Monthly Archives: March 2015

Heretic’s Heart – Margot Adler

Available through Amazon and other online retailers.

Shortly after Margot Adler died I logged into Amazon and ordered both of her memoirs, Heretic’s Heart: A Journey Though Spirit and Revolution and her last published work Vampires Are Us: Understanding Our Love Affair with the Immortal Dark Side. I’ll talk about Vampires in later post. I do regret not having read both books while Adler was alive. Would have been a real honor to have interviewed her for my podcast. Alas, she was on my list of must-contact and I didn’t get to her before she died from cancer.

I enjoyed taking a look at the 50’2 and 60’s through the mirror of her memory. The end of one era and the beginning of another. The McCarthy era was winding down when Adler was a child. Her father had been subject to some of the trials and tribulations of being a Communist and nonconformist during that time. Her grandparents had fled to the US to avoid some of the backlash for their political beliefs. Her grandfather was the psychologist Alfred Adler. From the start she was no stranger to controversy and free thinking. Even the elementary school she attended in New York City was off the beaten path – to read her talk about it I felt like I was reading a description of the progressive school from Auntie Mame.

Margot Adler, author and NPR correspondent

Heretic’s Heart, true to the genre of the memoir or autobiography, is full of remembered bits and details as well as letters and journal entries. Adler used those letters and entries to tell her story, sometimes from the perspective of someone else. I really enjoyed the penpal correspondence between the young Margot and the soldier serving in Vietnam. The frankness and openness of both of them was sometimes difficult to read. The raw emotion that went into those letters really made me feel as if I was experiencing what they were describing. Margot’s letters from jail, when she was arrested during a Free Speech Movement rally at UCLA-Berkeley, were very visceral.

In Heretic’s Heart Adler shares some of her deepest joys and fears. From her childhood into her teen years, through college and her exploration of herself and the world. She takes you on her soul journey, spending time in pre-Castro Cuba, supporting the FSM at Berkeley, and moving forward with her spirituality. Born into a non-practicing Jewish family with communist leanings, if any faith system was apparent in her childhood it would have been agnosticism or atheism.  But as she progressed into adulthood Adler felt a calling to something more spiritual. She discovered Paganism, as many know from her first book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America.

I don’t want to give to much away, but I do want you to understand that this is a story well worth your time to read. I devoured the book in a matter of a few days. For some reason, right after the first of the year, I felt compelled to dive into the world of nonfiction and personal memoirs. This was one of the first in that adventure that I read. I am definitely glad that I did. Perhaps it had something to do with her being a broadcaster, but more likely it was because of the recent loss of her to this world. As the saying goes, those who are remembered never die.

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High Magic’s Aid – Gerald Gardner

Available through Amazon and other online retailers.

This is one of those books that I am asking myself why I waited so long to read it. Gerald Gardner published this work of fiction before the anti-witchcraft laws were abolished in England. He had to couch his beliefs and his rituals in a work of fiction to avoid the microscope of suspicion. After those laws were abolished he was able to openly discuss the contents of the book and how each of the rituals and other practices detailed in the novel were based on actual magical practices.

Published in 1949 and attributed to a mysterious fellow simply called Scribe, High Magic’s Aid is the story of a young man, his brother, a witch, and the ceremonialist who has befriended them. This young man knows that he is meant to be something more than he is, that he is meant to live in the castle and rule over the land, not hoe the field and feed the cattle. He has his heart set on regaining that which was taken from his family. His brother, knowing the truth of their family, stands beside him in all things. Even putting his life and soul in peril by becoming the vessel for a demonic spirit to communicate to his brother.

The demon that takes over his brother’s body direct them to seek the Witch of Wanda, and this they do. At this point the novel explores the horror of the witch craze in England and elsewhere in Europe. Taking the three intrepid friends through the country side to a far off village that is in total squalor and finding this witch they were told to find. She is to provide them with the tools necessary for the ceremonial magician in their midst to create the magical tools necessary to draw the demon back into their circle without the necessity of possession. Those tools are the athame and the white handled knife, or boline. The bladed tools of most Wiccan’s practice.

Gardner certainly draws on what would later be published has his book of shadows, in several forms, and become the text used by Gardnarians and Alexandrians alike – in deed by most practitioners of Wicca in the modern age. He also draws heavily on his background and experiences with secret societies such as the Rosicrucians.

Gerald Gardner

This edition, pictured and linked above, is full of typographical errors. I wrote it off to the efforts of non-professionals converting the text to digital format. That may be. I believe that some, if not all, of the errors were intentional. Most of them appear in the text of the rituals, changing the spelling of an angel or demon’s name, making the pronunciation of one of the names of God different from the Hebrew. For Gardner’s text includes detailed rituals and incantations that have been used for a very long time by various societies, including the Masons.

The story gripped me.  It told a story that made sense to me. One that rang true for the time setting and for the content of the author’s intentions. What Gardner had set out to do was to share the rituals and spells of his own practice with those who would recognize them for what they were. Those that did not see them as true rites would read them as plot points. But if you read carefully, those scenes read as instructions. Telling the ritualist what he or she would need to do to summon up angels and demons.

Interspersed with these high magical rites are the more simple rites of a hedge witch, a practitioner of the Old Ways. A witch and priestess. Her simple rites are just as powerful as the ceremonies portrayed as the aid given by the master. The two paralleled show what would later be known of Gardner’s beliefs and practices in his later instructional works on the budding movement that would become modern Wicca.

Throwing references to how the Catholic church operated during the witch hunts, Gardner also makes allusions to how the Church taught the ideas of the high magic to some of her priests, but refused to allow them to practice those ideas. He also makes inference that the same Pope who launched the Inquisition was somehow involved in a quest for a particular kind of “high magical aid.” But that is something that few who do not know the history of the Inquisition would catch until … Well, no. If I tell you that it would dampen your enjoyment of the story.

Whether you are Wiccan or some other kind of Pagan, or just have an interest in good fantasy books, I’d recommend Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid. I think this may be a book that add to my “highly suggested” reading list for students of the arts magical.

 

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Threshold by Chronilus

My friend and co-host on Pagan-Musings Podcast introduced me to a unique band from Washington in 2014. Chronilus is a family, a tribe of musicians and Pagans that have been inspired by the musical styles of various lands and centuries. Styling themselves as chrononauts, they borrow from ancient times and modern times. They take a little bit of this and little bit of that and make it all work together in a most unique manner.

On February 2, 2015 they released their first full length album, Threshold. Prior to this release they had an EP called Prologue and had been featured performers at Redmond, WA’s Soulfood Coffee House and Fair Trade Emporium. Soulfood has also featured artists like Bone Poets Orchestra, Celia, and Betsy Tinney. Being in the Redmond area they are lucky enough to have a large music tribe in the Pagan community. They also have ties to the poly-community in that area.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with the bandmates twice on the Pagan-Musings Podcast. You can listen to the first interview from March 9, 2014 and the second from November 9, 2014. The tracks from Threshold that we played during the second interview were rough cuts and do not appear in those forms on the album. So, listening to the interview means that you get to hear some of what is different from the official release. A rare treat!

From their “about the band” sidebar on their homepage:

“Chronilus is a new Celtic and World Fusion band from the Seattle area. Their enchanting vocal harmonies float over a musical landscape created by a combination of historical, traditional, and modern instrumentation, from all around the world. Here the clairseach, the brass-strung harp that entertained medieval Irish nobility, may play with harmonies from an electric guitar influenced by progressive rock. Funky electric bass may provide a solid foundation alongside the driving rhythms of the West African djembe.

“With a range of expression from raw, primal energy to ethereal finery, Chronilus’ songs explore such subjects as connection, history, fantasy, and ageless spirituality.”

Threshold has twelve tracks for your listening pleasure. Each one will raise you up out of your seat and make you dance a jig. From “Ecstasy” to “The Wild Hunt”, you get a taste of just what this group is capable of. Let’s meet the band before learning more about the album.

Bone Deep

Chronilus consists of four main players, occasionally accompanied by others while on stage at various venues. Those four players are Bone Deep the Bard, the captain of this merry band of time travelers. He plays hand drums, bass guitar, banjo, mandola, mandolin, percussion, woodwinds and does electronic arrangements. Manfred More is his trust first mate and plays the electric and acoustic guitar. Caera, who had a solo career before boarding the ship with these mad travelers, does vocals and plays the medieval style Irish harp called clairseach and provides additional percussion. Last but not least are the vocal talents of Sonia, who also plays keys, conga, djembe, viola and percussion. As you can tell, they are a diverse and talent foursome!

“Ecstasy” gets things going with a lively drumbeat and dulcet strains of music, introducing you to the circle dance of many ancient lands and today’s Pagans. The ethereal voices of Caera and Sonia tell the listener just how to dance to these beats and strains. A delightful piece to use both in and out of ritual. Great for getting things done around the house, too.

With harp, guitar, and djembe “Brighid” is the perfect accompaniment to an Imbolc celebration, as well as a lovely lullaby to help you relax and go to sleep. Sonia and Caera bring the essence of Brighid into your presence and tells you how She can help you along your path. The gentle sway of their voices and the instrumentation makes me want to sway along as well.

In a cover from Loreena McKinnett, Chronilus brings their own sound to the classic “The Mummer’s Dance.” Another of those get-up-and-dance pieces that have inspired many a Pagan and New Age spiritualist alike. Staying close to the original tones of Ms. McKinnett’s work, the foursome lends a unique quality with the duet of Caera and Sonia and the individual talents of Bone Deep and Manfred.

“The Wild In Me” is perhaps my favorite piece from the CD. It gets played frequently on both the Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel and Murphy’s Magic Mess on KZUM. Bone Deep wrote the words (Caera wrote the third verse and chorus)  and music for this piece with the help of the fans. Asking them just what they wanted to hear as the “wild” in the community and how it all interacts with each individual and as the whole. This piece will definitely get you out of your chair to move around – and I don’t dance very well!

Manfred

With another cover, this time from Blackmore’s Night (Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night), Our intrepid time travelers bring us “Under a Violet Moon.” A classic rock riff from the electric guitar leads into the tambourine and drums talents of the whole group. Sonia and Caera lend their voices together to encourage you to “raise you glass and your voices too” and dance under the violet moon, just as the incomparable Candice Night does on the original recording from the Blackmore’s Night album of the same name. The words are the same, but the instrumentation is something very much Chronilus.

And now comes a piece written by Caera, originally recorded on one of her solo albums. “Gifts of the Faeries (Bronntanais na Sioga)” is entire in the Irish Gaelic tongue. With Caera on her Celtic harp and the rest of the crew accompanying her, it has a much richer sound than her original recording. The lyrics talk about the gifts that the faeries give to a child in the cradle, they can be found at this page.  The chorus translates as “faeries are dancing around the cradle to safeguard ‘to thee/the faeries are dancing around the cradle to gifts ‘to thee”, at least according to Google translate. The gifts of the faeries are strength, heart, music, and happiness.

“Byker Hill” is an English traditional ballad. Chronilus brings their one of a kind combination of musical talents to this traditional piece and make it their own. Bone Deep referred to it as one of his favorites to play on stage, it gets the whole audience involved. A bit of a dirge, a bit of a seafarer’s lament. Around the middle of the song it slides into a jig that one might dance to celebrate a fallen comrade in arms.

Caera

Speaking of laments, or songs of lost love… “Longing” is just that. Another piece written by Caera, it speaks of a woman’s longing for the love of one who understands her and knows everything about her. Sonia joins Caera on this piece to add her dulcet voice to the magickal voice of an electric guitar and the Celtic harp. A truly interesting combo of musical tones come together in this song of love and longing. Brings a tear to my eye everytime I hear it.

Christopher Bingham, of Bone Poets Orchestra, gifted the crew of Chronilus with “The Rede (An it Harm None)” to add to this collection of magick and beauty that is their debut full length album. A cover, yes, but one that they again turn into something truly their own. You can hear the sounds of BPO and Gaia Consort in the opening of the song, even throughout the entire piece, but Sonia and Caera’s voices are just enough different from Sue Tinney’s and the rest of GC/BPO that you cannot mistake the two groups for each other. It gives a lesson, just as the Wiccan Rede does, but it speaks a bit beyond what most would normally intuit from the text of the simple Rede.

“Heave Home” reminds me a bit of the open theme to an 80’s adventure series or film. That’s not a bad thing. It’s lively, creatively choppy, and grabs you. I suppose you could call it the theme of the Chronilus. It tells a bit of the story of our intrepid friends as they travel through musical time and space to bring their listeners their Celtic and World Fusion sound, a sound that is not like anything you will hear anywhere else, I dare say. The song invites you to join them on this journey they call life.

Sonia

Caera’s lyric and music writing talents are evident again in the eleventh offering on this album, “A Promise Unbroken.” With playful, almost child-like music to open the piece, Sonia and Caera play off each other to tell of this promise that is unbroken – that no matter what, no matter how far or how long between, the Gods (or whatever term you wish for the Divine) still endures and is there for you.

“The Wild Hunt” finished off the CD with Sonia writing the lyrics and music. With Manfred on his electric guitar and Bone Deep providing bass and djembe for percussion, Caera and Sonia’s voices meld into a spooky story of the Wild Hunt. Evoking the foggy meadows and moss covered trees that can be found in both the Seattle area and Ireland, the sounds of hooves and horns of the hunt can be heard in the rhythms and voices of this band.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this CD. I could go on and on about it. But I’d like for you to listen and decide for yourself if it is one that you want to add to your collection. Check their website for more details about Threshold and Chronilus. They play frequently in the Pacific Northwest and do plan to tour outside of that region sometime in the near future.

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