my fave bit of black dog folklore is that in some folklore there is a belief that the first person buried in a cemetery stays there and doesn’t cross over and helps other spirits move on and protects them from evil spirits, now naturally people want to avoid this fate for their loved ones and themselves so they would sometimes bury a dog first and it would return in the shape of a big black dog and protect the newly dead from evil spirits and occasionally the living as well
Like many ancient Egyptian deities, Anubis assumed different roles in various contexts. Depicted as a protector of graves as early as the First Dynasty (c. 3100 – c. 2890 BC), Anubis was also an embalmer. One of his prominent roles was as a god who ushered souls into the afterlife. He attended the weighing scale during the “Weighing of the Heart,” in which it was determined whether a soul would be allowed to enter the realm of the dead. Despite being one of the most ancient and “one of the most frequently depicted and mentioned gods” in the Egyptian pantheon, Anubis played almost no role in Egyptian myths. Anubis was depicted in black, a color that symbolized both rebirth and the discoloration of the corpse after embalming. His female counterpart is Anput. His daughter is the serpent goddess Kebechet.
When we start on the Path we often hardly even know. It is already below our feet by the time we have any idea what it is, and we are often years before we have any idea where it is going. Yet it is there, taking us someplace, showing us the thin places in the Veil, revealing to us vistas and hollows hardly known to the world of men. Again and again throughout our lives constructing seemingly impossible narratives to push and pull us into the necessary changes for growth. The Path is the plot that runs through our lives.
Where we linger on that path often decides how long our journey takes between its start and its end. How well we perceive that which is off the edges of our path is a good indicator of how far along we are in our journey.
As much as a thousand writers and bloggers would have you otherwise it is most important to spend a great deal of time alone in the path of discovery. Without the books and theories, without the rhymes and reasons. Most of all without the jabbering idiocy of social commitment and simpering personal dramas known as the coven, or these days the facebook group. Just oneself and some bits and bobs that you know somehow happen to fit into that puzzle called hex, that whisper called curse, that promise called charm. Out in the landscape, looking for the variables we need, knowing which paths that cross are the chosen. Feeling innately that the grove is correct for the operation at hand.
The modern world is made of soft minds who seek constant guidance and desire to travel well worn paths that have been laid before them without thorn nor rose. Those paths may even lead to darkness and delight, but they are the paths of others. Other’s songs to sing, others spells to weave, others charms to hide. There is no learning in the well worn path. Just tourism.
The folkwitch must eschew the path worn by others. Like the fox, must walk against the paths to see the shape of the landscape. We must not just linger at the edge of ancient paths, we must delve into the bush, fight through the bracken, and discover what lies on the other side of the hedge.
Exploration and experimentation should guide those who seek to understand the Craft. Learning through long consideration and careful experimentation which plants yield the correct results. Hearing in the air the voice in the trees that guides you in your quest for understanding. Listening deeply to the forest and the seashore. To the mountain spring and the laughing whisper of the air through an evening meadow. Exploring the landscape that is the center of your practice, knowing well all of those places where footsteps do not go. Seeing as birds and foxes see the landscape; as hedgehogs, rats, and vipers.
The role of discovery is the single most important part of the Craft. The constant learning of new things, of new ways of seeing. Never should one settle for what they already know, growing callous in our beliefs leads to stagnation. We should turn over the leaf, taste the dew, sniff the air.
Prevalent in Northern English folklore, the Barghest is a monstrous black dog, with fiery eyes, large teeth and claws, though the name has been known to refer to ghosts or household elves in other regions of the country. The word “Ghost” was pronounced “Guest” in Northern England, and the etymology of Barghest is thought to be the combination word, Burh-ghest or “Town-Ghost”. Similar to other mythical Black Dogs like the Black Shuck, Grim, Padfoot, Gwyllgi and Gytrash, the Barghest is believed to be an omen of death, foretelling the passing of an individual by laying on or near their doorstep. In some tales, the dog is but one form the entity can shapeshift into, with other appearances being that of a headless man or woman, a white cat or a rabbit. They are said to attack lone travelers in the countryside as well as the narrow alleys in those of the old English cities.
“The magical rod is the verendum of the magus; it must not even be mentioned in any clear and precise manner; no one should boast of its possession, nor should its consecration ever be transmitted except under the conditions of absolute discretion and confidence.” - Eliphas Levi, “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie” (1856)
It is a matter of fact that properly making a wand is a pain in the ass. It is a rather long process, with lots of detailed steps, none of which can be skipped. It takes more than a month of near daily work, invariably leads to both accidental and purposeful blood spill, not to mention all the mess.
Having lived in London for over a decade I can assure you that there is no Ollivanders in which to purchase a finished wand. And while many many sticks that have been nicely polished, often having had some baubles attached to them, are for sale from a variety of vendors they are not in any practical way a wand.
A wand must be cut by the practitioner themselves directly from the tree, must be worked to shape by the practitioner’s hands, tooled by the practitioner’s blade. It is a very necessary tool in the arsenal of witch and wizard alike, found throughout history in the practice of magic.
On the whole its a bothersome process; messy, meticulous, exacting and often tiresome. But at each point where you would shirk the necessary steps it is only in reminding yourself that the tool you make may save your life that you push on, doing every little bit that is needed to make it as strong as possible. Because like a parachute your life may hang in the balance of your wand having been made in an exacting process that I would personally never trust to something I bought online or in a shop.
The length of the wand varies from culture to culture and use to use. I myself prefer a length that is the distance from one’s nose when looking straight ahead to the tip of one’s fingers. Approximately three feet long (four spans) though tailored exactly to the body of its owner. The perfect length for tracing a circle on the ground without bending over.
It so happens that I had long held off on making myself a second hazel wand, my first being in storage in the US and something I had used for decades - though not seen in years. In its stead I have been using a very nice rowan wand I constructed about a year after I arrived in London, which works for most situations and is particularly adept at landscape magics. But then there are some things for which only a hazel wand will do the job properly.
Unfortunately my original hazel, cut from a deep and old wood in the states when I was a young man, has gone missing. Its whereabouts are a mystery, though where it should have been among my library storage materials it was not. Thus I have been slowly getting around to replacing it, and some near future work that needs doing has required my starting in order to finish before the vernal equinox.
So while the blackbird sang me a song of predawn delight I cut the hazel and have begun the process. As it dries I will gather the bits I need, offerings and ointments for its preparation, and by the first day of spring it should be ready for a bit of that old black magic.
Shapeshifters are beings that have the ability to transform into other living things. In some lore they have to kill the thing they are assuming the shape of before hand, and in others it is an ability cast on an object using a spell or magic. The most popular version of shapeshifting is that of a person into an animal, and vice versa.
Cadejos are two dog-like spirits, one white and one black, that generally appear to travelers at midnight, usually near cemeteries. Although they look like dogs, they move and smell like cattle and have hooves instead of paws. According to the beliefs of many in Central America, the cadejos are your guardian angel and your demons, the best and worst parts of you manifesting when you are most vulnerable.
There is an etiquette of sorts when it comes to these creatures. If you see the white cadejo (El Cadejo Blanco), which usually appears as a little white dog quietly trotting along a traveler’s side, then you are safe. If you catch sight of the black cadejo, pray it does not see you for it will surely kill you. If on your journey home late at night you encounter the black cadejo, then the white cadejo will grow in size and fight it. You should never leave the white cadejo to battle it alone; just stay put and your guardian will win because if you run they will kill each other and you will die.
Is the shape of a nature spirit given form over time by a culture and its linguistic perception of that spirit or is it formed in a more immediate way through the prism of cultural perception in the individual having the experience, defined by that culture’s language?
When we look at the cultures of the world, both classic and contemporary, we see a spectrum of belief in “spirits” that is prevalent in all cultures continuously throughout history. In some form or another the concept of spirits is as wide ranging as language itself. An instrumental part of the development of all socities, the nature of these spirits takes on a wide variety of roles depending on the culture in which they have blossomed.
From the ancient jinn of the east, to the nagas of Asia, the fae and sidhe of the Celts, the ancestor spirits of Africa and her diaspora in the new world, the German goblins, Norse trolls, the Vodoun lwa, the saints and demons of Judeo-Christian pantheons, the world over is full of the belief in beings whose form is transitory yet whose power is recorded as often enormous in scale. Who exist at the edge of temporality and are supplicated with offerings, orisons and rituals.
Yet while the concept of spirits is one that is universal, little contemporary thought has been given to the nature of these beings and their origins on a practical level. Relying heavily on pre enlightenment ideas of corporeality the contemporary magician is often working under conditions that have proven to be obscure at best, fraudulent at worst.
What then is the nature of these beings with whom all magicians the world over interact? How are we to express in terms scientific and yet openminded, those entities with whom our craft is indebted? Where are we to find the headwaters of these beliefs and their origins in human culture?
To say that nature is the source of all life is axiomatic, for nature is itself all life, the very mathematic formula that drives evolution on all its scales. While the boundaries of what makes up life may be little understood its form, as we perceive it, tends toward that which is measurably obvious to the viewer. As mankind has developed intellectually over the past few centuries our understanding of the complexities and subtleties of living beings has grown immeasurably. From the first understanding of the nature of germs to CRISPR gene editing in under two centuries mankind is just now beginning to scientifically understand the fields of energy that surround us that have long been overlooked.
The electromagnetic fields of all living things stretch far beyond the boundaries of their physical masses. The electromagnetic field of the earth itself functioning like an engine driving our planetary variables, steering tectonic plates, controlling weather systems. The interplay of these electromagnetic forces, coupled with energies we are barely able to understand that exist in quantum interactions and dimensional concepts too complex for a blog post, are just now being looked at, let alone fully grasped at this stage in our intellectual enlightenment.
It is in this realm, of complex energies, vibratory frequencies, and misunderstood quantum mechanics, that we find the root of those beings who can be grouped into the categories of “spirits”. From Grecian daemons to Galician mouros, lwa to kitsune, wight to ghost, the patterns of energy that make up these beings are all drawn from that stream of energies which is invisible to mankind, though slowly being revealed under the lens of contemporary technology.
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” ― Nikola Tesla
While this river of energies may be just now coming into focus through accepted scientific practice the craft finds its very roots at the base of this tree of knowledge. The varieties of dealing with these spirits are as complex as the cultures that bore them. The negotiations of these relationships across the world playing similar tunes, yet varied in their composition to reflect the variables and practicalities at hand.
Yet we must wonder at the nature of these manifestations against the cultures in which they are perceived. What causes such a diverse narrative and a motley assortment of creatures that have long interacted with mankind? How are we to know wight from lwa? What defines the differences and commonalities of these beings? How can a river of energies so universal manifest so differently among disparate cultures, while retaining distinct core similarities in their nature?
I propose that these manifestations are given form via the specific language a practitioners understands and communicates in. That the culture whose folk narrative has given form to these spirits is manifesting the boundaries of said beings through the use of language itself.
We are linguistic beings by nature. Our entire world perception is defined through the language we speak, and not all words in all languages easily translate across linguistic boundaries. We may speak in one language of emotions and concepts that are entirely alien to the thoughts of a native speaker in another language. The sounds of one culture’s joy may be the sound of aggression in another culture and its linguistic palette.
Thus as a culture has become defined throughout time, like the polishing of the facets of a jewel, mankind’s perception of these entities that exist at the boundaries of our perception have come to reflect the inherent peculiarities of a given culture. Our fears as a people, our inhibitions and immoralities, our taboos and desires projected onto these entities we encounter in the natural world.
Thus the differences that have grown between cultures are the differences in mankind’s pantheon of spirits the world over. Some are to be feared, as that culture is one of fearfulness, others to be befriended, as that culture is one of openness and sharing.
Though as much as there are differences, more striking still are the commonalities between cultural perceptions of nature spirits. That their roles remain often identical in light of their polarized appearances, that they are more common among the untouched places of the natural world, that they can be bound, threatened, supplicated, bribed.
When in the course of the practice of the craft a magician of any ilk encounters a spirit, through accident or intention, it’s best to be aware of the shape that they manifest in relation to our perceptions and expectations. That their form is one that easily fills the container of our language and its inherent biases and preconceptions about the nature of reality. We give to these spirits as much of their form and power as they themselves, much the way we give to our rulers the power over us that we must yield in order for them to rule.
While much research in this field has yet to be done the current of this form of spirit anthropology is just now awakening. Considerable historic documentation exists to outline the ever evolving relationship between mankind and that other. Yet a fuller look at the extent of human participation in spirit interaction may be a decade or more in the making.
It would do well for the practitioner to keep in mind that the nature of the spirit catalogues of antiquity are that of slow evolution, where names shift over time via generations of misspelling and misappropriation. Recent research has been done in tracking these changes, yet the full scope of how the spirit is given specific form by the language, and thus the perception of reality that the practitioner holds, has yet to be done.
To they whom traffic in the boundaries of the landscape, know that your expectations place you in a precarious position. Those beings with whom you court and barter, supplicate and invoke, are more than your perception of them. They are merely being given form by your expectation of their presence. When the magician commands the demon to appear in a “comely form” it is to oneself the words are spoken. For the eyes only deceive us in our dealings with that world, no truth can be had in the illusion that is sight. The lies our eyes tell us have names made of the words we have been raised with, a set of linguistic boundaries on which perception is given form by that great deceiver that is culture.