I’ve been reading Azoetia regularly now and find that I can get the gist if I read a section on maybe three different occasions. The book touches upon so many topics I want to write about, but something that stood out for me right away was what Chumbley has to say about the Crossroads, which as you know is a core idea in various types of magic.
Painting of the goddess Hekate in abstract form, incorporating the Crossroads into the design and using her colors of saffron & black.
One connection with the Crossroads is the goddess Hekate, the pre-Olympian deity connected not only to magic but to the Underworld (much like her “twin,” Hermes). She was and is propitiated at crossroads, for instance, especially the sort that is shaped like a Y. So I thought of her when I read the first sentence of this passage, but as I read on…:
It is taught that the Primal Goddess is to be invoked at the meeting-place of three roads. This teaching is a hieroglyph, symbolizing the meeting-place of junction of the three states of Awareness (sleeping, dreaming, waking), where it is said the Gateway until the Continuity of Existence lies. This ‘Continuity’ is the Deity of which the Goddess is the feminine aspect.
The Gateway is the state of Hypnagogia, call’d the ‘Abyss of the Non-Integral’; being the passage of the Praedormitium [the transition stage between wakefulness and sleep] leading directly into the oracular trance. Although Initiations into these Mysteries take place in the Outer, such acts are only symbolic of the True Initiations that occur in the trance state. It is there that the true meaning of the Rites is taught and the Way unto the Grand Sabbat or Greater Vision lies. (p. 10)
I take from this section that: the Crossroads is not a physical crossroads but a physiological one. It’s the hypnagogic state rather than an intersection of physical roads. Initiations can happen in the physical world, but they are symbols for the real initiations that happen in the crossroads between sleep, dream, and wakefulness. I really like the idea that the crossroads is a symbol of a mental state.
I already knew that the Cultus Sabbati considers dream to be an essential aspect of the world. I’ve had a number of dreams that I think of as a major part of my connection to the spirits (such as my werewolf dream). But this puts a much finer point on it, since it is actually hypnagogic hallucination that is profoundly central, and that’s different from dreaming. That state is where I’ve had my most profound spiritual/magical experiences. These have happened mostly when I lay down to take a nap in the daytime. I immediately see myself lying on my bed as I float above. I can go through walls. I see my house as it is but also with odd extensions. Things are often of a peculiar color, as if it is darker than it really is and that blends colors together, or everything has a reddish tint. I encounter beings in my house who generally speak to me. Several times I have fended off attack–by something invisible, by a half dog/half man critter, among others. Usually these visions are way more informative than threatening, but a couple have been the scariest experiences I’ve ever had–scarier than being chased by a guy with a knife in a deserted nighttime Chicago street.
I always called these dreams, although while I was in them, I was certain that I was awake–so for instance, in the half-man/half-dog dream, I realize I don’t have my glasses on, which I would never think about one way or the other in an ordinary dream. Feeling like I am actually awake is unlike my regular dreams, which I experience as if they are real but if I think about it in the dream, I know I am dreaming and can remember many other dreams in a continuum, much like thinking over events in one’s life when awake. My only concern when I know I am dreaming is that I will not be able to wake up–that what I am in is the afterlife and that I am trapped there.
I do have night terrors also, but these never make any sense and usually are very brief. Like I’ll think that I have woken up to see a colored light shining right in front of me that I know has no business being there, and I’ll yell and strike out at it–and wake up.
It just occurs to me that the colored light horror is quite different from my moth dreams. In both I think I’ve woken up, but in the moth dreams, I’m not terrified to see a large moth flying towards me, even though behind it I can see that the living room stretches off into far distant dark space. Quite different from the horrific “Wtf is this light doing next to my bed???” thing of the night terrors.
I’ve never tried to cause such a dream to happen, but I have noticed that these hypnagogic experiences happen more often when I nap in the daytime, especially the afternoon. So I would try napping if I wanted to bring them on. From what I’ve read, about 1/3 of the population have hypnagogic experiences, so it isn’t that rare.
At any rate, I like the importance given to hypnagogic visions in Azoetia and the idea of the Crossroads as a state of consciousness.
I finally received my copy of Azoetia by Andrew Chumbley a few days ago. For those not familiar with it, its subtitle is “A Grimoire of the Sabbatic Craft,” and its produced by the Cultus Sabbati, a group of practitioners of magic. I was first drawn to them because of the deep knowledge of plants that Daniel Schulke showed in his work. I learned about them and what struck me especially was their emphasis on the importance of dream and its connection to the Sabbat and their acknowledgement that magic changes with time (“The authenticity of our work does not rest in antiquity, it is active through present and on-going vision”).
I’d been wanting to get my hands on Azoetia for a long time so I could try out the practice for myself. But the prices for used copies were way out of my reach. When they came out with a new edition, I signed up for it right away. (By the way, if you want to be notified when they publish new books, the only way that I know to get reasonably priced editions, you have to send them a snail mail to this address).
The first day I got it, I paged through it. And I felt daunted. Seriously. I could barely understand most of what was written. I knew that it involved the naming of an alphabet to be used in magic and that this was the book’s organizing principle. But wow. The alphabet was in a weird order, it was connected to “cells,” and there was tons and tons of ritual that I did not understand. This is not just because of the use of an enriched vocabulary, which is kind of CS’s hallmark. I don’t have a problem with that. It was instead the use of many, many names and nouns that I had never seen before and knew I would not find in a dictionary.
I felt a little let down. I did not see where was the gate to enter this thing.
Then I happened across a bit about moths: “An Enchantment of Sah for the Totemic Spirit of the Moth, to be used as an Hieroglyphic Spell for Lunar In-Creative Congress, for the Raising of Storms, to induce drowsiness, and to charm.” Sah is one of the letters of the alphabet and is connected with spells of transformation/shapeshifting.
This hit me because I’d been having repeated dreams involving moths and a butterfly. I’d dream that I woke up in my bed and across the dark room could see something flying towards me. The first few dreams, it was a glowing white moth of such a construction that I knew it could not be a real moth. It flew towards my face. I felt perplexed. I couldn’t understand what it was doing there or what it wanted. Each dream had the same plot. But after a few versions with the white moth, it became a Monarch butterfly, which instead of glowing, was somehow lit by the sun, and in subsequent dreams, it became a satiny black moth. I always woke up before the moth/butterfly got to me. As happens occasionally in dreams, I realized while I was dreaming that I had had the same dreams before. Somehow my memory in dreamtime can stretch way back.
I actually wrote a post about it on February 8, but I did not finish it and so didn’t publish it, and I got busy. In that post, I wondered what it could mean, and the first possibility I came up with was shapeshifting. I’d read of witches in history who took on the shapes of animals in order to travel to the Sabbat or just get about at night. Instead of being something scary, like a wolf, they would change into various ordinary animals. The ones that stuck in my mind were a mouse or a butterly. This also resonated for me in a connection to my childhood, when I’d read a story about The Devil and Daniel Webster. When the devil opens his black pocketbook, something black flies out–“It was something that looked like a moth, but it wasn’t a moth.” I remember nothing about that story except for that image. To me the black moth symbolized a soul or a spirit, and now, all these years later, looking over that story, it feels weird to see that the description of the moth thing is very much like that of familiars described by witches of the past (for example, as “something like a rabbit” in Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits).
It did occur to me that the colors of these critters are the same as the colors associated with my Spirit Teacher (black and silver/gray/white) and my Guide (rust). The monarch butterfly even combines all three, black, white, and rust. But since these spirits in the past have appeared to me in various forms, human and otherwise, in my dreams and have been relatively straightforward in their communication there, I could not understand why they would take the forms of moths and butterflies and say nothing and do nothing that I could understand as meaningful.
You can see how all these things combine and are connected, I think. That’s why when I ran across this section in Azoetia, I felt a shiver. I am still not sure of the meaning of the dreams but I wonder now if there might not be a connection or identification between the witch and the witch’s familiars in terms of color, so that the colors of one’s familiars are the witch’s own colors as well, colors that identify the witch. I have already for some years now deliberately worn the colors of my familiars as way of showing them honor and thanking them for their help. I wonder now if these dream forms were there to indicate to me that I could and should take such a form with their help and through my own work and use that form to travel about and reach the Sabbat. Or if they were in fact myself coming back to my body, and my perplexity came from the fact that I could see my own spirit returning to my dreaming body. You can imagine I will be working on this Sah letter (or its equivalent) as well as I can.
Since going through the book again, oddly enough, it now seems much more straightforward and doable than it did that first pass through. It is like the moth thing was the key to the gate. It is still difficult, and I can readily see why for all the fuss about it and all the speculating on its resale value, I have found almost no one who has said they actually worked with the book. I do think it is a powerful book, but one of the most powerful things about it for me is that he repeats at the beginning and at the end and many places in between that the practitioner has to create their own work, to write their own grimoire, basically. That the letters he gives, for instance, might not be at all the letters that the reader works with or creates. This is fundamental aspect of the CS that most appeals to me: there is no monologic word that we all have to bow down to. Instead, the task of magic is on each of us individually.
Nothing could be more magical.
My eyes sure hurt
Last week I spent three days working 10-12 hours a day finishing up the illustrations for my book, The Witching Herbs, which is supposed to come out from Weiser this year. I was pleased with the way these line drawings turned out, although as is often the case for me, I felt I had to do some of them over (and over) to get them looking more or less the way I wanted them to. This meant I ended up with a very bad case of eye strain that affected me for about a week.
One thing I learned from this (again): I do not have anywhere near the stamina I did when I was younger. I just can’t work as fast or as long as I once took for granted. At 62, I do not feel old exactly, but I am more and more often faced with limitations on my energy. It always surprises me. And yet, as is characteristic of me, I am always coming up with new projects so that the list of what I need to get done becomes longer and longer and more unmanageable.
One of those new projects is expanding herbalwitchcraft.com, which is where you’re at right now. I’ve had this on my list of things to do for years now, but last weekend I began to work on it by moving the site to a new webhost. Just like I have always grown things from seed instead of buying transplants–until last year–I always kept my sites on a very dependable but user-unfriendly webhost. That unfriendliness was sort of a problem with Alchemy Works, but it was a huge problem with herbalwitchcraft. In the end, I knew that if I did not shift this site to a server that’s a bit more friendly to those of us who are not sysadmins, I would probably never end up adding to it. So I shifted it to a webhost that specializes in just WordPress sites. And it has been much easier for me to handle issues that this site has had all along (although it still took me two hours to add a “follow me on FB” button to it, lol!).
Looking up stuff in old books
Thanks to the new webhost, I was able to add a plugin that allows me to create a structure for additional, non-blog pages, which is what I want to add. These new pages will contain formulas for everything under the witch’s sun–powders, waters, scents, oils, incense, ointments, etc. I have so many formulas that I will never have the time to make or that are simply not practical as retail products but would be great as personal one-offs (especially more edgy stuff). I’ve also learned a LOT of “secrets of the apothecary’s art” for making things in the 16 years I’ve been running a witchcraft shop, and I want to share that with people. I would hate for this information to just get lost after I spent so much time collecting and sorting and refining and writing it.
I envision each group of formulas as a separate “book” on the site. Doing it this way instead of publishing it as physical books or even ebooks means I can continuously add to and modify the formulas and hyperlink between different pages for additional info and related items.
It also means that ads will supporting the site (and me) instead of charging for a book. This way no one will have to pay to get access to the information. I’d like to deal with ads by linking to good sources for the various raw materials and packaging involved in making witch stuff. There are so many great resources out there, whether for individuals who want to make things for their own use or who want to create products to sell. And new ones are coming into being all the time. Such a project also gives me a great excuse to play with creating more stuff and researching more formulas from old books, which I very much enjoy. I also see this as the sort of work I should be able to do far into my old age. And I do have to keep ageing in mind. My Social Security benefits will in no way be enough to support me.
So that’s my latest project, in addition to this blog, painting, my new art print shop, my art blog, my forthcoming book, and of course, Alchemy Works. And folks wonder why I get behind!
But there’s yet another project that will be added to the list at the end of this month: Azoetia is finally supposed to be mailed out beginning January 29th. From what I heard, it was actually printed at one point, but something was wrong, and it had to be redone. I enjoy working on all my projects, but Azoetia is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.