Friday 14 November 2014

Mugwort:  Mistress of the liminal

                It has recently been drawn to my attention that people living in the UK feel the need to buy the very plentiful mugwort, when it is very common and easy to gather. May I suggest that those who want to use this plant, for whatever reason, get out there, seek it, get to know it, and gather it for themselves.
                If you do decide to become a seeker and not a consumer, you may find yourself asking: ‘Where can I find it, what does it look like, and what can I use it for’? If you are thinking along those lines, or just simply curious read on.
                First of all, I will spend a little time identifying the plant, researching its uses over the years and outlining the folklore, myths and legends that have traveled with it. Then of course, I will answer the question, what could I  use it for?’ 
                I will start with my own description of the plant. Not in a botanical encyclopaedia  sense; but rather, I originally thought, I would give a Culpeper sounding look at the plant and tell you what I see, feel and smell; but then I found that the words describing mugwort in Culpeper’s book were not his own. So let me say, these are my own words, telling you what I see, and no one else’s, unless I state they otherwise. Following this description, I will set out to share the knowledge that the many books on herbs that I have on my shelves disclose in their pages. I will try to lay out all of this lovely information into a useable format. Following this, I will address one of the questions that I am sure is in the forefront of your mind: ‘what can I use it for; does this plant help with altered states, dream work or any other travelling work one may possibly choose to undergo?’
                So, where can it be found? It is interesting to note that Richard Mabey (Flora Britannica, (1998) Chatto & Windus), names it ‘mugger’: I doubt very much that it is ‘mugger,’ in our understanding of the word; though it does creep up on one quiet unexpectedly. Nonetheless, he does state that in the ‘Bickerstaffe/Melling area of Lancashire’ it is named ‘Council Weed’, as it ‘always appears after the Council have been out.’ Not sure what they were ‘out’ doing, but it does grow alongside roads (though not in central London) So where can one find it in a big city? Start by seeking it out along waterways, streams and canals or open areas of un-kept park land; even the Royal parks that abound in central London may provide fruitful hunting grounds. In fact a few paces from Trafalgar Square, next to the lake in St James’s Park, there in full view of the path, just as expected, was some mugwort. The many footpaths, wastelands, areas surrounding schools, universities and hospitals are all prime hunting grounds.  I am sure many large cities follow this same pattern of spaces. Those lucky enough to live in rural areas will have no problem finding mugwort and, I am sure, are already aware of its presence.
                The botanist Dr John Hill (1716-1775) quoted by Mrs Grieves (A modern Herbal, [1931, 88] Penguin book, London.) suggests, “Providence has placed it [mugwort] everywhere about our doors; so that reason and authority, as well as the notice of our sense, point it out for use: but chemistry has banished natural medicines.”  Nothing changes does it?
                So, what does it look like? 
                This is what I see: It normally grows to about four feet tall, but can reach greater heights. I found a specimen near my home, in a nice open place, its feet just touching the water’s edge of my local river Quaggy, its head climbed free of any overhead canopy, which  had reached a height much taller than me, perhaps even reaching six feet by mid-September.  The plant is widest at its base, tapering up to a point, rather in a likeness to the shape of its leaves. The leaves appear as cut arrow shapes, as if someone has folded them, taken a pair of scissors and cut these shapes out. Each little section appears as a model of the greater.
                The big giveaway to identify the plant is the under-side of the leaf, which is lovely soft downy silvery-green in contrast with the top of the leaf. The top is green, not a hard holly leaf green but a pale broad bean green, which as the leaf ages gets considerably darker; on the newer leaves this is a much fresher green. On one plant, in August and September, you can find leaves of green in various hues. The leaf feels very soft to the touch; in fact I would go as far as to say it feels soft and comforting, rather like a babies’ blanket.  The stem is round yet in most cases feels ridged.  The flowers open from small grey-green buds to reveal tiny yellow flowers; I would need a magnifying glass to take a good look at these.
                Mugwort was once known as Mater Herbarium, (Mother of Herbs) and when one spends time examining the plant it appears understandably so. Its leaves have a cosy feel about them, reminiscent of what a child might feel wrapped in a blanket on mother’s lap on a cold night.
                Gerard’s wonderful description in his Herbal, (1636 edition, Senate, London England) states; ‘Mugwort hath broad leaves, very much cut or cloven like the leaves of common Wormwood, but larger, of dark green colour above, and hoarie underneath: the stalks are long and straight, and full of branches, whereon do grow small round buttons, which are the floures, smelling like Marjerome when they wax ripe: the root is great, and of wooddie substance.’ Gerard describes its location rather more lyrically than I: ‘The common Mugwort groweth wilde in sundry places about the borders of fields, about high waies, brooke sides, and such like places.’ I can’t help but feel how wonderful it is that this plant still chooses these places to thrive in all these years after Gerard’s day. (1546-1612)
                Culpeper (1616-1654), rather disappointingly, repeats Gerard’s description of the plant more or less word for word. But then goes onto say something worth examining. ‘This is a herb of Venus, therefore maintains the parts of the body she rules, remedies and diseases of the parts that are under her signs, Taurus and Libra.’ To me, however, his reasoning here is not entirely clear. According to Agrippa, plants that are under the dominium of Venus are those that taste ‘sweet’ and ‘delectable’; included in these are thyme, vervain, violet, valerian and maiden hair (which I presume are the fern and not the hair of a maiden), Coriander and sweet fruits. I would not refer to mugwort as ‘sweet’ or ‘delectable’, but then nor would I suggest that of thyme
                Cunningham, in his Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (2005 Llewellyn publications), unsurprisingly agrees that Mugwort is a herb of the planet Venus. Manfred M Junius, in The Practical Handbook of Alchemy (1985, Healing Arts Press, Rochester Vermont), also agrees that mugwort is under the dominium of Venus, and gives a little more information as to why. It’s author, Manfred M. Junius states that, ‘This planet rules the arts, harmony, proportion, affection and the ability to integrate things into a whole, and to mediate between opposites (sign of Libra)’
   He goes on to say something I felt more pertinent, causing me to sit and pay closer attention: ‘The tendency of Venus is toward cosy relaxation.’ So although the plant itself appears lunar, in my opinion, it is the way it makes one feel that is closer to Venus. He adds that ‘Venus rules over the metamorphosis of the cells, the reproduction and enrichment of the substances, the formation of tissue, the selection and transformation of substances in the cells, the preservation of the body, the complexion…’ He then lists many bodily functions that Venus is said to influence, including ‘the formation of nerves, and nervous energy,’ as well as ‘fertilization’ and the ‘inner sexual organs.’
                Culpeper suggests that ‘Mugwort is with good success put among other herbs that are boiled for women to apply the hot decoction to draw down their courses, to help the delivery of birth, and expel the after-birth,’  also for the ‘obstructions and inflammations of the mother.’  It is widely suggested that mugwort stimulates uterine contractions, and therefore could be used to aid childbirth. Michael Howard in Traditional Folk Remedies, ([1987] Century Paperbacks) indicates that ‘Medical testing of this herb has indicated that it does stimulate uterine muscles, which would make it an effective treatment for inhibited menstruation. It has also been to have a limited sedative effect.’ Although interesting, Mr Howard does not site his sources in this edition.
                Culpeper states, ‘It breaks the stone, and opens the urinary passage where they are stopped. The juice thereof made up with Myrrh, and put under as a pessary, works the same effects, and so does the root also. Being made up with hog’s grease into an ointment, it takes away wens and hard knots and kernals that grow about the neck and throat, and eases the pains about the neck more effectually, if some field daises be put with it. The herb itself being fresh, or the juice thereof taken, is a special remedy for the overmuch taking of opium. Three drams of powder of the dried leaves, taken in wine, is a speedy and the best certain help for the sciatica. A decoction thereof made with Chamomile and Agrimony, and the place bathed therewith while it is warm, takes away the pains of the sinews and the craps.’
                 A brief explanation of how these results may be possible can be found in the Edible & Medicinal Plants of Britain and Northern Europe, (Launert, E [1981] Hamlyn, London;), which indicates that mugwort contains ‘essential oils’, with ‘thujone and cineole, bitter principle, tannin, resin, inulin’ that ‘stimulates the stomach muscles’, adding that it can also be used with fatty meats as a condiment and in sauces and salads; I hadn’t thought to add that mugwort is safe to eat, it appears that the amount of thujone in the plant is very small.  To support the thought that mugwort is safe to consume; Mrs Grieves adds that, ‘Mugwort is said to have derived its name from having been used to flavour drinks.’ It was, along with ground ivy, used to flavour beer. ‘Gathered when in flower, and dried, the fresh herb was considered unsuitable.’ She also indicates that in Cornwall mugwort was used as a tea, which, we might think, would explain the mug in its name. She goes on, however, to link mugwort with insect repellent, suggesting that in fact, although a tea and a flavouring for beer; its name ‘comes not from a drinking mug, but from ‘moughte’, a moth or maggot.’ Apparently, ‘it has been regarded since the days of Dioscorides, to have a common use along with wormwood, as an insect repellent.’ (ibid)
    Michael Howard also links mugwort to insects, suggesting, ‘Its common name dates from Anglo-Saxon times, and is from the Old English, muggia wort: midge plant; used to repel insects.’ As mugwort does grow abundantly by the waterside, and as a plant suggested to have the ability to repel midges, this does make the idea of drinking a brew before wandering the river banks rather appealing.  Strangely enough there appears to be a profusion of plants that grow along riversides and pond edges that are said to be good insect repellents, clever that; though the thought of drinking insect repellent lacks appeal in my mind, I can see how it would be of some benefit, especially if the brew can permeate the skin. After all, a draft of mugwort is not too bad on the taste buds, and is not, as we have seen harmful; so if it can lessen the attack of those nasty little midges,  to me, it’s worth trying out.
                Mrs M. Grieves, provides an assortment of other names for mugwort such as Felon Herb, St John’s plant and Cingulum Sancti Johannis; the latter appears to have sprouted from a tale which sugests that John the Baptist wore a girdle of the plant as a protection during his sojourn in the wilderness. Consequently, if worn in like manner, it was said to protect the wearer from disease, sunstroke, fatigue, wild animals and evil spirits. It is also proposed that a crown of the plant was worn by celebrants on St John’s Eve to protect them from possession.   
   Thiselton-Dyer, in the The Folk Lore of Plants,( [1889, 2003] E book, Project Gutenberg) quotes William Coles,  The Art of Simpling (1656), which states, “If a footman take mugwort and put it in his shoes in the morning, he may go  forty miles before noon and not be weary” (....I think that may because he has taken to flight.........forty miles?????)
   This idea seems to have grown from the words of Pliny. Pliny indicates that “The wayfaring man that hath the herb tied about him feeleth no weariness at all, and he can never be hurt by any poisonous medicine, by any wild beast, neither yet by the sun itself.”
                Gerard also quotes Pliny’s famous words, and continues: ‘and also that it is drunke against 0pium, or the juice of the blacke Poppy.  Many other fantastical devices invented by the Poets, are to be seene in the Works of the Ancient Writers, tending to witchcraft and sorcerie, and the great dishonour of God: wherefore I do of purpose omit them, as things unworthy of my recording, to your reviewing’; shame that!
   Thiselton-Dyer also indicates that ‘black hellebore, peony, and mugwort’ were used to disperse evil spirits; adding that mugwort and plantain are associated with midsummer, which takes us back to John the Baptist.
    Thiselton-Dyer states that Thomas Hill, who, in his Natural and Artificial Conclusions, suggests that mugwort has a use in the pursuit for young maidens:  ‘If a coal was dug from under these plants at midsummer, and put ‘beneath the head’ that night, ‘they would not fail to dream of their future husband.’ The author goes onto suggest that the coal is nothing but an old dead root which would have been there all year round, so holds no magic; maybe he’s missing the point there. 
   And staying with Thiselton-Dyer for a moment, who  points his readers attention to the Anglo Saxon ‘Nine herb charm’, which I am surprised more authors do not mention. Regarding mugwort he quotes:

“Thou hast might for three,
and against thirty, 
For venom availest
For plying vile things “

Another translation states:

‘Remember Mugwort, what you made known.
What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
You have power against three and thirty,
You have power against poison and infection,
You have power against the loathsome foe roaming through the land.’ (

“[Mugwort] Eldest of worts
Thou hast might for three
And against thirty
For venom availest
For flying vile things
Mighty against loathed ones
That through the land rove

     Now to get into the mind-set of these ancestors, one of my favourite books, available both digitally and as a hard copy is The Old English Herbals by Eleanor Sinclair Rohde (1922). From whence the above quote is taken, which sheds a little light on these words by indicating that: ‘’a cold or any infectious disease would have struck the Anglo Saxon as ludicrous, mankind being rather the victims of flying venom.”In the alliterative lay  the Lacnunga,’ part of which is given above, ‘the wind is described as blowing these venoms which produced venoms in the bodies on which they alighted, their evil effects being subsequently blown away by the magicians song and the efficacy of salt, and water and herbs. The above verse is generally supposed to be in its original form, a heathen lay of great antiquity preserved down to Christian times, when allusions to the new religion were inserted. It is written in the Wessex dialect, and is believed to be of the tenth century, but it is undoubtedly a reminiscence of some far older lay. The lay or charm is in praise of nine sacred herbs (one a tree)…’
                In one of the Leech books examined therein we find that in a ‘Saxon hamlet’ in one of the small cottages ‘a patient suffering from elf-shot is to be smoked with the fumes of herbs. A huge quern stone, which has been in the fire in the hearth all day, is dragged out, the prepared herbs-wallwort and mugwort-are scattered upon it and underneath, and then cold water is poured and the patient is reeked with the steam “…as hot as he can endure…”’. The idea of ‘elf-shot’ as the root of disease is very interesting, and one to keep in mind.
   Sinclair Rohde also points to an entry on mugwort in the Herborium of Apeleius: “And if a root of this wort be hung over the door of any house then may no man damage the house.” Now it does become easier to see how we can arrive at the conclusion that mugwort can protect. As we have seen, it contains ingredients that act as an insect repellent. Insects can carry disease, or ‘elf-shot’, so logic would suggest that it may protect from other ‘flying venoms’ too. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that we find it had a place in amulets, alongside other plants such as betony, vervain, peony, yarrow, and waybread (plantain). This may also point to why ‘it was held in repute during the middle ages for its efficacy against unseen powers of evil.’  or, as we can now call them, ‘the hidden foe.’

                In more recent times, Doreen Valiente, Where Witchcraft Lives ({2010, 1962] (Whyte Tracks print and design, Copenhagen), gives Mugwort as the plant used by ‘Some old time scryers’. They, it appears, ‘believed that it helped their powers’ and would ‘drink a tea made of mugwort [Artemisia vulgaris] before attempting to practice the ‘art’; Mugwort has, from earliest times, had a reputation as a “witches herb”.  She goes onto say, ‘It’s Latin name tells us why, it was sacred to Artemis, the Moon- Goddess. Having tasted it, I can testify that mugwort tea is quite harmless, and not unpleasant. The herb should, of course, be gathered at the full moon to be of the greatest efficacy.’ 
                So it appears, if one cleanses oneself and ones tools and partakes of a plant sacred to the moon goddess, the potency of the work would be expected to intensify.  It is not because the plant itself contains any chemical that can enhance this experience, or if it does the dose is so small so as not to be noticeable. She clarifies this point by stating; ‘There is a definite connection in old belief between crystal-gazing and the moon. If the crystal is exposed to moonlight, it makes it more sensitive. The art is best practised when the moon is waxing. The scryers potion is made from the herb of the Moon Goddess.’ This herb as we have seen can be mugwort. Therefore, it appears that she is suggesting these combined actions could make ones senses more in tune.
                Valiente; like the previous mentioned author,  also points to mugwort, which like vervain and St John’s wort, was considered one of the magical herbs of protection to be gathered on Midsummer Eve, and hung up in the house to preserve it from black witchcraft and evil spirits. Maybe there is more than one suggestion taking place here in the minds of people of old: the plants could carry the protection of St John, and also as  plant  that is known to give protection against ‘elf darts’ and the ‘unseen foe’  that carries  disease would deem it a plant of great importance. 
         According to Witchcraft Medicine, ([1998] C. Müller-Ebling, C, Râtch Wolf-Dieter Storl. Inner Traditions, Rochester,Vermont.) ‘Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) was one of the most important ritual plants of the Germanic peoples.  Fresh bundles of the herb were stroked over a sick person and then burned to dispel the spirit that brought disease. Mugwort is one of the most ancient incense herbs in Europe. It is also considered to be a herb sacred to St John.’
     And unsurprisingly, as the mother herb, Mater Herbarium, we find that ‘This grey, bitter herb is considered one of the most important women’s herbs. Sitz baths, and teas of mugwort, depending on the strength of the dosage, help bring on missed menses, hasten birth or afterbirth, or expel a dead fetus. It has also played an important role in the blessing of shamans before entering the ‘flight of the soul’(ibid). It is interesting that it had a part in the blessing rather than the experience itself.
   It seems that ‘In southern Tyrol, the plant is still called broom herb, and it is associated with the witch’s broom. It is also called bunch herb because it is used to bind the herb bundles in folk customs.’
  A further link with the goddess Artemis is suggested: “When people carry the plant artemisia, they don’t feel the difficulty of the path. Kept in the house it chases away demons, protects from bad medicine, and averts the evil eye. Grinding the herb in lard, and rubbing on the feet relieves aches. The grounded and pulverised artemisia is administered with water and mead as a drink; it takes away the intestinal pain and helps in various conditions of weakness.” (Medicina antique 11, fol, 30r)(ibid). The similarity between the blessing of St John and of Artemis appears apparent here in the protection of travellers, ‘not feeling the difficulty of the path’ and as a protection.
                Looking at the recommendation in the previously quoted Medicina, of making a salve containing mugwort for application rather than sticking it in ones shoes or sandals, does sound like something worth trying; I did attempt to put mugwort in my sandals but found I left a trail of leaf behind me, as it kept falling out, so a salve may be many times wiser.  
                Gerard suggests that the name Artemisia comes not from the Goddess, but from ‘Artemisia Queene of Halicarnassus, and wife of noble Mausolus King of Caria, who adopted it for her owne herb.’   Interesting thought, and not a point I find elaborated on elsewhere. Then again, I am more interested in the plant’s use than the precise origins of its name. Howard points out that: ‘Opinions differ amongst the experts as to why this plant became associated with this pagan moon goddess [Artemis]. Most herbalists suggest it is because mugwort has proved successful in dealing with problems arising from the menstrual cycle, which is linked with the lunar phases;
         So back to the possible uses of mugwort Gianluca Toro and Benjamin Thomas state in Drugs of the Dreaming ([2007], Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont) that ‘Mugwort in a pillow’  helps in the remembering of dreams. In one report the participant pressed the leaves to the face and had a night filled with obscure and unclear dreams. I must say, I don’t need to go to the bother of pressing a leaf on my face, my dreams are generally obscure anyway: it’s clarity I seek. The extract does suggest something interesting concerning Russian tarragon, or Artemisia dracunculiodes, ‘In a pillow this gives frightening dreams.’ I may just see if this works, in the name of scientific investigation of course.
                As for the possible medicinal use of mugwort, Back to Eden, Jethro Kloss, ([1939] (Woodbridge Press publishing company  California.[1981] edition) was the first herb book I ever owned; I wish I still had the hardback I originally possessed, just for sentimental reasons, not because I think it is an exceptionally good book, it now reads as very dated.  Kloss states, however, that mugwort is, ‘Splendid for female complaints when combined with marigold flower, cramp bark and black haw.’ He goes on to explain how to put together the ingredients and the dosage, detailing how mugwort increases the flow of urine, is good for fevers and gout, regulates young girls and others suffering from ‘suppressed menstruations,’ and is ‘useful to overcome’ inflammatory swellings, gravel and stones of the kidneys and bladder. Also it seems it can help with relieving  ‘rheumatism, gout and extreme pain in the bowels’.
                I am no longer a young girl and happily past the age when female complaints cause any problems. But there may be suggestions there that I would do well to get acquainted with.  In fact I need to bear in mind Donald Law’s proposal in The Concise Herbal Encyclopedia ([1973] John Bartholomew and Son Ltd, Edinburgh,); again one of the books from my younger days. He quotes Dicken’s Captain Cuttle, who said “When found make a note of”.  So I have,...... I just hope I remember where I noted it.
   So to summarise........well I think I will leave that to you........what have you learnt.......and can you now seek out and use mugwort for yourself, if you should want to of course.


Monday 17 March 2014

The Legacy of Cain

The legacy of Cain (Possession1)
   If I, and my people, claim descent from the father Cain, I rather think I should know what that means. I am aware that there is no way on this planet that a literal lineage can be claimed, or can I even prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he existed.  And then I need to consider that even mythopoetically to  claim  to be of the blood of Cain, is  in itself explosive as everyone knows the tale of the first murderer. So I ask myself, by giving my allegiance to the line of Cain, what does that mean to me and my tribe?
  Therefore in this exploration I choose not to prove whether Cain lived or not; as this matters little.  Nor do I wish to clear his name, although whilst digging I may do so. I intend to simply uncover what this allegiance means, and how this affects my very being. I won’t be looking at the nature of Cain as the first agriculturalist; I will leave that till another time.  This introductory article will be the first in a series investigating what it means to be the offspring of Cain, and what I and my people have inherited.

  To begin at the beginning, as the saying goes; and which suggests to me trawling in the depths of the large sea of creation myths; so logically I will start with the one I know best, the tale found In the Genesis account, the first book of the Bible. It is from this springboard that I intend to propel myself toward the other tales least known to me at this moment in time. However I am sure that in a little while we will become the very best of friends.
    It is Genesis 4 of the Bible that tells us the story of the firstborn son of the first couple, Adam and Eve.  The narrator begins by saying, (A.V) ‘And Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, “I have gotten a man from the LORD.” Already we see something interesting, it appears that Eve, understandably felt the Creator God of the Bible had a hand in this marvel.  At that time nothing else but a miracle would have transpired in the creation of another human.  However it could be read that Eve felt this child was part deity, a son of God. And it was the ‘LORD’ and not Adam that played the main part here.
   And then there have been many who feel that this ‘LORD’ could be someone else entirely. When we consider the words of John at 1 John 3, 12 this is understandable. Here he states that ‘Cain was of the evil one.’(English Standard Version)And I am not presuming John meant the ‘LORD’ or Adam for that matter. It does appear to read on the surface that Cain was a child of someone else.   However the trouble with this argument, if you are looking to only Genesis 4 v 1 as evidence, the Hebrew translation of the word ‘LORD’ as presented in ‘’ clearly shows the Tetragrammaton, those famous four letters commonly translated as Yahweh.
    Yes I do realise that John could be referring negatively to Cain’s action. Nevertheless It does become interesting to consider what ideas John and his cohorts would have been exposed to by the time John was writing. Luckily we can look at a lot of the material said to date from between the time of the Hebrew exile in Babylon, or the collation of the first books of the Bible, and the first century AD. So let’s consider some of the ideas that may have been oozing around in Palestine at the time of Johns’ writing.
   One of these thoughts  according to Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, (p64)
      ‘That God made Adam perfect, although liable to be mislead by a wrong exercise of free will, is the main moral of these myths and glosses. It deprives man of an excuse to sin, and justifies God’s command to Abraham: “I am almighty God, walk before me and be perfect!” Nevertheless the origin of evil continued to puzzle the sages. They invented a myth of Eve’s seduction by Samael, who begot Cain the murderer on her, though Genesis specifically makes Adam father Cain as well as Abel.’
   So it appears that a later date texts were penned to resolve the nature of the roots of evil and sin. Another idea in circulation between the date of the exile in the 6th century BCE and the first century AD.
  ‘Some say that Samael disguised himself as the Serpent and after vengefully persuading man to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, fathered Cain upon Eve thus defiling all the offspring of her subsequent union with Adam.” (Ch 14, a)(Hebrew Myths)
  To our modern sensibilities this is a rather disturbing idea. However it is interesting to follow this thought for a little longer. The online Jewish Encyclopaedia indicates that Samael is the prince of the demons, the accuser seducer and destroyer. His name literally translates as “the venom of god” he is equated with the angel of death, and appears to get the blame for many of mankind’s misdemeanours. So we are still looking for a reason for Cain to have done something, which on the surface, appears to wrong.  So as a way round this Cain’s paternity is brought into question.  And to add further interest to the can of worms I have just opened,  the ‘Fourth Book of Maccabees’ indicates that there was a popular belief that snakes desired intercourse with women. (Graves;Patai) The Book of Maccabees is generally considered to date from between the 1st Century BCE and the 1st AD. So it does become possible that John knew of these ideas such as these as the work known as the First Epistle of John was penned during 98 or 99 AD.
  Furthering this point Graves and Patai indicate on p 86 that;
‘An alleged desire of divine serpents to impregnate mortal women appears in many mythologies. Sacred serpents kept in Egyptian temples acted as the god’s procreative agent. The second Tanis Papyrus contains a list of sacred given to such beneficent serpents housed in the larger temples. Among the Greeks too, barren women would lie all night on the floor of Asclepius’s temple, hoping that the god would appear in serpent shape and impregnate them during sleep. At the Phrygian Mysteries of Sabazius, women ritually married the god by letting live snakes, or golden replicas, slide between their breasts down to their thighs.
    Another creation myth where sin sexuality and serpents appear to entwine around each other is found in a ‘Gnostic Hokhma-myth which originated in Jewish circles and was hypothetically reconstructed as follows:’
Out of the primeval Chaos God created the seven archons through the intermediacy of his Wisdom, which was identical with the “dew” of “light”. Wisdom now cast her eidolon, or shadow-image, upon the primeval waters of the Tohu wa-Bohu, whereupon the archons formed the world and the body of man. Man crawled about on the earth like a worm, until wisdom endowed him with spirit.  Satan, in the shape of the serpent, had intercourse with Eve who thereupon bore Cain and Abel. Thus sexuality became the original sin. After the fall, the sons of Seth fought the sons of Cain. When the daughters of Cain seduced the sons of Seth, Wisdom brought the flood upon the Earth.  Later, in her efforts to help mankind sent seven prophets, from Moses to Ezra, corresponding to the seven planets. In the myth Wisdom, acting loke a female deity, clearly resembles the Gnostic concept of the anima mundi, the “world soul.” (Patai; The Hebrew Goddess)
  So it appears that the idea that Satan had sex with Eve in the ‘shape of a serpent’ was not considered too diabolical to consider.  And it does give Jesus’ words in Mathew 23, 33 a rather different slant where he accuses   the scribes and Pharisees of being   ‘snakes; and ‘offspring of vipers’ (English Revised Version)
   Back to Cain’s birth, and leaving serpents and snakes aside for a moment; in  ‘The Book of Adam and Eve from  VITA ADAE ET EVAE’  Eve appears to be pregnant, she cries out to Adam to intercede on her behalf, he calls for help, or to be more precise ‘And Adam entreated the Lord for Eve.’ As a result a rather excessive cavalry of twelve angels and two “virtues” attended either side of Eve.
‘Michael was standing on the right; and he stroked her on the face as far as the breast and said to Eve: “Blessed art thou, for Adam’s sake. Since his prayers and intercessions are great, I have been sent that thou mayst receive our help. Rise up now and prepare thee to bear.” And she bore a son and he was shining; and at once the babe rose up and ran and bore a blade of grass in his hands and gave it to his mother, and his name was called Cain.’ (The Lost Books of the Bible and The Forgotten Books of Eden) (The name Cain is also said to mean ‘stalk’.[Hebrew Myths])
  Interesting but not necessarily relevant, the “virtues” are ‘known as the Spirits of Motion, and control the elements. They are sometimes referred to as “the shining ones.” They govern all nature; control over the seasons, stars, moon, and even the sun is subject to their command. They are also in charge of miracles, courage, grace, and valour.  (Catholic Online) 
   It does appear that I cannot escape the serpent for too long as the afore mentioned shining one becomes an echo from an earlier Bible verse as the ‘serpent’ of Genesis 3, v 1, (International Standard Version)  is  translated here  as  ‘the shining one’.  The reason for this is that direct translation of the Hebrew word ‘Ha-Nachash’ is ‘the Shining One, or the Diviner, i.e. the one who falsely claims to reveal God’s word; or the Serpent.’ (I.S.V, footnotes)  So it is also possible to see a link between angelic beings, and serpents.
   The history of snakes in religious practises is an interesting one. Although snakes play a part in the legacy of the inheritors of the mark of Cain I have not time to delve too deeply on the subject here. But however we choose to consider the myth; we have a tale of a man whose roots come from a divine non-human line, a firstborn, tribal father, priest and king.

   Following the birth of Cain in Genesis we are told that Eve ‘gave birth also to Abel’, no mention of the Lord here, which may mean a lot, or very little. We need to build our picture to a greater depth to get a clearer view of this.
    Next,the Genesis account tells how Cain tilled the soil, and Abel was a keeper of sheep.  So some time must have past from the moments of expulsion from the garden, where all had been provided without the need of excessive ‘sweat of the brow.’ Man has learnt to cultivate and keep herds, a big leap from a hunter gatherer. In fact according to Joseph Campbell Joseph ‘the great Paleolithic caves of Europe are from circa 30000 B.C.; and the beginning of agriculture 10000 B.C. or so and the first substantial towns about 7000. Rather large jumps in time here, worth taking into consideration. Or more logically, we are not examining historical facts, but a myth that has withstood the sands of time, because it still has relevance today.  The next statement supports this ‘And in process of time it came to pass;’ inevitably time has passed, we don’t know how many other children would have been born.  Apparently we have  rather long lived children and they are brothers and sisters to boot, going forth and multiplying.  ‘That is a sin’, I hear you shout, although compared to sex with serpents it appears almost respectable.   But remember that in this context Cain is a child of the Lord, which makes him a rather different breed, so putting completely human laws upon such beings in this context is illogical. And then these are myths, and how many other myths can you find where brothers and sisters mate?
   So ‘Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, an offering unto the LORD,’ And what of his brother Abel, ‘he also brought of the firstling of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect for Abel and to his offering:’ it does feel as if Cain and Abel are the chiefs of two tribes. Cain and Abel appear as  chiefs and priests, and they have the role of making the sacrifice on the part of others. I will add a bit more evidence to this theory in a moment.
    Following this, as we know the ‘LORD’ had ‘not respect’ for Cain and his offering. ‘And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.’ or as the Young’s Literal Translation indicates “and it is very displeasing to Cain.” This translation puts a rather different slant on things.  To be ‘very angry’ or ‘very wroth’ is very different to something displeasing to one. The difference in these two positions is obvious, if something is displeasing to me I become upset, and would want to put it right. Rather different to angry and wanting vengeance. So Cain became displeased that his offering wasn’t good.
   Then the LORD, asks ‘what’s up with you Cain?’ (My translation obviously)  Even though he must know, or should know the answer.  At this time it appears that Cain doesn’t answer; if he does it is not deemed important enough to record. However the LORD replies with a statement open to interpretation. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”
  Clarke’s commentary on the Bible at indicates that the Hebrew translation of the word ‘sin’ here, literally translates as ‘a sin-offering’. Therefore we read; “Have recourse to thy maker for mercy, a sin-offering lieth at the door.”  Clarke argues that the word that is here translated sin, is also translated over a hundred times in the old testament where a sin-offering is indicated.   
   An interesting thought has been circulated by many, (S.H. Hooke being one of them) which examines the word translated, ‘lieth’ or ‘croucheth’ which it appears as  the same word as the Akkadian word or ‘the evil croucher’  awaiting the sacrifice. This figure was a familiar one in Babylonian magical texts. So basically Cain needs to do it again, another sacrifice is needed as the one before didn’t do the job.
   The next verse indicates that Cain talked with Abel. Again according to Clarke, this translation of ‘talk’ is misleading; it appears that there was a conversation when there wasn’t. Clarke indicates, ‘not talked, for this construction the word cannot bear without great violence to analogy and grammatical accuracy. But why should it be thus translated? Because our translators could not find that anything was spoken on the occasion; and therefore they ventured to intimate that there was conversation’. Some texts translate this as ‘Let us walk out.’ Or ‘Let us walk out into the field.’
   However, as we know, ‘Cain rose up against his brother Abel and slew him.’  So was this the first murder or a blood sacrifice? Perhaps a sacrifice performed by a King-Priest who needed a blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of the tribe. Which is why the ‘earth opened her mouth to receive thy brothers blood.’ (Gen 4.11) Note the earth here is ‘her’. Maybe ‘She’, the earth, received the sacrifice. 
  Now the ‘LORD’ asks yet another rather daft question for an all seeing deity, and not for the first time in the book of Genesis.  He asked something similar of Adam and Eve, an ‘I know what you have done but I need you to confess’ type question. ‘Where is Abel thy brother?’ then comes one of the pieces of scripture that everyone knows. Cain’s reply; ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
    As we know, Cain was then cursed by the ‘LORD’   because “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”  Some suggest that perhaps Cain had buried the body. However if we cross reference to Hebrews 12, 24 it states; “And to Jesus the mediator of the New covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, and speaketh better things than that of Abel.”  Interestingly Clarke links this verse in Hebrews to ‘the sprinkling of the blood of the sin-offerings before the mercy-seat.’ Although I must admit that Clarke in his commentary infers that this verse in Hebrews refers to Abel’s sacrifice.  I read ‘that of Abel’ as the blood of Abel himself, and not his sacrificial animal.  The italics are obviously added at a later date to slant the meaning. Therefore this text is referencing the atonement value of Abel’s blood in comparison with Jesus’. 
     Holding onto that thought it is also interesting to spend a moment considering   the Hebrew rite of atonement; Yom Kippur.  In this cleansing ceremony two goats were used. Lots were cast to decide which one would be ritually sacrificed, and the other sent off as an outcast (“For Azazel”) into the wilderness to meet its death, carrying the weight of the sins of the nation with it. (Leviticus 16 8-10))  Many bible translations here render Azazel as scapegoat if one checks the interlinear translation at, the name Azazel is clearly there. Whatever argument Bible commentators put forward as an explanation for this; it is interesting to note that in the Book of Enoch Azazel is named as one of the leaders of the watchers.
    Going off at a tangent for a moment, one of the things that has always fascinated me is  that  the  angelic being  said to have instructed mankind  in the use of metals and weapons is also the one who educates mankind in the  making and use of cosmetics. Yet these arts are not mutually exclusive especially when considering what went, and goes, into cosmetics; these ingredients  were known to have included oxidised copper, different coloured copper ores, lead and ochre.  In the first book of Enoch we are told that Azazel taught the uses of antimony; which is a lustrous grey metalloid used in cosmetics among other things. If applied to the face it would make the face appear as ‘shining’. And it is from antimony we get kohl; a most ancient of cosmetic, which I still use in modern form daily to make my eyes appear more ovoid and ‘serpent like’. 

   Many things have been written on the subject of the scapegoat that I can’t go into here but I do want to suggest that the goat could not be considered to be a sinner, but a sinless vehicle for the removal of sin. William Holman Hunt’s image of the scapegoat shows the goat as being weighed down by  the sins of the nation; which highlights the consideration  by some Christians that this goat represents Jesus. So by symbolic expression it can be considered that “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.” Romans 3. 25 (N.I.V) However it does appear that the goat whose blood is shed may make a better sacrament to represent Jesus, and the other goat that is sent into the desert, Azazel his brother. It is also interesting that a   bull was chosen to represent the sins of Aaron and his family, yet it was the goat that was chosen for Azazel.  By medieval times Azazel was being linked to Samael which take us back to the serpent.

   Returning to the thought of a sacrifice of atonement; Hooke points out that the agricultural Babylonian New Year festival saw a sacrificial priest and an exorcist, set to task purifying the shrine of Marduk’s son Nabu. Having covered the walls of the shrine with the blood of a slain sheep,this they went into the desert until after the festival as by this act they were defiled.’
   So as sacrifice, and sacrificer, Cain becomes defiled, but not for long   However, although Genesis states that Cain ends up with a punishment “worse than he can bare” which includes becoming a vagabond, as ‘When thou tillest the ground, it shall henceforth not yield unto thee her strength.’ It doesn’t last. And then what is  Cain worried about?  After all you would think his crime would warrant death. However this would not apply if his guilt was communal and not individual. It is worth considering that he was not a common murderer, but his act was for the good of the community   
   Now  Cain voices a concern;  “every one that findeth me shall slay me.” You can see why earlier I indicated that Cain and Abel were not the only ones around. Apparently all those living are not listed; only those who bore a relation to the lineage.  But remember that we have two separate lines here, and therefore two separate communities, so he would still be in fear of those to whom the sacrifice did not apply. He would have been cut off from his tribe, and from the face of his deity.
   We can see this when we consider that the Lord doesn’t turn round and say ‘don’t be silly, there are only your mum and dad left,’ but says; “therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken of him sevenfold.’ And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.’ I won’t waste space looking at Sir James Frazer’s solution that this could have been the ghost of Abel that would want to kill, him.  But will swiftly move on to the mark.
     I would suggest that this ‘mark’ was put there so that others would know what he was. By that I mean that he was a priest who had just performed a ritual killing for the good of others. So the mark he was given would then signify his priestly status., and protect him from the death penalty. As we know a marking placed on the body was commonly worn outward sign of this status.  We know from Ezekiel 9 that marks were put upon those warranting salvation. The 144,000 of Revelation 14, bears the mark ‘of their Father’s name written in their forehead.’ And then further down the same chapter, v 9 the third angel gets the job of marking those worshipping the beast, with his mark on their forehead or hand. In Cain’s case, this mark was a mark of salvation.
   Cain; then settled ‘East of Eden in the land of Nod’.  So he wasn’t a ‘vagabond’ for the rest of his life. We are told he had a son called Enoch and may no longer have been a tiller of the field.  After all he was told that this was not a good idea as the ground was no longer going to ‘give thee her strength’. So in the meantime he would have to learn new skills. Note again that the ‘ground’ was again ‘her’ in some of the bible translations.  However this is a rather interesting to note that It was She who received the blood of Abel and from Her grace that Cain was banished whilst he carried the weight of the sins.
   After this short period of time he was amazingly successful for a ‘cursed’ man; we next read that he ‘builded a city’ and named it ‘Enoch.’ Seems like a rather large transformation went on here, a tiller of the ground became a builder of a city, in what was considered to be a nomad, agricultural community. He was also successful in fathering offspring, his  genealogy is listed leading to Tubal-cain and his sister Naamah; a subject for future development.  As a little side note, you would think that the punishment from an all powerful god would be to prevent further offspring of such a sinful seed, if that is the case, or am I just putting a cruel gloss on a ‘LORD’  who wipes out whole nations;  babes and all, a little later on?
    The Book of Jubilees tells us that Cain died  in the same year as Adam.  ‘for his house fell upon him and he died in the midst of his house, and he was killed by its stones, for with a stone he had killed Abel,’.  Considering this book is of a much later date to the Genesis account, it may be a case of a ‘let’s make this story work for us,’ idea. However there is an alternative view of Cain’s mode of demise. It is here indicated that Lamech,  Cain’s  descendent;  killed Cain. The tale is told by  Graves and Patai, (p108)
    ‘This Lamech was a mighty hunter, and like all others of Cain’s stock married two wives. Though grown old and blind he continued to hunt, guided by his son Tubal-Cain. Whenever Tubal Cain sighted a beast, he would direst Lamech’s aim. One day he told Lamech “I spy a head peeping over yonder ridge.” Lamech drew his bow; Tubal Cain pointed an arrow which transfixed the head. But on going to retrieve the quarry, he cried. ‘Father you have shot a man with a horn growing from his brow! Lamech answered, “alas it must be my ancestor Cain!” and struck his hands together in grief, thereby inadvertently killing Tubal Cain also. ‘
  Neither tales can be supported however it does become intriguing to note that “the hunter and the hunted are but one 2

   Now there is another side to this tale that should be examined. Although I indicated at the beginning that Cain means possession according to the Bible Dictionary, there is also a valid argument for the name Cain as  qyn. If you take a look at the interlinear text of Genesis 1 as seen in you can clearly see the word is spelt ‘qayin’. Bearing in mind the lack of vowels in the Hebrew text, you can see how this is arrived at, and this does put a rather different slant on things. The online ‘Jewish Virtual Library’, under the heading ‘Kenite’ indicates that a Kenite is ‘a large group of monadic clans engaged chiefly in metal working. The root qyn has the same meaning in cognate Semitic languages,’ “tinsmith” “metalsmith” and “craftsman”. The article goes onto say that ‘In the Bible the word kayin (qayin) is a weapon made of metal, probably a spear (2 Samuel 21 16)’  and  that  ‘Tubal-Cain who forged all tools of copper and iron” (Genesis 4, 22) is a compound name in which the second noun indicates the trade.’
     Interesting stuff; it does bring three thoughts to mind.  Could Cain have been the first worker in metal? Could he have killed Abel with a metal spear? If so does this suggest a rather later date in the prehistory of mankind. Again, as we have seen there were other people around who may want to kill Cain. The same article goes on to say that ‘Among primitive tribes to the present day there are clans of coppersmiths and tinsmiths whom it is considered a grave offense to harm.’ Perhaps Abel was killed with the implement that Cain used in his work as ‘a tiller of the ground.’ or perhaps he had a ritual implement. After all, Abel had just sacrificed one of his flock before. It is worth asking oneself what he is supposed to have used to do so.  It does seem that his name indicates he already had knowledge of smithcraft, and therefore was able to tame and use fire water and air.  But then all this is just an interesting mythical journey, if all we have left is the flood, and the destruction of Cain’s line, and all that meant to this priestly class and their descendants was to be deluged by forty days and forty nights of rain. 
  The bible tells us that Eve had a child to replace Abel, and his name was Seth.  Again it becomes very intriguing. We are presented with two lines of descent, both leading from the Sons of Adam and Eve, down to the flood of Noah.  Both lines show sons with identical, or similar sounding names., very strange if there are meant to be the only people on the earth at that time you would think a bit more variety would be a good idea, especially as one line was chosen, and one damned. Hooke makes an interesting point that becomes evident in comparison. Seth’s firstborn is Enosh, and Enosh, is ‘merely another Hebrew word for ‘man’ and a synonym for Adam,’ then comes Kenan,  the ‘Hebrew form of Cain.’ Both lines lead down to Lamech, of whom we mentioned previously. It does appear that someone was trying desperately to make a story fit the audience it was intended for. Not something unknown these days is it? Try taking verse 25 and 26 of chapter 4 and the whole of Genesis 5 out of the way and the story becomes very different. And then looking at the other references to Seth to be found, we can see that the one in Chronicles is repeating the Genesis account, Luke 3 also  traces this  genealogy, then  we look at The Book of Jubilees and  The Book of Adam and Eve,  there are  only 3 mentions in The Book Of Enoch, all these citations are of a much older date. It does appear strange that the book of Enoch doesn’t make more of a point of the lineage. It appears that a yarn was woven together  to produce a fabric that supported a religious purpose.
  Therefore it does appear that the addition of Seth’s line becomes a necessary piece of spin used to wipe out any influence of the Watchers from the face of the earth, and clear the way for a pure race.  However it is evident that if we were to argue that the flood destroyed the inhabited world at the time. The myths still indicate that this information survived, tucked up tight upon a large vessel that bobbed away on the waters until it could alight upon a mountain top, and be brought into action once again for the benefit of mankind.
  So it seems we can learn a lot from these tales; to bear the mark of Cain we seek the right to be of a priestly class. And being so we can freely seek the knowledge we have a right to. This knowledge, the knowledge is the knowledge of the watchers which I will turn my attention to at another date.  And by this exploration pursuing the thought that there could be a link between Cain and Azazel?
   And then there is the other woman mentioned in the Genesis account apart from Eve. This woman is Naamah, who is she, and why was she thought so important that she should get such a mention that grabs ones attention?
1 Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary  (1912)The John C Winston Company, Chicago, Philadelphia,
2Robert Cochrane, see Tubelo’s Green Fire p152

Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, Graves, R. Patai, R. (1966) McGrew-Hill book company, New York
Middle Eastern Mythology, Hooke, S.H, (1963) Penguin Books, Middlesex,
Myths To Live By,(1973) Campbell, J , A Bantam Book, Viking Penguin. Inc
Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary  (1912)The John C Winston Company, Chicago, Philadelphia,
The Book of Jubilees, also known as the little Genesis, (1913) Charles, R.H. Oxford Clarendon Press.
The Palestine Pictorial Bible, The Holy Bible, (Authorized Version) The Scripture Gift Mission, The Strand London, Oxford University Press.
The Hebrew Goddess, Patai, R, (1990) Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan
Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, (1966) Graves, R; Patai, R.  McGraw-Hill Book company, New York.
The Lost Books of the Bible, and The Forgotten Books of Eden, translated Lightfoot, J.B and Charles, R.H (1913) published (1926) Rutherford H Platt, edited and republished by E.C. Marsh (2010)
The Star Crossed Serpent Volume 1, Jones, E, J. & Oates, S. (2012) Mandrake of Oxford, Oxford.
The Cross In Modern Art,(1916) Rev John Linton M.A. Duckworth and Co, London.
Tubelo’s Green Fire, Oates, S. (2011) Mandrake Of Oxford. Oxford.

Monday 3 February 2014

Back the the hearth; part 2 

‘The Hearth became the most sacred, numinous place in the house. It lies at its centre, and is the only part that still opens to the skies.' (Roger Deakin;)
   As we have seen in part one, the hearth is a threshold, a place between the worlds, a platform which links earth with fire, and also air; a triangle of three elements right in the heart of things, the hub and the eye of the home. Then pondering these thoughts a little longer, water is taken to it, the kettle boiled, cauldron heated and those who dwell within hopefully kept alive. 
   Unfortunately, in these days of rather sterile central heating it can be difficult to have a clear understanding of  these images. What a luxury a real fire would be; what a pleasure to gaze into the flames, and glow in the warmth of the burning wood, a hearth of heat and homeliness.  I do remember having living flames in my home, and yes it was messy, however the heat and the warm glow repaid  one  many times over for the work it took to clean it out. I wish I had one, but I don’t; so how am I going to connect with the concept of the hearth as part of the female mysteries with very little opportunity to enjoy one in reality?  First of all I can make myself a model of one, then perhaps it will become easier to engage with the concepts alluded to here, but then, however pleasing to the eye this is, it is only a glimpse, somewhere to work, and not much else.  To achieve this I need to consider at greater length what a hearth is.  I can think of no better way to begin than to turn my attention to someone with greater experience than I have.
     In the book Traditional Witchcraft, A Book of Cornish Ways, Gemma Gary uncovers the hearth and places it as the 'ancient altar', the 'original sacred centre of the home.' This very hearthside is the place where charms can be 'constructed', and left on the hearth overnight to 'cook', it also appears that charms were placed up the chimney, the place linking the inside with the outside world. Strangely enough it is often single shoes (spiritual middens) that are found on little shelves, perhaps giving the modern Cinderella tale a new meaning.
   According to Gary it is via the chimney among other places, that nasty things such ‘as curses and evil spirits may seek entry.’ So charms were placed in these locations as a protection to the household. Gary states ‘Bottle charms of the pre-emptive protective kind are best housed beneath the hearth, within the chimney, beneath the threshold, for these of course are the vulnerable portals of the home'.
  The hearth stone is considered to be 'The stone', 'around which the cultus of the craft operates. In some traditional groups this is the whetstone that keeps the blade of Cunning ever sharp, but for the solitary witch any of the working stones may be used.'. Now this does of course pose me one problem, I have no chimney, so I will have to overcome this problem somehow. One way perhaps would make my altar on a windowsill, or perhaps trap the spell in a pot/bottle, and take it to the outside to take flight. I can however find myself a portable stone, to move from hearth to window.
   Loitering in Cornwall for a moment, it appears that it was right by the hearth that St Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall, "rediscovered" the smelting of tin. (the Romans knew how to do this many moons ago, but it appears those skills were lost) and thereby revealed the flag of Cornwall. The legend tells us that he was sitting by his black hearthstone, and the heat from the fire caused a white cross to appear on the top of the stone slab, it is this image we can see replicated in the Cornish flag. St Piran went on to become the patron saint of Cornwall. And the 'tin-bearing ore' provided Cornwall with one of it's means of economic survival through the centuries, in what could be a very hostile environment. An  interesting relationship appears here with something alluded to by Gemma Gary 'An old wise practice, found within the West Country and beyond, to guard the home from the entry of the black witches influence, is to cross upon the hearth the iron fire tools. A simple charm, potent in its form, its material, and location,' A cross of metal, placed on the hearth of the home invoking protection for those within.
Back to the Roots
   So after having spent a little time considering ho a hearth can be used in a magical way. It is interesting to consider why this should be so? My first port of call is the word itself.  where does our word hearth spring from?  According to Ceisiwr Serith it appears that in middle English we find the  word ‘herth,’ and in Old English ‘heorth’  both  of which appear  to stem from the Indo European root  ker,  found  in ‘k’r.d,’ which not surprisingly relates to the heart. Therefore our word hearth shoots straight from a rootstock right there in the heart.  And as we have seen this hearth became the focal place for all the family activities, pulsating  a  life force throughout  the indoor area, keeping those who dwelt there alive.  
      According to Serith this Indo-European root also runs through the Hittite hashsha which can  also apply to the  “hearth, fireplace”,  linked via the “Sanskrit asa” which when translated means “ashes.’ (Polome, 1982, p. 392) [quoted in Serith]. And then from the ashes,  we can see   the ‘Latin ara’ or ‘altar’ So it appears that there is  a  linguistic link between this family place in the home, and a place of worship, which is rooted right there in the ashes of the hearth.
   It appears that the household hearths in the dwellings of Ancient Rome had their own special brand of spirit that resided  there. This spirit, called 'The Lars' was said to haunt the hearth-side, a Genius Loci living alongside  humans. This spirit may have also been a guardian of boundaries, especially those found within the home, so what better place to reside other than this ,portal between the worlds? 
   Interestingly, it is also suggested by Angella Della Volpe, as quoted in Serith that  "an individual household ... can be defined as a group worshipping at the same hearth. (p. 83, n. 15) this definition, is endorsed in the Rig Veda; where it says “Let us pray with a good fire” (Rig Veda 1.26.9)
  So we have two things here, one a central place for those who dwell in the home, a place of comforts and substance, and two, a place of worship. And then these  two may appear as interdependant, linked by the dependence on the fire to maintain life itself.
    In my lifetime I can engage with phrases such as "driven from hearth and home"  meaning that one is cut off from the comforts of one's home kith and kin. And the soldiers fighting in the in the Second World War were spoken of as "fighting in defense of their firesides" the place that represented home, and the freedoms and comforts therein. To 'keep the home fires burning' indicated keeping the hope of comfort alive, and the welcome it represented.
     The importance of the hearth in the home takes on even more import when it is taken into consideration   that   in times past, a lit fire in the hearth indicated   possession of a home; ‘In Welsh law a squatter gained possession of land only when a fire had been lit on his hearth and smoke come from the chimney (Owen, p. 339 in Serith).’ And amazingly it seems that ‘The association between ownership and the fire was so strong that the right of a Welsh heir to occupy his father's land was called "the right to uncover the fire" (Rees & Amp; Rees, p. 157)[In Serith].
     Even today Aboriginal hunter gatherers still make a fire each time they settle, even in the heat of their climate. This fire indicates this is their tribe’s space, and this then becomes the place for the group’s social and religious activities. They; like the wartime British, still keep the home fires burning, (albeit outside) and have been known to take a fire torch to another community to help start their fire. And from that thought it takes no small leap to see the importance of the torch of fire in the Olympics.  Building a community of those included. All of this allows us to see the importance of fire lighting, and fire sharing as a pivotal point at the centre of belonging of the tribe.
     Serith points out   that under Vedic law, any ‘new territory was legally incorporated with the construction of an altar to the fire god Agni.’ Agni is a Hindu god whose  name literally means  “fire”, and therefore linguistically, we do not need to take  very  big stride to see how the and a link between Agnis and he Latin word   ignis,  and that spark of fire that lights the greater mass.
  Loitering with Agni for a bit, it is interesting to remember that he is considered to be a messenger, a male deity who intercedes to and from the other gods. He is said to be 'ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day' it is this relighting of the fire that ensures his immortality. (Wikipedia)
   The Wikipedia entry goes onto indicate that 'In Newar, Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, he is lokapãla guarding the Southeast’. The entry goes on to indicate that in ‘the Tibetan text Jigten lugs kyi bstan bcos it says’ “Make your hearth in the southeast corner of the house, which is the quarter of Agni.”(ibid) I can’t help but remember those feng shui books I used to read many moons  ago, that  it was suggested that the fire should be in the south east area of the room,   now I can see how that also perfect sense.
   Still spending time away from my native shores, I want to turn my gaze toward the heart of the Roman Empire, to one of the most famous of all hearths, that of the temple of the virgin goddess Vesta and her ‘home fire’, which was kept forever burning. This fire was tended by those famous Vestal Virgins, serving Rome, and their goddess in their unusually round temple. (Many other temples in Rome were square)   Not only was this fire no allowed to go out; but if it did, it was considered a serious crime; the guilty virgin was ‘scourged’ by the pontifex maximus.  
  When we consider the things learnt already about the importance of keeping the fire alive, it is hardly surprising that this was considered such a crime. And then if this wasn’t daunting enough to put anyone off being in the service of Vesta, if those maids who tended the fire lost their virginity, and could no longer claim the veil of virgin attendant, they were put to death in rather a nasty way; they would be interned alive in a tomb and left for dead.
  So it was that the Vestal Virgins belonged to the heart they trended. In this case the hearth of these virgins belonged Rome itself, and no other. Interestingly this fire, if allowed to go out, was relit by friction, and not by any other flame near bye. it was by this manner kept pure, it belonged to no one else. However bleak the existence of these virgins appears to us, it seems their dedication did no go unrewarded. Pliny indicates that these virgin fire tenders appeared to be endowed with certain magical powers as a reward for their service.
   And then  not too far away from Rome, in the world of the ancient Greek, we find the goddess Hestia, also a virgin goddess of the hearth, and of architecture. She claimed the duty of bringing order to both the home and the state. Knowing what we now know about the importance of the hearth, it is not difficult to see the connection. 
   As a daughter of Cronus (the cutter) and Rhea (mother of the gods, whose name appears to link the 'ground' with 'flow' and 'discharge') Hestia received the first and last offering of every household. And it was from her fire, that other fires were lit. In her temple, also round, 'the eternal fires of Hesta were tended,' and this duty was undertaken 'by widows past the age of marriage'. (Serif [Plutarch, Numa, IX]) Or perhaps it was just that these women were more experienced older women, those women would have built their own home fires, and knew how to keep these home fires burning, and were not likely to be distracted as a virgin may be, However it was Hestia herself who held onto her virgin status, and not her tenders, and this, it appears, was despite the attention of both Poseidon and Apollo.
    And then nearer to home, leaping across to the famous fire of Bighid of Kildare we find an example of another virgin-tended hearth. Gerald of Wales, Giraldus Cambrensis and other writers describe this hearth as 'a fire surrounded by a hedge'. this hedge could be crossed by no man. I am presuming that this fire must have been undercover. Just imagine how difficult it would have been to keep a fire burning, outside and in a country not known for its arid weather conditions. Now unlike Hestia and Vesta, this fire belonged to a mother of one child, again this  fire was attended to by virgins. This time we call them nuns.
Serith points out that;
'Kildare is not far from Uisneach and Tara, the religious and political centes of Ireland,
forming an equilateral triangle with them. By the time the existence of the fire is recorded
the virgins are nuns, ("brides of Christ") and Brighid is a saint, but their Pagan origins are 
assured by the temple of "Minerva" (like Brighid a craft goddess) in 3rd century Britain
                which also had an eternal flame.'(Puhvel, 1987, p 174)'
     Many interesting links spring to mind here, if we think of Brighid we are never far away from smith craft, which leads us back  to the fire. Along with fire we think of candles back there in the home. And then she is also commonly associated with thresholds, which links back to the Lars that we met earlier, which takes us back to that homely hearth of the family.  And then in her fiery role my imagination can't  help but draw similarities with the Shekinah, the light and bride of God.
    However, moving back across to those warmer drier climes, it seems that in both Roman and Vedic public rituals there was more than one sacred fire.
 'The main fire was on a square altar, the ara, which stood in front of each temple. This was the one into which the main offerings were made. Next to it was another fire, in a round metal tripod, into which was offered incense and wine at the beginnings of  sacrifices. These were the standard offerings in the domestic cult, and this fire may therefore be identified with the domestic hearth.' (Dumezil, pp, 314 -15) [Serith] 
This domestic hearth, as opposed to the grand fires we have been examining recently, 'received offerings to family deities and ancestors.' 'Although the family priest ( the pater ) might be male, the fire tender was female.' (ibid)
    Serith goes onto suggest that in Vedic tradition; 
     'The domestic hearth is certainly the primary of the two. The garhapatya is lit from the sacrificer's  own heart. If the other two fires go out, they may be relit from the garhapatya if it goes out, the entir  ahavaniya (including the ashes) must be moved to the garahapatya's place before the ritual can continue'. (Aitareya Brahmana 7.5, in Keith, 1998, p. 292)'  (ibid)
   So the lighting of the fire had to be done from scratch,not from pinching flame from elsewhere. And it is interesting to note that this needed more than physical strength and commitment but as we say, one needed to 'put one's heart into it.'. We have already seen that the Virgins of Vesta lit there fire by 'friction' or in my opinion, a great deal of effort. So the lighting of the home fires, that fire right there  in the hearth, stems right from the heart, and is kept alive by the dedication of the one tending it.
  Then when I take a little time to continue with these thoughts, not so long ago a married woman was considered to be bound to her husband, and as a sign of this she would dutifully tend her husband's hearth. The wife and mother, although taking up a place that modern day women may cringe to ponder, still had that place of charm making.
   Having returned from my own journey, and settled myself back in my own hearth. I look back to the pages that kindled this journey in the first place, Words penned by Shani Oates, Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain in her book The Star Crossed Serpent 11.
     'Within earlier Paleolithic societies, recumbent stones deemed to be Her body, personified in the earthen alter in the fullest sense. These continue to serve as the central focus of many dwellings as hearthstones. Charged within the 'Old Covenant.' the Maid as 'bride' of the Old Horn King represented by the hearthstone, binding her spirit to His to the Stang she holds, transmitting its virtue to her Clan, a cohesive unit for its survival and continuity. In this manner. 'The House That Jack Built' through the son/Sun, embodied  within the figure of the Maid as refuge for the Egregoric spirit.' (p83)
Again according to Oates
‘In the Neolithic world She had been a stone block, a throne mount to represent the bond between Man and Creatrix. Her presence was one that enthroned and enveloped the Monarch within Her status.’
  So I have been round the world and returned to the stone slab of my hearth, no literal fire burns here at the moment, but the fire that burns here is in my heart, lit by dedication and hard work.
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