Category Archives: skills

Our first Pagan Threads Skills Swap Day!

On Sunday 9th May we planned a Skills Swap Picnic. Rain, however, altered our plans and we convened to the downstairs of a nearby pub, taking over a large cave-like section of its basement and talking about bizarre things. Pagans are used to freaking out pub staff. We gathered to talk to each other about things we specialised in – what we’d read most about or tried out, to share advice and questions – some notes from what people talked about:

Francesco Dimitri on Pathworkings

Pathworkings as they are currently thought of in the UK stem from the English 19th Century Kabbalistic traditions (Jewish mysticism) of ceremonial magic as developed by magicians such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Other famous names associated with writing about the technique are people like Israel Regardie and Dion Fortune. Carl Jung (the famous psychologist who studied with Freud) often came back to the idea of pathworking when studying diverse occult systems from around the world. As far as this context is concerned, the name refers to the “path” which Kabbalah mystics tread, ascending to different points on the ‘Tree of Life’, which is essentially a diagram representing different levels of spiritual understanding which the mage aims to reach.

American influences (eg. the concept of shamanic journeying) did not come in until the end of the 20th Century. Reasons to do pathworking: – To ascend an initiatory level within a system such as a coven or circle of magicians – To find an answer to a question – To gain knowledge. Knowledge and answers are to be found in a pathworking in the form of symbols, as this is the language of the unconscious mind. A symbol could be a colour, an animal, a word, an object… something you encounter in your journey which is a clue which you can interpret to answer your question or to guide you towards a goal. This symbols might be of help to you both spiritually and/or practically. A pathworking can be thought of in different ways – for some it means travelling a dream-like plane in an Astral Body (a form which is not physical like a real body but is your self travelling outside of your body). Alternatively it is seen by others as a mental exercise occurring within your imagination (which is nevertheless an active force and experiences within it are as real as any other experience in reality). These views could be seen as a magical vs. psychological view of what is happening during a pathworking, but the effect is what matters, however you characterise the process. This is discussed by Phil Hine in his books on Chaos Magic such as Prime Chaos and Condensed Chaos. Symbols bridge the gap between the conscious and the unconscious, the magical and the mundane, and maybe the difference between your everyday self and your magical self? Symbols you encounter can surpise you, they aren’t something you control because they come from your unconscious and are intuitive and instinctive, stronger than your rational impressions.

Shadowing is a technique you can use to align yourself with a deity, concept, idea, etc. Instead of an invocation of the deity or spirit of something to yourself, you can ‘invoke yourself to them’. If you don’t feel comfortable calling something to you, you can explore it by shadowing it and observing, picking up whatever you need to align yourself with by following it. You can use these concepts as doorways into astral worlds, or inspirations or starting points for a pathworking (like the tree doorways from A Nightmare before Christmas!) You can explore the world of symbolic associations stemming from a God, a tarot card, a personality quality, whatever you are trying to gain knowledge about. To make the pathworking vivid and effective, work with parts of your imagination you have the strongest flexibility with – if you are very visual imagine the environment in great visual detail to help you feel as much there (rather than in the mundane world as possible). If you are less visual imagine the sounds and smells and temperature of the place you are trying to travel to, to get a sensual grasp on it.

Structure of a pathworking: Have a purpose before you start – specific enough not to be wandering aimlessly, but open enough for there to be opportunities to let symbols and answers come to you. Gathering information can be enough of a goal. A pathworking is a story you tell yourself, and needs a narrative. Art – expression – creativity. Structure the journey in three parts:

1. Setting the scene – immerse yourself in the place you are putting yourself in – the environment and any guides you have already planned to go and meet with. A lot of people use an induction to enter this world, such as visualising a tunnel or a set of steps leading there.
2. A working – plan a series of events – maybe working from one place to another (a forest path leading to a clearing, a tunnel to a cave, a river to the sea, etc.), or a progression of times of day, or a series of meetings. Write in opportunities for symbols or answers to make themselves known to you. Often this can be in the form of encountering a surface to scry in – a body of water such as a lake or pond or basin – a symbol may appear to you as a vision in such a surface.
3. Conclusion – make sure ‘loose ends’ in your story are tied up, don’t just wake up abruptly. Conclude your journey in a way that makes sense – you may want the end to mirror the beginning, eg. emerging from the same tunnel, coming back up stairs. Return with the information you have gained – you can interpret what it might mean upon your return.

Paola Filotico on Wandmaking

How to make a wand!

1. Decide on the type of wood you want if you want the specific associations – some types of wood are also simply more practical so look up its magical and non-magical properties! Only cut wood from a tree which can afford to lose it ie. from a healthy tree with plenty of other branches.

2. Right time, right place. You might decide the wood will be more powerful if you have gathered it at the full moon. If you have your heart set on certain associations, be patient and don’t compromise. If you have decided what you want, only that will do! It might take a very long time to find the right material at the right moment in the right place but there’s no rush.

3. Leave an offering to the tree you take wood from – leave something behind that feels appropriate – chanting, poetry, perform a rite of some kind (can be a sexual one!), leave a physical offering… give something back for what you have taken.

4. Once you have the wood, trim it to the right length – the length of your forearm.

5. Cut off the bark and dry it – how long this takes will depend on the season! At UK temperatures maybe a week or two indoors.

6. Sand it smooth – use very rough sandpaper or even a knife to get rid of lumps and bumps. It’s an instrument for channelling your will, so it can’t be rough and messy. Use finer sandpaper and finer again to make it as smooth as possible.

7. At this point carve any sigils into the wood that you require. Plan a design – make it realistic to make sure you can follow it through. Don’t change your mind halfway, as you need to embody the wand with the concept that what you will DOES come to pass, including the design you planned!

8. Varnish with transparent varnish.

9. Add any decorative extras – ribbon, wire, some people tip the end with a crystal. Make sure you know why you’re adding what you are adding, what does that colour ribbon / that crystal mean to you?

10. Consecrate the wand – some people pass it through the four elements to bless it or do some kind of small ritual. Most importantly, USE IT! It becomes a tool when it is used as a tool. It needs to acquire its identity through being used for its purpose – even if it doesn’t feel like it is doing anything at first, it needs to learn its role through being used. It will become better at its function through practice.

Zoe Bidgood on Poetry for Sorcery

Learning the basic structure of various poetic forms is incredibly useful, especially if you don’t consider yourself to be very poetically gifted. The more rules you have to adhere to to fulfil a set pattern, the fewer choices you have and the easier it is to narrow down what you want to say, and because the structures are tried and tested the results will generally create the aural and emotional effect which that form is associated with (eg. sonnets are traditionally used for love poems).

For chants, spells, invocations etc. a very rigid rhyming or rhythmic scheme is likely to make the words sound authoritative or just more aesthetically pleasing or magical – if you want to write texts for yourself that you can easily learn off by heart or use regularly a regular rhythm/rhyme scheme certainly helps.

Foot (or metrical foot) – group of syllables, usually 2 or 3 (eg. an iam)
Iam – two syllables, second one stressed. The natural speech rhythm of English is said to be iambic, and the most ‘natural’ speech pattern iambic pentameter.
Trochee – two syllables, first one stressed.
Spondee – two syllables of equal weight.
Anapest – three syllables, two unstressed and the third stressed.
Meter – measures of how long lines of verse are, depending on feet/syllables.
Tetrameter – 4 feet per line
Pentameter – 5 feet per line
Sestameter – 6 feet per line
Heptameter – 7 feet per line (usually fourteen or twenty-one syllables per line).
Couplet – two lines (if they rhyme with each other, a rhyming couplet)
Tercet – three line stanza
Quatrain – four line stanza
Sestet – six line stanza
Octet – eight line stanza

Wikipedia is a good resource for the official names of poetic meters and features!

Sonnet: Shakespearean – Iambic Pentameter Quatrain (A-B-A-B), Quatrain (C-D-C-D), Quatrain (E-F-E-F), Rhyming Couplet (G-G). Sonnet: Petrarchan Iambic Pentameter Quatrain (A-B-B-A), Quatrain (A-B-B-A), Sestet (C-D-E-C-D-E).
Sonnet: Spenserian – Iambic Pentameter Quatrain (A-B-A-B), Quatrain (B-C-B-C), Quatrain (C-D-C-D), Rhyming Couplet (E-E).
Ballad Form – Iambic Pentameter Quatrains (?-A-?-A, ?-B-?-B, ?-C-?-C… repeat as required) – every other line rhymes, strong rhythms.
Something written in this form can be as long as you need it to be – at the height of its popularity entire epics could be written in ballad form!

Anaphora: Various structures – Anaphoras are often used for devotional poetry, and involve beginning multiple lines with the same word, eg. ‘and’ or ‘I remember’, or ‘when’, ‘still’, ‘that’, etc. etc. Anaphora create a driving rhythm by the recurrence of the same sound, it can also intensify the emotion of the poem.

Haiku – 17 syllables, 3 lines: 5 – 7 – 5. No rhyme scheme necessary but can force you to be concise! Longer / more advanced forms for poetry’s sake…

Villainelle – This might seem a bit longer and more complicated, but as it’s one of my favourite forms I thought I’d throw it in – it’s not too long and takes less time to write than you’d think because lines are repeated so often – this means you can create something which sounds amazing simply because of its structure when only having actually crafted a few raw lines. A nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines. Using capitals for the refrains and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form could be expressed as: A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.

The best way to demonstrate how it works is with an example eg. Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night”:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Sestina – If the method of working around compulsory repeated fragments appeals to you also look up “Sestina” – a longer poem where each six-line verse ends with the same six words, in different orders – most of the structure is in place for you since there is a set pattern, you just work around it! It has six stanzas of six lines and ends in a tercet.

Eva Roussou on Dreamworking

Remembering dreams takes practice. Unless you consciously try to remember them upon waking they will disappear as you wake up – try to write them down as soon as possible in as much detail as possible. The act of writing things down will help you not to forget them and may bring back extra details. Fragments may be more meaningful than the main storyline of what happened in the dream!

If you want to record dreams keep a dream diary next to you by your bed. Try to record the content of the dream separately to any immediate impressions or interpretations – these may be biased and cloud your later analyis. From a psychotherapy point of view dreams give you information about your own inner issues. From a magical point of view they might be giving you information about your magical path and things you could focus on. Levels of dream content: 1st level – trivia from the day 2nd level – your relationships with yourself and with others 3rd level – archetypes, symbols from the unconscious 4th level (alleged!) – prophetic dreams… dreams with a Lovecraftian quality, a bizarre atmosphere, an odd serenity, a feeling that is different to usual dreams – important to record one of these if experienced! Also watch out for recurring dreams, and symbols – animals (real and mythical), places… if a building, could it represent a temple of some kind? Draw things as well as describe them if you want to record and remember. If you think about these symbols when you’re awake you might be more likely to come across them again when dreaming. Look for: archetypes, themes (eg. transformation), metamorphoses. Smaller things: repeated motifs – we all have our own personal ‘dictionary’ of meanings associated to small things in our own lives, be aware of specifically personal correspondances/symbols.

Nightmares: try to turn them into lucid dreams and resolve them. If you cannot change their outcome, try to let go of fear by facing it and letting the dream-disaster happen. Nightmares are our unconscious trying to send us a message. Dreams without a conclusion are considered more therapeutically beneficial as they leave your options open. Interpretation methods: Freudian – start with keywords from your dream and allow free association in a linear way – these associations may stray from the initial topic of the dream. Jungian – more of a ‘spider diagram’ of word association – start with one or two central keywords describing feelings from your dream and associate anything else you think of back to these central themes. What additional words/themes/ideas arise from this?

Zaq Hawkes on Incense-making

The basics – Incenses have a gum base – commonly used are frankincense, myrhh, copal (cheap), dragon’s blood (from dragon’s fern) and sandalwood. The most convenient form to get them in is ground but no powdered (rice grain size). Along with the base you add herbs you have chosen. You can also add oil.

Some tips from experience:

  • If you add sandalwood oil to loose incense just before you burn it, it burns much more slowly.
  • Loose incense keeps better dry, so don’t add oil until it’s going to be used.
  • Borax on loose incense makes the smell travel further.
  • Borax added to paraffin makes the flame burn green!Watch out for the effects of smells and whether they match what you’re trying to achieve – chamomile and lavender will make you sleepy! Also, CHECK FOR TOXIC PLANTS! Poisoning yourself not a good idea.Gathering your own herbs from outdoors (as long as it’s not someone else’s garden!) is free, fun and makes your results feel more special.In terms of magic, the key features of herbs are their planetary correspondences – these can be found in herbals (books), online or just felt by instinct! Idea – note the planetary association where you store your herbs!
  • Recommended shops – 8 Market Place, Brixton Market (voodoo shop), Baldwins in Kennington.