Book news … work in progress


by Sacrifice, Oblation and Libation

by Melusine Draco

The act of propitiating or appeasing the gods is as old as humankind.  And, it is just as much an integral part of pagan worship today as it was when our Mesolithic ancestors first began leaving their mark on the landscape – both to honour the gods in times of plenty and to appease them in times of trouble. For the tribes that were beginning to track their footsteps across the open plains of the vast continents, they left behind evidence of their ‘holy places’ – where they periodically stopped and gathered together in the act of honouring the Ancestors and denizens of Otherworld, according to the lights of their times … and as their customs directed.

Propitiation is the act of appeasing or making well-disposed a deity, thus courting divine favor or avoiding divine retribution.  Some use the term interchangeably with expiation, while others draw a sharp distinction between the two, with expiation being the act of making amends or reparation for an offence committed, or atonement for some real or imagined wrong. However, they looked at it, primitive peoples were walking a precarious line in a world that was under constant threat from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis; plus astronomical causes imposed severe phenomena on ancient societies, including catastrophic meteor impacts that allied themselves to the birth of numerous cultural myths and legends.

Serious illness, drought, pestilence, epidemic, famine, and other calamities – often brought about in the wake of natural disasters – have universally been regarded as the workings of supernatural forces. Often they have been interpreted as the effects of offenses against the sacred order committed by individuals and/or communities, deliberately or unintentionally. And, such offences broke the relationship with that sacred order or impeded the flow of divine life. It was then considered necessary in such times of crisis, individual or communal, to offer sacrifice to propitiate the sacred powers and to wipe out offences (or at least neutralize their effects) and restore the sacred harmony.  Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood.

For ancient societies, without the means to predict natural disasters, destruction could often come suddenly and completely by surprise. Scientists from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick have studied sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) from sediment deposits in the southern North Sea, an area which has not previously been linked to a tsunami that occurred 8150 years ago. This work demonstrates that an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists and scientists can bring this landscape back to life and even throw new light on one of prehistory’s great natural disasters, the Storegga tsunami.

Until about 8,000 years ago, the British Isles were part of a peninsula, joined to mainland Europe by a strip of chalk downs, swamps, lakes and wooded hills. We call this submerged world Doggerland and even today, fishermen routinely bring up carved bone and antler tools from the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived here. By the end of the 7th millennium BC, a warming world was causing sea levels to rise and the people of Doggerland must have watched with dread as their villages were swallowed up one by one. But one event would turn the slow advance of the sea into an apocalyptic terror.

‘The edge of the Norwegian continental shelf is an underwater cliff that runs for six hundred miles along the Atlantic Basin. And one autumn day around 6225–6170 BC, this cliff collapsed. An estimated 770 cubic miles, or over 50 Mount Everests, of rock broke off and slid into the deep ocean. The rubble flow reached a speed of 90 mph underwater.  Meanwhile, on the surface, the ocean bent into a tsunami of unimaginable force. The waves may have reached initial heights of 260 feet, striking the Norwegian coast with 130 foot breakers, and Scotland with waves 65 feet high.  As for the people who lived in the low-lying fens of Doggerland, scientists believe this tsunami would have been catastrophic. A 16 foot wall of water buried settlements and farms beneath the waves. And there they would wait 8,000 years for the nets of fishermen to dredge up their remains.’ [Discover Magazine]

Similarly, during the mid-second millennium BC, one power dominated the Mediterranean. From their capital on Crete, the Minoan influence reached Cyprus, across the Greek islands and into modern Turkey and the Palestinian coast. They left behind remarkable paintings and pioneered technological advancements like indoor plumbing. They grew and flourished. That is, until one summer day around the year 1,600 BC, when the volcano of Thera, on what is now the Greek island of Santorini, erupted with the force of two-million Hiroshima bombs.  The destruction would have been virtually instant, eradicating all life on the island. Today, we can stand on top of cliffs 1,000 feet high that form the bowl of the Santorini crater, and imagine the vast tsunami that rippled across the sea, the sky blackening overhead.

Settlements on nearby Crete were swept away in a devastating event that destroyed the maritime trade that was their lifeblood, and the Minoan empire all but collapsed overnight. In the centuries that followed, they would disappear entirely, even down to their name (the word ‘Minoan’ is a Victorian invention). The eruption sent 24 cubic miles of rock into the atmosphere, four times more than the 1883 Krakatoa eruption. It blocked out the sun and threw the world into a period of bitter cold. Famine spread in Egypt as crops failed, and evidence of the eruption can even be found in the earliest of Chinese written chronicles.

The Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the second millennium BC was thriving. Languages and cultures mingled as trade routes criss-crossed land and sea, from Egypt and Greece to Turkey and the shores of Palestine. Markets bustled in the great thriving cities of Ugarit, Hattusha, Mycenae and Babylon, and the region saw a golden age of literacy and culture. But by 1,100 BC, virtually every society in this part of the world would collapse, into ash and ruin. And the cause of all this destruction may have been over 2500 miles away, on the snowy slopes of Iceland!

‘Hekla is one of the world’s most active volcanos and its most cataclysmic eruption in human history took place sometime around the year 1,100 BC. It threw nearly two cubic miles of volcanic rock into the atmosphere, and kicked off a period of cooling that would last for years. The rapid climate change that descended over northern Europe seems to have drivn a vsast number of refugees southward, placing unsustainable stresses on the region. The climate unrest caused several groups known as ‘The Sea Peoples’ to begin raiding in the south, causing the destruction and sacking of cities. Under famine, rebellions and outside attacks, the interdependent societies of the Bronze Age collapsed like dominos, and a period known as ‘The Late Bronze Age Collapse’ cast this whole region of the world into chaos.’ [Discover Magazine]

Natural disasters are something that humanity has had to deal with since its inception. They have the capability to wipe out significant amounts of the human and wildlife populations where they strike. In fact, it is highly probable that a natural disaster will be the cause of the end of the world, whenever that inevitably happens.  Even the ‘cradle of civilisation’ has been beset with natural disaster and for earliest man this was both a blessing and a curse.

According to the National Geographic magazine, the system of rift valleys that characterizes the African continent represents a perfect environment in which to understand the evolution of mankind.  Because the association between paleoanthropological discoveries and rift valleys is not accidental, since the volcanic and tectonic activities created the ideal conditions for the proliferation of life. Many extremely well-preserved human and animal fossils have been found in the Ethiopian rift valley, suggesting that this area may have represented a crucial site for human evolution in the last million years.

This most well-known rift valley on Earth, is the so-called ‘Great Rift Valley System’ which stretches from the Middle East in the north to Mozambique in the south. The area remains geologically active, and features volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, and frequent earthquakes; while research published last year by a team from the University of Oxford, suggests that a surge in volcanic activity along the Rift System might have forced early humans out of Africa, altering the course of our evolution forever.  In all of these circumstances we can’t begin to imagine the terror experienced by our ancestors when their world was torn apart by these cataclysmic events. – for them the only answer could have been was that the gods must have been very angry indeed …

Ancient cultures practiced the ritualistic (sacrificial) killing of humans and animals for a number reasons: appeasement; retribution; expiation for guilt, an entreat for military victory over an enemy; a seasonal invocation for spring planting or fall harvesting; a contractual quid pro quo between ruler-kings in exchange for the deities’ delivering up an enemy, or granting some bizarre request.

The ancient Mesopotamians, Israelites, Egyptians, Africans, Germanic tribes, Mayas, Aztec, Celts, and Native Americans practiced a variety of ritualistic sacrifices. The Old Testament cites Jehovah’s commanding Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, an act that was averted at the last minute …although when Jephthah struck a deal with Jehovah; in return for victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah pledged to offer the first person who emerged from his house as a sacrificial offering. Little did he know that his young daughter would be the sacrificial lamb he would offer in return for his military victory.

In the Greek play AgamemnonAeschylus’ protagonist was about to set sail to wage war on Troy but because Agamemnon angered Artemis, she withheld the winds necessary to launch his fleet across the Aegean Sea. To appease her, he offered his daughter Iphigenia as a propitious sacrifice.  To avenge the death of his son Androgeus  (at the hand of the Athenians),  Minos, the king of Crete, demanded that every seven years, seven Athenian youths and seven maidens be offered as sacrifices to appease the fabled Minotaur who dwelt in the labyrinth under his palace. Eventually Theseus, the young Athenian prince, put paid to this tithe by killing the legendary creature.

Queen Cassiopeia was known as the beautiful wife of King Cepheus. One day, she boasted that her daughter, Andromeda, was far more beautiful than the fifty Nereids, the sea-nymph daughters of Nereus (the old man of the sea). This boast angered Poseidon, who was married to Amphrite, the eldest of the Nereids. Poseidon had the sea monster, Cetus, destroy the city where Andromeda lived and the only way to stop Cetus was to sacrifice Andromeda to him. King Cepheus obeyed Poseidon and chained his daughter to a rock to save the land …

Greek mythology is replete with such acts of propitiation and expiation and, by ascribing human foibles to their pantheon of mighty gods – patricide, matricide, fratricide, and infanticide became the stuff that was celebrated in Greek mythology, poetry, and the visual arts.

Propitiation on a grand scale was also a shared religious practice among ancient Mesoamericans and Peruvians. According to their cosmological beliefs, the gods provided for mankind only if they themselves were placated. One method of this placation was human sacrifice and its purpose was to maintain a balance of the cosmos and appease the gods who presided over it. Instead of sacrificing members of their own community, however, pre-Columbians conducted ritual wars to gain sacrificial victims, which were captive male warriors. They perfected battle tactics that only wounded their enemies to ensure the prisoners could be killed later in a ritual sacrifice.

What is the meaning of sacrifice?

Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or humans to a higher purpose – in particular divine beings – as an act of propitiation or worship. Needless to say, putting others ahead of ourselves requires sacrifice and in more modern parlance it is the act of offering or the giving up of something we would prefer to keep.

What does it mean to make a sacrifice?

This is the act or ceremony of making an offering to a god especially on an altar, of something that is offered as a religious act; an act of giving up something especially for the sake of someone or something else.

What is the purpose of sacrifice?

Sacrifice is a religious rite in which an object is offered to a divinity in order to establish, maintain, or restore a right relationship of a human being within the sacred order. It is a complex phenomenon that has been found in the earliest known forms of worship and in all parts of the world.

What are the elements of sacrifice?

It is possible to analyze the rite of sacrifice in terms of six different elements: the sacrificer, the material of the offering, the time and place of the rite, the method of sacrificing, the recipient of the sacrifice, and the motive or intention of the rite. These categories are not of equal importance and often overlap.

Where is the place of sacrifice?

The common place of sacrifice in most cults is an altar; more often it was only a pillar, a mound of earth, a stone, or a pile of stones.

What is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?

Offering is an act of gifting or donation, while sacrifice is the offering of anything to a god as part of consecratory rite.

To the detractors of pagan beliefs the term ‘sacrifice’ always refers to killing animals or harming humans – because they fail to understand that in a pagan sense, what is always offered in sacrifice is, in one form or another, life itself. Sacrifice is a celebration of life, an acceptance of its divine and imperishable nature. In the act of sacrifice the consecrated ‘life’ of an offering is released as a sacred link that establishes a bond between the sacrificer and the divine power. Through sacrifice, energy is returned to its divine source, regenerating the power or strength of that source; life is fed by life. Hence the words of the ancient Roman sacrificer to his god: ‘Be thou increased (macte) by this offering’.  Needless to say, it is an increase in this divine power that is ultimately beneficial to the sacrificer because sacrifice is the merging and guarantee of the reciprocal flow of the divine life-force between its source and its embodiment. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood

Often the act of sacrifice involves the destruction of the offering, but this destruction is not in itself the sacrifice. The destruction (or consumption) of a food-drink offering at an altar’s fire is the means by which the deity receives the offering.  Thereby a sacrifice is the total act of offering and not merely the method in which the rite is performed.  So, sacrifice as a sacramental communal meal may involve the idea of the god as a participant in the feast, or being identified with the food consumed; it may also involve the idea of a ritual meal at which, either some agrarian event such as the springtime (Beltaine) and the harvest (Lughnasad) is repeated, or the sacred rites of the seasons are symbolically renewed – the Summer and Winter Solstices. Although the fundamental meaning of these sacrificial rites is that of affirming a bounteous and fruitful relationship with the sacred power and of establishing humankind in the sacred order, the rites have in recent years assumed a multitude of different forms and intentions.

The organization of propitiatory rites in different cultures and religions has undoubtedly been influenced by a number of factors, and the importance of such factors is an aspect of sacrifice that deserves increased examination. Nevertheless, sacrifice is not a phenomenon that can be reduced to rational terms; it is fundamentally an act of faith that has been of profound significance to individuals and social groups throughout history; a symbolic act that establishes a relationship between mankind and the sacred order of things. For many peoples of the world, throughout the ages, sacrifice has been the very heart of their religious life.

Offerings for the Gods by sacrifice, oblation and libation by Melusine Draco is currently a work in progress and will be published as the first title in the ‘Arcanum series’ for Ignotus Books.   Arcanum books will be titles of under 100-pages of practical and/or instructional text on a specific esoteric subject or theme.

Book news …

Round About the Cauldron Go … in traditional British Old Craft

with Phillip Wright & Carrie West.

The whole essence of traditional British Old Craft is closely bound to the natural tides that govern our planet. When we organised our own Coven activities, these were focussed on drawing down an elemental power to synchronise with the traditional Sabbats and Esbats, thus ensuring the Coven developing a ‘group mind’ of its own that nonetheless periodically needs to be recharged via group ritual.  This also explains why Old Crafters synchronise those rituals to coincide with the Old Julian calendar that links us directly to the power of the Ancestors rather than any contemporary ‘wheel of the year’. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood. The modern Gregorian calendar is now thirteen days out of alignment and will be fourteen days adrift from 2100 – but magically a miss is as good as a mile!

A witch needs to be on familiar, operational-terms with these times and tides of the witch’s true year – not just the solar and lunar tides but the oceanic, earth and atmospheric tides that can also enhance/affect our magical workings.  We must also understand that some tides are more beneficial than others for recharging the ‘group mind’ of the Coven so that we as individuals can draw upon these currents of elemental power to energise our own spells at any time. This elemental power is marked in the charting of the stars, and while the stars are not generally used as sources of power they can also act as a celestial barometer for the calendaric ebb and flow.  This is the witch-power we channel when we work magic – either singly or as a group – and it makes sense to take these various different tides into consideration and utilise them to our best advantage whenever we can.  There’s nothing to stop us from working against the tide but this is self-defeating when it is easier to go with the natural flow of Nature and the cosmos.

These natural tides can and do affect the way we live, work and think although we may not be conscious of the power they have over this little old planet of ours; ask any midwife, who’ll tell you that there are more births when there’s a full moon. By understanding when these tides occur may shed a light on why we may react differently at times without knowing why; it may also explain why we can be magically/psychically hyper/receptive at certain times and not at others.

A natural witch has the ability to identify and interact with this natural energy on which she (or he) must draw for all purposes of Craft practice.   Without this natural ability there is no Old Craft witch, because as Hotspur retorts to Glendower’s claim that he can ‘call spirits from the vasty deep’. “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?”  And which particular energy do we conjure for what purpose?  The gentle ethereal energy of the fields and hedgerows differs quite considerably from the primitive and often menacing energy of the woods and forests; or the ever-changing seashore; while mountains and rivers generate their own mystique.

The eight great fire festivals are marked by the Equinoxes and Solstices of the solar year, with the four traditional celebrations of Old Beltaine, Old Lammas, Old Hallowe’en and Old Candlemas making up the eight great Sabbats of the witch’s year. The fire festivals occur at the beginning of each quarter of the solar-tide cycle with Candlemas marking the end of the reign of the Holly King and heralding the first stirrings of the bright tide of summer of the Old Lass.  At the turbulent tide of the Vernal Equinox, the bright and dark tides are equally balanced with the bright tide on the increase; Beltaine marked the traditional beginning of summer, which reached its height around the Midsummer Solstice. From here it begins to wane as we progress through the sacred time of harvest … towards the celebration of the Harvest Home.

As glamorous as it sounds, al fresco witchcraft is not practical without a lot of preparation. After many years, however, we eventually got it sussed – one arrives at the site well in advance, lights the fire and sets the pre-cooked stew to heat up – by using a tripod and a hanging pot.  Supper was often transported in insulated containers to keep it as hot as possible and emptied into the cooking pot so that the delicious smell greeting the coven made all the extra effort worth-while. Perfectly adequate tripods and pot sets can now be purchased from Amazon at a reasonable price.  Purists, of course, will insist on doing everything from scratch on site but unless the coven members have cast iron stomachs they’ll still be sitting there waiting for the ‘feast’ when the sun comes up. But it’s a guaranteed way of causing Irritable Witch Syndrome in even the most resolute of coven members.

Camp-fire cookery is an art in itself and since the whole idea of a Sabbat gathering is to generate power, the Dame and Magister need to be able to organise seamless rituals that aren’t marred by catering problems. Nevertheless, by synchronising our own Coven rituals with the days of the Old Calendar we are drawing down the power of the Ancestors to re-charge the ‘group-mind’ of the present Coven.  By utilising power that has accumulated down through the centuries from successive generations of witches who gathered together to celebrate their Sabbat/Esbat on this very day over hundreds of years, we are ensuring that Old Craft survives into the next century. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood’… linking those that are kindred by token of a common ancestry and a united by a blood-bond to the Ancestors.

Husband and wife team, Phillip Wright and Carrie West ran their own coven for nearly thirty years before its disbanding and their return to the mother Coven of the Scales.  They are also authors of Coven Working, Death and the Pagan and soon to be published, Round About the Cauldron Go … from Ignotus Books UK.

 Because Round About the Cauldron Go … is being published as a limited edition, from time to time we will be including extracts on the Melusine Draco and Coven of the Scales Blogs.


Shinto : A Singularly Zen Idea

Looking back I can see how my Shinto upbringing (my father was a martial arts instructor and a countryman) made it so easy to pick up on the underlying animistic threads of Old Craft and its associated esoteric practices. From a small child I was in touch with that indefinable sensation of witch-power, god-power, ki, qi, or earth energy – call it what you will – the natural energy that is believed to be an active principle forming part of any animate or inanimate thing.


Ki, I soon learned, was the unseen life force in our body and everywhere. It was the universal energy that penetrates everywhere uniting all manifestations of the universe, visible or invisible, animate or inanimate.  This was the first understanding of the practical advantages of this unseen life force.  And because there is no official Craft litany, I use a lot of Shinto belief and Zen philosophy to demonstrate how the elevation of the mind leads to higher understanding regardless of the Path being followed. For the traditional Japanese there is no dividing line between the divine and human, since the forces that move in Nature move in man, according to Zen teaching:

When one looks at it, one cannot see it:

When one listens for it, one cannot hear it:

However when one uses it, it is inexhaustible.

I used this quote in one of the first esoteric books I had published – What You Call Time – and I find that I have come full circle in trying to explain that everything, magical and mystical, really just comes down to this basic understanding (and acceptance) of ki – or whatever you like to call it!   Unfortunately, within contemporary paganism, there appears to be a widening schism between those who are immediately at one with these thoughts – and those who need to assume the outward trappings of esoteric practices to enhance their personalities and elevate their standing in the eyes of others, without bothering to develop the inner Self.

There was an amusing instance just recently when a close colleague was told by a ‘celebrity witch’, that I couldn’t possibly have the antecedents I claim, because there was nothing written about them in my books! ‘Well, there wouldn’t be, would there?’ came the response. I don’t happen to feel the need to add every jot and tittle to my writing in order to convince the readership that I have indeed walked the Path of the Mysteries. Those who study with me are the ones who reap the benefit of this received wisdom – not those who would only gain their knowledge from reading a wide assortment of esoteric books.

In Zen it is the question that is most important – not the answer. And there is also understanding the concept of ‘secret teaching’ that always seems to rattles the cages of certain people in the magical community because they never stop to think of it as merely referring to the kind of teaching that cannot be set down in words but can only be learned through experience. These differences are also reflected in an increasing violence of speech within social media directed at those who do not share the same opinion over what are generally considered to be pagan issues.

I might even go so far as to say, that I find the level of personal intolerance far greater than it was when I first entered the pagan community back in the day.   As an antidote, may I suggest that in the spirit of Zen it is possibly necessary to step away from this type of negative thinking and try seeing the world through the ‘way of the kami’. Folk Shinto (as opposed to State Shinto) includes numerous folk beliefs in supernatural agencies and spirits, and the practice of divination, ancestor worship, and shamanic healing. Some of these practices have been imported from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, but the majority come from ancient local indigenous traditions that literally do trace their origins back to their hunter-gatherer ancestors. There are also many locations of stone ritual structures, refined burial practices and early tori that strengthened the continuity of primal Shinto; and at some point there was a recognition that the ancestors created the current generations and so the deep reverence of the Ancestors (tama) took shape. Here we find plenty of parallels between Eastern and Western paganism.

And I am not the only Western ‘pagan’ to recognise this juxtaposition. As Jon Moore wrote in Zen Druid: A Paganism for the 21st Century, earth-based spirituality is the bedrock of human interaction with Nature, the Cosmos and our fellow human beings. ‘In times of great change while the impetus is for reassessment and renewal, the field has become confused with different schools and methodologies. There are arguably now as many schools as there are practitioners.’

The Japanese find comfort and inspiration in the quality of their surroundings. They have built their shrines in spots of breath-taking beauty. They try to keep themselves constantly attuned to the loveliness all about them that leads them to participate in ceremonies and festivals that may seem strange to us. The Insect-Hearing Festival is an example of this. On a quiet evening in the early weeks of autumn, they sit quietly and listen to the noises of various insects. Just as typical is the story of the Zen teacher who stepped before his class one day to give a lecture. He paused to listen to the song of a bird outside the window, and then he dismissed the class. There are sermons in nature – and the Japanese hear them freely.

This is surely paganism at its most pure and one we can easily identify with in the West without having to embrace the religious doctrines of the East because this old agrarian and animistic-based belief focuses on the existence and power of the kami that exist in nature, and throughout Japan – and the rest of the world. Kami or shin is often defined in English as ‘god’, ‘spirit’, ‘spiritual essence’ – all these terms merely meaning ‘the energy generating a thing’. Though the word kami is translated multiple ways into English, no one English word expresses its full meaning. The ambiguity of the meaning of kami is necessary, as it conveys the ambiguous nature of kami themselves.

Western Animism: Zen & the Art of Positive Paganism by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ( ISBN 978 1 78904 123 1 UK£6.99/US$10.95 : 80 pages : Available in paperback and e-book format.



… When corn rigs are bonie
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light
I held awhile to Annie
The time went by with careless heed
‘Till ‘tween the late and early
With small persuasion she agreed
To see me through the barley

Corn rigs and barley rigs and
Corn rigs are bonnie
I’ll not forget that happy night
Among the rigs with Annie
The sky was blue, the wind was still
The moon was shining clearly …

 Corn Rigs (also known as Corn Rigs Are Bonie) is a Scottish Measure (a tune closely related to a reel, but a little closer to a march) dating from the 17th century.  The tune was a popular choice among early song writers, notably Allan Ramsay who used it as one of ‘Peggy’s songs’ in his play, The Gentle Shepherd (1725).  The ‘rigs’ referred to in the song were the traditional drainage system which was based on dividing fields into ridges around three feet high, and then ploughing them from end to end, the resulting furrows then drained excess water from the land above it, here planted with corn.  Corn Rigs (also known as The Rigs O’ Barley) was a Scottish song written by Robert Burns around 1782 to be sung to the air Corn Rigs Are Bonie was set to music by Paul Giovanni for The Wicker Man (1973).

In the good old days, the harvest festivals began in August (Lunasa – ‘beginning of harvest’) followed by September (Meán Fómhair) and October (Deireadh Fómhair) translated as ‘middle of harvest’ and ‘end of harvest’ respectively. This was one of the most sacred times of the year and the Harvest Home or In-Gathering was a community observance at the end of the harvest to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty with all its attendant celebrations, including the singing of the traditional folksongs like John Barleycorn. Celebrating the harvest is the holiest time of the Craft year and Lammas observes the coming of harvest-tide with its decoration of corn sheaves, fancy loaves, berries and fruits – all leading up to the Autumnal Equinox (or Michaelmas) that marked its zenith with the eating of the traditional goose and the raucous festivities of the community harvest supper.

Lughnasadh’s pagan origins are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature, the festival being named after the old Celtic sun-god Lugh. It involved great ‘in-gatherings’ that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking and trading – and visits to holy wells – with many of the activities taking place on hilltops and mountains. According to folklorist Máire MacNeill, evidence shows that the religious rites included an offering of the ‘first fruits’, a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. In Wales, Gŵyl Awst marks the first harvest, because there is a second harvest at the time of the Autumn Equinox.

This is also a season of renewed growth in some trees in July and August in the northern hemisphere, and Lammas growth on trees can be really striking. On oaks it tends to be lime green but is often tinged with red and it brings the trees to life again – making the woods and hedgerows look refreshed.  Lammas growth declines with the age of the tree, being most vigorous and noticeable in young trees. It differs in nature from spring growth which is fixed when leaves and shoots are laid down in the bud the previous year. The Lammas flush is free growth of newly-made leaves throughout the tree.

It was beneath the oaks of the New Forest that King William Rufus went hunting on 2nd August in the year 1100, and was killed by an arrow through the lung, though the full circumstances still remain unclear. The earliest statement of the event was in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which noted that the king was ‘shot by an arrow by one of his own men’. According to an unidentified ecclesiastical account, a charcoal burner took the King’s body, placed it on a rude cart, covered it with a ragged cloth and conveyed it to Winchester.

The body was said to have dripped blood along the entire route, an idea consistent with the belief that the blood of the divine sacrifice must fall on the ground in order to fertilize it. The unpopular king was mourned, not by the Christian nobles but by the largely pagan common folk, who lined the roads of his funeral procession and followed the body to the grave; thus giving voice to the legend that William Rufus’s death was a ritual sacrifice as part of the dying-god fertility cult since he was descended from a pagan leader on both sides of his family. Many of his friends and close associates were also openly heathen, and his chief advisor was Randolf Flambard, recorded in the Chronicles as the son of a witch.

Lammas is still a time of excitement and magic. The natural world is thriving around us, and yet the knowledge that everything will soon die looms large in the background. This is a good time to work some protective magic around the hearth and home.  This occasion celebrates the beginning of the harvest season and the cycle of rebirth, and can be done by a solitary practitioner or adapted for a group or coven setting.  It is an expression of gratitude for the change in seasons – from a season of planting to a season of harvest – that marks today’s observance.

And yet, the dark tide first begins to stir at Lammas, the time of fruition and harvest when the crops are gathered and fruits begin to ripen. Under the new style (Gregorian) calendar, Lammas would be celebrated on 1st August; we still follow the old (Julian) calendar, so would perform the Lammas Rite on 12th August.  We’re heading towards the Autumnal Equinox, when the two tides of summer/winter, bright/dark, god/goddess stand equally opposed so – the bright tide will start to wane, the dark aspect ever increasing – and traditionally Lammas was essentially a male-oriented ritual with the women waiting outside the circle in order that they may – or may not – be invited to participate in the rite.  The goddess-imagery (the Dame) now begins to fade into the back ground until the fires of Candlemas and the Vernal Equinox call her forth once again; with a shared celebration of fresh bread and wine/beer she takes her leave and future Coven rites will reflect the god’s power in the form of the Magister.

The above is an extract taken from the limited edition, Round About the Cauldron Go … by Philip Wright and Carrie West – published by Ignotus Books


A Book Worm’s Eye View …

DIVINATION: A Practical Approach

It was Robert Cochrane who originally coined those now famous words:

“If one who claims to be a Witch can perform the tasks of Witchcraft, i.e. summon the spirits and they come, can divine with rod, fingers and birds.  If they can also claim the right to the omens and have them; have the power to call, heal and curse and above all, can tell the maze and cross the Lethe, then you have a witch.”

Divination is what I would refer to as the practical element of Craft magic, and we don’t even have to be witches to be able to read the portents.  But it helps!

Looking into the future is a very ancient practice. As we saw in the chapter ‘Developing the ‘Art of Seeing’ in Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, thousands of recorded British customs and superstitions all have their roots in fortune-telling spells and charms, and they are as fashionable today as they were way back when. In fact, it’s been said that divination was as commonplace in the past as satellite communication is today: it was part of everyday life for everyone from king to commoner.  It utilised all manner of techniques and methods from a simple nut placed on the fire grate to the complicated reading of the Roman auspices.  For example a few of these techniques include:

Aeromancy: Divination using the formation of clouds and other patterns in the skies.

 Botanomancy: Divination through plant life; may include the burning of plants and foretelling future events through the ashes or smoke.

Crystallomancy: An ancient form of casting lots using small stones. Or crystalomancy: Divination by studying a crystal ball.

Daphnomancy: Using the smoke of burning branches of the laurel tree to answer questions and forecast upcoming events.

Enoptromancy: An ancient method using a shiny surface placed in water.

Felidomancy: Divination through the observation of felines, including domestic and wild cats.

Geomancy: An ancient system interpreting the patterns and shapes or events found in nature.

Halomancy: Foretelling by interpreting the formation of the crystals when salt is poured to the ground.

Ichthyomancy: Observing the behaviour of fish both in and out of the water.

Jungism: The understanding of mythic symbolism as it relates to the human subconciousness.

Kephalonomancy: Ancient method of pouring lighted carbon on the skull of a goat or donkey to determine guilt or innocence.

Lampadomancy: Divination through the observation of flames from a candle or flaming torch.

Metopomancy: Divination and character analysis by studying the lines on a person’s forehead.

Necromancy: Contacting the spirits of the dead to interpret omens and forecast future events.

Oinomancy: An ancient Roman practice of interpretation through the study and evaluation of the colour, consistency and taste of wine.

Psephomancy: Divination by selecting at random small stones from a pile.

Qabbala: A blend of powerful divinely-inspired divination and mysticism.

Rune Stones: A series of mystic symbols thrown or selected to determine the future.

Scrying: Divination by interpreting the play of light on a shiny object or surface.

Tephramancy: Interpreting the ashes of a combustible object.

Uromancy: Divination using urine.

Visualisation: A controlled level of consciousness during which the seeker can divine answers to questions.

Wort-Lore: The understanding of the appropriate herbs to use to aid divination.

Xylomancy: Using the arrangement of dried sticks to predict the future.

Ying-Yang: Describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may interrelate to one another and influence future events.

Zoanthropy: Divination by observing and interpreting the flames of three lighted candles placed in a triangular position.

A deep-rooted belief in divination has existed throughout the ages, among both the uncivilized and the most civilized of cultures, as the desire to know the future continually gave rise to some weird and wonderful ways of peering into it. The Egyptians used dreams [i.e temple sleep] to divine the will of the gods; the Druids used many different forms of divination, as did the Hebrews. Although augury was first implemented by the Chaldeans, the Greeks became addicted to it; and among the Romans no important action of State was undertaken without the advice of the augers and their pre-occupation with raw liver!

Both oracles and seers in ancient Greece practiced divination. Oracles were the conduits for the gods on earth; their prophecies were understood to be the will of the gods verbatim and usually communicated to rulers and prominent persons. Seers were interpreters of signs provided by the gods via natural signs and were more numerous than the oracles being highly valued by all Greeks, not just those with the where with all to travel to Delphi or other such sites, where pythonesses perched on stools, inhaling noxious fumes. As it does today, the ancient Greeks made use of various techniques of divinatory practice: either direct or indirect, and, either spontaneous, or artificial.

Direct divination is where and when a seeker might experience divination by way of dreaming and dreams or by way of a temporary experience of madness, or phrensy (frenzy), all of these conditions being a state from which an inspired recognition of truth is attained. A necessary condition is that the seeker has made an effort to produce a mental or physical state which encourages a flash of insight. These historically attested efforts included sleeping in conditions where-by dreams might be more likely to occur, inhaling certain vapour, the chewing of leaves, drinking of blood, etc.

Under these conditions the seeker may gain the power of prophecy (albeit temporary) that was associated with caves and grottoes within Greek divination, and the nymphs and Pan who often bestowed the gift of prophesy.  Pan was able to dwell within people, a condition known as panolepsy, that causes inspirational abilities relating to divination or prophecy.  A degree of possession of an individual by a nymph is known as nympholepsy, meaning ‘caught by nymphs’ … a term we would use today as someone ‘being fairy led’.

Indirect divination where-by a seeker observes natural conditions and phenomenon such as ‘sortilege’, and chance encounters with the animal kingdom. This consists of the casting of lots, or sortes, whether with sticks, stones, bones, beans, coins, or some other item and often interpreted by a third party. Modern playing cards and board games are believed to have been developed from this type of divination, whereby dice or counters are cast in order to predict the future.

Divination, however, is only a small part of a witch’s stock in trade and although a very basic introduction to the subject can be learned from books, proficiency will only come through vigorous practice. This proficiency comes through the discovery of certain secret matters by a great variety of means, – correspondences, signs and occult techniques – and before a witch can perform any of these operations with any degree of success, we need to develop the ‘art of seeing’ and the ability to ‘divine with rod, fingers and birds’

Very early in his studies one student had grasped the fact that the animal world helps us to connect to this new level of being, particularly through birds, which have long been recognised as an effective means of divination.  Once he understood the principles behind the phenomena, he began to find that he was beginning to ‘see’ more.  How many people, for instance, will even notice the mice on the Underground … but he’d watched them and interpreted their behaviour. How they would always disappear long before the rumble of the train was discernable to human awareness.  Once we get into the habit of watching the animal world, we will always have something around us to warn when that ‘train’ is coming!

The most remarkable thing about divination, of course, is its continued success. And a large number of people who turn to professional readers are impressed by the amazing details ‘coming through’ from their past – but this isn’t what divination is about.  ‘Cold reading’ is a set of techniques used to imply that the reader knows much more about the person than the reader actually does.  Cold readings commonly employ high-probability guesses, quickly picking up on signals as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, then emphasizing and reinforcing chance connections and quickly moving on from missed guesses.  Even the police and military use the technique during interrogation sessions …

The witch, however, is not so much concerned with the past as with the present and more particularly the future.  Of course, our past actions affect the way we view the future but if we ignore the warnings that divination brings concerning the present, we will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.  We must also remember that regardless of whatever method is used to predict the future those results are not cast in stone! Divination reveals the future as relating to the past and the present, and what will happen if the warnings are not heeded in order to change things before they go wrong. The answer is also subjective to where an individual is standing at the precise moment in time when they pose the question.  We’re back to the saying: “You can’t change anything but yourself, but in changing yourself, everything changes around you.” So if you don’t like what the results of the reading is telling you … do something about it before it’s too late!

As witches we are responsible for our own destiny and a proficiency in our own chosen system of divining gives us a powerful advantage. Experienced practitioners usually prefer to use a single form of divination, and while some methods may prove to be more efficient than others, and some diviners may be more accurate than their fellows, it is traditionally part of a witch’s natural ability to be able to divine by ‘rod, fingers and birds’, as the saying goes.  After years of practice with any particular system, we find that we can interpret the signs without even having to think about it – it’s like receiving a message from an old friend.

The results we get from our endeavours are signs of opportunities to be taken, dangers to be avoided, or impending news of change. Here the witch also interacts with Nature to keep close watch on any unusual activities or occurrences that might have any effect on themselves, or those close to them. This is another reason why it is essential for even the most urban of witches to be well-versed in natural lore as well as magical lore. It pays to understand the local wildlife, otherwise we might not see that unusual ‘something’ in an animal’s or bird’s normal behaviour patterns.

Our native flora and fauna are linked to our magical subconsciousness and, if we have required any form of divinatory methods to guide us through the subsequent stages of our love life or career, we must be receptive to those responses. For those with a working understanding in the language of magical correspondences, it is easy to grasp how natural the reading of the symbols becomes, and how easy and obvious (in most instances) is the interpretation. For the beginner, however, accept that the answers are not going to appear suddenly in chapter and verse in a book on fortune telling.  Divination is more subtle and, more often than not for the inexperienced, irritatingly obtuse!

Reading for others is a common moral and ethical dilemma that is often raised on internet sites and personally I always refuse point blank to indulge in the practice.  That has not always been the case.  There used to be an unwritten ethic whereby a reader seeing something really nasty in the future was duty bound not to reveal what they had seen lurking in the woodshed.  And in the words of that old Leonard Cohen song … “I’ve seen the future, brother, it is murder!” I decided it was unreasonable for me to carry the burden of knowledge for strangers and waiting for the other boot to drop, and that has remained my personal code to the present day … so don’t ask.

If you do wish to read for others then remember not to use your own ‘tools’ for outsider’s readings as these will become contaminated through use.  Keep your own private equipment under lock and key and have a completely different set for public readings – even this should be ritually cleansed after use as each reading will leave a psychic residue behind and contaminate the next person’s reading.

On the legal front, the whole ball-game changed in 2008 when the Fraudulent Mediums Act (which replaced the 1735 Witchcraft Act) was replaced by the new Consumer Protection Regulations. Now there’s a whole list of disclaimers that must be added to the fortune-teller’s spiel if they are to avoid an avalanche of writs from disgruntled customers.  The reason behind the introduction of the new law was because very little in the multi-million-pound psychic industry in Britain is for free, and anyone charging or accepting ‘gifts’ in exchange for a service is bound by the new regulations.  A legal specialist wryly observed: “Now there is no difference in law between a psychic and a double-glazing salesman.”

Let’s face it, there are ‘professional’ fees charged for all manner of types of divination, including Tarot, psychic readings and clairvoyance – just take a look at the number of classified advertisements in any of the MB&S magazines.  According to Office of Fair Trading research, which provided the basis for the new changes, psychic mailings are estimated to have cost gullible Britons £40m in 2006-07, while psychic services via telephone, online and satellite TV keep the tills ringing in the psychics’ favour.

In the USA the legal status of spiritualists, psychics, fortune-tellers and healers has often been a precarious one, and explains why many pagans adopted the title of Reverend as this kept them within the boundaries of the law.  As one web-post explained:  “If one goes to psychic fairs, etc., you will notice that virtually all readers are Reverend ‘So and So’ with another title attached.  If you are using Tarot or scrying for a church or religious purpose [i.e counselling], and not for the purpose of fortune-telling – you are legal.”  So there you have it … if you are a professional diviner and charge a fee for your services, you might be falling foul of the Office of Fair Trading.

From a purely personal point of view, my abilities when it comes to divination have always been limited, I have to confess.  I regularly use cartomancy (i.e. Crowley’s Thoth Tarot) and the pendulum for personal divinatory purposes – and with a great deal of success I might add – but tend to rely more on the messages from the natural world on a daily basis.  I have the most amazing crystal ball collection but generally use them for meditational work by holding the appropriate sphere in the palm of the hand – one colour for each sephiroth of the Qabalah – rather than prediction.  So … I’m okay with fingers (cleidomancy) and birds (alectryomancy) but the rod (rhabdomancy) I really have to work at to get any kind of results …

Pagan Portals DIVINATION: By Rod, Birds and Fingers by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ( ISBN 9 978 1 78535 858 6 : UK£6.99/US$10.95 : 82 pages.  Available in paperback and e-book format

A Book-Worm’s Eye View

 Starchild I & II by Melusine Draco

 In 2000 I published Starchild: a Re-Discovery of Stellar Wisdom’ It had taken ten years to write and encapsulated what I’d learned on the path up to and beyond Initiation into the Mysteries – it was a catharsis of all the jumbled and fragmentary magical and mystical information collected in the brain, purged and then drawn together to make a coherent whole. It was, I thought at the time – either through arrogance or ignorance – my Magnum Opus.

 Sixteen years later I put the finishing touches to Starchild II: Lights of the Veil, which demonstrates that the path of the Initiate is never ending in terms of learning. Starchild II does not render Starchild I obsolete – it is an extension of that original understanding – an affirmation, if you like. The first book was created out of the wisdom of the ancient Egyptian world and while the second emerged from more recent wider-reaching discoveries, it has revealed how our mystical roots have sprung from different strains of the same panspermiac seed.

 The past sixteen years have seen tremendous breakthroughs in science, archaeology and astronomy, and have merely strengthened the belief that mankind’s true quest for knowledge, wisdom and understanding still lies along the Path of the Initiate. Starchild II uses the old stellar-wisdom to pull all the various esoteric threads together and examine them under a spiritual microscope. Panspermia was an idea of great antiquity, implying that the seeds of life are inherent in the Universe … we can now see that it also carries all the magic and mystery of the stars.

Astrotheology is the study of the astronomical origins of religion; how gods, goddesses, and demons are personifications of astronomical phenomena such as lunar eclipses, planetary alignments, and apparent interactions of planetary bodies with stars. The actual term astro-theology first appeared in a book by William Derham: Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens (1714) based on the author’s observations by means of a telescope. Derham thought that the stars were openings in the firmament through which he thought he saw the Empyrean Heaven – the place in the highest heaven, which in ancient cosmologies was believed to be occupied by the Element of Fire, or the realm of Pure Light – i.e. Kether.

In Starchild I: A Re-discovery of Stellar Wisdom, we discovered how the ancient Egyptians viewed the stars, and how the roots of Western magic and mysticism are still linked to stellar energy. Stellar wisdom is, literally, as old as Time with its beginnings in the ancient creation myths; the primordial, indigenous forces that were later deemed demonic by those who were unable to comprehend their Mysteries. Stellar magic really does reach from the inner chthonic planes of the Earth to the outer limits of Space.

We also find that respected science writers like Marcus Chown, cosmology consultant for New Scientist magazine with a first class degree in physics and a Masters in astrophysics, can explain how every particle that makes up this world of ours originated in The Magic Furnace somewhere in outer space. “The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, the oxygen in our very breath – all were forged in blistering furnaces deep inside stars, and blown into space when those stars exploded and died.” This is an on-going cosmic drama that began some 15 billion years ago and as Chown points out, we are directly connected to that most ‘dramatic and awe-inspiring of cosmic events’ – everyone of us is stardust made flesh.

Even Chet Raymo, professor of physics and astronomy, revealed that he has the soul of a poet in making a personal pilgrimage ‘into the darkness and silence of the night sky in quest of a human meaning’. This pilgrimage is one that each of us must make alone, into this realm of stars and galaxies, to the limits of the Universe, to the boundaries of Time and Space where the mind and heart encounter the ultimate Mystery – the known unknowable. “It is,” he writes, “a pilgrimage in quest of The Soul of the Night.”

We are not talking about philosophical analogies of 20th century theology that ‘figuratively align the three Abrahamic faiths’ with astrological symbolism, or connect the ‘solar allegory and the life of Christ, thereby cleverly rendering obsolete the cosmologies of the ancient Near East’. Our search takes us on a re-discovery of the earliest form of religion that fuelled the faith to construct the Pyramids and the vast Neolithic monuments of the British Isles, all of which were constructed in alignment with the stars …

Starchild I & II by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Books.  ISBN 978 1 78697 649 9 : 242 pages.  Available at a special discount direct from FeedaRead  of  7.95

To order:

Or available at a special discount of UK£0.99/US$0.95 between 22-29th July in Kindle e-book format.

Book extract …

The Power of the Elements by Melusine Draco

A magical practitioner, whether witch, druid, ritual magician or shaman must be aware that there are all manner of different currents and movements on the planet that affect us on a deeper magico-mystical level than we could ever imagine when we begin our voyage of discovery. And as I asked at the beginning of Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries, do we ever stop to think that the burst of energy that sets the pendulum swinging could be caused by the swirling molten layer under the Earth’s crust, creating the electro-magnetic field that surrounds the planet by the spinning outer crust around the solid part of the inner core? Do we recognise the continuous re-arranging of the Earth’s surface by tectonic plate movement; of the earthly debris from volcanoes that brings precious stones and minerals to the surface and the underground eruptions that causes giant tsunami to race around the globe. Or is our Elemental Earth just a quiet ramble in the countryside and a container of sand marking the Northern quarter in our magic Circle?

We may sit meditating by a rippling stream, watching the sunlight dance in the water as it trips over the stones and pebbles in its path – but do we allow our minds to explore the greater picture of where that crystal clear water comes from? Do we realise that this stream began its brief chapter of life being drawn up as vapour from the ocean and falling as rain on the hills and mountain sides, before flowing down into the river valley with enough power to bring rocks and stones tumbling in its wake? Do our magical energies focus on the stream; the rainfall on the mountain; or the ocean? Are we constantly aware of the force of that water-flow throughout the seasons – the spring floods; the summer drought; the clogging of the channel with autumn leaves and the frozen surface in winter. Or does our concept of Elemental Water begin and end with the symbolic bowl of tap water marking the Western quarter in our magic Circle?

Nothing on the planet can live without clean, breathable air, but a magical practitioner needs to think beyond soft summer breezes and rainbows after a spring shower. Air is the stuff from which tornadoes and hurricanes are made; it brings puffs of cumulus clouds or a billowing thunderhead some ten miles high; not to mention the thousands-of-feet-high dust storms that are created when a monsoon collides with dry air currents above it. Or is our Elemental Air merely the curling smoke from a perfumed joss stick marking the Eastern quarter in our magical workings?

Fire, even in its most modest form has the capacity for great destruction – a box of matches in the hands of a child, a fallen candle, or a carelessly discarded cigarette. On a grander and more epic scale, we are well acquainted by television coverage with devastating wildfire destroying anything that stands in its path; the eruption of a volcano; or the power of solar winds that reach out from the sun to interfere with electronic equipment here on Earth. Or is our contact with Elemental Fire restricted to a candle burning at the Southern quarter of our Circle?

For over two thousand years of human history there were just the classical elements of the ancient Greeks – earth, air, fire and water – who formulated this idea in the sixth century BC. The Greeks had an insatiable curiosity about the workings of the world and came to the conclusion that there was a logical explanation for natural phenomenon that was not caused by dyspeptic deities or any other supplicatory supernatural agencies. These ancient men of science at first believed that a single element was the fundamental principle of the universe but eventually the natural philosopher Empedocles argued that all four played equal and interactive parts.

These essential four, he expounded in Tetrasomia, or Doctrine of the Four Elements, either singly or in combination, account for all matter on Earth. That ‘things take on different forms when their component elements separate and rearrange, variously directed by the force of Love, which brings elements together, and Strife, which tears them apart’. And as Dr Rebecca Rupp pointed out in Four Elements: ‘The theory revealed a surprising grasp of the basics: that is, all matter is assembled from a finite number of basic and irreducible elements; and these, combined in specific proportions, make up all the substances that exist.’

In reality, none of these, apart from water, was even close to being elemental. As Marcus Chown explained in The Magic Furnace, all that was needed was for someone to draw the right conclusion.

The man who did so was Antoine Lavoisier, a French aristocrat whose life was ended by the guillotine in the spring of 1794 … Five years before his death, Lavoisier compiled the first list of substances which he believed could not by any means, be broken down into simpler substances. Lavoisier’s list consisted of 23 ‘elements’. Some later turned out not to be elements at all but many were indeed elemental. They included sulphur and mercury, iron and zinc, silver and gold. Lavoisier’s scheme was a turning point in the history of science. It signalled the death of alchemy and the birth of chemistry.

Nevertheless, the contemporary pagan viewpoint is that the four classical elements are still a natural part of our mental make-up, though in each person only one predominates. There is still a lurking appeal of the ancient Greek view that a single one-word answer can reveal something about what we are. In truth, science has come a long way since then … and so has magic. The Greek four are the elements of tradition and time, and have dominated human thought for over two millennia – and have been around long enough to insinuate themselves into our lives, language, art and literature. Even Galen, the ‘Father of Medicine’ cited elemental properties as being at the root of sickness; a theory that was still being expounded by the seventeenth- century herbalist, apothecary and astrologer Nicholas Culpeper.

In magical practice, these four elements still guard the four cardinal points of the Compass (or Circle) and it doesn’t matter in whose name, or in what form we summon them. When ‘Calling the Quarters’ for a Magic Circle it is usual to draw down the protection of the elements by summoning the:

Guardian of the Watchtowers of the North, South, East, West …


The Power of the Element of Earth, Fire, Air, Water …


The Guardian of the North, South, East, West …


The Element of Earth, Fire, Air, Water …


The Stations of the Gnomes, Salamanders, Sylphs and Undines.

The last comes from the classical Paracelsian perspective that there are four elemental categories: gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders, which correspond to the Classical elements of antiquity: earth, water, air and fire. Aether (quintessence) was not assigned an elemental and represents the realm of spirit. For those of ritual magic persuasion the Call would be for the archangels from the Hebrew tradition:

North = Earth = Uriel

South = Fire = Michael

East = Air = Raphael

West = Water = Gabriel

And there is a very good reason why we do this, as Kenneth Grant explained so well in Hecate’s Fountain:

It may be asked, why then do we not abandon the ancient symbols in favour of the formulae of nuclear physics and quantum mechanics? The answer is that the occultist understands that contact with these energies may be established more completely through symbols so ancient that they have had time to bury themselves in the vast storehouse of the racial subconsciousness. To such symbols the Forces respond swiftly and with incalculable fullness, whereas the pseudo-symbols manufactured in the laboratory possess no link with elements in the psyche to which they can appeal. The twisting and turning tunnels explored laboriously by science lead, only too often, away from the goal. The intellectual formulæ and symbols of mathematics have been evolved too recently to serve as direct conduits. For the Old Ones, such lines of communication are dead. The magician, therefore, uses the more direct paths which long ages have been mapped out in the shadowlands of the subconsciousness.

And since I go along with Crowley’s belief that magic is a blend of science and art, it is easy to see how ‘sulphur and mercury, iron and zinc, silver and gold’ later became the magical correspondences for the Underworld, Mercury, Mars, Uranus, Moon and the Sun respectively. It is true Uranus wasn’t universally accepted as a new planet until it was ‘discovered’ by William Herschel in 1783 but it had been observed on many occasions over the centuries and mistaken for a star. Possibly the earliest known observation was by Hipparchus, who in 128 BC might have recorded it in his star catalogue that was later incorporated into Ptolemy’s Almagest.

And although zinc was recorded as an ‘element’ by the unfortunate Antoine Lavoisier in 1789, ornaments made of alloys containing 80–90% zinc have been found that are 2500 years old, while a paper published in 1933 (Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements), cites a possibly prehistoric statuette containing 87.5% zinc found at a Dacian archaeological site. The smelting of zinc ores with copper was apparently discovered in Cyprus and was used later by the Romans.  Alchemists burned zinc metal in air and collected the resulting zinc oxide calling it Lana philosophica, Latin for ‘philosopher’s wool’, because it collected in wooly tufts like white snow. The name of the metal was probably first documented by Paracelsus, a Swiss-born German alchemist and magician, who referred to the metal as ‘zincum’ in his book Liber Mineralium II, in the sixteenth century, before the metal was rediscovered later in Europe.

These ancient symbols are magical shorthand that cut across the aeons and connect us with the ‘Old Ones’ who are quite willing to pick up and communicate with those who ‘speak’ their language. And to repeat with emphasis what Kenneth Grant wrote on the subject:

To such symbols the Forces respond swiftly and with incalculable fullness, whereas the pseudo-symbols manufactured in the laboratory possess no link with elements in the psyche to which they can appeal … The magician, therefore, uses the more direct paths which long ages have been mapped out in the shadowlands of the subconsciousness.

Nevertheless, the idea for this book came from a Coven member who was involved in the filming of an opera on a beach at low tide:

“As we were shooting the film, the tide was starting to come in quite quickly and every five minutes we had to move forward because the water was catching up with us. Standing there I could feel the immense power of the energy that was rising right behind me. The wind was picking up and I could sense the power of the water. It was incredible. All I wanted to do was stop shooting this stupid film and work some magic! It also made me think that I wanted to go and live right by the sea so I could experience this more often. It was so amazing.

“And then it made me think about the conversation we had the other day when you asked about ‘Calling the Quarters’ in the Circle. You said you thought I was more connected to Water and I said, No, Air. Well boy, did I feel connected to that water. I can feel it now. When I need to call upon Water I will dig inside of me for that feeling I had. I can connect to Air as well but I think you were right, I think I have a much stronger connection to Water for some reason. Perhaps because I miss it, being from Marseille in the south of France, but now that I am on this path I feel like I miss it even more.”

Here we have the realisation that although we are psychically connected to the same elements as our ancient Greek counterparts, the modern belief that in ‘each of us only one predominates’ is a long way from the truth. In ancient astrology, the triple groupings of the ‘Star Signs’ were more of a seasonal nature, so each season was given the qualities of a particular element. For example:

  • Spring (wet becoming hot) – Air – Aries, Taurus, Gemini
  • Summer (hot becoming dry) – Fire – Cancer, Leo, Virgo
  • Autumn (dry becoming cold) – Earth – Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius
  • Winter (cold becoming wet) – Water – Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces

All the fire signs are by their nature hot and dry. However, the addition of the elemental qualities of the seasons results in differences between the fire signs; Leo being the midsummer sign gets a double dose of hot and dry and is the pure fire sign. Aries being a spring sign is wetter (hot & dry, hot & wet), and Sagittarius being an autumnal sign is colder (hot & dry, cold & dry); and in the Southern Hemisphere the seasonal cycle is, of course, reversed. Using the seasonal qualities also accounts for other differences in expression between signs of the same element.

Similarly, if we look again at Nicholas Culpeper’s Herbal, we can see how this seventeenth-century English herbalist’s medicine was the same as that practised by the famous Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen that had been used traditionally throughout Europe for 1,400 years: ‘The four temperaments of the body, then, were said to arise from the interaction of the four elements and their primary qualities. This four-fold variation in the human body was matched specifically by the predominance of one of the four humours or bodily fluids. Indeed, the humours, elements, qualities and temperaments were all related’, observed Graeme Tobyn in Culpeper’s Medicine when describing the seventeenth-century’s approach to medicine, although the influence of astrology began to wane in the decades following Culpeper’s death.

The elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water were not literally viewed as things in this world, but as the building blocks in the composition of everything in Nature. Soil would be said to be formed of all elements but, in this case, with a preponderance of the element Earth so that it was perceived as being earthy. Likewise, Air contained Fire (heat), Water (Vapour) and Earth (particles) as well as, mainly Air. The philosopher Empedocles’ (c. 490–430 BC) ideas became truly established in Greek physics and natural philosophy when the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle incorporated it into their theories concerning the physical universe.

Empedocles might have watched a piece of wood burning. Something disintegrates. We hear it crackle and splutter. That is water. Something goes up in smoke. That is air. The fire we can see. Something also remains when the fire is extinguished. That is the ashes – or earth. (Gaarder, Sophie’s World)

And to put these ideas into a magical context, we discover that each element has other facets influencing its purity or effectiveness. By using the Court Cards of our favourite Tarot Deck we can begin to identify what causes those peculiarities that make us say we don’t identify with our particular Star Sign. Leo, for example, is represented by Elemental Fire and is identified with the Knight (or King) of Wands but his ‘family’ is made up of the Princess (the Earthy part of Fire) and the Prince (the Airy part of Fire) of Wands … and the Queen of Wands (the Watery part of Fire).

Adrien, being an Aquarian and a professionally trained singer and dancer, is obviously more geared towards the Watery Part of Air, while I’m an untypical Piscean wired for the Fiery Part of Water in my youth and the Earthy Part of Water in my later years. The current Magister of Coven of the Scales is a Leo and a former Fire Chief who obviously relates to Fire; while the Dame is a Virgo and a lawyer who associates with the Airy Part of Earth. As they get older and develop magically, it will be interesting to see whether these ‘parts’ are subject to change. For the point of this exercise, however, our current chosen points of the Compass for a magical working would be as follows:

                                   The Crone: North

         The Elder: West          +            The Dame: East

                                  The Magister: South


So, here we have four people Calling the Quarters of their choice and who are not necessarily manning the Compass at the station related to their actual birth sign, but of the part of their personality that often overpowers the Star Sign. And we often do find ourselves altering perspective as we go through life-changing situations during our time on this earth whereas our birth sign remains the same until death.

And when a magical practitioner makes the sign of the equal-armed cross +1 at each cardinal point of the Compass, they are evoking the protection of the Elements – not using it in any Christian context. The equal-armed cross, also referred to as the square cross is another name for the Greek cross when this is found in ancient cultures pre-dating Christianity.

First orient yourself by facing the North – the Place of Power – and remember that the + is shorthand for Earth (forehead), Fire (chest), Air (right shoulder) and Water (left shoulder) and by introducing it into our Circle workings we are bringing down every attribute, association and correspondence relating to those four points of the Compass simply by evoking the Guardian and making the sign of that cross. Even if we begin traditionally casting the Compass at the East we still follow the sequence of the equal-armed cross at each station. For example:

East + South + West + North + and complete the Circle by returning to face the East.

 Hopefully a picture is beginning to emerge concerning the exactitude necessary for a serious magical undertaking whether it be for spell-casting, banishing, divination or meditation. The famous magician’s directive ‘Know Thyself!’ is not just referring to spiritual self-analysis, it also exhorts us to understand exactly where we are placed in the magical and universal scheme of things.



  1. For the purpose of examples in the text, I have used Aleister Crowley’s Tarot and The Book of Thoth for imagery and his Liber 777 for correspondences since these are the sources with which I am most familiar on a magical level. Needless to say, many of these images will not be the same for those using other Tarot decks or Tables of Correspondences (i.e. David Conway’s The Complete Magical Primer), but the principles remains the same.

Pagan Portals: The Power of the Elements by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ( ISBN  978 1 78535 916 3 : UK£6.99/US£10.95 : 90 pages

Book news …

CRONE! An Old Craft Witch’s Year is a rag-bag of memories, wise counsel, reflections, magic and nostalgia that make up a witch’s year – especially one who’s just stepped down as leader of a Coven and finds herself with a lot of time on her hands. Magically this is the best of times since there is nothing to prevent the Crone from doing what she likes, when, where and how – since her personal power is now greatly magnified.

CRONE! might also provide food for thought for those Craft ladies of a certain age who need to step aside and let the next generation have their turn, because often we don’t stop to think that the magical power of the group can diminish and stagnate through the lack of fresh energy. Hopefully, as far as the new Magister and Dame are concerned, I will be around for a long time to come, remaining in the background dispensing Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding so that they in turn can train their own successors for the future, while I return to my own chosen Path.

In truth there’s comes a time in life in Crafter’s life when it becomes necessary to follow a different Path and see where it takes us. We leave the security of the Coven and set off on a solitary journey … but as Aleister Crowley observed: “What an adventure!”

ISBN: 9781788760010 : €7.95

Type: Paperback

Pages: 216

Published: 21 September 2017

 Available on special price of UK£0.99/US$0.95 between 15-22nd July on Kindle e-book


Or not, as the case may be …

After all these weeks of ‘lock-down’ I’ve come to a stand-still on the writing front.  Initially the weather was good and so I could break the day by interspersing the hours with gardening and reading outside in the sunshine.  But with the easing of the restrictions and the on-set of rain, the spark’s gone out and the Muse is having to lie down in a darkened room with a damp flannel …

That’s not to say there’s nothing in the pipeline, because that’s just not the case.  The CoS limited edition – Round About the Cauldron Go … is doing the rounds of contributors and this is taking its time for everyone to agree before it goes off to the printers.   This is a ‘first’ for Ignotus Books because its readership will be restricted to the members of Coven of the Scales who have reached a certain stage on their magical journey and will be put out in a hardback edition.

The Witch’s Book of Simples – the simple art of herbal healing is in its first draft and currently being given the once over by a qualified medical herbalist to make sure I’ve remembered grandmother’s Simples in the right context!  It’s been a long time since those days of being sent to fetch a ‘bit o’ summat’ from the garden and I needed to make sure the brain hasn’t let me down.  Once upon a time, everyone used Simples for minor domestic ailments and that was why they were rarely recorded. So I thought I’d better set down my own recollections before they, too, disappeared.

The rough notes for the next Temple House Archive are forming nicely into the first draft of 50,000 words on the subject of pacts, demons and curses – which isn’t conducive to summer creative writing and might have to go on the back-burner until the evenings start to get darker.  I’ve decided to kill off one of my main characters and it’s not easy!

I’ll probably leave everything to ferment if the promised hot weather is about to return and concentrate on the marketing of books already published, especially with the new Ignotus Books Blog now up and running.  The Coven of the Scales Blog is being expanded to include the ‘Life-Style’ idea that was mooted at the beginning of the year and offer more varied reading.  The Melusine Draco Blog includes this sort of stuff, book extracts, book news and mini-articles.

I just heard that Pagan Dawn has accepted a piece on the Sacredness of Landscape to coincide with the publication of Sacred Landscape: Caves & Mountains by Moon Books on 28th August.  Can’t get excited about it as the publisher pulled the plug on the planned trilogy, which has left the overall concept incomplete with Groves & Forests and Lakes & Waterfalls needing to go elsewhere; suggested they cancel the contract for the first book so that the three could be published as one volume but that wasn’t deemed to be a good idea.

The (Inner-City) Path is due for publication on 25th September with Moon Books and this is a sort of life-style approach to finding Nature in the urban areas that most pagans call home. Sexual Dynamics in the Circle: Magic, Man & Woman also published by Moon Books won’t see daylight until 26th March 2021 and it does what it says on the cover.  To date, there are no further titles under contract to Moon Books and who knows what the future will bring …

A Book-Worm’s Eye View

 Traditional Witchcraft & the Pagan Revival is a funny old book, especially coming as it does as the fifth in the Traditional Witchcraft series.  You see, there’s plenty of material out there to explain what contemporary witchcraft and paganism is all about … and there’s plenty of on-line information discussing everyone’s viewpoint of the pagan ethos aimed at beginners.  But I’ve always found that the really important questions usually arise at intermediary level, when folk have been studying Craft for a while and they start to register the differences and similarities between the various paths.

 This is the stage when the pertinent questions arise as to the group or teacher’s antecedents; and why another witch has the temerity to tell us that what we are doing is wrong!   This is when we need strong historical guidelines about paganism in general and witchcraft in particular; and where we need reliable sources to point us in the right direction.  According to the late Michael Howard of The Cauldron fame, traditional British witchcraft refers to ‘any non-Gardnerian, non-Alexandrian, non-Wiccan or pre-modern form of the Craft, especially if it has been inspired by historical forms of witchcraft or folklore’.  This, of course, upsets a lot of people who call themselves ‘traditional’ when Old Crafters come along and point out that it means belonging to an initiatory lineage that is hierarchical, and often patriarchal and elitist!

 The Pagan Revival has also traced many of the threads of Old Craft that have been preserved in often ‘suspect’ writings on the subject by Margaret Murray and Charles Leland that reveal some of their informants, at least, were indeed authentic.   The book examines the revivalist and reconstructed traditions that, although of modern vintage, still have a lot to offer providing they are honest about their sources, roots and ancestry.

 Traditional Witchcraft & the Pagan Revival by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books (  ISBN 978 1 78279 156 0 : UK£11.99/US$19.95 : 180pp : Available in paperback and low price e-book format



I’d like to post a simple book recommendation, this is the first book on the subject I’ve found that takes a well researched academic approach, offers a good overview of the history and is compact and accessibly written. A must read in my opinion. HC

A great writer, a fantastic book and a wonderful person who is full to the brim of the most amazing, interesting and insightful knowledge! Melusine Draco is my favourite! TR

It’s a must have, I thoroughly enjoyed it. An erudite and captivating book that should be on everyone’s reading list. AO