In woodland vale and faerie glen,
With hornèd brow, and manner keen,
Great Cernunnos, beheld I then,
With Nymphs and Dryads was he seen.
His manner fey, his glance serene,
‘mongst revelers held in his sway,
‘midst shadows which remain unseen,
With graceful steps he made his way.
“In Woodland Vale and Faerie Glen” by Tim Keeton
It is pouring today along the Virginia coast, and the patter of the downfall soothes and comforts my Pacific Northwest soul. The rain is hard and cold, but the air warm and sweet. My small hands are sap-sticky–my neighbor, who daily insures his enormous yard doesn’t ever become remotely natural or free to do as it wills (gods forbid nature is allowed to show its wisdom and things are allowed to become beautiful without human involvement), has hacked off many healthy limbs of the gorgeous cedar on his property. After making my libations to the Gods of the Storm, I snuck out barefoot in to the streets lined with our suburban toad-filled motes and returned with a generous bundle of beautiful wood, which will soak up the rain, dry in Thursday’s sun, and then be cured by my shrine.
My days feel mundane (except during henbane hangovers), but my nights are filled with magic. Typically I don’t do much but meditate during the Waning Moon, but lately have been holding magical and spiritual open houses. Offerings are made and candles lit and I ask those who will to join me, sometimes asking for their wisdom, which they repeatedly shout in my face even when I try to ignore it (it’s good to know they care).
There is a lively debate in the “Ecstatic Trance” ADF mailing list on whether or not Spirit Possession is a wise practice, both for public and private rites. Most folk expressed their fear of such realms of magic, but others who have experienced being ridden expressed opinions on both sides. Some said that something like spirit riding that only one participant can experience for themselves goes against the “public” aspect of ADF, while others expressed concern about it being practiced alone. I have to agree that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it in a large public setting, considering a large piece of public worship in ADF is providing ritual that every participant can experience for themselves (which is why we take the omen), but have experienced “possession” or “spirit-riding” in private groups and alone.
Sometimes my “open houses” become “open body-houses.” Sometimes this happens when I’m deep in trance or meditation and my consciousness is elsewhere, in another realm. If I am meditating, and sense a stranger whose power is beneath or on par with my own, I have the wherewithal to feel fear, which is a grounding emotion for me, and gives me an opportunity to shove anyone else out of my skin. (I have had some very scarring experiences, so while I never approach any Being filled with fear, I have my guards against being ridden.)
Sometimes I do not have this ability. Sometimes I am so deep into the Otherworld that my skin, my muscles, my tongue have all been forgotten, for the moment. This is a very rare occurrence, as I try to stay on my toes, and love my body and the physical world too much to leave it so far behind or so exposed, unless I am with people I trust to take care of and defend my body while I’m Gone. Far more often, in private, I have entered such a deep state of trance that my defenses are weakened. With most entheogens, a part of my consciousness remains in the body while my soul runs freely through the otherworlds, as with most forms of trance I do, but there is one with which this is not the case: henbane.
I have a different use for every entheogen I incorporate into my practice. It was only recently that I began exploring henbane, a classic ingredient in flying ointments, through a black henbane and black bear fat ointment crafted by the Witch of Forest Grove. The effects were immediate as I lay in a relaxed yoga pose on my crocheted blanket (I call it my “Spirit Blanket,” because it serves a purpose in all my rites). Hekate placed the heavy stone on my chest and unglued my soul from its skin, but she didn’t lead me by torchlight down the dark halls; she led Others up the halls into me. I was audience to some ancient scene, between Dark Horned Cernunnos and a nymph who evaded Him. She looked in the mirror and I saw someone far more dark and stern and beautiful atop my image. Ecstasy served as a lighthouse beacon to the Horned One, and I felt her try and crawl out of my skin to escape, felt her clawing and grasping at shadows, trying to slip her slim self free. I had never seen a spirit “grabbed” by any being until then. The ecstasy was overwhelming and I finally slipped out of my skin and roamed the Otherworld while the ancient scene unfolded (as the line from the scripture in Battlestar Galactica goes, “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again”), only to return much later, with more wildness than I had left with.
The next morning I awoke in a daze, and a hangover is the only way to describe it. (Though I had also been drunk for much of the evening before the rite.) I seemed to drift and glide instead of walk. My roommate asked if I’d had nightmares: she said she’d heard me shouting and being louder than she has ever heard me when she was watching television downstairs at 3 in the morning, many hours after I’d applied the ointment and lain on my blanket. “I dreamt very vividly,” I told her. It was true.