For me, witchcraft is animistic, as well as mystical. There is a reason there is no dichotomy for me. As an animist, I understand the world to be inspirited, animated with the movement of sensuous intelligences at every scale of being.
In the cosmology posited in many traditional witchcrafts (particularly the lore of the major initiatory Houses), the shape of reality is a 3-ness: the Underworld, the Middleworld, and the Supernalworld. Because this shape exists at every scale, it is reflected in the notion of every entity (parts of the Whole) having 3 souls or selves, native to each condition.
The Fetch/Free Soul is native to the Underworld, the Breath Soul/Spirit is native to the Middleworld, and the Daimonic Self to the Supernal. It’s interesting to note that many ancient peoples understood the Celestial realm as a special place within the Underworld, the Stars within the Earth. I myself have seen the Door at the Bottom of the Wyrding Well (the Deepest Depths of the Great Below) that opens into the Great Above, a black sky of Utter Night and the Silvery Stars twinkling therein.
Typically I refer to the Underworld and the Supernal as the Vertical-Axis, the Innerworld from whence everything comes and returns to. All of reality is movement to and fro. I understand this place in the “Middle” as the Horizontal-Perceptual World, where time appears to move in one direction just as the Sun crosses the sky East to West, from horizon to horizon. Here we spring up from the inside of a body, are birthed and grow and perceive, unfolding our lives before sinking back into return/decay at Death. The Whole is the Crossroads, the place where the Vertical-Axis and the Horizontal-Perceptual meet, and center defines circumference.
I believe that the Fetch visits the Vertical-Axis nightly, in dream. That the dream condition and the death condition are the same. When we die our Fetch will go to be with our Ancestors from whence we extend, while our Breath Soul (for most), our waking consciousness and colorful weave of identities, will depersonalize and return to the Wind of the World, the thunder/perfect mind of the Master. Our Daimon shall guide the Fetch home. Only those most favored by the Elphen Queen will escape this Fate.
But let’s return to the topic at hand. In dream we have a body, though it easily shapeshifts, and is also primarily ancestral. I also know with certainty that folks who are called witches can enter a “Twilyte” state, the Witching Trance, and walk the blade-edge bridge between waking and sleeping in a phenomenon called the Witches’ Flight or Transvection.
This state allows the practitioner to unite the worlds and stand at the meeting place of the axes, in lore called “riding the Hedge,” where they can affect phenomena in the Horizontal-Perceptual world while effectively “lucid dreaming.” Truly this is a state beyond waking awareness, sleep, or even ordinary dream as Chumbley posits. But there is certainly a body that engages these things.
For me, there is no such thing as the immaterial, only the living world around us intertwined with the subtlties of the pre-/post-mortem states of consciousness. The cosmos is predatious, eating and birthing itself like Ceridwen eats and births Taliesin. We can experience a body in each of the worlds, and realize there is no spirit without body, there is no substance that is not holy, animate.
It’s why, for instance, witches use the senses and the body to engage in sorcery; why materia magica *is* spiritual substance for us. Things are what they do. Everything is a process happening. Every herb and root, water, salt, mommet, tool or implement–they are alive with magic, with life-force, with sorcerous power.
These are beings we weave our spells with, not merely inanimate objects whose symbolism/aesthetic fascinates the mind. Witches use song, dance, sex, fasting, feasting, transgression and ecstasy, the fluids of the body, the parts of animals (other bodies), movements called “shamanic passes,” symbols drawn or carved–these all form the “body” of spiritual forces and beings as we encourage them to act in the Horizontal-Perceptual World through intention, desire, will, and relationship (including pacts and bonds). They become a part of us, as the truth of who we are is much more than discrete individuals but morphic fields all blending together into the Wholeness.
We are a train of beings, a chain of ancestors reaching back, and spirit allies reaching forward, all forming the Tree of Life with our rooting and branching. The three selves, our ancestors, familiars, fate-followers, allies–this all forms the greater family that we embody in the here-and-now. Try not to escape into idealism or the fantasy of any other existence apart from the hear-and-now, the world of the senses. It is a trap of delusion and will get you lost in folly and inaction, and split your soul into pieces.
Flying is simultaneously one of the easiest things and one of the hardest things to learn in witchcraft. Witches fly. That simple statement has driven perfectly good witches insane. They think they should be able to fly easily, and when they cannot, they break. They think that all their learning and practicing should make it work, but it won’t. Each witch learns in their own time. You can’t force the process. Flying was one of the first skills I learned. It was very natural for me at first, but I started to psych myself out and it became difficult. When I learned a few key things, it became easy again. Now there is hardly a day that I don’t fly somewhere (after all, who has the money to travel somewhere to talk to someone, especially when you can just fly there and drop off a message yourself). One of the first things I want to put out there is that spirit flight is not quite the same as something like guided meditation is. Same aspects in that you’ll see, touch, smell, etc. things, but different in that you’re not looking to go inside yourself, rather outside yourself. The hardest part for a lot of people is the beginning stage, when you leave your body. The best advice I can give for this is to let go. Let go of the control over your body and mind. Let go of the things that weigh you down. Let your bliss, your want, and your spirit, carry you up and out. Try to move, but without your body. Don’t imagine it, just do it. Unfortunately, It’s not something I can aptly describe. Many people insist on flying while laying down. I say do what feels right. Lay down, sit up, stand on your head, whatever works. Although, flying while standing up could prove hazardous or unsuccessful, especially if you’re just beginning. The way I fly is in a meditative state. It’s a sort of half sleep. Not fully conscious, but not fully unconscious. I try not to fall asleep because I often either slip back into my head or I lose control over the experience. Many witches prefer to fly while they sleep, though. It all depends on the witch and their tastes. Some use ointments, some don’t. I used to use a mint oil on my forehead and the nape of my neck. Nowadays, I use nothing. Some witches won’t fly without the aid of their handy belladonna and mandrake ointment. Oils and ointments are another discussion entirely though, so I’ll hold off on that. When you leave your body, all you have to do to travel is to will yourself to specific places. Know where you want to go, and make it happen. Try not to venture too far within your first few times. Move around wherever your body is, or travel to some place familiar. You don’t want to get lost. Getting lost and not finding your way back is a sad possibility. I see a lot of websites saying that it’s impossible to get hurt while you’re out of your body. Folklore and witch stories say otherwise. As you fly more, you’ll learn more. You’ll learn tricks while you’re out and about, but before that you need to learn how to get back. Try to find your way back to where you began, or back to your body. It’s a slower process, but it’s the best for when you’re starting out. As you get a bit more acquainted with the sensations, you’ll learn to snap back into your body. One of the best methods I’ve found to bring yourself back is to think of your feet. It’ll bring you back down. Snap back into yourself with caution, though. It’s easy to leave a piece of you somewhere or get disoriented. And retrieving those lost pieces isn’t nearly as easy as losing them. And the last question I know all witches have, “How do I know that I’m not imagining it all?” There are little things that happen that will alert you to if it’s real or not. I’ll give you an example. I once managed to project while fully conscious, and to prove it to myself that I was indeed doing it, I whispered in someone’s ear with my specter. They turned around to see who was behind them. I was floored. Given, that’s a more flashy example, but there are others. Let’s say you leave your body to get information. When you come back, ask yourself if there was any other way for you to know the information you just gathered. Test yourself.
When you’re ready, let go of everything, including the doubt and fear, and let your spirit soar.
Well ok, this (Flight to the Ford) is technically last week’s chapter, but I didn’t have the time then, since life happened.
So. This time it’s a gardener starting to grow into a bigger role, and a hero from Ages past playing a cameo in someone else’s story (although, if you believe Sam, it’s all the same story anyway).
At the start of the chapter, when Aragorn is out scouting, there is a brief mention of Sam starting to doubt his good intentions once again. It’s barely a half-scene, but I think it’s nicely illustrative of the situation: this is not yet the Fellowship. This is four hobbits in out of their depth and their new guide, and for some, trust is still pretty thin on the ground.
However, it’s Sam whom Aragorn draws aside to quietly explain his suspicions concerning the Black Riders: that he doesn’t know why there were only five, that he is certain they will come again. That the Riders think they will only need to wait out for Frodo to die of his wound. Now, it’s clear Aragorn does not want the others to overhear. Perhaps he fears Frodo might lose faith, and that might also be why he doesn’t Merry and Pippin to know. But note that he doesn’t keep the information to himself, as well he could. He wants to share what he knows, so he tells Sam. That’s trust, going one way.
The other way might be Sam going to Aragorn with his puzzlement over Frodo’s wound: at least he trust Aragorn’s skill in medicine, then. And once again, he’s told not to despair.
Maybe it works, because it’s hard to imagine someone in a very dark mood coming up with a troll sitting alone on his seat of stone, gnawing on an old bone (of nuncle Tim). And I confess I think that poem’s brilliant in all it’s silliness, and a perfectly placed to lighten up a chapter that might be too grim otherwise. Also as a reader I share Frodo’s sentiment here:
’I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he’s a jester. He’ll end up becoming a wizard – or a warrior!’
Despite Sam’s own protests, that last bit can be read as foreshadowing – or good-natured joke – but given the way Tolkien writes, I’d say this is intentionally prophetic.
From family history of trolls it’s but a step to ancient history – after all, both happened on the same hills. What Aragorn tells of the fort-builders, that they had fallen under the shadow of Angmar, and been destroyed in the war that ended the rule of the Witch-king, could be the talk of someone who has studied old tales, and indeed, he says that ’The heirs of Elendil do not forget all things past. But then again, given Aragorn’s personal history, it could be he has learned the tale like Frodo learned the troll story: from someone who had been there. Many things are, after all, remembered in Rivendell.
For instance, the one who led Rivendell’s host against Angmar still dwells in Rivendell. As he says himself, ’There are few even in Rivendell that can ride openly against the Nine; but such as there were, Elrond sent out north, west, and south.’ That Glorfindel is one such is implied by his mere presence on the road, and by ‘openly’ I assume is meant that Elrond himself dare not leave his house. What remains unsaid is that Glorfindel has gone against the Lord of the Nazgûl before, and will go again, if need be.
It is quite interesting that Sam, who was awestruck and tongue-tied when encountering Gildor’s party back in Three Is Company, now starts his acquaintance with Glorfindel by gainsaying him, and rather forcefully at that. Then again, it’s about Frodo, and if Sam says he’s too ill to ride, then he is, no matter what some Elf-lord might have to say.
In a way, Glorfindel acts here in place of still-absent Gandalf, taking on the role of the knowledgeable protector and guide. The connection is even more obvious if you consider that they both are, or will be, balrog-slayers. And that they were both returned to life afterwards. (Do I need to say spoiler? I doubt I need to say spoiler.)
But all of these things, all of Glorfindel’s past, are not said here. You need to find them in other books or the Appendix to this one. But it’s understandable, since he is a supporting character, in fact, he’s barely mentioned again after Rivendell.
It is as if the author is saying: here is someone who looks the hero’s part, mighty and fair and golden, and who has experience to fit – but that’s not his part to play at all. He’s only here to defend and guide the real hero of this story, and that only for a short trek of a long journey. That’s a fine way of saying the great stories go on even if the people in them change.
“Bane-Worts, a triplicity of Infernal Herbs, strong in poison and frequently deadly. The first in this group are plants of the clan of Nightshades: Belladonna, Thorn-Apple, Henbane, Scopolia, and occasionally the Mandragore. When used in a disrespectful way, these plants readily ally with certain Devils, and it is the vision phantasmagoric which is usually attributed them. The second group are the Umbellifers of the Skull, that tenebrous society of killing-plants the Greeks of Old collectively called Koneion, most notably Poison Hemlock, Cowbane, and Fool’s Parsley. To them is attributed the aspect of the going-forth of the soul: flight or the incipient metempsychosis at the onset of theriomorphic ingress. The third group consists entirely of Monkshoods, being the deadliest poison of Europa’s wort-cabinet, and to it is attributed the suppression of the flesh into narcosis, loosening the gateways of the soul, or yet even Death itself.”
—Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadow, Chapter XII, Book of the Balsam Grove by Daniel A. Schulke