Sketch of Baphomet, 19th century. Taken from Death & Mysticism.
I don’t live in a place where clear skies happen often–such a shame because one of my favorite hobbies is astrophotography. This year though, I made an arrangement (with a church, of all groups!) to make use of a private field near my house for astronomy purposes. Astronomy is, after all, hugely important to magic!
On the night after Christmas, the sky finally cooperated and so I went out to this field for the first time to take pictures with some new equipment. As expected, the cops showed up in the middle of my work with their obnoxious bright lights, ruining whatever shot my camera was working on. Know-nothing neighbors had reported suspicious activity where a strange man was allegedly taking pictures of their houses in the middle of the night. So I showed the cops my equipment, and my proof of permission to be there.
That still didn’t stop the interruptions since other nosy neighbors simply plowed through the pristine field in their 4-wheeler to stop right in front of my camera to see what I was doing. “I’m taking pictures of space. You just drove right through my shot man”. They were nice enough to apologize and we talked a bit about space before I shoo-ed them off. It was a night of hassle and obstruction, but I at least managed to get two decent pictures using a barn-door tracker which I had built the week prior.
This imaging session represents a big milestone for me, as it was the first time I have ever successfully imaged another galaxy. It just boggles my mind that the precious light from those stars had been traveling across the vast ocean of space for 2.5 MILLION years before it made its final destination in the sensor of my camera. In my city, the night pollution is a nightmare. I don’t get to practice much but I am always studying to improve my techniques. This is proof to me that study and sound theory make good results!
I’ve been using this Fall and Winter to spend more time under the night sky, not only making astronomical observations, but in spiritual contemplation. My coven recently had our annual High Sabbat of the Woods where there was much time to lay under the stars in a visionary state. We spent most of our trip watching the sky from dusk till dawn. As the trip started kicking in, the sun was setting in a gorgeous gradient of orange red and yellow against the black horizon of trees, as Venus and Jupiter glided downwards to follow the sun. I could see how the planets are revolving around the sun in a 3D universe, not just the dome of the sky. It was a moment of cosmic revelation which just made me feel so incredible small against the unfathomably huge and ancient universe.
For a time, our group had been scattered about in the woods exploring. When we all suddenly met each other in a cypress swamp, we looked through the dense trees at what seemed like an industrial light nearby. It was the moon, shining so brightly and hanging low and large above the horizon. The rest of our trip was lit entirely by moonlight. It was a beautiful night of enchantment and delight.
Through all of history, witchcraft has been (and still remains) one of the means by which women, the poor, outsiders and all who were otherwise disenfranchised have empowered themselves against systems of control and corruption. See this new report by VICE on the Romanian witches who are cursing European politicians. I don’t know anything about Romanian magic, but the themes they are talking about resonate with those of the magical resistance in these U.S.A.
Yes I watch and read VICE! They are returning to their original standards of actual journalism (sometimes).
While the Inquisition had been prosecuting and executing witches for centuries, the witch craze never really took off in England until the reign of James I. If anything, magic had an everyday place in English lives during the Tudor dynasty. This is not to say that witchcraft (then differentiated from magic) was free from scrutiny. But from the court-sanctioned experimentations of Dr. John Dee and other Christological magicians, the coastal witches who warded off the Spanish Armada with the help of Sir Francis Drake, to the rustic cures and spells offered by the cunning men and women, as well as the fantasy magical elements featured in popular culture such as Marlowe’s Faustus or Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest—magic was everywhere!
During the height of witch persecution on the Continent, there were no large-scale witch trials in England for a number of reasons. The ecclesial separation from other areas of Christian Europe meant that the English church had its own priorities, e.g. the persecution and removal of the treacherous papists! There was also a lack of any desire from authorities to conduct a witch hunt in the first place. The final decline of witch trials came at the latter half of the 17th century as a result of the rise of new scientific thought and the works of natural philosophers like Isaac Newton who were now able to explain the universe in mechanical ways, causing a decline in the belief in the possibility of magic to influence the world.
In English witchcraft trials, it is odd to see any reference to making a pact with the Devil. There are no witches’ sabbats, no sex with devils, nor did English witches fly. They did however have imps and familiars. Ursula Kemp was alleged to have four familiars: two cats, a toad called Piggen, and a lamb named Tiffin. Witches were usually only condemned for maleficium. These trials were rarely issued from above. English court records feature a lot of individual prosecutions from below by the alleged victims of witchcraft seeking redress in the courts. Trials against witchcraft were generally few and far between, except in the counties surrounding London.
Cases of witchcraft were coming predominantly from Essex. During the reign of Elizabeth I, for example, Hertfordshire only produced 24 cases, Sussex only 14, yet Essex produced 172 cases! Between 1560 and 1580, 270 individuals were prosecuted for witchcraft in Essex alone. Most of these trials took place in the last quarter of the 16th century, and became very rare everywhere after 1620. This decline can be explained by the fact that by the 1580’s judges were becoming very worried about the difficulties of proving witchcraft. This doesn’t mean necessarily that they were skeptical—many likely still believed that witchcraft was possible. But how could you prove witchcraft unless they confessed? In English law, torture was not used except in state trials when authorized by the Privy Council. It was routinely used in Scotland and the Continent. How could prosecutors root out natural causes of these alleged injuries? And if it were actually witchcraft, who did it? In cases of witchcraft, the normal rules of evidence could not apply.
With an increasing level of methodical jurisprudence, why they was there also a rise in the concerns against witchcraft in the 17th century? The dominant explanations offered by Thomas and Macfarlane show that witches were frequently elderly women who were accused of bewitching neighbors, not strangers, and who were often poorer than their victims. This suggests that accusations were rising as a result of tensions between poorer women and their competitive neighbors. While it is possible that some of those accused did practice magic and believe they had the power to harm, or that they responded to these accusations by playing the part of the witch given to them by reputation, there must have been some incident serious enough to start an honest investigation into witchcraft. In Essex, there was an average of four witnesses per accused witch. Witchcraft accusations could arise as a result of personal rivalries in local politics, used to discredit others and so on.
Thomas suggests that this peak period of witchcraft anxiety came with the rising concern in the loss of belief in the power of ecclesial protection and counter-magic, and secondly because that period was one of unusual tensions within village societies. Economic distress caused a declining position for the poor and widows. Poor Laws had not yet been put into effect for this population. The decline in charity among neighbors meant that accusing one of witchcraft could become a means to severing responsibility for the poor, and transferring this guilt to an accused witch.
Why were the Witchcraft Acts passed in the first place, and why did so many cases arise in Essex? Why were other counties similar to Essex not so affected? It’s worth considering that these laws were passed when they were for two reasons. Both were passed at the beginning of two monarchical regimes (Elizabeth I, then James I). This suggests that elements of symbolism or propaganda were being set up to confirm the legitimacy and uprightness of the monarch, who would be seen opposing certain subversive (yet harmless) acts. Another element was the perceived threats against the monarch. In 1561, two years before the 1563 act passed, a plot was discovered where sorcery was being used against Elizabeth. William Cecil discovered then that there were no acts preventing these crimes. The 1604 Act followed the succession of James I to the throne. He was a man with profound interest in witchcraft, having written his treatise Daemonologie after a group of witches were uncovered attempting to kill him in a shipwreck. The witchcraft acts of England and Scotland were then overhauled and combined.
As a result of these acts, the political and ecclesiastical elite had a bigger role in managing cases of witchcraft. It is possible then that Essex was peculiarly conscious of threats of witchcraft. The use of criminal law against witches had terrible publicity there. Three group trials took place in 1566, 1582 and 1589. In each case, an initial accusation was vigorously pursued by justices who had a particular concern against witchcraft. These trials were then publicized in pamphlets, which may have had the effect of heightening the sense of threat people felt, or even a moral panic. This paved the way then in 1644 for Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed Witchfinder General.
Between 1644 and 1647, Matthew Hopkins traveled throughout East Anglia and hired himself out as a consultant for the discovery of witches. He came to have gained his experience by accidentally encountering a meeting of witches in Manningtree, Essex. The witches met and offered sacrifices to the Devil, and gave commands to their familiars to do harm. English prosecutions until then had been sporadic, except in Anglia where they then came in great waves. With the Witchcraft Acts of Elizabeth and James now making witchcraft a felony, Hopkins was free to pursue witches as state criminals and so use extreme acts to gain his confessions. Though torture was still illegal, one method he employed was in keeping the accused witch awake for days at a time until they would confess. Another means of torture which he employed was the infamous trial by dunking in water. The aim of Hopkins was not to prove a witch guilty of committing maleficium, rather of having consorted with Satan, and thus being a heretic. During this time, Hopkins is suspected of executing 300 alleged witches, or 60% of all cases in a period of 300 years of English history. His 1647 account of witch-finding, The Discovery of Witches would later influence the witch craze in New England, including the madness that was the Salem witch hysteria of 1692-1693.
 Thomas, K. (1971). Religion and the decline of magic: Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth-century England.
 Macfarlane, A. (1970). Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study.
 Hopkins, M. (1647). The discovery of witches: in answer to severall queries, lately delivered to the judges of assize for the county of Norfolk. And now published by Matthew Hopkins Witch-finder, for the benefit of the whole kingdome.
Hello again. As promised now that my thesis has been submitted and I am set to graduate, I have so much more time again to dedicate to other readings, writings and magical experiments. I am very excited for what’s soon to be entered into The Book of Faustus.
Any regular reader knows about my intense hatred for the Orange Fool currently occupying the White House. You’ll also then know about the monthly mass-binding which members of the magical community have been undertaking for the past three years. I still maintain that this action is working to contain what immense social and ecological evil lies in the infirm mind of His Rotundity. But now that impeachment proceedings are well under way (not that I realistically expect The Bloated One to be convicted by the GOP controlled Senate, let’s be frank), I don’t feel like binding is enough anymore.
So from now on I’m putting aside the sword of justice and picking up (literally) the Sword of Malice, and magically swinging it against the neck of Cheeto Mussolini. In the ritual chamber, my wrath is palpable. I can almost feel it thickening the atmosphere with indignant, wild rage. After these spells are released, I am experiencing deep cathartic relief. The problem is that almost every day the headlines fill me up with anger again. So, I have been performing these curses frequently. I am fully ready to admit that confirmation bias is a real thing, but as soon as I started this curse sequence, Trumple-Thin-Skin spent the weekend in hospital. Just saying.
One positive outcome of the presidency of the Tiny-Handed Tornado is that it has invigorated my magical practice! When I think back on the stories of witches past, who rose up against evil in the darkest hour, I can’t help but feel sympathy and solidarity with them.
We are living in some fucked up times.
For me, Halloween is the holiest of times. If the veil between life and death is thinnest then, as they say, I want to use that alignment to my full advantage. My home altar was lit up perpetually with offerings of food, incense, liquors, flowers and candles. For the 31 days of October, I kept a votive flame burning for my dearly departed. Tending to the memory of my ancestors served as an aid to my magic, a comfort to my soul, and a means of maintaining our emotional bonds beyond life and death.
Our coven had a tremendous Grand Sabbat, with 50 people in attendance. Although the outdoor element of our ritual was cancelled due to Tropical Storm Nestor, the feast was truly grand and had more than a few luminaries in attendance. We also had a smaller hybrid Black Mass for the full moon in Aries, which opened a gateway of sensual expression for the congregation, and an unexpected psychedelic experience for some.
Every other year or so, I gather a group of friends and/or coven members to travel for Halloween festivities. The past two gatherings have taken place in New Orleans, because it is the absolute best place for people like us to go! The recurring theme in all my gatherings are to “live deliciously” and “keep it weird”, so that is exactly what we did.
Although most of the partying in town had taken place the weekend prior, our group gave more respect to the actual date of festivities. I hate when people try to move holy days around for convenience!! Still, our week in the Crescent City was action-packed with parties, dancing and feasting until the very late hours. Each day and night we brought out our funkiest fashions to stomp around in the streets. On Halloween day we had what was probably the best meal I have ever enjoyed at Gallatoire’s.
After we all put on our best costumes, we met up with my friend Tarah Cards, a most illustrious drag queen of New Orleans, and we went to dance the night away with her and other friends at a hidden warehouse party in Bywater. On any night, you could have found us at Oz, The Dungeon, or slipping dolla bills into the ass cracks of twinks at The Corner Pocket.
All of this time was consecrated by our Priestess to Lilith, whose dark feminine energy of seduction governed all our workings.
Halloween for me is not a single night, nor is it just the spooky season in October. It is a feast that stretches from mortal life into endless eternity. It is a time to enjoy BEING ALIVE, and to endeavor to be fully alive at every moment!
Blessed Samhain. And Happy Halloween to all! Hail Lilith!
If you are a regular visitor here, you know that October is my busiest time of the year. Not only am I planning several big events locally, including a Black Mass this Sunday, then hosting our own Grand Sabbat of Samhain for the very first time! I’m also working on some very detailed costumes for the Party Pentagram’s upcoming return trip to New Orleans for Halloween night.
Unfortunately as soon as we return from New Orleans, I have to crack down on my final class for this degree I’m working on, and I will be changing locations at my big-boy daytime job which will present some transitional challenges. Things on the Book of Faustus may be a bit slow until December. We’ll see!
In the mean time let me forward you this brand new music video by Sharon Needles: