Isis and Our Ladies of Sorrow

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2011 by Fausto

For me, it began with an interest in horror films.

In my early college years, I became acquainted with Italian Giallo, a genre of murder mysteries centering on equal amounts of gore and style. Taking inspiration from the works of Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the yellow-covered pulp novels from which they take their name, films such as Twitch of the Death Nerve and Blood and Black Lace became precursors for popular American fare such as Halloween and Friday the 13th.

However, it wasn’t until seeing Dario Argento‘s Suspiria that the interest became an obsession. The tale of a young ballet student who discovers that the German academy she’s attending is run by a coven of witches, the film’s nightmarish milieu had a profound effect on me, and I set out to find out as much as I could about the story behind it all.

Some research provided me with the fact that Suspiria had a sequel, the little-known Inferno, which took the atmosphere and themes of the first film and transplanted them into a New York apartment building. Both films stood as part of an as-yet unrealized trilogy (eventually completed with La Terza Madre) depicting The Three Mothers, a triumvirate of witches who rule the world with terror and misery.

Along with tales of his current partner, Daria Nicolodi, concerning her grandmother’s stay at a Prague music school (supposedly a front for occult activities), Dario Argento’s chief muse had been a prose poem by writer Thomas de Quincey. Titled “Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow,” the work asserts that, just as there are three Graces and three Furies, there are three Sorrows. The eldest, Mater Lachrymarum, The Mother of Tears,  is the embodiment of grief (“She it was that stood in Bethlehem on the night when Herod’s sword swept its nurseries of Innocents, and the little feet were stiffened for ever, which, heard at times as they tottered along floors overhead, woke pulses of love in household hearts that were not unmarked in heaven“).  The second, Mater Suspiriorum, The Mother of Sighs, is the embodiment of despair (“She is humble to abjectness. Hers is the meekness that belongs to the hopeless“) and the third, Mater Tenebrarum, The Mother of Darkness, the embodiment of depression (“She is the defier of God. She is also the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides“).

Although these were not authentic deities by any means (De Quincey notes within the poem that he sought to create personifications of abstract ideas, “clothed with attributes of human life, and with functions pointing to flesh,”) they managed to take root in my imagination. If I was depressed, or overwhelmed, I walked with the Mother of Sighs. If I suffered loss, the Mother of Tears was at my side. If I was angry, or was near to giving up altogether, the Mother of Darkness was waiting. The concept consumed me to the point that, as the final project for a Rhetorical Criticism class, I wrote a 13 page paper on the Argento trilogy, using De Quincey’s poem and a number of other quotes from various psychoanalysts, speculating on the “monstrous mother” figure found so often in film.

At the time, though I counted myself as a pagan, I didn’t have much of a relationship with the Goddess. Having read overly feminist (read: borderline misandrist) works about Wicca had put me off the idea of the divine feminine, and I tended to gravitate toward the God, in particular Cerrunos or the Dagda. The Goddess, however, was not done with me.

The concept of the Three Mothers continued to haunt me. In the fall of 2011, it was my turn to serve as high priest at my local pagan group’s monthly Esbat circle. Fascinated with the idea of  honoring a deity of witchcraft, and learning about Hellenic Reconstructionist Paganism via an acquaintance on Facebook, I decided to hold a ritual in praise of Hecate, the three-fold mistress of magic and the moon. I did my homework, reading up on Greek religious practices, and trying to make the ritual as accurate as possible. What I could not gather from actual religious practices I looked to the myths to guide me on. While probably not accurate in the slightest, I did my best, and Hecate was given offerings of honey, grapes, cheese and bread, buried at the site of a makeshift crossroads. At the time, I was unaware of the belief that Hecate is but one aspect of a much older goddess; I did take note, however, in my studies, of a warning: those who invoke Hecate tend to end up as her servants for life.

About a month or so later, I was in the library at Rowan University, randomly web surfing to kill time. For whatever reason, I decided to google The Three Mothers, just to see what would come up. After a few repetitive sites on Argento’s movies or De Quincey’s poem, I came across something unexpected. It was called “Lachrymae: On the trail of the Three Mothers,” an online memoir by British film director Richard Stanley.  Fascinated, I began to read on.

An acquaintance/ascended fanboy of Argento’s, Stanley had developed the same strange obsession with the Three Mothers as I had, although unlike me, he was able to discuss his interest with the man himself. Various talks on the occult had resulted in a planned meeting at a New York botanica. However, Argento, due to other commitments, never showed. Deciding not to waste the trip, Stanley investigated the place himself, and along with a few other tacky souvenirs, purchased an inexplicably dark-skinned statue of, presumably, the Virgin Mary.

Not long afterward, Stanley was in Spain for a film shoot. Having never been in the country before, he became lost, only to find himself at Montserrat, a historic castle once thought to be the resting place of the holy grail. He quickly became aware of the castle’s main attraction, a statue of la Moreneta, the black virgin. Other than being much larger, it was identical to the one he’d purchased in NY.

The eerie coincidence led Stanley on a journey to learn more about the mystery of the virgin. He discovered that there were innumerable depictions of her as black throughout Europe, from Greece to Russia, France, and beyond, both in the form of statues and paintings. All were known as sites of miracles and miraculous healings. The blackness has been blamed on candle soot, fire damage or faded paint (though none of these claims actually holds up under close scrutiny), yet the most viable explanation is that the figure is based on a much older mother, the Goddess Isis.

Often thought of as primarily an Egyptian Goddess, the worship of Isis had spread throughout the ancient world. Altairs and statues of her were often found beside more local goddesses, who she was often synchronized with, including Cybele, Astarte, Diana, and, yes, Hecate (all of whom, it should be mentioned, were sometimes depicted as black or dark-skinned). Like the Virgin Mary, Isis was the consort of an absent God, the slain Osiris, and mother to his son, Horus, who she was often depicted holding in his infant form. As the theory goes, when the church came into power, the cult of Isis continued under the guise of devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

I was intrigued, though this was not the first time the Black Madonna had crossed my path. I had seen a copy of a book on the subject at an antique store I frequent, Robert Jay’s Unforgettables, though at the time I had no idea of its significance, and it never occurred to me to pick it up. That weekend, I ran back for it, Ean Begg’s The Cult of the Black Virgin, and spent the next week devouring the text in my free time. Begg’s book, though somewhat dry, and given to going off on tangents, nevertheless provided a look into the history of pagan goddess worship, and its relationship to Mariology. I came to the conclusion that, regardless of whatever fallacies may be held by the idea of “The Old Religion,” a single divine feminine, under various guises, has indeed been worshipped since antiquity.

A week later, after having finished the book, I attended my film Industry class, having put the matter of the Virgin behind me. The topic of that day’s discussion was foreign cinema, and its effect on American filmmaking. By way of example, the professor had us screen part 1 of the Decalogue, a series of one hour films shot in Poland and based on the Ten Commandments. Caught up in the cinematography, I was taken by surprise, when what should appear in the final scene but  Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Black Madonna of Poland. I tried (and failed) to brush this off as a coincidence.

The next night, I stopped at a local store in Oaklyn on an errand. Despite the close proximity to my house, I hadn’t been in the area for some time. I can be forgiven, then, for being completely unaware of an occult/metaphysical shop that had opened up only a few doors down from my destination. Called “The Sacred Green Earth,” the place had been open for about a year, and was the only one of its kind for miles (one of the sad facts about being a South Jersey Pagan is that most of the good stores are either up in North Jersey or in Philly). Intrigued, I decided to check it out.

Run by a man named Ackbar and his wife Annemarie, the place turned out to be a mecca of candles, incense, books and statuary, though closer to a general New Age sensibility than specifically witchcraft. Across from the counter, a wall was dedicated entirely to worship of the goddess in her various forms, the shelves filled with pictures and statues. And, in the dead center of this tableau sat a ceramic plaque, depicting in low relief the Black Virgin and child. This was officially no longer a coincidence, but a calling.

At Samhain, I attended a ritual and potluck supper in honor of the deceased, held by my pagan group. Afterwards, one of the members, Jackie, began reading tarot cards for each member. When my turn came, I was dealt the Six of Swords, the Two of Cups, and the Queen of Swords. The Six, according to Jackie, stood for depression, and the recovery from a bad situation, which fit well with my time under the influence of the three mothers. The Two of Cups stood for a connection, an attraction, creating a bond. And the Queen of Swords was a powerful female influence, all-knowing, honest, and no-nonsense.

In other words, a goddess.

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Cinema, Muse of Filmmakers

Posted in Movies, Spellwork with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by Fausto

Hope everyone had a safe and happy Samhain. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to post as much as I’d like to lately, but hopefully I can work on that in the coming months.

As a wannabe filmmaker and writer, I’m always looking for inspiration for my work. Writer’s block can be a major problem, especially if you’re on a deadline. For the ancient Greeks, curing writer’s block meant invoking the Muses, nine sisters who each held dominion over a form of artistic expression (and who were, in many ways, themselves personifications of that expression). These Goddesses were said to cast divine inspiration among those lucky enough to have earned their favor. Early poets like Homer and Virgil would often include an invocation to the Muses at the beginning of their poetry. The term muse  itself has entered the English language as referring to any person or thing that inspires.

For filmmaking, the two muses who hold the most sway would likely be Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, and Thalia, muse of comedy, inasmuch as they are traditionally associated with acting and the theatre. However, as new forms of media took shape over the centuries, much talk came about of a Tenth Muse, and what art form she might represent. Although works such as the opera libretto, and even real life women, such as the poet Sappho and the Spanish author Juana Ines de la Cruz, have been considered for the title, it is the art of filmmaking that embodies all artistic talents –  sight, sound, color, music, movement, word, drama, and feeling.

If this muse should have a name, then it is Cinema (Cinematography from Greek: kinema – κίνημα “movement” and graphein – γράφειν “to record”). She it is that inspires generations of filmmakers to take up the pen, camera, paintbrush, or whatever it may be, and run wild with their dreams. All acts of creative energy are her rites, and all bursts of inspiration are her blessings.

Angelo Nasios Hecate Incantation

Posted in Spellwork with tags , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by Fausto

Found this on YouTube.

The Book of Shadows

Posted in Books, Paganism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by Fausto

 A Book of Shadows is a personal record kept by practitioners of Wicca and other Neopagan paths. When I initially became interested in the craft, I did exactly what a lot of newbies tend to do, which is buy an expensive leather-bound journal and fill it with nothing but spells and other odd bits of info, taken from books or the internet. At the time, I was still reluctant to abandon Christianity entirely, and was hesitant to practice any ritual involving the Lord and Lady. However, as tends to happen in such cases, the book became cluttered with impractical and overly specific (not to mention indecipherable –  not that I wrote them in code, I just have lousy handwriting) spells, and for a student of the craft, was utterly useless. Today that book sits on a shelf in my room, and is rarely, if ever, used.

A good BOS should include everything that you have picked up in the craft, including traditional lore, such as the Wiccan Rede, a history of the craft and its notable followers, Sabbats and Esbats, rituals, spellwork (although this should serve more as a list of practical associations, rather than fully written and overly specific spells), divination, and other practical  knowledge.

There are many different ways someone can start a BOS. Unless you happen to follow a path that requires it  to be made or set in a certain way, the possibilities are limitless.

  • The leather-bound BOS. This type is mostly influenced by the spellbooks and ancient eldritch tomes of popular culture. It  involves a blank book, usually a journal, though many companies sell larger, more elaborate books  specifically for use as BOS. The latter tend to be very expensive (sometimes even hundreds or thousands of dollars) and are probably better for use by a coven. The former, though easier on the wallet, are still not cheap, though they can be found at local bookstores such as Barnes and Noble. Having good, or at least semi-legible handwriting is a prerequisite. Examples can be seen here and here.
  • The Scrapbook. In one of these, which can be a literal scrapbook, the pages are decorated collage style, with cutouts from newspapers or magazines, feathers, dried herbs, and other materials. An example can be seen here.
  • The Box of Shadows. This can be a literal box, or accordion-style file folder, in which you store info typed or written out about the craft. Also, you can use an index card file box or recipe box.
  • The Binder. This is the type I use, usually with sheet protectors. You can add tabs, pages can be removed and  added at will, and everything is kept organized. I’m in the process of putting together a new binder BOS, as my old one is pretty full. Examples can be found here and here.
  • The Notebook. This is exactly what it sounds like, a plain, college ruled spiral-bound notebook, used for collecting information in a purely utilitarian, note-taking way. These are popular among those who don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
  • The Computer BOS. Typed up BOS saved on a hard drive or disk. Those who type up pages and add them to a binder usually have their work  saved on a computer anyway, and it might be a good idea to keep a back up in case something happens. Eventually, as we move further and further away from print, we may have the Kindle BOS.

In addition to a BOS, it’s also a good idea to keep a journal of your thoughts, feelings and reactions to your practices. Although many try to add this to their BOS, it’s better to keep it in a separate space. At least one person on youtube has referred to such a journal as a Book of Mirrors.

Paganism and Fairy Tales

Posted in Paganism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by Fausto

First, I want to finally comment on the passing of Issac Bonewits. Although I did not get a chance to meet him prior to his death, his impact on the Pagan Community was profound, and he certainly left the world better than he found it. Yet its become that much emptier now that he’s gone. Good journey, Issac.

Lately, I’ve been considering the link between pagan beliefs and fairy tales. Although now they are thought of as being little more than an archaic form of children’s entertainment (much of which can be blamed on the Disney company, and the “lighter and fluffier” versions that have become iconic in our culture), fairy tales originate from an age  in which creatures of faery were unquestionably accepted as fact, and were closer to what we would see as the urban legend. Fairies themselves were often scarier and more grotesque than the ten inch butterfly-winged bimboes of today,  and were very much personifications of nature, that is, remnants of the animistic worldview that we as neopagans seek to revive. 

Witches in fairy tales are often presented as being closely in touch with the fay realms, if not in fact being fairies themselves. Though many of the more popular stories place the haggard crone in the role of villain, the role of the donor (ie, the magical helper or guide) can be taken up by a human with special powers, often an old woman (such as in The True Bride), who authors and storytellers would fall just short of calling a witch. Its possible both are reflections of the village wise woman, who was as much depended on as she was feared for her knowlege of herbs, folk magic, and folklore. At least once during the European witch trials, the practice of witchcraft and communication with fairies were strongly linked.

Though they may not have called the corners or cast a circle, the people of  old European villages did leave offerings  for the nature spirits, sought favor with those who were benevolent and used protective folk practices against those they feared.

Lughnasadh Meditation

Posted in Meditations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by Fausto

This is a meditation I wrote for the August 15  Pagan service at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry  Hill, NJ.

For this meditation, I’d like to ask everyone to close their eyes…relax…take three deep breaths…

You find yourself walking on a path through a deep forest of old oak. Under your bare feet, you can feel blades of grass growing up from the fertile earth. All around, you hear the chirping of birds, the clicks and buzzing of insects, and the wind whistling through the branches of the ancient trees. You can smell the scents of rose, aloe and sandalwood hanging in the air. Above the canopy of green leaves hangs a bright blue sky. As you look up toward it, you can feel the warmth of the sun shining down upon you. Along the path, you see the creatures of the forest running about: a rabbit crawling into a warren, a coral snake sliding through the grass, a fox resting against the side of a tree.

Presently the forest opens into a clearing, a field of wheat stretching out for miles. You can see villagers working to harvest the grain, collecting the fruits of their labor in bales and setting them aside for the harsh winter months to come. In the center of this activity, you see a man, bare-chested and crowned with antlers, standing alone. He looks young and strong, however, as you approach, his strength fades, his face begins to age, and his skin turns pale. He tells you “I am the Stag of Seven Tynes. I am the God in all men. I am the leaves on the trees, the wheat in the field, the fruit on the vine. I offer my life for the harvest, but in the spring, I shall return.”

Night falls, covering the field with a blanket of darkness. The full, silvery moon rises high in the sky, and in its light you see the approach of a beautiful woman, dressed in silks the color of the ocean, and with hair the color of moonlight. In her eyes one reads the wisdom of many ages. She tells you “I am the maiden, mother, and crone. I am the Goddess in all women. I am the stone, the soil, the earth, from whom all life comes forth, and to whom all shall return.”

You turn and head back through the forest. All around you, the creatures of the night hurry about, the bats, the owls, the wolves and the rodents, but you feel no fear, for you know the Lord and Lady are within you.

Now, take three deep breaths…and open your eyes.

Nature

Posted in Meditations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by Fausto

I’ve been trying to get myself outside for the last few days now, seeing as its the middle of summer, and the weather, while hot as hell, is still beautiful (not to mention getting some much-needed exercise couldn’t hurt). I finally managed to drag my ass out for a walk around 4 in the afternoon. Reaching the back steps, I realized I forgot to bring my witch’s ladder with me, a tool I use for meditation. Too lazy to go back for it, I decided to press on…until I noticed it laying on the back step. Apparently it had fallen out of my pocket the day before, but nevertheless managed to show up when I needed it – synchronicity at work.

There’s a creek near my house, with a wooded area beside it that grows thicker the farther down you go. I took this down as far as I could, stepping over logs and trying to keep from slipping down into the creek, and for a while I had a sense of connnection with nature, and the old ones. On my way back, I sat down beside a tree and prayed nine-fold  to the Lord and Lady, after which I briefly meditated before returning home.

My goal for the rest of the summer is to make this a weekly, if not daily, habit.