Posts Tagged ‘John Dee’

On Familiar Spirits;

Familiar Spirits have existed throughout man’s history. From the ecstatic rituals of Siberian Shaman, to John Dee adviser to the Queen Elizabeth I. of England and Cunning Folk across time, from Odin’s two ravens and his supernatural consultations in the North, to Sorcerers, Shaman and Medicine Men of various cultures  around the world, all have consulted and employed the spirits of their ancestors, local spirits and animals for their wisdom and assistance in magickal undertakings.

Yet despite the positive traditions, the most commonly shared and widely recognized archetype of familiar spirits, stemming from European fairy-tales, still have their roots in the Christian fear and prejudice of the Dark Ages, and have little in common with the real  familiars of both ancient times or modern.

During the horrific Witchcraft Trials and hysteria of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, evidence for consorting with the devil often included accounts of the accused keeping company with an animal,  many a lonely old woman was executed as a witch because of her fondness for her pet. If so much as a fly buzzed in the window while someone suspected of being a witch was being tried, it was said to be their familiar and evidence that they had made a pact with the devil.. Familiar spirits were considered by the Christian authorities as hellish imps given by Satan to his faithful followers to assist in their evil deeds.

Familiars were given names like any household pet, which many probably were. Perhaps the best known familiars name is ‘Pyewackett’, famous as the Witch’s cat in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, and a familiars name that dates back to Renaissance England. Pyewackett, said Matthew Hopkins (the infamous Witch hunter) was a name ‘no mortal could invent’ and thus his case against her owner was irrefutably proven…….

It’s interesting to note that, while Witches’ familiars were considered evil during the early modern period, the harnessing of spirits was acceptable in certain circumstances.
Outside of Witch trials, more benevolent familiars were believed to exist serving Wizards, Wise men and Women (Wiccan’s and Cunning Folk) who were magicians or village healers, indeed to deny their existence would also call into question the Christian faith in divine spirits, so belief in the one naturally included belief in the other. Needless to say, the common people held these spiritual guides in a different view than that of Christian orthodoxy and often considered them as or equivalent to angelic assistants sent from god. The familiar’s helped diagnose illnesses and the sources of bewitchment and were used for divining and finding lost objects and treasures. Magicians conjured them in rituals, then locked then in bottles, rings and stones. They sometimes sold them as charms, claiming the spirits would ensure success in gambling, love, business or whatever the customer wanted.
This sort of familiar was technically not illegal; England’s Witchcraft Act of 1604 prohibited only evil and wicked spirits. Some familiars were said to be Faeries. Oberon was a popular name for fairy familiars in 15th and 16th century England.
Similarly the Christian Church itself during this period also sold indulgences or permissions which granted the buyer a limited forgiveness for sins yet to be committed, ie a sinners diplomatic passport of sorts. It seems  a case of double standards then, as consorting with the spirits was permissible as long as the spirits were considered benevolent by the Christian authorities irrespective of their effect upon the people ie healing or helping, which reputedly many wicked spirits did do, whilst Christian authorized spirits might infact follow a different path.

There is a little evidence of familiars in early American Witch trials. However one case is representative of the prejudicial perspective shared with Europe, in the Salem Trials, 1692, John Bradsheet was indicted for “inciting a dog to afflict.” The dog was tried and hanged as a Witch…..

Familiars reputedly are sensitive to psychic vibrations and power and are welcomed partners inside the magic circle and other magical work. They also serve as psychic radar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative or evil energy, whether it be an unseen force or a person who dabbles in the wrong kind of magic. Familiars are also given psychic protection by their Witches.
Many modern Witches have animal familiars, often cats – sometimes dogs, birds, snakes or toads, as their magical helpers. Witches do not believe the familiars are “demons” or spirits in animal form but simply animals whose psychic attunement makes them ideal partners in magical workings.
Some folk it seems also use the term familiar to describe thought-forms created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral plane.

In Shamanism, a novice shaman acquires his familiar spirits, usually manifesting in animal, reptile or bird shapes, when he completes his initiation. He or she may send them out to do battle in his or her place, but if they die, so can the shaman. Familiars usually stay with their shaman until death, then disappear.

Traditional Animal Familiars;

*Badger – Tenacity and courage. The badger will teach you perseverance and endurance in the face of adversity. The badger is a powerful protector of both material possessions and ideals held close to your heart.
*Bear – Strength, stamina, healing, medical diagnosis, strength
*Bee – The bee is industriousness, hardworking, community, work, industry, organization
*Blackbird – Enchantment, work between the worlds
*Boar – Sacred, cunning, ferocious, warrior spirit, leadership, strength
*Bull – Strength, potency, symbol of mobile power, ability to expand opportunities, creativity
*Butterfly – If a butterfly is seen while vision questing, no negative energy will be in the immediate area. Transformation, artistic endeavors.
*Crane – The crane is the bird of the Moon, magick, shamanic travel, secrets and reaching deep mysteries. The crane also represents the logical mind as well as patience while healing occurs.
*Crow – The Crow is a symbol of conflict, war and death. Its skill is wisdom with trickery. It is also a protector of scared records.
*Deer or Stag – The white Stag is a messenger from the otherworld, following the animal often leads to a quest through the Otherworld. The deer represents grace, swiftness and gentleness.
*Dog – Underworld hounds are white with red ears, they hunt and punish the guilty, they represent tracking skills and companionship as well as Loving protection.
*Dragon (lizards) – Wealth, raw powers of nature, the treasures of the unconscious mind.
*Eagle – Wisdom and long life, Keen sight, Knowledge of magick and swiftness, the eagle is a strong ally when traveling into new territory.
*Eel – Adaptability, Wisdom, Inspiration and defense.
*Fox – Cunning, slyness, Perceptive, makes fools of those who chase it.
*Frog – Shamanism, Magick, Nasty illusion with something wonderful hidden inside.
* Hare – considered fleet and swift, symbols of diligence, can also aid people in recognizing the signs around them by attuning to lunar cycles and understanding the tides of movement in their own lives.
*Hawk – Clear sightedness, teaches how to receive and interpret inner and outer signals.
*Heron – Of the Moon and magick, shamanic travel, secrets, the logical mind, through the heron one can find magick in nature.
*Horse – Stamina, endurance, and faithfulness, the horse was a faithful guide to the otherworlds.
*Magpie – Omens and prophecies.
*Mouse – Secrets, cunning, shyness, the ability to hide. If you see a mouse in a vision quest—pay attention to details.
*Otter – Enjoying life, recovering from a crisis, faithfulness, friendliness, and being helpful to others. The otter provides valuable assistance in the otherworlds.
*Owl – Teaches us to silently observe life, and gather information to gain understanding.
* Rabbit – clever, fast, coming and going as if by magic, classic tricksters, representing the triumph and joy in life, and success.
*Raven – The battle cry of an upcoming life crisis, it is a powerful protector if one can gain its favor.
*Snakes – Wisdom, reincarnation and cunning. If you see a snake while vision questing, be prepared for the power of transformation to enter your life. The snake represents the life-death-rebirth cycle.
*Swan – Helps to interpret dream symbols, smooths transitions and spiritual evolution.
*Wren – Also a symbol of Druidry for its wisdom, the wren’s song was used in divination, the power of strengthening and cleansing.

A simple invocation to call a familiar spirit;

To call a magickal animal or familiar spirit you need to focus your spiritual and mental energy upon the kind of creature that you wish to engage and you need to become receptive, aware of subtelties that might evade your daily perspective.
You will create a magic circle about yourself to aid your focus as well as to assist the spirit to find you in.
You will need a Totem of some sort for the familiar to enter into, and could spend a little time researching these before you begin, then ideally make one from suitable materials ie of feathers if winged spirit be called, of fur if mammal etc.
Once about your evocation, burn an incense which reminds you of the creature or spirit you are calling.
You should also have a drum of any sort, drumming a rythmn appropriate to the animal you seek: a timid sound brings a timid animal such as a mouse, a broken rhythm may bring a cunning stealthy fox, a loud rhythm could summon loud creatures like a bear or boar.
Finally, you will need a candle which will reveal to you by its flame and flicker (other than in breezy times) the presence or absence of any spirit guests.
– Prepare the time and location, full moon is best, still and untroubled, a peaceful night free from storms.
– Cast your circle about you and light your incense and your candle.
– Beat on the drum to the rhythm of your heart, thus the rhythm is known to the spirits who may approach.
– Continue for at least five minutes to draw the attention of the spirit, and to approach a state of trance or of ‘monotonous focus’ in which the spirits all around may be better perceived.
– After you have raised both your perceptive levels and the spirit energy about you and once you feel aware of the presence of potential familiars around you, whilst still drumming, chant in time with your heartbeat and your drum something like this or similar;
I call to the creatures hereby gathered,
Who dwell within the earth and air, the wind and waters turning.
I call to the spirits of fur, fin and feather,
Come to my side, join in my learning.
I call to the creatures listening closely,
To the creature you are to the one here who knows.
I call to the divine within the spirits now near me,
Follow my heart as our energy grows.

I call to the creature who has chosen to know me,
Let your bright self manifest,
And reveal to me now,
A true bond of friendship across eternity blessed. Less important the exact words,
of key importance the heart & spirit in which they are spoken or chanted.
– Stop drumming with the last words of the invocation
– Perceive the spirit by either sight of eyes or inner light if they have not manifest physically before you.
If no spirit has presented themselves, they may choose to reveal themselves to you in a vision/dream, or they may be waiting for the best time to cross the realms between…
If no spirit comes, then try again on the next full moon.
Spirit Be from Eternity
Blessed & True
Help Me See
* ~

The Elf Knight & The Faerie Queene

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Remember me to the one who lives there,
He once was a true love of mine.

Tell him to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Without any seams or needlework,
Then he’ll be a true love of mine

Tell him to find me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Betwixt the salt water and the sea sand,
Then he’ll be a true love of mine.

Tell him to reap it with a sickle of leather,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
And bind it all in a bunch of heather
Then he’ll be a true love of mine

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Remember me to the one who lives there,
He once was a true love of mine.
Lyrics of Scarborough Fair- World Tree Music.

Scarborough Fair is a traditional ballad of Great Britain which presents an unusual tale of unrequited love, as a young man tells the listener to ask his former love to perform a series of impossible tasks, such as making him a cambric shirt without a seam and washing it in a dry well, if she completes the tasks he will take her back….
In the version as sung by Gretchen Cornwall of World Tree Music,
the roles are reversed, the singing narrator and task setter is the young woman herself.
Many suggestions concerning the original plot have been proposed, including the hypothesis that it is a song about the Black Plague
(1348 +1350), but these are not proven.

The ballad appears to have derived from an earlier Scottish ballad, ‘
The Elfin Knight‘ the oldest extant version of this ballad being c 1600-1650 and may well be earlier, in which an Elf filled the role of the young man, but here he threatens to abduct the young woman to be his lover unless she can perform an impossible task, no longer an unrequited love but an obsessive, demanding one.
The association with Elves is significant, they appear in many ballads of English and Scottish origin as well as folk tales which often involve trips to Elphame or Elfland (the Álfheim of Norse mythology), a mystical realm in these accounts portrayed as an eerie unpleasant place. Such Elves were considered to be accountable for many mysterious occurrences in earlier times, including the stealing of brides.

However and contrastingly, according to Nick Caffrey, the earliest noted versions of ‘The Elfin Knight’ tell of a young maiden who magically summons the Elfin Knight to her bedroom to become her lover..

The Elf Knight
‘The elfin knight sits on yon hill
Ba, ba, ba, lilli ba
He blaws* his horn both loud and shrill *(blows)
The wind hath blown my plaid awa’…

(This verse appears to be taken from ‘Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight‘, in which the Elf’s horn is magic and arouses desire in the hearer.)

‘I wish that horn were in my kist* *(chest)
Yea, and the knight in my armes two

She had no sooner these words said
When the knight came to her bed.’…

But he tells her she is too young and sets her impossible tasks for her to perform to deter her. When she counters with demands of her own the Elf Knight declares that he is already married with children, at which point she rejects him and he disappears.
As Nick states and is especially true for the English versions of the song, it is important to establish this full story because many of the later versions retain only the de-contextualized tasks which by themselves do not always make any obvious sense.
He also notes that The riddles in British folk-songs and ballads usually take the form of a confrontation with the supernatural, or the Devil in some versions, where the soul of the mortal, marriage or seduction may be the prize. (The Living Tradition, Folk Music)

Queen Elizabeth Ist; Gloriana-The Faerie Queene

Although there is no stated link between these ballads and the English Courts of the time, in Spenser‘s famous poem The Faerie Queene (c 1590+1596) which celebrates the Tudor dynasty with Queen Elizabeth Ist featuring as Gloriana-The Faerie Queene and encompasses a presentation of 12 virtues through the Arthurian knights in a mythical Faerieland
(based on the virtues of Aristotle’s ethics), Spenser described the men of Faerieland as called Elves, the women as Faeries.
Spencer’s association of Queen Elizabeth 1st with the Faerie Queene is particularly relevant as she took occasional counsel from the famed Alchemist John Dee who straddled the worlds of science and magic and devoted much time to attempting to commune with angels and bring about the pre-apocalyptic unity of mankind.
Following Mary Queen of Scots death in 1558, Elizabeth succeeded to the throne and became famous for her virginity to such an extent that she was called The Virgin Queen, was allegedly married to her country, and a cult grew up around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day.

Acrasia’s seductive Bower of Bliss

In canto 1 of the second book of Spenser’s Faerie Queen, ‘he was an Elfin born of noble state’ sets the otherwise apparently human nobleman and Knight, Sir Guyon, as the Elfin Knight. The Fairy Queen ordered him to locate and destroy Acrasia’s seductive Bower of Bliss, which he completed sucessfully and thus became an embodiment of the virtue of Temperance.

The similarities between Caffreys’s earliest version of the Scottish ballad and Spenser’s English Court literature, that they both uphold the same honor of temperance, or chastity, suggests that there is a causal link between them.

There may not have been much discourse between Scottish folk musicians and English Courts at this time due to various animosities including the former being predominantly Catholic and the latter Protestant.
However, if the poem preceded the ballads, because the Scottish had had strong associations with the French since 1295 (the first treaty forming the “Auld Alliance” between Scotland and France against England) they may have heard of the poem by these means.
Should the ballad versions alternately precede the literary, this could equally be interpreted as showing how high culture often draws upon local traditions and stories to structure its intellectual endeavors, giving local anchorage to their more wide reaching concerns and perhaps shows more sharply how English tradition has similarly drawn on the Scottish over time…

Tam Lin & The Faery Host –

In another Scottish version, the Tale of Tam Lin the Elf Knight, Tam Lin was enchanted and kidnapped by the Elf Queen to Faerie land where he was bound by her spell. He explains all this to a mortal maiden who fell in love with him, and he was rescued by her because the steadfast love of a mortal woman broke the Elf Queens enchantment over him. That the Elf Queen is here wicked and the mortal woman good, could possibly be another political reference of the times.

In explanation of the subsequent de-contextualised English versions of the ballad, which appear to present the moral inversions of a less virtuous Elf/young man who seeks by impossible means to entrap his intended, and the conversion of the intemperant Acrasia replaced by a more virtous woman, Queen Elizabeth’s fame as a virtuous Virgin Queen and her popularity in England would have likely made the earlier accounts of the ballad, with its virtuous and Scottish Elf Knight and immoral woman, less than attractive to a country who supported their Queen and possibly used such popular ballads to celebrate contemporary culture as well as carry mythological moral messages.
In this view it may be that the English versions do not just represent de-contextuallised accounts of an earlier tale, but had actually been rewritten to purposefully demonstrate popular allegiance to an English Queen and her Country.

In the English version, the ballads title refers to a trade fair that took place in the resort town of Scarborough during the medieval times and one possible explanation for use of the refrain ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ based on the speculation that the four herbs held healing properties (parsley to remove bitterness, sage to cleanse, thyme for courage, and rosemary for love) is that these meanings were intended to develop as the song was sung, to remove curses and create a protection against evil enchantment.
It has also been suggested that these herbs were specifically used to ward of the Black Plague, particularly the smell of the dead or dying, because according to popular belief in Medieval times, it was the smell of the plague which was carried infection and the use of these herbs would cleanse air.

Plague Doctor carrying Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

However alternate refrains from the oldest versions of ‘The Elfin Knight’ contain the phrases ‘my plaid away, my plaid away, the wind shall not blow my plaid away’ (or variations thereof ) which reassertion of the lady’s protection of her chastity, suggests that the use of ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ may therefore be an alternate rhyming refrain for the English version with specific intention to act as a Charm of protection of her virtue ‘My maidenheads I’ll then keep still…Let the Elphin knight do what he will…’.

The earliest commercial recording of the ballad was by actor/singers Gordon Heath and Lee Payant who recorded the song on the Elektra album Encores From The Abbaye in 1955
Paul Simon learned the song in London in 1965 from Martin Carthy, who had picked up the tune from the songbook by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. Art Garfunkel then set it in counterpoint with “Canticle” with new, anti-war lyrics and it became the famous lead track of the 1966 album
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

be you elf, knight, maiden or Queene
~ Bright Blessings ~
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