remains behind, reflecting to himself: “Well, mother, I thank your kindness. You must be gambolling in the air, and leave me to walk here like a fool and a mortal.”

Sep 022013

flying witchesThe Witches in Thomas Middleton’s play The Witch spend an inordinate amount of time brewing in their cauldron (this is the centerpiece activity in all of their scenes). Whereas in their last scene, the Witches’ cauldron is the focal point for an energy-raising Witches’ Dance, in their first scene, they brew a batch of the famous Witches’ Flying Ointment- subsequently utilized in a marvelous Witches’ Flight scene. The Head Witch Hecate (what we would call the High Priestess of a Jacobean Witch Coven) enters in Act I, scene ii reciting an Invocation to various Spirits: “Titty and Tiffin, Suckin and Pidgen, Liard and Robin, White Spirits, Back Spirits, Grey Spirits, Red Spirits, Devil-toad, Devil-ram, Devil-cat and Devil-dam.”

She calls to the other Witches in her coven, who respond offstage that they are “sweating at the vessel [cauldron],” so that it “gallops now.” Hecate gives to one of the Witches the body of an infant which she has stolen [Jacobean Witches stereotypically and in inflammatory fashion were said to steal infants, in order to melt their body fat for use in ointment making]: “There, take this unbaptised brat, boil it well; preserve the fat. You know ’tis precious to transfer our ‘nointed flesh into the air, in moonlight nights o’er steeple-tops, mountains, and pine-trees, that like pricks or stops seem to our height; high towers and roofs of princes like wrinkles in the earth. Whole provinces appear to our sight then even leek a russet mole upon some lady’s cheek, when hundreds of leagues in air we feast and sing, dance, kiss and coll, use everything.” A rather poetic imagining of the Witches’ Flight, paraphrased from Reginald Scot, whose Discoverie of Witchcraft serves as Middleton’s source.

Hecate quotes from Scot further, as she describes the various ingredients of the Flying Ointment: “eleoselinum [mountain parsley], aconitum [wolf's bane], frondes populeus [poplar leaves], sium [yellow watercress], acarum vulgaro [myrtle], pentaphyllon [cinquefoil], solanum somnificum [nightshade] et oleum [a base oil, within which to mix the various ingredients].” There are, in the corpus of “Witch Literature” from the 1400s-1600s, some half-dozen instances where specific recipes for Flying Ointment are given; they tend to be similar enough so as to suggest reporting of actual recipes, and curiously all include plants with hallucinogenic properties. For instance, my source for Middleton’s play quotes a writer as observing that nightshade “would certainly produce hallucinations, with a considerable amount of vascular excitement.” It is interesting to speculate that the legend of Witches flying might derive from the use of consciousness-altering mixtures.

Next: having made their Flying ointment (out of in part the boiled flesh of their stolen baby), the Witches take to the air in their next scene.

Aug 292013

3 witches aThe Witches in Thomas Middleton’s The Witch are notable for (1) seemingly inspiring sections of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (added to his play by someone who was not Shakespeare), and for (2) the amount of time that they spend brewing in a cauldron. In the setup for the play’s conclusion (Act V, scene ii), the Head Witch Hecate (named for the Goddess) leads the other Witches in a “charm-song about a vessel,” the vessel being the “cauldron in the centre” of the stage stipulated by the stage-direction at the scene’s opening. [The Witch is notable for showing a coven of Witches practicing the Witches’ Arts collectively, under the guidance of what we would call a High Priestess.] The song performed by the Witches is known as “Black Spirits”; it was apparently incorporated into Macbeth (Act IV, scene i, line 43); folklorist Katharine Briggs believes that it represents a genuine folk-ballad associated with the St. Osyth Witches, also quoted by Reginald Scot in his significant work The Discoverie of Witchcraft.

“Black Spirits and White; Red Spirits and Grey: Mingle, mingle, mingle, you that mingle may. Titty, Tiffin, keep it stiff in; Firedrake, Pucky, make it lucky; Liard, Robin, you must bob in. Round, around, around, about, about! All ill come running in, all good keep out!”

It is intriguing that the song indicates four Spirits summoned, each identified by a color: this is in keeping with the modern identification of a quartered Circle, each quadrant signified by a different color. “Mingle, mingle, mingle” invites the Spirits to freely associate as They will; various Familiar-Spirits are summoned to empower the spell-working, “Pucky” and “Robin” [Goodfellow] being aspects of the famous English folkloric figure Puck. “Round, around, around, about, about” describes both the Witches dancing “around” their cauldron, as well as describing the excited state of the Spirits and Energies. Doreen Valiente unearthed “Black Spirits” in her research, and notes that if the last line is changed simply from “All ill come running in, all good keep out” [Witches in the seventeenth century were stereotypically imagined as wicked, spiteful types], to “All good come in, all bad keep out,” one can effectively use the “charm-song” as a modern Witches’ Invocation (a New York coven with which I am familiar, in fact, uses “Black Spirits” in this manner). When one considers that the Witches conclude the scene by performing “The Witches’ Dance” [Hecate: "Let the air strike our tune, whilst we show reverence to yond peeping moon," identifying an association between Witches and the moon], one can see that (1) dancing, (2) in a circle [around the cauldron], while (3) exciting and “raising up” Magickal Energies, were thought of as the performance of Witchcraft in the 1600s: all of which are so much like what Gerald Gardner described as “Raising Energy” as to suggest that he was correct in identifying “Energy Raising” as a native and essential part of English Witchcraft.

Aug 242013
Helen Mirren in Julie Taymor's The Tempest (2010)

Helen Mirren in Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (2010)

Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest represents without question the quintessential Renaissance Master of the Mystical Arts (either Prospero, or the most recent significant innovation in Shakespearean interpretation, Prospera, the female version of the Magick-Worker without parallel, exemplified by Helen Mirren in Julie Taymor’s film of The Tempest). Prospero (Prospera’s) expertise in Magick is seen in his (her) control over storms and winds, and is symbolized by his (her) Magickal servants Ariel (representing Air and Fire), and Caliban (representing the more tangible elements of Earth and Water). With the aid of his Magickal robe, book, and staff (all credited in the play with being essential to Magick-Work), Prospero casts a Magickal Circle in Act V, scene 1 (lines 33-57) to set into motion the events of the play’s conclusion. Unlike the extremely Ceremonial Circle cast by Faustus in Marlowe’s play, Prospero’s Circle is purely of the Natural variety, summoned out of an invocation of the natural elements:

Prospera's Magick Circle in The Tempest (2010)

Prospera’s Magick Circle in The Tempest (2010)

“Ye Elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, and ye that on the sands with printless foot do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly Him when He comes back; you demi-puppets that by moonshine do the green sour ringlets make whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose pastime is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice to hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid, weak masters though ye be, I have bedimmed the noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds, and ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault set roaring war; to the dread rattling thunder have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak with His own bolt; the strong-based promontory have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up the pine and cedar; graves at my command have waked their sleepers, oped and let ‘em forth by my so potent art. But this rough Magick I here abjure, and when I have required some heavenly music, which even now I do, to work mine end upon their senses that this airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound, I’ll drown my book.”

Unlike Faustus, who generates his Magick Circle by creating a microcosm of the Macrocosm through astrological signs, sigils, and protective names- Prospero (or Prospera, if a female) casts a Circle of Power by calling upon the Spirits (“Elves”) of Nature: the Spirits of “hills, brooks, lakes and groves,” as well as the Spirits of the sea and beaches of his tropical island, that chase the tidal waters of Neptune washing ashore.

Prospero (Prospera) refers to the Spirits (“demi-puppets”) that make circles of mushrooms grow in fields at night (“midnight mushrooms”), eschewed by sheep, during the anarchic time after the evening curfew is sounded, summoning persons to home, bed, and sleep (circles of mushrooms growing in fields were the subject of much superstition in Faerie mythology during Shakespeare’s time).

Prospero boasts of the powers that he has acquired through the aid of such Spirits (whom he characterizes as “weak,” meaning that his powers grant him mastery over them): he has dimmed the noon sun; called riotous winds; and generated storms at sea (“twixt the green sea and the azured vault of sky” has he “set roaring war”). He has joined lightning to “rattling thunder,” and assumed the power of Jove in even blasting apart oak trees, with Jove’s own lightning bolts; he has shook the “strong-based promontory” of earth, generating earthquakes that uproot pines and cedars; even “by his so potent art,” has he assumed the final God-like powers of awakening the dead, opening graves, and allowing the spirits of the departed to roam freely. In essence, through his use of Natural Magick, Prospero (Prospera) can assume the most destructive and awe-inspiring control of the Natural Elements.

This final bit of Magick-Working, however, Prospero says will be his last: he means to “abjure this rough Magick,” and when he has finished “charming” his enemies through the use of the “circle which he has made” (according to the stage directions following the speech), he announces his intention to break his Magickal staff, bury it deep within the earth, and plunge into the ocean, “deeper than did ever plummet sound,” his Magickal book. It might be a certain sop to Jacobean convention, to end the play with a swearing-off on the Magickal Arts (officially not approved of, in the Jacobean era): but the significant point is Prospero’s (Prospera’s) command of Magick and the Magickal Circle through the elements of earthly Nature.

Aug 212013

murnau faustBased upon medieval Morality Plays, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is the cautionary tale of a man whose forays into the Mystical Arts go tragically awry when he summons the Devil, believing that he has the power to control and command the Fiend through his study of Magick-Making. The story is interesting to modern Pagans for its depiction of Middle Ages Magick; having been twice filmed, it would make an interesting double-bill Movie Night the day that the Pagan Television Network (PTN) is up and running. Murnau’s 1926 film (actually based upon Goethe’s telling of the story) is a marvel of silent era film-making, especially the scene where Faust conjures in his Magick Circle. (Check out the clip on YouTube; note how Faust goes to a crossroads, under a full moon, invoking the four directions with his Magick Book, before the Circle activates with the aid of 1920s special effects.) A fascinating movie artifact, Faust is especially interesting when viewed against-

burton faustusOne of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the latter twentieth century, Richard Burton filmed Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus in 1967, with his wife Elizabeth Taylor as Helen of Troy. Notable for being such an esteemed production, Burton’s Faustus would make an excellent companion piece and follow-up to Murnau’s Faust for Faust Night on the PTN. Blessed Be, Pagan Television and Movie Fans!