11 - Recovering the Ancient Wisdom
Having reached the state where you are able to imagine yourself without body, thoughts or imagination, to activate those databanks you should then strive to sense the process by which you gain experience Imagine yourself building up a personality and sending it forth into incarnation As you do so, you will find certain images associated with the incarnation begin to arise they are pointers to far memories which are worth checking.
(J.H. Brennan The Reincarnation Workbook)
In times past, those who followed the work of the village witch or Cunning Man started gaining their knowledge from their cradles, learning by watching, questioning and taking part in all those tasks wherein the psychic skills are developed and brought into controlled use. Today we gain our knowledge away from home, at school, from books, TV programmes, and videos and, I suppose these days, from computers.
Little of this knowledge involves the dimension of experience, so vital to the practical arts of magic. You can learn how from a book, where, even when, but you cannot turn that information into real understanding without doing it. Most practical knowledge is remembered because of what we did, rather than what we saw or heard. Children left to play naturally will mimic the actions of their elders.
They may not understand the principles of architecture, but given bricks or sand they will build houses or castles. Others will make mud pies, or imaginary food out of leaves and water. They may act out the cooking process without the adult knowledge about the production of heat by gas or electricity.
That is exactly how the children of the Wise Ones gained their knowledge. Acting out herb brewing, scrying in a pool or puddle, talking to trees and birds and animals, and realising they got answers was how they gained experience. We don't even talk to each other half the time, let alone question a tree about the weather prospects -we watch the TV weather forecast!
We have lost the simple, playful interaction with Nature or with several generations of our ancestors. We may scarcely have known our grandparents, perhaps because of family rifts or because by the time we were mature enough to value the words of the aged, they were far away or in a home, or dead.
It may have been cramped when families with six or more children, parents and several grandparents crammed into one house but without the distraction of modern entertainment systems, they had to talk, sing and share tales as a form of relaxation. The oral and folk song tradition survived in many places until the First World War.
Then, not only were many young men killed but the dances and songs, the traditions they would have found in the country, were killed also. For example, much of the Morris dancing tradition only survived because the stay-at-home sisters, wives and mothers of the young men dancers had watched the steps and learned the music, so it fell to them to remember and teach the post-war generation. Many of the best dancers, quite old men now, were taught this mens' Mystery by the womenfolk.
Much of our vast folk tradition had already been wiped out, not only by religious fervour but by political change. Under the austere years of the Commonwealth singing and dancing and the celebration of festivals was stamped upon. Many of the ancient, beautiful glass windows, the pagan images, the statues of saints, the wall decorations and holy trees were destroyed, and the gatherings about maypoles and wells were prohibited.
For about sixty years all these folk customs were repressed, just long enough for many of them to be forgotten or not revived. Luckily, many have been over the years; others are being recalled and brought back into annual calendars of many villages and towns. They may start off as ways of attracting visitors to the area, but those involved often recapture the essence of the event, and its magical spirit turns a village fete into a really powerful and unifying event.
Folklorists, researchers, historians and genealogists are delving deeper every day into the written, painted, sculpted and embroidered records of our history. They are tracing the meanings of village names, the roots of calendar customs, the meaning of superstitions and the lines of families back for many hundreds of years.
All this information could well be of use to the trainee witch or student shaman; the hours spent in the local reference library can make up for the years of childhood tied up with sports teams or school work, or watching TV, whereas our ancestors would have been following their parents and grandparents through their daily grind, learning on the job.
Look through parish records, for there you may find details of your own forebears, their homes and trades, and who knows, some of them may have been herbalists, gardeners, horsecopers, farmers or specialists at any of the trades which had their inherent magic and secrets. If you don't look you will never know for sure what mystic blood may be flowing in your veins!
Another line of enquiry is pursued much more secretly by magicians, occultists and people interested in self-analysis. This is the research into past lives, or far memory as it was called by Joan Grant, whose 'reincarnationary novels' tell of her previous lives in ancient Egypt, Greece and among the Red Indians in North America.
She was one of the first people seriously to study her own past and her books Winged Pharoah and Scarlet Feather have given many ordinary people an insight into the idea that each of us has an immortal spirit which not only returns to earth in a different body, but has actually retained the memory of that continuous existence.
It only requires the correct technique, time, patience and a reliable companion to uncover some of that stored information.
As with many aspects of the ancient wisdom, there are 'instant techniques', crash courses in 'past life recall', 'regression' or 'time travel', some of which work reliably, and some which can lead to ego trips, personality disorders and confusion on the part of the seeker and power play on the part of the facilitator. It is not a matter for amateurs to play with, nor is it something you should attempt until you have been working on the basic magical techniques of meditation and so on for at least a year.
You need to know a lot about your own inner life before you begin probing about and stirring up the mud at the bottom of the lake of far memory. It is also well worth spending any spare time in your probationary studies learning something of the social history, the workings of the state and state religion, the changes of kings and rulership, of your own land and of any others which interest you. If you do start delving into the past at some later time, or trying one of the safe and basic methods described later on here, it will help to know when each king or queen was on the throne, or what the religions of the world worshipped, and when they were founded.
Today there is a great upsurge in interest in shamanism, seeing it as a variation on the theme of village witch or community wise man, but the roots of the tradition are very different. To become a shaman, or shamanka to use the proper feminine form, you have to nearly die. That is one factor which most of those professing to be shamans overlook. You do not become a shaman by initiation or by teaching, or by someone else telling you that you are, or could be, one.
You have to have suffered a near-death experience, life-threatening illness or accident during which the inner powers led your dissected body up the Tree of Life and showed you how you would only be healed if you became a shaman and serve your tribe.
You would serve the tribe as a healer only by bringing power through from the land of the dead, by entering a deep, near-death trance, seeking the soul of the sick person, and fighting the spirits in the Otherworld to bring it back to life. It wasn't a matter of dancing around a bit, chanting a few rhymes or waving wands, crystals or feathers over someone. Those are all modern ideas attached, probably wrongly, to magical arts from older civilisations.
The historical shamans came from Siberia and were individuals who only took up their calling after fighting off a serious illness, and what they could do for their own simple community was a result of discovering how to save their own lives, by talking to the spirits of the dead.
Similarly, witches in Britain and Europe didn't belong to covens, have High Priests and Priestesses leading them complex rituals eight times a year and at full moons. There is no evidence from the history of villages that covens or groups of witches existed. Only in the witch persecutions in Scotland, where witnesses were tortured, was there any suggestion that witches met or worked magic in groups.
There is no evidence at all of regular celebrations, although there are many pre-Christian customs set at the beginning of May and the end of October which echo parts of what modern witches do. The contemporary arts of coven witches and the set rituals they attend were written largely by Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner in the 19505. Some newer versions, using festivals called Litha and Mabon, were invented by Alex Sanders and his followers in the 1960s.
Doreen Valiente has written many excellent books on aspects of the Crafts which she learned from many sources, including the village witches of her native Sussex, described in her first book Where Witchcraft Lives, now, I believe, out of print. She points out that there are many simple spells, arts and bits of folk magic too trivial to be written out by the medieval scholars who formalised much of ceremonial magic, with its Hebrew and Latin roots.
Old spells included making 'witch bottles' full of pins or coloured threads, keeping harm at bay; stopping gossip by creeping up behind the tell-tale and sticking an iron nail through her shadow, or leaving open scissors or crossed knives on your doorstep so that no evil could enter. One charm used a snail pinned to a thorn tree to cure warts.
The oldest charms often used thorns to 'prick the conscience of those who wished you harm' by naming a leaf and sticking prickles through it, or by binding a red cord around a bundle of rushes, named after someone who was maligning you. The Witch Museum in Boscastle, Cornwall, used to be full of traditional amulets made of stone or clay, wax images used to heal or curse, and haunted stick figures still imbued with the power given them hundreds of years ago.
Spells wrapped in magical red flannel containing simple verses written on parchment, with bits of hair or nail clippings to link them with the person for whom help is sought, are often turned up in boxes up the chimneys of old cottages. Mummified cats or the skeletons of hares are unearthed beneath the hearth stone, or the door step, traces of protective rites going back before the Romans, or holy, holed flints hung with red ribbons over the stable doors, alongside the horseshoe, points up, to prevent the animals being lamed or overridden.
These were, and still are, the arts of the lone country witch who practises his or her arts secretly, at night, in the bat-flittering, owl-sounded safe places of the wilderness where Pan still plays his pipes and the Moon Maiden enchants us with her song.
These are the traces you may find in local museums, if you poke about the dusty showcases. These are the old ideas which some of the learned journals of folklore have commented upon in their crusty articles for the last hundred years or so. These are the clues to the web of traditional green folk magic, which has threads in every village, and old sacred centres as the hubs.
Spells about the weather may be found in books on local peculiarities; or how winds may be tied as knots in a cord and were sold to sailors to speed their journeys; how rain might be called down, or kept away; and the old method of whistling for a wind, recalled in the rhyme 'A whistling woman or a crowing hen, Ain't no use to gods nor men!' Raising storms to sink ships may have been part of the old arts but today's witches try spells to prevent roads going through ancient sites, or rail tunnels disrupting rare woodlands.
Underneath, there is a common thread of caring for the community. Not all spells were or are carefully thought out; some will do more harm than good, some will bring unfortunate results or short-term gains leading to longer term losses. If you try out magical spells you will soon learn what can and can't be done, what charms and chants work, and which bring only the sure answer that that working will fail and an understanding of why that will be so.
Most witches, or rather those who were accused and convicted of witchcraft, were hanged, so if you delve into past lives and find yourself on a bonfire, either you are misleading yourself or you are undergoing the penalty in Scotland or Europe, or were accused of heresy.
Witch-finders were paid to bring people to trial, but most of those who met their fate on the gallows were social outcasts of their day. The real Wise Women and Cunning Men should have been well aware of any such mortal danger, and found ways of going into hiding. Those who were accused were tried in courts speaking Latin, the official language of the courts and the Church, and would have understood little of what was going on.
In England they were not allowed to be tortured, only kept awake for nights on end, made to stand or squat in one position. Any small animals or flies were thought to be familiars. Those who were convicted, on evidence usually from insulted neighbours or those with a local grudge, were hanged and often buried at a crossroad (which was actually sacred in pagan terms, being the place of the dark Goddess, Hecate) outside the Church's hallowed grounds.
Do some historical research into what really did go on, and you will find that medieval England was very different from the ideas put forth by some 'past life recallers', who can tell you about being burned at the stake as a witch, having joined in coven meetings at Stonehenge and the like!
Also remember, most of the records of the witch trials were issued by those who were convinced that individuals were really evil-doers, in league with the Devil, capable of causing sickness, blasting crops or raising storms. They were determined to find a victim and bring him or her to the gallows, and those accused had no counsel for the defence and probably little idea of what was going on.
The Inquisition, setting out to find 'heretics' come what may, even had a list of improbable accusations against which those brought to the test were questioned. Most of the questions were impossible to give a right answer to; for example, victims were asked 'Do you believe in the Devil?' If they said 'Yes' because that was what the Church, who invented the Devil, wanted them to say, they were accused of Devil worship, if they said 'No', the real pagan answer, they were convicted of heresy, for doubting the teaching of the Church. It was a no-win situation. However, it is extremely unlikely that many real 'witches' were caught, especially if you examine the answers some gave.
There is no hint of pagan beliefs, no concensus of opinion about covens, there is no mention of female priestesses leading rituals, no word about spells or magic, even. In Scotland some were made to speak of a 'man in black', supposed by writers like Margaret Murray to be some sort of high priest or master of a coven, but there isn't a lot to go on.
Certainly there are a few surviving old family groups in Britain where the Magister, a male leader, is the one who arranges seasonal festivals and magical gatherings, but even these few such modern 'men in black' might find it hard to prove their ancient heritage didn't come from a book on the witch trials, or was a fairly recent idea, dreamed up to give them greater power than the usual leader, the female High Priestess, whose word is law.
Whatever historians have recovered by their literary researches and discovered from tales or folk superstitions about the old ways, there is a great deal of valuable material to be recovered by those who wish to reawaken their heritage. As has been said before, no learning or knowledge can ever be completely lost.
It may well be deeply buried, it may be fragmentary, it may be found in many local traditions, with widely scattered fractions being part of the seasonal or calendar feasts in certain places, making it hard to see the whole rite or celebration in its entirety, but somewhere all old wisdom can be retrieved.
If you begin with a bit of ordinary historical research, taking all that you read with a pinch of salt but meditating on any common themes, or the kinds of gut reaction you may instinctively have about certain ideas, then you may be able to gradually rediscover the old ways.
One very simple method which is quite safe because it does not suggest that you are reliving a past life, but are merely observing what may have happened at a certain time or place, is to take a festival and initially 'invent' a scenario. For example, in the winter, try one of the Yuletide feasts.
Imagine an old hall house decked with greenery, smell the baking bread, the joints of meat roasting over an open fire, the stewing cauldron of broth. Hear the voices of the common folk, gathering for the feast, see their costumes, the colours and textures of their clothes, hear any songs or tales being told around the fire, as all await the evening meal. Imagine yourself as one of the lowly villagers sharing this annual celebration.
See what you can experience of all that goes on. Imagine the Wise Ones of the community going out into the cold darkness to perform their own special rituals to call back the power and heat of the sun, to welcome the Star Child, Mabon son of Modron, the Great Mother. Try to see yourself as the apprentice to such a one, a child of the magical family, learning at your grandparents' knees the arts and skills or healing spells used by them.
Build up, bit by bit over about seven evening meditations, the whole feel and atmosphere of the event. Imagine yourself being part of it, and then sit back and observe closely what goes on. Write down everything you learn, for you may need to research and check what you find out.
It is no good inventing a totally wrong set of ideas and then trying to make them work, for that is a waste of effort. Be content with small or trivial details, and gradually you will discover that your inner vision and 'imagination' grows stronger, the images clearer and what you learn will make more sense.
Every month when the moon is waning, spend one evening in meditation on what the country folk used to do during that moon. See your imaginary village or manor house and the people around it, performing their usual tasks, as well as trying to discover the magical arts from the Wise Ones.
Think about the crops and the livestock, the farm activities, both regular ones like milking and butter and cheese-making, grinding corn and baking bread, and those which were more seasonal, the hedging and ditching, harvesting, threshing grain, shearing sheep, ploughing and sowing, haymaking and fruit harvesting. Ask, in your invocations, that you see clearly what used to happen, and that in these gentle meditations you actually perceive what went on. Use your inner sight, learn to trust it, but still check what you see or the answers you are given.
Only by regularly sinking down into the detached view achieved in meditation will you gain the kind of control over your psychic vision which you would have been taught by the magicians of old. Learning these arts alone or with other novice friends is very difficult, especially so because you will have nothing to check your progress against, no one to say to you, 'Yes, that was a good meditation,' or 'No, you haven't got it right yet, try again.'
You will have to be both pupil and teacher, yet those who lived in the old ways can show you their secret arts, if you ask nicely. Gradually your dreams will begin to unfold aspects of the past, perhaps even your own previous lives, when you are ready to judge what you see, and cast out those ego-tripping ideas or the kinds of experiences which can divide your personality or disturb your sleep. You will know what is right.
If you find creating pictures and the setting for the previous exercise difficult, or feel that you will be making up what you see, then you can try another approach. This is used by ceremonial magicians as part of their training, but as it is another way an individual can access lost information, it is worth learning.
This way you can use any form of divination, the Tarot trumps, the hexagrams of the I Ching, even the magical trees, as doorways to new knowledge. Like all mental arts it requires that calm, relaxed and detached mode of thinking used for meditation, but this time you set out a symbol before you.
It can be used in or out of doors, by day or night, and again, all you need is your initial symbol and a notebook in which to record immediately what you learn, or you can speak into a small tape-recorder if you prefer, though notes are far easier to refer back to!
If you are used to the Tarot, as most people interested in magic are these days, you will know that the pack is divided into two parts: the Major Arcana of picture cards, and the Minor Arcana, which in many of the older decks has no pictures. Many of the more recently designed packs have pictures on all cards, but to begin your exploration through the Halls of Wisdom it is the twenty-two numbered cards that should form your training method.
You can either deliberately select one card or, having sorted out the Major Arcana from the deck, randomly pick a card for each experiment. What you are going to do is use that symbol as a doorway to a particular kind of ancient knowledge, so that each card represents a kind of entry ticket to a certain sort of information.
Get into your relaxed frame of mind, allow your thoughts to become still and calm and then, placing the card you have chosen where you can see it, gaze quietly upon it for a few moments. For this explanation, I have drawn a card which happens to be the Chariot.
This is an excellent card for time travel as anyone, even those who know little about the significance of Tarot symbolism, will see immediately that it shows an ancient form of transport. Therefore the gate through which this particular example will take us will be concerned with that sort of magic.
Imagine now, with your eyes closed, the card depicted as large as a door, but actually painted on a curtain of stiff, white cloth. This is covering an opening in a stone wall. See the tapestry before you, larger than life, with the black and white horses and the charioteer with his Egyptian headdress and rainbow girdle coming towards you.
Smell the heat and sweat of the animals, with the sphinx heads on their harness; hear their hooves pounding the ground, sense it tremble beneath you, then leap up onto that magical form of transport and be carried in a sharp circle, back through the gate with its white curtain. Use every part of your relaxed will to become part of that image and experience.
You will be carried by this symbol into the age-old arts of the folk who worked with horses and with their magic. You may find yourself entering the forge, and see the blacksmith at work, shaping horseshoes out of grooved metal bars, red-hot from the fire. You may see him making a sword or ritual dagger. Ask him questions about his ancient craft, its secrets, and because you have arrived there in a mystical way, he will answer you.
Learn about the magics of fire, and of the quenching water, learn about blades and the magics of division and defence. Learn the secrets of iron, with which evil may be pinned to the ground. Hear the stories of Wayland Smith, or even St Michael the angel of Fire and the flame-shaped sword. Ask about the earliest roots of those magics, when the control of fire was a matter of life and death in the cold of the Ice Age, when mankind had his childhood. Learn about flint and tinder, and the making of fires, the power of candle flames, and of the sun.
All these are questions you may have answered if you happen to select the Chariot. And there is much besides this, for there are the magics of the horseman, to calm wild beasts, to control and heal animals, and to speak with all creatures.
There is also the Riddle of the Sphinx, an ancient Mystery question of 'What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? How many legs has it at midnight?'. The sphinx may open a door to ancient Egyptian magic, under the dominance of the Great Goddess, Isis, or the protection and guidance through many worlds of the jackal-headed Anubis.
One simple symbol can put you in touch with a vast store of knowledge for that is what the pictures of the Tarot, or even the more abstract hexagrams of the I Ching, portray. They are magical talismans in their own right, keys to great books of inner learning, if you have the time and patience to use them.
What they teach may at first be obscure, yet it is safe and can be used many times over, until you thoroughly understand what every one of those symbols, or the trees, can teach you. Take your time. One regular attempt each week with a new symbol will be sufficient, for you will find that other bits of information related to what you have uncovered in this way will turn up in dreams, or spring from the pages of books. Write down all that you learn for you may be privy to knowledge which has been concealed for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Each picture of the Tarot trumps is an acknowledged source of information, that is what the system was developed for, but there is no one way of reading the cards which is true or right. Everyone must make out their own interpretation, their own understanding of what each reveals to them. Don't swallow anyone else's words until you have walked through some of these secret gates on your own, and seen them reveal their hidden wisdom to you alone. Be willing to be taught by the Source and not some biased human commentator. We are all students of those great books, and everyone of us needs to learn different lessons.
You can use images or concepts of the gods and goddesses in the same way. Conjure them up in your inner vision, perhaps starting with the sun or moon in the sky, or one of their symbols, a cauldron or white horse for the Goddess, a sword and shield or a shepherd's crook for the God.
To gain the best results from the work in the eleventh moon you really need a reliable companion; a friend you can trust, a co-walker in the old ways, other members of the group if you are part of a coven. Not because the work is especially dangerous, though it can be scary, but because you may need someone to ask sensible questions.
There are many ways of re-entering the times past and regaining information from them, but your task will be easier if, when you have carried out the deep relaxation exercise, got really switched off and then imagined that you have walked through a time tunnel, feeling the centuries unroll, someone else can ask you what you are wearing, what sort of landscape you are in, what kind of food you eat and so on.
You will need to discuss the questions beforehand, and preferably have them written down. You may be asked about buildings, animals, plants and natural things, and from your studies of trees you will be able to discover the time of year, or perhaps the part of the world, if there are trees only seen on one continent. Take your time over this exercise, going a step at a time through several sessions rather than spending hours groping around in some alien timescape. Be careful; this can be a frightening experience if you arrive in the middle of a battle, or during the plague years, or in a hungry winter.
What you experience will seem very real, especially if you have latched on to a previous life. Take care, step warily, and maybe you will meet up with some of the Old Wise Ones so that they can teach you or at least show you something of their forgotten knowledge.
On your own, stick to the simpler visits to the old house, and gain confidence and awareness that way. The story may continue in your dreams or during meditations on any useful information you gained. Do write notes in your Book for what you find could be valuable to others, who are similarly seeking lost knowledge.
Try the Tarot card exercise. This too could reveal extraordinary amounts of valuable information, old ideas and forgotten arts and crafts. These are all simple but actually powerful exercises so be patient, trying one thing at a time and, if necessary, leaving a few days between adventures, so that you have time to assimilate and fully understand what you see.
Call upon aspects of the Goddess to teach you, or the God, as craftsman or magician, to instruct you in his ways. They really will help, and by now you should be able to enter their wild world at will.
Here are some books which may give you further ideas:
J.H. Brennan, The Reincarnation Workbook (Aquarian)
G.L. Glaskin, Windows of the Mind (Prism Press)
Joan Grant, Far Memory (Corgi)
Brian Inglis, Trance (Grafton)
C.J. Jung, Man and His Symbols (Routledge and Kegan Paul)
Helen Wambach, Reliving Past Lives (Arrow)