The Light that Has Lighted the Otherworlds

Firebug by Andrew Jimenez (commission for Via Hedera)

This year, as we welcome the spirits into our home, I welcome so many who have moved on to the otherside.  So many candles are lit when working with the spirits, the doorway of the flames offering communication as well as devotion.  In those flames are the voices and faces of our ancestors. To me, the Torch-Bearer is responsible for this tremendous gift.  Fire is by its nature a capricious thing, but one thing it never seems to fail to do is illuminate a path between us and our beloved ancestors.
The art of ceromancy offers a lot of methods and traditions of use, I won't go into them because I speak of pyromancy- the nature of fire gazing itself, whether by candle or woodland blaze- reading the visions within the flames is an old way to sharpen one’s sight, to let one’s mind drift into the light and become illuminated by the dreamy whispers that hiss and crackle from the fire.    I’ve noticed that when a lot of people write about fire divination, they’re actually talking about smoke or wax divination, rather than pyromantic prophecy. While the movement and sounds, scents and smells of the flames can have a great impact on the divination experience, they aren’t the only way to read flames and celebrate the spirit of fire.
"The ancients imagined they could foretell futurity by inspecting fire and flame; for this purpose, they considered its direction, or which way it turned.  Sometimes they threw pitch into it and if it took fire instantly they considered it a favorable omen."- Cora Linn Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World

It’s true that the movements of flames themselves are important to their interpretation when asking questions, but what of receiving answers from the flames without agenda?   Sometimes it’s good to keep some things simple, and the simple act of gazing into flames can be more powerful than trying to analyze their moves with the slightest draft or fickle wick.  That’s where my interest lies, in the way our ancestors and we today are drawn to the search the flames for answers. This weekend I spent a lot of time fire-gazing, watching for the dead, and it made me truly appreciate the incredible, hypnotic relief that can come from giving your mind to the flames for a bit, especially as the moon grows full and the nights grow long.

Where witchcraft is explicitly concerned, candles were of deep importance in the folklore and traditions of witchery found in Europe and the New World.  Where the night-battles were concerned, the witch had a special relationship with the production and use of candles in diabolic or underhanded working, supposedly utilizing gruesome sources of fuel like fat from a baby or the mummified hand of a thief.  The prevailing Christian superstition of the time was that witches were also rumored to light candles as an offering to Satan- just as Catholics light votives to Mary. The symbolic connection between candles and the dead make them a perfect conduit when pursuing the forbidden art of pyromancy.

"Candles: In magic and folklore, lights to attract certain spirits and dispel others.  Candles also are associated with ghosts and the dead, divination of the future, and the finding of buried treasure."- Rosemary Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy

Candles are easy and safe ways to fire-gaze, and that’s usually where I do my seeing.  Many peoples and cultures used fire to see visions, including candles, “I have mentioned that in Australia the smoke and flame of the burial fire seem to be used for divination.  In Malacca, they use the flame of a candle for gazing, and profess to see visions in it.”- Andrew Lang, Crystal Gazing, Its History and Practice (1905).   Candles made of the fat of a hanged man-made for powerful witches in traditional English magic, and tallow candles have many a traditional use too, as evidenced in Le Petit Albert (1782) which recommends the tallow of a man to form a candle which could locate hidden riches- both these candle types, of course, are for charms and tricks, not necessarily gazing/scrying.  Beeswax candles are cause for the most delight; their scent is sweet and warming and their natural color is radiant.

An oil lamp or lampara is an instrument of petitioning and honoring the great spirits.  Lemon, lime, and orange fruit lamparas are a standard creation for many servants of the Orisha Oshun, but are also perfectly suitable for divination purposes- especially if the oil used for fuel comes from a divinatory source like oil of poppy.  Campfires of sacred woods act as great means of divination, merging the steadiness of earth with the transformative nature of the flame, and between them, deep in the glowing red coals one can see their past, present, and future- and he who stares into the tall flames may the see the face of their future love.  The warm comfort of the fireplace however, this is a special center or heart in the home around which one's ancestors and close allies may gather in the domicilium, the place of safety and home. The gazing of the hearth-fire has been recorded in Northern European folk magic and have made their way to the new world.  Those flames always invoke the family spirits.
"Build a large fire of hardwood logs and when it has burned down to a bed of brightly glowing embers, sit in silence before the fire and regard the changing colors and varying brightness that moves across the surface of the embers.  After a while, you will begin to see pictures in the embers, and the crackling sparks may begin to talk to you. This is an excellent scrying method for long winter nights."- Donald Tyson, Scrying for Beginners (1997)

When it comes to seeing into the flames, the color of the candle or the source of the fire isn’t really important, especially not the colors.   Candle colors serve a great purpose in spell-craft and they do help focus the mind on a goal and set a specific tone of intentionality for a session, but the color does not at all impact the power of the flame nor does it negate the gifts the flames have to offer.  A blue or yellow candle won't bring any more or less power to fire divination, only the flames themselves truly matter. Now, candles made specifically for divination uses, that’s a different matter- the candle is made and intended to guide the connection between the flame and the gazer.  Getting candles made with real intention- or making your own, is a great experience and may improve your divination session. Having a specific candle set aside just for divination fosters a relationship between you and the flames that come to burn in that candle.
Some traditions say to always snuff, never blow out, a candle; a sentiment commonly seen in Hoodoo, conjure and rootwork of the American South.  Others say that the breath of a witch seals portals and confers blessings and messages and should be used to dismiss candles. You are your own diviner, do what feels natural.  Hell, some folklore seeing gazing into the fire as a bad omen in and of itself, go figure- “If a youth sits musing and gazing into the fire, it is a sign that someone is doing him ill.”- Cora Linn Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World
Fire is the thing of spirit, and at Samhain/Halloween especially, that spiritual power is a thing of deep symbolism for so many all over the world. Now is the best time of year to spark the flames and gaze into them, letting the spirits dance before your eyes and whisper in your ears. Seeing into flames, we watch for the shadows between sparks and the waves above; we time the flickers and the change of colors and watch it trick us, hypnotize us.  Most of us who grew up attached to the outdoors know well the feeling of being fireside at night, in nature, in the dark. The sparks drifting through the dark canopy above, the way the cinders glowed like gems and flickered passing fantasies and visions.  Gazing into the fire doesn’t mean you’ll see the truth- most often you’ll only see what you want to see, but we gaze anyway because the fire speaks to the witch. Whether your flame was lit for the angels, ancestors or the devil itself, the spirit you summon with the spark of life is a doorway, and when we gaze, we fall through- even for flickering moments.


Neolithic Shamanism: Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition by Raven Kaldera, Galina Krasskova
The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy by Rosemary Guiley
Scrying for Beginners by Donald Tyson (1997)
Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World by Cora Linn Daniels (1903)
Crystal Gazing, Its History, and Practice by Andrew Lang (1905)

The Smoke Carries

Air by Andrew Jimenez 2009, commission for Via Hedera's Cunning Book

      Smoke and fumigation are as intrinsic to most ritualistic religious ceremonies as prayer itself, for smoke carries the prayers of the profane to the sacred while performing various other spiritual tasks such as the exorcism of unwanted energies, invocation of divine energy, placation of restless spirits or even to deliver healing.  Growing up, tia used to tell my sister and I that when you inhaled the smoke of certain sacred herbs, it was like inhaling medicine and exhaling poison.   When sacred healing herbs enter the body, they can help to "smoke out" poisonous spirits within; "Hippocrates, Discordes, Pliny, and Galen, among others, prescribed "the inhalation of smoke for the treatment of asthma and for some other ailments."" North Carolina Folklore Society.  Sometimes, smoking a cigar of a special blend during rituals is used to calm the spirits around the practitioner, lull them into complacency and docility.  Smoke could also bring forth messages or omens in the shapes cast by the puffs as they rise, in the shapes created as they pass through the mouth.

"When a man is smoking, if his smoke takes the form of rings, it is a sign that his fortune will have no end." and "If when smoking a pipe or cigar, the smoker sends forth a ring of smoke, he should put out his hand, catch it, and put it in his pocket, and he will have money inside of a day."- Cora Linn Daniels, Encyclopaedia of superstitions, folklore, and the occult sciences of the world: A Comprehensive Library of Human Belief and Practice in the Mysteries of Life 

      The coils and caressing waves that roll from the pipe enter your body and work away all kinds of illnesses and pains, depending on what you're smoking.  As the smoke leaves your parted lips or your nose, it carries out the ills and sorrows where it is scattered into the air or choked altogether.  Sometimes, there is no illness within and the smoke exhaled by the witch is simply imbued with their power, and that blend of healing from within and without permeates the air around her and the room in which he works, giving rest and compliance to all the spirits around them.  Some smokes draw spirits in, some scatter them far.  The smokes we inhale are almost exclusively evocative, healing or traveling because the ones that purge and exorcise are as acrid and distasteful to the human lung as they are to the spirits.

"To fumigate the patient with fire, smoke, and sulfur, making sure that he inhaled the smoke. This was believed to make it painful, or even impossible, for the spirit to remain in the body." Journal of American Folklore (1978)

          Smoke is a part of my everyday life.  I know a lot of people find it disgusting, trust me, I work at a college surrounded by well-meaning people who constantly remind other adults who smoke or even burn incense that we're personally responsible for all the worlds ills.  I get it, but it's part of me none-the-less.  I burn fumigate for all my rites.  I smoke for pleasure, for prayer, for purpose, and for pain.  I was raised with the smell of burning tobacco and sage, the smell of smoking plants and forest fires, the smells of auntie's red 100's and clouds far more dangerous than that.  Capnomancy was just a normal state of things, constantly checking the sage smoke for signs, symbols, and omens.  Reading smoke as it rises from my mouth, I see through a thin veil as it clouds my eyes, and see well into the otherside.

"Capnomancers were also known to inhale smoke to induce trance states from which they were able to make prophesies."- Norma J. Livo, Sandra A. Rietz,  Storytelling Folklore Sourcebook

          Tobacco might be the sacred shade of smoke witches, but to me, she's an addiction, and not used as often in my ceremonies as others, whom I find easier to work within general (go figure).  We all have our own relationships with the inhalants around us, and I prefer mine sleepy and friendly.  Tobacco makes me sick, even though I've smoked cigarettes for years- after a few puffs my stomach turns, and yet I crave it.   No other smoke effects me like that.  That's because the relationship I have with the ally is toxic, covered in poisons.  There are other, more powerful and even more sacred herbs to work with instead with whom I share a deep and positive history.  To all realms and needs in magic belong different kinds of inhalants and fumigation.  The great invocation herbs are; tobacco, papaver, salvia, wormwood, and mugwort.  The great healers are comfrey, c. sativa, licorice, and mullein. The great lovers are; damiana, marshmallow, rose and raspberry leaf.

"There was a form of native symbolism in the inhaling and then exhaling of the smoke in that it represented the breath of life itself.  As the smoke rose thus also did the soul of the smoker arise with it."- Marjorie Tallman, Dictionary of American Folklore

         Inhalants aren't for everyone.  I acknowledge that. You'll have to inhale burning material and risk the health of your lungs, you may also risk addiction. I've been there and I don't recommend spending all of your time in the company of any herb in the form of smoke, especially not mind-traveling ones.  Recreation is all well in good in moderation, but otherwise, you'll become a slave to a greater witch than yourself, and regret it.

"Let inhaled use of the Smoke be sparing, reserved but for Ceremony, for the degradation of its power in mundane forms provokes the plant to wrath, and its affinity with the shade of Thanatos is thus increased."- Daniel A. Schulke, Viridarium Umbris

       For those of you ready to make the sacrifice in moderation, smoke can be an invaluable tool for spirit travel.   I travel faster and further on-air and darkness than I do through oils, ointments or waters.  Some drink a magic brew to step out into the sabbat night.  Others consume the seeds and fungi of the land and this takes root in their soul, dragging them to the otherworld through the roots, tuning into the mycelium network.  Others rub their skin until their whole body transforms... and some, like me, inhale deep, lay back and let the wind take us.  I fly as a moth, as an owl, as a crow, ones that disappear in smokes and fogs.

"In Denmark it is believed that specters may be driven away by smoking the room with the smoke of a tallow candle."- Cora Linn Daniels, Encyclopaedia of superstitions, folklore, and the occult sciences of the world: A Comprehensive Library of Human Belief and Practice in the Mysteries of Life 

       Occult lore usually espouses the use of herbs like tobacco, datura, henbane seed, wormwood or mugwort or opium poppy for herbal vapors to inhale in order to achieve spiritual connection or to fly from one's form.  Often times, smoking these herbs can be a very unpleasant, acrid experience.  They are not deliciously floral like many other softer herbs, but they are the very spirits of those witch herbs themselves, ushering you beyond your skins and into the void.  How those looking to heal rather than travel, lighter herbs, ones with aromatic scents and sweet smokes like marshmallow, licorice, and raspberry leaf are effective in drawing healing into a room, into a body, into a soul.  These smokes draw ancestors and light, airy spirits but they don't pack the same necromantic punch as their poison sisters.   Locally, bearberry, salal leaf, and mullein are the main herbal inhalants.  Catnip and wormwood are often mentioned in magical herbalism, but the very smell of either of them burning is a turn-off to my personal tastes and both are known to be distressing to some people.

"In the pipe ceremony, smoke is a viable representation of prayers and intentions drifting heavenward.  The intent of smoking is prayerful and its purpose is to give thanks to the creator, to ask for health and help for humankind, and to bless, honor and heal the Earth."- Jay Cleve, Path of the Sacred Pipe: Journey of Love, Power, and Healing

        Buhner called the sacred pipe and instrument of the earth, while Schulke associates it with those spirits of fire.  Myself, I see the pipe as a part of the realm of wind, like a flute or horn; tools of the breath and stomach.  I don't currently have a sacred pipe, it's something I'm working on, I'm waiting for a friend to finish a shiny black stone pipe they've been working on, I feel like that's what I'm waiting for.  In the meantime, I use a green ceramic pipe for ceremonies, and basic natural papers when I'm looking to purify before, during and after rituals.  Pipes are conduits, they facilitate this beautiful elemental magic; a synthesis of fire, earth, and air.  And when the coughing is all said and done and tears roll down your cheeks- water.

herbs that create sacred smoke; tobacco, marshmallow, licorice, catnip, damiana, raspberry, and fairy dust.
         What we bring into our bodies as food of the earth, as drinks of water, as homes full of warmth and breaths of air; all of these things affect us, our spirits, our minds, and our work.  As one who allies closest to air and fire, I feel an affinity for that which fills my lungs and body with warmth, for those foggy vapors and gales and winds and smokes which allow my spirit to travel here and there, in waking or in dreaming.  Where fire meets earth, where smoke becomes air, this is where you'll find me floating, dissipating into nothing, and everything.

Vanish. Vanish. Into The Air.
Slowly disappear.  Never really here.
-A Perfect Circle, Vanishing

Consulted Sources

  • Path of the Sacred Pipe: Journey of Love, Power, and Healing by  Jay Cleve
  • Encyclopaedia of superstitions, folklore, and the occult sciences of the world: A Comprehensive Library of Human Belief and Practice in the Mysteries of Life  by  Cora Linn Daniels,
  • Viridarium Umbris by Daniel A. Schulke
  • Dictionary of American Folklore by Marjorie Tallman, 
  • Journal of American Folklore (1978)
  • Storytelling Folklore Sourcebook by Norma J. Livo, Sandra A. Rietz, 

Earth Mover

Emerging from darkness, winding my way between roots, moving obstacles and traveling alone- these are all things I do best.  It comes naturally to me.  I remember growing up, I'd hear some of the new-age witches say that "light was needed to drive out darkness".  They'd sprinkle their prayers in pleas to avert darkness and destroy evil as if the two concepts had anything to do with each other.  There is this association between dark and evil or wrongness that I've never understood.  I was taught that the light was beautiful and revealing, as well as burning and blinding.  I was taught that the darkness was strange and terrifying, as well as comforting and restful.  Right now, those who walk in the limelight are the greatest danger, those who lead, those in positions of authority- they are blinding the world.  Maybe, the darkness is the place to be right now.  Maybe we witches need to do what we do best, and ride that darkness, bringing nightmares as we go.

My gods, there seems to be an endless schism of right and wrong all around us.  The soul crushing callousness of politicians, the incredible entitlement of each generation, the careless destruction of the environment around us on grand corporate scales, the stupidity of our leaders; the suffering of thousands, millions of people fleeing their homes, and the suffering of those seeing their world change too fast around them; the voicelessness of the vulnerable, the war-cry, and the whimper.  It's a lot to navigate, to rationalize and live with.  I want to burrow deep in the cool land and let the surface world decay itself, build more dirt.  I want to hunt my enemies from below, attacking from beneath,  when they feel most safe and complacent.  I am not a patient woman, but I am the kind of woman who plays the long con, and I'm just tracking my prey as they move around in the world comfortably.  

There's a balance to all things and a greater purpose to all functioning things.  I wasn't raised to fear death or darkness in the same way as a lot of other people; I've watched so many people around me be blinded by the glamour of glittering light- like being fooled by those you trust, those in positions of power and authority, those who seem as though they have much to illuminate.  I've seen even many people find comfort in rest, in the dark, where illumination comes from trusting one's senses, one's intuition and mastering the unseen world.  The darkness is the safe haven for the night-wandering ones.

An ally, for a shaman, healer, or a witch, is more than a symbol, more than a favored animal or plant or object, more than an ideal shape.  An ally is a relationship that develops, often outside of the conscious will of the practitioner and leads to a synthesis of mind, soul and thought between you and some sacred other.  I'm of the thought that the reason so many witches identify with wolves or ravens is because they're a glamorized animal with a deep symbolic resonance in magic... but the likelihood that so many witches are truly allied with these animals they've likely never met or seen in real life, let alone worked with personally, probably doesn't have as much to do with the reality as much as the fantasy. My reality is that I have developed relationships with allies who live in my vicinity and they're all considered pestilence or weeds; rats, raccoons, rabbits, moles, dulcamara, ipomoea, hedera.  They may be vermin to you, but to me they're family, they're guides, they are lessons in humility. More than that, they're all keen creatures with a knack for dark associations.  They all have a gift of cunning and knowing.

That's where my spirit, the mole spirit, is an invaluable navigator of these hard times.  She is a famed healer whose entire being has powers to inspire healing, to protect from illness and misfortune.  Agrippa said in his books of Occult Philosophy that the mole was Saturn's animal familiar, and Saturn of course is one of the sacred stars if witches.  She is a cthnonic traveler and familiar to witches.  We may associate witches today with the typical familiars; frogs, toads, beetles, spiders, mice, bats, cats, moths, even hounds- but the mole has always been associated with graveyards, healing, death magic and witching for as long as the folklore of the mole has existed. From the old world to the new world, the mole has the specific gift to remove obstructions, heal and guide in the dark.  Talpids are liminal creatures who intermediate between life and death, between living things and the bones in the land.  

A mole is a good familiar for the silenced, for those who have spent too much time blinded by the glamour of the facade the world puts on for us every day.  I feel so completely fed-up obstruction of justice, obstruction from truth, obstruction in general.  I'm tired and weary and disillusioned with the grand illusion taking place all around us.  Media circus, congressional disgust, the cultish ego-fragility of the powerful, it's all a complete horror-house of nonsense.   Now's the time to embrace whatever ally you have in your life who is out to support and guide you, whatever spirit has initiated you into the darkness, because you're going to need your night vision for what's to come.  

"The vision of the mole has continued to modern times, though with a somewhat different emphasis.  The divine attributes have been almost completely lost, but there has emerged from the time of Pliny the figure of a mysterious subterranean creature, almost a chthonic seer and divinity.  Because of its existence in the earth itself, the animal is connected in the folk mind with death and the realm of the dead and likewise with the devil, witches and magical powers."-Wayland D. Hand, American Folk Medicine: A Symposium & Magical Medicine: The Folkloric Component of Medicine in the Folk Belief, Custom, and Ritual of the Peoples of Europe and America : Selected Essays
my allies are many; oaks and poppies, moles and rats, snails and rabbits.
There's a lot of ways to become initiated into the medicine or mysteries of the mole, most of them by violent and sacrificial means.  In some traditions of mole medicine and magic, one must wrestle power from the mole in a ritualistic crushing, a possession.  Other traditions are far less cruel to the creature, and call for one to experience the gift freely given by the mole through visions, dreams, medicine, presentation of materia.   Typically in the folklore of the mole and the magic associated with this  familiar, a piece of the mole must be obtained; the paw, head, tooth, liver, heart, etc in order to bridge the gifts of the mole with whoever seeks that medicine.  However, spiritual training rather than mystical exploitation comes from education through observation, through visions and dreams, through study and courtship.  The earth-mover, the laborer, the mole spirit is a creature of bloody sacrifice and peaceful healing all at once, and I think of this as a lesson in balance as well:  there is nothing that comes without a price, that life is as crushing as it is giving.

When I took up the path to follow the magic and medicine presented in molelore, I dedicated myself to balancing between the ways of all my ancestors where the molespirit is concerned.  I wanted to initiate into that inner-darkness in a way that followed my own path, because that's what the mole would, do; seek independence and go their own way.  in the darkness, there's only room for the senses, that's what I've learned from the mole.  That, and the power of balance.  There's always room for balance in life.  I've obtained my gifts from the mole; I dream I change skins and grow claws and teeth when I go burrowing between worlds.  I've come to rely on the mole to help me navigate and hunt.  

Whatever spirit helps you hunt for justice, find your own path and navigate the darkness and the light, call on them now.  For all of you who feel their world slipping out of balance, in the way that I do, I encourage you to find a way out from under the obstacles.  Speak to those spirits who symbolize and personify great things in your life and follow their example.  Don't be afraid of the dark and don't be blinded by the light.  Move the earth if you must.

Image: Earth Mover by Andrew Jimenez, commission for Via Hedera, 2018
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