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.
Typical evil witch doing evil witch things
Recently I heard someone say that witches are people who do evil magic, work with the dead, and that in most if not all cultures, a witch is someone who does bad things. This was not said as a way of insulting witches. No, it was intended to make witches seem like badasses, and to say that we had better own up to our badassery if we want to use that word to describe ourselves–if we are not badasses, then we had better not call ourselves witches. It reminded me of this piece of crap art I saw once where a sheep’s face turned into a wolf’s. The basis for this definition of witchcraft: “Just look in the dictionary.”
First, let’s deal with the dictionary issue. A dictionary is created by very fallible human beings to help the user understand what might be meant by the use of a word in a particular context. It is not meant to be a book of truths or of absolutes. It’s about defining words in a particular situation, a moment in time, a social context. It doesn’t define practices, people, ideas, etc. It is just about helping us understand how a word is being used, nothing more. A dictionary is descriptive, not prescriptive.
The dictionary does not define social groups and is not used as a reference book by any of them. People who call themselves Christians, for instance, do not look up the dictionary definition of the word “Christian” to get a good idea of who they are or how they should act. If they did, they would find definitions that might well have little to do with their practice of Christianity. And bluntly, there is no reason why they should look up the definition of “Christian” in the dictionary because they define what a Christian is through their lived life. Their action in community defines “Christian,” not a dictionary.
This is why it is not a good idea to rely on a dictionary definition to support any argument whatsoever, and certainly not an argument that a “witch” is a badass who does bad things.
But okay, let’s set the dictionary issue aside and look at how “witch” supposedly pretty much the world over means someone who does things like make a cow’s milk dry up or menfolk become impotent or cast the evil eye or makes a field barren or any number of other shitty things because they are badasses. “The world” think of witches this way.
Evil Jews doing evil things. Henry Ford said it; it must be true.
I can speak from my own experience on the question of how “the world” defines a particular group. “The world” thinks Jews are money-grubbers, that we secretly run the US government, we run the banking system, we control the media, we make the US work with Israel, we imake countries go to war so we can profit off it, we incite black people against white people just for the hell of it, I guess, we are an unspoken part of the alleged war on Xmas, and on and on and on. But “the world” does not get to define what a Jew is or does. Only Jews get to define that.
The same thing holds with witches. Witches get to define what a witch is, not “the world.”
Let’s look at the practice.
How many of the witches you know fit this definition? Pretty much none, I’ll wager. And having run an occult supply shop for 16 years, I have met a lot of people who call themselves witches. The few who have defined themselves a badasses who do bad things typically have a website where you can buy a candle for $1000 to put a curse on your ex. Ya know? IOW, they are more like shysters or con artists than witches. Maybe they got their definition of a witch from the dictionary; who knows.
Evil witches roasting a baby, because that is the real badassery
To me, this badass witch thing is reminiscent of deriding people for being fluff bunnies or Wiccans. Like if you do not have a huge bone collection and regularly pal around with the Almighty Dead, you have no right to use the word “witch” in reference to yourself. You are a pussy and need to stay on the porch because you can’t run with the big dogs.
Bah fucking humbug, kids. Just as a dictionary does not define the practice of witchcraft, neither does a single individual. We have no pope, dogma, or orthodoxy.
One concept of traditional witchcraft that I really like is that of the Crooked Path. The way I understand this idea, the witch’s path goes now to the left, now to the right, now to the dark, now to the light. I could add other aspects to that, like that for me, the Crooked Path is about the moment, not the goal, that it’s not in a rush, that it’s a slow, sensual experience, that it’s solitary but might have a history (others have walked that path before), that it reveals the hidden and the unexpected, and more. But I will stick to the idea that it veers now to the Left Hand Path and now to the Right Hand Path. There is no room for badasses on such a path. A witch on that path might curse or cure.
Personally, I would much rather hear about someone else’s practice and what works for them than to hear them talk about how others are not real witches. I’m sick of that shit. And I bet most of you are too.
Just to bring this entry full circle, let’s go back to the dictionary definition of “witch.” You know what the 4th meaning of “witch” is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary? It’s not evil-doer, badass, bone collector, pal of the dead, eater of poisons, or any of that. It’s “a practitioner of Wicca.”
So let’s spend our energy on creating new and powerful practices instead of ranking other witches.