We cannot doubt that barbaric people receive such influences [“invisible beings, far wandering influences, shapes that may have floated from a hermit of the wilderness”] more visibly and obviously, and in all likelihood more easily and fully than we do, for our life in cities, which deafens or kills the passive meditative life, and our education that enlarges the separated, self-moving mind, have made our souls less sensitive. Our souls that were once naked to the winds of heaven are now thickly clad, and have learned to build a house and light a fire upon its hearth, and shut to the doors and windows. The winds can, indeed, make us draw near to the fire, or can even lift the carpet and whistle under the door, but they could do worse out on the plains long ago. A certain learned man, quoted by Mr. Lang in his Making of Religion, contends that the memories of primitive man and his thoughts of distant places must have had the intensity of hallucination, because there was nothing in his mind to draw his attention away from them—an explanation that does not seem to me complete—and Mr. Lang goes on to quote certain travellers to prove that savages live always on the edges of vision. One Laplander who wished to become a Christian, and thought visions but heathenish, confessed to a traveller, to whom he had given a minute account of many distant events, read doubtless in that traveller’s mind, ‘that he knew not how to make use of his eyes, since things altogether distant were present to them.’ I myself could find in one district in Galway but one man who had not seen what I can but call spirits, and he was in his dotage. ‘There is no man mowing a meadow but sees them at one time or another,’ said a man in a different district. …
Almost every one who has ever busied himself with such matters has come, in trance or dream, upon some new and strange symbol or event, which he has afterwards found in some work he had never read or heard of. … Some of them are proof enough for those they have happened to, proof that there is a memory of nature that reveals events and symbols of distant centuries. … It is perhaps well that so few believe in it, for if many did many would go out of parliaments and universities and libraries and run into the wilderness to so waste the body, and to so hush the unquiet mind that, still living, they might pass the doors the dead pass daily; for who among the wise would trouble himself with making laws or in writing history or in weighing the earth if the things of eternity seemed ready to hand? …
The symbols are of all kinds, for everything in heaven or earth has its association, momentous or trivial, in the great memory, and one never knows what forgotten events may have plunged it, like the toadstool and the ragweed, into the great passions. Knowledgeable men and women in Ireland sometimes distinguish between the simples that work cures by some medical property in the herb, and those that do their work by magic.
William Butler Yeats, “Magic” from Ideas of Good and Evil (1903)
Those who walk shamanic paths know what it is to commune with the trees and the flowers and the dirts and the animals and their corpses and feel called to use them in such a way, only to read or discover later that ancient peoples used those things for the same purpose, that those are their traditional associations or sacred uses. I have experienced a domino of these occurrences lately, and it has been like ecstasy when they have come together, even if I have so much to learn of the depths of their meanings; paths unfold before me.
It began with the two road-kills I encountered by the side of the road a few weeks ago, within a few paces of one another, by the bay down the street. The first the dog and I encountered was a toad, on his belly in the road; the second was a starling. We stopped at both to study them for a few long moments before moving on, but they lingered in my mind. Birds began coming to me in visions, and with the help of the Aves Ointment crafted by the Witch of Forest Grove, which had given me a powerful shapeshifting, transvective-flying experience during sex magic in the forest with my then-girlfriend, I was able to speak with them, sprout wings and fly with them, draw their spirits near, and dream of them. Last night when I was starting to close my eyes while reading, I heard very loud and vivid birdcalls and was quite startled when I realized that the birds were silent in the darkness outside, that only I had heard the birdcalls. I made an offering of myrrh and frankincense and a request, applied a small amount of Aves Ointment, and dreamt once again of birds, and of Father Crow with the head of a Crow and the body of a Man standing before me on a dirt path, as he had in the forest on Beltaine.
The night before Walpurgisnacht, I set off to collect the body of the bird, but sensed fearfully it wasn’t the right time, and hurried back home, still afraid, especially after getting an incredibly wild energy from a woman I passed along the way. I sensed witchiness, or grand fate. It was all a bit overwhelming, and when I came home, I wanted nothing more but to curl up under the covers. Fortunately my sheets were still hanging to dry, so I was forced to stay awake, and I placed my altar offerings from a few days before in the garden. The third or fourth dish that day then broke.
On Beltaine Eve, the birds told me it was time, and I knew it, and spent the night holding vigil until about 3 o’clock, when I sensed I should lay down and receive some visions, omens, and guidance through dreams. My alarm went off two hours later, and yet you’d think I’d slept all night, for all the things I’d Seen and all the guidance I’d received; Mother Raven and Father Crow had given me wings. At dawn, with far more confidence than I’d felt the other day (but plenty of vigilance should the signs be the same as before), I set out. The omens all pointed toward the act, and when I asked the birds to whistle along my presence, my intentions, and my offerings, to see if what I meant to do was alright, they did so, and it was positively received. They watched me from atop phone poles, branches, and rooftops, and I knew they had heard word, and meant to observe.
The bird, now gathering its strength beneath the pine needles in my yard surrounded by protective charms strong enough to even ward off my cats as the maggots do their work, is a humble, quiet, submissive, and feminine spirit. She even seemed a little frightened, but I’ve given her plenty of offerings, and told her my intentions in-so-far as I knew them myself–the Kindreds seem to be guiding my actions to a great extent in regards to this matter, one of the gifts they offered in exchange for my Beltaine offerings. When the Devil and the Eight of Cups answered me unmistakably, Aenghus Mac Og talking through them, I hesitated; full immersion is not something one accepts without due consideration. But I drank the wine with blood-red palms and received the gift and now it grows in me as seed grows to sapling.
I spent the blessed day in the closest forest, where (again) all the signs told me to go. I could feel the presence of the Gods, the Spirits, and the Dead very strongly here, but nowhere were these feelings more vivid than at the bald-cypress marshes, which seemed like gateways to the Underworld. I spoke with the Gatekeepers and with the Dead there, made shrines throughout the forest for Them and for the May Queen and King, and the Cailleach who now climbed back into the earth through portals at the roots of mangled ancient trees to slumber and craft in secret and seclusion. I forfeited control to the spirits, to guide me to what I sought, and after many hours of getting sufficiently lost and of vision-hiking (with the help of entheogens), I found exactly what it was. I made my blood-oaths, bound with ancient binding language, the same words spoken by our ancestors that made an offering of all that they were, should their word prove false. This was the most solemn part of the rite; the rest was quite festive and erotic, and I communed with Aenghus Mac Og, clever King of Si an Bhru, for the first time in ritual (and He certainly contributed to the “erotic” part; He has such boyish charm! I think he made me blush). I skipped between the Beltaine fires, dressed and honored the Queen of May, and so on. But the two most vivid parts of the ritual, those parts that were as vivid and solid as Yeats described, were Aenghus’s arrival and interactions with me, and the Dead crawling and scrambling up the hill from the marshes to hungrily devour the offerings I tossed for them. Messages I received in this world, too, like ticks crawling over me when I intended to choose one place nearby for ritual, and to take two very interesting fallen branches I’d found, and suddenly disappearing (except for the one I took home with me and who left his teeth in me for days after I’d plucked him from my side; I can’t stand those things) when I moved a couple paces to a more appropriate spot for the ritual, and decided only to use the sticks in the rite.
When I had packed my things and made to leave, I walked down the path I felt drawn to, a different way than I had come, and when I turned the bend and gazed upon an absolutely stunning cypress tree that looked much like a willow, one name appeared vividly in my mind: Hekate. I continued to sense the name in this place as I traveled, and promised to return to give her worship and sacrifice.
This was the second of a triad of omens guiding me to Hekate within the last several days. The first was after returning home from the library, having checked out a giant stack of thick, heavy books (I am the queen of this), when I sat down upon the sofa with Robert Graves’ Greek Myths and, very relaxed, flipped the work open to a random page and read from a random paragraph:
Queen Persephone, however, can be both gracious and merciful. She is faithful to Hades, but has had no children by him and prefers the company of Hecate, goddess of witches, to his. Zeus himself honours Hecate so greatly that he never denies her the ancient power which she has always enjoyed: of bestowing on mortals, or withholding from them, any desired gift. She has three bodies and three heads–lion, dog, and mare. (31f)
This was as startling as the next. The last occurred two days ago, as I was flipping through my Shadowscapes Tarot Companion to record a reading in my journal. As I flipped, suddenly I looked at an image and thought, “Hekate.” I continued to go about my business until I realized just how odd that had been. I flipped back and waited for it to happen again. When it did, I realized what image had called to me so: the Seven of Cups. There is a rather confused entry in my journal about these occurrences: “The Devil and the Eight of Cups brought blessings beyond comprehension, but Hekate who speaks to me through the Seven of Cups, Old Mother Willow (Cypress) … was rather less clear, less stragihtforward than Aenghus and the rest of the Holy Retinue gathered at my grove yesterday.” The image through which she spoke to me in the Shadowscapes Tarot represents having many paths from which to choose, some out of reach, others too firmly grounded, but all mystical and perhaps attainable.
Today, as I clicked through the incredible Alchemy Works website, things finally clicked in regards to Hekate’s signs, and the mystery of the marshes that began with my vision of the Dead arising from the Marshes of the corner of the Otherworld I entered the other day. Cypress and willow are sacred to Hekate, and to the Dead and all Gods and Guides and Gatekeepers of the Underworld. I have never read this before; I had never even seen bald-cypress until Beltaine, and I have certainly never lived anywhere near any such trees, so reading up on them would have seemed entirely irrelevant and unnecessary at the time. And yet “Old Mother Cypress,” as I wrote in my journal, is spot-on; and the marshes in my visions may have guided me to this discovery. Every day I develop a deeper connection with the Dead, and the Birds, and the Gods. For so long having a spirituality in which all things were connected was enough, but now I am developing very intimate relationships with individual Spirits, and all those Beings of which I have been afraid for so long (including Hekate, and the Dead). Some fear, I believe, is an essential part of reverence, but suddenly so much of the fear I had before has dissipated.
This morning I made an offering of myrrh to the Dead (which I read later on is also sacred to the Dead; again opening myself up to such messages, making myself a conduit for communion, makes me open to ancient knowledge), and prayed to the Dead and the Gods who guard them, and had a vision of a Cow behind my left shoulder–the Cow, perhaps, that is sacred to Hera, an ancient Goddess of the Dead; certainly I sensed Her there with me, felt Her and Hekate make Their Presences known to me until I acknowledged Them. I asked what guidance the Dead and the Gatekeepers had for me this day, what messages of wisdom as I sought to devote this day to the study of Them, and they answered: vigilance; as well as giving me quite the “yes” to some questions I had in my mind. Although I was quite sad about having lost my DruidCraft deck a while back, the Shadowscapes deck and I have very quickly adapted to one another; it is as if we are one mind, and the Kindreds can speak so fluently and clearly through this means of oracle. (A Wisdom Reading–a phrase coined by Rachel Pollack–I did a while back about what forces lie behind the answers I receive from the Tarot seemed to confirm this.)
These are only a handful of the ways in which the “invisible forces” described by Yeats have manifested in my life recently; a list made in my journal this morning filled two pages. The wind has always swept under the door for me, the Crows have always watched me, the plants have always spoken to me; but now the Crows give me wings to fly on that wind, and the flowers and the trees and even the Dead can scream.