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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Old Craft
The Male Nipple in Myth and Ritual (!)

 

Gentlemen, why does Pickering's Moon go around in reverse?

Gentlemen, there are nipples on your breasts: do you give milk?

And what, pray tell, Gentlemen, is to be done about Heisenberg's Law?

Somebody had to put all of this confusion here!

 

Thus did the goddess Chaos reveal herself, with acid-etched revelatory clarity, to two young Californians in the 1960s (Younger 1968).

 

“About as useful as tits on a bull,” goes the folk expression, but—as any cattleman can tell you—bulls actually do have nipples. All male mammals, including humans, begin our existence as females. It is to this fact, gentlemen, that we owe our nipples.

 

In the language of symbolism, the nipple—from its basic biological function—means nurturance.

 

The nurturing male is a presence little addressed in the modern paganisms, but the ancestors, of course, knew better. So I'd like to explore the surprising role that the male nipple, that paradoxical female presence in the male body, plays in ritual and lore.

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The Crooked Art

In English, the adjective "crooked" generally means "bent, twisted, out-of-true." In senses both literal and figurative, it contrasts with "straight," and this contrast is true in Indo-European languages generally (West 413-4).

But Old Craft sees it differently.

In the Indo-European world at large, the gods are the *déiwôs, the "celestials." But the witch's gods are first and foremost the earthly gods, the powers of Here. Even in pagan days, we were (of necessity) Other; every culture needs its other. We were (and are) the institutionalized Other, necessary source of disquiet and critique from Within. Yes: even then, we straddled the Hedge.

The elder witcheries are sometimes known as the "Crooked Way" or the "Crooked Path": witchery as the Way of Indirection. Results indirectly achieved are nonetheless results. Witches rarely go in for frontal assault. We're far more likely to go around. Or under. Or over.

Small wonder, when He Himself is known (among other things) as the Crooked Serpent, Who is our teacher in the art of indirection, the Great Horned Snake whose Serpent Path we tread.

 A while back, I found myself humming an old Mother Goose rhyme. I hadn't thought of it in years.

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Primal Fire

There's no true religion without fire.”

Robert Cochrane

 

A horn calls: the Voice of Thunder, speaking the Primal Word.

 

A young man runs in, bare-chested. He's carrying a torch. The flame streams behind him as he runs, like the tail of a comet.

He rings the clearing once, then darts to the center and lights the laid and willing wood.

And so we begin.

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Of Oosers, Stangs, and Garlands

The stang is the standing forked pole that represents the Horned in Old (“Traditional”) Craft practice. I've written elsewhere about the custom of “dressing” the stang with seasonal garlands, and theorized about the meaning of this practice. It now occurs to me that the garlanding of the stang has an even deeper resonance.

It is universally acknowledged in Old Craft circles that the stang in-stands for the Master Himself. By Robert Cochrane's time (1931-1966), the personification of the “Devil” by the “devil” (i.e. of the god by the priest) had as a practice become moribund, so that the lore associated with it has been passed down only in fragmentary form.

That does not mean, however, that it has not been passed down. The ooser* (rhymes with “bosser,” not “boozer”) is the horned wooden mask worn by the priest when he personifies at the sabbat. Here in the American Midwest, as elsewhere, it has become customary for the ooser, when worn, to be accompanied with a “ruff” or collar of live greenery around the neck which, of course, varies in make-up with the season, just as the stang's wreath does.

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The Gidden and Robert Cochrane

While rereading the surviving letters of Robert Cochrane (1931-1966), the father of the contemporary Old Craft movement, I was surprised to observe (not having noticed it in previous readings) that he references the Old English word gyden (“goddess”) in at least two of them.

In his third (unfortunately undated) letter to Norman Gills, Cochrane writes:

I think a certain amount of physical discomfort is essential so that the ‘Muse,’ or to give Her proper Name, the White Goddess, can descend and inspire. Likewise the (Alba) Guiden is a harsh Mistress in return for Her gifts (149).

To avoid repeating "White Goddess" in two consecutive phrases, Cochrane (in characteristically allusive style) translates the phrase into a Latin adjective and an Old English noun.

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From The Sacred Songs of the Witches

Virtually all tribal societies transmit tradition through the medium of songs. In this Season of the Ancestors, we remember the Mothers and Fathers by gathering to tell their stories and sing their songs.

Green Grow the Rushes-O has been part of the Younger Witchery since the early 1960s at very least (some would say for much longer than that); Robert Cochrane, father of the modern Old Craft movement, mentions the song in his letters. This version, which I learned from Feri elder Alison Harlow in 1980, functions both as riddle-song and teaching-song. (Any teacher can tell you that making the student figure things out for herself is the most effective heuristic.)

The mysterious Eleven Words of Power are said in witch legend to be, in fact, the very basis of all existence; but of this I should probably say no more.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Several years after my friend Craig's mother died, he remarked to me, "I assumed that as time went by, I'd acclimate to her being
  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Steven, you are sweet and compassionate, thank you so much for your response. So I'll share a story. It feels right to do so. Eve
  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Oh Steven. Alison was one of my best friends. To have stumbled across this picture of her on Pinterest, and then to have the pin l

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The Devil's Bird

The Mothers and Fathers reckoned the Horned One as god of animal life generally—what, in History of Religions lingo, is known as a “Master of Animals”—but for all that, he is rarely ascribed a sacred bird of his own. Birds, of course, are given mostly to the Sky Powers: raptors to Thunder, water-birds to Sun and Moon, etc. It's fascinating that these embodiers of the animal god's being should be given to other gods, as if they somehow constitute his yearning for them, as Earth's quartz yearns to the Moon. But to Himself the lore alots the merest avian handful: corvids, perhaps the peacock (see below), the robin (as Promethean bringer-of-fire) and, of course, the cock.

Everyone knows that the rooster—I suppose one really must say “cock” here—is the Devil's bird, (“Men call me the Devil,” he is reputed to have told Scots witch Isobel Gowdie, “but they know not what they mean”), and better it be if it's black. It's a staple of Southern (American) folklore that to invoke the Devil you sacrifice a black cock at a crossroads at midnight. Why a cock? Standard etiology would have it that the cock, being preeminently the bird that proclaims the coming of light, is the sworn enemy of the Prince of Darkness, Enemy of Light. But, as one might expect, matters are considerably more complex than that.

The domestic chicken originated in Southeast Asia and, it would seem, first came to the British Isles with the Romans (Yeates 166). Nonetheless, one finds the cock's head associated with the Horned One on the coinage of the Dobunni, the Keltic tribe that in later days morphed into the Hwicce, the “Tribe of Witches.” The rooster has a reputation as the most virile and pugnacious of birds, a fitting emblem for the father and protector of the people, the Pater Hwicciorum (Yeates 165-9). (Interestingly, though, the use of “cock” for “penis” derives, not from the name of the bird, but from the sense of “water-tap.”)

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