Category Archives: Story Time

All Hallows

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron….” — J.K. Rowling

We have passed through the Hallowed Nights of Feast, Fire, and Fallen Kin. We have danced Dionysian unto Summer’s Ending, as if our gyration would reverse that of the Dying Sun. Now, before Winter’s Gates we stand sobered and all too aware of the gnawing Darkness ahead.

I began the season by decorating my house in Halloween paraphernalia, getting a head start in the first few days of October. Over the next few weeks my house had been steadily transformed by cobwebs, spiders, skulls, and the occasional jack-o-lantern. On the Saturday before Halloween my partner and I threw a costume party. As secular as it may seem, I take great enjoyment in surrounding myself with the symbols of Halloween- from plastic skeletons and jack-o-lanterns. I experience arachnophobia and so creating a spider’s nest draping over a lamp and table around Halloween allows me to immerse myself in what I fear without overloading my psyche. This almost ritualistic practice every year has helped me become more comfortable with living spiders in my own way. Secular Halloween allows for the indulgence in taboo, modes of behavior that are suppressed for one reason or another throughout the rest of the year. While Mardi Gras and similar festivals also loosen the social shackles, Halloween does so in a unique way.

Browse Halloween decorations and costumes and it should become apparent to anyone who has an eye for symbolism. What is represented in most secular expressions of Halloween? In my perception it boils down to Fear, Sex, Death, and Occultism. (HELLO, Scorpio!) Monsters, Skulls, Graves, Ghosts, “Sexy (fill in the blank)” costumes, Cross-dressing for both sexes, Phobias, Murder, Gore, Insanity, Rot, Decay, Demons, Spirits, Witches, Magic, etc., etc. are all standards of Halloween paraphernalia and indicative of those categories I previously mentioned. Newspapers and Magazines try to interview Wiccans, Vodouisants, Satanists, and other occult and “spiritual fringe” people. It’s the one time of the year that it is socially acceptable to bend the rules and sometimes outright break them, or at least indulge your fascination in the taboo without being mistaken for a weirdo or an eccentric.

I always find myself musing on the history and symbolism of this time of year and all the cultures and traditions that have coalesced into the modern celebration of Halloween. I have come to understand that this holiday is simultaneously secular, Pagan, and Christian, as well as being inclusive. Each group has expressed Halloween differently, they all have been inspired and appropriated by each other. In my research of the “reason for the season” it has frequently been indiscernible as to what was “Pagan” and what was “Christian,” as well as from what particular culture certain aspects came from. One person’s Samhain tradition is another person’s Hallowmas observance, and let’s not even get started with Dia de los Muertos. While it is easy to say that the Church stole Pagan traditions in an effort to seduce new converts, it seems to me that there is the possibility that the people simply refused to give up their rituals and through subsequent generations the traditions remained, the meanings slightly altered. While I do not disregard the insidious domination and atrocities committed by the institution of the Church, I also think that the Folk are stubborn and creatures of habit. And what is a ritual but a habit saturated with meaning? What is a tradition but a set of rituals passed on? 

My thoughts also tend toward the influence of Nature on our Ancestors. What is it about this time of year? What did it mean to our Ancestors in Europe thousands of years ago? What does Fear, Sex, Death, and Occultism really have in common with October 31st?  I’m not surprised if it is hard to understand for many modern Western peoples because we have so much comfort and convenience. Even the least wealthy of us are more affluent than a large population of the world today, and most certainly richer than most people before us. We have a lot less to be afraid of in many regards. We are very sheltered and pampered compared to our Ancestors.

This is about a relationship, and a very tangible one at that. At this time our Ancestors were preparing to slaughter their livestock to be able to survive throughout the winter. Less mouths to feed and more to eat because of the lack of growing vegetation. Old and young alike were not spared from sickness and disease in winter, as well. The cold and dark is not merciful to warm-blooded creatures, especially those hunted and eaten by other warm-blooded creatures. While our Ancestors generally lived in survival mode for most of history, the time that is our modern Halloween became a gateway into the harshest session of survival mode. While we talk about the “Dark Half of the Wheel of the Year” at least a lot of us can turn on our electric lights and gas heaters. Our ancestors had to go to great lengths to acquire the necessary resources. They couldn’t always go to the market to get these things, they had to work and sacrifice to stay alive. We often take for granted how difficult it would be to survive without our structure and security.

Halloween is always saturated with thoughts of my Ancestors, those I knew and never have known. I try to honor all those who fought to survive and bonded with each other to continue to exist through time and space. The result of that love and strife is me, you, and all others here on Earth. Although I am a descendant of several European nations and have lived my life in the United States, I recognize that Ancestry and the ability to honor that influence is not bound by race, species, or cellular structure. I regard the Living Earth below me and the Stars above me as my Ancestors. Indeed, as per Nature’s design, all things decay and transform into new life- the Earth is literally our Ancestors. The matter of the Earth is created from the contents of a Star.

At Midnight on October 31st three friends, my partner and I took part in a simple ceremony and Dumb Supper to honor our Ancestors and our Beloved Dead, as well as the recognition of our own mortality. I had the pleasure of leading the ceremony in my temple/workshop room (i.e. the physical Curio Cabinet), marking the first official group ritual to be held there. We assembled in the temple, called to our respective families and loved ones, invited them to join our feast, gave offerings to them, and sat in silence for a while eating a simple meal. I had tried my hand at baking Soul Cakes, which turned out to be delicious. I ate mine contemplatively, as the tradition is that each cake eaten frees a soul from Purgatory. While I don’t believe in Purgatory, I do believe that what is remembered, lives.

Tomorrow, on Sunday, I complete my observance of this spoke on the Wheel by attending the Greek Orthodox Liturgy in honor of the 40th day of passing of my partner’s Yia Yia. I had the great pleasure of meeting this legendary woman a few times and it feels as though it was not enough. I greatly sympathize with the Orthodox tradition of the 40 day memorial. It brings the family together to celebrate the one who lived, helping to facilitate healing after grieving. The Orthodox prayers for the dead include the phrase “Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη,” translated as “May your memory be Eternal.”

I hope your Halloween brought you joy and blessings. This is not the only time you can give thanks and love to Those Who Have Gone Before, it is just the most appropriate. You can always raise a glass in the names of the Beloved and Mighty. And I raise a glass to you, readers, for though we may be friends or strangers we are all bonded through the love and strife of our Ancestors.

May your memory be eternal. What is remembered, lives.

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Benvenuto Cellini’s Encounter with the Spirits

Benvenuto Cellini was a Florentine sculptor living in 1500’s Italy. He is famous for a statue of Perseus commissioned by Cosimo d’Medici that he worked on for 9 years. Not only did he leave behind beautiful sculptures and works of metal and jewels, Cellini wrote an autobiography detailing the memories of his experiences. You can read the book for free online: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cellini/benvenuto/autobiography/index.htm.

Statue of Perseus, Piazza della Signoria, Flor...

Statue of Perseus, Piazza della Signoria, Florence – Canon S45 Holding medusa head. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His story begins, as it should, in his youth. At one point he describes a scene in which his father, playing an instrument and singing, notices a tiny lizard at the center of the fire burning in the hearth. He calls his children, Cellini and his sister, to see the marvelous creature. His father tells them that no person has ever been credible enough to prove it’s existence. Whether or not Cellini actually witnessed a Salamander, as the tiny flame lizard was called, if it was just a trick of fire and glowing coals or a made-up fantasy to enliven his autobiography, this particular anecdote shows that Cellini, even in youth, had a taste for the mysterious and occult- which I believe greatly influenced his art.

Growing into manhood, Cellini makes friends with Roman dignitaries, including Pope Clement. While in Rome, he meets with a curious priest who knows a good deal of arcane languages and reveals his knowledge on the art of necromancy and evocation. Cellini, desiring all his life to see an operation of necromancy, conspires with the priest to perform a ceremony at the Colosseum in Rome. Here I will leave you with an excerpt from his autobiography that details his encounter with the spirits.

“IT happened through a variety of singular accidents that I became intimate with a Sicilian priest, who was a man of very elevated genius and well instructed in both Latin and Greek letters. In the course of conversation one day we were led to talk about the art of necromancy; apropos of which I said: “Throughout my whole life I have had the most intense desire to see or learn something of this art.” Thereto the priest replied: “A stout soul and a steadfast must the man have who sets himself to such an enterprise.” I answered that of strength and steadfastness of soul I should have enough and to spare, provided I found the opportunity. Then the priest said: “If you have the heart to dare it, I will amply satisfy your curiosity.” Accordingly we agreed upon attempting the adventure.

The priest one evening made his preparations, and bade me find a comrade, or not more than two. I invited Vincenzio Romoli, a very dear friend of mine, and the priest took with him a native of Pistoja, who also cultivated the black art. We went together to the Coliseum; and there the priest, having arrayed himself in necromancer’s robes, began to describe circles on the earth with the finest ceremonies that can be imagined. I must say that he had made us bring precious perfumes and fire, and also drugs of fetid odour. When the preliminaries were completed, he made the entrance into the circle; and taking us by the hand, introduced us one by one inside it. Then he assigned our several functions; to the necromancer, his comrade, he gave the pentacle to hold; the other two of us had to look after the fire and the perfumes; and then he began his incantations. This lasted more than an hour and a half; when several legions appeared, and the Coliseum was all full of devils. I was occupied with the precious perfumes, and when the priest perceived in what numbers they were present, he turned to me and said: “Benvenuto, ask them something.” I called on them to reunite me with my Sicilian Angelica. That night we obtained no answer; but I enjoyed the greatest satisfaction of my curiosity in such matters. The necromancer said that we should have to go a second time, and that I should obtain the full accomplishment of my request; but he wished me to bring with me a little boy of pure virginity.

I chose one of my shop-lads, who was about twelve years old, and invited Vincenzio Romoli again; and we also took a certain Agnolino Gaddi, who was a very intimate friend of both. When we came once more to the place appointed, the necromancer made just the same preparations, attended by the same and even more impressive details. Then he introduced us into the circle, which he had reconstructed with art more admirable and yet more wondrous ceremonies. Afterwards he appointed my friend Vincenzio to the ordering of the perfumes and the fire, and with him Agnolino Gaddi. He next placed in my hand the pentacle, which he bid me turn toward the points he indicated, and under the pentacle I held the little boy, my workman. Now the necromancer began to utter those awful invocations, calling by name on multitudes of demons who are captains of their legions, and these he summoned by the virtue and potency of God, the Uncreated, Living, and Eternal, in phrases of the Hebrew, and also of the Greek and Latin tongues; insomuch that in a short space of time the whole Coliseum was full of a hundredfold as many as had appeared upon the first occasion. Vincenzio Romoli, together with Agnolino, tended the fire and heaped on quantities of precious perfumes. At the advice of the necromancer, I again demanded to be reunited with Angelica. The sorcerer turned to me and said: “Hear you what they have replied; that in the space of one month you will be where she is?” Then once more he prayed me to stand firm by him, because the legions were a thousandfold more than he had summoned, and were the most dangerous of all the denizens of hell; and now that they had settled what I asked, it behoved us to be civil to them and dismiss them gently. On the other side, the boy, who was beneath the pentacle, shrieked out in terror that a million of the fiercest men were swarming round and threatening us. He said, moreover, that four huge giants had appeared, who were striving to force their way inside the circle. Meanwhile the necromancer, trembling with fear, kept doing his best with mild and soft persuasions to dismiss them. Vincenzio Romoli, who quaked like an aspen leaf, looked after the perfumes. Though I was quite as frightened as the rest of them, I tried to show it less, and inspired them all with marvellous courage; but the truth is that I had given myself up for dead when I saw the terror of the necromancer. The boy had stuck his head between his knees, exclaiming: “This is how I will meet death, for we are certainly dead men.” Again I said to him: “These creatures are all inferior to us, and what you see is only smoke and shadow; so then raise your eyes.” When he had raised them he cried out: “The whole Coliseum is in flames, and the fire is advancing on us;” then covering his face with his hands, he groaned again that he was dead, and that he could not endure the sight longer. The necromancer appealed for my support, entreating me to stand firm by him, and to have assafetida flung upon the coals; so I turned to Vincenzio Romoli, and told him to make the fumigation at once. While uttering these words I looked at Agnolino Gaddi, whose eyes were starting from their sockets in his terror, and who was more than half dead, and said to him: “Agnolo, in time and place like this we must not yield to fright, but do the utmost to bestir ourselves; therefore, up at once, and fling a handful of that assafetida upon the fire.” Agnolo, at the moment when he moved to do this, let fly such a volley from his breech, that it was far more effectual than the assafetida. 1 The boy, roused by that great stench and noise, lifted his face little, and hearing me laugh, he plucked up courage, and said the devils were taking to flight tempestuously. So we abode thus until the matinbells began to sound. Then the boy told us again that but few remained, and those were at a distance. When the necromancer had concluded his ceremonies, he put off his wizard’s robe, and packed up a great bundle of books which he had brought with him; then, all together, we issued with him from the circle, huddling as close as we could to one another, especially the boy, who had got into the middle, and taken the necromancer by his gown and me by the cloak. All the while that we were going toward our houses in the Banchi, he kept saying that two of the devils he had seen in the Coliseum were gamboling in front of us, skipping now along the roofs and now upon the ground. The necromancer assured me that, often as he had entered magic circles, he had never met with such a serious affair as this. He also tried to persuade me to assist him in consecrating a book, by means of which we should extract immeasurable wealth, since we could call up fiends to show us where treasures were, whereof the earth is full; and after this wise we should become the richest of mankind: love affairs like mine were nothing but vanities and follies without consequence. I replied that if I were a Latin scholar I should be very willing to do what he suggested. He continued to persuade me by arguing that Latin scholarship was of no importance, and that, if he wanted, he could have found plenty of good Latinists; but that he had never met with a man of soul so firm as mine, and that I ought to follow his counsel. Engaged in this conversation, we reached our homes, and each one of us dreamed all that night of devils.”

In his next chapter, Cellini goes on to describe the necromancer-priest’s efforts to persuade Cellini to visit an occult master in Norica, a place infamous for witches, herbalists, and poisoners. While Cellini desires to consecrate a book of magic with the priest, especially to dissuade the demons from doing harm to him, he refuses to do so until he finishes his work. He then admits that he eventually forgot all about the demons, his Angelica, the priest, and the book.

Circle of the Art from The Treatise of Solomon, the Greek Forebearer of the Italian Key of Solomon

Now, Cellini either actually encountered these demons in the Colosseum or he was fortunate enough to come across a book of magic and, with a good imagination, wrote a story of how he though such an operation would go. Either way, when I came across this story I was just beginning to study the Solomonic Arts, beginning with one of the oldest manuscripts available The Treatise of Solomon. I was surprised to see that Cellini describes the operation, and it’s effects, very similarly to how the Treatise details the ritual.

For example, the Treatise instructs the magician to perform the ceremony in several auspicious places, one of which being “at a place where someone was killed in old times.” The Colosseum fits this perfectly. The necromancer dons his robes, traces circles in the ground, chants his invocations, all the while incense burns. The demons appear and the priest tells Cellini to ask them what he wants, which is a lover, Angelica. Interestingly enough, the operation in the Treatise comes with two conjurations that follow the Circle ceremony, one for Love and one for Money.

The following night they assemble once again in the Colosseum. This time the priest requested Cellini to bring a young, virgin boy with him. Virgins are not peculiar in the Solomonic Art, they attend these ceremonies to be mediums and seers, not sacrifices. The young boy tells the priest and Cellini that he sees multitudes of demons, flames approaching them from every side, and four giant demons. This also parallels the operation in the Treatise and other grimiores, as there are usually four great demon kings that rule from one of the cardinal directions. In the Treatise they are named Loutzipher from the East, Asmodai in the North, Astaroth in the West, and Beelzebub in the South.

When the group wishes to banish these demons using the time-tested method of burning Asafoetida, which is quite palatable but reeks of sulphur, Agnolo cannot break away from his fear to put the herb on the fire. When Cellini shouts at him that this is no time to be afraid, he lets out a great blast from his bottom. Some translators of Cellini’s Autobiography will carefully describe this scene, as not to offend the more sensible types. Other translators will tell it how it is, that Agnolo shit his pants. This was enough to make the virgin boy begin to laugh and report that the demons were fleeing the Colosseum.

I love this story because it is a rare example of someone’s honest (if not false) experience with the Solomonic arts in the Renaissance. It has also given me a glimpse into what may happen, or is expected to happen, when I have finally assembled my Solomonic implements and regalia to trace the circle and venture into it. Though, my endevors will not be seeking Love or Money though demonic forces, but rather take upon myself what Solomon sought to do in the ancient Testament of Solomon. I shall converse with the spirits and ask “Who are you and what do you do?” I believe there is more to the relationships between Magician and Spirit than the mere words of the grimoires reveal.