To hear never-heard sounds,
To see never-seen colors and shapes,
To try to understand the imperceptible
Power pervading the world;
To fly and find pure ethereal substances
That are not of matter
But of that invisible soul pervading reality.
To hear another soul and to whisper to another soul;
To be a lantern in the darkness
Or an umbrella in a stormy day;
To feel much more than know.
To be the eyes of an eagle, slope of a mountain;
To be a wave understanding the influence of the moon;
To be a tree and read the memory of the leaves;
To be an insignificant pedestrian on the streets
Of crazy cities watching, watching, and watching.
To be a smile on the face of a woman
And shine in her memory
As a moment saved without planning.
Here is the gist of a talk I gave at the Horniman Museum in London recently, for their ‘Magic Late’ evening. The museum was founded by the father of Annie Horniman, well-known in magical circles as a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Annie went to the Slade School of Art in London, was a friend of W.B.Yeats, and set up the Abbey Theatre Dublin. The museum has an extensive collection of charms and amulets, which will go on display next year.
The Magic Late event was a marvellous example of how museums can act as stimulating meeting places for art, history, science – and people (600 of us for this event). There was opera in one gallery, films being shown in the conservatory, dance and cocktails in one room, street food being served outside, me and other speakers in another gallery, the ghost of Annie Horniman in the grounds telling us about the extraordinary history of the museum, and showing us the site of the first Golden Dawn temple. We ended up in a circle – about 60 of us – in the pavilion overlooking the City of London, glittering in the distance. Dozens of lanterns marked out a pentagram. We learnt of Annie’s initiation into the Golden Dawn, and then chanted together words from that ceremony: ”…I come in the Mercy of Light, The Light hath healing in its wings. Child of Earth, long hast thou dwelt in darkness. Quit the night and seek the day.” If you have a chance to visit the Horniman – do go. Its setting high on Forest Hill is stunning, and you can almost feel W.B.Yeats and Mathers walking in the grounds as they did a hundred or so years ago. Mathers and his wife lived there as curators for a while.
A recording of the talk, introduced by curator Tom Crowley:
The basic text of the talk:
Hello! I’m going to talk to you this evening about magic wands. You might think that they are just the stuff of fairy tales and fiction, but in fact magic wands have been used in the British Isles from the very earliest of times, and are still in use today.
Let’s go back thousands of years. If you are able to brave the Dragon’s Teeth – a valley of sharp stones that protects the Paviland cave on the Gower peninsula from the casual visitor, you will find yourself looking out onto the Irish sea from the mouth of a cave which was the last resting place for a man known as the Red Lady of Paviland. His remains – discovered in 1823 – are 34,000 years old: probably the earliest formal burial found in Western Europe. By his body were found what seem to be magic wands – made of mammoth ivory. They are all broken – perhaps ritually – to mark his death.
A Wand from Paviland
Fast forward 34,000 years to today – and you may have seen that wonderful exhibition at the British Museum earlier this year on The Celts. In a glass case stood a wand worthy of the most powerful magician at Hogwarts. It was huge and tipped with a crystal ball and is used today by Druids in the Welsh National Eisteddfod.
So you see, for thousands of years people have been using magic wands – and not just in Wales. Does anyone here have or use a wand? Let’s have a show of hands.
I use a wand. I have to, it’s required by my job description as a Chief Druid. I haven’t brought my usual one along, because it’s shy and only likes to be used for specifically magical purposes. But a relation who is more extraverted and flamboyant agreed to come along. Technically, this is a staff rather than a wand – but staffs can be used as wands, when needed. They can direct power, define a magic circle, ward off unwanted influences, call in higher powers.
We see the wand being used in disguise, as it were, in the conductor’s baton, a monarch’s sceptre, and in the military baton carried by Field Marshalls. In the Third Reich, seven styles of baton were created, for example, with Hermann Goering’s baton having 600 diamonds encrusted in it. The teacher wields a cane, Black Rod an ebony staff in the House of Lords.
These all point to the directive, authoritative, controlling, sometimes hostile or punitive, nature of the wand. Like a sword, it can be used to protect but also to attack. It directs power, whereas its counterpart, the chalice, receives and contains power.
So much for a wand’s uses and its symbolism. But what art and thinking goes into creating one?
Most wands are made primarily of wood – fitting for a Druid, which means literally ‘wood sage’. Different woods convey different qualities or powers: hazel is good for divination, birch and ash connect the three worlds, Yew connects us to the powers of rebirth and eternity. Oak connects us to tradition and authority, and so on. The day and time you choose to select the wood for your wand is significant, as is whether it is dead or alive – there are different schools of thought on which is best. Sometimes the right piece of wood will fall directly in your path as you walk by a tree.
The length of your wand is significant and must be calculated. Sleeping with it under your pillow or beside you is considered wise, and called incubation. Then you must fashion it – stripping it of bark, or not, carving it or not.
Then you must decide if it will be simple, or whether it will have all four potential components of a magician’s wand: a pommel, a handle, a shaft, and a point. The reservoir or pommel stores the magician’s power and may be formed of stone or crystal. The handle connects the wand to the magician making it in many ways an extension of the hand. The shaft conveys the power and may be carved. The point may be simply pointed, or may be carved with a knife-like blade. Or it may hold a crystal or stone to act as the point.
Do we need wands? Do we need fantasy, imagination, myth and magic in our world? Yes we do – now more than ever!
I recently had the pleasure of writing a foreword for a fantastic new Tarot deck, The English Magic Tarot. I am sharing here a great review by OBOD Bard Claire Dixon, originally written for the fabulous Pagan on-line news journal, The Wild Hunt. Many thanks to Claire and Heather Greene for permission to reblog:
English Magic Tarot is a deck devised by magician and comic book artist Rex Van Ryn, painter Steve Dooley and Pagan writer and musician Andy Letcher. With a foreword by Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids Philip Carr Gomm, the new deck deftly entwines all aspects of English Magic.
As Philip Carr-Gomm states: “With this deck and book, you have the chance to explore the world of English magic directly, engaging with its peculiar charms and eccentricities. And with what excellent guides!”
Drawing on High Magical Traditions represented by organizations such as Order of the Golden Dawn and embodied by the likes of Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and Austin Osman Spare, the deck is replete with Hermetic symbolism. It also acknowledges the low magic path of the cunning folk and how the tarot has been used in that tradition. As Andy Letcher notes: “We regard the tarot as a kind of distillation of Western wisdom.”
The deck is set in the Tudor and Stuart periods, beginning with the reign of Henry VIII (although the Tudor period began earlier), through the upheaval of the Stuarts.This was a time of radical change in England.
The Elizabethan part of the Tudor period and the subsequent Stuart age almost fall into two distinct halves in terms of differences in culture and attitude, and the outlooks towards religion and magic going a long way to define each period.
The Tudor period featured the Reformation and the subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries, which resulted in conflict with Europe that culminated in the Spanish Armada. It was also in this period that the Enclosure Act restricted the use of common land, having a huge impact on poorer people. But under Elizabeth, this was also a time of relative freedom in religion and the arts flourished as a result.
As Matt Sutherland for Foreword Reviews notes: “The mysticism, mysteries, rituals, and lore of Elizabethan-era England (were) perhaps history’s most fervent period and place for the magic arts.”
Elizabeth was much more tolerant of religious differences than any of her other family members and her successors – James I, instigator of the witch trials, being the most notable example. She also employed Dr John Dee, astrologer and occultist, as one of her courtiers and spies during her reign. His interest in the esoteric as well as alchemical and magical practices paved the way for later luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon.
The English Magic Tarot acknowledges this overlooked period of magical tradition and celebrates the spirit of possibility and exploration synonymous with the Elizabethan age. In Europe, this period, as well as overseeing the Renaissance, saw the birth of the tarot and its establishment as an essential tool in high and low magical traditions. One cannot help but wonder what kind of world we would be living in if the alchemical traditions celebrated in the deck had been developed and explored to their fullest capacity.
Another aspect of this deck worth mentioning is the emphasis on storytelling and how important this was in the Elizabethan age, evidenced by the growth of the arts during this time, the theatre in particular. The cards themselves are awash with riddles and symbols inspired by the Elizabethan era.
As Letcher confirms: “There are indeed riddles, references and lore scattered through every card. All these are significant and have been placed there deliberately. On one level, they are there simply to encourage readers to look more closely at the cards and to entice them into a deeper understanding of English magic. But we also wanted there to be an overarching theme to the cards, something that ran through them all and bound them together. The riddles do all point to something. It’s a kind of treasure hunt, if you will, and there is an actual answer at the end.”…to read the whole review click here.
I’ve just heard from friends in Haiti who run a micro-charity – a fantastic relief effort that saves lives and also works to improve the environment. I got to know Sean and Mousson, who spearhead the work, forty years ago when I lived out there for a while. The people of Haiti are the warmest, loveliest people ever and they have suffered so much. Here’s their news:
We need your help after Hurricane Matthew has devastated Southern Haiti. The hurricane assaulted the southern peninsula of Haiti with deadly fury on Tuesday, destroying tens of thousands of homes as tin roofs were ripped off by the 145 mph winds. Precious crops were flattened and destroyed by torrential rainfall and there was widespread damage from flash floods with loss of livestock and destruction of the already vulnerable infrastructure.
In the short-term, hundreds are dead, and thousands upon thousand of people are without shelter, they are hungry and have lost nearly all their meager belongings. In the midterm, harvests were destroyed and there will be no food in the foreseeable future. Fruit trees that provided food and income, are broken and leafless, and will take years to grow back…
Following the unimaginably widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew we are asking all our friends to please help and donate to a fund that will be used directly and exclusive to bring immediate relief to the thousands who are homeless and in need of immediate help.
With your help, as a local NGO we can offer directly to those most in need food, clothing and basic necessities, materials to rebuild broken homes, shelter for those in immediate need, seeds for farmers who have lost their crops, and whatever else is required to rebuilt the devasted communities.
When a crisis hits, I prefer to donate money to a micro-charity rather than those big ones like the Red Cross, whose overheads are so high – expensive offices, directors’ salaries and so on. All the money ORE gets goes straight into helping address the suffering. Do please see if you can donate an amount, however small, by clicking here and scrolling down the page to the Paypal buttons: www.oreworld.org/donate.htm
While we were on holiday, we heard that a friend of all the family, Ivan McBeth, had died on the equinox. I’m preparing a longer post about dear old Ivan, head of the Green Mountain Druid Order, known to many in the Druid community, but in the meanwhile, I want to offer this…
A friend has just died. When I think of him I see vignettes – short films of times I remember – dimly lit, often silent, clips which fade into darkness after a few seconds. What do I see? Not his profound thoughts, not his kind gestures, but his laughter – the moments of madness: him sitting on a tin tray, his huge frame hurtling over the snow towards a fence at the bottom of the field; him tip-toeing behind a tipi with a BB gun in his hand, firing pellets at my son’s rear with shrieks of triumph; he and I sitting in a mud-pit smearing mud around each other’s eyes carefully, because we couldn’t do it on our own faces, laughing more than I have ever laughed in my life. Bless you, Ivan, on your journey.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
I am delighted to be giving a talk about Druids and their magic wands at the Horniman Museum‘s fabulous Magic Late night, taking place on the 13th October. The evening will include opera, film, dance, music, folk charm displays and more!
The Horniman already have a wonderful display of folk charms and for the Magic Late event they are encouraging people to bring along their own; these will be photographed and a record will be made of why the charm has meaning and why it is carried. The Horniman are hoping for as many contributions as possible as the images and interviews will form part of a permanent display of English charms due to open in 2018. So come along, enjoy the entertainment, bring your charms and contribute to this fascinating museum!
Tickets are only £5! Over-18s only. You can book online up until 2.30pm on 13 October. After 2.30pm, tickets will be available to buy on the door. For full details click here.
Everyone who terrifies you is sixty-five
and everyone you love is made of stardust,
and I know
you cannot even breathe deeply, and
the night sky is no home, and
you have cried yourself to sleep enough
that you are down to your last two percent,
nothing is infinite,
not even loss.
You are made of the sea and the stars, and
you are going to find yourself again.