The Knight of Wands Returns

The Crow Tarot might give me a lot of Wands, Knights, and Aces, but now’s certainly a good time for ’em. (It also definitely means business when it comes to negative cards, so, to be perfectly honest, I was just happy not to have pulled the Ten of Swords again. Yikes.)

Anyhow, this week’s card is the Knight of Wands again, and man oh man am I glad to see him!

Last time, I mentioned that my S.O. and I had just finished a book, and were working on ways to turn it into something more than just a .doc file. Good news is, we’re making plenty of progress on that front! Not only are we fixing what needs to be fixed and polishing up what needs to be polished, we’re actually working on turning another manuscript we finished some time ago into a serial of some form. Though we’ve put a lot of thought into this process, neither of us have experience in publishing and none of my market research has been oriented in that direction. It’s definitely a fun learning experience, though! Besides, even if nothing comes of either of these things, I’m still happy just to have made them.

Speaking of which, I finished another painting this past weekend. Photographing them has been difficult because our overcast days have all been rainy — so, while the clouds do a great job at scattering the light and producing true-to-life color while keeping the glare down, the rain isn’t exactly easy to work around. Ah well. As the weather cools, hopefully we’ll have more cloudy days that aren’t accompanied by summer storms. I love collecting summer thunder water and the way the rain washes the pollen from the air, but I miss having dry surfaces!

The Knight of Wands stands as a reminder that enthusiasm and excitement are justified, but it’s a bad idea to get carried away with ourselves and jump headfirst into things we aren’t prepared for. Overall, it’s a very good omen. I’m going to be mindful to do my homework while my S.O. and I work toward creating the life we want to have. đź’ś

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The Illustrated Herbiary

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I promised myself I wouldn’t get any more books, but that was before I saw The Illustrated Herbiary, by Maia Toll.

herbiaryInitially, I purchased it because it looked like a beautifully illustrated collection of green magic based spells, without a lot of extraneous information. At this point, I have pretty much all of the “beginning witch” guides I could possibly use, and it’s not always easy to find a book of spells that doesn’t use up a lot of space on the basics of spellcasting. Upon further inspection, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it wasn’t actually just a collection of spells and meditations — the back cover contains a pocket with a set of really lovely oracle cards.

My favorite aspect of The Illustrated Herbiary is its simplicity. The book isn’t quite what I originally thought; I figured I was getting a book of spells, each written to focus around a single herb. In reality, this book is much closer to a divination aid… At least, that’s how it’s functioned for me so far. Each of the oracle cards corresponds to a section of the book. After drawing a card or doing a spread, you can turn to the book for more information about the meaning ascribed to the card, a focus for meditating on the card, and a spell for working with the herb’s energy. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the information presented (some of the section on white sage, for example), but it’s easy to use, it’s fun, and the illustrations are really, really cool.

That said, I would have liked this book to have more information. It’s certainly stylish and fun to look at, but it would’ve been nice if it contained more spells, herb lore, or even instructions for creating herbal charms or other crafts. My only real complaint is that, once you’ve assembled the deck of oracle cards, there’s no good way to put them back in the envelope and still close the book properly. (I used it as an excuse to get a new bag from Talitha’s Altar. They make beautiful, well-constructed tarot bags.)

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Seriously, I love them.

If you’re brand new to spellwork, this book won’t really cover the basics for you. If you don’t need the basics reiterated, it’s a very fun, original divination tool and source of inspiration. I’ve really been enjoying this deck thus far, and have even experimented by combining it with the Crow Tarot and Wild Unknown Animal Spirit decks.

Man, the Ten of Swords does not screw around.

Betrayal, sure.

I had a feeling my body was going to be what betrayed me, because that’s generally how it goes. The only thing I enjoyed less than being correct about this was waking up so dizzy I couldn’t see, and spending several hours hunched over a trash can feeling simultaneously certain I was going to die and terrified I was not. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension carries a risk of stroke, which freaked me out for a bit, but most of my face was working okay so I figured that wasn’t it. Why’d this happen? No idea — I just woke up like that.

It was frustrating. It was disheartening. It was pretty much exactly what I’d been warned about.

(Enough about that, though, because it’s gross and I want to stop thinking about it.)

I did get a lot of reassurance afterward, though. I drew cards related to healing, cleansing, and optimism. I even saw a tiny hummingbird pause and hover right outside my window, which I thought was pretty impressive considering I live in a walk-up with no outdoor space to speak of. As long as I’ve lived in this area, I’ve never seen a hummingbird here before — if I hadn’t looked at the right moment, I would’ve missed him entirely!

Anyway, this week’s one-card reading felt a little more familiar. I admit, it was supremely weird to pull the Ten of Swords last week. I usually get such good news relating to what I’m up to or things I’m working on, to have my primary deck suddenly go all “DANGER, WILL ROBINSON” at me was extra unsettling. I get a lot of cups and wands. When I do draw something from the suit of swords, it’s usually a court card.

All of this is to say that I drew the Knight of Wands and I’m feeling a lot better.

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Knight of Wands from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, artwork by Pamela Coleman Smith.

The Knight of Wands is a person (or, in this case, bird) of action, like all of the Knights. This card represents the pursuit of an idea, and the drive and energy needed to bring a vision to fruition. By that same token, it also represents looking before you leap. Unlike the Knight of Pentacles, the Knight of Wands is not patient and definitely not into conservative courses of action.

This card comes at a pretty good time — my S.O. and I finished a book not too long ago, and are now working on what needs to be done to turn it into something other people can (and might actually want to) read. It’s taken a lot of planning and strategizing already, so I definitely don’t feel like we’re acting on impulse here. Rather, the Knight of Wands seems to represent the desire and ability to actually act on the plans we’ve been sitting on for so long!

… I’m not gonna lie, though, I’m just happy it wasn’t the Ten of Swords again.

 

 

 

Let’s Read: Remedios Varo’s Letters, Dreams & Other Writings

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee from Wordery.com, at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support writers, publishers, and this site!

varoI don’t know if I can express how much I wanted this book using actual, intelligible language words, as opposed to some kind of excited dolphin noise.

Saying “I love Remedios Varo” would be a little… not actually disingenuous, but small. I find her work inspiring. I love plumbing the depth of detail in her paintings. I’m fascinated by her life. If we had lived around the same time, in the same place, and there wasn’t a language barrier, I like to think we would have been friends (assuming she could get past my overly-eager fanning, but whatever). We could’ve had sleepovers, written letters to people we picked out of the phone book, and rearranged crocodile skulls, pipes, and armchairs together.

Incidentally, she was absolutely weird and I could not be more here for it.

See, what excited me about this book is that my Spanish is execrable, and her letters, notes, and other private writings aren’t widely translated. And by “not widely,” I mean that I’m pretty sure this is the only time they have been.

Letters, Dreams & Other Writings is short, but understandably so — it’s not as if she set out to have her notes compiled into a full-length book. It’s also extremely intimate, including details from several of her dreams. The first section comprises her letters to others (Gerald Gardner, who popularized Wicca, among them). Some of the recipients were complete strangers, and the letters were signed with fake names.

Anyway, this is pretty much all just preamble to my favorite bit: “The Observers of the Interdependence of Household Objects and of Their Influence Over Everyday Life.” I’ll let her describe it:

“This group, active for quite a long time now, has already made important verifications that make life easier from a practical point of view. For instance: I move a can of green paint some five centimeters to the right, I stick in a thumbtack next to a comb and, if Mr. A… (an adept who works in tandem with me) at that same moment places his book on beekeeping next to the pattern for cutting out a vest, I’m sure there will come about, on Avenida Madero, the encounter with a woman who interests me and whose origin I’ve been unable to determine[.]”

There are more descriptions of the private “solar systems” of the members of this esteemed (and, as far as I’ve been able to determine, imaginary) group. Armchairs, velvet shoes, skulls, a pipe inlaid with fake diamonds… All of them are described as laid out in a ritualistic arrangement, though it’s never explained exactly why each particular object has significance.

The Surrealist movement has some very strong ties to witchcraft and the occult (a topic I’d like to get into more deeply with a book focused on the subject). So, it’s unsurprising that Varo had her witchy tendencies, as well. The aspect of the practices of T.O.o.t.I.o.H.O.a.o.T.I.O.E.L. that surprised and intrigued me the most was their interdependence. Varo explains that new members of the group are limited in the objects they may use, and the manner in which they may move them. She goes on to describe committing an infraction:

“I permitted myself to add […] a dried hummingbird stuffed with magnetic dust, all of it well tied with cord, just as mummies are wrapped, using red silk thread. I did so without warning my colleagues, a very serious transgression according to the regulations of the group. Only our leader, with his long experience and his high degree of knowledge, can do something like that without bringing on grave consequences. What’s more, I intentionally put the can of green paint under a beam of red light that was coming through the stained glass pane of my window[.]”

She blames this course of action for a change in her paintings (the sudden, irrepressible desire to paint otherwise placid sheep with staircases coming out of their backs, for one), the ruining of a shirt, and the sudden appearance of a large deposit of salt in her bedroom.

Despite existing in discrete systems of their own, under the care of each member, the objects are all interrelated. Moving one affects things in the homes of other members, and doing so without warning is a serious thing. It put me in mind of crystal grids, and the way they (like all magic) can be used to influence something very far away — you don’t need the patient in front of you to work a healing spell, for example. Only, in Varo’s case, the movement and placement of ritual objects in other homes influences the ritual objects in hers, which, in turn, influences her everyday life.

Only two of her letters discuss this practice at all, which is a shame, because I find it fascinating. Even if she made it up entirely, even if there never was a group of Observers, the description of these magical tableaux conjure up a captivating mental image. The rest of the book is a collection of dreams, a pretend archaeological resource on Homo rodans, a few recipes for inducing specific types of dreams (erotic dreams require, among other things, “1 kilo horseradish, 4 kilos honey, and hats to taste”), and notes on her paintings. It’s a short read, like I said, but was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon that’s left my imagination invigorated.

 

 

Let’s Read: Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path.

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee from Wordery.com, at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support writers, publishers, and this site!

veneficiumEven if I don’t currently include entheogens in my practice, the ideas and practices of the poison path fascinate me. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery, considerable knowledge, and a firm devotion to the idea of expanding consciousness over bodily safety. It relies on the concept that the dose makes the poison, and growth lies on the thin line between curative and deadly.

The concepts of the poisoner and the witch are inextricable. Just look at the reasons people fear “evil” witches: they were said to cause sickness in people and cattle, wither crops, and bewitch others into nonordinary states of consciousness. Just look at the Evil Queen who sends Snow White into a deep slumber with a poisoned apple, or the Sea Witch who glamours herself and tricks the Prince into falling in love with her. (And what is desire, if not an altered state of consciousness?)

Even in the Bible, the lines between magic and poison are blurred, at best. The words “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”  (Exodus 22:18) appear, but may not mean what  they seem to mean. The original Hebrew word, mekhashepha, is of uncertain meaning. Does its root, kashaph, mean “to cut” or “herb using”? A prohibition against magic in its entirety seems unlikely, given the historical context. Other sources later translated the word to mean those who used magic for evil — in other words, witches who “poisoned” by magical means. Could the Bible be warning its readers against poisoners here, instead?

Daniel A. Schulke’s Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path explores the use of mind-altering substances, but it’s emphatically not a “how to” guide. A History of Pagan Europe followed the development and spread of Pagan practices across Europe, and this is in a similar vein — a resource for the history and cultural spread of the spiritual use of entheogens.

One bit I found particularly interesting was the chapter on The Spirit Meadow, particularly the description of bread made of black millet. There’s a sort of folkloric figure called the Black Miller. He’s a powerful, fearsome, shape-changing sorcerer, who makes an appearance in a song by Faun (Die Wilde Jagd), and in “The Black Mill” by Jurij Brezan. It’s unclear exactly where the moniker “Black Miller” came from. In context, it’s unlikely to refer to his appearance or ethnicity — much like the “black” in “blacksmith” refers to the material, not the smith themselves. In Veneficium, some of the information presented by Schulke adds an interesting dimension here, in a section about darnel (Lolium temulentum):

Darnel may well have been present in the notorious ‘black breads’ served at the Sabbat, as documented by DeLancre*, either as a deliberate inclusion or in the bread for its deliriant qualities, or simply as a by-product of the agricultural practices of the time. It is plausible that a toxic stew of deliriant grains, serving as the component basis of the Sabbat-bread, had synergetic effects operating between psychoactive components, if indeed darnel formed a part of witchcraft rites. This idea has been proposed in relation to the everyday bread eaten in medieval Europe[.]

*According to DeLancre, “… their bread is some horrible black cake made of black millet and some other drug…” which ‘confuses the senses’ of those who eat it, and likewise binds them to Satan.

Die Wilde Jadg tells the story of a pair of shapeshifters: one pursuer, one pursued. Based on the connotations of black millet, bread, and hallucinogenic fungi, it’s pretty easy to picture the eponymous “Black Miller” grinding away at the psychoactive raw materials of the “speculative ‘Black Bread of the Sabbat'” — a pretty spot-on occupation for a shapeshifting sorceror.

It would be easy for a book like Veneficium to fall into the trap of being dry and tedious, but it never does. The language is as poetic and striking as it is informative, and the subject matter is absolutely fascinating. If you have any interest in the spiritual use of entheogens and aren’t looking for a guide book, I highly recommend it.

Let’s Read: A History of Pagan Europe

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee from Wordery.com, at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support writers, publishers, and this site!

Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s A History of Pagan Europe was originally recommended to me years ago, and I pretty much just read it for the fun of it. When it popped up on the approved reading list for the ADF dedicant path, I realized it’d probably be a good time to give it a closer look. It’s a rather dense read (though still an enjoyable one), and, considering the subject matter, it takes a couple of passes to really absorb all of the information presented.

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Jones and Pennick do an excellent job of connecting dots between disparate cultures, explaining each area’s stages of religious development in easy-to-understand terms. (The convergent evolution of the concept of sacred wells/trees/etc. between Mediterranean and Celtic cultures was especially interesting.) I particularly enjoyed the analysis of Celtic culture pre-Roman contact. There’s really a dearth of information available on this period — it seems like a lot of what we know is via the Roman conquest itself. Because of Rome’s relatively relaxed attitude toward outsider religions, many aspects of Celtic religion were preserved (albeit in an altered form) through syncretism with the dominant religion of Rome. The Druids disappeared. Their symbols, deities, and sacred sites, however, survived.

(Ultimately, it was this attitude that led to the persecution of monotheists — Rome didn’t particularly care what religion anyone was, so long as every citizen honored the ruler’s personal deity. It was believed that this helped preserve the state itself, and thus failing to do so was tantamount to treason.)

A History of Pagan Europe is a bit dry, as many books of this nature are, but it’s a book I find myself returning to now and then. There’s a lot to take in, and, as a Pagan, I feel that sources like this are important — simple, factual, without a lot of the editorializing you find in books geared toward a new-age or Pagan audience.