19/03/2017

On Tradition and Custom

When we speak of tradition we tend to think about a mere succession of something, a ritual repeated for a few years is established as tradition for its practitioners as much as any gnosis expanded upon arcane sources and customs can take to itself the epitaph ‘traditional’, just because it is anchored in some arcane sources.

Defining something as ‘traditional’ is not that easy, because indeed tradition in itself is perennial and always supra-human, still the purpose must be understood so we can avoid becoming habitual to doing meaningless rituals and practices. Customs repeated would hold the vestige of being traditional, but its meaning and purpose must also be in place. What often happens when meaning and understanding dissolves from the customs is that the original meaning is replaced with pseudo-rites that enable the emergence of counter-tradition, factors that show themselves when tradition itself dissolves in lack of understanding of the reasons for the ritual action and in this loss of meaning.

Guénon states that for the Modern Western man it is fear of opinion that allows this dissolution of tradition to occur. From this fear of opinion he traces the arrival of counter-tradition to be signified by fashion and becoming something subject for public opinion, for good or for bad, ultimately resting on a misguided reverence for customs that in truth is a respect for human stupidity or as Guenon concludes his essay with: “to observe custom in order to fall in line with opinion that honors appearance is therefore the action of a Shudra (a person of no caste or station)” (Initiation & Spiritual Realization).

It so follows from Guénons observation of tradition that there must be a larger meaning to the activities deemed traditional than a mere mimic of past actions. It must be followed by understanding and meaning and in this we find change and the pulse of creativity. Tradition is always something resting on eternal ideas and principles, on doctrine – and never dogma - and by necessity contain creativity and constant presence. Tradition will never be an exercise of ‘dead letters’, it will be a meaningful practice where the participants are aware of the meaning and reason for what is being done, it be a custom performed for thousands of years or for a decade or two.

And so, what is tradition, what is custom, what is counter tradition and pseudo tradition? I think in this question we should all be the judge of our actions and way and in honest appraisal it should reveal itself by the simple questions concerning meaning and purpose and how this ties in to the continuation of eternal and incorruptible themes. Hence the concept of ‘tradition’ is a complex one as a tradition can over the years turn into a pseudo-tradition by the mere loss of meaning and the mimic and repetition of ‘dead letters’. In this I think we should add that matters of ‘tradition’ is not better that something done from an ad hoc pragmatic stance that brings on meaningful results – but when we have meaning and purpose enacted in a ritual design - we are also laying down the first stone of tradition.

Point is that a tradition is not bound by some arcane perimeters, but from meaning and purpose, that is able to establish succession. So, in this, let us give some examples. The Roman Catholic Church is traditional because every ritual done is followed by meaning and purpose. Not only this, but we are speaking of a theological succession that ensure the understanding of the rituals in continuation, when changes are done it is done by conclaves with the aim being to understand the meaning and purpose of the changes being done. Buddhist Schools, Sufi silsilyas and several African faiths will follow in the same pattern through initiations, passing on barakah and empowerments. It is a succession of meaning; rituals are repeated in a perennial fashion lodged in eternal and stable ideas which is why the savior of Christendom is always returning at the 25th of December…

Customs would in this regard be to do what has been done in the past because that is the way they were done. Customs would in the perspective of Guénon border on the purely profane, material and worldly, things done just because custom dictates. There is no greater meaning or purpose to be found and since we spoke of the return of the savior on the 25th of December, Christmas might be a good example of something once traditional turning into something more of a custom. We do what the code of custom dictates, but less and less there is any reflection around the meaning and purpose of this celebration besides spending time with family. Custom are signified by doing what has always been done with little reflection of its purpose and meaning.

A pseudo tradition is perhaps the most difficult one to identify because here tradition can go counter and it can becomes real. Under the realm of pseudo tradition we can gather much of what is called New Age and paganism and it rests on the element of opinion. It is about a personal revelation, it is about founding my own tradition, it is about epiphanies on a micro and not macro level, lacking cosmic relationships that touch the eternal and instead becomes isolated and segmented in relation to a given vision or mission. Since The Roman Catholic Church can be considered to be traditional, a good example of a pseudo tradition would be the Pentecostal movement (and in this we find something very close to counter tradition). The Pentecostal movement claims an apostolic succession given them by the Holy Spirit and given this ethereal transmission it invites in emotional revision of Christian doctrine born from singular vision and limited opinion. Many forms of recreations of traditions lost suffer the same bane, being subject for a vision that leads to a mission mediated on the opinion of one, often with a reinterpretation of the traditional customs revived in a new guise. Being honest about what is going on in this field can lead to pseudo tradition taking flight or the first stone of tradition being placed. Pseudo tradition can be said to be signified by nostalgia and an emotional component.

Counter tradition is about giving new and often erroneous (mediated by opinion alone) content to perennial and eternal ideas. It is like lying so close to the source that the vision appears to be true and in this the Nazi occultists might serve as a good example in how they gave new meaning to perennial symbols. Today we cannot see two Sol runes or a swastika without thinking about the Nazi regime. It is about usurping something by pretending to be a prophet of new visions.  It is about reinterpreting the traditional doctrine into being something else, often self-serving and made to fit in a vision of a personal nature that is ultimately about convincing others so you yourself can be convinced. Counter tradition is signified by an adherence to power and chaos and a glorification of the individual.
So we can see from this that tradition proper is a succession of meaning and purpose. Tradition is commonly passed on, but can also be established by placing the first stone of legacy in this very moment, because all traditions begun with the first stone. We see in every things traditional and interest in meaning and purpose, but also how this meaning touches the individual and the collective in a greater cosmic horizon.

Tradition begins with the One that emanates like nerves and rivers in everything so that we can like Giordano Bruno see the divine in everything and in this realization take notice of the divine signature within all things and find our place and realize the magnitude of everything. From this realization, from this approach we discover Destiny and we become makers of Fate, because in the eternal we enable a return, perpetual and aerial, so we can understand the occult mysteries that makes the world turn, and we cannot find this by turning the gaze only inwards, we need to establish a pulse that allows our heart to beat in the rhythm of eternity and temporality and be cunning enough to see meaning in the shifts and be humble enough so we can adapt to the changing rhythm yet never lose our anchor with the eternal ideas that will move our rituals and our life.

Ifá says in one of its proverbs about isese/tradition, ‘ a perfect fish in one water placed in another need to know how to adapt, it will still be itself, yet different’ and in this lies the heart of tradition, truthfulness, adaptability and creativity born from acceptance, understanding and the pursuit of meaning in what we are doing.


Well, these are some thoughts and if you want more I leave you here an excerpt from Guénons’ The Reign of Quantity and Signs of the Times that addresses the decay of tradition in the Modern Age;

THE falsification of everything has been shown to be one of the characteristic features of our period, but falsification is not in itself subversion properly so-called, though contributing fairly directly to the preparation for it. Perhaps the clearest indication of this is what may be called the falsification of language, taking the form of the misuse of certain words that have been diverted from their true meaning; misuse of this kind is to some extent imposed by constant suggestion on the part of everyone who exercises any kind of influence over the mentality of the public. It is a case of something more than the mere degeneration alluded to earlier, whereby many words have come to lose their original qualitative meaning, keeping only one that is purely quantitative ; it is more a question of a ” diversion “, whereby words are applied to things which they do not fit in any way, and sometimes in a sense directly opposed to their normal meaning. This is one of the most obvious symptoms of the intellectual confusion which reigns everywhere in the present world ; but it must not be forgotten that this very confusion is willed by that which lies hidden behind the whole modern deviation ; this thought obtrudes itself particularly in view of the simultaneous appearance in many different quarters of attempts to make illegitimate use of the very idea of ” tradition ” by people who want improperly to assimilate its significance to their own conceptions in one domain or another. Of course there is no question of suspecting the good faith of any particular party, for very often it may be a case of mere incomprehension and nothing more; the ignorance of most of our contemporaries about anything possessing a truly traditional character is so complete that this need cause no surprise. Nevertheless it must also be recognized that such errors of interpretation and involuntary misconceptions serve the purpose of certain ” plans ” so well that it is permissible to wonder whether their growing diffusion may not be due to some of the ” suggestions that dominate the modern mentality, all of which lead ultimately to nothing less than the destruction of all that is tradition in the true sense of the word.

The modern mentality itself, in everything that characterizes it specifically as such (and this must be said once more, for it is something that cannot be too often insisted on) is no more than the product of a vast collective suggestion, which has operated continuously for several centuries and has determined the formation and progressive development of the anti-traditional spirit, and in that spirit the whole of the distinctive features of the modern mentality are comprised. Nevertheless, however powerful and clever the suggestion may be, a moment may always come when the resulting state of disorder and disequilibrium becomes so apparent that some people cannot fail to become aware of it, and then there is a risk of a ” reaction ” which might compromise the desired result. It certainly seems that matters have to-day just reached that stage, and it is noticeable that this moment coincides exactly, by a sort of ” immanent logic “, with the moment at which the merely negative phase of the modern deviation comes to an end, the phase represented by the complete and unrivalled domination of the materialistic mentality. This is where the falsification of the traditional idea comes in with great effect ; it is made possible by the ignorance already mentioned, itself but one of the products of the negative phase; the very idea of tradition has been destroyed to such an extent that those who aspire to recover it no longer know which way to turn, and are only too ready to accept all the false ideas presented to them in its place and under its name. Such people may have become aware, at least up to a point, that they had been deceived by openly anti-traditional suggestions, and that the beliefs imposed on them represented only error and deceit ; that is certainly a change in the direction of the ” reaction ” alluded to, nevertheless no effective result could accrue if nothing further were to happen. This is clear enough from the growing quantity of literature containing the most pertinent criticisms of our present civilization, but contemplating measures for the cure of the evils so rightly denounced that are, as indicated earlier, curiously disproportionate and insignificant, and often more or less infantile: such proposals can be said to be ” scholarly ” or ” academic ” and nothing more, and there is anyhow nothing in them that gives evidence of the least knowledge of a profound order. This is the stage at which the effort made, however praiseworthy and meritorious it may be, can easily allow itself to be turned aside towards activities which will, in their own way and despite appearances, only contribute in the end to the further growth of the disorder and confusion of the ” civilization “, the reinstatement of which they were intended to bring about.

The people just referred to are such as can properly be described as ” traditionalists “, meaning people who only have a sort of tendency or aspiration towards tradition without really knowing anything at all about it ; this is the measure of the distance dividing the ” traditionalist ” spirit from the truly traditional spirit, for the latter implies a real knowledge, and indeed in a sense it is the same as that knowledge. In short, the ” traditionalist ” is and can be no more than a mere ” seeker”, and that is why he is always in danger of going astray, not being in possession of the principles which alone could provide him with infallible guidance; and his danger is all the greater because he will find in his path, like so many ambushes, all the false ideas set on foot by the power of illusion which has a capital interest in preventing him from reaching the true goal of his search. It is indeed evident that this power can only maintain itself and continue to exercise its action on condition that all restoration of the traditional idea is made impossible, and more than ever so when it is preparing to take a further step in the direction of subversion, subversion being, as explained, the second phase of its action. So it is quite as important for the power in question to divert searchings tending towards traditional knowledge as it is to divert those concerned with the origins or real causes of the modern deviation, and thus liable to reveal something of the true nature of the said power and the means of its influence; these two devices are both necessary and in a sense complementary, and they could fairly be regarded as the positive and negative aspects of a single plan of action having domination as its objective.

All misuses of the word ” tradition ” can serve this same purpose in one way or another, beginning with the most popular of all, whereby it is made synonymous with it custom ” or ” usage “, thus bringing about a confusion of tradition with things that are on the lower human level and are completely lacking in profound significance. But there are other and more subtle deformations, all the more dangerous because of their subtlety; but all have as a common characteristic that of bringing the idea of tradition down to a purely human level, whereas on the contrary there is nothing and can be nothing truly traditional that does not contain some element of a superhuman order. This indeed is the essential point, containing as it were the very definition of tradition and all that appertains to it ; this is also therefore the very point which must on no account be allowed to emerge if the modern mentality is to be maintained in its state of delusion, and still more if it is to have yet other delusions imposed on it, such as will not only suppress any tendency towards a restoration of the super-human, but will also direct the modern mentality more effectively towards the worst modalities of the sub-human. Moreover in order to become aware of the importance assigned to the negation of the super-human by the conscious and unconscious agents of the modern deviation, it is enough to observe how all who lay claim to be ” historians ” of religion and of other forms of the tradition (and they anyhow usually mix all these forms together under the general title of ” religion “) are eager above all to explain everything in terms of exclusively human factors ;. it matters little whether, according to school of thought, these factors are psychological, social or anything else, the very multiplicity of the different explanations facilitates the seduction of a greater number; common to all is the well-defined desire to reduce everything to the human level and to retain nothing that surpasses it ; and those who believe in the value of this destructive ” criticism ” are thenceforth very ready to confuse tradition with anything whatever, since there is nothing in the ideas inculcated into them such as might enable tradition to be distinguished from that which is wholly lacking in traditional character.

Granted that nothing that is of a purely human order can for that very reason legitimately be called ” traditional “, there cannot possibly be, for instance, a ” philosophical tradition ” or a ” scientific tradition ” in the modern and profane sense of the words, any more, of course, than there can be a ” political tradition “, at least where all traditional social organization is lacking, as is the case in the modern Western world. Nevertheless such expressions are in common use to-day, each in its way denaturing the idea of tradition; and it is obvious that if the ” traditionalists ” referred to above can be persuaded to allow their activity to be turned aside towards one or other of these domains and to confine their activity to it, their aspirations will be ” neutralized ” and rendered perfectly harmless, and may even sometimes be used without their knowledge for a purpose exactly contrary to what they intend. Indeed it sometimes happens that people go so far as to apply the word ” tradition ” to things which by their very nature are as directly anti-traditional as possible : thus they talk about a “humanist tradition “, and a ” national tradition ” despite the fact that humanism is nothing if not an explicit denial of the super-human, and the formation of ” nationalities ” has been the means employed for the destruction of the traditional civilization of the Middle Ages. In the circumstances it would not be surprising if people began one day to talk about a ” Protestant tradition ” or even a ” lay tradition ” or ” a revolutionary tradition ” or if the materialists themselves ended by proclaiming themselves the defenders of a ” tradition “, if only in their capacity as the representatives of something already belonging in a great measure to the past ! Most of our contemporaries have reached such a state of mental confusion that associations of the most manifestly contradictory words bring about no reaction on their part and do not even provide them with food for thought.

This leads at once to another important observation when a few people have become conscious of the disorder of these days owing to the all too obvious effects of its present stage of development (more particularly since the stage corresponding to a maximum of ” solidification ” has been left behind) and when these people try to ” react ” in one way or another, the best means for making their desire for ” reaction ” ineffective is surely to direct it towards one of the earlier and less ” advanced ” stages of the same deviation, some stage in which disorder had not yet become so apparent, and was as it were presented under an outward aspect more acceptable to anyone not yet completely blinded by certain suggestions. Anyone who considers himself a ” traditionalist ” must normally declare himself ” anti-modern “, but he may not be any the less affected, though he be unaware of the fact, by modern ideas in a more or less attenuated form; they are then less easily detected, but they always correspond in fact to one or other of the stages passed through by these same ideas in the course of their development ; no concession, even unconscious or involuntary, is admissible on this point, for from the very beginning up to the present day, and beyond that too, everything holds together and is inexorably interlinked. In that connection, this much more must be said: the work which has as its object to prevent all ” reaction ” from aiming at anything farther back than a return to a lesser disorder, while at the same time concealing the character of the lesser disorder so that it may pass as ” order “, fits in very exactly with the other work carried out with a view to securing the penetration of the modern spirit into the interior of whatever is left of traditional organisations of any kind in the West; the same ” neutralizing ” effect on forces of which the opposition might become formidable is obtained in both cases. Moreover something more than mere ” neutralization ” is involved, for a struggle must necessarily take place between the elements thus brought together as it were on the same level and on the same ground, and their reciprocal enmity is therefore no more than an enmity between the various and apparently opposed productions of one and the same modern deviation; thus the final result can only be a fresh increase in disorder and confusion, and that simply amounts to one more step towards final dissolution.


As between all the more or less incoherent things that are to-day in constant agitation and mutual collision, as between all external ” movements of whatever kind they may be, there is no occasion to take sides “, to use the common expression, whether from a traditional or from a merely ” traditionalist ” point of view, for to do so is to become a dupe. Since the same influences are really operating behind all these things, it is really playing their game to join in the struggles promoted and directed by them ; therefore the mere fact of ” taking sides ” under such conditions is necessarily to adopt, .however unwittingly, a truly anti-traditional attitude. No particular applications need be specified here, but it must at least be made clear in a general way that in all this agitation principles are always and everywhere lacking, despite the fact that ” principles ” have surely never been so much talked about as they are to-day on all sides, the word being commonly applied more or less regardlessly to things that are least worthy of it, and sometimes even to things that imply the negation of all true principle. This particular misuse of a word is again highly significant of the real trend of the falsification of language already well exemplified by the perversion of the word “tradition” ; that example has been specially stressed because it is most closely connected with the subject of this treatise, in so far as the latter is intended to give a picture of the last phases of the cyclical ” descent “. It is not in fact possible to stop short at the point which represents most nearly the apogee of the ” reign of quantity “, for what follows that point is too closely connected with what precedes it to allow of any separation being made otherwise than quite artificially ; no “abstractions” are therefore admitted here, for they only represent a particular form of the ” simplification ” so dear to the modern mentality ; on the contrary, the object is as far as possible to present reality as it is, without omitting anything that is essential for the understanding of the conditions of the present period.

03/02/2017

The Witch, the Cunning One and the Famulus

A Review of:
&


Steve Patterson’s book is based on the exhibition in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle with the same name and using this historical depiction of a cunning woman’s kitchen/workspace Patterson is leading us into a greater presentation of folk magic and cunning practices in the West Country commonly ascribed to the wayside witches by Cecil Williamson. Also found here is Old Joan’s Book of Spells, a collection of spells demonstrating the art practiced by the wayside witches at the sea shore of the West Country since the 18th Century.

Patterson is in this presentation of spells and arsenal also occupied with time and world view and is using this presentation to also enter into the significant historical transition that marked the modern idea of Witchcraft through the friendship and eventually alienation and parting ways between Cecil Williamson and Gerald Gardner. Patterson is merely highlighting the differences of perception and vision between the two men as explanatory for the modern day continued discourse and disagreements concerning witchcraft and what a witch truly is.

And it is in this depiction and description of the wise woman’s cottage and the book of spells Patterson allows the image of the wayside witch to rise and take form as a contrast to the idea of the witch embodied within Gardner’s religious child, Wicca. In doing this Patterson contributes clarity to our understanding of what a witch is and for him the integral and vital part is, as it was for Cecil Williamson, about the familiar or famulus and this is in truth an element of vital importance for the witch and in highlighting this factor it also makes it more understandable to understand where the dividing lines between the witch and the cunning one is to be found.

And speaking of the famulus, Troy Books also released Giles Watson’s A Witch’s NaturalHistory in 2013, which I will also comment on in extension of the familiar. The essays in this book were originally published as a series in The Cauldron and were such refreshing and stunning account of exactly the many familiars of the witch. Watson takes us through crows and slugs, bugs, veneficum and adders analyzing behavior, virtue and meaning in cunning depth. In doing this he give voice to the secret movements of nature and enables a deep and marvelous understanding of nature, her works and her inhabitants.

I adored these articles when I first read them and it was the same pleasure in reading them again, this is simply one of those books that is amazingly rewarding to read due to how it expands your horizons and deepen your understanding and provides avenues for magic and mystery in how we look at nature after the pages has ended in such way that we are more able to marvel in the mysteries of nature possessing these perceptions Watson has shared with the reader.




07/12/2016

A Bouquet of Charms and Spells

A Review of:

This compilation of spells and charms is a treasure-trove in two senses. Firstly by being a compilation of spells and charms covering all possible areas, it be about curing animals, love charms, protective charms and spells or for healing.  In this way it serves as both preserving legacy and also invite in inspiration for how to deal with particular issues grounded in traditional folk magic.

Secondly the treasure in this little book is found in the spread of spells and charms from the use of Solomonic elements and practical contemporary use exemplified in spells to bring misfortune to Hitler during the WWII there is also an impressive timeline here that embraces spells and charms dating back to the 9th Century and up to WWII, this spread across this timeline is in itself something that makes the book impressive as it allows us to see consistency and difference across time and place and in this clearly see the constant presence of vital elements involved in given workings.

Amongst the many curiosities I will mention only one, a bone mending charm from the Merseburg Cathedral Library in Germany (page 111)dating to the 10th Century which translated from high Germanic reads as follows:

Phol and Woden were riding in the woods
And Balder’s foal twisted its ankle
Then Sindgun and Sunna, her sister,
Chanted a spell over it:
Then Frija, Volla’s sister chanted a spell over it:
Then Woden chanted a spell over it as well as he could:
Like the sprain of the bone
So the sprain of the blood
So the sprain of the limb
Bone to bone, blood to blood
Joint to joint, thus glued together be!

This way of creating a mythical magical charm involving otherworldly beings remained a popular part of the arsenal of practitioners of folk magic as the many Black Books or Cyprian in Norway and Sweden should testify to where we there find saints and apostles called upon in similar manner for various ends which in itself testifies to the elegant fluidity and adaptability to powers for what they could do was truly a trait of the cunning ones.


In TheBritish Book of Spells and Charms Graham King have in his own way ensured a transmission of wisdom, a wisdom both practical and inspiring, presented in a most clever and illuminating way. 

05/12/2016

The Sinful Books of a Shadow Saint

A Review ofCypriana: Old World Edited by
Alexander Cummins, Jesse Hathaway Diaz & Jennifer Zahrt,  Rubedo Press,2016

This anthology rests on two key texts, the first essay in the anthology which is a translation of Book 1 of the Acts of Saint Cyprian and Saint Justine dating to 450 CE. It is a remarkable text in many ways and as the translator, Matthew Barclay, comments: “(it is) giving us a glimpse into the marketplace of occult services that existed in the ancient world.” Not only this, in being the earliest account of St. Cyprian and his conversion, giving ample room to Saint Justina, it naturally served as an influence and inspiration for other hagiographic renderings through The Golden Legend and to the Faustbooks and Cyprians of Scandinavia and Iberia.

The dynamic of interaction, the very inconsistency that has moved the ‘Cyprianic Tradition’ is well discussed in  Alexander Cummins key article, ’ In the Manner of Saint Cyprian’ that uses the little grammar of magic known as De Nigromancia, attributed to the 13th Century friar Roger Bacon as the pinnacle for painting the Cyprianic vortex of change, flux and transformation ending up with bringing form to St. Cyprian as the lusting saint and divine sinner as an idea and reality not in need to be supported by material history per se. In this way we realize that St. Cyprian is as much about a spiritual concept, the man at the crossroad, the shadow saint that in the way of any St. Thomas or St. Iscariot questions the limited understanding of divine depths and poke our prejudices and pre-judgments, our moral and sense of right and wrong, the sin and the forgiveness.


To support this foundation and core for the anthology, the book spreads its wings to Iberia and Scandinavia where we find Johannes Gårdbäck giving a detailed account of the earliest and more notorious accounts of St Cyprian in Scandinavia, as a Faust from Thule as José Leitão unmask the Iberian conglomerate of St. Cyprian and his forbidden teachings in his more continental rendering.
In this exploration it becomes evident that St. Cyprian is his own book, the many black books in Scandinavia carrying his name as well as the multiple variations and differences in the Iberian and Brazilian Books of St Cyprian, is simply a testimony to how the idea of a book can be elusive and just as well be written on the pages of a thousand clouds with the ink of sweet sin as with blood and bile on the parchment of a book.   


It is a welcome addition to the growing literature on St. Cyprian and his legacy, an anthology I have no problem recommending. So, visit Rubedo Press and get your copy-



03/10/2016

Ifá: A Forest of Mystery

My book about Ifá is finally out – and yes I say, finally. This book took around two years to compose and nearly the same amount of time with the wonderful Peter and Alkistis at Scarlet Imprint to manifest in the form of ink, paper and talismanic design.

It could not have been in any other way. Ifá deems patience as a virtue that lies at the root of blessings and in this nearly 1500 day project patience have been the virtue of writer and publisher alike. And speaking of patience, I met the Araba Olayinka Babatunde Ogunsina Adewuyi for the first time in 2003 and shortly after I started study traditional Ifá with this sage and it was only a good decade later I felt I had some sort of idea of the complexities of Ifá sufficient to write a book about this traditional African philosophy.  Prior to this I went to Cuba and made Ifá there as well, but it was traditional Ifá that captivated me, because here I found philosophy and here I found tradition expressed in a timeless manner befitting every living soul in profound and mysterious ways with the overarching aim of making sense of life and attract good fortune in all its variety. 

In the upcoming interview with Gordon at Runesoup, Gordon pointed out that the marvel with Ifa is not that it is a modus of divination, but a tradition that have a divination system – and the profundity in that observation lies at the root of Ifá as a practical philosophy that includes the invisible realm and the visible realm related to vibration, effect and solution born from knowledge and wisdom. The word Ifá have no straightforward translation but it means ‘to pull’ or ‘to attract’ and if the development of good character is the axis that ensures attraction we will reap blessings or lessons that enables the cunning that turns lessons into blessings.

To develop good character is key here, because it means that character is something that is forged through the journey of life with its pull to do good and its pull to curse, like carbon turns into diamonds under pressure.

The insistence on imperfection and the joy of this imperfection spreads out in Ifá through thousands of poetic meters and proverbs that speaks of situations replicating themselves  in difference and repetition, always aiming towards solutions. These situations and solutions are not bound to Africa or more specifically the Yoruba speaking people, but speak of the human condition at large and touches any and every living being they be on the visible or visible side of the veil that separates the worlds.
I can go on and on with this, but a book counting 400 pages can’t hardly make a blog posting justice to the richness of Ifá, so I will only state that with this book my attempt was to compose an introduction to Ifá that would also benefit practitioners in demonstrating the rhythm and essence found at the core of Ifá philosophy as revealed in its verses that unveil a profound metaphysics as well as a practical wisdom.


On a more personal note this work presents my concept of what ‘tradition’ is through its practical philosophy and I believe this book is ‘something good’, a book that will aid towards making sense of life and also answer the big questions concerning meaning and reason. We are divine beings on a human journey, we are bound to fail and succeed, if character is the goal and if character is what attracts all possible fortune, well you might find something of worth and resonance in the page of this book.

The book can be ordered directly from Scarlet Imprint by a click on the link

26/09/2016

St. Cyprian of the Black Cat Bone

Today on the feast day of St. Cyprian and Sta. Justina on the 26th of September Sacred Alchemy Store is offering St. Cyprian of the Black Cat Bone as our offering in honor of this enigmatic and precious saint, patron of necromancy and one of many saints dressing well the garments of folk Catholicism. 

The charge has been made in the course of the nine days of Cyprian, prayers to the left and to the right along with anointments and fumigations at midday and midnight hath been done to bring in the Sun at midday and the Sun at midnight to enforce the feline sorcerous juices resting within this icon balancing the Sun both white and black equally. And in truth the black cat bone is not a metaphor here, but the nail that serves as the axis for this sorcerous offering and carried within the saint.  

St. Cyprian is amongst those powers that those of us from the old persuasion might deem a ‘witchcraft saint’, a terminology that tend to generate a great deal of resistance amongst contemporary practitioners of occultism and paganism simply due to a Catholic bias rehearsed in a disenchanted postmodern reality saturated with opinions and truism that can never hope to be anything but an echo of lies.

Some would argue that Christianity is anti-paganism, yet,  a term like ‘the old faith’ or ‘old religion’ was in truth, as Emma Wilby stated, in her erudite studies about the Cunning folk on the Isle of Albion, a reference to Catholicism in the time of reformation. The Catholic Church or more correctly The Roman Catholic Church was a continuation of Roman ways, mediated this ‘new’ vision ascribed to Ieshua then adopted as a prophet for a particular way of interpreting theology and theophany in a Catholic or Universalist way. Certainly a lot has changed since then and the Roman Catholic Church went through several schism and reformations in itself. 

Christian saints might be seen as similar to the sadhus of India and the prophets of Islam and Judaism pertaining to the Christian mythology, where saints continued metaphors, allegories and teachings either born by their own example or continuing legends like genii loci related to the magic and mystery of a specific location.  A saint is not ‘something Christian’, a saint is also something dead, something vibrant, and something that holds a particular virtue – and in the case of St. Cyprian wespeak of the virtue of necromancy and magic. The magic of the Eucharist, of sacred and barbarous words, the virtue resting in plants of healing and how to raise the dead to speak, in the manner of Ieshua himself allowing Lazarus to raise from the grave in the manner of St. Cyprian rising the dead and cause death to speak. 

Beneath the Christian veil, a saint will always carry a naked truth, a virtue that can be recognized for what it is, no matter if the virtue is dressed in a bishops cloak, the rags of a beggar or the leaves of nature. A saint can be ancestry, virtue and genii loci, metaphor, allegory and memory. For more about this, please do read the article about Sorcerous Saints.

 And so, it is with great pleasure we offer 2 – two - St. Cyprians which will be finalized in this night up for sale. This St.Cyprian carries a powerful and unique sorcerous charge utilizing the black at bone as vehicle for its necromantic potency. Along with the saint comes a guia of Exu washed in honour of the ‘left’ and a black rosary, this one dedicated to another sorcerous saint, São Bento, that mimics the mystery and shock embedded in the icon of St. Cyprian and a secret prayer bringing in a strong Saturnine river to this Sun at Midnight.

Please visit Our store to browse for this spectacular St. Cyprian and other products and services of interest at sacredalchemystore.com

  

20/08/2016

The Devil’s Plantation

A review of Nigel G. Pearson: The Devil’s Plantation (Troy Books. 2015)

“Traditional Witchcraft” is gradually being turned into a catch all phrase for any folk tradition believed to be non-wiccan witchcraft, a label adopted by anyone believing themselves to work in a traditional way or set out to create their own traditions. A part of me aches seeing this, another part of me just turn a blind eye to it all because after all I am not the keeper of my brother and certainly not the watchdog of tradition.

Good books about what we understand as ‘traditional witchcraft’ are few and rare largely because those truly involved in the witching ways are rarely interested in speaking about their art and craft directly and even more so when we are speaking of publications like a book speaking about the art and craft. The lack of good books on the craft makes a book like Nigel’s The Devil’s Plantation a joy to behold and read. It is a book breaching this field between sharing and keep silent what shall be kept quiet  in a generous and enlightened way, a book of clarity and kindness that maintain the path direct of the traditional torch that sheds light on the nature and essence of the craft.  

There is much good to be said of this book and for me personally the fact that this book somehow follows in the footsteps on a long time favorite book on this subject, namely Nigel Pennick’s East Anglian Magic (Robert Hale. London 1995) just makes me treasure this book even more. Nigel is giving much attention to the devil, to witchcraft saints and in general to how the land itself with its inhabitants should and could be understood and worked. We are speaking of dual observance, or the worship of both hands as an integral mystery of the very understanding of the art that so naturally is applied and acted upon by the witch traditional in pact and concord with the blood of its land.

The book is not only a generous sharing of the witching ways with is spirits, herbs and mysteries, both diurnal and nocturnal – but it is also a celebration of a land Nigel knows so well and in this the book becomes a testament giving voice to the mighty dead still alive under rocks and creeks, in wind and leaves in East Anglia and with that I praise myself fortunate to include yet another worthy tome in the library of witchcraft and look forward to Nigel’s next offering in praise of land, spirit and night!


17/08/2016

Even monkeys fall from the tree… sometimes

The monkey skillfully climbing a tree and jumping from treetop to treetop using the environment to its advantage like a parkour artist is something we expect to witness. To see the very same monkey fall to the ground in its acrobatic mastery calls upon shock, laughter, bewilderment and what not.

When I witnessed this a few days ago in my own wood clad backyard I didn’t knew what to think really except for a brief internal dialogue consisting in ‘how on earth was that possible’ and sitting there watching the monkey getting up on its feet and disappear in the foliage I stayed there puzzled wondering about this whole event, thoughts I wanted to share as this bizarre incident of a falling monkey triggered a bounty of reflections.

Witnessing the monkey falling from the tree a judgment occurs, instinctively and reactionary where a form of certainty concerning the reasons of the monkeys fall is established in the matter of seconds, a judgment born from preexisting learning and the desire of making sense of what is outside the expected that in turn hatches itself on our prior experiences where our lazy brain makes the most immediate connections possible to present us with some plausible explanation. Just to make sense of whatever happened, hence sense making is commonly a selfish process – and how could it be in any other way – our reference to the world will always be rooted in how we experience the world, our learning and our personal history.

Hence we have an innate tendency to generate rules that validate a behavior or a phenomena that at first is simple response born from personal history and experience that then takes the shape of truth.
And here we are diving into waters most poisonous. To take your judgement of why the monkey fell from the tree as truth would probably indicate that you are in error. The Romans saw truth or Veritas as a maiden clad in white resting at the bottom of a deep well – and truth will always be like that, truth is something we sense, feel and know is true, it is not limited to facts and behaviour, axioms or possibilities. Truth is not what is statistically secure or relevant; truth is always elusive and subject to perspective and placement. The quest for truth gave us postmodern philosophers like Deleuze, Lyotard and Derrida in recent years who in their enquiry of situation, location, time and space related to meaning can be summarised in Derridas observation, here paraphrased,  that ‘facts proves or explains nothing, we always give a voice to the facts we observe’.

And so, let us return to the monkey that fell in his jump, to some extent we can perhaps agree that falling in your self-confidence is a result of hubris, it be in the form of a debilitating character trait or as a consequence of some error. If so, this brings us back to the concept of judgement.

We judge constantly, if you have no idea about how much we judge every day, set a goal of avoid judgements for one day, just to see how much you judge everything in a self-referring way constantly.
If we look at Dante’s Divine Comedy we find that hubris is that sin that throws you in the deepest pit, in tartaros, what is above here is people of treachery and fraud, flatterers, hypocrites and oath breakers. Lucifer always served as the great example of hubris in that one thing of believing that he knew better than anyone else. It doesn’t matter if he did or not, what matters is his attitude, namely over confidence born from an exalted idea of self-importance and so in the case of the monkey falling from the tree and those judging it we are perhaps speaking of the presence of hubris on both the part of the monkey and those who judge the reasons why and declares truth.

In analysing hubris I have found that there is some difference here between the English ‘pride’ or ‘vainglory’ in how hubris was understood in Antiquity. Commonly hubris was ascribed to the Olympic gods and to rulers and political advisors from Aristotle to Seneca to Machiavelli was always warning against the consequences of hubris, it would always lead to fall, lest the erroneous trait or attitude was recognized and altered. Sun Tzu advices in his the art of war that if your opponent suffers from pride or believes himself to have to upper hand, feed his arrogance so you can strike like thunder in the blackest night.

Like monkeys sometimes fall from the trees we also fall in the journey of life, we commit errors and mistakes, some born from foolishness and others from hubris. The corpus of Ifá is full of stories about orisas committing mistakes of both sorts, it be about refusing to make the sacrifice necessary because they find it unnecessary or because they know better. Hence we find the orisa of purity, Obatala in complicated and demeaning situations as we do with the majority of the orisas. Somehow it seems that the only one not prone to hubris is the orisa Esu, the man at the crossroad, Lord of transformation, choice and opportunity.

Errors committed in hubris must always been corrected and this ranges from the simple things like let us say you stopped smoking and in turn you demand your partner to cease the habit as well. You do this from the best of reasons, yet since you are over confident and portray yourself to know better this might be an act of hubris performed in such situation. From such small matters as this to the wide array of aesthetic, and political opinions, judgements, bickering and fights for truth and right in opinion, verdict and judgement of all kinds.

From the perspective of Ifá hubris is considered a trait or attitude born from praise and flattery, success and increase in social station and not necessary as a character flaw. The orisa of justice, Sango, being the power often used to represent the downfall of hubris. In the case of Sango it all starts with good intention, he came from the invisible realm wanting every human being to be rich. Finding human beings to be fickle and inconsistent, prone to quarrel and judgement he interfered because he knew better the ways of abundance (and indeed as the author of abundance he knew what he was speaking of) – yet imposing his supremacy led to his downfall. 

Judgement is another form of hubris and I feel the story from sura 18 in Al Quran where Khidir meets Moses is illustrative in this regard. Briefly told the sura speaks about how Khidir met Moses at the junction of two seas and intended to teach him ‘the right knowledge of what he has been taught’. Khidir asks from Moses that he must have patience and avoid questioning his actions. They set out on the journey and enter a boat. Here Khidir when they are out on sea damages the boat so it will sink. Moses shocked by the saints behaviour questions him and is immediately corrected and reminded he promised to be patient and don’t questioning him. After this Khidir kills a young man and after this they arrive to a town where they are denied hospitality, here Khidir restores a broken wall for the villagers. Moses in shock of his conduct breaks his oath on all three occasions whereas Khidir tells him:
“Many acts which seem to be evil, malicious or somber, actually are merciful. The boat was damaged to prevent its owners from falling into the hands of a king who seized every boat by force. And as for the boy, his parents were believers and we feared lest he should make disobedience and ingratitude to come upon them. God will replace the child with one better in purity, affection and obedience. As for the restored wall, the Servant explained that underneath the wall was a treasure belonging to two helpless orphans whose father was a righteous man. As God's envoy, the Servant restored the wall, showing God's kindness by rewarding the piety of the orphans' father, and so that when the wall becomes weak again and collapses, the orphans will be older and stronger and will take the treasure that belongs to them."


My point being an act with its judgement is often rooted in hubris, a hubris born from a desire to understand how something not in conformity with what we assume or think is the logical or correct way or outcome of a situation. It is Moses in bewilderment not figuring out the reasons for a saint to behave ‘unsaintly’ or a monkey falling from the tree judgement always occurs and this judgement is instinctive and born from our personal history and expectation. And so if my judgement of the monkey falling from the tree is because he is stupid or bad – well maybe I am wrong – maybe he was just in error and took a jump on a broken branch. We always confer judgements and judgements born from jealousy, envy and self-hatred always lead to gossip as judgement born from bitterness and hubris lead to slander… and still monkey’s will from time to time fall from the tree and we will keep on wondering why and pass our judgements.

13/07/2016

A Quimbanda FAQ

In this article I will try to answer some questions concerning Quimbanda that surfaces with frequency. Questions concerning how to work this cult solitary and somehow dislocated from the cultural climate of understanding here in Brazil are frequently asked as are questions concerning the magical tools, such as guias, patuás and statues, available to the general public.

I want to be initiated in Quimbanda, how do I proceed with that?
When we speak of initiation in the perspective of Quimbanda we are speaking of a true and intense merging with spirit that involves a pact/agreement, a spirit vessel (assentamento), ordeal and oath. There are elements used in this process that are common to every house/terreiro/cabula/lineage of Quimbanda that reveals a common origin. There are different varieties of Quimbanda in Brazil, and the expression of the common root, will always depend of the constellation of spirits we find in the tronco. In other words, a ‘Casa de Exu’ that is dominated by Exu Mor, Exu Morcego and Pomba Gira Maria Padilha will most likely express itself differently from a ‘Casa de Exu’ where we find Exu Lucifer, Exu Tranca Ruas and Pomba Gira Cigana taking dominant positions.

In addition we have the issue of pedigree and also the orientation of the people involved that generates an even deeper nuance of the specific house coloured by the human factor. It is in this field we find the frequent quarrels and disagreement between houses typically mediated by ‘truth-holding’ that is imposed on those that do things in different ways. We need to keep in mind that we are, when speaking about Quimbanda, dealing with a ‘living tradition’, which means that we are dealing we actual spirits, souls and intelligences that we interact with and that influences us as we influences them.  This means that at the end of the day what matters is the connection with spirit being true – and this is revealed in the capacity of the practitioner to merge with his or her Exu or Pomba Gira – in a truthful way.

Initiation, or to have your Exus and Pomba Giras fully seated and be made Tata/Yaya at the feet of the Maioral is for the majority of people pointless, a charge to heavy, a burden that overcomes the vessel and so Quimbanda should not be perceived as a hierarchical ladder, but as a cult design to facilitate communion with spirit and enhance your natural mago-spiritual power, self-understanding and understanding of your spirit mirror that you find amidst your Exus and Pomba Giras.

This means that for most people a solitary and personal practice focused on communion with one’s personal spirits will be sufficient. What we have done in the case of our Cabula is to isolate some parts of the full cycle of seating spirit and turned this into a ‘Quimbanda baptism’ (massange), where the candidate is going through ritual steps that fortifies the bond with ones ancestors, the kingdom of the Cruzeiro (roughly the Quimbanda ancestors ruled by Exu Omolu) and is exposed for ritual actions that are basically a baptism of fire both by ‘fiery waters’ and fire itself.

Going through this ceremony we deem the person a Quimbandeiro proper at this is in truth as far as need to be going on this path for the majority of people. The divide is between those who are destined to guide themselves and those who are destined to also guide others. For those destined to guide others, lay down in anticipation of death at the feet of Exu Mor, might be the road to take, but for most, it is really not necessary.

Can I purchase a guia, patuá or statue even if I am not initiated?
Guias, patuás and statues are charged objects that hold the virtues of particular spirits. In my case I do offer these items quite freely for whoever is in need of them, expecting that some discernment and consideration has led the person to seek to acquire an object of power. In the past I was far more restrictive with these power objects, but in questioning myself to what extent I was my brother (or sisters) keeper, I decided to make this option more open and less restrictive for those in need. This is partly rooted in the realisation that we are dealing with living spirits capable of guiding us in ways as mysterious as the ways of whatever god.

A guia is a specially prepared necklace. It is made under ritual circumstances in such way that the process of beading is made with the attending spirit present. Then the guia is washed and left with the Exu/Pomba Gira it is made to attract for three nights. In this process the guia is then turned into holding the virtues of the spirit guide and can be used in ceremony or when situations of guidance in the world are desired.

A patuá is holding a similar direction as the guia, but with the addition of more materia magica that typically gives it a more solid rooting in a given kingdom linked to beast, mineral and herbs of a specific virtue and attraction that turns the patuá into a charm linked both to spirit and kingdom that should be carried on the body when need be and when not in use be left in the firmeza or tronco.
In the case of guias and patuás it is good to offer them cigar fumes and spray them with strong alcohol from time to time to maintain their vigor and attention.

Statues are the most dramatic access point to spirit we offer to the general public. Our statues are charged, washed and crossed and in practice it means that they are filled with what would go into a patuá as well as other secret ingredients connecting the particular Exu or Pomba Gira to the charge. They are then washed in herbs and are presented for offerings to invite in the spirit to be naturally attracted to its magically embedded form. 

This means that these items provide access to spirit in a personal way and can constitute a personal firmeza or shrine dedicated to one’s personal spirits.

If we accept the premise that we are here dealing with daimonic spirits that are naturally inclined and tied to us in unique and mysterious ways there is really no need for initiation as such to work with them as our personal Exus and Pomba Giras will behave in a way similar to our ancestors, namely in being tied to us by natural affinity and in this opens for direct access.

How should I work with Exu and Pomba Gira?
In this it is only about understanding how to work them, how to approach them and how to work this bond in a healthy and true way. I believe in simplicity and I believe in communion being the better way of approach in this level and I will here give the basic guideline for approaching them here:
The Exus and Pomba Giras are nocturnal spirits, so we will always work them after dark and all tools of power should be held away from direct sunlight.

Friday, Saturday and Monday are the nights when they are most commonly worked in Brazil and working on these nights will enable you to tap into periods when they are naturally more active and agitated. Even if certain nights is considered more auspicious for Pomba Gira and others for Exu it is perfectly fine to tend to them both on the same day and if one day should be chosen as being preferred it would be Friday. Friday night is the natural night of joy in the world. The work week is over and the leisure and spirit of feasting enters the world and generate a natural bond with the spirits of Quimbanda.

Offerings of cigars, cigarillos, red wine, absinth, whiskey, cognac, cachaça and vodka are all good and in its most simple form a glass is served to the brim with a lit cigar crossing the glass in front of the image. Pontos are sung and as the atmosphere shifts direct communion takes place ruled by the interaction between man and spirit.

Simple offerings of beef and peppers can be given to Exu as seven thornless roses can be given to Pomba Gira. Candles, red and black is offered and allowed to burn out by themselves and offerings are dispatched of after one or three nights in front of spirit either on the ground or at a crossroad.
A more full explanation is given in the following article: http://www.starrycave.com/2014/05/the-firmeza-of-quimbanda.html

Why is Exu and Pomba Gira presented in diabolic forms?
We should keep in mind that Exu and Pomba Gira is commonly referred to as guia or guide and it is in inviting them in as guides we make the greatest work with them and will see natural positive effects in our lives. This means that they are first and foremost teaching spirits and they teach often by challenge and ordeal, which is quite obvious if we pay attention to the accounts of human incarnations they tell us. Their stories are always about struggle and misery, abuse and injustice. It is about the all too human response to challenges, such as anger, vengeance, gossip, deception, hatred, violence, murder and whatnot – and so these spirits in being vice itself – is also giving us the option of seeing ourselves in this ugly mirror they hold up to us so we can see in our Exu and Pomba Gira the same challenges they had as we have and in this they try to teach us not to do what they once did – but instead choose the better way, the way of laughter, serenity and joy of accomplishments. 

For some the diabolic features of these spirits and their attachment to the darker strains of life evoke the idea that these spirits are prone to violence, murder and negative spellcraft. Due to their deep understanding of matters human they are able to assist in such undertakings, but we should also keep in mind that the very word Quimbanda is actually a kimbundo substantive, defining a person who heals with the help of spirit, and certainly if we look at the area of healing from an amoral and value free perspective the act of removing or murdering something in order to maintain health is a part of the design not different from the annihilation of virus and bacteria in order to maintain the health of an organism. Yet at the end of the day we are speaking of a cult of spirits with great healing properties that are natural guides in the human journey.


The diabolic imagery serves to remind us that every saint has a past, every sinner a future and that wickedness can be easily tempted out, hence they serve as guardians of the crossroad of choice and present themselves as both guides of goodness and devils of destruction and in this they sum up the human constitution. 

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