"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Friday, December 30, 2016



I'm the obeah woman
from beneath the sea
to get to Satan
you gotta pass through me...

Nina Simone, "Obeah Woman"

We have already discussed the myth of Eden in comparison with other tales of the Serpent, the Woman, and the Tree, already seen how the male protagonist's role is altered from a freeman who comes to test his mettle against the Dragon to that of a chattel punished for trying to rise above his appointed station.  We talked of how Odin, Heracles, and Jason willfully face the Tree and are elevated; Adam unwillingly is tested and is cast down.  Yet there is another difference in the Eden story from all the others, a critical one.

In Odin's tale, the Woman is represented by the Norns, powerful and shadowy beings that control the fates of all living beings.  In the story of Heracles, the Woman appears as the three Hesperides, the daughters of Night (Nyx) and Darkness (Erebus).  These "Nymphs of the West" own the Tree of Immortality and the Dragon that guards it.  In Jason's quest, the Woman is Medea, the granddaughter of the Sun, a princess and powerful sorceress.  In the "Churning of the Ocean," the Woman is the goddess Sri, the embodiment of fortune, blessing, and kingship, connected to the cosmic center and the elixir of divinity.  

In Eden, however, the Woman is Eve.  

We can debate the original role of Eve in these scriptures; many scholars have.  The majority opinion down through history has been that she was created as Adam's "helper," from one of his ribs;

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

The traditional conclusion drawn from this is that women, like Eve, and subservient to men.  The second century rabbi, Joshua ben Hananiah, puts the matter succinctly;

"God deliberated from what member He would create woman, and He reasoned with Himself thus: I must not create her from Adam's head, for she would be a proud person, and hold her head high. If I create her from the eye, then she will wish to pry into all things; if from the ear, she will wish to hear all things; if from the mouth, she will talk much; if from the heart, she will envy people; if from the hand, she will desire to take all things; if from the feet, she will be a gadabout. Therefore I will create her from the member which is hid, that is the rib, which is not even seen when man is naked."

Modern scholarship questions just how subservient Eve was meant to be; the original Hebrew designation for "helper," for example, is ezer kenegdo, can also mean "opposite" and "counterpart," translations with a markedly different connotation than "helper."  Likewise, the name Eve is derived from hawwah, which means "living" or "source of life" (importantly, it can also be translated as snake).  This implies a more noble view of Eve as well.  Regardless, the fact remains that historically Eve was made to serve man, just as man was made to serve God.  She is the servant of a servant.  A subordinate.  Furthest removed from God, she is the first to surrender to the temptations of the Serpent.

This is clearly a very different role than that played by the Norns, the Hesperides, or Medea.  They are all powerful, otherworldly beings connected to the Dragon and the Tree.  We might even call them witches, if by this we mean a figure that appears human but is possessed of occult powers and properties.  This cannot be said of Eve.  Of course, there was a witch in the Garden, a being of secret knowledge and immense power...but by the time the temptation occurs she has already packed up and gone.  In fact, she might even be the Serpent.

We are speaking of Lilith.

Fittingly, Lilith is a subject of great controversy.  She appears explicitly only once in the scriptures.  In Isaiah, the Lord will lay waste to the kingdom of Edom, turning its rivers to pitch, drenching the land in blood, and making it the habitation for all sorts of Hebrew demons and monsters.  The name Lilith appears in Isaiah 34:14, where it is sometimes mistranslated as screech owl.  This is, to put it bluntly, incorrect.  Theologian Charles Ellicott wrote;

the “screech-owl” is the Lilith, the she-vampire, who appears in the legends of the Talmud as having been Adam’s first wife, who left him and was turned into a demon. With the later Jews, Lilith, as sucking the blood of children, was the bugbear of the nursery. Night-vampire would, perhaps, be the best rendering.

Albert Barnes agreed; 

The screech-owl - Margin, 'Night-monster.' The word לילית lı̂ylı̂yt (from ליל layil, night) properly denotes a night-spectre - a creature of Jewish superstition. The rabbis describe it in the form of a female elegantly dressed that lay in wait for children at night - either to carry them off, or to murder them. The Greeks had a similar idea respecting the female ἔμπουτα empouta, and this idea corresponds to the Roman fables respecting the Lamice, and Striges, and to the Arabic notions of the Ghules, whom they described as female monsters that dwell in deserts, and tear men to pieces (see Gesenius, Com. in loc; and Bochart, Hieroz. ii. 831). The margin in our version expresses the correct idea. All this is descriptive of utter and perpetual desolation - of a land that should be full of old ruins, and inhabited by the animals that usually make such ruins their abode.

Most other scholars concur.  The "Lilith" that finds her rest in the damned and ruined kingdom of Edom is a mythological being, a figure of terror, that may or may not have her origin in far more ancient stories from Sumer, Akkad, and Babylonia. And while Isaiah is her only explicit appearance, she is implicitly present in the very first chapter of Genesis...at least in the traditions of late Judaism.

The problem, of course, is what to do with the glaring inconsistency of Genesis.  Genesis 1:27 states clearly that Man and Woman are created at the same time, from the same material, and both in the image of God.  In the next chapter, as we have seen, the Woman is gone and Adam is alone.  Eve is created from his rib.  To reconcile this, a tradition emerges as early as the 3rd to 5th centuries of the Common Era, coming to fullness a few centuries later (circa 700-1000), that the scriptures are talking about two different women.  The original woman, created co-equal with Adam, was Lilith.  The second, made subservient, was Eve.

Lilith's tale is a striking one, and deserves to be quoted directly from The Alphabet of ben Sirach (Alphabetum Siracidis, Othijoth ben Sira);

While God created Adam, who was alone, He said, 'It is not good for man to be alone.' He also created a woman, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, 'I will not lie below,' and he said, 'I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.' Lilith responded, 'We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.' But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air.

Lilith flees the Garden for the Red Sea, where legends have her immediately begin mating with devils and demons and spawning a monstrous brood.  God sends three angels to bring her back and she rebuffs them.  When she is punished by having a hundred of her children killed every day, she vows to make herself a terror to the children of Adam.  She becomes a sort of boogeyman, a night flying vampire that causes unmarried young men to have nocturnal emissions and kills infants in their sleep.

How far back exactly her story really goes is difficult to say.  As we have noted, written sources carry her name as far back as the third century of the Common Era, but the Book of Isaiah dates back to at least the Babylonian Captivity, roughly 597 to 539 B.C.E.  And if the Jewish Lilith is indeed a "borrowing" from earlier Mesopotamian stories, adopted during the Captivity, the essence of her story reaches back thousands of years before even this.  Some have even argued she makes an appearance in the Gilgamesh cycle, in a way that it relevant to our study.

In this story, “after heaven and earth had separated and man had been created,” the goddess Inanna plants and lovingly tends a willow tree. Her plan is to build a throne for herself from its wood. But the Tree becomes possessed by three sinister forces, a zu bird, a Serpent, and "in its midst the demoness Lilith had built her house.”  Gilgamesh slays the Serpent, frightens the bird off, and banishes Lilith to the wastes.  The echoes here--the Woman, the Tree, the Serpent--are unmistakeable.  

Regardless of her antiquity, it is in the early Middle Ages that Lilith takes on her present form, and it was in medieval Judaism that she became the very archetype of the Witch. Indeed, as the Middle Ages moved into the Renaissance, her tale only grew.  In this period we find a Lilith who not only mates with demons but is the bride of Samael or Samyaza, chief of the Fallen Angels (the Christian Satan).  Indeed, to some--such as Moses ben Solomon of Burgos, Samael and Lilith are a united pair, an androgyne;

Both Samael, king of the demons, and Lilith were born in a spiritual birth androgynously. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is an epithet for both Samael and Grandmother Lilith (e.g. the Northerner). As a result of Adam's sin, both of them came and confused the whole world, both the Upper one and the Nether one.

Given the association of the Serpent and the Tree with the constellation Draco and the Pole Star, it is significant here that Lilith is identified with the North as well.  Also significant is that late Medieval tradition identifies Lilith with the Serpent of Eden itself.  The Zohar tells us;

The secret of secrets:
Out of the scorching noon of Isaac,
out of the dregs of wine,
a fungus emerged, a cluster,
male and female together,
red as a rose,
expanding in many directions and paths.
The male is called Sama'el,
his female is always included within him.
Just as it is on the side of holiness,
so it is on the other side:
male and female embracing one another.
The female of Sama'el is called Serpent,
Woman of Whoredom,
End of All Flesh, End of Days.
Two evil spirits joined together:
the spirit of the male is subtle;
the spirit of the female is diffused in many ways and paths
but joined to the spirit of the male.

It is as the Serpent that Lilith appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel itself, painted by none other than Michelangelo, for by the Renaissance, Lilith now returns to the Garden to seduce both Adam and Eve;

And the Serpent, the Woman of Harlotry, incited and seduced Eve through the husks of Light which in itself is holiness. And the Serpent seduced Holy Eve, and enough said for him who understands. An all this ruination came about because Adam the first man coupled with Eve while she was in her menstrual impurity -- this is the filth and the impure seed of the Serpent who mounted Eve before Adam mounted her. Behold, here it is before you: because of the sins of Adam the first man all the things mentioned came into being. For Evil Lilith, when she saw the greatness of his corruption, became strong in her husks, and came to Adam against his will, and became hot from him and bore him many demons and spirits and Lilin.

She is then, here, both succubus and incubus, the Serpent, one and the same with Satan himself.  Thus in the Jewish tradition, Lilith is--like the Norns or the Hesperides--bound to the Tree and the Serpent as one.

What are we to make of her, then...the Woman tied to Tree and Serpent?  

If we recall our discussions of number symbolism and Qabalah, we are reminded that of the Decad the first three numbers describe Heaven, and the subsequent seven represent Earth.  One is Unity, the Point.  Two is Division and Opposition.  In the northern hemisphere this is symbolized by the Pole Star and Draco, the axis mundi and the Dragon.  On the Tree of Life, these would be Kether and Chokmah.  Chokmah, as the Prime Masculine quality, has as his counterpart the sephira Binah, the Prime Feminine.  These three are collectively known as the Supernal Triad, the three numbers that exist above the Abyss and define Heaven.

Binah, the Divine Feminine, is the Gateway to and from Heaven.  Climbing the Tree of Life, you must first pass through Binah to reach Chokmah and Kether, the Dragon and the Tree.  Aleister Crowley associated Binah with Babalon, whose "Whoredom" is in fact that she will receive anyone who comes to pass through her Gate.  If the Circle is seen as the symbol of Heaven, then Binah is its circumference, with Chokmah as the radius--the Path leading from the threshold to the Center--and Kether being that Center, the Crossroads, the axis mundi itself.  If we think of the Pole Star and Draco, Binah might be seen as Draco's orbit, or even the night sky itself.

It is the latter association that is most compelling.  In Thelema, the Divine Feminine is embodied as Nuit, the starry night sky.  The Hesperides, as we have said, were the daughters of Nyx and Erebus, night and darkness.  And Lilith, who is called the Night Demon, derives her own name from a root cognate with the Hebrew layil and the Arabic layl, both meaning "night."  Night--Lilith--is the Circle, and she must be penetrated to reach the Serpent at the Crossroads.  As the song goes; "I'm the obeah woman from beneath the sea, to get to Satan, you gotta pass through me."

It is worth noting here the symbolism of Stanislas de Guaita's famous "sigil of Baphomet," later adopted by Anton LaVey as the official logo of the Church of Satan.  Here, the names Samael and Lilith are surrounded by the Hebrew word Leviathan.  Leviathan--related etymologically to Ladon, the Dragon guarded the Apples of Immortality--is the great cosmic Serpent, Draco, that the Hebrew god boasts of taming.  Guaita's image references the Hebrew tradition that Samael and Lilith, as Serpents, are both manifestations of Leviathan.  Moses Cordervo wrote;

And about this mystery it is written, And on that day the Lord with His sore and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the Slant Serpent, and Leviathan the Tortuous Serpent, and He will slay the Dragon that is in the sea (Isa. 27:1). Leviathan is the connection and the coupling between the two who have the likeness of serpents. Therefore it is doubled: the Slant Serpent corresponding to Samael, and the Tortuous Serpent corresponding to Lilith....

The symbolism in Guaita's image is unmistakable; a Dragon coiled around a Star and forming a Circle, the twin Serpent energies of Lilith and Samael present within.  Even the pentagram itself suggests a sort of Crossroads.

We might regard then, Lilith and Samael, the Woman and the Serpent at the Crossroads, as the Gate and the Key respectively (with awareness of the sexual symbolism implied). Together they unlock the power of the Tree. We see here again Crowley's formula of 2 = 0, that the union of opposites results in the transcendent "nothingness" that is the source of all power and creation.

This is something we will examine more deeply later.    



Wednesday, December 21, 2016



The Dragon guarding the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. The Wyrm guarding the Golden Fleece. Vasuki coiled around Mount Mandara churning the sea. Níðhöggr gnawing at the roots of Yggdrasil. The Serpent in the Tree of Knowledge. To these stories we might add the Taoist legend of a Dragon guarding a Tree bearing immortality-granting peaches. We could look towards Mesoamerica, halfway across the world, where the Mayans spoke of a Tree that united Heaven and Earth, the "Vision Serpent" lurking in its highest branches. Or we could look to ancient Sumer, where the goddess Inanna planted a Huluppu Tree and set a Serpent to guard it. The Serpent, the Dragon, coiled around a cosmic center is spoken of around the globe. 

But of course, this is a story written in the stars.

Ancient peoples depended on the night sky. The heavens served as their calendar, telling them went to plant and harvest, when to hunt, when to migrate. The stars were their compass and their map. The night was a repository for the legends and fables of the people, with tales of gods and heroes recorded in the planets and constellations. Most significantly for our purposes here, the heavens were also the gateway to the Underworld, the hidden realm of the spirit. The power of life and death was hidden there.

It might seem counterintuitive to associate the heavens with the Underworld, the Land of the Dead, but consider: all the stars and constellations, the planets, the Moon and the Sun, rise in the East and set in the West. For the ancients, this setting was a descent into the Underworld. All the occupants of the heavens, when not traveling across the sky, were understood to spend an equal amount of time traveling across the Underworld. In an endless cycle, the stars and planets were born, lived, died, and then were reborn after a sojourn in the realm of the Dead.

And the Serpent--who shed his old skin and renewed himself--was the Lord of the Underworld.

Because, really, not all the stars rise and fall. In the Northern Hemisphere, the entire dome of Heaven seems to revolve around a single center, the Pole Star. The Cosmic Tree, or Mountain, is nothing less than this, the axis mundi, the hub around which all of creation turns. In physical terms, we are talking the celestial or geographic pole, but for ancient peoples it was much more than this. The axis mundi was the center of the world, a magical place at the crossroads of North, South, East, and West. Like the trunk of a Tree, all of creation was understood to grow from this mystic center. It was the heart and origin of the universe. Of it, the great scholar of comparative religions, Mircea Eliade, wrote;

We have a sequence of religious conceptions and cosmological images that are inseparably connected and form a system that may be called the "system of the world" prevalent in traditional societies: (a) a sacred place constitutes a break in the homogeneity of space; (b) this break is symbolized by an opening by which passage from one cosmic region to another is made possible (from heaven to earth and vice versa; from earth to the underworld); (c) communication with heaven is expressed by one or another of certain images, all of which refer to the axis mundi: pillar (cf. the universalis columna), ladder (cf. Jacob's ladder), mountain [Meru in India, Haraberazaiti in Iran, Gerizim in Palestine], tree, vine, etc.; (d) around this cosmic axis lies the world (= our world), hence the axis is located "in the middle," at the "navel of the earth"; it is the Center of the World...

The Tree, the Mountain, the Crossroads, are all cognate symbols of the axis mundi, the Hub of the Cosmos. Seen from above, the picture is clear. The Pyramid (a symbol of the cosmic Mountain) and the Tree both become Crossroads. These then are really a Wheel, the Dome of Heaven turning around a center. 

This is why the axis mundi is understood to be the "crossroads" of the universe, where the realms of flesh and spirit, the living and the dead, come together. It is the axel that turns the Wheel of Time, the cycle of the seasons, of Death and Rebirth. While other stars rise and fall, the Pole Star sits eternal at the center, reigning over them all. This is why the Tree is associated with sovereignty, with life and death, with power.

Andrew Chumbley, author of such texts as the Azoetia and the Dragon Book of Essex, writes on the subject;

the word 'Qutub' (rendered as the tri-literal root QTB) is interpreted as meaning 'The Great Magnetic Centre', or 'The Axis' - the Point of Universal Centrality. This focus of existence is identified with the concept of the Logos and with the Soul of the Perfected Human Being (Insani Kamil). It is also cognate, in sidereal terms, with the Pole-star of the Age and thus with the Hub of the Universe. We may therefore consider 'Qutub' to be a term equivalent with the Mystical Absolute of Being: I.

Andrew Chumbley, "Qutub"

and also;

By going forth through the Gateway of the Cross'd-Roads the aspirant meets face-to-face the Catena of the Mighty Dead, not only those of his own metempsychotic lineage, but all Kindred of Our Arte to which he is bound by the Covenant of descent from the First Initiate. He enters the Circle of the Living and the Dead to dance in co-eval rings of moments, days and epochs, hand-in-hand with Gods, Beasts, Men and things of Spirit and Flesh as yet unnamed. This Vision is that of the Great Sabbat — the Prototype or 'Form' of Magical Quintessence from which all magical rites and practices take their pattern...

Andrew Chumbley, "Gnosis for the Flesh Eternal"

At the Crossroads--the Tree--the Heart of the Universe is reached. Here the realms collide, men can become kings, and kings can become gods. And the Guardian of this terrible power is the Serpent...because coiled around the Pole Star, the axis mundi, there for all to see, is the constellation Draco.

While other constellations can be seen only at certain times of the year, the Dragon is always visible, there in the northern night skies. He turns nightly around the cosmic center, circling it, the Watcher and Lord of the Crossroads. This makes the Dragon the embodiment of its powers.

Of course, Draco is not the only circumpolar constellation. Why don't the legends talk about Ursa Major and Minor, Camelopardalis, or Lynx? The answer is simple; the star Thuban (Arabic for "snake"), also known as Alpha Draconis, was the Pole Star from 3942 BC to 1793 BC. This is the period when the Great Pyramid of Giza--itself a model of the "cosmic mountain"--was built. It may be that the "air shaft" in this pyramid, leading to the King's Chamber, was intentionally aligned so that Thuban's light shone down it, playing a role in the immortality of the Pharaoh. Due to the precession of the Earth's rotational axis, the Pole Star moved from Thuban to Kappa Draconis around 1793 BC, yet another star in Draco. This means that from 3942 BC to about 1000 BC, the Pole Star was in Draco. The Dragon was the center of the cosmos, the bridge between worlds.

But what of his sinister aspect? The Serpent's associations with the Underworld, with immortality and secret wisdom are clear, but what is it that fills the profane with dread?

The North is the one place the Sun never enters, at least not in the Northern Hemisphere. It rises in the East, journeys on an arc through the South, and sets in the West. The North remains untouched by it, a place of darkness. In addition, if you face the rising Sun, the North falls at your Left Hand, with all the "sinister" associations that come with it. The Old English norð come from the Proto-Germanic *nurtha- and earlier from the Indo-European *ner-, a term that means "left," as well as "below" (think of nether and north). It is related to the Sanskrit narakah ("hell") and the Greek enerthen "from beneath." The same pattern of associating the North with the Left Hand and the Underworld underlies the Old Irish tuath "left; northern" and Arabic shamal "left hand; north." Language itself associates the North with darkness, with the Left Hand, with the Underworld. The Dragon, as Lord of the North Star, picks up these associations as well.

The result is a fearsome guardian, a psychopomp of shadowy aspect and terrible power.

In terms of numerical symbolism and the Kabbalah, the Pole Star naturally assumes the role and properties of One, or Kether. It is Unity, the underlying foundation and structure of existence. The Center of All. It is the exact point in the Crossroads where the paths cross and become One. 

As the Guardian of the Crossroads, the Dragon is associated with Two, the Dyad, and the sephiroth Chokmah. This gives us important insight into its nature. If One is Unity, then Two is Opposition. It is Polarity and Division. Divide. Dual. Devil. It is the Shadow to the Light. The Night to the Day. Aleister Crowley associated it with Chaos is his theogony, which is to say the Great Beast that consorts with Babalon, a relationship Crowley symbolized by the Lion Serpent, Teth. 

This is another draconic image, which immediately recalls the shape of Draco itself. For Crowley, this Dragon is actually "higher" than the One. We must recall the formula essential to his Thelema, 2 = 0. The Dyad, the Opposite, is the key to attainting the very highest. He describes our Dragon as;

This is the meaning of that passage; they are attempts to interpret Chaos, but Chaos is Peace... Blackness, blackness intolerable, before the beginning of the light. This is the first verse of Genesis. Holy art thou, Chaos, Chaos, Eternity, all contradictions in terms!... But when the balances are equal, scale matched with scale, then will Chaos return...

For Crowley, Unity is unchanging and static. You cannot transcend it because it cannot transcend itself. Zero, nirvana, the Ain, is the transcendent reality and it can only be attained by Opposition (-n + n = 0). In short, to attain a transcendent state, one must confront the Opposer, the Dragon. This is how Marduk made himself ruler of the gods; he fought Tiamat. It is how the Hebrew god Yahweh did as well, as he boasts in Job 41. 

Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?
Can you put a cord through its nose
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?

...Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
ringed about with fearsome teeth?
Its back has rows of shields
tightly sealed together;
each is so close to the next
that no air can pass between.
They are joined fast to one another;
they cling together and cannot be parted.
Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
Flames stream from its mouth;
sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke pours from its nostrils
as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
Its breath sets coals ablaze,
and flames dart from its mouth....

Nothing on earth is its equal—
a creature without fear.

These boasts do not make sense for the Almighty Creator of the Universe to be making. If this were the case, Yahweh would simply be beating up on a creature He Himself created. But they do make sense in the context of facing the Dragon to reach a transcendent state. In this, the Hebrew god was no different from Jason or Heracles.

Unity and Division, One and Two, are two-thirds of the Trinity that defines the Circle of Heaven (the Point, the Radius, and the Circumference). In out next installment, we will be looking at the third defining member of the formula, the Woman who manifests in these tales as the Norns, the Nymphs, the Sorceress.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Continued from Part One.


I went to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above "Have mercy, now
save poor Bob, if you please..."

Robert Leroy Johnson lived only twenty-seven short years (1911-1938), but the Blues recordings he made in the years just prior to his death have earned him a pre-eminent place in American music; the legends that sprang up in the wake of his untimely death earned him a similar position in American folklore.

The story goes like this; back in the 20s, when Johnson was just a teenager, he developed a passionate desire to play the Blues.  The problem was, he wasn't any good.  Tired of being laughed out of auditions, he disappeared for awhile.  When he returned, everyone agreed he was different.  It wasn't just his astonishing new skill with the guitar, it was his devilish charm with the opposite sex and his cool, devil-may-care attitude.  There was more than a whiff of sulfur, metaphysically speaking, about him.  The story that started to spread, perhaps from Johnson himself, was that he had gone at midnight to the crossroads.  There, a large black man tuned his guitar for him.  When he returned the instrument, Johnson was now a master.  When he died at twenty-seven, murdered people said by a jealous husband, it was whispered that he had sold his soul for the gift and the Devil had claimed his due.

This is an old story, really, one of the oldest.  The Pact at the Crossroads is, in fact, the descendent of the Serpent and the Tree stories we examined earlier.  The Tree becomes in these later versions the Crossroads, and the Serpent or Dragon becomes the "Black Man," or Devil.  Johnson's transformation from talentless nobody to Blues legend is the equivalent of winning the Golden Apples or Golden Fleece.  It is the sacrifice Odin made crucified on Yggdrasil.  The formula is both ancient and widespread.

The relationship between the Serpent and the Devil is one familiar to most readers.  It is an established part of the Christian tradition.  While the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was not, originally, associated with Satan, by the time Revelations 20:2 was written, the identification was explicit; And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.  It is a reasonable association to make.  Both are Trickster figures, and tempters.  Both are associated with darkness and the underworld.  And both are associated with the Tree/Cross/Crossroads. 

The Devil's association with the Crossroads was well established by at least the early 11th century, when English abbot Ælfric of Eynsham (955-1010) wrote;

Witches still go to cross-roads and to heathen burials with their delusive magic and call to the Devil; and he comes to them in the likeness of the man that is buried there, as if he arise from death.

His rough contemporary Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York, expanded on this in homily entitled On the False Gods;

Sum man eac wæs gehaten Mercurius on life, se wæs swyðe facenfull
And, ðeah full snotorwyrde, swicol on dædum and on leasbregdum. Ðone
macedon þa hæðenan be heora getæle eac heom to mæran gode and æt wega
gelætum him lac offrodon oft and gelome þurh deofles lare and to heagum
beorgum him brohton oft mistlice loflac

(There was also a man called Mercury, he was very crafty and deceitful in deed and trickeries, though his speech was fully plausible. The heathens made him a renowned god for themselves; at crossroads they offered sacrifices to him frequently and they often erringly brought praise-offerings to hilltops, all through the devil’s teaching. This false god was honored among the heathens in that day, and he is also called by the name Odin in the Danish manner.)

Both of these passages associate the Crossroads and the Devil with necromancy. Ælfric suggests the Devil appears to witches at the Crossroads in the shape of a dead man, and Wulfstan suggests Mercury was a mortal man who somehow became a false god through the Devil's teachings.  This is, in part, due to the Biblical tradition's notions of witchcraft, right back to the Witch of Endor episode, but there is also something deeper and more important here...the connection between the Crossroads, the Devil, and the Underworld, the Land of the Dead.  This is a point we will be getting to shortly.  

Before we do, however, we need to address the connection Wulfstan is making here between the Crossroads and Mercury/Odin/the Devil.

Like Satan, Mercury and Odin are psychopomps, passing between the worlds of the Living and the Dead. Mercury/Hermes guides the souls of the Dead to Hades, and Odin is the Lord of Valhalla.  The Devil, as we all know, is the ruler of Hell.  

All three are patrons of sorcerers, shamans, and witches.  Odin is linked to a rich and deep shamanic tradition--indeed his very name suggests it.  Odin or Woden derives from the proto-Germanic *Woðanaz, (“Master of Ecstasy”). In the Ynglinga Saga we are told that he often “travel[s] to distant lands on his own errands or those of others” while he appears to others to be asleep or dead.  This is the literal meaning of "ecstasy," or "out of body."  He ventures in myths into the Underworld from time to time, and has shamanic familiars, his ravens and his wolves.  

Mercury, or Hermes, was likewise the god of magic (alongside gamblers, tricksters, and thieves).  Wulfstan's reference to Mercury having been a mortal man is probably a reference to Hermes Trismegistus, the founder of the Hermetic Tradition.  This Hermes was strongly associated with the classical deity, as well as the Egyptian god of magic, Thoth, and the Hebrew Enoch. It was widely believed, until the late Renaissance, that he had been a real historical figure.  Wulfstan seems to be confusing the two Hermes here, but as Hermes Trismegistus had by that time absorbed so many of the classical deity's attributes it is largely irrelevant.  

The Devil, of course, assumed the role of witch patron and master of the Black Arts during the medieval period, absorbing the roles and duties of earlier deities in this respect.  While in the early medieval period, the Church officially viewed witchcraft as a delusion spread by the Devil, by the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance Satan was himself the Lord of the Sabbat, teaching all manner of sorcery to his disciples in exchange for their souls.  We can already see something of this transition in the passages above, where Wulfstan associates worship of Mercury and Odin at the Crossroads with Satan, and Ælfric asserts the Devil's rites occur there.  

Aside from their mutual associations with magic and the Underworld (meaning, as we do here, the realms of the Dead), these three figures share another strong association; cunning. Today the word suggests achieving one's ends through deceit or evasion, trickery, but it derives from from the  Old Norse kunnandi, or "knowledge," and from kunna or "know" (related to the modern English "can").  Cunning, as both knowledge and trickery, is a common attribute given to Mercury, Odin, and the Devil.  Odin and Mercury, in their respective mythologies, have long histories of tricking and outwitting others, of defeating opponents by cunning rather than force.  This is equally true of the Devil and the Biblical Serpent, the latter of whom we are told is the most "subtle" (read, "crafty" or "cunning") of the Lord's creations (Genesis 3:1).  Cunning is the true source of power for all these figures, the single characteristic most associated with them, and in the Eden fable the Serpent was not merely the embodiment of cunning, but the guardian of the Tree of Knowledge.

What we mean to suggest here is a connection, a current running through various mythologies connecting crafty, Underworld figures with Crossroads, knowledge, and transformations.  Wayfarers who venture to the Crossroads to meet Mercury, Odin, or the "Black Man" are in fact re-enacting the ancient myth of going to the Tree to be tested by the Serpent.  In some cases, these figures can be identified with the Serpent itself; the Devil's association is plain, but of Mercury it must be remembered that his symbol is the Caduceus, the twining serpents around a cross.  In Odin's case, he is more a figure who challenged and defeated the Serpent, absorbing its powers.  Interestingly, we still have an 11th century spell or charm hinting at Odin's connection with the Serpents, Trees, and even Apples;

A serpent came crawling (but) it destroyed no one
when Woden took nine twigs of glory,
then struck the adder so that it flew into nine.
There archived apple and poison
that it never would re-enter the house

Nor are these associations limited to Odin, Mercury, and the Devil alone.  Indeed, some have suggested that it was not "Satan" Robert Johnson met at the Crossroads at all, but rather the Yoruba deity Eshu or Legba, yet another Trickster figure and psychopomp who serves as messenger between the worlds and is associated with Crossroads.  Eshu has often, over the history of his encounters with European cultures, been associated both with Mercury and with Satan.

The implication here is a widespread acknowledgement that there is a power at the Crossroads, a bridge to other realms, and that it is guarded by a cunning, forked tongue Trickster, a force that tempts and tests.  To go the the Crossroads and take this challenge is to be transformed, to gain access to knowledge and power.  It is a fable at the very heart of Traditional Witchcraft.

Next, in Part Three, we will examine these Crossroads in detail, and the Witches associated with them.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


"This is the meaning of that passage; they are attempts to interpret Chaos, but Chaos is Peace... Blackness, blackness intolerable, before the beginning of the light. This is the first verse of Genesis. Holy art thou, Chaos, Chaos, Eternity, all contradictions in terms!... But when the balances are equal, scale matched with scale, then will Chaos return."

- Aleister Crowley


The story is always the same. 

The setting of the tale is a Tree; not just any Tree, but something of cosmic significance. Sometimes, this Tree supports the entire cosmos. It is the Axis Mundi, with its crown in Heaven and its roots in Hell. Sometimes the Tree is located at the center of the world. Sometimes it is in a timeless garden, a Paradise beyond the eyes of men. 

In the branches of the Tree there hangs a Prize, something that can elevate human beings to a higher state of being. Perhaps the Prize is immortality; perhaps it is divinely ordained kingship; perhaps is forbidden knowledge. Whatever the case, the Prize is always transformative and life changing.

And it is guarded.

There is a Serpent in this Tree, a Dragon, a Wyrm. It is a cunning Trickster, a deadly Adversary. Those who dare to come to the Tree must be tested, and pass, if they wish to claim the Prize.

Connected with both the Tree and the Serpent is the Woman. She is, somehow, the solution to the Test. The only way to claim the Prize, and avoid the venom of the Serpent, is have her on your side. If not, the Tree and the Serpent will destroy you.

In the Poetic Edda the Tree is Yggdrasil:

There stands an ash called Yggdrasil,
A mighty tree showered in white hail.
From there come the dews that fall in the valleys.
It stands evergreen above Urd’s Well.

From there come maidens, very wise,
Three from the lake that stands beneath the pole.
One is called Urd, another Verdandi,
Skuld the third; they carve into the tree
The lives and destinies of children.

Here the Cosmic Tree is associated with not one but three Women, the Norns, or weavers of Fate. It grows above the Well of Urd (Wyrd, or "Destiny"), and coiled around its roots lies the dragon Níðhöggr. Odin comes here seeking Forbidden Knowledge, the Runes. The Norns assign him a terrible ordeal. For nine days and nine nights he must hang crucified to the Tree, his side pierced by a spear, staring down into the depths of Urd. He is, in this way, gefinn Óðni, "given to Odin," sacrificed to himself. Surviving from this ordeal the Runes transform him;

Then I was fertilized and became wise;
I truly grew and thrived.
From a word to a word I was led to a word,
From a work to a work I was led to a work.

In ancient Greece the location of the Tree was in Colchis, and in its branches hung the fabled Golden Fleece (χρυσόμαλλον δέρας). This wondrous object came from the same mythical ram preserved amongst the stars as the constellation Aries. For the Egyptians this constellation was the ram-headed god Amon-Ra, lord of fertility and kingship, and associated with the Vernal Equinox and the reborn sun. 

For the hero Jason, winning the Golden Fleece meant attaining kingship. But the Tree containing the Fleece was guarded by a sleepless Dragon, and could not be approached without certain death. The solution to his problem was the divine-blooded sorceress Medea, granddaughter of the Sun. Winning her love, she used her powers to lull the Dragon to sleep. Jason claimed the Fleece and took Medea as his queen.

Also in Greek mythology we find the Garden of the Hesperides, the three "Nymphs of the West" or "Daughters of the Evening." This Garden was in the extreme west of the world, near the gates of the setting sun. In the center of this idyllic paradise stood a Tree, and it bore golden apples that bestowed immortality (intriguingly, it is also from this Tree that the golden apple of Eris comes, the cause of the Trojan War). Guarding this Tree was the hundred-headed Dragon Ladon (Λάδων), which Hyginus in his Astronomy associates with the constellation Draco. It is significant that Draco, also associated with Typhon and thus the Egyptian Set, coils around the North Star, the Pole around which the heavens turn. Ladon is also associated with Canaanite Dragon Lotan, known to their Hebrew neighbors as Leviathan.

To win the apples of immortality, the hero Heracles tricks the titan Atlas, and in some accounts later slays Ladon.

It should be noted here that in Irish mythology, specifically The Voyage of Bran (Immram Brain), golden apples (on a silver bough) are necessary to enter the Otherworld: 

To enter the Otherworld before the appointed hour marked by death, a passport was often necessary, and this was usually a silver branch of the sacred apple-tree bearing blossoms.

Also, in Norse mythology the golden apples of Iðunn, (“The Rejuvenating One”), are the source of divine immortality.

A more distant deviation of the tale lies East, in India. Here the "Churning of the Ocean" ( समुद्रमन्थन) appears in such sources as the Bhagavata and Vishnu Puranas, as well as the Mahabharata.  In this tale, Indra (the thunderbolt-wielding king of the gods related to other Indo-European deities such as Zeus and Thor), offends a sage and is thus cursed to lose Sri.  Sri is "Fortune," the power of "Fate" or "Destiny."  She is personified as a goddess, the consort of Vishnu, and union with Sri is necessary to be a king.  Having lost his associated with this goddess, Indra and the gods (devas) are challenged and defeated by the demonic asuras

To win his kingdom back, Indra is advised by Vishnu to deceive the asuras with the promise of amrita.  Amrita is the divine nectar of immortality, perhaps connected to the legendary soma, a beverage consumed to access other worlds and planes of existence.  Vishnu comes up with a plan that will trick the asuras and win back Sri for the devas.

It is no simple task.  To obtain amrita the gods must churn the oceans.  To do this, they use Mount Mandara, a cosmic peak or Axis Mundi which here stands in for the Tree.  The Mountain is the churning rod.  They coil around this the great King of Serpents Vasuki, who normally lies around the neck of Shiva.  Vasuki serves as the churning rope.  The asura are tricked into taking Vasuki by the head, the devas take him by the tail...as a consequence the asuras are poisoned and burned by the venom of the Serpent.  In the churning, not only is amrita produced, by the goddess Sri reappears to bestow rightful kingship on Indra once more.

The substitution of a Mountain for a Tree need not trouble us here.  Both are symbols of the Axis Mundi, the Pole around which the world turns, with roots in Hell and a crown in the Heavens.  As well shall see, both the Tree and the Cosmic Mountain are associated with yet another manifestation of the same idea, the Crossroads.

Yet before we abandon the Tree, we must consider the Biblical version of the tale.

It has all the elements now familiar to us; we have a paradisal garden, a Cosmic Tree bearing a Prize, a Serpent, and a Woman.  As was the case with the Hesperides, the garden is the property of a god.   

There are deviations, of course.  In this case we find two Trees, one bearing the Prize of Forbidden Knowledge, the other, the Prize of Immortality.  Other versions tended to select one or the other.  

But the greatest deviation, the one that turns the entire fable on its head, is that we have no Hero.  

Odin, Jason, Hercules, Indra...these are figures who come to the Tree to test themselves.  Adam, by contrast is tested.  He is a reluctant figure, a hapless lab rat.  There is nothing noble, nothing virile, about him.  The latter term is used with precision; "virile" like "virtue" has its roots in the Latin vir "a man, a hero," from the Indo-European root wi-ro- "a freeman."  Adam is not a freeman, he is a slave.  He never has a chance to truly conquer the Tree.  It was a loyalty test to tempt him into disobedience.

Adam does not come to the Tree of his own volition.  He does not enlist the aid of the Woman to defeat the Serpent and take the Prize.  Instead, the Serpent uses the Woman to tempt him.  In the end, all are punished by the one running the game.

This break with nearly every other version of the story is significant to the development of Witchcraft in the Abrahamic world.  Because the entire myth of the Tree is about challenging Fate and rising above your Station.  This freedom is forbidden in Judaism, Islam, and Christendom, where God and God alone determines a person's Fate.

To challenge that decree, to dare to approach the Tree, is Satanic.

Continued in Part Two