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Peeking behind the Veil: Hel’s Pond, Dark Mothers and doorways to the Spirit World.

In the beginning of February of this year, I went down to Berlin to visit a friend for the weekend and as both of us are witches, we decided to make a small excursion to Hel’s Pond. Tucked away on the side streets of Tempelhof, surrounded by mid 20th century flat buildings, you find a small park called Alboinplatz. In the middle of this very inconspicuous little urban green space filled with beech, birch, elder and yew trees; you will find Hel’s Pond or Blanke Helle as it is known in German. There isn’t much information on Hel’s Pond (what I can find anyway) and most of what I know is hearsay, but I will share what I know. You can find a bit of information in German on Wikipedia.

Hel’s Pond: The Legend

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Hamod before Hel (ca. 1909) by John Charles Dollman

According to legend, the pond was the site of offerings to the Norse/Germanic Goddess Hel. She is the ruler of Helheim, the realm of the dead in Norse/Germanic Mythology and is the daughter of Loki.

So the story goes, that in pre-Christian times there was a sacred altar to Hel on the shores of the pond. The altar was tended by an old priest, who regularly performed Blód (offerings) to Hel there.  Twice a year, as thanks for the sacrifices made to her, Hel would send a black bull to help the priest plough his fields.

IMG_0503After the people of the area converted to christianity and the pagan priest himself died and made the final journey over Gjallarbrú (the bridge over the River Gjöl that divides Midgard from Helheim), a christian monk took over the farmland previously belonging to the pagan priest. For obvious reasons he did not carry on the tradition of making sacrifices to Hel. As the months passed Hel noticed that no more offerings were being made to her and she became very angry.

The following spring she sent her bull forth from Helheim. This time he was not sent to help plough the fields but had a more sinister mission. Once the bull arrived he impaled the monk on his horns and dragged him into the pond and back to Hel as punishment for farming her sacred land without performing Blòd to her.

The pond became synonymous with strange disappearances and the legend of Hel’s bull lived on in the folklore of the area. Up until the early 20th century it was still rumoured that the pool would take a victim once a year.

Hel as giver and taker of life

In this legend Hel is not only portrayed as a goddess of death but also as a life giving goddess. She sends forth the magical power of life, in the form of a bull that helps the farmer-priest to plough his fields and bring forth life from the earth. Through death new life can be brought forth and Hel is not just a chthonic death goddess but also a chthonic mother goddess and giver of life. She takes the dead into her realm  and transforms death into new life. Bulls also symbolise fertility and virility  as well as strength. In return for this life giving force, the priest makes sacrifices back to Hel, keeping the cycle of life and death going and perfectly balanced.

The addition of the monk in the tale is a classic examIMG_0490ple of how the old and new beliefs fused into a new legend with a whole new moral. Large bodies of water are dangerous, especially ones that freeze over and I am sure there has been some accidents over the years that fed the legend of the bull
dragging unsuspecting people to their deaths in the cold dark waters of the pond. The once sacred site now became a cautionary tale for children to be careful around steep and slippery slopes around the pond.

European folklore is full of similar myths and legends. This brings to mind a German fairy tale by the Borthers Grimm, The Nixie in the Mill Pond. I am not going to go into too much detail and I would encourage you to give it a read. Robin Artisson does a wonderful analysis of the fairy tale in his book “The Horn of Evenwood” (pages 138-155).

To sum it up in as simply as possible. He extrapolates that bodies of water are commonly associated with gateways to the spirit world or liminal spaces where the energies lie in balance. Life and death in the case of Hel’s Pond. He also goes on to theorise that in many cases ancient deities and genii lo
ci are transformed into fairy creatures etc. He also loosely lays the foundation for the reader to approach fairy tales and folklore out of an analytical perspective with t

he goal of being able gleam hidden witch-lore from these stories. The book itself raises some interesting points and  gives some good practical advice to those who are i
terested in pursuing traditional witchcraft. His writing can get a bit much at times but I leave this up to you to decide for yourself.

Doorways

RWS_Tarot_02_High_PriestessPlaces like Hel’s Pond, which is steeped in local mythology, make wonderful places to tap into the energy of the land. Large bodies of water are commonly associated with doorways into the realm of the dead or as entry points into the land of the fair folk. We see many examples of this throughout world mythology and folklore. For modern witches dams,lakes and ponds create a focal point for ritual work involving chthonic energies or as an entry point into other realms. Just think of the High Priestess card in the Rider-Wait-Smith Tarot. Look behind the pomegranate veil what do you see but still waters that run deep.

I visited Hel’s Pond on a foggy and very cold winter’s morning. The fog was quite heavy and the pond was frozen. The feeling around the pond was that of quiet reverence and with a hint of otherworldliness. After walking around the pond a bit and looking at the amazing bull sculpture by Paul Mersmann (ca.1934), I made my way down to the water and made a small offering to Hel or the Dark Mother, she has many faces, Kali, Hecate, Persephone, the Morríghan etc. I left with a feeling of well being and connectedness to the place. It is well worth a visit for those who pass through Berlin. It is a bit off the beaten track but it is definitely worth visiting one of the few ancient pagan sites in Berlin.

 

 

 

 

 

Hex in the City

 

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on the way to the woods (summer)

 

Like most urban witches I’ve always dreamt of living in a little cottage in the woods, completely immersed in my craft. I am close to realising that dream but not quite. About a year ago my partner and I moved to the outskirts of Hamburg (we previously lived in Berlin  and before that in London). We now live amongst trees, squirrels, horses, owls, deer, wild boar and loads of crows but with the city a short train journey away. It still isn’t my cottage in the woods but it is a start.

Most books on witchcraft recommend working outdoors but that is easier said than done

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On the way to the woods (winter)

when living in a city like London or Berlin. There are people everywhere and it is really hard to find a place in a park or green spaces free from other people out enjoying nature, who might not be too keen on me, or you dancing around naked invoking the “Old One”. Some people are lucky enough to have a small garden but then you are at risk of your neighbours catching a peak of you chanting and dancing around bubbling cauldron not to mention that they might not be that keen on the smoke from the fire.

So what is a witch to do when so many books on witchcraft recommend practicing outdoors? For most it isn’t always possible, practical or even safe to practice outside. There might be unwanted people around, they might get the wrong idea and in some places it might even be unsafe (I hate that we live in a world that these risks exist) and now you feel slightly despondent because you can’t go out and connect with genii locii as your wonderful new traditional witchcraft book (or Wiccan, or any other form of witchcraft) recommended. You shouldn’t feel discouraged. You can still connect with nature and be a damn fine witch who juts happens to live in the city.

 

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The swamp in the woods where some of my spirit companions reside

Take walks

Go for walks in your local parks and green spaces. On these walks take time to connect with your surroundings. Visit trees, rocks or even a patch of grass that you like. Sit down for a bit and take it all in and connect with the spirits of that place. Foster a sense of kinship with the land. You don’t have to do elaborate rituals to connect to the land, you just have to be there and be present within yourself. Remember to bring a small biodegradable and environmentally friendly offering with you to leave as a thank you to the genius locii. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can even be something you picked up on the way.

I have certain small rituals or should rather say habits that I perform on my walks. One example is I stamp my foot three times at every crossroad. I do this to honour the Man in Black and the mysteries. It is a little shout out to the liminal forces of witchcraft to say I am here and I know this place is sacred!

Over time the places you visit will become your sacred groves and places you can draw power from, even when you are away from them.

Bring your sacred grove indoors

Something I am very fond of doing is bringing my sacred outdoors site indoors. I do this by keeping a small amount of earth and water collected from one of my favourite places underneath my altar. It serves as a connection to the spirits of that place and a doorway for them to enter my sacred space within my home.

I replace the water and earth around the solstices and equinoxes. Before taking new earth or water, I replace the old and again leave a small offering to thank the spirits of the place for allowing me to do so.

Before I take earth or water from a place I ask the spirits of the place if I have their permission to use the place as sacred site. I do this by stating my intent, leaving a small offering and asking them to give me a sign within three days. I then leave the place and keep myself open to signs that may indicate if I am allowed to return to collect earth and/or water from the place. Signs maybe anything from a bird call to a dream the following night. It may be a rush of wind or even a feeling. Sometimes the sign comes quickly sometimes it may not even come within the three days. If it doesn’t come it doesn’t mean they don’t want to connect with but that they might need more time and a few more visits for them to be comfortable with you.

Connect your inner and outer sacred spaces

Another thing I do is try to memorise as much detail of my sacred places so that I can return to the place during spirit flight and create a bond between my altar indoors and my outdoor sacred places. This is very handy to do if you want to contact the spirits of a certain space even if you are not close by or it isn’t possible to travel there for a ritual.

Follow major rites with time outdoors

Try and spend some time outdoors after major rituals or festival. I know it isn’t always possible to do this immediately afterwards and it may even take a few days before you have time to do so, but try to go. Even if it is only a short walk or a cup of tea on your balcony under the moon’s light.

Herbs in the city

Moving away from sacred spaces to something more practical, magical herbs and plants. You will be surprised at how many magical herbs grow in cities. Here in Northern Germany mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris) grows everywhere, even along city walkways. Yarrow and tansy is also plentiful here, as well as morning glory. These are plants with strong magical traditions. Research your area and try to identify the local “weeds”. You will be surprised at what you find growing through the pavement! Pl@ntNet is an amazing app for plant

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Some potted herbs on my balcony last summer

identification which no witch should live without.

 

Another option for city living is balcony and windowsill  gardening. Many herbs are well suited to pot-growing. The benefits of growing your own herbs are many, but the one that stands out the most is the intimate relationship that one develops with the plant. This relationship with the spirit or essence of the herb adds a powerful element to your magic and can not be replicated with bought herbs. Plus common herbs like rosemary, basil and thyme are handy in the kitchen.

 

Modern temples

Energy points in the city are plenty, if you know where to look and what to look for. You

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My local cemetery, where I connect to chthonic energies

are properly going WTF is he going on about now. Well, an energy point is by definition a place where energy is focused. For example a courthouse is a good place to connect with jovian energies as the legal matters are linked to Jupiter. This means that all legal buildings are proto-temples for all deities, saints, spirits or demons related to jovian energies. Another example would be mercurial places such as schools and media buildings or places to connect to chthonic energies are cemeteries or even metro/tube stations.

 

Cities and urban areas have many such places and they are wonderful places to connect to on a magical level for spell work but be discreet and don’t do something that will attract negative attention or get yourself into trouble. The same rules as for parks and green spaces apply even more here.

 

Living in an urban space does not mean you are less of a witch but instead it opens up many possibilities to strengthen and develop your craft. You can be just as connected to the energies of nature by connecting to the seasonal changes in your neighbourhood and bringing these energies into your home daily routine.

 

 

When Mandrake and Belladonna come to visit (Part III)

fullsizeoutput_d6cSunday (The day after):  In my previous post I mentioned storing the ointment in a cool, dark place till the next Dark Moon. Well, the best place that matches that specific criteria is my cauldron! It has the added bonus of symbolising the chthonic womb of the Dark Mother, as well as being the receptacle for the seeds of initiation. I see the flying ointment as a creature of Art born from this union, ready to guide me on my quest for gnosis.

After labelling the jars, I place them in the cauldron and add some cemetery dirt. The cemetery dirt represents the spirits of the dead who will help me on my journey across the hedge. (I collect cemetery dirt during the waning moon and I always leave a small offering as thanks to the spirits of the dead). Sometimes I substitute the cemetery dirt with dirt from a crossroad in the woods near my home. It all depends on fullsizeoutput_d6emy mood and how I feel guided at that moment. Once I have placed everything in the cauldron I say a small prayer to the Dark Mother.

Next I ask the Man in Black to come and grant his seed to the cauldron, that the
ointment may be “fertilised” (for the lack of a better word) and be born as a creature of witchery, ready to serve in my rites. The cauldron is then sealed with a piece of red thread and placed underneath my altar until the Dark Moon.

How I use flying ointments:

fullsizeoutput_d6fI mostly use flying ointments to aid in obtaining an altered state of consciousness during ritual work. I do this in a very ritualised way (similar to the way I prepare the ointment; Part I and Part II). I start off by preparing my ritual space and stating my intention. I then summon the spirits of the flying ointment and whisper to them what I desire to achieve or gain from my ritual.

I apply about a large pea’s worth of ointment to the base of my neck, under my arms and/or over my sternum*. I may apply it to other parts of my body depending on the ritual I am performing. Sometimes I will use more ointment, it depends on how strong the ointment is and what it contains. (If you are trying a new batch of flying ointment or you are doing it for the first time, do it with a friend who is staying sober. He/she/they can then keep an eye on you, in case something goes wrong. Witchcraft is not safe and it is not meant to be safe.)

Next, I will start using various entraining methods like chanting, drumming or music to induce a trance like state. During this time I will enter the ingress component of the ritual or the energy raising part of the ritual. This process varies from operation to operation, as I prefer a more ecstatic ritual format. Once I feel that the veil of consciousness is about to part, I earth the energy within my ritual space and proceed to the making contact with the energy/current/spirit raised. The energy is active and contained within my sacred space. If I am performing a spell, I will use the raised energy to charge the spell or use it for conjuration or divination. At the end of the ritual, I will disperse the excess energy back to the source or charge cords or vessels for later use.

The effects of flying ointments vary from ointment to ointment and it depends on the ingredients.  I find mandrake to have an energetic, warming and aphrodisiac effect and I find that belladonna is more psychotropic, with a dark and mystical element. These feelings may also vary from person to person. I  find that the setting plays a big part in the experience. Soft lighting and a ritual setting helps to achieve the desired effect.

Flying ointments are aids to achieve a receptive state during ritual work and not meant to be a rocket up your arse or to make you trip your balls/tits off. If that is what you are looking for, look somewhere else. I am being serious. There are safer plants out there for this sort of thing.

*Please exercise caution when  handling toxic herbs. They can kill you. Before attempting to use any of the above mentioned herbs please take  the time to familiarise yourself with their toxicity, contraindications as well as any other risks they might pose. Under no circumstances should these herbs be ingested or come in contact with your mucous membranes or eyes. Flying ointment should not be applied to broken skin or inserted into orifices, (this means it is a bad idea to use it as lube during sex. A really bad idea, if you don’t end up killing yourself you might end up with a nasty rash that will be hard to explain to your doctor.) If you are using a flying ointment for the first time have somebody you trust with you who is not using the flying ointment at the time. This person can contact emergency service in case you have a reaction. Witchcraft is not safe, so don’t do anything stupid. This information supplied is for entertainment purposes only and the author assumes no liability for the application and use of the above mentioned information. Use at own risk

 

 

 

 

When Mandrake and Belladonna come to visit (Part II)

Saturday: Got up early and went straight to my altar, which I prepared yesterday evening  (See Part I). After creating sacred space and appeasing the spirits with offerings of incense and wine, I carefully measured out the dry ingredients. In a mortar and pestle I coarsely ground each ingredient down. The fullsizeoutput_d64use of the mortar and pestle represents the coming together of male and female (or should I rather say of opposites). This represents the Hieros Gamos or the Sabbatic Goat of the Witch Gnosis. This energy is imbued upon the herbs and will then aid the witch during rites where the ointment is used.

fullsizeoutput_d63I place the coarsely ground herbs* into a 1l mason jar. The jar is then placed on the Pentacle of Manifestation or Hearth Stone and I then say a short prayer to St. Anastasia (She protects against poisoning, always practice safety first*).

Next I add the olive oil and jojoba oil. The ratio of jojoba to olive oil should be around 1:9. For example: 30ml jojoba to 270ml olive oil. I prefer to mix the two oils before adding it to the herbs. After adding the oil I close the lid and give it a good shake.

I generally stick to about 30g of dry herbs to about 300-400ml of oil. This will render about 300ml-350ml of strained oil. The reason for the decrease of oil is that the herbs will absorb some of the oil during the maceration process.

A smaller ratio between herbs and oil may be used. This will result in a stronger ointment. I prefer to err on the side of caution and make a milder ointment. You can apply more ointment but you can’t remove the ointment easily once applied.

I prefer a water-bath method for infusing small amounts of oil. It is easier than the oven methfullsizeoutput_d62od and you can do quite small amounts at one time. I place a rack (in my case an old metal steaming rack, the ones that fold out like a lotus) in the bottom of a saucepan large enough for the jar to fit in and enough water to reach the level of the oil. I gently heat up the water until it starts steaming or starts making small bubbles on the bottom of the saucepan.

Once the water is warm enough, I place the mason jar on the rack in the saucepan and set the hob to the lowest setting. I heat the oil for about 4-6 hours. Shaking or stirring every 30 minutes or so.

fullsizeoutput_d65After the oil has been infused with the herbs, remove it from the water-bath and strain through cheesecloth into a clean canning jar. (I forgot to take pictures of the straining process.) Grate or chop the beeswax and add it it to the strained oil. I use a ratio of 1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil. (1g of beeswax to 4g of oil). This gives a firm ointment that melts on contact with the skin and is generally not too sticky.

The beeswax and oil mixture goes back in the water-bath until the wax has melted completely and dissolved into the oil. Remove from the water-bath and give the mixture a good stir before pouring it into a fullsizeoutput_d66warmed measuring cup. All that is left to do is pour the mixture into dark coloured glass jars and wait for it to set. I usually perform a blessing over the cooling ointment and make an offering of a cold beer to the witch for all his hard work.

Once the ointment is set, this may take a few hours, I store it in a cool, dry and dark place until the Dark Moon. On the evening of the Dark Moon I fullsizeoutput_d67bless the ointment once again and invoke the Dark Mother and the Watcher into the ointment and ask them to guide and assist me in my quest for the mysteries. This I will cover in Part III, as well as how I use Flying Ointments in my practice.

*Please exercise caution when  handling toxic herbs. They can kill you. Before attempting to use any of the above mentioned herbs please take  the time to familiarise yourself with their toxicity, contraindications as well as any other risks they might pose. Under no circumstances should these herbs be ingested or come in contact with your mucous membranes or eyes. Flying ointment should not be applied to broken skin or inserted into orifices, (this means it is a bad idea to use it as lube during sex. A really bad idea, if you don’t end up killing yourself you might end up with a fullsizeoutput_d68nasty rash that will be hard to explain to your doctor.) If you are using a flying ointment for the first time have somebody you trust with you who is not using the flying ointment at the time. This person can contact emergency service in case you have a reaction. Witchcraft is not safe, so don’t do anything stupid. This information supplied is for entertainment purposes only and the author assumes no liability for the application and use of the above mentioned information. Use at own risk.

When Mandrake and Belladonna come to visit (Part I)

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Friday:  So it is Friday evening and I have tomorrow free and it just happens to be the waning moon and the middle of winter. It is the perfect time to work with the darker energies. A few weeks ago I got a wonderful gift from a friend who recently travelled to Greece to visit relatives. He gave me a rather large quantity of Belladonna and some more Mandrake Root and now that my witch’s pantry is well stocked again it can only mean one thing: Flying Ointment! This coming spring I want to try my hand at growing my own Belladonna to better connect with the plant spirit. We have always had a good relationship but it is time we take our relationship to the next level, my beautiful lady.

Shortly after sunset, it is around 16:30 this time of year in Northern Germany, I set up an altar to consecrate and bless all my tools to be used in the preparation of the flying ointment; as well as invite the spirits of the herbs I plan on using. (Kind of pointless inviting them, they have been pestering me in my dreams and thoughts for a few days now, here is looking at you Mandragora Officinarum). I included symbols and objects that remind me of the Chthonic/Dark Mother and the Man in Black (or Witchfather, the psychopomp that guides us to the hidden mysteries). I used  Hekate/Kali Incense (my own recipe that I might share in a later post).
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The herbs I decided on using or should I rather say they decided for me are:

  • Belladonna – Is associated with Saturn and a traditional psychoactive ingredient in flying ointments. Highly toxic (contains Tropine Alkaloids)*
  • Mandrake Root  Is associated with Mercury and has since ancient times been associated with magic and witchcraft; another traditional ingredient in flying ointments. Highly toxic (contains Tropine Alkaloids)*
  • Mugwort – Is associated with the Moon and has long been associated with lucid dreaming and spirit contact. Mildly toxic (contains Thujone)
  • Yarrow – Is associated with Venus but was said to be used, during the Middle Ages for summoning/banishing the Devil.
  • Patchouli – Is associated with Saturn and I add it to my flying ointment for its earthy  scent. It helps me connect with Chthonic energies.
  • Dittany of Crete – Is associated with Venus but is also known to help with spirit communication and astral travel.
  • Vervain – Is also associated with Venus and is quoted in some recipes as a traditional ingredient in flying ointments. I add it to enhance the metaphysical properties of the other herbs.
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St. Anastasia

Other ingredients I use include:

  • Organic Olive
    Oil
    – I like olive oil but any other oil may be used
  • Jojoba Oil – It acts as a preservative and is very good for the skin
  • Beeswax – I use beeswax from Sparta. It has a wonderful strong beeswax scent
  • Cypress Essential Oil – I only add a few drops. I add this due to its association with Saturn, Death and the Underworld
  • Vetiver Essential Oil – I only add a few drops. I add this due to its association with Saturn.

Tomorrow morning I will do a small prayer to St. Anastasia (she protects against poisoning, always practice safety first!) and then start grinding down the herbs and start the second phase in my flying ointment making process.

*Please exercise caution when  handling toxic herbs. They can kill you. Before attempting to use any of the above mentioned herbs please take  the time to familiarise yourself with their toxicity, contraindications as well as any other risks they might pose. Under no circumstances should these herbs be ingested or come in contact with your mucous membranes or eyes. Flying ointment should not be applied to broken skin or inserted into orifices, (this means it is a bad idea to use it as lube during sex. A really bad idea, if you don’t end up killing yourself you might end up with a nasty rash that will be hard to explain to your doctor.) If you are using a flying ointment for the first time have somebody you trust with you who is not using the flying ointment at the time. This person can contact emergency service in case you have a reaction. Witchcraft is not safe, so don’t do anything stupid. This information supplied is for entertainment purposes only and the author assumes no liability for the application and use of the above mentioned information. Use at own risk.

An ode to the Watcher, the Man in Black

He who is the rising sun on the horizon of my discovery. The illuminated one, who is darkness in light and light in darkness. The horned black beast of my deepest desires, he who dances with me at the sabbath fire and awakens my spirit to divine ecstasy!

I call to you dark father, guide to the souls of the dead and to the living and to those who wish to know the secrets of the worlds between worlds.

At sabbath fire’s light I kiss your hairy black arse and sign your book of pacts most diabolical. By bell, book and candle the rite has begun! IO EVOHE! IO EVOHE!

Up I travel by the celestial mother’s light and down again to the dark mother’s cold embrace and to me all secrets are revealed. There is no life without death and no death without life and only through the sacred marriage can beast and (wo)man, night and day, the created and the destroyed be joined and whole on the sacred altar of my soul, the holy of holies, the sanctum sanctorum of the divine hermaphrodite, thou who art the true bringer of knowledge, the illuminated one, fill me with your blood, that I may also know the mysteries of those before and those yet to come. That I may see God before me, that I may know that God is within me and that ultimately there is no God but me. For I am the creator of my own universe and you are but the illuminating light upon my path.