“Do witches pray?” asked the reporter.
The witch paused for a moment.
Then she smiled.
“We dance,” she said.
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When I tell people I follow a Minoan spiritual path, one of the first things they ask about is the labyrinth. Often, all they know about the labyrinth is what they've heard from the Theseus-and-the-Minotaur story. The thing is, the Greeks invented Theseus as a culture hero centuries after Minoan civilization had ceased to exist, so the Minoans never even knew about him. In Theseus' tale, the labyrinth is a deadly maze full of confusing twists and turns, impossible to escape with the help of Ariadne's thread. In reality, the labyrinth is very different from that.
If you have a look at the labyrinth design at the top of this post, you'll see that it has a single path that leads unerringly to the center. Sure, there are twists and turns. These are designed to disorient the person walking the labyrinth so they can enter altered states of consciousness and reach their own inner spiritual understanding. But there's only one way in and the same way back out. This is called a unicursal (one-route) maze. And it's not a tricky trap. It's a spiritual tool....
Dance can be an ecstatic experience. Folk dances tell stories, preserve cultures, and draw communities together. Some dances encode history, preserve martial arts moves, or mimic work such as planting and harvesting. Mixer dances serve a social function, as do dances for specific celebrations. Some dances are forthrightly fertility rituals, and some are magic spells.
The song and dance Mayim Mayim (Hebrew for "Rain, Rain,") is a rain dance. That is, it is a ritual performed to make it rain. Rain Dance is a short film I directed featuring the Ethnic Express Folk Dancers of Las Vegas, Nevada, performing Mayim Mayim....
Reader discretion advised. Contains material of a sexual nature.
In October 2001 I was privileged to see Joffrey Ballet's Domingo Rubio in the title role of the reconstructed Nijinsky-choreography Après-Midi d'un Faun. It was an unforgettable performance: the queerest faun ever.
You know the story. (You can see it here, danced by Rudy Nureyev.) A faun wakes up in mid-afternoon, after, presumably, sleeping off the night before. (You know fauns.) Enter a group of nymphs, come for an afternoon bathe in the river. The faun shows himself. The nymphs are frightened. He singles out one and dances with her, flirtatious. Finally she runs off with her girlfriends, but in her panicked flight she drops part of her outfit. The faun rushes over, picks up the wrap, and cradles it in his arms, kissing it. Then he spreads it out lovingly on the ground and slowly lowers himself onto it. With a single convulsive thrust of the pelvis, he ejaculates all over the fallen shawl. You can practically smell the squirting semen.
I can't remember who first told me that not only was this song sung and played at the witches' sabbat Back When, but that, in fact, it actually describes the uncanny goings-on there.
The reason for the song's witchy reputation is unclear. The sheer unreality of the scenario? The implied masquerade? The tune's leering allusion to the plainchant Dies Irae?
Well, whether witches capered to this tune in the old days or not, we certainly do now. In fact, we'll be singing and dancing it at the upcoming Midwest Grand Sabbat this year. With luck, the Devil's Piper himself will be there to play.
Of the many different versions of this song that exist, what follows is the oldest known to me, given in Medieval French, English translation, and singable English lyrics.
Grab your bagpipe and play along.
They say that at Winter's midpoint, Spring walks the earth for a single night. (Or maybe it is her Dreaming that walks.) Look for her footprints in new snow. At her passing, they say, sleeping animals stir in their burrows and dens. At her passing, they say, seeds stir in the frozen soil, and dream of germination.
This playful Appalachian (originally English) folk carol, with its charmingly medieval-sounding minor tune, tells the story of the growing season to come, from plow to winnow. Originally sung at an already oversubscribed “Christemas,” we've reassigned it—for reasons that seem good to us—to Candlemas instead.
Generally we sing this song while standing in a circle, with lots of stomping, clapping, and percussion to help wake the animals and seeds. Each in turn jumps into the center, mimes a verse, and then jumps out again.
After all, there's no reason why making magic shouldn't be a raucous, joyful experience.
No reason at all.
Darksome night and shining steel...
My friend Doc once said to me, somewhat wistfully, “Someday we'll have our sacred dances again.”
Well, here's one we'll be doing at this coming summer's Grand Sabbat, along with (among others) the Mill, the Horned Serpent, and the Back-to-Back. Check it out: Rattlejag Morris' The Witch Reel.