I've had a clearout of this Archives section, because some of the articles were really old and no longer relevant. Time to start afresh! I have retained only articles of interest to the magical community, or any bits of information that I think people will still want or need. Future news will be archived here again once it's out of date.
Prints of the Sekhmet Picture
A few people have mailed me about the picture on the first page of the site, asking if prints are available of it. I realised then that I hadn't put full credit for this picture there! I've now remedied this, and apologies to the artist. The picture is the cover illustration for 'Bast and Sekhmet: Eyes of Ra' and is by Ellisa Mitchell. I mailed Ellisa and she says she will have prints available of this painting very soon. Mail her at: Ellisa Mitchell. Ellisa also said she hasn't yet got a web site, but is thinking of it. I own quite a few of her prints and they are all wonderful. Her work is usually on show at Dragon*Con in Altanta every September (and available to buy), and I expect she exhibits at other events in the States too. I suggest anyone interested in her work mail her about it. Be warned, she's a very busy lady and travels a lot, so if she doesn't reply immediately, have patience, or perhaps mail her again in a few weeks.
The Internet is a vast resource, used by many pagans. There are hosts of pagan 'communities' on MSN and Yahoo, to name but two, where members can meet together in live chat rooms, post articles and photos, and have lively discussions on the community noticeboard. We hope to set up a Lady of the Flame Iseum community on the Internet soon, and will post details here when we do.
Some friends and I regularly set up public chat rooms on MSN, and one thing that has struck me is how many pagans came into the room asking for mentorship or teaching. It seems that so many are fed up of just reading books and working alone, and really want to start working with others. This is a sentiment that has been echoed by the students on our Workshop course. Naturally, logistics is often a problem, because many of the people I've met on the Internet live in the States or Australia, or else at quite some distance from us in the UK. So it's really impossible for them to take part in the courses. An Internet Community can partly get round this problem. We envisage that we could organise 'live' seminars in the community chat room. Of course, this isn't nearly as desirable as being in the same room with a group, but it's the best that can be done at the current time, and there is patently a great need for it.
Old Time SabbatsJune 2001
While some of us in the Iseum trained in traditional Wicca, other members came from different disciplines and practices, and while we were discussing the format of our 2001 Beltane ritual, Eloise suggested that maybe we should go back to our roots and perform a Wiccan ritual, to see what the others thought about it. Everyone agreed this was a good idea, especially those who had never taken part in a Wiccan rite before.
So, out came the old books from the shelves, and Lou and I sat down to pore through them and decide what we should do. I have a very old and battered copy of 'The Grimoire of Lady Sheba', which contains all the sabbats along with some traditional charges, chants, etc. (Lou later found out that this book has just been republished, after being long out of print, so got her own copy as well.) I pulled out a dog-eared folder where I'd stored all the rituals I'd performed with my original magical group, and Lou looked up some of her old material too. We looked through the Farrars' books, and 'Magical Rites From the Crystal Well', which the high priestess of my original coven recommended to neophytes. We also dipped back into Starhawk's 'The Spiral Dance', which although has a fairly modern feel in comparison to some of the other books, contains lots of good ideas for rituals. It made us nostalgic to look through all this stuff, and Lou and I spent most of the first afternoon just reading bits out to one another, with cries of 'Oh, I love this bit! Listen to this! We must put this in!' So the end product we came up with was a conglomeration of a lot of influences, but fitted together nicely.
Our sabbat rituals, for the past few years, have mainly revolved around visualisations pertinent to the season, with some ritual action in the middle and the traditional feast. Our circle-casting had consisted of raising a cone of power, as visualised white light. No one, apart from Lou and myself, had ever cast a proper Wiccan circle, complete with quarter invocations, blessing of salt and water, etc. I remembered how the circle casting for some of the rites I took part in had taken quite a lot of time and had been fairly elaborate. Lou and I decided we might as well go for the whole hog now, so that our friends could have the full experience. We didn't write parts for a high priestess or priest, but shared all the parts out around the group, so that everyone would have something to do. We also decided to do the Maypole dance, and would tell people to bring a few metres of ribbon each, in their elemental colour. The Maypole would be the washing line post in Lou's garden - such is the way of Pagans who must make do with what they have!
In the event, we had to do the ritual indoors at my place because the weather was bad. But we came up with the idea of using the light fitting in the middle of the room as a 'virtual' may pole. (This could have presaged disaster, but thankfully not!) Everyone really got into what they were doing, so much so I was a bit misty-eyed. The Goddess charge and the invocation to the Horned God can still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. When we came to do the dance, one of us fortunately knew how to do it properly, (strangely, not one of the Wiccans), and we carefully wove the ribbons together, which we'd inscribed along their lengths with hopes for the future. We sat down to a fine feast in the circle and everyone agreed they'd really enjoyed the rite. Before we finished off by opening the circle, we decided we'd do a full year's worth of Wiccan sabbat rituals. This one had gone so well, it seemed silly not to continue in the same tradition for a while.
One of the things I really appreciate about the people I work with is that they're all so open to trying new things. Perhaps, next year, someone will come up with the idea of doing something different for the sabbats, or we might go back to other formats we've used. But the main thing is that, whatever you do in a group, people have to feel connected and get something out of it.
We've put the Beltane rite in the Rituals section of this site, and will add the others as the year progresses. This is for the benefit of visitors who might not have tried rituals of this type before, or who are interested in our version of a Wiccan ritual. Obviously, it's a bit late for anyone to perform the Beltane rite now, but with some creativity, it could be adapted for other sabbats.
In the last update, I talked about the subject of the healing system, Sekhem. Since then, I have undertaken more training with my Reiki master, Paul Weston, who initiated me into Seichim Mastership. The result of this was a bolt of inspiration. I saw a way that I could meld our Egyptian magical work with an energy healing system. Simon, one of our 'occasional' Iseum members (he lives a fair bit away), has always had a strong interest in Mahes, the lion-headed son of Bast, but for a couple of years hasn't really done much about it.
It so happened that not long after my Seichim initiation, a few of us went on holiday to Cornwall, and I initiated Si into Reiki Mastership there. During his initiation, he received strong visualised impressions of Mahes and Egyptian imagery. We discussed this afterwards, and I thought it could be no coincidence that I'd been thinking strongly about similar things recently. (Weirdly enough, when I got home, there was a message on my answer machine from a friend who told me they'd had a dream about me while I was away, in connection with Egyptian imagery.) I told Si my thoughts on how, as our group was really into both Egyptian ritual and Reiki energy, it might be possible for us to combine the two, for the purpose of self-evolution and self-healing. Si was keen to come over to Stafford and do some visionary questing on Mahes, in order to come up with imagery we could use for one of the levels of the new system. He said he felt that Mahes wanted some attention from him, and this seemed the ideal way to do it. Another Iseum member, Trisha, also had her Reiki Mastership in Cornwall, from Deb, and she had spent quite a lot of time a while ago investigating the goddess Tefnut, another lioness-headed Egyptian deity. As we chatted excitedly about what we could do, I realised we were on to something interesting, and perhaps important.
Because of copyright difficulties with the word Sekhem in the fierce world of competing Reiki Masters, (emit tired yawn), and the fact that I didn't want my ideas to be totally confused with an existing system, I opted for the modified term 'Sekhem Heka' for our fledgling system (Heka being both a deity of magic, and magical energy itself.) I wrote an initiation ceremony for the first level, incorporating parts of a Sekhmet rite we have, as well as an attunement.
I have to point out that this is not Reiki, but a creative derivative. I see it as something separate from my Reiki practice. I'm not sure at this point whether it is something we'd offer to other people as one of the courses of our Reiki school, but it's something we want to work on amongst ourselves. It certainly wouldn't be suitable for anyone who doesn't have Pagan leanings and, so far, such folk have been in the minority amongst those seeking Reiki training from us. (At Reiki induction talks, we tend to fall upon people with gleeful delight if they happen to mention they're Pagans! More please!) But for those who have an affinity with Egyptian magic, we imagine it would be appealing. Because it is a derivative, we think it could only be learned by people who already have second degree Reiki. It is certainly no replacement, but could be a complement for Reiki practitioners who share our interests. If anyone is interested, by all means mail me. There is more information about Sekhem Heka on The Kether School of Reiki site, which can be accessed through the Links page on this site.
You will have had to be living in Outer Mongolia not to have noticed the surge of energy healing systems that have arisen over the past few years, of which Sekhem is just one.
The subject of Sekhem is at the moment very pertinent for us. For the past year our Iseum members have been occupied with learning Reiki, which like Sekhem is an energy healing system. In fact, there are myriad healing systems out there, which as far as we can see all derive from Reiki itself.
There is a lot of hot debate raging on the web between practitioners of the various schools, which to be honest we find a bit distasteful and hardly in the spirit of healing. It seems that a lot of New Age and magical practices have been 'tacked on' to the original Reiki system, which in itself is quite simple and straight forward. While there is nothing wrong with this diversification, and different disciplines have always crossed over within magic (how many Wiccans are familiar with Cabbala for instance?), it is a shame when people change and/or expand the original Reiki system and then claim that their 'version' is better, stronger or provides more enlightenment to practitioners. In our experience, the new systems are not better or 'higher', but just additions, some of them interesting and worth looking into. Anyone 'doing' Reiki, and then incorporating it into other practices they enjoy, such as using crystals, visionary questing, or whatever, is no different from a witch who likes to use - say - reflexology. It's unlikely our hypothetical witch would claim reflexology was originally part of Wicca or Shamanism, but as it works for them, they will use it alongside their other practices, perhaps even ritualising their treatments in some way. Reiki is not magic, and neither is any of the other energy healing systems. They are all functional yet spiritual practices that can be successfully used by anyone, whether they are into magic or not.
Practitioners of magic might naturally be drawn to these systems, because they can be excellent complements to magical work. Most of us are interested in healing, which has always been a prominent part of most magical systems. The energy healing systems, such as Reiki, are useful for any practitioner because they not only enable your own spiritual development and physical health, but also utilise an energy source beyond your own body - that of the Universal Life Force itself - so that you can avoid the feelings of exhaustion, draining and weakness that sometimes follow giving healing of another kind.
The main reasons that our Iseum members became initiated into Reiki was because they wanted to heal others and themselves, but also because as travellers on the path to self-evolution, it was clear to them that here was a very useful tool, in fact an essential tool. Anyone interested in learning more about our practices can read about them on the Kether School of Reiki site. We probably ritualise our use of Reiki more than some people might, because that is the direction in which our interests lie, and we find our methods very successful, but our way is no better than any other. It's just ours and if other people resonate with it as well, we'll be pleased to share our ideas with them.
I have to admit that recently I've been thinking back wistfully to the dim and distant days when I first became properly involved in magic. It was about twenty years ago, a time when it was still difficult for people to practice openly, and there was a lot of ignorance and misinformation around. These were the days when the Sunday tabloids liked to carry stories about Satanism and all its attendant unpleasant practices, with the implication that anyone who called themselves a witch or a pagan was a Satanist into said practices. I can remember hearing of Wiccans having to hide their robes on the washing line underneath their bed linen, so that the neighbours couldn't see them drying! I remember hearing tales of a witch known to friend of mine, who repeatedly had dog excrement posted through her letter-box, along with threats against her 'evil arts'. Back then, it was more difficult to obtain magical equipment and required far more commitment to find a group willing to extend membership, at least outside London. To join a group or coven, you had to show commitment and dedication and be prepared to undergo an often lengthy period of training under more experienced practitioners. You were usually expected to study and practice and in my experience, the High Priestess kept a keen eye on your development. Yes, you actually had to do things, not just read about them and flounce around calling yourself a witch. In fact, you would probably have been chastised for such behaviour. I can remember being told it was not a good idea to tell people or advertise what you were into - for obvious reasons then.
The up side of magic and Paganism becoming more acceptable and accessible is that you're less likely to be persecuted nowadays for your beliefs, but as with all things, there is a down side too.
I wonder if I am alone in finding the glut of new 'witchcraft' books irritating, if not absurd and demeaning to the 'craft'. This is witchcraft for teenagers, apparently inspired (according to people I know in the book trade) by TV shows such as 'Buffy', 'Charmed', 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch', etc, and films like 'The Craft'. I have it on good authority that the occult section is one of the fastest growth areas in book shops at the moment, and I'm not talking about specialist shops like Atlantis, (in London), but mainstream stores like Ottakars and Waterstones.
While I am not against anyone, regardless of their age, getting into this Teen phenomenon, I do have issues with the material that's being produced for them. In a book I saw recently, I learned that today's fashion conscious witch must pay attention to her wardrobe and dress in the appropriate fantasy costume of her choice. She must have regular manicures and resort to false nails if necessary so that her talons are perfect for 'ritual pointing'. I flipped though the pages but found no subsequent mention of when was the best time to 'point' ritually, or why you'd do it. As long as you've got the nails, who cares? Most of the book rattled on in a similar light-hearted vein and there was the usual collection of 'spells' to secure money, jobs, lovers or whatever. In my rather bewildered examination of this book, I found little mention of spiritual development or self knowledge. It was all superficial, like something you'd read in a teen magazine about the next big thing for getting that dream boyfriend or perfect figure. Is this what Paganism has come to? While I appreciate the books have to be made attractive for their target readership, who have been reared on Fast Food and Play Stations, surely there is still room for some of the gentle wisdom, discussion of magical history and thoughtful philosophy to be found in more worthy tomes, such as Starhawk's 'The Spiral Dance', which always used to be one of the essential reads for aspiring pagans.
The new book mentioned above is not an isolated case. Perhaps we have to blame the author who came up with the idea for 'Teen Witch', (which I thought was a very patronising book) for this new phenomenon, because as far as I can work out, that was the first offering to the genre. But despite the sugary, fluffy tone of that book, at least it addressed some fairly serious issues and encouraged its readership to think about the implications and responsibilities of magical work. The rest of the crop seem to be the brain-children of a new breed of creature, the Celebrity Witch, who is rather like the Celebrity Chef. They look good, they're full of buzzy sound bites and are perfect for TV. I repeat. Is this what Paganism has come to?
It seems to me that Paganism, in all its forms, has become inseparable (at least from a marketing point of view) from the worst of the New Age. (I can't imagine the dignified High Priestess of my first magical group channelling dolphins!) Something is in danger of being lost. Is it dignity, is it integrity, or is it honesty? Perhaps all three and more. It can only be seen as a good thing that people are drawn to belief systems based on more life-affirming concepts than those of the old patriarchal religions, but gods forbid they should be swamped in this horrible sticky goo of false sincerity and surface appearances.
I remember a time when magic was about learning and acquiring knowledge - of the world around you, the mysteries of nature and your own mind and body. I remember that time with affection. I am glad, in lots of ways, that magic and Paganism are so accessible now, and that people are free to make a choice. But we should remember that the roots of witchcraft lie in wise women and 'cunning' men, and can wisdom be gained without experience?
Cat Haters Amongst Us
Oh dear. It seems this section of the site is turning into Storm's rant page! However, as a follow up to the article that appeared here last year on a spate of cat murders, I feel this subject has to be addressed at the moment.
Only a few months ago, cats were flavour of the month in the media, with articles gushing about how good they are for us and how creative they are - some can paint, apparently. All this was cute, but now a backlash has begun.
Last week (first week in Feb 2001) the Daily Mail published a couple of articles on cats, following a report from the Mammal Society, which informed the public that our feline friends are responsible for mass slaughter of endangered species. It was accompanied by a 'doctored' photo of a Persian cat, with a devilishly cruel expression and a rare animal dangling from its jaws. Sensationalism or what?
The first thing I thought when I saw the article, which I confess I did not read in entirety because my blood was at boiling point after the first couple of paragraphs, was: who is really responsible for species being endangered? It's not cats, now, is it? It's us. Humans. Ravaging the environment, so that the animals' territory becomes ever tinier. I don't deny that some cats do kill small creatures, but in my experience of keeping cats all my life, most domestic cats can't be bothered.
I remarked to my husband that I thought it was irresponsible of the Mail to publish the article, because unfortunately the less-enlightened segment of our society are eager to jump on any band-wagon, and I could envisage a full scale hysteria happening. The latest scare. Not Rottweilers conspiring to eat our children, or cream cheese oozing with deadly diseases, but cats killing the small fluffy creatures of the world and who must be stopped. The consequences of this don't bear thinking about.
The initial article was followed a day or so later by a commentary by Roy Hattersley, who wrote in length why he hates cats and 'so does my dog, Buster.' Buster is a bull terrier.
However, the article that appeared today, and which has inspired me to write about it here, takes the biscuit. OK, cat lovers who haven't seen this article, I ask you now to take a few deep breaths, because this is going to make you mad. The headline: 'The Claws Are Out For Wildlife Man After He Suggests Cats Be Shot'.
The man is Chris Packham, a TV naturalist and presenter of BBC's 'Really Wild Show', who was interviewed on Radio 4's 'Today' programme. He referred to the domestic cat as an 'insidious murderer' and said that the way cats treat wildlife made him want to reach for a shotgun. He called for measures to stop cats killing wildlife and spoke of a curfew system in Australia, whereby cats are required to be kept indoors after a certain time, and any found on the street are summarily shot. He said that in an ideal world, cats would be rare. When asked if he had ever shot a cat, he gleefully admitted to doing so regularly and described the weapon he uses - which thankfully is a water pistol! His view of the feline population is this blood-soaked, evil horde, with dead creatures hanging limply from their jaws. Then he says that people 'are reacting emotionally to this instead of looking at serious scientific fact.'
He says that there are too many cats per square kilometre in the UK - there 'should' apparently be one cat per 5 km, but there are in reality 200. When prompted he did not say that he personally advocated culling because 'the neighbours wouldn't like it.' He did advocate licensing and placing bells around cats' necks and mass neutering to keep 'their prolific numbers low'.
Despite these somewhat tempering remarks, which perhaps took the sting out of his initial suggestions, Radio 4 was still inundated with a barrage of angry calls from listeners. These are my personal responses to the remarks:
1. Not every cat kills wildlife. I own nine cats and only one of them ever kills. He kills rats - big ones. Half of the others only rarely leave the house.
2. Feral cats might have to kill wildlife to live. I agree that these cats should be neutered, because it is not desirable to have large numbers of feral cats, who are often suffering from diseases and malnutrition. But I certainly would not advocate culling them. Cats Protection has invested 3.5 million pounds in a neutering programme.
3. It would be impossible to impose a curfew on every domestic cat, unless cat flaps were banned! Mine are used to coming and going as they please. Most of them stay in all night, but some won't use litter trays and always go outside to relieve themselves. Cat flaps can be locked, of course, but sometimes, you just can't get your cat in before you go to bed - they are independent creatures, as we all know. If you couldn't get your cat in one night, how would you feel if some 'cat inspector' then captured or, even worse, shot your pet?
4. If we're going to split hairs, cats might kill wildlife, but they don't - and can't - kill people with tooth and claw. Dogs can.
5. Isn't it possible that urban foxes are jointly responsible for killing of wildlife? And why have foxes been driven into the towns?
6. Ultimately is it us - humans - who must take the blame for endangered species. Cats can't be our scapegoat. Even if you aren't a cat lover, and feel there are too many cats in the world, then surely this is because there are too many people! Would we have a massive population of cats without the massive population of people?
The RSPCA and Cats Protection voiced their concern about Packham's remarks. As the spokeswoman for the RSPCA said, 'These comments are unacceptable, because at the RSPCA we see thousands of horrific cases of animal cruelty each year, and the penalty can be a £5000 fine or six months in prison'.
Cats Protection offered the following advice to people who are concerned their cats are killing too many creatures: keep them in the house between 10 and 11 a.m. and between 4 and 5 pm, because this, apparently, is when they are most like 'to strike'.
There is far too much cruelty to animals in the world as it is. Cats need protection too, otherwise there wouldn't be a need for charities like the RSPCA and Cats Protection. Legally, cats are regarded as vermin, whereas dogs are not. That means legally they have fewer 'rights' than a dog, which is certainly not desirable. I cannot see that the Mail's series of articles will help to reduce the sickening crimes against these beautiful creatures who bring so much to so many people.
As occultists, witches or pagans - whatever we call ourselves - we should work to protect our animals. If anyone needs reminding why, I've archived the article about cat murders that appeared on this site until recently. Please look at it again. It will soon be the time for Bast's festival. Perhaps those of us who celebrate it should commune with the goddess about this problem.
Lady of the Flame Iseum