What if all the self-improvement is pointless?

Melusine Draco

I am generally amused by journalist Brendan O’Conner because he’s a sucker for the latest health/well-being fad and occasionally comes up with some thought-provoking comments – like the one above … For poor Brendan, the real shock of this heresy was that it came from one of the most avid and enthusiastic self-improvers he knew.   It left him reeling, he wrote, because if folk were to start questioning all these mid-life self-improvement regimes where did it leave them?

Floundering, I suppose.  Because the media is awash with quick-fix information on how to improve health, life-style and spirituality from feeding the gut with live bacteria to personal enlightenment.  The problem is, that once we adopt one of these life-style regimes it makes us feel good, and virtuous and happy that we are doing something to improve our minds, our bodies and our spirituality because self-improvement has become the new religion.

There was a time when we could unwind and switch-off with other like-minded souls.  Nowadays we’re encouraged to work so hard in an increasingly competitive world that we can’t switch-off or relax without some mindless activity; therefore we can’t sleep at night and, as Brendan O’Connor admits, he spends all his free time pursuing things that might help him relax and sleep at night! ‘So basically we spend much of our free time trying to make ourselves able for all the work and trying to undo what work has done to us,’ he added.

So … where does well-being start?  Obviously health, or rather fitness, is a good place to begin and to be able to quit while you’re ahead.  For most middle and older-agers the usual problem is the belly-fat: that lump that appears around the middle that can’t be shifted through diet or exercise. And herein lays the key to weight loss: the systematic supplementation of certain amino acids allows us to stimulate the body to produce enough fat-burning hormones – in a natural manner and in harmony with the body’s needs. Start trimming down the belly-fat and the rest takes care of its self because we now want to get back into looking and feeling good.

And physical activity doesn’t need to be complicated. Something as simple as a daily brisk walk can help us live a healthier life since it helps us to maintain a healthy weight; prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes; strengthens bones and muscles … and improves your mood.

This brings us to the self-improvement of the mind and spirit … a whole different ball-game whose rules cannot be learnt in five or ten easy steps – or a weekend course with some kind of diploma at the end of it. Spiritual disciplines require years of study to perfect if any level of true mysticism or spiritual erudition is going to be attained; and it takes more than thinking good thoughts or caring for the planet. It’s doubtful whether we are going to find enlightenment with a superficial attempt at meditation although it does no harm to get into the habit of sitting by ourselves in a bubble of calm on a daily basis … but let’s not kid ourselves that nirvana is just around the corner.

The MB&S phenomena is a multi-billion pound/dollar industry and it pays dividends to encourage the unwary to invest in all manner of spiritual enhancers, supplements, products, jewellery, accessories and clothing.  The true seeker needs a teacher to make sure they understand exactly what it is they are seeking because how can you teach yourself what you don’t know exists?

Melusine Draco is the author of Pagan Portals: Western Animism – Zen and the Art of Positive Paganism  ISBN 978 1 78904 123 1 UK£6.99/US$10.95 : 80pp.

“ … her take on Zen is completely unexpected and totally original. I don’t think she has ever failed to surprise and often startle me in her previous books.  This one is no different …”  Alan Richardson, esoteric author

Due for publication July 2019.

Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living

The Blank Canvass: Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living

For witches and pagans living in our towns and cities, winter is a blank canvass at which we can stand and stare in order to appreciate Nature’s art as she begins to add her colours in spring … and summer … and autumn.   Winter isn’t about bare bones because now we learn to see shapes and subtleties that we miss when leaves cover bare branches and flowers are in bloom.   The setting sun of the late afternoon offers a divinatory opportunity when starlings coming home to roost create those wonderful swirling patterns in the sky.

Winter city gardens are more than likely to display the remnants of last summer’s pot planting but in the sheltered cracks and crevasses it is possible to find a first snowdrop; or a tuft of new chickweed with its apple-green leaves and tiny white flowers that appear throughout the growing season. Flowering all year, round this straggly little wildflower can be found growing on disturbed ground, close to walls and on cultivated ground.

Used culinary and medicinally, chickweed is excellent raw used like sprouts, eaten in sandwiches, wraps, etc. and of course it’s a great base for salad. It’s also great cooked and makes a good substitute for spinach. Chickweed is cooling and drying so it has a long history of use in treating skin afflictions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, minor burns, boils, cuts, and insect bites. It’s also good as a compress for soothing hemorrhoids and varicose veins, while a compress, tincture, or fresh juice is used to draw out splinters.

Our blank canvass also offers the chance to find those hidden places within our urban environment in which to seek out those little bits of magic that we miss during the hustle and bustle of finer weather; hidden gardens, riverside walks and private corners that we can retreat to at any time for a moment of peace and tranquility away from the busy streets.   Even old buildings like pre-medieval churches – or ruins of such – can offer a step back into our pagan past, which is alive and well and living in our towns and cities.

Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living is published by Moon Books – www.moon-books.net    ISBN 978 1 84694 978 4  146pp Price: UK£9.99/US$16.95

 

Writer at Work …

Pagan Portals: Power of the Elements has just been published for the end of 2018 so looking at what’s in the pipeline for 2019.   The Thirteenth Sign, the fourth in the Temple House archive series (Ignotus Press) will be appearing in the New Year, while Western Animism and Seeking the Primal Goddess (both with Moon Books) will be coming out later in 2019.  Rosewood Madonna (the fourth in the Hugo Braithwaite Mysteries) is complete and due to go off for proofing in the New Year.

 Work in Progress:

Currently working on ‘The Arte of Darkness: Magic and Mystery From the Shadows’ and will begin the third part of The Vampye’s Tale in the New Year.

I’ve suggested a Sacred Landscape trilogy for Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series and Trevor seems interested

There’s also a new series of novels with a pagan twist in the offing: A Tale for All Seasons that uses ‘The Wild Horseman’ (Summer) as a starting point with ‘The Water Boatman’ (Autumn) currently under way.

New Release: The Power of the Elements

Pagan Portals: Power of the Elements

A Magical Approach to Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit

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?

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

or

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

or

The Guardian of the North, South, East, West

or

The Element of Earth, Fire, Air, Water

or

The Stations of the Gnomes, Salamanders, Sylphs, Undines

The last comes from the classical Paracelsusian 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.

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.  Nevertheless, the idea for this book came from 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.

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’ (c490-430BC) 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.” [Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder]

And to put these ideas in to a magical context, we discover that 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 being 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.  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 + 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.

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.

Published by www.moon-books.net  ISBN 978 1 78535 916 3 UK£6.99/US$10.95

https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-power-elements

New Release: The Calendar of Ancient Egypt

The Egyptian Book of Days provides an insight into both the religious and everyday aspects of ancient Egyptian life. It also introduces the seeker to genuine religious texts (in the form of prayers or invocations, including prayer times), and offers a general overview of Egyptian belief that makes it possible to see a living, breathing people – not just exhibits in a museum.

For the ancient Egyptians every day was considered to have some magical significance, which caused it to be good, bad, or partly good and partly bad and this calendar was compiled for purposes of religious observance. By consulting the lists of lucky and unlucky days, each individual could protect himself and his family against the danger of the day.

This new 200-page edition of the Calendar has been extended to include mini-biographies of the deities whose feast-days are being celebrated on each particular day, details of ritual offerings, holy places and sacred sites – not to mention the gossip and harem scandals that were recorded on ostraca – fragments of pottery shards – that were scattered the length and breadth of Egypt.

The Egyptian Books of Days has been compiled from the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri lodged in the British Museum; the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris; the Staatliche Museum in Berlin; the Rijksmuseum in Leiden; and the Sallier Papyrus IV (No.10184); The Cairo Calendar (No.86637) currently lodged in the British and Cairo Museums and the Temple Festival Calendars of Ancient Egypt by Sherif el-Sabban.

https://www.feedaread.com/books/The-Calendar-of-Ancient-Egypt.aspx

Halloween

We’re coming up to Hallowe’en and all sort of daft imagery is appearing in the shops, supermarkets and on television … For Old Crafters, however, we follow the Old Calendar and for us this sacred time is observed on Old Samhain Eve on the 10th November.    Traditionally Hallowe’en marked the beginning of the ancient Yule rites as this extract from ‘Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways’ explains:

31st [OS] Samhain. John Stow in his Survey of London (1603), gives a description of the appointment of the Lord of Misrule: ‘These Lordes beginning their rule on Alhollon Eu  [Halloween], continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonlie called Candlemas day: In all which space there were fine and subtle disguisinges, Maskes and Mummeries, with playing at Cardes for Counters, Nayles and pointes in euery house, more for pastimes then for gaine.’

 The Lord of Misrule: The historian John Stow wrote: “At the feast of Christmas, in the king’s court, there was always appointed on All-Hallows Eve, a master of mirth and fun, who remained in office till the Feast of Purification [Candlemas]. A similar ‘lord’ was appointed by the lord mayor of London, the sheriffs and the chief nobility. Stubbs tells us that the mock dignitaries, had from twenty to sixty officers under them, and were furnished with hobby-horses, dragons and musicians. They went first to church with such a confused noise that no one could hear his own voice. The Lord of Misrule (called in Scotland ‘Abbot of Unreason’ and L’abbe de Liesse (jollity) in France), was prohibited in 1555.” [The Dictionary of Phrase & Fable]

 31st [NS] Hallowe’en according to the Church calendar was the time when ghosts roamed abroad and is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. It begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed. It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated from Celtic harvest festivals with pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, and that this festival was much later Christianised as Halloween. According to Robin Skelton in Earth, Air, Fire, Water the following is one of the many rhymes collected together under the title of ‘Mother Goose’, which are taken from several sources including Halliwell, Chambers, Sharp and Hazlitt. Today: Join in the modern revels or sit at home with the candles burning to welcome in any passing spirits. An ideal opportunity for divining the future

31st [OS] Teanlay Night: The vigil of All Souls, or the last evening of October, when bonfires were lighted and revels held for succouring souls in purgatory. Today: Light the candles or the patio heater and keep Vigil.

1st [NS] Hallowmas (All Saints’ Day) commemorates the faithful departed. In many traditions, All Saints’ Day is part of the triduum of All-hallowtide, which lasts three days from 31st October to 2nd November inclusive. Today: A time for remembering the dead.

2nd [OS] Day of the Dead – the day in the Celtic year when the Festival of the Dead took place. It was once the custom to leave doors open and food on the table to nourish the souls of recently departed family members. Today: In traditional witchcraft this might also involve holding a Dumb Supper, either today or more appropriately at Old Samhain.

 10th [OS] Old Samhain Eve, Lá Samhna, Calan Gaeof. This is the winter season that traditionally runs from is about halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Similar festivals are held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands; for example the Brythonic Calan Gaeaf (in Wales), Kalan Gwav (in Cornwall), and Kalan Goañv (in Brittany). Tonight: Hold the traditional observance for Samhain.

Old Samhain: The Festival is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. As at Beltaine, special bonfires were lit, which were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers and there were rituals involving them. Like Beltaine, Samhain was also seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed. This meant the Aos Sí, the ‘spirits’, could more easily come into this world. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits and at Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left outside for them. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them at a Dumb Supper. [Britannica]

11th [NS] Better known since 1918 as Armistice Day, it is the time to remember the war dead and the Ancestors on Old Samhain. Today: Wear your poppy with pride.

Extract from Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways published by Ignotus Press UK and available direct from the printer, FeedARead, or from Amazon in paperback or e-book format.  https://www.feedaread.com/books/Old-Year-Old-Calendar-Old-Ways-9781788762052.aspx

 

Christmas is coming …

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE (PAGAN) CHRISTMAS
I was sitting there on the sun lounger under an umbrella during the heat-wave and reading an article by one of the Sunday Independent’s columnist on the subject of all things – Christmas! “The festive season is on my mind,” wrote John Masterson, “because my plans are made … I will be visiting a part of it that I love, with people I love …” and these are sentiments I expressed when compiling Have A Cool Yule in answer to all those complaints that folk make about what should be the most sacred time of the pagan year.

To implement the suggestions made in Have A Cool Yule: How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival it takes a lot of advance planning in order to make the festivities a success.  Why not invest in a copy now and circumnavigate many of the problems caused by leaving things to the last moment, especially when it comes to avoiding causing offence with family and friends. It’s easier to announce there will be changes to your plans for Yule during the summer-autumn months, rather than waiting until Christmas decorations are appearing in the shops. “Make your plans now.  Decide who you want to be with and where you want to be.  Do not make any allowances for toxic people because of the time of the year.  Plan ahead …” concluded John Masterson is his article …

And if, a few months further down the line, you find yourself in the same old rut and bemoaning the fact that you hate Christmas, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

What people are saying about it:

As per usual and in great style, Mélusine Draco presents a wealth of information about this historically proven pagan festival. Whichever way the reader chooses to celebrate…whether it’s a traditional family Christmas or a traditional Yule in the company of pagan friends or as a solitary – there is something for everyone. From a complete festival calendar with some simple rites and symbolism, to carol lyrics, recipes, gift ideas and feasting to the ‘art of using up’ and festive games; everything Yuletide is covered. And with generous doses of light-hearted good cheer and a sprinkling of dark humour, the author strikes a balance that is both useful, informative and entertaining. A charming little book.” Sheena Cundy, Witch Lit author The Madness and the Magic

“This certainly makes a cool yule for me! So much information, such fun too. It puts a whole new slant on our perhaps limited ideas of yuletide.  …turns all preconceptions upside-down. Do read, you’ll enjoy.” Elen Sentier, author of Merlin: The Once and Future WizardElen of the Ways and The Celtic Chakras.

 “Have a Cool Yule is a lovely guide on how to truly enjoy the festive season in the depths of winter, whether you call it Christmas, the Winter Solstice, Yule or any other name. In the pages of this book you will find time-honoured traditions, recipes and sensible advice on how to avoid the worst of the commercialism and make the occasion what you want it to be.” Lucya Starza, author of Pagan Portals – Candle Magic

Pagan Portals: Have A Cool Yule – How ro Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival is published by Moon Books (www.moon-books.net) and available from Amazon in both paperback and e-book format.